"Indian boy do."
In the three years that followed, Sherry learned to do that and a great many other feats—some of which evoked worried warnings from her father. Dog Lies Sleeping greeted each of her successes with an offhand grunt of approval, followed by yet another new, seemingly impossible, challenge, and sooner or later, Sherry rose to every one. Their income increased as a result of Dog Lies Sleeping's intricate handiwork, and they ate much better as a result of his superior hunting and fishing skills. If people found them a peculiar trio—the old Indian, the young girl who wore deerskin pants and who could ride not only bareback and astride but backward at a full-out gallop, and the amiable, soft-spoken Irishman who gambled regularly but with cautious restraint—Sherry didn't notice it. In fact, she rather thought the folk who lived in busy, crowded towns such as Baltimore, Augusta, and Charlotte led very odd, stifled lives compared to theirs. In fact, she didn't mind in the least that her papa was taking so long to win enough money to build their mansion in the village of Sherwyn's Glen.
She mentioned that very thing to Raphael Benavente, a handsome, blue-eyed Spaniard in his mid-twenties, a few days after he decided to travel with them toward Savannah on his way from St. Augustine.
"Cara mia," he had said, laughing heartily. "It is good you are not in a hurry, for your papa is a very bad gambler. I sat across from him last night in a little game at Madame Gertrude's establishment, and there was much cheating."
"My papa would never cheat!" she'd protested, leaping to her feet in indignation.
"No, this I believe," he quickly assured her, catching her wrist as she whirled around. "But he did not realize that others were cheating."
"You should have—" her eyes dropped to the gun he wore at his hip, and she grew even angrier at the idea of someone cheating her papa out of their hard-earned money—"shot them! Yes, shot them all, that's what!"
"That I could not do, querida," he stated, while amusement again lit his face. "Because, you see, I was one of the cheaters."
Sheridan yanked her wrist free. "You cheated my papa?"
"No, no," he said, making an unsuccessful effort to sober his expression. "I only cheat when it is entirely necessary—such as when others are cheating—and I only cheat those who would cheat me."
As she later learned, Raphael was something of an expert at gambling, having been, by his own admission, cast out of his family's huge hacienda in Mexico as punishment for what he called his "many bad ways."
Sheridan, who prized her own tiny family, was dismayed to discover that some parents actually cast their children out, and she was equally dismayed at the thought that Raphael might have committed some sort of unspeakable deed to warrant that. When she cautiously broached the subject to her father, he put his arm reassuringly around her shoulders and said that Raphael had explained the real reason he'd been sent away by his family, and that it had something to do with caring too much for a lady who was unfortunately already married.
Sheridan accepted his explanation without further question, not only because her father was always very careful about the character of any man allowed to travel with them for an extended length of time, but also because she wanted to think the best of Raphael. Although she was only twelve years old, she was positive Raphael Benavente was the handsomest and most charming man on earth—with the exception of her father, of course.
He told her wonderful stories, teased her about her ruffian ways, and told her that she was going to be a very, very beautiful woman someday. He said her eyes were as cool as gray storm clouds and that God had given them to her to go with the fire in her hair. Until then, Sheridan hadn't cared in the least about her appearance, but she hoped devoutly that Raphael was correct about her future looks and that he would wait around to find out. Until then she was content to bask in his company and be treated like a child.
Unlike most of the travellers they encountered, Rafe always seemed to have plenty of money and no particular destination or goal in mind. He gambled more often than her father did and spent his winnings as he pleased. One day, after they'd set up their wagon on the fringe of Savannah, Georgia, he disappeared for four days and nights. When he reappeared on the fifth day, he reeked of perfume and whiskey. Based on the snatches of conversation she'd overheard the year before among a group of married women heading to Missouri with their husbands in a small caravan, she concluded that Rafe's state was proof he'd been in the company of "a harlot." Although she had an incomplete idea of what constituted a harlot, she knew from that same conversation that a harlot was a woman who was not respectable and who possessed some sort of evil power to "lead a man away from the path of righteousness." Although Sherry did not know exactly what a woman did to become not respectable, she knew enough to react instinctively.
When Rafe returned that day, unshaven and smelling of harlots, Sheridan had been on her knees, trying to phrase an awkward prayer for his safety and trying not to cry with fear. Within moments, she went from fear to jealous indignation, and she stayed aloof and angry for a record full day. When his cajolery didn't soften her, he shrugged and seemed not to care, but the following night, he strolled into their camp with a mischievous grin on his face and a guitar in his hands. Pretending to ignore her, he sat down across the fire from her and began to play.
Sherry had heard other guitars played before, but not the way Rafe played this one. Beneath his nimble fingers, the strings vibrated with a strange, pulsating rhythm that made her heart beat faster and her toes wiggle in her boots in time with the tempo. Then suddenly the tempo changed and the music became incredibly wistful and so sad that the guitar itself seemed to be crying. The third melody he played was light and gay, and he looked at her across the campfire, gave her a wink, and began to say the words that went with the song as if he were saying them to her. They told the story of a foolish man who didn't value the things he had or the woman who loved him until he lost everything. Before Sherry could react to the shock—and possibilities—of that, he began to play another melody, lovely and soft, a song she knew. "Sing the words with me, querida," he said lightly.
Singing was a favorite pastime for many people when they travelled, including the Bromleigh group, but on that night, Sherry felt unaccountably shy and awkward before she closed her eyes and made herself think only of the music and the sky and the night. She sang along with him, his deep baritone a counterpoint to her higher notes.