Atá Halné led the way, ever southwest.
Easterly felt as small as a jackrabbit when he took in the mountain ranges they never seemed to reach. It took a full day of riding, sometimes longer, before they camped in the foothills. When they did conquer a range, it was only to see another on the horizon, growing larger and more imposing in the western sky.
After a week in the saddle, Easterly saw a confusing sight. He held his tongue for most of the morning before giving up and confessing his dilemma.
“That mountain over there looks like it has snow on it. They’re no clouds anywhere. It can’t be that. What’s making it shine so white?”
Atá Halné reined his horse around sagebrush and into a wash. “Snow,” he said, without looking up.
Easterly had expected to be treated to an initiation of some sort, but it stung him to be the butt of a juvenile joke. Atá Halné might as well have said, “I’ve got your nose.”
“Uh huh.” His guttural response sounded disgusted even to Easterly.
His companion glanced at him and drew rein. “Those are the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The highest peaks have snow until late summer.”
Easterly studied the range, then scrutinized his partner.
“Don’t be fooled by the sweat under your hatband,” Atá Halné said. Those mountains jump straight in the air. They don’t bother with foothills too much.”
Young Easterly’s face heated. The Navajo must be able to read his thoughts. He’d trust him more in the future. He took in the rugged view again. “Do we have to cross them?”
“No. We’re going south to Santa Fe.”
Easterly’s spirits leaped. “I’ve heard of it. It’s a real western town, isn’t it? How long are we going to stay?”
“As long as it takes you to get a job and earn enough money to grubstake us on to Albuquerque.”
“What are you going to be doing?”
Atá Halné clucked to his horse to prod the animal up the far bank of the arroyo. He rode with the erect posture of his race, a pose Easterly tried to emulate.
Trotting to catch up with him, Easterly asked, “Well?”
The older man kept his face forward. “There are a lot of places in town where I can’t go. I’ll be in the Indian camp by sundown each evening. You’re the Anglo. You’ll have to get the job.”
“What kind of job can I get?”
“Try a blacksmith’s place or stables. Mucking stalls or pumping a bellows should be within your ability.”
Easterly’s face heated once more under the shade of his wide-brimmed hat. “I was thinking more like a teacher’s helper. I’m quite proficient in letters and numbers.”
Atá Halné’s own brim bobbed in acknowledgment. “Ah, yes. Just the thing for a bronco-busting, steer-branding, calf-roping cowboy.”
What awaits our riders in Santa Fe? Good times or bad? Leave a comment.
To read the series, click on September 2017, in the Archive list and start with Tales Old Roy Told.
Thank a veteran.