Macho Caballo Page

Las Aventuras De Macho Caballo

DICLOSURES: Don Pedro de Muerte was a big man, with reddish gray hair trimmed short in a military style. He moved about in a wheelchair, a trundling contraption brought from his native Spain. The wound which had cost him the use of his legs was a thing of legend in the village, for he was said to have been a great soldier in the mountains and jungles of South America. He watched the family approach, smiling with his eyes while his mouth took on a firm line. "Hey, horse-trader!" he called, "Why do you make your family walk when you have so many horses?" Papá laughed at him, "Because I work for the tightest, most miserly patron in the whole of North America!" he replied, "If my wife did not work for you, we would have to go hungry!" Don Pedro accepted his embrace, patted him on the back vigorously. "You got a good woman, there," he said, "You better take care of her." "She takes care of me," said Papá proudly, "My boy, he does good, too." Ramón watched Mamá to see her reaction to the unfamiliar praise. She seemed not to notice. "Are you ready to get the horses?" asked Don Pedro. His wife, the Doña, had brought out a tray of pastries and coffee cups. Marie, the servant girl, lugged the kettle of coffee. "First, there is something you must know," said Papá , "Can we go inside? We must be alone to talk to you of this." Ramón wondered what he meant. After Marie had pushed Don Pedro into the cavernous den and departed, Papá lifted a cup of coffee. "This should be hot enough," he said. "Papá ! No!" cried Ramón. "Machito, he must know," said Mamá. Ramón turned to her in confusion. He could understand Papá doing something foolish, but why would she betray him? "Why?" he asked. "Manuel, is this another of your jokes?" asked Don Pedro, while the Doña moved behind him, "The boy is frightened of something." "He is frightened of discovery. He is one of mine." Ramón's head whirled. One of his? "Machito," said, his father, "Look at me!" and he poured the coffee on himself. The Doña gasped as he disappeared and a badger waddled out of the clothing heaped on the floor. Ramón gaped in dismay. His father turned into a badger? He also was cursed! "This was why I did not want you to follow your grandfather on his path," said Mamá, "But of course, it is too late, now." "Is your whole family cursed?" asked Don Pedro. "Only these two, the father and now the boy," said Mamá, "And perhaps the grandfather. But with the grandfather it is harder to tell." "But that means the boy..." "... Cannot return to the school, as you wished," said Mamá, "The school is run by the church, and while I attend church regularly, I do not think my piety would help my son if he should change in front of a group of friars. They have put people to the torch for witchcraft for doing less than that." "And that is why you asked me to refuse the school's request," said Don Pedro as he studied Ramón. "Yes," said Mamá, her head bowed. "Now, I have shamed my husband and my son in order to do this." "Nonsense," said Don Pedro, and to his wife he said, "Give them some cold water, will you?" "I will never get used to it," said the Doña as she complied. She handed the water to Mamá and turned her back before Mamá upended the tumbler of water onto the badger. Papá scrambled back into his clothing. "But what does the boy turn into?" asked Don Pedro, "If you don't mind my asking, that is." "Ramón?" Mamá said, "You don't have to tell him. He will understand." "It is okay, Mamá," said Ramón, "If Papá can do it, so can I." The coffee had cooled somewhat, but it was still warm enough to effect the change. Again, the Doña gasped, but the tone of her voice was different. "How wonderful!" she exclaimed, "It is like seeing a butterfly!" "I am *not* a butterfly!" cried the girl whose hair was dripping coffee onto the expensive carpet. "Señora Caballo, I apologize for doubting you," said Don Pedro as he appraised the girl, "If this had happened in that boy's school, we could hear the padres' screams all the way from here in Villarica." "Papá, why do you tell him this?" asked Ramón, "And why do you show that you have a curse, that you turn into the badger, when you would not even tell us?" "Your mother knew, as did the Patron," said the elder Caballo, "But we thought it wiser not to burden you." "Burden me? Burden *ME*?" Ramón felt her throat constrict until he had to swallow to ease the tension. "Did you ever think that I might need to know that I was not alone in this? That I could get some understanding from someone else who had to endure this... this nightmare?" "I think I'd better leave you alone," said Don Pedro, motioning the Doña to roll him out. "Wait!" cried Ramón, "There is something else. You knew about my father's curse. Are you cursed, too?" "Don't be foolish!" snapped the old man, "Why should I do something as stupid as that? Besides," he added just before the door closed, "my wheelchair wouldn't fit through the cave." He left Ramón pondering as Mamá approached with the cold water. A TURN OF EVENTS: They assembled before the big house, where Don Pedro had provided horses for them to ride. Ramón climbed onto his black mare and waited while his father and two vaqueros finished their coffee and mounted. "Your boy is impatient," joshed Francisco. He wore leather chaps with silver conchos and buckles, and a gaudy sombrero. "Like father, like son," agreed Pablo, an older balding man wearing a woolen blouse with buckskin pants and worn boots. "I once was in a hurry," said Papá, "Now, I know better. Let everyone else wear themselves out first." "Ahah," laughed Francisco, "Just