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A Novel from History

by Tim MacCurdy

Chapter 1

LA PAQUITA sat up in bed, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. Could it be morning already? She got up and opened the shutters of the single window in the room. She blinked as the rays of the sun, rising over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, gleamed on the whipping post and the gallows in the center of the plaza. Across the way, at the entrance of the Palace of the Governors, two sentries yawned at their posts. Then she saw the night watchman, Telesforo Abeita, enter the plaza.

Abeita climbed the steps of the gallows platform and called out, "It's six o'clock, the 19th of April of 1637 and the inauguration day of His Catholic Majesty's Governor and Captain General of the Kingdom of New Mexico, Don Luis de Rosas - and all's well in the Villa Real de Santa Fe."

As Abeita descended the steps, the bells of the parish church, La Parroquia, tolled the call to matins. A few women, their heads covered with black rebozos, began crossing the plaza in the direction of the church. Watching them pass by, La Paquita remembered that she had planned to attend the Mass later in the day to celebrate the Governor's inauguration. A new Governor, a new beginning. She could already feel a change in the air. Her business at the Inn of the Humpbacked Cat, known locally as the Meson del Gato Jorobado, had never been better.

La Paquita's smile rounded into a yawn. For the Past week she and her two female employees, La Giralda and La Gallega, had been kept busy from dusk to dawn by the muleteers and drovers who arrived with the mission supply caravan, the same caravan which brought Governor Rosas to his new post. Now La Paquita turned from the window and sat on the edge of the bed. What should she wear for the inaugural parade and Mass? Ah yes, her hoop skirt, of course. She had not worn the farthingale since she had been in New Mexico, but now that a new wave of prosperity was coming to the province, nothing could be more appropriate.

She removed the farthingale from an armoire and brushed the brocade skirt against her cheek. How regal it felt! She closed her eyes, recalling the first time she had ever worn it. It was in Seville on Palm Sunday. She had had difficulty in squeezing through the cathedral door because of the six-foot width of the skirt, but once inside every eye in that vast temple had been on her. Admiring her. Envying her. She smiled wistfully, then opened her eyes.

La Paquita tried to adjust the wire framework that expanded the skirt but, unable to manage it alone, she decided to wait until La Giralda and La Gallega woke up to help her dress. Later, when they saw the farthingale, their eyes brightened as they remembered the great ladies who used to flounce about in their billowing skirts in the Plaza del Triunfo in Seville. Suddenly, La Giralda's memories of her native Seville precipitated a flood of tears which ran down her cheeks. "Ay! Ay!" she sighed.

La Paquita put her arm around La Giralda's shoulder to comfort her, then invited her and La Gallega to wear any of her clothes they wished for the inauguration. Too tall to wear any of La Paquita's dresses, La Giralda chose a pair of green satin chopines whose cork soles, nearly three palms high, added another foot to her already lofty figure.

La Gallega beamed when she discovered in the armoire a gossamer garment seldom seen in Spain, much less in New Mexico - Turkish harem pants. "Ah," she purred, imagining herself lounging on a pile of rich oriental carpets, her head and limbs propped up on gold damask cushions. And she imagined she was attended by a big-bellied eunuch whose face looked familiar. Wasn't it the face of the loathsome sheriff, Hector Griego, who demanded free services at the Humpbacked Cat because of his office? "Ahhh!"

When the three women finished dressing, La Paquita approved her companions' appearance, then examined herself in the mirror. How splendid they were! She felt a surge of pride as she gazed at her caparisoned figure in the mirror. "Ah, Francisca Perea," she said aloud, using her legal name, "you are a breath-taking lady!" La Paquita had no doubt that Don Luis de Rosas, a widower said to be more interested in weapons and horses than in wine and women, would become a regular patron of the Gato Jorobado.

