A STORY OF SANTO DOMINGO
By Jeanie Raymond Bidwell
Written for Short Stories 1894
The carnival, that rollicking time of wild and joyous revelry, had begun; and not until the last chime of the midnight bell on Shrove Tuesday would stillness and quiet again fall on the town.
On this bright Sunday afternoon die streets of Santiago, that old inland town of Santo Domingo, were filled with all sorts of masked forms and grotesque figures — devils, clowns and Santos— on horseback and on foot, blowing great homs,shouting and screaming; while every now and then venturesome boys would throw bunches of lighted
firecrackers under the horses' feet, thus adding to the general confusion. There were flag-poles in front of many houses; and the national colors, with here and there the Spanish flag, of red and yellow, floating
gayly in the breeze.
The caffé de San Miguel was swept clean; and the house of Enrique Ricardo, el carpeniero, had been cleared of the boards, workbench, tools and shavings which usually incumbered it. Today the front room — with its three red-painted doors, all wide open on the street — was swept and garnished. The room ran across the whole width of the one-storey adobe front, zincroofed casita^ and served as parlor, workshop and general livingroom. A row of chairs was placed stiffly against the wall, facing the street ; while four rocking-chairs, somewhat the worse for wear, were arranged in a line through the centre of the room. The floor, of square red bricks, had been freshly sprinkled, and the table in one comer boasted of a new red cloth cover. Over the table were photographs of various relatives and friends, framed in pressed tin and cheap wooden frames. They were tacked in rows, close together, and formed, if one could truthfully say so, the only ornamentation, barring several saddles and a guitar, on the palm-board wall.
Back of the sala were three smaller rooms, two of which served as bedrooms, and the other as kitchen ; in one comer of this room stood the forked-tree stump which held the water tuiaj'a (a large earthen jar). There were a couple of braziers for cooking, several iron pots, and a number of coarse earthem ollas^ a largesized mahogany table — that is the land where fine is costly — and a fair supply of white, blue-edged crockery dishes. As a general thing, the cooking was done in the open air at the back of the house.
Leaning back in a rocking-chair just outside the door of the sal sat Altagracia, Enrique's eldest daughter, a girl of seventeen, attired in her holiday gown of pale pink muslin. A bunch of tuberoses was carelessly thrust into the left side of the knot of wavy black hair which was coiled low in her neck, and from which little tendrils of hair escaped and formed tiny rings.
The girl's profile, the olive-tinted skin and charming head were thrown into relief by the dull red calico covering which was slipped over the chair-back. The carmine of the lips gave color to her face, which looked almost pathetic in repose, until the eyes were lifted ; soft brown eyes, with a wealth of expression in their depths ! now laughing coquettishly, then, at times, pleading and sad Spanish eyes.
Her brother, Jose-Manuel, was saddling his horse in front of the house ; he had just taken the saddle, with its purple velvet seat, from its nail, and had thrown it over the gold-bordered red saddle-cloth which was laid on the white horse. He stooped to buckle the cincha ; then, as he turned to go into the house for his spurs and revolver, he suddenly turned to his sister, and asked:
" Gracita, where is Rafael this afternoon ? he promised to be here by two o'clock, and it is past that hour now,"
" Only ten minutes past the hour, Pepito mio,'' answered the girl. " I have just been to look at the clock on the tower."
" It will be well for him to hurry a little, for he, Juan Sibberio, and Pedro Perillo and I, are going to ride about town with the maskeros this afternoon, and I wish to start."
" No hay cuidado! (don't worry!) he will be here directly," said Altagracia, turning her head to look up the hill towards the costilloy where the Moca road comes into the calU de San Miguel.
" You know," she continued, " that Rafael has two leagues to ride, and Yamboril is not a stone's throw from here; the sun bites to-day. Ah! but he comes now! " she exclaimed, joyfully, as a mounted horseman dashed round the corner from the calU del Sol, and drew rein so suddenly before the house that his horse reared.
A tall, well-formed yoimg man drew his feet from the stirrups and sprang lightly to the ground. There was a decided tinge of yellow in his skin, and a more decided wave to his hair, but his features were strong and regular, and there was a look of character that impressed one favorably.
He called to a younger brother of Gracita's who, with freshly washed face, appeared from a room at the back of tlie house, where a splashing of water and frequent exclamations and scuffling could be heard with a low, running accompaniment of maternal scolding :
" Here, Panchito," tossing him a redl, " hold my horse a moment, that's a good boy."
