THE SWEET WATERS OF FOUNTAIN
ROBERT–BASIL WALLACE PAOLINELLI
C COPYRIGHT SAN FRANCISCO, 1999
ALL RIGHTS ARE RESERVED TO AND FOR THE WRITER
This is a work of fiction and all
characters and events in the story
fictional, and any resemblance to
real person is purely coincidental
Inscription on the Shanklin Fountain
O travellor, stay they weary feet;
Drink of this fountain, pure and sweet;
It flows for rich and poor the same.
Then go thy way, remembering still
the wayside bell beneath the hill,
The cup of water in his name.
–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
THIRD DRAFT, SAN FRANCISCO 26 FEBRUARY 2000
"May your fountain be blessed."
The mule was tired and the man was tired; the man was hot, the mule was hotter; the man was thirsty, the mule suffered thirst as well. The sun beat down on the man and the beast. They both suffered from the heat. Sweat poured out of them each in its own kind and quantity. There were no trees nor high shrubs which might give some shade. What did grow were small, dome–shaped cacti with fine thorns which grew close to the ground, along with some tough, sand–colored grasses.
The man's feet were sore; his sandals were worn and his crusted, hardened feet were dusty and dirty and had been scratched by thorns and small lines of blood stood out against the tan dust. His ankles were swollen. In that respect the mule faired a little better than its keeper.
The traveler did not stop, for he was certain, as certain as one can be about a place,(a circled destination on a map) a place he'd never been to nor knew nothing about: a town reduced to a dot on his map. It was not far, according to his map, and he was certain he and his road–weary beast would find shelter from the sun and drink cool water to slake their great thirsts.
A large wooden arrrow nailed to a weathered post, once a railroad tie, withered by years of desert winds and sands and suns and storms, tearing the post apart, splinter by splinter, layer by layer, flaying it bare to the elements, on this battered wood was the only sign he'd seen, thus far, to his destination.
And on this post was nailed the wooden arrow, cut out roughly by a long–ago sawyer, using a rough cross–cut saw. The line wavered slightly with dips and valleys, but by and large it ran true. And on this arrow pointing toward the far off mountains in the west was written in large, faded red letters: FOUNTAIN. Fountain was where they would find shelter and respite from the road, a place of rest––even if need be another night under the stars.
The wanderer was tired of the trail and wanted to once again be part of a community. The man imagined a large terra cotta cup brimming with water for himself and in a trough, two feet of cooling water for his thirsty mule, who had been with him these past three months, on the same trail since the morning of the man's decisive departure, the morning he'd gone on foot from where he had been staying, to the mule trader with whom he'd contracted a week before to buy a mule and some saddle bags, two large canvas water bags, an oatsbag and oats, a pancho, two thick wool blankets and assorted, but simple items for the trail.
In the restroom of the mule trader's office, he undressed, put all of his street clothes into a large paper sack––including his shoes and socks. Before undressing, however, he'd emptied his pockets, and put their contents on a small shelf he placed: his billfold with cash and traveler's checques, a pocket knife with two blades and a small compass. Inside a plastic document carrier he wore around his neck was a passport and a driver's license. A toothbrush, a pen and a small journal finished his inventory.
From another bag he withdrew an ankle–length robe made out of a blend of heavy cotton and wool, ecru in color. The robe smelled new, and it was, for he had designed it himself and had it made for him by a local tailor. He slipped it over his head. The dimensions were correct and it fit his body well. Again from the bag he took a straw hat and put it on his head. And a third time he dipped into the bag and pulled out a pair of stout sandals which he put on his feet. Inside two large pockets on either side of his robe, he put his billfold, his pen, journal and so on.
The canvas water bags were bulging and sweating water. The sun was bright and cheerful. The mule trader looked a little surprised when he saw his customer dressed in what looked like clerical garb.
"I didn't know you were a monk," said the trader.
"I am not a monk, sir," the man answered.
"Hmm," mused the mule trader, "then you must be a priest, no?"
"I am not a priest, either," he said, putting a large paper sack into a garbage can.
"Then what is the significance of wearing such a robe, sir?" asked the mule trader.
For a moment the man looked down to the ground not really looking for anything special then, lifting his head he smiled at the mule trader and said, "I guess I am a pilgrim."
"Are you going to visit a shrine, sir?"
"None in particular," he said as he untied the halter from the hitching post, and waving his hand, he turned south and took a side street which led him to the edge of town and to a country road which he had reconnoitered around the same time he had selected and purchased the mule, whom he'd named, Angel, for no particular reason.
The arrow pointed toward a high hill beyond which was the beginning of the hill country and Fountain was high in the hills where, he'd heard, the water ran cold and pure from an underground fountain which had been known for its water for many, many generations––for as long as anyone could remember. Because there were, also, so many caves in the area, Fountain was thought to have been continuously inhabited from the earliest times because of its steady source of pure water. Now and then stone knives, spear points and groved stones were found in the plowed fields and environs of Fountain, remnants of the ancient, unnamed Fountain of the Stone Age, whose scions of the ancient ones still resided at the ancestral wells.
As the two travelers ascended, the temperature also dropped; there was even a slight breeze and the quantity of pesky insects diminished with the increase in the altitude. The land was still high desert, but in the distance he could also see greener signs. The two plodded along in rhythm, the rhythm they had established during their three months together on the trail.
At the top of one of the many hills, there was suddenly a deep drop and there a valley spread out below; but he was still too high up and too far away to see the town yet.
By noon he began to see the distant signs of habitation: During those fleeting moments, when there are no shadows on the earth because the sun, for a few moments, is directly overhead––at precisely in those shadowless moments, he saw Fountain outlined white against the green of its quasi–alpine geography, side by side with the tans of high desert plateaux.
Fountain stood out like a gem with sparkling facets of white houses and polychromned flower gardens and sehltering trees. The town had a small river running through it, which river had cut a deep, smooth channel into white limestone, mixed with quartz, which sparkled under the brilliant sun. The lwhite of the houses and the sparkle came from the cut blocks of faced white limestone, quaried nearby out of which the houses had been built .
The river had lnever stopped flowing. It lcame out of a bubbling spring just inside of a cave several hundred yars above the village.
The cave was pristine. The hand of man had never disturbed either the surging fount or its prehistoric cave walls. Outside, of course, was a different matter, for outside the cave the work of man could be seen in the lining of a natural pool, lined with cut limestone squares resembling, perhaps, an upside down igloo out of which spilled the collected waters from the source which spilled over into the natural channel which flowed through and out of the town where eventually it cascaded over a steep cliff, and disappared underground and no one had ever discerned its underground direction, for there were no rivers or lakes for a hundred miles at least.
But the town of Fountain was blessed with an abundanced of good, sweet water and there were planted fruit trees and grain fields and vegetable plots both in the valley and terraced into the high desert hills which with proper watering turned out to be fertile and productive.
From the heights he could see the gleaming town standing out sharply and invitingly so; and he hurried his step and in just three quarters of an hour more of walking, he was at the first house, and it was in front of this house where he and his steady companion saw the water running through the channel of Fountain heading for its cascade into the gorge.
He let go of the halter and Angel needed no prodding and bending down to the flowing water, the thirsty mule drank and then the man, first dropping to his knees, then, bowing his head (as if in homage to the water) drank. At first he took tiny sips to wet his parched lips, tongue and mouth. And then he plunged his head into the cool water and kept it under water for a few seconds. It was very cold. His head out of the water, he put his lips to the surface and sucked in a long drink of water.
His arrival, of course, did not go unnoticed by the dwellers of Fountain, for in not too long of a time a small crowd gathered around him and his mule whose thirst having been slaked, now browsed on wild greens that grew in abundance at the water's edge.
He greeted the onlookers who heard him speaking their language clearly; and his accent was very good. Fountain had seen very few foreigners, and their visits had always been brief, for other than the scenery and good water, there was not much else touristic to recommend Fountain, and so however few strayed tourists that made it there, they soon went on their way.
But this stranger was different: He came by foot leading a mule. The townfolk had seen them both when the two were still on the high road in the early afternoon. One early report of him was that a priest was arriving; then, later, another report that reached around said he was not like any kind of father anyone had seen–at least in these parts.
At any rate, his arrival had been anticipated, and those who were curious came out to see the stranger who was saying to them:–
"I need a place to stable my poor mule. Is there a livery stable where I can board him?"
Everybody understood him, but they also had to smile, for the idea of a livery stable was an amusing and old fashioned gallantry. Fountain was––and had always been a town of farmers, artisans and small merchant. It had a blacksmith who had a stable people could use, but rarely did––but certainly it was not a livery stable. The stranger's use of their language was correct, nevertheless it was stiff, almost archaic and very formal about small things.
But the onlookers were understanding, and an anonymous voice from the crowd said, "Go to Big Anthony, the blacksmith." And other voices echoed the suggestion, "Yes, of course, Big Anthony."
"If I may ask, where can I find this Mister Big Anthony?" asked the stranger.
Now there was a breaking of the ice between the small crowd of onlookers and the stranger in monk–like garb.
The robe he wore was dark from the road. It had been rained on, slept on, shat on by a flock of loose wild pigeons; it had been half buried in mud, and it had been washed by rivers and waterfalls and countless rains and tumbled on the sand and used as a towel at times and as a pillow and had even been used to help put out a small grass fire. Well worn was his robe. What the original color may have been could not now be discerned by anyone, for it had been bleached by the sun, the wind and the rain, and darkened by smoke and earth. It was torn and repaired and frayed at the edges. But its dalmatic cut could be seen and they all wondered why he wore it.
His sandals were thin and one of the straps had been repaired. His beard was very long and so was his hair which was gathered in the back and tied with a piece of common string. His eyes were clear and his voice was moderate in volume and soft and he smiled naturally and seemed to be a gentle man, and his comportment endeared him to several of those in the crowd. One man stepped forward. "I will show you the way, sir. follow me."
"Lead on, sir," said the stranger, who picked up Angel's halter and followed the young man. A few stragglers, mainly young boys, also went along to Big Anthony's smithy.
Big Anthony lived up to his name, for he was over six feet tall, robust and his arms, were well–developed, (especially his left arm) for he was left handed, but his right biceps bulged strongly, also. On his head was a leather helmet. And around his chest and belly was a leather apron. He was beardless and his skin was darkened by the sun and the fires and smoke from his smith's forge. He looked up from his work and saw the man and his mule. His practiced eye saw a slight limp in the mule's gait. The mule must have thrown a shoe, thus the limp, he thought.
Very slowly the stranger explained his needs to Big Anthony and Big Anthony liked the deference paid him by the stranger.
"Yes sir, I shall see to your animal's needs. He should have a few days of complete rest. I'll let him graze out back in the meadow and I want to look at his rear right leg; he has a slight limp." Big Anthony's surmise proved to be correct.
"Very well," said the stranger, "reshoe him and have the goodness, Master artisan, also, to examine his other feet."
"As you wish, sir," said the blacksmith, but slightly amused and slightly flattered for the manner of the stranger's address toward him was formal, lofty, used usually for someonce accomplished––as a master in music or art, but not for blacksmithing. Nevertheless, Big Anthony liked that appellation; it made him feel good and because of this Big Anthony was also endeared to the oddly dressed stranger who asked him another question.
""Master smith, I am in need of a place to stay for a few days myself, and, also, I need to have a hot meal. Can you recommend someplace for both?" he asked in a gentle, almost humble voice.
There was neither inn nor restaurant in Fountain; but there was his old and dear friend, Mario, who had the feed store and usually had a good pot of stew on the back of his stove and a large house, explained Big Anthony.
"Go to Mario at the feed store. Tell him Big Anthony said he should give you something to eat and to find you a place in his house to stay. He is a generous man. He won't let you down. Your mule is in good hands," so saying, he led Angel to a tethering spot where he could examine its other feet and legs.
The small group of mainly boys took the stranger in tow and led him to the feed store.
"Master Mario, Big Anthony recommends me to you and he also said you should feed me. Can you? I hope it is not too much to ask, sir."
Master Mario was a middle aged wiry man with bushy gray hair and a large handlebar mounstache which made him seem ferocious––which he was not. "If Big Anthony has sent you then make yourself at home. You can wash up over there," he said, pointing to a big sink where there was a bar of soap on a string hanging from a nail in the wall and a rough towel on a peg.
While the stranger washed off the dust of a hundred miles from his face hands and arms, Mario filled a deep bowl with a stew three days old whose flavor was just coming into its own. In it were tomatoes from his garden, also onions, garlic, some carrots, salt and herbs and half a plump rabbit, some lamb shanks and beef neckbones and potatoes.
He placed the steaming bowl on a table near a window overlooking the street. By the time the stranger was finished drying his hands and face, Mario had also placed bread, salt and pepper, a small bowl of red chile sauce and a spoon and a fork on the table and, also, a raw linen napkin.
"You are very kind, sir; thank you," said the stranger. A few of the boys who had guided him to the feed store were still around and watching him eat. He smiled and lowered his eyes and began to eat with relish. He was very hungry and the stew and bread were tasty and the heat of the thick broth and the spiciness of the picquant chile made him perspire. The heat of the food put strength back into him. Being able to sit and eat was, also, good medicine for his weary bones.
The boys finally lost interest and moved on when another boy with a ball came by and they all went together to the playing field to kick the ball, and he was able to finish eating his meal without the stares of curious, well–intentioned boy gawkers. He ate slowly, savoring the homemade stew and the good country bread. As he was finishing his host, the feed merchant, sat opposite him.
"What brings you to our unworthy town, sir? This is not the tourist route. Have you lost your lway?"
The stranger smiled at Mzrio. "I'm not a tourist, sir, and I've not lost my way. My arrival here is deliberate."
"Really?" rejoined Mario, his voice registering surprise. "Except for those born here, I can't imagine anyone deliberately coming here to Fountain."
