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Title: Leon Roch (vol. 1 of 2) - A Romance
Author: Pérez Galdós, Benito
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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  TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE

  * Italics are denoted by underscores as in _italics_.
  * Bold text is denoted by equals as in =bold=.
  * Small caps are represented in upper case as in SMALL CAPS.
  * Obvious printer errors have been silently corrected.
  * Original spelling was kept, but variant spellings were made
    consistent when a predominant usage was found.
  * Throughout the text the following replacements were made:

    “Maria”    by “María”,
    “Telleria” by “Tellería”,
    “Joaquin”  by “Joaquín”,
    “Fontan”   by “Fontán”,
    “Leopold”  by “Leopoldo”,
    “Agustin”  by “Agustín”,
    “Perez”    by “Pérez”.

  * The following changes were also made:

    Page  18: “Atheneam”  replaced by “Atheneum”.
    Page  28: “Centa”     replaced by “Ceuta”.
    Page  75: “Corralles” replaced by “Corrales”.
    Page 144: “Cerinola”  replaced by “Ceriñola”.
    Page 147: “Cayentano” replaced by “Cayetano”.
    Page 199: “Arragon”   replaced by “Aragón” (twice).
    Page 246: “Monilla”   replaced by “Monina”.
    Page 274: “her papa”  replaced by “your papa” (twice--after
              checking the Spanish original version).



  LEON ROCH
  A ROMANCE

  BY
  B. PÉREZ GALDÓS
  Author of “Gloria,” etc.

  FROM THE SPANISH BY CLARA BELL

  --AUTHORIZED EDITION--

  IN TWO VOLUMES--VOL. I.

  REVISED AND CORRECTED IN THE UNITED STATES

  NEW YORK
  WILLIAM S. GOTTSBERGER, PUBLISHER
  11 MURRAY STREET
  1888



  Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1886
  BY WILLIAM S. GOTTSBERGER
  in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington


THIS TRANSLATION WAS MADE EXPRESSLY FOR THE PUBLISHER



CONTENTS.

VOLUME I.


  CHAPTER                                             PAGE

       I.--FROM THE SAME TO THE SAME,                    1

      II.--LIFE AT A WATERING PLACE,                     9

     III.--IN WHICH THE READER WILL ENJOY HEARING THE
             PRAISES LAVISHED BY SPANIARDS ON THEIR
             COUNTRY AND COUNTRY-MEN,                   15

      IV.--MORE CONVERSATION, GIVING US SOME IDEA
             OF THE SPANISH CHARACTER,                  24

       V.--ILLUSTRATING ANOTHER TRAIT OF SPANISH
             CHARACTER,                                 31

      VI.--PEPA,                                        37

     VII.--TWO MEN AND THEIR SCHEMES IN LIFE,           45

    VIII.--MARÍA EGYPTIACA,                             57

      IX.--THE MARQUESA TELLERÍA,                       69

       X.--THE MARQUIS,                                 79

      XI.--LEOPOLDO,                                    88

     XII.--GUSTAVO,                                     94

    XIII.--THE LAST ILLUSION,                          103

     XIV.--HUSBAND AND WIFE,                           111

      XV.--A MODUS VIVENDI,                            127

     XVI.--IN THE DOG-DAYS,                            133

    XVII.--DESERTERS,                                  142

   XVIII.--THE ASCETIC,                                149

     XIX.--THE MARQUESA GOES TO A CONCERT,             159

      XX.--THE OLD, OLD DRAMA,                         166

     XXI.--A STRUGGLE WITH THE ANGEL,                  179

    XXII.--CONQUERED BY THE ANGEL,                     185

   XXIII.--WEATHER PERMITTING,                         188

    XXIV.--REMINISCENCES--ANXIETIES,                   200

     XXV.--MARÍA EGYPTIACA DRESSES IN GREY AND DOES
             NOT WASH HER HANDS,                       211

    XXVI.--THE DEVOURING OGRE--CROUP,                  222

   XXVII.--THE MOTHER,                                 238

  XXVIII.--THE MARQUIS DE FÚCAR ENJOYS THE SPECIAL
             FAVOUR OF HEAVEN,                         242

    XXIX.--ERUNT DUO IN CARNE UNA,                     253

     XXX.--AN IRRUPTION OF THE BARBARIANS; ALARIC,
             ATTILA, AND OMAR,                         263

    XXXI.--THE CRISIS,                                 275

   XXXII.--REASON _versus_ PASSION,                    293



LEON ROCH



LEON ROCH

PART I.

CHAPTER I.

FROM THE SAME TO THE SAME.


                                       “_Ugoibea_, AUGUST 30th.

“DEAR LEON: Think no more of my letter of yesterday; it must have
crossed yours, which I have just received. Vexation, and a fit of
petty jealousy, made me write a great deal of nonsense, and I am
ashamed of having covered my paper with so many dreadful words, mixed
up with such childish prevarications; but no--I am not ashamed; I can
only laugh at myself and my style, and ask you to forgive me. If I
had only had a little patience and waited for your explanations--but
that again is nonsense.--Jealousy and Patience! Who ever saw the
two things combined in one person? You see there is no end to my
absurdities; this proves that after having been a fool, though only
for a day, a woman cannot recover her natural balance of mind all at
once.

“But now I am recovering mine. An end to recrimination; I am
firmly resolved never again to be irritable and suspicious and
inquisitive--as you say I am. Your explanations really and entirely
satisfy me; their frankness and fulness impress me strongly--I hardly
know why--and leave no room in my mind for doubt, but fill my soul
with a conviction--how can I express it? that is in itself a sort
of affection, that is its twin brother and as inseparable from it
as--as--I cannot finish my sentence; but what does it matter?--To
proceed; I was saying that I fully accept your explanation. A denial
would have increased my suspicions; your confession has removed
them. You tell me that you did love--no, that is not the word, that
you had a fancy, a mere fancy, as a boy--as children together--for
Pepa de Fúcar; that you have known her since she was little, and
that you played together--I remember you used to tell me something
about it in Madrid, when we first made your acquaintance. It was
she, no doubt, who used to go with you to pick up the blossoms
fallen from the orange-trees--who was frightened at the rustling
made by the silk-worms when they were feeding, and for whom you
used to make crowns of Marvel of Peru? Yes, you told me many funny
stories of your companion as a child. You and she used to dye your
cheeks with blackberries, and make paper crowns to wear; you loved
to take birds’ nests, and her greatest delight was to pull off her
shoes and stockings and paddle in the streams among the rushes and
water-plants. One day, almost at the same instant, you fell from a
tree and she was bitten by some reptile. That was Pepa de Fúcar, was
it not? You see I remember very well, and could write your history
quite accurately.

“The truth is that I really did not pay much attention to those baby
stories; but when I saw the girl, and when they said you were in love
with her.--It is ten days ago and I still feel as if I were being
suffocated--as I did when I first heard it. Believe me; I felt as if
the world were coming to an end, as if time were standing still--I
cannot express the feeling--or had turned backward and revealed
some horrible spot, some unknown desert where--another unfinished
sentence! To proceed.

“I remember now some more stories of your childish amusements, which
you told me not long ago. How such trifles cling to our memories!
When you were a boy, and were studying that science of stones of
which I can never see the use; when she--for I think that again
it was Pepa de Fúcar--had left off putting her feet in the water
and staining your cheeks with blackberry juice or decking herself
with your paper crowns, that you played at being lovers with less
innocence than before, but still--come, I will allow thus much--still
with perfect innocence. She was at some school where there were a
great number of lilac shrubs, and a porter who undertook to receive
and deliver notes. Are you not astonished at my good memory? I even
remember that porter’s name; it was Escoiquiz.

“Well--enough of ancient history. What you have just told me, what
I did not know till I just now read your letter (and I repeat that I
was not particularly pleased to hear it) was that two years ago you
met again where the orange-trees blow and the silk-worms feed and
the water flows in the brooks; that you suffered a slight illusion,
so to speak, and at that time began to feel a sincere affection for
her, which grew and grew until--and here I come to the story--until
you knew me.--Thank you Sir, and I make you a pretty curtsy, for the
string of compliments, polite hints, protestations, and loving words
which here follow. This shower of praises fills a whole page. Such
pages as these come before us like a face we love, and this one made
me cry with joy. Thanks again, a thousand thanks. It is all charming,
and what you say of me is much too kind and good. You are worth a
hundred of me.--You live for me? Oh Leon! How can I do better than
believe all these romantic speeches? My heart opens wide to accept
them all. I am a good catholic and have been brought up to be a true
believer.

“Yes, I will be so foolish--I have read that blessed page once more.
Oh! it is good to be told that ‘a true, deep, and lofty devotion
has blotted out that fancy and left no trace of it’--very good!
‘the illusions of childhood rarely last into mature years’ of
course; ‘Your sentiments are sincere, and your intentions thoroughly
honest’--yes no doubt; ‘The voice I heard, the words that made me
feel as if the world had come to an end, were simply one of those
wild suppositions thrown out at random, to be taken up by malice
and used by her as terrible weapons’--so it is, so it is; ‘Pepa de
Fúcar is as indifferent to you at this moment as any other woman
living’--that is perfect, exquisite! and finally ‘I and I alone’--me
and no one else.--What joy to press my hand closely to my heart while
I think to myself--me, me alone, and no one in the world but me!

“A potent argument in your favour has just occurred to me; Pepa de
Fúcar is immensely rich and I am almost poor. However, when one
has faith no arguments are needed, and I have faith in you. Every
one who knows you, says you are a model of uprightness and noble
generosity--a rare thing in these days. I am as proud as I am
flattered. How good God has been to me in bestowing on me a gift
which, by all accounts, is so seldom found in this world!

“I cannot avoid telling you--though this letter already seems
interminable--the impression that girl produced on me, even setting
aside the rancour I could not help feeling at first. But now the
storm is over; I can judge her coolly and impartially, and though,
when I heard what you know, I thought she must be perfectly
charming, I see her now in her true light. Every one talks of her
shameful extravagance. It is an insult to Heaven and humanity! Papa
says she spends enough in clothes in a week to support several
families comfortably. She is elegant, no doubt; but sometimes very
affected--as much as to say: ‘Gentlemen, I behave in this way that
you may all see how rich I am.’ Mamma says, no man would ever
think of marrying a girl who thinks of nothing but displaying the
products of industry. Rothschilds are not to be met with at every
turn, and Pepa de Fúcar is enough to frighten away her suitors.
She is recklessly extravagant and wilful, full of whims, and very
badly brought up, and will end by falling into the hands of some
fortune-hunter. So Mamma says, and she knows the world; and I really
believe she is right.

“I do not think her so pleasing even as some people do, nor as I
thought her myself, when I was dying of jealousy. She is too tall and
thin to be graceful. It is impossible to deny that she has a fine
complexion, but one needs a microscope to see her eyes, they are so
small. They say she is very amusing and agreeable, but this I know
nothing about, as I never talked to her, and never wish to. I have
seen her from a distance, on the sands and in the gallery of the
bathing house, and her manners struck me as decidedly free and easy.
I fancied she looked rather particularly at me; and I looked at her,
intending to convey to her that I did not care a straw about her. I
do not know whether I succeeded.

“She was here three days and I would not go out; I never cried more
in my life. At last she went away; but the joy I felt in her absence
is somewhat clouded by the knowledge that you and she are in the same
place. All day yesterday I was wishing that there were some very,
very high tower here, from which I could see what is going on at
Iturburua. I would be at the top with one jump. But indeed I trust
your loyalty--and if you will tell her that you love no one but me,
if she has any affection for you still, and is furious when she hears
it--yes, furious--do let me know; I long to have that satisfaction.

“We expect you on Monday. Papa says that if you do not come, you are
not a man of your word. He is very anxious to see you to discuss
some question of politics, for, by his account, there is a perfect
plague of politicians here who utterly disgust him. If they would but
make him a Senator!--and to tell you the truth, I almost fear for
his reason if he does not attain to that bench of the blessed. He
still suffers from a mania of writing letters to the papers. We have
had some these last few days, and some articles as well. Mamma, of
course, knows them, and they invariably begin with: “It is greatly to
be regretted....”

“He came in to-day quite proud to show me your new book. He praised
it highly and read the opening sentences aloud to Mamma. It was a
most laughable scene; neither he, nor Mamma, nor I understood a
single word of it; but, in spite of that, we had the highest opinion
of the learning displayed in the book. You may fancy how much we
should understand of an ‘Analysis of the Plutonic rocks in the
Columbrete islands,’ and the interest I should take in quartinary
deposits or in metamorphic or azoic strata. Why, I find it hard
enough to spell the words, and have to copy them letter for letter.
However, the mere fact that it was you who wrote this mass of
mysterious learning, is enough to give it a charm in my eyes. I
spent a long time poring over your pages, as though I were trying to
learn Greek, and--you will not believe me, but it is quite true--I
read and read, full of admiration and respect for you who had written
them. Among all those monstrous names too I came on some which
took my fancy in a vague fashion, such as _syenite_, _variolite_,
_amphibolite_. They sound to me like the endearing names of fairies
and cherubs who danced round you while you were studying the works of
God down in the bowels of the earth.

“You see I have become poetical without intending it, a thing which
is past endurance I admit, and yet this villainous letter will not
get itself finished! But Mamma is calling me to go out with her;
she is dreadfully bored here. She says it is the most detestable of
bathing places, and that she would rather stay in Madrid than ever
come here again. There is no casino, no society, no excursions to
make, no shops with pretty things, no company worth looking at--in
fact there is no second Biarritz in the world.

“Leopoldo, too, is bored to death. He says it is a population of
savages, and he cannot understand how any decent person can like to
bathe among the Caffirs--so he calls the poor Castilians who swarm
on the sands. Gustavo is gone to France, to visit that good angelic
creature Luis Gonzaga, who is very ailing. Poor little brother! A
few days since he sent an Italian priest to call on us, Don Paoletti
by name, a charming man who talked delightfully. But I want to tell
you everything and really cannot. My paper is coming to an end, and
Mamma is calling me again. Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye. Do not fail
us on Monday, and we will talk of that--you know what. At night, when
I say my prayers, I pray for you. Now do not put on that disagreeable
face. There is a dark corner in your soul which I do not at all like.
Well, I will say no more for fear of assuming the airs of a preacher,
and for fear too of anticipating a great work--that sentence too
may remain unfinished. Give my love to Syenite, Pegmatite and
Amphibolite, the only fair beings of whom I am not jealous, and
good-bye. I love you with all my heart; nay I am simpleton enough to
believe all you tell me, and I expect you on Monday. So till Monday,
farewell. Beware of failing me. If you do, you will see what you will
see!

                                                        MARÍA.”



CHAPTER II.

LIFE AT A WATERING PLACE.


The young man who was reading this letter was walking while he
read, up and down an avenue of tall trees. At one end there was a
low building with a pretentious Greco-Roman façade, from which a
sulphurous smelling vapour came out in tepid gusts, and at the other,
one of those phalansteries in which Spaniards congregate during the
summer carrying with them into the country all the restrictions,
inconveniences, and unhealthy accessories of a town life. Rough
slopes, covered with grass and mosses, came down close behind the
bath house, as if trying to push it into the stream below; and the
torrent itself, striving to make up for its smallness by the noise
it made--like some human beings who are Manzanares[A] in size and
Niagaras in noisiness--rushed tumultuously past the foundation-wall,
swearing and muttering obstreperously that it would carry away the
hotel, the promenade and the drinking-bar; the doctor, the inn-keeper
and the visitors.

  [A] The river on which Madrid stands, which in Summer is almost
  dried up.

The visitors were limping and coughing in the avenue, or sitting in
various groups on the banks of turf under the trees. Whole monographs
on every imaginable complaint were being delivered by the sufferers;
elaborate calculations as to digestion, past or to come; grotesque
diagnosis; narratives of sleepless nights, of spasms, headaches
and hiccoughs; inventories of palpitations; dissertations on the
irritability of the sympathetic nerve; mysterious hypotheses as to
the nervous system, as impenetrably obscure as the arcana of Isis;
observations formulated into aphorisms by optimist speculators;
forebodings of the apprehensive who thought each cough was a step
towards the grave; hopes from the credulous who believed the waters
might work miracles and bring the dead to life again; suppressed
sighs of these who were in pain; soliloquies of those who were past
curing, and glad laughter of the convalescents.

No one who has not lived for some few days in the midst of such a
panting and wheezing community--with its sick folks who look quite
well and its healthy folks who fancy themselves ill; and men who are
dying visibly by inches, eaten up by the diseases of vice--can form
an idea of the dulness and monotony of this hotel life, which society
has rushed into with such extraordinary unanimity since the invention
and extension of railways, and which scarcely ever affords any of the
pleasures or peaceful rest of the real country.

Nevertheless there is a certain charm to be found in this invalid
community. The constant change of drama; the beautiful faces which
arrive every day followed by more satellites than a planet; the
luxury, the evening meetings; the delicate ambrosia of gossip, served
up constantly fresh and spicy, never satiating and never exhausted
in spite of the incessant demand; the flirtations begun or revived;
the moral friction, sometimes against the grain but sometimes
delightfully soothing; the thousand floating ends, as it were, that
get tied or sundered; the little dances; the parties to see this
or that grotto or panorama, or heap of ruins, which every one has
seen a year ago but which must be once more admired in chorus; the
harmless or very venial gambling; the jokes, the plots, the small
intrigues, with which some members of this little world are so bold
as to disturb the monotony of the common contentment, the common
amusement, the common hygiene--for this sort of society is eminently
a Commonwealth, and its gaiety and splendour hide a regimen as dreary
as that of a hospital--all these accessories make such colonies
highly attractive, to a certain class of mind at any rate, and, as it
would seem, the commonest. For this reason the whole Spanish nation
resort to such spots, some with their own money to spend, and some
with that of others; and at the beginning of July, the ‘Governor’
or the money-lender is put under requisition to supply the funds
necessary to the attainment of this great desideratum of modern life.
It would seem that there is a certain form of dipsomania, a craving
to drink of sulphurous waters; and, to slake that elegant thirst, a
man is willing to become a sort of hydropathic Anacreon.

The young man who was reading the letter was dressed in deep
mourning; having read and folded the three sheets, he was about to
continue his walk, but was hindered by the approach and greetings of
some of his fellow-visitors. It was now the hour when most of the
patients came out to the spring to drink their quantum, and take
a walk. Disconsolate and pinched were many of the faces, some old
and yellow, others young and hectic, with forced smiles, clouded by
a drawn look of suffering; and nothing was to be heard by way of
conversation but an incessant flow of questions and answers as to
every phase of illness, and manner of being ill.

But pathological small talk is altogether intolerable, and so the
young man with the letter seemed to think, being himself on very good
terms with Esculapius; for he turned off as if to leave the grounds.
He was detained, however, by a party of three persons, two of whom
were men of middle age and important appearance; nay, not without a
certain dignity.

“Good-morning Leon,” said the youngest of the trio in a tone of
confidential intimacy. “I saw you just now from my window, reading
the usual three sheets.”

“What! friend Roch, up as early as ever,” cried the eldest who was
also the least good-looking.

“Leon, my good fellow, choicest of souls--won’t you walk with us
this morning?” said the tallest, a consequential personage, who was
walking, as usual, between the other two, so that they looked as if
they occupied their place on each side of him for purely ornamental
purposes, and to throw his personal and social dignity into the
strongest relief. The young man in mourning excused himself as best
he might.

“I will return within an hour,” he said walking briskly away. “Au
revoir.”

The other three went on along the promenade, and it will be proper
here to give some account of this illustrious trio which formed,
as the reader must understand, a constellation such as may be seen
in Spain at any hour, in spite of the frequent cloudiness of our
climate. The reader, like the writer, will of course say at once:
We know them--let them pass and disappear. But then, they never
disappear. This constellation never sets, is never dimmed by the
radiance of the sun, never hidden behind a cloud, never in eclipse.
It is always in the ascendant. Alas! yes, it never fails to shine
with terrible splendour, and at the zenith of social life in Spain.

Who does not know the Marquis de Fúcar? Flattery speaks of him as an
Oasis of Wealth in the midst of the desert of universal poverty; he
holds the first place among the stars of the Spanish capital, and is
the very _Alpha_ of the society he moves in.

Who, again, does not know Don Joaquín Onésimo, that beacon light
of Spanish bureaucracy, which burns so brightly wherever it shows
itself, the central glory of the myriad Onésimos who, under
different pretexts, fill various offices of the State? “Not a
family, but an epidemic,” was said of the Onésimos. But there is
no doubt whatever--Heaven knows--that if this luminary were to be
extinguished, all the precincts of the administration would remain
in darkness, and all social order, social institutions--nay, society
itself, would revert to primæval chaos. The third side of this
triangle was formed by a polished and well-dressed man, in whose
pallid and languid features all the freshness and energy of his
two and thirty years seemed prematurely quenched. His manners were
insolent, and his whole aspect gave that impression of exhaustion
and fatigue which is common enough in those who have wasted their
moral strength in politics, their intellect in party journalism,
and their physical vigour in vice. The type is peculiar to Spain,
and to Madrid--nocturnal in its habits, perfervid, lean; the very
incarnation of that national fever which betrays its burning and
devouring heat in night work over newspapers, in gambling-houses
where the lamps are put out only when the sun rises, in twilight
rendezvous, and in mysterious meetings in the corridors of theatres,
in the corners of cafés and in Minister’s offices. Such a specimen
looks strangely out of place in this pure clear atmosphere, under
these gigantic trees. It might almost be supposed that he would
feel uncomfortable at such a distance from the dens of corruption
and wickedness, that there could be no corner in his heart for the
glories and graces of Nature, nor a perception of its beauties in his
dulled eyes, with their red and swollen lids, heavy and bleared with
late hours.

Federico Cimarra--the young man in question--Don Joaquín Onésimo, who
expected ere long to rejoice in the title of Marqués de Onésimo, and
Don Pedro Fúcar, Marqués de Casa-Fúcar, after having paced the avenue
two or three times, sat down.



CHAPTER III.

IN WHICH THE READER WILL ENJOY HEARING THE PRAISES LAVISHED BY
SPANIARDS ON THEIR COUNTRY AND COUNTRY-MEN.


“It is quite clear that Leon is going to be married to the Marqués de
Tellería’s daughter,” said Cimarra. “She is no great catch, for the
marquis is more out at elbows than an actor during Lent.”

“He has nothing left but the house in the Calle (_street_) de la
Hortaleza,” added Fúcar indifferently. “It is a good property--built
at the same time as that of the Marqués de Pontejos; but before long
that will go too. They say they are all a scatterbrained family, from
the marquis down to Polito.”

“But has Tellería really nothing left but his house?” asked the man
of politics with the anxious curiosity of a creditor appraising an
estate.

“Nothing whatever,” repeated Fúcar, with the certainty of a man
perfectly informed on the subject. “The land at Piedrabuena was
sold two months ago by order of the commissioners. He gave up the
houses and factory at Nules to my brother-in-law as long ago as last
February, and he cannot have any money in the funds. I know that in
June he was borrowing money at twenty per cent. on Heaven knows what
security. In short, he is a thing of the past.”

“And it was such a great house!” said Onésimo. “I have heard my
father say that in the last century these Tellerías laid down the law
to all Extremadura. It was the second in point of wealth. For half a
century they took all the taxes and duties of Badajoz.”

Federico Cimarra planted himself in front of the other two, his legs
stretched out like a pair of compasses and twirling his stick in the
air.

“It is really incredible,” he said with a smile, “that that poor
fellow Leon should be about making such a fool of himself. I am
really very fond of him, he is a great crony of mine; but who would
venture to contradict him? What is the good of trying to argue with
those wooden-headed creatures who call themselves mathematicians? Did
you ever know a single _savant_ who had a grain of common-sense?”

“Never, never,” cried the marquis, laughing loudly, as he always did.
“And is it true, as I hear, that the girl is a perfect bigot? It will
be a funny thing to see a full-blown freethinker caught by a little
chit with _Paternosters_ and _Avemarias_.”

“I do not know whether she is a bigot, but I know that she is very
pretty,” said Cimarra smacking his lips. “She may be pardoned her
sanctimoniousness on the score of her good looks. But her character
is not formed yet--she is a mere child, and since she has been in
love she has forgotten her piety. The woman who seems to me to be
really on the high road to saintliness is her mother, who cannot
escape the law by which a dissipated youth ends in a strictly pious
old age! How she has changed! I saw her last week at Ugoibea, and she
is a wreck, a perfect wreck! María, on the contrary has grown to a
goddess. Such a head, such an air, and such style!”

“There you are right,” said Fúcar with a rather satirical smile.
“María Sudre is worth looking at. I fancy the mathematician must
have lost his bearings and had his head turned by her bright eyes.
I should not like such a girl for a wife. Very handsome no doubt,
excitable, romantic, reticent--very different from what she seems--in
short I do not like her--I do not like her.”

“Nonsense,” exclaimed the official slapping his knee emphatically.
“The idea of speaking ill of María Sudre. I know her well, she is a
miracle of goodness--much the best of the family.”

“Bless me!” said the marquis with a roar of laughter. “The family is
the most perfect family of fools I know; not excepting Gustavo whom
they think such a prodigy.”

“No, no; the girl is a good girl, a very good girl.” Onésimo
insisted. “I cannot say so much for Leon. He is one of your
new-fangled _savants_, a product of the University, the Atheneum
and the School of Mines, and I have no confidence in them whatever.
A great deal of German science that the devil only can understand;
obscure theories and preposterous words; an affectation of despising
the whole Spanish nation as a pack of ignoramuses; a great deal
of pride, and above all that infusion of scepticism which annoys
me above everything. I am not one of those who profess themselves
catholics while they admit theories that contradict the faith--I am
catholic, catholic!” And he slapped his breast defiantly.

“My dear Sir, be as catholic as you please,” said Fúcar, laughing
less boisterously than usual, nay with a certain solemnity. “We are
all catholics.--But let us avoid exaggeration. Exaggeration, Sir, is
the bane of the country. Let us put religious beliefs out of court,
not but that they are to be respected, deeply respected. What I say
is that Leon is a man of mark, a man of very great merit. He is the
best specimen the School of Mines has turned out at all since it
was founded. His enormous talents find no difficulties in any branch
of study; he is as good a botanist as he is a geologist. As I hear,
he is familiar with all the latest discoveries in Natural History,
besides being a capital astronomer.”

“Oh yes!” exclaimed Cimarra, with the patronising pomposity that
ignorance assumes when it is driven to do justice to learning. “Leon
Roch is a first-rate fellow. He is one of the few good men we have
produced in Spain. We are great friends; we were at school together.
In point of fact he did not distinguish himself at school, but since
then....”

“He does not suit me; I cannot get on with him....” said Onésimo,
with the accent of a man who refuses to swallow a bitter pill.

“But my dear Onésimo,” said the marquis solemnly, “there is no need
of exaggeration. Exaggeration is the bane of the country. Because we
are catholics we condemn every man who cultivates natural science
without doing penance for it as a sin; and they go astray; I admit
that they go a little astray; or very far astray perhaps, from the
ways of Catholicism.--But, after all, what does that matter to me.
The world will go its way. The chief thing is not to exaggerate.
It seems to me that Leon’s chief fault--and I have known him from
childhood, for he and my daughter played together as children, at
Valencia--well his chief fault is his readiness to sacrifice himself,
his youth, his wealth, and his prospects to a connection with a
reckless and ruined family, who will simply devour him beyond all
rescue.”