Pancho sprang forward, with a broad grin, and took hold of the bridle, while Rafael turned to Gracita, who rose with a smile of welcome to greet him, and taking both her slender hands in his, he bent down and murmured a few words in her ear that caused her face to flush as she looked up at him.
Just then Enrique himself came out ; he was freshly shaved and dressed in a well-fitting suit of fine black broadcloth, with immaculate linen. On his shoulder was perched Caridad, the year-old baby, a cherubic child, whose gala attire consisted simply of a pair of bright red shoes. With the mercury at 90° in the shade, she was to be envied. Enrique was a fine type of Dominican ; tall, broad-shouldered, with well-shaped head, he looked equally well in workday blouse of unbleached linen or Sunday suit. He greeted Rafael with a cordial hand-shake and a "Z” hay, compay?^' (How goes it, compadre ?) put the child on Gracita's lap; then, taking the cigar proffered by Rafael, he tilted his chair back on two legs and began asking abo|it the tobacco crop.
Rafael was his prospective son-in-law ; betrothed to Gracita three months back, during the Christmas holidays, they were to be married at Easter.
Rafael Valberde owned land in his own right ; he was an only son, his father, a Dominican general. Having been killed in the revolution of the past year. He had a fine tobacco plantation, ten thousand coffee trees, all bearing well ; the same number of cocoa, a large caiiuco of sugar-cane, plantains and yuca; several hundred head of cattle, a good-sized palm-board house, with land unlimited; moreover, he was honest and industrious, and was considered a buen partido by Enrique, who always had a sharp eye to business.
He answered Enrique's questions pleasantly, every now and then exchanging a glance with Gracita ; his attention was drawn to the tuberoses with which the girl's hair was studded, and whose heavy, p>enetrating perfume reached him,
" What pretty flowers, Gracita mia .' who gave them to you ? " he asked, with a Spanish lover's quick, instinctive jealousy ; but, before the girl could answer, her younger sister, Dolores, a girl of twelve, who already gave promise of even greater beauty than Gracita's, broke in hastily :
" Oh ! I can tell ytiu, Rafael ; Don Alberto, the young IngUs who is visiting Doiia Juanita, just across the way, brought them this afternoon ; he often comes now, and "
“That's nothing," interrupted Gracita, a little too eagerly. " Dona Juanita always sends me the tuberoses from her garden; she dislikes such strong perfume herself, and this morning Don Alberto brought them and sat talking awhile with papa."
"Who is this Don Alberto?" asked Rafael, a trifle impatiently. " I have not the honor of his acquaintance."
Enrique, with a swift frown at Dolores, which had the effect of making her hastily retreat into the house, interposed: " Merely an inglès up here from Puerto Plata on a little negocio (business). He is staying with the Americans across the street ; he told me that he was waiting to see Dona Juanita's cousins, who are daily expected from La Vega. Pretty girls, too ! " he added, with a sly glance at his elder daughter, who merely shrugged her shoulders in reply. "They are scarce in these parts. Besides, he has been talking with me about a cedar chest for his clothes ; the moths are eating them."
At this point in the conversation a good-natured, languid voice called out :
" Good people, is there no place for me in a rocking-chair after all my labors with those children ? " and the stout form of Jacinta, Enrique's wife, appeared in the doorway.
" Que tal, Rafaelito mio ? " she asked, heartily, extending her hand to the young man, and accepting, with a few words of thanks, the chair which Rafael, with the politeness inherent in Spanish blood, rose to offer her.
She had just put on a freshly ironed muslin wrapper. One half of her heavy hair hung in a massive braid below her waist, while the other half was in process of being coiled about her shapely head; her mouth was filled with hairpins, which she removed, one by one, until the hair-dressing was completed; then, with a final pat to the braids, she settled herself back in her chair, took the baby from Gracita and, after a few preliminary puffs at the cigar which Reifael, in duty bound, had offered, remarked :
" There's refresco of pineapple on the table, Gracita ; bring Rafael a glass ; he will enjoy it after his ride. Ay de mil but it's warm to-day ! "
Jacinta was really a young-looking woman for her age, which might have been forty. Mother of twelve healthy, rugged children, she spent the greater part of her time in the doorway with her baby on her lap. Indeed, to the whole family, life seemed one long holiday. They took their meals in a delightfully unconventional fashion. Sitting about on chair or floor, with plate or bowl in hand, they ate their sancocho and frijoles at midday with keenest relish. Enrique alone sat at table and sustained the dignity of the house of Ricardo."
They broke their fist in the morning when the baker's boy came early to the door on his burro and, striking with his stick on the large, round tins, called out :
" Here's your good, fresh bread." The strongest cafi nigro (black coffee) washed it down. At oight, roasted green plantain and toasted cassava bread made the meal ; exactly such a one as the Indians ate four hundred years ago at close of day.
