A Song of Joy

(A Sergeant Garcia Story)

 

 

Chapter 4

 

Garcia awoke to bright sunlight in his face and the snorting of his horse in his ears.  Blinking and looking around, he saw two men beginning to take the hobbles off of his gelding.  Almost instantly, he was on his feet, his pistol in his hand.  “Señores, that is my horse!” he thundered.  “Leave him alone!”  Both men stared at him in shock and at his pistol in horror.  Then they turned and fled down the path to the Camino Real. 

The sergeant examined the horse and found that the hobbles were still secure.  He walked in a tight perimeter around the camp, checking the lay of the land, hoping to first find water and then something they could eat.  He found a stream nearby and filled his water bottle, but he saw nothing he might be able to catch for food.  Shielding his eyes, he gazed upward at the bright sun.  The morning was half spent, he realized.  His stomach growled furiously, and he knew that Señorita Perdiz was in great need of nourishment, having just given birth. 

The señorita and her baby were sleeping soundly, so leaving the water bottle within easy reach; Garcia headed out of camp toward the King’s Highway and then walked parallel to it.  After walking for ten minutes, he crossed the highway and started back toward their shelter.  Suddenly he saw a rabbit feeding among the shadows of a bush.  Carefully and slowly, the sergeant took aim, praying that he not miss.  He fired.   The rabbit jerked up and then fell back on the ground.  Garcia smiled.  He didn’t often hit targets this well.  Picking up the rabbit, he quickly walked back to their little camp. 

Señorita Perdiz was awake and she smiled when she saw him.  That made him feel happy.  Such a change from yesterday!  How babies change things, he thought.  “Good morning, Señorita Perdiz,” he said cheerfully, but not so loud as to wake up the baby.

“Please call me Isadora,” she said. 

“And I am Demetrio,” he responded automatically. 

“Good morning, then, Demetrio.”

Throwing more wood on the fire, Garcia turned his attention to the rabbit, quickly skinning and gutting it.  He then found several green limbs and made a spit.  Carefully he placed the rabbit above the coals to cook.  He noticed Señorita . . . no, Isadora, he corrected himself, gazing at the rabbit hungrily. 

“It will probably take a little while to cook.  Here is some water in the meantime,” he said. 

Gracias, Demetrio,” she replied, taking a long drink of the proffered water bottle.  “Later, I would like to clean up and wash my clothes,” she said, looking down at the grossly oversized trousers. 

“Oh, Señ . . . Isadora, I can wash your clothes for you and hang them on the boulders to dry,” Garcia insisted. 

“Again, thank you.”  She yawned.   She felt so stiff and sore and tired.

Garcia turned the rabbit and then gathered the soiled clothing.  He began scrubbing Isadora’s dress.  After a short while, he went back to the camp to check the rabbit, hanging the clean articles of clothing on rocks.  He turned the rabbit again and noticed that the baby was awake and nursing.  He smiled at the happy slurping sounds of the baby and the soft crooning voice of the child’s mother. 

Softly adding his voice to hers, Garcia headed back to the stream to finish laundering the rest of her clothes.  When everything had been washed and laid out on the rocks to dry, Garcia turned his attention back to the rabbit.  Although slightly blackened on one side, it nevertheless appeared done.  He pulled the stick with the rabbit away from the fire and blew on it.  As soon as it had cooled sufficiently, Garcia placed it on a rock next to her and reached for the baby who had already finished his breakfast.  Isadora handed the infant to him with a bright smile. 

“Doña Isadora, your breakfast,” said Garcia, grinning broadly.  “It is not much, but it will give you and the young señor nourishment.”

She picked up the stick and sniffed the roasted rabbit.  “But what about you?” she asked. 

Although his stomach felt as though it was turning inside itself, he just shook his head.  “No, Isadora, you eat it.  A morsel that tiny would only make my stomach angry.”  When she giggled softly, he smiled and stood up, gently jiggling the baby.  “You eat and the young senor and I will take a short walk.  We will need a carriage and I can send word to the way station by anyone traveling north on the King’s Road.”

“Thank you, Demetrio,” she said, nibbling on the still hot rabbit.  Softly crooning, he walked down the path toward the highway.  As he came to El Camino Real, Garcia saw a modest amount of traffic, mostly that of vaqueros.  There was a small group of peons pulling a small cart of produce. 

