My Writing

22 September, 2019

Re-Reading Racism

I have spent the past week and a bit more or less unable to write—more specifically, unable to type, thanks to retinal surgery—and so to occupy my time I've been reading.

Title page of the novel Kim,
from Wikimedia Commons
Well, okay, I am always reading, spending easily as much time reading as I do writing. But in this case I've very specifically been reading old novels and stories (following up my journey into Dumas the elder), from the period of the 1880s and 1890s into the first two decades of the twentieth century: titles such as Kidnapped, The Black Arrow, The Wrong Box (Stevenson); The Prisoner of Zenda, Rupert of Hentzau (Hope); Kim (Kipling); The Riddle of the Sands (Childers); and Valmouth, Santal, and Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli (Firbank). Most of these books I had never read before; all save for the Firbank novels (which truly are uncategorizable) are adventure stories.

And, alas, all are full of incidents of what I'll call casual racism. (And dear lord, don't even ask about the misogyny...)

13 September, 2019

Bonny Blue Flag 2.5

Previous    First

[Concluding chapter two]

“That will take some of the sting out of your having to leave everything behind,” Patton said, gazing in wonder at the stack of bills Cleburne held in his fist. They had pulled over to the side of the road—the track, really—a mile or so beyond an abandoned church two or three hours northwest of Vidalia. “Now all you need is someplace to spend it. How much is there?” he asked.

“Nelson had two hundred dollars and a note from Walker saying receipts must be provided for any horses bought.” Cleburne laughed, but there was no humor in it. “Armies are the same everywhere, I guess. McConnell had another twenty-four in coin. I can imagine how he got it.”

Patton felt a tension leave him, a feeling he’d been trying to ignore. The fact that Walker had provided money to buy fresh horses—and two hundred dollars was more than was necessary for a single rider—had to mean that it was Walker’s intent that Patton join him. The fear Nelson had brought forth had been groundless. He’d never know what the Georgian had actually intended for him, but at least he could allay his fears about his commander.

“Don’t you think we should stop now?” he asked. “I don’t think I’ve slept more than a couple of hours in the last three nights, and not at all in maybe thirty hours now.”

“I’m in no better state than you,” the Irishman said. “And I don’t know I’ll be able to sleep, either, until I know that we’re past the immediate possibility of a pistol-ball in the back of the head. I’ve campaigned, Patton, more than you have. But this sneaking about is not a way of doing things I’m accustomed to.”

I rather like it, Patton was surprised to find himself thinking. He hadn’t felt this alert, this much alive, since he’d arrive at the military academy. This made him think of Stewart, and wonder what his friend had got up to since leaving. “You haven’t really explained how Stewart was able to talk you into following me,” he said.

Cleburne grinned ruefully. “He didn’t have to talk me into anything. I jumped like a fish at a fly. Just wanted some adventure, was all. I guess I shouldn’t be complaining, since I’ve now more adventure than any ten men would want to swallow.” He looked about for a moment. “Let’s leave the road here,” he said, and led them into the woods a few minutes. “This should do.” He dismounted.

“I saw my share of adventure when I was with the colors, I suppose,” he continued after they had tied and hobbled the horses. “But shooting at wogs in India wasn’t my idea of a rich, full life. I thought I’d be able to build something for myself on the frontier, so I emigrated like so many other ex-soldiers. And then I found myself settling into a predictable life as a respected businessman, selling draughts to merchants and encouraging miscarriages in their mistresses.” He saw the look on Patton’s face. “Do I shock you?”

Patton shook his head, and hoped Cleburne believed him. He’d tried to present himself as a gay dog, but the truth was he knew almost nothing about women. He decided he had more important things to worry about just now. “You found that life boring?” he said. It was clumsy, but he wanted Cleburne talking about anything else.

“It was comfortable,” Cleburne said, “and that was the problem. I could have been a successful druggist in Dublin or London. Coming to North America was my way of forcing myself to build a new life, to try to be more than I’d been before. So when Stewart asked me to watch out for you—yes, Patton, he did—I didn’t think much about it—I just saddled my horse, packed an insufficient amount of food, and set off after you. I nearly lost you a couple of times; that Nelson was a good scout. But in the end your trail wasn’t too hard to follow, I guess.”

