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Oct 30 09 4:56 PM
Keeper of the KiltedKinsmen
diana walker 2005 wrote:
Full scale mayhem, death and destruction, and Catherine finally is kidnapped by Ben Wade?
Ah! The children of the night. What music they make!
Oct 30 09 8:21 PM
...Catherine finally is kidnapped by Ben Wade?
Nov 1 09 7:54 AM
Nov 3 09 8:23 AM
Yes I am an agent of Satan but it's largely a ceremonial position.
Nov 3 09 4:31 PM
Nov 3 09 8:57 PM
Sure, thanks. If it's not my cuppa, I can let you know.
My problem right now (well, okay...one of many! ) is that I still haven't got home internet access...haven't figured out what's wrong
between my modem and my computer.
Nov 4 09 7:20 AM
Feb 8 10 6:11 PM
Don't you hate it when you explain your giraffe by accident?~Craig FergusonThe secret to great hair for men is to look like you just came from the stable, not the salon. ~Nathan Fillion
Feb 8 10 6:27 PM
LexiCrowegrapher to the
Feb 11 10 8:59 PM
Great picture, kaspi! I'll add my apologies, and for much the same reasons. I've been putting in 12-16 hour days at work for weeks (plus one 12 day stretch with no day off), thanks to the Olympics and our arranging the flights in, and doing the ticketing (guess who? ) for several hundred Coke vips/employees/vip guests. Not to mention putting in hours down at the Olympic Media Centre (we're the first travel agency ever onsite at an Olympics).
kaspi, I can relate to your exhaustion! At least I don't have to contend with snow up to my eyeballs! In fact, don't suppose you could Fedex some of that snow out here? We've had the warmest winter on record (natch, this year!), so they've been trucking and coptering in snow for the snowboarding venue!
And becks?We gonna hafta dunk that mind of yours into the sheep dip???
Feb 11 10 9:21 PM
We gonna hafta dunk that mind of yours into the sheep dip???
Feb 13 10 8:53 AM
Feb 13 10 1:09 PM
kaspi, I can relate to your exhaustion! At least I don't have to contend with snow up to my eyeballs! In fact, don't suppose you could Fedex some of that snow out here? We've had the warmest winter on record (natch, this year!), so they've been trucking and coptering in snow for the snowboarding venue!
Feb 13 10 4:14 PM
Go the Bunnies!
Feb 4 11 9:44 AM
When I say it’s been ages, it really has been. I don’t think I’ve posted in about two years. For those of you who know me, I hope you’ll take me back into the fold, even if it’s only for a little while. For those who are wondering where I’ve come from, once upon a time I did have a few hundred posts to my name. Unfortunately, there was a glitch during one of the modifications to the board, which wiped out my registration and things like my avatar and post count. Worst of all, I lost access to my own posts. Since I needed that access to continue updating the Parson’s Ridge compendium, I was given moderator status so that I could get into my old posts. That’s why my name appears as moderator even though I haven’t done anything in that role.I know Parson's Ridge has been pretty darn quiet for a very long time and I hope it's mostly that people's lives are just very busy in all sorts of positive ways. If you can spare a moment, I'd love to hear from you. I you can spare a few more moments, I'd love to read something from you...*hint*hint*! I also hope that my characters still ring a bell - I never forgot them and I'm glad they've given me quite a bit of pleasure, dusting them off and putting them back to work. Right now I feel I'm on borrowed time. This is the calm before the avalanche of papers which will be dumped on me for grading starting next Monday, so intend getting these chapters posted quickly over the next few days.
I actually began this story arc back in the summer of 2007, just before I started a full-time teaching job which has been pretty relentless in occupying most of my waking hours since then. Still, over the past years I've been snatching little bits of time here and there to help keep Parson's Ridge alive for me even though I just didn't have the time to be actively involved on the board. At long last here is the result (my son, who is the inspiration for Joaquin, and who was a year older than my character when I started writing for P’sR, has just turned 19…).
This arc, in part, is about giving Maximo and Joaquin a bit of quality time together, their relationship echoing something that has recently been very present in my life. After 10 years of hoping to start a family, my brother and sister-in-law were finally able to adopt two boys (ages 3 and 4) this last summer. It's been heart-warming beyond words to see my brother become a true father to two little boys who really needed one - it seems that it was a good thing that my brother's plan to raise a family did not follow the traditional route.
I hope you enjoy reconnecting with my dormant characters. It was fun waking them up!
"Do you think that's the way it is with our dreams
and our nightmares? That we have to keep
feeding them for them to stay alive?"
...for all else is dust and air.
Lady Elena of the Cottage
Feb 4 11 9:47 AM
Again, please indulge my interest in keeping track of the date. I want to make sure there's no confusion about what has and hasn't already happened. A ‘while’ back, kaspi suggested that the story had moved on about two weeks after the stampede which would place things somewhere around June 6, 1871, a Tuesday. Snuggie then wrote a Sunday chapter which would correspond to June 11. The incident with Hando (the drunken man who dies after Hando ‘bounces’ him) took place three days earlier which would make it June 8. Following the pattern of days passing after this, the shootout with Ben Wade takes place June 22. He is scheduled to leave for Roundtree on June 29. My chapter takes place the day after Wade is taken away (June 30), while John is still away and Cort is in charge.
Friday, June 30, 1871
The lanky hotel clerk shifted uncomfortably on his stool behind the reception desk, swivelling hips and feet to relieve the numbness spreading through his backside. The solitary vestibule allowed him the liberty of a stretch and noisy yawn before settling back to his reading. Business was slow. The flu had been a most unwelcome visitor in Parson's Ridge. Just as many of its victims had been slow to recover, so the traffic through the town had shrunk to a trickle and been slow to return. Still, a few travellers had been either brave or foolish enough to alight in town and Mr. Temple was most insistent that they had a right to the full services his hotel could provide.
A groaning floorboard sounded from the top of the stairwell and instantly stifled a second unbridled yawn. Hurriedly, Walter shoved his dog-eared dime novel under a stack of newspapers and was sitting straight and brightly at attention by the time the guest had reached the bottom of the stairs.
Mr. Haley was the most recent arrival at the hotel. An hour earlier, Mr. Temple had greeted him warmly, praising his wise decision to spend the night in comfort instead of continuing his journey on the overnight post coach. Mr. Haley had evidently had a quick wash and already looked much more reposed than the man who had wearily signed the register and sighed with relief as he'd handed his bags to the bellboy. Walter had found little of remark in the new guest and had not lavished much attention on him other than addressing him briefly to request a signature in the registry. Despite Mr. Temple's frequent admonishments, the young clerk was quick to judge appearances and prone to muttering less than complimentary comments under his breath Mr. Haley had thus been quickly appraised as a somewhat shabby looking gent of little consequence. But now, as he approached the desk, Mr. Haley created a much different impression. He wore the same coat but, having been scrupulously brushed clean of deeply encrusted travel dust, its excellent cut was apparent and impressed Walter's practiced eye, although he did not fail to notice the well‑worn cuffs and lapels. Walter eyed the guest with awakening curiosity. Despite his sixty or so years, on closer inspection Mr. Haley's trim figure and erect posture suggested a man of unusually vigorous constitution. A wash and shave had dealt with the grizzled stubble, and all traces of his earlier, very evident fatigue seemed to have disappeared. Still, Walter's interest was not aroused enough to justify the effort of initiating a conversation, that is, until he noticed Mr. Temple standing in the office doorway, sternly staring at his clerk.
"Ah... um... Mr. Haley, sir!" Walter glanced nervously at Mr. Temple then back at the guest who had paused on his way to the door. "If the gentleman would care to avail himself of the services of our dining room, supper will be served at seven, sir."
The guest nodded and smiled his thanks to both the clerk and watchful Mr. Temple, and stepped out into the late afternoon sun.
Jonas Haley paused for a few moments on the hotel porch, picking at a neglected spot of stubborn dust on the black velvet of his bowler hat. He settled it carefully on his head as he surveyed the little town before him. Parson's Ridge was a bit of a surprise in the middle of this near desert expanse, which made it all the more remarkable to notice its swept streets, tidy store fronts and seemingly peaceful inhabitants, a few of them now bustling about tending to the last duties of the day. Even the sounds emanating from the saloon two doors away, though lively, were certainly unraucous and unthreatening, a far cry from the majority of the many establishments of the sort that Jonas had frequented on his travels. True, he had been informed that a virulent flu had recently ravaged the population, and that a dramatic shootout had led to the arrest of the notorious Ben Wade only days earlier. But Jonas sensed that the peaceable atmosphere was the norm and not a temporary exception. Mr. Temple's praise had not been simply self-serving ‑ it seemed that Jonas could not have chosen a more restful spot to interrupt his journey.
Jonas slowly strolled along, nodding and touching his hat to the locals who noticed him and extended similar courtesies. His ambling steps eventually took him off the main concourse and down a side street lined with a few shops in the process of locking up for the day. One establishment that was not closing was Smokey's Restaurant, and the seductive fragrances beginning to waft out of its open door made Jonas consider the distinct possibility of disappointing Mr. Temple that evening. But it was still too early to think of eating and Jonas moved on, intent on whiling away a bit more time until he could work up an appropriate appetite.
A little further along, Jonas' attention was caught by a substantial two‑storey building cornering with another street. A small sign gently swinging from its porch proclaimed it as the town smithy. Curious, Jonas peered into the window at the large display of wares within.
Contrary to the haphazard clutter he’d come to expect in most smithies, Jonas was surprised at the evidence of almost fastidious organization. His eyebrows arched slightly at the sight of shelves and counters neatly laden with stock. Rows of wooden boxes with smartly printed labels likely contained smaller items. Intrigued, Jonas found himself drawn into the shop.
Inside, his growing curiosity was further kindled by sight of the less utilitarian objects on display. Above the expected collection of pots, frying pans and fire dogs, the walls were adorned with a wide array of handles, doorknobs, knockers, hinges and lock plates, all strikingly ornate beyond the basic requirements of their practical purposes. Alone against another wall stood a wrought iron gate, a full eight feet in height, its frame barely containing the ebullient curls of its intricate design. Jonas’ eyebrows reached even higher – this was easily some of the most exquisite artisanship he had ever seen. His awestruck contemplation was broken by a slight movement caught in the corner of his eye.
Buck Plunket sidled in behind the counter. He smiled at the stranger as he mopped his glistening brow and wiped his neck beneath an abundant and strikingly red beard.
“Evenin’. Is there anything in particular you might be needing?”
Jonas returned the greeting with a nod. “No, thank you. I’m just passing through town and came in for a look.”
“We’re closing soon and I’ve my round of deliveries to attend to, but you’re welcome to have a look around. And if something strikes your fancy, my partner is in back.”
Swinging a couple of freshly shod cartwheels onto his back, Buck gratefully accepted Jonas’ help with the door and set off up the street. Left alone, Jonas returned to his perusal of the unusual contents of the shop. The more he looked at them, the more the intricate designs seemed to have a growing pull on him. Somewhere, a distant memory was being tweaked. He’d seen something like this before – something he recalled admiring somewhere in the course of his European travels long ago. He let his gaze trail down to a counter topped with a long glass display case.
Hmm… Jonas slowly nodded to himself as the memory sparked and came into focus. He was looking at a display of half a dozen damascene plates, their intricate gold designs crisply outlined by backgrounds of blackened steel. Unmistakable and unforgettable - the trademark of Toledo artisans. He looked up again at the now distinctly familiar wrought iron designs, vivid reminders of his wanderings through the Iberian peninsula. How odd to find such things in this remote corner of the world…
With ever growing interest, Jonas renewed his exploration. But before he could inspect the next display case, some most unexpected sounds caught his ear. He froze, listening intently. They were faint, intermittent, but even muted by the shop's back wall, they were enough to draw Jonas with magnetic intensity. Though clearly metallic, the sounds were obviously not the ponderous rhythm typical of hammer meeting anvil. Jonas frowned, perplexed, and made his way towards the door behind the counter, straining to hear. The door was slightly ajar and the sound clearly came from beyond it. Propriety held him back, but soon enough he remembered that the blacksmith had invited him to seek assistance if needed.
Jonas stepped through the doorway into a narrow hall. The sound was more distinct and unmistakable now. It came from his left where, down the corridor, he could just make out a large opening, presumably leading into the smithy workshop. Feeling uncomfortably like an intruder but emboldened by irresistible curiosity, he followed the sound and came to the edge of the opening.
Peering discreetly into the next room, Jonas was confronted with the expected trappings of a smithy. A large forge, its coals nearly dormant, was surrounded by the requisite tools, raw materials, and partly completed objects carefully stacked against the walls and hanging in great profusion from the rafters. Screened by the clutter, Jonas surveyed the centre of the room where the work tables had been pushed aside to clear a space. The two occupants of this clearing were much too busy to notice another presence.
A man and a boy were vigorously fencing. Jonas had a clear view of the boy who could be no more than about nine or ten years old. He was wearing what looked to be a blacksmith’s heavy leather apron which functioned well enough as an improvised protective plastron. The mask, however, seemed specifically designed to fit the diminutive fencer. Although the steel mesh completely covered the child’s face, Jonas could still detect the intensity of his focus and concentration.
The man had his back to Jonas, but he too was similarly outfitted with leather apron and mask. In a steady voice he gave instructions and commented on his pupil’s performance, patiently advising and correcting. The boy carefully responded to his teacher's advances and retreats, crossing and thrusting his blade as prompted, studiously shifting his balance and rhythm as instructed.
"Your point up, but don’t stare at it – look at me. Turn your elbow in. Keep the line and pick up your rhythm a bit." The man briefly nodded. "That's better, but now you're tensing. Relax, drop your shoulders."
The small figure shook his shoulders and stretched his neck before settling back into position. This time, when his blade was challenged, he easily kept it clear, slid it over his opponent's guard, and planted the point squarely onto his teacher's chest.
