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Title: Woman Triumphant - (La Maja Desnuda)
Author: Blasco Ibáñez, Vicente, 1867-1928
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Woman Triumphant - (La Maja Desnuda)" ***

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http://dp.rastko.net.



WOMAN TRIUMPHANT

(LA MAJA DESNUDA)

BY

VICENTE BLASCO IBAÑEZ


TRANSLATED FROM THE SPANISH

BY

HAYWARD KENISTON

WITH A SPECIAL INTRODUCTORY NOTE BY THE AUTHOR


[Illustration]


NEW YORK
E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY
681 FIFTH AVENUE
Copyright, 1920,
BY K. P. DUTTON & COMPANY

_All Rights Reserved_



First printing March, 1920

Second printing March, 1020

Third printing March, 1920

Fourth printing March, 1920

Fifth printing March, 1920

Sixth printing March, 1920

Seventh printing March. 1920

Eighth printing March, 1920

Ninth printing April, 1920

Tenth printing April, 1920

Eleventh printing April, 1920

Twelfth printing April, 1920

Thirteenth printing April, 1920

Fourteenth printing April, 1920


Printed In the United States of America



INTRODUCTORY NOTE TO THE ENGLISH TRANSLATION


The title of this novel in the original, _La maja desnuda_, "The Nude
Maja," is also the name of one of the most famous pictures of the great
Spanish painter Francisco Goya.

The word _maja_ has no exact equivalent in English or in any of the
modern languages. Literally, it means "bedecked," "showy," "gaudily
attired," "flashy," "dazzling," etc., and it was applied at the end of
the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the nineteenth to a
certain class of gay women of the lower strata of Madrid society
notorious for their love of dancing and their fondness for exhibiting
themselves conspicuously at bull-fights and all popular celebrations.
The great ladies of the aristocracy affected the free ways and imitated
the picturesque dress of the _maja_; Goya made this type the central
figure of many of his genre paintings, and the dramatist Ramón de la
Cruz based most of his _sainetes_--farcical pieces in one act--upon the
customs and rivalries of these women. The dress invented by the _maja_,
consisting of a short skirt partly covered by a net with berry-shaped
tassels, white _mantilla_ and high shell-comb, is considered all over
the world as the national costume of Spanish women.

When the novel first appeared in Spain some years ago, a certain part of
the Madrid public, unduly evil-minded, thought that it had discovered
the identity of the real persons whom I had taken as models to draw my
characters. This claim provoked a scandalous sensation and gave my book
an unwholesome notoriety. It was thought that the protagonists of _La
maja desnuda_ were an illustrious Spanish painter of world-wide fame,
who is my friend, and an aristocratic lady very celebrated at the time
but now forgotten. I protested against this unwarranted and fantastic
interpretation. Although I draw my characters from life, I do so only in
a very fragmentary way (like all the great creative novelists whom I
admire as masters in the field of fiction), using the materials gathered
in my observations to form completely new types which are the direct and
legitimate offspring of my own imagination. To use a figure: as a
novelist I am a painter, not a photographer. Although I seek my
inspiration in reality, I copy it in accordance with my own way of
seeing it; I do not reproduce it with the mechanical servility of the
photographic camera.

It is possible that my imaginary heroes are vaguely reminiscent of
beings who actually exist. Subconsciousness is the novelist's principal
instrument, and this subconsciousness frequently mocks us, leading us to
mistake for our own creation the things which we have unwittingly
observed in Nature. But despite this, it is unfair, as well as risky,
for the reader to assign the names of real persons to the characters of
fiction, saying, "This is So-and-so."

It would be equally unfair to consider this novel as audacious or of
doubtful morality. The artistic world which I describe in _La maja
desnuda_ cannot be expected to have the same conception of life as the
conventional world. Far from believing it immoral, I consider this one
of the most moral novels I have ever written. And it is for this reason
that, with a full realization of the standards demanded by the
English-reading public, I have not hesitated to authorize the present
translation without palliation or amputation, fully convinced that the
reader will not find anything in this novel objectionable or offensive
to his moral sense. Morality is not to be found in words but in deeds
and in the lessons which these deeds teach.

The difficulty of adequately translating the word _maja_ into English
led to the adoption of "Woman Triumphant" as the title of the present
version. I believe it is a happy selection; it interprets the spirit of
the novel. But it must be borne in mind that the woman here is the wife
of the protagonist. It is the wife who triumphs, resurrecting in spirit
to exert an overwhelming influence over the life of a man who had wished
to live without her.

Renovales, the hero, is simply the personification of human desire, this
poor desire which, in reality, does not know what it wants, eternally
fickle and unsatisfied. When we finally obtain what we desire, it does
not seem enough. "More: I want more," we say. If we lose something that
made life unbearable, we immediately wish it back as indispensable to
our happiness. Such are we: poor deluded children who cried yesterday
for what we scorn to-day and shall want again to-morrow; poor deluded
beings plunging across the span of life on the Icarian wings of caprice.

                                                 VICENTE BLASCO IBAÑEZ.

New York, January, 1920.



WOMAN TRIUMPHANT



PART I

I


It was eleven o'clock in the morning when Mariano Renovales reached the
Museo del Prado. Several years had passed since the famous painter had
entered it. The dead did not attract him; very interesting they were,
very worthy of respect, under the glorious shroud of the centuries, but
art was moving along new paths and he could not study there under the
false glare of the skylights, where he saw reality only through the
temperaments of other men. A bit of sea, a mountainside, a group of
ragged people, an expressive head attracted him more than that palace,
with its broad staircases, its white columns and its statues of bronze
and alabaster--a solemn pantheon of art, where the neophytes vacillated
in fruitless confusion, without knowing what course to follow.

The master Renovales stopped for a few moments at the foot of the
stairway. He contemplated the valley through which you approach the
palace--with its slopes of fresh turf, dotted at intervals with the
sickly little trees--with a certain emotion, as men are wont to
contemplate, after a long absence, the places familiar to their youth.
Above the scattered growth the ancient church of Los Jerónimos, with its
gothic masonry, outlined against the blue sky its twin towers and ruined
arcades. The wintry foliage of the Retiro served as a background for
the white mass of the Casón. Renovales thought of the frescos of
Giordano that decorated its ceilings. Afterwards, he fixed his attention
on a building with red walls and a stone portal, which pretentiously
obstructed the space in the foreground, at the edge of the green slope.
Bah! The Academy! And the artist's sneer included in the same loathing
the Academy of Language and the other Academies--painting, literature,
every manifestation of human thought, dried, smoked, and swathed, with
the immortality of a mummy, in the bandages of tradition, rules, and
respect for precedent.

A gust of icy wind shook the skirts of his overcoat, his long beard
tinged with gray and his wide felt hat, beneath the brim of which
protruded the heavy locks of his hair, that had excited so much comment
in his youth, but which had gradually grown shorter with prudent
trimming, as the master rose in the world, winning fame and money.

Renovales felt cold in the damp valley. It was one of those bright,
freezing days that are so frequent in the winter in Madrid. The sun was
shining; the sky was blue; but from the mountains, covered with snow,
came an icy wind, that hardened the ground, making it as brittle as
glass. In the corners, where the warmth of the sun did not reach, the
morning frost still glistened like a coating of sugar. On the mossy
carpet, the sparrows, thin with the privations of winter, trotted back
and forth like children, shaking their bedraggled feathers.

The stairway of the Museo recalled to the master his early youth, when
at sixteen he had climbed those steps many a time with his stomach faint
from the wretched meal at the boarding-house. How many mornings he had
spent in that old building copying Velásquez! The place brought to his
memory his dead hopes, a host of illusions that now made his smile;
recollections of hunger and humiliating bargaining to make his first
money by the sale of copies. His large, stern face, his brow that filled
his pupils and admirers with terror lighted up with a merry smile. He
recalled how he used to go into the Museo with halting steps, how he
feared to leave the easel, lest people might notice the gaping soles of
his boots that left his feet uncovered.

He passed through the vestibule and opened the first glass door.
Instantly the noises of the world outside ceased; the rattling of the
carriages in the Prado; the bells of the street-cars, the dull rumble of
the carts, the shrill cries of the children who were running about on
the slopes. He opened the second door, and his face, swollen by the
cold, felt the caress of warm air, buzzing with the vague hum of
silence. The footfalls of the visitors reverberated in the manner
peculiar to large, unoccupied buildings. The slam of the door, as it
closed, resounded like a cannon shot, passing from hall to hall through
the heavy curtains. From the gratings of the registers poured the
invisible breath of the furnaces. The people, on entering, spoke in a
low tone, as if they were in a cathedral; their faces assumed an
expression of unnatural seriousness, as though they were intimidated by
the thousands of canvases that lined the walls, by the enormous busts
that decorated the circle of the rotunda and the middle of the central
salon.

On seeing Renovales, the two door-keepers, in their long frock-coats,
started to their feet. They did not know who he was, but he certainly
was somebody. They had often seen that face, perhaps in the newspapers,
perhaps on match-boxes. It was associated in their minds with the glory
of popularity, with the high honors reserved for people of distinction.
Presently they recognized him. It was so many years since they had seen
him there! And the two attendants, with their caps covered with
gold-braid in their hands and with an obsequious smile, came forward
towards the great artist.

"Good morning, Don Mariano. Did Señor de Renovales wish something? Did
he want them to call the curator?" They spoke with oily obsequiousness,
with the confusion of courtiers who see a foreign sovereign suddenly
enter their palace, recognizing him through his disguise.

Renovales rid himself of them with a brusque gesture and cast a glance
over the large decorative canvases of the rotunda, that recalled the
wars of the 17th century; generals with bristling mustaches and plumed
slouch-hat, directing the battle with a short baton, as though they were
directing an orchestra, troops of arquebusiers disappearing downhill
with banners of red and blue crosses at their front, forests of pikes
rising from the smoke, green meadows of Flanders in the
backgrounds--thundering, fruitless combats that were almost the last
gasps of a Spain of European influence. He lifted a heavy curtain and
entered the spacious salon, where the people at the other end looked
like little wax figures under the dull illumination of the skylights.

The artist continued straight ahead, scarcely noticing the pictures, old
acquaintances that could tell him nothing new. His eyes sought the
people without, however, finding in them any greater novelty. It seemed
as though they formed a part of the building and had not moved from it
in many years; good-natured fathers with a group of children before
their knees, explaining the meaning of the pictures; a school teacher,
with her well-behaved and silent pupils who, in obedience to the command
of their superior, passed without stopping before the lightly clad
saints; a gentleman with two priests, talking loudly, to show that he
was intelligent and almost at home there; several foreign ladies with
their veils caught up over their straw hats and their coats on their
arms, consulting the catalogue, all with a sort of family-air, with
identical expressions of admiration and curiosity, until Renovales
wondered if they were the same ones he had seen there years before, the
last time he was there.

As he passed, he greeted the great masters mentally; on one side the
holy figures of El Greco, with their greenish or bluish spirituality,
slender and undulating; beyond, the wrinkled, black heads of Ribera,
with ferocious expressions of torture and pain--marvelous artists, whom
Renovales admired, while determined not to imitate them. Afterwards,
between the railing that protects the pictures and the line of busts,
show-cases and marble tables supported by gilded lions, he came upon the
easels of several copyists. They were boys from the School of Fine Arts,
or poverty-stricken young ladies with run-down heels and dilapidated
hats, who were copying Murillos. They were tracing on the canvas the
blue of the Virgin's robe or the plump flesh of the curly-haired boys
that played with the Divine Lamb. Their copies were commissions from
pious people; a _genre_ that found an easy sale among the benefactors of
convents and oratories. The smoke of the candles, the wear of years, the
blindness of devotion would dim the colors, and some day the eyes of the
worshipers, weeping in supplication, would see the celestial figures
move with mysterious life on their blackened background, as they
implored from them wondrous miracles.

The master made his way toward the Hall of Velásquez. It was there that
his friend Tekli was working. His visit to the Museo had no other object
than to see the copy that the Hungarian painter was making of the
picture of _Las Meninas_.

The day before, when the foreigner was announced in his studio, he had
remained perplexed for a long while, looking at the name on the card.
Tekli! And then all at once he remembered a friend of twenty years
before, when he lived in Rome; a good-natured Hungarian, who admired him
sincerely and who made up for his lack of genius with a silent
persistency in his work, like a beast of burden.

Renovales was glad to see his little blue eyes, hidden under his thin,
silky eyebrows, his jaw, protruding like a shovel, a feature that made
him look very much like the Austrian monarchs--his tall frame that bent
forward under the impulse of excitement, while he stretched out his bony
arms, long as tentacles, and greeted him in Italian:

"Oh, _maestro, caro maestro!_"

He had taken refuge in a professorship, like all artists who lack the
power to continue the upward climb, who fall in the rut. Renovales
recognized the artist-official in his spotless suit, dark and proper, in
his dignified glance that rested from time to time on his shining boots
that seemed to reflect the whole studio. He even wore on one lapel of
his coat the variegated button of some mysterious decoration. The felt
hat, white as meringue, which he held in his hand, was the only
discordant feature in this general effect of a public functionary.
Renovales caught his hands with sincere enthusiasm. The famous Tekli!
How glad he was to see him! What times they used to have in Rome! And
with a smile of kindly superiority he listened to the story of his
success. He was a professor in Budapest; every year he saved money in
order to go and study in some celebrated European museum. At last he had
succeeded in coming to Spain, fulfilling the desire he had cherished for
many years.

"_Oh, Velásquez! uel maestro, caro Mariano!_"

And throwing back his head, with a dreamy expression in his eyes, he
moved his protruding jaw covered with reddish hair, with a voluptuous
look, as though he were sipping a glass of his sweet native Tokay.

He had been in Madrid for a month, working every morning in the Museo.
His copy of _Las Meninas_ was almost finished. He had not been to see
his "Dear Mariano" sooner because he wanted to show him this work. Would
he come and see him some morning in the Museo? Would he give him this
proof of his friendship? Renovales tried to decline. What did he care
for a copy? But there was an expression of such humble supplication in
the Hungarian's little eyes, he showered him with so many praises of his
great triumphs, expatiating on the success that his picture _Man
Overboard!_ had won at the last Budapest Exhibition, that the master
promised to go to the Museo.

And a few days later, one morning when a gentleman whose portrait he was
painting canceled his appointment, Renovales remembered his promise and
went to the Museo del Prado, feeling, as he entered, the same sensation
of insignificance and homesickness that a man suffers on returning to
the university where he has passed his youth.

When he found himself in the Hall of Velásquez, he suddenly felt seized
with religious respect. There was a painter! _The_ painter! All his
irreverent theories of hatred for the dead were left outside the door.
The charm of those canvases that he had not seen for many years rose
again--fresh, powerful, irresistible; it overwhelmed him, awakening his
remorse. For a long time he remained motionless, turning his eyes from
one picture to another, eager to comprise in one glance the whole work
of the immortal, while around him the hum of curiosity began again.

"Renovales! That's Renovales!"

The news had started from the door, spreading through the whole Museo,
reaching the Hall of Velásquez behind his steps. The groups of curious
people stopped gazing at the pictures to look at that huge,
self-possessed man who did not seem to realize the curiosity that
surrounded him. The ladies, as they went from canvas to canvas, looked
out of the corner of their eyes at the celebrated artist whose portrait
they had seen so often. They found him more ugly, more commonplace than
he appeared in the engravings in the papers. It did not seem possible
that that "porter" had talent and painted women so well. Some young
fellows approached to look at him more closely, pretending to gaze at
the same pictures as the master. They scrutinized him, noting his
external peculiarities with that desire for enthusiastic imitation which
marks the novice. Some determined to copy his soft bow-tie and his
tangled hair, with the fantastic hope that this would give them a new
spirit for painting. Others complained to themselves that they were
beardless and could not display the curly gray whiskers of the famous
master.

He, with his keen sensitiveness to praise, was not long in observing the
atmosphere of curiosity that surrounded him. The young copyists seemed
to stick closer to their easels, knitted their brows, dilated their
nostrils, and moved their brushes slowly, with hesitation, knowing that
he was behind them, trembling at every step that sounded on the inlaid
floor, full of fear and desire that he might deign to cast a glance over
their shoulders. He divined with a sort of pride what all the mouths
were whispering, what all the eyes were saying, fixed absent-mindedly on
the canvases only to turn toward him.

"It's Renovales--the painter Renovales."

The master looked for a long while at one of the copyists--an old man,
decrepit and almost blind, with heavy convex spectacles that gave him
the appearance of a sea-monster, whose hands trembled with senile
unsteadiness. Renovales recognized him. Twenty years before, when he
used to study in the Museo, he had seen him in the same spot, always
copying _Los Borrachos_. Even if he should become completely blind, if
the picture should be lost, he could reproduce it by feeling. In those
days they had often talked together, but the poor man could not have the
remotest suspicion that the Renovales whom people talked so much about
was the same lad who on more than one occasion had borrowed a brush from
him, but whose memory was scarcely preserved in his mind, mummified by
eternal imitation.

Renovales thought of the kindness of the chummy Bacchus and the gang of
ruffians of his court, who for half a century had been supporting the
household of the copyist, and he fancied he could see the old wife, the
married children, the grandchildren--a whole family supported by the old
man's trembling hand.

Some one whispered to him the news that was filling the Museo with
excitement and the copyist, shrugging his shoulders disdainfully, raised
his moribund glance from his work.

And so Renovales was there, the famous Renovales! At last he was going
to see the prodigy!

The master saw those grotesque eyes like those of a sea-monster, fixed
on him, with an ironical gleam behind the heavy lenses. The grafter! He
had already heard of that studio, as splendid as a palace, behind the
Retire What Renovales had in such plenty had been taken from men like
him who, for want of influence, had been left behind. He charged
thousands of dollars for a canvas, when Velásquez worked for three
_pesetas_ a day and Goya painted his portraits for a couple of
doubloons. Deceit, modernism, the audacity of the younger generation
that lacked scruples, the ignorance of the simpletons that believe the
newspapers! The only good thing was right there before him. And once
more shrugging his shoulders scornfully, he lost his expression of
ironical protest and returned to his thousandth copy of _Los Borrachos_.

Renovales, seeing that the curiosity about him was diminishing, entered
the little hall that contained the picture of _Las Meninas_. There was
Tekli in front of the famous canvas that occupies the whole back of the
room, seated before his easel, with his white hat pushed back to leave
free his throbbing brow that was contracted with a tenacious insistence
on accuracy.

Seeing Renovales, he rose hastily, leaving his palette on the piece of
oil-cloth that protected the floor from spots of paint. Dear master! How
thankful he was to him for this visit! And he showed him the copy,
minutely accurate but without the wonderful atmosphere, without the
miraculous realism of the original. Renovales approved with a nod; he
admired the patient toil of that gentle ox of art, whose furrows were
always alike, of geometric precision, without the slightest negligence
or the least attempt at originality.

"_Ti piace?_" he asked anxiously, looking into his eyes to divine his
thoughts. "_È vero? È vero?_" he repeated with the uncertainty of a
child who fears that he is being deceived.

And suddenly calmed by the evidences of Renovales' approval, that kept
growing more extravagant to conceal his indifference, the Hungarian
grasped both of his hands and lifted them to his breast.

_"Sono contento, maestro, sono contento."_

He did not want to let Renovales go. Since he had had the generosity to
come and see his work, he could not let him go away, they would lunch
together at the hotel where he lived. They would open a bottle of
Chianti to recall their life in Rome; they would talk of the merry
Bohemian days of their youth, of those comrades of various nationalities
that used to gather in the Café del Greco,--some already dead, the rest
scattered through Europe and America, a few celebrated, the majority
vegetating in the schools of their native land, dreaming of a final
masterpiece before which death would probably overtake them.

Renovales felt overcome by the insistence of the Hungarian, who seized
his hands with a dramatic expression, as though he would die at a
refusal. Good for the Chianti! They would lunch together, and while
Tekli was giving a few touches to his work, he would wait for him,
wandering through the Museo, renewing old memories.

When he returned to the Hall of Velásquez, the assemblage had
diminished; only the copyists remained bending over their canvases. The
painter felt anew the influence of the great master. He admired his
wonderful art, feeling at the same time the intense, historical sadness
that seemed to emanate from all of his work. Poor Don Diego! He was born
in the most melancholy period of Spanish history. His sane realism was
fitted to immortalize the human form in all its naked beauty and fate
had provided him a period when women looked like turtles, with their
heads and shoulders peeping out between the double shell of their
inflated gowns, and when men had a sacerdotal stiffness, raising their
dark, ill-washed heads above their gloomy garb. He had painted what he
saw; fear and hypocrisy were reflected in the eyes of that world. In the
jesters, fools and humpbacks immortalized by Don Diego was revealed the
forced merriment of a dying nation that must needs find distraction in
the monstrous and absurd. The hypochondriac temper of a monarchy weak
in body and fettered in spirit by the terrors of hell, lived in all
those masterpieces, that inspired at once admiration and sadness. Alas
for the artistic treasures wasted in immortalizing a period which
without Velásquez would have fallen into utter oblivion!

Renovales thought, too, of the man, comparing with a feeling of remorse
the great painter's life with the princely existence of the modern
masters. Ah, the munificence of kings, their protection of artists, that
people talked about in their enthusiasm for the past! He thought of the
peaceful Don Diego and his salary of three _pesetas_ as court painter,
which he received only at rare intervals; of his glorious name figuring
among those of jesters and barbers in the list of members of the king's
household, forced to accept the office of appraiser of masonry to
improve his situation, of the shame and humiliation of his last years in
order to gain the Cross of Santiago, denying as a crime before the
tribunal of the Orders that he had received money for his pictures,
declaring with servile pride his position as servant of the king, as
though this title were superior to the glory of an artist. Happy days of
the present, blessed revolution of modern life, that dignifies the
artist, and places him under the protection of the public, an impersonal
sovereign that leaves the creator of beauty free and ends by even
following him in new-created paths!

Renovales went up to the central gallery in search of another of his
favorites. The works of Goya filled a large space on both walls. On one
side the portraits of the kings and queens of the Bourbon decadence;
heads of monarchs, or princes, crushed under their white wigs; sharp
feminine eyes, bloodless faces, with their hair combed in the form of a
tower. The two great painters had coincided in their lives with the
moral downfall of two dynasties. In the Hall of Velásquez the thin,
bony, fair-haired kings, of monastic grace and anæmic pallor, with
their protruding under-jaws, and in their eyes an expression of doubt
and fear for the salvation of their souls. Here, the corpulent, clumsy
monarchs, with their huge, heavy noses, fatefully pendulous, as though
by some mysterious relation they were dragging on the brain, paralyzing
its functions; their thick underlips, hanging in sensual inertia; their
eyes, calm as those of cattle, reflecting in their tranquil light
indifference for everything that did not directly concern their own
well-being. The Austrians, nervous, restless, vacillating with the fever
of insanity, riding on theatrical chargers, in dark landscapes, bounded
by the snowy crests of the Guadarrama, as sad, cold and crystallized as
the soul of the nation; the Bourbons, peaceful, adipose,
resting--surfeited--on their huge calves, without any other thought than
the hunt of the following day or the domestic intrigue that would set
the family in dissension, deaf to the storms that thundered beyond the
Pyrenees. The one, surrounded by brutal-faced imbeciles, by gloomy
pettifoggers, by Infantas with childish faces and the hollow skirts of a
Virgin's image on an altar; the others bringing as a merry, unconcerned
retinue, a rabble clad in bright colors, wrapped in scarlet capes or
lace mantillas, crowned with ornamental combs or masculine hats--a race
that, without knowing it, was sapping its heroism in picnics at the
Canal or in grotesque amusements. The lash of invasion aroused them from
their century-long infancy. The same great artist that for many years
had portrayed the simple thoughtlessness of this gay people, showy and
light-hearted as a comic-opera chorus, afterwards painted them, knife in
hand, attacking the Mamelukes with the agility of monkeys, felling those
Egyptian centaurs under their slashes, blackened with the smoke of a
hundred battles, or dying with theatrical pride by the light of a
lantern in the gloomy solitude of Moncloa, shot by the invaders.

Renovales admired the tragic atmosphere of the canvas before him. The
executioners hid their faces, leaning on their guns; they were the blind
executors of fate, a nameless force, and before them rose the pile of
palpitating, bloody flesh; the dead with strips of flesh torn off by the
bullets, showing reddish holes, the living with folded arms, defying the
murderers in a tongue they could not understand, or covering their faces
with their hands, as though this instinctive movement could save them
from the lead. A whole people died, to be born again. And beside this
picture of horror and heroism, in another close to it, he saw Palafox,
the Leonidas of Saragossa, mounted on horseback, with his stylish
whiskers and the arrogance of a blacksmith in a captain-general's
uniform, having in his bearing something of the appearance of a popular
chieftain, holding in one hand, gloved in buckskin, the curved saber,
and in the other the reins of his stocky, big-bellied steed.

Renovales thought that art is like light, which acquires color and
brightness from the objects it touches. Goya had passed through a stormy
period; he had been a spectator of the resurrection of the soul of the
people and his painting contained the tumultuous life, the heroic fury
that you look for in vain in the canvases of that other genius, tied as
he was to the monotonous existence of the palace, unbroken except by the
news of distant wars in which they had little interest and whose
victories, too late to be useful, had the coldness of doubt.

The painter turned away from the dames of Goya, clad in white cambric,
with their rosebud mouths and with their hair done up like a turban, to
concentrate his attention on a nude figure, the luminous gleam of whose
flesh seemed to throw the adjacent canvases in a shadow. He
contemplated it closely for a long time, bending over the railing till
the brim of his hat almost touched the canvas. Then he gradually moved
away, without ceasing to look at it, until, at last, he sat down on a
bench, still facing the picture with his eyes fixed upon it.

"Goya's _Maja_. The _Maja Desnuda!_"

He spoke aloud, without realizing it, as if his words were the
inevitable outburst of the thoughts that rushed into his mind and seemed
to pass back and forth behind the lenses of his eyes. His expressions of
admiration were in different tones, marking a descending scale of
memories.

The painter looked with delight at the gracefully delicate form,
luminous, as though within it burned the flame of life, showing through
the pearl-pale flesh. A shadow, scarcely perceptible, veiled in mystery
of her femininity; the light traced a bright spot on her smoothly
rounded knees and once more the shadow reached down to her tiny feet
with their delicate toes, rosy and babyish.

The woman was small, graceful, and dainty; the Spanish Venus with no
more flesh than was necessary to cover her supple, shapely frame with
softly curving outlines. Her amber eyes that flashed slyly, were
disconcerting with their gaze; her mouth had in its graceful corners the
fleeting touch of an eternal smile; on her cheeks, elbows and feet the
pink tone showed the transparency and the moist brilliancy of those
shells that open their mysterious colors in the secret depths of the
sea.

"Goya's _Maja_. The _Maja Desnuda!_"

He no longer said these words aloud, but his thought and his expression
repeated them, his smile was their echo.

Renovales was not alone. From time to time groups of visitors passed
back and forth between his eyes and the picture, talking loudly. The
tread of heavy feet shook the wooden floor. It was noon and the
bricklayers from nearby buildings were taking advantage of the noon hour
to explore those salons as if it were a new world, delighting in the
warm air of the furnaces. As they went, they left footprints of plaster
on the floor; they called out to each other to share their admiration
before a picture; they were impatient to take it all in at a single
glance; they waxed enthusiastic over the warriors in their shining armor
or the elaborate uniforms of olden times. The cleverest among them
served as guides to their companions, driving them impatiently. They had
been there the day before. Go ahead! There was still a lot to see! And
they ran toward the inner halls with the breathless curiosity of men who
tread on new ground and expect something marvelous to rise before their
steps.

Amid this rush of simple admirers there passed, too, some groups of
Spanish ladies. All did the same thing before Goya's work, as if they
had been previously coached. They went from picture to picture,
commenting on the fashions of the past, feeling a sort of longing for
the curious old crinolines and the broad mantillas with the high combs.
Suddenly they became serious, drew their lips together and started at a
quick pace for the end of the gallery. Instinct warned them. Their
restless eyes felt hurt by the nude in the distance; they seemed to
scent the famous _Maja_ before they saw her and they kept on--erect,
with severe countenances, just as if they were annoyed by some rude
fellow's advances in the street--passing in front of the picture without
turning their faces, without seeing even the adjacent pictures nor
stopping till they reached the Hall of Murillo.

It was the hatred for the nude, the Christian, century-old abomination
of Nature and truth, that rose instinctively to protest against the
toleration of such horrors in a public building which was peopled with
saints, kings and ascetics.

Renovales worshiped the canvas with ardent devotion, and placed it in a
class by itself. It was the first manifestation in Spanish history of
art that was free from scruples, unhampered by prejudice. Three
centuries of painting, several generations of glorious names, succeeded
one another with wonderful fertility; but not until Goya had the Spanish
brush dared to trace the form of a woman's body, the divine nakedness
that among all peoples has been the first inspiration of nascent art.
Renovales remembered another nude, the Venus of Velásquez, preserved
abroad. But that work had not been spontaneous; it was a commission of
the monarch who, at the same time that he was paying foreigners lavishly
for their studies in the nude, wished to have a similar canvas by his
court-painter.

Religious oppression had obscured art for centuries. Human beauty
terrified the great artists, who painted with a cross on their breasts
and a rosary on their sword-hilts. Bodies were hidden under the stiff,
heavy folds of sackcloth or the grotesque, courtly crinoline, and the
painter never ventured to guess what was beneath them, looking at the
model, as the devout worshiper contemplates the hollow mantle of the
Virgin, not knowing whether it contains a body or three sticks to hold
up the head. The joy of life was a sin. In vain a sun fairer than that
of Venice shone on Spanish soil, futile was the light that burned upon
the land with a brighter glow than that of Flanders: Spanish art was
dark, lifeless, sober, even after it knew the works of Titian. The
Renaissance, that in the rest of the world worshiped the nude as the
supreme work of Nature, was covered here with the monk's cowl or the
beggar's rags. The shining landscapes were dark and gloomy when they
reached the canvas; under the brush the land of the sun appeared with a
gray sky and grass that was a mournful green; the heads had a monkish
gravity. The artist placed in his pictures not what surrounded him, but
what he had within him, a piece of his soul--and his soul was fettered
by the fear of dangers in the present life and torments in the life to
come; it was black--black with sadness, as if it were dyed in the soot
of the fires of the autos-de-fé.

That naked woman with her curly head resting on her folded arms was the
awakening of an art that had lived in isolation. The slight frame, that
scarcely rested on the green divan and the fine lace cushions, seemed on
the point of rising in the air with the mighty impulse of resurrection.

Renovales thought of the two masters, equally great, and still so
different. One had the imposing majesty of famous monuments--serene,
correct, cold, filling the horizon of history with their colossal mass,
growing old in glory without the centuries opening the least crack in
their marble walls. On all sides the same façade--noble, symmetrical,
calm, without the vagaries of caprice. It was reason--solid,
well-balanced, alien to enthusiasm and weakness, without feverish haste.
The other was as great as a mountain, with the fantastic disorder of
Nature, covered with tortuous inequalities. On one side the wild, barren
cliff; beyond, the glen, covered with blossoming heath; below, the
garden with its perfumes and birds; on the heights, the crown of dark
clouds, heavy with thunder and lightning. It was imagination in
unbridled career, with breathless halts and new flights--its brow in the
infinite and its feet implanted on earth.

The life of Don Diego was summed up in these words: "He had painted."
That was his whole biography. Never in his travels in Spain and Italy
did he feel curious to see anything but pictures. In the court of the
Poet-king, he had vegetated amid gallantries and masquerades, calm as a
monk of painting, always standing before his canvas and model--to-day a
jester, to-morrow a little Infanta--without any other desire than to
rise in rank among the members of the royal household, to see a cross of
red cloth sewed on his black jerkin. He was a lofty soul, enclosed in a
phlegmatic body that never tormented him with nervous desires nor
disturbed the calm of his work with violent passions. When he died the
good Dona Juana, his wife, died too, as though they sought each other,
unable to remain apart after their long, uneventful pilgrimage through
the world.

Goya "had lived." His life was that of the nobleman-artist--a stormy
novel, full of mysterious amours. His pupils, on parting the curtains of
his studio, saw the silk of royal skirts on their master's knees. The
dainty duchesses of the period resorted to that robust Aragonese of
rough, manly gallantry to have him paint their cheeks, laughing like mad
at these intimate touches. When he contemplated some divine beauty on
the tumbled bed, he transferred her form to the canvas by an
irresistible impulse, an imperious necessity of reproducing beauty; and
the legend that floated about the Spanish artist connected an
illustrious name with all the beauties whom his brush immortalized.

To paint without fear or prejudice, to take delight in reproducing on
canvas the glory of the nude, the lustrous amber of woman's flesh with
its pale roses like a sea-shell, was Renovales' desire and envy; to live
like the famous Don Francisco--a free bird with restless, shining
plumage in the midst of the monotony of the human barn-yard; in his
passions, in his diversions, in his tastes, to be different from the
majority of men, since he was already different from them in his way of
appreciating life.

But, ah! his existence was like that of Don Diego--unbroken, monotonous,
laid out by level in a straight line. He painted, but he did not live.
People praised his work for the accuracy with which he reproduced
Nature, for the gleam of light, for the indefinable color of the
atmosphere, and the exterior of things; but something was lacking,
something that stirred within him and fought in vain to leap the vulgar
barriers of daily existence.

The memory of the romantic life of Goya made him think of his own life.
People called him a master; they bought everything he painted at good
prices, especially if it was in accordance with some one else's tastes
and contrary to his artistic desire; he enjoyed a calm existence, full
of comforts; in his studio, almost as splendid as a palace, the façade
of which was reproduced in the illustrated magazines, he had a wife who
was convinced of his genius and a daughter who was almost a woman and
who made the troop of his intimate pupils stammer with embarrassment.
The only evidences of his Bohemian past that remained were his soft felt
hats, his long beard, his tangled hair and a certain carelessness in his
dress; but when his position as a "national celebrity" demanded it, he
took out of his wardrobe a dress suit with the lapel covered with the
insignia of honorary orders and played his part in official receptions.
He had thousands of dollars in the bank. In his studio, palette in hand,
he conferred with his broker, discussing what sort of investments he
ought to make with the year's profits. His name awakened no surprise or
aversion in high society, where it was fashionable for ladies to have
their portraits painted by him.

In the early days he had provoked scandal and protests by his boldness
in color and his revolutionary way of seeing Nature, but there was not
connected with his name the least offence against the conventions of
society. His women were women of the people, picturesque and repugnant;
the only flesh that he had shown on his canvases was that of a sweaty
laborer or the chubby child. He was an honored master, who cultivated
his stupendous ability with the same calm that he showed in his business
affairs.

What was lacking in his life? Ah! Renovales smiled ironically. His whole
life suddenly came to mind in a tumultuous rush of memories. Once more
he fixed his glance on that woman, shining white like a pearl amphora,
with her arms above her head, her breasts erect and triumphant, her eyes
resting on him, as if she had known him for many years, and he repeated
mentally with an expression of bitterness and dejection:

"Goya's _Maja_, the _Maja Desnuda_!"



II


As Mariano Renovales recalled the first years of his life, his memory,
always sensitive to exterior impressions, called up the ceaseless clang
of hammers. From the rising of the sun till the earth began to darken
with the shadows of twilight the iron sang or groaned on the anvil,
jarring the walls of the house and the floor of the garret, where
Mariano used to play, lying on the floor at the feet of a pale, sickly
woman with serious, deep-set eyes, who frequently dropped her sewing to
kiss the little one with sudden violence, as though she feared she would
not see him again.

Those tireless hammers that had accompanied Mariano's birth, made him
jump out of bed as soon as day broke and go down to the shop to warm
himself beside the glowing forge. His father, a good-natured
Cyclops--hairy and blackened--walked back and forth, turning over the
irons, picking up files, giving orders to his assistants with loud
shouts, in order to be heard in the din of the hammering. Two sturdy
fellows, stripped to the waist, swung their arms, panting over the
anvil, and the iron--now red, now golden--leaped in bright showers,
scattered in crackling sprays, peopling the black atmosphere of the shop
with a swarm of fiery flies that died away in the soot of the corners.

"Take care, little one!" said the father, protecting his delicate
curly-haired head with one of his great hands.

The little fellow felt attracted by the colors of the glowing iron, till
with the thoughtlessness of childhood he sometimes tried to pick up the
fragments that glowed on the ground like fallen stars.

His father would push him out of the shop, and outside the door--black
with soot--Mariano could see stretching out below him in the flood of
sunlight the fields with their red soil cut into geometric figures by
stone walls; at the bottom the valley with groups of poplars bordering
the winding, crystal stream, and before him the mountains, covered to
the very tops with dark pine woods. The shop was in the suburbs of a
town and from it and the villages of the valley came the jobs that
supported the blacksmith--new axles for carts, plowshares, scythes,
shovels, and pitchforks in need of repair.

The incessant pounding of the hammers seemed to stir up the little
fellow, inspiring him with a fever of activity, tearing him from his
childish amusements. When he was eight years old, he used to seize the
rope of the bellows and pull it, delighting in the shower of sparks that
the current of air drove out of the lighted coals. The Cyclops was
gratified at the strength of his son, robust and vigorous like all the
men of his family, with a pair of fists that inspired a wholesome
respect in all the village lads. He was one of his own blood. From his
poor mother, weak and sickly, he inherited only his propensity toward
silence and isolation that sometimes, when the fever of activity died
out in him, kept him for hours at a time watching the fields, the sky or
the brooks that came tumbling down over the pebbles to join the stream
at the bottom of the valley.

The boy hated school, showing a holy horror of letters. His strong hands
shook with uncertainty when he tried to write a word. On the other hand,
his father and the other people in the shop admired the ease with which
he could reproduce objects in a simple, ingenuous drawing, in which no
detail of naturalness was lacking. His pockets were always full of bits
of charcoal and he never saw a wall or stone that had a suggestion of
whiteness, without at once tracing on it a copy of the objects that
struck his eyes because of some marked peculiarity. The outside walls of
the shop were black with little Mariano's drawings. Along the walls ran
the pigs of Saint Anthony, with their puckered snouts and twisted tails,
that wandered through the village and were supported by public charity,
to be raffled on the festival of the saint. And in the midst of this
stout procession stood out the profiles of the blacksmith and all the
workmen of the shop, with an inscription beneath, that no doubt might
arise as to their identity.

"Come here, woman," the blacksmith would shout to his sick wife when he
discovered a new sketch. "Come and see what our son has done. A devil of
a boy!"

And influenced by this enthusiasm, he no longer complained when Mariano
ran away from school and the bellows rope to spend the whole day running
through the valley or the village, a piece of charcoal in his hand,
covering the rocks of the mountain and the house walls with black lines,
to the despair of the neighbors. In the tavern in the Plaza Mayor he had
traced the heads of the most constant customers, and the innkeeper
pointed them out proudly, forbidding anyone to touch the wall for fear
the sketches would disappear. This work was a source of vanity to the
blacksmith when Sundays, after mass, he went in to drink a glass with
his friends. On the wall of the rectory he had traced a Virgin, before
which the most pious old women in the village stopped with deep sighs.

The blacksmith with a flush of satisfaction accepted all the praises
that were showered on the little fellow as if they belonged in large
part to himself. Where had that prodigy come from, when all the rest of
his family were such brutes? And he nodded affirmatively when the
village notables spoke of doing something for the boy. To be sure, he
did not know what to do, but they were right; his Mariano was not
destined to hammer iron like his father. He might become as great a
personage as Don Rafael, a gentleman who painted saints in the capital
of the province and was a teacher of painting in a big house, full of
pictures, in the city. During the summer he came with his family to live
in an estate in the valley.

This Don Rafael was a man of imposing gravity; a saint with a large
family of children, who wore a frock-coat as if it were a cassock and
spoke with the suavity of a friar through his white beard that covered
his thin, pink cheeks. In the village church they had a wonderful
picture painted by him, a _Purísima_, whose soft glowing colors made the
legs of the pious tremble. Besides, the eyes of the image had the
marvelous peculiarity of looking straight at those who contemplated it,
following them even though they changed position. A veritable miracle.
It seemed impossible that that good gentleman who came up every morning
in the summer to hear mass in the village, had painted that supernatural
work. An Englishman had tried to buy it for its weight in gold. No one
had seen the Englishman, but every one smiled sarcastically when they
commented on the offer. Yes, indeed, they were likely to let the picture
go! Let the heretics rage with all their millions. The _Purísima_ would
stay in her chapel to the envy of the whole world--and especially of the
neighboring villages.

When the parish priest went to visit Don Rafael to speak to him about
the blacksmith's son, the great man already knew about his ability. He
had seen his drawings in the village; the boy had some talent and it was
a pity not to guide him in the right path. After this came the visits
of the blacksmith and his son, both trembling when they found themselves
in the attic of the country house that the great painter had converted
into a studio, seeing close at hand the pots of color, the oily palette,
the brushes and those pale blue canvases on which the rosy, chubby
cheeks of the cherubim or the ecstatic face of the Mother of God were
beginning to assume form.

At the end of the summer the good blacksmith decided to follow Don
Rafael's advice. As long as he was so good as to consent to helping the
boy, he was not going to be the one to interfere with his good fortune.
The shop gave him enough to live on. All it meant was to work a few
years longer, to support himself till the end of his life beside the
anvil, without an assistant or a successor. His son was born to be
somebody, and it was a serious sin to stop his progress by scorning the
help of his good protector.

His mother, who constantly grew weaker and more sickly, cried as if the
journey to the capital of the province were to the end of the world.

"Good-by, my boy. I shall never see you again."

And in truth it was the last time that Mariano saw that pale face with
its great expressionless eyes, now almost wiped out of his memory like a
whitish spot in which, in spite of all his efforts, he could not succeed
in restoring the outline of the features.

In the city his life was radically different. Then for the first time he
understood what it was his hands were striving for as they moved the
charcoal over the whitewashed walls. Art was revealed to his eyes in
those silent afternoons, passed in the convent where the provincial
museum was situated, while his master, Don Rafael, argued with other
gentlemen in the professor's hall, or signed papers in the secretary's
office.

Mariano lived at his protector's house, at once his servant and his
pupil. He carried letters to the dean and the other canons, who were
friends of his master and who accompanied him on his walks or spent
social evenings in his studio. More than once he visited the locutories
of nunneries, to deliver through the heavy gratings presents from Don
Rafael to certain black and white shadows, which attracted by this
sturdy young country boy, and aware that he meant to be a painter,
overwhelmed him with the eager questions born of their seclusion. Before
he went away they would hand him, through the revolving window, cakes
and candied lemons or some other goody, and then, with a word of advice,
would say good-by in their thin, soft voices, which sifted through the
iron of the gratings.

"Be a good boy, little Mariano. Study, pray. Be a good Christian, the
Lord will protect you and perhaps you will get to be as great a painter
as Don Rafael, who is one of the first in the world."

How the master laughed at the memory of the childish simplicity that
made him see in his master the most marvelous painter on earth!...
Mornings, when he attended the classes in the School of Fine Arts, he
grew angry at his comrades, a disrespectful rabble, brought up in the
streets, sons of mechanics, who, as soon as the professor turned his
back, pelted each other with the crumbs of bread meant to wipe out their
drawings, and cursed Don Rafael, calling him a "Christer" and a
"Jesuit."

The afternoon Mariano passed in the studio, at his master's side. How
excited he was the first time he placed a palette in his hand and
allowed him to copy on an old canvas a child St. John which he had
finished for a society!... While the boy with his forehead wrinkled in
his eagerness, tried to imitate his master's work, he listened to the
good advice that the master gave him without looking up from the canvas
over which his angelic brush was running.

Painting must be religious; the first pictures in the world had been
inspired by religion; outside of it, life offered nothing but base
materialism, loathsome sins. Painting must be ideal, beautiful. It must
always represent pretty subjects, reproduce things as they ought to be,
not as they really are, and above all, look up to heaven, since there is
true life, not on this earth, a valley of tears. Mariano must modify his
instincts--that was his master's advice--must lose his fondness for
drawing coarse subjects--people as he saw them, animals in all their
material brutality, landscapes in the same form as his eyes gazed upon.

He must have idealism. Many painters were almost saints; only thus could
they reflect celestial beauty in the faces of their madonnas. And poor
Mariano strove to be ideal, to catch a little of that beatific serenity
which surrounded his master.

Little by little he came to understand the methods which Don Rafael
employed to create these masterpieces which called forth cries of
admiration from his circle of canons and the rich ladies that gave him
commissions for pictures. When he intended to begin one of his
_Purísimas_, which were slowly invading the churches and convents of the
province, he arose early and returned to his studio after mass and
communion. In this way he felt an inner strength, a calm enthusiasm,
and, if he felt depressed in the midst of the work, he once more had
recourse to this inspiring medicine.

The artist, besides, must be pure. He had taken a vow of chastity after
he had reached the age of fifty, somewhat late to be sure, but it was
not because he had not known before this certain means of reaching the
perfect idealism of a celestial painter. His wife, who had grown old in
her countless confinements, exhausted by the tiresome fidelity and
virtue of the master, was no longer anything but the companion who gave
the responses when he prayed his rosaries and Trisagia at night. He had
several daughters, who weighed on his conscience like the reproachful
memory of a disgraceful materialism, but some were already nuns and the
others were on the way, while the idealism of the artist increased as
these evidences of his impurity disappeared from the house and went to
hide away in a convent where they upheld the artistic prestige of their
father.

Sometimes the great painter hesitated before a _Purísima_, which was
always the same, as if he painted it with a stencil. Then he spoke
mysteriously to his disciple:

"Mariano, tell the gentlemen not to come to-morrow. We have a model."

And when the studio was closed to the priests and the other respectable
friends, with heavy step in came Rodríguez, a policeman, with a
cigarette stub under his heavy bristling mustache and one hand on the
handle of his sword. Dismissed from the gendarmerie for intoxication and
cruelty, and finding himself without employment, by some strange chance
he began to devote himself to serving as a painter's model. The pious
artist, who held him in a sort of terror, nagged by his constant
petitions, had secured for him this position as policeman, and Rodríguez
took advantage of every opportunity to show his rough appreciation,
slapping the master's shoulders with his great hands and blowing in his
face, his breath redolent with nicotine and alcohol.

"Don Rafael, you are my father. If anybody touches you, I'll fix him,
whoever he is."

And the ascetic artist, with a feeling of satisfaction at this
protection, blushed and waved his hands in protest against the frankness
of the rude fellow with his threats for the men he would "fix."

He threw his helmet on the ground, handed his heavy sword to Mariano,
and like a man that knows his duty, took out of the bottom of a chest a
white woolen tunic and a piece of blue cloth like a cloak, placing both
garments on his body with the skill of practice.

Mariano looked at him with astonished eyes but without any temptation to
laugh. They were mysteries of art, surprises that were reserved only for
those who, like him, had the good fortune to live on terms of intimacy
with the great master.

"Ready, Rodríguez?" Don Rafael asked impatiently.

And Rodríguez, erect in his bath robe with the blue rag hanging from his
shoulders, clasped his hands and lifted his fierce gaze to the ceiling,
without ceasing to suck the stub that singed his mustache. The master
did not need the model except for the robes of the figure, to study the
folds of the celestial garment, which must not reveal the slightest
evidence of human contour. The possibility of copying a woman had never
passed through his imagination. That was falling into materialism,
glorifying the flesh, inviting temptation; Rodríguez was all he needed;
one must be an idealist.

The model continued in his mystic attitude with his body lost in the
innumerable folds of his blue and white raiment, while under it the
square toes of his army boots stuck out, and he held up his grotesque,
flat head, crowned with bristling hair, coughing and choking from the
smoke of the cigar, without ceasing to look up and without separating
his hands clasped in an attitude of worship.

Sometimes, tired out by the industrious silence of the master and the
pupil, Rodríguez uttered a few grumbles that little by little took the
form of words and finally developed into the story of the deeds of his
heroic period, when he was a rural policeman and "could take a shot at
anyone and pay for it afterward with a report." The _Purísima_ grew
excited at these memories. His hands separated with a tremble of
murderous joy, the carefully arranged folds were disturbed, his
bloodshot eyes no longer looked heavenward, and with a hoarse voice he
told of tremendous beatings he administered, of men who fell to the
ground writhing with pain, the shooting of prisoners which afterwards
were reported as attempts to escape; and to give greater relief to this
autobiography which he declaimed with bestial pride, he sprinkled his
words with interjections as vulgar as they were lacking in respect for
the first personages of the heavenly court.

"Rodríguez, Rodríguez!" exclaimed the master, horror-stricken.

"At your command, Don Rafael."

And the _Purísima_, after passing the stub from one side of his mouth to
the other, once more folded his hands, straightened up, showing his
red-striped trousers under the tunic, and lost his gaze on high, smiling
with ecstasy, as if he contemplated on the ceiling all his heroic deeds
of which he felt so proud.

Mariano was in despair before his canvas. He could never imitate his
illustrious master. He was incapable of painting anything but what he
saw, and his brush, after reproducing the blue and white raiment,
stopped, hesitating at the face, calling in vain on imagination. After
futile efforts it was the grotesque mask of Rodríguez that appeared on
the canvas.

And the pupil had a sincere admiration for the ability of Don Rafael,
for that pale head veiled in the light of its halo, a pretty,
expressionless face of childish beauty, which took the place of the
policeman's fierce head in the picture.

This sleight-of-hand seemed to the boy the most astounding evidence of
art. When would he reach the easy prestidigitation of his master!

With time the difference between Don Rafael and his pupil became more
marked. At school his comrades gathered around him, recognizing his
superiority and praising his drawings. Some professors, enemies of his
master, lamented that such talent should be lost beside that
"saint-painter." Don Rafael was surprised at what Mariano did outside of
his studio--figures and landscapes, directly observed which, according
to him, breathed the brutality of life.

His circle of serious gentlemen began to discover some merit in the
pupil.

"He will never reach your height, Don Rafael," they said. "He lacks
unction, he has no idealism, he will never paint a good Virgin--but as a
worldly painter he has a future."

The master, who loved the boy for his submissive nature and the purity
of his habits, tried in vain to make him follow the right way. If he
would only imitate him, his fortune was made. He would die without a
successor and his studio and his fame would be his. The boy only had to
see how, little by little, like a good ant of the Lord, the master had
gathered together a fair sized future with his brush. By virtue of his
idealism, he had his country house there in the village, and no end of
estates, the tenants of which came and visited him in his studio,
carrying on endless discussions over the payment and amount of the rents
in front of the poetic Virgins. The Church was poor because of the
impiety of the times, it could not pay as generously as in other
centuries, but commissions were numerous, and a Virgin in all her
purity was a matter of only three days--but young Renovales made a
troubled, wry face, as if a painful sacrifice were demanded of him.

"I can't, Master. I'm an idiot. I don't know how to invent things. I
paint only what I see."

And when he began to see naked bodies in the so-called "life" class he
devoted himself zealously to this study, as if the flesh caused in him
the most violent intoxication. Don Rafael was appalled by finding in the
corners of his house sketches that portrayed shameful nudes in all their
reality. Besides, the progress of his pupil caused him some uneasiness;
he saw in his painting a vigor that he himself had never had. He even
noted some falling-off in his circle of admirers. The good canons, as
always, admired his Virgins, but some of them had their portraits
painted by Mariano, praising the skill of his brush.

One day he said to his pupil, firmly:

"You know that I love you as I would a son, Mariano, but you are wasting
your time with me. I cannot teach you anything. Your place is somewhere
else. I thought you might go to Madrid. There you will find men of your
stamp."

His mother was dead; his father was still in the blacksmith shop, and
when he saw him come home with several duros, the pay for portraits he
had made, he looked on this sum as a fortune. It did not seem possible
that anyone would give money in exchange for colors. A letter from Don
Rafael convinced him. Since that wise gentleman advised that his son
should go to Madrid, he must agree.

"Go to Madrid, my boy, and try to make money soon, for your father is
old and will not always be able to help you."

At the age of sixteen, Renovales landed in Madrid and finding himself
alone, with only his wishes for his guide, devoted himself zealously to
his work. He spent the morning in the Museo del Prado, copying all the
heads in Velásquez's pictures. He felt that till then he had been blind.
Besides, he worked in an attic studio with some other companions and
evenings painted water-colors. By selling these and some copies, he
managed to eke out the small allowance his father sent him.

He recalled with a sort of homesickness those years of poverty, of real
misery, the cold nights in his wretched bed, the irritating
meals--Heaven knows what was in them--eaten in a bar-room near the
Teatro Real; the discussions in the corner of a café, under the hostile
glances of the waiters who were provoked that a dozen long-haired youths
should occupy several tables and order all together only three coffees
and many bottles of water.

The light-hearted young fellows stood their misery without difficulty
and, to make up for it, what a fill of fancies they had, what a glorious
feast of hopes! A new discovery every day. Renovales ran through the
realm of art like a wild colt, seeing new horizons spreading out before
him, and his career caused an outburst of scandal that amounted to
premature celebrity. The old men said that he was the only boy who "had
the stuff in him"; his comrades declared that he was a "real painter,"
and in their iconoclastic enthusiasm compared his inexperienced works
with those of the recognized old masters--"poor humdrum artists" on
whose bald pates they felt obliged to vent their spleen in order to show
the superiority of the younger generation.

Renovales' candidacy for the fellowship at Rome caused a veritable
revolution. The younger set, who swore by him and considered him their
illustrious captain, broke out in threats, fearful lest the "old boys"
should sacrifice their idol.

When at last his manifest superiority won him the fellowship, there were
banquets in his honor, articles in the papers, his picture was published
in the illustrated magazines, and even the old blacksmith made a trip to
Madrid, to breathe with tearful emotion part of the incense that was
burned for his son.

In Rome a cruel disappointment awaited Renovales. His countrymen
received him rather coldly. The younger men looked on him as a rival and
waited for his next works with the hope of a failure; the old men who
lived far from their fatherland examined him with malignant curiosity.
"And so that big chap was the blacksmith's son, who caused so much
disturbance among the ignorant people at home!... Madrid was not Rome.
They would soon see what that _genius_ could do!"

Renovales did nothing in the first months of his stay in Rome. He
answered with a shrug of his shoulders those who asked for his pictures
with evident innuendo. He had come there not to paint but to study; that
was what the State was paying him for. And he spent more than half a
year drawing, always drawing in the famous art galleries, where, pencil
in hand, he studied the famous works. The paint boxes remained unopened
in one corner of the studio.

Before long he came to detest the great city, because of the life the
artists led in it. What was the use of fellowships? People studied less
there than in other places. Rome was not a school, it was a market. The
painting merchants set up their business there, attracted by the
gathering of artists. All--old and beginners, famous and unknown--felt
the temptation of money; all were seduced by the easy comforts of life,
producing works for sale, painting pictures in accordance with the
suggestions of some German Jews who frequented the studios, designating
the sizes and the types that were in style in order to spread them over
Europe and America.

When Renovales visited the studios, he saw nothing but _genre_ pictures,
sometimes gentlemen in long dress coats, others tattered Moors or
Calabrian peasants. They were pretty, faultless paintings, for which
they used as models a manikin, or the families of _ciociari_ whom they
hired every morning in the Piazza di Espagna beside the Sealinata of the
Trinity; the everlasting country-woman, swarthy and black-eyed, with
great hoops in her ears and wearing a green skirt, a black waist and a
white head-dress caught up on her hair with large pins; the usual old
man with sandals, a woolen cloak and a pointed hat with spiral bands on
his snowy head that was a fitting model for the Eternal Father. The
artists judged each other's ability by the number of thousand lire they
took in during a year; they spoke with respect of the famous masters who
made a fortune out of the millionaires of Paris and Chicago for
easel-pictures that nobody saw. Renovales was indignant. This sort of
art was almost like that of his first master, even if it was "worldly"
as Don Rafael had said. And that was what they sent him to Rome for!

Unpopular with his countrymen because of his brusque ways, his rude
tongue and his honesty, which made him refuse all commissions from the
art merchants, he sought the society of artists from other countries.
Among the cosmopolitan group of young painters who were quartered in
Rome, Renovales soon became popular.