While the residents of the Inn of the Humpbacked Cat waited eagerly for the inaugural parade to begin, a tall man stooped to enter the side door of the Casa del Cabildo, adjacent to the parish church on the east side of the plaza. He was surrounded immediately by a group of councilmen and militia officers. Captain Antonio Baca spoke to him first. "How did it go, Salazar? Is everything arranged?"

The tall man nodded. "Everything went according to plan. We'll soon know just how tough Rosas really is."

"I bet he'll turn tail and run," said Captain Juan de Archuleta, a lean man with a hawk nose and shifty eyes. "You know how these gachupines are. Just because they were born in Spain they put on a lot of airs. A lot of talk and little action."

Antonio Baca shook his head. "Don't bet on that, Juan. From all reports Rosas is more than talk. They say that in every battle in Flanders he was involved in he left heretics' bodies piled high around him. Maybe that's an exaggeration, but we know that when the Marques de Cadereita became the Viceroy of Mexico he wanted Rosas to be the captain of his guard because he was familiar with his record."

Archuleta's lips tightened. "Damn it, I'm tired of the Viceroys sending their cronies up here as Governors to lord it over us. You can bet that just because Rosas was a captain in Flanders he'll try to boss our militia around and run the Cabildo. It's time that they appoint one of us Governor. After all, our families came from Spain, too, and we've kept the colony together."

"Let's not waste time going over that again," Baca said. "Right now we'd better see that everything is in order so that we can catch Rosas unawares. Salazar, maybe you should take another look to be sure that everything is clear."

"I'll go with him," said one of the councilmen. "I want to see the surprise we've prepared for His Excellency."

The two men left by the side door and soon returned. "Everything is ready," Salazar reported, "but there are a lot of Indians gathering in front of the Humpbacked Cat. I don't know what they're up to but I don't think they'll get in the way."

"So much the better," Baca said. "If Rosas disgraces himself, we want the Indians to see it, too. They'll spread the word around, and he'll be laughed out of every pueblo. Now let's sit down and wait."

At noon a trumpet sounded in the plaza. In a chamiso field a few hundred yards to the southwest, Don Luis de Rosas straightened in his saddle. It was time for him to make his official entry into the Villa Real to be inaugurated as the Governor and Captain General of the Kingdom of New Mexico.

As Rosas adjusted his black leather breastplate and silver-plumed hat, a crow cawed. Rosas glanced up at it. A breeze sprang up, carrying the stench of the local tannery to his nostrils. He wheeled his horse around and signalled to his mounted ensign-bearer and four guards to follow him. When they rode into the plaza the crow hovered overhead cawing raucously. The trumpet sounded again. Rosas shielded his eyes to see where the trumpet blast was coming from. There, on the gallows platform, stood the trumpeter. He was dressed in black as if he were the public executioner. Rosas stiffened, then spat on the ground. He had never been daunted by sight, sound or smell, no matter how foul. He would not start now. He urged his horse into a canter.

But where, Rosas asked himself, were the pipes and drums to welcome him? The salvos? The admiring crowds? He had heard that new Franciscan prelates were always greeted by councilmen from the Cabildo and by military officers dressed in full regalia. Now, no councilmen, no magistrates, no militia officers were in sight. Only the outgoing Governor and a small official party were assembled on the portal of the Palace of the Governors. On the opposite side of the plaza, Rosas saw a group of Indians crowded around the entrance to the Humpbacked Cat. Were the arrogant criollos, the descendants of the original Spanish settlers of New Mexico, responsible for his poor reception? If so, Rosas promised himself, he would squash them underfoot as if they were insects.

As Rosas and his escort approached the Gato Jorobado, the Indians crowding its entrance began chanting in their native languages, creating a bedlam of Tlaxcalan, Tiwa, Tewa, Keres and Zunian. Abruptly, they switched to Spanish. "Viva su Excelencia! Viva Don Luis! Viva!"

Rosas halted his stallion and glared at the strange group of well-wishers. What a motley bunch of savages, he thought; no Roman conqueror was ever hailed by more bizarre creatures brought in from the four corners of the Empire. Then he noticed an albino Indian standing in the center of the group, moving his arms with the measured strokes of a choirmaster. Obviously the albino was directing that weird chorus.

