Hackamore10 : Tamales and Beans
Cipriano Roldán slipped into the chair beside his wife's and took her hand in his. With the other he took Arturo's, lifting the heavy hand from where it rested on the old man's shattered chest.
Arturo's breath was failing him.
When the battle for Lancer was won, Cipriano had known the instant he'd bent over his old compadre that Arturo was beyond help in this world. Indeed, he was astonished that Arturo was still breathing. He'd seen the old vaquero fall from the walls of the hacienda, clutching at his chest and letting his rifle drop. Cipriano hadn't been able to do anything right then but to shoot again and again at Pardee's evil men, hoping that one of the perros that he hit with his bullets was the coward who had shot Arturo.
When the cobardes had fled, when Pardee was dead with Señor Scott's bullet in his black heart, Cipriano had looked first to assure himself that his sons were unhurt and had then run to reach Arturo. Eduardo had spat out a curse and run with him, Jaime following on close behind. Let the others, let Toledano and Mano, Carlos and Matteo run to help Señor Scott bring his injured hermano into the hacienda; they were vaqueros with no other duty than to the Patrón and it was right and proper that they help the sons. Cipriano, though, owed Arturo the duty of a son or a nephew and that came first, even before his obligation to the Patrón. He had gathered up the old vaquero into his arms with his sons' help and carried him to his own house, his eyes burning.
"The doctor said that Arturo is in no pain and that he won't wake now," whispered Bella, telling the rosary with her free hand. "Did you ask someone to go for the priest?"
"I sent Frank, but the Padre won't get here in time," said Cipriano, stoical in the face of death. It did not worry him, the way it might worry the very pious, that the priest would be too late to administer a last absolution. Arturo didn't need it. He was a good old man, a simple man who did no harm, with a pure and loving heart. Cipriano knew that the good Dios would overlook what small sins remained since Arturo's last confession to cast their insignificant stains on the old man's soul, and accept him into His heaven with open arms and the kiss of welcome. It could not be otherwise.
Bella nodded, her fingers slipping over the carved ivory beads and her lips moving silently with prayers so familiar that the words sank unnoticed into the mind and heart like rain into the parched earth, and brought refreshment. She, too, knew that Arturo was a good man. Her prayers, though, would comfort what little remained of Arturo that might still be able to hear her and know he was being farewelled, as he left on his long journey, with love and respect and the proper observances.
Eduardo and Jaime slipped into the room. Cipriano felt the pressure of a hand on his shoulder for a moment, as Eduardo passed by him to sit on the other side of the bed to his parents. Jaime stood behind his brother, looking uncomfortable. Eduardo thought of Arturo as his abuelo, loved him dearly and had named his own son for him; Jaime was fond of Arturo, surely, but there was not the same bond. Eduardo's eyes were wet and he wiped them with the back of his hand. Cipriano managed a faint smile for him, to tell Eduardo that he need not be ashamed of honest tears for the beloved dying and dead. The smile he gave Jaime was to reassure, for the young one had seen too much death that morning and Cipriano had seen how his gentle son's hands had trembled when the last of Pardee's men had fled.
"What of the others?" asked Bella, her fingers stilling between one decade of the rosary and the next. Cipriano saw how her eyes showed her thankfulness that both their sons were unhurt. Although she had known it, still she looked them over almost greedily to reassure herself, before her upright posture relaxed the tiniest amount. He increased the pressure of his hand a little in comfort and the boys, seeing their mother's glance, both managed small smiles for her, too overwhelmed in the face of Death to do more. It had been a trying morning for her, and a dangerous one, and its ending was bitter-sweet.
"Señor Johnny is badly hurt, I think, but the others aren't so bad. The doctor has gone up to the hacienda to see to him. He'll have a lot of work to do tod—"
Cipriano broke off as Arturo's breath hitched in his throat and faltered. He leaned forward, watching intently, aware that Eduardo mirrored him on the other side of the bed. Jaime shifted his weight uncomfortably, his boots dragging on the polished wooden floor. Cipriano was aware, too, of the soft murmur of Bella's voice as she restarted her rosary, praying Arturo out of this life and into the everlasting life that is to come.
Another hitching, half-strangled breath. And another. Another breath. A pause. And another, fainter and ever more difficult.
Death stood at the foot of the bed, waiting.
"Vaya con Dios, tio mio," said Cipriano softly, releasing Bella's hand to place his on the old man's brow. "You are much loved by us and by God, who awaits you. You will be remembered in my heart."
There was no more. Arturo slipped away quietly between one breath and the one that should have come next but did not, his hand in Death's, and with nothing but a soft sigh to mark his passing.
After a moment, Cipriano sat back. He carefully replaced the old man's hand on his breast and patted it. He smoothed the patchwork quilt covering Arturo's empty shell, holding his mouth shut tight against the protests it would utter to God. Eduardo sat with his head bowed. Jaime swallowed visibly and turned to stare out of the window, looking across the vegetable gardens to the courtyard at the back of the hacienda where his old playmate lay with a bullet in his back.
Without interrupting her prayer, Bella handed Cipriano a folded square of soft linen; one of her best handkerchiefs, covered in the exquisite embroidery that had cost her many hours of labour, the threads pulled and whipped with silk until it looked like lace. Cipriano unfolded it and gently laid it over Arturo's face, glad that the old man had been so deeply unconscious that he hadn't had to commit the ultimate betrayal and close Arturo's eyes on the world of light.
"…pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death." Bella's soft voice said in his ear. Her eyes were as wet as Eduardo's, but her voice had never faltered. She had owed it to Arturo not to falter.
Cipriano couldn't speak his amen, but he nodded it.
Cipriano made his way up to the hacienda, walking through the gardens that Arturo had helped to tend when he grew too old to ride to herd cows, and past the little room in the courtyard where Arturo had lived in contentment until Pardee came. He had left Eduardo and Jaime to speak to José, the estancia's carpenter. José was a busy man, that day and Cipriano, too, had duties.
