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Macho Caballo Page

Las Aventuras De Macho Caballo

MACHO CABALLO PART I: CHAPTER CINCO A SHADOW AT THE FIESTA
PREMONITIONS: Grampa Alboro yawned and stretched mightily. Pushing aside the woolen rag that served as a door to his adobe hut, he stepped up the ladder to the roof, to greet the first rays of the morning Sun. Every day he spread his arms and greeted the Sunboy, and every day he paused a moment to meditate and evaluate the coming day. Some mornings the Sun would dim and the sky would darken while the Sunboy told him of coming events. Other days, like today appeared to be, he could ask and wait until noon and nothing would happen. "Ahh, maybe next time," he exposed his white teeth in a wide grin. Sometimes, it was the face of a little boy who would peek impishly over the hills. Again, once it had been a dark warrior with face painted for battle, just before the last Apache raids. Once, weeks ago, it had been the face of a girl - the girl his grandson had chosen to turn into. "What a waste!" muttered the old man, "He could have been a horse. At least that would have been useful!" This morning - nada. He became aware of the fluttering of wings as a hummingbird fed on the cactus flowers near the hut. "Ahh, another early riser," he said, admiring the brilliant red vest and blue coat of the tiny creature. The hummingbird, finished with the flower, swooped toward him and hovered before his face. Alboro stepped back and the bird followed, its needle-sharp beak inches from his eyes. The old man swatted at the menacing bird, but it darted away and returned immediately, as if attempting to pierce his eye. [Look at me.] it seemed to say. "What do you want?" demanded Alboro. [One comes,] it seemed to say, and darted back to the cactus to resume feeding. The Sun had become dim and red, the skies darkened. "*Now* there is a message," grumbled the old man. No one ever came to this hill. He had found the hut many years before and settled in for that very reason. It was away from the tribe and the village, and no one walked these trails. This morning, with the red Sun and the stars peeking through a dim sky, there was a traveller on the ridge. Alboro put on a pot of coffee to be hospitable and awaited the stranger's arrival, meanwhile smoking a mixture of imported tobacco cut with a locally grown herb in his blackened pipe. The first thing he noticed about the traveller was that he was bald. Even his brows were clean shaven, and the eyelids plucked. About his stout frame the stranger had a faded robe of fine cotton, with embroidered designs that seemed unreasuringly familiar. The mantle shimmered, and appeared to be decorated with hummingbird feathers. Alboro offered coffee, and it was declined. "What path do you walk?" demanded the stranger in a rude and imperious tone. "I am only an herb doctor," replied Alboro carefully, "May I ask your path?" "I serve the war god," declared the stranger, "and the hummingbird is his creature." Alboro was not surprised when he turned from the coffee pot to find the Sun bright and the stranger gone. "The war god likes hummingbirds?" he said to himself. GETTING ACQUAINTED: The cowboy pushed up to the pine railing. "Pardon me!" he said loudly, though Ramón was close beside him, coiling the riata. "Perdoname?" Ramón looked up from his chore. "Yeah, pardon me. You seen the seenyoreeta?" Ramón arched one eyebrow, then shook his head. He did not want to get involved. "I was lookin' for the seenyoreeta," the sandy haired Yanqui tried again. "No comprendo," Ramón smiled. He finished coiling the riata and stepped off the fence toward the bay. The horse watched him come near, and there was a glint to his eye. "Ahh. Seenyore? That there horse ain't easy to ride. Fact is, I only seen one person stick on him, and that's the gal I'm lookin' for." Ramón tossed the loop over the bay's neck and pulled it closer. He talked soothingly to the horse, praising the flowing mane, the bright intelligent eyes, and the powerful legs. The bay snorted, then allowed the boy to draw him near, tensing his muscles to jerk away. As the horse backed away, Ramón let the riata play out, then slowly began to draw him back in again. He moved closer to the horse and extended his hand. The horse whuffed at the back of his hand and backed off again. He seemed confused, casting about as though looking for something, then returning his gaze to the boy. He approached cautiously to smell Ramón's blouse, then reared onto his back legs, pawing the air with his hoofs inches from Ramón's face. Ramón stood unmoving. "Well, I don't know whether to whistle `er go spit," said the cowboy. The bay came to earth with a thump, ran to the extent of the riata, then slowly stepped back to Ramón. He eyed the boy from a short distance, then stepped up and nudged his chest with his nose. Ramón got a blanket from the fence rail and put it on the horse's back and followed it with the saddle. "Yer gonna need a bridle!" hollered