Thursday, December 6, 2012

CHAPTER FORTY-THREE: Is It Time For Renata to Face the Music?


The sky has a showy golden glow when Renata creeps out of the porch and into the cabin to sit beside Arthur's door. She's brought a blanket with her and the morning air is so cold that she arranges it over her head like a veil.

How ironic. For days now, Arthur has been waking at least an hour earlier than Renata. He's come to the porch, settled in the rocking chair, and sat there, just watching her sleep. Each time she awoke to see him in the chair, staring, creepy feelings circled up from her gut. She would pull the blanket up over her nose and ask him very politely to leave the porch.

Now, though, it's her turn to sit guard outside his bedroom door, waiting for him to wake up. She is anxious to speak to him as soon as he wakes because she will need his help -- and his wagon -- with her plan.

It occurs to her to say the rosary while she's waiting, but no sooner has she said the first four Hail Mary's than there is a scratching noise behind Arthur's door. It sounds like the dog clawing wood.

"OK, OK, I hear ya," Arthur says. And now she hears his feet planted heavily on the floor.

Renata bolts to stand and knocks.

"Mr. Arthur, good morning," she calls brightly.

He's at the door before he even answers. But he only opens it a crack. Renata glances down and instantly realizes why. Inwardly she  groans. She sees a naked hairy leg and swivels 180 degrees to turn her gaze the other way.

"Excuse me Mr. Arthur, I'm so sorry to disturb you before you're...er...ready to greet the world."

"That's not a problem at all, ma'am, I will be dressed and out before you finish your next prayer."

And so he is, he's emerged from the bedroom before she can even resituate herself on the floor.

"You are the early one today," he says, running his suspenders over each of his shoulders. He ruffles one hand through the mop of curls on his head, and then takes the same hand across the beard growing on his cheeks. For the first time she notices that his beard is reddish in color. His hair, as always, is a swarm of golden curls.

"Yes, well you see, I'm in a hurry, and I need your help, at least I'm hoping you can help me. Shall we go into the porch?" She doesn't wait for his reply but turns and he and the dog follow.

"Excuse me ma'am but you must allow Pete and...er...me to attend to our morning business." Arthur opens the cabin door and the dog lopes outside. Arthur follows. A short time later he and the dog return.

Inside the porch, Renata takes a seat on one of the benches at the edge of the porch and Arthur has the rocking chair. Pete settles at Arthur's ankles.

"I should say first of all that I put a mighty store into my dreams," she begins. "That's the first thing you should know. It may not make sense to you, but I had a dream last night which was like no ordinary dream. I was at the convent and my dear friend, Sister Teresa, I've told you about her, well, she was very seriously ill. I could see her thrashing in her bed, and the doctor was there, and the other nuns were all gathered around the bed saying prayers."

Arthur nods. "And so?"

"I must go back. I know it's crazy, I know I may pay dearly, but I cannot stand by thinking Teresa is ill and that I will not be there to help."

"But ma'am, she has people there to help her, no?"

"Well of course she does, but we...you must understand Arthur we are as close as real blood sisters. We came to the convent within a month of each other and we've been together ever since. And because of that, I have no choice. What if something were to happen to her? Dear God, I don't want to consider the possibility. If she were to die, I wouldn't see much point in carrying on my own battle. No, no matter that the risk is grave for me, I must go to her. Immediately. And so I will need your wagon. And ... and perhaps you driving if you're willing."  Renata's eyes were two dark flames in wide white pools. Her face was as pink and flushed as a fresh salmon.

Arthur shakes his head and lifts both hands outward. "I hardly know what to say. You're the one who told me all the reasons you wouldn't dare set out from here because the authorities are everywhere looking for you. Are you honestly going to go right back to the convent, right into the mouth of the lion? They'll be waiting for you, and I don't need to tell you, the gallows will finally claim you."

"I know I know." She lifts one hand as if to silence him. "But somehow I think God's hand is at work here. Maybe it's just time I just faced what I haven't been willing to face. I know as God is my witness that I didn't kill Antonie, but perhaps it's my destiny to pay for his death anyway.  I tell you Arthur, I'm ready for whatever happens. I won't be kept away from Teresa another day."

Arthur reaches down to scratch Pete's ears. He looks up.  "I hear you ma'am. And even though I cringe thinking what will happen, I cannot deny you what you're asking."

"So we can get going right away then?"

"Give me a few minutes to pack some vittles, and I'll git the wagon hitched." He eyes her. "You want to ride underneath a blanket, in case we meet anybody in the law along the way?"

Renata shakes her head. "I'll tuck my head beneath your widest-brimmed hat, and we can bring the blanket just in case. But I have had my fill playing the frightened criminal on the run. I won't return to the convent hiding under a blanket." She has a kind of passion in her voice that she hasn't felt for months.

Arthur stares hard at her, his eyes wide and bright. "Ma'am, if I might just say one thing, I am rooting for you, and if there is such a thing as God, and if there is such a thing as a miracle on earth, you would be the way I would see both of them happening in the world. What I'm trying to say is, I am on your side no matter what."

Renata blushes deep. "Oh Arthur, you shouldn't put too much store in me. God has plenty better clay to work with I promise you." She rises from the bench. "Now why you let me take care of packing food and water, I ought to be able to handle that while you take care of the wagon."

And so in less than half an hour, Renata and Arthur are side by side and already riding, with the dog and Arthur's rifle and some provisions covered by a blanket in back.

"I figure if we ride without stopping, we be right about at the valley leading to the convent by nightfall, or shortly after."  That's all Renata has to hear.

"Bless you Arthur. Bless you." She rides with her rosary beads wrapped tightly around both hands.