His energy, his exuberant spirits, made him a congenial, merry comrade,
when he appeared in the studios of the Via di Babuino or in the
chocolate rooms and cafés of the Corso, where the artists of different
nationalities gathered in friendly company.

Mariano, at the age of twenty, was an athletic fellow, a worthy scion
of the man who was pounding iron from morning till night in a far away
corner of Spain. One day an English youth, a friend of his, read him a
page of Ruskin in his honor. "The plastic arts are essentially
athletic." An invalid, a half paralyzed man, might be a great poet, a
celebrated musician, but to be a Michael Angelo or a Titian a man must
have not merely a privileged soul, but a vigorous body. Leonardo da
Vinci broke a horseshoe in his hands; the sculptors of the Renaissance
worked huge blocks of marble with their titanic arms or chipped off the
bronze with their gravers; the great painters were often architects and,
covered with dust, moved huge masses. Renovales listened thoughtfully to
the words of the great English æstheticist. He, too, was a strong soul
in an athlete's body.

The appetites of his youth never went beyond the manly intoxications of
strength and movement. Attracted by the abundance of models which Rome
offered, he often undressed a _ciociara_ in his studio, delighting in
drawing the forms of her body. He laughed, like the big giant that he
was, he spoke to her with the same freedom as if she were one of the
poor women that came out to stop him at night as he returned alone to
the Academy of Spain, but when the work was over and she was
dressed--out with her! He had the chastity of strong men. He worshiped
the flesh, but only to copy its lines. The animal contact, the chance
meeting, without love, without attraction, with the inner reserve of two
people who do not know each other and who look on each other with
suspicion, filled him with shame. What he wanted to do was to study, and
women only served as a hindrance in great undertakings. He consumed the
surplus of his energy in athletic exercise. After one of his feats of
strength, which filled his comrades with enthusiasm, he would come in
fresh, serene, indifferent, as though he were coming out of a bath. He
fenced with the French painters of the Villa Medici; learned to box with
Englishmen and Americans; organized, with some German artists,
excursions to a grove near Rome, which were talked about for days in the
cafés of the Corso. He drank countless healths with his companions to
the Kaiser whom he did not know and for whom he did not care a rap. He
would thunder in his noisy voice the traditional _Gaudeamus Igitur_ and
finally would catch two models of the party around the waist and with
his arms stretched out like a cross carry them through the woods till he
dropped them on the grass as if they were feathers. Afterwards he would
smile with satisfaction at the admiration of those good Germans, many of
them sickly and near-sighted, who compared him with Siegfried and the
other muscular heroes of their warlike mythology.

In the Carnival season, when the Spaniards organized a cavalcade of the
Quixote, he undertook to represent the knight Pentapolin--"him of the
rolled-up sleeves,"--and in the Corso there were applause and cries of
admiration for the huge biceps that the knight-errant, erect on his
horse, revealed. When the spring nights came, the artists marched in a
procession across the city to the Jewish quarter to buy the first
artichokes--the popular dish in Rome, in the preparation of which an old
Hebrew woman was famous. Renovales went at the head of the
_carciofalatta_, bearing the banner, starting the songs which were
alternated with the cries of all sorts of animals; and his comrades
marched behind him, reckless and insolent under the protection of such a
chieftain. As long as Mariano was with them there was no danger. They
told the story that in the alleys of the Trastevere he had given a
deadly beating to two bullies of the district, after taking away their
stilettos.

Suddenly the athlete shut himself up in the Academy and did not come
down to the city. For several days they talked about him at the
gatherings of artists. He was painting; an exhibition that was going to
take place in Madrid was close at hand and he wanted to take to it a
picture to justify his fellowship. He kept the door of his studio closed
to everyone, he did not permit comment nor advice, the canvas would
appear just as he conceived it. His comrades soon forgot him and
Renovales ended his work in seclusion, and left for his country with it.

It was a complete success, the first important step on the road that was
to lead him to fame. Now he remembered with shame, with remorse, the
glorious uproar his picture "The Victory of Pavia" stirred up. People
crowded in front of the huge canvas, forgetting the rest of the
Exhibition. And as, at that time, the Government was strong, the Cortes
was closed and there was no serious accident in any of the bull-rings,
the newspapers, for lack of any more lively event, hastened in cheap
rivalry to reproduce the picture, to talk about it, publishing portraits
of the author, profiles, as well as front views, large and small,
expatiating on his life in Rome and his eccentricities, and recalled
with tears of emotion the poor old man who far away in his village was
pounding iron, hardly knowing of his son's glory.

With one bound Renovales passed from obscurity to the light of
apotheosis. The older men whose duty it was to judge his work became
benevolent and extended kindly sympathy. The little tiger was getting
tame. Renovales had seen the world and now he was coming back to the
good traditions; he was going to be a painter like the rest. His picture
had portions that were like Velásquez, fragments worthy of Goya, corners
that recalled El Greco; there was everything in it, except Renovales,
and this amalgam of reminiscences was its chief merit, what attracted
general applause and won it the first medal.

A magnificent debut it was. A dowager duchess, a great protectress of
the arts, who never bought a picture or a statue but who entertained at
her table painters and sculptors of renown, finding in this an
inexpensive pleasure and a certain distinction as an illustrious lady,
wished to make Renovales' acquaintance. He overcame the stand-offishness
of his nature that kept him away from all social relations. Why should
he not know high society? He could go wherever other men could. And he
put on his first dress-coat, and after the banquets of the duchess,
where his way of arguing with members of the Academy provoked peals of
merry laughter, he visited other salons and for several weeks was the
idol of society which, to be sure, was somewhat scandalized by his faux
pas, but still pleased with the timidity that overcame him after his
daring sallies. The younger set liked him because he handled a sword
like a Saint George. Although a painter and son of a blacksmith, he was
in every way a respectable person. The ladies flattered him with their
most amiable smiles, hoping that the fashionable artist would honor them
with a portrait gratis, as he had done with the duchess.

In this period of high-life, always in dress clothes from seven in the
evening, without painting anything but women who wanted to appear pretty
and discussed gravely with the artist which gown they should put on to
serve as a model, Renovales met his wife Josephina.

The first time that he saw her among so many ladies of arrogant bearing
and striking presence, he felt attracted towards her by force of
contrast. The bashfulness, the modesty, the insignificance of the girl
impressed him. She was small, her face offered no other beauty than that
of youth, her body had the charm of delicacy. Like himself, the poor
girl was there out of a sort of condescendence on the part of the
others; she seemed to be there by sufferance and she shrank in it, as if
afraid of attracting attention, Renovales always saw her in the same
evening gown somewhat old, with that appearance of weariness which a
garment constantly made over to follow the course of the fashions is
wont to acquire. The gloves, the flowers, the ribbons had a sort of
sadness in their freshness, as if they betrayed the sacrifices, the
domestic exertions it had taken to procure them. She was on intimate
terms with all the girls who made a triumphal entrance into the
drawing-rooms, inspiring praise and envy with their new toilettes; her
mother, a majestic lady, with a big nose and gold glasses, treated the
ladies of the noblest families with familiarity; but in spite of this
intimacy there was apparent around the mother and daughter the gap of
somewhat disdainful affection, in which commiseration bore no small
part. They were poor. The father had been a diplomat of some distinction
who, at his death, left his wife no other source of income than the
widow's pension. Two sons were abroad as attachés of an embassy,
struggling with the scantiness of their salary and the demands of their
position. The mother and daughter lived in Madrid, chained to the
society in which they were born, fearing to abandon it, as if that would
be equivalent to a degradation, remaining during the day in a
fourth-floor apartment, furnished with the remnants of their past
opulence, making unheard-of sacrifices in order to be able in the
evening to rub elbows worthily with those who had been their equals.

Some relative of Doña Emilia, the mother, contributed to her support,
not with money (never that!) but by loaning her the surplus of their
luxury, that she and her daughter might maintain a pale appearance of
comfort.

Some of them loaned them their carriage on certain days, so that they
might drive through the Castellana and the Retiro, bowing to their
friends as the carriages passed; others sent them their box at the Opera
on evenings when the bill was not a brilliant one. Their pity made them
remember them, too, when they sent out invitations to birthday dinners,
afternoon teas, and the like. "We mustn't forget the Torrealtas, poor
things." And the next day, the society reporters included in the list of
those present at the function "the charming Señorita de Torrealta and
her distinguished mother, the widow of the famous diplomat of
imperishable memory," and Doña Emilia, forgetting her situation,
fancying she was in the good old times, went to everything, in the same
black gown, annoying with her "my dears" and her gossip the great ladies
whose maids were richer and ate better than she and her daughter. If
some old gentleman took refuge beside her, the diplomat's wife tried to
overwhelm him with the majesty of her recollections. "When we were
ambassadors in Stockholm." "When my friend Eugénie was empress...."

The daughter, endowed with her instinctive girlish timidity, seemed
better to realize her position. She would remain seated among the older
ladies, only rarely venturing to join the other girls who had been her
boarding-school companions and who now treated her condescendingly,
looking on her as they would upon a governess who had been raised to
their station, out of remembrance for the past. Her mother was annoyed
at her timidity. She ought to dance a lot, be lively and bold, like the
other girls, crack jokes, even if they were doubtful, that the men might
repeat them and give her the reputation of being a wit. It was
incredible that with the bringing up she had had, she should be so
insignificant. The idea! The daughter of a great man about whom people
used to crowd as soon as he entered the first salons in Europe! A girl
who had been educated at the school of the Sacred Heart in Paris, who
spoke English, a little German, and spent the day reading when she did
not have to clean a pair of gloves or make over a dress! Didn't she want
to get married? Was she so well satisfied with that fourth-story
apartment, that wretched cell so unworthy of their name?

Josephina smiled sadly. Get married! She never would get to that in the
society they frequented. Everyone knew they were poor. The young men
thronged the drawing-rooms in search of women with money. If by chance
one of them did come up to her, attracted by her pale beauty, it was
only to whisper to her shameful suggestions while they danced; to
propose uncompromising engagements, friendly relations with a prudence
modeled on the English, flirtations that had no result.

Renovales did not realize how his friendship with Josephina began.
Perhaps it was the contrast between himself and the little woman who
hardly came up to his shoulder and who seemed about fifteen when she was
already past twenty. Her soft voice with its slight lisp came to his
ears like a caress. He laughed when he thought of the possibility of
embracing that graceful, slender form; it would break in pieces in his
pugilist's hands, like a wax doll. Mariano sought her out in the
drawing-rooms which she and her mother were accustomed to frequent, and
spent all the time sitting at her side, feeling an impulse to confide in
her as a brother, a desire of telling her all about herself, his past,
his present work, his hopes, as if she were a room-mate. She listened to
him, looking at him with her brown eyes that seemed to smile at him,
nodding assent, often without having heard what he said, receiving like
a caress the exuberance of that nature which seemed to overflow in
waves of fire. He was different from all the men she had known.

When someone--nobody knows who--perhaps one of Josephina's friends,
noticed this intimacy, to make sport of her, she spread the news. The
painter and the Torrealta girl were engaged. That was when the
interested parties discovered that they loved each other. It was
something more than friendship that made Renovales pass through
Josephina's street mornings, looking at the high windows in the hope of
seeing her dainty silhouette through the panes. One night at the
duchess' when they were left alone in the hallway, Renovales caught her
hand and lifted it to his lips, but so timidly that they scarcely
touched her glove. He was afraid after his rudeness, felt ashamed of his
violence; he thought he was hurting the delicate, slender girl; but she
let her hand stay in his, and at the same time bowed her head and began
to cry.

"How good you are, Mariano!"

She felt the most intense gratitude, when she realized that she was
loved for the first time; loved truly, by a man of some distinction, who
fled from the women of fortune to seek a humble, neglected girl like
her. All the treasures of affection which had been accumulating in the
isolation of her humiliating life overflowed. How she could love the man
who loved her, taking her out of that parasite's existence, lifting her
by his strength and affection to the level of those who scorned her!

The noble widow of Torrealta gave a cry of indignation when she learned
of the engagement of the painter and her daughter. "The blacksmith's
son!" "The illustrious diplomat of imperishable memory!" But as if this
protest of her pride opened her eyes, she thought of the years her
daughter had spent going from one drawing-room to another, without
anyone paying any attention to her. What dunces men were! She thought,
too, that a celebrated painter was a personage; she remembered the
articles devoted to Renovales because of his last picture, and, above
all, a thing that had the most effect on her, she knew by hearsay of the
great fortune that artists amassed abroad, the hundreds of thousands of
francs paid for a canvas that could be carried under your arm. Why might
not Renovales be one of the fortunate?

She began to annoy her countless relatives with requests for advice. The
girl had no father and they must take his place. Some answered
indifferently. "The painter! Hump! Not bad!" evidencing by their
coldness that it was all the same to them if she married a
tax-collector. Others insulted her unwittingly by showing their
approval. "Renovales? An artist with a great future before him. What
more do you want? You ought to be thankful he has taken a fancy to her."
But the advice that decided her was that of her famous cousin, the
Marquis of Tarfe, a man to whom she looked upon as the most
distinguished citizen in the country, without doubt because of his
office as permanent head of the Foreign Service, for every two years he
was made Minister of Foreign Affairs.

"It looks very good to me," said the nobleman, hastily, for they were
waiting for him in the Senate. "It is a modern marriage and we must keep
up with the times. I am a conservative, but liberal, very liberal and
very modern. I will protect the children. I like the marriage. Art
joining its prestige with a historic family! The popular blood that
rises through its merits and is mingled with that of the ancient
nobility!"

And the Marquis of Tarfe, whose marquisate did not go back half a
century, with these rhetorical figures of an orator in the Senate and
his promises of protection, convinced the haughty widow. She was the one
who spoke to Renovales, to relieve him of an explanation that would be
trying because of the timidity he felt in this society that was not his
own.

"I know all about it, Mariano, my dear, and you have my consent."

But she did not like long engagements. When did he intend to get
married? Renovales was more eager for it than the mother. Josephina was
different from other women who hardly aroused his desire. His chastity,
which had been like that of a rough laborer, developed into a feverish
desire to make that charming doll his own as soon as possible. Besides,
his pride was flattered by this union. His fiancée was poor; her only
dowry was a few ragged clothes, but she belonged to a noble family,
ministers, generals--all of noble descent. They could weigh by the ton
the coronets and coats-of-arms of those countless relatives who did not
pay much attention to Josephina and her mother, but who would soon be
his family. What would Señor Antón think, hammering iron in the suburbs
of his town? What would his comrades in Rome say, whose lot consisted in
living with the _ciociari_ who served as their models, and marrying them
afterward out of fear for the stiletto of the venerable Calabrian who
insisted on providing a legitimate father for his grandsons!

The papers had much to say about the wedding, repeating with slight
variations the very phrases of the Marquis of Tarfe, "Art uniting with
nobility." Renovales wanted to leave for Rome with Josephina as soon as
the marriage was celebrated. He had made all the arrangements for his
new life there, investing in it all the money he had received from the
State for his picture and the product of several pictures for the Senate
for which he received commissions through his illustrious
relative-to-be.

A friend in Rome (the jolly Cotoner) had hired for him an apartment in
the Via Margutta and had furnished it in accordance with his artistic
taste. Doña Emilia would remain in Madrid with one of her sons, who had
been promoted to a position in the Foreign Office. Everybody, even the
mother, was in the young couple's way. And Doña Emilia wiped away an
invisible tear with the tip of her glove. Besides, she did not care to
go back to the countries where she had been _somebody_; she preferred to
stay in Madrid; there people knew her at least.

The wedding was an event. Not a soul in the huge family was absent; all
feared the annoying questions of the illustrious widow who kept a list
of relatives to the sixth remove.

Señor Antón arrived two days before, in a new suit with knee-breeches
and a broad plush hat, looking somewhat confused at the smiles of those
people who regarded him as a quaint type. Crestfallen and trembling in
the presence of the two women, with a countryman's respect, he called
his daughter-in-law "Señorita."

"No, papa, call me 'daughter.' Say Josephina to me."

But in spite of Josephina's simplicity and the tender gratitude he felt
when he saw her look at his son with such loving eyes, he did not
venture to take the liberty of speaking to her as his child and made the
greatest efforts to avoid this danger, always speaking to her in the
third person.

Doña Emilia, with her gold glasses and her majestic bearing, caused him
even greater emotion. He always called her "Señora marquesa," for in his
simplicity he could not admit that that lady was not at least a
marchioness. The widow, somewhat disarmed by the good man's homage,
admitted that he was a "rube" of some natural talent, a fact that made
her tolerate the ridiculous note of his knee breeches.

In the chapel of the Marquis of Tarfe's palace, after looking
dumbfounded at the great throng of nobility that had gathered for his
son's wedding, the old man, standing in the doorway, began to cry:

"Now I can die, O Lord. Now I can die!"

And he repeated his sad desire, without noticing the laughter of the
servants, as if, after a life of toil, happiness were the inevitable
forerunner of death.

The bride and groom started on their trip the same day. Señor Antón for
the first time kissed his daughter-in-law on the forehead, moistening it
with his tears, and went home to his village, still repeating his
longing for death, as though nothing were left in the world for him to
hope for.

Renovales and his wife reached Rome after several stops on the way.
Their short stay in various cities of the Riviera, the days in Pisa and
Florence, though delightful, as keeping the memory of their first
intimacy, seemed unspeakably vulgar, when they were installed in their
little house in Rome. There the real honeymoon began, by their own
fireside, free from all intrusion, far from the confusion of hotels.

Josephina, accustomed to a life of secret privation, to the misery of
that fourth-floor apartment in which she and her mother lived as though
they were camping out, keeping all their show for the street, admired
the coquettish charm, the smart daintiness of the house in the Via
Margutta. Mariano's friend, who had charge of the furnishing of the
house, a certain Pepe Cotoner, who hardly ever touched his brushes and
who devoted all his artistic enthusiasm to his worship of Renovales, had
certainly done things well.

Josephina clapped her hands in childish joy when she saw the bedroom,
admiring its sumptuous Venetian furniture, with its wonderful inlaid
pearl and ebony, a princely luxury that the painter would have to pay
for in instalments.

Oh! The first night of their stay in Rome! How well Renovales remembered
it! Josephina, lying on the monumental bed, made for the wife of a Doge,
shook with the delight of rest, stretching her limbs before she hid them
under the fine sheets, showing herself with the abandon of a woman who
no longer has any secrets to keep. The pink toes of her plump little
feet moved as if they were calling Renovales.

Standing beside the bed, he looked at her seriously, with his brows
contracted, dominated by a desire that he hesitated to express. He
wanted to see her, to admire her; he did not know her yet, after those
nights in the hotels when they could hear strange voices on the other
side of the thin walls.

It was not the caprice of a lover, it was the desire of a painter, the
demand of an artist. His eyes were hungry for beauty.

She resisted, blushing, a trifle angry at this demand which offended her
deepest prejudices.

"Don't be foolish, Mariano, dear. Come to bed; don't talk nonsense."

But he persisted obstinately in his desire. She must overcome her
bourgeois scruples, art scoffed at such modesty, human beauty was meant
to be shown in all its radiant majesty and not to be kept hidden,
despised and cursed.

He did not want to paint her; he did not dare to ask for that; but he
did want to see her, to see her and admire her, not with a coarse
desire, but with religious adoration.

And his hands, restrained by the fears of hurting her, gently pulled her
weak arms that were crossed on her breast in the endeavor to resist his
advances. She laughed: "You silly thing. You're tickling me--you're
hurting me." But little by little, conquered by his persistency, her
feminine pride flattered by this worship of her body, she gave in to
him, allowed herself to be treated like a child, with soft remonstrances
as if she were undergoing torture, but without resisting any longer.

Her body, free from veils, shone with the whiteness of pearl. Josephina
closed her eyes as if she wanted to flee from the shame of her
nakedness. On the smooth sheet, her graceful form was outlined in a
slightly rosy tone, intoxicating the eyes of the artist.

Josephina's face was not much to look at, but her body! If he could only
overcome her scruples some time and paint her!

Renovales kneeled down beside the bed in a transport of admiration.

"I worship you, Josephina. You are as fair as Venus. No, not Venus. She
is cold and calm, like a goddess, and you are a woman. You are
like--what are you like? Yes, now I see the likeness. You are Goya's
little _Maja_, with her delicate grace, her fascinating daintiness. You
are the _Maja Desnuda!_"



III


Renovales' life was changed. In love with his wife, fearing that she
might lack some comfort, and thinking with anxiety of the Torrealta
widow, who might complain that the daughter of the "illustrious diplomat
of imperishable memory" was not happy because she had lowered herself to
the extent of marrying a painter, he worked incessantly to maintain with
his brush the comforts with which he had surrounded Josephina.

He, who had had so much scorn for industrial art, painting for money, as
did his comrades, followed their example, but with the energy that he
showed in all his undertakings. In some of the studios there were cries
of protest against this tireless competitor who lowered prices
scandalously. He had sold his brush for a year to one of those Jewish
dealers who exported paintings at so much a picture, and under agreement
not to paint for any other dealer. Renovales worked from morning till
night changing subjects when it was demanded by what he called his
_impresario_. "Enough _ciociari_, now for some Moors." Afterwards the
Moors lost their market-value and the turn of the musketeers came,
fencing a valiant duel; then pink shepherdesses in the style of Watteau
or ladies in powdered wigs embarking in a golden gondola to the sound of
lutes. To give freshness to his stock, he would interpolate a sacristy
scene with much show of embroidered chasubles and golden incensaries, or
an occasional bacchanalian, imitating from memory, without models,
Titians' voluptuous forms and amber flesh. When the list was ended, the
_ciociari_ were once more in style and could be begun again. The
painter with his extraordinary facility of execution produced two or
three pictures a week, and the _impresario_, to encourage him in his
work, often visited him afternoons, following the movements of his brush
with the enthusiasm of a man who appreciated art at so much a foot and
so much an hour. The news he brought was of a sort to infuse new zest.

The last bacchanal painted by Renovales was in a fashionable bar in New
York. His pageant of the Abruzzi was in one of the noblest castles in
Russia. Another picture, representing a dance of countesses disguised as
shepherdesses in a field of violets, was in the possession of a Jewish
baron, a banker in Frankfort. The dealer rubbed his hands, as he spoke
to the painter with a patronizing air. His name was becoming famous,
thanks to him, and he would not step until he had won him a world-wide
reputation. Already his agents were asking him to send nothing but the
works of Signor Renovales, for they were the best sellers. But Mariano
answered him with a sudden outburst of bitterness. All those canvases
were mere rot. If that was art, he would prefer to break stone on the
high roads.

But his rebellion against this debasement of his art disappeared when he
saw his Josephina in the house whose ornamentation he was constantly
improving, converting it into a jewel case worthy of his love. She was
happy in her home, with a splendid carriage in which to drive every
afternoon and perfect freedom to spend money on her clothes and jewelry.
Renovales' wife lacked nothing; she had-at her disposal, as adviser and
errand-boy, Cotoner, who spent the night in a garret that served him as
a studio in one of the cheap districts and the rest of the day with the
young couple. She was mistress of the money; she had never seen so many
banknotes at once. When Renovales handed her the pile of lires which
the impresario gave him she said with a little laugh of joy, "Money,
money!" and ran and hid it away with the serious expression of a
diligent, economical housewife--only to take it out the next day and
squander it with a childish carelessness. What a wonderful thing
painting was! Her illustrious father (in spite of all that her mother
said) had never made so much money in all his travels through the world,
going from cotillon to cotillon as the representative of his king.

While Renovales was in the studio, she had been to drive in the Pincio,
bowing from her landau to the countless wives of ambassadors who were
stationed at Rome, to aristocratic travelers stopping in the city, to
whom she had been introduced in some drawing-room, and to all the crowd
of diplomatic attachés who live about the double court of the Vatican
and the Quirinal.

The painter was introduced by his wife into an official society of the
most rigid formality. The niece of the Marquis of Tarfe, perpetual
foreign minister, was received with open arms by the high society of
Rome, the most exclusive in Europe. At every reception at the two
Spanish embassies, "the famous painter Renovales and his charming wife"
were present and these invitations had spread to the embassies of other
countries. Almost every night there was some function. Since there were
two diplomatic centers, one at the court of the Italian king, the other
at the Vatican, the receptions and evening parties were frequent in this
isolated society that gathered every night, sufficient for its own
enjoyment.

When Renovales got home at dark, tired out with his work, he would find
Josephina, already half dressed, waiting for him, and Cotoner helped him
to put on his evening clothes.

"The cross!" exclaimed Josephina, when she saw him with his dress-coat
on. "Why, man alive, how did you happen to forget your cross? You know
that they all wear something there."

Cotoner went for the insignia, a great cross the Spanish government had
given him for his picture, and the artist, with the ribbon across his
shirt-front and a brilliant circle on his coat, started out with his
wife to spend the evening among diplomats, distinguished travelers and
cardinals' nephews.

The other painters were furious with envy when they learned how often
the Spanish ambassador and his wife, the consul and prominent people
connected with the Vatican visited his studio. They denied his talent,
attributing these distinctions to Josephina's position. They called him
a courtier and a flatterer, alleging that he had married to better his
position. One of his most constant visitors was Father Recovero, the
representative of a monastic order that was powerful in Spain, a sort of
cowled ambassador who enjoyed great influence with the Pope. When he was
not in Renovales' studio, the latter was sure that he was at his house,
doing some favor for Josephina who felt proud of her friendship with
this influential friar, so jovial and scrupulously correct in spite of
his coarse clothes. Renovales' wife always had some favor to ask of him,
her friends in Madrid were unceasing in their requests.

The Torrealta widow contributed to this by her constant chatter among
her acquaintances about the high position her daughter occupied in Rome.
According to her, Mariano was making millions; Josephina was reported to
be a great friend of the Pope, her house was full of Cardinals and if
the Pope did not visit her it was only because the poor thing was a
prisoner in the Vatican. And so the painter's wife had to keep sending
to Madrid some rosary that had been passed over St. Peter's tomb or
reliques taken from the Catacombs. She urged Father Recovero to
negotiate difficult marriage dispensations and interested herself in
behalf of the petitions of pious ladies, friends of her mother. The
great festivals of the Roman Church filled her with enthusiasm because
of their theatrical interest and she was very grateful to the generous
friar who never forgot to reserve her a good place. There never was a
reception of pilgrims in Saint Peter's with a triumphal march of the
Pope carried on a platform amid feather fans, at which Josephina was not
present. At other times the good Father made the mysterious announcement
that on the next day Pallestri, the famous male soprano of the papal
chapel, was going to sing; the Spanish lady got up early, leaving her
husband still in bed, to hear the sweet voice of the pontifical eunuch
whose beardless face appeared in shop windows among the portraits of
dancers and fashionable tenors.

Renovales laughed good-naturedly at the countless occupations and futile
entertainments of his wife. Poor girl, she must enjoy herself; that was
what he was working for. He was sorry enough that he could go with her
only in her evening diversions. During the day he entrusted her to his
faithful Cotoner who attended her like an old family servant, carrying
her bundles when she went shopping, performing the duties of butler and
sometimes of chef.

Renovales had made his acquaintance when he came to Rome. He was his
best friend. Ten years his senior, Cotoner showed the worship of a pupil
and the affections of an older brother for the young artist. Everyone in
Rome knew him, laughing at his pictures on the rare occasions when he
painted, and appreciated his accommodating nature that to some extent
dignified his parasite's existence. Short, rotund, bald-headed, with
projecting ears and the ugliness of a good-natured, merry satyr, Signor
Cotoner, when summer came, always found refuge in the castle of some
cardinal in the Roman Campagna. During the winter he was a familiar
sight in the Corso, wrapped in his greenish mackintosh, the sleeves of
which waved like a bat's wings. He had begun in his own province as a
landscape painter but he wanted to paint figures, to equal the masters,
and so he landed in Rome in the company of the bishop of his diocese who
looked on him as an honor to the church. He never moved from the city.
His progress was remarkable. He knew the names and histories of all the
artists, no one could compare with him in his ability to live
economically in Rome and to find where things were cheapest. If a
Spaniard went through the great city, he never missed visiting him. The
children of celebrated painters looked on him as a sort of nurse, for he
had put them all to sleep in his arms. The great triumph of his life was
having figured in the cavalcade of the Quixote as Sancho Panza. He
always painted the same picture, portraits of the Pope in three
different sizes, piling them up in the attic that served him for a
studio and bedroom. His friends, the cardinals whom he visited
frequently, took pity on "Poor Signor Cotoner" and for a few lire bought
a picture of the Pontiff horribly ugly, to present it to some village
church where it would arouse great admiration since it came from Rome
and was by a painter who was a friend of His Eminence.

These purchases were a ray of joy for Cotoner, who came to Renovales'
studio with his head up and wearing a smile of affected modesty.

"I have made a sale, my boy. A pope; a large one, two meter size."

And with a sudden burst of confidence in his talent, he talked of the
future. Other men desired medals, triumphs in the exhibitions; he was
more modest. He would be satisfied if he could guess who would be Pope
when the present Pope died, in order to be able to paint up pictures of
him by the dozen ahead of time. What a triumph to put the goods on the
market the day after the Conclave! A perfect fortune! And well
acquainted with all the cardinals, he passed the Sacred College in
mental review with the persistency of a gambler in a lottery, hesitating
between the half dozen who aspired to the tiara. He lived like a
parasite among the high functionaries of the Church, but he was
indifferent to religion, as if this association with them had taken away
all his belief. The old man clad in white and the other red gentlemen
inspired respect in him because they were rich and served indirectly his
wretched portrait business. His admiration was wholly devoted to
Renovales. In the studio of other artists he received their irritating
jests with his usual calm smile of affability, but they could not speak
ill of Renovales nor discuss his ability. To his mind, Renovales could
produce nothing but masterpieces and in his blind admiration he even
went so far as to rave naively over the easel pictures he painted for
his impresario.

Sometimes Josephina unexpectedly appeared in her husband's studio and
chatted with him while he painted, praising the canvases that had a
pretty subject. She preferred to find him alone in these visits,
painting from his fancy without any other model than some clothes placed
on a manikin. She felt a sort of aversion to models, and Renovales tried
in vain to convince her of the necessity of using them. He had talent to
paint beautiful things without resorting to the assistance of those
ordinary old men and above all, of those women with their disheveled
hair, their flashing eyes and their wolfish teeth, who, in the solitude
and silence of the studio, actually terrified her. Renovales laughed.
What nonsense! Jealous little girl! As if he were capable of thinking of
anything but art with a palette in his hand!

One afternoon, when Josephina suddenly came into the studio she saw on
the model's platform a naked woman, lying in some furs, showing the
curves of her yellow back. The wife compressed her lips and pretended
not to see her, listened to Renovales with a distracted air, as he
explained this innovation. He was painting a bacchanal and it was
impossible for him to proceed without a model. It was a case of
necessity, flesh could not be done from memory. The model, at ease
before the painter, felt ashamed of her nakedness in the presence of
that fashionable lady, and after wrapping herself up in the furs, hid
behind a screen and hastily dressed herself.

Renovales recovered his serenity when he reached home, seeing that his
wife received him with her customary eagerness, as if she had forgotten
her displeasure of the afternoon. She laughed at Cotoner's stories;
after dinner they went to the theater and when bedtime came, the painter
had forgotten about the surprise in the studio. He was falling asleep
when he was alarmed by a painful, prolonged sigh, as if some one were
stifling beside him. When he lit the light he saw Josephina with both
fists in her eyes, crying, her breast heaving with sobs, and kicking in
a childish fit of temper till the bed-clothes were rolled in a ball and
the exquisite puff fell to the floor.

"I won't, I won't," she moaned with an accent of protest.

The painter had jumped out of bed, full of anxiety, going from one side
to the other without knowing what to do, trying to pull her hands away
from her eyes, giving in, in spite of his strength, to Josephina's
efforts to free herself from him.

"But what's the matter? What is it you won't do? What's happened to
you?"

And she continued to cry, tossing about in the bed, kicking in a nervous
fury.

"Let me alone! I don't like you; don't touch me. I won't let you, no,
sir, I won't let you. I'm going away. I'm going home to my mother."

Renovales, terrified at the fury of the little woman who was always so
gentle, did not know what to do to calm her. He ran through the bedroom
and the adjoining dressing room in his night shirt, that showed his
athletic muscles; he offered her water, going so far as to pick up the
bottles of perfumes in his confusion as if they could serve him as
sedatives, and finally he knelt down, trying to kiss the clenched little
hands that thrust him away, catching at his hair and beard.

"Let me alone. I tell you to let me alone. I know you don't love me. I'm
going away."

The painter was surprised and afraid of the nervousness in this beloved
little doll; he did not dare to touch her for fear of hurting her. As
soon as the sun rose she would leave that house forever. Her husband did
not love her. No one but her mother cared for her. He was making her a
laughing stock before people. And all these incoherent complaints that
did not explain the motive for her anger, continued for a long time
until the artist guessed the cause. Was it the model, the naked woman?
Yes, that was it; she would not consent to it, that in a studio that was
practically her house, low women should show themselves immodestly to
her husband's eyes. And as she protested against such abominations, her
twitching fingers tore the front of her night dress, showing the hidden
charms that filled Renovales with such enthusiasm.

The painter, tired out by this scene, enervated by the cries and tears
of his wife, could not help laughing when he discovered the motive of
her irritation.

"Ah! So it's all on account of the model. Be quiet, girl, no woman shall
come into the studio."

And he promised everything Josephina wished, in order to be over with it
as soon as possible. When it was dark once more, she was still sighing,
but now it was in her husband's strong arms with her head resting on his
breast, lisping like a grieved child that tries to justify the past fit
of temper. It did not cost Mariano anything to do her this favor. She
loved him dearly, so dearly, and she would love him still more if he
respected her prejudices. He might call her bourgeois, a common ordinary
soul, but that was what she wanted to be, just as she always had been.
Besides, what was the need of painting naked women? Couldn't he do other
things? She urged him to paint children in smocks and sandals, curly
haired and chubby, like the child Jesus; old peasant women with
wrinkled, copper-colored faces, bald-headed ancients with long beards;
character studies, but no young women, understand? No naked beauties!
Renovales said "yes" to everything, drawing close to him that beloved
form still trembling with its past rage. They clung to each other with a
sort of anxiety, desirous of forgetting what had happened, and the night
ended peacefully for Renovales in the happiness of reconciliation.

When summer came they rented a little villa at Castel-Gandolfo. Cotoner
had gone to Rivoli in the train of a cardinal and the married couple
lived in the country accompanied only by a couple of maids and a
manservant, who took care of Renovales' painting kit.

Josephina was perfectly contented in this retirement, far from Rome,
talking with her husband at all hours, free from the anxiety that filled
her, when he was working in his studio. For a month Renovales remained
in placid idleness. His art seemed forgotten; the boxes of paints, the
easels, all the artistic luggage brought from Rome, remained packed up
and forgotten in a shed in the garden. Afternoons they took long walks,
returning home at nightfall slowly, with their arms around each other's
waists, watching the strip of pale gold in the western sky, breaking the
rural silence with one of the sweet, passionate romances that came from
Naples. Now that they were alone in the intimacy of a life without cares
or friendships, the enthusiastic love of the first days of their married
life reawakened. But the "demon of painting" was not long in spreading
over him his invisible wings, which seemed to scatter an irresistible
enchantment. He became bored at the long hours in the bright sun, yawned
in his wicker chair, smoking pipe after pipe, not knowing what to talk
about. Josephina, on her part, tried to drive away the ennui by reading
some English novel of aristocratic life, tiresome and moral, to which
she had taken a great liking in her school girl days.

Renovales began to work again. His servant brought out his artist's kit
and he took up his palette as enthusiastically as a beginner, and
painted for himself with a religious fervor as if he thought to purify
himself from that base submission to the commissions of a dealer.

He studied Nature directly; painted delightful bits of landscapes,
tanned and repulsive heads that breathed the selfish brutality of the
peasant. But this artistic activity did not seem to satisfy him. His
life of increased intimacy with Josephina aroused in him mysterious
longings that he hardly dared to formulate. Mornings when his wife,
fresh and rosy from her bath, appeared before him almost naked, he
looked at her with greedy eyes.

"Oh, if you were only willing! If you didn't have that foolish prejudice
of yours!"

And his exclamations made her smile, for her feminine vanity was
flattered by this worship. Renovales regretted that his artistic talent
had to go in search of beautiful things when the supreme, definitive
work was at his side. He told her about Rubens, the great master, who
surrounded Elène Froment with the luxury of a princess, and of her who
felt no objection to freeing her fresh, mythological beauty from veils
in order to serve as a model for her husband. Renovales praised the
Flemish woman. Artists formed a family by themselves; morality and the
popular prejudices were meant for other people. They lived under the
jurisdiction of Beauty, regarding as natural what other people looked on
as a sin.

Josephina protested against her husband's wishes with a playful
indignation but she allowed him to admire her. Her abandon increased
every day. Mornings, when she got up, she remained undressed longer,
prolonging her toilette while the artist walked around her, praising her
various beauties. "That is Rubens, pure and simple, that's Titian's
color. Look, little girl, lift up your arms, like this. Oh, you are the
_Maja_, Goya's little _Maja_." And she submitted to him with a gracious
pout, as if she relished the expression of worship and disappointment
which her husband wore at possessing her as a woman and not possessing
her as a model.

One afternoon when a scorching wind seemed to stifle the countryside
with its breath, Josephina capitulated. They were in their room, with
the windows closed, trying to escape the terrible sirocco by shutting
it out and putting on thin clothes. She did not want to see her husband
with such a gloomy face nor listen to his complaints. As long as he was
crazy and was set on his whim, she did not dare to oppose him. He could
paint her; but only a study, not a picture. When he was tired of
reproducing her flesh on the canvas they would destroy it,--just as if
he had done nothing.

The painter said "yes" to everything, eager to have his brush in hand as
soon as possible, before the beauty he craved. For three days he worked
with a mad fever, with his eyes unnaturally wide open, as if he meant to
devour the graceful outlines with his sight. Josephina, accustomed now
to being naked, posed with unconscious abandon, with that feminine
shamelessness which hesitates only at the first step. Oppressed by the
heat, she slept while her husband kept on painting.

When the work was finished, Josephina could not help admiring it. "How
clever you are! But am I really like that, so pretty?" Mariano showed
his satisfaction. It was his masterpiece, his best. Perhaps in all his
life he might never find another moment like that, of prodigious mental
intensity, what people commonly call inspiration. She continued to
admire herself in the canvas, just as she did some mornings in the great
mirror in the bedroom. She praised the various parts of her beauty with
frank immodesty. Dazzled by the beauty of her body she did not notice
the face, that seemed unimportant, lost in soft veils. When her eyes
fell on it she showed a sort of disappointment.

"It doesn't look much like me! It isn't my face!"

The artist smiled. It was not she; he had tried to disguise her face,
nothing but her face. It was a mask, a concession to social conventions.
As it was, no one would recognize her and his work, his great work,
might appear and receive the admiration of the world.

"Because, we aren't going to destroy it," Renovales continued with a
tremble in his voice, "that would be a crime. Never in my life will I be
able to do anything like it again. We won't destroy it, will we, little
girl?"

The little girl remained silent for a good while with her gaze fixed on
the picture. Renovales' eager eyes saw a cloud slowly rise over her
face, like a shadow on a white wall. The painter felt as though the
floor were sinking under his feet; the storm was coming. Josephina
turned pale, two tears slipped slowly down her cheeks, two others took
their places to fall with them and then more and more.

"I won't! I won't!"

It was the same hoarse, nervous, despotic cry that had set his hair on
end with anxiety and fear that night in Rome. The little woman looked
with hatred at the naked body that radiated its pearly light from the
depths of the canvas. She seemed to feel the terror of a sleep-walker
who suddenly awakens in the midst of a square surrounded by a thousand
curious, eager eyes and in her fright does not know what to do nor where
to flee. How could she have assented to such a disgraceful thing?

"I won't have it!" she cried angrily. "Destroy it, Mariano, destroy it."

But Mariano seemed on the point of weeping too. Destroy it! Who could
demand such a foolish thing? That figure was not she; no one would
recognize her. What was the use of depriving him of a signal triumph?
But his wife did not listen to him. She was rolling on the floor with
the same convulsions and moans as on the night of the stormy scene, her
hands were clenched like a crook, her feet kicked like a dying lamb's
and her mouth, painfully distorted, kept crying hoarsely:

"I won't have it! I won't have it! Destroy it!"

She complained of her lot with a violence that wounded Renovales. She, a
respectable woman, submitted to that degradation as if she were a street
walker. If she had only known! How was she going to imagine that her
husband would make such abominable proposals to her!

Renovales, offended at these insults, at these lashes which her shrill,
piercing voice dealt his artistic talent, left his wife, let her roll on
the floor and with clenched fists, went from one end of the room to the
other, looking at the ceiling, muttering all the oaths, Spanish and
Italian, that were in current use in his studio.

Suddenly he stood still, rooted to the floor by terror and surprise.
Josephina, still naked, had jumped on the picture with the quickness of
a wild cat. With the first stroke of her finger nails, she scratched the
canvas from top to bottom, mingling the colors that were still soft,
tearing off the thin shell of the dry parts. Then she caught up the
little knife from the paint box and--rip! the canvas gave a long moan,
parted under the thrust of that white arm which seemed to have a bluish
cast in the violence of her wrath.

He did not move. For a moment he felt indignant, tempted to throw
himself on her but he lapsed into a childish weakness, ready to cry, to
take refuge in a corner, to hide his weak, aching head. She, blind with
wrath, continued to vent her fury on the picture, tangling her feet in
the wood of the frame, tearing off pieces of canvas, walking back and
forth with her prey like a wild beast. The artist had leaned his head
against the wall, his strong breast shook with cowardly sobs.

To the almost fatherly grief at the loss of his work was added the
bitterness of disappointment. For the first time he foresaw what his
life was going to be. What a mistake he had made in marrying that girl
who admired his art as a profession, as a means of making money, and who
was trying to mold him to the prejudices and scruples of the circle in
which she was born! He loved her in spite of this and he was certain
that she did not love him less, but, still, perhaps it would have been
better to remain alone, free for his art and, in case a companion was
necessary, to find a fair maid of all work with all the splendor and
intellectual humility of a beautiful animal that would admire and obey
her master blindly.

Three days passed in which the painter and his wife hardly spoke to each
other. They looked at each other askance, humbled and broken by this
domestic trouble. But the solitude in which they lived, the necessity of
remaining together made the reconciliation imperative. She was the first
to speak, as if she were terrified by the sadness and dejection of that
huge giant who wandered about as peevish as a sick man. She threw her
arms around him, kissed his forehead, made a thousand gracious efforts
to bring a faint smile to his face. "Who loved him? His Josephina. His
_Maja_ but not his _Maja Desnuda;_ that was over forever. He must never
think of those horrible things. A decent painter does not think of them.
What would all her friends say? There were many pretty things to paint
in the world. They must live in each other's love, without his
displeasing her with his hateful whims. His affection for the nude was a
shameful remnant of his Bohemian days."

And Renovales, won over by his wife's petting, made peace,--tried to
forget his work and smiled with the resignation of a slave who loves
his chain because it assures him peace and life.

They returned to Rome at the beginning of the fall. Renovales began his
work for the contractor, but after a few months the latter seemed
dissatisfied. Not that Signor Mariano was losing power, not at all, but
his agents complained of a certain monotony in the subjects of his
works. The dealer advised him to travel; he might stay awhile in Umbria,
painting peasants in ascetic landscapes, or old churches; he might--and
this was the best thing to do--move to Venice. How much Signor Mariano
could accomplish in those canals! And it was thus that the idea of
leaving Rome first came to the painter.

Josephina did not object. That daily round of receptions in the
countless embassies and legations was beginning to bore her. Now that
the charm of the first impressions had disappeared, Josephina noticed
that the great ladies treated her with an annoying condescension as if
she had descended from her rank in marrying an artist. Besides, the
younger men in the embassies, the attachés of different nationalities,
some light, some dark, who sought relief from their celibacy without
going outside diplomatic society, were disgracefully impudent as they
danced with her or went through the figures of a cotillion, as if they
considered her an easy conquest, seeing her married to an artist who
could not display an ugly uniform in the drawing rooms. They made
cynical declarations to her in English or German and she had to keep her
temper, smiling and biting her lips, close to Renovales, who did not
understand a word and showed his satisfaction at the attentions of which
his wife was the object on the part of the fashionable youths whose
manners he tried to imitate.

The trip was decided on. They would go to Venice! Their friend Cotoner
said "Good-by," he was sorry to part from them but his place was in
Rome. The Pope was ailing just at that time and the painter, in the hope
of his death, was preparing canvases of all sizes, striving to guess who
would be his successor.

As he went back in his memories, Renovales always thought of his life in
Venice with a sort of pleasant homesickness. It was the best period of
his life. The enchanting city of the lagoons,--bathed in golden light,
lulled by the lapping of the water, fascinated him from the first
moment, making him forget his love for the human form. For some time his
enthusiasm for the nude was calmed. He worshiped the old palaces, the
solitary canals, the lagoon with its green, motionless waiter, the soul
of a majestic past, which seemed to breathe in the solemn old age of the
dead, eternally smiling city.

They lived in the Foscarini palace, a huge building with red walls and
casements of white stone that opened on a little alley of water
adjoining the Grand Canal. It was the former abode of merchants,
navigators and conquerors of the Isles of the East who in times gone by
had worn on their heads the golden horn of the Doges. The modern spirit,
utilitarian and irreverent, had converted the palace into a tenement,
dividing gilded drawing rooms with ugly partitions, establishing
kitchens in the filigreed arcades of the seignorial court, filling the
marble galleries to which the centuries gave the amber-like transparency
of old ivory, with clothes hung out to dry and replacing the gaps in the
superb mosaic with cheap square tiles.

Renovales and his wife occupied the apartment nearest the Grand Canal.
Mornings, Josephina saw from a bay window the rapid silent approach of
her husband's gondola. The gondolier, accustomed to the service of
artists, shouted to the painter, till Renovales came down with his box
of water-colors and the boat started immediately through the narrow,
winding canals, moving the silvered comb of its prow from one side to
the other as if it were feeling the way. What mornings of placid silence
in the sleeping water of an alley, between two palaces whose boldly
projecting roofs kept the surface of the little canal in perpetual
shadow! The gondolier slept stretched out in one of the curving ends of
his boat and Renovales, sitting beside the black canopy, painted his
Venetian water-colors, a new type that his impresario in Rome received
with the greatest enthusiasm. His deftness enabled him to produce these
works with as much facility as if they were mechanical copies. In the
maze of canals he had one of his own which he called his "estate" on
account of the money it netted him. He had painted again and again its
dead, silent waters which all day long were never rippled except by his
gondola; two old palaces with broken blinds, the doors covered with the
crust of years, stairways rotted with mold and in the background a
little arch of light, a marble bridge and under it the life, the
movement, the sun of a broad, busy canal. The neglected little alley
came to life every week under Renovales' brush--he could paint it with
his eyes shut--and the business initiative of the Roman Jew scattered it
through the world.

The afternoons Mariano passed with his wife. Sometimes they went in a
gondola to the promenade of the Lido and sitting on the sandy beach,
watched the angry surface of the open Adriatic, that stretched its
tossing white caps to the horizon, like a flock of snowy sheep hurrying
in the rush of a panic.

Other afternoons they walked in the Square of Saint Mark, under the
arcades of its three rows of palaces where they could see in the
background, by the last rays of the sun, the pale gold of the basilica
gleaming, as if in its walls and domes there were crystallized all the
wealth of the ancient Republic.

Renovales, with his wife on his arm, walked calmly as if the majesty of
the place impelled him to a sort of noble bearing. The august silence
was not disturbed by the deafening hubbub of other great capitals; no
rattling of carts or footsteps of horses or hucksters' cries. The
Square, with its white marble pavement, was a huge drawing room through
which the visitors passed as if they were making a call. The musicians
of the Venice band were gathered in the center with their hats
surmounted by black waving plumes. The blasts of the Wagnerian brasses,
galloping in the mad ride of the Valkyries, made the marble columns
shake and seemed to give life to the four golden horses that reared over
space with silent whinnies on the cornice of St. Mark's.

The dark-feathered doves of Venice scattered in playful spirals,
somewhat frightened at the music, finally settled, like rain, on the
tables of the café. Then, taking flight again, they blackened the roof
of the palaces and once more swooped down like a mantle of metallic
luster on the groups of English tourists in green veils and round hats,
who called them in order to offer them grain.

Josephina, with childish eagerness, left her husband in order to buy a
cone full of grain, and spreading it out in her gloved hands she
gathered the wards of St. Mark around her; they rested on the flowers of
her head, fluttering like fantastic crests, they hopped on her
shoulders, or lined up on her outstretched arms, they clung desperately
to her slight hips, trying to walk around her waist, and others, more
daring, as if possessed of human mischievousness, scratched her breast,
reached out their beaks striving to caress her ruddy, half-opened, lips
through the veil. She laughed, trembling at the tickling of the animated
cloud that rubbed against her body. Her husband watched her, laughing
too, and certain that no one but she would understand him, he called to
her in Spanish.

"My, but you are beautiful! I wish I could paint your picture! If it
weren't for the people, I would kiss you."

Venice was the scene of her happiest days. She lived quietly while her
husband worked, taking odd corners of the city for his models. When he
left the house, her placid calm was not disturbed by any troublesome
thought. This was painting, she was sure,--and not the conditions of
affairs in Rome, where he would shut himself up with shameless women who
were not afraid to pose stark naked. She loved him with a renewed
passion, she petted him with constant caresses. It was then that her
daughter was born, their only child.

Majestic Doña Emilia could not remain in Madrid when she learned that
she was going to be a grandmother. Her poor Josephina, in a foreign
land, with no one to take care of her but her husband, who had some
talent according to what people said, but who seemed to her rather
ordinary! At her son-in-law's expense, she made the trip to Venice and
there she stayed for several months, fuming against the city, which she
had never visited in her diplomatic travels. The distinguished lady
considered that no cities were inhabitable except the capitals that have
a court. Pshaw! Venice! A shabby town that no one liked but writers of
romanzas and decorators of fans, and where there were nothing higher
than consuls. She liked Rome with its Pope and kings. Besides, it made
her seasick to ride in the gondolas and she complained constantly of the
rheumatism, blaming it to the dampness of the lagoons.

Renovales, who had feared for Josephina's life, believing that her weak,
delicate constitution could not stand the shock, broke out into cries of
joy when he received the little one in his arms and looked at the mother
with her head resting on the pillow as if she were dead. Her white face
was hardly outlined against the white of the linen. His first thought
was for her, for the pale features, distorted by the recent crisis,
which gradually were growing calmer with rest. Poor little girl! How she
had suffered! But as he tip-toed out of the bed room in order not to
disturb the heavy sleep that, after two cruel days, had overpowered the
sick woman, he gave himself up to his admiration for the bit of flesh
that lay in the huge flabby arms of the grandmother, wrapped in fine
linen. Ah, what a dear little thing! He looked at the livid little face,
the big head, thinly covered with hair, seeking for some suggestion of
himself in this surge of flesh that was in motion and still without
definite form. "Mamma, whom does she look like?"

Doña Emilia was surprised at his blindness. Whom; should she look like?
Like him, no one but him. She was large, enormous; she had seen few
babies as large as this one. It did not seem possible that her poor
daughter could live after giving birth to "that." They could not
complain that she was not healthy; she was as ruddy as a country baby.

"She's a Renovales; she's yours, wholly yours, Mariano. We belong to a
different class."

And Renovales, without noticing his mother's words, saw only that his
daughter was like him, overjoyed to see how robust she was, shouting his
pleasure at the health of which the grandmother spoke in a disappointed
tone.

In vain did he and Doña Emilia try to dissuade Josephina from nursing
the baby. The little woman, in spite of the weakness that kept her
motionless in bed, wept and cried almost as she had in the crises that
had so terrified Renovales.

"I won't have it," she said with that obstinacy that made her so
terrible.

"I won't have a strange woman's milk for my daughter. I will nurse her,
her mother."

And they had to give the baby to her.

When Josephina seemed recovered, her mother, feeling that her mission
was over, went home to Madrid. She was bored to death in that silent
city of Venice, night after night she thought she was dead, for she
could not hear a single sound from her bed. The calm, interrupted now
and then by the shouts of the gondoliers filled her with the same terror
that she felt in a cemetery. She had no friends, she did not "shine";
there was nobody in that dirty hole and nobody knew her. She was always
recalling her distinguished friends in Madrid where she thought she was
an indispensable personage. The modesty of her granddaughter's
christening left a deep impression in her mind in spite of the fact that
they gave her name to the child; an insignificant little party that
needed only two gondolas; she, who was the godmother, with the
godfather, an old Venetian painter, who was a friend of Renovales and,
besides, Renovales himself and two artists, a Frenchman and another
Spaniard. The Patriarch of Venice did not officiate at the baptism, not
even a bishop. And she knew so many of them at home. A mere priest, who
was in a shameful hurry, had been sufficient to christen the
granddaughter of the famous diplomat, in a little church, as the sun was
setting. She went away repeating once more that Josephina was killing
herself, that it was perfect folly for her to nurse the baby in her
delicate condition, regretting that she did not follow the example of
her mother who had always intrusted her children to nurses.

Josephina cried bitterly when her mother went, but Renovales said
"good-by" with ill-concealed joy. _Bon voyage_! He simply could not
endure the woman, always complaining that she was being neglected when
she saw how her son-in-law was working to make her daughter happy. The
only thing he agreed with her in was in scolding Josephina tenderly for
her obstinacy in nursing the baby. Poor little _Maja Desnuda_! Her form
had lost its bud-like daintiness in the full flower of motherhood.

She appeared more robust, but the stoutness was accompanied by an anemic
weakness. Her husband, seeing how she was losing her daintiness, loved
her with more tender compassion. Poor little girl! How good she was! She
was sacrificing herself for her daughter.

When the baby was a year old, the great crisis in Renovales' life
occurred. Desirous of taking a "bath in art," of knowing what was going
on outside of the dungeon in which he was imprisoned, painting at so
much a piece, he left Josephina in Venice and made a short trip to Paris
to see its famous Salon. He came back transfigured, with a new fever for
work and a determination to transform his existence which filled his
wife with astonishment and fear. He was going to break with his
_impresario_, he would no longer debase himself with that false
painting, even if he had to beg for his living. Great things were being
done in the world, and he felt that he had the courage to be an
innovator, following the steps of those modern painters who made such a
profound impression on him.

Now he hated old Italy, where artists went to study under the protection
of ignorant governments.

In reality what they found there was a market of tempting commissions
where they soon grew accustomed to taking orders, to the luxurious,
indifferent life of easy profit. He wanted to move to Paris. But
Josephina, who listened to Renovales' fancies in silence, unable to
understand them for the most part, modified this determination by her
advice. She too wanted to leave Venice. The city seemed gloomy in the
winter with its ceaseless rains that left the bridges slippery and the
marble alleys impassable. Since they were determined to break up camp,
why not go back to Madrid? Mamma was sick, she complained in all her
letters at living so far from her daughter. Josephina wanted to see her,
she had a presentiment that her mother was going to die. Renovales
thought it over; he too wanted to go back to Spain. He felt homesick;
he thought of the great stir he would cause there, teaching his new
methods amid the general routine. The desire of shocking the
Academicians, who had accepted him before because he had renounced his
ideals, tempted him.

They went back to Madrid with little Milita, as they called her for
short, abbreviating the diminutive of Emilia. Renovales brought with him
as his whole capital some few thousand lire, that represented
Josephina's savings and the product of his sale of part of the furniture
that decorated the poorly furnished halls of the Foscarini palace.

At first it was hard. Doña Emilia died a few months after they reached
Madrid. Her funeral did not come up to the dreams the illustrious widow
had always fashioned. Hardly a score of her countless relatives were
present. Poor old lady, if she had known how her hopes were destined to
be disappointed! Renovales was almost glad of the event. With it, the
only tie that bound them to society was broken. He and Josephina lived
in a fifth story flat on the Calle de Alcalá, near the Plaza de Toros,
with a large terrace that the artist converted into a studio. Their life
was modest, secluded, humble, without friends or functions. She spent
the day taking care of her daughter and the house, without help except a
dull, poorly-paid maid. Oftentimes when she seemed most active, she fell
into a sudden languor, complaining of strange, new ailments.

