DAY OF THE DEAD – Sentence Chain

 

A Work in Progress by Members of the HCFanFic list

 

 

Writers to date: Darius, Denise, Penny, Marce, Kate, Cathy.

 

 

The outline of the church bell-tower could be seen against the moon.  All but one grave was lit by candles and bowls and platters heaped with tortillas, frijoles, candied orange peel and other food offerings to entice the spirits of the village to visit with their families.

 

A figure approached the unadorned grave and stooped to drop a bunch of yellow marigolds in tribute.  "With your help, I will have my revenge."

A cloud passing in front of the moon plunged the cemetery into eerie pockets of shadows amongst the flickering candles as the person departed.  In the distance, a wolf howled.  When the moonlight illuminated the tombstone's surface again, the inscription, Xavier Montoya, stood out in stark relief.

 

Blue could not see the shadowy figure as it passed by him - but he felt the presence of someone in the shadows as the hair on the back of his neck stood to salute the swishing of what the young blond man thought was either skirts - or possibly a cloak.

Blue didn't believe in ghosts but he had jumped at the chance to visit the Montoya family home when Mano and Victoria had invited him to join them for "The Day of the Dead".  His father and uncle had stayed at Chaparral but the little caravan had included Vaquero, Pedro and other hands from the ranch whose families still lived
south of the border. 

 

Standing silently striving to see into the darkness, Blue focused all his attention in the direction of the rustling as the silence of the night came in around him - no, he did not believe in ghosts, but the eerie prickle at the back of his neck sent his nerves into a spin. As he leaned into the night and cautiously rested his hand on the cold handle of his pistol a large, heavy hand from behind the boy gripped his shoulder and caused him to twist and shout in surprise as he stood face to bloodless face with.....Pedro!

 

"EESY AMIGO!" Pedro raised his hands dramatically and cried as he backed off from Blue quickly, "I haf just come to see if you would like to join me and my family for the heevenin. What has got jue so jumpy compadre?" he asked sincerely.

 

"I'm not sure," Blue told him uneasily, blue eyes gazing beyond Pedro to search the shadows of the dark graveyard, "it's just all this Day of the Dead thing, kinda got me spooked."

"Amigo," Pedro laughed and shook his head, "Dia de Los Muertos is not to be scared of. Is a great celebration, a happy time, yes?"

"I guess," Blue agreed with a smile, but even as he said it, that prickle of disquiet once again crawled coldly along the back of his neck.

 

Feeling the need to leave the area for a while, hopefully till daybreak, Blue and Pedro wound their way down the busy, bustling streets filled with happy participants who laughed as they chinked their glasses in the cantinas that lined the street.

 

 

********

 

Victoria and the Montoya servants made happy sounds as they busied themselves with flower arranging and small tokens for her mother's grave. Senora Cannon was pleased to be at her childhood home for this occasion as it brought back many memories of love and happier days.

 

Sitting on the small stone bench beside her mother's grave Victoria smiled at those helping her.  "Please go now, go to your loved ones." 

 

"Si," came the familiar voice of Don Sebastian Montoya. "Go to your families. We are well guarded and there is no need for you all to stay at the Casa today....but do not be late returning to your duties manana!" This last more like the familiar imperious tone they all knew well.  He dismissed the servants with a slight wave and turned to his daughter.

 

"Papa, have you come to join me as I visit with Mama?" Victoria smiled sweetly at her father as he gazed down on the offerings of flowers and sweet things on the grave.

 

"Si Victoria," Victoria looked at her father's face...there was no need to ask what he was thinking.  He raised his head..."Have you seen your w...brother?"  He checked himself just in time.  If it was not appropriate to speak ill of the dead how could it be appropriate to speak ill of his son in the presence of his mother's spirit.  "Oh, it's nothing serious, I just assumed he would be here at his mother's grave and not off in a cantina somewhere."  He couldn't tell her the real reason he needed to speak with his son.

 

Manolito watched from the shadows of the archway leading to the family gravestones. He could clearly see his father and sister as they conversed at the resting place of his mother. He resisted the urge to join the two, though felt a little guilty listening to their conversation that spanned some of the most touching years of his life.

The Montoya Hacienda was not always a place of rivalry between Don Sebastian and him - the years he grew up in the company of his mother were tender, and the memories pulled at his heart. His head bowed as he leaned on the arch supports. A small tear escaped.

 

Don Sebastian looked away from Victoria towards the centre of the village, It was imperative that he spoke to Manolito  sooner  rather  than later, but he did not want Victoria to know anything was amiss,
 
It was now time for reflection, Taking his daughter's hand, he moved towards the gravestone. 
 
"Come my child, let us pray together,,"
 
 They both knelt Don Sebastian was quiet and pensive, He knew as soon as Manolito was informed of the facts, there would be no stopping him, This day he not only prayed for his wife's spirit but also for the lives of his children.

 

**********

 

Manolito had decided to leave rather than disturb his father and sister.  He would return to his mother's grave later...he crossed himself quickly with only a minute dip of the head as he moved in front of the Virgin and Child.  He hadn't been to confession for some time he chided himself, better do so tomorrow. He was headed
for the cantina to relieve this melancholy at least temporarily.

He moved amongst the crowd headed home easily.  The people moved slowly, calling to friends and neighbours as they remembered their children.* Ahead of him he saw the familiar hat of his friend and, technically, his nephew.  " Ayi, Pedro! Blue!"

 

Blue stopped and turned.  "Manolito!" he called with a waving a hand.  Then when his uncle reached his side, he continued in a loud tone to be heard above the clamoring of the crowd.  "We're headed to Rosa's.  Care to join us?"

 

"The very place I was headed Amigo."  He grinned broadly.

The three moved again through the throng and into Rosa's, loud greetings filling the room.  Rosa, a woman well past her prime but loved by all the customers and savvy enough to have other entertainment available, came forward and embraced both Mexicans and extended a hand to Blue.  She pulled the three towards a table and shouted for tequila, seating herself beside them.

At first the talk was in rapid Spanish as they covered all the village recent history and then slowed down as it became more and more clear Blue could not follow.  Pedro started to ask Mano about his family's celebrations for the morrow when Blue interrupted, "Mano?  There's a grave back there that don't have lights or nothin'.  You know why?  Must be kin to you. Name's Xavier Montoya"

 

Manolito, though he heard the question, did not react to it, just took a deep breath and looked towards a happy group drinking on the next table,

Blue was keen to know the answer to the question he put and was insistent.

"Hey Mano, never mind them pretty girls over there. Was Xavier kin of the Montoyas?"


Rosa caught Manolito's eye, and poured another round of tequila, Manolito gripped the glass in his hand and downed the drink in one go.

The mere mention of Xavier's name brought Manolito inward turmoil, but he did not show any outward signs of the anger he felt within. After a further pause he spoke,

"He is dead in the graveyard is he not?".

"Yep, Mano. He is.”


"We are here enjoying ourselves, in the company of beautiful Rosa are we not?" said Manolito smiling, whilst looking at Rosa's face.

"Yep Mano, but …”

"So this is the time for the living, Rosa, more tequila, por favor,"

Manolito might have fooled Blue and Pedro but he could not fool himself. Xavier was dead, the headstone on his gravestone was testimony to that fact. His burned remains had been laid to rest.  He was no longer a danger.

After a while he excused himself, “Con su permiso, Dona Rosa, senores,” he had not spoken to his father since arriving in Mexico and he had to show his respects at this special time, and rode to Rancho Montoya.

 

Meanwhile back at the cantina Pedro swallowed more than his share of tequila and was, not surprisingly, very happy in the company of some of Rosa's 'ladies'. They wanted to fuss around Blue too but could see by the sulky look on his face that he was not as good company as the lanky Mexican who willingly shared his money for drinks.

Blue looked from under his hat at Pedro's jovial and lubricated face - Blue also had more than his allocation, but having been disappointed by Mano's lack of information he turned to the pleasures of the bottle instead. He wavered as he stood, and then wobbled forward to rest both hands on the round table. The 'ladies' giggled at the scowling deep blue eyes and pouting mouth, and pursed their rouged lips in feigned kisses to try to draw out the playfulness in him.

"Well Pedro," Blue spluttered with a tinge of blurriness to his voice. "What…ch YOU know about it?"

Pedro's attention was being taken by the senorita on his left knee.

"About what Amigo?" he responded without even looking at the wavering Blue.

"About Xavier Mon...t…oya, in the grave, out the back of the chur…ch," he hiccupped.

Pedro winced at the boy. He had hoped the matter had ended when Manolito had exited the cantina. In fact Pedro was quite happy that Blue had not asked him anything for the hour that they had been sitting at the table lubricating their faces.