The Patrón and his eldest son were in the great room with Señorita Teresa. The Patrón was stumping up and down the room, leaning on his cane, his face terrible with anxiety and fear. He nodded but did not speak when Cipriano came in. Cipriano concluded that Doctor Jenkins was still trying to get the bullet out of the younger son's back, with the help of the housekeeper, Maria Morales.
Señor Scott watched the Patrón going back and forth, his mouth in a tight line and his eyes weary. Looking at him, Cipriano felt his own weariness; they had ridden hard and long the previous night to trick Pardee and yet still win back to the hacienda in time to defend it, and none of them had yet managed to sleep. Well, Dios willing, they would soon.
"I didn't notice," Señor Scott said as Cipriano entered the room. "He was half-dressed when he came charging into my room yesterday morning, but I've just realised how clever he was at making sure that I saw nothing. He had his shirt half on—the right side, of course, to hide that bruise—and he kept his back to me until he'd covered it."
"Scott—" said the Patrón, waving Cipriano into a chair.
"I should have realised," said Señor Scott. "But he was so bumptious and annoying that of course that's what took my attention." He shook his head. "I thought he was a little thin, you know, but it just didn't register."
"Scott—" said the Patrón.
"How stupid can I be? When I saw what state he was in this morning—"
"Scott, enough. We don't know what happened to him, but it's hardly your fault that you didn't see it earlier. It's not as though he was willing to tell us." The Patrón sighed, and Cipriano knew what it cost him to say what he said next: "He doesn't know us and he doesn't trust us."
"He's trusting us now," said Señor Scott, glancing at the kitchen door.
"I think he's trusting you." The Patrón punctuated his words with a thump of his cane on the floorboards. Cipriano looked to see if it left a mark that José would have to polish out later.
Señor Scott shook his head, and his smile was thin and wry. "Not that much. He's not the confiding sort, is he, our Johnny?"
"I don't think he'd have lasted long as a gunfighter if he was," said the Patrón, heavily. "But don't underestimate what you achieved today with him, Scott. I don’t think that any of us would have enjoyed Sam digging that bullet out of him while he was awake, and without you, he'd have refused that chloroform. If Sam had had to wait until he passed out, it might have been too late or at least made Johnny's chances much worse. Johnny's trusted you with his life."
Señorita Teresa, who had been sitting quietly and listening, was paler than usual. "Why would he refuse the chloroform? It doesn't make any sense!"
"He's learned never to let anyone have an advantage over him," said the Patrón, his eyes grim.
Teresa shook her head. The life of a pistolero was beyond the nina's comprehension, thought Cipriano, who knew that she was an innocent for all his disapproval of the licence the girl was given—no daughter of his, had the little Isabella lived (Dios keep her with His angels), would have worn britches like a man.
"He's had a rough time recently," said the Patrón. "I wish he'd tell us what happened to him." He added, glumly, "I don't think he will."
"Remember the first night and how he ate? I thought… forgive me, sir, but it’s obvious that Johnny hasn't had much education, and I thought it was just bad manners. But it wasn't, was it? I remember him saying that he'd been living on trail rations until he got here. He was travelling on horseback, wasn't he, until his horse went lame just south of the Morro Coyo road. I don't suppose that means he could carry much in the way of supplies. He only had the saddlebags."
"No," said the Patrón. "Beef jerky or pemmican, maybe, and beans."
"Oh, poor Johnny!" said Señorita Teresa.
"I wouldn't say that to his face, Teresa. I've a feeling my little brother's pride would be hurt."
"I'll talk to Maria about it when this is all over. We'll soon fatten him up a bit." Teresa looked apologetically at Señor Scott. "No more fancy food for your sake, I'm afraid, Scott."
Señor Scott looked briefly astonished. "Uh… really… that's all right," he said.
Cipriano gathered that something had happened to Señor Johnny beyond having Pardee's bullet in his back. He wasn't surprised. He had fond memories of the little Juanito, very fond memories, but he didn't yet know what to make of Johnny Madrid. At least, he didn’t yet know how to get past the instinctive prejudice a man of honour had for the hired killer, to see the man behind the gun. What little he knew of pistoleros suggested that few men would know what to make of Johnny Madrid other than what Madrid permitted them to see, and that would be little enough of the man who lived in hiding behind the name. But from what he had seen and what the pistolero had allowed him to know, Cipriano thought that Señor Johnny would be the kind of man who had things happen around him or to him or who made things happen. Whether they were good things remained to be seen, but the morning's events, where Señor Johnny had made things happen with a vengeance, suggested that at the least they would be interesting.
He eyed Señor Scott with interest. He had struck Cipriano very favourably, had the Patrón's eldest son. He seemed to be a very responsible young man and that was, of course, a good thing for himself and for the estancia, but to take responsibility for whatever had happened to his hermano before they even met seemed excessive.
Señor Scott seemed to see Cipriano for the first time. "Cipriano," he said, nodding a greeting.
"Señor," said Cipriano, gravely.
"You might send a couple of men up to the ridge that Pardee rode in from, Cip," said the Patrón. "From what Johnny told us, you'll find another body up there."
"Si?" queried Cipriano.
"Pardee's second in command, Coley. Johnny said that Coley got in the way when he tried to kill Pardee, just before he rode down here with them behind him. Put Coley on a wagon to be taken into town with the others. I'm not burying any of them here on Lancer."
"I do not think that the priest or the pastor will want them in the cemeteries either, Patrón."
"Maybe not, but that's the job we pay them for. Send them to Pastor Williams in Green River and I'll give whoever takes them a telegram for a US Marshall out of Sacramento. It'll be days before he gets here, but at least now Pardee actually attacked us, the law might be willing to do something about the pack dogs. He can take the rest of Pardee's men off our hands."
"It had better be done today," said Cipriano, with an eye to the spring sunshine brightening the room through the great windows. It was early in the year yet, but the late-morning sun was already strong. It would be warm at noon, very warm, and although the adobe walls were thick in the storeroom where the corpses of Pardee's men had been put (seven of them and Pardee himself), the warmth would affect the bodies and it would be better to get them underground. "The Pastor will not wish to deal with them tomorrow, on the Lord's Day and we cannot keep them here long; evil men keep no better in the heat than do the righteous. I will send Toledano and Mano and tell them to stop by the ridge on the way."
