Articles

The Curse of the Mambo

VICTOR CHAPIN October 15 1954
Articles

The Curse of the Mambo

VICTOR CHAPIN October 15 1954

The Curse of the Mambo

She was decent and church-going, wasn’t she? She was learning to read, wasn’t she? Then why should she fear

VICTOR CHAPIN

THE MAMBO was down from the Haitian hills, and Sophie Caseus, her daughter, who had sworn to her husband never to let her in the house again, felt, as she always did, powerless before her. Watching her now as she rocked back and forth in Caseus’ chair, where she knew no one but him was allowed to sit, Sophie was both furious and frightened. Her mother was old, small and withered; her kinky hair was pure while, and she was probably deaf, for she was paying no attention to what Sophie was telling her about her life in the city.

“What do you think, old lady,” Sophie shouted, determined to impress her mother somehow, “we’ve all got shoes now!”

The Mambo did not react to this announcement in a way to give her daughter pleasure. She merely curled the crooked old toes on her dirty black feet upwards in a way that expressed perfectly the contempt Sophie knew she felt.

“Mine have heels!” Sophie added desperately . . . “And you know why we’ve all got shoes? Because this year we’re going to the garden party . . . every last one of us . . . next week . . . we’re going!” Without seeming to move, or in any way disturb her lethargy,

the Mambo spat, fully and with perfect aim, at Sophie’s feet.

“That for you,” she said, and, spitting again, “that for Caseus”; then, spitting once more, “That for the President and his garden party!”

“You spit at our President?” Sophie gasped. “You spit at my husband? Then you get out, old lady. You’re nothing, you hear me, nothing at all!” She stopped and, appalled at what she had said, waited for something terrible to happen. She knew well that her mother, far from being nothing, was a great village Mambo, not known in the city, but famous in the hills for her marvelous transports and her lasting cures of fevers, fits, warts, falling hair, and other sicknesses. The Mambo was, everyone said in the hills, protected by the strongest Voodoo gods. But Sophie reminded herself that she was no longer impressed by her mother or afraid of her, for she had renounced Voodoo many years ago when she married Caseus, a government employee whose family had been literate for several generations, who had had shoes all his life, who was, like almost everyone else, respectable; and she, then, was respectable, too. This to her was a great triumphant fact; She

was respectable! She had no need to be afraid of her mother even if she were the greatest Mambo in Haiti.

“I’m telling you to go, old lady,” she said, her courage renewed. “You’re nothing, do you hear?”

Instead of shouting back angrily, as Sophie expected her to do, the Mambo chuckled amiably.

“That’s right,” she said. “I’m nothing . . . but you, you’re something big . . . you married Caseus!”

“Yes, I did,” Sophie answered proudly. “He’s in the government. He can read and write. We’re decent. We go to church. My girls are going to be ladies, and my sons are going to college!”

Now the Mambo laughed, a great hearty laugh that boomed amazingly from her frail body.

“You’re God-fearing,” she shouted mirthfully. “You’re respectable! You take Communion! You kiss the Bishop’s hand! And now you’re wearing shoes and going to the garden party to mix with the elite!” She stopped, choking on her words.

“I’m ashamed of you,” Sophie cried in answer. “Ashamed to have you in my house.”

The Mambo rocked herself and nodded pleasantly.

“I know, girl,” she said. “But I like to sit in this chair. Give me the chair, and I won’t come!”

It was Caseus’ chair, a family heirloom that was, apart from Sophie's sewing machine, their only precious possession. Their home may have been mean and empty; but in it this upholstered walnut rocker stood as a symbol of the comfort and grandeur that was to be theirs some day. Sophie could no more give it away than she could give away one of her children; and she knew that it was not really the chair her mother wanted. She wanted power: her old power

over Sophie and new power over Sophie’s children. She wanted to destroy the power of Caseus, who ruled unchallenged in his own house.

Sophie braced herself. She knew the Mambo would not stay to face Caseus. Caseus was strong. He had a straight back; he was severe; he commanded.

“Don’t come here again,” Sophie told her mother. “Caseus forbids you. I forbid you in his name. Get up out of his grandmother’s chair.”

Suddenly, quickly, the Mambo got up. She darted forward and raised a hand in the air. Mumbling to herself, she began to make intricate, elaborate gestures.

Sophie, realizing what the Mambo was doing, rushed to her and grabbed her hand.

“Stop that, old lady,” she demanded. “No Voodoo in my house.”

