Macho Caballo Page
Las Aventuras De Macho Caballo
PART I: CHAPTER ONCE
THE SHELL GAME
VISITORS IN THE NIGHT:
Garrote. Drowning. Snakebite. Trampled by cattle. Burned
at the stake during the Inquisition, two centuries before.
Choking on a bite of fish. Falling from a great height.
Fray Fernando considered all of the ways that he could have
died, as he gazed wide-eyed at the four Indians before him.
Now it was too late.
Now, a powerful warrior stood before him, with blazing eyes
and a streak of blue paint down his nose. The man's
companions were ... a boy, an elderly man, and an even more
ancient woman. Fray Fernando released his breath. Perhaps
there was some explanation for this.
The elderly man in shaggy animal skins was saying something
to him, something he could not understand. When he did not
answer, the man pushed past him into the darkness of the
"Where is the woman?" asked the warrior with the blue nose.
"Andalejo!" cried Ramón, from behind Fray Fernando.
"Hola!" cried the boy as he ran around the older people to
greet his companion. The bluenosed warrior exhaled a sigh
of long-suffering patience.
"I thought you guys had gone off and left us!" said Ramón.
"We felt something watching us - that is, they felt
something watching us - so we went off to try to catch it
and..." Andalejo saw his father's expression and stopped
"Show us the woman," repeated Bluenose. "The old woman with
"Doña de Muerte?" said Ramón, "I can take you to her, but
Bluenose introduced his companions, "Mud Wallow and the
crazy old woman who follows him. They will look at the
"Oh, no, you don't!" cried Fray Fernando, blocking their
way, "You may kill me, but you are not getting through to
"They are friends!" said Ramón.
"They are Apache!" hissed the friar.
"What is going on, here?" rumbled Don Pedro from his
wheelchair. Marié was struggling to fasten his shirt in
Ramón hesitated, then said, "Don Pedro, this is the man who
struck Doña de Muerte. He wishes to help." Bluenose stood
ramrod still as the don rumbled up to him in the wheelchair.
"Is this true?" he demanded.
Bluenose stared at the friar. "Let them pass," he said
"Is this true?" Don Pedro said, more loudly.
Bluenose slowly faced him. "Things happen," he said.
Don Pedro's knuckles were white on the armrests of the
chair. "Why are you here?" he asked. Behind him, doors
opened and armed vaqueros eased into the room. He released
his grip and with his right hand motioned them to hold back.
"Let them pass," repeated Bluenose, "They have the knowledge
Don Pedro regarded the shabby old man and the woman who
hovered near him. He nodded his head.
"I will not permit it!" cried Fray Fernando, "This is
against all known civilized laws!"
"Let them go," said Don Pedro, with a weary voice, "She is
"I didn't say she was..." the friar gulped and subsided, but
he did not get out of the way. He stood stiffly and the
shabby pair had to squeeze past him into the sick room.
Mud Wallow gently pressed Estrella out of the way, to
closely examine Doña Mercedes's scalp. The Doña was pale
and her skin was cold and damp. From his pouch the Apache
medicine man produced a hoop with feathers and beads, and
waved it over the bed. As he swayed, he crooned a tuneless
song. At last, he stood upright and made a pronouncement.
"She is not ready to depart," interpreted Andalejo. He
looked at his father for permission to continue, then added,
"But she is being pushed out. We must make her feel welcome
so she will stay."
The friar snorted in derision.
Mud Wallow and his woman conferred, and the woman made her
"She needs a medicine plant," Andalejo said, "It can be
found only in marshy ground near the head of a spring. I
know the plant, so I must go to look for it."
"I forbid it!" cried the friar, turning to Don Pedro, "You
are allowing this superstitious mumbo jumbo to go on in your
"My own house," agreed Don Pedro, and seeing the stricken
look in the friar's eyes, he added, "My own wife."
THE QUEST FOR THE PERFECT SCALLION:
"My father is a very powerful ghosthunter," said Andalejo.
He was running alongside the bay, effortlessly keeping up
with the horse. "He says one day he went hunting and came
across a place that was being spoiled by a bad spirit. He
did not know this and had a bad hunt - when he killed a
deer, the meat was too bad to eat... it rained and he
almost drowned. So he asked the spirits of the desert for
a skill... he wanted to be able to tell when a bad spirit
was around. They gave it to him, and he has never had
trouble with bad spirits since. When he feels a bad
spirit, he tells everybody, and they hunt somewhere else.
He says there is a bad spirit here in this end of the
"The spring is not far from here," said Ramón. "Is that all
there was to it? He just asked for the skill, and he got
"No. Oh, he says that sometimes that is all you have to do.
But sometimes, when you ask for something, you must pay for
it. You may have to get the spirits a gift, or go on a
journey. My father says his stomach trembles, when there is
a bad spirit around. That is how he pays. He has to be
careful what he eats before he hunts."
