Word Count 4,697
Originally appearing in the Homecoming 2006 Lancer Souvenir Fanzine – Part of the Great Room Bookshelf Collection
Johnny eyed the belching monster and knew it was a mistake. The last thing he wanted to do was spend the next three days on a train. His appeals to travel by stagecoach or buckboard had fallen on deaf ears. Neither Scott nor the doctor who had imprisoned him in a bed in his back office for nearly a week would consider anything but this black iron horse.
Climbing the steep steps from the train platform to the last car on the Union and Central Pacific Railroad, running from Cheyenne to Sacramento, left Johnny panting for breath. The ticket agent had assured them that even though the train was full there were still three seats open. The next train promised to be just as crowded.
Johnny stopped short, looking down the long aisle; every deep velour seat seemed to be filled. Passengers, some in their finest Sunday go to meeting clothes and others in work clothes, either side of the aisle.
“I told you this was a bad idea.” Johnny made to turn around but Scott blocked his way.
“Not so fast.” Scott looked down the car, counting heads in each seat. “There,” he said triumphantly. “The last two seats on the left. There’s only one passenger.”
“Scott, you know I hate crowds. We can still take the stage or a wagon. We can go as slow as you want.”
“Johnny, you heard what Dr. Mannford said, it’s either the train or you stay here in Cheyenne until you can handle the stage or wagon. That could be another two weeks.”
Johnny glared back at his brother, a look that would have crushed most mortal men. But Scott only hitched up his and Johnny’s saddle bags on his shoulders and gently pushed the ex-gunfighter forward.
He watched Johnny carefully as his brother made his way slowly down the aisle, his left leg extended out in front of him, encased in a heavy cast from his thigh to his toes. He tottered and over balanced himself on crutches he had not gotten used to using, and nearly fell face forward once before he finally made it to the open seats.
They reached the last row and Scott stopped next to a man sitting in the aisle seat. “Excuse me, are these seats taken?”
The passenger lifted his hat and looked up, not happy to be losing the only empty seats on the train, but one look at Johnny hunched over his crutches and he quickly stood stepping aside to let Scott help Johnny ease down onto the seat. Scott lifted the cumbersome cast up to rest on the front facing seat and waited for Johnny to slide over to the window. Johnny panted under the weight of the cast and the pain of his broken leg and threw Scott a disheartened look. Ignoring his brother’s attempts to make him feel guilty, Scott quickly stowed their saddlebags in the overhead shelf and slid in next to him. The seat’s former lone passenger sat facing Scott, and Johnny felt the world closing in on him just a little more.
The train’s shrill whistle startled Johnny’s already frayed nerves and he knew there was no escape now. Steam hissed and the train lurched forward, the sound of metal on metal squealing as the train slowly pulled away from the Cheyenne depot.
He gritted his teeth as the engine strained to gather speed, their car clanging and groaning in protest as it began to move down the tracks.
“Are you all right, Johnny?” Scott asked.
Both Scott and the doctor had tried to convince him to stay in Cheyenne awhile longer, but he was tired of all the women barging into the doctor’s back office, fussing over him and embarrassed that he was the one to find the loose board on the boardwalk and go crashing through it, breaking his leg in two places. Better to be caught in a stampede of wild horses or struck by a runaway wagon. Anything was better than falling through the damn boardwalk.
“I’m okay,” Johnny snapped.
“Do you need some water? Are you hungry?”
“Stop fussing, will ya? You’re worse than all them women hovering over me put together. I’m fine. I broke my leg. I wasn’t shot, or knifed or whipped. And by the way, any of them would’ve been better then lugging this cast around. I ain’t gonna be able to keep this thing on for twelve weeks. You know that’s three months? By the time I’m back on Barranca, round up will be over. Branding will be done and the best part of summer will be gone. Nothing to look forward to but winter. I hate winter.”
“I just wish you had waited another day or two. You are obviously not ready for this trip. We can get off at the next stop. Spend a night or two in a hotel.”
