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viernes, 7 de febrero de 2020

Difunta Correa

                                                                                                Alberto Julián Pérez ©

            Deolinda Correa [1] was born on the 6th of January of 1819 in the town of La Majadita, close to Valle Fértil, in the province of San Juan.  She had two brothers and three sisters. Deolinda was known for her beauty. Her eyes were blue as the sky, and her hair charcoal black. Her parents guarded her with care. It was not an easy thing to protect a young desirable woman in those violent times.        
            When she reached adolescence, many young men approached the adobe house with any pretext. One day come an older man, captivated by her charms. He introduced himself to her parents. His name was Rudecindo Alvarado. He told them he owned lands in the Province, had friends in the government, and that soon he would be chief of police of the city of Caucete. Her parents let him know they were appreciative of his visit. The daughters served him mate[2] and invited him to partake of fried tortas. He could not take his eyes away from Deolinda, whom he called “Señorita Linda”. Her beauty had enchanted him. The young lady breathed tenderness.
After a while, Don Rudecindo again spoke with her parents. He told them he was thinking of getting married soon and was considering one of their daughters. They thought that he was too mature for Deolinda, and told him that their daughter was too young to get married. Her help was needed around the house and she would stay there until she was older. Don Rudecindo considered himself a good-looking man, and he insisted. He told them he was related to the Albarracín family and would one day be in charge in that region. The parents, rather intimidated, replied that their house was a humble one, and that he was welcome to visit whenever he wished. The man, however, was not the type who liked to beg. He was offended and did not return to their farm.
Deolinda was a docile young lady, but with a firm character. She was happy and a good companion to her sisters. She kept her suitors at a distance and never let herself be tempted. She waited for the man who one day would make her happy. She asked herself what kind of man he would be. Surely she would know him the instant she saw him. And that is how it happened. The day came that she met the man who would be her husband, Clemente Bustos. It was mutual love, the coming together of two souls.

Who was Clemente Bustos?

Clemente Bustos was a proud and courageous gaucho[3]. He had been born with the country, in 1810, in Portezuelo, La Rioja, where he was raised[4]. When he met Deolinda, in the spring of 1835, he was twenty-five years old. Deolinda was sixteen, and her body was in bloom. She had never, until that moment, accepted a suitor, and her mother worried about her future. When she saw Clemente, she became filled with sweet emotion. He was tall, strong, and truly a Federal gaucho.[5] Since adolescence, he had worked as an arriero[6], leading mule trains, along with his father and his brothers. He had been a soldier of General Facundo Quiroga and had fought with him against the Unitarians.
            Clemente was, like all gauchos, a great horseman. An excellent animal tamer who broke horses with devotion. He had followed Facundo’s troops when he was seventeen. He was young, hardened by battle, and looked older. He had fought with Quiroga at Rincón. Before the battle, Facundo crossed lances with him to encourage the troops. The two launched their mounts against each other, hold the reins before contact, and buried their spurs until the horses rose on their hind legs while they clashed with their lances. The soldiers howled and yelled, and it was like the start of a fiesta. Quiroga, the Tiger, lead the charge against the army of General La Madrid. The Unitarians, though twice their number, were able to do very little. Facundo gained control of the battlefield and defeated La Madrid.
After Rincón, Quiroga sent a detachment, under the leadership of Chacho Peñaloza, to the plains of La Rioja, to protect the rearguard. Clemente went with the group. Peñaloza left them at a camp near the capital and returned to join Quiroga’s troops, who were getting ready to attack the Unitarians in Cordoba. There, “Manco” Paz defeated Facundo at La Tablada. [7] The Tiger returned to La Rioja and formed another army. Clemente marched with him to the fight against the troops led by General Paz. The clash took place in Oncativo. Facundo could not beat Paz, who once again defeated him. The army disbanded and began its withdrawal. Clemente returned to La Rioja and did not see Quiroga until the next year.
Quiroga, tireless, reestablished his authority. After a short while, he received the news that Lopez at Santa Fe had taken prisoner Paz. La Madrid remained commander of the Unitarian troops and Facundo prepared to attack him. Clemente went with Facundo. He rode with the vanguard to Tucumán where they confronted La Madrid at La Ciudadela. The battle was difficult, and after two hours it seemed to be turning in favor of the Unitarians. Quiroga led the charge of the cavalry at the front of his men and personally brought them back together after every charge to once again lead an attack. Clemente was always at his side. His lance caused great damage among the Unitarians. Finally, La Madrid’s troops ceded and began to disband. Quiroga and his gauchos triumphed. It was the third time that the Tiger of the Plains had defeated General La Madrid. Quiroga returned with his army to La Rioja and soon after, the civil war reached its end.
The Federals were in charge of politics. Facundo discharged his troops, and everything returned to normal on the plains. Clemente decided it was time to fulfill his dream. He formed a small transport company of mule trains with some friends from town. They divided among themselves the responsibilities of the business. Tomás Rivero and Rosauro Ávila tamed and trained the mules. Jesús Orihuela prepared a troop of horses. Clemente took charge of security. He was the one with the most military experience, and the roads at that time were lonely and dangerous. Jesús Orihuela was the only one among them who knew how to read.
Customers soon appeared. The small transport company started out well. Their shipments included woven cloth, textiles, tools, minerals, salt, seeds, and, at times, documents from the Government. Facundo, who had great confidence in his lancer, intervened, guaranteeing their honesty. The province was a tightly woven tissue of families who knew each other for many years. Clemente craved progress, and his business was promising. The transport of goods was indispensable for the region.
In 1835 they received terrible news: Facundo had been assassinated. The dead of General Quiroga affected Clemente very much. He admired Facundo, and considered himself his soldier. He could tell that bad times were coming. The countrymen hoped that Brigadier López and General Rosas would keep things under control. They all talked about politics, as most Argentineans do, and they asked themselves what would happen in the near future. The Confederation had many enemies, both within and without the country.

