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A Savage Duty

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278 Pages with full-color cover bookmarks and page navigation PDF format.
Available in Read-Only and Read&Print Editions

Set in Monterey, California in the 1844 period when California was still shakily part of Mexico. Coveted by the U.S.,England and France, each had agents, secret and otherwise, operating in the city trying to help Mexico retain "sovereignty" under terms most favorable to themselves. A Savage Duty explores cultural strains that still exist today, tensions that began with the influx of Americans into this area.
Jack Adler deftly blends the troubled love story of a young American girl and a secret British agent; the efforts of the first U.S. consul in Monterey (an actual historical figure) to bring more Americans to Monterey and California; and a mysterious group of native Californios organized to confront the land-hungry Americans – into a gripping contemporary novel you won't be able to put down



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A Savage Duty
by Jack Adler



Chapter One




A strong wind scattered dust and pine needles along the street from the stable where she kept her horse as Drue Wilson scurried over to the newly-established Monterey Sentinel, the first English language publication in Monterey. She was anxious to be at the paper early as the publisher, Tom Larkin, said he needed her quickly. But she didn't know why. Could it be to churn out more propaganda articles sent back east to promote American immigration to Monterey, the main work she had done since hired as a reporter/assistant? Or was it somehow about Larkin having just been appointed the first U.S. consul in Monterey? Regardless, she was grateful for the job, secured through the good auspices of her father, a small investor in the fledgling paper.

The city, built on rising ground crowned by towering pine trees, was steadily growing. Still, she was eager to write more challenging articles. Larkin was always kind and gracious to her, but she was uncomfortable in overly touting Monterey. Larkin often edited her copy to make Monterey seem an even more advantageous place for their fellow Americans to settle. What he lacked in grammar he more than made up for with his enthusiasm. Nevertheless, Larkin was careful to avoid using the Sentinel to campaign for more American settlers, not wanting to raise the wrath of the Californios, as the Mexicans inAlta California were often called.

The Sentinel's office was a one-story building on the main street. The printing press, brought in by clipper ship from Larkin's native Massachusetts, stood in the backroom. Drue's desk was just by the window in the large front room, allowing her to see people walking up and down the wooden planks of the street. Larkin had positioned his desk, farther back in the room, but he was also able to watch the street.

 Larkin, a portly man in his forties with sparse and graying hair, bushy eyebrows, and sprouting sideburns that partially shielded his ears, was already at his desk. He glanced up momentarily. "Good morning, Drue. You look very fresh this morning and that's good because we have to get out a special edition."

"Why? What happened?"

Larkin seldom let a compliment stand by itself but usually coupled it with a more practical comment, generally something he wanted done. At least, he noticed her appearance and she took his cursory mention in stride. The office was very informal and she just wore a multi‑colored rebozo over a light brown suede skirt, a white huaracha blouse, and dark brown boots that went up over her ankles. 

Larkin's brow furrowed. When he was worried or frustrated, his face bunched into a tight mask as if shielding another interior face. "The Mexicans want to make an announcement about some new land grant policy with a listing of deeds. Land purchases, too. Every American, including me.There's well over 500 land grants now, I'd say, but who knows for sure." 


"Because they're worried about us, the English, the French, even the Russians, who seem to have pulled out of California. God knows who else."

For good reason, Drue thought, but she kept her impression to herself. It was well known that Mexico desperately wanted to retain its shaky sovereignty over Alta California while other countries, the United States included, conspired to gain control of the vast region. The Russians, she knew, had given up their FortRoss settlement farther north along the coast. Actually, for all of Larkin's caution, his  intentions were clear. Drue was surprised the Mexicans were so easy-going and lax in allowing his efforts to bring in more Americans. Every article invariably made great claims about all the opportunities in Alta California, citing available land, fertile soil, and healthy climate. War between Mexico and the U.S. was on everyone's lips, especially now that Texas was evidently poised to give up its hard‑earned independence and join the Union.

"You know that you're supposed to be a Mexican citizen and Catholic to boot to get a land grant."

Drue nodded, expecting the usual refrain which shortly followed. "Hell's bells. By supplying the governor with a petition and two supporters you can become a quick order Mexican, and another petition with $26 can get you a grant of any vacant land not over eleven square leagues."

