A Song of Joy

(A Sergeant Garcia Story)

 

 

Chapter 3

 

“I want to hold him, please,” she said, reaching out for her child.  Garcia handed her the baby.  She held him in the crook of her arm

“I need to cut the cord, I think,” he said, trying hard to remember that peon woman so long ago.  It was easier with horses and cattle.  The cord broke by itself during the birth.  He found his knife near the other part of his halved underwear and he reached over to do the deed.  Then he remembered, the women did something first.  Ah! he thought.  They tied something around it first to stop the bleeding.  He used the knife to cut two strips from the bottom of the Señora Perdiz’s skirts.  “My pardons, señora,” he apologized. 

“It is all right, Sergeant.  Do whatever you must,” she replied, her eyes locked onto her baby’s face. 

Garcia tied the strips tightly and then he paused.  “Do you think it will hurt him?” he asked. 

Señora Perdiz pulled her eyes away from her baby’s face and gazed at him.  “I do not think so, Sergeant.  But either way, it will have to be done.” 

“Sí,” he said, and quickly did the task.  At about the same time, the new mother began moaning and Garcia realized that, like in the birth of new foals, there would be afterbirth.  He remembered what the women had done with the young girl, just before his own mother had jerked him away.  Laying his knife aside, he reached over and gently massaged the woman’s stomach. 

She looked at him in surprise and slight suspicion.  “What are you doing?”

“It is what the midwives do . . . I think,” he replied.  His fingers tingled and he felt a warmth inside that he had never felt before. 

“It feels good, Sergeant,” said Isadora.  The massage was gentle and she relaxed, despite the pain she was experiencing once more.   There was one sharp pain, but it did not compare to what came before the baby’s birth.  Then there was a feeling of physical emptiness.  The pain ended and she felt lethargic.   The sergeant stopped massaging her and she turned her attention to her baby, counting the tiny fingers that waved in her face. 

Soon Garcia had cleaned up the site of the birth and covered the new mother with his clean jacket, helping her put on his extra set of trousers.  The baby was wrapped snugly in the top half of his underwear, and he had built up the fire to warm the woman and her babe, as well as to frighten away predators that might be drawn to the scent of blood.  He sighed, feeling a slight sense of euphoria.  He watched Señora Perdiz feeding her now rosy pink child before blushing and turning away. 

Isadora gazed at the child suckling at her breast. She rubbed a finger across his forehead and down his cheek.  For much of her pregnancy she had wanted nothing more then to give this child away, to exorcise the visible sign and symbol of her shame.  But now . . . now she looked down at the wispy dark hair, the steel blue eyes, the rosy skin and she wanted to keep him forever.  Leaning forward slightly, she kissed him on the top of his head.  The little fingers opened and closed as he drank, his slurping noises a comfort.  She looked up at the sergeant with undisguised gratitude.  “Sergeant Garcia, I am forever grateful to you.”

What did I do? he thought, looking into her face.  Even as tired as she was, there seemed to be a glow to her, a happiness in her eyes that was the antithesis to what had been there before.  What did he do? He had only found the shelter.  “Señora, you did all the work,” he said aloud, completing his thought. 

She laughed and then yawned.  “Perhaps in that sense, I did, but you were here and you helped me.”  She paused.  “And never has anyone treated me with such kindness before.”

Garcia thought she must be exaggerating.  “Surely you jest, Señora.  Your husband?”

Isadora sighed.  All good things must end.  It never lasts, not even joy.  And she had felt joy, briefly, with the birth of this beautiful boy, with the kindness of this unkempt but sweet spirited individual.  She could not continue to deceive this gentle giant of a man, though.  Later was now.  “There is no husband, Sergeant.  There never has been.” 

Garcia stared at her in shock.  “But you said . . . I mean, you are, uh . . .”

“Sergeant, I never got a chance to explain about ‘my husband’,” she countered.  “You made assumptions.”  She paused, seeing his confused looks.  “May I tell you the whole story?” she asked hopefully. 

He nodded, placing another limb on the fire and settling his bulk more comfortably on the ground. 