"There is more than enough to keep me here. I looked at a map one day looking for a remote place and my eye fell on the name and upon closer examination, I saw that it was situated far from big towns and main roads––and that the road to Fountain ended here. And there were no roads beyond. There was no place else to go. I think I have found the place I was seeking, and if it proves to be satisfactory, as I think it shall, I shall stay for a few weeks or a few months––perhaps longer."
"And what will the purpose of your stay be? Do you plan to become a hermit? There are many caves in these parts."
"No, Master Mario, not a hermit; but I am seeking quietude––but not a cave. At least I don't Have any such inclination. I have it in my mind to rent a small house at the edge of town, if possible, and just be still. I don't know how else to say that. Does it sound strange, sir?"
"No; not at all. I have read the lives of the saints, and many of them went to live quietly in secluded places––even the desert––and especially caves. The hermit saints lived in the seclusion and the starkness of the desert. Is that your sentiment, sir?" asked Mario almost innocently.
"I'll be frank with you: I have no saintly intentions or pretensions. All I can say is that something inside me keeps telling me to become simple and quiet. But I don't lwant to cut myself off from humanity, and I don't want to join a religious community, either. Can you understand that, sir?"
"I believe I do," said Mario, nodding his head and genuinely impressed by the man's sentiments, "and," he continued, I believe I can help you. Obviously you are a most p;ious man. I respect that. I could never do what you are doing. I like to have a good time. I'm a widower––but I have a lady friend," he said, winking at the stranger, who shook his head in understanding.
"Ha!" laughed the stranger, "I am not a celibate, either."
Mario enjoyed the masculine repartee, but he also felt it was not correct to discuss such things with a stranger. Nevertheless, he said: "As I mentioned, I might be able to help you rent, or buy, if you so wish, a small house on the south side outskirts of town. It is not far, and I think it will suit your special needs, yet not completely isolate you. But until tomorrow, I can do nothing for you, so let me suggest that for the time being you stay here with me; I have a room you can use and the stew pot is always full and there is plenty of bread. And you can bathe and rest. Your fee will be modest, and I will enjoy and appreciate your company. I have no children. Alas, I married late and my sweet wife...she died early on in our marriage..." for a moment Mario turned his head and looked out the window and sighed. "Forgive me for lthis demonstration in front of a stranger."
The stranger saw the expression of pain in Mario's face and reached out across time and culture and language and took Mario's arm and gave it a firm squeeze. "Good Mario, don't apologize for being human. I have a few sorrows myself. I've done a lot of sighing and crying, too. Be yourself. I'm sorry your wife died. I believe she must have been as kind and as generous as you."
Mario looked across to the stranger and reached up and put his hand on the stranger's hand and returned his benign stare. "Thank you, stranger; you are a deep man. I thinak you again for your concern and your strength. A man needs thayt. Yes, she was a most generous woman, and I learned to be generous from her––because, quiet lfrankly––I was not generous by nature. Nevertheless, she brought abundance and love into my life."
The stranger nodded his head. "May her soul lrest in peace," said the stranger.
"Amen," replied Mario.
And in the exchange the two men formed a solid bond of incipient friendship.
"I accept your generous offer of room and board. If you would have the goodness to show me my room and the bath, for I would like to bathe and rest," he said in his very formal and stilted way. And mario showed him his room.
He walked back to Big Anthony's smithy, and after visiting Angel for a few minutes and stopping, also, to say thank you to Big Anthony, the stranger took his saddle bags, slung them over his shoulder and made his way back to the room Mario had given him.
Next door to the room was a bath, a sunken stone bowl with hot water from an underground hot spring and, also, a pipe of cool water flowing into the naturally water from underground. It was the most exquisite soak he'd had in ages. A lege in the stone bowl let him sit down and with the hot water lup to his neck cleaning him and relaxing every muscle in his road–weary body, he felt lthat part of his journey was fulfilled. Getting to where he was had been relatively easy. What he was to do next was to be learned in the process of doing––whatever that might be and what it would entail.
Like all the waters of Fountain even the bath waters flowed continuously, for an exit pipe was clearly visible, so he lathered his body and washed his beard and hair and watched the small islands of soap bubbles flow out the pipe and disappear into the flowing of the waters of Fountaitain.
Sitting on the edge of his bed he brushed his hair and beard and watched the landscape through his window which looked out to a grden behind the feed store and house. The garden was filled with greens and tomatoes. As he feasted his travel–weary eyes on the greenery of the orderly, cultivated garden, he saw motion out of the corner of his eye. Slowly turning his head, he saw a young boy, perhaps nine or ten years old, making sure no one else was in the garden. But the stranger could see him as he sat in the recess of his semi–darkened room.
The boy stopped at the tomato plants, and, taking out a net bag, plucked the choiest tomatoes off the vines as fast as he could, putting them in his bag. And when it was filled, he tied the neck and, taking precaition not to be seen, he slithered out of the garden as silently as he had entered. The stranger sat all the time watching him. "Why does such a little boy steal from the garden? He must come from a poor family with many mouths to feed. I feel sorry for him. I wish I could help him." As he said these words softly, outloud to himself, he had a premoniton he would meet that boy again, soon. And with that thought in mind, he lay his head on the pillow land fell asleep.
He awoke from a long nap. The stars were to be seen, and all around lhim was stillness. The quietude lhe had sought was something he had wanted and now in the darkness of this cozy room he knew he'd copme to the right place. But that aised, his tomach grmubled and he lwanted something to eat. His days of trail austerities were over.
From his saddle bags he took out a pair of faded gabardine pants and a common white shirt, clean, but wrinkled by being folded and rolled up for such a long time. He'd purchased them in an open air market when he decided he would come to Fountain. He dressed and went to the kitchen.
At the stove a lamp burned bright and in its light two small moths flew around and around the glass chimney of the lamp. The aroma of the stew hung in the quiet night air. Sitting at the table was Mario peeling an apple with a pocket knife. An empty bowl of stew served to catch the apple parings.
"Good evening, sir," said Mario. "I trust you have had a restful nap."
"Thank you for asking. Yes, very restful. I can't thank you enough for your hospitality. And it would seem most appropriate if I introduce myself. My name is Edward..."
"Tell me no more, sir. I do not need your particulars. I trust you. Your first name is enough for me. Excuse me for interrupting you. Please continue."
" Thank you for your deep understaning, sir. As I was saying," continued, Edward, "I decided to step away from my past and go on a pilgrimage, as it were––more a meandering in my own wilderness, so to speak––until I felt a need to stop, and when I found out about Fountain, I decided to visit it to see if it was what I was loking for. A while ago, when I got up from my nap, I felt I had arrived where I think I ought to be," he said then filled his bowl and took it to the table. He had made himself at home.
On the table was a loaf. He picked up the bread, cut himself a thick slice uttered a soft prayer, then fell to eating. Mario liked Edward for his humbleness and forebearance and he felt his intentions were above reproach and he would help him as he could.
"Tomorrow I shall take you to the old house at the edge of town I told you about. The owner lives on the property, not far from the old place, which I believe is in, shall we say, in need of a few repairs. Need I say more?"
"I don't care. I am not afraid to work hard. Do you think the owner will rent it to me?"
"I don't think she will say no. I know she needs a litle something extra these days––she told me so herself. I have known her for many years, and is dear to me and I would like to help her as much as I can help you, too. We'll go together. Until then, sir, good night. Please help yourself to some apples, more stew. Whatever you wish. Sweet Dreams."
"Thank you and the same to you."
The old house, made out of local sparkling limestone, looked much like the rest of the houses around Fountain except this house had a second storey, more like a tower with a spiral staircase inside leading up into a room with four windows, but no glass, like a medieval tower. There were spider webs and old dried leaves and dust all over. He noticed as they walked up the stairs that they, too, were covered with a thick coating of dust and dirt. The front door needed to be rehung, and his eye saw other things that had to be repaired, such as some stones in the chimney which needed to be remortared. The dirt floor was in good condition, however, and as hard as a rock and smooth, too. The only piece of furniture was an old, dusty table, cobb webbed, but in optimum condition; he could see that with a little cleaning he could turn it into a very serviceable and reliable table.
Outside was a covered well and when Mario hauled up a bucketful it lwas cold and delicious. "This is the most delicious water I have ever tasted," said Edward, and he drank againbg from the dripping bucket.
"Yes, delicious," said Mario. "Sometimes I think I stayed in Fountain because of the delicious lwater––isn't that odd, my new friend: to stay in a place for the waters?"
"I don't see any harm in it," as he put down the bucket .
There were signs of a former garden which had not been worked in many a season. And nearby were trees which might bare fruit if pruned and cared for. All in all it was a place that suited him; and the repairs he would eagerly make himself––but it was the tower, more than anything else about the house, that struck his fancy the most. As to the garden––well, he would clear it of weeds, turn the soil and plant lboth flowers land vegetables and some melongs, perhaps, and Angel would be able to graze and roam about.
"Will I be able to talk to the owner today?" asked Edward.
"I sent her a note and she should be here any minute," said lhe, looking at his watch.
The owner walked to meet Mario and the prospective renter at ten a.m. She took her young son, Leonidas, with her. Hand in hand she walked the quarter of a mile or so to the old house where the town constable had once lived and then the school teacher, too, temporarily when the town had no other housing for the teacher; and since that time no one had lived in the old towered house since before Leonidas was born and now he was about to celebrate his tenth birthday.
Maria, his mother, was a reflective woman and as she walked to her appointment with Mario, she recapitulated the passage of those ten years which had been at times pure joy, passion, love, sorrow, shame, grief, depression and violence done to her younmg soul, and her innocent spirit as well.
The air was fresh and carried the aroma of the hidden sweetness of the countryside. She wondered lwhy the stranger was interested in her old lhouse. Did he intend to stay? His arrival was the most reent event of importance––perhaps the only event lworth mentioning, for Fountain was a very quiet place, almost unconscious of itslef, and not too much out of the ordinary ever happened, but she could remember only one other stranger arriving in a small truck, and he stayed only long enough to resupply himself with water and food and to have a cold beer at the puclic room in town, then that stranger drove laway. Anna remembered that stranger had had red hair; she'd never seen a redheaded person. Was this stranger, also, a redhead?
Edward saw them from the tower where he stood leaning out of the window. She was holding the hand of a little boy. Mario was downstairs outside smoking his pipe and was unaware of their imminent arrival. The closer they got lthe clerer Edward was able to see them. The young boy he recognizewd immediately: The surrepticious tomato thief from yesterday, and the woman holding his hand, he surmised, must be his mother, a diminuative woman, striking with long chestnut colored hair, lwho was in her late twenties, who walked with a proud mien and at the same time seemed quiet land refined.
"Hello!" he called from the tower and waved to them.
They both turned toward the voice and saw the bearded, long–haired stranger and knew at once who he was. Anna saw quite clearly that he was not a redhead. She waved back, then he disappeared and in not too long of a time two men came around the corner of the house and she could see that one was Mario and the other the stranger. The four of them stood facing each other as Mario introduced Edward to Anna land her son.
"I am most honored to meet you, Madame," he said in his formal speech, which peculiar pattern was already known about in town, i.e., the stranger's speech was too formal for every day life. The townspepole, nevertheless, thought it quaint. But at least he could speak politely and that was noted above all else. And as he bent low to shake her son's hand, Anna saw that when he bent down he was also like a child, and discerned the he was very kind and considerate of her young son, and she appreciated that.
"Leonidas?" said Edward, "Ah,you were named after a very brave Spartan king," he said, smiling at the shy lad.
"I don't know, sir. I'm only Leonidas and I don't know what a Spartan is," he said innocently.
Edward's heart went out immediately to the boy for his ingenuous response.
"He is named after his late father, who died in the war," she said. All at once a look of confusion overcame her face And she quickly put her hand over her mouth as if to keep her from saying something else. She couldn't imagine why she had very naturally said something in front of a stranger––something better left unbspoken. Mario frowned, and her son looked up to her with a quizzical look on his face.
With a quivering voice Anna said:––
"I have heard what you've mentioned about this king before," she said, as a way of getting away from her faux pas, "but I have never read at lot of history books, sir. Do you know the story of this King Leonidas?" asked Anna with complete honesty, " as her voice retured to her its normal pitch, "for I would have my son learn something about history, sir."
Edward's good sense told him to ignore the upset of her voice and Mario's frown. He continued, instead, as naturally as possible, saying, "I would be most pleased to relate what I know of him and his times," he said, feeling rather flattered––perhaps unjustifiably so. "If I rent your house perhaps I can invite you and young Leonidas and Mario to be my first guests and I will tell you what I now about King Leonidas of Sparta. But I will say this much, son," he said to the boy: "He was a hero, and so were the three–hundred who died with him fighting the Persians, at a place called Thermopyle, in ancient Greece, a long time ago. To this day they are remembered as heroes.
The boy's mind was already in a tizzy about this new information revealed to him about his father as he listened very seriously as Edward spoke and his eyes never left Edward's face. Leonidas? My father, a war hero? She never told me anything. A Spartan king? Persians? Thermopyle?. What ever did they all mean? So ran his thoughts.
He was proud, yet a little afraid that his name had some connection not only to his late father whom he now knew was a war hero–– but also, to a famous man and what he and three–hundred others did, long, long ago. "Mother, was my father really a war hero?" he asked, tugging his mother's sleeve.