Mariano hardly ever worked at home; he painted out of doors. He despised
the conventional light of the studio, the closeness of its atmosphere.
He wandered through the suburbs of Madrid and the neighboring provinces
in search of rough, simple types, whose faces seemed to bear the stamp
of the ancient Spanish soul. He climbed the Guadarrama in the midst of
winter, standing alone in the snowy fields like an Arctic explorer, to
transfer to his canvas the century-old pines, twisted and black under
their caps of frozen sleet.

When the Exhibition took place, Renovales' name became famous in a
flash. He did not present a huge picture with a key, as he had at his
first triumph. They were small canvases, studies prompted by a chance
meeting; bits of nature, men and landscapes reproduced with an
astonishing, brutal truth that shocked the public.

The sober fathers of painting writhed as if they had received a slap in
the face, before those sketches that seemed to flame among the other
dead, leaden pictures. They admitted that Renovales was a painter, but
he lacked imagination, invention, his only merit was his ability to
transfer to the canvas what his eyes saw. The younger men flocked to the
standard of the new master; there were endless disputes, impassioned
arguments, deadly hatred, and over this battle Renovales', name
flitted, appearing almost daily in the newspapers, till he was almost as
celebrated as a bull-fighter or an orator in the Congress.

The struggle lasted for six years, giving rise to a storm of insults and
applause every time that Renovales exhibited one of his works, and
meanwhile the master, discussed as he was, lived in poverty, forced to
paint water-colors in the old style which he secretly sent to his dealer
in Rome. But all combats have their end. The public finally accepted as
unquestionable a name that they saw every day; his enemies, weakened by
the unconscious effect of public opinion, grew tired, and the master
like all innovators, as soon as the first success of the scandal was
over, began to limit his daring, pruning and softening his original
brutality. The dreaded painter became fashionable. The easy,
instantaneous success he had won at the beginning of his career was
renewed, but more solidly and more definitely, like a conquest made by
rough, hard paths when there is a struggle at every step.

Money, the fickle page, came back to him, holding the train of glory. He
sold pictures at prices unheard of in Spain and they grew fabulously as
they were repeated by his admirers. Some American millionaires,
surprised that a Spanish painter should be mentioned abroad and that the
principal reviews in Europe should reproduce his works, bought canvases
as objects of great luxury. The master, embittered by the poverty of his
years of struggle, suddenly felt a longing for money, an overpowering
greed that his friends had never known in him. His wife seemed to grow
more sickly every day; her daughter was growing up and he wanted his
Milita to have the education and the luxuries of a princess. They now
had a respectable house of their own, but he wanted something better for
them. His business instinct, which everyone recognized in him when he
was not blinded by some artistic prejudice, strove to make his brush an
instrument of great profits.

Pictures were bound to disappear, according to the master. Modern rooms,
small and soberly decorated, were not fitted for the large canvases that
ornamented the walls of drawing rooms in the old days. Besides, the
reception rooms of the present, like the rooms in a doll's house, were
good merely for pretty pictures marked by stereotyped mannerisms. Scenes
taken from nature were out of place in this background. The only way to
make money then was to paint portraits and Renovales forgot his
distinction as an innovator in order to win at any cost fame as a
portrait painter of society people. He painted members of the royal
family in all sorts of postures, not omitting any of their important
occupations; on foot, and on horseback, with a general's plumes or a
gray hunting jacket, killing pigeons or riding in an automobile. He
portrayed the beauties of the oldest families, concealing imperceptibly,
with clever dissimulation, the ravages of time, giving firmness to the
flabby flesh with his brush, holding up the heavy eyelids and cheeks
that sagged with fatigue and the poison of rouge. After successes at
court, the rich considered a portrait by Renovales as an indispensable
decoration for their drawing rooms. They sought him because his
signature cost thousands of dollars; to possess a canvas by him was an
evidence of opulence, quite as necessary as an automobile of the best
make.

Renovales was as rich as a painter can be. It was at that time that he
built what envious people called his "pantheon"; a magnificent mansion
behind the iron grating of the Retiro.

He had a violent desire to build a home after his own heart and image,
like those mollusks that build a shell with the substance of their
bodies so that it may serve both as a dwelling and a defense. There
awakened in him that longing for show, for pompous, swaggering, amusing
originality that lies dormant in the mind of every artist. At first he
planned a reproduction of Rubens' palace in Antwerp, open _loggie_ for
studios, leafy gardens covered with flowers at all seasons, and in the
paths, gazelles, giraffes, birds of bright plumage, like flying flowers,
and other exotic animals which this great painter used as models in his
desire to copy Nature in all its magnificence.

But he was forced to give up this dream, on account of the nature of the
building sites in Madrid, a few thousand feet of barren, chalky soil,
bounded by a wretched fence and as dry as only Castile can be. Since
this Rubenesque ostentation was not possible, he took refuge in
Classicism and in a little garden he erected a sort of Greek temple that
should serve at once as a dwelling and a studio. On the triangular
pediment rose three tripods like torch-holders, that gave the house the
appearance of a commemorative tomb. But in order that those who stopped
outside the grating might make no mistake, the master had garlands of
laurel, palettes surrounded with crowns, carved on the stone façade, and
in the midst of this display of simple modesty a short inscription in
gold letters of average size--"Renovales." Exactly like a store. Inside,
in two studios where no one ever painted and which led to the real
working studio, the finished pictures were exhibited on easels covered
with antique textures, and callers gazed with wonder at the collection
of properties fit for a theater,--suits of armor, tapestries, old
standards hanging from the ceiling, show-cases full of ancient
knick-knacks, deep couches with canopies of oriental stuffs supported by
lances, century old coffers and open secretaries shining with the pale
gold of their rows of drawers.

These studios where no one studied were like the luxurious line of
waiting rooms in the house of a doctor who charges twenty dollars for a
consultation, or like the anterooms, furnished in dark leather with
venerable pictures, of a famous lawyer, who never opens his mouth
without carrying off a large portion of his client's fortune. People who
waited in these two studios spacious as the nave of a church, with the
silent majesty which comes with the lapse of years, were brought to the
necessary frame of mind to make them submit to the enormous prices the
master demanded.

Renovales had "made good" and he could rest calmly, as his admirers
said. And still the master was gloomy; his nature, embittered by his
years of silent suffering, broke out in violent fits of temper.

The slightest attack by some insignificant enemy was enough to send him
into a rage. His pupils thought it was due to the fact that he was
getting old. His struggles had so aged him that with his heavy beard and
his round shoulders he looked ten years older than he was.

In this white temple, on the pediment of which his name shone in letters
of glorious gold, he was not so happy as in the modest houses in Italy
or the little garret near the Plaza de Toros. All that was left of the
Josephina of the first months of his married life was a distant shadow.
The "_Maja Desnuda_" of the happy nights in Rome and Venice was nothing
but a memory. On her return to Spain the false stoutness of motherhood
had disappeared.

She grew thin, as if some hidden fire were devouring her; the flesh that
had covered her body with graceful curves melted away in the flames that
burned within her. The sharp angles and dark hollows of her skeleton
began to show beneath her pale, flabby flesh. Poor _"Maja Desnuda"!_
Her husband pitied her, attributing her decline to the struggles and
cares she had suffered when they first returned to Madrid.

For her sake, he was eager to conquer, to become rich, that he might
provide her with the comforts he had dreamed of. Her illness seemed to
be mental; it was neurasthenia, melancholia. The poor woman had suffered
without doubt at being condemned to a pauper's existence, in Madrid,
where she had once lived in comparative splendor, this time in a
wretched house, struggling with poverty, forced to perform the most
menial tasks. She complained of strange pains, her legs lost their
strength, she sank into a chair where she would stay motionless for
hours at a time, weeping without knowing why. Her digestion was poor;
for weeks her stomach refused all nourishment. At night she would toss
about in bed, unable to sleep and at daybreak she was up flitting about
the house with a feverish activity, turning things upside down, finding
fault with the servant, with her husband, with herself, until suddenly
she would collapse from the height of her excitement and begin to cry.

These domestic trials broke the painter's spirit, but he bore them
patiently. Now a gentle sympathy was added to his former love, when he
saw her so weak, without any remnant of her former charm except her
eyes, sunk in their bluish sockets, bright with the mysterious fire of
fever. Poor little girl! Her struggles brought her to such a pass. Her
weakness filled Renovales with a sort of remorse. Her lot was that of
the soldier who sacrifices himself for his general's glory. He had
conquered, but he left behind him the woman he loved, fallen in the
struggle because she was the weaker.

He admired, too, her maternal self-sacrifice. The baby, Milita, who
attracted attention because of her whiteness and ruddiness, had the
strength that her mother lacked. The greediness of this strong,
enslaving creature had absorbed all of the mother's life.

When the artist was rich and installed his family in the new house, he
thought that Josephina was going to get well. The doctors were confident
of a rapid improvement. The first day that they walked through the
parlors and studios of the new house, taking note of the furniture and
the valuables, old and new, with a glance of satisfaction, Renovales put
him arm around the waist of the weak little doll, bending his head over
her, caressing her forehead with his bearded lips.

Everything was hers, the house and its sumptuous decorations, hers too
was the money that was left and that he would continue to make. She was
the owner, the absolute mistress, she could spend all she wanted to, he
would stand for everything. She could wear stylish clothes, have
carriages, make her former friends green with envy, be proud of being
the wife of a famous painter, much more proud than others who had landed
a ducal crown by marriage. Was she satisfied?

She said "Yes," nodding her assent weakly, and she even stood on tiptoe
to kiss the lips that seemed to caress her through a cloud of hair, but
her expression was sad and her listless movements were like a withered
flower's, as if there was no joy on earth that could lift her out of
this dejection.

After a few days, when the first impress of the change in her mode of
life was over, the old outbreaks that had so often disturbed their
former dwelling began again in the luxurious palace.

Renovales found her in the dining-room with her head in her hands,
crying, but unwilling to explain the cause of her tears. When he tried
to take her in his arms, caressing her like a child, the little woman
became as agitated as if she had received an insult.

"Let me go!" she cried with a hostile look. "Don't touch me. Go away!"

At other times he looked all over the house for her in vain, questioning
Milita who, accustomed to her mother's outbreaks and made selfish by her
girlish strength, paid little attention to her and kept on playing with
her dolls.

"I don't know, papa; she's probably crying up stairs," she would answer
naively.

And in some corner of the upper story, in the bedroom, beside the bed or
among the clothes in the wardrobe, the husband would find her, sitting
on the floor with her chin in her hands, her eyes fixed on the wall as
if she were looking at something invisible and mysterious that only she
could see. She was not crying, her eyes were dry and enlarged with an
expression of terror, and her husband tried in vain to attract her
attention. She remained motionless, cold, indifferent to his caresses,
as if he were a stranger, as if there were a hopeless gap between them.

"I want to die," she said in a serious, tense tone. "I am of no use in
the world; I want to rest."

The deadly resignation would change a moment later into furious
antagonism. Renovales could never tell how the quarrel began. The most
insignificant word on his part, the expression of his face, silence
even, was all that was needed to bring on the storm. Josephina began to
speak with a taunting accent that made her words cut like cold steel.
She found fault with the painter for what he did and what he did not do,
for his most trifling habits, for what he painted, and presently,
extending the radius of her insults to include the whole world, she
broke out into denunciations of the distinguished people who formed her
husband's clientele and brought him such profits. He might be satisfied
with painting the portraits of those people, disreputable society men
and women. Her mother, who was in close touch with that society, had
told her many stories about them. The women she knew still better;
almost all of them had been her companions at boarding-school or her
friends. They had married to make sport of their husbands; they all had
a past, they were worse than the women who walked the streets at night.
This house with all its façade of laurels and its gold letters was a
brothel. One of these fine days she would come into the studio and throw
them into the street to have their pictures painted somewhere else.

"For God's sake, Josephina," Renovales murmured with a troubled voice,
"don't talk like that. Don't think of such outrageous things. I don't
see how you can talk that way. Milita will hear us."

Now that her nervous anger was exhausted, Josephina would burst into
tears and Renovales would have to leave the table and take her to bed,
where she lay, crying out for the hundredth time that she wanted to die.

This life was even more intolerable because he was faithful to his wife,
because his love, mingled with habit and routine, kept him firmly
devoted to her.

At the end of the afternoon, several of his friends used to gather in
his studio, among them the jolly Cotoner who had moved to Madrid. When
the twilight crept in through the huge window and made them all prone to
friendly confidences, Renovales always made the same statement.

"As a boy I had my good times just like anyone else, but since I was
married I have never had anything to do with any woman except my own
wife. I am proud to say so."

And the big man drew himself up to his full height and stroked his
beard, as proud of his faithfulness to his wife as other men are of
their good fortune in love.

When they talked about beautiful women in his presence, or looked at
portraits of great foreign beauties, the master did not conceal his
approval.

"Very beautiful! Very pretty to paint!"

His enthusiasm over beauty never went beyond the limits of art. There
was only one woman in the world for him, his wife; the others were
models.

He, who carried in his mind a perfect orgy of flesh, who worshiped the
nude with religious fervor, reserved all his manly homage for his wife
who grew constantly more sickly, more gloomy, and waited with the
patience of a lover for a moment of calm, a ray of sunlight among the
incessant storms.

The doctors, who admitted their inability to cure the nervous disorder
that was consuming the wife, had hopes of a sudden change and
recommended to the husband that he should be extremely kind to her. This
only increased his patient gentleness. They attributed the nervous
trouble to the birth and nursing of the child, that had broken her weak
health; they suspected, too, the existence of some unknown cause that
kept the sick woman in constant excitement.

Renovales, who studied his wife closely in his eagerness to recover
peace in his house, soon discovered the true cause of her illness.

Milita was growing up; already she was a woman. She was fourteen years
old and wore long skirts, and her healthy beauty was beginning to
attract the glances of men.

"One of these days they'll carry her off," said the master laughing.
And his wife, when she heard him talking about marriage, making
conjectures on his future son-in-law, closed her eyes and said in a
tense voice, that revealed her insuperable obstinacy:

"She shall marry anyone she wants to,--except a painter. I would rather
see her dead than that."

It was then Renovales divined his wife's true illness. It was jealousy,
a terrific, deadly, ruinous jealousy; it was the sadness of realizing
that she was sickly. She was certain of her husband; she knew his
declarations of faithfulness to her. But when the painter spoke of his
artistic interests in her presence, he did not hide his worship of
beauty, his religious cult of form. Even if he was silent, she
penetrated his thoughts; she read in him that fervor which dated from
his youth and had grown greater as the years went by. When she looked at
the statues of sovereign nakedness that decorated the studios, when she
glanced through the albums of pictures where the light of flesh shone
brightly amid the shadows of the engraving, she compared them mentally
with her own form emaciated by illness.

Renovales' eyes that seemed to worship every beauty of form were the
same eyes that saw her in all her ugliness. That man could never love
her. His faithfulness was pity, perhaps habit, unconscious virtue. She
could not believe that it was love. This illusion might be possible with
another man, but he was an artist. By day he worshiped beauty; at night
he was brought face to face with ugliness, with physical wretchedness.

She was constantly tormented by jealousy, that embittered her mind and
consumed her life, a jealousy that was inconsolable for the very reason
that it had no real foundation.

The consciousness of her ugliness brought with it a sadness, an
insatiable envy of everyone, a desire to die but to kill the world
first, that she might drag it down with her in her fall.

Her husband's caresses irritated her like an insult. Maybe he thought he
loved her, maybe his advances were in good faith, but she read his
thoughts and she found there her irresistible enemy, the rival that
overshadowed her with her beauty. And there was no remedy for this. She
was married to a man who, as long as he lived, would be faithful to his
religion of beauty. How well she remembered the days when she had
refused to allow her husband to paint her youthful body! If youth and
beauty would but come back to her, she would recklessly cast off all her
veils, would stand in the middle of the studio as arrogantly as a
bacchante, crying,

"Paint! Satisfy yourself with my flesh, and whenever you think of your
eternal beloved, whom you call Beauty, fancy that you see her with my
face, that she has my body!"

It was a terrible misfortune to be the wife of an artist. She would
never marry her daughter to a painter; she would rather see her dead.
Men who carry with them the demon of form, cannot live in peace and
happiness except with a companion who is eternally young, eternally
fair.

Her husband's fidelity made her desperate. That chaste artist was always
musing over the memory of naked beauties, fancying pictures he did not
dare to paint for fear of her. With her sick woman's penetration, she
seemed to read this longing in her husband's face. She would have
preferred certain infidelity, to see him in love with another woman, mad
with passion. He might return from such a wandering outside the bonds of
matrimony, wearied and humble, begging her forgiveness; but from the
other, he would never return.

When Renovates discovered the cause of her sadness, he tenderly
undertook to cure his wife's mental disorder. He avoided speaking of his
artistic interests in her presence; he discovered terrible defects in
the fair ladies who sought him as a portrait painter; he praised
Josephina's spiritual beauty; he painted pictures of her, putting her
features on the canvas, but beautifying them with, subtle skill.

She smiled, with that eternal condescension that a woman has for the
most stupendous, most shameful deceits, as long as they flatter her.

"It's you," said Renovales, "your face, your charm, your air of
distinction. I really don't think I have made you as beautiful as you
are."

She continued to smile, but soon her look grew hard, her lips tightened
and the shadow spread little by little across her face.

She fixed her eyes on the painter's as if she were scrutinizing his
thoughts.

It was a lie. Her husband was flattering her; he thought he loved her,
but only his flesh was faithful. The invincible enemy, the eternal
beloved, was mistress of his mind.

Tortured by this mental unfaithfulness and by the rage which her
helplessness produced, she would gradually fall into one of the nervous
storms that broke out in a shower of tears and a thunder of insults and
recriminations.

Renovales' life was a hell at the very time when he possessed the glory
and wealth which he had dreamed of so many years, building on them his
hope of happiness.



IV


It was three o'clock in the afternoon when the painter went home after
his luncheon with the Hungarian.

As he entered the dining-room, before going to the studio, he saw two
women with their hats and veils on who looked as if they were getting
ready to go out. One of them, as tall as the painter, threw her arms
around his neck.

"Papa, dear, we waited for you until nearly two o'clock. Did you have a
good luncheon?"

And she kissed him noisily, rubbing her fresh, rosy cheeks against the
master's gray beard.

Renovales smiled good naturedly under this shower of caresses. Ah, his
Milita! She was the only joy in that gloomy, showy house. It was she who
sweetened that atmosphere of tedious strife which seemed to emanate from
the sick woman. He looked at his daughter with an air of comic
gallantry.

"Very pretty; yes, I swear you are very pretty to-day. You are a perfect
Rubens, my dear, a brunette Rubens. And where are we going to show off?"

He looked with a father's pride at that strong, rosy body, in which the
transition to womanhood was marked by a sort of passing delicacy--the
result of her rapid growth--and a dark circle around her eyes. Her soft,
mysterious glance was that of a woman who is beginning to understand the
meaning of life. She dressed with a sort of exotic elegance; her clothes
had a masculine appearance; her mannish collar and tie were in keeping
with the rigid energy of her movements, with her wide-soled English
boots, and the violent swing of her legs that opened her skirts like a
compass when she walked, more intent on speed and a heavy step than on a
graceful carriage. The master admired her healthy beauty. What a
splendid specimen! The race would not die out with her. She was like
him, wholly like him; if he had been a woman, he would have been like
his Milita.

She kept on talking, without taking her arms from her father's
shoulders, with her eyes, tremulous like molten gold, fixed on the
master.

She was going for her daily walk with "Miss," a two hours' tramp through
the Castellana and the Retiro, without stopping a moment to sit down,
taking a peripatetic lesson in English on the way. For the first time
Renovates turned around to speak to "Miss," a stout woman with a red,
wrinkled face who, when she smiled, showed a set of teeth that shone
like yellow dominoes. In the studio Renovales and his friends often
laughed at "Miss's" appearance and eccentricities, at her red wig that
was placed on her head as carelessly as a hat, at her terrible false
teeth, at her bonnets that she made herself out of chance bits of ribbon
and discarded ornaments, of her chronic lack of appetite, that forced
her to live on beer, which kept her in a continual state of confusion,
which was revealed in her exaggerated curtsies. Soft and heavy from
drink, she was alarmed at the approach of the hour of the walk, a daily
torment for her, as she tried painfully to keep up with Milita's long
strides. Seeing the painter looking at her, she turned even redder and
made three profound curtsies.

"Oh, Mr. Renovales, oh, sir!"

And she did not call him "Lord," because the master greeting her with a
nod, forgot her presence and began to talk again with his daughter.

Milita was eager to hear about her father's luncheon with Tekli. And so
he had had some Chianti? Selfish man! When he knew how much she liked
it! He ought to have let them know sooner that he would not be home.
Fortunately Cotoner was at the house and mamma had made him stay, so
that they would not have to lunch alone. Their old friend had gone to
the kitchen and prepared one of those dishes he had learned to make in
the days when he was a landscape-painter. Milita observed that all
landscape-painters knew something about cooking. Their outdoor life, the
necessities of their wandering existence among country inns and huts,
defying poverty, gave them a liking for this art.

They had had a very pleasant luncheon; mamma had laughed at Cotoner's
jokes, who was always in good humor, but during the dessert, when
Soldevilla, Renovales' favorite pupil, came, she had felt indisposed and
had disappeared to hide her eyes swimming with tears and her breast that
heaved with sobs.

"She's probably upstairs," said the girl with a sort of indifference,
accustomed to these outbreaks. "Good-by, papa, dear, a kiss. Cotoner and
Soldevilla are waiting for you in the studio. Another kiss. Let me bite
you."

And after fixing her little teeth gently in one of the master's cheeks,
she ran out, followed by Miss, who was already puffing in anticipation
at the thought of the tiresome walk.

Renovales remained motionless as if he hesitated to shake off the
atmosphere of affection in which his daughter enveloped him. Milita was
his, wholly his. She loved her mother, but her affection was cold in
comparison with the ardent passion she felt for him--that vague,
instinctive preference girls feel for their fathers and which is, as it
were, a forecast of the worship the man they love will later inspire in
them.

For a moment he thought of looking for Josephina to console her, but
after a brief reflection, he gave up the idea. It probably was nothing;
his daughter was not disturbed; a sudden fit such as she usually had. If
he went upstairs he would run the risk of an unpleasant scene that would
spoil the afternoon, rob him of his desire to work and banish the
youthful light-heartedness that filled him after his luncheon with
Tekli.

He turned his steps towards the last studio, the only one that deserved
the name, for it was there he worked, and he saw Cotoner sitting in a
huge armchair, the seat of which sagged under his corpulent frame, with
his elbows resting on the oaken arms, his waistcoat unbuttoned to
relieve his well-filled paunch, his head sunk between his shoulders, his
face red and sweating, his eyes half closed with the sweet joy of
digestion in that comfortable atmosphere heated by a huge stove.

Cotoner was getting old; his mustache was white and his head was bald,
but his face was as rosy and shining as a child's. He breathed the
placidness of a respectable old bachelor whose only love is for good
living and who appreciates the digestive sleepiness of the
boaconstrictor as the greatest of happiness.

He was tired of living in Rome. Commissions were scarce. The Popes lived
longer than the Biblical patriarchs. The chromo portraits of the Pontiff
had simply forced him out of business. Besides, he was old and the young
painters who came to Rome did not know him; they were poor fellows who
looked on him as a clown, and never laid aside their seriousness except
to make sport of him. His time had passed. The echoes of Mariano's
triumphs at home had come to his ears, had determined him to move to
Madrid. Life was the same everywhere. He had friends in Madrid, too. And
here he had continued the life he had led in Rome, without any effort,
feeling a kind of longing for glory in that narrow personality which
had made him a mere day-laborer in art, as if his relations with
Renovales imposed on him the duty of seeking a place near his in the
world of painting.

He had gone back to landscapes, never winning any greater success than
the simple admirations of wash-women and brickmakers who gathered around
his easel in the suburbs of Madrid, whispering to each other that the
gentleman who wore on his lapel the variegated button of his numerous
Papal Orders, must be a famous old "buck," one of the great painters the
papers talked about. Renovales had secured for him two honorable
mentions at the Exhibitions and after this victory, shared with all the
young chaps who were just beginning, Cotoner settled down in the rut, to
rest forever, counting that the mission of his life was fulfilled.

Life in Madrid was no more difficult for him than in Rome. He slept at
the house of a priest whom he had known in Italy, and had accompanied on
his tours as Papal representative. This chaplain, who was employed in
the office of the Rota, considered it a great honor to entertain the
artist, recalling his friendly relations with the cardinals and
believing that he was in correspondence with the Pope himself.

They had agreed on a sum which he was to pay for his lodging, but the
priest did not seem to be in any hurry for payment; he would soon give
him a commission for a painting for some nuns for whom he was confessor.

The eating problem offered still less difficulty for Cotoner. He had the
days of the week divided among various rich families noted for their
piety, whom he had met in Rome during the great Spanish pilgrimages.
They were wealthy miners from Bilbao, gentlemen farmers from Andalusia,
old marchionesses who thought about God a great deal, but continued to
live their comfortable life to which they gave a serious tone by the
respectable color of devotion.

The painter felt closely attached to this little group; they were
serious, religious and they ate well. Everyone called him "good
Cotoner." The ladies smiled with gratitude when he presented them with a
rosary or some other article of devotion brought from Rome. If they
expressed the desire of obtaining some dispensation from the Vatican, he
would offer to write to "his friend the cardinal." The husbands, glad to
entertain an artist so cheaply, consulted him about the plan for a new
chapel or the designs for an altar, and on their saint's day they would
receive with a condescending mien some present from Cotoner--a "little
daub," a landscape painted on a piece of wood, that often needed an
explanation before they could understand what it was meant for.

At dinners he was a constant source of amusement for these people of
solid principles and measured words, with his stories of the strange
doings of the "Monsignori" or the "Eminences" he used to know in Rome.
They listened to these jokes with a sort of unction, however dubious
they were, seeing that they came from such respectable personages.

When the round of invitations was interrupted by illness or absence, and
Cotoner lacked a place to dine, he stayed at Renovales' house without
waiting for an invitation. The master wanted him to live with them, but
he did not accept. He was very fond of the family; Milita played with
him as if he were an old dog, Josephina felt a sort of affection for
him, because his presence reminded her of the good old days in Rome. But
Cotoner, in spite of this, seemed to be somewhat reluctant, divining the
storms that darkened the master's life. He preferred his free existence,
to which he adapted himself with the ease of a parasite. After dinner
was over, he would listen to the weighty discussions between learned
priests and serious old church-goers, nodding his approval, and an hour
later he would be jesting impiously in some café or other with painters,
actors and journalists. He knew everybody; he only needed to speak to an
artist twice and he would call him by his first name and swear that he
loved and admired him from the bottom of his heart. When Renovales came
into the studio, he shook off his drowsiness and stretched out his short
legs so that he could touch the floor and get out of the chair.

"Did they tell you, Mariano? A magnificent dish! I made them an
Andalusian pot-pourri! They were tickled to death over it!"

He was enthusiastic over his culinary achievement as if all his merits
were summed up in this skill. Afterwards, while Renovales was handing
his coat and hat to the servant who followed him, Cotoner with the
curiosity of an intimate friend who wants to know all the details of his
idol's life, questioned him about his luncheon with the foreigner.

Renovales lay down on a divan deep as a niche, between two bookcases and
lined with piles of cushions. As they spoke of Tekli, they recalled
friends in Rome, painters of different nationalities who twenty years
before had walked with their heads high, following the star of hope as
if they were hypnotized. Renovales, in his pride in his strength,
incapable of hypocritical modesty, declared that he was the only one who
had succeeded. Poor Tekli was a professor; his copy of Velásquez
amounted to nothing more than the work of a patient cart horse in art.

"Do you think so?" asked Cotoner doubtfully. "Is his work so poor?"

His selfishness kept him from saying a word against anyone; he had no
faith in criticism, he believed blindly in praise; thereby preserving
his reputation as a good fellow, which gave him the entree everywhere
and made his life easy. The figure of the Hungarian was fixed in his
memory and made him think of a series of luncheons before he left
Madrid.

"Good afternoon, master."

It was Soldevilla who came out from behind a screen with his hands
clasped behind his back under the tail of his short sack coat, his head
in the air, tortured by the excessive height of his stiff, shining
collar, throwing out his chest so as to show off better his velvet
waistcoat. His thinness and his small stature were made up for by the
length of his blond mustache that curled around his pink little nose as
if it were trying to reach the straight, scraggly bangs on his forehead.
This Soldevilla was Renovales' favorite pupil--"his weakness" Cotoner
called him. The master had fought a great battle to win him the
fellowship at Rome; afterward he had given him the prize at several
exhibitions.

He looked on him almost as a son, attracted perhaps by the contrast
between his own rough strength and the weakness of that artistic dandy,
always proper, always amiable, who consulted this master about
everything, even if afterwards he did not pay much attention to his
advice. When he criticized his fellow painters, he did it with a
venomous suavity, with a feminine finesse. Renovales laughed at his
appearance and his habits and Cotoner joined in. He was like china,
always shining; you could not find the least speck of dust on him; you
were sure he slept in a cupboard. These present-day painters! The two
old artists recalled the disorder of their youth, their Bohemian
carelessness, with long beards and huge hats, all their odd
extravagances to distinguish them from the rest of men, forming a world
by themselves. They felt out of humor with these painters of the last
batch--proper, prudent, incapable of doing anything absurd, copying the
fashions of the idle and presenting the appearance of State
functionaries, clerks, who wielded the brush.

His greeting over, Soldevilla fairly overwhelmed the master with his
effusive praise. He had been admiring the portrait of the Countess of
Alberca.

"A perfect marvel, master. The best thing you have painted, and it's
only half done, too."

This praise aroused Renovales. He got up, shoved aside the screen and
pulled out an easel that held a large canvas, until it was opposite the
light that came in through the wide window.

On a gray background stood a woman dressed in white, with that majesty
of beauty that is accustomed to admiration. The aigrette of feathers and
diamonds seemed to tremble on her tawny yellow curls, the curve of her
breasts was outlined through the lace of her low-necked gown, her gloves
reached above her elbows, in one of her hands she held a costly fan, in
the other, a dark cloak, lined with flame-colored satin, that slipped
from her bare shoulders, on the point of falling. The lower part of the
figure was merely outlined in charcoal on the white canvas. The head,
almost finished, seemed to look at the three men with its proud eyes,
cold, but with a false coldness that bespoke a hidden passion within, a
dead volcano that might come to life at any moment.

She was a tall, stately woman, with a charming, well-proportioned
figure, who seemed to keep the freshness of youth, thanks to the
healthy, comfortable life she led. The corners of her eyes were narrowed
with a tired fold.

Cotoner looked at her from his seat with chaste calmness, commenting
tranquilly on her beauty, feeling above temptation.

"It's she, you've caught her, Mariano. She has been a great woman."

Renovales appeared offended at this comment.

"She is," he said with a sort of hostility. "She is still."

Cotoner could not argue with his idol and he hastened to correct
himself.

"She is a charming woman, very attractive, yes sir, and very stylish.
They say she is talented and cannot bear to let men who worship her
suffer. She has certainly enjoyed life."

Renovales began to bristle again, as if these words cut him.

"Nonsense! lies, calumnies!" he said angrily. "Inventions of some young
fellows who spread these disgraceful reports because they were
rejected."

Cotoner began to explain away what he had said. He did not know
anything, he had heard it. The ladies at whose houses he dined spoke ill
of the Alberca woman, but perhaps it was merely woman's gossip. There
was a moment of silence and Renovales, as if he wanted to change the
subject of conversation, turned to Soldevilla.

"And you, aren't you painting any longer? I always find you here in
working hours."

He smiled somewhat knowingly as he said this, while the youth blushed
and tried to make excuses. He was working hard, but every day he felt
the need of dropping into his master's studio for a minute before he
went to his own.

It was a habit he had formed when he was a beginner, in that period, the
best in his life, when he studied beside the great painter in a studio
far less sumptuous than this.

"And Milita? Did you see her?" continued Renovales with a good-natured
smile that had not lost its playfulness. "Didn't she 'kid' you, for
wearing that dazzling new tie?"

Soldevilla smiled too. He had been in the dining-room with Doña
Josephina and Milita and the latter had made fun of him as usual. But
she did not mean anything; the master knew that Milita and he treated
each other like brother and sister.

More than once when she was a little tot and he a lad, he had acted as
her horse, trotting around the old studio with the little scamp on his
back, pulling his hair and pounding him with her tiny fists.

"She's very cute," interrupted Cotoner. "She is the most attractive, the
best girl I know."

"And the unequaled López de Sosa?" asked the master, once more in a
playful tone. "Didn't that 'chauffeur' that drives us crazy with his
automobiles come to-day?"

Soldevilla's smile disappeared. He grew pale and his eyes flashed
spitefully. No, he had not seen the gentleman. According to the ladies,
he was busy repairing an automobile that had broken down on the Pardo
road. And as if the recollection of this friend of the family was trying
for him and he wished to avoid any further allusions to him, he said
"good-by" to the master. He was going to work; he must take advantage of
the two hours of sunlight that were left. But before he went out he
stopped to say another word in praise of the portrait of the countess.

The two friends remained alone for a long while in silence. Renovales,
buried in the shadow of that niche of Persian stuffs with which his
divan was canopied, gazed at the picture.

"Is she going to come to-day?" asked Cotoner, pointing to the canvas.

Renovales shrugged his shoulders. To-day or the next day; it was
impossible to do any serious work with that woman.

He expected her that afternoon; but he would not feel surprised if she
failed to keep her appointment. For nearly a month he had been unable to
get in two days in succession. She was always engaged; she was president
of societies for the education and emancipation of woman; she was
constantly planning festivals and raffles; the activity of a tired woman
of society, the fluttering of a wild bird that made her want to be
everywhere at the same time, without the will to withdraw when once she
was started in the current of feminine excitement. Suddenly the painter
whose eyes were fixed on the portrait gave a cry of enthusiasm.

"What a woman, Pepe! What a woman to paint!"

His eyes seemed to lay bare the beauty that stood on the canvas in all
its aristocratic grandeur. They strove to penetrate the mystery of that
covering of lace and silk, to see the color and the lines of the form
that was hardly revealed through the gown. This mental reconstruction
was helped by the bare shoulders and the curve of her breasts that
seemed to tremble at the edge of her dress, separated by a line of soft
shadow.

"That's just what I told your wife," said the Bohemian naively. "If you
paint beautiful women, like the countess, it is merely for the sake of
painting them and not that you would think of seeing in them anything
more than a model."

"Aha! So my wife has been talking to you about that!"

Cotoner hastened to set his mind at ease, fearing his digestion might be
disturbed. A mere trifle, nervousness on the part of poor Josephina, who
saw the dark side of everything in her illness.

She had referred during the luncheon to the Alberca woman and her
portrait. She did not seem to be very fond of her, in spite of the fact
that she had been her companion in boarding-school. She felt as other
women did; the countess was an enemy, who inspired them with fear. But
he had calmed her and finally succeeded in making her smile faintly.
There was no use in talking about that any longer.

But Renovales did not share his friend's optimism. He was well aware of
his wife's state of mind; he understood now the motive that had made her
flee from the table, to take refuge upstairs and to weep and long for
death. She hated Concha as she did all the women who entered his studio.
But this impression of sadness did not last very long in the painter; he
was used to his wife's susceptibility. Besides, the consciousness of his
faithfulness calmed him. His conscience was clean, and Josephina might
believe what she would. It would only be one more injustice and he was
resigned to endure his slavery without complaint.

In order to forget his trouble, he began to talk about painting. The
recollection of his conversation with Tekli enlivened him, for Tekli had
been traveling all over Europe and was well acquainted with what the
most famous masters were thinking and painting.

"I'm getting old, Cotoner. Did you think I didn't know it? No, don't
protest. I know that I am not old; forty-three years. I mean that I have
lost my gait and cannot get started. It's a long time since I have done
anything new; I always strike the same note. You know that some people,
envious of my reputation are always throwing that defect in my face,
like a vile insult."

And the painter, with the selfishness of great artists who always think
that they are neglected and the world begrudges them their glory,
complained at the slavery that was imposed upon him by his good fortune.
Making money! What a calamity for art! If the world were governed by
his common sense, artists with talent would be supported by the State,
which would generously provide for all their needs and whims. There
would be no need of bothering about making a living. "Paint what you
want to, and as you please." Then great things would be done and art
would advance with giant strides, not constrained to debase itself by
flattering public vulgarity and the ignorance of the rich. But now, to
be a celebrated painter it was necessary to make money and this could
not be done except by portraits, opening a shop, painting the first one
that appeared, without the right of choice. Accursed painting! In
writing, poverty was a merit. It stood for truth and honesty. But the
painter must be rich, his talent was judged by his profits. The fame of
his pictures was connected with the idea of thousands of dollars. When
people talked about his work they always said, "He's making such and
such a sum of money," and to keep up this wealth, the indispensable
companion of his glory, he had to paint by the job, cringing before the
vulgar throng that pays.

Renovales walked excitedly around the portrait. Sometimes this laborer's
work was tolerable, when he was painting beautiful women and men whose
faces had the light of intelligence. But the vulgar politicians, the
rich men that looked like porters, the stout dames with dead faces that
he had to paint! When he let his love for truth overcome him and copied
the model as he saw it, he won another enemy, who paid the bill
grumblingly and went away to tell everyone that Renovales was not so
great as people thought. To avoid this he lied in his painting, having
recourse to the methods employed by other mediocre artists and this base
procedure tormented his conscience, as if he were robbing his inferiors
who deserved respect for the very reason that they were less endowed for
artistic production than he.

"Besides, that is not painting, the whole of painting. We think we are
artists because we can reproduce a face, and the face is only a part of
the body. We tremble with fear at the thought of the nude. We have
forgotten it. We speak of it with respect and fear, as we would of
something religious, worthy of worship, but something we never see close
at hand. A large part of our talent is the talent of a dry-goods clerk.
Cloth, nothing but cloth; garments. The body must be carefully wrapped
up or we flee from it as from a danger."

He ceased his nervous walking to and fro and stopped in front of the
picture, fixing his gaze on it.

"Imagine, Pepe," he said in an undertone, looking first instinctively
toward the door, with that eternal fear of being heard by his wife in
the midst of his artistic raptures. "Imagine, if that woman would
undress; if I could paint her as she certainly is."

Cotoner burst into laughter with a look like a knavish friar.

"Wonderful, Mariano, a masterpiece. But she won't. I'm sure she would
refuse to undress, though I admit she isn't always particular."

Renovales shook his fists in protest.

"And why won't they? What a rut! What vulgarity!"

In his artistic selfishness he fancied that the world had been created
without any other purpose than supporting painters, the rest of humanity
was made to serve them as models, and he was shocked at this
incomprehensible modesty. Ah, where could they find now the beauties of
Greece, the calm models of sculptors, the pale Venetian ladies painted
by Titian, the graceful Flemish women of Rubens, and the dainty,
sprightly beauties of Goya? Beauty was eclipsed forever behind the veils
of hypocrisy and false modesty. Women had one lover to-day, another
to-morrow and still they blushed at recalling the woman of other times,
far more pure than they, who did not hesitate to reveal to the public
admiration the perfect work of God, the chastity of the nude.

Renovales lay down on the divan again, and in the twilight he talked
confidentially with Cotoner in a subdued voice, sometimes looking toward
the door as if he feared being overheard.

For some time he had been dreaming of a masterpiece. He had it in his
imagination complete even to the least details. He saw it, closing his
eyes, just at it would be, if he ever succeeded in painting it. It was
Phryne, the famous beauty of Athens, appearing naked before the crowd of
pilgrims on the beach of Delphi. All the suffering humanity of Greece
walked on the shore of the sea toward the famous temple, seeking divine
intervention for the relief of their ills, cripples with distorted
limbs, repulsive lepers, men swollen with dropsy, pale, suffering women,
trembling old men, youths disfigured in hideous expressions, withered
arms like bare bones, shapeless elephant legs, all the phases of a
perverted Nature, the piteous, desperate expressions of human pain. When
they see on the beach Phryne, the glory of Greece, whose beauty was a
national pride, the pilgrims stop and gaze upon her, turning their backs
to the temple, that outlines its marble columns in the background of the
parched mountains; and the beautiful woman, filled with pity by this
procession of suffering, desires to brighten their sadness, to cast a
handful of health and beauty among their wretched furrows, and tears off
her veils, giving them the royal alms of her nakedness. The white,
radiant body is outlined on the dark blue of the sea. The wind scatters
her hair like golden serpents on her ivory shoulders; the waves that die
at her feet, toss upon her stars of foam that make her skin tremble with
the caress from her amber neck down to her rosy feet. The wet sand,
polished and bright as a mirror, reproduces the sovereign nakedness,
inverted and confused in serpentine lines that take on the shimmer of
the rainbow as they disappear. And the pilgrims, on their knees, in the
ecstasy of worship, stretch out their arms toward the mortal goddess,
believing that Beauty and eternal Health have come to meet them.

Renovales sat up and grasped Cotoner's arm as he described his future
picture, and his friend nodded his approval gravely, impressed by the
description.

"Very fine! Sublime, Mariano!"

But the master became dejected again after this flash of enthusiasm.

The task was very difficult. He would have to go and take up quarters on
the shore of the Mediterranean, on some secluded beach at Valencia or in
Catalonia; he would have to build a cabin on the very edge of the sand
where the water breaks with its bright reflections, and take woman after
woman there, a hundred if it was necessary, in order to study the
whiteness of their skin against the blue of the sea and sky, until he
found the divine body of the Phryne he had dreamed.

"Very difficult," murmured Renovales. "I tell you it is very difficult.
There are so many obstacles to struggle against."

Cotoner leaned forward with a confidential expression.

"And besides, there's the mistress," he said in a quiet voice, looking
at the door with a sort of fear. "I don't believe Josephina would be
very much pleased with this picture and its pack of models."

The master lowered his head.

"If you only knew, Pepe! If you could see the life I lead every day!"

"I know what it is," Cotoner hastened to say, "or rather, I can imagine.
Don't tell me anything."

And in his haste to avoid the sad confidences of his friend, there was a
great deal of selfishness, the desire not to disturb his peaceful calm
with other men's sorrows that excite only a distant interest.

Renovales spoke after a long silence. He often wondered whether an
artist ought to be married or single. Other men, of weak, hesitating
character needed the support of a comrade, the atmosphere of a family.

He recalled with relish the first few months of his married life; but
since then it had weighed on him like a chain. He did not deny the
existence of love; he needed the sweet company of a woman in order to
live, but with intermissions, without the endless imprisonment of common
life. Artists like himself ought to be free, he was sure of it.

"Oh, Pepe, if I had only stayed like you, master of my time and my work,
without having to think what my family will say if they see me painting
this or that, what great things I should have done!"

The old man, who had failed in all his tasks, was going to say something
when the door of the studio opened and Renovales' servant came in, a
little man with fat red cheeks and a high voice which, according to
Cotoner, sounded like the messenger of a monastery.

"The countess."

Cotoner jumped out of his armchair. Those models didn't like to see
people in the studio. How could he get out? Renovales helped him to find
his hat, coat and cane, which with his usual carelessness he had left in
different corners of the studio.

The master pushed him out of a door that led into the garden. Then, when
he was alone, he ran to an old Venetian mirror, and looked at himself
for a moment in its deep, bluish surface, smoothing his curly gray hair
with his fingers.



V


She came in with a great rustling of silks and laces, her least
step accompanied by the _frou-frou_ of her skirts, scattering various
perfumes, like the breath of an exotic garden.

"Good afternoon, _mon cher maître_."

As she looked at him through her tortoise-shell lorgnette, hanging from
a gold chain, the gray amber of her eyes took on an insolent stare
through the glasses, a strange expression, half caressing, half mocking.

He must pardon her for being so late. She was sorry for her lack of
attention, but she was the busiest woman in Madrid. The things she had
done since luncheon! Signing and examining papers with the secretary of
the "Women's League," a conference with the carpenter and the foreman
(two rough fellows who fairly devoured her with their eyes), who had
charge of putting up the booths for the great fair for the benefit of
destitute working women; a call on the president of the Cabinet, a
somewhat dissolute old gentleman, in spite of his gravity, who received
her with the airs of an old-fashioned gallant, kissing her hand, as they
used to in a minuet.

"We have lost the afternoon, haven't we, _maître?_ There's hardly sun
enough to work by now. Besides, I didn't bring my maid to help me."

She pointed with her lorgnette to the door of an alcove that served as a
dressing-room for the models and where she kept the evening gown and the
flame-colored cloak in which he was painting her.

Renovales, after looking furtively at the entrance of the studio,
assumed an arrogant air of swaggering gallantry, such as he used to have
in his youth in Rome, free and obstreperous.

"You needn't give up on that account. If you will let me, I'll act as
maid for you."

The countess began to laugh loudly, throwing back her head and
shoulders, showing her white throat that shook with merriment.

"Oh, what a good joke! And how daring the master is getting. You don't
know anything about such things, Renovales. All you can do is paint. You
are not in practice."

And in her accent of subtle irony, there was something like pity for the
artist, removed from mundane things, whose conjugal virtue everyone
knew. This seemed to offend him for he spoke to the countess very
sharply as he picked up the palette and prepared the colors. There was
no need of changing her dress; he would make use of what little daylight
remained to work on the head.

Concha took off her hat and then, before the same Venetian mirror in
which the painter had looked at himself, began to touch up her hair. Her
arms curved around her golden head, while Renovales contemplated the
grace of her back, seeing at the same time her face and breast in the
glass. She hummed as she arranged her hair, with her eyes fixed on their
own reflection, not letting anything distract her in this important
operation.

That brilliant, striking golden hair was probably bleached. The painter
was sure of it, but it did not seem less beautiful to him on that
account. The beauties of Venice in the olden times used to dye their
hair.

The countess sat down in an armchair, a short distance from the easel.
She felt tired and as long as he was not going to paint anything but her
face, he would not be so cruel as to make her stand, as he did on days
of real sittings. Renovales answered with monosyllables and shrugs of
his shoulders. That was all right--for what they were going to do. An
afternoon lost. He would limit himself to working on her hair and her
forehead. She might take it easy, looking anywhere she wanted to.

The master did not feel any desire to work either. A dull anger
disturbed him; he was irritated by the ironical accent of the countess
who saw in him a man different from other men, a strange being who was
incapable of acting like the insipid young men who formed her court and
many of whom, according to common gossip, were her lovers. A strange
woman, provoking and cold! He felt like falling on her, in his rage at
her offence, and beating her with the same scorn that he would a low
woman, to make her feel his manly superiority.

Of all the ladies whose pictures he had painted, none had disturbed his
artistic calm as she had. He felt attracted by her mad jesting, by her
almost childish levity, and at the same time he hated her for the
pitying air with which she treated him. For her he was a good fellow,
but very commonplace, who by some rare caprice of Nature possessed the
gift of painting well.

Renovales returned this scorn by insulting her mentally. That Countess
of Alberca was a fine one. No wonder people talked about her. Perhaps
when she appeared in his studio, always in a hurry and out of breath,
she came from a private interview with some one of those young bloods
that hung around her, attracted by her still fresh, alluring maturity.

But if Concha spoke to him with her easy freedom, telling him of the
sadness she said she felt and allowing herself to confide in him, as if
they were united by a long standing friendship, that was enough to make
the master change his thoughts immediately. She was a superior woman of
ideals, condemned to live in a depressing aristocratic atmosphere. All
the gossip about her was a calumny, a lie forged by envious people. She
ought to be the companion of a superior man, of an artist.

Renovales knew her history; he was proud of the friendly confidence she
had had in him. She was the only daughter of a distinguished gentleman,
a solemn jurist, and a violent Conservative, a minister in the most
reactionary cabinets of the reign of Isabel II. She had been educated at
the same school as Josephina, who in spite of the fact that Concha was
four years her senior, retained a vivid recollection of her lively
companion. "For mischief and deviltry you can't beat Conchita Salazar."
It was thus that Renovales heard her name for the first time. Then when
the artist and his wife had moved from Venice to Madrid, he learned that
she had changed her name to that of the Countess of Alberca by marrying
a man who might have been her father.

He was an old courtier who performed his duties as a grandee of Spain
with great conscientiousness, proud of his slavery to the royal family.
His ambition was to belong to all the honorable orders of Europe and as
soon as he was named to one of them, he had his picture painted, covered
with scarfs and crosses, wearing the uniform of one of the traditional
military Orders. His wife laughed to see him, so little, bald and
solemn, with high boots, a dangling sword, his breast covered with
trinkets, a white plumed helmet resting in his lap.

During the life of isolation and privation with which Renovales
struggled so courageously, the papers brought to the artist's wretched
house the echoes of the triumphs of the "fair Countess of Alberca." Her
name appeared in the first line of every account of an aristocratic
function. Besides, they called her "enlightened," and talked about her
literary culture, her classic education which she owed to her
"illustrious father," now dead. And with this public news there reached
the artist on the whispering wings of Madrid gossip other tales that
represented the Countess of Alberca as consoling herself merrily for the
mistake she had made in marrying an old man.

At Court, they had taken her name from the lists, as a result of this
reputation. Her husband took part at all the royal functions, for he did
not have a chance every day to show off his load of honorary hardware,
but she stayed at home, loathing these ceremonious affairs. Renovales
had often heard her declare, dressed luxuriously and wearing costly
jewels in her ears and on her breast, that she laughed at his set, that
she was on the inside, she was an anarchist! And he laughed as he heard
her, just as all men laughed at what they called the "ways" of the
Alberca woman.

When Renovales won success and, as a famous master, returned to those
drawing rooms through which he had passed in his youth, he felt the
attraction of the countess who in her character as a "woman of
intellect," insisted on gathering celebrated men about her. Josephina
did not accompany him in this return to society. She felt ill; contact
with the same people in the same places tired her; she lacked the
strength to undertake even the trips her doctors urged upon her.

The countess enrolled the painter in her following, appearing offended
when he failed to present himself at her house on the afternoons on
which she received her friends. What ingratitude to show to such a
fervent admirer! How she liked to exhibit him before her friends, as if
he were a new jewel! "The painter Renovales, the famous master."

At one of these afternoon receptions, the count spoke to Renovales with
the serious air of a man who is crushed beneath his worldly honors.

"Concha wants a portrait done by you, and I like to please her in every
way. You can say when to begin. She is afraid to propose it to you and
has commissioned me to do it. I know that your work is better than that
of other painters. Paint her well, so that she may be pleased."

And noticing that Renovales seemed rather offended at his patronizing
familiarity, he added as if he were doing him another favor.

"If you have success with Concha, you may paint my picture afterward. I
am only waiting for the Grand Chrysanthemum of Japan. At the Government
offices they tell me the titles will come one of these days."

Renovales began the countess's portrait. The task was prolonged by that
rattle-brained woman who always came late, alleging that she had been
busy. Many days the artist did not take a stroke with his brush; they
spent the time chatting. At other times the master listened in silence
while she with her ceaseless volubility made fun of her friends and
related their secret defects, their most intimate habits, their
mysterious amours, with a kind of relish, as if all women were her
enemies. In the midst of one of these confidential talks, she stopped
and said with a shy expression and an ironical accent:

"But I am probably shocking you, Mariano. You, who are a good husband, a
staunch family-man."

Renovales felt tempted to choke her. She was making fun of him; she
looked on him as a man different from the rest of men, a sort of monk of
painting. Eager to wound her, to return the blow, he interrupted once
brutally in the midst of her merciless gossip.

"Well, they talk about you, too, Concha. They say things that wouldn't
be very pleasing to the count."

He expected an outburst of anger, a protest, and all that resounded in
the silence of the studio was a merry, reckless laugh that lasted a
long time, stopping occasionally, only to begin again. Then she grew
pensive, with the gentle sadness of women who are "misunderstood." She
was very unhappy. She could tell him everything because he was a good
friend. She had married when she was still a child; a terrible mistake.
There was something else in the world besides the glare of fortune, the
splendor of luxury and that count's coronet, which had stirred her
school-girl's mind.

"We have the right to a little love, and if not love, to a little joy.
Don't you think so, Mariano?"

Of course he thought so. And he declared it in such a way, looking at
Concha with alarming eyes, that she finally laughed at his frankness and
threatened him with her finger.

"Take care, master. Don't forget that Josephina is my friend and if you
go astray, I'll tell her everything."

Renovales was irritated at her disposition, always restless and
capricious as a bird's, quite as likely to sit down beside him in warm
intimacy as to flit away with tormenting banter.

Sometimes she was aggressive, teasing the artist from her very first
words, as had just happened that afternoon.

They were silent for a long time--he, painting with an absent-minded
air, she watching the movement of the brush, buried in an armchair in
the sweet calm of rest.

But the Alberca woman was incapable of remaining silent long. Little by
little her usual chatter began, paying no attention to the painter's
silence, talking to relieve the convent-like stillness of the studio
with her words and laughter.

The painter heard the story of her labors as president of the "Women's
League," of the great things she meant to do in the holy undertaking for
the emancipation of the sex. And, in passing, led on by her desire of
ridiculing all women, she gaily made sport of her co-workers in the
great project; unknown literary women, school teachers, whose lives were
embittered by their ugliness, painters of flowers and doves, a throng of
poor women with extravagant hats and clothes that looked as though they
were hung on a bean-pole; feminine Bohemians, rebellious and rabid
against their lot, who were proud to have her as their leader and who
made it a point to call her "Countess" in sonorous tones at every other
word, in order to flatter themselves with the distinction of this
friendship. The Alberca woman was greatly amused at her following of
admirers; she laughed at their intolerance and their proposals.

"Yes, I know what it is," said Renovales breaking his long silence. "You
want to annihilate us, to reign over man, whom you hate."

The countess laughed at the recollection of the fierce feminism of some
of her acolytes. As most of them were homely, they hated feminine beauty
as a sign of weakness. They wanted the woman of the future to be without
hips, without breasts, straight, bony, muscular, fitted for all sorts of
manual labor, free from the slavery of love and reproduction. "Down with
feminine fat!"

"What a frightful idea! Don't you think so, Mariano?" she continued.
"Woman, straight in front and straight behind, with her hair cut short
and her hands hardened, competing with men in all sorts of struggles!
And they call that emancipation! I know what men are; if they saw us
looking like that, in a few days they would be beating us."

No, she was not one of them. She wanted to see a woman triumph, but by
increasing still more her charm and her fascination. If they took away
her beauty what would she have left? She wanted her to be man's equal in
intelligence, his superior by the magic of her beauty.

"I don't hate men, Mariano, I am very much a woman, and I like them.
What's the use of denying it?"

"I know it, Concha, I know it," said the painter, with a malicious
meaning.

"What do you know? Lies, gossip that people tell about me because I am
not a hypocrite and am not always wearing a gloomy expression."

And led on by that desire for sympathy that all women of questionable
reputation experience, she spoke once more of her unpleasant situation.
Renovales knew the count, a good man in spite of his hobbies, who
thought of nothing but his honorary trinkets. She did everything for
him, watched out for his comfort, but he was nothing to her. She lacked
the most important thing--heart-love.

As she spoke she looked up, with a longing idealism that would have made
anyone but Renovales smile.

"In this situation," she said slowly, looking into space, "it isn't
strange that a woman seeks happiness where she can find it. But I am
very unhappy, Mariano; I don't know what love is. I have never loved."

Ah, she would have been happy, if she had married a man who was her
superior. To be the companion of a great artist, of a scholar, would
have meant happiness for her. The men who gathered around her in her
drawing-rooms were younger and stronger than the poor count, but
mentally they were even weaker than he. There was no such thing as
virtue in the world, she admitted that; she did not dare to lie to a
friend like the painter. She had had her diversions, her whims, just as
many other women who passed as impregnable models of virtue, but she
always came out of these misdoings with a feeling of disenchantment and
disgust. She knew that love was a reality for other women, but she had
never succeeded in finding it.