Neither Larkin nor her father had opted for Mexican citizenship, but both had bought land, and wanted more. Larkin, her father said, had already accumulated some 100,000 acres along the Sacramento and Feather rivers. Fortunately, they were already Catholic so there had been no problem over religion. Some of the settlers coming west, now that the high mountain passes had been explored by the pioneering mountain men, were of different religions. Mutterings often came from the Californios about those not of the true faith.

"We're hoping to lure more American settlers, but not all of them can afford to buy land," Drue said.

"True," Larkin admitted. "They have to make a tough choice. Give up American citizenship to get a land grant."

"I hope there's no problem with Dad's land," Drue said, her blue eyes showing concern. "And you, too," she quickly added, smoothing her long blond hair which hung down her back.

"Your father's deeds are legal, and so are mine, paid for in good money.  The Mexicans are probably looking at some of the land grants, especially those given by Spain and not themselves, before they became independent in 1821." 

"I'm sure my father was very careful to have everything in writing and recorded," Drue said. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a mule-tugged carreta, filled with hides, slowly move down the street.

"Your father's a very careful man," Larkin said with a thin smile. He stood and came over to her desk. He glanced moodily outside, but the street was now empty. His trading post, which carried notions as well as hides and tallows, was just down the street. His home, the only two‑story house in town, was also nearby. She always enjoyed visiting the graceful hacienda with its glass windows and redwood, which helped provide heavier frames and rafters. Larkin, who had been a carpenter before becoming a businessman, said he wanted to combine New England and California in his home. The Californios gawked but they still seemed to prefer adobe construction.

"It's already 1844 and some of these land grants go back several decades," Larkin said. "There's going to be trouble, and very soon, mark my words. The land is badly marked, sometimes just by a pile of stones. What's going to happen when we become part of the Union. You know that if Polk is elected president, as I think he will be, he's going to annex Texas and California  next, one way or another. I hope it's peaceful, but I doubt it. Texas wasn't."

Drue nodded, recalling the trouble that had already taken place. Just two years ago  American warships had bloodlessly captured the city thinking the war everyone anticipated had already broken out. Larkin, backed by her father, had helped smooth the embarrassment. The result had been brilliant, with both the Americans and then the Mexican officials taking turns saluting each other with dances. She had danced the night away with handsome naval officers, including the waltz which Larkin claimed he introduced to California. Somewhere in her desk she still had a letter Larkin had sent to the New York Herald about the incident with the passage:  "During the time the vessels lay at anchor here the officers spent their time ashore hunting wild deer or dancing with tame Dears, both plentiful in and around Monterey."

English and French ships often lay off the coast and sometimes came into the harbor for supplies, which Larkin was quick to sell. "Business is business," he would piously claim. Still, he sent out his missives back east, and the last one still lay atop some of her papers with his observation, changed from her original, to: "There is no doubt in my mind but that gold, silver, quicksilver, lead, sulphur and coal mines are to be found all over California, but I am certain they will under their present owners continue as they are. The Indians have always said there were mines but would not show their locations, and the Californios do not choose to look for them."

Both the Mexicans and Americans took advantage of the poor Indians, she thought, but it would not do to bring this up to either Larkin or her father. Neither her father nor Larkin was too enthusiastic, for that matter, with seeing more Chinese in the city, traipsing through the streets with their curious pigtails and strange pajama-like dress. Still, with a sharp eye for merchandise, Larkin now even sold the odd-looking metal woks the Chinese used for cooking.

Clipper ships were also often in the harbor, and their masts could be seen as soon as she went out on the street. Larkin was often down at the dock overseeing the exchange of beaver pelts and tallow for clothing and jewelry from back east as well as spices and decorative items from Asia. The crews, tired from long months sailing back and forth around the Horn, spent their wages quickly at the taverns.

"Have you received more congratulations on your appointment as the American consul here?" Drue probed.  Larkin had never fully explained the circumstances surrounding his appointment and his actual responsibilities.

"Yes. The Mexicans have been very kind in their mentions. I'm sure they're more than a little suspicious of me though."

"Just what does a consul do?" she asked, summoning her courage to ask.  

