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Las Aventuras De Macho Caballo


                        MACHO CABALLO

                PART 2: CHAPTER DIEZ Y SIETE

                          RIDE AWAY



JUST HOLD ON:

Dona Mercedes stood at the windows to the den, not seeing
the rosy light of dawn breaking beyond the hills.  She
nodded at Marie, who had placed doilies and cups on the
table before them.  The other occupant of the room, an
elderly lady in black, sat at the table clasping her hands
together tightly.

"I am most grateful for the services provided by the House
Rodriguez, my cousin," said the Dona, "You have been a most
efficient and effective instructor.  I have noted marked
improvement in my granddaughter's demeanor in the short time
that you have been here."

Her guest swallowed and looked away.

"However," said the Dona, "I do expect you to treat her
civilly.  I expect a modicum of respect from you, even when
she does not deserve it.  And above all, I expect you to
trust her.  She is a de Muerte."

"Senora, I have taken all precautions.  I have done
everything possible to assure her safety..."

Mercedes turned upon her.  "Then why..." she demanded, "...
Why is she missing?  Why has she gone?"

"I swear, no one has taken her," cried the duena, "We will
find her!  She could not have gone far!"

"Where she has gone does not concern me as much as does the
fact that this morning her bedroom door was locked.  Last
night, I heard that you had demanded that she relinquish her
keys."

"It is necessary, sometimes, when the child is in the throes
of passion, that we... 'protect' her.  From herself as well
as from others.  Yesterday, she broke away from us and went
riding unsupervised.  I felt that she was about to do
something... scandalous."

"This is not the heart of the city, my cousin.  This is the
frontier, where we must think and act for ourselves.  That
is the first thing I must say.  The second is this: You do
NOT imprison a member of my family!!!  Do you understand?"

The duena turned even paler.  "Yes, Hacendada," she
whispered, then offered, "She managed to free one of the
cast iron bars from a window, and slipped out that way.  The
Senorita is very resourceful."

"She is a de Muerte.  She will not be shut away.  Remember
that,"  As the duena shook in acknowledgement, Dona Mercedes
turned to their present problem.  "Now, where would she have
gone?"




EARLIER THAT MORN:

Ramon got down the saddlebags and began to fill them with
supplies.  From the door, Mama watched until she could be
quiet no longer.

"Machito, are you upset because I sent you to the doll-
maker?"

Ramon sighed, "No, Mama."  He surveyed his meager pile of
clothing.  "Mama," he said, "Why would the doll-maker refuse
to talk to me as a boy?"

"She does not know about your curse?"

"No.  I don't think so, anyway."

"Then it is because she does not respect our ancestry."

"I could believe that.  But why would she talk to a girl?"

"It is not because you are a girl that she accepts you.  You
look like your father.  When you are... Machita... you look
different.  Like Aztec."

"That is what she said.  I thought the Aztecs were dead."

"What a foolish thought!  Where did you learn this?"

"Oh, here and there.  From the other boys at the school, I
suppose."

"Then I will tell you this.  My mother, bless her sainted
soul - your grandmother on my side - was Aztec.  And a
little Spanish."

"How little?"

"From ten generations back.  She tried to tell me he was a
conquistador."

"Why do you tell me this?  Why now?  Why do you wait until
now?"

"Machito, I thought it would not matter..."

"Perhaps it does not.  Perhaps it is very important.
Because of what you have told me, I have no choice.  I must
go immediately and find my sister."

"I had hoped you would not go, Bebito."

"Do not call me that, Mamacita.  It does not make me feel
warm and protected like it once did.  I cannot turn to you
for help, anymore."

"But you would be out where I could not do anything at all!
What if something happens and you...  Cannot a mother feel
some worry for a daughter?"

"I cannot stay and be your daughter," he sighed and handed
her the  unfinished embroidery sampler, "I meant to give
this back to you."

"Oh, it is beautiful!" she said, clutching at the fabric.

"Lucita could have done it better," said Ramon, then added,
"Well, almost as well."

