The following short story was inspired by an entry in The Folklore of Spain in the American Southwest: Traditional Spanish Folk Literature in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado by Aurelio M. Espinosa and J. Manuel Espinosa.
The story is set in La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís (modern day Santa Fe, New Mexico) during the Spanish colonial period of New Spain. A recent visit to Santa Fe inspired me to seek out indigenous folk literature of the region. This is a tale possessing those elements one expects to find in folktales the world over–domestic disputes, duplicitous actors, and moral lessons. I hope you will enjoy “El cuento del castrao.”
Alonso leaned over with his only hand for doña Ana’s exposed leg, but this time she slapped it away. “Enough! There’s no time. Do you want Francisco to take your other hand, too?” She pulled her dress over her head.
“Dammit, Ana, I’m sick and ti–” A thump on the floor grabbed his attention. Something had fallen out of the sheets. “What’s this?” He squatted down, still naked, to investigate.
Doña Ana was arranging herself in the looking glass. She turned to see. “Oh, that–Some kind of luck charm. Francisco got it from one of the Pueblo Indians.” She fastened the last button on her blouse. “Now put your clothes on and get out of here.”
As a child, a hunting accident cost Alonso his right hand. His parents, concerned about the prospects for an invalid child, gave him to the Franciscan order to live his life as a fraile or friar. He had come to the Mission de San Miguel to assist padre Covarrubias with the conversion of the local Pueblo Indians.
“Go! Francisco could walk through that door at any time. That man never returns late from his tienda. He has nowhere else to be.” Outside the sky blushed with the first touches of dusk. “What will your padre say if my husband finds you alone with me?”
“To hell with them! Besides, right now my padre is more concerned with the influence Francisco’s trading has on his congregation. He imports too much from the Pueblo brujas. The locals rely more and more on their posímas. The mission’s attendance has declined. If your husband is not careful, Covarrubias will complain to the alcalde.”
“The poppets and posímas sell well. If people buy them, why shouldn’t Francisco sell them? Perhaps, padre Covarrubias’s prayers would be more effectual if his mission enlisted the help of more pious frailes.” She glanced at Alonso.
He dismissed her accusation with a wave. “Hey! Why don’t you run away with me? I have some money my tía left me.” He pulled on his boots. “She passed last winter and left me her casita. We could stay there. It’s less than a week away. “
“What kind of Catholic do you take me for? I’m a married woman. To think how people would sully my name. I’d rather die with a cretin like Francisco than suffer such indignity upon my father’s apellido. Besides, what would you do for money when you exhaust your inheritance? You don’t possess any trades. Besides, a passing traveler might recognize you. Think like a man, Alonso. I have no use for a boy.” She straightened her blouse and walked to the door.
“Then let me unwed you.” Alonso looked sternly into her dark eyes as she reached the door. He stood nearly a foot taller. “Then you won’t need to concern yourself over your precious apellido.”
“You’re talking nonsense. What do you mean?”
“Exactly what you think I mean. Let me rid you of that oafish fop once and for all. You have no children. The tienda would be yours. A widow can carry on with whoever she likes.”
“A fine fraile you are.” She grabbed the handle with both hands and yanked it open. “Now get out of here before that dullard barges through the door and catches you.” She stood with one hand on her hip and the other pointing towards the burgeoning evening.
Alonso stomped past Ana without saying a word. Just past the threshold, he turned and pulled her lips to his with such force she feared he would bruise her.
Doña Ana’s heart throbbed and her lungs heaved. “He’ll leave at dawn tomorrow. He has another meeting with the native traders.”
“I’ll come in the morning, then.”
Hours later, the last licks of flame hissed as the wick sunk beneath the melted wax. Ana refused to waste another candle. She plopped onto the bed and flung the covers over her head. In the ten years since their marriage, Francisco had grown into the most tedious husband in La Villa Real de la Santa Fe. He stopped even trying to give her children after the first two years. Another man might arouse suspicions of infidelity, but not Francisco. Doña Ana yanked the blanket back from her head. “Armand is right. I should let him rid me of this husband. Who would miss him? Not even his mother would care.”
