26. January 2011 · Comments Off on Another Chapter of the Good Stuff · Categories: General, History, Literary Good Stuff, Old West

All righty then – I pounded out a couple of chapters of Deep in the Heart – the book after the next, while in California and undistracted by the internet. The release of Daughter of Texas is coming along nicely, BTW. I have a couple of events coming up in the next few months which will hopfully goose my royalty checks to seriously meaningful levels. Previous chapter of Deep in the Heart is here

Chapter 4 – The Ranger from Bexar

Around mid-morning on a day in the second week of September, Hetty was just finishing the breakfast dishes, while Margaret was rolling out piecrust; the early apples were ripe for the harvest. Papa and the boys had brought in the first of several baskets, overflowing with them, and the two women were discussing what to do with them once Margaret had made three or four pies pies.

“Apple-butter, I think,” Margaret had just said, and Hetty agreed. “We’ll start today, for there will be more by tomorrow.” There came a pounding upon the door, and Margaret took her hands from the rolling pin, and dusted flour from her hands on her apron. “Oh, why doesn’t whoever just open it and come in – it’s unlatched. Jamie! Peter!” she called, “Can you see who it is at the door?” She cast a glance out of the long window at the end of the kitchen, which looked out upon the farmyard and the apple trees beyond. Her father and the two oldest boys were at work there. There was no sign of her younger sons. Just as the person outside pounded again on the door, Margaret heard Jamie’s voice in the hallway, and the door opening. Within a moment, Jamie appeared in the kitchen, wide-eyed with awe,

“It’s Uncle Carl,” he said and Margaret gasped. So it was indeed – her younger brother, filling up the doorway behind her son; a tall young man with the wheat-pale fair hair that was the mark of the Becker kin; Saxon-square to the bone. His rough work trousers and leather hunting coat were covered in trail-dust, and the lines of weariness in his face made him appear older than his twenty-two years.

“H’lo, M’grete,” he said only. His eyes were the same calm and placid blue that they had been when he was a child; the only feature of him which had remained unchanged.

“Carlchen!” Margaret cried and flew to him, flinging her arms about him in a joyous embrace. “Oh, my – you have gotten so thin! Where have you come from this time – from Bexar? Will you stay at home with us for a bit? At least remain for supper. Hetty and I are making pies from the first of the apples – now fortunate that is your favorite!”

“I can’t, M’grete,” he answered, and the gravity of his expression drew her attention. “Jack sent me. I rode through the night to raise the alarm. I must go, as soon as Ward has raised enough volunteers, and guide them to our camp. The Mexes have invaded again, and their army holds all of Bexar. ”

“Holy Mary, Mother of God!” Hetty gasped; her face was ashen, the freckles on it standing out as stark as paint-splatters. A tin plate dropped from nerveless fingers and fell with a clatter to the floor. Jamie stared, his eyes as round as a baby owlets’ – part hero-worship of his uncle, part distress at the reaction of the adults to this dreadful news. Margaret stepped back, gasping. “How has this happened?” She demanded, “When – and how did you come to escape? You and your Ranger company, you were garrisoned in Bexar, weren’t you?”

“So we were,” he yawned hugely, and pulled a chair aside from the table, slumping into it as if he were tired to his very bones – which he would be, if he had ridden the eighty or so miles from Bexar. “Might I have something to eat, M’grete? I haven’t eaten for two days.” Hetty was turning the dish-towel into knots, between her hands, the plate still on the floor at her feet where she had dropped it.

“An’ what of them as were there for the court?” she asked, and Margaret’s own memory seemed to leap like a started hare. “Yes, what of the district court in session,” Margaret asked, urgently. “For one of our boarders, Dr. Williamson – he was in Bexar to have a civil suit heard. He left last week.”

“Then he’s still there.” Her brother answered in short sentences, as if he were too exhausted to do any more. “They surrounded the town. Took every white man as a prisoner; judge, district attorney . . . lawyers, witnesses and the lot. Lawyer Maverick – he was caught as well. John-Will Smith – the mayor – he escaped, the only one. His wife’s family helped him. He saw everything from the roof of his father-in-law’s house. It’s an army, right enough. Not bandits and Comancheros. They even brought a band with them. Came straight into town at dawn under cover of thick fog, set up cannon in Military Square, and fired a shot. Woke up the whole town all at once, so John-Will said.” Looking at his eyes, Margaret saw that it was true. Carlchen had never lied to her. Her own anger began to smolder into open flames; anger that Lopez de Santa Anna – that vile, treacherous butcher – would dare send his armies into Texas once again. He would dare send his gold-braided officers and his convict armies into Texas, to pillage and murder, then accept parole and sue for peace . . . and six years later to dare do it again.