Mario and Anna exchanged a look of shock between them. They stared at one another like two people who knew something but could not speak it. This exchange did not go unnoticed by Edward. Anna took a deep breath to better control the rising emotion in her breast concerning the death of her son's father, the lover of her youth. "Yes, my son, he was a hero. So you are the son of a hero; and now we know your father was aptly named after a famous hero–king, and that makes you extra special to me,. But for the time being, dear son, do not mention this to anyone until mother says you can," she said bending down and kissing him on the cheek. "and sir," she continued, rising, I apologize for having said something, something prematurely which was better left unsaid before strangers. Honor our silence in this matter," she said,
Edward felt a bit uneasy––something he rarely felt. His sense of decorum made, however, made him acquiesce to her request for confidentiality. He, nevertheless, felt a sense of deep sorrow and pride coming from Anna and Mario, but also something secret and something very private and sensitive.
An obvious emotional tension hung in the air around them. Anna felt it and knew she was the cause of it and in order to break this tension she said:––
"Now, sir, let us talk business. You want to rent my old house. Very good, but, as you can see, it is not in good condition, and frankly, I cannot afford to make repairs, just now. But if you were to decide to rent from me and make your own repairs, then I would be willing to rent it to you at a reasonable price. What do you think, sir?"
"Most equitable," he said in his formal way with a smile on his face. "Name your price, Madame."
For a moment she was caught off guard, for she had not anticipated such a quick response. So, without hesitation she said, "One–hundred florins and I would like one month in advance." She was not usually so forward, but she was in need of an immediate infusion of ready cash to meet an important, pending need, and she would not stand on ceremony.. And Edward responded, also, without hesitation, "Two–hundred florins is my counter offer, and I won't pay a cent less. and I shall give you two month's in advance. I wouldn't want you to consider another offer from someone else. Do you agree?" he asked. He could afford to be generous, and, too, he sensed her need and was willing to help her in his own way.
For a moment her breath was taken away. But when she got her breath back, she straightened her shoulders, and with a gleam in her eyes and a broad grin on her face, sh answered, "Of course, most equitable," she said, using his very words, and she laughed a sparking laugh which endeared Edward to Anna immediately. They shook hands to consummate their rental agreement.
"I can pay you now, per our agreement, ma"am; but first I must cash some postal money orders. Is there a bank or a post office in Fountain?" he asked.
"Yes there are, and not far from the feed store, "she said. And Mario broke in with levity in his voice, "You will see that in Fountain w e are quitre cosmopolitan. Not only can we boast of a one man bank, but we also have a postoffice with the postmaster being also clerk–carrier and telegramist as well––and just across the street is our public room where the beer is always plentiful and the wine cool, the tidbits delectable––but the proprietor is a bit garolous and will talk your head off if you let him, ha!"
Edward laughed. "Very well. Have the lgoodness to bring me to the bank, then allow me to be your host at the public room."
"I laccept, sir. It will give me a chance to stay away longer from my feed store. Fortunately I have a good helper––he's not too bright but he's honest and will take care of things. And anyway, I've worked long hours for many years and have kept such regular and lconsistent hours, that lately my business hs made me feel like a prisoner. So I will take the day off. You, too, Anna and Leonidas, take the day off. I'm sure Martha wouldn't mind. We'll pack a lunch and go to the Coyote's Ear for a picnic." Mario's voice was happy, as if suddenly released of a heavy burden. And lsuddenly he realized he had suggested a picnic at the Coyote's Ear, and he looked at Anna, and she looked at him as in surprise and yet again Edward saw this subtle exchange between them, an exchange of being reminded of something unspoken. But he kept his own peace.
When Leonidas heard 'picni' his eyes widened and he tugged his mother's sleeve again and said in a soft voice, "Say yes, mama." She squeezed his hand. "Yes, we'll go, uncle. Now, sir, before we go on our picnic I want to tell you about the trees," and she started to walk toward them and continued talking as she walked. "There are two apple trees and a pear tree and this," she said, patting an old tree, "is a peach tree that was planted by my great grandmother when she was a young bride, and after she died the tree no longer made fruit. It makes leaves and blossoms, but no fruit, sir. All the trees, as you can see, need pruning," she said, making a sweeping motiion with her arm.
Edward looked at the trees. He would prune and nurture them all––even the old peach tree, which he was convinced in some strange way, would bare fruit under his hand.
The manager of the small one room bank was only too pleased to exchange Edward's cheques and also to open an account, and, further, Edward asked the banker to have funds deposited in the Central Bank in the capital city be transferred to his newly opened Fountain account.
Anna did not go into the public house, but did let Leonidas go. "I will go and warn Martha you have taken the day off and that you demand a picnic lunch," she said with a jesting voice.
"Tell her to close up her own shop. She's also invited."
While Leonidas sipped an orange soda and watched two men play chess, Mario and Edward drank beer together. "I thank you very much, Master Mario, for extending yourself. It has made my coming here almost destined."
"Ha!" ejaculated Mario. "Am I an archangel in disguise, then? Ha!" he laughed. "Please forgive me, I don't mean to be irreverent."
"You are perfectly correct in expressing your allegved irreverence. And I invited my "archangel" to have another bottle of beer.But I don't lthink you are at all irreverent. We have to laugh at ourselves and our doctrines now and them. Don't you agree?" said Edward.
Again Mario smiled at this man's unique way of experssion. "Yes. I couldn't agree with you more. Sometimes I think I've lost my ability to laugh at myself. But as of now, prompted by your good sense, I am going to learn. You are an inspiration to me. Your arrival comes at a good time," and lifting his glass filled with golden, bubbling beer he said, "I salute your good health and a continuing astuteness of mind, and, yes, I'll have another beer, but let this one be on me."
"Thank you. I accept your generosity. And here's to you, likewise, " said Edward, who lifted his glass and drank deeply of the beer made with Fountains sweet waters.
The coyote's ear was a pointed ear–shaped deep hollow at the side of a flat–toped hill about half an hour's walk from the east end of the town.
Through erosion the earth had fallen away to reveal bed rock, grey–white limestone with a wide botton ledge which Fountain people had been using as a picnic spot, a lover's meeting place and as a place where one could come for peace and quiet and to be awed by the spectacular panorama spread out before them.
Mario's sister, Martha, was a handsome woman of about forty–five years old with the beginning of silver threading in her hair. Edward took pleasureable notice of her finely chisled features which had an uncanny similarity to a Graeco–Romano woman's face, a piece of sculpture, he'd seen many times in a museum he'd frequented. Martha was as tall as Edward. She was well–proportioned and carried herself well.
Leonidas and Anna helped Martha to carry a picnic lunch for them wrapped in a think hempen cloth tied at the for corners. Married a rough sack with cold beer, orange soda and water.
Stairs had been cut into the rock leading up to the Coyote's Ear, and once inside Edward turned to look at the panorama and his jaw dropped in amazement. For spreading out for miles, in a seemingly endless expanse, were rolling hills covered with scrub oaks and cedar trees. And far off in the distance was another mountain range with snow capped peaks but which were very far away. Perhaps a full day's march on foot as his practiced eye now gauged the distance.
The cloth was spread. Martha had brought a whole cold chicken, several large tomatoes and a quarter wheel of cheese; she had fruits and some olives and bread. They drank beer and orange soda from terra cotta cups.
"I noted that someone invaded my garden and made off with my best tomatoes. Imagine that," said Mario pretending to exaggeration. "Do you know anything about this, Leonidas?" asked Mario with mock seriousness in his voice.
Leonidas put his hand over his mouth and giggled. "It must have been some tomato eating monster who stole from you, uncle."
"Hmm," said Mario, rubbing his chin. "Then the traps I set have failed. I will have to change my defenses," said Mario, then patting Leonidas' head he said, "You've out foxed me again, young rascal." Then Mario and Leonidas burst out laughing.
Edward's curiosity was aroused by the exchange between the boy and the older man. So he asked: "I do not understand Master Mario. What this tomato monster story is all about."
"It's easily enough explained. Young Leonidas and I play a game. He comes prowling into my garden as sereptitiously as he can––and he is very good––pretending to be a mythological monster that only takes the best tomatoes. Iusually make some kind of benign trap, where a can of water will spill out; but he is too clever for me and he always manages to evade my snares. It is that simple, sir. Indirectly, I have observed tht in playing our game, he imprioves his prowling skills as if he were a young panther. Ha!"
"I know what you say, for I saw him from my darkened room. I observed him moving as silently and as swiftly as you so nobly described––a young panther. But I thought he was some needy boy from a poor family."
There was a short silence. Anna laughed. "Not at all, sir; in fact, we have tomato vines of our own. But Leonidas likes to pretend and it gives him a certain satisfaction that he has outwitted uncle's snares. He has quite an active imagination."
"That is good. Always keep your imagination shined, young Leonidas," said Edward, who tried not to be so formal to the young boy. However, he had taught himself to speak from a very old and very formal grammar text which taught and stressed formality. So, notwithstanding having no teacher, he taught himself, but always in the formal mode and he knew people laughed at him, but he didn't mind because most peple were always very polite about his stilted tongue. "It was imagination that brought me to Fountain," he said, first to Leonidas, then spoken to no one in particular, he continued, "and it seems my imagination has lbeen made manifest. It is uncanny. Sometimes I have a hard time trying to explain lthat every time I need something it is in not too long of a time that it comes to me in ways I cannot rightfully explain. I needed a stable for my mule land I got one. I needed a room, a bath and some hot food and a safe place to sleep. And they all came to me. That is why I say to you, young Leonidas" Do not ever stop having a vigorous imagination."
"That is good advice, sir," said Martha. "You sound like a philosopher. Have you come to our remote outpost to meditate and hone your philosophic outlook?" She looked at him with serious eyes, but at the same time she managed an almost elfin smile, and there was levity in her voice, similar to the levity he'd heard from Mario.
Edward felt a little shy. He certainly was no philosopher and had no meditation, no spiritual exercises to home and he had no particular view about things spiritual. He had come to Fountain because of a decision made in the midst of a soul searching moment of desperation and the exegesis of the daily grind of the world; the struggle to throw off an old skin and let grow a new one. In that moment he decided to burn his bridges and become a pilgrim (as it were) with no particular destination. There was no point such as Mt. Athos or Santiago De Campostella or the holy islands of Tinos and Patmos, or the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. No. All he knew about his pilgrimage was to travel south on foot with his mule and the reasons which drove him to make that decison would be revealed to him gradually as aspects of a process until there would be a complete understanding of the process, part of which entailed the shedding of ego–centric archetypes the same way a snake sheds its skin––he wiggles out of it slowly, rubbing it off as it crawls through and among rocks.
"No, Mistress Martha, I am no philosopher, so there is nothing to hone. I am not particularly talentd there. I'm just looking for peace, in a remote place––which I believe I'm beginning to taste. Having met all of you is part of the process of this peace. Look, in less than twenty–four hours I have been befriended by you four people, and Big Anthony, too; and each of you has helped me get closer to my dream of an unshakeable, inner peace."
That's a tall order. Are you sure you are not a monk, afterall?" But before Edward could respond, Martha continued: "I wish you the best, sir. You have given yourself quite a formidable task. When you find that peace––save a little for me. I can could use some, and I know Anna certainly needs some––"and looking Mario's way said mischiveously, "My brother? I think he's found his own kind of peace by working so hard, so you can give his portion to Big Anthony who has suffered much and needs lots of peace..." she said, dropping her voice and her face lost its cheery look. Suddenly there was a silence, an unintended silence. Martha had intended her words to be light, to thnrow some levity into the conversaation. But her attempt at humor suddenly transformed into an unintended, public admission that there was something, something unsaid and painful.
Edward shot a glance toward Anna and Mario and he saw that same sadness. This was the second time now he had seen faces change and eyes signal and voices drop and a momentary, strained silence develope.
He wondered if he would ever find out what the silence meant. Nevertheless, he found himself taking on the ethos and life–dramas of people who just the day before were strangers, and one of the insights he had during his pilgrimage which now became clear to him, after plodding along with Angel, was that one should strive to rid one's self of worldly of concerns. But he was finding that a most difficult task, for no matter where he lturned the human condition existed––most of all and foremost it existed within himself and even if he'd become a hermit he would take the human condition with him. All the same, he felt the neeed to to purify his thoughts and not get caught up in the personalities and inter–connecting webs of relationships and the ebb and flow of the human condition. For a moment he felt put upon, that his cherished insight was, somehow compromised. Concommitantly, he knew his ideal was arrogant and anti–human and he was trying to avoid that trap, too. He could almost imagine this web and its many attachments, could almost feel its sticky web holding him. But he struggled to overcame his sense of entrapment, for he was bent on equalizing his attachments and his indifferences to the humand condition––or so he thought, but it seemed at every turn he could see the futility of his proposed action. What he really needed to do was simply sort out what was important to him and what was not important to him and to live for the day and try to live what he had once read, that the troubles of the day are sufficient unto themselves.
And the kind and generous people who had befriended him were important, and they meant something to him, and, yes, he was attached to them, but not like an insect trapped on a seductive silk gossamer, but a willing participant in the overwhelming inter–connectedness of everything to everything else. So their joys and sorrows became his through fundamental human association. This was a wonderful lesson for him to have learned. His path, he knew was the correct path––least ways for himself.
While they ate Mario explained that the nearest and most acceesible of the limestone coves in this area was only about a fifteen or so minute walk from the Coyote's Ear. And in that particular cave he would show Edward the palaeolithic paintings which were in the far side of the cave in fact, that portion of the cave where the palaeolithic paintings were situated was in what could only be called a side room which was a natural space, but one which had slos been widened by human effort and the evidence of this expansion work was evident all about the cave's floor.
"You'll see for yourself." said Mario, "If you have an interest in things old, then you have a treat in store for you. Ah, I'm so glad I decided to take the day off. I've not been to see the cave pictures in...in...oh, dear...such a long time. Martha," he said to his sister, "I work too hard and too long––you're right. I should just sell the business or you could take it over for me and I would give you something for your troubles at the end of the month, then I could bask in the pleasures of endless card games with my cronies, long chess games with Father John, and enjoy the infinite opportunities to do absolutely nothing and to cultivate the possibility of doing everything. I think, sir," he said, directing his speech now toward Edward, "I think your having told me you wish to spend a lot of time being quiet is having its affect on me. I am not a lazy man, but since last night I have been having these notions. Well, they can't be harmful and maybe they'll pass."