She worried, but not for her husband’s safety. She had told Alonso he could pay her a visit in the morning after Francisco left, but what if Francisco slept in . . .?
A sound on the veranda interrupted her thoughts. Footsteps sounded on the creaky floor boards, and the door thundered open with a frigid gust of night air.
Don Francisco slammed the door and braced his back against it, as though he had been pursued.
“What’s the matter with you? Coming home this hour and waking me up with that cold night–” She gasped.
“Ana–Ana, Something’s happened. Something terrible’s happened!”
She could see by the light of his candle that he was covered in mud and his face had lost its ruddiness. She leaped out of bed. “Where have you been, Francisco? What have you done?”
“I worked late at the tienda, so the sun had already set when I started home. I had just passed the old burned-down hacienda–the one burnt during the riots–to the west of town–when I noticed someone following me. The moon is almost full tonight, so a shimmer of light shone from the knife in his hand!”
“A knife? Are you wounded?”
“No. Let me finish, Ana. As I told you, the evening is well-lit.”
“Yes, I can see that.”
“Fearing for my life, I reached down and found a large stone lying on the side of the trail. I threw it as hard as I could.”
“What happened? Did you hit him?”
“The stone struck him on the temple and he collapsed.”
“You mean . . .”
“Yes, Ana. I killed him.”
“Did anyone see what happened, Francisco? Someone will tell the comandante!”
“No.” He pointed a finger in her face. “No one saw. I had crested the hill. I would have seen anyone else. We were alone. You and I alone know of these circumstances.”
“But they’ll find–“
“They won’t find nada. I dragged the body out into the field, and buried it next to the well behind the ruins. No one will find it. But now I’ve told you what I’ve done, and you must keep my secret, Ana. I had to tell someone. Otherwise, I’d go mad. What benefit does a wife provide her husband if a man cannot confide in her? Do you understand? You must not say anything to anyone. Tell me you understand.”
Ana stood erect and looked into Francisco’s dark eyes. “I understand, Francisco. Lo prometo.“
The sun had almost reached its zenith when doña Ana stepped out of the adobe dwelling the next morning. Francisco had left for work several hours before, but Alonso hadn’t come. His absence both relieved and concerned her. It was not like him to miss an opportunity to see her. At first, she thought Alonso could have gone to the comandante in her stead. He could say he had seen Francisco burying the body and thereby saved her the ill-repute entailed by such a testimony. Still, Alonso or no, she wouldn’t let the opportunity pass.
El Palacio del Gobernadores housed the comandante Ignacio’s quarters–a thirty minute walk from her house. One of the officers sat in front of the Palacio gate. He wiped sweat from his brow with a handkerchief.
“¡Buenas tardes! Sargento. I need to see the Comandante.”
The officer rose to his feet. “¡Buenas tardes! doña Ana. The comandante is occupied at the moment. Lo siento, señora. What brings you to the Palacio in the heat of the afternoon? Perhaps I can be of assistance.”
“I’ve come about a grave matter, sargento. I possess knowledge that a murder took place yesterday.”
“A murder! Wait here, señora. I’ll fetch the comandante right away.” He offered the chair for doña Ana to sit and disappeared behind the gate.
A few minutes later the officer returned with comandante Ignacio.
“Doña Ana, what is the meaning of this? My officer informs me you have information about a murder.”
She stuck her chin out and looked the comandante in the eye. “I regret to admit your officer spoke correctly, but I regret the contents of my testimony more, for the source of that information and the perpetrator are one and the same–my husband, don Francisco.”
The comandante summoned his carriage. A few moments later, one of his officers drove the carriage pulled by two horses to the front of the Palacio. The comandante opened the door and offered his hand to doña Ana to enter. He took the seat opposite, facing the stern of the carriage.
