Torn from the Nestby Clorinda Matto de Turner, John Polt, Antonio Cornejo Polar
- LendMe LendMe™ Learn More
Clorinda Matto de Turner was the first Peruvian novelist to command an international reputation and the first to dramatize the exploitation of indigenous Latin American people. She believed the task of the novel was to be the photograph that captures the vices and virtues of a people, censuring the former with the appropriate moral lesson and paying its homage of admiration to the latter. In this tragic tale, Clorinda Matto de Turner explores the relationship between the landed gentry and the indigenous peoples of the Andean mountain communities. While unfolding as a love story rife with secrets and dashed hopes, Torn from the Nest in fact reveals a deep and destructive class disparity, and criticizes the Catholic clergy for blatant corruption. When Lucia and Don Fernando Marin settle in the small hamlet of Killac, the young couple become advocates for the local Indians who are being exploited and oppressed by their priest and governor and by the gentry allied with these two. Considered meddling outsiders, the couple meet violent resistance from the village leaders, who orchestrate an assault on their house and pursue devious and unfair schemes to keep the Indians subjugated. As a romance blossoms between the a member of the gentry and the peasant girl that Lucia and Don Fernando have adopted, a dreadful secret prevents their marriage and brings to a climax the novel's exposure of degradation: they share the same father--a parish priest. Torn from the Nest was first published in Peru in 1889 amidst much enthusiasm and outrage. This fresh translation--the first since 1904--preserves one of Peru's most distinctive and compelling voices.
Read an Excerpt
Smiling happily on that cloudless morning, Nature offered her hymn of adoration to the Creator of her beauty; and the heart, peaceful as the nest of the dove, was rapt in contemplation of the magnificent scene.
The single square of the village of Killac covers less than a tenth of an acre, and around it roofs of red terracotta tiles are scattered among plain thatched ones with eaves of rough timber. These different roofs serve to classify the inhabitants and to distinguish the houses of the gentry from the huts of the Indians.
On the left side of the square, within a stone enclosure, stands the common home of all Christians, the church; and its old adobe tower, where the bronze of the bells weeps for the dead and laughs with joy for the newly born, is also the nesting place of those little gray doves with ruby eyes known by the pretty name cullcu. On Sundays you can meet all the inhabitants of the village in the church cemetery after their faithful attendance at mass, while they gossip and tell tales about the lives of their neighbors just as they do in their little shops or on the threshing floor, where the work of the harvest proceeds amidst shouts and an occasional drink.
If you walk south a scant half-mile you come upon a fine country house remarkable for its elegance, which contrasts with the simplicity that prevails in the village. Its name is "Manzanares"; and it once belonged to Don Pedro de Miranda y Claro, the former village priest and then bishop, about whom loose tongues, speaking of things that happened during the twenty years that he headed the parish, spread some not very edifying gossip. It was during those years that Don Pedro built "Manzanares," which later served as His Excellency's summer residence.
Killac's cheerful setting amidst small plots of fruits and vegetables, its flumes of bright bubbling water, its outlying cultivated fields, and the river that bathes it, all make this a most poetic spot.
The previous night had been stormy, with rain, hail, and lightning; and the freshly cleansed air bore that special aroma that evaporation draws from the moist earth. The golden sun peeked over the horizon with renewed radiance and aimed its slanting rays at the quivering plants adorned with crystal drops still clinging to their leaves. Sparrows and thrushes, those merry inhabitants of every cold clime, hopped from the branches onto the roofs, singing their varied tunes and showing off their shimmering feathers.
December mornings such as this, bright and cheerful invitations to life, inspire the painter and the poet of our Peruvian fatherland.
No sooner had the sun, on that day, risen from its dusky bed while birds and flowers leapt to meet it, bearing the homage of their love and gratitude, than a peasant, carrying his implements and his food for the day, drove his pair of oxen across the square. A goad and a yoke with its leather straps would serve for his work; and the traditional brightly woven pouch or chuspa, holding coca leaves and balls of llipta, would provide his breakfast. As he passed the portal of the church, he reverently removed his fringed hat and mumbled something like a prayer; then he went on his way, turning around from time to time to cast a mournful glance at the hut he was leaving behind.