Falling in love

            The economic situation in La Rioja remained relatively stable. Clemente´s transport company continued to progress. It was during that time, in 1835, that he saw Deolinda for the very first time. He and Jesús were going by Valle Fértil with their mules on their way to the capital, San Juan. Their shipment included tools and seeds for the farmers of the region. They stopped in San Agustín to let the animals rest. That day Deolinda and her sister, Josefina, had gone into town to deliver jars of marmalade and a poncho woven by their mother to a local family. Deolinda’s mother was an excellent weaver. Deolinda was a good baker and had her own marmalade recipe. Clemente and Jesús took their animals to the town corral and lowered their cargo. They went to the pulpería[8] to have a glass of caña[9] and eat empanadas.[10] They saw the young women walking down the street. Clemente could not contain himself and went out to speak to them. Jesús, who was married, stayed in the store. Deolinda’s blue eyes fixed on Clemente, and he felt what a man feels when an irremediable passion takes him on. Anxiety, fear, desire.
            Clemente begged the young women to let him accompany them. They finally agreed. They arrived at the place to which they were headed to deliver the jars of marmalade and the woven poncho. The woman of the house let them in and spread out the beautiful red poncho, with its black ribbons, over a table. Clemente was able to admire the artwork of the lady who would become her mother-in-law. Soon they left and he invited the young women to go to the chapel. He was a believer. They accepted. The chapel did not have a priest, but a beatified woman opened its doors every afternoon so that people could go and pray. Every now and them, a priest from a neighboring town would come to celebrate mass. They got on their knees before the altar. Deolinda was surprised to see that he was so religious. Clemente told her that all of the people from La Rioja had a lot of faith. He prayed loud and pleaded for the soul of Quiroga. The young women did not know he had been assassinated. They asked him what was going to happen now. He told them that those responsible had been found and were being tried. It had been a conspiracy from the government of the province of Córdoba.
            When they returned from San Juan, Clemente and Jesús stopped again. This time they went directly to La Majadita and Clemente inquired about Deolinda’s family. They were taking bales of wool from San Juan to La Rioja. The mules were very weighted down. Deolinda was happy to see him.  Following the customs of hospitality of the zone, she asked them to come in to their home. Her father had just returned from the countryside, and her mother was at her loom weaving. They were soon going to eat. All of her brothers and sisters were sitting at the table talking. It was the time for prayer. They invited them to dine with the family.
That day the daughters had done all of the cooking. Deolinda prepared locro[11], and her sister, Josefina, made the dessert. The father served homemade wine. Everyone quickly got along. After the meal, Clemente asked for a guitar. The mother brought him an old vihuela[12] that had once belonged to her grandfather. Clemente began to sing. He had an agreeable voice, though not always perfectly in tune. He was a good-looking young man who behaved gallantly. He sang cuecas and zambas[13]. These songs came and went in the region of Cuyo along the road of the muleteers.[14] A few weeks later, they went by again. This time, Deolinda was waiting for him. Clemente brought gifts for the family: he gave Deolinda a necklace of mother-of-pearl shell he had bought in La Rioja, he presented to her mother a tablecloth of embroidered cotton and to her father a bottle of cognac. Before continuing on his trip with his cargo to San Juan, Clemente told her he wanted to be her boyfriend.
            This formal and respectful courtship was not that uncommon in the area. Cuyo was a land of farmers. The Correas were very religious. The father would read the Bible to his family every day. He told Clemente that he had been a seminarian in his youth and had left the Dominican Seminary to join the Army of the Andes. He fought under General San Martín´s orders. In the Seminary he had met Friar Aldao, and they become friends. Often he stopped at their house when he was on his way to La Rioja. They were Federals and he lamented that Facundo had been assassinated.
            Clemente was unable to read or write. Jesus, in contrast, was literate, and it was he who took charge of their business accounts. Deolinda had not learnt to read or write either. Her mother did not want to. The father had taught the oldest son how to write. The mother maintained that for a woman to care for her family and to honor God it was not necessary to have these skills.
            In 1837 they got married in the chapel of San Agustín. They had their wedding in La Majadita. The relatives and friends of Clemente attended the ceremony. Deolinda’s father blessed them and gave the prayers before the dinner. They ate roasted goat and drank local wine. Her mother served deserts and the wedding cake she herself had prepared. Deolinda announced that she would continue to go by the Correa last name, even though she was married, in honor of her family. At that time, it was socially acceptable for a woman to retain her paternal surname, if she wished to do so. Clemente was in agreement. What was important for him was love.