Renovales had stopped painting. The sunlight no longer came in through
the wide window. The panes took on a violet opaqueness. Twilight filled
the studio, and in the shadows there shone dimly like dying sparks, here
the corner of a picture frame, beyond the old gold of an embroidered
banner, in the corners the pummel of a sword, the pearl inlay of a
cabinet.

The painter sat down beside the countess, sinking into the perfumed
atmosphere which surrounded her with a sort of nimbus of keen
voluptuousness.

He, too, was unhappy. He said it sincerely, believing honestly in the
lady's melancholy despair. Something was lacking in his life; he was
alone in the world. And as he saw an expression of surprise on Concha's
face, he pounded his chest energetically.

Yes, alone. He knew what she was going to say. He had his wife, his
daughter. About Milita he did not want to talk; he worshiped her; she
was his joy. When he felt tired out with work, it gave him a sweet sense
of rest to put his arms around her neck. But he was still too young to
be satisfied with this joy of a father's love. He longed for something
more and he could not find it in the companion of his life, always ill,
with her nerves constantly on edge. Besides, she did not understand him.
She never would understand him; she was a burden who was crushing his
talent.

Their union was based merely on friendship, on mutual consideration for
the suffering they had undergone together. He, too, had been deceived in
taking for love what was only an impulse of youthful attraction. He
needed a true passion; to live close to a soul that was akin to his, to
love a woman who was his superior, who could understand him and
encourage him in his bold projects, who could sacrifice her commonplace
prejudices to the demands of art.

He spoke vehemently, with his eyes fixed on Concha's eyes that shone
with light from the window.

But Renovales was interrupted by a cruel, ironical laugh, while the
countess pushed back her chair, as if to avoid the artist who slowly
leaned forward toward her.

"Look out, you're slipping, Mariano! I see it coming. A little more and
you would have made me a confession. Heavens! These men! You can't talk
to them like a good friend, show them any confidence without their
beginning to talk love on the spot. If I would let you, in less than a
minute you would tell me that I am your ideal, that you worship me."

Renovales, who had moved away from her, recovering his sternness, felt
cut by that mocking laugh and said in a quiet tone:

"And what if it were true? What if I loved you?"

The laugh of the countess rang out again, but forced, false, with a tone
that seemed to tear the artist's breast.

"Just what I expected! The confession I spoke of! That's the third one
I've received to-day. But isn't it possible to talk with a man of
anything but love?"

She was already on her feet, looking around for her hat, for she could
not remember where she had left it.

"I'm going, _cher maître_. It isn't safe to stay here. I'll try to come
earlier next time so that the twilight won't catch us. It's a
treacherous hour; the moment of the greatest follies."

The painter objected to her leaving. Her carriage had not yet come. She
could wait a few minutes longer. He promised to be quiet, not to talk to
her, as long as it seemed to displease her.

The countess remained, but she would not sit down in the chair. She
walked around the studio for a few moments and finally opened the organ
that stood near the window.

"Let's have a little music; that will quiet us. You, Mariano, sit still
as a mouse in your chair and don't come near me. Be a good boy now."

Her fingers rested on the keys; her feet moved the pedals and the
_Largo_ of Handel, grave, mystic, dreamy, swelled softly through the
studio. The melody filled the wide room, already wrapped in shadows, it
made its way through the tapestries, prolonging its winged whisper
through the other two studios, as though it were the song of an organ
played by invisible hands in a deserted cathedral at the mysterious hour
of dusk.

Concha felt stirred with feminine sentimentality, that superficial,
whimsical, sensitiveness that made her friends look on her as a great
artist. The music filled her with tenderness; she strove to keep back
the tears that came to her eyes,--why, she could not tell.

Suddenly she stopped playing and looked around anxiously. The painter
was behind her, she fancied she felt his breath on her neck. She wanted
to protest, to make him draw back with one of her cruel laughs, but she
could not.

"Mariano," she murmured, "go sit down, be a good boy and mind me. If you
don't I'll be cross."

But she did not move; after turning half way around on the stool, she
remained facing the window with one elbow resting on the keys.

They were silent for a long time; she in this position, he watching her
face that now was only a white spot in the deepening shadow.

The panes of the window took on a bluish opaqueness. The branches of the
garden cut them like sinuous, shifting lines of ink. In the deep calm of
the studio the creaking of the furniture could be heard, that breathing
of wood, of dust, of objects in the silence and shadow.

Both of them seem to be captivated by the mystery of the hour, as if the
death of day acted as an anæsthetic on their minds. They felt lulled in
a vague, sweet dream.

She trembled with pleasure.

"Mariano, go away," she said slowly, as if it cost her an effort. "This
is so pleasant, I feel as if I were in a bath, a bath that penetrates to
my very soul. But it isn't right. Turn on the lights, master. Light!
Light! This isn't proper."

Mariano did not listen to her. He had bent over her, taking her hand
that was cold, unfeeling, as if it did not notice the pressure of his.

Then, with a sudden start, he kissed it, almost bit it.

The countess seemed to awake and stood up, proudly, angrily.

"That's childish, Mariano. It isn't fair."

But in a moment she laughed with her cruel laugh, as if she pitied the
confusion that Renovales showed when he saw her anger. "You are
pardoned, master. A kiss on the hand means nothing. It is the
conventional thing. Many men kiss my hand."

And this indifference was a bitter torment for the artist, who
considered that his kiss was a sign of possession.

The countess continued to search in the darkness, repeating in an
irritated voice:

"Light, turn on the light. Where in the world is the button?"

The light was turned on without Mariano's moving, before she found the
button she was looking for. Three clusters of electric lights flashed
out on the ceiling of the studio, and their crowns of white needles,
brought out of the shadows the golden picture frames, the brilliant
tapestries, the shining arms, the showy furniture and the bright-colored
paintings.

They both blinked, blinded by the sudden brightness.

"Good evening," said a honeyed voice from the doorway.

"Josephina!"

The countess ran toward her, embracing her effusively, kissing her
bright red, emaciated cheeks.

"How dark you were," continued Josephina with a smile that Renovales
knew well.

Concha fairly stunned her with her flow of chatter. The illustrious
master had refused to light up, he liked the twilight. An artist's whim!
They had been talking about their dear Josephina, while she was waiting
for her carriage to come. And as she said this, she kept kissing the
little woman, drawing back a little to look at her better, repeating
impetuously:

"My, how pretty you are to-day. You look better than you did three days
ago."

Josephina continued to smile. She thanked her. Her carriage was waiting
at the door. The servant had told her when she came downstairs,
attracted by the distant sound of the organ.

The countess seemed to be in a hurry to leave. She suddenly remembered a
host of things she had to do, she enumerated the people who were waiting
for her at home. Josephina helped her to put on her hat and veil and
even then the countess gave her several good-by kisses through the veil.

"Good-by, _ma chère_. Good-by, _mignonne_. Do you remember our school
days? How happy we were there! Good-by, _maître_."

She stopped at the door to kiss Josephina once more.

And finally, before she disappeared, she exclaimed in the querulous tone
of a victim who wants sympathy:

"I envy you, _chèrie_. You, at least, are happy. You have found a
husband who worships you. Master, take lots of care of her. Be good to
her so that she may get well and pretty. Take care of her or we shall
quarrel."



VI


Renovales had finished reading the evening papers in bed as was his
custom, and before putting out the light he looked at his wife.

She was awake. Above the fold of the sheet he saw her eyes, unusually
wide open, fixed on him with a hostile stare, and the little tails of
her hair, that stuck out under the lace of her night-cap straight and
sedate.

"Aren't you asleep?" the painter asked in an affectionate tone, in which
there was some anxiety.

"No."

And after this hard monosyllable, she turned over in the bed with her
back to him.

Renovales remained in the darkness, with his eyes open, somewhat
disturbed, almost afraid of that body, hidden under the same sheet,
lying a short distance from him, which avoided touching him, shrinking
with manifest repulsion.

Poor little girl! Renovales' better nature felt tormented with a painful
remorse. His conscience was a cruel beast that had awakened, angry and
implacable, tearing him with scornful teeth. The events of the afternoon
meant nothing, a moment of thoughtlessness, of weakness. Surely the
countess would not remember it and he, for his part, was determined not
to slip again.

A pretty situation for a father of a family, for a man whose youth was
past, compromising himself in a love affair, getting melancholy in the
twilight, kissing a white hand like an enamored troubadour! Good God!
How his friends would have laughed to see him in that posture! He must
purge himself of that romanticism which sometimes mastered him. Every
man must follow his fate, accepting life as he found it. He was born to
be virtuous, he must put up with the relative peace of his domestic
life, must accept its limited pleasures as a compensation for the
suffering his wife's illness caused him. He would be content with the
feasts of his thought, with the revels in beauty at the banquets served
by his fancy. He would keep his flesh faithful though it amounted to
perpetual privation. Poor Josephina! His remorse at a moment of weakness
which he considered a crime, impelled him to draw closer to her, as if
he sought in her warmth and contact a mute forgiveness.

Her body, burning with a slow fever, drew away as it felt his touch, it
shriveled like those timid molluscs that shrink and hide at the least
touch. She was awake. He could not hear her breathing; she seemed dead
in the profound darkness, but he fancied her with her eyes open, a scowl
on her forehead and he felt the fear of a man who has a presentiment of
danger in the mystery of the darkness.

Renovales too remained motionless, taking care not to touch again that
form which silently repelled him. The sincerity of his repentance
brought him a sort of consolation. Never again would he forget his wife,
his daughter, his respectability.

He would give up forever the longings of youth, that recklessness, that
thirst for enjoying all the pleasures of life. His lot was cast; he
would continue to be what he always had been. He would paint portraits
and everything that was given to him as a commission; he would please
the public; he would make more money, he would adapt his art to meet his
wife's jealous demands, that she might live in peace; he would scoff at
that phantom of human ambition which men call glory. Glory! A lottery,
where the only chance for a prize depended on the tastes of people still
to be born! Who knew what the artistic inclinations of the future would
be? Perhaps it would appreciate what he was now producing with such
loathing; perhaps it would laugh scornfully at what he wanted to paint.
The only thing of importance was to live in peace, as long as he could
be surrounded by happiness. His daughter would marry. Perhaps her
husband would be his favorite pupil, that Soldevilla, so polite, so
courteous, who was mad over the mischievous Milita. If it was not he, it
would be López de Sosa, a crazy fellow, in love with his automobiles,
who pleased Josephina more than the pupil because he had not committed
the sin of showing talent and devoting himself to painting. He would
have grandchildren, his beard would grow white, he would have the
majesty of an Eternal Father and Josephina, cared for by him, restored
to health by an atmosphere of affection, would grow old too, freed from
her nervous troubles.

The painter felt allured by this picture of patriarchal happiness. He
would go out of the world without having tasted the best fruits which
life offers, but still with the peace of a soul that does not know the
great heat of passion.

Lulled by these illusions, the artist was sinking into sleep. He saw in
the darkness, the image of his calm old age, with rosy wrinkles and
silvery hair, at his side a sprightly little old lady, healthy and
attractive, with wavy hair, and around them a group of children, many
children, some of them with their fingers in their noses, others rolling
on their backs on the floor, like playful kittens, the older ones with
pencils in their hands, making caricatures of the old couple and all
shouting in a chorus of loving cries: "Grandpa, dear! Pretty grandma!"

In his sleepy fancy, the picture grew indistinct and was blotted out. He
no longer saw the figures, but the loving cry continued to sound in his
ears, dying away in the distance.

Then it began to increase again, drew slowly nearer, but it was a
complaint, a howl like that of the victim that feels the sacrificer's
knife at its throat.

The artist, terrified by this moan, thought that some dark animal, some
monster of the night was tossing beside him, brushing him with its
tentacles, pushing him with the bony points of its joints.

He awoke and with his brain still cloudy with sleep, the first sensation
he experienced was a tremble of fear and surprise, reaching from his
head to his feet. The invisible monster was beside him, dying, kicking
violently, sticking him with its angular body. The howl tore the
darkness like a death rattle.

Renovales, aroused by his fear, awoke completely. That cry came from
Josephina. His wife was tossing about in the bed, shrieking while she
gasped for breath.

The electric button snapped and the white, hard light of the lamp showed
the little woman in the disorder of her nervous outbreak; her weak limbs
painfully convulsed, her eyes, staring, dull with an uncanny vacancy;
her mouth contracted, dripping with foam.

The husband, dazed at this awakening, tried to take her in his arms, to
hold her gently against him, as if his warmth might restore her calm.

"Let me--alone," she cried brokenly. "Let go of me. I hate you!"

And though she asked him to let go of her, she was the one who clung to
him, digging her fingers into his throat, as if she wanted to strangle
him. Renovates, insensible to this clutch which made little impression
on his strong neck, murmured with sad kindness:

"Squeeze! Don't be afraid of hurting me. Relieve your feelings!"

Her hands, tired out with this useless pressure on that muscular flesh,
relaxed their grasp with a sort of dejection. The outbreak lasted for
some time, but tears came and she lay exhausted, inert, without any
other signs of life than the heaving of her breast and a constant stream
of tears.

Renovales had jumped out of bed, moving about the room in his night
clothing, searching on all sides, without knowing what he was looking
for, murmuring loving words to calm his wife.

She stopped crying, struggling to enunciate each syllable between her
sobs. She spoke with her head buried in her arms. The painter stopped to
listen to her, astounded at the coarse words that came from her lips, as
if the grief that stirred her soul had set afloat all the shameful,
filthy words she had heard in the streets that were hidden in the depth
of her memory.

"The ----!" (And here she uttered the classic word, naturally, as if she
had spoken thus all her life.) "The shameless woman! The ----!"

And she continued to volley a string of interjections which shocked her
husband to hear them coming from those lips.

"But whom are you talking about? Who is it?"

She, as if she were only waiting for his question, sat up in bed, got
onto her knees, looking at him fixedly, shaking her head on her delicate
neck, so that the short, straight locks of hair whirled around it.

"Whom do you suppose? The Alberca woman. That peacock! Look surprised!
You don't know what I mean! Poor thing!"

Renovales expected this, but when he heard it, he assumed an injured
expression, fortified by his determination to reform and by the
certainty that he was telling the truth. He raised his hand to his heart
in a tragic attitude, throwing back his shock of hair, not noticing the
absurdity of his appearance that was reflected in the bedroom mirror.

"Josephina, I swear by all that I love most in the world that your
suspicions are not true. I have had nothing to do with Concha. I swear
it by our daughter!"

The little woman became more irritated.

"Don't swear, don't lie, don't name my daughter. You deceiver! You
hypocrite! You are all alike!"

Did he think she was a fool? She knew everything that was going on
around her. He was a rake, a false husband, she had discovered it a few
months after their marriage; a Bohemian without any other education than
the low associations of his class. And the woman was as bad; the worst
in Madrid. There was a reason why people laughed at the count
everywhere. Mariano and Concha understood each other; birds of a
feather; they made fun of her in her own house, in the dark of the
studio.

"She is your mistress," she said with cold anger. "Come now, admit it.
Repeat all those shameless things about the rights of love and joy that
you talk about to your friends in the studio, those infamous hypocrisies
to justify your scorn for the family, for marriage, for everything. Have
the courage of your convictions."

But Renovales, overwhelmed by this fierce outpouring of words that fell
on him like a rain of blows, could only repeat, with his hand on his
heart and the expression of noble resignation of a man who suffers an
injustice:

"I am innocent. I swear it. Your suspicions are absolutely groundless."

And walking around to the other side of the bed, he tried again to take
Josephina in his arms, thinking he could calm her, now that she seemed
less furious and that her angry words were broken by tears.

It was a useless effort. The delicate form slipped out of his hands,
repelling them with a feeling of horror and repugnance.

"Let me alone. Don't touch me. I loathe you."

Her husband was mistaken if he thought that she was Concha's enemy.
Pshaw! She knew what women were. She even admitted (since he was so
insistent in his protestations of innocence) that there was nothing
between them. But if so, it was due solely to Concha--she had plenty of
admirers and, besides, her old time friendship would impel her not to
embitter Josephina's life. Concha was the one who had resisted and not
he.

"I know you. You know that I can guess your thoughts, that I read in
your face. You are faithful because you are a coward, because you have
lacked an opportunity. But your mind is loaded with foul ideas; I detest
your spirit."

And before he could protest, his wife attacked him; anew, pouring out in
one breath all the observations she had made, weighing his words and
deeds with the subtlety of a diseased imagination.

She threw in his face the expression of rapture in his eyes when he saw
beautiful women sit down before his easel to have their portraits
painted; his praise of the throat of one, the shoulders of another; the
almost religious unction with which he examined the photographs and
engravings of naked beauties, painted by other artists whom he would
like to imitate in his licentious impulses.

"If I should leave you! If I should disappear! Your studio would be a
brothel, no decent person could enter it; you would always have some
woman stripped in there, painting some disgraceful picture of her."

And in the tremble of her irritated voice there was revealed the anger,
the bitter disappointment she had experienced in the constant contact
with this cult of beauty, that paid no attention to her, who was aged
before her time, sickly, with the ugliness of physical misery, whom each
one of these enthusiastic homages wounded like a reproach, marking the
abyss between her sad condition and the ideal that filled the mind of
her husband.

"Do you think I don't know what you are thinking about. I laugh at your
fidelity. A lie! Hypocrisy! As you get older, a mad desire is mastering
you. If you could, if you had the courage, you would run after these
creatures of beautiful flesh that you praise so highly. You are
commonplace. There's nothing in you but coarseness and materialism.
Form! Flesh! And they call that artistic? I'd have done better to marry
a shoemaker, one of those honest, simple men that takes his poor little
wife to dinner in a restaurant on Sunday and worships her, not knowing
any other."

Renovales began to feel irritated at this attack that was no longer
based on his actions but on his thoughts. That was worse than the
Inquisition. She had spied on him constantly; always on the watch, she
picked up his least words and expressions, she penetrated his thoughts,
making his inclinations and enthusiasms a subject for jealousy.

"Stop, Josephina. That's despicable. I won't be able to think, to
produce. You spy on me and pursue me even in my art."

She shrugged her shoulders scornfully. His art! She scoffed at it.

And she began again to insult painting, repenting that she had joined
her lot to an artist's. Men like him ought not to marry respectable
women, what people call "homebodies." Their fate was to remain single or
to join with unscrupulous women who were in love with their own form and
were capable of exhibiting it in the street, taking pride in their
nakedness.

"I used to love you; did you know it?" she said coldly. "I used to love
you, but I no longer love you. What's the use? I know that even if you
swore to me on your knees, you would never be faithful to me. You might
be tied to my apron strings but your thoughts would go wandering off to
caress those beauties you worship. You've got a perfect harem in your
head. I think I am living alone with you and when I look at you, the
house is peopled with women that surround me, that fill everything and
mock at me; all fair, like children of the devil all naked, like
temptations. Let me alone, Mariano, don't come near me. I don't want to
see you. Put out the light."

And seeing that the artist did not obey her command, she pressed the
button herself. The cracking of her bones could be heard as she wrapped
herself up in the bed-clothes.

Renovales was left in utter darkness, and feeling his way, he got into
bed too. He no longer implored, he remained silent, angry. The tender
compassion that made him put up with his wife's nervous attacks had
disappeared. What more did she expect of him? How far was it going to
go? He lived the life of a recluse, restraining his healthy passion,
keeping a chaste fidelity out of habit and respect, seeking an outlet in
the ardent vagaries of his fancy, and even that was a crime! With the
acumen of a sick woman, she saw within him, divining his ideas,
following their course, tearing off the veil behind which he concealed
those feasts of fancy with which he passed his solitary hours. This
persecution reached even his brain. He could not patiently endure the
jealousy of that woman who was embittered by the loss of her youthful
freshness.

She began her weeping again in the darkness. She sobbed convulsively,
tossing the clothes with the heaving of her breast.

His anger made him insensible and hard.

"Groan, you poor wretch," he thought with a sort of relish. "Weep till
you ruin yourself. I won't be the one to say a word."

Josephina, tired out by his silence, interjected words amid her sobs.
People made fun of her. She was a constant laughing-stock. How his
friends who hung on his words, and the ladies who visited him in his
studio, laughed when they heard him enthusiastically praising beauty in
the presence of his sickly, broken-down wife! What did she amount to in
that house, that terrible pantheon, that home of sorrow? A poor
housekeeper who watched out for the artist's comforts. And he thought
that he was fulfilling his duty by not keeping a mistress, by staying at
home, but still abusing her with his words that made her an object of
derision. If her mother were only alive! If her brothers were not so
selfish, wandering about the world from embassy to embassy, satisfied
with life, paying no attention to her letters filled with complaints,
thinking she was insane because she was not contented with a
distinguished husband and with wealth!

Renovales, in the darkness, lifted his hands to his forehead in despair,
infuriated at the sing-song of her unjust words.

"Her mother!" he thought. "It's lucky that intolerable old dame is under
the sod forever. Her brothers! A crowd of rakes that are always asking
me for something whenever they get a chance. Heavens! Give me the
patience to stand this woman, the calm resignation to keep a cool head
and not to forget that I am a man!"

He scorned her mentally in order to maintain his indifference in this
way. Bah! A woman! and a sick one! Every man carries his cross and his
was Josephina.

But she, as if she penetrated his thoughts, stopped crying and spoke to
him slowly in a voice that shook with cruel irony.

"You need not expect anything from the Alberca woman," she said suddenly
with feminine incoherence. "I warn you that she has worshipers by the
dozen, young and stylish, too, something that counts more with women
than talent."

"What difference does that make to me?" Renovales' voice roared in the
darkness with an outbreak of wrath.

"I'm telling you, so that you won't fool yourself. Master, you are going
to suffer a failure. You are very old, my good man, the years are going
by. So old and so ugly that if you had looked the way you do when I met
you, I should never have been your wife in spite of all your glory."

After this thrust, satisfied and calm, she seemed to go to sleep.

The master remained motionless, lying on his back with his head resting
on his arms and his eyes wide open, seeing in the darkness a host of red
spots that spread out in ceaseless rotation, forming floating, fiery
rings. His wrath had set his nerves on edge; the final thrust made sleep
impossible. He felt restless, wide-awake after this cruel shock to his
pride. He thought that in his bed, close to him, he had his worst enemy.
He hated that frail form that he could touch with the slightest
movement, as if it contained the rancor of all the adversaries he had
met in life.

Old! Contemptible! Inferior to those young bloods that swarmed around
the Alberca woman; he, a man known all over Europe, and in whose
presence all the young ladies that painted fans and water-colors of
birds and flowers, grew pale with emotion, looking at him with
worshiping eyes!

"I will soon show you, you poor woman," he thought, while a cruel laugh
shook silently in the darkness. "You'll soon see whether glory means
anything and people find me as old as you believe."

With boyish joy, he recalled the twilight scene, the kiss on the
countess's hand, her gentle abandon, that mingling of resistance and
pleasure which opened the way for him to go farther. He enjoyed these
memories with a relish of vengeance.

Afterwards, his body, as he moved, touched Josephina, who seemed to be
asleep, and he felt a sort of repugnance as if he had rubbed against a
hostile creature.

She was his enemy; she had distorted and ruined his life as an artist,
she had saddened his life as a man. Now he believed that he might have
produced the most remarkable works, if he had not known that little
woman who crushed him with her weight. Her silent censure, her prying
eyes, that narrow, petty morality of a well-educated girl, blocked his
course and made him turn out of his way. Her fits of temper, her nervous
attacks, made him lose his bearings, belittling him, robbing him of his
strength for work. Must he always live like this? The thought of the
long years before him filled him with horror, the long road that life
offered him, monotonous, dusty, rough, without a shadow or a resting
place, a painful journey lacking enthusiasm and ardor, pulling at the
chain of duty, at the end of which dragged the enemy, always fretful,
always unjust, with the selfish cruelty of disease, spying on him with
searching eyes in the hours when his mind was off its guard, while he
slept, violating his secrecy, forcing his immobility, robbing him of his
most intimate ideas, only to parade them before his eyes later with the
insolence of a successful thief. And that was what his life was to be!
God! No, it was better to die.

Then in the black recesses of his brain there rose, like a blue spark of
infernal gleam, a thought, a desire, that made a chill of terror and
surprise run over his body.

"If she would only die!"

Why not? Always ill, always sad, she seemed to darken his mind with the
wings that beat ominously. He had a right to liberty, to break the
chain, because he was the stronger. He had spent his life in the
struggle for glory, and glory was a delusion, if it brought only cold
respect from his fellows, if it could not be exchanged for something
more positive. Many years of intense existence were left; he could still
exult in a host of pleasures, he could still live, like some artists
whom he admired, intoxicated with worldly joys, working in mad freedom.

"Oh, if she would only die!"

He recalled books he had read, in which other imaginary people had
desired another's death that they might be able to satisfy more fully
their appetites and passions.

Suddenly he felt as though he were awakening from a bad dream, as though
he were throwing off an overwhelming nightmare. Poor Josephina! His
thought filled him with horror, he felt the infernal desire burning his
conscience, like a hot iron that throws off a shower of sparks when
touched. It was not tenderness that made him turn again towards his
companion; not that; his old animosity remained. But he thought of her
years of sacrifice, of the privations she had suffered, following him in
the struggle with misery, without a complaint, without a protest, in the
pains of motherhood, in the nursing of her daughter, that Milita who
seemed to have stolen all the strength of her body and perhaps was the
cause of her decline. How terrible to wish for her death! He hoped that
she would live. He would bear everything with the patience of duty. She
die? Never, he would rather die himself.

But in vain did he struggle to forget the thought. The atrocious,
monstrous desire, once awakened, resisted, refused to recede, to hide,
to die in the windings of his brain whence it had arisen. In vain did he
repent his villainy, or feel ashamed of his cruel idea, striving to
crush it forever. It seemed as though a second personality had arisen
within him, rebellious to his commands, opposed to his conscience, hard
and indifferent to his sympathetic scruples, and this personality, this
power, continued to sing in his ear with a merry accent, as if it
promised him all the pleasures of life.

"If she would only die! Eh, master? If she would only die!"



PART II



I


At the coming of spring López de Sosa, "the intrepid sportsman," as
Cotoner called him, appeared at Renovales' house every afternoon.

Outside the entrance gate stood his eighty-horsepower automobile, his
latest acquisition, of which he was intensely proud, a huge green car,
that started and backed under the hand of the chauffeur while its owner
was crossing the garden of the painter's house.

Renovales saw him enter the studio, in a blue suit with a shining visor
over his eyes, affecting the resolute bearing of a sailor or an
explorer.

"Good afternoon, Don Mariano, I have come for the ladies."

And Milita came down stairs in a long gray coat, with a white cap,
around which she wound a long blue veil. After her came her mother clad
in the same fashion, small and insignificant beside the girl, who seemed
to overwhelm her with her health and grace.

Renovales approved of these trips. Josephina's legs were troubling her;
a sudden weakness sometimes kept her in her chair for days at a time.
Finding any sort of movement difficult, she liked to ride motionless in
that car that fairly ate up space, reaching distant suburbs of Madrid
without the least effort, as if she had not moved from the house.

"Have a good time," said the painter with a sort of joy at the prospect
of being left alone, completely alone, without the disturbance of
feeling his wife's hostility near him. "I entrust them to you,
Rafaelito; be careful, now."

And Rafaelito assumed an expression of protest, as if he were shocked
that anyone could doubt his skill. There was no danger with him.

"Aren't you coming, Don Mariano? Lay down your brushes for a while.
We're only going to the Pardo."

The painter declined; he had a great deal to do. He knew what it was,
and he did not like to go so fast. There was no pleasure in swallowing
space with your eyes almost closed, unable to see anything but a hazy
blur of the scenery, amid clouds of dust and crushed stone. He preferred
to look at the landscape calmly, without haste, with the reflective
quiet of the student. Besides he was out of place in things that did not
belong to his time; he was getting old and these frightful novelties did
not agree with him.

"Good-by, papa."

Milita, lifting her veil, put out her red, tempting lips, showing her
bright teeth as she smiled. After this kiss came the other, formal and
cold, exchanged with the indifference of habit, without any novelty
except that Josephina's mouth drew back from his, as if she wanted to
avoid any contact with him.

They went out, the mother leaning on Rafaelito's arm with a sort of
languor, as if she could hardly drag her weak body,--her pale face
unrelieved by the least sign of blood.

When Renovales found himself alone in the studio he would feel as happy
as a school-boy on a holiday. He worked with a lighter touch, he roared
out old songs, delighting to listen to the echoes that his voice
awakened in the high-studded rooms. Often when Cotoner came in, he would
surprise him by the serene shamelessness with which he sang some one of
the licentious songs he had learned in Rome, and the painter of the
Popes, smiling like a faun, joined in the chorus, applauding at the end
these ribald verses of the studio.

Tekli, the Hungarian, who sometimes spent an afternoon with him, had
departed for his native land with his copy of _Las Meninas_, but not
before lifting Renovales' hands several times to his heart, with
extravagant terms of affection and calling him "noble master." The
portrait of the Countess of Alberca was no longer in the studio; in a
glittering frame it hung on the walls of the illustrious lady's
drawing-room, where it received the worship of her admirers.

Sometimes of an afternoon when the ladies had left the studio and the
dull mumble of the car and the tooting of the horn had died away, the
master and his friend would talk of López de Sosa. A good fellow,
somewhat foolish, but well-meaning; this was the judgment of Renovales
and his old friend. He was proud of his mustache that gave him a certain
likeness to the German emperor, and when he sat down, he took care to
show his hands, by placing them prominently on his knees, in order that
everyone might appreciate their vigorous hugeness, the prominent veins,
and the strong fingers, all this with the naïve satisfaction of a
ditch-digger. His conversation always turned on feats of strength and
before the two artists he strutted as if he belonged to another race,
talking of his prowess as a fencer, of his triumphs in the bouts, of the
weights he could lift with the slightest effort, of the number of chairs
he could jump over without touching one of them. Often he interrupted
the two painters when they were eulogizing the great masters of art, to
tell them of the latest victory of some celebrated driver in the contest
for a coveted cup. He knew by heart the names of all the European
champions who had won the immortal laurel, in running, jumping, killing
pigeons, boxing or fencing.

Renovales had seen him come into the studio one afternoon, trembling
with excitement, his eyes flashing, and showing a telegram.

"Don Mariano, I have a Mercedes; they have just announced its shipment."

The painter looked blank. Who was that personage with the woman's name?
And Rafaelito smiled with pity.

"The best make, a Mercedes, better than a Panhard; everyone knows that.
Made in Germany; sixty thousand francs. There isn't another one in
Madrid."

"Well, congratulations."

And the artist shrugged his shoulders and went on painting.

López de Sosa was wealthy. His father, a former manufacturer of canned
goods, had left him a fortune that he administered prudently, never
gambling, nor keeping mistresses (he had no time for such follies) but
finding all his amusement in sports that strengthen the body. He had a
coach-house of his own, where he kept his carriages and his automobiles
which he showed to his friends with the satisfaction of an artist. It
was his museum. Besides, he owned several teams of horses, for modern
fads did not make him forget his former tastes, and he took as much
pride in his past glories as a horseman as he did in his skill as a
driver of cars. At rare intervals, on the days of an important
bull-fight or when some sensational races were being run in the
Hippodrome, he won a triumph on the box by driving six cabs, covered
with tassels and bells, that seemed to proclaim the glory and wealth of
their owner with their noisy course.

He was proud of his virtuous life; free from foolishness or petty love
affairs, wholly devoted to sports and show. His income was less than his
expenses. The numerous personnel of his stable-garage, his horses,
gasoline and tailors' bills ate up even a part of the principal. But
López de Sosa was undisturbed in this ruinous course,--for he was
conscious of the danger, in spite of his extravagance. It was a mere
youthful folly, he would cut down his expenses when he married. He
devoted his evenings to reading, for he could not sleep quietly, unless
he went through his classics (sporting-papers, automobile catalogs,
etc.), and every month he made new acquisitions abroad, spending
thousands of francs and, complaining, like a serious business man, of
the rise in the Exchange, of the exorbitant customs charges, of the
stupidity of the Government that so shackled the development of the
country. The price of every automobile was greatly increased on crossing
the frontier. And after that, politicians expected progress and
regeneration!

He had been educated by the Jesuits at the University of Deusto and had
his degree in law. But that had not made him over-pious. He was liberal,
he lived the modern spirit; he had no use for fanaticism nor hypocrisy.
He had said good-by to the good Fathers as soon as his own father, who
was a great admirer of them, had died. But he still preserved a certain
respect for them because they had been his teachers and he knew that
they were great scholars. But modern life was different. He read with
perfect freedom, he read a great deal; he had in his house a library
composed of at least a hundred French novels. He purchased all the
volumes that came from Paris with a woman's picture on the cover and in
which, under pretext of describing Greek, Roman, or Egyptian customs,
the author placed a large number of youths and maidens without any
other decorations of civilization than the fillets and the caps that
covered their heads.

He insisted on freedom, perfect freedom, but for him, men were divided
into two castes, decent people and those who were not. Among the first
figured en masse all the young fellows of the Gran Peña, the old men of
the Casino, together with some people whose names appeared in the
papers, a certain evidence of their merit. The rest was the rabble,
despicable and vulgar in the streets of the cities, repulsive and
displeasing on the road, whom he insulted with all of the coarseness of
ill-breeding and threatened to kill when a child ran in front of his car
with the vicious purpose of letting itself be crushed under the wheels,
to stir up trouble with a decent person, or when some workingman,
pretending he could not hear the warnings of his horn, would not get out
of the way and was run over--as if a man who makes two pesetas a day
were superior to machines that cost thousands of francs! What could you
do with such ignorant, commonplace people! And some wretches were still
talking about the rights of man and revolutions!

Cotoner, who expended incredible care in keeping his single suit
presentable for calls and dinners, questioned López de Sosa with
astonishment in regard to the progress of his wardrobe.

"How many ties have you now, Rafael?"

"About seven hundred." He had counted them recently. And ashamed that he
did not yet own the longed-for thousand, he spoke of fitting himself out
on his next trip to London when the principal British automobilists were
to contend for the cup. He received his boots from Paris, but they were
made by a Swiss boot-maker, the same one who provided the foot-gear of
Edward of England; he counted his trousers by the dozen, and never wore
one pair more than eight or ten times; his linen was given to his valet
almost before it was used, his hats all came from London. He had eight
frock-coats made every year, that often grew old without ever being
worn, of different colors to suit the circumstances and the hours when
he must wear them. One in particular, dead black with long skirts,
gloomy and austere, copied from the foreign illustrations that
represented duels, was his uniform on solemn occasions, which he wore
when some friend looked him up at the Peña, to get his assistance in
representing him with his customary skill in affairs of honor.

His tailor admired his talent, his masterly command in choosing cloth
and deciding on the cut among the countless designs. Result, he spent
something like five thousand dollars a year on his clothes, and said
ingenuously to the two artists,

"How much less can a decent person spend if he wants to be presentable?"

López de Sosa visited Renovales' house as a friend after the latter had
painted his portrait. In spite of his automobiles, his clothes, and the
fact that he chose his associates among people who bore noble titles, he
could not succeed in getting a foothold in society. He knew that behind
his back people nicknamed him, "Pickled Herring," alluding to his
father's trade, and that the young ladies, who counted him as a friend,
rebelled at the idea of marrying the "Canned-goods Boy," which was
another of his names. The friendship of Renovales was a source of pride.

He had requested him to make his portrait, paying him without haggling,
in order that he might appear at the Exhibition, quite as good a way as
any other of introducing his insignificance among the famous men who
were painted by the artist. After that he was on intimate terms with the
master, talking everywhere about "his friend, Renovales!" with a sort of
familiarity, as if he were a comrade who could not live without him.
This raised him greatly in the estimation of his acquaintances. Besides,
he had felt a real admiration for the master ever since one afternoon
when tired out with the account of his prowess as a fencer, Renovales
had laid aside his brushes and taking down two old foils, had had
several bouts with him. What a man he was! And how he remembered the
points he had learned in Rome!

In his frequent visits to the artist's house, he finally felt attracted
toward Milita; he saw in her the woman he wanted to marry. Lacking more
sonorous titles, it was something to be the son-in-law of Renovales.
Besides, the painter enjoyed the reputation of being wealthy, he spoke
of his enormous profits, and he still had many years before him, to add
to his fortune, all of which would be his daughter's.

López de Sosa began to pay court to Milita, calling on his great
resources, appearing every day in a different suit, coming every
afternoon, sometimes in a carriage drawn by a dashing pair, sometimes in
one of his cars. The fashionable youth won the favor of her mother,--an
important part. This was the kind of a husband for her daughter. No
painter! And in vain did Soldevilla put on his brightest ties and show
off shocking waistcoats; his rival crushed him and, what was worse, the
master's wife, who formerly used to have a sort of motherly concern for
him and called him by his first name, for she had known him as a boy,
now received him coldly, as if she wished to discourage his suit for
Milita.

The girl fluctuated between her two admirers with a mocking smile. One
seemed to interest her as much as the other. She drove the painter, the
companion of her childhood, to despair, at times abusing him with her
jests, at others attracting him with her effusive intimacy, as in the
days when they played together; and at the same time she praised López
de Sosa's stylishness, laughed with him, and Soldevilla even suspected
that they wrote letters to each other as if they were engaged.

Renovales rejoiced at the cleverness with which his daughter kept the
two young men uncertain and eager about her. She was a terror, a boy in
skirts, more manly than either of her worshipers.

"I know her, Pepe," he said to Cotoner. "We must let her do what she
wants to. The day she decides in favor of one or the other we'll have to
marry her at once. She isn't one of the girls to wait. If we don't marry
her soon and to her taste, she's likely to elope with her fiancé."

The father excused Milita's impatience. Poor girl! Think what she saw in
her home! Her mother always ill, terrifying her with her tears, her
cries and her nervous attacks; her father working in his studio, and her
only companion the unsympathetic "Miss." He owed his thanks to López de
Sosa for taking them outdoors on these dizzy rides from which Josephina
returned greatly quieted.

Renovales preferred his pupil. He was almost his son, he had fought many
a hard battle to give him fellowships and prizes. He was a trifle
displeased at some of his slight infidelities, for as soon as he had won
some renown, he bragged about his independence, praising everything that
the master thought condemnable behind his back. But even so, the idea of
his marrying his daughter pleased him; a painter as a son-in-law; his
grandchildren painters, the blood of Renovales perpetuated in a dynasty
of artists who would fill history with their glory.

"But, oh, Pepe! I'm afraid the girl will choose the other. After all,
she's a woman. And women appreciate only what they see, gallantry and
youth."

And the master's words betrayed a certain bitterness, as though he were
thinking of something very different from what he was saying.

Then he began to discuss the merits of López de Sosa, as if he were
already a member of the family.

"A good boy, isn't he, Pepe? A little stupid for us, unable to talk for
ten minutes without making us yawn, a fine fellow, but not our kind."

There was scorn in Renovales' voice as he spoke of the vigorous healthy
young men of the present, with their brains absolutely free from
culture, who had just assaulted life, invading every phase of it. What
people! Gymnastics, fencing, kicking a huge bull, swinging a mallet on
horseback, wild flights in an automobile; from the royal family down to
the last middle-class scion everyone rushed into this life of childish
joy, as if a man's mission consisted merely in hardening his muscles,
sweating and delighting in the shifting chances of a game. Activity fled
from the brain to the extremities of the body. They were strong, but
their minds lay fallow, wrapped in a haze of childish credulity. Modern
men seemed to stop growing at the age of fourteen; they never went
beyond, content with the joys of movement and strength. Many of these
big fellows were ignorant of women, or almost so, at the age when in
other times they were turning back, satiated with love. Busy running
without direction or end, they had no time nor quiet to think about
women. Love was about to go on a strike, unable to resist the
competition of sports. The young men lived by themselves, finding in
athletic exercise a satisfaction that left them without any desire or
curiosity for the other pleasures of life. They were big boys with
strong fists; they could fight with a bull and yet the approach of a
woman filled them with terror. All the sap of their life was used up in
violent exercise. Intelligence seemed to have concentrated in their
hands, leaving their heads empty. What was going to become of this new
people? Perhaps it would form a healthier, stronger human race, but
without love or passion, without any other association than the blind
impulse of reproduction.

"We are a different sort, eh, Pepe?" said Renovales with a sly wink.
"When we were boys we didn't care for our bodies so well, but we had
better times. We weren't so pure, but we were interested in something
higher than automobiles and prize cups; we had ideals."

Then he began to talk again of the young man who expected to become one
of his family and made sport of his mentality.

"If Milita decides on him, I won't object. The important thing in such
matters is that they should be congenial to each other. He's a good boy;
I could almost give him my blessing. But I suspect that when the
sensation of novelty has worn off, he will go back to his fads and poor
Milita will be jealous of those machines that are eating up the greater
part of his fortune."

Sometimes, before the light died out in the afternoon, Renovales excused
his model, if he had one, and laying aside his brushes went out of the
studio. When he came back, he would have on his coat and hat.

"Pepe, let's take a walk."

Cotoner knew where this walk would land them.

They followed the iron fence of the Retiro and went down the Calle de
Alcalá, walking slowly among the groups of strollers, some of whom
turned round behind them to point out the master. "That taller one is
Renovales, the painter." In a few minutes, Mariano hastened his step
with nervous impatience, he stopped talking and Cotoner followed him
with an ill-humored expression, humming between his teeth. When they
reached the Cibeles, the old painter knew that their walk was nearly
over.

"I'll see you to-morrow, Pepe, I'm going this way. I've got to see the
countess."

One day, he did not limit himself to this brief leave-taking. After he
had gone a few steps, he came back toward his companion and said
hesitatingly:

"Listen, if Josephina asks you where I went, don't say anything. I know
that you are prudent but she is always worried. I tell you this so as to
avoid any trouble. The two women don't get along together very well.
Some woman's quarrel!"



II


At the opening of spring, when Madrid was beginning to think good
weather had really come, and people were impatiently getting out their
summer clothes, there was an unexpected and treacherous return of winter
that clouded the sky and covered with a coat of snow the muddy ground
and the gardens where the first flowers of spring were beginning to
sprout.

There was a fire once more in the fireplace in the drawing-room of the
Countess of Alberca, where all the gentlemen who formed her coterie
gathered to keep warm on days when she was "at home," not having a
meeting to preside over or calls to make.

When Renovales came one afternoon, he spoke enthusiastically of the view
of Moncloa, covered with snow. He had just been there, a beautiful
sight, the woods, buried in wintry silence, surprised by the white
shroud when they were beginning to crack with the swelling of the sap.
It was a pity that the camera craze filled the woods with so many people
who went back and forth with their outfits, sullying the purity of the
snow.

The countess was as interested as a child. She wanted to see that, she
would go the next day. Her friends tried in vain to dissuade her,
telling her the weather would probably change presently. To-morrow the
sun would come out, the snow would melt; these unexpected storms were
characteristic of the fickle climate of Madrid.

"It makes no difference," said Concha obstinately, "I've got the idea
into my head. It's years since I have seen it. My life is such a busy
one."

She would go to see the thaw in the morning; no, not in the morning. She
got up late and had to receive all those Women's Rights ladies that came
to consult her. In the afternoon, she would go after luncheon. It was
too bad that Renovales worked at that time and could not go with her. He
could appreciate landscapes so well with his artist's eyes and had often
spoken to her of the sunset from the palace of Moncloa, a sight almost
equal to the one you can see in Rome from the Pinzio at dusk. The
painter smiled gallantly. He would try to be at Moncloa the next day;
they would meet.

The countess seemed to take sudden fright at this promise and glanced at
Doctor Monteverde. But she was disappointed in her hope of being
censured for her fickleness and unfaithfulness, for the doctor remained
indifferent.

Lucky doctor! How Renovales hated him. He was a young man, as fair and
as fragile as a porcelain figure, a combination of such striking
beauties that his face was almost a caricature. His hair, parted in two
waves over his pale forehead, was black, very black and shining with
bluish reflections, his eyes, as soft as velvet, showed the read spot of
the lachrymal on the polished ivory of the cornea, veritable odalisque
eyes, his bright red lips showed under his bristly mustache, his
complexion was as pale as a camellia, and his teeth flashed like pearl.
Concha looked at him with ecstatic devotion, talked with her eyes on
him, consulting him with her glance, lamenting inwardly his lack of
mastery, eager to be his slave, to be corrected by him in all the
caprices of her giddy character.

Renovales scorned him, questioning his manhood, making the most
atrocious comments on him in his rough fashion.

He was a doctor of science and was waiting for a chair at Madrid to be
declared vacant, that he might become a candidate for it. The Countess
of Alberca had him under her high protection, talking about him
enthusiastically to all the important gentlemen who exercised any
influence in University circles. She would break out into the most
extravagant praise of the doctor in Renovales' presence. He was a
scholar and what made her admire him was the fact that all his learning
did not keep him from dressing well and being as fair as an angel.

"For pretty teeth, look at Monteverde's," she would say, looking at him
in the crowded room, through her lorgnette.

At other times, following the course of her ideas, she would interrupt
the conversation, without noticing the irrelevancy of her words.

"But did you notice the doctor's hands? They're more delicate than mine!
They look like a woman's hands."

The painter was indignant at these demonstrations of Concha's that often
occurred in her husband's presence.

The calm of that honorable gentleman astounded him. Was the man blind?
And the count with fatherly good humor always said the same thing.

"That Concha! Did you ever hear such frankness! Don't mind her,
Monteverde, it's my wife's way, childishness."

The doctor would smile, flattered at the atmosphere of worship with
which the countess surrounded him.

He had written a book on the natural origin of animal organism, of which
the fair countess spoke enthusiastically. The painter observed this
change in her tastes with surprise and envy. No more music, nor verses,
nor plastic arts which had formerly occupied her flighty attention, that
was attracted by everything that shines or makes a noise. Now she looked
on the arts as pretty, insignificant toys that were fit to amuse only
the childhood of the human race. Times were changing, people must be
serious. Science, nothing but science; she was the protectress, the good
friend, the adviser of a scholar. And Renovales found famous books on
the tables and chairs, feverishly run through and laid aside because she
grew tired of them or could not understand them after the first impulse
of curiosity.

Her coterie, almost wholly composed of old gentlemen attracted by the
beauty of the countess, and in love with her though without hope, smiled
to hear her talking so weightily about science. Men who were prominent
in politics admired her frankly. How many things that woman knew! Many
that they did not know themselves. The others, well-known physicians,
professors, lawyers, who had not studied anything for years, approved
complacently. For a woman it was not at all bad. And she, lifting her
glasses to her eyes from time to time to relish the doctor's beauty,
talked with a pedantic slowness about protoplasms, and the reproduction
of the cells, the cannibalisms of the phagocytes, catarine, anthropoid
and pithecoid apes, discoplacentary mammals and the Pithecanthropos,
treating the mysteries of life with friendly confidence, repeating
strange scientific words, as if they were the names of society folks,
who had dined with her the evening before.

The handsome Doctor Monteverde, according to her, was head and shoulders
above all the scholars of universal reputation.

Their books made her tired, she could not make anything out of them, in
spite of the fact that the doctor admired them greatly. To make up for
this, she had read Monteverde's book over and over, and she recommended
this wonderful work to her lady friends, who in matters of reading never
went beyond the novels in popular magazines.

"He is a scholar," said the countess one afternoon while talking alone
with Renovales. "He's just beginning now, but I will push him ahead and
he will turn out to be a genius. He has extraordinary talent. I wish you
had read his book. Are you acquainted with Darwin? You aren't, are you?
Well, he is greater than Darwin, much greater."

"I can believe that," said the painter. "Your Monteverde is as pretty as
a baby and Darwin was an ugly old fellow."

The countess hesitated whether to get serious or to laugh, and finally
she shook her lorgnette at him.

"Keep still, you horrid man. After all, you're a painter. You can't
understand tender friendships, pure relations, fraternity based on
study."

How bitterly the painter laughed at this purity and fraternity! His eyes
were good and Concha, for her part, was no model of prudence in hiding
her feelings. Monteverde was her lover, just as formerly a musician had
been, at a period when the countess talked of nothing but Beethoven and
Wagner, as if they were callers, and long before that a pretty little
duke, who gave private amateur bull-fights at which he slaughtered the
innocent oxen after greeting lovingly the Alberca woman, who, wrapped in
a white mantilla, and decorated with pinks, leaned out of the box in the
grandstand. Her relations with the doctor were almost common talk. That
was amply proved by the fury with which the gentlemen of her coterie
pulled him to pieces, declaring that he was an idiot and that his book
was a Harlequin's coat, a series of excerpts from other men, poorly
basted together, with the daring of ignorance. They, too, were stung by
envy, in their senile, silent love, by the triumph of that stripling who
carried off their idol, whom they had worshiped with a contemplative
devotion that gave new life to their old age.

Renovales was angry with himself. He tried in vain to overcome the habit
that made him turn his steps every afternoon toward the countess's
house.

"I'll never go there again," he would say when he was back in his
studio. "A pretty part you're playing, Mariano! Acting as a chorus to a
love duet, in the company of all these senile imbeciles. A fine aim in
life, this countess of yours!"

But the next day he would go back, thinking with a sort of hope of
Monteverde's pretentious superiority, and the disdainful air with which
he received his fair adorer's worship. Concha would soon get tired of
this mustached doll and turn her eyes on him, a man.

The painter observed the transformation of his nature. He was a
different man, and he made every effort to keep his family from noticing
this change. He recognized mentally that he was in love, with the
satisfaction of a mature man who sees in this a sign of youth the
budding of a second life. He had felt impelled toward Concha by the
desire of breaking the monotony of his existence, of imitating other
men, of tasting the acidity of infidelity, in a brief escape from the
stern imposing walls that shut in the desert of married life which was
every day covered with more brambles and tares. Her resistance
exasperated him, increasing his desire. He was not exactly sure how he
felt; perhaps it was merely a physical attraction and added to that the
wound to his pride, the bitterness of being repelled when he came down
from the heights of virtue, where he had held his position with savage
pride, believing that all the joys of the earth were waiting for him,
dazzled by his glory and that he had only to hold out his arms and they
would run to him.

He felt humiliated by his failure; a dumb rage filled him when he
compared his gray hair and his eyes, surrounded by growing wrinkles,
with that pretty boy of science who seemed to drive the countess insane.
Women! Their intellectual interest, their exaggerated admiration of
fame! A lie! They worshiped talent only when it was well presented in a
young and beautiful covering.

Impelled by his obstinacy, Renovales was determined to overcome the
resistance. He recalled, without the least remorse, the scene with his
wife in the bedroom, and her scornful words that foretold his failure
with the countess. Josephina's disdain was only another spur to urge him
to continue his course.

Concha kept him off and led him on at the same time. There was no doubt
that the master's love flattered her vanity. She laughed at his
passionate protestations, taking them in jest, always answering them in
the same tone: "Be dignified, master. That isn't becoming to you. You
are a great man, a genius. Let the boys be the ones to play the part of
the lovesick student." But when enraged at her subtle mockery, he took a
mental oath not to come back again, she seemed to guess it and she
suddenly assumed an affectionate air, attracting him with an interest
that made him foresee the near approach of his triumph.

If he was offended and kept silence, she was the one who talked of love,
of eternal passions between two beings of lofty minds, based on the
harmony of their thoughts; and she did not cease this dangerous
conversation until the master, with a sudden renewal of confidence,
came forward offering his love, only to be received with that kindly and
still ironical smile that seemed to look on him as a child whose
judgment was faulty.

And so the master lived, fluctuating between hope and despair, now
favored, now repelled, but always incapable of escaping from her
influence, as if a crime were haunting him. He sought opportunities to
see her alone with the ingenuity of a college boy, he invented pretexts
for going to her house at unusual hours, when there were no callers
present, and his courage failed him when he ran into the pretty doctor
and felt around himself that sensation of uneasiness which always seizes
an unwelcome guest.

The vague hope of meeting the countess at Moncloa, of walking with her a
whole afternoon, unmolested by that circle of insufferable people who
surrounded her with their drooling worship, kept him excited all night
and the next morning, as if a real rendezvous were awaiting him. Would
she go? Was not her promise a mere whim that she had immediately
forgotten? He sent a note to an ex-minister of State, whose portrait he
was painting, to ask him not to come to the studio that afternoon, and
after luncheon he got into a cab, telling the cabby to beat the horse,
to go full speed, for fear of being late.

He knew that it would be hours before she came, if she did come; but a
mad, unreasonable impatience filled him. He thought without knowing why
that, by arriving ahead of time, he would hasten the countess's coming.

He got out in the square in front of the little palace of Moncloa. The
cab disappeared in the direction of Madrid, up hill along an avenue that
was lost in the distance behind an arch of dry branches.

Renovales walked up and down, alone in the little square. The sun was
shining in a patch of blue sky, among the heavy clouds. In the places
which its rays did not reach, it was cold. The water ran down from the
foot of the trees, after dripping from the branches and trickling down
the trunks; it was melting rapidly. The wood seemed to weep with joy
under the caress of the sun, that destroyed the last traces of the white
shroud.

The majestic silence of Nature, abandoned to its own power, surrounded
the artist. The pines were swinging with the long gusts of wind, filling
space with a murmur, like the sound of distant harps. The square was
hidden in the icy shadow of the trees. Up above in the front of the
palace some pigeons, seeking the sun above the tops of the pines, swept
around the old flagpole and the classic busts blackened by the weather.
Then, tired of flying, they settled down on the rusty iron balconies,
adding to the old building a white fluttering decoration, a rustling
garland of feathers. In the middle of the square a marble swan, with its
neck violently stretched toward the sky, threw out a jet, whose murmur
seemed to heighten the impression of icy cold which he felt in the
shadow.

Renovales began to walk, crushing the frozen crust that cracked under
his feet in the shady places. He leaned over the circular iron rail that
surrounds a part of the square. Through the curtain of black branches,
where the first buds were beginning to open, he saw the ridge that
bounds the horizon; the mountains of Guadarrama, phantoms of snow that
were mingled with the masses of clouds. Nearer, the mountains of Pardo
stood out with their dark peaks, black with pines, and to the left
stretched out the slopes of the hills of the Casa de Campo, where the
first yellow touches of spring were beginning to show.

At his feet lay the fields of Moncloa, the antique little gardens, the
grove of Viveros, bordering the stream. Carriages were moving in the
roads below, their varnished tops flashing in the sun like fiery mortar
boards. The meadows, the foliage of the woods, everything seemed clean
and bright after the recent storm. The all-pervading green tone, with
its infinite variations from black to yellow, smiled at the touch of the
sun after the chill of the snow. In the distance sounded the constant
reports of shotguns that seemed to tear the air with the intensity that
is common in still afternoons. They were hunting in the Casa de Campo.
Between the colonnades of trees and the green sheets of the meadows, the
water flashed in the sun, bits of ponds, glimpses of canals, pools of
melted snow, like bright trembling edges of huge swords, lost in the
grass.

Renovales hardly looked at the landscape; it had no message for him that
afternoon. He was preoccupied with other things. He saw a smart coupé
come down the avenue, and he left the belvedere to go to meet it. She
was coming! But the coupé passed by him, slowly and majestically without
stopping and he saw through the window an old lady wrapped in furs, with
sunken eyes and distorted mouth, trembling with old age, her head
bobbing with the movement of the carriage. It disappeared in the
direction of the little church beside the palace and the painter was
alone again.

No! She would not come! His heart began to tell him that there was no
use waiting.

Some little girls, with battered shoes, and straight greasy hair that
floated around their necks, began to run about the square. Renovales did
not see where they came from. Perhaps they were the children of the
guardian of the palace.

A guard came down the avenue with his gun hanging from his shoulder, and
his horn at his side. Beyond approached a man in black, who looked like
a servant, escorted by two huge dogs, two majestic bluish-gray Danes,
that walked with a dignified bearing, prudent and moderate but proud of
their terrifying appearance. Not a carriage could be seen. Curses!

