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Macho Caballo Page

Las Aventuras De Macho Caballo

MACHO CABALLO PART I: CHAPTER OCHO EVEN CINDERELLA HAD A BALL
ONLY THE LONELY: Estrellita danced away from the bay as the red horse nibbled the air at her. "I don't think he likes me," she said. "I am sorry he is not working out," Ramón said as he rubbed the horse's nose, "I guess I should have picked another horse. There was a pinto there that might have been good." The bay allowed him to fit the bridle on without complaint. From the stables, Francisco led another horse for exercise, and he waved at them. "I don't mind, now that I know *you* were the one who chose it," said Estrellita, "But I have another horse. I think this one should belong to you." "That would be great!" said Ramón with a grin. Then he sobered and said, "But Papa always told me that a horse-trader shouldn't get too attached to a horse. He might have to sell it sometime." "Do you always believe your Papa?" "Don't you?" "That's different. My Papacito would never lie to me. Has your's ever lied to you?" "Well... he has kept stuff from me. I mean, like not telling me everything I should have known." "*I* think you should take this horse. He likes you, and he is smart. You should call him something like 'Rayo'," she studied the bay's markings, "Or 'Relampago'." "I'm not sure about 'Rayo'. But I will accept him, and thanks," Ramón hugged the horse's neck and added, "If I could leave him here, Papa would not tell me to sell him." Estrellita flipped the leather strap she had been playing with. "You'll have to think for yourself, someday," she said, "Your Papa won't always be around to tell you what to do." The cowboy called Lonesome rode up as Estrellita left, and he tipped his black felt hat to her. She walked past him from the corral. "Good afternoon," he said to Ramón, continuing to watch Estrellita until she entered the stables. "Hello," said Ramón. "Mind answering a question for me?" "Maybe. What is the question?" Lonesome pushed his hat back and leaned on the fence rail. "I was wondering why they call you 'Macho'." Ramón considered his hands before he answered. "It was because I told them I would not fight girls." "So how come you wrestled that Comanch girl, once upon a time?" "That was earlier." "I was wondering... who won?" Ramón's reply was muffled as he bent to pick up the traces from the reins. "Sorry," said Lonesome, "I didn't catch that." "She was older than me." "No shame in that, kids grow fast. How old were you at the time? Did you beat her?" Ramón stared at the ground. "What difference would it make?" he asked. "Just curious. Who won?" "I did. At least they said I did. She had me down with my face in the mud and I got scared. I started hitting her." "What was wrong with that?" "You don't hit when you are wrestling. I learned that later. But I started hitting her, and I couldn't stop," Ramon rubbed his nose and continued, "And she was pretty and I kept hitting her, and hitting her," Ramon sniffed once, "They said I won, because she was a smart-aleck girl who needed a lesson, but all I remember was hurting her. I swore then that I would never fight another girl in my life." Lonesome released a long breath between his teeth in a faint whistle. Ramón finished saddling the bay and led him toward the gate. "He don't seem like he's got a peg loose, does he?" Lonesome inclined his head toward Ramón as the boy closed the gate and swung up onto the bay. "Who is to say?" Francisco shrugged. "Well, I heard some stories about him. Just thought it was a little odd, him dressing up as a girl, and all that." "Ahhh. Then you have not seen him when he, how you say, 'dresses up like a girl'." "Listen, what he does is his own business. I'm just curious, that's all." "I have seen many strange things in my years. Machito is - how you say, very unusual. But he is a boy who I have seen grow up from his mother's breast, and I know who he is, or else I would not believe it. Now, why this thing happens to him, I do not know." "Lot's of stuff I don't know. Most of the time, I have to ride away without asking." "But you would like to know, yes?" Francisco pulled at his mustache thoughtfully. "Well, yeah. Like how come your boss, a Spaniard, is walking around free when just a few years ago ya'll were killin' em left and right." "A few years ago, there was the revolution, and we become a free people. Like your United States. It is a glorious feeling, but there were many things done we are not so proud to talk about. But Don Pedro, he has always been a good man, so there are not so many people who want to hurt him. He has been hurt enough. So some of us, we take care of him." "Well, he ain't no saint, judging from that trophy room of his. Did he really go up against a bear?" "In his younger days, he was a fighter. A good hunter. Then one day he was captured by some Indios in South America. That was when he hurt his back, and could no longer walk." "I kinda like the old badger, myself." "Oh, he is not the badger," grinned Francisco, "He is the grizzly bear. Ask anyone here. They love Don Pedro. There is talk in the town about one day we make the Spanish leave. If he