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Macho Caballo Page

Las Aventuras De Macho Caballo

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 hallway. "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 abruptly. "Show us the woman," repeated Bluenose. "The old woman with the wound." "Doña de Muerte?" said Ramón, "I can take you to her, but why?" Bluenose introduced his companions, "Mud Wallow and the crazy old woman who follows him. They will look at the Doña." "Oh, no, you don't!" cried Fray Fernando, blocking their way, "You may kill me, but you are not getting through to the Doña!" "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 place. 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 softly. "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 of medicine." 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 dying, anyway." "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 own statement. "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 own house?" "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 valley." "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 it?" "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 willow. 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 ability." "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 water. "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 water, and..." 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 black eyes. "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 the horse. "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 chest. "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 Ramón. 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 surprise." "Then it is better we hide her back at the rancho," said Francisco, "There are many places where she would not be found." 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 curse!" "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 Cloud's mother. "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 trueness. "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 closer." "Are you saying that I'm weak, or something?" Machita snapped. "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 smugly. "Such as running?" Red Cloud asked with a raised eyebrow. Machita glowered, "At least there is *one* thing I can do," she said. 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 the rest. 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 friend." "Oh, no! I will remain your friend, Doña! Only... only now, I have a great respect for you, what a harsh life you have endured..." "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 this time. 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 somethin'!" "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 too young!" "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 tal, hombre?" "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." "Where?" "Why, your son is buying your freedom, of course. Aren't you happy?" 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 them?" "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. Return to main page