Seated on one of the stone benches, the master finally took out the
little notebook that he always carried with him. He sketched the figures
of the children as they ran around the fountain. That was one way to
kill time. One after the other he sketched all the girls, then he caught
them in several groups, but at last they disappeared behind the palace,
going down toward the Caño Gordo. Renovales, having nothing to distract
him, left his seat and walked about, stamping noisily. His feet were
like ice, this waiting in the cold was putting him in a terrible mood.
Then he went and sat down on another bench near the servant in black,
who had the two dogs at his knees. They were sitting on their hind paws,
resting with as much dignity as real people, watching that gentleman
with their gray eyes that winked intelligently, as he looked at them
attentively and then moved his pencil on the book that rested on his
knee. The painter sketched the two dogs in different postures, giving
himself up to the work with such interest that he quite forgot his
purpose in coming there. Oh, what splendid creatures! Renovales loved
animals in which beauty was united with strength. If he had lived alone
and could have consulted his own tastes, he would have converted his
house into a menagerie.

The servant went away with his dogs and the artist once more was left
alone. Several couples passed slowly, arm in arm, and disappeared behind
the palace toward the gardens below. Then a group of school boys that
left behind them, as their cassocks fluttered, that odor of healthy,
dirty flesh that is peculiar to barracks and convents. And still the
countess did not come!

The painter went again to rest his elbows on the balustrade of the
belvedere. He would only wait a half an hour longer. The afternoon was
wearing away; the sun was still high, but from time to time the
landscape was darkened. The clouds that had been confined on the horizon
had been let loose and they were rolling through the field of the sky
like a flock of sheep, assuming fantastic shapes, rushing eagerly in
tumultuous confusion as if they wished to swallow the ball of fire that
was slipping slowly over a bit of clear blue sky.

Suddenly, Renovales felt a sort of shock near his heart. No one had
touched him; it was a warning of his nerves that for some time had been
especially irritable. She was near, was coming he was sure. And turning
around, he saw her, still a long way off, coming down the avenue, in
black with a fur coat, her hands in a little muff and a veil over her
eyes. Her tall, graceful silhouette was outlined against the yellow
ground as she passed the trees. Her carriage was returning up the hill,
perhaps to wait for her at the top near the School of Agriculture.

As she met him in the center of the square she held out her gloved hand,
warm from the muff, and they turned toward the belvedere, chatting.

"I'm in a furious mood, disgusted to death. I didn't expect to come; I
forgot all about it, upon my word. But as I was coming out of the
President's house I thought of you. I was sure I would find you here.
And so I have come to have you drive away my ill humor."

Through the veil, Renovales saw her eyes that flashed hostilely and her
dainty lips angrily tightened.

She spoke quickly, eager to vent the wrath that was swelling her heart,
without paying any attention to what was around her, as if she were in
her own drawing room where everything was familiar.

She had been to see the Prime-Minister to recommend her "affair" to his
attention; a desire of the count's on the fulfillment of which his
happiness depended. Poor Paco (her husband) dreamed of the Golden
Fleece. That was the only thing that was lacking to crown the tower of
crosses, keys and ribbons that he was raising about his person, from his
belly to his neck, till not an inch of his body was without this
glorious covering. The Golden Fleece and then death! Why should they not
do this favor for Paco, such a good man, who would not hurt a fly? What
would it cost them to grant him this toy and make him happy?

"There aren't any friends any longer, Mariano," said the countess
bitterly. "The Prime-Minister is a fool who forgets his old friendships
now that he is head of the government. I who have seen him sighing
around me like a comic opera tenor, making love to me (yes, I tell the
truth to you) and ready to commit suicide because I scorned his
vulgarity and foolishness! This afternoon, the same old story; lots of
holding my hand, lots of making eyes, 'dear Concha,' 'sweet Concha' and
other sugary expressions, just such as he sings in Congress like an old
canary. Sum total, the Fleece is impossible, he is very sorry, but at
Court they are unwilling."

And the countess, as if she saw for the first time where she was, turned
her eyes angrily toward the dark hills of the Casa de Campo, where shots
could still be heard.

"And they wonder that people think this way or that! I am an anarchist,
do you hear, Mariano? Every day I feel more revolutionary. Don't laugh,
for it is no jest. Poor Paco, who is a lamb of God, is horrified to
hear me. 'Woman, think what we are! We must be on good terms with the
royal house.' But I rise in rebellion; I know them; a crowd of
reprobates. Why shouldn't my Paco have the Fleece, if the poor man needs
it. I tell you, master, this cowardly, meek country makes me raging mad.
We ought to have what France had in '93. If I were alone, without all
these trifles of name and position, I would do to-day something that
would stir people. I'd throw a bomb, no, not a bomb; I'd get a revolver
and----"

"Fire!" shouted the painter, bursting into a laugh.

Concha drew back indignantly.

"Don't joke, master. I'll go away. I'll slap you. This is more serious
than you think. This afternoon is no time for jokes."

But her fickle nature contradicted the seriousness that she pretended to
give her words, for she smiled slightly, as if pleased at some memory.

"It wasn't wholly a failure," she said after a long pause. "My hands
aren't empty. The prime-minister didn't want to make me his enemy and so
he offered me a compensation, since the 'Lamb' affair was impossible. A
deputy's chair at the next election."

Renovales' eyes opened in astonishment. "For whom do you want that? To
whom is that going to be given?"

"To whom?" mimicked Concha with mock astonishment. "To whom! To whom do
you suppose, you simpleton! Not for you, you don't know anything about
that or anything else, except your brushes. For Monteverde, for the
doctor, who will do great things."

The artist's noisy laugh resounded in the silence of the square.

"Darwin a deputy of the majority! Darwin saying 'Aye' and 'No.'"

And after these exclamations his laugh of mock astonishment continued.

"Laugh, you old bear! Open that mouth wider; wag your apostolic beard!
How funny you are! And what's strange about that? But don't laugh any
longer; you make me nervous. I'll go away, if you keep on like this."

They remained silent for a long while. The countess was not long in
forgetting her troubles; her bird-like brain never retained any one
impression for long. She looked around her with disdainful eyes, eager
to mortify the painter. Was that what Renovales raved over so? Was there
nothing more?

They began to walk slowly, going down to the terraced gardens behind the
palace. They descended the moss-covered slopes that were streaked with
the black flint of the flights of stairs.

The silence was deathlike. The water murmured as it flowed from the
trunks of the trees, forming little streams that trickled down hill,
almost invisible in the grass. In some shady spots there still remained
piles of snow, like bundles of white wool. The shrill cries of the birds
sounded like the scratching of a diamond on glass. At the edge of the
stairways, the pedestals of black, crumbling stone recalled the statues
and urns they had once supported. The little gardens, cut in geometric
figures, stretched out the Greek square of their carpet of foliage on
each level of the terrace. In the squares, the fountains spurted in
pools surrounded by rusted railings, or flowed down triple layers with a
ceaseless murmur. Water everywhere,--in the air, in the ground,
whispering, icy, adding to the cold impression of the landscape, where
the sun seemed a red blotch of color devoid of heat.

They passed under arches of vines, between huge dying trees covered to
the top with winding rings of ivy that clung to the venerable trunks,
veneered with a green and yellow crust. The paths were bounded on one
side by the slope of the hill, from the top of which came the invisible
tinkling of a bell, and where from time to time there appeared on the
blue background of the sky the massive outline of a slowly moving cow.
On the other, a rustic railing of branches painted white bounded the
path and, beyond it, in the valley, lay the dark flower beds with their
melancholy solitude and their fountains that wept day and night in an
atmosphere of old age and abandon. The closely matted brambles stretched
from tree to tree along the slopes. The slender cypresses, the tall
pines with their straight trunks, formed a thick colonnade, a lattice
through which the sunlight flitted, a false unearthly light, that
striped the ground with bands of gold and bars of shadow.

The painter praised the spot enthusiastically. It was the only corner
for artists that could be found in Madrid. It was there that the great
Don Francisco had worked. It seemed as though at some turn in the path
they would run into Goya, sitting before his easel, scowling
ill-naturedly at some dainty duchess who was serving as his model.

Modern clothes seemed out of keeping with this background. Renovales
declared that the correct apparel for such a landscape was a bright
coat, a powdered wig, silk stockings, walking beside a Directoire gown.

The countess smiled as she listened to the painter. She looked about
with great curiosity; that was not a bad walk; she guessed it was the
first time she ever saw it. Very pretty! But she was not fond of the
country.

To her mind the best landscape was the silks of a drawing room and, as
for trees, she preferred the scenery at the Opera to the accompaniment
of music.

"The country bores me, master. It makes me so sad. If you leave Nature
alone to itself it is very commonplace."

They entered a little square in the center of which was a pool, on the
level of the ground, with stone posts that marked where there had once
been a railing. The water, swollen by the melting snow, was overflowing
the stone curb, and reached out in a thin sheet as it started down hill.
The countess stopped, afraid of wetting her feet. The painter went
ahead, putting his feet in the driest places, taking her hand to guide
her, and she followed him, laughing at the obstacle and picking up her
skirts.

As they continued their way down another path, Renovales kept that soft
little hand in his, feeling its warmth through the glove. She let him
hold it, as if she did not notice his touch, but still with a faint
expression of mischievousness on her lips and in her eyes. The master
seemed undecided, embarrassed, as if he did not know how to begin.

"Always the same?" he asked weakly. "Haven't you a little charity for me
to-day?"

The countess broke out in a merry laugh.

"There it comes. I was expecting it; that's why I hesitated to come. In
the carriage I said to myself several times: 'My dear, you're making a
mistake in going to Moncloa; you will be bored to death; you may expect
declaration number one thousand.'"

Then she assumed a tone of mock indignation.

"But, master, can't you talk about anything else? Are we women condemned
to be unable to talk with a man without his feeling obliged to pour out
a proposal?"

Renovales protested. She might say that to other men, but not to him,
for he was in love with her. He swore it; he would say it on his knees,
to make her believe it. Madly in love with her! But she mimicked him
grotesquely, raising one hand to her breast and laughing cruelly.

"Yes, I know, the old story. There's no use in your repeating it; I know
it by heart. A volcano in my breast, impossible to live without you--if
you do not love me, I will kill myself. They all say the same thing. I
never saw such a lack of originality. Master, for goodness sake, do not
be so commonplace! A man like you saying such things!"

Renovales was crushed by her mocking mimicry. But Concha, as if she took
pity on him, hastened to add, in an affectionate tone:

"Why should you have to be in love with me? Do you think I shall esteem
you less if I relieve you from an obligation that all men who surround
me feel under? I like you, master; I need to see you; I should be very
sorry if we quarreled. I like you as a friend; the best of all, the
first. I like you because you are good; a great big boy; a bearded baby
who doesn't know even the least bit about the world, but who is very,
_very_ talented. I've wanted for a long time to see you alone, to talk
with you quite freely, to tell you this. I like you as I like no one
else. When I am with you, I feel a confidence such as no other man
inspires in me. Good friends, brother and sister, if you will. But don't
put on such a gloomy face! Look pleasant, please! Give one of your
laughs that cheer my soul, master!"

But the master remained sullen, looking at the ground, running the
fingers of his hand through his thick beard.

"All that's a lie, Concha," he said rudely. "The truth is that you are
in love, you're mad over that worthless Monteverde."

The countess smiled, as if the rudeness of these words flattered her.

"Well, yes, Mariano. We like each other; I believe I love him as I
never loved any man. I have never told anyone; you are the first one to
hear it from me, because you are my friend, because somehow or other I
tell you everything. We like each other or, rather, I like him much more
than he does me. There is something like gratitude in my love. I don't
deceive myself, Mariano! Thirty-six years! I venture to confess my age
to you. However, I am still presentable; I keep my youth well, but he is
much younger. Years younger and I could almost be his mother."

She was silent for a moment, almost frightened at this difference
between her lover's age and hers, but then she added with a sudden
confidence:

"He likes me, too, I know. I am his adviser, his inspiration; he says
that with me he feels a new strength for work, that he will be a great
man, thanks to me. But I like him more, much more than he does me; there
is almost as great a difference in our affections as there is in our
ages."

"And why do you not love me?" said the master tearfully. "I worship you,
the tables would be turned. I would be the one to surround you with
constant idolatry, and you would let me worship you, caress you, as I
would an idol, my head bowed at its feet."

Concha laughed again, mocking the artist's hoarse voice, his passionate
expression, and his eager eyes.

"Why don't I love you? Master, don't be childish. There's no use in
asking such things, you cannot dictate to Love. I do not like you as you
want me to, because it is impossible. Be satisfied to be my best friend.
You know I show a confidence in you that I do not show to Monteverde.
Yes, I tell you things I would never tell him."

"But the other part!" exclaimed the painter violently. "What I need,
what I am hungry for,--you, your beauty, real love!"

"Master, contain yourself," she said with affected modesty. "How well I
know you! You're going to say some of those horrid things that men
always say when they rave over a woman. I'm going away so as not to hear
you."

Then she added with maternal seriousness, as if she wanted to reprimand
his violence:

"I am not so crazy as people think. I consider the consequences of my
actions carefully. Mariano, look at yourself, think of your position. A
wife, a daughter who will marry one of these days, the prospect of being
a grandfather. And you still think of such follies! I could not accede
to your proposal even if I loved you. How terrible! To deceive
Josephina, the friend of my school-days! Poor thing, so gentle, so
kind,--always ill. No, Mariano, never. A man cannot enter such
compromising affairs, unless he is free. I could never feel like loving
you. Friends, nothing more than friends!"

"Well, we will not be that," exclaimed Renovales impetuously. "I will
leave your house forever. I will not see you any longer. I will do
anything to forget you. It is an intolerable torment. My life will be
calmer if I do not see you."

"You will not go away," said Concha quietly, certain of her power. "You
will remain beside me just as you always have, if you really like me,
and I shall have in you my best friend. Don't be a baby, master, you
will see that there is something charming about our friendship that you
do not understand now. I shall give you something that the rest do not
know,--intimacy, confidence."

And as she said this, she put one hand on the painter's arm and drew
closer to him, searching him with her eyes in which there was a strange,
mysterious light.

A horn sounded near them; there was swift rush of heavy wheels. An
automobile shot past them at full speed, following the highroad.
Renovales tried to make out the figures in the car, hardly larger than
dolls in the distance. Perhaps it was López de Sosa, who was driving,
perhaps his wife and daughter were those two little figures, wrapped in
veils, who occupied the seats.

The possibility of Josephina's having passed through the background of
the landscape without seeing him, without noticing that he was there,
forgetful of everything, an imploring lover, overcame him with the sense
of remorse.

They remained motionless for a long while in silence, leaning on the
rough wooden railing, watching through the colonnade of the trees the
bright, cherry-red sun, as it sank, lighting up the horizon with a blaze
of fire. The leaden clouds, seeing it on the point of death, assailed it
with treacherous greed.

Concha watched the sunset with the interest that a sight but seldom seen
arouses.

"Look at that huge cloud, master. How black it is! It looks like a
dragon; no, a hippopotamus; see its round paws, like towers. How it
runs! It's going to eat the sun. It's eating it! It has swallowed it
now!"

The landscape grew dark. The sun had disappeared inside of that monster
that filled the horizon. Its waving back was edged with silver, and as
if it could not hold the burning star; it broke below, pouring out a
rain of pale rays. Then, burned by this digestion, it vanished in smoke,
was torn into black tufts, and once more the red disc appeared, bathing
sky and earth with gold, peopling the water of the pools with restless
fiery fishes.

Renovales, leaning on the railing with one elbow beside the countess,
breathed her subtle fragrance, felt the warm touch of her firm body.

"Let's go back, master," she said with a suggestion of uneasiness in her
voice. "I feel cold. Besides, with a companion like you, it's impossible
to stay still."

And she hastened her step, realizing from her experience with men the
danger of remaining alone with Renovales. His pale, excited face warned
her that he was likely to make some reckless, impetuous advance.

In the square of Caño Gordo they passed a couple going slowly down the
hill, very close together, not yet daring to walk arm in arm, but ready
to put their arms around each other's waists as soon as they disappeared
in the next path. The young man carried his cloak under his arm, as
proudly as a gallant in the old comedies; she, small and pale, without
any beauty except that of youth, was wrapped in a poor cloak and walked
with her simple eyes fixed on her companion's.

"Some student with his girl," said Renovales. "They are happier than we
are, Concha."

"We are getting old, master," she said with feigned sadness, excluding
herself from old age, loading the whole burden of years on her
companion.

Renovales turned toward her in a final outburst of protest.

"Why should I not be as happy as that boy? Haven't I a right to it?
Concha, you do not know who I am; you forget it, accustomed as you are
to treat me like a child. I am Renovales, the painter, the famous
master. I am known all over the world."

And he spoke of his fame with brutal indelicacy, growing more and more
irritated at her coldness, displaying his renown like a mantle of light
that should blind women and make them fall at his feet. And a man like
him had to submit to being put off for that simpleton of a doctor?

The countess smiled with pity. Her eyes, too, revealed a sort of
compassion. The fool! The child! How absurd men of talent were!

"Yes, you are a great man, master. That is why I am proud of your
friendship. I even admit that it gives me some importance. I like you. I
feel admiration for you."

"No, not admiration, Concha, love! To belong to each other! Complete
love."

She continued to laugh.

"Oh, my boy; Love!"

Her eyes seemed to speak to him ironically. Love does not distinguish
talents; it is ignorant and therefore boasts of its blindness. It only
perceives the fragrance of youth, of life in its flower.

"We shall be friends, Mariano, friends and nothing more. You will grow
accustomed to it and find our affection dear. Don't be material; it
doesn't seem as if you were an artist. Idealism, master, that is what
you need."

And she continued to talk to him from the heights of her pity, until
they parted near the place where her carriage was waiting for her.

"Friends, Mariano, nothing more than friends, but true friends."

When Concha had gone, Renovales walked in the shadows of the twilight,
gesticulating and clenching his fists, until he left Moncloa. Finding
himself alone, he was again filled with wrath and insulted the countess
mentally, now that he was free from the loving subjection that he
suffered in her presence. How she amused herself with him! How his
friends would laugh to see him helplessly submissive to that woman who
had belonged to so many! His pride made him insist on conquering her,
at any cost, even of humiliation and brutality. It was an affair of
honor to make her his, even if it were only once, and then to take
revenge by repelling her, throwing her at his feet, and saying with a
sovereign air, "That is what I do to people who resist me."

But then he realized his weakness. He would always be beaten by that
woman who looked at him coldly, who never lost her calm and considered
him an inferior being. His dejection made him think of his family, of
his sick wife, and the duties that bound him to her, and he felt the
bitter joy of the man who sacrifices himself, taking up his cross.

His mind was made up. He would flee from the woman. He would not see her
again.



III


And he did not see her; he did not see her for two days. But on the
third there came a letter in a long blue envelope scented with a perfume
that made him tremble.

The countess complained of his absence in affectionate terms. She needed
to see him, she had many things to tell him. A real love-letter which
the artist hastened to hide, for fear that if any one read it, he would
suspect what was not yet true.

Renovales was indignant.

"I will go to see her," he said to himself, walking up and down the
studio. "But it will be only to give her a piece of my mind, and have
done with her once and for all. If she thinks she is going to play with
me, she is mistaken; she doesn't know that, when I want to be, I am like
stone."

Poor master! While in one corner of his mind he was formulating this
cruel determination to be a man of stone, in the other a sweet voice was
murmuring seductively:

"Go quickly, take advantage of the opportunity. Perhaps she has
repented. She is waiting for you; she is going to be yours."

And the artist hastened to the countess's anxiously. Nothing. She
complained of his absence with affected sadness. She liked him so much!
She needed to see him, she could not have any peace as long as she felt
that he was offended with her on account of the other afternoon. And
they spent nearly two hours together in the private room she used as an
office, until at the end of the afternoon the serious friends of the
countess began to arrive, her coterie of mute worshipers and last of
all Monteverde with the calm of a man who has nothing to fear.

The painter left the house. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened
except that he had twice kissed the countess's hand; the conventional
caress and nothing more. Whenever he tried to go farther, moving his
lips along her arm, she checked him imperiously.

"I shall be angry, master, and not receive you any more alone! You are
not keeping the agreement!"

Renovales protested. They had not made any agreement; but Concha managed
to calm him instantly by asking about Milita, praising her beauty,
inquiring for poor Josephina, so good, so lovable, showing great concern
for her health and promising to call on her soon. And the master was
restrained, tormented by remorse, not daring to make any new advances,
until his discomfort had disappeared.

He continued to visit the countess, as before. He felt that he must see
her; he had grown accustomed to her enthusiastic praise of his artistic
merits.

Sometimes the impetuous nature of his youthful days awakened and he
longed to rid himself of this shameful chain. The woman had bewitched
him; she sent for him without any reason, she seemed to delight in
making him suffer, she needed him for a plaything. She spoke of
Monteverde and their love with quiet cynicism, as if the doctor were her
husband. She had to confide the secrets of her life to some one, with
that imperious naïveté that forces the guilty to confess. Little by
little she let the master into the secret of her passion, telling him
unblushingly of the most intimate details of their meetings, which were
often in her own house. They took advantage of the blindness of the
count, who seemed almost stunned by his failure to receive the Fleece;
they took a morbid delight in the danger of being surprised.

"I tell you this, Mariano, I don't know why it is I feel as I do toward
you; I like you as a brother. No, not as a brother, rather as a
confidential woman friend."

When Renovales was alone, he despised Concha's frankness. It was just as
people believed; she was very attractive, very pretty, but absolutely
lacking in scruples. As for himself, he heaped insults on himself in the
slang of his Bohemian days, comparing himself with all the horned
animals he could think of.

"I won't go there again. It's disgraceful. A pretty part you are
playing, master!"

But he had hardly been absent two days when Marie, the Countess's French
maid, appeared with the scented letter, or it arrived in the mail, where
it stood out scandalously among the other envelopes of the master's
correspondence.

"Curse that woman!" exclaimed Renovales, hastening to hide the showy
note. "What a lack of prudence. One of these fine days, Josephina will
discover these letters."

Cotoner, in his blind devotion to his idol whom he considered
irresistible, supposed that the Alberca woman was madly in love with the
master and shook his head sadly.

"This will have a bad end, Mariano. You ought to break with her. The
peace of your home! You are piling up trouble for yourself."

The letters were always alike; endless complaints at his short absences.
"_Cher maître_, I could not sleep last night, thinking of you," and she
ended with "Your admirer and good friend, Coquillerosse," a _nom de
guerre_ she had adopted for her correspondence with the artist.

She wrote in a disordered style, at unusual hours, just as her fancy
and her abnormal nervous system prompted. Sometimes she dated her letter
at three in the morning, she could not sleep, got out of bed and to pass
the sleepless hours filled four sheets of paper (with the facility of
despair) in her fine hand, addressed to her good friend, talking to him
of the count, of what her acquaintances said, telling him the latest
gossip about the Court, lamenting the doctor's coldness. At other times,
there were only four brief, desperate lines. "Come at once, dear
Mariano. A very urgent matter."

And the master, leaving his tasks early in the morning, ran to the
countess' house, where she received him still in bed in her fragrant
chamber which the gentleman with honorary crosses had not entered for
many years.

The painter came in in great anxiety, disturbed at the possibility of
some terrible event, and Concha, tossing about between the embroidered
sheets, tucking in the golden wisps of hair that escaped from her lace
cap, talked and talked, as incoherently as a bird sings, as if the
silence of the night had hopelessly confused her ideas. A great idea had
occurred to her; during her sleep she had thought out an absolutely
original scientific theory that would delight Monteverde. And she
explained it earnestly to the master, who nodded his approval without
understanding a word, thinking it was a pity to see such an attractive
mouth uttering such follies.

At other times she would talk to him about the speech she was preparing
for a fair of the Woman's Association, the _magnum opus_ of her
presidency; and drawing her ivory arms from under the sheet with a
calmness that dazed Renovales, she would pick up from the nearby table
some sheets of paper scribbled with pencil, and ask her friend to tell
her who was the greatest painter in the world, for she had left a blank
to fill in with this name.

After an hour of incessant chatter while the artist watched her silently
with greedy eyes, he finally came to the urgent matter, the desperate
summons that had made the master leave his work. It was always an affair
of life or death, compromises in which her honor was at stake. Sometimes
she wanted him to paint some little thing on the fan of a foreign lady
who was eager to take away from Spain some souvenir of the great master.
The person in question had asked her at a diplomatic soirée the night
before, knowing her friendship with Renovales. Or she had sent for him
to ask him for some little sketch, a daub, any one of the little things
that lay in the corner of his studio for a bazaar of the Association for
the Benefit of Fallen Women, whom the countess and her friends were very
eager to rescue.

"Don't put on such a wry face, master, don't be stingy. You must expect
to sacrifice something for friendship. Everybody thinks that I have
great power over the famous artist, and they ask me favors and are
constantly getting me into difficulty. They don't know you, they don't
realize how perverse, how rebellious you are, you horrid man!"

And she let him kiss her hand, smiling condescendingly. But as she felt
the touch of his lips and his beard on her arm she struggled to free
herself, half-laughing, half-trembling.

"Let me go, Mariano! I'll scream! I'll call Marie! I won't receive you
again in my bedroom. You aren't worthy of being trusted. Quiet, master,
or I'll tell Josephina everything."

Sometimes when Renovales came, full of alarm at her summons, he found
her pale, with dark circles under her eyes, as if she had spent the
night weeping. When she saw the master her tears began to flow again. It
was pique, deep pain at Monteverde's coldness. He passed whole days
without seeing her; he even went so far as to say that women are a
hindrance to serious study. Oh, these scholars! And she, madly devoted
to him, submissive as a slave, putting up with his whimsical moods,
worshiping him with that ardent passion of a woman who is older than her
lover and appreciates her own inferiority!

"Oh, Renovales. Never fall in love. It is hell. You do not know the
happiness you enjoy in not understanding these things."

But the master, indifferent to her tears, enraged by her confidences,
walked up and down gesticulating, just as if he were in his studio, and
he spoke to the countess with brutal frankness, as he would to a woman
who had revealed all her secrets and weaknesses. What difference did all
that make to him? Had she sent for him to tell him such stuff? She
grieved with childish sighs from the bed. She was alone in the world,
she was very unhappy. The master was her only friend; he was her father,
her brother. To whom could she tell her troubles if not to him? And
taking courage at the painter's silence who finally was moved by her
tears, she recovered her boldness and expressed her wish. He must go to
Monteverde, give him a good, heart-to-heart lecture, so that he would be
good and not make her suffer. The doctor respected him highly; he was
one of his greatest admirers; she was certain that a few words of the
master would be enough to bring him back like a lamb. He must show him
that she was not alone, that she had some one to defend her, that no one
could make sport of her with impunity.

But before she finished her request, the painter was walking around the
bed waving his arms, cursing in the violence of his excitement.

"That's the last straw! One of these days you'll be asking me to shine
his boots. Are you mad, woman? What are you thinking of? You have enough
accommodating people already in the count. Don't drag me into it!"

But she rolled over in bed, weeping disconsolately. She had no friends
left! The master was like the others; if he would not accede to her
requests, their friendship was over. All talk, oaths, and then not the
least sacrifice!

Suddenly she sat up, frowning angrily with the coldness of an offended
queen. She knew him at last, she had made a mistake in counting on him.
And as Renovales, confused at her anger, tried to offer excuse, she
interrupted him haughtily.

"Will you, or will you not? One, two----"

Yes, he would do what she wanted; he had sunk so low that it did not
matter if he went a little farther. He would lecture the doctor,
throwing in his face his stupidity in scorning such happiness,--he said
this with all his heart, his voice trembling with envy. What else did
his fair despot want? She might ask without fear. If it was necessary he
would challenge the count, with all his decorations, to single combat
and would kill him so that she might be free to join her little doctor.

"You joker," cried Concha, smiling at her triumph. "You are as nice as
can be but you are very perverse. Come here, you horrid man."

And lifting a lock of his heavy hair with her hand, she kissed him on
the forehead, laughing at the start the painter gave at her caress. He
felt his legs trembling, then his arms strove to embrace the warm,
scented body, that seemed to slip from him in its delicate covering.

"It was on the forehead," cried Concha in protest. "A sister's caress,
Mariano. Stop! You're hurting me! I'll call!"

And she called, realizing her weakness, seeing that she was on the point
of being overcome in his fierce, masterly grasp. The electric bell
sounded out of the maze of corridors and rooms and the door opened.
Marie entered in a black dress with a white apron and a lace cap,
discreet and silent. Her pale, smiling face, accustomed to see
everything, to guess everything, did not reveal the slightest
impression.

The countess stretched out her hand to Renovales, calmly and
affectionately, as if the entrance of the maid had found her saying
good-by. She was sorry that he must go so soon, she would see him in the
evening at the Opera.

When the painter breathed the air of the street and jostled against the
people, he felt as if he were awakening from a nightmare. He loathed
himself. "You're showing off finely, master." His weakness that made him
give in to all of the countess's demands, his base acquiescence in
serving as an intermediary between her and her lover was sickening now.
But he still felt the touch of her kiss on his forehead; he still
breathed the atmosphere of the bedroom, heavy with perfume. Optimism
overcame him. The affair was not going badly. However disagreeable the
path was, it would lead to the realization of his desire.

Many evenings Renovales went to the Opera, in obedience to Concha, who
wanted to see him, and spent whole acts in the back of her box,
conversing with her. Milita laughed at this change in the habits of her
father, who used to go to bed early, so as to be able to work early in
the morning. She was the one who, charged with the household affairs on
account of her mother's constant illness, helped him to put on his
dress-coat, and amid caresses and laughter combed his hair and adjusted
his tie.

"Papa, dear. I shouldn't know you, you're getting dissipated. When are
you going to take me with you?"

The artist excused himself seriously. It was a duty of his profession;
artists must go into society. And as for taking her with him--some other
time. He had to go alone this time, he had to talk to a great many
people at the theater.

Another change took place in him that provoked joyful comments on the
part of Milita. Papa was getting young.

Under irreverent trimmings, every week his hair became shorter, his
beard diminished until only a light remnant remained of that tangled
growth that gave him such a ferocious appearance. He did not want to
look like other men, he must preserve the exterior that stamped him as
an artist, so that people might not pass by the great Renovales without
recognizing him. But he managed, while keeping within this desire, to
approach and mingle with the fashionably dressed young men who
frequented the countess's house.

Other people too noticed this change. Students in the School of Fine
Arts pointed him out from the gallery of the Opera-house or stopped on
the sidewalk when they saw him at night, with a shining silk hat on his
carefully trimmed hair and the expanse of shirt-front showing in his
unbuttoned overcoat. The boys in their simple admiration imagined the
great master thundering before his easel, as savage, fierce and
intractable as Michael Angelo in his studio. And so when they saw him
looking so differently, their eyes followed him enviously. "What a good
time the master is having!" And they fancied the great ladies disputing
over him, believing in perfect faith that no woman could resist a man
who painted so well.

His enemies, established artists but who were inferior to him, growled
in their conversations. "Four-flusher, prig! He wasn't satisfied with
making so much money and now he's playing the sport among the
aristocracy, to pick up more portraits, to get all he can out of his
signature."

Cotoner, who sometimes stayed at the house in the evenings, to keep the
ladies company, smiled sadly as he saw him leave, shaking his head.
"It's bad. Mariano married too soon. Now that he is almost an old man,
he's doing what he didn't do in his youth in his fever for work and
glory." Many people were laughing at him already, divining his passion
for the Alberca woman, that love without practical results, that made
him live with her and Monteverde, acting as a good-natured mediator, a
tolerant kindly father. When the famous master took off his mask of
fierceness, he was a poor fellow about whom people talked with pity:
they compared him with Hercules, dressed as a woman and spinning at the
feet of his fair seducer.

He had contracted a close friendship with Monteverde as a result of
meeting him so often at the countess's. He no longer seemed foolish and
unattractive. Renovales found in him something of the woman he loved and
therefore his company was pleasing. He experienced that calm attraction,
free from jealousy, that the husband of a mistress inspires in some men.
They sat together at the theater, went to walk, conversing amiably, and
the doctor frequently visited the artist's studio in the afternoon. This
intimacy quite disconcerted people, for they could no longer tell with
certainty which one was the Alberca woman's master and which the
aspirant, even going so far as to believe that by a mutual agreement
they all three lived in an ideal world.

Monteverde admired the master and the latter, from his years and the
superiority of his fame, assumed a paternal authority over him. He
chided him when the countess complained of him.

"Women!" the doctor would say with a bored expression. "You don't know
what they are, master. They are only a hindrance to obstruct a man's
career. You have been successful because you haven't let them dominate
you because you are strong."

And the poor strong man looked at Monteverde narrowly suspecting that he
was making sport of him. He felt tempted to knock him down at the
thought that the doctor scorned what he craved so keenly.

Concha was more communicative with the master. She confessed to him what
she had never dared to tell the doctor.

"I tell you everything, Mariano. I cannot live without seeing you. Do
you know what I think? The doctor is a sort of husband to me and you are
the lover of my heart. Don't get excited; don't move or I'll call. I
have spoken from my heart. I like you too much to think of the coarse
things you want."

Sometimes Renovales found her excited, nervous, speaking hoarsely,
working her delicate fingers as if she wanted to scratch the air. They
were terrible days that stirred up the whole house. Marie ran from room
to room with her silent step, pursued by the ringing of the bells; the
count slipped out of doors, like a frightened school-boy. Concha was
bored, felt tired of everything, hated her life. When the painter
appeared she would almost throw herself in his arms.

"Take me out of here, Mariano; I'm tired of it, I'm dying. This life is
killing me. My husband! He doesn't count. My friends! Fools that flay
me as soon as I leave them. The doctor! as untrustworthy as a
weathercock. All those men in my coterie, idiots. Master, have pity on
me. Take me far away from here. You must know some other world; artists
know everything."

If she only was not such a familiar figure and if people only did not
know the master in Madrid! In her nervous excitement she formed the
wildest projects. She wanted to go out at night arm in arm with
Renovales. She in a shawl and a kerchief over her head and he in a cape
and a slouch hat. She would be his grisette; she would imitate the
carriage and stride of a woman of the streets and they would go to the
lowest districts like two night-hawks, and they would drink, would get
into a brawl; he would defend her and they would go and spend the night
in the police station.

The painter looked shocked. What nonsense! But she insisted on her wish.

"Laugh, master, open that great mouth of yours, you ugly thing. What is
strange about what I said? You, with all your artist's hair and soft
hats, are humdrum, a peaceful soul that is incapable of doing anything
original in order to amuse yourself."

When she thought of the couple they had seen one afternoon at Moncloa,
she grew melancholy and sentimental. She, too, thought it would be fun
to play the grisette, to walk arm in arm with the master as if she were
a poor dressmaker and he a clerk, to end the trip in a picnic park, and
he would give her a ride in the green swing, while she screamed with
pleasure, as she went up and down with her skirts whirling around her
feet. That was not foolishness. Just the simplest, most rustic pleasure!

What a pity that they were both so well known. But what they would do,
at least, was to disguise themselves some morning and go house-hunting
in some low quarter, like the Rastro, as if they were a newly married
couple. No one would recognize them in that part of Madrid. Agreed,
master?

And the master approved of everything. But the next day, Concha received
him with confusion, biting her lips, until at last she broke out into
hearty laughter at the recollection of the follies she had proposed.

"How you must laugh at me! Some days I am perfectly crazy."

Renovales did not conceal his assent. Yes, she was a trifle crazy. But
with all her absurdities that made him alternate between hope and
despair, she was more attractive, with her merry nonsense, and her
transitory fits of anger, than the woman at home, implacable, silent,
shunning him with ceaseless repugnance, but following him everywhere
with her weeping, uncanny eyes, that became as cutting as steel, as soon
as, out of sympathy or remorse, he gave the least evidence of
familiarity.

Oh, what a heavy, intolerable comedy! Before his daughter and his
friends they had to talk to each other, and he, looking away, so that
their eyes might not meet, scolded her gently, for not following the
advice of the doctors. At first they had said it was neurasthenia, now
it was diabetes, that was increasing the invalid's weakness. The master
lamented the passive resistance she opposed to all their curative
methods. She would follow them for a few days and then give them up with
calm obstinacy. Her health was better than they thought: doctors could
not cure her trouble.

At night, when they entered the bed-chamber, a deathly silence fell on
them; a leaden wall seemed to rise between their bodies. Here they no
longer had to dissemble; they looked at each other face to face with
silent hostility. Their life at night was sheer torment, but neither of
them dared to change their mode of living. Their bodies could not leave
the common bed; they found in it the places they had occupied for years.
The habit of their wills subjected them to this room and its
furnishings, with all its memories of the happy days of their youth.

Renovales would fall into the deep sleep of a healthy man, tired out
with work. His last thoughts were of the countess. He saw her in that
vague mist that shrouds the portal of unconsciousness; he went to sleep,
thinking of what he would say to her the next day. And his dreams were
in keeping with his desires, for he saw her standing on a pedestal, in
all the majesty of her nakedness, surpassing the marble of the most
famous statues with the life of her flesh. When he awakened suddenly and
stretched out his arms, he touched the body of his companion, small,
stiff, burning with the fire of fever or icy with deathly cold. He
divined that she was not asleep. She spent the nights without closing
her eyes, but she did not move, as if all her strength was concentrated
on something that she watched in the darkness with a hypnotic stare. She
was like a corpse. There was the obstacle, the leaden weight, the
phantom that checked the other woman when sometimes in a moment of
hesitation, she leaned toward him, on the point of falling. And the
terrible longing, the hideous thought came forth again in all its
ugliness, announcing that it was not dead, that it had only hidden in
the den of his brain, to rise more cruelly, more insolently.

"Why not?" argued the rejected spirit, scattering in his fancy the
golden dust of dreams.

Love, fame, joy, a new artistic life, the rejuvenation of Doctor
Faustus; he might expect everything, if kindly death would but come to
help him, breaking the chain that bound him to sadness and sickness.

But straightway a protest would arise within him. Though he lived like
an infidel, he still had a religious soul that in the trying moments of
his life led him to call on all the superhuman and miraculous powers as
if they were under an inevitable obligation to come to his aid. "Lord,
take this horrible thought from me. Take away this temptation. Don't let
her die. Let her live, even if I perish."

And the following day, filled with remorse, he would go to some doctors,
friends of his, to consult with them minutely. He would stir up the
house, organizing the cure according to a vast plan, distributing the
medicines by hours. Then he would calmly return to his work, to his
artistic prejudices, to his passionate longing, forgetting his
determinations, thinking his wife's life was already saved.

One afternoon after luncheon, she came into the studio and as the master
looked at her, a sense of anxiety crept over him. It was a long time
since Josephina had entered the room while he was working.

She would not sit down; standing beside the easel she spoke slowly and
meekly to her husband, without looking at him. Renovales was frightened
at this simplicity.

"Mariano, I have come to talk to you about our daughter."

She wanted her to be married: it must come some day and the sooner, the
better. She would die before long and she wanted to leave the world with
the assurance that her daughter was well settled.

Renovales felt forced to protest loudly with all the vehemence of a man
who is not very sure of what he is saying. Shucks! Die! Why should she
die? Her health was better now than it had ever been. The only thing she
needed was to heed what the doctors told her.

"I shall die before long," she repeated coldly; "I shall die and you
will be left in peace. You know it."

The painter tried to protest with a greater show of righteous
indignation but his eyes met his wife's cold look. Then he contented
himself with shrugging his shoulders in a resigned way. He did not want
to argue; he must keep calm. He had to paint; he must go out that
afternoon as usual on important business.

"Very well, go ahead. Milita is going to be married. And to whom?"

Led by his desire to maintain his authority, to take the lead, and
because of his long-standing affection for his pupil, he hastened to
speak of him. Was Soldevilla the suitor? A good boy with a future ahead
of him. He worshiped Milita; his dejection when she treated him ill was
pitiful. He would make an excellent husband.

Josephina cut short her husband's chatter in a cold, contemptuous tone.

"I don't want any painters for my daughter; you know it. Her mother has
had enough of them."

Milita was going to marry López de Sosa. The matter was already settled
as far as she was concerned. The boy had spoken to her and, assured of
her approval, would ask the father.

"But does she love him? Do you think, Josephina, that these things can
be arranged to suit you?"

"Yes, she loves him; she is suited and wants to be married. Besides she
is your daughter; she would accept the other man just as readily. What
she wants is freedom, to get away from her mother, not to live in the
unhappy atmosphere of my ill health. She doesn't say so, she doesn't
even know that she thinks it, but I see through her."

And as if, while she spoke of her daughter, she could not maintain the
coldness she had toward her husband, she raised her hand to her eyes,
to wipe away the silent tears.

Renovales had recourse to rudeness in order to get out of the
difficulty. It was all nonsense; an invention of her diseased mind. She
ought to think of getting well and nothing else. What was she crying
for! Did she want to marry her daughter to that automobile enthusiast?
Well, get him. She did not want to? Well, let the girl stay at home.

She was the one who had charge; no one was hindering her. Have the
marriage as soon as possible? He was a mere cipher, and there was no
reason for asking his advice. But steady, shucks! He had to work; he had
to go out. And when he saw Josephina leaving the studio to weep
somewhere else, he gave a snort of satisfaction, glad to have escaped
from this difficult scene so successfully.

López de Sosa was all right. An excellent boy! Or anyone else. He did
not have time to give to such matters. Other things occupied his
attention.

He accepted his future son-in-law, and for several evenings he stayed at
home to lend a sort of patriarchal air to the family parties. Milita and
her betrothed talked at one end of the drawing-room. Cotoner, in the
full bliss of digestion, strove with his jests to bring a faint smile to
the face of the master's wife, but she stayed in the corner, shivering
with cold. Renovales, in a smoking jacket, read the papers, soothed by
the charming atmosphere of his quiet home. If the countess could only
see him!

One night the Alberca woman's name was mentioned in the drawing-room.
Milita was running over from memory the list of friends of the
family,--prominent ladies who would not fail to honor her approaching
marriage with some magnificent present.

"Concha won't come," said the girl. "It's a long time since she has been
here."

There was a painful silence, as if the countess's name chilled the
atmosphere. Cotoner hummed a tune, pretending to be thinking of
something else; López de Sosa began to look for a piece of music on the
piano, talking about it to change the subject. He too seemed to be aware
of the matter.

"She doesn't come because she doesn't have to come," said Josephina from
her corner. "Your father manages to see her every day, so that she won't
forget us."

Renovales raised his eyes in protest, as if he were awakening from a
calm sleep. Josephina's gaze was fixed on him, not angry, but mocking
and cruel. It reflected the same scorn with which she had wounded him on
that unhappy night. She no longer said anything, but the master read in
those eyes:

"It is useless, my good man. You are mad over her, you pursue her, but
she belongs to other men. I know her of old. I know all about it. Oh,
how people laugh at you! How I laugh! How I scorn you!"



IV


The beginning of summer saw the wedding of the daughter of Renovales to
López de Sosa. The papers published whole columns on the event, in
which, according to some of the reporters, "the glory and splendor of
art were united with the prestige of aristocracy and fortune." No one
remembered now the nickname "Pickled Herring."

The master Renovales did things well. He had only one daughter and he
was eager to marry her with royal pomp; eager that Madrid and all Spain
should know of the affair, that a ray of the glory her father had won
might fall on Milita.

The list of gifts was long. All the friends of the master, society
ladies, political leaders, famous artists, and even royal personages,
appeared in it with their corresponding presents. There was enough to
fill a store. Both of the studios for visitors were converted into show
rooms with countless tables loaded with articles, a regular fair of
clothes and jewelry, that was visited by all of Milita's girl friends,
even the most distant and forgotten, who came to congratulate her, pale
with envy.

The Countess of Alberca, too, sent a huge, showy gift, as if she did not
want to remain unnoticed among the friends of the house. Doctor
Monteverde was represented by a modest remembrance, though he had no
other connection with the family than his friendship with the master.

The wedding was celebrated at the house, where one of the studios was
converted into a chapel. Cotoner had a hand in everything that concerned
the ceremony, delighted to be able to show his influence with the people
of the Church.

Renovales took charge of the arrangements of the altar, eager to display
the touch of an artist even in the least details. On a background of
ancient tapestries he placed an old triptych, a medieval cross; all the
articles of worship which filled his studio as decorations, cleaned now
from dust and cobwebs, recovered for a few moments their religious
importance.

A variegated flood of flowers filled the master's house. Renovales
insisted on having them everywhere; he had sent to Valencia and Murcia
for them in reckless quantities; they hung on the door-frames, and along
the cornices; they lay in huge clusters on the tables and in the
corners. They even swung in pagan garlands from one column of the façade
to another, arousing the curiosity of the passers-by, who crowded
outside of the iron fence,--women in shawls, boys with great baskets on
their heads who stood in open-mouthed wonder before the strange sight,
waiting to see what was going on in that unusual house, following the
coming and going of the servants who carried in music stands and two
base viols, hidden in varnished cases.

Early in the morning Renovales was hurrying about with two ribbons
across his shirt front and a constellation of golden, flashing stars
covering one whole side of his coat. Cotoner, too, had put on the
insignia of his various Papal Orders. The master looked at himself in
all the mirrors with considerable satisfaction, admiring equally his
friend. They must look handsome; a celebration like this they would
never see again. He plied his companion with incessant questions, to
make sure that nothing had been overlooked in the preparations. The
master Pedraza, a great friend of Renovales, was to conduct the
orchestra. They had gathered all the best players in Madrid, for the
most part from the Opera. The choir was a good one, but the only notable
artists they had been able to secure were people who made the capital
their residence. The season was not the best; the theaters were closed.

Cotoner continued to explain the measures he had taken. Promptly at ten
the Nuncio, Monsignore Orlandi,--a great friend of his--would arrive; a
handsome chap, still young, whom he had met in Rome when he was attached
to the Vatican. A word on Cotoner's part was all that was necessary to
persuade him to do them the honor of marrying the children. Friends are
useful at times! And the painter of the popes, proud of his sudden rise
to importance, went from room to room, arranging everything, followed by
the master who approved of his orders.

In the studio, the orchestra and the table for the luncheon were set.
The other rooms were for the guests. Was anything forgotten? The two
artists looked at the altar with its dark tapestries, and its
candelabra, crosses and reliquaries, of dull, old gold that seemed to
absorb the light rather than reflect it. Nothing was lacking. Ancient
fabrics and garlands of flowers covered the walls, hiding the master's
studies in color, unfinished pictures, profane works that could not be
tolerated in the discreet, harmonious atmosphere of that chapel-like
room. The floor was partly covered with costly rugs, Persian and
Moorish. In front of the altar were two praying desks and behind them,
for the more important guests, all the luxurious chairs of the studio:
white armchairs of the 18th Century, embroidered with pastoral scenes,
Greek settles, benches of carved oak and Venetian chairs with high
backs, the bizarre confusion of an antique shop.

Suddenly Cotoner started back as if he were shocked. How careless! A
fine thing it would have been if he had not noticed it! At the end of
the studio, opposite the altar that screened a large part of the window,
and directly in its light, stood a huge, white, naked woman. It was the
"Venus de Medici," a superb piece of marble that Renovales had brought
from Italy. Its pagan beauty in its dazzling whiteness seemed to
challenge the deathly yellow of the religious objects that filled the
other end of the studio. Accustomed to see it, the two artists had
passed in front of it several times without noticing its nakedness that
seemed more insolent and triumphant now that the studio was converted
into an oratory.

Cotoner began to laugh.

"What a scandal if we hadn't seen it! What would the ladies have said!
My friend Orlandi would have thought that you did it on purpose, for he
considers you rather lax morally. Come, my boy, let's get something to
cover up this lady."

After much searching in the disorder of the studio, they found a piece
of Indian cotton, scrawled with elephants and lotus flowers; they
stretched it over the goddess's head, so that it covered her down to her
feet and there it stood, like a mystery, a riddle for the guests.

They were beginning to arrive. Outside of the house, at the fence
sounded the stamping of the horses, the slam of doors as they closed. In
the distance rumbled other carriages, drawing nearer every minute. The
swish of silk on the floor sounded in the hall, and the servants ran
back and forth, receiving wraps and putting numbers on them, as at the
theater, to stow them away in the parlor that had been converted into a
coat-room. Cotoner directed the servants, smooth shaven or wearing
side-whiskers, and clad in faded dress-suits. Renovales meanwhile was
wreathed in smiles, bowing graciously, greeting the ladies who came in
their black or white mantillas, grasping the hands of the men, some of
whom wore brilliant uniforms.

The master felt elated at this procession which ceremoniously passed
through his drawing-rooms and studios. In his ears, the swish of skirts,
the movement of fans, the greetings, the praise of his good taste
sounded like caressing music. Everyone came with the same satisfaction
in seeing and being seen, which people reveal on a first night at the
theater or at some brilliant reception. Good music, presence of the
Nuncio, preparations for the luncheon which they seemed to sniff
already, and besides, the certainty of seeing their names in print the
next day, perhaps of having their picture in some illustrated magazine.
Emilia Renovales' wedding was an event.

Among the crowd of people that continued to pour in were seen several
young men, hastily holding up their cameras. They were going to have
snap-shots! Those who retained some bitterness against the artist,
remembering how dearly they had paid him for a portrait, now pardoned
him generously and excused his robbery. There was an artist that lived
like a gentleman! And Renovales went from one side to another, shaking
hands, bowing, talking incoherently, not knowing in which direction to
turn. For a moment, while he stood in the hall, he saw a bit of sunlit
garden, covered with flowers and beyond a fence a black mass: the
admiring, smiling throng. He breathed the odor of roses and subtle
perfumes, and felt the rapture of optimism flood his breast. Life was a
great thing. The poor rabble, crowded together outside, made him recall
with pride the blacksmith's son. Heavens, how he had risen! He felt
grateful to those wealthy, idle people who supported his well-being; he
made every effort so that they might lack nothing, and overwhelmed
Cotoner with his suggestions. The latter turned on the master with the
arrogance of one who is in authority. His place was inside, with the
guests. He need not mind him, for he knew his duties. And turning his
back on Mariano, he issued orders to the servants and showed the way to
the new arrivals, recognizing their station at a glance. "This way,
gentlemen."

It was a group of musicians and he led them through a servants' hallway
so that they might get to their stands without having to mingle with the
guests. Then he turned to scold a crowd of bakerboys, who were late in
bringing the last shipments of the luncheon and advanced through the
assemblage, raising the great, wicker baskets over the heads of the
ladies.

Cotoner left his place when he saw rising from the stairway a plush hat
with gold tassels over a pale face, then a silk cassock with purple sash
and buttons, flanked by two others, black and modest.

_"Oh, monsignore! Monsignore Orlandi! Va bene? Va bene?"_

He kissed his hand with a profound reverence, and after inquiring
anxiously for his health, as if he had not seen him the day before,
started off, opening a passage way in the crowded drawing-rooms.

"The Nuncio! The Nuncio of His Holiness!"

The men, with the decorum of decent persons, who know how to show
respect for dignitaries, stopped laughing and talking to the ladies, and
bent forward, as he passed, to take that delicate, pale hand, which
looked like the hand of a lady of the olden days, and kiss the huge
stone of its ring. The ladies, with moist eyes, looked for a moment at
Monsignor Orlandi,--a distinguished prelate, a diplomat of the Church,
a noble of the Old Roman nobility,--tall, thin, pale as chalk, with
black hair and imperious eyes in which there was an intense flash of
flame.

He moved with the haughty grace of a bull-fighter. The lips of the women
rested eagerly on his hand, while he gazed with enigmatical eyes at the
line of graceful necks bowed before him. Cotoner continued ahead,
opening a passage, proud of his part, elated at the respect which his
illustrious friend inspired. What a wonderful thing religion was!

He accompanied him to the sacristy, which once was the dressing-room for
the models. He remained outside, discreetly, but every other minute some
one of the Nuncio's attendants came out in search of him,--sprightly
young fellows with a feminine carriage and a faint suggestion of perfume
about them, who looked on the artist with respect, believing he was an
important personage. They called to Signor Cotoner, asking him to help
them find something Monsignor had sent the day before, and the Bohemian,
in order to avoid further requests, finally went into the dressing-room,
to assist in the sacred toilette of his illustrious friend.

In the drawing-rooms the company suddenly eddied, the conversation
ceased, and a throng of people, after crowding in front of one of the
doors, opened to leave a passage.

The bride, leaning on the arm of a distinguished gentleman, who was the
best man, entered, clad in white, ivory white her dress, snow white her
veil, pearl white her flowers. The only bright color she showed was the
healthy pink of her cheeks and the red of her lips. She smiled to her
friends, not bashfully nor timidly, but with an air of satisfaction at
the festivity and the fact that she was its principal object. After her
came the groom, giving his arm to his new mother, the painter's wife,
smaller than ever in her party-gown that was too large for her, dazed by
this noisy event that broke the painful calm of her existence.

And the father? Renovales was missing in the formal entrance; he was
very busy attending to the guests; a gracious smile, half hidden behind
a fan, detained him at one end of the drawing-room. He had felt some one
touch his shoulder and, turning around, he saw the solemn Count of
Alberca with his wife on his arm. The count had congratulated him on the
appearance of the studios; all very artistic. The countess had
congratulated him too, in a jesting tone, on the importance of this
event in his life. The moment of retiring, of saying good-by to youth
had come.

"They are shelving you, dear master. Pretty soon they will be calling
you grandfather."

She laughed with pleasure at the flush of pain these pitying words
caused him. But before Mariano could answer the countess, he felt
himself dragged away by Cotoner. What was he doing there? The bride and
groom were at the altar; Monsignor was beginning the service; the
father's chair was still vacant. And Renovales passed a tiresome
half-hour following the ceremonies of the prelate with an absent-minded
glance. Far away in the last of the studios, the stringed instruments
struck a loud chord and a melody of earthly mysticism poured forth from
room to room in the atmosphere laden with the perfume of crumpled roses.

Then a sweet voice, supported by others more harsh, began a prayer that
had the voluptuous rhythm of an Italian serenade. A passing wave of
sentimentality seemed to stir the guests. Cotoner, who stood near the
altar, in case Monsignor should need something, felt moved to tenderness
by the music, by the sight of that distinguished gathering, by the
dramatic gravity with which the Roman prelate conducted the ceremonies
of his profession. Seeing Milita so fair, kneeling, with her eyes
lowered under her snowy veil, the poor Bohemian blinked to keep back the
tears. He felt just as if he were marrying his own daughter. He who had
not had one!

Renovales sat up, seeking the countess's eyes above the white and black
mantillas. Sometimes he found them resting on him with a mocking
expression, at other times he saw them seeking Monteverde in the crowd
of gentlemen that filled the doorway.

There was one moment when the painter paid attention to the ceremony.
How long it was! The music had ceased; Monsignor, with his back to the
altar, advanced several steps toward the newly married couple, holding
out his hands, as if he were going to speak to them. There was a
profound hush and the voice of the Italian began to sound in the silence
with a sing-song mellowness, hesitating over some words, supplying them
with others of his own language. He explained to the man and wife their
duties and expatiated, with oratorical fire, in his praises of their
families. He spoke little of him; he was a representative of the upper
classes, from which rise the leaders of men; he knew his duties. She was
the descendant of a great painter whose fame was universal, of an
artist.

As he mentioned art, the Roman prelate was fired with enthusiasm, as if
he were speaking of his own stock, with the deep interest of a man whose
life had been spent among the splendid half-pagan decorations of the
Vatican. "Next to God, there is nothing like art." And after this
statement, with which he attributed to the bride a nobility superior to
that of many of the people who were watching her, he eulogized the
virtues of her parents. In admirable terms, he commended their pure love
and Christian fidelity, ties with which they approached together,
Renovales and his wife, the portal of old age and which surely would
accompany them till death. The painter bowed his head, afraid that he
would meet Concha's mocking glance. He could hear Josephina's stifled
sobs, with her face hidden in the lace of her mantilla. Cotoner felt
called upon to second the prelate's praises with discreet words of
approval.

Then the orchestra noisily began Mendelssohn's "Wedding March"; the
chairs ground on the floor as they were pushed back; the ladies rushed
toward the bride and a buzz of congratulations, shouted over the heads
of the company, and of noisy efforts to be the first to reach her,
drowned out the vibration of the strings and the heavy blast of the
brasses. Monsignor, whose importance disappeared as soon as the ceremony
was over, made his way with his attendants to the dressing-room, passing
unnoticed through the throng. The bride smiled with a resigned air amid
the circle of feminine arms that squeezed her and friendly lips that
showered kisses on her. She expressed surprise at the simplicity of the
ceremony. Was that all there was to it? Was she really married?

