He was doing better this morning—alert, hungry, and thirsty. We gave him tea and broth for breakfast, which disappointed him, since he was all for having regular food like the rest of us. But we thought it best to wait until later in the day and see how he was doing before letting him have solid food.
I wanted to continue on our way today, but Charlene wouldn’t hear of it. She thought we should stay and take care of Tanner. “We found him and that makes him our responsibility.”
I didn’t agree. We were just passing through and were only being Good Samaritans. The townspeople would find a way to care for him. But as Ramiro prepared to go open his shop, I realized that until Tanner was on his feet, we were stuck with him unless we wanted to put him back on a horse and take him around looking for another charitable home. At least for today, someone had to stay by his side and make sure he was okay.
So here we are, only one day further down the road than yesterday, and delayed again.
But I decided to make the most of the situation. Once we had determined that Tanner’s wounds were superficial and not infected, and that he didn’t seem in need of a doctor, I decided to see if Ramiro needed help at his store.
It turned out that he ran a little weaving shop. It was a really nice place—too nice for a small village without a working rail line nearby. I found some colored chalk and made a sketch of it.
“So you do good business?” I asked.
“I do well enough. It’s a family shop. We’ve been doing this since before the resource wars.”
I guess he could tell from the look on my face that I didn’t believe him, because he went on to explain about tourists. He said rich people used to drive their cars into the mountains and pay a lot of money for wool blankets with native Indian designs. “Believe me,” he said, “It was a very profitable business. People would come up here from the cities to spend a week in a drafty little cabin or a tent in the mud, where they would go out every morning and try to catch fish or shoot birds. And then they’d come into town looking to buy things made the old way, by human labor.”
“Why would they want that, when they could get things made by machines?”
Ramiro shrugged. “No sé, y no importa. I just know it’s been a blessing to my family. We had some rough years at first, when the tourists stopped coming and people still could get cloth and blankets more cheaply from the city stores. But now—“ He indicated his workshop with a sweep of his arm. “We do better. We make everything from blankets and towels, to bolts of cloth for making clothing. And we trade them along this main mountain road and sometimes into the valley. You saw my pack mules in the barn, right? Best animals ever for these mountains.”
By now two women, a teenage boy and a young girl had arrived. Ramiro introduced the women as his daughters and the other two as his grandchildren. I watched as the women and boy went to their looms and began checking that all was in order to resume their work from the day before. The girl’s job, it seemed, was to bring thread, yarn, scissors, or whatever was asked for. She had a tiny loom of her own in one corner, and when she wasn’t helping the adults, she worked on making what appeared to be dish towels.
I asked Ramiro if there was anything I could do to help in return for his hospitality. But I didn’t know how to work a loom, and his granddaughter provided all the unskilled help they needed. “I’ve been replastering the back room,” he told me. “If you could do that, it would free me up for other work.”
I didn’t know much more about plastering than I did about weaving. I remembered helping my mother and grandfather replaster our house one time, but I was only a child and was probably more of a hindrance than a help. But I was a grownup now, and it couldn’t be very hard. So I told Ramiro to show me what he wanted done, and he was so thorough in his explanation and had such a reassuring manner about him that by the time I got to work, I had every confidence I could do the job.
I worked steadily until around mid-day, when Charlene showed up with lunch. She hadn’t counted on Ramiro’s family being there and had only brought enough for two. But it turned out that Ramiro’s daughters had brought lunch with them, and all was well.
After we ate, I rolled up my sleeves and went back to work. Charlene hung around for a little while, watching me.
“Shouldn’t you go back and keep an eye on Tanner?” I asked.
“He’s okay. He was sleeping when I left.”
“He might’ve woken up.”
“I’m leaving soon.” She lapsed back into silence.
I continued to work, but her presence bothered me. “Help out or go away,” I finally said. “I don’t like people watching me work. It’s weird.”
“Okay,” she said. “You’re doing a good job. It looks really nice.”