“Scott!” Johnny’s voice carried down the length of the train, even over the rattle of the wheels on the tracks. Everyone looked back at him and he wished the train would simply break in half and gobble him up. In a quieter voice he pleaded, “Just don’t fuss. Please.”
“All right,” Scott conceded. “You tell me if you need anything. Promise?”
Johnny nodded, pulling his hat down over his eyes. “I promise,” he said as he settled his shoulder against the side of the car just beneath the window. He watched, his eyes at half mast, as the countryside blurred into greens and browns beneath a bright blue sky.
//Why couldn’t those people check their boardwalk once in awhile?//
Johnny didn’t know when the monotonous blur of countryside lulled him to sleep, but his neck had a crick in it as he raised up his head slowly.
Scott’s head was slumped against his chest, his even breathing telling him that his brother was fast asleep. There was a low hum of voices blending into the clackety clack of the train speeding down the tracks. What he wouldn’t give to be on Barranca, the wind rushing through his hair as he took on this iron monster. He knew his palomino could out run any train ever built. Instead he was stuck here with a cast the size of a tree trunk on his leg.
He felt Scott shift next to him, trying to find a more comfortable position, and wondered if his brother may have been right after all. His leg was paining him fiercely. And the weight of it was putting a strain on his hip. The thought of spending the next two days like this sent a shiver down his back.
Johnny saw Scott jerk his head up, seemingly confused at first, then realizing where he was. Johnny smiled. “Sorry for being such a jackass,” he said contritely. “I know you were just trying to help.”
Scott sat up straighter, still trying to push the lingering threads of sleep away. “No need for apologies. I know you were hurting. How’s the leg now?”
Johnny looked at the disgusting piece of plaster and sighed. “Hurts.”
“You should be in a sleeping car.” Both Johnny and Scott looked at the passenger facing them, his face still hidden by his hat.
“They were all taken,” Scott said hesitantly.
“Then you should have waited.” The passenger’s face still remained shadowed by his hat.
“It’s none of your business,” Johnny warned, his voice as soft as it was cold.
The passenger shrugged negligently. “Just hate to see someone suffer needlessly.”
Scott cleared his throat. He could feel Johnny’s muscles tense. “We appreciate your concern, but Johnny has the doctor’s blessing.”
The faintest of snorts came from the stranger. “I’m sure.”
“You got something to say, Mister?” Johnny asked, more a threat than a question.
The stranger lifted his head and removed his hat. His moves were slow and deliberate. Johnny stared at him, waiting for him to blink or turn away. He did neither. He was Johnny’s height; Johnny had noticed as he sidled past him to get into his seat. But his suit coat strained at the seams to keep in a well muscled torso. His skin was darker than Johnny’s but not Mexican and not black. He wore his dark brown hair long, like an Indian, but it was thick and curly. He had it pulled back and tied with a rawhide braid.
His face was strong and angular. He looked unlike anyone Johnny had ever seen before. And his accent was a puzzle.
Johnny tried to shift, the weight of the cast straining his stomach muscles. Overall he was miserable, but he wasn’t about to let the stranger see that. But it appeared the stranger was more perceptive than he thought.
“If you elevate it more it might ease some of the strain.”
“I didn’t ask you,” Johnny snapped.
Johnny saw a flash of humor in the stranger’s eyes before he set his hat back on his head and pulled it down over his eyes, settling back into his seat. “Just trying to help.”
Johnny opened his mouth for a retort but Scott elbowed his brother’s arm. They had a three day journey ahead of them, and if their seat companion rode all the way to Sacramento it could prove less than pleasant.
“I’m hungry,” Scott announced. “The porter should be coming along any time with sandwiches. Do you want one?”
Johnny shook his head, still annoyed by the man sitting in front of them. “I’m not hungry. But I could go for some tequila.”
Scott laughed as he heard the porter walking down the aisle offering sandwiches. “Coffee and tea is about it, Brother. But when we get to Green River, I’ll buy you a bottle. I’ll even find one with a worm at the bottom.”
Johnny had to laugh. “You’re learning, Boston.”
