Maria visits Teresa in the Hermitage
Chapter 14: A Growing Sense of the Truth
A month later Maria left the Convent, walking alongside Sister Hilda. She had a satchel over her shoulder and the First Secretary was giving instructions.
Waiting outside was a young man seated in a livery, hands on the reins, looking down into the traces. He was powerfully built with broad shoulders…his hands were enormous. He was dressed in the coarse garb of a peasant. She expected the smell of a working man and was surprised instead by the scent of soap.
“This is Benvolio, our handyman. He knows the way and will see you safely to the Hermitage," said Hilda. "Deliver the posts and try to return by dark.”
Maria stepped up into the seat and settled in. Benvolio snapped the reins and the pony stepped off briskly and soon they were clipping down the road.
“Benvolio,” she said thinking out loud….”I’ve heard that name before.”
“It’s common among the Basques,” he answered.
“A friend of our family has spent many years in the Pyrenees. Perhaps you know him?”
“Who might that be?"
“His name is Ricardo de Quintillion.”
“I see…” She detected in his Spanish a pattern of speech that was veiled but distinctly Castilian…
“Tell me Benvolio,” she continued her intuition alerted…”How long you have been working here?”
“A little over a month,” he replied.
“Fancy that…” She reached over and touched a hand rubbing it with her fingers. “These are not the hands of a laborer.”
“I served in the wars, 'My Lady'".
“Why do you address me by a title, as if you know who I am?"
He stammered, “Your demeanor is that of a highborn."
She began to study him closely and he became uncomfortable. He shifted nervously about and then glanced over at her. To an observant woman, a look can be disastrous….
“You are not as you appear, Benvolio,” Maria concluded.
“Why do you say that?”
“Your shoes for one thing…They do not match the rest of your attire. They are scuffed and dirty to be sure, but underneath they are tooled leather and not inexpensive. And those britches that stretch with your, ahhhh, ‘prominence,’ are frayed but contrived to look worn." With difficulty she forced her eyes from his bulging manhood, but not before experiencing an unwelcome heat.
“It comes back to me now…this acquaintance of mine has spoken of one named Benvolio…a close friend.”
“Indeed? Then how is it that a Basque peasant learns to speak High Spanish?”
“My mother was from Madrid," he stammered, beginning to flounder.
“Don’t lie to me,” she replied, “I hate it when a man does that.”
“Who are you?” She demanded.
He sagged…”As you suspect, a fraud.”
“For sure, but I suspect the fraud is also my brother’s closest friend.”
“The truth is revealed....was I so transparent?”
She leaned over, kissing him on the cheek. ”At Grenada, You saved his life. Accept this as a measure of my gratitude."
“Does it end there?" he asked hopefully.
Perhaps it was the pressures of the times, perhaps the volatility of their blood, or perhaps being long without gentle companionship….perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…However, what soon became evident was an attraction, intense and eager.
"Further to what?"
“I was thinking that your lips might be a place to start.
”“Pull the cart into those trees.”
He hastened to her bidding and once parked, lifted her out by the waist.
She raised her chin and closed her eyes. Guilt filled his heart and whispered to his conscience. He took her in his arms. For a long moment intimacy hung by a thread. She opened her eyes to see the delay. He hesitated.
“Are you going to kiss me or not?”
“And what would your Brother think to look at us now?”
“Do you want an honest answer…?”
“And what of your honor if someone should happen by and see us so disposed?”
“What does being seen have to do with honor?”
“Appearances are everything.”
“You’re no gentleman!” She pushed him back…"A disappointment is what you are. A Kiss is but a kiss, an innocent expression of affection.”
“Forgive me for leading you on.”
"Is this where you intend to leave matters?"
He sagged...."I need you so bad."
She raised her skirt and pulled down her underwear. "Then start acting like a man...Hurry up. We don't have all day!"
He unbuckled his belt and let his britches drop...
Oh my Gawd, she gasped at the sight of his erection…It was enormous.
Taking a deep breath she asked...."How are we going to do this?
“On the wagon...He said lifting her up onto the floor.
"What do you want me to do?"
Her buttocks rested on the bed and her legs hung over the edge.
He stepped up.
“Just lay back and relax.”
She reclined back onto the boards supporting her shoulder on one elbow so she could see what was happening.
“Lay back,” he instructed tugging on her hips. She slid towards him as he nudged her legs apart and pulled her thighs closer.
“What now?” she asked looking down along her arm.
“Close your eyes.”
She groaned as he inserted himself, twisting the head and driving his girth into the soft folds. At first her opening protested but then yielded suddenly, allowing the length to begin relentlessly slipping ever deeper. As it did he reached behind pulling her buttocks with those big hands. She squirmed responding to his coaxing, until it seated fully. Then a tremor raced through her body as she felt that manly swell begin to pulse filling her womb with the spit of his seed. Together they reveled in the closure of lovers united for the first time. As quickly as it began, the strain vanished and she sighed sitting up. He stepped backward and she stepped down and recovered her undergarments. In modesty they turned their backs and put their clothes back on.