“I’m cursing you,” the Mambo said cheerfully. “You and your blue-black man.”

Pushing her mother to the door, Sophie shouted: “Get out. You can’t scare me with spells. Go back to the hills. Don’t bother me.”

The Mambo went without protest; but Continued on page 71

Continued on page 71

The Curse of the Mambo

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 35

as she passed over the threshold, she spat on it. Sophie followed her into the street and began to shout again. But then she realized where she was, and stopped. She went back into her house and stood alone in the empty room.

“I don’t care if she is my mother,” she said aloud. “We’re decent. We’re clean. We’re modern!” Then she sat down before her sewing machine and j burst into tears.

Her concern was as much for her daughters as for herself. A grandmother who practiced Voodoo was no asset to Fernande and Cesarine who, Sophie was determined, were destined to marry brilliant cabinet ministers. She was not worried about her sons, Christophe and Anastase, for they were strong and severe like Caseus and showed no manifestations of the wildness she had feared they might inherit from the men in her family.

Sighing, she raised her head from behind the sewing machine, and looked about to see which of her innumerable chores needed most to be done. She knew there was nothing she could do for her girls but make them the finest little ladies in Haiti; and that would be their glory. In order to do this, they had to have fine dresses, and she had to make them. So she picked up a piece of gingham she had bargained for in the market and put it under the needle. But she had not worked five minutes before she heard footsteps outside and knew from them that Caseus was coming home. He was unusually early. Sophie thought he must have already heard of the Mambo’s visit and was coming to punish her. She trembled. It was strange, but she was always frightened of Caseus every time she heard him coming. He was a man she had to get used to all over again every time he came home. He was a proud man, an austere one, with many responsibilities and a tradition to uphold. He could never forget for a minute that the men in his family had been in the government service, one way or another despite many sudden changes in administration, for more than a hundred years.

WHEN he came in, he did not kiss her formally on the forehead, as he always did. Instead he only nodded, and sat down in his chair with a groan.

Sophie ran to him and saw that he looked stricken.

“What is it?” she cried, running for his comforts—pipe, slippers, small glass of rum.

“Oh, woman, woman,” Caseus moaned, shaking his head.

“Yes? Yes? What?”

But Caseus would say no more. Sophie could not understand him in this mood. This was not the terrible wrath she had expected because of the Mambo. She wondered what other way she might have failed him. Every morning when Cesarine handed her the prayer book and she tried to spell out a verse, she saw his look of pity, or perhaps it was even contempt; but she did not mind that, or her children’s occasional impatience with her because she was slow and ignorant. She was proud to be the wife of a man who could read and write, and the mother of children who were going to be cultured.

This Caseus, however, the one who slumped in his chair before her, she did not know.

“What’s wrong, Caseus?” she demanded, over and over.

Caseus groaned several more times, even after he had smoked and sipped a while, but he did not speak. Sophie trembled and was really afraid.

“You’re sick, Caseus!” she said.

Fastening great sad eyes upon her, Caseus shook his head. Again he did not speak.

“What is it?” Sophie pleaded.

“Your man is a complete fool, Sophie,” Caseus said solemnly.

This was an unprecedented announcement and, therefore, very upsetting. Sophie ran to him, knelt before him, and begged for an explanation.

“I have taken food out of our children’s mouths,” he said.

Sophie stammered: “What . . .

How ... Why ...”

Caseus pushed her away and rose. He put one hand on his chest in a dramatic gesture that Sophie knew well, and began to stride up and down.

“Ten gourde,” he chanted. “Two dollars American.”

“It’s not so much,” Sophie argued. “How did you do it?”

“I bought a lottery ticket!”

Sophie squealed in amazement. She was unreasonably delighted, but knew

she mustn’t let Caseus see it.

“How did you come to do that?” she asked with what she hoped was proper solemnity.

Rolling his eyes and waving his hands to express self-disappointment, Caseus described his temptation, struggle, and final capitulation.

“But it was all because of Honoré Lebrun,” he snorted when his recital was finished. “An agent of the devil. He knew my weaknesses, and he can talk. He has winning ways. He can make an absurd proposition logical— long enough, at least, for it to be too

late to put up an argument.”

“And this happened today?” Sophie asked.

“Oh no. Three days I’ve carried it about with me. Tonight I had to tell you. Now I have. Judge me!”

Sophie didn’t know what to say. From the way Caseus was looking at her she knew he expected her to say the right thing, but she had no idea what that would be, and instead of saying something, she giggled foolishly.

