Ramon Rotil stood a long minute after the clank of chains ceased along th_orridor; then he bolted the outer door of the chapel, and after casting _rim satisfied smile at the screen of the faded canvas, he opened the door o_he _sala_ and went in.
Valencia was kneeling beside Doña Jocasta and forcing brandy between the whit_ips, while Elena bustled around the padre whose head she had been bathing. _asin of water, ruby red, was evidence of the fact that Padre Andreas was no_n immediate need of the services of a leech. He sat with his bandaged hea_eld in his hands, and shrank perceptibly when the general entered the room.
Doña Jocasta swallowed some of the brandy, half strangled over it, and sat up, gasping and white. It was Tula who offered her a cup of water, while Valencia, with fervent expressions of gratitude to the saints, got to her feet, eyein_otil with a look of fear. After the wounded priest and the fainting Jocast_merged from the chapel door, the two women were filled with terror of th_ontrolling spirit there.
He halted on the threshold, his eyes roving from face to face, including Tula, who stood, back against the wall, regarding him as usual with much admiration.
One thing more he must know.
“Go you without,” he said with a gesture towards the two women and the priest.
“I will speak with this lady alone.”
They all moved to the door, and after a moment of hesitation Tula was about t_ollow when he stopped her.
“You stay, girl. The Doña Jocasta may want a maid, but take yourself ove_here.”
So Tula slipped silently back into the niche of the window seat where th_hadows were deepest, and Rotil moved towards the center table dragging _hair. On the other side of the table was the couch on which Jocasta sat, white and startled at the dismissal of the woman and priest.
“Be composed,” he said gentling his tone as one would to soothe a child.
“There are some things to be said between us here, and too many ears are of n_dvantage.”
She did not reply; only inclined her head slightly and drew herself uprigh_gainst the wall, gathering the lace _rebosa_ across her bosom where Valenci_ad unfastened her garments and forgotten them in her fear.
“First is the matter of my debt to you. Do you know in your own mind how grea_hat is?”
“I––count it as nothing, señor,” she murmured.
“That is because you do not know the great need, and have not made count o_he cases of rifles and ammunition.”
“It is true, I never looked at them. Juan Gonsalvo in dying blamed José Pere_or the shot. It was fired by another hand,––but God alone knows! So Juan sen_or me, and José never knew. The secret of Soledad was given to me then, but _ever thought to use it, until–––”
She ceased, shuddering, and he knew she was thinking of the blood-staine_riest whirled into her presence. Fallen though the state of the priesthoo_ight be in Mexico, there were yet women of Jocasta’s training to whom a_ssault on the clergy was little less than a mortal sin. He knew that, an_miled grimly at the remembrance of her own priestly father who had refuse_er in honest marriage to a man of her mother’s class, and was busily engage_aggling over the gift price of her with José Perez when death caught him. Th_ewildered girl was swept to the estate of Perez without either marriage o_ift, unless one choose to consider as gift the shelter and food given to _ounger sister and brother.
All this went through his mind as she shrank and sighed because he had tosse_ priest from his way with as slight regard as he would the poorest peon. Sh_id not even know how surely the destiny of her mother and her own destiny ha_een formed by a priest’s craft. She would never know, because her mind woul_efuse to accept it. There were thousands like her because of their shadowe_nheritance. Revolution for the men grew out of that bondage of women, an_otil had isolated moments when he dreamed of a vast and blessed freedom o_he land––schools, and schools, and more schools until knowledge would belon_o the people instead of to the priests!
But he knew it was no use to tell thoughts like that to women; they wer_fraid to let go their little wooden saints and the jargon of prayers they di_ot understand. The mystery of it held them!
Thus brooded Rotil, unlearned driver of burros and general of an army of th_eople!
“We will forget all but the ammunition,” he said. “It is as food to my men, and some of them are starving there to the east; with ammunition food can b_ommandeered. I knew the guns were on Soledad land, but even a golden dream o_ngels would not have let me hope for as much as you have given me. It i_acked,––that room, from floor to roof tiles. In the morning I take the trail, and there is much to be done before I go. You;––I must think of first. Wil_ou let me be your confessor, and tell me any wish of your heart I may hel_ou to?”
“My heart has no wish left alive in it,” she said. “There have been days whe_ had wish for the hut under the palms where my mother lived. A childis_ish,––but other wishes are dead!”
“There is no going back,” he said, staring at the tiles, and not looking a_er. “It is of future things we must think. He said things––Perez did, an_ou–––”
“Yes!” she half whispered. “There is no way but to tell of it, but––I woul_sk that the child wait outside. The story is not a story for a girl child, Ramon.”
He motioned to Tula.
“Outside the door, but in call,” he said, and without a word or look Tula wen_oftly out.
There was silence for a bit between them, her hands were clasped at ful_ength, and she leaned forward painfully tense, looking not at him, but pas_im.
“It is not easy, but you will comprehend better than many,” she said at last.
“There were three of us. There was my little brother Palemon, who ran awa_ast year to be a soldier––he was only fourteen. José would not let me sen_earchers for him, and he may be dead. Then there was only––only Lucita an_e. You maybe remember Lucita?”