He sat up. “I’d no idea what I planned to do when I caught up with you beyond asking if I could go with you wherever it was you were going. But now that your Captain Nelson is dead, I think it’s fair for me to ask: What happens next?”

Aye, that’s the question, Patton thought. What do I dare tell him? I owe Cleburne a lot; he’s saved my life, after all. But it’s not a matter of whether I trust him. Will Colonel Walker trust him?

“Oh, God,” he said, realization dawning.

“What’s the matter?” Cleburne asked, sitting up straight.

What in the world am I going to tell Colonel Walker about Nelson? Patton asked himself.

One thing at a time, he decided. “This will take a while to tell,” he said to Cleburne. “What do you know about Texas?”

Next    Chapter One    Chapter Two

12 September, 2019

A Possible Hiatus

Image from Wikimedia Commons, of course
I've recently undergone retinal surgery, and my recovery from this appears set to take rather longer than I had anticipated. There are no causes for concern, I just hadn't done enough research into the post-operative conditions with which I am having to deal.

The most aggravating of these is the presence of a bubble of air in my left eye, which is behaving precisely the way the bubble in a carpenter's spirit level does... right down to the wobbling whenever the frame around it (i.e. my head) moves. The consequence of this bubble's behaviour is such that typing sets off a riot of jiggling movement in the affected eye. And this movement, after not very many minutes at all, induces a sort of motion-sickness. Nausea is not remotely conducive to creativity.

So I'm not currently able to write: this note is, in fact, the largest number of words I've been able to type in nearly a week. The Bonny Blue Flag posts that have been appearing this week were formatted and scheduled a week ago; when chapter two concludes I won't have any more material available for publishing. Let's hope that by the middle of the month I'm feeling better able to manage a keyboard.

In the meantime, I can read and watch movies without too much difficulty. So I've been entertaining myself by revisiting Kurosawa (Yojimbo, Sanjuro) and by doing something I'd always meant to but somehow never got around to: reading adventure novels from the nineteenth century. I started with Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo (I read the abridged version, which is 530 pages; the unabridged translation is something like 1,400 pages long and I'm not that desperate for entertainment), then went on to The Three Musketeers (Dumas was clearly paid by the word).

From Dumas I went forward fifty years to Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda. This novel was spoiled for me, somewhat, because decades ago I read George MacDonald Fraser's Royal Flash, which rips off retells the story so completely the only new thing about the book, for me, was Hope's writing style. About which the less said the better.

Anyway, I am within the possible limits of recovery enjoying myself, and hope to resume posting on a more regular basis fairly quickly. Don't be dismayed, though, if I have to take a week off.

Stay tuned to this channel.

Bonny Blue Flag 2.4

Previous    First

[Continuing chapter two]

Patton stood up—he had somehow either fallen or dropped to cover when Cleburne fired—and picked up his new rifle, aiming it at McConnell. No examination was needed to prove that the Irishman was dead; Cleburne’s shot had taken him square in the temple, and part of his skull had gone when the ball had exited through the other side of the man’s head. Patton offered a silent prayer of thanks for his salvation, then repeated the thanks out loud to Cleburne.

“Plenty of time for that later, son,” Cleburne said. “We’ve got little time now, and plenty to do.” He knelt down and began to search Nelson’s body.

Patton shook his head; the universe had returned to full speed again, before his mind had. Neither Cleburne’s words nor his actions seemed to make any sense. “What’s the problem?” he asked.

“The problem, Patton me lad, is that half the countryside is up in arms and the Mounties will be here any minute.”

“The who?”

“The North-West Mounted Police. They’re—I’ll explain later.” He pulled something from Nelson’s jacket, and whistled. “Your friend was well provided for,” he said. “Now come on, Patton, do something. Pack everything onto the horses: We’ve got to be moving, and soon.”

At Cleburne’s insistence they left Nelson with McConnell. “Don’t know how interested the Canadians will be in your companion, but somehow I feel he’s not unknown to them. We don’t have time to bury him, and we sure as hell don’t want anyone to see us lugging his body with us.”

