Wednesday, April 25, 2007
The Casa is owned, legally at least, by the Azcoitia family. In practice, the family allows the Church to do with it as it will.
The story of the previous chapter - that of the landowner and the witch - is the story of the Azcoitia family. The convent that the girl was sent off to is the Casa itself.
The Casa has been in the family since, passed down generation after generation. In recent generations, it seems, the family line has been in danger of dying out. Each generation has yielded only one male, creating a fragile thread of inheritance. The current owner is Don Jeronimo Azcoitia. He is married to a woman named Ines and they do not yet have any children.
Ines has already received several mentions. We know she is in Rome, having gone there to try to attain beatification for the same girl-witch from the story. Mudito tells us that he assisted her in gathering the documentation to present to the Cardinals. We also know, from fragments of gossip, that Ines has been unsuccessful but has not returned yet from Rome.
There is one exception to the one-male lineage. A man named Don Clemente who is Don Jeronimo's father's brother - a second son.
This chapter is as much about decay as it is about the Azcoitias. The Casa was once a busy convent, a spiritual retreat where notable members of the Church would come to contemplate and purge themselves of their sins. Now it is dark, damp and abandoned, the domain of rats. Mudito has been severing off entire chambers and wings since the abandonment has led to broken floors and railings. Only three nuns remain, a pack of old women and a handful of orphans who were left here by an orphanage but never retrieved.
The Azcoitia family too has decayed. Jeronimo is the last of his line but he "still kept alive the insane hope that his wife's useless womb would procreate." He also finally signs over the Casa to the Church.
Don Clemente, we learn, spent his final days in the Casa. He arrives as an infirm old man and quickly descends into madness. Mudito becomes his caretaker but even he cannot control Don Clemente who screams and moans and takes to wandering the Casa half-naked. Mudito's solution is to wall him off:
"...one night, as Don Clemente slept, I walled up his window with bricks and cement, the first window I walled up in the Casa. Then, and this was my idea, I painted it over on the outside, the same color as the wall. And now you can't tell where the window used to be."
The theme of containment, of isolation, of walled-up worlds has already recurred several times in just the first few chapters. As we progress through the novel, this idea will continue to appear in forms that are increasingly potent and demented.
In any case, Don Clemente escapes and wanders into the Chapel:
"...he appeared in the presbytery as naked as God cast him into the world and, with his stick began smashing everything he could find, as the old women wailed and screamed and fled, scandalized by the naked Don Clemente, who desecrated the chapel...I rushed over to cover him...and I took him to his cell...he passed away two days later."
Apparently, the ghost of Don Clemente still wanders through the Casa and the women continue to fervently recite rosaries so that his spirit may finally be banished.