the cowboy, "He's gonna reach around and nip you sure'ern Sunday!" From his perch on the saddle, Ramón removed the riata from the horse's neck and tossed it to the cowboy. Then he 'chk-chked' to get the bay moving. He spent the next hour with his hands by his side, letting the horse get used to him and guiding it with pressure from his knees. Estrellita was sitting the fence when Ramón finished his ride and began rubbing down the bay's coat. "That is one smart rider!" said the cowboy. "That is one smart horse!" she said. "My name's Estrella," she added, "What's yours?" "Everyone calls me Sandy. At yore service, Ma'am!" the cowboy grinned at her. "That's Ramón, on the horse." "I thought sure he was gonna get ate up," said Sandy, "Only other soul I ever seen ride that bay was this seenyoreeta. Sorta hoped I'd see her here." Estrellita wrinkled her nose. "What was she like, this Señorita?" "She's prettier'n a speckled pup, `bout so tall, kinda short shiny hair, big eyes, and man, could she ride that horse!" "Hmmm. Where'd you see her?" "Back in town. Picked out some of the horses for your boss," Sandy said as he watched the bay frisking around after it's rubdown. "It's not my boss, just a horse-trader. He works for the hacendado, and the hacendado is my grandfather." "Well, I guess that'd make you the rancherita." "Some people seem to think so." "So you're the one she picked out that horse for?" "She did?" Estrellita waved Ramón over. "Hey, Ramón!" she cried, "I want you to meet my new boyfriend!" "Congratulations!" said Ramón as he shook Sandy's hand. Sandy gave him a puzzled look. "Ramón's my boyfriend," Estrellita explained to the cowboy and grinned as the two boys looked at each other in speculation. To Ramón she said, "Sandy tells me there was a girl in town with you, yesterday." At Ramón's concerned frown, she added, "He said she was the one who picked out that bay for me." When Ramón nodded, looking for an escape route, she added sweetly, "I thought *you* were the one who picked him out!" PUTTING ON THE FEED BAG: Don Pedro had called in all his help from the fields, leaving only a few hands who patrolled the fences to watch for marauding coyotes. Since he felt a barbecue was in order, no one attempted to dissuade him. Very quickly there was a half beef turning on the spit while chattering mujeres fabricated the remainder of the meal with delicacies from the garden. Mamá brought Lucita, who brightened at the prospect of a pinata smash. Soon she was lost among the other young children clamoring about the yard before the great house. The aroma of sizzling beef set the dogs to howling, and a vaquero was dispatched to take them a distance away so their racket would not disturb the party. Don Pedro sat on the portico in the shade and discussed the vicissitudes of politics and deeper subjects with his visitors while they sipped tea. The porch extended the full width of the building, with shallow steps at each side and a broad walkway in front which led to a graveled drive. "But you never even tried one," complained the cowboy known as `Lonesome', "How are you going to know the difference between a blond and a redhead until you try them both?" "Gentlemen, you are talking to the wrong person. You see the condition I am in right now," said Don Pedro solemnly, "This is nothing to what would happen to me if my wife caught me 'trying' another woman!" "I suppose you have to keep peace in the house," admitted Calpern as the other hands chuckled. "True enough. I suppose you have been married long?" The youngest cowboy wandered up and Calpern answered in English. "Me and the old lady met in Christmas of '99," he said, "We drawed the same number in a pie sale and the sparks flew. We met on Tuesday and called the bible-thumper to tie the knot on Thursday." "Bueno," said Don Pedro, "Ours was an arranged marriage. My parents in Spain knew another couple who had a daughter, and they decided that it would be beneficial to both families for us to wed. I have never regretted it. I would not admit it to her face, but she is a moderately attractive woman, an excellent cook, and a fearsome partner." "Well, they say that when you ain't got no choice, the best thing you can do is play the hand that's dealt. The second best thing is if she can cook." "And what of you, my young vaquero?" Don Pedro waved Sandy closer, "What have you done to distinguish yourself in the field of romance?" "Ain't done much. I'm just getting started." "He has a good attitude," said Don Pedro, "Me, I was ready to take on the world at his age. I even had a couple of conquests under my belt." "Hey, Ramón," hollered Sandy as the Mexican boy came in from the corral, "Come on in and join the talk." "What's going on?" asked Ramón in Spanish. Calpern spoke up, "You will have to learn to speak some English, son, else some cardsharp is going to cut you out of a deal." "Hey!" cried Sandy, "How come you never spoke Mexican when we were horse-trading, yesterday?" "Hell, son!" said Calpern