Afternoon soon turned to dusk and Johnny watched as the landscape dimmed outside. Inside, the porters walked down the aisle lighting overhead lanterns, the flickering light gently swaying to the rock and roll of the train. The black night marched ever closer until the train was but a small spot of light speeding through the vast expanse of open prairie.
The pain in Johnny’s leg was growing worse by the minute. He could no longer hide the agony he was in and he saw Scott’s growing concern.
Their riding companion had remained thankfully quiet all afternoon. Johnny had caught the stranger watching him surreptitiously from beneath his lowered hat, but knowing how he looked, with sweat trickling down his face and his fists clenched, Johnny could not fault the man. Instead he would look out the window and wonder how much further it was to Sacramento. Damn, Scott had been right. When would he learn to listen to his brother?
But now the stranger had given up any semblance of not watching him and studied Johnny with interest.
“Are you traveling far?” he finally asked, the inflection in his voice unlike anything Johnny had heard before.
Scott stepped in quickly, not knowing Johnny’s frame of mind. Johnny had to laugh inwardly. Scott had taken on the mantle of big brother since the moment he awoke from Day Pardee’s bullet to find Scott hovering over his bed. “To Sacramento then on to Morro Coyo. We have a ranch in the San Joaquin Valley. And you?”
“All the way to the end of the line; San Francisco.”
“Do you call San Francisco home?” Scott asked.
The stranger smiled. “This is only the first leg of my journey. I am still a long way from home.”
Despite himself, Johnny was drawn into the conversation. “Where’s that?”
Johnny looked at Scott perplexed. “Never heard of it.”
Scott seemed overly impressed and curious. “It’s a chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean about twenty three hundred miles off the coast of California.”
The stranger nodded. “I am impressed, Mr…”
“Lancer. Scott Lancer. And this is my brother, Johnny.”
The stranger reached forward to offer his hand. “I am Au’kai Puunoa *Cabrera.”
Johnny raised an eyebrow as he shook the man’s hand. It was a strong firm shake. Johnny judged a man by his handshake. This man was sure of himself. Even if he was twenty three hundred miles from home. “Cabrera, that’s Spanish.”
Au’kai nodded. “My mother is Hawaiian and my father is from Mexico.”
Johnny’s interest was suddenly piqued. “Your mama come here or your father go there?”
“Johnny,” Scott chastised. “It’s not polite to pry.”
Johnny shrugged. “Most people don’t think its prying when they ask where my blue eyes come from.”
“No, it is all right,” Au’kai assured him. “My father came to the island to work as a Paniolo*. He fell in love with my mother and never returned to Mexico.”
“Paniolo?” Johnny liked the way the words filled his mouth, comfortable and familiar.
Au’kai nodded. “A paniolo is a Hawaiian cowboy. You probably recognize part of the word, Espaniolo-Spaniard. Forty years ago Vaqueros of Mexican, Indian and Spanish descent came from Mexico to Hawaii to teach our kanaka- our men- to herd cattle. My father, Rodrigo Cabrera, was one of them.”
“How did your mama’s people feel about that?”
Au’kai raised an eyebrow, not in agitation but understanding. “Just as your mother’s people felt, I’m sure.”
Johnny smiled. He liked this man. He stood his ground. Suddenly the train car lurched as the tracks turned toward the east, whipping the end car like the tail of a snake. The overhead lanterns swung in protest, but soon settled down as the train once more continued a straight line. But it was enough to aggravate Johnny’s leg and he could not bite back the gasp as pain. “Are you all right?” Scott leaned forward, trying to get a good look at Johnny, but Johnny turned his face away, looking out into the black nothingness outside the train car.
“Scott,” Johnny hissed. “I told you not to fuss.”
Au’kai tapped Scott on the knee. “Prepare to move him to a sleeping car.”
“There are none left open, I tried,” Scott said. Au’kai was already on his feet and heading down the aisle purposefully, easily balancing to the sway of the car. “Prepare him,” he called back.