The Patrón nodded, his eyes sharp as they focused on Cipriano, understanding what Cipriano could not yet bring himself to say. "Arturo?" he asked, his gruff voice overlaid with a rough gentleness.
The Patrón nodded, but said nothing more, resuming his pacing. When he reached Cipriano, he paused and dropped a hand on his shoulder. Cipriano looked up and met the pale blue eyes, and nodded. There was no need for more, not between them. They both knew that Arturo had not died the old-man's death he deserved, but at least at the end he went in quiet and in peace. He would be missed and his memory honoured. It was all he would have asked.
After a moment, the Patrón resumed his pacing, his face set, and Cipriano said, with an apologetic look at Teresa, "I thought we might bury Arturo and the others near Señor O'Brien."
"Yes," said the Patrón. "I would like that. I'd be honoured." He stopped and jabbed again at the floorboards with his cane. "Four good men! Four! They were each worth ten of the scum that killed them. I hope that Pardee's black soul burns in Hell for them!"
"It will," said Cipriano.
"I'd like to be at the funerals," said Señor Scott, "if it’s not intruding. I was proud to fight alongside them this morning, Cipriano, and I'd like to pay my last respects."
It was the right thing to do and say, of course. Cipriano understood that Señor Scott had no knowledge of the dead vaqueros. He could not know that Tomas had been born on the estancia; or that Manuel Garcia's wife (dead in childbed these fifteen years and the child with her) had been the daughter of the Patrón's first segundo, before O'Brien came; or that Isidore had come there from the orphanage ten years ago when he was fifteen and had been a miracle with horses; or that Arturo had come to the estancia to work when he was a boy of thirteen, almost sixty years before, and had spent his whole life there. He could not know these things, but he knew how to show respect and loyalty. It was an estimable thing, Cipriano thought, and nodded his approval of right and proper behaviour that would command respect and loyalty in its turn.
It was not enough, of course, if Señor Scott was to stay at Lancer and become a ranchero, but it was a start. It gave them something on which to build.
"The priest is on his way, Señor, and I will make the arrangements with him when he gets here. It may not be today, but whenever we bury them, your presence will be an honour."
"I’d like to be there, too," said Teresa. She had dabbed at her eyes fiercely when she realised Arturo was dead, for she had tended the gardens alongside the old man since she was a little nina, and she dabbed at them again at the mention of her father. Well, she was very young. Cipriano wondered what she felt when her father's murderer died almost in front of her. He shook his head; she should have been sent to the doctor's house in Green River for safety and should never have seen anything of this morning at all. It wasn't proper, the license allowed gringa girls.
"We’ll all go," the Patrón said, with a glance at the closed kitchen door. "It's only right we give them a place on the land. We owe them so much and some of them were here before me. Arturo was, of course, as you know, Cipriano." To his son he explained, "Cip worked for Don Velásquez before I bought this place. He and Isabella had been married a couple of years or more then, and Eduardo was no more than a baby. He'd be what, Cipriano, about eighteen months?"
"A little less," said Cipriano. "He was a year old just before the Don sold you the estancia. I remember very well the day that you and the Señora came. The first Señora de Lancer, Señor Scott, your mother."
"Just Scott, please," said Señor Scott. He added, shyly, "One day, Cipriano, I'd like to talk to you about those days, if I may."
Cipriano saw the Patrón's hand tighten on his cane and merely smiled non-committedly in response. He had no time to say anything, anyway. Doctor Jenkins appeared in the kitchen doorway, bundling a bloodied white apron up in one hand.
"Sam?" demanded the Patrón before the doctor had taken more than a step into the room. Señor Scott sat up very straight, his level gaze on Jenkins.
"Not too bad, Murdoch. So far, anyway. As I thought, the bullet was lodged against his shoulder blade but didn't break the bone. He was very lucky. There's still a lot of damage and I've had to put in some deep stitches to repair the trapezius muscle—the one in his upper back—but if we can avoid infection it should heal well. He'll be stiff and sore for some weeks, but he should get full use of the arm back, if he's patient and lets it heal properly."
"Oh," said the Patrón, blankly, and he sat down quickly in the nearest chair. He stared at the floor for a second or two, before straightening up and clearing his throat. "That's good," he said. "That's good news, Sam. Thank you."
Cipriano caught the doctor's amused, affectionate look and they shared a moment of understanding. The Patrón would never admit to anything he thought of as weakness, they both knew that. Cipriano wondered if the sons would change that, if they would be the weakness that could be changed to strength.
"It’s not all good, Murdoch," warned Jenkins. "He was starting a fever when I got here and it looks like it's settling in. I have to say that it worries me. It worries me a lot. We need to watch him carefully."
"Caused by the other injuries, sir?" asked Señor Scott.
"They certainly didn't help. Most of them are healed, or well on the way, but he's hardly on top form and he's malnourished. It's pulled the boy's strength down and that's given this fever its chance." Jenkins shook his head. "He doesn't have much in reserve to fight it, and that's the truth. We'll just have to hope he can ride it out. Let's get him upstairs and settled."
"I will help," said Cipriano. He smiled at the Patrón. "It will not be the first time I've put him to bed, after all."
The Patrón nodded, his mouth twitching into a reluctant smile. "He's a little bigger and heavier these days, Cip. Do you remember how much he adored Eduardo? He followed him around like a puppy. And how he and Jaime squabbled over their toys?"
"I remember it very well," said Cipriano, sadly, thinking of the bright, happy two-year-old, only a month younger than Jaime. But for his bright blue eyes and slightly paler skin, the Patrón's son and Jaime might have been twins. "But he will not."
On Sunday, the day following Pardee's raid, Cipriano had hoped to sleep late. He had been late abed by the time everything had been set in better order, Padre Pedro greeted and the virtuous dead anointed and prayed for, and the corpses of Pardee and his men sent to Green River. But he woke before dawn as usual and Bella persuaded him to go with her to Mass, to pray for Arturo's soul and give thanks for their deliverance. And by 'persuade', she handed him his Sunday clothes in a wordless assumption of compliance that Cipriano did not have the cojones to question.
