The Plumed Serpent, by D. H. Lawrence

Chapter 16

Cipriano and Kate

On Saturday afternoons the big black canoes with their large square sails came slowly approaching out of the thin haze across the lake, from the west, from Tlapaltepec, with big straw hats and with blankets and earthenware stuff, from Ixtlahuacan and Jaramay and Las Zemas with mats and timber and charcoal and oranges, from Tuliapan and Cuxcueco and San Cristobal with boatloads of dark-green, globular water-melons, and piles of red tomatoes, mangoes, vegetables, oranges: and boat-loads of bricks and tiles, burnt red, but rather friable; then more charcoal, more wood, from the stark dry mountains over the lake.

Kate nearly always went out about five o’clock, on Saturdays, to see the boats, flat-bottomed, drift up to the shallow shores, and begin to unload in the glow of the evening. It pleased her to see the men running along the planks with the dark-green melons, and piling them in a mound on the rough sand, melons dark-green like creatures with pale bellies. To see the tomatoes all poured out into a shallow place in the lake, bobbing about while the women washed them, a bobbing scarlet upon the water.

The long, heavy bricks were piled in heaps along the scrap of demolished breakwater, and little gangs of asses came trotting down the rough beach, to be laden, pressing their little feet in the gravelly sand, and flopping their ears.

The cargadores were busy at the charcoal boats, carrying out the rough sacks.

‘Do you want charcoal, Niña?’ shouted a grimy cargador, who had carried the trunks from the station on his back.

‘At how much?’

‘Twenty-five reales the two sacks.’

‘I pay twenty reales.’

‘At twenty reales then, Señorita. But you give me two reales for the transport?’

‘The owner pays the transport,’ said Kate. ‘But I will give you twenty centavos.’

Away went the man, trotting barelegged, barefoot, over the stony ground, with two large sacks of charcoal on his shoulders. The men carry huge weights, without seeming ever to think they are heavy. Almost as if they liked to feel a huge weight crushing on their iron spines, and to be able to resist it.

Baskets of spring guavas, baskets of sweet lemons called limas, basket of tiny green and yellow lemons, big as walnuts; orange-red and greenish mangoes, oranges, carrots, cactus fruits in great abundance, a few knobbly potatoes, flat, pearl-white onions, little calabazitas and speckled green calabazitas like frogs, camotes cooked and raw — she loved to watch the baskets trotting up the beach past the church.

Then, rather late as a rule, big red pots, bulging red ollas for water-jars, earthenware casseroles and earthenware jugs with cream and black scratched pattern in glaze, bowls, big flat earthenware discs for cooking tortillas — much earthenware.

On the west shore, men were running up the beach wearing twelve enormous hats at once, like a trotting pagoda. Men trotting with finely woven huaraches and rough strip sandals. And men with a few dark serapes, with gaudy rose-pink patterns, in a pile on their shoulders.

It was fascinating. But at the same time, there was a heavy, almost sullen feeling on the air. These people came to market to a sort of battle. They came, not for the joy of selling, but for the sullen contest with those who wanted what they had got. The strange, black resentment always present.

By the time the church bells clanged for sunset, the market had already begun. On all the pavements round the plaza squatted the Indians with their wares, pyramids of green watermelons, arrays of rough earthenware, hats in piles, pairs of sandals side by side, a great array of fruit, a spread of collar-studs and knick-knacks, called novedades, little trays with sweets. And people arriving all the time out of the wild country, with laden asses.

Yet never a shout, hardly a voice to be heard. None of the animation and the frank wild clamour of a Mediterranean market. Always the heavy friction of the will; always, always, grinding upon the spirit, like the grey black grind of lava-rock.

When dark fell, the vendors lighted their tin torch-lamps, and the flames wavered and streamed as the dark-faced men squatted on the ground in their white clothes and big hats, waiting to sell. They never asked you to buy. They never showed their wares. They didn’t even look at you. It was as if their static resentment and indifference would hardly let them sell at all.

