Ashes on His Boot

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Guns or Roses - Winter and Spring 1841

On his way to the Menger Hotel, Jack Hays stepped from one wet board to another, wanting to stay out of the mud in the San Antonio streets. Damned rain had been going on since Thanksgiving. No amount of wet was going to dampen Jack’s enthusiasm, though. Three weeks earlier, just before Christmas, he’d been issued one hundred twenty Paterson Colt revolvers and five revolver rifles. All his boys would get two pistols and some extra five-round cylinders. Two of the rifles would for sure go to Flacco and Red Wing. Those Apache boys were the best rifle shots he’d ever come across. He’d see if his scouts liked the repeaters better than those single-shot Jaegers they’d been so proud of.

One long stride put Jack beyond the puddle at the foot of the Menger front entryway. He stomped his boots and shook the water from his oilcloth duster and hat. Jack stepped into the lobby, lit by too few candles in the massive wood chandelier over his head. The innkeeper stood by in the gloom, ready to direct him to his dinner guests already in the dining room.
Guests? Jack had expected only one, Emily West. She was back in San Antonio at Sam Houston’s request to help Jack train his Rangers with the Paterson Colts. Who the hell was the second person? Wasn’t Sam Colt – the innkeeper had said Miz West had brought another woman with her.
Ornate oil lamps on the walls and candles on the tables brightened the Menger dining room more than the lobby. Jack peered in and spotted Emily at a table near the back wall. A stunning, dark-haired young woman sat across from her. Both women’s profiles reflected in soft, yellow light. They leaned toward each other in conversation. Emily sipped ale from a tin. The other woman was having…wait a minute. My God, sure as sure could be, that was the girl who’d been picking flowers when he did the coin trick a couple years back. He’d remember that face anywhere, hat or no hat. What was going on? Who was she, and why was she with Emily?
“Oh Jack, over here. Here we are.” Emily smiled, waving him over. “It’s so good to be back. So good to see you again.”
She stood and grasped Jack’s arm. Emily extended her hand toward the seated woman. The woman smiled. Recognition?
“May I introduce my traveling companion?” Emily said. “This is Miss Susan Calvert. We met on the steamer coming from New Orleans to Galveston. As is often the case, the world is quite small. She, like me, has seen you in action, Mad Jack.”
Blood rose under Jack’s collar and flushed his cheeks. Good thing he’d grown that beard. He took off his cap and nodded polite as he could to Miz Calvert, then pulled a chair back from the table and sat down. Hard to believe. Jack was about to eat dinner with the two best-looking women in San Antone, and he already knew one of them a lot better than he probably should, especially if he and Emily had to work side-by-side for the next few weeks.
But what about Miz Calvert here? All decked out in fancy clothes – pretty damn fine looking. So she’d told Emily about his trick riding shenanigans. As far as Jack knew, he was still the only rider who could snatch a silver coin out of the dust at full gallop. Now what the hell had Emily told this girl about him?
“Good evenin’, Miss Emily.” Jack nodded, then turned to the other woman. “And I’m pleased to meet you, Miss Calvert. Believe I must have seen you somewhere’s around San Antone. Maybe a couple of years back. How you been keeping?”
“I have been well, Captain.” Susan Calvert spoke a little more Texan-like than Emily. “I was visiting then from Alabama. Happily, though, I now call Seguin my home. My father’s Judge Jeremiah Calvert. You’ve perhaps been in his courtroom?”
She looked at Jack with dark, penetrating eyes. Eyes he’d not forgotten. Jack smiled and glanced from Susan Calvert to Emily and back. He signaled the waiter to bring him an ale, then put one hand on the flintlock jammed into his shirtwaist.
“No, Ma’am, not been to Seguin,” Jack replied. “Mostly just chasin’ Indians these days. Not much to do with bandits and ne’er-do-wells. And we don’t ever have to bring them Comanche boys in for court.” He smiled and lowered his voice. “I’m confident your father’s a fine judge, though. Like to make his acquaintance one of these days.”
No wedding ring. Maybe no man in her life? Fact was, she had no jewelry on at all. Kind of odd for an Easterner. Even Texas women, leastways the up-bred ones, had a bracelet or a necklace or two. Emily liked silver. She almost always wore bracelets and nice earrings.
Jewelry or no, Miss Calvert was sure interesting looking. A thin scar peeked out of that scarf round her neck. Her hands were a little red and not quite as well-kept as Emily’s. Anyway, he’d hear her story more another time. For now, he needed to focus on the business that had brought Emily West back to Texas; getting him and his boys trained to use the Colt pistols.