Cotoner saw Josephina making her way across the room, looking
impatiently among the shoulders of the guests, her face tinged with a
hectic flush. His instinct of a master of ceremonies warned him that
danger was at hand.

"Take my arm, Josephina. Let's go outside for a breath of fresh air.
This is unbearable."

She took his arm but instead of following him, she dragged him among the
people who crowded around her daughter until at last, seeing the
Countess of Alberca, she stopped. Her prudent friend trembled. Just what
he thought--she was looking for the other woman.

"Josephina, Josephina! Remember that this is Milita's wedding!"

But his advice was useless. Concha, seeing her old friend, ran toward
her. "Dear! So long since I've seen you! A kiss--another." And she
kissed her effusively. The little woman made one attempt to resist; but
then she submitted, dejectedly, smiling sadly, overcome by habit and
training. She returned her kisses coldly with an indifferent expression.
She did not hate Concha. If her husband did not go to her, he would go
to some one else; the real, the dangerous enemy was within him.

The bride and groom, arm in arm, smiling and somewhat fatigued by the
violent congratulations, passed through the groups of people and
disappeared, followed by the last chords of the triumphal march.

The music ceased, and the company crowded around the tables covered with
bottles, cold meats and confections, behind which the servants hurried
in confusion, not knowing how to serve so many a black glove or white
hand that seized the gold-bordered plates and the little pearl knives
crossed on the dishes. It was a smiling, well-bred riot, but they pushed
and trod on the ladies' trains and used their elbows, as if, now the
ceremony was over, they were all gnawed with hunger.

Plate in hand, stifled and breathless after the assault, they scattered
through the studios, eating even on the very altar. There were not
servants enough for so great a gathering; the young men, seizing bottles
of champagne, ran in all directions, filling the ladies' glasses. Amid
great merriment the tables were pillaged. The servants covered them
hastily and with no less speed the pyramids of sandwiches, fruits, and
sweets came down and the bottles disappeared. The corks popped two and
three at a time, in ceaseless crossfire.

Renovales ran about like a servant, loaded with plates and glasses,
going back and forth from the crowded tables to the corners where some
of his friends were seated. The Alberca woman assumed the airs of a
mistress; she made him go and come with constant requests.

On one of these trips he ran into his beloved pupil, Soldevilla. He had
not seen him for a long time. He looked rather gloomy, but he found some
consolation in looking at his waistcoat, a novelty that had made a "hit"
among the younger set; of black velvet with embroidered flowers and gold
buttons.

The master felt that he ought to console him,--poor boy! For the first
time he gave him to understand that he was "in the secret."

"I wanted something else for my daughter, but it was impossible. Work,
Soldevilla! Courage! We must not have any mistress except painting."

And content to have delivered this kindly consolation, he returned to
the countess.

At noon, the reception ended. López de Sosa and his wife reappeared in
traveling costume; he in a fox-skin overcoat, in spite of the heat, a
leather cap and high leggings; she in a long mackintosh that reached to
her feet and a turban of thick veils that hid her face, like a fugitive
from a harem.

At the door, the groom's latest acquisition was waiting for them--an
eighty horse-power car that he had bought for his wedding trip. They
intended to spend the night some hundred miles away in a corner of old
Castile, at an estate inherited from his father which he had never
visited.

A modern wedding, as Cotoner said, a honeymoon at full speed, without
any witness except the discreet back of the chauffeur. The next day they
expected to start for a tour of Europe. They would go as far as Berlin;
perhaps farther.

López de Sosa shook hands with his friends vigorously, like a proud
explorer, and went out to look over his car, before leaving. Milita
submitted to her friends' caresses, carrying away her mother's tears on
her veil.

"Good-by, good-by, my daughter!"

And the wedding was over.

Renovales and his wife were left alone. The absence of their daughter
seemed to increase the solitude, widening the distance between them.
They looked at each other hostilely, reserved and gloomy, without a
sound to break the silence and serve as a bridge to enable them to
exchange a few words. Their life was going to be like that of convicts,
who hate each other and walk side by side, bound with the same chain, in
tormenting union, forced to share the same necessities of life.

As a remedy for this isolation that filled them with misgivings they
both thought of having the newly married couple come to live with them.
The house was large, there was room for them all. But Milita objected,
gently but firmly, and her husband seconded her. He must live near his
coach house, his garage. Besides, where could he, without shocking his
father-in-law, put his collection of treasures, his museum of bull's
heads and bloody suits of famous toreadors, which was the envy of his
friends and an object of great curiosity for many foreigners.

When the painter and his wife were alone again, it seemed as though they
had aged many years in a month; they found their house more huge, more
deserted,--with the echoing silence of abandoned monuments. Renovales
wanted Cotoner to move to the house, but the Bohemian declined with a
sort of fear. He would eat with them; he would spend a great part of the
day at their house; they were all the family he had; but he wanted to
keep his freedom; he could not give up his numerous friends.

Well along in the summer, the master induced his wife to take her usual
vacation. They would go to a little known Andalusian watering-place, a
fishing village where the artist had painted many of his pictures. He
was tired of Madrid. The Countess of Alberca was at Biarritz with her
husband. Doctor Monteverde had gone there too, dragged along by her.

They made the trip, but it did not last more than a month. The master
hardly finished two canvases. Josephina felt ill. When they reached the
watering-place, her health improved greatly. She appeared more cheerful;
for hours at a time she would sit in the sand, getting tanned in the
sun, craving the warmth with the eagerness of an invalid, watching the
sea with her expressionless eyes, near her husband who painted,
surrounded by a semicircle of wretched people. She sang, smiled
sometimes to the master, as if she forgave him everything and wanted to
forget, but suddenly a shadow of sadness had fallen on her; her body
seemed paralyzed once more by weakness. She conceived an aversion to the
bright beach, and the life of the open air, with that repugnance for
light and noise which sometimes seizes invalids and makes them hide in
the seclusion of their beds. She sighed for her gloomy house in Madrid.
There she was better, she felt stronger, surrounded with memories; she
thought she was safer from the black danger that hovered about her.
Besides, she longed to see her daughter. Renovales must telegraph to his
son-in-law. They had toured Europe long enough; it was time for them to
come back; she must see Milita.

They returned to Madrid at the end of September, and a little later the
newly married couple joined them, delighted with their trip and still
more delighted to be at home again. López de Sosa had been greatly vexed
by meeting people wealthier than he, who humiliated him with their
luxury. His wife wanted to live among friends who would admire her
prosperity. She was grieved at the lack of curiosity in those countries
where no one paid any attention to her.

With the presence of her daughter, Josephina seemed to recover her
spirits. The latter frequently came in the afternoon, dressed in her
showy gowns, which were the more striking at that season when most of
the society folk were away from Madrid, and took her mother to ride in
the motor in the suburbs of the capital, sweeping along the dusty roads.
Sometimes, too, Josephina summoning her courage, overcame her bodily
weakness and went to her daughter's house, a second-story apartment in
the Calle de Olòzaga, admiring the modern comforts that surrounded her.

The master seemed to be bored. He had no portraits to paint; it was
impossible for him to do anything in Madrid while he was still saturated
with the radiant sun and the brilliant colors of the Mediterranean
shore. Besides, he missed the company of Cotoner, who had gone to a
historic little town in Castile, where with a comic pride he received
the honors due to genius, living in the palace of the prelate and
ruining several pictures in the Cathedral by an infamous restoration.

His loneliness made Renovales remember the Alberca woman with all the
greater longing. She, on her part, with a constant succession of letters
reminded the painter of her every day. She had written to him while he
was at the little village on the coast and now she wrote to him in
Madrid, asking him what he was doing, taking an interest in the most
insignificant details of his daily life and telling him about her own
with an exuberance that filled pages and pages, till every envelope
contained a veritable history.

The painter followed her life minute by minute, as if he were with her.
She talked to him about Darwin, concealing Monteverde under this name;
she complained of his coldness, of his indifference, of the air of
commiseration with which he submitted to her love. "Oh, master, I am
very unhappy!" At other times her letter was triumphant, optimistic; she
seemed radiant, and the painter read her satisfaction between the lines;
he divined her intoxication after those daring meetings in her own
house, defying the count's blindness. And she told him everything, with
shameless, maddening familiarity, as if he were a woman, as if he could
not be moved in the least by her confidences.

In her last letter, Concha seemed mad with joy. The count was at San
Sebastian, to take leave of the king and queen,--an important diplomatic
mission. Although he was not "in line," they had chosen him as a
representative of the most distinguished Spanish nobility to take the
Fleece to a petty prince of a little German state. The poor gentleman,
since he could not win the golden distinction, had to be contented with
taking it to other men with great pomp. Renovales saw the countess's
hand in all this. Her letters were radiant with joy. She was going to be
left alone with Darwin, for the noble gentleman would be absent for a
long time. Married life with the doctor, free from risk and disturbance!

Renovales read these letters merely out of curiosity; they no longer
awakened in him an intense or lasting interest. He had grown accustomed
to his situation as a confidant; his desire was cooled by the frankness
of that woman who put herself in his power, telling him all her secrets.
Her body was the only thing he did not know; her inner life he possessed
as did none of her lovers and he began to feel tired of this possession.
When he finished reading these letters, he would always think the same
thing. "She is mad. What do I care about her secrets?"

A week passed without any news from Biarritz. The papers spoke of the
trip of the eminent Count of Alberca. He was already in Germany with all
his retinue, getting ready to put the noble lambskin around the princely
shoulders. Renovates smiled knowingly, without emotion, without envy, as
he thought of the countess's silence. She had a great deal to take up
her time, no doubt, since she was left alone.

Suddenly one afternoon he heard from her in the most unexpected manner.
He was going out of his house, just at sunset, to take a walk on the
heights of the Hippodrome along the Canalillo to view Madrid from the
hill, when at the gate a messenger boy in a red coat handed him a
letter. The painter started with surprise on recognizing Concha's
handwriting. Four hasty, excited lines. She had just arrived that
afternoon on the French express with her maid, Marie. She was alone at
home. "Come, hurry. Serious news. I am dying." And the master hurried,
though the announcement of her death did not make much impression on
him. It was probably some trifle. He was used to the countess's
exaggeration.

The spacious house of the Albercas was dark, dusty and echoing like all
deserted buildings. The only servant who remained was the concierge. His
children were playing beside the steps as if they did not know that the
lady of the house had returned. Upstairs the furniture was wrapped in
gray covers, the chandeliers were veiled with cheese-cloth, the house
and glass of the mirrors were dull and lifeless under the coating of
dust. Marie opened the door for him and led the way through the dark,
musty rooms, the windows closed, and the curtains down, without any
light except what came through the cracks.

In the reception hall he ran into several trunks, still unpacked,
dropped and forgotten in the haste of arrival.

At the end of this pilgrimage, almost feeling his way through the
deserted house, he saw a spot of light, the door of the countess's
bedroom, the only room that was alive, lighted up by the glow of the
setting sun. Concha was there beside the window, buried in a chair, her
brow contracted, her glance lost in the distance, her face tinged with
the orange of the dying light.

Seeing the painter she sprang to her feet, stretched out her arms and
ran toward him, as if she were fleeing from pursuit.

"Mariano! Master! He has gone! He has left me forever!"

Her voice was a wail; she threw her arms around him, burying her face in
his shoulder, wetting his beard with the tears that began to fall from
her eyes drop by drop.

Renovales, under the impulse of his surprise, repelled her gently and he
made her go back to her chair.

"Who has gone away? Who is it? Darwin?"

Yes; he. It was all over. The countess could hardly talk; a painful sob
interrupted her words. She was enraged to see herself deserted and her
pride trampled on; her whole body trembled. He had fled at the height of
their happiness, when she thought that she was surest of him, when they
enjoyed a liberty they had never known. He was tired of her; he still
loved her,--as he said in a letter,--but he wanted to be free to
continue his studies. He was grateful to her for her kindness, surfeited
with so much love, and he fled to go into seclusion abroad and become a
great man, not thinking any more about women. This was the purpose of
the brief lines he had sent her on his disappearance. A lie, an absolute
lie! She saw something else. The wretch had run away with a cocotte who
was the cynosure of all eyes on the beach at Biarritz. An ugly thing,
who had some vulgar charm about her, for all the men raved over her.
That young "sport" was tired of respectable people. He probably was
offended because she had not secured him the professorship, because he
had not been made a deputy. Heavens! How was she to blame for her
failure? Had she not done everything she could?

"Oh, Mariano. I know I am going to die. This is not love; I no longer
care for him. I detest him! It is rage, indignation. I would like to get
hold of the little whipper-snapper, to choke him. Think of all the
foolish things I have done for him. Heavens! Where were my eyes!"

As soon as she discovered that she had been deserted, her only thought
was to find her good friend, her counselor, her "brother," to go to
Madrid, to see Renovales and tell him everything, everything! impelled
by the necessity of confessing to him even secrets whose memory made her
blush.

She had no one in the world who loved her disinterestedly, no one except
the master, and with the panicky haste of a traveler who is lost at
night, in the midst of a desert, she had run to him, seeking warmth and
protection.

This longing for protection came back to her in the master's presence.
She went to him again, clinging to him, sobbing in hysteric fear, as if
she were surrounded by dangers.

"Master, you are all I have; you are my life! You won't ever leave me,
will you? You will always be my brother?"

Renovales, bewildered at the unexpectedness of this scene, at the
submission of that woman who had always repelled him and now suddenly
clung to him, unable to stand unless her arms were clasped about his
neck, tried to free himself from her arms.

After the first surprise, the old coldness came over him. He was
irritated at this proud despair that was another's work.

The woman he had longed for, the woman of his dreams came to him, seemed
to give herself to him with hysteric sobs, eager to overwhelm him,
perhaps without realizing what she was doing in the thoughtlessness of
her abnormal state; but he pushed her back, with sudden terror,
hesitating and timid in the face of the deed, pained that the
realization of his dreams came, not voluntarily but under the influence
of disappointment and desertion.

Concha pressed close to him, eager to feel the protection of his
powerful body.

"Master! My friend! You won't leave me! You are so good!"

And closing her eyes that no longer wept, she kissed his strong neck,
and looked up with her eyes still moist, seeking his face in the shadow.
They could hardly see each other; the room was dim with mysterious
twilight,--all its objects indistinct as in a dream, the dangerous hour
that had attracted them for the first time in the seclusion of the
studio.

Suddenly she drew away in terror, fleeing from him, taking refuge in the
gloom, pursued by his eager hands.

"No, not that. We'll be sorry for it! Friends! Nothing more than friends
and always!"

Her voice, as she said this, was sincere, but weak, faint, the voice of
a victim who resists and has not the strength to defend himself.

When the painter awakened it was night. The light from the street lamps
shone through the window with a distant, reddish glow.

He shivered with a sensation of cold, as if he were emerging from under
an enticing wave where he had lain, he could not remember how long. He
felt weak, humiliated, with the anxiety of a child who has done
something wrong.

Concha was sobbing. What folly! It had been against her will; she knew
they would be sorry for it. But she was the first to recover her
calmness. Her outline rose on the bright background of the window. She
called the painter who stood in the shadow, ashamed.

"After all, there was no escape," she said firmly. "It was a dangerous
game and it could not end in any other way. Now I know that I cared for
you; that you are the only man for whom I can care."

Renovales was beside her. Their two forms made a single outline on the
bright background of the window, in a supreme embrace as though they
desired to take refuge in each other.

Her hands gently parted the heavy locks that hid the master's forehead.
She gazed at him rapturously. Then she kissed his lips with an endless
caress, whispering:

"Mariano, dear. I love you, I worship you. I will be your slave. Don't
ever leave me. I will seek you on my knees. You don't know how I will
care for you. You shall not escape me. You wanted it,--you ugly darling,
you big giant, my love."



V


One afternoon at the end of October, Renovales noticed that his friend
Cotoner was rather worried.

The master was jesting with him, making him tell about his labors as
restorer of paintings in the old church. He had come back fatter and
merrier, with a greasy, priestly luster. According to Renovales he had
brought back all the health of the clerics. The bishop's table with its
succulent abundance was a sweet memory for Cotoner. He extolled it and
described it, praising those good gentlemen who, like himself, lived
free from passion with no other voluptuousness in life than a refined
appetite. The master laughed at the thought of the simplicity of those
priests who in the afternoon, after the choir, formed a group around
Cotoner's scaffold, following the movements of his hands with wondering
eyes; at the respect of the attendants and other servants of the
episcopal palace, hanging on Don José's words, astonished to find such
modesty in an artist who was a friend of cardinals and had studied in
Rome.

When the master saw him so serious and silent that afternoon after
luncheon he wanted to know what was worrying him. Had they complained of
his restoration? Was his money gone? Cotoner shook his head. It was not
his affairs; he was worrying over Josephina's condition. Had he not
noticed her?

Renovales shrugged his shoulders. It was the usual trouble:
neurasthenia, diabetes, all those chronic ailments of which she did not
want to be cured, refusing to obey the physicians. She was thinner, but
her nerves seemed calmer; she cried less; she maintained a sad silence,
simply wanting to be alone and stay in a corner, staring into space.

Cotoner shook his head again. Renovales' optimism was not to be wondered
at.

"You are leading a strange life, Mariano. Since I came back from my
trip, you are a different man; I wouldn't know you. Once, you could not
live without painting and now you spend weeks at a time without taking
up a brush. You smoke, sing, walk up and down the studio and all at once
rush off, out of the house and go--well. I know where, and perhaps your
wife suspects it. You seem to be having a good time, master. The deuce
take the rest! But, man alive, come down from the clouds. See what is
around you; have some charity."

And good Cotoner complained bitterly of the life the master was
leading--disturbed by sudden impatience and hasty departures, from which
he returned absent-minded, with a faint smile on his lips and a vague
look in his eyes, as if he still relished the feast of memories he
carried in his mind.

The old painter seemed alarmed at Josephina's increasing delicacy, acute
consumption that still found matter to destroy in her organism wasted by
years of illness. The poor little woman coughed constantly and this
cough, that was not dry but prolonged and violent, alarmed Cotoner.

"The doctors ought to see her again."

"The doctors!" exclaimed Renovales, "What's the use? A whole medical
faculty has been here and to no avail. She doesn't mind them; she
refuses everything, perhaps to annoy me, to oppose me. There's no
danger; you don't know her. Weak and small as she is, she will outlive
you and me."

His voice shook with wrath, as if he could not stand the atmosphere of
that house where the only distractions he found were the pleasant
memories that took him away from it.

Cotoner's insistence finally forced him to call a doctor who was a
friend of his.

Josephina was provoked, divining the cause of their anxiety. She felt
strong. It was nothing but a cold; the coming of winter. And in her
glances at the artist there was reproach and insult for his attention
which she regarded as hypocrisy.

When the doctor and the painter returned to the studio after the
examination of the patient and stood face to face, the former hesitated
as if he was afraid to formulate his ideas. He could not say anything
with certainty; it was easy to make a mistake in regard to that weak
system that maintained itself only by its extraordinary reserve power.
Then he had recourse to the usual evasive measure of his profession. He
advised him to take her away from Madrid, a change of air,--a change of
life.

Renovales objected. Where could she go, now that winter was beginning,
when at the height of summer she had wanted to come home? The doctor
shrugged his shoulders and wrote out a prescription, revealing in his
expression the desire to write something, not to go away without leaving
a piece of paper as a trace. He explained various symptoms to the
husband in order that he might observe them in the patient and he went
away shrugging his shoulders again with a gesture that revealed
indecision and dejection.

Pshaw! Who knows? Perhaps! The system sometimes has unexpected
reactions, wonderful reserve power to resist disease.

This enigmatic consolation alarmed Renovales. He spied on his wife,
studying her cough, watching her closely when she did not see him. They
no longer spent the night together. Since Milita's marriage, the father
occupied her room. They had broken the slavery of the common bed that
tormented their rest. Renovales made up for this departure by going into
Josephina's chamber every morning.

"Did you have a good night? Do you want something?"

His wife's eyes greeted him with hostility.

"Nothing."

And she accompanied this brief statement by turning over in the bed,
disdainfully, with her back to the master.

The painter received these evidences of hostility with quiet
resignation. It was his duty; perhaps she might die! But this
possibility of death did not stir him; it left him cold and he was angry
at himself, as if two distinct personalities existed within him. He
reproached himself for his cruelty, his icy indifference before the
invalid who now produced in him only a passing remorse.

One afternoon at the Alberca woman's house, after one of their daring
meetings with which they defied the holy calm of the noble, who had now
returned from his trip, the painter spoke timidly of his wife.

"I shall have to come less; don't be surprised. Josephina is very ill."

"Very?" asked Concha.

And in the flash of her glance, Renovales thought he saw something
familiar, a blue gleam that had danced before him in the darkness of the
night with infernal glow, troubling his conscience.

"No, maybe it isn't anything. I don't believe there is any danger."

He felt forced to lie. It consoled him to discount her illness. He felt
that, by this voluntary deceit, he was relieving himself of the anxiety
that goaded him. It was the lie of the man who justifies himself by
pretending not to know the depth of the harm he has caused.

"It isn't anything," he said to his daughter, who, greatly alarmed at
her mother's appearance, came to spend every night with her. "Just a
cold. It will disappear as soon as good weather comes."

He had a fire in every fireplace in the house; the rooms were as hot as
a furnace. He declared loudly, without any show of excitement, that his
wife was merely suffering from a slight cold, and as he spoke with such
assurance, a strange voice seemed to cry within him: "You lie, she is
dying; she is dying and you know it."

The symptoms of which the doctor had spoken began to appear with ominous
regularity in fatal succession. At first he noticed only a constant high
fever that seemed to grow worse with severe chills at the end of the
afternoon. Then he observed sweats that were terrifying in their
frequency--sweats at night that left the print of her body on the
sheets. And that poor body, which grew more fragile, more like a
skeleton, as if the fire of the fever were devouring the last particle
of fat and muscle, was left without any other covering and protection
than the skin, and that too seemed to be melting away. She coughed
frequently; at all hours of the day and night her painful hacking
disturbed the silence of the house. She complained of a continual pain
in the lower part of her chest. Her daughter made her eat by dint of
coaxing, lifting the spoon to her mouth, as if she were a child. But
coughing and nausea made nutrition impossible. Her tongue was dry; she
complained of an infernal thirst that was devouring her.

Thus passed a month. Renovales, in his optimistic mood, strove to
believe that her illness would not last long.

"She is not dying, Pepe," he would say in a convinced tone, as if he
were disposed to quarrel with anyone who opposed this statement. "She is
not dying, doctor. You don't think she is, do you?"

The doctor would answer with his everlasting shrug. "Perhaps,--it's
possible." And as the patient refused to submit to an internal
examination, he was forced to inquire of the daughter and husband about
the symptoms.

In spite of her extreme emaciation, some parts of her body seemed to be
undergoing an abnormal swelling. Renovales questioned the doctor
frankly. What did he think of these symptoms? And the doctor bowed his
head. He did not know. They must wait: Nature has surprises. But
afterward, with sudden decision, he pretended that he wanted to write a
prescription, in order that he might talk with the husband alone in his
working studio.

"To tell you the truth, Renovales, this pitiful comedy is getting
tiresome. It may be all right for the others but you are a man. It is
acute consumption; perhaps a matter of days, perhaps a matter of a few
months; but she is dying and I know no remedy. If you want to, get some
one else."

"She is dying!" Renovales was dazed with surprise as if the possibility
of this outcome had never occurred to him. "She is dying!" And when the
doctor had gone away, with a firmer step than usual, as if he had freed
himself of a weight, the painter repeated the words to himself, without
their producing any other effect than leaving him abstracted in
senseless stupidity. She is dying! But was it really possible that that
little woman could die, who had so weighed on his life and whose
weakness filled him with fear?

Suddenly he found himself walking up and down the studio, repeating
aloud,

"She is dying! She is dying!"

He said it to himself in order that he might make himself feel sorry,
and break out into sobs of grief, but he remained mute.

Josephina was going to die--and he was calm. He wanted to weep; it
seemed to him a duty. He blinked, swelling out his chest, holding his
breath, trying to take in the whole meaning of his sorrow; but his eyes
remained dry; his lungs breathed the air with pleasure; his thoughts,
hard and refractory, did not shudder with any painful image. It was an
exterior grief that found expression only in words, gestures and excited
walking, his interior continued its old stolidness, as if the certainty
of that death had congealed it in peaceful indifference.

The shame of his villainy tormented him. The same instinct that forces
ascetics to submit themselves to mortal punishments for their imaginary
sins dragged him with the power of remorse to the sick chamber. He would
not leave the room; he would face her scornful silence; he would stay
with her till the end, forgetting sleep and hunger. He felt that he must
purify himself by some noble, generous sacrifice from this blindness of
soul that now was terrifying.

Milita no longer spent the nights caring for her mother and would go
home, somewhat to the discomfiture of her husband, who had been rather
pleased at this unexpected return to a bachelor's life.

Renovales did not sleep. After midnight when Cotoner went away he walked
in silence through the brilliantly lighted rooms; he prowled around the
chamber--entered it to see Josephina in bed, sweating, shaken from time
to time by a fit of coughing or in a deathlike lethargy, so thin and
small that the bed-clothes hardly showed the childlike outline of her
body. Then the master passed the rest of the night in an armchair,
smoking, his eyes staring but his brain drowsy with sleep.

His thoughts were far away. There was no use in feeling ashamed of his
cruelty; he seemed bewitched by a mysterious power that was superior to
his remorse. He forgot the sick woman; he wondered what Concha was doing
at that time; he saw her in fancy; he remembered her words, her
caresses; he thought of their nights of abandon. And when, with a
violent effort, he threw off these dreams, in expiation he would go to
the door of the sick chamber and listen to her labored breathing,
putting on a gloomy face, but unable to weep or feel the sadness he
longed to feel.

After two months of illness, Josephina could no longer stay in bed. Her
daughter would lift her out of it without any effort as if she were a
feather, and she would sit in a chair,--small, insignificant,
unrecognizable, her face so emaciated that its only features seemed to
be the deep hollows of her eyes and her nose, sharp as the edge of a
knife.

Cotoner could hardly keep back the tears when he saw her.

"There isn't anything left of her!" he would say as he went away. "No
one would know her!"

Her harrowing cough scattered a deathly poison about her. White foam
came to her lips where it seemed to harden in the corners. Her eyes grew
larger, they took on a strange glow as if they saw through persons and
things. Oh, those eyes! What a shudder of terror they awakened in
Renovales!

One afternoon they fell on him, with the intense, searching glance that
had always terrified him. They were eyes that pierced his forehead, that
laid bare his thoughts.

They were alone; Milita had gone home; Cotoner was sleeping in a chair
in the studio. The sick woman seemed more animated, eager to talk,
looking on her husband with a sort of pity as he sat beside her, almost
at her feet.

She was going to die; she was certain of death. And a last revolt of
life that recoils from the end, the horror of the unknown, made the
tears rise to her eyes.

Renovales protested violently, trying to conceal his deceit by his
shouts. Die? She must not think of that! She would live; she still had
before her many years of happy existence.

She smiled as if she pitied him. She could not be deceived; her eyes
penetrated farther than his; she divined the impalpable, the invisible
that hovered about her. She spoke weakly but with that inexplicable
solemnity that is characteristic of a voice that emits its last sounds,
of a soul that unbosoms itself for the last time.

"I shall die, Mariano, sooner than you think, later than I desire. I
shall die and you will be free."

He! He desire her death! His surprise and remorse made him jump to his
feet, wave his arms in angry protest, writhe, as if a pair of invisible
hands had just laid him bare with a rude wrench.

"Josephina, don't rave. Calm yourself. For God's sake don't talk such
nonsense!"

She smiled with a painful, horrible expression, but immediately her poor
face became beautiful with the serenity of one who is departing this
life without hallucinations or delirium, in perfect mental poise. She
spoke to him with the immense sympathy, the superhuman compassion of one
who contemplates the wretched stream of life, departing from its
current, already touching with her feet the shores of eternal shadow, of
eternal peace.

"I should not want to go away without telling you. I die knowing
everything. Do not move; do not protest. You know the power I have over
you. More than once I have seen you watching me in terror, so easily do
I read your thoughts. For years I have been convinced that all was over
between us. We have lived like good creatures of God--eating together,
sleeping together, helping each other in our needs. But I peered within
you; I looked at your heart. Nothing! Not a memory, not a spark of love.
I have been your woman, the good companion who cares for the house, and
relieves a man of the petty cares of life. You have worked hard to
surround me with comforts, in order that I might be contented and not
disturb you. But Love? Never. Many people live as we have--many of them;
almost all. I could not; I thought that life was something different and
I am not sorry to go away. Don't go into a rage; don't shout. You aren't
to blame, poor Mariano--It was a mistake for us to marry."

She excused him gently with a kindness that seemed not of this world,
generously passing over the cruelty and selfishness of a life she was
about to leave. Men like him were exceptional; they ought to live alone,
by themselves, like those great trees that absorb all the life from the
ground and do not allow a single plant to grow in the space which their
roots reach. She was not strong enough to stand isolation; in order to
live she must have the shadow of tenderness, the certainty of being
loved. She ought to have married a man like other men; a simple being
like herself, whose only longings were modest and commonplace. The
painter had dragged her into his extraordinary path out of the easy,
well-beaten roads that the rest follow and she was falling by the
wayside, old in the prime of her youth, broken because she had gone with
him in this journey which was beyond her strength.

Renovales was walking about with ceaseless protests.

"Why, what nonsense you are talking! You are raving! I have always loved
you, Josephina. I love you now."

Her eyes suddenly became hard. A flash of anger crossed their pupils.

"Stop; don't lie. I know of a pile of letters that you have in your
studio, hidden behind the books in your library. I have read them one by
one. I have been following them as they came; I discovered your hiding
place when you had only three of them. You know that I see through you;
that I have a power over you, that you can hide nothing from me. I know
your love affairs."

Renovales felt his ears buzzing, the floor slipping from under his feet.
What astounding witchcraft! Even the letters so carefully hidden had
been discovered by that woman's divining instinct!

"It's a lie!" he cried vehemently to conceal his agitation. "It isn't
love! If you have read them, you know what it is as well as I; just
friendship; the letters of a friend who is somewhat crazy."

The sick woman smiled sadly. At first it was friendship--even less than
that, the perverse amusement of a flighty woman who liked to play with a
celebrated man, exciting in him the enthusiasm of youth. She knew her
childhood companion; she was sure it would not go any farther; and so
she pitied the poor man in the midst of his mad love. But afterward
something extraordinary had certainly happened; something that she could
not explain and which had upset all of her calculations. Now her husband
and Concha were lovers.

"Do not deny it; it is useless. It is this certainty that is killing me.
I realized it when I saw you distracted, with a happy smile as if you
were relishing your thoughts. I realized it in the merry songs you sang
when you awoke in the morning, in the perfume with which you were
impregnated and which followed you everywhere. I did not need to find
any more letters. The odor around you, that perfume of infidelity, of
sin, which always accompanied you, was enough. You, poor man, came home
thinking that everything was left outside the door, and that odor
follows you, denounces you; I think I can still perceive it."

And her nostrils dilated, as she breathed with a pained expression,
closing her eyes as though she wished to escape the images which that
perfume called up in her. Her husband persisted in his denials, now that
he was convinced that she had no other proof of his infidelity. A lie!
An hallucination!

"No, Mariano," murmured the sick woman. "She is within you; she fills
your head; from here I can see her. Once a thousand mad fancies occupied
her place,--illusions of your taste, naked women, a wantonness that was
your religion. Now it is she who fills it. It is your desire incarnated.
Go on and be happy. I am going away--there is no place for me in the
world."

She was silent for a moment and the tears came to her eyes again at the
memory of the first years of their life together.

"No one has cared for you as I have, Mariano," she said with tender
regret. "I look on you now as a stranger, without affection and without
hate. And still, there was never a woman who loved her husband so
passionately."

"I worship you. Josephina, I love you just as I did when we first met
each other. Do you remember?"

But in spite of the emotion he pretended to show, his voice had a false
ring.

"Don't try to bluff, Mariano; it is useless; everything is over. You do
not care for me nor have I either any of the old feeling."

In her face there was an expression of wonder, of surprise; she seemed
terror-stricken at her own calmness that made her forgive thus
indifferently the man who had caused her so much suffering. In her
fancy, she saw a wide garden, flowers that seemed immortal and they were
withering and falling with the advent of winter. Then her thoughts went
beyond, over the chill of death. The snow was melting; the sun was
shining once more; the new spring was coming with its court of love and
the dry branches were growing green once more with another life.

"Who knows!" murmured the sick woman with her eyes closed. "Perhaps,
after I am dead, you will remember me. Perhaps you will care for me
then, and be grateful to one who loved you so. We want a thing when it
is lost."

The invalid was silent, exhausted by such an effort; she relapsed into
that lethargy which for her took the place of rest. Renovales, after
this conversation, felt his vile inferiority beside his wife. She knew
everything and forgave him. She had followed the course of his love,
letter by letter, look by look, seeing in his smiles the memory of his
faithlessness. And she was silent! She was dying without a protest! And
he did not fall at her feet to beg her forgiveness! And he remained
unmoved, without a tear, without a sigh!

He was afraid to stay alone with her. Milita came back to stay at the
house to care for her mother. The master took refuge in his studio; he
wanted to forget in work the body that was dying under the same roof.

But in vain he poured colors on his palette and took up brushes and
prepared canvases. He did nothing but daub; he could make no progress,
as if he had forgotten his art. He kept turning his head anxiously,
thinking that Josephina was going to enter suddenly, to continue that
interview in which she had laid bare the greatness of her soul and the
baseness of his own. He felt forced to return to her apartments, to go
on tiptoe to the door of the chamber, in order to be sure that she was
there.

Her emaciation was frightful; it had no limits. When it seemed that it
must stop, it still surprised them with new shrinking, as if after the
disappearance of her flesh, her poor skeleton was melting away.

Sometimes she was tormented with delirium, and her daughter, holding
back her tears, approved of the extravagant trips she planned, of her
proposals to go far away to live with Milita in a garden, where they
would find no men; where there were no painters--no painters.

She lived about two weeks. Renovales, with cruel selfishness, was
anxious to rest, complaining of this abnormal existence. If she must
die, why did she not end it as soon as possible, and restore the whole
house to tranquillity!

The end came one afternoon when the master, lying on a couch in his
studio, was re-reading the tender complaints of a scented little letter.
So long since she had seen him! How was the patient getting on? She knew
that his duty was there; people would talk if he came to see her. But
this separation was hard!

He did not have a chance to finish it. Milita came into the studio, in
her eyes that expression of horror and fright, which the presence of
death, the touch of his passage, always inspires, even if his arrival
has been expected.

Her voice came breathlessly, broken. Mamma was talking with her; she was
amusing her with the hope of a trip in the near future,--and all at once
a hoarse sound,--her head bent forward before it fell onto her
shoulder--a moment--nothing--just like a little bird.

Renovales ran to the bedroom, bumping into his friend Cotoner who came
out of the dining-room, running too. They saw her in an armchair,
shrunken, wilted, in the deathly abandon that converts the body into a
limp mass. All was over.

Milita had to catch her father, to hold him up. She had to be the one
who kept her calmness and energy at the critical moment. Renovales let
his daughter lead him; he rested his face on her shoulder, with sublime,
dramatic grief, with beautiful, artistic despair, still holding
absent-mindedly in his hand the letter of the countess.

"Courage, Mariano," said poor Cotoner, his voice choked with tears. "We
must be men. Milita, take your father to the studio. Don't let him see
her."

The master let his daughter guide him, sighing deeply, trying in vain to
weep. The tears would not come. He could not concentrate his attention;
a voice within him was distracting him,--the voice of temptation.

She was dead and he was free. He would go on his way, light-hearted,
master of himself, relieved of troublesome hindrances. Before him lay
life with all its joys, love without a fear or a scruple; glory with its
sweet returns.

Life was going to begin again.



PART III



I


Until the beginning of the following winter Renovales did not return to
Madrid. The death of his wife had left him stunned, as if he doubted its
reality, as if he felt strange at finding himself alone and master of
his actions. Cotoner, seeing that he had no ambition for work and would
lie on the couch in the studio with a blank expression on his face, as
if he were in a waking dream, interpreted his condition as a deep,
silent grief. Besides, it irritated him that as soon as Josephina was
dead, the countess began to come to the house frequently to see the
master and her dear Milita.

"You ought to go away,"--the old artist advised. "You are free; you will
be just as well off anywhere as here. What you need is a long journey;
that will take your mind off your trouble."

And Renovales started on his journey with the eagerness of a school-boy,
free for the first time from the vigilance of a family. Alone, rich,
master of his actions, he believed that he was the happiest being on
earth. His daughter had her husband, a family of her own; he saw himself
in welcome seclusion, without cares or duties, without any other ties
than the constant letters of Concha, which met him on his travels. Oh,
happy freedom!

He lived in Holland, studying its museums, which he had never seen:
then, with the caprice of a wandering bird, he went down to Italy where
he enjoyed several months of easy life, without any work, visiting
studios, receiving the honors due a famous master, in the same places
where once he had struggled, poor and unknown. Then he moved to Paris,
finally attracted by the countess, who was spending the summer at
Biarritz with her husband.

Concha's epistolary style grew more urgent. She had numerous objections
to a prolongation of the period of their separation. He must come back;
he had traveled enough. She could not stand it without seeing him; she
loved him; she could not live without him. Besides, as a last resource,
she spoke to him of her husband, the count, who, in his eternal
blindness, joined in his wife's requests asking her to invite the artist
to spend a while at their house in Biarritz. The poor painter must be
very sad in his bereavement and the kindly nobleman insisted on
consoling him in his loneliness. In his house, they would divert him;
they would be a new family for him.

The painter lived for a great part of the summer and all the autumn in
the welcome atmosphere of that home which seemed created for him. The
servants respected him, seeing in him the true master. The countess,
delirious after his long absence, was so reckless that the artist had to
restrain her, urging her to be prudent. The noble Count of Alberca was
unceasing in his sympathy. Poor friend! Deprived of his companion! And
by his expression he shared the horror he felt at the possibility of
being left a widower, without that wife who made him so happy.

At the beginning of winter Renovales returned to his house. He did not
experience the slightest emotion on entering the three great studios, on
passing through those rooms, which seemed more icy, larger, more hollow,
now that they were stirred by no other steps than his own. He could not
believe that a year had passed. All was the same as if he had been
absent for only a few days. Cotoner had taken good care of the house,
setting to work the concierge and his wife and the old servant who had
charge of cleaning the studios,--the only servants that Renovales had
kept. There was no dust, none of the close atmosphere of a house that
has long been closed. Everything appeared bright and clean, as if life
had not been interrupted in that house. The sun and air had been pouring
in the windows, driving out that atmosphere of sickness which Renovales
had left when he went away and in which he fancied he could feel the
trace of the invisible garb of death.

It was a new house, like the one he had known before in form, but as
fresh as a recently constructed building.

Outside of his studio nothing reminded him of his dead wife. He avoided
going into her chamber; he did not even ask who had the key. He slept in
the room that had formerly been his daughter's in a small, iron bed,
delighted to lead a modest, sober life in that princely mansion.

He took breakfast in the dining room at one end of the table, on a
napkin, oppressed by the size and luxury of the room which now seemed
vast and useless. He looked at the chair beside the fireplace, where the
dead woman had often sat. That chair with its open arms seemed to be
waiting for her trembling, bird-like little body. But the painter did
not feel any emotion. He could not even remember Josephina's face
exactly. She had changed so much! The last, that skeleton-like mask, was
the one he recalled the best, but he thrust it aside, with the
selfishness of a strong, happy man, who does not want to sadden his life
with unpleasant memories.

He did not see her picture anywhere in the house. She seemed to have
evaporated forever without leaving the least trace of her body on the
walls that had so often supported her tottering steps, on the stairways
that hardly felt the weight of her feet. Nothing; she was quite
forgotten. Within Renovales, the only trace of the long years of their
union that remained was an unpleasant feeling, an annoying memory that
made him relish all the more his new existence.

His first days in the solitude of the house brought new, intense joys.
After luncheon he would lie down on the couch in the studio, watching
the blue spirals of cigar smoke. Complete liberty! Alone in the world!
Life wholly to himself, without any care or fear. He could go and come
without a pair of eyes spying on his actions, without being reproached
with bitter words. That little door of the studio, which he used to
watch in terror, no longer opened, to let in his enemy. He could close
it, shutting out the world; he could open it and summon in a noisy,
scandalous stream, all that he fancied--hosts of naked beauties, to
paint in a wild bacchanalian rout, strange, black-eyed Oriental girls to
dance in morbid abandon on the rugs of the studio, all the disordered
illusions of his desire--the monstrous feasts of fancy which he had
dreamed of in his days of servitude. He was not sure where he could find
all this, he was not very eager to look for it. But the consciousness
that he could realize it without any obstacle was enough.

This consciousness of his absolute freedom, instead of urging him into
action, kept him in a state of calm, satisfied that he could do
everything, without the least desire to try anything. Formerly he used
to rage, complaining of his fetters. What things he would do if he were
free! What scandals he would cause with his daring! Oh, if he only were
not married to a slave of convention who tried to apply rules to his art
with the same formality which she had for her calls and her household
expenses!

And now that the slave of convention was gone, the artist remained in
sleepy comfort, looking like a timid lover, at the canvases he had begun
a year before, at his neglected palette, saying with false energy, "This
is the last day. To-morrow I will begin."

And the next day, noon came, and with it luncheon, before Renovales had
taken up a brush. He read foreign papers, magazines on art, looking up,
with professional interest, what the famous painters of Europe were
exhibiting or working on. He received a call from some of his humble
companions, and in their presence he lamented the insolence of the
younger generation, their disrespectful attacks, with the surliness of a
famous artist who is getting old and thinks that talent has died out
with him and that no one can take his place. Then the drowsiness of
digestion seized him, as it did Cotoner, and he submitted to the bliss
of short naps, the happiness of doing nothing. His daughter--all the
family he had--would receive more than she expected at his death. He had
worked enough. Painting, like all the arts, was a pretty deceit, for the
advancement of which men strove as if they were mad, until they hated it
like death. What folly! It was better to keep calm, enjoying your own
life, intoxicated with the simple animal joys, living for life's sake.
What good were a few more pictures in those huge palaces filled with
canvases, disfigured by the centuries, in which hardly a single stroke
was left as the author had made it? What good did it do the human race,
which changes its dwelling place every dozen centuries and has seen the
proud works of man, built of marble or granite, fall in ruins,--if a
certain Renovales produced a few beautiful toys of cloth and colors,
which a cigar stub could destroy, or a puff of wind, a drop of water
leaking through the wall, might ruin in a few years?

But this pessimistic attitude disappeared when some one called him
"Illustrious Master," or when he saw his name in a paper, and a pupil or
admirer manifested an interest in his work.

At present he was resting. He had not yet recovered from the shock. Poor
Josephina! But he was going to work a great deal; he felt a new strength
for works greater than any that he had thus far produced. And after
these exclamations, he would be seized with a mad desire for work and
would enumerate the pictures he had in mind, dwelling upon their
originality. They were bold problems in color, new technical methods
that had occurred to him. But these plans never passed the limits of
speech, they never reached the brush. The springs of his will, once
vibrant and vigorous, seemed broken or rusted. He did not suffer, he did
not desire. Death had taken away his fever for work, his artistic
restlessness, leaving him in the limbo of comfort and tranquillity.

In the afternoon, when he succeeded in throwing off his comfortable
torpor, he went to see his daughter, if she was in Madrid, for she very
frequently went with her husband on his automobile trips. Then he ended
the afternoon at the Albercas', where he often stayed till midnight.

He dined there almost every day. The count, accustomed to his society,
seemed as eager to see him as his wife. He spoke enthusiastically of the
portrait which Renovales was painting of him to go with Concha's. He
would make more progress when he secured some insignia of foreign orders
that were still lacking in his catalogue of honors. And the artist felt
a twinge of remorse as he listened to the good gentleman's simplicity,
while his wife, with mad recklessness, caressed him with her eyes,
leaned toward him as if she were on the point of falling into his arms.

Then, as soon as the husband went away, she would throw her arms about
him, hungry for him, defying the curiosity of the servants. Love that
was threatened with dangers seemed sweeter to her. And the artist took
pride in letting her worship him. He, who at first was the one who
implored and pursued, assumed now an air of passive superiority,
accepting Concha's homage.

Lacking enthusiasm for work, in order to keep up his reputation
Renovales took refuge in the official honors which are granted to
respected masters. He put off till the next day the new work, the great
work that was to call forth new cries of admiration over his name. He
would paint his famous picture of Phryne on a beach, when summer came,
and he could retire to the solitary shore, taking with him the perfect
beauty to serve as his model. Perhaps he could persuade the countess.
Who knows! She smiled with satisfaction every time she heard from his
lips the praise of her beauty. But meanwhile the master demanded that
people should remember his name for his earlier works, that they should
admire him for what he had already produced.

He was irritated at the papers, which extolled the younger generation,
remembered him only to mention him in passing, like a consecrated glory,
like a man who was dead and had his pictures in the Museo del Prado. He
was gnawed with dumb anger, like an actor who is tortured with envy,
seeing the stage occupied by others.

He wanted to work; he was going to work immediately. But as time passed,
he felt an increasing laziness, which incapacitated him for work, a
numbness in his hands, which he concealed even from his most intimate
friends, ashamed when he recalled his lightness of touch in the old
days.

"This will not last," he said to himself with the confidence of a man
who does not doubt his ability.

In one of his fanciful moods, he compared himself with a dog, restless,
fierce and aggressive when he is tormented with hunger, but gentle and
peaceable when he is surrounded with comforts. He needed his periods of
greed and restlessness, when he desired everything, when he could not
find peace for his work, and in the midst of his marital troubles
attacked the canvas as if it were an enemy, hurling colors on it
furiously, in slaps of light. Even after he was rich and famous, he had
had something to long for. "If I only were free! If I were master of my
time! If I lived alone, without a family, without cares; as a true
artist should live!" And now his wishes were fulfilled, he had nothing
to hope for, but he was a victim of laziness that amounted to
exhaustion, absolutely without desire, as if only wrath and restlessness
were for him the internal goad of inspiration.

The longing for fame tormented him; as the days went by and his name was
not mentioned, he believed that he had come to an obscure death. He
fancied that the youths turned their backs on him, to look in the
opposite direction, storing him away among the respected dead, admiring
other masters. His artistic pride made him seek opportunities for
notoriety, with the guilelessness of a tyro. He, who scoffed so at the
official honors and the "sheepfold" of the academies, suddenly
remembered that several years before, after one of his successes, they
had elected him a member of the Academy of Fine Arts.

Cotoner was astonished to see the importance he began to attach to this
unsolicited distinction, at which he had always laughed.

"That was a boy's joking," said the master gravely. "Life cannot always
be taken as a laughing matter. We must be serious, Pepe; we are getting
on in years, and we must not always make fun of things that are
essentially respectable."

Besides, he charged himself with rudeness. Those worthy personages, whom
he had often compared with all kinds of animals, no doubt thought it
strange that the years went by without his caring to occupy his seat. He
must go to the academic reception. And Cotoner, at his bidding, attended
to all the details, from taking the news to those worthies, in order
that they might set the date for the function, to arranging the speech
of the new Academician. For Renovales learned with some misgiving that
he must read a speech. He, accustomed to handling the brush and poorly
trained in his childhood, took up the pen with timidity, and even in his
letters to the Alberca woman preferred to represent his passionate
phrases with amusing pictures, to embodying them in words.

The old Bohemian got him out of this difficulty. He knew his Madrid
well. The secrets of the world which are detailed in the newspapers had
no mysteries for him. Renovales should have as magnificent a speech as
any one.

And one afternoon he brought to the studio a certain Isidro Maltrana,[A]
a diminutive, ugly young fellow with a huge head, and an air of
self-satisfaction and boldness that disgusted Renovales from the very
first. He was well dressed but the lapels of his coat were dirty with
ashes, and its collar was strewn with dandruff. The painter observed
that he smelt of wine. At first he pompously styled him master, but
after a few words he called him by name with disconcerting familiarity.
He moved about the studio as if it were his own, as if he had spent his
whole life in it, indifferent to its beautiful decorations.

It would not be any trouble for him to undertake the preparation of a
speech. That was his specialty. Academic receptions and works for
members of Congress were his best field. He understood that the master
needed him--a painter!

And Renovales, who was beginning to find this Maltrana fellow attractive
in spite of his insolence, drew himself up to his full height in the
majesty of his fame. If it was a question of doing a picture for
admission, he was the man. But a speech!

"Agreed: you shall have the speech," said Maltrana. "It's an easy
matter, I know the recipe. We shall speak of the holy traditions of the
past, we shall despise certain daring innovations on the part of the
inexperienced youth, which were perfectly proper twenty years ago, when
you were beginning, but which now are out of place. Do you care for a
thrust at modernism?"

Renovales smiled, enchanted at the frankness with which this young
fellow spoke of his task, and he moved one hand to suggest a balance.
"Man alive! Like this. A just mean is what we want."

"Of course, Renovales; flatter the old men and not quarrel with the
young. You are a real master. You will be pleased with my work."

With the calmness of a shopkeeper, before the artist had a chance to
speak of the charge, he broached the matter. It would be two thousand
_reales_; he had already told Cotoner. The low tariff; the one he set
for people he liked.

"A man must live, Renovales. I have a son."

And his voice grew serious as he said this; his face, ugly and cynical,
became noble for a moment, reflecting the cares of paternal love.

"A son, dear master, for whom I do anything that turns up. If it is
necessary I will steal. He is the only thing I have in the world. His
mother died in misery in the hospital. I dreamt of being something, but
you can't think of nonsense when you have a baby. Between the hope of
being famous and the certainty of eating--eating is the first."

But his tenderness was not of long duration. He recovered the cold,
mercenary expression of a man who goes through life in an armor of
cynicism, disillusioned by misfortune, setting a price on all his acts.
They agreed on the sum; he should receive it when he handed over the
speech.

"And if you print it, as I hope," he said as he went away, "I will read
the proof without any extra charge. Of course that is a special favor to
you, because I am one of your admirers."

Renovales spent several weeks in the preparations for his reception, as
if it were the most important event in his life. The countess also took
a great interest in the matter. She would see to it that it was a
distinguished function, something like the receptions of the French
Academy, described in the papers or in novels. All of her friends would
be present. The great painter would read his speech, the cynosure of a
hundred interested eyes, amid the fluttering of fans and the buzz of
conversation. An immense success which would enrage many artists who
were eager to get a foothold in high society.

A few days before the function, Cotoner handed him a bundle of papers.
It was a copy of the speech,--in a fair hand; it was already paid for.
And Renovales, with the instinct of an actor anxious to make a good
show, spent an afternoon, striding from studio to studio, with the
manuscript in one hand and making energetic gestures with the other,
while he read the paragraphs aloud. That impudent Maltrana was gifted!
It was a work that filled the simple artist with enthusiasm, in his
ignorance of everything except printing, a series of glorious trumpet
blasts, in which were scattered names, many names; appreciations in
tremulous rhetoric, historical summaries, so well rounded, so complete
that it seemed as though mankind had been living since the beginning of
the world with no other thought than Renovates' speech, and judging its
acts in order that he might give them a definite interpretation.

The artist felt a thrill of elevation as he repeated in eloquent
succession Greek names, many of which were mere sounds to him, for he
was not certain whether they were great sculptors or tragic poets.
Again, he experienced a sensation of self-satisfaction when he
encountered the names of Dante and Shakespeare. He knew that they had
not painted, but they ought to appear in every speech which was worthy
of respect. And when he came to the paragraphs on modern art, he seemed
to touch terra firma, and smiled with a superior air. Maltrana did not
know much about that subject; superficial appreciation of a layman; but
he wrote well, very well; he could not have done better himself. And he
studied his speech, till he could repeat whole paragraphs by heart,
paying particular attention to the pronunciation of the difficult names,
taking lessons from his most cultured friends.

"It is for appearance's sake," he said naïvely. "It is because I don't
want people to poke fun at me, even if I am only a painter."

The day of the reception he had luncheon long before noon. He scarcely
touched the food; this ceremony, which he had never seen, made him
rather worried. To his anxiety was added the irritation he always felt
when he had to attend to the care of his person.

His long years of married life had accustomed him to neglect all the
trivial, everyday needs of life. If he had to appear in different
clothes than usual, the hands of his wife and daughter deftly arranged
them for him. Even at the times of greatest ill-feeling, when he and
Josephina hardly spoke to each other, he noticed around him the
scrupulous order of that excellent housekeeper who removed all obstacles
from his way, relieving him of the ordinary cares of life.

Cotoner was away; the servant had gone to the countess's to take her
some invitations which she had asked for, at the last minute, for some
friends. Renovales decided to dress alone. His son-in-law and daughter
were going to come for him at two. López de Sosa had insisted on taking
him to the Academy in his car, seeking, no doubt, by this a little ray
of the splendor of official glory that was to be showered on his
father-in-law.

Renovales dressed himself, after struggling with the many difficulties
that arose from his lack of habit. He was as awkward as a child without
his mother's help. When at last he looked at himself in the mirror, with
his dress coat on and his cravat neatly tied, he heaved a sigh of
relief. At last! Now the insignia--the ribbon. Where could he find those
honorary trinkets? Since Milita's wedding he had not had them on, the
poor departed had put them away. Where could he find them? And hastily,
fearing the time would go by and his children would surprise him before
he finished the decoration of his person, out of breath, swearing with
impatience, wandering around in hopeless confusion, unable to remember
anything definitely, he entered the room his wife had used as a
wardrobe. Perhaps she had put away his insignia there. He opened the
doors of the great clothes-closets with a nervous pull. Clothes! Nothing
but clothes.

The odor of balsam, which made him think of the silent calm of the
woods, was mingled with a subtle, mysterious perfume, a perfume of years
gone by, of dead beauties, of forgotten memories, like the fragrance of
dried flowers. This odor came from the mass of clothes that hung there,
white, black, pink and blue dresses, with their colors dull and
indistinct, the lace crumpled and yellow, retaining in their folds
something of the living fragrance of the form they once had covered. The
whole past of the dead woman was there. With superstitious care, she had
stored away the gowns of the different periods of her life, as if she
had been afraid to get rid of them, to tear out a part of her life.

As the painter looked at some of these gowns, he felt the same emotion
as if they were old friends who had suddenly appeared like an unexpected
surprise. A pink skirt recalled the happy days in Rome; a blue suit
brought to his memory the Piazza di san Marco, and he thought he heard
the fluttering of the doves and the distant rumble of the noisy _Ride of
the Valkyries_. The dark, cheap suits that belonged to the cruel days of
struggle hung at the back of the closet, like the garb of suffering and
sacrifice. A straw hat, bright as a summer wood, covered with red
flowers and with cherries, seemed to smile to him from a shelf. Oh, he
knew that too! Many a time its sharp edge of straw had stuck into his
forehead, when at sunset on the roads of the Roman Compagna he used to
bend down, with his arm around his little wife's waist, to kiss her lips
that trembled softly, while from the distance in the blue mist came the
tinkle of the bells of the flocks and the mournful songs of the
drivers.

That youthful perfume, grown old in its confinement, which poured from
the closets in waves, with the rush of an old wine that escapes from the
dusty bottle in spurts, spoke to him of the past, calling up the joys
that were dead. His senses trembled, a subtle intoxication crept over
him. He fancied he had fallen into a sea of perfume that buffeted him
with its waves, playing with him as if he were an inert body. It was the
scent of youth that came back to him; the incense of the happy days,
fainter, more subtle with the regret of dead years. It was the perfume
of her beauty which one night in Rome had made him sigh admiringly.

"I worship you, Josephina. You are as fair as Goya's little _Maja_. You
are the _Maja Desnuda_."

Holding his breath like a swimmer, he delved into the depths of the
closets, reaching out his hands greedily, yet eager to get out of there,
to return, as soon as he could, to the surface, to the pure air. He came
upon card-board boxes, bundles of belts and old lace, without finding
what he was seeking. And every time that his trembling arms shook the
old clothes, the swinging of the skirts seemed to throw in his face a
wave of that dead, indefinable perfume which he breathed more with his
fancy than with his senses.