He drove her into Morro Coyo, Eduardo and Jaime riding behind the wagon. The boys still rode on the alert, with rifles ready, despite the fact that a grumbling Pastor Williams and the Green River undertaker had planted Pardee into the only six feet of good Californian earth that the man would ever own.
Well, it was maybe all to the good. The word that Toledano and Mano had brought back from Green River was that Pardee’s men had scattered and gone, but they may not have gone far and some might seek revenge or an easy target for robbery. Besides, habits learned in time of danger would be hard to shake.
A truism, thought Cipriano, but doubly, triply, a hundred times true of the sick man back at the hacienda who had lived with such danger not for a few months, but all his life. All the way to Morro Coyo, Cipriano pondered the question of whether Johnny Madrid could ever unlearn those habits and resume being Johnny Lancer.
The parish church of San Miguel was the richest and most ornate building in Morro Coyo, a once purely-Spanish pueblo. Even now, when so much of the San Joaquin had become American, the churches remained a testament to California's proud history. San Miguel brooded at the end of Main Street, casting its elaborately-towered shadow over the stores and saloons, reminding them that ultimately all belonged to God. If, amended Cipriano hurriedly, you were a woman and pious, you would be so reminded. A man welcomed the shade from the hot sun, that was all.
The church was cool and dim, and the air was thick with incense. It's a good smell, Cipriano murmured quietly to Bella as they took their seats under the curious and excited eyes of the entire community, and was rewarded with a slight smile. He brushed a hand over his moustache complacently; a woman was always pleased by such small gestures of respect to the things she thought important and it cost nothing. He would try and find something to say of the sermon, perhaps, to please her.
He glanced around the church to find the entire congregation was staring at them. News of the thrilling events at Lancer had spread like wildfire, of course, and Cipriano was interested to see that even many of the gringos (who were not good Catholics but heathen) were there to stare and point and whisper behind their hands. As Mass progressed, he was amused at their discomfort as they followed the unfamiliar service. He wondered how many would be rubbing liniment on sore knees that night.
Beside him, his Bella fell gracefully to her knees, rose and dropped again. Ai, but she was a magnificent woman, was Isabella Muñoz de Roldán. Many people in the San Joaquin said so (including Isabella Muñoz de Roldán) and almost universally addressed her as Señora Isabella as a mark of deep respect as if she were the wife of a Don, not a humble, hard-working Segundo.
Cipriano watched her, only half an eye on what Padre Pedro was doing at the altar. The seventeen-year-old Señorita Isabella Muñoz Garcia had set the Valley alight, every young man desperate to have the Beauty look on him, to make her smile at him, to take his hand and dance with him. Dios, but she was glory and heaven and temptation, and how Cipriano had burned for her! He had seen her first at a fiesta, dancing, and he hadn't slept for a week afterwards. Every time he'd closed his eyes, he'd seen her bright face and flashing dark eyes, his groin had grown hot and tight with longing and he'd groaned into his pillow until his anxious mother called to ask if he were sick. Well, yes, if only of love. He'd thought he'd die of it.
In her late forties, Bella was still extraordinarily handsome, and if the dark eyes were more sombre now with the weight of knowledge gained with maturity and the enduring sorrow that was the grave of their small daughter in the church's shadow, they were still lovely enough to make Cipriano groan with longing. Many people in the San Joaquin (including Isabella Muñoz de Roldán) said aloud and in Cipriano's hearing, that they wondered how he'd ever managed to persuade the Valley Beauty to marry him. Cipriano knew that there'd been nothing to distinguish him in looks or fortune from twenty or thirty other such young men, each of whom eyed the lovely Isabella and wondered if she could be persuaded to smile on him. He wasn't sure himself why she'd chosen him above the other aspirants for her smiles, and had no answer to give the doubters.
Bella poked him in the ribs to bring his wandering attention back to the order of Mass. He saw the little lift of her mouth, the little quirking smile that was for him alone. Unlike many people in the San Joaquin, Bella only proclaimed her magnificence or wondered at her husband's good fortune to him, never in the presence of others, and she always laughed as if both concepts were very good jokes indeed.
Cipriano didn't think such truths were jokes. He spent the rest of the Mass honouring Arturo, thanking God for their deliverance from Pardee and, most of all, thanking God for his Bella.
At the end of the service, Bella was, as usual, the centre of the women in the congregation. They always gravitated to her, like moths to the bright candle flame. Usually they were seeking her approval whether it be for something as frivolous as the set of a sleeve or something of more moral weight, such as the opinion they ought to have of a new priest. They reminded Cipriano always of suppliants seeking notice and favour.
Today Cipriano noted a certain smug complacency about them and wondered at the change. They were full of gossip and sympathy about her ordeal at Lancer, with much patting of her hands and compassionate cooing. Señora de Baldomero, the wife of the storekeeper, even went so far as to call Bella her poor dear.
Cipriano understood it then. They thought that tables were turned, a little, and that they were in the ascendancy now, that they were the bestowers of comfort and approval while Bella was in their usual place as a suppliant, and along with this perceived reversal came the desire to condescend and patronise. He strayed a little nearer to the gaggle of women, something he usually avoided, to be certain they didn't press Bella too closely. He needn't have worried.
"I was safe with Señor Roldán and our sons, of course, and Señor Lancer and his sons," said Señora Isabella, raising a delicately-curved eyebrow as if astonished. She drew back fastidiously from the patting hands with her usual cool, reserved dignity until the women's hands fell away, their owners abashed at their temerity. "How could it be otherwise?"
In a moment, they were in their usual place, and Isabella Muñoz de Roldán glanced coolly over them. She smiled graciously at Señora de Baldomero as one who smiles on a dependent, but indigent, relative towards whom only the constraint of family feeling prevents a less considerate reaction.
"Ah, Señora," she said, "but how is your husband, the storekeeper?"