“Is he rich?”

“Oh! very rich,” said Fúcar emphatically. “I knew his father at
Valencia--poor Don Pepe, who died three months ago after spending
fifty years in toiling like a negro. I used to deal with him when
he had a chocolate mill in the Calle de las Barcas. As a matter of
fact, Don Pepe’s chocolate was in high estimation there. I remember
at that time I used to see Leon, a scrap of a boy, with a dirty face
and ragged elbows studying arithmetic in a corner behind the counter.
At Christmas, Don Pepe sold marchpane (cakes). Indeed he dealt in
such goods till about fifteen years ago, and it is not thirty since
he transferred his business to Madrid. When he had accumulated some
capital he began to wish to increase it more rapidly. The amount
of money is incalculable that has been made in this country by
manufacturing chocolate out of canary-seed, out of pine-kernels, out
of red ochre, out of everything rather than out of cocoa. We live in
a land of bricks,[B] and we not only build our houses of them, but we
eat them! Señor Pepe worked hard; at first with his own hands, then
with those of others; finally with a steam engine. The result being
(and the marquis pushed his hat back to the roots of his hair) that
he bought land by the acre and sold it by the foot; that in ’54 he
built a house in Madrid, that he got the management of the best lands
belonging to the nation, and that by his command of public funds he
added considerably to his fortune. In short, I should think Leon Roch
must be worth eight or nine millions.”

  [B] _Ladrillo_: cakes of chocolate are also called ladrillos.

“But you have left the choicest bit of the biography untold,” said
Cimarra, seating himself by his friends. “I mean the intense vanity
of the deceased worthy. In most cases these manufacturers who have
enriched themselves--though they are the bane of the whole human
race--are modest enough, and only care to end their days in peace,
living in humble discomfort, and in the same narrow circumstances as
they were used to, when they were working for their daily bread. But
poor Don Pepe was quite the contrary, and his weak point was to be
called marquis.”

“Indeed,” said Fúcar gravely, with the air of a man who felt it his
duty to suppress such levity in the young. “I can assure you Don José
Roch was a good-natured soul, kind and simple in all the relations of
life; I knew him well. He made chocolate of the flower-pots in his
wife’s balcony, or so said the spiteful gossips in the neighbourhood;
but he was a worthy old plodder for all that, and so wrapped up in
his boy that he thought of nothing else. There was in his mind but
one creature in the world: his son Leon; he was insanely devoted to
him. He regarded every man as his enemy who did not consider Leon
the handsomest, the most learned, the first and greatest of all men
on earth. All his pride and vanity were centred in being his son’s
father.--We met one evening last year at Aranceles. I wanted to
discuss a sale of cork with him--for he had a large property in
cork-woods--but he would talk of nothing but his son. It was almost
with tears in his eyes that he said to me: ‘My friend Fúcar, I want
nothing for myself; six feet of earth and a stone at the top will do
for me. My one desire is that Leon should have some title in this
country.--It is the only thing I wish for.’

“I began to laugh: A Spanish title! Is that all you ask?--My dear
Señor Don José, if you told me you longed to be handsome or to be
young again--but to be a marquis! Coronets are given away now as
freely as orders, and before long it will be a matter of pride not
to have one. We are fast coming to a time when if a diploma of rank
is sent to us we shall be ashamed to give a dollar to the porter who
brings the document. Well, you shall be a marquis....”

At these words Fúcar went into one of his fits of laughing; it began
with a shrill chuckle, and ended with a general contortion of his
features and a sort of convulsive explosion, while he turned very red
in the face. Even when this violent hilarity was over it was some
time before he recovered his natural colour and his normal aspect of
dignified gravity.

“Gentlemen,” said the official, hitherto silent, but not a little
annoyed, perhaps, by a consciousness of his own craving for the
marquisate, “however lavishly titles may have been distributed, I am
not aware that any have been bestowed on chocolate makers. We are a
long way....”

“Friend Onésimo,” said the marquis with cool irony, “they are
bestowed on all who like to take them. And if Don Pepe never took the
title of Marquis de Casa-Roch it was only because his son positively
refused to be as ridiculous as the rest of the world. He is a man of
principle.”

“Oh, certainly!” exclaimed Onésimo, who was always ready to support
a time-honoured institution. “But in general, these learned men who
are constantly manipulating principles in scientific matters lack
them utterly in social questions. There are plenty of instances here;
and I believe it is the same everywhere. We have seen how they govern
when the country is so unfortunate as to fall into their hands, and
they govern their own homes in the same way. Learned men, take my
word for it, are as great a calamity in private as in public life. I
do not know one who is not a fool--a perfect and utter fool.”

“You speak figuratively.”

“It is the simple truth.”

“We live in the land of _Vice-versa_.”

“No exaggeration, no exaggeration pray,” said the marquis, in the
tone of voice he always adopted for his favourite protest. “We make a
sad misuse of words nowadays and apply them too recklessly. Envy on
one hand, Ignorance on the other--What is the matter?”

The question was addressed with an expression of alarm to a servant
who was hurrying towards them.

“The Señorita has sent for you, Excellency. She is very unwell
again.”

“I must go, my daughter is in a terrible state to-day!” said the
marquis rising. “You will ask me what is the matter with her and I
can only say I do not know; I have not the remotest idea. I will go
and see her.”

The two friends watched him depart in silence. The marquis walked
slowly, on account of his obesity, and his gait reminded one of the
stately motion of some ancient ship or galleon freighted with the
rich spoils of the Indies. He seemed to be carrying on board, as it
were, all the weight of his immense fortune, collected during twenty
years of such unfailing prosperity that the outer world could only
look on and tremble and wonder.



CHAPTER IV.

MORE CONVERSATION, GIVING US SOME IDEA OF THE SPANISH CHARACTER.


In front of the grotto where the water-drinkers swallowed glass after
glass, eager to counteract the _oidium_ in their blood, there was a
summer-house. It was now ten o’clock, the hour when all the visitors
came out to the spring, and a party had gathered in this pleasant
spot, consisting of Don Joaquín Onésimo, Leon Roch and Federico
Cimarra, who was sitting astride on his chair and making it creak
and groan as he seesawed.

“Do you know Leon what ails Fúcar’s daughter?”

“She left the drawing-room early last evening; she must be ill.” And
having thus spoken Leon sat looking at the ground.

“But her complaint is a very strange one, as the marquis says,”
added Onésimo. “Consider the symptoms. As you know, she collects
china; last month, on her way back from Paris, she spent two days
at Arcachon, and the Count de la Reole’s daughters gave her three
pieces of Palissy-ware. They are considered handsome; to me they are
no better than common crockery. Besides these she brought from Paris
eight specimens of Dresden so fine and delicate you can hardly feel
their weight. Well, Pepa’s whole mind seemed set on these precious
works of art; she talked of nothing but her china. She took them out
to look at, fifty times a day. And then--this morning she collected
all this rubbish, went up to the topmost room in the hotel, opened
the window and flung them into the court-yard, where they broke in a
thousand pieces.”

Federico looked at Leon who merely said: “Yes, so I heard.”

“Yesterday evening,” Onésimo went on, “when we were returning from
the Grotto--where, by the way, there is no more to be seen than in
my bed-room--one of the large pearls dropped out of her earring. We
hunted for it, and at last I found it close to a stone. I stooped to
pick it up, as was natural, but she was quicker than I was; she set
her foot on it and crushed it, saying: ‘Of what use is it?’--Then,
they say, she tore up some costly laces. But did not you see her last
night in the drawing-room? I could swear she is out of her mind.”
Neither Leon nor Cimarra made any reply.

“I can tell you one thing,” continued the intelligent official,
“the man who marries the damsel will have hard work with her. What
bringing up! my dear fellow what training! Her father, who knows
the value of money uncommonly well himself, has never taught her
the difference between a bank-note and a copper piece. She is a
real treasure is the Señorita de Fúcar! I had heard that she was
capricious, extravagant and had the most preposterous and outrageous
fancies you can imagine. Poor husband--and poor father! If she were
only pretty; but she is not even that.--She will vex Don Pedro at
last.--And no one listens when I thunder and declaim against these
modern and foreign fashions which have spoiled all the modesty of
our Spanish women--all their christian humility; their delightful
ignorance, their love for a retired and domestic life, their
indifference to luxury, their sobriety in dress, their neatness and
economy. Only look at the hussies that are the result of modern
civilisation. I quite understand the dread of matrimony which is
spreading among us and which, if it is not checked, will compel the
government to pass a law for betrothals and a law for marriages and
create a president over bachelors.”

“But, bless me!” cried Cimarra, slapping Leon on the shoulder. “Here
is the man who can tell us all about Pepa’s eccentricities, for he
has known her ever since they were both children.”

Leon answered coldly:

“Whether Pepa’s attacks or eccentricities consist in breaking china
or destroying her ornaments, it matters little after all. Her father
is rich enough--enormously rich and richer every day.”

“On the subject,” said the phœnix of the bureaux, “of the immense
wealth of Fúcar, the most characteristic thing ever said, was spoken
by our friend here, who is a man of epigrams.”

“I? I never said anything, not a word about Don Pedro,” declared
Federico with becoming modesty.

“Nay, nay, biting tongue! Was it not you who said at Aldearrubia’s
house--I heard it myself--_apropos_ of Fúcar’s vast fortune: ‘We must
have a new formula in political economy: National bankruptcy is the
fount of riches?’”

“But that might be said of so many men,” remarked Leon.

“Of so very many,” Cimarra hastened to add. “If Fúcar has amassed
a fortune at the expense of the public treasury--as they say he
has?--then I say: so far as the augmentation of his fortune in
dealing with public moneys is concerned, he is by no means the only
man to whom the remark as to National bankruptcy applies.”

Onésimo winced; but recovering himself at once he added:

“I have heard you render a merciless account of the millions amassed
by the marquis, my dear Cimarra. But a wit is always allowed to find
fault. You need not prevaricate, though I know that at this time
you and your victim are excellent friends. Still, you described him
admirably when you said: ‘He is one of those men who make money out
of solids, liquids and gases, or--which comes to the same thing--out
of paving-stones, wine for the troops, and gas for lighting the
streets.’ The tobacco he provides by contract is a particular kind
which has the property of turning bitter in the mouth and the
advantage of being useful as timber; his rice and his beans are
equally unique, the beans are quite famous in Ceuta; the convicts
call them _Apothecary Fúcar’s sprouting pills_.”

“That is talking for talking’s sake,” replied Cimarra. “In spite of
all this I appreciate and esteem the marquis highly; he is a most
worthy man. And which of us has not, at some time or other, trodden
on a neighbour’s corns?”

“I know quite well that this is all merely in joke. In this country
everything must be sacrificed to a witticism. It is the way with us
Spaniards. We flay a man alive, and then give him our hand. I am
criticising no one in saying so--we are all alike.”

At this moment the marquis himself entered the summer-house.

“And Pepa?” asked Leon.

“She is very happy now. She passes from sadness to merriment with a
rapidity that amazes me. She was crying all the morning; she says she
is thinking of her mother, that she cannot get her mother out of her
mind--I do not understand her. Now she wants to leave this place, at
once, without waiting for me to take the baths. I did not want to
come--I detest the horrible, inconvenient hotels in this country. As
for my daughter’s freaks and follies! No sooner were we in France
than she took it into her head to come to Iturburua. I could not help
myself--Iturburua, to Iturburua Papa--What could I do? I am getting
accustomed to this vagabond life, but to tell the truth it vexes me
now just as much to go away as it did to come--to go without having
taken six baths even. For I do not believe there are any waters to
compare with these in the world.--And then where are we to go? I have
not the remotest idea, for my daughter’s vagaries make all reasonable
plans impossible. I am hardly allowed time enough to secure a saloon
carriage; Pepa is in as great a hurry to be off as she was to come.
I am to be ready at once, to-day, early to-morrow at the latest--the
mountains oppress her, the hotel is crushing her, the very sky seems
falling on her, and she hates all the visitors, and it is killing
her--suffocating her....”

While Don Pedro was thus pouring out his paternal troubles, his
three friends sat silent; only Onésimo now and again murmured a few
commonplaces about nervous irritation, the result, as he stated, of
some strange influences to which the fairer half of humanity are
exposed. The marquis took Cimarra’s arm saying:

“Come, my dear fellow, do me the favour of amusing Pepa for a short
time. At present she is very well content, but she will be bored to
the last degree in a short time. You know she always laughs at your
amusing notions; she said to me just now: ‘If only Cimarra would come
and whisper a few spiteful things about the neighbours....’ For we
all know you have a special gift that way. Come my dear fellow; she
is alone.--Good-bye gentlemen; I am carrying off this rascal, for he
is more wanted elsewhere than here.”

Don Joaquín and Leon Roch were left together.

“What do you think of Pepa?” asked Onésimo.

“That she has been very badly brought up.”

“Just so--very badly brought up.--And now I think of it, tell me: Is
it true that you are going to be married?”

“Yes--my hour is come,” said Leon with a smile.

“To María Sudre?”

“To María Sudre.”

“A very sweet girl--and what a Christian education! Honestly my good
fellow, it is more than a heretic like you deserves.” He tapped Leon
kindly on the shoulder and the men parted.



CHAPTER V.

ILLUSTRATING ANOTHER TRAIT OF SPANISH CHARACTER.


It was getting late and the dancing was beginning to flag. The
last whirling couples were gradually disappearing, as do the last
circles of a pool into which a stone has been dropped die away on
the margin; the conventional embrace which does not offend even the
most coy was finally relaxed, and at length the murderous pianist,
whose ear-splitting music inspired the dancers, consented to retire.
A fair visitor however took his place and endeavoured to prolong the
entertainment by wringing a doleful _Notturno_ from the chords of
the instrument--the most dreary and dismal form of second-rate music
ever devised. This parade of lamentation however was happily short,
for the mothers were out of patience and the gay groups of girls
began to move away across the polished floor. The legs of the chairs
creaked and clattered on the boards; with the babble of young voices
mingled a hollow chorus of coughing, and the fair bevy threaded their
way through the door where their exit was impeded by a knot of the
elderly men--the orators, lawyers and politicians who were the glory
and lustre of the company at the hotel.

In the next room the clink of the counters as they changed hands
at the card-tables made a noise like that of false teeth gnashing
and chattering. The coughing and throat clearing increased as the
older people followed the young ones out of the dancing room, and
the little tumult of youthful chatter mingled with the sad sighing
undertone of premature decrepitude which seems to afflict the flower
of the younger generation spread along the wide corridor, mounted
the stairs, and died away by degrees in the different rooms of the
many-celled phalanstery. An ingenious fancy might have likened it to
a vast organ in which, after every sound had been roused to symphony,
each note, deep or shrill, sank back into its own pipe again.

In the card-room sat the Marqués de Fúcar, reading the newspapers.
His invariable attitude when engaged in this patriotic exercise was
one of perfect rigidity; he held the paper almost at arm’s-length,
while a pair of glasses assisted his sight, riding on the tip of his
nose and pinching his nostrils. If he wanted to look at anything but
his paper, he did it over the top of the glasses or with a furtive
glance on each side. He was very apt to laugh aloud whilst reading,
for he was keenly alive to a joke--more particularly when the point
of it--as is not uncommon in a newspaper--was not only palpable but
envenomed. Two other gentlemen were also reading, and four or five
were engaged in conversation, lolling at their ease on the lounges.
Federico Cimarra, after walking up and down two or three times
outside, with his hands in his pockets, came into the card-room at
the moment when the marquis laid down his last newspaper, and taking
his _pince-nez_ off his nose, closed them up and stowed them away
carefully in his waistcoat pocket.

“What a country this is!” exclaimed the great merchant, his face
still beaming with a smile at the last epigram he had read. “Do
you know, Cimarra, what strikes me? Every one here speaks ill of
political men, of the ministers, of the employés, of Madrid--but I
begin to think that Madrid and the ministers and all the ruck of
politicians--as they call them, are the pick of the nation. The
representatives are bad enough, but the electors are worse.”

“Then everything is bad together,” said Federico, with the cold
philosophy which is the sarcasm of a worn-out heart and an atrophied
intellect, united to dwell in a sickly frame. “Equally bad--and
nothing to choose from.”

“And at the bottom of all the mischief is laziness.”

“Laziness! That is as much as to say the national idiosyncracy--the
very Spirit of Spain. Yes I say: Laziness, thy name is Spain. We have
a great deal of smartness--so I hear; I do not perceive it anywhere.
We are all alike; we hide I believe....”

“Oh! if only we had a government that would give a spur to industry
and labour....”

Cimarra put on a very grave face; it was his way of making fun of his
neighbours.

“Labour!--Why we scarcely know how to weave homespun cloth;
hemp-shoes are fast disappearing; our home-made water-jars
are growing quite scarce and even our brooms are brought from
England.--Still, we can fall back upon Agriculture; that is the
favourite theory with all these fools. There is not an idiot in the
country who will not talk to you of agriculture. I should like them
to tell me what agriculture you can have without irrigation, how you
can have irrigation without rivers, or rivers without forests, or
forests without men to plant them and look after them--and how are
you going to get men when there are no crops? It is a vicious circle
from which there is no issue--no escape! My dear Marquis, it is a
matter of race I tell you.--It is one of the few things which are of
the nature of primary truth: the fatality of inheritance. We have
nothing to rely upon but communism supported by the Lottery--that
is our future. The State must take the national wealth into its own
hands and distribute it by means of raffles.

“What--you are astonished? But you will live to see it, take my
word for it. Why it is a splendid idea--and as good a theory as any
other. Ask your friend Don Joaquín Onésimo, who is a beacon-light of
knowledge in such matters, and who, in my opinion, has one of the
best heads that ever thought in Spain.”

“Is he here?” said Fúcar laughing and looking round. “He should come
and hear your theory.”

“He is discussing social science with Don Francisco Cucúrbitas, an
equally great man according to the Spanish standard. He is one of
these men who are always talking a great deal about administration
and management which simply means expedients. What would this world
become but for expedients! The Almighty created these gentlemen for
the express purpose of preaching social Quietism; and they might
do worse. My scheme of communism and lotteries will float, my dear
Sir. The taxes will bring the money, the lotteries will redistribute
it.--By Jupiter! Do you know my friend we might have a very snug
little game here.” And before Fúcar could answer Federico went to the
door to call the men who were still in the next room; then returning
to the marquis, he took a pack of cards out of his pocket and spread
them on the table; they lay in a curve, overlapping each other, like
an angular serpent.

“Here too!” exclaimed Fúcar with some annoyance.

Cimarra went back to the drawing-room where the lights were now
being put out and presently four other men came in at his request.
Only Leon Roch remained walking up and down the darkened room. After
speaking a few words to the waiter, Cimarra took the young man’s arm
and walked with him for a few minutes. The words that passed between
them were somewhat sharp; however, Leon at length went up to his room
from which, in a few minutes he returned.

“Here--vampire!” he said contemptuously to his friend, filling his
hand with gold coin;--and then he was alone again.

Looking into the card-room he could see the group in the
centre,--six men, some of whom bore names not unknown to fame among
their countrymen. One or two, to be sure enjoyed not a very enviable
reputation; but there were others too who had gained credit by their
splendid speeches, amply spiced with high-sounding words on social
anarchy and the national vice of indolence. Of them all the Marqués
de Fúcar was the only one who played for the sake of the game and
shuffled the cards with a frank smile and a jest at each turn of
fortune. Cimarra dealt--he had his hat on, his brows were knit, his
eyes sparkled keenly with an expression at once alert and absorbed,
a solemn look of divination--or idiocy? His thin lips murmured
inarticulate syllables, which an uninitiated bystander might have
taken for some formula of invocation to call a spirit up. It was the
jargon of the professional gambler who keeps up a running dialogue
with the cards as they slip through his hands, sometimes growling,
sometimes only breathing hard, as they alternately smile upon him or
mock him with impish grimaces.

The contest with Chance is one of the maddest and fiercest battles
in which the human mind ever engages. Chance, which is neither
more nor less than an incessant and incalculable contradiction of
facts, is never tired out; we can never meet her face to face, and
to defy her is folly. She is as nimble and supple as a tiger, she
fells and clutches her prey, while her favours--if by a whim she
bestows them--light a flame in her victim’s soul that consumes him
from within. His brain reels and he raves in dreams like those
of the drunkard--for a vague picture of the Gorgon with whom he
is contending takes possession of him and reduces him to bestial
madness. Fighting in the dark, desperately and wildly, the gambler is
the victim of a hideous incubus; he finds himself started in an orbit
of torturing unrest, like a stone flung off into measureless space.

And at each deal the marquis would say:

“Gentlemen, it is getting late--it is time to go to bed. It is good
to have a little amusement--but we must not have too much of a good
thing. We must not exaggerate.”



CHAPTER VI.

PEPA.


Leon Roch having seen enough, left the house. A calm mild night
invited him to walk along the terrace where there was not a living
soul to be seen, and not a sound to be heard but the croaking of
the toads. After pacing the avenue to the end and back for the
second time, he thought he discovered a figure at one of the nearest
ground-floor windows. It was in white, a woman beyond a doubt, whose
arm rested on the sill, above which she was visible as a half-length.
Leon went towards her and perceiving that she did not move, he went
quite near. She might have been carved in marble but for her black
hair and a slight motion of her hand among the leaves of a plant that
grew near.

“Pepa?” he said.

“Yes, Pepa--I have turned romantic and am gazing at the stars. To be
sure, there is not a star to be seen--but it is all the same.”

“It is a very dark night; I did not recognise you,” said Leon,
putting his hand on the top of the window railing. “The damp air is
not good for you. Why do you not shut the window? It is of no use to
wait for your father. That rascally Cimarra has got him to gamble and
they are all quite happy--Go indoors.”

“It is so hot inside!”

The night was in fact pitch dark and Leon could not see the girl’s
face; but he could study the tone of her voice, for the voice is
singularly treacherous. Pepa’s voice quavered. Her head, leaning
on one side, rested against the window-frame. In her hand she held
a flower with a long stem--Leon thought it was a rose. She kept
raising it to her lips and biting off a petal which she blew off
again. Leon noted the situation and understood that it was the moment
to say something appropriate, but he racked his brain in vain; he
could think of nothing, and so he said nothing. Both were silent;
Leon quiet and motionless, both his hands resting on the cold iron
railing, Pepa pulling out the rose petals and blowing them away.

“I hear strange stories of your whims and fancies, Pepa,” he said at
last, thinking that he might presently say something to the point,
if he began by saying something foolish. “You break your china, you
tear your lace....”

“And what a specimen she is!” cried Pepa interrupting him with a
bitter laugh that made Leon shudder. “The poor lady is never to be
seen except in church! You do not understand!--You seem to have lost
your wits. I am speaking of your future mother-in-law, the marquesa
de Tellería. When I was stopping at Ugoibea I had a fancy to see
her. They told me all the nonsense she talked about me. The usual
thing--that I am badly brought up, that I am wildly extravagant,
that my manners are too free, and my style of dress disgusting--yes,
disgusting. But the poor woman herself has been so very different
ever since she began to lose her beauty--Besides, you see, she cannot
live such a worldly life now that she has such a saintly son--for of
course you know that Luis Gonzaga, your María’s twin brother who is
at the college of the Sacred Heart at Puyóo, is said to be a perfect
angel in a cassock? Why, my dear fellow, you are going to live in the
very courts of Heaven! Your mother-in-law even wears a hair shirt.
You do not believe me? But I know it--her lovers say so....” And Pepa
blew away a rose petal which fell on Leon’s forehead.

“Pepa,” he said with some annoyance, “I do not like to hear any
friend of mine speak in that way of a respectable family....”

“But _they_ may talk of me! _They_ may call me violent and crazy and
I must not say a word. Of course! Everything I do is ill-manners,
wild behaviour, ignorance, insolence....! Change the subject then. I
am very sorry never to have seen your future Saint Mary face to face.
They say she is very elegant-looking--she always was. But she goes
out very little at Ugoibea; she and her fool of a mother only walk
out together to get fresh air. They say they give themselves no end
of airs;--however, you are rich and the marquis--they say he is the
only idiot known who has failed to get a place in the government.”

“Pepa, Pepa, for pity’s sake do not talk so wildly; you really hurt
me deeply with your heedless speeches.” Pepa pulled at the rose which
was now much reduced.

“But you see I am badly brought up,” she retorted bitterly. “And now
people are discovering that I have no heart, that I am spiteful,
rebellious, and capricious....”

“That is not the truth; but you should not behave so that people
cannot believe it.”

“Much I care what people believe. Do I want any thing they can give
me?”

“You are too proud.”

“And they say I shall never find a man of any sense to marry me!” she
went on with the same angry laugh, which seemed almost convulsive.
“As if there were such a thing as a man of sense. Well, I am not one
of those girls who pretend to be very meek and goody-goody just to
catch a husband; and I can tell you one thing: I will never marry
a learned man--I loathe a _savant_. Perfect happiness for a woman
consists in having heaps of money and marrying a fool.”

“I see you are in the mood to talk at random to-night,” said Leon
pleasantly. “But you do not mean what you say, and your sentiments
are better than your words.”

His eyes had by this time become accustomed to the darkness, or the
night was perhaps a little clearer; Leon could, at any rate, make out
Pepita Fúcar’s face against the black interior behind her like the
dim blurred outline of an old picture. The whiteness of her skin,
her chestnut hair, the brilliancy of her small eyes, where in each
pupil burned a tiny spark, the pout of her parted lips and the savage
whiteness of her teeth as she still blew away the rose-petals, above
all her petulant air made her seem almost pretty, though in fact she
was very far from it.

“You might make other people fancy that you were as wild as you
pretend to be,” Leon went on, “but I know you better. I have known
you since we were children together, and I know you have a good
heart. A good mother would have taught you some things you sadly lack
and have corrected some faults of manner which make you appear worse
than you are; but you have been neglected as a child and now when you
are growing up your father has suddenly flung you into the world in
a perfect vortex of luxury, folly and riches. You know, better than
I, what a state of confusion your household is in--even strangers
cannot help reminding you that you are spending at the rate of three
months’ income in a week, while your father is too entirely absorbed
in making money to think of anything but business. Poor Pepita--so
rich and so lonely! I can quite understand all the vagaries which
the outside public comment on so severely; I can excuse you--yes,
quite excuse you. First you built a hot-house in the garden; then
you had it moved to the other side--then you gave up your plants and
began to collect china--then bronzes, carvings, old stuffs, what not,
and sold them again for a quarter of what they had cost you. They
say you established a photographer in your house that he might take
views of the garden and portraits of the horses, and all the time you
never looked into a single book unless it were some silly almanac or
rubbishy novel.

“You are charitable I know, for you are tender-hearted; but Pepa, in
what a foolish way! A woman comes to you for help to get masses said;
you put two thousand reales into her hand. The same day comes the
widow of a bricklayer who has died of an accident while at work on
your house, and you give her only a dollar. You have no idea of the
magnitude and proportion of the needs and miseries of the poor.

