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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Gringos - Chapter 17. A Fiesta We Shall Have
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The Gringos - Chapter 17. A Fiesta We Shall Have Post by :MikeA Category :Long Stories Author :B. M. Bower Date :May 2012 Read :3055

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The Gringos - Chapter 17. A Fiesta We Shall Have


Jack, unfolding the crumpled paper, read twice the note from Dade, and at each reading gave a little snort. He folded the paper, unfolded it and read again:

"Dear Jack,

"If Jose wants to fight, take a fool's advice and don't. Better quit the ranch and go back to town for a while--Valencia will get there ahead of Manuel, he says, and you can pull out before Manuel shows up. A licking might do Jose good, but it would stir up a lot of trouble and raise hell all around, so crawl into any hole you come to. I'll quit as soon as rodeo is over, and meet you in town. Now don't be bull-headed. Let your own feelings go into the discard for once, and do what's best for the whole valley. Everything's going smooth here. Noah's dove ain't got any the best of me and Jose, and the boys are working fine.


"At least your majordomo agrees with you, Don Andres," he said, twisting the note unthinkingly in his fingers. "Dade wants me to sneak off to town and hide in Bill Wilson's cellar." There was more resentment in his tone than the note itself had put there; for the argument which Valencia had unwittingly interrupted had been threatening to become acrimonious.

"My majordomo," replied Don Andres, his habitual courtesy just saving the words from becoming a retort, "continues to show that rare good sense which first attracted me to him."

The senora moved uneasily in her chair and smiled deprecatingly at Jack, then imploringly at her husband. This was washing day, and those shiftless ones within would overlook half the linen unless she was on the spot to watch and direct. But these two had come to their first clash of wills, and her husband had little liking for such firm defiance of his wishes. Well she knew the little weather-signs in his face. When his eyebrows took just that tilt, and when the nostrils were drawn in and quivered with his breathing, then was it wise that she should remain by his side. The senora knew well that words are never so harsh between the male of our species when their women are beside them. So, suffering mental torment because of the careless peonas, she, nevertheless, sent Teresita after the fine, linen apron from which she meant to remove a whole two inches of woof for the new pattern of drawnwork which the Donna Lucia had sent her. She would remain as a buffer between these two whose eyes were too hard when they looked at each other.

"It seems a pity that young men nowadays cannot contain themselves without quarreling," sighed the senora, acting upon the theory that anger is most dangerous when it is silent, and so giving the conversational ball a push.

"Is there no way, Senor, in which you might avert this trouble? Truly it saddens me to think of it, for Jose has been as my own son. His mother and I were as twin sisters, Senor, and his mother prayed me to watch over him when she had gone. 'Si, madre mia' would he tell me, when I gave him the good counsel. And now he comes no more, and he wants to fight the duelo! Is there no way, Senor?"

The hardness left Jack's lips but not his eyes, while he looked from her to the don, smoking imperturbably his cigar beside her.

"There is no way, Senora, except for a coward. I have done what I could; I know that Jose's skill is great with riatas, and the choice was mine. I might have said pistols," he reminded her gently, but with meaning.

The plump hands of the senora went betrayingly into the air and her earrings tinkled with the horror that shook her cushiony person. "Not pistols! No, no--for then Jose would surely be killed! Gracias, Senor! With riatas my Jose can surely give good account of himself. Three times has he won the medalla oro in fair contest. He is a wizard with the rawhide. Myself, I have wept with pride to see him throw it at the fiestas--"

"Mother mine, Margarita would have you come at once," the senorita interrupted her. "Little Francisco has burned his legs with hot water, and Margarita thinks that your poultice--"

With twittering exclamations of dismay over the, accident the two women hurried away to minister to the burned legs of Francisco, and Jack rose and flung away his cigarette. His mouth had again the stubborn look which Dade knew so well, and dreaded also.

"I am sorry for this unpleasantness," he said perfunctorily, stopping before Don Andres. "But as I told the senora, I have done all that I can do. I have named riatas. I don't think even you, Don Andres, could ask more of me. Surely you wouldn't want to know that your roof had sheltered a coward?"

Don Andres waved away the challenge which the question carried. "Still, it seems a pity that my family must be made the subject of gossip because of the foolishness of two young men," he said doggedly, returning to his argument. "They will say that it is because of my daughter that you fight; and the friendship of years must be set aside while two hot-heads vent their silly spite--"

"It need not." Jack's head went up an inch. "I can leave your employ, Don Andres, at any moment. There is no need for you to be caught between the duties of hospitality and those of friendship. I can do anything--I am willing to do anything--except crawl into a hole, as Dade wrote for me to do." A fine, spirited picture he made, standing there with the flames of wrath in his eyes and with neck stiff and his jaws set hard together.

Don Andres looked up at him with secret approval. He did not love a coward, and truly, this young fellow was brave. And Jose had deliberately sought the quarrel from the first; justice compelled him to remember that.