when did you learn patience? You did not have it when we were young bucks!" Pablo swung closer to Ramón, "Someday we will tell you about the times we went to deliver horses to the Comanche," he said, "They had many good looking girls, there. I think you would like to meet one of them." "I've already met one," said Ramón, "and she almost killed me." "What, did you try to kiss her too soon?" "No, I tried to wrestle her," The others laughed until Ramón blushed. "It was not like that!" he insisted, "It was a contest!" "It always is," agreed Pablo. "There's the corral," said Francisco, finally, "But where are the horses?" There was a lone Yanqui standing at the corral. "Howdy," he said. "Donde estan los caballos?" asked Pablo, then repeated in English, "Where are the horses?" "Well, it seems your town boss, the Alcalde, said we had to do our business in the middle of town," said the cowboy, "He was real insistent about it." Papá and the cowboy rode off together toward town, and the others followed. "What's the matter?" Ramón, unable to understand English, asked of the two vaqueros. "We must go to the town plaza," said Pablo, "The Alcalde has decided that he wants to see what we are doing." "We aren't going, are we?" "Of course! We must go where the horses are." "Not a good idea!" blurted Ramón, "You forget the Alcalde is after my hide." "He won't bother you!" insisted Francisco, "No one messes with Don Pedro! The Alcalde would not dare interfere with our business." "Not a good idea," repeated Ramón, but he followed along with them. INTO THE LION'S DEN: The village was quiet as they walked their horses down the street. There was little traffic, even though it was a market day. Ramón glanced about cautiously, feeling as though there were eyes on him. A train of burros blocked the way for a moment, and a white paper caught his eye, a picture on the signboard. It was a crude drawing, but it was recognizably his face. Beyond a miner's freight wagon, he saw a uniformed man coming his way. Ramón slid off the horse and fled the middle of the street, almost as a shout arose. The soldier, on foot, had spotted him and began pursuit. Down the alley he ran, gaining on the older man, until he came to a shallow watering trough. It had been sitting in the hot sun all morning, would the water be warm enough? He bent over the edge and splashed his face, just as a rough hand on his pantalones yanked him up. "Oh, sorry, Señorita!" said a startled soldier, "I thought you were..." he broke off and looked down the alley where a dozen possible escape routes could be found. The soldier pelted off. Ramón ran the other way. He caught up with his horse shortly, but the vaqueros were not immediately to seen. Vaulting back onto the horse, he grabbed the reins before the horse bolted and held it still while he looked about. Then he headed it toward the center of town. He should get out of the village while he could, but Papá had impressed on him how important it was to keep the appointment with the Yanquis. `We must not offend these people,' his father had said, `these horses are important to Don Pedro, and we must keep the good will of the Yanquis.' The mare, nervous since he had mounted so abruptly, tried to trot but he kept it to a walk as he headed toward the plaza. There he found the vaqueros, who were surprised to see the horse with an unfamiliar rider. "Saludos!" said Francisco, "Where is the boy?" Ramón's mind went blank. They did not know of the curse. How could he explain? He was rescued by his father, who called from the center of the plaza. Fifty or more horses were milling about in a rope corral. "Machita!" cried Papá, "Get on over here! I need a rider." Francisco turned to Pablo, who also looked dumbfounded. "Machita? What kind of a mother would name a girl *that*?" "It's a joke," said Ramón, as he slid off the horse. He handed them the reins and pushed through the onlookers to the corral. "Pick out a good one for the rancherita," said Papá. Ramón eyed the herd, picked up a riata and walked around the corral. The horses moved about skittishly; browns, blacks, a pinto of the kind the Yanquis called `paint', and a couple with unusual markings. He selected one of these, a reddish brown stallion with a white blaze zigzagging down its nose. It was alert, with its head up, brown-gold eyes watching him. "You letting that little girl do your horse work?" asked one of the Yanqui cowboys. "She is as capable as a boy," said Papá with a mischievous gleam in his eye. "Well, I hope she has better sense than to choose that bay she's looking at. That's the sneakiest critter God ever put on this earth." "She better be sittin' a horse if she plans on ropin' one of these mustangs," said another. "She works on foot," said Papá, "Machita can ride, when she chooses. But now she does not choose to do so. I taught her everything he knows." ROMANCE: Ramón flipped the loop about the neck of the bay and pulled it close. Some things were the same, the rope obeyed as well as when he was male. "Whoooeee!" said a cowboy, "Ain't she a corker, though! She really knows how to swing that lasso!" "Macho is good with la riata, true?" "Macho?" "Ahhh... Machita. She and her brother help me with the horses, sometimes." Ramón got the bridle on and swung the blanket into place. The bay, feeling playful, brought his head around and shoved Ramón from behind, knocking the saddle from his hands. Ramón smiled in anticipation. This one was going be fun to ride. Ramón bent to pick up the saddle, but it was already up. He looked up to see a huge grin attached to curly wheatcolored hair, freckles, and a sunbaked felt hat.