Cipriano nodded his appreciation of his wife's unimpeachable manners and grace and turned his attention to the eager questions that same storekeeper was pouring into one ear, while the big Swedish blacksmith, Johanssen, demanded details in the other. They wanted to know most about the pistolero, of course and was it true that the youngest Lancer son was really Johnny Madrid and Pardee's friend? He answered them briefly, seeing no point in trying to hide the truth, and he answered as he knew the Patrón would want—yes, Johnny Lancer is also Johnny Madrid; no, Señor Johnny and Pardee were not friends; yes, they knew each other, they were both pistoleros; yes, Pardee shot Señor Johnny in the back before Señor Scott killed him; yes, Señor Johnny will stay, to join his father and his hermano in running the estancia—while keeping his own opinions (such as they were) to himself and keeping half his attention on his wife's regal progress to greet Padre Pedro with her usual charm.
Ah, but she was magnificent, was Isabella Muñoz de Roldán!
Cipriano saw no reason to revise his opinion that Señor Johnny was the kind of man to make things happen around him.
For several days the boy struggled, ravaged by the fever that Doctor Jenkins had feared. Jenkins stayed at the hacienda for two nights, fighting to stave off death, never leaving the boy's bedside. But for a grim-faced appearance at the vaqueros' funerals on Monday morning—the priest unable to bury them with Masses on a Sunday because of a Church law that Cipriano privately thought was lacking in Christian charity and, more importantly, in common sense—Cipriano had seen nothing of the Patrón and his eldest son. They sat with Señor Johnny, forcing medicines and willow bark tea into him and bathing him in cool water to try and break the fever's grip.
The entire estancia waited to hear if the child they'd lost twenty years before when the faithless Señora Lancer stole him, would slip away from them again.
They hadn't expected to see him at all. No-one had known he was coming, not even the Patrón.
The Patrón had had telegrams from the Pinkertons, routed through the doctor to keep the news from Pardee, to say that his sons had been contacted and the offer to come to Lancer made. Cipriano knew that the Patrón had offered each of the sons one thousand dollars. One thousand dollars! He didn't think that any man could refuse such a sum, such an inconceivable fortune. Of course they would come.
The telegram about Señor Scott had come weeks before, followed soon after by one from Scott himself giving his expected date of arrival; again routed through Sam Jenkins. But still, silence about Johnny.
"That's about right, I suppose," the Patrón had said bitterly to Cipriano and Señorita Teresa. "I've had nearly twenty years of silence about Johnny."
Then, just over a week before Señor Scott's expected arrival, the news came at last that Johnny Madrid had been located and contacted.
"Luck," the Patrón had said bitterly, unwilling to give the Pinkertons credit for anything at all. "Sheer damn luck!"
But he was not so bitter as he had been the year before, almost eighteen months ago now. After nineteen years of searching the famed Pinkerton Detective Agency had finally made the connexions between John Luis Lancer (aged two years and seven months), abducted by his mother (Maria Martínez Lancer, neé Maria Martínez Aguilera) on her elopement with a gambler from New Orleans, and a notorious hired gun, famous along the border.
as per our previous reports. However, we have been able to make the connexion set out in point (iv) below, and once that was verified by our agent in Brownsville, the following was established, piecemeal, by agents following up known associates of the man we believe to have fully identified to be John Lancer. I have attached reports supporting our conclusions for each of the aliases set out below, giving the evidence and rationale. In sum we believe we can make full connexions between your son, John Luis Lancer (now aged 21) and
(ii) John Martínez (age 13) who served thirty days for vagrancy in an El Paso jail in 1861 and, at age 14 in late 1862, another sixty days in Nogales, Sonora, for petty theft. He had been living on the streets of Nogales with a gang of similarly feral child beggars (mostly Mexican and mestizo) and had stolen a loaf of bread. At his trial, starvation had not been deemed to be a mitigating factor;
(iii) Luis Martínez (age 15) who served briefly in Juarez's forces against the French, possibly in lieu of a further jail term for theft. Wounded twice. His service as a horse wrangler ended within the year after a recorded flogging for insubordination in 1863. The Mexican Army records him as a deserter;
(iv) John Lancer (age 19) who signed into a Tucson hotel in June 1867. Business unknown, but see next item. First known use of his legal name. Possibly it was used to avoid recognition on this occasion and again when subject (age 20) signed into a Brownsville hotel in March 1868; and
(v) Johnny (or less commonly, John) Madrid (age 21), expensive gun for hire and an active gunfighter from at least the age of seventeen, when he fought his first known gun battle in Nogales, Arizona, in April 1865. Almost certainly hiring out his gun for a couple of years before that: sources suggest he had been living by the gun since he deserted the Mexican Army in October 1863. Reason for Madrid alias unknown.
Our agents have not made an attempt to speak to Madrid directly, pending your instructions as to the terms of that contact. Awaiting your further instructions and assuring you of our best attention at all times
Full report on John Lancer Martinez, with supplementary report on the San Fernando Mission Orphanage and Mission School, Cantamar. (5 pages)
Full report on John Martinez, with a notarised copy of court and penitentiary records.(6 pages)
Full report on Luis Martinez, with a notarised copy of Mexican Army records. Note, these are incomplete. (2 pages)
Reports from our Tucson and Brownlee agents on John Lancer. (2 pages)
Reports from agents on Johnny Madrid, with a full list of known gunfights and an assessment of his known career. (56 pages).
Cipriano hadn’t seen the report until later that year, when he became Segundo at the estancia when O'Brien was murdered. The Patrón had revealed the whole detail of the search, giving Cipriano the same confidence that he had given to O’Brien. Cipriano, casting his mind back, remembered several weeks when the Patrón had been well nigh unbearable, so bad-tempered that even Cipriano had thought seriously that this would be a good time to strike out on his own and buy the little farm in Mexico that he and Bella had always talked about.
When the Patrón handed him the Pinkerton reports and gruffly told him to read them, he understood the bad temper. The Patrón must have been devastated by that report, particularly by item (v), although items (i), (ii) and (iii) had been hard to take as well. Cipriano knew now that it had taken the Patrón several weeks and much soul-searching and heart-burning to make up his mind to instruct the Pinkertons to continue to try to locate and contact his lost son. It became all the more urgent that November, when Day Pardee rode into the San Joaquin. But the Pinkertons, for all their vaunted efficiency, hadn't had much success in contacting the infamous gunfighter.
