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Macho Caballo Page

Las Aventuras De Macho Caballo

HOT PURSUIT: In the late morning sunlight, steps slowed as shoppers and merchants alike began to feel the growing warmth. They were thinking of quiet lunches with cool drinks in the shade, and murmured conversations. There were people strolling along to their luncheons and Machita had to dodge around them or throw out her hands to ward them off as she raced through the streets. Close behind, her pursuers were less genteel - above her own harsh breathing she could hear the crashes and cursing as the two men barreled through the crowd. The stolen pantalones were loose. They were too big and they flapped noisily as Machita ran. Keeping to the rear of the market buildings, avoiding piles of dung, seeking another glimpse of Mamá before she was led away, Machita ran. The men behind were excellent sprinters, and they were gaining. "I have had enough of *this*!" she said, grabbing a club and waiting, panting, for the foremost of her two pursuers to barrel around the corner. As she waited near a doorway, a hand reached out and grabbed her by the collar, nearly strangling her as she tried to escape. "How dare you go about in the middle of town in those unfeminine clothes?" A wizened old woman kept an iron grip on her collar and brought a fly-whisk across her head. The frail weapon did not hurt, but Machita flailed helplessly in her hold. "Let me go!" she cried, "I have to get away!" "Not until you promise to go straight home and put on some suitable clothing!" ordered the old woman, "Wearing men's pants like this is disgraceful!" "I'll do it! I'll do it!" promised Machita, and the old woman let her go. She stumbled and came face to face with the younger of the two men. He reached for her, and she swung the club hitting him in the face. As he fell back holding his face she turned and ran. Machita hurried on, now wary of doorways. Rounding a corner, she caught a low-reaching rafter beam and used it to swing up onto the roof of a porch. While the pursuit pounded past and down the alley, she lay flat on the sun-baked tile and gasped for air. Too soon it was time to stir, to find where they were taking Mamá. Still breathing heavily, Machita rose and surveyed the alleyway for pursuers before swinging down and heading back toward the marketplace. Across the square was an enclosed wagon, with a soldier guarding it. She was walking toward it when an exclamation from behind warned of a renewed chase. Two different men, young but intent, burst forth with an angry shout. Machita again started toward the wagon, but the guard had been alerted and readied his pike, and it was time for her to take flight once more. The street was sunbaked clay, worn smooth by constant foot traffic, and they raised hardly any dust as they sped over it. Someone moved in the shadows and Machita slid to a stop, almost falling down; they were waiting at the end of the way, cutting off escape. A fence to one side offered a convenient handhold, so she went up and over it, avoiding the shards of glass. It was not long before the chase resumed, however. Once more, Machita swung up onto a roof, but this time someone saw and raised the alarm. Loose red tiles sliding underfoot made her footing treacherous as she raced up to the peak of the roof and down the other side. Here there was an overhang with a wagon passing beneath. It was barely close enough. She jumped and landed heavily on the top crates and the drover turned to see who had hitched a ride, then resumed his drowsy duty at the reins. It was a freight wagon, drawn by two heavy mules. Thanking the saints for this providence, Machita collapsed on the hot canvas. It was going toward the mines. There would be time to rest until the wagon was well out of town. The others could not catch up unless they had horses. Unfortunately, these cheerful thoughts reckoned without the pair who had been giving chase over the rooftops. One appeared at the eave almost overhead and looked down at the figure sprawled on the canvas covered crates atop the wagon. The pursuer waved to the others and hollered, "Aquí! I have found her! Here she is!" They set out across the dusty field to cut off the wagon. Machita was too out of breath to invent any new curse words, but she tried. She abandoned the wagon as soon as it rolled behind a sandy rise, out of sight of the men pursuing her. Better a dash out on the sunbaked flat than to remain on the wagon and certain capture. She tied the loose ends of her outsized shirt to keep them from flapping and dug her heels in for more speed through the sandy