"Here ya go, Seen-yore-reeter," said the cowboy. `Oh, no,' Ramón groaned inwardly. "Here, Ma'am," said the cowboy, "I better show you how it's done." He proceeded to throw the saddle over the horse's back and began to cinch it down. Ramón saw the glint in the bay's eye as the horse watched the cowboy, and kept silent. "Better stand back, Senyoreeter," said the cowboy as he stepped into the saddle, "This here horse don't like to be rode." The bay allowed him to settle in, took a few steps and then stiffened his legs, bowing his back at the same time as he bounced, which efficiently jettisoned the young cowboy. The cowboy got up, grinned, dusted off his chaps and hobbled over to his boss. "You want to let me try again, Mister Calpern?" Calpern shook his head, "You done good, Sandy," he said, "Can't expect to break them at the last minute." To Papá , he said, "Better pick out another for that rancherita. I ain't seen anyone can stay on this bay. Less'n you geld him, he won't be good fer anything but stud. Hate to see anyone pickle him, though. He's got spirit," "Tell you what," said Papá, "I get someone who can ride him, *and* keep him for stud, what do you want for him?" The Yanqui boss considered. "You seem a good fella," he said, "Providing you treat him right, I'd practically give the sun-of-a-buck to you, half-price. Sort of had my eye on him, myself, but I ain't got the means to keep him when I head home." "Hey, Machita!" called Papá, "Get on him! He's yours!" "You mean it!?" "This man just said so. All you gotta do is ride him." "Bueno!" Ramón clambered aboard. The bay, startled, jumped a foot into the air. When he came down the horse shied sideways, reversed, and stopped suddenly the better to roll his rider over his head. Ramón still clung tightly in the saddle. Experimentally, the bay stiffened and bowed his back, with the same result, then launched into a series of violent turns. Finally, he stopped and rolled his eyes to the side as far as he could with the reins taut, trying to observe his rider. What he saw must have satisfied him, for he settled down and walked placidly back to the group of cowboys. "Well, I'll be a cross-eyed mule," crowed the cowboy who had been bucked previously. "Would you look at that gal ride!" "Taught him myself," said Papá, but he said it quietly. ALCALDE: A darkhaired, sunbrowned cowboy nicknamed `Lonesome' came to Calpern and said, "Company, boss. Sojers." Three soldados marched up, escorting the Alcalde. The Alcalde, a lean hard man with precisely trimmed mustaches, smiled broadly and approached the trail boss with an extended hand. "It is good to meet you, Mister Calpern!" he said, "I trust you are making a profit, no?" The sergeant behind him repeated the words in English. "I reckon I am," admitted Calpern, "If'n I have my way. Couple more buyers and I'll break even." The Alcalde frowned microscopically and turned to the sergeant. "What did he say?" he asked, "I cannot understand him." "Seems we need an interpreter," said Calpern, "Why not him?" He pointed at Papá. "The Alcalde would prefer not to use his services," said the sergeant. "Well, you can tell the Alcalde here that we are fine, and thank him for asking." "Excellent!" replied the Alcalde, after the interchange, "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Bertran Sinestro, the mayor of this fine city. Thank you for conducting your negotiations here." "Not like we had much choice," said Calpern, "But thank him for having us. My men are enjoying the hospitality." "You understand that the men you are dealing with may not always be here," smiled Sinestro, "The politics, you understand." "Nothin' lasts forever," Calpern leaned against the makeshift gate and fumbled with his pipe. "First, there is the revolution, always the revolutions, and now the Empire. Soon, the Spaniards, they may all go away. The people who replace them will remember that you did business with Don Pedro. Then who will you sell the horses to?" "Reckon I'd find someone with a big spread who needed horses," the trail boss scratched his neck as he thought. "Perhaps me, no?" "You plannin' on takin' up ranching? That takes money. Mucho Dinero." "I have big plans, Mister Calpern." "Well, I'd have to see what the lay of the land was, before I'd start making promises." Sinestro turned to his sergeant. "See that they leave immediately after their trading," he told the sergeant, "I don't want them in town any longer than necessary." The sergeant said to Calpern, "The Alcalde regrets he must leave to handle an urgent affair. Please enjoy your stay." "Much grass, hombre," Calpern resumed watching the horses. After the soldiers had gone he said almost inaudibly, "When hell freezes over. Two-faced pile of manure. Don't want us in town, eh?" To Papá he said, "Señor, I'd say you and him ain't exactly