“What do they intend? Are they coming here?” Carl shook his head.

“I don’t know, M’grete – and not if Cap’n Jack has anything to say, and General Sam, too.” He yawned again, and Margaret abruptly returned to that matter which she could do something about. She set a plate before him, with a fork and spoon to one side of it, fetched half a loaf of bread from the pie-safe, and began cutting slices from it. There was a quarter-wheel of cheese, some fresh butter from the churning of yesterday’s cream, and of course, plenty of apples. Jamie brought two from the nearest basket, with the air of a page doing service to his sworn liege lord. He lingered at Carl’s elbow, a worshipful expression on his face.

“Hetty – bacon and eggs; the fire is hot enough, surely? Ham . . . Papa has just begun smoking the hams, but I am sure we can find some cured sausage, if you would like.”

“Whatever you have in a hurry. I’m too hungry to be particular.” Her brother was already wolfing bread and cheese. Margaret spared a covert look at him, as she busied herself about the kitchen. No – he was no longer the soft-spoken boy that he had been once; a boy reserved to the point of silence when in the presence of strangers. He had risen to the rank of sergeant more than a year ago; he seemed surer of himself, confident and capable, but still quiet about it. Now he took a small knife from the top of his boot to slice another piece of cheese with – not that wicked-sharp brass-backed hunting knife, which hung from a belt around his waist, along with a brace of long-barreled pistols. With his mouth full, he added, “I turned m’horse out in the paddock with old Bucephalus. The boys promised they’d rub him down, and bring him some corn. He needs a rest more’n I do.” Hetty was busying herself about the stove, where bacon was already sizzling briskly in the pan. Margaret finished crimping the top of the first piecrust, and her brother added, “Can I have some of that, when it’s baked, M’grete?”

“You may have all of it, if you like,” she answered, “If you are staying long enough.” Unbidden, Hetty opened the oven door, so that Margaret could slide in the first pie. Rolling out another round of dough, Margaret continued, “Then tell us – how did you escape the Mexicans, Carlchen?” She waited for the answer: her brother would not willingly submit to being a prisoner of the Mexicans ever again. By a merest chance and the action of their brother Rudi in stepping before the Mexican’s guns, Carl had survived the massacre of Texian prisoners at the Goliad. If Margaret knew anything in the world with more certainty, it was that her brother would not endure captivity or confinement for a second time.

“We didn’t escape from town, if that’s what you mean.” He swallowed a mouthful of cheese and bread. “We had never been caught there to start with. There were rumors. Seemed that there were fewer of them than usual – but everyone who had heard and passed them on . . . they weren’t the usual rumor-passing sort. Jack thought that was strange. He was asked to go on a scout – took me and four of the fellows. Some of us went along the Old Spanish road – half a day’s ride, both directions, the same with the Sabine Road and the Gonzales Road. No sign of anything out of the ordinary, no one we spoke to had seen anything strange, either. But when we returned – there were Mex soldiers at every way into town. They had not come by a known road, M’grete. They made their own, so as to come around from the west without being seen. We have a camp of our own, on Salado Creek, just north of town. Sometimes we don’t want prying eyes to see where we are headed, what we are doing. So we went there and John-Will met us at mid-morning, told us what had happened. The general in charge is a Frenchie soldier of fortune. A hard case, but decent enough. He has two thousand men, John-Will said. Pioneers. Cavalry. And artillery – I don’t know how many pieces. We didn’t stick around long enough to take a count. There weren’t but about fifty of our men in town; they came for court, not for a fight. Some of them put up one at first, but it wasn’t any good. They were outnumbered, and the Mexes could have leveled the place with their cannon anyway. General Woll agreed to treat them as prisoners.”

“Treat them to a Santa Anna quarter, no doubt!” Margaret felt sick at the thought of Dr. Williamson as a prisoner, sick with helpless fury, He was so kind, so gentle and absent-minded; surely they would spare a doctor from execution! “Why are they doing this to us, Carlchen? Why?”