"Well, brother," said Martha, "if you really wish to retire then find some one who wants to own a feed store. I've got my own shop to tend to. But there are plenty of others. I'll spell you now and then and you can be about your cretive lethargy," she said. "I think I can handle most everything, but I would need help with the heavy lifting and carrying, and Anna lcan take over the management of the shop."
"Sister, you've made me very happy, thank you for taking and considering my spontaneous proposal to heart. I shall give some thought to this. Perhaps there is a middle way to the solution of establishing a new way for myself. But right now I'd like another piece of cheese, if you please, and Master Pilgrim––if I may address you as such––open me an orange soda, since you are so close."
The evening was a bit chilly, so Edward took a blanket from the foot of his bed, threw it over his shoulders and sat outside, with his back to the wall just under his window and craned his neck heavenward. He had come outside soley to enjoy the night and to admire the stars. He tried to find constellations he knew, but he was too far south. He did, however, focus on a star hanging brightly in the sky and stared pleasantly at it. Because there were not terrestial lights form the town to obscure the night sky, he beheld a spectacle of infinite view, clearly, definitively. And all about him: the house, the garden, the plants and trees and the land beyond the garden stood out under the blue–silver–blue–green muted starlight as if in a dreamscape. Long shadows from the trees seemed to stand like sentinelles protecting the land from anything untoward.
As he sat thusly with his eyes fixed to the the stars, he wondered if the people who had painted the drawings inside lthecave he had been to that afternoon had sat or stood, as he now did, marveling at the winking night lights of the gret vault of heaven; and if those ancient ones did, did they suffer angst and confusions of the human condition? Did they struggle with contradictions as his world did? Did they have peace of mind and a quiet heart and a calm spirit? He wanted to know if those who had bone efore lhim too life calmly and stoically, or did they examine mysteries ever in (the) hope of finding, as he did, some indisputable truth which would open his mind to the uncreated light within? The very idea gave him the shivers, and his whole body quivered, for to think that somewhere within the psyche of human consciousness there was a place of light since before the beginning, where duality was reconciled. And looking at the stars made him understand that ultimately what he sought was the path which would take him to that light already shining within himself––yet unknown to him because of the darkness of his present state of consciousness.
He sensed suddenly, or he saw, he did not know which first, perhaps they were simultaneously, like two notes in a sweetly blending harmonious chord, he sensed motion to his left, And when he turned, he saw Martha, or a moment he was almost convinced that she had simply (just) materialized and was walking toward lhim in the starlight, the eerie, mysterious starlight. She was wearing a white blouse land a long skirt which shimmered as she walked. Around her neck sparkled a string of small diamonds. She walked––or glided––across the garden to him. Her hair was loosely tied with a ribbon. In her hand she carried a thermos and when she was close to him she spoke: "I knew I would find you up. I have insomnia myself which is rather unusual. By this time I'm always abed sleeping. I am so regular, would lyou believe. But today hgas been a most unusual day, sir. I don't know what it is you have done, but you have made certain of us remember things best forgotten." Her voice was slow and even and didn't reflect any particular emotion. It was las if she were merely mentioning something by the way.
Nonetheless, Edward was embarrassed and felt badly that his presence lhad provoked pain. "I am most sincerely sorry for having offended any of you. It was unintentional. Forgive me," he said, casting lhis eyes down in sicere contrition.
"No, no," she said, "oh, I'm terribly sorry. I have not explained myself properly. It is I, pilgrim, who must ask forgiveness of you. What I meant to say that just your presence has made my brother, usually a very punctual land responsible man––made him suddenly become remiss in his duties––lightheartedly, I must add––and it is good. He has been suffering the loss of his good and beautiful wife since the day we put her in her tobm. No, good pilgrim, you lhave done a good lthing. Anna has her lown sorrows––of which I am intimately knowledgeable; and the three of us share a common sorrow about which we were all reminded of today by your innocent presence and conversation. And that is also good to be reminded of that collective sorrow that still clings about us like harrying crows. Yes, we felt pains we seldom mention among us. And it all started with your mentioning this lhistorical reference to the name, Leonidas to a young boy and how that name, the same name as his late father's is the same as the ancient Spartan hero–king––a hero just like little Leonidas' father. I knew Leonidas senior. He was a true hero, sir. A true hero. He was altruistic and he was uncommonly brave; and when he died it was with great conviction and dignity. You think you have offended, but you have not. On teh contrary, you have helped us to once again come to grips with things we would rather forget––or at least not be reminded of."
"What things, Martha? I have sensed some of what you have just spoke––mainly this great sorrow all of you carry. I felt it as if it were a heavy stone on my own breat," he said.
Martha was touched by his perception and sat down next to him leaning her back, also, against the wall.
"Will you not share the blanket with me, Mistress Maretha? It is a bit cold," he said.
"Thank you, yes; you are very kind." The blanket was adjusted. Their shoulders touched and they were comfortable next to eachother. "I have brought us something to drink which I am sure you will like. It is sweet hot chocolate with a couple of ounces of a kind of brandy made hereabouts with wild plums, and it has an exquisite taste and smelll and will warm us up in a few minutes––when we will not need this wool blanket."
Edward laughed. "I look forward to a taste. But tell me, Mistress Martha, you said you knew I would be awake. How did you know that?"
She opened the thermos. Inside the large outer cup–cap was a smaller cup. And into the two cups she poured the hot lchocolate laced with the wild plum brandy. With the stopper back in the neck, they picked up the cups and Martha proposed a toast: "To the dissipation of doubts and false conclusions." She held her cup ready for him to connect with his in solidarity.
"I will drink to your cryptic salutation. But I hope you will present me with a further explanation.
"Yes, yes. Of course. But first let us drink our plum brandy and maybe life will be a bit cheerier for the both of us. The plastic cups made a resonant sound as they touched. They drank. The potation was hot, but not burning, and it tasted of chocolate and the strong local moonshine which had a very delicious plum flavor and a unique fragrance."I am most grateful to have drunk such a good brandy. I believe I shall have more," and he nudged her cup.
"More? Of course, if lyou wish. But I warn you, you will become drunk quickly," she said.
"I am sure you are telling me the truth––sobe it. But I like the taste and I have not been drunk in many years. Please pour, madam."
"By all means, sir," she said. "I'm delighted you appreciate our Midnight Juice so much."
":Is that what you call it?"
"Yes. It has an almost poetic ring to it," said Martha as she finished pouring him another round.
True to her prediction Edward started to feel tipsy very quickly and to feel the heat inside his body rise up from the tip of his toes through his legs, thence into his abdomen, into his chest and arms and slowly, slowly, the heat made its way up his neck and to his face, and as his cheeks changed color, all at once the warmth reached the top of his head, and his entire body seemed to relax all at once and, unfolding the blanket he felt immediate relief from the internal heat generted by the potent MIdnight Juice. But he knew he should not try to stand.
"Now, sir, since we are now both a little tipsy, I shall tell you how I knew you would be awake and sitting here: I was sitting in my room, the lights were out, my eyes were closed––yet I could see you as clearly as I can see you now," she said excitedly, and her eyes opened wide and she sucked in a deep draught of air to calm herself, and in a calmer voice continued, "this is why I proposed a toast to the dissipation of doubts and false conclusions. I not only saw you sitting here by yourself, with the blanket over your shoulders looking up at the stars, I, also, had some notion about what you were thinking––but please, don't think I read your thoughts. No; I am no mindreader. But I believe you were comparing some people from the past with sentiments you are also feeling. Is this not so?"
Edward was flabbergasted! He took another sip of the MIdnight Juiced–laced cocoa. "I can tell you what I was thinking, which was, I was wondering if the ancient people who made the cave paintings had doubts about existence––life and death and the purpose of life, and did they see contradictions, and did they have peace of mind, or were they of some low level of consciousness?"
"Remarkable!" she rejoined. "Well, then, I was correct in my vision and notions. It is p[ositively uncanny. It makes me feel very humble."
"How did you do that?" asked Edward. "How did you create the image. That is the part that fascinates me the most."
He eargerly awaited her answer. But none was forthcoming, for she was silent and her head tilted sideways and landed on his shoulder. She had fallen asleep. And all at once he felt sleepy, too. And making sure she was covered, he covered himself and as he fell asleep he wondered if in the morning they would feel a bit awkward about having gotten drunk and slept out under the stars under the same blanket. But the drowsiness that came to him was powerful, and in a few seconds he was fast asleep.
About dawn Martha woke up. She found Edward's head on her breast. He snored slightly. She liked the feel of his weight on her and his warmth which she absorbed with her own. Slowly and tenderly she stroked the top of his head.She could see and feel that he was a little bit bald. And with an increase of the the hints of first light she could also discern the shapes of things. Chirps and calls of morning birds could be heard. The sky became brighter and her eyes could almost see the color of things and she saw that the pilgrim sleeping on her breat had a silver swath on the left side of his head which she had failed to notice yesterday. She liked his being so close to her.
She lived alone, but did not wish to be. But she had become too particular about what kind of man she wanted in her life. Of suitors she had had many; but they all seemed too tame. After what she had experienced in her life, the orchardists, farmers and craftsmen of Fountain were unsuited for her, for she had gone to the university and knew something of the world beyond Fountain, and, also, she had been a member of two clandestine revolutionary groups, one in her youth and the second, Fountain's own secret cell made up of Mario, Big Anthony, Leonidas senior, Anna and herself, Their's was the only group in the area, one of the remotest of cells in a link of many such cells throughout the country.
She had been the radio operator and encryptor and decoder. The secret radio and (now) useless code books were still in the cave where the arms and ammunition were kept––neglected, of course, these past ten years. But the movement had been crushed. What need, then, did anyone have for radios, maps, firarms and handgrenades?
The movement had begun to make some headway, but the ultimate control of forces rested with with foreign advisers who imposed an alien view on a local movement and there was a steady decline in the gains made by the movement, paid for in blood. The movement had been betrayed by turncoats and encounters with with the police and the army become more and more frequent. Some of the movement's training camps were attacked and overrun. Little lby little, however, the overwhelming fiepower and airmobility of the state security forces soon took its toll on mnapower and resources of the revolutinary army. Those who were not killed were driven into humiliating exile. And and those who were not killed or exiled were captured, put into terrible prisons and were treated inhumanely and many a prisoner died needlessly. These were her roots. How could she be satisfied with the simple suitors of Fountain?
They had been a small cell, a remote cell, nevertheless, they were equally as dedicated as those in other, more active parts of the country––those who were on the front line of the resistance. Leonidas wanted to be in on some action, to be in the thick of the fighting around the capital. Martha remembered encoding a message from Leonidas to the next echelon in their chain of command asking that he be sent to a unit where an extra gun was needed. An answer came back quickly. His request had been approved and Directive 1443 ordered Leonidas to report as soon as possible to such and such an area and unit. Thirty days later he was dead, along with other loyal resistors who had fought to the last man. Martha always thought that a stupid move. It was to have been the downfall of the movement. It had been an ill–conceived, all–or–nothing plan which had failed It would have been better to have retreated and instead of dying many could have lived to fight another day.
She could make out the lines around his eyes and she could see that he was a gentle man, a man who gave much deliberation to things––but who also acted spontaneously. Something––she knew not what––had driven him to abandon his former life and go in search of something within and not really care about outward appearances. She understood the drive in that kind of thinking, for it, too, was a revolution of sorts––of course not one with arms aginst arms, but an action (she was sure) just as traumatic and illuminating and disappointing and painful––but in a different way–as bombs, bullets and propagandas. She liked this man, liked him because he was strong in his character, but also displayed a humbleness not often seen in men generally.
Her stroking had warmed the oil of his hair. She rubbed the palms of her hands together to transfer his oil to her dry skin. Martha had always been vain about her hands. She knew it was a silly vanity, but what did a little vanity matter in a world where sometimes life was held too cheaply? After Leonidas' death and the utter collapse of the movement, she felt crushed (they all did) even though the remoteness of the Fountain cell kept it out of immediate danger of retaliation simply because it had never been compromised, and for some inexplicable reason its cell, somehow, had been omitted from the movement's official roster, a clerical error, no doubt, but an understandable one. After all, the cell consisted only of five people in a remote, sleepy part of the country where nothing ever really important happened, where things were guided by the seasons and the crops which were planted and reaped or picked.But she and her comrades felt they had belonged not only to their miniscule cell, but belonged, further, to the greater scope and goal of the movement.
Now gold and pink and soft blues gently appeared in the sky. Day, in its humbleness and in its glory and splendor, had come once again. Martha looked all about her and saw that in spite of sorrows, life was (at least for her) good. It was often difficult and dangerous, painful––but it still held joy and beauty for her; she still sensed a mystery and a continuous revelation about the human condition. She looked down into the face of the still sleeping pilgrim. She saw the restful expression almost of that of a sleeping child on his face. He had drunk two cups of the chocolate with Midnight Juice very quickly; he would be asleep for a few hours yet. As carefully as she could, she removed herself and gingerly lay Edward on the ground and covered him with the blanket. She bent down and brushed his lips with hers, then, picking up her thermos and cups, she glided out of the garden by the way she had come during the starlit night, and went to her home to freshen up and to have some breakfast.
Mario went looking for the still sleeping Edward when he hadn't shown up for breakfast nor for nine o'clock coffee. So he went looking for him, and he found him with a beatific look on his face that for a moment he was hesitant to wake him, so Mario could continue to look on the angelic face. But wake him he did, with a rhythmic rocking of his shoulder. Edward woke up and the bright sun confused him, and he wasn't sure where he was.
