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Macho Caballo Page

Las Aventuras De Macho Caballo

MACHO CABALLO PART I: CHAPTER SEIS GAINS AND LOSSES
INDIGNITIES: Don Pedro looked out from the porch as the soldiers searched the buildings. Sinestro seemed particularly interested in the upstairs of the great house. "In my youth, I would have thrown him off my land for doing what he is doing here," he said to his wife, who stood beside him. She pressed his hand. "In our youth, a Spaniard could walk safely down a street in Mexico City," she said. "I know," he said, seeing the Yanquis drawn together in a group at the far end of the shelter, "He has taken so much. But how much more must I give up?" "How much more do you have?" she asked. He put her hand to his lips. "I have everything, mi corazon," he said, "and I want to lose nothing. But I fear that I will be stripped of what is dear to me." A moment passed, and he asked, "Have you seen Estrellita?" "She was going for a ride," smiled the Doña. "Good girl." The cowboys had drifted back to their end of the porch. Calpern said, "The boys was wonderin' if us being here was causing any problem." "Please, do not concern yourself," said Don Pedro, "The Alcalde has this passion for me and mine. When he has finished soiling the ground here, he will depart. If anything, he will avoid displeasing someone who can provide him with horses." "Ain't seen no shortage of horses, hereabouts. Yet, I sold ever last spavin-legged critter I brought in," said Calpern, "Kinda makes a man wonder what's so special about Yankee mustangs." "Perhaps the fact that there is nothing special about them," suggested the don, "They have no markings. While there are many horses here, each one has someone's brand on it." "Sounds like someone may be wantin' a bunch of people moved in a big hurry." "Perhaps, my friend, perhaps." BREAKING AWAY: Estrellita met Machita in the shadow of the eaves of one of the many wings of the great house. "Take care of her, and get her away from the house," Machita shoved Lucita into Estrellita's arms, "I have to find a way to get her out of here." Estrellita looked at the dark-haired girl speculatively, then said, "If you see Ramón, tell him the bay is saddled." "Thanks!" cried Machita as she dodged between the bushes. "De nada..." Estrellita stared after the vanished girl. Holding Lucita's hand, she led the way, through paths known only to her, into the garden. "Who was that girl, Lucita?" she asked. "Gentle Rain," Lucita corrected her. "Is that her name? Gentle Rain?" "No. *I'm* Gentle Rain." "Oh, yeah. Then who was that?" Lucita refused to answer, pulling toward the shelter of the corn plants. "There's nothing out here to harm you," Estrellita pointed out. "All the soldiers are at the house." One soldier, however, was not searching the house. She had forgotten the guard at the stable. He could see the garden from his vantage point, and ran out through the border of the garden to intercept them. "Señorita!" he called, "Por favor! Give the girl to me!" Estrellita pulled Lucita behind her. "You can't want her," she cried, "She hasn't done anything." "I am very sorry, Señorita, but that is for my sergeant to decide. Please, let me have her." "No!" said Estrellita, and her chin came up as she stood defiantly before Lucita. "Señorita! You must not interfere!" The guard stomped across a row of beans and reached for the frightened girl. "Run, Lucita!" cried Estrellita and threw herself at the surprised guard. Lucita squealed and scampered away. The guard shoved Estrellita aside and gave chase. Beyond the fence, another soldier appeared and prepared to catch Lucita as she ran toward him. Estrellita struggled up from the dirt, hearing Lucita's cries of fright and the grunt of the pursuing soldiers. Above them she heard the muffled thunder of hoofbeats as the bay jumped the garden gate with Ramón in the saddle. "Gentle Rain!" called Ramón, and Lucita stopped to stare at the horse and rider coming toward her. She held up her hands, as though reaching for help. With one leg over the saddle, Ramón leaned far out and down to catch Lucita and swing her up behind him. The bay slid to a stop, almost sitting down in the soft soil of the garden and sending dirt clods flying over the two soldiers. He reversed direction and bounded back toward the great house. Belatedly, one of the soldiers drew his pistol and fired a shot which went wild. Don Pedro heard the pistol fire and jerked his head up. "He has been found," he said. The yard was full of children running to see what had happened. Shouts could be heard from the direction