Her question was wistful as if it would help her to even know he remembered.
He nodded his head in affirmation.
“A golden child,” he said. “I have seen pictured saints and angels in grea_hurches since the days in the hills, but never once so fair a child as littl_ucita.”
“Yes, white and gold, and an angel of innocence,” she said musingly. “Alway_he was that, always! And there was a sweetheart, Mariano Avila, a good lad, and the wedding was to be. She was embroidering the wedding shirt for Marian_hen––God! God!”
She got up suddenly and paced the floor, her arms hugging her shoulders tigh_s if to keep from sobbing. He rose and stood watching, but uttered no word.
After a little she returned to the couch, and began to speak in a more eve_one.
“There is so much to tell. Much happened. Conrad was driving José to do man_hings not at first in their plans. Also there was more drinking,––much more!
It was Conrad made plans for the slave raids. He no longer asked José’_ermission for anything; he gave command to the men and José had to listen.
Only one secret thing was yet hidden from him, the hiding place of the gun_rom the north. José said if that was uncovered he might as well give up hi_anchos. In his heart he could not trust Conrad. Each had a watch set on th_ther! Juan got his death because he made rendezvous with the German.
“That is how it was when the slave raid was made north of here, and the mos_eautiful Indian girl killed herself somewhere in this desert when there wa_o other way to escape the man;––the scar on the face of Conrad was from he_nife. It was a bad cut, and after that there was trouble, and much drink an_ad quarrels. Also it was that time Juan Gonsalvo was shot and died from it.
Juana, his sister, came in secret for me while he could yet speak, and tha_as when–––”
She halted, closing her eyes as if to shut out some horror. He thought sh_hrank from remembrance of how the secret of Soledad was given to her, fo_uan must have been practically a dead man when he gave it up. After a momen_he went on in the sad tone of the utterly hopeless.
“I speak of the mad quarrels of those two men, Ramon, but it was never of tha_ had fear. The fear came each time the quarrel was done, and they again swor_o be friends, for in the new ‘friend hours’ of drinking, strange thing_appened, strange wagers and strange gifts.”
Again she paused, and this time she lifted her eyes to Rotil.
“Always I hated the German. I never carried a blade until after his eye_ollowed me! He tried to play the prince, the great gentleman, with me––a gir_f the hills! Only once he touched my hand, and I scoured it with san_fterwards while José laughed. But the German did not laugh,––he only watche_e! Once when José was in a rage with me Conrad said he could make of me _reat lady in his own land if I would listen. Instead of listening I showe_im my knife. After that God only knows what he told against me, but José became bitter––bitter, and jealous, and spies always at my back!
“So Lucita and Mariano and I made plans. They were to marry, and we thre_ould steal away in secret and cross the border. That was happiness to plan, for my life––my life was hell, so I thought! But I had not yet learned wha_ell could be,” she confessed drearily.
“Tell me,” he said very gently. Those who thought they knew “El Gavilan,” th_erciless, would not have recognized his voice at that moment.
“No, I had not learned,” she went on drearily. “I thought that to carry _nife for myself made all safe––I did not know! I told you Juana Gonsalvo cam_or me very secretly to hear the last words of Juan. But I did not tell you w_ived in the _casita_ , little Lucita and I. It is across a garden from th_acienda, and was once a priest’s house; that was in the days of the mother o_osé. It is very sweet there under the rose vines, and it was sanctuary fo_s. When José and the German had their nights of carouse we went there an_ocked ourselves in. There were iron bars on the high windows, and shutters o_ood inside, so we were never afraid. I heard Conrad tell José he was a foo_ot to blow it up with dynamite some day of fiesta. It was the night afte_heir great quarrel, and it was a terrible time. They were pledging friendshi_nce more in much wine. Officers from the town were at the hacienda with wome_ho were––well, I would not go in, and José was wild. He came to the _casita_nd called threats at me. I thought the German was with him, for he sai_onrad was right, and the house would be blown up with the first dynamite h_ould spare,––but threats were no new thing to us! I tried to soothe littl_ucita by talk of the wedding, and all the pretty bride things were taken ou_f the chest and spread on the bed; one _rebosa_ of white I put over he_houlders, and the child was dancing to show me she was no longer afraid–––!
“That was when Juana came to the window. I knew her voice and opened the door.
I did not want Lucita frightened again, so I did not let her know a man wa_ying––only that a sick person wanted me for a little––little minute, and _ould be back.
“I knew Juan Gonsalvo had been killed because he had been trusted fa_nough,––I knew it! That thought struck me very hard, for I––I might be th_ext, and I wanted first to send those two children happily out of reach o_orrow. Strange it is that because she was first, the very first in my heart, I went out that door in the night and for the first time left her alone! Bu_hat is how it was; we had to be so quick––and so silent––and it was her han_losed the door after us, her hand on the bolt!
“Juan Gonsalvo had only fought for life until he could see me, and then th_reath went. No one but I heard his whispers of the door of the picture her_n Soledad. He told me his death was murder, and his last word was agains_erez. It was only minutes, little minutes I was there, and the way was no_ar, but when I went back through the garden the door of the _casita_ stoo_ide and light streamed out! I do not know how I was sure it was empty, but _as, and I seemed to go dead inside, though I started to run.
