Part Two

Later that day, as the sun was setting, Cipriano was surprised when the Patrón appeared at his door.  He had something over his arm, a folded jacket.  He looked… not apprehensive, precisely, but he looked as though he were seeking favours.  Indeed, it was unusual for the Patrón to come to the married hands' quarters; he had to want something very particular.

Cipriano and Bella were in the main room of their adobe house, the largest in the small cluster of houses that sat in the meadow behind the hacienda, enjoying the last of the sun.  She was working her embroidery, stabbing the needle in and out of the cloth with skill and dexterity while they talked.  Eduardo had gone to Stockton that day to bring his wife and child home from her father's house where she had been sent for safety, and would not return for some days.  Jaime was visiting his sweetheart, on the Crooked R ranch across the Valley and the two sad little Bocanegra boys were sleeping.  The house was quiet, and Cipriano was revelling in the peace.

When the Patrón arrived, Cipriano was going through the few things that Arturo had owned.  The old man's will left them in Cipriano's care until the grandson, the younger Arturo, was old enough to have them.  It was both a sorrow and a great privilege, to have a man's life in his hands like that.

"Patrón!" greeted Cipriano, rising, and putting aside the beautifully tooled and crafted leather knife-sheath that had been one of Arturo's prized possessions.  It came from Old Spain, from Córdoba, and had once belonged to a proud Don.  He shook hands.  "You are welcome."

"Buenos noches," said the Patrón, with a short, stiff bow for Bella.  And as she rose, gathering her needlework to leave the men to their talk, he said, hastily, "Please don’t go, Señora Isabella.  I've come to see you just as much as Cip, here.  I need your help."

"Of course, Señor," said Bella, with a half-bow so graceful that it filled Cipriano's soul with delight, even after all these years of possession.  "How is Juanito?"

"He's doing very well.  He managed to sit up in bed for a few minutes today, when Señora Conway visited, although that wore him out and he slept away the entire afternoon.  But it's better than we feared only a few days ago." 

"I am glad," said Bella, simply.  She went to the big press at the side of the room and returned with the brandy bottle and two glasses; the Patrón had never learned to stomach tequila.  "I have never forgotten the little one, Señor.  God is very good, to bring Juanito home again at last."

"Well, he doesn’t like being called that, for some reason," said the Patrón, swallowing back a sigh.

"No?  I will remember, Señor."   She offered him the brandy with another graceful half-bow.  When she handed Cipriano his glass, he caught the little quirking smile.

Cipriano thought that Señor Johnny's preferences about which form of his name people used would be as naught against the relentless women of the estancia who remembered him.  He stroked his moustache to hide his smile with his hand.  His Bella wouldn't fear even the great pistolero, he reflected, and he would always be Juanito to her. 

"And how can I help?  Señorita Teresa told me that she and Maria were managing to care for him."  Bella gave the Patrón one of the reserved smiles she kept for people outside the familia, the smile that belonged to Isabella Muñoz de Roldán.  "I did not insist on helping, since it's only right that she gets to know her new hermano and she was fired with enthusiasm for taking care of him.  There will be time for me to get to know Juanito—Johnny—again when he is well."

The Patrón smiled back.  "I hope so, Señora.  In the meantime, though, I need your skills in another area."  He unfolded the jacket and laid it across his knees, and Cipriano saw that it had been slit up the back and both sleeves. "This is Johnny's.  We had to cut it and his shirt off him to get the bleeding stopped, and he doesn't have another.  He only seems to have brought one spare shirt with him and it looks like he used that to clean his boots.  Teresa's managed to salvage that one." 

"The pink one?" asked Cipriano, remembering.

"That's the one.  Not a colour I'd choose, but Johnny says it's his favourite shirt.  The thing is, he's already talking about getting up and out of bed.  Sam Jenkins won't hear of it yet, of course, but it made me realise that we need to get him some new clothes against the time that Sam relents and lets him up."  The Patrón chuckled, but Cipriano thought that it was to hide his chagrin about his youngest son's poverty.  "He might fit into one of Scott's shirts although I don't think he'll like the ruffles if what he said that first evening is anything to go by, but he'd drown in one of mine."

They all laughed, politely, although something in Cipriano felt how wrong it was that the boy should have only the clothes he travelled in and he could see from the sparkle in Bella's eyes that she thought the same.  What had he been doing, to have so little?  Johnny Madrid was said to be one of the most expensive guns for hire.  He should have had more to show for it.

"Teresa and Maria could make him some shirts, if they weren't spending so much time nursing him, but neither one of them has your touch, Señora Isabella.  He dresses vaquero-style, and he seems to like his things decorated."

"I would be happy to make them," said Bella, and the Patrón thanked her as if she were the one conferring a great favour.  Cipriano hid a smile; he knew that she had wanted to do something to help and had been chafing at her inactivity.

"I wasn't thinking of you doing that, precisely.  The Baldomeros have set up a ready-made workshop at the back of their store, you know, and I thought we could buy half-a-dozen made-up shirts from them and save on that labour.  He'll need shirts for best as well as for work.  What I would like you to do is embroider them for him, if you will.  You do the finest stitching I've ever seen and, as I said, he favours decoration.  His mother—"  The Patrón broke off abruptly.  "We'll get some more calzoneras and some workpants when he can go and get them himself, but he needs another jacket and the shirts now."  He hefted the ruined jacket on his knees.  "I thought that this would give you some idea of size."

Bella took the jacket from him to hide her sympathy, looking sombrely at the small hole in the blood-stained left back.  The jacket had been of the best quality, cut from the finest brown suede with gold wire braiding.  It must have been expensive once, but it was beyond repair.  Cipriano wondered if Johnny had bought it new sometime and if the money he earned at his profession went on things like this. 

"Tell the Baldomeros to put it all on the Lancer account," said the Patrón.  "I'm grateful, Señora Isabella.  Very grateful."  He cleared his throat, and for a horrified moment Cipriano feared he was going to offer to pay Bella, but the Patrón merely said, "I hear that Jaime is courting the eldest Ruis girl.  Will they make a match of it, do you think?"

"We hope so," said Cipriano, cautiously.  "Now things are more settled, we hope it will be soon.  She is a good girl."

"I like Jaime," said the Patrón.  "He's a hard worker, and I've been impressed by some of the ingenious things he's come up with like that pump he built to bring water up from the wells in the south pastures.  That's kept the cattle watered and the grass greener for weeks longer than previous years and let us keep them close to the hacienda where Pardee found it harder to get at them.  I've never forgotten how he and Johnny played together when they were small, either.  I'll tell José to get started on building a new house and I would be proud to host the wedding here, and furnish the house for them.  If you will permit it, of course."

Cipriano looked at his wife.  She was smiling, not one of her company smiles but one of the real ones that she usually reserved for family.  She turned this brilliant smile on the Patrón. 

"That is very kind of you, Señor Lancer," said Bella, nodding her approval.  "Jaime will be delighted."

Cipriano stroked his moustache again, while he pondered the effect of one of Bella's real smiles; the Patrón looked momentarily stunned.  It was a generous offer the Patrón made, worth far more than half-a-dozen embroidered shirts, and it spoke of the esteem the Patrón had for him.  Cipriano was not immodest, but he knew it was deserved.  He worked hard and loyally for the Patrón, whom he respected despite Murdoch Lancer being first, a gringo, and second, not even an Americano (although, truth be told, this last was not a disadvantage in the eyes of a Californio community that still resented the events of 1846) .  He took pride in his work and he took pride in Lancer; he had a vested interest in the estancia where he had worked since he was a boy and where he was now segundo, and he took pride in the way the Patrón had invested much trust in him. 

