Robledo Mountain
Chapter 31

Copyright© 2018 by Kraken

I found myself sitting next to Anna the next morning, as a string of women came into the family dining room to be interviewed. I didn’t ask many questions, and those that I did ask were to clarify an answer they had given to one of Anna’s questions. We were done with the interviews shortly before noon. Anna disappeared into the kitchen and came back a few minutes later with our lunch and coffee.

After a nice lunch and some alone time with Anna for a change, we got down to selecting the staff. I asked her who she liked the best. She thought for a minute, then got up and went over to the sideboard. Coming back, she handed me paper and a pencil telling me to write down the names of the people I liked best, and she would do the same. Anyone whose name were on both our lists, would be hired. Any that didn’t match, we would talk about until we reached a decision.

As far as I was concerned the decisions were easy ones. For cook I selected Martina Barela. A young widow with no children, who had brought a plate of fresh bizcochitos to the interview. For the head housekeeper and her two assistants it was Cristina Torres and her daughters Celia and Carla. Cristina was in her late 30’s or early 40’s while Celia was in her late teens or early 20’s and Carla was in her mid 20’s. All were widows whose husbands had been ambushed by Comanches, during a trip to the salt flats.

Anna appeared to have had an even easier decision than I did, because she was already done and waiting for me to finish. I handed her my paper and she quickly read the names I’d written down.

“I can understand why you selected Martina, Pablo. Those were really good bizcochitos, and everyone knows of your fondness for them. But, please explain why you chose the Torres ladies,” she said with a cocked eyebrow.

I gave a small shrug and said, “I liked their attitude, and it will keep them together.”

With a smile, she handed me her paper. The names she’d written down were exactly the same as I’d written. I looked up to see her beaming me a huge super megawatt Anna smile. Rising from her chair, she crawled into my lap, gave me a big hug and kiss; and told me it was nice when we agreed on things. With her cuddled in my lap, giving me hugs and kisses, I certainly wasn’t going to argue with her!

Eventually, I reminded her she needed to go track them down and tell them the plans for next week, as well as how much they were going to get paid. She also needed to give the news to the ones who weren’t selected. She bit her lip at the thought, gave me another hug and kiss, and left. I didn’t envy her that job one bit.

Finished with my coffee, I walked out to the courtyard to see if any farmers had arrived. Sitting down with Tom and Yolanda, they said that four families had already checked in, eaten lunch, and gone back to the camp site, to set up for the next two nights. Mrs. Mendoza came out to see how things were going, bringing fresh coffee for the three of us.

While Tom and Yolanda finished their lunch Miguel and five cousins arrived, accompanied by the wagon teams who’d decided to arrive a day early bringing all five wagons. The wagon teams quickly dispersed for a visit with their families while I welcomed all the cousins. While they ate lunch, I explained to them that roughly two hundred people - mostly women and children - would be camping behind the stables for the next two nights, before we all traveled to the Estancia. I was concerned about their security while in camp, as well as the possibility of an ambush by raiding parties or bandits, while we were on the road to the Estancia. I asked them to break up into two-man teams and guard the camp while we were here. Then, once we moved out, to scout ahead of us and on both flanks as we traveled. They agreed to perform this task for me, and I invited them to Tai Chi and breakfast the next two mornings before we started out. When they were done with lunch, they all disappeared out into the desert.

Anna found me about an hour later and sat down with me. It was a good thing she’d brought more coffee; because it seemed like as soon as she sat down, someone opened up the flood gates, and people began pouring into the courtyard.

The four of us processed each farmer and his family, made sure they had adequate supplies, and sent them on to Mr. Mendoza for a campsite. We made sure to tell them all that they would be formed up into work and family teams of five families each, the next day. So, if they had any particular people that they knew and wanted to team with, to let us know the next morning. By the time we were done just after our normal dinner hour we had processed fifty-two families. Of those, forty-six were on our confirmed list, and six were on the possibles list.

Anna and I went out to the courtyard after breakfast the next morning and settled in with Tom and Yolanda to process any new arrivals. By the time we closed things down at lunch, we had processed another fourteen families including Jesus and Lupe’s family. This brought our total up to sixty confirmed and the six possibles from the previous night.

After we’d all had lunch, we were back out in the courtyard along with Giuseppe, Jorge, Juan, and Mr. Mendoza. All sixty-six farmer families were waiting for us. I explained again what they were going to be expected to do, how much they would be paid, the defense training they would be going through, the houses they would build; and, after twenty years, own. At the conclusion, they were provided the opportunity to leave. When no one left, I asked them to get into groups of five families each, with one group temporarily having six families, until we received our next group of people. We gave them an hour to themselves to figure out their groups and then started up again. Each group was called up one at a time and told to select the team leader. The leader would be responsible for the team’s activities and would lead the group in all situations. When that was done, they were shown the big board with the village survey map and told to select a block for their houses. Each team along with their families would build all five houses in a block for their team.

I introduced Jorge, Juan, and Giuseppe to everyone, and told them they would be supervising them while they built the houses. I let them know that Jorge had designed the houses, Juan was responsible for providing all the building materials, and Giuseppe would be responsible for helping them maintain and add on to their houses in the future. Before we finished for the day, I reminded them all that we were leaving for the village right after breakfast the next morning, and that wagons would be available for those that needed them.

