Jim Horn survived the war for Southern Independence, and learned many hard lessons from the experience that helped when he accepted a job as a Texas Ranger.
Jim was familiar with the town of Gonzales and he rode unerringly to the Sheriff's office on the old town square. He tied Chief to the hitching rail outside. He warily dismounted; he limped over to the closed office door and knocked on it. A familiar sounding voice called out, "Come on in."
Jim opened the door and entered the big office. The broad shouldered young Sheriff, Tadpole Wheeler, rushed to the door! "Jim! I'm proud to see you're still kickin', Pard. We got a wire the other day from Austin saying you'd left San Antonio headed for here after getting stabbed in a ruckus with Silas Hawkins. Me and the Captain have been burning up the wires all over Texas and we couldn't find hide nor hair of you!"
Tad pumped Jim's hand energetically. Jim just barely managed to talk with his arm being pumped like that. "Lordy, Tad, I do appreciate all your concern. As a matter of fact, I have been a mite under the weather. Hell, I would'a died if old Chief hadn't toted me into a gypsy camp."
"A gypsy camp? It's a wonder you got out of there with your eye teeth, much less your horse and saddle." Tad was positively wide eyed now. "Then again, maybe you're just meaner than them sneakin' gypsies. I heard tell today about the deal you made with Injun Joe that you wouldn't kill him like you did Hawkins if he was to stay the hell out of Texas!"
Jim was flabbergasted to hear about this new rumor beating him to Gonzales. "Tad, that ain't quite the way it happened. When I turned Joe over to the Sheriff's office in San Antonio, I only suggested to him real politely that he might ought to leave Texas when he escaped."
"Whatever it was you said to him, he surely must have took it as Gospel. He was last reported seen almost to Amarillo and they said he was traveling north like his war bonnet and his breech cloth had both been set on fire."
"Well good!" Jim thought, maybe old Joe has finally gotten his mind right again. He was saddened though, to hear that the rumor mills and gossips were already working full time about his latest kill. Despite the Penny Dreadful books some of the uppity New York and Chicago writers were selling, the west was already relatively tame.
There hadn't been more than maybe a dozen stagecoach robberies in all of Texas during the past few years and very few more bank holdups, but if you read the Yankee writer's stories you would think that they were a daily occurrence. Jim sure didn't like it that his simply doing his job added to the wild stories.
"I guess I'd best go wire Captain Rayford and tell him I'm back on the job. He'll be upset if he thinks I went belly up and died somewhere out in a mesquite thicket and he's lost the state equipment I've been issued."
Tad didn't set any store by that! "I don't think he was only worried about your outfit, Jim. He even mentioned in one wire he and his wife had a passle of girl children, but he never did have a son and you was about as close as he'd ever got to having one!"
"Aw hell!" Jim drawled. "If Captain Rayford spent that much on a wire he must be fit to be hog tied! I'd best get over to that telegraph office, pronto!"
"I'll walk over there with you, Jim; then I'm gonna drag you on over to my house for a big mess of Hattie's cooking. That ought to fix you right up." When they walked into the telegraph office the clerk glanced up and saw it was Tad; he automatically slid a blank form across the desk and went back to the book he was reading.
Jim was impressed by the clerk's actions; he told Tad; "I guess you have been burning up the wires." He reached for a pencil that was left on the desk for customer's use; he quickly wrote out a brief message and then he slid it back across the desk.
The telegrapher put his book down and reached for the form without looking up; he slowly read it out loud. "Capt. Rayford. Ranger HQ Austin, Don't X me off the payroll yet. On Luke Warner's trail. Jim." The man looked up in alarm. "Why, everybody's been thinking you was dead! I was just reading a book about you, 'Two Gun Lone Star Ranger', by Lionel Hamilton; he's a famous writer back east in Boston!"
This fine bit of news got Jim's temper riled up! "I sure don't remember giving any two bit greenhorn writer permission to use my name in any book! That man ain't smart enough to know when talk of that gets around it'll put every penny ante, want to be gunman in Texas on the prod!"
Tad evidently didn't think it would be too bad to be famous! "Yeah, there ought to be a law against it! He puts the greenbacks in the bank, while you have to face the bullets and all of the adoring women!"
"Well, don't put me in that leaky boat alone; he may put you in his next book, and look what happened to Bill Hickock!" If the look on Tad's face was any indication, this thought sobered him up considerably. Bill Hickock had been a rowdy gambler who'd sometimes take a job as a lawman when the cards weren't falling his way, until some writer back east had adopted him and made him famous as "Wild Bill".
The dramatized publicity had scared one of Hickock's enemies so much he'd shot him in the back of his head while he was playing cards instead of standing up to him like a grown man. The bush-whacker had been hung out to dry on the nearest tree by Bill's friends, but that hadn't done Wild Bill much good!