What stirred his soul at those moments: fear or doubt, love or hope? Something, at any rate, that moved him deeply.
A head peeked out over the stone wall that marks the southern edge of the square. Quick as a fox it hid once more behind the stones, but not without revealing itself to be a woman's, well-shaped, with two braids of long straight black hair framing a lovely face against whose rather copper-colored complexion the cheeks stood out with a red hue, contrasting even more with the heavy hair.
The peasant had barely disappeared on the distant slopes of Canas when the head hiding behind the wall jumped forward and thus acquired a body, that of a woman in the full flower of her years, striking for her typically Peruvian beauty. She might have been thirty years old, but the freshness of her bloom was that of twenty-eight at the most. She wore a flowing skirt of dark blue baize and a jacket of coffee-colored corduroy with bone buttons and with silvery trim at the neckline and the wrists. As best she could she brushed off the mud that had adhered to her clothes as she jumped over the wall, and then headed toward a small whitish house with a tile roof. In its doorway stood a young woman in a pretty gray wool dress with mother-of-pearl buttons and lace trim; and this was none other than Lucia, who with her husband Don Fernando Marin had taken up temporary residence in the village.
When she reached the house, Lucia's visitor wasted no time in preliminaries and said, "For Our Lady's sake, senoracha, help a family in distress, help us today! That man who just passed by you and went off into the fields carrying his cacharpas is Juan Yupanqui, my husband and the father of two little girls. Ay, senoracha! His heart was half dead as he left our home, because he knows that today is the day they'll come by with the advance payment; and since the headman is sowing barley now, my Juan can't hide because on top of being locked up he'd be fined eight reales for missing work, and we don't have any money. There I was crying next to Rosacha, who sleeps by the hearth in our hut, and suddenly my heart told me that you're good; and although Juan doesn't know anything about it I've come to beg you to help us, for Our Lady's sake, senoracha, ay, ay!"
This plea, ending in tears, puzzled Lucia, who had only lived in the village a few months and therefore knew nothing of its customs and could not appreciate the seriousness of what the unfortunate woman, who certainly piqued her curiosity, was telling her. One must see these poor abandoned creatures from up close and hear the story of how they live from their own lips and in their own expressive language in order to understand how a noble heart comes spontaneously to sympathize with them and to share their suffering, even if it is mere intellectual curiosity that first draws us to observe customs unknown to most Peruvians and lamented by a few. Lucia's kindness was unbounded; and since the words she had just heard had instantly aroused her growing concern, she asked, "And who are you?"
"I am Marcela, senoracha, Juan Yupanqui's wife, and I'm poor and helpless," answered the woman, drying her eyes on the sleeve of her jacket.
Lucia laid a kindly hand on her shoulder and asked her to come in and sit down on the stone bench in the garden of the white house. "Sit down, Marcela, dry the tears that cloud your lovely eyes, and let's talk calmly," she said, eager to gain a thorough knowledge of the customs of the Indians.
Marcela composed herself and, impelled perhaps by the hope of finding relief, answered Lucia's questions readily and in full detail; and she came to feel so at ease with her that she would have told her even her transgressions, even those wicked thoughts that rise like vapors from the corrupt seeds within us. It was thus with a comforting sense of release that she said, "You're not from here, ninay, and so you don't know the tortures we go through with the collection agent, the headman, and the priest. Ay! Why didn't the plague carry us all off so that by now we'd be sleeping in the earth?"
"And why are you so troubled, poor Marcela?" Lucia interrupted. "There must be a way out; but you are a mother, and a mother's heart lives in a single lifetime as many lives as she has children."
"Yes, ninay," Marcela answered, "your face is the face of the Virgin to whom we pray, and that's why I've come to ask for your help. I want to save my husband. He told me as he was leaving, 'One of these days I'll throw myself in the river because I can't bear this life any longer, and I'd want to kill you before I give my body to the water.' You can see this is madness, senoracha."
"It's a sinful thought, a demented thought; poor Juan!" Lucia said sorrowfully; and fixing a penetrating look on her interlocutor, she added, "And what is most pressing right now? Tell me, Marcela, just as if you were talking to yourself."