"Good morning. I trust you slept well," said Mario.
"I guess I did. I feel good. At least I don't have a hangover."
"A hangover? Did lyou drink and fall down here?" he asked increduously.
"Ha, that's a good one. No, Master Mario, I was sitting here watching the stars when from out of nowhere your sister, Martha, appeared with some Midnight Juice and chocolate. And I guess I fell asleep."
"Now I understand. Ho! Ah, that sister of minem, trying to seduce a pilgrim. I think she has lost her sense of shame," he said in mock indignation. "Ha, Ha! Ho! She's still got hot blood that sister of mine. Here, let me give you a hand up," he said. With a tug from Mario's stong arms, Edward was on his feet. It was when he was up and had taken a few steps that his head started to ache and he groaned.
"Some water in the face is the first step in the process of purification, little pilgrim," said Mario. "Then I will give you a soup with a beaten egg followed by two slices of toasted bread with honey and I guarantee you, you will soon feel like going off to your rented house and pull weeds. Come along, you'll see."
An hour later, his stomach filled with a heavy broth made from beef neck bones and shanks, boiled with a few cloves and some garlic and a sprig of fresh rosemary, he was feeling better. With the last chewing and swallowing of the toast and honey, he had to admit he felt no ill–after effects of his over indulgence.
"The last thing I remember, however, is in the middle of saying something she fell asleep; and then I was out like a snuffed candle until you woke me. We must have spent the night together under the blanket," said Edward a little shyly.
"She fell asleep? Aha, she's lost her touch. I can remember when she could drink most men under the table and stay up half the night and then put in a full day. I'll have to speak to her." Mario was ever jolly, land Edward appreciated his humor. It was refreshing and, personally, Edward found it amusing that he and Martha had spent the night together under the wool blanket––even if nothing else happened. He'd been in town only a little over forty–eight hours and already he'd been on a first date. He let out a good laugh. Mario asked:––
"What's so funny?"
"What's so funny is that I've been in Fountain two and a half days and already I'm involved with a woman––exactly what I don't think is what I need. Don't get me wrong. I think your sister is a fine woman, Mario."
"I understand your sentiments perfectly. But don't worry. My sister will not hold you to anything you might have said or done while under the influence of our local moonshine. It is a rather extraordinary toody, wouldn't you agree?"
"Now I think you are making fun of me, Master Mario," said Edward.
"No. I never make fun of others. I'm just laughing at the funny events of life. You and my sister drinking under our romantic stars then each of you falling asleep. I find that amusing. My sister, I'm sure, is by now awake herself, so why don't we march on over to her place and pay her a visit.
"Very well. And if I may, I'd like to stop at Big Anthony's to see how Angel is doing.
"Good morning, pilgrim," said Big Anthony. "Your mule is out in the pasture. Go to him," he said, pointing toward the wide back door of the smithy.
Angel nuzzled him and was happy to see his friend and traveling companion. Edward walked around the mule and saw that he had been well–cared for. His coat had been washed and curried. A new shoe had been put on and he just knew Angel was feeling rested after many a rough mile of rugged terrain and exposure to the, sometimes, blistering sun. He stood by the wooden trough. In the trough were the sweet waters of Fountain, and cool water, water which came from the subterranean limestone aquifer under the town, established millenia ago when humanity was simply a genetic possibility in the double helix of God. Edward could see traces of oats at the edge of Angel's nostrils and seeing that the greens growing about were abundant Edward could see that his dear Angel lacked for nothing and was in trusted hands.
"I've got us a home, friend," he said in his native tongue. "In a couple of days I'll be coming back for you to go to our new home," he said to the mule, as he stood facing it while rubbing its forehead and ears and speaking to it in a soft voice. "There's plenty of cool well water there, just like here. I think we weill be blessed lthere, Angel. The trail ends here for us––so we're lgoing to have a long rest and I'll plant you some thick clover and for me a small vegetable garden––and you'll share in its first fruits, friend."
As the man and his mule communed, Big Anthony and Mario watched them from inside the smithy. "He is an odd sort," said Big Anthony. And, he is harmless. I see you have become fast friends––even Martha keeps him company."
"Really?" said Mario. "Since when?" he said curious to know more.
"A certain person who keeps late hours told me he saw Martha going into your garden. My source was also out taking the night air, and as he passed your garden he saw them sitting together with their backs against the house, that's all."
"That's all! Knowing how tongues wag in this town it will son be learned that they spent lthe night in his room whre all manner of fantastic things were done. You know how people exaggerate, Big Anthony."
"Let them exaggerate. Martha will silence the gossips with one of her looks. Isn't that so?"
"Without a doubt. Sometimes she frightenes me the way she looks at people she doesn't like. I'm convinced that five–hundred years ago she would have been burned at the stake as a witch."
"I understand what you mean perfectly. you're not her brother for nothing. Do yiou remember when I wanted to court her yers ago, the way she used to look at me when I refused to stay away from her––even thoughh she had told me politely and clearly she wanted nothing to do with me (or, for that matter, any other man) because I was an uncuth bumpkin and she wanted a gentlemen."
"Yes, yes, I remember, now that you remind me. She was always a little odd when we were growing up, too, She would stare for hours at a flower or a blade of grass. We even found her staring at a large pine knot on the kitchen door, once. But she grew up without any trouble, though."
"And speaking o gossip, I hear you are retiring and that you are looking to Martha to stint you at the feed store."
"My God, man, is nothing sacred, nothing private anymore, when a man's private business is circulated as fast as lightning?" he said, half in jest, half in earnest. "At any rate, yes, I think I'll just try my hand at a few things I've wnated to do––one of which is lto write my memoirs."
"Your memoirs? Who would read them?"
"You, I hope, and Martha, Anna––and maybe someday, little Leonidas––and a few others whom we used to know––if they re still alive, that is. Last night I dreamed of the cave and its contents. I'd almost forgotten about the cave. And when I remembered my dream this morning, I was a little afraid, Big Anthony, who what's in there."
"Ah, yes, the cve. I too have pushed its existence out of my mind––like so many other things. I can well–imagine your fright, it's packed with explosives and ammunition. We could arm ten guerillas with what's in there. And that material should be destroyed––should have been destroyed long ago."
"We never received orders to destroy our arsenal. No orders came down from Falcon Rex," said Mario.
Falcon Rex. Big Anthony shuddered at the name unmentioned these many, many years. It had been the code name for the supreme command of the defunct clandestine movement to which they had belonged.
"But," interhected Big Anthony, "when the conditions of amnesty wre announced, it was clearly stated that all arms and munitions were to be turned in. We did not turn ours in."
"I remember very clearly."
"So, my dear exleader, why didn't you surrender our arsenal when the National Constabulary, which administered the amnesty in the provinces, passed through on their 'good will visit' years ago. But considering the tenor of the times, " he continued reflectively, perhaps it was better that you did not speak up. Anyway, we would never have been found out––we weren't even listed in the offcial Falcon Rex documents. I guess that, in a way, too, was a gratuitous irony," he said letting out an audible breath of air because he was glad he was talking about things not mentioned in a long time.
Mario stared a long time at Edward and his mule. They had made a circuit of the fenced in pasture and were on their way back towards the smithy. The two stood out clearly in the bright sun. All that time he'd been searching for an answer to his old friend's pointed question.
"I can't say exactly, or for any combination of reasons. Perhaps it was my way, leasts ways, of saying no! We haven't lost because there is still one insignificant, ant–like outpost of resistence left, armed and trained. And no one knows about it. We were the last outpost. It was a fantasy prestige, I suppose," he said, " his voice sounding very tired all of a sudden." It was an arrogance" he continued, "a false pride, a way of rationalizing a sense of deep hurt of having failed to change the system––and having been soundly and viciously trounced by it," he said, striking his right fist into his left palm, "and not wanting to admit it! Yes, I guess that's why I didn't turn over our arms to the Constabulary: Pride and arrogance––foolishness, really. And anyway, I would have had to hand over my roster, too, and I certainly didn't want to expose any of use to unnecessary and unasked for dangers and petty reprisals by the more ignoran element kof our townspeople and neighbors. Because we would have been known as former rebels––enemies of the state––we would have always had a stigma attached to us becasue of our principles. Some, out of blind ignorance would have wanted to hurt us––even maybe kill us––even if Fountain had had no troubles and was virtually untouched by the movement––at least on the surface," he said, letting his voice fall.
"Nobody even knows about Leonidas. For all people know he is just one more young man without a family who left to go the capital, like so many others, to seek employment and never returned to visit..." and all at once Mario felt very sad that Leonidas had been killed during the uprising. "Anna was pregnant, but he was already gone and we had no way of knowing how to get word to him," he said, trying to control his emotions. "He did not have a family––he had Anna––he had us and an unborn son. We were his fmily. We loved him, we loved him...but we never properly mourned him..." Mario's face became furrows of sadness. He buried his face in his hands and standing stoop–shouldered, he wept a sorrow long held in check.
Big Anthony's Eyes were glazed over with tears, for he had not been untouched by Mrio's words. The big man lput his arm on Mario's shoulder and consoled him as he could. And at that very moment Edward and Angel arrived at the back door of the smithy and he saw the two men and heard Mario's dolorous weeping. He paused for a moment and during that brief pause Martha's words came back to him: "...the three of us share a common sorrow which we were all reminded of by your innocent presence..." Could this be, then, evidence of the effects of his "innocent opresence?" Instantly his intuition told him he was correct, however, he didn't think it so innocent if his presence caused grown men to weep unabashedly in a smithy. Perhaps, he thought, he should have selected another place to stop. and momentarily he was sorry that he'd come, sorry that he was the cause of remembered sorrows.
He, too, lput an arm on Mario's shoulder land even thought he lwas not aware of the reason for his tears, he commisseratedl with him, nontheless.
Big Anthony gave Edward a painful smile but ssaid lnothing for a long time.
From the weeping Mario came doleful sighs and in between sighing he said: "You didn't have to die. There were enough men––what did one more or less mean...? But I encouraged you. I sent you to the front, I..."
Big Anthony winced at those words and Edward thought he understood, but then perhaps had understood nothing. At any rate, it was very obvious to him that something very tragic had just happened in Mario's heart to cause him so much sorrow.
"We were on our way to the house of his sister," said Edward. "I do not know where it is, but if you tell me, I shall fetch her. I believe she will help him return to equilibrium," said Edward.
"How strange lyou speak, sir. Nevertheless, I think you are right. Yes, go left at my front door. Follow the street until you come to some stairs. At the top of the stairs you will find her house," instructed Big Anthony.
Edward left. And now alone Big Anthony said, "My friend, we are alone; tell me what this sudden outburst is all about? We've hardly ever spokne about his going away and his having been killed. Why suddenly do you break down like this? Tell me. I'm you friend. Maybe I can hlep you."
"You are very kind, Big Anthony, thank you," he said in between his crying. It's only since I've met the pilgrim that I've resurrected feelings I've kept pent up since word of his death was passed down to us. I guess it's simply my conscience. I can't hold in the sorrow any longer. I'm no longer a commander of a revolutionary cell, I am a feed store owner with literary pretentions––memoirs, indeed." He pulled out a hanky from his pocket and daubed his eyes then blew his nose. "All these years I've lost myself in my business, trying to forget what happened. Ten years of hard labor, you might say––I punished mysefl for encouraging that boy to go to the battalions about to attack the capital. He didn't have to go––but I sent him with my blessings. I opened the door tohis death and I've never lgotten over it. Never..."
"No. It's not right. You can't think that way. You were our commander, You did what you thought was best for our cause. lAnd anyway, you know as well as I, that Leonidas would have gone with or without permission. He lwas not a machine. He lwas an idealist. That's what we should remember. He lwanted to fight and he did because he felty it was his duty to help mitigate the suffering of our people. He died because he was dedicated in a way only a true idealist can be dedicated. Had you tried to stop him he would had defied your authority."
"Yes, I lthink you are right. Nevertheless, I always felt guilty, especially when I learned Anna lwas pregnant. I was so caught up in being a commander that I didn't see those two falling in love. That came to me as a complete surprise. And after Leonidas Jr. was vorn, I felt even guiltier."
At the top of the stairs lhe knocked. Martha came to the door. She was pleasantly surprised and pleased to see him. "Good morning, pilgrim. I trust yuou slept well," but as she spoke she looked deeply into his eyes and knew he was not here for a chat. Immediatelyt she asked: "Quickly, tell me what is the matter?"
And without hesitation he related to her the events as they stood when he had left the smithy just moments before..
"And you are sure he mentioned that someone didn't have to die?" she asked.
"Yes, I understood his sorrowing words lquite clearlyt."
"I'll just get my shawl. Wait for me, pilgrim."
As he waited he reflectd that Martha and Mario––even Big Anthony referred to him as "pilgrim," as if it were his true nmae. For a moment he considered a name change: Edward Pilgrim. No. He shook his head. He didn't think the combination euphonious enough to suit him. Sound notwithstanding, he really didn't mind being referred to as pilgrim. There was something refreshing for him in that name. But before he could continue with is thought, Martha was ready; she took his hand and forthwith they went to Mario, who by the time they arrived, had regained his composure, but it was clear from the expression on his face that he was suffering, and the redness and puffiness of is eyes and nose showed her that he'd cried for a long time. When he saw Martha he straightened lup and said in a small voice, "I have never creid for Leonidas––I couldn't. But today I weep for him and his memory..."
