A/N: This story falls between Assassination and Bystanders in the Loyal Valley series.
Lest We Forget
“You know,” Clint said at breakfast one morning in early March, “we really ought to ride out and check on the herd. Daniel, think you’re up to that?”
Daniel shrugged. “I dunno. Am I up to that, Doc?”
Jim chuckled. “I don’t see why not. If there’s a calf in trouble or anything, though, don’t tangle with it. That shoulder of yours doesn’t need any more abuse.”
“You have my word of honor. If anything comes up that Clint can’t handle alone, I’ll come back to the house and make Jake do it.”
“You would,” Jake said flatly, which made Bella laugh.
Clint shook his head, amused. “I know you need to be careful, but you’re also my foreman, and with all this construction we’ve had going on, I’ve been neglecting your education on that side of things. Roundup’s coming up next month, so….”
Daniel nodded. “I need to look like I’ve got some clue what we’re doing.”
“Which means I probably ought to take notes so I don’t forget everything before we get back.”
“Thought you had a photographic memory,” Mike teased.
“Oh, he does,” Jake shot back before Daniel could. “It’s just that he runs low on slides once in a while.”
Everybody laughed at that.
So it was settled. After breakfast, Bella packed up some provisions in case Clint and Daniel needed to be out for more than one working day, and Jim, Jake, and Mike reworked the construction schedule. As Daniel slid a book into one of his saddlebags, however, he found himself on the receiving end of a quizzical look from Clint.
“Expecting to be bored, Major?” Clint asked.
“Well, no, sir, not exactly,” Daniel replied. “I mean, I’m sure we’ll have plenty to do and talk about, won’t be much time for reading, but—I’m starting to see some wildflowers out there, and Mother collects pressed flowers, so I thought I’d try to collect some to send to her in my next letter.”
“I tried that once, before the war,” Marty chimed in. “They don’t look half as good as they do fresh.”
Clint made an odd face. “Most flowers don’t, Sassenach.”
“I know. I’m just saying.”
Daniel shrugged. “I hear you, Marty, I do. It won’t be the same as seeing them in person. But I figure she’ll still appreciate the effort.”
Marty shrugged in turn, which was somewhat amusing, given that he hadn’t seen Daniel move. “All right, fine. She’s your mother.”
Neither Clint nor Daniel was able to suppress a chuckle at that.
There did indeed turn out not to be much time for reading. Clint had a long list of topics to discuss with Daniel regarding the business side of the ranch, from the life cycle of longhorn cattle to their feeding habits to trends in the market, and every conceivable form of contingency and emergency that could arise along the way. And he addressed them mainly by suddenly throwing a question or hypothetical situation Daniel’s way and letting Daniel take a wild guess before explaining what the right answer or approach would be. Most of the questions were ones Daniel would never have thought to ask, and he quickly realized just how much he didn’t even know he didn’t know. But Clint was patient and prompted Daniel to take notes on the occasions where he didn’t start the discussion with a hypothetical, and while the sheer volume of information was overwhelming, Daniel felt much better prepared not only to keep up his cover but also to be a genuine help to Clint and Bella for the duration of the team’s assignment.
“Think I might actually enjoy this,” he confessed as they finally started back toward the house.
Clint chuckled. “Give it a year or two first. Theory’s one thing; practice is something else.”
The excursion wasn’t all business, however. Some of the wildflowers were beginning to show themselves here and there, and Clint didn’t object when Daniel asked to pause and pick a few specimens to press for Mother. In fact, Clint went so far as to explain what they all were—bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, phlox, winecups, and so on—as well as some of the legends of how the various flowers came to be. He was blessed with the gift of the gab and even slipped into an Ulster accent at times as he told his tales, much to Daniel’s amusement, and Daniel found himself taking notes on Clint’s yarns as well.
They stopped on the way back to the house to gather some less-ordinary bluebonnet varieties, including some that looked white from a distance. But as Daniel got closer, another lupine he saw on the far edge of that patch gave him a moment’s pause. “Wait, are those… pink?” He started forward to investigate.
Clint grabbed his arm. “Don’t pick those,” he said, suddenly grave. “Don’t ever pick those.”
Daniel blinked. “Why not?”
Clint didn’t answer right away. Instead, he took off his hat and held it over his heart as he walked over, knelt next to the plant, and stared at it for a long moment.
Clint’s voice was quiet and rough when he finally spoke. “The story goes that there used to not be any pinkbonnets anywhere. But there was a place on the San Antonio River, out… uh, southeast of town, downriver, where there were a bunch of whitebonnets every year. In… in ’36….” His voice trailed off.
Daniel took a step or two closer but waited for Clint to continue.
“The plants had… had sprouted already by the beginning of March, y’know, were growing, but they h-hadn’t bloomed yet when… when the Alamo fell. And there was s-… so much….”
Even as an intelligence officer, Daniel had seen his share of rivers running red during the war. That was one of those topics that were too terrible to talk about, let alone describe, but anyone who’d been in a similar spot didn’t need to be told what it was like. So he put a hand on Clint’s shoulder and squeezed to show he understood.
Clint drew a ragged breath and forced himself to go on, heedless of the tear that escaped down his cheek. “When the flowers… finally bloomed that year… they weren’t white anymore. Wouldn’t ever be again.”
Daniel couldn’t think of anything to say or do beyond removing his own hat. After a long moment, however, he ventured, “Maybe God wanted it that way. Lest we forget.”
Clint nodded slowly. Another long moment passed before he whispered, “They burned Harrisburg to the ground the next month. We lost everything.”
“Is that when you moved to Independence?”
“Yeah. Da had saved some of his best fabrics, and the money box, but there wasn’t near enough to start a new shop all over again. So he… he took out a homestead, bartered some suits for the goods we needed, saved the cash to invest in a herd. Don’t know how the hell we made it work, but we did.”
“Grace of God.”
“Yeah. And the men who died to keep us free.”
Now it was Daniel’s turn to nod slowly and let a long pause pass. “Those don’t transplant well, do they?”
Clint shook his head. “No. Mum tried once—n-not with these. With bluebonnets. You want ’em in pots, you have to grow ’em from seed.”
“Okay. Then I guess the best way to preserve these is… is to leave ’em right where they are.”
Clint finally managed to smile a little. “Reckon so.”
He took a deep breath then and stood, brushed the grass off his knees, and put his hat back on. Daniel followed suit and followed Clint back to the horses and the job at hand. And when they both felt like talking again, they kept the conversation light. When they got back to the house, however, and found Mike and Jake outside working on a bookcase Marty had designed with a hidden compartment for storing classified documents, Daniel let Clint go inside first while he stopped to check their progress.
Once Clint was out of earshot, Jake lowered his voice. “What is it? What’s happened?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Daniel replied. “I just wanted to give you both a heads-up about a plant we found out there….”
Story and photo copyright © 2014 Elisabeth G. Wolfe. All rights reserved.