“To cross that garden was like struggling in a dream with bands about my feet.
I wake with that dream many nights––many!––I heard her before I could reac_he path. Her screams were not in the _casita_ , but in the hacienda. The_ere––they were––terrible! I tried to go––and then I knew she had broke_way––I could see her like a white spirit fly back towards the light in th_pen door. The man following her tripped in some way and fell, and I leape_ver him to follow her. We got inside and drew the bolt.
“Then––But there are things not to be told––they belong to the dead!
“Perez came there to the door and made demands for Conrad’s woman,––that i_ow he said it! He said she had gone to Conrad’s apartment of her own will an_ust go back. Lucita knelt at my feet in her torn bridal garment and told ho_ woman had come as Juana had come, and said that I wanted her. The child ha_o doubt, she followed, and––and it was indeed to that drunken beast they too_er!
“José was also drunk, crazy drunk. He told me to stand away from that door fo_hey were coming in, also that he had made gift of Lucita to his friend, an_he must be given up. Then they began to fire guns in the lock! It seemed _ong, long time she held to me there and begged me to save her, but it coul_ot have been… . The lock gave way, and only the bolt held. I clasped he_lose to me and whispered telling her to pray, but I never took my eyes of_he door. When I saw it shaking, I made the sign of the cross over her, an_he knife I had carried for myself found her heart quickly! That is how I too_n me the shadow of murder, and that is why the priest threatens me with th_ires of hell if I do not repent––and I am not repenting, Ramon.”
“By God, no!” he muttered, staring into her defiant eyes. “That was a fin_hing, and your mother gave good blood to her children, Jocasta. And then–––?”
“I laid her on the bed among her bridal laces, all white––white! Over he_reast I folded her still hands, and set a candle at her head, though I dare_ot pray! The door was giving way.
“I pushed back the bolt, also I spoke, but it did not seem me! That i_trange, but of a truth I did not know the voice I heard say: ‘Enter, her bod_s yours––and she no longer flees from you.’
“‘Ha! That is good sense at last!’ said José, and Conrad laughed and praise_imself as a lover.
“‘I told you so!’ he grunted. ‘The little dear one knows that a nice whit_erman is not so bad!’
“And again I heard the voice strange to me say, ‘She knows nothing, José––an_he knows all!’
“José stumbled in smiling, but Conrad, though drunk, stopped at the door whe_e saw my hand with the knife. I thought my skirt covered it as I waited fo_im––for the child had told me enough––I––I failed, Ramon! His oath was _urious choked scream as I tried to reach him. I do not know if it was th_nife, or the dead girl on the bed made him scream like that, but I knew the_he German was at heart a coward.
“José was too strong for me, and the knife could not do its work. I wa_truck, and my head muffled in a _serape_. After that I knew nothing.
“Days and nights went by in a locked room. I never got out of it until I wa_hained hand and foot and sent north in a peon’s ox-cart. Men guarded me unti_arto with other men waited for me on the trail. José Perez could have had m_illed, yes. Or he could have had me before the judges for murder, but silenc_as the thing he most wanted––for there is Doña Dolores Terain yet to be won.
He has sent me north that the General Terain, her father, will think me out o_is life. One of the guards told an alcalde I was his wife, he was sure tha_tory would be repeated back to Hermosillo! These are days in Sonora when n_ne troubles about one woman or one child who is out of sight, and we may b_ure he and Conrad had a well-made story to tell. He knows it is now all ove_ith me, that I have a hate of which he is afraid, so he does not have m_hot;––he only sends me to Soledad in the wilderness where fighting bands o_he revolution cross all trails, and his men have orders that I am not to g_ut of the desert alive.”
“I see!” said Rotil thoughtfully, “and––it is all gone now––the love of him?”
“All the love in the world is gone, amigo,” she said, looking away from hi_hrough the barred window where the night sky was growing bright from th_ising moon. “I was a child enchanted by the glory of the world and his lov_ords. Out of all that false glitter of life I have walked, a blackened sou_ith a murderer’s hand. How could love be again with me?”
He looked at her steadily, the slender thing of creamy skin and Madonna eye_hat had been the Dream of Youth to him, the one devotee at an altar in who_e had believed––nothing in the humanity of the world would ever have faith o_is again!
“That is so, Jocasta,” he said at last, “you are a woman, and in the shadow.
The little golden singing one is gone out of your life, and the new music mus_e different! I will think about that for you. Go now to your sleep, for ther_s work of men to be done, and the night scarce long enough for it.”
He opened the door for her and stood with bent head as she passed. His me_ounging in the patio could see that manner of deference, and exchanged look_nd comments. To the victor belong the spoils in Mexico, and here was _weeping victory,––yet the general looked the other way!
“Child, accompany the señora,” he said kindly to Tula at the door. “Chappo, bring Marto to see me. The new American capitan said he was a man of value, and the lad was right. Work of importance waits for him tonight.”