The story opens with the people of the small adobe village of Las Animas discussing the state of Rafael, a young rancher in the llano, the desolate plains country of northeastern New Mexico. The llano is nearly empty of people, and the villagers of Las Animas claim its silences can steal a man’s soul. This has happened to Rafael.
Rafael’s life on the llano has been a rough one. When he is fifteen, his parents die while traveling to town in a blizzard. Left alone to fend for the livestock, the young man loses half of his cattle to vicious winter storms.
In the spring, Rafael travels to Las Animas and tells the priest his parents have died. The villagers and other ranchers gather for a funeral mass, and then all go on with their lives except for Rita, a young woman who became orphaned as a child and has grown up behind the church. She falls in love with Rafael, and they marry. The two are very happy in their isolated existence on Rafael’s ranch. He tends the livestock and improves the adobe house while Rita plants a garden and revives the neglected peach trees. Soon Rita becomes pregnant, and the young couple look forward to starting a family in their prairie paradise.
However, Rita’s pregnancy is troubled, and in December, when the baby is due, she begins to bleed and feels unnatural tensions in her body. She tells Rafael to get Doña Rufina, the midwife and folk healer who lives in Las Animas. The old crone helps Rita give birth, but the healer is powerless to stop the hemorrhaging.
Rita dies, and Rafael, bitter over his beloved wife’s death, will have...
(The entire section is 660 words.)