Mama clung to him and wept, then held him at arm's length as
though expecting a change.  "Would a mother's tears not be
enough?" she asked.

"No, Mama," Ramon smiled regretfully, "They would not."

She released him and stood for a time, watching as he
gathered his gear and started for the corral.  Then she fled
to the kitchen.

Papa stood by the gate, holding the reins to the bay.  As
Ramon fitted the saddle bags and tied them down, Papa
cleared his throat.

"I should go with you," he said.

"You cannot, Papa.  Your arm is still not well, and Mama
needs you."

"You have been very fortunate with the Indians you have
met," spoke the senior Caballo, "Not all strangers are going
to be peaceful."

"I know this," admitted Ramon.

"I do not have a gun for you to carry," Papa continued.

"That is all right."

"For your mother's sake, I must tell you that you should not
go, and that there is one thing you must always remember."

"What, Papa?"

Papa clasped him in a one-armed bear hug then pushed him
away.

"Return, Machito," he said, then he faded into the dark
toward the house.

Ramon glanced at the eastern horizon, where faint light made
the hills seem dark and bleak.  He swung into the saddle.

"I will, Papa," he said softly.




AND STILL EARLIER:

Sandy stepped away from the empty stall.  "How long ago?" he
asked.

Francisco's son, Rico, a slight boy with a love for horses,
climbed the rough boards of the stall door to face the blond
cowboy.  "About midnight," he offered.

"Thanks, compadre," said Sandy.

"De nada, senor," smiled Rico, "I know it was Macho, because
the horse did not make a sound.  If he was tiptoeing, he
could not have walked quieter.  For anyone else, that would
have been a very noisy horse."

"Uh, oh," said Sandy.

"Que?  What is it?"

"I just spotted the rancherita.  I'll go talk to her.  You
put another horse in that stall.  Don't let her know the bay
is gone."

"Sure thing!  She would chase him, maybe?"

"Maybe."  The blond cowboy pushed down the stable at a slow
amble until he caught Estrellita's eye.  The rancherita was
carrying a bundle wrapped in a shawl and would not look
directly at him.  Her eyes were red with tears.

"Can I help you, Ma'am?" he drawled.

"I'm just getting my pony.  I'm going for a ride."

"Sorta early for a ride.  Must be two hours 'til dawn."

"It doesn't matter.  They won't care, anyway."

"That's not true.  Somebody cares.  What happened?"

She raised reddened hazel eyes to meet his concerned blue
eyes, and held her gaze until he looked away.  "They locked
me in my room!" she cried, "Like an animal!  What was I
supposed to do?"

"Well, do you want to talk about it?  I could..." Sandy
gulped as he saw her looking at him again, "... I could
maybe ... "

"It's just the last straw," said Estrellita.  Unnoticed,
Rico had brought out her pony, saddled and ready.  She took
the reins but remained standing, staring up at Sandy.  Sandy
had turned a warm pink and was beginning to look for exits
to the stable.

"There is only one thing to do," she said, "I'm going away
for a while."  At Sandy's crestfallen expression, she
relaxed her frown and tried to smile.  "I won't be gone
long.  It doesn't take me a lot of time to get over my
anger, but I have to get away from here before I do
something really stupid."

"You can't go out in the middle of the night!"

"Can't?"  She glared at him.

"Well, maybe you shouldn't, all alone.  It's not safe."

"Then come with me."

"What?" Sandy gulped again, "All alone?"

"I won't be alone.  You would be there."

"Well..."

"Better make up your mind," Estrellita said as she swung
into the saddle, "I won't wait."

Rico handed Sandy the reins to his own horse, stepped back
out of the way, and grinned as their horses made their way
out into the yard.  Sandy swung back, and whispered to Rico,
"Tell your papa where we went."

"Sure," said Rico.  After a moment's thought, he added, "But
where is that?"  Sandy was already out of hearing.

Down the trail, Estrellita rode closer.  "We'll go to the
Azuma village," she said, "I used to hide out there all the
time, when they let me ride with Ramon."