"Last year," the Indian replied, speaking freely, "they left ten pesos in our hut as advance payment for two quintales of wool, two hundred pounds. We spent that money at the fair to buy these things I'm wearing, because Juan said we'd be collecting the wool in the course of the year; but we haven't been able to do that because of the work he's forced to do, without any pay, for the people in charge here, and because when my mother-in-law died last Christmas, Father Pascual attached our potato harvest to pay for the burial and the masses. Now it's my turn for the mita; I'll have to serve in the rectory and leave my hut and my daughters, and while I'm doing that, who knows whether Juan will go mad and die? And who knows what fate is in store for me, because the women who go in there to serve come out...looking down at the ground!"
"That's enough! Tell me no more," Lucia interrupted, shocked by the turn Marcela's tale was taking. Its concluding words had frightened that innocent dove, who was learning that civilized beings were nothing but monsters of greed and even of lust. "This very day I'll speak to the governor and to the priest, and perhaps by tomorrow your worries will be over," she promised; and, as though to send Marcela on her way, she added, "Now go take care of your daughters; and as soon as Juan is back, try to calm him, tell him that you've spoken with me, and ask him to come here."
In reply, the Indian sighed with satisfaction for the first time in her life.
Finding a generous hand that offers help in our supreme distress is an experience so solemn that the heart does not know whether to bathe that outstretched hand in tears or cover it with kisses, or simply to call out blessings upon it. Such was the state of Marcela's heart at that moment. Those who do good to the unfortunate can never gauge the power of a single kind word, a single sweet smile that for the fallen, the wretched, is like the ray of sunshine that brings new life to limbs numbed by the frost of misery.
In almost every province where alpacas are raised and the wool trade is the chief source of wealth, the principal merchants, some of the richest men in town, practice the custom of advance payment. They force money on the Indians; and they appraise the wool the Indians must deliver to repay these advances at so low a price that the capital they invest yields them in excess of five hundred percent, a degree of usury so extreme, and obtained with such extortion, that there almost has to be a hell to punish the savages who practice it.
The Indians who own alpacas leave their huts when the time for these advances comes, so as not to receive money that is as accursed for them as the silver coins of Judas. But can they find safety by leaving their homes and roaming the solitary peaks? No. The collection agent, who also distributes the advances, breaks into the hut, whose flimsy lock and leather door offer no resistance; he deposits the coins on top of the corn mill and leaves at once. A year later he returns to collect, armed with a list that for the unhappy and unwilling debtor is the sole witness and judge, and accompanied by an escort of ten or twelve mestizos, sometimes masquerading as soldiers. Using a special scale with stone weights, he extracts fifty pounds of wool for every twenty-five pounds owed; and if the Indian hides his only property, if he protests and curses, he is subjected to tortures that the pen is loath to recount, even if granted a special dispensation for the more shocking cases.
One of the Peruvian Church's most enlightened bishops speaks of these excesses in a pastoral letter but does not dare to mention the cold-water enemas used in some places to make the Indians declare the property they have hidden. The Indian fears them even more than the lash of the whip, while the brutes who confuse the letter of the law with its spirit claim that flogging is prohibited in Peru, but not the barbaric treatment they mete out to their brothers born in adversity.
Would that God, in the exercise of His goodness, might one day ordain the extinction of the native race, which, resplendent once in imperial greatness, now drinks the fetid cup of degradation! God grant it extinction, since it can never recover its dignity or exercise its rights!
Marcela's bitter tears and her desperation at the thought of the impending arrival of the collection agent were thus the anguished and understandable outburst of one who saw all around her a world of poverty and ignominious suffering.
Lucia was no ordinary sort of woman. She had received quite a good education, and her keen intelligence was able to reach the light of truth by observing the world around her and making comparisons. She was tall and of that darkish complexion that in Peru we call "pearl color." Her lovely eyes looked out from under thick lashes and soft eyebrows; and she possessed that special womanly charm, heavy long hair that, when loosened, cascaded over her back like a cloak of wavy and shining tortoise-shell. She had yet to reach the age of twenty, but marriage had stamped her features with that mark of the great lady so becoming to the young woman who knows how to couple an amiable character with a serious manner. Since coming to Killac with her husband a year earlier, she had lived in "the white house," which also served as the headquarters for the silver mining operations in the adjoining province. Don Fernando Marin was the chief shareholder in this enterprise and its current manager.