Kate sometimes felt the market cheerful and easy. But more often she felt an unutterable weight slowly, invisibly sinking on her spirits. And she wanted to run. She wanted, above all, the comfort of Don Ramón and the Hymns of Quetzalcoatl. This seemed to her the only escape from a world gone ghastly.

There was talk of revolution again, so the market was uneasy and grinding the black grit into the spirit. Foreign-looking soldiers were about, with looped hats, and knives and pistols, and savage northern faces: tall, rather thin figures. They would loiter about in pairs, talking in a strange northern speech, and seeming more alien even than Kate herself.

The food-stalls were brilliantly lighted. Rows of men sat at the plank boards, drinking soup and eating hot food with their fingers. The milkman rode in on horseback, his two big cans of milk slung before him, and he made his way slowly through the people to the food-stalls. There, still sitting unmoved on horseback, he delivered bowls of milk from the can in front of him, and then, on horseback like a monument, took his supper, his bowl of soup, and his plate of tamales, or of minced, fiery meat spread on tortillas. The peons drifted slowly round. Guitars were sounding, half-secretly. A motor-car worked its way in from the city, choked with people, girls, young men, city papas, children, in a pile.

The rich press of life, above the flare of torches upon the ground! The throng of white-clad, big-hatted men circulating slowly, the women with dark rebozos slipping silently. Dark trees overhead. The doorway of the hotel bright with electricity. Girls in organdie frocks, white, cherry-red, blue, from the city. Groups of singers singing inwardly. And all the noise subdued, suppressed.

The sense of strange, heavy suppression, the dead black power of negation in the souls of the peons. It was almost pitiful to see the pretty, pretty slim girls from Guadalajara going round and round, their naked arms linked together, so light in their gauzy, scarlet, white, blue, orange dresses, looking for someone to look at them, to take note of them. And the peon men only emitting from their souls the black vapour of negation, that perhaps was hate. They seemed, the natives, to have the power of blighting the air with their black, rock-bottom resistance.

Kate almost wept over the slim, eager girls, pretty as rather papery flowers, eager for attention, but thrust away, victimized.

Suddenly there was a shot. The market-place was on its feet in a moment, scattering, pouring away into the streets and the shops. Another shot! Kate, from where she stood, saw across the rapidly-emptying plaza a man sitting back on one of the benches, firing a pistol into the air. He was a lout from the city, and he was half drunk. The people knew what it was. Yet any moment he might lower the pistol and start firing at random. Everybody hurried silently, melting away, leaving the plaza void.

Two more shots, pap-pap! still into the air. And at the same moment a little officer in uniform darted out of the dark street where the military station was, and where now the big hats were piled on the ground; he rushed straight to the drunkard, who was spreading his legs and waving the pistol: and before you could breathe, slap! and again slap! He had slapped the pistol-firer first on one side of the face, then on the other, with slaps that resounded almost like shots. And in the same breath he seized the arm that held the pistol and wrested the weapon away.

Two of the strange soldiers instantly rushed up and seized the man by the arms. The officer spoke two words, they saluted and marched off their prisoner.

Instantly the crowd was ebbing back into the plaza, unconcerned. Kate sat on a bench with her heart beating. She saw the prisoner pass under a lamp, streaks of blood on his cheek. And Juana, who had fled, now came scuttling back and took Kate’s hand, saying:

‘Look! Niña! It is the General!’

She rose startled to her feet. The officer was saluting her.

‘Don Cipriano!’ she said.

‘The same!’ he replied. ‘Did that drunken fellow frighten you?’

‘Not much! Only startled me. I didn’t FEEL any evil intention behind it.’

‘No, only drunk.’

‘But I shall go home now.’

‘Shall I walk with you?’

‘Would you care to?’

He took his place at her side, and they turned down by the church, to the lake shore. There was a moon above the mountain and the air was coming fresh, not too strong, from the west. From the Pacific. Little lights were burning ruddy by the boats at the water’s edge, some outside, and some inside, under the roof-tilt of the boat’s little inward shed. Women were preparing a mouthful of food.