"Aarrggh Amigo! Why do you ask me such things?" the Mexican cowboy moaned with a pained expression. "Leave it alone.., and have another drink," he encouraged shoving the nearly empty bottle across the table.

Blue stood - or rather wavered to his full height. He was not going to leave it alone.

"NO!" he said rather loudly, unconsciously spitting drool in Pedro's direction. His head began to swoon.

"You know…don.cha..?" queried the youngest Cannon in a rather demanding tone. His eyes narrowed to see if he could detect any information from Pedro's face. Blue's fist landed on the table to emphasise his conviction and the glasses rocked and tinkled together. He looked into Pedro's blood shot eyes and wondered why the man's face was similar to a desert mirage.

"Oohh Blue, amigo," Pedro pleaded rather nervously. Being the older of the two, Pedro was a little more used to drinking that the Cannon son.

"Jue know..." began the Mexican in a whine, "eet is not good for you to ask questions about thees man."

Blue perked with interest and pushed himself from the table once more. His head reeled but he wanted answers.

"Sometimes eef you stir up the dead who do not wan… to be disturbed, jue know," Pedro looked nervously over his shoulder as if someone might be listening, "sometimes the dead… they... they reach out from the grave and touch jore lives in ways jue do not want. No, no amigo... let the dead sleep, eet is not our business" he
finalised.

But this was insufficient for Blue - his interest had been piqued and he recalled the eerie feeling he had at the gravesite. He was not going to let this matter rest, especially now he was sure that Pedro could spill the beans. Angry with Pedro for dangling him and not just telling him outright, Blue sidled round the table towards his father's cowpuncher. Perhaps a swing from a right fist would loosen the man's tongue.

As he side stepped the 'lady' with the drink, Blue pulled his fist back in anticipation of the strike.

"Now lo…look here!" he shouted at Pedro... then crashed to the floor drunk as a skunk.

 

*********

 

Mano slowed his pace consciously, his senses suddenly alerted.   When on Montoya land he rarely felt the way he did now...the sure sensation that he was being watched...and not with a kindly eye.  He stopped as if to examine his money, drawing also the small knife nestled beside it.....

As Mano slowly moved on, alert to any movement he heard shouts behind him. 

"Manolito! ...Manolito! ... Qual es la prisa?"

Turning he realized Manuel, a childhood friend, was stumbling up the path shouting. Breathless, his friend clutched at Mano's arm to support himself.  "I went to see Rosa and there were Pedro and that gringo nephew of yours. I have been chasing you all this way Amigo, que prisa?"

Mano gave a mumbled response, his ears straining for a hint of the other presence he had felt.  No!  Whoever or whatever it was, it was gone. ‘Whatever’ he said to himself, with a disgusted snort, ‘I am like a gringo myself now, scared of shadows.’ Busy supporting his inebriated friend, he dismissed the thought.  If there was one thing Mano was good at, it was crossing one bridge at a time.

 

“Manuel amigo, I am in no rush, I am never in a rush to visit my father," he said ruefully, "In fact I am enjoying my time getting there, I am glad you caught up with me,"

Manolito looked at his friends perspiring face. "You look as if you need a drink amigo, how about we go back to Rosa's," he suggested, as a means of further delaying not only the forthcoming meeting but also the lecture his father would certainly give his wayward son. His good intentions of a short while go were being put to the back of his mind.
           
"You don't understand ... I was sent to get you. You must see Don Sebastian, he has instructed me to fetch you. I ...I… went to every cantina to find you, and I had to have a drink in every one. Claro.!   

"Oh, Claro!" agreed Manolito.

"You should have to repay me for my diligence," Manuel said with a wobbly voice and sad eyes.
 
"Aagh, no my friend, that you will have to ask from your Patron, but at least I can buy you another drink, come my friend,”


He put Manuel’s arm around his shoulder and pulled him back towards the cantina again,

"Manolito," Manuel's tone was now serious, "You don't understand, I have been ordered to get you. Your father...he will not take kindly to any more delay"

 

"Manuel Miguel Garcia." Manolito sighed as he placed his hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Do not worry any longer, I will go immediately to see Papa."

Manuel Garcia seemed relieved.

 

*********

 

Some time later, in the great drawing room of the Casa Montoya, Manolito confronted his father. Victoria sat waiting quietly as the two men made their stilted greetings to each other. The large doors closed behind them as Don Sebastian ordered the servants out of the room - the business they had to speak of was private, known only to Don Sebastian and a few of the most trusted servants.

It was true that rumours had surfaced about the thing Don Sebastian was about to say, but the swift punishment he had meted out to those who dared to interfere in his private affairs was sufficient to put off any gossip mongering among the peons. Don Sebastian knew the strength of his power in this regard.

"Come Manolo, sit," his father invited. It was a voice tinged with the weight of a problem that had long been on his mind. Manolito glanced at Victoria - she indicated no prior knowledge by the slight shrug of her shoulder and the arch of her eyebrows.

 

Don Sebastian indicated the chair on his right and Manolito took his place.

The son was curiously silent as he waited for his father to prepare - there seemed little reason for the usual banter he would normally have offered in the presence of Don Sebastian.

It was Victoria that broke the silence.

"What is it papa?" she almost whispered with concern. Her father's face was lined with worry. He looked at his children.

"I must tell jue something, something of the past. Jue need to know now," he stumbled as he fished for the right words. The tension in the room was sharp, Don Sebastian felt it as though there was a burden of lead upon his shoulders. The father rose from his chair and white-knuckled fists clenched edge of the table.

Victoria was quite shocked, she cast her eyes from her father to her brother and back again. Whatever the news was it was clearly taking a toll on her father's demeanor.

"Speak Papa," commanded Manolito from the chair, his feeling of edginess had increased and he was tiring of the suspense.

"Very well," determined Don Sebastian. "Victoria, you will no doubt be dismayed by my confession, Manolito probably not so much, but it is needful for me to tell jue something which happened before jue were born. Before, even, I married jore mother."

The two children sat forward and hung onto every word.

Don Sebastian related a time when he was deeply in love with a young girl from a neighbouring village. She and her family were very poor and the family lived off of the small earnings the father made as a goat herder. Don Sebastian's visits to the small village had been forbidden by his own father.

Manolito was intrigued - it seemed as though time in the Hacienda had stood still, that the demands of parents on children had transcended generations and gave the younger man an insight never before known to him of his father's exploits. Oh, Mano knew that Don Sebastian preached to him about virtues and vices, but suddenly it had become evidently clear and real that his father may actually have been giving his unwanted advice because of mistakes that the older man had made in his youth.

Don Sebastian continued and told of how one night he managed to slip from his father's minders when they thought he was in his bed. He escaped to the arms of the lovely Arcelia Isidro.

Don Sebastian's voice fell to a low murmur as he related how the young woman told him of the threats that the then Montoya head, had made upon her own father, his livelihood and his family if he did not succeed in keeping the girl from seeing his son Sebastian. Indeed when Arcelia had refused to obey her father's words she was beaten for her love of Sebastian.

That night the two young people sealed their love. Afterwards Sebastian related how he took the young woman to Mexico City where they had every intention of being married. Once Sebastian's father became aware of the flight of the two lovers he sent men to secure the return of his son. One of those men was Sebastian's cousin, Xavier who lived in Mexico City with his family.

Manolito and Victoria remained silent in their seats. Victoria was stunned to hear the tale, but her brother was not so. Mano had always known that there had been a tale of such, as it was whispered by the servants through the years that he grew up.

But what of the rest of the story, surely it was not this simple misguided love tryst that weighed down Don Sebastian so greatly? Manolito wanted his father to say more. The mere mention of Xavier twice in one night, once by Blue and now by his own father, sparked an interest in the truth behind the story. Indeed, behind the gravestone at the cemetery that bore Xavier Montoya's name. Perhaps now, with his father's confession, the real story would be revealed.

Victoria dabbed the small tears in her eyes. Manolito waited patiently for his father to continue.

 

Victoria having wiped a tear from her eye, asked, "What happened in Mexico City?”

“My father had given instructions to Xavier to bring myself and Arcelia home, to face our families wrath, You must understand we were young, Once we had arrived in Mexico City, we both realised that our love for each other was untenable, and the adventure we had undertaken could not continue,”

"Papa. where is this going," responded Victoria,

"Emilio,” responded Don Sebastian, his normal stiff countenance was breaking down,

Victoria and Manolito looked to one another, each trying to put a face to the name,

Emilio Montoya, Xavier’s son.

Recognition now came forth,

"Emilio Montoya, didn’t he have an accident, didn’t he die when he was very young?" inquired Victoria delicately,

Manolito walked to the cabinet and poured two glasses of wine from a decanter and offered it to his now emotional father,

"It was not an accident, he was killed from a shot from his own father’s pistola, and it was my fault "

"Madre de Dios!" exclaimed Victoria and Manolito in unison.