“Poor Pepita--do not wonder at my speaking to you so harshly; it
is out of a sincere desire for your good. I speak as your brother
might--a brother who wishes to see you wiser and happier.--I tremble
for you Pepita; I dread lest hard and bitter experience should
teach you, by some awful shock, these realities of life of which
you are still ignorant. It really troubles me to see you go so far
astray--so lonely too in the midst of your wealth, and to be unable
to help you; for our roads lie apart. But I feel for you deeply,
and if I may speak to you truly I pity you, yes--I pity you. I
admire and esteem you greatly; I can never forget that we have been
play-fellows--nay--why should we deny it?--that as boy and girl we
had a warmer liking, though a transient one, and that the outside
world imagined we were lovers.--All this I can never forget. I have
always been, and always shall be your best friend.”

Pepa bit furiously at the stem of the flower, and snatching off the
few remaining leaves she almost spit them away again. One or two fell
on the young man’s beard. Pepa put her handkerchief to her mouth.

“Bleeding!” exclaimed Leon, seizing the hand that held it.

“A thorn has pricked my lips,” said Pepa, in such a choked voice that
Leon Roch was startled and grieved. After a short pause the girl
spoke again:

“Do you know,” said she, “that your household will be a funny one?”

“Why?”

Pepa had clasped her hands to stop the beating of her heart.

“Because when your brother-in-law, Luis Gonzaga, who is preparing to
be a missionary, begins to preach on one side, and you begin to utter
heresies on the other, you will be a match for each other. Leon, I
tell you plainly, you are an insufferable prig and your learning
makes me sick.”

“But I happen to know that your real opinion of me is a more
flattering one.”

Pepa leaned out over the balcony and Leon felt her breath on his
face; it seemed to scorch him like a passing flame.

“A man who has studied nothing but stones is an idiot,” said Pepa
with a bitter accent.

“There I agree with you--Come, dear Pepa, be friends with a man who
has a true and frank regard for you. Give me your hand.”

Pepa started to her feet.

“Give me your hand and say good-bye. Do you not feel in your heart
that some day you will want me--perhaps to give you some honest
advice, perhaps even some help, such as mortals must ask of each
other in the shipwrecks of life.”

Pepa angrily flung away the spray she still held, and it struck Leon
on the forehead. He started as if he had been lashed with a whip.

“I--want you!” she exclaimed. “What conceit! Upon my word you must
have lost your senses. It is more likely that I shall one day meet
a pompous prig with a simpleton on his arm and ask: ‘Pray who is
this?’--say good-bye?--Good-bye; and whether it is till to-morrow or
for all eternity, it is all the same to me.”

“As you please,” said Leon putting out his hand. “Good-bye. You are
off to-morrow with your father. I shall not be going to Madrid at
present. We may not meet for some time.”

Pepa turned away and disappeared in the darkness of the room; Leon
gazed after her but could see nothing. A faint perfume--as subtle as
a dream was all the trace the Marquesita de Fúcar had left as she
quitted the window.

“Pepa, Pepilla!” he called in a coaxing tone. But there was no reply,
no sound, no sign from the darkness within. Presently, however, he
heard a low sob. He remained some time calling her name at intervals,
but receiving no answer. Still he heard the sighing, betraying that
in the depths of that blackness lurked a sorrow.

At last he went away slowly and softly--as stealthily as a criminal
and as gloomily as an assassin.



CHAPTER VII.

TWO MEN AND THEIR SCHEMES IN LIFE.


He stumbled over a root and at the same time felt a heavy hand laid
on his shoulder, with the words: “Your money or your life.”

“Leave me in peace,” said Leon shaking off his friend and walking on.

But Cimarra put his hand through his arm and held him so that he was
forced to spin round on one foot. Their tottering gait, and their
position, arm in arm, might have led a spectator to fancy that the
pair were tipsy; but this evil suspicion would have been dissipated
by Cimarra’s next speech as he said, very gravely and with an accent
of reproof in his harsh metallic voice:

“I have had desperate ill-luck! I am distinguishing myself greatly in
Iturburua.”

“Let me be, gamester!” said Leon angrily shaking the arm his
companion was holding. “I am not in the humour for jesting--and do
not intend to lend you any more money. Has the Marqués de Fúcar left
the table?”

“He is just going to his room. I never saw a man have such crushing
good-luck. This is the way with the country--to-night I represent the
country. Alas! poor Spain!--Solés has won enormously; since they made
him governor of a province he has had tremendous luck; his victims
are Fontán, X---- and I. But it is early yet. Leon, go up and fetch
some more shot from the locker.”

Leon did not reply; his mind was disturbed; but his thoughts were
far from the ignoble ideas which agitated his companion. Instead of
going upstairs as Federico had asked him, he went with him into the
card-room. One of the ‘victims’ was snoring on a sofa; the other
was saying good-night, with a voice and demeanour that did justice
to a diabolical temper; but he did not hurry himself and wrapped up
elaborately, as a protection against the night air.

The two friends were left alone.

“I shall not play,” said Leon shortly.

Cimarra, knowing Leon Roch’s tenacious nature resigned himself to his
fate, and seating himself by the table he took up the cards and began
turning them over in his slender and exquisitely-kept hands. A large
ring on his little finger reflected a pale light from the lamp, by
this time burning low, and with his eyes fixed on the pack, he dealt
and shuffled and shuffled and dealt so as to make an infinite variety
of combinations. The cards seemed plastic in his hands and obedient
to his touch.

“It is not my fault--it is not my fault!” muttered Leon gloomily
from the corner of a sofa on which he had dropped, evidently much
disturbed and agitated.

“What is not your fault?” asked Federico looking up in amazement.
“Something has gone wrong with you old fellow--where have you been?”

“No--there is nothing the matter with me; I cannot tell you what
has gone wrong. It is a strange sensation, a kind of remorse--and
yet, no, not remorse for I have done nothing wrong--it is a pain, a
regret--But you would not understand even if I were to explain it to
you; you are a libertine; your feelings are depraved, your heart is
dead, your emotions are all selfish and sensual.”

“Much obliged I am sure. If I am unworthy of a friend’s
confidence....”

“Friend! you are not my friend.--No friendship can subsist between
us two. Chance made us friends in childhood, but our natures have
made us indifferent to each other. In that atmosphere of frivolity,
of mere superficial virtue, if not of actual corruption in which you
have your being I can neither move nor breathe. My poor father’s
vanity flung me into its midst; his devotion to me led him into many
follies and illusions. He--who had made his fortune by the sweat of
his brow in a chocolate factory--wanted to make a fine gentleman of
his son, a finikin and aristocratic creature such as he pictured in
his deluded fancy. ‘Be a marquis,’ said he, ‘enjoy yourself; ride
your horses to death, drive your carriage, make love to other men’s
wives, marry into a noble family. Get into the Ministry, make a noise
in the world, let your name stand at the head of every list.’--These
were not his words, but that was what he wanted.”

Leon was too excited to sit still and he stood up as he spoke. There
are times when we must give vent to our thoughts lest they should
gather into so heavy a cloud as to darken the brain with a dense fog
of murky smoke.

“And what is the end of all this?” asked Federico with some disgust.
“Talk no more nonsense, but come and....”

“I say all this to you because I have made up my mind to desert.
The inhabitants of the social sphere into which my father insisted
on bringing me, I find simply unendurable. I cannot breathe this
air; all my surroundings depress and weary me--the people I meet,
their actions, their manners, their language--their very feelings,
though they are all well regulated, and in the very best taste. It
positively saddens me to look on at the extravagant fancies, the
capricious or sickly sentiment which possesses every mind that is not
sunk in selfish indifference.”

“You are energetic in your denunciation,” said Cimarra, laughing
at his friend’s emphatic _tirade_. “Something serious has happened
to you Leon; you have had some sudden blow. This evening you were
calm, reasonable, friendly, a little sad perhaps, with the peevish
melancholy of a man who is engaged to be married and who is eight
leagues away from his lady-love--and then, all of a sudden, I meet
you in the promenade, agitated and excited--you blurt out a few
incoherent words, and I see you are pale, with an expression--how
shall I describe it.--Whom have you been talking to?” And as he spoke
he gazed at him curiously, but without ceasing to shuffle the cards.

“I have nothing to tell you,” said Leon, already more composed, “but
that as I am tired I will cut the matter short. I intend henceforth
to mould my life on my own pattern, as the birds build their nests
where their instinct leads them. I have laid my plans with the calm
reason of a practical man--eminently and strictly practical.”

“Ah--well, I have heard it said that the whole race of practical men
is the veriest set of dolts on the face of the earth.”

“I have laid my plans,” continued Leon, paying no heed to his
friend’s interruption. “I am going straight on with it--straight
ahead. It will not disappoint me; I have thought of it a great deal,
and have weighed the _pros_ and _cons_ with the accuracy of a chemist
who weighs the elements of a compound, drop by drop. I know what my
aim is--a lofty and a noble one, tending to the good of society and
of humanity, advantageous to my prospects as a man, to the health of
body and mind alike.--In a word I am going to be married.” Federico
looked and listened with an expression of covert amusement.

“And in choosing my wife,” Roch went on--“I ought not to say
choosing for I fell in love like any fool--but that did not prevent
me from realising my position and calmly and coldly reviewing the
character and qualities of my future wife. It is my duty to marry
her, Federico, distinctly my duty; there I am on firm ground and
that much is beyond a doubt. María captivated me by her beauty it
is true; but that is not all--far from it. I smothered my passion,
I studied her closely and I found behind that beauty, a mind in no
respect unworthy of it. María’s goodness, her sense, her modesty,
the submissiveness of her intelligence, her exquisite ignorance of
life added to the seriousness of her tastes and instincts--all made
me feel that she was the wife for me--I will be perfectly frank with
you: her family are not at all to my liking. But what does that
matter? I can separate from my relations. I only marry my wife and
she is delightful--she has feeling and imagination, and that sweet
credulousness which is the most ductile element in human nature. Her
education has been neglected and she is as ignorant as can be; but
on the other hand, she is free from all false ideas and frivolous
accomplishments, and from those mischievous habits of mind which
corrupt the judgment and nature of the girls of our day. Do you not
think me a happy man? Do you not see that this is the very woman I
want; that I shall be able to form my wife’s character, which is the
most glorious task a man can have--form it to my own mind and on my
own image--the highest achievement I can aspire to, and the only
guarantee of a peaceful life.--Do not you think so?”

“You ask me--a hardened and selfish worldling!” said Federico
ironically. “My dear fellow you are out of your mind.”

“I ask you as I might ask this bench!” retorted Leon turning his
back contemptuously. “There are occasions in life when a man feels
that he must speak his thoughts aloud to convince himself of their
validity. It is as if I were talking to myself. You need not answer
me unless you like.--I mean to mould her in my own way. I do not want
a ready-made wife, but a wife to make. I want a woman with a firm
basis of character--strong feelings and perfect moral rectitude. Any
extensive knowledge of the world, or the absurd teaching of a girl’s
school, would hinder rather than help my purpose. I should have to
pull down too much and to build on the ruins; I should have to dig
deep down to find a safe foundation for the edifice.”

Federico had risen during this harangue and thrown down the cards:
after walking two or three times round and about Leon who had not
moved; and now, laying his hand on Roch’s shoulder, he said in a low
voice:

“Most worthy and wisest of men, we, the depraved and ignorant, look
into the future as well as you; we too lay our plans, not indeed
mathematically but perhaps with better hopes of security than you
practical men. We are apt indeed to think of the ass as a practical
animal. We do not condemn matrimony; on the contrary, we regard it
as indispensable to the progress of society and the improvement of
the condition....” He paused a few moments and then went on--“of the
condition of the individual. You will understand what I mean. We,
to be sure, are not learned and when we have fallen in love like a
schoolboy we do not make an elaborate analysis of the qualities of
the women whom we choose to be our wives. We do not aspire to form
their character; we take the article ready made, as God or the devil
has wrought it. This marrying to become a school-master is in the
very worst taste. There is something else to be thought of in these
latter days besides a woman’s character. The inequality of fortune
among human beings, and the luckless fate to which some are born,
the hideous disparity between a man’s fortune and the ‘material of
war’ which he requires to fight against and for life--the miserable
‘Struggle for existence’ as the evolutionists have it--that is what
weighs on me--the scarcity of work to be done in this accursed
country, and the impossibility of making money without having
money.--Do you hear what I say?--All these things and many others
make it necessary to look out for something besides virtue in our
future brides.”

“What?”

Cimarra shook his hands as if he were clinking coin.

“Cash,” he said, “hard cash and ready.” Cimarra talked the mongrel
language of a man of fashion, mixing the style of an orator with the
slang of a gambler, and quotations in foreign languages with the low
blasphemies of a street boy, which shall not be recorded here.

“Life,” he went on, “is getting more difficult every day. It is all
very well for rich folks like you to send moral platitudes flying
about the world, and never to feel a base desire or harbour a thought
that is not the quintessence of the purest ether. However, we need
not exaggerate, as Fúcar is so fond of saying. I maintain that what
sanctimonious fools call filthy lucre may be a potent element of
morality. I, for example....”

“You! And what are you an example of pray?”

“I was going to say that I, if I found myself the possessor of a
fortune, should be a model gentleman, and might even be known to
posterity as the Illustrious Cimarra. For is it not a matter of
course, a phrase ready coined?--Tom, Dick and Harry are Illustrious
nowadays.”

“Though you may try to conceal it, I see some remains of shame in
you,” said Roch. “Your laxity of morals is not as great as you try to
make the world believe.”

“Everything is relative, as my friend Fontán always says in jest,”
replied Federico shrugging his shoulders. “You cannot judge off-hand,
in that light and easy way, of a man like me who lives with the
rich and is poor himself. Get that well into your head. I talk to
you with perfect frankness. My projects after all are as yet merely
visions--sketches, my dear fellow. We shall see--I flatter myself I
have made a good beginning. Time will show. Some day perhaps when you
have quite forgotten me, lost in the bliss of pedagogic matrimony,
you may hear that that reprobate Cimarra has found a wife. We all
have to come to it--sooner or later. Even a poor devil like me has
his schemes and his philosophy. We are all tortoises together, but
some have more shell to cover them than I have.--Do not take it into
your head that I am indifferent to the moral graces of my wife--nor
that I propose to marry a monster. I shall have a virtuous wife, my
learned friend, thoroughly respectable, take my word for it, and a
fine family of children and grand-children.”

“Then you have made your choice.”

“I have.--But I must warn you that I make no great point of personal
beauty. I am not like you; I have a soul above being caught by a
pair of fine eyes and a mouth that time can only spoil. Beauty is
only skin deep. It lasts, as the poet says ‘_l’espace d’un matin_.’
But she has a pleasant and attractive expression, _distingué_
manners, a quantum of dignity, a quantum of liveliness, wit and even
_chic_--Education? Well nothing much to speak of, but we do not
intend to set up for Professors. She has a great deal of good in her
with a spice of the devil too; she has wild ways occasionally, freaks
of temper, habits of extravagance....”

Leon turned pale and fixed a gloomy eye on his companion.

“What do I care if she smashes a lot of rubbishy plates, or cuts a
Murillo into strips, or makes mince-meat of her lace? There are some
things in which no husband should interfere.”

Leon sat staring dully at the green cloth of the table on which he
had propped his elbows.

“Mercy, how the time goes, man!” he exclaimed rising abruptly and
throwing open the window. “It is day!”

The white dawn fell into the room and its light fell on two pale and
haggard faces. The dying lamp still burnt forlorn and dingy; a long
sooty flame flared up the chimney, smelling detestably.

“What a life--by way of recovering one’s health!” said Leon.

Outside, the sky was gray and rainy, a dismal background to the
gloomy faces of the two men who had been up all night. Leon stood
a few minutes, lost in that vague meditation which leaves no mark
on the mind in moments of extreme fatigue, a state half-way between
dreaming and suffering, when it is hard to be sure whether we are
sleeping or only enduring. Federico gazed at his friend who stood
the living image of melancholy; everything about him was black--his
dress, his hair and his beard; his handsome features, and clear
olive skin were marked with dark lines for want of sleep. His fine
forehead, dignified though charged with painful doubts, might suggest
a lowering and threatening sky where the light of day was hidden
behind a shroud of clouds.

Suddenly he turned to Cimarra and said:

“Well, I wish you luck!”

“I wish I could get a little rest,” said Federico. “I am simply dying
for want of sleep; but I must start at once with Fúcar.”

“You are going too?”

“Did I not tell you?--Yes, they made a point of my going with them.
We are getting on you see--like a house on fire!”

Cimarra emphasised his words with a cunning smile.

“_Bon voyage!_” said Leon turning his back on him.

At this juncture they heard the rumble of the Fúcars’ carriage coming
up to convey the travellers to the station of Iparraicea. Federico
rushed up to his room to prepare to start, and for a short time the
hotel was full of the bustle that always accompanies the arrival or
departure of guests--the dragging of luggage, the chatter of boys and
the calling of servants. Leon did not stir from the card-room, and
even when he heard the voices of Fúcar and his daughter at breakfast
in the dining-room, he did not care to go out and bid them farewell.
In half an hour an omnibus was sent off, packed with servants and
baggage, and the travelling-carriage followed with the Fúcars and
Cimarra. Leon saw the first vehicle pass close by the window and
before the second could come past he turned away, put his hands into
his pockets and walked to the opposite corner of the room.

“What need I care?” he muttered to himself. “It is no fault of mine.”

Then he went out into the hall, where the most inveterate bathers
were beginning to put in an appearance, in motley deshabille. The
bath servants, with their aprons tucked up, went into the dens where
yawned the marble vats; through the doors came the noise of the
bubbling mineral water and the swish of the brooms in the baths,
with a strong whiff of sulphur. He loitered down to the avenue and
seeing in the distance the two carriages slowly mounting the hill of
Arcaitzac, he could not help saying to himself with a sigh: “Alas,
for those who have no control over their imagination!”

For a couple of hours he lay down to sleep, and at nine o’clock
took a place in the coach that was starting for Ugoibea. His whole
appearance was altered; he looked the happiest man on earth.



CHAPTER VIII.

MARÍA EGYPTIACA.


Several months had passed since that spring season by the sea; Leon
Roch--on the appointed day, at the appointed hour, and in the
appointed church--had been duly married, without any hindrance to the
fulfilment of the plan he had made. His soul was full of the calm
satisfaction which steals over it softly and silently like the breath
of spring; a peace which brings refreshment and not intoxication,
and which, as it is innocent of excess, never satiates the heart,
and so leaves no aftertaste of tedium. Leon, as a philosopher and a
student of nature, thought that nothing could be better and wished
for nothing more. His wife’s beauty had improved wonderfully since
her marriage and in these additional charms the husband discovered an
appropriate tribute paid by nature to an union so judiciously planned
in theory and wrought out in practice.

“We form a compound being,” he would say, “each the complement of the
other, and it is hard sometimes to say whether the image produced is
mine or hers, our feelings are so intimately blended.”

María’s affection for him, which at first had been bashful and
cold as that of a well brought up Cupid who has just had his eyes
unbandaged, was soon as ardent as he could wish. The passion, that at
first had sat shyly behind a blind, soon peeped out, with its flaming
torch, its ambrosial chalice and its chain of yearning anxieties,
choking its victim with the pain of a too great happiness; so that
for some time her husband forgot his educational schemes, though, in
his more lucid moments, his common-sense reminded him that it would
be needful to put them into practice and realise the effects of his
very superior system. By degrees he recovered his habitual equanimity
and his excited feelings subsided into the subordinate place which he
had always assigned to them as compared with his intellect. At last
he felt like a man who wakes from a long dream; he regarded his mind
as a wide and fruitful territory which has been for a time drowned
out by an inundation, and where, as the waters subside, at first the
highest points become visible, then the hills and at last the plains.

“This will pass away,” he said to himself, “it must. When the land is
clear I will attack the dreaded subject and begin to mould”--he was
fond of this form of speech--“to mould María’s character. It is of
exquisite clay, but formless--almost formless.”

Leon Roch’s young wife was slightly and elegantly-built, every part
in such perfect proportion that a sculptor could have hoped for no
better model. Her hair was black and her skin white with very little
colour, giving such refinement to her grave, fervent expression
that all her admirers were her lovers and envied her husband his
happiness. It was not a face of Spanish type, and the outline of her
profile was an uncommon one in our country, for it was that of the
Athenian goddess, so rare here though occasionally met with, even
in Madrid. Her eyes were large and open, of a sea-blue colour with
changing tawny lights, and their gaze had a sentimental serenity
which might have been thought insipid among a crowd of black eyes,
firing endless volleys of flashing glances. But María’s looks gained
her the reputation of being proud rather than stupid, her lips were
brilliantly red, her throat slender, her figure round, and her hands
small and “moulded of soft flesh” like those of Melibea. She spoke
in measured tones with a sort of deliberate plaintiveness that went
to the souls of her hearers; she laughed but little--so little that
it added to her reputation of pride, and she was so reserved in
her friendships that in fact she had no friends. Even while quite
a child she had always been credited with so much good sense that
her parents themselves regarded her as the choicest production of
their illustrious race, throughout the whole course of its glorious
existence. To this almost superhuman beauty--this woman, in whose
form and face were combined, as in a perfect æsthetic union, all the
charms of antique sculpture, Leon Roch, after ten months of a most
platonic engagement, found himself married. Love at first sight had
enslaved him: he had met her and spoken to her at a court ball, when
she, having only recently been presented, was at that wondering and
budding stage when a girl’s beauty still bears the stamp of innocence
and still blushes with the reflection of the rosy dawn of infancy.
Leon fell in love like a country swain, to his shame be it whispered,
and he was himself astonished to find that his theodolite and his
blow-pipe had turned to a shepherd’s crook and pipe in his hands. Did
he see anything in his wife beyond her uncommon beauty? What share
had his heart in this dream of ecstasy? It would be amusing indeed if
he, whose boast it was that he was master of his imagination, should
find that it had fairly run away with him.

María had been brought up on an estate near Avila by her maternal
grandmother, a woman of great tenacity and determination, who talked
a great deal about her principles without ever defining what they
were or in what they differed from those of her neighbours. Under the
protection of this very superior woman, who, at the age of sixty,
made up her mind to renounce the vanities of the world for the narrow
life of a country house--fashion and society for the dull solitude of
a desert--and the _chronique scandaleuse_ of Madrid for the gossip
of a village--María learnt her first lessons. She could read well,
write badly and say her creed and catechism without missing a comma.
Beyond a few notions of grammar and geography, which were infused
by a governess of unusual learning, she knew nothing else whatever.
However, as she grew older, María, as she turned over the leaves of
the books she happened to meet with, gained some items of knowledge
on such subjects as do not require any very high degree of intellect.

Her companion during these years passed in the wilderness was her
twin brother, Luis Gonzaga. Their grandmother worshipped them both
and called them “her death sighs,” because she declared that at her
last hour, if they could but stand by her side, she would be able to
lift up her last thoughts to God with purer devotion.

The two children were inseparable, sharing their games and their
lessons, their bread and cheese at luncheon, and their grandmother’s
caresses. They would walk arm-in-arm along the horrible lanes of
Avila, and would sit at night, with their heads close together,
to count the stars, which shine more brightly in that part of the
country than anywhere else in the world. You might have heard them
saying: “you must count on that side and I will count on this--you
are not to come out of your piece of sky into mine--there, all on
this side are mine--we can each have half the sky.”

“No, no, it is all for you both,” said a clacking voice from a window
behind them. “Now, my pretties, come in to supper, it is getting
late.”

Their only reading in that remote spot consisted in the Lives of the
Saints, and the two children took the amazing narrative so deeply to
heart, with its tales of suffering, toil, and death, that all they
themselves learned to long for was to be martyrs too; and they were
possessed by the same idea that mastered St. Theresa in her infancy,
when she and her brother discussed the possibility of travelling all
over the infidel world that they might at last have their heads cut
off.

María and Luisito set out one morning for those heathen lands, fully
determined not to return--not to stop, till they should fall in
with a troop of Moors who should hew them in pieces. They lay down
to sleep that evening under shelter of a rock, where the God who
protects the innocent softly kissed their baby lips, and--betrayed
them into the hands of the night-patrol, who recognised the pair and
took them home.

That home was in a very remote spot from the rest of humanity. The
parish priest used to call them “the children of the wilderness” and
he would seat them on his knees to amuse himself with their baby
games: they would stick up their little fingers and call each by a
name, performing a kind of drama with them, known to the children of
most lands: the middle finger is a friar who comes to the door of a
convent and calls in a big voice, and the third finger answers in a
feeble squeak:

“Rat, tat!”

“Who is there?”

“Your brother, who wants to be let in.” And the end of the story
is that friar Pedro is sent off with a flea in his ear, the nuns
thrashing him with sticks, and he disappears grumbling.

At this the twins would still laugh with glee at an age when most
children begin to crave for better playthings than their own fingers;
but, as they grew up, their games lost their primitive simplicity and
their reading and their characters became more serious. Luis Gonzaga
was the delight of his seniors from his quiet good sense and his
incapacity for getting into mischief; the only fault to be found with
him was his love of solitary wanderings among the rocks, breathing
the keen and bracing air that perpetually fans our granite ramparts,
which look like the ruins of some cyclopean fortress, or the broken
teeth of a giant’s jaws from which the flesh has long since
disappeared. He delighted in being alone, and his chief ambition was
to be a goat-herd and follow the kids that spring from peak to peak
in that dead and dessicated arcadia; he heeded neither cold nor heat.

One day he was discovered lying at the foot of a pine-tree, the
solitary specimen of vegetable life within sight, that stood
melancholy, senile and leafless, as though in dismal warning, like
the motto on a tombstone: “we all must die.” The boy was writing
“something” on a scrap of paper with a black lead pencil which he
frequently moistened by putting in his mouth. It was the priest who
found him, and who took possession of the manuscript, which consisted
of a number of lines without rhyme or rhythm, devoid alike of grammar
and spelling, which made the worthy man laugh heartily--for he knew
something, if not much, of the humanities.

“This is neither verse nor prose,” he said.

No, it was neither verse nor prose; but it was poetry. These were
stanzas on the model of verses from the Bible expressing the feelings
of a contemplative nature. How the priest laughed as he read:

“When the darkness of night falls, the flocks of Heaven are scattered
over the vast blue field and watched over by the gentle angels.--

“The Lord passed by yesterday in a chariot of thunder drawn by
lightning which cast down hail and sweated rain; I trembled like a
flame in the wind and my mind was tossed like a pebble carried away
by a flood.

“I am like dried flax that catches fire, and turning to smoke, rises
from the ashes and ascends to Heaven.”

One day their grandmother rose much later than usual, her face was
flushed, her speech slow and strange, while her eyes glistened like
two old metal buttons that have been rubbed very bright. All the
servants observed to their great consternation that their mistress
talked a great deal of nonsense--not that this in itself was an
alarming novelty--but she repeated the same thing again and again,
without any interval of better sense. When the priest felt her pulse,
the good lady grasped his arm and throwing a cloak over her shoulders
exclaimed with a wild laugh:

“Let us dance, Señor Cura--come dance with me!” She dragged him round
two or three times and then suddenly fell senseless.

She only lived long enough to receive Extreme Unction.