I appreciated the compliment, but was glad when she left. I finished about an hour before Ramiro closed shop, which gave me time to clean up before we went back to the cabin together. When we arrived, Charlene was preparing supper, and Tanner was sitting at the table, sipping something out of a chipped china mug.
He got up when we entered the room and shook our hands, as if we were meeting for the first time, which in a way, I suppose we were. “Charlene told me what you did for me, and I really appreciate it.”
“It was no trouble,” Ramiro said. “God put us here to help each other.”
“Oh, I agree.” Tanner sat back down.
While the two men talked, I studied Tanner carefully. Now that he was cleaned up and in fresh clothes (where had he gotten them?), I could see he had sandy hair, brown eyes, and a tough and weathered look about him that made me wonder if the knife wounds I had cleaned the day before were a common occurrence. I seen some other scars, but not made particular note of them. Now I wished I had paid closer attention. Tanner’s nose was slightly swollen from his fall, but from the clear way he was speaking, it seemed he had escaped it being broken. His hands, when he laid them on the table, were surprisingly delicate for a man who got into fights and went crashing around in the underbrush.
Tanner noticed I was staring and flashed me a smile. “Charlene says you’re helping her get to Texas.”
“Yes,” I said cautiously. “That’s true.”
“I’m going that direction myself, and—“
“It’s okay,” Charlene said. She approached the table carrying some bowls of soup. “I already said you could come with us.”
I looked up at her in shock as she set a bowl in front of me. “Charlene, we haven’t talked about this, you know.”
She blushed. “Well, it’s no trouble for him to follow along, is it? It’s an extra person to pull watch duty.”
I turned to Tanner. “I’m sorry, but we can’t accept someone without a horse and gear.”
“That’s okay,” he said. “I can buy what I need. The bastards thought they got all my money.” His smile grew crafty. “But they only got my decoy. I never keep my real money where anyone can get it easily.”
There was a funny glint in his eyes that made me not want to ask any questions about where he hid his money. “Well, I don’t know if I want to be responsible for a sick man on the road.”
Tanner waved a hand. “I’m not sick. I just got too cold and hungry. I’m much better now, as you can see. And I’ll be no trouble. I’m a good scout and hunter.”
“So am I.”
Charlene sat down before I could say any more. She turned to Ramiro with innocent eyes and asked him to bless our food. After that was done, she steered the conversation to neutral topics.
It wasn’t until bedtime that I got a chance to talk to her privately. “This is a bad idea,” I told her. “And I don’t appreciate you making him an offer without talking to me first.”
“No. We can’t just go picking up people along the way.” I went on to remind her that we didn’t know a thing about this guy. “It’s a bad sign when they won’t answer your questions. What if he’s on the run from committing a crime, or something? What if he’s in trouble? We don’t need him bringing his troubles down on us, too.”
“He’s not a criminal—he’s very nice. We talked a lot today. Besides, he only wants to go as far as the Bottomless Lakes. It’s not like he wants to go all the way to Texas.”
“What the hell are the Bottomless Lakes? We’re not going near any place like that.”
“Tanner says we are.”
“You told him our route?”
“Should I not have?”
“If he’s a danger to us, it’s too late now, I guess.”
“He’s no danger. He says we saved his life, and he’s grateful. I don’t know why you have to treat me like I’m stupid.” Charlene beat up her pillow and lay down, pouting. “Don’t stay up all night with that stupid lantern on.”
I didn’t feel like arguing any more, so I took my book and diary and moved away, putting the light to where it wouldn’t be in her eyes. And when I opened up my diary, a scrap of paper fell out.
I guess now I know why Charlene spent so much time watching me work today. I feel a little bad now, for having been so mad at her.
But what a dumb thing to do, to invite a strange man with a shady past and no gear but plenty of money, to travel with us! I swear I can’t wait to get to Texas and find out just what kind of place she came from, to be so trusting.
And yet, when I really think about it, Charlene’s life has been no worse than my own and has in many ways been better, in spite of her naïve and trusting nature. Auntie used to say that God looked out for fools and children. I hope God is looking out for Charlene this time.
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