"Excellent, Joaquín! You see? That was much better."
Jonas’ travels had given him more than a passing knowledge of a foreign language or two, and he easily understood the gist of the Spanish instructions. However, he was surprised to recognize the clipped Castilian accent, a contrast to the more mellifluous tones of the Spanish speakers he’d encountered in New Mexico.
Jonas watched unseen for a few more minutes, delighting in the master’s patient instruction of his pupil, encouraging and praising as often as he pointed out technical errors. He was also impressed by the boy’s endurance, but eventually fatigue took its toll. The boy lowered his blade and stepped back. He removed his mask, wiped his brow, and noticed the stranger.
The widened, chocolate-brown eyes registered no fear but enough curiosity to alert his opponent. The man turned around, but before he could speak, Jonas was already stepping towards him, apologetically removing his bowler and extending his left hand. Maximo hastily removed his mask, his own expression quizzical as he extended his swordless hand. Jonas grasped it warmly.
“Forgive me, I did not mean to eavesdrop. But I heard you and… well, you see… I too practice the art of fencing.”
Maximo’s initial wariness quickly dissipated, but he eyed the stranger intently as they shook hands. A faint scar cut across the elder man’s upper lip, distorting its line but not enough to mar the pleasant smile that readily creased his features. The smile easily broke through what initially seemed a somewhat severe expression, and light-blue penetrating eyes betrayed an animated, even mischievous personality behind the façade. The lively expression was framed by close-cropped greying hair, thinning on top but, at the nape, a few inches of silvered pigtail were visible, just curling over the edge of his collar. This eccentric detail did not escape Maximo’s notice, intriguingly reminding him of a bullfighter’s traditional coif.
Jonas’ grip involuntarily tightened, responding to another twinge of memory as he heard the name. But before he could try to retrieve it, his attention was claimed elsewhere.
“And Joaquin, sir.” A small, eager left hand was extended, very pleased to share in the distinctive ritual of the seasoned fencer.
“You are a very good pupil and reflect well on your teacher.”
Joaquin looked up at Maximo and grinned. “Thank you,” the fencers replied in unison.
The formalities completed, a brief awkward silence followed as the new acquaintances clearly shared an interest in each other but were not quite sure how to broach the subject. Maximo deferred to duty before curiosity
“Excuse me, Mr. Haley. I would appreciate the pleasure of your company, but first I must make sure the fires are banked for the night.”
“I do apologize again, I had only come in to look at your wares and I was a little um… distracted.”
“Of course. Please have a look. It will be a few minutes before I lock up for the night.”
Jonas retreated back into the shop, content to have a few minutes to himself to delight in this most unexpected encounter and to try and place the name of the fencing blacksmith. He returned to the collection of damascene plates. Now he thought he understood the logic of their presence. But were they imported or could they possibly be the handiwork of the Spanish blacksmith?
He turned to inspect the shop’s last unexplored wall. And there, above the medley of utility and artisanship, just beyond Jonas’ reach, hung a sword. Wide-eyed with wonder, he stepped as close as he could. Even at a distance, he could tell he was looking at an exceptional object. It was a cup-hilt sword typical of 17th century Spanish rapiers, but the gleaming steel proved its recent manufacture. The cup-shaped guard that gave it its name was etched with an elegant twisting-vine design enhanced by tiny perforations, creating a sense of delicate lacework but not diminishing its protective function. Most intriguing was the fact that this particular guard was coupled with a most unusual blade. The Gothic metalworking technique was apparent, the distinctive serpentine pattern undulating along the length of the blade, highlighting its beauty but, most important, giving it an unparalleled resilience and flexibility. This rare combination of hilt and blade was unique. Jonas had seen it only once before and the impression it had left was indelible. There were no questions left in his mind. The realization was complete. The name Meridio had come into absolute focus.
Steps could be heard approaching in the corridor beyond the shop. Jonas waited expectantly, practically beaming as Maximo and Joaquin appeared in the doorway laden with boxes of completed ironwork ready for sale.
“Please, Mr. Meridio. May I see that sword?”
“Of course.” A quirked smile coloured Maximo’s expression as he drew a footstool to the wall, unhooked the sword and placed it in Mr. Haley’s hands.
Jonas stood in quiet admiration of the object that rested in his open palms. On closer inspection, the details were even more impressive. The intricacy of the engraving, the supple leather of the handle, brilliance of the polish, balance and sharpness of the blade, all left nothing to be desired. Jonas reverently returned the sword.
“Mr. Meridio, I believe our paths have crossed before.”
Seeing the puzzled look but quickly forestalling the unspoken question, Jonas added: “This is your handiwork, is it not?”
Maximo nodded slowly, unsure of the next turn in the conversation.
“Mr. Meridio, in my younger days I travelled extensively. I was in Toledo in the autumn of 1860. I visited the workshop of Master Astarloa. His swords are legendary and fortunately I was able to afford one of his more modest designs. While I was in his shop, he also showed me the handiwork of a most promising young journeyman who had been with him for only a few months. His swords were indeed remarkable, clearly inspired by Astarloa, but with a very individual stamp of their own. Astarloa could not introduce me to the young man because he was preparing for a fencing exhibition that very evening. I was invited to attend. The gifted swordsmith was also a very gifted fencer. Master Astarloa was very proud of you that day.”
“That was a very long time ago…” Maximo’s words came quietly through a bittersweet smile.
Jonas shook his head, rejecting Maximo’s modesty.
“I saw you again… two years later, in San Sebastian.”
Maximo looked intently at Jonas but said nothing.
“By then, you had your own shop – which I visited - and I also saw you fence again. If I had been impressed in Toledo, it was nothing compared to what I saw in San Sebastian. You had become a remarkable fencer and I was sure your name would soon be known in the best fencing salles of Europe.”
Maximo had looked away and still did not speak. But Jonas remained undeterred.
“I returned to the Americas shortly after and had hoped to be able to follow your progress. But very little news of this sort makes it to the papers here. I regret to say that I had almost forgotten – but not quite. I see that perhaps I should have looked for you in more local reports.”
Maximo shook his head and looked up.
“Mr. Haley, I thank you for your generous praise, but as I said, that was a very long time ago.”
Sensing Maximo’s reticence, Jonas was quickly apologetic.
“Of course. Forgive me. But I hope you understand my surprise and delight. It is so unexpected to meet you at last and under such circumstances.”
Maximo eyed Jonas closely. Unexpected, indeed, was this sudden reawakening of memories long deliberately, but also regretfully dormant. This stranger had unsettled him, provoking both pleasure and anxiety, leaving Maximo wrestling between pursuing or closing the conversation. Within himself he could feel the darker experiences of his life colouring his impressions, raising the spectre of suspicion. But in truth, he could see nothing but sincere admiration in Mr. Haley’s kindly eyes. Maximo found himself returning the politeness and flattery with a confidence that surprised him even as he uttered it.
“These circumstances… My life has been a very twisted road, but it has brought me to my wife and children – and to peace of mind.”
“I understand, Mr. Meridio.” Jonas knew when not to pry. He was instinctively perceptive, a quality necessary to the successful fencer if he was to accurately gauge his opponent’s strategy. And now he could see that Mr. Meridio was in a quandary about his next move. Jonas held his tongue, and let him regroup his thoughts. He did not have to wait long for the tentative thrust.
“Mr. Haley, would you like to join my family for dinner?”
“I wouldn’t want to impose on Mrs. Meridio…”
“Oh, she wouldn’t mind at all!” Joaquin, who despite being thoroughly intrigued by the stranger had kept respectfully quiet, now seized the opportunity to prolong the novelty of the visit. Maximo smiled at his accomplice.
“Joaquin is right. On the contrary, my wife would be very upset with me if I did not invite you. You see, she is a very skilled fencer herself.”
“Then I would be delighted to meet her.”
Glancing briefly at Smokey’s restaurant but feeling no regrets, Jonas followed his hosts to the little house across the street. He was quickly learning not to make casual assumptions about his new acquaintance and was therefore rather curious about the more personal aspects of the blacksmith’s life he was about to discover. He was let into a small but comfortable home, simple of furnishings, but suggesting a subtle sense of good taste in the few items of artfully crafted local pottery and weaving that graced shelves and walls. He had little time to admire his surroundings before he was introduced to the lady of the house and Meridio’s infant daughter Alma.
Jonas elegantly stifled his surprise by taking Mrs. Meridio’s hand and raising it to his lips.
“Mrs. Meridio. I did not wish to impose, but your husband and son insisted…”
“Please feel welcome, Mr. Haley.” The tall, dark-haired woman with inquisitive eyes punctuated her welcome with a smile and offered him an armchair. He seated himself and made a show of admiring the room, succeeding in averting his curious gaze from the lady’s attire.
In his travels, Jonas had come across a few women sporting men’s trousers, but they were invariably outlaws or social outcasts, dangerous or disturbingly strange. But this woman apparently ran a perfectly tidy home, was gracious in manner and poise, and seemed perfectly at ease with herself. This was made all the more evident by the babe who slept peacefully in a sling draped around her mother. Jonas appreciated unconventionality when it was purposeful, and something about this woman made her appearance and actions seem completely natural.
More thorough introductions were made and, as Maximo had predicted, Elena shared his reaction, being both surprised and perhaps a little wary, but she hid it well and soon warmed to her guest. The dinner conversation inevitably turned to fencing and Jonas gladly revealed more of himself in return for hospitality. He was Canadian, from Montreal, where for many years he had owned a fairly successful fencing salle, albeit in a modest location above a pastry shop. The sizeable French population in that city provided a steady crop of students even while fencing had yet to inspire widespread interest in the rest of the continent. Eventually, however, the itch to travel had returned and for a few months each year, Jonas took to the road, visiting cities where fencing schools had been established and doing what he could to encourage the art elsewhere. Parson’s Ridge was in fact a stop between New Orleans and Denver, two cities with a growing taste for the sport.
Jonas was soon regaling Elena and Joaquin with his account of much earlier travels which had taken him to Spain and allowed him to witness first-hand Mr. Meridio’s skill. This time, Jonas’ narrative was detailed and he fed the rapt attention of his hostess and the boy, all the while watching for signs of discomfiture on the part of Mr. Meridio. But he saw none apart from a small self-conscious smile at the obvious pride glowing from Mrs. Meridio. Jonas began to see that the lady of the house might be instrumental in carrying out the idea that was beginning to form in his mind.
“In short, your husband was magnificent, Mrs. Meridio,” Jonas ended his account of the San Sebastian bout, the praise delivered naturally, without a shade of exaggeration.
This time, Maximo seemed to accept the compliment more easily, but still insisted on downplaying his achievements.
“You probably saw one of my last exhibitions. My later years in San Sebastian were devoted mostly to swordsmithing.”
“But I see that you are putting your skill to good use and passing it on to the next generation.”
“We are making sure that Maximo does not forget it.” Elena squeezed her husband’s arm.
“Indeed. Mr. Meridio mentioned that you yourself are accomplished in the art.”
“He taught me everything I know. That’s an advantage and a disadvantage. I am no match for him, but I do make him work hard for his victories.”
“I’m sure of it,” Jonas smiled complicitly. He had no difficulty imagining a weapon being handled skilfully in this lady’s hand. He had not failed to notice her efficient movements around the kitchen, juggling preparations and the babe in her arms – she was certainly not a sedate housewife.
“Fortunately, my husband has found another sparring partner. We have a retired navy captain in the town who is very adept with the sabre. He has battle experience. He may not be the most elegant fencer, but he is quick and ruthless and will not let Maximo touch him easily.”
Jonas registered this bit of information. His idea was becoming even more possible. But he needed to be sure.
“Mr. Meridio, the next coach is not until the day after tomorrow. If you could spare the time, would you consider obliging me with a friendly bout?”
This time Maximo smiled broadly.
“Mr. Haley, it would be my very great pleasure.”
Arrangements were made to meet next day after shop hours, when the smithy could once more be turned into a makeshift salle d’armes. It was past midnight when Jonas returned to the hotel. He was careful not to disturb the young clerk, fast asleep at his post, face firmly planted in his book. Despite the lateness of the hour, Jonas lay on his bed, wakeful, his mind teeming with the day’s events. During dinner, the half-forgotten pieces of Maximo Meridio’s story had begun to reassemble themselves, but Jonas had judiciously kept this knowledge to himself. He thought he had an inkling of the twisted road the blacksmith had alluded to. He now remembered the gossip eagerly shared by the audience around him in Toledo as he’d watched the young fencer best opponent after opponent.
The young man was a native of Trujillo where his father was a swordsmith of considerable repute - his blades were highly coveted by the local nobility. The young Meridio was clearly following in his father’s footsteps, but he had also made his name as an admirable fencer. His skill was such that class distinctions were set aside and he was regularly invited to participate in bouts usually reserved for the aristocracy. For the most part, his opponents were gracious in defeat. However, at one tournament an irate loser deliberately wounded Meridio after the end of the encounter, a shocking breach of several rules of fencing etiquette. The affront was so serious that Meridio’s father had to all but force his son into exile to prevent him from challenging his opponent to a duel. There was no question that it would have ended very badly for the offender, but would also have resulted in dire consequences for the Meridio family, no matter how justified the cause.
The gossip did not end there. Jonas had strained to hear the rest of the revelations that fluttered to his ears. It was rumoured that the real reason for the exile was not the young man’s impulsive reaction, but that it was discovered he had been secretly courting the daughter of a marques, no less. Whatever the truth, in either case, it seemed the young Meridio was probably becoming a liability to the family. But by the time Jonas sat in the audience in San Sebastian, the whispers of scandal had been replaced with very vocal admiration. The more he studied the matter, the more Jonas realized he would have to handle it with very careful tact and consideration. Meridio’s withdrawal from public exhibitions could well be due to the unhappy circumstances in Trujillo, and drawing him back would likely present a challenge. Jonas would have to play his cards carefully.