Newly weds

            The newlyweds went to live in Tama, close to Malanzán, in La Rioja. Clemente conducted his business from there. He promised that he would take Deolinda to visit her family often. Her parents could come to Tama to visit her whenever they wished. Clemente enlarged the house he had. He hired a few bricklayers and added two more rooms.
            The years went by quickly. General Brizuela, a Federal, governed in La Rioja, and Nazario Benavidez, also a Federal, in San Juan. The economic situation was good. Cuyo was a prosperous region. The mule train transportation company, owned by Clemente and his friends, progressed rapidly. His mules and horses came and went along the roads of La Rioja and San Juan.
            Clemente and Deolinda were happy. She wanted to have many children, and told Clemente that a woman felt empty without them. That first year, God did not bless them. Deolinda prayed very much for the miracle to take place soon.
When Clemente and his associates went on their trips with their mules loaded down, Clemente would leave Deolinda in Malanzán, with the families of Tomás and Jesús, who lived there. One day Deolinda told Clemente that she wanted to accompany him on the next trip. Clemente happily accepted. He did not like to leave her alone. It would be different when they had children. He prepared a tame horse for her. They set out for San Juan with a mule train of twenty mules. His associates did not come. In their place, two peons went with them. The crossing was slow. The weather was dried. At that time of the year it was hot during the day and the temperature went down at night.
They stopped at La Majadita to visit her parents and siblings. The next day they continued on their trip. They were carrying a shipment for the provincial government. Upon arrival at Caucete, before entering the city of San Juan, they stopped to let the mules rest. Clemente took Deolinda to the market. Then they went to the pulpería[15]. They always had current news. Clemente ordered a rum and Deolinda an horchata[16]. Four police suddenly arrived. The Chief looked at the travelers and greeted them. He looked insistently at Deolinda. His face seemed familiar to her. She soon realized who was it. He was the older man who had been obsessed with her, and had tried to court her when she was very young. They continued on their trip. They soon saw the dust of two horses approaching them at a gallop. It was the Chief of Police and a Corporal. They greeted the couple and told them they were on their way to San Juan. If it were all right with them, they would accompany the group and protect them. Clemente thanked the Chief of Police, and told him it was not necessary. The two said their farewells and trotted away. Deolinda felt very uncomfortable. Even though she was a married woman and Clemente was a strong and courageous man, stares would always follow her. Her blue eyes had become more captivating with the passing of the years. She was not sure if she wanted to tell her husband what had happened with that man so many years before. She preferred to keep it to herself for the moment. Clemente was the jealous type. And Don Rudecindo (she finally remembered his name) could be a danger to them. Luckily, the province was at peace, and they were good Federals.
In San Juan, everything transpired normally. They spent the night at an inn. The next day Clemente and Deolinda went to take a stroll downtown, ate at the market, and got ready for the trip back.  They had to take a shipment to La Rioja. It included various types of merchandise and two large chests with government documents. It was a delivery from Governor Benavidez to Governor Brizuela. The government offered them an armed escort. Clemente explained that he had been a Facundo´s soldier and they were capable of defending themselves. His two peons agreed. They were always armed on their trip, in case of an unforeseen eventuality.
Soon after they passed through Caucete, the Chief of Police caught up with them. He told them that they were acting reckless and were in need of his protection. He was going to accompany them. Clemente protested, but the other insisted. He joined the mule train, along with a Corporal. Don Rudecindo asked Clemente a series of indiscreet questions. He wanted to know if he was the owner of the mules, if the woman was his wife, and where they lived. Every so often he would turn his gaze toward Deolinda and stared longingly at her. Deolinda would lower her eyes, feeling that he was disrobing her in his mind.
The trip was long and tedious. Upon arrival at Valle Fértil they greeted the family and continued in their march. They could not stay longer. They passed through Malanzán and arrived at Tama. They spent the night at their house before continuing on to the city of La Rioja. Don Rudecindo asked if he could spend the night in their home. Deolinda said no. The two policemen found a place under a quincho[17]. Deolinda then told Clemente what had happened. Her husband was furious at the audacity of the man. He understood that this was a very dangerous situation for them. He asked her not to stay in the house alone, and that they continue together on the trip to the capital. The next day they all started toward La Rioja. One of the peons went on ahead on horseback to announce their arrival to the government officials. Don Rudecindo continued in his small talk with Clemente, feigning friendship. Clemente acted carefully. He was astute. The policeman was up to something. They arrived at La Rioja. Don Rudecindo bid them farewell and returned to Caucete. They were sure they would see him again. Clemente told his wife that the next time they found him he would confront the man and ask what sort of problem he had with him. Deolinda begged her husband not to do so, since he might put them in conflict with the government. Clemente assured her that he would find someone to protect them. Happily her worries never materialized. Don Rudecindo never returned to Tama and Clemente did not see him on his trips to San Juan.