“Because they can,” her brother answered, calmly biting off another mouthful of bread and cheese. His eyes were as blue and unclouded as the skies outside the kitchen window. “And what they can do, they will, sooner or later. It’s like the Comanche. They talk peace when it suits and when it gets them something. I reckon they mean it sincere at the time. And when it suits them and gets what they want by going on the warpath, why, they’ll do that without thinking twice. Don’t mean nothing, what they said last week, or last year.” Carl appeared quite unruffled by this fresh Mexican treachery, of naked war and invasion brought down upon them once again by the vile dictator Santa Anna. That very serenity was bracing to Margaret.

“Of the gods we believe, and of men we know – that what they can do, they will,” Margaret quoted from her husband’s copy of Thucydides. “So, little brother – they have done it now. What happens next?”

Carl smiled, reassuringly. “Don’t worry, M’grete; Jack and General Sam will sort them out, once they get to hear of it. Jack sent us flying in all directions with messages. It’ll be like the Plum Creek fight all over again.”

“Yes, but in the meantime the Comanches sacked Victoria and burned Linnville to the ground even before the ranging companies gathered!” Margaret answered, “And what will happen this time? This is a proper army, not a war party of Comanche!”

“Well, the Penateka haven’t come back, have they?” Carl answered, reasonably. “They learned a hard lesson – and mebbe it’s time to teach Santy Anna another. Or remind him again. Really, M’grete, he’s awful forgetful.”

“No, I think he remembers well enough,” Margaret answered her voice bitter with anger and memory. Lopez de Santa Anna’s last incursion into Texas had cost her a home, the lives of her mother and dear friends, as well as a certain peace of mind. “This time he sent a flunky rather than risk his own precious skin!”

“True enough,” Carl’s good-natured expression dimmed slightly. “I don’t reckon he would be let live, if we captured him in his drawers again. He and the nearest tree and a coil of good rope would meet up – no matter what General Sam might say.” He yawned again, just as Hetty brought a clean plate and the pan of eggs and bacon, still sizzling and popping with fat. Hetty tipped them onto the plate and set it before her brother; Carl caught up a piece of bacon in his fingers, and then dropped it. “That’s hot!”

“Straight from the stove,” Margaret answered, “At my table, most use a fork to eat.” Just at that moment, Papa came in the door, a carrying-yoke over his shoulders and a bushel-basket of apples hanging from each end. Horace and Johnny followed, lugging another basket between them. Margaret’s breath caught in her throat, anticipating a dreadful scene, something like the last time Carl had come home and encountered Papa; but Papa merely dropped the baskets with a groan and a grunt. He glanced at his youngest son and then looked away without a change of expression. It was as if Carl were not there at all. For his own part, Carl took up the fork that lay next to the plate and took a bite of scrambled eggs.

“Papa, the Mexicans have invaded and taken Bexar,” Margaret said, her heart in her very throat. “Carlchen has brought a message from his captain.”

“What’s it to me?” Alois Becker grumbled, in German “They’re all Mexicans in Bexar anyway – let them have the joy of entertaining those fatherless sons of whores. Tell me when they cross Shoal Creek – then maybe I’ll give a damn. Come along, lads. There’s work to be done, not stand around gawking at this wastrel son of mine.” He gestured to the boys to follow him and stumped out of the room; Margaret heard the door fall closed behind them. It cost her some effort to look towards her little brother. Papa’s words still had the ability to hurt, like the slash of a knife. Margaret had long willed herself to move past feeling them, to think of them as nothing more than a human sort of lightening and thunder, a cold blue Norther, or a spring-time flood. His words had no more effect on her, but she was certain that it was Papa’s words and the careless cruelty in them which had first driven Carlchen away – and what had kept him away ever since. She need not have worried. From the untroubled manner in which her brother was still forking up mouthfuls of eggs and bacon, it was clear that he had also moved to that point, sometime in the last six years that he had spent as a ranger. He only smiled, very slightly and answered softly in the same language,

“The old man hasn’t changed a bit, has he, M’grete. Nice to know that some things remain always the same.”

“He is not ‘the old man,’” Margaret insisted. “You should speak of him with respect, Carlchen. He is our father . . . and he is not a bad man.” Her brother chewed thoughtfully, as he shook his head, and swallowed another mouthful before answering.

“No? And a pool of water poisoned with alkali is not good to drink from, although it still looks like water. He got us all – you, me, Rudi – on the body of Mama, but he was no more a real father to you and me than a wild mustang is a real father to the foals he sires on any handy mare.”

