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Title: Froth
Author: Palacio Valdés, Armando, 1853-1938
Language: English
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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.

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FROTH


=Heinemann's International Library.=

=Edited by EDMUND GOSSE.=

_Crown 8vo_, _in paper covers_, 2_s._ 6_d._, _or cloth limp_, 3_s._
6_d._

_IN GOD'S WAY._ By BJÖRNSTJERNE BJÖRNSON. Translated from the Norwegian
by Elizabeth Carmichael.

_PIERRE AND JEAN._ By GUY DE MAUPASSANT. Translated from the French by
Clara Bell.

_THE CHIEF JUSTICE._ By KARL EMIL FRANZOS. Translated from the German by
Miles Corbet.

_WORK WHILE YE HAVE THE LIGHT._ By COUNT LVOF TOLSTOÏ. Translated from
the Russian by E. J. Dillon, Ph.D.

_FANTASY._ By MATILDE SERAO. Translated from the Italian by Henry
Harland and Paul Sylvester.

_FROTH._ By ARMANDO PALACIO VALDÉS. Translated from the Spanish by Clara
Bell.

_THE COMMODORE'S DAUGHTERS._ By JONAS LIE. Translated from the Norwegian
by H. L. Brækstad and Gertrude Hughes.

     Other Volumes will be announced later.
    Each Volume contains a specially written
           Introduction by the Editor.

London:

WILLIAM HEINEMANN, 21 BEDFORD ST., W.C.



FROTH

A NOVEL

BY

ARMANDO PALACIO VALDÉS

TRANSLATED FROM THE SPANISH

BY

CLARA BELL

LONDON

WILLIAM HEINEMANN

1891

(_All rights reserved_)



INTRODUCTION.


According to the Spanish critics, the novel has flourished in Spain
during only two epochs--the golden age of Cervantes and the period in
which we are still living. That unbroken line of romance-writing which
has existed for so long a time in France and in England, is not to be
looked for in the Peninsula. The novel in Spain is a re-creation of our
own days; but it has made, since the middle of the nineteenth century,
two or three fresh starts. The first modern Spanish novelists were what
are called the _walter-scottistas_, although they were inspired as much
by George Sand as by the author of _Waverley_. These writers were of a
romantic order, and Fernan Caballero, whose earliest novel dates from
1849, was at their head. The Revolution of September, 1868, marked an
advance in Spanish fiction, and Valera came forward as the leader of a
more national and more healthily vitalised species of imaginative work.
The pure and exquisite style of Valera is, doubtless, only to be
appreciated by a Castilian. Something of its charm may be divined,
however, even in the English translation of his masterpiece, _Pepita
Jimenez_. The mystical and aristocratic genius of Valera appealed to a
small audience; he has confided to the world that when all were praising
but few were buying his books.

Far greater fecundity and a more directly successful appeal to the
public, were, somewhat later, the characteristics of Perez y Galdos,
whose vigorous novels, spoiled a little for a foreign reader by their
didactic diffuseness, are well-known in this country. In the hands of
Galdos, a further step was taken by Spanish fiction towards the
rejection of romantic optimism and the adoption of a modified realism.
In Pereda, so the Spanish critics tell us, a still more valiant champion
of naturalism was found, whose studies of local manners in the province
of Santander recall to mind the paintings of Teniers. About 1875 was the
date when the struggle commenced in good earnest between the schools of
romanticism and realism. In 1881 Galdos definitely joined the ranks of
the realists with his _La Desheredada_. An eminent Spanish writer,
Emilio Pardo Bazan, thus described the position some six years ago: "It
is true that the battle is not a noisy one, and excites no great warlike
ardour. The question is not taken up amongst us with the same heat as in
France, and this from several causes. In the first place, the idealists
with us do not walk in the clouds so much as they do in France, nor do
the realists load their palette so heavily. Neither school exaggerates
in order to distinguish itself from the other. Perhaps our public is
indifferent to literature, especially to printed literature, for what
is represented on the stage produces more impression."

This indifference of the Spanish reading public, which has led a living
novelist to declare that a person of good position in Madrid would
rather spend his money on fireworks or on oranges than on a book, has at
length been in a measure dissipated by a writer who is not merely
admired and distinguished, but positively popular, and who, without
sacrificing style, has conquered the unwilling Spanish public. This is
Armando Palacio Valdés, who was born on the 4th of October, 1853, in a
hamlet of Asturias, called Entralgo, where his family had at one time a
mansion which has now disappeared. The family spent only the summer
there; the remainder of the year they passed in Avilés, the maritime
town which Valdés describes under the name of Nieva in his novel _Marta
y Maria_. From Asturias he went, when still a youth, up to Madrid to
study the law as a profession. But even in the lawyer's office, his
dream was to become a man of letters. His ambition took the form of
obtaining at some university a chair of political economy, to which
science he had, or fancied himself to have, at that time, a great
proclivity.

Before terminating his legal studies, the young man published several
articles in the _Revista Europea_ on philosophical and religious
questions. These articles attracted the attention of the proprietor of
that review, and Valdés presently joined the staff. Next year he became
editor. He was at the head of the _Revista Europea_, at that time the
most important periodical in Spain from a scientific point of view, for
several years. During that time he published the main part of those
articles of literary criticism, particularly on contemporary poets and
novelists, which have since been collected in several volumes--_Los
Oradores del Ateneo_ ("The Orators of the Athenæum"); _Los Novelistas
Españoles_ ("The Spanish Novelists"); _Un Nuevo Viaje al Parnaso_ ("A
New Journey to Parnassus"), sketches of the living poets of Spain; and,
in particular, a very bright collection of review articles, published in
conjunction with Leopoldo Alas, _La Literatura_ en 1881 ("Spanish
Literature in 1881"). These gave Valdés a foremost rank among the
critics of the day. He wrote no more criticism, or very little; he
determined to place himself amongst those whose creative work demands
the careful consideration of the best judges.

Soon after he took the direction of the _Revista_, Valdés wrote his
first novel, _El Señorito Octavio_, which was not published until 1881.
In 1883 he brought out his _Marta y Maria_, a book which, I know not
why, is called "The Marquis of Peñalta" in its English version. This
novel enjoyed an extraordinary success, and had more of the graphic and
sprightly manner by which Valdés has since been distinguished, than the
books which immediately followed it. Spanish critics, indeed,
remembering the wonderful freshness of _Marta y Maria_, still often
speak of it as the best of Valdés' stories. In this same year, 1883, he
married, on the day when he completed his thirty years, a young lady of
sixteen. His marriage was a honeymoon of a year and a half, of which _El
Idílio de un Enfermo_ ("The Idyl of an Invalid"), a short novel of 1884,
portrays the earlier portion. His wife died early in 1885, leaving him
with an infant son to be, as he says, "my illusion and my fascination."
His subsequent career has been laborious and systematic. He has
published one novel every year. In 1885 it was _José_, a shorter tale of
sea-faring life on the stormy coast of the author's native province.
About the same time appeared a collection of short stories, called
_Aguas Fuertes_ ("Strong Waters").

It was not until 1886, however, that Valdés began to rank among the
foremost novelists of Europe. In that year he published his great story,
_Riverita,_ one of the characters in which, a charming child, became the
heroine of his next book, _Maximina,_ 1887. Of this character he writes
to me: "My Maximina in these two books is but a pale reflection of that
being from whom Providence parted me before she was eighteen years of
age. In these novels I have painted a great part of my life." A
Sevillian novice, who has helped to care for Maximina in Madrid, reigns
supreme in a succeeding novel, _La Hermana San Sulpício_ ("Sister San
Sulpicio"), 1889. But between these two last there comes a massive
novel, describing the adventures of a journalist who founds a newspaper
in the provincial town of Sarrió, by which Santander seems to be
intended. This book is called _El Cuarto Poder_ ("The Fourth Power"),
and was published in 1888. To these must now be added _La Espuma_
("Froth"), of which a translation is here given. When these words are
published, the original will just have appeared in Madrid. It is by the
kindness of the author, in supplying us with a set of proof-sheets, that
I am able to speak of a book which even the critics of Madrid have not
yet seen in Spanish.

In _La Espuma_ Valdés has reverted from those country scenes and those
streets of provincial cities which he has hitherto loved best to paint,
and has given us a sternly satiric picture of the frothy surface of
fashionable life in Madrid. From the illusions of the poor, pathetic and
often beautiful, he has turned to the ugly cynicism of the wealthy. With
his passion for honesty and simplicity, his heart burns within him at
the parade and hollowness which he detects in aristocratic and
bureaucratic Madrid. One conceives that, like his own Raimundo, he has
been invited to enter it, has taken his fill of its pleasures, and has
found his mouth filled with ashes. His talent for portraiture was never
better employed. If he is occasionally tempted to commit the peculiarly
Spanish fault of exaggeration--scarcely a fault there, where the shadows
are so black and the colours so flaring--he has resisted it in his more
important characters. The brutality of the Duke de Requena, the sagacity
and urbanity of Father Ortega, the saintly sweetness of the Duchess,
the naïveté of Raimundo, the sphinx-like charm of Clementina de Osorio,
with her mysterious sweetness and duplicity, these are among the salient
points of characterisation which stand out in this powerful book. _La
Espuma_ is a cry from the desert to those who wear soft raiment in
kings' palaces. It is the ruthless tearing aside of the conventions by a
Knox or a Savonarola. It is stringent satire, yet tempered with an
artist's moderation, with a naturalist's self-suppression.

Those exquisite descriptions of Nature in which Valdés sparingly
illuminates the pages of his country-novels, must not be looked for
here. There is nothing in _La Espuma_ like the splendid approach to
Seville in _La Hermana San Sulpício_, or the noble picture of the
Asturian sea-board, ravaged by the ocean, in _José_. The desolation of
the mining district, at the close of the book, is all that we can
compare with these. But one descriptive gift of Valdés, his power of
rendering with sustained vivacity a varied social scene, was never
better exemplified than by the dinner-party at the Osorios', by
Salabert's ball to Royalty, in which Clementina ejects the
_demi-mondaine_, or by the scene in Pepe's dressing-room when the mad
Marquis wants to shoot him. The absence of sensational emphasis of every
kind is notable. This is the result of severe self-training on the
novelist's part. He has confessed himself displeased with the end of his
own _Riverita_ as too theatrical, and in the prologue to _La Hermana San
Sulpício_, he wears a white sheet, and holds a penitential candle for a
too stagey episode in _El Cuarto Poder_. No charge of this kind can be
brought against _La Espuma_. It is closely studied from life, and is
careful not to affront the modesty of nature, which loves an occasional
tragic catastrophe, but loathes the artifice of a smartly constructed
plot.

Of the author of so many interesting books but little has yet been told
to the public. In a private letter to myself, the eminent novelist gives
a brief sketch of his mode of life, so interesting that I have secured
his permission to translate and print it here:--"Since my wife died,"
Señor Valdés writes, "my life has continued to be tranquil and
melancholy, dedicated to work and to my son. During the winters, I live
in Asturias, and during the summers, in Madrid. I like the company of
men of the world better than that of literary folks, because the former
teach me more. I am given up to the study of metaphysics. I have a
passion for physical exercises, for gymnastics, for fencing, and I try
to live in an evenly-balanced temper, nothing being so repugnant to me
as affectation and emphasis. I find a good deal of pleasure in going to
bull-fights (although I do not take my son to the Plaza dressed up like
a miniature _torero_, as an American writer declares I do), and I
cultivate the theatre, because to see life from the stage point of view
helps me in the composition of my stories."

EDMUND GOSSE.



FROTH



CHAPTER I.

DRAMATIS PERSONÆ


At three in the afternoon the sun was pouring its rays on the Calle de
Serrano, bathing it in bright orange light which hurt the eyes of those
who went down the left-hand side where the houses stood closest. But as
the cold was intense the pedestrian was not eager to cross to the other
pavement in search of shade, preferring to face the sunbeams which,
though blinding, were at any rate warming. At this hour, tripping slowly
and daintily along, her muff of handsome otter-skin held up to shade her
eyes, an elegantly dressed woman was making her way down the street,
leaving behind her a wake of perfume which the shopmen standing at their
doors sniffed up with enjoyment, as they gazed in rapture at the being
who exhaled such a delightful fragrance.

For the Calle de Serrano, albeit the widest and handsomest in Madrid,
has an essentially provincial stamp; little traffic, shops devoid of
display, and dedicated for the most part to the sale of the necessaries
of life, children playing in front of the houses, door-keepers seated in
committee and discussing matters at the top of their voices with the
unemployed butchers' boys, fishmongers, and grocers. Hence a
well-dressed woman could not pass unremarked, as she might in the more
central parts of the town. The glances of the passers-by, as well as of
the loungers, rested on her with pleasure; the women commented on the
quality of the clothes she wore, and horrible jests were uttered by the
dreadful apprentices, provoking their companions to outbursts of brutal
glee. One of the most ruffianly and greasy looking threw out as she
passed one of those coarse remarks which would bring the colour to the
smooth cheek of an English Miss, and make her call the policeman, and
almost exact an apology. But our valiant Spanish lady, her soul above
prudery, did not even wince, but went on her triumphant way with the
dainty and hesitating step of a woman who rarely sets foot in the dust
of the highway.

For that hers was a triumphant progress there could be no doubt; no one
could look at her without admiration, not so much of her luxurious
attire, as of the severe beauty of her face and the distinction of her
figure. She was five-and-thirty at least. There was something extremely
original in the type of her features. Her complexion was clear and dark,
her eyes, blue, her hair coppery red. Such a strange mingling of
different races is rarely seen in a face: if it showed a stronger dash
of one than another, it was of the Italian. It was one of those faces
which suggest an English lady burnt under a Neapolitan sun. In some of
Raphael's pictures we see heads which may give some notion of our fair
pedestrian.

Her predominant expression at the present moment was one of proud
disdain, to which perhaps the sun contributed by making her knit her
smooth and delicate brows. There was not, it must be confessed, any
sweetness in this face; its firm and regular lines betrayed a haughty
spirit devoid of tenderness; those blue eyes had not the limpid serenity
which lends perfect harmony to a certain virginal style of countenance,
occasionally seen and admired in Spain, but more frequently in the north
of Europe. They were made to express the tumult of vehement and violent
passions, among which ardent love might, perhaps, have its turn, but
never that humble and silent devotion which would consent to die
unspoken.

She wore a high red hat, and a short thin veil, also red, reaching only
to her lips. The hue of this veil contributed to lend her face that
singular tinge which caught the eye of every one who met her. Her
wrapper was a handsome fur cloak, over a dress of the same shade as her
hat, with an overskirt of lace or grenadine such as was then the
fashion.

She held up her muff, as has been said, to shade her eyes, and kept her
eyes fixed on the ground as one who does not care to see or heed
anything which may come in her way. Consequently, till she came to the
Calle de Jorge Juan, she did not detect the presence of a young man,
who, keeping pace with her on the opposite side of the way, gazed at her
with even more admiration than curiosity. But on reaching the corner,
without knowing why, she raised her head, and her eyes met those of her
admirer. A very perceptible shade of annoyance clouded her face; she
frowned with greater severity, and the haughty expression of her eyes
was more marked than before. She walked a little faster, and, on
reaching the Calle de Villanueva, she stood still, and looked down the
street, hoping, no doubt, to see a tramcar. The youth dared not do the
same; he went on his way, not without sending certain eager and
significant glances after the graceful figure, to which she vouchsafed
no notice. The car at last arrived; the lady stepped in, showing, as she
did so, a pretty foot shod in a kid boot, and took her seat in the
farthest corner. Finding herself safe from indiscreet observation, her
eyes by degrees grew more serene, and rested with indifference on the
few persons who were with her in the vehicle; still the cloud of anxious
thought did not altogether disappear from her face, nor the touch of
disdain which lent dignity to her beauty.

Her youthful admirer had not resigned himself to losing sight of her. He
went on confidently down the Calle de Villanueva; but as the tramcar
went by he nimbly caught it up, and got on the step without being
observed. And contriving to place himself where the lady could not see
him, behind other persons standing on the platform, he was able to gaze
at her by stealth, with an enthusiasm which would have made any
looker-on smile.

For the difference between their ages was considerable. Our young friend
looked about eighteen; his face was as beardless, as fresh and as rosy
as a girl's, his hair red, his eyes blue, gentle, and melancholy. Though
he wore an overcoat and a felt hat, his appearance was that of a
gentleman; he was in the deepest mourning, which contrasted strongly
with the fairness of his complexion. Under the magnetic influence of a
firm gaze, which we all have experienced, our heroine ere long turned
her eyes to the spot whence the young man fired darts of passionate
admiration. Her face grew dark again, and her lips twitched with
impatience, as though the poor boy's adoration was an aggression. And
she began to show signs of feeling ill at ease in the coach, turning her
pretty head now this way and now that, with an evident desire to escape.
However, she did not alight till they reached the church of San José,
where she stopped the car and got out, passing her persecutor with a
look of proud disdain, which might have annihilated him.

He must have been a very bold man, or quite devoid of shame, to jump out
after her as he did, and follow her along the Calle del Caballero de
Gracia, taking the opposite side-walk to be able to stare more at his
ease on the face which had so taken possession of him. The lady
proceeded at a leisurely pace, and every man who passed her turned to
gaze. Her step was that of a goddess who condescends to quit her throne
of clouds for an hour, to rejoice and fascinate mortal men, who, as they
behold her, are enraptured and stumble in their walk.

"Merciful Virgin, what a woman!" exclaimed a young officer in a loud
voice, clinging to his companion as if he were about to faint with
surprise.

The fair one could not help smiling very slightly, and the flash of that
smile seemed to light up her exceptional loveliness. Presently two
gentlemen in an open carriage bowed respectfully to her, and she
responded with an almost imperceptible nod. When she reached the corner
where the streets part by San Luis she hesitated and paused, looking in
every direction, and again catching sight of the red-haired youth, she
turned her back on him with marked contempt, and went on at a more rapid
pace down the Calle de la Montera, where her appearance caused the same
excitement in the passers-by. Three or four times she stopped in front
of the shop windows, though evidently she did so less out of curiosity
than in consequence of the nervous state into which the youth's
unrelenting pursuit had plunged her.

Near the Puerta del Sol, to avoid him no doubt, she made up her mind to
go into Marbini's jewel shop. Seating herself with an air of
indifference, she raised her veil a little, and began to examine without
much attention the latest importations in gems which the shopman
displayed before her. She could not have done worse by way of releasing
herself from the observations of her boyish admirer, since he could
pursue them at his leisure and with the greatest ease through the plate
glass windows, and did so with a persistency which enraged her more and
more every minute.

In point of fact, the elegantly decorated shop, glittering in every
corner with precious stones and metals, was a worthy shrine for her
beauty, the setting best fitted for so delicate a gem. And so the youth
was thinking, to judge from the impassioned ecstasy of his eyes and the
statue-like fixity of his attitude. At last, unable any longer to
control her irritation, the lady abruptly rose, and with a brief "Good
morning" to the attendant, who treated her with extraordinary deference,
she quitted the shop, and set off as fast as she could walk, towards the
Puerta del Sol.

Here she stopped; then she went a little way towards a hackney cab, as
though intending to take it; but, suddenly changing her mind, she turned
with a determined step towards the Calle Mayor, still escorted by the
youth at no great distance. Half-way down the street she vanished into
a handsome house, not without sending a hasty but furious glance at her
follower, who took it with perfect and wonderful coolness. The porter
who was standing in the portico, gravely clipping his bushy black
whiskers, hastily pulled off his braided cap, made her a low bow, and
flew to open the glass door to the staircase, pressing, as he did so,
the button of an electric bell. She slowly mounted the carpeted steps,
and by the time she reached the first floor the door was already open,
and a servant in livery was awaiting her.

The house was that of the Excellentisimo Señor Don Julian Calderón, the
head of the banking firm of Calderón Brothers, who occupied the whole of
the first floor, with a staircase apart from that which led to the rest
of the apartments, let to other persons. This Calderón was the son of
another Calderón, well known, in the commercial circles of Madrid, as a
wholesale importer of hides and leather, by which he had made a good
fortune, and in the later years of his life he had greatly augmented it
by devoting himself, not to trade alone, but also to circulating and
discounting bills of exchange. He being dead, his son Julian followed in
his footsteps, without deviating from them in any particular, managing
with his own property that of his two sisters--both married, one to a
medical man, and the other to a landowner of La Mancha. He, too, had
been married for some years to the daughter of a wealthy merchant of
Zaragoza, Don Tomas Osorio by name; the father of the well-known Madrid
banker, whose house in the Salamanca quarter of the town, Calle de D.
Ramon de la Cruz, was kept upon a princely footing. The handsome lady
who had just entered the Calderón's house was this banker's wife, and
consequently the sister-in-law of Señora de Calderón.

She passed in front of the servant without waiting to be announced,
walking on as one who had a right there; crossed three or four large,
elegantly decorated rooms, and, pulling aside with her own hand the rich
velvet curtain with its embroidered fringing, entered a much smaller
drawing-room where several persons were sitting.

In the seat nearest to the fire reclined the mistress of the house; a
woman of some forty years, stout, with regular features, and large black
eyes, but devoid of sparkle; her skin was fair, her hair chestnut, and
remarkably soft and fine. By her, in a low easy chair, sat another lady,
a complete contrast in every respect; brunette, slight, delicate, and
full of excessive vivacity, not only in her keen, bright eyes, but in
her whole person. This was the Marquesa de Alcudia, of one of the first
families in Spain. The three young girls, who sat in a row on straight
chairs, were her daughters, all very like her in physique though they
did not imitate her restlessness, but remained motionless and silent,
their eyes cast down with such an affectation of modesty and composure
that it was easy to see in what severe order they were kept by their
lively and nervous mamma. To one of them every now and then the daughter
of the house spoke in an undertone. She was a child of thirteen or
fourteen, with round cheeks, small eyes, a turn-up nose, and scars in
the throat which argued a delicate constitution. Her hair was plaited
into a long tail tied at the end with a ribbon, as was that of the
youngest Alcudia, with whom she carried on a subdued and intermittent
conversation. This young lady and her sisters wore fanciful hats, all
alike, while Esperanza Calderón sat with her little round head
uncovered, and wore a blue morning frock much too short for a girl of
her age.

Facing the Señora, and lounging, like her, in an arm-chair, was General
Patiño, Conde de Morillejo. He was between fifty and sixty years of age,
but his eyes sparkled with all the fire of youth; his grey hair was
carefully dressed, and large moustaches à la Victor Emmanuel, a pointed
beard and aquiline nose, gave him a gallant and attractive appearance.
He was the ideal of a veteran aristocrat. By him sat Calderón, a man of
about fifty, stout, with a fat florid face, graced with short grey
whiskers, his eyes round, vacant, and dull. Not far from him was an
elderly woman, his mother-in-law, but quite unlike her daughter in face
and figure; so thin, that she was no more than skin and bone, dark, and
with deep-set, penetrating eyes, every feature stamped with intelligence
and decision. Talking to her was Pinedo, the occupant of the third-floor
rooms. His moustache showed no grey hairs, but it was easy to see that
it was dyed; his face was that of a man verging on the sixties; a
good-humoured face too, with prominent eyes full of eager
movement--those of an observant character; he was dressed with care and
elegance, his whole person exquisitely clean.

On seeing the beautiful lady in the doorway, the whole party showed some
excitement; all rose, excepting the mistress of the house, on whose
placid face a faint smile of pleasure showed dimly.

"Ah! Clementina! What a miracle to see you here!"

The lady in question went forward with a smile, and, while she embraced
the ladies and shook hands with the gentlemen, she replied to her
sister-in-law's affectionate reproach.

"Come, come. Fit the cap to your own head--you who never come to my
house above once in six months."

"I have my children to think of, my dear."

"What an excuse; I ask you! I, too, have children."

"Yes, at Chamartin."

"Well, but having sons does not hinder you from going to the opera or
out driving."

Clementina seated herself between her sister-in-law and the Marquesa de
Alcudia; the rest resumed their seats.

"Oh, my dear!" Señora de Calderón went on, "if you could have seen what
a cold I caught at the play the other night. It was all the fault of
that goose Ramon Maldonado; with all his bowing and scraping he could
not manage to shut the door of the box. The draught pierced my very
bones."

"Happy was that draught!" remarked General Patiño with a gallant smile.

Every one else smiled, excepting the lady addressed, who gazed at him in
amazement, opening her eyes very wide.

"How--happy?" said she.

The General had to explain that it was a covert compliment, and not till
then did she reward him with a smile.

"And was not Gayarre delightful?" said Clementina.

"Admirable, as he always is," replied Señora de Calderón.

"He seems to me to want style of manner," the General suggested.

"Oh no, General, I beg your pardon----" And they went off into a
discussion as to whether the famous tenor had or had not the actor's
art, whether he dressed well or ill. The ladies were all on his side;
the men were against him.

From the tenor they went on to the soprano.

"She is altogether charming," said the General, with the confidence and
conviction of a connoisseur.

"Oh! delicious," exclaimed Calderón.

"Well, for my part I regard the Tosti as extremely commonplace. Do you
not think so, Clementina?"

Clementina agreed.

"Do not say so, pray, Marquesa," the General hastened to put in,
glancing as he spoke at Señora de Calderón. "The mere fact that a woman
is tall and stout does not make her commonplace if she holds herself
proudly and has a distinguished manner."

"I do not say so, General; do not make such a mistake," replied the
Marquesa, with some vehemence. But she proceeded to criticise the grace
and fine figure of the soprano with much humour and some little temper.

The argument became general, and the issue proved the reverse of the
former discussion; the men were favourable to the actress and the ladies
adverse. Pinedo summed up by saying in a grave and solemn tone, which,
however, betrayed some covert meaning, "A fine figure is more essential
to a woman than to a man."

Clementina and the General exchanged significant glances. The Marquesa
frowned sternly at the dandy, and then hastily looked at her daughters,
who sat with their eyes downcast, in the same rigid and expressionless
attitude as before. Pinedo himself was quite unmoved, as though he had
said the most natural thing in the world.

"For my part, friend Pinedo, it seems to me that a man too should have a
good figure," said slow-witted Señora de Calderón.

As she spoke a faint gasp was heard as of laughter hardly controlled. It
was the youngest of the Alcudia girls, at whom her mother shot a
pulverising look, and the damsel's face immediately resumed its original
expression of timidity and propriety.

"That is a matter of opinion," replied Pinedo with a respectful bow.

This Pinedo, who occupied one of the apartments on the third floor of
the house, the whole belonging to Señor de Calderón, held a place of
some importance in one of the public offices. The changes of political
administration did not affect his tenure; he had friends of every party,
and had never thrown himself into the scale for either. He lived as a
man of the world; was received at the most aristocratic houses in the
metropolis; was on terms of intimacy with almost every one who figured
in finance or politics; was an early member of the Savage Club (_Club de
los Salvajes_), where he delighted in making fun every evening with the
young aristocrats who assembled there, and who treated him with a
familiarity which not rarely degenerated into rudeness. He was a genial
and intelligent man, with considerable knowledge and experience of the
world; tolerant towards every form of vanity from sheer contempt for
all; and nevertheless, under the exterior of a courteous and inoffensive
creature, he had in the depths of his nature a power of satire which
enabled him to take vengeance quite gracefully, by some incisive and
opportune phrase, for the impertinence of his young friends the
juveniles of the club, who professed an affection for him mingled with
contempt and fear.

No one knew whence he had sprung, though it was regarded as beyond doubt
that he was of humble birth. Some declared that he was the son of a
butcher at Seville; others said that in his youth he had been a waif on
the beach at Malaga. All that was positively known was that, many years
since, he had come to Madrid as hanger-on to an Andalucian of rank, who,
after dissipating his fortune, blew his brains out. Under his protection
Pinedo had made a great many useful acquaintances; he came to know and
be known by everybody who was anybody, and was popular with all. He had
the tact to efface himself when he crossed the path of a pompous and
overbearing man, letting him pass first; he gave rise to no jealousies,
and this is a certain means of exciting no hostility. At the same time
his cleverness, and his caustic wit, which he always kept within certain
bounds, were a constant amusement at social meetings, and sufficed to
give him a certain importance which he otherwise would not have enjoyed.

His family consisted of one daughter aged eighteen, and named Pilar. His
wife, whom no one had known, had died many years before. His salary
amounted to forty thousand reals,[A] on which the father and daughter
lived very thriftily in the third-floor rooms which Calderón let to them
for twenty-two dollars a month. Pinedo's chief outlay was on
"appearances"; that is to say, as he moved in a rank of society above
his own he was obliged to dress well and frequent the theatres.
Understanding the necessity for keeping up his acquaintances--the
pillars on which his continuance in office rested--he indulged in such
expenses without hesitation, pinching himself in other departments of
domestic economy. Thus he lived in a state of stable equilibrium; his
position enabled him to move in the society of the great, while they
unconsciously helped to keep him in his position. No Minister could
venture to dismiss a man whom he would inevitably meet at every evening
party and ball in the capital. As Pinedo had occasionally had the honour
of speaking with Royalty, certain sayings of his were current in
fashionable drawing-rooms, where they enjoyed a fame out of all
proportion to their merits, since, as a rule, there is a conspicuous
lack of wit in most drawing-rooms; he was a good shot with pistol or
rifle, and possessed a voluminous library on the culinary arts. The very
highest personages were flattered when they heard that Pinedo had
praised their cook.

"How long is it since you were at the Colegio, Pacita?" asked Esperanza
of the youngest de Alcudia, in an undertone.

"On Friday last. Do not you know that mamma takes us to confession every
Friday? And you?"

"It is at least three weeks since I was there. Mamma and I confess once
a month."

"And is Father Ortega satisfied with that?"

"He says nothing about it to me. I do not know whether he does to
mamma."

"He would say nothing to her; he knows better than to put his foot in
it. Have you seen the Mariani girls?"

"Yes; I met them in the Retiro Gardens a few days ago."

"Do you know that Maria is engaged?"

"She did not tell me."

"Yes. In the cavalry, a son of Brigadier Arcos. Such a queer-looking
fellow; not ugly, but his legs tremble when he walks, as if he had just
come out of the hospital. You see, as the brigadier is her mamma's most
devoted--it is all in the family."

"And you? Do you keep it up with your cousin?"

"I really cannot tell you. On Monday he went off in a huff and has not
been to the house since. My cousin is not what he seems; he is no
simpleton, but a very presuming fellow; if you give him an inch he takes
an ell. If I did not keep a very sharp look out there is no knowing to
what lengths he would go at the pace he makes. Do you know that the
other day he insisted on kissing me?"

Esperanza gazed at her, smiling and curious. Pacita put her mouth close
to Esperanza's ear and whispered a few words.

"Mercy!" exclaimed the girl, turning scarlet.

"As I tell you, child. Of course I told him he was a horrid wretch, and
I would not touch him with a pair of tongs. He went off very much
nettled, but he will come back."

"Your cousin rides very well. I saw him on horseback yesterday."

"It is the only thing he can do. Books make him idiotic. He has been
examined six times already in Roman law, and has failed to pass every
time."

"What does that matter!" exclaimed Esperanza, with a scorn which might
have made Heinecius turn in his grave. And she went on, "Did Madame
Clément make those hats?"

"No. Mamma had them bought in Paris by Señora de Carvajal, who arrived
on Saturday."

"They are very pretty."

"Yes, prettier than any Madame Clément makes."

Little Esperanza de Calderón, though plain enough, was nevertheless not
without attractions, consisting partly perhaps in her youth, and partly
in her mouth, on which, with its full fresh lips and even white teeth,
sensuality had already set its seal. The youngest of the Alcudias was a
delicate creature, all bones and eyes.

At this point another lady was shown in--a woman of forty or more,
pretty still, though painted, and marked with lines left by a life of
dissipation rather than by years.

"Here is Pepa Frias," said Mariana--the Señora de Calderón--with a
smile.

"Quite right; here is Pepa Frias," said the lady so named, with an
affectation of bad humour. "A woman who is not in the very least ashamed
to set foot in this house." The company all laughed.

"You would suppose by my appearance that I had come out of the
workhouse? That I had no home of my own? But I have. Calle de Salesas,
Number 60--first floor. That is to say, the landlord has--but I pay him,
which is more than all your tenants do, I am very sure. Oh! Pinedo, I
beg your pardon, I did not see you. And I am at home on Saturdays--it
is not so hot as you are here, oof! And I give chocolate and tea and
conversation and everything--just as you do here."

And while she spoke she went from one to another shaking hands with a
look of fury. But as every one knew her for an oddity they took it as a
joke and laughed.

She was a woman of substantial build, her hair artificially red, her
eyes rather prominent, but handsome, her lips rosy and sensual--a
decidedly attractive woman, in short, who had had, and, in spite of
advancing years, still had, many devoted admirers.

"What there is not at my house," she went on to Señora de Calderón,
giving her a sounding kiss on each cheek, "is a woman so graceless and
so insignificant as you. For, of course, I am not come to see you, but
my dear Señor Don Julian, who now and then comes to wish me good
evening, and tell me the latest prices of stocks. And _à propos_ to
prices, Clementina, tell your husband to hold his hand till I give him
notice. No, you had better say nothing about it. I will call at your
house this evening."

"But, child, how you are always loaded with papers about shares and
stocks!" exclaimed Mariana.

"And so would you be if you had not such an energetic husband, who heats
his head over them that you may keep yours cool and easy."

"Come, come, Pepa, do not be calling me names, or you will make me
blush," said Calderón.

"I am saying no more than the truth. You may imagine that it is pure joy
to be always thinking whether shares are going up or down, and writing
letters and endorsements, and walking to and from the bank."

"I imagine, Pepa," said the General, with a gallant smile, "that, from
all I hear, you have a perfect talent for business."

"You imagine! That is an event!"

"I have not so much imagination as you, but I have some," retorted the
General, somewhat put out by the laugh Pepa's speech had raised.

Pepa enjoyed the reputation in society of being a very funny person,
though, in fact, her wit was hardly to be distinguished from audacity.
Speaking always with an affectation of anger, calling things bluntly by
their names, however coarse they might be, saying the most insolent
things without respect of persons--these were the characteristics which
had won her a certain popularity. She had been left a widow while still
young, with two children, a boy who had entered the navy and was at sea,
and a girl who had now been married about a year. Her husband had been a
merchant, and in his later years had gambled successfully on the Bourse.
At that time Pepa had caught the same passion, and, as a widow, she had
cultivated it. Prudence, or more probably the timidity which generally
hampers a woman in such a business, had hitherto saved her from the ruin
which, as a rule, inevitably overtakes gamblers. She had somewhat
impaired her fortune, but still enjoyed a very enviable competency.

"Pepa, the matter is going on famously," said Pinedo. "Zaragoza wishes
to have one volcano, and at Coruña the authorities have decided on
making two, one on the east and one on the west of the town."

"I am glad; I am delighted. So that the shares will not be put on the
market?"

"No; the syndicate has ample security that they will be at three hundred
before the month is out."

The few who were in the joke laughed at this. The rest stared at them
with intense curiosity.

"What is all this about volcanoes, Pepa?" asked Señora de Calderón.

"Señora, a society has been formed for establishing volcanoes in various
districts."

"Indeed. And of what use are volcanoes?"

"For warming, and as decorative objects."

Every one understood the joke excepting the lymphatic mistress of the
house, who still inquired into the details of the affair with continued
interest, her friends laughing till Calderón, half amused and half
annoyed, exclaimed:

"Why, my dear, do not be so simple. Do you not see that it is a joke
between Pepa and Pinedo?"

The couple protested, affecting the greatest gravity. But Pepa whispered
in her friend's ear: "Mariana is such a simpleton that for the last
three months that carpet-knight, the General, has been making love to
her and she has never found it out."

Pepa was not far wrong in styling General Patiño a carpet-knight. In
spite of his swagger, his somewhat damaged features and his martial
airs, Patiño was but a sham veteran. He had got his promotion without
losing a drop of blood--first as military instructor to one of the
princes, then as member of various scientific committees, and finally as
holding a place under the Minister of War; cultivating the favour of
political personages; returned as deputy several times; senator at last
and a member of the Supreme Court of Naval and Military Jurisdiction, he
had never been on the field of battle excepting in pursuit of a
revolutionary general, and then with the firm determination never to
come up with him.

As he had travelled a little and boasted of having seen every implement
in the arts of war, he passed for an accomplished soldier. He subscribed
to two or three scientific reviews; when his profession was under
discussion he would quote a few German authorities, and he spoke in an
emphatic tone and a deep chest voice which impressed his audience. But
in fact the reviews were always left to lie open on his table, and the
German names, though correctly pronounced, were no more than empty
sounds to him. He piqued himself on being a soldier of the modern
school, and for this reason he was never seen in his uniform. He was
fond of the arts, especially of music, and was a regular subscriber to
the Opera House and the Conservatorium Quartetts. He was fond of
flowers, too, and of women--more especially of his neighbour's wife;
insatiable in tasting the fruits of other men's gardens. His life
glided on in simple contentment, in watering the gardenias in his little
garden--Calle de Ferraz--and making love to his friends' wives.

This he did as one who makes it his business, and in the most
business-like way. He devoted all his mind to it, and all the powers of
his considerable intelligence, as a man must who means to achieve
anything great or profitable in this world. His strategical knowledge,
which he had never had occasion to display in the battle-field, served
him a good turn in storming the fair ones of the metropolis. First he
established a blockade with languishing glances, appearing at the
theatre, in the parks, in the churches frequented by the lady;
where-ever she went Patiño's shining new hat, gleaming in the air,
proclaimed the ardent and respectful passion of its owner. Then he
narrowed the _cordon_, making himself intimate in the house, bringing
bonbons to the children, buying them toys and picture-books, taking them
out to breakfast occasionally and bribing the servants by opportune
gifts. Then came the attack; by letter or by word of mouth. And here our
General displayed a daring, an intrepidity, which contrasted splendidly
with the prudence and skill of the siege. Such a combination of talents
have always characterised the great captains of the world: Alexander,
Cæsar, Hernan Cortés, Napoleon.

Years did not avail to cool his ardour for great enterprises, nor to
diminish his extraordinary faculties; or, to be accurate, what he lost
in energy he gained in art; thus the balance was preserved in this
privileged nature. But since fortune--as many philosophers have taught
us--refuses her aid to the old, in spite of his skill the General had of
late experienced certain repulses which he could not ascribe to any
defect of foresight or courage, but only to the vagaries of fate. Two
young wives in succession had snubbed him severely. But, as is always
the case with men of real genius, in whom reverses do not produce any
womanly weakness, but, on the contrary, only prompt them to concentrate
and brace their spirit and power, Patiño did not weep like Augustus
over his legions. But he meditated, and meditated long. And his
meditations were rich in results; a new scheme of tactics, wonderful as
all his schemes were, rose up from the labour of his lofty thoughts.
Taking stock very accurately of his means of attack, and calculating
with admirable precision the amount of resistance which the fair foe
could offer, he perceived that he could no longer besiege new citadels,
where the fortifications were always comparatively recent, but only
those which, being ancient, were beginning to show weak spots. Such keen
penetration in planning the attack and such skill in execution as the
General could bring to bear, promised him certain victory. And in fact,
as a result of this new and sure plan of action, first one and then
another of the most seasoned and mature beauties of the capital
surrendered to his siege, and at the feet of these silver-haired Venuses
he won the reward due to his prudence and courage.

Like Hannibal of Carthage Patiño could vary his tactics as circumstances
required, according to the position and temperament of the enemy.
Certain strongholds demanded severity, a display of the means of
coercion; in other cases craftier measures were needed, a stealthy and
noiseless approach. One fair enemy preferred the martial and manly
aspect of the conquering hero: she would listen with delight to the
history of the famous days of Garrovillas and Jarandilla, when he was in
pursuit of the rebels. Another took pleasure in hearing him discourse in
his highest style of oratory and richest chest notes on political and
military problems. A third, again, went into ecstasies over his
interpretation of some famous melody of Mozart's or Schumann's, on the
violoncello. For our hero played the 'cello remarkably well, and it must
be confessed that this elegant instrument had helped him considerably in
his most successful achievements. He brought out the notes in a quite
irresistible manner, revealing very clearly that, in spite of his
dashing and bellicose temperament, he had an impressionable heart, alive
to the blandishments of love. And lest the long-drawn notes should not
express this with absolute clearness, they were corroborated by eyes
upturned till they disappeared in their sockets at each impassioned or
pathetic point of the melody--eyes which really could not fail of their
effect on any beauty, however stony-hearted.

Pepa's malicious insinuation was not unfounded. The gallant general had
for some time past been turning his guns on Señora de Calderón without
her showing any signs of being aware of it. Never in the course of his
many and brilliant campaigns had he met with a similar case. To bombard
a citadel for several months, to pelt it with shell as big as your
head--and to see it as undisturbed, as sound asleep, as though they had
been pellets of paper! When the General came out, point-blank, with some
perfervid address Mariana smiled complacently.

"Hush, wretch! A nice specimen you must have been in your day!"

Patiño would bite his lips with annoyance. In his day! He who fancied
his day was still at its noon! But his amazing diplomatic talent enabled
him to dissimulate, and smile in bland reply.

"How much did you give for that bracelet?" Pacita inquired of Esperanza,
who was wearing a very pretty and fanciful trinket.

"The General gave it me a few days ago."

"Indeed! The General evidently makes you a great many presents then?"
said her friend, with a slightly ironical tone which the girl did not
understand.

"Oh, yes. He is very kind. He is always giving us things. He gave my
little sister a beautiful locket to wear at her neck."

"And does he make presents to your mamma?"

"Yes, sometimes."

"And what does your papa say?"

"Papa!" exclaimed Esperanza, opening her eyes in surprise, "What should
he say?"

Pacita, without replying, called the attention of one of her sisters.

"Mercedes, look what a pretty bracelet the General has given to
Esperanza."

The second of the Alcudias abandoned her rigidity for a moment, and
taking Esperanza's arm examined the bracelet with interest.

"It is very pretty. And the General gave you that?" she asked,
exchanging a meaning glance with her sister.

"Here comes Ramoncito," said Esperanza, looking towards the door.

"Ah! Ramoncito Maldonado."

A tall young man, slight and thin, very pale, with black whiskers which
encroached on his nose, in the style adopted by his Majesty the King,
and, following his example, by many of the youthful aristocracy, came
into the room with a smile and proceeded to greet the company without
any sign of shyness, taking their hands with a slight shake, and
pressing them to his breast in the affected style which, a few years
since, was the correct thing among the coxcombs of Madrid society. As he
came in he filled the room with some penetrating scent.

"Heavens, what a poisonous atmosphere!" Pepa exclaimed in an undertone,
after shaking hands with him. "What a puppy that fellow is!"

"Hallo! Old boy!" exclaimed this youngster, coolly taking Pinedo by the
beard. "What were you doing yesterday? Pepe Castro called on you----"

"Pepe Castro called on me! So much honour overwhelms me!"

Such familiarity on Maldonado's part to a man already of mature age and
venerable appearance was somewhat startling. But all the gilded youth of
the Savage Club treated Pinedo in the same way without his taking
offence at it.

"And here is Mariana," Pinedo went on, "who has just been abusing you;
and with reason."

"Indeed."

"Do not believe him, Ramoncito," exclaimed Señora de Calderón, much
surprised.

"Oh, and Pepa too."

"You, Pepa?" asked the youth, trying to appear indifferent, but in fact
somewhat uneasy; for Pepa de Frias was very generally feared, and not
without cause.

"I? Oh yes, and I will have it out with you. What do you mean by soaking
yourself with scent? Do you hope to subdue us all through our olfactory
organs?"

"I only wish I could subdue you through any organ, Pepa."

The retort was generally acceptable. There was a spontaneous burst of
laughter, led by Pacita. Her mother bit her lip with rage and whispered
to the daughter next her to tell the second, to communicate to the
youngest that she was a shameless minx, and that she would hear more of
it when she got home.

"Well said, boy! Shake hands on it!" exclaimed Pepa, holding out her
hand to Ramoncito. "That is the first sensible speech I ever heard you
make. Generally you only talk nonsense."

"Thank you very much."

"There is nothing to thank me for."

"We have just read the question you put in the Assembly, Ramoncito,"
said Señora de Calderón, trying by amiability to discredit Pinedo's
accusation.

"Pshaw! Half a dozen words!"

"Every one must make a beginning, young man," said Calderón, with a
patronising air.

"No, no. That is not the way to begin," said Pinedo, gravely, "You begin
by dissentient murmurs; next come interruptions"--"That is inaccurate;
prove it, prove it; you are misinformed"--"Then you go on to appeals and
questions. Next comes the explaining of your own vote, or the defence of
some incidental motion. Finally a speech on some great financial
question. So you see Ramon is at the third stage, that of appeals and
questions."

"Thanks, Pinedito, thanks!" replied the young man, somewhat piqued.
"Then, having reached that stage, I appeal to you not to be so devilish
clever."

"I declare! That too is not so bad," exclaimed Señora de Frias in a tone
of surprise. "Why Ramoncito, you are sparkling with wit!"

The youthful deputy found himself a seat between the daughter of the
house and Pacita de Alcudia who parted reluctantly to make room for his
chair. Maldonado, a man of good family, not altogether devoid of
fortune, and recently elected member of the Chamber, had for some time
been paying his addresses to Esperanza de Calderón. It was in the
opinion of their friends a very suitable match. Esperanza would be
richer than Ramoncito, since Don Julian's business was soundly
established on an extensive scale; still, the young man, who was by no
means a beggar, had begun his political career with credit. The young
girl's parents neither opposed nor encouraged his advances--Calderón,
with the dignity and superiority which money gives, hardly troubled
himself as to who might profess an attachment to his daughter, satisfied
with the certainty that when the time came for marrying her she would
have no lack of suitors. Indeed, five or six young fellows of the most
elegant and superfine society in Madrid buzzed in the parks, at evening
parties, and at the theatre, round the wealthy heiress, like drones
round a beehive.

Ramon had many rivals, some of them men of position. But this did not
trouble him so greatly as that the damsel, by nature so subdued, and
usually so silent and shy, with him was saucy and at her ease, allowing
herself sundry more or less harmless little jests, and blunt answers,
and grimaces, which amply proved that she did not take him seriously.
And for this reason, Pepe Castro, his friend and confidant, constantly
told him that he should make himself more scarce, that he should seem
less eager and less anxious, that a woman was the better for being
treated with a little contempt.

Now Pepe Castro was not merely his friend and confidant, but his model
for every action of social or private life. The verdicts he pronounced
on persons, horses, politics--of which however he rarely spoke at
all--shirts and walking-sticks were to the young deputy incontrovertible
axioms. He copied his dress, his walk, his laugh. If Castro appeared on
a Spanish mare, Ramon sold his English cob to buy such another as his
friend's; if he took to a military salute, raising his hand to the side
of his head, in a few days Ramon saluted like a recruit; if he set up a
flirtation with a shop-girl, it was not long before our youth was
haunting the low quarters of the city, in search of her fellow. Pepe
Castro combed all his hair forward to hide a patch that was prematurely
bald; Ramon, who had a fine head of hair, also combed his hair forward;
nay, he would very willingly have imitated the baldness to appear more
_chic_.

However, in spite of all this devout imitation of his model, he could
not obey him in the matter of his incipient passion. And for this
reason: strange as it may seem, Ramoncito was beginning really to care
for the girl. Love is but rarely a single-minded impulse; various other
passions often contribute to suggest it and vivify it: vanity, avarice,
sensuality, and ambition. Still it is hardly to be distinguished from
the real thing; it inspires the same watchful care, and causes the same
doubts and torments; the touch-stone lies in unselfishness and
constancy. Else it is very easy to mistake them. Ramon believed himself
to be sincerely in love with Esperanza, and perhaps he was justified,
for he admired her and thought of her night and day, he sought every
opportunity of pleasing her, and hated his rivals mortally. However he
might try to follow the advice of the infallible Pepe and to conceal his
devotion, or at any rate the ardour of his feelings, he could not
succeed. He had begun to court her out of self-interest with all the
unconcern of a man whose heart is free, and the young lady's disdainful
indifference had quickly brought him to thinking of her constantly, and
feeling himself confused and fascinated in her presence. Then the
rivalry of other suitors had fired his blood and his desire to win her
hand as soon as possible. And in deference to the truth it must be said
that he had _almost_ forgotten Calderón's thousands, and was _almost_
disinterested in his attachment.

"So you really made a speech in the Chamber, Ramon?" asked Pacita. "And
what did you say?"

"Nothing! Half a dozen words about the service of the bridges," replied
the young man, with an air of affected modesty.

"Can ladies go to the Chamber?"

"Why not?"

"Because I should so much like to hear a debate one day. And Esperanza,
too, I am sure."

"No, no. Not I," Esperanza hastily put in.

"Nonsense, child; do not make any pretence. Do not you want to hear your
lover speak?"

Esperanza turned as red as a poppy and burst out: "I have no lover, and
do not wish for one."

Ramon, too, coloured scarlet.

"Paz, what horrible things you say," Esperanza went on, in indignant
confusion. "If you say any such thing again I will go away and leave
you."

"I beg your pardon, my dear," said the malicious little thing, enchanted
at having put her friend and the deputy to such confusion. "I quite
thought--so many people say--Well, if it is not Ramon it is Federico."

Maldonado frowned.

"Neither Federico nor any one else. Leave me in peace. Look, here comes
Father Ortega. Get up!"



CHAPTER II.

MORE OF THE ACTORS.


A tall priest, still young, with a full, pale face, blue eyes, and the
vague gaze of short sight, was standing in the doorway. Every one rose.
The Marquesa was the first to come forward and kiss his hand. After her,
her daughters did the same, and then Mariana and the other ladies.

"Good-evening, Father." "Delighted to see you, Father." "Sit here,
Father." "No, no, not there; come near the fire, Father."

The men shook hands with him affectionately and respectfully. The
priest's voice, as he returned their greetings, was sweet and very low,
as though there were a sick person in the adjoining room; his smile was
grave, patronising, and insinuating. He had an air of having been
dragged from his cell and his books with extreme difficulty--of coming
hither much against his will, simply to do some good to the Calderóns,
whose spiritual director he was, by the mere contact of his learned and
virtuous person. His clothes and robe were fine and well cut; his shoes
of patent leather with silver buckles; his stockings of silk.

Every one complimented him enthusiastically on a sermon he had delivered
the day before at the Oratory Del Caballero de Gracia. He merely smiled,
and murmured sweetly: "I am only glad, ladies, if you derived any
benefit from it."

Padre Ortega was no common priest--at any rate, in the opinion of the
fashionable society of the metropolis, among whom he had a large
following. Without being a meddler, he was a constant guest in the
houses of persons of distinction. He did not love to make a noise, or
attract the attention of the company to himself; he neither made jokes
nor allowed joking; he had none of the frank, gossiping temper which is
commonly found in those priests who are addicted to social intercourse.
If he had any love of intrigue it must have been of a different type to
that usually seen in the world. Discreet and affable, modest, grave, and
silent in society, effacing himself completely and mingling with the
crowd, he stood out in full relief when he mounted the pulpit, as he
very frequently did. Then he expressed himself with amazing ease and
fluency; he did not move his audience to emotion, and never attempted
it, but he displayed very remarkable talents, and a distinction rare
among his order.

For he was one of those very few ecclesiastics who are--or who at any
rate seem to be--up to the mark of modern science. Instead of the moral
platitudes, the empty and absurd declamation, which are hurled by his
brethren against science and logic, his sermons boldly rose to the level
of the literature of the day; he invariably ended by proving directly or
indirectly that there is no essential incompatibility between the
advance of science and the dogmas of the Church. He would discourse of
evolution, of transmutation, of the struggle for existence; would quote
Hegel sometimes, allude to the Malthusian theory of population, to the
antagonism of Labour and Capital; and from each in turn would deduce
something in support of Catholic doctrine; to meet new modes of attack
new weapons must be employed. He even confessed himself an advocate, in
principle, of Darwin's theories--a fact which surprised and alarmed some
of his more timid friends and penitents, although at the same time it
enhanced their respect and admiration. When he addressed himself to
women only, he avoided all erudition which might bore them, adopted a
worldly tone, spoke of their little parties and balls, their dress and
their fashions like an adept, and drew similes and arguments from
social life. This delighted his fair audience, and brought them to his
feet.

He was the director of many of the principal families of Madrid, and in
this capacity he showed exquisite discretion and tact, treating each one
with due regard to his or her temperament and past and present position.
When he met with a woman like the Marquesa de Alcudia, devout,
enthusiastic, and fervent, the shrewd priest pressed the keys firmly,
was exacting and imperious, inquired into the smallest domestic details,
and laid down the law. In the Alcudia's household not a step was taken
without his sanction; and in such cases, as though he enjoyed exerting
his power, he adopted a stern and grave demeanour which, under other
circumstances, was quite foreign to him.

If he had to do with a family of worldlings, indifferent to the Church,
he played with a lighter hand, was benign and tolerant, requiring them
only to conform outwardly, and refrain from setting a bad example. He
did all he could to consolidate the beautiful alliance which in our days
has been concluded between religion and fashion; every day he found some
new means to this end, some derived from the French, some the offspring
of his own brain. On certain days of the year he would collect an
evening congregation of ladies of his acquaintance in the chapel or
oratory of some noble house. Then there were delightful _matinées_, when
he would extemporise a prayer, some accomplished musician would play the
harmonium, he himself would speak a short friendly address, and then
discuss religious questions with the ladies present; those who chose
might confess, and, to conclude, the party would adjourn to the
dining-room, where they took tea,--and changed the subject.

When any member of one of these families died, Padre Ortega had his name
inserted on the letters of formal announcement, as Spiritual Director,
requesting the prayers of the faithful for the departed soul; and then
he would distribute printed pamphlets of souvenirs or memoirs, with
prayers in which he besought the Supreme Redeemer, in persuasive and
honeyed words, that by this or that special feature of His most Holy
Passion, he would forgive Count T---- or Baroness M---- the sin of pride
or avarice, or what not; but, as a rule, not the sin to which the
deceased had been most prone, for the worthy father had no mind to cause
a scandal or hurt the feelings of the family. He also undertook the
business of arranging for the acquisition of the greatest possible
number of indulgences, for the Papal benediction _in articulo mortis_,
for the prayers of any particular sisterhood, and so forth. Those who
were his friends and of his flock, might be quite certain of not
departing for the other world unprovided with good introductions. What
we do not know is how far they proved useful in the sight of God:
whether He passed them with a superscription in blue pencil as an
ambassador does, or whether, like the lady in the story, He asked: "And
you, Padre Ortega--who introduces you?"

When he had exchanged a few polite words with every person present, with
such courtesy as was due to the position of each, the Marquesa de
Alcudia took possession of him, carrying him off into a corner of the
room, where, seated face to face in two armchairs, they began a
conversation in an undertone, as though she were making confession. The
priest, his elbow resting on the arm of his seat, and his shaven chin in
his hand, listened to her with downcast eyes, in an attitude of
humility; now and then he put in a measured word to which the lady
listened with respect and submission; though she immediately returned to
the charge, gesticulating vehemently, but without raising her voice.

Soon after the ecclesiastic, a youth had made his appearance--a fat
youth, very round and rosy, with little whiskers which came but just
below his ears, his eyes deep set in flesh, and a fine fresh colour in
his cheeks. His clothes looked too tight for him; his voice was hoarse,
and he seemed to produce it with difficulty. Ramon Maldonado's face
clouded over as he came in. This new-comer was the heir of the Conde de
Casa-Ramirez, and one of the suitors for the first born of the house of
Calderón. Jacobo--or Cobo Ramirez, as he was generally called, was
regarded as a comic personage for the same reasons as Pepa Frias, but
with less foundation. He too displayed great freedom of speech, cynical
disrespect of persons, even of the most respectable, and an almost
incredible degree of ignorance. His jests were the coarsest and grossest
which decent people could by any means endure. Sometimes, indeed, they
hit the nail on the head, that is to say, he had a happy thought; but as
a rule his sallies were purely and unmitigatedly indecent.

And yet the company were pleased to see him. A smile of satisfaction
lighted up every face but that of Ramoncito.

"I say, Calderón," he exclaimed as he came in, without any sort of
preliminary greeting; "how do you manage to have such good-looking boys
for your servants? As I came in, in the dim light, by the mezzo-soprano
voice I heard, I took one of them for a girl."

"Nonsense, man," said the banker, laughing.

"I tell you I did, man, not that I care if you have as many Romeos as
you please. Is your friend Pinazo coming this evening?"

All understood the allusion; almost every one burst out laughing.

"No, no, he is not coming," replied Calderón, choking with laughter.

"What are they laughing at, Pacita?" asked Esperanza, in a low voice.

"I do not know," she replied with perfect sincerity, shrugging her
shoulders; "Cobo has said something horrid no doubt. I will ask Julia
by-and-bye; she will be sure to know."

They both looked at the eldest of the three sisters, but she sat unmoved
and stiff, with downcast eyes as usual; nevertheless the corners of her
mouth quivered with a faint smile of comprehension which showed that her
youngest sister's confidence in her profound intuition was amply
justified.

"Hallo! Ramoncillo!" said Cobo, going up to Maldonado, and patting him
familiarly on the cheek. "Always the same sweet and seductive youth?"

The tone was half affectionate and half ironical, which the other took
very much amiss.

"Not to compare with you; but getting on," replied Ramoncito.

"No, no, you are the beauty of the two--let these young ladies decide.
You are a little too thin perhaps, especially of late, but you will
double your weight as soon as you have got over this."

"I have nothing to get over. And after all, no one can run to as many
pounds as you," retorted Ramon, much nettled.

"You have more graces."

"Come, that will do; do not come talking such nonsense here, for it is
very bad form, especially in the presence of these young ladies."

"Why must you two always be quarrelling?" exclaimed Pepa Frias. "Have
done with this squabbling, or the world will not be wide enough to hold
you both."

"No, the place that is not wide enough for these two, is Calderón's
house," said Pinedo, in an undertone.

"Nothing of the kind," Cobo exclaimed, in a cheerful voice "friends who
quarrel are the best friends--eh old fellow?"

And taking Ramoncito's head between his hands, he shook it
affectionately. Maldonado pushed him away crossly.

"Have done, have done; you are too rough."

Cobo and Maldonado were intimate friends. They had known each other from
infancy, they had been at school together; then in the world of fashion
they had kept up a close acquaintance, chiefly at the club which both
frequented regularly. As they followed the same profession, that,
namely, of "men about town," on horseback, on foot, or in a carriage, as
they visited the same houses, and met everywhere and every day, their
mutual confidence was unlimited. At the same time, they were always on
terms of mild hostility, for Cobo had a true contempt for Ramon, and
Ramon, suspecting the fact, was constantly on his guard. This hostility
did not exclude liking; they were insolent to each other, and would
quarrel for hours on end, but afterwards they would drive out together,
just as if nothing had occurred, and arrange to meet at the theatre.
Maldonado took everything Cobo said quite seriously, and Cobo delighted
in contradicting him whenever he spoke, till he had succeeded in putting
him out of patience.

But all affection vanished from the moment when they had both cast their
eyes on Esperanza de Calderón; hostility alone remained. Their relations
were apparently the same as before, they met every day at the club,
often walked out, and went hunting together, but at the bottom of their
hearts they hated each other. Each spoke ill of the other behind his
back; Cobo, of course, with more wit than Ramon, because, with or
without good reason, he had a real and sincere contempt for his rival.

"Come, you are just like my daughter and her husband," said Señora de
Frias.

"Not so bad, not so bad, Pepa!" Ramirez put in, with affected horror.

"What a shameless fellow you are!" exclaimed the lady, trying to control
her laughter, which ill-matched her affectation of wrath. "They are just
like you two, for they are always squabbling and making it up again."

And then she went on to describe in racy terms her daughter's married
life. She and her husband alike were a couple of children, dear
children, but quite insupportable. If he did not hand her a dish as
quickly as she expected, or had not poured her out a glass of water; if
his shirt-buttons were off, or his clothes not brushed; or if there was
too much oil in the salad, there were frightful rows. They were both
equally susceptible and touchy. Sometimes they did not exchange a word
for a week at a time, and to carry on the affairs of life they would
write little notes to each other in the most distant terms: "Asuncion
has asked me to go with her to the play at eight o'clock. Is there any
objection to my going?" she would write, and leave the note on his
study-table.

"You may go wherever you choose," he would reply in the same way.

"What will you have for dinner, to-morrow; do you like pickled tongue?"

"You ought to know by this time that I never eat tongue. Do me the
favour to order the cook to get some fish; but not fresh anchovies, as
we had them the other day; and desire her not to burn the fritters."

Neither of them chose to give way to the other, so that this nonsense
would go on indefinitely, till she, Pepa, took them both by the ears,
gave them a piece of her mind and obliged them to make it up. Then they
went to the other extreme in their reconciliation.

"Do you know, Pepa, that I should not care to be there at the moment of
reconciliation?" said Cobo, with another outburst of malignant
vulgarity.

"Nor I, my friend," she replied with a sigh of resignation, that was
very laughable. "But, what can I do? I am a mother-in-law, which is the
lowest function one can fill in this world, and I must endure that
penance and many more of which you know nothing."

"I can imagine them."

"You cannot possibly imagine them."

"But then, my dear, it would be a great joy to me, to see my children
friends once more," said the gentle Mariana, in her slow, drawling,
lethargic way. "There is nothing more odious than a quarrelsome couple."

"And to me, too--when the scene is over," replied Pepa, exchanging
smiles with Cobo Ramirez and Pinedo.

"How gladly would I make friends with you, Mariana, on the same terms,"
said the insinuating general, in a low voice, taking advantage of a
moment when Calderón's wife stooped down to stir the fire with an
enamelled iron poker. At the same time, as if he wished to take it from
her, and save her the trouble, the General's fingers were laid on the
lady's, and without exceeding the truth, may be said to have lightly
pressed them.

"Make friends?" said she, in her usual voice. "But first we should have
to quarrel, and thank God we have not done that."

The old beau did not venture to reply; he laughed awkwardly with an
uneasy glance at Calderón. If he persisted, this simpleton was capable
of repeating aloud the audacious speech he had just made.

"Of course," Pepa went on, "I interfere as little as possible in their
disputes. I hardly ever go to their house even--Pah! I loathe playing
the part of mother-in-law."

"Well, Pepa, I only wish you were my mother-in-law," said Cobo, with a
meaning look into her eyes.

"Good! I will tell my daughter; she will be much flattered."

"No, it has nothing to do with your daughter! It is that--that I should
like you to interfere in my concerns."

"Stuff and nonsense! Cease your compliments," replied the lady, half
vexed. But a symptom of a smile which curled her lips showed
nevertheless that the speech had pleased her.

Ramoncito now brought the conversation back to the opera--the hare which
runs in every fashionable meeting in Madrid. The opera is, indeed, to
the subscribers, no mere amusement, but an institution. It is not,
however, a love of music which makes it a constant subject of
discussion, but the fact that they have nothing else to think about. To
Ramoncito Maldonado, to Señora de Calderón, and to hundreds of others,
the world is divided into two classes: those who subscribe to the opera
and those who do not. The former alone really and completely represent
the essential part of humanity.

Gayarre and Tosti once more came under discussion. Those of the party
who had just come in gave their opinion on the merits as well as on the
physical advantages or defects of the two singers.

Ramoncito began to tell Esperanza and Paz in a low voice how that he had
last evening been presented to La Tosti in her dressing-room. A very
amiable and refined woman; she had received him with wonderful
graciousness and friendliness. She had heard much of him--Ramoncito--and
had been most anxious to know him personally. When she was told that he
was a member of the Assembly she was amazed to think of his having risen
to such a position while still so young. "So absurd you know; it would
seem that in other countries it is the custom only to elect old
men.--She is even handsomer near than from a distance--a skin like
velvet, exquisite teeth; then a splendid figure--a noble bust, and such
arms!"

Vanity had made the young man not only a blunderer--for it is a
well-known rule that in courting one woman it is never wise to praise
another too vehemently--but a little over free in speaking to two such
young girls. They looked at each other and smiled; their eyes sparkling
with mischievous fun, which the young deputy did not detect.

"And tell me now, Ramon, did you not make her a declaration on the
spot?" Pacita inquired.

"Certainly not," replied he, seeing through the ironical meaning of the
question.

"Then you will."

"Never! I love another lady." And as he spoke he shot a languishing
glance at Esperanza. The young girl suddenly turned serious.

"Really? Tell me, tell me----."

"It is a secret."

"Well, we can keep a secret. You will not tell, will you, Esperanza?"

And the mischievous little thing looked slily at her friend, enjoying
her vexation and Ramoncito's discomfiture.

"I do not want to know anything about it."

"There, Ramon, do you hear? Esperanza does not want to hear anything
about your love affairs. I know why, though I shall not say."

"What a silly thing you are, child," exclaimed Esperanza, now really
angry.

The young man, flattered by these hints from an intimate friend,
nevertheless thought it well to change the subject, for he saw that
Esperanza was seriously annoyed.

"But you must not believe that it would be so very difficult to make a
declaration to La Tosti, and for her to respond to it. Ask Pepe Castro;
you can depend on what he says about it."

"But Pepe Castro is not you," said Esperanza, with marked disdain.

Maldonado fell from the celestial spaces where he had been soaring. This
pointed speech, uttered in a tone of contempt, touched him to the quick.
For, as it happened, the transcendent superiority of Pepe Castro was one
of the few truths which dwelt in his mind as absolutely indisputable.
There might be doubts as to Homer's, but as to Pepito's--none. The
certainty of never rising, however much he might try, to the supreme
height of elegance, indifference, contempt, and sovereign scorn of all
creation, which characterised his admired friend, humiliated him and
made him miserable.

Esperanza had laid her finger on the wound which was threatening his
existence. He could not reply; the shock was so great.

Clementina was depressed and uneasy. As soon as she had entered her
sister-in-law's drawing-room, she had sought a pretext for leaving; but
she could find none. She was compelled to let some little time elapse;
the minutes seemed ages. She had chatted for a few moments with the
Marquesa de Alcudia, but that lady had quitted her when Father Ortega
had come in. Her sister was appropriated by General Patiño, who was
giving her an elaborate account of the mode of rearing and feeding
nightingales in captivity. The two Alcudia girls, who sat next to her,
might have been wax dolls, they were so stiff and motionless, answering
only in monosyllables to the few questions she addressed to them. By
degrees a sort of obscure irritation took possession of her; to a woman
of her temperament it was a matter of minutes only before she would
cast all conventionality to the winds and take an abrupt departure. But
on hearing the name of Pepe Castro, she looked up eagerly, and listened
with keen interest. At Ramoncito's abrupt allusion to him she suddenly
turned pale; however, she immediately recovered herself, and, joining in
the conversation with a smile, she said: "Nay, nay, Ramon, do not be
malignant. We poor women, if you begin to talk of us----!"

"I speak ill of none who do not deserve it, Clementina," replied the
youth, encouraged by the rope thus thrown out for him.

"You men discuss us all. It strikes me that your friend Pepe Castro is
not a man to bite his tongue out rather than sully a woman's
reputation."

"But, indeed, Clementina, I never yet found him out in a falsehood. All
Madrid knows him for a favourite with women."

"I cannot imagine why!" exclaimed the lady, with a disdainful pout.

"I am no connoisseur in male beauty," said the young man, laughing at
his own phrase, "but everybody says that Pepito is handsome."

"Pshaw! That is a matter of individual taste. Pacita, who is his
relation, will excuse me--but I, who am one of the 'everybody' do not
say so."

"It is quite true," said Esperanza timidly, "that Pepito is not
considered bad-looking. Besides he is very elegant and _distingué_. Do
you not think so?" And she turned to Pacita, colouring slightly as she
spoke. Clementina glanced at her with a penetrating and singular
expression which deepened the blush.

"What are you talking about?" asked Cobo Ramirez, joining the little
circle.

He hardly ever sat down. He liked wandering from group to group,
breathing as hard as an ox, and firing some audacious remark at each in
turn. Ramoncito's brow darkened at his rival's approach. Cobo did not
fail to perceive it and looked at him with a slight sneer.

"Well, Ramoncito? Tell me, how do you contrive to keep these ladies so
well amused? I was just saying to Pepa that you really sparkle with
wit."

"No, indeed. How should I sparkle when you monopolise it?" said the
deputy, with some irritation.

"Well, well, my son, if you are afraid of me I will go."

An ironical smile, both bitter and triumphant, beamed on Ramoncito's
sharp features. He had the enemy in a trap. It should be said that, a
few days since, a learned discussion had given rise to a decision by an
expert philologist that _afraid_ was wrong and _afeard_ alone was right.

"My dear Cobo," he exclaimed, throwing himself back in his chair and
gazing at him with ironical amazement. "Before you talk in the presence
of persons of quality you might learn to speak your mother-tongue. I
mean--it seems to me----"

"Well?" said the other, in surprise.

"That no one now says _afraid_ but _afeard_, my dear Cobo. I give you
the information for your satisfaction and future guidance."

Ramon's manner as he spoke was so arrogant, and his smile so impertinent
that Cobo, disconcerted for a moment, asked in a fury:

"And why afeard rather than afraid?"

