Saturday, December 03, 2011

Sweet Saturday Sample: Excerpt Six from Ride to Raton

After exchanging news with Tom O'Connor, James Owen gets down to the business at hand in this excerpt from Ride to Raton.

James inhaled the spicy odor of the beans, put aside his thoughts, and finished his meal. Then he brought out the letter.

“What’s that you have there, James, boy?”

James recounted his adventure up the country and explained what he intended to do. “This letter was in the man’s jacket, and it’s writ in a clear hand, but it’s writ in Spanish. I can’t make it out,” he finished.

Tom put out his paw for the paper. “I read a little of the lingo, and if I can’t make it out, Rosalinda can. Or, we can take it to her pa.”

“I’m obliged,” James said, handing over the letter. “The fellow was decked out in his best clothes. Carried these, too.” He took out the leather sack and emptied the jewelry onto the table. The gold ring spun around on the polished tabletop with a whirring noise, then came to rest, and the ear bobs glittered in a heap nearby.

Rosalinda swooped down on the ring and held it to the light. “Es un anillo nupcial,” she said.

“It’s a wedding ring,” Tom explained. “Likely the man was on his way to get married. These here,” he lifted the ear bobs, “these here pretties look like the presents men folk around here give their brides.” He turned his attention to the letter.

Up to this moment the situation had seemed sad enough, but hadn’t overly disturbed James. Of a sudden a great wash of melancholy come upon him. That poor fellow he’d planted was stuck up there in the ground without tasting the happiness he’d planned for, and some little girl was waiting for him, all a flutter, like as not, never even knowing she should be mourning him and their lost life together. Pain came back, a mournful feeling down in James’s belly, compassion for two strangers.

Tom looked up from studying the letter. “Listen here. I can make out some of this note. ‘I have made arrangements to send Amparo Garcés y Martínez, the daughter of Catarina viuda de Garcés of Santa Fe, to be your bride.’ There’s something about meeting on the twenty sixth. That’s near a week past. It’s written to Julio Rodríguez y Guzmán—that ain’t anyone from town—and it’s signed by a lawyer.” He tapped a word on the paper. “‘Viuda’ means the mother’s a widow woman.”

James rubbed his forefinger back and forth over the smoothness of the tabletop next to his plate. “It sounds like the girl doesn’t know the fellow. How’d you say her name again?”

“‘Ahm-par-o’,” said the blacksmith slowly. “I’d say Rodríguez sent for a bride. Packing a daughter off like that is a common enough way out of money problems for a widow. One less mouth to feed, and a marriage payment, besides.”

James rubbed so hard at the tabletop that he about wore the polish off that patch of table. “You called him ‘Rodríguez.’ Ain’t he ‘Guzmán’?”

“They got a strange way of naming here, carrying both papa and mama’s last names. Mexicans set a lot of store by family. Their customs are a mite tangled, but you get used to them.”

Miss Amparo Garcés was coming to meet a stranger, and him dead. James’s finger moved faster as he wondered what would happen to the girl now. He laid his hand flat down on the table to save the finish, looked at his squared off fingernails, and asked Tom.

The blacksmith shrugged his large shoulders and answered, “The ink is smudged where the note tells their meeting place. Wherever she lands, I reckon the folk’ll have to ship her back to Santa Fe to Mama.”

James’s gut went dead cold as he felt the hair rise behind his neck. “The priest,” he whispered. “Your girl Rida said it’s his job to marry folks. Miss Amparo’s coming here.”

Tom sniffed. “I don’t recall hearing anything about a new girl hereabouts.” He paused and studied the paper, tracing the signature with his finger. “But then, I been away for a spell.”

James sat still, recalling the feeling of the bullet Danny O’Brien had shot into his side in Pueblo City. If it had lodged in his belly, he thought it would have felt the same as the cold, cumbersome lump now sitting in his innards. What if the young lady was here in town, waiting and wondering what kind of life she would have with Julio Rodríguez? He had taken upon himself a duty to close down that man’s life, a duty to tie up the loose ends left hanging when his horse pitched him into that rocky outcrop of sandstone. That duty, the way James saw it, now included talking to his intended bride, telling her the bad news.

