Macho Caballo Page
Las Aventuras De Macho Caballo
PART I: CHAPTER TRES
WAITING FOR PAPA
WAITING FOR PAPA:
Ramón traipsed across gravel and sand, his boots shedding
the goathorn thorns that could lacerate bare flesh. On the
flat between the river and the hills the sun grew hot enough
to make him regret his choice of clothing, but he kept
resolutely on the trail. At a certain stone, he left the
trail and set out toward a notch in the hill above.
A whispery rustle came from the stones ahead, the shaking of
sand in a gourd. Ramón stepped cautiously closer until he
could see the gray scales of a diamond- back rattlesnake. It
was a large one. He squatted to grasp a nearby stone,
forgot he was wearing a skirt, stepped on the edge of the
cloth, became entangled and sat down abruptly.
The snake slid toward him. It's path was suddenly blocked
by an arrow which thudded into the sand before it. It slid
around the barrier. Ramón attempted to scuttle away from
the rattler but he was blocked by thorny bushes. He looked
up from the advancing serpent to see an Indian maiden
striding toward him, knife in hand.
The Indian girl addressed the snake, "Ho! Show yourself,
old faker," she said, stepping directly in its path. The
snake coiled as though to strike, but she swung the knife
"Very well, then, you are food. And good eating," said the
Indian girl as she proceeded to decapitate and eviscerate
the snake. The pale pink flesh went into a pouch she
carried slung about her waist after she had paused to thank
the snake for providing sustenance.
"It is good to see you, Red Cloud," said Ramón, watching
"Is it? Women should not wander alone so far from their
"Hah. Speak for yourself, Huntress," Ramón said as he
regained his feet.
"I have been hunting alone all my life," countered Red
Cloud, "When are you going to ask the chieftain to become a
member of the tribe?"
"I was going to find your village," said Ramón, "but for a
different reason. I'm looking for Papá."
"I have not seen the horse trader recently. Perhaps someone
else knows where he is. Have you looked at the corral near
"I will go there now."
"Then I will accompany you. It is on the way to the
village. You may need protection."
"In a pig's eye," muttered Ramón.
They found no one at the corral, so as it was about noon
they made a dry camp at the base of the mesa and cooked the
rattlesnake. While they ate, Red Cloud came close and
"It is important that you find your father?" She lifted his
arm and felt the firmness of the muscles, testing the hand
"There is a thing Mamá says he must do," said Ramón, pushing
her hand away from his belly.
Red Cloud fingered his hair, smelled of it. "Nice," she
said, "Your mother knows the proper way to clean your hair.
So, why do you walk about the prairie in a dress?"
Ramón frowned, unaware that in this form he appeared to be
pouting. "The Alcalde's soldiers are looking for a boy
named Ramón," he said, as though it might have been his
idea. "They do not look for a girl. I can walk right past
"I have heard that your leader, the Alcalde, is a man of
much hunger," Red Cloud said, "Our leaders council us to
stay away from his men. His soldiers have taken our people
and put them in the mines. I do not understand why they
would do this."
"They have also imprisoned a gold-smith from the village and
his wife, trying to find where he gets his gold. Now they
are after his daughter. Mamá has hidden her at our house."
"This gold-worker sounds like a foolish man. He should tell
them where the gold is, and they would leave him alone."
"Perhaps. Maybe not. Mamá has heard that they are
searching for the Aztec treasure. They will not be
satisfied with a few measly nuggets."
"Aztecas? I have heard that word."
"I have heard this from the teachers at the school, that
they were a mighty people long ago, very wealthy. They lived
many years ago, southeast of here. When the Spaniards came,
the Aztec hid their gold and silver. The Spaniards still
search for it."
"Hmmph," Red Cloud said by way of expressing her opinion of
gold and men's foolishness. She picked a bone from between
her teeth and spat.
"Now, that looked very feminine," laughed Ramón.
"Speak for yourself, horse trader's daughter!"
"Don't call me that!"
"Ahh?" she arched an eyebrow, "You do not like horse
"I am Ramón! I am a man!"
Red Cloud stepped back from Ramón and stood, hand under
chin, as she studied him. She grasped the wool crease of
her own skirt and flipped it, then placed her hands on her
breasts. "Yes, yes," she said, "I can see that you are."
Ramón glared at her, his jaw clamped tightly in anger. When
he could speak around the constriction, he said, "Let's just
forget it, alright? I am very sensitive about it."
"About time you were sensitive about something," Red Cloud
muttered, but quit teasing him.