When their grandmother was dead and buried the twins went home
to their parents, who at that time were in extremely narrow
circumstances. The boy was sent to a seminary and from thence to
France, while María, whose country manners distressed them greatly,
was sent to a college for girls. At the end of two years she emerged
from this retreat with the polish acquired in such establishments
and her mother introduced her to her circle of friends; a favourable
turn in their fortunes had now given the family of Tellería a chance
of rising from the depths of poverty and obscurity; at length the
marquesa was able to quit the apartments she so sincerely detested,
and for some time the mother and daughter were to be met constantly
in various fashionable circles. Their names were familiar on the lips
of María’s admirers and to the pens of the fashionable chronicler;
they were on view at the play and out driving; they disappeared in
the Spring to reappear with revived brilliancy in the Winter season.
Then at last came the longed-for day when María was married.

This match was regarded as a great stroke of fortune for the whole
Tellería family, whose nobility was not of the highest rank and
whose wealth was not such as to justify any extreme fastidiousness
in the selection of a son-in-law. In spite of all that may be said
to the contrary, the aristocracy of the present day have no blind
reverence for their pedigrees, and if we except half a dozen names
which, besides their historical glory, have a spotless descent, our
nobles do not hesitate to accept an alliance of which the honours are
merely substantial and to bolster up their pride by the aid of a fine
fortune; thus we see every day damsels of high degree giving their
hands--and giving them willingly--to nobles of very recent creation;
to marquisés all hot from the mint as it were; to colonial counts,
to adventurous politicians, distinguished officers and even to the
sons of industry. Modern society is blessed with a short memory; low
or inferior birth is soon a buried part of the buried past. Personal
merit in some cases, and fortune in others, effect the levelling
process with irresistible force, and society progresses with giant
steps towards equality. There is no country in the civilised world
more nearly bereft of a real aristocracy than Spain; trade, on one
hand, which marks every one plebeian, and the government, on the
other, which makes every one noble, are gradually doing away with it.

The happiness of the two young people was undisturbed for the first
few months, excepting by the shadow cast over it occasionally by
María’s relations. After a time however Leon began to think that his
wife’s anxious and suspicious affection had lasted longer than was
reasonable. This would not have been alarming but that it was allied
with an iron resistance to some of her husband’s views and feelings,
and it troubled him greatly to perceive that, without ceasing to
be devoted to him, María showed not the slightest disposition to
yield to his doctrines--not religious doctrines in any sense, for he
respected his wife’s conscience. It was a puzzling disappointment;
hers was not an embryonic nature, but a formed and stubborn
character; not a flexible wire ready to take and keep the form given
to it by a skilful manipulator, but hard set bronze which hurt his
fingers and never bent under them.

One evening, about a year after their marriage, they were together in
María’s sitting-room; they had been talking long and affectionately
on the conformity of ideas which alone can form the solid foundation
of a happy marriage; the subject being exhausted, he had opened a
book and was turning over the pages by the fire, and she had taken
her beads to pray. Suddenly she rose from her knees and coming up to
her husband she laid her hand on his shoulder.

“I have an idea,” she said, fixing her mystical gaze on his face, and
her eyes, with their strange greenish and tawny lights were curiously
soft--perhaps because they had just been raised to God--“I have an
idea that fills me with pride, Leon!”

Leon read on for a moment, finishing a paragraph, and then he turned
to his wife.

“I will tell you what it is,” she went on. “I, a mere weak woman,
utterly your inferior in many things and above all in learning, will
achieve a triumph which, you with all your superiority, can never
attain.”

Leon took her hand and kissed it three times, saying: “I am no one’s
superior, and your’s, least of all.”

“But indeed you are; and it is that which adds to my satisfaction in
my purpose.... You, you believe yourself so strong that your judgment
can radically change my character. I ... I, with only my love that is
stronger than the wisest intellect, propose to conquer your judgment
and mould it after my own image and likeness. How great a battle and
how grand a victory!”

“And how will you set to work?” asked Leon smiling, as he put his arm
round her.

“I hardly know whether to begin quite gently, by degrees ... or so,”
and as she said “so” she violently snatched the book out of her
husband’s hands and flung it in the fire which was blazing brightly.

“María!” cried Leon, startled and disconcerted, and he put out his
hand to rescue the hapless heretic. But she clung closely to his arms
so as to prevent his moving; then, kissing his forehead, she went
back to her _prie dieu_ and returned to her devotions. What was there
in his book? What in her prayers?



CHAPTER IX.

THE MARQUESA TELLERÍA.


The Tellería family occupied the whole of their house, so Leon Roch,
willing that there should be as large an expanse as possible of
the habitable globe between them, had taken a pretty house at the
furthest east end of the town. There, two years after his marriage,
we may find him.

“Good-morning, Leon.... Alone? Where is Mariquilla? Ah, at Mass of
course; I had half thought of going too--but now it is too late....
I will go to the eleven o’clock service at San Prudencio.... But
what is the matter? You are pale. Have you quarrelled?... I will sit
down a while--tell me, what did you give for those statues? They are
lovely. You have certainly a beautiful collection of bronzes.... But
tell me, are you going to put more books into this study of yours?
It is like the library of Alexandria already. Well! You are not at
all like the young men of the present day. A silly set of boys. What
will become of the world when the vicious, idle, sickly creatures who
are the ornament of society nowadays are the men of their time, I
do not know! ... However, there is a greater evil still, for if the
young men are frivolous and impudent the old ones are worse; more
vicious, more dissipated, and more indolent.... But I am forgetting
the matter--a very delicate matter--that I came to speak about, my
dear son. Sit down and listen to me for a minute or two.”

The marquesa waving a pretty hand and arm pointed to a seat close by,
and Leon, obeying her, prepared to hear what his mother-in-law had to
say.

She was a woman of good figure, who had grown suddenly old after a
prolonged youth and fallen a victim to those ravages which are severe
in proportion as they are staved off. Nevertheless, certain traces
of past beauty were still visible in the lady’s face; though her sun
was setting behind mists of paint and powder, not always judiciously
or skilfully applied, and it was not a glorious evening of life. Her
tall figure, which had formerly been dignified, was now bent, as
though in anticipation of her descent into the chill tomb, though the
steel ribs of a pair of stiff stays did what they could to buttress
up the decrepit form. Her eyes, still bright and black, were the
only living sparks in the dilapidated mass; they, from time to time,
glistened with eagerness and vivacity, reminding one of a flash of
true inspiration in the midst of the academic dulness of archaic and
commonplace ideas. Her hair, which had long since exchanged its
Andalusian blackness for Venetian gold, had now passed from Venetian
gold to a dull and powdery white. Her complexion, always coarse and
sheenless, was disguised under an artificial texture commingled
with various perfumed chemicals intended to deceive the spectator,
just as in a theatre the painted scenes simulate the greenery of
a glade and even the diaphanous purity of the sky. The effect,
successful to a certain point in embellishing the withered cheeks
of the faded beauty, failed of its result now and then, because
when she smiled the dead whiteness of the paint gave a yellow hue
to her teeth, though they were still perfectly sound and even; and
she constantly displayed them with her gracious and condescending
smile--an old habit that would need to be modified if once that
double row of ivory keys should begin to desert, like an army that
has had enough of fighting. She was always well and elegantly
dressed; she talked indefatigably, attempting--sometimes not without
success--to insinuate some more intelligent formula among the flood
of empty words that usually form the basis of conversation among such
brainless individuals.

“I am listening, Señora,” said Leon.

“I hate circumlocution,” said the lady; “and besides, María has
doubtless spoken to you on the subject. Your father-in-law is a lost
wretch....”

“Nay--that, as it strikes me, is an exaggeration. The marquis likes
amusement.... It is not an uncommon taste with men who have nothing
to do.”

“No, no. It is of no use to try to defend him. His conduct is
indefensible ... and at his age! The strange thing is that in the
prime of life he was a steady and prudent man, content to stay
quietly at home. I assure you I cannot bear to see him behave like an
elderly boy--that describes him exactly: an elderly boy! about two
years since--just about the time when you married my daughter--my
worthy husband began to go to the young men’s club; there he met
with some young fellows who turned his head; he took up a new set of
words, and a new style of dress, stayed out at night, took to gambling
... you must have noticed that he has grown quite young again; you
must have laughed, if you confess the truth, to see his efforts to
look like a boy among boys. Why, you may see him any day with some
party of dandies, fluttering like a butterfly about Madrid.--It
really is too ridiculous--with a flower in his button-hole. Only this
morning I spoke to him rather sharply about it. How he is ever to
pay his tailor I do not know for his outlay in dress is frightful to
think of! ... In short, to you, in the strictest confidence I can say
all this: the fact is my husband spends more money than he has got,
or ever will have as long as he lives. He never was economical, but,
on the other hand, he was not extravagant; he never kept any kind of
accounts but then he never let himself do a mean thing for the sake
of some impossible luxury ... and who is the victim? I--I, who after
having had always to sacrifice myself, must do so now when my health
is failing and I need care and rest and peace of mind. Oh! how I
envy the mistress of this house, and how thankfully I would accept
a corner here, even the humblest. My life is one incessant misery.
My husband spends what he has not got; Gustavo is well conducted and
careful it is true, but he has no great affection for his parents;
Leopoldo neither is, nor ever will be, good for anything, he is a
helpless being and has idle and dissipated habits in spite of all
I have done to prevent his acquiring them. I can only thank God,
who has given me so many trials, for having at the same time given
me such proofs of his mercy; for what greater pride can a mother
have than to be the parent of two such children as Luis Gonzaga and
María?--He, so devoted to his vocation, and promising, as I am told,
to be a shining light in the church; she, married to you, happy with
you, a pattern with you of perfect and harmonious union.--But what
a pity it is that you should have no children!” At this point the
marquesa, giving way to her feelings, shed a few tears, which she
promptly dried with her handkerchief before they could roll down her
cheeks. Then she went on with her description of her woes as a wife
and a mother.

She had suffered much, she explained, from her husband’s levity,
and the refractory or venial conduct of her two eldest sons had
necessitated her passing her youth, and indeed chief part of her life
in heroic efforts to avert the ruin of the family; she had indeed
given up some of her own fortune, which had been considerable; still
she had kept back the larger portion of it, and she intended to keep
it till her husband’s gallantries and her sons’ extravagance drove
her to extremities. She could not expose herself to a pinched and
miserable old age nor look forward to living on the charity of her
daughter and a rich son-in-law. Her habits, her principles, and her
dignity would not allow her to sacrifice her whole fortune to the
reckless man who had dissipated the patrimony of the Tellerías on
the green tables of the gaming houses and in the dressing-rooms of
ballet-dancers. If she were only to tell him all the things she knew!

“Yes, but I will tell you--I can say anything to you,” she exclaimed,
looking at her son-in-law with a vehement flash. “Are you not my
son--the husband of my child? It is your duty and your right to know
your father’s weakness--I am told that the marquis is entangled with
... but you must know her, you must have heard of her ... some woman
they call Paca or Paquilla--no matter which--she is very pretty and
very charming. She ruined the Duke of Florunda of the little he had
left--and would you believe that that old idiot Agustín, with one
foot in the grave!--it is too pitiable to be angry about, do not you
think?”

Leon did not answer.

“What are you thinking of?” she asked.

“That the cardinal virtue in married life is indeed patience,” he
replied.

“Which is as much as to say endurance and fortitude ... but my
whole life has been a martyrdom!--and I could bear everything if my
husband’s extravagance and follies did not threaten to compromise
the honour and good name of the family. But I am terribly afraid of
that.... What do you think? And I feel very deeply having to tell you
that I cannot pay you the sixty thousand reales that you lent me and
that I was to have repaid you this month.”

“It is of no consequence,” said Leon, wishing to avoid this delicate
subject; “do not let that trouble you.”

“Not only that I cannot pay you those three thousand dollars, but
that I am in desperate need of three thousand more.”

“You can have them.”

“What! three thousand more? But it is outrageous--it is abusing your
generosity! It shall be the last time, for I have quite made up my
mind to practise the narrowest economy in the house--I will give you
a lien on my house at Corrales de Arriba.”

“It is quite unnecessary--I assure you....”

“Thanks, a thousand thanks! How good you are, how dear a son! How can
I ever repay you?” cried the marquesa, evidently agitated by sincere
feeling. “You cannot imagine what a kindness you are doing me....
But I am always thinking of you, and not unfrequently I am able to
intercept half-way some cloud that threatens your happiness. Last
night I had quite a quarrel with your wife.”

“With María?”

“Yes, with María: even she has her faults, though they are only
the excessive side of her virtues. You know that she is very
devout--devout to excess; indeed, at times I have felt that this
question of religion has given rise to some little differences
between you.” Leon sighed.

“To some,” he said, “but nothing serious.”

“Well, you need not speak of your annoyance as a mere trifle,” said
the marquesa, vexed that Leon should speak lightly of a matter that
it suited her to treat as important. “The poor child is blindly
attached to you: her love for you is the ruling motive of her life,
and your reputation as an atheist is a standing misery to her. And
you know that my daughter’s opinions are as independent and as
indomitable as the beasts of the desert.” Leon nodded a sad assent.

“You can understand that she sees your lack of religion with very
great pain; that is but natural. We have instilled a faith in which
she will live and die. But she weeps with despair because you will
not go to prayers every day as she does, will not confess once a
month, will not spend your money on trumpery--it is really quite
absurd! How I lectured her last night--in short, she vexed me, I got
angry, I hammered away at her as if her stupid little head had been
an anvil, and at last....”

“Well--at last?...”

“At last I convinced her that it was preposterous to expect men to
carry out practices, which, in us, are all very well, but, in them,
would be ridiculous, purely ridiculous. The men of the present day
have something else to do than to be sitting in church. It seems to
me that María and you--she spending her time in devotions, and you
spending yours at your studies--may both be very happy. What is the
use of discussion? You do not want to prevent her praying to her
heart’s content. The men of the present day have their own ideas and
it is senseless to try to combat them. No one need be more religious
than I am, but I have no notion of enquiring into things that I do
not understand. Women are not learned; their part is to believe,
believe, believe.

“That a married couple should quarrel over that appears to me the
height of folly. But do you know that her ambition is to convert you?
To lead you to abhor your own views and devote yourself to hers--upon
my word I can hardly help laughing when I think of it. Do you know
what she says? That it would be her highest happiness to burn all
those books of yours--what a sin! So beautifully bound as they are!
Much I should care whether my husband were as regular at Mass as I
am, so long as he loved me and cared for no one else--jealous of his
books! Not I indeed, such a woman must be a perfect fool!

“You cannot think how strongly I spoke to her; I told her that you
were the best man living--to that she agreed--I told her that you
were far superior to her--infinitely superior; that all this talk
about atheism is a mere bogey; that though we hear people speak of
atheists there are no atheists--just as we talk of magicians but
there are no magicians. I told her that she was not to think of
such nonsense as trying to convert you, and that the best thing
she could do was to keep the peace in her home and get rid of
her monomania--do not you think so?--She had better change her
confessor--do not you think so? She should do as I do. I am extremely
religious, I perform all my devotions with the greatest exactitude,
I give all I can afford to the church, but that is all; do not you
think that María should do the same?”

Leon did not reply; he sat silent and gloomy. Suddenly he seemed to
shake off some depressing idea, as we wave off a bee that buzzes in
our ears, and looking at his mother-in-law he said:

“I will send you that money to-day.”

“Ah! is that what you were thinking about?” cried the marquesa
and her face shone with satisfaction till it seemed positively
phosphorescent. “Very good; do so, and I will give you a receipt....
But here I have stayed chattering, and in your delightful society I
forget that I have business to attend to--heaps of business! Eleven
o’clock! I shall be too late for Mass!”

She bustled up and held out her hand to her son-in-law. “And Padre
Paoletti is to preach.--Good-bye, I must fly. What shall I say to
your wife? I will tell her to make haste home and that you are very
dull without her.”



CHAPTER X.

THE MARQUIS.


He was a little man, with delicate and effeminate features, on which
he wore a look of assumed gravity, at first carefully cultivated,
but now as much a matter of habit as though it had been a cosmetic
applied daily out of a gallipot in his old dandy’s dressing-case.
His eyes, nose and mouth were, like his daughter’s, perfectly well
shaped, but what in her was charming, in him was ridiculous, and what
was beautiful in her, in him was purely comical; for there is nothing
more preposterous than the face of a pretty woman hung on, like a
mask, to the figure and manners of a pottering old man.

His fashionable dress, his easy demeanour, his refined and frigid
courtesy, which masked a total absence of kindliness or intelligence,
decorated his exterior as a gorgeous binding covers a book that
is destitute of rational contents. He was not a vicious man; he
was equally incapable of wilful evil or intentional good; he was a
vacuous compound of weakness and dissipation, corrupt rather from
“evil communications” than from inherent wickedness; one of so many!
a creature so hard to be distinguished from the rest of his species,
since absence of character has reduced certain groups of the upper
classes--as well as of the lower--with a few notable exceptions, to
a common type which will lack a generic name till the advance of
terminology allows us to speak of them as “the masses of the upper
class.” Still, this empty-headed and unenlightened mortal had a
great command of words in no respect deficient in meaning, and was
an admired master of all the commonplace of the press and the law;
he added nothing to be sure, but, on the other hand, he deprived
them of nothing. He was, in short, always prepared with a perfect
thesaurus of those ready-made phrases which to many people form the
Alpha and Omega of learning and wisdom. He was constantly insisting
that “administration rather than legislation was what was needed;”
he was convinced that “Spain is a nation past all government;” he
was for “upholding the venerable creeds of the past so that we may
once more become a terror to our foes at home and abroad;” he was
convinced that nothing of native origin could be good for anything;
that Spain is a ruined country, notwithstanding the fertility of her
soil; and at the same time he maintained with punctilious exactitude
the immovable dogmas of Castilian Nobility, of the Faith abandoned by
the modern populace, of the materialistic tendencies of the age and
so forth; he had a sacred horror of “Utopian dreams”--and anything he
did not at once grasp was to him an Utopian dream. In short, not a
string was wanting to his inexhaustible fiddle.

“In here as usual, always in this blessed study of yours, which
is as dark and as small as a prior’s cell and might be a prince’s
boudoir for the treasures it contains!... Here as usual Leon! I
never meet you anywhere. And María? She was with us last evening ...
tears and lamentations as usual; her mother tried to comfort her,
and they sat whispering and talking--between them I suspect, they
made things pleasant for you. They have nothing to think about but
their subscription to the theatres, and the festival-services at San
Prudencio’s; and after Mass they lay their heads together to talk of
the fashions.... But you, are you ill? You look pale, what is the
matter?”

“I?” said Leon, looking at his father-in-law like a man who suddenly
wakes face to face with a stranger, “what were you saying?”

“That you look ill. We were talking of you last evening at the
Fúcars’. Since Pepa married Cimarra, poor Don Pedro’s life is a
bitter one--Poor Pepa! I hear dreadful things of Federico ... and
what a sweet child that is of Pepa’s! Have you seen it? Do you never
go there?... Your cigars are first-rate.”

The smoke of their Havanas mingled as it curled up to the ceiling,
and for a minute or two there was silence in the pretty little room;
nothing was to be heard but the bubbling trickle of the water in the
hose with which the gardener was sprinkling the shrubs outside, and
the twitter of caged birds in a window near, whose chirruping song
sounded like a piping medley of musical notes trying to agree as to
the best way of producing a Wagnerian symphony. In the study, on a
book-stand as large as a pulpit, a huge geological atlas lay open,
showing the successive ages of the globe. On the table were flowers,
dissected so as to show their inmost mysteries; insects undergoing
autopsy; shells sawn down the middle, revealing their secret chambers
of enamel and pearl; prints, displaying eggs at the various stages
of incubation; a model in papier-maché of the human eye of the size
of a coconut; and in the midst of all this paraphernalia stood a
microscope, the lens reflecting a sunbeam on to the marquis’ head
which, being perfectly bald, offered a convenient subject for the
study of craniology.

“So you are studying natural history now?” said Tellería with an air
of condescending tolerance. “Well, it seems to be the science of the
day--the science of materialism. Much good you are doing the human
race by depriving it of its time-honoured beliefs and giving it in
exchange ... what?--The precious discovery that we are first cousins
to the apes of Retiro.” And he laughed with childish glee at his own
idea as he cast his eye on the litter of books.

“You know,” he said suddenly, “that I am on the commission to report
on the law concerning vagrants.”

“You will make a brilliant report.”

“It is a delicate matter,” added the marquis, throwing himself back
in his chair so that he sat with his eyes fixed on the ceiling and
his feet in the air. “It is the question of the day. I have said
again and again to the president of the council: ‘so long as we have
no good vagrancy law legislation is impossible.’ We must go to the
root of the matter, to the foundation of things, do not you see? It
is the immense number of idle and disreputable souls, the starving
and thieving classes, who count on a revolution to make their
harvest, who are the festering cause of the ferment in which we live.
Sweep away all this low filth and I will be responsible for social
good order.”

“Very true,” said Leon. “Sweep them away--a clean sweep, that is what
is wanted.”

“But the worst of it is that I cannot give as much time as I could
wish to the commission; I am so much occupied. And that reminds me,
Leon, I had some business to discuss with you.”

He had in fact reached the point which was the object of his visit;
but though he approached the matter with a degree of anxiety that
made his heart beat, he contrived to conceal his agitation. The
man was too weak not to suffer from such qualms, but too highly
artificial to betray them.

“You are aware that I am one of the directors on the board of
administration of the Bank of Agriculture. It is a grand national
undertaking; our function is to raise the credit of landed property
from the abyss into which it has sunk.” Such phrases of financial
cant were a frequent garnish to the marquis’ conversation, and he
went on to deliver himself of a variety of novel ideas: as for
instance, that Spain is essentially an agricultural country; that
its territorial wealth cannot be developed for want of capital; that
the capital nevertheless exists--why should it not?... That all that
is needed is to concentrate it, to secure it, and to redistribute
it, so as to enable it to fertilise--to benefit--to fructify--and
the marquis, having lost his thread, could not finish the sentence,
which he was improvising instead of repeating by heart. He stopped
short. The Bank of Agriculture was closely connected with a great
English company, “The Spanish Phosphate Company, Limited,” which was
destined to effect a complete transformation in the country; it was
a magnificent scheme. “Funds, subscribers--these were the two poles
of the axis on which the regeneration of Spain was to turn.” This,
again, was borrowed from the company’s prospectus, and the marquis
wound up his harangue by saying with apparent indifference: “Well,
what do you think of it? Will you invest some of your capital in our
shares.”

“I must save my capital to secure my income,” said Leon with feigned
simplicity.

“What, man!”

And then Leon went on to tell him such plain truths about certain
companies that his father-in-law suddenly lost the delicate hue that
his complexion usually wore and a deep purple tinge, like mulberry
stain, flushed his cheek and betrayed his indignation. After a short
pause, during which he devoted himself to twirling the waxed ends of
his grizzled moustache till they looked as formidable as bull-darts,
he rose and began to examine the objects of natural history.

“Well, there is nothing more to be said on the subject,” he muttered.

He touched and turned over everything, taking up this thing or that
to inspect it more closely and then peeped through the microscope.

“But I cannot see anything,” he said, with that odd pride of
ignorance that is occasionally to be met with. “I am no good at all
at such things ... thanks.... How much your microscope helps you!
Now, do tell me--can they see the soul with this? Or is it because
they cannot see it that they maintain that it has no existence?”

And before his son-in-law could reply he went close up to him,
and, standing in front of him, looked at him for a minute or two;
then shaking his head he said: “I cannot help thinking that my
poor daughter has very good reasons for complaining.... I do not
mean that you are not a thorough good fellow, Leon; but really if
you think of it ... she has her beliefs, you have yours--or, to be
accurate, you have none. Your lack of religion and your contempt
for the time-honoured beliefs of the Spanish People grieve and
offend her deeply. My dear fellow,” he added, laying his hand on his
son-in-law’s head with an affectionate gesture. “You must remember
that the Spanish People are above everything religious, and you know
Leon that we are not in Germany here--that land of Utopian dreams.”

Leon attempted some explanation. “No, no, to leave her at liberty
is not enough,” Tellería began again with some vehemence. “You must
take some definite step. You have a reputation for atheism that is
really appalling. I am frank with you, and for my part I would rather
lose my position and my name in the world than have such a character
for atheism as you have gained. I quite enter into María’s feelings;
she is deeply religious--she and her twin brother were born to be
saints--and in the end she will hold you in horror; she will fear
and detest you, and be unable to live with you ... and if it comes
to that, the fault will be yours for having expressed yourself so
extravagantly in your works. Of course we all have our leaven, more
or less, of heresy ... that is to say, I have not; I am orthodox to
the bone, I do not meddle with philosophies ... however, we all,
even the firmest believers, fail in our duties and neglect them; but
at any rate we exercise some caution, we have some tact, we keep up
appearances, we remember that we live among an eminently religious
nation and that we must set an example to the lower classes or they
will kick over the traces. This is not Germany. There is nothing I
hate more than a Utopia. The Spanish People have many faults but they
will never outrage the sentiments which have formed the foundation of
their country’s glory and of the respect it commands both at home and
abroad. To crown our misfortunes the aristocracy of Castile....” But
the worthy gentleman did not succeed in finishing his sentence, for
Leon interrupted him with some energy.

For a long time their voices could be heard alternately even in the
distant room where the birds were singing. María and her brother
paused in their conversation to listen to the parliamentary muttering
that reached them from the study.

“Those tiresome birds do not allow us to hear a single word,” said
the young man. “Listen María, papa and your lord and master are
disputing over something. What a waste of time!”

“Be quiet, you little plagues,” said María impatiently to the birds
and she tried to hear what was going on. Presently the curtain over
the door was hastily jerked open and revealed the pointed horns of
the marquis’ moustache and his face, in which solemnity was now
tempered by affability as though nature had intended it as a living
symbol of the eternal and supreme duplicity of the human species.

“Well, you know,” he said in a bitter-sweet tone between grave and
gay. “I am a hypocrite, and tact is my profession.... Your amiable
wife has told me so in so many words.... A humbug, a hypocrite--yes,
that is what she calls me....” And he kissed his daughter. “Do you
know I really think Leon is a little weak in his mind,” he went on.
“It is a pity, for he is such a clever fellow.... Oh! those dreadful
birds will not let one speak.”

“Be quiet you little torments,” said María.

What a wonderful interest they take in the affairs and disputes of
their masters; between the sentences of the conversation their shrill
notes try to drown the differences of humanity in a flood of rapture.

The party sat talking for some time longer, but the birds prevented
their being overheard, and the reader must have patience till the
birds have ceased singing.



CHAPTER XI.

LEOPOLDO.