Scott returned his attention to Johnny. His brother’s face had turned ashen white. When he touched Johnny’s hand he found it cold and clammy. He knew his brother wasn’t ready for this trip. The doctor had tried to warn Johnny that he would still be in a great deal of pain until the bones had a chance to start knitting. The trip from the doctor’s office to the train depot should have been enough to send Johnny to a hotel to mend, but there was no one more stubborn than his brother.
Five minutes later Scott looked up to see Au’kai and the conductor hurrying down the aisle followed by four men.
“Mr. Lancer.” The conductor leaned forward not wanting the rest of the passengers to hear of his neglect. “You should have told me your brother was hurt so badly.”
Scott shot him an angry look. “When I asked for a sleeping car I thought Johnny’s leg in a cast would give you the hint that he was hurt.”
“The train was filled, Sir. But that is not your worry. Please accept my apology. These gentlemen here have agreed to exchange their sleeper car for your seats after hearing Dr. Cabrera’s concerns for his patient.”
Scott looked up at Au’kai in surprise but caught the censure in his eyes and played along. The four men who had given up their sleeper car wore smug smiles. There was more to this than just their concern for Johnny’s wellbeing.
“The sleeper cars are three cars up the line,” the conductor explained. “Will you need help getting your brother…”
“I don’t need help,” Johnny spat. “Just get me them crutches.”
“Well I’ll be damned,” one of the four men grinned.
“If it ain’t Johnny Madrid himself, boys. What happened Johnny? Got yerself banged up?”
Johnny struggled to stand and grabbed the crutches from Scott. “Andy, I thought you were still doing time in Kansas.”
“Nope, done my time. Me and the boys were just heading to Sacramento to join up with a cattle drive to Stockton. Hard but honest work. Thought we’d treat ourselves to a little on the way. But ya can’t beat fifty dollars and a free train ticket, even if it means sitting up all the way.”
Scott saw the sudden anger flare up in Johnny’s eyes but caught his arm before he could sit back down and gently pulled him into the isle. “You can be stubborn later,” he whispered. “Let’s go.”
The trip between the cars was nearly Johnny’s undoing as he struggled to cross the narrow bucking floorboard covering the coupling between cars. The buffeting of the wind and the clang of the wheels on the tracks, as they sped through the night, combined into a cacophony of deafening sound. Scott and Au’kai stood in the open doorway of each car watching, their shouts of encouragement and caution lost in the mayhem.
Johnny was sure his arms would not hold him another minute as he finally made it to the sleeping car. Their berth was two compartments down and the porter was just stepping out of it. Johnny was surprised to find the porter had already turned one of the seats into a bed with sheets and several pillows stacked against the wall. The thought of taking one more step, even for the comfort of the bed seemed beyond him and his world suddenly spun and he felt strong arms grab him as he slid into blackness. *
The sound of the train on the tracks was at first soothing as Johnny drifted back toward consciousness, until the cadence of the wheels began to throb in his leg. He pried his eyes open to see the soft light of a wall sconce. Deep blue velour curtains covered a window above his head and the same color covered the bench seat facing his berth. Scott and Au’kai sat there watching him carefully as he began to stir.
“It’s about time you decided to join us again.” Scott smiled. “I thought you were going to sleep the entire trip away.”
“Sorry,” Johnny said, hating this feeling of helplessness. He had broken his arm before, but he couldn’t remember it being this painful a week later. Then an old farmer who had found him set his arm and wrapped it in a splint. It had been cumbersome but so much lighter than the cast that weighed at least a hundred pounds in his estimation.
He was slumped against the outside wall of the car, a mound of pillows behind his back insulating him somewhat from the shaking of the train. His leg was elevated on three pillows, relieving the pressure he had felt on his hip when he had been sitting on the bench seat in the passenger car.
“How does your leg feel?” Au’kai asked.
“Better.” Johnny suddenly remembered how he had gotten here and frowned. “You paid Andy and his friends fifty dollars each to get this sleeper?”
Ai’kai shrugged. “It was well worth it, don’t you think?”
“I don’t take charity,” Johnny snapped.