Rosas' frown dissolved into an uncertain smile as the novelty of the scene struck him. Intrigued, he stared at the milk-white Indian. A sudden thought came to him: if His Catholic Majesty Philip IV enlivened his court with dwarfs and jesters, why shouldn't he, the Governor and Captain General of New Mexico, have his own human menagerie in the Palace of the Governors? Tomorrow, for sure, he would arrange for that albino to enter his service, perhaps as armor-bearer.

When Rosas resumed his ride, the albino gestured to the chanting Indians to open their ranks. Two men stepped forward - Sebastilin Sandoval, recently cashiered from the Spanish army and banished to New Mexico, and Romulo, the village idiot. Sandoval was smartly attired in the uniform of the imperial infantry. Romulo wore a tattered uniform and was barefooted, but for the first time in anyone's memory his hair and beard had been washed and brushed.

"Viva su Excelencia!" Sandoval shouted.

"Viva su Excelencia!" Romulo echoed.

"Viva el Gobernador!" Sandoval yelled.

"Viva el Gobernador!" Romulo parroted.

"Viva! Viva! Viva!" shouted the Indian chorus.

Rosas' smile broadened as he warmed to the welcome of the small but enthusiastic crowd. Just as he raised his arm to acknowledge the reception, the double doors of the Humpbacked Cat swung open. Out stepped La Paquita, resplendent in her farthingale which covered an area as wide as a man's outstretched arms could reach; La Giralda, lofty and graceful on her chopines; La Gallega, seductively fetching in her harem pants. Rosas' eyes widened. What a stroke of luck, he thought, that the three lovely ladies lived just across the plaza from the Palace of the Governors.

La Gallega stepped forward and showered Rosas and his horse with mayflower petals. La Giralda tried to lasso him with a chain of pink daisies but missed the mark. Then La Paquita swept forward, her hoop skirt brushing the ground. Moistening her lips, she handed Rosas a bouquet of red trumpet flowers. The three women then curtsied, shouting, "Victor! Victor! Victor!"

Waving to those assembled in front of the Meson del Gato Jorobado, Rosas rode on toward the Casa del Cabildo. As he passed the building and continued circling toward the Palace of the Governors, he looked back where the Indian chorus and the women from the Humpbacked Cat still cheered. Distracted, he paid no attention to the pounding hoofs rushing in his direction. A cry of alarm went up from those in the plaza. His horse shied. Rosas looked behind him. A huge rust-colored bull, released from the side street between the Cabildo and the Palace, came bearing down upon him. Rosas wheeled his horse. He waved his escort away, rode to the center of the plaza, and dismounted. The panicky horse bolted way. Rosas drew his sword.

When the bull charged, Rosas dodged behind the whipping post. The animal's momentum carried it several yards beyond the post, but it turned around and charged a second time. Again Rosas sought refuge behind the post, but this time the bull's aim was true. It plowed into the post, ripping it from the ground, then horned Rosas' left arm. Blood soaked through the sleeve of his doublet and dripped from his hand.

"Bicho del demonio!" Rosas bellowed. He dashed to the gallows steps and began shouting the traditional yell to challenge a bull to combat, "Huchocho, foro, huchocho!"

The bull pawed the ground, started toward the man in a slow trot, picked up speed, lowered its head, rooted away at the steps. Rosas raised the broadsword and dealt a crunching blow to the animal's withers, cutting through the vertebral column. Torrents of blood spurted from the wound. The bull did not fall but staggered backwards.

Rosas threw the sword down, walked around the hemorrhaging animal, seized it by the horns and tried to bulldog it to the ground. For a moment, man and beast formed an inseparable convulsive mass. Then, suddenly, the bull shuddered and collapsed. Rosas, drenched in blood, retrieved his sword. He stood over the carcass, then carefully, tenderly, as if he were carving a leg of lamb for dinner, cut off the testicles. He climbed the gallows steps and held up his trophy for all to see - as David had held up the severed head of Goliath for the admiring Israelites.