The next morning, more rain drummed overhead. Jack leaned back in his chair in the company headquarters tent. Rain or no rain, sure had been nice to see Emily again. He’d missed her. Liked the new girl, Susan, too. Last night when dinner was done, she’d promised to invite him over to Seguin soon. Didn’t say a thing about Emily coming with him, neither.
Thunder erupted. No, not thunder, but a helluva noise, anyway. Somebody was stomping on the walkway boards outside like a bear in boots. Dammit, what was all the commotion? Hays moved to the entryway and threw back the wet tent flap. Water splashed, not on a grizzly bear, but on a Biblical Goliath of a man. The fellow had to be near seven foot tall, wearing a wide, dripping wet hat and covered head-to-foot in fringed, soaked-to-the-skin leather. The rain-drenched giant grinned and looked down at him.
“Cap’n Hays, are ya?” The voice was even higher pitched than Jack’s. “My proper name’s William A. Wallace, originally the Virginia Wallaces.” One meaty hand at the end of an arm longer than Jack’s leg reached out. “Most folks just call me ‘Bigfoot.’ Lot easier to remember. I’m reporting for duty. Orders from Colonel Will. Will Cook, that is.”
So General Sam and Colonel Cook were making good on their promise to send him some seasoned Indian fighters. Two had already shown up. One, Bob Gillespie, was a Tennessee boy, a little taller than Jack, as most folks were. Bob had said he and his brothers started some kind of land speculation business over in Matagorda. He got bored and started fighting Indians for fun and eventually met up with General Sam just before San Jacinto. Gillespie must’ve fought pretty well if Sam Houston had personally recommended him.
The second recruit was a Marylander. Quiet fellow by the name of Sam Walker. Told Jack he’d come up against the Seminoles fighting in Florida. He’d used a Paterson Colt revolver there. To hear Sam Walker tell it, when the damned thing didn’t misfire, wasn’t nothing else in the world better for killin’ Indians. Now, what of this giant in front of him, Bigfoot Wallace? Jack motioned the big man into the headquarters tent and sat him down.
“So, Private Wallace.” Jack looked at the open, long face of his newest recruit. “What’s your story? How come you showed up here in the pourin’ rain, all ready to ride with Hays’ Rangers?”
“Cap’n sir, like I done said,” Bigfoot Wallace responded as he took off his wet hat. “I come from Virginia little while back. Had a brother’n a cousin come here before me. They was at Goliad with Fannin. Murderin’ Mexican bastards kilt ’em both.”
Bigfoot Wallace bowed his massive head. His mountain of a body shivered all over. Goliad, that hell hole. Damn the memory, the sweat, death rot smell, bodies stacked high, men on the burial detail swearing and vomiting. So two of those dead boys had been Wallace’s relations? No wonder the big fellow was pissed off. He had a right to be. Everybody in Texas ought to by God remember Goliad.
“I’m real sorry to hear that,” Jack said, locking eyes with Bigfoot Wallace. “It was a terrible thing. I was there, too, but just for burying. One of these days, us Rangers’ll give you a shot at the Mexicans.”
Jack handed Wallace papers to sign, along with a pencil, and pointed to where he expected Wallace to make no more than an “X.” The big man licked the pencil point and scribed “William A. Wallace” in flowing script. The new recruit was more educated than he appeared.
“For now, Private Wallace,” Jack added. “Comanches are the job.”
“Captain Hays.” Bigfoot spoke, keeping steely-eyed contact. “I can shoot a turkey eye out at two hunnert yards with this here piece.” He hoisted a well-oiled Jaeger rifle and shook it by the hand guard. “If we ain’t got no Mexicans yet, I’m proud to stay on and shoot somethin’ else that’s useless. Goddamn Comanche’ll do just fine.”