"We are honoured, Señor," he said, and smiled.  He was a man who was very content with all that life had to offer him.

 

 

Cipriano's contentment was short-lived.  It came to an abrupt end at breakfast the next day, just as the grey dawn quickened into gold.

While most of the Valley considered that Isabella Muñoz de Roldán was a magnificent woman, it has to be admitted that this was not a universally-held belief.  And the leader of the dissenters—a small group, but vociferous—was Señora de Baldomero, who thought that the wife of a wealthy storekeeper and businessman was far more deserving of the title than the wife of a mere vaquero, even a vaquero who was the segundo of the biggest estancia in the Valley.  Señora de Baldomero had by far the best claim, she felt: her husband had his own business and was not in servitude to a gringo Patrón pretending to fill the shoes of a true Don, they lived in a house in the town, not an adobe dwelling in the country, her husband could be the next mayor if she could only stir his faint ambition to do more than tend his store.

Bella knew that Señora de Baldomero had said all of these things—although never to her face, of course—but ignored it.  She never acknowledged Señora de Baldomero's surreptitious rivalry.  She always greeted the Señora with reserved courtesy and never failed to enquire about Señor Baldomero, the lanky Master Baldomero and the orphaned niece who lived with them, but she never, but never, spoke to or of Señora de Baldomero and used her full names.  So far as Bella was concerned, Señora de Baldomero had no other names; she was merely the adjunct to her husband and to the store. 

One has to assume that this incensed Señora de Baldomero and was the cause of many a bitter *Señora Isabella, indeed! I'm surprised she doesn't demand we call her Doña Isabella!* and a head toss, but if she never herself called her by the honorific, she met Bella ("My dear Señora de Roldán!") with gracious smiles of her own.  She built a small coterie of friends—like herself, women from the Sonora region—and tried to set herself up as Bella's rival, pronouncing on everything from the fashion in bonnets to Padre Pedro's last sermon.  So far, the storekeeper's wife had had but limited success.  Señora Isabella didn't so much as acknowledge the competition and was still secure upon her throne.

So it was with considerable misgiving that Cipriano heard the wife of his bosom announce that the visit that morning to the Baldomeros to order Señor Johnny's shirts was most opportune. 

"In what way?" inquired Cipriano.

Bella smiled.  "All will become clear.  You will accompany me of course, Cipriano, and then you will find out."

He protested, but Bella was not to be moved.  At eight, therefore, after relaying to the hands the Patrón's orders for the day, he hitched up one of the estancia's smaller wagons and handed Bella up into it.  The Patrón hadn't objected to his going, so long as he took the opportunity to get out the word that Lancer was hiring again. 

Cipriano was disappointed in him.  He had relied upon the Patrón to save him.

 

 

Señora de Baldomero was most pleased to be gracious when Señor and Señora Roldán came into the store.  She called the clerk over to relay to him the orders that Señora de Roldán gave, signalling with a lack of subtlety that would later be deplored to an appreciative Cipriano, that she was above running about the store to serve anyone, even—perhaps, especially—Señora Isabella.

Bella appeared to be unaware of these manoeuvrings.  She greeted the storekeeper's wife with her usual calm reserve.  "I have come for some things for Señor Lancer.  He heard of your husband's new venture in providing ready-made clothing."  She gestured to the back of the shop, where presumably a gaggle of poor peons laboured over their sewing.  "He thought it a very enterprising way of doing business."

Cipriano had occasion to stroke his moustache and smile behind his hand.  Señora de Baldomero looked startled. so obviously not knowing how to take such kindly interest.  He suspected that she was torn between pride in her husband's business acumen and her usual resentment of Señora Isabella.

"Señor Baldomero realised that there were opportunities there," agreed the Señora, after a moment.  She nodded towards the range of fabric stacked against one wall of the store.  "There are many men in the Valley who don't have women to sew for them.  We make clothes both for the gringos, which are very plain, and for the vaqueros.  We sell the cloth for shirts, so, we said, why not provide this extra service, too?  They have no other recourse, poor things."

"Very true," murmured Bella, and not in the least as if she felt, as she undoubtedly did, that the Baldomeros were prompted by less altruistic reasons than providing a sizeable section of the community with a much-needed service.  There would be a good profit to be made, that was certain. 

"I've told Señor Baldomero that we shouldn't limit ourselves to calling our business a simple store any longer.  We're an Emporium now, the equal of anything in Sacramento or San Francisco!" said Señora de Baldomero, proudly.

Bella met that sally with a smile of such blandness that Cipriano was impressed.

"We even have a machine to do the sewing," said the Señora.

"Indeed?"  Bella's tone conveyed nothing but courteous disinterest, and Cipriano's heart swelled with love and pride.  She had heard of such machines from Jaime, whose mind was always filled with new mechanical things, and had reacted with wonder and astonishment; but she would never let Señora de Baldomero realise that she was impressed.

"It cost more than one hundred dollars," persisted Señora de Baldomero. 

Bella took her tape measure from the silk reticule on her wrist.  "Indeed," she said again.  "Now, Señora, I need a bolero jacket, the finest you have."

"For Señor Lancer?" 

Señora Isabella raised her eyes in calm surprise and Cipriano had to choke back a laugh at the thought of the Patrón's giant frame in bolero and calzoneras.  "I'm buying everything today on Señor Lancer's behalf," she said.  "But not for him to wear, certainly."

Señora de Baldomero looked vexed and sent the clerk to bring a selection of jackets for Bella to inspect, her tone sharp with displeasure.  Cipriano watched him go, seeing for the first time the racks of clothing standing to one side of the shop, near the shelves carrying the bolts of calicos and denims, poplin and lawn that themselves took up one entire wall of this… what was it?  This Emporium.  He stroked his moustache thoughtfully.  There were many men working on the estancias who did not have anyone to do their sewing.  At Lancer, now that Señora Wallace was sick and living in town to be nearer the doctor and her church, the Patrón paid some of the wives to do the sewing and mending for the bachelors in the bunkhouse, which gave the married hands extra income and was welcomed by all. But not all of the rancheros in the region followed this custom and it was harder for the men to find someone to do their sewing for them. This new venture of the Baldomeros was a prudent investment and was likely to turn them a steady profit.

Bella chose two boleros of the right size and rejected the others.  She regarded the two steadily where they lay on the counter: one very like the original, only without any braid, and one of fine black cloth.  "These are both of very good quality, Señora," she said, at last, having turned them over several times and inspected every seam and dart at least twice, carrying each over to the window for better light.  "Your workmen are very skilled."

"The quality of the cloth we have here is also a reason these are so good," said the Señora, but without her usual snap.  Bella's unexpected compliment had caught her off-guard.  "Which will you take, Señora?"

"Both," said Bella, decisively.  "He'll need the lighter one for summer.  But they're very plain."

"That allows our patrons to choose their own decoration," explained Señora de Baldomero, and Cipriano sighed to himself as the two women launched into a passionate discussion about the many sorts of braid that the store clerk was throwing over the counter in an artful confusion meant to display them to the best advantage.  He was more than a little bored, if truth be told, but knew better than to desert his post.  He gave his opinion on the braid when appealed to, and was unsurprised (and unoffended) when the women united in rejecting it with scorn. 

