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DOS ENCINOS LEGACY
By Charles Clark
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Charles Clark
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDos Encinos Ranch, Texas, 1893.
Adam found Benji outside, on their second-floor bedroom balcony that overlooked the verdant river valley below. He was seated in front of his easel and palette, paint brush in hand. Nothing unusual to find Benji like that, painting or drawing anytime he had a spare minute. Adam marveled at what his brother could do with that crippled hand. No one ever expected that he would be able to use it at all, let alone paint and draw. Adam glanced at his own hands-calloused and toughened from ranch work. So different from Benji's.
Benji was trying to duplicate on canvas the sparkling, blanketlike appearance caused by the early morning sunrays bouncing off the heavy haze that hovered over the lowlands. Adam didn't see a lot of similarity between the reflection from the river valley and the canvass, but his brother was trying in spite of his handicap.
Adam pointed to the painting. "Looks good," he said.
Benji grimaced. "Not really. But thanks anyway."
"And you're using your injured hand. How do you do that?"
Benji swept his hand through his long black locks of hair, accidentally smearing paint across his forehead in doing so. He looked up at his twin brother, grinned, and made a feeble effort to wipe the paint off.
"Getting easier ... still have a long way to go. Ramon works on my hand every day. He just won't let me quit trying."
Adam watched Benji stroke the canvas with his brush for a few moments. "Nobody ever thought you'd be able to use that hand again. Ramon has done wonders," he said.
"Have to agree ... couldn't have done it alone."
"We are gonna make the cattle drive, aren't we?" asked Adam.
"Sure we are," Benji replied in a tenor of resoluteness.
"I was afraid you'd back out," said Adam.
Benji jerked his head toward his brother; an indignant frown wrinkled his face. "What ... why would you say that? Just because I don't have leathery, sun-baked skin like you do and don't drag ass in here at the end of the day smelling like a wet saddle blanket, don't think I am not as tough as you are."
"All right, all right. Don't be so sensitive."
"I want to go just as much as you do," said Benji as he began putting away his paints and cleaning his brushes.
"We just have to convince Mama and Papa that we can do it," said Adam. "From what I hear, Papa is all right with it. We just have to plead with Mama."
"How are we going to pull that off?" asked Benji. "You think there's a chance she'll agree? You know how she worries."
"We'll think of something. Aunt Luisa might help us. Mama always listens to her," said Adam.
"Have you talked to Aunt Luisa?" asked Benji.
"I asked Juanito to let Uncle Carlos know what we wanted. Juanito said his father had already talked to his mother, and to Papa."
"What did Papa say?"
"Same answer as always: 'They need to talk to their mother.'"
"If we don't get to go on this one, we'll miss out altogether," said Benji. "The cattle drives are about over."
"Juanito said he heard Papa and Uncle Carlos talking," said Adam. "They might plan on one more after this one ... in about two years."
"We'll be in college then, won't be able to go if we wait that long."
"So we have to make this one."
"Yeah, you're right."
Benji stood and began gathering up his painting materials. "Are we going to talk to Mama together?"
"Let me go first," said Adam. "I want to let her know how important this is to both of us."
"Good idea. Then I won't have to hear her carry on about how fragile she thinks I am," said Benji. "She just won't accept the fact that I'm over the snake bite and the ear infection. We are almost seventeen years old and getting ready to leave for college. Mama still worries about us like we were children."
"Yeah ... know what you mean," Adam replied. "But we've got to remember what all she has had to go through: being away from home so much, all those meetings, worrying that we'll get hurt while she's away."
"I know that, but she went on a trail drive once herself ... the only woman ever to do so. How can she refuse to let us go?" said Benji.
"We've got to look at it this way, Benji: since she went on a drive once, she knows firsthand how dangerous it can be."
"I guess you're right," said Benji. "And I'm sure the thought of another scare like that snake bite makes her panicky about our going."
Adam scrutinized Benji's face for a moment and smiled. Except for the paint smears, it was almost like looking in the mirror-they looked so much alike. He took a cloth and tried to clean the rest of the paint off his twin brother's forehead but just smeared it worse.
"We're going to do it somehow. Let me work on it," said Adam.
"We don't have much time," said Benji. "I remember stories of how Dionicio Talamantes coached Mama for days and days to get her ready for the drive. Maybe we should get Uncle Carlos and Papa to have Dionicio give me some lessons. You pretty well know how to handle it, how to handle a cutting horse, how to rope."
"Maybe so, but I want him to teach me, too ... teach both of us at the same time," said Adam. "Dionicio and the other vaqueros know a lot about trail drives that they can tell us. If we get the go-ahead from Mama, I'll talk to Papa and Uncle Carlos. Also, don't forget, Juanito went on a drive once. He'll be able to help us."