Gracita returned with a pitcher of the cool refrhco, which she poured into a glass and offered, with a coquettish smile, to Rafael; then she handed the pitcher to Dolores, who was immediately surrounded by a troop of smaller brothers and sisters, among whom she distributed the drink.
Rafael, meanwhile, had drawn his chair close to Gracita's side and was talking to her in low whispeis, his momentary jealousy forgotten. He was utterly obhvious of Jos^-Manuel who, with his hand on his horse's bridle, stood waiting for him to start on Xhepas^o about town ; when there came a crowd of gayly-dressed, . fantastic figures around the comer, all masked, and all shouting and screaming. Following them came a rabble of boys and girls. Five maskeros halted in front of Enrique's house, then rushed into the sdta, and began dancing to a wild fandango played on the guitar by Rafael, and accompanied by the thrum-thrum of the guira, which Jos^-Manuel quickly seized. One maskera grasped Jacinta by the waist, another took both Enrique's hands; but he, suddenly lifting the mask, planted a kiss on the girlish face revealed.
" Hi, Pepita ! " he exclaimed, "you can't fool me."
The girl tore herself away and ran off, followed by her companions.
Jose-Manuel jumped on horseback and called to Rafael to follow him; but the latter lingered a moment to whisper to Gracita : " Let me know you at the baU to-night, cara mia^^ then galloped off.
The wide doors of the cdsa de los IngUses^ across the way from Enrique's, were open.
Dona Juanita, her husband and child were standing on the sidewalk ; as the crowd of maskers dashed by, they followed them as far as the comer, then came back and went into the house. A young man remained standing outside leaning against the brick wall of the house ; he was smoking a cigarette and casting glances across the street to where Gracita sat ; of medium height, slender, extremely blonde, with deep, mournful blue eyes, which he could use to the best advantage ; a drooping mustache, which he continually twisted, concealed a rather weak mouth. He wore a well-cut London suit of white flannels, white silk ' shirt with a dark blue tie, and a sash of the same silk. A white helmet, which an Englishman always wears in a tropical climate, completed his cool and becoming costume.
He was in the employ of an English mercantile house in Hamburg and, as he had a good knowledge of Spanish, had been sent to Santo Domingo in the interests of the firm for a few months. In Santiago time had himg heavily on his hands; business could be gotten over in a couple of hours in the morning, then for another hour he knocked the billiard balls about at the Casino. He had nearly starved at thtfonda of old Juan Julian.
Garlic he detested; sancocho, that national dish, a stew of pork, green plantain and every conceivable vegetable boiled together, his soul revolted against; dsAfrijohs! — ^he never wanted to see another of those vile red beans as long as he lived !
At last Burton, an American, the husband of the before-mentioned Dona Juanita, returned to town and there discovered Lester and promptly domiciled him in his own abode. For a week he had been there. He soon discovered that there was a pretty girl across the street, so nearly all his time had been spent at Enrique's, playing the guitar, and making little sketches of Gracita.
The Yamboril road had been frightfully muddy, so that Rafael had not been to town for a week.
As maskeros and horses vanished in the distance, Lester, throwing down his cigarette, turned back into the pdtio^ from whence he shortly reappeared carrying a package, a white enamelled box, tied with a tiny gold cord and stamped in raised letters, Nougoline Français. He strolled across the street, tossed the box into Gracita's lap, and smilingly received her exclamations of astonished delight andraptm-e at indulce (sweets); then dropping into the chair deserted by Rafael, he said : " Why not eat it now, carisima, before that jealous mhio (lover) of yours returns ? "
" Perhaps I ought not to take this, Don Alberto," returned the girl, with a lingering look at the box. " Rafael might not like it"
" Don't trouble your little head about that, he need know nothing about it; that is, unless you choose to tell him. What's the harm in a simple present like that ? "
" Rafael is very jealous."
" Yes, I know, I heard him talking about the tuberoses," said Lester, bending forward to take one of the flowers from the girl's hair ; then, " With your permission, seiiorita," he drew the tuberose lightly across his lips and placed it in an inner pocket of his coat.
The color rose to her cheek, she glanced hastily behind her ; but the doorway was deserted, the youngsters having gone with the crowd, while Jacinto had just gone in to lay the sleeping baby in the hammock in the bedroom.
" Remember, at the ball to-night, three danzas and two waltzes for me, alma mia ; and leave your right hand ungloved, so that I may distinguish you," he whispered softly, for Enrique was drawing very near the door, and his expression could not be called pleasant.