“But he is still our father,” Margaret was shocked out of countenance, and glad that this very improper conversation was being carried on in German, that Hetty was uncomprehending, as she gathered up the clean dishes and began putting them away. “We owe him all respect for that.” Carl shrugged indifferently.

“You respect him then, M’grete. To my way of thinking, your husband was more a father to me than the old man. So was Jacob Harrell, who taught Rudi and me how to hunt. Trap Tallmadge – the ranger sergeant in my first company – he took more pains over me than the old man ever did. He’s poison, M’grete, like an alkali spring. If your boys were mine, I’d keep him far from them.”

“You would have no need to worry about Papa’s influence on my sons, if you came home a little oftener, gave up rangering. Perhaps if you took up a trade and settled down . . .” Margaret suggested, stung by his words. She had long believed that the company of her sons might soften Papa a little, bring him to take an interest in a younger generation, and now to have Carlchen suggest that such an influence would do them harm! In all the travails of the past few years, Carl had not been there; he did not have any idea of what she had to face, every day and every hour.

But now he was already shaking his head. “No, M’grete . . . I could not. Rangering what I am best fit for, and I like it . . . out there. It’s not complicated. Other people make things complicated.”

“Ah. I see – get on your horse and ride away into the wilderness, where everything is simple. Leave someone else to raise the children, nurse the sick and dying, bake bread, build houses and look after the wellbeing of families . . . which makes things all so very, very complicated. Well, you have that luxury, little brother, but I do not. I must cope with the complications.” Carl shrugged, apparently little affected by her words.

“And someone must fight the Indians . . . and now the Mexes, while you bake bread and darn Papa’s shirts. May as well be me, M’grete. I’m good at it.” He calmly scraped up the last of the scrambled eggs, but then his voice turned grave with sympathy. “Lawyer Maverick – he told me last year that Race died. Consumption, he said it was. Someone told him. A friend, I guess. He had friends all over, didn’t he? Race, I mean. I’m sorry about that, M’grete. I heard so late, didn’t make any sense to come home, then. Anyway, I’m sorry that you lost him. He was a good man, where it counted.”

“Yes, he was,” Margaret answered. It was on the tip of her tongue to tell her brother about the other matter, of Race’s Boston marriage, and of the settlement from his family. Someone ought to know, she thought – someone of her blood, but immediately she also recalled General Sam’s advice about scandal and of the matter being no ones’ business but hers and Races.’ Instead she said, “Do you want anything more, Carlchen. The pie will not be done for another hour, I’m afraid.”

“I’ll wait,” He still had that sweet half-smile from his childhood, converted into another yawn. “I’m sorry, M’grete. I rode through the night. Is there a place where I might sleep for a few hours, until the volunteers are ready to ride out?”

“In the front parlor,” Margaret answered, “On the day-bed.” He rose from the table, still yawning, and by the time Margaret brought a blanket from her bedroom, he was already fast asleep, sprawled on the daybed without even having taken off his boots, although he had taken off the belt that held his holstered weapons, and hung it close at hand over the back of the day-bed.

“What are we to do then?” Hetty asked, when she returned to the kitchen, and began rolling out pie dough. Margaret deftly turned the rolled-out crust around the rolling pin, and draped it over the next pie-pan. She began cutting the edges with a pastry-knife, before she answered,

“Begin making apple butter, I think. Oh, you mean – what do we do if the Mexicans come? I won’t leave here, Hetty. I expect that we shall have to bury the valuables, and hide the horses. Papa may also take his musket and find a place in the woods to hide, if he does not want to go with the fighting militia. Surely, you are not frightened of them, Hetty?”

“No Marm – I am not,” Hetty answered, sturdily.

“Good,” Margaret piled the piecrust full of peeled apple quarters, and emptied a measure of coarse sugar over it all, with a pinch of cinnamon and a twist of nutmeg. She rolled out another round of crust, before continuing. “They are eighty miles away. Before very much longer, our men will be taking up a place between us and them, among the woods and the hills and behind a river. Two thousand soldiers is not very many.” She draped the top crust over the rolling pin, using that as a wand to carry and lay the tender crust over the mounded-up apples. “Besides,” she added, “I am resolved never to leave my home again, Hetty. I would rather face them down, than take to the roads and live like a beggar in all weather. I do not think they would scruple to harm us – for any insult given will be repaid in blood. I believe Lopez de Santa Anna knows this well, or if he does not, his soldiers will learn.”