"If it might be arranged--" The don was studying the situation and the man together. "Almost have I grasped the thread that will unravel the whole. No, no! I do not mean your going, Senor. That would but limber the tongue of scandal; and besides, I do not mean that I withdraw my friendship from you. A man must be narrow, indeed, if he cannot carry more than one friendship in his soul.

"Sit you down, Senor, while I think a moment," he urged. "Surely it can be arranged without hurt to the fair name of--of any. Riatas--ah, now I have it, Senor! Dullard, not to have thought of it at once! Truly must I be in my dotage!" He did not mean that, of course, and he was quite openly pleased when Jack smiled and shook his head.

"Listen, Senor, and tell me if the plan is not a good one! To-morrow Valencia shall ride back to the rodeo, with a message to all from me, Don Andres Picardo. I shall proclaim a fiesta, Senor--such a fiesta as even Monterey never rivaled in the good old days when we were subject to his Majesty, the King. A fiesta we shall have, as soon as may be after the rodeo is over. There will be sports such as you Americanos know nothing of, Senor. And there openly, before all the people, you shall contest with Jose for a prize which I shall give, and for the medalla oro if you will; for you shall have the privilege of challenging Jose, the champion, to contest for the medalla. And there will be a prize--and I doubt not--" He was thinking that there would probably be two prizes, though only one which he could proclaim publicly.

"Myself, I shall write to Jose and beg him to consider the honor of his father's name and of the name of his father's friend, and consent that the duelo shall take place under the guise of sport. It must not be to the death, Senor. Myself, I shall insist that it shall not be to the death. Before all the people, and women, and ninos--and besides, I do not wish that Jose should--" There again he checked himself, and Jack's lips twitched at the meaning he read into the break.

"But if there should be an accident?" Jack's eyes probed for the soul of the old man; the real soul of the Spanish grandee under the broad-minded, easy-natured, Californian gentleman. He probed, and he thought he found what he was seeking; he thought it showed for just an instant in his eyes and in the upward lift of his white mustache.

"An accident would be deplorable, Senor," he said. "We will hope that there will be no accident. Still, Jose is a very devil when the riata is hissing over his head, and he rides recklessly. Senor, permit me to warn you that Jose is a demon in the saddle. Not for nothing does he hold the medalla oro."

"Gracias, Don Andres. I shall remember," said Jack, and walked away to the stables.

He felt that the heart of Don Andres Picardo was warring with his intelligence. That although his wide outlook and his tolerance would make friends of the gringos and of the new government--and quite sincerely--still, the heart of him was true Spanish; and the fortunes of his own blood-kin would send it beating fast or slow in sympathy, while his brain weighed nicely the ethics of the struggle. Jack was not much given to analyzing the inner workings of a man's mind and heart, but he carried with him a conviction that it was so.

He hunted up Diego, and found him putting a deal of gratuitous labor upon the silver trimmings of the new saddle. Diego being the peon in whose behalf Jack had last winter interfered with Perkins, his gratitude took the form of secret polishings upon the splendid riding-gear, the cleaning of Jack's boots and such voluntary services. Now the silver crescents which Teresita ridiculed were winking up at him to show they could grow no brighter, and he was attacking vigorously the "milky way" that rode behind the high cantle. Diego grinned bashfully when Jack's shadow flung itself across the saddle and so announced his coming, and stood up and waited humbly before the white senor who had fought for him, a mere peon, born to kicks and cursings rather than to kindness, and so had won the very soul of him.

"Bueno," praised Jack patronizingly. "Now I have some real work for you, Diego, and it must be done quickly and well."

"Gracias, Senor," murmured Diego, abashed by such favor, and bowed low before his god.

"The riata must be dressed now, Diego, and dressed until it is soft as a silken cord, sinuous as the green snakes that live in the streams, and not one strand must be frayed and weakened. Sabe? Too long have I neglected to have it done, and now it must be done in haste--and done well. Can you dress it so that it will be the most perfect riata in California, Diego?" A twinkle was in Jack's eyes, but Diego was too dazzled by the graciousness of his god to see it there. He made obeisance more humble than before.

"Si, Senor," he promised breathlessly. "Never has riata been dressed as this riata shall be. By the Holy Mother I swear it."

"Bueno. For listen! Much may hang upon the strength and the softness of it." He fixed his eyes sternly upon the abject one. "It may mean my life or my death, Diego. For in a contest with Don Jose Pacheco will I use it."

"Si, Senor," gasped Diego, awed into trembling. "By my soul I swear--"

"You needn't. Save some of your energy for the rawhide. You'll want all you've got before you're through." Jack, having made an impression deep enough to satisfy the most exacting of masters, dropped to his natural tone and speech. "Get some one to help, and come with me to the orchard."

From the saddle-house he brought the six-strand, rawhide riata which Manuel had bought for him and which his carelessness had left still stiff and unwieldy, and walked slowly into the orchard, examining critically each braided strand as he went. Manuel, he decided, was right; the riata was perfect.

Diego, trailing two horsehair ropes and carrying a stout, smooth stick of oak that had evidently been used before for the work, came running after Jack as if he were going to put out a fire. Behind him trotted a big, muscular peon who saw not half the reason for haste that blazoned itself across the soul of Diego.