creek bottom. `Los hombres incultos' would be after her soon enough. When her lungs burned with exhaustion, she slowed and looked back. They were there. Just now several men were at the stone road where she had jumped from the wagon, but they had found her tracks and were after her again. But in looking back, she failed to see the trail ahead and ran into a lowhanging limb. She lost precious seconds climbing out of the streambed. They were waiting for her at the dry river bed, cutting off any escape, surrounding her. Machita determined that she would not surrender without a fight. She grabbed a crooked tree branch for use as a club and swung it expertly, taking out a couple of the men before they pinned her arms and knocked her down. Her face burning from the blow, Machita glared defiantly at her assailant. He drew back his fist, but an older man held him back. "Stop! She must be unhurt!" he exclaimed, "She is worth nothing to us if she is injured!" "She nearly broke my jaw!" snarled the younger man, "She is going to pay for doing that!" "He will cut our hearts out if one of us breaks even one of her fingernails," said the older man, "I would rather face a hungry tigre than that. Already you have bruised her face!" The deep sand muffled the sound of hooves until the horseman was upon them, barreling into the midst of the men and knocking several to the side. Dust billowed up about the cowboy as he cut between them and their quarry, stopped his horse and backed it into their path. Sandy surveyed the toughs and fixed them with a scowl. "Last time I seen coyotes take down an antelope, it only took two coyotes and they gave it a running start," he said. The younger tough cursed at him. The leader stepped back from them while the younger man grasped the handle of a machete in his belt. "Go right ahead," Sandy said with a wicked grin, "You pull that pigsticker. See what it gets you." He rested his left hand on the worn butt of his pistol, and glanced over at Machita. There were four miners and only one cowboy, but by the time the miners decided the odds were in their favor, three more riders came galloping up through the dust. "Dang it, Sandy!" exclaimed Calpern, "How am I going to keep an eye on you with you bustin' out all alone? I bring you back all cut up and your Ma would skin me alive!" "Saw this little parade goin' on out here and thought I'd take a look," said Sandy, "Seemed to me this party was a little one-sided." "Ah, Señores," Francisco addressed the miners, "I believe that your camp is the other way, no? It would be a shame to tell Don Pedro that someone wandered onto his property and was accidentally shot." The clack of the hammer of his scatter-gun being brought to full cock lent menace to his words. The toughs muttered among themselves and agreed that they could leave peaceably. "Hola, muchacha!", said Francisco, "How did you come by such bad company?" "They were chasing me. I have to talk to Don Pedro," cried Machita, "It is very important. My mother has been arrested!" She tried to explain the urgency of her situation. "You're going to have to give me a hand with this, compadre," said Calpern, "She's jabbering so fast I can't make head nor tail of what she's sayin'." "She says the soldiers have taken her mother, and she must get word to Don Pedro," said Pablo. "Well, I got that much. She seems to expect us to go galloping off after her Ma. Don't know what we could do, just the four of us. I guess we could offer her a ride back into town." "What can I do to convince you?" said the girl when she saw them discussing the situation instead of acting. She pouted for a moment and then said, "Agua, por favor!" "Water?", repeated Calpern. "Got a canteen right here," said Sandy. Sandy handed her the canteen. He watched her pour the water all over herself, then stared in shock. Calpern's horse backed away from the boy who suddenly appeared, though it was not clear whether it was the change that had startled the horse or the old cowboy sawing on the reins in surprise. "Well, I'll be a broke-dick mule!" Calpern exclaimed, "I ain't never seen anything like that!". Francisco removed his sombrero and slapped himself in the face. "I think maybe I have too much pulque last night," he announced. "Hey, Ramón, Machito!" said Pablo, "How'd you do that, man?" "I am very sorry for this," said Ramón, "But I must get to the rancho quickly!" "What in the blue blazes did you *do* just now?" demanded Calpern, who then added, "Pues, Qué cosa es?" "I have been cursed by the spirit of the spring," Ramón explained briefly, "It makes me change suddenly. Please forgive me for startling you."