"How does he make a living if he's so damn hard to get hold of?" the Patrón had demanded on the day his youngest son turned twenty-two, goaded beyond endurance by the delay and possibly by the pain in his back from the bullet Pardee had put in it the month before. "What if I wanted to hire him? Anyone I wanted killed would have died of old age before the Pinkertons did anything useful!"
And even when the Pinkertons did finally make contact someplace over the border in Mexico, they had no information to offer about whether Johnny Madrid had accepted the offer to come to Lancer or when he might arrive. Offer made, report to follow, the telegram said—"Along with their damned invoice, I suppose!" the Patrón had snarled, tossing the telegram across the desk for Cipriano to read. "They never fail to send that!"—the message arriving at Sam Jenkins's office the day after a second telegram from Scott Lancer confirming that he had reached San Francisco and would complete the business he had to contract there on schedule, and would therefore travel on the stage from Stockton arriving in Morro Coyo the following Thursday, April 7th.
By comparison to his younger brother, Señor Scott was so very uncomplicated. He had been contacted, he had agreed to come, he made his travel arrangements and politely gave them advance warning of his schedule so that they could meet him after his long overland journey across the entire continent. It was all so straightforward. Scott Garret Lancer was not someone with many names to hide behind and his whereabouts to conceal.
Cipriano and the Patrón had discussed Señor Scott's arrival for hours. In the end, they opted to send Señorita Teresa and two hands to meet him in Morro Coyo, knowing the girl would have more chance than Cipriano of collecting Scott virtually unnoticed by Pardee's men, and infinitely more chance than if Murdoch went. It was a risk, but in the town Pardee wouldn't move against Teresa: that would certainly cause the townspeople, most of whom kept their heads down, to react against him and he seemed to avoid that. Presumably, said the Patrón dryly, he preferred not to fight wars on more than one front or bring the US Marshal down on his head. Pardee kept his gang either inside the cantina or outside of town altogether, and did little to antagonise the townspeople. Lancer was his main target; Teresa should be safe enough.
What they hadn't expected was that Johnny Madrid would be on the same stagecoach having hitched a lift ten miles outside the town, from the farm where he'd left his lame horse. Cipriano wished that he could have seen the brothers' faces when they each realised who the other was. Neither had known of the other's existence, and Cipriano thought that he would have enjoyed the joke.
The first the estancia knew of the younger son's arrival had been when the wagon turned into the hacienda's gate and there he'd been. Señor Scott, resplendent in clothes and a hat the like of which Cipriano had never seen before, sat on the wagon seat with Teresa. Johnny Madrid had been in the back, leaning on his brother's luggage and his own saddle with his legs stretched out along the wagon bed, with his hat tilted over his eyes and shadowing his face. When he saw him, Cipriano's breath had caught in his throat with surprise and something that may have been shocked delight.
The nino was back where he belonged. After almost twenty years, the nino was home.
Then Johnny Madrid had jumped down from the wagon, to stand for a moment, turning to look around the hacienda courtyard, his stance wary and his right hand brushing the grips of the Colt pistol that lay against his right thigh.
He wasn't as tall as Señor Scott, not by two or three inches, and his father would tower over him by a whole head, but then who didn't the Patrón tower over? He wore clothing like the vaqueros' own: calzoneras with silver conchos, an embroidered shirt of a pink that Cipriano himself would hesitate to wear, and a short bolero jacket trimmed with gold braid. So far, so recognisable. He looked right, in a way Señor Scott did not; he looked like he belonged, a true Californio.
He looked right, except for the way that he carried his gun.
Every man in the West went armed. Most men were competent with a gun, but most wore their gun belts high, where the belt sat comfortably yet still allowed a man to reach his pistol in time of trouble. Only a very few were masters, were virtuosos, who made their living through their skills with a pistol, whose lives (and deaths) rode on the speed at which they drew and fired their guns. Such men modified and customised their guns to fit the grip of their gun hand, and shortened the barrel for a faster clearance of the holster. They wore their gun belts low, very tight on the hips, with the holster tied down so that the butt of the gun was perfectly placed to slip into the hand for a fast draw.
Few draws were faster than that of Johnny Madrid. It was said that many men had tried to outdraw him. Most of them, probably all of them, were dead.
The vaqueros who had gathered to greet Señor Scott had stared at the gun in that low-slung belt, knowing what it meant. Cipriano had stared for a moment himself before raising his eyes to meet a cold blue gaze, hard with a simmering anger and resentment. He didn’t know why the pistolero was angry, but he had recognised at once that Johnny Madrid was dangerous, and perhaps not only to men who called him out in the streets.
Not for the first time, Cipriano wondered if the Patrón had done the right thing calling the pistolero home.
Because this was no nino. This was not the little Juanito who had captured all hearts. The nino was gone forever and Johnny Madrid didn't remember that this was his home. This was a man who had been forged by a life of deprivation such that even Cipriano, who knew how ill a mestizo child would fare alone in the dangerous towns along the border, could barely imagine; a man who, by the time he was fifteen, had turned to the gun to survive.
Who knew how many men Johnny Madrid had gunned down?
This was a dangerous man, a killer, and he was more equivocal in his loyalties and his motives than they could ever have dreamed. None of them had ever really known a pistolero, much less one of the top guns; none of them were prepared for the cynical, dangerous young man who stepped out of the wagon.
The next day, Cipriano had watched him break the palomino stallion with brisk efficiency, but without cruelty. He had not used the spurs that jangled at his heels to madden the horse and make a sport out of it, as many horse-breakers would do to please their audience, but had acted quickly to cause the animal the least distress while still subduing it to his will. He had been aware of the vaqueros watching and cheering, but his focus had been on the horse. He is used to working with horses, then, and he is very good at it; maybe as good as Tomas, said Cipriano to the Patrón, warming to the brilliant smile Señor Johnny had given his hermano when Señor Scott rode the green-broken palomino. They were both good horsemen, Cipriano concluded, filing away the information to add to the picture he was building of the Patrón's sons.