"Represent the United States. Help Americans here. Pretty much the same as before, only now it's official," he added with an uncharacteristic twinkle in his eyes. She had always thought Larkin to be a plain enough man, well to do but not ostentatious. Her opinion changed a bit when she had read the letter he sent a friend in New York who served, it seemed, as his sartorial agent: "Never mind the expense, Alfredo. It must be right and have plenty of gilt buttons. Send several dozen extra buttons."

When the clothing arrived she had forced herself not to laugh at Larkin resplendent in a uniform with heavy epaulets, trimmed with gold braid, and as extra symbols of his high office, two gold-headed Malacca canes. "I have to match the Mexicans in all their finery," Larkin said, with a sheepish grin.

Larkin was dressed normally now, like a businessman and editor, with suspenders draped over his fine linen shirt and attached to long trousers tucked into dark brown leather boots. "My being consul shouldn't affect the newspaper too much, but it could go against your forthcoming interview with Commander Alvarez over at the Presidio."

"Military secrets and all that," Drue said, with a tight laugh as no one thought the soldiers at the Presidio could muster much of a battle against a determined invader. She suspected that there was more to Larkin's role as consul than he let on, but she wasn't about to press him on the subject. Working for Larkin was a good opportunity for her to develop her writing skills. One day she hoped to publish her own newspaper. Only one other person worked at the newspaper, Horatio Ochoa, a part-time handyman who did some typesetting and odd jobs.

Suddenly, a young man entered the office. "Hello," he said with an English accent, directing his attention first to Larkin and then glancing more appreciatively at Drue.  "I'd like to place a notice."

"Drue here will take care of you," Larkin said. 

Drue nodded, noting how Larkin's face tightened as he studied the newcomer for a moment. Larkin heartily welcomed American settlers. But he looked upon other foreigners, especially the English, with a measure of distrust, even as he readily accepted their trade. He retreated back to his desk, pretending not to take an interest in how she handled the stranger.

"Sit down, please," Drue said, smiling as she took  in the Englishman's wavy brown hair and expressive dark brown eyes. She watched as the man sat in a hardback chair without armrests.

"What can we do for you?" she said, with more than usual curiosity. She wasn't accustomed to young men, especially ones with an English accent, coming in to the office. He had a pleasant look and she took him to be in his mid to late twenties. She was a bit disconcerted by the way he looked at her so directly. Tall and well built, he had an angular but still pale face, made to seem more fair by his dark leather jacket. A slightly wide mouth sat above a strong chin.

"My name is Simon Bastion. I'm new here. I've purchased a small piece of land, which has been duly recorded with the authorities, but I thought I should also have it posted in the local journal." 

"Oh, welcome to Monterey," Drue said. He seemed young to be a landowner and she wondered what his circumstances were. While land was still cheap her father kept predicting land was bound to become more precious. This was doubtless why he was trying to expand their possessions despite already being one of the biggest landowners around. Larkin, also, constantly wrote about how inexpensive it was to buy land. The Mexican authorities had seemed willing to let the land go in exchange for what little revenue they gained. Were they relaxing their policy now? Or was the special edition designed to make sure they weren't missing some taxes? Or could it be even more serious? Were they looking for irregularities in grants whereby they could take land back from  current owners?

"Thank you. I've heard it's a wonderful area to settle in." 

"Oh yes," Drue agreed, smiling to herself, recalling all the laudatory missives Larkin had sent out after editing her material. His dispatches were directed to Americans back east, not the British, who were threatening to preempt the United States. In that case,  she pondered what brought this young man to Monterey? Had he become a Mexican citizen to buy land? Was he already Catholic? Or did he just buy land from an existing settler, which her father had done? She was a reporter, Drue thought, and she had a right to ask such questions. 

"Where did you come from to settle in our fair area?"

"Up north," Simon said breezily, without being more specific. He didn't seem bothered by her question which emboldened her to launch more queries. But he kept talking before she could phrase another question. "Too cold." He affected a shiver. Seeing her reaction of expecting more information, he added, "I worked as a lumberman. I also did some prospecting for gold, but I came up empty. I think I'm more suited for ranching."

"You know cattle and horses?" Drue asked. She didn't mean to sound dubious, but her question was practical and pertinent.

