Carmen Ariza Part 23

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"You are real hungry, and you are going to eat all of this and get strong again. Right away!" she added, emphatically expressing her confidence in the a.s.sumption.

Jose made no reply. He seemed again to be trying to sound the unfathomable depths of the child's brown eyes. Mechanically he took the spoon she handed him.

"See!" she exclaimed, while her eyes danced. "A silver spoon! Madre Ariza borrowed it from Dona Maria Alcozer. They have lots of silver.

Now eat."

From his own great egoism, his years of heart-ache, sorrows, and shames, the priest's heavy thought slowly lifted and centered upon the child's beautiful face. The animated little figure before him radiated such abundant life that he himself caught the infection; and with it his sense of weakness pa.s.sed like an illusion.

"And look, Padre! The broth--isn't it good?"

Jose tasted, and declared it delicious.

"Well, you know"--the enthusiastic little maid clambered up on the bed--"yesterday it was Manuela--she was my hen. I told her a week ago that you would need her--"

"And you gave up your hen for me, little one?" he interrupted.

"Why--yes, Padre. It was all right. I told her how it was. And she clucked so hard, I knew she was glad to help the good _Cura_. And she was so happy about it! I told her she really wouldn't die. You know, things never do--do they?"

The priest hesitated. To hide his confusion and gain time he began to eat rapidly.

"No, they don't," said the girl confidently, answering her own question. "Because," she added, "G.o.d is _everywhere_--isn't He?"

What manner of answer could he, of all men, make to such terribly direct questions as these! And it was well that Carmen evidently expected none--that in her great innocence she a.s.sumed for him the same beautiful faith which she herself held.

"Dona Jacinta didn't die last week. But they said she did; and so they took her to the cemetery and put her in a dark _boveda_. And the black buzzards sat on the wall and watched them. Padre Rosendo said she had gone to the angels--that G.o.d took her. But, Padre, G.o.d doesn't make people sick, does He? They get sick because they don't know who He is.

Every day I told G.o.d I knew He would cure you. And He did, didn't He?"

While the girl paused for breath, her eyes sparkled, and her face glowed with exaltation. Child-like, her active mind flew from one topic to another, with no thought of connecting links.

"This morning, Padre, two little green parrots flew across the lake and perched on our roof. And they sat there and watched Cuc.u.mbra eat his breakfast; and they tried to steal his fish; and they scolded so loud! Why did they want to steal from him, when there is so much to eat everywhere? But they didn't know any better, did they? I don't think parrots love each other very much, for they scold so hard.

Padre, it is so dark in here; come out and see the sun and the lake and the mountains. And my garden--Padre, it is beautiful! Esteban said next time he went up the trail he would bring me a monkey for a pet; and I am going to name it Hombrecito. And Captain Julio is going to bring me a doll from down the river. But," with a merry, musical trill, "Juan said the night you came that _you_ were my doll! Isn't he funny!" And throwing back her little head, the child laughed heartily.

"Padre, you must help padre Rosendo with his arithmetic. Every night he puts on his big spectacles and works so hard to understand it. He says he knows Satan made fractions. But, Padre, that isn't so, is it?

Not if G.o.d made everything. Padre, you know _everything_, don't you?

Padre Rosendo said you did. There are lots of things I want you to tell me--such lots of things that n.o.body here knows anything about.

Padre,"--the child leaned toward the priest and whispered low--"the people here don't know who G.o.d is; and you are going to teach them!

There was a _Cura_ here once, when I was a baby; but I guess he didn't know G.o.d, either."

She lapsed into silence, as if pondering this thought. Then, clapping her hands with unfeigned joy, she cried in a shrill little voice, "Oh, Padre, I am _so_ glad you have come to Simiti! I just _knew_ G.o.d would not forget us!"

Jose had no reply to make. His thought was busy with the phenomenon before him: a child of man, but one who, like Israel of old, saw G.o.d and heard His voice at every turn of her daily walk. Untutored in the ways of men, without trace of sophistication or cant, unblemished as she moved among the soiled vessels about her, s.h.i.+ning with celestial radiance in this unknown, moldering town so far from the world's beaten paths.

The door opened softly and Rosendo entered, preceded by a cheery greeting.

_"Hombre!_" he exclaimed, surveying the priest, "but you mend fast!

You have eaten all the broth! But I told the good wife that the little Carmen would be better than medicine for you, and that you must have her just as soon as you should awake."

Jose's eyes dilated with astonishment. Absorbed in the child, he had consumed almost his entire breakfast.

"He is well, padre Rosendo, he is well!" cried the girl, bounding up and down and dancing about the tall form of her foster-father. Then, darting to Jose, she seized his hand and cried, "Now to see my garden!