He woke early the next morning, feeling rested but restless with anticipation. He obliged the young clerk by accepting his clumsily proffered invitation to avail himself of the hotel’s generous breakfast, but then set out for a walk around the town, putting his prickly energy to use in whiling away the hours until the planned meeting with Meridio.
Yesterday’s impression of the town was confirmed even during its busiest hours. Plenty of folk filled the streets, those passing close by politely acknowledging the stranger and then briskly pursuing whatever business pressed for their attention. It did not take Jonas too long to trace the complete grid work of the town’s streets. He had walked almost the length of the westernmost street and was about to turn back onto the main street when he noticed that just beyond, where the rows of houses ended, the terrain seemed to slope towards a small rise. Having no better occupation for his time, he continued ambling northward. Perhaps this rise was part of a more pronounced ridge that might account for the town’s name, and perhaps it might afford him an interesting view of the landscape surrounding the town. The gentle slope did not reach much further, cresting soon after the last small cabin that demarcated the edge of town. The ridge was not as pronounced as Jonas had guessed, but it was still high enough to hide the evidence that lay just beyond of the growing prosperity of the town.
Out of sight for now, but probably for not too long, lay the foundations of a new house. A couple of the walls were well underway giving a sense of the future home – modest in size but probably large enough to be a comfortable space. A third wall was no more than a foot high. On it sat a man. Jonas stiffened in midstep. In this isolated part of town he felt like an intruder on this man’s reverie. For a moment longer, the man seemed so engrossed in his thoughts that he took no notice of Jonas. In that moment, Jonas was struck by two singular impressions: except for the lighter, longer hair and clean-shaven face, the man could be the spitting image of Meridio; but what was most striking was the man’s indefinable expression – was it melancholy? anger? confusion? grief? Jonas took a few steps down the rise towards him.
The crunch of gravel underfoot shook Cort from his musings, snapping him to his feet. His momentary discomfiture immediately gave way to professional observation of the stranger, remarking that he wasn’t visibly armed, assessing him as most likely harmless. With John and the other deputies away escorting Wade to Roundtree, Cort had doubled his patrols around town, making an effort to be especially vigilant. Clearly, he had allowed other concerns to distract his watch.
“I am sorry if I startled you.” Jonas once again found himself apologizing for intruding. “I thought the cabin marked the limits of the town. I hadn’t expected to find anyone here.” He proffered a hand in greeting. “Jonas Haley.”
“No need to apologize, Mr. Haley. I’m Deputy Wells.” Cort returned the firm grasp and at the same time guided Jonas back towards the rise. “The cabin,” Cort nodded towards his home as they walked by, “will still be the edge of town for some time yet. But I’m patrolling every corner - perhaps you’ve heard of our recent troubles.”
“I have. And I don’t intend distracting you from your duties. I’m just passing through, on my way to Denver. I’ll be away on tomorrow’s coach.”
They continued strolling along the main street, sharing a few more pleasantries, though Jonas noted that the Deputy seemed taciturn and conversation came more politely than easily. They reached the marshal’s office.
“I must leave you, Mr. Haley. I have some paperwork to attend to. It’s nearly time for lunch. I recommend the Tumbleweed, just across the street – you’ll find our saloon is very respectable. As for the rest of your day, I’m afraid we don’t have much to offer…”
“Not to worry, Deputy. I’m looking forward to an afternoon with your blacksmith, Mr. Meridio. He and I have discovered a shared interest in fencing.”
For the first time, the Deputy’s expression visibly lightened. Jonas thought he could see a heavy cloud lifting from his companion’s mood.
“Well, then. You will be in good company. Mr. Meridio is my cousin.”
“Ah, yes. That would explain the …” Jonas made a vague gesture around his face.
The Deputy was clearly amused, the familiar face sporting the quirked smile that Jonas now recognized as a family trait.
Bidding Mr. Haley good journey, Cort stood on the porch of the marshal’s office and watched as the grizzled but spry gentleman made his way to the saloon. Cort’s smile lingered but for a moment more before vanishing. He took a gulpful of air. The torment of the past few days returned, and with it the sense that he was suffocating. Mention of the family resemblance had brought back the contents of Catherine’s letter – the longed-for letter which had taken his heart from ecstasy to agony in a few short paragraphs. The shock had not yet worn off. His heart and mind could not yet grasp - or perhaps did not want to - the full import of all of Catherine’s revelations. He had confided in no one – didn’t know if he could even put into words what he was feeling. However, as Mr. Haley had unwittingly reminded him, there was one other person also concerned in the matter. But was this a burden to be shared with Max, or should he shield him from it while so much uncertainty still lingered in his own mind? Cort’s hands had closed into painfully tight fists. He angrily shook them loose, stepped into the office and sharply pulled the door closed behind him.
Jonas spent a very pleasant hour in the Tumbleweed, enjoying observing the locals and other solitary visitors like himself. His savoury lunch had been served by a voluptuous southern belle who had sugared and honey-potted him with a familiarity which, although delightful, was not at all what a gent of his years was accustomed to receiving from a young woman. He had also briefly locked eyes with the bartender whose unusual tattoos were probably meant to put on notice anyone who considered getting in his way. Far from being intimidated, Jonas had merely offered a polite greeting which was returned with a grunt, clearly indicating that he had been sized up and quickly dismissed as a threat. Jonas couldn’t help but smile to himself as he retreated to his table. He imagined the bartender’s preferred weapon was probably the knife and no doubt he would be quite skilled with it. A part of Jonas – the part that would have gotten him into trouble decades before - momentarily itched for a chance to test his own knife-wielding skills against him. Even if he did not emerge the victor, he was sure he could wipe away the barkeep’s permanent snarl and replace it with surprise. But Jonas easily set aside the pangs of youthful impetuousness and finished his lunch in peace.
Jonas happily whiled away the rest of the afternoon due to the felicitous discovery of the town’s tiny but well appointed library. He’d been wandering through the open spaces behind the smithy and school when he noticed a sign on the back door of the small house between the two buildings. Neat lettering announced the entrance to the lending library. At first he’d been disappointed by the locked door, but a voice behind him bade him wait. He turned to discover a young man rushing towards him, entreating his visitor to stay. Jonas was introduced to Mr. McGregor, the name spoken in a distinct yet soft-spoken Scottish brogue. Mr. McGregor was the schoolteacher, at present dividing his time between duties at school, at the short-staffed marshal’s office, and at the library actually located at the back of his own home. Jonas was led into a small room, every inch of wall covered in shelves, though many of them stood empty. Mr. McGregor was apologetic about the limited choice, but he explained that the library was a work in progress. Jonas countered that though modest, the collection included significant works. He ran his fingers appreciatively over the spines of the carefully arranged classics: A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, Crime and Punishment, The Mill on the Floss, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and the complete works of Shakespeare. Separate from the works of fiction, he was quite surprised to find Darwin’s On the Origin of Species as well as Burckhardt’s The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. His admiration for Mr. McGregor’s initiative and ambition grew considerably. Jonas politely declined the offer to borrow books since he was leaving the next day, but Mr. McGregor was insistent that he stay and make use of the comfortable armchair in the corner as long as it pleased him. To this, Jonas happily agreed, took out his reading glasses, and settled down to dust off his French with a copy of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.
It was almost, but not quite, with regret that Jonas left the library to keep his appointment with Mr. Meridio. When he arrived at the smithy, a space had already been cleared in the workshop and two fencers were warming up. Despite the masks, Jonas recognized Mr. and Mrs. Meridio. Again, Jonas refrained from interrupting, but stood quietly next to Joaquin enjoying the spectacle with growing appreciation for the feminine fencer. He applauded enthusiastically as the bout came to an end.
“It is unfortunate that fencing clubs in this country still bar women. Europeans are more enlightened, more advanced. You would be highly appreciated there, madam. You are a credit to lady fencers.”
“Thank you for your praise, Mr. Haley. But my opponent knows me too well and I’m glad to leave him to you. I trust you will provide him with a real challenge.”
Jonas took the mask, apron and weapon she offered and saluted her before turning to face Maximo. The bout began gently enough, the fencers sizing up each other’s strengths and possible weaknesses. Out of deference to the older gentleman, Maximo began his attack with reserve, keeping his movements small but precise. He was very quickly surprised to find the agility with which each attack was parried without any apparent hesitation. When Haley turned to offensive tactics, again Maximo was intrigued by the unexpected rapidity and precision of his opponent’s movements. They continued thus for a few more minutes and then Jonas raised his hand.
“Enough of warming up. Let’s really fence.”
The two fencers saluted and attacked in earnest. Maximo had clearly underestimated his opponent and soon forgot all deference to age. It was time to draw on his tactical thinking, working out Haley’s strategy. Haley had already managed a couple of distinct hits, cleverly slipping through Maximo’s defence. It was time to watch more carefully for the slightest telltale signal from his adversary’s body language. The pace of the bout slowly but surely picked up. Jonas continued to surprise his opponent, but now Maximo was replying more quickly and with greater accuracy. The tide turned. Jonas’ strategy was being used against him. He began to make mistakes and Maximo never failed to take advantage of the openings he discovered. He made little use of his greater strength, and found his mark instead through subtlety. The bout continued for several minutes until, after a very palpable hit in Maximo’s favour, the fencers separated, saluted and acknowledged the applause of their small audience.
Jonas had lost, not for lack of endurance when faced with a much younger man, but because Maximo had figured him out. Jonas was thrilled with the display but managed to contain his excitement. Mr. Meridio’s skills were hardly dormant – he had passed the test with flying colours. Jonas heartily shook his hand. Maximo was also beaming.
“Mr. Haley. You said you owned a salle in Montreal. You neglected to say you were its master.”
Jonas took the compliment with a shrug.
“I made a name for myself a very long time ago in my youth. Now it is my preference to teach and see younger men excel. And you, Mr. Meridio, have lost nothing of your skill. If anything, you are controlling your youthful bravado in a way that will make you formidable.”
“Well, it is comforting to see that I can still rise to the challenge. Thank you for giving me the opportunity, Mr. Haley.”
Maximo held Jonas’ gaze for a moment, unsure of what he saw there, and then turned to help Elena and Joaquin set the smithy workshop back to rights. Again Jonas was invited for dinner and he accepted without hesitation. It was easier this time to turn the conversation to suit his purpose.
“Mr. Meridio, my pleasure in fencing with you is enhanced by the knowledge that you are helping to bring our art to new places.”
“I am hardly...”
“No need to be modest. Every bit helps. That’s the reason I travel.” Jonas settled back in his chair. “Take for example my present journey. I was just in New Orleans. They’ve had fencing masters there for at least seventy years. I found two gentlemen willing to go to Denver to attend an exhibition there in a week’s time. In fact one of them is your countryman, Mr. Pepe Llulla.” Jonas noticed with satisfaction Maximo’s raised eyebrows. “I see the name is familiar.”
“I don’t know who he is. Is he any good?” Joaquin’s interest was an encouraging sign. Jonas gladly provided details.
“Well, Don Pepe is one of the most famous fencers of all time. He is an old man like myself now, but he is still a great teacher and he has survived more than thirty duels.” Joaquin’s eyes grew wide. “He is taking one of his best pupils to the exhibition in Denver. You see, there are no fencing schools in Denver, but many people are interested.” Jonas turned back to Maximo. “Are you familiar with the Turnvereins, Mr. Meridio?”
“I’ve heard of them, in Germany. They are gymnastic schools, to promote physical education, I think.”
Jonas nodded. “And now, German immigrants have brought such schools here. I’ve visited Turnvereins in Cincinnati, New York, Philadelphia - most major cities have one. In Germany, fencing is one of the disciplines taught in the Turnvereins. The Denver Turnverein would like to do so as well, but they have to get the young men interested. The best way is to organize an exhibition, a Grand Assault like those in France, to bring together the best talents and inspire new fencers.” Jonas had been addressing all of his hosts collectively, but now he pointedly turned to Maximo.
“Mr. Meridio. I’d like to come straight to the point. Would you consider being part of this exhibition?”
Even as he spoke, Jonas sensed a change in Maximo, a slight frown beginning to crease his forehead. Realization had dawned, but Jonas had made his request quickly and it left Maximo momentarily speechless.
“It does not interest you?” Jonas tentatively prodded.
“It is not that...” Maximo scrambled to order his thoughts and words. He pushed his chair away from the table, needing more space to breathe. He sighed.
“Mr. Haley, I am flattered beyond words that you would even consider asking me. But fencing is not a part of my life any more. I have been in Parson’s Ridge for less than a year. The necessities of making a life here take all my time. I cannot indulge. Fencing can be no more than a hobby.”
“Forgive me, Mr. Meridio, but the skill and passion you have shown me today betray you. This is not and never has been just a hobby for you.”
Maximo stood up, and slowly wandered away from the table.
“Mr. Haley, today you gave me a rare chance to put my skill to the test. I enjoyed it more than I can say. It has not always been the case. You showed me the respect and consideration of an equal, but in my day I have fenced with men who spared no opportunity to remind me that apart from my skill, I was worth little else. No matter how many my victories, I was always thrust back into my place. It became too much to bear.”
Jonas rose and stood next to Maximo.
“But it is different in this country, Mr. Meridio. Surely you know that. Such attitudes are frowned upon.”
Maximo moved away from Jonas, slowly shaking his head.
He turned to see Elena holding her hand out to him. He took it. Her hand closed tightly around his fingers. She pulled him towards her.
“Don’t be so hasty in your answer. Take the time to think about it.”
Maximo tried to speak, but Elena raised a finger to his lips. “Please. Just think about it. It’s getting late and I must get the children to bed. Why don’t you accompany Mr. Haley back to the hotel? You can ask him more on the way... to help you think...” Gently she pushed him towards the door.
Jonas looked with wonder at Mrs. Meridio and thought he caught a conspiratorial glance from her. He smiled to himself. He had rightly judged her.
