Word count: 1,513
“Aw Murdoch, why do I have to do it? Why can’t Scott?”
“Johnny, you Know Scott won’t be back from Sacramento for at least 3 days. I promised Miguel Torres that you’d have his niece at their hacienda as soon as possible. He’s always been a good friend and I want to help him.”
“But why me? The Torres ranch has men who could do it.”
“It seems that he needs all of his men because of trouble with rustlers. Besides I think he feels Carmelita would be safe with a man of your abilities.”
Abilities–with a gun? “Is he expecting trouble?”
“Of course not. His niece is just a school girl who needs to be escorted to her uncle’s house. Her duenna will be with her.”
Just my luck–nursemaid to a kid. “Alright, Murdoch, I’ll do it; but you owe me one.”
The road to the convent school where Carmelita Torres waited was hot and dusty. For the 10th time Johnny Lancer wished that he were on Barranca instead of driving a carriage. Obviously Carmelita couldn’t be expected to ride horseback, but Johnny was not in a charitable mood.
Fortunately the young lady was ready to go when Johnny arrived at the school. Her duenna, Senorita Alvarez, insisted they leave immediately as Carmelita could not be allowed to catch a chill in the night air. Since it was then 10:00 AM, Johnny wasn’t sure why this was a problem.
“It’s hot. It’s dusty. I’m thirsty.” Carmelita’s constant complaints had begun to get on Johnny’s nerves. Murdoch was going to owe him big time.
The disgusted young man turned around to give Carmelita a look when the carriage wheel came into contact with a rock. The wheel fell off depositing the passengers into the road. Fortunately the well-trained horses did not run off.
“Damn! Are you ladies alright?”
“Yes, no thanks to you, senor. I have rarely seen such incompetence!”
“Yes well, senorita if you’ll help me remove your luggage, Really why did she need so many bags–there were enough for 4 women. I’ll try to get the wheel on.”
Reluctantly the 2 women helped take the bags off the carriage. With much effort Johnny was successful, however he knew the repair was only temporary.
“Senorita, we’ll have to stop at the nearest town and hopefully get this repaired so that we can continue our journey.”
The glower of the 2 women said much more than words.
Johnny drove careully for a few miles when luckily he came upon a roadside inn. He pulled into the courtyard. With the promise of extra payment, Johnny persuaded one of the men at the inn to take the carriage into the nearby town for repair. He then secured 2 rooms for the night. Senorita Alvarez was angry, but by this time Johnny just didn’t care. All he wanted was to get the carriage fixed and get these 2 off his hands!
At dinner Johnny made an effort to be polite. Carmelita tittered away in Spanish to her duenna, “This oaf is not bad looking, but he has the manners of a goat.” Johnny chose to let them think he didn’t understand their words. Making a scene was not an option, but he would have dearly liked to paddle the young lady.
Soon after dinner the ladies returned to their room. Johnny sat down at the small bar area. Did he need a drink! And tomorrow promised to be no better!
Finally Johnny took himself off to bed. It seemed he had been asleep only a few minutes when there came a pounding at the door. Since he had remained dressed, he was able to answer it immediately.
“Senor, senor,” wailed Senorita Alvarez. “Carmelita has run off I woke to find a note. She says she has gone off with Luis. Oh Senor, her uncle will be so angry with me!”
“Senorita, calm yourself. Who is Luis?”
“He’s a young man Carmelita met some time ago. She believes he loves her and I think he must have followed us. Oh what are we to do?”
Damn! This situation is getting out of control. Last time I do Murdoch a favor!
“Senorita, they couldn’t be too far ahead. I’ll go after them and bring her back.” “Oh gracias Senor.”
“You wait here.”
Johnny hurried down to the stable. His luck seemed to be improving since he was able to hire a horse and the stable hand had seen the couple heading out on the road west.
When I find her, I’m going to give her a good paddling. She’s rude, arrogant and spoiled.
He’d traveled only a few miles when he spied a body near a tree. Oh God, don’t let it be Carmelita! But it was. He walked over to her. She was face down. He couldn’t see any blood, but maybe on the other side….
As he turned her over, she let out a scream. “Don’t touch me! Get away you swine!”
Johnny jumped back. Well at least she was alive!
“Senorita, it’s me, Johnny Lancer. Are you hurt?”
“I was sleeping and you woke me!”
“Sleeping by the side of the road?”
“Well I was tired.”
“I do not wish to speak of that…that…”
“He left you here?”
“Yes, he was too afraid of you to return me to the inn.”
“Senorita, I don’t understand.”
“Well I shall tell you the truth, but could we not return to the inn?”
He helped her onto the horse, then got up behind her.
Sniffling prettily, she told the story: “Luis was so dashing in his uniform. I bumped into him one day when I was returning to the school (after sneaking off). He escorted me back to the gates and promised we would meet again. I managed to see him a few more times after that. He told me that when he left the army he would return to his fine hacienda and that he wanted me to be his bride.”
“Senor, are you alright?”
“Fine, my foot went to sleep.”
“Oh. Well as you might have guessed, he followed us from the school. I waited until my duenna went to sleep and then I joined him.”
“So why aren’t you still with him?”
“The scoundrel lied to me. He has no fine hacienda. He has a pig farm. He lives there with his mother and 3 brothers. He wanted me only so that I could do the work!”
“He told you this?”
“Yes, he laughed when I protested. But he did not laugh when I told him the famous Johnny Madrid would hunt him down and put bullets into every part of his miserable body!”
Johnny reined in the horse with a jerk. “You told him that?”
“Are you not a famous gunslinger? My uncle said you were in his letter concerning this trip. You do carry a weapon, do you not?”
“I used to be a gunslinger but no more.”
“Oh well, Luis did not know that. So he decided to bring me back. But then he became afraid and dropped me off where you found me.”
“Senorita, it sounds like he had a narrow escape–I mean you had a narrow escape. I hope this teaches you a lesson.”
By this time they were at the inn where Carmelita was returned to Senorita Alvarez’s care.
In the morning Johnny arose to find the carriage repaired and waiting to depart. By mutual agreement, the 3 decided to keep the incident to themselves.
So finally Johnny Lancer completed his mission. Carmelita was delivered to the Torres hacienda. Carmelita’s eyes twinkled when she told her uncle about how Johnny had taken such “good” care of her. She also invited him to her 18th birthday party in a month’s time.
The young man evaded committing himself to that. He really wasn’t sure he ever wanted to see that particular Senorita again.
As he walked into the kitchen of Lancer, he saw Teresa making a pie. He walked up behind and gave her a bear hug. Flour flew everywhere. “Johnny Lancer, watch what you’re doing! And just what was that hug for?”
“It was just because you’re you. Don’t ever change.”
Teresa gave him a puzzled look. “I don’t plan to.”
As Johnny headed to his room to clean up from the hellacious journey, Jelly entered the house. “Johnny, Murdoch wants to see you out by the stable.”
“Okay, but I need to clean up first.”
“Sure, no hurry. How’d it go with that gal?”
“Jelly, I will never understand women.”
“Hey boy, you mean you got to be this old ‘n you just figured that out?”
“Listen son, stick to horses. They’re lots less trouble.”
“Jelly, you are one smart man.”
“You got that right.”
Johnny continued into his room. As he stripped off his filthy clothes, he started whistling. Hey, this is Saturday. I wonder if Lucy’d like to go to that dance in town? He chuckled to himself. At least I know for sure Lucy’s no Senorita.
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