"Because it is so--because I say so! That is why," replied the other,
not ceasing to smile with increasing sarcasm, and casting a triumphant
look at Esperanza.

The two rushed into an animated and violent discussion. Cobo held his
own, maintaining with great spirit that no one ever said _afeard_, that
he had never heard the word in his life, and that he was in the habit of
talking to educated persons. The young and scented deputy answered him
briefly, still smiling impertinently, and sure of his triumph. The more
angry Cobo became, the more Ramon gloated over his humiliation in the
presence of the damsel to whom they both were paying court. But the
tables were turned when Cobo, thoroughly provoked and seeing himself
beaten, called General Patiño to the rescue.

"Come here, General; you who are eminent as an authority--Do you think
it correct to say _afeard_?"

The General, greatly flattered by this opportune mouthful of honey,
replied, addressing Maldonado in a tone of paternal instruction:

"No, Ramoncito, no. You are mistaken. Such a word as _afeard_ was never
heard of."

The young man jumped in his chair. Suddenly abandoning all irony, and
his eyes flashing, he began to exclaim that they did not know what they
were talking about, that it would seem that the best authorities were
liars, and so on, and so on--that he was quite certain he was right, and
that he wanted a dictionary forthwith.

"To tell you the truth," said Don Julian, scratching his head, "the
dictionary I used to possess has disappeared. I do not know who can have
taken it. But it seems to me--I agree with the General--that we say
afraid and not afeard."

This fresh blow was too much for Maldonado; pale already, and tremulous
with vexation, he uttered a last cry of despair.

"But _afeard_ is derived from _fear_, gentlemen!"

"Fear or small beer, it is all the same!" exclaimed Cobo, with an
insolent peal of laughter. "Confess now that you have put your foot in
it, and promise not to do it any more."

Maldonado's disgust and rage knew no bounds. He struggled on a few
minutes with incoherent words and gestures; but as the only reply to his
energetic protests were laughter and sarcasm, he resigned himself to an
attitude of dignity and scorn, chewing the cud of bitterness, his lips
quivering, his looks grim, a snort of indignation now and again
inflating his nostrils. Cobo remained unmoved, taking every opportunity
that offered for shooting a poisoned dart of repartee at the foe, which
enchanted the girls and made their elders smile soberly. No one in this
world ever hungered and thirsted for justice as did Ramoncito at this
moment.

The arrival of another visitor ended, or at any rate, suspended, his
torments. The Duke of Requena was announced. His entrance produced an
agitation which sufficiently indicated his consequence. Calderón went
forward to receive him, offering him both hands with much effusion. All
the men rose in haste, and left their seats to meet him with smiles and
gestures expressive of the reverence he inspired. The ladies turned
their heads to greet him with curiosity and respect, and Pepa Frias rose
to shake hands with him. Even Father Ortega deserted his Marquesa and
went forward with a submissive and engaging bow, smiling at him with his
bright eyes behind the strong spectacles for short sight which he wore.
For a few minutes the only words to be heard in the room were "Señor
Duque," "Señor Duque"--"Oh Señor Duque!"

The object of all these attentions was a short, stout man with a
lividly-pale face, prominent squinting eyes, white hair, and a grizzled
moustache as stiff and harsh as the quills of a porcupine. His lips were
thick and mobile, stained by the juice of a cigar which he held, not
lighted, between his teeth, incessantly passing it from one corner of
his mouth to the other. He might be about sixty years of age, more
rather than less. He was wrapped in a magnificent loose fur coat, which
he had not removed in the ante-room, having a cold. But on setting foot
in the little drawing-room, the heat struck him as unpleasant, and
hardly replying to the greetings and smiles which hailed him from all
sides, he only muttered rudely, in the hoarse, thick voice
characteristic of men with a short neck: "Poof! a perfect furnace!" And
he added a Valencian expletive more vehement than choice. At the same
time he unbuttoned his overcoat. Twenty hands were laid on it to help
him to take it off, which somewhat hindered the process.

And now, in the Calderón's drawing-room, was repeated the scene which
has oftener than any other been performed in this world, of the
Israelites in the desert worshipping the Golden Calf. The new-comer was
no less a person than Don Antonio Salabert, Duke of Requena--the famous
Salabert, the richest of the rich in Spain, one of the colossal figures
of finance, and, beyond a doubt, the most famous for the extent and
importance of his transactions. He was a native of Valencia. No one had
ever heard of his family. Some said he had been a mere waif in the
streets; others that he had begun as a footman to some banker, and had
risen to be a sort of messenger and errand man, others that he had been
an adventurer under Cabrera in the first civil war, and that the origin
of his fortunes was a valise full of gold, of which he had robbed a
traveller. Some even went so far as to credit him with having belonged
to one of the notorious troops of banditti who infested Spain just after
the war. He, however, explained the growth of his fortune--which
amounted to no less than four hundred millions of reales[B]--in the
simplest and most graphic way. When he was angry with any of his
clerks--as very frequently happened--and found that they took offence at
his gross abuse, he would say to them, shouting like a possessed
creature: "Do you know how I came by my money? By taking many a kick
behind. Nothing but kicks will ever help you up the ladder. Do you
understand?"

It must be confessed that there was something a little vague about this
explanation, but the authority with which it was delivered gave it
irrefragable value. Assuming it as the basis of the inquiry, we might
perhaps be able to form a just estimate of the character and the
achievements of the wealthy banker.

"Hallo, little lady," said he, going up to Clementina and taking her by
the chin as if she were a child. "You here? I did not see your carriage
below."

"No, Papa; I came on foot."

"You are a wonder. You can take mine if you like."

"No, I would rather walk. I have been out of spirits lately."

The duke had turned his back on all the company, and was talking to his
daughter with as much affability as he was capable of. He rarely saw
her. Clementina was his natural daughter, the child of a woman of the
lowest type, as he himself had probably been. Afterwards, when he was
already beginning to be rich, he had married a young girl of the middle
class, by whom he had no family. This lady, whose health since her
marriage had been extremely delicate, had agreed, or to be exact, had
herself proposed that her husband's daughter should come to live with
her. Clementina had therefore been brought up at home, and was loved as
a daughter by her father's wife, whom she loved and respected as a
mother. Since her marriage she had paid her frequent visits; but as her
father was always busy, she did not go into his rooms, but left her
mother's--for so she called her--only to quit the house. Excepting on
days when there was some great dinner or reception, or when she met him
by chance in the street or at a friend's house, they never talked
together.

After inquiring for her husband and sons, the duke, without sitting
down, turned to talk to Calderón and Pepe Frias. He was a man of common
and provincial appearance; he rarely smiled, and when he did, it was so
faintly as to be hardly perceptible. He was in the habit of calling
things by their names, and addressing every one without any formula of
courtesy, saying things to their face which might have seemed grossly
rude, but that he knew how to give them a tone of friendly bluntness
which deprived them of their sting. He was not loquacious; he generally
stood silently chewing the end of his cigar and studying his
interlocutor with his squinting and impenetrable eyes. When he talked it
was with a factitious and cunning simplicity which was not unattractive,
but through it pierced the old man, the Valencian foundling, shrewd,
sarcastic, crafty and uncommunicative.

Pepa Frias began to talk of money matters; on this subject the widow was
inexhaustible. She wanted to know everything, was afraid of being taken
in, always greedy of large profit, and comically terrified at the idea
of a depreciation of the Stocks she held. She would have every detail
repeated to satiety.

"Should she sell Bank Stock and buy Cubas? What was the Government going
to do about entailed estates? She had heard rumours! Would money be
dearer at the next settlement? Would it not be better to sell at once,
and make thirty centimes, than to wait till the end of the month?"

To her Salabert's words were as the Delphic oracle; the banker's fame
acted like a charm. But, unluckily, the Duke--like every oracle, ancient
or modern--was wont to answer ambiguously. Often his only reply was a
grunt, which might mean assent, dissent, or doubt; while the words,
which now and then made their way between the cigar and his moist,
stained lips, were obscure, brief, and frequently unintelligible.
Besides, every one knew that he was not to be trusted, that he loved to
put his friends on the wrong track, and see them get a tumble in some
bad speculation. Nevertheless, Pepa persisted in hoping to wring from
that great mind the secret of the hidden Pactolus, playfully taking him
by the lapels of his coat, calling him old fellow, old fox, Sphinx,
glorying in her audacity, which amounted to a flirtation. But the banker
was not to be cajoled. He humoured her mood, answering her with grunts,
or with some coarse joke at which Calderón would laugh, though he felt
in no laughing mood as he noted the frequency of the duke's
expectorations on his carpet; for the munching of his cigar gave rise to
the necessity, and he was not accustomed to note what he was doing.
Calderón was as much irritated, and annoyed as if his visitor had spit
in his face. The third time it happened he could contain himself no
longer; with his own hands he fetched a spittoon. Salabert gave him a
mocking glance and winked at Pepa.

Calderón, now easier in his mind, became quite loquacious, and
endeavoured to reply instead of the Duke, and advise Pepa as to her
investments; but though he was a man of prudence and experience in such
matters, the widow did not value his counsels, nor would she listen to
them. When all was said and done, there was an enormous gulf between him
and Salabert--the one an ordinary stock-broker, the other a genius of
banking. The Duke, no doubt, assented inarticulately to the opinions of
the master of the house, but Pepa would none of them.

Salabert presently left them to themselves, and seated himself on the
arm of a chair in a lounging attitude, which he alone would have
ventured on. Instead of being disliked for his coarse rudeness, his bad
manners contributed not a little to his prestige and to the idolatrous
reverence which was paid him in society. Having left the spittoon behind
him, he again expectorated on the carpet with a malicious pleasure which
was visible through his imperturbable mask of good humour. Calderón on
his part frowned gloomily once more, till at length, with a heroic
determination to ignore the conventionalities, he once more fetched the
spittoon, but less boldly than before, for he only pushed it along with
his foot. Pepa, meanwhile, seated herself on the other arm, and went on
coaxing the Duke till at last he paid more attention to her. He glanced
at her several times from head to foot, dwelling with satisfaction on
her figure, which was round and shapely. Altogether Pepa was a
fresh-looking and attractive woman. In a few minutes the banker leaned
over her without much delicacy, and, putting his face so close to hers,
that he almost seemed to touch her cheek with his lips, he said in a
whisper:

"Have you many Osuñas?"

"A few--yes----"

"Sell at once."

Pepa looked him straight in the eyes, and, taking the advice as meant,
she said no more. A few minutes later it was she who put her face across
to the banker's, and asked him mysteriously:

"And what shall I buy?"

"Entailed estate," he replied in the same tone.

Just now a lady and gentleman came in, a young couple, both under the
middle height, smiling, and lively.

"Here are my young people," said Pepa.

They were, in fact, a pleasing pair; well matched, with attractive,
candid faces, and so young that they really looked like a couple of
children. They shook hands with every one in turn, and every face beamed
with the affectionate protecting feeling which they could not fail to
inspire.

"Here is your mother-in-law, Emilio. What a vexatious meeting, eh?" said
Pepa to the young man.

"Mother-in-law! No, no. Mamma, mamma," replied he, pressing her hand
affectionately.

"Heaven reward you!" replied the lady, with a comical sigh of gratitude.

Once more the company settled into their seats. The young couple sat
down by the mistress of the house. Clementina had left her seat, and was
talking to Maldonado; Pepe Castro's name recurred frequently in their
conversation. Meanwhile Cobo was improving the opportunity, and making
Pacita laugh with his impertinence; but although he hoped that Esperanza
might receive his jests with equal favour, this was not the case. The
young lady was grave and absent-minded, and evidently trying to overhear
what Ramoncito and Clementina were saying; Pinedo had remained standing,
and was doing the civil to the Duke; and the General, seeing his adored
one in eager conversation with the new comers--tired, too, of finding
that his elaborately disguised compliments were not understood, nor even
his poetical allusions--followed his example. The Marquesa and the
priest still sat whispering vehemently to each other in a corner, she
more and more humble and insinuating, sitting at the very edge of her
chair, and bending forward to make herself heard; he every minute more
grave and rigid, closing his eyes from time to time as if he were in the
confessional.

"What a pair of babies!" said Pepa to Mariana, alluding to the young
couple. "Is it not a shame to think of such children being married? How
much better they would be playing with their tops!"

The young people in question laughed, and looked lovingly at each other.

"They play with them still, at spare moments," said Cobo Ramirez in a
childish squeak.

"Don't talk nonsense!" cried Pepa, turning on him fiercely. "Have they
told you what they play at?"

Cobo and Mariana exchanged a significant look. Irenita, the young wife,
coloured deeply.

"You are growing old, Pepa. Remember you are a grandmother," said
Mariana.

"And such a grandmother!" exclaimed Cobo in an undertone, intended to be
heard only by the lady concerned. She glanced at him, half smiling and
half vexed, showing that she had heard, and was on the whole pleased.
Cobo affected innocence.

"Is your quarrel over?" said the widow, turning to her children. "And
how long will peace last? Mercy, what a squabbling pair. Look here, I
will go to your house no more, for when I find you sulking I long to
take a broomstick and break it over your shoulders."

The whole company turned round to look at the husband and wife, who were
smiling beatifically. This time they both blushed. But in spite of the
gravity which remained stamped on Emilio's features, it was clear that
his mother-in-law's free and easy sallies did not altogether displease
him.

General Patiño, at Señora de Calderón's request, pressed the button of
an electric bell. A servant came in to whom his mistress gave a sign,
and five minutes later he reappeared with two others, carrying trays
with cups, tea, cakes and biscuits. There was a stir of satisfaction; a
change of attitude in all the party, and the sparkle in their eyes of
the animal pleased to satisfy a craving of nature. Esperanza hastened to
leave her friend and Ramirez, and proceeded to help her mother in the
task of pouring out tea for the company. Ramoncito took advantage of the
moment when the young girl offered him a cup, to observe in an aside
that he was much surprised at her finding any pleasure in listening to
the nonsensical or unseemly speeches of Cobo Ramirez. Esperanza looked
at him somewhat abashed, but she replied that she had heard no nonsense;
that Cobo was very pleasant and amiable. Ramoncito, in his lowest and
most pathetic tones, protested against such an opinion, and persisted in
running down his friend, till Cobo's suspicions were aroused, and he
came up, jesting as usual. On this our illustrious deputy grew sullen
once more, and drew in his horns; it only remained for Cobo to bring out
some piece of insulting nonsense to turn the laugh against his rival.

This was the moment for discussing literature; a stage which always
supervenes in every afternoon or evening party in Madrid. General Patiño
mentioned a new play which had just been brought out with great success,
and raised some objections to it, chiefly on the ground of certain
scenes being too highly coloured. Mariana declared that on no account,
then, would she go to see it; and all agreed in anathematising the
immorality which nowadays is the delight of play-writers. Naturalism was
becoming a curse. Cobo Ramirez, who had taken tea and then more tea, and
had eaten a fabulous quantity of sandwiches and biscuits, told the
company that he had lately read a novel entitled "Le Journal d'une
Dame"--in French of course--which was precious, charming, the most
delightful thing he had ever read. For in literature Cobo--strange to
say--was all for refinement, spirituality and delicacy. It was of no use
to talk to him of those dreary books which dwell on the number of times
a bricklayer stretches himself when he gets out of bed--or of biscuits
and cakes a young gentleman can eat at afternoon tea--or describe the
birth of a child and other such horrors. Novels ought to deal with
pleasant things since they are written to give pleasure. And all this he
pronounced with decision, snorting like a war-horse as he talked. All
the audience agreed with him.

But this literary lecture was prematurely cut short by the arrival of
another visitor, a man, neither tall nor short, nor stout nor thin,
square shouldered and dapper, sallow, and wearing a black beard so thick
and curly that it looked like a false one. This was no less a personage
than the Minister of Public Works, a member of the Cabinet. He carried
his head so high that the back of it was almost lost between his
shoulders, and his half-closed eyes flashed self-confident and
patronising gleams from between his long black lashes. Till the age of
two-and-twenty he had carried his head as nature intended; but from the
day when he had been made vice-president of the section of Civil and
Canon Law in the Academy of Jurisprudence, he had begun to hold it
higher and higher, by slow and majestic degrees, as the moon rises over
the sea on the stage at the opera-house, that is to say by slight and
frequent jerks with a rope. He was elected a provincial member--a little
jerk; then deputy to the Cortes--another little jerk; Governor of a
district, and another little jerk; Director General of a
department--another; President of the Committee of Ways and
Means--another; Member of the Cabinet--yet another. But now the rope was
at an end. If they had made him heir to the throne, Jimenez Arbos could
not have held his large head a tenth of an inch higher.

His entrance on the scene produced some little sensation, but not such
as that of the Duke of Requena. He, whose puffy, sensual face could not
conceal the scorn he felt for the Assembly, nevertheless hurried to
greet him with a deference and servility which amazed every one, all the
more by comparison with the rough discourtesy he usually displayed in
social intercourse. The Minister, on his part, distributed hand-shakings
with an air of abstraction which was positively offensive. It was only
when he greeted Pepa Frias that he showed any signs of animation. The
widow asked him in a familiar tone:

"How is it that you are in evening dress?"

"I am on my way to dine at the French Embassy."

"And then home?"

"Yes."

This dialogue, carried on very rapidly in a low voice, was noticed by
the Duke, who went up to Pinedo and asked him mysteriously, with an
expressive sign: "I say--Arbos and Pepa Frias?"

"These two months past, at least."

The gaze which the banker now bestowed on the widow was widely different
from his former glances. He was more attentive, more respectful, keener,
and presently somewhat meditative. Calderón had approached the Minister
and was talking to him with polite attention; Salabert joined them. But
the great man was not inclined to talk of business, or perhaps he was
afraid of the financier; the press had thrown out some malevolent hints
as to Requena's transactions with the Government. So in a few minutes
the Duke attached himself, instead, to Pepa Frias, and stood chatting
with her in a corner of the room.

Clementina was growing more and more impatient, longing vehemently to
get away. Still, she would not go, for fear her father should insist on
accompanying her. The Minister was the first to depart, taking leave
with the same impressive absent-mindedness, never looking at the person
he addressed, but up at the ceiling. The Duke meanwhile had quite taken
possession of the widow, displaying such effusive gallantry that he
might have been about to make her a declaration of love. The General,
observing this, said to Pinedo:

"Look how eager the Duke has become! He is certainly making love to
Pepa."

"No," replied the other very gravely. "He is making love to the transfer
of the Riosa Mining Company."

At this moment Pepa Frias announced in a loud voice that she was going.

"Where are you off to, next?" asked the banker.

"To Lhardy's shop, to buy some Italian sausages."

"I will take you there."

"Do--and I will treat you to some little tarts."

The Duke was delighted to accept the invitation.

"Come along, too, child?" she added to her daughter.

Clementina waited only five minutes longer. As soon as she felt sure of
not overtaking her father on the stairs, she rose, and, under the
pretext of having forgotten some commission, she also took leave.



CHAPTER III

SALABERT'S DAUGHTER.


Clementina descended the stairs in some anxiety, and on setting foot in
the street, breathed a sigh of relief. She went off at a brisk pace down
the Calle del Siete de Julia, across the Plaza Mayor, and on through the
Calle de Atocha. On reaching this, she suddenly remembered the youth who
had previously followed her, and turned her head in anxiety. No one.
There was nothing to alarm her. No one was in pursuit. At the door of
one of the best houses in the street she stopped, looked hastily and
stealthily both ways, and went in. A hardly perceptible sign of inquiry
to the porter, was answered by his hand to his cap. She flew to the back
staircase, to escape any unpleasant meeting no doubt, and ran up in such
a hurry that on reaching the second floor she was quite breathless, and
pressed one hand to her heart. With the other, she knocked twice at one
of the doors, which was instantly and noiselessly opened; she rushed in
as if the enemy were at her heels.

"Better late than never," said a young man who had opened it, and who
carefully shut it again.

He was a man of eight-and-twenty or thirty, above the middle height,
slightly built, with delicate and regular features, a colour in his
cheeks, a moustache curled up at the ends, a pointed chin-tuft, and
black hair carefully parted down the middle. He looked like a toy
soldier--that is to say, he was of the effeminate military type. His
face was not unlike those of the dolls on which tailors display
ready-made clothing, and was not less unpleasing and repulsive. He wore
a pearl-grey velvet morning jacket, elaborately braided, and slippers
of the same material and colour, with initials embroidered in gold. It
was evident at a glance that he was one of those men who care greatly
for the decoration of their person; who touch up every detail with as
much finish and attention as a sculptor bestows on a statue; who believe
that curling and gumming their moustaches is a sacred and bounden duty;
who accept the fact that the Supreme Creator has bestowed on them a
fascinating presence, and do their best to improve on His work.

"How late you are!" he exclaimed once more, fixing on her face a
conventional gaze of sad reproach.

The lady rewarded him with a gracious smile, saying at the same time in
a tone of raillery, "It is never too late if luck comes at last."

She took his hand and pressed it fondly; then, still holding it, she led
him along the passages to a small room which seemed to be the young
man's study. It was a luxurious den, artistically decorated; the walls
were hung with dark blue plush curtains, held up by rings on a bronze
rod under the cornice; there were arm-chairs of various shapes and
sizes, a writing-table in walnut-wood ornamented with wrought-iron, and
by the side of it a book-stand with a few books--about two dozen
perhaps. Suspended by silken cords from the ceiling, and against the
walls, were horse-trappings and several saddles, common and military,
with their stirrups hanging down; curbs of many ages and lands, whips,
fine woollen horse-cloths richly embroidered, gold and silver spurs, all
very handsome and in perfect order. The hippic tastes of the owner of
this "study" were no less evident in the corridor which led to it from
the door; everywhere there were portraits of horses saddled or stripped.
Even on the writing-table, the inkstand, paper-weights, and paper-knife
were decorated with horse-shoes stirrups, or whips. Through an arch with
columns, only half-closed by a handsome tapestry curtain representing a
youth in powder kneeling to a lady _à la Pompadour_, a handsome mahogany
bedstead with a canopy was visible.

On reaching this little room the lady let herself drop gracefully into a
pretty little lounging chair, and went on in a light jesting tone: "So
you are not glad to see me?"

"Very. But I should have been glad to see you sooner. I have been
waiting for you above an hour and a half."

"And what then? Is it such a sacrifice to wait an hour and a half for
the woman who adores you? Have you not read how Leander swam every
evening across the Hellespont to see his beloved? No, you have never
read that nor anything else. Well, I believe that knowledge would not
suit you. Books would spoil that pretty colour in your cheeks, and
undermine the strength and agility with which you ride and drive.
Besides, some men were born only to be handsome and strong and to amuse
themselves, and you are one of them."

"Come, come. It seems to me that you regard me as an idiot ignorant even
of my alphabet?" exclaimed the young man somewhat piqued and distressed,
as he stood in front of her.

"No, my dear, no!" she replied, laughing, and seizing one of his hands
she kissed it with a sudden impulse of tenderness. "Now you are
insulting me. Do you think I could love an idiot? Take this," she went
on, taking off her hat. "Put my hat on the bed with the greatest care.
Now come here, wretch that you are. You are so touchy that you forget
you began by being rude to me. An hour and a half! What then? Come
close; kneel down; wait till I pull your hair for you."

But the young man, instead of obeying her, drew up a smoking chair, and
perched himself on it in front of her.

"Do you know what kept me? Why that tiresome boy who followed me again."

And as she spoke she suddenly grew serious: a well-defined frown
puckered her pretty brows.

"It is insufferable," she went on. "I do not know what to do. Whenever I
stir, morning or evening, this shadow haunts me. I had to take refuge at
Mariana's; then, having gone there I had no choice but to stay a little
while. Papa came in, and to avoid his escorting me home I had to wait
till he went first. So you see."

"A pretty fellow is that boy!" exclaimed the man, with a laugh.

"Very much so! It would be very amusing if he found out where I come,
and every one were to hear of it, and it were to reach my husband's
ears. Laugh away, laugh away!"

"Why not? Who but you would think of objecting to so platonic an
admirer? Have you had any note from him? Has he ever spoken a word to
you?"

"That would not matter in the least. It is the persecution which jars on
my nerves. He is just such a boy as would be capable out of mere spite,
if he detected me entering this house, of writing an anonymous letter.
And you know the peculiar position in which I stand with regard to my
husband."

"There is not a chance of it. Those who write anonymous notes are not
admirers, but envious women. Shall I meet him face to face and give him
a fright?"

"How can you ask such a question!" exclaimed Clementina, indignantly.
"Listen Pepe, you are a man of feeling, and have plenty of intelligence,
but you sadly lack a little more delicacy to enable you to understand
certain things. You should give rather less time to your club and your
horses, and cultivate your mind a little."

"Is that your opinion?" cried Pepe, angered extremely by this reproof.

"Well, if you wish that I should not tell you such things, there are
others which you should not say."

Pepe Castro shrugged his shoulders scornfully, and rose from his chair.
He paced the room two or three times with an air of abstraction, and
stopped at last in front of a little picture which he took down to dust
it with his handkerchief. Clementina watched him with anger in her eyes.
She suddenly started to her feet as if moved by a spring; but then,
controlling her petulance, she quietly went into the adjoining room,
took her hat off the bed, and began to put it on in front of a
looking-glass, very deliberately, though the slight trembling of her
hands still betrayed the annoyance she was repressing.

"There," she presently exclaimed, in a tone of indifference, "I am
going. Do you want anything out?"

The young man turned round, and exclaimed with surprise: "Already!"

"Already," replied she with affected determination.

Castro went up to her, put his arm round her neck, and raising the red
veil with the other hand, kissed her on the temple.

"It is always the same," said he. "I get the broken head and you want to
wear the bandage."

"What is that you are saying?" she replied in some confusion. "I am
going because I have another visit to pay before dinner."

"Come Clementina, you cannot make believe, even if you wish it. You must
understand that I cannot listen to insults and laugh, and you insult me
at every moment."

"I really do not understand you; I do not know what insults or make
believe you allude to," she replied, with affected innocence.

Pepe tried coaxingly to take her hat off again, but she repelled him
with an imperious gesture. He then put his arm round her waist and led
her to the sofa; he sat down and taking her hands kissed them again and
again with passionate affection. She stood upright and would not be
softened. However, he was so vehement and so humble in his endearments,
that at last she snatched away her hands and exclaimed, half laughing,
but still half vexed:

"Have done, have done: I am tired of your whining--like a Newfoundland
dog! You are abject. I would be torn in pieces before I would humiliate
myself like that."

She took her hat off, and went herself to place it on the bed.

"When a man is as much in love as I am," replied the youth somewhat
abashed, "he does not regard anything as a humiliation."

"Really and truly, boy?" said she, smiling and taking him by the chin
with her slender pink fingers; "I do not believe it. You are not the
stuff that lovers are made of. Well, I will put you to the proof. If I
told you to do a thing that might cost you your life, or, which is
worse, your honour--a few years in prison--would you do it?"

"I should think so!"

"Well then--well then, I want you to kill my husband."

"How barbarous!" he exclaimed in dismay, opening his eyes very wide.

The lady looked at him steadily for a few minutes with scrutinising,
sarcastic eyes. Then with a sharp laugh, she exclaimed:

"You see, miserable man, you see! You are a fine gentleman of Madrid, a
member of the _Savage Club_. Neither for me nor any other woman would
you exchange your dress-coat and white waistcoat for a prison uniform."

"You have such strange ideas."

"Well, well. Go on in the way which your pusillanimous nature points out
to you, and do not get into mischief. You will understand that I only
spoke in jest; but it has confirmed me in the opinion I had already
formed."

"But if you have so poor an opinion of my devotion, I do not know why
you should love me," said the young man, again somewhat piqued.

"Why I love you? For the same reason for which I do everything--Caprice.
I saw you one day in the Park of the Retiro, breaking in a horse
splendidly, and I took a fancy to you. Then, two months later, I saw you
at the fencing gallery at Biarritz, crossing foils with a Russian, and
that finally bewitched me. I got you introduced to me, I did my best to
please you--I did in fact please you--and here we are."

Pepe made up his mind to endure with patience her half cynical tone of
raillery, and by dint of talking she presently dropped it. Clementina
when she was content, was affectionate and gay, and ready to yield to
impulses of generosity; her face, as singular as it was beautiful, never
indeed softened to sweetness, but it had a kind, maternal expression
which was very attractive. But if her nerves were irritated, and her
opinions or wishes were crossed, the under-current of pride, obstinacy
and even cruelty, which lay beneath, came to the surface, and her blue
eyes shot flashes of fierce sarcasm or fury.

Pepe Castro, who was neither illustrious nor clever, had nevertheless
the art of amusing her with the gossip of society, and innuendoes
against those persons for whom she had a marked antipathy. The means
were coarse but the effect was excellent. The Condesa de T----, a lady
whom Clementina hated mortally for some displeasure she had once done
her, was desperately hard up; she had gone to borrow of Z---- the old
banker, who had granted the loan, but at a percentage which had made the
lady stare. The Marqués de L----, and his wife, for whom also she had an
aversion, had, before he was in office, given entertainments to the
electors at their country house, with splendid banquets; but as soon as
he was made Minister, though they still gave parties there was no
_buffet_. Julita R----, a very pretty girl who, again, was no favourite
with the haughty lady, had been turned out of doors by the M---- s for
having been found in their son's room--a lad of fifteen. This and much
more of the same kind fell from the lips of the generous youth, with a
scornful humour which put the fair one into a better temper. This was
Pepe Castro's sole talent of an intellectual character; his other
accomplishments were purely physical.

The clouds had cleared from Clementina's brow. She was now loquacious,
smiling, and lavish of caresses; during the hour she remained with her
lover, he was amply indemnified for the stabs she had given him on first
arriving, as happy as their _tête-à-tête_ could make him.

It had already long since become dusk. The youth lighted the two lamps
on the chimney-piece, without calling the servant--his only servant, and
the only living soul with him in his rooms.

Pepe Castro was the son of a noble house of Arragon; his elder brother
bore a well-known title, and his sister had married into a family of
rank. He had been educated at Madrid; at the age of twenty he lost his
father. For a time he lived with his elder brother, but it was not long
before they quarrelled, since the elder, who was economical to avarice,
could not endure Pepe's wasteful extravagance. He then tried living
under his sister's roof, but at the end of a few months incompatibility
of temper between himself and his brother-in-law led to such violent
disputes, that it was said in the Madrid clubs and drawing-rooms that
they had cuffed and cudgelled each other soundly; a duel was only
prevented by the interference of some of the more respectable members of
the family. Then, after living for some time at an hotel, he decided on
furnishing rooms. He engaged a servant, had his breakfast brought in
from an eating-house, and dined sometimes at Lhardy's and sometimes with
one or another of his numerous friends. His stables were in the
immediate neighbourhood, Calle de las Urosa, and were not ill-furnished:
two saddle horses, one English and one cross-bred; two teams, one
foreign and one Spanish; a Berline, a cart, a mail-phaeton, and a break;
it was a channel through which his fortune was rapidly running away,
though it was not the principal one. He had, in fact, left the greater
portion on the gaming-tables at the club, and by no means a small part
bad been grabbed by certain smart damsels, whom he had promoted in a few
hours to the rank of fashionable courtesans. This, however, was a fact
he always denied, thinking it might diminish his prestige as a
lady-killer; but it is nevertheless a fact, like everything else herein
set down.

All this is as much as to say that Pepe Castro was at this moment a
ruined man; nevertheless, he went on living in the same comfort and
style. His losses and his borrowing cost him a great deal: loans from
his brother on the mortgage of estate he could not sell, post-obits to
merciless usurers on his prospects from an old and infirm uncle,
accepted for three times their cash value; jewels given him by his
sister, who could not give him money; exorbitant charges run up by the
importers of carriages and horses; bills with the tailor, the perfumer;
with Lhardy, the restaurant-keeper, with every one in short.

It seemed impossible that a man could live easy in such a tangle of
toils and nets. And nevertheless, our young gentleman enjoyed the same
beautiful serenity of mind and lightness of heart as many others of his
comrades and acquaintances, who, as we shall have occasion to see, were
no less ruined, though less fascinating.

"I have a surprise in store for you," said Clementina, as she again put
on her hat and tidied her hair in front of the glass.

The handsome puppy sniffed the air, like a hound that scents game, and
he went up to Clementina.

"If it is a pleasant one let me see it."

"Yes, and no less if it is an unpleasant one, rude boy. Everything I can
do ought to be pleasant to you."

"No doubt, no doubt.--Let me see," he went on, trying to conceal his
eagerness.

"Very well; bring me my muff."

Castro flew to obey. Clementina, when she had it in her hands, sat down
on the sofa with an affectation of calm, and flourishing it in the air,
she exclaimed: "Now you will not guess what I have in this muff?"

Her eyes were bright with glee and pride at the same time. Castro's
sparkled with anxiety; the colour mounted to his cheeks, and he replied
in a tone between assertion and inquiry:

"Fifteen thousand pesetas."[C]

The lady's triumphant expression instantly changed to one of wrath and
disgust.

"Go--go away--Pig!" she furiously cried, giving him a hard box on the
ear with the handsome muff. "You think of nothing but money. You have
not a grain of delicacy."

"I thought----" The change in Pepe's face was no less marked; it was
more gloomy than night.

"Of money, yes; I tell you so. Well then, no. Nothing of the kind.
Nothing but a little tie-pin, which--fool that I am--I bought at
Marbini's as I came along, to show you that I am always thinking of
you."

"And I thank you from the bottom of my heart, my sweet pigeon," said the
young man, making a supreme effort to recover from his sudden dejection,
and producing, as a result, a forced and bitter smile. "Why do you fly
into such pets? Give it me. But I know what a bad opinion you have of
me."

Clementina would not give him her present. Pepe begged for it humbly;
still there was in his entreaties a shade of coldness, which to the keen
intuition of a woman, betrayed very plainly the disappointment at the
bottom of his soul.

"No, no! My poor little pin that you despise so--I can see it in your
face. It shall go into the box where I keep memorials of the dead."

She rose from her seat and pulled down her veil. Pepe was pressing in
his endeavours to be attentive, and to mollify her wrath. At last, when
she had almost reached the door, she suddenly turned about and drew out
of her muff a neat little jewel-box, which she gave to her lover,
looking him straight in the face meanwhile.

The young man's eyes opened, resting on the box with an expression of
delight; then they met those of his mistress. They gazed at each other
for a minute, she with a look of mischievous triumph, he with gratitude
and suppressed joy.

"I always said so! No one in the world knows what love means, but you,
my darling. Come here; let me thank you, let me worship you on my
knees."

He dragged her to the sofa, made her sit down, and falling on his knees,
kissed her gloved hands with rapture.

"Mercy, what madness!" cried the lady quite bewildered. "What a
whirlwind round a trifle."

"It is not for the money, my darling, not for the money; but because you
have such an original way of doing things. Because you are such a trump,
such an angel!" He clasped her knees, he grovelled before her, and
kissed her feet--or, to be exact, her boots.

"What an abject thing you are, Pepe!" said she, laughing.

"I don't care what you call me; I am yours, your slave till death. I owe
you not only happiness, but honour. You cannot think what I have gone
through these two days, over that cursed debt!" he said, in a voice of
genuine emotion.

"And will you go and gamble any more, eh? Gamble, and lose it all, you
wretch," said she, tumbling his hair and spoiling the beautiful parting
down the middle.

"No--I swear it on my word of honour."

"On your word, and on your money, wretched man? Well, I am off," she
added, with a fond little pat, and she went to look at the clock on the
chimney-piece. "Mercy! How late it is--I must fly. Good-bye."

She ran to the door, waving her hand to her lover, without looking at
him. He could only clutch it, and kiss the tips of her fingers.

He rushed to open the door for her, but her hand was already on the
lock; indeed, she was in a fury, because her feeble efforts would not
turn it.

"By-bye--till Saturday!" said she, in a whisper.

"Till the day after to-morrow."

"No, no--till Saturday."

She ran downstairs with the same cautious haste as she had used in
coming up, nodded imperceptibly to the porter, and went out. She walked
as far as the Plaza del Angel; there she took a hackney coach to drive
home.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was now past six; the lights in the shops had been blazing for an
hour or more. She sat as far back in the corner as she could and gazed
without interest or curiosity at the streets she passed through. Her
face had resumed its characteristic expression of scornful haughtiness,
qualified by a certain degree of disdain and absent-mindedness.

Her refined elegance, her arrogant mien, and, above all, the severe
majesty of her exceptional beauty stamped Clementina beyond question as
one of the most _distinguées_ women of Madrid. At the same time, though
she was recognised as such, figuring in all the drawing-rooms of the
aristocracy, in all the lists of fashionable persons which the papers
publish on the day after a ball, a race, or any other entertainment, by
birth-right she was far from belonging to such a set. Her origin could
not have been more humble. Her mother had been an Irish girl, the
mistress of a cooper, who had landed at Valencia in search of work. Her
name was Rosa Coote; she was extraordinarily handsome, and would have
been even more so if she had cared for dressing or adorning her person;
but the squalor in which the illicit home was kept had made her
neglectful and dirty. The Valencia waif and the handsome Irish girl came
to an understanding behind the cooper's back. Salabert was quite young
and a brisk youth; he was not, like the girl's present protector, a
victim to drunkenness. Rosa abandoned her former lover to go off with
him. Within a few months, Salabert, who saw an opening for going to Cuba
as steward on board a steamboat, in his turn deserted her. The
Irishwoman, expecting then the birth of the offspring of this
connection, wandered about for some time without any protector or means
of living till she became acquainted with a carpenter, who ultimately
made her his lawful wife. Clementina grew up as an intruder in this new
home. Her mother was a violent and irascible creature, with bursts of
tenderness which she kept exclusively for her legitimate children.
Clementina she seemed to hate, and avenged on her her father's offence
with cruel injustice.

A fearful childhood was that of Clementina.

If some details of it could but have been known in Madrid; if, only in
some brief vision, the scenes through which this proudest and most
arrogant of dames had passed could have been placed before the eyes of
her fashionable acquaintance, who would have envied her? What tortures,
what refinement of cruelty! At the age of four or five she was made the
watchful nurse of two brothers younger than herself, and if she
neglected the smallest particular of her duties the punishment followed
at once, but not such punishment as was due--a slap, or her ears pulled.
No, it was premeditated to hurt her as much and as long as possible;
after flogging her with a strap the wounds were washed with vinegar, she
was made to tread for hours on hard peas, to wear shoes that pinched her
feet, to go without water, she was thrashed with nettles.

More than once, on hearing the hapless child's outcries, the neighbours
had intervened and had remonstrated with the unnatural mother. But
nothing ever came of it beyond a noisy discussion, in which the
passionate Irishwoman, in sputtering Valencian, poured out her wrath on
the gossips of the quarter, and afterwards vented her fury on the cause
of the squabble. She was always declaring that she would send the child
to the workhouse, but this was opposed by the carpenter, who prided
himself on being a kind-hearted and merciful man, and who sometimes
interfered to mitigate her punishment, though he generally left it to
his wife "to correct her daughter," as he said to the neighbours who
blamed him. His educational notions clashed with his more kindly
instincts, and when they got the upper hand, alas, for the poor little
girl!

Certain details of these horrible torments were sickening. On one
occasion Clementina had been to the well and broken the pitcher. It was
the third within a month. The child dared not go home, and sought refuge
with a neighbour. The woman took her to her mother, but did not leave
her till she had extorted a promise that she should not be punished. And
in point of fact her mother did not punish her by any ordinary process
of chastisement; her cries might have led to a disturbance. She formed
the diabolical idea of holding the girl's head over a foul sink, till
she was half asphyxiated and fainted away. The worst days for the
wretched child were when she had dropped asleep at her prayers. The
cruel Irishwoman was a bigot, and this offence she never forgave. On one
occasion, she beat her so mercilessly for repeating her prayers half
asleep before going to bed, that the carpenter, who was peacefully
eating his supper in the kitchen, heard her cries, and went up to the
bedroom, where he rescued her from her mother, who would otherwise
perhaps have been the death of her.

This course of incredible cruelties ended at last in one which led to
the interference of justice. The unnatural mother, at her wit's end how
to torture the girl, burnt her legs with a candle. A neighbour happening
to hear of it told others, and the scandal in the quarter produced a
stir; they appealed to justice, informed against the Irishwoman, and the
crime being proved, she was condemned to six months' imprisonment, while
the girl was placed in an asylum.

About a year later Salabert came to Valencia, not yet a potentate, but
with some money. On hearing what had occurred he went to see his
daughter at the school for poor girls, whence he removed her to one
where he paid for her education, and at long intervals went to see her.
His generous deed was highly lauded, and he knew how to make it tell,
setting himself up in the eyes of those who knew him as a living model
of paternal devotion, in shining contrast to the brutality of his
deserted mistress.

Not long after, he married, and settled in Madrid. His wife was the
daughter of a dealer in iron bedsteads and spring mattresses, in the
Calle Mayor. She was plain and sickly, but gentle and affectionate, with
fifty thousand dollars for her portion. At the end of three or four
years of married life, finding her health increasingly delicate, Doña
Carmen lost all hope of having any children, and knowing that her
husband had an illegitimate daughter in a Convent at Valencia, she
proposed, with rare generosity, to have her at home and treat her as
their child. Salabert accepted gladly; he went to fetch Clementina, and
thenceforward a complete change came over the girl's fate.

She was at this time aged fourteen, and already a marvel of beauty, a
happy combination of the refined and delicate northern type with the
severer beauty of the Valencian women. Undeveloped as yet, in
consequence of the cruel experiences of her childhood followed by the
quiet routine of a convent, under this change of climate and mode of
life she acquired in two or three years the commanding stature and
majestic proportions we have seen. Her moral nature left much more to be
desired. Her temper was irritable, obstinate, scornful, and gloomy.
Whether she was born with these characteristics or they were the result
of the misery and sufferings of her wretched infancy it would be hard to
decide. In the convent, where she was never ill-treated, she was not
much loved by her teachers or her companions; her character was
suspicious, and her heart devoid of tenderness. Her companions' troubles
not only did not touch her; but brought a cruel smile to her lips, which
filled them with aversion. Then, from time to time, she had fits of
fury, which made her both feared and hated. On one occasion, when a
young girl had spoken to her in offensive terms, she had clutched her by
the throat and nearly strangled her. And it was quite impossible
afterwards to induce her to beg pardon, as the mother superior required
her to do; she preferred a month of solitary confinement rather than
humble herself.

The first months of her life in her father's house were a period of
trial for kind Doña Carmen. Instead of a bright young creature, grateful
for the immense favour she had done her, she found herself confronted
with a little heartless savage, devoid of affection or docility,
extravagant and capricious to the last degree, who never laughed
heartily excepting when a servant had an accident, or a groom was kicked
by a horse. But the good woman did not lose courage. With the unfailing
instinct of a generous heart she understood that if no love could spring
from the soil it was because nothing had been sown in it but the seeds
of hate. The softer affections exist in every human soul, as
electricity exists in every body; but to detect them, to rouse a
response, they must be treated for a length of time with a strong
current of kindness. This was what Doña Carmen did to her stepdaughter.
For six months she kept her in a warm atmosphere of affection, a close
net of delicate thoughtfulness, and unfailing proofs of lively and
loving interest. At last Clementina, who had begun by being first
disdainful and then indifferent, who would pass hours together locked in
her own room and never go near her stepmother but when she was sent for,
who never had made any advances, but lived in absolute reserve, suddenly
succumbed, feeling the vital and mysterious throb which binds human
beings to each other, as it does all the bodies of the created universe.
The change was strange and violent, like everything else in that
strangely compounded temperament. At the most unlooked-for moment she
fell on her knees before Doña Carmen, professing such deep respect, such
passionate affection, that the good woman was amazed, and had great
difficulty in believing in her sincerity. The revelation of
lovingkindness had burst at length on the girl's soul; her icy heart had
melted under the motherly warmth of the large-hearted woman; the divine
essence of love henceforth had a home where hitherto the essence of
Satan alone had dwelt.

It was a perfect miracle. Instead of spending her life in her room, she
would never leave her stepmother's; she now called her "Mamma" with a
fervour, a joy, a determination, such as are only to be seen in the
devout when they appeal to the Virgin. And Clementina's feeling for her
father's wife was in truth devotion. Amazed to find that so gentle, so
tender a being could exist in this world, she was never tired of gazing
at her, as though she had dropped from heaven. She would read her
thoughts in her eyes, anticipate her smallest wishes, let no one serve
her but herself; and, like every lover, insisted on the exclusive
possession of the object of her affection. The slightest sign of
disapproval on Doña Carmen's part was enough to disconcert her and
plunge her into the deepest grief. The haughty creature, who had made
herself generally odious, would humble herself with intense satisfaction
before her stepmother. It was the humiliation of the mystic prostrated
by an irresistible spiritual impulse. When she felt the good woman's
hand caress her face she fancied it was the touch of God Himself, and
hardly dared to touch those thin, transparent fingers with her lips.

But it was only to her stepmother that she had so entirely changed. To
all else, including her father, she still displayed the same scornful
coldness, the same proud and obstinate temper. If now and again she
seemed sweeter and more tractable, it was due, not to her own will, but
to some express command of Doña Carmen's; and as soon as this command
was at an end, or forgotten, she was the same malevolent being once
more. The servants hated her for the insufferable pride which she showed
as soon as she realised her position as her father's heiress, and for
her total lack of compassion if they did wrong.

The greatest sufferer was the English governess whom her father had
engaged for her. She was an elderly woman, but she had a mania for
dressing and tricking herself out like a girl. This harmless weakness
was so constantly the theme of Clementina's mockery, that only necessity
could have made the poor woman endure it. All the secrets of her toilet
were mercilessly revealed for the amusement of the servants, and her
physical defects, mimicked by the young lady's waiting-maid, were the
laughing-stock of the kitchen. On a certain grand occasion, a day when
there was a dinner-party, Clementina hid the old maid's false teeth,
which she had left on the dressing-table after washing them. Her
discomfiture may be imagined. But she took an innocent revenge by
calling her "_Señorita Capricho_" and setting her as an exercise to
translate from English into French certain maxims and aphorisms of
scorching application, as: "Pride is the leprosy of the soul; a proud
girl is a leper whom all should avoid with horror." "Those who do not
respect their seniors can never hope to be respected," and the like.

Clementina laughed at these innuendoes; sometimes she would even dare to
substitute some phrase of her own for that of her governess. Where she
should have translated: "There is nothing so odious and contemptible as
haughtiness in the young," she would write: "There is nothing so
ridiculous and laughable as presumption in the old." Miss, as she was
called, took offence, and complained to Doña Carmen, who would appeal to
her stepdaughter, reproving her gently, and Clementina, seeing her
grieved and annoyed, would smoothe her brow and kiss her lovingly. And
all was well till next time. In fact Miss Anna and the servants were no
doubt in the right when they said that the Señora would be the ruin of
the girl. Doña Carmen, living in fearful solitude of soul, was so
captivated and gratified by the warm affection her stepdaughter was
always ready to lavish on her that she had no eyes for her faults, and
even if she had, would not have found the courage to correct them.

At eighteen Clementina was one of the loveliest and wealthiest women of
Madrid. Her father's fortune grew like the scum of yeast. He was
regarded as one of the great bankers of the city, and was not known to
have any other heir, nor was it likely that he would have one. The young
aristocrats of family or wealth--the best known members of the _Savage
Club_--began to flutter about her with the most pressing and eager
attentions. If she appeared at a party a group of men fenced her round;
if she went to church, another and a larger party stood in a row
awaiting her exit; if she drove out in the Castellana Avenue, a
cavalcade of admirers galloped beside her carriage as a guard of honour;
at the theatre pairs of opera-glasses were invariably fixed upon her.
The name of Clementina Salabert was to be heard in all the conversations
of the gilded youth of Madrid, to be seen in print in every drawing-room
chronicle, and was registered in the capital as that of one of the
brightest stars of the firmament of fashion. She took up and dropped one
lover after another without a thought, thus earning the reputation of a
flirt and feather-brain. But this never interferes with a girl's chance
of adorers; on the contrary, the self-love of men prompts them to pay
great attentions to women of that stamp, in the hope, born of vanity, of
being the nail to fix the weather-cock. Nor did she suffer any serious
damage from a coarse and malignant rumour which, all through Madrid,
connected her in a strange friendship with a young and famous
bull-fighter. In this affair Doña Carmen's simplicity and weakness
played a leading part. Not only did the good lady allow the man to visit
at her house, and sit at her table, but she even accompanied the pair in
public on more than one occasion. This, and her having cheered him at
the death of several bulls, gave scandal--as busy in the capital as in
the provinces--sufficient pretext for an attack on the envied beauty.
But as it could bring forward nothing but bold suspicion and vague
conjecture, and as, on the other side, there were positive facts which
far outweighed them, the calumny did not diminish the number of her
adorers. Its only use was as an outlet for the bile of some rejected
one.

At this age, and often after, Clementina's manners betrayed a strong
infusion of Bohemianism--of the free and easy airs and sarcastic
coolness of the adventuresses of Madrid. A similar tendency may be
observed, in a more or less exaggerated form, in all the upper circles
of Madrid Society; it is a mark which distinguishes it from that of
other countries. And in this tendency, which is everywhere conspicuous
from the palace to the hovel, there is some good; it is not wholly evil.
In the first place it implies a protest against the perpetual falsehood
which the increasing refinement and complication of social formalities
inevitably entail. Propriety of conduct and moderation of language are
highly praiseworthy no doubt, but in an exaggerated form they result in
the cold courtesy of a _diplomate_ at a foreign Court. Men and women,
crushed under the weight of so much formality, become artificial beings,
puppets, whose acts and words are all set forth in a programme. To
exclude liberty and familiarity from society is to undermine human
nature; to prohibit frankness of speech is to destroy the charm which
ought to exist in all human intercourse.

Moreover, an instinct of equality underlies this assertion of freedom,
and cannot fail to make it attractive to every lover of Nature and
truth. A lady is not a bundle of fine clothes, of foregone conclusions
and ready-made phrases; she is, above all else, a woman in whom culture
has, or ought to have, tempered impetuosity of character and impulses of
vanity, but not to have impaired the genuineness of Nature by
transforming her in society into a cold dry doll, devoid of grace and
originality. It must not be supposed that the perfect refinement and
elegance proper to the scenes where the upper classes meet are unknown
in Madrid. They are constantly observed by almost every Spanish woman of
family; but, happily, they are united with the vivacity, grace, and
spontaneity of the Spanish race, making our fair ones, in the opinion of
impartial observers, the most accomplished, gracious, and agreeable
women in Europe--excepting, perhaps, the French.

Clementina had a somewhat exaggerated taste for this freedom of word and
action. She had acquired it no one knows how--by contagion in the
atmosphere perhaps--since women in her position are not in the habit of
spending their time with the commoner sort. She had had a waiting maid,
born and brought up in Maravillas, and it was from her, in her moments
of excitement, that Clementina picked up the greater part of her slang
and sayings. Then came her friendship with the _torero_ above-mentioned;
an acquaintance with various young men who cultivated that style; the
lower class of theatres, where the manners and customs of the lower
classes of the Madrid populace are set on the stage--not without grace;
and her intimacy with Pepe Frias, and some other fast women of fashion,
finally gave her the full Bohemian flavour. She was an enthusiast for
bull-fights. It was a perfect marvel if she missed one, sitting in her
private box with the orthodox white mantilla and red carnations. And she
would discuss the chances, and fulminate criticisms, and bestow
applause; and was regarded by the _habitués_ as a keen and eager
connoisseur. The national sport, exciting and bloody, was quite after
her mind, violent and indomitable as she was by nature. When she saw
other women covering their eyes or showing weakness over the fortunes of
the arena, she laughed sardonically, as doubting the genuineness of
their horror.

Among the many adorers and suitors who successively and rapidly rose and
fell in her favour, there was one who succeeded in securing her notice,
at any rate, for a rather longer time than the rest. His name was Tomas
Osorio. He was a young man of twenty-eight or thirty, rich, small and
delicate, with a pleasing face and a lively, determined temper. Either
of deliberate purpose, or from genuine independence of character, he
made a deeper impression than his peers. When he first paid attention to
her he did not cringe nor completely abdicate his own will. In some
differences on important points in the course of his long courtship--for
it lasted not less than two years--he firmly maintained his dignity. He
was, like her, irritable, haughty and scornful; purse-proud too, and
with a spiteful wit which stood him in good stead with women. Thanks to
these qualities, Clementina did not tire of him so soon as of the rest.
But at the end of the two years, within a few days of the marriage, it
was broken off in a very public and almost scandalous manner. All Madrid
was talking of it, and commentary was endless. The conclusion arrived at
was that it was the gentleman who had taken the first steps towards the
rupture, and this report, whether true or false, reached Clementina's
ears, and was such a stab to her pride that she was almost ill with
rage.

Another year went by. She had other suitors, off and on, and Osorio, on
his part, courted other damsels. But in both, notwithstanding, the
memory of the past survived. She was burning for revenge. So long as
that man was going about the world, so perfectly content as he seemed,
she felt herself humiliated. He, on the contrary, in spite of his
affected indifference, was still consumed by love, or rather by desire.
Clementina had captivated his senses, had pierced his flesh, and, do
what he would, he could not extract the dart. She was always in his
thoughts, always before his eyes, provoking his passion. The longer the
time that elapsed the fiercer the fire burned within him, and the
greater were the effort and the anguish of keeping up a haughty and
indifferent demeanour when they happened to meet. Clementina, with a
penetration common in women, had no difficulty in guessing that her
former love still cherished a secret passion for her, and felt a
malicious joy. Thenceforward she dressed and adorned herself for him
alone--to bewitch him, to fascinate him, to make him drain the bitter
cup of jealousy.

From this moment dated her fame as an elegant woman. Clementina was
indeed, in this matter, a great artist. She knew how to dress so that
her clothes should never by their colour or quality attract attention to
the prejudice of her face. Understanding that what a woman wears should
be not a uniform, but an adornment to set off the perfections which
nature has bestowed upon her, she was no blind slave of fashion; when
she thought it unbecoming to her beauty she boldly defied it or modified
it. She avoided glaring hues, a profusion of trimmings, and elaborate
styles of hair-dressing; she regarded and treated her person as a
statue. Hence a certain tendency, constantly evident in her costume,
towards drapery, and amplitude of flowing folds. Her fine, majestic
figure gained greatly by this style of dress, which, though it became
rather pronounced after her marriage, was never exaggerated beyond the
limits of good taste. She was fond of wearing white, and this, with a
simple manner of dressing her hair like that of the Milo Venus, made her
appear in the drawing-rooms of Madrid like a beautiful Greek statue. One
thing she did which, though highly censurable from a moral point of
view, is not so as a matter of art. She wore her dresses very low. Her
bust was superb; it might have been moulded by the Graces to turn the
head of a god. The vain desire to display her beauty, unchecked by the
wholesome control of a mother, led her on more than one occasion to
incur the severest comments of society. Poor Doña Carmen, besides
knowing nothing of social custom, was so lenient to her stepdaughter's
fancies and caprices, that she accepted them as quite reasonable, and as
undoubted evidence of her indisputable elegance and taste.

However, her vanity brought its own punishment. On one occasion when she
made her appearance at a ball given by the Alcudias, the Marquesa said
as she greeted her:

"Very pretty, very nice, Clementina. Your dress is lovely; but it is too
low, my dear. Come with me and let us set it right."

She took the girl up to her room and, with motherly kindness, arranged
some gauzy material to cover what really ought not to be displayed.
Clementina managed to conceal her mortification, ascribing the fault to
the dressmaker; but she felt so humiliated by the lecture, and the
pitying smile which accompanied it, that she never again could endure to
see the prudish Marquesa.

Under this constant fanning Osorio's flame waxed fiercer and fiercer,
and he could no longer keep it to himself. At last he confided in his
sister, who was fairly intimate with the young lady; he begged her to
sound the way, and ascertain whether he might once more make advances
without fear of a rebuff. Mariana undertook the commission. Clementina
heard her with ill-disguised triumph, but sat demure until Señora de
Calderón had poured out all her story, and assured her that Tomas was
burning with devotion. Then she replied ambiguously, and with laughter:
"She would think it over. She was deeply aggrieved by the reports that
had been spread as to their rupture, but at any rate, he was not to give
up all hope."

She did reflect seriously as to the means of satisfying the demands of
her wounded pride, and at the end of a few days she announced to Mariana
her ultimatum. If she was to consent to give her hand to Osorio, he must
beg it of her parents on his knees, in the presence of such witnesses
as she might choose.

Such a preposterous idea would never have occurred to any Spanish woman
of pure race, and only the admixture of British blood could have led her
to conceive of such a monstrous refinement of arrogance.

When Osorio was informed of the conditions imposed by his ex-_fiancée_
he flew into a violent rage, and swore defiantly that he would be cut in
pieces before he would suffer such degradation. The matter dropped, and
things went on as before. But as, in spite of his utmost efforts, the
serpent of desire gnawed at his heart with increasing virulence, the
poor wretch at the end of two months had fallen into utter dejection; he
was really dying of love; he could not tear himself from Madrid, and
once more he besought his sister to open negotiations. Clementina, quite
sure of having him in her power, was inflexible; either he must pass
beneath these strange Caudine forks, or there was no hope.

And Osorio submitted.

What could he do?--The extraordinary ceremony was carried out one
evening at the lady's residence. On reaching the house Osorio found
assembled about a score of women whom Clementina had chosen from among
the most envious of her acquaintances, or those who had been most
malignant as to the cause of their former quarrel. He adopted the best
conduct he possibly could in such a case: grave and solemn, with a
certain ease of language and manner, betraying a suspicion of irony, as
if he were performing a comedy for the benefit of a crazy person. He
gave a brief preliminary sketch of their former engagement; confessed
himself to blame; praised Clementina in extravagant terms--with so
little moderation indeed that he seemed to be speaking
sarcastically--and professed himself unworthy to aspire to her hand.
Finally declaring that as she was so worthy to be adored, and the joy of
winning her so great, he thought it but a small thing to ask her of her
parents on his knees. At the same time he fell on one knee. Doña Carmen
hastened to raise him, and embraced him effusively. Clementina even
pressed his hand, better pleased by the grace and dignity with which he
had got through the ordeal, than gratified in her conceit. In truth, on
this occasion she felt for him, what she never felt again, a tiny spark
of love. If any one suffered humiliation from this scene it was she
herself, from the light and easy dignity with which her lover carried it
off. But this was a trifle; a woman enjoys nothing more keenly and
deeply than the superiority of the man who mollifies her. Clementina was
happy that evening.

But though Osorio had come so well out of the ordeal, he never forgave
her the intention to humiliate him; he was as proud as she. The insane
passion she had inspired for a time smothered every other. His honeymoon
was as brief as it was delicious. The shock of two such characters, both
equally obstinate and proud, was inevitable. It soon came in the form of
a series of petty annoyances which instantly extinguished the feeble
sparks of affection which her husband had struck in the young wife's
heart. In him passion survived longer. The knowledge each had of the
other made them cautious, for fear of a more formidable collision which
must have led to disaster. But this too came at last. Report said that
Osorio, tired of his wife's indifference and scorn, had insulted her
beyond forgiveness. Whether or no the story as it was told was true in
all its details, their union at any rate was practically at an end for
ever. Osorio forfeited his own right to interfere with his wife on the
score of conduct, and could only look on while Clementina unblushingly
and confessedly accepted the attentions of every man who offered them.
He certainly, to parry the ridicule to which he was thus exposed, threw
himself into excesses of dissipation, raising women from the lowest
ranks to figure as his mistresses.

At home the husband and wife spoke no more to each other than was
absolutely necessary. To escape the discomfort of a _tête-à-tête_ at
table, they always had some guest. In public they made a show of the
most natural and friendly relations; Osorio would sometimes go late to
fetch his wife from the theatre or party to which she had been. But
every one understood the facts of the case. Clementina, as a rule, would
go out on her lover's arm; they would stand talking in the lobby in the
sight of all the world, while waiting for the carriage; she stepped in;
before it drove off they would yet exchange a few confidential and
incoherent remarks interrupted by gay laughter. Morality--fashionable
morality--was satisfied, so long as the lover did not drive off in the
same carriage, though a few minutes later they might meet again at some
rendezvous.

When Clementina reached home it was half-past six o'clock. The driver
whistled; the porter came out of his lodge and opened the gate first,
and then the door of the hackney coach. He paid the man. The lady,
without uttering a syllable, went through the garden, which though small
was exquisitely kept, and up the outside steps of white marble, screened
by a verandah, which extended across half the front of the house. The
house itself was not very large, but handsome and artistic, of white
stone and fine brickwork. It had been built by Osorio about four or five
years since. As the plans had been fully discussed and considered, the
rooms were well arranged, and this made it more comfortable than his
brother-in-law's, though that was three or four times as large.

She asked a servant in the anteroom: "Where is Estefania?"

"It is some time since I last saw her, Señora."

She crossed a magnificent hall, lighted by two large lamps with polished
vases borne by bronze statues, went along the corridor, and up the
stairs leading to the first floor, meeting no one on her way. At the
door of the drawing-room leading to her boudoir, she met Fernando, a
page of fourteen in a smart livery.

"Estefania?" she asked.

"She must be in the kitchen."

"Tell her to come up at once."

She entered the boudoir, and going up to a long mirror resting on two
pillar-feet of gilt wood, she took off her hat. The room was a small
one, hung with blue satin bordered with wreaths in _carton-pierre_. On
the chimney-piece, covered also with blue satin, stood a clock and two
fine candelabra, the work of a silversmith of the last century. The
carpet was white with a blue border; in the middle of the room there was
a _causeuse_ upholstered in gold colour, the armchairs were gilt, two
large feather pillows lay on the floor. In one corner was the mirror, in
another a _Pompadour_ writing-table of inlaid wood; in the other two
were columns covered with velvet, to support the lamps which now lighted
the room. On one side this room opened into Clementina's drawing-room,
and then into her bedroom. On the other side, a door led into a small
drawing-room, where she was at home to her friends on Tuesday
afternoons, and where cards were played at night by an intimate circle.
Only a few very confidential friends were ever admitted to her boudoir,
calling at the hours when she was "Not at home." Here those long and
secret colloquies were held which women so greatly relish, in which they
pour out their whole mind, with swift transition from the profoundest
depths to the frivolities of the day and details of dress and fashion.

Within a few seconds of her taking off her hat Estefania came in. She
was a pale young girl, with pretty black eyes; dressed suitably to her
rank but with care and finish; over her skirt she wore a holland apron
trimmed with white edging.

"You might have been ready for me, child. Where had you hidden
yourself?" said her mistress, in a tone at once cross and indifferent.

"I was in the kitchen. I went to put a few stitches into Teresa's skirt;
she had torn it on a nail," replied the girl, with affected servility.

Clementina made no reply, absorbed, no doubt, in thought. Standing in
front of the mirror to take off her cloak, she gazed at herself with the
perennial interest which a pretty woman feels in her own face.

"Did you go to Escobar's?" she asked at length.

"Yes, Señora."

"And what did he say?"

"That he has no silk so thick of that colour, but that he would send for
it if the Señora wishes."

"Turura! That journey won't kill him! And to the milliner's?"

"Yes, they will send the caps on Saturday."

"Did you inquire after Father Miguel?"

"No, I had not time. It is such a long way."

"A long way! Why, did you not go in the carriage?"

"No, Señora. Juanito said that the mare was not shod."

"Then why did he not put in one of the Normandy horses?"

"I do not know. Whenever you tell me to take the carriage he finds some
excuse."

"So it seems. Never mind, child; I will see to it. What next, Señor
Juanito, with your masterful airs?"

But as she glanced up at the maid's face in the glass she thought she
noticed something strange about her eyes, and turned round to see her
better. In fact, Estefania's eyes were red with weeping.

"You have been crying, child?"

"I--no, Señora, no."

The denial was evidently a subterfuge. The lady had not to press her
much to make her confess even the cause of her tears.

"The head cook, Señora," she whimpered out, "who used to take my
part--when I say anything he bursts out laughing or says something rude,
and the others, of course, as they are jealous because you are good to
me, and to flatter the cook--the others laugh too; and because I said I
should tell you, he said all manner of horrid things, and turned me out
of the kitchen."

"Turned you out! And who is he to turn you out?" exclaimed her mistress
vehemently. "Tell him to come here. I must give him a rowing, as well as
Juanito, it seems! If we do not take care, the servants will rule this
house instead of the masters."

"Señora, I dare not. If you would send Fernando!"

"Do as you please, but bring him here."

She had worked herself up into high wrath at the girl's story. Estefania
was her favourite, whom she petted above all the other servants, and
made the confidant of many of her secrets. The girl's fawning and
flattery had won her heart so completely that, without being aware of
it, she had allowed a large part of her will to go with it. It was, in
fact, Estefania who ruled the house, since she ruled its mistress. The
servant who could not win her good graces might prepare sooner or later
to lose his place. And what happened was the necessary result in all
such cases: the mistress's favourite was hated by all the rest of the
household, not only from envy--the disgraceful passion which exists, in
a greater or less degree, in every human being--but also because the
nature that is hypocritical and time-serving to superiors, is inevitably
haughty and malevolent to inferiors.

The _chef_, on being called by Fernando, to whom Estefania gave the
message, soon made his appearance at the door of the boudoir wearing the
insignia of his office, to wit, a clean apron and cap, both as white as
snow. He was a man of about thirty, with a fresh and not bad-looking
face, and large black whiskers. The frown on his brow and the anxious
expression in his eyes betrayed that he knew why he had been sent for.
Clementina had seated herself on the ottoman. Estefania withdrew into a
corner, and when the cook came in she fixed her eyes on the floor.

"I hear, Cayetano, that after behaving very rudely to my maid, you
turned her out of the kitchen. I have, therefore, sent for you to tell
you that I will not allow any servant to behave badly to another; nor
are you permitted to turn any one out so long as you are in my house."

"Señora, I did nothing to her. It is she who treats us all
badly--teasing one and nagging at another, till there is no peace," the
cook replied, with a strong Gallician accent.

"Well, even if she teases one and nags at another, you have not any
right to insult her. She is to tell me, and there is an end of it,"
replied his mistress sharply, and mimicking his accent.

"But you see----"

"I see nothing. You hear what I say; there is an end of it," and she
waved her hand imperiously.

The cook, with his face scarlet and quivering with rage, stood without
stirring for a few seconds. Then, before he withdrew, he boldly fixed
his wrathful gaze on the girl, who kept her eyes on the carpet with a
bland hypocrisy which betrayed the triumph of her self-importance.

"Tell-tale!" he said, spitting out the words rather than speaking them.

The lady rose from her seat, and, bursting with rage at this want of
respect, she exclaimed:

"How dare you insult her before my face? Go, instantly. Get out of my
sight!"

"Señora, what I say is, that the fault is hers."

"So much the better. Go!"

"We will all go--out of the house, Señora. We can none of us put up with
that impudent minx!"

"You go forthwith, as though you had never come! You may find yourself
another place, for I will never allow any servant to get the upper hand
of me."

The cook, in some dismay at this prompt dismissal, again stood rooted to
the spot; but, suddenly recovering himself, he turned on his heel,
saying with dignity:

"Very well, Señora, I will."

But when he was gone Clementina still muttered: "An insolent fellow is
that Gallician! I don't believe any one but I gets such servants!"

Then, suddenly pacified by a new idea, she said:

"Come, now, I must dress; it is getting late."

She went into her dressing-room, followed by Estefania, who, contrary to
what might have been expected, looked grave and gloomy. Clementina
hurriedly began to remove her walking-dress and change it for a simple
dinner-dress, such as she wore at home to receive a few friends in the
evening--always very light in hue, and cut open at the throat, though
with long sleeves. At a sign from the mistress the maid brought out a
"crushed-strawberry" pink dress from the large wardrobe with mirrors,
which lined all one side of the room. Before putting it on she arranged
her hair, and exchanged her bronze kid boots for shoes to match the
dress. The pale girl meanwhile never opened her lips; her face grew
every moment sadder and more anxious. At last, on her knees to put on
her mistress's shoes, she raised beseeching eyes to her face and said
timidly:

"Señora, may I entreat you--not to send Cayetano away?"

Clementina looked at her in amazement.

"Is that it? After you yourself----"

"The thing is," said Estefania, turning as red as her complexion would
allow, "if you send him away the others will take offence."

"And what does that matter?"

But the girl insisted very earnestly with urgent and persuasive
entreaties. For a time the lady refused, but as the matter was
unimportant, and she perceived, not without surprise, the interest and
even anxiety of her favourite for the cook's reprieve, she presently
yielded, desiring Estefania to make the necessary explanations. On this
the girl's face immediately cleared; she was as bright as a bird, and
began to help her mistress to dress very deftly and briskly.

Two taps at the door made them both start.

"Who is there?" called the lady.

"Are you dressing, Clementina?" was asked from outside.

It was her husband's voice. Her surprise was not the less; Osorio very
rarely came to her rooms when she was alone.

"Yes, I am dressing. Is there any one downstairs?"

"As usual--Lola, Pascuala and Bonifacio. I want to speak to you. I will
wait for you here in the drawing-room."

"Very well; I will come."