Maximo and Jonas walked in silence for most of the way, Jonas wary of interrupting what he knew was a crucial inner struggle. Although Elena had entreated him to do so, Maximo was at a loss as to what to ask that could persuade him that it was possible to accept Mr. Haley’s invitation.
“I do not know, Mr. Haley. I do not know…” was all he could mutter as they walked.
At least the silence had been broken and Jonas grasped this as a positive sign.
“Mr. Meridio, if you don’t mind, could you spare the time to come to my room for a moment? There is something I would like to show you.” The apparent change in subject seemed to relieve Maximo. He readily agreed.
The hotel clerk stood at attention and even nodded politely towards the gentlemen climbing the stairs. Jonas was impressed but then noticed Mr. Temple standing, arms folded, in the dining room archway, keeping a stern eye on his employee. Jonas chuckled to himself and let Mr. Meridio into his room.
Jonas’ possessions were few and fitted tidily into one small suitcase. But next to the suitcase lay a much longer, narrower case. Jonas opened it and retrieved two handsome fencing foils, both of high quality German steel of the Solingen company of swordsmiths. And then Jonas pulled out a third blade and placed it in Maximo’s hands. This was not a fencing foil, sabre or épée. It was a real rapier, its blade honed to razor sharpness. An ornate text was engraved into the gleaming steel: No me saques sin razón, no me envaines sin honor.
“Do not draw me without reason, do not sheath me without honour,” Jonas softly repeated the motto. “I have shown this at every opportunity during my travels. Invariably it inspires great admiration. People here understand the value of such an object, and the value of the artist who created it. I said I had visited your workshop in San Sebastian. Unfortunately, you were away at the time. But, as you can see, I did not leave empty-handed.”
Maximo carefully closed his hands around the blade. Its coolness sent a shiver up his spine. The thrill left him breathless. After all these years, he was reunited with something beautiful he had created at the peak of his swordsmithing career. But as the steel warmed in his hands, his emotions darkened. The peak of his career coincided with the most terrible years of his life. His intense focus on his work was an attempt to obliterate his past, to try and ignore his solitude and grief. He felt Mr. Haley’s hand grasp his shoulder.
“Mr. Meridio? Are you alright?”
“Yes. Forgive me. It was a difficult time…” He trailed off, unable to continue, and sat heavily on the bed.
Jonas sat next to Maximo and did not relent this time.
“Mr. Meridio. I think I understand now that your career as a swordsmith and fencer has been marred by painful experiences. But do consider that perhaps now is the time to change that. In Denver you will find the respect your workmanship and your swordsmanship deserve.”
“I do not know…”
“But I do know.”
“I have not fenced in public…”
Jonas waved this concern away.
“You are one of the most focused opponents I have ever met. I know you’ll have no trouble ignoring the audience.”
“But the journey…”
“The journey to Denver is less than four days. You would be gone for less than two weeks.”
“You are right, Mr. Meridio. You should take council with her. I think your wife has very particular thoughts on the matter…”
Maximo sighed deeply before taking his leave. He did not hurry home, instead choosing the most circuitous route possible. He felt a tremendous weight on his shoulders and his feet caught repeatedly in the dust and gravel of the street. In the distance he saw Cort, walking away from him, no doubt doing his rounds. For a moment Maximo felt the urge to hail and join his cousin, but then thought better of it. Cort was also walking slowly, shoulders stooped, feet catching on the ground. It seemed that tonight there was little room to take on another’s burden of thoughts.
Feb 4 11 9:49 AM
Maximo turned down the lamplight, pulled the covers to his chin and crossed his arms.
“I have my work here. That’s what truly matters. Fencing is but a game.”
“But it isn’t all that matters. I remember when fencing was much more than a game. It was an extension of who you were. Your discipline, your style, your honour. That’s what so many admired you for, what so many – yes, don’t argue – so many learned to respect you for.”
“Maybe so, but that was a long time ago. It doesn’t matter anymore.”
“But it does matter! I see it in your eyes every time we fence together. Your mask can’t hide your feelings. I know the excitement you feel. I know the satisfaction you feel when I surprise you with something unexpected and you still manage to parry me.” Elena playfully twirled her index finger in the air before swiftly jabbing him in the chest.
“Touché.” He smiled and gently took her hand and kissed the assailing fingertip. “You know me too well. And you also know that you are enough for me.”
“For some things of course,” she grinned. “But for others, why not have more when the opportunity presents itself?”
Maximo shook his head. Elena mercilessly skewered him again and again until he nearly fell out of bed.
“Forget the practical man for a few days.”
“But the smithy…”
“The smithy will survive without you. Buck Plunket managed just fine before you came along. Besides, you know business has been slow. The town is still recovering from the flu and few new orders have been placed. The shop is well stocked with the basic necessities. It can do without you for two weeks.”
Maximo raised himself on his elbow and stared down at Elena.
“And will you be able to do without me for two weeks?”
Elena pushed Maximo off his elbow and engrossed herself in sorting the stuffing of her pillow.
“The ladies of the house will do just fine with a bit of peace and quiet for a change.”
“You’ll be taking Joaquín.”
Maximo stared intently at Elena. Conflicting feelings of delight in her trust and fear of the boy’s reaction clenched his heart. Elena turned and rolled closer to him.
“But what? What do I read in your eyes?” She took his chin, her fingers stroking his beard as he usually did when deep in thought. She cocked her head to one side. “Hmm… Is it fear? Fear of separating me from Joaquín? Fear of the responsibility? Fear of the expectations?” She squeezed his chin and shook her head. “There is no fear on my part. I know your heart holds Joaquín as dearly as you do your own child. And I know Antonio knows that too. We trust you.” She tightened her grip on Maximo’s chin and pulled his face closer to hers.
“But I also see pleasure. I see the adventure before you and how much you would like to share it with Joaquín. You know he will jump at the chance to leave the town for a little while. You know how restless and moody he’s been. Between the sickness and Ben Wade, he’s been locked inside for far too long. A little time away from the ladies of the house would do him much good.
He’ll have you all to himself.”
This story arc is also a tribute to my fencing master who for the past four years has been teaching this old dog some new tricks. The physical description is inspired from life except for the bowler hat – when not wearing a fencing mask, he sports a baseball cap with the sword-framed Montecristo Cuban cigar logo. (Even the pigtail is real, but I have yet to work up the nerve to ask if it has special significance.) The name I use is fictitious, but I’ve done my best to plausibly adapt “Jonas’” personality to 19th century circumstances. Under the unflappable patience, ever-present good mood and self-effacing quiet manner, lies the relentless endurance of the Energizer bunny and the witty intellect of a man who consumes a book a day. The range of topics that intrigue him is broadly eclectic and is rendered all the more remarkable by his ability to discuss anything and everything with anyone as he fences (Euclid, Socrates, ballet, and Timothy Dalton came up during our latest session). At age 63, he has little difficulty in thwarting most of my attempts to skewer him, but he is quick to praise progress and I’ve come to really appreciate the honour of receiving the fencer’s left-handed handshake at the end of a good session.
Feb 4 11 9:54 AM
FILIGREED CUP HILT SWORD – 17th century Spanish design favoured by Maximo
WOMEN FENCING IN 1888
In 1888 the Amateur Athletic Union held its first fencing championships. On this occasion, Professor J. Hartl of Vienna toured America with a women’s fencing demonstration team. As a result, women’s fencing classes began.
FIRST FENCING SCHOOL IN CANADA
In 1816, an advertisement for a fencing school appeared in the Montreal Herald. The self-proclaimed master who placed the ad was Jean-Baptiste Girard, who also happened to be the confectioner for the firm of Palmer & Girard. The ad directs enquiries to the premises of said pastry shop. The ad doesn’t specify, but presumably the lessons were to take place at the back of the shop. Although this doesn’t sound like a particularly formal fencing school, it is considered to be the first such establishment in Canada.
Feb 5 11 2:54 PM
Tuesday, July 4, 1871
‘All to himself…’ Maximo kept a private smile in check. He and Joaquin were indeed sharing some close time together, but in the company of seven strangers.
Cal had promptly arrived a few minutes before six in the morning to collect the sole passengers from Parson’s Ridge. But his Celerity coach was already packed, leaving Maximo and Joaquin to squeeze into the middle bench. Cal was quick to reassure them that most of the other passengers did not have much further to go. In the meantime, Maximo and Joaquin could do little else but store their luggage on the roof of the coach and brace themselves on the backless seat, their discomfort made all the more pronounced as they had to share the space with a portly man occupying nearly half of the bench normally intended for three.
Though the conditions were not ideal, they were not apparent to Joaquin who was simply thrilled to have started on the adventure - the crowded coach was just part of it. The other passengers were an assortment of ranch hands and miners, seemingly too hung over from what Roundtree had to offer equivalent to Miss Kitty’s or the Tumbleweed to engage in any form of conversation. Joaquin was not shy about sharing a smile with Maximo although neither had the urge to break the silence. Joaquin turned to gaze steadfastly at the arid and desolate scenery drifting by.
The adventure had indeed begun but Joaquin was still reeling from the surprise. It had been exciting enough to learn that Maximo was going to participate in a fencing exhibition, but the decision to take Joaquin along was completely unexpected. He had repeatedly looked to his mother for confirmation, not believing what he was hearing. But soon enough Mr. Haley had come to the house to explain what arrangements had been made, and these arrangements definitely included Joaquin.
“My hearty congratulations on your decision, Mr. Meridio,” Mr. Haley had announced as he’d walked in. “The young man will surely benefit as well.” He had warmly patted Joaquin on the shoulder. “You will see very skilled fencers and no doubt you will be very proud of your Papa.”
Joaquin shifted on the bench as Mr. Haley’s words came back to him. Maximo was not his father, but although he had felt the impulse to correct Mr. Haley, Joaquin suppressed it. In many aspects, Joaquin was mature beyond the scope of his nine years and he had finally come to understand that his affection for Maximo was not a betrayal of his own father. This was made easier because Maximo was well aware of how Joaquin had struggled to accept him, and repeatedly made it clear that he could never replace Antonio nor had he any intention of doing so. It had not been easy, but Joaquin had come to believe in Maximo’s sincerity.
And now, here he sat, Maximo’s arm protectively braced around his shoulders, offering the backrest missing from the bench. They were embarking on a journey together and Joaquin thought he was the luckiest boy in the world. Travel excited him. He still had vivid memories of the long journey he had undertaken four years earlier from Boston to Parson’s Ridge. In the years since, the only time he had ridden in a coach was on an occasional short trip to Roundtree. But on this journey he would be spending the better part of three days travelling by stagecoach, and the last leg of the trip would be by train, between Pueblo and Denver. Joaquin felt giddy with anticipation, but memories of train travel were inevitably tied to thoughts of his father and mother - together. He bit his lip. Other emotions welled within him and he stared even more intently at the landscape, hiding his face from Maximo. He could still feel his mother’s clinging embrace from this morning. He did wish that she could have come along but understood that the journey was far too long for his tiny sister Alma. The knowledge that he was old enough sobered him and he furtively wiped away the moisture that had collected in the corner of his eye.
Maximo gazed over Joaquin’s shoulder. The barren landscape, dotted only with clumps of brush breaking through the hardpan, offered little to distract him from the jumble of thoughts that would not leave him in peace. It had all happened so quickly that he felt he’d had little opportunity to give the matter due consideration. True, Elena had argued convincingly enough and had literally pushed him out the door early the next day so that he could apprise Haley right away of the good news. But still he felt he had been rushed and that decisions were being made beyond his control. Haley had spared little time to express his delight before heading off to the telegraph office to inform his contacts in Denver. Their reply had not been long in coming. It was clearly a tribute to the esteem in which Haley’s opinion and expertise were held that they readily agreed to the new participant. They were even willing to pay Mr. Meridio’s expenses as well as those of his son. Maximo had protested, had insisted he wanted to cover at least Joaquin’s fare, but Haley would have none of it.
The rest of the arrangements were quickly made. Haley would leave that very day in the late morning coach and Maximo and Joaquin would follow two days hence to arrive in Denver in time for the exhibition on July 8. Elena had wanted them to take the journey at a leisurely pace, insisting that she and Alma would be very safe under Cort’s watchful eye, but Maximo was adamant that the most he could bear being away was eleven days. He had carefully calculated distances and times: it would take four days to travel the 423 miles to Denver, three days would be sufficient to attend the exhibition and explore the city, and another four to bring them back home. She had grumbled but agreed, and Maximo couldn’t help sensing a sigh of relief mixed in with her protestations. Her words, though absolutely sincere, said one thing but he knew her heart was in turmoil and would have said another. He saw it in her eyes and in the strength of the embrace in which she had held him and Joaquin before releasing them that morning. He could easily sense and feel the battle she waged between excitement and reluctance. But despite what her face betrayed, Elena still pushed both of them into the coach. She was not going to back out of this decision. Maximo took his cue from her and made up his mind to focus on the journey ahead.
As his thoughts settled, so did Maximo slowly wake to his surroundings. Earlier, he had absently noticed the landscape, but now, as the wind shifted, he could not ignore it. It hadn't rained for weeks and the passengers were suddenly buffeted by the wind-stirred earth that the scarce grasses and stunted bushes did little to keep from flying in through the unglazed windows. Since the other passengers seemed incapable of standing up on firm ground, let alone in a rocking coach, it was Maximo who hastily stood, reached out through the window and unstrapped the roll of heavy canvas, sealing one side of the coach from the prevailing current. It obscured Joaquin’s view but provided very necessary relief. Maximo handed Joaquin his handkerchief and the boy gratefully made good use of it.