"You're right, I remember, when he was about our age. I'll bet he had the same problem talking his mama into letting him go. That's a selling point when you talk to Mama-that Juanito went once. And tell her we're gonna get Dionicio to teach us."
"When will Mama be back from San Antonio?"
"Naci said she should be here later today unless something stops her," said Benji.
"What could stop her?" asked Adam.
"She told Naci she might have to go back to Austin to appear before the legislature or some committee on the women's rights thing."
"Then I'll start with Aunt Luisa and Uncle Carlos."
"I'll be here if you need me."
"Look, Benji, I know you haven't been into ranch work as much as I have, with your ear problem and now your crippled hand. But I want us to go, to see what it's like. And whether you like it or not, I'm going to watch out for you, so is Juanito. We want you to go. I can't imagine growing up on Dos Encinos and not ever going on a cattle drive."
"I want to go, Adam, but I don't want to be a burden."
"You won't be, and I don't want to hear you say for me to go on without you. I won't go without you, understand? We're together on this, right?" Adam gently cuffed the side of Benji's head.
"Right," said Benji. "I'll learn all I can. I won't let you down."
"I'm not worried. You know what you can do, Benji? You can carry your painting stuff with us, in Ramon's wagon. When you see something you want to paint, like at the end of the day, you can make sketches."
"Thanks, Adam. I don't think Papa approves of all the time I spend painting and drawing."
"Sure he does. He's proud of what you do."
"Think so? He never shows it."
"Give him time; he'll see it."
"I don't know ..."
"Look, we are all proud of you. Look how you can use that hand; look how you can paint. Nobody else around here can do that. And look how you showed everybody how tough you are, the way you got over that snakebite."
"Thought I was gonna die. Remember what you said? 'Papa won't let you die.'"
"Sure. Papa cares about all of us."
"I also remember when I was so sick and feeling guilty about getting bit by that snake, you promised me that someday we'd go on a trail drive. If we don't ever get to go, I won't blame you, Adam."
"Hey, quit talking like that," he replied. "We are going. I'm going to the corral and watch the bronc riders for a while. I'll come back when Mama gets here."
"She should be here by noon."
* * *
Adam had a pretty good idea what his mother's response would be before he asked. He had long since learned to accept his mother's anxiety whenever he and his twin brother proposed any venture that might even remotely expose them to some danger. Would she ever get over the anguish that had been caused by Benji's life-threatening snakebite to his hand three years ago? They were thirteen years of age then. Now they were sixteen and almost seventeen, ready to leave home for college. Why should they still be treated like children, running to get their mother's approval for every little thing?
How could he convince her that she should allow them to go? This could be the last cattle drive that Papa and Uncle Carlos will put together for another two years, he thought. Cattle drives are a part of Texas ranch life-a part of Dos Encinos history. Maybe that's the answer: convince Mama that they should be a part of Texas history. That should get her attention.
Chapter TwoSarah Cisneros stepped down from her carriage, thanked and dismissed Ramon, her driver. She brushed the dust from her clothing the best she could and smoothed her windblown hair. She looked forward to a hot bath-to scrub the grime off her face and the exposed parts of her skin. The ride from San Antonio had been unusually dusty; she had asked Ramon why and then realized before he had answered that they were traveling with the wind and the open buckboard gave no protection from the churned-up cloud of dust that it created.
The hour was later than usual for her return from one of her regular trips to San Antonio. She suspected that Adam and Benji had already been looking for her; she was sure she knew what they would be asking. She could tell from the boys' demeanor lately that they were planning something that would not have her blessings. From hints that had been dropped and from the furtive, out-of-earshot conversations she had observed between the boys and Charro, she was pretty sure she knew what they were up to: they wanted to go on the upcoming trail drive.
They were far too young, far too innocent, to be on a risky cattle drive. It seemed like just yesterday they were toddlers, bouncing all over the place. The most worrisome thing they ever did then was slide down the stair rail, but those days were gone. Sarah had to brush a stray tear from her cheek. They were so cuddly and lovable. Now they were grown-ups. She knew they were young men, but they were her babies in her heart. Trail drives were risky.
Besides, she certainly didn't approve of their being around a bunch of raucous drovers on the open range for two months. She shuddered, thinking of the language her babies would be exposed to. She laughed; she was pretty sure her boys already knew and used most of that language outside her hearing. After all, they grew up on a working ranch.
Just the thought of a hazardous cattle drive cut through her like a knife. There were many dangers, even for older men. She took a few minutes to stroll around the house, inspecting her flower gardens. Maybe the beauty of her flowers would relieve her mind a little. She checked each bed for weeds and to see if the soil was damp. The flower beds were immaculate, well cared-for while she had been gone. She climbed the stairs to the entrance porch of her home to find her housekeeper, Naci, waiting at the door.
