March 2015 Proverb Challenge
A good name is more desirable
than great riches;
To be esteemed is better than
silver or gold.
(This event is before Johnny comes to Lancer.)
The priest bathed the unconscious man’s face, and hoped that the cool water would finally help ease the fever. His temperature had been rising and the priest worried that his wound might be infected.
An old nun rushed into the room with another basin of fresh water and clean rags. She placed the bowl on the bedside table and dipped a cloth in the water. “Padre Mateo,” she handed him the wet rag while she stared the man on the bed. She shook her head, in sleep he looked so young and innocent.
Two days ago he had stumbled into the church where Sister Margareta had found him. She noticed the gun he wore and recognized him as a pistolero, however, as a woman of the church she would never turn away anyone in need. But that didn’t stop her fear and she had run to find Padre Mateo. Now together they fought the fever that ravaged the young man’s body.
The Sister wiped her sleeve across her forehead, “Padre, do you know him?” She couldn’t help but notice the tenderness the older man showed the injured gunman.
Padre Mateo looked up at her, his eyes filled with worry. “Sí, I know Juanito.”
“Who is he?” Her surprise that the good Padre knew the pistolero was obvious in her voice, “How do you know him?”
“He is Johnny Madrid-” Padre Mateo stopped when he saw the fear on the Sister’s face and held up his hand, “He is a good man, trust me.”
“How can you say that, he is a pistolero…” Sister Margareta fretted with her rosary while staring at the unconscious man on the cot.
“Please sit down and listen to me.” Padre Mateo pointed to the other chair by the bed.
She nodded, sat, and waited.
“I first met Juanito when he was a small boy; he was being beaten by some older boys.” Mateo shook his head at the memory. “Johnny’s blue eyes marked him as a mestizo and many of the people in the village refused to let their children have anything to do with him.” He frowned, “They also turned their backs when they saw older boys fighting with him.”
Sister Margareta nodded her head, she had seen other mestizo children being mistreated in the many poor villages along the border. She crossed herself, “Poor niño.”
“Sí, poor niño.” Padre Mateo wrung out a fresh rag and placed it on Johnny brow. “When I broke up the fight, he ran away before I could help him.” He sighed, “Later I found him in an alley digging in the garbage for something to eat.”
Sister Margareta turned toward the man on the cot, “Poor, poor niño. What did you do?”
“He tried to run away but I caught him. He struggled with me but he was so small I easily over powered him.”
“What did you do with him?” She bowed her head to hide the sudden smile as she tried to visualize the old Priest struggling with a small boy.
“I brought him to the church and shared my meal with him.” He grinned at the memory of the dirty child gulping down the food like he was afraid it disappear.
“You are a good man, Padre.” Maria crossed herself again.
“It wasn’t easy, at first he stayed in the corner.” The Padre patted Johnny’s hand, “He wrapped his thin arms around his chest and bowed his head. Such a sad sight.”
The Sister nodded but remained quiet.
“Eventually we became friends… well, we sort of came to an agreement,” the Padre chuckled. Then he reached up to feel Johnny’s head; he was still too warm. “Sister would you please bring some more fresh water?”
“Sí Padre.” She hurried from the room.
When she returned they bathed Johnny’s face and chest, finally placing a fresh rag on his brow.
Mateo used one of the rags to wipe his own sweaty face and leaned back in the chair. He looked at the young man sleeping on the cot, “I taught him how to read and write; he was such a bright little boy.”
“So what happened to him… to make him a pistolero?” Margareta dried her hands on her apron and returned to the chair.
“When his mother died I brought him to the church to keep him safe.” Mateo fingered his rosary. “I hated to do it but an orphanage was the only place I could take him.” He shook his head in disgust, “No one in the village would take in the small boy.”
Sister Margareta scowled, “Such selfishness.”
Padre Mateo nodded agreement. “He ran away from the orphanage and I didn’t see him again until two years ago…” He paused, a far away look on his face.