Mother at last

            By the end of 1838, Deolinda was pregnant. They were very happy. Deolinda promised to build an altar in Tama to the Virgen de los Desamparados[18]. Her father has put her under the virgin’s protection.
            Her son was born on the 15th of August of 1839, the day of the Assumption of Mary, in La Majadita. Her mother and some of the women neighbors helped in the birth of the child. The infant looked like his father and had the blue eyes of the mother. Clemente decided to name him Facundo, like his hero. Facundo Bustos was baptized on the first of September in San Agustín, Valle Fértil. The couple felt grateful. Their first child had been born. They hoped there would be many more. Facundo was a precious child. His mother sensed her boy looked at her through her own eyes. Clemente believed he had inherited his blood and his strength. It was an almost perfect union. They were three, and yet they were one. They knew they were fortunate. They prayed daily, and Deolinda felt her faith had grown. God had given her what she had so much wanted: a son.
            She committed herself to the sweet labor of motherhood. Her body and her blood were now part of a transcendent reality. The roads of the world converged toward the secret of her maternity. Every day she spoke to the Virgin. She felt that she heard and understood her. Deolinda wanted to be her friend. Mothers are always willing to give everything for their children. Every time Facundo took to her breast, she was seized with an unmistakable emotion. The child looked at her with his enormous, amazing eyes. They were the color of the sky over San Juan. Pure, clean, of a velvety light blue.
            Clemente stayed in La Majadita to accompany his wife. His associates took care of business in La Rioja. December arrived, and happiness seemed to have no limits for the family. Their economic situation was constantly improving. The company was well known and respected in the two provinces where it operated, San Juan and La Rioja. They planned to expand, to hire more employees, mule train drivers who would take the loaded animals down the roads and increase their profits.
            At the end of the year, an unexpected entourage arrived at La Majadita. Friar and General Aldao was passing through the area and stopped to visit Deolinda’s father. He was accompanied by an escort of ten soldiers, who took a position under a tree, close to the house. The Friar hugged Deolinda, congratulated her on her son, Facundito, and greeted her husband. Clemente told the General he had been a soldier under Quiroga and had fought at his side in La Cuidadela. Upon hearing him speak of The Tiger, Aldao expressed a profound sadness. He complained of the horrible crime and of the cruelty of the Unitarians, who would not let the civil wars end. In Mendoza things were all right, but the Unitarians were threatening to attack Buenos Aires. The English and the French were looking for ways to enter their territory and take over the country. They had convinced the Unitarian General Lavalle, who was in Uruguay, that the moment was right to invade the Confederation. They were giving him arms and supplies to form an Army, and had even offered to transport his men in their ships. Lavalle had sold out to Imperialism. He was not satisfied at having started the war in ’28, after having cowardly assassinated Dorrego. He still felt he had the authority to invade. It could be that they would succeed in decisively defeating Rosas one day, and that the country would be at the mercy of the Emperor of Brazil and the French. That would be the day the Unitarians would be satisfied. But before that, they would have to step over his dead body.
            Deolinda’s father asked Frair Aldao to give the prayer before lunch. José Félix, as he asked to be addressed (he told them that he was not their General but a friend), read a section of the Gospel of Saint Matthew, and then they ate in peace. They reminisced about the times they had shared at the seminary. Aldao noted how much things had changed. The revolution had dragged all of them along. They had to sacrifice themselves for the country. After lunch, the Friar blessed Facundo and praised his mother. He said that Argentinean women were selfless and courageous. Then, in a private conversation with his friend Correa and with Clemente, he warned them of difficult times to come. The imminent invasion of Lavalle´s forces might reach Cuyo. They had to be prepared. Fortunately, the governors of San Juan and La Rioja were good Federals. Clemente noted that one should be wary of how gold tends to corrupt men.
            “If the French are behind the invasion, it is dangerous, because they know how to seduce the ambitious and will pay their price,” said Don Correa.
            “That is the way it is, my friend,” responded Aldao. “The foreigners have already bought Rivadavia, and it is his fault we lost the Oriental Band. There they inserted a wedge from where they can plot and threaten us. Thank God we have Rosas. His cunning was always better than the hypocrisy of the gachupines[19]. Without him, today we would be a French or English colony, as my General San Martín very well understood. May God grant health to our blond gaucho and may he live many years. The imperialists are lying in wait.
            They drank their last cup and said their farewells.

