GIRL OF THE MANZANOS
A Historical Novel
The sun was slowly disappearing behind the Manzanos, and the statehood festivities were winding down. "Good party, Ben," Old Lou Tompkins rasped in his scratchy Texas twang as he sat down with a sigh beside Ben on a rough wooden bench. "Good food," he continued. "Sadie sets a mighty fine table. And the judge made a good speech. Leastways, he's a Republican, so that helps. And that was quite a race yore Diablo horse run."
"He's a fine horse," Ben replied, fixing his old friend with an affectionate grin. "I made a lucky buy when I bought him from the Steeldust Breeders in Texas. He's the first horse of that breed in Torrance County, and none of the other horses can touch him, especially with that boy of mine riding him. He's quite a rider, don't you think?"
"Floyd was born fer the saddle. He sticks thar like a danged burr," Old Lou retorted admiringly. "He and that big Steeldust hoss make a handsome pair." He jingled the money in his faded overall pocket. "Made me some extra silver dollars on that race," he confided smugly.
"Fine!" Ben remarked, and patting his jacket pocket said, "I did all right, too, but don't tell Sadie. She'll report me to the preacher!"
"Don't worry," said Old Lou, "I don't talk to preacher mans or to priest mans. That priest man at Punta thinks ever'one should bow to him when he walks by. He told me to take off my hat and bow, and I hit him right on his holy nose and laid him out flat. I guess I don't stand a chance o' getting prayed into heaven now, but I ain't a'feared. Course, my Indian wife is mad as a tarpin at me. That religion man has caused me a world o' trouble."
"Too bad," said Ben sympathetically, "but you better stay away from the Father, Louie. He's got his followers and admirers around here. They don't take kindly to someone attacking their priest." To change the subject, Ben added, "By the way, what did you think of the footrace?"
The scowl on Old Lou's face was replaced with a smile. "That was a fine race, Ben. Yore boy, Charlie, is quite a runner." Old Lou knew Ben liked for people to brag on his sons.
"Oh yes," the proud father agreed. "You know I'm taking him to Oklahoma City later this summer to compete in the National Footracing Championships, don't you?"
"Yup, he'll whup 'em good," Old Lou prophesied. "He growed up runnin' over these mountains, and he's got strong lungs and legs." He spat an accurate stream of tobacco juice on a raspberry plant a few feet away for emphasis.
Ben smiled vaguely at his old friend, only partially listening, and paying more attention to the scene around them. The musicians played on vigorously as the dancers whirled to the strains of oldtime fiddle breakdowns like Turkey in the Straw and Golden Slippers. Occasionally New Mexico Spanish music would slip in with songs like Ya no Sopla and La Cucaracha. That young fellow, Kurt, is quite a fiddler, Ben thought. He marveled at the lovely notes produced with a seemingly magic bow.
Kurt was part of the Mason clan who were neighbors to the Spencers. They had come to the Manzano hills after the Spencers and were also in the sawmill business.
Kurt Mason was a gentle artistic young man whose music was his main interest in life. He had been known to be the cause of the whole school playing hookey as the students slipped off into the woods to dance to his fiddle rather than pursue their book learning. Kurt had picked up his music from the oldtime fiddlers, both Anglo and Spanish, but had added to the traditional breakdowns and the lilting Spanish music by composing his own original music which almost reproduced the sound of some of the Old World composers. His original composition of the Manzano Melody had a hint of the beautiful sound of The Blue Danube Waltz. His Austrian ancestors had passed on their love of music to him, and the peaceful mountain setting in which he lived inspired his ability. He had no musical training, just outstanding raw talent. He had been playing music for all the community celebrations for several years now although he was only eighteen years old.
Kurt had just closed his eyes and drawn his bow expertly over the strings of his violin as the sun was disappearing in a last blast of muted redness behind the mountains. Bonnets were being cast aside as couples enjoyed the coolness of the evening, and they stamped their feet and moved in joyful rhythmic steps.
Kurt finished a Spanish waltz, The Pike's Peak Waltz, so-named because an old Spaniard they called Pike played it, and started into the catchy strains of Put Your Little Foot. Ben watched Mardee as she danced the intricate steps perfectly and gracefully with her athletic partner, Judge Corbin. The young girl's face was flushed with excitement as the handsome lawyer twirled her around in perfect time to the music. Her curls tumbled in chaotic profusion around her delicately molded facial features. So beautiful and so full of life, but so naive, her father worried to himself. What will happen to her in this wild country?
