Retreat (Robledo Mountain #3)
Chapter 9

Copyright© 2020 by Kraken

The next morning, bright and early, Tom and I loaded up the wagon and drove it over to the back door of the bank, where Levi was waiting for us. I signed the withdrawal receipt and accepted a deposit receipt of $35,000 for the sale of 4,000 head of cattle to Richard King. We loaded the bags of money into the steel wagon box, locked it up, and drove it back over to the hotel.

In the hotel restaurant, we found the ladies waiting for us, along with Richard King, a total of twenty vaqueros, and Raphael with Frank. After a quick breakfast, we mounted up and rode for home, with Raphael and Frank driving the wagon and everyone else on horseback.

With such a large party, no one was really worried about being attacked, but without being told the Estancia vaqueros disappeared once we were out of town to perform screening and scouting duty. The Captain was a little confused by the departure of the vaqueros until we explained what they were doing.

We pulled into Mr. Mendoza’s stable late the next afternoon, tired and hungry. Anna and Yolanda left their horses with us and walked over to the restaurant. We got all the horses taken care of and introduced Mr. Mendoza to Captain King. Captain King’s vaqueros were invited to spend the night in the hayloft with the Estancia vaqueros, and they rapidly accepted the offer after being told about the abysmal accommodations offered by the hotel.

The vaqueros all disappeared into the restaurant for their supper, while the rest of us joined Mr. Mendoza at his worktable behind the stable. There we all relaxed and brought Mr. Mendoza up to date on the cattle sale and gunfight. Captain King seemed to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere. He listened attentively to everything that was being said, including the hiring of Frank. I made a mental note to myself to be careful about what I said around this man.

Captain King and Frank were apparently invited to supper, as Mr. Mendoza made sure to include them in our walk over to the restaurant. We stopped just inside the back door, as usual, to watch the kitchen dance for a few moments, before going into the dining room. Captain King looked around at the huge table with all the place settings and asked if this was a special function room.

“Well, in a way it is,” I replied. “This is the Mendoza family’s dining room. Mrs. Mendoza owns the restaurant and most of the family work either here or hauling freight for Mr. Mendoza, so the entire extended family eats their meals here.”

He was about to ask more questions when the ladies came in bearing the platters and bowls filled with our supper. The kids all trailed in behind them, and we all dug in. Captain King listened with fascination to the various discussions going on around the table. I told Anna in Apache that I couldn’t wait to see his reaction to mealtime at the Hacienda if supper here fascinated him so much. She beamed me one of her special smiles and agreed that it would be interesting to watch.

After supper, with the table cleared and the after-supper coffee served, Anna picked up the guitar from behind the chair. She handed it to me without a word. I tuned the guitar and sang what had become my standard opening song, “Keeper of the Stars”. When I was done, Mrs. Mendoza said that she’d heard that the visit to El Paso was interesting. I grinned at her and sang “Mi Vida Loca”, which had everyone including Frank and the Captain grinning.

I played a few more requests before the kids started begging Tio Pablo to play the lion song. Anna threw me a huge super megawatt Anna smile as I started the introduction of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. Anna and Yolanda got all the kids and most of the adults ready and I started singing. Everyone came in on cue, and we went through the song twice before I brought it a close. The second time around, even the Captain had joined in and was smiling.

The kids were happy, and they all thanked me as they filed out to get ready for bed. I mixed things up after that, singing “Do You Know Where You’re Going To”, “I Have a Dream”, and “Hooked on a Feeling”, before finishing up with “Anna’s Song”.

We talked for a while longer enjoying the coffee, before everyone headed across the courtyard to bed. Anna and I escorted the Captain to the guest bedroom in the house where his saddlebags were lying on the bed and bid him a good night telling him we’d see him at breakfast in the restaurant.

With a good night’s sleep and a filling breakfast under our belts, we left Las Cruces the next morning right on time. The vaqueros, very aware of the danger that could be waiting anywhere between Las Cruces and the Estancia, pulled their disappearing act as soon as we were out of Las Cruces. They rejoined us once we were on the Estancia, knowing that the Scout/Sniper teams had already spotted us and alerted everyone on the Estancia.

We stopped just inside the Estancia for the ladies to relieve themselves, and I took the opportunity to send a message to Hector, asking him to meet us at the Hacienda for lunch with a cattle buyer, and to start rounding up 4,000 head of cattle.

The captain watched curiously as I sent the message with the little mirror, we all carried, and was surprised to see an acknowledging flash from the mountains. I explained that I had sent a message to the Ranch Segundo, asking him to start rounding up 4,000 head of cattle and meet us for lunch at the Hacienda.

We had resumed our ride when the message came back from Hector telling us he would get the roundup started and would meet us at the Hacienda. I acknowledged the message as we rode and returned to talking with the Captain who was full of the usual questions. I explained about the annual flooding and the need for the levees as well as the road work he could see going on in the distance.

A few minutes before we reached the bridge, the lead vaquero came up beside me and told us he was taking the Captain’s vaqueros to the Ranch where they would stay until they left. I nodded and told him to draw any additional supplies needed for the extra vaqueros from the store. He nodded and spurred his horse off towards the Ranch operations area, waving for the other vaqueros to follow him.

Captain King was again full of questions about why the vaqueros were riding away. I explained that they all lived at the Ranch operations area, while we lived at the Hacienda. I laughed, telling him he would understand better after tomorrow morning’s ride. In the meantime, we would spend the afternoon unpacking and relaxing at the Hacienda, where many of his questions could be answered much easier.