When Patton went to Nelson’s horse he found an arsenal strapped to the huge animal. There were two more revolvers there, and one of those massive Currie revolving rifles Stewart had obtained for Walker’s expedition. And cartridge bags containing what looked like hundreds of balls, and at least fifty of the peculiar wood-and-paper cartridges the needle guns fired. Soon as I can, he thought, I’m going to shift some of this weight to the other animals. They had four of them now, which would help them move as quickly as Cleburne seemed to want.

“Why are we in such a hurry?” Patton asked Cleburne as they skirted around the town as far away from its buildings as they could. His mind was beginning to settle and focus now that the mad dash to get away from the killing scene was over. “What are these Mounties to make you so wary of them? And how in the world did you end up here in the first place?”

“First things first,” Cleburne said. “The North West Mounted Police are—well, they’re like Texas Rangers only better dressed and better behaved. They’re not quite an army, but more than a city watch. I guess you could call them a police force organized on military lines, the way some are in Europe. The Canadians formed them a year or two back to enforce law and order in the western territories. Very big on law and order, Canadians are, Patton. And we have just broken the law, with a flourish.”

“I would argue that we’d been doing our duty as soldiers.”

“Save that I’m not a soldier.” Cleburne’s gaze was stern. “Nor, unless I miss my guess, are you any longer.”

“Well, yes. There is that. I still don’t understand why the hurry. In Virginia, nobody would come to investigate something like this until first light.”

“Patton, do you have any idea where you are?” Cleburne’s face, what Patton could see of it in the dawn half-light, looked drawn. “This part of Louisiana was settled by veterans of Wellington’s army. They and their sons have the habit of keeping an eye on things. Everyone for miles around heard those shots, and shooting is something that doesn’t happen much on this side of the river.”

Patton thought a while. “Well, I surely don’t want to draw the law’s attention.” Then he remembered his second question. “And how did you end up saving my life?”

“Call it a parting gift from your friend Stewart. When I said good-bye to him he asked me to look after you. For some reason he seemed to think you might be trouble-prone.” He gave a ghost of a laugh. “I set out after you with not a lot more than the clothes I’m wearing and my only decent pistol. You were easy enough to follow—a woodsman you assuredly are not—but I don’t know how or when McConnell picked up your trail. I didn’t see him until just after you reached the top of that hill back there.”

“What matters to me is that you caught up with him,” Patton said.

Next    Chapter One    Chapter Two

11 September, 2019

Bonny Blue Flag 2.3

Previous    First

[Continuing chapter two]

Patton watched the shadows lengthen across the glade and prayed to God to make his thighs and ass stop hurting. I wonder if I’ll ever walk again, he thought, glaring at Nelson—who seemed to have borne the long day’s ride with no trouble whatever. Even the horses seemed to have managed the day better than Patton had. He shifted slightly, trying to change the distribution of his weight to ease his discomfort, not that this had worked any of the previous times he’d tried it. The worst of it was, he couldn’t say anything; he was certain he’d be risking invalidation from Walker’s expedition should he let on to Nelson that he was suffering after just one day of riding.

At last Nelson waved a halt and slid easily from the saddle.

“This is far enough for today,” he said. “Have to do better tomorrow, though.” Damn, thought Patton, but said nothing. It cost him considerably to avoid vocalizing his pain when he dismounted.
He looked around. “Isn’t this on the exposed side?”

“I’m more concerned with seeing anybody comin’ than I am with hidin’,” Nelson said. He withdrew a rifle from a long saddle holster; Patton had never seen anything like it before. “Here,” Nelson said. “Colonel said you was to have one of these, being as you did so much to help out in New Orleans.”

This must be one of those needle-guns Stewart was going on about, Patton decided, taking the rifle in his hands. It was considerably less heavy than the Enfields he’d handled at school. “I have no idea how to work this,” he said. He eyed the mechanism warily. What was that thing that looked for all the world like a door-bolt?

“That’s too bad. I was counting on you to show me.” Nelson patted a second holster on the other side of his horse. “Well, for tonight we’ll just use one of the revolver rifles when we sit up.” He drove a peg into the ground and looped his horse’s reins through the loop at the top. “Tie up that scrawny bag of guts and let’s settle ourselves for the night.”