Seguin wasn’t all that far from San Antone, at least not when Jack had a pony that liked to run and knew the wagon trail. Jack had already been over to Judge Calvert’s for dinner once since he’d met Susan back in the winter. He looked forward to his second meeting with her this afternoon and evening. He slowed the pony to a trot at the long path leading up to the Calvert estate.
Susan and her mother, Missus Priscilla, were waiting on the steps of the big Victorian house. A taller shadow in the doorway behind them had to be the Judge. The two women smiled and waved. Jack touched his hat brim and dismounted.
Their Mexican servant boy came, just like the first time, and took Jack’s horse and his pommel bag. He hoped the boy would put the bag in the same sleeping room again, the one with the high, four-poster bed. Jack had not slept better since he’d left Aunt Rachel’s and President Jackson’s Hermitage years ago, back in Nashville.
Jack wore his best black trousers, new boots, a silver-studded vest, and a cutaway black jacket. Cleaning up the white shirt underneath hadn’t been easy. Still a little damp. He’d left the sea cap in his quarters and instead wore a new broad-brimmed, white hat. A regular western hat and the Paterson Colt strapped on his right thigh were more Ranger-like.
With all the range firing, Jack hadn’t had time to trim his beard, either. Susan wouldn’t mind. But her mother would comment, sooner or later. Clean shaven men were her preference, she’d said. So how could the Judge keep those hellish long and bushy white sideburns?
“An uneventful ride, I trust?” Judge Calvert surged in front of the two women on the top step. “Come on up the stairs, Captain.” The man still sounded formal, courtroom-like. “You’ll need to go inside and get freshened up pretty quick. Dinner’s in one hour.”
Susan Calvert took Jack’s arm and guided him through the wide entryway. He’d best take off the hat and put it somewhere close to the door. Better unstrap the pistol, too, for politeness. The weapon could hang close-by on his chair post, even at dinner. Judge and Missus Calvert understood that Rangers needed to keep their guns ready. And damn, whatever was cooking smelled good. Sure as hell, he’d not be eating beans and tamales tonight.

After dinner, Jack sat beside Susan on the maroon velvet couch in the Calvert’s parlor. Polite talk with Judge and Missus Calvert went on until the Judge and his wife went off to bed. Once he and Susan had moved out onto the moonlit porch and the cooler evening air, Jack pushed the double rocker back and forth with one foot. Susan Calvert sat close and held his arm. The broad, slatted seat swayed as the curved wooden rails creaked in a slow arc.
“A beautiful night,” Susan whispered.
Jack nodded and looked up. Damn, another full moon. Comanche raiding parties were probably out somewhere, terrorizing settlers. He’d be out there soon with his company, tracking the savages, killing some off, and chasing the rest back into their camps. Wonder what the Comanche would think when they came up against his new pistols?
And what might Emily West back in San Antone be up to this evening? She might not approve of his sittin’ here like this with Susan. Truth be told, Emily was the kind of woman he could have fun with – hell, even go to war with – but Jack wasn’t coming home to Emily every night the rest of his life. Wouldn’t want her to be the mother of his children, neither. Anyway, she probably couldn’t see herself having babies and being a homebody. Now this girl, Susan here, that was another matter.
Jack turned to look at his companion swaying beside him in the rocker. She faced Jack and smiled. Her smooth skin shone in the moonlight. Dark hair fell in soft curls over her bare shoulders.
“Why, Jack Hays,” Susan teased. “Whatever are you contemplating? That face is so…so dead serious.”
“Aw, nothing much, Susie,” Jack hedged. “The Judge was sorta hard on me at dinner tonight. All that preaching about how us Rangers are sometimes more vigilantes than lawmen. Hard to keep quiet about matters like that. He ain’t right, you know. Leastways, your Pa’s not right when it comes to Hays’ Rangers.”
Susan Calvert put her arm around Jack’s shoulder, brushed his cheek with her lips and whispered close to one ear. “You did fine, Jack. You held your tongue real civil. Daddy’s just making sure that he’s got the upper hand in case we get serious.” She eyed Jack. “So what’s next for Captain John Coffee Hays? You coming back to Seguin soon, or do I have to come over to San Antonio to see what you and my friend Emily are up to?”
Dammit all, the redness hit his face again. He’d get by with blushing this time. The moon was at Jack’s back, and the beard covered his cheeks. Damn-well time to be straight up with Miss Calvert about him and women, though.
Jack wanted to sound sincere. “Susie, for sure, ain’t nothin’ but business, pistol training, between me and Miss Emily. Now that the training’s all done, I figure she’ll be leavin’ soon.” He shifted closer on the seat. “Then me and my boys, we’ll head out after the Comanche. Probably be gone least a couple of months. Could be more.”
Susan pulled away from him and tried to stand. What the hell? Jack pulled her down again onto the rocker. Susan wrestled his hand away and drew a small kerchief from her bodice, clearly upset.
“Look here, Susie. Dammit,” Jack grumbled, a hand on her arm. “Why you puckerin’ like that? Fightin’s what I come to Texas for in the first place. I’ll be back in camp soon enough. August, for sure. I’ll come straight back to Seguin and see how things are with you and your folks.”
Susan Calvert’s mouth curled down. She jumped from the rocker and dabbed at her eyes. Uh-oh, he’d messed up now. Jack sprang up and reached for her shoulder. Susan Calvert shrugged off his hand and headed for the door, leaving him with the sound of fading sobs. Somewhere deep inside the house a door slammed. Dammit all, still a lot he needed to learn about courting.