of the garden, coming closer until all conversation was drowned out in the booming clatter of hooves on the portico floor. The bay swept through the portico, dodging chairs and people with Ramón and Lucita clinging to the saddle and to each other. At the end of the porch was the gate road, and at the gate were two more guards. These soldiers, alerted by the racket, readied their muskets. One shouldered his weapon, but the other fumbled the hammer, lifting the gun only to find the horse bearing down on him. He threw down the musket and dived for the fence. The bay, nostrils flared and eyes wide, had extended his neck straight ahead and settled into a dead run straight for the gate and the remaining guard. That person, feeling the absense of his companion and seeing the determination of the oncoming animal, fired his musket high and also dodged for cover. In a moment, Ramón and Lucita were under the cottonwoods on the main road and headed in the direction of Villarica. When the noise had died down, Sinestro stepped up to Don Pedro and scowled. "I will remember that two fugitives were found in your presense," he said. Don Pedro returned his frown. "And I will remember that they were both children," he said. Sinestro glared at him for a moment, then said, "Don Pedro. Señora. Señorita," for Estrellita, grimy with garden dirt, had just arrived. "Alcalde," said Don Pedro, stiffly. "Until we meet again." Sinestro entered the cabrolet and departed. "Whooeee!" said Sandy, "That feller's madder'n a bear with his balls in a crack!" "Sandy, you got to remember that there are ladies present," Calpern reminded him. "Sorry, Ma'am," Sandy gulped. "Quite all right," said the Doña, "I am relieved that our friends got away." OLD FRIENDS: His father's village was just over the ridge, but Ramón guided the bay around it. "Get ready to jump off," he instructed Lucita. She responded by clinging more tightly to him. "We are coming to some rocks," elaborated Ramón, "You can climb up on them from the horse without leaving tracks." "I don't want to leave you," whined Lucita. "I won't be gone long, but I have to hide the horse away from here." The bay edged toward one side of the huge rocks beside the trail in an attempt to scrape his rider's leg, until Ramón twitched the reins and guided him clear. He said, "You won't be alone. Look!" "Red Cloud!" shouted Lucita. Two figures had appeared on a boulder beside the trail, wearing odd boots which looked like basketwork. Red Cloud swung Lucita up into her arms while an older youth named Wolf Walker looked on. "You will be followed," predicted Wolf Walker. "I don't know if they are after me, yet. I didn't see anyone behind me," said Ramón, "How did you know I was coming?" "You wouldn't see anything," said Wolf Walker, "You have the eyes of a wart hog." "I'll be back," said Ramón sullenly, "As soon as I can hide the horse." "Don't hurry," said Wolf Walker. Ramón guided the bay up through narrow canyons into the hills beyond the village. Papá had several holding areas up here, and he sought one of them. He tried to keep the horse on solid rock as much as possible to slow a tracker if they sent one after him. The bay was shod, worse luck, for the steel horseshoes could made a clear track even on stone. When he finally turned the horse loose, in a box canyon with a brush gate, it was past noon and he was both hungry and thirsty. He began to wish he had snatched a pocketful of corn tortillas while he was in the kitchen. The bay had found a spring at the rear of the canyon, so he drank his fill and prepared to walk to the village. Lucita ran to meet him, then returned to play with other children. She seemed to have forgotten the morning. "Gentle Rain will stay with us," said Red Cloud's mother, a woman with turquoise in her beadwork and Red Cloud's eyes, "We will see that no harm comes to her." "My mother is grateful to you," said Ramón, "Now, I will have to go back home to see about Mamá." "The soldados tried to capture Gentle Rain?" asked Red Cloud, and Ramón nodded. "The lookout saw you out on the flat, coming from your father's corral," said Wolf Walker. "Huh?" asked Ramón. "You asked how we knew you were coming." "Yeah, I did, didn't I?" "The soldados will come," said Wolf Walker, "We should warn the old ones." "It's my responsibility. I will tell them." "You have been offered a place in the village, and you have refused. Now you do not speak to the old ones. I will tell them." "Yeah, but I'm the one the soldiers will be after!" "Then we will hide you, since you cannot hide yourself." "What do you mean by *that*?" "You live inside the