“I’d brought him up from Trinidad, a likable, clean-cut boy of British parents, extremely sensitive and filled with the ideals that youth picks up, God knows where and that middle age spends years in discarding.”-Tom Gill, “As Told At The Explorer’s Club”
Tom Gill was an Explorer who surveyed forests in the Caribbean and Central America. In 1936, he published, “Carmelita.” A short story about a journey down the Orinoco River in Central America, where he encounters Carmelita, a stunningly beautiful Native Girl, who was attached (or enslaved) to an estranged, brute of a Frenchmen, Philippe Rojo. Tom was searching for the best Timber in the region and he needed Philippe’s help in finding it.
Tom brought along on his adventure, a charming, nineteen year old British boy named Jack, who quickly falls in love with Carmelita.
“She was standing knee deep in the lagoon, washing a cotton shirt, wearing only a skirt twisted about her waist. She may have been half-Indian or more and her hair hung black and thick over her shoulders…”
Though himself struck by Carmelita’s beauty, Tom was on a mission that didnt include love and he would soon discover that the girl was involved with the man whose assistance he desperately needed.
As Tom and Jack approached the beautiful Indian girl on their canoe, she made a small cry and ran for the nearby palm-thatched hut. Paddling closer to the shore, a large, hulking man then emerged from the small house resting in the dark shadows of the jungle.
Tom writes; “I had heard of Rojo for years. He was the one man who knew that pestilential part of the Orinoco, and made his living trading with the Indians, but very seldom going to any of the white settlements……….A man without fear or any of those cultural luxuries we call “finer feelings.” There were no graduations about Rojo, no damned subtlety-black was black and white was white. He had a vocabulary of filth and invective that would have awed a Port Said Prostitute, but in the two days I spent with him I found myself liking him. You knew where you stood with him–and so did Carmelita.”
Tom made a deal with Rojo, he and Jack would stay with him for two days and he would show Tom where the best timber grew.
Their first night together, Tom opened his flask of Fundador cognac and Rojo “drank it like goat’s milk.”
After midnight, Jack and Tom heard a scuffle and the cries of a young girl in the inner room of the hut where Rojo and Carmelita had retired.
It was so uncomfortable that Jack got up and walked outside.
The first day, while Tom and Rojo fought mosquitoes through the Central American Brush, Jack stayed at Camp with Carmelita.
Tom returns to the Lagoon in the evening to soon discover Jack in a fervent panic over the story of Carmelita’s life. She had told Jack that Rojo beat her, abused her, led her a dogs life until she prayed “the saints for death.”
Young Jack was ready to do violence over Carmelita’s wrongs and Tom now had an additional task in keeping the boy calm.
By the next day, Jack was in love and ready to take Carmelita with him back to Trinidad. Tom, conflicted over the situation, counseled Jack to delay his plans and to rethink his love affair.
Unfortunately, after again returning from surveying the Jungle with Rojo, Tom saw that Jack was more in love than ever. He writes on Carmelita; “She had braided brightly colored ribbons in her hair, the way the Maya women do and I could see she was excited and very happy and a little tremulous. Her black, slanting eyes sparkled and every time she looked at Jack I could see her breasts rise and her little hands clasp and unclasp.“
Tom tried to keep Jack civil with Rojo but it proved difficult, as Carmelita had shown him marks on her legs and shoulder along with a cut across her back given to her by the dominating Frenchman.
Jack pleaded that Tom help her escape and Tom gave in. The next day, as Rojo departed for a trip down river, Tom, Jack and Carmelita made “God speed” in their cayuka.
After a full day of paddling, the party of three makes camp and Tom lends his tent to Jack and Carmelita, while he walks a ways downstream and curls up on a poncho.
The next morning, Tom goes into the Jungle to search for more Timber and when he returns a couple days later, he sees that things have gone sour between the two young lovers.
Tom writes on Jack, “he was devotion itself, He had bound up her cuts and bruises and given her his wrist watch, he wouldnt let her cook. I think he even washed her hair…”
That night, Tom hears Jack and Carmelita arguing in the tent and soon Jack comes out to join Tom on the river bank.
“I cant please her. Nothing I do pleases her. She says she is sick of me–sick and tired of the way i treat her. God! A person couldnt treat her any better, could they?”
Tom writes in response to Jack’s frustration, “From Carmelita’s standpoint, I could think of many better ways to treat her. For whether she knew it or not, life for Carmelita demanded a touch of the strong-arm. She had to be dominated, even at the risk of a few bruises. IT gave a zest to things, like red chile in your soup. Jack couldnt giver her what she had been getting from Rojo in the matter of slaps, blows and curses and all this was bound up in Carmelita’s simple psychology of love………he (Jack) could have brought anything in the world to a woman except the thrill of physical violence. And Carmelita needed that.”
All Tom could do, was try to counsel the young lad in the most gentle, cordial manner. He suggested he put off marrying the girl for a while and Jack responds, “But I’ve got to marry her now.”
The next day, Jack and Tom awoke to both the Cayuka and Carmelita gone. Tom writes: “Gone back to her brandy soaked lover, where once in a while she could count on the supreme ecstasy of a wallop across the buttocks.”
Jack of course, was deflated and extremely confused.
Now without a Kayak, Jack and Tom began a trudge through the forest back to civilization. Jack went back to Trinidad, on the eve of enrolling in Oxford in England, while Tom continued his adventures in the Brush.
“Carmelita,” speaks to the harsh realities of life that ever so often, emboldened youth are confronted with. In terms of love and relationships, most have had a very, if not remotely similar experience to young Jack.
It certainly would be easy for many young men to see themselves in Jack, as a lot of men are much more romantic than they often admit.
Many of us have heard our entire lives that women desire a sensitive man who is at their side for every need and situation. Yet reality shows that most men like that dont get very far in relationships.
While most modern women would probably never want to be with a Phillipe Rojo, there are parallels to the attributes of the hulking Frenchmen, that would probably do men some good in keeping a woman.
Of course, Tom Gill is the wise and experienced adventurer, he is ever the neutral observer who sees trouble the first day Jack and Carmelita meet.
He is like Jack’s big brother, giving him his wise two cents but in the end, allowing him to make his own choices and perhaps, experience the lesson in the misery he has brought on himself.