Daylight was fading fast by the time we were done. Rapidly drinking the last of my coffee, I asked Giuseppe, Jorge, and Juan to join Tom, our ladies and me in a visit to the campsite to mingle a bit in an effort to make sure everyone was settling in okay while starting to get acquainted.

At the camp, we broke up with each of us going to a separate group of people. I talked to everyone that would talk to me, and eventually found the family I’d really come to see. Jesus, Lupe, and their daughters were sitting around a fire talking with some other families when I walked up. Jesus stood up and I shook his hand, greeting him and Lupe by name while nodding to the others.

I was talking to Jesus and the others about the bees Jesus had brought, when I felt more than saw someone come up beside me. I turned and greeted Miguel, as Anna walked up. Anna introduced everyone, telling them Miguel was a cousin to Mrs. Mendoza, Anna, Yolanda, and me. Miguel greeted everyone in perfect Spanish before turning to me.

“Thundercloud, there are three men outside the camp watching everything that’s going on,” he advised in Apache.

Now this was interesting!

“Cousin, kindly round these men up and escort them to the courtyard behind the restaurant. Do what you have to if they give you any trouble, but please, bring them in alive, if at all possible. We have some questions for them to answer!” I responded in Apache, not wanting to scare the farmers.

With a smile and a nod, he disappeared just as quickly and quietly as he’d arrived.

Anna told everyone that Miguel and some other Apache cousins were guarding the camp tonight and would scout for us during the trip tomorrow to make sure no one bothered us. The concern in her eyes was hidden from everyone else but me.

Turning to Anna, I continued in Apache, “Please find your Grandfather and ask him to meet us in the courtyard.”

Anna lightly bid everyone good night, letting them know that she needed to speak to her Grandparents, gave me a kiss, and hurried off through the stable.

A few minutes later I also made by goodbyes, gathered up the others, and departed the camp through the stables. I filled them in on Miguel’s report, my response, and my thoughts as we exited the stables.

Anna and both her Grandparents were waiting in the chilly night air for us when we arrived in the courtyard. We briefly discussed the situation while we waited for the cousins. Our hopes were all high that we would learn something new and useful about either the boss in Santa Fe or the leader of the group in Mesilla from our visitors.

Despite our high hopes, we learned nothing new when the three ‘visitors’ were brought to the courtyard.

The first two ‘visitors’, escorted to the courtyard by four cousins, turned out to be twelve and thirteen-year-old boys who just wanted to see what was going on. The two very scared boys, Delgado cousins, were well known to the Mendozas as well as Juan and Jorge. Mrs. Mendoza took charge of the two boys almost immediately and escorted them through the restaurant back to the street admonishing them all the way about minding their own business especially after dark before sending them home.

Miguel and Maco carried the last visitor into the courtyard a few minutes later. This last ‘visitor’ might have been able to shed some light on the Santa Fe and Mesilla situation, if he’d been alive, but it was very clear that he was not. After setting the body down Miguel explained in disgust that the man had bolted towards river when he confronted him. Maco finally caught up with the man near the river and knocked him down. The man had landed hard and rolled down into a large arroyo just as Miguel caught up. Looking over the edge of the arroyo they could see the man at the bottom. He was lying motionless, on his back in an unnatural position. When they finally reached the man, they discovered that he’d fallen on the short-pointed limbs of an ironwood stump washed down into the arroyo sometime during the last rainy season. His back had been broken and, if that weren’t enough, his torso, from neck to pelvis, had been punctured by eight different limbs.

Giuseppe and I carefully searched the man but other than his pistol and knife we found nothing but a few silver coins.

None of us recognized him in the light of the half-moon. I thanked Miguel and the cousins for their efforts and after a few more minutes of discussion our group broke up for the evening.

Following breakfast, the next morning, I gave Anna a big hug and kiss and told her I’d be waiting for her next week at our Hacienda. That earned me a big Anna smile. Tom, Giuseppe, Jorge, Juan, and I rode out to the camp and got the group started down the Camino Real. I’d sent the cousins out to start scouting, fifteen minutes earlier.

The trip, while slower than we were used to, was uneventful. I waved at Anya in the camp after we crossed the river and led the wagons on to the village. I pulled up on the hills overlooking the village and waved the wagons full of people forward to the marked camp areas. I was joined on the hill by Tom, Juan, and Jorge. As I sat watching Giuseppe marshal the wagons into the various campsites, it dawned on me that there were a lot more adobe bricks than I expected. I turned to Juan and asked him how many bricks he’d delivered. He grinned and told me there were enough for eighty houses and the store as well. He said that he’d tripled his brick yard and drying area, instead of doubling it. He would be needing the extra space in June, anyway, as he’d gotten the army contract to supply bricks to build Fort Fillmore’s housing and offices. I gave him a back slap and congratulated him on getting the contract.

We spent the rest of the afternoon getting everyone settled in, before the five of us went over to the Hacienda camp. I gave Anya the supplies we’d brought back for her, and paid Miguel and the cousins with the supplies they’d asked for. I had a quick cup of coffee to help get some of the dust out of my mouth and then took my things up to the Hacienda. As my head crested the slope, I stopped and stared in wonder.

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