He wanted to get out as soon as possible. The insignia were not in the
wardrobe. Perhaps he would find them in the chamber. And for the first
time since the death of his wife, he ventured to turn the door key. The
perfume of the past seemed to go with him; it had penetrated through all
the pores of his body. He fancied he felt the pressure of a pair of
distant, enormous arms, that came from the infinite. He was no longer
afraid to enter the chamber.

He groped his way, looking for one of the windows. When the shutters
creaked and the sunlight rushed in, the painter's eyes, after a moment
of blinking, saw, like a sweet, faint smile, the glow of the Venetian
furniture.

What a beautiful artistic chamber! After a year of absence, the painter
admired the great clothes-press with its three mirrors, deep and blue as
only the mirror-makers of Murano could make them and the ebony of the
furniture inlaid with tiny bits of pearl and bright jewels, a specimen
of the artistic genius of ancient Venice in contact with Oriental
peoples. This furniture had been for Renovales one of the great
undertakings of his youth; the whim of a lover, eager to bestow princely
honors on his companion after years of strict economy.

They had always had their luxurious bedroom wherever they were, even at
the time of their poverty. In those hard days when he painted in the
attic and Josephina did the cooking, they had no chairs, they ate from
the same plate; Milita played with rag-dolls; but in their miserable,
whitewashed alcove were piled up with sacred respect all that furniture
of the fair-haired wife of some Doge, like a hope for the future, a
promise of better times. She, poor woman, with her simple faith, cleaned
it, worshiped it, waiting for the hour of magic transformation to move
them to a palace.

The painter glanced about the chamber calmly. He found nothing unusual
there, nothing that moved him. Cotoner had prudently hidden the chair in
which Josephina died.

The princely bed, with its monumental head and foot of carved ebony and
brilliant mosaic, looked vulgar with the mattresses piled in a heap.
Renovales laughed at the terror which had so often made him stop in
front of the locked door. Death had left no trace. Nothing there
reminded him of Josephina. In the atmosphere floated that smell of
closeness, that odor of dust and dampness which one finds in all rooms
that have long been closed.

The time was passing, the insignia must be found, and Renovales, already
accustomed to the room, opened the clothes-press, expecting to find them
in it.

There, too, the wood seemed to scatter, as he opened the door, a perfume
like that of the other room. It was fainter, more vague, more distant.

Renovales thought it was an illusion of his senses. But no; from the
depths of the clothes-press came an invisible vapor wrapping him in its
caressing breath. There were no clothes there. His eyes recognized
immediately in the bottom of a compartment the boxes he was looking for;
but he did not reach out his hands for them; he stood motionless, lost
in the contemplation of a thousand trivial objects that reminded him of
Josephina.

She was there, too; she came forth to meet him, more personal, more real
than from among the heap of old clothes. Her gloves seemed to preserve
the warmth and the outline of those hands which once had run caressingly
through the artist's hair, her collars reminded him of her warm ivory
neck where he used to place his kisses.

His hands turned over everything with painful curiosity. An old fan,
carefully put away, seemed to move him in spite of its sorry appearance.
Among its broken folds he could see a trace of old colors--a head he had
painted when his wife was only a friend--a gift for Señorita de
Torrealta who wanted to have something done by the young artist. At the
bottom of a case shone two huge pearls, surrounded by diamonds; a
present from Milan, the first jewel of real worth which he had bought
for his wife, as they were walking through the Piazza del Duomo; a whole
remittance from his manager in Rome invested in this costly trinket
which made the little woman flush with pleasure while her eyes rested
on him with intense gratitude.

His eager fingers, as they turned over boxes, belts, handkerchiefs and
gloves, came upon souvenirs with which her person was forever connected.
That poor woman had lived for him, only for him, as if her own existence
were nothing, as if it had no meaning unless it were joined with his. He
found carefully put away among belts and band-boxes--photographs of the
places where she had spent her youth; the buildings of Rome; the
mountains of the old Papal States, the canals of Venice--relics of the
past which no doubt were of great value to her because they called up
the image of her husband. And among these papers he saw dry, crushed
flowers, proud roses, or modest wild flowers, withered leaves, nameless
souvenirs whose importance Renovales realized, suspecting that they
recalled some happy moment completely forgotten by him.

The artist's portraits, at different ages, rose from all the corners,
entangled among belts or buried under the piles of handkerchiefs. Then
several bundles of letters appeared, the ink reddened with time, written
in a hand that made the artist uneasy. He recognized it; it was dimly
associated in his memory with some person whose name had escaped him.
Fool! It was his own handwriting, the laborious heavy hand of his youth
which was dexterous only with the brush. There in those yellow folds was
the whole story of his life, his intellectual efforts to say "pretty
things" like men who write. Not one was missing; the letters of their
early engagement when, after they had seen and talked to each other,
they still felt that they must put on paper what their lips did not
venture to say; others with Italian stamps, exuberant with extravagant
expressions of love, short notes he sent her when he was going to spend
a few days with some other artists at Naples, or to visit some dead
city in the Marcha; then the letters from Paris to the old Venetian
palace, inquiring anxiously for the little girl, asking about the
nursing, trembling with fear at the possibility of the inevitable
diseases of childhood.

Not one was lacking; all were there, put away like fetishes, perfumed
with love, tied up with ribbons like the balsam and swathings of a
mummified life. Her letters had had a different fate, her written love
had been scattered, lost in the void. They had been left forgotten in
old suits, burned in the fireplaces, or had fallen into strange hands,
where they provoked laughter at their tender simplicity. The only
letters he kept were a few of the other woman's and, as he thought of
this, he was seized with remorse, with infinite shame at his evil
doings.

He read the first lines of some of them, with a strange feeling, as if
they were written by another man, wondering at their passionate tone.
And it was he who had written that! How he loved Josephina then! It did
not seem possible that this affection could have ended so coldly. He was
surprised at the indifference of the last years; he no longer remembered
the troubles of their life together; he saw his wife now as she was in
her youth, with her calm face, her quiet smile and admiration in her
eyes.

He continued to read, passing eagerly from letter to letter. He wondered
at his own youth, virtuous in spite of his passionate nature, at the
chastity of his devotion to his wife, the only, the unquestionable one.
He experienced the joy, tinged with melancholy, which a decrepit old man
feels at the contemplation of his youthful portrait. And he had been
like that! From the bottom of his soul, a stern voice seemed to rise in
a reproachful tone, "Yes, like that, when you were good, when you were
honorable."

He became so absorbed in his reading that he did not notice the lapse of
time. Suddenly he heard steps in the distant hallway, the rustle of
skirts, his daughter's voice. Outside the house a horn was tooting; his
haughty son-in-law telling him to hurry; trembling with fear at the
prospect of being discovered, he took the insignia and the ribbons out
of their cases and hastily closed the door of the clothes-press.

The reception of the Academy was almost a failure for Renovales. The
countess found him very interesting, with his face pale with excitement,
his breast starred with jewels and his shirt front cut with several
bright lines of colors. But as soon as he stood up amid general
curiosity, with his manuscript in his hand, and began to read the first
paragraphs, a murmur arose which kept increasing and finally drowned out
his voice. He read thickly, with the haste of a school-boy who wants to
have it over, without noticing what he was saying, in a monotonous
sing-song. The sonorous rehearsals in the studio, the careful
preparation of dramatic gestures was forgotten. His mind seemed to be
somewhere else, far away from that ceremony; his eyes saw nothing but
the letters. The fashionable assemblage went out, glad they had gathered
and seen each other again. Many lips laughed at the speech behind their
gauze fans, delighted to be able to scratch indirectly his friend the
Alberca woman.

"Awful, my dear! Insufferably boring!"



II


As soon as he awoke the next day, Renovales felt that he must have open
air, light, space, and he went out of the house, not stopping in his
walk, up the Castellana, until he reached the clearing near the
Exhibition Hall.

The night before he had dined at the Albercas'--almost a formal banquet
in honor of his entrance into the Academy, at which many of the
distinguished gentlemen who formed the countess's coterie were present.
She seemed radiant with joy, as if she were celebrating a triumph of her
own. The count treated the famous master with greater respect than ever;
he had just advanced another step in glory. His respect for all honorary
distinctions made him admire that Academic medal, the only distinction
he could not add to his load of insignia.

Renovales spent a bad night. The countess's champagne did not agree with
him. He had gone home with a sort of fear, as if something unusual was
awaiting him which his uneasiness could not explain. He took off the
dress clothes which had been torturing him for several hours and went to
bed, surprised at the vague fear that followed him even to the
threshhold of his room. He saw nothing unusual around him, his room
presented the same appearance it always did. He feel asleep, overcome by
weariness, by the digestive torpor of that extraordinary banquet, and he
did not awake at all during the night; but his sleep was cruel, tossed
with dreams that perhaps made him groan.

On awakening, late in the morning, at the steps of his servant in the
dressing room, he realized by the tumbled condition of the bed-clothes,
by the cold sweat on his forehead and the weariness of his body what a
restless night he had passed amid nervous starts.

His brain, still heavy with sleep, could not unravel the memories of the
night. He knew only that he had had unpleasant dreams; perhaps he had
wept. The one thing he could recall was a pale face, rising from among
the black veils of unconsciousness, around which all his dreams were
centered. It was not Josephina; the face had the expression of a person
of another world.

But as his mental numbness gradually disappeared, while he was washing
and dressing, and while the servant was helping him on with his
overcoat, he thought, summoning his memories with an effort, that it
might be she. Yes, it was she. Now he remembered that in his dream he
had been conscious of that perfume which had followed him since the day
before, which accompanied him to the Academy, disturbing his reading,
and which had gone with him to the banquet, running between his eyes and
Concha's like a mist, through which he looked at her, without seeing
her.

The coolness of the morning cleared his mind. The wide prospect from the
heights of the Exhibition Hall seemed to blot out instantly the memories
of the night.

A wind from the mountains was blowing on the plateau near the
Hippodrome. As he walked against the wind, he felt a buzz in his ears,
like the distant roar of the sea. In the background, beyond the slopes
with their little red houses and wintry poplars, bare as broomsticks,
the mountains of Guadarrama stood out, luminously clear against the blue
sky, with their snowy crests and their huge peaks which seemed made of
salt. In the opposite direction, sunk in a deep cut, appeared the
covering of Madrid; the black roofs, the pointed towers--all indistinct
in a haze that gave the buildings in the background the vague blue of
the mountains.

The plateau, covered with wretched, thin grass, its furrows stiffly
frozen, flashed here and there in the sunlight. The bits of tile on the
ground, broken pieces of china and tin cans reflected the light as if
they were precious metals.

Renovales looked for a long while at the back of the Exhibition Palace;
the yellow walls trimmed with red brick which hardly rose above the edge
of the clearing; the flat zinc roofs, shining like dead seas; the
central cupola, huge, swollen, cutting the sky with its black curves,
like a balloon on the point of rising. From one wing of the Palace came
the sound of bugles, prolonging their warlike notes to the accompaniment
of the hoofbeats amid clouds of dust. Beside one door swords were
flashing and the sun was reflected on patent-leather hats.

The painter smiled. That palace had been erected for them, and now the
rural police occupied it. Once every two years Art entered it, claiming
the place from the horses of the guardians of peace. Statues were set up
in rooms that smelt of oats and stout shoes. But this anomaly did not
last long; the intruder was driven out, as soon as the place was
beginning to have a semblance of European culture, and there remained in
the Exhibition Palace the true, the national, the privileged police, the
sorry jades of holy authority which galloped down to the streets of
Madrid when its slothful peace was at rare intervals disturbed.

As the master looked at the black cupola, he remembered the days of
exhibitions; he saw the long-haired, anxious youths, now gentle and
flattering, now angry and iconoclastic, coming from all the cities of
Spain with their pictures under their arms and mighty ambitions in
their minds. He smiled at the thought of the unpleasantness and disgust
he had suffered under that roof, when the turbulent throng of artists
crowded around him, annoyed him, admiring him more because of his
position as an influential judge than because of his works. It was he
who awarded the prizes in the opinion of those young fellows who
followed him with looks of fear and hope. On the afternoon when the
prizes were awarded, groups rushed out to meet him in the portico at the
news of his arrival; they greeted him with extravagant demonstrations of
respect. Some walked in front of him, talking loudly. "Who? Renovales?
The greatest painter in the world. Next to Velásquez." And at the end of
the afternoon, when the two sheets of paper were placed on the columns
of the rotunda, with the lists of winners, the master prudently slipped
out to avoid the final explosion. The childish soul that every artist
has within him burst out frankly at the announcement. False pretences
were over; every man showed his true nature. Some hid between the
statues, dejected and ashamed, with their fists in their eyes, weeping
at the thought of the return to their distant home, of the long misery
they had suffered with no other hope than that which had just vanished.
Others stood straight as roosters, their ears red, their lips pale,
looking toward the entrance of the palace with flaming eyes, as if they
wanted to see from there a certain pretentious house with a Greek façade
and a gold inscription. "The fossil! It is a shame that the fortunes of
the younger men, who really amount to something, are entrusted to an old
fogey who has run out, a 'four-flusher' who will never leave anything
worth while behind him!" Oh, from those moments had arisen all the
annoyances of his artistic activity. Every time that he heard of an
unjust censure, a brutal denial of his ability, a merciless attack in
some obscure paper, he remembered the rotunda of the Exhibition, that
stormy crowd of painters around the bits of paper which contained their
sentences. He thought with wonder and sympathy of the blindness of those
youths who cursed life because of a failure, and were capable of giving
their health, their vigor, in exchange for the sorry glory of a picture,
less lasting even than the frail canvas. Every medal was a rung on the
ladder; they measured the importance of these awards, giving them a
meaning like that of a soldier's stripes. And he too had been young! He
too had embittered the best years of his life in these combats, like
amoebæ who struggle together in a drop of water, fancying they may
conquer a huge world! What interest had eternal beauty in these
regimental ambitions, in this ladder-climbing fever of those who strove
to be her interpreters?

The master went home. The walk had made him forget his anxiety of the
night before. His body, weakened by his easy life, seemed to acknowledge
this exercise with a violent reaction. His legs itched slightly, the
blood throbbed in his temples, it seemed to spread through his body in a
wave of warmth. He exulted in his power and tasted the joy of every
organism that is performing its functions in harmonious regularity.

As he crossed the garden, he was humming a song. He smiled to the
concierge's wife who had opened the gate for him and to the ugly
watchdog who came up with a caressing whine to lick his trousers. He
opened the glass door, passing from the noise outside into deep,
convent-like silence. His feet sank in the soft rugs; the only sounds
were the mysterious trembling of the pictures which covered the walls up
to the ceiling, the creaking of invisible wood-borers in the picture
frames, the swing of the hangings in a breath of air. Everything that
the master had painted; studies or whims, finished or unfinished, was
placed on the ground floor, together with pictures and drawings by some
famous companions or favorite pupils. Milita had amused herself for a
long time before she was married, in this decoration which reached even
to poorly lighted hallways.

As he left his hat and stick on the hat-rack, the eyes of the master
fell on a nearby water-color, as if this picture attracted his attention
among the others which surrounded it. He was surprised that he should
now notice it of a sudden, after passing by it so many times without
seeing it. It was not bad; but it was timid; it showed lack of
experience. Whose could it be? Perhaps Soldevilla's. But as he drew near
to see it better, he smiled. It was his own! How differently he painted
then! He tried to remember when and where he had painted it. To help his
memory, he looked closely at that charming woman's head, with its dreamy
eyes, wondering who the model could have been.

Suddenly a cloud came over his face. The artist seemed confused,
ashamed. How stupid! It was his wife, the Josephina of the early days,
when he used to gaze at her admiringly, delighting in reproducing her
face.

He threw the blame for his slowness on Milita and determined to have the
study taken away from there. His wife's portrait ought not be in the
hall, beside the hat-rack.

After luncheon he gave orders to the servant to take down the picture
and move it into one of the drawing-rooms. The servant looked surprised.

"There are so many portraits of the mistress. You have painted her so
many times, sir. The house is full."

Renovales mimicked the servant's expression. "So many! So many!" He knew
how many times he had painted her! With a sudden curiosity before going
to the studio, he entered the parlor where Josephina received her
callers. There, in the place of honor, he saw a large portrait of his
wife, painted in Rome, a dainty woman with a lace mantilla, a black
ruffled skirt and, in her hand, a tortoise-shell fan--a veritable Goya.
He gazed for a moment at that attractive face, shaded by the black lace,
its oriental eyes in sharp contrast to its aristocratic pallor. How
beautiful Josephina was in those days!

He opened the windows the better to see the portrait and the light fell
on the dark red walls making the frames of other smaller pictures flash.

Then the painter saw that the Goyesque picture was not the only one.
Other Josephinas accompanied him in the solitude. He gazed with
astonishment at the face of his wife, which seemed to rise from all
sides of the parlor. Little studies of women of the people or ladies of
the 18th century; water-colors of Moorish women; Greek women with the
stiff severity of Alma-Tadema's archaic figures; everything in the
parlor, everything he had painted, was Josephina, had her face, or
showed traces of her with the vagueness of a memory.

He passed to the adjoining parlor and there, too, his wife's face,
painted by him, came to meet him among other pictures by his friends.

When had he done all that? He could not remember; he was surprised at
the enormous quantity of work he had performed unconsciously. He seemed
to have spent his whole life painting Josephina.

Afterwards, in all the hallways, in all the rooms where pictures were
hung, his wife met his gaze, under the most varied aspects, frowning or
smiling, beautiful or sad with sickness. They were sketched, simple,
unfinished charcoal drawings of her head in the corner of a canvas, but
always that glance followed him, sometimes with an expression of
melancholy tenderness, sometimes with intense reproach. Where had his
eyes been? He had lived amid all this without seeing it. Every day he
had passed by Josephina without noticing her. His wife was resurrected;
henceforth, she would sit down at table, she would enter his chamber, he
would pass through the house always under the gaze of two eyes which in
the past had pierced into his soul.

The dead woman was not dead; she hovered about him, revived by his hand.
He could not take a step without seeing her face on every side. She
greeted him from above the doors, from the ends of the rooms she seemed
to call him.

In his three studios, his surprise was still greater. All his most
intimate painting, which he had done as study, from impulse, without any
desire for sale, was stored away there, and all was a memory of the dead
woman. The pictures which dazzled the callers were hung low, down on the
level of the eyes, on easels, or fastened to the wall, amid the
sumptuous furniture; up above, reaching to the ceiling were arranged the
studies, memories, unframed canvases, like old, forgotten works, and in
this collection at the first glance Renovales saw the enigmatic face
rising towards him.

He had lived without lifting his eyes, accustomed as he was to
everything about him, and looking around, without seeing, without
noticing those women, different in appearance but alike in expression,
who watched him from above. And the countess had been there several
afternoons, to see him alone in the studio! And the Persian silk
draperies, hung on lances before the deep divan, had not hidden them
from that sad, fixed gaze which seemed to multiply in the upper stretch
of the walls.

To forget his remorse, he amused himself by counting the canvases which
reproduced his wife's dainty little face. They were many--the whole life
of an artist. He tried to remember when and where he had painted them.
In the first days of his love, he felt that he must paint her, with an
irresistible impulse to transfer to the canvas everything he delighted
to see, everything he loved. Afterwards, it had been a desire to flatter
her, to coax her with a false show of affection, to convince her that
she was the only object of his artistic worship, copying her in a vague
likeness, giving to her features, marred by illness, a soft veil of
idealism. He could not live without working and, like many painters, he
used as models the people around him. His daughter had carried to her
new home a load of paintings, all the pictures, rough sketches,
water-colors and panels which represented her from the time she used to
play with the cat, dressing him in baby clothes, until she was a proud
young lady, courted by Soldevilla and the man who was now her husband.

The mother had remained there, rising after death about the artist in
oppressive profusion. All the little incidents in life had given
Renovales an occasion to paint new pictures. He recalled his enthusiasm
every time he saw her in a new dress. The colors changed her; she was a
new woman, so he would declare with a vehemence which his wife took for
admiration and which was merely the desire for a model.

Josephina's whole life had been fixed by her husband's hand. In one
canvas she appeared dressed in white, walking through a meadow with the
poetic dreaminess of an Ophelia; in another, wearing a large, plumed hat
covered with jewels, she showed the self-satisfaction of a
manufacturer's wife, secure in her well-being; a black curtain served as
a background for her bare neck and shoulders. In another picture she had
her sleeves rolled up; a white apron covered her from her breast to her
feet, on her forehead was a little wrinkle of care and weariness, and in
her whole mien the carelessness of one who has no time to attend to the
adornment of her person. This last was the portrait of the bitter days,
the image of the courageous housekeeper, without servants, working with
her delicate hands in a wretched attic, striving that the artist might
lack nothing, that the petty annoyances of life might not come to
distract him from his supreme efforts for success.

This portrait filled the artist with the melancholy which the memory of
bitter days inspires in the midst of comfort. His gratitude toward his
brave companion brought with it once more remorse.

"Oh, Josephina! Josephina!"

When Cotoner arrived, he found the master lying face down on the couch
with his head in his hands, as if he were asleep. He tried to interest
him by talking about the function of the day before. A great success;
the papers spoke of him and his speech, declaring that he was a great
writer and could win as marked a success in literature as in art. Had he
not read them?

Renovales answered with a bored expression. He had found them, when he
went out in the morning, on a table in the reception-room. He had cast a
glance at his picture surrounded by the solid columns of his speech but
he had put off reading the praises until later. They did not interest
him; he was thinking of something else--he was sad.

And in answer to Cotoner's anxious questions, who thought he must be
ill, he said quietly:

"I am well enough. It's melancholy. I'm tired of doing nothing. I want
to work and haven't the strength."

Suddenly he interrupted his old friend, pointing to all the portraits
of Josephina, as if they were new works which he had just produced.

Cotoner expressed surprise. He knew them all; they had been there for
years. What was strange about them?

The master told him of his recent surprise. He had lived beside them
without seeing them, he had just discovered them two hours before. And
Cotoner laughed.

"You are rather unsettled, Mariano. You live without noticing what is
around you. That is why you don't know of Soldevilla's marriage to a
rich girl. The poor boy was disappointed because his master was not
present at the wedding."

Renovales shrugged his shoulders. What did he care for such follies?
There was a long pause and the master, pensive and sad, suddenly raised
his head with a determined expression.

"What do you think of those portraits, Pepe?" he asked anxiously. "Is it
she? I couldn't have made a mistake in painting them, I couldn't have
seen her different from what she really was, could I?"

Cotoner broke out laughing. Really, the master was out of his mind. What
questions! Those portraits were marvels, like all of his work. But
Renovales insisted with the impatience of doubt. His opinion! Were those
Josephinas like his wife!

"Exactly," said the Bohemian. "Why, man alive, their fidelity to life is
the most astonishing thing about your portraits!"

He declared this confidently, but a shadow of doubt worried him. Yes, it
was Josephina, but there was something unusual, idealized about her. Her
features looked the same, but they had an inner light that made them
more beautiful. It was a defect he had always found in these pictures,
but he said nothing.

"And she," insisted the master, "was she really beautiful? What did you
think of her as a woman? Tell me, Pepe,--without hesitating. It's
strange, I can't remember very well what she was like."

Cotoner was disconcerted by these questions, and answered with some
embarrassment. What an odd thing! Josephina was very good--an angel; he
always remembered her with gratitude. He had wept for her as for a
mother, though she might almost have been his daughter. She had always
been very considerate and thoughtful of the poor Bohemian.

"Not that," interrupted the master. "I want to know if you thought she
was beautiful, if she really was beautiful."

"Why, man, yes," said Cotoner resolutely. "She was beautiful or, rather,
attractive. At the end she seemed a bit changed. Her illness! But all in
all, an angel."

And the master, calmed by these words, stood looking at his own works.

"Yes, she was very beautiful," he said slowly, without turning his eyes
from the canvases. "Now I recognize it; now I see her better. It's
strange, Pepe. It seems as if I have found Josephina to-day after a long
journey. I had forgotten her; I was no longer certain what her face was
like."

There was another long pause, and once more the master began to ply his
friend with anxious questions.

"Did she love me? Do you think she really loved me? Was it love that
made her sometimes act so--strangely?"

This time Cotoner did not hesitate as he had at the former questions.

"Love you? Wildly, Mariano. As no man has been loved in this world. All
that there was between you was jealousy--too much affection. I know it
better than anyone else; old friends, like me, who go in and out of the
house just like old dogs, are treated with intimacy and hear things the
husband does not know. Believe me, Mariano, no one will ever love you as
she did. Her sulky words were only passing clouds. I am sure you no
longer remember them. What did not pass was the other, the love she bore
you. I am positive; you know that she told me everything, that I was the
only person she could tolerate toward the end."

Renovales seemed to thank his friend for these words with a glance of
joy.

They went out to walk at the end of the afternoon, going toward the
center of Madrid. Renovales talked of their youth, of their days in
Rome. He laughed as he reminded Cotoner of his famous stock of Popes, he
recalled the funny shows in the studios, the noisy entertainments, and
then, after he was married, the evenings of friendly intercourse in that
pretty little dining-room on the Via Margutta; the arrival of the
Bohemian and the other artists of his circle to drink a cup of tea with
the young couple; the loud discussions over painting, which made the
neighbors protest, while she, his Josephina, still surprised at finding
herself the mistress of a household, without her mother, and surrounded
by men, smiled timidly to them all, thinking that those fearful
comrades, with hair like highwaymen but as innocent and peevish as
children, were very funny and interesting.

"Those were the days, Pepe! Youth, which we never appreciate till it has
gone!"

Walking straight ahead, without knowing where they were going, absorbed
in their conversation and their memories, they suddenly found themselves
at the Puerta del Sol. Night had fallen; the electric lights were
coming out; the shop windows threw patches of light on the sidewalks.

Cotoner looked at the clock on the Government Building.

"Aren't you going to the Alberca woman's house to-night?"

Renovales seemed to awaken. Yes, he must go; they expected him. But he
was not going. His friend looked at him with a shocked expression, as if
he considered it a serious error to scorn a dinner.

The painter seemed to lack the courage to spend the evening between
Concha and her husband. He thought of her with a sort of aversion; he
felt as if he might brutally repel her constant caresses and tell
everything to the husband in an outburst of frankness. It was a
disgrace, treachery--that life _à trois_ which the society woman
accepted as the happiest of states.

"It's intolerable," he said to dissipate his friend's surprise. "I can't
stand her. She's a regular barnacle, and won't let me go for a minute."

He had never spoken to Cotoner of his affair with the Alberca woman, but
he did not have to tell him anything, he assumed that he knew.

"But she's pretty, Mariano," said he. "A wonderful woman! You know I
admire her. You might use her for your Greek picture."

The master cast at him a glance of pity for his ignorance. He felt a
desire to scoff at her, to injure her, thus justifying his indifference.

"Nothing but a façade. A face and a figure."

And bending over toward his friend he whispered to him seriously as if
he were revealing the secret of a terrible crime.

"She's knock-kneed. A regular swindle."

A satyr-like smile spread over Cotoner's lips and his ears wriggled. It
was the joy of a chaste man; the satisfaction of knowing the secret
defects of a beauty who was out of his reach.

The master did not want to leave his friend. He needed him, he looked
at him with tender sympathy, seeing in him something of his dead wife.
When she was sad, he had been her confidant. When her nerves were on
edge, this simple man's words ended the crisis in a flood of tears. With
whom could he talk about her better?

"We will dine together, Pepe; we will go to the _Italianos_--a Roman
banquet, _ravioli_, _piccata_, anything you want and a bottle of Chianti
or two, as many as you can drink, and at the end sparkling Asti, better
than champagne. Does that suit you, old man?"

Arm in arm they walked along, their heads high, a smile on their lips,
like two young painters, eager to celebrate a recent sale with a
gluttonous relief from their misery.

Renovales went back into his memories and poured them out in a torrent.
He reminded Cotoner of a _trattoria_ in an alley in Rome, beyond the
statue of Pasquino, before you reach the Via Governo Vecchio, a chop
house of ecclesiastical quiet, run by the former cook of a cardinal. The
shelves of the establishment were always covered with the headgear of
the profession, priestly tiles. The merriment of the artists shocked the
sedate frugality of the habitues, priests of the Papal palace or
visitors who were in Rome scheming advancement; loud-mouthed lawyers in
dirty frock-coats from the nearby Palace of Justice, loaded with papers.

"What _maccheroni!_ Remember, Pepe? How poor Josephina liked it!"

They used to reach the _trattoria_ at night in a merry company--she on
his arm and around them the friends whose admiration for the promising
young painter attracted them to him. Josephina worshiped the mysteries
of the kitchen, the traditional secrets of the solemn table of the
princes of the Church, which had come down to the street, taking refuge
in that little room. On the white table cloth trembled the amber
reflection of the wine of Orvieto in decanters, a thick, yellow, golden
liquid, of clerical sweetness, a drink of old-time pontiffs, which
descended to the stomach like fire and more than once had mounted to
heads covered with the tiara.

On moonlit nights, they used to go from there and walk to the Colosseum
to look at the gigantic, monstrous ruin under the flood of blue light.
Josephina, shaking with nervous excitement, went down into the dark
tunnels, groping along among the fallen stones, till she was on the open
slope, facing the silent circle, which seemed to enclose the corpse of a
whole people. Looking around with anxiety, she thought of the terrible
beasts which had trod upon that sand. Suddenly came a frightful roar and
a black beast leaped forth from the deep vomitory. Josephina clung to
her husband, with a shriek of terror, and all laughed. It was Simpson,
an American painter, who bent over, walking on all fours, to attack his
companions with fierce cries.

"Do you remember, Pepe?" Renovales kept saying, "What days! What joy!
What a fine companion the little girl was before her illness saddened
her!"

They dined, talking of their youth, mingling with their memories the
image of the dead. Afterwards, they walked the streets till midnight,
and Renovales was always going back to those days, recalling his
Josephina, as if he had spent his life worshiping her. Cotoner was tired
of the conversation and said "Good-by" to the master. What new hobby was
this? Poor Josephina was very interesting, but they had spent the whole
evening without talking of anything else, as though memory of her was
the only thing in the world.

Renovales started home impatiently; he took a cab to get there sooner.
He felt as anxious as if some one were waiting for him; that showy
house, cold and solitary before, seemed animated with a spirit he could
not define, a beloved soul which filled it, pervading all like perfume.

As he entered, preceded by the sleepy servant, his first glance was for
the water-color. He smiled; he wanted to bid good-night to that head
whose eyes rested on him.

For all the Josephinas who met his gaze, rising from the shadow of the
walls, as he turned on the electric lights in the parlors and hallways,
he had the same smile and greeting. He no longer was uneasy in the
presence of those faces which he had looked at in the morning with
surprise and fear. She saw him; she read his thoughts; she forgave him,
surely. She had always been so good!

He hesitated a moment on his way, wishing to go to the studios and turn
on the lights. There he could see her full length, in all her grace; he
would talk to her, he would ask her forgiveness in the deep silence of
those great rooms. But the master stopped. What was he thinking of? Was
he going to lose his senses? He drew his hand across his forehead, as if
he wanted to wipe these ideas out of his mind. No doubt it was the Asti
that led him to such absurdities. To sleep!

When he was in the dark, lying in his daughter's little bed, he felt
uneasy. He could not sleep, he was uncomfortable. He was tempted to go
out of the room and take refuge in the deserted bed-chamber as if only
there could he find rest and sleep. Oh, the Venetian bed, that princely
piece of furniture which kept his whole history, where he had whispered
words of love; where they had talked so many times in low tones of his
longing for glory and wealth; where his daughter was born!

With the energy which showed in all his whims, the master put on his
clothes, and quietly, as if he feared to be overheard by his servant
who slept nearby, made his way to the chamber.

He turned the key with the caution of a thief, and advanced on tiptoe,
under the soft, pink light which an old lantern shed from the center of
the ceiling. He carefully stretched out the mattresses on the abandoned
bed. There were no sheets nor pillows. The room so long deserted was
cold. What a pleasant night he was going to spend! How well he would
sleep there! The gold-embroidered cushions from a sofa would serve as a
pillow. He wrapped himself in an overcoat and got into bed, dressed,
putting out the light so as not to see reality, to dream, peopling the
darkness with the sweet deceits of his fancy.

On those mattresses, Josephina had slept. He did not see her as in the
last days,--sick, emaciated, worn with physical suffering. His mind
repelled that painful image, bent on beautiful illusions. The Josephina
whom he saw, the Josephina within him, was the other, of the first days
of their love, and not as she had been in reality but as he had seen
her, as he had painted her.

His memory passed over a great stretch of time, dark and stormy; it
leaped from the regret of the present to the happy days of youth. He no
longer recalled the years of trying confinement, when they quarreled
together, unable to follow the same path. They were unimportant
disturbances in life. He thought only of her smiling kindness, her
generosity, and submissiveness. How tenderly they had lived together for
a part of their life, in that bed which now knew only the loneliness of
his body.

The artist shivered under his inadequate covering. In this abnormal
situation, exterior impressions called up memories--fragments of the
past that slowly came to his mind. The cold made him think of the rainy
nights in Venice, when it poured for hour after hour on the narrow
alleys and deserted canals in the deep, solemn silence of a city without
horses, without wheels, without any sound of life, except the lapping of
the solitary water on the marble stairways. They were in the same calm,
under the warm eider-down, amid the same furniture which he now half saw
in the shadow.

Through the slits of the lowered blind shone the glow of the lamp which
lighted the nearby canal. On the ceiling a spot of light flickered with
the reflection of the dead water, constantly crossed by lines of shadow.
They, closely embraced, watched this play of light and water above them.
They knew that outside it was cold and damp; they exulted in their
physical warmth, in the selfishness of being together, with that
delicious sense of comfort, buried in silence as if the world were a
thing of the past, as if their chamber were a warm oasis, in the midst
of cold and darkness.

Sometimes they heard a mournful cry in the silence. _Aooo!_ It was the
gondolier giving warning before he turned the corner. Across the spot of
light which shimmered on the ceiling slipped a black, Lilliputian
gondola, a shadow toy, on the stern of which bent a manikin the size of
a fly, wielding the oar. And, thinking of those who passed in the rain,
lashed by the icy gusts, they experienced a new pleasure and clung
closer to each other under the soft cider-down and their lips met,
disturbing the calm of their rest with the noisy insolence of youth and
love.

Renovales no longer felt cold. He turned restlessly on the mattresses;
the metallic embroidery of the cushions stuck in his face; he stretched
out his arms in the darkness, and the silence was broken by a despairing
cry, the lament of a child who demands the impossible, who asks for the
moon.

"Josephina! Josephina!"



III


One morning the painter sent an urgent summons to Cotoner and the latter
arrived in great alarm at the terms of the message.

"It's nothing serious," said Renovales. "I want you to tell me where
Josephina was buried. I want to see her."

It was a desire which had been slowly taking form in his mind during
several nights; a whim of the long hours of sleeplessness through which
he dragged in the darkness.

More than a week before, he had moved into the large chamber, choosing
among the bed linen, with a painstaking care that surprised the
servants, the most worn sheets, which called up old memories with their
embroidery. He did not find in this linen that perfume of the closets
which had disturbed him so deeply; but there was something in them, the
illusion, the certainty that she had many a time touched them.

After soberly and severely telling Cotoner of his wish, Renovales felt
that he must offer some excuse. It was disgraceful that he did not know
where Josephina was; that he had not yet gone to visit her. His grief at
her death had left him helpless and afterward, the long journey.

"You always know things, Pepe! You had charge of the funeral
arrangements. Tell me where she is; take me to see her."

Up to that time he had not thought of her remains. He remembered the day
of the funeral, his dramatic grief which kept him in a corner with his
face buried in his hands. His intimate friends, the elect, who
penetrated to his retreat, clad in black, and wearing gloomy faces,
caught his hand and pressed it effusively. "Courage, Mariano. Be strong,
master." And outside the house, a constant trampling of horses' feet;
the iron fence black with the curious crowd, a double file of carriages
as far as the eye could see; reporters going from group to group, taking
down names.

All Madrid was there. And they had carried her away to the slow step of
a pair of horses with waving plumes, amid the undertaker's men in white
wigs and gold batons--and he had forgotten her, had felt no interest in
seeing the corner of the cemetery where she was buried forever, under
the glare of the sun, under the night rains that dripped upon her grave.
He cursed himself now for this outrageous neglect.

"Tell me where she is, Pepe. Take me. I want to see her."

He implored with the eagerness of remorse; he wanted to see her once, as
soon as possible, like a sinner who fears death and cries for
absolution.

Cotoner acceded to this immediate trip. She was in the Almudena
cemetery, which had been closed for some time. Only those who had long
standing titles to a lot went there now. Cotoner had desired to bury
Josephina beside her mother in the same inclosure where the stone that
covered the "lamented genius of diplomacy" was growing tarnished. He
wanted her to rest among her own.

On the way, Renovales felt a sort of anguish. Like a sleep-walker he saw
the streets of the city passing by the carriage window, then they went
down a steep hill, ill-kempt gardens, where loafers were sleeping,
leaning against the trees, or women were combing their hair in the sun;
a bridge; wretched suburbs with tumble-down houses; then the open
country, hilly roads and at last a grove of cypress trees beyond an
adobe wall and the tops of marble buildings, angels stretching out their
wings with a trumpet at their lips, great crosses, torch-holders mounted
on tripods, and a pure, blue sky which seemed to smile with superhuman
indifference at the excitement of that ant, named Renovales.

He was going to see her; to step on the ground which covered her body;
to breathe an atmosphere in which there was still perhaps some of that
warmth which was the breath of the dead woman's soul. What would he say
to her?

As he entered the graveyard he looked at the keeper, an ugly, dismal old
fellow, as pale and yellow and greasy as a wax candle. That man lived
constantly near Josephina! He was seized with generous gratitude; he had
to restrain himself, thinking of his companion, or he would have given
him all the money he had with him.

Their steps resounded in the silence. They felt the murmuring calm of an
abandoned garden about them, where there were more pavilions and statues
than trees. They went down ruined colonnades, which echoed their steps
strangely; over slabs which sounded hollow under their feet,--the void,
trembling at the light touch of life.

The dead who slept there were dead indeed, without the least
resurrection of memory, completely deserted, sharing in the universal
decay,--unnamed, separated from life forever. From the beehive close by,
no one came to give new life with tears and offerings to the ephemeral
personality they once had, to the name which marked them for a moment.

Wreaths hung from the crosses, black and unraveled, with a swarm of
insects in their fragments. The exuberant vegetation, where no one ever
passed, stretched in every direction, loosening the tombstones with its
roots, springing the steps of the resounding stairways. The rain, slowly
filtering through the ground, had produced hollows. Some of the slabs
were cracked open, revealing deep holes.

They had to walk carefully, fearing that the hollow ground would
suddenly open; they had to avoid the depressions where a stone with
letters of pale gold and noble coats-of-arms lay half on its side.

The painter walked trembling with the sadness of an immense
disappointment, questioning the value of his greatest interests. And
this was life! Human beauty ended like this! This was all that the human
mind came to and here it must stop in all its pride!

"Here it is!" said Cotoner.

They had entered between two rows of tombs so close together that as
they passed they brushed against the old ornaments which crumbled and
fell at the touch.

It was a simple tomb, a sort of coffin of white marble which rose a few
inches above the ground, with an elevation at one end, like the bolster
of a bed and surmounted by a cross.

Renovales was cold. There was Josephina! He read the inscription several
times, as if he could not convince himself. It was she; the letters
reproduced her name, with a brief lament of her inconsolable husband,
which seemed to him senseless, artificial, disgraceful.

He had come trembling with anxiety at the thought of the terrible moment
when he should behold Josephina's last resting place. To feel that he
was near her, to tread upon the ground in which she rested! He would not
be able to resist this critical moment, he would weep like a child, he
would fall on his knees, sobbing in deadly anguish.

Well, he was there; the tomb was before his eyes and still, they were
dry; they looked about coldly in surprise.

She was there! He knew it from his friend's statement, from the
declamatory inscription on the tomb, but nothing warned him of her
presence. He remained indifferent, looking curiously at the adjoining
graves, filled with a monstrous desire to laugh, seeing in death only
his sardonic buffoon's mask.

At one side, a gentleman who rested under the endless list of his titles
and honors, a sort of Count of Alberca, who had fallen asleep in the
solemnity of his greatness, waiting for the angel's trumpet-blast to
appear before the Lord with all his parchments and crosses. On the
other, a general who rotted under a marble slab, engraved with cannon,
guns and banners, as though he hoped to terrify death. In what ludicrous
promiscuity Josephina had come to sleep her last sleep, mingled with,
forms she had not known in life! They were her eternal, her final
lovers; they carried her off from his very presence and forever,
indifferent to the pressing concerns of the living. Oh, Death! What a
cruel mocker! The earth! How cold and cynical!

He was sad and disgusted at human insignificance--but he did not weep.
He saw only the external and material--the form, always the concern of
his thoughts. Standing before the tomb he felt merely his vulgar
meanness, with a sort of shame. She was his wife; the wife of a great
artist.

He thought of the most famous sculptors, all friends of his; he would
talk to them, they should erect an imposing sepulcher with weeping
statues, symbolical of fidelity, gentleness and love, a sepulcher worthy
of the companion of Renovales. And nothing more; his thought went no
farther; his imagination could not pass beyond the hard marble nor
penetrate the hidden mystery. The grave was speechless and empty, in the
air there was nothing which spoke to the soul of the painter.

He remained indifferent, unmoved by any emotion, without ceasing for a
single moment to see reality. The cemetery was a hideous, gloomy,
repulsive place, with an odor of decay. Renovales thought he could
perceive a stench of putrefaction scattered in the wind which bent the
pointed tops of the cypresses, and swayed the old wreaths and the
branches of the rose bushes.

He looked at Cotoner with a sort of displeasure. He was to blame for his
coldness. His presence was a check on him which prevented him from
showing his feelings. Though a friend, he was a stranger, an obstacle
between him and the dead. He interfered with that silent dialogue of
love and forgiveness of which the master had dreamed as he came. He
would come back alone. Perhaps the cemetery would be different in
solitude.

And he came back; he came back the next day. The keeper greeted him with
a smile, realizing that he was a profitable visitor.

The cemetery seemed larger, more imposing in the silence of the bright,
quiet morning. He had no one to talk with; he heard no human sound but
that of his own steps. He went up stairways, crossed galleries, leaving
behind him his indifference, thinking anxiously that every step took him
farther from the living, that the gate with its greedy keeper was
already far away and that he was the only living being, the only one who
thought and could feel fear in the mournful city of thousands and
thousands of beings, wrapped in a mystery which made them imposing amid
the strange, dull sounds of the land beyond that terrifies with the
blackness of its bottomless abyss.

When he reached Josephina's grave, he took off his hat.

No one. The trees and the rose bushes trembled in the wind among the
cross paths. Some birds were twittering above him in an acacia, and the
sound of life, disturbing the rustling of the solitary vegetation, shed
a certain calm over the painter's spirit, blotted out the childish fear
he had felt before he reached there, as he crossed the echoing pavements
of the colonnades.

For a long time he remained motionless, absorbed in the contemplation of
that marble case obliquely cut by a ray of sunlight, one part golden,
the other blue in the shadow. Suddenly he shivered, as if he had
awakened at the sound of a voice,--his own. He was talking, aloud,
driven to cry out his thoughts, to stir this deathly silence with
something that meant life.

"Josephina. It is I. Do you forgive me?"

It was a childish longing to hear the voice from beyond that might pour
on his soul a balm of forgiveness and forgetting; a desire of humbling
himself, of weeping, of having her listen to him, smile to him from the
depth of the void, at the great revolution which had been carried out in
his spirit. He wanted to tell her--and he did tell her silently with the
speech of his feelings--that he loved her, that he had resuscitated her
in his thoughts, now that he had lost her forever, with a love which he
had never had for her in her earthly life. He felt ashamed before her
grave; ashamed of the difference of their fates.

He begged her forgiveness for living, for still feeling vigorous and
young, for now loving her without reality, in a wild hope, when he had
been cold and indifferent at her departure, with his thoughts on another
woman, hoping for her death with criminal craving. Wretch! And he was
still alive! And she, so kind, so sweet, buried forever, lost in the
depths of eternal, ruthless death!

He wept; at last he wept those hot, sincere tears which compel
forgiveness. It was the weeping which he had so long desired. Now he
felt that they approached each other, that they were almost together,
separated only by a strip of marble and a little earth. His fancy saw
her poor remains and in their decay he loved them, he worshiped them
with a calm passion that rose above earthly miseries. Nothing which had
once been Josephina's could cause him repugnance or horror. If he could
but open that white case! If he could kiss her, take her ashes with him,
that they might go with him on his pilgrimage, like the household gods
of the ancients! He no longer saw the cemetery, he did not hear the
birds nor the rustling of the branches; he seemed to live in a cloud,
looking only at that white grave, the marble slab,--the last resting
place of his beloved.

She forgave him; her body rose before him, such as it had been in her
youth, as he had painted it. Her deep eyes were fixed on his, eyes that
shone with love. He seemed to hear her childish voice laughing, admiring
little trifles, as in the happy days. It was a resurrection,--the image
of the dead woman was before him, formed no doubt by the invisible atoms
of her being which floated over her grave, by something of the essence
of her life which still fluttered around the material remains, reluctant
to say farewell before they started on the way that leads to the depths
of the infinite.

His tears continued to fall in the silence, in sweet relief; his voice,
broken by sobs, stilled the birds with fear. "Josephina! Josephina!" And
the echo answered with dull, mocking cries, from the smooth walls of the
mausoleums, from the invisible end of the colonnades.

The artist could not resist the temptation to step over the rusted
chains which surrounded the grave. To feel her nearer! To overcome the
short distance which separated them! To mock death with a loving kiss of
intense gratitude for forgiveness!

The huge frame of the master covered the slab of marble, his arms
encircled it as if he would pick it up from the ground and carry it away
with him. His lips eagerly sought the highest part of the stone.

He wished to find the spot which covered her face and he began to kiss
it, moving his head as if he were going to dash it against the marble.

A sensation of stone, warmed by the sun, on his lips; a taste of dust,
insipid and repulsive in his mouth. Renovales sat up, rose to his feet
as if he had awakened, as if the cemetery, until then invisible, was
suddenly restored to reality. The faint odor of decay once more struck
him.

Now he saw the grave, as he had seen it the day before. He no longer
wept. The immense disappointment dried his tears, though within him he
felt the longing for weeping increased. Horrible awakening! Josephina
was not there; only the void was about him. It was useless to seek the
past in the field of death. Memories could not be aroused in that cold
ground, stirred by worms and decay. Oh, where had he come to seek his
dreams! From what a foul dunghill he had tried to raise the roses of his
memories!

In fancy he saw her beneath that repugnant marble in all the
repulsiveness of death, and this vision left him cold, indifferent. What
had he to do with such wretchedness? No; Josephina was not there. She
was truly dead, and if he ever was to see her it would not be beside her
grave.

Once more he wept--not with external tears but within; he mourned the
bitterness of solitude, the inability to exchange a single thought with
her. He had so many things to tell her which were burning his soul! How
he would talk with her, if some mysterious power would bring her back
for an instant. He would implore her forgiveness; he would throw himself
at her feet, lamenting the error of his life, the painful deceit of
having remained beside her, indifferent, fostering hopes which had no
fulfillment, only to groan now in the torment of irreparable loss, with
a mad, thirsting love which worshiped the woman in death after scoring
her in life.

He would swear a thousand times the truth of this posthumous worship,
this desire aroused by death. And then he would lay her once more in her
eternal bed, and would depart in peace after his wild confession.

But it was impossible. The silence between them would last forever. He
must remain for all eternity with this confession of his thoughts,
unable to tell it to her, crushed beneath its weight. She had gone away
with rancor and scorn in her soul, forgetting their first love, and she
would never know that it had blossomed once more after her death.

She could not cast one glance back; she did not exist; she would never
again exist. All that he was doing and thinking, the sleepless nights
when he called to her in loving appeal, the long hours when he stood
gazing at her pictures,--all would be unknown to her. And when he died
in his turn, the silence and loneliness would be still greater. The
things which he had been unable to tell her would die with him and they
would both crumble away in the earth, strangers to each other,
prolonging their grievous error in eternity, unable to approach each
other, or see each other, without a saving word, condemned to the
fearful, unbounded void, over whose limitless firmament passed unnoticed
the desires and griefs of men.

The unhappy artist walked up and down enraged at his impotence. What
cruelty surrounded them? What dark, hard-hearted, implacable mockery was
that which drove them toward one another and then separated them
forever, forever! forbidding them to exchange a look of forgiveness, a
word to rectify their errors and to permit them to return to their
eternal sleep with new peace?

Lies--deceit that hovers about man, like a protecting atmosphere that
shields him in his path through the void of life. That grave with its
inscription was a lie; she was not there; it contained merely a few
remnants, like those of all the others, which no one could recognize,
not even he, who had loved her so dearly.

His despair made him lift his eyes to the pure, shining sky. Ah, the
heavens! A lie, too! That heavenly blue with its golden rays and
fanciful clouds was an imperceptible film, an illusion of the eyes.
Beyond the deceitful web which wraps the earth was the true heaven,
endless space, and it was black, ominously obscure, with the sputtering
spark of burning tears, of infinite worlds, little lamps of eternity in
whose flame lived other swarms of invisible atoms, and the icy, blind,
and cruel soul of shadowy space laughed at their passions and longings,
at the lies they fabricated incessantly to protect their ephemeral
existence, striving to prolong it with the illusion of an immortal soul.

All were lies which death came to unmask, interrupting men's course on
the pleasant path of their illusions, throwing them out of it with as
much indifference as their feet had crushed and driven to flight the
lines of ants which advanced amid the grass that was sowed with bony
remains.

Renovales was forced to flee. What was he doing there? What did that
deserted, empty spot of earth mean to him? Before he went away, with the
firm determination not to return again, he looked around the grave for
a flower, a few blades of grass, something to take with him as a
remembrance. No, Josephina was not there; he was sure, but like a lover,
he felt that longing, that passionate respect for anything which the
woman he loves had touched.

He scorned a cluster of wild-flowers which grew in abundance at the foot
of the grave. He wanted them from near the head and he picked a few
white buds close to the cross, thinking that perhaps their roots had
touched her face, that they preserved in their petals something of her
eyes, of her lips.

He went home downcast and sad, with a void in his mind and death in his
soul.

But in the warm air of the house, his love came forth to meet him; he
saw her beside him, smiling from the walls, rising out of the great
canvases. Renovales felt a warm breath on his face, as if those pictures
were breathing at once, filling the house with the essence of memories
which seemed to float in the atmosphere. Everything spoke to him of her,
everything was filled with that vague perfume of the past. Over there on
the graveyard hill was the wretched perishable covering. He would not
return. What was the use? He felt her around him, all that was left of
her in the world was enclosed in the house, as the strong odor remains
in a broken, forgotten perfume bottle. No, not in the house. She was in
him, he felt her presence within him, like those wandering souls of the
legends who took refuge in another's body, struggling to share the
dwelling with the soul which was mistress of the body. They had not
lived in vain so many years together--at first united by love and
afterward by habit. For half a lifetime, their bodies had slept in close
contact, exchanging through their open pores that warmth which is like
the breath of the soul. She had taken away a part of the artist's life.
In her remains, crumbling in the lonely cemetery, there was a part of
the master and he, in turn, felt something strange and mysterious which
chained him to her memory, which made him always long for that body--the
complement of his own--which had already vanished in the void.

Renovales shut himself up in the house, with a taciturn air and a gloomy
expression which terrified his valet. If Señor Cotoner came, he was to
tell him that the master had gone out. If letters came from the
countess, he could leave them in an old terra-cotta jar in the anteroom,
where the neglected calling cards were piling up. If it was she who
came, he was to close the door. He did not want anything to distract
him. Dinner should be served in the studio.

And he worked alone, without a model, with a tenacity which kept him
standing before the canvas until it was dark. Sometimes, when the
servant entered at nightfall, he found the luncheon untouched on the
table. In the evening the master ate in silence in the dining-room, from
sheer animal necessity, not seeing what he was eating, his eyes gazing
into space.

Cotoner, somewhat piqued at this unusual régime which prevented him from
entering the studio, would call in the evening and try in vain to
interest him with news of the world outside. He observed in the master's
eyes a strange light, a gleam of insanity.

"How goes the work?"

Renovales answered vaguely. He could see it soon--in a few days.

His expression of indifference was repeated when he heard the Countess
of Alberca mentioned. Cotoner described her alarm and astonishment at
the master's behavior. She had sent for him to find out about Mariano,
to complain, with tears in her eyes, of his absence. She had twice been
to the door of his house and had not been able to get in; she
complained of the servant and that mysterious work. At least he ought to
write to her, answer her letters, full of tender laments, which she did
not suspect were lying unopened and neglected in a pile of yellow cards.
The artist listened to this with a shrug of the shoulders as if he was
hearing about the sorrows of a distant planet.

"Let's go and see Milita," he said. "There isn't any opera to-night."

In his retirement the only thing which connected him with the outside
world was his desire to see his daughter, to talk to her, as if he loved
her with new affection. She was his Josephina's flesh, she had lived in
her. She was healthy and strong, like him, nothing in her appearance
reminded him of the other, but her sex bound her closely with the
beloved image of her mother.

He listened to Milita with smiles of pleasure, grateful for the interest
she manifested in his health.

"Are you ill, papa? You look poorly. I don't like your appearance. You
are working too much."

But he calmed her, swinging his strong arms, swelling out his lusty
chest. He had never felt better. And with the minuteness of a
good-natured grandfather he inquired about all the little displeasures
of her life. Her husband spent the day with his friends. She grew tired
of staying at home and her only amusement was making calls or going
shopping. And after that came a complaint, always the same, which the
father divined at her first words. López de Sosa was selfish, niggardly
toward her. His spendthrift habits never went beyond his own pleasures
and his own person; he economized in his wife's expenses. He loved her
in spite of that. Milita did not venture to deny it; no mistresses or
unfaithfulness. She would be likely to stand that! But he had no money
except for his horses and automobiles; she even suspected that he was
gambling, and his poor wife lived without a thing to her back, and had
to weep her requests every time she received a bill, little trifles of a
thousand pesetas or two.

The father was as generous to her as a lover. He felt like pouring at
her feet all that he had piled up in long years of labor. She must live
in happiness, since she loved her husband! Her worries made him smile
scornfully. Money! Josephina's daughter sad because she needed things,
when in his house there were so many dirty, insignificant papers which
he had worked so hard to win and which he now looked at with
indifference! He always went away from these visits amid hugs and a
shower of kisses from that big girl who expressed her joy by shaking him
disrespectfully, as if he were a child.

"Papa, dear, how good you are! How I love you!"

One night as he left his daughter's house with Cotoner, he said
mysteriously:

"Come in the morning, I will show it to you. It isn't finished but I
want you to see it. Just you. No one can judge better."

Then he added with the satisfaction of an artist:

"Once I could paint only what I saw. Now I am different. It has cost me
a good deal, but you shall judge."

And in his voice there was the joy of difficulties overcome, the
certainty that he had produced a great work.

Cotoner came the next day, with the haste of curiosity, and entered the
studio closed to others.

"Look!" said the master with a proud gesture.

His friend looked. Opposite the window was a canvas on an easel; a
canvas for the most part gray, and on this, confused, interlaced lines
revealing some hesitancy over the various contours of a body. At one end
was a spot of color, to which the master pointed--a woman's head which
stood out sharply on the rough background of the cloth.

Cotoner stood in silent contemplation. Had the great artist really
painted that? He did not see the master's hand. Although he was an
unimportant painter, he had a good eye, and he saw in the canvas
hesitancy, fear, awkwardness, the struggle with something unreal which
was beyond his reach, which refused to enter the mold of form. He was
struck by the lack of likeness, by the forced exaggeration of the
strokes; the eyes unnaturally large, the tiny mouth, almost a point, the
bright skin with its supernatural pallor. Only in the pupils of the eyes
was there something remarkable--a glance that came from afar, an
extraordinary light which seemed to pass through the canvas.