as the laughter rolled around the portico, "You don't show your cards until all the bettin's done, do you?" "Guess I'd better learn," Sandy said shyly. "Good. I'm gonna leave you down here for a spell while I round up some more strays, if'n the Don here don't mind." "Not at all. And young Ramón here will teach him `Mexican' while your vaquero teaches him your language." "I'd be much obliged. Of course, he'll work some, and I'd be glad to pay his board." "No need, we are always happy to educate you Yanquis on the finer things in life. Besides, you have already helped me immeasurably by furnishing the fine horses." "Oh, yeah. I meant to ask you," Calpern stopped to knock the dottle from his pipe, clean the stem and tamp the bowl full of tobacco again, then puff it back to life, "Met your mayor yesterday. He seemed to have a pretty good opinion of hisself." "Señor Sinestro is a liar, a thief, and a murderer," Don Pedro said, "He obtained his position at the expense of the people of a town in southern Mexico, and now he searches for wealth while pretending to govern the town." "Figured you and him were old friends," puffed Calpern, "What's this about another revolution?" "Ever and ever. We have cast off the yoke of Spanish rule, only to flounder about imposing our own rules. We get rid of one government and we fail to correct their mistakes. The people who take their place get off the track, and we have to do it all over again. It takes time, and we make mistakes." "You bein' Spanish yourself, don't you feel a bit out of place?" "I have adopted this country. God willing, I will die peaceably here. Perhaps I am a bit of an idealist, no? My son Esteban, who is the politician, stays in Mexico City to argue for our rights. My granddaughter flits back and forth as though it were a stroll to the village. There are bandits in the hills, and I suspect she is hoping to meet one. She is an incurable romantic." "The mayor said something about an Empire, I remember." "Ahh, yes. The Empire of Mexico. It sounds good. Perhaps it will work, or it could be another case of Napoleon. Perhaps we should try a president, as your country did." "Wouldn't know," puffed Calpern, "All my dealings with politicians have been onesided. They always wanted the biggest half of the pie. Where do you suppose this mayor wants to fit into this picture? "Ahhh, well. You know my opinion of him." "Yep. Reckon if you had elections here, he could run against a polecat and lose." "But he has power, and greed. That makes him a dangerous man. You must watch your back around here, my friend." There was a clangor from the iron triangle beside the grill in the yard, and they filed off the porch to enjoy the feast. Marie pushed Don Pedro's conveyance down a ramp and out across the yard to a weathered table. The table was sheltered by an awning on poles, and it was burdened with platters of bread, vegetables, and desserts. Talk was abandoned for a moment as Don Pedro said the blessing then a restrained pandemonium began as plates were filled and everyone fell to eating. It was a large meal, for everyone who worked on the rancho was there, with the exception of the outriders. The children were fed separately, at another smaller table, and Mamá was assisting another woman in serving them. BEST LAID PLANS: When they were full, they took their ease. Someone brought out a guitar, another an instument resembling a dobro, a trumpet, and yet another vaquero found a battered violin to play, and they had music. Thus it was that during the most pleasant part of the day a shadow fell upon the festivities when a black cabroliet wheeled into the yard accompanied by six uniformed guards. "It is always my bad luck to send the hunting dogs away too soon," said Don Pedro. Nevertheless, he kept his expression civil as the Alcalde disembarked from the coach and joined the group on the portico, greeting them amicably. He accepted a cup of coffee from Marie and took his ease against the porch rail. "Ahhh, children playing in the grass," he said, "I love the sight. You must tell me, Don Pedro, how you keep your grass so fresh and green. I am sure my brother-in- law must be envious." "I was fortunate in building near a spring," Don Pedro shrugged as well as he could, "There is no great secret." "It is just as well. Let my brother-in-law worry that you have something he does not. But let me get to the reason for my visit - it is good that your granddaughter has returned. My niece is being presented this Friday, and we would very much enjoy having Señorita Estrellita attend." "We will inform her - though she chooses her engagements herself. I very much fear we have raised an unsociable child." Ramón had slipped away unnoticed when the soldiers arrived and entered the house. It was some time later when Estrellita found him in the kitchen and asked him to talk. "They are only here on a social visit," she said, "There is nothing to worry about." Ramón nibbled on a fragment of pie. "Yeah? They aren't looking for