CHAPTER IV. A STRANGE LAND AND STRANGER PEOPLE
We were now within the boundaries of the Territory of Colorado and approaching the northern line of New Mexico. When we passed through Trinidad, which was then a small adobe town, we met Don Emilio Cortez again. He was at home in this vicinity and came for the express purpose of persuading me to come with him. “My good wife charged me to bring her that little gringo,” he said; “she longs for an American son.” “Our daughter, Mariquita, is now ten years of age, and has been asked in marriage by Don Robusto Pesado, a very rich man. But the child is afraid of him, as he is a mountain of flesh, weighing close on twelve arrobas. Now we thought that two years hence thou wilt be seventeen years old and a man very sufficient for our little Mariquita, who will then, with God’s favor, be a woman of twelve years. She will have a large dowry of cattle and sheep, and as the saints have blessed us with an abundance of land and chattels, thou art not required to provide.”
I thanked Don Emilio very kindly, but was, of course, too young then to entertain any thought of marrying. I was really sorry to disappoint him, as he seemed to have formed a genuine attachment for me and was seriously grieved by my refusal.
Rumor spreads its vagaries faster among illiterate people than among the enlightened and educated. Therefore, it was said in New Mexico long before our arrival there that Don Jose Lopez’s outfit brought a young American, the like of whom had never been known before. He was not ignorant, as other Americans, for he not only spoke the Spanish, but he could also read and write the Castillan language. It was well known that most Americans were so stupid that they could not talk as well as a Mexican baby of two years, and that often after years of residence among Spanish people they were still ignorant of the language. And would you believe it, but it was the sacred truth, this little American, albeit a mere boy, had the strength of a man. He made that big heathen Navajo brute Pancho, the mayordomo of Don Preciliano Chavez, of Las Vegas, stand stark before him in his nakedness, with his hands raised to Heaven and compelled him, under pain of instant death, to say his Pater Noster and three Ave Marias. Others said that Don Jose Lopez was a man of foresight and discretion and saw that the Indians were on the warpath and very dangerous. Therefore, he prayed to his patron saint for spiritual guidance and succor. San Miguel, in his wisdom, sent this young American heretic, as undoubtedly it was best to fight evil with evil. And when the devil, in the guise of a coyote, led the Indians to the attack, then he was sorely wounded by the unerring aim of the gringito’s rifle.