“My mother died bearing me and because of that and my deformed foot, my father had little to do with me.  He only tolerated me because I was a fruit of his loins and it wouldn’t do for a hacendado to just abandon his child at the local monastery.   He simply shunned me most of the time.  Even the peons children shunned me.  I had a dear servant; only she seemed to feel any kind of sympathy toward me.  When I was very little, she would hug me and sit me on her lap and sing to me.  She rubbed my foot when it ached, taught me how to sew and do needlework.  As we both got older, she was able to do less to comfort me.  I found that the world outside my house was closed to me.  People made signs against evil when we attended Mass in the pueblo.”  She paused and looked into his eyes before continuing.  The sergeant stared open-mouthed, his eyes sad.  “Oh, they were discreet about it, not letting Father see, but I saw.  I saw them all.  And apparently Father did see a little, or someone told him about it, because he started making me go to Mass in the tiny family chapel.  When I was almost twenty-one and well beyond the age of marriagability, he tried to arrange a union with an older don who had a rancho some miles north of us.  ‘I am getting old,’ father told me. ‘I can’t take care of you and you certainly can’t take care of me.’  My older brother, who had been twelve when I was born, agreed with him.  They are very much alike, those two, including their dislike of me,” she said, bitterly.  “And my brother’s wife loathed me and wanted me gone.” 

She looked up again.   Garcia saw an anger and bitterness in her eyes that he had seen very seldom in his life.  He felt sorry for her and wished there was something he could say and do, but he knew of nothing, so again, he said nothing. 

She continued.  “The don was a widower and liked the idea of the rich dowry that my father provided to get me out of his house.  He agreed and the date was set, but he changed his mind and protested at the reading of our second bans.  That was right after I had been sent with part of my dowry to meet my intended.  So me and my dowry and my old dueña were sent home in shame.  For several more years my only solace was the meager library we owned.  I only knew how to read because a kindhearted novice priest taught me.  I loved the stories of El Cid, of Odysseus, of kings and their ladies.  I forgot my foot, my family, everything during that time.  Those are my most precious moments.”  The baby rustled in her arms, yawning.  She looked down at him and smiled.  “Oh, Father kept trying to marry me off, but there was no one willing to take me, even for the nice dowry.  Then came Marcos, the younger son of a Monterey landowner.  He had started working for my father as his vintner.  He began sitting with me in the garden whenever he came to see my father on business.”  She looked up and smiled, but Garcia could see that it wasn’t a happy smile.  “And business suddenly began picking up.  He began coming more and more often, always seeing me in the garden where he and I would sit under the arbor and kiss.   He would hold me and tell me of his love for me.  Marcos made me feel better.  I thought he loved me.”

“But he did not?” Garcia asked. 

“No, I think he was simply enamored with my dowry.  But I didn’t know that until later. He continued to woo me, then he went to Father to ask for my hand in marriage.  Ah, Father was elated and gave Marcos a goodly portion of the dowry on the night that they toasted the engagement and set the date.  I was overjoyed when he came and told me.  That evening was so special, at least at first.  He stayed with me until the sun set.  The night seemed so soft and beautiful at that time.  Marcos was more passionate then he had ever been before.  There was no dueña this time.  I had never needed one, except for that trip to my so-called intended.  He took me behind the arbor, into the deepest corner of the garden, where his passions soon rose to a fever pitch.  I must admit that he awakened in me passions that were almost equal to his, but my conscience told me that we needed to stop.  I told him that the wedding was only a few weeks away, surely we could wait that long.  He laughed and said that his love could not wait.  I protested again and he said, ‘Truly you love me.’  ‘Yes,’ I answered him.  ‘Then show me.  Show me how much you love me,’ he said, his hands finding the hooks at the back of my dress.  I told him again, that we must wait, that this was not seemly.  ‘Perhaps you do not love me after all,’ he said.  ‘Perhaps I should just give the dowry back and tell your father that you do not want me.’  I was weak and afraid that he would do just that.”  She rubbed a finger down the side of her baby’s face.  When she looked back up, there were tears coursing down her face.  “I could not bear to be alone again, to be shut in that house with a family that hated me.  I gave in and let him have his way.”  Her voice softened until Garcia had to struggle to hear her.  “Somehow when he was done, his kisses didn’t seem so tender and sweet.  But I consoled myself with thoughts of the wedding.  The next day Marcos disappeared, along with the part of the dowry that Father had given him.  To say the least, Father and Manuel, my brother, were furious.  They were even more furious when they found out I was with child a few months ago.”  She looked up and smiled again.  “I hid it well.  It was fairly easy.  Even the servants ignored me, after all. But I still had great incentive to hide my shame.   I was afraid of what would happen when everyone found out.  Marcos was gone.  I was alone.”  She lowered her head and looked at her babe once more.