"Startled? You scared me out of ten years growth!" declared Calpern. He pointed toward a white-faced Sandy, "But that is nothing. I'm afraid you have just about broken that young boy's heart!" Ramón urgently repeated his tale about how the soldiers had taken Mamá off in a covered van, and the cowboys hurried back to the rancho. Pablo offered to double up with Ramón, since Sandy did not want to get near him. "I don't know what this critter is!" he declared. "First it's a seenoreeta then it's this guy. I ain't lettin' it near me!" "Now, we will begin the language lesson," said Francisco, riding up between Pablo and Sandy. "Ain't in the mood," said Sandy. "Don Pedro has said that you shall learn, and whatever Don Pedro wants, he must have," insisted the vaquero, "This is the first word you will learn." He pointed toward Ramón, riding behind Pablo. "Hombre," he said. "I don't care what you call it! I done told you I ain't havin' nothing to do with it!" Francisco urged his horse close beside the young cowboy. "Myself, I do not care if you never speak our language," he said, so close the young Yanquis could smell the chilies from his last meal, "But you will not hurt my friend this way. He has had something bad happen to him, and he does the best he can about it. You will speak to him with respect or I will teach you something besides language. I do not think you would like what I will teach you." "How am I hurtin' *him*? He snuck around, and pretended to be a... a *girl*!"
"What do you mean, Yanqui, that you think you had feelings for this girl?" Sandy's face turned almost purple. "I ain't sayin' nothin'!" he yelped, dug in his heels, and his horse leaped ahead. They rode in silence. After a while, Pablo explained what had transpired. "Gracias," Ramón said to Francisco. He had not understood all of what was said, but he knew hatred and fear when he saw it. Francisco motioned him to say no more, and wait. Eventually, Sandy rejoined them. As they came to the markers indicating the main portion of the rancho, Francisco spoke. "Is he un hombre?" "Yeah, I guess." "Say it. He is an hombre. At least for now." "Okay. Hombre. Right now, anyhow." "Bueno! Soon, we will have you speaking as though you were born here!" Sandy edged closer to Pablo's horse. "Sorry," he said, downcast eyes studying the brush alongside the trail. "You have said nothing I have not told myself," Ramón said, but some of the ache began to ease, and it did not hurt so much to swallow. "We must get you your own horse," declared Pablo, "You are no longer the little kid who does not weigh so much!" OF DREAMS: She had been asleep on a blanket. Close by, there was a turquoise pendant hanging from a peg, and it swayed occasionally in the breeze. Her dreams were of turquoise water, deep blue-green water at the bottom of a pit. She was being drawn into the water. She could not cry out because the fear had paralyzed her. There was something beneath the water, and it waited for her. When she awakened, she ran out into the sun and hid from the dream. AND HARD REALITY: It was a council of war. Don Pedro was elected the leader by consent, Calpern was the chief advisor, and Marié was the caterer. She lugged the coffee pot out to the porch where everyone had drawn their chairs into a circle, and she handed out the steaming mugs of brew. Francisco, Pablo, Ramón, and several more vaqueros were gathered about. Calpern, Sandy, Lonesome, and the rest of the cowboys: Thomas, Frank, and Jasper, had also thrown in their support. "Didn't like that pendejo the first time I saw him," said Calpern, "And the more I know of him, the less I like him." "Unfortunately, as you say, he `holds all of the cards'," said Don Pedro, "While I am a landowner and a respected member of the community, I am also a Spaniard and on very shaky ground here. I must move carefully. During the revolution, I had troops garrisoned here in this house - to `protect' me, of course. Some Spaniards in other valleys were not so lucky." "Ain't the Alcalde Spanish?" asked Lonesome. "Ahh. He is Creole. There is a difference. When we removed the Spanish aristocracy from our government, we inserted our own. These are people of Spanish descent who were born here in the new world. Some of them are indeed noble with good hearts and the best interests of their people foremost in their minds." "Hmmm. I gather this Sinestro ain't one of them." "I am afraid not. But he has managed to worm his way into our society and gain considerable authority. Before I could move against him I would have to have absolute proof of wrongdoing, and even then I would be suspected of working for Spain. No, in order to help Señora Caballo, we must be circumspect." "Circumspect? If that means `sneaky', then I'm all for it," Lonesome leaned back and sipped from his mug. "I still have a few friends in society," said Don Pedro, "Moreso here than in La Capitol. Perhaps we can get them to pass us some information, if not actually help in the search. I suspect