“Are you sure this is a safe place to stop? It doesn’t feel safe to me.”

“Shut up, boy. You’re not in charge here. Once we’re set we’ll see anyone coming from a mile away.”

“We going to have a fire?”

“And light ourselves up? Don’t be any stupider than you have to be. You think this place is cold?”

“I don’t think they know the meaning of the word cold down here,” Patton grumbled. “I just like a fire, is all.”

“Going to be hot enough where you two are going,” said a new voice. Patton froze.

Nelson did not.

As he spun around, an explosion pounded Patton’s ears; he saw a brief flash, and in the light of it Nelson was lit up as he continued spinning, then collapsed to the grass.

“Don’t,” the voice said as Patton made to help Nelson. “You can’t do anything for him, and I want your hands where I can see ‘em.”

“Why the hell did you do that?” Patton sounded whiny, like a little boy, and he didn’t care. Then he thought. He’s Irish. “You’ve been following me? Do I—?”

“No, you don’t know me. My name’s McConnell. Buidhe McConnell.” The name sounded something like Boy, which struck Patton as odd. “I have made an unfortunate acquaintance with your friend Captain Stewart. Now a bunch of my friends are dead and I owe him. Where is he?”

“He sure as hell isn’t here. I have no idea where he is now; he said he was going North on the river.”

“Ah, that’s too bad then. The river’s not safe for me just now.” McConnell frowned, thinking. In the gathering darkness his face looked like the Devil’s.

“I suppose you’ll have to do, then. All the same in the end, I suppose.” Patton heard McConnell cock his revolver.

“Wait,” Patton said. “Don’t do this. What do you want?”

“Shut up, boy,” Nelson said from where he lay curled up. His voice was half-whisper, half-groan.

“What, you not dead yet?” McConnell asked. He laughed, and shot Nelson in the head, making Patton jump worse than the horses had. Cocking his revolver again, McConnell looked up at Patton. “I’m going to gut-shoot you like I did your friend,” he said. “Then I’m going to leave you here. You’ll be hours dying, boyo. Now do you think it was worth it, messing with the Garda?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” It was remarkable, Patton decided, how calm he suddenly was. His heart was pounding, he could feel it, but somehow everything else seemed to have slowed down again. I’ve failed, he realized. God wants me to know the full depth of my failure so that I can repent and make my peace before I die. He began to pray—silently, he thought, until he realized that he was speaking the words “Sweet Jesus” aloud.

A hammer cocked, clicking like an infernal mechanical cricket. Patton had just enough time to think, McConnell’s gun is already cocked, and then McConnell was spinning around precisely as Nelson had, and there was another loud crack, another flaming tongue stabbing out from the darkness, and McConnell was falling, still spinning, while something whizzed past Patton’s head. For a heartbeat there was silence.

“You should be more careful of the company you keep, Patton,” said Patrick Ronayne Cleburne from the darkness.


Next    Chapter One    Chapter Two

10 September, 2019

Bonny Blue Flag 2.2

Previous    First

[Continuing chapter two]

Compared to Allison Nelson, Patton decided, the late Captain Menard had been a babbling brook. They’d been riding nearly two hours before Nelson uttered more than a grunt in response to one of Patton’s attempts to draw the Georgian into conversation. I never thought I’d miss that sad-faced French-Canadian, Patton thought, but right now I’d give a month’s pay to have someone to talk to who’d actually answer me from time to time.

The country through which they rode was a rich one, and the further they got from New Orleans the less pestilential the climate seemed to Patton. The road they took roughly paralleled the river, but at a distance that their New Orleans druggist friend, Patrick Cleburne, said had been arrived at through bitter experience of the Mississippi’s erratic changes of course and tendency to flood in the spring. The river approach itself was hidden by trees, many of them trailing long strands of Spanish Moss. To his left as they rode Patton could see large farmhouses that would shame most of Virginia’s plantation homes. Crowds of Negroes worked the fields here just as they did on the other side of the Mississippi, and Patton could not understand how their supposed freedom made life any better for these people; in the Confederacy, at least, their owners were charged with looking after the welfare of the slaves. In Canada, “free” Negroes were free to work themselves to death for wages too low for sustenance.