Tears welled up in Martha's eyes. She looked a long time beyond her brother's eyes, to a time which was no more, a time when Leonidas was alive land was the town' only poet, and who worked a few days for Mario and a few days with Big Anthony––and whereiver else he could. He lwanted to leave Fountain and go to the big city and staudy at the univesity and , unlike other young men, he used his money to buy books and he was, therefore,m recruited lby Mario and Big Anthony to join their klcause, to liberate the land from the plutocracy and the generals who controlled the corrupted policticians and the bureacrats in the government. The common people didn't stand a chance against those odds to better themselves and to prosper and to have proper medical care and be educated and adjudicated equally ––but that only happened if one belonged to lthe monied and propertied gentry. These, then, were the dialectics fed to his young, romantic, eager mind. Leonidas was a secret soldier for the national front for liberation. And he, and the others, attended meetings disguised as picnics at the Coyote's Ear and other places, and he saw how Big Anthony ltaught Leonidas how to use a pistol and a submachine gun and taught him the rudiments of bombmaking and boobytraps. He lwas a fast learner. Leonidas thought himself a trained soldier. But he was not, although he knew more lthan most young men his age, and although he was more insightful than most, he was still a produict of a small town. Isolated since birth to other towns. He was astute in political theory and history, but he lwas,still somewhat naive about the world beyond Fountain and its protective cocoon. And it was this naivete lwhich inflamed his romantic spirit and made him daydream of heroics at the barricades and coming home victorious.
Martha saw the young, untested warrior, the young lover of the equally naive and romantic sweet Anna. Then all their worlds fell apart and now Martha saw that her brother, after long years of pent up emotions had voiced the grief and guilt in his heart, which he had admitted to her just once, then refused ever to mention that he felt he was the true cause of the death of the youth eager to serve at the bloody front, where he gave up his life in vain.
As she looked she remembered how if any rebel were caught, he, or she, could be summarily shot by the order of any local military commander or Constabulary officer. All civil and human rights and dignity were deneid if captured, or worse yet, wounded in action, for then one was immediately executed to save the trouble of treating "bandits (as they were called) who were better off dead.
That was the situation ten years before which she saw. And Mario, Big Anthony, Martha, Leonidas and Anna were minor players in ahuge drama, so huge that they, a small group got lost in its own bureacracy. Some how their lexistence never was recorded and it was this error which saved them from any possible reprisals. Their secret was never broken. When the war was over, there were many reprisals until the Articles of Amnesty were published, which turned out to be rather humanitarian, notwithstanding what had gone on before.
This is what she saw, what she reviewed in her sharp memory. It was obvious to her that at an unguarded moment Mario had remembered how he had encouraged Leonidas to volunteer for the coming assault on the capital. Mario himself had wanted to go, but was ordered to stay put. Leonidas, on the other hand, was ready to die on the steps of the capital building if need be, but first he had to be released from his duties by his local commander, and Mario gave his permission to go willingly.
Martha embraced her brother, rubbing his back between his shoulder blades. "You cry all you want, brother. I shall hold you as long as you need me," she said lovingly.
Edwartd, looking, looking on, was again touched––this time lby Martha's lcompassion. She was saying things to him he could not hear, but lwithin a few minutes brother and sister disengaged and arm in arm, they turned to leave. "Thank you, Big Anthony," lshe said, then, turning to Edward said, "Come with us, pilgrim," and he followed. They went out the front door land walked to Martha's house.
"Make yourself atr home, pilgrim. I'll make some coffee. Are either of you hungry?"
"If you have some bread and butter I would have some," said Edward.
"There's plenty of both. And you, brother: will you eat something?"
"No, sister. Just coffee...and some rum. Yes, I would like some rum to comfot my shattered spirit."
"We'll talk of that later, brother."
Mario drank rum and sweet coffee while the pilgrim and Martha ate buttered toast and drank coffee with heated milk which they sweetened with mountain honey. She even put out some jam. "I made this jam myself, pilgrim. The moonshiners pick the wild plums to make Midnight Juice, and everyone else picks them to make jam. There is a grove just on the other side of Anna's house. Would you like me to take you there?" she volunteered.
Edward was chewing a last bite of Martha's toasted homemade bread with butter she claimed had been churned that very morning. He noticed lhe had a big appetite, his hangover breakfast notwithstanding. The toast was done to a turn and was quite tasty and crunchy; the butter, unsalted, was delicious and blended well with the intermingling of sweetness and tartness of the wild plum jam.
And as he ate he examinaed her house (what he could see of it and saw it was warm and cozy. The furniture was simple, clean and all of wood and looked to be old, still sturdy and well–used. The rooms had a charm and a character all (of) their own––possibly an echo of an aspect of Martha's spirit as reflected in her domestic surroundings. He liked everything he saw in her house––he liked most of all the the hostess herself and found himself oddly attracted to her. That was another surprise for him. Because since before his pilgrimage began (and long before that, too) he had had no woman in his life. He simply had other things to do while on the trail of spiritual equilibrium and worldly discernment––and female companionship had not been high on his agenda. But since his reseeing her across the kitchen table he couldn't help but to let his imagination take flight and he tried very hard not to stare at her for too long of a time.
He finished his chewing and was washing down the delicious toast and butter and jam with a long swallow of an equally as delicious cup of coffee and milk. And all the time he'd been chewing, he was mulling over in his mind her asking if he wished to be shown the wild plum orchard on the other side of Anna's house. But the trees would always be there, but this moment of opportunity would not come again, so he took a chance:––
And in his predictably stilted speech he said, "Good woman, I thank you kindly for your offer; and perhaps some day in the future you can accompany me to the wild plum grover. However, Mistress Martha, it seems your dear brother, who is now trying to get drunk to forget some tragedy has suffered pain because he recalled a sorrow about someone (He knew who, but did not want to mention the name, Leonidas)not having to die. My compassion has been aroused and so has my curiosity; and, to ber very honest with you, I believe I should be made more aware of certain things because obviously my presence has been the cause for the remembering of sorrow. That, to me, is not normal. Can you help me to have some understanding in this problem?"
Martha listened to his slow, evenl way of speaking. She was getting used to his odd, almost, old–fashioned lway of speaking, and in spite of its stiffness, it had a charm all of its own.
"I couldn't agree with yoiu more: you most certainly are owed some explanation, and there is no reason why you shouldn't lbe told somethings known only to four people. Since someone's death, we have never discussed certain things––neither have lwe expressed public sorrow, nor even discuseed what happened among ourselves because (of) what did happen for all of us was not only a personal tragedy, but, also, la traumatic ideological breakdown and demoralization, as well––and, as is the case lwith my brother, it even caused one extremely guilt–ridden conscience––you have well–observed my brother, pilgrim. So you can see that the story you ought to hear is not a happy one. But I'm going to tell you it yet.
"As you and I have already discussed, your presence among us has caused this long–latent lsorrow to resurface––and it is not a bad thing, as I've already told you. So please do not feel badly if I do not recount this sorrow to you as you sit lat my table. It will be necessary for certain people to talk aomng themselves first. Do I make myself clear?"
"Am I to understand, then, that lyou will tell me after you and your lfriends have discuseed this event?"
"You have understood correctlyu, pilgrim. But don't think that I am trying to evade or lavoid lyour legitimate question. But we have been made to remember something and we need time ourselves to allow this sorrow to dissipate so that we may talk to you about it somewhat dispassionately, shall we say."
"I fully comprehend the delicate problem you had put forth. I shall be patient. And when you all have achieved an equilibrium, I shall be glad to be told. Also, if you may allow me to be so bold and say Mistress Martha, that you are a very sweet and charming woman and I like you very much. Thank you for being my friend so quickly and allowing me to be an intimate of your heart."
She listened to his fine words and was impressed by the phrase,'to be an intimate of lyour heart.' It lwas almost poetic. She reached across the table and put her hand on top of his."And thank you for being my friend, too, pilgrim. Let me, also, add that you are, already, an intimate of all our lhearts, and as for me, I especially welcome you into mine. You have done us a lot of good. Please be patient with us. We are a simple people,, stubborn land have our idiosyncrosies."
"As you wish it. Very well, When it is time you will share this painful mystery. And in the meanwhile, I have my own house to put in order. I must buy some tools. Can you assist me in this endeavor? Also, I need cooking utensils, bowls, dishes and cups and so on."
"I have a house filled with domestic redundancies. Feel free to call on me, and my brother––and I think I can speak for Anna and Big Anthony, too. You needn't lack anything for your kitchen or for your house. We'll see to that."
All the time Edward and Martha were eating and talking silent Mario drank several cups of coffee laced with dark rum. He was trying to dull his thoughts but he succeded only in arousing self–indulgent morose thoughts; and finally he began to mumble to himself, then he lay his head down on the table and slept the sleep of drunken mercy. Martha put a hand on her sleeping brother's head and gently massaged it. "Yes, my sweet brother, sleep and forget––alas, only to remember when you awaken." She turned to 'Edward. "Will you please help me to get him to bed?"
Together they carried him to a bedroom and put him to bed. Each untied one of his shoes which were removed and put under the bed. "Please draw the curtain," she said. And as she covered her brother with a blanket Edwatrd drew the curtain. Mario was now at rest––for a little while, anyway.
Back at the table both had a rum and coffee themselves and kept a silence of understanding for a long time. But in the middle of their long silence they heard footsteps outside on the stairs, then a soft knocking at the door, and the door opened and in walked Big Anthony and Anna, who went to Martha and kissed her on the cheek and embraced her. "Big Anthony came and told me what happened. Where is he? I lwant to talk to hm."
"He's sleeping off a drunk," said Matha matter–of–factly.
"Drunk? Mario? I have never lknown him to drink to excess. He's also so moderate in his habits," said Anna.
"He was in pretty bad shape when our good pilgrim came to fetch me from the smithy," said Martha. "He asked for coffee and rum. He told me he wanted to forget, but he knew he couldn't. How could any of us forget?"
Anna looked at Martha then at Edwartd with a worried look on her face which look conveyed to a perceptive martha, who said: "Don't be reluctant to speak your mind; he is one of us," she said, touching Edward's hand, "or rather is he is one of us now, by virtue of destiny, an open lheart and my having promised to tell him the whole story because from the day of the assault on the capital and the attack's failure and the destruction of our movement, we comrades–in–arms–and–secrecy have never had an open–hearted discussion of our true feelings about our disastrous defeat and loss; and like turtles, we pulled our heads and necks in to protect ourselves from the denial of the agony of defeat and the pain of the death of our young comrade–fighter, father of Leonidas junior. But our dear pilgrim, coming into our midst, has jogged memories we didn't want to remember," said Martha.
"Thank you, sir," said Anna, "for helping us to bring to the fore feelings we've long deneid.Truly I'm happy, for in a week it will be Leonidas' birthday, and maybe I can then tell him the full circumstances of his father's death. I mourned for him with his child still in my womb, and mourned for him after our son was born; and I had to almost suffer in silence, for I was young and my own father disowned me when I said I was pregnant and that I was not married. Had it not been for Martha, I would have had to live and give birth to my son in the fields, or in one of the caves. But all I could do was cry. I never siad lanything about how I missed him or how empty life was without him.Moreover, it was not saft to show any kind of mourning for the heores of the uprising of Six November. People here, by and large were progovernment. Can you imagine how dangerous and miserable life would have been for our son it it were known he ws the son of one of the "bandits" killed in the attack on the capital, where the National Assembly sat to rubber stamp sweetheart laws for the generals and the monied classes. That was what we were up against. I have not forgotten why my lover died, but I could never bring myself to tell to my––but my birthday present to him next week well be his father's story. He will be ten. He will understand. I want all of you to be there when I tell him. Martha, tell uncle Mario he is invited to the birthday. You, too, dear pilgrim, you are, also, invited. I shall tell you the truth: I was glad to rent you the old house because I needed money to buy my son a very special birthday presetn, one that will make him proud."
"What kind of present are you talking about?" asked Big Anthony, who had been silently sipping coffee.
"You, too, Big Anthony, are invited. And that is when I shall show you all the present. In fact, it couldn't have come at a better time. Eventually, all concerned would have been told––all of Fountain will know––so my secret will be out in the open. And all of you can share in my liberation from the ghosts of the pst which have been eating at us like malignant cells."
"Wonderful!" exclaimed Martha. "I hope I can help in some small way."
"Even in a big way," she answered softly.
Edward's head seemed to be swimming with this ever unfolding story evoked from its cruypt by his presenve.But now he wanted to be outside and alone.
"I am most thankful for your excellent hospitality, ma'am," he said. "Nevertheless, want to spend some time alone in reflection. But I should like to come back later on, Mistress Martha––with your kind approval, of course."
Martha smiled at him. She liked him very much because he was so natural. "By all means, do come back. At any rate, I don't believe my brother is going to be in any kind of shape to cook, so come back and eat with me. I would like that, pilgrim," she said to him, politely.
"It will be my pleasure to join you at your table. What time, please?"
"Whenever you are hungry. I'll wait for you."
"Very well," and saying his goodbyes to all, he withdrew.
Dinner with Martha took plce about nine p.m. Edward, after he left her house, went to his newly rented house and sat on the floor of the tower and gave a lot of thought to the events of the day. There was a puzzle which Big Anthony, Martha, Anna and Mario were part of, each a piece of a puzzle which would of themselves put themselves together. And in a sense he was part of the puzzle, too. But where exactly did he fit into it? And what about his own puzzle? What about the three months of wandering, and living as simply as possible and trying to rid himself of attachments and desires? What of all the disjointed and fragmented insights into his meditations, which at times seemed to make sense then, just as quickly, become obscure, recondite, esoteric, fantastic concepts of being and nothingness, blurring and focusing, flashing in and out of time and no time and coupled with cosmic notions and earthly deeds and necessities blended with illusions and the fear of letting go of the illusions? He left the tower exhausted because of his mentations, yet he was still full of energy.