Until her toilet was complete Clementina spoke no more; her expression
was one of gloomy anticipation, which her maid could not fail to
observe. Her fingers, as she gave the last touches to the folds of her
skirt, trembled a little, like those of a young lady dressing for her
first ball.

Osorio was, in fact, waiting for her in the little drawing-room beyond
the boudoir. He was lounging at his ease in an arm-chair, but, on seeing
his wife, he rose, and dropped the end of the cigar he was smoking into
the spittoon. Clementina saw that he was paler than usual. He was the
same neat and dapper little man, with a bad complexion, as when he had
married; but in the course of these twelve years his temper had been
greatly spoiled. He had many wrinkles on his face, his hair and beard
were streaked with grey, and his eyes had lost their brightness. He
closed the door which his wife had left open, and going up to her said,
with affected ease: "My cashier handed me to-day a cheque from you, for
fifteen thousand pesetas. Here it is."

He took out his pocket-book, and from it a half-sheet of scented satin
paper which he held out to her. She looked at it for a moment with a
grave and gloomy face, but did not wince. She said not a word.

"A fortnight ago he gave me one for nine thousand. Here it is." The same
proceedings, the same silence.

"Last month there were three: one for six thousand, one for eleven
thousand, and one for four thousand. Here they are."

Osorio flourished the handful of papers before his wife's eyes; then, as
this did not unlock her lips, he asked: "Do you acknowledge it?"

"Acknowledge what?" she said, shortly.

"That these documents are correct."

"They are, no doubt, if they bear my signature. I have a bad memory,
especially for money matters."

"A happy gift," he replied with an ironical smile, as he went through
the papers in his pocket-book. "I, too, have often tried to forget them.
Unfortunately my cashier makes it his business to refresh my memory.
Well," he went on as his wife said no more, "I came up solely to ask you
a question--namely: Do you suppose that things can go on like this?"

"I do not understand."

"I will explain. Do you suppose that you can go on drawing on my account
every few days such sums as these?"

Clementina, who had been pale at first, had coloured crimson.

"You know better than I."

"Why better? You ought to know the amount of your fortune."

"Well, but I do not know," she replied, sharply.

"Nothing can be more simple. The six hundred thousand dollars which your
father paid over when we were married, being invested in real estate,
produce, as you may see by the books, about twenty-two thousand dollars
a year. The expenses of the house, without counting my private outlay,
amounts to about three times as much. You can surely draw your own
conclusions."

"If you are vexed at your money being spent you can sell the houses,"
said Clementina with scornful brevity, her colour fading to paleness
again.

"But if they were sold I should none the less be responsible for the
whole value. You know that?"

"I will sign you any paper you like, saying that I hold you responsible
for nothing."

"That is not enough, my dear. The law will never release me from
responsibility for your fortune, so long as I have any money. Moreover,
if you spend it in pleasure"--and he emphasised the word--"it may be all
very well for you, but deplorable for me, because I shall still be
compelled to supply you with--necessaries."

"To keep me, in short?" she said with a bitter intonation.

"I wished to avoid the word; but it is no doubt exact."

Osorio spoke in an impertinent and patronising tone, which piqued his
wife's pride in every possible way. Ever since the violent differences
which had led to their separation under the same roof, they had had no
such important interview as this. When, in the course of daily life,
they came into collision, matters were smoothed over with a short
explanation, in which both parties, without compromising their pride,
used some prudence for fear of a scandal. But the present question
touched Osorio in a vital part. To a banker money is the chief fact in
life.

His personal pride, too, had suffered greatly in the last few years,
though he had not confessed it. It was not enough to feign indifference
and disdain of his wife's misconduct; it was not enough to pay her back
in her own coin, by flaunting his mistresses in her face and making a
parade of them in public. Both fought with the same weapons, but a woman
can inflict with them far deeper wounds than a man. The misery he
suffered from his wife's disreputable life did not diminish as time went
on; the gulf which parted them grew wider and deeper. And so revenge was
ready to seize this opportunity by the forelock.

Clementina looked him in the face for a moment. Then, shrugging her
shoulders and with a contemptuous curl of her lips, she turned on her
heel and was about to leave the room. Osorio stepped forward between her
and the door.

"Before you go you must understand that the cashier has my orders to pay
you no cheques that do not bear my signature."

"I understand."

"For your regular expenses I will allow a fixed sum on which we will
agree. But I can have no more surprises on the cash-box."

Clementina, who had been about to quit the room by the ante-chamber,
turned to go to her boudoir. Before leaving the room she held the
curtain a moment in her hand, and facing her husband she said, with
concentrated rage, "In that you are as mean a cur as your
brother-in-law, only he never made believe, like you, to be generous."

She dropped the curtain, and slammed the door in his face.

Osorio made as though to follow her; but he instantly stopped short and
yelled, rather than spoke, so she might hear him:

"Oh, yes! I am a mean cur, because I do not choose to maintain a crew of
hungry puppies. I leave that to the hags who choose to pet them!"

This brutal speech seemed to have eased his mind, for his lips wore a
smile of triumphant sarcasm.

Five minutes later they were both in the dining-room, laughing and
jesting with a small party of guests.



CHAPTER IV.

HOW THE DUKE DE REQUENA REWARDED VIRTUE.


"Let me see, let me see. Explain yourself."

"Señor Duque, the matter is as clear as possible. I spoke with Regnault
to-day. If the furnaces are altered, a few roads made, and proper
machinery set up, the mine can be made to yield half as much again as it
now does. It may be as much as sixty thousand flasks of mercury. The
outlay needed to produce these results would not exceed a hundred to a
hundred and fifty thousand dollars."

"That seems to me a great deal."

"A great deal for such a result?"

"No, that seems to me a great many flasks."

"But I have no doubt that what Regnault says is true. He is an
intelligent and practical engineer. He worked for six years in
California; and, indeed, the English engineer said the same."

The persons holding this discourse were Requena and his secretary, or
head-clerk, or whatever he called himself, since he had no particular
style or title in the household. He was known only by his name--Llera.
He was an Asturian, tall and bony, with a colourless, hard-featured
face, enormously long arms and legs, and large hands and feet. His
manner was rough and awkward; his eyes, which were fine, had a frank,
honest look, and were bright with energy and intelligence. He was an
indefatigable, an amazing worker. No one knew when he ate or slept. When
he made his appearance at eight in the morning, he brought with him as
much work ready done as most men get through in a day, and at midnight
he might often still be seen in his office, pen in hand.

Salabert, having the gift of judging men, without which no one makes a
great success in the world, had discovered Llera's intelligence and
character after employing him for a short while as an underling, and
without giving him any showy position--which was not at all his way--he
made him a responsible one, by accumulating in his hands all the most
important business of the house. He very soon was the great banker's
confidential man, the soul of the business. His laborious industry put
all the other employés to shame, and Salabert took advantage of it to
load him with work after regular hours. Llera was at the same time his
private secretary, his steward, the head clerk of the office, the
inspector of all the works he had in construction, and the agent in most
of his transactions. And for doing all this inconceivable amount of
work--more than four men of average industry would have got through--he
paid him six thousand pesetas a year. The man thought himself well paid,
remembering that only six years ago he was earning but twelve hundred
and fifty.

Every day, before taking his morning walk and paying his round of
business calls, Requena looked into Llera's office, made inquiries as to
things in general, and chatted with him for a longer or shorter time
according to circumstances.

The Duke's offices were at the top of his palace in the Avenue de
Luchana, a magnificent mansion, standing in the midst of a garden which
for extent was worthy to be called a park. In the spring the dense
foliage of the fine old trees almost hid the white tops of the turrets;
in winter the numbers of firs and evergreens which grew there, still
gave it a pleasant verdure. It was the meeting-place of all the birds in
that quarter of the city. The entrance to the house was up a large
flight of marble steps; above the ground floor, where the
reception-rooms were, and the dining-room, there were three storeys, and
the Duke's offices, which were not large, filled part only of the upper
floor. They were large enough for Salabert, who conducted his affairs
from thence, with the help of a dozen expert clerks.

The luxury displayed in the house was amazing; the furniture and
fittings were almost priceless. This was not in keeping with the avarice
with which the master was generally credited; but this and other
contradictions will be explained as we become better acquainted with his
character, which was curious enough to be well worthy of study.

The kitchens were in the basement, roomy and well-fitted; the
dining-room, at the back of the house, opened into a conservatory of
vast dimensions, filled with exotic shrubs and flowers, where water was
laid on to form little pools and water-falls of charming effect and
imitating nature as closely as possible. The picture-gallery was in a
separate building at the end of the garden, and in another some of the
servants slept, but not all.

The Duke, occupying the only chair in Llera's office, while the
secretary stood in front of him twirling a large pair of scissors used
for cutting paper, turned his wet cigar three or four times from one
corner of his mouth to the other, and made no reply to the clerk's last
words. At last he growled rather than said:

"Humph! The Ministry grows more pig-headed every day."

"What does that matter. You know the secret of making it give way.
Telegraph to Liverpool, and within a fortnight the price of mercury will
have fallen from sixty to forty dollars the flask."

About four years since, Requena, at Llera's suggestion and advice, had
formed a company or syndicate for buying up all the mercury which should
come into the market. Thanks to these tactics, the price of this product
had gone up wonderfully. The company had now an enormous stock in hand
at Liverpool; Llera's scheme was to throw this into the market at a
given moment and so produce a great fall in the price, which would
frighten the Government. This, which was to be done at the moment when
the Government was about to repay a loan of fifteen million dollars
borrowed ten years since of a foreign house, would reduce them to
selling the mines of Riosa. If Requena was then prepared to pull the
affair through at the sacrifice of a few thousands, to subsidise the
press, and bribe certain individuals, he might be certain of success.
This project, conceived of by Llera, and matured by the Duke, had run
its due course, and was now near the final _coup_.

"Well, we shall see," said the rich man, and after meditating a few
minutes he went on: "When the mines are for sale it will be necessary to
form another company. The Mercury Syndicate will not serve our turn."

"Of course!"

"The thing is that I do not want to sink more than eight million pesetas
in this concern."

"That is a different matter," said Llera, becoming very serious. "It
does not seem to me possible to keep the control of such a business with
so small a stake in it. The management will slip into other hands, and
the profits will soon be reduced to so much per cent., more or
less--that is to say, a mere nothing."

"Very true, very true," mumbled Salabert, again falling into deep
thought. Llera too remained silent and pensive.

"I have already explained to you the only way of keeping the concern in
your own hands," said he.

This way consisted in securing a sufficiently large number of shares in
the mine which the company was to purchase, and to go on buying up as
many as possible; then to throw them into the market at so low a price
as to alarm the shareholders. Thus to buy and sell at a loss for some
time was Llera's plan for bringing down the price of the shares, when he
could acquire half the shares _plus_ one, for much less money, and be
master of the whole concern.

To Salabert this was not so clear as to his clerk. His intellect was
keen and far-seeing, but he lacked breadth of view and initiative,
though those who saw him boldly undertake ventures of vast scope were
apt to think that he had them. The first conception, the mother idea, of
a new concern scarcely ever originated in his brain. It came to him from
outside; but once sown there it germinated and developed as it would
have done in no other in Spain. By degrees he analysed it, or rather
dissected it, laying bare its inmost fibres, contemplating it from all
sides; and once convinced that it would prove advantageous, he launched
it with the rare and surprising audacity which had so greatly deceived
the public as to his gifts as a speculator. He was perfectly convinced
that when once he had made up his mind to an enterprise, vacillation
must be fatal. Still, this boldness proceeded not from his temperament
but from reflection; it was the outcome of extreme astuteness.

Otherwise he was by nature timid, and this weakness, instead of
diminishing under the almost invariable success of his undertakings,
increased as time went on. Avarice is always suspicious and full of
alarms, and Salabert grew more and more avaricious. Also, as a man grows
older, it is a rule without exceptions, that pessimism soaks into his
mind. Our banker, accustomed to grand results from his speculations,
regarded any concern in which the profits were small as altogether
deplorable; if by any chance they were _nil_, or he even lost a trifle,
he thought it a matter for serious lamentation. Thus, but for Llera,
with his bold temperament and fertile imagination, the Duke de Requena
would not, for some years past, have ventured on any concern of even
moderate extent. On the other hand, what he had lost in dash and
resource he had made good by really astounding tact and skill, and a
knowledge of men which can be acquired only by years of unremitting
study. Thus it may be said that he and Llera complemented each other to
perfection.

Salabert's sagacity and knowledge of human nature sometimes erred by
excess; now and then he was caught in his own trap. In his dealings with
men, studying them always from the point of view of substantial
interest, he had formed so poor an opinion of them, that it became
monstrous, and led him into serious mistakes. Perhaps, after all, what
he saw in others was no more than the reflection of himself; to this
error we are all liable. To him every man and woman had a price; a cheap
conscience or a dear one, but all alike for sale. Of late years his
faith in bribery had become a passion. If he came across any one who
would not yield to money, he never suspected it could be in good faith,
but only supposed the price was higher than his bid.

One of Llera's hardest tasks was to get such schemes of bribery out of
his master's head when he had to do with men who would have rejected it
with indignation. If he were engaged in a law-suit, the first thing he
thought of was how much it would cost him to bribe the judge who would
decide it; if he were concerned in a government transaction, he
calculated the sum to be handed over to the Minister, or the
Under-Secretary, or the Councillors of State. Unluckily, he not
unfrequently made practical use of the black-lead he had always ready to
disfigure the face of humanity with.

Requena had absolutely no moral sense, and never had known what it was.
His life, as a nameless waif in Valencia, had been characterised by a
series of tricks and dodges, and such a lively inventiveness of means
for extracting coin from his fellow-creatures, as made him worthy to
compare with the favourite heroes of Spanish romance. In fact the name
of one of them, _El picaro Guzman_, had actually been bestowed on
Salabert as a nickname by some wags of his acquaintance, but they kept
it to themselves.

It was told of him with apparent truth that when he was in Cuba, whither
he went to seek his fortune, he bought a tavern with all its furniture,
including a negro woman who managed the business. This negress, for all
the time he remained, was his servant, his housekeeper, his slave and
his concubine, by whom he had several children. When he had saved some
thousands of dollars to return to Spain, he squared his petty accounts
by selling the tavern, the furniture, the black woman, and the
children.

Then he took army contracts, speculated in tobacco, government loans and
tenders for roads; these he sometimes sold again at a premium, and
sometimes carried out the works without any regard to the conditions of
the contract. But in all he did he displayed his wonderful capacity, his
practical sagacity, and so large a development of the organ of
acquisitiveness, as made him a man of mark among bankers.

He was not disagreeable to deal with, though, unlike most men who aspire
to wealth or power, his manners were not smooth nor his language choice.
He was brusque rather than courteous, but he was keen in the distinction
of persons, and could be very civil when he must. The natural abruptness
of his manners served him well to disguise the subtle astuteness of his
mind. That blunt, straightforward air, that exaggerated freedom and
provincial rusticity, could only cover a frank and loyal heart. To the
outside world he was the perfect type of the old Castilian school,
freespoken, downright and impertinent. He would be loquacious or
taciturn as suited his purpose, expressed himself with real or affected
difficulty--which, no one ever could discover--could sometimes jest with
some wit, but with unfailing coarseness, and was wont to say such
detestable things to the face of friend or foe as made him a terror in
drawing-rooms. The importance his wealth conferred on him had encouraged
this defect: he talked to most people, even to ladies, with a plainness
which verged on cynicism and grossness.

Nevertheless, when he came across a person of political importance whom
he desired to propitiate, this bluntness vanished and became flattery
that was almost servile. But the farce, however well played, deceived no
one. The Duke of Requena was regarded as a very wily old fox; no one
believed a word he said, or allowed himself to be deluded by that blunt
_bonhomie_. Those who had dealings with him were on their guard even
when feigning confidence and satisfaction. Still, as always happens with
a man who has succeeded in raising himself, the faults which every one
recognised--or to be exact, his ill-fame--did not hinder his neighbours
from respecting him, talking to him hat in hand and with a smile on
their lips, even when they had no need of him. Men not unfrequently
humble themselves for the mere pleasure of it. Salabert well knew this
innate tendency of the human spine to bend, and took unfair advantage of
it. Many men in quite independent circumstances not only took from him
impertinence which they would have thought intolerable in their oldest
friend, but even sought his society.

       *       *       *       *       *

"We will see, we will see," he repeated, when Llera recapitulated the
scheme for getting sole control of the mines. "You are too full of
fancies. Your head is too hot. That does not do in business. We must
take care not to get into the same scrape as we did with the granaries."

By Llera's advice the banker had constructed granaries in some of the
principal towns of Spain, and they had not proved such a success as had
been hoped. However, as the undertaking had been on a moderate scale the
losses, too, had not been great. But the Duke, who had bewailed them as
though they had been enormous, and had not spared his secretary much
gross insult, was always reminding him of the disaster. It served him as
a weapon when he wished to depreciate Llera's schemes, though he would
afterwards avail himself of them, and owed to them considerable
additions to his wealth. By such means he kept him in subjection,
ignorant of his real value, and ready to undertake any task however
disagreeable.

Llera, though somewhat mortified by this reminder, still insisted that
the transaction now under consideration would infallibly succeed if it
were conducted on the lines he had suggested. Salabert abruptly closed
the discussion by changing the subject. He briefly inquired into the
business of the day. The loss of some money he had advanced for a
relation in Valencia put him into a frantic rage; he stamped and fumed
like a bull stung by the darts, called himself a thousand fools, and
actually had the face to declare, in Llera's presence, that his good
nature would be the ruin of him. The whole loss amounted to about four
or five thousand dollars. The form of loan which Requena adopted to his
most intimate friends was this: he paid the sum usually in paper,
demanding six per cent. on the securities deposited, and besides this he
himself cut off the coupons, and claimed the dividends. So that the
securities, instead of bringing in the net interest, yielded him six per
cent. more. These were the dealings to which he was prompted, not by
interest, but by kindness of heart!

He left Llera's office in a state of fury, went to the counting-room,
and learning there that it was necessary to draw on the bank for nine
thousand dollars in currency, he himself took charge of the cheque,
after having signed it; he would have to go there to a meeting of
directors, and it would be no trouble to him as he passed to get it
cashed.

He went out on foot, as was his custom in the morning. The birds were
singing in the beautiful trees which bordered the walks. It was quite
clear that they had incurred no bad debts. The Duke cursed their foolish
trick of singing, and would not listen to their gleeful trills. He
walked on slowly with a gloomy scowl, taking no notice of the greetings
of the gardeners and the gate-keeper, biting his huge cigar with more
than usual viciousness. In the street, however, his face somewhat
recovered its tone. He had a pleasant and useful meeting with the
President of the Council of State, who likewise was fond of an early
walk, and who bowed to him in the Avenue de Recoletos; they stood
talking for a few minutes, and he availed himself of the opportunity of
recommending to the President, with the intentional bluntness which he
affected, the prospectus of certain salt-marshes in which he was
interested. Then, at a deliberate pace, gazing with his prominent,
guileless eyes at the passers by, and more especially at the fresh
damsels hastening home from market with their baskets loaded, and their
cheeks rosy from the effort, he proceeded to the Bank of Spain. Numbers
of persons lifted their hats to him, now and again he paused for a
moment, shook hands with one or another, and after exchanging a few
words with an acquaintance, went on his way.

It was still early. Before reaching the Bank, it occurred to him that he
would go to see his friend and connection Calderón, whose warehouse and
counting-house were in the Calle de San Felipe Neri, still in the state
in which his father had left them--that is to say, very
poverty-stricken, not to say dirty and squalid. In these quarters, where
the light filtered in through panes darkened by dust and protected by
clumsy ironwork, and where the smell of hides was perfectly sickening,
old Calderón with mechanical regularity had accumulated dollar on
dollar, till several piles of a million each had formed there. His son
Julian had made no change. Though he was one of the wealthiest bankers
in Madrid he had not given up the hide warehouse and the small profits
which this business brought in--small as compared with those on
securities and stocks which the banking house dealt in.

Calderón was a banker of a different type from Salabert. He was of an
essentially conservative temper, timid in speculation, always preferring
small profits to large when there was any risk. His intelligence was
somewhat limited, cautious, hesitating and circumspect. Every new
undertaking struck him as madness. When he saw a friend embarking on one
he smiled maliciously, and congratulated himself on the superior
shrewdness with which he was gifted; if it turned out well he would
shake his head, saying with determined foreboding: "Those who laugh
last, laugh longest." At home he was parsimonious, nay stingy to a
scandal; and though the house was kept on a comparatively luxurious
footing, this was partly the result of his wife's entreaties, and the
raillery of his friends, but even more of his conviction, slowly formed,
that some external prestige was indispensable, if he was to compete with
the numbers of skilful financiers established in the capital. But after
having bought good furniture, he insisted on such care being taken of
it, such refinements of precaution on the part of the servants and his
wife and children, that they were really the slaves of these costly
possessions. Then with regard to the carriage, it is impossible to
imagine the anxieties and agitations without end which it cost him.
Every time the coachman told him that a horse wanted shoeing it was a
fresh worry. He had a pair of French mares of some value, and he loved
them as he loved his children, or more. He drove them out of an evening;
but never to go to the theatre for fear of cold; he would rather see his
wife walk or take a hired carriage than expose them to any risk. And if
one of them really fell ill, there are no words for our banker's state
of mind; anxiety and dejection were written in his face. He went
frequently to see the animal, patted and petted her, and would often
assist the coachman and the vet. in applying the remedies, however
unpleasant. Till the invalid had recovered no one in the house had any
peace.

As a husband he was most officious; but in this he was hardly to blame.
His wife's apathy was such that if he had not taken charge of the
kitchen accounts and the store-cupboard keys, God knows how the house
would have been kept. Mariana did nothing and gave no orders. Any other
woman would have felt humiliated by finding herself obliged to refer to
her husband at every moment for the most trifling details of domestic
life, but she took it quite as a matter of course, and found it most
convenient, when Calderón's stinginess did not make itself too
pressingly felt. Her part was that of a child in the house, and she was
quite content to play it.

The person who sometimes dumbly rebelled against the exclusive
centralisation of all administrative power in the master's hands was
Mariana's mother, the diminutive lady with deep set eyes, of whom
mention was made in the first chapter. Her protests indeed were neither
frequent nor lengthy. At heart she and her son-in-law were in perfect
agreement. The old woman, the widow of a provincial merchant, who
herself had helped in saving his capital, was even more devoted to order
and economy than Calderón himself--that is to say, more sordidly
thrifty. For this reason she never would have endured to live with her
son; his expensive tastes, and, yet more, Clementina's extravagance and
disreputable caprices enraged her, and would have embittered every
moment of her life. In Calderón's house she was inspector or spy over
the servants, and she filled the part to admiration. Her son-in-law
could rest in confidence, and thanks to this and to his expectation that
Mariana would be enriched by her will, he showed far more consideration
for her than for his wife.

Salabert was at heart not less covetous than Calderón, and hardly less
timid; but his intellect was very superior, his cowardice was
counterbalanced by a strong infusion of bounce, and his avarice by a
profound knowledge of mankind. He knew very well that the paraphernalia
and ostentation of wealth have a marked influence on the minds of the
most indifferent, and contribute in a great measure to inspire the
confidence without which no important enterprise can prosper. Hence the
luxury in which he lived--his palace, his servants, and the famous balls
he occasionally gave to the fashionable world of Madrid. For Calderón he
had a profound contempt, though at the same time his society put him
into a good humour. As he contemplated his friend's inferiority he
swelled in his own esteem, regarding himself as a greater man than he
really was, and deriving from it the liveliest satisfaction. He not only
judged himself to have more cleverness and astuteness--the only superior
qualities he really possessed--but, to be, by comparison, generous and
liberal, almost a prodigy.

Panting and puffing he went into the dark warehouse in the Calle de San
Felipe Neri, producing the usual effect of amazing, crushing,
annihilating the clerks of the house, to whom the Duke de Requena was
not merely the greatest man in Spain, but a quite supernatural being.
His visit impressed them with the same reverence and enthusiasm, awe and
adoration, as the appearance of the Mikado arouses in the Japanese. And
if they did not prostrate themselves with their foreheads in the dust,
they coloured up to their ears, and for some minutes they could not put
pen to paper, nor attend to the requirements of a customer. They looked
at each other with awe-stricken eyes, repeating in an undertone, what
indeed they all knew: "The Duke!" "The Duke!"

The Duke passed in, as usual when he by chance called there, without
vouchsafing them a glance, and made his way to the little room where
Calderón sat. Long before reaching him, he began shouting: "Caramba,
Julian! When do you mean to get out of this hole? This is not a
banking-house, it is a stye. Are you not ashamed to be seen here? Poof!
Do you skin the beasts here, or what? The stink is intolerable."

Calderón's private room was beyond the front office, a mere closet,
separated from the rest by a partition of painted wood, with a spring
door. Thus he could hear all that his friend was saying, before Salabert
reached him.

"What do you expect, man?" said he, somewhat nettled at his clerks being
made the confidants of this philippic. "We are not all dukes, trampling
millions under foot."

"Millions! Does it need millions to keep an office clean and
comfortable? You had better confess that you cannot bear to spend a
peseta in making yourself decent. I have told you many times, Julian,
you are poor, and you will be poor all your days. I should be richer
with a thousand pence than you with a thousand dollars--because I know
how to spend them."

Calderón grumbled a protest and went on with his work. The Duke, without
taking his hat off, dropped into the only easy chair, covered with white
buckskin, or which ought to have been white, for it was of a doubtful
hue now, between yellow and greenish-grey, with black patches where
heads and hands were wont to rest. There were besides three or four
stools covered with the same material, in the same state, a book-case
full of bundles of papers, a small cash-box, an ancient walnut-wood
writing-table covered with oil-cloth, and behind the table a greasy,
shabby arm-chair in which the head of the house sat enthroned. This
small room was lighted by a barred window, to ward off the prying looks
of passers-by; there were blinds, which, being the cheapest and
commonest of their kind, had this peculiarity, that one was much too
wide and the other so short that it did not cover the lower pane by at
least a quarter.

"Why in the world don't you quit this blessed leather-shop, which is not
worthy of a man of your position and fortune?"

"Fortune--fortune!" muttered Calderón with his eyes still fixed on the
paper he was writing on. "People talk of my fortune I know, but if I
were compelled to liquidate, who knows what would come of it?"

Calderón never confessed his wealth; he loved to crawl; any allusion to
his riches annoyed him beyond measure. Salabert, on the contrary, loved
to flourish his millions in the face of the world, and play the nabob,
at the smallest possible cost of course.

"Besides," Calderón went on with some acerbity, "every one looks at what
comes in and never thinks of what goes out. Our expenses are greater
every day. Have you any idea, now, of what our private expenditure has
been this year? Come."

"Nothing much," replied Requena, with a depreciating smile.

"Nothing much? Why it amounts to more than seventy-five thousand
dollars, and we are only in November."

"What do you say?" exclaimed the Duke greatly astonished. "Impossible!"

"As I tell you."

"Come, come; do not try to throw dust in my eyes, Julian. Unless you
include in the seventy-five thousand the cost of the house you are
building in Calle Homo de la Mata."

"Why, of course."

At this Salabert burst into such a fit of laughing that he seemed about
to choke; the cigar dropped out of his mouth, his face, usually so
pale, turned so red as to be alarming, and the fit of coughing which
ensued was so violent that it threatened him with congestion.

"My dear fellow, I thank you! That is really delicious," he gasped
between coughing and laughing. "I never thought of that before.
Henceforth I will include in my household expenses all the paper I buy
and the houses I build. I shall have accounts like a king's to show."

The Duke's hearty and uproarious mirth annoyed and piqued Calderón out
of all measure.

"I really do not see what you are laughing at. The money goes out of the
cash-box under the head of expenditure. And, at any rate, Antonio, a
fool knows more of his own affairs than a wise man knows of his
neighbours'."

The Duke's visits to his friend had of late been somewhat frequent. He
had been hovering round him a good deal to tempt him into the mining
speculation. The moment was drawing near when the sale must come on, and
meanwhile he was anxious to secure the co-operation of some of the more
important shareholders. Don Julian was one, not merely by reason of the
capital he represented, but by the position he held. He enjoyed the
reputation in the financial world of being a very cautious, or indeed
suspicious man; thus his name as participator in a speculation was a
guarantee of its security, and this was what Salabert required. So he
was anxious not to vex him seriously, and changed the subject. With the
curious suppleness and cunning which lay beneath his abrupt roughness,
he managed to put him in a good humour by praising his foresight in a
certain case when he would not be caught, reflecting on the folly of
some rival dealers, and implying Calderón's superior skill and
penetration. When he had got him into the right frame of mind he spoke,
for the third or fourth time, in vague terms, of the mining company. He
mentioned it as an unattainable vision, just to whet his friend's
appetite.

"If they only could buy up the mine one of these days, what a stroke of
business that would be! He had never in his life met with a better.
Unfortunately the Government were not disposed to sell. However--damn it
all! By a little good management and steady perseverance, in time
perhaps--meanwhile what was wanted were a few men who could afford to
invest a good round sum. If they were not to be found in Spain they must
be sought elsewhere."

At the mere notion of a speculation Calderón shrank as a snail does when
it is touched. And this was so big a thing, to judge from the vague
hints the Duke threw out, that he completely disappeared into his shell.
Then, when Salabert spoke rather more plainly, he turned gloomy and
dull, uneasy and suspicious, as if he expected to be bled there and then
of an exorbitant sum.

When Requena had finished a long and rather incoherent speech, which was
almost a monologue, he abruptly rose:

"Ta ta, Julianito, I am off to the Bank."

He took out a fresh cigar, and without offering one to Calderón, who did
not smoke, he lighted it for form's sake; but he at once let it go out
and began chewing it as usual.

Don Julian gave a sigh of relief.

"Always in a state of feverish activity," said he with a smile, holding
out his hand. "Always on the track of money!"

Just as he reached the door Calderón remembered that he might make
something out of this visit.

"I say, Antonio, I have a heap of Londrès. Do you want them? I will let
you have them cheap."

"No, I don't want any at present. What do you ask for them?"

"Forty-seven."

"Are there many of them?"

"Eight thousand pounds in all."

"Well, I really don't want them, but it is a good bargain. Good-bye."

He went to the Bank, assisted at the meeting, and after cashing his
cheque for nine thousand dollars, went out with his friend Urreta,
another of the great Madrid bankers. On reaching the Puerta del Sol they
shook hands to part.

"Which way are you going?" asked Salabert.

"I am going to Calderón's office to see if he happens to be able to help
me to some Londrès."

"Quite useless," said the other promptly. "I have just bought up all he
had."

"That is unlucky. What did you give for them?"

"Forty-seven ten."

"Not very cheap. But I need them badly, so I should have taken them."

"Do you really need them?" said Salabert, putting his arm on the other's
shoulders.

"I do indeed."

"Then I will be your Providence. How many do you want?"

"A large quantity, at least ten thousand pounds."

"Oh I cannot do that, but I can send you eight thousand this evening."

Urreta's face beamed with a grateful smile.

"My dear fellow, I cannot allow it. You want them yourself."

"Not so much as you do, and even if I did, you know my regard for you.
You are the only Guipuzcoan of brains I ever met with," and as he spoke
he patted him affectionately on the shoulder. They shook hands once
more, Urreta pouring out a flood of grateful speeches, to which Salabert
replied with the rough frankness which so greatly enhanced the merits of
any service he might render; then they parted.

The Duke instantly got into a coach from the stand. "Go to Calle de San
Felipe Neri, No.----."

"Yes, Señor Duque."

The Duke raised his head to look at the man.

"So you know me?" and without waiting for a reply, he jumped in and shut
the door.

"Julian, Julian," he shouted to his friend before opening the door into
Calderón's office. "I have come to do you a service. You are in luck,
you wretch! Send me home those Londrès."

"Ha, ha!" exclaimed Julian with a triumphant smile. "So you want them?"

"Yes, my dear fellow, yes. I always want the thing you want to get rid
of. Good-bye."

And without going into the little office, he let go of the spring door
he had held open, and left. He desired the coachman to drive to a house
in one of the northern quarters of the city, and reclined in a corner,
munching his cigar and smoking with evident gratification. For our
banker felt as much satisfaction after committing this piece of
rascality, after cheating his friend of so many pesetas, as the
righteous man knows after doing an act of justice or charity. His
imagination, always on the alert when money might be made, wandered over
the various concerns in which he was engaged, and the vehicle meanwhile
carried him on towards the Hippodrome. More especially he dwelt on the
mines of Riosa; the longer he thought of Llera's scheme, the better it
pleased him. Still, it had its weak points, and he meditated on the
means of fortifying them.

It was not yet late. Salabert had time still to pay one of those
unavowed visits which form an item in the social round of many a man
whose virtues are more conspicuous, and whose vices less blatant than
his. He dismissed the coach he had hired, and, his call paid, he walked
home.

As soon as he found himself in his private room, he put his hand in his
pocket to take out his note-book. His face, which had shone with
satisfaction at the consciousness of carrying about with him the golden
key to every pleasure on earth, suddenly fell. A cloud of anxiety came
over it. He felt more thoroughly. The pocket-book was not there. He
tried all his other pockets. The same result.

"Damnation," he muttered, "I have been robbed. Robbed of ten thousand
odd dollars. Curse my ill luck! If a day begins badly--three thousand
dollars gone in a bad debt, and now nearly eleven thousand in a lump! A
pretty morning's work I must say!"

He started to his feet and rang the bell vehemently for Llera. When the
factotum appeared, he was walking up and down the room, strangely
excited for a man who owned so many millions. He explained the case to
the clerk. A torrent of words, growls, foul expletives, poured from his
lips, and he flung away his half-chewed cigar, a sign of excessive
disturbance.

"Possibly, Señor, you have not been robbed," Llera suggested, "you may
have lost it. Where have you been?"

But this was a question the Duke was not prepared to answer.

"Damn it, what concern is that of yours?" he replied. "Do you suppose I
am likely to have lost eleven thousand dollars? That is to say, lost
them--of course I have. But some one else found them before they touched
the ground."

"The best thing you can do, Señor Duque, is to let me go over the ground
wherever you have been."

"I will go myself after luncheon. Go, if you have nothing else to
suggest but calling on all my acquaintances."

Requena went downstairs, dismaying the house like a bombshell, not
indeed of powder or dynamite, since uproariousness was not part of his
nature, but of sulphuric acid or corrosive sublimate, which trickled
into every corner and annoyed and burnt every one in turn. His wife, his
lodge-keeper, his cook, Llera, and almost every one of his clerks, had
some coarse insult flung in their teeth, in the tone of cynical
brutality which he affected. After luncheon he was about to go out on
his quest, when a servant came to tell him that a hackney coachman
wished to speak with him.

"What does he want?"

"I do not know. He said he wanted to see the Duke."

Salabert, with a sudden flash of intuition, said:

"Show him up."

The man who came in was the driver of the coach which had conveyed him
from Calderón's office to his mistress's house. The Duke looked at him
anxiously.

"What is it?"

"This, Señor Duque, which is your excellency's no doubt," said the man,
holding out the pocket-book.

The Duke seized it, hastily opened it, and shaking out the pile of bank
notes it contained, counted them with the skill and rapidity of a
practised hand. When he had done, he said:

"All right; there are none missing."

The man, who had no doubt looked for some reward, stood still for a
minute or two.

"It is all right, my good fellow, quite right. Many thanks."

Then the poor man, with angry disappointment stamped on his face, turned
to go, muttering good-day. The Duke looked at him with cruel humour, and
before he had reached the door called after him with deliberate sarcasm:

"Look here, my man, I give you nothing, because to so honest a fellow as
you the best reward is the satisfaction of having done right."

The coachman, at once puzzled and vexed, looked at him with an
indescribable expression. His lips parted as if he were about to speak,
but he finally left the room without a word.



CHAPTER V.

PRECIPITANCY.


Raimundo Alcázar--for this was the name of the pertinacious youth who
had so provoked Clementina by following her when we first had the honour
of making her acquaintance--met the wrathful glance she had fired at him
as she went into her sister-in-law's house with perfect and resigned
submission. He waited for a moment to see whether she had gone thither
merely on a message, and finding she did not come out again, he placidly
walked away in the direction of the little Plaza de Santa Cruz. He
stopped in front of a flower-stall. The florist smiled as he drew near,
recognising him as an old customer, and took up a bouquet of white roses
and violets, which no doubt were awaiting him. He then went to the Plaza
Mayor, and took the tramcar for Carabanchel. At the turning which leads
to the Cemetery of San Isidro he got out and proceeded on foot. On
reaching the graveyard he hastily ascended the slope and went into the
new enclosure, where, as the law directs, the dead are laid in graves,
and not in long vaulted galleries. He went on with a swift step to a
tomb covered with a white marble slab, and enclosed by a little railing.
There he stopped. For some minutes he stood still, gazing at it. On the
stone, in black letters, was the name, _Isabel Martinez de Alcázar_.
Below the name, two dates--1842-1883--those, no doubt, of the birth and
death of the dead who slept below. A few faded flowers lay there, which
Raimundo carefully removed, and untying the bunch he had brought with
him, he scattered the fresh blossoms on the grave, and used the string
to tie up the dead ones. With these in one hand and his hat in the other
he again stood for some minutes contemplating the spot, with tears in
his eyes. Then he walked quickly away without a single curious glance at
the other sepultures.

Raimundo Alcázar had lost his mother eight or nine months ago. He had
never known his father, or, rather, he had no recollection of him, since
he was but four years old at the time of his parent's death. His name,
too, had been Raimundo, and at the time of his death he had filled a
professor's chair at the University of Segovia. When he had first
married he had been a youth waiting for an appointment. Isabel's father,
a dealer in forged iron in the Calle de Esparteros, had in consequence
refused his consent, and only sanctioned their union when at last
Alcázar won the professorship above mentioned. He was a young fellow of
exceptional talents, and published some works on geology, the branch of
science to which he had devoted himself. His death, at the age of
thirty-two, was much lamented in the small circle to whom men of science
are known in Spain. Isabel, with her little son, returned to her
father's house in Madrid, and there, three months after her husband's
death, she gave birth to a daughter, who was baptised by the name of
Aurelia.

Isabel was a remarkably handsome woman, and, as the only child of a man
who was supposed to be in easy circumstances, she did not lack for
suitors. But she refused every offer. Her friends called her romantic,
perhaps because she had more mind and heart than they could generally
boast of. She appreciated talent, and detested the prosaic beings who
almost exclusively constituted her father's social circle. She
worshipped the memory of her husband, whom she had adored while he
lived, as a man of superior talents; she treasured with the greatest
care every eulogy that had appeared in print on his works; the sole
desire and aim of her life was that her son should tread in his father's
footsteps, and become respected for his talents and eminence. Heaven
blessed her aspirations. At first she saw him growing up before her
eyes the living image of his father. Not in face only, but in gesture
and voice, he was exactly like him. Then the boy's progress at school
caused her the keenest joy. He was intelligent and studious. His masters
were always entirely satisfied with him. Every word of praise which came
to her ears, every mark of approbation written against his name, gave
the poor mother the most exquisite delight. Now she had no doubt that he
would inherit his father's gifts.

She was stricken with remorse sometimes when she reflected how far from
equitably she divided her affection between her two children. Whatever
efforts she might make to preserve the equilibrium, she could not but
confess that she loved Raimundo much the best. Her devoted affection was
shown in constant petting and small cares, which pampered the boy and
weakened his character. She brought him up with excessive fondness. He,
on his part, loved her with such exclusive ardour that at times it was
almost a fever. Every time he had to leave the shelter of her petticoats
to go to school it cost him some tears. He insisted on her watching him
from the balcony, and before turning the corner of the street he looked
round twenty times to kiss his hand to her. Even when he was grown up
and a science-student, Isabel still kept up the habit of going out on
the balcony to wave him an adieu when he went to his lectures. Either by
nature, or perhaps in consequence of this rather effeminate education,
Raimundo was a timid boy, indifferent to the sports of his companions;
and he grew up a melancholy youth, and a serious and uncommunicative
man. He had scarcely any friends. At college he joined his
fellow-students in a walk before going in to lecture but as soon as it
was over he went home, and did not care to go out unless with his mother
and sister.

Long before that, when he was no more than ten years old his grandfather
died. Thus, by the time he was sixteen, he had to play the part of the
man in the house. He took his mother to the theatre, accompanied her in
paying visits, and sometimes in the evening, when the weather was fine,
he took her out for a walk, giving her his arm like her husband or
sweetheart. Isabel's beauty did not desert her with years. Those who saw
them together never supposed they could be mother and son, but rather
sister and brother, if not a married pair. This was the cause of some
distress to the lad. As in Madrid men are not remarkable for respect for
the fair sex, he used to overhear, in spite of himself, complimentary
speeches, or even bold addresses from the passers-by to his mother. And
as he heard them, he felt a strange mixture of shame and pleasure, of
jealousy and pride; the position of a son in such a case is extremely
peculiar and embarrassing.

Old Martinez, his grandfather, after retiring from business, had lost
all his savings. They had been invested partly in a gunpowder-making
company which had failed, and partly in Government stock. All he had to
leave was an income of from seven to eight thousand pesetas.

On this the three lived very thriftily, though they did not lack the
necessaries of life. On a second floor in the Calle de Gravina, Raimundo
pursued his scientific studies. He hoped to become a professor, like his
father, and, seeing how brilliantly he passed every examination, no one
doubted that he soon would attain that position; but, instead of turning
his attention to geology, he preferred the study of zoology, and more
especially that of butterflies. He began making a collection, and
displayed so much eagerness and intelligence that, before long, he was
possessed of a very fine one. Before he had left college he was already
remarkable as an entomologist. The walls of his room were lined with
cabinets, containing the rarest and most precious specimens. For two
years he saved up his pocket-money to buy a microscope, and at last was
able to purchase a fairly good one, which was as useful as it was
delightful. The day he took his doctor's degree, when he was just
one-and-twenty, Isabel experienced one of those joys that mothers alone
can know. She embraced him, shedding a flood of tears.

"Now, mamma," said he, "I am qualified to compete for a professorship. I
shall devote myself to preparing for it, and as soon as I succeed I
shall renounce anything you may be able to leave me in favour of
Aurelia. I have few wants, and can live on my salary."

These generous words went to the mother's heart; she found fresh reason
every day for adoring this model son.

Raimundo now plunged into his studies with ardour, working up the
special branches required without neglecting his entomology. Thanks to
this, and to the honoured name of his father, he was soon eminent among
men of science. He wrote some papers, corresponded with various foreign
_savants_, and had the satisfaction of receiving from them the most
encouraging praises. He was, it may be said, a happy man. He had no
desires for the impossible to devour his soul, no tormenting
love-affairs, or intrusive friends; he enjoyed the peace of home-life,
the love of his family, and the pure delights of science; his days
glided on in tranquillity and happiness. His mother's friends were
amazed at such virtuous simplicity. Had Raimundo no love entanglement?
Did he not care for women? And Isabel would reply with a smile of
evident satisfaction:

"I do not know. I believe he has never yet thought of such a thing. He
is so tied to my apron-string that he is like a child of three. He would
find it hard, to be sure, to meet with a woman who would love him as I
do."

And it was as she said. She kept him wrapped in such an atmosphere of
protection, of warm and loving care, as he could never have found with a
wife, however devoted she might be. Only mothers have this gift of
absolute and unwearying self-sacrifice, never hoping for or dreaming of
a return. Raimundo's every need of a practical kind was satisfied with a
refined completeness which few men enjoy. He had never known what it was
to have to think how he was fed, clothed, and shod, or to take any care
for necessaries such as many women do not understand. Every detail of
his life was foreseen and arranged for him. He might devote himself
wholly to the exercise of his intellect. If he complained of a taste in
his mouth, his mother was at his bedside early in the morning with an
effervescing saline draught; if his head ached there was a soothing
drink at bed-time. If he coughed in the night, ever so little, Isabel
could not rest till she had stolen into his room in her nightshift to
see that he had not thrown off his bedclothes. As soon as Aurelia was
old enough she too helped her mother in the task of averting every pain
and removing even the tiniest thorns from the young entomologist's path.

Unhappily--though we might also say very naturally, since happiness
cannot last in this world--this blissful course of life came to a sudden
end. Isabel fell ill of bronchitis which she could not completely shake
off, either because she neglected it or because the physician had
hesitated to apply sufficiently severe treatment. It left her with a
catarrh of the lungs which weakened her greatly. Then, by the doctor's
advice, she went to the baths of Panticosa with Raimundo, leaving
Aurelia in the care of some relations. She rallied a little, but fell
ill again within a few days of returning to Madrid. She was then visibly
failing; so much so that her friends could plainly see that she was
dying. Never for a moment did such a notion enter her son's head. His
life was so bound up with hers that the two seemed as one. Things went
on as they almost always do with the sick who do not know that they are
dying. Isabel, though very weak, carried on the housekeeping with her
usual care. Raimundo, indeed, had entreated her, and then, taking
advantage of his influence over her, had commanded her to rest; but she,
evading his vigilance, and prompted by the invincible impulse which busy
natures feel to be doing something, would not give up her duties. One
day, when she was already almost dying, Raimundo found her on her knees
dusting the legs of a table. He was quite horrified, and, chiding her
affectionately, helped her up with many kisses.

A pious friend, who came to see her, thought proper to hint to her that
she ought to confess. Isabel was painfully impressed; her son, coming
in, found her weeping, and flew into a rage, breaking out vehemently
against all such bigots. However, the sick woman, who was beginning to
understand her danger, insisted gently but firmly on the priest being
sent for. Raimundo, much annoyed, sent for the doctor to uphold him in
his refusal. The physician at first replied evasively, then he said that
it was at any rate being on the right side, that if strong people were
liable to sudden death much more were the sickly.

But even now light did not dawn on the young man's apprehension. After
seeing the priest, Isabel went on as before, and this contributed to
keep up his delusion. She rose in the morning, ate at table with them,
went into the sitting-room on her son's arm, and spent the chief part of
the day in an armchair. At the same time she was so excessively thin
that those who saw her only at long intervals were quite shocked. And
yet she did not lose her beauty; on the contrary, it seemed to have
increased, her complexion was clearer and more delicate, and her eyes
brighter.

One morning she said she would rather not get up. Raimundo sat down by
her bed reading a novel. She presently said:

"I am uncomfortable. Lift me up a little; I have no strength."

He rose to do it, and at that very instant his mother's head drooped on
one side and she was dead, without a sigh, without the smallest gesture
or sign of suffering--like a bird, to use a vulgar but expressive
phrase.

The young man's despairing cry brought in the people of the house.

Some relations took him and his sister away to their own home; in the
state of stupor in which he was, there was no difficulty in getting him
to go whithersoever they would. That same evening some of his college
friends came to see him and found him in fairly good spirits, which
amazed them, knowing the passionate devotion to his mother he had always
professed. He discussed scientific matters for a long time, expressing
himself with greater volubility than usual. This led them to suspect
that he was under the influence of some violent excitement, and the
suspicion was confirmed when he proposed to play at cards. They yielded,
but presently the young fellow began to talk quite at random.

"What do you think of the game, mamma?" he asked of a lady who was
playing.

All those present looked at each other with consternation and pity.

After this he became quite incoherent. His excitement increased, he
began laughing so wildly that no one could doubt that it must end in a
violent nervous attack. And, in fact, when they least expected it, he
started from his seat, ran to the window, threw it open, and would have
flung himself from the balcony, if they had not stopped him. This ended
in acute hysterics, which happily were soon over, and then to collapse,
compelling him to remain in bed three or four days.

Time at last exerted its soothing power. At the end of a fortnight he
was well again, though a prey to extreme dejection, from which his
relations and friends vainly strove to rouse him.

His uncle proposed that the brother and sister should continue to live
with him, since Raimundo was young to be at the head of a house, and
especially to guard and guide Aurelia. He was now three-and-twenty and
she eighteen. But neither of them would listen to the plan. They would
live alone and together. They took third floor rooms in the Calle de
Serrano, very pretty and sunny, and thither they transferred their
furniture; once installed there they continued their former life, sadly,
no doubt, under the ever present remembrance of their mother, but calmly
and contentedly. Raimundo centred all his thoughts and care in Aurelia.
Anxious to fulfil his part as father and protector to the young girl, he
did for her what his mother had hitherto done for him, surrounding her
with kindness, and cherishing her with a tenderness which touched all
who saw them. Aurelia was not beautiful nor particularly clever, but
for her brother she felt the passionate adoration she had inherited from
her mother. Nevertheless, in the details of daily life the young man
sorely missed his mother. Aurelia did her utmost to prevent his feeling
her absence, but she was far from achieving the same delicate
anticipation of his needs. By degrees she became more expert in the
management of the house, and Raimundo, on his part, did not look for the
refined comfort of a past time. The feeling of guardianship, and the
consciousness of his own duties towards his sister, made him think less
of himself. If, on the other hand, some little attention from Aurelia
came to him as a surprise he accepted it as though from a child. Thus
their lives supplemented each other.

They lived humbly; their rent came to twenty dollars; they kept a single
maid. Thus their little income of twelve hundred dollars was sufficient
for their needs. As it was derived from dividends on State securities
and shares in a manufactory, it was regularly paid. Raimundo was able to
dedicate himself with renewed ardour to his studies; he longed to fulfil
to his sister the promise he had made his mother, of renouncing his
share of their inheritance, and saving for her a little fortune which
might enable her to marry well. Ever since his illness he had gone twice
a week to lay flowers on his mother's grave; on Sundays he took Aurelia
with him. As a rule he went out very little. The studies requisite to
fit him to compete for a professorship on the one hand, and on the other
his passion as a collector and naturalist, absorbed almost the whole of
his time. It was a wonder indeed if he were seen in a café, and being in
mourning he did not go to the play.

One day when he happened to be at a bookseller's in the Carrera San
Jeronimo, where he frequently amused himself by turning over new works
from abroad, an elegantly dressed woman came into the shop. Raimundo's
eyes dilated at the vision, resting on her with such a fixed look of
admiration, that she was fain to turn away. While she bought a few
French novels he contemplated her with rapture and emotion; the book he
was holding shook in his hand. As she went out he hastily laid it down
to follow her; but a carriage was waiting for her. The man-servant, hat
in hand, opened the door, and the horses instantly snatched her from his
sight.

"What is it, Don Raimundo?" said the bookseller, as he came into the
shop again. "Are you struck by my fair customer?"

The young man smiled to conceal his agitation, and replied with feigned
indifference:

"Who could fail to notice such a beautiful creature? Who is she?"

"Do not you know her? She is the wife of a banker named Osorio, and
Salabert's daughter."

"Ah! Salabert's daughter! Then she lives in that palace in the Avenue de
Luchana?"

"No, Señor. She lives in the Calle don Ramon de la Cruz."

He wanted no more. Away he went. This lady bore a singular likeness to
his mother. The state of his mind, still grieving and sore, made the
resemblance seem to him greater than it really was, and it impressed him
vividly. A few minutes later he was walking up and down in front of the
Osorios' house; but he did not succeed in catching another glimpse of
the lady. The next day he went to walk in the Retiro, and there again he
met her. Thenceforth he watched and followed her with a constancy which
betrayed the strong hold she had on his feelings. Though he at no time
forgot his mother's face, Clementina Salabert brought it yet more
vividly before him, and this gave him a pathetic pain in which he
revelled, paradoxical as it may seem. But any one who has lost a loved
face from the world will understand it; there is a kind of luxury in
uncovering the wound, and renewing the pain and regret. Raimundo could
not gaze long at Clementina's features without feeling the tears on his
cheeks; and this, perhaps, was why he so constantly sought her. In her
face there was indeed a hardness and severity which his mother's had
never had; but when she smiled and all sternness vanished the
resemblance was really amazing.

Our young man was well aware of the annoyance his pursuit caused her. At
the same time he could not help laughing to himself at her
misapprehension of the case. "If this lady could know," he would say to
himself, as he saw her lips curl with scorn, "why she fascinates me so
much, how great would her astonishment be!" A current of attraction, it
might be said of adoration, drew him to her. But for her forbidding
dignity, he might very possibly have addressed her, have explained to
her the strange consolation he derived from her presence. But Clementina
moved in so distant a sphere that he dreaded her contempt. It was enough
that she should so evidently scorn him for his joy in beholding her. On
the other hand, he had heard rumours greatly to her discredit; but he
took no pains to confirm them--in the first place, because they did not
concern him, and also because if they proved to be true he would be
compelled to think ill of her, and he could not bear that a woman so
like his mother should be, in fact, disreputable. He would know nothing,
he would be content to indulge, as often as he could, that strange
longing to revive his grief and move himself to tears. As he did not
live in fashionable society and could not go to the theatre to procure
this satisfaction, he had no choice but to haunt her in the streets or
the parks when she was out driving. He also attended Mass on Sundays at
the Jeronymite church, and there he could contemplate her at his ease
and leisure.

He had told Aurelia of his discovery, but he had not pointed the lady
out to her. He was afraid lest Aurelia should not see the likeness so
clearly as he did, and should thus despoil him of his illusion.
Clementina went out walking two or three times a week, in the afternoon,
as she had done on the day when we made her acquaintance. Raimundo, from
the window of his study in the Calle de Serrano spied her approach, as
from an observatory, and when he discerned her from afar, down he went
to follow her as far as he could. This persecution vexed the lady all
the more, as it was at this hour that she went to visit her lover. Not
that it was a matter of any particular importance that this new
connection should become known, but for a remnant of shame which
survived in her. No woman, however unblushing, can bear to be seen
entering her lover's dwelling.

Moreover, she knew, for she had heard it quite lately, that a husband
who, finding out his wife's guilt, kills her on the spot, is held
excused. Now, as she knew that Osorio hated her, she was afraid lest he
might take advantage of this excuse to get rid of her. These vague
terrors, added to that residue of decency, increased her rage against
Raimundo. Her violent and imperious temper rose in arms at this
unforeseen interference. She had not even paid any particular attention
to the young man's appearance. She hated him without troubling herself
to look at him. His indifference and submission to the utter contempt
which she did not attempt to conceal, was also an offence. It was
evident that this youngster was making game of her; if he were
love-stricken he could not possibly show so much serene cynicism. No
doubt he had discovered that he annoyed her, and meant to insult her out
of revenge. And beyond a doubt he succeeded perfectly. The turns she was
compelled to take in order to elude him, the visits she paid against her
will, and all the terrors his pursuit cost her, rendered him more odious
to her every day, and made her blood boil. She went out in the carriage,
drove to the Calatravas church, and there dismissed it; but Raimundo,
after being deprived for some days of the sight of her, committed the
extravagance of taking a hackney coach to keep up with her.

This enraged her beyond measure, and she determined to put an end to the
intolerable persecution, though she did not know how. At first she asked
Pepe Castro to speak to the youth and threaten him; but on seeing how
coolly he took the proposal, she indignantly determined never to return
to the subject. Then she thought of addressing him herself in the
street, and desiring him, in a few words of freezing scorn, to annoy her
no more. But when the opportunity offered she dared not--though timidity
was not her besetting sin--the predicament seemed too delicate.

She was still in this state of doubt and hesitancy, when one day, as she
went down the Calle de Serrano, happening to look up, she spied the
enemy on the look out, high above her. This suggested to her the idea of
asking his name and writing to him. And with the vehemence which
prompted all her actions she immediately went in, and inquired of the
porter:

"Would you be so good as to tell me who lives on the third floor here?"

"A lady and gentleman, both quite young; a brother and sister. They have
been here only four months; they are orphans. Not long since, it would
seem----"

The woman, seeing so elegant a lady, was ready to be communicative; but
Clementina cut her short by asking:

"What is the gentleman's name?"

"Don Raimundo Alcázar."

"Many thanks." And she hurried away.

She went out into the street, but it struck her that writing to him
would have its disadvantages, and that a verbal explanation would really
be more satisfactory, since no one of her acquaintance could know
anything about it. For a moment she paused in doubt; then she abruptly
faced about and went in again. She passed the portress without saying a
word, and lightly ran upstairs. On reaching the third floor, in spite of
her determined spirit, her courage was somewhat dashed, and she was on
the point of retreating. But her proud and haughty temper spurred her
on, as she reflected that the young man must have seen her come in and
would suspect her repentance.

There were two doors on the landing. One set of rooms, as Clementina had
observed, was to let, so she decided on knocking at the door on the
left, since there was a mat outside--plain proof that it was inhabited.

A maid answered the summons, and Clementina asked for Don Raimundo
Alcázar.

"I wish to see him" she added, on learning that he was at home.

The girl showed her into the drawing-room, and as the visit struck her
as strange, she asked whether she should announce it to the Señorita.

"No. Tell Don Raimundo I want to speak to him."

He, meanwhile, was sitting in his study, in a state of extreme
agitation. On first seeing the lady enter the house, he had been
startled without exactly knowing why. He recovered himself on seeing her
depart, and was again excited when she came back. The idea that she
might be coming up to his rooms flashed across his mind, but he
immediately dismissed it as improbable. She must no doubt have come to
call on one of the residents on the first or second floor, who were
persons of fashion. Still, in spite of all reason, he could not be calm.
When he heard the door-bell, he was aghast; he could hardly get so far
as the ante-room, and before he could give the maid a sign, she had
opened the door, compelling him to beat a hasty retreat. He was tempted
to say he was not at home, even though the lady was in the sitting-room;
but, after all, he made up his mind to go to her, reflecting that he had
no rational motive for refusing.

Raimundo had seen very little of the world. His mother's friends had
been few--relations and two or three families of acquaintance. He, on
his part, had done nothing to extend the circle, and, as has been said,
had formed no intimacies with any of his fellow-students, much less had
he any familiarity with the public or private entertainments of the
capital. His youth and early manhood had been happily spent at home, in
studying and arranging his butterflies. He knew life only from books. At
the same time Nature had bestowed on him a frank and simple temper, some
ease of speech, and a certain dignity of manner, which amply made up for
the polish and distinction produced by constant friction with the upper
ranks of society.

He went into the drawing-room with perfect composure, nay, with a
lurking sense of hostility roused by the lady's eccentric proceeding. He
bowed low on entering. The situation was, in fact, so strange, that
Clementina, in spite of her pride, her experience, and her
indifference--it might almost be said her effrontery, was suddenly at a
loss. It was only by an effort that she recovered her spirit.

"Here I am, you see," she said in a sharp tone, which was strangely
inappropriate and discourteous.

"To what do I owe the honour of your visit?" replied Raimundo in a
rather tremulous voice.

"Well--" she paused for a moment, "you owe it to the honour you do me of
following me everywhere like my shadow, as you have been doing these
past two months. Do you suppose that it can be agreeable to be haunted
whenever I appear in the street? In short, you have made me quite
nervous, and to avoid injury to my health I have taken the ridiculous
step of coming up here to beg you to cease your pursuit. If you have
anything interesting to say to me say it at once and have done."

She spoke the words impetuously, as feeling herself in a false position,
and wishing to get out of it by an exaggerated display of annoyance.

Raimundo looked at her in amazement, and this vexed Clementina, and
added to her vehemence.

"Señora, I am grieved to the soul to think that I should have offended
you; nothing could be further from my intentions. If you could only know
the feelings your face arouses in me!" he stammered out.

Clementina broke in:

"If you are about to make me a declaration of love, you may save
yourself the trouble. I am married; and if I were not it would be just
the same."

"No, Señora, I have no such confession to make," said the young
entomologist with a smile. "I will explain the matter. I can quite
understand your having misunderstood the sentiments which prompt me,
and it is natural that you should feel offended. How far you must be
from suspecting the truth! I have not fallen in love with you. If I had
I should certainly not follow you like a sort of street pirate--above
all, under the circumstances----"

Here Raimundo looked grave, and paused. Then he added precipitately, in
a voice husky with emotion:

"My mother died not long since, and you are wonderfully like her."

He looked at her, as he spoke, with anxious attentiveness; there were
tears in his eyes, and it was only by a great effort that he checked a
sob.

The confession roused Clementina's surprise and doubts. She stood still
gazing at him for her part with fixed inquiry. Raimundo understood what
must be passing in her mind, and opening the door into his study, he
said:

"See for yourself. See if what I say is not the truth."

The lady advanced a few steps, and saw on the wall facing her, above the
writing-table, an enlarged photograph of an exceptionally lovely woman,
who, no doubt, bore some resemblance to herself, though it was not so
striking as the young man fancied. The frame was wreathed with
immortelles.

"We are somewhat alike," said she, after studying the portrait
attentively. "But this lady was far more beautiful than I."

"No, not more beautiful. Her eyes were softer, and that gave her face an
indescribable charm. It was her pure and loving soul which shone through
them."

He spoke with ardour, not heeding the want of gallantry the words
implied. Clementina's pride suffered all the more from the simplicity
and conviction of his tone; both contemplated the picture for a few
seconds in silence. Tears trembled in Raimundo's eyes. At last the lady
asked:

"How old was your mother?"

"Forty-one."

"And I am five-and-thirty," she replied, with ill-disguised
satisfaction.

Raimundo looked at her once more.

"Yes, you are younger and handsomer. But my mother's complexion was
finer, though she was some years older. Her skin was as soft as satin,
and there was no worn look about her eyes; they were like a child's. It
was very natural. My mother's life was calm and uneventful; she had done
nothing to wear out her body or soul."

He was quite unconscious of implying anything rude to the lady whom he
addressed. She was indeed exceedingly nettled, but she did not dare to
show it, for the youth's grief and perfect sincerity inspired her with
respect. She therefore changed the subject, glancing round the study,
with some curiosity.

"You collect butterflies it would seem."

"Yes, Señora, from my childhood, and I have succeeded in getting
together a very respectable number of varieties. I have some very
beautiful and curious species--look here."

Clementina went to one of the cabinets. Raimundo eagerly opened it and
placed a tray in her hand full of lovely creatures of the most brilliant
hues.

"They really are very pretty and strange. Of what use are they when you
have got them? Do you sell them?"

"No, Señora," said he with a smile, "my object is purely scientific."

"Ah!" And she glanced at him with surprise. Clementina had very little
sympathy with men of science, but they inspired her with a vague respect
mingled with awe, as beings of another race in whom some people
discerned superior merits.

"Then you are a naturalist?" she inquired.

"I am studying with that view. My father was a naturalist."

While he displayed his precious collection--not without the
condescension with which the learned explain their labours to the
profane--he gave her some insight into his simple existence. As he spoke
of his mother's illness emotion again got the better of him, and the
tears rose to his eyes. Clementina listened with interest, looking
meanwhile at the drawers he placed before her, and speaking a few words
of admiration of the martyred insects, or of sympathy as Raimundo
related his mother's death. She affected to be cool and at her ease, but
she could not quite dissemble her embarrassment in the anomalous
situation to which her strange action had given rise.

She released herself abruptly, as she did everything. She quite gravely
held out her hand to the young man, saying:

"Many thanks for your kindness, Señor Alcázar. I am glad to find that I
have not been the object of such a pursuit as I had supposed. At the
same time, nevertheless, I beg you not to repeat it. I am married, you
see; it might be thought that I encouraged it, or had given you some
reason----"

"Be quite easy, Señora. From the moment when I know that it annoys you
it shall cease. Forgive me on the score of the motive," and he pressed
her hand with a natural and frank sympathy, which achieved the conquest
of the lady. But she did not show it; on the contrary, she looked
sternly grave and turned to go. Raimundo followed her, and as he passed
her to open the door, he said with a smile of engaging candour:

"I am but a nobody, Señora, but if some day you should wish to make use
of my insignificant services, you cannot imagine what pleasure it would
be to me!"

"Thanks, thanks," said Clementina drily, without pausing.

As they reached the door opening on the stairs, just as he was about to
open it, Raimundo caught sight of his sister's little head peeping
inquisitively into the passage.

"Come here, Aurelia," said he.

But the girl paid no heed and hastily withdrew.

"Aurelia, Aurelia!"

Very much against her will she came out into the anteroom, and
approached smiling and as red as a cherry.

"This is the lady of whom I spoke to you as being so like mamma."

Aurelia looked at her not knowing what to say, still smiling and
blushing.

"Do you not think her very like?"

"I do not see it," replied his sister after a moment's hesitation.

"There, you see!" exclaimed Clementina, turning to him with a smile. "It
was only a fancy, an hallucination on your part."

There was a touch of annoyance in her tone. Aurelia's advent made her
position more false than ever.

"Never mind," said Raimundo, "I see the resemblance clearly, and that is
enough."

The door was standing open.

"So pleased," said Clementina, addressing Aurelia without offering her
hand, but with one of those frigid and condescending bows by which a
woman of fashion at once establishes the distance which divides her from
a new acquaintance.

Aurelia murmured a few polite words. Raimundo went out on the landing to
take leave of her, repeating his polite and cordial speeches, which did
not seem to impress the lady, to judge from her grave reserve. She went
downstairs, dissatisfied with herself and full of obscure irritation. It
was not the first time, nor the second, that her impetuous nature had
placed her in such a ridiculous and anomalous position.



CHAPTER VI.

THE SAVAGE CLUB OF MADRID.


At two in the afternoon about a dozen of the most constant habitués of
the Savage Club lay picturesquely scattered on the divans and easy
chairs of their large drawing-room. In one corner was a group formed of
General Patiño, Pepe Castro, Cobo Ramirez, Ramoncito Maldonado, and two
other members with whom we have no concern. Apart from these sat
Manolito Davalos, alone; and beyond him Pinedo with a party of friends.
The attitudes of these young men--for they were most of them
young--corresponded perfectly with the refinement which shone in every
revelation of the elegance of their minds. One had his head on the divan
and his feet on an armchair; another, while he curled his moustache with
his left hand, was stroking the calf of his leg below his trousers with
his right; one leaned back with his arms folded, and one condescended to
rest his exquisite boots on the red velvet seats of two chairs.

This _Club de los Selvajes_ is a parody rather than a translation of the
English Savage Club. To be accurate, it is a translation of such
graceful freedom that it keeps up the true Spanish spirit in close
alliance with the British. In honour of its name, all the outward aspect
of the club is extremely English. The members always appear in full
dress every evening in the winter, in smoking jackets in the summer; the
servants wear knee-breeches and powder; there is a spacious and handsome
dining-room, a fencing court, dressing-rooms, bath-rooms, and a few
bed-rooms; the club has, too, its own stables, with carriage and saddle
horses for the use of the members.

The Spanish character is revealed in various details of internal
management. The most remarkable feature is a general lack of ready
money, which gives rise to singular situations among the members
themselves, and in their relations to the outer world, producing a
complicated and beautiful variety which could nowhere be met with in any
other city in Christendom. It more especially leads to an immense and
inconceivable development of that powerful engine by which the
nineteenth century has achieved its grandest and most stupendous
efforts--Credit. Within the walls of the Madrid Savage Club there is as
much business done on credit as in the Bank of England. Not only do the
members lend each other money and gamble on credit, but they effect the
same transactions with the club itself viewed as a responsible entity,
and even with the club-porter, both as a functionary and as a man.

Outside this narrow circle the _Savages_, carried away by their
enthusiasm for credit, bring it into play in their relations with the
tailor, the housekeeper, the coach-builder, the horse-dealer, and the
jeweller, not to mention transactions on a large scale with their banker
or landlord. Thanks to this inestimable element of economical science,
coin of the realm has become almost unnecessary to the members of the
club. Its function is beautifully fulfilled by an abstract and more
spiritual medium--promises to pay, verbal or written. They live and
spend as freely as their prototypes in London, without pounds sterling,
shillings, dollars, and pesetas, or anything of the kind. The superior
advantages of the Madrid Club in this respect are self-evident.

Nor are they less in the cool and frank impertinence with which the
members treat each other. By degrees they have quite given up the polite
and ceremonious courtesy which characterises the solemn British
gentleman; their manners have gained in local colour approaching more
and more to those of the picturesque quarters of Madrid known as
Lavapiés and Maravillas. Nature, race, and opportunity are elements it
is impossible to resist, whether in politics or in social amusements.

The club always begins to warm up after midnight, the fever is at its
height at about three in the morning, and then it begins to cool down
again. By five or six every one has gone piously to bed. During the day
the place is comparatively deserted. Two or three dozen of the members
drop in in the afternoon, before taking a walk, to colour their pipes.
Stupefied by sleepiness they speak but little. They need the excitement
of night to display their native talents in all their brilliancy. These
are concentrated for the time on the noble task of bringing a meerschaum
to a fine coffee-colour. If, as some assert, objects of art were once
objects of utility, so that the notion of art involves that of
usefulness, it must be confessed that, in the matter of their pipes, the
members of the Savage Club work like true artists. They have them sent
from Paris and London; on them are engraved the initials of the owner
with the count's or marquis's coronet, if the smoker has a right to it;
they keep them in elegant cases, and when they take them out to smoke,
it is with such care and so many precautions that the pipes become more
troublesome than useful. A "Savage" has been known to make himself ill
by smoking cigar after cigar solely for the pleasure of colouring his
mouthpiece sooner than his fellows. No one cares about the flavour of
the tobacco; the only important point is to draw the smoke in such a way
as to colour the meerschaum equally all over. Now and again taking out a
fine cambric handkerchief, the smoker will spend many minutes in rubbing
the pipe with the most delicate care, while his spirit reposes in sweet
abstraction from all earthly cares.