"Adam has been anxiously waiting for you," said Naci. Her chin dropped to her chest. She looked askance as if avoiding eye contact with Sarah. "He acted like it was very important that he talk to you. He wouldn't tell me what it was all about."
Sarah wondered why Naci was acting strangely, as though there was something she was not telling. "I think I know what he wants, Naci. I'm not surprised," she replied. "Right now I've got to get this dirt and grime washed off."
"Sí, señora," said Naci, busily adding boiling hot water to the tub. "I have already started getting your tub ready."
Sarah stepped behind the screen that blocked the view of the tub from the rest of the room and shed her grimy clothing. She donned a lightweight robe and stepped out as Naci poured the last kettle of hot water into the tub.
Naci dipped her hand into the tub and nodded approval. "Your tub is ready, señora."
"Thanks, Naci," said Sarah. "Before I came in, I walked around the house, checked the flower beds. They look nice, not one weed, and look like they had been well watered. How did that happen?"
"Adam and Benji worked all day yesterday cleaning and watering the beds."
Sarah laughed, kept her eyes on Naci. "Why do you think they did all that work, Naci? They did that without being asked?"
"Sí, señora," she replied and smiled broadly. "They are good boys. They just wanted the flower beds to look nice for you."
"They are up to something, aren't they?" said Sarah. "Do you know what, Naci?"
Naci pretended to be mopping spilled water from the floor. Finally, she turned back to Sarah. "It's the talk of the ranch, señora."
"So you do know." Sarah laughed again. "Are you taking sides with Adam and Benji, Naci?"
She shook her head; her brow furrowed as if she were being challenged. "Oh, no, señora."
"It's all right," said Sarah, a furtive smile on her face. "I understand. I know you love the boys."
Naci's eyes became wet with tears. "I worry about them so much."
"I appreciate your looking after them. Maybe we all worry too much. Has Luisa been by?"
"She asked me to come after her when you arrived," said Naci. "I don't know what she ..."
"I think I know," said Sarah. "The boys, and Juanito, want to go on the cattle drive with Charro, Carlos, and the vaqueros."
"No bueno, señora. Muy peligroso. Por favor ... no trail drive for the boys."
"I agree it's dangerous. I am worried sick about it. But Charro and Carlos think their sons should experience a cattle drive. I imagine they think it will give the boys a better appreciation for what their father and grandfather went through during the earlier days."
"Hombres! Hombres!" she said, shaking her head as if displeased.
* * *
Sarah leaned back in the tub filled with warm, soapy water and boiling bubbles, relaxed, and closed her eyes. Reminiscing thoughts raced through her head. How could she, in all honesty, tell her boys not to go on a cattle drive when only eighteen years ago she herself defied all warnings of danger-defied tradition-and did the very same thing to prove her belief in women's rights?
But this was different. What if something happened to one or both of her boys? Of course, they would be leaving for college soon. She had to let go sometime. What would Luisa have to say when she talked to her?
The barely audible closing of the front door and sound of soft steps coming up the stairway told Sarah that someone other than Charro and the boys was coming in. It had to be Luisa. Dripping water and soap suds, she stepped out of the tub, grabbed the large terry cloth towel and wrapped it around herself just as she heard a faint knock.
"Sarah, it's me," said Luisa.
"Come on in," Sarah replied. "Don't look at this dirty water. I must have had a shovelful of dirt from the ride from San Antonio. Feels good to be clean again."
"How was your stay in the city?"
"Miserable and boring."
"Same thing you said last week." Luisa laughed. She turned her back and gazed out the window while Sarah dressed. "The next thing I'll hear is your spiel that you just want to stay at Dos Encinos and not go back to San Antonio."
"How did you know?" Sarah joined Luisa in chuckling. "Someday ... maybe. You and I both know that I'm hooked."
"I like thinking about your work. Your editorials in the San Antonio Express are priceless, read by thousands. Doesn't that give you a good feeling?"
"Of course it does. But if I didn't have you and Naci to fall back on and if Charro-and sometimes the boys-didn't join me at the Menger a couple of times a week, I couldn't bear to leave Dos Encinos and stay in San Antonio ... I couldn't do it."
"All right," said Luisa, lips pursed and fake frown on her face. "We need to talk."
"You know what I'm thinking, don't you?" said Sarah. "That I think it is foolish for Charro and Carlos to take the boys on the trail drive."
"So let it be foolish. You were foolish once. They have to go."
"I knew you were going to say that."
"Maybe if we had had more children, we wouldn't be so protective," said Luisa.
"I know I've got to let up. But I worry about the boys too much," said Sarah.
"Just remind yourself that you were younger than the twins are when you found your way to Dos Encinos after that shipwreck. You haven't forgotten, have you?" said Luisa.
Excerpted from DOS ENCINOS LEGACY by Charles Clark Copyright © 2010 by Charles Clark. Excerpted by permission.
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