that Señora Caballo will be held as hostage, to get me to agree to something. However, we cannot afford to wait until Sinestro decides to tell me what he wants." "Ramón," he added, "Why would the Alcalde want your mother?" "Lucita," answered Ramón. "Why in... What would he want with a little kid?" Calpern asked. "For what reason?" asked Don Pedro of Ramón. "For the gold. The Alcalde believes her father knows where there is a lot of gold. Mamá says he is looking for the Aztec hoard." Suddenly Ramón became aware that all eyes were on him. He stopped and looked around. "What!?" he asked. "That's just a legend, ain't it?" breathed Lonesome. "What is a legend?" asked Sandy. "Will someone teach these two to talk?" demanded Don Pedro. "We have already begun," smiled Francisco, and Sandy looked away. "When the Spanish defeated Montezuma, the Aztecs had much treasure. Officially, most of the gold and silver was captured and transported to Spain. Legends persist, however, that some of the Aztecs secretly carried off a large fortune of gold and silver, back to their homeland, Aztlan. There were supposed to be disks of gold as large as a wagon wheel, and as thick. Many men have given their lives and fortunes searching for this fable," said Don Pedro. "Where's Aztlan?" asked Lonesome. "North and West of La Capitol." "Hell, *we're* Northwest of Mexico City," said Lonesome. "No one knows where their homeland was," Don Pedro told him, "And I doubt you could find what thousands of others have sought before you." "I reckon this Alcalde fellow thinks he has someone to tell him where to look." "But why does he want a kid?" asked Calpern, "Seems like the kid wouldn't know." He thought it a good question, so Don Pedro passed it on to Ramón, "Why would the Alcalde want Lucita?" "After he took Arturo prisoner, he came back and got Elizabeta, his wife. Lucita got free somehow and Mamá took her in. The Alcalde has been looking for her since then. Mamá thinks he wants to use her to force Arturo to talk." "He's gonna hold the kid until the father tells where the gold is, heh?" said Lonesome, for Sandy's benefit. "But the Señora hid the child," agreed Don Pedro, "And now he holds Señora Caballo. He will demand Lucita, in exchange for her." Again he changed tongues to ask Ramón, "Where is Lucita?" "At the Azuma village," said Ramón. A singular absence had occurred to him. "Where is Papá?" "Also at the village," said Don Pedro. "He does not know about your Mamá?" "No," said Ramón, "I must find him and tell him!" "I will go with you," said Francisco, "And so will my other pupil. There will be time for much talk." Sandy was still protesting when they left the portico and headed for the stables. They decided to swing around and pick up Estrellita's horse on their way to the village. Ramón felt guilty about taking the bay, and the thought of having an extra mount in case trouble arose was excuse enough to spend the extra time required. Wolfwalker met them at the outermost lodge. "Hola, Señor Francisco!" he said, "I see you have brought some children along!" "Hola!" Francisco smiled, "I am the schoolteacher. I must apologize for not stopping to talk, but we must speak with the horse-trader." "He is coming," said Wolfwalker, sensing something amiss. "Good. I will resume the education of my pupils, then." Francisco began pointing out items in the village and naming them, first in one language and then the other. It was much like being in the early mission school, and Ramón resentfully watched Wolfwalker's superior smirk as the two students repeated the words until Francisco was satisfied that they had learned each one. It was with some relief that Ramón saw his father, and he could stop the lessons. He told the elder Caballo of Mamá's capture, and his trouble with the miners. When he mentioned the man in the robe, Papá looked worried, but he was not surprised about Mamá. "It is as we have feared," he said, "The Alcalde has learned of things which he should not know." "What can we do, Papá?" "We will get her back." Papá spoke mildly, but there was an undercurrent of anger beneath the stillness in his voice. "But we must be careful." "That is what Don Pedro said." "Did you tell him of the priest?" "What priest? Oh, the man in the robe? No." "Good. Don't. I must go speak to your Grandfather." Ramón knew that when Papá called GranPapá `your Grandfather', he was very upset. After conferring with Red Cloud about Lucita, Ramón and the others returned to the hacienda. Don Pedro had heard, through his grapevine, that Mamá was being held at a hacienda at one of the ranchos in the valley. Unfortunately, it was not clear where on the rancho she was imprisoned. "Someone must go to the hacienda and look for her," said Don Pedro. "This will not be easy." "It will be as simple as attending a dance," said the Doña, "Don Algrupa is presenting his daughter's quinceñero celebration this week. We shall attend and make discreet inquiries about unusual guests." "Again, you astound