A Song of Joy
(A Sergeant Garcia Story)
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
“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
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
“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.”
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
“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
“Sergeant!” the peon protested.
“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
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
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,”
“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
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.
“I . . . I will miss this when I go to the
mission,” she said.
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.
We came as soon as we heard you were here,” the lancer replied.
“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.”