The making of apple butter that afternoon was often disrupted, for there was a constant stream of men and women coming to the house. Margaret finally tasked Jamie and Peter with sitting on the front steps and to fetch her from the kitchen whenever they saw someone coming up the hill, rather than have the noise of their knocking on the door waken her sleeping brother. She need not have bothered, for he slept as deeply as one nearly dead for hours, in spite of the footsteps of people coming and going, of hushed voices and Papa tramping back and forth with baskets of apples, who couldn’t be bothered to pay any mind to her admonitions.

Of course, Mrs. Eberly was one of the first – the storm-crow, as Margaret had privately named her; wherever there was trouble brewing, there was Angelina Eberly, flapping her black wings. She came with a basket of fresh-baked hard-tack biscuits over her elbow, puffing as she climbed the hill. Margaret, already rattled because of the news her brother had brought, had showed her into the kitchen and settled her into Hetty’s rocking chair. Kettles of apple and molasses slowly bubbled away on the stove. Fortunately, Mrs. Eberly was amiable about this omission of conventional courtesy. “I’ve heard already,” she announced, “And brought bread for them as are going. I must say, it sounds bad. I had two more boarders leave today, and Mr. Bullock’s place will be near empty in the next week. And it’s not that they are going south to fight the Meskins, either – they are just plumb running scairt, and running back east with their tails between their legs.” She cast an expert eye around the kitchen, warm and redolent of cooking apples and spices, every one of the copper pots polished until it gleamed like gold. “I can tell, Miz Vining, you ain’t one of them. I know you’ve said so, often enough – but the proof of the pudding is in the eating of it. Or in the packing of the wagon.”

“I have confidence in the men of our army,” Margaret said, firmly. “Whereas before we were a state in rebellion, and many of our people were in disarray and disagreement – now we are a sovereign nation. And not one to be violated lightly, and in defiance of the laws which rule the conduct of nations – even such a villain as Lopez de Santa Anna must take notice of those laws now and again, lest Mexico become a pariah among nations. For we are united, this time, under brave and determined commanders!” Mrs. Eberly clapped her hands, “Oh, my dear – bravely said! And I am heartened, Miz Vining, truly I am! My family and I, we will remain, as well. There are a few of us, happy and proud to stand fast in this dark time…”

“ ‘That he which hath no stomach to this fight,’” Margaret quoted from that play of Shakespeare’s which her husband had come to love the best of all, “‘Let him depart; his passport shall be made, And crowns for convoy put into his purse; We would not die in that man’s company, That fears his fellowship to die with us . . . ”

“Oh, dear, I hope that it won’t come to that!” Mrs. Eberly’s cheer suddenly turned to apprehension.

“It won’t,” Margaret’s brother said, confidently; he appeared in the kitchen door, walking as silently as a ghost. He had seemingly been refreshed by the brief hours that he had slept. “For Captain Jack leads us, and he is the boldest and canniest of all. Better than that, he will never surrender. And best of all, many of us have these at our side.” He unshipped one of the long pistols from the holster on his belt, a matte-metal thing with a long and slender barrel, but which had an oddly large cylindrical attachment where the trigger and flintlock should have been. Margaret, Hetty and Mrs. Eberly looked at it with puzzled, yet curious expressions, and Carl continued with the slightly exasperated air of a man explaining something to women which he would have assumed did not need explanation. “It’s a Colt repeating pistol – five shots without needing to reload. We fight from horseback. The State bought them for the Navy, but they work very much better for us, you see.” He stowed the long pistol away, and continued his explanation. “Jack – that is, Captain Hays – he trained us to fight as the Comanche do. Like the Mex lancers did, only better. To scout and harry and ambush the enemy, to go a long way without being seen. The Mexes, and the Comanche, they still think this land is theirs. They’re wrong – we own it now, day and night, plain, river and forest. They just need reminding, now and again.”

“Well, I am very glad to hear of that!” Mrs. Eberly exclaimed, and Hetty looked gratified. Margaret’s spirits rose, fractionally. Perhaps there was hope after all, that the prisoners would be freed, and the Mexican troops sent fleeing back over the Nueces.