Thus the three reached the orchard, where Jack selected two pear trees that happened to stand a few feet more than the riata length apart; and Diego, slipping a hair rope through the hondo of the riata, made fast the rope to a pear tree. The other end he tied to the second hair rope, drew the riata taut and tied the rope securely to the second tree. He picked up the oaken stick, examined it critically for the last time, although he knew well that it was polished smooth as glass from its work on other riatas, twisted the riata once around it and signed to the other peon.

Each grasping an end of the stick and throwing all their weight against it, they pushed it before them along the stretched riata. As they strained toward the distant pear tree the rawhide smoked with the friction of the stick in the twist. It was killing work, that first trip from tree to tree, but Diego joyed in thus serving his blue-eyed god. As for the other, Roberto, he strained stolidly along the line, using the strength that belonged to his master the patron just as matter-of-factly as he had used it since he was old enough to be called a man.

Jack, leaning against a convenient tree in the next row, smoked a cigarette and watched their slow, toilsome progress. Killing work it was, but the next trip would be easier after that rendering of the stiff tissue. When the stick touched the hondo, the two stopped and panted for a minute; then Diego grasped his end of the stick and signaled the return trip. Again it took practically every ounce of strength they had in their muscular bodies, but they could move steadily now, instead of in straining, spasmodic jerks. The rawhide sizzled where it curled around the stick. They reached the end and stopped, and Jack commanded them to sit down and have a smoke before they did more.

"It is nothing, Senor. We can continue, since the senor has need of haste," panted Diego, brushing from his eyes the sweat that dripped from his eyebrows.

"Not such haste that you need to kill yourselves at it," grinned Jack, and went to examine the riata. Those two trips had accomplished much towards making it a pliable, live thing in the hands of one skilled to direct its snaky dartings here and there, wherever one willed it to go. Many trips it would require before the riata was perfect, and then--

"The senor is early at his prayers," observed a soft, mocking voice behind him.

Jack dropped the riata and turned, his whole face smiling a welcome. But Teresita was in one of her perverse moods and the mockery was not all in her voice; her eyes were maddeningly full of it as she looked from him to the stretched riata.

"The senor is wise to tell the twists in his riata as I tell my beads--a prayer for each," she cooed. "For truly he will need the prayers, and a riata that will perform miracles of its own accord, if he would fight Jose with rawhide." There was the little twist of her lips afterward which Jack had come to know well and to recognize as a bull recognizes the red serape of the matador.

"Senor," she added impressively, holding back her hair from blowing across her face and gazing at him wide-eyed, with a wicked assumption of guileless innocence, "at the Mission San Jose there is a very old and very wise woman. She lives in a tule hut behind the very walls of the Mission, and the Indians go to her by night when dreams have warned them that death threatens. She is a terribly wise old woman, Senor, for she can look into the past and part the curtain which hides the future. For gold will she part it. And for gold will she put the curse or the blessing where curse or blessing is needed most. Go you to the old woman and have her put a blessing upon the riata when it is dressed and you have prayed your prayers upon it, Senor! For five pesos will she bless it and command it to fly straight wherever the senor desires that it shall fly. Then can you meet Jose and not tremble so that the spur-bells tinkle."

Jack went hot inside of him, but he made his lips smile at the jest; for so do brave men try to make light of torment, whether it be fire or flood or the tongue of the woman they love.

"All right," he said. "And I think I'll have the judges rule that the fight shall be at fifty paces, as I would if we were to fight with pistols." He tried to keep his irritation out of his voice, but there must have been enough to betray him.

For Teresita smiled pleasedly and sent another barb. "It would be wise. For truly, Jose's equal has never been seen, and caballeros I have known who would swear that Jose's riata can stretch to fifty paces and more to find its mark."

"Is it anxiety for me that makes you so solicitous?" demanded Jack, speaking low so that the peons could not overhear.

"Perhaps--and perhaps it is pride; for I know well the skill and the bravery of my Jose." Again the twist of her pretty, pouting lips, blood-red and tempting.

Her Jose! For just a minute the face of Teresita showed vague to him before his wrathful eyes.

"When you tell your beads again, Senorita," he advised her crisply, "say a prayer or two for your Jose also. For I promise you now that I will shame him before your face, and if he lives afterward to seek your sympathy, it will be by grace of my mercy!"

"Santa Maria, what a fierce senor!" Her laughter mocked him. "Till the fiesta I shall pray--for you!" Then she turned and ran, looking over her shoulder now and again to laugh at him.

Always before, when she had teased and flouted and fled laughing, Jack had pursued her with long strides, and in the first sequestered nook had made her lips pay a penalty. But this time he stood still and let her go--which must have puzzled the senorita very much, and perhaps piqued her pride as well. For the girl who flouts and then flees laughing surely invites pursuit and an inexorable exaction of the penalty. And if she is left to flee in safety, then must the flouted one pay for his stupidity, and pay high in the coin of love.

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