“Are you laughing at me?” Caseus demanded in a voice that throbbed with the promise of outrage.

“Oh, no, no,” Sophie protested. “I was thinking only. It’s a big thing—a I serious thing.”

Caseus relaxed. Nodding approvingly, lie struck his chest again.

“You might win,” Sophie ventured to observe, knowing she shouldn’t; but it was the idea stronger than all others in her mind, and she couldn’t help it.

“Who wins?” Caseus asked in a thunderous voice. “Thieves. Beggars. Cousins of the President. People like us don’t win. It is impossible. It would not be allowed.”

Sophie knew he was right, and hung her head resignedly. She listèned while Caseus elaborated on his own folly and that of the Government, condemning himself and everyone else to perdit ion. After a while, however, she could stand it no longer, and raising her head, interrupted.

“It’s not so bad, Caseus,” she said. “It has happened when we all have i shoes. If it had happened before, and we could not all go to the garden party, then ...”

Caseus silenced her by raising his hand. He took her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes.

“You are a good woman,” he said I sadly. “But you lack pride totally. I would rather not have this deed on my conscience than to go to all the garden parties for the next one hundred years!”

Though she did not say so, Sophie did not agree with him. She would have been willing to bear the weight of a good many sins in order to go to the President’s garden party, where there would be t urkey and lobster and shrimp i spread out on tables for all to eat freely. She and her children had never tasted such things and Sophie was determined that now they should, for it was to her not an unimportant part of the elegance she dreamed of that she be familiar from one experience, at least, with the taste of fine food.

Sophie and Caseus, both lost in reverie, stood facing each other. Then Sophie was startled from hers by a sudden fear that Caseus might be going t o suggest that, as a suitable atonement for his sin, they should not go to the garden party at all; and sure enough, his countenance suddenly lost its look of brooding and was enlivened by a smile. Sophie saw this and remarked to herself, as she often did when this happened, how his color seemed to darken and lighten in conjunction with his mood. When he smiled, pink lights glowed in his skin, instead of the usual blue, but Sophie had learned with the years to put herself on guard, rather than relax, as another person might, when Caseus smiled.

“It was the garden party fever. That’s what it did to me.” Caseus beamed as he proclaimed the fatal words. “That is very definitely the reason. It was the garden party talk that unbalanced me.” He nodded his head vigorously and looked at Sophie, waiting for approval. But she could not reply: she could only bite her lip ■ and look down at the bare floor she had scrubbed so often that was nowdirty again.

“Don’t you agree?” Caseus de-

MACLEAN’S

manded, and then, without waiting for an answer, went on. “Of course I am right. That is the reason for my folly. It’s all because of the garden party. Very well, then, it is simple. We can put it all to rights. We won’t go!”

Sophie sighed, knowing that all was lost. Closing her eyes, she prepared to accept the inevitable.

“Yes, dear wife,” Caseus continued, his voice brighter with every word, “we shall not present ourselves to our President at the garden party. We shall be humble, and our sins will be forgiven.” He paused, cleared his throat, poked at his wilted collar, and then, more casually, added: “Of course /

shall have to go in my official capacity

—alone. But unofficially, that is, socially, it is not required, so you and the children can remain at home.” Unable to restrain her indignation completely, Sophie cried out: “But we have shoes, Caseus!

“They can be saved for other occa-

sions.” . ,,

“There are no other occasions. Caseus smiled indulgently.

“Oh yes,” he said. “There will be

weddings—funerals.”

“Who will be married? Who will die?’* Sophie had to turn away and face the wall, for she was going to cry, a thing she never did when Caseus was

in the house.

Caseus took out ffiis watch and studied it for a long time, which is whan he always did when he considered a subject exhausted but was at a loss for another. Time ticked itself out quietly. Caseus and Sophie did not speak again until the children came home for supper.

The day of the garden party their street was full of excitement. But Sophie would not go out of the house. All the neighbors were going to the President’s mansion to watch the guests arrive, but Sophie could not be persuaded to go with them even though she knew the mansion was lighted by blue neon and pink flamingos were parading before it on the lawn. She sat long hours alone in the dark, listening to the distant sounds of festivity, until at last she noticed they were no longer so distant, that they were coming nearer and nearer, umil they were right there in the street ou'side her house; and then there was a great pounding on the door. When she realized that the noise was all for her, that it was her door they were pounding on, her name they were calling, she rushed out into the street. There she met a wild confusion of

sounds: shouting, sobbing, screaming. For a long time she did not understand what so many people were trying to tell her. Then at last she did; and she saw what they had brought her back from the garden party.

