Jan’s response to the Challenge




The Lion’s Paw






Like the king of a substantial castle surveying the peasants, Don Sebastian Montoya descended the simple staircase.  Resplendent in a heavily-embroidered lavender suit, the Lion of Sonora held fast to his cane, tapping it with annoyance when he stopped at the landing.  With disgust, he glared at his son.  “Manolito, you are dirty.”


The dark-haired young man crossed a muddy boot over his knee and began ponderously unbuckling his spur.  Grabbing the caked rowel, he pulled the spur from his boot and the boot from his foot. “Papá, sí.  I am.  And your ability to state the obvious overwhelms me as always,” he responded wearily.


“Oh-ho and you are insolent as always.” Don Sebastian continued down the stairs.   As Mano released the other spur and shucked his boot, the tip of his father’s cane prodded his knee.  Mi hijo, I did not raise you to be disrespectful nor did I raise you to be dirty.  Yet you are both of these things, to my continuing shame.”


Sí, Papá.”  He brushed away the cane and slid from his socks. Sighing, he wiggled his long toes before heaving his tired feet onto the hassock.


“And why is that, do you suppose?”


Shaking his head, Mano watched as his father methodically cleaned the cane by grinding it into a discarded sock; satisfied, Don Sebastian sat stiffly, facing the fireplace.  He addressed the older man’s profile. “Padre mio, have you noticed it is raining?”


“¡Ay, caramba! Of course I have noticed, but I fail to see how your rain is of concern to me.”


Put your chin any higher in the air, old lion, you will tip over backwards.  Then you will complain about the poor quality of the chair.  Papá, here at the Chaparral, I work.  Today, the axle on the chuckwagon came loose, the wheel of the chuckwagon broke.  I have been working… yes, working, Papá … to repair John Cannon’s wagon,” he explained hotly, the words squeezed through tight lips.  Perdoname, but it is difficult to do this without becoming muddy.”


“As I was saying, I fail to see how your rain is my concern.  This is my concern, Manolito.”  He raised his hands.  “I seem to be missing one of my gloves.  Francisco has been unable to locate it.  Make yourself useful, mi hijo.  Clean away the filth of your menial labor, put on suitable clothing and find it,” he ordered with a sideways glance, clapping his hands sharply when his son made no move to comply. “Why are you still sitting when there is something I need you to do?”


Mano scratched his cheek pensively, then snickered, crossing his arms.  “Why?  Because, Papá, I cannot imagine the appropriate clothing to look for a glove.  I know the clothes of a vaquero, the clothes of a fine caballero, but the clothes of one hunting for a glove? Those I do not know.”  Amusement in his eyes, he studied the elder Montoya.  “Eh, purple gloves, Papá?  Where do you even purchase such a thing?”


“As if it is any of your business, they were especially tailored to match my suit.  That should be obvious to you,” the haciendado declared haughtily. “Does it make you happy to prattle while my hand is cold?”


“No, Papá.” ¡Madre de Dios! A few short minutes under the Lion’s paw, I am no longer Manolo Montoya, a free man, a lover of women and herder of cattle. I become merely a little muchacho with dirty hands.  Manolito sighed in surrender, rising to his feet with great effort. He muttered to himself as he trudged for the stairs, “¡Ay-yi-yi! Rest would make me happy, but that is apparently impossible.”


“What did you say?”


“Only that you should rest, Papá,” he called over his shoulder.  Someplace else.  Anyplace else.


The old man cried out merrily, “A splendid idea, mi hijo!  While you are up, bring me a snifter of my good brandy.  Oh, also, my servants left one of my trunks in the wagon. Please collect it and take it to my room.”


Slowly, Manolito ran his fingers through his damp hair, resting a hand on the banister as dampness from his shirt chilled his back.  “Can the trunk not wait? The rain is falling in sheets.”


“Which means now is the perfect time, since you are still wet.”  He pressed his palms together.  “Just be careful of the trunk, Mano.  It contains gifts for Victoria and I do not wish to have them water-logged.”


Rolling his eyes, Mano spat a silent curse and said, “All right, but when you wonder why I do not return to Rancho Montoya, remember this conversation.  This is exactly why I do not.”


Don Sebastian examined his ruffled cuffs, spoke toward the fireplace, puzzled. “But Mano, that makes no sense.  It does not often rain in Sonora.”