Don Ricardo goes to Hermitage and Consuelo plans how to compromise Juanita
Chapter12 More Lies
Sister Ruiz brought Sister Ramirez into the wood lot outside the convent. The First Secretary was impressed by the large pile, neatly stacked and corded. There were some skills that the nuns were just not well equipped to perform and wood cutting was one of them. Sister Hidalgo called out to the man wielding the axe, who was splitting the blocks into useable pieces.
“Benvolio, come over here, there's someone I want you to meet.”
The laborer took his hat off and approached respectfully.
“Closer, but not quite,” said Sister Ruiz….”This is Sister Ramirez, the assistant to Mother Superior, and I have told her about your tireless work and she came to see for herself.”
“I’m honored,” said Benvolio, shuffling his feet and looking down at the ground.
“I’m impressed,” spoke up Sister Ramirez, looking about. “This is quite a start on winter…I despaired having enough and was thinking we would have to hire a crew to come in and do the work….and behold, God sends you.”
He stood with head bowed…
“He’s not much of a talker…just a hard worker….”
“I see…Do you do carpentry?”
“All Basques are Carpenters…”
“The reason I ask is we have some beams that need replacing…eaten by the worms and I fear the roof is about to fall in on the fellowship hall. Are you skilled in such work?”
He looked up. “It is a dangerous and heavy thing you ask,” He said at length, “and must be done in an orderly and careful manner.”
The Secretary clapped her hands in delight…”Yes! Yes”! She said in satisfaction…"You can do it….and can you drive a livery as well?”
“Please Sister…what you are seeking are basic tasks, that one from the mountains learns at his father’s side…Like woodcutting, raising structures and driving carts… these are skills common to all.”
“Not in this convent, Benvolio….Here, we are in desperate need of a handyman. Would you be interested? It pays a wage.”
Benvolio lit up...”Of course," he answered, eyes shining with gratefulness.
“Then come with me and I’ll show you the hall.”
As the troop approached the Hermitage the thunder of hoofs caused quite a stir. It was more than just the dust of sixteen mounted lancers; it was the uncommon presence among the villagers. Ricardo stopped to collect his thoughts as the Captain made inquiry as to the location of the Hermitage. A villager pointed it out...an imposing edifice on the outskirts of town. It had once been a small fortress where the town’s people could gather in times of trouble and in the Dark Ages had been the Keep of a lesser noble. They proceeded on down the road and dismounted before the gate. The captain went to the massive wood portal and banged loudly on the clacker. A door opened from within and a Nun stepped out looking about nervously.
“Don Ricardo de Quintilian, Commissioner of the Hermandad, requests the person in authority.”
This was not exactly the manner in which Ricardo sought to be introduced and he hastened up.
“I’m the one in authority,” she answered, looking frightened.
“Sister,” Ricardo spoke up, in the most charming voice he could muster, ”There’s a matter we need to discuss. May I come inside?”
“Of course,” she replied, relieved there would be only one to deal with.
“Quarter the men,” he told the Captain and followed her inside.
The gate opened into small court yard. Along one wall was a stable. Along the other two were buildings once used for housing the townspeople in times of crisis. On the fourth was a store house and the keep which had become the administrative building. Into this hall they went, entering a spacious office. The Sister had collected herself by that time and bid him take a seat.
“I’m Sister Gomez. What brings the Commissioner riding forth into this quiet corner of the world?”
Her tone of voice was cynical. ”You may call me Don Ricardo, " he replied…”and I don’t relish all this fanfare. However, in my line of work there is a need to travel with an escort...Please do not be intimidated.”
“I am intimidated,” she answered…”and so are the young women who reside here. I take it you are familiar with the nature of our mission?"
“I am,” he replied, "It's about one of those young women, I come to inquire about.”
“And who is she?”
“And what is your relationship?”
“We are friends since childhood.…”
“So you’re not a family member.”
“Is there something you’re not telling me?”
“The appearance of your arrival, showing up with an armed force on the threshold of a refuge for young women, already in a fearful way… is hardly common to someone visiting a childhood friend.”
