Sequel to Storm
Disclaimer: The Lancer characters don’t belong to me. I make no profit from them, just having a little fun.
Note: I know we’ve been warned against it, but I used an internet translator for two phrases near the end of this story. Sorry. I hope it got it right.
Note #2: Any and all errors are my own.
Rain beat against the closed window as though it expected to be let in. Wind rattled branches against walls and roof tiles and thunder crashed as lightning blazed across the black backdrop that was the night sky. Mother Nature seemed intent on waking those who were trying to sleep through her fury, but it was not the noise of the storm, nor the flashing of the lightning that was keeping him awake. No, what was keeping Scott awake was a sense of guilt. The guilt was triggered innocently enough by teasing remarks made by his brother. Johnny would not hold his injury against him; would, in fact, be the first to make certain Scott had enough rest and gave his ankle time to heal, but he’d always been one to harbor feelings of guilt.
It was his sense of guilt that had kept him from following Johnny upstairs to talk. Scott had sensed that something was not quite right with Johnny tonight, the boy was too quiet. He decided to go across the hall and check on Johnny. If, as he suspected, his brother was awake, then they would talk. Crossing the hall quietly on crutches would not be easy, so Scott left them behind, limping to his brother’s door. He tapped softly and listened for an answer. He’d almost decided to go back to his own room when the soft voice answered.
“Don’t stand there all night, come in, sit down, and get the weight off that ankle.”
Scott limped into the room and took a seat in the chair next to Johnny’s bed. Johnny lay facing the window, his back to Scott.
“Something was wrong tonight, you were too quiet, and then you came to bed early. Teresa may have bought that sorry excuse you gave about needing extra rest because there will possibly be extra work tomorrow, but I wasn’t falling for it. So, what is going on, Johnny?”
Johnny was quiet for so long, Scott thought he may have fallen asleep. Finally, there was a sigh and Johnny began to tell Scott about a man for whom Maria had worked when Johnny was young. The man’s name was Antonio Ruiz, but Johnny had called the man, Abuelo, which meant grandfather. The story revolved around memories of a hurricane that had struck the village they’d lived in near the eastern coast of Mexico. When Johnny had spoken of the man, he did so with great fondness. Scott wished the man had remained in the village, but then maybe changing the fact that Antonio left might have changed events in Johnny’s life that would have kept them from meeting, from being here together.
“Sounds to me like Antonio was a very good man and I’m glad you had him in your life, even for just that short time. “
“Yeah, well, he told me once that we shouldn’t judge others by appearances, and we should give the other person a chance to prove themselves. He probably would not have liked what I’d become after Momma died, so I guess I’m glad he didn’t live long enough to start hearing stories about Johnny Madrid. I’m glad Momma didn’t hear those stories either.”
“Johnny, you did what was necessary to stay alive and I’m sure even Antonio would have understood that. Get some rest brother, you don’t have much time before Murdoch will be pounding on the door,” Scott said as he rose from the chair then gave his brother’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. He’d made it to the door when he heard the soft “Thanks, Scott” from the bed.
“It’s what big brothers do, little brother.”
The storm played itself out during the night and in two separate rooms, two young men listened to it’s parting shot, each thinking of the same person – Antonio Ruiz.
The next morning, the yard was filled with puddles, mud, men and horses. Murdoch and Cipriano were among them, assigning the work crews. Scott watched through the window as men mounted their horses and rode off to their assigned duties. Johnny had left earlier, going off to check on a bridge that Murdoch expressed concern about at the breakfast table. There would be no use sending a work crew there until it was checked for damage and any supplies needed to repair it were assembled.
After everyone was off to their assigned duties, Murdoch went to join Scott in the great room. They would discuss the new contract Lancer had for supplying beef to the Army and, Murdoch remembered, Scott had asked to talk about some of the contacts Lancer had in Mexico. There were a few ranchers Murdoch had business ties with there, but it had been some time since he’d done business with them. Actually, it had been almost six months before Pardee had started his raids on Lancer that Murdoch had last contacted the Ortega or the Morales families. Scott had been making suggestions recently regarding breeding different cattle, but this was the first time he’d asked about contacts in Mexico. Well, he’d see what Scott’s ideas were and see how things played out from there.