walls of your village, away from the air. You have no skills, you cannot hunt or stalk, you must be protected like a small child. You are worse than a woman!" "You take that back!" cried Ramón, and he launched himself at the older boy. He grabbed Wolf by the waist and swung him around until both lost their footing. Soon they were tumbling down the slope toward the shallow creek, struggling to pin each other to the ground. Lucita came to Red Cloud. "Why are they fighting?" she asked nervously. "They are playing rough," said Red Cloud, "Boys like to play rough. It prepares them for being men... some day." Red Cloud picked her up and they watched the fighters. Ramón won a temporary advantage by knocking Wolf Walker's legs from under him, but the other pulled him down also and they were rolling down the slope again. "They aren't hurting each other?" "Maybe a little. But by hurting each other a little, they learn how to hurt others more, later, when they are too old to play. Then when they have to fight, they will know how." "I don't want to be too old to play," said Lucita. "These two aren't too old - yet." The last tumble, from solid ground into the streambed, ended the fight with the breath knocked out of both boys. "You can tell them," wheezed Ramón, "I have to get home before Mamá comes after me." "That... that was what I was trying to tell you!" said Wolf Walker. Ramón did not complain when Red Cloud escorted him home. GAINS AND LOSSES: "Mamá has had me sitting and standing and walking and prissing all afternoon," complained Machita. She took care not to step on the hem of the skirt as she climbed the ladder onto the roof. "Then why are you still a girl?" smiled Papá, who was gazing into the West toward the distant purple hills. "Because she is not satisfied! I still must help with the cooking. Is a girl's work never done?" Papá smiled, as though he had heard the same complaint many times before. "Awww, Papá, you've got to do something!" said Machita, "She's trying to turn me into a girl! If she wanted a daughter, why didn't she have one instead of me?" Albierto sat and studied the sunset clouds, chin in hand, for long moments. "You will not speak to your mother about this," he said. "Of course not! But why does she want me to be the girl, so badly?" "For many years I have travelled to the Brazos river, and traded with the Commanche," said Papá. He paused, deep in thought. Machita sat beside him. She had learned to go along with Papá's habit of changing the subject. She said, "Well, people say it is not always a good thing, to sell horses to them." "It is said they may use the horse you sell to carry off your family," said Papá, "I do not agree, but I have been told this by many people." "So why do it?" "Because, when I met your mother, before I work for Don Pedro, I was selling horses. She cost me fifteen of the best ponies I ever had." "You *bought* Mamá?" Papá grinned fiercely, "You did not know this, did you? She tells of a courtship under a roof and chaperon, for this is what she wishes you to believe. She never spoke to me of her past, and I have never asked her. The bunch of Commanche I got her from said she came from down South. They also said that the people they bought her from spoke of a child." "A daughter?" "Perhaps so. I have never asked her, and she has never said. But sometimes, when she thinks I am not looking, she watches the children of travellers. And for years, until she made me stop, I have taken horses to the Commanche." "Looking for her daughter?" Papá sniffed suddenly and stood. "You ask too many questions," he said, "I do not have the answers to my own." Machita watched fireflies winking in the growing dusk. "I have never had a sister," she complained, "Now I have a little sister, I may have had an older sister, and my mother is trying to turn me into another!" Papá remained silent, and Machita asked, "Ahh, Papá? If Mamá never spoke of it, and you never talked about it, how could she tell you to quit looking?" The elder Caballo turned away. "You will never speak to your mother about this," he said. "I already said I wouldn't!" "You remember the time I took you with me, to their camp?" "Yeah, and they made me wrestle that girl... Say! Was that her? Was that my sister? She was older than me." "No. They thought it was a great joke, insulting you by letting you wrestle a girl, even if she was much older and stronger than you at the time. You were only eight years old. But you didn't notice and went ahead. You didn't show pride, or refuse because it was beneath you. Because they admired your determination, while you were wrestling