goes, I would want to go, too. But I have my wife and my family, so I will stay." Later, Francisco asked Sandy, "Why is it you call him 'Lonesome'? To me, he does not seem the type to be alone." "Oh, he gets along with everyone all right," said Sandy, "But he don't take no proddin'. What I heard was, the bunch was in a bar in a little place called San Antone, and a couple of hardcases called him out for talking to their girls. Time the rest of the boys get out of the saloon to watch, it was all over. Three guys went out, only one came back in. Someone asked him why he was back so soon, and he said he was lonesome for some polite company. That's when they took to calling him 'Lonesome'." GUARDS: Three vaqueros, Francisco, Pablo, and Joaquim rode guard. Another vaquero, Estabon, drove the cabroliet as the girls, with Doña de Muerte as chaperon, attended the dance. Calpern rode along. "You won't be invited in to the fiesta," said Francisco. "I don't mind. Most of the fun at these hoe-downs is back behind the kitchen doors, anyhow. Back there, those folks can let their hair down while all the señors and señoritas have to bow and scrape." "That's true. And we can look around while they are celebrating." Calpern indicated the horse-drawn conveyance bouncing along ahead of them, "How's our young gal doing?" "Which one?" asked Pablo, and the others laughed. "What's so funny?" he wondered. "Don Pedro's granddaughter has her fondest wish," said Francisco, with a face-splitting grin, "And she cannot take advantage of it because her boyfriend is wearing a dress, too!" "Is it not a strange thing, this change?" asked Pablo, "A marvelous and a terrible thing." "Well, I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes," Calpern allowed, "It's the sort of thing you want to tell tall tales about." "Yes, this is true," agreed Pablo mournfully. "Hey, compadre," said Francisco, "Is something bothering you?" Pablo nodded. "In the morning, I shall go to the church," he said, "What do I say at the confessional?" "I do not know, but you do not have to confess it if it is not a sin," said his friend, "Did you feel envy when you saw this thing?" "I can answer truthfully that I did not!" "Tell me, my old friend, did you feel lust?" "Not at all. I am getting old, and besides, my tastes run to the more docile women. Surprise, yes. I was very surprised." "You are not slothful, you have not stolen anything, and you have not killed anyone. You are a paragon of virtue, my friend!" "When you explain it that way, it makes things so simple," Pablo nodded, "Tell me, Francisco, are you going to have any trouble getting into heaven?" "When they see me coming, they will bar the gate!" laughed Francisco. They walked their horses for a while, and Calpern noticed movement. "Somebody's creepin' up out there in the brush," he cautioned them. "Oh, that is Red Cloud," Joaquim assured him, "She is Ramón's Indian girlfriend." "Well, I'll be stomped!" said the grizzled cowboy, "This place is crawling with females!" "She will run alongside all the way to the Rancho Algrupa," explained Pablo. "Well, it's getting dark. Let's invite her to ride in the coach," said Calpern, "I'm going to worry about her stepping on a snake out along the trail if we don't." He alerted Doña de Muerte, and she agreed. The cabroliet stopped and Red Cloud climbed in, and the ride resumed. Red Cloud drew her legs up under her, luxuriating in the feel of the leather-covered seat, her wool mantilla loosely tied around her neck. She had hardly worked up a sweat while racing the coach. "You are uncomfortable?" she asked Machita. Machita was wearing a laced bodice of black taffeta amidst creamy billows of skirt. "I can't breathe!" she complained. "You'll get used to it," said Estrellita. "Don't forget, I have to wear this gown my mother once wore. If I can do it, so can you." "It's not the same thing!" "Do not breathe so much," suggested Red Cloud. She tired of the confined space and eeled her way out the window and up atop the coach. There she sat facing back the way they had come, the wind blowing her hair into her face. "I am curious, Señor Calpern," said Francisco, "How is it that you were able to cross so much countryside with Indians everywhere and still bring in fifty fine horses?" "Well, I'll tell you," Calpern drew out his pipe and dry-smoked it, "We made sure we always stood guard, we treated everyone we met fairly and squarely, always respected the land we were traveling through. Made sure the culls were outermost on the herd when we bedded down for the night. Oh, yes. And we had about a hundred horses when we started out!" To avoid complications, Red Cloud got out at the bend of the road, out of sight of the hacienda. ALLIES: Long shadows from the setting sun left deep gloom along the trail, but the old man's feet were sure as he mounted the rise. He paused beside an ancient, gnarled tree and faced the last rays of light coming over the mountains. "Good-bye, Sunboy," he said, "Don't forget to stop by tomorrow." Manuel halted with him. "It is time," he said, "I am going." "Um," agreed Alboro. He turned back to the crevasse where a tiny campfire burned, and lifted the pot from the