Freedom also made the Negroes arrogant, he reminded himself. This didn’t bother him, he admitted to himself, anywhere near as much as it did Stewart, but he was still annoyed by it; that sort of behavior would never be tolerated in Virginia, and Virginia was a more civilized place for it.

“I can’t wait to be shut of this place,” he muttered—and it was that which finally prompted intelligible words from Nelson.

“You ain’t been here near as long as I have, boy,” he said. “You can’t know the half of what it’s like.”
That wasn’t much to build on, but Patton was determined to make Nelson into at least a semblance of an ally, so he nodded agreement. “Can’t have been fun,” he said.

“I used to think that Yankees was smug and self-satisfied,” Nelson said. “They got nothin’ on Canadians and Limeys, though.”

Patton had no trouble agreeing with that. “I hope that before I die I’ll see this part of the continent under our flag. You have to think that’s part of God’s plan. Why cause our nation to be created if not to give it dominion over the whole of this continent?”

“What nation you talking about?” Nelson smiled, eyes narrowed a little. Patton saw brown and yellow teeth. “That ‘Manifest Destiny’ garbage was written about the old Union, not the Confederacy. And you should know that dominion is a word Canadians sometimes use too.”

“The Confederacy is the true inheritor of the spirit of the Founding Fathers,” Patton said, refusing to allow himself to be drawn. “We’re the ones who live up to those words about liberty and rights—both for states and for men.

“I would have liked the old Union to continue,” he said. “But not the way it was going. Those people up North were going to ruin it if we didn’t do something. Tell me you don’t agree that the best part of the old Union came with us into the Confederacy.”

“Can’t really answer to that,” Nelson said, “‘cause I don’t know much about the Confederacy. I been kind of busy the last few years. Ain’t been home much.”

Patton straightened himself in the saddle. “I wanted to ask you about that,” he said. “How exactly is Colonel Walker’s force organized? How did he fight in Cuba? What sort of tactics does he use? Do you fight on horseback like dragoons, or do you dismount and skirmish?”

Nelson laughed, and it wasn’t a pleasant-sounding laugh. Patton immediately flushed, knowing that he’d embarrassed himself and simultaneously resenting Nelson’s response. Those had been perfectly intelligent questions.

“I think,” Nelson said, “that there’ll be plenty of time for you to learn that.” He gave Patton a death’s-head grin. “Meantime, let’s try to pick up the pace a bit. I’d like to get this over with sooner rather than later.”

Next    Chapter One    Chapter Two

09 September, 2019

Bonny Blue Flag 2.1

Previous    First

22 APRIL 1851

VIDALIA, LOUISIANA

George Patton slackened his hold on the reins, letting the stolen horse lower its head to lip at the tall grass. From the top of this hill he looked down to where he was supposed to meet Captain Nelson, who would guide him to the rendezvous with Colonel Walker. Off to the east he could see the mauve beginnings of the new morning. The ground at the bottom of the hill was still shrouded in night, with no fires evident and no lights burning either.

Patton had been riding since leaving Charles Stewart in New Orleans, some five hours ago. He had stolen the horse from his Canadian hosts—and he had apparently stolen Stewart’s life from Colonel Walker. The colonel had sent a man to kill Stewart., thinking Patton’s friend could no longer be trusted. Patton hadn’t actually lifted a finger against Wilson, but his interruption had distracted the man for long enough to allow Stewart to kill him and escape.

He had been trying not to think of Stewart’s parting speech as he had ridden through the warm spring night, but it hadn’t been easy. I can’t help but wonder exactly which people in Texas invited the Colonel to invade them, Stewart had said. Why don’t you ask the people of Texas how they feel, once you get there? I wonder what sort of answer you’ll get?

Once, and only about a month ago, Stewart had been as eager as Patton to join Colonel Walker in liberating Texas. But Stewart had said, before shaking Patton’s hand good-bye, that he’d lost his taste for it—for Texas, for Colonel Walker, maybe even for war itself. He had been wrong, of course—was still wrong, wherever he was. Probably heading back north, to where General Jefferson Davis was readying for a Federal invasion.