"I have heard a very little about these 'Aztecas'," she said
as they walked along, "They were a strong people, but not
always good. And I know something else. They are not all
"Never mind if they were good or bad. Did they really have
a lot of treasure?"
"I do not know. But we can ask the doll-maker."
"But she is so old! How can she even remember yesterday,
never mind a couple of hundred years?"
"She will know," said Red Cloud. "Is this why you must find
"No, he must return to the hacienda. Don Pedro is preparing
to buy some more horses from the Yanquis and he wants Papá
to help. No one else could find him, so Mamá said I could
go look. Well, she didn't tell me not to."
"You are both foolish. Haven't you heard that the Apache
have been seen again? Two days ago, at the far end of the
valley. They can run faster than the news."
"I have avoided the Apache before."
"You have been fortunate. You had nothing they wanted. You
were insignificant. You had a place to hide. They did not
see you. You were male."
"What has *that* got to do with it?"
"I tell you, before I would allow them to capture me alive,
I would slash my own throat. So should you."
"I would never do that!"
"Why, would that be too cowardly an escape for you?"
"I would fight! I would try to escape!"
"The Apache do not carry canteens full of cold water to pour
on the women they capture so they can fight. They do
something else to them. Something you would not find
"I know what they do! I am tired of this! I must pretend
to be a girl to avoid the soldiers, and now you would have
me stay home to hide from the Apaches!"
Red Cloud turned from him. She kept her eyes on the
horizon, and her expression was clouded. "You still think
like man," she said.
When she finally turned to regard him, it was as from a
distant, icy mountain peak. "Is that what it is to you?
Ramón remembered his mother's words, `How can it hurt to
play-act for a little while?' "Yes," he said, "How else can
I face this?"
"Do you pretend when you fall and cut your knee? Do you
play-act when you get careless and a tree limb hits you in
"My brother, take care that you do not wear that mask too
long," she said, and led him into the stunted trees toward
They trudged along the trail toward a gradual rise which led
into the next valley, their mocassins crunching on the loose
Red Cloud turned to him with a mischievous smile and said,
"Can you run?"
Before he could answer, she raced ahead of him. She stopped
and waited for him when she realized that he was not
remaining by her side.
"You are slow," she teased, "You used to be able to keep up
"That was when I had longer legs," fumed Ramón, gasping for
air, "I can't help it if I am slow and awkward."
Several girls clustered around them at the village, eager to
meet Red Cloud's new friend. Ramón didn't want to say that
he knew them already.
"What's your name?" asked Sandflower of Ramón.
Red Cloud grinned at him, "Well, Machito?" she asked.
"Her name is Machita?" asked Too Cactus, "She doesn't look
very tough to me."
"It's a joke," said Ramón. The other girls laughed politely
and returned to the lodge where they had been weaving.
A boy at the Azuma village knew where Papá was, and he set
out at a trot to find him. Ramón and Red Cloud went to the
lodge of the doll-maker.
The doll-maker was a wizened old woman with one remaining
blackened tooth and a quizzical smile.
"The Aztecas? What possible use would you have for such
information?" she asked.
"I'm trying to find out why the Spaniards want the gold so
badly," said Ramón.
"No one can know that, my child. No one but the Spaniards.
Now, if you wished to know something of the Azteca, I might
be able to tell you." The doll-maker was fashioning a doll
from cornshucks, yarn, and feathers. The doll quickly
resembled a tiny man with headdress, shield and a stick for
a club. "This is how I remember," she explained. "When I
make a doll, I pull all my memories out of the corn shuck
and look at them. With this doll, I can see the Azteca
"Ah, yes," she finally said. "They were a mighty people.
Long ago, they filled the land to the south. They loved to
fight. More than the Apache or the Comanche. This is what
they looked like when they went out to make war." She
presented the doll to Ramón. "This is yours, child."
"No, thank you," Ramón said.
"Here, take it!" she insisted, "I made it for you."
"I don't want your doll!" Ramón blurted before he thought.
He added, "I'm sorry. I don't want to be impolite. But I
don't like dolls."
The doll-maker set the doll down with a thump and frowned.
"You are a strange girl," she observed, her perpetual smile
almost faded, "A warrior doll has special significance,
especially for a girl."
"I just don't like dolls," said Ramón.
"Hmmph," the doll-maker gazed at the doll in her hand for a
moment, then said, "These people loved to fight. When they
could not find enemies to fight, they would fight among
themselves. This is the doll of such a warrior." She
glanced at Ramón as though expecting a change of heart.
Seeing none, she continued, "Since then, they have
scattered, blended in with the Mexica. They are not so
"The Spaniards beat them, Hah?" Red Cloud offered.