GETTING READY TO FOLLOW:

"Dadgum snottynose kid..." Lonesome dabbed at his nose with
his bandanna, while tears streamed down his cheeks, "Running
off with some rich girl without telling me a thing.  I'm
supposed to be looking after him, for crying out loud!
Uh... Do you have any more of them little green ones?"



"You really should be careful," said Pablo, "Those green
peppers are hotter than the red ones."

"Yeah," sniffed Lonesome, "Took me long enough to find that
out."  He rolled a tortilla and scooped more green sauce
over his eggs before taking a large bite.  Tears started
afresh as he chewed, until he finally had to grab a cup of
scalding coffee and quench the fire.

"Rico says they left about two hours before the sunrise,"
Pablo said.  He rolled his own tortilla and took a more
careful bite from a safer bowl.

"I'll find them in a couple of hours," promised Lonesome,
"And when I do, I'll give that brat a talkin' to."  He
drained the coffee cup and set it down, flexing his shoulder
to work out the stiffness.  "Still ain't as strong as I'd
like," he complained, "Just have to take it easy for a
couple of days."




STONE MORNING:

There was a large stone on the East side of the village,
where Wolfwalker sometimes sat when he wanted to think.
Wrapped in a robe to keep out the chill air, he sat and
watched the horses approach.  When the dogs began to yip and
howl, he went to quiet them.

"I see the granddaughter of the hacendado," he said, "and
you are the friend of the horse-trader's son."

"Howdy," said Sandy.  He remained in his saddle as
Estrellita slid off her pony and started toward Red Cloud's
lodge.  She hesitated, then returned to her mount.

"We are very early.  I don't want to waken her," she said,
"Red Cloud, I mean."

"That person is awake," said Wolfwalker, "She has walked
back and forth across the village many times tonight.  I am
thinking she has concern for the Mexican boy."

As though in response to a summons, Red Cloud stuck her head
out of the doorway of her parent's lodge.  Seeing the dim
shadows of visitors, she came on out to greet them.

"Why are you worrying about Ramon?" asked Estrellita.

"Someone has to," answered Red Cloud, "Why are you here?"

"It is a long story," admitted the rancherita, "Could we get
to a fire and warm up?"

"Guess I'll head back to the rancho," said Sandy, "They'll
be wanting to know you are all right."

"Wait!" cried Estrellita, "Don't go yet, I need some more
time before they come looking!"

Sandy pulled back on his reins, stopping his horse.  "I
really gotta go," he said.

Estrellita came to his horse, grasped the bit by the reins
and stroked the horse's nose to sooth it.  "You've been
nervous since we left the stable," she said, "And I don't
think you were that scared of me.  There is something you
aren't telling me, isn't there?"

The guilty look on the cowboy's face told her she was
correct.

"He is going to talk to Ramon," guessed Red Cloud.  She
approached Sandy from the opposite side, moving close to
press against his leg in the stirrup.  Sandy gulped and
looked from one girl to the other, as Estrellita likewise
moved up to his other leg.  Sandy's eyes were bulging.



"Tell us about Ramon," suggested Estrellita.

"He... he's... his horse was gone..." gasped Sandy, "From
the stables..."

Suddenly the pressure on his right leg was gone, and Red
Cloud had vanished into her lodge.  Just as quickly,
Estrellita was back aboard her pony and holding it steady as
it fought the reins.

"You know what that means, don't you?" cried Estrellita,
"Yes, of course you do.  That was why you wanted me out of
the stables.  You *knew* he was going to leave, this
morning!"

"I wasn't sure," admitted Sandy, "I had an idea.  But I
thought you would try to go with him."

"Of course I am going with him!" snapped Estrellita, "Why do
you think I brought my gear?  Only I expected him to tell me
before he left!"

Red Cloud had reappeared, carrying a pack and weapons.
"Let's go," she said.

"Not alone," came another voice, and Wolfwalker strode up,
"I am charged with your safety."

"And I must protect Ramon," said Red Cloud, "He must not be
harmed."