Well, Stewart was already a hero; he could afford to turn himself into nothing more than a courier if he wanted to. I am going to prove myself, Patton thought, and Texas is where I’ll do it.

He reached into a pocket of his coat and brought out a crumpled map, something torn from a larger piece of cartography. Unfolding he saw the Canadian provinces of Louisiana and Missouri—though only the southern portion of the latter—and most of the Republic of Texas. A few notes and circles near a Louisiana town called Natchitoches on the Red River told Patton where the expedition’s forces had gathered. He figured he was a good ten days’ ride from Natchitoches, but that was well within Walker’s schedule as Patton understood it. The army of liberation wasn’t supposed to be ready to leave until nearly two weeks from now.

It felt strange to be wearing a uniform that wasn’t Confederate issue. Not that it was much of a uniform; Colonel Walker had insisted his officers provide themselves with something in a military style, but made of homespun cotton. The trousers were the pale blue worn by both the Federals and CSA, but the jacket was dyed a sort of yellow-brown, an utterly undistinguished color nobody could be proud of. The collar was soft and open at the neck, like any field-hand’s work shirt’s collar might be, and there were no cuffs to speak of. Never thought I’d miss that white coat as much as I do.

“You going to sit here gawking till daylight, boy?”

Patton nearly fell off his horse; his panicked reaction caused the hack to start, then frisk about, unhappy at his loss of control. “God damn it,” he whispered. Hauling the horse around he looked at a grim, hatchet-faced man who glared at him from under a floppy, broad-brimmed hat. “Who are you to sneak up on a man like that?”

“I’m your superior officer, boy, and if you ain’t figured that out yet it’s time to start.”

“You’re the captain?” Patton asked.

The man nodded his head curtly. “Allison Nelson. You Patton?”

“I am.”

“Then where’s Wilson? He supposed to be with you.”

“Haven’t seen him since he sent me away from Beacon’s,” Patton said. Which was very nearly true. “I was hoping he’d be coming with you.”

“Nobody told you what you were supposed to do?” Nelson dropped a hand to his hip, dangerously close to the handle of a big revolver.

“Just that I was supposed to meet you at a place called Vidalia. Which I’m guessing is that.” He nodded downslope at the town beginning to emerge from the darkness.

“Damn,” Nelson said softly. “I warned him what would happen if he kept everything so close to his vest.” Him, Patton figured, was Colonel Walker. Who, yes, had been unnecessarily close with important information. “Well, Wilson knows where he has to be, and when. We’d best be on our way there ourselves.”

He smiled in a very unfriendly way. “I hope you’re used to long riding, boy.”

Next    Chapter One

06 September, 2019

Bonny Blue Flag 1.2

Previous

[Concluding chapter one]

The new capitol building was now taking shape on the highest of the low hills rising up from the Brazos valley. That meant that a single white line of stone blocks had finally appeared on the leveled summit. The Texicans had won their freedom from Mexico quickly enough, Walker thought as he took in the construction work; they were proving somewhat less adept at building a proper republic. The building he now rode past exemplified that. A low, rambling wood-frame construct that suggested an overgrown bunkhouse, it was in fact the current home of the Texan Congress.

Most of the buildings in Washington were still wooden. At that, the locals were almost overweeningly proud of the fact that the newer buildings were clad in planed board rather than rough logs. On one or two streets, two- or even three-storey brick buildings had appeared, but they were exceptions and every one had been put up by a recent immigrant. The native Texicans—the original settlers and their second-generation descendants—were as casual about building their cities as they were about building their government institutions. Walker had some thoughts concerning that, about which he would make the Texicans aware when he and the Lord decided the time was right. He smiled at the Congress building, wondering if the honorable representatives would be engaging in fist-fighting or knife duels today.

The Courier office was another wooden building, but the newspaper’s publisher was one of those new immigrants, which meant that a three-story building had been framed out next to the office, and bricks were beginning to fill in the wooden outline.

James Russell was waiting for him on the wooden sidewalk out front. The publisher-editor was wearing his usual press-day outfit, a heavily stained, once-white smock over his dark trousers and waistcoat. His sleeves were rolled up in spite of the cool weather. But then, Russell was from Edinburgh, where today would have been considered balmy if not tropical. Only by Texas standards was it less than warm.

