Carmen Ariza Part 44

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Shame fell upon the priest like a blanket. He, the _Cura_, was deserting his charge! And this quiet, dignified woman had shown herself stronger than the man of G.o.d! He turned to the door. Carmen was just entering. He took the child by the hand and led her to his own cottage.

"Carmen," he said, as she stood expectantly before him, "we--there is trouble in the country--that is, men are fighting and killing down on the river--and they may come here. We must--I mean, I think it best for us to go away from Simiti for a while." The priest's eyes fell before the perplexed gaze of the girl.

"Go away?" she repeated slowly. "But, Padre--why?"

"The soldiers might come--wicked men might come and harm you, _chiquita_!"

The child seemed not to comprehend. "Is it that you think they will, Padre?" she at length spoke.

"I fear so, little one," he made reply.

"But--why should they?"

"Because they want to steal and kill," he returned sadly.

"They can't, Padre--they can't!" the girl said quickly. "You told me that people see only their thoughts, you know. They only think they want to steal--and they don't think right--"

"But," he interrupted bitterly, "that doesn't keep them from coming here just the same and--and--" He checked his words, as a faint memory of his recent talks with the girl glowed momentarily in his seething brain.

"But we can keep them from coming here, Padre--can't we?"

"How, child?"

"By thinking right ourselves, Padre--you said so, days ago--don't you remember?" The girl came to the frightened man and put her little arm about his neck. It was an action that had become habitual with her.

"Padre dear, you read me something from your Bible just yesterday. It was about G.o.d, and He said, 'I am that which was, and is, and is to come.' Don't you remember? But, Padre dear, if He is that which is to come, how can anything bad come?"

O, ye of little faith! Could ye not watch one hour with me--the Christ-principle? Must ye ever flee when the ghost of evil stalks before you with his gross a.s.sumptions?

Yes, Jose remembered. But he had said those things to her and evolved those beautiful theories in a time of peace. Now his feeble faith was flying in panic before the demon of unbelief, which had been aroused by sudden fear.

The villagers were gathering before his door like frightened sheep.

They sought counsel, protection, from him, the unfaithful shepherd.

Could he not, for their sakes, tear himself loose from bondage to his own deeply rooted beliefs, and launch out into his true orbit about G.o.d? Was life, happiness, all, at the disposal of physical sense? Did he not love these people? And could not his love for them cast out his fear? If the test had come, would he meet it, calmly, even alone with his G.o.d, if need be?--or would he basely flee? He was not alone.

Carmen stood by him. She had no part in his cowardice. But Carmen--she was only a child, immature, inexperienced in the ways of the world!

True. Yet the great G.o.d himself had caused His prophets to see that "a little child shall lead them." And surely Carmen was now leading in fearlessness and calm trust, in the face of impending evil.

Jose rose from his chair and threw back his shoulders. He stepped quickly to the door. "My children," he said gently, holding out his arms over them. "Be not afraid. I shall not leave Simiti, but remain here to help and protect all who will stay with me. If the _guerrillas_ or soldiers come we will meet them here, where we shall be protecting our loved ones and our homes. Come to the church to-night, and there we will discuss plans. Go now, and remember that your _Cura_ has said that there shall no harm befall you."

Did he believe his own words? He wondered.

The people dispersed; Carmen was called by Dona Maria; and Jose dropped down upon his bed to strive again to clear his mind of the foul brood which had swept so suddenly into it, and to prepare for the evening meeting.

Late that night, as he crossed the road from the church to his little home, his pulse beat rapidly under the stimulus of real joy. He had conquered his own and the fears of the Alcalde, and that official had at length promised to stay and support him. The people's fears of impressment into military service had been calmly met and a.s.suaged, though Jose had yielded to their wish to form a company of militia; and had even agreed to drill them, as he had seen the troops of Europe drilled and prepared for conflict. There were neither guns nor ammunition in the town, but they could drill with their _machetes_--for, he repeated to himself, this was but a concession, an expedient, to keep the men occupied and their minds stimulated by his own show of courage and preparedness. It was decided to send Lazaro Ortiz at once into the Guamoco district, to find and warn Rosendo; while Juan was to go to Bodega Central for whatever news he might gather, and to return with immediate warning, should danger threaten their town. Similar instruction was to be sent to Escolastico, at Badillo. Within a few days a runner should be despatched over the Guamoco trail, to spread the information as judiciously as possible that the people of Simiti were armed and on the alert to meet any incursion from _guerrilla_ bands. The ripple of excitement quickly died away. The priest would now strive mightily to keep his own thought clear and his courage alive, to sustain his people in whatever experience might befall them.