After a short digression into undergarments—"Señor Lancer didn't mention them but we'd better get at least two sets and socks too.  Men never think of everything," said Bella—they had progressed to the shirts.  Four everyday shirts lay chosen and folded on the counter, three of stout plain calico for Bella to embellish (a dark green and a wine red, both with fancy bone toggles, and dark blue with small silver buttons; and a pink one lay tantalisingly to one side, still under consideration to meet Juanito's known preferences), and one of a blue flowered fabric that Cipriano would rather have liked for himself.  Beside them Bella laid two shirts made of the finest white linen buttoned with mother-of-pearl, with deep cuffs and neat collars; both were perfectly plain and awaiting her clever needle.

"For church," Bella said, with a confident assurance that Cipriano felt was thoroughly unfounded. 

For a moment all three of them regarded the pile.  Cipriano tugged at his moustache.  The Patrón was a careful man; to spend so much at once on his youngest son signalled something of what was in the man's heart and what he would never say.  Cipriano hoped the young one was adept at reading the signals.

"Excellent!" said Bella.  "Señor Lancer will be pleased."

Cipriano was, suddenly, doubtful that Señor Johnny would be as pleased.  He would not like to be so indebted, himself.  Gratitude, thought Cipriano, was as corrosive as acid, especially if one is unsure of the giver; and he suspected that Señor Johnny was as unsure of the Patrón as the Patrón was of his youngest son.  He debated how he might hint as much to the Patrón without giving offence.

Bella glanced up quickly when a girl's voice was heard.  Cipriano looked up to see what had caught her attention and caught a brief glimpse of a slender figure with a great deal of black hair whisking itself through to a room at the back of the shop.

Bella paused in her discussion of embroidery silks, a veritable rainbow of which were now spread over the counter for her to match against the shirts.  She smiled at Señora de Baldomero.  "Was that Maria-Cruz?"

The Señora nodded, fingering a bright, venomously-green silk thread she was trying to persuade Bella would be perfect for embroidering one of the white shirts.  Cipriano suspected that that the Señora was desperate to get it off her shelves: the colour would have a hard time being perfect for anything at all and would make even Juanito's tanned complexion look sickly.  Bella wouldn't buy it, of that Cipriano was certain, despite her most unaccountable and conciliatory affability towards Señora de Baldomero.

Her manner was confusing the Señora, too, he noticed.

"I was saying to Señor Roldán only the other day what a fine young lady Maria-Cruz is turning out to be, wasn't I, Cipriano?"

"Mmnn," mumbled Cipriano, wondering who Maria-Cruz was and if his wife had ever mentioned her in his hearing.  He rather thought not, but was unwilling to be positive.

"Of course, I said, that's only to be expected.  She's a very pretty girl, of course, but to make a fine match, to make the very best match, a girl needs to have so much more.  There needs to be something about her air, her way of speaking, the way she carries herself that lifts her above her peers and stamps her with the mark of a lady.  Isn't that right, Señor Roldán?"

"Mmnn," mumbled Cipriano again, highly amused that his Bella was repeating what so many said of her, and with such an air of innocence.  Señora de Baldomero smelled an insult, and was drawing herself up and bridling.

"And dear Maria-Cruz will have all of that, I said; didn't I?  You'll remember that I told you that she has her estimable aunt, Señora Lucia Diaz de Baldomero to look to for her pattern.  Such a pretty, well-mannered girl you've raised there, Señora."  Bella nodded in a decisive manner.  "She'll marry very well, no doubt. You're to be congratulated."

Señora de Baldomero looked astonished.  Cipriano would have wagered his month's salary on her believing that Bella did not even know her full name.  The offended bridling had become pleasure and satisfaction instead, at this  unprecedented gesture of respect between equals.  "You're very kind," she murmured.

"If only Jaime weren't already betrothed!" said Bella, and then casually, before the startled Señora could do more than open her mouth and bleat a little, she went on, "This blue silk is excellent.  I'll take two skeins of it and three each of the gold and silver threads."

The Señora, bemused, put the skeins with the others Bella had already chosen; a dark green and a coppery brown.  Cipriano noted that the virulent green was not among them.

"Yes," continued Bella, "she should certainly look to the highest in the Valley.  A girl of her accomplishments and charm shouldn't waste herself."

Cipriano winced a little, internally, and lost the conversation for a moment or two.  When he returned to it, his wife and the Señora seemed to be in earnest discussion about a bolt of fine, embroidered lawn that the Señora was displaying.  Bella was most complimentary about it and the Señora's complacency grew.  She mentioned the green silk thread again.

Bella took the skein of silk and looked at it critically, holding it up against the light.  "That lawn will make a pretty dress for Maria-Cruz to wear at the fiesta that I'm sure Señor Lancer will hold to celebrate our victory.  Such a dress would draw the eye of every young caballero there."  She turned to smile at the Señora.  "You know, of course, that Señor Lancer's sons have returned to the estancia?"

"Oh yes, yes," said Señora de Baldomero, eagerly.  "Ah, but Señor Scott is a brave young man, and so handsome and refined, I'm told!  I'm sure the whole Valley is grateful for him ridding us of that dreadful Pardee!  I was sorry that the day he came in here those perros of Pardee's caused so much trouble.  I wasn't here that day, but Señor Baldomero told me all about it.  The poor young man, to be so set upon!  And yet he was so very brave and stood up to them when so many wouldn't—"

"I'm buying these things for Señor Johnny," said Bella.  "He's recovering from the dreadful injury he got at Pardee's hands as he helped his hermano and his papa defeat that wicked bandito."  Her fingers smoothed one of the white linen shirts.  "He'll wear this at the fiesta, I think."

Cipriano felt that was considerably more likely than Señor Johnny wearing it to church, but didn’t feel called upon to say so.

"Oh," said Señora de Baldomero.  She leaned forward and said, in a confidential tone, "He's a pistolero, is he not?  I've heard such things—"

"He is Señor Lancer's son," said Señora Isabella grandly, raising an eyebrow.

"Ah."  Señora de Baldomero said.  "Señora, see how the green contrasts so beautifully with the linen.  The linen is of the finest quality, woven in Europe and imported at vast expense, but nothing but the best will content Señor Baldomero.  He won't stock inferior goods at this Emporium.  You could create an amazing effect with this silk." And as Bella stared blandly at the skein, she said, "A fiesta, Señora?  That will be very enjoyable.  I remember those we went to as girls!  We never had to sit out a dance, did we, my dear Señora de Roldán?  It will be same for Maria-Cruz, I'm sure.  There will be so many young men there for a girl to choose from, and all of the highest respectability and with good prospects."

"But, of course!" said Bella.  Then, very briskly,  "I'll take those two red silks and the black, six of each, and that turquoise and the pale blue and this ecru, as well as those others; but not the pink shirt.  Would you parcel these things up, Señora and present the bill?  Señor Roldán has business to transact for the estancia and we must be going."

Señora de Baldomero's mouth opened once or twice at the abrupt change of tack, but no sound emerged.  She looked around for the clerk, who was nowhere in sight.  Cipriano had seen Señor Baldomero summon him into the back of the store, but his wife and the Señora had been talking about lace as if they were contemplating their souls' salvation, and he hadn't liked to interrupt.  Although he did rather like the look on the Señora's face when she realised she would have to condescend to wrap Bella's purchases for her.