"I wish that was all *I* had to do."
The stream they were following disappeared into a clump of
undergrowth and thorns at the base of a hill. "There is
where the stream begins," said Ramón, "We must climb the
rocks to get to the spring."
The horse snorted nervously as they left him tied to a
They climbed. In a depression partway up the hill grew a
profusion of reeds, wild scallions, and moss. Here the
Apache lad thrust aside the plants and felt about in the
mud. "I have learned something about herbs and roots
because everyone thinks my father should be a medicine man.
He would rather be a warrior and hunt, but someday he may
decide to stay home. The old women at my village try to
teach me about medicine, because they say I have the
"Hmmpphh," snorted Ramón, "Is your name 'Walks Far', or
'Talks a Lot'?"
Andalejo smiled ruefully, his hands grimy with mud. He
retrieved several scraggly roots and washed them carefully.
"I am thinking I should..." He looked about intently,
shading his eyes from the heat of the sun, and carefully
stored the roots in his pouch before he continued, "... not
talk so much. We should go."
"What's the matter?"
"There is something out there."
Ramón searched the scattered trees and undergrowth for signs
of life, but he saw nothing. "Yeah, maybe so," he said. "I
see a clear path down, across the stream." He stepped into
the cold water, wetting his boots, and started up the other
side of the bank. His feet slipped on the mossy surface and
he splashed on his belly into a shallow pool of sunwarmed
"Oh, no," Machita moaned.
"I wish you would not *do* that," said Andalejo. He backed
away from Machita and went around her.
"No problem," said Machita, "I'll just splash with cold
Across the stream there had appeared a man. Machita recalled
Estrellita's description of the man in a bird mask, and
added her own interpretation. It was a warrior, a
grim-faced killer, and there was no sympathy in the cold
"I think we'd better get outta here," she said. The warrior
started toward her. "And fast!" she added.
The bay was snorting and pulling at the reins tied to the
willow. He had already snatched the knot halfway up the
bough and drawn it so tight that it would take minutes to
get it free. Andalejo drew a flint knife, severed the
reins, and replaced the knife in the scabbard as they both
climbed aboard. The bay did not wait for command or
instruction - he spun about and was at a gallop before his
two riders could get settled into the saddle.
"Ow! Watch where you're grabbing!" cried Machita.
"This isn't right!" cried the Apache, "Let me in front!"
"Not now! We're being chased, remember?"
"There's no one there, now! We've lost him!"
The bay settled the dispute by dumping them both into the
stream. Ramón stood up in the cold water and glowered at
"You are no bolt of lightning," he said, "I am beginning to
think I ought to call you Coyote."
The bay innocently minced up to Ramón and shoved him in the
"Okay, okay," said Ramón as he rubbed the horse's nose, "But
one more trick like that and I *will* name you Coyote."
From flat on his bottom in the streambed, Andalejo laughed.
TO THE POINT:
"We should have gone to get her before now," said Ramón.
Sandy nodded but remained silent as he and Francisco guided
their horses over the trail to the Azuma village, following
Red Cloud met them where the ground leveled before the first
lodge. "The Doña is well?" she asked. Seeing Ramón's
smile, she grinned. "That is good," she said, "Your sister
is anxious to go home."
"I don't know what to tell her about Mamá," said Ramón, "But
Don Pedro has begged me to let her stay at the rancho while
we try to get Mamá back. We think she is being held at the
old abandoned copper mine across the river."
"Our hunters do not go there," Red Cloud said, "They say
something has killed off all the game. There are not even
any rabbits left."
"When we go after her, there will be too many of us for a
wild animal to attack."
"Perhaps. Your sister is not safe here in the village. The
soldados have searched here," said Red Cloud, "Twice. The
sergeant is suspicious, he has tried to catch us by
"Then it is better we hide her back at the rancho," said
Francisco, "There are many places where she would not be
Lucita approached them tentatively, holding a cornshuck
doll. "I want Machita," she said.
Ramón rebelled. "We don't have time for this!" he declared.
"Here now, chico!" said Francisco, "You cannot be selfish.
After all, Lucita is your sister."
"Why can't we talk about what *I* want?" asked Ramón hotly,
"Every time I turn around, *wham*! I have to be a girl!
Besides, I don't want everyone in the world to know about my
"You can change in my lodge," offered Red Cloud, "... and I
could loan you a dress."
"Thanks," said Ramón sourly, knowing he was outnumbered.
Later, in a dress that was too long for her, Machita watched
several little girls scampering about the field. "I thought
she was ready to go," she said.
"She wants to say goodbye to everyone," explained Red
"Come on along," said Red Cloud, "I have to practice." Sandy
and Machita followed her out of the village to an open
field, where straw targets had been erected. Red Cloud
strung her bow and chose an arrow, examining it for
"I brought an extra bow," she said. Machita frowned, and
Sandy declined. Red Cloud smiled mischievously and added,
"I also brought an atlatl."
