There was a moment of stunned silence at Father Cypriano's pronouncement. Then, suddenly, Lewis sprang to his feet, once more brandishing his right-hand Colt at the priest!
"I don't care who you are," he growled: "My grandfather died at the Alamo. And, nobody is gonna slander his good name. Not even you!"
Just then, Lewis heard the click of a hammer being pulled back. He slowly looked to his right, and saw Marshal Dalton aiming his Hawken rifle at him.
"Reholster that hog-leg, Lew. Or, by God, stepson or not, I'll blow your head off!"
"Do so, mein herr? Und, you die un-manned."
Dalton looked to his left, and saw that Fleischer (who was still seated) had drawn a Bowie knife from someplace on his person. With the business end of it aimed right at the town marshal's groin.
Father Cypriano was genuinely shocked by what he had unintentionally provoked.
"Senores! Senores!! Tranquilo, por favor! Capitan Cross; I did not mean to disparage your abuelo. I know that, in battle, he was un hombre bravo and, to his compadres, mui leal. But, he was also as prone to temptation as any mortal. And, if you let me resume my story from where I left off, you will see what I mean."
Lewis thought this over for a second, then nodded. As soon as he had resumed his seat, Marshal Dalton stood down, and Fleischer resheathed his Arkansas Toothpick inside the left-hand lining of his jacket.
Whereupon, the priest continued.
"The Greek legend concludes by stating how Mother Earth herself opened the side of a great mountain, in this land beyond the Hesperides. And, therein Athena placed the shrunken, amber-encased Heraclitoris. To insure that the latter never escaped, the cave mouth was sealed with a vast boulder of white agate, sewn into a shroud of serpentine, and coated with mother-of-pearl to prevent weathering."
Father Cypriano added how one of the Hospitallers, who had translated this legend from the Greek, was a former Knight Templar from Oxfordshire. And, that it was he who eventually brought the legend home with him to the famed university of that name.
"It was discovered there, in 1759, by a Masonic physician and alchemist named Doctor Steel. Further research on his part showed that the great mountain referred to, in the legend, was located in the British colony of Connecticut. And, that the local indios referred to it as...Mackimoodus. The Place of Bad Noises!"
Somehow, Dr. Steel got the idea that Athena's door seal was actually a giant pearl! Albeit, left behind by the decomposition of a giant oyster deposited on the mountain by Noah's Flood.
"In 1765, Dr. Steel came to Mackimoodus, and told the local anglos that he had been sent by their King George III to take away the giant 'carbuncle' (as he called it). So that the underground gases trapped by it could finally escape into the open air. Thus, quieting the mountain once and for all."
In this endeavor, Dr. Steel apparently succeeded. However, he was never seen in Great Britain, again.
"It is my belief, senores, that Dr. Steel not only removed the doorseal. But, what he perceived to be an amber figurine, as well! And, that the ship on which he was returning to Inglaterra, was attacked (and all hands aboard massacred) by Barbary corsairs. One of whom kept the 'amber figurine' as un memento. For, how else can one explain it coming into the possession of an Egyptian Mameluke, serving with Napoleon's hussars during El Guerro Peninsular? A Mameluke who was ultimately killed--and stripped of all valuables--by Don Constantino De La Garduna. A Sardinian-born soldier-of-fortune who served with the loyalist guerrillas en Espana; with the independentistas en Mejico; and the separatistas en Tejas."
Father Cypriano concluded his recitation by stating how it was the Mexican artillery bombardment, preceding the final storming of the Alamo, that had released Heraclitoris from her amber prison.
* * * * *
Salty Peters rode a clockwise circle around Tonkawa Springs, while Buck Skinner rode counter-clockwise. They were keeping an eye out for black panthers and giant ravens. Yet, so far, nothing.
The day had remained deceptively peaceful since Hiram Barlow's death. Then, it happened.
Suddenly, a copperhead snake the size of a python reared up out of the grass, right in front of Salty's chestnut! Causing the horse to rear, and his rider to be thrown from the saddle, landing flat on his back.
In the process, the old horse marine's Spencer rifle went flying away from him. And, with the wind knocked out of him, the best he could do was awkwardly claw for either one of his Colt revolvers.
He had the one in his left holster half-drawn when the upper half of the copperhead transformed into the face and upper torso of a naked woman. More specifically; the blonde-haired beauty who had helped him cross the border from virginity to manhood!
"Issssss that anyway to treat a lady, handsssssssome?
"N-N-Nellie?" he stammered, irresistibly transfixed by the blue eyes now gazing at him.
They were the last things he ever saw in this world, before her bite shrank him to the size of a mouse.