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Home > Sands of Time(17)

Sands of Time(17)
Author: Sidney Sheldon

Dolores picked up a heavy iron ashtray at the bedside and slammed it against her daughter's head.

That was the last thing Graciela remembered.

She awoke in a large, white hospital ward with two dozen beds in it, all of them occupied. Harried nurses scurried back and forth, trying to attend to the needs of the patients.

Graciela's head was racked with excruciating pain. Each time she moved, rivers of fire flowed through her. She lay there, listening to the cries and moans of the other patients.

Late in the afternoon, a young intern stopped by the side of her bed. He was in his early thirties, but he looked old and tired.

"Well," he said, "you're finally awake."

"Where am I?" It hurt her to speak.

"You're in the charity ward of the Hospital Provincial in avila. You were brought in yesterday. You were in terrible shape. We had to stitch up your forehead." The intern went on. "Our chief surgeon decided to sew you up himself. He said you were too beautiful to have scars."

He's wrong, Graciela thought. I'll be scarred for the rest of my life.

On the second day, Father Perez came to see Graciela. A nurse moved a chair to the bedside. The priest looked at the beautiful, pale young girl lying there and his heart melted. The terrible thing that had happened to her was the scandal of Las Navas del Marques, but there was nothing anyone could do about it. Dolores Pinero had told the policia that her daughter had injured her head in a fall.

Father Perez asked, "Are you feeling better, child?"

Graciela nodded, and the movement made her head pound.

"The policia have been asking questions. Is there anything you would like me to tell them?"

There was a long silence. Finally she said, "It was an accident."

He could not bear the look in her eyes. "I see."

What he had to say was painful beyond words. "Graciela, I spoke with your mother..."

And Graciela knew. "I - I can't go home again, can I?"

"No, I'm afraid not. We'll talk about it." Father Perez took Graciela's hand. "I'll come back to see you tomorrow."

"Thank you, Father."

When he left, Graciela lay there, and she prayed: Dear God, please let me die. I don't want to live.

She had nowhere to go and no one to go to. Never again would she see her home. She would never see her school again, or the familiar faces of her teachers. There was nothing in the world left for her.

A nurse stopped at her bedside. "You need anything?"

Graciela looked up at her in despair. What was there to say?

The following day the intern appeared again.

"I have good news," he said awkwardly. "You're well enough to leave now." That was a he, but the rest of his speech was true. "We need the bed."

She was free to go - but go where?

When Father Perez arrived an hour later, he was accompanied by another priest.

"This is Father Berrendo, an old friend of mine."

Graciela glanced up at the frail-looking priest. "Father."

He was right, Father Berrendo thought. She is beautiful.

Father Perez had told him the story of what had happened to Graciela. The priest had expected to see some visible signs of the kind of environment the child had lived in, a hardness, a defiance, or self-pity. There were none of those things in the young girl's face.

"I'm sorry you've had such a bad time," Father Berrendo told her. The sentence carried a deeper meaning.

Father Perez said, "Graciela, I must return to Las Navas del Marques. I am leaving you in Father Berrendo's hands."

Graciela was filled with a sudden sense of panic. She felt as though her last link with home was being cut. "Don't go," she pleaded.

Father Perez took her hand in his. "I know you feel alone," he said warmly, "but you're not. Believe me, child, you're not."

A nurse approached the bed carrying a bundle. She handed it to Graciela. "Here are your clothes. I'm afraid you're going to have to leave now."

An even greater panic seized her. "Now?"

The two priests exchanged a look.

"Why don't you get dressed and come with me?" Father Berrendo suggested. "We can talk."

Fifteen minutes later Father Berrendo was helping Graciela out of the hospital door into the warm sunlight. There was a garden in front of the hospital with brightly colored flowers, but Graciela was too dazed even to notice them.

When they were seated in his office, Father Berrendo said, "Father Perez told me that you have no place to go."

Graciela nodded.

"No relatives?"

"Only - " It was difficult to say it. "Only - my mother."

"Father Perez said that you were a regular churchgoer in your village."

A village she would never see again. "Yes."

Graciela thought of those Sunday mornings, and the beauty of the church services, and how she had longed to be with Jesus and escape from the pain of the life she lived.

"Graciela, have you ever thought of entering a convent?"

"No." She was startled by the idea.

"There is a convent here in avila - the Cistercian convent. They would take care of you there."

"I - I don't know." The idea was frightening.

"It is not for everyone," Father Berrendo told her. "And I must warn you, it is the strictest order of them all. Once you walk through the gates and take the vows, you have made a promise to God never to leave."

Graciela sat there staring out the window, her mind filled with conflicting thoughts. The idea of shutting herself away from the world was terrifying. It would be like going to prison. But on the other hand, what did the world have to offer her? Pain and despair beyond bearing. She had often thought of suicide. This might offer a way out of her misery.

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