The Colony of Tejas
Before the rooster had crowed three times, forbidden adventure had crept into Marianne's mind. In the shadows of her room, she quickly dressed and stole from her father's house to the outside. Cool air bathed her face, and a yellow-orange sunrise streaked the eastern sky. She made her way to the stables and peered inside the dimly lit building for signs of the servants before gathering up her skirts and squeezing through the latched entrance. Safely inside, she eased the heavy door closed and cringed at the creak, fearing its sound would arouse attention.
The smell of horses and leather met her nostrils, their familiarity breeding both comfort and excitement. She stopped and listened for voices. Her heart pounded furiously at the thought of being discovered. Glancing upward, she saw a glimmer of sunlight filter through a high window, illuminating a golden, straw-laden path to Diablo's stall.
Her father's sleek, milky-white stallion pawed at the ground and snorted as though defying any intruder to enter his domain. Weston Phillips, Marianne's father, owned the horse, but not his spirit. Only the stableman could groom him. Only Marianne could ride him.
Marianne gasped and hurried to his stall. "Hush, Diablo. Someone will realize I am here."
At the sound of her voice, the stallion ceased his complaints. She lifted the latch and stepped inside, being careful to gently close the door behind her. She eagerly anticipated the two of them racing across the dew-bathed hills dotted with live oak and juniper. How she yearned for the freedom of flying with the wind and being as one with the powerful Diablo.
She wrapped her arms around the stallion's neck. He neighed softly and nuzzled into her embrace. "Oh, I have missed you, too." She planted a kiss on his forehead. "And we have a long morning to ride."
The low rumble of male voices pricked her ears and paralyzed her. Papa! He and Clay Wharton, the hacienda's foreman, had entered the barn. She held her breath and glanced about the stall. If Papa found her, his wrath would echo across the vast expanse of the Phillips Hacienda.
When the voices of Papa and Clay grew closer, she slipped her hands from Diablo's neck and crouched against the wall next to the stall door. She prayed neither Papa nor Clay heard her heart slamming against her chest.
"Quiet, you devil." Papa stopped outside of Diablo's stall. "I would welcome the opportunity to blow a hole through you, but I need you to breed with my mares."
Clay chuckled. "Are you sure you want more horses with his temperament?"
"I will sell them to the Spaniards," Papa said. "Let them deal with it."
Diablo lifted his head. His notched ears lay back as though he understood Papa's contemptuous words.
Her father banged his fist against the side of the stall. "Remember, I still own you."
Marianne clasped her arms around her trembling body. She envisioned her father's penetrating, blue-gray eyes, framed with the many lines of age and Texas sun. The servants called them relampago, lightning eyes, for they flashed with his ravings and curses.
"Where are our horses?" her father shouted. "Lazy Mexicans. None of them worth their pay."
"My guess, all of 'em here are aiding Armando Garcia," Clay said. "That rebel needs a bullet in his head."
She'd heard the stories about the man who rallied the peasants to fight against Papa's demands to leave their valley. The young girls dreamed of him and proclaimed him more handsome than any man ever born. The boys and men sang Armando Garcia's praises—the hero who dared to defy the harsh treatment of her father.
"You get rid of him, and there's a bonus for you," Papa said. "I'm tired of dealing with his arrogance."
"You know what I want."
Papa seemed to ignore him.
"I plan to talk to Garcia today. Our cattle need to graze in La Flor. Those Mexicans can move closer to one of the missions along the San Antonio River and leave me their valley."
"Weston, they haven't agreed to leave in the past. What makes you think they will now?"
Her father laughed. "I refuse to give them a choice. They'll either clear out of there, or I'll force them out. We have more weapons than they could ever hope to steal."
"What about men to carry it out? The vaqueros will not fight against their own people."
"I've already sent for some friends of mine back in Virginia. Everything is handled." Her father spat tobacco juice against the side of the stall. The slap of it coupled with his gruff words agitated Diablo.
"Shut up," Papa said to Diablo, who snorted and tossed his head. "This isn't a good day to rile me." He reached for the stall's latch.
"Leave the horse alone. Let's saddle up and get out of here," Clay said. "The day's wasting away."
When the heavy door of the stable finally creaked shut, and the pounding of horses' hooves faded into the distance, Marianne struggled to her feet from her crouched position, trembling more from overhearing Papa and Clay's conversation than the fear of being discovered in Diablo's stall.
What did Papa plan to do? He had plenty of land without adding more from the villagers' valley. From what she knew about Armando Garcia, he'd not take Papa's threats lightly. She hoped the problem could be settled without a bloody battle, for she feared the Mexican peasants were no match for whatever Papa had in mind.
With a deep sigh, she stepped from the stall to fetch Diablo's silver-studded bridle from the tack room. Beneath a worn, carved leather saddle decorated boldly in orange and yellow mineral paints, she found her cotton skirt and blouse.
One of the servant women had given Marianne the clothes after she complained of having to ride in the cumbersome petticoats. Mama objected to her wearing the apparel of the Mexican women, especially the blouses that revealed her elbows. But Marianne loved the loose fit and the way the style made riding effortless.