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Chapter 17 THE STORY OF DOÑA JOCASTA

  • 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.”