“I just need to speak with her for a few minutes.”
“Teresa saw you and your men ride up, Don Ricardo, and she's scared half out of her wits. She believes you’ve come to carry her off…”
“I can assure you…”
“Are you the father of her child?”
“…no, of course not.”
“So you don’t even claim paternity?”
“Are you implying…?”
“….Whatever caused you to think that?”
“…If I could have a few minutes of her time.”
“It’s out of the question…She made it quite plain she had no wish to see you and even if she had expressed a willingness it is outside the protocol to have anyone but the father or immediate family visit here…I’m afraid I must ask you to leave.”
“I’m not going anywhere until I speak to Teresa…” said Ricardo, slamming his hand down in frustration. If I have to go room by room and open every door and crawl space I intend to have my say.”
“Sisters!” she cried out…The door flew open and four large Nuns entered with pikes extended. Ricardo leapt to his feet.
“What is the meaning of this?”
“Our meeting is over. The magistrate is on his way. We’re sworn to protect these girls and will lay down our lives to do so….If you have any doubt call in your men and see what happens.”
Through the door came an officious little man breathing hard…
“This is the Sheriff, a God fearing man, sworn to uphold the law.”
“What is it Sister?”
“This gentleman is about to leave…please escort him outside.”
He turned slowly looking Ricardo in the eyes…His were filled with dread….”Forgive me sir…but it is within her rights. This is Church property. It is the law as she claims, and her prerogative to ask you to leave.”
His recent conversation with the King came to mind…If the scolding by Teresa had caused a stir this was going to make a sensation. How could I have been so stupid?
“Forgive me sister…I did not intend for this to reach such an impasse.”
“Just go!” she said firmly.
Ricardo gathered what dignity he had left and departed.
I had a visitor today. Don Ricardo de Quintillion, High Commissioner of the Hermandad. He came to see a novitiate you sent, Teresa Montevallo, claiming to be her “Childhood Friend.” Teresa had seen him riding up, with a squadron of Dragoons, and feared he was about to carry her off. She pleaded with me to keep her safe from his hands.
Immediately I sent word to our local Magistrate. Inside, I asked if he was the father of Teresa’s child and he equivocated, refusing to accept any responsibility. This was fortunate because, as you are aware, a father has certain rights… He insisted I deliver her up to his questioning. Since he was neither the father nor part of the immediate family I refused to honor his request. He became indignant and threatened to tear the sanctuary apart to find her. Thereupon, Sister Martha, commander of our Fire Brigade, came to my support. She burst into the room with four armed sisters. Then the Sheriff arrived and Don Torquemada made feeble apology and departed with his men.
I tried questioning Teresa afterwards but she refuses to discuss the matter. Still, my experience tells me that she had a bad experience with him, possibly a rape and he wants to get her back under his control.
I hope my handling of this matter meets with your approval.
Sister Margarita Gomez.
Reverend Mother Sanchez read the letter in dismay….She had never suspected that Teresa was a childhood sweetheart of Don Ricardo. It had been her impression that he was another noble with dishonorable intentions. She had assumed he was out in search to gratify his prurient desires. Now she could see his interests ran much deeper, beyond a casual need for sex, perhaps even to the extent of matrimony….It occurred to her that if Teresa ever told Don Ricardo about the alleged summons and her night with Father Bernardo, there would be hell to pay. At the very least she could face a powerful enemy and place her future in serious jeopardy. The situation was something she needed to discuss with Antonio and fortunately he was scheduled to stay over the following night….Outside there came a knocking at her door. Sister Ramirez peered inside.
“Come in Hilda,” she motioned; “There’s someone I want you to fetch.”
“Do you have a moment? Reverend Mother," she asked?
“What is it…?”
“We have a new novitiate, Maria Nova, I want you to meet…she’s replacing Teresa…a most interesting young woman…”
“She walked all the way from France to escape her husband…”
“Good for her!”
“She can read and write and I’m thinking she will make a good teacher of those who are sadly deficient.”
“…Good idea…see to it.”