Quiet reigned in the little village the next morning, and its people went about their familiar duties with but a pa.s.sing thought of the events of the preceding day. The Alcalde called at the parish house early for further instructions in regard to the proposed company of militia. The priest decided to drill his men twice a day, at the rising and setting of the sun. Carmen's lessons were then resumed, and soon Jose was again laboring conscientiously to imbibe the spirit of calm trust which dwelt in this young girl.

The Master's keynote before every threatening evil was, "Be not afraid." Carmen's life-motif was, "_G.o.d is everywhere._" Jose strove to see that the Christ-principle was eternal, and as available to mankind now as when the great Exemplar propounded it to the dull ears of his followers. But men must learn how to use it. When they have done this, Christianity will be as scientific and demonstrable to mankind as is now the science of mathematics. A rule, though understood, is utterly ineffective if not applied. Yet, how to apply the Christ-principle? is the question convulsing a world to-day.

G.o.d, the infinite creative mind, is that principle. Jesus showed clearly--so clearly that the wonder is men could have missed the mark so completely--that the great principle becomes available only when men empty their minds of pride, selfishness, ignorance, and human will, and put in their place love, humility and truth. This step taken, there will flow into the human consciousness the qualities of G.o.d himself, giving powers that mortals believe utterly impossible to them. But hatred must go; self-love, too; carnal ambition must go; and fear--the cornerstone of every towering structure of mortal misery--must be utterly cast out by an understanding of the allness of the Mind that framed the spiritual universe.

Jose, looking at Carmen as she sat before him, tried to know that love was the salvation, the righteousness, right-thinking, by which alone the sons of men could be redeemed. The world would give such utterance the lie, he knew. To love an enemy is weakness! The sons of earth must be warriors, and valiantly fight! Alas! the tired old world has fought for ages untold, and gained--nothing. Did Jesus fight? Not as the world. He had a better way. He loved his enemies with a love that understood the allness of G.o.d, and the consequent nothingness of the human concept. Knowing the concept of man as mortal to be an illusion, Jesus then knew that he had no enemies.

The work-day closed, and Carmen was about to leave. A shadow fell across the open doorway. Jose looked up. A man, dressed in clerical garb, stood looking in, his eyes fixed upon Carmen. Jose's heart stopped, and he sat as one stunned. The man was Padre Diego Polo.

"Ah, brother in Christ!" the newcomer cried, advancing with outstretched hands. "Well met, indeed! I ached to think I might not find you here! But--_Caramba_! can this be my little Carmen, from whom I tore myself in tears four years ago and more? _Diablo!_ but she has grown to be a charming _senorita_ already." He bent over and kissed the child loudly upon each cheek.

Jose with difficulty restrained himself from pouncing upon the man as he watched him pa.s.s his fat hands over the girl's bare arms and feast his lecherous eyes upon her round figure and plump limbs. The child shrank under the withering touch. Freeing herself, she ran from the room, followed by a taunting laugh from Diego.

"_Caramba!_" he exclaimed, sinking into the chair vacated by the girl.

"But I had the devil's own trouble getting here! And I find everything quiet as a funeral in this sink of a town, just as if h.e.l.l were not spewing fire down on the river! _Dios!_ But give me a bit of rum, _amigo_. My spirits droop like the torn wing of a heron."

Jose slowly found his voice. "I have no rum. I regret exceedingly, friend. But doubtless the Alcalde can supply you. Have you seen him?"

"_Hombre!_ With what do you quench your thirst?" e.j.a.c.u.l.a.t.ed the disappointed priest. "Lake water?" Then he added with a fatuous grin:

"No, I have not yet honored the Alcalde with a call. Anxious care drove me straight from the boat to you; for with you, a brother priest, I knew I would find hospitality and protection."