“Be nice, Johnny,” Scott warned. There was no recrimination in his voice; he knew Johnny and his pride all too well. “We already talked about it.”
“Your brother has invited me to spend some time at your ranch before heading on to San Francisco. It will be interesting to see an American paniolo at work I might persuade you to let me ride along.”
“Roping and branding?”
Scott grinned. “It’s perfect. We’ll be one man down with your leg out of commission. Au’kai can take your place.”
Johnny snorted. “Yeah, sure.”
“You might be surprised,” Au’kai replied smugly.
There was a light tap at the door and Au’kai greeted the porter and thanked him for a tray containing one cup.
“This may not taste that good,” Au’kai offered Johnny the cup. ”But it will take the edge off the pain and relax you.”
“I don’t take laudanum.” Johnny refused.
“It’s not laudanum. It is Kava Tea. It is made from the root of the kava plant. It was first used in sacred Hawaiian ceremonies. Now it is used as a relaxant, and when brewed stronger, as a medicinal tea. I introduced it to the doctors in Cambridge, and even though they felt it unethical to prescribe an unknown tea to their patients, they used it themselves. We still have another day on this train. You need something.”
“You really are a doctor?” Scott asked, surprised.
Au’kai nodded. “I am returning home after four years of medical school in Cambridge Massachusetts and two years working in a hospital there. I hope that my people will accept new ideas.”
Johnny sniffed at the tea, crinkling his nose. “It is the same with many of the people in the smaller villages in Mexico. They believe in the old brujas. But,” he took a sip of the kava tea and grimaced. “Dios, this tastes awful. Almost as bad as the bruja’s tea.”
“Another story you haven’t told me, brother?” Scott asked quizzically.
“Maybe some day,” Johnny replied, still sipping the tea.
Half way through the cup he looked up. “My lips feel numb,” he complained.
Au’kai laughed. “And the pain in your leg?”
Johnny looked at him, surprised. “Better.”
“Then finish it,” Au’kai prompted.
Johnny drank the rest of the foul tasting tea then settled back against the pillows, feeling relaxed but still clear headed. “Your paniolos drink this stuff?”
Au’kai nodded. “It tastes better than your tequila and the next morning you do not wish you were dead.”
Johnny laughed. “Been there. But tequila still tastes a hell of a lot better than this stuff.”
Johnny nestled even deeper into his bed, the sound of the train speeding down the tracks, the soft light from the wall sconce and good company lulling him into a feeling of comfort and safety he seldom felt so profoundly.
“Tell me about Hawaii,” he said, his words slurred slightly.
Au’kai sat back and closed his eyes, a wistful smile playing at his lips. “You would love it, Johnny. It is always warm and always green. It rains every morning then clears. Huge white clouds hover over the tops of the volcanoes. The water is as blue as the sky. The fish jump into our nets. Ahi, Mahaiahi, Ono and Humuhumunukunukuaoua.”
“Who-moo what?” Johnny looked toward Scott for help.
“Don’t ask me!” Scott laughed.
Au’kai grinned and pronounced the fish slowly, his lyrical voice filling the car. “Who-moo who-moo new-koo new-koo apoo ah-ah. A big name for a small fish.”
Johnny rolled the name around in his mind and liked the sound of it.
“Everywhere there are thick jungles of ferns and taro leaves. We have abundant fruit. Pineapple, guava, passion fruit, papaya and bananas. We drink the milk of the coconuts and eat the meat. We are never hungry and never cold. You have your fiestas and barbeques and we have our luaus. We dig a deep fire pit and line it with lava rocks until they are as hot as the volcano, then cover the rocks with ti and taro rocks, put in a pig that has been stuffed with more hot rocks and cover that with another layer of ti and taro leaves. We cover it all with dirt and let it cook overnight. In the morning we have the most delicious pig. We eat and dance all day until we can not eat any more pig or poi.”
“You’ll have to make one while you are at Lancer,” Scott said. “No poi, of course.”
“You have tasted it?” Scott nodded. “Once and that was enough.”
“I am told it is an acquired taste. Much the same as Johnny’s tequila.”