Tom sat silent, working through the letter again. His wife placed the wedding ring beside the ear bobs on the table. Her skirt rustled as she returned to the fireplace and clanked pots together.

James shoved his plate to one side, put his two fists side by side and looked at them. There was dirt under his thumbnails, blisters where Rand’s mule team lines had worn against his bare fingers. Something bitter came up his throat, and he swallowed it down.

How can I tell Miss Amparo that no kind of married life awaits her in this town, that she’ll have to go back home, likely to poverty, and maybe even starvation?

“Ask your wife if the young lady’s here,” he said, slow and quiet.

Tom asked, and Rosalinda came back from the fire and answered in staccato fashion. She went on for a long time, sneering a time or two, and James marveled at Tom’s knack for sorting the sounds into words. Tom’s got the gift of tongues, I reckon, James thought. I’ve got to learn Spanish, too, if I’m going to live in this country.

When he turned back to James, Tom had a puzzled look on his face. “I’ll be whipped,” he snorted. “She’s here, all right. Been setting in the church for five days, never saying boo. Some fellow coming through on the way to visit his ailing father-in-law brought her on horseback, but he left soon as he gave her over to the priest.” Tom grinned. “She must be an eyeful, ‘cause Rosalinda badmouthed her something awful. My mujer can’t stand not being the prettiest woman around.”

James shook to his toes, and looked around the room, for what, he didn’t know. Maybe he was searching out the mournful shadow that pressed upon his soul.

“What am I going to tell her, Tom? How can I march up to a stranger and say ‘Go home. There isn’t a place for you here’?”

“Best leap right in and get it done,” he said.

“You don’t reckon she’ll cry, do you?”

“Let me get my shirt on, and I’ll take you over to the church and you can see for yourself, James, boy.”

James let loose a sigh. “I got a bad feeling, Tom. I wish I’d never found that Rodríguez fellow.”

Ride to Raton is available from in many electronic book formats, and from in print and Kindle editions. Also available at,,, and  Search term: "Marsha Ward"
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  1. You've got an interesting and complex conflict going here. Intriguing sample.

  2. Thanks, Sherry! I love my characters, but I put them through a lot of misery. Don't the scriptures say something like "Whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth"? I guess that's true with us, as creators of our characters. The end point, of course, is that they grow, gain strength of character, and achieve happiness.

  3. I love the way the way you weave their personalities into their dialouge, Marsha. Great sample! You have me interested in what happens when James tells the girl the news.

  4. I'm hooked on this story and wonder what's going to happen at the church

  5. Your characters are so wonderful, and their dialogue is just right. A great well-written excerpt.

  6. Thanks, Gwendolyn. Keep reading. I'll do excerpts from this novel for two more weeks.

    Thanks, Lindsay. Interesting stuff will happen at the church, so stay tuned!

  7. Thanks, Sandy. I'm grateful for your encouragement!

  8. That is a great hook! I want to see how she takes the news and what James does about it. :)

  9. I can't wait for the next installment! My Christmas list is becoming a roll call of the authors on Sweet Saturday and Six Sentence Sunday! This one, and The Man From Shenandoah are both on it! I'm really feeling for both these characters--James and Amparo. The meeting in the church is going to be tension filled I'm positive. Great job, Marsha.

  10. I absolutely LOVE your voice. This story really sucks you in and plops you right in the scene. Amazing!

  11. Glad I don't have to learn Spanish! Great excerpt

  12. Ah ha! I think James is in for a wonderful surprise and Amparo is going to get a good man. Can't wait to see if I'm right!

  13. Sounds interesting. Makes me wonder what's going to happen.

  14. Anonymous3:40 PM

    You know I've always liked this book, Marsha, and this is one of your best, most powerful scenes.

  15. Wow. I wondered how the two stories were going to connect. I bet they'll be perfect for each other!


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