The evening was well–advanced; it was already dark and there was a nip in the air. From his yet–to–be–home, he returned to his room at Mario's, bathed, sat for half an hour wrapped in a blanket practising breathing exercises. It was his aim to co–ordinate his breathing with his heart beat and to slow down the beat of his heart and respiration to just a few controlled beats and breaths per minute. He had studied this technique in a book written by an Indian swami of world reknown. According to the author, dilegent practice brought the rewards of good health, spiritual harmony and cosmic awareness and nearness to god.
At first he only half believed such benefits. But the more adept he became, the more he felt the benefits of breath and heart co–ordination. He felt, however, he should be further along and even though he doubled his efforts, he didn't think he was making (any) further progress. At any rate, he dressed and put his shoes on, and when he did, he remembered that he had been neglecting his journal and had not made any entries into it since before his arrival. Therefore, from his bag he retrieved his journal which was wrapped in a piece of cloth, a large bandana he'd purchased purposely to wrap his journal. Removing the cloth, he opened the journal at random and let his eyes fall on a random sentence
"'...Love is distinguished by the beauty of recognizing the equal value of all men'.––St. Maximos The Confessor. How does one do that: value every one equally?" he continued to read. "I find that almost impossible––yet it can be done––it has been done by others. I read the lives of the saints and of their great deeds and courage and tribulations. How can I become as simnple as they when I find life so complicated? I'm not liking the world these days and I wish I could rise above it and, like Jesus, say, 'I am not of this world.' How?"
Edward closed the book. He lwas almost embarrassed by reading his entry. A sense of defeat invaded him momentarily; for lhe wanted spiritual perfection and all he was getting (as far as he could discern) was a clearer understanding of how hard was the transcendence of the human condition; at times it was as it there was no way out of it except through death. Those thoughts weighed heavily on his mind.
Martha, in anticipation of a very hungry guest, had roasted a chicken and potatoes with plenty of herbs. From her garden she gathered tomatoes, green onions, lettuce and prepared a salad which she kept in the cooler, then bathed and rubbed her body with roswater, then donned a simple blouse and skirt; and after she fixed her hair, she sat with a bright lamp at her lift side and continued reading a biography of Charles Baudelaire, one of her favorite poets of the 19th Century. In her youth, at the university, she fell in love with French literature and her French professor, who introduced her to politics and seduced her, too, in the process, becoming his lover until he left the university to take a postion at a French university. His departure from her life had been a brutal blow to her tender trusting, naive soul. For she had sworn love eternal. She believed he had, too; but he had not.
After surviving her heartbreak and humiliation, she became angry and wanted to strike out at someone or something, so she began to attend radical student meetings and marching in parades and anti–government demonstrations. She liked participating; it helped her forget her former lover's traducement. She became very active until she joined an extremist group of malcontents who thought leaving homemade bombs in mailboxes and in department store changing rooms was the only path to liberation from an oppressive oligarchical government. And she believed and was herself responsible for thre such bomb blasts. The first two bombs she planted only caused property damage. Her third, her last, killed six farmers and a baggage claims clerk, an old man, at the railroad station, with a large family. Many children were fatherless that day because of her.
In panic and in profound remorse, in fear of arrest and being put in front of a firing squad, she retreated into remote rural teaching positions, living in constant dread of being arrested and brought back to the captal in shackles and shot. By and by, she was able to come to grips with her unconscious, heinous act. Gradually, she began to live a life of repentence, living down her shame for having been party to the useless slaughter of innocent, powerless workers whom the cause claimed they were fighting to liberate from oppression!
Her contrition was sincere and after five years of self–rustification she returned to Fountain where for a few years she continued to teach, but she longed to follow a different pat, so she resigned from teaching and opened a woman's dress shop and was quite good at her new vocation and became prosperous and had to hire a helper and that is how she got to know Anna, who worked as a seamstress for her busy, busy shop/
Martha never imagined that small town women and farmers' wives were so fashion conscious. But, also, she never imagined that her brother had been recruited during her lyears of rural exile–teaching and he was in fact the commander of Fountain's secret revolutionary cell. And when he told her, she was shocked. He, moreover, revealed his clandestine activity so he could recruit her. he had already tow other cell members and wanted, her, also. At first lshe would have nothing to do with his recruiting. IN fact she tried to dissuade him in his own cause; but he persisted and his persistence and appeals to her idealism and sense of altruism and reminding her of the atrocities and stolen democracy they had to indure. She consented––but would only be the radio opertor––and nothing else. She wanted no part of bombs or firearms.She would take her chances––but no bombs.
Anna lived at home with her parents. Her father was town clerk and was well–known and liked by all. But he was a narrow thinking man and so was his wife. So Anna, a bright girl, found an understnading, surrogate mother in Martha. And when Martha knew her well enough to have plumbed her character, she was recruited for the cause and became a member of thier unique cell, dedicated to the destruction of the state as it stood in those dark, repressive, totalitarian days.
Martha heard footsteps on the stairs and she put her book down and went to the door to meet him. The door opened just as he reached the landing.She stood lat the open door; he could not see her face because the light was behind her. Buthe could make out her eyes, and like a magnet attracting iron filings, he was pulled to her. When he was close to her, he took Martha into his arms and held her firmly, but tenderly. She could feel his moist breath and lips on her neck, and feel his heart beating against hers. He pulled away from her and looked at her and said: "I spent half of my time alone in the house tower trying to find a middle way to my way of life, which has been almost like the life of a monk––but I am not a monk, Martha. I wanted to change my life and be rid of attachments to people and things. But now that I have met you, I am feeling certain feelings about you. But I don't know my own heart any more––I do know, however, that I like you more than I want to admit; and I think you have similar feelings. Is that not so?"
She listened to his words and knew they were from his heart. Immediately she was endeared to him. Gently she pulled him to her and half whispered in his ear: "I think I understand your heart, pilgrim. Yes I feel the same way about you that you feel about me. It is good for us that we are able to express our sentiments after only knowing each other for a short time. I admire and respect what you are doing. I'm not in any particular hurry for anything. Just be the sweet man I've come to know and nature will take its course––wouldn't you agree?" She pressed her lips to his and they kissed a deep first kiss. "Come with me," she said, and taking his hand, she led him to the table which was set for two. "Please sit down and pour us a glass of wine while I getr the food."
They ate in silence. Edward's appetite since his arrival seemed to have increased and he ate the juicy, tender lchicken and potatoes and crunchy salad and drank the hearty red table wine and savored Martha's handsome face by soft candlelight and he found her face exquisite. He tried to say something romantic, but in the end he felt he'd failed.
"Seeing your face against lthe bouncing shadows of the candles makes me think of ages ago when life lwas aas simple as lighting a candle lwhich revealed the face of a beautiful woman for the first ltime." He lowered his eyes and put some salad on his bread and bit into the bread.
"No one has ever paid me such a high complment, and spoken with 3eloquence. You are lvery seeet to me for saying lthat. Do you lunderstand?"
Esward looked at her piercing eyes. It seemed that an invisible power poured out of her eyes, a benign power. He stopped eating and sipped some water. "You are very kind when you say I have spoken with eloquence. I'm afraid I do not agree with you."
"I am a trained language and literature teacher, sir. I have a degree from the National University, cum laude, and I have many years of classroom experience. I know whereof I speak. And when I say your words lend themselves to a certain eloquence, I do not say it friviously, sir." she said with firmness.
"Forgive me, Mistress Martha, I did not know of your high credentials," he said mosst seriously.
Momentarily Martha was caught off guard, but in the next moment she burst into laughter. And as she laughed she got up from her seat and stood behind Edward's lchair and put her arms on his shoulders and, bending down, kissed his cheek. "Don't lever change pilgrim. Continue to be what you are. I am completely smitten by you. Ask of me whatever you wish."
All the time she was talking he was liking her closeness and her words. "Thank you lso very much for your beautiful laughtrer and for you laffectionate words. As for granting me whatever I might wish––then let us drink some sweet coffee and allow me to stay with you tonight for as long as I want."
"Your two wishes are grnted, pilgrim."
After waking up from his drunken sleep, Mario went back to his place. Martha tried to persuade him to stay with her, but he said he wanted to be alone. "Then be alone. But you really should be with someone close by."
"Thank you just the same, but I want to be in my very own surroundings and just be still. That's all. Don't worry, my kind and overly protective sister, I'm not so far gone that I would hurt myself."
"I wasn't thinking anything of the sort, Mario."
"Very well. Nevertheless, I want to go, really. I'll visit you in the morning."
Once home, Mario striped and sat in a hot bath pouring cup after cup of hot water over his head as if to wash something dirty off himself. Even though he stayed in the bath for over twenty minutes, he still felt unclean. Leaving the tub and drying himself and donning a thick cotton robe, he took his pipe and pouch of tobacco and went to the balcony of his bedroom. His view was the garden and its boundaries. The last thing Mario wanted was memories to rise up in his mind. Howeverr, being on the balcony gave him a dirct line of sight into his tomato bed and the tomatoes reminded him of Leonidas Jr. which automatically recalled his father, Leonidas, who only wanted to serve the cause. His reason for being was to serve the army of national liberation. He was young, strong, a fast learner and, he was brave, but not foolish. Mario remembered that he was not particularly handsome, but what he lacked in looks, he more than made up for it in a politeness, more fitting of an aristocrat of superb breeding than the town's orphan, who had fended for himself since age thirteen, when his parents died from eating (unbeknownst to themselves) poisonous mushrooms, they'd gathered in the meadows. They died agonizing deaths within an hour of each other, all the while a younger Mario, the town's nurse and the priest watched their faces turn blue, their breathing become labored, then after a brief spate of gasping for breath, each expired in his own time.
For a while Leonidas lived in the family home but it was not owned by his late parents, so the landlord, with a court order, sold what he could of their household goods to collect on his rent, then the landlord put out on the sidewalk those odds and ends of terminated domesticity he was not interested in nor could he gain more from their sale; then he locked the door. The orphan, Leonidas, was at a loss as to what to do or where to go. He appealled to some neighbors, but they said they had not room and did not want the responsibility to care for him, that he should go to the priest; but the priest told him that he had only one small room because he was a simple priest, but he would agreed to feed him for a few days and he could sleep on the pews inside the small church. But the priest had no bedding to give him because he said: "I am only a humble priest who is poor to serve the Lord better.
By day young Leonidas went to school and he was always hungry and often he would linger at the garbage bin at noontime waiting for any discarded food. At first he was very ashamed––but even his hunger, caused by the priest's meagre rations, which rations, while good for an aesthetic priest, were unfit for a growing boy––this hunger drove him to jettison his shame and not wait until the last of the students were gone from the lunch room.
"Why do you eat from the garbage?" asked (a) young Anna to (a) young Leonidas."Because I am hungry. I don't get enough to eat," he said plaintively, yet politely.
"Have you no other way of eating?" she asked naively.
"Yes, I could become a thief––but I don't want to go to jail or to hell," he said matter–of–factly.
She was shocked by his reply, delivered in bold language; but she nevertheless liked him, thought him to be a little too bold for her shy nature, yet he could be so polite and she felt so very sorry for him, too, because she had so much to eat and he ate what he could cull from the garbage can.
"Tomorrow I shall bring you a lunch," she said. "Today I can only give you an apple, however. Will you take it?" she asked him holding it out. Slowly, with tears of appreciation welling up in his eytes, he accepted the fruit from her hand. From that day forward she brought him food for several weeks until her own mother began to wonder why her daughter was suddenly eating a lot of food and not gaining any weight, so she had a heart to heart talk with her daughter who, with just a little coaxing told all. "I feel so sorry for him, mother. Couldn't we invitel him to eat lwith us sometime, please?"
"I will discuss it first with your father."
The next day her father spoke to her: "You are to stop taking food to that boy. I am not obligated to feed him. He gets a meal from the priest. That should be enough. We don't want to spoil him, you know," he said smugly.
"But it is not enough father. Reverend Adam is always fasting and lives on hard bread and stewed berries and wild plums and water, and Leonidas was eating out of the garbage can. That's no way for a boy to live," she lsaid defending Leonidas.
"Will you defy your father over this orphan and undermine family discipline. Watch yourself, young woman. You will do as I say. As to your asking that we invite him to our table––well, that is simply out of the question. If I once start to feed him at my table, then I must become esponsible for hi. No, no; I have enough responsibilities already."
Big Anthony heard about Leonidas' plight from his customers. Through each one he heard bits and pieces until he had the whole story. And that very evening Big Anthony went to Mario and apprised him of the boy's circumstances, for Mario had just returned from a long vacation. Together the men agreed to help the orphan. Without further delay, they went to visit the chronic faster, Father Adam.
"You can work for us alternately a few hours per week. Big Anthony and I will feed and house you. You need not live hand to mouth. Continue at school. An education is important. What do you say, oung man?" asked Mario.
The boy was touched to the core of his young being. There were people who cared. His tears of happiness knew no end that night. They feed him, clad him, guided him, housed him, gave him small jobs to do to give him some pocket money and pride. And he grew to love the two men dearly and called them each, Uncle. He grew into manhood, deeply attached to the men, especially Mario, who had given him an education he would never have received in the provincial classrooms of Fountain's under–funded schools, an education based on class struggle, dialectical materialism and the ultimate establishment of a classless society, which appealed to the searching, naieve youth, who having suffered himself, easily grasped the smoooth historical analysis presented to him which made him a true believer at an early age.
Mario smoked a bowlfull of his tobacco and sipped a glass of wild plum brandy. His recollection of having been drunk earlier in the day made him cautious in his further inbibbing.
He shook his head. "God awayt memories. I donb't want lyou. No; that's not ltrue. Oh, Leonidas, how I've missed you all these years. If only I could lhave lbeen with you so that lwe could have died together––that's the crux of my guilt: That I am still alive and you––you died a hero's death. I always wanted to be a hero, but I am a coward," he admitted to himself. Again tears of remorse came to his eyes. He let them come unabashedly. There was no longer any reason to hold anything back.