The war once more

            Months went by, and the predictions of Friar Aldao came true. In the fall of ’40, they received the news that the Unitarians had begun their invasion. Lavalle convinced some of the provinces of the interior of the country to support him. They united in a Northern Coalition. Brizuela, the Governor of La Rioja, abandoned the Federal camp. He went over to the Unitarian side and was now a part of the Northern Coalition. They could attack San Juan at any moment. Soon after, Clemente’s associates, Tomás, Rosauro, and Jesús, arrived from Tama with a mule train loaded with merchandise bound for Caucete in San Juan. They told Clemente not to go to La Rioja while the situation did not improve. They asked him to protect his family and stay in La Majadita. The province of La Rioja was no longer a safe place for him. They would take care of the company there.
            Clemente thanked them and they all set out with the loaded mule train bound for Caucete. There, the unexpected happened. Bad things never come alone. After turning in their shipment, they went to eat something at the canteen of the general store. They sat at a table, were served, and began a conversation when Police Commissioner Alvarado came in. He immediately saw the group and approached them. He called Clemente by his name. He greeted him and asked about his family. He invited them to toast and had a shot of rum to his health, but they did not accept. They told him they had to leave quickly with a new load for La Rioja. Drinking made the heat unbearable.
            The Commissioner advised them to take care of themselves, since difficult times were coming, and that people were changing sides.
            “Are you a Unitarian or a Federal?” he asked Clemente sarcastically.
            “Federal, of course. I have been and will continue to be a soldier of Facundo Quiroga,” he responded.
            “What a pity!” he said mockingly, “Facundo is dead.”
He saluted them all and left. Alarmed, his friends asked him what had happened with that man. Clemente explained the situation. Jesús told him he should be very careful, and that if something were to happen, they would be there to help him.
His friends went back with the mule train for La Rioja, and he, preoccupied, returned directly to La Majadita and told Deolinda of the encounter. She confessed that she was afraid of the Commissioner. He was still resentful that she had rejected him.
“If they take you away to fight in the war, who will take care of me?” she asked.
“If that happens, don’t let him come near you. Hide until I return,” he told her.
“I would rather be dead than with that man,” Deolinda responded. “I am yours and no one else’s.” They kissed tenderly. Afterward, she fed the baby. Her breasts were filled with milk.
At the end of October, a squad from the army arrived at San Agustín of Valle Fértil. Clemente was in town. He was at the general store when the soldiers came in. They said they were recruiting people for the war. Clemente quickly found out they were Unitarians. The commander was dressed in blue and he look like somebody from the city. His beard was in the shape of a U. The Unitarians were unmistakable. There were three other gauchos in the store in addition to Clemente. One was an old man, and they let him leave. Another said he could not join them because his wife was expecting. A corporal whipped him across his face, and they took the man away in shackles. The third one agreed to go. Clemente did not resist either. He told the commander he would go, but that he had to say good-bye to his wife. He asked him where his house was. Clemente answered that it was in La Majadita. He took out a sheet of paper and unfolded it.
“What is your name?” he asked.
“Clemente Bustos,” he said.
The official perused the sheet of paper slowly, carefully.
“Aha,” he said. “Your name is right here. It says that we should be careful with you. We are to guard you well. You will not go to your ranch. Desertion is punishable by death. We are in times of war. You are now part of the Army of General Brizuela. Prepare to fight against the tyranny of the Federals.
“Until recently, Brizuela was a Federal,” Clemente responded. “And a supporter of General Rosas.”
“Times change,” said the official. “Nobody wants Rosas anymore. Not the French. Not the English. Nobody. He will not last another year in power. In 1841 Argentina will be free.”
The squad of soldiers left in the direction of Caucete. The Unitarians looked to control the province of San Juan. Deolinda, upon learning of what had happened, went to speak to her father. Don Correa tried to calm her down. He asked her to be patient. He was very concerned about what had taken place. Clemente was very well established in his mule train business. Everyone knew him. They respected him. He could be more useful to them as a mule train driver and as a transporter than as a soldier. Deolinda told him that the Unitarian official had a list of names. Someone was looking to harm him. Deolinda was afraid. Her husband was a Federal and she was convinced he would not fight against his own side.