Then came the Bocanegras' messy deaths and Johnny Madrid rode away, not with Señor Scott and the rest of the Lancer vaqueros to trick Pardee out into the open, but into Morro Coyo to drink more tequila with the Bocanegras' murderer. It appeared he had left the estancia again, after spending only one night under his father's roof. It appeared that he had made his choice.
The whole Pardee affair was over at dawn the next day, and Cipriano still did not know if it had been Johnny Madrid or Johnny Lancer who had brought Pardee's men under their guns. Señor Johnny was still equivocal, unknown and unknowable, cynical and dangerous. The fact that he lay in the hacienda with a bullet in his back, fighting off death, made no difference.
Still no-one knew what he had done, why he had done it, what he wanted, or what he would do if he lived.
"Will they stay?" asked Bella. She knew, as they all did, the hollow place at the heart of the estancia where the Patrón 's sons should be. The estancia needed its heirs as much as Murdoch Lancer needed his sons.
"The Patrón has offered them each a third of the estancia if they will stay. Señor Scott said he will, and he proved himself with that trick he played on Pardee. I don't know about the other. He may have come just for the money. One thousand dollars is enough to tempt any man, even a pistolero who may command the highest prices. Staying to work here as an ordinary man, not living by the gun… well, that's a different matter."
"That's an ungenerous thought, Cipriano."
"Well, he didn't come before," argued Cipriano, "although he's used the Lancer name. He knew who he was. He must have known who his father is and where to find him and yet—"
"And yet we can't know until he chooses to tell us, why he didn't come home earlier," said Bella, reasonably, shrugging her still-pretty shoulders as if the reason the pistolero hadn't come home was not of great importance. "Until we can talk with Juanito, gauge what moves him, how he thinks…"
"He's no longer Juanito," said Cipriano. "Don’t make that mistake, Bella. He's a pistolero, one of the greatest of them all. He won't tell us what he thinks. It isn't their way to open themselves to others. That way lies a weakness to be exploited."
Bella smiled, and showed she had understood exactly what Cipriano wondered about and grieved for. Her shrug hadn't meant that Juanito's motives were not important, but that there were other things that mattered just as much. "But he'll show us through what he does, not just what he says or doesn't say. Words aren't everything, Cipriano. From what you've said, he won't be a man for words. He'll show us who he is, and that's more important than who he was and, most certainly, than what he used to do. It will be enough."
Cipriano smiled back and hoped so. But he did not forget the first day when Johnny Madrid tipped back the hat that had shadowed his face and stepped down out of the wagon into the courtyard of the home he could not possibly remember. Cipriano had not been mistaken, he felt, in seeing the anger simmering in those startlingly blue eyes. He feared what the anger meant and what it made Johnny Madrid do. He feared where it came from.
He saw, like a shade, the ghost of the passionate and beautiful Maria Martínez de Lancer. He mistrusted ghosts. They were like trying to catch mist with your fingers. They had a way of refusing to answer questions and evading all responsibility, slipping away to leave the consequences of their actions for the living to endure.
Despite his words of caution to his wife, Cipriano found that as the days wore on, he stopped thinking of the sick man as Johnny Madrid or even Señor Johnny; but always as Juanito, the little one whom Señora de Lancer had often left in their care to play with Jaime, so that sometimes Bella said it was if she'd birthed twins. Cipriano had mourned the loss of Juanito almost as much as the Patrón had.
He dreaded that he would have to mourn all over again, before he could find out who it was he would be grieving for.
Consequently, it wasn't just the Patrón and the elder son who breathed more easily when Doctor Jenkins pronounced Señor Johnny to be out of danger and on the mend. It would be slow, because the fever had left him weak, and it would take time for him to rebuild his strength. But the boy would live. Now it only remained to determine what he would live for, and how, and who he would show them he had decided to be.
On the third full day after the raid, the day after the fever broke, Cipriano went to collect the Bocanegra boys from the priest in Morro Coyo 'and bring them back to Lancer, where they could be with people they knew and the one or two other children who were returning to the estancia now that the danger was past. Before seeking out Padre Pedro, he slipped into the church to nod his thanks to the good Dios hanging there above the altar where twenty-two years earlier, John Luis Lancer had been christened in a froth of white lace.
He reflected, as he stood in the dim, incense-heavy nave, that it was unlikely that Señor Johnny would make a visit to give thanks on his own behalf. Cipriano did not remember the second Señora Lancer as being particularly devout and she had certainly not remained faithful to the vows that she had made in this very church; he did not think that she would have raised her son to be pious. Besides, pistoleros as a breed were not known for their religious fervour.
Religion was the demesne of women, of course, and a man only went to church at their behest and to keep the peace at home, or when he grew so old that he felt the weight of his mortality more keenly than he felt the rush of air in his lungs. Cipriano felt out of place there on a day that was not Sunday and without Bella chivvying him to Mass. So his visit was swift and furtive, lasting little longer than it took for him to light one candle for the nino who was surely gone forever and one for the unknown and possibly unknowable man the child had become, and to look for a moment into the perfect, downcast face carved into the wood above the altar of He who surely knew what was in the heart of both child and man but would keep His silence. Cipriano seldom thought on such things, but that day he wished he knew the mind of God, at least so far as It pertained to the doubtful presence of Johnny Madrid Lancer in their lives.
He shook his head and lit another candle for Arturo, and went to collect the sad little Bocanegra boys, who were as bereft as once Juanito had surely been bereft.
He left the wooden face of God to keep His secrets.
When Aggie Conway came, Cipriano was directing some repair work on the horse barn that formed the east wall of the big courtyard at the back of the hacienda.
The estancia was slowly returning to normal. They had nowhere near enough hands, and more than enough work to keep them busy repairing the barns and workshops and keeping watch over the herds close to the hacienda. But soon they would have to hire more men, and many of them. The Spring round-up was almost upon them, and if the Lancer herd was to be gathered and branded, and moved to the railheads to be shipped to feed the hungry Eastern cities, they needed to get up to full strength as soon as they could; and at its height, the estancia needed more than a hundred hands and drovers. Where he would find so many, and men he could trust, concerned Cipriano. It might take months to re-establish the estancia.