"And the green thread?" she asked, chagrined.

"I think not," said Isabella Muñoz de Roldán, putting down the poisonous green silks whose virtues and beauty the Señora had extolled at great length.  "It is, perhaps, a little too… too creative an effect on these fine linens."

 

 

Cipriano took Bella to the café to recover from her exertions, intending to leave her there for an hour with her friend and cousin-by-marriage, the owner Consuela de Garcia, while he went to Jem Stone's printing press and then visited all the cantinas, stores and saloons and left notices telling all men and drifters looking for work that Lancer was holding a hiring day the following week.  After elaborate greetings from Consuela, he seated his wife at a table and had a coffee with her first, curious to know what she thought she had been doing, treating the Baldomero woman with such affability. 

"I've never known you long for lace before, querida," he said, making it a question.

"Bait," she said, with that little quirk of a smile that was his alone.  She patted the bulky parcel with satisfaction.

Cipriano considered that statement for some moments while he worked his way through a sweet pastry.  It explained nothing, he complained when he was finished and wiping cinnamon sugar from the ends of his moustache.

She smiled.  "I was thinking, Cipriano, that Juanito is the same age as our Jaime."

Cipriano nodded slowly, taking in this incontrovertible statement with some trepidation.  He knew that tone of voice.

"If, as I think we all are agreed, it's imperative that Juanito becomes settled here and has something to tie him to Lancer, that he stays on the estancia to take up his birthright and gives up Madrid, then perhaps it won't be a bad thing."

Cipriano was sure that it would be a bad thing to ask, but felt compelled to anyway.  "What won’t?"

"Well, he is the same age as Jaime, and Jaime is getting married soon.  I've been thinking about that."

Cipriano took a fortifying gulp of coffee.  "You've been thinking about our son's wedding?" he asked, guilelessly.

Bella's smile was her most indulgent.  "I had considered her for Jaime, but he was already fixed on Magdalena Ruis, and Lena's just as good a match and comes without an aunt the likes of… well." She paused and shrugged.  "I'll think of it a little more first," she decided

"What?" asked Cipriano.  "Who?"

"Maria-Cruz Baldomero," said his wife, serenely, "has a substantial dowry."

Mierda, but breathing coffee was a painful way to die.  "For Johnny?" he gasped, when he got his breath back.

"What did you think we were talking about back there?" she asked, amused.  "Of course, for Juanito.  Señora de Baldomero, though, won't permit it."

Cipriano reviewed the conversation which had seemed to him to mainly consist of the merits of lace and braid.  Obviously he had allowed his mind to wander at the most salient points and indeed he had spent a great deal of time wondering if he could ever buy his Bella a sewing machine.  "Ah, she doesn't think he's respectable enough," he realised. 

"It's of no concern to her," sniffed Bella.  "She won’t be the one marrying him."

Breathing coffee twice in as many minutes was a painful way to spend the time, Cipriano noted.  Bella laughed and apologised as she pounded him on the back.

"Don’t do that, Bella," implored Cipriano.  "I'm drowning in coffee.  The Señora is such a good businesswoman, that I wouldn't have thought that respectability would weigh against a partnership in the biggest estancia in the Valley." 

"I should say that she won't permit it at this time.  You'll recall that I said nothing of the partnership." Bella shrugged her pretty shoulders.  "This is just speculation, Cipriano, nothing more; just thinking aloud about what might be possible sometime in the future.  Don't agitate yourself.  Maria-Cruz may not be the right wife for Juanito, in any event.  I daresay it won't come to anything and he may have ideas of his own." 

Cipriano stared into his coffee cup and wished, devoutly, that it had been tequila.  "I daresay it won't," he said, morosely.  "And I'm sure he will."

Bella sipped at her coffee.  "All I'm doing is planting the seed of the idea in her mind and then, when she finds out about the partnership, to let her realise the chance she's missed to catch an important rancher for her niece.  Maybe she'll be a little more eager then and we shall see how things work out."

Cipriano thought that it would be more to the point to plant the idea in Señor Johnny's mind, or the Patrón's, although he didn't intend to be the man to do it.  He also thought that it was unlikely, somehow, that marriage would be something either was thinking about.  They both had more immediate questions on their minds.  On the Patrón's side he thought these were things like Can I trust you?;  and Why did you not come home? In all these years that you knew who you were, that you had to know where your home was, why did you not come?;  and Why did you turn to your gun for a living? What drove you to that?; and Why are you so angry and filled with resentment?;  and What happened to your mother?;  and Will you run away from here, from me, the way she did?

He wondered what questions were filling Johnny's mind.

 

 

"Jem Stone still had the plates from our last hiring day, Patrón, so all we had to do was change the date.  It took only an hour to print the notices.  Here are the receipts for both that and the things that my wife bought at the Baldomeros' Emporium."

"Emporium?" said the Patrón, lifting an eyebrow.

"Si," said Cipriano, blandly.  "It is now the equal of anything in San Francisco.  Señora de Baldomero says so."

The Patrón's mouth twitched and he nodded for Cipriano to continue.

"So.  We will hold the hiring at the hotel in Green River, next Tuesday.  I have sent Miguel to Green River and Spanish Wells with more notices for the saloons and cantinas there."

"He's seeing that girl in the Green River cantina," said the Patrón, putting the receipts inside the ledger on his desk.  "We won’t see him back here until tomorrow and he'll be hung-over."

"Si," agreed Cipriano, serenely.  He thought that the hands deserved some reward for both their faithfulness and the danger they had faced for the estancia and had chosen Miguel for this task for this very reason.  The Patrón, if his slight snort was anything to go by, understood that very well and did not object.  "There are some who left us, who would not stand with us but who may want to return when they see the danger is over.  What shall I do about those?"

The Patrón's mouth turned down.  "What do you think?" he challenged, and Cipriano knew that he wanted the opinion of his Segundo, not just the opinion of Cipriano Roldán.

"They do not have a proper feeling for the estancia or a proper sense of duty," he said, as far as he would go in expressing his distaste for their cowardice.  "Some, though, were good hands and we need many men if we're to get through the Spring round-up.  Time grows short."

"Yes.  Well, I think you're right.  We'll consider each on their merits and according to how good a workman he was.  Beggars can't afford to be choosers."

Cipriano shrugged.  "We do not need to keep them past the summer.  We will keep only the best over winter."  After a moment, he said, "Will you attend the hiring with me, Patrón?"  It would be his first as Segundo, although he'd helped O'Brien in the past.

"I thought that Scott might go with you, to start learning the business.  He intends to ride with you tomorrow and start work, you know, now Johnny's so much better."  The Patrón chuckled.  "Truth be told, Johnny's the devil of an invalid.  I think Scott will be relieved to get away for a few hours.  I don't suppose that riding herd on cows is any more difficult than riding herd on Johnny!"

"And he is doing both for the first time," murmured Cipriano.  He frowned, considering.  "It will be hard for him.  It will be very different from anything he has known.  He is not used to labouring with his hands."

"No." 

"What did he do in Boston, Patrón?" asked Cipriano.  "Have you discovered more than the Pinkertons reported?"

The Patrón hesitated and his mouth tightened into a hard line of disappointment.  "No.  And you know that the reports said he wasn't doing anything much.  He was wasting his time away."  He stopped abruptly, as if he hadn't intended to say anything so condemnatory and added, as if in exoneration: "The war unsettled many young men, affected them badly."