After thinking about that side of the coin for a moment, Tad had to climb over to Jim's side of the fence. "I reckon I see your point, Jim."
The telegrapher had been avidly hanging on to every word they'd spoken. Jim looked his way and noticed his inactivity then he dug a coin out of his poke and tossed it onto the desk. "Would you please send that message? Captain Rayford might like to read it sometime today."
The telegrapher was startled by Jim's impatient question; he snatched up the note again and began to tap on his key to get the attention of the men up the line. He paused for a moment until he got an answer saying the man in Austin was at his desk and ready to decode. Jim watched until the man finished the message, and then he heard a short burst of clicks in return that meant that his message had been received and acknowledged.
"I didn't mean to be short with you, Mister. It's just that this message was very important to me." Jim was a polite person at heart, but when other people's inattention to their business got in the way of his business, he tended to get impatient quickly!
"That's quite alright, Ranger Horn." The clerk returned. "I apologize for lolly-gagging around, but would you mind if I saved your message form for my scrapbook?"
Jim was embarrassed that he was actually flattered by the man's question. "Why certainly, Sir. You flatter me!" The telegraph key started tapping rapidly again and the clerk turned his attention back to it. He tapped a recognition signal and then he began to transcribe the incoming message.
"Are you ready for that lunch?" Tad questioned Jim. The clerk interrupted their conversation this time by rapping sharply on his desk. He wasn't going to be caught napping twice in a row! He finished scribbling out a message and slid it across to Jim even as he finished tapping out a confirmation on his key.
Jim read the message out loud for Tad's benefit. "It says, 'Rayford here, much relieved you are alright, son. Carry on.' I'll be damned; the Captain was sittin' right there at the telegraph station waiting for word from me! I've worked for that man for five years and that's the closest he's ever come to giving me a compliment."
Jim stuck the message in his pocket so he could read it again later and then they walked on over to Tad's little two room home. They were welcomed at the door by Tad's wife, Hattie, and his two little tow-headed boys. Hattie was a homely sort of woman but she was as good as pure yellow gold to Tad and she'd given him two fine sons so far, and from the looks of her belly another was on the way. She was just as proud to see Jim as Tad had been. "Lordy, Jim, you scared the stuffin's plumb out of all of us this time! Give me a hug. Now, come on in and set at the supper table while I get the fixin's all set out."
The "fixin's" today consisted of a couple of prairie chickens Tad had ridden out and shot that morning; they were boiled up real tender with a big batch of fluffy dumplings and wild onions and mushrooms Hattie had thrown together. There was a Dutch kettle of greens she and the boys had gathered cooked up right with salt pork and then there was a big iron skillet plumb full of golden brown corn bread. Jim's eyes got big and his mouth went to watering when he spied all the food! "Hattie?" Jim asked sincerely. "You don't happen to have a sister I could marry, do you, Ma'am?"
Jim was just teasing but dog gone if it wasn't tempting. They ate all they could hold of the simple but wholesome food. Jim tried not to embarrass himself too much with how much he ate, though Hattie was another of those women who enjoyed watching a hungry man eat. When everyone had shoved back from the table Tad told the boys they could be excused. They grabbed up their slingshots and lit out for parts unknown and unexplored except by little boys.
Hattie excused herself from the table and began cleaning up after the meal and Tad asked Jim, "Would you like a drop of 'Old Stump Blower' to celebrate me finding you?"
"That sounds like as good an excuse as any to take a drink, Tad." Jim calmly replied. Hattie reached a big crock jug off a high shelf and brought them a couple of tin cups. Tad poured a generous couple of snorts in each of the cups and then he shoved one across the table in front of Jim.
Jim took a grateful swallow of the potent brew, after a moment he was grateful he could still breathe! He succeeded in asking Tad, "Now, what all do you know about Luke Warner?"
Tad shoved his chair back away from the table and settled in to talking. "He was seen out at one of the ranches on the outskirts of town last week. The man who reported it to me was a cousin of his who knew there was a wanted poster out on him. I sent a message to the Captain and the next I heard you disappeared. There must be some of that going around because the cousin's wife sent word in this morning she hasn't seen him in three days."
"You don't reckon he got antsy waiting and tried to collect the reward by himself?" Jim asked.
"Maybe so." Tad allowed. "I was waiting to see if you made it in by noon before I went out to investigate this myself. If you'd like to we can both head out there, now."
"I reckon we'd better." Jim said. "Luke may have taken to the outlaw trail, with his cousin missing like that. I'll tell you what, I'd better go by the General Store first and stock up my saddlebags. I trailed Joe for two weeks, then rode out of San Antonio without any supplies like a two-bit greenhorn after that scrape with Silas Hawkins. I'd been stabbed and lost a lot of blood, but that's still no excuse for outright stupidity. Heck fire, I have to live up to my heroic reputation in those Penny Dreadful books." Jim laughed, and took another swallow of Tadpole's firewater.