Señora Conway was riding alone, as she would not have dared to do if Pardee were still breathing. But already life was returning to normal in the Valley now that the evil dog was dead and safely buried in Green River's Boot Hill without so much as a wooden marker over the cursed earth that covered him. Cipriano could feel the change for himself and found that he breathed more easily. It was as if he had been running a race for a long time, one that had worn down his endurance and his strength and was only just over so that now he could rest a little, this race won and the next not yet on the starting blocks. The relief everyone felt could almost be seen and touched. The towns were easier and freer; here on the estancia men laughed more, chattering as they worked and of an evening he could once again hear guitars and singing coming from the bunkhouse where the bachelors lived. Ai, that Toledano! He sang all the time again, the way he used to, but Cipriano devoutly hoped neither Bella nor Teresa ever managed to make out the words.
When Cipriano lifted the Señora from her horse, she took a moment to settle her full riding skirts and beat the dust from them with her hat while she greeted him and asked after Señora Isabella's health, congratulated him on Eduardo and Jaime both being safe and asked about the wounded vaqueros. She pressed his hand with sympathy when he told her of Arturo and the others.
She was a nice woman, Señora Conway, for a gringa. Many of the rancheros around Lancer would think most about the consequences to one of their own or to the white hands, and the Mexicans who fought and died were of lesser account. But the Señora noticed them and was quick to ask about more than just the Lancer son. She was a lady, Bella said, with the recognition of peer for peer.
Before Pardee came to steal the gossip, as well as try and steal the land, there had been much talk in the Valley about the widowed Señora Conway and Murdoch Lancer. She and her husband had come to the Valley fifteen years earlier, and now Henry Conway was six years dead and Murdoch Lancer remained alone after the second Señora de Lancer had eloped with the gambling man from far-away New Orleans, the women of the Valley had married them a dozen times over. The men of the Valley held themselves above such foolish gossip, although they did see how prudent it would be for Murdoch Lancer to add the Conway acres to the Lancer estancia and they discussed that possibility now and again, as men of affairs talk of business matters, and that is soberly and rationally and with an eye to financial advantage.
It was all nonsense, as Cipriano knew. He did not pretend to know Señora Conway's mind on the matter, but he did know that when Maria Martínez de Lancer left, she'd taken most of the Patrón's heart with her; and though a large part of that was bound up in the child, a considerable amount was on her own faithless account. Not even the Conway acres made up for that loss.
Still the Patrón was usually less gruff whenever he saw the Señora and something in him softened. He must have heard the horse arrive, and came out to meet her. "Aggie!" he said. She put on the hat to hang down her back by its stormstrings, and held out both her hands. He hooked his cane over his forearm, and took her hands in his. "I'm glad you've come, Aggie."
She smiled. "The Valley's buzzing with it, Murdoch, and everyone's dying with curiosity but people know better than to come too soon. I thought you'd be better disposed towards visitors when John was on the mend, so I came as soon as I heard he was out of danger. How is he?"
"Better. I've almost lost track of the days. It's what, Wednesday, today? The fever broke on Monday evening, and although he's very weak still, he's improving by the hour." The Patrón smiled suddenly, looking younger and less care-worn. "Wednesday, already! The boys arrived a week ago tomorrow and I can barely believe how quickly the time has passed. Stay for lunch, Aggie. You must meet Scott, and you might get a chance to at least say hello to Johnny, if he's awake. He's still sleeping a lot, of course."
"I'd be delighted to meet them both. You've waited so long, Murdoch, and I very much want to see your sons."
The two of them turned towards the house, and Cipriano, lacking shame and taking the opportunity that offered, fussed over Señora Conway's raw-boned bay horse in order to hear what they were talking about. Surely that was something in the right fore shoe? It ought to be checked before he called a hand to take the horse to the barn. He lifted the hoof to see and took his penknife from his pocket to scrape at the horseshoe industriously.
The Señora paused when they reached the covered loggia at the back of the house. "Murdoch, before we go in you'd better know something of what everyone's saying. There's a lot of talk about Johnny, you know. People are worried. Day Pardee was bad enough, but Johnny's reputation—"
"He's nothing like Day Pardee!"
"He's faster and more dangerous, that's what people are saying. They're frightened. They want to know what Johnny's going to do here."
"He'll work this ranch, with me and Scott, that's what he'll do here."
"And hang up his gun? People are worried about having such a famous gunfighter in the Valley. Oh Murdoch, people say that Johnny hooked up with Day Pardee, that he was seen drinking whiskey with the man in a cantina in Morro Coyo—"
"Tequila," muttered the Patrón.
"They were drinking tequila. Aggie, I know that Johnny knew Pardee. They were both gunfighters, after all, even if Pardee was not in Johnny's league. But Pardee had no idea that Johnny is my son. Johnny pretended to go along with the man's plans, but he was working against him all the time."
"If he hadn’t tricked them into chasing him down the hill last Saturday morning, they'd have surrounded us. We may not have been able to drive them back if he hadn't brought them under our guns in a bunch like that. We killed so many of them in that first volley, it broke them."
"I'm sure you're—"
"He took a bullet in the back for us, Aggie, and by God, he almost died for it! I won't have that played down by people eager to gossip about Johnny Madrid!"
"Of course, Murdoch," said Señora Conway, in the soothing tone that Cipriano, the married man, recognised all too well. "Of course you're right—"
I have every faith in him," declared the Patrón. "He was born to be a rancher, to be a Lancer. This is his birthright."
Oh, Patrón, thought Cipriano, carefully lowering the bay's right hoof and resting his forehead against the rough mane. He closed his eyes as sudden weariness and a sharp grief made him ache like an old man. Aggie Conway had done no more than voice the doubts that all of them had. He wondered what had made the Patrón so vociferous in his son's defence. Who are you trying to convince?