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Ramón: a Good Samaritan Story

 

 

Who is this mysterious new vaquero?  Hernando feels there is a mystery to be solved when his father brings Ramon to their remote rancho.

 

   

part one

 

Hernando de Cordoba watched eagerly from the gate as his father rode up the trail to the hacienda.  It was a somewhat remote one, a day’s journey south from Santa Barbara, not quite a day’s journey north of Los Angeles.  "Mother," he called into the patio area.  "Father has returned."  His brothers and sister thundered out the gate in anticipation.  His mother followed them more sedately, but the look on her face was just as eager.

The sale of tallow and cowhides had kept Miguel de Cordoba in Santa Barbara for the past week.  This time, it seemed that the hacienda was also acquiring a new hired man.  The stranger sat his horse easily, but his face was passive, without emotion. 

His father sprang down from his horse to greet his family.  "My dearest Loreeta, I have missed you so," he said to his wife, giving her an exuberant embrace and a kiss.  The children gathered around him.  "My children, you are sights for sore eyes," he said to them all.  Then he greeted each one his children individually; twelve-year-old Hernando, the eldest son, nine-year-old Lucinda, seven-year-old Ferdinand, and four-year-old Jorge. 

Except for Hernando, the children all danced around their father with squeals of delight at his safe return and the little gifts he had brought from Santa Barbara.  "Enough," he roared in mock solemnity.  The staid conventions of Spanish society were not followed in absolute strictness in the de Cordoba family, but the children were still disciplined enough to moderate their exuberance.

Dona Loreeta glanced at the stranger and then at her husband.  "Miguel, who is your friend, or is he a new hired man?" she asked softly. There was something about him that disturbed her.  The man was still mounted, watching the family with a slightly preoccupied gaze.  Miguel motioned for him to dismount.  A waiting peon took the horses to the stable.  

Miguel sighed.  "Doctor Bartona has been caring for him.  He was found injured near Santa Barbara a week ago, apparently beaten senseless during a robbery.  He has not spoken since." 

Loreeta felt a wash of pity.  "Is he a deaf-mute?" 

"No, dearest, he appears to be able to hear perfectly, but somehow does not seem to understand.  Almost as though he were from another country.  I hope you do not mind, Loreeta, but Doctor Bartona was unable to care for him any longer, and I could not see him being hired out to just anybody.  I thought the ocean air might be helpful in his recovery, and he seems to be very quick to understand what is wanted as long as it is signed to him."

Hernando kept looking at the stranger.  "What is his name, Father?"  At the sound of his voice, the man turned his head and looked at him intently.

"Ramón is the name the doctor gave him," his father answered.

Lucinda walked up to Ramón, and displaying her best curtsey, announced,  "I am Lucinda de Cordoba.  Welcome to our hacienda."  She was trying out her best manners. 

Not to be outdone, her brothers made their best bows.  Ramón smiled and made a slight bow to the children.  Then he looked back at Don Miguel. 

"Hernando, take Ramón to Marco.   He can sleep with the house servants for now. And make sure he gets some supper.  He seems adept with the horses, perhaps he is a vaquero," Miguel said absently, as he escorted his wife into the house.

Hernando motioned for Ramón to follow him.  The boy saw the stranger as a mystery to be solved.  But one thing he was sure of, this man had an innate dignity about him that denoted a caballero, not just a vaquero.  Tomorrow morning, he would have to discuss this with his two friends, Juan and Greco.

In the kitchen, Marco looked the newcomer up and down, then he handed him a bowl of stew.  Glancing askance at him while he ate, Hernando noticed that for a few minutes, Ramón gazed around the room, his eyes showing intelligent interest. Then, as though a curtain had been drawn, the interest faded.  Hernando thought he had seen a flickering of pain cross his features.  

"Come with me, Ramón," Marco said after the man had finished. Without a backward glance, Marco went out the back to a small building nearby.  Ramón sat looking after the departing servant until Hernando got his attention and motioned for him to follow.  Ramón complied, striding with easy grace into the servant's living quarters.

 

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In the early morning hours, Ramón was awakened by a horribly painful headache.  Trying to lie quietly, hoping that the pounding would ease, didn’t work.  The only result was an endless and ever-present parade of pictures and tiny vignettes of memories popping through his mind like firecrackers at a Lenten festival.  It only made his head feel worse, so he tried to suppress the thoughts.  Failing in that, he quietly got up from his pallet, and pulling on his boots, stealthily slipped out of the building into the cool night air.  Hearing the soft neighing and snorting of horses, Ramón made his way in that direction.