Ben's young daughter was obviously enchanted with Jeff Corbin, and Jeff was charmed with her, but Ben knew there existed an agreement between Jeff and the lieutenent governor that Jeff would marry his daughter when she returned from school in the East. That was the main reason the young Socorro lawyer had received his appointment to work in the new state government. Now Jeff wanted Mardee to go to Santa Fe and work close to him. That was not a good idea, and Ben shook his head as he pondered. Mardee is infatuated with the dashing young lawyer, but she is too inexperienced in the romance department to be on her own with him in Santa Fe, Ben told himself.
Ben was brought back to attention when he heard Old Lou say, "What you a'shakin' yorn head about, Ben? I jest said I was a'goin' to have to whup that young squaw o' mine and all those kids if she didn't start getting more work done in the fields, and I'll do it, Ben. You know I will. We got to have enough beans for winter."
"I know, I know," Ben said as he patted Old Lou's scrawny knee. His friend ran his household with his own unique rules. He was the total ruler, and if wife and children didn't conform to his wishes at all times, he whipped them with a horse whip. He was on his fourth wife; the others had died or run away. He had secured a young woman from the Isleta Pueblo over by Albuquerque after he lost his last wife. She had given him trouble from the beginning by insisting on being married by the priest at Punta de Agua, and Old Lou didn't believe in that "religious stuff." But he wanted the woman pretty badly, so he had given in to the priest's marrying them, not realizing that the woman would also want to go to church, and then she had been determined to have the babies baptized. She was a strong Indian woman whom the old man needed to work his fields and tend his children, but his patience was growing more and more strained.
Ben turned full attention to his friend. "I wouldn't do that, Louie. This woman might not take kindly to beatings. Maybe she's the kind that a little good treatment would produce better results than the whip."
"I does what I has to do," Old Lou announced firmly, setting his skinny jaw in a straight line. Ben knew there was no use in talking any more on this subject. Old Lou Tompkins was a tough old man. He had been run out of Texas "because I was a Republican," so he said, but Ben suspected there was more to the story. Anyway, he had evaded a posse and their bloodhounds by wading and swimming up the Brazos River and then heading north until he crossed the state line. He hadn't stopped running until he got to the Manzano Mountains where he felt safe at last. He had homesteaded l60 acres of mountain land, taken a Mexican girl for a wife, and started raising beans and kids. He was a hard man, but Ben had found him to be totally honest and a good loyal friend. He knew Louie Tompkins would lay down his life anytime for Ben Spencer.
Suddenly a shot split the night air, followed by a woman's scream. Ben jumped to his feet, drew his gun, and was striding toward the dancers in one quick movement. As the couples edged back in the dim light, Ben saw a man on a horse in the middle of the dancers. He was swinging a gun above his head, and another shot went off as he yelled, "Viva Nuevo Mejico!"
"A drunk statehood celebrant," Ben muttered as he leaped forward. Grabbing the bridle of the horse, he leveled his .45 caliber gun at the intruder and spoke in a firm steady voice, "Give me that gun, you crazy bastard, or I'll blow your drunken head off."
The rider looked down at Ben Spencer, and his befuddled brain tried to assimilate the ultimatum he'd just been given. Even in his fogged state of mind he was aware that he should pay attention to this man, but his brain was in no condition to give any quick signals, so he still brandished the gun over his head. At that moment, before Ben followed through on his threat, Mardee appeared at her father's side, speaking with quiet urgency. "Papa, it's only Frankie Moseby. He won't hurt anyone. Let me talk to him."
Ben pushed Mardee roughly back. "Get out of the way," he ordered, and in the same breath continued, "Frankie, give me that gun."
Frankie's eyes were on Mardee. Slowly his hand came down, and turning the gun, handle first toward Mardee, he said, "Si, Senor Spencer. I give the gun to Mardita. Take it, mi hita."
Mardee took one step forward, her eyes fastened on the horseman's face, and reached for his gun, but Ben's gun smashed down with lightning force, sending the gun careening away from both Frankie and Mardee. "Stay away from my daughter, hombre, entiendes? Get the hell out of here--NOW! AHORA! VAMOS! COMPRENDES? ANDALE!" He slapped the horse on the rear, and the rider was gone as fast as he had come.
Ben stood silently in the middle of the dancers for a long second. He then picked up the gun and handed it to Floyd who had come up beside him during the ruckus. "Take it to the house. We'll keep it until he is in better shape to get it back."
Turning to Mardee he said, "Tell Judge Corbin goodnight. It's time for you to go in, too." Addressing the musicians, he said, "Good job, boys. Play Home Sweet Home, Kurt. It's been an inspiring day, but we must now call a halt to the festivities." And with a rueful grin, he raised his arm and proclaimed loudly, "Viva, Nuevo Mejico!"