‘But the night is beautiful,’ said Kate, breathing deep.

‘With the moon clipped away just a little,’ he said.

Juana was following close on her heels: and behind, two soldiers in slouched hats.

‘Do the soldiers escort you?’ she said.

‘I suppose so,’ said he.

‘But the moon,’ she said, ‘isn’t lovely and friendly as it is in England or Italy.’

‘It is the same planet,’ he replied.

‘But the moonshine in America isn’t the same. It doesn’t make one feel glad as it does in Europe. One feels it would like to hurt one.’

He was silent for some moments. Then he said:

‘Perhaps there is in you something European, which hurts our Mexican Moon.’

‘But I come in good faith.’

‘European good faith. Perhaps it is not the same as Mexican.’

Kate was silent, almost stunned.

‘Fancy your Mexican moon objecting to me!’ she laughed ironically.

‘Fancy your objecting to our Mexican moon!’ said he.

‘I wasn’t,’ said she.

They came to the corner of Kate’s road. At the corner was a group of trees, and under the trees, behind the hedge, several reed huts. Kate often laughed at the donkey looking over the dry-stone low wall, and at the black sheep with curved horns, tied to a bitten tree, and at the lad, naked but for a bit of a shirt, fleeing into the corner under the thorn screen.

Kate and Cipriano sat on the veranda of the House of the Cuentas. She offered him vermouth, but he refused.

They were still. There came the faint pip!-pip! from the little electric plant just up the road, which Jesús tended. Then a cock from beyond the bananas crowed powerfully and hoarsely.

‘But how absurd!’ said Kate. ‘Cocks don’t crow at this hour.’

‘Only in Mexico,’ laughed Cipriano.

‘Yes! Only here!’

‘He thinks your moon is the sun, no?’ he said, teasing her.

The cock crowed powerfully, again and again.

‘This is very nice, your house, your patio,’ said Cipriano.

But Kate was silent.

‘Or don’t you like it?’ he said.

‘You see,’ she answered, ‘I have nothing to DO! The servants won’t let me do anything. If I sweep my room, they stand and say Qué Niña! Qué Niña! As if I was standing on my head for their benefit. I sew, though I’ve no interest in sewing. — What is it, for a life?’

‘And you read!’ he said, glancing at the magazines and books.

‘Ah, it is all such stupid, lifeless stuff, in the books and papers,’ she said.

There was a silence. After which he said:

‘But what would you like to do? As you say, you take no interest in sewing. You know the Navajo women, when they weave a blanket, leave a little place for their soul to come out, at the end: not to weave their soul into it. — I always think England has woven her soul into her fabrics, into all the things she has made. And she never left a place for it to come out. So now all her soul is in her goods, and nowhere else.’

‘But Mexico HAS no soul,’ said Kate. ‘She’s swallowed the stone of despair, as the hymn says.’

‘Ah! You think so? I think not. The soul is also a thing you make, like a pattern in a blanket. It is very nice while all the wools are rolling their different threads and different colours, and the pattern is being made. But once it is finished — then finished it has no interest any more. Mexico hasn’t started to weave the pattern of her soul. Or she is only just starting: with Ramón. Don’t you believe in Ramón?’

Kate hesitated before she answered.

‘Ramón, yes! I do! But whether it’s any good trying here in Mexico, as he is trying — ’ she said slowly.

‘He IS in Mexico. HE tries here. Why should not you?’

‘I?’

‘Yes! You! Ramón doesn’t believe in womanless gods, he says. Why should you not be the woman in the Quetzalcoatl pantheon? If you will, the goddess!’

‘I, a goddess in the Mexican pantheon?’ cried Kate, with a burst of startled laughter.

‘Why not?’ said he.

‘But I am not Mexican,’ said she.

‘You may easily be a goddess,’ said he, ‘in the same pantheon with Don Ramón and me.’

A strange, inscrutable flame of desire seemed to be burning on Cipriano’s face, as his eyes watched her glittering. Kate could not help feeling that it was a sort of intense, blind AMBITION, of which she was partly an object: a passionate object also: which kindled the Indian to the hottest pitch of his being.