Marco watched Ramón slip out of the little house, so he got up and peered from the doorway.  The newcomer had awakened him several times during the night with his tossing, turning and soft moaning, and the servant was irritable from lack of sleep.  Suspicious, he felt that Don Miguel had made a mistake in bringing the stranger here. Now Marco saw Ramón approach the corral and thought that the man was setting out to steal a horse.  Quickly, he shook Pablo awake and told him to go get a couple of vaqueros, it looked as though the new man was a horse thief.

Hernando was awakened by a sharp, piercing whistle.  It was repeated several times and was something he remembered hearing before.  Watching from his balcony, he saw the tall figure of Ramón at the coral, gazing at the horses.  The whistle was repeated and Hernando realized that it was Ramón who was making the sound. For a horse?  Hernando asked himself.  Then he saw several vaqueros approaching the corral, one reaching over to grab Ramón by the arm. 

Hernando was initially surprised, but then on later reflection, not so surprised, by Ramón's reaction.  The man fairly exploded in a flurry of fists and feet.  The vaquero who had laid hands on him first lay writhing on the ground.  The others were at bay for the moment, but Hernando knew it was only a matter of time before Ramón would be overpowered, and somehow he felt that would not be good.   The boy slid over the balustrade and ran as fast as he could to the corral, his nightshirt flapping around his legs.

Ramón was indeed holding his own.  The fighting moves came instinctively and without any effort on his part.  Marco, having seen the opening sequences of the fight, had gone into the hacienda to rouse Don Miguel, who was slightly annoyed at being awakened this time of the morning after his journey of the day before.

Two vaqueros came at Ramón at once, one from each side.  With lightning speed, he grabbed the first by the arm and swung him into the second, knocking them both off balance.  Then he leaped the rail fence of the corral and stood among the horses, watching the approach of many people from the hacienda and the vaqueros' quarters.  One horse nuzzled him on the chest and a flashing picture of a pure black stallion came unsolicited into his mind. 

"Manuel, stop," Hernando commanded one of the vaqueros who was ready to leap the fence after Ramón.  The boy approached Ramón, who was standing quietly inside the corral, a horse hanging its head over his shoulder.  Absently, he was stroking its nose and gazing intently at the boy.  Hernando smiled at the scene and then turned to watch his father approach.  Don Miguel gazed in bemusement at Ramón standing in the corral, being attended by several horses.  Then he began to laugh.  With obvious relief, Ramón smiled in return and, patting the horses one last time, vaulted back over the fence and stood before the hacendado. 

"Everyone go back to bed, tomorrow will be a busy day. Manuel, check your injured men. Let me know if any injuries are serious enough to warrant getting a physician.   Marco, only wake me next time if Ramón takes a horse and does not come back with it."  Miguel looked at Ramón again, wondering what to do about him.  Sudden insight caused him to turn back to the house servant.   "Marco, was Ramón keeping you awake?"

"Sí, Don Miguel.  He was making noises in his sleep," he answered.  "I am sorry for disturbing you, I thought he was stealing a horse."

"Go on back to bed, Marco, I will find someplace else for him to spend the night," Miguel told him, remembering the last two nights at the doctor's house, when the injured man had kept him awake.   Still gazing at him intently, Ramón seemed to be trying to understand the conversation.

"It would be no wonder that he fought back, after having been waylaid by robbers," Hernando said in Ramón's defense. "Father, would it be all right for Ramón to sleep in my room?" he asked.  "I like him, and maybe I can help him with his recovery." 

"Your mother is still not sure about this mysterious new man I brought home, but I feel as you do, and at the risk of incurring her wrath, I think you have a good idea, my son.  Take Ramón with you and maybe we can all get some sleep tonight," Miguel said as he motioned for Ramón to follow them into the hacienda. 

Taking the mysterious new man upstairs, Hernando opened the door to his bedroom and motioned Ramón inside.  He went in, looked around and then promptly lay down on Hernando's bed with a sigh of contentment.  A moment later, he looked up at the boy, who was staring at him in surprise. Ramón jumped up, as though only then realizing whose bed he had been lying on.  Hernando smiled and handed him the bedding retrieved as they came through the house.  Nodding, Ramón made a pallet in the corner and was soon asleep.  Hernando filed that little incident away with the other things he was learning about this man.

The next day, Ramón was put under the charge of Manuel, who because of the incident from the night before, had recognized the newcomer's love of, and experience with, horses.  When it was polite to do so, Hernando headed down to the beach where his friend, Juan, lived in a small cave near the shore since his parents had died the year before.  His other friend, Greco, had already been to see Juan and had left.