“But surely they would understand,” Garcia whispered.  A tear rolled down his cheek, which he quickly wiped away. 

“But surely they would not.  Father screamed and ranted.  That was the last time I saw him.  Later I was told that after he had calmed down, he began making arrangements for me to go to the monastery near Los Angeles and to later travel to a convent in Mexico City.  I would have already been there, except for the fact that Manuel’s wife became sick and all attention was diverted to her.  And here I am, in the wilderness with a baby and a kind, gentle sergeant from Los Angeles.”  She paused, gazing once again into his eyes.  “I am sorry for the deception.  So many have shown nothing but contempt for me.  I could not stand another.  Please do not feel too harshly toward me.”

Garcia felt almost ready to cry in earnest.  He swallowed, not trusting himself to speak and gazed at the new mother, reclined against the saddle with the baby in her arms.  The child started making mewling noises and he held out his arms to hold him.  Señorita Perdiz passed him over.  One arm of his underwear dangled and Garcia wrapped it back around the tiny baby.  He held the child close and thought what a wonderful mother this woman would make.  He crooned a lullaby that his own mother had sung so many years ago, then he looked up.  “Fault you, señorita?  I cannot fault you,” he finally said to her.  “You have been through much.”  He gazed deeply into the eyes filled with such sadness and pain; sadness that no one should have to bear.  Again, he wished he could take this woman in his arms and try to take away her sorrow.  He felt great pity for her.  He wanted to make her feel safe so she would never fear anyone or anything again.  This poor, wretched woman, no one should feel so lonely, he thought.  Then he thought of his own loneliness.  No, he had friends. He wasn’t lonely.  He had Corporal Reyes.  Don Diego was his friend, too.  But then, there was something missing.  Some void that he felt during the wakeful moments of the night when he lay sleepless in his tiny room alone.  He felt a wash of self-pity to go along with the pity he felt for Isadora Perdiz. 

Poor woman, he thought again, to be so lonely.  Then he realized that he felt something else.  He found that he felt a great desire to have this woman near him, to be his companion to chase away the emptiness that he sometimes felt; that even the wine couldn’t take away.  He found himself drawn to her in a way that he had never felt drawn to any woman before.  He looked down at the babe in his arms, and he felt a link to the child as well. Is this what it’s like to be a father? he asked himself. 

He remembered Magdalena’s Aunt Inez and Señorita Bastinada.  He was drawn to the advantage a marriage to these two women would bring, not by any feelings of love or even liking.  Garcia remembered those incidents with distaste now.  But he really liked this woman.   There would not be an advantage to a marriage with her, he thought and then he checked himself.  How in the world could he support this sad, lonely and destitute woman?  How could he even think of asking her to marry him?  Marry? his thoughts repeated in shock.  Yes, he found he wanted Isadora Perdiz to be his wife, wanted it more than anything.  But he couldn’t take care of her, couldn’t buy her food, couldn’t take care of her child.  The baby looked up at him and chortled, then stuck his fist in his mouth.  I cannot even take care of myself, he thought in despair.  I only get paid occasionally and that is barely enough to take care of my own needs.  He continued to gaze at the baby.  No, you deserve much better, little Señor, he decided. 

He sang a soft melody, one he had made up about Zorro and his magnificent stallion.  If only he could catch Zorro.  But, no, that is just a dream, too, he thought sadly.  Garcia looked up and saw Señorita Perdiz looking intently at him.  She appeared tired but happy.  “Do you want me to take care of him while you sleep?” he asked. 

“No,” she said.  “You have him bundled well.  He can sleep near my side and we can both rest.”

Garcia nodded and handed the baby back to his mother.  Her hand touched his and he felt a thrill course through his body.  It chilled and heated him and made him shiver all at the same time.  He wanted to take her hand and hold it close, but this could not be. He pushed his thoughts away as unseemly.  He, too, was tired.  Throwing another branch on the fire, he lay down, settling as comfortably as he could on the hard ground.  Soon, despite the fact that he wanted to stay awake to guard the woman and her baby, he fell sound asleep. 

 

 

Chapter Four
Chapter One
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