Carl and the assembled militiamen departed without ceremony, late that afternoon; grim and purposeful men, their saddlebags bulging with food and ammunition, their saddle-holsters bristling with arms. Margaret watched, as her brother moved among them, unhurried and quietly authoritative. They were moving light and fast, with two pack-mules laden with even more supplies; her brother planned that they should be at the Salado camp within three days. Margaret’s heart was wrung – she had seen this so many times before! The only solace she might take in this prospect was that there were no young boys among the riders this time, only men and many of them battle-hardened and wily, veterans of the first fight for Bexar, back in the beginning, of the mad scramble to withdraw from the west, after the fall of the Alamo, veterans of San Jacinto, of Plum Creek and a thousand small skirmishes with Mexicans soldiers and Indians alike. And General Sam – he would not let this insult pass, indeed he would not. And with that, Margaret would have to be content.

It was little more than a week before Margaret and those still remaining in Austin received certain news of what had happened at Bexar. The Mexicans had withdrawn – that was the best of it. The Texian companies from the lower Colorado settlements, to include Captain Hays’ Rangers, had lured a large portion of the Mexican force out of Bexar, lured them into a trap among the sandy creek-beds and thickets of mesquite and scrub oaks north of the town. There they fought a sharp skirmish, and sent the Mexicans reeling back . . . but a company of fifty or so volunteers from La Grange, led by Captain Mosby Dawson, had just arrived, and hearing the distant sounds of the fight had advanced to the aid of their comrades. They were overrun by the Mexican cavalry, before they could join the main Texian companies, safely entrenched along Salado Creek. All but fifteen or so were captured alive, the rest being killed in the fight, or upon surrendering. Within days, the Mexican general Woll and his columns of marching men, of cavalry and the heavy cannons had withdrawn from Bexar, retreating slowly back towards the Rio Grande. But he took hostages with him, those men captured in Bexar, and in the skirmishing along Salado Creek. Nonetheless, this invasion had been stopped, and Margaret and her household rejoiced, until a tear-stained letter from Morag arrived; Daniel Fritchie was one of Dawson’s men captured at Salado, and his brother killed.

Worse yet emerged in the next weeks; those prisoners taken in Bexar, those men who had been at the meeting of the district court were not released on the banks of the Rio Grande, as they had been promised by General Woll. Dr. Williamson’s captivity would be of longer duration than merely a few weeks; Margaret fumed when she read of this new treachery in the newspapers, and Hetty wept when she re-read Morag’s piteous letter.

“Oh, Marm – what will she do, then?” she cried, and Margaret answered, practically. “She writes that she is become ill very often, and she cannot rest . . .”

“She must come home to us, of course. It’s the heat,” Margaret had her own suspicious about what was making Morag ill.

“And I will go to fetch her, o’ course,” Seamus O’Doyle looked immediately more cheerful. He had made some adjustment to Morag’s marriage in the past months; Margaret thought that perhaps Hetty had spoken to him bluntly on the subject.

The final blow, when it fell was not completely unexpected: citing the constant danger of hostile incursions from Mexico and from the Indians, General Sam called the Legislature to meet at Washington-on-the-Brazos . . . not at Austin. Margaret was philosophical, at least more so than Mrs. Eberly, who predictably enough was furious. She stumped up the hill to consult with Margaret – or at least, to complain angrily while Margaret listened.

“Who does General Sam think he is?” the Widow Eberly shouted, “And who to those lily-livered men think they are – afraid to come to this place, to do the business required of the nation…”

“They may rightfully fear such, seeing how the men who attended district court were dragged from Bexar as prisoners,” Margaret began; a temporizing statement which was entirely wasted on Mrs. Eberly.

“Fear of a Meskin sojer jumping out of a bush has gelded every one of them!” Mrs. Eberly stormed on, “That drunken old lecher may as well have taken a knife and done it wholesale – I’ll lay any roads that he has gone around, talking up how dangerous it is to all! This will be the ruination of our business, Miz Vining, the ruination of it all!”

“This was a passing emergency, Mrs. Eberly, a passing emergency,” Margaret said, “They were defeated, and have withdrawn over the Rio Grande…”

“Aye, and thanks to our men, men like your brother – and no thanks to General Sam this time! Leave it to our best to take up a musket and defend our homes – what has it come to, that our own leader will not take up his duty here – where we had established our city!”

“I am sure that the legislature will meet here, next time,” Margaret was about to give up being soothing, as it seemed to have little effect upon Mrs. Eberly.

