The Woman Who Rode Away Summary
In this story of initiation, a Woman from Berkeley—the reader never learns her first name—the mother of two children, is restive and dispirited; her marriage to Lederman, a strong-willed rancher twenty years her senior, has long since lost its physical and spiritual vitality. Devoted to work, Lederman once morally swayed her, “kept her in an invincible slavery.” Now she yearns for adventure. Beyond the confines of her ranch live the Chilchui Indians, and she determines to ride out, alone, “to wander into the secret haunts of these timeless, mysterious, marvelous Indians of the mountains.”
In part 1 of this story in three parts, the Woman, on horseback, comes on three Indians who seem like figures of fate. One of them, a young man with eyes “quick and black, and inhuman,” agrees to guide her to the Chilchui, so that she may “know their gods.” Controlling her horse, the Indian leads her to a shelter where other Indians, wearing what appear to be loincloths, are indifferent to her. After a sleep in the “long, long night, icy and eternal,” she is aware that she has died to her former self and can never again return to her civilization.
In part 2, she follows the young Indian, descending the slopes until she comes on a green valley between walls of rock. There, an old chief (or medicine man) questions her. After assuring him that she has not come to bring the white man’s god, she is led by her guide to an old Indian, who again questions whether she is willing to bring her “heart to the god of the Chilchui.” Again she assents. Ordered to take off her clothes, she is ritually touched by the old man, then offered new clothing of cotton and wool. Later, while naked, she is given a liquor to drink, made with herbs and sweetened with honey. At first ill from the potion, she soon lapses into a langorous consciousness in which her senses are sharpened and purified. Although fascinated by the “darkly and powerfully male” young Indian who still guards her, she never is made to feel “self-conscious, or sex-conscious.” Instead, after weeks of captivity,...
(The entire section is 549 words.)