you." "Silly. I bet Bertran wouldn't know you from his coach driver." "Better not let the Doña hear you calling him by his first name." "Enough of that. Let me show you something." "Not a good idea," said Ramón around a bite, "I oughta stay out of sight." Estrellita opened the door to the patio. "I have someone I want you to meet," she said. There, looking up from a conversation with a perplexed Don Pedro, was Bertran Sinestro. The conversation dropped into dead silence. The Alcalde did not hesitate. "Sergeant!" he bawled. Ramón threw down his plate and bolted through the door. "But wait!" cried Estrellita, trying to hold on to the Alcalde's jacket, "At least talk to him! Hear what he has to say!" Bertrand calmly unclenched her fingers from the fabric of his sleeve. "This person is a wanted fugitive. Did you see how he ran? It is obvious that he has used his wiles to work his way into your confidence, to deceive you into thinking he is innocent and taking advantage of your sweet generosity. Do not worry, Señorita de Muerte," he added, "I shall apprehend him!" "But that is not what I wanted to do at all!" cried Estrellita. Don Pedro watched him go. "Estrellita, you care for Ramón," he said, "How could you betray him like this to his worst enemy?" "I didn't know!" wailed Estrellita, "I never dreamt the Alcalde would be so... so angry! Oh, Grandfather, what have I done? What will happen to Ramón?" She fell to weeping on her grandfather's shoulder. "That was not anger, my child," Don Pedro soothed her, "You must understand the madman to discern his moods. He is happy. He has found another way to weaken me, by attacking the children of my closest friends." "But why? All I wanted to do was to get them together and try to help them clear up their misunderstanding!" He hugged her to him and said, through her hair, "We cannot hope to make him understand. However, if you wish to help Ramón, you will take our fastest, strongest horse out of the stables and tie it out in the open. If you have time, put a saddle on it." "Yes, I will do that. But what good will that do?" "If I know our Ramón, he will not be easily caught. And if he happens to take a ready mount which someone else was planning to ride, well... who could blame him?" Estrellita was hurrying back through the house to the rear entrance when she passed the kitchen and came face to face with Machita. "You!" cried Estrellita, "Wait! Who *are* you!?" "Can't talk now," Machita blurted, "Lucita is outside. They will find her!" and she ran for the patio. Estrellita paused, torn between pursuing the strange girl and helping Ramón. "I don't understand *any* of this!" she cried, then slammed the back door and hurried for the stables. "Lucita! Lucita!" Machita called, but the little girl only looked deliberately away from her. She had found some companions who had dolls and was busy beneath a huge oak tree playing make-believe. "Very well, then. Gentle Rain!" Machita hissed, trying to remain in the shade of the heavy shrubbery. Lucita peeked coyly over her shoulder as Machita beckoned her away from the open. Lucita shook her head `no', and was about to return to the carved baby crib she was holding when she saw the soldier coming around the house. She whimpered and ran to Machita. Estrellita had the saddle and bridle, but she could not get the horse. She had no sooner entered the tack room when a soldier appeared and began to patrol about the stable. She carefully eased to the corner of the stable door and watched him carefully checking the stalls. "Ligardo esputo!" she hissed(1). She could not get to the best horses without attracting the guard's attention, and the other horses were outside the stable in the corral, except... except her new horse. Ramón had finally bridled the bay and tied it in the shade beneath a scrub oak tree. She left the heavy saddle in the tack room and sneaked back out of the stables. The bay was not glad to see her. He was tired of the bridle and bit and wanted some freedom. The saddle Ramón had used earlier was nearby, and with some effort she swung it into place. The bay did not cooperate. It inhaled, and she had to kick it in the belly to get it to release its breath and allow her to tighten the cinch strap. The bay stamped about and pulled away from her, but she succeeded. "This is important, you dumb jackass!" she cried in frustration, "Try and help me a little, allright?" The bay looked at her with a glint in his eye, as if daring her to get into the saddle. He turned his head toward her to the extent of the reins and nibbled at the air. "Not today," she backed away from him, "You have to let someone else ride, and if you get fickle and screw this up, I'll personally carve you up for dogfood!" She went back through the shrubbery to look for Ramón. The bay nickered once softly and watched her go. _______________________________ 1 Literally, `lizard spit'. What it means in real life usage, I have no idea and am afraid to ask. CHAPTER CINCO: END Return to main page