Fortunately, it was not much longer before they arrived at the first swing station. Cal deftly sprang from his seat while Maximo and Joaquin also stepped down, leaving the doorway clear for anyone else wishing to alight. They were both quietly relieved to see three of the men stagger out and set off somewhat unsteadily across the plain, presumably towards a ranch hidden somewhere in the haze of the horizon. The station was little more than a small hut attached to stables just big enough to accommodate four horses. But the attendant was competent, handled the animals well, and with his assistance Cal quickly completed the job of unharnessing his tired mounts and harnessing the fresh horses. Turning west and facing a straight and even trail ahead, Cal flicked the reins and set the coach once more in motion, steadily increasing the speed until he reached a gallop. The passengers could hear Cal’s whoops of delight. He kept this speed for well over a mile and then gently brought the horses down to a steady trot, maintaining this pace for another ten miles.
Inside the coach, the remaining passengers had rearranged themselves so that the three on the bench were now on a proper seat. Maximo was still wedged next to the burly fellow, but at least his back was well supported. The wind had settled and Maximo raised the canvas so that Joaquin once again had an uninterrupted view of the landscape. Not much had changed and the trail ahead showed little inclination to vary, but Maximo promised that in time there would be mountains to admire. The monotony seemed to matter little to Joaquin – he was clearly sharing Cal’s thrill for speed. Watching Joaquin’s obvious delight did much to calm Maximo’s apprehensions. The journey was meant to be an adventure not just to be shared together, but also enjoyed. For Joaquin’s sake, he had to stop worrying so much.
Two more swing stations during the morning’s leg of the journey allowed Cal to indulge in more bone-rattling bursts of speed. As Cal harnessed yet another fresh team of horses, Maximo gave him a hand and took the opportunity to remark on Cal’s skilled control of the carriage and its apparent resilience, not yet having come apart or showing any signs of serious wear. Cal took this as a compliment and explained that his coach was the tougher version of a Celerity coach, often called a mud wagon. Cal was not at all offended by this designation, pointing out that his coach was specifically built to withstand the worst conditions the road could offer, from deepest mud to sharpest rocks and everything in between. Cal would not trade his trusty coach for the so-called cradle comfort of those fandangled Concord coaches.
Maximo took Cal’s word for the advantages of this coach and climbed back inside. This was the closest station to the Midas Touch mine and, much to Maximo and Joaquin’s pleasure, the four remaining passengers had alighted and set off towards the compound, just visible near a distant ridge of hills to the south. Joaquin too had recognized the mine and noticed how intently it drew Maximo’s attention – his chin rested in his hand, his fingers busily tracing the contours of his trim beard, a gesture Joaquin had come to recognize when Maximo was deeply preoccupied. At first Joaquin was puzzled, but then a flash of insight – rare in one so young – gave him the answer. Though Joaquin had been shielded from the worst of the drama, the mine explosion less than a year before had left a clear impression of the fear that had gripped the town. The memory also came back of Maximo’s involvement in the courageous efforts at rescue. Joaquin felt a stirring of pride and despite the emptiness of the coach, squeezed closer to Maximo. Maximo seemed to snap out of his daydream, smiled down at Joaquin and put his arm around his shoulders, though this time there was no need for a backrest.
Sometime later, even the novelty of the trip was no match for the fatigue of the journey, especially due to the early morning departure. Joaquin began to droop and nod.
“Joaquín,” Maximo gently roused him. “Don’t fall asleep yet. Let’s make this more comfortable first.”
Intrigued, Joaquin watched as Maximo took hold of the seat opposite them and firmly tugged. To Joaquin’s surprise, the seat slid forward along grooves in the side walls of the coach and also drew the backrest down along with it. When Maximo finished pulling, the middle bench, the seat and the backrest, together had formed a platform that covered about two thirds of the space within the coach. Delighted, Joaquin climbed onto it and gratefully curled up. Maximo took off his vest, rolled it into a make-shift pillow and tucked it under Joaquin’s head.
“There. That’s better, isn’t it? Try to fall asleep as quickly as you can. It won’t be long till we stop for dinner and we may not have the coach to ourselves after that.”
Joaquin was quick to obey and despite the jostling of the coach, soon the slow and steady rhythm of his breath signalled deep slumber. As Joaquin slept, Maximo kept a hand on the child’s shoulder, ready to react protectively at the slightest lurch, not for a moment neglecting his charge.
Maximo had begun to nod off when he was roused by a strident blast of bleating sound. Alarmed, he peered out the window at the driver. Cal lowered his bugle, looked down, clearly expecting a reaction from his passengers, and grinned.
“We’re coming up to Antelope Springs. It’s a home station. It’s time for dinner and I’m letting them know they should get the beans on the fire for us.”
Having reassured a now very awake Joaquin, Maximo checked his pocket watch. It was just past one o’clock in the afternoon. They were making good time, having covered over 40 miles in seven hours of travel. The home station soon came into view. It was hardly larger than some of the swing stations they had passed, but the building next to the stables was spacious enough to contain a well appointed kitchen with a large open hearth, as well as two long tables to serve travellers. The station was run by a family, a couple with two young boys, who efficiently tended to the passengers with a flavourful though limited meal of bread, beans and bacon. They had a scant half an hour to eat their fill before Cal was calling out “All aboard!” Feeling restored and ready for the next leg of the journey, they climbed back into the coach. Another fifty miles lay between them and Santa Fe. Their destination would be reached only late into the night.
They were now heading north and, not far out of Antelope Springs, Cal announced that he would be stopping briefly to collect an elderly couple from a nearby homestead. They were regulars on Cal’s route, journeying every week or so for provisions in Santa Fe. The couple soon came into view, under the shade of a solitary pinyon pine. As the coach stopped and Cal alighted to help load a few pieces of luggage into the rear boot, Maximo overheard the familiar cadence of his mother tongue. He was pleased to discover common ground with strangers with whom they would be spending several hours. Maximo held the coach door open and waited as the couple approached and their conversation became distinct. Even though the gentleman’s tone seemed placid enough, he was in fact grumbling, protesting that he really was not looking forward to the journey - his piles were unbearably itchy. With an equally level tone of voice, the lady answered that hers were bigger and worse but that you wouldn’t catch her complaining. Maximo gave Joaquin a quick but very meaningful look, stifling the boy’s incipient giggle, and then assisted the lady and gentleman into the coach, politely offering introductions in English as Mr. Max Wells and son Jim.
Fortunately, Maximo and Joaquin were not subjected to any more unwitting indiscretions and the couple were soon soundly asleep, their not-so-private discomfort notwithstanding. Still, Maximo and Joaquin kept to their English cover, quietly sharing their impressions of the land through which they were passing. The journey was animated by the discovery of a herd of pronghorn antelope, a small cluster of does and fawns which from their safe distance looked curiously at the passengers who stared back with even greater fascination. Joaquin had seen these creatures only in one of Mr. McGregor’s library books and was thoroughly impressed by the real things, although no males were around for a proper view of the unusual horns.
Joaquin was somewhat less impressed, a few hours later, when he spotted a large herd of longhorns being rounded up by several cattle hands. The animals were not particularly exotic, but the agility of the riders kept Joaquin entertained as long as they were in view. Maximo was plied with questions about his own days as a trailhand, which he found himself answering with a lightness of heart which surprised him. His years on the trails had been among the unhappiest of his life, and more recent events that had called upon his skill as a cattle driver had brought tragic consequences that were still raw in his memory. And yet, he satisfied Joaquin’s curiosity without falling into what had been inevitable melancholy every time this part of his life came to mind. Maximo pulled Joaquin closer as he spoke. He took this newfound peace in his soul as a sign. His life had finally settled. His dues had been paid. The suffering was over. He was reaping his just reward. Having exhausted the topic for now, Joaquin’s questions ceased. In the comfortable silence that followed, he and Maximo imitated their elderly companions and soon were dozing.
The bugle call roughly startled them from their sleep, eliciting a most indecorous and unexpected Spanish expletive from the lady. Joaquin quickly glanced at Maximo before putting his hands in front of his face to presumably hide a very exaggerated yawn. It was a little before eight o’clock and the sun seemed inches from the horizon. Their less than melodious wake-up call signalled that supper lay only minutes ahead.
They came to a stop at the hamlet of Galisteo. It seemed to be little more than a cluster of adobe buildings but was well-provisioned with a very decent home station. A robust, middle-aged woman and her adolescent daughter tended to the passengers, showing particular deference to the elderly couple, though certainly not neglecting Maximo and Joaquin. They were shown into a dining room, separate from the rest of the house, serviced with several small tables instead of one large communal one. Maximo was thankful for the relative privacy this offered since he now felt uncomfortable continuing their subterfuge, however innocent and well-intentioned. Maximo and Joaquin politely wished the couple a good appetite but then sat down at their own table as far from them as possible. They were promptly served freshly grilled pork chops, a generous portion of steaming vegetables, bread and butter, milk for Joaquin and coffee for the adults. Still, the meal had to be consumed quickly. Cal was soon standing in the doorway shouting, “All aboard!”
No new passengers joined them and the rest of the journey to Santa Fe was done in relative comfort. Four weary heads rested on the coach walls, and Joaquin and the elderly gent put their feet up on the central bench. Night had fallen quickly after their meal and the silhouetted landscape offered little entertainment. There was not much left to do but sleep through the remaining hours of the journey.
Maximo was awake several miles before arriving at their destination. He had spent two years riding the cattle trails and had quit that lifestyle not so many months ago. The alertness of his mind during the night, particularly in unusual surroundings, had lost none of its edge. A slight change in pace and rhythm had drawn him from his dreams. He looked out of the carriage. The moon had not yet risen but by the starlight he could see that the terrain had changed. The road had become steeper and Cal was allowing his team to slacken the pace. They were skirting a chain of low mountains to their right. They had finally left the uniformly flat landscape that had accompanied them since their departure from Parson’s Ridge. It was the change Joaquin had been looking forward to. But now he was fast asleep and there was little point in waking him. Not much could be seen in the darkness. There would be plenty of opportunities to admire mountains tomorrow morning. Maximo settled back in his seat and kept a watchful eye on the horizon, waiting to spot the first lights of Santa Fe.
They were not long in coming although they were a barely perceptible glow, peering occasionally from behind the hills up ahead as the trail wound its way around them. Cal seemed to have little need of light to confidently make his way towards the scattering of outlying houses pointing the way to the city centre. Still, Maximo kept his own practiced eyes wide open, just in case. Gently, he shook Joaquin awake.
Joaquin nodded, barely opening his eyes, but straightened up. He was more alert by the time Cal slowed the coach to guide it through the desolate streets of Santa Fe, the hollow sound of hoofs on beaten earth echoing on the adobe walls. Single level buildings were soon alternating with two-storey ones. Even though the city numbered about 5000 souls, no street lamps lit the way, but tired candles still shone in some windows. Cal pushed on to the heart of the city and they soon found themselves in the large open space of the Plaza. The silence of the outskirts had been deceptive. Though well past midnight, the square was alive with revellers spilling out of a couple of well-lit saloons along one side of the Plaza. The coach came to a stop.
They had reached the Exchange Hotel, a sprawling one-storey building occupying a whole city block, edging the southeast corner of the Plaza. The elderly couple still slumbered and Maximo debated which courtesy to extend them: wake them and allow them to alight first, or be considerate of their need for a few minutes of additional sleep. Maximo opted for the latter and silently instructed Joaquin to descend as quietly as he could. Once outside, Maximo kept a vigilant eye on the sounds and movements from the saloon patrons in case the coach had attracted unwanted attention. Cal seemed to be of a like mind and made quick work of removing the luggage from the roof and boot. Having been assured that Cal could handle his remaining passengers on his own, Maximo warmly shook the driver’s hand, offering best wishes on the imminent birth of Cal’s first child should the happy event occur before Maximo’s return. Their few belongings in hand, Maximo and Joaquin entered the hotel lobby.
The nondescript exterior of weathered adobe walls and austerely framed windows masked an unexpectedly attractive interior. The spacious lobby was generously lit with oil lamps, casting a warm glow on pristine walls, tiled floors and beamed ceilings. The spare but comfortable furnishings were decidedly familiar, reminiscent of the deeply tinted wood and decorative carvings typical of Spanish homes. Joaquin was wide awake now and surveying his surroundings. He gave Maximo an approving smile. It had been years since Joaquin had last stayed in a hotel of this category and his memories were indistinct. He had been looking forward to this as one of the highlights of his adventures – this hotel was certainly not going to disappoint.
Maximo was also appraising his surroundings. Inevitably, he compared them to those provided by Mr. Temple and realized that for a small town, the Parson’s Ridge hotel had much to commend it. Although different in style, both hotels shared a taste for functionality, cleanliness, and a certain elegance. They also shared a drowsy night clerk. Walter’s counterpart sat behind his desk, his cheek pressed against a fist attached to a skinny arm and precariously angled elbow. Maximo cleared his throat. The elbow slipped. The clerk abruptly came to attention.
“Sir!” He stood, nearly tumbling from his chair. “May I help you, sir?”
Maximo offered his name and it was quickly ascertained that a room had indeed been held for Mr. Meridio and son, and the bill already paid by Mr. Haley two days previous. To Maximo’s relief, the clerk led them well past a courtyard from which emanated scattered notes from a piano, the din of animated male conversation, and an occasional shout. Although this was his first visit to the hotel, Maximo immediately recognized the source of the sounds as the gambling hall. He knew this from detailed descriptions in his sister Leila’s letters. Some months earlier, she had spent two weeks at the Exchange, attending to the needs of Magnolia Grant. Miss Grant, Zack’s aged aunt, had been about to embark on a journey to Chicago and hence to New York, and had fortunately agreed to take Leila on as a travelling companion. This had given Maximo the necessary peace of mind to prevent him from accompanying Leila across the continent himself.