For the miner and the inland merchant, Killac has the advantage of being centrally located for commerce with the capital cities of the departments into which Peru is divided; and its good roads lighten the task of the laborers carrying hampers of ore and of the llamas used for slow transport.
After her conversation with Marcela, Lucia began to search for a way to remedy the poor woman's plight, which, to judge by her revelations, was grave indeed. The first thing she thought of was to speak with the priest and the governor, and to accomplish this she sent each of them a brief note requesting that he call on her. The intervention of Don Fernando might have sufficed to accomplish those measures that had to be taken immediately, but Don Fernando had gone to visit the mines and would return only many weeks later.
Once Lucia had decided to summon the persons whose help she needed, she began to brood about how she might speak persuasively to these provincial dignitaries. "What if they don't come? In that case I'll go to them," she asked and answered simultaneously, with the speed of a mind that no sooner sets its aims than it decides how to achieve them; and she began dusting the furniture, taking on first one chair and then another, until she reached a sofa, where she sat down and went back to thinking how she might speak most persuasively, though without the rhetorical flourishes she would have needed for a city gentleman.
Time weighed heavily on her as she first formed and then rejected one thought after another, until someone knocked and the glass-paneled door opened softly to admit the priest and the governor of the poetic village of Killac.
Short stature, a flattened head, dark complexion, a massive nose with widely flaring nostrils, thick lips, dark little eyes, a short neck protruding from a collar adorned with small black and white beads, a sparse but ill-shaved beard; for clothing a kind of imitation cassock of black cloth, shiny, badly cut, and worse kept; a Panama hat in his right hand: such was the appearance of the first visitor to step forward, whom Lucia made haste to greet with a clear show of respect, saying, "A very good afternoon to you, Father Pascual."
Anyone meeting Father Pascual Vargas, successor to Don Pedro Miranda y Claro as parish priest of Killac, would immediately feel serious doubts as to his having studied or learned, while at the seminary, either theology or Latin, a language that was ill at home in his mouth, defended by two ramparts of large, very large, white teeth. He was approaching the age of fifty; and his manner provided strong justification for the fears that Marcela had expressed when she had spoken of going to serve in the rectory, which, as the Indians say, women leave "looking down at the ground." A penetrating observer would have recognized in Father Pascual a nest of lustful vipers, ready to awaken at the least sound of a woman's voice.
Lucia's mind was instantly vexed by the question of how so ill-favored an individual could have risen to the most exalted of offices, for among her religious convictions was belief in the sublimity of the priesthood, which watches over man on this earth, receiving him in his cradle with the waters of baptism, depositing his remains in the grave with the waters of purification, and sweetening the bitterness of his pilgrimage through this vale of tears with words of sound counsel and with the gentle voice of hope. She forgot that the priestly mission depends on the will of man, which is inclined to err; and she knew nothing of what sort of priest generally serves our remote parishes.
The individual who followed Father Pascual, wrapped in a flowing Spanish cape that is mentioned in fourteen last wills and testaments, which might be taken as proof of its antiquity, if not of the family tree of its owners, was Don Sebastian Pancorbo, which name His Excellency had received in a solemn baptismal ceremony celebrated three days after his birth with a great cross, new vestments, a silver saltcellar, and organ music.
Don Sebastian, to judge from the first impression produced by his dress, is a quaint personage. He is tall and bony; no trace of beard or mustache, so bothersome to his sex, ever appears on his face; his lively and covetous black eyes show in their sideways glances that he is not indifferent to the sound of silver or to a woman's silvery voice. In his youth he twisted the little finger of his right hand while slapping a friend of his, and since then he wears a half-glove of vicuna, although he moves that hand with a special elegance. There is not a trace of dynamite in the man's blood; he seems to have been created for a peaceful life, but the weakness of his character often leads him into ridiculous scenes that his companions manipulate to their advantage. He strums the guitar with an outstandingly poor ear and equally bad technique, though he drinks like a member of an army band.
Don Sebastian received as elementary an education as the three years he spent at a city school allowed; and after he returned to his village, he played an important part in the processions of Holy Week, he married Dona Petronila Hinojosa, the daughter of one of the local gentry, and right after that they made him governor, which means that he reached the highest position known and aspired to in a village.