"Are you two loco?" asked Estrellita.

"I am not," said Red Cloud, then indicated Wolfwalker with
her chin, "I don't know about him."




YOU DON'T SPIT INTO THE WIND:

Ramon left the road shortly before the village to avoid any
soldiers who might have risen early.  The buildings were
already beginning to glow in the rosy light of dawn as he
rode across the sandy flat.  The wind was gentle.  He
listened to the chirp of songbirds and the rattle of gravel
as rabbits bounded out of his path.  As he crested the rise
to the North of Villarica, he stopped the bay and looked
back.  Then he inhaled deeply, released his breath and
turned North again.

He came upon a campfire in the dense undergrowth of a gully
soon after.  At the fire sat an old man tending a small pot
of mush and a kettle of liquid.  "Sit down, have some
breakfast!" said Alboro.

Ramon took the tiny bowl of mush and a tortilla.  "Abuelo,"
he said, "It won't do you any good.  You can't talk me out
of going after my sister."

"Wouldn't think of it," Alboro offered him a gourd cup of
noxious liquid, "Have some coffee?"

"Uh... no."

Alboro withdrew the offered cup and slurped down the coffee
himself.  "I have to continue your education," he said,
"Might as well do it here as anywhere else."

"Look, I'm going to be travelling, okay?  There won't be
time for any training!"

"Maybe so, maybe not..." Alboro turned at a rustle from the
undergrowth.

"Oh, it is only you, old man," said Wolfwalker, moving into
the open.

"I did not expect to see this one," said Alboro, "You can go
home, now.  We don't need you."

"As you say, maybe so, maybe not."  Wolfwalker took the
gourd cup and tasted the coffee.  He made a wry face but
swallowed the sip and tried another.  Alboro lifted his
eyebrows in appreciation of his fortitude.

There was another sound from the trail, and Red Cloud
appeared.  She went straight to the campfire and lifted the
mush pot.  "I'll make some more," she said.

"Why are you here?" asked Ramon, "Not that I mind, but..."

"You were going away," said Red Cloud, "I am going with you.
You need protection."

"I can protect myself!" Ramon declared hotly.

"You'd starve," predicted Red Cloud.

"Within a week," agreed Wolfwalker.  His lips were beginning
to unpucker from the coffee.

Ramon turned to him, "What do you care?" he demanded.

"For you?" sneered the older Azuma lad, "Nothing.  I am
protecting her."  He indicated Red Cloud who was stirring
the mush.

"Who else is out here?" Ramon asked.  He looked at Alboro,
who lifted his shoulders in a shrug.

They heard horses.

"Oh, no," he groaned.

"Hello the camp!" called Estrellita cheerily.  Sandy waved
hesitantly.

"That does it!" cried Ramon, "Now I've got to take you
back!"

"`Fraid not, compadre," said Sandy, "Something's got the
soldiers in town swarming like ants.  You go back and
they'll spot you."

"I told you the Alcalde has spies everywhere," said
Estrellita, "I'll bet they found out I ran away."

"You have to go back home," declared Ramon.

"No," Estrellita said, looking him squarely in the eye.

"What if they think I kidnapped you?"

Estrellita simpered, "You should have thought of that before
you ran off."

"I didn't know you'd come after me!" Ramon's voice was
fading.

"Well, you should have.  We are going with you.  Or do you
want to take me back through town right now?"

Ramon was finding it hard to speak.  "What do you mean, WE?"
he whispered.

Estrellita indicated Sandy, who nodded sheepishly.

Red Cloud had taken extra bowls from her pack and was
handing out mush.  Alboro took a second helping.

After a hasty meal, they were on their way again, this time
in a group.

"Remember to practice what you have been taught!" called
Alboro after them.

"You haven't taught me anything, yet, you old faker!" cried
Ramon.

"Then don't camp in gullies!  You never know when a flash
flood will come along and wipe you out!"

"What kind of a teacher is he?" Sandy wondered.

"The worst kind," said Ramon, sourly, "A grandfather."

The wind was rising.


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