In trying to allay her brother’s protective instincts, Leila had provided copious information on all her experiences, including her time spent at the Exchange. She had reassured Maximo that although there was a gambling hall on the premises, it was located in such a way as not to interfere with the comfort and sensibilities of patrons who were not inclined or approving of such diversions, as clearly Miss Grant was not. The owner of the hotel, a Mr. Ambrose, had reassured the ladies that the gentlemen who frequented his hall were of impeccable background and manners and were there purely for a few hours of genial conversation and entertainment. Leila had not reported anything to contradict this, but still Maximo warily guided Joaquin quickly past the courtyard.
They were ushered into a spacious room, furnished in style similar to the lobby. But the length of the journey and the lateness of the hour had left the travellers with limited attention for the pleasant details of their environment, except to appreciate the coolness of the tiled floor and the comfortable mattresses - the elaborately carved headboards to which they were attached and the ornately quilted covers went largely unnoticed. Even though Joaquin seemed ready to fall asleep on his feet, Maximo insisted on a thorough cleansing of face and hands at the wash basin. This brought Joaquin to greater wakefulness and as he slid into bed and watched Maximo arrange the sheets around him, a wave of emotion rose within him. It was the first time since the tragic loss of his father that he was away from his mother. Maximo caught the sudden change in Joaquin’s expression. This time, the child did not hide it.
“I miss Mamá and Alma.”
“I know. So do I.” Maximo plumped the pillow and looked closely at Joaquin. “Shall we go back home?”
Maximo’s tone was utterly serious. He was not jesting. Joaquin’s eyes widened with astonishment.
“No! I mean… I didn’t mean...”
The stern expression on Maximo’s face melted. He drew the sheets up to Joaquin’s chin.
“Well then. If we’re to continue, then you need to fall asleep quickly – we’ll have to be up again before long.” Maximo gently kissed him on the forehead. “Sleep well.” Relieved and reassured, Joaquin dutifully curled up and was soon asleep.
As Maximo slid into his own bed, he felt for the first time the full weariness of the day seeping into muscle and bone. Though his body ached from inertia, his mind seemed determined to keep him wakeful and Maximo readied himself for a sleepless night. But body overcame mind and, imperceptibly, Maximo slipped into slumber.
He woke with a start. Again, his unfamiliar surroundings seemed to have stirred the instincts of yore when the phases of sun and moon had marked the routines of Maximo’s day. It was nearly twilight – just enough time to rise, dress, and eat a light breakfast. Joaquin grumbled as Maximo gently squeezed his shoulder. But any trace of reluctance quickly disappeared as he opened his eyes wide, realized where he was, and scrambled out of bed, eager to face another day of travel. Having unpacked nothing but the essentials the night before, they soon presented themselves in the lobby with their luggage. A different clerk, a much more alert youth, guided them to the dining room.
Maximo and Joaquin politely acknowledged four ladies of advancing years gathered around one table. Their identical, tightly upswept hairstyles and similarly creased and heavily powdered faces identified them as likely four spinster sisters. Maximo and Joaquin’s greetings were also returned from another table by a very young couple whose whispered conversation and frequent, shy smiles to each other, clearly designated as newlyweds. As Maximo and Joaquin hurried through their toast and porridge, they resigned themselves to the prospect of several hours of travel in less than ideal conditions.
The coach was already waiting by the time all eight passengers emerged from the hotel. It was six in the morning and the sun should have been just breaking over the horizon, but the mountains to the east would keep it out of sight for another hour. In the early morning light, Maximo and Joaquin recognized another mud wagon inscribed with worn letters identifying it as belonging to Barlow, Sanderson and Co. At some point the coach seemed to have been painted a bright red, but its current dusty state and mud-encrusted undercarriage were proof enough of the rugged terrain they were likely to cross.
The driver introduced himself as ‘Baldy’ Green. Although he was a stranger to Maximo and Joaquin, the easy smile that peered from behind a remarkably bushy moustache and the man’s six-foot solid frame inspired confidence. He greeted his passengers by affably removing his hat and thus also revealing the reason for his nickname. He helped settle the elderly ladies who insisted on keeping several articles of luggage with their persons inside the carriage. Mr. Green placed several other voluminous packages on the roof while the newlyweds squeezed inside. Maximo and Joaquin waited until everyone else was settled, resigning themselves once again to the central bench as payment for their courtesy. But when Maximo stepped inside he discovered that the bench had been piled high with luggage. The ladies clearly had no intention of putting anything on their laps. Quickly assessing the situation, Maximo chose not to press his right to a proper seat. Instead, he addressed the driver.
“Mr. Green. Would it be possible for us to ride up top?”
Mr. Green looked quizzically at his passenger, wondering why he would prefer to ride in discomfort when there were enough seats inside. Seeing the driver’s hesitation, Maximo offered an explanation.
“My son would enjoy a better view of the mountains.” Maximo said this at the same time as he very slightly tipped his head in the direction of the interior of the coach. Mr. Green glanced inside the carriage, rolled his eyes, nodded to Maximo and helped Joaquin up onto the roof. The boy was handed over to another man, seated on the driver’s bench, who helped hoist him into place. Maximo also accepted a helpful hand from this passenger and joined Joaquin, but not without first having noticed that this traveller wore a loaded gunbelt and had a shotgun at his feet. Maximo froze, sudden apprehension rapidly forcing him to reconsider the seating arrangements. But before he could turn around, another suitcase was shoved in behind him, blocking his way. Maximo took a deep breath and sat down. Perhaps Joaquin would be best protected by having a third pair of eyes keeping watch from the best vantage point. Before Maximo could give it further thought, Mr. Green swung himself into place next to the shotgun rider, gave the reins a brisk flick, and set the coach in motion.
Most passengers would have found the shallow benches and tight squeeze between suitcases and packages as the worst possible situation for a coach ride, but Joaquin was in fact delighted. He and Maximo settled themselves so that they were facing forward and were able to get a good grip on the thin metal railing that provided minimal back support but was essential for keeping them both from being tossed to the ground. Assuming that perhaps Mr. Green shared Cal’s fondness for speed, Maximo made sure that both of Joaquin’s hands were firmly wrapped around the railing. But Mr. Green set off at a sedate pace, seemingly out of consideration for those citizens of Santa Fe whose daily chores did not require such early rising.
As the coach left the city streets behind, Joaquin was at last treated to a different landscape. The mountains rising to his right were not particularly high, but their rolling rhythms were a welcome change. From his high view point, Joaquin was able to catch the first rays of sunshine that finally crept over the crests of the brush-stubbled hills. With these rays quickly came the first sting of the July sun, rapidly raising the temperature. Maximo pulled out an undersized Stetson, ignored Joaquin’s smirk of protest, and patted it snugly onto the child’s head. Maximo donned his own without hesitation, the shade over his eyes providing relief but also helping him keep in clearer focus every hidden bend and crevice, just in case…
But as the hours and miles rolled by, nothing untoward happened to test the efficacy of these precautions. The swing stations offered welcome breaks, with even the spinster sisters stepping outside to relieve their rheumatic limbs. But neither they nor the newlyweds once expressed even a brief thanks to the passengers who had sacrificed their own comfort for the sake of others. This behaviour did not go unnoticed by Mr. Green who warmed to his rooftop companions and eventually engaged them in conversation. He sympathized with them and commented that Joaquin was a very well behaved young man. Clearly taken by the boy, Mr. Green took on the role of tour guide, frequently leaning back to draw Joaquin’s attention, calling out the names of geographic features or pointing out curious creatures on land and in the air. Joaquin listened attentively and impressed the driver with his own observations, the product of having carefully attended to Mr. McGregor’s lessons.
Maximo watched these exchanges with a warm sense of paternal pride. But as Mr. Green’s volubility grew, the silence of his driving partner became more evident, all the more so because he seemed completely oblivious to the conversation, regularly turning to scan the road behind the coach but ignoring the rooftop passengers. Eventually, Joaquin noticed this unusual behaviour and began to look warily at the stranger. Mr. Green also noticed.
“Forgive my manners, young man. I forgot to introduce Mr. Jameson.”
Mr. Jameson seemed momentarily startled by this unexpected attention, but he turned to face Maximo and Joaquin just long enough to tip his hat to them, and then returned to his careful scrutiny of the horizon.
“Mr. Jameson has been charged by the coach company to ensure the safety of our journey,” Mr. Green explained, but then noticed Joaquin’s eyes grow wide. “It’s just a precaution.”
“Because Mr. Green has been held up six times.” The gruff statement came from Mr. Jameson who did not even turn around as he made it. Mr. Green’s glare was briefly visible behind his voluminous moustache.
“That was in California. I had an exceptional run of bad luck. I’ve had no such problems here.” Mr. Green looked closely at his passengers and realized that more assurances were necessary for both parent and child. “This coach isn’t carrying mail or payrolls. Any road agents in the area will know that – they won’t waste their time on us.”
Joaquin seemed reassured by Mr. Green, but Maximo considered that the amount of luggage hidden within the coach would probably be attractive enough as bait. The Plaza in Santa Fe had not been entirely deserted at the time when they had stepped out of the hotel, and their departure had not gone unnoticed. There was no way of knowing if they had been observed by innocent or calculating eyes. At the next swing station, while Joaquin stretched his legs, Maximo slipped the gun he had been carrying in his luggage into the satchel he kept by his side.
They had travelled some twenty-five miles north of Santa Fe and the trail now met up with the Rio Grande valley, turning northeast to follow its course. Despite its name, the Rio Grande was a disappointment in Joaquin’s eyes, being at this point little more than a wide but shallow stream, carrying nowhere near the volume of water of the Pecos River as Joaquin had known it near the Ordesa ranch. Still, the sight of even a modest amount of flowing water provided some relief from the intense sunshine glancing off the pale landscape.
By early afternoon, they arrived in Los Luceros, a tiny but bustling town whose small square was brightly coloured with the stands of the fruit and vegetable market. It was clearly an appropriate stop for their midday meal. The searing heat was taking its toll on the rooftop passengers and it was a weary Joaquin that Maximo gently lowered to the ground. Maximo was fussing over Joaquin, straightening his vest and shirt, brushing off the worst of the journey’s dust when he was jostled aside by the ladies disgorging from the coach. A hatbox tumbled to the ground. Instinctively, Maximo bent down to retrieve it and returned it to its owner. It was snatched from his hand without even a glance of acknowledgement. Still, Maximo tipped his hat to the lady before turning away to lead Joaquin towards the home station. Joaquin stood staring at the ladies now shrilly expressing their discontent about some minor issue to the hapless Mr. Green.
“That was really very rude.” Joaquin spoke quietly, but his face expressed all the indignation he felt on Maximo’s behalf.
“I know, Joaquín. But that is their problem, not ours.”
“You are quite right, young man. Those are not the manners of proper ladies towards such considerate gentlemen.”
The comment had been voiced in Spanish by a lady whose countenance, though just as creased by time as those of the four elderly sisters, was animated by a pair of dark, bright eyes and a gentle smile.
“Forgive me. I couldn’t help but see and overhear.” She extended her hand to Maximo. “María Marta Lucero.”
Hearing her name, Maximo’s eyes widened in surprise. A simple handshake would not do. He removed his hat and brought Doña Maria’s hand to his lips. The lady’s smile broadened.
“Máximo Meridio and Joaquín.”
“Well then, now that we know who we are, if the young man could help carry my basket, I would be delighted to show my gratitude as richly as it is deserved.” Joaquin quickly stooped to pick up a heavily laden basket of fruits and vegetables, but Maximo frowned.
“Señora, there is no need...”
“No need indeed, but it would still be a pleasure if you would be my guests at my table.”
“Oh, don’t be worried about the time, Señor Meridio. I often provide for travellers. I know you haven’t much time. My home is nearby, just on the edge of town.” Ignoring Maximo’s hesitation, she insisted. “Come, the meal is ready and is just warming.” To forestall any further resistance, Doña Maria took Joaquin’s arm and led the way.
Seeing that no further arguments would be entertained, Maximo turned to give Mr. Green a sign before following Doña Maria. Mr. Green immediately nodded and waved back, apparently familiar with Doña Maria’s habit of borrowing some of his passengers.
The Los Luceros hacienda that had given the town its name was but a couple of minutes’ walk from the square. Doña Maria led her guests to a large, two-storey whitewashed house. A generous veranda wrapped right around the building on both floors. A couple of large oak trees grew next to the house, their broad canopies providing much needed shade. As they approached the front door, Maximo’s gaze was drawn to the sign above it. County Courthouse was inked in large, elegant letters. Doña Maria noticed Maximo’s interest.
“Ah, yes. My late husband, Elias Clark, was the county judge. He held hearings in the parlour upstairs.”
The front door opened as they approached revealing a tall young man whose dark eyes seemed to quickly appraise the strangers before settling on Doña Maria.
“Mr. Meridio, this is my son-in-law, Luis Ortiz. He is the local sheriff. As you can see, the law still finds a home in this house.”
Maximo shook the man’s hand.
“The law is in my family as well. My cousin is a deputy.”
The young man’s serious demeanour softened.
“Then be very welcome at our table.”
“That’s enough chatter for now.” Doña Maria grasped Maximo by the arm. “We must get you fed quickly.”
She led the way through the sitting room, its pristine white walls, dark beamed ceiling, and polished wooden floors once more reminding Maximo of homes in Spain. What was decidedly local in flavour, however, was the profusion of Navajo rugs placed on the floor and draped over tables, providing vivid touches of colour to the otherwise austere interior. Maximo and Joaquin were led to the room beyond where a long table had been dressed for the family dinner. A young woman with a small child perched on her hip was bustling about, putting the finishing touches to the table. She was introduced as Elisa, Doña Maria’s daughter. Without having to be asked, she quickly added the necessary chairs and settings. The food was not long in coming. The hearty stew of sausages, potatoes and chickpeas was delicious, its heat soon dissipated within the cool interior of the dining room.