"Why do you say that Papa?" continued Manolito, "How could you blame yourself for what happened all those years ago?”

 

There was silence for a time as the three Montoya's gathered their thoughts. Mano quietly slipped to the dark and heavy sideboard where many keepsakes were kept. Sitting firmly in the middle was the family Bible. Its deep, hand-carved leather cover sat closed. The brass clasps firmly shut. Mano flicked open the fasteners and slowly turned the pages that seemingly covered aeons of time. The Montoya name was prevalent, but other names appeared that were also familiar as family names. They dated back to Old Spain and were scripted in the most beautiful of penmanship, which evidently changed with the passing of the writers through the generations.

Mano found the spot he was looking for.

EMILIO MONTOYA
Died 1 November 1858
son of  Xavier and Arcelia Montoya

Manolito stopped in his tracks. He had never noticed Emilio's mother's name before! How could this be? It was the same name that his father had mentioned as his lover. Then the young Montoya looked at the death date. An eerie feeling crept up his neck. The first of November - Dia de los Muertos!  Had the dead boy come back on this anniversary?  Perhaps that was what Mano had felt looking at him from the shadows? He shook off the thought, things had become too real.
 
Don Sebastian poured another drink for himself. He had his back to Manolito but the son was sure the father knew what he was looking at. Victoria sat bewildered running the ideas that had been presented through her mind to try to make some sense of the situation. 

Manolito backtracked several pages to the record of marriages. There it was, Xavier had married Arcelia Isidro in her small village Las Clarita just a month or two’s time after her forced return with Don Sebastian.

Mano stepped back a pace and turned to his sister. She saw his look, rose and followed her brother’s eyes to the Bible. Confused, she also read the entries. When the pair turned to their father he was staring at them in an unusual solemnity.

"Sometimes," he began in a broken voice, "we pay for our mistakes many times during our lives."

Victoria spoke. "Papa, please finish the story. I am bewildered."

Don Sebastian, sipped his small glass again and began.

Xavier had sought and found the young lovers in Mexico City sheltering in a broken down hostel that was as different to Sebastian's lifestyle as a flea to an eagle.  It was not hard for Xavier to make the find as he had many contacts in all walks of life being somewhat of a young rascal himself and the young Sebastian stood out like a sore thumb. In some respects Xavier was not unlike Sebastian - the Young Lion of Sonora.

Nevertheless, at his uncle's request, the cousin convinced Don Sebastian to return. It was not overly difficult to persuade the two, as Sebastian had awoken one morning to the realisation that he would be cut off from his family fortune and have to work at a normal employment to support his new family - he shuddered at the thought. A spark of the old man's devilment flashed before his children - then faded.

Arcelia, too already had doubts about their relationship lasting - it was the way that Sebastian had looked at her, and, just before Xavier had found them, Sebastian had refused to stay in her room. He left her each night to play the gambling tables in the hope of winning sufficient to make a more suitable lifestyle for him and his now reluctant wife-to-be.

Don Sebastian sat at the hacienda table and plonked his glass down. The amber contents swilled with the force. The old man looked old as he retold the story. He buried his face in his hands for a moment.

 

Victoria's skirts swished as she swept to her father's side. She did not lay blame; in fact she was uncertain of what the tragedy was - except that a young man and a young woman had made a foolish choice. It was in his younger years - before her mother even, how could this be such a burden on her father, she queried to herself.

This did not mean she approved of her father's actions. In Victoria's opinion marriage was meant for both partners to be true and faithful till they are wed in God's eyes - though the truth was that such was only a woman's hope. Manolito was a prime example of sowing wild oats. It was Victoria's turn to shudder at the thought of Perlita from Tucson entering her family as a lawful wife. It did not bear thinking about. Victoria turned to her father and tried not to think of such an outcome.

Dragging both hands down his tired face Don Sebastian muttered something behind his fingers. She did not catch what he said.

"Papa, you take on too much of this as a burden. Do not be so hard on yourself," she pleaded as she stroked his arm.

He continued. "It was a shameful act, a foolish, shameful act. Jue do not understand my dear," as he returned the patting to her hand. "On the return trip, and for the weeks that followed our return, Xavier stayed at the Rancho Montoya. Unknown to us he fell in love with Arcelia. She was a beautiful woman with a wonderful spirit - it was not hard to fall in love with her."

Victoria did not see this as a problem but waited patiently for her father to explain further.

"Arcelia's papa had her sent to a convent, to repent no doubt," Don Sebastian's voice faltered and gruffed with deep anger. He continued with the story. His children listened intently.

Arcelia's time at the convent was not a happy one. The work was hard and the hours long. Prayers were common place morning, noon and night and the confessions painful and full of remorse. The routine was harsh and self-denial was constant.

 

Arcelia had gone at her father's dictate and to hide the shame she had brought her family. Sebastian's father had financed the exile in order to keep the exploits of his son quiet. Sebastian had no idea of the difficult daily life of the young woman he thought he loved just months earlier - he was back to his normal routine.

Forgiven by his family for his foolish behaviour Sebastian did make an effort to follow his father's advice about such things. Not long after a marriage with a suitable woman was arranged and Sebastian became a husband to a woman he grew to love for all the right reasons. Two children blessed the union.

"Jue see my son," Don Sebastian said with more conviction. "Sometimes a father's words are wise, no?"

Manolito had remained standing next to the sideboard - there was something else he wanted to view but was captured by his father's tale. He raised his eyebrows at his father and gave a short, sideways tilt to with his head. It would do no good to for him to confirm his father's words - Don Sebastian had a very good memory and would manipulate them against him when he required it in the future.

"What happened to Arcelia and Xavier? They married of course," Victoria interrupted, a little wrapped up in the romance of the story. That the two married was recorded in the Bible.

 Don Sebastian continued.

At first Arcelia had refused to return Xavier's feelings because of the mistake that she had made with Sebastian. But Xavier had been gently persistent on the long trip back and also again when he visited her at the convent under the guise of protector. The nuns were not happy about the visits but as my papa blessed the convent with funds, the Mother Superior was inclined to look upon the visits as family concerns for the welfare of the young woman. The walks were taken with a nun as a chaperone and were always during the daytime in the convent gardens. Because Xavier would speak quietly with Arcelia they were able to discuss future possibilities - tentative though they were.

Manolito listened as he gently turned the pages of the family Bible -he was looking for something specific.

One day Arcelia was very upset and cried all during the visit. Xavier persuaded her to leave with him and within two hours they were married.

"Did they love each other?" Victoria asked hopefully.

"Well," her father replied slowly, "Xavier loved Arcelia from the time he met her, and I do believe that she came to love him too. We rarely met again after the convent, so it was hard for me to say. She went to live with Xavier in Mexico City. Apparently my Tio Paulo was not as averse to having a village girl as a daughter in law as jore Grandpapa was. Anyway," he excused, "Arcelia would have won him over when she gave him Montoya offspring."

He looked at Victoria and harped an old theme. She ignored his wishful look. Her children would come when God sent them.

Manolito had found the page he was looking for and studied it keenly. He tapped his lightly tapped his fingers on the sideboard as he counted months in his mind. He said nothing.

"Papa," Victoria softened and leant forward slightly. "What actually happened to Emilio?"

Don Sebastian dropped his head, he knew more than he was willing to say at this time, but he felt the need to answer the Emilio question as it had a bearing on Xavier's grave.

"Xavier's side of the family did not make good investments with their money. When Tio Paulo passed away, they made ends meet and were happy - I suppose." The old man hesitated.

"When jore Grandpapa died, they were left some money but had to return to the Montoya Rancho to claim it. That was the first time I had seen Arcelia in twelve years. Xavier I saw occasionally on my visits to Mexico City. We were never invited to their house, I believe they had to move from the family home to more modest
accommodation."

"What was it like, seeing her again?" Victoria queried. Mano huffed in the background. Victoria turned to him with some sharpness.

"I am curious," she snapped at her brother, having been caught up in the saga so far.

 

Don Sebastian seemed more at ease now that before. He answered his daughter truthfully.

"She was beautiful but worn around the edges, like a lace tablecloth that has seen better days. Her life had been harder than it should have been and compared to jore Mama she was not as well cared for. Hardships were evident in her clothing and her demeanour. She did not feel comfortable at the Rancho, and preferred the simple
life of a small village. I think she had regrets," he continued then tapered his voice.

Xavier's family of four were welcomed and treated like the Montoya's they were - Don Sebastian had insisted upon it. It was a guilt provoked action on his part. As for Victoria's mother she fell in love with Arcelia, as did everyone, and ignored the past. Saying to her maid, Tierra, Vaquero's wife, that but for the Grace of God it may have been her in Arcelia's shoes.