‘But I don’t feel like a goddess in a Mexican pantheon,’ she said. ‘Mexico is a bit horrible to me. Don Ramón is WONDERFUL: but I’m so afraid they will destroy him.’

‘Come, and help to prevent it.’

‘How?’

‘You marry me. You complain you have nothing to do. Then marry me. Marry me, and help Ramón and me. We need a woman, Ramón says, to be with us. And you are the woman. There is a great deal to do.’

‘But can’t I help without marrying anybody?’ said Kate.

‘How can you?’ he said simply.

And she knew it was true.

‘But you see,’ she said, ‘I have no IMPULSE to marry you, so how can I?’

‘Why?’ he said.

‘You see, Mexico is REALLY a bit horrible to me. And the black eyes of the people really make my heart contract, and my flesh shrink. There’s a bit of horror in it. And I don’t want horror in my soul.’

He was silent and unfathomable. She did not know in the least what he was thinking, only a black cloud seemed over him.

‘Why not?’ he said at last. ‘Horror is real. Why not a bit of horror, as you say, among all the rest?’

He gazed at her with complete, glittering earnestness, something heavy upon her.

‘But — ’ she stammered in amazement.

‘You feel a bit of horror for me too. — But why not? Perhaps I feel a bit of horror for you too, for your light-coloured eyes and your strong white hands. But that is good.’

Kate looked at him in amazement. And all she wanted was to flee, to flee away beyond the bounds of this gruesome continent.

‘Get used to it,’ he said. ‘Get used to it that there must be a bit of fear, and a bit of horror in your life. And marry me, and you will find many things that are not horror. The bit of horror is like the sesame seed in the nougat, it gives the sharp wild flavour. It is good to have it there.’

He sat watching her with black, glittering eyes, and talking with strange, uncanny reason. His desire seemed curiously impersonal, physical, and yet not personal at all. She felt as if, for him, she had some other name, she moved within another species. As if her name were, for example, Itzpapalotl, and she had been born in unknown places, and was a woman unknown to herself.

Yet surely, surely he was only putting his will over her?

She was breathless with amazement, because he had made her see the physical possibility of marrying him: a thing she had never even glimpsed before. But surely, surely it would not be HERSELF who could marry him. It would be some curious female within her, whom she did not know and did not own.

He was emanating a dark, exultant sort of passion.

‘I can’t believe,’ she said, ‘that I could do it.’

‘Do it,’ he said. ‘And then you will know.’

She shuddered slightly, and went indoors for a wrap. She came out again in a silk Spanish shawl, brown, but deeply embroidered in silver-coloured silk. She tangled her fingers nervously in the long brown fringe.

Really, he seemed sinister to her, almost repellent. Yet she hated to think that she merely was afraid: that she had not the courage. She sat with her head bent, the light falling on her soft hair and on the heavy, silvery-coloured embroidery of her shawl, which she wrapped round her tight, as the Indian women do their rebozos. And his black eyes watched her, and watched the rich shawl, with a peculiar intense glitter. The shawl, too, fascinated him.

‘Well!’ he said suddenly. ‘When shall it be?’

‘What?’ she said, glancing up into his black eyes with real fear.

‘The marriage.’

She looked at him, almost hypnotized with amazement that he should have gone so far. And even now, she had not the power to make him retreat.

‘I don’t know,’ she said.

‘Will you say in August? On the first of August?’

‘I won’t say any time,’ she said.

Suddenly the black gloom and anger of the Indians came over him. Then again he shook it off, with a certain callous indifference.

‘Will you come to Jamiltepec to-morrow to see Ramón?’ he asked. ‘He wants to speak with you.’

Kate also wanted to see Ramón: she always did.

‘Shall I?’ she said.

‘Yes! Come with me in the morning in the automobile. Yes?’

‘I would like to see Don Ramón again,’ she said.

‘You are not afraid of him, eh? Not the bit of horror, eh?’ he said, smiling peculiarly.

