A Time to Reflect

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

 

Two days later, Tony ventured out of the Mission infirmary on crutches.  The doctor, and of course, the priest had insisted that he not put any weight on the leg for another week, despite the fact that the injury was healing phenomenally well.  Doug attributed it as much to regular sleep and meals as to the twentieth century medicines and the Spanish American doctor’s good skills.  He had also pointed out, much to Tony’s irritation, that many Spanish doctors, almost up to the middle of the eighteen hundreds still practiced some of the medieval arts, such as bleeding, and that Tony had been very lucky to have met up with one who had more progressive ideas.  Don Diego de la Vega had been there during that conversation and had agreed with Doug, although his wry smile had shown that Tony was never in any danger of that medical procedure.  It was some of de la Vega’s clothes that he was wearing at the moment, the calzoneros being unbuttoned up the side of the injured leg.  Tony felt downright royal in the ruffled shirt and decorated pants.

The young caballero was an enigma to Tony. There was something he felt he should know about him, but he couldn’t figure what it was.  Somehow Diego had managed to convince everyone from the comandante on down that the carnosaurs were gone without detailing just why he knew that. Tony shook his head.  He enjoyed de la Vega. The man was marvelously well informed for someone living in a colonial society and there was nothing pretentious about him either.  And the curiosity!  The man was curious about anything having to do with his and Doug’s background, asking questions that even went into the realm of the scientific theory behind the tunnel.  At times Tony had been hard pressed to explain some of those theories in a way that an enlightened nineteenth century mind could understand, but always the young don had listened politely and had much of the time even shown a great deal of understanding. 

Diego de la Vega was at the Mission today, having arrived before the evening vespers to talk with he and Doug and to help Father Felipe prepare for the evening posada, the first of nine.  This one was being held at the Mission; the last would be held at the de la Vega rancho.   Tony was interested/not interested in a strange sort of way.  His interest mainly revolved around simple curiosity.  He had never experienced a Spanish American posada.   He went into the chapel where the children were practicing a few songs and recognized that not all of them related to the Navidad.  His aunt, with whom he had stayed after his father’s death, had been Catholic and Tony recognized a Latin celebration song, one that was normally sung as a response at Mass.   A few of the words were different, but as the junior priest continued to practice with the children, Tony picked them up, remembering the rest pretty much as they had been sung during his childhood. 

As he stood in the shadow of a thick pillar, Tony began to softly sing the words he hadn’t voiced in almost twenty years.  And though the translation of the words had been mostly forgotten over the years, he felt a kind of comfort in them.  Tony continued to sing with the group, watching the young boys’ eyes sparkle.  Whether it was anticipation of the posada or a sense of their own accomplishment, he didn’t know, although he suspected that it was the former.  And the picture in his mind of all these children enjoying the days ahead with their parents touched a melancholy chord in his heart.  He stopped singing and just stood watching. 

“You have a fine voice, Tony.  You would rival Sgt. Garcia, in a different sort of way, of course,” Diego said.  

Tony started, not having heard the caballero approach.  The man was almost catlike in his walk.  Tony turned and nodded his greeting, not wanting to say anything at the moment.  

Diego gestured in the direction of the choir.  “They sing well, too.  Father Martín has worked hard with them.”

“I would imagine their parents are proud of their accomplishments,” Tony finally said. 

“I would imagine that, too, except that they are all orphans,” Diego replied. He gazed intently at the traveler and though there was very little outward response, Diego had come to read people well and knew that his revelation had made an impact.  He remembered what Doug had told him two days earlier. Tony was also an orphan; an orphan of war. 

“I had no idea….” 

“Yes, but Fathers Felipe and Martín have helped them to adjust and to be happy,” Diego explained. 

“They have no relatives?” Tony asked, realizing that while he had missed his father fiercely, he had at least had the benefit of his loving aunt and uncle during his growing up years.  He had understood this fact for years on a more intellectual level, but still, it was not something that his heart had acknowledged.  Now as he watched the twenty boys happily singing the songs, he felt something he had not felt for a long time.  It was a feeling that all was right—contentment?

“No, or at least no relatives that could take them in.”  Diego paused a moment. “I think they are going to try that song one more time.  Should we blend our voices?”