“I see you’re already set to go.”

“I was never one for drawn-out farewells,” Walker said.

“A pity, that. You could have made a fine writer, had you let me employ you a while longer.” Russell stepped forward, took the offered reins and looped them around a post while Walker dismounted. “Have you decided what to do when you get—to wherever you’re going? Will you go back to medicine?”

“I think I’ve seen enough illness for the rest of my life,” Walker said. He’d obtained his medical degree while still in his teens, and had even studied under a court physician to the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna during his travels. But medicine presented the wrong sort of challenge, and he found the odds stacked too heavily against him. “If I have to have a career, I think it’ll be journalism,” he added. “Though until I see how my aunt is going to deal with this latest illness, I don’t want to think too much about myself.”

“Ah, yes, your poor aunt. She’s in Havana, if I recall correctly.”

Walker allowed a slow smile to curl under his mustache. So Russell had heard about his service with Lopez. Well, there was no secret about that. “No, Nashville. I have a cousin in Havana.”

They laughed together, and Russell said, “I hope that the unpleasantness between the states won’t cause you any difficulty—not that I think you’re the sort to let a war inconvenience you.”

He was planning to travel overland to avoid the Federal blockade, but Walker felt it would be wiser to avoid revealing any details of his upcoming trip to anyone. Even falsified details could tell a clever opponent something about his true plans. “I don’t anticipate trouble, no,” he said carefully.

“Well, you just watch out for yourself, lad.” Russell smiled, but the smile was a bit forced. “Tennessee has its share of partisans for both sides, men who’d take pleasure in stringing you up if they felt you weren’t enthusiastic enough a supporter.”

“I’ll be careful, Russell.” That was the truth, too. Walker hoped that Russell would still be here—and still be friendly—when Walker returned to Texas. “I’m not going to inconvenience you if I don’t stay to help with the press run, am I?” he asked. “I would like to get under way today if I can.”

“How could I miss you when you never did more than get in the way?” Russell snorted. “I said you’d make a good writer, Walker. I never suggested you’d be a printer. Go on; we’ll manage the way we always have.”

“I’ll just say good-bye to the others then, before you get too deeply into the type.” Walker walked through the door of the office and into the rich smells of paper, dust and fresh ink.

It took just a minute to say goodbye to the rest of the staff. There were only three of them, and none had been in Washington more than two months. “Have you heard the latest from the Capitol?” Russell asked when Walker emerged back into the sunlight. “Our President Lamar has just presented a proposal to send a militia regiment to California to ‘assist’ the Mexicans in maintaining order. With a view, of course, to eventual annexation.”

“It’s a noble idea,” Walker said. Certainly it’s what I would do, he added silently. “California needs civilizing, especially if the gold holds out. And heaven knows the Mexicans aren’t capable of civilizing the place; they can’t even settle it properly. But intentions have to be capable of being followed up. Has the Texas militia improved since yesterday?”

Russell laughed. “Not that I’m aware of. But what difference would it make? We should be setting our own house in order before we start imposing our civilizing influence on the Californias.”

“There is certainly a lot of work to be done here before Texas can be considered a proper nation.” Walker loosened Destiny’s reins. “But sometimes a noble goal, however unattainable it may seem at first, is what the Lord requires of a nation struggling to find its greatness.”

With careful solemnity, Walker shook Russell’s hand. The Scot had been a kind and helpful employer, and Walker prided himself on remembering favors and kindnesses. “I thank you for all of the goodness you’ve shown me, Russell. Be sure I won’t forget it.”

“I only regret that I’m losing a man of such great potential,” Russell said as Walker climbed onto Destiny’s back. “But Texas is also a country with great potential, Walker. I hope that when your crisis in Tennessee resolves itself, in whatever fashion God chooses it to, that you’ll consider returning to this place.”

“Be in no doubt of that, Mr. Russell,” Walker said. “And when next you see President Lamar, tell him I wish him good luck with California.”

In the time he has left, Walker added silently. Then he rode south and out of Washington.