One morning when Leon Roch was sitting at work in his study he was
suddenly interrupted; raising his eyes and looking in the large
mirror that hung over the chimney opposite to him, he saw a lean,
tall figure surmounted by a death’s-head, on which the grave seemed
to have spared little but the skin; eyes that looked starting from
their sockets, like those of a delirious creature; a long, thin neck,
all red and scarred; a nose, also purple, finely-cut, though its
extreme sharpness gave it the aspect of a beak and lent the face a
bird-like expression; a meagre crop of yellow hairs that straggled
round the cheeks and chin, forming a narrow line that irresistibly
recalled the band tied round the face of a dead man; a low forehead,
on which his hat had stamped a livid line, like a streak of blood;
a flat head with the red hair parted into two elegant wings; a face
in short which seemed the transfiguration or parody of a handsome
countenance, the caricature of the family type; and at the same time
he saw a man with his hands in his pockets, feet like a woman’s
of which the toes were scarcely visible below the loose trousers
that covered them, and a body devoid of roundness, of modelling or
of grace, like a lay figure made to wear a coat. His dress was a
morning suit, striped from head to foot, with an elegantly-knotted
cravat; a stick that he held in one hand stuck out on a level with
his pocket-hole, and a gorgeous flower blazed in his breast like the
blood-stained handle of an assassin’s knife. As he caught sight of
this personage Leon exclaimed with frank good-nature:

“Ah! Polito, sit down.... What brought you here?”

The young man let himself sink into an arm-chair and stretched his
legs with demonstrations of fatigue. He spoke, and his voice, which
one would have expected to be thin and effeminate, was hoarse and
rasping, a sort of articulate cough or choke, like those voices
which, in the lowest social grade, are formed by crying out wares in
the streets, and which grow harsh under the influence of the morning
air and the nightly dram. After making some brief remark he paused to
put a lozenge or pill into his mouth.

“I cannot do without my tar,” he said, “not for an instant.--The
moment I stop it I feel as if I were choking.--And what are you
doing, Leon? Always at your books? How I envy you your peaceful
life!--No, thanks, I dare not smoke, it is quite forbidden. We must
try to conquer these epileptic attacks, just now I am very well. I
am going to Seville do you know? All the fellows are going away and
I cannot stay here; we are a party of four: Manolo Grandezas, the
Count, Higadillos and I. Higadillos means to do bull-fighting during
the three days of Easter--Why do not you do something! María would
like immensely to see the fêtes.”

“If she wishes to go I am quite ready to take her.”

“She does not wish to go, and that is the fact,” said the
hoarse-voiced youth. “By-the-bye, my dear Leon, I hear people say
that you and she are very unhappy, that you do not get on together
in the least, and that your infidelity is a constant torment to my
poor sister. I, of course, laugh at such nonsense. ‘I tell you he
is the best soul living, a thorough gentleman as you will find.’
That is what I answer, and by Jove, you know I do not say a thing
unless I mean it. Last night the Rosafrías were saying that they
could not imagine--What simpletons!--They could not imagine how my
sister could have married you. ‘But, ladies, be reasonable,’ said I,
‘consider....’ It was of no use, they were utterly out of humour.
I heard one lady whom we all know--I give no names--I heard her
say in so many words: ‘I would rather see my daughter in her grave
than married to a man like that....’ Of course you had plenty of
defenders, even of the fair sex--‘Oh! but he is so clever, such a
gentleman!’ But she cast you off by word and gesture.... ‘There are
things that are impossible, quite impossible,’ said she. At last, I
really did not dare put in a word for you. What I advise, by Jove, is
that you should cease to go to certain houses; you will only expose
yourself to insult or to a snubbing. There is that little Señora
Borellano who speaks of you as the _bête noire_, still, she allows
that you are very attractive. Pepe Fontán said a sharp thing apropos
of that woman’s aversion for you. ‘It is all vexation,’ she said,
‘because Leon is the only man she knows who never made love to her.’
You know she has had an admirer at her heels for this year past, and
Cimarra says she cannot conceal her age. Poor Federico! They say he
has quarrelled with his wife and his father-in-law--he forged some
letters it would seem. I suppose they will send him to Havana. What
is the time? Eleven! And María is not home from church? You must
allow that it is rather too much of a good thing. Oh! I know; she and
my mother will have staid to chat with Padre Paoletti--an Italian
dyed black, as dark as a negro! By Jove! if I were married I would
not be henpecked, I know. My wife should go my way or I would know
the reason why. María is as good as gold; but when she has got a
thing into her head!--You may not believe it but I myself have spoken
to her roundly before now for her nonsense.--Why, my dear fellow, it
is intolerable to have a wife who is perpetually at you with her one
tune: ‘Go and confess: go to communion: go to Mass.’ By Jove! it is
enough to make you go and shoot yourself! Since you leave her free
to go her own way she ought to know better. You are wrong to take
such folly so much to heart. Look here: I should never forbid my wife
attending four hundred and twenty-six Masses a day and undergoing
penance from every confessor; but by setting a limit to her spending
my money on processions I would soon cure her of her fancy. If she
tried to talk to me about religious matters I should say to her:
‘Very good, my child, just as you please; I quite agree to all you
say.’ In short, we should never quarrel over a dogma more or less;
and meanwhile, my dear Leon, I should amuse myself to the top of my
bent. Why, my good fellow, on your plan we should go to the devil
without having any fun first; there can be no greater folly! You bury
yourself among your books in this world, to be damned in the next.
For that is what you will come to as well as I, we are all in the
same boat!” And he laughed as loudly as his short breath would allow.

Then, rising from his seat, and leaning on the table with both hands,
as though his body could not remain upright without support, he went
on:

“Do you know, my dear fellow, that you are going to lend me four
thousand reales?”

Leon opened a drawer; he smiled--why, it is hard to say, but of
all the members of his wife’s family, this inoffensive creature
was the one who filled him with the deepest pity, for which reason
perhaps, he loosened his purse-strings for him from time to time,
not merely with patience but with a vague kindliness, not to grieve
so hapless and frail a being. Or perhaps Leon approved of the system
of the Vicar of Wakefield who, when he wanted to rid himself of some
importunate relative, would lend him some money, a coat, or a horse
of no value, “and never,” said he, “did it occur that he came again
to my house to return it to me.”

“Thanks, best of _beaux frères_!” said the young man, not attempting
to hide the pleasure that every human being feels at the acquisition
of cash; “I will repay you next month with the rest. Not all at
once, I tell you frankly that I cannot pay it all in a lump, but in
instalments. It is really frightful! If there were three Easter-tides
in the year every Spaniard would be reduced to beggary. By Jove! it
all goes in charity; the other night those Rosafría girls coaxed me
into giving a thousand reales for the Pope. Now if the world were
properly constituted the Pope would give to us.--Here, you little
villain! Lady Bull, come here this minute when I call you.”

The last words were addressed to a small dog that had come into the
room at the same time as its master and that had immediately settled
itself into an attitude of respectful patience. It was an odious
little brute, of the King Charles breed, of the colour of a rat
and the shape of a porcupine, with a monkey’s muzzle between long
dappled ears, and a bloated body feebly supported on four tiny paws.
Towards the end of the conversation, the creature’s little bell, till
then silent, began to tinkle energetically and Polito found the dog
rummaging among the books that lay piled on the floor.

“Come along, this minute!” said he, taking it up in his arms.

At this instant they heard a noise of wheels and the tramp of one
of those wonderful Spanish horses which seem to us as indefatigable
as the bronze steed of an equestrian statue that trots perpetually
without ever descending from its pedestal.

“Ah! there they are!” cried Leopoldo going to the window.
“Higadillos on horseback, the Count in his break. I told them to come
round this way to pick me up--I am coming, I am coming!”

From where he sat Leon could see the carriage drawn up by the gate,
and the bull-fighter on horseback; a huge young fellow with his legs
swathed and a voluminous scarf--a supple figure, not wanting in
sculpturesque beauty, crowned with a head of vulgar Spanish type,
of the hue of tobacco, under a wide sombrero. His horse snorted and
pawed, and the count had his hands full with those in the break, a
fiery pair of a cross-breed between the Bearnais and Andalusian.
Polito was soon seated in the carriage with Lady Bull, and the
jolly party set out down the street, Higadillos leading the way,
and cheered by the jingle of the horses’ bells. Leon looked after
them with some curiosity; it was a small but significant fragment of
contemporary Spanish history.



CHAPTER XII.

GUSTAVO.


He looked at him and a friendly smile lighted up his melancholy face
in token of welcome; then they both gazed out--for they were sitting
by the window, at the fresh and scented verdure of the garden, over
which the showers from the garden hose swept like a light broom
of water, laying the dust, startling the birds, frightening the
butterflies, drowning the insects and caressing the plants. Skilfully
directed by the gardener, it penetrated the glistening density of the
euonymus shrubs, dashing off the surface of the leaves in jets of
spray sparkling with miniature rainbows. The garden was a new one,
one of those parterres that are turned out complete by the nurseryman
as the furniture of a house is turned out by the upholsterer;
methodically planted with a tiny wood, lawns, orchards, rockeries
bordered with ivy, and baskets full of sweet-william and convolvulus.
Conifers grew in appropriate spots, each surrounded by a formal bed
in which rows of petunias crept as if on their knees, before some
lordly araucaria, or the insolent loftiness of a dragon-tree all
spikes and blades. It all looked as if it had just been taken out of
a band-box and was the work of human industry rather than of nature;
still, it was very pretty, and fresh, and gay, and nothing could be
fitter to divide the road which belonged to all, from the house which
belonged to one only.

After contemplating the scene for some minutes they sat down to drink
their coffee.

“Before I forget it,” said Gustavo, “I want to mention my disapproval
of a virtue in you, which, when not judiciously exercised, must lead
to mischief: I mean your liberality, which must in the end injure
you, as well as my brother who takes advantage of it. I know that
you have at times given Polito money, and it annoys me, for he is a
ne’er-do-weel of the very worst type. Now and here, in the strictest
confidence, I may tell you exactly what I feel, and pass impartial
judgment on the various members of my family. If their conduct puts
me to shame it is better to blush openly than to feel it seething in
my blood.”

The speaker was a young man of a very precise and rather severe
expression, a good deal like his father and his brother, less
handsome than María and far from the ridiculous effeteness of
Polito. His face was perhaps a little hard; at any rate it indicated
a firm and self-contained nature quite exceptional in the family,
settled convictions and a healthy self-respect. He spoke gravely
and his manners were high-bred, free alike from arrogance and from
familiarity, with an equable and chilling politeness which many
persons thought supreme affectation. Thoroughly honourable and
gentlemanly in all the relations of life, he was also well educated,
though not brilliantly talented.

Neither tall nor short, neither fat nor thin, dressed in dark colours
with a calm eye behind his spectacles, free from every vice--even
smoking--simple in his tastes and pitiless to the dissipation of
others, Gustavo, eldest son of the Marquis Tellería, was generally
spoken of as the best of the family, as an honour to his rank, and
one of the hopes of the country. It is needless to add that he was
a lawyer. His brother Leopoldo was a lawyer too; almost all young
Spaniards are; but while Polito hardly knew what a book looked
like, Gustavo studied every day and even found employment under
the protection of one of the most eminent pleaders of Madrid. He
had chosen what may be called the national career, and having left
the university a nobody, he was now on the high road to becoming
somebody. It should be added that he had a natural gift for oratory.

“To you, my dear Leon,” he went on, “I may confess that the conduct
of every member of my family causes me many hours of bitter
reflection--excepting of course the angel who is your wife and that
other angel, even more perfect perhaps, who now lives so far from
us. Is it not terrible to see my brother corrupted by dissipation?
Wallowing in the low frivolity which debases so many individuals--I
will not say of our class, for the disgrace is not ours alone, but
of every class? Desiring to play a part above what our fortune
warrants, he has been led away into insane extravagance, for his
companions are rich and he is not. It enrages me to see Leopoldo
driving carriages and riding horses which cost more than his whole
year’s income; besides, his ignorance distresses me, and his idleness
makes me desperate. Ah! you were quite right in what you once said;
there is a great deal of truth in your remark that ‘while there
is an aristocracy of nature among the lowest, there is also a low
class among the aristocracy.’--However, all this is beside the mark;
we will not talk any longer on a subject that is so painful to my
feelings. I have, I think, made it sufficiently clear that you really
ought not to encourage Polito in his recklessness.”

Leon inserted some remark but Gustavo went on: “The blame, I admit,
lies with my father. Our education was very desultory. It would be
absurd to try to hide the fact that my mother, much as it costs me to
own it, has never succeeded in weaning herself or in preserving us
from the seductions of the gay world; she has always lived more out
of her home than in it. To this day--for what is the use of denying
what you know as well as I do?--to this day, when our fortune is so
much impaired, and when, as I believe, the little that remains will
fall into the hands of our creditors, is it not preposterous that my
mother should keep up the house on a footing which is so far beyond
our means? It is outrageous vanity; and you may take my word, Leon,
when I tell you that I pass hours of anguish in thinking of it. When
I see the expensive entertainments she gives, the outlay to keep up
appearances while so many--so very many--necessaries are overlooked;
when I note the shameless variety of her dresses, her constant
presence at the theatres, her anxiety to vie with others who have a
great deal more to spend--when I see all this, Leon, I feel impelled
to renounce the career of which I have dreamed in my own country, and
to go and earn my bread in some foreign land.”

Leon again put in a word, but his brother-in-law replied promptly:

“I should be quite willing to go, but what would you have me do? I
cannot give up my prospects when I am on the eve of success; it is
cruel to abandon a position gained by so many years of hard study.
And indeed, the very fact that I foresee disaster for my family
makes me feel that it is my duty to stand by the wreck. We must take
life as it comes, dreary as it is.

“You can know nothing of this occult disgrace, Leon; you cannot
know what it is to live in a house where nothing is paid for, from
the carpets on the floors to the bread we eat; nor the shudder that
comes over one at the sound of that recurring knell, the front door
bell, announcing some doleful or insolent creditor come to claim his
dues; you can have no idea of the farces that have to be played day
after day by people whose name seems a guarantee of respectability
and honour; nor dream of the moments of acute misery that we, in a
more than decent position, endure for want of a sum of ready money
that would not spoil the night’s rest of a common workman. You who
are both rich, and moderate in your requirements--and that is as
good as a double fortune--cannot conceive of the anxieties of acting
this bitter comedy among scenes of vanity on the boards of poverty.
You--calm and content, with no passion but for your books, superior
to those ambitions which scare sleep from my pillow, and free from
the slips and reverses which embitter life--you are the spoilt child
of Providence; here in your own house, never besieged by creditors,
never molested by intruders, in the delightful society of your wife
who is a perfect angel.... Poor María!”

After a brief silence, during which the young lawyer seemed to be
reading something on his brother-in-law’s forehead, he went on in a
bitter tone:

“And yet Leon you have not made her happy!”

Leon answered sharply, and the lawyer retorted with the brevity and
vehemence of a rifle shot; at length, after a distinct assertion on
Leon’s part, he began again:

“Your first duty was to avoid all scandal and not to give to the
world the spectacle of a household disunited and made miserable by
questions of religion. If it is your misfortune to be an infidel, you
ought to have hidden the plague spot from your wife, you ought to
have abstained from certain scientific publications of which you have
been guilty. Atheism is hideous under every aspect, and when it has
no sense of decency, when it does not even blush to show itself, it
is most horrible of all. Deformity of whatever kind should be veiled,
above all that of the soul, so as not to be an offence to public
morality! Never hope to find me lenient on such a matter. You know
what I am; you know that I never can conceal what I feel strongly.
I esteem you highly, and fully recognise your fine qualities: your
goodness--comparatively speaking--your quiescent morality--for the
virtues and good qualities of those who deny revealed truth can
rank no higher; I admit that your life is better than that of some
who proclaim themselves believers, that you have all the cold and
immaculate merits of a heathen philosopher, and that you carry out
certain principles on the rational grounds that it is right to be
virtuous, or because the performance of a duty is always advantageous
in the long run: that you obey your frigid philosophical moral law
just as you pay your taxes and submit to the laws of health or to the
regulations of the police; I grant that you are one of the best in
this mad turmoil of folly and wickedness; I esteem you--nay I have a
great regard for you; I admire your talents, and in spite of all this
I tell you plainly if I, Leon, if I”--and he rose, extending his arm,
in an apostolic attitude. “If I had had my sister’s hand to bestow I
would never, never have given it to you. Do you hear? Never!”

Leon interposed warmly, but Gustavo went on:

“Oh! I loathe and detest hypocrisy as much as you can. I admit but
two alternatives: you are a Catholic or you are not? In our sacred
faith there is no trimming or compromise. I--I am a Catholic, and as
such I act in every phase of life; I do not carry my creed on my lips
and atheism in my heart; I scorn the ridicule of the frivolous--I go
to Mass, I confess, I communicate, I fast, I glory in defying the
outrages of the mob that seems to direct public opinion; I face its
cynicism with courage and answer its Voltairian heresies with the
holy dogmas and the authority of the Church. And these ideas, this
strictness of conduct, I purpose to carry with me into public life. I
shall take it up with all the resolution of a soldier and a martyr,
guided by the Almighty hand that will not leave me defenceless in the
blood-stained arena of human passion. Though men have dared to let
loose the wild beasts of infidelity and rationalism, be assured that
God will not fail to send among them those who can tame them.

“You need not expect a man who can express himself so frankly and
resolutely on the subject, to show you any pity, or to join issue
with you on any scheme of compromise which would divide the onus
of your differences equally between you and my sister. No! and a
thousand times no! She is in no respect to blame. The fault is yours,
entirely yours. Truth and falsehood can never effect a compromise.
It is your part to give way, and she can only remain supreme and
triumphant.”

Leon could have replied, but he was weary of his brother-in-law’s
harangue and he turned the conversation into a channel which he
judged would be more attractive to the young advocate. Gustavo gave
up his didactic vein at once.

“It is true,” he said, “the votes of your tenants at Cullera have
saved me, and I feel sure of success. Between you and me, in the
strictest confidence, I particularly wish to be returned. It will
be the high road to success for me you see--my career. When a man
has fixed principles and the immovable determination to defend them
against all comers, a public life is an honourable one. In the times
we live in, it is a duty to fight! Do you not think so? For when
all character is fast sinking into a gutter of corruption, it is
well, and very profitable, to show that one has some character, so
that men may say, ‘this is a man!’ When human reason and outraged
truth insist that there should be some flogging, is it not a worthy
and brilliant achievement to wield the lash? Christian civilisation
is like a noble forest; it has taken religion centuries to produce
it, and philosophy dreams of destroying it in a single day. We
must stay the hand of these ruthless destroyers. The civilisation
of Christianity cannot be left to perish at the mercy of a handful
of theorists, aided by a mob of lost wretches who, to escape the
stings of conscience, have suppressed God.” He flourished his large
white hand, brandishing it like a school-master’s ferule; and as he
prepared to depart he added: “My friend--almost my brother--I have
the deepest regard for you, but when I think of that black spot
I am anxious--very, very anxious. If the plague in your dwelling
increases, beware! You will find me on the side of the victim--my
poor dear sister.--Good-bye.” And he went.

As he watched him depart Leon’s soul sunk within him, and for some
time he felt quite incapable of fixing his mind on anything.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE LAST ILLUSION.


The man whom we have seen in the retirement of his study, disturbed
at intervals during many months by such scenes as we have described,
did not, however, give up his whole time to scientific work. He,
like others, was a wheel in the social machine, attached to it by
his instincts, by his marriage, nay by science itself; and he was by
no means one of those cobweb-spinning savants of whom we are told
in romances that they are inseparable from their books and their
alembics, and as ignorant of the outer world as they are of the true
mysteries of science. Leon Roch went into the world, he dressed
well, and indeed was not to be distinguished from the well-clothed
multitude which constitutes the most important, though not the most
picturesque portion of society. He never excused himself from the
methodically dull routine of the life of the wealthy classes in the
Spanish capital and he might be seen with his wife in the fashionable
employment of “taking a drive”--a pleasure which consists in going
at a fixed hour to a particular avenue and gently jolting to and fro
in single file, one carriage behind another and close together, at
a regular pace, so that the ladies who lounge in the landaus feel
the hot breath of the horses just behind them, while the quadrupeds,
mistaking the flowers in their bonnets for real ones, try to make
a mouthful of them. He frequented the theatres, on the delightful
system by which the subscribers share a seat and go in turns, and
which has the advantage of providing them indiscriminately with
emotion or amusement, quite irrespective of their frame of mind at
the time. He invited a select number of friends to dinner on one day
in the week, having asserted and won his right to choose his guests
from among the best of the few distinguished men of whom Spain can
boast. Nor did he select them by any rule of creed or opinion, but
solely to suit his personal sympathies; as a consequence his weekly
entertainments and his evening parties gathered together superior
men; independent thinkers, staunch Catholics, politicians of the
epicurean pattern, aristocrats of the most ancient coinage and
nobles all hot and shining from the press, with men who had risen
to social importance by their talents as omniscient gossips, or by
the genuine charm of their conversation; there too were rising stars
from the university--young men distinguished as professors, or who
shone in the debating societies. Perfect harmony reigned however, for
nothing is so soothing to the temper as a good dinner, the presence
of elegant women, and the necessity for observing the laws of good
breeding.

Though certain individuals, no doubt, detested each other cordially,
the general atmosphere was one of mutual consideration, and the hours
were passed in conversation always polite, tolerant, instructive and
delightful--the happy product of this friction of various minds. Art,
letters, manners, politics--all were discussed; there was a little
grumbling, of course, a little scandal; one group would take up some
serious question--of religion, for instance, a theme sure to occur
where two or three men are gathered together, and one which has a
perennial and unfailing interest. This absorbing subject, which is
so constantly discussed, in the family circle, among students, and
in the highest conclave--in the confessional, in the palace, in
the hut--among friends and among foes--with words in every human
tongue, and sometimes with the roar of cannon--with the jargon of
party-spirit, the formulas of reason, the slang of flippancy--overtly
or in secret; with ink often, and not seldom with blood--fills the
air with an incessant murmur, that rolls its ceaseless tide from pole
to pole without pause or lull. If our ears were but a little keener,
we might hear the dull unceasing soliloquy of the ages.

Leon’s outward features were a clear olive complexion, expressive
eyes, black hair and beard; his moral distinction was his inflexible
rectitude and a firm determination never to deceive. His frank gaze
captivated most people at first sight, but his uprightness of spirit
was not so immediately discernible, since a man’s conscience does
not lie on the surface. The place he held in the estimation of his
acquaintance depended consequently on their view of things; to some
he was an admirable character, to others a malignant being; and since
his person was beyond question, handsome and attractive, there were
plenty to say of him: “He is a very good fellow on the surface, but
below that he is a monster of deformity.”

He was not one of those rationalistic bigots--for there is such a
thing--who laugh the faith of others to scorn, and ridicule their
pious fervour; on the contrary, he respected all who believed--nay he
envied some. He had no spirit of propaganda and desired to convert no
one to his own way of thinking; for though his studies had brought
him great enjoyment, they had also given him many hours of isolation
and bitterness, hence he had no mania for casting souls afloat from
the blessed isles of the faith, only to see them land on the cold
solitudes of scepticism.

He had begun by devoting himself to the natural sciences, finding
in these the purest delight; then the study of philosophy had
sorely vexed his spirit, and he finally returned to the pursuit
of experimental science in which he had found _terra firma_ and
a familiar country. While natural history amused him, physiology
fascinated him; he was fond too of astronomy, to which he was led
by his taste for mathematics. “History,” he would say, “dwarfs us;
physiology restores us to our natural measure; astronomy makes giants
of us.”

There was in his spirit a certain aridity, the result of the small
play his imagination had enjoyed in childhood and youth.

He was born in a room behind a shop, where he had trotted in and out
by the side of his mother, a woman, coarse and rough by nature, of no
breeding or education. She worked hard, but she could not read. In
her vanity she had set her heart on her son being very precocious and
she firmly believed that he would rise to be a general, a bishop, or
a prime minister. After her death he had lived for some little time
at Valencia with a maternal uncle, a potter, who had made money and
whose opinions were thus formulated: “Learning is rubbish. A man who
can make a brick is of more use to the human race than if he could
write all the books that ever were printed.”

After this Leon went through a period of development utterly devoid
of follies or escapades of any kind; he never fancied himself a
dramatic poet; he never plotted schemes of elopement or duelling; he
went through no moods of melancholy, no agitations as to the choice
of a profession, no ambitious dreams. He was set to learn mathematics
and told to “get on if he could.” He did get on, it is true, and then
he was launched on an ocean of rocks where he had to struggle with
the petrified waves that bear testimony to the Plutonic and Neptunian
storms that have vexed the globe; he was thrust head foremost, as
it were, into the bowels of the earth as revealed by deduction or
represented in museums, and told: “All these pebbles, that look as if
they had been gathered out of the roadway, form a book of marvels;
each flint is a letter of it, and you must learn to read it.”

There he saw the rushing waters, roaring ere yet there were ears to
hear them, and refracting rainbows ere yet there were eyes to see
them; he read the pedigree of the world in the remains of Bivalves,
Crustaceans and Ophidians, which had left the stamp of their forms,
like the seal set by ancient dynasties to record the fact of their
supremacy; he found plants that had grown before there were teeth or
mills to grind them, or men to need them; he saw man himself, the
latest product of creation, born when the forests had succumbed to
become store-houses of fuel, before the seas and rivers had levelled
the plains, while thousands of huge volcanoes were still belching
fire and giving the finishing touches to the crests of the loftiest
mountains. All this he saw and much more.

At a later period, when he had worked hard and found himself a rich
man, when he need no longer be the slave of science but could be her
master, he to some extent cultivated his imagination. He knew full
well that he could never be an artist; still, he took in hand the
finer chisel which is commonly given to one of the muses when they
are painted on our ceilings; but his hands, which could so ably wield
the lever, were too clumsy for so delicate an instrument.

“It is quite clear,” said he, “I shall always be a bumpkin!”

He had succeeded in writing in a fairly good style, clearly rather
than elegantly; he spoke in public very badly, very badly indeed,
though in private conversation he had a certain eloquence, especially
on lofty subjects. He had a free command of similes and constantly
used them, from the habit, now so largely adopted by science, of
flattering rather than scaring the ear of the studious public; also
because a parabolic form of speech has in all ages been congenial to
superior natures. It is the instructive homage paid by Science to Art
who in return borrows the radiant lamp of truth to light her on her
glorious path.

This man, to whom it was a matter of absorbing interest whether
one pebble were more or less silurian than another, and whether
a solution crystallised in rhomboids or in prisms, had from his
earliest youth cherished a dream of ideal life--a quiet and virtuous
existence, soaring on love and study, the two wings of the spirit,
as he used to say in his figurative jargon. The end of his career of
toil was to be the beginning of such a life, secured by a marriage
that should realise his dreams, and by the growth of a family. This
family that he dreamed of--the one ideal family, the happy circle of
souls that he could call his own--constantly occupied his thoughts.
Could there be a sweeter or a brighter lot? To see himself united to
a wife he adored, loving and submissive, with a sound understanding
and a heart of inexhaustible goodness to watch the growth of tiny
creatures who might ask him with tears for the bread of learning--to
work upon them by the best methods for the development of their moral
and physical nature--to live for them, and provide the necessaries
of life for that beloved and ever charming group, whose crown
and centre, the ideal wife, would appear as the living image of
Providence, and the dispenser of its benefits; now the mother, and
now the teacher--clothing them, feeding them, guiding their first
tottering steps, checking their over-boldness--Ah! for such a dream
it would be worth while to live! His imagination painted the joys of
a rich man, who can taste all the pleasures of toil without being its
slave.... A perfect life, partly given to study, partly to the cares
of a family; divided in fair proportion between the country and the
town, since in that way nature and society, each in turn, appears
most delightful; a life neither too secluded nor too public, in a
calm retreat--not dull, but far from the bustle of life, though not
inaccessible to a few select friends.