Tony didn’t answer, but when the priest began again, he had two adult voices behind him, accompanying the boys.  Judging by the looks on the boys’ faces, they were delighted.  Before the song was over, Doug had joined them.  He looked at Tony in astonishment.  “You have talents that you’ve been hiding these past few years,” he said with a wry smile.  “I know this is a religious song, but did anyone ever tell you that you sound like Frank….”

“Yeah,” Tony said with an embarrassed grin, having heard that all through his college days.  It pleased him then, and it did now, but he didn’t want to admit it. 

Diego looked puzzled, but didn’t ask what they were talking about.  “I hope you have a few Navidad songs to sing at the Posada.  If not tonight, then at our hacienda on the last night,” Diego said. 

Tony and Doug looked at each other and then at Diego.  “We never know how long we will be anywhere,” Doug said.  He sounded tired all of a sudden. 

“Do your people have some control over this tunnel?  Or are your travels completely at the whims of fate?” Diego asked pointedly and then continued before either man could answer.  “It would seem that you are in a safe place where you can have rest.  Why would anyone say that you would have to leave before you have recovered?”

“There seems to be little control over where we go, but most of the time the actual transfers are initiated by the tunnel personnel,” Doug pointed out. 

“When the tunnel is working properly,” Tony added dryly. 

“Well, if your fellow scientists are listening, then perhaps they will understand that you need to rest, to enjoy what this time and place can do for you.”  No one said anything for a moment.  “Regardless, I would like for the two of you to spend Navidad at the de la Vega hacienda.”

“I think I would like that, Diego,” Tony said with a smile.  Doug echoed his friend’s sentiment.

That night Tony understood just why the children were excited.  He and Doug watched fascinated as the procession made up of a pair of very young children playing the part of the Mary and Joseph, along with other children following and singing, made their way along the front of the Mission to the main door of the enramada, (an open area to the side of the chapel), where they knocked and begged for entrance.  A boy of about ten years of age rejected them gruffly, telling them there was no room for them.  The couple asked again, but were rebuffed once more.  Then as the children turned away in pretended sorrow, the voice on the other side of the door relented, and allowed the two youngsters in.  After the priest had blessed the group, the merry celebrations began.  Previously, tables of food and drink had been set up, lanterns hung from tree limbs, and several huge piñatas had been hung from the limbs of a large pepper tree.  There were several men with a variety of instruments, mainly guitars, violins and flutes.  As the children came into the enclosure, laughter swelled and the musicians began to play a variety of songs. 

More guests arrived, including several soldiers from the pueblo.  Diego was surprised to see Capitán Luvisto among them.  He had been told that the comandante did not partake in festivities of any kind, but here he was and seemingly enjoying himself, in a reserved, shy sort of way.  A local señorita was standing nearby and after what Diego took to be hesitant deliberation, the comandante approached her.  Soon they were dancing with several other couples.  Luvisto smiled, the first such exhibit of pleasure Diego had seen from the capitán.  Diego also smiled; it was amazing what small miracles happened during the Navidad.  

Tony also watched Luvisto.  The comandante had visited him the day before to express his thanks to the American, and with the background Diego had given him, Tony felt Luvisto was emerging from the fog of a very bitter past.  It gave him something to ponder.  Tony next turned his attention to Sergeant Garcia.  The man ate and drank, and in between helpings he sang.  Now Tony understood what Diego had meant about the sergeant’s voice.  It was a deep, rich voice, a low tenor at times, bass at other times.  The man would have been a good opera star. 

Tony ate some of the food, watched the children play and take turns trying to break open a piñata in the shape of a star.  Doug was recruited to help swing the piñata.  When his leg began to ache, Tony looked for a bench to rest on, but as he gingerly sat down in the dimness where the lantern light didn’t penetrate, he found that he was not alone.  A soft sigh startled him.  “Who’s there?” he asked. 

“I am sorry, Señor Newman,” a small voice said.  “I can leave.”

“No, there’s plenty of room.  I just wanted to know who I am sharing the bench with,” Tony responded hastily.  The voice sounded sad—and young.

“Miguel,” the small voice said. 

“Miguel who?” Tony coaxed.

“I do not know, señor,” Miguel said. 

