Retreat (Robledo Mountain #3)
Copyright© 2020 by Kraken
“Mi Pablo, please get your work done quickly, and stay safe,” Anna said quietly with tears in her eyes.
We were standing in front of the restaurant holding each other closely as we said our goodbyes.
“My love, I promise not to fight any windmills on this trip, and I’ll do my best to stay out of trouble. You take care of the kids, keep the Estancia running, and stay safe while I’m gone. I’ll be home as soon as I can,” I told her while thumbing the tears from her eyes.
She nodded, gave me a hard squeeze and a light kiss, before releasing me and backing up. I pulled her close for one more kiss and then turned to join Tom walking to the stables.
Mr. Mendoza had two heavy freight wagons loaded with our supplies and ready for us. They each had a six-mule team. I tied my horse to the back of the wagon and climbed up into the seat taking up the reins. Mr. Mendoza wished us a safe trip, which Tom and I both acknowledged as we drove off down the street, heading West.
We made good time with the half-empty wagons pulled by six mules. We pushed the animals hard the entire trip, knowing they could rest up while we were digging for gold. We skirted every village, fort, and town on the way and didn’t see any sign of raiding parties or bandits the whole trip.
To make things even better, the weather cooperated, and it remained warm and dry with almost no wind. We made the five-hundred-miles to Colorado City in fifteen days before turning north. We traveled well north of Colorado City, following the rudimentary river road.
Three days later I found the landmarks I’d been looking for, and we turned off the road onto hardpan. A mile off the road I left Tom with the two wagons and rode my horseback out to the road to hide the few tracks we’d made as best I could. When I caught up to Tom a couple of hours later, we resumed our trek. After a short ride, I led him down into the arroyo then up the sandy bed to the ramp-up into the large grassy bowl.
Tom looked around in amazement. “How did you find this place, Paul?”
I chuckled. “Mostly by accident, Tom, but I’m thankful that we did. It protects us from discovery in all directions. Take care of the animals and start setting up camp if you would, please. I’m going to go back and hide the tracks from the last part of the ride in. When I get back, we’ll start digging.”
Tom nodded and turned to do as I’d asked. I rode back to where we’d stopped the wagons and did what I could to erase the tracks from there, to our camp in the bowl.
I topped the ramp on my return to find Tom had finished taking care of the animals and was nearly finished setting up the camp. I unloaded the metal detector, two shovels, and four burlap bags from the wood box Anna had put them in.
I gave Tom a quick course on the metal detector and had him put the earphones on and test it out. A minute later he gave me a skeptical look telling me it hadn’t gone off at all.
Laughing, I told him, “It’s not broken Tom, there’s just nothing up here. Turn it off and follow me.”
When we got to the area Anna and I had quit working on our last visit I had Tom turn the detector on with the volume on low.
Just like when Anna and I were here, as soon the metal detector was turned on a loud squelch came through the earphones making Tom jump in surprise. I motioned him to swing it from side to side and the sound never lessened. I had Tom turn off the metal detector, set it aside, and move back a few feet so he could see better.
When he was in position, I pulled up a shovel full of sand and started the sifting action. Just like the first time, the sun caught the flakes as they fell from the shovel with the sand giving off a soft golden glow. Tom stared, entranced at the sight for a few moments, before picking up his shovel and joining me.
Tom was much bigger and stronger than Anna, and between the two of us, we had twice what Anna and I had dug up in the same amount of time. We followed the same routine Anna and I had followed, and by the time we were ready to leave we had four hundred and fifteen bags of gold bars totaling ten thousand three hundred and seventy-five pounds, which we split between the two wagons.
Our final morning found us having a quick breakfast before striking camp and packing everything up in the wagons. We drove the wagons back near the road, where I left Tom to guard the wagons, as I spent an hour erasing the trail we’d made, leaving the camp. Once we were back on the road, it was a few more minutes erasing the remaining tracks before we headed for Santa Fe.
We followed the same route Anna and I had followed last year, although it took us a little longer due to the heavily loaded wagons. We also lost at least four days from having to find suitable points to cross three large arroyos and a draw, all with high banks. Even after we’d found a place we could make work, it still took some time to collapse both banks into ramps so we could cross. A couple of the crossings were a little perilous, to my way of thinking, but Tom confidently drove the wagon down, across, and up the other side without incident.