Simon smiled as if he had expected this question and had prepared his response. His eyes seemed to glisten with self-humor. "Well enough not to break my neck when riding," he said.

Conscious of Larkin's presence, Drue tried not to show she found the Englishman's manner refreshing. "How many cattle did you get?" she asked in her most professional tone.

"Not many, but as soon as I can I'll add more."

Drue nodded. His answers made sense, and he was very personable. Still, she was  curious what had induced him to settle at this time in Monterey. The city was the capital of  Alta California, but there were other places he could have gone. Contention with England  was also going on with the border up the Pacific coastline, with war talk often made. If he wanted to escape fighting up north, he may have come into a  more dangerous area.

"Well, it's warm here for most of the year but we get cold, too, and fog in from the ocean." How far north did the stranger come from, Drue wondered? Into the area England controlled, or where the Russians had built and still ran trading posts up in the ice lands?

"I also want to place a notice if I could that I'm looking for a housekeeper and cook. One that speaks English, of course. My Spanish is weak."

"You'll pick it up quick," Drue said. She had, now speaking fluent Spanish. Both Larkin and her father also spoke Spanish well.

"Were you born here?" Simon asked.

"Nope," Drue said. He had a right to ask some questions himself, she figured, especially as he had been forthright with her as far as she could tell. "Born back east, in Baltimore, but I've lived here most of my life."

"But you're an American citizen, aren't you?" He looked puzzled as if she had a conflict.

"Yes, and proud of it."

Simon smiled as if uncertain of the reason for her spurt of patriotism. Nor was she sure why she had spoken so directly. Perhaps it was because he was asking as many questions as she was, and doing it very successfully.

"Not too many Americans here," Simon said.

"But less English," she shot back.

"I'm certainly in the minority," Simon said, smiling agreeably as his eyes seemed to frame her in his sight. "But don't hold it against me."  

Drue felt compelled to drop her glance. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Larkin staring at them. Was he concerned that she was spending too much time with the Englishman? Or just showing his habitual suspicion of foreigners?

"I won't," she said, letting the bemusement in her eyes balance the evenness of her tone. She was ignoring Larkin, but he had to accept her methods of treating newcomers, even ones with the disarming charms of this Englishman. "There are Scotsmen, too, if they count as English. John Gilroy, a Scottish sailor, left his ship here due to illness in 1814. I believe he was the first European settler here. He's dead now."

"Interesting," Simon said, admiring Drue's thick blond hair which molded her shapely shoulders. Her blue eyes seemed to conduct a lively dance as she darted looks at him. "Are you the local historian?"

"Not officially, but I'd like to write about Monterey's history some day."

Simon nodded as if he were impressed by her ambition. "I'd like to read what you write."

Drue felt herself blushing and immediately resorted to her desk. Perhaps she had gone too far in trying to be engaging and to match this Englishman's manner. "Well, I need to see your bill of sale and get some other information from you."

Simon reached into his pocket and withdrew an official looking document. "It's in Spanish but I've had it translated and it's fine."

I'm sure," Drue said.

"Let's see. Your name is Simon Bastion."

"Yes, and you are ...?"

"Drue Wilson." Their eyes met for an instant until Drue looked down at her notepaper again. "You came at a good time. We're going to put out a special edition about land grants."

"Timing is important," Simon said casually. He smiled as if the words had an extra  meaning.

Drue held her glance steady now. "It surely is," she said. Her face was blank, giving no hint of her curiosity about this brash Englishman.




Copyright ©2005 Jack Adler


Read an Excerpt
More on Author
How to Order

278 Pages with full-color cover bookmarks and page navigation PDF format.
Available in Read-Only and Read&Print Editions

Set in Monterey, California in the 1844 period when California was still shakily part of Mexico. Coveted by the U.S.,England and France, each had agents, secret and otherwise, operating in the city trying to help Mexico retain "sovereignty" under terms most favorable to themselves. A Savage Duty explores cultural strains that still exist today, tensions that began with the influx of Americans into this area.
Jack Adler deftly blends the troubled love story of a young American girl and a secret British agent; the efforts of the first U.S. consul in Monterey (an actual historical figure) to bring more Americans to Monterey and California; and a mysterious group of native Californios organized to confront the land-hungry Americans – into a gripping contemporary novel you won't be able to put down

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