~ The Opening Scene of Volume Five, To the End of the World ~
The Novel is set in the Philippine Islands in 1902, just as the American conquest
of the formerly Spanish colonial archipelago came to a close.
Chapter 1, They are the real deal.
Setting: Texas, on the Brazos River, the front porch of the Double H Ranch at dusk
She was known and accepted around these parts. Some who spoke or tipped a hat may not have known why, for the stories were time worn now and legend. Old timers knew them all, and perhaps they embellished it a bit when they would retell it. They would see her on the boardwalk in Old San Antone or maybe Dallas, and memories would kick in. Thus an evening in some bar or around a dinner table or at some cocktail party followed with stories of the brave little Navajo Texas girl and the two big desperadoes she killed . . . tied up no less, bound for the slaughter, both sexually and literally, and she killed them, saving two others as well as herself. But it was more than that. In a place and time where the European white race had become dominate and memories of the horrible fighting that almost eradicated the original inhabitants still lingered, she was a respected woman of that previously dominate native people, and yet not, at least originally not of this place.
The woman, now in her fifties yet still beautiful in her certain way, was native to the land, just not this piece of it. But how she got here and what she had contributed to Texas was all that had been required to claim her place: her stake on this rangeland and with these people, a people who now heralded from the world's corners. Still most of them were white, and Indians were a bit suspect and disregarded . . . just not this one.
And so, when Sunny Jefferson occasionally went to town, or even as far as San Antonio or elsewhere, hats were tipped and doors were opened if someone recognized her, and many did though the years had passed. After all, how many petite Indian women walked around those streets dressed in finery sometimes and riding clothes on other occasions? Even other women nodded or spoke a friendly word. They, many of them, knew how dangerous the land had once been for them, for women; and this one had stood up for them and won. Then, with her capable, equal-partner husband, she had made a very good ranch and community even better. As just one example of many: on the Double H Ranch there now stood two little chapels, one of stone and a beautifully rugged wooden one. The latter was for Protestants and the stone one Catholic. Everyone agreed at the ground breaking that Sunny should get the stone one as it had been her personal funds that built them both and would pay the salaries of a full time minister and a Catholic priest.
Perhaps the heart of the matter was that not only did many Texans recognized the moral fiber and courage in the woman but they saw in her an example of the nobility and fine character of the people that they had taken America away from. So it was guilt perhaps in part with which they honored her in small ways. Maybe it was all they could do at such a late and past due time to say they were somewhat sorry.
She came thirty years ago with a lover, a young Indian girl with a white husband, out of the picturesque and austere Southwestern desert and rocky and sometimes reddened Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a young, small woman of courage and gumption and faith that few could match . . . just a slip of a girl who could wield a knife, read Longfellow, Cooper, and Hawthorne, and prayed more deeply to their Christian God than they did. Such people just happen sometimes, life and the world breeds them: heroines and heroes and quiet unassuming yet charming people that nothing seems to be able to ruffle or control. They are the real deal. If you know one, get to know them better. If you love one of them, marry them. Just, whatever you do, don't lose them.
Aaron Jefferson didn't let that happen, and so the reluctant Western hero and the Indian maiden became one. The capable man, who never drew gun or knife without just cause, and the storybook native princess bound themselves together and never looked back with any regret of it. That's what she was, a sort of small time Pocahontas whose father was a wise headman of his clan. One might say that Jóhonaá's (Sunny's) personal world and romantic situation resembled somewhat that of Powhatan's famous daughter long before on Virginia's marshy Atlantic shores. As Aaron's version of it had played out, there was the standard confusion as to who loved who but little doubt that the Indian woman's father was all accepting of the quiet, handsome hero from the invading race.
Well, Sunny was a mother now, and that was to be tested. For America was still stretching its limits, . . . thought it was all grown up but really became embroiled in the dangerous pranks of an older adolescent commonly called a “teenager” in the modern vernacular. Brash and careless, as well as lustful like most young bucks, America got in enough trouble (rape and murder) to do the worst hoodlum proud and truly shame itself; but, being a nation of growing power rather than a delinquent young individual, it escaped punishment and any lingering stigma. One usually uses the feminine pronouns for a country, but in the later nineteenth century and early twentieth century, America behaved live a drunken ruffian. Women did not fare well in America's company, especially darker ones. And thus, Sunny Jefferson, a dusky skinned American mother, would be tested in the most unusual of ways and locales.
It was delivered by the normal post, having been dropped in the mail by someone returning from the Philippine Islands. How the writer knew who to send it with or got it past the military was something Aaron and Sunny would never know perhaps, unless they would learn when it was all over. On the other hand, just maybe it was a little easier in those old days to do such a thing.
The envelope was small and wrinkled slightly and a bit soiled. There was no return address and the message was quite short and in Spanish.
Mr. & Mrs. Aaron Jefferson,
Your son, Aaron, is in some trouble here. They, his superiors, may think he is a traitor. But he was only saving me from bad men. He could stay here with me and my family forever and hide, but he longs for you and fears you will believe the lies. And he is hurt. He will heal with time and our care, but we are in a war with your country. I will do my best by him, as I love him. He is a very good man. You raised him well.
I can give no address now, for they will know. But if you come or send your agents, we will know and find you somehow. Be very careful, as it is dangerous.
I am not fighting your countrymen. I and my father and brothers are not combatants. But that does not seem to matter. You do not have anything to fear from us, but there is danger everywhere here.
Angelina Pilar Perez
Sunny looked at the letter, just a note really, and at the photo of the girl. Casual pictures would not be common in the Philippines for people hiding in a war, so there was no picture of the two of them. She did not know how her son looked now, and it pained her. She looked at the formal photo of the native girl. Her name was Spanish; but, like many of the Mexican girls, she was Indio with perhaps some little Spanish. She did not look half Spanish like some Mexican women did. She was not a mestiza, and there was an oriental look that differed from the Mexicans as well. She must have included the image as an informal introduction of herself. It was obviously all the girl could do, as formal as circumstances would allow. There was something Spanish about the formal native dress, as the picture was from just below the waist up. She wore in fact a blend between the formal native baro’t saya* and its Spanish influenced María Clara, but the Texas ranch woman could not know that. Sunny had heard that her son was in a wild tropical wilderness, but she held in her hand a picture of what seemed like a refined, somewhat aristocratic young woman.
“I don't like this girl,” she said. “She is too native.”
Standing on the front porch of the Double H Ranch at dusk with the red sunset glowing just behind and to the right of them, Aaron took the picture from her and studied it a moment and then, handing it back, replied, “Look at it closely or, perhaps better, ‘casually’; and try to rein in your prejudice.”
Sunny took it and looking at him surprised and defensively said, “I have no prejudice.”
“You just said she’s too native; you're a hundred percent native yourself. He loves his mom. When he seeks a true lover, a man looks for his mother in a girl, Sunny.”
She looked at it and then up at him with an inquisitive stare.
“Sunny, she looks just like you. Well, I mean the nose is a little smaller, but look at her. She's you twenty years ago.”
The Navajo woman looked intently at the picture and her husband saw a slight smile curl her mouth at the corners.
* The character Angelina Pilar Perez is described as wearing something other than the exact norm of the day, which illustrates here individualistic, creative, and egalitarian qualities.