"It has cost me a great deal. No work ever made me suffer so. This is
only the head; the easiest part. The body will come later; a divine
nude, such as has never been seen. And only you shall see it, only you!"

The Bohemian no longer looked at the picture. He was gazing at the
master, astonished at the work, disconcerted by its mystery.

"You see, without a model. Without the real before me," continued the
master. "_They_ were all the guide I had; but it is my best, my supreme
work."

_They_ were all the portraits of the dead woman, taken down from the
walls and placed on easels or chairs in a close circle around the
canvas.

His friend could not contain his astonishment, he could not pretend any
longer, overcome by surprise.

"Oh, but it is---- But you have been trying to paint Josephina!"

Renovales started back violently.

"Josephina, yes. Who else should it be? Where are your eyes?"

And his angry glance flashed at Cotoner.

The latter looked at the head again. Yes, it was she, with a beauty that
was not of this world,--uncanny, spiritualized, as if it belonged to a
new humanity, free from coarse necessities, in which the last traces of
animal descent have died out. He gazed at the numerous portraits of
other times and recognized parts of them in the new work, but animated
by a light which came from within and changed the value of the colors,
giving to the face a strange unfamiliarity.

"You recognize her at last!" said the master, anxiously following the
impressions of his work in the eyes of his friend. "Is it she? Tell me,
don't you think it is like her?"

Cotoner lied compassionately. Yes, it was she, at last he saw her well
enough. She, but more beautiful than in life. Josephina had never looked
like that.

Now it was Renovales who looked with surprise and pity. Poor Cotoner!
Unhappy failure--pariah of art, who could not rise above the nameless
crowd and whose only feeling was in his stomach! What did he know about
such things? What was the use of asking his opinion?

He had not recognized Josephina, and nevertheless this canvas was his
best portrait, the most exact.

Renovales bore her within him, he saw her merely by retiring into his
thoughts. No one could know her better than he. The rest had forgotten
her. That was the way he saw her and that was what she had been.



IV


The Countess of Alberca succeeded in making her way, one afternoon, to
the master's studio.

The servant saw her arrive as usual in a cab, cross the garden, come up
the steps, and enter the reception room with the hasty step of a
resolute woman who goes straight ahead without hesitating. He tried to
block her way respectfully, going from side to side, meeting her every
time she started to one side to pass this obstacle. The master was
working! The master was not receiving callers! It was a strict order; he
could not make an exception! But she continued ahead with a frown, a
flash of cold wrath in her eyes, an evident determination to strike down
the servant, if it was necessary, and to pass over his body.

"Come, my good man, get out of the way."

And her haughty, irritated accent made the poor servant tremble and at a
loss to stop this invasion of rustling skirts and strong perfumes. In
one of her evolutions the fair lady ran into an Italian mosaic table, on
the center of which was the old jar. Her glance fell instinctively to
the bottom of the jar.

It was only an instant, but enough for her woman's curiosity to
recognize the blue envelopes with white borders, whose sealed ends stuck
out, untouched, from the pile of cards. The last straw! Her paleness
grew intense, almost greenish, and she started forward with such a rush
that the servant could not stop her and was left behind her, dejected,
confused, fearful of his master's wrath.

Renovales, alarmed by the sharp click of heels on the hard floor, and
the rustling of skirts, turned toward the door just as the countess made
her entrance with a dramatic expression.

"It's me."

"You? You, dear?"

Excitement, surprise, fear made the master stammer.

"Sit down," he said coldly.

She sat down on a couch and the artist remained standing in front of
her.

They looked at each other as if they did not recognize each other after
this absence of weeks which weighed on their memories as if it were of
years.

Renovales looked at her coldly, without the least tremble of desire, as
if it were an ordinary visitor whom he must get rid of as soon as
possible. He was surprised at her greenish pallor, at her mouth, drawn
with irritation, at her hard eyes which flashed yellow flames, at her
nose which curved down to her upper lip. She was angry, but when her
eyes fell on him, they lost their hardness.

Her woman's instinct was calmed when she gazed at him. He, too, looked
different in the carelessness of the seclusion; his hair tangled,
revealing the preoccupation, the fixed, absorbing idea, which made him
neglect the neatness of his person.

Her jealousy vanished instantly, her cruel suspicion that she would
surprise him in love with another woman, with the fickleness of an
artist. She knew the external evidence of love, the necessity a man
feels of making himself attractive, refining the care of his dress.

She surveyed his neglect with satisfaction, noticing his dirty clothes,
his long fingernails, stained with paint, all the details which revealed
lack of tidiness, forgetfulness of his person. No doubt it was a passing
artist's whim, a craze for work, but they did not reveal what she had
suspected.

In spite of this calming certainty, as Concha was ready to shed the
tears which were all prepared, waiting impatiently on the edge of her
eyelids, she raised her hands to her eyes, curling up on one end of the
couch, with a tragic expression. She was very unhappy; she was suffering
terribly. She had passed several horrible weeks. What was the matter?
Why had he disappeared without a word of explanation, when she loved him
more than ever, when she was ready to give up everything, to cause a
perfect scandal, by coming to live with him, as his companion, his
slave? And her letters, her poor letters, neglected, unopened, as if
they were annoying requests for alms. She had spent the nights awake,
putting her whole soul into their pages! And in her accent there was a
tremble of literary pique, of bitterness, that all the pretty things,
which she wrote down with a smile of satisfaction after long reflection,
remained unknown. Men! Their selfishness and cruelty! How stupid women
were to worship them!

She continued to weep and Renovales looked at her as if she were another
woman. She seemed ridiculous to him in that grief, which distorted her
face, which made her ugly, destroying her smiling, doll-like
impassibility.

He tried to offer excuses, that he might not seem cruel by keeping
silent, but they lacked warmth and the desire to carry conviction. He
was working hard; it was time for him to return to his former life of
creative activity. She forgot that he was an artist, a master of some
reputation, who had his duty to the public. He was not like those young
fops who could devote the whole day to her and pass their life at her
feet, like enamored pages.

"We must be serious, Concha," he added with pedantic coldness. "Life is
not play. I must work and I am working. I haven't been out of here for
I don't know how many days."

She stood up angrily, took her hands from her eyes, looked at him,
rebuking him. He lied; he had been out and it had never occurred to him
to come to her house for a moment.

"Just to say 'Good morning,' nothing more. So that I may see you for an
instant, Mariano, long enough to be sure that you are the same, that you
still love me. But you have gone out often; you have been seen. I have
my detectives who tell me everything. You are too well known to pass
unnoticed. You have been in the Museo del Prado mornings. You have been
seen gazing at a picture of Goya's, a nude, for hours at a time, like an
idiot. Your hobby is coming back again, Mariano! And it hasn't occurred
to you to come and see me; you haven't answered my letters. You feel
proud, it seems, content with being loved, and submit to being worshiped
like an idol, certain that the more uncivil you are, the more you will
be loved. Oh, these men! These artists!"

She sobbed, but her voice no longer preserved the irritated tone of the
first few moments. The certainty that she did not have to struggle with
the influence of another woman softened her pride, leaving in her only
the gentle complaint of a victim who is eager to sacrifice herself anew.

"But sit down," she exclaimed amid her sobs, pointing to a place on the
couch beside her. "Don't stand up. You look as if you wanted me to go
away."

The painter sat down timidly, taking care not to touch her, avoiding
those hands which reached out to him, longing for a pretext to seize
him. He saw her desire to weep on his shoulder, to forget everything,
and to banish her last tears with a smile. That was what always
happened, but Renovales, knowing the game, drew back roughly. That must
not begin again; it could, not be repeated, even if he wanted to. He
must tell her the truth at any cost, end it forever, throw off the
burden from his shoulders.

He spoke hoarsely, stammering, with his eyes on the floor, not daring to
lift them for fear of meeting Concha's which he felt were fixed upon
him.

For several days he had been meaning to write to her. He had been afraid
that he might not express his ideas clearly and so he had put off the
letter until the next day. Now he was glad she had come; he rejoiced at
the weakness of his valet, in letting her enter.

They must talk like good comrades who examine the future together. It
was time to put an end to their folly. They would be what Concha once
desired, friends--good friends. She was beautiful; she still had the
freshness of youth, but time leaves its mark, and he felt that he was
getting old; he looked at life from a height, as we look at the water of
a stream, without dipping into it.

Concha listened to him in astonishment, refusing to understand his
words. What did these scruples mean? After some digressions, the painter
spoke remorsefully of his friend, the Count of Alberca, a man whom he
respected for his very guilelessness. His conscience rose in protest at
the simple admiration of the good man. This daring deceit in his own
house, under his own roof, was infamous. He could not go on; they must
purify themselves from the past by being good friends, must say good-by
as lovers, without spite or antipathy, grateful to each other for the
happy past, taking with them, like dead lovers, their pleasant memories.

Concha's laugh, nervous, sarcastic, insolent, interrupted the artist.
Her cruel spirit of fun was aroused at the thought that her husband was
the pretext of this break. Her husband! And once more she began to laugh
uproariously, revealing the count's insignificance, the absolute lack
of respect which he inspired in his wife, or her habit of adjusting her
life as her fancy dictated, with never a thought of what that man might
say or think. Her husband did not exist for her; she never feared him;
she had never thought that he might serve as an obstacle, and yet her
lover spoke of him, presented _him_ as a justification for leaving her!

"My husband!" she repeated amid the peals of her cruel laughter. "Poor
thing! Leave him in peace; he has nothing to do with us. Don't lie;
don't be a coward. Speak. You've something else on your mind. I don't
know what it is; but I have a presentiment, I see it from here. If you
loved another woman! If you loved another woman!"

But she broke off this threatening exclamation. She needed only to look
at him to be convinced that it was impossible. His body was not perfumed
with love; everything about him revealed calm peace, without interests
or desires. Perhaps it was a whim of his fancy, some unbalanced caprice
which led him to repel her. And encouraged by this belief, she relaxed,
forgetting her anger, speaking to him affectionately, caressing him with
a fervor in which there was something at once of the mother and of the
mistress.

Renovales suddenly saw her beside him with her arms around his neck,
burying her hands in his tangled hair.

She was not proud; men worshiped her, but her heart, her body, all of
her belonged to the master, the ungrateful brute, who returned so ill
her affection that she was getting old with her trouble.

Suddenly filled with tenderness, she kissed his forehead generously and
purely. Poor boy! He was working so hard! The only thing the matter was
that he was tired out, distracted with too much painting. He must leave
his brushes alone, live, love her, be happy, rest his wrinkled forehead
behind which, like a curtain, an invisible world passed and repassed in
perpetual revolution.

"Let me kiss your pretty forehead again, so that the hobgoblins within
may be silent and sleep."

And she kissed once more his _pretty_ forehead, delighting in caressing
with her lips the furrows and prominences of its irregular surface,
rough as volcanic ground.

For a long time her wheedling voice, with an exaggerated childish lisp,
sounded in the silence of the studio. She was jealous of painting, the
cruel mistress, exacting and repugnant, who seemed to drive her poor
baby mad. One of these days, master, the studio would catch on fire
together with all its pictures. She tried to draw him to her, to make
him sit on her lap, so that she might rock him like a child.

"Look here, Mariano, dear. Laugh for your Concha. Laugh, you big stupid!
Laugh, or I'll whip you."

He laughed, but it was forced. He tried to resist her fondling, tired of
those childish tricks which once were his delight. He remained
indifferent to those hands, those lips, to the warmth of that body which
rubbed against him without awakening the least desire. And he had loved
that woman! For her he had committed the terrible, irreparable crime
which would make him drag the chain of remorse forever! What surprises
life has in store!

The painter's coldness finally had its effect on the Alberca woman. She
seemed to awaken from the dream, in which she was lulling herself. She
drew back from her lover, and looked at him fixedly with imperious eyes,
in which a spark of pride was once more beginning to flash.

"Say that you love me! Say it at once! I need it!"

But in vain did she show her authority; in vain she brought her eyes
close to him, as if she wished to look within him. The artist smiled
faintly, murmured evasive words, refused to comply with her demands.

"Say it out loud, so that I can hear it. Say that you love me. Call me
Phryne, as you used to when you worshiped me on your knees, kissing my
body!"

He said nothing. He hung his head in shame at the memory, so as not to
see her.

The countess stood up nervously. In her anger, she drew back to the
middle of the studio, her hands clenched, her lips quivering, her eyes
flashing. She wanted to destroy something, to fall on the floor in a
convulsion. She hesitated whether to break an Arabic amphora close by,
or to fall on that bowed head and scratch it with her nails. Wretch! She
had loved him so dearly; she still cared for him so, feeling bound to
him by both vanity and habit!

"Say whether you love me," she cried. "Say it once and for all! Yes or
no?"

Still she obtained no answer. The silence was trying. Once more she
believed there was another love, a woman who had come to occupy her
place. But who was it? Where could he have found her? Her woman's
instinct made her turn her head and glance into the next studio and
beyond into the last, the real workshop of the master. Warned by a
mysterious intuition, she started to run toward it. There! Perhaps
there! The painter's steps sounded behind her. He had started from his
dejection when he saw her fleeing; he followed her in a frenzy of fear.
Concha foresaw that she was going to know the truth; a cruel truth with
all the crudeness of a discovery in broad daylight. She stopped,
scowling with a mental effort before that portrait which seemed to
dominate the studio, occupying the best easel, in the most advantageous
position, in spite of the solitary gray of its canvas.

The master saw in Concha's face the same expression of doubt and
surprise which he had seen in Cotoner's. Who was that? But the
hesitation was shorter; her woman's pride sharpened her senses. She saw
beyond that unrecognizable head the circle of older portraits which
seemed to guard it.

Ah! The immense surprise in her eyes; the cold astonishment in the
glance she fixed on the painter as she surveyed him from head to foot!

"Is it Josephina?"

He bowed his head in mute assent. But his silence seemed to him
cowardly; he felt that he must cry out in the presence of those
canvases, what he had not dared to say outside. It was a longing to
flatter the dead woman, to implore her forgiveness, by confessing his
hopeless love.

"Yes, it is Josephina."

And he said it with spirit, going forward a step, looking at Concha as
if she were an enemy, with a sort of hostility in his eyes which did not
escape her notice.

They did not say anything more. The countess could not speak. Her
surprise passed the limits of the probable, the known.

In love with his wife,--and after she was dead! Shut up like a hermit in
order to paint her with a beauty which she had never had. Life brings
surprises, but this surely had never been seen before.

She felt as if she were falling, falling, driven by astonishment and, at
the end of the fall, she found that she was changed, without a complaint
or pang of grief. Everything about her seemed strange--the room, the
man, the pictures. This whole affair went beyond her power of
conception. Had she found a woman there, it would have made her weep and
shriek with grief, roll on the floor, love the master still more with
the stimulus of jealousy. But to find that her rival was a dead woman!
And more than that--his wife! It seemed supremely ridiculous, she felt a
mad desire to laugh. But she did not laugh. She recalled the unusual
expression she had noticed on the master's face, when she entered the
studio; she thought that now she saw in his eyes a spark of that same
gleam.

Suddenly she felt afraid; afraid of the man who looked at her in silence
as if he did not know her and toward whom she felt the same strangeness.

Still she had for him a glance of sympathy, of that tenderness which
every woman feels in the presence of unhappiness, even if it afflicts a
stranger. Poor Mariano! All was over between them; she took care not to
speak intimately to him; she held out her gloved hand with the gesture
of an unapproachable lady. For a long time they stood in this position,
speaking only with their eyes.

"Good-by, master; take care of yourself! Don't bother to come with me. I
know the way. Go on with your work. Paint----"

Her heels clicked nervously on the waxed floor as she left the room,
which she was never to enter again. The swish of her skirts scattered
their wake of perfumes in the studio for the last time.

Renovales breathed more freely when he was left alone. He had ended
forever the error of his life. The only thing in this visit that left a
sting was the countess's hesitation before the portrait. She had
recognized it sooner than Cotoner, but she too had hesitated. No one
remembered Josephina; he alone kept her image.

That same afternoon, before his old friend came, the master received
another call. His daughter appeared in the studio. Renovates had
divined that it was she before she entered, by the whirl of joy and
overflowing life which seemed to precede her.

She had come to see him; she had promised him a visit months ago. And
her father smiled indulgently, recalling some of her complaints when he
last visited her. Just to see him?

Milita pretended to be absorbed in examining the studio which she had
not entered for a long time.

"Look!" she exclaimed. "Why, it's mamma!"

She looked at the picture with astonishment, but the master seemed
pleased at the readiness with which she had recognized her. At last, his
daughter! The instinct of blood! The poor master did not see the hasty
glance at the other portraits which had guided the girl in her
induction.

"Do you like it? Is it she?" he asked as anxiously as a novice.

Milita answered rather vaguely. Yes, it was good; perhaps a little more
beautiful than she was. She never knew her like that.

"That is true," said the master, "You never saw her in her good days.
But she was like that before you were born. Your poor mother was very
beautiful."

But his daughter did not manifest any great enthusiasm over the picture.
It seemed strange to her. Why was the head at one end of the canvas?
What was he going to add? What did those lines mean? The master tried to
explain, almost blushing, afraid to tell his intention to his daughter,
suddenly overcome by paternal modesty. He was not sure as yet what he
would do; he had to decide on a dress to suit her. And in a sudden
access of tenderness, his eyes grew moist and he kissed his daughter.

"Do you remember her well, Milita? She was very good, wasn't she?"

His daughter felt infected by her father's sadness, but only for a
moment. Her strength, health and joy of life soon threw off these sad
impressions. Yes, very good. She often thought about her. Perhaps she
spoke the truth; but these memories were not deep nor painful. Death
seemed to her a thing without meaning, a remote incident without much
terror which did not disturb the serene calm of her physical perfection.

"Poor mamma," she added in a forced tone. "It was a relief for her to
go. Always sick, always sad! With such a life it is better to die!"

In her words there was a trace of bitterness, the memory of her youth,
spent with that touchy invalid, in an atmosphere made the more
unpleasant by the hostile chill with which her parents treated each
other. Besides, her expression was icy. We all must die. The weak must
go first and leave their place to the strong. It was the unconscious,
cruel selfishness of health. Renovales suddenly saw his daughter's soul
through this rent of frankness. The dead woman had known them both. The
daughter was his, wholly his. He, too, possessed that selfishness in his
strength which had made him crush weakness and delicacy placed under his
protection. Poor Josephina had only him left, repentant and adoring. For
the other people, she had not passed through the world; not even his
daughter felt any lasting sorrow at her death.

Milita turned her back to the portrait. She forgot her mother and her
father's work. An artist's hobby! She had come for something else.

She sat down beside him, almost in the same way that another woman had
sat down, a few hours before. She coaxed him with her rich voice, which
took on a sort of cat-like purring. Papa,--papa, dear,--she was very
unhappy. She came to see him, to tell him her troubles.

"Yes, money," said the master, somewhat annoyed at the indifference with
which she had spoken of her mother.

"Money, papa, you've said it; I told you the other day. But that isn't
all. Rafael--my husband--I can't stand this sort of life."

And she related all the petty trials of her existence. In order not to
feel that she was prematurely a widow, she had to go with her husband in
his automobile and show an interest in his trips which once had amused
her but now were growing unbearable.

"It's the life of a section-hand, papa, always swallowing dust and
counting kilometers. When I love Madrid so much! When I can't live out
of it!"

She had sat down on her father's knees, she talked to him, looking into
his eyes, smoothing his hair, pulling his mustache, like a mischievous
child,--almost as the other had.

"Besides, he's stingy; if he had his way, I'd look like a frump. He
thinks everything is too much. Papa, help me out of this difficulty,
it's only two thousand pesetas. With that I can get on my feet and then
I won't bother you with any more loans. Come, that's a dear papa. I need
them right away, because I waited till the last minute, so as not to
inconvenience you."

Renovales moved about uneasily under the weight of his daughter, a
strapping girl who fell on him like a child. Her filial confidences
annoyed him. Her perfume made him think of that other perfume, which
disturbed his nights, spreading through the solitude of the rooms. She
seemed to have inherited her mother's flesh.

He pushed her away roughly, and she took this movement for a refusal.
Her face grew sad, tears came to her eyes, and her father repented his
brusqueness. He was surprised at her constant requests for money. What
did she want it for? He recalled the wedding-presents, that princely
abundance of clothes and jewels which had been on exhibition in this
very room. What did she need? But Milita looked at her father in
astonishment. More than a year had gone by since then. It was clear
enough that her father was ignorant in such matters. Was she going to
wear the same gowns, the same hats, the same ornaments for an endless
length of time, more than twelve months? Horrible! That was too
commonplace. And overcome at the thought of such a monstrosity, she
began to shed her tender tears to the great disturbance of the master.

"There, there, Milita, there's no use in crying. What do you want?
Money? I'll send you all you need to-morrow. I haven't much at the
house. I shall have to get it at the bank--operations you don't
understand."

But Milita, encouraged by her victory, insisted on her request with
desperate obstinacy. He was deceiving her; he would not remember it the
next day; she knew her father. Besides, she needed the money at
once,--her honor was at stake (she declared it seriously) if her friends
discovered that she was in debt.

"This very minute, papa. Don't be horrid. Don't amuse yourself by making
me worry. You must have money, lots of it, perhaps you have it on you.
Let's see, you naughty papa, let me search your pockets, let me look at
your wallet. Don't say no; you have it with you. You have it with you!"

She plunged her hands in her father's breast, unbuttoning his working
jacket, tickling him to get at the inside pocket. Renovales resisted
feebly. "You foolish girl. You're wasting your time. Where do you think
the wallet is? I never carry it in this suit."

"It's here, you fibber," his daughter cried merrily, persisting in her
search. "I feel it! I have it! Look at it!"

She was right. The painter had forgotten that he had picked it up that
morning to pay a bill and then had put it absent-mindedly in the pocket
of his serge coat.

Milita opened it with a greediness that hurt her father. Oh, those
woman's hands, trembling in the search for money! He grew calmer when he
thought of the fortune he had amassed, of the different colored papers
which he kept in his desk. All would be his daughter's and perhaps this
would save her from the danger toward which her longing to live amid the
vanities and tinsel of feminine slavery was leading her.

In an instant she had her hands on a number of bills of different
denominations, forming a roll which she squeezed tight between her
fingers.

Renovales protested.

"Let me have it, Milita, don't be childish. You're leaving me without a
cent. I'll send it to you to-morrow; give it up now. It's robbery."

She avoided him; she had stood up; she kept at a distance, raising her
hand above her hat to save her booty. She laughed boisterously at her
trick. She did not mean to give him back a single one! She did not know
how many there were, she would count them at home, she would be out of
difficulty for the nonce, and the next day she would ask him for what
was lacking.

The master finally began to laugh, finding her merriment contagious. He
chased Milita without trying to catch her; he threatened her with mock
severity, called her a robber, shouting "help," and so they ran from one
studio to another. Before she disappeared, Milita stopped on the last
doorsill, raising her gloved finger authoritatively:

"To-morrow, the rest. You mustn't forget. Really, papa, this is very
important. Good-by; I shall expect you to-morrow."

And she disappeared, leaving in her father some of the merriment with
which they had chased each other.

The twilight was gloomy. Renovales sat in front of his wife's portrait,
gazing at that extravagantly beautiful head which seemed to him the most
faithful of his portraits. His thoughts were lost in the shadow which
rose from the corners and enveloped the canvases. Only on the windows
trembled a pale, hazy light, cut across by the black lines of the
branches outside.

Alone--alone forever. He had the affection of that big girl who had just
gone away, merry, indifferent to everything which did not flatter her
youthful vanity, her healthy beauty. He had the devotion of his friend
Cotoner, who, like an old dog, could not live without seeing him, but
was incapable of wholly devoting his life to him, and shared it between
him and other friends, jealous of his Bohemian freedom.

And that was all. Very little.

On the verge of old age, he gazed at a cruel, reddish light which seemed
to irritate his eyes; the solitary, monotonous road which awaited
him--and at the end, death! No one was ignorant of that; it was the only
certainty, and still he had spent the greater part of his life without
thinking of it, without seeing it.

It was like one of those epidemics in distant lands which destroy
millions of lives. People talk of it as of a definite fact, but without
a start of horror, or a tremble of fear. "It is too far away; it will
take it a long time to reach us."

He had often named Death, but with his lips; his thoughts had not
grasped the meaning of the word, feeling that he was alive, bound to
life by his dreams and desires.

Death stood at the end of the road; no one could avoid meeting it, but
all are long in seeing it. Ambition, desire, love, the cruel animal
needs distracted man in his course toward it; they were like the woods,
valleys, blue sky and winding crystal streams which diverted the
traveler, hiding the boundary of the landscape, the fatal goal, the
black bottomless gorge to which all roads lead.

He was on the last days' march. The path of his life was growing
desolate and gloomy; the vegetation was dwindling; the great groves
diminished into sparse, miserable lichens. From the murky abyss came an
icy breath; he saw it in the distance, he walked without escape toward
its gorge. The fields of dreams with their sunlit heights which once
bounded the horizon, were left behind and it was impossible to return.
In this path no one retraced his steps.

He had wasted half his life, struggling for wealth and fame, hoping
sometimes to receive their revenues in the pleasures of love. Die! Who
thought of that? Then it was a remote, unmeaning threat. He believed
that he was provided with a mission by Providence. Death would take no
liberties with him, would not come till his work was finished. He still
had many things to do. Well, all was done now; human desires did not
exist for him. He had everything. No longer did fanciful towers rise
before his steps, for him to assault. On the horizon, free from
obstacles, appeared the great forgotten,--Death.

He did not want to see it. There was still a long journey on that road
which might grow longer and longer, according to the strength of the
traveler, and his legs were still strong.

But, ah, to walk, walk, year after year, with his gaze fixed on that
murky abyss, contemplating it always at the edge of the horizon, unable
to escape for an instant the certainty that it was there, was a
superhuman torture which would force him to hurry his steps, to run in
order to reach the end as soon as possible. Oh, for deceitful clouds
which might veil the horizon, concealing the reality which embitters our
bread, which casts its shadows over our souls and makes us curse the
futility of our birth! Oh, for lying, pleasant illusions to make a
paradise rise from the desert shadows of the last journey! Oh, for
dreams!

And in his mind the poor master enlarged the last fancy of his desire;
he connected with the beloved likeness of his dead wife all the flights
of his imagination, longing to infuse into it new life with a part of
his own. He piled up by handfuls the clay of the past, the mass of
memory, to make it greater that it might occupy the whole way, shut off
the horizon like a huge hill, hide till the last moment the murky abyss
which ended the journey.



V


Renovales' behavior was a source of surprise and even scandal for all
his friends.

The Countess of Alberca took especial care to let every one know that
her only relation with the painter was a friendship which grew
constantly colder and more formal.

"He's crazy," she said. "He's finished. There's nothing left of him but
a memory of what he once was."

Cotoner in his unswerving friendship was indignant at hearing such
comment on the famous master.

"He isn't drinking. All that people say about him is a lie; the usual
legend about a celebrated man."

He had his own ideas about Mariano; he knew his longing for a stirring
life, his desire to imitate the habits of youth in the prime of life,
with a thirst for all the mysteries which he fancied were hidden in this
evil life, of which he had heard without ever daring till then to join
in them.

Cotoner accepted the master's new habits indulgently. Poor fellow!

"You are putting into action the pictures of 'The Rake's Progress,'" he
said to his friend. "You're going the way of all virtuous men when they
cease to be so, on the verge of old age. You are making a fool of
yourself, Mariano."

But his loyalty led him to acquiesce in the new life of the master. At
last he had given in to his requests and had come to live with him. With
his few pieces of luggage he occupied a room in the house and cared for
Renovales with almost paternal solicitude. The Bohemian showed great
sympathy for him. It was the same old story: "He who does not do it at
the beginning does it at the end," and Renovales, after a life of hard
work, was rushing into a life of dissipation with the blindness of a
youth, admiring vulgar pleasures, clothing them with the most fanciful
seductions.

Cotoner frequently harassed him with complaints. What had he brought him
to live at his house for? He deserted him for days at a time; he wanted
to go out alone; he left him at home like a trusty steward. The old
Bohemian posted himself minutely on his life. Often the students in the
Art School, gathered at nightfall beside the entrance to the Academy,
saw him going down the Calle de Alcalá, muffled in his cloak with an
affected air of mystery that attracted attention.

"There goes Renovales. That one, the one in the cloak."

And they followed him out of curiosity--in his comings and goings
through the broad street where he circled about like a silent dove as if
he were waiting for something. Sometimes, no doubt tired of these
evolutions, he went into a café and the curious admirers followed him,
pressing their faces against the window-panes. They saw him drop into a
chair, looking vaguely at the glass before him; always the same thing:
brandy. Suddenly he would drink it at one gulp, pay the waiter and go
out, with the haste of one who has swallowed a drug. And once more he
would begin his explorations, peering with greedy eyes at all the women
who passed alone, turning around to follow the course of run-down heels,
the flutter of dark and mud-splashed skirts. At last he would start with
sudden determination, he would disappear almost on the heel of some
woman always of the same appearance. The boys knew the great artist's
preference: little, weak, sickly women, graceful as faded flowers, with
large eyes, dull and sorrowful.

A story of strange mental aberration was forming about him. His enemies
repeated it in the studios; the throng which cannot imagine that
celebrated men lead the same life as other people, and like to think
that they are capricious, tormented by extraordinary habits, began to
talk with delight about the hobby of the painter Renovales.

In all the houses of prostitution, from the middle class apartments,
scattered in the most respectable streets, to the damp, ill-smelling
dens which cast out their wares at night on the Calle de Peligros,
circulated the story of a certain gentleman, provoking shouts of
laughter. He always came muffled up mysteriously, following hastily the
rustle of some poor starched skirts which preceded him. He entered the
dark doorway with a sort of terror, climbed the winding staircase which
seemed to smell of the residues of life, hastened the disrobing with
eager hands, as if he had no time to waste, as if he was afraid of dying
before he realized his desire, and all at once the poor women who looked
askance at his feverish silence and the savage hunger which shone in his
eyes, were tempted to laugh, seeing him drop dejectedly into a chair in
silence, unmindful of the brutal words which they in their astonishment
hurled at him; without paying any attention to their gestures and
invitations, not coming out of his stupor till the woman, cold and
somewhat offended, started to put on her clothes. "One moment more."
This scene almost always ended with an expression of disgust, of bitter
disappointment. Sometimes the poor puppets of flesh thought they saw in
his eyes a sorrowful expression, as if he were going to weep. Then he
fled precipitously, hidden under his cloak in sudden shame, with the
firm determination not to return, to resist that demon of hungry
curiosity which dwelt within him and could not see a woman's form in the
street, without feeling a violent desire to disrobe it.

These stories came to Cotoner's ears. Mariano! Mariano! He did not dare
to rebuke him openly for these shameful nocturnal adventures; he was
afraid of a violent explosion of anger on the part of the master. He
must direct him prudently. But what most aroused his old friend's
censure was the people with whom the artist associated.

This false rejuvenation made him seek the company of the younger men and
Cotoner cursed roundly when at the close of the theater he found him in
a café, surrounded by his new comrades, all of whom might be his sons.
Most of them were painters, novices, some with considerable talent,
others whose only merit was their evil tongue, all of them proud of
their friendship with the famous man, delighting like pigmies in
treating him as an equal, jesting over his weaknesses. Great Heavens!
Some of the bolder even went so far as to call him by his first name,
treating him like a glorious failure, presuming to make comparisons
between his paintings and what they would do when they could. "Mariano,
art moves in different paths, now."

"Aren't you ashamed of yourself!" Cotoner would exclaim. "You look like
a schoolmaster surrounded by children. You ought to be spanked. A man
like you tolerating the insolence of those shabby fellows!"

Renovales' good nature was unshaken. They were very interesting; they
amused him; he found in them the joy of youth. They went together to the
theaters and music halls, they knew women; they knew where the good
models were; with them he could enter many places where he would not
venture to go alone. His years and ugliness passed unnoticed amid that
youthful merry crowd.

"They are of service to me," the poor man said with a sly wink. "I am
amused and they tell me lots of things. Besides, this isn't Rome; there
are hardly any models; it is very difficult to find them and these boys
are my guides."

And he went on to speak of his great artistic plans, of that picture of
Phryne, with her divine nakedness, which had once more risen in his
mind, of the beloved portrait which was still in the same condition as
his brush had left it when he finished the head.

He was not working. His old energy, which had made painting a necessary
element in his life, now found vent in words, in the desire to see
everything, to know "new phases of life."

Soldevilla, his favorite pupil, found himself a target for the master's
questions when he appeared at rare intervals in the studio.

"You must know good women, Soldevilla: You have been around a great deal
in spite of that angel face of yours. You must take me with you. You
must introduce me."

"Master!" the youth would exclaim in surprise, "it isn't yet six months
since I was married! I never go out at night! How you joke!"

Renovates answered with a scornful glance. A fine life! No youth, no
joy! He spent all his money on variegated waistcoats and high collars.
What a perfect ant! He had married a rich woman, since he couldn't catch
the master's daughter. Besides, he was an ungrateful scamp. Now he was
joining the master's enemies, convinced that he could get nothing more
out of him. He scorned him. It was too bad that his protection had
caused him so much inconvenience! He was no artist.

And the master went back with new affection to his companions, those
merry youths, slandering and disrespectful as they were. He recognized
talent in them all.

The gossip about his extraordinary life reached even his daughter, with
the rapid spread which anything prejudicial to a famous man acquires.

Milita scowled, trying to restrain the laughter which the strangeness of
this change aroused. Her father becoming a rake!

"Papa! Papa!" she exclaimed in a comic tone of reproach.

And papa made excuses like a naughty, hypocritical little boy,
increasing by his perturbation his daughter's desire to laugh.

López de Sosa seemed inclined to be indulgent toward his father-in-law.
Poor old gentleman! All his life working, with a sick wife, who was very
good and kind, to be sure, but who had embittered his life! She did well
to die, and the artist did quite as well in making up for the time he
had lost.

With the instinctive freemasonry of all those who lead an easy, merry
life, the sport defended his father-in-law, supported him, found him
more attractive, more congenial, as a result of his new habits. A man
must not always stay shut up in his studio with the irritated air of a
prophet, talking about things which nobody would understand.

They met each other in the evening during the last acts at the theaters
and music halls, when the songs and dances were accompanied by the
audience with a storm of cries and stamping. They greeted each other,
the father inquired for Milita, they smiled with the sympathy of two
good fellows and each went back to his group; the son-in-law to his
club-mates in a box, still wearing the dress suits of the respectable
gatherings from which they came--the painter to the orchestra seats
with the long-haired young fellows who were his escort.

Renovales was gratified to see López de Sosa greeting the most
fashionable, highest-priced _cocottes_ and smiling to comic-opera stars
with the familiarity of an old friend.

That boy had excellent connections, and he regarded this as an indirect
honor to his position as a father.

Cotoner frequently found himself dragged out of his orbit of serious,
substantial dinners and evening-parties, which he continued to frequent
in order not to lose his friendships which were his only source of
income.

"You are coming with me to-night," the master would say mysteriously.
"We will dine wherever you like, and afterwards I will show you
something."

And he took him to the theater where he sat restless and impatient until
the chorus came on the stage. Then he would nudge Cotoner, who was sunk
in his seat, with his eyes wide open, but asleep inside, in the sweet
pleasure of good digestion.

"Listen, look! the third from the right, the little girl--the one in the
yellow shawl!"

"I see her. What about her?" said his friend in a sour voice.

"Look at her closely. Who does she look like? Who does she remind you
of?"

Cotoner answered with a grunt of indifference. She probably looked like
her mother. What did he care about such resemblances. But his
astonishment aroused him from his quiet when he heard Renovales say he
thought her a rare likeness of his wife, and was indignant at him
because he did not recognize it.

"Why, Mariano, where are your eyes?" he exclaimed with no less sourness.
"What resemblance is there between that scraggly girl with her starved
face and your poor, dead wife. If you see a sorry-looking bean pole you
will give it a name, Josephina,--and there's nothing more to say."

Although Renovales was at first irritated at his friend's blindness, he
was finally convinced. He had probably deceived himself, as long as
Cotoner did not find the likeness. He must remember the dead woman
better than he himself; love did not disturb _his_ memory.

But a few days later he would once more besiege Cotoner with a
mysterious air. "I have something to show you." And leaving the company
of the merry lads who annoyed his old friend, he would take him to a
music hall and point out another scandalous woman who was kicking a
fling or doing a _danse du ventre_, and revealed her anemic emaciation
under a mask of rouge.

"How about this one?" the master would implore, almost in terror as if
he doubted his own eyes. "Don't you think she looks something like her?
Doesn't she remind you of her?"

His friend broke out angrily:

"You're crazy. What likeness is there between that poor little woman, so
good, so sweet and so refined, and this low creature?"

Renovales, after several failures which made him doubt the accuracy of
his memory, did not dare to consult his friend. As soon as he tried to
take him to a new show, Cotoner would draw back.

"Another discovery? Come, Mariano, get these ideas out of your head. If
people found out about it, they would think that you were crazy."

But defying his wrath, the master insisted one evening with great
obstinacy that he must go with him to see the "Bella Fregolina," a
Spanish girl, who was singing at a little theater in the low quarter,
and whose name was displayed in letters a meter high in the shop windows
of Madrid. He had spent more than two weeks watching her every evening.

"I must have you see her, Pepe. Just for a minute. I beg you. I am sure
that this time you won't say that I am mistaken."

Cotoner gave in, persuaded by the imploring tone of his friend. They
waited for the appearance of the "Bella Fregolina" for a long time,
watching dances and listening to songs accompanied by the howls of the
audience. The wonder was reserved till the last. At last, with a sort of
solemnity, amid a murmur of expectation, the orchestra began to play a
piece well known to all the admirers of the "star," a ray of rosy light
crossed the little stage and the "Bella" entered.

She was a slight little girl, so thin that she was almost emaciated. Her
face, of a sweet melancholy beauty, was the most striking thing about
her. Beneath her black dress, covered with silver threads, which spread
out like a broad bell, you could see her slender legs, so thin that the
flesh seemed hardly to cover the bones. Above the lace of her gown her
skin, painted white, marked the slight curve of her breasts and the
prominent collar bones. The first thing you saw about her were her eyes,
large, clear, and girlish, but the eyes of a depraved girl, in which a
licentious expression flickered, without, however, hurting their pure
surface. She moved like an overgrown school-girl, arms akimbo, bashful
and blushing and in this position she sang in a thin, high voice,
obscene verses which contrasted strangely with her apparent timidity.
This was her charm and the audience received her atrocious words with
roars of delight, contenting themselves with this, without demanding
that she dance, respecting her hieratic stiffness.

When the painter saw her appear he nudged his friend.

He did not dare to speak, waiting for his opinion anxiously. He
followed his inspection out of the corner of his eye.

His friend was merciful.

"Yes, she is something like her. Her eyes,--figure,--expression; she
reminds me of her. She is very much, like her. But the monkey face she
is making now! The words! No, that destroys all likeness."

And as if he were angry that that little girl without any voice and
without any sense of shame, should be compared to the sweet Josephina,
he commented with sarcastic admiration on all the cynical expressions
with which she ended her couplets.

"Very pretty! Very refined!"

But Renovales, deaf to these ironical remarks, absorbed in the
contemplation of "Fregolina," kept on poking him and whispering:

"It's she, isn't it? Just exactly; the same body. And besides, the girl
has some talent; she's funny."

Cotoner nodded ironically: "Yes, very." And when he found that Mariano
wanted to stay for the next act and did not move from his seat, he
though of leaving him. Finally he stayed, stretching out in his seat
with the determination to have a nap, lulled by the music and the cries
of the audience.

An impatient hand aroused him from his comfortable doze. "Pepe, Pepe."
He shook his head and opened his eyes ill-naturedly. "What's the
matter?" In Renovales' face he saw a honeyed, treacherous smile, some
folly that he wanted to propose in the most pleasing manner.

"I thought we might go behind the scenes for a minute: we could see her
at close range."

His friend answered him indignantly. Mariano thought he was a young
buck; he forgot how he looked. That woman would laugh at them, she
would assume the air of the Chaste Susanna, besieged by the two old men.

Renovales was silent, but in a little while he once more aroused his
friend from his nap.

"You might go in alone, Pepe. You know more about these things than I
do. You are more daring. You might tell her that I want to paint her
portrait. Think, a portrait with my signature!"

Cotoner started to laugh, in sheer admiration of the princely simplicity
with which the master gave him the commission.

"Thank you, sir; I am highly honored by such a favor, but I am not
going. You confounded fool. Do you suppose that girl knows who Renovales
is or has ever even heard of his name?"

The master expressed his astonishment with childlike simplicity.

"Man alive. I believe that the name Renovales--that what the papers have
said--that my portraits---- Be frank, say that you don't want to."

And he was silent, offended at his companion's refusal and his doubt
that his fame had reached this corner. Friends sometimes abuse us with
unexpected scorn and great injustice.

At the end of the show the master felt that he must do something, not go
away without sending the "Bella Fregolina" some evidence of his
presence. He bought an elaborate basket of flowers from a flower vendor
who was starting home, discouraged at the poor business. She should
deliver it immediately to Señorita--"Fregolina."

"Yes, to Pepita," said the woman with a knowing air, as if she were one
of her friends.

"And tell her it is from Señor Renovales--from Renovales, the painter."

The woman nodded, repeating the name. "Very well, Renovales," just as
she would have said any other name. And without the least emotion she
took the five dollars which the painter gave her.

"Five dollars! You idiot," muttered his friend, losing all respect for
him.

Good Cotoner refused to go with him after that. In vain Renovales talked
to him enthusiastically every night about that girl, deeply impressed by
her different impersonations. Now she appeared in a pale pink dress,
almost like some clothes put away in the closets of his house; now she
entered in a hat trimmed with flowers and cherries, much larger, but
still something like a certain straw hat which he could find amid the
confusion of Josephina's old finery. Oh, how it reminded him of her!
Every night he was struck with some renewed memory.

Lacking Cotoner's assistance, he went to see the "Bella" with some of
the young fellows of his disrespectful court. These boys spoke of the
"star" with respectful scorn, as the fox in the fable gazed at the
distant grapes, consoling himself at the thought of their sourness. They
praised her beauty, seen from a distance; according to them she was
"lily-like"; she had the holy beauty of sin. She was out of their reach;
she wore costly jewels and according to all reports had influential
friends, all those young gentlemen in dress clothes who occupied the
boxes during the last act, and waited for her at the stage door to take
her to dinner.

Renovales was gnawed with impatience, unable to find a way to meet her.
Every night he sent his little baskets of flowers, or huge bouquets. The
"star" must be informed whence these gifts came, for she looked around
the audience for the ugly elderly gentleman, deigning to grant him a
smile.

One night the master saw López de Sosa speak to the singer. Perhaps his
son-in-law was acquainted with her. And boldly as a lover, he waited for
him when he came out to implore his help.

He wanted to paint her; she was a magnificent model for a certain work
he had in mind. He said it blushingly, stammering, but López laughed at
his timidity and seemed disposed to protect him.

"Oh, Pepita? A wonderful woman, in spite of the fact that she is on the
decline. With all her school-girl face, if you could only see her at a
party! She drinks like a fish. She's a terror!"

But afterwards, with a serious expression, he explained the
difficulties. She "belonged" to one of his friends, a lad from the
provinces who, eager to win notoriety, was losing one-half his fortune
gambling at the Casino and was calmly letting that girl devour the other
half,--she gave him some reputation. He would speak to her; they were
old friends; nothing wrong--eh, father? It would not be hard to persuade
her. This Pepita had a predilection for anything that was unusual; she
was rather--romantic. He would explain to her who the great artist was,
enhancing the honor of acting as his model.

"Don't stint on the money," said the master anxiously. "All that she
wants. Don't be afraid to be generous."

One morning Renovales called Cotoner to talk to him with wild
expressions of joy.

"She's going to come! She's going to come this very afternoon!"

The old painter looked surprised.

"Who?"

"The 'Bella Fregolina.' Pepita. My son-in-law tells me he has persuaded
her. She will come this afternoon at three. He is coming with her
himself."

Then he cast a worried glance at his workshop. For some time it had been
deserted; it must be set in order.

And the servant on one side and the two artists on the other, began to
tidy up the room hastily.

The portraits of Josephina and the canvas with nothing but her head were
piled up in a corner by the master's feverish hands. What was the use of
those phantoms when the real thing was going to appear. In their place
he put a large white canvas, gazing at its untouched surface with
hopeful eyes. What things he was going to do that afternoon! What a
power for work he felt!

When the two artists were left alone, Renovales seemed restless,
dissatisfied, constantly suspecting that something had been overlooked
for this visit, toward which he looked with chills of anxiety. Flowers;
they must get some flowers, fill all the old vases in the studio, create
an atmosphere of delicate perfume.

And Cotoner ran through the garden with the servant, plundered the
greenhouse and came in with an armful of flowers, obedient and
submissive as a faithful friend, but with a sarcastic reproach in his
eyes. All that for the "Bella Fregolina"! The master was cracked; he was
in his second childhood! If only this visit would cure him of his mania,
which was almost madness!

Afterwards the master had further orders. He must provide on one of the
tables in the studio sweets, champagne, anything good he could find.
Cotoner spoke of sending for the valet, complaining of the tasks which
were imposed on him as a result of the visit of this girl of the
guileless smile and the vile songs, who stood with arms akimbo.

"No, Pepe," the master implored. "Listen--I don't want the valet to
know. He talks afterward; my daughter probes him with questions."

Cotoner went away with a resigned expression and when he returned an
hour later, he found Renovales in the model's room arranging some
clothes.

The old painter lined up his packages on the table. He put the
confectionery in antique plates and took the bottles out of their
wrappers.

"You are served, sir," he said with ironical respect. "Do you wish
anything else, sir? The whole family is in a state of revolution over
this noble lady; your son-in-law is bringing her; I am acting as your
valet; all you need now is to send for your daughter to help her
undress."

"Thanks, Pepe, thanks ever so much," said the master with naive
gratitude, apparently undisturbed by his jests.

At luncheon time Cotoner saw him come into the dining-room with his hair
carefully combed, his mustache curled, wearing his best suit with a rose
in the buttonhole. The Bohemian laughed boisterously. The last straw! He
was crazy; they would make sport of him!

The master scarcely touched the meal. Afterwards he walked up and down
alone in the studio. How slowly the time went! At each turn through the
three studios he looked at the hands of an old clock of Saxon china,
which stood on a table of colored marble, with its back reflected in a
tall, Venetian mirror.

It was already three. The master wondered if she was not going to come.
Quarter past three,--half-past three. No, she was not coming; it was
past the time. Those women who live amid obligations and demands,
without a minute to themselves!

Suddenly he heard steps and Cotoner entered.

"She is here; here she comes. Good luck, master. Have a good time! I
guess you have imposed on me long enough and will not expect me to
stay."

He went out waving him an ironical farewell and a little later
Renovales heard López de Sosa's voice, approaching slowly, explaining to
his companion the pictures and furniture which attracted her attention.

They entered. The "Bella Fregolina" looked astonished; she seemed
intimidated by the majestic silence of the studio. What a big, princely
house, so different from all those she had seen! That ancient, solid,
historic luxury with its rare furniture filled her with fear! She looked
at Renovales with great respect. He seemed to her more distinguished
than that other man whom she had seen indistinctly in the orchestra of
her little theater. He was awe-inspiring, as if he were a great
personage, different from all the men with whom she had had to do. To
her fear was added a sort of admiration. How much money that old boy
must have, living in such style!

Renovales, too, was deeply moved when he saw her so close at hand.

At first he hesitated. Was she really like the other? The paint on her
face disconcerted him--the layer of rouge with black lines about the
eyes--visible through the veil. The _other_ did not paint. But when he
looked at her eyes, the striking resemblance rose again, and starting
from them he gradually restored the beloved face under the layers of
pomade.

The "star" examined the canvases which covered the walls. How pretty!
And did this gentleman do all that? She wanted to see herself like that,
proud and beautiful in a canvas. Did he truly want to paint her? And she
drew herself up vainly, delighted that people thought she was beautiful,
that she would enjoy the emotion until then unknown of seeing her image
reproduced by a great artist.

López de Sosa excused himself to his father-in-law. She was to blame for
their being late. You could never get a woman like that to hurry. She
went to bed at daybreak; he had found her in bed.

Then he said good-by, understanding the embarrassment his presence might
cause. Pepita was a good girl, she was dazzled by his works and the
appearance of the house. The master could do what he wanted with her.

"Well, little girl, you stay here. The gentleman is my father; I told
you already. Be sure and be a good girl."

And he went out, followed by the forced laugh of them both, who greeted
this recommendation with uneasy merriment.

A long and painful silence followed. The master did not know what to
say. Timidity and emotion weighed on his will. She seemed no less
disturbed. That great room, so silent and imposing with its massive,
superb decorations, different from anything she had seen, frightened
her. She felt the vague terror which precedes an unknown operation.
Besides, she was disturbed by the man's glowing eyes fixed on her, with
a quiver on his cheeks and a twitching of his lips, as if they were
tormented by thirst.

She soon recovered from her timidity. She was used to these moments of
shamefaced silence which came with the lone meeting of two strangers.
She knew these interviews which begin hesitatingly and end in rough
familiarity.

She looked around with a professional smile, eager to end the unpleasant
situation as soon as possible.

"When you will. Where shall I undress?"

Renovales started at the sound of her voice, as if he had forgotten that
that image could speak. The simplicity with which she dispensed with
explanations surprised him likewise.

His son-in-law did things well; he had brought her well coached, callous
to all surprises.

The master showed her the way to the model's room and remained outside,
prudently, turning his head without knowing why, so as not to see
through the half-opened door. There was a long silence, broken by the
rustle of falling clothes, the metallic click of buttons and hooks.
Suddenly her voice came to the master, smothered, distant with a sort of
timidity.

"My stockings too? Must I take them off?"

Renovales knew this objection of all models when they undressed for the
first time. López de Sosa, carrying his desire of pleasing his father to
the extreme, had spoken to her of giving her body wholly and she
undressed without asking any further explanations, with the calm of
accepted duty, thinking that her presence there was absurd for any other
purpose.

The painter came out of his silence; he called to her uneasily. She must
not stay undressed. In the room there were clothes for her to put on.
And without turning his head, reaching his arm through the half open
door he pointed out blindly what he had left. There was a pink dress, a
hat, shoes, stockings, a shirt.

Pepita protested when she saw these cast-off garments, showing an
aversion to putting on those underclothes which seemed worn and old.

"The shirt, too? The stockings? No, the dress is enough."

But the master begged her impatiently. She must put them all on; his
painting demanded it. The long silence of the girl proved that she was
complying, putting on these old garments, overcoming her repugnance.

When she came out of the room she smiled with a sort of pity, as if she
were laughing at herself. Renovales drew back, stirred by his own work,
bewildered, feeling his temples throbbing, fancying that the pictures
and furniture were whirling about him.

Poor "Fregolina"! What a delightful clown! She felt like laughing at the
thought of the storm of cries which would burst out in her theater if
she should appear on the stage dressed in this fashion, of the jests of
her friends if she should come into one of their dinners in these
clothes of twenty years ago. She did not know these styles, and to her
they seemed to belong to a remote antiquity. The master leaned over the
back of a chair.

"Josephina! Josephina!"

It was she, such as he kept her in his memory--as she was that happy
summer in the Roman mountains, in her pink dress and that rustic hat
which gave her the dainty air of a village girl in the opera. Those
fashions at which the younger generation laughed were for him the most
beautiful, the most artistic that feminine taste had ever produced; they
recalled the spring of his life.

"Josephina! Josephina!"

He remained silent, for these exclamations were born and died in his
thoughts. He did not dare to move or speak, for fear this apparition of
his dreams would vanish. She, smiling, was delighted at the effect her
appearance had on the painter and seeing her reflection in a distant
mirror, recognized that in this strange costume she did not look at all
badly.

"Where shall I go? Sitting or standing?"

The master could hardly speak; his voice was hoarse, labored.

She could pose as she wished. And she sat down in a chair adopting a
posture which she considered very graceful--her cheek on one hand, her
legs crossed, just as she was wont to sit in the green room of the
theater, showing a bit of open-work pink silk stocking under her skirt.
That too reminded the painter of the other.

It was she! She sat before his eyes in bodily form, with the perfume of
the form he loved.

From instinct, from habit, he took up his palette and a brush stained
with black, trying to trace the outlines of that figure. Ah, his hand
was old, heavy, trembling! Where had his old time skill fled, his
drawing, his striking qualities? Had he really ever painted? Was he
truly the painter Renovales? He had suddenly forgotten everything. His
head seemed empty, his hand paralyzed, the white canvas filled him with
a terror of the unknown. He did not know how to paint; he could not
paint. His efforts were useless; his mind was deadened. Perhaps,--some
other day. Now his ears hummed, his face was pale, his ears were red,
purple, as if they were on the point of dripping blood. In his mouth he
felt the torment of a deathly thirst.

The "Bella Fregolina" saw him throw down his palette and come toward her
with a wild expression.

But she felt no fear; she knew those distorted faces. This sudden rush
was no doubt part of the program; she was warned when she went there
after her friendly conversation with the son-in-law. That gentleman, so
serious and so imposing, was like all the men she knew, as brutal as the
rest.

She saw him come to her with open arms, take her in a close embrace,
fall at her feet with a hoarse cry, as if he were stifling; and she,
gently and sympathetically encouraged him, bending her head, offering
her lips with an automatic loving expression which was the implement of
her profession.

The kiss was enough to overcome the master completely.

"Josephina! Josephina!"

The perfume of the happy days rose from her clothes, surrounding her
adorable person. It was her form, her flesh! He was going to die at her
feet, suffocated by the immense desire that swelled within him. It was
she; her very eyes--her eyes! And as he raised his glance to lose
himself in their soft pupils, to gaze at himself in their trembling
mirror, he saw two cold eyes, which examined him, half closed with
professional curiosity, taking a scornful delight from their calm height
in this intoxication of the flesh, this madness which groveled, moaning
with desire.

Renovales was thunderstruck with surprise; he felt something icy run
down his back, paralyzing him; his eyes were veiled with a cloud of
disappointment and sorrow.

Was it really Josephina whom he had in his arms? It was her body, her
perfume, her clothes, her beauty, pale as a dying flower. But no, it was
not she! Those eyes! In vain did they look at him differently, alarmed
at this sudden reaction; in vain they softened with a tender light,
trained by habit. The deceit was useless; he saw beyond, he penetrated
through those bright windows into the depths; he found only emptiness.
The other's soul was not there. That maddening perfume no longer moved
him; it was a false essence. He had before him merely a reproduction of
the beloved vase, but the incense, the soul, lost forever.

Renovales, standing up, drew away from her, looking at that woman with
terror in his eyes, and finally threw himself on a couch, with his face
in his hands.

The girl, hearing him sob, was afraid and ran toward the models' room to
take off those clothes, to flee. The man must be mad.

The master was weeping. Farewell, youth! Farewell desire! Farewell
dreams; enchanting sirens of life, that have fled forever. Useless the
search, useless the struggle in the solitude of life. Death had him in
his grasp, he was his and only through him could he renew his youth.
These images were useless. He could not find another to call up the
memory of the dead like this hired woman whom he had held in his
arms--and still, it was not she!

At the supreme moment, on the verge of reality, that indefinable
something had vanished, that something which had been enclosed in the
body of his Josephina, of his _maja_, whom he had worshiped in the
nights of his youth.

Immense, irreparable disappointment flooded his body with the icy calm
of old age.

Fall, ye towers of illusion! Sink, ye castles of fancy, built with the
longing to make the way fair, to hide the horizon! The path still
remained unbroken, barren and deserted. In vain would he sit by the
roadside, putting off the hour of his departure, in vain would he bow
his head that he might not see. The longer his rest, the longer his
fearful torment. At every hour he was destined to gaze at the dreaded
end of the last journey--unclouded, undisturbed--the dwelling from which
there is no return--the black, greedy abyss--death!


FOOTNOTE:

[A] The life of this character is the theme of _La Horda_, by
the same author.





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