The escape and the sacrifice

            Two days later, they learned that the Commissioner of Caucete was in San Agustín del Valle Fértil. Deolinda knew that he was coming to look for her. He was capable of anything. She built up her courage and decided to escape. She took her son and wrapped him up well. In her bag she put a loaf of bread and various slices of beef jerky. Across her shoulders, she hung three small goatskin water canteens. She told her father that she would follow in her husband’s footsteps before it was too late. Her father asked her to take his horse. She told him it would be difficult to ride with a baby, and that she didn’t want to leave him behind. It would be very easy for someone to follow the horse’s tracks and catch up to her. She had to go on foot. If she noticed that someone was coming close or if someone was following her, she would hide. She would be brave. She was very familiar with the road and with the countryside. Clemente’s associates, Jesús, Rosauro, and Tomás, would soon go by with a mule train. She asked her father to tell them that the Unitarians had taken Clemente and that she had gone after him. Her enemy, the Commissioner of Police, was looking for her. She begged them to come to her rescue. The father and daughter embraced. Crying, she said her farewells to her mother and her siblings. They kissed Facundito and hugged him. This was the end of the month of October.
            Deolinda left with her son. She walked for an entire day and an entire night. Every so often, she would stop to breastfeed the baby. She constantly watched the road. She made sure no one followed her. In the morning she left the road and lay down with Facundito beneath an algarrobo tree, on the hillside. She hid as best she could. She didn’t want to be seen. She had already emptied one of the containers of water. She had two more.
            She told herself that she had done the right thing in fleeing from La Majadita. She would rather die than end up in the arms of the Commissioner. She asked God to protect her son. “God,” she prayed, “my own life is not important to me, I am in your hands, but please do not take my son.” She lay her son’s head over her breasts and fell asleep.
            She waked up at midday and continued on her journey. She walked at a good pace. She wanted to see her husband. She thought that the column from the army had already reached Caucete. Perhaps they would be quartered there. Jesús and the mule train would soon pass by and rescue her. With them, she and her son would be safe.
            Her son did not seem to suffer the effects of the trip. He slept peacefully. When he got hungry and cried, Deolinda would stop to breastfeed him. By the end of the day, she had already finished the water in the second container. She ate the rest of the beef jerky. Her legs were strong and were holding up well. That night she prayed again. She asked God to protect them. She pleaded for her son. Facundo was an innocent soul.
            The following morning she continued in her march. It was very hot. She wondered what day it was. The Day of the Saints was approaching. That afternoon she stopped and slept a while. She walked at night. She was running out of water. It was three days since she had left her home. She couldn’t be too far from the closest town, she thought. She could load up on water and ask for food there. When the moon was at its height, she lain down by the side of the road and felt asleep.
She awoke at dawn. She felt strange. Her son still slept.  The surrounding countryside had changed. It seemed different from the day before. It was drier, more arid. The water had run out.  At times she was dizzy and felt faint. It was very hot. She saw a carob tree nearby and sat down under its branches. She wanted to rest and feed Facundo. Perhaps Jesús and his associates would soon pass by with the mule train. God had to help her. Her mouth was dry. At nightfall she fell asleep.