Tony was astonished.  How could someone not know his own name?  Then it dawned on him.  The boy had most likely been orphaned when he was very small and placed at the orphanage anonymously.  He had heard of that in third world countries and it appalled him.  “Why are you here instead of enjoying the party?” he asked, trying a different track.

“I was feeling sad.”

Insight borne of experience made Tony ask, “Miss your parents?”

“I do not remember my father.  I remember my mother a little bit.”  There was a pause.  “Yes, I miss them.”

“I miss my parents, too, Miguel,” Tony responded.  “Especially this time of year.”

“You do?” Pablo asked, his voice astonished.  “But you are grown up.”

Tony couldn’t help but smile. “Yes, Miguel, I miss them.  Even though it has been more than twenty-seven years since my father died and longer still for my mother, I miss them.”

“Then you are an orphan, too,” came the small voice.

“Yes, but I have learned to be happy even though I miss them.” And it was true, Tony realized.  He had, and still was, learning to be happy.  There was no response from Miguel.  “When I am sad, I try to think of happy memories with my folks.”  And Tony realized that was true, too.  His most bitter moments as he had grown up had been tempered by the thoughts of the good times he had enjoyed with his parents, especially his father. It was ironic; his bitterest memories were of the loss of his mother and father, and yet his happiest memories were of them, too.  “Miguel, come closer, please.”  Tony heard the boy rustling closer on the bench.  When the boy had settled, Tony reached out and touched him, drawing him a closer, hoping to comfort him.  The child appeared to be about eight, not much older than he was when he lost his parents.  “What do you remember the most about your mother?” he asked. 

“Her singing.”

“What did she sing?”

“I remember her singing a song about birds,” Pablo said, leaning against Tony’s side.  “It was a song of Navidad.”  And he began to sing/say the words, as though he was unable to fully sing them.

 

“En veure despuntar                                

El major illuminar

En la nit mes joiosa;

Els ocellettes cantant a festejarlo van,

Amb sa veu melindrosa.

Els a celletes cantant

A festejarlo van

Amb sa veu melindrosa…"

 

Even though Miguel choked up a time or two, Tony was struck by the beauty of the words, which told of the birds’ celebratory songs of the birth of Christ.  He had only heard the song in translated English, but it was more beautiful coming from the heart of this Spanish American boy.  Most touching was the second verse, the one that issued the Nightingale’s declaration that Jesus not only came to free everyone from sin, but to also banish every sadness and bring happiness.  Banish every sadness.   And he realized even more pointedly that he had no reason to be sad, or bitter.  He had accomplished much—much that his parents would be proud of.  “Can you repeat the words?  I would like to learn that song.  It’s beautiful, Miguel.”

“I have not been able to sing it through since . . . since….” Miguel choked up again.

“I understand perfectly, Miguel,” Tony said softly.  “But if you teach me the words, then maybe we can sing it together, in memory of your mother.” 

The boy looked surprised.  “I never thought of that.  Do you think she would like that?” Miguel asked.  Tony could see Miguel’s eyes shining in the scant light from the party.

“Yes.”  And Miguel went through the song, still not quite able to fully sing it, but when Tony had learned the words, he turned to Miguel.  “I do not know the melody.  You will have to sing it,” Tony said, his words half-truth.  He had heard the song before and felt he could have sung it, but he wanted Miguel to sing it. 

The boy began, his high, rich voice beginning softly and then getting more and more strong as he became comfortable.  On the second verse, Tony joined in, becoming caught up in the feeling of the miracle that seemed to surround him in this place and at this time.  As they were singing the last verse, he realized that it had become quiet in the enclosure and that the other partygoers were now listening.  When he and Miguel were finished, there was a loud round of applause.

“That was beautiful, Miguel, Tony,” Diego said softly from behind them.  

“It was to my mother,” Miguel said, tears running down his cheeks. 

Diego gazed meaningfully at Tony.  “Do you have something for your father?”

Tony said nothing for a moment, wondering how Diego knew.  Then he stood up and began, softly at first, then, like Miguel, more strongly.  The language implant was echoing the words in Spanish, but Tony still sang in English.

“What Child is this, Who, laid to rest, On Mary’s lap is sleeping? 

Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:

Haste, haste to bring him laud, the Babe, the Son of Mary!”