We were tired, dirty, and hungry when we rode into Santa Fe late the morning on July 2nd. Just like in El Paso, I decided to do away with pretense. We rode right up to the bank. Tom stayed with the wagons as I entered the bank.
Hiram was putting on his coat with hat in hand, obviously getting ready to go out when he saw me walk in. He gave an overly dramatic sigh taking off his coat, hanging it and his hat back on the coat tree just inside his office. I laughed as I realized it was Wednesday, and we’d be cutting into his weekly card game.
Hiram waved and began to head towards the back door. I stopped him telling him we’d be using the front door from now on and asked to borrow one of his guards for a few minutes. He laughed and nodded waving one of the guards forward. I took the guard outside and told him to guard the wagons, while Tom and I hauled all the sacks into the weighing room where Hiram was waiting.
When all four hundred and fifteen bags were in the weighing room Tom left to get us a suite at the hotel. Hiram and I untied the bags and started stacking the gold bars next to the weighing table. I knew Hiram was in a hurry, so I remained quiet as he weighed out the gold.
When he was done, he added up the weights and said, “This is your biggest load yet, Paul. I come up with 166,000 ounces.” At my nod, he went on. “We’re paying $14 an ounce for your stuff now, so that comes to a total of $2,324,000. What do you want to do with it?”
“Deposit it all in my private account, please, Hiram,” I said.
He quickly wrote out and gave me a deposit slip, before calling in one of the guards and telling him to watch the room. On our way to his office, he called two tellers over and told them to move the gold from the weighing room to the vault. Once in his office, I shook his hand and told him I was sorry for cutting into his card game. He laughed as he was putting on his coat and asked me how long I’d be staying in Santa Fe this trip.
“We’ll probably stay four days Hiram. Tom and I need to spend a few days recovering from this trip before we head home, and the animals need at least that long. I’ll see you over at the club a little later.”
We parted ways outside the bank, and I walked over to the hotel. Half an hour later both Tom and I were sitting in tubs in our suite drinking a really good pot of coffee as we turned hot, clean, clear water into mud.
When we were clean, dried, and dressed in our city clothes I took Tom over to the club, where I arranged a temporary membership for both of us for a week. With that done we visited the club barber for a haircut and shave, followed by lunch in the dining room. We joined Hiram and the Judge in the game room for an afternoon of cards. Both were happy to see us, as Lucien hadn’t been in town for a few months and there was only one other player at the table, one of the ranchers from South of town, who’d come in for supplies.
We caught up on events while we were playing and learned that all the Comancheros we’d sent up had been tried, found guilty, and most were hanged. The lives of the two youngest Comancheros had been spared. They joined the ex-Mayor and ex-Probate Judge who’d also been found guilty, in prison, turning big rocks into little rocks.
The Judge was full of praise for the way we’d handled the Comanchero attack, the investigation into the land fraud, and the prisoners we’d sent up. I did remember to ask about the land grant itself and when the Judge said it was in his office, I quickly asked for it before it disappeared.
“What in the world do you want with that worthless thing?” he asked.
“Judge, it’s worthless as a land grant, but it’s a work of art in its own right, and it’s a piece of Estancia Dos Santos history. I’m going to frame it and hang it my study,” I replied.
He gave a shrug and then smiled. “As long you’re not going to try and use it to get more land, I don’t see why not. I’ll bring it with me to lunch, tomorrow.”
Tom and I laughed heartily at his reply. “Judge, that document wouldn’t stand up long in court. It might fool someone who didn’t know Spanish history, but as soon as someone bothered to check the signature and year, they’d know it was a forgery.”
When I got a curious look from the Judge and Hiram I explained. “The grant is dated 1701 and signed by King Carlos III. He was a pretender to the throne supported by the English, Dutch, and others. Even as a pretender he wasn’t declared King until 1703 and never had the power to grant land in New Spain to anyone. The rightful King, King Felipe V, fought a 12-year war against the pretender and his foreign allies which he eventually won.”
“Where in the world did you learn that?” Hiram asked in amazement.
I chuckled replying, “Before Anna and I got married we spent time after supper looking at various books she’d bring over to the restaurant from her grandfather’s library. We’d spend the evening together at the dining room table, well chaperoned, and discuss whatever book she’d brought. One of her favorite books and the second one she brought, was a history of the Spanish Kings through 1800.”
“If that was the second book what was the first?” the Judge asked curiously.
Tom quickly replied with a laugh, “That would be Paul and Anna’s favorite book, Don Quixote.”
The other three men at the table looked at each other perplexed. “I’ve never heard of it,” the rancher said before asking, “Why is that your favorite book?”
“It’s a timeless well-known classic. It was written 250 years ago by a Spaniard. The characters are both amusing and tragic, but the underlying story is about daring to reach for the impossible in all that you do while remaining on the side of the good and righteous. The priests use it to teach students ethics and morals, as well as how to write Spanish properly,” I replied.
“Huh!” was all the rancher said.
While we were on the subject of books, I took the opportunity to ask Hiram and the Judge for assistance in finding books for a school and a library, as well as six qualified teachers. At their request, I expanded on what we were looking for.
“We are starting both an elementary school and a secondary school in Las Cruces. We need to know who publishes the various textbooks for all levels of school so that we can write them and arrange to purchase what we need.
“Related to that we also need six teachers to start with. We’ll probably need more than that, but six should do to start with.
“Finally, we are building a public library and need books for it. I’m hoping between you two and Steve that you’ll be able to find various people to act as our agents at estate sales with large numbers of quality books suitable for a library.
“Steve will be able to provide a lot more details when he gets back which should be soon. I was hoping he would be back already, but he had as far to go on his trip as Tom and I did on ours and he may have stopped at the Estancia to rest for a while on his way back,” I said.
We talked about schools, libraries, books, and teachers for the next couple of hours as we played cards. Eventually, the rancher called it a day and left to take his supplies back to his ranch. When he was gone, I casually told Hiram and the Judge that they were invited to the Estancia for the holidays.
Both men scoffed, and the Judge asked, “Why in the world would Hiram and I want to make that trip?”
Hiram nodded his head vigorously as he was raking in the pot he’d just won.
I shuffled the cards and quietly said, “You’ll make the trip so that you have an opportunity to talk with Tom, Steve, Kit, and me about statehood, schools, libraries, and the railroad we’re going to build.” I turned to Hiram and addressed him. “You’ll come to see your brother and parents, who will be visiting, and we’ll talk about opening a branch of the bank in Las Cruces with a guaranteed initial deposit of $5 million.”
When I looked up from shuffling Tom had a grin on his face but the other two were stupefied at what I’d said.
I dealt the cards in silence. The Judge picked up his hand before putting it back down and glancing quickly around the room to make sure we were still the only ones in the room.
“Paul, the rest of it I can understand, but building a railroad takes millions of dollars and a lot of time to get the land grants for eminent domain through congress.”
I looked the Judge directly in the eye. “Judge, we have millions of dollars and we already own all but a few acres of the land we will use for the line between here and Las Cruces.”
Hiram said with exasperation, “Paul, you have a few million in my bank but you don’t have anywhere near enough to start up a railroad.”
“Hiram, I’ve been using your bank, as well as your brother’s in El Paso, for the last six years. The first four years of that time I was mining gold almost full time. Do you really think what I’ve deposited is all that I’ve mined or all that there is? I just told you I was going to deposit five million in a bank in Las Cruces. Hopefully, that will be a branch of your bank. If not, I’ll find someone else to open a bank in Las Cruces,” I said in an even no-nonsense tone.
Hiram was about to respond when three men walked into the room. I held up my hand stopping him from speaking and said, “Steve knows everything about what we’re planning both for statehood, and the business we were just discussing. I’ve asked him to hold a private meeting with both of you in his office when he returns. Please wait until then for the details. It should go without saying that what we just discussed, and what Steve tells you, should be held in the strictest confidence and not be repeated where it can be overheard.”
Both men looked at each other, then at Tom and me, before nodding. I went on, “Tom, Yolanda, Anna and I will return here the first week in November with our three babies. Kit, Josefa, and their kids are meeting us here for a two-week stay and then traveling south to the Estancia for an extended visit.
“If you should decide to accept our invitation, we will be leaving the middle of November. Josefa, all five kids, and Helen will travel in the coach we are bringing. Anna or Yolanda will be with them in the coach, so things will get a little crowded. I recommend you both start spending a couple hours minimum in the saddle every day to get your riding muscles built up. I’ll be bringing plenty of guards so security shouldn’t be an issue either.”
When I was done talking, I glanced at my hand before picking up the deck. “Let’s play cards, gentlemen. Will you be taking cards or staying pat?”
We played the next three hands with Tom grinning like a Cheshire cat and the other two with a glazed distant look in their eyes. After the third hand, I stopped the game for the day.
“Gentlemen, your minds are obviously no longer on the game. We’ve given you a lot to think about, I know. Tom and I are going to call it a day and go get something to eat. We have some things to do tomorrow but why don’t we plan on having supper together here tomorrow night?”
The Judge readily agreed as any bachelor would, and Hiram agreed moments later. We all left the gentleman’s portion of the club and said our goodbyes for the evening. Tom and I walked around to the club’s family entrance and enjoyed a well-prepared supper, for the first time in almost three months.
At breakfast the next morning Tom asked what I had planned for the day.
I gave him a grin and said, “Today we are going to enter the world of women the world over.” At his puzzled look, I said, “We are going shopping.”
Tom groaned, and I barked out a short laugh. “It’s not that bad, Tom. We’re looking for coach trunks. When we come back in November with a coach, you can bet the ladies are not going to accept having their family’s clothes and baggage carried around in burlap bags like we’ve been doing. So, let’s surprise them with coach trunks.”
He nodded thoughtfully and grinned. “I like the surprise Yolanda part. It’s the shopping part that makes me want to face the Comancheros again.”
We were still laughing as we walked into the bank to see if Hiram could recommend a couple of stores in town. We found Hiram sitting at his desk, staring at a large map of the New Mexico Territory.
We stood in the doorway trying to figure out if he was actually seeing the map or not. After a minute of standing there, Tom looked over at me and shrugged. I cleared my voice startling Hiram from his trance. He turned his head seeing, us as if for the first time before a smile spread over his face. He got up and greeted us warmly while ushering us into his office and closing the door.
“I was just thinking about you two,” he said before rushing on in a demanding tone. “Tell me more about this railroad you want to build.”
I had been half expecting a grilling on the railroad but not quite so soon. “Relax, Hiram. The railroad is only a part of what we are trying to do. A large part to be sure but still only a part. It would take much more time than we have just to explain the background much less go into any details. Suffice it to say we are building a railroad from Las Cruces to Santa Fe, and let’s leave it at that until Steve sets up the meeting after he gets back. We’re not going to start building it tomorrow so there’s time.”
Tom and I watched as Hiram’s enthusiasm visibly deflated.
“You’ll have to forgive me, Paul, but this is damned exciting, and I want to be part of it. So does the Judge and we’re sure Lucien will, too.”
“You’ll all have an opportunity to play a part in both the railroad and the bigger plan, Hiram, but now is not the time. You need to understand though that the secondary reason for the railroad is to help move the products produced by the Estancia, mostly cattle and produce, to a larger market. I will not give up control of the railroad to anyone, if for no other reason than that,” I told him in an even but serious voice.
He nodded once again, and then it was like a switch turned off and he smiled and asked how he could help us today. I explained about needing to buy some coach trunks and asked for recommendations on places to start.
“Now that I can help you with,” he said with visible enthusiasm. “The Altamirano Wainwrights builds the finest coaches in New Mexico. In addition to building coaches, they also carry a wide selection of coach trunks. I suggest you start there.”
We followed his directions and soon found ourselves at the storefront of the Altamirano Wainwright Shop. Inside was a dazzling array of coach trunks in every imaginable size, shape, and internal configuration, as well as a high-end selection of other coach accessories. Tom and I browsed for a few minutes before a clerk approached and pleasantly asked if he could help us find something. We explained our needs, and he took us over to a side by side display of three almost identical looking large trunks.
He explained the differences succinctly. “This style is best for a growing family. We make and sell three different versions, each having its own price. The least expensive trunk is our most popular and is built from a good hardwood but is our least durable and will probably not stand up to regular sustained use for any long period of time. The next most expensive is built from a better grade of hardwood with a soft padding and cloth lined interior and includes a removable top tray for toiletries and other smaller items. Our most expensive trunk is made from solid mahogany with the padded cloth lined interior and two removable trays. The price for this trunk includes a custom paint scheme of your choice.”
Wow! Who knew buying trunks could be so difficult? I shrugged my shoulders and pointed at the most expensive version and told him we’d take six of them. His eye’s widened and he took us over to the counter to write up the order.