“Murdoch, you did business with a couple of the ranches in Mexico before Pardee came. Did you buy cattle from them?”
“I had a contract with the Ortega and the Morales ranches for breeding stock at one time. Their bulls were some of the best breeding stock in that area, but some local ranchers in the area around Morro Coyo and Spanish Wells were beginning to obtain better bulls and offer breeding contracts themselves. The inconvenience of traveling to Mexico to get the bull and then take him back – and the risks involved – made most offers from the local ranches a better deal.”
“What about horses? I know the stallion that Pardee stole was purchased for breeding stock. Did you buy horses from any ranches in Mexico?”
“Now, Scott, your brother is usually the one to approach me about breeding horses. Are you going to try pushing that issue as well?”
“I have a reason. I can’t tell you much, only that someone Johnny knew owned a horse that he thought may have been bred and if any of the bloodline existed, he was interested in knowing if they would be for sale. I thought I would try to contact the ranchers you’d done business with, see if any of them knew of the Ruiz’s and ….”
“Ruiz? Do you know the man’s full name and what area he may have lived in?”
“I know his first name was Antonio and that he’d moved to his brother’s ranch near Matamoros.”
“There was a family in Matamoros, had a small horse ranch, but Maria would not have gone there. It can’t be the same family.”
“Johnny didn’t say that they were in Matamoros when he knew the man.”
“Isidro may be able to tell you more about them. His son, Manuel, is married to a niece of the Ruiz family.”
“I’ll talk to him when the men return this evening, then I’ll send word to the Ruiz’s asking about the horse.”
“Son, I know you’re doing this because you care about your brother, but before you go too far, let him know what you’re doing. Johnny may want to establish contact himself, or maybe contacting these people could bring trouble. There are still problems between Johnny and the Rurales.”
“I know, Murdoch. I would only mention Maria or Johnny if I needed to do so, and then, only with the Ruiz family.”
Murdoch nodded; he wouldn’t try to stop Scott. He’d given him warning to proceed cautiously, for John. That was all he could do for now.
The next day Scott spoke with Isidro’s daughter-in-law, Sofia. Isidro had already told her that Scott had been curious about Antonio Ruiz and she was prepared to tell him what little she knew about her great-uncle.
“Antonio was my mother’s tio – uncle. He was the third of four sons. The oldest son, Don Miguel Alexandro Ruiz, inherited the estancia, but he offered a home to each of his brothers. Antonio went his own way and ended up living in a village that was near the coast. Antonio came to live on the ranch the last year of his life and during that year, he purchased many fine mares and two or three stallions. If he hoped to breed horses, he did not live to see any of the foals.
“Antonio did talk about the village where he’d had a cantina. When his wife was living, she helped run the cantina and she and her daughter-in-law cooked the food served there.”
“What happened to the horses Antonio owned? Was one of the horses called Amigo?”
“I don’t know about the horses. I imagine Don Miguel or his son kept them for the ranch.”
“Can you tell me more about Antonio?”
“No, but I’m sure my mother could. She stayed with Antonio and his wife, Consuela, for a short time. Antonio’s son would have been 16 or 17 at that time.”
Scott thanked the young woman for telling what she knew about Antonio. He did not want to ask too many people about the man for he felt the more people he involved, the more likely his brother would learn of his inquiries. Johnny didn’t divulge much about his childhood, and when he did tell something, it was often understood to be a confidence between brothers.
As he rode toward the bridge, Johnny allowed his thoughts to drift. He didn’t know why the storm had brought memories of Antonio. Maybe it was more than just the storm that had stirred the them.
The day before the rains started, he and Scott had been near the canyon and had seen the black stallion and his herd. There had been one horse with the herd that had caught Johnny’s eye. The white horse had stood apart from the others, possibly a young stallion that was waiting to challenge the black. There was something about the white horse that had reminded him of Antonio’s stallion. Amigo had been a fine horse and would have sired a good line if paired with the right mare.
“You aren’t thinking about going after the herd, are you brother?”
“Nope. Just watching the white. He’s a beaut.”
“Yes, he is.”
They had ridden on, leaving the black and his herd to their freedom. Throughout the day, though, visions of the white horse had come to mind and he had started to wonder what had become of Amigo.
As much as he would like a horse from Amigo’s bloodline, he felt there was little chance that Antonio had bred the stallion. The brother and nephew probably had little time to spend with the breeding of Amigo after the man had died.
Johnny was tired, dirty, and hungry. He had left for the bridge before Murdoch and Scott had come down for breakfast. There was so much debris around the bridge supports that he couldn’t see if there was any damage. He’d worked long and hard to clear the debris and then he checked all the pilings and supports for damage. He was glad for the opportunity to slosh around in the cool water as he felt for any debris that may have been trapped against the part of the structure that extended into the water.
Once the damage was assessed, he checked the fence line nearby making temporary repairs where fallen limbs may have damaged the fencing.
He’d started back toward the hacienda when he’d come upon the steer stuck in mud. Freeing the dumb animal had taken time and a good amount of effort. He hoped he wouldn’t encounter any more problems on the ride back. Only a quarter of a mile from the hacienda, he came upon a new born calf and its mother. The cow had a cut near her left shoulder that needed tending. Johnny put a rope around her neck to lead her back toward the hacienda and put the calf across the saddle in front of him.
Jelly had taken the bleating calf from him when he’d arrived and the cow followed the old wrangler to the barn where Jelly could tend to her and she could feed her calf. Though he usually tended to his horse himself, Johnny was glad when Jose offered to do the job.
“Give him an extra measure of oats and maybe a carrot for a treat.”
“You spoil that horse too much,” Scott called from the shade of the portico.
“I know you didn’t hear me from there,” Johnny said as he handed the lead to Jose.
“Oh, I didn’t have to hear. I could see Jose nod and grin and concluded you had special instructions for the care of Barranca.”
“It don’t hurt to give ‘em special attention every now and then.”
“No, but that ‘special attention’ is lavished on that horse so often, I think my horse is beginning to resent it.” Scott had looked his brother over as he spoke. “Do yourself a favor and go straight to the bathhouse. I’ll get Murdoch to bring you a change of clothes. Teresa mopped and polished the floor in the great room and if you go in there with that mud all over your boots and pants; well, let’s just say I don’t think even Madrid would be as intimidating as she.”
“As tired as I feel, I don’t think I want to get her riled with me. I don’t think I could avoid her broom or Maria’s wooden spoon right now.”
After getting cleaned up, Johnny headed to the great room to give his report to Murdoch about the repairs needed to the bridge and the areas of the fence line that would need more attention than he had been able to give them today. He stopped in front of the large oak desk and watched his father as the elder Lancer gazed out the window. There were a few horses running around in the corral near the barn and Dewdrop, the goose, was roosting near the pump; the type of tranquil scene that Johnny enjoyed and Murdoch seemed to relish.
As he gazed out the window, Murdoch wondered if his sons would come to feel the same way about the ranch as he did – it was more than just a ranch, a house. This was his piece of God’s creation and he’d worked hard to achieve his dream, but it was beyond that; he just didn’t have the words to express what he saw, how he felt, when he looked out this window.
He was somewhat startled when he turned and saw his younger son on the other side of the desk. He hadn’t heard Johnny’s approach and the boy hadn’t spoken when he’d entered the room.
“Have you been standing there long?”
“No. I just wanted to report on the bridge and the fence line. If you want, I can come back later.”
“No, no. Let’s get to it now. Was there a lot of damage? What supplies will we need and how many men will we need for the work crew to do the repairs?”
Murdoch was pleased with Johnny detailed report concerning the bridge repairs and his suggestion as to whom he felt would be best to assign to the repair crew. Murdoch had initially considered sending Walt or one of the other hands who had more experience with the repair of the bridge, but he wanted to show his confidence in his son’s judgment. Had he sent another man, would they have been as thorough? Possibly, but by sending this son -- the one who seemed so lost at times --Murdoch hoped he could show Johnny that his input mattered.
“Hey, Murdoch, can I ask you something?”
“Of course, John. What’s on your mind.”
“After Scott’s mama died and ol’ Harlan took Scott away, if you lost Lancer during the range war back then, would you have tried to start another ranch or figured it wouldn’t be worth the effort?”
The question took Murdoch off-guard. Why would John ask such a thing? He had never considered what he would have done had he lost the ranch in the range war or if Lancer had been anything less than a complete success. No, there had been no room for and very little thought to failure. When he and Catherine had first started out, he’d wanted the ranch to be successful for the sake of his and Catherine’s future; and there would be another fringe benefit - flaunting it in Harlan’s face. After Catherine’s death and Harlan’s abduction of Scott, the drive to make the ranch successful was to have the proof for the court that he could provide his son with a solid foundation and a good home.
“I’d never thought about what I’d have done if I had lost this ranch, not then and not since. Why do you ask, son?”
“Without the ranch, you wouldn’t have been so desperate for money that you went to work with Baker and went to Matamoros. Then you wouldn’t have met my mama and Johnny Lancer wouldn’t exist. It’s funny how one thing can make such a big difference in other things that happen.
“I mean, if you’d decided to go back to Inverness, what would you have done – what kind of job would you have had?”
“I guess I would have become a shopkeeper like my father or I would have hired onto one of the boats that sailed around Europe at the time.”
‘Where is this leading?’ Murdoch wondered.
“If Mama hadn’t run off with me, if she and I had still been here and the ranch wasn’t successful, would you have ….”
“John, I don’t like the direction these questions are leading. I can’t tell you just what I would have done if I lost the ranch, not before I met your mother nor after. What I can tell you is this: I was wrong when I told you and Scott in that first meeting that Lancer was the most important thing to me. Nothing means more to me than my family – all my family”
“I know I don’t say ‘I love you’ to you and Scott often, but I want you to know that I do love both of you. That having been said, I also want you to know that Lancer was built as a legacy for you and your brother and I will do what I must to hold onto it.”
“I didn’t mean to make you angry. It’s just that I wondered what it would take to make someone decide not to rebuild what he’d worked for if it was ruined. What makes a man turn his back on what he has when he has someone to help him rebuild, someone who wants him to stay?”
“You haven’t made me angry, John. I’m afraid I can’t answer your question, son. I’ve never felt like giving up or walking away from this ranch, but I kept envisioning you and Scott here with me. There are those who can’t face failure or rejection and there are those who look for an easy path. Then there are those who get knocked down and get back up to fight more, but they get knocked down once too often and they finally give up – they lose their will to fight. It’s not wrong for a man to quit when he feels he can’t continue, to walk away from something when he no longer feels he has the strength of will to keep trying. We have to see a situation through another’s eyes before we can judge their actions.”
“I am glad you fought for and held onto this place. On that first day, Teresa called Lancer the most beautiful place on earth. I’ve been to a lot of places and seen some that were beautiful, but I got to admit, Lancer puts all of them to shame.” Then Johnny added with a lopsided grin, “Only thing ruins its beauty is them dumb steers.”
Murdoch saw the humor in his son’s eyes at the last statement and smiled.
“I’m starved. I think I’ll go into the kitchen and get me a snack to hold me until supper.”
“I think Maria made a couple of pies, but don’t spoil your appetite. I have it on good authority that we’re going to have tamales and tortilla soup for supper.”
Johnny smiled and headed to the kitchen. “Oh, I have plenty of room for a slice of pie and a glass of milk and still be able to tuck into those tamales.”
Murdoch shook his head. Johnny could eat him out of house and home, thank goodness he had all of those ‘dumb steers.’
Scott had moved back into the shadows when Johnny passed through to the kitchen. He’d started to the great room, but had turned back to the kitchen to get his crutches when he’d heard his brother and father talking. He’d heard Johnny’s last question to Murdoch – Johnny had been referring to Antonio; looking for someone to explain why the man left the village; walked out of Johnny’s life.
Scott wasn’t sure if he should head back to the kitchen or continue to the great room. The decision was made for him when Johnny stepped into the hall with the crutches which he shoved toward Scott.
“Thought it was impolite to eavesdrop, brother. Guess you heard everything?”
“Johnny, I….I’m sorry. I didn’t know you and Murdoch were having a private conversation until….”
“It’s okay, Scott. Look you need to get off that ankle and quit leaving these behind,” Johnny said as he tapped the crutch Scott had just placed under his right arm. “You know about Antonio. I was just…well, I hoped I wasn’t the reason he left.”
“Maybe we’ll never know exactly why he left, Johnny, but I seriously doubt you were the reason. And in answer to your question, I didn’t hear everything – just you asking why someone would leave when they had someone who wanted to help them rebuild. Murdoch was right. We have to be able to see through the other person’s eyes to understand their actions.”
The wire came nearly two weeks after the letter was posted. Senor and Senora de los Santos were pleased to accept the invitation and would arrive on October 15 on the 3:00 stage. Scott informed Murdoch and Teresa of the news. They had four days before the couple would arrive.
Murdoch pressed Scott for an explanation as to why exactly he’d invited the senora to Lancer.
Though Scott felt it was breaking a confidence his brother had shared, he knew he owed Murdoch a fair and reasonable explanation.
“You remember how quiet Johnny got during the rains and the bad storm we had a few weeks ago?”
“Yes, but I thought he was quiet because he’d been tired…at least it was his explanation for going upstairs early.”
“That might have been part of the reason, but there was more to it than that. Do you remember the questions he’d asked of you after giving the report on the bridge?” Murdoch had talked to Scott about Johnny’s questions, but had done so out of fear that his younger son was thinking of leaving. Scott really didn’t let Murdoch answer this time, plunging on with his explanation.
“Those questions were based on a man in Johnny’s past; someone Johnny had gotten close to and thought of as a grandfather. It seems Maria had worked for the man and he showed concern and compassion for her and Johnny. A hurricane must have struck the village and it resulted in destroying the cantina the man owned – the place where Maria worked. After the man recovered from his injuries, he packed up and left the village. Johnny said he’d sold the house they were living in so Maria took Johnny and they went to live in a border town for a while.
“Johnny must have been trying to figure out if his ‘Abuelo’s’ actions were typical or if it was just another way for someone to rid themselves of the unwanted child he thought himself to be.”
“So you invited this woman here to talk to your brother about this man? What do you hope that will accomplish?”
“I’m sure Johnny has mostly good memories of the man – other than his leaving. I think the storm and being here with family, brought those memories forward and Johnny didn’t really want or know how to deal with them at the time. He was hurt when the man left and then he found that the man had died about a year later. Maria was dead when Johnny went to Matamoros to look for the man. Whether it was in the hope that he would find a home with him again or to find out why he abandoned them, I don’t know. Until the night of the storm, I don’t think he allowed himself to think about Antonio and had not allowed himself to grieve for him.
“The senora may be able to help Johnny relive those memories, add to what he knows about Antonio, and move past the hurt. Also, I hope she can tell Johnny about the horse Antonio had, whether there are any descendants of Amigo that Johnny might acquire.”
“Have you told your brother about our expected visitor yet?” When Scott shook his head, Murdoch groaned. “Don’t you think you’d better let him know about this? You know Johnny can be a porcupine around visitors at times, and this woman having a connection with someone in his past may make him worse.”
Scott waited until after supper to take Johnny aside and tell him of the couple he’d invited to Lancer. Johnny shook his head, but didn’t seem angry, but his demeanor told Scott he was not happy.
“Johnny, you don’t have to talk to her if you don’t wish to. I’ll ask her about the horse and tell her that I was only looking to find if there were any descendants to the bloodline that could be bought to breed with our horses. You can leave after their arrival, but I would like you to meet her.”
“Scott I appreciate what you’re doing, I just don’t know if I can talk about Antonio. What would he have told them about me and does she know who I became?
“There are some places in Mexico where Madrid was not welcome. The revolution I got involved in down there was against a wealthy rancher and the rurales who were bought and paid for. Some wealthy ranchers in the area…,” Johnny shrugged his shoulders, “well, they took the side of the other rancher. What if her family was among those who were against the revolution?”
“Give them a chance, brother. Let them get to know Johnny Lancer. He’s a good man and someone I’m proud to know.”
Teresa and Maria had everything polished and shining the day the visitors were expected.
“Hooey, would you look at the shine on that banister and the floor. A man wouldn’t need a mirror, he can see his reflection right there,” Johnny said pointing to the cap on the newel post of the banister.
“Please don’t slide down the banister, Johnny. You know it’ll leave scuff marks where you land and Teresa will have seven kinds of fits. Besides, if you make her angry with you, there may not be any chocolate cake for desert.”
“Boston, I learned one thing when I was young that I ain’t ever going to forget – NEVER make the cook mad.” Johnny gave Scott a playful backhand to the stomach as he made his way down the stairs.
Scott and Johnny rode into Morro Coyo to meet the stage. Scott was driving the buggy, and although Johnny was seated in the buggy beside him on the way to meet the stage, Barranca was tied behind the buggy for Johnny to ride afterwards. If Johnny became uncomfortable, he could make an excuse and ride back to Lancer earlier or later than Scott and his guests.
The stage arrived nearly half an hour late, as usual. The passengers began to step out and Johnny found himself anticipating their guests’ disembarking. The man stepped out first and turned to give his wife a hand. Johnny was surprised at how much Rosa de los Santos resembled her uncle. He shook her husband’s hand and giving a little bow, gently took her hand and kissed the back of it. Once the couple’s luggage was retrieved, they headed for Lancer; Scott driving the buggy and Johnny riding along side.
Johnny could hardly believe time had passed so quickly. The de los Santos’ had been at Lancer nearly a week and would be leaving for Stockton in two days. He and Rosa had talked about Antonio and he had shared wonderful memories of the man. She had told him stories of her stay with Antonio and his wife and of Antonio’s son and daughter-in-law.
The couple had spent the first full day of their visit with their daughter and her family. The second day the Lancers spent time getting to know the de los Santos’s and showing them around the ranch. Of course, Murdoch had to discuss cattle breeding with Carlos, Rosa’s husband.
The third night at Lancer, Johnny’s family had wanted to give them privacy for their talks, so Murdoch had suggested they go to the music room. Johnny, suddenly feeling a little apprehensive and desiring the support of his family, had declined.
Johnny turned to his family and said, “Unless the Senora has an objection, I think you should all be here. Antonio meant a lot to me and it would be easier than my having to tell all the stories again to you.”
Senora de los Santos began the conversation about her uncle saying, “Antonio was a proud man. He wanted to make his own way and that is why he did not take up his brother, Miguel’s, offer to stay at the ranch when he was a young man. He wanted to build the future for his family with his own hands. When he came to the village where he built the cantina, he and his wife, Consuela, were married only three months. They loved the little village and Consuela was pleased that they would make their home there.
