Railroad (Robledo Mountain #4)
Chapter 6

Copyright© 2020 by Kraken

I shared my dream with Anna the next morning before we got out of bed. She agreed with Dream Laura’s thoughts on both JT and ‘the Boss’, which didn’t really surprise me as I’d noticed before how alike their thought processes were. While Anna showered, dressed, and left to check on JJ, I sat cross-legged in the middle of the bed and tried to meditate, something I’d never really been all that good at.

Maybe I was trying too hard or perhaps I was just too rusty, but a half-hour later, I gave it up for the day. I knew that eventually, I’d get it, but for now, anyway, I resigned myself to having to work on it every morning.

I also resigned myself to learning how to wash my hair and face, as well as shave, one-handed since I couldn’t always expect Anna to be around to do them for me, as she had since I was hurt. Not being able to lift one arm high enough to do those things brought my future into stark reality.

Trying to put on a shirt by myself was another adventure. I had never really given much thought to all the shoulder muscles used in getting dressed, and it was eye-opening in its own way. Walking downstairs, I mentally modified my old normal morning routine into a new normal routine taking into account the shoulder.

I was still musing about morning routines, when I walked into the dining room, and what can only be described as chaos. That wonderful chaos of breakfast for a large, busy, and happy family. I’d forgotten that school was starting again for the kids this morning, and they were all there eating, some hurriedly, some happy at the prospect of going back to school, and some grumpily, not yet awake.

Added into the mix this morning was the fact that the Judge, Steve, and Hiram had decided to leave for Mesilla this morning. When they’d informed Tom of their intentions earlier, he had consulted with George and decided he was going too, to lead two teams to provide them with security.

I stood in the doorway, listening with approval, as he gave directions to include the coach that would be used to bring Jorge’s family for their visit as well. It seemed that he and George had decided on their own that ‘the Boss’ was about due to start causing a ruckus again. It was a prudent move, in my opinion, to include Jorge and Juan’s travel, to and from, the Estancia, in their planning.

I walked in the room, took my seat, exchanging greetings with everyone while thinking that all in all, the sounds of a normal chaotic breakfast were music to my ears and, oddly enough, soothing to my soul.

I watched from the terrace, less than half an hour later, as the kids’ wagon turned left at the bottom of the slope towards the village and school, followed almost immediately by Tom, leading his group, turning right, crossed the bridge, and headed towards Mesilla.

Anna joined me at the terrace railing as I watched Tom’s group disappear into the distance. “Pablo, grandmother and grandfather would like to talk to us about the new roles we offered them if you have time.”

“My love, it seems I have nothing but time, for the foreseeable future anyway,” I replied, sighing heavily. “This sitting around, not doing anything physical is beginning to wear on me. I really need to figure out something physical I can do, even if it’s just riding a horse for a few minutes a day.”

Anna put her arm around me, pulling herself in close for a warm hug and cuddle. “Pablo, there’s no reason you can’t ride a horse. You just can’t do it alone nor for very long. Yes, your arm is going to make it a little more difficult than usual to mount, but that should be the only difficulty. Well, that and your shoulder may hurt a little when you’re done, from all the jouncing. If you’re willing to risk that, then ask grandfather to take a trip to the village with you when we get done talking. If nothing else, you can check on that new contraption you had Frank working on.”

I turned toward the doors, Anna and I still holding each other around the waist and started back inside. “You’re absolutely right, my love,” I said smiling down at her. “Just remember, it was your idea.”

“Yes, but it’s your decision,” she said, smiling back at me.

The Mendozas were waiting for us in the den when we got there, sipping coffee on the couch, and quietly waiting for us. Anna barred the door, poured us both coffees, and handed me a cup. I was taking a sip when Mrs. Mendoza started talking excitedly.

“Pablo, this Harvey man is brilliant! I’m not sure I’m young enough to have the energy this is going to take, but I’d like to try.”

“Thank you!” I replied. Another worry off my heaping plateful of worries. Before I could continue, she interrupted.