Grave, dignified, and harmonious in grace, the most select of the
members of the club sucked and blew tobacco smoke from two till four in
the afternoon. There is something confidential and pensive in the task,
as in every artistic effort, which induces them to cast their eyes down
and fix their gaze so as to enjoy more entirely the pure vision of the
Idea which lies occult in every amber and meerschaum cigar-holder. In
this elevated frame of mind lounged our friend Pepe Castro, smoking a
pipe in the shape of a horse's leg, when the voice of Rafael Alcantara
roused him from his ecstasy by calling across the room:

"Then you have actually sold the mare, Pepe?"

"Some days ago."

"The English mare?"

"The English mare?" he echoed, looking up at his friend with reproachful
surprise. "No, my good fellow, the cross-bred."

"Why, it is not more than two months since you bought her. I never
dreamed of your wanting to get rid of her."

"You see I did," said the handsome dandy, affecting an air of mystery.

"Some hidden defect?"

"No defect can be hidden from me," replied Alcantara haughtily. And
every one believed him, for in this branch of knowledge he had no rival
in Madrid, unless it were the Duke de Saites, who had the reputation of
knowing more about horses than any other man in Spain.

"Want of pace, then?"

"No, nor that either."

Rafael shrugged his shoulders, and turned to talk to his neighbours; he
was a ruddy youth, with a dissipated face and small greenish eyes full
of cruelty. Like some others who were to be seen at the club every day,
he frequented the company of the aristocracy without having the smallest
right. He was of humble birth, the son of an upholsterer in the Calle
Mayor. He had at an early age spent the little fortune which had come to
him from his father, and since then had lived by gambling and
borrowing. He owed money to every one in Madrid, and boasted of the
fact.

The qualities for which he was still admitted to the best houses in the
capital were his courage and his cynicism. Alcantara was really brave;
he had fought three or four duels, and was always ready to fight again
on the slightest pretext. He was, too, perfectly audacious; he always
spoke in a tone of contempt, even to those who most deserved respect,
and was disposed to make game of any one and every one. These
characteristics had gained him great influence among his fellow
"Savages;" he was treated an equal by all, and was indispensable to
every ploy; but no one asked him for repayment of a loan.

"Well, General, did you like Tosti's singing last night?" asked
Ramoncito of General Patiño.

"Only in her ballad," replied the General, after skilfully blowing a
large cloud of smoke from a pipe made in the image of a cannon on its
gun carriage.

"You do not mean that she was not good in the duet?"

"Certainly I mean it."

"Then, Señor, I simply do not understand you; to me she seemed sublime,"
replied the young man, with some irritation.

"Your opinion does you honour, Ramon. It is greatly to your credit,"
said Cobo Ramirez, who never missed an opportunity of vexing his friend
and rival.

"So I should think; that is as true as that you are the only person here
of any judgment. Look here, Cobo, the General may talk because he has
reasons for what he says--do you see? But you had better hold your
tongue, for you wear my ears out."

"But mercy, man! Why does Ramon lose his temper so whenever you speak to
him?" asked the General laughing.

"I do not know," said Cobo, with a whiff at his cigar, while he puckered
his face into a slightly sarcastic smile. "If I contradict him he is put
out, and if I agree with him it is no better."

"Of course, of course! We all know that you are great at chaff. You need
make no efforts to show off before these gentlemen. But in the present
instance you have made a bad shot."

"I am of the General's opinion. The duet was very badly sung," said
Cobo, with aggravating coolness.

"What does it matter what you say, one way or the other?" cried
Maldonado, in a fury. "You do not know a note of music."

"What then! I have all the more right to talk of music because I do not
strum on the piano as you do. At any rate, I am perfectly inoffensive."

This led to a long dispute, eager and incoherent on Ramon's part, cool
and sarcastic on Cobo's; he delighted in putting his rival out of
patience. This afforded much amusement to all present, and they sided
with one or the other to prolong the entertainment.

"Do you know that Alvaro Luna has a fight on hand this evening?" said
some one when they were beginning to tire of "Just tell me," and "Let me
tell you," from Cobo and Ramon.

"So I heard," replied Pepe Castro, closing his eyes ecstatically as he
sucked at his cigar. "In the Escalona's gardens, isn't it?"

"I think so."

"Swords?"

"Swords."

"Another honourable scar!" said Leon Guzman from where he was sitting.

"Rapiers."

"Oh! that is quite another thing."

And the whole party became interested in the duel.

"Alvaro has but little practice. The Colonel will have the best of it;
he is the better man, and he fights with great energy."

"Too much," said Pepe Castro, taking out his handkerchief, after
throwing away his cigar-end, and wiping the mouthpiece with extreme
care.

Every one looked at him, for he had the reputation of being a first-rate
swordsman.

"Do you think so?"

"Yes, I do. Energy is a good thing up to a certain point; beyond that it
is dangerous, especially with rapiers. With the broadsword something may
be done by a rapid succession of attacks; it may at any rate bother the
adversary. But with pointed weapons you must keep a sharp look-out.
Alvaro is not much given to sword-play, but he is very cool, very keen,
and his lunge is perfection. The Colonel had better be careful."

"The quarrel is about Alvaro's cousin?"

"So it would seem."

"What the devil can she matter to him?"

"Pshaw! who knows!"

"As he is not in love with her I do not understand."

"Nothing is impossible."

"The girl is a perfect minx! This summer at Biarritz, she and that
Fonseca boy behaved in such a way on the terrace of the Casino at night,
that they would have been worth photographing by a flash light!"

"Why, Cobo, there, before he left, figured in some dissolving views in
the garden."

"Alas! too true; that girl compromised me desperately," said Cobo in a
tone of comical despair.

"Well, you had not much to lose. You lost your character by that affair
with Teresa," said Alcantara.

"Beauty and misfortune always go hand in hand," Ramon added ironically.

"_Et tu_, Ramon!" exclaimed Cobo with affected surprise. "Why the time
is surely coming when the birds will carry guns."

"Well, gentlemen, I confess my weakness," said Leon Guzman. "I cannot go
near that girl without feeling ill."

"And the damsel cannot be near so sweet and fair a youth as you without
feeling ill too," said Alcantara.

"Do you want to flatter me, Rafael?"

"Yes; into lending me the key of your rooms to-morrow, and not coming in
all the afternoon. I want it."

"But there is a servant who devotes himself to water-colour painting
every afternoon."

"I will give him two dollars to go and paint elsewhere."

"And a lady opposite who spends all her time in looking out of her
window to see what is done or left undone in my rooms."

"She will have a real treat! I will shut the Venetians.--I say,
Manolito, do you mean to pass the whole of your youth stretched on that
divan without uttering a word?"

Davalos was in fact lying at full length in a gloomy and dejected manner
without even lifting his head to notice his friend's sallies. But on
hearing his name, he moved, surprised and annoyed.

"If you were in my place you would feel little inclined for jesting,
Rafael," said he with a sigh.

It should be said that the young Marquis, who had never had a very
brilliant intelligence, had now for some time been suffering from a
distinct cloud on his brain. He was slightly cracked, as it is vulgarly
termed. His friends were aware that this depression was all the result
of his rupture with Amparo, the woman who had since thrown herself on
the Duke's protection. She had, in a very short space, consumed his
fortune, but he still was desperately in love with her. They treated him
with a certain protecting kindness that was half satirical; but they
abstained from banter about his lady-love, unless occasionally by some
covert allusions, because whenever they touched on the subject, Manolo
was liable to attacks of fury resembling madness. He was hardly more
than thirty, but already bald, with a yellow skin, pale lips, and dulled
eyes. His sister-in-law had taken charge of his four little children. He
lived in an hotel on a pension allowed him by an old aunt whose heir he
was supposed to be; on the strength of this prospect some money-lenders
were willing to keep him going.

"If I were in your shoes, Manolito, do you know what I would do? I would
marry that aunt."

The audience laughed, for Manolo's aunt was a woman of eighty.

"Well, well," said he, in a piteous voice, "you know very well that you
have not had to spend the morning fighting with unconscionable usurers
only to end by giving in--in the most shameful way," he added in an
undertone.

"Don't talk to me! Don't you know, Manolo, that I have to get a new bell
for my front door once a month, because my duns wear it out? But I take
it philosophically."

He went up to Davalos, and laying a hand on his shoulder, he said in so
low a voice that no one else could hear him:

"Seriously, Manolo, I mean it, I would marry my aunt. What would you
lose by it? She is old--so much the better; she will die all the sooner.
As soon as you are married, you will have the management of her fortune,
and need not count up the years she still hopes to live. What you want,
like me, is hard cash. Make no mistake about that. If we had it, we
would get as fat as Cobo Ramirez. Besides, if you were rich, you could
make Amparo send Salabert packing--don't you see?"

Davalos looked wide-eyed at his adviser, not sure whether he spoke in
jest or in earnest. Seeing no symptom of mockery in Alcantara's face, he
began to be sentimental; speaking of his former mistress with such
enthusiasm and reverence as might have made any one laugh. The scheme
did not seem to him preposterous; he began to discuss it seriously and
consider it from all sides. Rafael listened with well-feigned interest,
encouraging him to proceed by signs and nods. No one could have supposed
that he was simply fooling him, while from time to time, taking
advantage of a moment when Manolo gazed at the toes of his boots,
seeking some word strong enough to express his passion, Rafael was
making grimaces at the group, who looked on with amusement and
curiosity.

The door of the room presently opened and Alvaro Luna came in. His
friends hailed him with affectionate pleasure.

"Bravo! Bravo! Here is the condemned criminal."

"How dismal he looks!"

"Like a man on the brink of the grave!"

The new-comer smiled faintly, and glanced round the room. Alvaro Luna,
Conde de Soto, was a man of about thirty-eight or forty, slightly built,
of medium height with hard, keen eyes and a bilious complexion.

"Have any of you seen Juanito Escalona?" he asked.

"Yes," said some one. "He was here half an hour ago. He told me that you
expected him, and that he would return punctually at a quarter to four."

"Good, I will wait for him," was the answer, and Luna quietly came
forward, and sat down among the party.

Then the chaff began again.

"Here, let me feel your pulse," said Rafael, taking him by the wrist,
and pulling out his watch.

The Count smiled and surrendered his hand.

"Mercy, how frightful! a hundred and thirty. You might think he was
condemned to death."

It was a pure invention. His pulse was quite normal, and Alcantara shook
his head at his friends in denial. The jest did not vex him. Conscious
of his own courage, and convinced that no one doubted it, he still
smiled as calmly as before.

"Well, the funeral is at four to-morrow," said another. "I am sorry,
because I had promised to go out hunting with Briones."

"And it is a long way to the cemetery at San Isidro," said a third.

"No, no, my dear fellow. We will take him to the Great Northern station,
and carry him to Soto, the family Pantheon."

This joking was not in good taste; however, Alvaro made no demur,
fearing perhaps that the least symptom of impatience might suggest a
doubt of his perfect coolness. Encouraged by his phlegmatic smile, the
"Savages" did not know when to leave off; the jest about the funeral was
repeated with variations. In point of fact he was getting tired of it;
but they could not move him from his cold and placid smile. He said very
little, and when he spoke it was in a few supercilious words. At last,
taking out his watch, he said: "It is three o'clock. Three-quarters of
an hour yet. Who is for a game of cards?"

It was an excuse for releasing himself from these buzzing flies, and at
the same time showed his perfect coolness. Three of the men went with
him to the card-room. There the banter went on as it had done in the
drawing-room.

"Look at him! How his hand shakes!"

"To think that within an hour he will have ceased to breathe!"

"I say, Alvaro, leave me Conchilla in your will."

"I see no objection," said Alvaro, arranging his hand.

"You hear, gentlemen, Conchilla is mine by the testator's will. What do
you call such a will as that, Leon?"

"Nuncupatory," said Leon, who had picked up a few law terms in the
course of a lawsuit against some cousins.

"Conchilla is mine, by nuncupatory bequest. Thank you, Alvaro. I will
see that she goes into mourning, and we will respect your memory so far
as may be. Have you any instructions to leave me?"

"Yes, to give her a dusting every eight or ten days; if she does not get
a good cry once a week she falls ill."

"Very good, it shall be done."

"With a stick. She is used to a stick, and will not take a slapping."

"Quite so."

The fun grew broader and louder. Alvaro's imperturbability had the
happiest effect. He understood that beneath all this banter his friends
cared for him and appreciated his bravery.

At this moment a servant came in who handed him a note on a silver
waiter. He took it and opened it with some interest. As he read it he
again smiled and handed it to the man next him. It was from the manager
of a Cemetery Company, offering his services and enclosing a prospectus
and price list. Some of the youngsters had amused themselves by getting
him to do it. But Luna did not take offence, and he seemed greatly
interested in his game.

At last Juanito Escalona came to fetch him. After settling accounts he
rose. They all gathered round him.

"Good luck to you, Alvaro!"

"I cannot bear to think of your being run through."

"Do not be absurd; there is no running through in the case. It will soon
be over, with nothing but a scratch."

Jesting was now at an end, it was all good fellowship. Alvaro lighted a
cigar with perfect coolness, and said quite easily: "_Au revoir_,
gentlemen."

There was a large infusion of true courage in this demeanour; but there
was also a touch of affectation, and deliberate effort. The younger
members of the Savage Club, though not much addicted to literature, are
nevertheless to a certain extent influenced by it. The class of work
they chiefly study is the _feuilleton_, and the fashionable novel. These
books set up an ideal of manhood, as the old tales of chivalry did
before them. Only in the old romances the model hero was he who
attempted achievements beyond his strength, out of noble ideas of
justice and charity, while in the modern story it is he who for fear of
ridicule abstains from all enthusiasm and generosity. The man who was
always risking his life for the cause of humanity is superseded by the
man who risks it for empty vanity or foolish pride. Swagger has taken
the place of chivalry.

The party remained, talking of their friend's coolness. However, he was
not for long the subject of their praise, for the first rule of "high
tone" is never to show surprise, and the second is to discuss trifles at
some length and serious matters very briefly. The company presently
broke up, all the illustrious gentlemen going out to diffuse their
doctrines throughout Madrid--doctrines which may be summed up as
follows: "Man is born to sign I.O.U.'s and cultivate a waxed moustache.
Work, education, and steadiness are treason to the law of Nature, and
should be proscribed from all well-organised society."

Maldonado, as usual, hung on to Pepe Castro's coat-tails. The reader is
already aware of the deep admiration he felt for his model. And Pepe
allowed himself to be admired with great condescension, initiating his
disciple now and then into the higher arcana of his enlightenment on the
subject of English horses and amber mouth-pieces. By degrees Ramon was
acquiring clear notions, not alone of these matters, but also of the
best manner of introducing French words into Spanish conversation. Pepe
Castro was a perfect master of the art of forgetting at a proper moment
some good Spanish word, and after a moment's hesitation bringing out the
French with an air of perfect simplicity. Ramoncito did the same, but
with less finish. He was also learning to distinguish Arcachon oysters
from others not of Arcachon; Château Lafitte from Château Margaux; the
chest-voice of a tenor from the head-voice; and Atkinson's tooth-paste
from every imitation.

But, as yet, Ramon, like all neophytes, especially if they are prone to
exaltation and enthusiasm, exaggerated on the example of the teacher. In
shirt-collars, for instance. Because Pepe Castro wore them high and
stiff, was that any reason why Ramoncito should go about God's world
with his tongue hanging out, enduring all the preliminary tortures of
strangulation? And if Pepe Castro, in consequence of a nervous affection
he had suffered from all his life, constantly twitched his left
eyelid--a very graceful trick no doubt--what right had Ramon to spend
his time grimacing at people with his? Then, too, the young civilian
scented not only his handkerchief and beard but all his clothes, so that
from a distance of ten yards, it was almost enough to give you a sick
headache. And there was certainly nothing in the doctrines of his
venerated master to justify this detestable habit.

But the noblest and loftiest precepts of a great man too often
degenerate, or are perverted, when put into practice by followers and
imitators. Pepe Castro, though he was aware of his disciple's
deficiencies and imperfections, did not cast them in his teeth. On the
contrary, with the magnanimity of a great nature, he showed his clemency
in pardoning and screening them. In his presence no one dared to make
game of Ramoncito's collars or grimaces.

It was a little after four when the two "Savages" came out of the club,
buttoning their gloves. At the door stood de Castro's cart, which he
sent away after fixing an hour for his drive. He was first to pay a
visit by Ramoncito's request. They went down the Calle del Principe,
where the club was situated, not hurrying themselves, and looking
curiously at the women they met. They paused now and then to make some
important remark on this one's elegance, or that one's style; not as
bashful passers-by who gaze and sigh, but rather as Bashaws, who, in a
slave market, discuss the points of those exposed for sale. On the men
they bestowed no more than a contemptuous glance, or, as if that were
not enough, they shrouded themselves, so to speak, in a dense puff of
smoke, to show that they, Pepe and Ramon, belonged to a superior world,
and that if they were walking down the street, it was only in obedience
to a transient whim. Whenever Castro condescended to be seen on foot,
his face wore an expression of surprise that his presence was not hailed
by the populace with murmurs of admiration.

Maldonado was the more talkative of the two. He expressed his opinion of
those who came and went, looking up at Castro with a smile, while his
friend remained grave and solemn, replying only in monosyllables and
vague grunts. Ramoncito, it may be noted, was as far below his companion
physically as mentally. When they walked out together they really looked
very like some learned professor shedding the dew of learning drop by
drop, and an ardent disciple greedy of knowledge.

"By the way, where are we going?" asked Castro, vaguely, when they had
gone down three or four streets.

"Why, were we not going to call on the Calderóns?" asked Ramon, timidly,
and a little disconcerted.

"Ah! to be sure; I had forgotten."

Maldonado kept silence, wondering in his heart at the singular faculty
of forgetfulness possessed by his friend. And they went along the
Carrera de San Jeronimo to the Puerta del Sol.

"How are you getting on with Esperancita?" Castro condescended to
inquire, blowing a cloud of smoke, and stopping to examine a shop-front.

Ramoncito suddenly turned very grave, almost pale, and began to stammer
a reply.

"Just where I was. Sometimes up, sometimes down. One day she is very
sweet--well, not sweet--no; but any rate she speaks to me. Another day
she is as gloomy as the grave; hardly comes into the room before she is
gone again; scarcely notices me--as if I had offended her. Once, I
understood, she had some reason to be vexed, for at the opera I often go
to the Gamboas' box, and I fancy she had taken it into her head that I
was sweet on Rosaura. Can you imagine such folly? Rosaura! But I have
not been near them for this month past, and she is just the same, dear
boy, just the same. The other day I had her to myself in the little room
for a few minutes, and in the greatest haste I just managed to tell her
that I wanted to know where we were; for you see I cannot hang on for
ever. Well, she listened to me patiently. I must tell you that I was
altogether carried away, and hardly knew what I was saying. When I
ended, she assured me she had nothing to be vexed about, and fled to the
drawing-room. After that, would you not suppose that it was a settled
thing? Tell me, would not any man in my place suppose that he was on the
footing of a regular engagement? Nothing of the kind; two days after,
when I called, I tried to say a few words to her apart, as a lover may,
and she snubbed me--she froze me. So there I am. I do not know whether
she loves me, or ever will, and I have not the peace of mind to go about
my business, or do anything on earth but think of that confounded little
slut."

"It seems to me," replied Castro, without diverting his attention from
the window before which they stood, "that the girl has begun the
attack."

Ramoncito looked up at him with surprise and respect.

"The attack?" said he.

"Yes, the attack. In every battle the important point is to be the first
to attack. If at the moment when the adversary is about to advance, you
attack him with decision, you are almost sure to succeed; if you
hesitate, you are lost."

As he uttered the last words, he turned away from the shop-window and
continued his majestic progress along the side-walk. Ramon did the same;
he had very imperfectly understood the application to his case of this
simile, derived from the art of fencing, but he abstained from asking
any explanation.

"So that you think----"

"I think that you are preposterously in love with the girl, and that she
knows it."

"But then, Pepe, what reason can she have for refusing me?" Ramoncito
began in a fume, as if he were talking to himself. "What does the girl
expect? Her father is rich, but there are several children to divide the
money. Mariana is still young, and besides, you know what Don Julian is.
He would be torn in pieces sooner than part with a dollar. Honestly,
waiting for his death does not seem to me a very hopeful business. I am
not a nabob, but I have my own fortune; and it is my own, without
waiting for anybody to die. I can give her as much comfort and luxury as
she has at home--more!" he added, giving his head a determined shake.
"Then I have a political career before me. I may be Under-Secretary or
Minister some day when she least expects it. My family is better than
hers; my grandfather was not a shop-keeper like Don Julian's father.
Besides, she is no goddess; she is not one of those girls you turn
round to stare at, you know. Why should she give herself airs when I
take a fancy to her? Do you know who is at the bottom of it all? Why,
Cobo Ramirez, and such apes as he, who have turned her head for her. The
little fool expects a prince of the blood to come courting her,
perhaps!"

Ramoncito denied his lady's beauty, a sure sign of his being deeply and
sincerely in love with her; his affection was not the offspring of
vanity. His excess of devotion led him to run her down. Castro reflected
that his companion's personal defects might have something to do with
his ill-success in this and some other affairs; but he did not express
the opinion. He thought it safer, as he closed his eyes and sucked his
cigar, to pronounce this general truth:

"Girls are such idiots."

Ramoncito, agreeing in principle, nevertheless persisted in driving the
application home.

"She is a little goose. She does not know herself what she wants. I say,
Pepe, what would you do in my place?"

Castro walked on in silence for a little way, staring up at the
balconies, wondering, no doubt, that all the world did not come out to
see him pass. Then, after two or three deep puffs at his cigar, he put
on a very grave and judicial air, and replied: "My dear fellow (pause),
in your place, I should begin by not being in love. Love is _pour les
bébés_, not for you and me."

"That is past praying for," said the young deputy, looking so miserable
that it was quite sad to behold.

"Well, then, if you cannot get over the ridiculous weakness, at any rate
do not let it be seen. Why do you try to convince Esperancita that you
are dying for her? Do you think that will do any good? Convince her of
the contrary, and you will see how much better the result will be."

"What would you have me do?" asked Ramon anxiously.

"Do not make such a show of your devotion, man; don't be so spoony. Do
not go to the house so often and gaze at her with eyes like a calf with
its throat cut. Contradict her when she talks nonsense; hint that you
have seen much nicer girls; give yourself a little consequence, and you
will see how matters will look up."

"I cannot, Pepe, I cannot!" exclaimed Ramon, wiping his brow in excess
of anguish. "At first I could master myself, talk without embarrassment,
and flirt with other girls. Now, it is impossible. As soon as I am in
her presence, I grow confused and bewildered, and do not know what I am
saying, especially if I find her cross; every word she utters freezes
me. You cannot imagine how haughty she can be when she chooses. If I try
to talk to some one else, Esperanza has only to smile to bring me to her
side at once. I did once pass nearly a month, almost without speaking to
her; but at last it was too much for me. I would rather talk to her,
even when she ill-treats me, than to any one else in the world."

The two young men walked on in silence, as though under the burden of
some great calamity. Pepe Castro was deep in thought.

"You are lost, Ramon," he said at last, throwing away the end of his
cigar, and wiping the mouth-piece with his handkerchief, before putting
it by. "You are utterly done for. What you say has no sense in it. If
you had any notion of managing yourself, you would never have got into
such a mess. Women must always be treated with the toe of your boot;
then you get on all right."

Having given utterance to these few but profound words he again pulled
up in front of a shop window.

"Look," said he, "what a pretty dog-collar, it would just do for Pert if
I bought it."

Ramon looked at the collar without heeding, completely absorbed in his
melancholy reflections.

"Yes, Ramoncito," the young man went on, laying his arm on his
companion's shoulder, "you are altogether done for; still, I venture to
say that Esperanza will love you yet, if you only do as I tell you. Just
try my plan."

"I will try; I must come out of this fix one way or another," replied
the youth pathetically.

"Well, then, for the present you must go to the Calderón's not more than
once a week, or less. We will go together or meet there. You must not
find yourself alone with her, or in some weak moment you will undo
everything. You are not to talk much to Esperanza, but a great deal to
the other girls who may be present. Then you should sing the praises of
rosy cheeks, tall figures, fair skins--of everything, in short, that is
least like her, and be sure you are sufficiently enthusiastic.
Contradict her, and without seeming too much grieved. You are very
obstinate, and it does not do to discuss matters too much, a tone of
mild depreciation is far more effective. You had better glance at me
from time to time; I can give you some covert signals, and so you will
always be sure of your ground."

And thus, by the time they had reached the door of the Calderóns' house,
Castro had expatiated on his masterly plan of campaign, with many
valuable hints and details. Only a marvellously lucid intellect, joined
to wide and rich experience, only the most subtle nature could have
entered so completely into the secret struggle to which Esperanza's
objection to Ramon had given rise in his soul. At the same time he was
the only person who could solve the riddle. Maldonado reached the young
lady's home in a state of comparative tranquillity. As to his inmost
purpose, it may be said that he had fully determined to assume the
utmost dignity he could put on, and to offer a bold resistance to
Esperanza's advance and attack.

To begin with, he thought proper to put his hands in his pockets and
pinch his lips into an ironical and patronising simper. He thus entered
the little drawing-room where the banker's family were assembled, gently
shaking his head as though he could not hold it up for the weight of
many thoughts it contained. From the elegant to the coarse--as from the
sublime to the ridiculous--there is but a step, and it would be bold to
declare that Ramoncito, at the beginning of his interview with
Esperanza, always kept on the right side of the narrow rift. There is
some reason for supposing that he did not. What is, at any rate, quite
certain, is that the young lady did not immediately detect the change,
and when she did, it did not make so deep an impression as he had hoped.

In the little sitting-room, when they were shown in, Mariana and
Esperancita, with Doña Esperanza, the grandmother, were seated at their
needlework; or, to be exact, Doña Esperanza and her grand-daughter were
at work, Mariana was lounging in her chair, her eyes fixed on vacancy,
and not moving a finger. Pepe Castro and Ramon, as being intimate with
the family, were made welcome without ceremony. After shaking
hands--excepting that Maldonado did not go through the ceremony with
Esperancita--they sat down; Esperanza quite unable to imagine why Ramon
intentionally neglected her, by way of a worthy beginning to the grand
course of unpleasant discipline by which he hoped to school his beloved.
Pepe took a chair next to Mariana, and Ramon next to Doña Esperanza.
Before seating himself he had a momentary weakness. Seeing Esperancita
sitting at some little distance from her mother, it seemed to him a
favourable opportunity for a few private words, and as he moved his
chair he hesitated; an expressive frown from Castro brought him to his
senses.

"The sight of you is good for weary eyes, Pepe," said Esperancita,
fixing her smiling glance on the illustrious dandy.

"They are beautiful eyes which see him now!" Ramon hastily put in.

Castro, instead of replying, looked sternly at his friend, and the
deputy much abashed, went on to remedy his blunder.

"Fine eyes are the rule in this family."

"Thank you, Ramon. But you are beginning to be as false as all
politicians," said Mariana.

"I do every one justice," replied he, blushing with delight at hearing
himself spoken of as a public personage.

"Why, how long is it since I was here?" said Pepe to the girl.

"A fortnight, at least. It was on a Monday; Pacita was here. And this is
Saturday; so you see--thirteen days."

No one recollected so precisely when Maldonado had called last. Castro
accepted this proof of interest with entire indifference.

"I did not think it was so long. How the time flies!" said he
profoundly.

"Evidently. It flies for you--away from us."

The young man smiled affably, and asked leave to light a cigar. Then he
said:

"No. It flies fastest when I am with you."

"Faster than with Clementina?" asked the girl in an innocent tone, which
betrayed no malice. But Castro looked at her gravely. His connection
with Osorio's wife had hitherto remained more or less a secret; and that
it should be known here, in her sister-in-law's house, disturbed him.
Esperancita blushed scarlet under his inquiring gaze.

"Much the same," he said coolly. "We are very good friends."

"Are you going there to-day?" asked Mariana, not observing this by-play.

"Yes; Ramon and I are going--Saturday? Isn't it? And you?"

"I am not inclined to go out. I have been suffering a little these few
days from sore throat."

"Do not say you are ill, mamma," said Esperancita, pettishly; "say you
would rather go to bed early." Her mother looked at her with large, dull
eyes.

"I have a relaxed throat, my dear."

"How opportune!" exclaimed the girl, ironically. "I have not heard a
word about it till this moment."

"If you wish to go," said Mariana, understanding at last, "your father
will take you."

"You know very well that if you do not go, papa will not care to go
either."

Her voice betrayed her irritation. A gleam of satisfaction lighted up
Ramon's face, and he shot a look of triumph at Pepe. It was when she
heard that he, too, was going that she had begun to wish to join the
party.

The conversation now drifted into common-place, dwelling chiefly on the
most trivial subjects: the news of the day, or the singers at the opera.
Tosti's beauty was again discussed. Ramoncito, in the joy of his
triumph, dared to call it in question, and abused tall and, above all,
red-haired women. He admired only brunettes, round faces, a medium
stature, and black eyes--in short, Esperancita; there was no need to
name her. His friend Pepe, alarmed by this outburst, which was directly
opposed to all the plans of siege on which they had agreed, made a
series of grimaces for his guidance, and presently brought him back into
the right way; but he then went so far into the other extreme, and began
to contradict himself in so disastrous a manner, that the ladies
presently remarked it, and he got bewildered and tied himself into a
knot, from which he could not have extricated himself but for a timely
rescue by his friend and chief.

To remedy the blunder to some extent he entered on a long account of the
sitting of the day before, with so many details that Mariana began to
yawn, like the simpleton she was, and Doña Esperanza devoted herself to
her embroidery, and made no secret of thinking of something else.
Esperancita at last made a sign to Castro to come and sit by her. He
obeyed, taking a low seat at her side.

"Listen, Pepe," said she, in a low and tremulous voice. "Of late you
have been very sullen with me. I do not know whether I can have said
anything to vex you. If so, pray forgive me."

"I do not know what you mean. I could never be vexed by anything that
such a sweet little person as you might say," replied the young man,
with the lordly smile of a Sultan.

"I am glad it was a false alarm on my part. Many thanks for the
compliment, if you mean it--which I doubt. It would grieve me to the
heart to displease you in any way," and as she spoke she blushed up to
her ears.

"But I hear you are very apt to be displeasing."

"Oh, no!"

"So my friend Ramon tells me."

Esperancita's countenance clouded, and a deep line marked her childlike
brow.

"I do not know why he should say so."

"Your conscience does not prick you?"

"Not in the least."

"What a heart of stone!"

"Why? If I have hurt his feelings it is his own fault."

"So I told him. But I believe his complaint is in a fair way to be
cured, and that he will not again expose himself to your thrusts. He has
been more cheerful and less absent-minded these last few days."

Castro was quite honestly doing his best for his friend.

"I should be only too glad to hear it," said the girl, with perfect
simplicity.

Castro sang the praises of his friend and earnestly recommended him to
Esperancita's good graces. But as he poured exaggerated eulogies into
the girl's ear, his tone of disdain and the satirical smile which
accompanied them somewhat weakened their effect. And even if it had not
been so, she would have received them with no less hostility.

"Come, Pepe, you want to make a fool of me?"

"Indeed, Esperancita, Ramon has a great future before him, and in time
may very likely be made Minister."

The hero in question, meanwhile, was explaining, with his usual fluency,
to Mariana and her mother, how he had discovered an extensive fraud in
the custom-house returns on imported meat: three hundred and fifty hams
had been brought into the country, a few days since, smuggled in with
the cognisance of some of the officials. Ramoncito meant to bring these
men to justice without delay. Mariana implored him not to be too severe
with them; they were perhaps fathers of families, but she could not
mollify him. His sense of municipal rights was more rigid perhaps than
the muscles of his neck--to judge by the number of times he turned his
head to look where Pepe and Esperancita were talking. He was not
jealous; he had absolute confidence in his friend's loyalty; but he
wanted his beloved to hear him when he brought out certain phrases: "To
the bar of justice;" "I can no doubt obtain an adverse verdict;" "The
municipal law requires that they should be prosecuted," and so forth, so
that the angel of his heart might fully appreciate the high destiny in
store for her if she were united to so energetic an administrator.

They now heard steps in the adjoining room, and a cough which they all
knew only too well. Doña Esperanza when she heard it hastily handed her
work to her daughter, or, to be exact, crammed it into Mariana's hands.

When Calderón came in, his wife was stitching with affected diligence,
while her mother was sitting with her hands folded, as if she had not
stirred from her attitude for a long time. Ramon and Castro had scarcely
noticed the manoeuvre. The reason of it was that Calderón could not
forgive his wife her apathy and indolence, regarding these faults as
positive calamities, and himself as most unfortunate for having married
so inert a woman. Not that any work she might do mattered in the
household; but his vehemently laborious temperament asserted itself
against one so diametrically opposed to it. Mariana's limpness and
indifference irritated his nerves and gave rise to sharp discussions and
frequent squabbles. She feebly defended herself, declaring that her
parents had not brought her up to be a maid-of-all-work, since they had
enough to allow her to live like a lady. Whereupon Don Julian would turn
furious, and declare that it was the duty of every one to work, or at
any rate to do something; that total idleness was incomprehensible; that
it was a wife's duty to see that the property of the household was not
wasted, even if she could not add to it, &c. &c. And, finally, that the
mistress's incurable indolence was at the bottom of their domestic
discomfort.

Doña Esperanza was very unlike her daughter; by nature she was active,
vigilant, and at least as avaricious as her son-in-law; she could never
sit a quarter of an hour without something to occupy her hands. In the
affairs of the house, indeed, she played no important part, because
Calderón took a pleasure in managing and ordering everything himself.
And this indicated a contradictory characteristic which must here be
mentioned for a full comprehension of his character. He complained that
his wife did not undertake the care of the house, and that he
consequently was compelled to manage it, but at the same time, though he
knew that his mother-in-law was both capable and willing, he would not
leave it to her. This gave rise to a suspicion that, even if Mariana had
been a prodigy of energy and method, he would no more have entrusted her
with the management of domestic affairs than with his business. His
suspicious and sordid nature made him prefer toil to rest; he would have
liked to possess a hundred eyes to watch over everything that belonged
to him. Doña Esperanza also lamented her daughter's incapacity, and
eagerly seconded her son-in-law's stinginess, helping him very
materially in his close vigilance. But while she herself found fault
with Mariana's apathy, she was her mother after all; she hated that
Calderón should blame her, and acutely felt their matrimonial
differences. Consequently, whenever she could avert one she did so, even
at the cost of some sacrifice, concealing Mariana's faults and
voluntarily taking them on herself. It was for this reason that she had
so precipitately handed to her the cushion she was embroidering.

Don Julian came into the room reading the _feuilleton_ of _La
Correspondencia_, which he carefully preserved and stitched together.
Don Julian, strange as it may seem, was very fond of novels; but he only
read those which came out in the _Correspondencia_, or the religious
tales he gave his daughter who was at school. He had never been known to
go into a bookseller's of his own accord to buy one. And not only did he
read them, but he was very prone to weep over them. He was deeply
sentimental at the bottom of his heart; it was a weakness of his
constitution, like rheumatism or asthma. The misfortunes or poverty of
others touched him greatly; if he could have remedied them by any means
not involving any loss of money he would no doubt have done so at once.
Generous deeds made him shed tears of enthusiasm; but he thought himself
incapable of doing them--and he was right. And he made great efforts to
do violence to his instincts; he was by no means the least ready to give
of the rich men of Madrid. He set aside a fixed sum for the poor, and
entered it in his accounts as though they were his creditors. But when
once the monthly allowance was spent, he might, perhaps, have left a
poor wretch to die of hunger in the street and not have given him a
penny; not for want of feeling, but by reason of the strong hold figures
had over his mind. The idea of depriving himself of a peseta for any
other form of outlay than buying to sell was beyond his ken. Thus far
his almsgiving had superior merits to that of other men.

As he now entered the little morning-room his face betrayed traces of
emotion. After greeting his visitors, he said, as he seated himself in
an arm-chair:

"I have just read an exquisite chapter in this novel--quite exquisite! I
could not resist the temptation of bringing it in to read to these
ladies."

He paused, not daring to propose it to Castro and Maldonado, though he
would have liked to do so. He was very fond of reading aloud, because he
did it fairly well, and Mariana took pleasure in hearing him; so far
they were well matched.

"Read it, by all means, my dear; I do not think that Pepe and Ramon will
object," said his wife.

Pepe bowed slightly; Ramoncito hastened to express enthusiastic
pleasure: he was devoted to fine passages, &c. From the father of his
inamorata he would have listened to the reading of a table of
logarithms.

Don Julian wiped his spectacles, and, in a mild throat-voice which he
kept for such occasions, began to read the episode describing the
sufferings of a child lost in the streets of Paris. But his eyes
instantly grew dim and his voice began to break, till at length he was
so choked by emotion that he could scarcely be heard, and Ramon took the
paper and read on to the end. Castro, looking on at this absurdity, hid
a superior smile behind volumes of tobacco-smoke.

The chapter being ended, every one praised it in the most flattering
terms. Mariana looked at her work, and observed that she would need a
piece of silk for the lining, since the cushion was nearly finished.
Doña Esperanza, to whom she made the remark, was of the same opinion.

"Ramoncito," said she, "be so good as to ring that bell."

The young civilian hastened to comply, and the lady's maid immediately
appeared.

"I want you to go out and buy me a yard of silk," said her mistress.

The girl, having taken her instructions, was about to depart on the
errand, when Don Julian, who was listening, stopped her.

"Wait a moment," said he; "I will see if I do not happen to have the
thing you want." And he briskly left the room. In three minutes he
returned with an old umbrella in his hand.

"Do not you think the silk of this umbrella might serve your purpose?"
he said. "It seems to me to be just the colour."

Castro and Maldonado exchanged significant glances. Mariana blushed as
she took the umbrella.

"It is, no doubt, the right colour," she said; "but it is full of holes;
it will not do."

Esperancita pretended to be absorbed in her work, but her face was of
the colour of a poppy. Doña Esperanza alone took up the question and
discussed it seriously. Finally, the silk was rejected, to the chagrin
of the banker, who muttered various uncomplimentary remarks on the
management and economy of women.

Ramon, by this time, could no longer endure the torments of Tantalus, to
which his friend's plans had condemned him; he never ceased gazing
across to the spot where Pepe and Esperancita were chatting. He began by
rising from his chair under pretence of moving about a little, and
walked to and fro. By degrees he approached the couple, and stood still
in front of them.

"Well, Esperancita, is it long since you saw Pacita?"

How absurd an excuse for addressing her! He himself was conscious of it,
and blushed as he spoke. Pepe flashed an indignant glance at him, but
either he did not see it, or he pretended not to see it. The girl
frowned, and replied, shortly, that she did not exactly recollect. This
would have been enough for most people, but Ramon would not take an
answer; on the contrary, he tried to prolong the conversation with
vacuous or irrelevant remarks, and even tried to wedge a chair in
between them and sit down; but Castro hindered him by covertly giving
him a fiercely expressive stamp on the toes, which brought him to his
senses. He continued his melancholy walk till, presently, he went back
to his seat by the two elder ladies. He was soon engaged in an animated
discussion with Calderón as to whether the paving of the streets should
be done by contract or managed by a commission. He would have been only
too glad to agree with his host; it was his interest to do so, since his
happiness or misery lay in his hands, but the obstinate and fractious
temper which Nature had bestowed on him led him to continue the
argument, though he saw that Calderón was heated, and within an ace of
being angry. Fortunately for him, before this point was reached, a
servant entered the room.

"What is it, Remigio?" asked the banker.

"A man, Señor--a friend of Pardo's--Señor Mudela's coachman--has come to
say that Señorito Leandro is not very well."

"Bless me! What has happened to the boy? He is not accustomed to such
dissipation. He has spent all his life at school or tied to his mother's
apron-string. He must be taken away from this life of excitement.--And
what is the matter with him?"

Leandro was Don Julian's nephew, the son of a sister who lived in La
Mancha. He had come to pay a visit to Madrid, and was leading a very
jolly life in the society of other youths of his own age. He had begged
his uncle to lend him his carriage for an excursion into the country.
Don Julian, anxious not to offend his sister, to whom it was his
interest to be civil, had granted the favour, though sorely against the
grain.

"The sun and the dinner have upset him a little."

"Pooh! an attack of indigestion. He will get over that!"

"I think you ought to go to see him, Julian," said Mariana.

"If it were necessary, of course I should go; but, so far, I see no
necessity. I say, Remigio, is he too ill to come here? Is he in bed?"

"Well, Señor," said the man, turning his cap in his hands, and looking
down, as conscious that his news was serious, "the fact of the matter is
this--one of the mares, Primitiva, is knocked up."

Calderón turned pale.

"And she could not come home?"

"No, Señor; she seems to be pretty bad, from what the Mudela's coachman
says. Of course, those youngsters know nothing about it, and they let
her drink her fill."

Don Julian started up in the greatest agitation, and, without saying
another word, he left the room, followed by Remigio. The young men again
exchanged meaning looks. Esperancita happened to see this, and turned
scarlet.

"Papa takes such things so much to heart!" said she.

"How should he do otherwise, child?--a thoroughbred which cost him three
thousand dollars! It is a shame in Leandrito!" And for some minutes the
old lady gave expression to her wrath, which was almost as great as her
son-in-law's. Castro and Maldonado presently took leave. Mariana, who
had taken the disaster with much philosophy, asked them to dinner.

"Stay and dine; it is too late now for a walk."

"I cannot," said Castro; "I dine at your brother's."

"Ah, to be sure; it is Saturday. I had forgotten. We will look in, if I
am no worse, at ten, when the cards begin."

"Do you dine with Aunt Clementina every Saturday?" asked Esperancita in
a low voice, but with a peculiar intonation. The young dandy looked at
her for a moment.

"Most Saturdays, since I dine with your Uncle Tomas."

"Aunt Clementina is very pretty and very agreeable."

"She is considered so," replied Castro, a little uneasy.

"She has heaps of admirers. Are not you one of the most ardent of them?"

"Who told you so?"

"No one; I imagined it."

"You imagined rightly. Your aunt is, in my opinion, one of the loveliest
and most elegant women of Madrid. Good-bye till this evening,
Esperancita." And he held out his hand with a condescending air, which
pained the poor child. She showed her annoyance by addressing Ramon, who
was standing a little apart.

"And you, Ramon, why cannot you stay? Are you, too, going to dine at
Aunt Clementina's?"

"I? Oh, no."

"Then stay with us--do. We will take care not to bore you."

"I--bored in your society!" exclaimed he, almost overcome with delight.

"Well, you will stay, then--won't you? Let Pepe go if he has other
engagements."

Ramoncito was about to accept with the greatest rapture, but Castro
began to make negative signs at him over the girl's head, and with such
vehemence that his hapless friend could only say, in a subdued voice:

"No, I cannot either."

"But why, Ramon, why?"

"Because I have some business to attend to."

"I am sorry."

The young man was so deeply touched that he could scarcely murmur his
thanks, and he left the room almost at a snail's pace. As soon as he was
in the street Pepe complimented him eagerly, and assured him that his
firmness must lead to the best results. But he received these
congratulations with marked coldness, and preserved a stubborn silence
till he reached home, where his friend and guide left him, his head full
of gloomy presentiments and the blackness of night.



CHAPTER VII.

DINNER AND CARDS AT THE OSORIOS'.


On the day after her visit to Raimundo, Clementina felt even more
ashamed and crestfallen at having paid it than at the moment when she
came down those stairs. Proud natures feel as much remorse for an action
which, in their opinion, has humiliated them, as the virtuous do when
they have failed in humility. In her inmost soul she confessed that she
had taken a false step. The youth's serenity and courtesy, while they
raised him in her eyes, irritated her vanity. What comments must he and
his sister have been making since her absurd and uninvited call! She
coloured to think of them. Not to see or to be seen by Alcázar from his
observatory, she ceased to go out on foot. The young man kept his word;
she saw no sign of him.

But, why she knew not, his visage constantly rose before her eyes; he
was perpetually in her thoughts. Was it aversion that she felt? Or
resentment? Clementina could not honestly say that it was. There was
nothing in his face or behaviour to make him odious to her. Was it, on
the contrary, that his person had impressed her too favourably? Not at
all. She met every day other men of more attractive manners and of more
amusing conversation. So that it surprised as much as it provoked her to
find herself thinking about him. She never ceased protesting to herself
against this tendency, and reproaching herself for indulging it.

One afternoon, some days after the scene just narrated, she decided on
taking a walk. Not to do so seemed to her cowardly; she was doing this
boy too much honour. As she passed the house where he lived she glanced
up at his window and saw him sitting there, as usual, with a book in his
hand. She immediately looked down, and crossed the road with stately
gravity; but after going a few steps, she felt a vague sense of
dissatisfaction with herself. In fact, not to bow to the young man, not
even to return his bow, was unmannerly, after his frank explanation and
the politeness with which he had shown her his fine collection of
butterflies.

Next day she again went out on foot, and repaired her injustice of the
day before by looking steadily up at the window. Raimundo made her so
respectful a bow, with so candid a smile, that the beauty felt
flattered, and could not deny that the young fellow had singularly soft
eyes, which made him very attractive, and that his conversation, if not
remarkably elegant, showed a solid understanding and cultivated mind.
She ought to have seen all this at first, no doubt, but for some unknown
reason she had not. From this day forward she went out walking as
before. As she passed the house in the Calle de Serrano she never failed
to send a friendly nod to the upper window, or he to reply with eager
courtesy; and as the days went on these greetings became more and more
expressive. Without exchanging a word they were on quite intimate terms.

Clementina made an attempt to analyse her feelings towards young
Alcázar. She was not in the habit of introspection. She vaguely thought
that it was an act of charity to show him some kindness. "Poor boy," she
said to herself, "how fond he was of his mother! What happiness to have
had so good and loving a son!"

One afternoon when these greetings had been going on for more than a
month, Pepe Castro asked her:

"I say, is it long since that red-haired boy left off following you
about?"

Clementina was conscious of an unwonted shock, and coloured a little
without knowing why.

"Yes; I have not seen him for at least a month."

Why did she tell an untruth? Castro was so far from imagining that there
could be any acquaintance between this unknown devotee and his mistress
that he did not notice her blush, and changed the subject with complete
indifference. But to the lady herself, this strange shock and rising
flush were a vague revelation of what was taking place within her. The
first definite result of this revelation was that on quitting her
lover's house, instead of thinking of him, she reflected that Alcázar
kept his promise not to follow her with singular fidelity; the second
was, that as she stopped to look into a jeweller's window and saw a
butterfly brooch of diamonds, she said to herself that some of those she
had seen in her friend's collection were far more beautiful and
brilliant. The third effect came over her suddenly: on going into a
book-seller's to buy some French novels, it struck her, as she saw the
rows of books, that Pepe had certainly not read and would probably never
read, one of them. Hitherto she had admired his ignorance, now it seemed
ridiculous.

Time went on and Señora de Osorio, tired of her fashionable existence,
and having tasted every emotion which comes in the way of a beautiful
and wealthy woman, began to find a quite peculiar pleasure in the
innocent greetings she exchanged almost every day with the youth at the
corner window. One afternoon, having dismissed her carriage to take a
turn in the Retiro Gardens, she met Alcázar and his sister in one of the
avenues.

She bowed expressively; Raimundo saluted her with his usual respectful
eagerness; but Clementina observed that the girl bowed with marked
coolness. This occupied her thoughts and made her cross for the rest of
the day, since she was forced to confess more than ever that this was at
the bottom of her _malaise_ and melancholy. By degrees, and owing
chiefly to her fractious and capricious nature, this love-affair, which
might have died still-born, occupied her mind and became the germ of a
wish. Now in this lady, a wish was always a violent desire, above all
if there were any obstacle in her way.

On a certain morning, after greeting Raimundo with the gesture peculiar
to Spanish ladies, of opening and shutting her hand several times and
going on her way, an involuntary impulse prompted her to look back once
more at the corner window.

Raimundo was following her movements with a pair of opera glasses. She
blushed scarlet and hurried on, ashamed at the discovery. What had made
her guilty of such folly? What would the young naturalist think of her?
At the very least he would fancy that she was in love with him. But in
spite of the ferment in her brain, while she walked on as fast as she
could to turn down the next street and escape from his gaze, she was
less vexed with herself than she had been on other occasions. She was
ashamed, no doubt, but when she presently slackened her pace, a pleasant
emotion came over her, a light flutter at her heart such as she had not
felt for a long time.

"I am going back to my girlhood," said she to herself, and she smiled.
And it amused her to study her own feelings. She was happy in this
return to the guileless agitations of her early youth.

She was so absorbed in her meditations, that on reaching the Fountain of
Cybele, instead of going down the Calle de Alcalà, to go to Pepe Castro,
with whom she had an appointment, she turned about, as though she had
merely come for a walk. When she perceived it she stood still,
hesitating; finally she confessed to herself that she had no great wish
to keep the engagement.

"I will go to see mamma," thought she. "It is days since I spent an hour
with her, poor thing."

And she went on towards the Avenue de Luchana. She was in the happiest
mood. An organ was grinding out the drinking-song from _Lucrezia
Borgia_, and she stopped to listen to it; she who was bored at the Opera
by the most famous contralto! But music is the language of heaven, and
can only be understood when heaven has found a way into our heart.

Coming towards her, down the Avenue de Recoletos, was Pinedo, the
remarkable personage who lived with one foot in the aristocratic world
and the other in the half-official world to which he really belonged. By
his side was a pretty young girl, no doubt his daughter, who was unknown
to Clementina: for Pinedo kept her out of the society he frequented, and
hid her as carefully as Triboulet hid his. The Señora de Osorio had
always treated Pinedo with some haughtiness, which, as we know, was not
unusual with her. But at this moment her happy frame of mind made her
expansive, and as Pinedo was passing her with his usual ceremonious bow,
the lady stopped him, and addressed him, smiling:

"You, my friend, are a practical man; you too, I see, take advantage of
these morning hours to breathe the fresh air and take a bath of
sunshine."

Pinedo, against both his nature and habit, was somewhat out of
countenance, perhaps because he had no wish to introduce his daughter to
this very smart lady. However, he replied at once, with a gallant bow:

"And to take my chance of such unpleasing meetings as this one."

Clementina smiled graciously.

"You ought not to pay compliments even indirectly, with such a pretty
young lady by your side? Is she your daughter?"

"Yes, Señora--Señora de Osorio," he added, turning to the girl, who
coloured with pleasure at hearing herself called pretty by this lady
whom she knew well by sight and by name. She was herself pale and
slender, with an olive complexion, small well-cut features, and soft
merry eyes.

"I had heard that you had a very sweet daughter, but I see that
reputation has not done her justice."

She blushed deeper than ever, and faintly murmured her thanks.

"Come, Clementina, do not go on or she will begin to believe you. This
lady, Pilar," he continued to his daughter, "takes as much delight in
telling pleasant fibs as others do in telling unpleasant truths."

"She is, I see, most amiable," said Pilar.

"Do not believe him. Any one can see how pretty you are."

"Oh, Señora----"

"And tell me, tyrant father, why do you not give her a little more
amusement? Do you think that you have any right to be seen at every
theatre, ball and evening party, while you keep this sweet child under
lock and key? or do you fancy we care more about seeing you than her?"

Poor Pinedo felt a pang which he tried to hide; Clementina had laid a
frivolous finger on the tenderest spot in his heart. His salary, as we
know, allowed him to live but very modestly; if he went into a class of
society which was somewhat above him, it was solely to secure his tenure
of an office which was the sole means of sustenance for himself and his
child. She knew nothing of this. Pinedo hoped to be able to marry her to
some respectable and hardworking man; she was never to see the world in
which she could not live, and which he himself despised with all his
heart, although from sheer force of habit perhaps he could not have
lived contentedly in any other.

"She is still very young; she has time before her," he said, with a
forced smile.

"Pooh, nonsense! I tell you, you are very selfish. How long is it since
you were at the Valpardos?" she went on to change the subject.

"I was there on Monday; the Condesa asked much after you, and lamented
that you had quite deserted her."

"Poor Anita! It is very true."

Pinedo and Clementina then plunged into an animated and endless
discussion of the Valpardos and their parties. Pilar listened at first
with attention; but as the greater number of the persons named were not
known to her, she presently amused herself with looking about her, more
especially at the few passers-by who were to be seen there at that early
hour.

"Papa," said she, taking advantage of a pause, "here comes that young
friend of yours who maintains his mother and sisters."

Clementina and Pinedo looked round both at once, and saw Rafael
Alcantara approaching--the scapegrace youth whom we met in the Savage
Club.

"Who maintains his mother and sisters?" echoed Clementina, much
surprised.

"Yes, a very good young man, and a friend of papa's, called Rafael
Alcantara."

The lady looked inquiringly at Pinedo, who gave her an expressive
glance. Not knowing what it could mean, but supposing that her friend
for some reason did not wish her to speak of Alcantara as he deserved,
she held her tongue. The young man as he passed them greeted them half
respectfully, half familiarly. Pinedo immediately held out his hand to
take leave.

"This is Saturday you remember," said the lady. "Are you coming to
dinner?"

"With much pleasure. My regards to Osorio."

"And bring this dear little girl with you."

"We will see, we will see," replied the official again, much
embarrassed. "If I cannot manage it to-day, some other time."

"You must manage it, tyrant father. _Au revoir_ then, my dear."

She took the girl by the chin, and kissed her on both cheeks, saying as
she did so: "I have long wished to make your acquaintance. I sadly want
some nice pretty girls in my drawing-room."

And as she walked on, in better spirits than ever, she said to herself:
"What on earth can Pinedo be driving at by making a saint of that
good-for-nothing Alcantara?"

With a light step, a colour in her cheeks, and her eyes sparkling as
they had done in her girlhood, she soon reached the gate of the large
garden in which her father's house stood. The porter hastened to open it
and rang the house-bell. She went in, and, contrary to her usual custom,
she smiled at the two servants in livery, who awaited her at the top of
the stairs. She went by them in silence, and straight on to her
stepmother's rooms, like one who has long been familiar with the place.

The Duquesa at that moment was in council with the medical director of
an asylum for aged women which she had founded some time since in
concert with some other ladies. When the curtain was lifted and her
stepdaughter appeared she smiled affectionately.

"It is you, Clementina! Come in, my child, come in."

Clementina's heart swelled as she saw her mother's pale, thin face. She
hastened to her and kissed her effusively.

"Are you pretty well, mamma? How did you sleep?"

"Very well. But I look ill, don't I?"

"Oh, no," her daughter hastily assured her.

"Yes, yes. I saw it in the glass. But I feel well, only so miserably
weak; and, as I have completely lost my appetite, I cannot get any
stronger.--Then, as I understand, Yradier," she went on to the doctor,
who was standing in front of her, "you undertake to look after the
servants and the sick women, so that there may be no lack of due
consideration for the poor old things?"

The doctor was a pleasant-looking young man with an intelligent
countenance.

"Señora Duquesa," said he with decision, "I will do everything in my
power to prevent the pensioners having any complaints to make; but at
the same time, I must warn you that some may still reach your ears. You
cannot imagine the vexatiousness and spite of which some women are
capable. Without any cause whatever, simply to insult me and my
colleagues, they are capable of heaping insolence on us. And the more
attention we show them, the more airs they give themselves. I taste
their broth and their chocolate every day, and I have never found it
bad, as that old woman declared it to be. The hours are fixed and I have
never known the meals to be late. If you will make inquiries you will
convince yourself that the persons who have ground for complaint are the
poor servants, whom the old women treat shamefully."

The doctor had become quite excited and spoke these words in a tone of
conviction.

The lady smiled gently.

"I believe you, I believe you, Yradier. Old women are very apt to be
troublesome."

"Ah! Señora, that depends."

"We are, for the most part. But it is in itself an infirmity, and should
excite compassion in those who suffer from it. I need not say so to you,
for you have a charitable soul. But I beg of you to entreat those who
are less forgiving, in my name, to be gentle and patient with the poor
old women."

"I will, Señora, I will," replied Yradier, won by the lady's sweetness.
"We shall see you on Thursday then?"

"I do not know whether my strength will allow of it."

"Oh, yes, I will answer for it." And feeling that he was not wanted, the
young man then took his leave, pressing the lady's hand with affection
and respect which spoke in his eyes, while he bowed ceremoniously to
Clementina.

As soon as he was gone, she, who had been gazing with pain at her
stepmother's worn features, and had been deeply moved by the goodness
which was revealed in every word she uttered, rose from her seat and,
kneeling down by Doña Carmen, took her thin white hands and kissed them
in a transport of feeling. The beauty, who to all the rest of the world
was so haughty, had a peculiar joy, not unlike the rapture of a mystic,
in humbling herself before her stepmother. Doña Carmen's voice acted
like a spell, stirring the dim sparks of virtue and tenderness which
still lived in her heart, and fanning them for a moment to reviving
heat. Then the elder lady gently removed her daughter's hat, and, laying
it on a chair, bent down to kiss her fondly on the forehead.

"It is four days since you last came to see me, bad girl"

"Yesterday I could not, mamma. I spent the whole day over my accounts,
doing sums. Oh, those hateful sums?"

"But why do you do them? Is not your husband there?"

"It is for fear of my husband that I do them. Do not you know that he
has become as stingy and miserly as his brother-in-law?"

Doña Carmen knew that Osorio's affairs were not prospering, and that he
had lately lost heavily on the Bourse; but she dared not tell his wife
so.

"Poor, dear child! To have to think of such things when you were born to
shine as a star in society."

"This alone was wanting to make him absolutely detestable. If one could
but live one's life over again!"

The tender look had gone out of her eyes, they were gloomy and fierce; a
deep frown puckered her statuesque brow, and in a husky tone she poured
out all her grievances and related the daily vexations which her husband
heaped upon her. To no one in the world but her stepmother would she
have confided them; and she could speak of them without a tear, while
Doña Carmen's weary eyes shed many as she listened.

"My darling child! And I would have given my life to see you happy! How
blind we were, your father and I, to entrust you to such a man!"

"My father, indeed! A man who has never found out that he has a saint in
his own house whom he ought to worship on his bended knees. When I
think----"

"Hush, hush! He is your father," exclaimed Doña Carmen, laying a hand on
her lips. "I am quite happy. If your father has his faults, I have mine;
so I have no merit in forgiving him his if he on his part forgives me.
Do not let us discuss your father. Talk about yourself. You cannot think
how these money difficulties worry me; I am not accustomed to them. I
would set them right on the spot if I could; but, as you know, very
little money passes through my hands. I have to account to Antonio for
all I draw, and he is not easily hoodwinked. I might, to be sure, put
aside a few gold pieces for you; but my savings would not help you far.
However, I hope your difficulties will soon be over."

The good woman paused, gazing sadly into vacancy; then, kissing her
daughter, who was still on her knees before her, she spoke into her ear
in a low voice, and went on:

"Listen, child. I cannot live much longer, and I shall leave all I have
to you. Half of your father's fortune is mine, as I understand from the
family lawyer."

Clementina felt a thrill, a shock, which a psychologist would find it
hard to define--a mixture of sorrow and surprise, with an undercurrent
of satisfaction. However, sorrow predominated; she kissed her stepmother
again and again.

"What are you saying? Die! No, you are not to die! I want you much, much
more than your money. But for you I should have been a very wicked
woman--and I shall be, I fear, the day you cease to live. The only
moments when I feel any goodness in me are those I spend with you. I
fancy, mamma, that you infect me with some of your exquisite virtue."

"There, there--flatter me no more," said Doña Carmen, again stopping her
mouth. "You think yourself worse than you are. You have a good heart.
What sometimes makes you seem bad is your pride. Is not that the truth?"

"Yes, mamma, quite true. You do not know what pride is, or the miseries
it brings to those who feel it as I do. To be constantly thinking of
things which hurt me--to see enemies on all sides--to feel a look as
though it were the point of a dagger in my heart--to catch a word, and
turn it over and over in my brain till it almost makes me sick--to live
with my heart sore, my mind full of alarms--oh! how often have I envied
those who are as good and as humble as you. How happy should I be if I
had not a gloomy and suspicious temper and the pride which devours my
soul! And who knows," she went on after a pause, "that I might not have
been happier in some other sphere of life? If I had been poor, and had
married some hard-working and intelligent young fellow, my lot might
have been better. Obliged to help my husband, to take care of a
business, or attend to the details of the house, like other women who
labour and struggle, I might, perhaps, not have come to this. I ought to
have had a loving and patient husband--a man of talent, who could guide
me. As it is, mamma, accustomed as I am to luxury and the fashionable
world, I would gladly give it all up this very day and go to live in
some pleasant spot in the country, far from Madrid. I only want a little
love, and to keep you with me to teach me to feel and be good."

Clementina's present mood was idyllic; she had been pleasantly impressed
by the simple home in the Calle de Serrano. In every woman, however
hardened, however immersed in love adventures, there remains an eclogue
in some corner of her brain which now and again comes to the surface.
Good Doña Carmen listened to her and encouraged her by her smiles, and
the younger lady's confidences lasted long. She recalled her early life,
when she came to tell her stepmother of the declarations made to her at
the ball of the night before, and to read her the _billets-doux_ of her
adorers. These reminiscences of the past made her happy. She was even
tempted to talk about Pepe Castro and Raimundo, and confess the childish
feelings which stirred her soul; but a feeling of respect withheld her.
Doña Carmen's leniency was indeed so excessive as to verge on folly; it
is very possible that, even if her stepdaughter had confessed her worst
sins, she would hardly have been scandalised.

They breakfasted together, the Duke having gone to breakfast with a
Minister. Afterwards, having relieved and refreshed their spirits with
this long chat, they went together in the carriage to San Pascual's,
where they prayed a while; and then they drove to the Avenue of the
Retiro. They went home before dark, as the evening air was bad for Doña
Carmen, and Clementina must be home in good time.

It was Saturday, the day on which the Osorios kept open house for dinner
and cards. Before going up to dress, Clementina looked round the
dining-room, studied the arrangement of the table, and ordered some
little alterations in the dishes of fruit which decked it. She sent for
the packet of _menus_--written on parchment paper with the Duke's
monogram stamped in gold--begged her husband's secretary to write the
name of a guest on each, and herself laid them in order on the table
napkins: herself and her husband opposite each other in the middle; to
the right and left of Osorio, two ladies in the seats of honour; to her
own right and left, two gentlemen; and then the rest of the party in
order of dignity, age, or her own preference for her guests. Then she
spoke a few words with the butler, and after giving him her
instructions, she went away. At the door she turned to look once more at
the table, and added:

"Remove those strong-smelling flowers from the Marquesa de Alcudia's
place and give her camellias, or something else which has no scent."

The pious Marquesa could not endure strong perfumes, being liable to
headache. Clementina, who hated her, showed more consideration for her
than for any of her friends; her ancient title, severe judgment, and
even her bigotry, made her respected, and her presence in a drawing-room
lent it prestige.

Clementina went to her room, followed by Estefania, the coachman's sworn
foe. She put on a magnificent dress of creamy-white, cut low. She
usually wore a sort of _demi-toilette_ for these Saturday receptions,
with sleeves to the elbow. But this evening she was moved to display her
much-praised person in honour of a foreign diplomate who was to dine in
the house for the first time. While the maid was dressing her hair, her
mind wandered vaguely over the events of the day. She had not kept her
appointment with Pepe; he would certainly arrive in a rage. She pouted
her under lip disdainfully, and her eyes had a spiteful glitter, as if
to say: "And what do I care?" Then she remembered Raimundo's greeting
and that ill-starred look backwards, with a feeling of shame to which
her cheeks bore witness by a deepening colour. She called herself a
fool--heedless, mad. Happily for her, the young man seemed to be simple
and unpretending; otherwise he would at once have built wild castles in
the air. She thought of him a good deal, and with some tenderness. He
was, in fact, attractive and good-looking and had a way of speaking, at
once gentle and firm, which impressed her greatly; then his passionate
devotion to his mother's memory, his retired life, his strange mania for
butterflies, all helped to make him interesting.

How many times Clementina had thought over all this during the last few
months it would be hard to say, but very often, beyond a doubt. Her
spirit, lulled by a slumberous sweetness, was sentimentally inclined.
That home on the third floor, that sunny study, that quiet and simple
life. Who knows! Happiness may dwell where we least expect to find it. A
heap of frippery, a handful of gems, a dish or two more on the table
cannot give it. But an odious reflection, which for some little time had
embittered all her dreams, flashed through her mind. She was growing
old--yes, old. She allowed herself no illusions. Estefania found it more
difficult every week to hide the silver threads among her golden hair.
Though she firmly resisted every temptation to apply any chemical
preparation to her beautiful tresses, she was beginning to think that
there would be no help for it. The candid, eager, happy love, of which
her adventure with young Alcázar had given her visions, was not for her.
Nothing was left for her, nor had been for some time, but the vapid,
vulgar inanities of aristocratic fops, all equally commonplace in their
tastes, their speech, and their unfathomable vanity. What connection
could there be between her and this boy but that of mother and son? She
sometimes wondered whether Raimundo's feelings towards her were quite
what he had described them in that first interview; but at this moment
she was sure that he had spoken the simple truth, that love was
impossible between a lad of twenty and a woman of seven-and-thirty--for
she was seven-and-thirty though she was wont to take off two years--at
any rate such love as she at this moment longed for.

These reflections furrowed her brow, and with an effort she determined
to think of something else. Looking at her maid in the glass, she
noticed that the girl was deadly pale. She turned round to make sure,
and said:

"Are you ill, child? You are very white."

"Yes, Señora," said the girl in some confusion.

"Do you feel the old sickness again?"

"I think so."

"Well, go and lie down, and send up Concha. It is very odd. I will send
for the doctor to-morrow, to see if he can do anything for you."

"No, no, Señora," the girl hastened to exclaim. "It is nothing, it will
go off."

A few minutes later the lady made her appearance in the drawing-room,
brilliantly beautiful. Osorio was there already, walking up and down the
room with his friend and almost daily visitor at dinner, Bonifacio. He
was a man of about sixty, solemn and starch, with a bald head, a yellow
face and black teeth. He had been Governor in various provinces, and now
held the post of chief of a Department of State. He talked little, and
never contradicted--the first and indispensable virtue of a man who
would fain dine well and spend nothing, and his dress-coat was
perennially adorned with the red cross of the order of Calatrava to
which he belonged. In his own house, the most conspicuous object was a
portrait of himself with a very tall plume in his cap and an amazingly
long white cloak over his shoulders.

In one corner sat Pascuala, a widow with no perceptible income, whom
Clementina regarded partly as a friend, and partly as a companion to be
made use of, and with her, Pepa Frias, who had just arrived. As
Clementina passed the two men to shake hands with Pepa, her eyes met her
husband's in a flash like gloomy and ominous lightning. Osorio's face,
always dark and bilious, was really impressive by its ferocity. It was
only for an instant. The ladies exchanged a few words, and the men
joined them, the banker beginning to jest with his wife about her dress
in a tone of affectionate banter.

"That is the way my wife wastes my money. My dear, though you may not
care to hear it, I may tell you that you grow stout at an alarming
rate."

"Do not say so, Osorio, Clementina has the loveliest skin of any woman
in Madrid," said Pascuala.

"I should think so. The enamelling she went through in Paris last spring
cost me a pretty penny."

Clementina fell in with the jest, but she had great difficulty in acting
her part. Through the convulsive smiles which now and then lighted up
her face, and her brief enigmatical phrases, it was easy to see her
uneasiness, and even a spice of hatred.

The door-bell rang frequently, and in a few minutes the drawing-room
held fifteen or twenty guests. The Marquesa de Alcudia brought none of
her daughters; they were rarely seen at the Osorios'. Then came the
Marquesa de Ujo, a woman who had been pretty, but was now much faded; as
languid as a South American, though she was a native of Pamplona,
somewhat romantic, by way of being _incomprise_, with literary tastes.
She had with her a daughter, taller than herself, and who must have been
fifteen at least, though her mother made her wear petticoats above her
ankles that she might not make her seem old. The poor girl endured the
mortification with a fairly good grace, though she blushed when any one
happened to look at her feet.

Next came General Patiño, Conde de Morillejo; he never missed a
Saturday. Then the Baron and Baroness de Rag appeared; it was their
first dinner there, and Clementina devoted herself to them, heaping them
with attentions. The Baron was plenipotentiary of some great foreign
Power. The Minister of Arts and Agriculture, Jimenez Arbos, Pinedo, Pepe
Castro, and the Cotorrasos husband and wife--all came in together.

At the last moment, when it wanted but a few minutes of seven, Lola
Madariaga and her husband arrived. This lady, though much younger than
Clementina, was her most intimate friend, and the confidant of all her
secrets. She dined with her three or four times a week, and hardly a day
passed without their driving out together. She could not be called
pretty, but her face was so animated, her eyes sparkled so sweetly, and
her lips parted in such a bewitching smile to show her little white
teeth, that she had always many admirers. As a girl she had been an
accomplished flirt, turning all the men's heads, loving to have them at
her feet, prodigal of those insinuating smiles alike to the son of a
duke or a humble employé, to the old man with a bald head and a bottle
nose, or the slender youth of twenty, to the rich or the poor, the noble
or the plebeian. Her coquetry equalised ranks and fortunes, uniting all
men in a holy brotherhood to bask in the bright light of her fine black
eyes, and adore the delicious dimples which a smile brought into her
cheek, with all the other gifts and graces which a merciful Providence
had bestowed on her. Since her marriage she still showed the same
inexhaustible benevolence towards the human race, but in a less
wholesale fashion--that is to say, towards one, or at most two, at a
time. Her husband was a Mexican, very rich, with traces of Indian blood
in his features.