“They had better so,” Mrs. Eberly replied, “For all the offices are here, and the archives safe-guarded in the land office. How can you conduct the business of the country, without the records of matters? Tell me that, Miz Vining!”

“I am sure they cannot,” Margaret sighed. “Truth to tell, Mrs. Eberly – I am not so disappointed in this matter. Poor Dr. Williamson! We shall miss him so dreadfully. Morag is with child, you see – and Daniel Fritchie is a prisoner also. Mr. O’Doyle has gone to Mina with a wagon, to bring her back to stay with us. We hope every day that Daniel will be freed, but she is so young and alone, and they had not been married all that long.”

“Hard times,” Mrs. Eberly said, with a grim expression, “And even harder, for it is our own leader making it harder for us. Aye well – it’s lads like that brother of yours that stand guard for us; aye, I can sleep at night, knowing it’s he and Captain Jack Hays and Captain Caldwell and all . . . what have we done to deserve that devotion, Mrs. Vining?”

“I do not know,” Margaret confessed, “But I think they feel it to be their duty, whether we be open in our gratitude or not.”

“Well, if and when your brother and any of his comrades come to Austin again,” Mrs. Eberly patted her knee fondly, “And you have not the space for them all, I’ll gladly make room – and not charge a bit. It’s the least we can do for our lads, isn’t it?”

“The very least,” Margaret answered, and left unspoken the question – would Carlchen ever return to the family home, when business or war did not take him?

Morag did return, and with tears of mingled joy and distress, as Seamus O’Doyle came around and handed her carefully down from the wagon seat. It was October; the days were drawing shorter, with grey-clouded skies and a chill wind from the north. She ran lightly to Hetty’s embrace; there was no sign outwardly that she was with child, save for the sudden sharpness of the cheekbones in her face. There is a difference in the face of a woman who is bearing, or has born a child, Margaret thought; something elemental, no matter how young she may be herself. She had observed it in the faces of those friends of her girlhood in Gonzales, seen it in her own features – and now it was in Morag’s face, when she turned from her sister to Margaret.

“Dear little girl,” Margaret whispered – what it might have been to have had a younger sister of her own, or a daughter! “I think you have some news to tell us.”

“You knew!” Morag’s face fell, and then her expression danced into laughter, as she hugged Margaret. “But of course, Marm – you know everything!”

“Know of what?” Hetty looked from one to another, slightly baffled, and Margaret marveled at how she and Morag were now united in a sisterhood, despite the years between the two of them, and her long friendship with Hetty – the bond of sisterhood between the mothers of children.

“That I will have a child to console me!” Morag embraced her sister again, “That Danny will return, an’ I will have his son to show him! He knew, o’ course. That was why he went w’ Captain Dawson! ‘Meggie, he said to me – I must do what I must to keep us safe, now more than ever – for th’ matter is most urgent!’ An’ I kissed him an’ said that he must do what he must . . . an’ oh, Marm – what was I thinkin’? For now I want him worse than I have iver wanted him, t’ be at my side . . . “and she dissolved into tears on Margaret’s shoulder. “Moods,” she said over Morag’s shoulder to the much-puzzled Hetty. “It comes with the country of children. That you will have moods and your children alike, and hope that your kin and friends may forgive you for being considerably out of sorts with the world, whilst you are in the process of bearing them.”

“Oh, me ain darlin’!” Hetty cried, with sudden comprehension grown doubly fond. “Come and lay down within! This is happy news, so ‘tis!” She embraced her sister, and walked to the house with her arm around her waist. Meanwhile, Seamus O’Doyle had lifted down the little trunk, which was all that Morag had brought with her.

“It was a good thought, to have her come home to stay with us,” Margaret said to him, “And thank you for bringing her.”

“Aye well, she’s as dear as kin,” Seamus O’Doyle replied. “And Danny is a foine lad – we’ll just see about getting him back, won’t we, Marm? They say in Mina that there’s news that General Sam is raising a large army, to strike at Mexico in hopes of freeing our boys. Is it true, now?”

“It has been in several newspapers,” Margaret answered, “So I think it must be. But I would have known so, even if I had not read of it. I don’t believe we would tamely submit to such a provocation as the taking of Bexar, and the kidnapping of our own citizens.”

“No, we would not,” Seamus O’Doyle agreed, and he had such a thoughtful expression on his face, that Margaret knew he must have already begun thinking about this. “No, we would not, indade.”

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