“Also we have a new handyman, I'm thinking of hiring him permanently. He has already laid in half the winter’s supply of wood and will be supervising the replacement of the ceiling joists in the fellowship hall.”
“Would you like to meet with either of them?”
“Not now, I’m quite busy…send Juanita in to see me…we need to discuss her final preparations for taking vows.”
“Yes Reverend mother, I’ll find her at once.”
Shortly thereafter, Hilda brought in, Novitiate Flores.
“Come in Juanita and take a seat….”
She was a willowy girl who moved with a silent and fluid grace. She had dark almond eyes and a quiet shyness and came from a poor family…one of those examples Hilda had just referred to as “sadly deficient” in basic education.
“I'm pleased, Juanita…I’m receiving good reports on you…you’re a hard worker, very dependable and fervent in prayer and devotions.”
Juanita beamed….she was not accustomed to praise… and coming from Mother Superior no less.
“Further we have a new teacher that has arrived who will be showing you how to read and write. I had feared you would not qualify for vows this year, because of your deficiency and now you have an opportunity to learn….I pray you will take advantage of it.”
“Yes Mother, I will try my very best,” she said eagerly
“You are aware, are you not… that there are secrets the Order has, that are revealed to an initiate in preparation for her vows?”
“Yes, she said furtively, lowering her voice, “And I am about to share one with you.”
“What is it?” she asked awestruck.
“On the headboard of my bed, is a precious shard of wood….a relic returned from the Crusades that is a part of the very bed upon which Blessed Virgin slept, the night she was visited by the Holy Spirit.”
“ Dear God,” exclaimed the young woman in wide eyed rapture.
“Tonight you will sleep in that very bed.”
“Yes, and it is said... by others who came before you that sometimes they hear a choir of angles singing as they lay beneath the headboard, sleeping quietly, in the dead of night.”
“My goodness gracious…”
“Now don’t get your hopes up…you are after all but a simple girl, and not someone the holy spirit is likely to take note of…but still I must make you aware that special visitations have occurred and just as the blessed virgin was visited by the holy spirit so have Novitiates in this very abbey, pure in heart, laying in that bed, claimed such a witness.”
As the first step in your preparations for the vows I want you to come to my room at nine O’clock sharp, I will be expecting you. And tell no one…This is something deeply personal between you and...(She motioned with her thumb towards Heaven.)
"I'll say nothing Reverend Mother….”
After Juanita left, Consuelo sighed….It was almost too easy. Several years ago she had awakened with a start to hear the distant sound of a choir ringing faintly in her chamber. At first she had been shaken, thinking a miracle was taking place, but after listening for a few minutes, thought better and took a walk about the grounds. Then she heard it again, this time coming from the chapel. In the basement the choir was rehearsing and the sound was resonating through the stones from across the courtyard and into her room. Then an idea came to mind that would prove both useful and amusing…
That night at 9 O’clock Juanita knocked softly on the door. It opened and what at first appeared an angel turned out to be the Reverend Mother. She put a finger to her lips and led Juanita inside. There in the center of the chamber was a huge bed surrounded by brightly burning candles.
“Bath in the tub and change into this white linen garment,” she instructed. “ It is your nuptial gown. Then climb into bed and lay restfully. I will be back in the morning and perhaps you will be one of those special girls blessed by a visitation.”
That night, an hour before midnight, as Juanita lay dozing fitfully she was brought suddenly awake by a distant singing. It was a chorus of angels….They were singing hala-lu-juas and praises.
She sat bolt upright trembling…and then came a voice…
“Do you believe Juanita?” It asked softly…
“Yes! Yes!” She cried out…
“Do you believe as Mary did, as the spirit spoke and descended upon her?”
“Yes, I believe…”
Tomorrow I will come to you as I did her….Will you receive me?”
“Yes, Lord, I’ll be ready…”
“Then sleep now and await….for I will come to you, as in the flesh, and we will be joined like husband and wife.”
Juanita stood…trembling in disbelief….Could this be true…was this be really happening?…She cried out, her voice impassioned…”I’ll be waiting, I’ll be waiting."