And Cuc.u.mbra! And--!"

"Quiet, child!" commanded Rosendo, taking her by the arm. "The good _Cura_ is ill, and must rest for several days yet."

"No, padre Rosendo, he is well--all well! Aren't you, Padre?"

appealing to Jose, and again urging him forth.

The rapidity of the conversation and the animation of the beautiful child caused complete forgetfulness of self, and, together with the restorative effect of the wholesome food, acted upon the priest like a magical tonic. Weak though he was, he clung to her hand and, struggling out of the bed, stood uncertainly upon the floor. Instantly Rosendo's arm was about him.

"Don't try it, Padre," the latter urged anxiously. "The heat will be too much for you. Another day or two of rest will make you right."

But the priest, heedless of the admonition, suffered himself to be led by the child; and together they pa.s.sed slowly out into the living room, through the kitchen, and thence into the diminutive rose garden, the pride of the little Carmen.

Dona Maria, wife of Rosendo, was bending over the primitive fireplace, busy with her matutinal duties, having just dusted the ashes from a corn _arepa_ which she had prepared for her consort's simple luncheon.

She was a woman well into the autumn of life; but her form possessed something of the elegance of the Spanish dames of the colonial period; her countenance bore an expression of benevolence, which emanated from a gentle and affectionate heart; and her manner combined both dignity and suavity. She greeted the priest tenderly, and expressed mingled surprise and joy that he felt able to leave his bed so soon.

But as her eyes caught Rosendo's meaning glance, and then turned to the child, they seemed to indicate a full comprehension of the situation.

The rose garden consisted of a few square feet of black earth, bordered by bits of shale, and seemingly scarce able to furnish nourishment for the three or four little bushes. But, though small, these were blooming in profusion.

"Padre Rosendo did this!" exclaimed the delighted girl. "Every night he brings water from _La Cienaga_ for them!"

Rosendo smiled patronizingly upon the child; but Jose saw in the glance of his argus eyes a tenderness and depth of affection for her which bespoke nothing short of adoration.

Carmen bent over the roses, fondling and kissing them, and addressing them endearing names.

"She calls them G.o.d's kisses," whispered Rosendo to the priest.

At that moment a low growl was heard. Jose turned quickly and confronted a gaunt dog, a wild breed, with eyes fixed upon the priest and white fangs showing menacingly beneath a curling lip.

"Oh, Cuc.u.mbra!" cried the child, rus.h.i.+ng to the beast and throwing her arms about its s.h.a.ggy neck. "Haven't I told you to love everybody? And is that the way to show it? Now kiss the _Cura's_ hand, for he loves you."

The brute sank at her feet. Then as she took the priest's hand and held it to the dog's mouth, he licked it with his rough tongue.

The priest's brain was now awhirl. He stood gazing at the child as if fascinated. Through his jumbled thought there ran an insistent strain, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father. The Father dwelleth in me and I in Him." He did not a.s.sociate these words with the Nazarene now, but with the barefoot girl before him. Again within the farthest depths of his soul he heard the soft note of a vibrating chord--that chord which all the years of his unhappy life had hung mute, until here, in this moldering town, in the wilderness of forgotten Guamoco, the hand of Love had swept it.

The sun stood at the zenith. The day was white-hot. Dona Maria summoned her little family to the midday repast. Rosendo brought a chair for Jose and placed it near the rose garden in the shade of the house, for, despite all protest, the priest had stubbornly refused to return to his bed. Left now to himself, his thought hovered about the child, and then drifted out across the incandescent shales to the beautiful lake beyond. The water lay like s.h.i.+mmering gla.s.s. In the distance the wooded slopes of the San Lucas mountains rose like green billows. Brooding silence spread over the scene. It was Nature's hour of _siesta_. In his own heart there was a great peace--and a strange expectancy. He seemed to be awaiting a revelation of things close at hand. In a way he felt that he had accomplished his purpose of coming to Simiti to die, and that he was now awaiting the resurrection.

The peaceful revery was interrupted by Rosendo. "Padre, if you will not return to your bed--" He regarded the priest dubiously.

"No, Rosendo. I grow stronger every minute. But--where is Carmen?"

"She must help her mother."

A long pause ensued, while Jose impatiently waited for Rosendo to continue. The child was becoming his obsession. He was eager to talk of her, to learn her history, to see her, for her presence meant complete obliteration of self.

"Padre," Rosendo at length emerged from his meditation. "I would like to speak of the little Carmen."

"Yes," responded Jose with animation. Life and strength seemed to return to him with a bound.

Carmen Ariza Part 23

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Carmen Ariza Part 23 summary

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