South in the Fall by Frank Kelso

When 12, Blackthorn Wolfe hid when Comanches killed his family.

But at 17, he accepts any risk to prove he is NOT a coward.

Blackie begged for a chance to prove himself Pascal's Chief Scout.

His test is to lead a mule train from El Paso to Fort Laramie in 1858.

Pascal LeBrun, his godfather, and owner of the mule-train freight business, calls Blackie’s bluff. “If you take this job and fail, I’ll question why I keep you around.”

Failure means Pascal will toss him out with nothing – no horse, no saddle, no weapons.

No one out West will cut him any slack because of his age – Seventeen.

He must stand as a man, leading his team, and keeping them alive while crossing hostile lands.

Will Blackie succeed in Pascal’s challenge or lose his apprenticeship and be left behind?

AMAZON

Read an Excerpt:

Later that day, at their after-siesta late supper, Blackie sat on the patio beside Antonio, Vittorio Ortega’s second son. Three years older than Blackie, he teased by calling Blackie, hermanito, Spanish for “little brother,” which he shortened to a nickname, “Nito.” Part of the tease reflected, in the last two years, Blackie had grown to tower above Antonio’s sturdy five-foot-eight frame.

“Is the rumor true, Nito? You are the new Chief Scout?” Antonio laughed and slapped Blackie’s shoulder. “That is, until the next time Pascal grows pissed at you.”

“That’s about the way he said it.” Blackie’s lips tightened with disgust.

“If you’re the Chief Scout,” Antonio nudged him, “when do we leave for Fort Laramie?”

“Your cousins are carrying Señor Valenzuela’s shipment of goods to us from Chihuahua. The mule handlers and workers need a week to fit it into packsaddles. I’d say ten days but please remember I’m a lowly apprentice, and every apprentice has a master. I do my master’s bidding and we’ll leave only when my master commands it.”

Antonio shifted, pretending to peer under tables and beneath the benches and serving tables. “With such a reply, do you suspect Pascal hides nearby to learn how well you answered?”

“Not exactly, but he made it sound like I’m the least qualified.”

“Compared to whom?” Antonio asked. “Kit Carson? We’ve met Kit. Yes, you’re not ready to take Kit’s place, but who out here is? We met Jim Bridger last year. I wouldn’t hire him to scout for a dry seat in an outhouse. You saw how long Bridger lasted as an Army scout once the high command arrived. Bridger may be well known, but I’d follow you anywhere, anytime.”

With a nod, Blackie said, “Thanks, big brother.”

“You can always quit.” Antonio laughed and punched Blackie’s arm.

He flipped Antonio an obscene gesture as he rose from the table, striding across the courtyard. Sure, quit, and walk away naked and barefoot. As an apprentice, I’m an indentured servant. I own nothing. I receive no pay but food and shelter. I’d leave with nothing—no clothes, no horse, no saddle, no weapons to defend myself, and no way to earn a living. Pascal provides these items in exchange for my labor. Who would hire a naked scout without a horse, saddle, and rifle?

He pivoted, rotating his shoulders, slamming his right fist into the hall’s adobe wall, powdering the painted plaster coating over the adobe wall, and leaving a starburst a foot across.

My word, my honor binds me to my master. I signed an agreement to serve him for eight years. In exchange, if I perform my assigned duties, I will become Pascal’s partner. He chuckled aloud. Well, a junior partner in their mercantile trade business.

I’m at the end of my fourth year. Do I chuck it all away, or do I prove I’m tougher than he thinks, and put up with the endless lessons and humiliation when I make a mistake, to become his equal as a partner? He opened the stable door, seeking his wood-slat bed with Spanish-moss ticking, the one he shared with the mice. If he found no mice, it meant he shared it with a snake.

~~~~~~

During siesta the next day, Pascal tromped into the stables behind the hacienda, to find Blackie.

“Valenzuela sent a rider from El Paso to alert us his wagons from Chihuahua will arrive day after tomorrow. Have a mule train in El Paso ready to carry 10,000 pounds of trade goods at first light in three days. Notice Valenzuela’s scout is smart enough to send a message ahead, which allowed Valenzuela to plan his needs.” The tall, broad-shouldered Frenchman spun on his heel.

“I’ll need ten men from the mule breeding ranch to help load,” Blackie said. “Field hands are too flighty to work with green mules. Those men will need a cook and helper to feed them in El Paso and a wagon to ride there and return to the Rancho in five days once the train is loaded.”

“Who will pay for this?” Pascal barked.

“I opened an account with Jorge Ortega. Señor Ortega appointed his oldest son manager this season. I’ll charge the cost to Laramie-1, the first Laramie train this year, and number each train in order, charging my costs against the year-end settlement of expense and revenue.”

“See to it, tout de suite,” Pascal said over his shoulder as he strolled away.

Pascal, LaFleur, and Blackie spoke French among themselves and in English with Yankee merchants, but they spoke Spanish at the Rancho and with the Mexicans working on their mule train. When underway on a mule train, all used Spanish to assure they understood one another.

“Valenzuela’s men packed their goods for wagons,” Blackie said. “We’ll have to repack their goods and hire a carpenter or two in El Paso to build crates to better fit our packsaddles. I’ll need two more days to get the load packed tight.”

“Hire?” Pascal shouted. “We have carpenters working on the Rancho—at no cost to you. Order them build crates to fit the packsaddles and have the crates ready before you leave here in three days.” Pascal lifted his arms with hands spread. “Do I have to tell you everything?”

“No, sir,” Blackie said to Pascal’s retreating backside.