Victoria and Manolito's mother arranged for the dressmaker to come and create several dresses for Arcelia. Initially Arcelia declined; still having some pride not to accept charity, but ended up wearing the new clothes as a gift from a friend. The two wives grew close in the short time they were visiting.

 

"Papa," Victoria queried, "you said they were a family of four? Did Xavier and Arcelia have more children? I can vaguely remember playing with children when I was about seven or eight. Was that them?” she asked, searching thought her memories of childhood playmates.

Don Sebastian nodded, "Jue were very young, and Manolito was no more than a small child," he began but stopped for a moment as a memory flashed past his eyes. The boy was not dissimilar to Manolito when he grew to that age, he pictured him in his mind's eye bright and vibrant, a good rider and an agreeable personality. The girl too,
older but with the same fine features and soulful eyes as Victoria. It was not an unpleasant memory for Don Sebastian.

Manolito returned to the birth and death record belonging to Emilio and once again scanned through the transcripts. At the very bottom of the yellowed page were these words written:

 

‘Forever loved and forever remembered by your father.’

Mano recognised the writing immediately. It was not Xavier's.

Manolito spoke before Don Sebastian. "Twins," he said curtly. "A boy and a girl. Emilio and Juliana," Manolito continued as he held his hand lightly at the page of the record. Victoria did not understand why her brother's attitude was so sharp.

"What is wrong with you, Manolito?" she asked coming to her feet somewhat annoyed at his tone. She knew her brother sufficiently to realise that he was aggravated about something.  Don Sebastian held Manolito's gaze, which was surprisingly chilled.

The older man spoke. "Calma, niña," he persuaded softly. "Jore brother knows of the sins of the fathers." The two men still held the gaze. Manolito waited for his father.

"I do not know what you are talking about, Papa. Please explain," Victoria asked becoming a little frustrated with the secret they obviously shared.

Don Sebastian found his throat to be dry - he took another drink, but before he could disclose his knowledge Manolito interjected.

"It is a matter of math Victoria," Manolito continued. She remained still, with a puzzled look frowning her porcelain-like face.

"You see, hermana," he tapped the Bible once more. "The twins were born eight months after the marriage."

Victoria looked intently at Manolito.

"What... are you saying?" she asked hesitantly in a quiet voice as her face paled with a slow realisation. She reached for a chair without looking. Don Sebastian turned from the two; it was difficult to shed light on this whole topic without the deepest heart-felt regret.

Manolito sighed. "Well,” he continued with his summary. “Either Tia Arcelia had her children early - by one month, which is very possible, no? Or." his speech trailed as he pursed his lips and found the last sentence difficult to voice. "We had an older brother and sister."

Don Sebastian made a small groan, it came from deep within his soul and was as mournful as Victoria and Manolito had heard since the death of their own mother. Victoria slumped ungraciously into the chair, her father leaned heavily on the mantle over the fireplace. The room was silent for several moments. It was Don Sebastian who made the first sound. He had a need to finish the story to release the burden.

"One evening, close to the end of their stay I found Arcelia in the garden, alone. Never had the topic of the children been broached, but I had a feeling, an urge to know for sure if the children truly belonged to Xavier or." he hesitated as he drew a breath.

"She was embarrassed, of course. She was resolute that the children were born early and that the topic must never again be spoken of. I could not help myself. I pressed her for the answer that I wanted to hear - what I believed did not match what Arcelia was saying."

The old man clenched his teeth. "I offered her money, for the children's education and well-being, jue understand. She refused. She said it was charity and she would not concede that assistance was needed. Neither was it wanted. The inheritance from jore Grandpapa was sufficient for their needs." Don Sebastian slowed. "But I knew it would not last for too long."

"It was then that Xavier found us. He had overheard the conversation and was irate. We got into an argument. Arcelia begged us to be at peace with each other but years of hidden secrets and bad feeling came out in words and fists. Somehow a gun went off. It ricocheted from the pillars that used to be skirt the garden. It shocked us all to a standstill. Both Xavier and I knew that we had been fighting senselessly. We were ashamed of ourselves for allowing it to have developed to that state. We turned to leave when." he could not go on without turning away. A small tear escaped his eye.

Don Sebastian braced himself against the wall. "We heard a small cry, like an injured rabbit. We did not know the child was in the bushes. He had been playing hide and seek. He must have heard and seen everything. The bullet ricocheted and struck him in his chest and he died shortly after midnight," the old man breathed heavily and tried to keep his throat from quivering.

"Xavier was heart-broken." Don Sebastian continued quickly. He wanted this over.

"He rode a horse into the night and never returned. The next day searchers found him at the bottom of the cliff in Arroyo Rojo, his horse had slipped in the darkness and cast them both down."

A sharp stillness had returned to the room as the three Montoya's pondered the images in their heads.

Don Sebastian continued with difficulty.

"Arcelia was devastated and left that night, they buried both Xavier and Emilio in the town graveyard. She used all the Montoya money from the inheritance to purchase a cantina and hostel for her parents as a way of supporting the family - it was her way of paying them back for the shame she had caused."

Don Sebastian halted for a moment. "It was not her that had caused the shame, but me," he said with regret.

The older man bowed his head and scratched his fingers along his scalp. Manolito thought quietly for a minute.

"Papa," he asked quietly, "there is no grave for an Emilio Montoya in that cemetery." It was more of a question than a statement but Don Sebastian pursed his lips. He had moved from the man willing to share secrets, to his former self. Not all secrets from his life needed to be shared this evening. He pursed his lips and said nothing more.

 

 

**********

 

 

Pedro had his cousin and nephew carry Blue over to their hogar, a tiny dirt floor shack a stone's throw from the cantina.   Pedro had always thought the location a great blessing but never more than now, Madre de Dios, that boy was heavier than he looked.

 

Blue wondered where he was when he woke after being unceremoniously dropped onto a pallet of straw in the dimly lit building - he wasn’t sure if it was lamp light or the new dawn that he could see through his squinted eyes.

He did hear the giggly sounds of children in the background but his head swirled as he tried to focus on there whereabouts.

The 'tut tut' sound of a mature woman he heard from the dim corners of the room.

 

Pedro sat heavily into the chair by a fire place smoldering embers under a blackened pot. Small eyes were peeping at him from behind the throws of the chair and from under a table, Pedro seemed to ignore them as he wiped the sweat from his brow - he would think twice before carrying a Cannon home again!

Blue heard the swish of skirts and leant on one elbow to see the pretty face of a Mexican girl looking down intently upon him. Blue tried to smile to impress the young woman - the children in hiding laughed and giggled. The young woman scolded them, she liked the look of the blond-headed gringo.

Blue moved up to sitting position, though his head reeled. His smile suddenly disappeared as an uncontrollable heaving welled up in his stomach. Face much greener now, Blue tried all he could to hold down the night’s intake. The young woman looked concerned - the children giggled.

It came with such a force that Blue was caught by surprise. He was grateful that Pedro had placed a pail beside his pallet. Reaching for it Blue could hear the children laughing loudly - he must have been a comical site bent over the side of the pallet. His face reddened with embarrassment as the convulsions forced his head into the bucket. Suddenly the young Cannon was aware of the absolute silence in the house. The laughing children stood horrified,

"EEEWWWWHH!" they cried simultaneously and fled from the room

 

Watching sympathetically, Pedro shook his head, 'Madre de Dios, it was a good thing that Big John was not along on this trip. If he saw his son in such a condition --- ay-yi-yi --- being sick to the stomach would be the least of Blue's problems.'

 

Blue fumbled his way to the door. The sun had begun to rise, and though it was not yet fully visible behind the trees skirting the town it was evident the day was going to be a bright one. His head pounded and he silently cursed himself for getting into this situation. Pedro was right, his Pa would pitch a blue fit if he caught him in this condition. The young man headed for the horse trough to dip his head.

When he came up from the chilly water Blue wiped his face with his hands. As he shook them dry he felt the warmth of a towel as it was placed in his hands. Pedro's niece had brought it to him and stood looking into his pale face. She did not smile or giggle at his situation, but was intent on studying the blond gringo's eyes. They were a colour she rarely saw, if ever. A crystal blue, sharp and penetrating.

"Gracias," Blue whispered as he took the towel to dry his dripping hair.

The girl gave a quick smile. It was a pretty sight for a young man so early in the morning.

 

 

**********

 

 

Victoria had dwelt on the issue from the previous evening all night. It was only flitting sleep that she gained when her eyes closed and she was consistently awoken with dreams of crying children, mournful and lonely. Pictures of horses flying from cliffs and screams of husbands and wives. She slept very little that night.

The morning brought a sunlight through the window shutters that was bright, but chilled. Mrs Cannon arose and practiced her morning prayers. Afterward she looked longingly at the picture of her mother that stood in a silver frame on the bedside cabinet, and wondered what she would have said - or done, in this situation. It gave Victoria comfort to know that her mother was a caring person, especially in light of last night’s revelations.