Yes, this was the goal he must aim at and grasp as soon as possible,
before his span was run in a ceaseless and giddy whirl. He must find,
as quickly as might be, the woman who was to lay the foundation
of this happiness--a dream, no doubt, but still capable of being
realised. The choice would be difficult. She must be studious,
prudent, and grave; was he himself qualified to make such a woman
happy? Yes, he could make her happy. Was he not learned, clever,
calm-tempered, judiciously critical, accustomed to analyse human
nature?--And yet--and yet....



CHAPTER XIV.

HUSBAND AND WIFE.


“And yet I made a mistake.”

This he said to himself one night as he sat alone with his wife in
the silent quietude of his home, at the hour when the mind wanders in
the vague meditation that is the precursor of dreams, after recalling
the facts of the past day which so lately were living realities and
so soon may become a nightmare. Before him, already prepared to go to
bed, sat the noble and beautiful Minerva-like figure. Her sea-blue
eyes, by some unaccountable artistic blunder, were fixed on a book
of devotions--one of the popular and commonplace manuals, full of
magniloquent verbiage, and idle subtleties, devoid alike of piety,
of style, of suggestiveness, of spiritual feeling and of evangelical
truth--nothing but a monotonous jangle of words. But what did it
matter? As she sat, nodding to sleep over this farrago, María was
charming to look upon.

Leon had dropped his evening newspaper--no less a jangle in its
kind, of broken strings, of tuneless bells, and the vacuous clack of
rumour--and was gazing at his wife, raging inwardly at the hideous
mockery of Fate. He--he who through all his early years had been
absolute master of his fancy, had one day, all unconsciously, given
it the reins, and then, cheated and betrayed, had allowed himself
to be carried away by an illusion altogether unworthy of so sober a
character. How could he have failed to see that between himself and
this woman there could never be any community of ideas, nor that
sweet union of minds that subsists even among fools? How could he
be thus deluded by the witchery even of such perfect charms? How
had he overlooked the wall of ice--high, dense, insuperable, which
must stand for ever between them? Why had he failed to detect that
recusant will, that deeply-rooted standard, that narrowness of
purview, that absence of magnanimity, for all of which there was so
little compensation in an over-wrought religious excitability? Why
had he not foreseen the dulness, the emptiness of his home--lacking
so much that was tender and attaching, lacking above all the
tenderest and most attaching element of life: mutual confidence?

In a fit of desperate regret he raised his hand to his brow and
clutched it convulsively, as if in malediction on the uselessness of
learning. María did not notice the gesture, but kept her eyes fixed
on her book.

“I fell in love like any idiot,” he thought, looking at her again,
“but how could I help it?--she is lovely!”

All his efforts to form María’s character had been vain; at the
earliest stage of her married life she had loved him with more
passion than tenderness, but ere long, without ceasing to love
him, she had begun to regard him as an erring soul--to be pitied
but shunned. Leon had given her all liberty in the exercise of her
religion, and at first she availed herself of it in moderation; but
as he tried by degrees to influence her mind--not undermining her
beliefs, as his detractors declared--but endeavouring to bring her
intelligence as far as possible into harmony with his own, she abused
the liberty he had granted and gave up almost all her time to her
devotions. Not that she renounced all worldly pleasures and vanities;
on the contrary, she enjoyed them keenly, though in due moderation.
She went to theatres, except in Lent--she dressed well, frequented
the fashionable promenades, and gave up part of the year to the
excursions and country visits that became her position and fortune.
She took great care of her personal appearance (for she liked to be
admired by Leon), very little of her household, and none at all of
her husband; the rest of her time and thoughts she devoted to the
various pious meetings and benevolent dissipations to which she was
carried off by her mother or her friends; in short, she served in the
charmed ranks of fashionable religionism.

“And after all, is it not I who am the recalcitrant party?” Leon
said to himself with crushed resignation. “Of what can I accuse her?
Which of us is the believer? If I had faith we should be happy--why
have I none?”

       *       *       *       *       *

Then there was a third phase, during which María’s devotion to him
was as great as ever, though still vehement rather than tender, and
no more sympathetic than at first. At this time María would attack
her husband with a mixture of human passion and mystic piety, which
did not exclude each other because they reacted and complemented each
other--trying to seduce him into the path of religion _à la mode_,
faint with incense, splendid with tapers, gay with flowers, smoothed
with suave sermons and graced with women of elegance and rank. Her
fondest dream was to remain a bigot without forfeiting the man who
had so completely realised the visions of her girlhood. To get him to
church--that was the hard task she had set herself.

“Leave me--pray leave me,” Leon would say, tortured by regret. “Go
and pray God for me.”

“But without you half of myself is wanting; I cannot feel as though I
were good throughout, as I want to be.”

Then she would fly to him, clasp him in her arms and rest her head
against the weary man’s breast, saying, with a sort of sob: “I love
you so much!”

Leon’s persistent refusal to take any part in her pious practices
brought them at length to that chronic state of misunderstanding, or
rather of moral divorce, in which we have seen them two years after
their marriage. They had ceased to share their ideas or to consult
each other on any opinion or plan; they never enjoyed that community
of pleasures or of trouble which is the natural marriage of souls;
they neither wept together nor rejoiced together--they did not even
quarrel. They were like those stars which look as if they were but
one, and which in reality are millions of miles apart. All their
friends could see that Leon was wretched, and suffering deeply though
in silence.

“He has set his heart on making his wife a rationalist,” they said,
“and that is as absurd as a sanctimonious man would be.”

“That is just what I say,” another would reply, “belief and disbelief
are a matter of sex.”

“The fact is that he is desperately in love with her.”

And this was the truth. Leon was bewitched by the beauty of his
wife, who every day seemed more lovely and who, without interfering
with her pious exercises, had the art of enhancing it by the luxury
and taste of her dress and the perfect care of her person. It was
equally true of María: she too was desperately in love; for no
earthly consideration would she have changed the husband with whom
fate and the church had blest her. The void in her heart had been
filled by a perfectly unspiritual passion for his extraordinarily
handsome person. Nor was he indifferent to the homage paid by the
multitude to the lord and master of a gracious and beautiful wife--on
the contrary, he was extremely proud of it, and the thought that
María could under any conceivable circumstances have belonged to any
other man, even in thought or intention, maddened him with rage. In
short, they were two divorced beings, so far as mind and feeling
were concerned, though united by the power of beauty, on the stormy
territory of imagination.

It was of this that Leon was meditating at this hour of the night. At
last he came to this bitter reflection:

“The world is governed by words and not by ideas. Hence we see that a
marriage may degenerate into mere concubinage.”

“Have you done?” he asked his wife, seeing that she had closed her
book and was praying silently with her eyes shut.

“Have you finished your newspaper?--Give it me; I want to look at
something. The Duchess de Ojos del Guadiana does not wish to be
at the whole expense of to-morrow’s ceremony. Let me see if it is
announced in the column of services.” Leon looked and read the column
aloud.

“A sermon by Padre Barrios!” exclaimed María with surprise. “We had
asked him to withdraw, because he is asthmatic and no one can hear
him--What a shame! San Prudencio is getting quite a name as the
place of refuge for all the worst preachers, and all the scoffers
congregate there to laugh at the chaplain’s stammering and Padre
Paoletti’s Italian accent; it is all the result of certain persons
undertaking to manage the services and not doing it properly.
However, some one will come down upon them and put their house
in order.--No, no; do not put down the paper; what is the opera
to-morrow night?”

“The same again,” said Leon, laying down the paper and putting his
hand on his wife’s arm as she was about to rise. “Wait, I want to
speak to you.”

“And seriously it would seem,” replied María smiling. “Are you vexed
with me? Oh, I know you are going to scold me. Yes,” she added,
curling herself up on a sofa close to his arm-chair, “you are going
to scold me for spending too much this month.”

“No.”

“Well, I have been rather extravagant, but I will make up for it by
being very economical next month.--I know, my dear, I have spent
more than my allowance. Let me see--there are three dresses, sixteen
thousand; the triduo, four thousand; the novena which I ordered, ten
thousand; the new hangings in my room--but that was all your fault,
for laughing at the white angels playing with the blue corn.--Then
I have to add the presents made to the actors who would not charge
anything for the charitable performance; two watches, two snuff-boxes
and two brooches.--But I will give you the whole account to-morrow.”

“It is not that, I tell you--nothing of the kind. You may spend as
much as you like--you may ruin me for aught I care, and waste all my
substance on dressmakers, priests, and actors. It is a much graver
matter than your extravagance that I want to discuss, María: I want
to ask you whether you do not think it high time that the emptiness
and misery of our married life should have an end--that you should
recognise that your excessive devotion to church ceremonies is almost
a form of infidelity, and that by giving up so much to the cause
of piety you are in fact doing an injury to me and to our common
interests?”

“I have told you before,” replied María very gravely, “that I
am prepared to account to God for my devotions--for good or for
evil.--Not to you, who cannot understand them. Try to do so--be
converted to the faith, and then we can talk about it!”

“Faith! it is you who do not understand. I have none--I can have none
such as you require. Indeed and if I had, your conduct and your way
of carrying out your religious duties would cure me of it. I may tell
you, once for all, that in your actions and your fevered excitement
about sacred things I see nothing that becomes a Christian wife. My
house is not a home, and my wife is no more than a beautiful dream,
as remote as she is fair. This, I tell you is not marriage--you are
not my wife nor I your husband.”

“And whose fault is that but yours?” she exclaimed eagerly. “If
harmony and confidence are absent, who is to blame?--Your atheism,
your infidelity, your separation from the Holy Church! I stand safely
within the pale of matrimony--it is you who are outside. I call you,
I invite you to enter with open arms and you will not come--Coward!”

And she stretched them to him, but Leon made no attempt to throw
himself into them.

“I should come,” he said, “come with rapture, if I saw in you the
faith which regards religion as the purest form of love. I should
admire and respect your faith, and only wish that I could share
it--but as it is I do not--I cannot--wish to follow.”

“You are mad, utterly mad! What is it that you do wish? That I should
deny God and the Church, that I should turn rationalist like you,
that I should read your books full of lies, that I should believe
that we are all apes, that materialism is truth, that Nature is the
only God, or that there is no God--all your hideous mass of heresies?
Happily I have been able to escape falling into that abyss. I am
pious and can believe all I ought to believe; I worship sincerely and
constantly, for that is the best means of keeping faith alive and
active, and of closing the soul against the entrance of any false
doctrine.--I go to church too often? I am unreasonably particular
in my attention to the rules of the Church? I am extravagant in the
services I pay for? I listen every day to the Word of God? I pray
night and morning?--This is the old story--is it not? I know I am
looked upon as a fanatic. Well, there is a reason for everything. Do
you suppose that I should cling so passionately to the Cross if I had
not you for my husband--you--an atheist; if I were not--as I am--in
constant peril of contamination by your views, and by my daily
intercourse with you, nay, by my very love for you? No--if you were
not so far from devout I should be less so. If you were a sincere
Catholic I should not be a bigot--I should fulfil the most necessary
duties but nothing more. It is like this Leon--supposing two men are
out together in a small boat on a stormy sea; if both row with equal
strength they will easily reach the shore; but no--one only lifts his
oar, and does not pull at all. Must not the other work twice as hard
or else they perish? Understand that clearly my dear--one oar must
save us both.”

“That figure of speech is not of your invention,” said Leon, who knew
full well the extent of his wife’s rhetorical powers. “Whose is it,
pray?”

“Whether it is mine or not can be of no importance to you,” retorted
María with contemptuous asperity. “The important point is that it
covers an indisputable fact. Do you wish me to learn the truth from
your miserable books?”

“No, no--I do not ask that,” said Leon sadly. “But wicked as I may
be--reprobate as you believe me, do you think I am so bad as to
deserve that you should not accept a single idea from me, and that
you must always conceal and reserve your own, and keep yourself as
far away from me as possible?”

“Nay--I accept your love which I believe to be sincere, and your
respect for my beliefs which I feel to be honest, and your personal
protection--but your views, your opinions....”

María spoke with such emphasis, and broke off with such a sparkle of
scorn in her eyes with their dazzling, cat-like gleam, that Leon felt
a chill about his aching heart like the stab of cold steel.

“Nothing that is mine!” he murmured, and his gaze fell on the ground
as though death were his only hope.

“Nothing that proceeds from your haughty and erring intellect,” said
his wife, giving what she thought was a decisive thrust. “Nothing
that can contaminate me with your diabolical philosophy.”

There was a pause, and then Leon, with a prolonged sigh, looked up at
her, pale and anxious.

“And who has taught you to say all this?” he asked.

“That matters not,” replied María, also turning pale but without
losing courage. “I have told you already that, as a devout Catholic,
I do not feel bound to render an account to an atheist of all the
secrets of my religious conscience or of what regards my devotional
practice. You need only be certain that I am faithful to you, and
that I have never been false to my marriage vows in act, intention or
thought. That is enough--I fulfil my pledge and duty as a wife and
this is all the confidence you need look for from me. As for that
part of my conscience which concerns God alone, do not hope to read
it--it is a sanctuary into which you have no right to enter. Do not
ask me: ‘Who taught me to say this or that’--You have no right to an
answer.”

“I do not require it,” he said. “I never took it into my head to be
uneasy because my wife went to the confessional three or four times a
year to make a clean breast of her shortcomings and crave absolution
in accordance with her creed. At the same time the confessional has
its abuses: it asserts its rights to spiritual control by devious
and underhand means, by daily interference, by constant and secret
discussion of details, fostered on one hand by the scruples of an
innocent soul, and on the other by the prurient curiosity of a man
who has no natural family ties.”

“Indeed!” said María sarcastically. “It would be better, no doubt,
that I should seek rules of conscience from the spiritual direction
of your atheistical friends! I am sickened as it is, by the flippancy
with which some of them speak of sacred subjects. I have told you,
before now, that the parties in our house were an ostentatious and
scandalous parade of evil principles and the day will come when
I shall resolutely refuse to countenance them. I do not deny, of
course, that some of your visitors are highly respectable; but others
are not--I know what opinions some of them hold.”

“And who has informed you?” asked Leon eagerly.

“Oh, I don’t know.--All I say is that I am tired of being civil
to them, of concealing my disgust in the society of men who have
written or who have said in public--or who have neither written nor
spoken--but I know what their opinions are all the same; yes, I
know....”

“Much indeed you know!--But you have pronounced sentence on our
evening meetings, and that sentence will be followed by others.” And
with the strange but natural revulsion of a dull persistent grief,
that relieves itself by delusive flashes of bitter amusement, Leon
laughed aloud.

“Indeed,” said María, a little abashed. “Your evenings are a constant
vexation. They are very discreditable, for with all your discussions
on politics, or music, or some invention, or perhaps on history, our
house is a hotbed of atheism.”

“And it would be a hotbed of virtue if we danced and talked
gossip?--No, in my drawing-room no one has ever discussed atheism
nor anything approaching it. Your pure and childlike conscience may
rest easy! Do not let that distress your happy and innocent soul,
if you believe that you have accomplished every duty by carrying
the external practice of religion to the verge of folly and by
worshipping words, symbols, dogma and routine with superstitious
fervency, while your spirit lies cold and torpid, devoid of joy or
sorrow, of struggle or of victory, lulled to sleep by the drone of
sermons, the braying of organs, and the rustle of silken vestments!
You believe yourself to be perfection, and you have not even the
grace of a wavering spirit held firm, of doubts sternly silenced,
of temptation resisted, or of contentment sacrificed. How easy,
how accommodating is the piety of our day! Formerly, to dedicate
yourself to the faith meant the total renunciation of every pleasure,
the abdication of self-will, hatred of the pomps and vanity of
this world, contempt for riches, luxury and comfort, so as to cast
off the flesh and spiritualise the soul and meditate more freely
on heavenly things; it meant living only the spiritual life to
the highest pitch of rapture, of frenzy even--the rich emulating
the poor, the healthy praying God for chastening disease, and the
clean craving to be covered with foulness. It was an aberration, no
doubt; but it was a sublime one, for self-sacrifice and abasement
are of all virtues those which least lose their merit by excess. It
was suicide, but it was guiltless suicide, since it was the very
madness of self-abandonment! While now....” and Leon fixed on his
wife a gaze fired with enthusiasm and scorn--“now the rules of piety
demand constant oblations and a positive competition in the matter
of ostentatious services; still, every one is dealt with according
to his rank, the poor--as being poor, and the rich as being rich;
provided, that is to say, that they do not refuse to contribute
in due proportion. The devout women of the present day attend
Mass, mortify themselves in comfortable chairs, pray kneeling upon
cushions, and sweep the dust of the sanctuary with their trains. This
only occupies their mornings; in the evening they are free to dance,
to go to the play, to cover themselves with jewels and finery, to
meet at the tables of the rich--though they may be Jews or heretics,
to display themselves in promenades, and enhance or improve their
charms to captivate men!--After all, what is the harm? The devil
is in his dotage--he has come to terms--he is grown old and has
forgotten his business!”

“Your jest is a coarse one,” exclaimed María in some confusion.
“According to that I am in mortal sin because I dress well and go
to the theatre.--You are talking of what you do not understand; you
atheists are the maddest souls that live.”

She was not angry, and to prove it she coaxingly stroked her
husband’s face. “Do you think your eloquence has brought me to
nought, my dearest?” she went on. “But when you see that I dress
carefully and go to the theatre, you must know that I have got leave
to do it, and so can please myself without staining my soul. Nay, who
has been more anxious to set me at rest on this point than yourself;
for you have always said that, as a married woman, I have no right to
break the ties that hold me to society.”

“Yes, that is the right thing to say, I know!” said Leon laughing.
“Amuse yourself as much as you can, so long as....”

“Your reservations are blasphemy--say no more, foolish man. Sooner or
later I shall yet succeed in proving to you that all your wisdom is
mere foolishness!”

“Foolishness?” said Leon, putting his hand under his wife’s
chin--soft, round and delicate.

“Think how I shall laugh at you when, at length, by the efficacy of
my prayers, of my faith, and of my piety.... You smile? Nay do not
smile; some wonderful cases have been seen--some of the instances I
could tell you of would astonish you.”

“Then do not tell me of them,” said Leon, turning his wife’s face
from side to side, as he still held her chin between his finger and
thumb.

“Yes, cases that seem incredible--cases of wicked men who have been
converted;--and you are not wicked.”

“Then I have not been denounced as a reprobate yet? Make yourself
easy my dear, all in good time. Thanks for your friends’ good opinion
of me--while it lasts!”

María threw her arms round him, and clasping his head to her bosom,
kissed his forehead.

“You will come to me yet,” she said, “you will be a devout Catholic
and be one with me in the practice of my beautiful religion....”

“I!”

“Yes, you. You will come to my arms!--How happy we may be then--I
love you; you know how I love you!”

And how handsome, how lovely she was! Leon could not but feel the
irresistible charm of such perfect beauty of face and form--of eyes
whose depths seemed as translucent and as mysterious as the sea when
we peer into the waters to find some lost treasure at the bottom.

María went across the room and stood in front of a mirror, raising
her hands to let down her hair. The black tresses fell on her
shoulders, which could not in justice be compared to cold hard marble
since they were of the tenderest texture; but there is Parian flesh,
though mysticism calls it clay, and the Divine Artificer has used it
to form some few human statues which hardly seem to need a soul to
give them life and beauty.

“She is lovely!” Leon exclaimed, as he sat sunk in his arm-chair,
gazing like a simpleton. “Lovelier every day!”

After making various little arrangements at the glass, María went
into her alcove. Leon’s head sank between his hands, and he remained
for a long time lost in thought. He was in a fever. At length he
rose--angry with himself or with some one else. “I am a fool!” he
said. “I wanted a Christian wife and not a hypocritical odalisque.”



CHAPTER XV.

A MODUS VIVENDI.


He sat in silence for some little time; suddenly María gave a loud
and terrified cry; he flew to her alcove and found her sitting up in
bed, her eyes fixed, her arms extended.

“Leon, oh Leon!” she gasped in alarm, “Are you there--oh, where are
you? Ah! Yes--here you are--Hold me--What a hideous dream!”

Leon soon succeeded in soothing her by recalling her to waking
reality, the best cure for such vagaries of the fancy.

“I was dreaming--I dreamed I had killed you, and that from the very
bottom of a deep, black hole you looked up at me, with oh! such a
face--And then you were alive again, but you loved some one else.--I
will not have you love any one else....” and she flung her arms round
her husband’s neck.

“What o’clock is it?” she asked.

“It is late. Go to sleep again; you will have no more nightmares.”

“And you--are you not going to bed?”

“I am not sleepy.”

“Are you going to sit up all night--What is the matter? Are you
reading?”

“No, I am thinking.”

“What we were talking about?”

“Of that, and of you.”

“That is right. Think over all the truths I told you and so you will
be unconsciously preparing your mind.--Hark! I hear a bell. Is it a
fire?”

They listened. They could hear the barking of the dogs, which in
the suburbs of Madrid, where every house has a wide and vacant let
attached, meet in dozens to unearth kitchen refuse and rummage in the
gutters; they could hear the distant creak and jangle of the latest
tram-cars, and the faint, steady, metallic ticking of Leon’s watch in
his waistcoat pocket--nothing else--much less a bell.

“No,” he said, “and it is not the hour for tolling for prayers.--Go
to sleep.”

“I am not sleepy--I cannot sleep,” replied María turning on her
pillow. “I feel that I shall see you again at the bottom of the pit,
staring at me. You laugh at it--and it is preposterous to dream of
seeing a man lying dead who believes and declares that this life is
the end of all things.”

“Did I ever say such a thing?” exclaimed Leon with annoyance.

“No--you never said so; but I know that is what you think--I know it.”

“How do you know it? Who told you so?”

“I know it; I know that is what philosophers think at the bottom
of their souls, and you are one of them. I do not read your books
because I do not understand them; but some one who does understand
them has read them.”

Leon rose and turned away, deeply provoked and troubled; he was about
to quit the alcove, but suddenly he came back to his wife’s bedside;
he took her hand, and said in a stern firm voice:

“María, I am going to say a last word--the last. An idea has just
flashed upon my mind which seems to me to promise salvation--which,
if we both accept it and act upon it, may yet save us from this hell
of misery.”

María, overcome by the pathos and solemnity of his address could say
nothing in reply.

“I will explain it in two words.--Happy thought! I cannot think
why it never occurred to me before--: I will promise to give up my
studies and my evening meetings--the society alike of my books and of
my friends. My library shall be walled-up like that of Don Quixote;
not a word, not an idea, that can be thought suspicious shall ever be
uttered in the house, not a remark that can be regarded as flippant
or worldly on matters of religion; there shall be no discussions on
history or science--in short, no conversation, no talk whatever....”

“What a comfort! what happiness!” cried María raising herself to kiss
her husband’s hands. “And you really and truly promise me this--and
will keep your promise?”

“I solemnly swear it. But do not sing your _Te Deum_ too soon; you
will understand that I do not propose to make such concessions
without requiring some on your part. I have told you my side of the
bargain--now for yours. I will sacrifice what you ignorantly call
my atheism--though it is an entirely different thing--now you must
sacrifice what you call your piety--doubtful piety at the best. If
we are to understand each other, you must give up your incessant,
interminable devotions, your weekly confession--always to the same
priest,--and all the scenic accessories to religion. You may go to
Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, and confess once a year, but without
previously selecting your confessor.”

“Oh! this is too much!” exclaimed María hiding her face as if in
self-pity for the miserable remnant left to her of her religious
dissipations.

“Too much!--you think this too much to ask, silly child! Well, I will
make a compromise: If you reduce your church-going I will go with
you.”

“You will go with me!” she cried starting up in her bed impulsively.
“Is it true?--do you mean it?--No, you are mocking me.”

“No indeed, I will go with you, on Sundays.”

“Only on Sundays!”

“Only on Sundays.”

“And you will confess, like me, once a year.”

“Oh! as to that....” Leon murmured.

“You will not?”

“No.--You ask too much at once. I am making an enormous sacrifice,
while yours is but a small one. You are giving up superfluous
luxuries to enjoy all that is necessary and reasonable; you are
snatching off the mask of hypocrisy and bigotry to reveal the true
beauty of a Christian wife. This is not a sacrifice. Mine on the
other hand is the loss of everything;--in laying my studies and my
friendships at your feet, I am cutting off half of my life that you
may trample it in the dust.”

“But still it is not enough,” said María passionately. “Of what use
is it that you should cease to read if you continue to think--if you
still think and always will think the same? You will go with me to
church as a mere formality; your body will go in, but your soul will
remain outside; and when you see the sacred Host raised in the hands
of the priest, a feeling of abominable mockery will laugh within
you--unless indeed you are meditating on the insects you can see with
your microscope, and which you believe to be the cause of thought and
sentiment in our souls, and which I believe to be divine.”

“Your sarcasms cannot touch me,” said her husband. “I know too well
the source of these ignorant prejudices. I can only pledge myself to
honest and reverent attention.--But I was forgetting another matter.
You will have to quit Madrid; we must go to live elsewhere. Now take
your choice.”

“You ask too much--it is a shame!” cried María in the voice of a
spoilt child. “And what do you offer in return? A sham of religion,
a mask of belief to cover your infidel’s face! No, Leon; I cannot
agree.”

“Then there is no hope for me,” cried Leon burying his head in his
hands. After a few minutes of silent anguish, he coldly looked up at
his wife and went on:

“María, then we must live apart. I cannot endure this existence.
Within a few days it shall be settled. You can remain in this house
or go to your parents, which ever you prefer; I shall go abroad,
never to return--never.”

He rose; his wife, after the manner of fashionable wives, burst into
tears, seizing his hands and pressing them to her breast.

“We must part?” she sobbed. “But you are mad--cruel....” María’s love
for her husband was as great as his for her--a gulf, an absolute
divorce of their souls she could bear, but to live apart...!

“My mind is quite made up,” said Leon sadly.

“I agree--I consent to all you propose.”

Long after, when she had been sleeping for some hours, again Leon
heard his wife wake with a cry of horror.

“I have been dreaming again--a horrible dream. I was dying and again
I saw you--you were caressing and kissing another woman.--But it is
daylight; the bells are really ringing now.”

The air was in fact full of the discordant jangle and clang of bells
from the towers of the numberless stuccoed and whitewashed structures
which, in Madrid, boast of the name of churches, and bear witness to
the piety of the natives.

“They are ringing for Matins,” thought María, “I am dying of
sleepiness--I must sleep. It is eight o’clock and still they ring,
still they call me.--But I cannot go--I have given my word. Heavens!
it is nine! Forgive me--spare me, beloved bells; I cannot go till
Sunday.”



CHAPTER XVI.

IN THE DOG-DAYS.


The season of exodus and dispersion had arrived. Madrid was swarming
and bustling like an ant-hill, every one exhausted by the heat and
eagerly seeking money. The price of gold went up as though war were
impending, and transactions in small shares were as lively as though
there were some real increase of business. Many a family drew the
rope that the extravagances of the past winter had tied round its
neck, yet a little tighter; while others, not owning even a rope
to pull, consoled themselves by singing the praises of the Madrid
Summer, and declaring the charms of its promenades and its beautiful
nights to be far superior to the solitude and dulness of the country.
A summer at Pinto or Getafe was as bad as a winter at El Escudo or
Pajares!

The Tellerías were among the number of those who would not for worlds
have stayed in town. They too were off in defiance of all the laws
and logic of arithmetic and economy. The marquesa, however, stretched
out the spring to its utmost span, saying that the heat was still
very endurable and that in the north the weather was rainy and cold.
Leon, having no motive for deferring his departure, but, on the
contrary, every reason for hastening it, fixed it for the first week
in July. But the day before they started an unexpected event upset
every body’s plans. The sons of the marquis had long known that their
brother, Luis Gonzaga, was out of health; Gustavo and Leon knew more
indeed--they knew that he was suffering from a painful and lingering
complaint, that scourge of the young, consumption, which frequently
attacks a delicate constitution or one that has been undermined by
dissipation or study. As the fathers of the seminary where the young
man was living pronounced his malady to be only at its incipient
stage, nothing had been said to his mother, with the idea that it
would come quite soon enough to her knowledge when, in the course
of the summer, she should go to see her son. But now, suddenly,
like a bolt of wrath from Heaven, came a letter from the Principal,
announcing that Luis Gonzaga’s disease had assumed an aggravated form
and that “as the young man was anxious to see his family he would
travel to Madrid next day by the express train.”

They were all startled and dismayed at the news and still more so
when, on the following day, the poor lad appeared, so surely stamped
with the marks of suffering that he looked like a spectre in a
priest’s gown. Though his features were shrunk under the cold kiss
of Death, they had a strong resemblance to the bright and lovely face
of his sister. As has been said they were twins, and were as much
alike as a man and woman can be, but that the girl, full of health
and vigour, had always had the advantage in strength and beauty over
her brother, who had been frail from infancy. Delicate and beardless,
he had believed himself destined by Nature for the priesthood and
had accepted his vocation to prayer and devotion. His eyes, which
in form and colour were the very duplicates of María’s were set in
dark circles; he had even in childhood always had the hectic flush
of fever which had lurked in his veins as though it were part of
his temperament, and now, when the end was drawing near, it was
an internal fire, consuming his existence. The flowing black robe
revealed every angle of his emaciated frame as he sat or walked; his
voice was that of a man speaking in some deep, invisible airless pit,
where the sound dies away in dull vibrations like the dropping of
hidden waters.

Leaning back in an easy-chair, he responded to the warm and loving
greetings of his family with short sentences, in which intensity of
feeling made up for brevity of expression, pressing their hands and
gazing at them with tender and hungry eyes. His mother, in utter
despair, could not control her grief, though her lamentations always
ended in schemes for giving her son change of air--pure, country
air--the air of cowsheds, or for taking him to some health-giving
waters. The first thing decided on was a medical consultation; the
sick man smiled incredulously, but he offered no opposition; the long
habit of obedience in which he had been so severely trained, gave him
strength to endure to be tormented even in his suffering.

Leon had never yet seen him. When he came in the marquesa introduced
them:

“Here,” she said, “is a brother you do not know.”

“Yes--I know him,” said Luis Gonzaga, placing his thin, damp, burning
hand in Leon’s strong one, while he fixed on him a steady, piercing
gaze for so long, that his mother, alarmed by his mute examination,
added anxiously:

“You know how good he is?”

“Yes--I know, I know,” and he turned to look at his sister. “You are
leaving Madrid?”

“Nay--how could we go and leave you?” said María with tears in her
eyes.

“But your husband will not like to be detained.”

“We shall stay at home now,” said Leon sitting down with the group
that had gathered round the newcomer. “María will not wish to part
from a brother whom she has not seen for so long, nor can I wish that
she should.”

“Nor would you like to leave her,” added the marquesa. “You are a
model of kindness and amiability.--Perhaps we may all go together.”

“When Luis is better,” said Leon. “And meanwhile we will put off our
journey.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The same, or the following day, Leon found himself alone with his
mother-in-law, and witnessed one of her most violent fits of grief,
expressed in sighs and lamentations over her miserable fate, and
remorseful protestations of economy and moderation for the future.
The good lady shed a few tears, pressing her son-in-law’s hand with
the fondest display of maternal affection and endless terms of
endearment.

The Tellería family, she explained, were in financial difficulties;
the illness of her youngest son required immediate and considerable
outlay; she really could not find it in her heart to treat a party
of physicians as her husband treated his back-stairs creditors--his
extravagance indeed was positively scandalous; for her part she was
weary of the life of superficial display which her husband and sons
insisted on keeping up out of sheer pride, and in spite of all she
could say. She was sick to death of balls and parties, and could
only endure in silence the hidden misery and incessant care which
made a hell of her wretched home. Oh! her education, her birth,
her principles, her best feelings were all in revolt against the
hideous farce; but she was weak--she was led by her affections,
and even though she found no return, she loved the authors of her
wretchedness--she could not break them of the habits they had
acquired. However, now she was resolved to be firm and energetic;
to put an end to the malpractices of her household; to check the
marquis in his recklessness; to speak plainly--very plainly--to her
sons, to institute a strict--an excessively strict régime; to live
on their regular income, and to renounce delusive splendour and
ridiculous pretentions in favour of a respectable sufficiency. Then
she sat bathed in tears, praying God to spare her daughter such woes
as had fallen on her parents’ hearth--a mercy which indeed He seemed
disposed to grant, since he had blessed her with so exemplary a
husband--a wise, a model husband--a man of a thousand--worthy to be a
saint, if he were so happy as to win the absolution of the Church.

The same day, or the next, the marquis caught Leon and shut himself
up with him in his study, where in pathetic accents, he unfolded the
tale of his troubles and drew a picture of his present position with
highly effective touches--grouping the shadows, and giving relief to
the most immediately important feature: the sickness, namely, of the
best and dearest of his children. This misfortune was the final blow
to the house of Tellería, weak as it was already and tottering to
ruin, though dressed out with tinsel, gilding and useless frippery.
He--the illustrious but unfortunate speaker--must face a terrible
problem, his honour as a public official and his dignity as the
father of a family, were alike in jeopardy. The hardest thing was
that the fault was not his but his wife’s; she was the instrument of
the filtration--a word he greatly affected--the constant filtration
which was draining away his fortune.--At the same time he was, he
admitted, also to blame; he had liked to keep up an unnecessarily
handsome appearance, he had owed it to his name, to his party, to
his country--he had counted on the success of operations in the
money-market, on the advancement and prosperity of his sons. Alas! in
vain; he was deceived and disappointed. He could not wholly exonerate
himself to be sure; he had been weak, foolishly weak with regard
to the reckless luxury in which his wife had chosen to live; he
ought never to have sanctioned with his presence all the luncheons,
tea-drinkings, balls and routs which, on fixed days of the week had
filled his house with turmoil, and gossip, with pretentiousness and
vanity; he ought to have resisted--to have protested; no doubt of
that. He had not done so, he had made himself her accomplice; he
had been false to the sound conservative principles which were the
pole-star and beacon of his life. But now he was determined to stop
these abuses, to introduce a radical reform of his household, to
insist on economy, to maintain domestic order, which was the basis of
all virtue, public or private.

Nor was his son-in-law to suppose that he had discussed this painful
subject with the object of obtaining any assistance to get him out of
his difficulties; no--this would ill become his dignity, which was
extremely susceptible on such matters--his only purpose was to let
Leon know, once for all, the painful truth, so that he might use his
influence in the family and point out the abyss that lay at their
feet. The illness of his favourite son was a great grief to him,
and he cared for nothing now in this world; he was the victim of a
fatality, of all the desperate ills that weighed on his ungovernable
country--a poverty-stricken land in spite of its fertility. How was
a man to make headway against the difficulties of such a state of
things? Why, he himself--the marquis--ought to take sulphur baths
for his rheumatism, but he could not, he did not care to undertake
the journey. Duty kept him in Madrid by the side of his invalid son
and prohibited his spending on himself the money which was needed
to prolong that precious life--a young man of a thousand, almost a
priest, and quite a saint sent down from heaven!--But the marquis
knew where his duty lay and was prepared to fulfil it. His rank as
a Spanish nobleman required it; still he craved the advice of a
sympathetic and disinterested friend, who might encourage him with
brave words and help him by spirited example; he needed an upright,
judicious and outspoken man who hated all shams; he wanted moral
support, purely moral support.

“Moral support and nothing more,” he repeated with a deep sigh, as he
wrung Leon’s hand.

If praise, well-merited praise, could have made Leon vain, he must
have been elated when a few days later his mother-in-law said with an
accent of perfect sincerity:

“It is strange but very certain, my dear son, that a man may have a
warm good heart with a head absolutely devoid of religious notions.”
And when the marquis added:

“I believe you are the best man alive. You are good enough to make me
believe in a Utopia--and you know I am not apt to believe in Utopias.
I cannot tell you all I feel when I think of the interest you take
in the credit of the family. You appreciate the fact that even in
the storm and deluge of passions the Family must be respected!
Yes--society is being submerged in a universal flood, but the Family
will float--the Ark!”

Truth to tell, Leon cared less for the safety of his wife’s family,
which the marquis had so elegantly compared to that of Noah, than for
the melancholy state of her twin-brother and for María’s distress at
seeing how ill-prepared her parents were to face the sorrow and the
expenses which were gathering round them.



CHAPTER XVII.

DESERTERS.


In fact the doctors’ verdict was a hopeless one, though they thought
the end was as yet far off, and this brought some relief and even
hope to the anxious household. Time, whether future or past, is a
great consoler, and a misfortune postponed, like a misfortune long
past, is lost on the vague and distant horizon behind which lies the
wide realm of forgetfulness. The Tellería family settled down into
comparative ease of mind, and its members by degrees reserved their
usual tone and demeanour. Gustavo was elected and spent his days in
the Congress chamber. His mother, though she could not entirely throw
off the anxiety that weighed upon her, resumed that sweet expression
of bland conformity to the ways of the world, mixed with a certain
plaintive pietism which implied that she was, on the whole, resigned
to enjoy herself, and the futility of life filled up a large portion
of her time.

One morning Leon found her in a state of bewildered indecision,
contemplating a collection of summer hats that had come from a shop
in a large basket covered with oil-cloth; there was every variety
of headpiece conceived, month after month, by the ingenuity of the
French mind--birds’ nests buried in ears of corn and sparkling with
beetles, baskets piled up with tufts of moss, straw platters with
wild flowers, round helmets, formless mats cocked into corners,
saucepan-shaped erections with flat brims trimmed with hummingbirds,
turban hats wreathed with gauze veils, in short every extravagant and
absurd device that a milliner can create to tempt women to hasten
their husbands’ ruin. The marquesa examined them all, criticising
each with a sharp or a severe remark, as became a woman of superior
taste. Some she tried on before the glass, turning her head from side
to side to judge of the effects of shape and colour, and at last she
put them all back into the basket:

“I will not take any of them,” she said. “It is quite possible that
we may go to France and then I can get all I want there, as I have in
former years, and bring home something new, quite new--I will make it
all right with the Aduana (custom-house). Yes it is quite possible we
may go to France; you did not know, Leon?”

Leon with María and Luis Gonzaga had assisted at the review of the
hats, giving his opinion when it was asked. The conversation now
turned from the fashions to the custom-house duties. The twins sat
silent and sad, more particularly Luis, who kept his eyes fixed on
the flowers in the garden which was full of rhododendrons and lovely
pink-flowered azaleas.

“You did not know?” the lady repeated. “That wretched boy Leopoldo
is leaving us to-day. He is off to Biarritz with some other young
fellows--friends of his. I could not prevent him--I explained to
him that as we had all remained at home to be with Luis, he ought to
stay as well. He says that he requires sea-baths and gave no end of
reasons--he is taking advantage of the convenience of going with the
Duke de Ceriñola and Count de Garellano who have secured a saloon
carriage.”

On enquiring of a servant for Señor Polito they learnt that he was
breakfasting out, and that he intended to go straight from his
friend’s house to the station without coming home again. His packing
was done and his trunks locked. This extraordinary proceeding,
proving how much family and filial feeling her worthless son could
boast of, was a deep grief to the marquesa, who, with all her
follies, lacked neither tenderness nor the sense of right. Leopoldo,
she frankly admitted, had been shamefully ill-brought up--though by
no fault of hers--and was a hardened scapegrace, impervious to all
good feeling, and capable of leaving his family in the lurch in their
hour of greatest need if he saw a chance of riding a borrowed horse,
of driving a friend’s coach, or riding in a friend’s phaeton, of
being hand and glove with some sprig of the nobility or staking a few
dollars at cards.

The marquis, who had just come into the room in an elaborate
light-coloured spring suit, heard the news with the utter
indifference which some people assume as the very acme of good taste.

“It is natural,” he said, “boys must amuse themselves. They will
be men all in good time, with the ties and troubles of a social
position and public life, with rheumatism--for instance here am I,
in absolute need of repairs, and I shall be obliged to have them. My
doctor was quite furious when I told him I could not get away this
summer: ‘What!’ he exclaimed. ‘Señor Marqués! the head of a family
ought never to neglect his health. I condemn you to take baths; it is
a sentence without appeal!’ In short my dears--I set out to-morrow.”

His wife’s astonishment seemed to be caused by annoyance and
disappointment. All were to be free while she was to be a slave,
harnessed to the dreary round of a summer in Madrid.

“Our dear Luis,” the marquis went on, stroking his son’s cheek,
“gets better every day; I am not anxious about him; nothing will
do him so much good as rest. A summer in Madrid with his mother
at his side--how glad I should be to stay with you, but I am most
unlucky!--Several friends have begged me to share their carriage in
the train to-morrow.”

He stopped, finding himself alone with Leon; his wife and the twins
had left the room.

“It is really no fault of mine,” he went on as he walked up and down
the pretty drawing-room, crammed with a thousand costly trifles of
French exportation, tapestry, porcelain, furniture, and all the
expensive magnificence which fills our houses for lack of the real
works of art which are taken away from their proper place and use,
to be stored in museums by an æsthetic government.--“It is no fault
of mine; you can easily believe that I go very much against my
will. I am truly distressed at the levity of my two sons who have
deserted their father’s roof just when poor Milagros most needs
their society to cheer her and when Luis is so ill--for he is very
ill, it is of no use to deceive ourselves. I believe he will go on
getting worse; he may get through the autumn--but the winter.--In
any case the boys have behaved badly, very badly. Leopoldo is going
to-night and Gustavo to-morrow. I should not have thought it of
Gustavo--however, he is going, he is in love, over head and ears
in love. The Marquesa de San Salomó starts to-morrow for Arcachon,
Paris and le Havre; Gustavo accordingly is going northwards too and
the labels of his luggage are addressed for le Havre via Arcachon
and Paris--a very nice little journey. The marquesa is very pretty
and elegant, and Gustavo is very attractive--whether all they say is
true! who knows? I don’t believe a word of it. But there is no doubt
that Gustavo’s fiery eloquence and his fearless and vigorous defence
of the Church made a great sensation in the fashionable world. The
ladies’ seats were filled quite early with pretty faces under the
most elegant hats, and there was a constant murmur of discussion
and approval. And it is certainly the fact that women are among the
staunchest guardians of the time-honoured creed of our ancestors. Do
you hope to pervert the national conscience, you atheists? Then you
must begin by annihilating the fairer half of the human race.--The
truth is that Gustavo is an admirable speaker; his fervid language
moves the Chamber and delights the galleries. Then he has found a
congenial subject, a subject that speaks for itself--that appeals
to the feelings, to the heart, to all that is most sacred and
precious in the soul and which is altogether consonant to the spirit
of Castilian nobility. The Marquis de Fúcar said to me yesterday
with a knowing wink: ‘That young fellow has struck into the right
path’--and I replied: ‘Oh, yes! Gustavo knows where he is going--and
how to get there.’ He is so full of talent that, as my friend Don
Cayetano Polentinos said to me: ‘He is a perfect manual of hopes!’
Clever, good-looking, full of eager eloquence. However, I must own I
should have liked to see him with more family feeling. I leave home
because I absolutely need rest and health; but Gustavo.--Still, I can
understand the attractiveness of such a woman as the Marquesa de San
Salomó.--Yes, yes, I am coming. (This to a servant who had come in
to say that breakfast was getting cold.) Are you ready for breakfast
Leon? You too will be weighing anchor I suppose....”

The next day Leon went to see off his father-in-law and Gustavo,
who left by the same train though in different carriages and very
different society--both however with free passes due to the kindness
of some member on the Company’s board.

“I could not possibly put off this journey,” Gustavo said to his
brother-in-law, leading him away to the least crowded part of the
station. “If anything happens at home you will telegraph to me at
once.--Look, do you see that woman? I expected as much as soon as I
heard that my father was going away.--Do you see her?”

“Her--who?”

“Paca, Paquira--there she goes....” And among the crowd, above
which surged a mass of plumed and wreathed hats, with gaudy birds,
and blue and green veils shrouding pretty faces, like clouds, Leon
distinguished a young girl of pleasing appearance and elegantly
dressed, disputing with the guard for two seats in a carriage.

“And there is my father with two friends who are getting in with
them.--Now, I ask you--what can such folly lead to in a man who ought
to remember his age and his duties, the state of his household and
his own social position? That mania for remaining young is the ruin
of modern society.--Well, if you do not go away be as much as you
can with my mother and Luis. My mother has a soft heart and this
misfortune has come upon her like a warning from Heaven--a warning
that she should cease to regard this life as one long scene of
amusement. Will she take the lesson to heart? I fear not. She has
a kind heart but too weak a nature. I am furious when I see that
swindler Leopoldo getting money out of her. But that is just like
her--whatever he asks for she is ready to give him.--Ah, my father
has got into another compartment; he is in the next one, with his
friends. Well, so long as he saves us from any public scandal.
Good-bye; write to me, or send a telegram if anything happens.
Arcachon, Hotel Brisset--and then Paris, _poste restante_.”



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE ASCETIC.


Leon was not long in discovering that Luis Gonzaga was out of his
element in his father’s house. The lean, angular figure, wrapped
in a black gown with a cord round the slender waist,--bare-headed,
feeble and drooping, with eyes always fixed on the ground, with a
dull, clammy skin and weak swaying neck that could hardly support
the head above it, with broad, yellow, transparent hands like
little faggots of thin sticks, too weak for anything but to be
folded in prayer--wandered like an ominous shadow through the
drawing-rooms hung with gaudy papers or tawdry tapestry. It was a
dark and dismal stain on the gilded furniture, and the oriental and
Japanese decorations, in which the queer figures, like those of a
grotesque dream, seemed to harmonise, though remotely, with that
of the emaciated student. He was always to be seen wandering and
restless, like an imprisoned bird that seeks some escape; and when he
cast an eye on the objects that environed him it was to select the
most uncomfortable seat in the most obscure corner, where he might
pursue his meditations. Now and again the servants, when dusting
or tidying a room, would come upon the black and silent form, and
pause in their bustle with a mechanical gesture of reverence, while
Luis would fly to seek some fresh refuge in this desert of worldly
adornment, of profane pictures, of damask and chintz, of satin and
rosewood. The hapless, dying anchorite, as he fled from one corner to
another, hunted by his own fevered mysticism, would stumble against
a piano, a Chinese screen, a stand supporting a bowl of gold-fish,
a pillowy sofa covered up with brown holland, or a nude bronze
Venus.--He could not understand this covering up of furniture and
uncovering of statues.

The servants did not trouble themselves about him, perhaps because
he never spoke to them and never asked for anything out of pure
humility; he could endure hunger and thirst for an incredible
length of time, and knew no vexations, for his spirit, greedy
of mortification, accepted them as a boon. A little lad with a
jacket all covered with buttons, a merry mischievous face and a
closely-cropped head, nimble of foot and with rough warty hands, was
the only person who ever did anything for him, and that against the
young man’s will. But he would ask him a few questions:

“What is your name?”

“Felipe Centeno.”

“Where do you come from?”

“From Socartes.”

But not much more; the young anchorite kept his eyes down; the
page left him to himself. The other servants all looked sour and
disobliging, like men doing penance willy-nilly, and condemned to
poverty and abstinence in the midst of luxury and splendour.

The marquesa and María sat for hours with the invalid, trying to
cheer him with trivial chat.

“I do not fear death,” he would say with perfect truth, “on the
contrary, I long for it with all my soul, as a captive longs for
liberty. You do not understand, for you cling to the world--you do
not live that inner life, you have not broken, as I have, with every
tie of earth.”

His mother listened with a sigh to these seraphic aspirations, which
filled her with grief and admiration as she reflected how far she was
from such heights of piety. Seclusion and the intense heat had made
the poor lady melancholy and despondent.

One evening when Leon was going home he said to María:

“It is nothing but a feeling of dignity, or rather a dread of ‘what
people will say,’ that has kept your mother from following the others
in their miserable desertion. What a hideous world we live in! But
since all the rest have fled we will stay. Your brother is very
ill--he may outlive the summer, but on the other hand he may flicker
out of life when we least expect it.”

The following day the physician declared that the Tellería’s
house, which was in a densely-built quarter, very sunless and
ill-ventilated, was quite an unfit residence for an invalid; and
it was agreed that he should be removed to Leon’s house, which
was in the outskirts of the city, exposed to fresh breezes and
peacefully retired from all noise and bustle. The sick man made no
difficulties--he never did--and was taken to his sister’s home. He
was settled on the ground floor to avoid the fatigue of stairs with a
bed-room next to Leon’s study; and the study itself, a large, sunny,
cheerful room, to sit in. But none of these advantages seemed to
strike his attention; to him a palace and the gloomiest dungeon were
alike.

The first day he suffered much from the move and the pain was so
constant and so prolonged that his mother and sister were much
alarmed; he, in the intervals of the paroxysms, was calm and smiling:

“Why,” he said, “are you uneasy? Why do you shed tears? I am neither
alarmed nor sad, but the more I suffer the more I rejoice. I assure
you that, seeing death so near at hand, I am full of contentment;
though perhaps it may be that the hope of soon finding myself free
from this corrupt and earthly body has given rise to some vanity in
my soul, or to some other feeling displeasing in the sight of the
Lord. I can only pray that if indeed I am too proud to be dying, God
will chasten me and condemn me to live yet a little longer.”

He hardly ever spoke to Leon, for whenever his brother-in-law went to
enquire how he was, or to sit with him for a while, he always found
him engaged in his endless devotions which he would never shorten or
postpone even on his worst days. They brought him everything that was
choicest and most nourishing to eat, but he always picked out the
worst pieces.

“Not that,” he would say, “I like it too well.”

When they begged him to take this or that remedy he always refused.

“But if you would rather not take it,” his sister would say with
subtle logic, “mortify yourself by taking it,” and he would smile and
give way.

He received visits from various priests, principally Frenchmen, with
fringes of hair and three-cornered cocked hats, highly-bred, worldly,
soft-tongued, and they discussed the affairs of the Seminary. There
was a veneer of polish in their conversation with an affected tone
peculiar to certain circles. More rarely there came grave Spanish
priests, who, when they are really good men, are the most priestly
priests in Christendom, true ministers of God, pious, affable without
affectation and full of sound and healthy wisdom. Luis Gonzaga liked
their company, but he preferred solitude; still, in conversation
he displayed his keen judgment--not devoid of flavour and wit, his
perfect piety which none could fail to appreciate, and his gift of
grave, subtle and impassioned eloquence. He went every morning in the
carriage, carefully wrapped and watched, to church, and came back
towards evening; on his return, he meditated for a time on his knees,
and would take no food but when his emaciated frame was fainting
for lack of it, and even in the midst of his scanty meal he would
often be seized with such acute spasms that it seemed as though his
last hour had come. He would allow no one to help him to dress and
undress, nor to sleep in his room; María pointed out to her husband
that sometimes the bed was undisturbed and he must have lain on the
floor. The padded sofas and chairs, which the march of industry has
placed within the reach of the most modest household, knew not the
weight of his bones; he commonly sat on a cane stool without a back
and remained there for hours, rigid, weary and bathed in sweat.
When he could no longer hold himself up, he would push the stool to
the wall and lean his aching shoulders against that, with his head
thrown back, his eyes closed, and his hands clasped--he looked like a
criminal about to be throttled.

He never spoke of his absent brothers or his father; the person to
whom he showed most attachment, and some confidence was María; Leon
he never even looked at.

He was often tormented by religious scruples and would sometimes
speak of them. If by chance his mind wandered for a quarter of an
hour from the contemplation of death he was deeply distressed and
blamed himself severely. His ambition was to imitate exactly, or
as nearly as possible, the famous and saintly child whose name he
bore--that angelic spirit that fled from earth, burnt out by mystical
fervours, at the age of twenty-three, and which during its brief
existence here was a voluntary martyr to every form of mortification,
repressing every natural impulse, and cherishing the inner life
of the spirit, by relentlessly cutting off and plucking out every
thought and feeling that was foreign to the aim of self-purification
and a passionate yearning for salvation.

Like his Jesuit model, Luis Tellería suffered frightfully from
headaches. Acute neuralgia, which had frequently attacked him at
the Seminary of Puyóo, tormented him no less at Madrid, scorching
his brain and upsetting his whole frame; his head felt like a
mould filled with molten lead. But through all these periods of
intense suffering, his soul, thrown back on itself, revelled in the
martyrdom and accepted physical torture with a defiant rapture which
bordered on pride, and a sort of delirious luxury. He never uttered
a complaint; nay, when his brain seemed turned to fiery serpents he
could force his lips to smile. When Saint Luis Gonzaga suffered thus,
his Superior advised him not to think so much and he would have less
pain. His friends gave his namesake the same advice; but the young
man, rejoiced at the implied comparison, answered:

“You wish me to think less that I may have less headache, but it
would hurt me far more to try not to think.”

His physician ordered him a variety of soothing and other medicines.
He took them as he was desired when his mother besought him with
prayers and sobs; but the medicine he preferred was a scourge of
leather with iron spikes which he always carried twisted through his
girdle. His sister often stole on tiptoe to his door at night, and
found him on his knees in front of the crucifix which he had placed
at the foot of his bed.

The Seminary of Puyóo could boast of many saintly men and many wise
ones, some clever and some worldly, but all agreed to sing the
praises of Luis--of his virtues and of that holy hatred of himself
which, notwithstanding all that is preached in its honour, would
seem to be a somewhat archaic form of piety. Nevertheless, the very
tendency of modern devotion to come to a compromise with good living
and easy sleeping, makes the resolute abstinence and voluntary
martyrdom of the marquis’ son, all the more praiseworthy. His fame
was great throughout the catholic world and talked of even in Rome.

He lived habitually in tranquil silence, and in spite of his sincere
affection for his parents, he had fought out many a desperate battle
with himself to keep his mind from ever dwelling on the thought of
them, so that nothing should alienate his mind from the constant
presence of God which was the sole aim and end of his hopes and
sufferings. His talents were as conspicuous as his saintliness; he
had made rapid progress in his studies and was so versatile and
keen-witted that he had early mastered philosophy and theology,
and could argue so closely that the most practised debaters were
astonished. But this became a great anxiety to his conscience, for
all these praises jarred on his humility; so, for fear they should
make him vain, he affected stupidity; to be treated as the lowest and
least in his college was his greatest desire, and it was only by the
peremptory command of the Superior that he consented to display his
talents, but then his convincing logic and persuasive eloquence drew
tears from the most strong-hearted. He always obeyed his Superior,
was exact in his observance of rules and regulations, and achieved
such perfect command of his senses that at length he seemed to have
lost them; his closed ears and eyes always fixed on the ground, paid
no heed to anything that went on. He passed other people without even
seeing them; now and then he would take a walk with his companions,
but he observed nothing. He had registered a vow never to look on the
face of a woman excepting his mother or his sister, and he kept it
with the utmost strictness. By such a system he must surely keep his
spirit pure--almost as pure, as that of the babe unborn!