Caseus had, miraculously, got close to the President. In fact, they all said the President had spoken to him. At any rate, someone just then had fired a shot that, though meant for His Excellency, had killed Caseus.

They wore their shoes to the funeral, which, because Caseus had become posthumously famous, was an impressive one. The President sent a cabinet minister to represent him, and ordered that the government pay all the expenses. The Bishop himself was in charge of the service. A small army of bureaucrats, who had been given two hours off just to attend, filled all the pews in the rear half of the big church. Sophie, numb with shock, hardly noticed anyone, but it did occur to her later, when she was on the way to the cemetery with the children, that these men from the bureaus and ministries had each looked like the other, and all like her Caseus.

AFTER Caseus had been lowered into the grave and the earth had covered him and the prayers were all said, they went home. But they were not to be alone. The house was overflowing with people, most of them men and women Sophie could not remember having known before. Excited, but solemn, they all wanted to comfort Sophie and her children. There were a great many dogs, cats, and children there, too, and everyone had brought some offering of food or drink.

Everyone fussed over Sophie and her children, admiring their clothes, and particularly, their shoes. Sophie tried to smile and thank them, but she could hardly speak. No one minded. She wept, now and then, which pleased everyone, and after a while she fell asleep in a chair.

She was wakened by sounds she knew too well; the beating of a drum and the shuffling of many naked feet. Sitting up with a jerk, she stared at all the people dancing before her there in her house. Then she rose.

“No, no. Not in my house!” she shouted furiously.

At first no one paid attention, but she shouted again and again until the crowd was aware of her and stopped what they were doing, to listen.

“What are you doing in my house?” She was shouting; and her sons were holding her by the arms. Cesarine and Fernande were weeping.

“Don't allow it,” Sophie screamed at them. “Don’t you see what they are doing? Don’t let them disgrace us. This is a respectable Christian home!

Several people in the crowd laughed rudely; others became angry and shouted insults at Sophie. Tension rose as

When You Have Read This Magazine...

please send it to a member of the armed forces serving overseas. If you know no one in the services, enquire locally if some organization is collecting magazines for shipment. In most areas some organization is performing this valuable service.

the drum went on despite Sophie’s demands that it be stopped. Then, just as resentment was getting the better of the crowd’s natural good nature, a man ran into the room, beat his way through the crowd, and threw himself on Sophie. He called her name and shouted incoherently.

“What is it? Who are you?” she asked, frightened.

“Lebrun. Lebrun. Honoré Lebrun !”

The name meant nothing. Sophie pulled away. “What is it? What do you want?”

“I tell you. Only listen. The lottery, see? Caseus has won it!” He shouted the news so loudly that everyone heard. There was a great gasp, then silence.

“What?” Sophie looked at Lebrun for the first time. “You say Caseus has won? But what does that matter? Don’t you know? Caseus is dead.”

Honoré Lebrun jumped up and down.

“Listen, listen,” he cried. “The money goes to you. You are rich! One of the richest women in Haiti! Now you will have hundreds of opportunities to marry again.”

The crowd murmured in protest. Sophie, shocked by Lebrun’s crudeness, turned away and hid her head on Cesarine’s shoulder. But soon the great news took effect: the mourning

mood was swept away by joy, for everyone was glad of Sophie’s good fortune, and no one seemed less happy because it was not his own. They all rushed forward to congratulate Sophie and soon she was rejoicing with them, laughing and sobbing, hugging her sons and daughters, kissing the cheeks and shaking the hands of friends and strangers both.

There was now a big crowd outside the house, too. The officials were coming to make the presentation. More food and drink appeared and were quickly dispensed. Torches were

brought and there was singing and dancing in the street. Inside, because of Sophie’s bereavement and her known disapproval of certain celebrations, restraint prevailed. Sophie sat apart, smiling but decorous, still an object of pity in spite of the awe superimposed by her sudden new status.

THE street was full when the officials arrived. People surged, cheered, wept. There was an impromptu but still impressive procession down the street and into the house. When it arrived and Sophie rose to make them all welcome, everyone threw flowers at her and called out her name as if she were Queen. The officials bowed and gestured. One official made a speech, then another official, and another. The language was exalted. But then the most impressive official stepped forward and held out his hand. He asked for the ticket.

“The ticket?” Sophie echoed.

“The ticket,” Lebrun whispered. “The ticket?”

“The ticket.”