The natural conviviality that easily sprang between hosts and guests was unfortunately tempered by time constraints. But enough conversation was exchanged to inform Maximo and Joaquin that Doña Maria’s ancestors had first settled in the area in the very early years of the 18th century. Maximo in turn spoke of their home city of Trujillo although when asked for particulars as to how he and his family came to find themselves in New Mexico, Maximo only offered that it had been a long journey and an even longer story. Doña Maria did not miss the bittersweet smile on the child’s lips as Señor Meridio spoke.
“Perhaps we shall see you again on your return journey and continue the conversation then. But for now, much as we would like to, we cannot keep you any longer.”
Maximo and Joaquin took their leave from the rest of the family and followed Doña Maria who briskly led them back outside. But instead of turning the way they had come, she led them to the other side of the house. Ever the attentive hostess, she explained before her guests could become confused.
“The coach follows the road that passes along this side of the property. Mr. Green knows that you are here and will stop for you. I wanted to show you the garden.”
In the midst of a landscape that was little more than hardpan, Doña Maria had coaxed flowers, vegetables and an apple orchard out of the arid soil. Maximo gazed in wonder.
“How is this possible?”
“The Navajo have cultivated this land for centuries. They knew how to make the best of the smallest of water sources. The channels they built feed the land to this day.”
Bordering the far side of the garden, Joaquin noticed very familiar shrubs, their limbs grown rough and angular with age. He tugged at Maximo’s sleeve.
“Look - lilacs!”
“They must be beautiful when they are in bloom.” Maximo gently fingered the dried seed pods.
“The flowers are a deep violet and have the sweetest fragrance. I am very pleased they grow so well here.” Doña Maria seemed equally pleased by the admiration focused on her garden. Maximo continued to wander through the cluster of bushes.
“My wife is very fond of lilacs. They remind her of her garden in Trujillo.”
Again Doña Maria noticed the bittersweet smile, this time on the adult lips. Her curiosity was certainly aroused by her unusual guests, but good manners and her practical nature kept her from prying.
“I hear your coach coming.”
Doña Maria pulled open a large pair of wooden doors that formed an opening in the high adobe wall bordering the garden. Sure enough, the coach was approaching. Mr. Green brought it to a gentle halt, tipped his hat to Doña Maria and indicated to Maximo and Joaquin that they were to ride inside. Much to their relief, as they entered the coach they discovered that the four sisters were not continuing their journey any further. They were now sharing only with the shy newlyweds. This time, at least, polite smiles were offered in greeting as well as introductions. Maximo and Joaquin gratefully settled on the comfortable bench across from Mr. and Mrs. Carmichael.
Between the shyness of the passengers and the increasing heat of the day, there was little incentive to engage in much conversation. As the trail and the hours moved along, the passengers were absorbed mostly in watching the scenery. Some ten miles beyond Los Luceros, the coach veered away from the Rio Grande and into a landscape of low rolling mountains. The area was still arid, but the shrubs and grasses that dotted the hills seemed a little greener and isolated trees appeared with greater frequency near the road. By the time they reached Taos, around five o’clock, they were travelling through a more mountainous area and the low ground was no longer bare but mostly covered in grasses. Despite the greater variety in the topography, the trail was in good condition and Mr. Green was making good time.
It was still at least an hour before sunset when they stopped at the San Cristobal home station. Four hungry passengers descended to be confronted with a dilapidated stone building which was nothing more than a roof over some squalid stables. Mr. Jameson jumped off the coach and disappeared behind the building. Mr. Green looked towards his passengers and did not seem surprised by their obvious hesitation. He shrugged his shoulders.
“It’s the only station with food until Fort Garland. We won’t be reaching that before morning. We have to make the best of what’s offered here.”
At the back of the stables was an extension to the building which, although enclosed, seemed to be in even worse state of disrepair. Mr. Jameson was making use of the washing facilities which consisted of a bucket of very grey water. Maximo took one look at the contents and very quickly decided to give Joaquin’s face and hands a very thorough scrubbing with just his handkerchief. The Carmichaels saw the wisdom of this decision and did likewise. With trepidation, everyone followed Mr. Green into the building.
The interior offered no surprises since it matched the squalor of the exterior. One tiny window provided minimal light but enough to reveal the cramped space and the abundance of flies that had found shelter within it. A battered table flanked by long benches took up most of the area, with a small hearth tucked at the far end of the room. A man was fussing over the fire, his filthy apron designating him as the station cook. His face was indistinct behind a scruffy beard and shaggy hair, and with little more than a grunt he proceeded to serve the meal. He removed a large pot from the fire and, ladle in hand, went around the table slopping its contents onto each plate. The passengers peered warily at the mounds before them and were able to identify thickened beans, large portions of which had burnt and been scraped from the bottom of the pot. The beans were accompanied by slices of bread that the cook sawed with difficulty from a grey-crusted loaf. A smaller pot was brought from the fire and its contents decanted into a cluster of chipped and discoloured mugs. Maximo assumed this was supposed to be coffee, but as it looked suspiciously similar to the water in the bucket outside, he firmly held Joaquin’s hand back as he reached for a mug. Mr. Green and Mr. Jameson seemed to have developed the stomach for such meals and showed no restraint in devouring what was available. The passengers, however, carefully and hastily picked through what seemed edible. Fortunately for Maximo and Joaquin, the abundance of Doña Maria’s meal made it unnecessary to consume much of the mess that had been poured onto their plates. They were soon back outside breathing deep lungfuls of fresh air.
It was a relief when they were all back in the coach and every minute of travel took them further away from the wretched station. But the foul taste of the beans and bread still lingered. Maximo and Joaquin made good use of the canteens they carried in their satchels. But water seemed to do little to rid Maximo of the bitter taste. Joaquin noticed his grimace.
“I have something better than water. Mama thinks of everything.” Joaquin rummaged through his satchel and triumphantly withdrew two tightly wrapped paper packages. He broke through the strings and displayed a large cheese and a packet of biscuits.
“Thank goodness for your mother!” Maximo offered the biscuits to the Carmichaels before gratefully biting into one himself. He then began to cut thin wedges of the cheese. The couple were clearly still hungry, but although the young woman eagerly accepted the cheese, her husband politely declined. He had managed a biscuit or two but was now looking decidedly ill. It seemed that the coffee he had bravely sipped was taking its toll and the rocking of the carriage was not helping matters. The young man looked in imminent danger of losing what little supper he had managed to force down. Maximo watched him closely, ready to be of assistance if needed, but it became apparent that as ill as he felt, Mr. Carmichael was doing everything possible to avoid public humiliation and would not allow his stomach any relief.
It was not long before they reached another pause in the journey. But as it was merely a watering station with nothing more than a pump and trough to provide relief for the horses, there was no shelter for the sick man to deal with his misery in private. Bravely, he climbed back into the coach, looking even more ashen than when he had stepped out. Maximo had not lost sight of him and decided there was only one thing to do. He turned to Mr. Green and asked again if he and Joaquin could ride up top. This time Mr. Green seemed genuinely puzzled. Maximo provided the explanation that seemed most plausible and that would save face for the young man.
“To give the newlyweds some privacy for a little while.”
“Aah.” Mr. Green nodded and grinned.
As darkness was falling quickly, Joaquin was too tired to question why they were leaving the relative comfort inside the coach. Maximo rearranged the luggage to leave enough space for him to lie down. Joaquin curled up in his improvised bedding and was soon fast asleep. It was not long after the coach was moving again when Maximo heard a harsh, telltale sound coming from below. He looked down just in time to see a head hastily pulled back into the coach. Maximo nodded to himself, satisfied. The newlyweds could now make more enjoyable use of their privacy.
Having spent a night of comfort in Santa Fe, Maximo was braced for the long night ahead. Even though he would have preferred the padded seat inside the coach, he was partly glad that he was riding up top. Mr. Jameson’s continuing presence was meant to reassure, but at the same time it was a reminder that such precautions were necessary. Maximo knew from experience that darkness brought on greater vulnerability. Again he would trust his own vigilant eyes to set his mind at ease.
Despite his best intentions, Maximo caught himself dozing from time to time until he was jostled wide awake by a rut in the road. The moon had risen and although not quite full, there was enough light to see that the trail had moved into much more accidented terrain. They were travelling through a pass, the rocky mountain slopes rising steeply on either side of the trail. Rocks and boulders of various sizes had rolled down and littered parts of the trail, forcing Mr. Green to slow and carefully pick his way. Mr. Jameson was now carrying his shotgun across his lap. Maximo sat up straight, every sense on full alert.
They continued advancing steadily. Nothing stirred in the night apart from the carriage and the occasional tiny creature darting in terror across the trail. The tension was beginning to ease from Maximo’s shoulders when he saw it: a brief glimmer of reflected moonlight. Every muscle tightened once more as his eyes strained to see if it had been merely a trick of tired vision. But it happened again, the light just as brief, but enough to let Maximo know they were not alone.
Maximo pressed Jameson’s shoulder and furtively pointed high up along the slope to their right. Jameson gazed steadily in that direction for several moments before slowly nodding. Carefully, he repositioned his shotgun and adjusted his gunbelt. Maximo followed his lead, keeping his movements small as he withdrew his gun from his satchel. Mr. Green was also alerted now and the three kept a tense watch, eyeing the ridge to the right and constantly scanning the terrain on all other sides. They also listened intently, but the crunch and scrape of the coach wheels covered any sound produced by whomever rode high on the ridge.
They continued in this wary state for several miles, until once again the landscape flattened and the menacing ridges disappeared. They had passed into Colorado and were in the broad plain of the Costilla River. For whatever reason, their stalkers had desisted. Perhaps Mr. Green was right and their relatively empty coach was not worth the trouble. At the next swing station, Mr. Carmichael lightly stepped out, his demeanour clearly that of one much relieved of bodily discomfort and also unaware of the danger he had skirted. Before Maximo could make the request, the young man offered to trade places with him and Joaquin so that they could rest in greater comfort. Maximo gratefully accepted on Joaquin’s behalf but declined for himself saying that he slept better in the nighttime air. Joaquin was therefore gently lowered, barely waking as he was placed on the bench. Mrs. Carmichael lay on the other while her husband made the best of the middle bench. Reassured that Joaquin was now in a safer place, Maximo returned to his perch and vigil.
The terrain remained relatively level with mountains rising only at some distance towards the east. The smooth ride and lack of obvious hiding places allowed Maximo to relax his watch. Despite his best intentions, he fell into a deep sleep and woke only when the first rays of the sunrise began to warm his face. His initial alarm quickly led to irritation with himself for having failed to stay awake, but one glance at his surroundings and he knew that a dangerous encounter would have been unlikely in the last few miles. They were travelling through a wide open grassy plain with nary a bush to provide cover, and in the distance he could see a cluster of buildings. This would be Fort Garland, their next stop just in time for a much needed breakfast.
After the miserable experience at the last meal stop, the Carmichaels sighed audibly as they stepped out of the coach and caught sight of the simple but well maintained buildings. Maximo and Joaquin were also impressed, but the presence of women and children soon explained the sense of cleanliness and comfort. The region had been peaceful for the past few years and the fort was apparently deemed safe enough for some of the officers to enjoy the privilege of having their families with them. It had not been so just a few years earlier when Colonel Kit Carson had been the commanding officer and his campaign against the Navajo had kept the fort in constant high alert. But now the passengers were greeted by a young sentry who verified their identities and purpose and gave them leave to enter.
While Mr. Green tended to his horses, the passengers and Mr. Jameson were led to a large dining hall. Long tables accommodated soldiers who were just finishing their breakfasts, while a smaller set of tables at one end of the room was still occupied by a cluster of women and children. The travellers were led to these tables where a simple but appetizing breakfast was laid for them. Not long after they were seated, two officers joined the families. As soon as he spotted them, Jameson rose and headed towards their table. Maximo heard Mr. Jameson introduce himself, but the conversation that followed was in hushed tones that he could not follow. Maximo watched as the two officers listened attentively, their brows growing increasingly furrowed. When at last they spoke, Jameson turned around and beckoned to Maximo. The nature of their discussion was now clear to him. He was introduced to Colonel Granger, commanding officer, and Captain Jewett, in charge of the infantry. Mr. Jameson had alerted them to the possible presence of road agents further south but was giving credit where it was due, informing the officers that it was Mr. Meridio’s vigilance that had made them aware of the danger. Maximo was questioned about the location and although it had been the middle of the night, Maximo and Jameson recalled enough landmarks to give the officers a reasonable idea. Captain Jewett did not wait for his breakfast but left immediately to issue orders.
Colonel Granger shook hands with Maximo and Jameson.
“I thank you for alerting us. Captain Jewett will send a detachment along the south trail. Another patrol set out earlier this morning to cover La Veta pass. I trust you will be assured of its safety by the time you reach it.”
This information was indeed reassuring to Maximo. Although the fort lay in a desolate plain, a striking range of high mountains lay to the northeast, directly in their path.
They would have to make their way through the lowest part of the sierra, along a narrow mountain pass – the perfect location for an ambush. Maximo returned to his table, leaving Mr. Jameson to seek out Mr. Green. The Carmichaels and Joaquin looked at Maximo with expectant concern, but he quickly set their minds at ease, explaining only that the officers had wanted to inform them that a patrol had gone ahead to ensure the safety of the road. Maximo’s assurance seemed to satisfy, but in order to allay any lingering doubts, when they resumed the journey Maximo relinquished his watch and rode inside the coach.
For a good distance the road was in remarkably good condition and Mr. Green made the best of it, pushing his team to a gallop much as Cal had done but with none of the younger driver’s exuberance. Eventually, they reached the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains and the coach began to climb steadily as it snaked through the pass. As they left the plains behind, more evergreen trees appeared providing welcome variety and subject for the small talk that from time to time broke the companionable silence among the passengers.
As promised by Colonel Granger, they reached the small town of La Veta - marking the end of the pass - without incident. It was also their dinner stop and as they descended from the coach, Maximo caught sight of a cavalry contingent, the soldiers in the process of mounting. He watched as they set off along the trail they had just travelled, heading back to Fort Garland. Presumably no further dangers lay ahead. He would trust Mr. Green and Mr. Jameson to be watchful enough for the next leg of the journey. Maximo settled in greater comfort to enjoy his meal.