ashes. Unceremoniously, he dashed its contents onto his son. The resulting badger shuffled off into the dusk, and Alboro eased himself to the ground beneath the shelter of a canvas lean-to. He sipped from his cup of cooling coffee, relaxed against the sun-warmed boulder, and went to sleep. TRIPPING THE LIGHT: The cabroliet was met at the gate of the Algrupa estate by a pair of guards, resplendent in buff and ruffles, and escorted to the great house with pomp and hauteur. A doorman with Spanish eyes handed them down at the stoop, and huge doors opened to allow them into the elegant halls. The festivities were held in the cool of the patio, with lamps agleam over polished tables laden with delicacies transported at much cost from more civilized regions. "Grapes from the coast!" whispered Estrellita, "And shrimp - they must have paid plenty for the ice! All the stuff I loved in Mexico City!" "What are we looking for?" Machita asked Doña Mercedes. "Nothing, yet. Right now, you must blend in. Do not go anywhere away from the main rooms." After the grand entrance, the atmosphere became calm, almost stuffy. It seemed that most of the men they could see were old, grayed gentlemen. The few young men present were being jealously guarded by their young lady escorts. Machita followed Estrellita closely, wary lest she should be separated and lose her contact with security. Doña de Muerte gravitated toward the hostess. Estrellita raided the food tables first and they tried to find a way to snack without soiling their dresses. At the same time, they avoided the chaperons who were patrolling the area like sharks seeking lone prey. At last a cluster of girls appeared, and the two outsiders joined them in an attempt to blend in. BLENDING IN: "You mean you did not even plan a celebration for your fifteenth birthday?" Maria said in horror. Estrellita shook her head, "We were busy, and what's the big deal?" "It's the big announcement to all the available men," said Maria, "It says you are ready to be an adult. I showed off my best gown. There were some gorgeous caballeros at the ball." Estrellita stood, remembering the Doña's instructions about how to make a graceful exit. "I'm outta here," she said. "Hold on," said Machita, as she engaged in sampling the salads, "I'm not finished here, yet." "I know what happens next," Estrellita said to her, "And I want nothing to do with it." Machita eyed her quizzically, a half-devoured hors d'oeuvre dangling from her lips. "I can't wait to get married," sighed Anna, "Papacito has already had two proposals. I hope he listens to Don Diego. I think he is the cutest one." "Yeah," sighed Maria, "Just think. A strong man by your side. And in bed, too." They giggled, and Machita felt chills go up her back. "And babies," said Consuella, "My very own baby, suckling at my breast..." "We're outta here!" chorused Machita and Estrellita as they made a hasty departure. "What's the matter, Ramón?" asked Estrellita when she caught up with her on the balcony, "Can't take the pressure?" "I am *not* going back in there," stated Machita vehemently, "Wild boars could not force me!" The door opened behind them and a heavy woman in dull black spied them. "Oh, what are you doing out in the open?" demanded the chaperon, "Young women should never expose themselves alone, especially on a romantic night like this!" "Meet the wild boar," whispered Estrellita as they returned inside. MEETING THE HOST: Doña Mercedes found them and led the way to a patio. "We must say our pleasantries to the host," she said, "Remember, at this place, it is imperative that you act with dignity and refinement." Holding court in the patio Bertran Sinestro. "Oh, no," groaned Machita. Sinestro abandoned his companions and made straight for the two girls. "Señora de Muerte!" he exclaimed, "It is good of you to attend! Señorita de Muerte. And your companion..." He held his gaze a fraction of a second longer than was polite. "My niece from Mexico City, Lucha de Muerte Guiterez," Doña Mercedes hastened to answer. "Ah," he smiled thinly, "From one of the older families?" "From the earliest," agreed the Doña. "Please, feel free to divert yourself anywhere," said Sinestro, "There are three groups of musicians - an orchestra in the house, an ensemble from France on the patio, and of course a 'peasant band' roaming outside." When he had drifted back to his audience, and they had been led back into the main floor, Machita shivered. "Did you see the way he looked at me? I think he could recognize me!" "Don't be silly," said Mercedes de Muerte, "He was trying to place your family. Position is very important to him." "Well, *someone* pointed me out to those miners at the market when Mama was kidnapped," grumbled Machita, then added, "Doña, please don't call me 'Lucha'." "I do have a cousin with that name. I think it is lovely." "Mama hated it. She said she would never give it to a child." "We will have to find another, then, but you must answer to it for now." They cautiously explored the limits of the party. The decor was sumptuous, the appointments elegant, and the food was extravagant. Unfortunately, both girls had lost their appetite, so they watched the other guests. There