The following day she woke up without any strength. She made sure her son was all right. He kept feeding at her breasts. She told herself that she did not regret having set out from her home on foot. She preferred to die with the name of Clemente on her lips than to fall into the arms of another man. She climbed a few meters of the slope of the hill to see if she could spot a country house nearby. She noticed the barren and lifeless countryside, and it reminded her of the Vallecito region, close to Caucete. But Caucete was far from La Majadita. She could not have travelled such a distance on foot. Perhaps as she slept, God had granted a miracle and had taken mother and child far away from where they were to protect them. Be it as it may, she prayed that His will be done. She and her son were in his hands.
Perhaps this was the Day of the Saints. No one came along the path. She descended the hillside and sat by the road. She covered her baby’s head and lain him over her breasts. Her eyes began to close and soon she lost consciousness. Her son began to move restlessly. He was hungry. He put his lips up to his mother’s nipple. He began to stretch and suck. When he was full, he fell asleep.
Deolinda died that night. She delivered her soul unto God during the night of the Day of the Dead. At dawn, Facundo again looked for the milk in the breasts of his dead mother. He suckled until the milk started to flow. Under the uncertain light of the early morning an angel descended from heaven. He had smooth skin and a feminine form. He sat next to Deolinda’s body. Facundo looked at him bewildered. The angel returned his gaze. In his eyes there was heaven and eternity.
The sun came up and the temperature started to rise. Hours went by. The child continued to rest on his mother’s breasts as if he were laying on a bed of roses. At noon he was hungry and again sought out his mother’s milk. Miraculously, it continued to flow. The angel folded up his wings and sat next to the child. He looked on lovingly as the child ate. He was his guardian angel. He elevated his gaze onto God, the Father. It was the All Soul’s Day, November 2. After eating, the baby slept peacefully for a long time. The angel stayed by his side.
The baby woke up and looked at his guardian. The angel unfolded his wings and rose up into the air. He looked down the road. A caravan was not far away. It was Jesús and his friends. The angel left.
The caravan soon arrived and saw the mother and child. They knew everything. They wondered how Deolinda could have arrived there by simply walking. They had hoped to find her sooner. It seemed a miracle to them that she had walked such a great distance. When Facundo felt someone’s touch, he began to cry. He was hungry. Jesús tried to awaken the mother, thinking she was asleep. He soon realized that she was dead. From her naked breast emanated a thin string of milk. He let the child approach her nipple. He ate until he was satisfied.
Deolinda’s body was already smelling bad. The friends lamented her fate. They wrapped her up in a red poncho and loaded her onto one of the mules. They realized they could not go very far with her corpse. The sun was getting hot. They finally decided to bury her in Vallecito and take the child with them. They covered the cadaver with rocks and placed a cross on the mound. Jesús used a piece of carbon to write, “The Deceased Correa”. They continued on their journey to Caucete to deliver the load and to find out if Clemente was there. Upon arrival, they learned that the soldiers had stopped by there but left shortly.
They decided to return to La Majadita to deliver the child to his grandparents. They took a canteen with goat’s milk to feed him. But the child did not want to eat. They saw that he had a fever. They gave him water and moistened his forehead, to see if his temperature would go down. By the time they arrived to Vallecito, where they had buried Deolinda, the child had already died. He was an innocent, a little angel, and they thought he had wanted to join his mother in heaven. They wrapped him in his little blanket and buried him there. They made a small burial mound next to the other tomb. After the ceremony they continued toward La Majadita.