Walking around the room she absent mindedly cast a glance through the window. It faced toward the Hacienda graveyard. There she spotted Manolito kneeling at his mother’s grave, hat in hand and head bowed. The contrast of brightly coloured decorations and flowers presented the previous evening served to make his outline more distinct as he was dressed in black. A movement from the side of the enclosure caught her eye, it was Manolito's horse, Macadoo. He was preparing to leave, but she did not know where. However, because of his sharp dress Victoria knew it was somewhere important.

 

Manolito rode in silence - but in his mind voices in turmoil screamed. Several issues had puzzled him that was spoken of by his father during the previous evening. The first one was why there was was no grave for the body of the child Emilio, and secondly why did the rumour persist that Xavier's body was burned?

It was difficult to answer these questions - but Manolito hoped that somewhere in the mists of time someone would enlighten him. He headed the golden horse in the direction of the old churchyard, perhaps the ancient Padre could shed some light on the matter.

As for the hint that his Papa was the true father of Arcelia's children - Mano was caught in two minds.

True, his father had been of the same wayward character, in his younger years, hot blooded and independent, and that was one of the reasons Manolito used in his own defense when assailed by his Papa's demands to 'settle down and have a family'. Even so, in light of Arcelia's life-long denial, Manolito was not totally convinced that the twins were actually his brother and sister.

Macadoo plodded on, the rhythmic beat of his hooves on the dry and dusty road was a comfort to Manolito. The young caballero was deep in thought,

"I wonder what happened to Juliana?"

 

**********

 

Blue toweled his hair and looked at the toes of his boots. He could feel his cheeks and ears begin to turn hot as he glanced up at the lovely senorita. "Uh, excuse me Ma'am. I'm sorry about, well, being sick in your hacienda."  His head felt like it might split down the middle and his mouth was dry as the dust in the street. 'How does Uncle Buck keep this up at his age?' He shifted the wet towel from hand to hand, not wanting to hand it back to the girl.

She continued to smile at him, taking the towel from his hands and brushing his fingers lightly with her own.  In spite of the heat from the morning sun, Blue shivered slightly as her fingers stayed just a touch too long on his. His mouth flew open in surprise and his eyes widened. She spoke, a long stream of rapid Spanish. 'Wish I'd paid more attention to Manolito's Spanish lessons. Maybe not, more'n likely he'd teach me the wrong words anyway.'

The girl was still smiling at him fetchingly.  Blue swallowed hard, trying to think past his aching head and queasy stomach. He looked behind him. No Pedro.For once in his life, no Pa or Buck, either.  He chewed the inside of his lip, trying hard to clear his head.  "Senorita? Su nombre? My name is, I mean, mi nombre es Blue."

She laughed then, a clear sound that would have been delightful if his head weren't ready to fall off and roll around the ground.  Instead it cut through his brain like an ice pick.  "Nombre es Blue? Azul?"

He sighed deeply and rubbed his forehead. "Yeah, my name's Blue.  It's a long story and it's better'n Rover." He was about to try his limited Spanish again when movement beyond the girl caught his attention. His eyes widened, he grabbed his hat and ran for the hogar. Skidding to a stop in the dirt, he ran back.


"Muchas gracias, Senorita. Uh, mi nombre NO es Blue.” He looked frantically beyond her down the road. His voice rose sharply. "Mi nombre NO es Blue.  Not Blue, you got that?  Mi nombre is Manolito.  Mano, si?" He nodded wildly.  "Mano, mi nombre Mano."

"Si, muchacho, Mano, Mano." The girl was plainly confused but willing to go along with the loco gringo.

Stumbling, falling, regaining his feet, Blue ran for the hacienda. 

Stalking up the slight hill toward Pedro's family hogar was the imposing figure of John Cannon.

 

Blue darted from building to building as he tried to skirt behind his father. Running down hill was faster than his father walking up hill but even so, Blue's head felt as if it would burst with all the jarring movements. Blue was trying to make it back to the stable before his whereabouts was known and make out that his night had
been spent in the hayloft above old Soapy. He could only imagine how irate his father would be if he found out the truth.

Sure that his father had passed the rickety shanty that he hid behind Blue made a sneaky dive for the livery stables. As he moved forward his boot caught on a loose board and he crashed to the ground.

"Blue?" questioned John Cannon loudly from the middle of the street. He had heard the noise and turned to investigate. Seeing his son sprawled out in the dust he moved closer leading his horse behind him.

Blue had to think fast. "Oh, hi Pa," I heard you were in town and wondered where you were." In reality, he had no idea what his father was doing here, thinking him safely back at the ranch with Uncle Buck.

"What are you doing on the ground boy?" he barked not so angrily and helped the boy to his feet. Blue's hat fell from his face and he looked pale in the new morning light.

"Awww I just tripped on that old piece of board, afore I could call out to ya!" he said sheepishly.

John Cannon put his hand on his son's head and drew back the blond hair to look more fully into his face. It felt like an anvil had been dropped behind Blue's eyes.

"You alright boy?" he asked in his deep raspy voice. He was genuinely concerned. The boy didn’t look well at all.

"Oh sure," Blue replied. "Just didn’t get much sleep last night with all the fireworks going off  's all. What you doing here?" the youngster added quickly changing the subject.

 

"Never mind what I'm doing here, you look like the devil and you smell like the back of a saloon." Blue winced as his father's eyes narrowed, he recognized the look. It was the one he'd been trying hard to avoid. "Did you spend last night chasing around with Manolito?"

Blue squared his shoulders, putting on his best innocent look. "Mano? No Pa, I haven't seen Mano since early last night, really." He smiled weakly. "You know Mano, probably not up yet." He retrieved his hat, the sun wasn't helping the blinding headache pounding at the back of his eyes. "I thought you were staying at the ranch?"

Big John eyed him, clearly suspicious, then decided to drop the matter. "Sam convinced me things would run without me for a few days, and Victoria was disappointed when I didn't come. And I might discuss some business with Don Sebastian."

"Okay, uh, that's nice, Pa, uh, you want to get some breakfast or something?" Blue attempted to steer his father down the street. Gazing over Big John's shoulder and up the hill toward Pedro's family home, he could clearly see the slight figure of the young senorita.  Worse, she was waving to him and calling. Not his name. Mano's.

Too late. Big John turned as the young lady arrived, speaking a rapid stream of espanol. Even Blue could translate clearly enough to understand she was addressing him warmly as `Mano'.

John Cannon's voice in full throated roar could cover the compound at High Chaparral. Somewhere in the middle of his current fit Blue noticed an appreciative crowd forming. Blue's head continued to ache, he noticed it seemed to pound in time with his fathers words. `I swear if I live through this I ain't never drinking again, it ain't worth it.'  Worn out at last, John stalked off down the street, leaving his son to collapse on the wooden porch of the livery stable.

Aching head in his hands, he felt a light touch on his arm. "Mano?" He looked up into the eyes of the lovely young senorita.

He sighed and shook his head. "Blue." He rubbed his aching head.

She tilted her head, confused. "Azul?"

He smiled slightly, rubbed his eyes, then looked at her tiredly. His head ached, he was thirsty enough to drink a barrel of water, and he still could use that bucket in her hacienda. But she was awful pretty. Too bad she didn't understand a word he was saying. "Yeah. Blue.  It's like this, I was named after a dog."

 

For a young man, even the worst morning can seem better when a young woman is gazing happily into your eyes.  Blue quickly exhausted his limited Spanish, but the lovely Senorita didn't seem to mind.  She scooted closer to him on the porch of the livery stable, touched him lightly on the sleeve, spoke a long and lively stream of Espanol.  The words were graceful, quick, and he understood none of it, except the occasional "Mano".  He smiled and covered her hand with his own.  If she wanted to call him Mano, he could be Mano for the day.  He'd been called worse things in his life. He stood, pulling her upright with him, and walked to the corral. Her hand felt small and warm in his.

Soapy trotted over, looking for a treat. "Sorry boy, I ain't got a thing for you." He stroked the soft nose and looked down into the eyes of the young girl. "This is my horse." She laughed, petting the horse happily. She moved closer to Blue, placing her hand on his cheek. He looked into her soft, brown eyes, touched her hair, and lowered his head to her mouth.

"BLUE!" John's voice carried down the street to the corral. Blue jumped and turned to see his father storming back down the street directly toward him. 'It never fails.  If I ever want to find Pa, all I need to do is find a pretty girl.

 

"Saddle up, boy. I'm going to Don Sebastian's and you're going with me."