seemed to be plenty, and there were many more young men and girls than they had seen at first. It was here that they met the honoree of the quinceñero, Alita Algrupa Sinestro. Alita swept in, a sleek racing ship buttressed by two galleons, swains who vied for her attention while effectively blocking the futile efforts of several more boys. She was svelte and darkly brunette, with exotic brown eyes and wide, full red lips. "Estrellita!" cried Alita, "Now my party is perfect! It was so *good* of you to come!" Her gaze wandered over to Estrellita's companion, and she added, "So nice of you to bring your domestic along, too." "Alita, meet Lucha," said Estrellita, "She is a cousin, visiting from Mexico City, the lake area." Machita was caught up in a totally new emotion - she was furious at the hostess, though she only barely understood that she had been insulted. She swallowed hard, mute with anger, but her expression spoke volumes. "So charming!" Alita gushed, "I bet she is a wonder with the shopping. She has such an air of ... commonness, she must be able to talk to the peasants on their own level!" "I... I think I need some air," said Machita. She headed for the patio, where she could see Doña Mercedes. "I'll be right there," promised Estrellita. She turned on the hostess. "Alita, must you humiliate my friends?" "Well, you might have brought that sweet little puppy, Ramón," simpered Alita, "I would have loved to talk nice to him. He is a young bull, that one is!" "For your information... Ooohh, never mind!" Estrellita hurried out to the patio. Machita was morosely watching yellow canaries flutter about the cage. "Ramón, you'll just have to ignore her," said Estrellita, "We have this old feud, going back for years. I'm sorry she hurt your feelings." "She didn't hurt my feelings. She made me *angry*! I wanted to ball my fist and ram it into her face!" "Alita has that effect on people," Estrellita agreed with a grin, "Mostly because she knows she can get away with it. She always has those two bodyguards with her." "That wouldn't stop me." "Then why didn't you do something? Those two bullies wouldn't be able to prevent a quick smack to the face." "I'm not afraid of them. I wanted to hit her, but that is not the answer. She doesn't fight with her fists, and I can't fight with poison the way she does. I suddenly realized that I was on a dueling ground without a sword. And I don't know all the rules." "Well, the first rule is, you don't run away from a fight." "I have never run away from a fist-fight, or a wrestling match, or even a knife fight back at the school. But I can't fight a girl!" "I could, why can't you?" "Because I'm not... I don't know what I am!" "Look, everywhere you go, there are different rules for fighting, right? For instance, in some villages you square off with knives, in another you might start wrestling, or hitting with fists. There are always rules. Here, with her, the rules are: use words. Say the lowest, most despicable, cruelest thing you can say to your opponent, but say it so sweetly that it sounds like a compliment." "But when I get angry I can't talk!" "Then don't get hot. Make it a cold anger. Cold-blooded, like a snake. Keep calm until you are ready, then strike." "I don't know about this girl-fighting. I always thought you were kind and gentle people. Sometimes I think I can't do girl stuff!" "Oh-ho! This from someone who wears my dresses? And they fit you better than they fit me?" "It's not like that at all! I can do it. I just have to learn to ... think differently." "No, you just have to get cold, and angry. And punch her lights out... in a sweet way, of course." "What kind of childhood fantasies are you two dreaming up?" asked Doña Mercedes, stepping away from a servant with whom she had been talking. "Keeping cool, and saying nice things," smiled Estrellita. She led Machita back into the ring. Machita advanced warily upon her adversary, uncomfortable with the advantage the other girl held. [I don't know how to insult a *girl*!] she thought. [Now, if this were some other kind of an encounter...] "Are you feeling better, Lucha?" asked Alita with mock concern, "It would be dreadful if you got sick all over that cute dress. Did you make it yourself?" "I was wondering..." Machita said, then walked slowly around the other girl. Alita's gown was French flounce, white with burgundy ribbons and full skirts which swept the floor. Her hair was bound with wine-colored ribbons and a tortoiseshell comb. "Like what you see?" asked Alita coldly. "Elegant," agreed Machita, "But I was thinking about the shape of the head. Shows good breeding." "What!?! How dare you imply that..." "Maria Alita Constanza Algrupa Sinestro," intoned Machita, "Yes, a very good bloodline. You must be proud of your heritage." "Well, I am! I suppose... What are you getting at? I don't need a peasant to come in here and make comments about my family! We trace our heritage back to the early explorers and conquistadores." "But you have such a distinguished family! It shows in your eyes, and your walk. And your family has a prosperous ranch. How long have they been raising cattle?" "Not long. Just since the revolution, when we..."