“I’ve read this paper, your daughter put together, five times end to end, and think I really understand everything she has to say. The menu’s and pictures of the waitresses, not to mention the pictures of the table settings, and explanations of the codes they used, are tremendously helpful.

“What I don’t understand is this first paragraph, could you explain it to me?” she asked, thrusting the bound stack of papers towards me.

I put down my coffee and reached across taking the paper from her. Reading the first paragraph brought a smile to my face as I remembered helping my daughter format the paragraph with a footnote attributing the paragraph-long quote to Stephen Fried, an author and speaker on the history and legacy of Fred Harvey.

“Fred Harvey was the founding father of the American hospitality industry,” I read aloud for the benefit of Anna and Mr. Mendoza. “He created the first national chains of restaurants, hotels, and retail stores. He was Ray Kroc before McDonald’s. He was Walt Disney before Disneyland. And he was definitely Conrad Hilton before Hilton Hotels. Walt Disney conceived the idea of Disneyland while riding the Santa Fe Railroad’s ‘Southwest Chief’. Socorro-born, Conrad Hilton, grew up being inspired by – and taking all his dates to – Harvey’s Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque. Fred Harvey’s business chains were the great civilizing force of the American West.”

As I read, I remembered my daughter’s excitement when she first saw the small Harvey House display at the Las Cruces Railroad Museum. That visit gave rise to her fascination with all things Harvey related and was the genesis of the report I was still holding in my hand.

Still smiling at my memories, I put the paper down, picked up my coffee, and settled back on the love seat. “I can understand your confusion. None of the people in that paragraph have been born yet.” I went on to explain who each one would be, and the type of business empire founded by each of them.

“My goodness. I said it before and I’ll say it again, Fred Harvey is brilliant!” Mrs. Mendoza exclaimed. “And now I see why you kept pushing me to try those new recipes at the restaurant. You had this in mind the whole time, didn’t you?”

“Well, that was part of it, yes, but I also did it so I could eat food I was missing from my time,” I replied sheepishly.

“I understand,” she said, reaching over to pat my hand in sympathy. “If I’m going to do this though, you need to understand that I’m going to need help.”

I grinned at her. “So, find the help you need and hire them. That’s part of your new job.”

“It’s a shame I can’t take this paper out of the den,” she said thoughtfully. “I really need to learn this information.”

“Well, there’s no reason you can’t make a set of notes based on what’s in the report. Things like a list of the menu items, the codes the waitresses use to speed up service, and a copy of the contract, replacing the business name with something else, are all fine. Just make sure you don’t include names of people and business locations.”

“I was just going to ask about that. Do you have a pen and paper I could use?”

I took her over to my desk and showed her where everything was stored before leaving her to start her note taking. Sitting back down, I took a sip of coffee before looking at Mr. Mendoza.

“I take it this means you’ve also agreed to try the new role?” I asked him.

“Well, like Rebecca,” he said, waving towards his wife, “I’m interested, but I’m not going to be able to do this alone, I’m going to need help.”

“And I’ll give you the same answer I gave her, find who you need and hire them.”

“What if I want Martin Amador?” he asked eagerly.

“Then convince him to buy your freight and livery stable for the short run and help you with an eye towards the long run as your replacement,” I calmly replied.

He smiled, nodded his head, and then turned his questions to the gold expeditions I’d said I wanted him involved in. We talked about, and refined, my original plans, taking into account my arm and hand. He agreed to build the freight boxes I wanted to use as a disguise as well as add a large lockable storage room to his stable to put the boxes in until it was time to deposit them in the bank Mr. Greenburg was going to open in Las Cruces.

We were finishing our talk, when Anna, who’d been curiously listening the entire time, said, “Pablo, I can work with the women of the Estancia to add wood stiffeners and handles to the tops of the burlap bags to make them easier to carry.”

“Now that’s an idea! Let me know when you’re ready and I’ll give you the bags.”

