ALICE, TEXAS - The cowboy’s dark skin shone with sweat and his hand trembled as he placed the rope over the weeping young woman’s head and tightened it around her neck. He and the two other men, trusted by Don Ramos to run his ranch and see to his affairs had been given a grim instruction by their employer early that morning. They had been told to take his lovely wife, see that she was dressed in black, and then see her hanged by sunset that day.
Leonora, naturally had wept, begged and implored the men during their long sad journey. She repeatedly declared her innocence, but now with one end of the rope dangling from a high tree branch and one end tried around her slender neck she was stoic. She once again reminded them she was with child. She once again stated she had done no wrong, but this time she told them: "You will know, I will let everyone know that I am innocent." Horrified by what they had to do, but terrified of Don Ramos the men carried out their dreadful duty. Leonora was dead before the sun completely left the sky. A sad end to a short life, but this is not the end of the story.
The beginning of the story for Leonora must have been like a fairy tale. Don Ramos was a young, handsome and wealthy man, who brought her from Mexico to his ranch as his wife. While many marriages at the time were arranged the young couple had made a love match, outraging not a few neighbors who felt that their daughters should be sharing Ramos’s good fortune and not an outsider.
The discontent felt by some would be the undoing of poor Leonora and her husband. Gossip is said to be a harmless past time, but it was death for the hapless young woman. She was murdered by rumor; slain by the slander manufactured by a rival. Today even through we can understand the psychology of gossip lives are often twisted out of shape by the rumormonger. The office worker who will start cruel rumors about a co-worker who shows him or her up is merely worried about keeping his job, and the lover who poisons the social waters against a rival has low-self esteem. We know that for this kind of person direct confrontation would likely end badly for them so instead they manipulate others to do their dirty work, and such was the case for Don Ramos and his wife.
Another woman had previously been his lover and had felt assured that on his return he would ask her to be his wife. Instead the pretty Leonora had arrived having stolen the prize of his affection. Watching them happily enjoying each other’s company was too much for the jilted woman.
If you have ever witnessed the ugly transformation on the face of a gossip you will be able to conjure the woman’s performance to your minds eye. Her words muffled behind a fluttering black lace fan, her lips curved unattractively down in a malicious sneer, the eyes slanted and glittering with spitefulness, as she whispered her venom into a neighbor’s bejeweled ear. Had she been able to see herself, maybe it would have crossed her mind that her former beau had fallen out of love with her after witnessing just such a repellent display.
Poison is a coward’s weapon. A poisoner, doesn’t have to even be nearby when his or her’ victim begins to suffer. Leonora may have seen calculating looks cast her way, heard little whispers behind her back, but being guilty of nothing she could only wonder what the reason was. She never got the chance to confront the woman who ruined her reputation with lies. The rumormonger remained hidden behind the individuals she had confided her untruth to; she could watch from a safe distance as the human instinct of passing on gossip accomplished her revenge.
If a change in how others looked at her disturbed the young bride a bright piece of news distracted her. With great joy she informed her husband that soon he would be a father. Their bliss lasted only until the false allegations reached his ears. How perfect the jilted lover’s plan had been, knowing Don Ramos as well as she did she had known his worse fear, and his greatest weakness. He feared infidelity, as his pride could not stand the humiliation of being made a fool of by a woman. When the rumor was repeated to him he returned immediately to his ranch and picked the three who would execute his wife. He instructed his men to ride with her as far north as they could reach by sunset, while he mounted his own horse and rode south as far as possible before the sun began to set.
No murder charge could ever be leveled against his ex-lover. When the man who had been named as being involved with the young bride, heard of the gossip he quickly stepped forward to clear her name, but few could remember who had started the slander. As for the guilty party did she blame herself? Did she feel the weight of those lives on her conscience or was she able to fool herself and blame her victims. What did she and those she had used to carry her slander think when they heard a new rumor about Leonora? Travelers had seen her near the trees where she had met her death, they swore she remained only long enough to remind them of her last words, "I am innocent", before she disappeared.Was that really all there was to the haunting? Did her former neighbor’s ever hear the rustle of dress skirts when no one was near? Did a pale, tear stained face ever appear out of the corner of the jilted girlfriend’s eye only to disappear when she looked closer? If their conscience didn’t haunt them, did Leonora?
An argument for gossip is: Where there is smoke there is fire. Be careful that the smell is not actually brimstone, which awaits those who bear false witness; be careful you are not actually participating in someone else’s personal propaganda campaign. Should you doubt the evils of lying about your neighbor then visit the intersection of Highways 281 and 141 just south of Alice where the ghost of a weeping woman dressed in black has been seen for longer then Texas has been a state. She’ll tell you she has done no wrong. How many people can say the same thing?