me," he told her, "But you remember that I am not a social creature. I do not make a good dance partner." "No, but you need not be the one to go. You have a granddaughter who could do it for you." "Estrellita? My little star angel would go through fire for me, I know, but I am not so sure she would go to a social function which required her to wear a dress." "If she is properly motivated, she will do it. We will tell her of the injustice done to Ramón's mother." "And if that is not enough?" "Then Ramón must convince her. I have asked them both here, for you to council." "Is this wise, mi corazón? Are you considering telling her everything?" "Only with his approval. Do you agree?" "With reservations. Let me talk to Ramón, first." Ramón fidgeted uneasily. This was the first time he had been ushered into Don Pedro's presence as a guest, always he had been either a worker or accepted as a `member of the family'. But now the Don seemed very concerned about something. "We have an idea where they are holding your mother," Don Pedro began, "Wait! Don't go running off just yet. We have also got a problem in finding *exactly* where she is. We will have to ask Estrellita to help." "What is the problem with that?" "Well, she must go to the rancho, and ask questions. This will place her in danger, should anyone find out why she is doing this." "Oh," Ramón fidgeted, "What can we do?" "There is no question in my mind that she must go, in order for others to find where your mother is being held. But, I don't want her to go alone." "But who can... Oh, no!" Ramón sputtered, "You cannot expect me to go with her..." "Yes, you must. The Doña will chaperon." "But they are looking for me!" "No, they are not. Do you see what I mean?" Ramón gulped, "But that means Estrellita must know about my curse!" "I am afraid so." "I cannot tell her!" "Let us make the preparations for that," Don Pedro called in his granddaughter. Estrellita looked doubtfully at Ramón and the old man, as the Doña approached quietly. "In the time that you have been gone to La Capitol, things have changed," said the Doña. "Most of the changes have been in yourself. You are no longer a child, and you must learn to act as an adult. To begin with, you must not go riding alone with Ramón, any more. You should have learned this much from your quinceñero" "But Abuelita, I've always gone riding with him. He's no different, why should I stop?" "It is not seemly to appear in public with a young man when there is no chaperon." "All the other girls go riding with their boy friends!" "And in the back, always within sight, is the dueña," sniffed the Doña. "I find it hard enough to hold my head up in polite company without you scandalizing the valley with your indiscretions. Hear me out! You have been a child, and as a child you could play with whomever you choose. I think it should be painfully obvious to you that you are now a woman. As a woman, you must behave with decorum, and that means you do not go out without a chaperon." "I always behave!" sputtered Estrellita, "I never do anything that would shame you!" "Always?" the Doña faced her squarely, "Does that include the other night when Ramón helped bring back the horses?" Estrellita gasped. "How did you know... I didn't *do* anything!" "It wasn't for lack of trying. I know everything that goes on in this house. I knew where you were. I knew when Ramón came in, and as soon as he appeared, I sent him to another room, for his protection as well as your own. You are a true daughter to the de Muerte family, passionate and proud. As such, I delight in your exploration of this wonderful, awful world. But I must not allow you to harm yourself, so this is the reason for this rule. You are not to go out with any man without a chaperon." "This is prison!" Estrellita cried. "If you wish. There are some compensations, however. Soon you will have to make monumental decisions, choices which will affect your entire life. God willing, I will be here to help." Doña de Muerte softened her frown. "And there is another matter. What did you do on your quinceñero?" The rancherita hesitated, "I haven't had one," she admitted. The Doña sighed, "I thought as much. Your mother spends entirely too much time playing the politician's wife. I am grateful for the good she has done, but I fear she has neglected your social upbringing. Well, I'll have to sit you down and have a good talk with you to make up." "Part of it was my fault," said Estrellita, "I guess I don't try to make it any easier when she includes me in the invitations." "Nevertheless, we must make up for lost time. Already, there is some gossip going about that you are behaving improperly. You will have to be seen doing respectable things." "Oh, right. Respectable as in boring?" "Perhaps. We have received an invitation to a party to be given for Maria Alita Constanza Algrupa Sinestro. You should attend." "I don't like those things. The dresses are so restrictive." "I am aware of this. It is important that