We spent the rest of the morning talking about all the plans that were coming to a head in the next few years. A half-hour before we expected lunch to be ready, there was a knock at the door. When Anna opened it, she found herself staring at one of the young cousins who thrust his hand forward and said a few words.

Anna’s face paled considerably. I was up off the love seat and in the doorway in an instant. “Pablo, there’s been an ambush,” she said, indicating the young man, who was now standing in front of me, holding up a folded slip of paper.

Taking the note from the young man, I unfolded it and tried to process the message. It took a moment for me to decipher the abbreviations, but I got the meaning without too much trouble. I started to turn to Anna and the Mendozas when I caught sight of George striding down the hallway towards me. George’s posture was what I called full military bearing, back straight, shoulders back, head erect, eye’s forward and piercing, legs and arms in synchronized motion, as he strode down the hall, every inch a man on a mission and in full command of that mission.

I turned to the others, “Tom’s group was ambushed by eight men near Las Cruces. All eight are dead. One of our men, M. Gonzales, has a broken leg, but he’s the only casualty. No one in our party knew any of the men who ambushed them.”

George arrived as I was finishing. “Paul, I’ve sent messages to Ramon to have the second coach go to the ranch to pick up Mariano’s wife and take her to her husband. Tom’s message said they’re going to patch him up at the Mendozas. I had Hector get Rodrigo and two teams ready to escort the second coach to the Mendozas where they will remain overnight and bring him back to the ranch in the morning. Anya is going to go with Mrs. Gonzalez to make sure Mariano’s injuries have been treated properly and that he’s in a good enough condition to travel.”

“Well done, George,” I said, moving to my desk and opening one of the bottom drawers. “Take this packet of pills and give them to Anya,” I said, handing him a small paper envelope containing four Vicodin. “One of these, every six hours, should keep him asleep for tonight and tomorrow.”

“Will do. Is there anything else you want to add?”

“No, you’ve got it well under control. Let’s plan on meeting the coach at the ranch tomorrow when it arrives though, so I can thank Mariano and make my manners with his wife.” I turned to the others, “Any questions or suggestions for George?”

“Do we know anything else, George?” Anna asked.

“No, that’s all that was in the message. We’ll have to wait until Tom and his group get back here tomorrow or the next day to get all of our questions answered.”

“Thanks, George. Lunch will be ready in a few minutes, I’m going to find Yolanda and make sure she’s heard and knows that Tom’s all right,” Anna said, leaving us for the kitchen.

There were no other questions, so George strode off to meet Anya and the coach at the bridge to pass on the pills and instructions. Obviously no longer needed, the young cousin scurried up the stairs heading back out to the upper courtyard.

Lunch was a relatively silent affair as all of us were worried about the ambush and what it portended. We were also worried about young Mariano, but Anya had some of my pharmaceuticals, including penicillin, and now Vicodin, and was well versed in their use.

As lunch was breaking up, Anna gave me one of her looks. “Pablo, horses for you and grandfather are ready outside the courtyard if you still want to ride this afternoon.”

It took a moment to remember she suggested the ride earlier this morning. “Anna, my love, I think that’s just the thing we need to take our mind off the ambush,” I said, giving her my own special look, before turning to Mr. Mendoza. “You interested in a ride to the village to visit Ramon and see my latest project?”

“I too think that’s a good idea,” he replied. “Vamonos.”

Anna led us down the hall, turning into the den. “Come in here for a minute please.”

Lying on the table was my gun belt with the cross-draw holster. “You’re not going riding without this,” she said belting it on me.

I positioned the holster a little more comfortably, gave Anna a hug and kiss in thanks, and walked out to join her grandfather.

Mounting my horse, one-handed, proved awkward but relatively easy. Once I was certain I was ready, we rode off for the village, at a walk. My shoulder seemed to be handling a walk just fine, so I spurred the horse into a trot when we reached the bottom of the slope. After a half-mile of trotting, I cautiously spurred the horse into a canter.

Mr. Mendoza rode up beside me and with concern in his voice, asked, “How far are you going to push this?”

