Summary: If you believe, anything is possible. Especially one to watch over.
Category: The High Chaparral
G Words: 1,740
Moving quietly, so as not to disturb her slumbering husband, Victoria Cannon raised herself up in bed and peered anxiously around the dark bedroom. Something had woken her, but what?
The shuttered windows kept out most of the light from outside, but the silence of the house, broken only by her husband’s soft breathing and, from the room down the hall, the sound of her brother-in-law’s snoring, told Victoria that the hour was late.
It was far too dark to make out much more than the outlines of the furniture, but nevertheless Victoria’s heart almost missed a beat as, just for an instant, she imagined the dark shape of the closet to be a human form.
Chiding herself for being so foolish, and deciding that it must have been a dream that awakened her, she lay back down in the bed, snuggling up against the warmth of John’s body, and closed her eyes. Feeling safe there, cosy and warm, she was just on the point of drifting off to sleep, when she heard it. A faint, musical chiming, far away and almost ethereal.
Was that what had woken her, she wondered, suddenly wide-awake and a little irritated. Was it not the sound of wind-chimes? There had been wind-chimes at the Chaparral once, a long time ago. They had belonged to John Cannon’s first wife, Annalee. John had taken them down and packed them away after his marriage to Victoria, a sign that he had finally accepted that Annalee was dead. The gesture had meant a great deal to her, made her feel that she was now truly Mrs Cannon. Surely he hadn’t hung them up again? Slipping quietly from the bed, she reached for her robe and pulled it around her. Were the wind-chimes up again? She needed to go and find out.
Padding softly along the corridor and across the darkened great room of the house, she headed for the door. All the time the wind-chimes continued their tinkling, the sound growing louder and louder. Almost imperious, Victoria thought suddenly, as though they were summoning her.
Outside, waxy moonlight illuminated the landscape, bright after the dimness of the house. All was still, and silent. The sound of the chimes had stopped. Baffled, Victoria looked around her, searching for some sign of Annalee’s pretty musical decorations. But she saw nothing.
“Mrs Cannon?” The deep voice startled her, making her heart race wildly for a moment before she realised the speaker was the ranch foreman, Sam Butler.
“Oh, Sam, you scared me. I did not see you…” she said softly, a hand pressed to her chest to quieten her breath, ragged from the fright he had given her.
“I was just around the side of the house. Heard the door open…” his brow furrowed in concern at the look on her face. “Are you all right, ma’am?”
“Yes. Yes, I am fine,” Victoria smiled reassuringly. “De nada… it is nothing. I just…I thought that I heard something out here. A noise.”
Sam looked puzzled. “What kinda noise ma’am?” he asked. “I been on watch the past coupla hours and I ain’t heard nothing. Well, just the horses stampin’ around a bit, and some snorin’ from the bunkhouse.”
“I thought I heard…” she began, then stopped abruptly. How silly it would sound to say that she had heard the sound of non-existent wind-chimes. She shook her head. “Never mind, Sam. I think I must have been dreaming.”
“Well, there sure ain’t any noises out here now,” he grinned, teeth white in the moonlight.
“No,” she agreed with a light laugh. “And I think I had better return to bed.”
“And I gotta go wake Reno, it’s his turn on watch. ’Night ma’am,” Sam touched a hand to the brim of his hat and turned away.
“Wait…” Victoria said, halting him in his tracks as a thought occurred to her. “Are Manolito and Blue back from town yet?”
“No, they ain’t got back yet.” Sam grinned again, as he thought of his friends enjoying a night off in Tucson. “But you know what it’s like in town on a Friday night. Manolito probably got caught up in a poker game or somethin’.”
With a nod and a smile she agreed with the foreman’s assessment, “Knowing my dear brother, you are quite probably correct,”
Sam laughed, bidding her goodnight once more, and headed off towards the bunkhouse, Victoria turned towards the door but was stopped by a sound behind her. Not chimes this time, but a soft swishing noise, like the rustle of a woman’s skirts.
The sound made her whirl around, frightened eyes scanning the yard and she saw, in the deep shadows by the barn, a movement. Squinting hard, Victoria realised that there was someone standing there.
About to yell for help, she bit back the words as the figure moved, gliding forward until it was illuminated by the full light of the moon. Victoria gasped as she realised that she was looking at a woman. A pretty, middle-aged lady, plainly dressed in a dark skirt and blouse, her blonde hair caught up at the back.