They had been in the room only a minute or two when they were followed
by Fuentes, a very lively little man, ugly and lean, and a good deal
marked by the small-pox. No one knew what he lived on; he was supposed
to have some small investments. He was to be seen in every drawing-room
of any pretensions, and had a seat at the best tables. His titles to
such preference lay in his being regarded as a brilliant and witty
talker, intelligent and agreeable. For more than twenty years he had
shone at the dinners and balls of Madrid, playing the part of first
funny man. Some of his jests had become proverbial; they were repeated
not only in drawing-rooms but in the cafés, and from thence were
exported to the provinces. Unlike most men of his stamp, he was never
ill-natured. His banter was not intended to wound, but only to amuse the
company, and excite admiration for his easy, quick, and subtle wit. The
utmost license he allowed himself was to seize on the ridiculous side of
some absent friend as the subject for an epigram, but never, or almost
never, at the cost of his credit. These qualities made him the idol of
his circle. No one thought a party complete unless Fuentes at least put
in an appearance in the course of the evening.

"Ah, Fuentes! Here is Fuentes!" cried one and another, as he appeared,
and a number of hands were extended to greet him. Shaking the first he
happened to grasp, he turned to the mistress of the house, saying in a
dry voice which in itself had a comic effect:

"Pardon me, Clementina, if I am a little late. On my way I was caught by
Perales. You know Perales; I need say no more. Then, when I escaped from
his clutches, at the corner by the War Office, I fell into those of
Count de Sotolargo, and he, you know, is saddled with fifty per cent.
handicap."

"Why?" asked Lola Madariaga.

"He stammers, Señora."

All laughed, some loudly, others more discreetly. That the sally was not
impromptu was evident a mile off; but it produced the desired effect,
partly because it really was droll, and partly because it was a point of
honour with every one to laugh whenever Fuentes opened his lips.

A moment later a servant in livery opened the door, and announced that
dinner was served.

Osorio hastened to offer his arm to the Baroness de Rag, and led the way
to the dining-room. The Baron closed the procession, leading Clementina.
The servants all stood in a row, armed with napkins and headed by the
butler. Osorio marshalled each guest to his place, and they soon were
all seated.

The table was elegantly and attractively laid. The light from two large
hanging lamps shone on bright-hued flowers and fruit, on a snowy cloth,
sparkling glass, and shining porcelain. This light, however, being
somewhat crude, did not do justice to the ladies; it gave everything the
sharpness of an image in a camera. To moderate the glare and produce a
more diffused light, Clementina had two large candelabra, with coloured
shades, placed at each end of the table. All the ladies were in low
dresses--some, like Pepa Frias, disgracefully _décolletées_. The
gentlemen were in evening dress with white ties.

At first the conversation was only between neighbours. The Baroness de
Rag, a Belgian, with brown hair and light blue eyes, and rather stout,
was asking Osorio the Spanish names for the various objects on the
table. She had not been long in Spain, and was most anxious to learn the
language. Clementina and the Baron were talking French. Pepa Frias, who
was between Pepe Castro and Jimenez Arbos, said to Castro, in an
undertone:

"What do you think of Lola's husband? Really, not so bad for a
Brazilian?"

Castro smiled with his characteristic superciliousness.

"He must have lassoed many cows in the Pampas?"

"Till a cow lassoed him."

"But that was not on the Pampas."

"I know--in a public garden. That is no news."

General Patiño, faithful to military tradition and his own instincts,
was laying siege in due form to the Marquesa de Ujo, who sat by him.

"Pearls suit you to perfection, Señora. A smooth and slightly olive skin
like yours, betraying the warm blood and fire of the South, is
peculiarly set off by Oriental splendour."

"Flattering me as usual, General. I wear pearls because they are the
best gems I happen to possess. If I had emeralds as fine as
Clementina's, I would leave my pearls in the jewel case," replied the
lady, showing a row of rather faulty teeth when she smiled, heightened
with a few bright spots of dentist's gold.

"You would be in error. A pretty woman should always wear what becomes
her most. The Almighty is surely best pleased to view His finest works
at their best. Emeralds suit fair complexions; but you are like the
Xeres grape: amber-tinted, with a heady and intoxicating essence at the
core."

"As it might be a raisin!"

"No, no, Marquesa; no."

The General eagerly repelled the charge and defended himself as
valiantly as though in front of the enemy.

Meanwhile the servants were moving about handing various dishes, while
others, bottle in hand, murmured in the ear of each guest, "Sauterne,
Sherry, Margaux," in a hollow tone like that of a Carthusian monk
muttering his _memento mori_.

"I drink nothing but iced champagne," Pepa Frias announced to the
servant behind her.

"You need so much cooling," exclaimed Castro.

"You surely knew that," said the widow with a meaning look.

"To my sorrow!"

"Why, are you tired of Clementina?"

Fuentes was not happy under these conditions. It grieved him to lavish
his wit in a _tête-à-tête_, so he seized the first opportunity of
raising his voice and attracting the attention of the whole party.

"I saw you in the Carrera de San Jeromino yesterday morning, Fuentes,"
said the Condesa de Cotorraso, who sat three or four places lower down.

"That depends on what you call the morning, Condesa."

"It was about eleven, a little before or after."

"Then allow me to dispute your statement. I am never out of bed till
two."

"Till two!" exclaimed one and another.

"That is going to an excess!" cried the Marquesa de Alcudia.

"But it is an aristocratic excess. Who gets up earliest in Madrid? The
scavengers, porters, scullions. A little later you will see the shopmen
taking down their shutters, the old women going to early Mass, grooms
airing their masters' horses, and so forth. Next come the men of
business and office clerks, who do all the real work of the Government,
milliners' girls and the like. By about eleven you may meet a better
class, officers in the army, students, civilians of a higher grade, and
merchants. At noon you see the larger fry, heads of houses, bankers, and
land-owners; but it is not till two that Ministers of State, Directors,
Grandees of the realm and distinguished writers are to be seen in the
streets."

The whole company were listening, greatly edified by this defence of
laziness, and feeling themselves in a position to laugh at it, saying in
an undertone:

"That Fuentes! Oh, that Fuentes can talk any one down!"

Then, simply for the pleasure of it, some one contradicted him.

"But then, my dear fellow, you do not know the delights of getting up
early in the morning to breathe the fresh air and bathe in the
sunshine!"

"I would sooner bathe in warm water with a little bottle of Kananga."

"Can you deny that the sun is glorious?"

"Glorious by all means, but just a little vulgar. I do not say that at
the creation of the world it may not have been a very striking thing,
worth getting up to look at; but you must admit that by this time it is
a little played out. Can there be anything more ridiculous in these
downright days than to call oneself Phoebus Apollo and drive a golden
chariot? And, after all, the sun has no intrinsic merits; it stays
blazing where God put it, while gas and the electric light represent the
brain-work of men of genius. They are the triumph of intelligence, a
record of the power of mind over matter, the sovereignty of intellect
throughout the universe. Besides, you can always see the sun for
nothing, and I have always had a horror of free exhibitions."

The company were all in fits of laughter, and Fuentes, encouraged by
their mirth, outdid himself in paradoxes and ingenious quibbles,
obviously forcing his own hand now and then. He fell into the mistake of
certain over-praised actors: he did not know where to stop, and at last
became farcical. From the farcical to the gross is but a step, and
Fuentes not infrequently crossed the line.

The Conde de Cotorraso persisted in his defence of the sun to encourage
his friend's ingenious abuse. It was the sun which gave vitality to all
nature, which warmed the earthly globe, and so forth.

"As to the sun giving life, I deny it," replied Fuentes. "Madrid is much
more alive by night than by day, and, as to warming me, I much prefer
coke, which does not give rise to fevers. Come, Count, be frank now.
What particular merit can there be in a thing which, under all
circumstances, your valet must see before you do?"

This was regarded as a final happy hit, and the subject was dropped.

From talking of the sun they came to talking of the shade, and of the
shade of poisonous trees. The Marquesa de Ujo asked Lola's husband, the
Mexican, whose name was Ballesteros, whether the manchineel were a
native of his country. He replied that it was not, but that he had seen
it growing in Brazil. The lady inquired very particularly into its
properties, but she was greatly disenchanted on hearing that the shade
of the tree was not pernicious, and that it was only the acrid juice of
the fruit which was poisonous.

"So that you do not die if you fall asleep under it?"

"Señora, I did not fall asleep, don't you see? But I breakfasted under
one with a party of friends, and we were none the worse."

"Well, then, how does Selika commit suicide in the _Africaine_ by lying
down in the shade of a manchineel?"

"It is a fable, an invention of the poet's. It is a pretty idea but not
true."

The Marquesa, quite disappointed by this realistic view of the matter,
refused altogether to accept it, and argued that possibly the
manchineels of India were not the same as the American kind.

"Is it true, Ballesteros," asked Clementina, "that you have eight
hundred thousand cows?"

"Oh, Señora, that is an exaggeration! My herds number three hundred
thousand at most."

"If they were mine," said Fuentes, "I would build a tank as large as the
Retiro Gardens, and fill it with milk and sail a boat on it."

"We make no use of the milk, Señor, nor of the butter. We sometimes dry
the meat for exportation, don't you see? But generally we only save the
skin. And the horns also are sold for various forms of manufacture."

"Plague take him for a bore!" said Pepe Castro in a low voice, but loud
enough for Jimenez Arbos to hear where he sat by Pepa Frias, who was
taken with a fit of laughter which she had the greatest difficulty in
choking down.

She addressed herself to Clementina to conceal her mirth as far as
possible:

"Pass me the mustard, there's a trump," said she.

"Trump, trump? What is a trump?" asked the Baroness de Rag, in her
eagerness to learn the language, and Osorio explained the use of the
word.

Pepa addressed herself from time to time to Jimenez Arbos; a few brief
sentences in a low tone, which showed that they were on intimate terms,
and at the same time revealed a desire to be prudent. Her conversation
with Castro on her left was more animated.

"Why don't you advise Arbos to eat more meat?" he asked her.

"Why should I?"

"Because he ought to eat meat to give him strength to endure the
fatigues of daily life."

"To be sure," said the widow, sarcastically. "But do you take care of
yourself and leave others to settle their own affairs as Providence may
guide them."

"Well, you see I manage to get fed."

"Yes, but do not let it go to your brain, or one fine day, when you
least expect it, you may find yourself without a dinner."

"Have I offended you?" said the young man, laughing as if he had heard
something very amusing.

"No, my dear fellow, no. I mean what I say. For my part I cannot think
how Clementina can bear such a Narcissus as you."

"Hush! hush! Be careful, Pepa, pray be careful!" cried Castro, with an
alarmed glance at the mistress of the house.

"Do you know she is wonderfully artful. She has not looked at you once."

Castro, who had been a good deal piqued these few days past by his
lady's coldness, smiled a forced smile and then knit his brows. Pepa did
not fail to observe this.

"Look at the black cloud on Osorio's face; it is enough to frighten one!
And you are the guilty cause of it, you wretch!"

"I! Oh, dear no! It is more likely to be some question of ready money
which makes him look so bilious. I hear he is ruined, or within an ace
of it."

Pepa started visibly.

"Who says so? Where did you hear that?"

"Several persons have told me so."

The widow turned sharply to Arbos on her other hand, and asked him in a
whisper:

"Have you heard anything about Osorio's being ruined?"

"Yes, I have heard it said that Osorio has for some time been buying for
a fall, and the market has gone up steadily," replied the official, with
a toss of his head suggesting a peacock, and there was a touch of
evident satisfaction in his tone. To a politician, buying for a fall is
a crime worthy of any punishment. "I do not know how much he may be let
in for at the next account; but if it is anything considerable, he is a
ruined man. Consols have gone up one per cent., by the end of the month
they may have risen to two."

Pepa's good spirits had entirely disappeared. She sat looking at her
plate and listlessly using her fork to finish the slice of York ham she
had taken. The Minister, observing her gloomy silence, asked her:

"Have you by any chance any money in his hands?"

"By chance! No, by my own idiocy. Almost everything I possess is in his
hands."

"The devil it is!"

"Everything I have eaten has turned on my stomach; I believe I am going
to be ill," said the lady, who was as pale as a sheet.

Arbos did his best to tranquillise her; perhaps it was not true: sudden
losses, like sudden fortunes, are always greatly exaggerated. Besides,
if any deposit were sacred to Osorio, it would surely be that of a lady
who had entrusted her money to him out of pure friendship.

Though they were talking almost in a whisper, their grave looks and
earnest manner attracted the notice of General Patiño, who, turning to
the Marquesa de Ujo, said with singular perspicacity:

"Just look at Pepa and Arbos, a summer cloud has fallen on them. Love is
a beautiful thing even in its transient torments!"

Clementina meanwhile, with Lola and the Condera de Cotorraso, had been
discussing the effects of arsenic as a drug for beautifying the
complexion and skin. It was the first time Lola had heard of it, and she
was quite delighted, declaring that she would forthwith try this
miraculous elixir.

"Good heavens, Lolita!" exclaimed Fuentes, "if, as you are, you cause
such havoc in masculine hearts, what will happen after you have followed
a regimen of arsenic for a few months? Señor Ballesteros, do not permit
her to take it; it is too cruel to the rest of us."

"Come, come, friend Fuentes," said the pretty brunette, casting an
insinuating glance at Castro, for she had taken it into her head that
she would snatch him from Clementina, "are you trying to chaff me?"

"Chaff, what is chaff?" the Baroness de Rag asked again.

Bonifacio had for some moments been staring, without winking even, at
the Belgian lady. A few days since he had purchased a photograph of a
figure lounging in a hammock. He fancied that the Baroness strongly
resembled this picture, and was anxious to convince himself by a
prolonged study of what he could see whether what he could not see was
equally like it.

The dinner could not end of course without a long discussion of the
opera, Gayarre and Tosti. Otherwise the meal could not have been
digested. The coffee was served in the dining-room, as was the custom of
the house. Then the ladies withdrew to the drawing-room, followed by
several of the men; others remained to smoke, but it was not long before
they joined the others. The dining-room was intolerably hot.

Pepe Castro took advantage of the little stir as they left the
dining-room to ask Clementina:

"Why did you not come this morning?"

Clementina paused a second, and looked at him with a condescending
smile. "This morning?" she said. "I don't know."

"You don't know?" said the lordly youth with a sovereign frown.

"I don't know, I don't know," and she turned away still smiling a little
disdainfully.

"You will come to-morrow?"

"We will see," she replied, walking away.

Castro felt that smile like a stab in his breast. He bit his under-lip,
muttering: "Coquetting, eh? You shall pay me for this, my beauty!"



CHAPTER VIII.

AFTER DINNER.


There were already some fresh arrivals in the drawing-room, among them
Ramon Maldonado, and Pepa's daughter with her husband. In the adjoining
room, six tables were laid out for cards, and some of the company sat
down immediately to play _tresillo_. Others waited for their usual party
to appear. It was not long before the rooms were crowded. Don Julian
arrived with Mariana and Esperancita, Cobo Ramirez with Leon Guzman and
three or four others of the same kidney, General Pallarés, the Marquis
de Veneros, and several others, most of the men being merchants and
bankers.

One of the last to arrive was the Duke de Requena, who was welcomed with
the same eager and flattering deference here as elsewhere. He came in
snuffling, smoking, spitting, insolently sure of the respect always paid
to his immense fortune. He spoke little and laughed less, expressed his
opinions with gross rudeness, and sat to be adored by the crowd of
ladies who gathered round him. His cheeks were more flabby, his eyes
more bloodshot, his lips blacker than ever. His whole appearance was so
hideous that Fuentes, pointing him out, remarked to Pinedo and Jimenez
Arbos: "There you see the Devil holding court among his witches at a
Sabbath."

He was invited to join a party at _tresillo_, as usual, but declined. He
had caught sight of two bankers, whom he was eager to secure for the
affair of the Riosa Mines, and he also wanted to pay court for a few
minutes to Arbos. He had already contrived to get the mine put up to
sale by auction with all its lands and plant. A company had been formed
to buy it, but there was a difference of opinion among the directors;
some wanted to pay for it money down, and among these was Salabert,
while others wished to take advantage of the ten instalments allowed by
the Government. The difference in interest was of course enormous.

The Duke made his way to speak to a Mr. Biggs, the representative of an
English house, which was largely interested in the company, and the head
of the party who were for payment by instalments. He put his arm over
his shoulder, and led him into the recess of a window, saying roughly:

"Then you are bent on ruining us!"

And he proceeded to discuss the matter with a bluntness which
disconcerted the Englishman. He replied to the Duke's brutal attack with
mild and courteous argument, and a fixed benevolent smile. The Duke only
spoke with added rudeness, which was in point of fact, very diplomatic.

"I have no fancy for throwing away my money. It has cost me a great deal
of trouble to get it at all, you see; and in the long run I may very
likely be obliged to escape with my skin by getting out of the
business."

"Señor Duque, it is no fault of mine," said Biggs, with a strong English
accent, "I must obey orders."

"These orders are instigated by an old fox in Madrid that I know of."

"Oh, Señor Duque! there is no old fox in the case," said Biggs,
laughing.

And the banker could not get anything out of the Englishman, though he
left him much to think of.

Pepa Frias, in great agitation, after ascertaining from various
authorities that Osorio's affairs were looking badly, was talking
matters over with Jimenez Arbos. Every one was of opinion that Osorio
could meet his engagements; he had a large capital, and though he had
lost heavily at the last few settlements, it was not supposed that he
could be seriously hit. It must, however, be added, that none of these
gentlemen gambled, as Osorio did, for differences in the market. With
him it had become a vice, and, in spite of the warnings of his friends
and colleagues, he could not control the passion which sooner or later
must inevitably bring him to ruin.

Pepa was watching him closely, and with a woman's keen insight she
divined a troubled sea under his cold, quiet demeanour. Arbos was
soothing her in stilted and well turned phrases--for not even to his
mistress could he throw off the orator--while the widow herself was
meditating some means of salvation. Her plan was to give the alarm to
Clementina, and extract her promise to snatch Pepa's fortune from the
burning, if burning there must be, by pledging her own settlements.
Trusting much to her own diplomacy, and to her friend's reckless habits,
she grew somewhat calmer, and Arbos took advantage of her restored
serenity to exert the exceptional gifts of persuasion which Providence
had bestowed on him.

Pepa recovered so far, in fact, as to sit down to cards with Clementina,
Pinedo, and Arbos. As she crossed the drawing-room, she saw in a corner
her daughter and son-in-law, sitting like two devoted turtle-doves. She
stopped to speak to them, and as her temper was not entirely pacified,
her tone was sharp.

"Yesterday you were ready to call each other out, and to-day nothing
will part you! Come, children, do not sit together all the evening. You
should not be so spooney in company."

Emilio was offended by her authoritative tone, the colour mounted to his
face, and he was on the point of answering his mother-in-law in the same
key, but she was gone into the card-room. So there he was left muttering
an oath, and saying that he had never been in the habit of taking a
scolding from any one, and he was not going to begin with his
mother-in-law, with other equally vehement and incoherent declarations,
which made Irenita look very doleful, and would have ended in tears if
he had not discovered it in time, and, giving her a loving little nip
inside her arm, asked her at the same time to let him have half of the
mint-drop she was sucking in her pretty mouth. And hereupon they fell to
cooing again, as if they had been in the virgin forest instead of
Osorio's drawing-room.

A party of five or six young girls, and among them Esperancita, were
talking with a group of the younger men. Two of these were Cobo Ramirez
and our intelligent friend Ramon Maldonado. It would be difficult to
reduce to writing the ideas exchanged by these youthful talkers. They
must have been subtle, amusing, and pointed, if we may judge by the
mirth they gave rise to. At the same time the keen observer would have
detected the fact that the young ladies' gestures, appealing eyes, saucy
glances, and insinuating graces, even their shouts of laughter, had no
direct connection with what was said.

For instance, a bland youth remarked:

"I saw you, yesterday, Manolita, at San José's, confessing to Father
Ortega."

The damsel addressed laughed heartily.

"No, Paco, I am sure you did not see me."

"Pilar," said another, "Where do you buy such pretty fans?"

Pilar went into fits of laughter.

"What a joke! And you--where did you buy such a hideous dog as you take
trotting at your heels?"

"Hideous, yes. But a darling, you must own."

Such speeches as these excited the most noisy merriment among the young
people. They talked loud, giggled and gesticulated. The girls especially
seemed to have swallowed quicksilver. Those who had good teeth showed
them incessantly; those who had not laughed behind their fans. But the
person who made most noise, and gave rise to most amusement was, beyond
a doubt, Leon Guzman. Manolita, a vixenish little thing, with black
eyes, and a wide mouth full of beautiful teeth, asked him what o'clock
it was. He, drawing out his watch, replied that it was a quarter past
ten. Then the Count produced his watch, and it appeared that it was
already nearly twelve. This subterfuge amused the girls immensely.
Manolita, especially, laughed till she was quite limp; the more she
tried to suppress her laughter the more convulsive she became. It was
very evident that there was in the speech, and beneath the common-place
and even stupid aspect of these gentlemen, a well-spring of humour, as
fresh as it was deep, such as only young people of from fifteen to
twenty can assimilate and enjoy.

When this mirth had somewhat subsided Leon Guzman contrived with some
skill to move a little apart, and enter into conversation with
Esperancita. This deeply pained and vexed Ramon. For the last ten days
he had observed that the Conde de Agreda had cast admiring eyes in the
direction of the lady of his adoration. He regarded him as a more
dangerous rival than Cobo, being a man of much better position. Cobo,
indeed, as he could see, was making no way, and this had comforted him;
but now the aspect of affairs had changed. He could take no part in the
merriment of the group, but sat making calf's eyes at the damsel in the
most lamentable fashion. Esperancita, to his great consolation, was by
no means especially amiable to the Count; she seemed bored, indeed, and
depressed, looking very frequently towards the spot where Ramon himself
was sitting. Behind him, to be sure, were Pepe Castro and Lola, talking
with the greatest animation; but of this the young civilian was not
aware.

When Leon moved, Ramon led him aside, and in a low tone made his plaint.
Leon was to know that he, Ramon Maldonado, was also paying attentions to
Esperancita, and was, in fact, hopelessly in love with her. It was a
blow he could not bear, that so intimate a friend should come in his
way. He pathetically reminded him of their childhood; their sports
together, their school-life; and ended by beseeching him, in a voice
broken by emotion, that unless he were really attached to Esperanza, he
would cease to make him jealous. To all this Leon listened, half
ashamed, and half impatient; to be rid of Ramon he promised all he
asked; and presently among his intimates he had a good laugh at the cost
of the low-born deputy.

Requena, after explaining his schemes to Biggs, sat down to play cards
with the Condesa Cotorraso, the Mexican, and General Pallarés. But in a
few minutes he was snorting with rage over his bad hands. In spite of
his wealth he always played as eagerly as though it were of the greatest
importance to him, whether he lost or gained a few dollars. If luck was
against him, he got into a positively infernal temper, grumbling at his
antagonists, and almost insulting them. His daughter was not
unfrequently obliged to interfere and take his cards to play them in his
place. Just now, Clementina was playing at the next table, apparently to
her own satisfaction, and laughing at Pepa Frias for being silent and
absent-minded.

"By the way, Pinedo, I had forgotten," said she, as she sorted the fan
of cards she held. "Why on earth did you try this morning to make your
little daughter believe that Alcantara, of all men, was a saint of
virtue?"

"That is my secret," replied Pinedo.

"Tell it, tell it!" cried Clementina and Pepa, both in the same breath.

He let them beg and pray a little; then, after bidding them promise
solemnly that they would never reveal it, he told them that, having
observed a marked tendency in girls to fall in love with idlers and
evil-minded youths, and to reject those who were steady and
hard-working, he reversed the facts when talking of a scapegrace, in
order that his daughter might not fall into the hands of one of them.
When a well-conducted, hard-working young fellow went past, he always
spoke of him as a simpleton or a rogue; if, on the contrary, they met a
man like Alcantara, who deserved the worst character, he spoke of him in
the highest terms.

Pepa, Clementina, and Arbos had paused in their game to smile at this
strange explanation.

"And has this plan had the desired effect?" asked the Minister.

"Admirably, up to the present time. It never occurs to my daughter even
to speak of those whom I have praised for their virtues. On the other
hand, she will sometimes say, with a smile: 'Do you know, papa, I met
that profligate young friend of yours. He is really very pleasant and
nice looking, as you must allow, and seems to be intelligent. What a
pity that he should not sober down.'"

At this instant, Cobo Ramirez, who was wandering about, snorting like a
tired ox, came up to the table and asked what they were laughing at. No
one could be induced to tell. Pinedo signed to them to be silent, for he
was greatly afraid of Cobo's tongue. Pepe Castro, too, tired of trying
to rouse Clementina's jealousy by his behaviour to Lola without any
visible result, softly approached her table with an air of deep
melancholy. He posted himself behind Pepa Frias, resting his arms on the
back of her chair. Fuentes came up to say Good night.

"Will you not take some chocolate?" asked Clementina, holding out her
hand.

"How can you expect a man to drink chocolate when he has just had a
sonnet fired off in his face?"

"Mariscal?"

"The very man. In the dining-room--he lay in ambush."

Mariscal was a young poet in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, who wrote
sonnets to the Virgin and odes to duchesses. "But I avenged myself like
a Barbary Moor. I introduced him to Cotorraso who is giving him a
lecture on oils. Look how the poor wretch is suffering!"

The gamblers looked round, and saw, in fact, the two men in a corner
together. The Count was haranguing vehemently, and holding his victim by
the lapel of his coat. The unhappy poet, with a rueful countenance,
trying to give signals of distress by glances, stood like a man who is
being taken to prison.

"Arbos, do you think I am sufficiently avenged?"

He turned on his heel and hastily left the room, not to weaken the
effect of his sarcasm. Thus, every evening, he made his appearance at
two or three houses, where his wit and cleverness were the subject of
constant praise.

The servants presently came with trays of chocolate and ices. Cobo
Ramirez seized a little Japanese table, carried it off into a corner,
sat down to it, and prepared to stuff. Pepa Frias looked about her, and
seeing General Patiño, called to him.

"Here, General, take my cards, I am tired of playing. Hand yours over to
Pepe, Clementina, and let us go into the other room."

The two gentlemen took their seats, and the ladies went towards the
drawing-room; but, on their way, Pepa said:

"I want to speak with you on a matter of importance; let us go somewhere
else."

Clementina stared with amazement.

"Shall we go into the dining-room?"

"No, we had better go up to your dressing-room."

Her friend was more surprised than ever, but, shrugging her shoulders,
she said: "Just as you please; it must be something very serious."

They went upstairs, Clementina imagining that her friend wished to speak
of Pepe Castro, and their relations to each other. And as, to tell the
truth, the subject had greatly lost its interest, she walked on feeling
very indifferent, not to say considerably bored. When they were alone in
the boudoir, Pepa took her hands, and looking her straight in the face,
she said:

"Tell me, Clementina, do you know how your husband's affairs stand?"

It was a home-thrust; Clementina, though she had no exact information,
had heard of her husband's losses, and of his increasing and delirious
passion for gambling. And in a discussion on money matters they had
recently had, he had frightened her in order to obtain her signature;
also she could see that he was every day more absent-minded and
depressed. But though she could give her thoughts to such matters for a
few minutes now and again, the complicated bustle of her life as a woman
of fashion, seconded by her dislike of all disagreeable subjects, soon
put them out of her head. It never for an instant occurred to her that
such losses might seriously affect her comfort or convenience, her
ostentatious display, or her caprices. Osorio's conduct gave her every
reason to continue in this faith, for he had never desired her to
retrench in her extravagance. But the viper was lurking at the bottom of
her heart, and at a lash like this from Pepa it began to gnaw.

"My husband's affairs?" she stammered, as though she did not understand.
"I never heard. I do not inquire."

"Well, I am told that he has been losing a great deal of money lately."

"I dare say," exclaimed her friend, with a shrug of supreme contempt.

"But you may find your hair singed, too, my dear. Is your own money
safe?"

"I do not know what you are driving at. I tell you I know nothing of
business."

"But in this case you had better gain some information."

"But I tell you I do not trouble my head about it, and beg you will
change the subject."

In proportion as Pepa was obstinate Clementina was reserved and haughty.
Her pride, always on the alert, led her to suppose that this lady had
plotted for this discussion on purpose to mortify her.

"The thing is, my dear, as I feel bound to tell you, that your husband
does not speculate with his own money only," said the widow, driven to
bay.

"Ah! Now I begin to see! You have a few hundred dollars in Osorio's
hands, and are afraid of losing them," said Clementina with a satirical
smile, and with difficulty swallowing down her wrath.

Pepa turned pale. A surge of rage rose from her heart to her lips, and
she was on the point of casting her fortune over-board and simply
railing like a market woman--a style for which she was especially
gifted--but an instinct of self-interest, of self-preservation, checked
the outburst. If she were to quarrel with her friend, or even to offend
her, all hope of saving her capital would be lost. She perceived that
the better part was not to provoke her implacable nature, but to hope
that friendship, or even pride, might prompt her to an act of
generosity. With a great effort she controlled her annoyance at
Clementina's supercilious and arrogant gaze, and said, dejectedly:

"Well, yes; I own it. Your husband has in his hands the whole of my
little possessions. If I lose it I shall be absolutely destitute. I do
not know what will become of me. I would rather beg than be dependent on
my son-in-law."

"Beg! No, you need not do that. I will engage you as my companion in the
place of Pascuala," said Clementina scornfully, for her pride was by no
means propitiated.

Pepa was more stung by this than she had ever been before, but still she
controlled herself.

"Well, my dear," she said, again taking her hands with a caressing
gesture, "do not fling your millions in my teeth. If I come to worry you
about the matter, it is because I regard you as my best friend. I know,
of course, that there is a great deal of exaggeration, and that envy is
rampant. More than half that is said about Osorio's losses is probably
not true."

"And even if it were, it really matters very little to me. Only to-day
my stepmother told me that she meant to leave me her whole fortune."

Pepa's eyes opened very wide.

"The Duchess! And she cannot have less than fifty million francs! Poor
soul! I am afraid she is very ill."

"Pretty bad."

At this moment arrogance had the upper hand in Clementina of every
instinct of affection. She spoke the two words "pretty bad" in a tone of
freezing indifference.

The two ladies had soon come to a perfect understanding. Pepa, still
affecting an easy manner, flattered her friend in every possible way:
she was beautiful, rich, a model of elegance. Clementina allowed herself
to be flattered, inhaling the incense with intense satisfaction. In
return she promised Pepa that she should not lose a centime of her
capital.

They went down the stairs with their arms round each other's waist,
chattering like a pair of magpies. As they reached the drawing-room
door, before parting, they embraced and kissed.

And it did not occur to either of them that the embrace and kiss were
those of a corpse--the corpse of a good and generous woman.



CHAPTER IX.

RAIMUNDO'S LOVE AFFAIRS.


Clementina's new love adventure went on in a manner no less childish
than pleasing for her. After the inopportune act of heedlessness which
had brought her to so much shame, she took care for some days not to
look up at Raimundo, though the greetings he waved her were more
expressive and affectionate than ever. This fancy--for it deserves no
better name--was, however, taking such deep root in her imagination that
she determined to indulge it again, and on each occasion she found the
young man's opera-glasses directed towards her. Finally, one day, as she
turned the corner, she kissed her hand to him.

"Really, I have lost all sense of shame!" said she to herself, with a
blush. And it was so true that she did the same again whenever she went
by.

But the situation, though romantic and novel, began to weigh upon her.
Her impetuous temperament would never allow her to enjoy the present in
peace; it drove her to seek further, to precipitate events; though not
unfrequently, instead of procuring her pleasure, they only left her
entangled in the ruins of the dream-palace she had raised. On this
occasion, however, she had better reason than usual for wishing to get
out of the predicament. It was altogether such a false position as to
verge on the ridiculous; and she owned as much to herself in her most
secret soul.

"In point of fact, I am treating this boy like a dancing bear."

But though she every day determined to put an end to the adventure by
going out no more on foot, or by passing by Raimundo's house without
looking up, bowing to him coldly at the utmost, she had not resolution
enough to carry out her purpose, nor even to cease sending her greeting
up to the corner window. One thing still puzzled her, and that was, that
the young man, seeing the evident tokens she had given of her change of
mind, and the rather humiliating proofs of her liking for him, had never
failed in his obedience--never followed her, nor attempted to meet her
out walking. This at last piqued her vanity; she thought he played his
new part with too much zeal. And thinking this she was sometimes quite
angry with him; but then as she went past and saw him so smiling, so
happy, so eager to bow to her, the black mood of her pride was
dispelled, and her heart was again full to overflowing, of sympathy for
the boy, and of the whimsical desire to love and to be loved by him.

How would it all end? In nothing, probably. Nevertheless, she did her
utmost to carry on the affair, and bring it to some definite issue; of
that there is no doubt. And her wish being thwarted by causes which she
could not clearly understand, it grew, till by degrees it became a
fierce appetite. One afternoon, when disappointment and bitterness
possessed her breast, as she was walking down the Calle de Serrano,
seriously pondering on giving up this ridiculous adventure, as she
passed beneath the window, after bowing to the young man seated there,
she felt a handful of loose flowers fall upon her. She looked up,
understanding that it was he who had flung them, and gave him a smile of
tender gratitude. This shower refreshed her spirit and revived her
drooping fancy. Now she only thought of some way of bringing him nearer
to her. She thought of writing to beg his forgiveness for her visit and
her stern words, but it was too late for that. Then she fancied that
perhaps among her friends, particularly among journalists, there might
be some one who would know him, and by whom she might send him some
civil message. But this idea she dismissed as dangerous. She almost
thought of giving him some signal to come down to her, and explaining
herself verbally, but this again she did not dare. It was too
humiliating.

Chance came to her aid, solving the dilemma to her satisfaction when she
least expected it. They met one evening at the theatre. Raimundo, whose
year of deep mourning was nearly at an end, now occasionally went out,
and he and his sister were in the stalls. Clementina was in a box just
above them. They exchanged bows, and then for some time there was a
cross-fire of glances and smiles, which attracted Aurelia's attention.

"Who is it? Have you been meeting that lady again?"

"No."

"Then what is the meaning of your smiles? You seem to be intimate
friends."

"I do not know," said the brother, somewhat embarrassed. "She is always
very friendly to me. Perhaps she thinks she offended me when she came to
our rooms, and wishes to mollify me."

Between the first and second acts, a beautiful spray of camellia was
handed to Aurelia by a flower-seller.

"From the lady in box number eleven."

Aurelia looked up, and saw Clementina gazing and smiling at her. She and
Raimundo bowed their thanks, Aurelia blushing deeply.

"Do not you think," said her brother, "that I ought to go upstairs and
thank her?"

It was but natural. Raimundo, when the curtain next fell, left his
sister for a moment, and went up to the Osorios' box. A happy smile
beamed on Clementina's face as she saw the young man at the door. She
received him as an old friend, bade him sit down by her side, and began
a conversation in an undertone, completely neglecting Pascuala whom she
had brought with her. Happily for this lady, Bonifacio came in before
long; he never took a stall at any theatre where he knew that the
Osorios had a box.

"I am glad to see that you have no grudge against me," said she in a low
voice, with an insinuating glance. "That is right. It shows you have
both a good heart and good sense. I must frankly confess that I was
utterly mistaken in my estimate of your conduct and character. I can
only assure you that when I came out of your house, I would gladly have
turned back to beg your pardon. If not in words, in looks and gestures I
have asked it many times since, as you will have understood." And she
proceeded, in the most masterly way, to give him three or four more
encouraging hints, which quite turned poor Raimundo's head--that is to
say, left him speechless, confused, and fascinated; just as she would
have him, in short. At the same time she skilfully accounted for the
rather singular display of liking for him which she herself was ashamed
to recall.

Without leaving him time to reply, she inquired after his sister, his
health, and his butterflies. Raimundo answered briefly, not out of
indifference, but for lack of worldly ease of manner. But she was
nothing daunted, she became more and more affectionate, entangling him
in a perfect maze of flattering speeches and inviting glances. At the
moment when she was most fluent, it might almost be said inspired to
conquer her youthful adorer, suddenly, in the passage between the
stalls, Pepe Castro appeared on the scene, in evening dress, the ends of
his moustache waxed to needle points, the curls of his hair waving
coquettishly over his temples, his whole air easy, self-sufficient, and
scornful. He first cast his fascinating and Olympic eye over the stalls,
subjugating every marriageable damsel who happened to be occupying one,
and then, with the serene dignity of an eagle's soaring flight, he
raised it to box number eleven. He could not suppress a start of
surprise. Who was this with whom Clementina was on such intimate terms?
He did not know this young man. He brought his diminutive opera-glasses
to bear on him--no, he had never seen him in his life. Clementina,
conscious of her lover's surprise, after returning his greeting, became
doubly amiable to Raimundo, addressing herself solely to him, leaning
over to speak to him, and going through endless manoeuvres to attract
the attention of the illustrious "Savage." She felt a malignant glee in
doing this. Castro was now absolutely indifferent to her. Raimundo
returned Pepe's impertinent stare through his opera-glasses, by a
curious glance now and then, for he had not the honour of knowing the
"husband's bugbear!"

Then reflecting that his sister would be losing patience, though he
could keep an eye on her from the box, he rose to depart.

"We are friends, are we not?" said the lady, holding his hand. "Remember
me affectionately to your sister. I owe her, too, an apology for my
strange and unexpected visit. Tell her I shall call on her some day and
take her by surprise in the midst of her household cares. I take the
greatest interest in you both--a brother and sister, both so young--good
night, good night."

When he found himself by his sister's side once more, feeling rather
bewildered, Aurelia said to him:

"How very handsome that lady is! But still I cannot see that she is like
mamma."

Raimundo, who at the moment had forgotten the likeness, was taken by
surprise.

"Oh, there is a sort of look--an air," he stammered out.

So now it was no more than an air. The young man was conscious of a
vague remorse. The impression Clementina now produced on his mind was
not that respectful devotion which had possessed him before they had
made acquaintance in so strange a manner.

Pepe Castro, when he saw him in the stalls, simply stared at him,
hoping, perhaps to annihilate him. As he concluded that the red-haired
youth did not belong to the elevated sphere in which he himself moved,
it occurred to him--for his imagination was lively--that this might be
the youth of whose pertinacity Clementina had formerly complained. As
was but natural this did not prejudice him in Alcázar's favour.
Raimundo himself was too much absorbed in contemplating the Osorios' box
to notice his rival's determined stare, and Pepe, tired of it at last,
went up to join Clementina. He seated himself by her side in the very
place occupied shortly before by Alcázar, who, on seeing him there, was
aware of a strange _malaise_, an obscure dejection which he did not even
attempt to define. Nevertheless, he observed that the lady smiled a
great deal, and that the gentleman was very grave, also that she found
time to cast frequent glances in his direction, whereat her companion
grew more and more sullen and gloomy.

"Have you noticed how that lady gazes down at you?" said Aurelia to her
brother. "She seems to have taken quite a fancy to you."

"Nonsense!" he replied, turning very red. "Such a fellow as I am too! If
it were that gentleman who is sitting by her now."

Aurelia protested, laughing, that her brother was far better looking
than that doll of a man, with pink cheeks like a ballet-dancer's.

When the performance was over, Raimundo, not without a pang of jealousy,
found Clementina waiting in the lobby for her carriage, attended by this
same man. But she greeted him so eagerly, that Castro, who was becoming
uneasy, turned to give him a long and scrutinising stare.

For some days after this, the young entomologist anxiously expected
Clementina to stop at the door, and come up to pay the promised visit.
But he was disappointed. The lady constantly went by with her light
brisk step, bowed as she approached, and before she turned the corner,
waved him an adieu. Every time she passed the door, Raimundo's heart
sank, and at last he grew angry. "Pshaw! She has forgotten all about
it," he said to himself. "I shall never, probably, speak to her again,
since we never by any chance meet anywhere."

He did his best to assist chance, by going more often to the play, where
he never saw her. At the opera, he would certainly have found her, but
he never was so bold as to go there for fear she might think he had
renewed his pursuit. Why he had taken it into his head that she would
call at any one hour more than at another it is impossible to say. But
in the end his surprise and agitation were unbounded when one morning
Clementina really made her appearance. This time she asked for the
Señorita. Aurelia received her in the drawing-room, and immediately sent
for her brother. By the time he appeared the lady was sitting on the
sofa and chatting with the frank ease of an old acquaintance.

"This visit is not to you, you understand," said she, giving him her
hand.

"I should never have dared to imagine that it was," he replied, shyly
pressing her fingers.

"There is no knowing. I do not think you conceited, but a woman must
always be on her guard."

There was something not quite genuine in the candour of her jesting
tone. Her voice was slightly tremulous, and there was a pale circle
round her eyes, a sure sign of some emotion which weighs on the mind.
Her visit was short, but she found time to charm the young girl by her
delicate flattery and effusive offers. She made her promise to return
her visit soon; in the evening if she preferred to meet no one, and they
would have a long chat together. She would show Aurelia the house, and
some work she was doing. The girl's loneliness and youth had really made
an impression on her, and if, in fact, she bore some resemblance to
their mother, as Raimundo said, she felt she had some claim on her
affection.

"Well, then, when you are bored here by yourself, come to my house--it
is such a little way--and we will bore each other. That will be a
variety, at any rate."

Poor Aurelia, bewildered by her visitor's condescension and unfamiliar
worldly tone, could only smile in reply. When Clementina rose to go, she
said:

"I rely on you, Alcázar, to see that your sister keeps her promise. As
for you--you can do as you please. I never press my society on a
_savant_, for I know one may be boring him when one least suspects it."

She had quite recovered her balance, and spoke in an easy protecting
tone, with almost a maternal air. Even on the staircase she paused to
reiterate all her friendly advances. She would not allow Raimundo to
escort her to the house-door; she went down alone, leaving a trail of
perfume which he enjoyed more than his sister did. When their door was
closed on her, Aurelia did not speak; and she replied to her brother's
rapturous eulogies in so few words that his ardour was soon dashed.

It was too true: the feeling of filial adoration which the young
professor had felt at first for the lady of his dreams was fast dying
away, or rather was being transformed into another, less saintly though
still akin to it. In him, as in every man who lives out of the society
of women, and exclusively devoted to study, the instincts of sex and the
revelation of the divine law of love were sudden and intense. On the
very next day he urged Aurelia to return Clementina's call, though he
expressed his wish with some timidity and hesitation. His sister,
however, insisted on the propriety of allowing some little time to
elapse, and he submitted. At length the visit was paid. Aurelia spent an
afternoon in the Señora's boudoir. Raimundo, after much deliberation,
did not venture to accompany her.

Three or four days later Clementina again called to invite them both to
her box at the Opera that evening. It was a terrible joy. Raimundo had
not a dress coat, and Aurelia's wardrobe was not much better furnished.
However, they went. A relation lent Raimundo a coat, and Aurelia wore
the best she had. Next day Raimundo ordered a dress suit, of the first
tailor in Madrid; nor was this all: without saying anything to his
sister, he went to the box-office of the Opera-house and subscribed for
a stall as near as possible to the Osorios' box, and for the same
evenings.

Thanks to Raimundo's efforts, the intimacy grew apace, though his
sister, while she spoke warmly of her new friend's kindness, opposed a
passive resistance to all familiarity with her. Do what she might, she
could not forget the extraordinary way in which their acquaintance had
begun, nor the sense of falsity with which Clementina had impressed her.
Raimundo, fully aware of all this, did his utmost by direct and indirect
means to conquer her suspicions.

Aurelia was plain, rather than pretty, with sound common sense, and an
upright spirit. Her adoration for her brother, inherited from her
mother, did not blind her to the weak points in his character. He was
easily impressed and as easily led, and still very puerile. In fact, in
a certain sense, she represented the masculine and he the feminine
element in the house. He was easily moved to tears; she, with great
difficulty. He was liable to whimsical alarms and bewilderments,
amounting sometimes almost to hallucinations, her nervous system was
calm and well balanced; she was healthy and sound, he frail and placid.
During the months immediately following on his mother's death, Raimundo,
making a great effort, with the idea of being his sister's protector,
had shown more manliness and firmness; but, as time went on, his nature
reasserted itself, and he fell into his childish fancies and womanly
susceptibilities again, in proportion as she developed a resolute,
honest, and well-balanced character.

It cost Clementina hardly an effort to fascinate and subjugate the young
naturalist. Sometimes the young people went to her, and sometimes she to
them; or she would fetch them to go to the theatre, or out driving with
her, and thus they soon met almost every day. The first evening that
Pepe Castro met Alcázar in the Osorios' drawing-room he perfectly
understood the situation, and it filled him with rage.

"So this precious hussy is taking up with a baby!" he muttered between
his teeth. "They all come to such folly at last."

He thought of insulting the boy and provoking him to fight; but he soon
saw that this could do him no good. What could he gain by it?
Absolutely nothing, for Clementina would only hate him the more, and the
scandal would betray his discomfiture--all the more ignominious for him,
as his successful rival was a boy, whom no one knew anything about. So
he came to the prudent conclusion that he would not wear his heart for
daws to peck at, but would for a while leave his mistress to her own
devices. By-and-by, perhaps, she would tire of playing with this pet
lamb and call the sheep back to the fold.

Alcázar was not such a boy as Castro thought him; he was
three-and-twenty. But his face was so youthful and delicate that he did
not look more than eighteen. His health was variable and frail;
especially, since his mother's death, he had been liable to attacks of
the brain, when he lost sometimes his sight, and sometimes the power of
speech, complicated with other evils, but happily of very short
duration. He was a frequent prey to melancholy, ending in a violent
crisis and floods of tears, like a hysterical woman. He was terrified of
spiders; the sight of a surgical instrument gave him the horrors.
Sometimes he suffered acute anguish from a dread of going mad; at others
his fear was lest he should kill himself against his will. He never
would have any kind of weapon within reach, and for fear of throwing
himself from the balcony he always had his bedroom window locked at
night and placed the key in his sister's keeping: she was the only
witness and confidant of his vagaries. They were the outcome, partly of
his temperament, and partly of the effeminate training he had received.
But he kept them a secret, as every man does who suffers in this
way--many more than are ever suspected of it--and by constant
watchfulness he kept them under control, knowing how ridiculous a man
thus constituted must appear.

It may easily be supposed what his fate must inevitably be when a woman
like Clementina--a beautiful and experienced coquette--had set her heart
on conquest. At first his extreme bashfulness kept him from
understanding the lady's aim and tactics. He took her gracious bows and
inviting smiles for the expression of her sympathy with their orphaned
loneliness. And when she had made friends with them, and shown him every
indication of her liking, when his sister even had given him a warning
hint, he still could not believe that there could be anything between
them beyond a more or less affectionate good-fellowship, protecting and
motherly on her side, devoted and ardent on his. However, the elixir of
love which Clementina shed drop by drop on his lips, as it were, made
its way to his heart. When he was least expecting it, he found that he
was madly in love. But the discovery filled him with bashful fears, and
he thought that he could never dare to declare it. Though his idol's
demeanour towards him, and constant demonstrations of sympathetic regard
were enough to justify any hopes on his part, it seemed to him so
strange as to be impossible that a shy and inexperienced man, devoid of
all worldly advantages, should find favour with so rich and so beautiful
a woman. Nor could he entirely free himself from the remorse which stung
him from time to time. It was her resemblance to his mother which had
first attracted him in Clementina. Was not his passion a profanation?

But in spite of his remorse, of his timidity, and of his reason,
Raimundo felt himself every day more enslaved by this woman. Clementina,
to be sure, brought every weapon into play; and she had many at her
disposal. In proportion as she found her youthful adorer more bashful,
her own audacity and coolness increased. This is almost always the case,
but in the present instance, circumstances made the contrast all the
more conspicuous. Timidity in him amounted to a disease, a peculiarity
which he full well knew to be ridiculous while he could not overcome it;
on the contrary, the greater the efforts he made, the more his
nervousness betrayed itself. At first he could speak to her with
sufficient calmness, and could allow himself some little compliment or
jest, but he had now lost all his presence of mind, he could not go near
her without losing his head, nor take her hand without trembling; if she
did but look at him his cheeks tingled.

Clementina could not help smiling at these innocent symptoms of love.
She was full of curiosity, and happy to find herself still handsome
enough to inspire the boy with such a passion. Sometimes she would amuse
herself by playing the fish, making him blush, and behaving with the
license and frivolity of a _grisette_. At others she affected to fall in
with his melancholy mood, making eyes at him like a school-girl; or,
again, she treated him with tender familiarity, inquiring into his life,
his work, and his thoughts, like a fond mother or elder sister. Then
Raimundo would recover his spirits a little, and dare to look the
goddess in the face. Clementina would occasionally cajole him by an
affectation of scientific tastes, going up to his study and covering the
table and the floor with his butterfly-boxes. This, which if any one
else had done it, would have brought the house about their ears, only
made the young naturalist smile.

But by this time the lady's acquaintances were beginning to make remarks
on her last and most extravagant love-affair, assuming, of course, that
it had gone much further than was really the case. One Saturday evening
at the Osorios' house Pepa Frias ended by exclaiming to three or four of
the "Savages," with whom she had been discussing the matter:

"You will see. Clementina will end by falling in love with a
Newfoundland dog or a journalist!"

When Raimundo came into the room with his rosy, melancholy, cherubic
face, his diffident, embarrassed air, every one looked at him with
curiosity: there were smiles, murmurs, witticisms, and stupid remarks.
He was much discussed. In general, and especially by men, Clementina was
thought ridiculous; some of the ladies, however, looked more kindly on
the youth, thought his candid looks very attractive, and sympathised
with her whim.

Thus our young friend was regarded as _amant en titre_ to Clementina
before he had dared to kiss her finger-tips, or even dreamed of it. He
was perfectly miserable if she was in the least disdainful, and was as
happy as an angel if she made the smallest show of affection.
Clementina was in no hurry to hear his declaration, though fully
determined that he should make it. It amused her to watch the progress
of the affair, noting the development of his passion, and the phenomena
to which it gave rise. She had had her fill of ravings, and thought it
delightful to be adored with this dumb devotion, and play the part of a
goddess. A mere glance was enough to turn this worshipper red or pale, a
word made him happy or reduced him to despair.

Raimundo went to the Opera whenever Clementina was to be there; he went
up to pay his respects to her in her box, and often, by her invitation,
sat there during two or three acts. Then she would retire to the back of
the box and chat with him there, screened by the curtains. When she was
tired of this, or if some important scene was being sung on the stage,
she would lapse into silence, turn her back on her companion, and listen
to the performance. Raimundo, his ears full of the echo of her tones,
and his heart on fire from the ardour of her gaze, would also remain
silent, though, in truth, more attentive to the music in his brain than
to that performed for his delectation. Sure of not being seen, he could
contemplate the alabaster shoulders of his idol with religious
absorption, and bend down his head, on pretence of hearing better, to
breathe the perfume she used, shutting his eyes and allowing it to
intoxicate him. One evening he put his face so close to her head that he
actually dared to let his lips touch the heavy plaits of her beautiful
hair. No sooner had he done it than he was in great alarm lest
Clementina should have felt it; but she sat unmoved, listening
ecstatically to the music. At the same time, as the young man could see,
her eyes sparkled with a conscious smile. Encouraged by this success,
whenever she had her hair done in this particular way, he ventured, with
the greatest precaution, and after much hesitation, to press it to his
lips. The pleasure was so acute and delightful that it dwelt on his lips
for many days.

But then, one evening--whether because she was out of temper or because
it was her pleasure to mortify him--she treated him with such contempt
all the time he was in the box, leaving him to entertain Pascuala while
she chatted with some more aristocratic youth of her acquaintance, that
poor Raimundo was thrown into despair. He had not even courage enough to
take leave; he stood, pale and crestfallen, a frown of anxiety furrowing
his brow. Clementina stole a glance at him from time to time. When the
other gentleman made his bow, Raimundo, too, was about to take leave.
The lady detained him, holding his hand.

"Nay, wait a minute, Alcázar; I have something to say to you," and she
withdrew, as usual, to the back of the box and began chatting with all
her frank amiability. The young man breathed again; still, when she
turned away to listen to the music, he was so unstrung and confused that
he did not dare to kiss her hair, though it was plaited low, and the
opportunity was propitious.

After a long pause Clementina suddenly turned on him and asked in a low
voice:

"Why do you not kiss my hair, as you always do?"

His amazement was quite a shock to him. All the blood rushed to his
heart, leaving him as pale as a corpse; then it mounted to his face,
turning it to the colour of a poppy.

"I--your hair," he gasped abjectly. And he was forced to cling to a
chair-back to save himself from falling.

"Do not be frightened, my dear fellow," she exclaimed, laying her hand
on his. "If I allowed it, that is sufficient proof that I did not
object." But seeing that he was gazing at her wildly, as if he did not
understand her, she added: "Perhaps you imagine that I did not know that
you care for me a little?"

The young man gave a convulsive cry.

"Yes, I have known it for some time," she went on in a still lower
voice, and speaking into his ear. "But there is something which you do
not know. And that is, that I care for you."

Casting a hasty glance round the house, to make sure that they were not
observed, she took his hands in hers, and her breath was warm on his
cheek as she said: "Yes, I love you--beyond anything you can imagine."

Clementina had not anticipated the effect of these words on her
susceptible and effeminate adorer. The violent emotions he had gone
through, and now the high tide of happiness, so completely upset him
that he began to cry like a child. She hastily drew him into a corner,
filling up the space between the curtains with her person. Her face was
radiant with happiness.

Her conquest, in fact, had a novelty about it which quite enchanted her.
This lover was hardly more than a boy; nor was he one of the herd of
puppies and dandies whom she met at every turn, all cast in the same
mould, devoid of all originality, having all the same vices, the same
vanities, uttering almost the same jests. Raimundo was different from
these, not merely by his humble position and secluded life, nor even by
his talents and culture, but most of all by his character. How sweet a
nature was this boy's! How innocent, how sensitive, how refined, and yet
how impassioned! Accustomed as she was to the monotonous type of Pepe
Castros, every new psychological aspect, every burst of enthusiasm,
every alarm and every joy in her new friend, was to Clementina a
delightful surprise. She was never tired of studying his mind, and would
sometimes affect to doubt his love for her.

"Do you really love me? Are you sure? Remember, I am an old woman; I
might be your mother."

And Raimundo always replied with some fond caress and a tearful glance,
which revealed the depth of his devotion.

From that memorable evening Raimundo could think of nothing but
Clementina. To him the whole world had shrunk into one person, and that
person a woman. Not only did he live and breathe for her, but he thought
of her all day and dreamed of her all night. At first the lady had
received him at her own house, but she, ere long, thought this unwise,
and they took rooms in a neighbouring Street, a small entresol, which
they furnished with taste.

His life had undergone a complete change. From living in absolute
seclusion he suddenly came out into the world of fashion: theatres,
balls, dinners, riding-parties, and shooting expeditions. Clementina
bound him to her chariot, and exhibited him in every drawing-room as if
she were proud of him. For our young friend, with his delicate features,
gentle temper, and superior intelligence, became popular wherever he
went; no one stopped to ask whether he were rich or poor, noble or
plebeian.

Aurelia sometimes accompanied him, but always against her will. Though
she dared not contravene her brother's line of conduct, it was easy to
see that she condemned it in her heart, and was out of her sphere at the
Osorios'. She had become taciturn and grave, and her eyes, when she bent
them on Raimundo, took a sad and gloomy expression, as though she feared
disaster. Clementina did all she could to win her, but she made no way
in the girl's affections; and under Aurelia's modest smiles and blushes
she fancied she could detect a vein of hostility which often
disconcerted her.

Señora de Osorio persisted in the lavish expenditure she had always
indulged in, notwithstanding the rumours of imminent ruin which had so
greatly alarmed Pepa Frias. But the catastrophe did not come as had been
prophesied. The banker contrived to stave it off, giving it to be
understood by those who had money in his hands that there was nothing to
be got by falling on him tooth and nail, as they would not by such means
save one quarter of their capital. On the other hand, they had only to
wait to recover every penny. His wife must, ere long, come into an
immense fortune. His creditors listened to reason, kept their own
counsel as to the state of his affairs, and only stipulated that
Clementina's signature should be affixed, as well as her husband's, to
every renewed bill. Soon after, fortune favoured Osorio in the turns of
the money-market, and he was able to launch out once more, though men
of business looked askance at his dealings, and unanimously declared
that the crash was only deferred. His wife, feeling that she was safe at
any rate, thought no more of such unpleasant subjects. It was only when
she went to her father's house and saw Doña Carmen's pale, worn face,
that her heart throbbed with a feeling which she was loth to confess
even to herself, and which she strove to drown under the sound of
affectionate words and kisses.

Raimundo's love was an extraordinary joy to her. She felt herself borne,
as she had never been before, on a wave of devoted and poetic passion
which rocked and soothed her. She was well content to play the goddess.
She enjoyed showing herself as now amiable and tender, and again gravely
terrible, putting her adorer to a thousand proofs, to make quite sure,
as she said, that he was indeed wholly hers.

But the habit of dealing with men of a different stamp led her into
fatal mistakes, which grieved and hurt the youth. One day, in their own
little rooms, she said, with a smile:

"I have a present for you, Mundo," as she called him for a pet name.

She rose and took out of her muff a very pretty little note-book.

"Oh, that is most sweet!" he exclaimed pressing it to his lips. "I will
always use it."

But on opening it he was struck with consternation. It was full of
bank-notes.

"You have forgotten to take the money out," he said handing her the
pocket-book.

"I have not forgotten it. It is for you."

"For me?" he said turning pale.

"Do you not wish for it?" she said, somewhat abashed and blushing
scarlet.

"No," he said firmly, "certainly not."

Clementina dared not insist. She took the pocket-book, turned out the
bank-notes, and returned it to him. There was a pause of embarrassed
silence. Raimundo sat with his elbow on the table, his cheek in his
hand, serious and thoughtful. She watched him out of the corner of her
eyes, half angry and half curious.

At last a bright smile lighted up her face. She rose from her seat, and
taking his head between her hands, she said gaily:

"Well done! This action raises you in my esteem. Still, you may take
money from me without a blush. Am I not your mamma?"

Raimundo said nothing; he only kissed the hands that had held him fast.
Money was never again spoken of between them.

But still, in spite of his three-and-twenty years, there was something
childlike about the lad which was an infinite delight to his mistress.
It was due chiefly to his solitary and effeminate youth. He was very
easily taken in, and as easily amused; he never had those fits of black
boredom which afflict the spoilt worldling; he never uttered one of the
caustic and ironical speeches which are common even on a lover's lips.
His glee was effervescent and boyish to the verge of the ridiculous. He
thought it fun to play follow-my-leader behind Clementina in their
little lodgings, or to hide and startle her. He would entertain her with
conjuring tricks, which perhaps showed some intelligence; or they would
play at cards with absorbed attention, as though they were gambling for
large sums; or they would dance to the music of some grinding organ,
that had stopped within hearing. Then they would eat bon-bons for a
match, seeing who would get through most. One day he was bent on making
pine-apple ice; he declared that he was great at making ices. All the
apparatus was borrowed from a café in the neighbourhood, and after
stirring and turning for some time, he at last turned out an ugly and
untempting mass, which so greatly depressed him that Clementina actually
swallowed a large dose of the liquid. He was fond of mimicking the
accent and manner of any one he had met at her house; and this he did to
such perfection, that Clementina laughed with all her heart; nay, she
sometimes entreated him to cease, for it hurt her to laugh so much.
Raimundo had the gift of observing the most trifling peculiarities of
the persons he met, and imitating them to perfection. It was difficult
to believe that the person mimicked was not speaking. However, it was
only in the strictest confidence that he displayed this accomplishment.

Sometimes if he was in a merry mood he would perform a Royal reception.
He hastily erected a throne in the middle of the room, on which
Clementina must sit. Then the Ministers and high political personages in
turn approached the Queen and spoke a short address. Clementina, who
knew them every one, could guess who each was from only a few words.
Raimundo, having often been present at the meetings of Congress, had
picked up the accent and gesture of each to the life. He was
particularly happy in his imitation of Jimenez Arbos, whom he knew well
from meeting him at the Osorios'. Of course, after each speech, he
kissed the sovereign's hand with a reverent bow, and resumed the paper
cocked-hat he had made for the occasion. These childish games amused the
lady, and helped to open a heart which had always been closed by pride
or ennui. She came away from their long interviews quite rejuvenescent,
her eyes sparkling, her step lighter, and ready to bestow a nod on
persons to whom as a rule she would vouchsafe only the coldest bow.

And then Raimundo would amaze her by some inconceivably childish and
innocent proceeding. One day, when she noiselessly entered their
rooms--for each had a key--she found him industriously sweeping the
floor. He blushed to the ears with confusion, at being discovered.
Clementina, in fits of laughter, covered his face with kisses.

"Really, child, you are too delightful!" she exclaimed.



CHAPTER X.

MATTERS OF BUSINESS.


It was a very busy morning in Salabert's counting-house. Some large
payments had to be made. The Duke himself had presided over the
transactions and helped the cashier to count the notes. In spite of the
many years he had spent in handling money, he could never part with a
large sum without his hand shaking a little. He was nervous now, and
absorbed, nibbling his cigar, but not spitting as usual, for his throat
was dry. More than once he checked the clerk, believing that he was
allowing two notes to pass for one, but on each occasion he was in
error; the man was very dexterous at his work. When it was all done, the
Duke withdrew to his private room, where he found waiting M. de Fayolle,
the great importer of foreign horses, which he supplied to all the
aristocracy of Madrid.

"_Bon-jour, Monsieur_," said the Duke, clapping him roughly on the
shoulder. "Have you got another screw you want me to take off your
hands?"

"Oh, Monsieur le Duc, the horses I sold you are not screws, not a bit of
it. You have the best cattle that ever passed through my stables," said
the Frenchman with a foreign accent and a servile smile.

"All the cast-off rubbish from Paris is what you sell to me. But do not
suppose that I am taken in. I have known it a long time, Monsieur, a
very long time. Only I can never look in your cherubic and smiling face
without giving way."

M. Fayolle was smiling at the moment, showing his large yellow teeth
from ear to ear.

"The face is the mirror of the soul, Monsieur le Duc; you may rely on me
never to offer you anything but what is absolutely first-rate. Has
Apollyon turned out badly?"

"Hm. So-so."

"You must surely be jesting! I saw him in the street the other day, in
your phaeton. Every one turned round to look at him."

For some minutes they discussed various horses which Requena had bought
of the Frenchman; he found fault with every one of them. Fayolle
defended them with the enthusiasm of a dealer and a connoiseur.
Presently, at a pause, he looked at his watch, saying:

"I will not detain you any longer. I came for the settlement of that
last little account."

The Duke's face clouded. Then he said half laughing and half angry:

"Why, my good man, you are never happy unless you are getting money out
of me."

At the same time he put his hand in his pocket and took out his
note-book. M. Fayolle still smiled, saying that he could not bear to ask
for it, knowing that the Duke was such a pauper, and that it would be
dreadful indeed to see him reduced to beggary, a delicate joke which
Requena did not seem to hear, being absorbed in counting out the paper.
He laid out seven notes of one hundred dollars each and handed them to
Fayolle, ringing a bell for a clerk to bring a form of receipt. Fayolle,
on his part, counted them, and then said:

"You have made a mistake, Monsieur le Duc, the account is for eight
hundred dollars, and you have only given me seven."

Salabert did not seem to have heard him. With his eyes half-closed, and
shifting his cigar from one corner of his mouth to the other, he sat
silent, looking at the pocket-book, after fastening it with an elastic
band.

"This is one hundred dollars short," Fayolle reiterated.

"What? Short? Count once more. It is impossible!"

The horse-dealer counted.

"Three thousand five hundred pesetas."

"You see, I could not be wrong."

"But the horse was to cost four thousand. That was a bargain."

The Duke's face expressed the most candid surprise.

"What! Four thousand pesetas? No, my friend, no. The horse was to be
three thousand five hundred. It was on that understanding that I bought
it."

"Monsieur le Duc, you really are under a mistake," said Fayolle, now
quite grave. "You must remember that we finally agreed on four
thousand."

"I remember all about it. It is you who have a bad memory. Here," he
added to a clerk who came in with the receipt-form, "go downstairs, one
of you, to the stables, and ask Benigno how much I told him I was to
give for Apollyon?"

And at the same time, taking advantage of the moment when Fayolle looked
at the messenger, he made a significant grimace at the man. The
coachman's answer by the clerk was that the horse was to be three
thousand five hundred pesetas.

Thereupon the dealer grew angry. He was quite positive that the bargain
had stood at eight hundred dollars, and it was in this belief that he
had delivered it. Otherwise the horse should never have left his stable.

Requena allowed him to talk himself out, only uttering grunts of
dissent, without exciting himself in the smallest degree. Only when
Fayolle talked of having the horse back, he said in a lazy tone:

"Then you evidently have some one in your eye who will give you eight
hundred, and you want to be off the bargain?"

"Monsieur le Duc, I swear to you that it is nothing of the kind. Only I
am positive I am right."

The banker was seized by an opportune fit of coughing; his eyes were
bloodshot, and his cheeks turned purple. Then he deliberately wiped his
mouth and rose, and said in his most boorish manner:

"Bless me, man! Don't put yourself out over a few miserable pesetas."

But he did not produce them.

The Frenchman was willing to take back the horse, but this again he
failed to achieve. There was a short silence. Fayolle was within an ace
of flying out, and making a fool of himself. But he restrained himself,
reflecting that this would do no good, and that sueing the Duke would do
even less. Who would be counsel for the plaintiff against such a man as
Requena? So he resigned himself to his fate, and took his leave, the
Duke escorting him to the door with much politeness, and clapping him
affectionately on the shoulder.

When the banker returned to his seat at the table, his eyes glistened
under his heavy eyelids with a smile of sarcastic triumph. A few minutes
after he again rang the bell.

"Go and inquire whether the Duchess is alone, or if she has visitors,"
he said to the man who answered it. And while the servant went on the
errand he sat motionless, leaning back in his chair, with his hands
folded, meditating.

"Padre Ortega is with the Duchess," was the answer in a few minutes.

Salabert "pshawed" impatiently, and sank into thought once more. He had
made up his mind to have a solemn discussion with his wife on ways and
means. Doña Carmen had never mentioned money to him in her life, and he
had never felt called upon to give her any account of his speculations
and business matters. He regarded himself as absolute master of his
fortune, and it never entered his head to think that she could make any
claims on it. A friend, however, had lately enlightened him on this
point. Speaking of Doña Carmen's feeble health, he had very naturally
inquired whether she had made her will, and this friend, who was a
lawyer, had at the same time mentioned the fact that, by the law of
Spain, half of the business and fortune was hers.

This was a terrible shock to Salabert. He was frightened to watch his
wife's decline; at her death her relations would claim half of all he
had made, would poke their noses into his concerns, even the most
private. Horror!

He consulted his lawyer. The simplest way of remedying the mischief, and
depriving these relations of their rights, was to induce his wife to
make a will in his favour. To the Duke this seemed the most natural
thing in the world, and in the interview he proposed, he intended to
suggest it to her as diplomatically as he could, so as not to alarm her
as to her own state of health.

So he waited, arranging and looking over his papers, till he thought it
was time to send again to inquire whether the priest was gone. But just
as he was about to do so, the porter came in and told him that some
gentlemen wanted to see him, and among them Calderón. The banker was
much annoyed.

"Did you say I was at home?"

"Well, as you always are at home in the morning, Señor Duque----"

"Damn you!" said the banker, with a furious scowl. But raising his voice
at once, and putting on the clumsy abruptness which he was so fond of
affecting: "Show them in, of course," he said, "show the gentlemen in."

On this Calderón came in, followed by Urreta and two other bankers not
less well known in Madrid. They all looked grave, almost sinister. But
Salabert, paying no heed to their looks, began shaking hands and
slapping backs, making a great noise. "Good business! Very good
business, now to lock you all four up, and make you each pay a round sum
as ransom! Ha, ha! Why here, in my room, are the four richest rascals in
Madrid. Four gorged sharks! How is your rheumatism, Urreta? It strikes
me that you want thoroughly overhauling as much as I do. And you,
Manuel, how long do you expect to hold out? Your cousin, you see, is
looking out very sharp."

The four gentlemen maintained a courteous reserve, and their extreme
gravity cut short this impertinent banter. The case was, in fact, a
serious one. About a year ago Salabert had sold them the business of a
railway from B---- to S----, which was already in full work, with all
the plant and rolling-stock. Though it had not been committed to
writing, it was fully understood by both parties that when the extension
from S---- to V---- should be put up for sale, as it was in connection
with the other line, Salabert should advance no claims, but leave it to
them to treat for it. Now, it had come to their knowledge that the Duke
had failed to keep his word, and had tried to jockey them in the most
barefaced way, by making a bid for the line.