they showed me your sister. I said goodbye to her, from across the shelter. I could get no closer. She had the white man's disease, I think it was cholera." Machita found it difficult to speak around the lump in her throat, "She died?" Papá nodded. He was silent for a long time, so Machita got up and dusted off the skirts. She placed a hand on Pap 's shoulder, but could think of nothing to say but, "I won't tell Mamá. I promise." TO MARKET, REDUX: Ramón was awakened by warm water trickling onto his face. Convinced something was wrong, she hurried into his clothes and looked around. The still of early sunrise lay about, and only a few birds were singing. "Did you hear anything?" she asked. Mamá was finishing breakfast for her, and Papá was nowhere about, as usual. "No, nothing is wrong, mi Machita. This is a market day, remember?" "But why make me into a girl this early? Can't I stay male for a little while?" "Not today. I shall need you to help me, again." "I am beginning to think Grampa had the right idea," said Machita sourly. "And just what idea was that?" Mamá demanded. "To be a hermit. When you live by yourself, you don't have to worry about how you look." "Well, you are not him, thank God, and you have much more than he will ever have. You are young, you are strong, and smart, I should hope." Machita sighed once again and donned the dress. "I hate this thing," she said. "Will you wear it this time, for me?" "Mamá, you don't have to try so hard." "What do you mean?" "I'm worried about Lucita, too. I just don't know anything to do about it." Mamá sat down and embraced her. "I suppose I am being too *normal*, today," she said. "I want to go to the Alcalde and scream at him that he is doing something terribly wrong. I want to get Lucita and go away somewhere. I want to do something, *anything*. I want it all to stop." "I know, Mamá, I know." "Well..." Mamá rose to her feet, "come with me. We must go." Machita sighed and went with her. The market was already busy when they arrived, the hum of commerce rising like the clamor of a beehive as vendors and customers bargained over garden produce, textiles, and pottery. The boys were there, too, Machita saw, perhaps more than last time. They stood back and stared, and she tried to ignore them. When she lifted the bowl of squash and beans to her head, they gawked, and she growled, "Just like last time. What is wrong with the way I walk?" "Nothing, Machita," Mamá assured her, "Nothing at all." Sometime during the morning, the boys were joined by older men, toughs from the mining camps. These too watched her, but the look in their eyes was different. Machita realized that what she had seen from the boys was respect, almost worship. These men had a look of hard determination to them, a callous sneer that respected nothing. She edged closer to Mamá. Her eyes were caught by the glare of sunlight reflected from a man's head, bald as a stump, and she could not help staring. She had seen bald men before - Pablo was bald - but this man was *peeled*. From the high, arched nose to the collar of his faded tunic, there was not a hair. As though he felt himself being watched, he cast about, then turned full face toward Machita. There was an emptiness in those eyes that unsettled her and she realized that she was alone. Mamá had gone on to the next stall. Trouble came, not from the crowd of toughs eying her, but from soldiers who shoved their way through the crowd of bargainers and surrounded Mam . "Señora Caballo, we have to arrest you for harboring a known fugitive from the law," said the sergeant. "Machita! cried Mamá, "Get away! Run!" The soldiers and Mamá seemed to recede in Machita's sight, until they were little and far away, too far away to hear as the soldiers not ungently led Mamá away. When she could move, they were gone, and there was no one who would look at her except the men from the miner's camp. The bald man with the empty eyes was with them, and he pointed at Machita and spoke to the toughs. When she could move, they kept her from following Mamá. Machita dumped the bowl of beans and squash in their path and ran. For frantic moments, she dodged among the women and old men in the market, until she reached the other side of the marketplace. There she chose between alleyways and pelted down the narrow passageway until she came to a stone fence. The dress was hampering her flight, so when she found someone's laundry hanging on poles beyond the fence, she found shelter, ripped the dress off and traded it for some pantalones and a shirt before running on. She had to find Mamá. CHAPTER SEIS: END Return to main page