"The Spaniards are warriors, but not so fierce as the
Azteca. What brought them down was the sickness. The
sickness beat the people of the south, cut them down like
corn in the autumn. You see, they had offended the spirits.
I have a tale about that."
Ramón stirred uneasily at the mention of spirits. He was
intimately aware of what happened if the spirits disapproved
of your actions.
"These people had a love of ceremony. You know how we like
to greet the sun in the morning, and grant the sacred dust
to the four winds to pray for good planting. But they had
ceremonies for everything. They had laws to regulate what
they could wear, and what they could eat, and what they
could say. And they had sacrifices," she paused for effect,
then added in a chill whisper reserved for impressionable
young children, "They would grab a person and spread-eagle
him and CUT HIS HEART OUT!"
The exclamation had the desired effect. Ramón jumped in
alarm. Attempting to regain his composure, he squeaked,
"They sacrificed *people*?"
"People, captives, warriors, if they fought well. Their own
people, if they did not have anyone to fight. Men, women,
children. Little girls."
"I don't believe it," said Ramón. He was getting tired of
"You are young," The old woman peered closely at him. Ramón
sighed. He was beginning to feel like one of Papá's horses
being inspected for a sale. The doll- maker held the doll
up beside Ramón's face.
"You are of the pure Azteca," she announced.
"What!?" exclaimed both girls.
MARCHING HOME AGAIN:
Time seemed to drag while they waited for Papá to return, so
they ran footraces, the girls and some younger boys at the
village meadow. Ramón lost consistently.
"Machita, you are running with the shoulders," suggested Fox
Listens shyly, "like a boy runs."
"It is the only way I know how to run," said Ramón, "I put
my head down and go."
"A boy runs with the shoulders. You have no shoulders."
Ramón bit back a retort. No shoulders? He tried harder,
and failed again. It was no use trying, he was doomed to
existence in a deformed, awkward body. He could beat them
all, if he could change back to a boy, but then there would
be the questions, and the shame...
Eventually, it was decided that Papá would have to return by
himself. It was getting late and Ramón did not wish to
travel after dark.
"What a story!" exclaimed Ramón, as they started toward
Mamá's house, "Imagine me looking like an Aztec!"
"Well, you don't look like us," Red Cloud said, pacing along
beside him, appearing bored and at ease while keeping a wary
eye on the horizon.
"I know that! But why must I look like *them*?"
"Good question. But what is wrong with that?"
"I don't like looking like a bunch of dead people."
"I told you they are still around. Some have kept to
themselves. There's a band over in the far mountains,
several days away. There's more in the marshes beyond the
farthrest to the south. There are Nahautl all over. They
aren't rich, though."
They were climbing down the side of a hill when Red Cloud
saw movement out on the flat. She motioned Ramón back into
the brush, and they waited under cover while horsemen rode
past, talking and bantering.
"Soldados," said Red Cloud, after they had passed.
"Some of the Alcalde's men," agreed Ramón, "We'd better
hurry on home," and they resumed their travel at a trot.
Mamá was waiting at the compound gate, with a worried eye
and a tonguelashing ready for him for going into danger.
Seeing Red Cloud with Ramón, she did not scold him.
"Go by the well, first. You have a visitor," she warned
Ramón, then asked, "You two seem cosy. Does she know?"
"Yeah, and she won't let me forget it," said Ramón, with a
Red Cloud merely smiled at Mamá's puzzled frown. "We saw
soldados out on the flat," she told Mamá, "They were heading
for the river bend."
"I heard there were some Yanquis trying to pan gold there,
last month," said Mamá, "The Alcalde does not want them
around, but he will let them search for gold and then take
it from them."
Ramón took the shirt and pants from his mother into an
outbuilding before changing clothes and dumping the gourd of
water over his head.
"What do you know about Machito?" Mamá demanded of Red
"Only that he has the ability to `change'."
"Do you know why this happened to him?"
"His father said he... offended... the spirit of the
spring," Red Cloud said.
"This he has explained to me. But there is something he is
not telling me, I feel."
When Ramón returned, the two women were discussing men in
general and one in particular, and they turned to inspect
him with a critical eye.
"What!?" he said.
"Oh, nothing," said Mamá.
"Or very close to nothing," agreed Red Cloud.
His visitor was Gordito, stopping by after a day in his
father's cotton fields. "I have hoed and scratched dirt all
day long," he complained, "I gotta get out of this place!"
They were on the roof, watching the twilight creep across
the sky to the red dusk in the West, while the first stars
were barely glinting.
"I guess I ought to stay around here for a while," said
"If I had your luck, I'd be gone in a flash! You get to
stay in the big city school, you get to see all those
people. I'd be outta here, hombre!"