Machita grimaced darkly. "I do not want it," she said.
"Mind if I try?" asked Sandy.
"It's a girl's weapon," said Machita.
"Oh? Saw plenty of men using them, up in Arkansaw
Territory," said Sandy. "Give's you better range than a
javelin. Who says only girls can use it?"
"She did," Machita indicated Red Cloud.
Sandy looked doubtfully at the Indian girl, and said, "And
you believed her?"
Red Cloud grinned impishly and released the arrow, which
sped to its mark in the center of a straw bundle.
"Hit that target," said Red Cloud.
"Bet I could," said Sandy.
"You probably could," agreed Red Cloud, "But *she* can't."
"I don't *want* to," insisted Machita.
"Can't," insisted Red Cloud.
"It's kinda far away," said Sandy, "Maybe you should move it
"Are you saying that I'm weak, or something?" Machita
"No, only that it's awfully far. And you have never
practiced, so you can't count on getting anywhere near it."
"Give me that thing!" demanded Machita. She grabbed the
handle, slapped a short spear into the nock, whirled and
swung and released the spear overhead in one smart fluid
motion. The spear whistled through the air to smack into
the target a finger's width from the arrow.
The three youths stood regarding the target.
"That was an accident," suggested Sandy.
Red Cloud closed her mouth, then opened it again. "I don't
think so," she said, "Let's see it once more." She handed
Machita another spear. The second spear slammed into the
target close beside the first. So did a third.
Machita grinned. "That felt *good*!" she said.
"How'd you learn that?" Sandy wondered.
"Some things you are just naturally good at," Machita said
"Such as running?" Red Cloud asked with a raised eyebrow.
Machita glowered, "At least there is *one* thing I can do,"
After a final visit to the doll-maker, Lucita was ready to
go. She rode on the saddle in front of Machita on the way
back to the rancho, clutching a little warrior doll and
chattering about the hundreds of things she found to delight
in along the trail.
Wearing the dress made Machita uncomfortable, for the long
skirt made it difficult to sit the saddle without her bare
legs showing. When she pulled the skirt up enough to allow
her feet to reach the stirrups, Sandy made a high keening
sound and pointedly looked the other way.
He was heard to mutter, "I will not look... I will not
look... She is a *guy*!"
Then Lucita plumped onto the saddle before her and the hem
of the dress rode higher, exposing bare thighs, and Sandy
cried, "A...a.a..a.!", heeled his horse and surged ahead of
When they caught up with him later, he had beaten a dead
stump with a fallen tree limb until there was nothing but
splinters. Machita tried to hide her knees, her face hot
with shame. "When we get back, I'm staying away from hot
water forever!" she declared.
Lucita finally grew quiet and leaned against her. "Will you
be with us forever and ever?" she asked. Machita swallowed
at the lump which appeared in her throat.
"I don't know," she admitted.
"I like you for my big sister," Lucita smiled tiredly. She
rode quietly for a while, then turned again to look up at
Machita. "When will we go to my home?" she asked.
"When we get Mamá back," said Machita.
Lucita's eyes grew round and teary, "I want my Mamá," she
said. It was a moment that Machita had been dreading, but
the little girl restrained her tears. "I miss my Papá, but
I want my Mamá."
Machita hugged her. "I hope we find her, too," she said.
A TOUGH OLD BIRD:
The old woman's remedy worked, and the swelling went down.
Mud Wallow and his companion were sent off with their
escort, bearing many gifts. Shortly Estrellita announced
that Doña Mercedes was asking for company. Don Pedro asked
Ramón to roll him into the room.
The Doña's voice was weak but steady as she surveyed her
visitors and said, "Chico? Your eyes are as big as a
bullfrog's. What are you staring at?"
"Doña - I am so sorry..." Ramón began, but the bedridden
lady shushed him and addressed her husband.
"You told him, didn't you?" she whispered.
"I had to, my angel of mercy. He was tearing his heart out,
blaming himself for your injury."
"You old fool. You have a mouth as big as your heart. Now
he will feel sorry for me and I will have lost a young
"Oh, no! I will remain your friend, Doña! Only... only
now, I have a great respect for you, what a harsh life you
"See what I mean, my husband? Weeping over imaginary
tribulations," she settled into the pillow and pulled the
comforter against her neck. "My life has been full and
long, not harsh. Now let me rest. And get rid of that long
face, Ramón. You make me want to scream."
"Yes, Doña," said Ramón, and it was a little easier to smile
A MAN'S TASK:
The Western sky was purple and red, as he ventured out onto
the porch. An evening breeze carried away the lingering
warmth as the sun faded, and cicadas began whirring in the
sycamores. It was quiet. Too quiet.
