Chapter 21: - Page 4 of 5

The Story of a Mother

(English version of “Noli Me Tangere”)

She heard the shameless tones of a woman who asked from behind at the top of her voice, Where did you catch her? And the money? It was a woman without a tapis, or tunic, dressed in a green and yellow skirt and a camisa of blue gauze, easily recognizable from her costume as a querida of the soldiery.  Sisa felt as if she had received a slap in the face, for that woman had exposed her before the crowd.  She raised her eyes for a moment to get her fill of scorn and hate, but saw the people far, far away.  Yet she felt the chill of their stares and heard their whispers as she moved over the ground almost without knowing that she touched it.

Eh, this way! a guard called to her.  Like an automaton whose mechanism is breaking, she whirled about rapidly on her heels, then without seeing or thinking of anything ran to hide herself.  She made out a door where a sentinel stood and tried to enter it, but a still more imperious voice called her aside.  With wavering steps she sought the direction of that voice, then felt herself pushed along by the shoulders; she shut her eyes, took a couple of steps, and lacking further strength, let herself fall to the ground, first on her knees and then in a sitting posture.  Dry and voiceless sobs shook her frame convulsively.

Now she was in the barracks among the soldiers, women, hogs, and chickens.  Some of the men were sewing at their clothes while their thighs furnished pillows for their queridas, who were reclining on benches, smoking and gazing wearily at the ceiling.  Other women were helping some of the men clean their ornaments and arms, humming doubtful songs the while.

It seems that the chicks have escaped, for you’ve brought only the old hen! commented one woman to the new arrivals,—whether alluding to Sisa or the still clucking hen is not certain.

Yes, the hen is always worth more than the chicks, Sisa herself answered when she observed that the soldiers were silent.

Where’s the sergeant? asked one of the guards in a disgusted tone.  Has report been made to the alferez yet?

A general shrugging of shoulders was his answer, for no one was going to trouble himself inquiring about the fate of a poor woman.

There Sisa spent two hours in a state of semi-idiocy, huddled in a corner with her head hidden in her arms and her hair falling down in disorder.  At noon the alferez was informed, and the first thing that he did was to discredit the curate’s accusation.

Bah! Tricks of that rascally friar, he commented, as he ordered that the woman be released and that no one should pay any attention to the matter.  If he wants to get back what he’s lost, let him ask St. Anthony or complain to the nuncio.  Out with her!

Consequently, Sisa was ejected from the barracks almost violently, as she did not try to move herself.  Finding herself in the street, she instinctively started to hurry toward her house, with her head bared, her hair disheveled, and her gaze fixed on the distant horizon.  The sun burned in its zenith with never a cloud to shade its flashing disk; the wind shook the leaves of the trees lightly along the dry road, while no bird dared stir from the shade of their branches.

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