"I was just thinking. De la Vaca was a famous explorer. The shape of your head. Are you sure there was no vaca... oops!... de Vaca in your genealogy? (1)" Alita almost levitated in rage. "Uncle Bertran!" she cried, spying Sinestro across the room, "Just you wait," she said to Machita, "I'll teach you to... Uncle Bertran!" Estrellita hugged Machita tightly and laughed so hard she hiccuped. Eventually, they became aware of their closeness and stepped quickly away from each other. "That was priceless!" Estrellita giggled, "You were so confident! How did you think of that line of attack?" "The only thing I really know is horse-trading," grinned Machita, "So I tried to see her as a horse. I never got around to asking her if she was bow-legged." Meanwhile, Alita had pulled Sinestro aside. "I want you to get rid of that... that commoner! I don't want her at my party!" "Now, why would I do that?" asked Sinestro, "She is a delightful girl. She has such bold eyes - they stare right through you. I think I'll ask her to stay for the weekend." "But, Uncle Bertran!" "Very well, I won't. But I won't ask her to leave, either. Now, be a good girl and take this envelope to your friend, Estrellita." Alita snatched the envelope and headed in the opposite direction. At the fringes of the festivities, Machita was startled to glimpse a familiar face in a shadowed alcove. When she called Estrellita's attention to the place, however, the opening was empty. "That is peculiar. I thought I saw someone who looked like Granpapá," she said, "Let's go look." Crossing the garden, where sculptured shrubbery formed a gentle maze, they heard music. The peasant band was playing; four voices, a guitar, a tambour, and a trumpet which sounded familiar. The music ended as they came to the band, and one of the musicians separated from the others and started toward the banquet in such a hurry that he almost crashed into them. Gordito stammered an apology. He saw Estrellita and said hello to her, then he saw Machita. He gawked at her as though stunned. "Que linda!" he cried, "How pretty you are! You must be the girl from the marketplace!" "Oh, boy," groaned Machita. "Please," cried Gordito, "What is your name?" "She is Machita. She is visiting my family," Estrellita supplied with a mischievous grin. This brought Gordito up short. "Machita? What kind of a girl's name is Machita?" "It is a joke," growled Machita. Gordito mulled it over, "Machita... Machita..." Machita froze, not daring to breath. If Gordito made the connection he could shout loud enough in his excitement to alert the guards, and she would be trapped. She need not have worried. "I have a friend named Machito!" cried Gordito, "This is great! I have told him about you! I can't wait until I can introduce you to each other!" "I'd like to see that!" said Estrellita. Machita shushed her, but she smirked anyway. The alcove proved to be empty, as she had suspected. It was a dummy opening where plants could be displayed, providing an architectural balance to the building. They returned to the great house, where Sinestro was again speaking, this time to a larger audience. Machita saw a flash of pale skin at the top of the balustrade. The bald priest, wearing a blue and red robe, was staring at her from the railing. --------------- (1) La Cabeza de Vaca explored what is now the lower United States in the early 16th century. La Cabeza de Vaca is an acceptable Spanish name. However, breaking the name down into its components results in: `La Cabeza' = The Head; 'de Vaca' = of a Cow. For the humor-impaired, Machita was telling Alita that she looked like a cow. Return to main page