The night air suddenly cold through her thin nightwear, she shivered, her eyes fixed on the woman, who was holding her arms out towards her, in silent entreaty.
Who was she? Victoria wondered, where had she come from?
“Senora?” she called softly, scared that speaking loudly might frighten the woman away. “Do you need help? Please, come inside.”
But instead of moving toward her, the woman turned her head, looking out into the darkness of the night. When she looked back her expression was one of sorrow, and once again she held out her arms, this time using her hands to beckon Victoria forward.
For a moment she hesitated, but compassion overcame caution and she stepped forward, walking slowly towards the woman.
As Victoria drew closer, the woman suddenly moved again, turning around and pointing off to one side. Gaze following the line of the outstretched arm Victoria saw nothing but the desert, empty and bleak under the light of the moon. When she looked back again, the woman had gone, vanished as completely as though she had never been. Then, as she stared around her, bewildered, there came again the sound of the wind-chimes, loud and disturbing, as though they were dancing in a high wind, when in reality the air was still.
“Madre de Dios! Fantasma!” Victoria gasped, and crossed herself hastily as she realised what she had just witnessed.
Catching up the long skirts of her nightdress she turned and ran for the house, knowing, deep inside herself, that something was very wrong.
Hastily lighting a lamp she wasted no time in returning to the bedroom and starting to get dressed. From the bed, John grunted sleepily, roused by the light of the lamp. “Victoria? What’s going on?”
“There is no time to explain,” Victoria told him hurriedly, grabbing his clothes from the chair beside the bed and thrusting them toward him. “Please just get some clothes on and come outside.”
Confused, but seeing from his wife’s face how urgent this was, John silently obeyed.
Victoria was half way to the corral when she heard the sound of hooves and looked up to see Manolito ride in, back from his night out in Tucson.
“Good evening my sister,” he acknowledged her merrily, obviously slightly the worse for drink. “What are you doing up and about so late?”
“Manolito,” Victoria looked beyond her brother, out into the quiet night. “Where is Blue?”
“He’s not here…?” suddenly sobering, Manolito’s brow creased in a worried frown. “But he left hours ago. He said he had somewhere he needed to go and then he would be getting on home.”
“Somewhere to go?” John asked, as he came out to join his wife in time to hear Mano’s words. “Where?”
“I think I know where,” Victoria said, before Manolito had a chance to answer. “He was going to visit his mother’s grave, was he not?”
“In the middle of the night?” John growled, though anxiety edged his words. “Why would he want to do that?”
“Because today is her birthday,” Mano said simply, “and he knew you wanted him to ride out and check the herd tomorrow. He would not have time to go if he did not go tonight.”
John groaned and shook his head, obviously distressed at not realising what day it was, “I can’t believe I could have forgotten.”
Victoria laid a gentle hand on his arm, “Never mind that now,” she said softly, “We need to get the horses and go and find him.”
“Mano and I will go,” John told her firmly. “You stay here and wait.”
Victoria nodded in agreement, realising that John wanted to protect her if something terrible has happened. She watched anxiously as her husband and brother left the ranch, passing a puzzled Pedro at the gate, and headed out into the night.
They brought Blue back a little while later. It appeared that his horse had been spooked by something as Blue was riding away from Annalee’s grave, and he had been thrown and knocked unconscious. They had found him laying on the rocky ground, Soapy the horse standing over him protectively.
By the time they had carried him into the house, and settled him in his bed, Blue was coming around. It would need to be confirmed by a doctor, but Victoria was quietly confident that he wasn’t too badly hurt, though already a mass of bruises were beginning to colour his body where he had hit the ground.
“How did you know where he was?” Manolito asked his sister curiously, as John left Blue’s side to order one of the hands into Tucson to fetch the doctor.
Victoria looked down at her sleepy stepson and smiled softly. “Just call it a mother’s intuition.” she said quietly.
Manolito nodded, still puzzled but accepting her explanation and taking it that she was referring to herself. She wondered how he’d react if she told him the truth, that it was Blue’s own mother who had summoned help. Her spirit still watching over her son.
“Gracias, Annalee,” she whispered as she reached down and gently adjusted the covers around her stepson and, in reply, came the faint distant tinkle of the wind-chimes.
© Kathleen Pitts, August 2004