 

**********

Some time later Macadoo slowed to a stop at the bottom of the old church steps. Manolito could see the stone statue of the Virgin Mary suspended above the heavy, time-worn doors. She was holding the Christ child in her arms and the flow of her mason gown and the tenderness of the mother's look at The Child reminded him somewhat of his own mother - and he wondered if the two had met in Heaven yet.

Manolito's faced flushed with embarrassment as he imagined his mother recounted to the Holy Mary of her son's exploits. It would be a no good tale to tell, he muttered as his eyes averted from the statue's forgiving gaze. Mano was frustrated. He hadn't come to the church for his own benefit, but to seek information from many years ago. Padre Milagros was residing here in those days, though older in years, Mano figured the Priest would be able to enlighten him of the situation.

The Montoya hombre entered the church. Deep was the silence that prevailed within the columned building. Mano had always experienced it to be so. It was not a comfortable position for him, but as he moved forward and stepped upon the flagstones of the centre aisle he felt years of considerable training on behalf of his mother come flooding back. Instinctively he half-knelt and crossed himself as she had taught him to do as a child.

Feeling the forlorn gaze of the statues at the front of the church, eyeing him with righteous curiosity, Mano moved to the side - partly hiding the statues with the stone columns that rose to the ceiling. There was a flurry of movement as the drapes of the confessional box opened and an old woman exited. Mano knew that he had chosen the wrong time to make his enquiries, but as there were no other parishioners waiting in the pews, Mano took the opportunity to slip into the darkened box, where he knew the Padre would be. The need to find answers to his questions was important and he could not wait another hour until 'Confessions' were over.

The dark-robed figure of the Padre sat seemingly motionless behind the grid. The only sound that Manolito could hear was the timely flipping of Rosary beads as the Padre systematically worked through them until Mano took his place on the seat in the near dark confines.

Mano wasn’t sure how to start and instantly regretted not waiting until he could see the old man's eyes. He wasn’t even sure that the old priest would know who he was – after all, it had been a long time since he had made a confession, and he had no intention of doing it now. He'd just come for information.

"Forgive me Padre, I have come for information," he began but hesitated. It sounded like the beginning of a confession. Mano winced at himself.

A soft, grey voice floated through from the other side of the gird.

"No, no my son," he whispered kindly. "You should begin... `Forgive me Father, for I have sinned,' the old man corrected.

Manolito squirmed on the wooden seat that suddenly seemed to be fashioned from extremely hard wood. He knew he needed to speak plainly but found his voice wedged in his throat and his hands clenched and sweaty.

"No, Padre, you do not understand." Mano began again. "I am sorry to intrude during confessions but I have many questions that need answering."

"Si my son," the shadow spoke. "God will answer all your questions, but first you must make your confession."

Mano became a little agitated and wondered if he should leave the confessional and wait until the priest was available later. However the weight of his unanswered questions plagued him and he felt pressed for time. Once more he tried to enlighten the priest on why he was present in the church this morning.

More harried than his demeanour usually allowed, Montoya began again.

"Padre," Mano spoke with control. The priest leant closer to the grid believing this time a confession would come.

"Padre, I am Manolito Montoya..." Mano continued.

For a fraction of a moment Manolito thought he saw the Padre Milagros start with surprise, but if he did, it was quickly covered with a gruff grumble in the form of a cough rumbled from the Padre's side of the box.

"You do not need to tell me your name, my son. God knows who you are," clarified the robed man.

"But Padre," Mano whispered through his teeth, "I have not come to ask questions of God, just of you."

There was a heavy pause, Manolito waited. It seemed like a long pause, in which time Mano became suddenly aware of the sounds and smells of the old building and the people in it. There were others present in the Church. Their hushed whisperings of honest prayer wafted softly like invisible mist through the ornate fretwork at the top of the confessional box. The shuffling of poor but honourable feet and the burning of incense and candles came as reminders to him of another time and age.

The padre spoke. "I am God's servant, Manolito," he replied calling the young man by name. His familiar voice sounded as gentle as a light breeze and Manolito felt his agitation slowly wash away.

"God will answer your questions in His own good time," he continued. "But for now, is it not time to make reconciliation?"

Manolito Montoya sat silently enveloped in the dark confines. The padre waited patiently. Mano was more surprised than anyone could have been when he carefully placed his black-banded hat on the seat and slipped to the padded floor in front of the grid. He gathered his thoughts. Perhaps he had chosen this time to speak to the priest with an unconscious desire to make confession.

The younger man rested his elbows lightly on the small bench that ran along the wooden boards separating the priest from the penitent. He slowly bowed his head and clasped his hands in the attitude of prayer and began.

“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been," he hesitated as he tried to calculate the last time he was in this humble position. Then continued, "oh . . . such a long time since my last confession."

 

By the time Manolito left the presence of Padre Milagros the morning had crept by. His rather lengthy confession had taken some consideration on the part of the old priest and a suitable penance was deemed necessary to secure full forgiveness. After dealing with his own misdoing, Mano talked face to face with the priest about his father's misdeeds.

"Heredaste lo inteligente de tu papa!"** was all the priest could utter, and refused to divulge anything from Arcelia or Don Sebastian's confessions. Mano knew the priest held the needed knowledge but he came away non-the wiser about solving his father's intriguing tale of love, deceit and death.

For a moment he sat on the steps of the Church exasperated and frustrated. The inferred parentage of Emilio and Juliana by Don Sebastian the previous night seemed to be going nowhere fast. Wondering where his inquiries would take him next, Mano gazed down the street. To his surprise he saw John Cannon mounted on his familiar bay - followed closely by his son on Soapy.

 

 

**********



 

Her father, having made weak excuses about overseeing stock left Victoria to breakfast alone. Sitting alone in the dining room Victoria dwelt upon the previous evening's events and felt as lonely as she had ever been. Not even her father's parting kiss and request for her not to worry was sufficient to quell her distress at the
revelations from her family's history. She wished John was here she needed him to talk to.

After moving her food around the plate for the umpteenth time Victoria decided that today would be a good day to visit a small village some miles from the hacienda. She ate nothing more.

By the time she had dressed the servants of Don Sebastian had the carriage waiting for her. Her father was not here to dissuade her -nor her brother, so there was no need to make excuses about going to town to purchase some items. That would have been her excuse if need be.

Her blue velvet travelling dress swished elegantly down the stairs of the huge family home. Fixing her hat securely and determinedly on her head in the hallway mirror Victoria felt triumphant at making her decision to visit the Isidro village, and was determined to uncover the truth of last night's confession. She was glad her father and brother were out of the picture today. She felt relief that she did not have to argue her cause to anyone - not even her husband.

Feeling confident, she swung through the heavy doors of the house and out into the courtyard where the open carriage waited. The black vehicle was complemented by the pair of dark greys harnessed and ready to move. They twitched their heads, snorted and chomped waiting for instructions.

The driver, Alberto, was a horsemaster of the very best kind and waited with dark sombrero in hand on the carriage seat. His other hand contained all the harness reins, laid perfectly flat between his fingers. Even in the quick glance and approving nod that Senora Cannon gave him she could see how confident he was with his steeds.

Once settled in the carriage, helped in by one of the house servants, Victoria pondered the day ahead. Alberto manoeuvred the horses slowly toward the great entrance. That they were slowing to a stop when there did not concern her. She was pleased that Alberto was the horsemaster for this trip.

Alberto was obedient, not a fool, but respectful of the Montoya family. He was a loyal servant and as such Victoria knew her day would be less stressful with no need to justify her cause to anyone - that was until Vaquero swung up into the driver’s seat and took his place along side Alberto. The two nodded to each other with mutual respect.

Victoria, from her position in the carriage was a little startled, and knew if Vaquero was to attend her this day then she may not have the freedom to accomplish the task she so desired.

"Vaquero," she queried with a slight waver of uncertainty in her voice. She hoped he had not heard it. "You do not need to travel with me today." Then added, "You surely must have things you wish to do with your own family during our visit, no?"

Vaquero glanced quickly at her.

"No," he replied matter of factly with a short shake of his head and touched Alberto's arm to proceed.

"Wait," Victoria squeaked unintentionally, then realising her voice was edgy softened once more.

"Vaquero," she chided innocently. "Your daughter has waited a long time between visits. Surely you must wish to spend time with her and your grandchildren?"

It would do no good to have Vaquero along. He, like her father, brother and husband would surely not approve of her destination. Not that it really mattered, (though secretly it did to her as Vaquero was considered one of the family), but she knew he would try to dissuade her from finding the answers to her questions in this little village.

Alberto had gently pulled the horses to a stop but kept his eyes straight forward. It was not any of his business to interfere with the Patron's family, only Vaquero had the presence, authority and sheer guts to do that. Even then everyone knew that Vaquero picked his moments. Alberto was please to witness this one first hand, prior to this it had only been hearsay for him. Furthermore, he secretly admired how the big man was able to diffuse and dispense with the situation in a manner that was succinct and final, without antagonising the Senora.