"It's not all that way," said Ramón.
"No girls. It's an all guy school. And I don't get that
much school. I think they keep me as a janitor. I spend
more time in the stables cleaning up after the guys whose
parents are important than I do in class."
"No shit? Does your Mamá know?"
"No. I don't tell her that. She thinks I am a `scholar'.
But I am the son of a horse trader, and that's how they
"Ooh. I think I see. You got a problem, then?"
"Yeah. The friars who run the school want me back, so they
wrote the mission here. Then the Alcalde got hold of the
message telling them to send me back, and he decided to
throw me in jail as an example to other kids."
"*That's* why he's after you? Hell, man. I thought you
done something *bad*!"
A scratching from the side of the house caught their
attention, and a moment later Red Cloud swarmed over the
edge of the roof. Remaining low, she motioned to Ramón and
Gordito to get down.
"What's the matter?" Ramón asked. For answer, she yanked
them both off their feet with surprising strength.
"Quiet!" she hissed, "Soldados!"
Then they heard the creak and jingle of saddle and harness,
the sound of hoofs as men rode up and horses shoved up to
the watering trough, and the soft voices of several men as
one gave orders and others responded.
Ramón could hear Mamá's voice as she responded to their
questions, and he ached at the way she allowed a whine of
self-pity into her words. He pulled Red Cloud's hand from
his mouth, but said nothing. Softly, he eased over to the
edge of the roof and watched the soldiers as they stood
around. The sergeant and one man went into the house for
long moments, then emerged. Finally, they all mounted and
rode away into the night.
Hurrying down the poles set in the corner of the house, the
three youths met Ramón's mother at the stoop.
"Were they after Lucita?" Ramón wanted to know.
"Or searching for Machito?" asked Gordito.
"Neither," said Mamá, "Someone has told them that we have a
strange girl living here, and they wanted to make sure she
was not an Indian."
"Uhm," said Ramón, aware of Red Cloud's eyes on him.
"I told them the truth, that there was no Indian girl living
"What girl?" Gordito wanted to know.
"They may be looking for Lucita," said Ramón, cutting his
eyes over toward Gordito, trying to make Mamá understand
without speaking that he didn't want his secret known.
"Oh, yes, I suppose so," she said.
"I bet that they are after that new girl in the village,"
Gordito volunteered, "I hear that she's... ahh," he suddenly
noticed that his audience was not all male, "I've heard that
she is very .. ah .. pretty."
Red Cloud snickered while Ramón glowered.
"It is fortunate that Rain is at her aunt's house," said
Mamá, "I must go get her."
He was awakened in the small hours by a scrabbling and
whimpering sound from the kitchen. Mamá responded drowsily
when he shook her awake.
"Wake up, Mamá. It is Lucita, she has had another
nightmare. She is under the bench in the kitchen."
"Then put her back to bed, Machito."
"I have tried, Mamá. I.. She draws away from me. I
Mamá roused enough to gather in the trembling child and took
her to bed with her. The next morning Lucita still had not
slept, so Mamá asked Ramón to stay with her while she went
to the rancho.
Ramón stayed within sight of the house all day long. Lucita
did not want to go to her aunt, and she cried whenever Ramón
came close, so he stood his guard from a distance.
Finally, in the afternoon, he sat by the stoop and debated
his fortune once again. His dreams of being a horse-trader
were frustrated because Papá had wanted him to become
educated, and did not want him to waste his life being a
`horse-tramp'. His dreams of going to school had seen him
become practically a servant of the other students. His
dreams of becoming a matador... well, maybe those dreams
were a bit foolish, anyway.
He became aware of a presence close by, and looked up to see
Lucita standing beside him, again peering closely at him.
Lucita was holding a pitcher, which proved to contain warm
water that she poured over Ramón's thick black hair.
Ramón restrained his angry outburst as Lucita set the
pitcher down, crawled into a now female lap, and fell asleep
with her head against Ramón's breast.
As her mother had sat with him, so Ramón sat, uncertain of
what to do but determined to be still as long as he could
and not disturb the troubled child resting so trustingly in
Finally, Mamá came in from the rancho and beheld Ramón
drowsing against the doorpost.
"Here," she said, "let me take her and put her in bed."
Ramón released the child from his numbed arms and spent
several minutes enduring pain as the feeling returned to his
feet and legs. Finally the tingling subsided and he could
walk to the well for a dipper of cold water.
Papá finally strolled in, a day late. Mamá announced that
tomorrow they would go to the rancho together.
CHAPTER TRES: END
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