“Come, dear man," she said climbing back into the wagon, "We’ve a long day ahead of us."
Benvolio climbed up alongside and shook the reins.
“We have plenty of time,” he replied. “We'll be there in two hours. How long does it take to deliver some posts?”
“I need to find Teresa and get answers to some pressing questions.”
“Teresa? Don Ricardo’s sweetheart is at the Hermitage?”
“Yes, Teresa is at the Hermitage…”
“What’s she doing there?”
“It’s a place where they send girls who are in a woman’s way…”
“Is she so disposed?”
“I think so...”
“… Ricardo, that rascal! He never bothered to mention that he….”
“Perhaps because he didn’t… That’s the whole point… To find out who the father is and discover exactly what happened…”
“Discovering the father I can see. As to what happened, that should be self-evident.”
“Well it’s not. Could it be that Teresa had a lover we’re not aware of, or did someone mistreat her? Was she willing or was she forced? These are questions that remain to be answered.”
“Of course, of course, you must think me obtuse…”
“It’s not an area where you’re showing great perceptiveness….”
“Be patient….So after delivering the posts, you'll find Teresa and try and get her to answer these questions?”
“That’s my intention.”
“Is this your first attempt at questioning her?”
“Then what makes you think she will tell you now, what she hasn’t shared in the past?”
“I see your point…perhaps you have a better idea?”
“Ricardo told me that his beloved came upon him in a compromising situation...”
“That he thinks Teresa, misunderstands his true intentions.”
“Now you tell me that she's pregnant and that Ricardo is not the father…”
“That’s my contention.”
“Have you considered the possibility that your brother could be responsible? That they had an affair that went sour and now she's afraid of him?”
“What are you implying?”
“I'm merely addressing the possibilities…Determining whether we have full possession of the facts. In the heat of passion men have been known to lose control.”
“First of all they never had the opportunity. Second, you’ve known my brother for a long time. Have you ever seen him lose control of anything? Have you ever seen him lash out in anger or behave dishonorable towards a woman? Have you?”
“Neither have I.”
“Very well, then we’ll assume the father is someone else. The next question is… Was her intercourse voluntary or forced?”
“Was she a willing participant or was she raped?”
“Our thoughts walk the same path.”
They came to a crossroads and he brought the cart to a stop. He paused a moment stroking his jaw….Clicking his cheek he pulled to the right and they turned on the last leg of their outbound journey.
“Now you would think that if a woman were safe anywhere, it would be in a convent.”
“So it would seem to me….”
“Can we establish a time frame for when the “union” took place.”
“It was after she joined the Order….She developed morning sickness about a month ago…That would make her about 4 months pregnant.”
“Who told you of her sickness?”
“Juanita, her cellmate…”
“…A tall willowy girl, who looks like a bird?”
“Yes Juanita, the one you caught falling from the scaffold yesterday. When Teresa left it created a vacancy. Now, I’m her living companion…and that’s not all. “
“She slipped out the past two nights…and when she returned I smelled man musk."
He laughed…”And how would you know what that smells like?”
She glared…”Not that it’s any of your business but I had three brothers….When you share the same bath you get familiar with the odor.”
He held up his hands in innocence…”Far be it for me to question your knowledge of the smell… however, it does raise an interesting point.”
“When Juanita came back did she seem upset?”
“Euphoric is a better term…”
“Well now, if there’s a connection here with Teresa’s experience, that seems to rule out rape.”
“Did she say anything regarding her goings about?”
“She talked about the Holy Spirit and a rendezvous with Destiny.”
“Sounds like Mary and the Holy Ghost…”
“Oh my God!" said Maria, hands to her face… “She was duped….that’s it, she was duped…”
“Duped into what…?”
“Duped into thinking she was having sex with the Holy Spirit….Don’t you see? That’s it! It was a set up…to dupe a foolish young woman into having sex…”
"No woman is dumb enough to believe that..."
"Have you had a long conversation with Juanita?"
"Forget about Juanita for a minute...consider the lengths to which the trickster went. Whoever fooled her was not only clever but someone she trusted.”
“I agree. It was someone highly placed that had her confidence.”
“Is Teresa that gullible?”
“She’s not stupid but she doesn't always demonstrate a lot of common sense. She’s a very trusting person and could I suppose be sold a false bill of goods.”
“Or made to believe that Don Ricardo is a scoundrel?”
“This is starting to make sense.”
“So what do you intend to do we get there? Say, ‘Hi Teresa, I’ve returned to ask the same old questions all over again?’”
“What do you suggest…?”
“She probably won’t reveal much but you can plant the seeds of doubt. Tell what you know about Juanita and ask why she’s so distrustful of your brother. If it’s based on second hand information it might set her mind to thinking.”