He began the second verse, his audience completely still, and he heard a voice accompanying him, one deeper, more bass and at first Tony thought it was Sgt. Garcia, but when he saw that the sergeant’s lips didn’t move, he realized the truth and let the voice only he was hearing harmonize with his own.  And he sang….

 

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Ann stood behind the console, her eyes in rapt attention on the scene showing from the tunnel.  In the dimness of the place where Tony and Doug were it was hard to make out everything, but she could see Tony, and more importantly, she could hear him, singing a song that she knew well, but seemed to be hearing for the first time.  She felt the tears running down her cheeks as Tony continued to sing.  It was as though there was something buried deep inside him that had finally burst from its tightly locked prison.  No one in the complex moved, or said anything.  And when the last notes died away in the distant past, as well as in the complex, still it continued in her heart. 

“I had no idea….” Kirk said softly. 

“Nor did I,” Ray added. 

“I think this is a good time to take a respite ourselves,” Anne murmured. 

“What?” Kirk asked. 

“Let them stay there for a while,” Ann said more forcefully.

“At least until the end of Navidad,” Ray concurred.   Kirk nodded, and soon the only operating system was the monitoring system. 

“I will stand the first supervisory watch,” Ann said.  The others nodded and left for their own well deserved rests.  Ann gazed at the festivities, hungry to be there, wishing she felt more of what was happening inside the hearts of those at that nineteenth century celebration. 

 

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On Dias de los Reyes, Tony, whose wound was almost completely healed, stood at the large window overlooking the patio and sighed.  Doug, sitting in a large chair, feeling completely rested and comfortable, understood exactly what his friend was thinking.  “I would guess that now that the Navidad festivities are over, Ray and Gen. Kirk will begin working overtime to get us back home.”

Diego smiled.  He had remembered the box that had come, much like the first one, but this one had treats and small gifts from the twentieth century.   The two Americans had shared their gifts and Diego had felt a strange sense of wonder at eating something that would not be cooked until more than a hundred and fifty years in the future.  “But the festivities are not over, my friends." 

His father grinned from his own chair.  “You Americanos do not know how to celebrate holidays.”

Tony laughed.  “I think you are right, Don Alejandro.”  He looked toward Diego and then remembered his new friend saying something about gift giving on the day of the three kings in early January.  Bernardo brought a parcel for each of the two travelers.  “We probably won’t be able to take these when we are transferred,” he said.

“Perhaps, and perhaps not,” Diego said enigmatically. 

Tony smiled.  Somehow, this man, whom the American had remembered was the alter ego of Zorro, could probably figure out a way around that little problem, too.   He opened his parcel and the first gift caused him to pause in shock.  It was a tiny wooden figure of a woman, a shawl over her head, her skirt painted in bright swirls of red and yellow and blue.  The carving was crudely done, but the painting was exquisitely detailed.  It was the figure that Miguel had tried to give to him during the last Sunday Mass.  Tony had not known how to explain to the boy that he wouldn’t be able to take it with him and felt he had hurt the boy’s feelings.

“Miguel desperately wanted you to have this,” Diego said softly.  “He thought if I gave it to you, you would accept it.”

“I had no idea how to tell him that the tunnel might not pull it through on the next transfer.  I couldn’t bear to see it destroyed or lost,” Tony said.  

“Perhaps the box that came through before could be retrieved with things in it,” Diego suggested with a smile.  “The way you explained it to me, it seems possible.  It certainly seems worth a try.”

Tony nodded with a smile.  “It would be a good experiment on retrieval, too.”

“And your things would be waiting for you when you get back.”

“Yes.”

The rest of the day was taken up with a ride across the hills near the hacienda.  Finally, after a bit of de la Vega wine in front of the fire in the library, the two travelers retired for the night.  The next morning they didn’t answer the knock on their door and when Diego entered their rooms, he found them gone.  He noticed that the box with their gifts was gone as well, but on Tony’s bed was a note that was addressed to him and a separate one for Miguel.  Apparently Tony had been right about he and Doug’s impending transfer and had prepared the notes in advance.  He read his with a smile and then placed it in the coals of the fireplace to darken and finally curl and burst into flame.  The words, “Viva El Zorro” were the last to be consumed in the fire. The one to Miguel, he placed inside his vest pocket. “Vaya con Dios, my friends,” he murmured. “Feliz Navidad.” 

 

The End

 

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