"Senora," Vaquero began softly, turning in his seat and reaching for the rifle placed under it. He faced Victoria.

"These times are troubled. The country is full of vagabonds and bandits. It is not worth your life, or mine to your husband or your father, to let you travel in such conditions without a guard."

Vaquero nodded to Alberto as he turned to face forward - it was a sign that the conversation was over. The driver obeyed the silent instruction and the horses eagerly resumed their journey jerking harness and clinking brass fittings as the carriage rocked forward.

Alberto knew that Donna Victoria had wanted to reply and order Vaquero to stay home, but she had hesitated, and lost. The big Mexican/Apache settled into the seat next to him, rifle in hand in case of an unexpected interruption to their journey. Secretly Alberto admired Vaquero, the man who had become a legend in his own right amongst the servants and peons of the Rancho Montoya.

Victoria sulked a little as the carriage rolled down the dusty road. She knew it was impossible to argue with Vaquero on this matter and concluded that she would wait till the crossroads between town and Las Claritas before putting her foot down.

 

"Turn here please Alberto," Victoria directed to the driver. Alberto was caught a little by surprise.

Vaquero turned to Mrs Cannon with a perplexed expression. "You do not wish to go to town?" he asked.

"I was never going to town today," Victoria replied, knowing that now was the time she needed to stand firm. "I am going to Las Claritas today."

"Las Claritas?" Vaquero echoed. By this time the open carriage had pulled to a halt at the crossroads. "But Senora, Las Claritas is nearly 10 miles away and we have no outriders to accompany us." Vaquero argued.

"Las Claritas," Victoria repeated firmly. "Can the horses not make Las Claritas today, Alberto?" she cunningly queried knowing that Alberto did not have the influence over her that Vaquero did. She knew he would confirm that it was not a difficult task.

Alberto could not help himself. He looked quickly at Vaquero who, with one eyebrow cocked upwards and the other in a threatening tone, almost dared the driver not to speak. Suddenly Alberto felt squashed between a rock and a hard place. It was not a comfortable place to be, but he had to answer – after all she was Don Sebastian's daughter.

"Umm," he hesitated then spoke slowly. "Si senora, the horses can travel."

Victoria brightened. "Then Las Claritas it is." It was a final tone. She had made her point and looked down to animatedly straighten her dress and make herself more comfortable for the trip. She refused eye contact with Vaquero. The two men hesitated.

"Drive on, Alberto." Victoria commanded as she placed her hands in her lap. The two men glanced at each other. Alberto winced a little as he turned back to the horses and clucked them on down the Las Claritas road.

Vaquero shook his head slightly. He knew her tone from other incidents, she was not going to be moved on this easily, despite his reservations for her safety.

 

**********

 


Blue, John and Manolito had been on the road for about half an hour. They were several miles from the crossroads but could see the dust of a carriage far ahead of them - at least they assumed it was a carriage. It was quite a distance off and ducking behind the trees that lined the road to the Montoya Hacienda. It was black in colour and rolled like a carriage and was pulled by two greys. Manolito recognised the package and, though they could not see the passengers or drivers, concluded it was his father's.

Behind the three who waited quietly on the knoll came a distant clatter of horse hooves. A swirl of dust trailing behind a rider on a bay horse rose into the sky. Loud yips and yahoos were heard as the men turned their attention from the road ahead to the road behind.

"Pedro!" called Blue with a grin. The others nodded in affirmation. It did not take long for the wiry Mexican to catch up to his companions. He was dusty from the ride and his horse was sweated and jumpy when he pulled to a stop.

"I thought jue had left me behind?" Pedro said with a wide-eyed grin.

"So did we, compadre." Mano answered with a smile and turned his attention back to the carriage.

The obvious fork in the crossroads bore record of the direction the carriage was travelling.

Manolito frowned. "Papa is not coming to town today!" he muttered.

John cursed. He had hoped for a meeting today with Don Sebastian.

"There are no outriders," Mano put in. "I dare say he will be home by dark."

John asked the young Montoya what was down that road.

Mano thought for a moment, but Pedro pushed his way forward and craned his neck to see what they were all looking at.

"Oh! Ees just a few poor villages, some small ranchos and then Las Claritas," he interjected without invitation. Mano felt a little uneasy. He could ride and catch the carriage in time, if, as he suspected it was going to Las Claritas, but then he would have to spend the whole day with his father. It was not a good prospect when
placed in the better company of the Cannons.

John grumped.

Blue, wanting to break the silence between him and his father, suggested that perhaps it would be more prudent to visit with Victoria before talking business with Don Sebastian. The boy had a point.

John nodded. It would certainly stand him in good stead with his wife. Even so, he was still annoyed about this unplanned change to his schedule even though he knew it was unreasonable to expect people to be where he wanted them to be all the time.

 

 

**********

 

Manolito entered the grand entrance of his family home with his hallmark stride, outpacing the others by several minutes.  Of course, he dismounted almost before the horse had come to a halt and threw his reins to the groom at the same time.

He called loudly but pleasantly to Felix to bring a little refreshment while a proper comida*** was prepared.  Much as he protested to his father that he never wanted the Rancho and needed nothing but a simple life, free of responsibilities, there was something to be said for being spoiled. The bonus, that his father was not at home, made him even more relaxed than usual.  Unlike the compound at the High Chaparral, Hacienda Montoya was so well guarded that he never had to worry about safety within the house.    He could almost taste the wine his father kept in his study.

 Don Sebastian reached his hand to the door just as Mano flung it open and father and son found themselves nose to nose.

As each stepped back the sound of Big John's voice rang out in fractured Spanish trying to ask Felix where Senora Cannon had gone.    Mano suddenly had a sinking feeling.  He had been in such a hurry to avoid his father that he hadn't taken the time to make sure who it was that occupied the Montoya carriage.  Now he realized how foolish that had been.  No.  The sinking feeling became worse.  There had been no outriders with the party and his sister, he knew, would not be headed to town as she had apparently told the household. No!  Victoria was on her way to Las Claritas.

 

Seeing his son's sudden worried look Don Sebastian started again.  He had been surprised enough to see his son again, and dressed properly for a change but, whether or not he would have found that pleasant, there was something wrong. He sighed, thanking the little gods+ that the Day of the Dead would be over that evening...

 

"Manolito, are you looking for me? Or is there something in my study that you hoped to steal?"

Manolo attempted to push past his father. The elder Montoya continued to block the doorway, tilting his head at his son. Manolito crossed his arms, a half smile on his face. "Papa, while I am certain there are many things worth stealing in your study, I regret I will have to leave that pleasure for another day. Have you seen Victoria?"

Don Sebastian stepped forward into the hallway, turning to close and lock the door to his study with elaborate care. "Victoria? Of course. I saw her before breakfast this morning. She was well. I am well. The vacas in the herd are well.  What does any of this have to do with my study?"  Felix appeared with a tray holding a bottle of good Montoya wine and glasses, his Patron waved him away with an irritated scowl.

The younger Montoya deftly relieved the house servant of his burden and poured the wine. "Ah. And have you also seen your best carriage?" He drank from his glass and smiled. "This is an excellent vintage, Papa. It has been a good year for the vines, si?"

Retrieving the bottle, Don Sebastian regarded his son with a sour expression. "It has been a bad year for the sons also. What is this talk about carriages?"

Manolito drained his glass and smiled at his father. "Well Papa, Victoria seems to be missing." He gestured behind him, toward the sound of voices. "John Cannon
and I saw what looked very much like your best carriage headed along the road to Las Claritas."

 

Don Sebastian’s eyebrows raised and his mouth dropped open in surprise. “What? You are lying.”  He gripped the wine bottle tighter as his son reached for it.

 

Manolo pried the wine from his father’s hand and refreshed his glass, shook his head. “Papa, why would I lie about such a thing? Ciertamente, we saw your best carriage on the road to Las Claritas.” He drank, rolled the wine in his mouth and swallowed, frowning as he looked at his father. The older man’s skin was turning a dark shade of purple. “Papa, are you feeling well?”

 

The Haciendado’s lips were pressed tightly together and took a moment before speaking. “Am I well? Am I well? Do not stand before me asking if I am well, Manolito. Do not stand before me drinking my wine.” He put a hand on the younger man’s shoulder and spun him toward the front door, where the sound of Cannon’s voice could still be heard. “Instead, por favor, retrieve your sister. The road from Hacienda Montoya to the village of Las Claritas is the most treacherous in all of Sonora.”