bed-mates." "True enough," agreed Papá, "If you wish to reconsider selling us the horses, I will understand." "Hell, I didn't say I disagree with you. Anytime some hombre gets my back up the way he did, I'd walk a mile outta my way just to spit in his eye." Papá smiled. "Bueno," he said, and they shook hands. "I take it your Don Pedro will be wanting more horses?" "This many, and more." "Gotta tell you, though, that not all my horses are going to be as good as the thirty you got this time. Sometimes we can find them, sometimes they just ain't there," the grizzled boss took a long draw on his pipe, watched the smoke plume into the sky above the mission roof, "But you got a good eye. And if you can't make it, just send that little gal of your'n." Papá smiled at some inner thought, then said, "Perhaps. Or her brother." "Take me a couple of months to get them rounded up and fresh-broke. Meanwhile, any objections to me leaving one of my hands down here to help finish breaking these that you bought?" "There is no need. We have our own way of breaking horses." "All the same, I'd take it as a favor, you let this kid stay and learn to speak some Mexican. He's sort of family," Calpern indicated the sandy-haired youth, "Plus, he seems to be kinda taken with this place." "He will be disappointed," said Papá. "Yep. You know that, and I know that, but he don't. Time he got a little sand under his saddle and learned about life." ALL THINGS COME TO SHE WHO WAITS: It was late before the thiry horses Papá had bought were all bedded down at the rancho, the rider's mounts stripped of saddle and tack and rubbed down, and the vaquero's paraphenalia put away. Ramón was tired. Don Pedro, from his wheelchair on the portico, insisted that Ramón and his father spend the night in the big house, where rooms were waiting. They agreed. Ramón did not even consider reverting to male form; he was so weary he could not focus his eyes as he shuffled into the room Don Pedro had indicated, threw off his shoes and drew the shirt over his head. A noise from the end of the room caused him to waken sharply. There was someone in the bed. Estrellita had pulled the blanket up to cover herself. "Who are you?" she demanded.
"Estrellita?" Ramón groaned. "Wrong, whoever-you-are! *I'm* Estrella! I want to know who *you* are! And just *what* do you think you are doing in Ramón's room?" The blond girl wrapped the blanket around her and advanced on Ramón. "This is *my* grandfather's house, and this is *my* friend's room, and you have some nerve sneaking in here trying to get in my friend's bed, with your..." she glared at Ramón's exposed breasts while pulling the blanket tighter about her own. "...your... anyway, he's not here, so you can get out!" Ramón pulled the shirt back on and stumbled out the hall and down the stairs. He found a pitcher of cold water, poured it over his head, then collapsed with a sigh on the horsehair bench in the great room. Almost immediately, Doña Mercedes, the hacendado's wife, was tugging him to his feet. "You just come right along, I've got a nice soft feather bed in Esteban's old room. I won't tell her you are there." --------------- The next morning they gathered at the huge table in the kitchen. Estrellita was late for breakfast. Her eyes were red from lack of sleep, and she ignored Ramón. She pushed away from the table after only a taste of the pancakes. "I'm not feeling well," she announced, on her way out to the corral. She was raking horse manure from a stall when Ramón found her. "Go away," she said, "I said I'm not feeling real good." "Was it something I did? You wouldn't even look at me at breakfast." "Naw," she shrugged nonchalantly, "You're a big boy. You can do what you want to." "Is it about last night?" She turned on him. "What *about* last night?" "I guess I was so tired when I came in that I fell asleep in the front room. Señora de Muerte put me into your father's old room." "She did?" Estrellita said increduously. "Yeah. I was really tired. Guess I woke her up, stumbling around." "She should have put you in your own bed. But perhaps it's better she didn't." "Why? What happened?" "Nothing. Let's just say I'm not very proud of myself." "Who did you beat up this time?" Ramón ventured a smile. "I didn't..." she stopped raking for a moment. "Do you know any girls around here? Besides me, that is." "No... unless you count Red Cloud." "Well, I suppose she is a girl. But I was talking about Mexican girls. You know what I mean. Competition." "Against you? No way." "It pays to be sure. I just want to know who..." she paused and sighed. "Maybe it was a dream. Or not. Anyway, I almost did something I would have regretted. I sort of wish I could be regretting it right now." Ramón kept silent and found a pitchfork to help her clean the stall. CHAPTER QUATRO: END Return to main page