The two visitors pulled up the easy chairs that Lucia had pointed out to them and made themselves comfortable. Their hostess blended logic and amiability in her effort to awaken their sympathy for Marcela; and directing her words especially to the priest, she said, "In the name of the Christian religion, which is nothing if not love, tenderness, and hope; in the name of your Master, Who ordered us to give all our goods to the poor, I ask you, Father, to cancel this debt that weighs on the family of Juan Yupanqui. In return you shall have twofold treasure in Heaven."
"My dear young lady," replied Father Pascual, leaning back in his chair and placing both hands on its arms, "this is all a lot of pretty-sounding nonsense; but when we get down to facts, for Heaven's sake, who can live without income? Nowadays, what with higher taxes on the Church and all that civilization that will come with the railroad, our stipends will dry up, and ... and ... I'll come right out with it, Dona Lucia, that'll be the end of us priests; we'll starve to death!"
"So that Indian Yupanqui came to you for that, did he?" the governor added in support of the priest; and with a note of triumph he concluded emphatically, "Frankly, ma'am, you have to realize that custom has the force of law, and nobody's going to tamper with our customs, do you understand?"
"Gentlemen, charity is also a law, a law of the heart," Lucia interrupted in reply.
"So Juan ... hmm ... Frankly, we'll see whether that tricky Indian tries to work any more angles," Don Sebastian continued, disregarding what Lucia had said, and with an ominous sort of slyness that Don Fernando's wife could not but notice, even as her heart trembled with fear. The brief conversation had exposed the moral nature of these men, from whom nothing was to be hoped for and everything to be feared.
Her plan lay in shambles; yet her heart still felt for Marcela's family, and she was determined to protect it against any abuse. Her gentle heart had been wounded in its self-esteem, and she blanched. She had to make a decisive move right then, and so she answered energetically, "A sad situation, gentlemen! Well, I now realize that vile selfishness has withered even the fairest flowers of humane sentiments in this part of the world, where I'd expected to find patriarchal families united by brotherly love. Forget our conversation. The family of the Indian Juan will never ask you for favors or protection." As she spoke these heated words, Lucia's lovely eyes glanced imperiously at the door.
The two village potentates were startled by so unexpected a tone; and seeing no chance of resuming a discussion from which it was at any rate in their interest to escape, they picked up their hats.
"Senora Lucia, don't take offense at all this, and rest assured that I am always at your service," said the priest, turning the straw hat he was holding; and Don Sebastian added a hurried and curt "Good afternoon, Senora Lucia."
For her part, Lucia dismissed her visitors with a nod of her head; and as she saw these men depart, leaving the deepest impression on her angelic soul, she trembled and emphatically said to herself, "No, that man's an insult to the Catholic priesthood. In the city I've seen superior beings, their heads hoary with age, go silently and covertly to seek out the poor and the orphan in order to help and console them. I've observed the Catholic priest at the bedside of the dying, standing pure before the sacrificial altar, weeping humbly in the home of the widow and the orphan. I've seen him take his only loaf of bread from his table and hold it out to the poor, depriving himself of nourishment and praising God for His gift. And is Father Pascual anything like that? Ah, these backwoods priests...! As for the other one, the governor, that soul formed in the mold of the miser, he no more deserves the respect due to an honorable man than does the priest. Good riddance to them; I don't need them to plead with my Fernando and fill our home with the sweet perfume of doing good."
Five strokes of the household bell told Lucia the time and informed her that dinner was served. Her cheeks glowing from the excitement of her recent impressions, she walked down several corridors and reached the dining room, where she sat down at her usual place.
The ceiling and walls of the dining room were painted to imitate oak paneling. An elegant print showed a half-plucked partridge; another, a rabbit ready for the stew-pot. On the left, the mirrors of a cedar sideboard reflected the symmetrically placed dishes. Two small tables stood on the right, holding a chess-board and a roulette wheel, for this was the room the employees of the mining company used for their recreation. On the central dining table, covered with a spotlessly white ironed tablecloth, lay a simple place setting of red-rimmed blue china.