The first to speak was Calderón.

"Antonio," he said, "we have come to quarrel with you very seriously."

"Impossible! Quarrel with such an inoffensive creature as I am?"

"You will remember that when we bought up your railway, you agreed, or
to be accurate, you solemnly promised, not to tender for the purchase of
the extension from S---- to V----."

"Certainly I remember it, perfectly."

"But we see with surprise that an offer from you----"

"An offer from me!" exclaimed the Duke, in the greatest surprise, and
opening his prominent eyes very wide. "Who told you that cock-and-bull
story?"

"It is not a cock-and-bull story. I, myself, saw your signature," said
the Marques de Arbiol.

"My signature? Impossible."

"My good friend, I tell you I saw it with my own eyes. 'Antonio
Salabert, Duke de Requena,'" replied Arbiol, very gravely.

"It cannot be; it is impossible!" repeated the Duke, walking up and down
the room in the most violent excitement. "It must be a forgery."

Arbiol smiled scornfully.

"It bore your seal."

"My seal?" he exclaimed, with ready parry. "Then the forgery was
committed in my own house. You cannot imagine what scoundrels I have
about me. I should need a hundred eyes." Foaming with rage, he rang the
bell.

"Now we shall see; we will find out whether I have been deceived or no.
Send Llera in here," he said to the servant who appeared. "And all the
clerks--immediately, this instant!"

Arbiol glanced at his companions, and shrugged his shoulders. But
Requena, though he saw this, did not choose to notice it; he went on
growling, snorting, uttering the most violent interjections, and walking
to and fro. Presently Llera made his appearance, followed by a group of
abject-looking clerks, ill-dressed and common. Salabert placed himself
in front of them, with his arms crossed, and said vehemently:

"Look here, Llera, I mean to find out who is the scoundrel who presented
a tender, in my name, with a forged copy of my signature, for the
purchase of the S---- and V---- line of railway. Do you know anything of
the matter?"

Llera, after looking him straight in the face, bent his head without
replying.

"And you others, do you know anything about it? Heh, do you know
anything whatever?"

The clerks in the same way stared at him; then they looked at Llera, and
they too bent their heads and stood speechless.

Salabert, with well-feigned fury, eyed them all in turn, and at length
addressing his visitors:

"You see," he said; "no one answers. The guilty man, or men, lurk among
them; for I suspect that more than one must be concerned. Do not be
afraid, I will give them a lesson, a terrible lesson. I will not rest
till I have them before the judge. Go," he added, to the delinquents,
"and those of you who are guilty may well quake. Justice will soon
overtake you."

To judge by the absolute indifference with which this fulmination was
received, the criminals must have been hardened indeed. Each man went
back to his place and his work as though the sword of Nemesis were not
drawn to cut his throat.

The bankers were half amused and half angry. At last one of the
quartette, biting his lips for fear of laughing outright, held out his
hand with a contemptuous gesture, saying:

"Good-bye, Salabert--_au revoir_."

The others followed his example without another word about the business
which had brought them. The Duke was not at all disconcerted; he
politely saw them to the head of the stairs, firing wrathful lightnings
at his clerks as he led his visitors through the office. On his return
he took not the slightest notice of the men; he walked down the room
like an actor crossing behind the scenes as he comes off the stage.

Soon after this performance he went downstairs himself, to go to his
wife's room. He found her alone, reading a book of devotions. Doña
Carmen, who had always been pious, had of late given herself up almost
exclusively to religious exercises. Her failing strength cut her off
more and more from the outer world, and left her sadly submissive to the
priests who visited her. Salabert had never opposed this taste for
devotion; he regarded it with pitying indifference, as an innocent
mania. However, just lately, some rather large bounties of Doña Carmen's
had alarmed him, and he had felt obliged to give her a paternal lecture.
He was accustomed to find her submissive, unambitious, absolutely
indifferent to the result of his various speculations; he treated her as
a child, if not as a faithful dog, whose head he might now and then pat
kindly. The hapless woman never had interfered in his life, his toil, or
his vices. Though his mistresses and fearful extravagance were discussed
by all the rest of the world, Doña Carmen knew nothing of them, or
ignored them. Nevertheless, the Duke's last connection with Amparo had
distressed her more than any former one. This arrogant but low creature
delighted in annoying the Duchess in every possible way, which was what
none of her predecessors had done. If she went out driving with her
husband, Amparo would keep pace in her carriage and exchange significant
glances with Requena. When the good lady gently complained of such
conduct, Salabert would simply deny, not merely his smiles and ogling,
but all acquaintance with the woman: he only knew her by sight, he had
never spoken to her in his life. It was the same at the Opera; Amparo
would stare all the evening at the Duke's box. At bull-fights and at
races she made a display of reckless luxury which attracted general
attention. Certain well-intentioned friends, in their compassion for
Doña Carmen, kept her informed as to the enormous sums this woman was
costing the Duke by her extravagance and caprices. These constant
vexations, endured unconfessed to any one but her director, had told on
the lady's health, reducing her to a state of weakness which made it
seem a miracle that she was still alive. Salabert had something else to
do than to consider her sufferings. He thought that with the title of
Duchess, and such enormous wealth, in so splendid a house, Doña Carmen
ought to be the happiest woman on earth.

"Well, how are you, old woman, how are you?" said he as he went in, in a
half rough and half kindly tone which betrayed his entire indifference.

Doña Carmen looked up with a smile.

"What, you? What miracle brings you here at this hour?"

"I should have come earlier, but I was told that Father Ortega was with
you. How did you sleep? Pretty well? That's right. You are not so ill as
you fancy. Why do you let the priests come hanging about you as if you
were at the point of death?"

"Do you suppose a priest is of no use but when one is dying?"

"Of course priests about a house are indispensable to make it look
respectable," he answered, stretching himself in an easy chair, and
spreading out his legs. "Without a rag of black fustian, a newly
furnished palace like this is too gaudy. Still, in the long run, they
become a nuisance; they are never tired of begging; they have a swallow
like a whale's. I should like to buy sham ones made of wax or
papier-maché, they would answer every purpose."

"There, there, Antonio. Do not talk so wildly. Any one who heard you
would take you for a heretic, and that you are not, thank God!"

"What should I gain by being a heretic? That does not pay." Then
suddenly changing the subject, he said: "How is that caravansary of
yours in the Cuatro Caminos getting on?"

He meant the asylum of which Doña Carmen was the chief benefactress.

"It is doing very well, excepting that the Marquesa de Alcudia wishes to
retire, and we do not know whom to appoint as treasurer in her place."

"It is always empty on the Sabbath, I suppose?"

"Why?" said the lady, innocently.

"They are all off to Seville on broomsticks, no doubt."

"Bah! do not make game of the poor old things," said she, laughing. "You
and I are old folks, too."

"Very true, very true," replied the banker, affecting serious
melancholy. "We are a pair of old puppets, and one fine day, when we
least expect it, we shall find ourselves removed to other quarters."

He had discovered an opening for the subject he wished to discuss, and
had seized on it at once.

"No," said his wife, "you are strong and hearty enough. You will live to
fight many a battle yet; but I, my dear, have but one foot in the
stirrup."

"Nay, nay, we are both in the same plight. Once over the sixties there
is no knowing."

"If such reflections did anything to bring you nearer God, and make you
labour in His service, I should be glad indeed."

"Do you think I do nothing in His service, when I spend above five
thousand dollars in masses every year?"

"Come, Antonio, do not talk like that."

"My dear child, it is a very good thing to think of the next world, but
it is prudent, to say the least, to think of this world to. I have just
lately been considering that if you or I were to die, there would be no
end of complications for the survivor."

"Why?"

"Because husband and wife are not by law nearest of kin to each other,
and if by chance either of us died intestate, our relations would be a
perfect torment to the survivor."

"For that there is an easy remedy. We make our wills and it is settled."

"That is just what I have been thinking," said Salabert, endeavouring to
make a show of calm indifference, which he was far from feeling. "It
struck me that instead of our each making an independent will, we might
come to a mutual arrangement."

"What is that?"

"A will by which each is the heir to the other."

Doña Carmen looked down at the book she still held, and did not
immediately answer. The Duke, somewhat uneasy, watched her narrowly from
under his eyelids, gnawing his cigar with impatience.

"That is impossible," said she at last, very gravely.

"What is impossible? And why?" he hastily asked, sitting upright in his
chair.

"Because I intend to leave all I have, whether much or little, to your
daughter. I have promised her that I will."

Salabert had never dreamed of stumbling on such an obstacle, he had
thought of the mutual bequest as a settled thing. He was equally
startled and vexed, but he immediately recovered himself, and assuming a
serious and dignified manner, he spoke:

"Very good, Carmen. I have no wish to coerce you in the matter. You are
mistress of your possessions, and can leave them to whom you choose,
though you must remember that that fortune has been earned by me at the
cost of much toil. During the years of our married life, pecuniary
questions have never given rise to any differences between us, and I
sincerely wish that they never may. Money, as compared with the
feelings of the heart, is of no importance whatever. The thing that
pains me is the thought that any other person, even though it be my own
daughter, should have usurped my place in your affections."

At these words his voice broke a little.

"No, Antonio, no," Doña Carmen hastened to put in. "Neither your
daughter nor any one else can rob you of the affection due to you. But
you are rich enough without needing my fortune, and she wants it."

"No. It is vain to try to soften the blow, I feel it in the depths of my
heart," replied Salabert in pathetic accents, and pressing one hand to
his left side. "Five-and-thirty years of married life, five-and-thirty
years of joys and griefs, of fears and hopes in common, have not availed
to secure me the foremost place in your affections. Nothing that can be
said will remedy that. I fancied that our union, the years of love and
happiness that we have spent together, might be closed by an act which
would crown our lives by making one of us inherit the whole of what we
have gained. The devotion of a husband and wife is never better
displayed than in a last will and testament."

Requena's oratory had risen to a tone of moral dignity which, for a
moment, seemed to impress his wife. However, she replied with perfect
sweetness but unshaken firmness:

"Though Clementina is not my own flesh and blood, I love her as if she
were. I have always regarded her as my own child, and it seems to me an
act of injustice to deprive a child of its share of an inheritance."

"But, my dear," exclaimed the Duke vehemently, "for whom do you suppose
I want it but for my daughter? Make me your heir, and I pledge myself to
transmit it to her, not only undiminished but greatly augmented."

Doña Carmen kept silence, but shook her head in negation. Her husband
rose as though emotion were quite too much for him.

"Oh, yes! I understand! You cannot forgive me some little errors of
caprice and folly. You are taking advantage of this opportunity of
revenge. Very well, very well. Indulge your vengeance; but believe me
when I say that I have never loved any woman better than you. The heart
cannot be made to obey orders, Carmen; if I desired to tear your image
out of mine, my heart would answer: 'No, I cannot give it up without
breaking.' It is sad, very sad, to meet with so cruel a disenchantment
at the end of our lives. If you were to die to-morrow, which God forbid!
what worries and troubles must await me, besides the grief of losing the
wife I adore. Why I, a poor old man, might be compelled to quit the
house where I have lived so many years, which I built and beautified in
the hope of dying under its roof in your arms!"

Requena's voice broke at judicious intervals, and his eyes filled with
tears. When he ceased speaking he sank into his armchair as though quite
crushed, pressing his handkerchief to his eyes.

But Doña Carmen, though tender-hearted and sensitive, showed no signs of
emotion. On the contrary, she replied in a steady voice:

"You know perfectly well that there is no truth in all that. I am not
capable of taking any revenge, nor, if I were, could there be any such
vengeance in leaving all I can to your daughter, who is mine solely by
the affection I bear to her."

The Duke changed his tactics. He looked at his wife compassionately for
a few minutes, and then he said:

"The greatest happiness you could confer on Clementina to show your
affection would be to get out of her way as soon as you can. Poor Osorio
is up to the ears in hot water. Now I understand why his creditors have
been so long-suffering. You no doubt have said something to his wife of
this will of yours, and as you are somewhat ailing they are looking for
your death like showers in May. Make no mistake about that."

Doña Carmen at these cruel words turned even paler than she always was.
She clutched the arms of her chair with an effort to keep herself from
fainting. This that her husband had said was horrible, but only too
probable. He saw her agitation, and at once brought forward facts to
confirm his hypothesis. He drew a complete picture of Osorio's position,
pointing out how unlikely it was that his creditors should still give
him time if they had not some definite hope to count on; and this could
only be her own death.

The unhappy woman at last spoke. Her words were almost sublime:

"If, indeed, Clementina desires my death," she said, "then so do I, with
all my heart. Everything I can leave is for her."

Salabert left the room in a towering rage, fighting like a bull assailed
by crackers, or an actor who has been hissed off the stage.

Doña Carmen lay for some time motionless in the attitude in which he had
left her, her eyes fixed on vacancy. At last two tears dropped from her
eyes and slowly trickled down her cheeks.



CHAPTER XI.

THE DUKE'S BALL.


Weeks and months went by. Clementina spent the summer at Biarritz as
usual. Raimundo followed her, leaving his sister in charge of some
relations, and only returned at the end of September. A storm had swept
over the orphan's dwelling which had completely wrecked its happiness.
Raimundo, entirely neglecting his methodical habits of study, had rushed
into the world of pleasure with the ardour of a novice. His sister,
amazed at such a change, remonstrated mildly but without effect. The
young man behaved with the petulance of a spoilt child, answering her
sharply, or if she spoke with sterner decision, melting into tears,
declaring that he was miserable, that she did not love him, that it
would have been better if he had died when his mother died, and so
forth. Aurelia saw that there was nothing for it but to suffer in
silence, and kept her fears and gloomy anticipations to herself. She
could too easily guess the cause of this change, but neither of them
ever made any allusion to it; Raimundo because he could not speak to his
sister of his connection with Clementina, and she because she could not
bear that he should suppose she even understood it.

Meanwhile it led our young friend to great extravagance, far beyond what
his income allowed. To enable him to keep up with the lady's carriage as
she drove in the fashionable avenues, he bought a fine horse, after
taking some riding lessons. Theatres, flowers and gifts for his
mistress, amusements shared with his new friends of the Savage Club,
dress, trinkets, everything, in short, which a youth "about town"
thinks indispensable, cost him enormous sums in proportion to his
income. He was forced to touch his capital. This, as we know, was in the
form of shares in a powder manufactory, and in the funds. His mother had
kept her securities in an iron box inside her wardrobe. When she died,
the guardian she had appointed to her two children, examined the
documents and made due note of them, but as Raimundo was esteemed a very
steady young fellow of impeccable conduct, and as he had for some time
past presented and cashed the coupons, his uncle did not take the
securities out of his keeping, but left them in the box where he had
found them. And now Raimundo, needing money at any cost, and not daring
to borrow it of any one, broke his trust, for he was not yet of legal
age, and sold some of the securities. And the strange thing is, that
although he had hitherto lived so blamelessly, upright in thought and
honest in purpose, he did it without feeling any very deep remorse. His
passion had so completely stultified and altered him.

Of course he did not do this without its leading to worse consequences.
His uncle, hearing of his extravagant expenditure, came to the house one
day, shut himself up with him in his study and attacked him point-blank:

"We must settle accounts together, Raimundo. From what I am told, and
from what I can see, you are living at a rate which you cannot possibly
afford. This is a serious matter, and, as your trustee, I must know
where the money comes from, if not for your own sake, at any rate for
your sister's."

Raimundo was greatly startled. He turned pale and muttered some
unintelligible words. Then finding himself at bay, at once perceiving
that his safety depended on this interview--that is to say, the safety
of his love affair--he did not hesitate to lie boldly.

"Yes, uncle, it is true that I am spending a good deal, more than my
income would permit, no doubt. But you need not therefore conclude that
it is the capital I inherited from my parents."

"Well, then?"

"Well, then," said the young man, and his voice dropped as if he had
some difficulty in speaking, "I cannot tell you whence I get the money,
uncle, it is a matter of honour."

His guardian was mystified.

"Of honour! I do not know what that may mean. But listen to me, boy; I
cannot let the matter drop. My position is critical. If I do not take
proper care of your interests I may find myself called upon to pay up,
and there is no mercy for trustees."

Raimundo remained silent for some seconds, at last, stammering and
hesitating, he said:

"If you must know then I will tell you. You have heard perhaps of my
intimacy with a lady?"

"Yes, I have heard something of a flirtation between you and Osorio's
wife."

"Well, that explains the mystery," said the nephew, colouring violently.

"So that, in point of fact, this woman"----said the elder, snapping his
thumb and finger.

Raimundo bent his head and said no more, or, to be exact, his silence
said everything. The man who had indignantly refused his mistress's
bank-notes now confessed himself guilty of this humiliation, though
perfectly innocent, simply out of fear.

His uncle was a vulgar mortal enough, who kept a shop in the Calle de
Carmen. His nephew's confession, far from rousing his indignation,
raised the youth in his esteem.

"Well, my dear fellow! I am glad to see that you have hatched out at
last and are beginning to know the ways of the world. Ah, you rogue, how
quiet you have kept it!"

But as he still remained in the study, betraying the remains of a
suspicion, Raimundo, with the audacity peculiar to women and weak men in
critical circumstances, said firmly enough:

"My capital and my sister's are intact; I can show you the securities
this very minute."

He took out the key and was going to fetch the box. His uncle stopped
him.

"No need, my boy, no need. What for?"

And thus he escaped as by a miracle from this dreadful predicament,
which might so easily have ended in a catastrophe. At the same time, his
triumph cost him many moments of bitter reflection, and a collapse of
mind and body which made him quite ill for a time. It is impossible to
break suddenly with all the traditions and ideas which constitute the
back-bone of our character without the acutest pain.

At about this time a gentleman from Chili came to call on him; a
naturalist himself, and, like Raimundo, devoted to the study of
butterflies. He had last come from Germany, and was on his way home to
America; he had read some of the young man's scientific papers, and
having also heard of his fine collection, he would not pass through
Madrid without visiting it. Raimundo received him with great pleasure,
and some little shame; for some months he had scarcely thought of
scientific subjects, and had neglected his specimens. The South American
nevertheless found it extremely interesting and was full of intelligent
sympathy; he told him that he was commissioned by his Government to
recruit some young men of talent to fill the professors' chairs lately
created at Santiago in Chili. If Alcázar would emigrate one of them was
open to him.

In any other circumstances Raimundo, who had no tie of blood excepting
his sister, would certainly have decided on this step. But as it was,
enmeshed by the toils of love, the proposal struck him as so absurd that
he could but smile with a trace of contempt, and he politely declined it
as though he were a millionaire, or a man at the head of Spanish
society.

Then to pay for his journey to Biarritz, he was again obliged to sell
some shares in the funds. He carried five thousand francs with him, a
more than ample sum for his summer in France. But at the end of a few
days, led away by the example of his friends, he took to betting at the
Casino, on the game of racing with dice, and in two evenings he had lost
everything. Not being accustomed to these proceedings, the only thing he
could think of to help himself was to return to Madrid at once, sell
some more shares, and come back again. His fortune was dwindling from
day to day. By the beginning of the winter he had sacrificed several
thousand dollars; but this did not check his lavish expenditure.
Aurelia, who from some hints of her uncle, or suspicions of her own,
imagined that she knew from whom the money came, was melancholy and
distressed. Her eyes, as she looked at her brother, were full of grief
and pity, not unmingled with indignation.

So matters went on till the Carnival. The Duchess of Requena's health
had been improved by some waters in Germany, to which her husband had
taken her in the autumn. No sooner had she made her will in favour of
her step-daughter, than he devoted himself to taking care of her,
knowing how important her existence was to him. The great speculator's
affairs meanwhile were progressing satisfactorily. He had bought the
mines at Riosa, as he had proposed, money down. From that moment he had
been waging covert war against the rest of the company, selling shares
at lower and lower prices, to depreciate their value. This had worked
entirely to his satisfaction. In a few months the price had fallen from
a hundred and twenty, at which they had stood just after the sale of the
property, to eighty-three. Salabert waited on from day to day to produce
a panic, by throwing a large number of them into the market, and so
bring the quotation down to forty. Then, by means of his agents in
Madrid, Paris, and London, he meant to buy up half the shares, _plus_
one, and so to be master of the whole concern.

It was at this time that, in order to serve his political ends, as well
as to gratify his native taste for display--in spite of his
counter-balancing avarice--he determined to give a fancy dress ball, in
his magnificent residence, inviting all the aristocracy, and securing
the presence of the royal family. Preparations were begun two months
beforehand. Although the palace was splendidly fitted up, he had some
rather heavy and over-large pieces of furniture removed from the
drawing-rooms, and replaced by others from Paris, of lighter and simpler
style. He got rid of some of the hangings, and purchased several
decorative works of art, which it must be owned were certainly lacking.
Three weeks before the day fixed for the ball he sent out the
invitations. Three weeks, he thought, were not too much to allow his
guests to prepare their costumes. Fancy dress was indispensable;
gentlemen to wear dominoes at the very least. The newspapers had soon
announced the ball to every town in Spain.

As her stepmother took little interest in such things, and from her
delicate health was not able to play an active part in the preparations,
Clementina was the life and soul of the whole affair. She spent all her
days in her father's house, save only a few hours which she bestowed on
Raimundo. Osorio at this juncture took it into his head to have their
two little girls home from school, one ten and the other eleven years
old, to spend a few days with their parents; but the poor little things
had to return some days sooner than their father had promised, because
Clementina was so busy that she scarcely found time to speak to them.
This made their father so angry that, one day, without allowing them to
take leave of their mother, he put them into the carriage, and himself
accompanied them back to school. That evening, however, when Clementina
returned home, there was a violent quarrel between them on the subject.

Raimundo, too, found himself neglected; still he looked forward with
childish delight to this entertainment, at which he meant to appear as a
court page. This was an idea suggested by Clementina. The model for his
dress was taken from a famous picture in the Senate-house. For herself,
she had fallen in love with a portrait of Margaret of Austria, the queen
of Philip III., painted by Pantoja. She ordered a black velvet dress,
very closely fitting, with pink silk slashings braided with silver; and
there can be no doubt that it was a costume singularly well adapted to
set off her fine and ample figure and the imposing beauty of her face.

The Duke himself worked hard at the less ornamental details; the
erection, for instance, of a gallery for the musicians, which was to be
built up against the wall, between the two large drawing-rooms, and
embowered in shrubs and flowering plants; the arrangements for hats and
wraps, the laying of carpets, the removal of furniture, and so forth.
Salabert was a terribly hard overseer, a real driver of the workmen. He
never allowed them to rest, and expected them to be incessantly on the
alert. He never gave them a moment's peace, nor was satisfied with what
they did.

One day a cabinet of carved ebony had to be moved, from a room where the
ladies were to sit to the card-room. The workmen, under the direction of
the master carpenter, were carrying it slung, while the Duke followed,
bidding them be careful, with an accompaniment of objurgations.

"Damn it all, be quick. Move a little quicker, can't you, you snub-nosed
cur! Now, mind that chandelier!--lower Pepe, lower--lower, I say, you
ass! Damn it, now raise it again."

As they went through the door, the head carpenter, seeing that they
might easily hurt themselves, called out: "Mind your fingers!"

"Mind the mouldings! Curse your fingers," exclaimed the Duke. "Do you
think I care for your fingers, you louts?"

And one of the men looked him in the face with an indescribable
expression of hatred and scorn.

When the cabinet was in its place the Duke saw it fixed, and then went
to his room to brush off the dust. Soon after, he went down the grand
staircase, and getting into his carriage went out.

       *       *       *       *       *

At last the great day arrived. The newspapers announced the ball for the
last time with a grand flourish of trumpets. The Duke de Requena had
spent a million of francs in preparations, they said, and they also gave
it to be understood that all the flowers had been sent from Paris. And
this was true. The Duke, born in Valencia, the loveliest garden of
Europe, ordered flowers from France for his ball to the amount of some
thousands of dollars. Camellias strewed the very floors in the ante-room
and passages; hundreds of exotic plants decorated the hall, the
corridors, and the rooms. An army of servants, in knee-breeches and a
gaudy livery, stood at every corner where they might be wanted. A
detachment of horse-guards was posted at the garden entrance to keep
order among the carriages, with the help of the police. The cloak-room,
erected for the occasion, was a luxurious apartment, where every
arrangement had been made to preserve the ladies' magnificent wraps, or
_sorties de bal_, as it is the fashion to call them, from being lost or
damaged.

The grand staircase was a blaze of electric light, the hall and
dining-room were lighted with gas: the dancing-room with wax candles.
The sitting-rooms and card-room had oil-lamps with wide and elaborate
shades, and in these rooms fires were blazing cheerfully.

Clementina received the company in the first drawing-room, close to the
ante-room. She took her stepmother's place here because Doña Carmen had
not sufficient strength to stand for so long. The Duchess sat in the
inner room, surrounded by friends. The Duke and Osorio, at the door
between the hall and ante-room, offered an arm to the ladies as they
arrived and conducted them to Clementina.

This lady's costume set off her beauty, as she had intended, to the
greatest advantage. Her exquisite figure seemed even more finely moulded
in this close fitting dress, and her head, with its magnificent coppery
hair, rose above the black velvet like a queenly flower. King Phillip
III. would gladly have exchanged the real Margaret for such a
counterfeit. A rumour was current in the rooms, and made public next day
in the papers, that a hairdresser had come from Paris by the express
train to dress her head.

The motley crowd soon began to fill the rooms. Every epoch of history,
every country of the world had sent representatives to Salabert's ball.
Moors, Jews, Chinese, Venetians, Greeks and Romans--Louis XIV. and the
Empire, Queens and slaves, nymphs and gipsies, Amazons and Sibyls,
grisettes and vestals, walked arm-in-arm, or stood chatting in groups,
and laughing with cavaliers of the last century, Flemings of the
fourteenth, pages and necromancers. Most of the men, however, had
adopted the Venetian doublet and short cloak. The orchestra had already
played two or three waltzes, but as yet no one was dancing. They awaited
the arrival of the Royal personages.

Raimundo was wandering about the rooms with the familiarity of an
intimate friend, smiling at every one with the modest frankness which
made him singularly attractive, though strange to a society where cold,
not to say scornful, manners are regarded as the stamp of dignity and
rank. The young entomologist had been for some time living in a
delicious whirl, a sort of golden dream, such as humble natures are
often addicted to. His page's costume, of the date of Isabella the
Great, suited him well, and more than one pretty girl turned her head to
look at him. Now and then he made his way to where Clementina was on
duty, and without speaking they could exchange looks and smiles. On one
of these occasions he saw Pepe Castro, in the dress of a cavalier of the
Court of Charles I., approach to pay his respects.

"How is this?" he said in her ear. "Are you not yet tired of your
cherub?"

"I am never tired of what is good," said she with a smile.

"Thank you," he replied, sarcastically.

"There is nothing to thank me for; are you trying to pick a quarrel?"
And she turned away with a shrug of contempt to speak to the Condesa de
Cotorraso, who came in at the moment.

Raimundo had watched this brief colloquy. Its confidential tone was a
stab to him. For a moment he did not move; Esperancita passed close in
front of him, but he did not see her. It was the child's first
appearance at a ball. She wore a pretty Venetian dress of a rich red
colour, cut low; her mother was magnificent as a Dutch burgomaster's
wife, in brown, embroidered with gold and silver, with a lace ruff and
necklace of diamonds and pearls. What pangs these costumes must have
cost her luckless husband! In the first instance, when this ball was
under discussion, he had supposed that some combination of old clothes
would answer their purpose, and had made no difficulties. When he saw
the dresses and the dressmaker's bill he was breathless. He was ready to
cry Thief! Woe befall that miserable Salabert and the hour in which he
had thought of this ball, and all the Venetian and Dutch ladies that had
ever lived! And what most weighed on his soul was the reflection that
these costly garments were to be worn for but one night. Four thousand
pesetas thrown into the gutter! as he repeated a hundred times a day.

Esperancita looked at Alcázar, expecting him to bow; but seeing that he
was gazing elsewhere, she, too, looked round at the group about
Clementina, and immediately understood the situation. A cloud of
distress came over her, as over Raimundo. But suddenly her eyes
sparkled, and her whole ingenuous and insignificant little face was
lighted up, transfigured by an indefinable charm. Pepe Castro was coming
towards her.

"Charming, charming!" murmured the Adonis in an absent way, as he bowed
affectedly.

The girl blushed with delight.

"Will you honour me with the first waltz?"

At this very moment she found herself the centre of a group of young
men, all buzzing round Calderón's money-bags, and eager to compliment
his daughter. Among these was Cobo Ramirez. They were all pressing her
to give them a dance, each in turn signing the initials of his
illustrious name on Esperancita's card. Ramoncito, who was standing a
few yards off, did not join the little crowd--faithful to the advice
given him, now above a year ago, by his friend and adviser Castro;
though hitherto these tactics had proved unavailing, for Esperancita
remained insensible to his devotion. Still, he would not ascribe this to
any fault in the method, but to his lack of courage to follow it out
with sufficient vigour, without hesitancy or backsliding. If the girl
happened to look kindly at him, or speak to him more gently than usual,
farewell diplomacy!

At this moment he was casting grim looks at the crowd which had gathered
round her, and vaguely replying to Cotorraso, who had of late taken a
most oppressive fancy to him, button-holing him wherever he met him, to
explain his new methods of extracting oil. The young deputy had not
gained in dignity from his showy dress and white wig, as a gentleman of
the eighteenth century: he looked for all the world like a footman.

Suddenly there was a stir in the ante-room. The Royal party had arrived.
The company collected about the door-ways. The Duke and Duchess,
Clementina and Osorio, went to the outside steps to receive them, and
the music played the Royal March. The King and Queen came in, walking
slowly between the two ranks of guests, stopping now and then when they
saw any one known to them to bestow a gracious greeting. The recipient
of such honour bowed or curtsied to the ground, kissing the Royal hand
with grateful effusiveness. The ladies especially humbled themselves
with a rapture they could not conceal, and a gush of loyalty and
affection which brought the blood to their cheeks.

The royal quadrille was immediately formed, and Clementina left her
place by the door to dance in it. The Sovereign led out the Duchess, who
made this great effort to please her husband. A triple row of spectators
stood round to look on.

Salabert was in his glory. The waif, the beggar, from the market-place
of Valencia, was entertaining Royalty. His dull, fish like, dissipated
eyes glistened with triumph. This explosion of vanity had blown to the
winds all the sordid anxieties which the cost of the ball had caused
him--the deadly struggle with his own avarice. To-morrow perhaps the
scatered fragments might reunite to give him fresh torment; for the
moment, intoxicated with pride, he was drinking deep breaths of the
atmosphere of importance and power created by his wealth; his face was
flushed with a congestion of ecstatic vanity.

"Only look at Salabert's radiant expression," said Rafael Alcantara to
Leon Guzman and some other intimates who were standing in a group. "Joy
transpires from every pore! Now is the moment to ask him for a loan of
ten thousand dollars."

"Do you think you would get it?"

"Yes, at six per cent., on good security," said the other. "But look,
look! Here comes Lola, the most fascinating and delightful creature who
has yet entered these rooms." And he raised his voice so as to be heard
by the lady in question.

Lola sent him a smile of acknowledgment; and her husband, the Mexican of
the cows, who also had heard the remark, bowed with pleasure. She was
really very bewitchingly dressed, as a Louis XIV. Marquise, in rose
colour, embroidered with gold, and a yellow train, also embroidered. Her
hair was powdered, and round her throat was a black velvet ribbon with
silver pendants.

When the Royal quadrille was ended, waltzing began. Pepe Castro came to
find Esperancita, who was walking with the youngest of the Alcudia
girls. It was the first time that they had either of them been present
at a ball, and they were perfectly happy as they looked out on the world
in its most holiday aspect, confiding their delightful impressions to
each other's private ear. He remained with them for a minute till a
partner came to claim Paz for the dance, and the two couples floated off
at the same time on the tide of waltzers. For Esperancita the world had
vanished. A delicious sense of joy and freedom, like that which a bird
might feel in flying if it had a soul, glowed in her heart and lapped
her in delight. It was the first time she had ever felt Pepe Castro's
arm round her waist. Swept away by him into the maëlstrom of couples,
she felt as though they were alone--he and she. And the music charmed
her ears and heart, giving sweet utterance to the ineffable gladness
which throbbed in every pulse.

When they paused a moment to rest, her face so unmistakeably expressed
the supreme emotion of first love, that her aunt Clementina, happening
to pass on the arm of the President of Congress, could not help looking
at her with a half kindly, half mocking smile, which made the child
blush. Pepe Castro could scarcely get a word out of her. Delicious
excitement seemed to have stricken her dumb. The happiness which filled
her soul found an outlet, as so often happens, in a feeling of general
benevolence. The ball to her was a pure delight; all the men were
amusing; all the women were exquisitely dressed. Even Ramon, who came
by, was bedewed with some drops of this overflowing tide of gladness.

"Are you not dancing, Ramon?" she inquired, with so inviting a smile
that the poor fellow was quite overcome with joy.

"I have been kept talking by Cotorraso."

"But find yourself a partner. Look, there is Rosa Pallarés, who is not
dancing."

The smiling statesman hastened to invite the damsel in question,
thinking, with characteristic acumen, that Esperancita had selected her
for her plain face. Soothed by this flattering reflection he was quite
content to dance with the daughter of General Pallarés, of whom Cobo
Ramirez was wont to speak as "one of our handsomest scarecrows." He felt
as though he were doing his lady's bidding, and giving her indisputable
proof that her jealousy--if she were jealous--was unfounded.

When the waltz was over, he returned to her, as a mediæval knight from
the tournay, to receive his guerdon at his mistress's hands. But,
inasmuch as there is no perfect happiness for any one in this world, at
the same moment Cobo Ramirez went up to Esperancita. They both sat down
by her and plied her with compliments and attentions. One took charge of
her fan, the other of her handkerchief; both tried to entertain her by
their remarks, and to flatter her vanity by their assiduity. It must in
truth be owned that if Ramon was the more earnest and solid talker, Cobo
was by far the more amusing. And yet Esperancita, against her wont, by
one of those unaccountable whims of a young girl, was for once inclined
to listen kindly to Ramoncito. The trio afforded a diverting subject for
contemplation.

The servants moved about the rooms with trays of lemonade, ices, and
bonbons. Ramon called one of them to offer Esperancita a particular kind
of jelly which he knew she liked. At the same time he insisted on his
rival taking an ice. Cobo declined. Ramon pressed him so eagerly that
Alcantara and some other men who were standing near could not help
noticing it.

"Look at Ramon trying to make Cobo eat an ice," said one.

"He sees he is hot, and wants to be the death of him! Nothing can be
plainer," said Leon.

Pepe Castro, as soon as he saw his partner safe in the hands of Ramirez
and Maldonado, had stolen away. As he wandered on he met Clementina. She
seemed to be in every place at once, returning every few minutes to
attend their Majesties, who had retired to a private room with the
Duchess and Requena, and the ladies and gentlemen of their suite.

"I saw you dancing with my little niece," said the lady. "Why do you not
make up to her?"

"To what end?"

"To marry her."

"Horror! Why, my dear, what have I done to you that you should wish me
so dreadful a fate?"

"Come, come, listen to reason," said she, quite gravely, and assuming a
maternal air. "Esperancita is no beauty, but she is not disagreeable
looking. She is fresh and youthful, and is desperately in love with you,
that I know."

"As you are," interrupted the other, with some bitterness.

"As I am--but then she has not known you some sixteen years. Yes, she
loves you, I assure you, very truly. We women can see such things with
half a glance. Marry her; do not be foolish. Calderón is very rich."

Before Castro could reply, she was gone. He stood there a few minutes
lost in thought; then he moved away slowly, making his way round the
rooms with a lazy strut, stopping to stare, with consummate
impertinence, at all the pretty women, like a Pasha in a slave-market.

Lola had taken possession of Raimundo, and kept him at her side in one
corner of the sitting-room, where she laid herself out to conquer him by
every art of the coquette. This was the pretty brunette's favourite
amusement. No friend of hers could have a man in her train, without
Lola's endeavouring to snatch him from her. Handsome or ugly, forward or
shy, it mattered not; all she cared for was to gratify her incurable
craving for admiration, and her desire to triumph over every other
woman. Her eyes had a look of sweetness and innocence which deceived
every one; it was impossible to believe that behind those guileless orbs
there lurked a will as determined as it was astute. Alcázar thought her
very pretty, and most agreeable to talk to; but the fact of her being
Clementina's friend, and of her talking of scarcely anything else, had a
great deal to do with this impression. As he could neither dance nor
converse with the lady of his adoration, both for reasons of prudence
and because she was too much occupied with other duties, he consoled
himself by hearing Lola chatter about the details of her life. Every
trifle interested the youth; the dress she had worn at the French
Ambassador's ball, the incidents of a shooting-party at the Cotorrasos',
the scenes she had with her husband, &c. Lola's tactics were first to
gain his attention and captivate his sympathy, and then to win his
liking.

When Clementina came into the room, they were deep in conversation. She
stood for an instant in the doorway, looking at them with surprise and
vexation. For some time past Lola had been out of her good graces.
Though Pepe Castro had ceased to interest her, when her friend had
attempted to win him from her, the proceeding had led to a certain
coolness between them. Now she perceived that Lola had cast her eyes on
Raimundo, and was flirting with him on every possible occasion. This
roused an impulse of hatred, which she had some difficulty in
dissembling. She gave them a fiercely indignant stare, and going into
the middle of the room, she said in a somewhat excited way:

"Alcázar, you are wanted to dance. Are you too tired?"

"Oh, no!" the young man hastened to reply, and he rose at once. "With
whom shall I dance?"

Clementina made no answer. Lola had a satirical smile which exasperated
her. She turned to leave the room.

"I am sorry to have disturbed you," she said coldly, as they went away
together.

Raimundo looked at her in surprise. This tone was quite new to him.

"Disturbed me? Not at all."

"Yes, indeed; for you seemed to be enjoying yourself very much with your
companion," and then, unable to repress her temper any longer, she added
in a brusque tone:

"Come with me."

She led him to the dining-room, where the supper tables were laid
awaiting the guests. There, in the bay of a window, she poured out her
wrath. She loaded him with abuse, and announced definitely that all was
at an end between them. She even went so far as to shake him violently
by the arm. Alcázar was so amazed, so overwhelmed, as to be absolutely
incapable of speech. This saved him. Seeing dismay and grief painted on
his countenance, Clementina could not fail to perceive that her anger
had deceived her. Raimundo, at any rate, had not the faintest notion of
flirting. So, calming down a little, she accepted the denial he at last
found words to utter.

"But it was solely to talk of you that I sat with her," he said.

"To talk of me? Well, then, for the future, I will trouble you not to
talk about me. It is enough that you should love me and hold your
tongue."

The servants who were passing in and out glanced at them with
significant grimaces.

As they left the room they met Pepa Frias. The buxom widow was in the
best of humours; she had received many compliments. Her dress, a very
handsome one, cut immoderately low, was that of a foreign princess of
the time of Charles III., in silver brocade with gold embroidery, and a
blue velvet train.

"My dear, I am as hungry as a wolf," she exclaimed as she came in. "When
are we to have supper? Ho, ho! so you are whispering in corners!
Prudence, Clementina, prudence! My dear child, I must positively have
something to eat or I shall drop. I can wait no longer."

Clementina laughed and took her into a corner, where she had a plate
brought for her with some meat. Alcázar returned to the drawing-room,
very happy, but still tremulous from the painful emotion his mistress
had caused him. He had never before seen her in such a rage.

Clementina's friendship with Pepa had been closer than ever since the
scene in the boudoir. The widow was convinced that the safety of her
fortune depended on this intimacy, and did all she could to consolidate
it. Thanks to this manoeuvre she had, in fact, already recovered
possession of a large part of it; nor was she now uneasy about the
remainder. She knew that Doña Carmen had made her will in her
step-daughter's favour, and though the Duchess had been rather stronger
lately, her death ere long was a certainty, for the doctors had
pronounced that nothing could save her but an operation, which she was
too weak to undergo.

Pepa's cynical assurance was quite to Clementina's mind. They understood
each other perfectly. They were a pair of hussies, grisettes born into a
sphere of society for which Nature had never intended them. Pepa, of
course, had a better right there than Clementina, who bore the taint in
her blood. Pepa was an adventuress by predilection.

"Look here, Clem," said she as she devoured a slice of galantine of
turkey. "Let that boy drop; he is not worth his salt. You have had
enough of him for a mere whim."

"How do you know what he is worth?" replied Clementina laughing.

"By his face, my dear. He has been your acknowledged lover for above a
year, and to this day he turns as red as a poppy whenever you look at
him."

"That is exactly what I like him for."

Pepa shrugged her shoulders.

"Indeed? Well, I should find it intolerable."

"And Arbos? How does he behave?"

"Oh, he is a perfect goose, but at any rate he can keep his countenance.
If you tell him he is a great man, there is nothing he will not do for
you. He has found places for above a score of my connections. Then it is
very nice to have some influence in the political world, and see
deputies at one's feet. Yesterday, for instance, I had a visit from
Manricio Sala, who has set his heart on being made under-secretary. He
is quite certain, it would seem, that in that case Urreta would let his
daughter marry him."

"Oh, I loathe politics!--Do you know, Irenita is quite sweet in that
_chasseresse_ costume."

"Hm--too showy."

"Not at all, it is extremely pretty. What has become of her husband? I
have not seen him since they came in."

"Her husband! a precious specimen he is!" exclaimed Pepa, looking up in
her wrath. "Oh, what troubles come upon me, my dear, what troubles!" she
added with her mouth still full.

"Maria Huerta?" asked Clementina in a confidential tone.

"Who else?" muttered the widow as she gazed at the turkey on her plate.
Then suddenly she burst out:

"He is a blackguard, a shameless scoundrel, who cannot even keep up
appearances for his wife's sake. He spends chief part of the day
waiting for her at the door of the church of San Pascual, and walks home
with her. And at the theatre he never takes his eyes off her. It is a
shame. He might have some decency. And my idiot of a daughter is madly
in love with him, a perfect fool about him, all the while. She does
nothing but cry, and show how jealous she is! Why, what does the wretch
want but to humiliate her? If I were in her place I would talk to him!
And I would give him such a box on the ear to finish with as would make
him wink!"

The lady's indignation had not interfered with deglutition.

"Heaven reward you, my dear," she said as she rose. "Now let us see if
this heart of mine will be quiet for a little while." For Pepa supposed
herself to suffer from a heart complaint which only a good meal would
relieve.

A few minutes after they had quitted the dining-room Clementina gave the
word, and the supper-room was thrown open. The Royal party led the way,
attended by their suite and their host and hostesses. Salabert had
lavished his crowning efforts on the supper-room. The ceiling was hung
with glittering cloth of gold; the brilliant flowers and exotic fruits,
the sheen of silver and crystal, under the blaze of gas lights as
numerous as the stars of heaven, were dazzling with splendour. The
servants stood motionless in a row against the wall, solemn and
speechless. In two deep recesses burnt huge fires of logs, in beautiful
fire-places of carved oak, which decorated the wall almost to the
ceiling. All the food served at the Royal table had been brought from
Paris by a little regiment of cooks and scullions. The only exceptions
were fish, brought from the coast of Biscay, and a plum pudding, just
arrived from London. The meats were for the most part cold, but there
was hot clear soup for those who liked it.

The Royalties did not remain many minutes in the supper-room. As soon as
they left, the tide of guests rushed in without much ceremony. The
sitting-rooms remained silent, abandoned to the servants, who with the
precision of soldiers, replaced the dwindling wax lights by fresh ones,
while the noise in the dining-room, of plates and glasses, and voices
and laughter, was almost bewildering.

Cobo Ramirez deserted Esperancita for a while, leaving her on his
rival's hands, while he found a seat for himself at a little table in a
snug corner, to devour a plateful of ham and Hamburg beef. Ramoncito
naturally took advantage of this reprieve to show off his own poetical
frugality as compared with Cobo's prosaic gluttony, till Esperancita cut
the ground from under him by saying very spitefully to her friend
Pacita, who sat by her side:

"For my part I like a man to be a great eater."

"So do I," said Paz. "At any rate it shows that he has a good
digestion."

"So have I," said Maldonado, crushed and vexed by the hostile tone the
young girls had adopted against him. Paz only smiled scornfully.

General Patiño, tired of throwing his heavy shell at Calderón's torpid
spouse without producing the smallest sign of capitulation, had raised
the siege, to sit down before the Marquesa de Ujo; she had yielded at
the first fire, and thrown open every gate to the enemy. At the same
time, as a consummate strategist, the General had not lost sight of
Mariana, hoping that some happy accident might again lay her open to his
batteries. The newspapers had lately mentioned a rumour that he was to
be made Minister of War. This dignity would, no doubt, give him greater
influence and prestige, whenever he might choose to surprise the
stronghold.

The Marquesa de Ujo was dressed à la Turque, and she played her part so
well that Alcantara declared he "longed to have a shot at her himself."
Her languor was so great that she could scarcely exert herself to
articulate, so that the General was obliged to assist her every minute
in the exhausting effort. While her far from perfect teeth nibbled a
cake or two--for her digestion did not allow of her eating anything
more solid--she uttered, or, to be exact, she exhaled a series of
exclamations over a new French novel.

"What exquisite scenes! What a sweet book! When she says, 'Come in if
you choose; you can dishonour my body but not my soul.' And the duel,
when she receives the bullet that was to have killed her husband! How
beautiful it is!"

Pepe Castro was prancing--forgive the word--round Lola Madariaga. She
was relating with a malicious smile the incident which had just occurred
when Clementina had found her sitting with Raimundo. She spoke as though
she had won the youth from her friend, with a scornful and patronising
air which would have been a shock to Clementina's pride if she could
have heard it.

"Poor Clem! she is growing old, isn't she? But what a figure she has
still. Of course it is all done by tight-lacing, and it must do her a
mischief, sooner or later, but as yet---- Her face does not match her
figure, above all now that she has begun to lose her complexion so
dreadfully. She always had a very hard face."

And all the time her insinuating soft eyes were fixed on Castro with
such inviting looks, as were really quite embarrassing. She had always
been told, and it was true, that she had a most innocent face, and to
make the most of it she assumed the expression of an idiot.

Castro agreed to all she said, as much to flatter her as out of any
ill-feeling towards Clementina. When Clementina cast him off he had
consoled himself by paying attentions to Lola, in whom he really felt no
interest, though at the same time he had been careful not to let the
world know that he was discarded.

"And do you believe that she is really in love with that school-boy?"

"Who can tell! Clementina likes to be thought original. This last whim
is just like her. And look at that baby's sentimental gaze at her from
afar."

Raimundo, who was standing at the end of one of the tables, never took
his eyes off his mistress while she moved to and fro, attending to the
requirements of those guests whom she most desired to please. From time
to time she bestowed on him a faint smile of recognition, which
transported him to the seventh heaven.

Pepa Frias, who, having had her fill, could eat no more, was picking up
a fruit here and a bonbon there, while behind her chair stood Calderón,
Pinedo, Fuentes, and two or three more, laughing at her and with her.
But the widow was not to be caught napping; she could defend herself,
parrying and retorting with masterly skill.

"Where do you have the gout, Pepa, did you say?" asked Pinedo.

"In my feet, in my feet, where all your wits are."

"What is the miniature in that brooch? Is it a family portrait?"

"No, Fuentes," said she, as she handed it to him to look at. "It is a
mirror."

The painting represented a monkey.

All the others roared with laughter, attracting general attention.

Soon after the dancing had recommenced the Royal party took their leave.
The same ceremony was observed as at their arrival; the guests in two
ranks on each side of the room, the Royal march played by the orchestra,
and the master of the house in attendance to the carriage door.



CHAPTER XII.

AN UNWELCOME GUEST.


Clementina gave a sigh of relief. Walking slowly, with the delightful
sense of a difficult task happily accomplished, she made her way through
the rooms, smiling right and left, and shedding amiable speeches on
every friend she met. This splendid ball, the most magnificent perhaps
ever given in Madrid by a private individual, was almost exclusively her
work. Her father had provided the money, but the motive power, the taste
and planning, had been hers. She received the congratulations which
hailed her from all sides with a pleasing intoxication of flattered
vanity. Happiness stirred a craving for love, its inseparable associate.
She was possessed by a vehement wish to have a brief meeting,
_tête-à-tête_, with Raimundo, to speak and hear a few fond words, to
exchange a brief caress. She looked round for him among the crowd.

He had been wandering about the rooms all the evening, generally alone.
He had looked forward to this ball with puerile anticipations of
delirious and unknown pleasures, for he had never been present at any of
these high festivals of wealth and fashion. The reality had not come up
to his hopes, as must always be the case. All this ostentation, all the
scandalous luxury displayed to his eyes, instead of exciting his pride,
wounded it deeply. Never had he felt so completely a stranger in the
world he had now for some months lived in. His thoughts, with their
natural tendency to melancholy, reverted to his modest home, where, by
his fault, necessaries would ere long be lacking; to his humble-minded
mother, who had never hesitated to fulfil the most menial tasks; to his
innocent sister, who had learned from her to be thrifty and
hard-working. Remorse gnawed at his heart. Then, too, he observed that
the young men of his acquaintance treated him here with covert
hostility. Many of them he had begun to regard as friends; they welcomed
him pleasantly, he played cards with them and sometimes joined in their
expeditions, but he clearly understood at last that he was no one,
nothing to them, but as Clementina's lover; and he could detect, or his
exaggerated sensitiveness made him fancy that he detected, in their
demeanour to him, a touch of scorn, which humiliated him bitterly. The
passionate devotion which Clementina professed for him compensated no
doubt for these miseries, and enabled him often to forget them, but this
evening his adored mistress, though she did not ignore him, was
necessarily out of his range. He endured the phase of feeling which a
mystic goes through when, as he expresses it, God has withdrawn His
guiding hand--intense weariness and the darkest gloom of spirit. He
danced dutiously two or three times, and talked a little to one and
another. Tired of it all, at last he withdrew into the quietest corner
of one of the rooms, sat down on a sofa and remained sunk in extreme
dejection.

Clementina sought him for some few minutes, and was beginning to be out
of patience. She went into the card-room, and he started up to meet her
with a beaming countenance. All his melancholy had vanished on seeing
that she was in search of him.

"If you would like two minutes' chat, come to the Duke's study," she
said, in rapid but tender accents. "It is on the right-hand side, at the
end of the corridor." She went thither, and Raimundo, to save
appearances, lingered for a few moments by one of the tables, watching
the game.

Clementina made her way in and out of the rooms till she reached the
corridor, and hurried to the study, a handsome room, so called for mere
form, since the Duke always sat upstairs. It was a blaze of light, as
all the other rooms were. As she went in, she fancied she heard a
smothered sob, which filled her with surprise and apprehension. Looking
about her, she discovered, in a deep recess, a woman lying in a heap on
a divan, hiding her face in her handkerchief, and weeping violently. She
went up to her, and recognised her by her dress. It was Irenita.

"Irene, my child, what is the matter?" she exclaimed, bending anxiously
over her.

"Oh, forgive me, Clementina, I came here, hardly knowing what I was
doing. I am so miserable;" and the tears streamed down her face.

"But what has happened then, my poor dear?"

"Nothing, nothing," sobbed the girl. There was a short silence.
Clementina looked at her compassionately.

"Come," she said, leaning over her, "It is Emilio. He has done something
to vex you this evening."

Irene made no reply.

"Do not break your heart over it, silly child. That will do nothing to
mend matters. However great the effort, try to seem indifferent. That is
the only way to prevent his despising you. Nay, there is a better way,
but I do not advise you to try it; there are things one cannot advise.
But still, even if you are in love with him, do not offer him your heart
to wring, for God's sake! Never let him know how unhappy he makes you,
or you are lost. Let him have his whim out, and he will come back to
you."

Irene raised her face, bathed in tears.

"But have you seen--do you know what he has done? It is dreadful."

At this instant Clementina heard a step in the corridor, and suspecting
who it might be, she hastily went to look out, saying: "Wait till I shut
the door."

She was only just in time; Raimundo arrived at the moment; she put her
finger to her lips, and signed to him to go away. Irene saw nothing of
it.

When Clementina returned to her side, Irenita poured out, between sighs
and tears, the grievances her husband had heaped upon her that evening.
In the first place Emilio had chosen to come to the ball in a Hungarian
costume. As soon as she came in, she had perceived that Maria Huerta
also wore a Hungarian dress, and this, it must be owned, was a piece of
insolence, which more than one person had remarked upon. Then they had
danced together twice, and all the while, Emilio had never ceased
murmuring in her ear. He had waited on her like a servant the whole
evening, offering her ices and fruit with his own hands. Once, as he
handed her a plate, their fingers had met. Irenita had seen it with her
own eyes. Oh, it was monstrous! Irene only longed to kill herself. She
would rather die a thousand deaths than endure such torments.

Clementina comforted her as best she could. Emilio loved her fondly, she
was sure; only men liked to show off in this way and prove their powers
of fascination. As their hearts were not engaged, there was nothing for
it but to let them go for a while, and then they returned to the wife
they really loved.

Clementina would not take her to the ladies' cloak-room to have her hair
rearranged and to bathe her face; she led her up to the Duchess's
dressing-room, and in a few minutes they came down stairs again. Irenita
promised not to betray herself. When Clementina reported to Pepa all
that had passed, the widow flew into such a fury that she was with
difficulty hindered from rushing off to abuse her son-in-law.

"Well, it is all the same," she said, with a shrug. "If I do not scratch
his face now, I will do it later. Come what may, I cannot allow that
scoundrel to be the death of my daughter; and as for that bare-faced
slut, she will not get off till I have spit in her face, and in her
husband's ugly phiz, too! A pretty state of things!"

"Would it not be better to get rid of them altogether? Huerta is in
office. See if you cannot get him packed off somewhere as Governor?"

"You are right. I will speak of it to Arbos at once; but as to that
precious son-in-law of mine, I will pay him out this very night, or my
name is not Pepa."

The Duke, surrounded by a group of faithful flatterers, was inhaling
clouds of incense, growling out some gross witticism every now and then,
which was hailed with applause. The ladies were the most enthusiastic in
their admiration. Requena's genius for speculation dazzled them with
amazement, as though they would like to calculate how many new dresses
his millions would purchase. And he, usually so subservient, he--who, by
his own confession, had reached the position he held by dint of kicks
behind--lording it here among his worshippers, bullied them without
mercy. His coarse jests were flung at men and women alike; he gloried in
the brutal exercise of his power. And if these devotees were ready to
humble themselves so patiently for nothing--absolutely nothing--what
would they not have done if he had given largesse of his millions, if
the golden calf had begun to vomit dollars.

In the card-room, whither he went after attending the retirement of
their Majesties, a crowd of speculators literally blocked him in.

"How are the Riosa shares looking, Señor Duque?" one made so bold as to
ask.

"Do not talk of them," grumbled the man of money, with a furious glare.

Llera's scheme had been punctually carried out. The Duke, after buying
up a large number of shares, had set to work to produce a panic among
the shareholders. For some months he had been employing secret agents to
buy, and sell again immediately at a loss. Thanks to these tactics, the
quotations had fallen very low. He was now almost ready for his great
coup, buying up all he could get to throw them suddenly into the market,
and then securing half the shares, _plus_ one.

"Everything cannot turn out well," said the man who had addressed him,
not without a smile of satisfaction. "You have always been so lucky."

"The Duke does not owe his success to luck," said a stock-broker bent on
flattery, "but to his genius, his incomparable skill and acumen."

"No doubt, no doubt," the other hastened to put in, snatching the
censer, as it were. "The Duke is the greatest financial genius of Spain.
I cannot understand why he has not the entire management of the
Treasury. If it is not placed in his hands, the country is past praying
for."

"Well, if I tried to save it after the fashion of the Riosa Mining
Company, it would be a bad look out for the Spaniards," said the Duke,
in a sulky, mumbling voice.

"Why, is it such a rotten concern?"

"For the Government, no, damn it; but for me, after buying it at par, it
does not seem to be much of a success."

And he cast all the blame of the transaction on his head clerk, that
idiot Llera, who had insisted on having a finger in that pie, in spite
of his, the Duke's, presentiments.

"Ah! a man like you should never trust anything but his instincts," they
all declared. "When a man has a real genius for business--" And again
the word genius was on the lips of every idolater of the golden calf.

Suddenly, at the door of the card-room, Clementina was seen, closely
followed by Osorio, Mariana, and Calderón. All four looked disturbed and
dismayed, and they all four fixed their eyes on Salabert, whom they
eagerly approached.

"Papa, one word, one minute," said Clementina.

Salabert quitted the group, of which he was the centre, and joined the
quartette in the further corner of the room.

"That woman is here," said his daughter in an agitated whisper, but her
eyes flashed fire.

"It is scandalous," said Osorio.

"Some people have left already, and as soon as it is known every one
will go!" added Calderón, more calmly.

"What woman?" asked Requena, opening his eyes very wide.

Clementina explained in a tone of passionate scorn--a woman whom the
Duke was known to visit. It was Amparo.

"What!" he exclaimed, with well acted surprise. "That hussy has dared to
come to this house? Who let her in? I will dismiss the door-keeper
to-morrow morning."

"No. What you have to do is to dismiss her this instant!" cried
Clementina, stuttering with rage.

"Of course, this instant! How dare she set foot in this house, and on
such an occasion? But how did she get in? A ball which began so well!"

"She has a card, it would seem."

"Then she has stolen it, or it is a forgery."

"Well, well," said Clementina, who knew her father well enough to guess
that he had been cajoled into giving the invitation, a bounty which had
cost him nothing. "Settle the matter at once. She is in the
drawing-room. You must go and explain to her that she must have the
goodness to take herself off. Say what you choose, but at once. Before
any one discovers her--above all mamma."

"No, my child, no. I know myself too well. I could not control my
indignation. We must do nothing to attract attention. Go yourself--go,
and get rid of her at once."

This was enough for Clementina. Without another word she swiftly
returned to the drawing-room, her face pale and set, her lips quivering.
In a moment she discovered the foe.

Certainly she was a handsome creature, magnificently dressed as Mary,
Queen of Scots, and her beauty was fuel to Clementina's wrath. After
wheedling Salabert to give her a card, it had occurred to the
_demi-mondaine_ that her appearance at the ball might cause a scandal,
but she longed to display herself in the costly costume she had chosen,
and taking a respectable-looking old friend as a chaperon, she went very
late, just to walk once or twice through the rooms. It was a bitter
surprise to find that even the men of her acquaintance, the members of
the Savage Club, here turned their backs and walked away.

Her enjoyment, such as it was, was brief. Just as she was moving
forward, with a triumphant smile, to make her longed-for progress
through the rooms, she found herself face to face with Clementina, who,
without the slightest greeting, holding her head very high, laid her
hand on her shoulder, saying:

"Have the kindness to listen to me."

Mary Stuart turned pale, hesitated an instant, and then said with
resolute arrogance:

"I have nothing to say to you. I came to see the master of the
house--the Duke de Requena."

Margaret of Austria fixed a flashing eye on the rival queen, who met it
without blinking. Then, bending forward, she said in her ear:

"If you do not come with me this instant I will call two men-servants to
turn you out of this house by force."

The Queen of Scots was startled; still she was bold:

"I wish to see the Duke," she said.

"The Duke is not to be seen--by you. Follow me, or I call!" And she
looked round as though she were about to act on her threat. The intruder
turned very pale, and obeyed.

The scene had, of course, been witnessed by several persons, but no one
dared follow the hostile queens. Clementina went straight into the
cloak-room.

"This lady's wrap," she said.

Not another word was spoken. A man-servant brought the cloak. Mary
Stuart put it on herself unaided, with trembling hands. She went forward
a few steps, and then suddenly turning round, she flashed a look of
mortal hatred at Margaret of Austria, who returned it with interest in
the shape of a contemptuous smile.

It was foreordained of Heaven that the unhappy Queen of Scots should
always be a victim--first to her cousin, Elizabeth of England, and now
the Queen of Spain had turned her into the street. She found her duenna
in the carriage; she had prudently made her escape at the beginning of
the scene.

What moral purification Requena's rooms may have gained by the eviction
of Mary Stuart it would be hard to say; but they certainly lost much
from the æsthetic point of view, for, beyond a doubt, she was lovely.

The ball was coming to an end. Preparations were being made for the
final cotillon. The crowd had thinned; several persons went away before
the cotillon--elderly folk for the most part, who did not like late
hours. Among the young ladies there was the agitation and stir which
always precedes this last dance, when the most ceremonious ball assumes
an aspect of more intimate enjoyment. Art and fancy now step in to
eliminate every sensual element and make the waltz an innocent
amusement--a reminiscence of the fancy ballets which, in the fourteenth
century, entertained the Courts of France and England. And to many a
damsel this is the crowning scene of the first act in the little comedy
of love she has begun to perform.

Pepe Castro, as we have seen, had laughed to scorn Clementina's
suggestion that he should pay his addresses to Calderón's daughter; but
it had not, therefore, fallen on stony ground. Though he talked and
danced with other girls, he did not fail to ask her to waltz more than
once. When the cotillon was being formed he went to Esperanza and asked
her to be his partner, though he knew very well that it would be
impossible, as the engagements for the last dance were always made as
soon as the young people arrived. However, it fell in with the scheme he
was plotting in his fertile brain. The girl had, in fact, promised the
dance to the Conde de Agreda, but, on Castro's invitation, her desire to
dance with him was so great that, with calm audacity, she accepted it.

The Duchess selected the Condesa de Cotorraso to lead the cotillon, and
she took Cobo Ramirez for her partner. He was always welcome in a
ball-room as a most accomplished leader of cotillons; and on this
particular occasion he had held long conferences with Clementina as to
the arrangements for this dance.

The circle of chairs was placed, and Pepe Castro went to lead out
Esperanza, who proudly took his arm. But they had not gone two steps
before Agreda intercepted them.

"Why, Esperancita, I thought you had promised me the cotillon?" he said
in great surprise.

The girl's audacity did not desert her--the courage of a love-sick maid.

"You must, please, forgive me, Leon," said she, in a tone which the most
consummate actress might have envied. "When I accepted you I quite
forgot that I was engaged already to Pepe."

The Count retired, murmuring a few polite words, which did not conceal
his annoyance. As soon as he was gone, Esperancita, frightened at the
compromising interest in Castro which she had thus betrayed, began with
many blushes to explain:

"The real truth is that I had forgotten that I was engaged to Leon," she
said. "And as I had taken your arm--and besides, he is a most tiring
partner."

Pepe Castro took no mean advantage of his triumph; his demeanour was
modest and grateful. Instead of courting her openly, he adopted a more
insinuating style, loading her with small attentions, establishing a
tone of easy confidence, and showing her all possible fondness without
breathing a word of love. Esperanza was supremely happy. She began to
believe herself adored; fancying that the sympathy and regard which had
always existed between Pepe and herself was at last turning to love. Her
heart beat high with joy.

Ramoncita also was pleased at the substitution. Agreda had for some
little time been particularly antipathetic to him, almost as much so as
Cobo Ramirez, since he was beginning to be as jealous of the one as of
the other. Pepe, on the other hand, he regarded as his second self,
another and a superior Maldonado. All the affection Esperanza bestowed
on Pepe he accepted as a boon to himself. So to see her on his arm was
to him a touching sight, and as he went up to them to say a few
insignificant words he actually blushed with satisfaction. Pepe made a
knowing face, as much as to say: "Victory all along the line!" and the
young civilian felt that he was advancing with giant strides to the
fulfilment of his hopes and the apogee of his happiness.

The cotillon was a worthy climax to this most successful ball. The
inventiveness of Cobo Ramirez, spurred by the magnitude of the occasion,
enchanted the dancers by the variety and ingenuity of its devices; he
kept them amused for more than an hour. A game with a hoop arranged in
the middle of the room absorbed every one's attention and earned him
much applause. He divided the gentlemen into two parties, who shot
alternately with arrows from pretty little gilt bows at the hoop
suspended by a ribbon from the ceiling. The winners were entitled to
dance with the partners of those they had defeated, while the humiliated
victim followed in their wake, fanning them as they waltzed. Then he had
planned another figure for the ladies; the successful fair left the room
and returned sitting in a car drawn by four servants dressed as black
slaves. In this she made a triumphal progress round the room, surrounded
by the rest. This and other not less remarkable and valuable inventions
had placed the fame of the heir of Casa Ramirez on a permanent and
illustrious footing.

As soon as the cotillon was ended the company left--it was a noisy and
precipitate retreat. Every one crowded out to the vestibule and stairs,
talking at the top of their voices, laughing and calling, each louder
than the other, for their carriages. The extensive garden, lighted by
electricity, had a fantastic and unreal effect, like the scene in a
fairy cosmorama. The beams of intense white light, making the shadows
look black and deep, pierced the avenues of the park and lent it an
appearance of immense extent. Night was ended, the pale tints of dawn
were already grey in the East. It was intensely cold. The young
"Savages," wrapped in fur coats, were letting off the last crackers of
their wit in honour of the ladies who stood waiting, where their rich
and picturesque wraps glittered in the electric light. Horses stamping,
footmen shouting, the carriage-wheels, as they slowly came round to the
steps, grinding the gravel of the drive. Then there was the sound of
kisses, doors slammed, loud good-nights; and the noise of the vehicles,
as they drove off from the terrace steps, seemed by degrees to swallow
up all the others and carry them off to rest in the various quarters of
the town.

Pepe Castro had kept close to Esperanza and was murmuring in her ear
till the last. The girl, muffled up to her eyes, was smiling without
looking at him. When at last the Calderón's carriage came up they shook
hands with a long pressure.

"I hope you will not forget us for so long as usual; that you will come
to see us oftener," she said, leaving her hand in his.

"Do you really wish that I should call more frequently?" said he,
looking at her as if he meant to magnetise her.

"I should think I did!" As she spoke she coloured violently under her
comforter, and snatching away her hand followed her mother to the
carriage.

Pepa Frias had said to her daughter:

"When we go, child, I want Emilio to come with me. I am in such a state
of nerves that I cannot sleep till I have given him my mind. We must
have no more scandals, you see; I am going to propose an ultimatum. If
he persists, you must come back to me and he may go to the devil."

She was in a great rage. Irene, though she would have liked to object to
this arrangement, for she adored her fickle husband, did not dare to
remonstrate; she submitted. When they were leaving, Pepa addressed her
son-in-law:

"Emilio, do me the favour to see me home. I want to speak to you."

"Hang it all!" thought the young fellow.

"And Irene?" he said.

"She can go alone. The bogueys won't eat her," replied Pepa tartly.

"Worse and worse," Emilio reflected.

And, in point of fact, Irenita, eyeing her mother and her husband with
fear and anxiety, went off alone in her carriage, leaving them together.

As Pepa's brougham rolled away, Emilio, to disarm his mother-in-law,
tried, like the boy that he was, to divert the lightning by saying
something to please her.

"Do you know," said he, "that I heard your praises loudly sung by the
President of the Council and some men who were with him? They admired
your costume immensely, but yet more your figure. They declared that
there was not a girl in the room to compare with you for freshness, that
your skin was like satin, and smoother and softer every day."

"Good heavens, what nonsense! That is all gammon, Emilio. A few years
ago, I do not say----"

"No, no, indeed; your complexion is proverbial in Madrid. What would
Irene give for a skin like her mother's!"

"Is it better than Maria Huerta's?" asked she, in an ironical tone,
which betrayed, indeed, no very great annoyance.

Pepa had, in fact, changed her plan of attack; she thought that
diplomacy would be more effective than a rating.

"Listen to me," she went on, "I meant to give you a good scolding,
Emilio; to talk to you seriously, very seriously, and say a great many
hard things, but I cannot. I am so foolishly soft-hearted that I can
find excuses for every one. You have behaved so badly to Irenita this
evening, that she would be justified in leaving you altogether; but I do
not believe you are as bad as you seem, for you are nothing but a
perverse boy. I am sure you do not yourself appreciate the gravity of
your conduct."

Pepa's whole sermon was pitched in the same persuasive key, and Emilio,
who had expected a severe lecture, was agreeably surprised. He listened
submissively, and then in a broken voice tried to exculpate himself. He
had flirted a little to be sure with Maria Huerta, but he swore he did
not care for her. It was a mere matter of pique and vanity. When his
engagement to Irene was announced, Maria had been heard to say, in
Osorio's house, that she could not understand how Irenita could bear to
marry that ugly slip of a boy. He had sworn she should eat her own
words--and so--and so--and that was all, on his word of honour, all.

So Pepa was still further mollified; and what wonder if the young fellow
thought that this, and perhaps worse sins, were condoned by his
profligate mother-in-law.



CHAPTER XIII.

A PIOUS MATINÉE.