“Hola,” Garcia called out to them, seeing opportunity to supplement the small rabbit.  They stopped and stared at him in amazement, their eyes taking in the bundle in his arms.  “Señores, I need to obtain some food for this baby’s mother,” he stated.  “She was caught in the storm yesterday and her driver was killed.  She had no food and mine has run out.”

“Sí, Sergeant, we will be happy to sell you some of our produce.”

Garcia sighed.  He was a horrible negotiator.  Thankfully, he had a few pesos for his meals while on this trip.  He would just have to explain later about the use of public funds for buying food for the señorita.  He also didn’t know how long they would be here before he could get a carriage for Isadora.  And she would have to ride in a carriage.  A horse would be too hard on her.  He looked through a basket of oranges and picked out a dozen of the biggest.  He looked over the ears of corn and picked a half dozen.  A large pumpkin was added to his growing pile.  Then he saw a small pot that contained tortillas and beans.  

“Those are for our lunch, señor,” said one of the peons, following his gaze. 

“We have no means to cook such things, señor,” Garcia said. “I would like to buy some tortillas and beans, please.  You can take my money and buy some more when you get to the way station.”

“We are already late, Sergeant.  We had to fix a broken wheel on our wagon.  The innkeeper will be angry with us,” another peon pleaded. 

“Then if you get hungry before you get to the way station, eat an orange,” Garcia retorted, surprising even himself at his forcefulness.  “The señora needs some tortillas.  And I said I would pay.”

“Sí, Sergeant,” the oldest peon said, hushing his younger compatriot with a wave of his hand.  “Three pesos.”

Garcia did some quick math and frowned.  “That is too much.  Way too much.  One peso.”  Again, he surprised himself.  He knew that his offer was slightly less than what those things sold for in Los Angeles.

“Sergeant!” the peon protested.  “Two pesos.”

“Still too much.  One peso and three centavos." 

“One peso and eight centavos,” the peon offered. 

“Very well, but only if you also deliver a message when you get to the way station,” Garcia said and counted out the coins.  He added another centavo. 

“Oh, sí, Sergeant.  That is where we are selling our fruit and vegetables anyway,” the peon said.

Garcia conveyed his wish for a carriage, trying to impress upon them the importance of his request. 

Bowing, the peons pulled the wagon back on the road and were soon out of sight around a curve.  Garcia was suddenly struck with the dilemma of getting the food and the baby back to their little camp.  He stood on the side of the empty road pondering.  Suddenly he had an idea and gently laid the baby down in the shade of a small bush.  Taking off his banda, he loaded all the vegetables, as well as the pot with the beans and tortillas on it and tied the ends tightly together to make a bundle.  He slung it over his shoulder and then carefully picked up the baby.  With a self-satisfied grin, he sauntered up the path to their camp.  That was when it was a good thing that he was a large man, he thought wryly.  “Doña Isadora,” he announced.  “I have more for us to eat.”  He handed the baby back to his mother.

Cleaning off the pumpkin in the stream, he then laid it among the coals on the edge of the fire.  He did the same with the corn, leaving the shucks on.  It seemed strange cooking for someone else.  He could count on one hand the number of times he had even cooked for himself in the past few months.  He smiled, hoping that the food would at least be edible.  He took the tortillas and beans to Isadora and handed them to her.  Gently, she laid the baby down next to her and took his offering.  The baby blinked sleepily and yawned. 

“This will go nicely with the rabbit, señorita,” he said.  “And here are some oranges for dessert.”

“But Demetrio, where is your food?” she asked, handing several of the tortillas back.  “The rabbit almost filled me up.”

“I will save them for later, then,” he said, not believing that he was saying that.  His stomach agreed with him, growling furiously.  He thought of how little he had eaten in the past day, but right now, he wasn’t bothered about it.  He placed the tortillas in his food pouch and broke open an orange.

“Sergeant Garcia, you will eat, too,” Isadora admonished sternly.  “With everything you bought, there is more than enough for both of us.”

Garcia grinned and pulled out two of the tortillas, rolling them up and using them to scoop out a mouthful of beans from the pot that Isadora was holding out to him.  He ate the tortilla in two bites and then ate the other just as quickly.  His stomach stopped growling and he sucked the juice out of his orange, then ate the pulp.  He checked the corn and pumpkin, turning them and went to the stream to wash up and refill the water bottle.  Garcia drank from the stream, ruefully thinking how much better a tankard of wine would taste.  But such was not to be right now. 