Dense steam rose from the soup, whose aroma proclaimed it to be the hearty cuajada de carne, made with ground meat, spices, walnuts, and biscuit. After the soup came three delicious courses, among them a tasty stew, the traditional locro colorado. A servant was just bringing a small porcelain cup that emitted the stimulating fragrance of hot and strong black Carabaya coffee when a messenger delivered a letter for Lucia, who seized it eagerly and, recognizing Don Fernando's handwriting, opened the envelope and quickly scanned the lines within. An observer of the changing expressions on her face could have guessed the contents of that message, in which her husband told her that he would return home the following morning, since the avalanches caused by the heavy snowfall in the Andes had put a temporary halt to work at the mines. He also asked for a new horse, as his had lost its shoes.
When Marcela, her heart filled with hope, returned to her hut, she found her daughters awake, and the younger one crying disconsolately at the absence of her mother. A few maternal caresses and a handful of mote sufficed to calm that innocent victim of fate who, though born amid the rags of a hut, wept the same clear and bitter tears as do the children of kings.
Eagerly Marcela took hold of the poles supporting the portable loom that with her older daughter's help she set up in the middle of the room, preparing the woof and the threads of the ground to continue weaving a pretty poncho striped with all the colors the Indians produce from the combination of brazilwood, cochineal, anatta, and the flowers of the quico. Never had she taken up her daily work more cheerfully, and never had the poor woman spun more dreams about how to share her good news with Juan.
For that very reason, time passed slowly; but at last evening fell, spreading its delicate shadows over the valley and the village and sending the tuneful doves fluttering off in different directions as they abandoned the fields in search of their treetop shelter. Juan returned with them; and as soon as she heard her husband's footsteps, Marcela came out to meet him, helped him to tether his oxen at the fence, poured corn into the manger, and, once he had sat down on a stone bench inside, began to speak to him somewhat timidly, thereby betraying her doubts as to whether Juan would be pleased by her news.
"Do you know the senoracha Lucia, Juanuco?" she asked.
"I go to mass, Marluca, and so I'm bound to; you get to know everybody there," Juan replied apathetically.
"Well, I talked to her today."
"You talked to her? What for?" the Indian asked with surprise, looking intently at his wife.
"I'm troubled by all that's happening to us, and you've shown me very clearly that you're in despair about our life ..."
"Did the collection agent come?" Juan interrupted, and Marcela replied calmly and confidently, "Thank Heaven he hasn't come; but listen, Juanuco, I think this senoracha will be able to help us. She told me she will, and that you should go see her."
"Ah, Marluca, poor desert flower," the Indian said, shaking his head and picking up little Rosalia, who was about to put her arms around his knees, "your heart is like the fruit of the penca: you break one off, and without any effort on your part another grows to take its place. But I'm older than you, and I've wept in despair."
"Well, I haven't; and although you say I'm like the tuna, ay!, that's better than being like you, a poor flower of the cress that wilts as soon as you touch it and never recovers. Some evil sorcerer has touched you, but I've seen the face of the Virgin just as surely as I've seen the face of Senora Lucia," said the wife, laughing like a little girl.
"That may be," Juan answered sadly, "but here I come exhausted from my work and without a single loaf of bread for you, who are my wife, and for these little chicks," and he pointed to the two girls.
"Now, now, things aren't as bad as all that. Aren't you forgetting that when the priest gets home with his pockets stuffed with money from praying for the dead on All Saints' Day, there's nobody waiting for him with open arms the way I wait for you or with loving kisses like these two little angels? What an ingrate! You talk about bread; here we've got cold mote and cooked chuno that smells so appetizing on the hearth. You won't go hungry, you ingrate!"
Marcela was a changed woman, thanks to the hopes instilled in her by Lucia. Her arguments, in concert with the voice that springs naturally from the heart of woman, were irresistible. Won over, Juan drew his two daughters toward him along with Marcela, who at that moment was picking up two black earthenware pots from the hearth; and the four of them shared a frugal but pleasant supper.
Meet the Author
Clorinda Matto de Turner was a major literary figure in 19th century Peru. She was a pioneer of indigenist literature, and was a crucial Peruvian writer in the shift from Romanticism to Naturalism. The late Antonio Cornejo-Polar was Professor of Spanish at The University of California, Berkeley. John Polt, Professor Emeritus of Spanish at the University of California, Berkeley, has translated several Spanish and Spanish American authors.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews