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Sweet Saturday Sample: Excerpt Seven from Ride to Raton
Sorry, I used the new blogger interface to do this post, and it clearly did not like me, so I've had to re-do it. Good thing I stayed up late!
The time has come to see what happened at the mission church when James met Amparo. Enjoy this excerpt from Ride to Raton. I surely did enjoy writing it.
Six little beans! James said to himself when he saw the girl. She IS prettier than Tom’s wife.
Tom engaged the priest in conversation at the front of the mission chapel while James lingered in the side aisle, arms folded, glancing over his shoulder at the girl in a pew toward the middle of the chapel.
His belly felt heavier than ever as he looked at her, sitting so shy and quiet in the corner of a pew, dressed in a simple white blouse and brown skirt, her shoulders covered by a black shawl. She was slight of build compared to Rosalinda, but well proportioned. Because she was sitting, James couldn’t easily guess her height. He waited, scuffing his boot toe against a rough‑hewn bench leg while Tom explained to the priest why James wanted to bother the señorita. Once he understood the problem, Padre Gallegos clucked “pobrecita” to himself and led Tom over to meet her. Tom made a “come along” gesture with his hand, and James slowly joined them to stand in the main aisle beside the pew where she sat.
While the girl talked to Tom and the priest, James examined her face. Her skin was smooth, nearly as brown as that of a bay horse, and her hair, black as a bay’s mane is black, was slicked back into a heavy coil at the nape of her neck. Her eyes were the outstanding feature, darkest brown, almost black, with long straight lashes, and they sat in the proper place alongside her straight little nose. She had a woman’s mouth. The sight of it—so full, and waiting for a husband’s kiss that would never come—made him swallow several times.
Between the three of them, they made Miss Amparo Garcés y Martínez understand why Julio Rodríguez y Guzmán was not coming for his bride.
“¿Muerto? ¿Él está muerto?”
Her whisper came from deep in her throat. The horror in her pale face made a chill finger run up James’s back, and he reached down to pat her hand. It was cold, and he wondered how he could warm it and take that awful look out of her eyes.
“I’m sorry he died,” James said, and she looked long at him with those black, deep eyes.
“¿Y qué de mí?” She didn’t turn away or blink, but asked James straight out, like he was the one with the answer to her question. He wished he knew what she had asked, but doubted that he knew the answer.
Tom came to his rescue. “She wants to know what she’s to do.”
“What do I say?” James wondered if his wild feeling of helplessness was coming through his eyes.
“Why don’t you give her the ear bobs while you think about it?” Tom gestured with his head toward the girl.
James fumbled in his pocket for the jewelry and held all of it out to the girl. She shrank back, shaking her head. “This was meant for you,” he said. “Take it.” She didn’t. James looked at Tom.
“What did I do wrong? Can you find out? Wait. Tell her I’ll take her back to her mama in Santa Fe. That’s the least thing I can do.”
Before Tom said a word, the girl whispered something in Spanish. Tom didn’t catch it, but the priest did, and told Tom what she’d said. He turned to James.
“She says it’s bad luck for her to have the ring without a husband.”
“That’s all right. I’ll hold onto it until I get her home.”
Tom told her she was going home. James watched the look on her face, her little brown face, change from fear to stubbornness. Her hands went white from holding them so tight together, and she said something right out loud. Tom looked shocked as he turned to James.
“She says she came to be a bride, and she ain’t leaving without a bridegroom. She won’t go a step until she’s married.”
“Maybe she thinks I’m taking her to my home. Make her clear on that.”
Tom and the priest talked to her again, and there were some words repeated over and over.
“She knows you mean Santa Fe, but she ain’t budging. She says she has to take a husband.” Tom took a piece of linen from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his face.
The girl whispered, “Hize un convenio sagrado.”
Tom looked pained, his eyebrows drawn together in a black line. “She says she made a holy vow. That’s trouble aplenty, James, boy. These young gals take their religion to heart. She’ll never budge now.”