Quiet spread through the room and out into the street, as if everyone knew in advance what Sophie was going to say.

“I have no ticket,” she said. “Caseus had the ticket.”

Everyone wanted to help. Each person wanted to be the one to find the ticket for Sophie.

There was a frenzy of searching, but since Sophie had such few possessions, it did not take very long. There was no ticket anywhere. Finally the officials shook their heads and prepared to depart. A great groan shook the house, the street, the whole city, as the impressive men in their brilliant uniforms marched out of the house and away.

Without the ticket, of course, no one

could win. It was the law. Sophie had two days in which to produce the ticket and then, if she did not, there would be another drawing.

Very soon the house was empty again. Only Honoré Lebrun stayed with Sophie.

“It must be somewhere,” he insisted. “Think!”

But Sophie could not think.

“I never saw the ticket,” she said. “Caseus had it. It was all his doing. Then, overwhelmed by grief, anger, and despair, she broke down.

Fernande, Cesarine, Christophe, and Anastase crowded around their mother. Her hysteria was contagious and they wailed and sobbed with her.

Afterwards, Cesarine, the first to collect herself, came over to Lebrun.

“What did he have on when he bought the ticket?” she asked quietly. “Do you remember?”

Lebrun considered.

“Yes, I do,” he answered. “It was a grey suit with a stripe. I remember because it made him look so important —much more important than he was.”

Cesarine screamed. Sophie, startled out of her misery, rose and ran to her.

“What is it?” Sophie asked.

“I know where it is,” Cesarine whispered. “In his grey suit.”

Lebrun clapped his hands. “Good. Good. Where is the grey suit?”

Sophie raised her hand and pointed, far beyond them, into the distance.

“He’s wearing the suit,” she moaned. “We buried him in it.”

There was a long silence. They all stared at one another. Then Sophie sank down in her chair.

“It is the Mambo’s curse,” she said.

Honoré Lebrun whistled, and shook his head. He was about to go away, certain that good and bad fortune were both too vagrant in this house for it to be safe to stay. Rut just as he was

about to accept this fatalistic idea, it was dispersed by another. He looked closely at Sophie, then at her children. He hesitated, then went to Cesarine and whispered in her ear. She stiffened and looked at Sophie. They all seemed to understand at the same moment. Sophie got up and went to Lebrun. She took him by the arm.

“Who would do it?” she asked.

“I will do it,” Lebrun replied. “For your sake, and for a share of the money.”

“Ten percent,” said Cesarine.

“Done,” said Lebrun. “But first we must ask. It will be difficult. There will have to be permits.”

They went to the government. It was a long time before they were sent to the right bureau. Finally they were told there would be no objection provided there was none from the Church. Sophie and Lebrun were advised to go to the Bishop himself.

Since Caseus had been famous so recently, the Bishop granted them audience after they had waited only two hours. He was a plump man and would have been jolly had he not had to be dignified so much of the time. Entering the audience chamber in his palace, he clucked sympathetically. He knew who Sophie was and was wondering why she had come. It seemed strange to him that a woman who had just won the lottery should come at once to call on him. He was convinced that the government had arranged for Caseus’ number to win, as compensation for his involuntary martyrdom. It was, he thought, a nice gesture, but more sentimental than practical. It would be wasted on people of their kind.

“What can I do for you, daughter?” he asked aloud.

Sophie found herself unable to answer. She looked piteously at Honoré Lebrun who, looking fearfully at the

Bishop, fumbled with his tie, cleared his throat, and blurted out their request.

The Bishop had to sit down.

“What are you asking?” he gasped. “Such a thing is impossible—-unthinkable.”

Both Sophie and Lebrun fell to their knees before the Bishop and began to plead as fervently as any two people he had ever heard.

“Tt would be an outrage . . . sacrilege,” he said. “It is not even to be considered. Not for a moment. You are forbidden even to think of it.”

These people were shocking the Bishop. Greed had turned them callous; and this was not to be encouraged. The Bishop wanted them to go.

“Nothing more to say,” he shouted in his most severe tone, and waddled to the door.

Sophie, suddenly nimble, got there before him. She held out a hand to stop him.

“All things are possible with God,” she proclaimed. “I have heard you say so. There will be half for the Church.”

“Half?” The Bishop stopped. He thought quickly, desperately. It was an outrageous demand by all standards. The Church could use the money, but not on these terms. Money could corrupt, and here was proof of it. He had disapproved of the lottery, not on principle, hut because he knew his people and feared for them. He had been right. This woman had been almost imperious with him. He would not bargain with her, not for twenty times the money. These people had to revere him and the Church above everything else, or they would become utterly unrestrainable.