We told him we’d pick up two plain trunks just like the one on display in five days. The other four we would pick up the second week in November after they’d been painted in the Estancia color scheme with our seal on the front of all four trunks. Each trunk would also have one set of our initials AM, YM, TM, and PM with one letter on each side of the locking mechanism. We went through the signing and countersigning folderol, before receiving a copy of the receipt.
With an hour to kill we strolled the streets of downtown Santa Fe, doing some window shopping to see if anything caught our eye. Nothing caught our interest, so after a light lunch at the club, we went to visit the Judge.
The Judge greeted us in the small reception area before ushering us into his small rather cramped office. He called in his clerk, explaining that his family had lived in Santa Fe for over 150 years. When he told the clerk what we were looking for he immediately nodded his head telling us the Maes family library had been for sale for almost ten years, but no one appeared to be interested in it.
I asked how many books there were, and he gave a shrug of his shoulders saying he didn’t know. He did know the Maes family agent though and agreed to try and get us an appointment to see the library so we could examine the books. He also told us of two other private libraries from before the war that were for sale, and we asked to see those collections as well. The clerk told us he would send a note to the hotel when he had the visits arranged.
With that task out of the way, we retired to the club where we relaxed in comfort reading the collection of newspapers the club had accumulated since my last visit and drinking coffee. We joined the Judge, Hiram, and Helen for a really good supper in the main club, as planned.
Everyone was on their best behavior with no mention, at all, of the railroad. Instead, we talked about the babies and told Helen they would be coming up with us at the beginning of November. We also spent a great deal of time talking about schools and public libraries. Helen was almost as excited by those, as she was the news about the babies.
When Tom and I returned to the hotel late that evening, we found a note from the clerk telling us he’d arranged for us to see the three collections starting just after lunch the next day, beginning with the Maes family library. He included directions to the Maes house from the hotel and said he would meet us there, and escort us to the other two collections from there.
The next afternoon we arrived at an old house to find the clerk and an older gentleman waiting for us, near the front door. It was quite apparent that at one time the house was one of the best homes in Santa Fe, but the years of neglect were beginning to take their toll.
The clerk introduced us to the older man who opened the door and led us inside. He lit an oil lamp sitting on one of the tables. With the lamp lit, he led us down a hall into a long fairly narrow room set up as a family library. The man told us the Maes family had used it as both a schoolroom for their children and to entertain guests.
The far wall and one of the short side walls were covered in floor to ceiling bookshelves full of books. I couldn’t help but wonder as I looked around, how many of the books had actually been read. At a guess, there were over 1,000 books, all covered in layers of dust, but otherwise in good condition. Tom and I randomly pulled a few books off the shelves and, after blowing the dust off, opened them up. All the books we pulled out were in Spanish, which was no surprise.
I spent a few minutes negotiating with the agent before we agreed to a price of $300 for all the books. We also negotiated a separate price to have all the books cleaned and packed in wooden crates, ready for pick up in four days. The agent appeared to be happy with the results, and the clerk led us to the next house on the list.
By the time we walked into the club for supper, Tom and I had sneezed our way through both of the remaining houses and were both covered in dust. Despite the dust, we had purchased another 450 books between the other two collections, with about half in English. All the books would be cleaned and packed in crates ready to be picked up with the Maes collections. We’d made a good start on the Village School Library as well as the Las Cruces Public Library, so we were both happy.
Two days later Tom and I were both bored to tears. We were sitting in our room having some late morning coffee, just passing time as we waited for lunchtime to roll around when there was a knock at the door. I opened the door and found Steve grinning at me. I invited him inside and offered him coffee which he accepted before excitedly saying he had much to tell us and asking when we were leaving to go back to the Estancia.
“We plan on leaving in three days, Steve,” I replied. “What’s got you so excited?”
Steve answered my question with another question. “What are your plans between now and then?”
I gave him an exasperated look. “We have absolutely nothing planned between now and the afternoon, day after tomorrow, when we have to pick up two coach trunks from the wainwright and a wagon load of books, we bought from three different houses. Oh, and we have to pick up the quarterly shipment of scotch and wine from the warehouse, too. Now, what gives, Steve?”
“That’s perfect. It gives us two days to go over everything I’ve done and make any changes you want made. As far as what gives, let’s have lunch at the club and then come back here where we can talk in private, and I’ll fill you in on what I did,” Steve said gleefully. “By the way, Anna sent two teams to escort me home and escort you back to the Estancia. They’re staying at the hotel down the street. They’ll be joining me for supper at the restaurant downstairs.”