"What kept you so long, Hernando?"  Juan asked in mock irritation.  Hernando handed him a few things left over from breakfast that he had picked up from Marco.  The boy's clandestine morning activities were more or less an open secret to everybody at the hacienda, but Hernando was encouraged, especially considering Juan’s fierce determination to live on his own.

"Father came home yesterday evening and brought with him a mysterious new man," Hernando explained and then went into all of the details.  "I am unable to explain why I feel I have met Ramón somewhere before."

"Perhaps when you have been in Santa Barbara with your father?" Juan ventured.  His friend shook his head.  "Then the only other place of any size you have been to, is Los Angeles," Juan suggested.

"Maybe, but I do not know," Hernando mused.  "Perhaps I will bring him with me some morning and see if he reminds you of anybody."

Juan only snorted in derision.  "It is only rich hacendado's sons who make trips to places like Los Angeles or Santa Barbara.  I would have no idea about this mysterious Ramón, but bring him anyway, you have aroused my curiosity."

When Hernando returned to the hacienda, he was amazed to see Ramón amusing his younger siblings by showing them a trick he had taught one of the horses. He whistled and the horse came to him, receiving a bit of grain for his reward.  Hernando was amazed that this was accomplished in such a short time. Taking the horse around the corner of the hacienda, Ramón returned and then whistled.  The gelding promptly trotted to him again. 

Lucinda, Ferdinand and Jorge clapped with delight, and Ramón bowed beside the horse, a great smile on his face.  Hernando thought the smile made the man seem more alive, almost roguish.   

"Ramón," Lucinda asked him,  "How did you teach him to do that?"  The horseman listened intently to her question, pondering, and then with a sudden frown, he shrugged and led the horse back to the corral. 

Lucinda, being a very sensitive child, ran up to Hernando, tears in her eyes.  "I did not mean to make Ramón angry, Hernando.  What did I say wrong?" 

"Nothing, Lucinda, and I do not think you made him angry, I think he is unhappy that he cannot understand us. Father said the doctor told him that Ramon's head had been injured, and that is why he cannot understand or talk to us.  Next time when you want to talk to him, sign at the same time," Hernando explained.  "I really think that he likes you, and Ferdinand, and Jorge.  I believe he just needs time to get over what happened to him."  Lucinda nodded, feeling better.

Several days later, Hernando was surprised when he walked into his room before retiring, and saw Ramón playing his guitar and singing a barracks song about an inept comandante.  When he saw Hernando watching him, his singing stopped and so did his command of the language.  Ramón just shook his head in bewilderment when Hernando asked him about the song.  The boy decided that the brain was a strange thing, indeed, that allowed a man to automatically sing a song, but not to understand and talk in his native language.

For his part, Ramón was puzzled and frustrated.  While the music was playing, the song came from somewhere, without conscious thought, and without understanding the meaning of the words, but when the music stopped, so too, did the flow of words. And although he could hear people speaking to him, what they said made absolutely no sense, it was like gibberish; he could only recognize his name, and even that seemed wrong to his mind.  Thankfully, the headaches were easing, but his memories were still jumbled, coming in bits and pieces that were more confusing than helpful.

For the first few days after his arrival, Manuel put Ramón in charge of the horses remaining at the hacienda, while the rest of the vaqueros worked in the hills with the livestock. This gave him time to train the horse he had picked for his own use. And every time he taught the horse a new skill or trick, there were at least three of the de Cordoba children in attendance.  Ramón taught the horse to bow one day, and Lucinda was so delighted that she bowed back.  Another day, he taught the gelding how to open gates and doors, and from then on, the horse couldn't be kept in the corral.  Much to Dońa Loreeta's annoyance, Ramón's horse managed to open the gate leading into the hacienda patio.  She gave a sharp cry when it came in to greet her.  Through sign, Ramón was admonished to find a way to keep his mount safely tied up when not in use. 

A couple of days after the horse incident, Hernando found Ramón sitting in the patio, with his brothers and sister sitting on the man’s lap.   There were three conversations going on at once, and although Hernando knew that Ramón found great pleasure being around the children, this time he looked lost and confused.  When they made eye contact, Ramón's eyes seemed to be saying help.

"Lucinda, Ferdinand, Jorge.  Go see Mother.  I need Ramón to help me.  Hurry!"  The children dashed into the hacienda.  Hernando smiled, and Ramón reciprocated with one of his own.  The boy saw a deep intelligence in Ramón's hazel eyes, an intelligence that was temporarily being held hostage by his injury.

 

 

 

Chapter Two
The Hernando Stories Introduction
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