“You could promise all to the Church,” he said, “and it would make no difference.” He indicated to Sophie with a quick, authoritative jerk of the head, that he wished to pass, and she

stepped aside. The door opened and closed, and the Bishop was gone.

Sophie stared at Lebrun.

“No,” he said. “It can’t be done. Without permission, all is lost. No one in the world would do it now.”

Caseus had said that Honoré Lebrun was an agent of the devil. Now Sophie realized that all that had happened to her was in a way Lebrun’s fault. He had sold the lottery ticket to Caseus. If it had not been for the lottery ticket, she would not now be a widow, since it was only because of it she had not gone to the garden party, and if she had been there Caseus would not have gone so close to the President.

There in the Bishop’s palace, Sophie saw that her misery was to be endless, and the vision of it was more than she could bear. She began to howl and beat Lebrun with her fists. He had to drag her past scandalized attendants out of the palace into the city square, where the spectacle of Sophie’s rage drew such a large crowd in such a short time, he was forced to take a taxi, which he could ill afford.

In Sophie’s street the neighbors who knew of Sophie’s mission and were waiting for her triumphant return, saw at once when the taxi drove up, that this extravagance meant not victory, but defeat. Women rushed forward to help Lebrun with Sophie, for she was still violent. These women, since they were women and used to trouble, knew what to do. Before long, Sophie was asleep in her own bed and a woman skilled in the art of inducing sleep was sleeping in a chair beside her.

After many hours, just before dawn, Sophie awoke. She sat up and tried to peer into the darkness. She recognized the woman in the chair but knew it had not been her snoring that had wakened her. It had been something else, the feeling of some extraordinary

presence that had come and gone so quickly that she could not be certain it had been there. Sophie felt so excited, so inexplicably happy, that she thought she must have had some wonderful dream that was now forgotten. Remembering again all her sorrows, she sighed profoundly, lay back on her hard bed, and was soon asleep.

IN THE morning she felt calm. She got up, dressed herself, picked up her prayer book from the table, and went into the next room, where the children were waiting for her. They were, she knew, expecting her to be different, but hoping she would be the same. Fernande, the older daughter, had made breakfast, and Cesarine, who was so clever, stood where she always did, waiting for Sophie to come with her prayer book.

Sophie, when she saw them, feared she would weep again, but she knew she could not allow herself to do it. She had her duty. There would be no professional careers now for the boys, and no cabinet ministers for the girls, but whatever was to become of them she could keep them clean and decent.

“No use my trying to read,” she said, handing the prayer book to Cesarine. “I’ll never learn. You read us the verse.”

Cesarine opened the book and riffled the pages, looking for a special verse that was her favorite. She did not notice the small square of white paper that dropped out and fluttered to the floor.

Fernande saw it and reached down to pick it up. She examined it closely, and then with a gurgle that turned into a scream, handed it to Sophie.

It was the lottery ticket.

They were babbling and crying, hugging each other and dancing crazily.

Fernande rushed out. to tell the neighbors; Christophe went for the officials, and Anastase for Lebrun. Sophie was alone with Cesarine.

“Is it a miracle, Mother?” Cesarine asked.

“No,” Sophie replied.

“But it must be, Mother. The ticket wasn’t there the other night. I looked all through the prayer book when everyone was searching.”

“It was stuck between the pages.”

“Oh, no, Mother. If it was stuck then, why wasn’t it stuck now? It would have stayed stuck . . .”

But Sophie was not listening to Cesarine. She stood motionless in the middle of the room, listening to something else, something very far away that was, however, coming nearer and nearer. She went to the window and stood there, peering out between the slats of the shutters. Then, after a while, she turned.

“Open the door, Cesarine,” she cried. “The Mambo is coming. Go and make her welcome.”

Cesarine did not go. She laughed and tossed her head.

“We don’t want her here now,” she said.

Sophie was surprised that Cesarine did not seem to hear the drum that she could hear so clearly. Something about the smile on Cesarine’s lips and the confident tilt of her head angered Sophie, and she raised her voice to command. “Go and do what I say, and do it quickly!”

Her voice was so strange, so terrible, that Cesarine obeyed.

The Mambo came in and stood silent before her. The old eyes were deep and there was much to see in them. Sophie looked deeply, and understood. Then, with a long sigh, she knelt down before the Mambo and kissed her naked feet. ★