The April sun was bright and just warm enough to bring out the buffalo clover and indian paintbrush scattered around the Ranger camp. Jack sat on a rough bench in front of his command tent, black field cap pulled down to shade his eyes. He waited for Flacco. He’d finished training his Rangers with the new Paterson Colts and life was getting simpler. Emily West, her assignment done, had gone back East. Only Susan Calvert was left for Jack to worry about. Flacco had asked for the meeting, wanted something. Serious or not, Jack could fix whatever the Apache’s problem was.
“Captain Jack,” Chief Flacco arrived, out of breath. “Very sorry you wait long for me. Many pony problems this morning.”
“Ain’t like I had somewhere else to be, Chief.” Jack’s mood was light. “Sit down. What’s on your mind? Need more arrows? More ponies? Pistols? Hell, just name it. We’ll get whatever you need.”
“Flacco worry much.” The scout’s voice was grave. He cleared his throat. “Bad medicine, Captain Jack. Real bad. Flacco say straight. Too much woman I think for you. First, some night all night by Madam West, I know. Now, more bad. You gone every time. Ride to Miss Susan in Seguin. Long ride. Pony tired. Sweat when back. You tired, too, Captain Jack. Much, much womans make too tired fight Comanche.”
“Wait a damned minute, Chief,” Jack broke in. “Firstly, training’s gone well. Our boys are prepared. You done said so yourself. And Miss West is gone. Second, I was only two nights over to Judge Calvert’s place in Seguin.”
Flacco shook his head. Didn’t agree at all. Dammit, Flacco might be a great tracker, a helluva rifle shot, and loyal as a blue tick hound, but his fuckin’ Apache scout needed to stay out of Jack’s love life.
“Me and the womenfolk, Chief.” Jack frowned. “We ain’t none of your concern. Man needs a woman sometimes. Man needs to relax. Even you Apache Chiefs.”
Hays winked one eye and pulled his pistol. Flacco didn’t move, didn’t flinch. Jack half-cocked the new Colt repeater and waved the barrel toward the hills.
“And as for fightin’ Comanche out there,” Jack lectured. “I’m sure as hell prepared. How ’bout you?”
“Captain Jack,” Chief Flacco spoke low, “Rangers like Colt gun. Even some bad pieces fly off, new gun kill many enemy. Wipe out Comanche. Maybe one time, devil Mexicanos, too. But much bad medicine now in your head. Lady parts make Captain Jack forget first job, kill Buffalo Hump.”
“So I’m not doin’ what I ought to, Chief?” Jack raised his voice and brandished the pistol. “You say them women are distracting me? Do I look wore out to you? Damn your red ass, Chief. That’s pure crap. Nothing but bullshit.”
Flacco bolted upright, snapped his feet together and eyed Jack. The damned Indian wasn’t finished with his lecture. Jack holstered his weapon.
“Flacco say straight one time more, Captain. Leave ladies be.” He touched one palm to his chest. “They bad medicine. Flacco say you no need permanent woman. Now Captain Jack have no time for smell rose. Captain Jack need smell gun smoke. Time to kill everybody we not like.”
One helluva lecture he’d gotten from Chief Flacco. The Indian wasn’t happy with Jack’s courting. Susan was already pissy about his going off to fight all the time. Hard to see how he could lead his Rangers to Flacco’s satisfaction and still keep the peace with Susan. One matter the Indian was right about, though. Out hunting Comanche for the next couple of months, he couldn’t afford to have Susan Calvert or Emily West on his mind. That could get him killed.

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