Glancing over at him, I saw the concern in his eyes, gave him a grim smile and answered, “This is as far as I’m willing to go for the next few days. I’ll probably pay for going this fast tonight but I’m not going to know until I’ve tried.”

He nodded his head in understanding and rode next to me the rest of the way to the village. Reining in at the stables, I discovered that getting off a horse, using only the left hand and arm, was even more awkward than getting on. Once I was off, I slapped the reins against the hitching bar, feeling satisfaction when they wrapped around the bar and tied themselves off.

I turned around to find Ramon and Frank standing a few feet away, staring at me like I had two heads.

“What?” I asked, slightly irritated.

“We’re just surprised to see you,” Ramon answered. “We thought it would be a couple more weeks before you could ride.”

I gave him a grin before responding. “I needed to get out of the Hacienda before I went crazy. It seems about the only physical activity I’m going to get for the foreseeable future is walking or riding. Even then, Anna has laid down the law; I have to have a minder with me. No more riding alone.”

Frank gave a small laugh. “That seems prudent if you ask me. Anna seems to be the one with all the brains in your family.”

“You’re right,” I said, clapping him on the shoulder and laughing with the others. “Let’s leave these two old men to sit on the bench fixing harnesses. While they’re doing that, you can show me that project you’ve been working on.”

Frank led us over to just inside the smithy where the completed scraper was sitting. While I examined his work, he went back to the stable, retrieving the special harnesses and two horses so we could test the scraper.

After harnessing up the horses, I explained how the device worked and then watched enviously as Frank tested it out. Smiling at the successful test, I was inwardly upset that my shoulder and hand were preventing me from even this simple activity. I was pulled out of my negative state by Mr. Mendoza.

“You know, Paul,” he said thoughtfully with a large grin, “every large stable in the country is going to want one of these. It sure makes cleaning up after horses much easier.”

I groaned at the thought. I’d brought this forward in history twenty years in this remote place specifically to help ease the manpower burden of building a railroad, as well as roads in southern New Mexico Territory, only to have it threaten to become a huge money-making activity. Mr. Mendoza was right!

If I allowed this to spread, the livery business, and stockyards that would soon become major businesses in their own right, would buy up all we could make. Worse, I had no clue at the moment on how to stop it. I couldn’t put the genie back in the bottle. Talk about unintended consequences.

A thought sparked in my brain just before I replied. “That’s a thought, Sir, but would they be willing to pay the cost. This thing is almost all iron, and if it’s not taken care of properly, it’ll rust away in no time hauling wet manure around.”

Mr. Mendoza and Ramon both gave me a thoughtful look before Ramon replied, “That’s true Paul but most larger stables are well run, and they wouldn’t let an investment just rust away.”

Damn! It was clear my simple attempt wasn’t going to work. No, I would need to get the time walker group together and brainstorm an out to this conundrum.

“Well, you both may be right, but for now, every single one we build is going to be used for building roads and railroads,” I said, firmly. “When we have enough for us to handle all the work those two activities are going to need, we’ll look at making them for manure work.

“By the way,” I said turning to Frank. “How much iron do you have stored away now?”

“Not enough to build another one of these,” he said disgustedly. “Apparently getting iron on a steady basis is something no one in the Territory, nor Texas for that matter, can do. There’s not much coming up from Mexico anymore and the stuff from back east is so expensive no one wants to take a chance on freighting it out here.”

I looked at Ramon for confirmation and found him nodding his head in agreement. “We get just enough most months to barely meet the needs of the stable and wagon yard.”

I gave a disgusted sigh, “Well, do the best you can. The stables and wagon yard come first, but if there is any extra, please start working on more of these. I’d like to have eleven more by the end of the summer.”

Both men gave me a nod, but I could tell they weren’t hopeful of ever receiving the quantities I was wanting. With my mood somber and my shoulder starting to throb, I decided it was best to head back to the Hacienda. Just as I was congratulating Frank on his work and making my goodbyes, Miguel came striding up.

“Afternoon, Paul, I didn’t expect to find you here. I thought Anna was going to keep you locked up in the Hacienda for a few more weeks.”

Already in a bad mood, I frowned at him, while the others, including Mr. Mendoza, laughed.

“I think I finally got in the way one too many times,” I replied.

“Ah, yes, that would explain it. I’m glad you’re here though. It saves me a trip to the Hacienda. We’ve come up with a place to meet and the list of items you wanted to offer in exchange.”

We discussed the proposed meeting spot, a known clearing on the other side of the Hanover Mountains, and I approved both it and the timing of the meeting, which we set for the second of April. Miguel agreed to send messengers to Mangas Coloradas, Loco, and Victorio.

I also asked him to send four teams of Scout/Snipers to the meeting spot in the next few days to get an idea of the surrounding land. I wanted them to make new ghillie suits specifically for that area as they would be providing us with security for the meeting.

The list of ‘gifts’ he proposed was about what I expected, but there were a couple of surprises. The first surprise was the amount of sugar and hard candy. After thinking about it for a moment, I realized that sweets were something few Apaches had access to, so it made sense. The second surprise was that the number of rifles was lower than I’d expected, while the amount of powder, ball, and caps was much higher.

When I questioned the numbers, Miguel explained. “Oh, they’ll take all we want to give them, but they won’t be able to use many of them for long. They have more rifles than they can use now. Most of them are old, and as you’ve shown us, they haven’t been maintained, but those aren’t the real problems. The problem they have is getting shot, powder, and caps for them. What you’ll want to do is offer half of the rifles, powder, shot, and caps as an opening offer and then let them talk you into increasing to these numbers.”

“Miguel, you know I hate dickering,” I said, disgusted at the thought of having to go through that torture. “No, you’ll be the one doing the dickering, since you’ll be leading us to the meeting.” Looking startled, he started to object. “Miguel, I’ll be the only white man going to the meeting. Do you really think Anna is going to trust anyone but you and Nantan to watch out for me?”

He started to renew his objection, but suddenly stopped, thinking for a moment. “Who all do you plan on going to this meeting.”

“I’m thinking me, you, Nantan, and the four Scout/Sniper teams. I leave it to you to decide if there are other cousins you want to take with us. Now,” I said, suddenly tired out, “if you don’t have any other objections, I’ll leave it to you to put the people and ‘gifts’ together. I’ll take care of the rifles, powder, shot, and caps the next time I go into Las Cruces, otherwise, the rest is up to you.”

He stared at me for a few moments, before nodding his head. “How come I can never say no to you cousin?”

“I keep telling you, it’s my charm and boyish good looks,” I replied, smiling.

Muttering to himself at my response and the laughter from the others, he strode off towards the plaza. Turning to Mr. Mendoza, I said, “It’s time for us to head back, I think I may have pushed a little too hard this afternoon.”

He nodded, said his goodbyes, and we were in our saddles and headed home less than five minutes later.

Mr. Mendoza kept quiet all the way back to the Hacienda. I, on the other hand, was kicking myself for pushing the ride to the village. I was of two minds at the moment. One part of me wanted to take the ride home slow and easy to minimize the growing ache in my shoulder. The other part of me wanted to spur the horse into a canter and get home as quickly as possible to minimize the amount of time riding.

Common sense prevailed, and we ended up walking the horses the entire way home. As I struggled to dismount my horse in front of the courtyard, I thanked Mr. Mendoza for riding to the village with me.

“Pablo, there’s no reason to thank me. I too needed to get out of the Hacienda. I am worried about you, though. There’s so much to do that I think you’re taking too much onto yourself. You need more people to help lead everything that will soon start happening.”

“You’re right, as usual,” I said as we entered the courtyard. “The last few days have helped, with you and your wife both agreeing to take on the new jobs, not to mention the Greenburgs coming around. My first priority is getting some others to come aboard as leaders. I’ve identified most of who I want to take those position, but in most cases, I haven’t approached them yet. Hell, most of them aren’t even in the Mesilla Valley, nor will they be for weeks, if not months, unless I go to them and convince them to come work for me. In the meantime, there is still much that needs to be done.

“Jim Longstreet coming for a month is perfect for our timing and means I don’t have to go see him. Juan and Jorge agreeing to come for a visit is perfect as well, although I’m not sure they’re going to want to take on everything I’m going to offer them. I’ve got a man in mind, near Socorro, to be the US Deputy Marshal in that area, and another near Tucson. Again, though, I’m going to have to go to them.

“As you heard, I’m going to have to go meet with Mangas Coloradas and the others, but I’m going to have the big Apache meeting later this year here on the Estancia.

“In between those two meetings, we have to make a four-month trip to the goldfields. Somewhere, in all that, I need to find a local lawyer as good as Steve and make an appearance or two in Mesilla to make sure things stay calm. And, oh yeah, continue to update the plans, as changes happen, and they will happen,” I finished, as he opened the door into the Hacienda for me.

I’d taken two steps inside when Anna’s eyes twinkled their hello. I watched her smile slowly fade to a look of concern as she took in my posture. “You pushed too hard?” she asked, although it came out more as a statement of fact.

“I pushed yes, but not as hard as I could have,” I replied, absently rubbing my shoulder.

Mr. Mendoza patted my left shoulder in sympathy as he passed us and continued on into the house to find his wife. Anna stared into my eyes, completely ignoring her grandfather. Finally, shaking her head, she grabbed my left arm and led me into the den.

I sat down and gratefully settled into the cushioned comfort of the loveseat. Anna poured me a small scotch, handed me the glass, and then went to my desk where she picked up two ibuprofen, she had waiting for me.

As she handed me the pills, she asked, “Was the ride worth the pain?”

I glanced up at her as I swallowed the pills. “Yes, it was, for three reasons. First, Frank did a great job on the scraper and it works just fine. Second, Miguel has the spot picked out for the meeting with the Mimbreños and has the list of ‘gifts’ finalized. He’s sending out messengers in the next few days to ask them to meet us in early April. Finally, I found out just how hard I can push right now and how much pain results from it. Those two things tell me how hard and fast I can push myself in my exercises, and, if push comes to shove, what I’m capable of in an emergency.”

Anna continued to stare at me, and I sighed. “And, yes, I also decided that while I may be fine to ride a horse, there is no way in hell I’m going to be able to drive a six-in-hand by the first of May. That means I need to bring George in on the goldfield expedition this year instead of next. Happy now?”

“Almost,” she replied, continuing the stare. “When do you plan to go riding again?”

“Well, I’m not planning to ride anytime soon, that’s for sure,” I replied, reaching up to rub my shoulder. “Although, I’ll need to ride over to the village with Juan to show him how the scraper works.”

No sooner were the words out of my mouth than Anna almost exploded.

“Pablo, don’t be such an idiot!” she quietly, yet angrily declared. “There is no need for you to go riding anywhere. Send a message and have Frank bring the scarper to the bottom of the slope, then you can show Juan how to use it.” I started to respond, but she quickly walked out of the den muttering, “Ride to the village indeed!”

‘Yep,’ I thought to myself, as I finished the small glass of scotch, ‘she’s not only better looking than me, she’s also a hell of a lot smarter than me.’ I was having an internal debate about whether or not to have another scotch when Celia solved it for me. She briskly strode into the den, handed me a cup of coffee and a small plate with two biscochitos on it, all the while shaking her head at me.

“Dinner will be ready in a half-hour. You might want to wash up after you finish those. Horses smell fine in the stables or when you’re riding one, but most of us prefer not to smell them at the dinner table.”

I had my orders, and although they were delivered by Celia, I knew they came from Anna. Thinking that discretion was the better of valor, I quickly ate the two small cookies, gulped the still steaming coffee down, and headed up to take a shower.

I walked into the dining room pondering one of life’s unanswerable questions. Was it the ibuprofen, the scotch, the biscochitos, the coffee, or the hot shower that I had to thank for making the pain loosen its grip on my shoulder? Being the reasonable man that I am, I decided as I sat down at the table that it was the combination of all five things.

I was mentally patting myself on the back for coming to such a logical conclusion when I realized the dinner table was completely quiet. I looked around the table and discovered that even the kids were looking at me in disbelief.

“What?” I asked, still trying to figure out what was wrong.

“From Anna’s and grandfather’s description of what you looked like after the ride, we expected you to be upstairs in bed asleep,” Yolanda answered. “I don’t know why you would make us get all concerned about you just so you could go ride a horse,” she amplified, shaking her head.

I sighed heavily. I seemed to be doing that a lot recently. “Did I push myself a little on the ride? Yes. Is my shoulder in a little more pain than it was before I started the ride? Yes, but I fully expected it to be. Was what I managed to accomplish worth the extra pain? Yes, to me it was. Did the ride tire me out? Absolutely, again, I fully expected it to. Did I go on the ride to generate your concern? Absolutely not. Have I learned anything from the ride? Yep, I learned that the combination of riding and fresh air makes me hungry. I’m starving, so someone please pass the chile rellenos and the rest of the fixings so I can eat. I’m starving I tell you.”

My response broke the silence and soon the room was alive with the normal dinner time noise. I hadn’t been kidding though. I was hungry and ate to the exclusion of talk. When I was finally full, I bid all a goodnight, and as I stood up, so did Anna.

She came over to me, placed her arm my waist, and we walked out of the dining room and up the stairs. In the bedroom, I finally let my body show how tired and drained of energy I really was, passing out on the bed fully clothed.

I woke up the next morning, still fully clothed, to the strange feeling of Anna sleeping in the crook of my left shoulder instead of my right. It’d been almost two weeks and it was still disconcerting to find her on my left side instead of my right.

Lying there, staring at the vague image of the French doors in the dim light of dawn, I heard Anna’s breath change and felt her lift her head slightly off my shoulder. Looking down at her, I saw her head tilted slightly back and her bleary eyes looking at me with concern.

“How did you sleep, love?” she asked.

“I must have slept extremely well,” I responded with a slight smile. “I don’t remember a thing after sitting down on the bed.”

“I was worried when you just passed out like that, Pablo. Please, don’t push yourself so hard.”

“I promise I won’t push that hard again. At least, not intentionally. Speaking of last night, thanks for taking my boots off.”

Anna smiled. “I took them off in self-defense. Feeling your bare feet kick me in the middle of the night is bad enough.” All of a sudden, she changed topics. “Are you still planning on riding to the ranch to meet Mariano and his wife?”

“I’d like to, but no. After yesterday, I think I need another day to recover,” I said looking down into her eyes. “That means I have to ask you to do it for me. As the owners, one of us needs to be there to give our thanks and offer our support.”

“Of course, I’ll go. I was planning on it anyway,” she said letting her head drop back down into the crook of my arm.

When was I going to learn? When it came to people, Anna was always ahead of me. Of course, she was going to the ranch. We talked for a few minutes about our respective plans for the day before Anna gave a groan, stretched fetchingly, got up out of bed, and padded softly to the bathroom.

While Anna was preparing to meet the day, I settled myself in a sitting position and began to meditate. I got much further than I had the previous morning as I didn’t even hear Anna come back into the room and get dressed. Like yesterday’s attempt though, at the end of thirty minutes I still didn’t feel centered. ‘Small steps’, I told myself, ‘small steps’.

After breakfast, which was the usual chaotic treat, George and I adjourned to the den, followed a few moments later by Anna carrying a coffee service. George poured the coffee and Anna closed and barred the door, as I settled into the love seat.

“George, how are the wedding plans coming?” I asked as he and Anna settled in.