The Sister waited patiently for the old priest to continue.
“I was visiting my sister and her family…” It was a painful remembrance. “Three bandidos came to the village to hide out. To control the men they were holding the women and children as hostages… in the church.”
Sister Margareta reached out and patted the older man’s hand, “How could they do such a thing-and in the holy church?”
“The villagers couldn’t fight armed men.” Mateo took a deep breath, “That day I had left the village to find a quiet place to pray.” He stopped his narrative to place a fresh cloth on Johnny’s brow.
“While I sitting under a tree, praying, I heard a horse nicker.” He smiled at the old Sister, “When the horse came into view…” This time Mateo laughed, “Can you imagine my surprise? I recognized those blue eyes staring down at me.”
“Juanito?” It was a whisper.
“Sí, Juanito” Mateo grinned.
“What did he do?”
“I guess he remembered me because he called me by name and asked why I was sitting alone under a tree.” He reached out to touch Johnny’s limp hand again. “I told him what was happening in the village.”
“Did he help you?”
Mateo nodded his head and sat back in his chair. “Sí. He hauled me up behind him and we rode into the village. Then he left me at the end of the street and told me to stay way from the church.”
“Did you?” Margareta was completely engrossed in the story.
“No, I could not let Johnny face three bandidos alone, but the villagers were afraid and hid behind their doors,” Mateo shook his head in disgust. “So, I followed him by staying behind buildings.”
“What happened at the church?” She hoped the women and children were safe.
“Johnny slowly rode up to the church. One of the bandidos walked toward him and told him to go away. But Johnny just sat on his horse and said, ‘y’all need to leave while ya still can’ as he lowered his hand to his gun.”
“Oh my.” She place her hand on her ample bosom.
“Then the other two came up and the three of them faced Johnny and told him to ride out while he still could. Johnny shook his head and told them he wasn’t going anywhere but they would be going to hell today. They laughed at him as he dismounted and faced them. Then the leader asked what name to put on the headstone and they laughed again.” Mateo shuddered slightly. “I knew how dangerous they were and said a prayer to keep Johnny safe.”
“When he said, ‘Johnny Madrid’ their mouths dropped open. I was confused, Madrid wasn’t his name when I knew him.” Mateo leaned forward and wrung out a fresh cloth and placed it on Johnny brow. “Even I knew about Madrid, but I never guessed my Johnny had become the famous gunfighter.”
“What happened when they found out who he was?”
“They acted like they were going to leave but then one of them pulled his gun.”
Mateo sighed and bowed his head. “It was over in seconds, and three men lay dead in front of the church.”
Margareta did the sign of the cross and waited.
“Johnny was still standing but there was blood on his shirt. I ran to him but he held up his hand for me to stop. All he said was ‘see to the women and children’, so I went into the church.” Mateo looked up and did the sign of the cross, “They were all safe.”
“When we came out… he was gone.”
They sat quietly and stared at the unconscious man on the cot.
Finally Mateo broke the silence. “I never saw him again until two days ago. Over the years I heard the stories how he had helped our people and that sometimes all he asked for was a place to sleep and something to eat. They call him their hero, their champion.” He shook his head, “How often I wonder if any of those who now depend on his mercy are the same people who refused to show mercy to a small boy.”
Sister Margareta let the tear run down her cheek, “He could have turned into an evil man if not for you, Padre.”
“I can’t take any credit, I always believed Johnny was a good boy. I knew God had plans for him…” Mateo laughed out loud. “I just didn’t expect that gunfighter was the plan.”
Sister Margareta wiped the tears from her cheek and smiled, “Sí Padre.” Then she reached out to take Johnny’s limp hand in her hand. “As it says in Proverbs 22:1 A good name is more desirable than great riches; To be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”
She pulled Johnny’s hand to her lips and turned it palm up. Then she lightly kissed his sweaty palm, “You are such a man, Johnny Madrid.”