‘No. But Don Ramón isn’t really Mexican,’ she said.

‘Not really Mexican?’

‘No! — He feels European.’

‘Really! To me he is — Mexico.’

She paused and gathered herself together.

‘I will row in a boat to Jamiltepec to-morrow, or I will take Alonso’s motor-boat. I will come about ten o’clock.’

‘Very good!’ said Cipriano, rising to leave.

When he had gone, she heard the sound of the drum from the plaza. It would be another meeting of the men of Quetzalcoatl. But she had not the desire nor the courage to set out afresh that day.

Instead, she went to bed, and lay breathing the inner darkness. Through the window-cracks she saw the whiteness of the moon, and through the walls she heard the small pulse of the drum. And it all oppressed her and made her afraid. She lay forming plans to escape. She must escape. She would hurriedly pack her trunks and disappear: perhaps take the train to Manzanillo, on the coast, and thence sail up to California, to Los Angeles or to San Francisco. Suddenly escape, and flee away to a white man’s country, where she could once more breathe freely. How good it would be! — Yes, this was what she would do.

The night grew late, the drum ceased, she heard Ezequiel come home and lie down on the mattress outside her door. The only sound was the hoarse crowing of cocks in the moonlit night. And in her room, like someone striking a match, came the greenish light of a firefly, intermittent, now here, now there.

Thoroughly uneasy and cowed, she went to sleep. But then she slept deeply.

And curiously enough, she awoke in the morning with a new feeling of strength. It was six o’clock, the sun was making yellow pencils through her shutter-cracks. She threw open her window to the street, and looked through the iron grating at the little lane with deep shadow under the garden wall, and above the wall, banana leaves fraying translucent green, and shaggy mops of palm-trees perching high, towards the twin white tower-tips of the church, crowned by the Greek cross with four equal arms.

In the lane it was already motion: big cows marching slowly to the lake, under the bluish shadow of the wall, and a small calf, big-eyed and adventurous, trotting aside to gaze through her gate at the green watered grass and the flowers. The silent peon, following, lifted his two arms with a sudden swoop upwards, noiselessly, and the calf careered on. Only the sound of the feet of calves.

Then two boys vainly trying to urge a young bull-calf to the lake. It kept on jerking up its sharp rump, and giving dry little kicks, from which the boys ran away. They pushed its shoulder, and it butted them with its blunt young head. They were in the state of semi-frenzied bewilderment which the Indians fall into when they are opposed and frustrated. And they took the usual recourse of running to a little distance, picking up heavy stones, and hurling them viciously at the animal.

‘No!’ cried Kate from her window. ‘Don’t throw stones. Drive it sensibly!’

They started as if the skies had opened, dropped their stones, and crept very much diminished after the see-sawing bull-calf.

An ancient crone appeared at the window with a plate of chopped-up young cactus leaves, for three centavos. Kate didn’t like cactus vegetable, but she bought it. An old man was thrusting a young cockerel through the window-bars.

‘Go,’ said Kate, ‘into the patio.’

And she shut her window on the street, for the invasion had begun.

But it had only changed doors.

‘Niña! Niña!’ came Juana’s voice. ‘Says the old man that you buy this chicken?’

‘At how much?’ shouted Kate, slipping on a dressing gown.

‘At ten reales.’

‘Oh, no!’ said Kate, flinging open her patio doors, and appearing in her fresh wrap of pale pink cotton crepe, embroidered with heavy white flowers. ‘Not more than a peso!’

‘A peso and ten centavos!’ pleaded the old man, balancing the staring-eyed red cock between his hands. ‘He is nice and fat, Señorita. See!’

And he held out the cock for Kate to take it and balance it between her hands, to try its weight. She motioned to him to hand it to Juana. The red cock fluttered, and suddenly crowed in the transfer. Juana balanced him, and made a grimace.

‘No, only a peso!’ said Kate.

The man gave a sudden gesture of assent, received the peso, and disappeared like a shadow. Concha lurched up and took the cock, and instantly she bawled in derision:

‘Está muy flaco! He is very thin.’