Jose sat speechless. After a few moments, during which he fanned himself vigorously with his black felt hat, Diego continued volubly:

"You are consumed to know what brings me here, eh? _Bien_, I will antic.i.p.ate your questions. The country is on fire around Banco.

And--you know they do not love priests down that way--well, I saw that it had come around to my move. I therefore got out--quickly. H'm!

"But," he continued, "luckily I had screwed plenty of Ma.s.ses out of the Banco sheep this past year, and my treasure box was comfortably full. _Bueno_, I hired a canoe and a couple of strapping _peones_, who brought me by night, and by d.a.m.nably slow degrees, up the river to Bodega Central. As luck would have it, I chanced to be there the day Juan arrived from Simiti. So I straightway caused inquiry to be made of him respecting the present whereabouts of our esteemed friend, Don Rosendo. Learning that my worthy brother was prospecting for La Libertad, it occurred to me that this decaying town might afford me the asylum I needed until I could make the necessary preparations to get up into the mountains. _Caramba!_ but I shall not stay where a stray bullet or a badly directed _machete_ may terminate my n.o.ble life-aspirations!"

Jose groaned inwardly. "But, how dared you come to Simiti?" he exclaimed. "You were once forced to leave this town--!"

"a.s.suredly, _amigo_," Diego replied with great coolness. "And I would not risk my tender skin again had I not believed that you were here to s.h.i.+eld me. My only safety lies in making the mountains. Their most accessible point is by way of Simiti. From here I can go to the San Lucas country; eventually get back to the Guamoco trail; and ultimately land in Remedios, or some other town farther south, where the anticlerical sentiment is not so cursedly strong. I have money and two negro boys. The boat I shall have to leave here in your care.

_Bien_, learning that Rosendo, my princ.i.p.al annoyance and obstruction, was absent, and that you, my friend, were here, I decided to brave the wrath of the simple denizens of this hole, and spend a day or two as guest of yourself and my good friend, the Alcalde, before journeying farther. Thus you have it all, in _parvo_. But, _Dios y diablo_! that trip up the river has nearly done for me! We traveled by night and hid in the brush by day, where millions of gnats and mosquitoes literally devoured me! _Caramba!_ and you so inhospitable as to have no rum!"

The garrulous priest paused for breath. Then he resumed:

"A voluptuous little wench, that Carmen! Keeping her for yourself, eh?

But you will have to give her up. Belongs to the Church, you know. But don't let our worthy Don Wenceslas hear of her good looks, for he'd pop her into a convent _presto_! And later he--_Bien_, you had better get rid of her before she makes you trouble. I'll take her off your hands myself, even though I shall be traveling for the next few months. But, say," changing the subject abruptly, "Don Wenceslas sprung his trap too soon, eh?"

"I don't follow you," said Jose, consuming with indignation over the priest's coa.r.s.e talk.

"_Diablo!_ he pulls a revolution before it is ripe. Is anything more absurd! It begins as he intended, anticlerical; and so it will run for a while. But after that--_Bien_, you will see it reverse itself and turn solely political, with the present Government on top at the last, and the end a matter of less than six weeks."

"Do you think so?" asked Jose, eagerly grasping at a new hope.

"I know it!" e.j.a.c.u.l.a.t.ed Diego. "_Hombre!_ But I have been too close to matters religious and political in this country all my life not to know that Don Wenceslas has this time committed the blunder of being a bit too eager. Had he waited a few months longer, and then pulled the string--_Dios y diablo_! there would have been such a fracas as to turn the Cordilleras bottom up! Now all that is set back for years--_Quien sabe_?"

"But," queried the puzzled Jose, "how could Wenceslas, a priest, profit by an anticlerical war?"

"_Caramba, amigo!_ But the good Wenceslas is priest only in name! He is a politician, bred to the game. He lays his plans with the anticlericals, knowing full well that Church and State can not be separated in this land of mutton-headed _peones_. _Bueno_, the clever man precipitates a revolution that can have but one result, the closer union of Rome and the Colombian Government. And for this he receives the direction of the See of Cartagena and the disposition of the rich revenues from the mines and _fincas_ of his diocese. Do you get me?"

"And, _amigo_, how long will this disturbance continue?" said Jose, speaking earnestly.

Carmen Ariza Part 44

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Carmen Ariza Part 44 summary

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