James stood next to the pew, looking from time to time at the girl. He rubbed his ear and stroked his chin, feeling how soft his beard was getting with some length to it. He looked at her hands, still white from squeezing them together. Strong little hands. Chapping a mite from the cold. Is she used to hard work, or was her life in Santa Fe an easy one?
Tom broke into the quiet. “No two ways about it. She’s got to go back where she come from. I got a wife, and the padre ain’t looking for one.” He stared up at the ceiling.
James looked down at the ring and ear bobs in his hand. He thought back to his recent experience with a wedding: the whole Owen family standing in the meadow before the priest, and James cursing to himself and wishing he was in Carl’s place. He thought of Tom, and what he’d said about Rosalinda chasing away the lonesome. I am lonesome....
No, he told himself, I’m more than lonesome. I’m hurting like all the cattle in Texas ran me down and stomped me into the dust, then dragged me through a ten‑mile patch of prickly pear.
James’s rate of breathing increased to match his agitation, and, uncomfortable, he looked at the girl to distract himself. She held her chin high, looking toward the front of the church. Somehow, the sight of her calmed him, and his breathing slowly returned to normal.
She’s just a bit of a thing, he thought. And she’s all alone here.
The girl turned her head, raising it at the same time, and her eyes made contact with his. For a moment he was motionless, staring into the dark brown depths, sensing extreme anguish. After a time, the girl looked away, biting her lip.
Hush my mouth, she’s got a load of pain, James thought. But it ain’t likely she’s mourning that Rodríguez fellow. She never even met him. There’s some other grief weighin’ down her soul.
James looked at his hands, surprised to see that they were boxed into fists, one tightly curled over the metal ornaments. Her burden must be mighty heavy, he thought, to make her give her word to marry Rodríguez. He looked at the girl again, and thought, A little girl pretty as she is should of had six or seven young swains lined up outside her door at home.
He took a deep breath, suddenly angry. She should of picked one of them, instead of traveling all the way up here to wed a stranger. Hush, I should of married Ellen Bates before we left Virginia. By now I’d of had my own hearth and home, and maybe some young’uns like Tom’s, instead of running around the countryside getting shot to pieces and burying strangers in a creek bed.
But the chance for him to make that choice had got away from him. Maybe the same thing had happened to this girl.
James put a fist to his belly to press against a sudden sharp pain that joined the leaden lump in his gut. His movement brought the girl’s eyes around to his once more, and he wondered if her pain was anything like his.
She took a deep, quick breath, unconsciously drawing James’s attention from her face to her form.
Six little beans! A man could forget a multitude of pains if he was cuddled up in a snug cabin next to a girl the likes of this one.
Hold up, James, he told himself, pulling his runaway thoughts down to a trot with a short rein. Don’t you cheat this little girl. She’s far from home, and sitting in a mighty worrisome place. Don’t you add to her troubles by taking advantage. You said you’d see her home to her mama, and that’s where she’s going, with a second chance to get a husband from that crowd of young men outside her door.
James bit his lip, tasting warm blood as his teeth sliced through the smooth inside membrane of his mouth. He stemmed the slightly salty flow with his tongue and swallowed hard.
Then his mouth was open and he was speaking out, and his words surprised himself as much as they surprised Tom. “She came to marry a stranger. I reckon I’m as good a stranger as the next man, and better than some. Tell her I’ll stand as her bridegroom.”
Tom’s face came down in a hurry from gazing at the ceiling, and he looked hard at James, peering into his eyes. The young man stared back, standing his ground, so Tom turned to the girl and spoke.
James watched her face while Tom talked, and his message seemed to bring peace to her soul. She lowered her tight‑kept shoulders, and her hands returned to their normal color as she loosened those clenched fingers.
Then James wondered why it worried him to feel the pain leaving and the lump of lead dissolving out of his belly.
Ride to Raton is available from Smashwords.com in many electronic book formats, and from Amazon.com in print and Kindle editions. Also available at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.es and Amazon.it. Search term: "Marsha Ward"