The word Libby trembled between them, unsaid.

"True enough."  Cipriano considered everything he had learned of the elder son over the last week.  "Well," he said, thoughtfully, "We know he can ride well, but he is not used to a western saddle and he will certainly not be used to spending the day on a horse.  He can ride a cavalry horse, but working a cow pony takes skills he does not yet have.  His hands are soft, like a Don's, and it will take time for them to harden so he can handle a rope with ease.  He does not know cattle and how to handle them."  He smiled at the Patrón, who was looking a little jaded at the recital of his son's lack of experience.  "But we know, too, that he is resourceful and determined and that he does not fear to try things that are new to him, nor does he ignore advice.  It may be that in Boston neither the resource nor the determination were demanded of him.  We will break him into the work gently and gradually, and explain to him what we are doing, so he learns.  He will work with me.  All will be well."

"I hope so," said the Patrón, uneasily, and Cipriano knew that he feared this unaccustomed and hard life would drive Señor Scott away.  Cipriano did not think the young man would give up so easily.

"We will have to break in Señor Johnny, too, when he is able to work," said Cipriano.

"Johnny's used to our sort of life."

Cipriano thought that the Patrón was being unusually optimistic.  He couldn't see much correspondence between a life spent in towns and saloons waiting for jobs requiring gunplay, and the unremitting hard labour that running an estancia entailed.  It was true that Johnny wouldn't find a day on horseback to be a trial and he could handle a rope, and he certainly knew horses, but Cipriano wondered about the rest.  In his old life he would have just left town and drifted on whenever he wanted, a freedom that most men didn't have.  There was a relentlessness about the work of an estancia, unlike anything the young one would have encountered and Cipriano thought that Señor Johnny would chafe at the restrictions and demands of a more regular life. 

He wondered why the Patrón didn't see that Johnny would need breaking into that regularity as gently as they planned breaking in Señor Scott into manual labour.  He remembered the conversation the Patrón had had with Señora Conway: it wasn't that the Patrón couldn’t see it, he thought, but that he wouldn't; he didn't dare admit any doubts about Johnny leaving behind his former life.  Cipriano swallowed a sigh.  Having the sons come home was a beginning, not a happy ending, not like the tales for children where everyone lives happily for the rest of their lives.  And it was a beginning that would be thick with uncertainty as the members of this strange new family got to know each other—and perhaps, got to know themselves.  It wasn't clear to him that the Patrón was willing to accept any of that, just yet.

"Si?" was all he said about it, before giving the conversation a slight twist.  "I wondered if I could visit with Señor Johnny?  I thought he would like news of his horse."

"He would like that, thank you, Cip.  That horse was almost the first thing he asked about when he was sensible enough to talk.  He seems to have taken quite a shine to it and he was more worried about whether it had taken any harm in that wild ride of his than he was over his own hurts.  I told him you were looking after it, but he'll be easier if he hears it from you direct."

"Mmnn," said Cipriano, wondering if that were flattery for him, or a deeply reluctant acknowledgment of the son's doubt that he could trust his father's word.  "How is he, Patrón?"

"Much better.  Sam Jenkins is surprised at his progress since the fever broke, but it's getting harder to keep him quiet and entertained.  He's still tires very easily but when he's awake, he's restless.  He's able to sit up a little more now, but gets tired too quickly for chess or checkers.  I took some books up there yesterday, but he hasn't trie… they're probably just too heavy and awkward to hold with only one good hand.  Scott's been reading aloud to him instead and they'd both maybe welcome a new visitor."

Cipriano looked around the great room and the shelves of books that had been the Patrón's dearest companions for many years.  These gringos!  Always they had to think of the difficulties and challenges.  "I find it hard to read in English," he remarked.  "I can do it, but it doesn't come as easily to me as my own tongue.  It takes me longer and needs more effort.  It tires me."   

The Patrón stared at him for a moment, before his face relaxed into a smile the like of which Cipriano hadn't seen in a long time.  It was months since the Patrón had looked so free of stress and anxiety, not since O'Brien's murder, and something of the old Patrón was emerging from behind the gruff mask he had been wearing.

"You know me too well, Cipriano.  Why didn't I think of that?"

Cipriano declined to offer an opinion.  Instead he asked a question of his own.  "Why didn't you ask him?"

"To tell the truth, he's so damn touchy that I was afraid to," admitted the Patrón, his tone rueful.  "It's hard to talk to him about things that really matter.  He doesn't say much about himself, and the few times I've tried talking to him he either doesn’t answer or... or things don't go well.  I can't see me asking him if he can read and write.  He's proud, Cip."

"But of course.  He is Mexican."  Cipriano grinned.  "Well, then you will know how to handle his pride when it comes to the things my wife bought today," he said, allowing himself the luxury of a hint. 

The Patrón looked at him sharply.  He opened his ledger again and picked out the receipt.  "Yes," he said, slowly.  "I'll handle it, thank you, Cip."

Cipriano nodded and said no more on the subject.  "Do you have any Spanish books?"

"Yes."  The Patrón gestured to the bookshelves.  "Over by the window.  They were… they were hers.  His mother's."

Cipriano risked another question.  "Does he speak of her?"

The Patrón turned away to stare out through the big window behind his desk, at the land he loved so much.  "No," he said, at last.  "Not to me.  I don’t know what happened to her, but I suppose she must have died when he was eleven, when he was sent to that orphanage.  That's what the Pinkertons assumed, anyway, and I told them not to look for her, to concentrate on finding Johnny,  He said… he said some things while he was feverish that I don't think he would have said if he'd been well.  I think that she told him that I didn't want him, Cip.  And later, Teresa told me something he said to her and Scott last week.  He obviously believed that I threw them out and told her never to come back.  Maria must have told him that.  I can’t believe she told him that!"

Well, that answered one of the Patrón's questions, anyway, if not all of them.  It explained why Señor Johnny had never come back to a place that he thought he'd been thrown out of once, and it went some way to explaining the simmering anger in the pistolero's eyes when he arrived.  How must it have felt believing that your father didn’t want you, didn't think you were good enough to be at Lancer, didn't think you were good enough to be his son, and the only thing that changed was that your father was now desperate enough to need the gun you had turned to, to survive his neglect?  That's what Johnny Madrid must have thought, and how he must have hated Murdoch Lancer!  Cipriano wondered what Johnny Lancer thought and what he felt, and who he hated.

"That's a hard thing for him to believe," he said.  "You must talk to him, Patrón."

"I told you, that doesn't go well.  I don’t know how to start.  "

"You must," insisted Cipriano.  "He's very angry."

"Yes," said the Patrón, heavily.  "I know.  It is a hard thing.  And he is very angry."

 

 

"The man scanned the saloon quickly, his cold sapphire orbs assessing every person in it with a piercing intensity, looking for danger.  After a moment, he pushed open the swinging doors and stood just inside, exuding challenge and menace, his right hand resting on the burnished grips of the Colt at his side.  As he intended, every eye went to him.  The tinkering, tinny notes of the piano faded into harsh, jarring chords as the player froze and stared,  and the room was suddenly silenced as if the voice of every man in it were ripped from his throat—"

Señor Johnny made a gagging sound and was ruthlessly shushed.  As Cipriano and the Patrón entered quietly, he rolled his eyes at them and gestured to Señor Scott, who read on relentlessly:

"One of the saloon girls gasped and raised her hands to her red-painted mouth.  Another girl, giving the stranger a curious stare from eyes near as bright a blue as his own, caught her arm and drew her away to the corner of the bar where she and her companions, dressed in tawdry finery, stood out of the line of fire until the stranger declared as friend or foe. 