A few days after the ball, at eleven in the morning of a Friday in Lent,
the most elegant of "Savages" woke from his calm and sound slumbers,
fully determined to marry Calderón's little daughter. He opened his
eyes, glanced at the hippic decorations which ornamented the walls of
his room, stretched himself gracefully, drank a glass of lemonade which
stood by his bedside, and prepared to rise. It cannot be positively
asserted that the resolution had been formed during sleep, but it is
quite certain that it was the birth of a mysterious travail which he had
not consciously aided. When he went to bed Castro had only the vaguest
thoughts of this advantageous alliance; on waking, his determination to
sue for Esperanza's hand, by whatever process it had been elaborated,
was irrevocable. Let us congratulate the happy damsel, and for the
present devote our attention to studying the noble "Savage" in the act
of perfecting the beautiful object which Nature had achieved in creating
him.

His servant had prepared his bath. After looking in the glass to study
the face of the day--his own--he took up some dumb-bells, and went
through a few exercises. Then taking a foil, he practised a score or so
of lunges, and finally he delivered a dozen or more punches on the pad
of a dynamometer. Having accomplished this, the moment was come for him
to step into the water. He was still splashing and sponging, when into
his room, unannounced, walked the poor crazy Marquis Manolo Davalos.

"Pepe, I want to speak to you about a very important matter," said he,
with an air of mystery, his eyes wilder than ever.

"Wait a minute; I am tubbing."

"Then make haste; I am in a great hurry."

Davalos rose from the chair into which he had dropped, and began walking
up and down the room with a sort of feverish agitation, to which his
friends had become accustomed. He could not remain still for five
minutes. Any one else going through half the exercise he took in the
course of the day would have been utterly exhausted before night. Castro
watched him at first with contemptuous raillery in his eye; but he grew
serious as he saw Manolo go up to the table and begin to play with a
neat little revolver which Castro kept by his bedside.

"Look out there, Manolo! It is loaded."

"So I see, so I see," said the other with a smile; and turning round
sharply, he added: "What do you think Madrid would say if I shot you
dead?"

Pepe Castro felt a chill run down his spine, which was not altogether
attributable to the cold bath, and he laughed rather queerly.

"And you know I could do it with impunity," his visitor went on, "as I
am said to be mad----."

"Ha, ha, ha!" Castro laughed hysterically.

He was no coward; on the contrary, he had a reputation for punctilio and
courage; but, like all fighting men, he liked a public. The prospect of
an inglorious death at the hands of a maniac did not smile on his fancy.
The example of Seneca, Marat, and other heroes who had been killed in
their bath did nothing to encourage him, possibly because he had never
heard of them. Davalos came towards him with the revolver cocked,
saying:

"What will they say in town, eh? What will they say?"

Castro was as cold as though he were up to his chin in ice instead of
water with the chill off. However, he had presence of mind enough to
say:

"Lay down that revolver, Manolo. If you don't, you shall never see
Amparo again as long as you live." Amparo was the fair _demi-mondaine_
whom we have already seen at the Duke's ball. She had ruined the
Marquis, a widower with young children, who had seriously intended to
marry the woman; and his brain, none of the strongest at any time, had
finally given way, when his family had interfered to protect him from
her rapacity.

"Never again! Why not?" he asked, dejection painted on his face, as he
lowered the weapon.

"Because I will not allow it; I will tell her never to let you inside
her doors."

"Well, well, my dear fellow, do not be put out, I was only in fun," said
the lunatic, replacing the revolver on the table.

Castro jumped out of the bath. No sooner was he wrapped in the turkish
towel, with which he dried himself, than he seized the weapon and locked
it away. Easy in his mind now, though annoyed by the fright his crazy
friend had given him, he began talking to him in a tone of contemptuous
ill-humour, while, standing before his glass, he lavished on his
handsome person, with the greatest respect, all the care due to its
merits.

"Now, then, out with it, man, out with the great secret. One of your
fool's errands as usual, I suppose. I declare, Manolo, you ought not to
be allowed in the streets. You should go somewhere and be cured," he
said, as he rubbed his arms with some scented unguent which he selected
from the collection of pots and bottles of every size arrayed before
him.

The Marquis put his hand in his pocket, took out his note-book, and from
it a letter in a woman's hand, saying with some solemnity:

"She has just written me this note. I want you to read it."

Pepe did not even turn his head to look at the document his friend held
out to him. Absorbed at the moment in blending the ends of his moustache
with his beard, he said in an absent-minded way:

"And what does she want?"

Davalos stared in surprise at the small interest he took in this
precious missive.

"Shall I read it to you?"

"If it is not very long."

Manolo unfolded it as reverently as though it were the autograph of a
saint, and read with deep emotion:

     "MY DEAREST MANOLO.--Do me the favour to send me by the bearer two
     thousand pesetas,[D] of which I am in urgent need. If you have not
     so much about you, bring me the money this evening.--Always and
     entirely yours,

     "AMPARO."

"My word! She is a cool hand. I suppose you did not send the money?"

"No."

"Quite right."

"Well, I had not got it. It is on purpose to see if you can help me that
I have come here."

Castro turned round and contemplated his visitor with a look of surprise
and irritation. Then, addressing himself to his glass again, he said:

"My dear Manolo, you are the greatest fool out. I am sure that when your
aunt dies you will let that hussy spend the money for you as she has
spent your own fortune."

The Marquis was in a fury.

"Do you know where the real wrong is?" he said. "It lies with my family,
who, without rhyme or reason, interfere to prevent my marrying her. As
my wife--as the mother of my motherless children--they would have been
happy, and so should I!"

Castro stared at him in blank amazement. Tears stood on the Marquis's
pale cheeks. Pepe made a grimace of contemptuous pity, and went on
combing his moustache. After a few minutes' silence, he said:

"I am very sorry, old fellow. I have not got two thousand pesetas; but
if I had I would not lend them to you for such a purpose, you may be
very sure."

Davalos made no reply, but again paced the room.

"Whom can I ask?" he suddenly said, stopping short.

"Try Salabert," said Castro, with a short laugh.

Manolo clenched his fists and ground his teeth; his eyes glared
ominously, and with a stride he went up to Pepe, who drew back a step,
and prepared to defend himself.

"Such a speech is a gross insult!--an insult worthy of a bullet or a
sword thrust! You are a coward--in your own house!"

His eyes started in a really terrific stare; but he did not succeed in
provoking his friend. He ultimately controlled himself with a great
effort, only flinging his hat on the floor with such violence as to
crush it. Castro stood perfectly still, as if turned to stone. So often
before he had jested with the crazy fellow, and said far rougher things,
without his ever dreaming of taking offence, and now, by pure chance, as
it seemed, he flew into this unaccountable rage. He tried to soothe him
by an apology, but Manolo did not listen. Though he had got past the
first impulse to struggle with him, he raged up and down like a caged
wild beast, muttering threats and gesticulating vehemently. However, he
soon broke down:

"I should never have believed it of you, Pepe," he murmured in a broken
voice. "I should never have supposed that my best friend would so insult
me--so stab me to the heart."

"But bless me, man----!"

"Do not speak to me, Pepe. You have stabbed me with a word; leave me in
peace. God forgive you, as I forgive you! I am like a hare wounded by
the hunter, which runs to its form to die. Do not harry me any more;
leave me to die in peace."

And the simile of the hare seemed to him so pathetic that he sank
sobbing into an arm-chair. At the same time he had a severe fit of
coughing, and Castro had to persuade him to drink a cup of lime-flower
tea.

       *       *       *       *       *

By the time the luckless Marquis had a little recovered, Pepe had
achieved the adornment of his person, which he proceeded to take out
walking, very correctly and exquisitely dressed in a frock-coat. He
breakfasted at Lhardy's, looked in at the Club, and by three in the
afternoon or thereabouts bent his steps to the house of the Marquesa de
Alcudia, his aunt, in the Calle de San Mateo. This lady was, as we know,
very proud of her religion, and equally so, to say the least, of her
pedigree. Pepe was her favourite nephew, and, though his dissipated mode
of life disgusted her not a little, she had always treated him with much
affection, hoping to tempt him into the right way. In the Marquesa's
opinion, quarterings of nobility were as efficacious in their way as the
Sacrament of Ordination. Whatever villainies a noble might commit, he
was still a noble, as a priest is always a priest.

Castro had thought of this devout lady as one likely to assist him in
his project. His instincts--which were more to be depended on than his
intelligence--told him that if the Marquesa undertook the negotiations
for his marriage with Esperancita she would undoubtedly succeed. She was
a person of much influence in fashionable society, and even more with
those persons who, like Calderón, had gained a place in it by wealth.

The Alcudia's mansion was a gloomy structure, built in the fashion of
the last century--a ground floor with large barred windows and one floor
above; nothing more. But it covered a vast extent of ground, with a
neglected garden in the rear. The entrance was not decorative; the
outside steps rough-hewn to begin with, and much worn. The late
lamented Alcudia was proposing some repairs and improvements when death
interfered with his plans. His widow abandoned them, not so much out of
avarice as from intense conservatism, even in matters which most needed
reform.

Within, the house was sumptuously fitted; the furniture was antique and
very handsome; the walls hung with splendid tapestry; and fine pictures
by the old masters graced the library and the oratory. This was indeed a
marvel of splendour. It stood at one corner of the building on the
ground floor, but was two storeys high, and as lofty, in fact, as a
church. The windows were filled with stained glass, like those of a
Gothic cathedral; the floor was richly carpeted; there was a small
gallery with an organ; and the altar, in the French taste, was
beautifully decorated. Over it hung an _Ecce Homo_, by Morales. It was
an elegant and comfortable little chapel, warmed by a large stove in the
cellar beneath.

In the drawing-room Pepe found only the girls, busy with their
needlework. Their mother, they said, was in the study, writing letters.
So, after exchanging a few words with his cousins, he joined her there.

"May I come in, aunt?"

"Come in, come in. You, Pepe?" said the Marquesa, looking up at him over
the spectacles she wore for writing.

"If I am interrupting you I will go away. I want to consult you," said
the young man, with a smile.

He took a chair, and while his aunt went on writing with a firm, swift
hand, he meditated the exordium to the speech he was about to deliver.
At last the pen dashed across the paper with a strident squeak, no doubt
emphasising the writer's signature, and taking off her spectacles, she
said:

"At your service, Pepe."

Pepe looked at the floor, praying no doubt for inspiration, twirled his
moustache, cleared his throat and at last began with much solemnity.

"Well, aunt, I do not know whether it is that God has touched my heart,
or merely that I am weary of my present mode of life; but at any rate
for some time past I have been taking to heart the advice you have so
often given me, and which goes hand in hand with my own wish to settle
down, to give up the bad habits which I have contracted for want of a
father to guide me, and yet more of a mother, like yourself. I am very
nearly thirty, and it is time to think of the name I bear. I owe a duty
to that, and to my calling as a Christian; for in all my excesses I have
never forgotten that I belong to an old Catholic family, and that
nowadays in Spain it is incumbent on our class to protect the cause of
religion and set a good example, as you do. The means I look to as an
encouragement to the change I feel within me is marriage."

The penitent could not have chosen his words better in addressing his
aunt Eugenia. They made so good an impression that she rose from her
place and came to lay a hand on his shoulder, exclaiming:

"You delight me, Pepito. You cannot imagine what pleasure you give me.
And you say you do not know whether God has touched your heart! How
could you have undergone this sudden change, if He had not inspired it?
It is the touch of God, indeed, my boy, the finger of God--and the noble
blood which runs in your veins. Have you chosen a wife?"

The young man smiled and nodded.

"Who is she?"

"I had thought of Esperanza Calderón. What do you think of her?"

"Nothing could be better. She is very well brought up, attractive, and I
love her as a child of my own. She has always been my Pacita's bosom
friend, as you know. Your choice is a most happy one."

Castro smiled again with a gleam of mischief, as he went on:

"You see, aunt, I would rather have married a girl of our own rank, But,
as you know, I am utterly ruined, and the daughters of good families
are not apt to have fortunes in these days. Those who have, would not
have anything to say to me, as I have nothing to offer but what they
already possess--a noble name. It is for this reason that I have chosen
one of no birth, but with a good fortune."

"Very wise. And though we are compromising our dignity a little, we must
save the name from disgrace. And Esperanza is a thoroughly good girl.
She has been brought up among ourselves. She will always be a perfect
lady, and do you credit."

The young man's face still wore that strange sarcastic smile. For a
minute or two he remained silent; then he said:

"Do you know what we young fellows call a marriage of this kind?"

"No--what?"

"Eating dirt."

The Marquesa smiled frigidly, but then, looking grave again, she
replied:

"No, that cannot be said in this case, Pepe. I can answer for this girl
that she is worthy of a brilliant marriage. You will be a gainer. Are
you engaged? Have you spoken to her? I have had no communication----"

"I have not said anything as yet I know that she does not dislike me; we
look kindly on each other, but nothing more. Before taking any definite
steps I decided that I would speak to you as the person of most weight
of our family in Madrid."

"Very proper; you have behaved admirably. When marriage is in question
it is well to proceed with due caution and formality, for, after all, it
is a sacrament of the Church.[E] In better times than these no alliance
was ever contracted in the higher circles without consulting the opinion
of the heads of both houses. I thank you for your confidence in me, and
you may count on my approval."

"And on your assistance? You see I am afraid of meeting with some
difficulties on her father's part. He loves hard cash. And to be frank,
I should not relish a refusal."

The Marquesa sat meditating for a while.

"Leave him to me. I will do my best to bring him to reason. But you must
promise to do nothing without consulting me. It is a delicate
negotiation, and will need prudence and skill."

"I give you my word, aunt."

"Above all be very careful with the little girl. Do not startle her."

"I will do exactly what you bid me."

They presently went together into the drawing-room, where some visitors
had arrived.

On Friday afternoons during Lent, the Marquesa received those of her
friends who, like herself, would devote an hour or two to prayer and
religious exercises. There were the Marquesa de Ujo and her daughter,
still with her skirts far above her ankles, General Patiño, Lola
Madariaga and her husband, Clementina Osorio, with her faithful
companion Pascuala, and several others; and, above all, Padre Ortega.
As, in fact, the honours of the occasion were his, and he was director
of the entertainment, every one had gathered about him in the middle of
the room. Everyone talked louder than he did; the illustrious priest's
voice was always soft and subdued, as though he were in a sick room. But
as soon as he began to speak, silence instantly reigned--every one
listened with respectful attention.

The Marquesa, on entering, kissed his hand with an air of submission,
and inquired affectionately after a cold from which he had been
suffering.

"Oh! have you a cold, Father?" inquired several ladies at once.

"A little, a mere trifle," replied the priest, with a smile of suave
resignation.

"By no means a trifle," said the Marquesa. "Yesterday in church you
coughed incessantly."

And she proceeded to give the minutest details of the reverend Father's
sufferings, omitting nothing which could make her account more graphic.
The priest sat smiling, with his eyes on the ground, saying:

"Do not let it disturb you, the Marquesa is always over anxious. You
might think that I was in the last stage of consumption."

"But, Father, you must take care of yourself, you really must take care
of yourself. You do too much. For the sake of religion you ought to
spare yourself a little."

The whole party joined in advising him with affectionate interest. A
maiden of seven-and-thirty, a sportive, gushing thing, whose confessor
he was, even said, half seriously and half in jest:

"Why, Father, if you were to die, what would become of me?"

A sally which made the guests laugh, but somewhat disconcerted the very
proper director of souls. The Marquesa wished to hinder him this
afternoon from delivering the address with which he usually favoured
them; but he insisted.

Meanwhile the room had been filling. Mariana Calderón had come in with
Esperancita, the Cotorrasos, Pepa Frias, and Irene. She, poor child,
looked pale and ailing; in fact, she had come straight from her room, to
which she had been confined for some days with a nervous attack. When
the party was large enough, the Marquesa invited them to retire to the
Oratory. The ladies took front places near the altar, chairs and stools
having been comfortably arranged for them, the gentlemen stood in the
background and were provided only with a velvet-pile carpet to kneel on.

The meeting began by each one going through the prayers of the Rosary
after Padre Ortega. The ladies did this with edifying precision and
devotion, their ivory fingers, on which diamonds and emeralds twinkled
like stars, piously crossed or clasped, their pretty heads bent
low--they were quite bewitching. The Creator must surely hearken to
their prayers, if it were only out of gallantry. Not the least humble,
the least engaging and edifying figure of them all was Pepa Frias. A
black mantilla was most becoming to her russet hair and pink and white
complexion. The same may be said of Clementina, who was taller, with
more delicate features, and in no respect inferior in brilliancy and
beauty of colouring. The languid and artistic attitudes affected by the
fair devotees were no doubt intended to appeal to the Divine Will; but,
as a secondary end, they were no less certainly meant to edify the
escort of men who looked down on them. And, if by any chance there could
have been a Freethinker among them, what confusion and shame must have
possessed his soul on seeing that all that was most elegant and
distinguished of the _High-life_ of Madrid was enlisted in the service
of the Lord.

Prayer being over, two of the ladies, accompanied by a baritone
"Savage," went up into the gallery, and while another gentleman played
the organ, they sang some of the finest airs from Rossini's _Stabat
Mater_. As they listened, the pious souls felt a vague craving for the
Opera house, for La Tosti and Gayarre, and confessed regretfully, in the
depths of their hearts, that the amateur performance promised them in
Heaven would be a stupendous and eternal bore. After the music came
Padre Ortega's homily or lecture. The priest was accommodated on a sort
of throne of ebony and marble in the middle of the chapel, the ladies
moved their chairs and cushions, so as to face him, and the gentlemen
formed an outer circle, and after a few moments of private meditation to
collect his ideas, he began in a gentle tone to speak a few slow and
solemn words, on the subject of the Christian Family.

As we know, Father Ortega was a priest quite up to the mark of modern
civilisation, who kept his eye on the advance of rationalistic science
that he might pounce down on it and put it to rout. Positivism,
evolution, sociology, pessimism, were all familiar words to him, and did
not frighten him, as they did most of his colleagues. He was on intimate
terms with them, and fond of using them to confute the pretensions of
modern learning. What he esteemed to be his own strong ground, was the
demonstration of the perfect compatibility of science with faith, the
Harmony (with a capital H) between Religion and Philosophy. His
discourse on the Family was profound and eloquent. To Father Ortega,
that which constituted the Family was a reverence and love for
tradition, reverence and love for the past. "The Family is
Tradition--the tradition of its glory and of its name, of honour,
virtue, and heroism; and all these may be summed up in two words:
respect for elders--love and reverence, that is to say, for all that is
highest and most conservative in the race."

Starting from this theorem, the preacher inveighed against revolution as
against a gale from hell, blowing down all that was old, and clearing
the ground for all that was new; against the barbarous hostility of our
time to the beliefs, the manners, the laws, the institutions, and the
glories of the past.

"The banners of revolution are inscribed with the motto: 'Despise the
Elders,'" said he, "as though old creeds, old manners, old institutions,
old aristocracies--though like everything human, they fall far short of
perfection--did not represent the labours of our forefathers, their
intelligence, their triumphs, their soul, life, and heart. And this
being the case, how could revolutionary science, which casts its stupid
contumely on everything ancient and venerable, fail to besmirch even our
great ancestors with its scorn? One element of dissolution in the Family
was the attack on property, directed by the revolutionary faction. This
aggression was not merely adverse to the constitution of society, it was
still more directly hostile to that of the Family. Property,
inheritance, and the patrimony, what were they but the outcome of
reverence for our forefathers on the one hand, of love for our children
on the other? Property consolidates the present, the past, and the
future of the Family; it is the spot where it has grown up and spread;
the soil which, when the progenitors pass away, assures them of rest
beneath the tree of posterity, which shall grow up from it and call them
blessed!"

Then, for above an hour, the learned Father proved the existence, on the
most solid foundations, of the Christian family. Its bases were
religion, tradition, and property. He spoke with decision, in a simple,
convincing style, and emphatic but correct language. His audience were
deeply attentive and docile, quite persuaded that it was the Holy Ghost
which spoke by the mouth of the reverend preacher, commanding them to
cherish tradition and religion, but, above all, property. The sublime
thought was so elevating that some of the gentlemen present felt
themselves united for all eternity to the Supreme Being by the sacred
tie of landed estate, and registered a vow to fight for it heroically,
and resist the passing of any law which, directly or indirectly, might
affect its integrity.

When he ended he was rewarded by smiles of approbation and repressed
murmurs of enthusiasm. Every one spoke in a whisper, out of respect to
the sanctity of the spot. The bold damsel who just now had asked Father
Ortega what she could do without him, flew to kiss his hand, with a
succession of sounding smacks which made the rest of the company
exchange meaning smiles of amusement, and the priest drew it away with
evident annoyance. Once more, some ladies and gentlemen went up into the
gallery and executed, in every sense of the word, some religious music
by Gounod. Finally, all the saintly souls left the little chapel and
returned to the drawing-room.

The Marquesa de Alcudia, a restless nature that knew no peace, at once
proceeded to carry out her promise to her nephew. He saw her take
Mariana aside; they quitted the room together. By-and-by they returned,
and Castro could see that he had been the subject of their parley by the
timid and affectionate glance bestowed on him by Esperancita's mother.
Then he saw his aunt retire with Padre Ortega into a corner where they
had a private consultation, and again he suspected that he was their
theme. The priest looked towards him two or three times with his vague,
short-sighted eyes. He had taken care not to go near Esperanza, but they
had exchanged smiles and looks from afar. The girl seemed surprised at
his sudden reserve; for the last few days Pepe had been assiduous. She
was beginning to be uneasy, and at last crossed the room to speak to
him.

"You were not at the Opera last night; are you keeping Lent?"

"Oh, no!" said he, with a laugh. "I had a little headache and went to
bed early."

"I do not wonder. What could you expect? You were riding a horse in the
afternoon that did nothing but shy. He is a handsome beast, but much too
lively. At one moment I thought he would have you off."

Castro smiled with a superior air, and the girl hastened to add: "I know
you are a fine horseman; but an accident may happen to any one."

"What would you have done if I had been thrown?" he asked, looking her
straight in the face.

"How do I know!" exclaimed the girl with a shrug, but she blushed
deeply.

"Would you have screamed?"

"What strange things you ask me," said Esperanza, getting hotter and
hotter. "I might perhaps--or I might not."

Just then the Marquesa de Alcudia addressed her.

"Esperanza, I want to speak to you."

And as she passed her nephew she said in a low voice:

"Prudence, Pepe! Asides are not in your part."

Any less superior soul would have felt some anxiety at seeing the two
women leave the room together, some uneasiness as to the issue of this
all-important interview; but our friend was so far above the common
herd in this, as in other matters, that he could chatter with the
company with as much tranquillity as though his aunt and Esperanza had
gone to discuss the fashions. When they presently returned, Esperanza's
little face was in a glow, her eyes beaming with an expression of
submission and happiness, which, but for fear of committing a deadly sin
in Lent, we might compare to that of the Virgin Mary on the occasion
when she was visited by the Angel Gabriel.

The meeting still preserved a sanctimonious tone. These chastened souls
could not forget that they were celebrating the Fasting in the
Wilderness. The young ladies round the piano piously abstained from
singing anything frivolous; their voices were modulated to the _Ave
Marias_ of Schubert and Gounod, and other songs no less redolent of
sacred emotion. They talked and laughed in subdued tones. If one of the
young men spoke a little recklessly the ladies would call him to order,
reminding him that on a Friday in Lent certain subjects were prohibited.
The Spirit of God must indeed have been present with the meeting if we
may judge from the resignation, the intense serenity, with which they
all seemed to endure existence in this vale of tears. A placid smile was
on every lip; the afternoon waned amid sacred song, mellifluous
exhortation, and subdued mirth. The newspapers reported next day, with
perfect truth, that these pious Fridays were quite delightful, and that
the Marquesa de Alcudia did the honours in the name of the Almighty with
exquisite grace.

The party at length dispersed. All these souls, so blessed and refreshed
by faith, trooped out of the Alcudia Palace and made their way home,
where they sat down to dine on hot turtle soup, mayonnaise of salmon,
and salads of Brussels sprouts, beginning with prawns to sharpen their
appetites. But, indeed, the hours of silent prayer and communion with
the Divinity had already done this. Nothing is more effectual in giving
tone to the stomach than the sense of union with the Omnipotent, and the
hope that, albeit there are fire and eternal torments for pickpockets
and those misguided souls who do not believe in them, for all Christian
families--those, that is to say, who believe in property and in their
ancestors--there are certainly comfortable quarters in reserve, with an
eternity of salmon mayonnaise and prawns _à la Parisienne_.



CHAPTER XIV

AN EXCURSION TO RIOSA.


The Duke de Requena had given the last shake to the tree; the orange
dropped into his hands golden and juicy. At a given moment his agents in
Paris, London, and Madrid, bought up more than half of the Riosa shares.
Thus the management, or, which was the same thing, the mine, was
practically his. Some who had suspected his game, declined to sell,
especially in Madrid, where the banker was well-known; and if he had not
made haste to take the decisive step, the price would undoubtedly have
become firmer. Llera scented the danger and gave the signal. It was a
happy day for the Asturian when he received the telegrams from Paris and
London. His hatchet-face was as radiant as that of a general who has
just won a great battle. His clumsy arms waved in the air like the sails
of a windmill, as he told the tale to the various men of business who
had come to the Duke's counting-house to ask the news. Loud Homeric
laughter shook his pigeon-breasted frame, he hugged his friends tightly
enough to choke them; and when the Duke asked him a question, he
answered even him with a touch of scorn from the heights of his triumph.

And yet he was not to get the smallest percentage on this immense
transaction; not a single dollar of all the millions which were to come
out of that mine would remain in his hands. But what matter! His
calculations had proved correct; the scheme he had worked out with such
secrecy, perseverance, and wonderful energy and skill, had come to the
desired issue. His joy was that of the artist who has succeeded--a joy
compared with which all the other delights on earth are not worth a
straw.

The Duke's satisfaction was of a different stamp. His vanity was indeed
flattered by this brilliant success; he honestly thought that he had
achieved an undertaking worthy to be recorded on marble and sung by
poets. A proceeding which was in truth no more than a swindling trick,
within the letter of the law, was by some strange aberration of the
moral faculty transfigured into a glorious display of intellectual
power--and that not alone in his own eyes, but in those of society at
large. To celebrate his success, and at the same time to see for himself
what improvements must be effected in the working of the mine to make it
as productive as he intended it should become, he planned an excursion
thither with the engineers and a party of his friends. At first they
were to be eight or ten; by degrees the number grew, and when the day
came round they formed a party of above fifty guests. This was chiefly
owing to Clementina, who was greatly fascinated by the notion of this
journey. Thus what had been in the Duke's mind a little friendly "day
out," had, under her manipulation, acquired the proportions of a public
event, a much talked-of and ostentatious progress, which for some days
absorbed the attention of the fashionable world.

Salabert had a special train made up for his party; the servants and
provisions were despatched the day before. Everything was to be arranged
to receive them worthily. It was the middle of May, and beginning to be
hot. By nine in the morning the station of Las Delicias was crowded with
carriages, out of which stepped ladies and gentlemen, dressed for the
occasion; the women in smart costumes considered appropriate for a day
in the country, the men in morning suits and felt hats. But to these
apparently unpretending garments they had contrived to give a stamp of
individual caprice, distinguishing them, as was but right, from all the
shooting coats and wide-awakes hitherto invented. One had a flannel
suit, as white as snow, with black gloves and a black hat; another was
in the inconspicuous motley of the lizard, crowned by a blue hat with a
microscopic brim; a third had thought it an opportunity for turning out
in a black jersey suit, with a white hat, white gloves, and boots. Many
had hung a noble field-glass about their shoulders, by a leather strap,
that they might not miss the smallest details of the landscape, and
several flourished Alpine sticks, as if they were contemplating a
perilous clamber over cliffs and rocks.

The special train included two saloon cars, a sleeping car, and a
luggage van. The cream of Madrid society proceeded to settle itself,
with the noisy glee befitting the occasion. There were more men than
women; the ladies had, indeed, for the most part, excused themselves,
not caring particularly for the prospect of visiting a mine. Still there
were enough to lend grace to the expedition, and at the same time to
subdue its tone a little. There were some whose fathers or husbands were
connected with the business: Calderón's wife and daughter, Mrs. Biggs,
Clementina, and others. There were some who had come out of friendship
for these--Mercedes and Paz Alcudia, for instance, who were inseparable
from Esperanza. There were more again who could never bear to be absent
from any ploy: Pepa Frias, Lola, and a few more. Among the men were
politicians, men of business, and titles new and old. As they got into
the train the servile assiduity of the station-clerks betrayed how great
an excitement was produced by the mere passage through the office of
these potentates and grandees.

Last of all, and most potent of all, came the Duke de Requena, who,
taking out his handkerchief, waved it from a window as a signal for
departure. A whistle sounded, the engine responded with a long and noisy
yell, then, puffing and snorting, the train began to move its metallic
segments, and slowly quitted the station. The travellers waved their
hands from the windows in farewell greetings to those who had come to
see them off.

Great was the excitement and clatter as the train flew across the
barren plains around Madrid. Every one talked and laughed at once, as
loud as possible, and what with this and the noise of the train, no one
could hear. By degrees a sort of chemical diffusion or elective affinity
took place. The Duke, seated in a coupé or compartment at the back of
the train, found himself the centre of a group of financial and
political magnates. Clementina, Pepa Frias, Lola, and some other women
formed another party, with such men as preferred a lighter and more
highly spiced style: Pinedo, Fuentes, and Calderón. The young men and
maidens were exchanging witticisms which seemed to afford them infinite
amusement. One of the incidents which most enchanted them was the
appearance of Cobo Ramirez at the window, in a guard's coat and cap,
demanding the tickets. Cobo, who had been in the foremost carriage, had
clambered along by the foot-board, not without some risk, since the
train was going at a tremendous speed. He was hailed with applause.

Then the young people sent notes to their friends in the other saloon,
the young men inditing love-letters. The heir of Casa-Ramirez took
charge of them all, and went to and fro between the cars very nimbly,
considering his obesity. This amused them greatly for some time. The
love-letters, written in pencil, were read aloud, with much applause and
laughter.

Raimundo was content to talk to the Mexican and Osorio. Osorio had
really taken a liking to him. Though but a boy in looks the banker
discerned that he was intelligent and well-educated, and among the
"Savages" such endowments as these conferred pre-eminence. The young man
had, too, succeeded in adapting himself very sufficiently to the
atmosphere which for the time he breathed. Not only was his dress
visibly modified by the refinements of fashion and good taste, but his
tone and manners had undergone a very perceptible change. In his
behaviour to Clementina he was still the timid lad, the submissive
slave, who hung on every word and gesture of his mistress; his love was
taking deeper root in his heart every day. But in social intercourse he
had accommodated himself to what he saw around him. He did all in his
power to repress the impulses of his loving and expansive nature. He
assumed a grave indifference, an almost disdainful calm; ridiculed
everything that was said in his hearing, unless it bore on the manners
and customs of the Savage Club; learned to speak in a joking, ironical
voice, like his fellow "Savages," and above all was on his guard against
ever uttering any scientific or philosophical notions, for he knew by
experience that this was the one unpardonable sin. He even kept his own
counsel when one of his new associates roused him to a feeling of warmer
sympathy and regard than the others. Affection is in itself so absurd
that it is wise to bury it in the depths of your soul, or you expose
yourself to some rebuff, even from the object of your affection. Such
things have been known. Thanks to his diligence, and to an
apprenticeship, which to him was a very cruel one, he extorted much more
respect, and was looked on as a man of consummate _chic_, a height of
happiness which it is given to few to attain to in this weary world
beneath the stars.

When Cobo had made several journeys from one car to the other, in no
small danger, as the train was flying onwards, Lola, with a mischievous
look, first at Clementina and then at Alcázar, said to the young man:

"Alcázar, will you venture to go to the next carriage, and ask the
Condesa de Cotorraso for her bottle of salts? I feel rather sea-sick."

Now Raimundo was, as we know, but a frail creature, who had never gone
through the athletic training of these young aristocrats, his friends.
The scramble along the foot-boards at the pace at which the train was
going, which was to them mere child's play, was to him a service of real
danger. He was apt to turn giddy when only crossing a bridge or climbing
a tower. He was fully aware of this, and hesitated a moment; still, for
very shame he could but reply:

"I will go at once, Señora," and he was about to act on her orders.

But Clementina, whose brows had knit at her friend's preposterous
demand, stopped him, exclaiming:

"You certainly shall not go, Alcázar. We will make Cobo go for it next
time he returns."

The young man stood doubtful with his hand on the door; but Clementina
repeated more positively, colouring as she spoke:

"You are not to go--not on any account."

Raimundo turned to Lola with a bow.

"Forgive me, Señora, to-day I am sworn to this lady's service. I will be
your slave some other day."

And neither Lola's noisy laugh, nor the sarcastic smiles of the others,
could spoil the grateful emotion he experienced at his mistress's eager
interest.

Ramon Maldonado was in the other saloon, where also were Esperanza and
her mother with some other ladies, whom he deliberately laid himself out
to charm by his discourse. He was giving them a full and particular
report, in the most parliamentary style he could command, of some
curious incidents in the last sitting. He was already master of all the
commonplace of civic oratory, and knew the technical cant very
thoroughly. He could talk of the order of the day, votes of confidence,
private bills, committees of supply, the previous question, obstruction,
suspension, and closure as if he himself were the patentee of this
elaborate outcome of human ingenuity. He knew the municipal bye-laws as
well as if he had invented them, and discussed questions of city dues,
sewage, weights and measures, and seizure of contraband, so that it was
a marvel to hear him. Finally, being a man of unfathomable ambition, he
had joined a party in opposition to the Mayor, a step which he hoped
might lead to his nomination as a member of the board of highways.

For a long time past he had been waging a covert but determined struggle
against one Perez, another deputy not less ambitious than himself, for
this very appointment, in which he believed that his great gifts as an
innovator would shine with peculiar splendour. The various public
places of Madrid were awaiting the redeeming hand which might give them
fresh life and splendour, and the hand could be none other than that of
Maldonado. In the recesses of his brain, among a thousand other
portentous schemes, there was one so audacious that he dared not
communicate it to any one, while he was incubating it with the fondest
care, determined to fight for this child of his genius till his dying
day. This was no less than a plan for moving the fountain of Apollo from
the Prado to the Puerta del Sol. And a whippersnapper fellow like Perez,
a narrow-minded slow-coach, with no taste or spirit, dared to dispute
the place with him!

At the moment when he was most absorbed in his narrative of how he had
concocted the most ingenious intrigue to secure a vote of censure on the
Mayor, Cobo--that inevitable spoilsport--came up, and after listening
for a minute, roughly attacked him, saying:

"Come, Ramoncito, do not give yourself airs. We know very well that you
are a mere nobody in the House. Gonzalez can lead you by the nose
wherever he wants you to go."

This was a cruel thrust at Maldonado, considering that it was before
Esperancita and several other ladies, old and young. Indeed it stunned
him as completely as if it had been a blow on the head with a cudgel. He
turned pale, his lips quivered, and he could not utter a word. At last
he gasped out:

"I? Gonzalez? Leads me by the nose? Are you crazy? No one leads me by
the nose, much less Gonzalez, of all men!"

He spoke the last words with intense scorn; he denied Gonzalez as Peter
denied his Master, out of base pride. His conscience told him that he
was not speaking truly, though no cock crew. Gonzalez was the
acknowledged leader of the civic minority, and at the bottom of his
heart, Ramon held him in great veneration.

"Pooh! nonsense! Do you mean to tell me that Gonzalez cannot make you
work and dance like a puppet? Much good you dissidents would do if it
were not for him."

On this Ramon recovered the use of his tongue, and to such good purpose,
that he poured out above a thousand words in the course of a few
minutes, with fierce vehemence, foaming and sputtering with rage. He
rebuked with indignation the monstrous comparison of himself with a
puppet, and fully explained the precise position held by Gonzalez in the
city council and that which he himself occupied. But he did it with such
frenzied excitement and gesticulation that the ladies looked at him in
amused surprise.

"How eloquent he is! Who would have believed it of Ramoncito? Come,
Cobo, do not tease him any more; you will make him ill!"

This compassionate tone stung Ramon to the quick. He was instantly
speechless, and for at least an hour he wrapped himself in silent
dignity.

The train drew up at a small station in the midst of a wide stretch of
open moor, looking like a petrified sea; here the travellers were to
take their mid-day meal. The Duke's servants, sent on the day before,
had everything ready. Ramon devoted himself to the service of Esperanza,
and she allowed him to wait on her with a placid smile which turned his
head with joy. The reason of her condescension was that, by his aunt's
particular desire, Pepe Castro had not joined the party. The matrimonial
overtures, made under the greatest secrecy, required the utmost
prudence. As Maldonado was so intimate with the lord of her heart,
Esperanza felt a certain pleasure in keeping him at her side; at the
same time she avoided comment by talking to the Conde de Agreda or to
Cobo. Poor Ramon! How far he was from understanding these psychological
complications.

They took their seats in the train once more, and went on their way
across interminable sunburnt plains, no one dreaming of examining the
landscape through those ponderous fieldglasses. They reached Riosa
shortly before dusk.

The famous mines of Riosa are situated in a hollow between two low
ranges of hills, the spurs of a great mountain-chain, and are surrounded
on all sides by broken ground, knolls and downs of no great height, but
scarred and ravined in such a way as to look peculiarly barren and
melancholy. In the hollow stands a town dating from the remotest
antiquity. Our travellers did not invade it, they stopped about two
kilometres short of it, at a village named Villalegre, where the
engineers and miners have settled themselves with a view to avoiding the
mercurial and sulphurous fumes which slowly poison not the miners only,
but all the inhabitants of the neighbourhood. It is divided from the
mines by a ridge, and is a striking contrast to the mining town itself.
It is watered by a stream which makes it blossom like a garden, gay with
wild lilies, jasmine, and heliotrope, and, above all, with damask roses,
which have naturalised themselves there more completely than in any
other region of Spain. The aromatic fragrance of thyme and fennel
perfumes and purifies the air.

The most flowery plot in all the settlement belonged to the company, at
about three hundred yards from the village. A handsome stone building
stood in the midst of a garden, this was the residence of the
head-manager, and the central office of the mines; round it, at some
little distance, were several smaller dwellings, each with its little
garden, occupied by clerks, and by some of the operatives; but most of
these lived at Riosa.

There was no station at Villalegre, the train stopped where it crossed
the road leading to the chief town of the province. Here carriages were
in waiting to convey them to the head office, a drive of about ten
minutes. At the park gate, and along the road, a crowd had gathered,
which hailed the visitors with very faint enthusiasm. These were the men
off their turn of work, whom the director had sent for from Riosa for
the purpose. They were all pallid and earth-stained, their eyes were
dull, and even from a distance it was easy to detect in their movements
a certain indecision, which, when seen closer, was a very perceptible
trembling. The smart party of visitors drove close past this mob of
ghosts--for such they seemed in the fading evening grey--the eyes of
beauty and fashion met those of the miners, and from that contact not a
spark of sympathy was struck. Behind the forced and melancholy smile of
the labourers, a keen eye could very plainly detect hostility. Requena's
little procession drove by in silence; these fine folks were visibly
uneasy; they were very grave, not without a touch of alarm. The ladies
involuntarily shrunk closer to the men, and as they turned in at the
gates there was a murmur of "Good heavens! what faces!" and a sigh of
relief at having escaped from the deep mysterious gaze of those haggard
eyes. Rafael Alcantara alone was so bold as to utter a jesting remark.

"Well," said he, "the sovereign people are not attractive looking in
these parts."

The manager introduced the clerks to Salabert, each by name. They were
almost all natives of other parts of the country, healthy, smiling young
fellows, with nothing noticeable about them, and the superintendents no
less so. The only man of them all who attracted any attention was a
delicate-looking man, with a pale face, and thin black moustache, whose
steady dark eyes looked at the fashionable visitors with such piercing
determination as bordered on insolence. Without knowing why, those who
met his gaze felt vaguely uncomfortable, and were glad to look away. The
manager introduced him as the doctor attached to the mines.

Rooms had been found for all the party, some in the director's house,
and others in those of the humbler residents. When they had taken a
little rest, they all met in the director's drawing-room, and from
thence they marched arm-in-arm, in solemn procession, to the office
board-room, which had been transformed into a dining-room. Here the Duke
gave them a magnificent dinner. Nothing was missing of the most refined
and aristocratic entertainment; the plate and china, the cooking, and
the service were all perfection. While they dined the grounds were
lighted up with Venetian lamps, and on rising from table, every one
rushed to the window to admire the effect, which was dazzlingly
beautiful. An orchestra, concealed in an arbour, played national airs
with great spirit. The whole party, panting from the heat of the room,
which was intense, and tempted by the brilliant spectacle, went out to
wander about the gardens; the younger men carried off the girls to a
grass-plot, close to the band, and there began to dance. Cobo Ramirez
presently joined the group.

"Do you know what you remind me of?" he shouted. "A party of commercial
travellers in some suburban café!"

This comparison seemed to hurt their feelings deeply; the dancing lost
its attractions for the fashionable juveniles, and soon ceased
altogether. However, as their hearts were set on Terpsichorean delights,
it occurred to them to transfer the music to the board room, where they
continued their devotions to the Muse, free from the dreadful burden
which Cobo had laid on their conscience.

The festivities were carried on till late. Fireworks were presently let
off, having been brought expressly from Madrid. The various couples
wandered about the gravelled paths, enjoying the coolness of the night,
made fragrant by the scent of flowers. There was but one dark blot on
their perfect enjoyment. When they went near the gate, they saw a crowd
outside, of labourers, women, and children, who had come from Riosa, on
hearing of the great doings--the same haggard creatures, hollow-eyed and
gloomy, as they had met on arriving. So they took care not to go too
near the fence, but to remain in the paths and alleys near the middle of
the garden. Lola, only, who prided herself on being charitable, and who
was president, secretary, and treasurer of no less than three societies,
was brave enough to speak to them, and even to distribute some small
silver money; but out of the darkness came obscene abuse and insults,
which compelled her to retreat. Cotorraso, when he heard of it, was in a
great rage.

"And these Bedouin savages are to have rights and liberties! Let them
first be made decent, civil, and well-behaved, and then we will talk
about it."

The law of elective affinity had drawn together Raimundo Alcázar and a
man who was somewhat out of his element in this riotous company. This
gentleman, with whom he was walking, was between fifty and sixty years
of age, short and thin, with a white moustache and beard, and prominent
eyes, with a somewhat absent gaze through his spectacles. His name was
Don Juan Peñalver; he held a chair of philosophy at the University, and
had been in the Ministry. He enjoyed a high and deserved reputation for
learning, and for a dignity of character rare in Spain. This naturally
brought him into ill-odour with the "Savages," who affected to treat him
with contemptuous familiarity. It is obvious that nothing can be more
offensive to the average "Savage" than Philosophy. Peñalver's
intellectual superiority and fame was a stab to their pride. Their scorn
did not trouble him; he was by nature cheerful, warm-hearted, and
absent-minded; he was incapable of discriminating the various shades of
social manner, and, in fact, had not been much seen in the world since
retiring from political life to devote himself exclusively to science.
He had joined this expedition to oblige his brother-in-law, Escosura,
who held a large number of shares in the Riosa mines. Of late years he
had been an ardent student of natural science, as the surest way of
combatting the metaphysical idealism to which he had devoted his early
life. It was with real pleasure that he found himself accidentally
thrown into the company of a youth so well-informed on scientific
matters as Raimundo. The rest of the party bored him past endurance, so
taking Alcázar by the arm, without inquiring whether he wanted him or
no, he began discussing physiology.

Raimundo was in a fit of despondency and gloom. He had observed that
this Escosura had been definitively making love to Clementina; he was
quite shameless in his attentions to her wherever he happened to meet
her, and affected to ignore her connection with Raimundo. Both in mind
and person Escosura was the exact opposite of his brother-in-law
Peñalver. He was tall and stout, with a burly person and noisy manners;
rich, of some influence politically, a vehement orator, with a voice so
unusually sonorous that, according to his enemies, it was to that he
owed his parliamentary successes. He was a man of about forty, and had
never been Minister, though he asserted that he should soon be in
office. Clementina had already repelled his addresses several times, and
this Raimundo knew, and was proud of his own triumph. At the same time
he could not divest himself of some anxiety whenever, as at this moment,
he saw them talking together.

They were sitting in a summer-house with several other persons, but
conversing apart with great animation. Each time he and Peñalver went
past them, his heart swelled with a pang; he scarcely heard, or even
tried to hear, the learned disquisition his companion was pouring into
his ear. Clementina could read in his anxious gaze how much he was
suffering, and after watching him for a little while she rose and joined
the two men, saying with a smile:

"And what plot are you two sages hatching?"

"You flatter me," said the younger with a modest bow. "The only sage
here is Señor Peñalver."

"Well, Señor Peñalver can bestow a lecture on the Condesa de Cotorraso,
who is anxious to make his acquaintance, while you come with me to see a
Gothic cathedral which is about to explode in fireworks," and she put
her hand through her lover's arm.

Alcázar was happy again. He did not even speak to her of the anguish he
had suffered but a moment ago; on other occasions when he had made such
a confession it had only led to double pain, for Clementina would answer
him in a tone of light banter which wounded him to the heart. They
watched the wonderful, blazing cathedral till it was burnt out; the
gentle pressure of her hand, the scent--always the same--which hung
about her sweet person were too much for the young man, who was
predisposed to be overcome by the proof of affection his beloved had
just given him. She, who knew him well, as she felt him press her arm
more closely, looked in his face, sure that she should see tears in his
eyes. In fact, Raimundo was silently weeping. On finding himself
detected, he smiled in a shamefaced way.

"Still such a baby!" she exclaimed, giving him a caressing little pinch.
"Pepa is right when she says you are like a school-girl in a convent.
Come, let us walk about; some one might see your face."

They went into a more retired part of the garden. From one spot in the
grounds they could see a very curious landscape. The full moon lighted
up the crest of the nearest hill, which divided Villalegre from Riosa,
making it look like the ruins of a castle. Clementina wished to see it
closer, so they went out by one of the side-gates, where no one was to
be seen, and slowly wandered on--the knoll was barren of vegetation, a
pile of boulders, in fact, of fantastic shapes, looking precisely like a
mass of ruins. It was not till they were close to it that they could
convince themselves of the truth.

When the lady had satisfied her curiosity, they returned round the
outside of the park, to enter by the opposite gate. On this side there
were still a few knots of people. Before reaching the gate, at a corner
of the road darkened by the shade of some trees, Clementina stumbled
over an object, and nearly fell. She screamed aloud, for on looking down
she saw a human creature lying at her feet. Raimundo took out a match,
and found that it was a boy of ten or twelve fast asleep. They picked
him up, and set him on his feet. The little fellow opened his eyes and
stared at them in alarm. Then, as if by a sudden inspiration, he
snatched the stick Raimundo was carrying, and began to move it slowly up
and down, as though he were fulfilling some very difficult task.
Clementina and her lover looked on in amazement, unable to guess what
this could mean. A few workmen collected round them, and one with a
horse-laugh exclaimed:

"It is one of the boys from the pumps! Go it, my boy, work away! A tough
job, isn't it?"

And his companions burst into brutal laughter, crying out to the poor
little somnambulist:

"Go at it! Keep it up! Harder, boy, harder, the water is rising!"

And the unhappy boy redoubled his imaginary efforts with more and more
energy. He was a weakly creature, with a white face, quite
expressionless with sleep, and his ragged rough hair gave him the look
of a wraith. The savage glee of the workmen, who looked on at the
pitiable scene, made a very painful impression on Raimundo. He took the
child in his arms, shook him gently to wake him, kissed him kindly on
the forehead, and taking a dollar out of his purse, gave it to the lad,
and then went on with Clementina. The working men ceased their laughter,
and one of them said in a tone of envy:

"Well, you have not worked hard for your day's pay."



CHAPTER XV.

LIFE UNDERGROUND.


At one in the morning the party broke up.

They were to reassemble at nine, to set out in a body on a visit of
inspection to the mines; and the programme was carried out, not indeed
with punctuality, which in Spain is an impossibility, but with no more
than an hour's delay. They set out for Riosa, in carriages, at ten; of
course a diminished party. They alighted at the outskirts of the town
and crossed it on foot, producing, as may be supposed, no small
excitement. The women crowded to the doors and windows, staring with
eager curiosity at this splendid procession of ladies and gentlemen,
arrayed in clothes such as they had never seen in their lives. Like
their husbands, brothers, and sons, these women were pale and
sickly-looking, their features pinched, their eyes dull, their hands and
feet stunted. The visitors also saw a few men suffering from constant
trembling.

"What is the matter? Why do those men tremble so?" asked Esperancita
anxiously.

"They have the palsy," said one of the clerks.

"What is the palsy?"

"They get it by working in the mines."

"Do many of them get it?"

"All of them," said the doctor, who had heard the question. "Mercurial
palsy attacks all who work in the mines."

"And why do they work there, then?" asked the girl, with much
simplicity.

"It is their mania!" said the doctor, with a peculiar smile.

"For my part I think the fresh air up here is much better to breathe
than the foul air down below."

"Why, of course. I would be anything rather than a miner."

They came out at length on a small open space, where some workmen were
busy erecting an artistic pedestal of marble.

"This is the pedestal for the statue of the Duke," said the manager of
the mines, in a loud voice.

"Ah, ah! They are going to put up a statue to you?" said one and
another, gathering round the great man. He shrugged his shoulders with a
deprecating gesture.

"I am sure I don't know. Some absurd notion that has been started in the
miners' wine-shops, I suppose."

"No, indeed, Señor Duque," exclaimed the manager, whose duty it had been
to start the idea which Llera had suggested to him at a hint from
Salabert himself. "No, indeed. The town of Riosa is anxious to erect a
monument of its gratitude and respect to a noble patron who, in the most
critical circumstances, did not hesitate to risk an enormous sum in the
purchase of a half-ruined undertaking, and so to save it from utter
disaster."

"What a beautiful thing it is to do good!" exclaimed Lola, in a voice
full of feeling; and her pretty eyes rested admiringly on Requena.

Every one complimented him; though many of those present knew the
meaning of this magnificent sacrifice. They looked at the work for a
minute or two, and then proceeded on their way. The mines were close to
the town, on the further side. Outwardly they looked like a manufactory
on a small scale, with a few tall chimneys vomiting black smoke. There
was nothing to betray their colossal value. The party went into the
buildings and over the premises where the subsidiary processes of the
works were carried on, and which included carpenters' sheds and forges,
the engineers' office and private room, &c. But what impressed them all
was the sad and sickly appearance of the operatives. They were all
broken with decrepitude, and the Condesa de Cotorraso could not help
saying:

"Only old men seem to be employed."

The manager smiled. "They are not old, though they look so, Señora."

"But they are all wrinkled, and their eyes are sunken and dim."

"There is not a man of forty among them. Those whom you see at work here
are too far gone to work underground. We employ them up here, but they
get less wages."

"And does it take long in the mines to reduce them to this condition?"
asked Ramon.

"Not long, not long," murmured the manager, and he went on: "Such as you
see them, they are always eager to get back to the mine again. The pay
for outside work is so small."

"What do they get?"

"A peseta a day; six reales at most."[F]

They next visited the smelting-houses. The Duke had gone on first with
the English engineer, whom he had engaged to report on the improvements
needed to make the works pay. In these sheds they saw huge furnaces,
piles of cinnabar and stores of mercury.

The furnaces consist of a retort in which the cinnabar is placed with
the combustibles for calcining it. From this retort earthenware
condensers rise, branching off into pipes communicating with each other.
In these pipes the vapours of mercury which rise from the furnace are
reduced by condensation to the liquid state; and the quicksilver is
precipitated and flows out by holes in the lower face of the pipes. But
as a large amount of sooty matter remains, containing particles of
metal, it is necessary to remove and clean the condensers one by one.
This is the work of boys, of from ten to fifteen, who, for seven or
eight hours at a time, breathe an atmosphere charged with mercurial
poison. They next visited the stores and the shed where the mineral is
weighed for sale. And everywhere the operatives wore the same appearance
of decrepitude.

The manager now proposed that they should inspect the hospital. Some
refused, but Lola, who never missed an opportunity of displaying her
benevolent sentiments, set the example, and most of the ladies followed
her, with a few of the men. The Duke excused himself, as he was busy
with the engineers, who were giving him their opinion on the state of
the furnaces.

The hospital was outside the precincts of the mines, near the
burial-ground--no doubt to accustom the inmates to the idea of death,
and also, perhaps, that if the mercurial vapours proved ineffectual to
kill them, those of the graveyard might finish the task. It was an old
building, tumble-down, damp, and gloomy. It was only sheer shame which
hindered the ladies from turning back from the threshold. The doctor,
who had undertaken to guide them, showed them into the different rooms,
and displayed the dreadful panorama of human suffering. Most of the poor
wretches were dressed, and sitting on their beds or on chairs. Their
drawn, corpse-like faces were objects of terror; their bodies shook with
incessant trembling, as though they were stricken with a common panic.
Fear and pity were painted on the fresh faces of their visitors; and the
doctor smiled his peculiar smile, looking at them boldly with his large,
black eyes.

"Not a pleasing picture, is it?" said he.

"Poor creatures! And are they all miners?"

"Yes, all. The atmosphere they live in, vitiated by mercurial vapours,
and the insufficient supply of fresh air, inevitably produce not only
this trembling from acute or chronic mercurial poisoning--which is the
most conspicuous result--but pulmonary catarrh of an aggravated type,
dysentery, tuberculosis, mercurial irritation of the stomach, and many
other diseases which either shorten their lives or render them incapable
of labour after a few years spent under ground."

"Poor things--poor creatures!" repeated his hearers.

The little party who had followed his guidance listened to him with
attention and sympathy. Never had they seen anything so terrible.
Labour--a penalty in itself--was here complicated with poisoning; and
with sincere emotion, full of the best intentions, they suggested means
of alleviating the misery of the sufferers. Some declared that a good
hospital ought to be erected; others suggested a shop, on charitable
principles, where the workmen could obtain good food at a cheap rate;
others urged that the children should not be employed at all; others
again that the labourers should be allowed to work for only a very
limited time.

The doctor smiled and shook his head.

"All this would be admirable, no doubt; I quite agree with you. But
then, as I can but tell you, it would not be a paying business."

They distributed some money among the sick, visited the chapel, where
again they left some money to procure a new robe for the Holy Infant,
and at last got out of the dismal place. To breathe the fresh air once
more was almost intoxicating, and they laughed and talked as they made
their way back to join the rest of the party.

The engineers were explaining to Salabert a new process of sublimation
which might be adopted, and by which not only would the production be
vastly increased, but the residue would be utilised. This was effected
by condensers formed of chambers of very thin brickwork in the lower
part of the funnel carrying off the vapour, and of wood and glass above.
A furnace to which these were fitted could be kept constantly going. The
Duke listened attentively, took notes, raised objections, mastered the
details of the business, and finally his keen nose scented enormous
profits.

As the ladies came up he gallantly postponed the discussion.

"Well, how are my sick getting on, ladies? The sun has shone on them
to-day," said he.

"Badly, Duke, very badly. The hospital leaves much to be desired."

And with one accord they complained of the defects of the building,
painting it in the blackest colours, and proposing improvements to make
it comfortable.

The Duke listened with smiling indifference and the half-ironical
attention we give to a coaxing child.

"Very well, very well; we will have it all seen to. But you will allow
me to set the business on its feet first--eh, Regnault?"

The superintendent bowed with an insinuating smile.

"And the men must work shorter hours," said the Condesa de Cebal.

"And they really must be better paid," added Lola.

"And they ought to have cottages built for them at Villalegre," said
another.

"Ha, ha, ha," shouted the Duke, with a burst of coarse laughter. "And
why not bring Gayarre and Tosti here to entertain them in the evening?
They must be dreadfully dull here, I should think, in the evenings!"

The ladies smiled timidly.

"But really, Duke, you should not make fun of it; it is a serious
matter," said the Condesa de Cebal.

"Serious! I believe you, Condesa. It has cost me three million dollars
already. Do you think three millions are not a serious matter?"

His fair advisers looked at each other, dazzled by the enormous sums
this man could handle.

"But do you not expect to get some interest on your millions?" asked
Lola, who flattered herself she knew something of business.

The Duke again roared with laughter.

"Oh no, Señora, of course not. I shall leave that in the road for the
first passer by. Interest indeed!" Then suddenly turning serious, he
went on: "Who the devil has been putting this nonsense into your heads?
I tell you, ladies, that what is lacking here--sadly lacking--is sound
morality. Make the workman soundly moral, and all the evils you have
seen will disappear. Let him give up drink, give up gambling, give up
wasting his wages, and all these effects of the mercury will disappear.
It is self-evident,"--and he appealed to some of the gentlemen who had
joined the group--"How can a man resist the effects of mining when his
body, instead of food, be it what it may, contains a gallon of bad
brandy? I am perfectly convinced that the majority of those on the sick
list are confirmed drunkards. Do you know, gentlemen, that in Riosa
thrift is a thing unknown--thrift, without which prosperity and comfort
are an impossibility?"

This was a maxim the Duke had frequently heard in the senate; he
reiterated it with much emphasis and conviction.

"But how do you expect thrift on two pesetas[G] a day?" the Condesa
ventured to demur.

"There is no difficulty at all," said the Duke. "Thrift is a matter of
principle, the principle of saving something out of to-day's enjoyment
to avoid the needs of to-morrow. Two pesetas to a workman are like two
thousand to you. Cannot you save something out of two thousand? Well, so
can he out of two. Say he has less, fifteen centimes, ten, five. The
point is to put something aside, and that, however little, is to the
good."

"Merciful Heaven!" the Condesa sighed, "What I do not understand is how
any one can live on two pesetas, much less save."

The engineers of the works invited the party to inspect the machine-room
and laboratory. There was here a remarkably fine microscope, which
attracted general attention. The doctor was the person who used it most,
devoting much of his time to investigations in histology. The manager
requested him to show the Duke's guests some of his preparations. First
he exhibited some diatoms--the ladies were charmed by their various
forms; he also showed them specimens of the animalcule which wrought
the destruction of the famous bridge at Milan; they could not cease
marvelling that so minute a creature should be able to demolish so huge
a structure.

"And think of the myriads of these creatures which must have laboured to
produce such an effect," said an engineer.

Quiroga, so the doctor was called, ended by showing them a drop of
water. One by one they all looked at the invisible world revealed by the
microscope.

"I see one animal larger than the others," said the Duke, as he applied
one of his prominent eyes to the tube of the instrument.

"And you will see all the others fly before him," said the doctor.

"Very true."

"That is a rotifer. He is the shark of the drop of water."

"Look yourself a minute, it seems to me that he is hiding behind
something that looks like seaweed."

"You may call it seaweed. Perhaps he is hiding to catch his prey."

"Yes, yes. Now he has rushed out on a much smaller creature. It is gone,
he must have eaten it."

And the Duke looked up, beaming with satisfaction at having seen this
strange microscopic tragedy.

Quiroga looked at him with his bold gaze, and said with that eternal
ironical smile of his:

"It is the same all the world over. In the drop of water as in the
ocean--everywhere the big fish swallow the small fry."

The Duke's smile faded away. He gave a side glance at the doctor, whose
mysterious countenance showed no change, and said abruptly:

"You must all be tired of science. Let us go to luncheon."

       *       *       *       *       *

The crowning attraction of the expedition which had brought all this gay
company away from their luxurious homes to so comfortless and barren a
region, was a plan for breakfasting, or rather lunching, at the bottom
of the mine. When Clementina had mentioned this at one of her card
parties it gave rise to a perfect burst of enthusiasm.

"How very original! How odd! How delightful!" The ladies especially were
most eager about it.

By the Duke's advice, they all had provided themselves with elegant
waterproof cloaks and high boots, for water oozed into the mine in many
places, and made deep puddles. Only the evening before, however, several
had taken fright at the immediate prospect, and had given up the
expedition. The Duke had been obliged to order two meals, one in the
mine and one above ground. The braver party who persisted in their
purpose were not more than eight or ten. These had brought their
waterproofs and leggings.

The whole party now gathered round one of the mouths of the mine known
as San Gennaro's pit. Near this shaft there was a building used for
inspecting and weighing the ore, and there the ladies and gentlemen
changed their boots and put on their wrappers. On seeing them thus
prepared for the worst, almost all the ladies declared that they would
after all go down with their friends. A messenger was forthwith sent to
Villalegre for the rest of the waterproofs.

The cage, worked up and down by steam, had been prepared for the
reception of this elegant company. It had two floors, on each of which
eight persons could stand. It had been lined with baize, and a few brass
rings had been fitted to hold on by. The director, the Duke, and the
valiant ladies who had come prepared, went down first. Orders were given
to the engineer to send the lift down very slowly. It began to move, at
first rising a few inches, and then descending with a jerk; then,
suddenly, it seemed to be swallowed in the shaft. The women smothered a
cry and stood speechless and pale. The walls of the shaft were dark,
rough-hewn, and streaming with water; in each division of the cage a
miner with a palsied hand held up a lantern. All, excepting the manager
and the miners accustomed to the motion, had an uneasy feeling in the
stomach, and a vague apprehension which made them incapable of speech,
and they clenched their hands very tightly as they clung to the rings.

"The first gallery," said the manager, as they passed a black opening.

But no one made any remark. This suspension in the abyss, over the
unknown void, paralysed their tongues and almost their power of thought.

"The second gallery," said the manager again as they passed another
yawning hole. And thus he continued till they came to the ninth. There
they heard the sound of voices and saw that the gallery was lighted up.

"We shall take our luncheon here. But first we will go down to the
eleventh gallery to see the works."

When they had gone past the tenth, he shouted as loud as he could:

"Are the brakes on?"

And a voice from below replied:

"No!"

"Put them on at once," he called down.

"It cannot be done," was the answer.

"What, why? The brakes, I say; put on the brakes."

And with a very red face, almost convulsed with excitement, he still
shouted like a madman, while the cage slowly went down, down.

A cold chill fell on every heart. In the upper compartment some of the
women began to utter piercing shrieks. In the lower room a few screams
were heard and all clung tightly to the men's arms. Some fainted. It was
a moment of indescribable alarm. They all thought this was their dying
hour.

And still the manager kept shouting: "The brakes, put on the brakes."

And the voices below, more and more distinct, replying: "It cannot be
done."

When they firmly believed that they were rushing into the nether void
the cage quietly stopped. They heard a peal of loud laughter, and their
terrified eyes beheld, by the tremulous light of tallow candles, a party
of miners whose grinning faces suddenly assumed an expression of the
utmost alarm and dismay.

"What is all this? What is the meaning of this piece of foolery?" asked
the manager, jumping out of the lift in a rage and going up to them.

The men respectfully took off their hats and one of them with a
shame-faced smile stammered out:

"Begging your pardon, Señor, we thought it was a lot of the men, and we
wanted to give 'em a fright."

"Did not you know that we were coming down?" he angrily asked.

"We thought the gentlefolks were going to stop at number nine, where all
the fine doings are to be----"

"You thought, and you thought; you should not think such stupid things."

The Duke recovered the use of his tongue.

"But do you know, my good fellows, that you were playing a very rough
and ready joke on your fellow workmen! Making them fancy they were
rushing to their death!"

"Their death!" echoed the miner who had first spoken.

"No, Señor Duque," said the manager, "if they had not put the breaks on
we should only have been up to our waists in water."

"Is that all?"

"Would you have liked a bath in dirty water?"

"Well, of course it would not have been a pleasant dip. But to see you
in such a state of frenzy made us all think we were being killed
outright. What do you say, ladies?"

The ladies were relieving their minds by exclamations; some crying and
some laughing. Two who had fainted received every attention, their
temples were bathed with cold water, and the Condesa de Cotorraso's
salts were brought into requisition. At last they recovered their
senses, and the rest congratulated themselves on having escaped from
such fearful peril, for they could not bear to think that there had been
none. They looked forward to exciting the sympathy of their friends at
home by the narrative of this horrible adventure, and believed
themselves the heroines of a story in the style of Jules Verne.

The spectacle which presented itself to their eyes when they could bring
themselves to look at it, was not less grand than fantastic. Huge
vaulted arches diverged in every direction, lighted only by the pale
light of a few candles placed at wide intervals. To and fro in these
galleries, with incessant toil, a crowd of labourers were constantly
moving, their gigantic shadows dancing in the dim, flickering light.
Their shouts echoed to the accompaniment of creaking trolley-wheels, and
they seemed possessed with the idea of accomplishing some mysterious
task in a very short time. In some of the galleries the walls were lined
with crystals of native mercury, glittering as though they were covered
with silver. On the other side of these walls, dull regular blows might
be heard, and on going a few yards into the openings which had been
formed here and there, they could see at the end, in an illuminated
cavern, four or five pale, melancholy men hewing out the ore with their
pick-axes. Whenever they stopped to rest it could be seen that their
limbs shook with the palsy, characteristic of mercurial poisoning.

It would have been easy to fancy oneself translated to the world of
gnomes, and the scene of their mysterious labours. Man burrows in the
earth with incessant toil like the mole, tunnelling it in every
direction; but he poisons himself as he eats it away. The gods could get
rid of the human rat without the aid of the cat.

Suddenly Lola gave a piercing shriek, which made every one look round,
but she immediately burst out laughing. A driplet of water from the roof
had trickled down her back. Every one laughed at the accident, but the
mirth was not very genuine. At these depths every one was aware of a
vague uneasiness, even fear, which they strove to conceal. The cage
brought down another large party, but the third time it was almost
empty, for the rest of the company had preferred to be deposited in the
ninth gallery, feeling no particular interest in the mining operations.
Those who had come to the bottom were unfeignedly desirous of finding
themselves as soon as possible in more commodious quarters. They asked
the manager again and again whether they were safe, if there was no fear
of the vault falling in.

"Oh, no," said the manager with a smile. "Only private mines fall in.
This was a Government concern, and everything was done with lavish
security."

"I have been in mines where we have had to send a party of men down to
dig the miners out," said one of the engineers.

"How shocking!" exclaimed the ladies in chorus.

At last they got into the cage again and were carried up to number nine.
Here the scene was very different. It was a long time since this gallery
had been worked, and part of it had been enlarged to form a chamber,
which had been enclosed, boarded, and carpeted; it might have been a
room in a palace. The roof and walls were hung with waterproof cloth and
adorned with trophies of mining. A table was magnificently laid for
fifty or more, and the place was brilliantly illuminated by means of
lustres with hundreds of wax lights. In short every refinement of luxury
and elegance had been lavished here, so that it was difficult to
persuade oneself that this dining-room was in the depths of a mine,
three hundred mètres below the surface of the earth.

The guests took their seats with a sense of excitement, a combination of
pleased admiration and vague alarm, which was written on their smiling
but pale faces. The servants in livery stood in a row as if they had
been at home in Madrid. As the first course was handed round, a band,
hidden away in an adjoining gallery of the mine, struck up a charming
waltz tune, and the sounds, softened by distance, had a delightful and
soothing effect.

The ladies, their eyes glistening, tremulous with excitement, repeated
again and again: "How original, how amusing, I am so glad I came, what a
delightful idea of Clementina's!"

Then they tried to be calm and talk of indifferent subjects; but no one
succeeded. The sense of so many tons of earth overhead weighed on their
consciousness through it all. Nay, with some of the men it was the same,
though some were perfectly calm.

Raimundo was, no doubt, the man who thought least of his immediate
surroundings; he was entirely absorbed in his moral predicament.
Clementina, in spite of her professions and promises, was carrying on a
hot flirtation with Escosura. They were placed side by side, exactly
opposite to where he sat. He could see them talking eagerly, and
laughing frequently; he saw him devoted, obsequious, lavish of
compliments and attentions; he saw her complacent, smiling, and
accepting his civilities with pleasure. And though from time to time she
bestowed on Raimundo a loving look in compensation, he could only regard
it as an alms--the crust bestowed on a beggar to save him from death.
What did he care whether he were on the face or in the centre of the
earth, or even if it should fall in and crush him like a fly.

Another person to whom this geographical question was a matter of
supreme indifference was Ramoncito, though from the opposite point of
view. Esperanza was most amiable to him, perhaps because she thought she
could thus the better endure the absence of Pepe Castro. The young
deputy, beside himself with joy, never stirred an inch further from her
side, or for a moment longer than appearances demanded. Triumphantly
happy, he cast occasional glances of condescending grace on the rest of
the company, and when his eyes fell on Calderón's financial face his
emotion was visible; he could hardly forbear from addressing him as
"Papa."

As the meal progressed, the superincumbent earth weighed less heavily
on their souls. Heady wines warmed their blood, and talk revived their
spirits. Every one had forgotten the mine as completely as if they had
been sitting in an ordinary handsome dining-room. Rafael Alcantara was
amusing himself by making Peñalver drunk. Encouraged by the laughter of
his companions, who looked on, he did his utmost to befool the
philosopher, addressing him in a loud voice with extreme familiarity,
winking at his allies each time he made some blunder, taking base
advantage, in short, of the worthy gentleman's benevolent and
unsuspicious temper. He had taken upon himself to avenge the whole body
of illustrious pipe-colouring youth for the intellectual pre-eminence
for which the great thinker was noted.