At the stables, Ramón found Sandy and Andalejo, regarding
each other warily. "What's wrong?" he asked.
"They took off," said Sandy, "Just told us to stay home
and play with the kids and took off, like we were babies er
"Who?" But Ramón did not have to ask. He knew that
Francisco and Pablo had saddled up and gone with the Yanquis
cowboys to rescue Mamá. "That was why Don Pedro wanted me
to push him in to see the Doña, to keep me busy!"
Andalejo joined the discussion. "My father has never made
me stay out of a fight," he declared, "But now he says I am
"We should go after them," said Ramón, "They won't make us
go back if we catch them!"
"Maybe not you," said Sandy, "But Calpern meant business
when he told me not to go. Besides, we don't know exactly
where they went." he hung his head as he started for the
great house, "I hope they don't get theirselves killed cause
I wasn't there to help."
"They will not be hurt," stated Andalejo.
"Huh? How do you know?" asked Ramón.
"My father's belly was not hurting. That means that there
are no bad spirits waiting for him. And Counts His Ponies
was worrying about his horse stumbling in the dark."
"Yeah? What is *that* supposed to mean?"
"When Counts His Ponies is ready to go into battle, we know
it is time to go home," said Andalejo, "If he is worried,
everything is all right."
"Someone's at the house," said Ramón, "Hey, Gordito! Que
"Ramón! Hey, amigo! Got a message for you! Senor Algrupa
told me to deliver it to you after sunset."
"You running messages for Don Algrupa? That is almost the
same as working for Sinestro!"
"Hey, it's dinero, man!"
SHOULD AULD ACQUAINTENCE:
Bertran Sinestro pocketed the key and entered the room.
Beyond the foyer was a door to the balcony, but it was
locked and the only other windows had cast iron bars over
them. He walked to the walnut cabinet and poured himself a
snifter of fine brandy, inhaling the bouquet before taking a
tiny sip. The occupant of the room watched him quietly,
remaining seated on the ottoman.
"We really should have gotten together and chatted about old
times, Dolores," Bertran said, "It seems we do have a lot in
common, from the old days."
"I have had nothing but misery from you," declared Dolores.
"But you have my utmost respect! Such a gallant lady, to
face your bitterest enemy without a qualm, to stare him
down, and to denounce him publicly. My lady, I salute you!"
"And for my bravery, you executed my husband," said Dolores.
"Oh, I tried to warn him to leave before he was caught, then
I tried to stop the execution! You do not know how deeply I
was hurt when my stay failed to reach the soldiers in time.
It was a terrible tragedy!"
"You knew there was no stopping them, once they had been
given a taste of blood. You wanted them to find him."
"Well, it is gone, now, those days. It was the revolution.
See what happiness it has brought us?"
"I see what it has cost me."
"Oh, yes. You had a child. What ever became of it?"
Dolores turned from him and went to the barred window,
watching the red and purple of the sunset.
Sinestro said, "It does not matter, now. Come, you must go
with me to conclude a transaction."
"Why, your son is buying your freedom, of course. Aren't
Mamá fixed him with a gaze of such contempt that a normal
man would have blanched. Sinestro smiled and finished the
brandy before leading her to the door.
THE SHELL GAME:
At the rancho, Don Pedro demanded to see the message. "Why
would he change his mind?" he wanted to know, "They were
supposed to meet at the mine!"
"I only carry the message, I am not responsible for it!"
said Gordo, "What is going on?"
"Sinestro is holding Mamá hostage," said Ramón, "and he
wants us to give him Lucita in exchange."
"He wants a little kid?" Gordo goggled, "That's low, man!"
"He sent all the grown men off to the abandoned copper mine,
then he tells us to meet him at the puebla on the cliff,"
said Ramón, "He knew our guys would try to jump him!"
"So, what do we do?" said Sandy. He had drawn his belt
knife and was honing it on a smooth white stone.
"We go after Mamá," Ramón coiled his riata.
"Hey, I'm going too!" cried Gordo.
Andalejo said nothing, but walked into the garden. He had
heard a noise, and knowing it to be his father's signal, he
went to investigate. Beyond the fencerow, he found huddled
shadows. "Father?" he asked softly, "Did you not go with
"The leader of the Mexicans, the man named Francisco, said
there was no need for us to go," said Bluenose, "I am made
to believe that he is correct. Selnick could see no enemy
at the mine where they were going. I have told them this."
"Father, I will go with the one called Machito. He is
seeking the man who holds his mother. I believe it is a
good thing to do."
"Good. You go with him," In the dying sunlight, Andalejo
could see him gazing longingly at the undefended houses and
sheds. Bluenose mused, "There are many horses, here."
"There are women here," Selnick reminded him.
"Don't forget the hounds," mourned Counts His Ponies.
Andalejo returned to the great house with a doubtful glance
at his father and friends.
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