The passengers were now well accustomed to eating quickly and were soon back in the coach without having to be pressed by Mr. Green. But the hours and miles were taking their toll and it became increasingly difficult to relieve the tedium. Even though it was only mid afternoon, the coach had soon rocked all of its passengers to sleep. Though Maximo allowed his eyes to close, he only dozed, waking frequently to take quick note of their surroundings before letting himself drift away once again.
Five hours passed in this way before Maximo woke Joaquin in time for their supper.
“Where are we?” Joaquin asked rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“Cucharas,” Maximo answered with a smirk.
Joaquin’s giggles were infectious and made the Carmichaels smile, but their puzzled looks indicated they were not sure why.
“Cucharas means spoons,” Joaquin explained. “I think it’s a very funny name for a town.”
“But it seems very appropriate since we are having our dinner here.” Mrs. Carmichael smiled back at Joaquin, her shyness finally fading enough to allow familiarity.
The Cucharas meal included a light vegetable soup which of course required the use of spoons and provided yet more fuel for humour. In good spirits and with satisfied stomachs, the passengers returned to the coach and settled as comfortably as they could, bracing themselves for more than fifty miles of travel. Maximo laid Joaquin’s head on his lap as the boy curled up on the bench.
“Try to get as much sleep as you can. We’ll arrive in Pueblo around three in the morning, but we’ll be spending the rest of the night there. That’s the end of the coach ride.”
“Tomorrow we take the train?”
“Yes, and we will be in Denver by the late afternoon.”
Seemingly satisfied with this information, Joaquin closed his eyes. To Maximo’s relief, Joaquin had not asked about their accommodations in Pueblo and he was glad not to have given any details. Joaquin was excited about hotels and Maximo knew that what passed for accommodation in Pueblo was likely to be a great disappointment. Mr. Haley had warned him that despite its name, The Road’s End Inn was little more than some roughly hewn log walls and roof enclosing a few bunk beds. It was clean enough but very rustic.
Their arrival in Pueblo was heralded by the sudden lurching of the coach. Four sleepy passengers woke with alarm, but one glance out the window quickly reassured them. The coach had just crossed over railway tracks and came to a stop in front of a low building, its contours dimly defined by a small oil lamp perched next to a doorway. Above the doorway a sign with large decorative lettering identified it as The Road’s End Inn. Beneath the sign, a bench was populated with two gentlemen, dozing on each other’s shoulders until they too were wakened by the clatter of the coach wheels clambering over the rails. The newlyweds caught sight of them and eagerly disembarked, fatigue quickly forgotten as the young woman threw her arms around the older gentleman and Mr. Carmichael cheerfully shook hands with the younger man.
‘The young lady’s father and brother, no doubt,’ thought Maximo, waving farewell to the couple as they were whisked away to a small calash parked next to the inn. A pang of homesickness momentarily clenched Maximo’s heart. He missed the rest of his family very much and well understood Mrs. Carmichael’s joy at being reunited. But again, Maximo reminded himself that though he suffered the pain of separation, the journey was giving him invaluable time with Joaquin. He shook off the melancholy and turned to his paternal duties.
Joaquin was drooping over the pile of luggage that had been removed from the coach. Mr. Green had gone into the inn and soon came out, bringing with him a youth, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, yet another counterpart to Walter but in a far less glamorous establishment. After briefly shaking hands over thanks and wishes of a good journey, Mr. Green and Mr. Jameson rolled away, leaving Maximo and Joaquin to follow the clerk into the cabin.
Mr. Haley’s description had been accurate enough. The interior differed little from some of the modest homestations they had encountered. A large table functioned as reception desk where the clerk kept the registry and verified that two beds had indeed been reserved in the name of Mr. Meridio. Taking note of the benches around the table, Maximo gathered that come morning it would be laden with their breakfasts. A few lamps lit the way to their bunks but were kept very low, no doubt so as not to disturb the other half-dozen guests populating the stillness with their muffled rustling and snoring. Maximo tucked the luggage under the bottom bunk and hoisted Joaquin to the top. A small sigh of contentment as Joaquin settled into the bedclothes let Maximo know that all was well with the child. He slipped into his own bunk and took a deep breath, perhaps not quite as contented as Joaquin, but with the sense that he could relax some of the wariness which had not allowed him proper sleep in the last twenty-four hours. As those cares were swept away, Maximo’s thoughts drifted to the next day. The clerk had handed him an envelope left by Mr. Haley, containing train tickets to Denver and his assurance that he would meet Maximo and his son at the Denver depot. The routine of the stagecoach would be replaced by the adventure of train travel and soon they would be in Denver. And there, a very different adventure awaited Maximo. In less than two days he would be fencing in public again and he was still unsure as to whether he welcomed or feared the opportunity. Until now, his attention had been focused entirely on Joaquin – ensuring his comfort and safety. Maximo had managed not to think about himself all that much except on the occasions when Joaquin brought up the purpose of their journey. Again, Joaquin seemed to be the key. He was definitely excited about the fencing exhibition, especially Maximo’s participation. Maximo took a deep breath and forced the tension from his limbs. He would have to do his best not to disappoint the boy.
Feb 5 11 3:04 PM
THE EXCHANGE HOTEL – SANTA FE
The Exchange hotel was located on the same spot as the first Santa Fe inn, which was built in 1607, the year the town was founded. It was rebuilt several times over the years and by the 1840s its gambling hall was a major attraction. In the 1860s, new owners officially named it the Exchange, and though the gambling hall continued to function, the hotel also had a reputation for respectability. The Exchange was demolished in 1919 with the use of WWI tanks in order to make way for the new La Fonda Hotel (still in existence today). Anyone wanting to drive the tank and have a go at the hotel had to buy US bonds.
GEORGE ´BALDY´ GREEN
I found several accounts of the colourful lives of stagecoach drivers – their skills were highly respected in their day and they were often seen as heroes. George “Baldy” Green was a very popular stage driver who worked for the Pioneer Stage Company and Wells-Fargo in the 1860s, driving routes between California and Nevada. He was described as a good-looking man, six feet tall with a large, lustrous moustache. But his thinning hair earned him the nickname "Baldy.” Vice-President Schuyler Colfax once rode in his coach. “Baldy” survived numerous robberies, including once when $10,000 in gold and greenbacks were taken. Several robberies later, the Wells-Fargo company discharged him in 1868, either because he was seen as a liability or because there was some suspicion that he may have been involved in the robberies.
I’ve given ‘Baldy’ a few more years of stagecoach service with Barlow, Sanderson and Co., a real company with a stage line between Denver and Santa Fe, passing through Colorado City and Pueblo. It provided a bit of competition for the better known Southern Overland Mail and Express Company which had “a daily line of coaches for Pueblo, Trinidad, Las Vegas, Fort Union, Santa Fe, and all points in New Mexico and Arizona.”
In his later years, the real ‘Baldy’ served as Justice of the Peace in Humboldt County, Nevada. http://www.legendsofameri...we-trailblazerlist2.html
‘Baldy’ Green had his misadventures made famous by a popular song written by Charley Rhoades in 1865:
THE PIONEER STAGE DRIVER I'm going to tell a story and I'll tell it in my song, I hope that it will please you, and I won't detain you long. It's about one of the old boys, so gallant and so fine, he used to carry mails, on the Pioneer line. He was such a favorite wherever he was seen. He was known about Virginia by the name of Baldy Green; Oh he swung a whip so graceful, for he was bound to shine. As a high-toned driver on the Pioneer line. As he was driving up one night, as lively as a coon. He saw four men jump in the road, by the pale light of the moon; One sprung for his leaders, while another his gun he cocks, Saying, Baldy, I hate to trouble you, but pass me out that box. When Baldy heard him say these words, he opened wide his eyes. He didn't know what the devil to do, it took him by surprise; But he reached down in the boot, saying take it sir with pleasure. And out into the middle of the road, went Wells & Fargo's treasure. Now when they'd got the treasure-box, they seemed quite satisfied. The man that held the horses, politely stepped aside. Saying, Baldy, we've got what we want, just drive along your team. And he made the quickest time to Silver City ever seen. If you say greenbacks to Baldy now, it makes him feel so sore. It's the first time he was ever stopped, and he's drove that road before; But they play'd four hands against his one, and shotguns was their game. And if I had been in Baldy 's place, I'd have passed the box the same.
THE PIONEER STAGE DRIVER
I'm going to tell a story
and I'll tell it in my song,
I hope that it will please you,
and I won't detain you long.
It's about one of the old boys,
so gallant and so fine,
he used to carry mails,
on the Pioneer line.
He was such a favorite
wherever he was seen.
He was known about Virginia
by the name of Baldy Green;
Oh he swung a whip so graceful,
for he was bound to shine.
As a high-toned driver
As he was driving up one night,
as lively as a coon.
He saw four men jump in the road,
by the pale light of the moon;
One sprung for his leaders,
while another his gun he cocks,
Saying, Baldy, I hate to trouble you,
but pass me out that box.
When Baldy heard him say these words,
he opened wide his eyes.
He didn't know what the devil to do,
it took him by surprise;
But he reached down in the boot,
saying take it sir with pleasure.
And out into the middle of the road,
went Wells & Fargo's treasure.
Now when they'd got the treasure-box,
they seemed quite satisfied.
The man that held the horses,
politely stepped aside.
Saying, Baldy, we've got what we want,
just drive along your team.
And he made the quickest time
to Silver City ever seen.
If you say greenbacks to Baldy now,
it makes him feel so sore.
It's the first time he was ever stopped,
and he's drove that road before;
But they play'd four hands against his one,
and shotguns was their game.
And if I had been in Baldy 's place,
I'd have passed the box the same.
MARIA MARTA LUCERO
María Marta Lucero was the great granddaughter of Sebastián Martín Serrano, who received a landgrant in this area of New Mexico in 1703 and set up a large hacienda. The main building on the site today dates from the 19th century. María Marta married Elias T. Clark who became the county judge. The upstairs parlour of their home was used as the county courthouse from 1846 to 1854. Clark died in 1860 and his estate was taken over in 1866 by his daughter Elisa and son-in-law, Luis M. Ortiz. Ortiz became county sheriff and added a small building near the house to serve as a jailhouse. María Marta continued to live in the house after her husband’s death and because of her Los Lucero earned a reputation for hospitality and graciousness. She would preside over generous meals and provide mattresses on the floor to accommodate weary travellers. Elisa continued her mother’s tradition tending to visitors with the help of her four children and local Navajo Indians. In the early 20th century, the estate passed to the family of Mary Cabot Wheelwright. In 2007, the property was purchased by the state of New Mexico to preserve as a historic site. The ranch has been restored as well as the orchards, gardens, and lilacs around the main house.
HOME STATION MEALS as described by Mark Twain in ‘Roughing It’ (1860s):
“The station-keeper up-ended a disk of last week’s bread, of the shape and size of an old-time cheese, and carved some slabs from it which were as good as Nicolson pavement, and tenderer. He sliced off a piece of bacon for each man, but only the experienced old hands made out to eat it, for it was condemned army bacon which the United States would not feed to its soldiers in the forts, and the stage company had bought it cheap for the sustenance of their passengers and employés. We may have found this condemned army bacon further out on the plains than the section I am locating it in, but we found it—there is no gainsaying that. Then he poured for us a beverage which he called “Slumgullion,” and it is hard to think he was not inspired when he named it. It really pretended to be tea, but there was too much dish-rag, and sand, and old bacon-rind in it to deceive the intelligent traveler. He had no sugar and no milk—not even a spoon to stir the ingredients with. We could not eat the bread or the meat, nor drink the
FORT GARLAND, COLORADO
Fort Garland was built in 1858 for the purpose of protecting settlers in the San Luis Valley which today is in Colorado but at the time was part of the Territory of New Mexico. Colonel Kit Carson was stationed there from 1866 to 1867. In the early 1870s the commanding officer was Colonel Gordon Granger, the infantry was commanded by Captain Horace Jewett.
COLONEL GORDON GRANGER
At the end of the Civil War, Granger remained in the army and was given command of the Department of Texas. On June 19, 1865 in the city of Galveston he declared the institution of slavery dead in the state. This is the origin of the annual "Juneteenth" celebration, which commemorates the freeing of the blacks in Texas. Later in his career he was given command of Fort Garland but fell ill in 1873. He died in 1876 in Santa Fe.
KIT CARSON (1809-1868)
Carson was a frontiersman who later became a rancher in New Mexico. During the American Civil War, he helped organize the New Mexico volunteer infantry for the Union. When the Navajos tried to take advantage of the military slack caused by the outbreak of the Civil War, the US government sent Colonel Kit Carson to settle the uprising. His mission was to gather the Navajo together and move them to Fort Sumner on the Bosque Redondo Reservation [this is the abandoned reservation that Rufus Kent and his men spot as they travel from Texas and head to Parson’s Ridge on their mission to recover stolen cattle]. When the Indians refused to move and hid in the Canyon de Chelly, he began a campaign of economic warfare, destroying crops, livestock and villages. By destroying their food supplies, eventually he convinced the Navajos that going to the reservation was the only way to survive. By 1864, about 8000 Navajo had surrendered to the U.S. Army, while another 8000 hid in the back country. After the Civil War, Carson moved to Colorado. He died in 1868.
THE ROAD'S END INN - A.K.A THE LOG CABIN HOTEL
This very real 'hotel' is actually situated in Colorado Springs, a bit further north of Pueblo. It was the town’s first hotel, built in 1871 - just perfect - so I did a little displacing to suit my needs. The Pueblo Union Depot (a proper train station) was built only in 1889, but in 1871 the town likely had something similar to the Colorado Springs Log Cabin which doubled as a train station.
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