When dessert was served Escosura rose to propose a toast. He was an
object of respect to the "Savages," partly from his corpulence and his
vehement temper, but chiefly by reason of his money. He considered
himself an orator. In a strong, ringing voice, he pronounced a panegyric
on the Duke, whom he repeatedly designated as "that financial genius."
He enlarged on labour, capital, and production; and went on to
politics--his strong point. From the depths of the quicksilver mine he
shot terrific darts at the Ministry, which had failed to give him a
portfolio at the last change of Cabinet.

Salabert replied with much hesitancy, thanking him with grovelling
self-abasement. "No merit of his own beyond industry and honesty had
raised him to the proud position he held (murmured applause). The
nation, the sovereign who had ennobled him, had ennobled a son of toil.
By struggling all his life against a tide of difficulties, he had
succeeded in collecting a handful of money. This money now enabled him
to maintain some thousands of workmen. This was his best reward
(applause). He begged to propose the health of the ladies, whose courage
had brought down to this subterranean hole, and who would leave behind
them, a fragrance of charity and joy, which would live for ever in the
hearts of the mining-folk."

At this instant, simultaneously with the pop of several champagne corks,
a tremendous detonation was heard, making the bravest turn pale.

"There is nothing to be alarmed at," said the manager. "They are
exploding the borings. It is always done at this hour."

It was in truth an impressive moment. The noise of each explosion,
multiplied and repeated by a thousand echoes, was enough to make the
stoutest heart quake with faint alarms. Every one was suddenly silenced,
listening for some seconds, with absorbed anxiety, to the rolling
thunders which shook the earth. The table quivered, and the glasses and
dishes rattled and tinkled.

At this moment, the doctor rose from his chair, and after steadily
eyeing the guests all round with his dark gaze, he raised his glass and
spoke:

"Our illustrious host, the Duke of Requena, has just told us, with a
modesty which does him credit, that the whole secret of his great
fortune lies in industry and honesty. He must permit me to doubt it. The
Duke de Requena represents something more than those vulgar qualities;
he represents force. Force! the sustaining factor of the Universe.

"Force is very unequally distributed among organic beings; some have a
larger and others a smaller share. And in the ceaseless struggle which
goes on among them, the weakest perish, the fittest and strongest
survive. Let us, then, adore in our Amphitryon the incarnation of Force.
Thanks to the force with which Nature has endowed him, he has been able
to subjugate and utilise the smaller share of thousands of individuals
who unconsciously serve his ends; thanks to that force, he has
accumulated his vast capital.

"As I look round on this distinguished company, I observe with pleasure
that all who compose it have also been endowed with a good proportion of
this force, either congenital or inherited, and I can but congratulate
them with all my heart. The only essential thing in the world we live
in, is to have been born fit for the struggle. We must crush if we
would escape being crushed. And, I may add, I also congratulate myself
on standing here face to face with so many chosen of the gods on whom
Providence has set the seal of happiness."

"Hear him, my dear!" whispered Pepa Frias to Clementina. "This is
Mephistopheles' toast, I think."

Clementina smiled faintly. In fact, the doctor's pale, refined face,
with the black hair brushed off his forehead, and, above all, his black
eyes, in spite of an assumption of innocence, were full of a bitter
irony not unworthy of Mephistopheles.

He went on:

"Slavery has existed in every age under one form or another. There have
always been men designated by fate to live in the refined atmosphere of
intellectual enjoyments, in the cultivation of the arts, in luxury and
splendour, and the pleasure to be derived from the society of
intelligent and educated persons; while others again are fated to
procure them the means of such an existence by rude and painful toil.
The pariahs laboured for the Brahmins, the helots for the Spartans, the
slaves for the Romans, the villeins for their feudal lords. And is it
not the same to this day? Of what avail are laws to abolish slavery? The
men who work in the depths of this mine, and inhale the poison which
kills them, are slaves, though not by law--by want of bread. The result
is the same. It is the law of Nature, and so no doubt a holy and
venerable law, that some must suffer for others to enjoy life. You,
ladies, are the descendants of the noble Roman ladies who sent their
slaves to these mines to procure them vermilion to beautify their faces,
and of the Arabs, who used it to decorate the minarets of their palaces
at Cordova and Seville. Ladies, I drink to you, my soul possessed by
admiration and respect, as the representatives of all that is choicest
on earth--Love, Beauty, and Pleasure."

Though the pledge was gallant enough, it seemed uncanny; some muttered
disapproval, and the hostile feeling against the young doctor visibly
increased. There were one or two who hinted, in an undertone, that this
low fellow was making game of them. Rafael Alcantara was eager to pick a
quarrel with him, but he read in the doctor's eyes that he would not
escape without some serious annoyance, and he preferred to pocket the
affront. The ladies regarded him with more benevolence. They thought him
"quite a character." The doctor's speech had certainly left an
unpleasant impression, which Fuentes failed to dissipate, though he
brought out his most original paradoxes.

"Ladies and gentlemen," said he, "I do not propose a toast because I am
not an orator. I hope that ere long this will be recognised as an
honourable distinction in Spain; that when such an individual goes by in
the street it will be said of him with respect: 'he is not an orator;'
as we already say: 'he wears no order of merit.'"

The ladies applauded and laughed at the joke. But whether from the
doctor's words, or whether they were again oppressed by vague fears,
they were all conscious of an uneasy feeling. Every one was cheered when
it was announced that the cage was ready to carry them up. Those who
remained to the last, heard, as they started, a distant chorus, which
came nearer as they rose, till it sounded close by them, and then
mysteriously died away below them without their having seen any one. The
effect was most whimsical. The words they heard were those of an
Andalucian boat song:

    Up the river, and up the river,
      Water will never run up to the town;
    Down the river, and down the river,
      All the world is bound to run down.

The engineer remarked in explanation:

"A party of miners, going down in the cage which serves as a
counterpoise to this one."

"I told you so, Condesa," exclaimed Salabert in a triumphant tone. "If
they are in spirits to sing, they cannot be so miserable as you fancy."

The lady was silent for a moment, then she said, with a melancholy
smile:

"It is not a very mirthful ditty, Duke."

This was going on in the upper compartment. In the lower division,
Escosura observed in a scornful tone to the chief engineer:

"Do you know that your young doctor was so rash as to give us a taste of
his materialistic views?"

"Materialistic! I do not know that he is a Materialist. What he prides
himself on being--and the miners worship him for it--is a Socialist."

"Worse and worse."

"To tell the truth," said Peñalver, with a sigh, "it is impossible to
come up from the bottom of a mine without having caught a little of the
infection."

At nine in the evening, after dining at Villalegre, the party returned
to Madrid, by special train. They all set out well content with the
excursion. They hoped to amaze their friends by their account of the
underground banquet. The only unhappy person was Raimundo. The
alternations of joy and anguish which Clementina's flirtation occasioned
him had quite quenched his spirit. At last, seeing him so sad and
exhausted, his mistress was merciful. She made him sit by her in the
train, and without scandalising a party who were cured of all such
weakness, she talked to him all the evening, and finally dropped asleep
with her head on his shoulder.

Though a sleeping-car formed part of the train, it was not in favour.
Most of the travellers preferred remaining in the saloons. Towards
morning, however, sleep overcame them all, and they succumbed where they
sat, in a variety of attitudes, some of them by no means graceful.

Ramon Maldonado was on a pinnacle of triumph and happiness. Esperancita,
to judge by appearances, must certainly love him. He felt lifted above
the earth, not merely by the natural superiority of his soul, but by the
ecstasy of joy. His ugly little face was as radiant as a god's. Farewell
for ever to the struggles and obstacles which had hitherto embittered
his life. Free henceforth from the service of sorrow, as are the
immortals, he gloried in his apotheosis, majestically serene.

He, too, had seated himself next the idol of his heroic heart, and for
some hours sat talking to her in dulcet tones--of English cobs, and of
the great pitched battles which were being constantly fought in the
municipal council, and in which he bore an active part; till the
innocent child, soothed by the monotonous and insinuating discourse,
closed her eyes, with her head thrown back against the cushion.

Maldonado remained awake, wide awake, thinking of his happiness.
Rosy-fingered Aurora, stepping over the ridge of the distant Sierra, and
flying swiftly across the wide plain, peeped through the blinds of the
carriages, diffusing a dim and subdued light, and still he was hugging
himself in contentment.

Esperancita opened her eyes and smiled at him with a tender smile which
thrilled the deepest fibres of his lyric soul. At this instant a lark
began to sing. In Ramoncito the god was each moment growing more
distinct from the man; intoxicated with love and happiness he murmured
into the girl's ear, in a voice tremulous with emotion, a few incoherent
and ardent phrases, the expression of the divine madness. Esperanza shut
her eyes again--to hear that music better?

When he had exhausted all the superlatives in the dictionary to describe
his passion, the poetic young civilian thought to achieve the task of
conquest by showing the damsel, as in a vision, all the glories he could
shed upon her: "He was an only son, his parents had an income of a
hundred and ten thousand reales[H] a year; at the next ensuing elections
he intended to stand as candidate for Navalperal, where his family had
estates, and if only he had the support of the Government he was certain
to succeed. Then, as the Conservative party were greatly in need of new
blood, he believed he should soon get an appointment as under secretary,
and--who could tell?--by-and-by, at a change of Ministry, find himself
entrusted with a portfolio."

The girl still kept her eyes shut. Ramoncito, more and more excited,
when he had ended this catalogue of brilliant prospects, bent over her
and whispered in impassioned tones: "Do you love me, dearest, do you
love me?"

No answer.

"Tell me, do you love me?"

Esperancita, without opening her eyes, answered curtly:

"No."



CHAPTER XVI.

A DEPARTING SOUL.


A few weeks after this excursion, Doña Carmen's disease suddenly grew
much worse. The physicians, indeed, had no doubt that her end was
drawing near. She was in a state of complete prostration. Her face was
so thin, that there seemed to be nothing left but the skin, and the
large, sad, kind eyes, which rested with strange intensity on all who
came near her, as if trying to read in theirs the terrible secret of
death. And in view of her death, a thousand sordid feelings surged up in
the minds of those who ought most to have sorrowed over it. Salabert
reflected with indignation on the inheritance which was to pass to his
daughter. He made fresh efforts to induce his wife to revoke her will,
but without success. For the first time in her life, Doña Carmen showed
great firmness of character. Though she was incapable of a revengeful
sentiment, she perhaps felt bound by her desire to close her existence
by an act of justice. A life of abject submission, during which she had
never opposed the smallest obstacle to her husband's will, to his
money-making schemes, or his illicit passions, had surely earned her the
privilege of asserting her rights on her death-bed, and gratifying the
impulses of her heart.

Osorio kept silent watch, with concealed greed, over the progress of her
malady, looking to its termination as the end of his own difficulties.
Doña Carmen would be released from her earthly husk, and he from his
creditors. Clementina herself, the object of the tender soul's devoted
affection, could not help rejoicing over the prospect of so many
millions which were to drop into her hands. She did her best to silence
her desires, and subdue her impatience; but, in spite of herself, a
tempting fiend made her heart give a little leap of gladness, every time
the anticipation flashed through her brain.

It was with infernal astuteness that Salabert set to work to infuse
distrust into his wife's mind. Sometimes by insinuation, and sometimes
by brutally broad hints, he poured the poison of suspicion into her
soul. Clementina and Osorio were looking for her death, as for flowers
in May. What airs they would give themselves when they had paid all
their debts! And then they would live and enjoy themselves on her money.

The poor woman said nothing, indignant at these base innuendoes. But,
nevertheless, in her soul, broken and saddened by suffering, the keen
point of this envenomed dart festered deeply, though she strove to
conceal her anguish. Every time Clementina came to see her--and towards
the end this was twice a day--her stepmother's eyes would rest on hers
in mute interrogation, trying to read in them the thoughts in the brain
behind. This intent gaze embarrassed the younger woman, making her feel
a perturbation, which, though slight, occasionally betrayed itself.

As her malady increased, this anxiety on Doña Carmen's part became
almost a mania. In the isolation of soul in which she lived, Clementina
represented the one link of affection which bound her to life. It was
because her stepdaughter had always been cold and haughty to every one
else, that she had never doubted the sincerity of her love for her, and
it had made her happy and proud. It had sufficed to indemnify her for
the scornful indifference with which every one else had treated her.
Now, the horrible doubt which had been forced upon her, filled her heart
with bitterness. Such a spirit of goodness and love as her own craved to
believe in goodness and love. The uprooting of this last belief made her
heart bleed with anguish.

One evening they were alone together; Doña Carmen, motionless in her
deep arm-chair, with her head thrown back on the pillows, was listening
to Clementina, who was reading aloud the pious history of the apparition
of the Virgin of la Salette. Her thoughts wandered from the narrative;
they were disturbed as usual by the fatal doubt, which tortured her more
than even her acute physical sufferings. She could not take her eyes off
Clementina's fair head, with the fixed look of divination peculiar to
dying persons, as though she could read what was passing within, but
without gaining the certainty she longed for. More than once, when the
reader glanced up, she met that dull, grief-stricken gaze, and hastily
looked down again with a sudden sense of uneasiness. A desire, a whim,
had blazed up in the sick woman's mind, a feverish yearning such as
dying creatures feel. She longed to hear her stepdaughter quench, by
some gentle word, the fearful pain of that burning doubt. Again and
again the question hovered on her lips; invincible shame kept her from
uttering it.

"Lay down the book, child, you are tired," she said at last. And her
voice came trembling from her throat, as though she had said something
very serious.

"You are, perhaps, of listening. I am not. I have a strong throat."

"God preserve it to you, my child," replied Doña Carmen tenderly, as she
looked at her.

There was a brief silence.

"Do you know what I have been told?" she asked finally, with an effort,
and her voice was so low that the last syllables were scarcely audible.

Clementina, who was about to read again, raised her head. The few drops
of blood left in Doña Carmen's emaciated body suddenly rushed to her
face and tinged it with a faint flush.

"I was told--that you wish for my death."

Clementina's rich blood now mounted in a tide to her cheeks and dyed
them crimson. The two women looked at each other for a moment in
confusion. At last it was the younger who exclaimed, with a dark frown:

"I know who told you that!"

And as she spoke the blood faded from her face again like a sudden fall
of the tide. Her stepmother's retreated to her weary heart. She bent her
head with its white hairs, and said:

"If you know, do not utter his name."

"Why not?" cried her wrathful stepdaughter. "When a father, with no
motive whatever, solely for the sake of a few dollars, can insult his
daughter and make a martyr of his wife, he has no right to claim either
affection or respect. I say it, and I do not care who hears me. It is an
infamous calumny! My father is a man who knows no God, no love but
money. I knew that your will had alienated his love for me--if indeed he
ever had any."

"Oh!"

"Yes, I knew it perfectly. But I never could have believed that it would
lead him to do anything so vile as to calumniate me so cruelly. I
confess to you that I have always loved you the most--oh, yes, much,
much the most! I have no hesitation in saying so. Nay, I will say more:
I have never really loved any one but you and my children. If this will
is the cause of your doubting my love for you, destroy it, undo it,
revoke it. Your love and your peace of mind are far dearer to me than
your money."

Her voice thrilled with indignation. Her eyes were sternly fixed on
vacancy, as though she could evoke the figure of her father and crush
him to powder. At the moment she was ardently sincere. Doña Carmen's dim
eyes grew bright with contentment as her daughter spoke. At last they
glittered through tears as she exclaimed:

"I trust you, my child--I believe you! Ah, you cannot think what good
you have done me!"

She seized her hands and kissed them fondly. Clementina exclaimed, as if
ashamed:

"No, no, mamma! It is I who----" And she threw her arms round her neck.

They held each other in a warm embrace, shedding silent tears. It was
one of the few occasions in her life when Clementina wept from tender
feeling, and not from vexation of spirit.

But during the remaining days, though the memory of this scene was
lively with them both, so, too, was that of the suspicion which had led
to it. Clementina felt herself humbled in her stepmother's presence. Her
attentions and endearments were now and then a little forced; she tried
to efface the impression she still read in Doña Carmen's eyes. Then,
again, fearing this might lead her to doubt her sincerity, she would
suddenly cut them short, and assume a cold indifference. In short, a
current of disquietude flowed between the two women, and caused them
both much suffering, though in different ways, whenever they were
together.

At last Doña Carmen took to her bed, never again to rise. Clementina
spent the whole day by her side. The terrible end was near. One morning,
between two and three, two of the Duke's servants gave the alarm to the
Osorios. The Duchess was dying, and asked repeatedly for her daughter.
Clementina hastily dressed and flew to the Requena Palace as fast as her
horses could carry her. Osorio went with her. As they alighted they met
the Duke, with an expression of scornful gloom.

"You are in time--oh, you are in time!" he growled, and he turned away
without another word.

Clementina fancied the words were spoken with a malevolent sneer, and
bit her lips with rage. The pitiable scene that met her eyes as she
approached Doña Carmen's bedside pacified her for the moment. The poor
woman's face was stamped by the hand of death; pale as a corpse, the
nose pinched and white, the eyes glassy and sunk in a livid circle.
Standing by her side was a priest, exhorting her to repentance. Of what?
Her faithful maid, Marcella, stood at the foot of the bed crying
bitterly, her face hidden in her handkerchief; and two other maids in
the background looked on at the pathetic picture, frightened rather
than sorrowful. The physician was writing a prescription at a table in
the corner.

On seeing her daughter the Duchess turned to look in her face with an
anxious expression, and held out a hand to her.

"Come close, child," she said, in a fairly strong voice. And she took
Clementina's right hand in her own thin, waxen hands, and said, with a
fearful fixity of gaze:

"I am dying, my child, dying. Do you not see it? Only so long as you are
not glad of it."

"Mamma, dear mamma!"

"Say that you are not glad," she earnestly insisted, without ceasing to
look in her daughter's eyes.

"Mamma, mamma, for God's sake!" cried Clementina, both bewildered and
alarmed.

"Say that you are not glad!" she repeated, with increased energy, even
raising her head with a great effort, and looking sternly at her.

"No, my beloved mother, no. If I could save your life at the cost of my
own I swear to you I would do so."

The dying woman's dim eyes softened; she laid her head on the pillow,
and, after a short silence, she said, in a weak, quavering voice:

"You would be very ungrateful--very ungrateful. Your poor mother has
loved you dearly. Kiss me, do not cry. I am not sorry to leave this
world. What hurt me was the thought that you, child of my
heart--you--oh, horrible to think of! How it has tortured me!"

The priest here interposed, desiring her to turn her mind from worldly
thoughts. The sick woman listened with humility, and devoutly echoed the
prayers he spoke in a loud voice. The doctor and the Duke came close to
the bed, but, seeing that Doña Carmen was breathing her last, the
physician took Requena by the arm to lead him out of the room. Doña
Carmen's glazing eye wandered round the little group till it rested on
Clementina, to whom she signed to come closer.

"God bless you, my child," she said, with a gaze fixed on the ceiling.
"You are right to be glad at my death."

"Mamma, mamma, what are you saying?" cried Clementina, in horror.

"I am glad, too, glad that my death should be an advantage to you. If I
could have given you all while I lived, I would have done it. It is sad,
is it not, that I should have to die to make you happy? I should have
liked to see you happy. Good-by; good-by. Think sometimes of your poor
mamma."

"Mother, dearest mother!" sobbed the younger woman, dropping on her
knees with a burst of tears. "I do not want you to die, no, no. I have
been very wicked, but I have always loved you, have always respected
you."

"Do not be foolish," said the dying woman, smiling with an effort, and
laying her hand on the fair head. "I am not sorry if you are glad. And
what does it matter? I die content to know that you will owe some
happiness to me. Remember my old women in the asylum, be kind to them,
and to Marcella, my good Marcella. Farewell, all of you. Forgive me any
faults----"

Her voice failed, her breathing was hard and painful. The sobs of
Clementina and Marcella were the only other sound. The Duke, trembling
and shocked, was at last persuaded to leave the room.

Doña Carmen spoke no more. Her eyes closed, her lips parted, she lay
quite still. Now and then she half raised her eyelids and looked fondly
at her step-daughter who remained kneeling. The priest read on in a
quavering nasal voice prayer after prayer.

Thus died the Duchess de Requena. Let her depart in peace.

       *       *       *       *       *

For some days after, Clementina and her husband, in spite of their
inextinguishable aversion, held long and repeated conferences. The great
question of the inheritance united their interests for a while.
Clementina went every morning and evening to see her father, and Osorio
too was a frequent visitor; they both were lavish of attentions to the
old man, took pity on his loneliness, and made much of him. There was an
affectionate familiarity in their demeanour which was highly becoming in
a son and daughter who make it their duty to cherish a venerable parent
in his old age. The Duke, on his part, accepted their care, watching
them with an expression which was ironical rather than grateful. When
their backs were turned to leave him, he gazed after them, slowly
closing his eyes, and turned his cigar-stump between his teeth, while
his lips sketched a sarcastic smile, which did not die away for some few
seconds.

But everything went on as before. Although the Duchess's will was
incontrovertible, Salabert never said a word on money matters. He
continued to manage the whole of the fortune, and engaged in various
concerns with calm despotism. But his daughter and son-in-law were not
so calm. They began, on the contrary, to be greatly disturbed, to
express their opinions to each other with crude vehemence, and to lay
plots to provoke an explanation. Clementina thought that Osorio should
speak to her father. He considered it her part to apply to him in
dutiful terms for an explanation, before formulating a complaint. After
some days of hesitation the wife finally made up her mind to say a few
words to her father, though not without some embarrassment, since she
knew his temper and her own too.

"Well, papa," said she, with affected lightness, finding him alone in
his room, "when are you going to talk over money matters with me?"

"Money matters? Why should I?" he replied in a tone of surprise, and
looking at her with such an air of innocence that she longed to slap his
face.

"Why should you? Because it will have to be done, to put me in
possession of my property. Am I not mamma's sole legatee?" she answered
in the same cheerful tone, but there was a very perceptible quaver in
her voice.

"Ah, to be sure!" exclaimed the Duke, with a flourish of the hand to
dismiss the subject. "We will talk of that later--much later."

Clementina turned pale. Her blood seemed to curdle with rage. Her lips
quivered, and she was on the point of saying something violent.

"Still, it would be as well that we should come to an understanding,"
she murmured in a low voice.

"Not at all, not at all. I cannot discuss it now. When I have time and
am in the humour I will think about it."

He spoke with such decision and indifference that his daughter had no
choice but either to give the reins to her tongue and quarrel violently
with her father, or to go. After a moment's hesitation she went. She
turned on her heel, and, without a word of leave-taking, she quitted the
room and went off in her carriage, in such a state of excitement that
she was trembling from head to foot.

As soon as she reached home she shut herself up in her own room and gave
vent to her fury. She wept, she stamped, she tore her clothes, and broke
various articles of crockery. Osorio too flew into a rage, and declared
he would bring Salabert to book. But nothing came of it all, excepting a
letter, in which respectfully enough, he required his father-in-law to
give him an account of the state of his business, that the preliminaries
of an estimate might be arrived at. Salabert simply did not answer. They
wrote another; again no reply. They ceased going to the house.
Clementina would not go for fear of a scandal. Osorio, on his part,
considering the relations that subsisted between him and his wife, did
not feel that he had the moral position which would entitle him to lay
formal claim to her fortune.

In this predicament they consulted certain persons of weight, friends of
the Duke, and requested them to mediate. This was done; they had various
interviews with the old man, and after much consultation a friendly
meeting was agreed on, to avoid bringing the matter into a court of law.
The meeting was held, after some objections on Clementina's part, at
her father's house. Besides the interested parties, there were present
Father Ortega, the Conde de Cotorraso, Calderón, and Jimenez Arbos.

The proceedings were opened by Arbos--no longer in the Ministry, but a
member of the Opposition--who made a speech in a conciliatory key,
urging them to agree rather than present to the public the spectacle of
a quarrel on money matters between a father and daughter--a spectacle
which, in view of the position they held, must be both painful and
discreditable. The next to speak was Father Ortega, who, in the unctuous
and persuasive accents which characterised him, first bestowed on both
parties a plentiful lather of preposterous encomiums, and then appealed
to their Christian feelings, representing how bad an example they would
set, and painting the sweets of loving-kindness and self-sacrifice,
ending by promises of eternal life and glory.

Clementina replied. She had no wish but to continue in the same friendly
relations with her father as had hitherto subsisted, and to achieve that
end she was prepared to do all in her power. The curt, dry tone in which
she spoke, and the scowl which accompanied her words, gave no strong
evidence of sincerity. However, the Duke seemed greatly moved.

"Arbos," he began, "Father, my friends, and my children; you all know me
well. To me, without domestic life, there is no possibility of
happiness. After the terrible blow I have so lately suffered, my
daughter is all that is left to me. On her centre all my hopes, my
affections, and my pride. For her I have toiled, have struggled
indefatigably, have accumulated the capital I possess. I may say that I
have never cared for money but for the sake of my wife, now in glory,
and my daughter--to see them living in comfort and luxury. As you know,
I could always have lived on a few coppers a day. And now that I am old,
all the more so. What can I want with millions? Ere long, I too must
take the train for the other side--Eh, Julian? And you too.--Who then
can suppose that I should ever quarrel over a handful of dollars with
my dear and only daughter? The whole thing has been a mistake. I wanted
time to put my affairs in order; that was all. And if you, my child,
ever could imagine anything else, I can only tell you this: everything
in this house is yours, and always has been. Take it whenever you
choose. Take it, my child, take it. I can do with nothing."

As he pronounced the last words with visible emotion, they all were able
to shed a tear. Every one was deeply moved and eager with conciliatory
exhortation. Father Ortega gently pushed Clementina into her father's
arms; and though she was the least agitated of the party, she allowed
him to embrace her.

He clasped her to his heart for some minutes, and when he released her
dropped into his arm-chair, with his handkerchief to his eyes, quite
overcome by so much emotion.

After so pathetic a scene no one could allude to money. The meeting
broke up with fervid hand-pressing and warm mutual congratulations on
the happy issue of their diplomacy. But Osorio and his wife got into
their carriage, grave and sullen, and exchanged not a single word on the
drive home. Only as they reached their own door, Clementina said:

"Well, we shall see how the farce ends."

Osorio shrugged his shoulders.

"We have seen the end, I suspect."

And he was right.

The Duke never paid them a cent., and never again spoke of his
daughter's fortune. He was very affectionate, and constantly had them to
dine with him, complaining of his loneliness. Now and then he spoke of
transactions he was engaged in, but not a word of paying them their
share. Clementina was at last so much provoked that she suddenly ceased
going to the house. They then took to exchanging notes. Nothing was to
be got out of her father but ambiguous replies and vague hopes. Finally
they decided on taking legal steps, and a lawsuit began, which was a
source of endless satisfaction to the faculty.

This was an end of all joy or comfort for Clementina. She lived in a
state of perpetual ferment, watching the progress of the litigation with
anxious interest, communicating with the lawyers, and trying to exert
some influence which might counterbalance the Duke's. He, on his part,
took the matter much more calmly, conducted it with maddening acumen,
taking advantage of her displays of violence to represent her in the
eyes of the world as a greedy and unnatural daughter. At the same time,
among his intimate acquaintances, he would now and then give utterance
to some sarcastic or cynical speech which, when it reached her ears,
made her wild with rage. The struggle became more desperate every day,
while, on the other hand, Osorio's creditors, deceived in their hopes,
began to press him very hard, and threatened to bring him to ruin. The
torments, the tempers, the wretched state of things in the Osorio
household may be easily imagined.

This discomfort, and it might be called misery, extended to the hapless
Raimundo. Clementina, torn soul and body by a tumult of other passions,
found no leisure for the blandishments of love. The minutes she could
spare for them were every day briefer and less calm. The gay
_tête-à-têtes_ and merry devices of a former time were over for ever.
The lady no longer found any amusement in laughing at her boyish lover.
She did not seem even to remember the childish pleasures in which they
had delighted. She could talk of nothing now but the lawsuit. Her nerves
were in such a state of tension that an inadvertent word might put her
into a furious rage. And, besides all this, in her vehement desire for
triumph over her father, she flirted more than ever with Escosura, who
had just come into office; and this, as may be supposed, was what most
distressed the young naturalist.

One day, when she was rather more fond than usual, she said in loving
accents:

"You are still jealous of Escosura, Raimundo? But it is quite a mistake.
I do not care a straw for the man."

"Yes, so you have often told me, and yet----"

"There is no 'and yet' in the case, fastidious youth!" she interrupted,
gently pulling his ear. "I never loved, and never could love any one but
you. But--here comes the but--you alas! are not in power, though you
deserve to be more than any one I know. My fortune, as you know, is at
the mercy of the law, and I may be told any day that I am a beggar.
Accustomed as I am to comfort and luxury, you may imagine how much I
should relish this. And my pride, too, would suffer, for I am the object
of much invidious feeling; people hate me without knowing why. In short,
I should be laughed at, and that I could not endure. My father has a
great many supporters. Men count on him for services, though he is
utterly incapable of a kindness, and they are afraid of him too. Now I,
though on intimate terms with all the official circle of Madrid, have
not one true friend to take a real interest in my affairs, or dare to
show a bold front to my father. And so, you see, I must try to make one.
Now imagine this friend to be Escosura, and imagine me to break with you
before the eyes of the world, though still you are the one and only man
I can ever love. What do you think of the arrangement? Can you regard it
as acceptable?"

Raimundo coloured crimson at this strange and humiliating proposition.
For a minute or two he made no reply, but at last he said, between anger
and contempt:

"It strikes me as simply infamous and indecent."

The furrow, the fateful furrow, which appeared on Clementina's brow
whenever passion stirred her stormy soul, was ominously deep. She
abruptly rose, and after looking at him hard, with an expression of
scornful rage, she said in icy tones:

"You are right. Such an arrangement could not meet your views! We had
better part, once for all." And she turned to go.

Raimundo was confounded.

"Clementina!" he cried as she reached the door.

"What is it?" said she, as coldly as before, and looking round.

"Listen, one moment, for God's sake! I spoke under an impulse of
jealousy, not meaning to wound you. How could I ever mean to hurt you
when I love you, adore you as a creature of another sphere?" and he
poured out words of tenderness and worship.

Clementina listened without moving from her attitude of haughty
indifference, and would not melt till she saw him utterly humbled, on
his knees before her, beseeching for the scheme he had stigmatised as
infamous and indecent as a favour to himself.

At this time Clementina received a blow which almost made her ill. Her
father brought the audacious woman to whom he had given a card for his
ball to live in the palace, and this extraordinary proceeding became the
talk of all Madrid. Every one believed that Salabert was out of his
mind. And then a rumour got afloat that he was about to marry Amparo,
and amazement and indignation filled the soul of Society.

But an unforeseen accident interfered with this alliance. At a meeting
of the shareholders of the Riosa mines it was the Duke's part, as
chairman, to give an account of his management, and propose certain
measures for the advantage of the company. He usually fulfilled such
functions with great brevity and lucidity; he was, above all else, a man
of business, and had no fancy for rambling speeches or more words than
were absolutely necessary. But now, to the surprise of his audience,
among whom there were many bankers and official personages, he began a
rambling address quite foreign to the matter.

He wandered from his subject and began giving explanations of his
conduct as a public character, sketched a complete biography of himself,
dwelling on a thousand insignificant details; sang his own praises in
the most barefaced way, putting himself forward as the model of a
logical politician, and of disinterested self-sacrifice; spoke of his
services to the nation by his loans to the Government in the hour of
need, and to the cause of humanity by his co-operation in the founding
of hospitals, schools, and asylums; finally having the audacity to
assert that the Home for Old Women was his work.

The shareholders looked at one another in bewilderment, muttering not
very complimentary comments on the orator's condition of mind. When he
had finished the catalogue of his own merits and proclaimed himself,
_urbi et orbi_, the greatest man in Spain, he began an invective against
his enemies, describing himself as the victim of persistent and
deliberate persecution, of a thousand intrigues plotted to discredit
him, and in which various political and financial magnates were
implicated. In confirmation of this statement he read, in loud, fierce
tones, certain articles from a paper published in the district where the
Riosa mines were situated, and which, according to him, constituted a
gross and shameful attack. What they actually said amounted to this:
That Salabert was not a man of such mark as to be worthy to have a
statue.

His hearers, more and more wearied and indignant, now said, though still
in under-tone: "The man is crazy! The man is mad!"

As he read on, his face grew purple; it was usually pale, it now looked
as if he were being strangled. Suddenly, before he had finished, he fell
back senseless in his chair.



CHAPTER XVII.

A DARKENED MIND.


After this attack Requena's mental faculties were perceptibly weakened,
as every one could discern who saw him. He suffered from strange
illusions; his speech was slow and even less intelligible than of old.
He was full of fancies and whims. It was said that he had given his
mistress vast sums of money; that he flew into a rage over the merest
trifles, and shrieked and raved like a mad creature, going so far as to
inflict bodily injuries on his servants and attendants; that he ate
voraciously, and would say the most horrible things to his daughter. His
sullen and vindictive temper had become violent and malignant.

In business matters, however, his faculties showed no signs of deserting
him, nor had the mainspring of his nature, avarice, run down. His
affairs, to be sure, for the most part went on by themselves, and he
still had Llera, whose talents as a speculator had gained in astuteness.
Where the derangement, or rather the weakness of his mind, was most
conspicuous, was in his domestic affairs. His mistress reigned supreme,
and as in Madrid there is no lack of social parasites, there were plenty
of hangers-on to sing her praises. She gave tea and card parties, and
though the society she collected left much to be desired in point of
quality, in appearance it made as good a show as that of many another
wealthy house. There were Grandees of Castile who honoured her with
their presence, among them Manolo de Davalos, as mad and as much in love
as ever.

The lawsuit between the Duke and his daughter ran its lengthy course,
each party more obstinate and more virulent every day. In fact, to
Clementina, it had resolved itself into a personal struggle with Amparo.
The thing which she and Osorio most dreaded was that her father should
commit himself to the marriage which was openly prognosticated. If he
did, this hussy, an ex-flower-girl, would flaunt the ducal coronet, and
treat with them on equal terms. Though society at first would have
nothing to say to her, everything is forgotten in time, and Amparo would
presently be regarded as a Duchess indeed. Happily for them, though
Salabert was very submissive to her vagaries, they heard that the Duke
had positively refused to marry her, and that when she endeavoured to
coerce him, there were violent scenes between them. Whether all that the
servants reported were true or no, there was no doubt that she was
urgent and he obstinate. But though her attacks continued to be
fruitless, Clementina and Osorio lived "between the devil and the deep
sea." The Duke was pronounced to be suffering from creeping paralysis.
Under these circumstances, after consulting several eminent lawyers,
they determined to petition the Court for a decree pronouncing him
incompetent or incapable of managing his own affairs. He had, lately, it
was said, had a fresh attack, which had left him quite imbecile. This
report seemed to be confirmed by his never leaving the house, and by his
most intimate friends being refused admittance to see him. It was under
these circumstances that, either from some sudden impulse of her
impetuous nature, or because some of her acquaintances had suggested it
to her, Clementina determined to deal a decisive blow, which would at
once put an end to the litigation and to all the difficulties bound up
with it.

"My father is shut up," said she, "I will go and turn that woman out of
the house."

Her husband tried to dissuade her, but in vain.

One morning, therefore, she drove to her father's palace. The porter, on
opening the gate to the Señora Clementina, was at once amazed and
pleased; for though she was neither so smooth-tongued nor so liberal as
the ex-florist, a sense of justice led the Duke's household to respect
his daughter and contemn his mistress. The haughty lady, without looking
at the man, merely said:

"Well, Rafael?" and went quickly up the steps.

"How is papa?" she asked of the servant who met her in the hall.

He was too much astonished to be able to reply.

"Well, fellow!" she repeated impatiently, "Where is papa? In the office,
or in his study?"

"I beg your pardon, Señora; the Duke is well. I think he is in his
study."

At this juncture, a waiting-maid, who had caught sight of her from the
end of a passage, and heard her inquiries, flew off to warn the Señora,
while Clementina hastened up the stairs to the first-floor. But before
she could reach her father's room, the lady in possession stood in her
path, looking straight into her face, with flashing eyes.

"Where are you going?" she asked, in a voice husky with excitement.

"Who are you?" asked Clementina, lifting her head with supreme disdain,
and looking down on her.

"I am the mistress of this house," was the reply, but the speaker turned
pale.

"The sick nurse, you should say. I never heard that there was a mistress
here."

"What! Have you come to insult me in my own house?" exclaimed Amparo,
setting her arms akimbo, as if she still were on the market-place.

"No. I have come to turn you out, before the police arrive and do it for
me."

Her antagonist made a movement, as though she would fall on her and rend
her; but she checked herself, and began to scream as loud as she could:
"Pepe, Gregorio, Anselmo! Come here, come all! Turn this insolent
creature out of the house! She is insulting me."

Some of the servants came at her call; but they stood confused and
motionless, contemplating this strange scene. At the same moment the
door of the Duke's room was opened, and Salabert stood before them in a
dressing-gown and cap. He had grown terribly old in a few weeks. His
eyes were dull, his face colourless, his cheeks pendant and flabby.

"What is all this? What is the matter?" he asked thickly. On seeing his
daughter, he staggered back a step.

"This woman," cried Amparo, in a yell of vulgar rage, "after having you
declared an idiot, comes here to insult me!"

"Papa, do not heed her," said Clementina, going up to him.

But her father drew back, and holding out his trembling hands he
exclaimed: "Go--go away! Do not come near me!"

"Listen to me, papa."

"Do not come near me, wicked, ungrateful child!" repeated the Duke, in a
quavering voice, but with melodramatic emphasis.

"Yes, leave this house, shameless creature," added the woman, encouraged
by the old man's attitude. "Dare you show your face here, after treating
your father so?"

Clementina stood petrified, colourless, staring at them with a look of
terror rather than anger. For an instant she was on the point of
fainting away; everything seemed to be whirling round her. But her pride
enabled her to make a supreme effort; she stood rooted to the spot, and
incapable of moving, as white as a marble statue. Then she turned on her
heel slowly, for fear of falling, and reached the stairs, down which she
went, almost tottering at each step. Her father, spurred by Amparo's
cries, followed her to the top of the flight, repeating with increasing
fury:

"Go--go. Leave my house!" And he held up a tremulous hand in theatrical
menace.

His mistress, meanwhile, poured forth a string of abuse with an
accompaniment of gestures, sarcastic laughter and gibes, learnt and
remembered from her early experience.

By the time Clementina had reached the garden, her cheeks were tingling.
She leaned against the pedestal of one of the lamps for a minute to
recover herself, and then ran like a mad creature to the gate, where her
carriage was waiting; she sprang into it and burst into tears. On
reaching home she was lifted out in a miserable state, and helped up to
her room by two maids. When Osorio came up, it was only in broken and
incoherent sentences that she could tell him what had occurred.

She kept her bed for eight or ten days in a state of utter prostration,
and she rose from it at last so possessed by the desire for revenge,
that she really seemed to have gone mad.

The lawsuit, under the hot breath of her malice, was fanned to an
imposing blaze. It was regarded in Madrid as a matter of public
interest. The opinions of the most distinguished physicians, Spanish and
foreign, were taken on both sides as to the Duke's mental incapacity. On
one part he was pronounced an idiot, so hopelessly childish that there
was nothing to be done with him; on the other it was asserted that he
was mending steadily, his mind clearer every day, and his intellect a
marvel of acumen and sound sense. And on one point all the authorities
concurred--namely, in requiring enormous fees. The press took sides with
one or the other party. Clementina subsidised one or two papers. Amparo
had bribed others, for the Duke, as a matter of fact, was incompetent to
direct the case. And through their columns the two women, more or less
disguised, contrived to hurl insolence at one another, reviving, in an
allegorical dress, an extensive selection of scandalous tales.

In this warfare the daughter had the worst chance. She could not be so
liberal as the mistress, who sowed bank-notes broadcast. On the other
hand, Clementina had the support of her husband's creditors, and of her
friend Pepa Frias--who was indefatigable in her visits to the doctors,
the lawyers, and the newspaper editors--the Condesa de Cotorraso, the
Marquesa de Alcudia, her brother-in-law, Calderón, General Patiño and
Jimenez Arbos; and, more helpful than all these, as in duty bound, her
lover _en titre_, Escosura. He, holding a post of high importance, had
no small influence on the course of the lawsuit.

What a life of excitement, anxiety, and misery! Clementina could not
eat, she could not sleep. She was always holding conferences with
lawyers and judges, always writing letters. Even at her parties and
dinners, nothing else was talked about, till at length the more
indifferent of her acquaintance rebelled, and ceased to come. To others,
however, she communicated some of her own flame; they became her ardent
partisans, and brought or carried reports, volunteered advice, broke out
in cries of indignation whenever Amparo was even mentioned. And although
Clementina's haughty temper prevented her being a favourite in Madrid
society, as she stood forth, after all, as the representative of justice
and decency, her cause found most supporters. To this her antagonist's
folly contributed, for she paraded herself and her splendour everywhere,
with the imbecile and degraded old man.

The Duke was in fact perishing before their eyes. After a stage of
excitement and violence, when he had behaved like a madman, came a
period of nervous prostration; by degrees he became almost idiotic. He
lost his wits so completely that he could not even understand business.
Everything was left to Llera. This would have been all right, but that
Amparo would interfere and do all kinds of mischief. She took the
greatest pains, however, to hide Salabert's condition; on days when he
was over excitable or incoherent, she kept him in his room. It was only
when he was calm and rational that she ventured to take him out, and
then never allowed him to talk to any one. But her efforts were not
always successful. Salabert went out by himself on various pretences,
and amply betrayed his deranged condition. On one occasion he was found
outside the town at four in the morning. Another time he went into a
jeweller's shop, and after ordering some trinkets he pocketed some
others, believing he had not been observed. The jeweller had seen it,
however, but he said nothing, knowing the millionaire. He sent the bill
in to Amparo, who hastened to pay it, and went in person to beg that the
matter should not be divulged. In short, before long it was established
beyond a doubt, in spite of the contending evidence of physicians, that
the Duke was absolutely _non compos_; and it was said that the lawsuit
would be decided in that sense.

Two days before the decision was made public, Amparo vanished from the
Requena palace, after sacking it very completely, and carrying off with
her many objects of great value. Her savings already amounted to several
thousand dollars, and in anticipation of disaster she had drawn the
money out of the Bank of Spain and placed it in foreign securities. She
was afterwards heard of in France, and a few months later it was
reported in Madrid that she had married the crazy Marquis.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the very day of Amparo's flight--for it may be called a
flight--Clementina and her husband took possession of the Requena
palace. She found her father in a pitiable state of total imbecility. He
spoke as though they had met but the day before and nothing of any
importance had occurred, he asked for Amparo, and sometimes mistook his
daughter for her. The daughter's heart, it must be owned, was not
severely wrung. This catastrophe by no means satisfied the bitterness
which possessed her soul when she recalled all the wretchedness she had
endured. Her vengeance was incomplete, for Amparo was rich and content.
She longed to prosecute her as a criminal, while Osorio, satisfied with
the enormous fortune which had dropped into his hands, did not regard
her thefts as worth a thought.

The Duke de Requena, the famous financier who for twenty years had been
the wonder and admiration of the banking world in Spain and abroad, the
man who had been so much discussed by the public and the press, was ere
long, in his own house--now the Osorio palace--a useless and worthless
chattel. To avoid comment, or to be more secure as to his condition, or
perhaps out of some dim fear lest he should recover, the Osorios did not
send him to a lunatic asylum; they had him cared for at home. Salabert
was no more than a child. He thought of nothing but his meals. He spoke
very little, but sat hour after hour, looking at his nails or rubbing
one hand over the other, now and then uttering some strange,
inarticulate cry. He was in the charge of an attendant, who, when he was
tiresome, would fly in a rage and slap him. But the person he held in
most respect, it may be said in real awe, was his daughter. It was
enough for Clementina to frown and speak a scolding word; he submitted
at once. For his son-in-law, on the other hand, he did not care a pin.

When his attendant found him quiet and went to amuse himself for an hour
with the other servants, the crazy old man would wander about the house,
more especially to gaze in the mirrors. His principal mania was for
picking up pieces of bread and storing them in a corner of his room,
where they lay till they were mouldy. When the pile was too large the
servants cleared it away in baskets and flung it out on the dust-heap.
Then when he missed it he was furious, and his keeper had to use strong
measures to pacify him. One morning, soon after the Osorios'
breakfast--the old man ate alone in his own room--three or four of the
servants were together in the great dining-room, cleaning the plate and
putting it away in the side-board cupboards. They were in high spirits
and playing games, hitting each other with the long loaves they had
taken up for sticks, running round the table and laughing loudly. Their
mistress was upstairs and could not hear them. Suddenly the old imbecile
appeared on the scene, with the tray on which he was wont to carry off
the broken pieces as a precious booty to his room. He had on a greasy
old shooting coat, and his head was bare. And, in spite of its white
hairs, that head was not venerable; the yellow unshaven cheeks, the
colourless, loose lips, the stony, expressionless eyes had no trace of
the beauty of old age, but only the decrepitude of vice, which is always
repulsive, and the stamp of idiotcy which is always terrible.

Seeing so many persons, he paused a moment, but he made up his mind to
come in, and went straight to the drawers of the side-board, where he
began an eager search, picking up every scrap he found there and
collecting them on the tray. The servants watched him with amusement.

"Hunt away, old fellow!" cried one. "When are you going to ask us to try
the broth, daddy?"

The old man made no reply, he was much too busy.

"The broth, sir," said another, "you had better ask us to share a ten
dollar-note."

"I shall not ask you," mumbled the Duke with some irritation, "I shall
only ask Anselmo."

"Oh yes, we know why you ask Anselmo, it is because he keeps the stick!
Never fear, if that is all, you shall ask me too."

The others all shouted with laughter, and the youngest, a boy of about
sixteen, seeing him with his tray filled, and about to depart, slipped
behind him and, giving him a jerk, upset all the bits, which were
scattered on the floor. The Duke's rage was terrific, with yells of rage
he went down on his knees to pick them up again, while the servants
applauded the joke. As soon as he had collected them all again on his
tray, and was shuffling off as fast as he could to escape from their
rough fun, the same fellow again came behind him and snatched it away.
The madman's frenzy was indescribable; gnashing his teeth and glaring
with fury, he rushed on the lad, but the others seized him. The poor
lunatic began to utter cries which were anything rather than human.

At this moment Clementina's voice was heard in high wrath:

"What is the matter? What are you doing to papa?"

The servants let him go, and vanished from the room.



CHAPTER XVIII.

A PASSION BURNT OUT.


Raimundo's love affairs hung only by a thread. In these latter days
Clementina, entirely absorbed by her triumph and thirst for revenge, had
hardly given him a thought. They still met frequently, for the young man
did not cease to visit her, but their love-passages were fewer every
day. If he timidly complained of her neglect, the lady excused herself
on the score of Escosura's jealousy. It was in vain that she had tried
to persuade him that she was "off with the old love." "And you see," she
said "if he finds out that I have deceived him, he will have good cause
for a furious scene."

Raimundo was so utterly lost that he admitted, or feigned to admit, this
reasoning as valid. Through this abject humiliation he still contrived
to be happy in the illusion that his idol preferred him, loved him best
at the bottom of her heart, that she only flirted with the Minister for
the sake of her lawsuit. Clementina fostered this belief by sending him
from time to time, when she could forget her vexations, a few lines
appointing a meeting, "to-day at four," or "this afternoon in our
rooms." And at these interviews she would make him as happy as of old by
swearing eternal fidelity.

But all joys are brief in this world; Raimundo's were brief indeed. The
very next day, after some such meeting, he would find his mistress as
cold as marble, disdainful of him, and, what was worse, absorbed in
conversation with Escosura, in a recess of the drawing-room. He had
innocently believed that the end of the lawsuit would restore his
happiness, that Clementina, no longer needing the great man's help,
would again be wholly his. But his hopes were blown to the winds like
smoke. The lawsuit was decided in her favour, but far from dismissing
her official cavalier, she showed him greater respect and affection.

One morning, two months after the close of the business, he received a
note from Clementina, saying:

"Meet me at two this afternoon."

His heart leaped for joy. It was more than a fortnight since Clementina
had given him rendezvous at their little _entresol_. By one o'clock he
was there to wait for her, and as soon as he saw her from afar he ran to
open the door with as much agitation as though she had been a queen, and
far more tender devotion. She seemed grateful and affectionate, and
accepted his passionate caresses with gracious kindness.

But after they had chatted for about an hour, as they sat side by side
on the sofa, she looked at him with a slow, compassionate gaze, and
said:

"Do you know, Mundo, that this is the last time we shall ever sit here
alone together?"

The youth looked at her in speechless amazement; he did not, he would
not, understand.

"Yes, I cannot keep up this mystery any longer. Escosura is very
indignant, and with reason. Besides, I am ashamed--it is horrible of me.
And, after all, you have nothing to complain of. I have always been nice
to you. If I ever loved a man truly, it was you, and the proof of it is
that it has lasted so long. But nothing in this world can last for ever,
and as matters stand we had better part. You see, Mundo, I am growing
old--you are but a boy. If I did not break with you, sooner or later you
would throw me over. Such is life. Though you still think me handsome,
these are but the last remains of beauty. I must bid farewell to all the
follies we have indulged in together, but I shall always look back on
them with pleasure. I swear to you that you will always symbolise to me
the happiest period of my life. So now, henceforth, we will still be
good friends. It will always be a satisfaction to me to be able to serve
you, for I owe you many hours of happiness."

The young man listened to this cruel speech, motionless and stricken.
His face was perfectly colourless.

"Do you mean it?" he said at last, in a husky voice.

"Yes, my dear boy, yes. I mean it," she replied, with the same sad,
patronising smile.

"It is impossible! It cannot be!" he exclaimed vehemently, and starting
to his feet he looked down on her with a mixture of horror and
indignation.

This expression in his eyes roused her pride.

"But you will see that it can be!" she retorted with a touch of irony
which was the height of cruelty.

He stood frozen for a moment, gazing at her with intense anguish, then
he fell on his knees at her feet, with clasped hand, imploring her:

"For God's sake, do not kill me! Do not kill me!"

Clementina's face softened, and her voice broke a little.

"Come, Mundo," said she, "do not be a baby. Get up. This had to come.
You will find other women far more worthy than I."

But the young man held her knees clasped, kissing them in a frenzy of
grief, his whole frame shaken by sobs.

"This is horrible, horrible, horrible!" he kept saying. "Oh! what have I
done that you should kill me with misery?"

"Come, come," she said, gently stroking his hair. "Get up, be
reasonable. Do you not see that this is ridiculous?"

"What do I care?" he cried, his face hidden in her silk skirts. "For you
I would be ridiculous in the eyes of the whole world."

Clementina tried to soothe him, but without any emotion or pity. There
is no wild beast more cruel than a woman whose love is satiated. She let
his grief have its way for a while, and when he grew calmer she rose.

"I am grateful to you for all this feeling, Mundo. I, too, have gone
through a terrible struggle before I could make up my mind to part."

"It is false!" cried Raimundo, still kneeling, with his elbows on the
sofa. "If you still loved me, you could not be so cruel, so base."

Clementina stood silent for a minute, looking at his shoulders in great
irritation. At last, touched by pity, she said:

"I forgive you the insult in consideration of the agitation you are in.
Though you may abuse me you will still be able to think of me with
affection; and even when you have quite forgotten me, the memory of your
face and the happy hours we have passed together will remain engraved on
my heart. But now we must come to an explanation," she added, in a
sterner tone. "Let us be worthy of each other, Raimundo. You must,
please, take a hackney coach to your house and bring me back every line
I ever wrote to you, that we may burn them. I have none of yours; you
know I always destroyed them immediately."

Raimundo did not stir. After waiting a few moments she went up behind
him, leaned over him, and laid her hands on his cheeks, saying kindly:

"Foolish boy! Am I the only woman in the world?"

He thrilled at the touch of those soft hands, and, turning suddenly,
seized them and covered them with kisses, pressed them to his heart,
laid them on his brow.

"Yes, Clementina, the only woman; or, if there are others, I do not know
them--I do not want to know them. But is it true? Is it true that you do
not love me?"

And his tearful eyes looked up at her with such an expression of woe
that she could not but lie.

"I never said I did not love you, but only that we can meet no
more--like this."

"It is the same thing."

"No, it is not the same thing, foolish boy. I may love you, and yet, in
consequence of special circumstances, I may not be able--we cannot have
everything we wish for in this world." And she wandered into incoherent
argument and specious reasoning, which she knew was false, and could not
utter without hesitancy; the same commonplaces, repeated in different
words, trying to give them the weight they lacked by emphasis and
gesticulation.

But Raimundo was not listening. In a few minutes he rose, dried away his
tears, and left the room without a word. Clementina watched him in
surprise.

"I will wait for you," she called after him into the passage.

Twenty minutes later he returned, carrying a parcel.

"Here are your letters," he said with apparent calm, but his voice was
thick and his face deadly pale.

Clementina glanced at him keenly, not without some uneasiness. But she
controlled herself, and said simply:

"Thank you very much, Mundo. Now, we will burn them, if you please, in
the kitchen."

He made no reply. They went together to the cold, unfurnished kitchen,
which no one ever used, and Clementina, with her own hand, laid the
packet on the hearth. But suddenly, just as she was about to strike the
match which Raimundo had given her, she paused. Then she said, with a
smile:

"Do you know that this is dreadfully prosaic? To burn my love-letters on
a kitchen hearth! It seems to me that they might have a more romantic
end. Shall we go and burn them in the fields? That will give us a last
walk together and a fitter parting."

"As you please," he said, in a scarcely audible voice.

"Very well. Fetch a carriage."

"I kept one."

"Then come."

Raimundo took up the packet of letters, and together they quitted the
room whither they were never to return.

The hackney-coach carried them along the road to the eastward. It was an
afternoon in Spring, misty and fresh. Clementina had closed the blinds
for fear of being seen; but when they were outside the Alcalá gate she
asked Raimundo to let them down. Unluckily the moment was inopportune,
for at that very moment they met an open carriage, in which sat Pepe
Castro with Esperancita Calderón, now his wife. She had barely time to
lean back in the corner and cover her face with her hand, and even so
was not sure that they had not recognised her.

Raimundo, by a great effort, had recovered some self-control, but not
completely. Clementina did all she could to divert his mind, talking to
him, like a friend, of indifferent matters, of their acquaintances, and
taking it for granted that he would continue to visit at her house. When
Castro and his wife had gone past she discussed them with much
animation.

"You see, I was right, Mundo. They have not been married three months,
and Pepe and his father-in-law are squabbling over money matters. No one
knows Calderón better than I. If he does not die before long, the poor
children will be dreadfully hard up, for they will never get any money
out of him."

Raimundo replied to her remarks, affecting a calm demeanour, but there
was a peculiar accent in his voice which the lady could not help
noticing. It seemed foggy, as though it had passed through many tears.

At last, in a very deserted spot, they bid the driver stop, and got out.

"Wait for us here; we are going for a little walk," Raimundo explained.

But then observing a doubtful glance in the man's eyes, he turned back
when he had gone a few steps, and taking out a five-dollar note he
handed it to him saying:

"You can give me the change presently."

They turned off from the high road and wandered away over the dreary
deserted fields which stretch away to the east of Madrid. The ground is
slightly undulating, but burnt and barren, cutting the horizon with a
long level line--not a house, not a tree was in sight. Clementina's
dainty shoes sank in the dust as they walked on in silence. Raimundo had
no spirit to talk, and she, too, was oppressed by the sadness of the
little drama, to which that of the landscape contributed; she had enough
good feeling not to speak a word. Now and then she looked back to assure
herself whether they could still be seen from the high road. When she
thought they had gone far enough she stopped.

"Why should we go any further?" she said. "Will not this place do?"

Raimundo also stopped, but made no answer. He dropped the parcel on the
ground and looked away--far away to the horizon. Clementina untied it,
looked with some curiosity at her letters, all carefully preserved in
the envelopes; then she made a little heap of them, and after waiting a
minute or two for Raimundo to look round, finding that he did not move,
she said:

"Give me a match."

The young man obeyed, and gave it her lighted, in perfect silence. Then
he looked away again while Clementina set fire to the papers, and
watched them burn one by one. The process took some minutes, and she had
to turn the blazing fragments with her gloved hands to prevent their
remaining half-burnt. Now and then she cast a half uneasy, half pitying
glance at her lover, who stood as motionless and absorbed as a sailor
studying the signs of the weather.

When nothing remained but black ashes, Clementina rose from her stooping
posture, waited a moment, not liking to intrude on Raimundo's deep
abstraction, and at last, with a cloud of tender pathos on her beautiful
face, hastily looked about her, went up to him, and laying her arm on
his shoulder, said in a fond tone:

"And now that we are alone for the last time, shall we not bid each
other a loving farewell?"

"How ought we to part?" he replied, looking at her and making a great
effort to smile.

"So!" she exclaimed, and she threw her arms round his neck, and covered
his face with passionate kisses.

Raimundo stood rigid. He let her kiss him many times, like an inert
creature, and then his knees failed, and with a heartrending cry:

"Oh Clementina, this is death!" he fell senseless on the ground.

She was terribly frightened. There was no one to help; no water near.
She raised his head, resting it on her lap, fanned him with her hat, and
held a scent-bottle she had with her under his nose. He presently opened
his eyes, and could soon stand up. He was ashamed of his weakness.
Clementina was most affectionate and helpful. As soon as she saw that he
was in a state to walk, she took his arm and said:

"Let us go."

And she tried to amuse him by talking of a little dance she meant to
give, to which she urgently pressed him to come; he was on no account to
fail her.

"And on Saturdays, as usual, you know. You are to be sure not to desert
me. In my house you will always be what you have been--my friend; and in
my heart, so long as I live, you will fill the dearest place."

Raimundo's only answer was a forced smile.

Thus they made their way back to the spot where they had left the coach.
As they drove back, still she talked, while he, as they got nearer to
the town, turned even paler than before; nor could he even smile.

Seeing him thus, with despair in every feature, Clementina at last
ceased talking so lightly, and, moved with pity, she again kissed him
tenderly. But he shrank from her touch; he gently pushed her away,
saying:

"Leave me alone--leave me. You only hurt me more."

Two tears rose to his eyes and remained there without falling. At last
they dried away, or returned to the hidden fount whence they had sprung.

They reached the Alcalá gate once more. Clementina bid the driver stop
at the corner of the Calle de Serrano:

"You had better get out here. You are close to your own house."

Raimundo, speechless, opened the door.

"Till Saturday, Mundo. Do not fail me. You know I shall look for you."
And she grasped his hand tightly.

He, without looking at her, merely said:

"Good-bye."

He sprang out. The lady saw him walk up the street, staggering like a
drunken man, and he did not once look round.

THE END.

PRINTED BY BALLANTYNE, HANSON AND CO. LONDON AND EDINBURGH

       *       *       *       *       *

Heinemann's International Library.


EDITOR'S NOTE.

There is nothing in which the Anglo-Saxon world differs more from the
world of the Continent of Europe than in its fiction. English readers
are accustomed to satisfy their curiosity with English novels, and it is
rarely indeed that we turn aside to learn something of the interior life
of those other countries the exterior scenery of which is often so
familiar to us. We climb the Alps, but are content to know nothing of
the pastoral romances of Switzerland. We steam in and out of the
picturesque fjords of Norway, but never guess what deep speculation into
life and morals is made by the novelists of that sparsely peopled but
richly endowed nation. We stroll across the courts of the Alhambra, we
are listlessly rowed upon Venetian canals and Lombard lakes, we hasten
by night through the roaring factories of Belgium; but we never pause to
inquire whether there is now flourishing a Spanish, an Italian, a
Flemish school of fiction. Of Russian novels we have lately been taught
to become partly aware, but we do not ask ourselves whether Poland may
not possess a Dostoieffsky and Portugal a Tolstoï.

Yet, as a matter of fact, there is no European country that has not,
within the last half-century, felt the dew of revival on the
threshing-floor of its worn-out schools of romance. Everywhere there has
been shown by young men, endowed with a talent for narrative, a vigorous
determination to devote themselves to a vivid and sympathetic
interpretation of nature and of man. In almost every language, too, this
movement has tended to display itself more and more in the direction of
what is reported and less of what is created. Fancy has seemed to these
young novelists a poorer thing than observation; the world of dreams
fainter than the world of men. They have not been occupied mainly with
what might be or what should be, but with what is, and, in spite of all
their shortcomings, they have combined to produce a series of pictures
of existing society in each of their several countries such as cannot
fail to form an archive of documents invaluable to futurity.

But to us they should be still more valuable. To travel in a foreign
country is but to touch its surface. Under the guidance of a novelist of
genius we penetrate to the secrets of a nation, and talk the very
language of its citizens. We may go to Normandy summer after summer and
know less of the manner of life that proceeds under those gnarled
orchards of apple-blossom than we learn from one tale of Guy de
Maupassant's. The present series is intended to be a guide to the inner
geography of Europe. It offers to our readers a series of spiritual
Baedekers and Murrays. It will endeavour to keep pace with every truly
characteristic and vigorous expression of the novelist's art in each of
the principal European countries, presenting what is quite new if it is
also good, side by side with what is old, if it has not hitherto been
presented to our public. That will be selected which gives with most
freshness and variety the different aspects of continental feeling, the
only limits of selection being that a book shall be, on the one hand,
amusing, and, on the other, wholesome.

One difficulty which must be frankly faced is that of subject. Life is
now treated in fiction by every race but our own with singular candour.
The novelists of the Lutheran North are not more fully emancipated from
prejudice in this respect than the novelists of the Catholic South.
Everywhere in Europe a novel is looked upon now as an impersonal work,
from which the writer, as a mere observer, stands aloof, neither blaming
nor applauding. Continental fiction has learned to exclude, in the main,
from among the subjects of its attention, all but those facts which are
of common experience, and thus the novelists have determined to disdain
nothing and to repudiate nothing which is common to humanity; much is
freely discussed, even in the novels of Holland and of Denmark, which
our race is apt to treat with a much more gingerly discretion. It is not
difficult, however, we believe--it is certainly not impossible--to
discard all which may justly give offence, and yet to offer to an
English public as many of the masterpieces of European fiction as we can
ever hope to see included in this library. It will be the endeavour of
the editor to search on all hands and in all languages for such books as
combine the greatest literary value with the most curious and amusing
qualities of manner and matter.

EDMUND GOSSE.


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HEINEMANN'S Scientific Handbooks.


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A knowledge of the practical Sciences has now become a necessity to
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Ahn and Ollendorff have been an easy road to languages for many a
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In this Series of "Scientific Handbooks" these and kindred subjects will
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Metals, and will be found valuable not only to the amateur, but to the
assayer, metallurgist, chemist, and miner. The work will be a desirable
addition to the libraries of Mining Companies, engineers, bankers, and
bullion brokers, as well as to experts in the Art of Assaying.

The second volume of the Series is written by Professor Kimball, and
deals with the physical properties of Gases. He has taken into account
all the most recent works on "the third state of matter," including
Crooke's recent researches on "radiant matter." There is a chapter also
on Avogadro's law and the Kinetic theory, which chemical as well as
physical students will read with interest.

In the third volume Dr. Thurston treats, in a popular way, on "Heat as a
Form of Energy"; and his book will be found a capital introduction to
the more exhaustive works of Maxwell, Carnot, Tyndall, and others.

On account of the requirements of the subject, a large number of
wood-cuts have been made for the first volume, and the following volumes
will also be fully illustrated wherever the subject is susceptible of
it.

The first three volumes are now ready. Others will follow, written, like
these, by thoroughly competent writers in their own departments; and
each volume will be complete in itself.


Heinemann's Scientific Handbooks.


I.

     MANUAL of ASSAYING GOLD, SILVER, COPPER, AND LEAD ORES. By WALTER
     LEE BROWN, B.Sc. Revised, corrected, and considerably enlarged,
     with a chapter on THE ASSAYING OF FUEL, &c., by A. B. GRIFFITHS,
     Ph.D., F.R.S. (Edin.), F.C.S. In One Volume, small crown 8vo.
     Illustrated, 7s. 6d.

_Colliery Guardian._--"A delightful and fascinating book."

_Financial World._--"The most complete and practical manual on
everything which concerns assaying of all which have come before us."

_North British Economist._--"With this book the amateur may become an
expert. Bankers and Bullion Brokers are equally likely to find it
useful."


II.

     THE PHYSICAL PROPERTIES OF GASES. By ARTHUR L. KIMBALL, of the
     Johns Hopkins University. In One Volume, small crown 8vo.
     Illustrated, 5s.

CONTENTS.

    Introduction.
    Pressure and Buoyancy.
    Elasticity and Expansion with heat.
    Gases and Vapours.
    Air-Pumps and High Vacua.
    Diffusion and Occlusion.
    Thermodynamics of Gases.
    Avogadro's Law and the Kinetic
    Theory.
    Geissler Tubes and Radiant Matter.
    Conclusion.

_Chemical News._--"The man of culture who wishes for a general and
accurate acquaintance with the physical properties of gases, will find
in Mr. Kimball's work just what he requires."

_Iron._--"We can highly recommend this little book."

_Manchester Guardian._--"Mr. Kimball has the too rare merit of
describing first the facts, and then the hypotheses invented to limn
them together."


III.

HEAT AS A FORM OF ENERGY. By Professor R. H. THURSTON, of Cornell
University. In One Volume, small crown 8vo. Illustrated, 5s.

CONTENTS.

    The Philosophers' Ideas of Heat.
    The Science of Thermodynamics.
    Heat Transfer and the World's
    Industries.
    Air and Gas Engines, their Work and
    their Promise.
    The Development of the Steam
    Engine.
    Summary and Conclusion.


OTHER VOLUMES IN PREPARATION.

LONDON: WM. HEINEMANN, 21, BEDFORD STREET, W.C.


HEINEMANN'S

INTERNATIONAL LIBRARY

     _May be obtained at all of_ Messrs. W. H. SMITH & SON'S
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    Paris            { HACHETTE & CO.
                     { BRENTANOS.
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London: WM. HEINEMANN, 21 Bedford Street, W.C.


HEINEMANN'S

POPULAR THREE-AND-SIXPENNY NOVELS

    THE BONDMAN; A New Saga. By
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    ORIOLE'S DAUGHTER. By JESSIE
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    A MARKED MAN: Some Episodes in
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    Fifth Thousand.

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    Author of "Through the Zulu Country,"
    &c.

    'TWEEN SNOW AND FIRE. A Tale
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    MITFORD.

    DONALD MARCY. By ELIZABETH
    STUART PHELPS, Author of "The
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    THE MASTER OF THE MAGICIANS.
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    GRAHAM TALLENTYRE. With 30 Illustrations
    by E. COURBOIN. 3s. 6d.

    THE OLD MAIDS' CLUB. By I.
    ZANGWILL, Author of "The Bachelor's
    Club." With Illustrations by F. H.
    TOWNSEND. 3s. 6d.

London: WM. HEINEMANN, 21 Bedford Street, W.C.

       *       *       *       *       *

The following typographical errors were corrected by the etext
transcriber:

with s look of proud disdain=>with a look of proud disdain

he passed for an accompished soldier=>he passed for an accomplished
soldier

same!" exclamed Cobo=>same!" exclaimed Cobo

to see the prudish marquesa.=>to see the prudish Marquesa.

knowlege of human nature=>knowledge of human nature

saying with determined forboding=>saying with determined foreboding

Like some other who were to be seen at the club every day=>Like some
others who were to be seen at the club every day

when she illtreats me=>when she ill-treats me

Baro nwas=>Baron was

Pepe Frias announced to the servant behind her=>Pepa Frias announced to
the servant behind her

Hand your's over to Pepe=>Hand yours over to Pepe

very place occupied shortly before y=>very place occupied shortly before
by

"Antonio," he said, "We have come to quarrel with you very
seriously."=>"Antonio," he said, "we have come to quarrel with you very
seriously."

the foremost place in you affections=>the foremost place in your
affections

borethe taint=>bore the taint

"Becaue I will not allow it;=>"Because I will not allow it;

he was by nature cheerful, warm-heated, and absent-minded=>he was by
nature cheerful, warm-hearted, and absent-minded

never stired an inch further=>never stirred an inch further

exclamed Salabert in a triumphant=>exclaimed Salabert in a triumphant

stand as canditate for Navalperal=>stand as candidate for Navalperal

rejoicing ever the prospect of so many millions=>rejoicing over the
prospect of so many millions

indignant at these base inuendoes=>indignant at these base innuendoes

On seeing her daugher the Duchess turned=>On seeing her daughter the
Duchess turned

greetings and and smiles=>greetings and smiles

he said in in a lazy tone=>he said in a lazy tone

but she repelled him with with=>but she repelled him with

who do all the the real work=>who do all the real work

far above her ancles=>far above her ankles

       *       *       *       *       *


FOOTNOTES:

[A] About £400.

[B] Above 19,000,000 of dollars; about £4,000,000 sterling.

[C] About £600.

[D] About £80.

[E] In the Roman Catholic Church.

[F] From 10d. to 1s. 3d.

[G] 1s. 7d.; its purchasing value is probably at least half as much
again.

[H] About £1100.





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