Benvolio and Maria pulled up in front of the Hermitage. It looked forbidding with its high walls and battlements.
“What kind of place is this?” asked Maria…It was more of a rhetorical question and the dark ambience sent a shudder running down her spine.
“It was once a fortress, no doubt used a base of power for some feudal Lord."
“It gives me a chill. I can imagine how a young woman, already distraught, must feel when she’s brought here.”
“Perhaps it’s less foreboding once you get inside.”
There was a huge gate that looked like it hadn’t opened in a long time. The hinges were rusty and it seemed to have become a permanent fixture of the wall. In the middle was a small door. Maria climbed down and walked over to it. There was a knocker which she clacked several times. It opened and a Nun smiled out….
“The posts, the posts!” she said clapping her hands together. “We didn’t get a delivery last week and everyone will be so excited.”
“Where do I take this?” Maria asked…Holding up the satchel.
“Follow me, I’ll show you…”
The way led into what was once the Keep, an imposing structure, next to a beautiful chapel. Inside was a spacious set of rooms that were the administrative part of the complex. A middle aged Nun sat at a desk and looked up as they walked in…
“Look who just arrived Sister Angelo, the courier from Avila…”
“That will be all Sister Santana…she said curtly, "tell everyone the posts will be sorted and ready for pick up in half an hour.”
She turned to Maria; her hand extended, and took the leather pouch…
“We have some return posts that are not quite ready. Go by the kitchen and get something to eat and take a bite for your driver. In the meantime make yourself at home. Take a look around if you like.”
“I’ve a friend here. Can you tell me where I might find her?”
“Who is she?”
“Across the street, up the stairs, third floor, turn right... it’s the, one, two, three… third door on the left. I’m sure she'll be glad to have a visitor.”
Maria went to the kitchen and was given some bread, cheese and a bowl of soup. She carried this back outside to Benvolio.
“It’ll be an hour before the return posts are ready,” she told him.
“What about Teresa?”
“I found out where her room is…I don’t know why I’m so nervous.”
Find out who the father is, why she's so fearful of and how she got pregnant. Those are the three things to keep in mind. Get the answers to those and your efforts are rewarded.”
Maria took a deep breath and went back inside. Upstairs she found the room and knocked on the door.
”Who is it?” came a familiar voice from inside. The door swung wide and Teresa gazed out. Her eyes blinked several times as her face took on a look of disbelief.
“I'm shocked!” said her old friend, surprised to see Maria in the habit of a Novitiate. “What’s going on with you?”
“I joined the Order.”
“So I see…and what made you to do that?” Stepping back, she motioned her friend inside.
“It was the only way I knew to find you. We need to talk.”
Maria sighed and looked at Teresa’s stomach. It was only starting to protrude.
“…About why you’re here for one thing. Ricardo has been sick with anxiety”
“Why should he be concerned? He might be responsible but be assured, it’s not his.”
“How can he be both of those things?”
“It’s a long story Maria and one I don’t care to get into.”
“Please tell me why you harbor such ill feelings for my brother. Surely you can forgive his indiscretion in the garden. His love for you has not wavered these past months.”
“Do you think I care at this point what he did with Angelina? She certainly had no complaints…why should I? No Maria, I was shocked and disappointed but my antagonism goes much deeper than that.”
“He’s very much in love with you.”
“He has a strange way of showing it…Last week he arrived here with a troop of men and threatened to tear the place apart and carry me off.”
“I was not aware…..”
“There’s much you’re not aware of…he is not telling you the whole truth… about everything he’s done.”
“First you say he’s responsible and now that he covers something up…please quit speaking in riddles.”
“I’ve said too much already…Ricardo is a powerful man and not afraid to use his influence….I’ll not put those who shield me in harm's way.”
“Well maybe those who shield you are the ones you should be most concerned about…”
“What do you mean by that?”
“My roommate is Juanita.”
“Yes, I filled the vacancy you left. For the last two nights she has slipped from the cell to be with someone…”
"Oh no….How do you know that?"
“Because she returned last night with the smell of man spit on her underclothes.
“Dear God, who could he be?”
“I don’t know who, but she thinks it was the Holy Ghost…”
“Surely nobody would ever believe that…Not even Juanita.”
“People believe what they’re led to believe… and what they want to believe…”
"What are you getting at?"
“I suspect that young girls at the convent are being duped into providing sexual favors."
“How dare you suggest such a thing….Juanita has a weakness for men and struggles with it daily. There are other explanations that are much more plausible…”
“Like her old boyfriend came to visit... As for being duped, you're the one who's being gulled by Ricardo… He’s using you and our friendship, as a means of getting back at me for embarrassing him in public… Well you can tell him it won’t work… That whatever feelings I might have once had..., they've long since vanished.”
“Get out, or I swear I'll expose you for the false sister you’ve become. I want nothing more to do with you.”
“Very well…I came here as your friend…I’ll impose no further.”