" Well, Enrique," coolly remarked Lester, " Til come over after the carnival and talk over some work I want done, and have a look at that horse of yours, also, the one you wanted to sell me yesterday."
Enrique's face grew bright at once. A horse-trade was his especial delight, and he invariably got the best of the bargain. He answered, heartily ;
" Whenever you wish, Senor tnio ; I am at your disposition."
Lester, with a nod to Gracita, walked across the narrow street and into the large courtyard beyond.
The dinner bell had rung and Dona Juanita was looking for her guest.
A few hours later, in her little bedroom, surrounded by admiring sisters, Gracita was putting the finishing touches to a coquettish toilet. She was dressed like a gypsy, and the Spanish colors, red and yellow, were very effective ; the dress was short enough to
show the slender, well-turned ankles and pretty feet, A lace
mantilla concealed her hair and came close enough to the
painted gauze oiask to
hide the outline of cheek
" Rosita and Angela are going to call for me," she said to her mother, who stood near.
" Don't notice me in any way if you see me at the ball, for I don't care to be recognized by everybody,"
Just then giriish voices were heard outside, and Gracita, enveloping herself in the linen sheet which served in lieu of an opera cloak, came out into the sdla, where a couple of candles shed a dim light
" I'm ready," she said to the two girls who had just arrived; and ofE all three started to the Baile del Primero.
" Let us go to the ball at the Casino first," said Rosita, as the girls picked their way over the badly paved streets and narrow sidewalks ; " then if we wish we can go to the others." " Bien," came in chorus from the others. The streets were full of people, nearly all going in the same direction, towards the Casino in front of the Ftasa de Armas, where a first-class ball was to be given.
As Gracita and her friends drew near they saw a crowd of spectators akeady thronging about the half-dozen doors, which were wide open to the street. The one-storey building was on a comer. Inside, the billiard-tables had been removed, the floor waxed, and rows of chairs were arranged along the wall for the spectators ; the dancers never sit down at a masked ball. Chinese lanterns were hung in rows on ropes stretched across the ceiling; gaudy pictures were on the wall. At the extreme end of the room a platform had been built for the musicians. Off at one side — to the left — was the cantina, where light wines, beer and liqueurs were sold.
"Here are some maskeras; let them in," was shouted, as Gracita, Rosita, Angela and half a dozen other girls whom they had overtaken on the way, drew near a doorway. The crowd opened to let them pass in ; they walked with little shouts and squeals across the hall to the dressing-room.
The seats were rapidly filling; there were mothers of families, stout and comfortable, with fringed mantillas and large fans ; they had a cigar or two on hand with which to beguile the tedium of waiting.
Knots of young men in Prince Albert coats, the regulation evening dress, stood about, talking animatedly. They were unmasked, for the president, in these times of political difficulties had forbidden all men to mask as they might have been tempted, and no one the wiser, to put an enemy out of the way with a swift thrust of the dagger. Their skins ranged from a dead white, that bianco mat^^ to cafe au laii, the really black man not venturing to a first-class ball.
Inside the cantina could be heard the popping of corks.
An hour later, at ten o'clock, the ball was in full force ; the room was crowded. A strong odor of patchouli mingled with tobacco smoke and the indescribable odor of la raza négra in a heated room.
The band was pla)dng that intoxicating, sensuous danza, La lliivia de Bésos, ^
All sorts of strange, fantastic figures were dancing, and in the pcLseos of a dance they dragged their partners off to the cantina to drink anilado or maraschino,
Lester, in evening-dress, a tuberose in his button-hole, was dancing with Gracita to the sweet, slow music, and murmuring tender nothings in her ear. As she looked over his shoulder she could see the sombre face of her lover, who seemed to know her by the fact that Lester danced so much with her.
Poor Rafael! it was hard lines, but he was not allowed to dance; he had sent his evening clothes ahead that afternoon in charge of a peon^ but the man had not appeared in town to dehver them; he was probably overcome by aguardiente^ and was sleeping off its effects in some hut by the roadside.
And there was Rafael in his riding-suit of blue jeans ! He could get into a Baile del Segundo^ but not into a first-class ball thus attired ; and he had found it impossible to beg, borrow or steal a suit that would fit him. He had to stand and glower in the doorway, every now and then pouring his woes into the sympathizing ear of Jacinta. His heart grew wrathful and his eyes fierce as he noted every tender glance of Lester's ; he could not see through the thin, painted mask which Gracita wore, but he could hear the girl's merry laughter as she passed dose by die door where he stood. Once she stopped and touched his coatsleeve timidly, and said, softly :
" I'm so sorry for you, Rafaehto ; I won't dance any more, if you don't wish me to."