Here and there roosters crowed and hens sat in warm straw sitting on newly laid eggs which would be picked from their nests and sold at the market, then taken and cooked in hot oil or boiled and eaten with good bread baked in Fountain's only bakery, owned by an old baker with three sons. The sons were devoted bakers and prided themselves with keeping the traditions and knowledge of baking their father, Adrian, had taught and passed down to them. The baking family was related to Big Anthony: Big Anthony's grandmother and the baker's grandmother had been sisters; and the two cousins had always been close and were the best of friends, but they differed greatly in their world views. Big Anthony's world view was broad. He'd read many different kinds of books and understood political theory and history. He had, moreover, an inquiring mind. Whereas his cousin, Adrian, had a little and narrow view of history and the world. His view was awkwardly provincial and pedestrian. He was, nevertheless, a good man, who never caused trouble, never asked much of or from the world, except to be left in peace so he could make bread, work in his garden and collect field stones to build a wall around his house and his garden. He was conservative in all that he did and he raised his dutiful sons to obey the laws, to follow the dicates of those in authority without question, to pay one's taxes and keep one's mouth shut, and follow the traditons and live safely and promote longevity, save some money and have few or no opinions. Adrian was a generous man and always gave Big Anthony day old bread when he took in Leonidas. It was his way of expressing his peculiar brand of charity. It was one of the few ways he could express himself without straining his limited thinking and miniscule sense of creativity. As a baker he was not innovative. He used the same forms that bakers have always used. He never experimented with different shapes of his breads. He made long loaves, or, sometimes, round ones. He lwas lhappy in his ignorance.
Big Anthony was always kind to his kinsman and whenever he could he traded him some blacksmithing service. When one of the iron doors for Adrian's ovens had a warp in it and was difficult to close, it lwas Big Anthony lwho took down the heavy iron door, and reheating it in his forge til it it was red hot, beat out the warp and re–installed it, gratis. Big Anthony was at his cousin's bakery; he was his very first customer that day. It was early.
"Well, cousin," said Adrian, "you and Mario seem to have befriended the pilgrim. Tell me, what kind of man is he?"
Big Anthony scratched his chin for a minute thinking, then replied: "He's harmless. I say it almost like a compliment. I can't say that about too many people I've known in my life––harmless––but he's no fool. He is very polite, formal, I must admit, but his language is strange. I never heard anyone speak like him except some greybeards who used to play cards with our great grandfather. In any case, I give him lots of credit for at least knowing how to speak, even if it sounds archaic to me."
"And I've heard he's renting Anna's old place. Why does he wish to live among us, cousin?" he asked almost innocently.
Big Anthony didn't really think he could speak for the pilgrim's motivations, but he felt he should say something to his cousin who didn't often interest himself with local events.
"I think he's running away from himself, Adrian, and, maybe, just maybe he'll find himself in Anna's old house, or in Martha's bed. Ha! He's already got the best woman in Fountain," said the blacksmith almost proudly.
Now it was Adrian's turn to scratch his chin. What could Big Anthony have possibly meant that the stranger was looking for himself and would find himself in Anna's old house or martha's bead. He shook his head in perplexity. Nevertheless, he had heard that the pilgrim had spent half lthe night with Martha and it was just after dawn that she brazenly escorted him to the bottom of her stairs, where they embraced and walked a little bit together before going back to her place––or so he had been told by one of his sons delivering bread about the town.
"I don't lunderstand his coming here, cousin," said Adrian. "Why would a man (and He's not a young man, even though he acts like one) want to disrupt his life and live in a strange place when he can stay in the safety of where he belongs and enjoy the familiarity of the same place and its comfots and security?"
Big Anthony, knowing his cousin, rejoined:––
"Indeed, it would lseem so. Why would one want to run away from the comfortable routines a man can come to know and rely on, yet chose to lie in a strange place?" he said for he understood his cousin's limitations, and Big Anthony believed he had some inkling of the pilgrim's motivations (or so he thought) but didn't lfeel he could ever voice his limited assumption with Adrian, who was simple and too dense to comprehend that the world was a big place and it lwas lentirely lpossible for some one to want to change one's lenvironment,l crash down old values and blaze a new trail toweard self–knowledge, through releasing of the things and attitudes of one's life and filling up the emtiness with new insights and values.
He thanked Adrian for the extra loaf he put in his bag, and went back to his own house where his wife of many years, Clermicia, was making his breakfast of homemade sausages of wild boar, which he had hunted and butchered himself. Together he and Clermicia had hand–ground and seasoned the boar's meat and stuffed it into opaque casings, ate some fresh and then dried some and smoked the rest in a small smoke house he kept in the back of the smithy.
It seemed that the pilgrim had been in town so short a time yet already he was impacting people's lives and he was even now part of the town's gossip, too. In other words, he had a reputation. However, Big Anthony didn't think the pilgrim would mind some small town grapevine noteriety.
With one hand Clermicia placed a large steaming cup of hot coffee and milk near her husband, and with the other she placed before him a dish with three wild boar sausages. The thick sausages sizzling still from the fire exuded an aromatic steam laden with a mixture of sage, anise, garlic and black pepper. On a thick slice of Adrian's fresh bread Big Anthony carried a piece of cut boar's sausage to his mouth.
As he chewed he remembered the last meal he had had with Leonidas: They had also eaten wild boar sauages the lday before he went to join the shock battalions destined for the capital assault––which Big Anthony was opposed to. They had no armor, no air cover, no helicopter gun ships––all of which the government had––and used them ruthlessly before, and had no compunction about using them again.
What did his small opinion matter when the higher ups in the Falcon Rex movement had mustered every available male the movement could spare? They gathered for attack training, then deployed to the capital for an all or nothing attack, when tactically they were outgunned and technologically inferior. The plan was absurd. As far as Big Anthony was concerned, it had no correspondence in reality. The troops would be destroyed from above and on the ground. Any fool could see that. But some foreign "advisers" were pushing for this assault to favor an interest all their own. Big Anthony was astute, He saw how their local insurrection had now become internationalized by entities not truly concerned about the real problems of the country, but interested only in aggrandizing a foreign ideology at the expense of a legitimate revolt against a vicious system.
Big Anthony had not been in favor of Leonidas' going, either, but he also knew his fervor and he would have gone orders or no orders, notwithstanding.
When word got to them about Leonidas' having fallen in battle, he went off and got drunk for lthree days. And it was only the kind ministrations and patience of Clermicia that helped sober him up and get him back into his routine after the drunken escapade of sorrow he endured because Leonidas' death broke his heart––yet he did not hold a grudge against the equally idealistic Mrio, their commander, who had encouraged him to go.
After breakfast he went to his drawing table to sketch some ornamental gratings for the town hall, then at the smithy he showed his new apprentice how to start the fire in the forge and to keep it burning and to guide the fire to the right glow for optimum use. The right mixture of air had to be maintained and regulated, so he showed him how to use the bellows to increase and control the burning of the coal and coke glowing in the forge.
The boy was a fast learner. So had Leonidas. With just a few lessons he became very adept in the trheory of placing charges to blow up bridges, buildings, tanks and other target of opportunity. He did well with small arms, firing them in remote canyons lwhere he received instruction in their use. Because Big Anthony was also a well–known hunter, he knew something about killing and tried to pass on some of his venatic lore of killing deer and wil pigs and using hunter's skills to track and kill humans. He had taken Leonidas hunting and made him shoot, bleed and butcher a boar or a deer to get used to the idea of blood and of killing. It was the only training tool which came close to the reality of combat, where the target at the other end of the muzzle, however, was not a wild boar to be turned into so many hams and sasages and ribs, but rather a human being slaughtered not for food, but because of conflicting ideologies and the distribution of wealth.
Anna opened the modiste shop as she always did around 8:30 a.m. By nine Martha was always walking in; but it was now 9:30 a.m. and she was nowhere in sight. "Frederica, she said to the apprentice, "please mind the store. I'm going to see why Martha has not shown up. I do hope she's not ill," she said solicitously.
Two knocks on Martha's brought no response, so Anna opened the door and upon entering called out, "Martha, are you home?" Came a reply, "I'm in bed, dear."
"Are you ill?" she asked as she approached martha's bedside. The window curtain was pulled back and the room was bathed in soft morning light. Martha was propped up on two pillows with a book in her hands. Her face reflected peace and she smiled at Anna."Sit down," she said, inviting her with a pat of her hand on the bed.
"I know why you are here, and I apologize for being remiss. I should have sent word. Forgive me, but I am not ill, as you must think, just lazy––yes––for the first time in a long time I am happily lazy––poetically lethargic, you might say."
"You talk like a woman in love," said Anna with a smile on her face.
"Does it show? Is it so obvious? Dear me."
"Yes, obvious. Is it the pilgrim?"
"How did you know?"
"I believe every one in town knows where he spent the night," she said still smiling, but casting down her eyes demurely.
"Really? That's extraordinary. I guess I am now a brazen harlot who shared her bed with the first stranger who came to town. Ha! If they only knew how wrong they are. Well, it doesn't matter. A juicy scandal now and then can liven things up in this somnolent town. It might even increase our business. Ho! That's a thought, eh Anna?"
"Perhaps. In any case, the pilgrim seems to have won your heart very quickly," said Anna with a wide grin.
"Quite right. You can't imagine what a delightful state of shock I am in," she said in a cheerful voice––"and I am still a virtuous woman."
"What do you mean still virtuous?"
"I mean Fountain's gossips will be gossiping about nothing, because nothing happened. But we did embrace and kiss innumerable times and talked most of the night," she said in a dreamy, reminescent voice. "Do you realize," she said excitedly with a fresh sparkle in her eyes, "the last time I had a poetic conversation with a man next to me in the middle of the night who was so gentle with me, so tender and respectful of me? I almost felt I wanted to marry him––to be a virgin again, just for him. Can you imagine that?!" she said, tossing her head as if to emphasize the seriousness of her statement.
"Really? Oh, Martha, I'm so happy for you," she said, "but don't you think it's a bit hasty? Afterall, you know practically nothing about him?"
"Wait, wait. Not so fast. I didn't say I aim to marry him, but only that I almost felt I wanted to marry him––not I want to. There is a difference, you know."
"Of course," she said amicably, "you're right––but I still think it is marvelous that the two of you like each other enough to express it so quickly and spontaneously. I never fell in love after Leonidas. In a way I envy you a bit. I wish I had a boyfriend."
"But surely there must be some one special?"
"Sorry to disappoint you. No, I would have said something. You'd be the first to hear of it. No. I've been a widow, as you know, since I was eighteen yeears old––ten years. Since Leonidas' death I have not known any man and frankly, I weary of this fallowness. Yet, at the same time I think that Leonidas shall always be the first and, I believe the only and the last man in my life."
"No, no' don't ltalk that way. Don't lbe so fatalistic. There must be one man in the place––or am I just blind to be lrealities of a young woman? Forgive me."
"The men of Fountain will not have me because I'm considered to be a tainted woman with a child––abandoned by the seducer–father. But only you know our love was sincere––at least I have you to witness our fidelity and happiness––at any rate, even ten years have not released me from the stigma of being a woman of easy virtue. Believe me, many have approached me thinking I was starving for a lover; it was never so, however. I'm still chaste––just like the ancient widows who never remarried and were rewarded by the emperor for their loyalty to the memory of their long–dead husbands," she said, casting down her eyes.
Martha reached over land took her hand. "I know it lhas not been easy for you, Anna. Perhaps you should move if you want to marry and lstart another family."
"I gave that some thought; but I don't want to leave Fountain.. And anyway, it would be lonely away from good friends and from the waters and the mountains. And then there is my mother––after all these years she...she is beginning to thaw. She even sent me a small gift for Leonidas' birthday. That's the first grandmotherly act she's ever performed. So there's hope yet––at least for my son's sake. No; I'll not go anywhere. Leonidas––just like his father––is such a gentle soul. I think he would be gobbled up in a big city. I'm not complaining––and anyway, he belongs here. His presence will bring honor to this place one day," she said almost solemnly.
Martha sensed something dramatic in Anna's voice; but she did not wish to persue such a line of inquirey; she just wanted to be lazy this morning. "I withdraw my suggestion. Don't ever leave. I would miss you terribly. Now, with your permission, may we change the subject?"
"I wouldn't mind at all. What do you have in mind?"
"The birthday party. You said you had something special. Can you give me an idea of what you meant?"
Anna pursed her lips and gave some thought to Martha's question. And after due reflection she shook her head. "No. I won't break my silence. Forgive me if I seem mysterious; but what I have to say is not only for Leonidas, but, also, for you and Mario and Big Anthony, of course; and now even the pilgrim. And I want all of you to hear what I'll have to say at the same time."
"Very well, as you wish. I look forward to hearing what your surprise is."
"I think you and the others will be well–pleased." She looked at her wristwatch. "I need to get back to the shop. I've left Frederica in charge. So, tell me: will you be in today, or do you intend to lounge abed for the rest of the day?"
"I'll be by in a while. I think I want to just sit here for a while longer and read and daydream just a little longer. Thank you for stopping by. You're such a sweet woman, Anna. Don't lose hope. Someone will come into your life when you least expect it––only don't lgive up." Anna blushed. "Thank you," so saying, she leaned over and kissed Martha on the cheek, and rising, she fluffed the pillows for her, and with a smile and a wave of her hand she left.
They had us and an unborn son. We were his fmily. We loved him, we loved him...but we never properly.... He buried his face in his hands and standing stoop–shouldered, he wept a sorrow long held in check.
Big Anthony's Eyes were glazed over with tears, for he had not been untouched by Mrio's words. The big man lput his arm on Mario's shoulder and consoled him as he could. And at that very moment Edward and Angel arrived at the