‘Put him in the pen,’ said Kate. ‘We’ll let him grow.’

The patio was liquid with sunshine and shadows. Ezequiel had rolled up his mattress and gone. Great rose-coloured hibiscus dangled from the tips of their boughs, there was a faint scent from the half-wild, creamy roses. The great mango-trees were most sumptuous in the morning, like cliffs, with their hard green fruits dropping like the organs of some animal from the new bronze leaves, so curiously heavy with life.

‘Está muy flaco!’ the young Concha was bawling still in derision as she bore off the young cock to the pen under the banana-trees. ‘He’s very scraggy.’

Everybody watched intent while the red cock was put in among the few scraggy fowls. The grey cock, elder, retreated to the far end of the pen, and eyed the newcomer with an eye of thunder. The red cock, muy flaco, stood diminished in a dry corner. Then suddenly he stretched himself and crowed shrilly, his red gills lifted like an aggressive beard. And the grey cock stirred around, preparing the thunders of his vengeance. The hens took not the slightest notice.

Kate laughed, and went back to her room to dress, in the powerful newness of the morning. Outside her window the women were passing quietly, the red water-jar on one shoulder, going to the lake for water. They always put one arm over their head, and held the jar on the other shoulder. It had a contorted look, different from the proud way the women carried water in Sicily.

‘Niña! Niña!’ Juana was crying outside.

‘Wait a minute,’ said Kate.

It was another of the hymn-sheets, with a Hymn of Quetzalcoatl.

‘See, Niña, the new hymn from last evening.’

Kate took the leaflet and sat upon her bed to read it.

QUETZALCOATL LOOKS DOWN ON MEXICO

Jesus had gone far up the dark slope, when he looked back. Quetzalcoatl, my brother! he called. Send me my images, And the images of my mother, and the images of my saints. Send me them by the swift way, the way of the sparks, That I may hold them like memories in my arms when I go to sleep.

And Quetzalcoatl called back: I will do it.

Then he laughed, seeing the sun dart fiercely at him. He put up his hand, and held back the sun with his shadow. So he passed the yellow one, who lashed like a dragon in vain. And having passed the yellow one, he saw the earth beneath. And he saw Mexico lying like a dark woman with white breast-tips.

Wondering he stepped nearer, and looked at her, At her trains, at her railways and her automobiles, At her cities of stone and her huts of straw, And he said: Surely this looks very curious!

He sat within the hollow of a cloud, and saw the men that worked in

the fields, with foreign overseers.
He saw the men that were blind, reeling with aguardiente.
He saw the women that were not clean.
He saw the hearts of them all, that were black, and heavy, with a
stone of anger at the bottom.

Surely, he said, this is a curious people I have found!

So leaning forward on his cloud, he said to himself: I will call to them. Hold! Hold! Mexicanos! Glance away a moment towards me. Just turn your eyes this way, Mexicanos!

They turned not at all, they glanced not one his way.

Holalá! Mexicanos! Holalá!

They have gone stone deaf! he said.

So he blew down on them, to blow his breath in their faces. But in the weight of their stupefaction, none of them knew.

Holalá! What a pretty people! All gone stupefied!

A falling star was running like a white dog over a plain. He whistled to it loudly, twice, till it fell to his hand. In his hand it lay and went dark. It was the Stone of Change.

This is the stone of change! he said.

So he tossed it awhile in his hand, and played with it. Then suddenly he spied the old lake, and he threw it in. It fell in. And two men looked up.

Holalá! he said. Mexicanos! Are there two of you awake? So he laughed, and one heard him laughing.

Why are you laughing? asked the first man of Quetzalcoatl.

I hear the voice of my First Man ask me why I am laughing? Holalá,

Mexicanos! It is funny!
To see them so glum and so lumpish!

Hey! First Man of my name! Hark here! Here is my sign. Get a place ready for me.