We’d just crossed the bridge when Captain King asked, “How much farther to the Hacienda?”

“It’s just over the top of that slope,” I replied, pointing at the slope where the top of the Hacienda was visible.

Anna rode up next to me to get a better look at Captain King’s face as we crested the slope, and he got his first look at the Hacienda. She giggled a little as his eyes bulged out in shock at the size and the architecture.

He was just starting to get over his shock when three of the young cousins came running out of the courtyard door to get our horses and take them down to the stable. We all laughed at his expression.

“You’ll get used to it soon enough,” I said congenially.

Anna and Yolanda took the Captain to the room he’d be using while he was here. I sent Raphael and Frank up to the terrace to relax for a few minutes, while Tom and I unloaded our part of the wagon and hauled the bags of coins into the study and then into the cave. When we got upstairs to the terrace, the ladies and the Captain were already there, enjoying coffee with Frank and Raphael.

Frank and Raphael left a few minutes later to deliver the vaqueros’ packages to the ranch, before taking the wagon to the village. As they were leaving, the Captain got up. He walked to the railing and looked out over the river towards the Doña Ana Mountains.

The rest of us sat sipping our coffee with smiles on our faces, knowing that he was still trying to process what he had seen so far. Eventually, he turned around and rejoined us at the table telling us it was a magnificent view.

Hector arrived a few minutes later, and while we were introducing him to the Captain, Cristina, Celia, and Carla brought out our lunch.

Over lunch, we talked about the roundup, and I asked Hector how long it would take to roundup 4,000 head with the extra fifteen vaqueros the Captain had brought with him. His immediate reply of about five days surprised the Captain.

Seeing his surprise Hector elaborated. “Between you’re fifteen vaqueros, and the forty or so vaqueros currently available we’ll round up 5,000 head in the next three days, then spend two days culling that down to 4,000 head your vaqueros find acceptable.”

With a surprised look on his face, the Captain asked, “How many vaqueros do you have?”

“The Estancia currently has eighty vaqueros,” Hector replied. “At any given time twenty are on security duty, patrolling the Estancia, and ten are working on the roads or loading and hauling stones for the masons. The other ten are getting ready to deliver the monthly beef quotas to the forts we currently supply.”

Miranda made a rare appearance outside the kitchen, bringing us a plate of biscochitos to snack on shortly after lunch. We spent the rest of the afternoon on the terrace drinking coffee, snacking on biscochitos, and answering the Captain’s questions about the Estancia.

The Captain was again surprised when Beth and Izabella came out on the terrace, leading the rest of the kids to welcome us home. After a round of hugs for everybody we introduced all the kids to the Captain and explained which ones ours were and which ones were Tomas and Giuseppe’s. As the kids were leaving, chatting away to each other, the Captain asked how many languages they were speaking.

I listened for a moment and told him, “Sounds like four at the moment.” I listened for another moment and smiled. “Nope, it’s five languages. English, Spanish, Apache, Italian, and German.”

“Good lord man! How do they understand each other?” he asked.

Anna laughed and explained, “Everyone on the Estancia is required to be fluent in English, Spanish, and Apache. The kids also learn Latin in school, but since Giuseppe’s kids are Italian, they are teaching the other Hacienda kids that language also. The German was picked up informally, from the masons’ kids at school.”

“School? What school? Why Apache?” he asked.

We all laughed at his confused look. Anna and Yolanda answered all his questions about the school, as well as the relationship to the Apache and their security work on the Estancia. They finished up just as Cristina announced that supper would be ready in a few minutes.

We all walked into the dining room, to find everyone already seated at a much bigger table. Seeing my puzzled look Anna told me that it had been delivered yesterday and set up this morning before we arrived. With that puzzle solved, I introduced the Captain to everyone, including the three babies, lying in bassinets, next to their mothers.

Supper was the usual riot of conversations in multiple languages with the kids constantly shifting between languages depending on who they were talking to. The Captain ate supper with a look of amazement on his face, as he tried to follow along while the kids told us about school, riding their horses, and the new friends they’d made while we’d been gone.

When the younger kids started yawning after supper, Beth and Izabella got up from the table telling the kids it was time to start getting ready for bed. The kids all went to their parents, gave them a hug, and wished them good night, before being led out of the dining room by Izabella, with Beth the last to leave behind the rest of them.

I cocked a questioning eyebrow at Anna, who gave me a small shoulder shrug. Sofia laughed at our exchange and told us that she had asked Beth and Izabella to mind the kids until the babies were a little older.

Anna and I retired shortly thereafter, telling everyone we were tired from the trip and would see them all the next morning. In reality, of course, we were both simply craving a nice warm shower followed by exploring some more ‘possibilities’.

The next morning, we had our normal Monday morning staff meeting, which didn’t last long as things were progressing better than we’d hoped on all fronts. Especially good were the road-building activities, due to a combination of the rock sorters Tom and I had built, and the effectiveness of the steel roller Raphael had built. The rest of the morning was spent riding the Estancia, accompanied by Tom, Giuseppe, and the Captain.

The Captain expressed the expected wonder at everything he saw; from the village to the dams, to the quarry, to the Ranch operations area. His biggest excitement was reserved for the stable and wagon yard operations, where he saw row after row of wagons painted in the Estancia colors undergoing maintenance. As a riverboat captain, he was interested in all things dealing with transporting and hauling goods, so his interest shouldn’t have surprised us, but it did.

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