“I admire your composure, doña Ana. It must be difficult to betray the trust of your husband. Don Francisco is a lucky man to have such a wife. I have no doubt your testimony will cause him great anguish.”
“I’m certain it will cause him anguish, comandante Ignacio, but my involvement will not be a source of his misery. My husband’s affections for me cooled many years ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Then, señora, it seems you will not be grieved to see your husband sent to cárcel for his crimes.”
“Well I–what an impertinent thing to say, comandante Ignacio. I am only doing what any good Catholic should.”
“Ah, yes. That is true, of course. And I understand you to be a woman of unquestionable piety. In fact, I hear the fraile Alonso makes no less than three–” He clucked his tongue. “–nay, four visits to your house a week.”
Doña Ana’s expression hardened.
“In fact, Alonso visited you just yesterday, did he not?–while don–“
“How dare you! What concern is it of yours who visits my home? What right do you have to spy–“
“Ah, but señora, you were not my quarry. I was performing my duties as a minister of the law on behalf of padre Covarrubias, who asked me to keep an eye on this particular brother. Alonso’s absences have aroused suspicions at the Mission de San Miguel. He disappears for hours of the day several times a week.”
“And you think . . . What? That–“
“I think I would like very much to know the whereabouts of fraile Alonso after he left your dwelling yesterday. To that effect, I asked my officials to apprehend him and meet us along with your husband at our destination.”
“Wh-What? You’re bringing Alonso to the scene of the murder?”
“Why not? The revelation of truth dispels the shadow of blame as efficiently–as it unveils the grounds for indictment. Or perhaps you’d like to confide something to me now, doña Ana? In which case, we might be able to come to an arrangement that would persuade me to have my men escort Alonso to the cárcel instead for a more intimate interrogation. I understand you can be a persuasive woman, when you apply yourself.”
The carriage slowed to a halt and comandante Ignacio stepped out. “Ah, there is your husband over there.” He gestured to a group of officers holding don Francisco by each arm. But I see that my men have not returned with Alonso yet, so you have some time to think about our discussion.
Just as don Francisco had confided to his wife, they found a mound of soft dirt six to eight feet in length not far from the well.
The officers began digging. Don Francisco’s eyes fixated on his wife, who stood with the comandante, some twenty feet away. As the sun began to set and the evening winds began to howl through the pueblo, the comandante put put his jacket around doña Ana.
The full moon had already crested the peaks of La Sierra de la Sangre de Cristo when one of the officers cried for the comandante to come.
“Who have you found!”
Doña Ana looked to her husband. His grim countenance had turned into a smug leer. What had he done?
The officer looked up from the shallow grave. “Not who, Señor Comandante–rather what.”
“What do you mean?” Doña Ana wrenched herself free of the officers holding her and ran to join comandante Ignacio.
She raised her hand to her mouth and cried. There at the bottom lay the remains–of a goat–with a missing right foreleg.
The comandante guffawed. “It seems you are less fiend than fox, don Francisco. You have assessed your wife’s devotion very well!
Doña Ana stood speechless gaping at the hole.
“It seems your husband has had a little fun at your expense, señora.”
From the road two officers approached. “Comandante, comandante Ignacio!”
“Yes, what is it, sargento?”
“Fraile Alonso never returned to the mission last night. And no one has seen him today. He has vanished!”
Espinosa, Aurelio Macedonio, and J. Manuel Espinosa. “El Cuenta del Castrao” in The folklore of Spain in the American Southwest: traditional Spanish folk literature in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado. (Norman: The University of Oklahoma Press, 1990). p. 179: https://books.google.com/books?id=Qi2pWEJhRB8C&printsec=frontcover&dq=mexican+folk+tales&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjT5OX-lOjhAhVxJzQIHSEcCVw4HhDoAQg_MAQ#v=onepage&q=mexican%20folk%20tales&f=false