“The first two years, they lived above the cantina. The living quarters had only one sleeping space and when it was discovered that a child was on the way, Antonio decided they needed a house. He bought land just a short walk from the village and built, with the help of some of their friends in the village, a nice house with two bedrooms. Through the years, they hoped their family would grow; Antonio even added another room with the hope that it would someday be occupied by another child, but their son was to remain an only child.
“As Paolo grew older, he seemed uninterested in the cantina, helping the blacksmith whenever he could instead. When he was 15, Paolo asked his father to purchase a fine stallion for him. Antonio had acquired more land adjacent to his own – nearly fifty acres – because Paolo wanted to buy horses and breed them. Paolo planned to buy more land as he acquired more horses, maybe even getting a place closer to the coast. Antonio was disappointed his son did not show interest in the cantina, but was glad that he could envision his future and was moving to make that future possible.
“Johnny, you asked about Amigo. He was only one of three horses Paolo had at the time of his death. Amigo was the foal that was born the night before the storm that took Antonio’s family. It was the reason he had gone to the stable during the storm. Antonio sold the stallion just a few days after Paolo’s funeral. When the foal was weaned, he sold the mare, too. He could not bring himself to sell Amigo, though. He once said he felt connected to Paolo through that horse, so he could never sell him. My cousin said Amigo sired only one colt, but it did not live,”
At the dejected look in Johnny’s eyes, she quickly added, “But he sired five fillies, all fine daughters of their father. One of the mares foaled last year. I have arranged for my cousin to send Amigo’s grandson, Fantasma Blanco, here to Lancer.”
“I…I’m willing to pay top dollar for him.”
“He is not for sale, Johnny. He is yours. Antonio left instructions that the first colt from Amigo’s bloodline would be yours. He is the first surviving colt of Amigo’s bloodline and as promised, he will be given to you.”
“Johnny, that’s fantastic! Barranca will have a stable mate and you can have a stallion to breed,” Teresa exclaimed.
“Yes, it’s time Lancer was known for more than cattle ranching,” Scott said, glancing at Murdoch.
“We will of course have to give the colt a couple of years, but I’m sure there are suitable mares among the herds on Lancer for him to breed with,” Murdoch said, smiling. “In the meantime, John, you and Scott will continue CATTLE ranching.”
“Oh, fooling with them dumb steers will only make me appreciate breeding horses even more,” Johnny’s eyes danced with glee as he spoke. “Senora, I am very happy to accept Fantasma Blanca, but why did they name him White Ghost?”
“Oh, because he is completely white, and he was born on Dia de los Muertos – the Day of the Dead.”
“Isn’t that All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween?” Scott asked.
“Si, and my cousin thinks it to be a good sign that Antonio will be with this horse, protecting the horse and the rider.”
“My wife and I would like to thank you for your generous hospitality. We will spend tomorrow with our daughter and her family again, then we will take our leave early the next day. Would your sons, Scott and Johnny, be available to take us to catch the stage then?”
“It was our pleasure to have you as our guests. Of course, my sons will take you to catch the stage day after tomorrow. Teresa and Maria have plans for a wonderful supper for tomorrow night in your honor and, of course, Manuel and Sofia. So, we will see you all tomorrow evening at 6.”
The couple had spent the day with their daughter and her family, then they all had supper with the Lancers. Scott and Johnny had brought them to catch the 10:00 AM stage. Johnny had promised that he would let Rosa know when Fatasma Blanca arrived and keep her informed of how the horse-breeding progressed.
Nearly two months after the de los Santos’ left for Stockton, two Mexican ranch hands rode under the Lancer arch leading a fine white stallion. When the lead rope was handed to Johnny, a bill of sale accompanied it. The hands declined an invitation to stay at Lancer for more than a quick lunch. After they rode away, Johnny went to the corral and watched as the yearling ran around, coming back to his new owner for a quick inspection of the young man before taking off again.
“Thank you, Abuelo, he is wonderful. I will always remember you. He will be my connection to you just as his grandfather was your connection to Paolo,” Johnny whispered as the horse came to him and nuzzled his outstretched hand.