"The stranger standing just inside the saloon doors was a young man, younger than many of the men in the saloon, and darkly handsome.  He favoured Mexican clothing; something that was common along the border, but he was no full-blood Creole, not with those indigo eyes.  He was a flashy dresser.  His shirt was bright with embroidery done by a beautiful lady from Saltilla named Dolores, who had fallen in love with a pair of cobalt eyes that were never cold when they looked at her; his pants, buttoned down each side with tarnished silver buttons big as dollar coins, clung to muscular legs; his gun belt was notched, each of the many notches marking the death of a man slain by a bullet from the gunhawk's smoking Colt; and when he walked, silver spurs jingle-jangled their discordant music at the high heels of his tooled leather boots.

"He stood with his right hand resting on the butt of the Colt on his thigh, his fingers flexing as he assessed the danger.  He pushed back his black Stetson to hang by its storm-strings and stared at the men in the saloon with his azure eyes.  None of them dared meet that cold, cerulean gaze and their own eyes dropped, looking at anything in the room but the stranger, who seemed to be silently daring them to speak or move.  His lip twisted into a faint sneer. 

"His brilliant ultramarine gaze swept around the room again and paused, for the briefest moment, on the saloon girls.  Most of them wouldn't return his glance, but for one, the girl who had drawn the other to one side to safety.  Nettie, she was called.  She was a pretty piece and a slender one, with long legs in thin black silk stockings revealed by short satin skirts that barely reached her knees.  A portion of her golden hair had escaped the confinement of the feathered combs that had held it piled high on her head, to tumble in rich profusion over bare white shoulders; and in its low-cut, red satin bodice trimmed with black lace, her bosom heaved with quickened, excited breathing when the stranger's eyes met hers.  Her face showed already signs of dissipation and sin, though she could have been barely seventeen, but Nettie was still a very pretty girl, the prettiest in the Silver Dollar.  She and the stranger exchanged glances, and an unspoken promise leapt from passionate eye to passionate eye before his chilled again and resumed their cold assessment of the rest of the room, and hers sparkled in demure acceptance.  Nettie dropped her hands to smooth the red satin over her hips and smiled, but he didn't look at her again.  His fierce, concentrated gaze was on the gamblers and drinkers watching him in strained silence.

"Slowly, knowing that he was the master here, he walked up to the bar, his spurs jangling, and leaned gracefully against it, every man's eye surreptitiously following him.  His dark, handsome face was again expressionless.  He turned away from them.   'Whiskey,' he said to the quivering bartender.  He downed the whiskey in one.  'I'm looking for Black Jake Denny,' he said.  'Tell him I'm here.' 

The bartender had to try two or three times to find his voice, and he was hoarse with fear.  'Who shall I say's askin', stranger?'


"The stranger smiled, his teeth white against his tanned skin.  It was a cold smile, a dangerous one, and the bartender flinched away.  'The name's Madrid,' he said, his voice a soft drawl, but every man heard it and trembled.  'Johnny Madrid.' "

Señor Scott paused.  "End of chapter one."

"Boston, that's a load of shit!  You can't tell me someone got paid for writing that stuff!"

"Murdoch said you had to watch your language," said Señor Scott.

"And I meant it," said the Patrón, taking the book from Scott's hands.  He flipped it closed to read the title and grimaced.  "I see."

"You said I had to watch it around Teresa," said Señor Johnny.  "I don't think Cipriano's going to faint away because I said shi… bad things."

"Believe me, John, you need the practice." The Patrón returned the book, took the big chair in the window and eased out his stiff leg with a soft sigh.

Señor Scott grinned and greeted Cipriano in careful Spanish, before reverting gratefully back to his own language.  "Buenas tardes, Cipriano.  Have you come to help entertain my little brother?  We're about to embark on some literary criticism, I think."

"Buenas tardes."  Cipriano looked Señor Johnny over carefully. 

He was half-lying, half-sitting, propped up on half a dozen soft pillows to support his back and shoulder.  Cipriano could just see the edge of the heavy bandage on his left shoulder over the neck of the too-big nightshirt he was wearing.  Cipriano wondered if it was one of the Patrón's and realised that even his Bella had feet of clay and couldn't think of everything; a nightshirt had to be the one thing she hadn't bought from the Baldomeros that day.  Señor Johnny was still pale, his face looked thin and it was obvious that he had been ill, but Cipriano was reassured that he was indeed on the mend.  His eyes were bright, but not with fever, and they were clear, without the anger that had simmered there when he arrived.  While that may only be abeyance, if the Patrón had not talked with him yet, it was still a great advance.  What was not an advance was the gun belt hanging over the bedpost within reach of Johnny's right hand.  The sight of that saddened Cipriano.

"¿Cómo está usted, Señor Johnny?"

"Muy bien, gracias.  ¿Y usted?  And just Johnny, por favor."

"Muy bien, Johnny, muy bien."  Cipriano remembered that the older son had also asked him to drop the 'Señor', and he resolved to try.

Scott jumped up from his chair to sit on the bed, his back against one of the elaborately carved bedposts.  Johnny shifted slightly to make room for him, grimacing with the effort.  "Lie still, Johnny, there's enough room.  Have my chair, Cip."

"Gracias, Scott.  What were you reading?"

"Some load of old—"

"A dime novel, called 'Johnny Madrid, the Border Hawk: Trouble along the Cimmarron'," interrupted Scott, before either he or the Patrón had again to remind his hermano about his language.  "I bought it on the way here to give me an idea of what to expect in the West.  Of course, I had no idea it was about my own little brother."

"He's punishin' me," said Johnny morosely.  "I'm trapped here, helpless in my bed, and I can’t get away and he's punishin' me."

"What for?" asked Cipriano. 

"I dunno.  But I'm really very sorry an' I won’t do it again."

Scott laughed.  "I hope not.  I don't want to have to keep carrying your sorry carcass around California, oh Border Hawk.  You're heavier than you look.”

“Or maybe I’ll just shoot him,” said Johnny, thoughtfully, his right hand making a gesture towards his gun.

“Who’ll carry your sorry carcass around California then, you ingrate?  What did you think of the bit you heard, Cipriano?"

"It was very…interesting, Señor."

"Just Scott, Cipriano.  Interesting?  It's a literary treasure!  Just listen to the flow of those words and the picture it paints of a dangerous desperado.  Why, it gives at least six different descriptions for Johnny's eyes in about three paragraphs.  It takes real skill to do that.  What colour eyes do you have, Johnny?"

"You know they're blue," said Johnny.  "As any man who isn't blind can see."

"Ah, but only a mundane, literal and unliterary mind would say blue.  According to the author your eyes are sapphire, indigo, ultramarine, cobalt, azure and cerulean, and only blue when you're trading glances with saloon floozies."  Scott paused and laughed.  "I wonder if there's some moral message hidden in there?  Never mind.  What's more, you have sapphire orbs, I notice, not just run-of-the-mill eyes.  And perhaps we'd better not mention the passionate eyes—"

"Best not," said Johnny, looking distrustfully at the book in Scott's hands.