 

 

**********

 


The road to Las Claritas was rough. Alberto flicked the reins, nervously wiping sweat from his forehead, and steered the team around a particularly difficult patch of road.  Victoria gripped the sides of the carriage to steady herself as the wheels bounced over deep ruts. She bit her lip and looked up at the overhanging rock cliffs, then at Vaquero. He held the rifle at ready, alert, studying the road ahead, behind, and above them. He frowned and shook his head. “Senora Cannon, we should turn back. This road is not safe”

Victoria pressed her lips together and shook her head, then spoke forcefully. “You are trying to frighten me.” She braced herself as Alberto pulled the team to a halt, resting and studying the road ahead. “Why should I be afraid? I traveled this road many times when I lived at my father’s house.”

Vaquero exchanged a glance with the driver, who shook his head and shrugged helplessly. Vaquero tried again. “It is my duty to tell you when you are wrong, Senora. This area has changed since you lived at the Patron’s hacienda.”

The air of the desert is dry; at night cold and dry, by day hot and dry. Dry air carries sound far and clear. The sound of a rifle being cocked sounded explosively near to Victoria, the harsh grating of metal against metal unmistakable. She spun on the carriage seat, looking frantically for the source of the sound. A voice carried down to her from the overhanging rock face. “Perhaps you should be afraid, Dona Victoria Montoya de Cannon.” A slight figure aimed a rifle directly at her. Victoria felt movement behind her as Vaquero swung his gun into position; the rifle on the cliff instantly shifted. “Hombre, I can shoot either of you and it makes little difference to me. May I make a suggestion? Your health will be greatly improved if you relieve your arms of the great weight they now carry.”

Victoria stared at the figure in astonishment as Vaquero dropped the gun. The bright desert sun faced her and she could not make out features, but there could be little doubt. Although the person facing them was dressed as a vaquero, the clear voice ringing down from the rock cliff was a woman’s.  A woman who knew Dona Victoria Montoya de Cannon by sight.

She was not old, perhaps in her twenties - so Vaquero considered. Beautiful though, with her long black hair tied back in a knotted pony-tail behind her back. Her expression of determination was evident from his position upon the driver's seat, so he felt that under the circumstances he would not press the issue of respecting
her elders. The woman bandit trained her sights in the direction of the passenger - Vaquero dare not move. Her black hat, though dusty was wide enough to shade her eyes from the blazing sun.

Vaquero could also see that Senora Cannon could not visualise the face, as the sun was at the back of the bandit, facing into Mrs Cannon's eyes. A quick glance in the passenger's direction showed him that his charge had been startled by the intrusion into their journey. She shifted nervously in her seat and shot a fidgety glance
and worried look in Vaquero's direction. It was all he could do not to say "You wouldn't listen would you Dona Victoria!" but he didn't.

"Who are you?" Victoria asked, careful not to add venom to the question at this stage. "We have no money if that is what you want."

Alberto slowly leaned forward. There was a pistola under his seat. If he could just quietly bring it out...

"No, no, no," came the bandit’s voice again, full of sarcasm, and her rifle barrel moved him smoothly into view. Alberto felt Vaquero's hand on his shoulder. It was a silent warning not to try anything at this stage.

Another rifle showed from behind a rock to the front of the carriage, the partial tip of a sombrero revealed its owner hidden securely behind its safety. Vaquero judged that it would be too difficult to save Senora Cannon from a close range shot from either gun as he was perched up in the seat.

The glint of a third gun flashed, it was further away, but still within rifle shot. Alberto nodded in the direction on the opposite side of the road and Vaquero's eyes followed. Now there were at least three guns he knew of.

He had wished now that he had insisted on turning back when they watered the horses at the last village, and silently cursed that they were only two miles from Las Claritas. The Cannon ranch hand knew there was no known law in Las Claritas but within the relative safety of the town it would have been more difficult to have
murdered the travellers.

"Well, well, well," the young bandita smirked as she strolled around to the other side of the carriage, looking up at the captives. Victoria could now see her young age - and was shocked.

"Why are you doing this!" Mrs Cannon gasped with surprise when she saw how young the woman was. The expression on the road agent’s face changed - it was not smug but purely sarcastic. Bending slowly to pick up the pistol that Vaquero had relinquished, without taking her eyes off of the men in the carriage, the woman tucked the gun into the top of the brown belt she had tied around her slim waist and jutted a chin in Victoria's direction.

"Jue have much to offer Senora Cannon. Nice horses, good carriage," she slowed as she eyed the driving dress Victoria chose for that day and continued, "nice clothes. Ha! Jue are a good find for a little band such as mine. We shall sell jore things and make a tidy profit, no?" she asked with disdain.

"Perhaps jue will even bring a fine ransom joreself!" smirked the woman jiggling the pistol in Victoria's direction.
 
"Caballos!" the young woman called to the others and the gun from behind the rock disappeared. A few moments later a young man dressed in peon clothes rode up behind the carriage. He carried an old rifle and led a sorry looking bay horse. He rode a mule himself. He couldn't have been more than sixteen years old. Hardly an ardent highwayman thought Vaquero, who wondered if the rifle actually worked. He glanced at Alberto, clearly the other man thought the same.

The leader sprang into the carriage with Victoria. Mrs Cannon moved quickly to the other corner of the seat. The boy tied the horse to the carriage and then, under his sister's direction picked up the gun that Alberto had hidden under the seat. Alberto was helpless, the bandita's gun was trained on him and there was nothing he could do to relieve the situation.

Victoria's anger was rising. The situation was beginning to irritate her, not to mention get in the way of her purpose for visiting Las Claritas in the first place.

"Where are we going?" Victoria asked agitated at the inconvenience.

"We go to see what my father wishes to do with your bodies," the young woman threatened glibly. Victoria looked at her, unable to make out if she was being serious or not.

Vaquero was beginning to doubt the intent of the bandits but could not be sure that in the hands of the young and inexperienced, the rifles and pistol would not go off accidentally. He instructed Alberto to move off. The third rider came into view - another child.

"What are today's youth coming to?" he whispered quietly to Alberto, who clucked the horses while shaking his head in disbelief. 

"And just who is your father?" Victoria huffed.

The young woman glared at the flash of Mrs Cannon and waited a few moments to answer.

"Rodenso Isidro." she replied with a snarl. "He owns Las Claritas - and now he owns jue too!" A smug smile returned and she sat back to enjoy the ride in a lavish carriage.

Victoria smiled to herself - he was just the man she wanted to see.

 

**********

 

 

 

Blue Cannon squinted into the noon sun, quickly shading his eyes from the glare. His head pounded in time with each hoof-beat of his horse. He took a cautious sip from his canteen, testing his stomach. Better, but not by much. He closed his eyes wearily, shaking himself upright as he began to nod forward. Never again. I swear I ain’t never, don’t matter what Uncle Buck drinks. Blue Boy is taking the pledge. He glanced to his right as Manolito urged his horse forward impatiently and spoke to the rider at his side. “Papa, I am going alone. Too many wolves scare the sheep.”

 

Don Sebastian answered in irritation, “Manolo, do not be foolish. Perhaps on this day you are a sheep, not a wolf.”

 

The younger Montoya smiled wickedly at his father. “Si, Papa. But at the end of the day, I will be a live sheep. I would not place any bets on the wolves.” He whipped the reins quickly on either side of his mount, springing rapidly forward between Big John and Pedro. “Adios, Juano!” he sang out, and was gone in a cloud of dust.

 

John Cannon reined his horse in surprise, standing in the stirrups, yelling “Mano!” He settled and twisted, looking back at the two men. “What was that all about?”

 

Montoya’s face was dark as he answered, “My son is an irresponsible scoundrel.”

 

Blue swiped a hand across his face and shrugged. “He’s going after Victoria alone, Pa. Said something about making a good sheep.”

 

Big John’s mouth sagged open, then snapped shut as he roared, “Sheep? Sheep?” He swung forward in the saddle and spurred his horse forward. “Haw!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* First day is "Dia de los Angelitos" honoring and remembering the deceased children...toys and other childhood items are left on the grave and the deceased are expected to return to their home where an alter has been prepared in similar fashion...Often the path to the home is scattered with flowers/petals so I imagine them walking slowly so they won't outpace the children.

 

** When the son is just like the father.

*** Comida = Food= Dinner but that is the main meal eaten in the middle of the day and followed by siesta.  The supper would be a little lighter, though a well-to-do family would have a table with much more diversity and beautifully presented.  Evening meals,  pre-TV, lasted from 9-1ish.

 

+ The earlier inhabitants of Mexico had a panoply of minor "gods" for each aspect of life..."little gods of the corn fields" etc. as did may others of course.  After the assimilation into the Catholic Faith the idea of little gods and Saints merged, with Saints' statues paying an even larger part of daily life. If the gods/saints hadn't made good on their promise...  bad crop etc... they were chucked into the field (probably to see for themselves).  Doubt that DSM would have really thought of these, more like my mother's "Oh, ye gods and little fishes!!" when exasperated.