you attend this one, for that will allow me to accompany you as chaperon. I expect to look about the estate while you comport yourself with dignity." "I really *hate* those things. And I don't like Alita." The Doña cleared her throat, "We have reason to believe that Ramón's mother may be held at this hacienda. At any rate, we know that there are soldiers who are guarding someone somewhere in the building. Estrellita, dear, it is hard for me to ask this..." "Ask what? Can I help? If this is why I must go, then I am willing. Darn the dresses, anyway." Again the Doña hesitated. "You should not go alone. Suppose I had a sobrina, a niece who came up from the coast," she said, "and she happened to look more like a Mexican than a Spaniard..." "Who are you talking about? I don't have a cousin from the coast!" "I am thinking that it might be dangerous," said Ramón, "Wouldn't it be better if your 'niece' went alone?" "What!?" cried Estrellita, "Ramón, I can't believe I heard you *say* that!" "Don't you agree, Señora? There would be no need to endanger Estrellita for this. I don't want her to be hurt for my sake." "Of all the ..." sputtered Estrellita, "Are you gone poxy or something? I'm going! If this cousin wants to come along, it is all right, but she is *not* going in my place!" "Unfortunately, it is out of my hands," the Doña spread her hands to demonstrate, "The invitation was for Estrellita. I can take someone else, but *she* must go." "Then I am going, also," said Ramón. Estrellita pretended to gag. "I can't believe this! You want to play like my cousin? You would look stupid! A boy can't dress up like a girl and get away with it!" "Bet I could do a better job than you could dressing up as a boy," said Ramón. "That'll be the day! Wanta swap clothes? Right here!" "There'll be none of that!" snapped the Doña. "I know you are playing, but this is a serious matter. You will *not* embarrass me! It was bad enough when you lurked naked in his bed, but I will not have you talk of taking your clothes off in here, even in jest." "Abuela!" Estrellita cried, almost in tears, "How could you tell him this? How could you?" "He knows, granddaughter," said the Doña, "...and you, young man," she continued, "You have been seen spying on girls bathing in the river. Didn't you realize that someone there would recognize you?" Ramón bent his head with an apologetic grimace while Estrellita elbowed him. "When did you do *that*?" she asked. "Just before I figured out what made me change," said Ramón. He upended the teapot over his head, and waited for the shriek. It never came. Estrellita stared for a long moment. She touched Machita's face and hair, then gripped her shoulders. "This is some kind of a trick," she muttered. "It is not a trick," said Machita, and she explained about the initiation at the hot springs. Then she splashed her face with cold water. Watching her change back to Ramón released Estrellita from her bewitchment. "I'm gonna *kill* you!" she cried, then said, "Do it again!" until Ramón finally refused. Then she laughed until her sides hurt. "I was ready to kill that girl!" she cried, "I was ready to tear her limb from limb, and all the time it was you!" Ramón was miffed. "It is not *that* funny," he said. "It is to me," Estrellita smothered a giggle, "I have to either laugh or beat the snot out of you!" Doña Mercedes sighed. "The child has no culture," she said, "When will you realize that having manners is necessary?" "When going to parties is as much fun as riding! Hobnobbing is so boring!" "You must attend this party the ranchero will give, so you can help us find the Señora. That is why it is important to be able to gossip and talk small talk - to gather information." "Abuelita, those girls won't talk to me. They look down on me because I don't socialize!" "And whose fault is that? You have made my point." "Also, they call me an Indian-lover. Because I like Ramón." "Well, that can hardly be helped. They *will* talk to you, or about you, if you are at the fiesta. And while you `socialize', I can ask questions. You will comport yourself well, and not bring embarrassment upon the de Muerte family by acting like giddy children." "Ooooh, I love it!" squealed Estrellita, "I'll be able to take my boyfriend in under their noses and they won't even know it!" "That is *not* what I meant by 'comport'," said the Doña, with a chill in her voice. "I'm not so sure about this 'boyfriend' thing," said Ramón, "After all, you like Sandy, too." Estrellita batted her eyelashes at him. "Jealous?" she cooed. CHAPTER SIETE: END --------------- Glossary: (I said I wouldn't need a glossary... Oops.) abuela : grandmother. agua : water. aquí : here. Los hombres incultos : uncivilized men. mi corazón : my heart, my love. quinceñero : fifteenth birthday celebration/coming out party. Very important social event for young girls. Also a time when the young woman is formally acquainted with the 'facts (and rules) of life'. --------------- Return to main page