Send Jesus his images back, Mary and the saints and all. Wash yourself, and rub oil in your skin. On the seventh day, let every man wash himself, and put oil on his

skin; let every woman.
Let him have no animal walk on his body, nor through the shadow of
his hair. Say the same to the women.
Tell them they all are fools, that I’m laughing at them.
The first thing I did when I saw them, was to laugh at the sight of
such fools.
Such lumps, such frogs with stones in their bellies.
Tell them they are like frogs with stones in their bellies, can’t
hop!
Tell them they must get the stones out of their bellies,
Get rid of their heaviness,
Their lumpishness,
Or I’ll smother them all.

I’ll shake the earth, and swallow them up, with their cities. I’ll send fire and ashes upon them, and smother them all. I’ll turn their blood like sour milk rotten with thunder, They will bleed rotten blood, in pestilence. Even their bones shall crumble.

Tell them so, First Man of my Name.

For the sun and the moon are alive, and watching with gleaming

eyes.
And the earth is alive, and ready to shake off his fleas.
And the stars are ready with stones to throw in the faces of men.
And the air that blows good breath in the nostrils of people and
beasts
Is ready to blow bad breath upon them, to perish them all.

The stars and the earth and the sun and the moon and the winds Are about to dance the war dance round you, men! When I say the word, they will start. For sun and stars and earth and the very rains are weary Of tossing and rolling the substance of life to your lips. They are saying to one another: Let us make an end Of those ill-smelling tribes of men, these frogs that can’t jump, These cocks that can’t crow These pigs that can’t grunt This flesh that smells These words that are all flat These money vermin. These white men, and red men, and yellow men, and brown men, and

black men
That are neither white, nor red, nor yellow, nor brown, nor black
But everyone of them dirtyish.
Let us have a spring cleaning in the world.
For men upon the body of the earth are like lice,
Devouring the earth into sores.
This is what stars and sun and earth and moon and winds and rain
Are discussing with one another; they are making ready to start.
So tell the men I am coming to,
To make themselves clean, inside and out.
To roll the grave-stone off their souls, from the cave of their
bellies,
To prepare to be men.

Or else prepare for the other things.

Kate read this long leaflet again and again, and a swift darkness like a whirlwind seemed to envelop the morning. She drank her coffee on the veranda, and the heavy papayas in their grouping seemed to be oozing like great drops from the invisible spouting of the fountain of non-human life. She seemed to see the great sprouting and urging of the cosmos, moving into weird life. And men only like green-fly clustering on the tender tips, an aberration there. So monstrous the rolling and unfolding of the life of the cosmos, as if even iron could grow like lichen deep in the earth, and cease growing, and prepare to perish. Iron and stone render up their life, when the hour comes. And men are less than the green-fly sucking the stems of the bush, so long as they live by business and bread alone. Parasites on the face of the earth.

She strayed to the shore. The lake was blue in the morning light, the opposite mountains pale and dry and ribbed like mountains in the desert. Only at their feet, next the lake, the dark strip of trees and white specks of villages.

Near her against the light five cows stood with their noses to the water, drinking. Women were kneeling on the stones, filling red jars. On forked sticks stuck up on the foreshore, frail fishing-nets were hung out, drying, and on the nets a small bird sat facing the sun; he was red as a drop of new blood, from the arteries of the air.

From the straw huts under the trees, her urchin of the mud-chick was scuttling towards her, clutching something in his fist. He opened his hand to her, and on the palm lay three of the tiny cooking-pots, the ollitas which the natives had thrown into the water long ago, to the gods.

‘Muy chiquitas!’ he said, in his brisk way, a little, fighting tradesman; ‘do you buy them?’

‘I have no money. To-morrow!’ said Kate.

‘To-morrow!’ he said, like a pistol shot.

‘To-morrow.’

He had forgiven her, but she had not forgiven him.

Somebody in the fresh Sunday morning was singing rather beautifully, letting the sound, as it were, produce itself.

A boy was prowling with a sling, prowling like a cat, to get the little birds. The red bird like a drop of new blood twittered upon the almost invisible fish-nets, then in a flash was gone. The boy prowled under the delicate green of the willow-trees, stumbling over the great roots in the sand.