A blanket of silence fell over the plaza. After a few seconds, exclamations in a babel of Indian languages and Spanish went up from the aroused spectators. "Que caballero!" La Paquita said to her companions. "Anything the Governor wants at the Gato Jorobado is on the house." La Giralda and La Gallega nodded, smiling.

Meanwhile, inside the Casa del Cabildo, Captain Juan de Archuleta stood at a window staring at the bull's carcass. He turned around abruptly and said to his companions, "Maybe we made a mistake in turning the bull loose on him because, after this show, he's going to be something of a hero. He may be a match for a dumb animal, but we'll find other ways to bring him down."

While Archuleta and his fellows scowled at the turn of events, in the Palace of the Governors the outgoing Governor's wife, Dona Teresa de Baeza, and half a dozen women guests chatted excitedly about the bloody spectacle they had just witnessed through the open shutters. A young woman in the room, Dona Maria de Bustillas, remained standing, peering through the window. Her eyes stricken with alarm, she stammered, "The poor man is going to... going to bleed to death." She rushed out of the room to get a towel from a servant.

Minutes later Don Luis de Rosas still stood on the scaffold, his left arm dripping blood, his right hand holding on high the bull's scrotum. He wanted that moment to be etched on the memory of the onlookers, friends and enemies alike. He turned around slowly for all to see his prize. A spontaneous roar swelled the thin air of Santa Fe. "Viva Don Luis! Victor! Victor! Victor!"

Rosas descended the steps and, suddenly, felt faint. He clenched his fists. He must never show a moment of weakness, he admonished himself. He held on to the cottonwood sapling to steady himself as Dona Maria de Bustillas rushed up with a towel to stop the flow of blood. Rosas motioned for her to back away. "No, senorIta, you'll get blood on you. Give me the towel."

"I don't care about the blood. Your Excellency is hurt. Please let me do it."

Rosas did not protest again. When she leaned over to bind his arm, his eyes lingered on her hair and face. God in heaven! he thought. He had not seen such light auburn hair and such finely textured porcelain skin since he campaigned in Flanders with His Majesty's army. After Dona Maria finished her task, his dark eyes met hers - blue-gray eyes that reflected cool determination. He smiled. "Senorita, I shall never forget your kindness. I pledge that from this day on I shall dedicate myself to your service."

On the portal of the Casa Real Governor Baeza and Fray Cristobal Quiros, the Father Custodian and Prelate of New Mexico, looked at one another anxiously. Slowly at first, then increasing their pace, both men began walking toward the center of the plaza where Rosas remained absorbed in the presence of Maria de Bustillas. Rosas shook his head when Baeza proposed that the inauguration be postponed. Absolutely not, Rosas insisted; the usual Mass could be put off until tomorrow but the inaugural ceremonies, though shortened, must proceed as scheduled.

Half an hour later Rosas stood pale but steady on the portal of the Casa Real. He now wore a clean purple doublet and knee-breeches. Only his boots still bore traces of blood. At a signal from Governor Baeza, the black-garbed trumpeteer returned to his post on the scaffold and sounded the call for attention. The Secretary of Government and War, Don Leopoldo Morales, read Viceroy Cadereita 's proclamation appointing Don Luis de Rosas Governor and Captain General of New Mexico. Because of Rosas' injuries, there were no speeches. After the proclamation was read, Baeza handed his successor a polished black cane, the symbol of his office. Rosas was now the tenth Spanish Governor of Coronado's empty dreamland.

In the plaza, as the ceremony was ending, the crow which had hovered over Rosas' head when he made his official entry into the Villa Real pecked away at the bull's carcass. Every now and then it paused to caw through its bloody beak.

from CAESAR OF SANTA FE A Novel from History
© 1990, Tim MacCurdy

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