(just started a few days ago and am looking for your impressions)
El Rancho Jamul
Even through a faint mist, the sight of water stretching from north to south as far as he could see was beyond Gabriel Fletcher's expectations. Since leaving the craggy, green hills of eastern Tennessee, he had experienced swamps, huge rivers, endless plains, towering mountains, and arid lands that stretched his strength near its limits. But the Pacific Ocean caused him to suck in a deep breath.
Gabe had been riding for so long that time faded in his memory. At last reaching his goal, the ocean washing against the shores of the state famous for its golden wealth, seemed somehow barren.
Having already found nuggets at the bottom of a pool beneath towering cliffs, he knew the riches of California to be real. He had been watering his mare and pack mule when he decided to cleanse some of the grit from his wiry body. As he was the day of his birth, Gabe leaped into the chilly water and savored relief from the hot, dry air. The feel of something sharp turned his gaze downward and that was when he saw the bright glint of gold. A dozen nuggets soon joined the meager number of silver eagles he had earned from trading some beaver pelts he had from his passage through the Great Rockies.
It was a start and perhaps would give him a leg up on finding a place to call home.
There was no thought of staying in that place as his goal had always been the Pacific.
Massive boulders covered the brownish hillsides surrounding him. Oak trees grew here and there and, in the bottoms, rains had carved dry wash beds. Where water lay not too deep below the sand, imposing cottonwood trees grew.
Many hooves had created the trail he followed. Reading the signs, he saw that both cattle and horses had often passed that way. A sure sign of civilization. There were even a few signs of human footprints – not wearing boots or shoes he knew. Clearly Indians of some kind. Gabe, ever alert to danger, carefully scanned the area, his hand on the butt of his Spencer repeating rifle.
He crested a ridge and buildings came into view two or less miles away. He pulled the spy glass from his saddle bag and examined them.
A tall structure with a circle of fans first caught his attention. A fairly new invention, the wind pump lifted water into a large tank where it was available for the house and irrigation when the wind blew. A large patch of green told him that latter was part of the use. A half dozen horses grazed there,. There was also a large garden patch behind the cluster of buildings and he noted it was not being well tended.
The house was a bright white in the sun with a red tile roof. It was the typical Mexican style he had seen in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. A wooden structure with a slate roof connected the main building to stables and a barn.
The jarring part was the burnt out ruins not far from the house. Something had caused the fire and the occupants had not been able to douse it.
He rode along the edge of the wash until he passed below the fenced in pasture and then turned to ride to the big porch in the front of the building. Two lean, tan dogs caused an uproar with snarling and barking as he drew close. He stopped and sat still upon his horse until the main door opened and a woman dressed in black stepped out. She carried a shotgun.
He squinted his gray green eyes to examine the mistress of the house. In her late forties or early fifties with flashing dark eyes and matching hair covered by a black shawl, her Mexican features mesmerized him. The blouse could not hide her generous features and the flared skit that reached just above her ankles hid her lower half. She wore sandals he had found to be extremely common in the west.
“What chew want?”
The heavily accented voice carried anger. And a bit of fear?
Gabe noted the barrel of a squirrel gun in one window and a pistol in the other.
“I been traveling many days, Ma’am, and hope you might'n allow me to water and rest my mounts. I am more than willing to do whatever you wish to pay fer my keep.”
The woman closely examined him and seemed to be listening to someone standing out of sight just inside the door.
“You carry many guns. You bandit seeking to steal from widow?”
Gabe doffed his hat and replied, “No, Ma’am. I been traveling far from a terrible war and seek a place to peaceful settle.”
The woman pointed to the corral with her shotgun and indicated he could water and rest his horse and mule. She moved along the porch to follow him, nodding in approval as he latched the corral gate behind him. He dismounted and led the horse to the water trough, noting it was almost a foot below the rim. A pipe had a faucet and he turned the handle, watching water flow in with a surprising rush. He stopped his horse from drinking too much, not concerned about the mule that was smart enough not to founder herself.
Gabe removed his wide brimmed hat and kerchief, dousing his head in the flow of water to remove the grime from his head, face, and hands. Using the kerchief to dry himself, he turned off the water and looked around.
The widow came near and pointed into the stables. She indicated he was welcome to make a bed for himself there. He thanked her and went to work removing the bridles and saddles from the animals. And he looked for a place to hang the deer draped over the back of the pack mule so he could gut it. The young buck had been hanging around near a small herd of does and Gabe figured it would make a welcome change to the jerky he had been eating for endless days.
Gabe saw who the widow had been talking to. A thin, short, elderly woman with a great deal of white in her hair and the dark features of an Indian. He had seen some in the hills to the east. They had watched him, but stayed well clear of him.
The Indian, also wearing black, stepped down from the cooking area and led him to a beam on the far side of the stable entry. It had a large iron hook and he slipped the roped together hind legs over it. Without a word, the woman removed a knife from the pleats of her dress and went to work on the carcass. Her skill and speed impressed him.
The two dogs hovered near, sniffing at him as if trying to decide whether he was friend or foe. While they were not that big, he had no desire to have either or both of the dogs attack him. He did not like shooting dogs. Wild or not.
They woofed happily when the Indian tossed some of the deer's innards in their direction, falling upon them as if they had not eaten in many days.
Walking from the stables, Gabe saw the widow had four children. A girl, strikingly like her mother, seemed just about marrying age. A boy was a year or two younger and a pair of twins two years younger; a boy and a girl. All wore decent clothes, all in black.
“I thank you for your hospitality, Señora. Is there anything I might do for you?” He had remembered the Spanish word. Gabe had walked to the foot of the steps just below the woman. “My name is Gabriel. Gabriel Fletcher. I come from a place called Tennessee, many days ride to the east.”
“I be Juliana Alanís de Rubio. My husband Ramón recently murdered in cowardly ambush and I try run this place myself.”
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