The building had once been the house of a Spanish nobleman. The large airy courtyard with its golden stucco walls and ornate tile paving had been converted into an outdoor kitchen. In the beautiful fountained courtyard children of various ages stirred big pots of beans, patted and stretched tortillas, and dared one another to eat some of the potent jalapeño peppers from the orphanage garden as they sliced them up to add to the food.
“Here, I’ll take one,” Bartholomew said as he walked up behind them. The children were startled to find the tall, black-clad man towering over them, but when they recognized the judge they were all over him with cries in Spanish of, “Buenos Dias, Señor Judge!” “Did you hang any gunfighters today, Señor Judge?” “Pick me up, Señor Judge!” Bartholomew swung a little boy up onto his shoulder and paraded him around.
“Here, Señor Judge,” a sly-eyed teenage girl called out. “Your jalapeño.”
Bartholomew hesitated. Alethia smiled, eyes bright with amusement. Bartholomew put the little boy down and grabbed the jalapeño, popping it into his mouth.
“Gracias, Señorita,” he said to the girl. “Señorita Alethia, let’s go on out back.”
They passed into the dusty back yard of the mission. Bartholomew headed straight for the well in the center of the yard. A number of children stopped their play to watch as Bartholomew stood for several minutes drinking straight out of the bucket. The kitchen “staff” came to the back door to watch as well. Finally Bartholomew lifted his head and gasped for air. He glared around at the children and they went hastily back to their former occupations. Only Alethia laughed openly at him as she picked his hat up from the ground, tapped the dust from it, and held it out to him.
“It is always the same,” she said as she wiped tears from her eyes. “Will you never conquer your pride?”
“Why Señorita, it’s not pride,” Bartholomew exclaimed. “It takes real humility to let all these children see me trying to drown myself in your well every time I come. But upon my honor, I can eat normal jalapeños without even blinking. I don’t know what you do to yours.”
“The pastor and I appreciate all you do for the orphanage, Señor Judge,” Alethia said soberly as they stood watching the children play. “Most people would say their duty was done with the gifts you make to us.”
“We’re unprofitable servants if we only do our duty,” Bartholomew replied. “I want do everything I can for the mission and orphanage, especially since it happens to be the home of my advisor, my confidante… my dear friend Alethia.”
“Judge, you have done so much for me already. I owe all that I am to you.”
“Alethia, I feel as if I owe everything to you. If I had a sister, she couldn’t understand and help and counsel me the way you do. And you serve everybody else in the city too. What would we all do without Alethia, our teacher, our nurse, our counselor, our friend?”
Robert stepped out of the kitchen doorway at that moment, and Alethia noticed his new clothes.
“Bienvenido, Marshal!” She said as Robert approached. “Why, Judge, I forgot your company was to arrive today. Have they already come? Did they have a safe journey?”
“Yes. The lady was … very tired. She’s at the hotel resting.”
“I should think she would be tired. I did hope to catch a glimpse of her, but I am sure I will see her another time. Vaya con Dios, Señor Judge.” She held out her hands and Bartholomew clasped them in his.
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