Along the edge of the water flew four dark birds, their necks pushed out, skimming silent near the silent surface of the lake, in a jagged level rush.

Kate knew these mornings by the lake. They hypnotized her almost like death. Scarlet birds like drops of blood, in very green willow-trees. The aguador trotting to her house with a pole over his shoulder, and two heavy square gasoline cans, one at each end of the pole, filled with hot water. He had been to the hot spring for her daily supply. Now barefoot, with one bare leg, the young man trotted softly beneath the load, his dark, handsome face sunk beneath the shadows of the big hat, as he trotted in a silence, mindlessness that was like death.

Dark heads out on the water in little groups, like black water-fowl bobbing. Were they birds? Were they heads? Was this human life, or something intermediate, that lifted its orange, wet, glistening shoulders a little out of the lake, beneath the dark head?

She knew so well what the day would be. Slowly the sun thickening and intensifying in the air overhead. And slowly the electricity clotting invisibly as afternoon approached. The beach in the blind heat, strewn with refuse, smelling of refuse and the urine of creatures.

Everything going vague in the immense sunshine, as the air invisibly thickened, and Kate could feel the electricity pressing like hot iron on the back of her head. It stupefied her like morphine. Meanwhile the clouds rose like white trees from behind the mountains, as the afternoon swooned in silence, rose and spread black branches, quickly, in the sky, from which the lightning stabbed like birds.

And in the midst of the siesta stupor, the sudden round bolts of thunder, and the crash and the chill of rain.

Tea-time, and evening coming. The last sailing-boats making to depart, waiting for the wind. The wind was from the west, the boats going east and south had gone, their sails were lapsing far away on the lake. But the boats towards the west were waiting, waiting, while the water rattled under their black flat keels.

The big boat from Tlapaltepec, bringing many people from the west, waited on into the night. She was anchored a few yards out, and in the early night her passengers came down the dark beach, weary of the day, to go on board. They clustered in a group at the edge of the flapping water.

The big, wide, flat-bottomed canoe, with her wooden awning and her one straight mast, lay black, a few yards out, in the dark night. A lamp was burning under the wooden roof; one looked in, from the shore. And this was home for the passengers.

A short man with trousers rolled up came to carry the people on board. The men stood with their backs to him, legs apart. He suddenly dived at them, ducked his head between the fork of their legs and rose, with a man on his shoulders. So he waded out through the water to the black boat, and heaved his living load on board.

For a woman, he crouched down before her, and she sat on one of his shoulders. He clasped her legs with his right arm, she clasped his dark head. So he carried her to the ship, as if she were nothing.

Soon the boat was full of people. They sat on the mats on the floor, with their backs to the sides of the vessel, baskets hanging from the pent roof, swaying as the vessel swayed. Men spread their serapes and curled up to sleep. The light of the lantern lit them up, as they sat and lay and slept, or talked in murmurs.

A little woman came up out of the darkness; then suddenly ran back again. She had forgotten something. But the vessel would not sail without her, for the wind would not change yet.

The tall mast stood high, the great sail lay in folds along the roof, ready. Under the roof, the lantern swayed, the people slept and stretched. Probably they would not sail till midnight. Then down the lake to Tlapaltepec, with its reeds at the end of the lake, and its dead, dead plaza, its dead dry houses of black adobe, its ruined streets, its strange, buried silence, like Pompeii.

Kate knew it. So strange and deathlike, it frightened her, and mystified her.

But to-day! To-day she would not loiter by the shore all morning. She must go to Jamiltepec in a motor-boat, to see Ramón. To talk to him even about marrying Cipriano.

Ah, how could she marry Cipriano, and give her body to this death? Take the weight of this darkness on her breast, the heaviness of this strange gloom? Die before dying, and pass away whilst still beneath the sun?

Ah no! Better to escape to the white men’s lands.

But she went to arrange with Alonso for the motor-boat.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:49