Johnny snorted at the friendly insult. “I still haven’t got Scott to eat the worm.”
“And you won’t.” Scott laughed. “Tell us more, Au’kai.”
“Si, Au’kai,” Johnny urged. “More, por favor.”
“There are eight major islands with smaller islands and atolls; Ni’ihau, Kaua’i, O’ahu, Molola’i, Lana’i, Kaho’olawe., Maui and Hawai’i. Hawai’i is bigger than all the other islands combined. It can take days to ride from shore to shore. I live on the east side in Waimea. In the winter there is snow atop Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.”
Johnny listened, his mind still crystal clear and yet every muscle in his body felt relaxed and at ease.
“Most of the cattle graze in the Waimea* Valley.”
“I didn’t know Hawaii ran cattle,” Scott said. “I’ve read about the sugar cane fields.”
Au’kai nodded. “It is told that Captain George Vancouver gave King Kamehameha five longhorn cattle in 1793. The cattle were let loose into the lush forests and wet lands to flourish. The King then put a kapu on the cattle so that my people could not touch them. By 1819, the cattle population had become uncontrollable. Many villages were destroyed and people killed when the cattle stampeded.”
King Kamehameha the III sent three of his high chiefs to California, which was still part of Mexico then, and asked several vaqueros to return with them to Hawaii to teach my people how to control the cattle. Thirteen years later, in 1832, two vaqueros returned to Hawaii with the chiefs. They brought with them Spanish-rigged saddles and cow ponies. The vaqueros had to teach the young men of the villages how to catch wild horses and train them to work the cattle. Only the strongest and fastest horses could be used on the dangerous lava rock.”
Scott nodded. “I read that Hawaii still has an active volcano.”
“Kilauea *,” Au’kai confirmed. “It is a beautiful sight to see the lava flow at night. You both must come for a visit. And you Johnny, with your Mexican style pants…you would fit right in. The first vaqueros wore pants with studs like yours. Our paniolo dress much like that still.”
“Wait,” Johnny said, his mouth still too numb to pronounce his words clearly. “Where did the wild horses come from? Had to be a lot more than just what those two vaqueros brought.”
“Captain Cook landed on the Big Island in 1778 and brought with him horses, pigs, sheep, dogs, cats and more cattle. He changed Hawaii forever.”
“And your father? Was he one of the first two vaqueros?” Scott asked.
“No, he came ten years later. He met my mother Leilani Puunoa . I was born two years later.”
“You must be anxious to get back,” Johnny said, his eyes growing heavy.
“Yes. But I have had a remarkable time meeting new people and learning new customs. But I have one question. One of those men who gave up his seat here called you Madrid. I thought your name was Lancer.”
Johnny gave up the fight to keep his eyes open. The rhythm of the train and the effects of the kava tea lulled him toward sleep. “Tell him, Boston. He’ll find out once he gets to Lancer anyway.”
Scott smiled and pulled the sheet up around Johnny’s shoulders. “All right, I’ll tell him the real story. Johnny Madrid will be in good hands.”
“I know,” Johnny sighed as he slid toward deep sleep. What had started out to be a painful train ride home had turned into a night he would never forget.
AUTHOR’S NOTE Pronunciation Guide:
* Au’Kai – Owe-Ki – / Puunoa – Poo –oo-no- ah.
* Waimea – Why-may-ah/ * Kilauea Kill-ah-way-ah
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7 thoughts on “The Train and the Paniolo by Linda B (Kona)”
Pretty neat story, I just wished that it was longer. Thanks for sharing and keeping Lancer land alive. JML always ♥️
That was a nice story, and I learned about Hawaii too.
A very interesting story. I’ve been interested in Hawaiian culture since I began watching “Hawaii Five-O,” so I very much enjoyed this story.
Thank you for sharing a unique and enlightening story.
This was a nice story. Thank you.
I really enjoyed this story. Such an interesting meeting. Would have lover to see what happened when they got back to the ranch with the doctor. I lover all of your stories. You are such a talented writer.
Great story! I didn’t want it to end
Thanks for sharing