But he, sore and hurt, gave an impatient shrug, and made no reply. As she passed on in the throng he muttered to himself: "Par Dios I 111 have it out with that pig of an Inglis ; he will kill me or I'll kill him; " and he nervously fingered the handle of I the revolver which was strapped about his waisL " I love that girl too much to give her up. I'm not a very good Catholic, but if all comes out right for me I'll make a vow to the Virgin to climb the Santa Cerro on my knees, and not to look at Gradta again until Lent is over. Caramba! I'll speak to that fellow now." At that moment the director of the French telegraph company, a personal friend of Lester's, forced his way through the crowd to where the young man stood, and touching him on the shoulder said:
" Pardon me, Lester, but here's a cablegram for you from England."
Lester hurriedly tore open the yellow envelope of the dispatch, and read :
" Father dying. Come. Marian Lester." Instantly all thoughts of the ball were forgotten ; he wondered if, by starting that night, he could get to Puerto Plata in time to take the American steamer for New York, and there connect with a steamer for Liverpool. He looked up and saw Rafael looking at him with a wrathful expression in his eyes. The young Englishman walked directly towards the Dominican, held out his band and said frankly : " Pardon me, Sefior, if I have taken too much
of your sweetheart's attention to-night I meant no harm I assure you. I only knew yesterday that you were betrothed. I have just received word that my father is dying. I must start to-night if I can find a horse in town. My own is four miles out on the plantation."
Rafael's face softened; he said generously, "I accept your apology, caballero^ you are as brave as a Dominican. You may have my horse ; he is just outside, tied to a tree ; he is strong, and will put you in Puerto Plata, with steady riding, in nine hours. You may leave him there at the house of my compadre^ Juan Gomez, who will return him to me in two days. The moon rises in an hour. Vaya con Dios,^*
With a few words of grateful thanks Lester took the horse, and an hour later was riding out of town, across the Sabana, Behind him shone the wonderfully bright constellation of the Southern Cross. Off to the north lay the high mountains to be crossed ere the morrow. He struck into the pathway — the once famous /aft? de los Hidalgos.
Outside the town all was still, but farther on, through the halfopen door of a bohio he saw a negro mother lift her waiUng child from its hanmiock, and sitting crouched on the hard clay floor, she sang a plaintive melody : ^' Duerma ti, nina, duermo Hy hija” (Sleep, my little one, sleep), and Lester rode on.
Rafael could not resist a parting word with Gracita; with an ^^Adios, false one," he disappeared. That night he walked the two leagues to his estancia^ resolving not to see Gracita for a while, to punish her and to keep his vow.
All through Lent Gracita waited for some sign of Rafael. She did not miss Lester ; but as the days grew into weeks, the girl's face became sad, her step languid. Her father thought it was a good lesson for her and would not say a word to comfort her ; nevertheless, he had been to Yamboril to visit Rafael and had told him how the girl was pining.
Good Friday came, with its feast of bacaloa (cod-fish). In a simple white gown, with folded kerchief on her head, Gracita, with her three little sisters, went to the misa de la agonia in the Church of the Carmen. She trembled when the huge brass plates were beaten to represent the earthquake ; she cried with the devout beatas when the life-sized image of Christ crucified was taken from the cross and laid in a pink coffin strewn with flowers, then carried from the altar to the street, preceded by the padre and choir-boys, with the white-robed acolyte swinging the censer, from which the smoke of incense arose; while close behind came the Virgin Mary and other images, followed by a long procession of men, women and children in holiday attire.
Gracita, sad and downcast, walked in the procession, hoping and praying that she might catch a glimpse of Rafael. Once she thought she saw him and her heart gave a bound, but it proved to be mere fancy.
On Easter morning, just before dawn, she rose, slipping on a little cotton gown, throwing a black mantilla over her head and thrusting her bare feet into sandals, she unhooked one of the big doors and crept softly out of the house to go to mass, and then to join the procession which • early on Easter morning goes through the town. She slipped into church, devoutly crossing herself and murmuring an Ave Maria,
Mass was over and she turned to join the procession; just then some one touched her shoulder. She looked around quickly and saw the face of her lover aglow with love and tenderness.
With a happy cry she was in his arms, all doubts, all fears forgotten, while his kisses rained on eyes and lips.
The procession had moved on; they alone stood in the shadow of the church.
A week later there was a wedding at Enrique's.