Clemente’s fate

The second of November, a few leagues from there, Clemente, who was marching with the squad, decided to escape. They had told him they were going to fight the Federals. He would rather risk his life and desert from the squadron. He would not spill the blood of his people. This would offend the memory of his leader. He was a man of honor and was not afraid of death. He had learned to hold his ground when he rode with Quiroga. One had to live fighting and die on one’s feet. That night, while the others slept, he escaped. The Unitarian Lieutenant that led the squad sent three of his men to follow Clemente. Two days later they caught up to him. He had lain down to sleep. They returned him to the Lieutenant. Someone who knew Clemente spoke on his behalf and said he was a good man. That his life should be spared. The Unitarian showed no mercy. He formed a firing squad and had him executed immediately. Some time afterward, the Unitarians were defeated by the Federals. The Lieutenant that had Clemente executed was one of the prisoners executed by General Aldao, in retaliation for the murder of his brother, whom he had sent to negotiate with them.

The final miracle

Jesús and his companions arrived at La Majadita and told Deolinda’s father about the fate of their daughter and their grandson. He wondered how his daughter could have traveled such a great distance on foot, carrying her child. God had to have intervened. It wasn’t something humanly possible. As much of a believer as he was, he asked himself if God could have granted this miracle. The locals always looked for favorable signs from Him. They were a people of a profound faith.
            The family was devastated. The Commissioner of Police of Caucete had gone by there a few days back. He had asked for Deolinda. When told she wasn’t there, he left without explanation. The father decided to visit the tombs of his daughter and his grandchild. He prepared his horse and set out. While he was on the road, he prayed fervently. He pleaded to God for their souls. He soon felt a great thirst, took his canteen and drank. The water had a strange taste. It was sweet. He spilled a little of the contents and noticed that the water had been transformed into a whitish liquid that tasted like mother’s milk. He understood that it was a divine sign. He wondered if God had chosen his daughter to make His presence known among them, and if by this sacrifice He wanted to remind them of the sacrifice of His son, who had also suffered from thirst upon the cross. The world was thirsty for miracles and for love. God was very much needed.
            “Some day, I foresee,” he said speaking to the soul of his daughter, “that mothers and travelers will do pilgrimages to visit your tomb, to ask you for favors and miracles. You were a model of marital fidelity and of maternal devotion. You gave your life for your husband and your son. You were inspired by the Mother of God, the mother of us all. You, who were so strong, will keep vigil over all of those who need your protection. You will intercede before God. You shall be the Mother of Love and of Justice. You will guide travelers on their journeys, calm their thirst, and protect their homes.”
            When he arrived at the graves, he prayed for the two souls. At that moment the Angel who had previously visited his grandson appeared. The father saw that the Angel had blue eyes, much like Deolinda’s. He looked up to the heavens and thanked God.
            “We suffer so much in this world, Lord. We need Your solace and Your love.”

                                 Translated into English by Rolando J. Díaz, Ph.D.

[1] She is known today as “Difunta Correa”, “The Deceased Correa”.
[2] A strong tea made of yerba mate.
[3]  An Argentinean cowboy.
[4] 1810 was the year the Argentinean revolution for Independence began.
[5] Federals and Unitarians were two opposing political parties during the civil war of the time.
[6] Mule team driver.
[7]Manco” is the nickname they give to somebody who lost one arm, or had an arm cut off.
[8] A general store. It also serves food and drinks.
[9] A rum, locally made.
[10] Meat pies.
[11] A popular meat and vegetable stew in Argentina.
[12] A rustic guitar, made by a local craftsman.
[13] Traditional folk songs of Argentina.
[14] Cuyo is a western region of Argentina, integrated by the provinces of 
          San Juan, San Luis and Mendoza. 
[15] A general store that also serves as a drinking establishment.
[16] A sweet, rice and milk based drink.
[17] An outside thatched roof.
[18] The Virgin of the Helpless.
[19] A pejorative term for Spaniards.

Published in Alberto Julián Pérez, 

Cuentos argentinos (La sensibilidad y la pobreza)

Lubbock, TX 2015, p. 199-216. 

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