"That's real artistry in this book, Johnny, and worth every cent of the dime I paid for it.  It's using language to its utmost."

The Patrón snorted.  "Scott, I don't want any bad examples here.  I don't want your brother encouraged to use language to its utmost.  His is bad enough already."

"And if I can't use language, I don't see why anyone else should be let do it.  My eyes are blue and if any man says different—"

"You'll slay him with your smoking Colt.  I know."

Señor Johnny made the noise commonly written as Humph! and scowled at his brother. 

"Come on, Johnny, you have to admit that the author's obviously seen you in the flesh.  He, or she, has your dress sense down to a T.  I've seen those shirts and they're extremely flashy."

"It's cra… loco, Boston," complained Johnny, with a wary eye on his father.  "All of it."

"Criticise away, little brother," invited Scott.

"Fine.  I've told you once I don’t drink whiskey if I can get hold of tequila—"

"Ah, tequila is a man's drink," murmured Cipriano appreciatively, and was rewarded with one of the brilliant smiles that he remembered as the nino's.

"See, Cip'll back me on that.   Añejo tequila is the stuff God drinks."

Cipriano nodded reverently.  He usually drank tequila reposado himself, but when he'd been able to afford it and tasted añejo, it had been smooth as silk.

"I thought that was Islay malt," said the Patrón.

His son dismissed that with a wave of the hand.  "Second, I don't know any Nettie, and I don’t know a lady in Saltilla called Dolores.  I know a lot of gals in Saltilla, but none of them are ladies and none of them are called Dolores.  I remember Luisa, though.  My, what that gal could do with her—"

"Johnny!"  said his father and brother in shocked unison.

"Mierda, you might let a man finish what he was going to say!"

"We didn't dare," said the Patrón, trying to frown. 

"I was gonna say what Luisa could do with her guitar.  That gal sure loved to sing."

"I'll bet," said Scott, and Cipriano, grinning, agreed.  Even the Patrón was smiling.

"And play.  She sure loved to play.  There was this one game—"

"Johnny!" said the Patrón.  "And watch your language.  Watch all of them.  Teresa speaks Spanish, you know."

"She better not be speakin' that sort of Spanish," said Johnny.  He shot the Patrón a look that Cipriano couldn't quite read.  "You need to wash out her mouth with soap, Old Man?  Isn't that what fathers do?"

The smile was wiped off the Patrón's face.  He frowned.  "Teresa's my ward, Johnny.  She had a father of her own."

"That right?"

Cipriano, glancing at the Patrón, saw how his hand whitened on the handle of his cane, but the Patrón kept his tone even enough.

"Yes, Johnny.  That's right."

Señor Scott stepped in quickly.  "What else is wrong with the book, then?

Johnny ducked his head and looked down at the colourful quilt.  His mouth quirked upward very slightly, but whether it was a smile or a grimace, Cipriano couldn’t tell.  After a moment he said, allowing Scott's change of subject, "Well, I don't put notches in my gun-belt."  

Everyone's eyes seemed drawn to the plain leather gun belt hanging on the bedpost near Johnny's right hand.  The Patrón, who'd started to lean back in his chair, stiffened up again,

"It does seem to be the plainest thing about you," conceded Scott.  "In the books, all the gunfighters do it."

"Plumb foolish.  It ruins good leather, cutting notches in it.  Whaddya mean, the plainest thing?"

"Flashy dresser, remember?"

"I don’t dress flashy!"

Scott hitched up an eyebrow and stared.  The Patrón coughed.  Cipriano, though, looked down at his own calzoneras and the shirt that Bella had embroidered for him, and smiled.

"We know how to dress, that is all," he said complacently.  "These gringos are so plain."

"See, Cip knows!  It isn't flashy.  It's just a man needs something colourful."

"To express his personality, you mean?  Tell me, little brother, what does that pink shirt express about yours?"  And at Johnny's look of faint bewilderment: "What does it say about you?"

"It isn't pink.  It’s faded red.  'Sides which, what do those ruffles say about you?"

Scott laughed.  "You have me there!  The same as that shirt, I suppose: that we are men of taste and discernment.  And I'm sure that pink shirt helps you exude menace."

"If I knew what that meant, I probably would shoot you, Boston.  People are properly respectful, that's all, an' that's all I want.  Man goes around menacin' folks and he's likely to get himself shot at.  Me, I like it quiet."

"Quiet," repeated Scott, and shook his head.  "I only wish I could believe that!  Anything else?"

"Sure.  This here man of taste and discer-whatever-it-was, is too smart to walk into a saloon and go up to the bar that way."

"There's a different way to do it?"

"Boston, walking into a saloon like that is plumb loco.  No gunhawk's going to walk into a place and stand at the door or at the bar with his back to folks like that.  If I'd done what that book says, I might as well paint a sign on my jacket telling 'em where to aim.  Sure I check it out first, I'm not a fool, but as soon as I get in I step to one side of the doors.  I don't want someone to shoot me from the street, right?  Then I go straight to a table where I can sit with my back to the wall and get the barkeep to bring me the bottle.  How else do you think I've lived this long?"

Cipriano's grin felt frozen on his lips.  From the look of him, Señor Scott didn't find the book so amusing any more, either, and the Patrón's face was set.  Juanito had just given them an unwelcome insight into life as a top pistolero.  Cipriano cleared his throat, suddenly uncomfortable.  It was a terrible life and should never have happened to the nino he remembered.  Life hadn't been fair or easy for Juanito, he thought, and he looked accusingly at the ghost of Maria Martínez de Lancer who had condemned her son to it.  And as is the way with ghosts, she stared indifferently back, beyond reach of the condemnation of any man.  He hoped she was within reach of God's. 

Cipriano saw the gleam in Johnny's eyes and watched the young one thoughtfully.  He didn't think that this was an sidelight shone accidentally upon a gunfighter's world.  He wondered who Johnny intended the lesson for.

Scott put the book down gently on the bed between them.  "I think we've outworn that joke," he said, blinking rapidly for a second or two.

"You know, Boston, you don't have to go to all this trouble." Johnny poked at the thin, flimsy little novel and frowned at its luridly drawn cover in which he—if it were indeed meant to represent Johnny Madrid clutching a fainting, scantily-clad young lady to his chest (Nettie? wondered Cipriano)—had apparently changed his Stetson for a sombrero and had taken to wearing two guns, one of which he was using to shoot down an war-painted Indian brave of indeterminate tribe but fearsome aspect. "You want to know about it, you should just try asking."

"Would you answer?" asked Scott.

Johnny shrugged.  It must have hurt him, lifting his shoulder like that, but the only sign was a slight tightening of his mouth.

Scott nodded.  "All right, Johnny.  Why did you choose a life where you can't even walk into a saloon like any other man?"

"Well, you know, sometimes it chooses you," said Johnny, and all the light camaraderie that he and Scott had seemed to share was gone, like the early morning mist over the lake burning off under a strengthening sun.

They stared at each other until Scott, a little pale, nodded again and sat back against the headboard.  He tapped one hand against his knee, frowning.  Over by the window, the Patrón watched them, eyes hooded and unreadable.  Cipriano thought that this was a question to which the Patrón wanted the answer most desperately.

"And sometimes, things just happen," added Johnny but his attention shifted from Señor Scott to his father.  "And then there isn't any choice."