When he returned to the campsite, he saw that Isadora had fallen back to sleep.  He watched her chest rise and fall and once again wondered what it would be like to go to bed at night with such a woman as Isadora at his side.  Then he sighed.  Baboso, you will never be able to support a wife, he chided himself.  With another sigh, he turned away and checked on his horse.  Then he walked out of camp and perused the landscape.  It was so much easier when he didn’t worry about more then the next meal or bottle of wine.   Squinting, he saw an eagle soaring high above, dark against the searing blue of the noonday sky. 

It is a beautiful land, he thought.  With a shrug of his shoulders he brought his thoughts back to the here and now, of a lovely, lonely señorita who was stranded out here with a fat sergeant who entertained thoughts of being her husband.  Baboso, he chided himself again, and tried to put such foolish thoughts out of his head.  Even if he could afford to marry the señorita, she wouldn’t have him.  He was too old, too fat.  He looked at his dirty hands.  Too slovenly, as Capitán Monastario was wont to tell him. 

As he returned, he gathered wood, carefully laying it just outside the hovel.  Glancing at Isadora, he noticed that she was awake.  “Did you have a good nap?” he asked.

“Sí,” she answered.  She gazed down at the baby sleeping by her side.  “We seem to be alike in this,” she said with a soft laugh.  “Sleeping and eating.”

“I suppose it is natural,” he responded, not knowing what else to say. 

The day resumed its course, the sun traveling inexorably to its setting.  During the afternoon, Isadora wanted to bathe, so Garcia helped her to a somewhat deeper part of the stream and then returned to the camp to watch the baby.  As he had expected, she had experienced trouble keeping his trouser from falling off, so she had taken her now dried clothes to change into.  The baby slept through the whole procedure.  Garcia turned the corn and pumpkin that had been sitting at the edge of the fire pit since they had finished roasting and pulled out the remainder of the tortillas. 

While he waited for Isadora’s return, he wondered why the carriage had not been sent by now.  But he was not too worried yet.  He was enjoying this time with the señorita.  He would hate to see it end.  Garcia threw another branch on the fire and checked on the baby.  When he saw her hobbling back to the camp, he checked on the baby again, and finding it still asleep, went out to meet her.  She held on to his arm as they walked back. 

They sat by the fire and Garcia broke open the pumpkin, scraping away the seeds and fiber and cutting a piece for Isadora.   He handed it to her on the end of his fork, then he cut a piece for himself. 

“It would seem, Demetrio, that your message was not delivered,” she observed.  She didn’t seem overly anxious about it.  “Or the innkeeper chose not to act upon it.”

“Or they did not have a carriage available,” Garcia added.

“Yes, that is possible.”  She laughed.  “Do you always look at things so positively?”

“Mostly, Isadora,” he said.  “How else is there to look at life?”

“Like something to be endured, Demetrio.  But there is something to be said for your outlook.  You seem happy.”  She took an ear of corn and began eating it.  “You are a good cook, by the way.  This is one of the most delicious meals I have had in my life.”

Garcia laughed along with her.  “Now you surely do jest.  Living on a large rancho and this primitive meal is better than that?”  He took a bite, still chuckling.  “Besides, we need salt.”  He took a drink from the water bottle.  “And some wine.”

She smiled.  “Yes, it is better than anything at the rancho.  It must be the company I am keeping.”

Garcia blushed slightly and began eating an ear of corn, not knowing what to say.  They continued to eat as the sun drew closer to the western horizon, painting the sky in various shades of pink and gold. 

“It is very beautiful,” she finally said.

“Sí.”

“I . . . I will miss this when I go to the mission,” she said. 

Garcia sighed.  He again pushed aside thoughts of asking her to marry him.  Just as he was about to say something to her, he heard the sound of several horses down the path toward the King’s Road.  Someone called out, “Hola!”

Garcia pulled out his pistol.  In the deepening dusk, the pair by the fire saw a single lancer riding up the path.  Garcia stood to meet him.  His own hobbled horse nickered a greeting.  He handed his knife to Isadora and walked to the path where the lancer now sat waiting.  “Hola, Private,” he returned.  “It is good that you came before it got much darker,” he said, patting the pistol he had tucked back into his banda. 

“Sí, Sergeant.  We came as soon as we heard you were here,” the lancer replied. 

“We?”

“Sí, my companions are down by the highway.  Capitán Montez sent his carriage as soon as we got to the way station and heard you were here,” the private explained.  “And the capitán requests your presence immediately.”

 

 

 

Chapter Five
Chapter One
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