“Everything seems to be set, Paul,” he said, then grinning, added, “Of course, Celia tells me what’s changed every evening after dinner. I nod my head when she asks if I agree with her changes, at least so far, and trust that it will all come out fine. The wedding ceremony, per se, is of no real interest to me. It’s the public declaration and recognition of our love that matters. The format I leave completely to her, her relatives, and her friends.”

“Smart man,” I said in approval. I remembered Laura’s father telling me much the same thing a few months before our wedding.

Anna gave George a mock glare and me a shoulder slap. “It’s a good thing we don’t leave these ceremonies to you men! Wedding ceremonies are a thing of beauty. The setting and the ceremony should express and reflect the bride, and groom’s, feeling for each other.”

After a quick glance at George I found myself replying, “Yes, Dear,” in that dry droll voice of Tom’s, only to hear George echoing a fraction of a second after me.

All three of us broke out in laughter, continuing for several seconds, before settling back down.

“Okay, Paul, what is it you two wanted to talk to me about?” George asked, recovering faster than either Anna or me.

“Well,” I said, after taking a sip of coffee. “We wanted to know what your specific plans are for late this spring and summer.”

“I don’t really have anything specific planned out just yet,” George replied. “I’ve been working with Miguel and the old ones on the new training course we normally start in April, but as yet, we haven’t finalized it. Why do you ask?”

“Because I want you to take a little trip with me and a few others,” I said. “The trip will start at the beginning of May and will last until the middle of September at the latest. To prepare for the trip, you need to spend a couple days, each month, with Mr. Mendoza in Las Cruces, learning to drive an eight-in-hand.”

George interrupted, “Why in the world do I need to know how to drive an eight-in-hand and where on earth are we going?”

“It’s not just an eight-in-hand, George. It’s a tandem wagon with an eight-in-hand. As to where we’re going, we’re going to the goldfields and dig up ten wagons of gold.”

George sat staring at me in disbelief. “What goldfield?” he asked when he finally got over the shock.

“The goldfield only Anna, Tom, and I know about. And only the three of us know where it is. You’ll be going with me, Mr. Mendoza, Kit, Tom, and one other I still need to talk to. In return for driving the wagon and digging gold, you’ll receive a half wagon of the gold. That’s just under one million dollars at the price we got on our last sale. To make it even clearer to you, we currently plan to make four trips, one every year, for the next four years. You’ll be a quite wealthy man by the time we finish in 1860.”

George sat silently for a few minutes, periodically shifting his gaze from me to Anna and back again. Finally, he said, “Why me?”

“Because you’re family, George,” Anna replied. “And because Pablo can’t drive the wagons this year, as we planned, because of his shoulder. You see, you weren’t supposed to go this year, you’re getting married for goodness sake. The original plan was for you and Celia to settle in this year and have you go, as Mr. Mendoza’s replacement, next year.”

“What do I tell Celia? he asked, worriedly.

“Go get her, and bring her in here, George,” Anna smiled. “We’ll tell her together. But, George,” she said as he was getting out of the chair, “You can’t tell her why you want to talk to her. No one talks about the gold outside of this room and then only with the door closed and barred.”

“That makes sense Anna, I’ll be right back,” George said excitedly, over his shoulder, as he unbarred and opened the door, before striding down the hall.

Anna and I spent the next few minutes cuddling on the love seat, stealing quick kisses between sips of coffee. Eventually, George came back to the den leading Celia, who was drying her hands on a dishtowel.

“All right, George, I’m here,” she said in an exasperated tone, as George shut and barred the door. “What’s so important it couldn’t wait for me to help finish the breakfast dishes?”

George looked at Celia for a moment before turning to Anna and me with a sheepish look, his eyes silently asking for help. Anna took pity on him without even glancing at me.

“Celia, we asked George to get you and bring you here. We were discussing some things that we all felt you needed to be a part of.” Anna stopped for a moment, cocking her head at Celia, with a look of puzzlement on her face. “Celia, have you decided what you’re going to do after you and George are married?” she asked out of the blue.

“What do you mean?” Celia asked, now confused by the sudden shift in topic. “I thought I’d still be working for you.”

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