The Patrón looked up as if this was the signal he'd waited for.  "Or not one that you make yourself," he said.  "It wasn't my choice, John.  What was yours?"

The ghost of Maria Martínez Lancer was dark as a cloud between them, face averted from both wronged husband and wronged son.  If the question was truly for her, she would never answer. She would keep her enigmatic silence. 

Johnny frowned, but didn’t reply.  When the silence grew oppressive, Cipriano cleared his throat again.  "I thought, Señ… Johnny, that you’d like to know how your palomino is doing.  Eduardo and Jaime looked after the horse until Eduardo left for Stockton to collect his wife and son, and since then Jaime has exercised him every day so he doesn't forget the feel of the saddle.  Jaime has done some basic schooling, but only enough so the horse forgets to be wild."

The look he got was sharp with both intelligence and that simmering resentment that Cipriano had seen the day Johnny had arrived.  The Patrón had returned to being quiet and watchful, and Johnny let Cipriano have his diversion. 

"That's great," said Johnny.  Thanks, Cip.  Don’t let him do too much schooling will you?  I want to train my horse myself."

"I know, Johnny.  Truly, Jaime is only keeping the horse exercised."

Johnny nodded.  "Thanks.  Isn't Eduardo your son?"

"Si.  He's a little older than Señ… than Scott."

"You used to follow Eduardo around everywhere," said the Patrón, suddenly.  "As soon as you could walk, you were his shadow.  You thought he was wonderful.  I have to say he thought you were as big as nuisance as Jaime."

Johnny frowned.  His hands plucked at the quilt, strong fingers pulling on the bright triangles and calico squares, red and blue and green and white.  Bella would know what it was, what the gringos called it.  They had names even for the ways their women pieced together scraps of fabric into patterns: bears'-paw, or dove-in-the-window, or puss-in-the-corner, or tippecanoe.  The patterns were traditional; they had a history and they meant something.  Cipriano didn't know which pattern and history this quilt represented.  He knew only the patterns Johnny's brown fingers made against the brightness and he grieved for the history behind them, because the patterns made by those twitching, restless fingers spoke of pain, and of tightly-held anger and frustration and even distress.

Scott reached out and daringly ruffled the shock of dark hair.  "Would you have followed me around adoringly, if we'd been kids together?"

"We weren't, Boston," said Johnny.  His soft drawl had sharpened again.

"You and Jaime are the same age," said Cipriano, quickly.  "Jaime's my youngest son.  You played together when you were left in our care sometimes, by your mother."

"I don't remember," said Johnny, all sharpness and angles.

"Nor does he, nino," said Cipriano, gently.  "But it does not make it any the less so." 

"I haven't been a nino for a long time," snapped Johnny.  He huddled back against his pillows as if retreating into himself. 

It was true.  It was all too true.  Cipriano wondered if the boy had ever had a real childhood, been a carefree nino the way he should have been.  He suspected that the only patterns the child had known had been made up of hunger and blows, hate and hardship.  He nodded.  "Lo siente, Johnny.  I was wrong to call you that."

Johnny looked taken-aback at the ready apology.  His fingers stilled on the quilt.  "De nada," he said, the scowl clearing slowly.

Cipriano sought for another diversion.  He briefly considered Bella's manoeuvrings that day but concluded that topic of marriage might be just too diverting for all of them.  He opted to offer the book he'd brought, instead.  "I found this on the bookshelves downstairs," he said.  "I thought you might enjoy it."  He handed it over.

Johnny brightened when he looked at it.  "de Samaniego!  I used to love his stories.  Thank you, Cip."  He flipped open the book and Cipriano knew when he'd read the inscription.  Johnny's mouth tightened again and he flicked a glance at his father.  The two looked at each other steadily, until Johnny dropped his gaze to the book again.  He closed it up and let it drop to the counterpane.  "I'll read it later.  I'm a little tuckered right now."

Scott picked up the book to examine it and there was comprehension on his face, as well as some relief.  Cipriano realised that, like his father, he had feared that Johnny was illiterate.  "You read Spanish, Johnny?  Of course, you were brought up in Mexico, so I expect it will be your first language."

"We spoke both at home, but mostly Spanish," said Johnny, shrugging.  "I went to school after…  I went to school for a year or so once, down in Mexico.  They taught me there."  He glowered at his father.  "Don't the Pinkerton reports tell you that?"

"They do," said the Patrón.

Scott went in fearlessly where others didn't dare.  Or maybe he was taking the attention off the Patrón.  Or maybe taking his hermano at his word and just asking.  "Do you read English too, Johnny?"

"Some.  Not as good as Spanish since I never had any real schooling in it.  I spent some time in jail in Nogales when I was a kid once—“  He looked at the Patrón.

“Yes,” said the Patrón, his face like stone.  “I know about that, too.”

“You sure got your dollar’s worth, Old Man,” said Johnny, bitter as alum.  He shifted in the bed, trying to hide a wince, and focused his gaze back onto his hermano.  “There was this hombre in there, a gringo, taught me some before they hung him, and I picked up more later.  I can manage okay, but Spanish is easier.  I'm not a great one for reading anything much, to tell you the truth.  I can't carry books about with me, and I like my fun more—"  He hesitated.

"Active?"  suggested Scott, with a grin.  "The kind that involves singing guitar-players like Dolores?"

"Luisa," corrected Johnny.  "That's the kind.  You got to get her to put the guitar down first, though."  Scott laughed, but Johnny's grin was tired and half-hearted.  He looked moodily at the Patrón.  "You should've just asked, Old Man."

"I should have done a lot of things, John."

"No shit," scoffed Johnny, and this time no-one pulled him up on his language.  The Patrón looked away, staring out of the window, and didn't answer.

"I have stayed too long and tired you," said Cipriano, diplomatically.  "I will be sure to tell Jaime not to school the horse too much."

"Gracias."  Johnny's gaze was fixed on his father.

"I'll come with you, Cip.  We still need to discuss the hiring day," said the Patrón, getting to his feet.  "Scott?  Are you going to join us?"

"I'll keep Johnny company a while longer, sir, if you don't mind.  Even if I have been reading aloud under false pretences."

"Keeps you out of trouble, Boston."

"Which I shall translate from the Johnnyese as meaning that you don't mind me reading aloud, so long as it doesn't involve cerulean gazes."  Scott reclaimed his seat from Cipriano, taking up one of the books sitting on the night-table.  "This is one of my favourites, Johnny.  It's by an English writer.  I don't know if we can get it in Spanish for you, if you’d prefer it, but if you like I'll write to San Francisco and see."

"Sure," said Johnny.

Cipriano reflected that Señor Scott was a brave young man, as well as a patient and kind one.  He was aware of the moody, intense gaze following him and the Patrón to the door.  He turned and nodded to the sons. 

"Buenas tardes, señors."

They both smiled at him.  Johnny's smile was tired.  He looked worn out, and even as Cipriano glanced at him, he slid further down in the bed and closed his eyes.

Scott began:  "I was born in the Year 1632, in the City of York, of a good Family, tho' not of that Country, my Father being a Foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull: He got a good Estate by Merchandise, and leaving off his Trade, lived afterward at York"

The Patrón pulled the door to, and the young man's clear, clipped accent became a fainter murmuring, reminding Cipriano of the times he had heard the ocean in the distance. 

"It's always the same, if I try and talk to him," said the Patrón, quietly.

The door closed with a hard little snick of the lock.

 

 

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