When his doctors pronounced his illness incurable, he declared
himself infinitely happy, nay, he rejoiced so fervently in the idea
of suffering much and dying in torments, that he made a crime even
of that joy, and asked his spiritual director whether he had not in
fact sinned in glorying in the certainty of approaching death, and if
it were not a snare of vanity. When his conscience was set at rest
on this delicate point, he watched the progress of the disease and
aggravated it in secret by his austerities, and by never following
the advice of his doctors. The decision of the Superior to send him
home when death seemed certainly near, had at first greatly grieved
him; but then a plan formed itself in his mind that reconciled him to
being removed to Madrid, and to an imprisonment in the splendid rooms
which to him were like a reflection or embodiment of his own disease,
no less horrible, diabolical and revolting.

Thus, in direct contravention of all natural law and instinct, he
encouraged his disease as we cherish a precious plant; he fed the
monster that preyed upon him, triumphing in the wasting and decay of
his miserable flesh, which he regarded solely as a burden.

“The world,” he would say, “is a foul and narrow alley in which
mankind revels and struggles as in a wild delirium. We are all
condemned to pass through it, disguised in the loathsome mask of our
body. How happy are they who are soon at the end, and who may then
cast aside the mask, and appear as they are before God!”

This was the angelic spirit, the enthusiastic and ecstatic soul,
full of faith and contempt for the world, that was worthy to give
our age what, indeed, it still lacks--a Saint, if the nineteenth
century did not seem inclined, on the contrary, to break the die
that coins saints. To be sure Luis did not work miracles; but who
can tell whether he may not have had the power, and have concealed
it in obedience to his pious habit of chastening his vanity? Some
indeed said that all this piety was nothing more than a well-acted
part; but this, in fact, was without foundation; those were nearer
the truth who said that sanctity, like chivalry, has it Quixotes.
Luis was pious in good faith; if he deceived any one it was himself,
and he certainly was magnanimous and heroic. Not one of the young
novices who at that time tried to imitate Saint Luis Gonzaga--and
there was a perfect mania for it among the aspirants to the
priesthood--could compare with Tellería in the closeness of the copy.
Still, no one can imitate the inimitable, and of what avail is an
exact reproduction of certain acts and words when all that is most
essential is overlooked or ignored?

My readers may perhaps say that this figure is an anachronism, a
reminiscence of the middle ages. But it is not; it is a sketch of our
own day; at the same time, to see it you must know where to look for
it, and that is not in a fashionable promenade. They do exist, these
seraphic youths, and are the glory of our Church. The nineteenth
century--the richest and most encyclopedic of the centuries--has
produced them as it has produced every type. Ours is a monstrous
synthesis of all the ages, and who can foresee how far it will go
before it has ceased shuffling and mingling its own inventions and
marvels with the relics and curiosities of the distant past?



CHAPTER XIX.

THE MARQUESA GOES TO A CONCERT.


Leon’s house was to the north-east of Madrid, on one side overlooking
the town with its pretty, bright houses and verdurous gardens,
and on the other, miles of dusty waste. The capital of Spain lies
within strict limits, as laid down by its builders; it does not
straggle and melt away into the country and is not enclosed in that
half agricultural, half urban zone which surrounds many cities and
through which the bustle of the streets imperceptibly dies away into
the silence of the fields. The medley of dwellings ends abruptly; not
a house has dared to part company and step forth, for fear of heat,
of cold, and of thieves. It reminds us of a vast caravan settled down
for a night’s rest and which will be raised in the morning to pursue
its march without ever looking back at the place of its encampment.

On the eastern side of the house lay the melancholy landscape of
parti-coloured downs--in winter showing a prevailing, dingy green
tint, in summer yellow, grey and brown; fields that are never tilled,
that are swept by the winds that dance in the hollows of the hills
and fling clouds of dust in each other’s teeth. Here and there the
dreary monotony is broken by a smoking brick-kiln, or a lonely
and forlorn house which, if it has any expression, it is that of
astonishment at finding itself there. The brick factory is surrounded
by hovels constructed of straw and mud--architectural efforts
which the house-martin, the mole, and the beaver would laugh to
scorn; and round these huts, that a good kick would demolish, those
eager speculators in nastiness, the scavengers, busily analyse the
morning’s dust-heap, raking in the mounds of rags, sweepings, paper
and other nameless trash which form the daily refuse of a great town.
A little way off, groups of half-naked brats are at play, their dirty
brown skins scarcely distinguishable from the soil. They look as if
they had just sprung from a crack in the earth and must vanish there
again--graceful, blaspheming, mischievous creatures, engagingly and
innocently impudent, a combination of angel and gipsy. Here too,
routing away the heaps of refuse, sneak numbers of mangy dogs--not
above biting your calf if you give them the chance--and here, in
April and May, starveling hens bring out their broods of chicks and
teach them the rudiments of gaining a living. Here and there is a
pool of stagnant water into which the sky looks down, astonished to
see itself so dingy; black caravans of ants cross the land in every
direction, loaded with tares stolen from some carelessly sown field.
In the mornings the silence of these barren solitudes is broken by a
delightful pastoral concert--the bleating of the flocks that wander
from Vallehermoso to their pasture at Abroñigal to return in the
evening, when the sweet stillness of the twilight is disturbed by
their low, melancholy tones. Goats too go by, jumping and butting,
and meditative asses for milking, whose shrill bells are heard at
break of day at the door of the consumptive sufferer, pass calmly by.

This dismal, drouthy, thankless, stubborn landscape, with its gloomy
suggestion of robbery and assassination and its look as of an
abandoned graveyard--this landscape, which does not invite and yet
detains the traveller, whose yellow stony stare stays his steps and
makes his heart quake with Dantesque terrors--is a very different
scene when night has fallen on it, when the winds are at peace and
a mysterious calm broods over it all, under the immensity of the
starry sky. The purple arch looks so high and remote that the eye
and mind throb as they gaze upward. The wanderer holds his breath
as he contemplates the glorious firmament that covers the wide plain
of Castile, like a spiritual life bending above the barrenness
of asceticism. In some lands the beauty of the landscape lies in
smiling meadows, woods and streams, tenderly overshadowed by fleecy
clouds. The views from Madrid must be sought overhead in the vast
space sprinkled with suns and worlds. From Leon’s house, as evening
fell, might be seen the fiery glow on the horizon reflected from
the setting sun and the pleasing regularity of the landscape which
seems to set no bar to the east--where the most vital events in the
world’s history have taken place; then the successive lighting up of
infinitely distant suns, as though each one dropped into its place
and burst into flame; the vast vault of the sky, where some stars
seem to be eager to rise while others, wearied out, sink to rest;
the rapid scintillation of some, which wax and wane; the wondrous
fixity of others which pierce, as it seems, with a single shaft of
light, the immensity of space; the twinkling hesitancy of some, the
solemn, almost stern, steadiness of others, the grand haze of the
milky way--and beneath the sky the wide unbroken levels of the earth,
noiseless, treeless, streamless, a present image of humanity which
lies dreaming--in sleep or in death--with darkened senses under the
splendours of the midnight heavens.

“María, give me your arm; I want to go into the garden and look at
the sky,” said Luis Gonzaga to his sister. It was the end of July and
the heat was suffocating. Leon had had a cane seat placed in the
garden so that the invalid might enjoy the evening till the breeze
from the Guadarrama should begin to blow. The four went out together.
The sick man walked a very little way in front of Leon, and as he
went he dilated with eager eloquence on the beauty of the scene, on
his joy in the approach of death and on the mercies of God.

During the past month his illness had varied greatly; there had been
days when he was thought to be dying, and then came days, or even
weeks, of such visible amendment that the marquesa began to entertain
some hopes. The doctors however encouraged no illusions, but said to
Leon, “short of a miracle, he cannot survive the fall of the leaf.”
On this particular evening he was feeling better, remarkably happy
and alert, and unusually eager and quick of speech, except when Leon
approached him.

As they were all sitting in the garden, they heard carriage-wheels
and immediately after the voices of the Marquesa de Rioponce and
her daughter, who had come to persuade the Marquesa de Tellería to
go with them to a public concert in the garden of the “_Retiro_.”
The invitation had already been often repeated, but the lady had
always excused herself on the score of her son’s serious illness.
“Really she could find no enjoyment in anything; how could she take
any pleasure when her household was in such anxiety? Her friends she
was sure would excuse her, they would not insist on carrying her off
to entertainments and would understand that she could not--in fact
ought not.... She had sacrificed herself to stay in this furnace to
be with her son, she had submitted to make the move to Leon’s house,
though it was exile--complete exile.... But her feelings as a mother
... she could not hesitate. And how could she be seen in public at
the gardens when every one knew that her poor Luis was suffering so
constantly.... He was better no doubt, much better; you could see
it in his face; but in spite of the improvement she--the miserable,
anxious mother--could not think of amusements and music. To be sure,
her spirits sadly needed cheering, that she knew very well ... and
what more innocent or soothing pleasure could she have than a little
good music?... But she really could not make up her mind to leave
him--not for a single evening. She was so absorbed and fettered by
her sorrow that she could not escape from its clutches. Suffering as
she was, her very anguish bound her to the side of her dear invalid.”

Her friend found arguments to combat all this declamation, for human
logic and a woman’s tongue can find arguments for every circumstance
of life.

“It was as clear as day that Luis Gonzaga was better ... better?
Why, out of danger. It was visible in his brighter looks, his eager
gaze, the way he walked about the garden, and the gay tone of his
voice when he spoke--the marquesa might go out without the faintest
shadow of a doubt and come to the concert. Why not? Was it not her
duty to take care of her own health? Was she wise to allow herself
to be crushed by groundless anxieties; that high sense of duty
which had kept her by her son’s side demanded some care of her own
health to enable her to continue to bear her burthen of affectionate
solicitude. She could not be required to make such extravagant
sacrifices to the injury of her own health, and the thorny crown
of abnegation might surely be varied from time to time by the
introduction of some little innocent flowers.”

This skilful reasoning, seconded by the love of festivity that
seethes in the veins of every native of Madrid, was too much for the
constancy of poor Milagros. Still she made difficulties: “she did not
wish to go, and besides she must dress, and to get a dress she must
go home.”

“What nonsense. You look very nicely, quite well dressed as you
are, you want nothing more. You have the art of always looking well
whatever you wear, and this evening you really are charmingly dressed
as if you had guessed that you were going out.”

At last her son’s entreaties persuaded her, really in spite of
herself.

“I will go then, if it is only to please you,” she said tenderly.
Luis pulled two roses from a bush by which he was standing and gave
them to his mother to pin to her dress.

“I know you like the simplest kind of adornment,” she said to him
with a smile, “and I am only going to oblige Rosa and to please you.
I am of your school, dear boy; obedience sometimes is doing the thing
we like. Good night.”

“Good night, mother.”

And the carriage rolled away, carrying the marquesa towards the blaze
of gas that lighted up the haze of city dust and the exhalations of
the dog-days.



CHAPTER XX.

THE OLD, OLD DRAMA.


“María dear, are we alone?” asked Luis pressing his sister’s hand to
his heart.

“No,” said she, looking anxiously at a dark shadow that came towards
them from the other side of the garden, “here comes.... No,” she
added, after watching it for a minute, “he has turned round; he is
walking up and down.... He does not seem to dare to join us--he seems
to be afraid of you, or, if not afraid, to feel a respect--a great
respect for you. His conscience cannot be at ease in your presence.”

“Do not talk nonsense. Respect for me, a miserable sinner! Besides,
my dear, men like your husband respect no one and nothing. In his
heart he mocks and scorns us.”

“No, that he does not, I assure you,” said María firmly. “I assure
you he does not scorn us. Leon is thoroughly good and he will learn
to believe; yes, he will believe. There, do you see he has turned
again, but he keeps away.”

“He is very sad,” said Luis, gazing at the shadow slowly wandering
up and down like a soul in torment. “He looks as if some great
misfortune had crushed him; and yet he has health, he is rich, he
has this world’s goods in abundance. Look at me--sick, dying, bereft
of everything, poor and unknown, and yet I am happy. This evening
my soul is full of peace and contentment--it is as though a strong
and tender hand were lifting it up to heaven.” He put his face quite
close to María’s, looking straight into her eyes and added: “María, I
am dying.”

“For God’s sake do not say that!” she cried in terror. “You are
better, you will get well....”

“I cannot bear to hear these empty platitudes from your lips; they
are all very well for doctors and people who have no true Christian
faith. I am dying, and I am glad to die. This morning when I was at
Mass I fancied I heard a celestial voice announcing that my end was
near, and from that moment I have felt that triumphant rapture which
still possesses me. All my thoughts to-day have been of thankfulness
and joy; when they sang the _Te Deum_ I felt such a rapture of
happiness that at last I began to fear lest it should in fact veil
some kind of human pride and be an offence to God.”

“But you will not die.... You will not die!” said María caressing his
head.

“Ah! your soul, contaminated by the world’s breath, cannot understand
the exquisite joy of dying. To you the word has no other sense than
that given it in the dictionary and in the conversation of the
unrighteous. Rejoice at my death, child, rejoice as I do, and thus
you may learn to long for your own! Ah! my dear sister, one, and only
one thought mars my happiness, one single worldly anxiety still links
me to the burden of the flesh. Do you know what it is? Bring your
chair quite close for I cannot raise my voice.”

She did as he desired.

“My great trouble is to know that your precious soul, the twin of my
own, as your body is to mine, remains in constant danger of being
infected by him.... This idea disturbs my last hours on earth, and
though I hope to gain much by entreating the Lord for you, still I am
uneasy.”

“I--infected! with what? You know me very little, nor the heroism and
constancy with which I can defend my faith, small as it is, humble
and dim, a mere reflection of yours, which is as great and as bright
as the sun. Have no fears for me. I told you before that there was no
danger; I explained to you that, loving him even as I do, I always
preserve a fixed impassable gulf between us. He wished to bridge the
abyss. So did I, and we made the attempt; but since talking to you I
see that nothing can do it short of a miracle.”

“Well, not a miracle, but a special intervention of His grace ... and
this you ought still to hope for. Ask it of Him without ceasing, and
meanwhile do not neglect for a day--for an instant--the precious work
of your own salvation. Devote yourself to that, María; regard your
life on earth as a ladder by which to scale Heaven; cultivate the
inner life, strengthen it by unfailing devotion, arm yourself with
patience and crown yourself with sacrifice, for your situation is a
perilous one. Your liberty is fettered; through a fatal error of your
youth you are bound to a man who will strain every nerve to drag you
out of the only path that leads to eternal glory. So that you have
in fact a double task before you. Your sorrows will be terrible--you
must sweat blood, drink gall, and suffer those lacerating tortures
of the soul which are more acute than the flames of the martyr’s
stake.... Poor, poor, darling sister!... When the Fathers of the
Seminary sent me home to Madrid I was miserable. ‘Why,’ said I,
‘will you send me to that hotbed of sin? Why not let me die here in
peace?’ But I was resigned to obey when a sudden thought flashed upon
me: ‘Rely upon it the Lord has some good work for you to do there’
... and I soon saw what it was. This voice, so soon to be silent
to the world, might yet utter some precious words to the sweet and
innocent soul that the Lord would fain keep for his own. God knew
full well that you were the being I most love on earth; he formed
us as one, and our feelings, like our faces are intimately kin; we
both had a natural taste for the spiritual life; why, when we were
little enough to play games we would make believe we were martyrs.
Our life together in that dreary little town laid the foundation on
which we each had to build up a structure of piety. My vocation to
the priesthood preserved me from contact with the world. You wandered
from the path of light into darkness; and in that darkness, when the
eyes of your soul were blinded, you married ... but whom? I do not
condemn marriage, which is a holy estate, but your choice. However,
the good seed in your soul will fructify in spite of everything; yes,
thrive and fructify.... I, by a special mercy, have come to die in
your arms; I was sent to you that you might see and hear me.”

“Blessed be God for that,” cried María passionately. “I thought that
in your pious retreat you knew nothing of what was going on here; I
thought you knew nothing of my husband’s views.”

“We know everything there; I knew his deeds, his opinions, I had
heard of his amiable person and of his many natural good qualities. I
knew too of the vices that are undermining our wretched family--vices
which between you and me can be no secret. Our poor father does
not lead the life of a Christian gentleman; our mother is wholly
given up to worldly vanities; Leopoldo is a dissolute rake, sunk in
wickedness; and Gustavo, though he is an energetic defender of the
faith, does it with too much ostentation and more out of vainglory
than from any religious zeal. They all forget that beauty, human
glory, riches, honours and applause, are at last no more than food
for the worms that eat our bodies, and that whatever pains they spend
on anything that is not a gain to the soul, profits no one but those
same horrible worms ... you alone seem to me to have some light of
holiness and virtue, which shines conspicuous; but even you, superior
as you are to the others, are not devoid of evil and are in danger of
losing your soul....” As he spoke his voice suddenly failed him and
his words died away in a gurgle, as though a hand on his throat were
strangling him.

“I am suffocating,” he murmured indistinctly, throwing back his head.
“I cannot....” He could scarcely breathe and he writhed in his seat
with pain and helplessness.

“Leon, Leon!” María called in extreme alarm.

“It is nothing ... do not call,” said Luis with great difficulty, as
he began to recover his breath. “The hour has come ... it is not far
off ... give me your hand, do not leave me.”

Leon ran to his wife’s assistance.

“It is nothing,” Luis repeated. “There is nothing to be alarmed
about.... I thought I was dying ... but not yet, no, I have something
more to say.”

Then they were all three silent. “It is not wise to stay out here,”
said Leon. “The evening air has been heated by the day’s sun and it
is like a furnace. Shall we take you to the eastern side, where it is
a little cooler?”

“Yes, and it is better there because we hear less of the noise of the
road and the bustle of the people.”

Luis rose and went a few steps quite briskly, leaning on his sister’s
arm, while Leon followed with the two seats; but suddenly the invalid
lost his footing and, clinging to María’s arm, tottered like a
drunken man.

“Leon, Leon, for heaven’s sake!”

Held up between them, the hapless youth reached his seat on the
other side of the garden and sat gazing at the vault of sky that bent
over the plain.

“This reminds me,” he said, as he recovered his breath, “of our
beloved wilderness of Avila which was such a perfect emblem of human
life; of that glorious night landscape, consisting of a bare stretch
of land, and a blazing sky suggesting a sort of mystic tree of which
nothing could be seen but the root and the shining flowers.... It is
the same here--do you see? The roots in the earth, the flowers in
Heaven ... rocks below and blossoms above--eternal, unfading, and
shedding their promise of everlasting joys.”

Then there was a long silence while nothing was heard but his painful
breathing. His eyes were fixed on the stars and he seemed to be
counting them, as in his infancy. María was praying speechlessly.
Leon took his brother-in-law’s hand, felt his pulse and laid his hand
on his forehead, watching him carefully for some time.

“I am quite comfortable,” said Luis without looking at him.

Leon presently rose and left them; his step rang on the path with
that bell-like clink that sometimes is more soothing than music. When
the faintness of the sound showed that the master of the house had
turned the corner of the garden, Luis called his sister.

“María,” he murmured without moving.

“What is it dear?”

“Soon, very soon, my soul will escape among those hosts of stars,
which look as though they waited there to receive triumphant souls
... ah how glad, how happy I am!... If I could only make you feel
how happy; if I could only make you understand what joy there is in
casting off this weary burthen and soaring free. Up, away, to the
immensity of space made everlastingly glorious by the rejoicings of
the redeemed!... Away, alone, without casting a glance back at this
miserable earth. Do you see that wondrous vault of stars? If they,
which are so splendid, are not worthy to be compared with the dust
that the blessed tread under foot, what must those be which crown the
head of the immaculate Mother in the furthest distance, the supremest
height ... where our gaze cannot pierce?”

“For pity’s sake do not talk so much!” said María anxiously. “Be calm
... you are excited.”

“María, I talk to you as a prisoner might when awaiting his release
and you interrupt me with your commonplace remarks!--Stupid doctors’
saws.--What now can the health of my body matter to me? The life of
the merest insect that settles on my face to sting me is of more
value than mine! And how can you expect me to care for your useless
precaution when I know that to-morrow--yes, dearest to-morrow,
after attending mass, I must bid farewell to this world? I am sure
of it; I hear the same voice that has warned me of so many things
in my secluded life. I cannot doubt it--it is an announcement from
Heaven!--To-morrow, to-morrow.”

María was speechless with dismay. Her brother’s face was like that of
a dead man who has suddenly recovered speech and sight; she dared
not leave his side for an instant; his sufferings alarmed her, but
his eager flow of speech fascinated her.

“Listen to my words,” said Luis, holding her hands, “and mark them,
so that they may sound in your ears throughout the rest of your
existence. They are the last exhortations of your dying but happy
brother; and even if my person lends them no authority my death
will, since there is something of the prophet in every departing
soul. María, I quite admit that you have already done something
towards saving your soul; that you have started on the right path,
carrying out, besides the devotions which are incumbent on us all,
others of a more special character addressed to the Blessed Virgin
and the Saints; but this is not enough, my darling sister; nay, it
is as nothing so long as you give up part of your thoughts and time
to the vanities and delusions of the world. The devotions in vogue,
which allow you to frequent theatres and gay society, to dress with
audacious luxury, to drive out always in a carriage, and to foster
your pride and extravagance, are a mere farce of piety. Reform your
life altogether; flee from the world, avoid gaieties, renounce
splendour, rich clothing, and the elegancies of life, walk instead
of riding, give up the show and comfort ...” and as he spoke he
waved his hand as if to strike out each item of the catalogue. “Let
it be your aim to be looked down upon,” he went on in his saintly
and poetical vehemence. “To be laughed at, to be caluminated, to be
despised as ridiculous and unsociable, to be forgotten and rejected
by the whole human race. Have no care for the things of earth, but
only for heavenly things.... We were born together, and as our bodies
have been twins, growing with one growth even before our birth, so
let our souls be as one in the life to come. We will be twins to all
eternity, María. Say, do you desire this? Do you long to be for ever
one with me in the presence of our Father, can you desire, as I do,
that our righteousness may be as that of one, and that the praises we
shall sing before the throne of God may sound as one hymn?”

“Yes, yes, I do,” sobbed María, as she flung herself into her
brother’s arms. He was in a state of feverish exaltation, almost
amounting to delirium, and her brain too was on fire; it was as
though she had felt the sweep of some blazing comet in this critical
moment of her existence.

“Yes,” she continued, and her hot tears fell on the dying man’s
breast. “I long to soar with you, eternally one with you, to be
indeed inseparably your twin, to save my soul with yours, and to
enjoy the same bliss and glory that you attain to!”

“That is well,” said Luis, “then never forget me. I must depart;
but I leave my hopes, my words with you. Listen to me,” he went on
in sentences broken by coughing, “your husband, utterly corrupt
through his philosophical speculations and his atheism, will always
be a terrible obstacle to your salvation. You must surmount these
obstacles without failing in the duties imposed on you by the
sacrament of marriage. A more difficult position I cannot conceive
of; still, I think I can point out to you the right way. None but
a superficial union can ever exist between you; your souls are
parted by the gulf that lies between belief and infidelity. No true
marriage-tie can bind your souls. Still your faith forbids that you
should abhor him. Love him with that christian charity which the law
of Christ enjoins towards the reprobate; obey him in all that does
not contravene your religious practices, acknowledge him as your lord
and master in all things so long as you never let his tyrannical
atheism enslave your conscience as a Catholic. Always pay him due
respect, do him no wrong, and pray for him every day--every hour--not
forgetting our parents and brothers, who also need our intercessions.
God has given you no children; do you not see in this a curse on your
marriage? It is a curse, but at the same time a special sign of grace
so far as you are concerned, since, by leaving you childless, the
Lord plainly shows that he claims you as wholly his own and signifies
his will that you should dedicate yourself solely to him. Ah! we poor
twins have much to be thankful for.”

“Much, much!” exclaimed María, carried away by his flood of feeling.
“But while you are a saint, I am a sinner!”

“Nay, you will be as much and more a saint than I, for you will
suffer and strive, and your triumph will be all the more meritorious.
Having no children you can consecrate yourself entirely to the
improvement of your inner life. By breaking entirely with the world
you can have nothing to fear; and the utter opposition of your ideas
to your husband’s, leaves your conscience perfectly free. If, in
external matters, he plays the tyrant, you must be his slave; but
if he tries to domineer in matters of opinion, pay no more heed to
him than to the dropping of the rain. If he revenges himself, suffer
in silence; if he smites one cheek, offer the other; but if by
insidious argument or diabolical persuasions he tries to insinuate
any heretical notions, shut your ears and flee from him in spirit.
By yielding superficial obedience you will preserve your liberty
of thought. If he forbids you to go to church, stay away, and make
up for your absence from public worship by constant meditation and
silent prayer; if on the contrary he allows you to go, do so as
often as possible, and aim at that exaltation of spirit which may
fit you to receive the Eucharist every day. If he does not seek your
society, do not seek his; if he insists on being supreme in all your
actions, still let me be supreme in all your thoughts; do all you
can for his salvation, but never for an instant neglect your own. Do
not try to convert him by talking; it will only excite his atheism,
and your best arguments will be your virtues and humility. Never on
any consideration join evening parties, either in your own house or
elsewhere, and make no friends of either sex; though you cannot make
your home a sanctuary, never permit the slightest scandal; an orgy or
a meeting of infidels will amply justify you in flying from his roof.
And if, after all, some day God should in his mercy touch the heart
of your most wretched husband, and enlighten his mind--if he should
at length confess the true faith, entreat him at once to consent to
a separation so that you may each of you retire to a convent and
dedicate the remainder of your lives, apart, to winning heaven.”

“Oh! my dear brother,” cried María beside herself, “I cannot doubt
that God himself speaks to me through you.”

Luis pressed his sister’s head to his breast. Then suddenly he gasped
for breath, moaning as he threw his head back. Life seemed fast
ebbing in the struggle; his eyes rolled, till presently he closed
them as if to shut out a blinding light; his breathing was a hoarse
and laboured sobbing.

“Leon, Leon,” María screamed in terror; but all was silent, not a
footstep was to be heard.

“Leon, Leon!... It will pass away,” she added putting her face close
to her brother’s and trying to revive him by her appeal.

Then she called again and again, but Leon was not in the garden. She
heard no servants, nor any sound but the noises in the road where the
children were at play, and a party of thieving dogs were prowling
about the gutters. There was not a breath of air to stir the leaves
on the trees; all was so still, with a sort of awe-stricken peace,
that the very stars seemed to María to twinkle less fitfully than
usual, and to gaze down like anxious eyes. She glanced round her and
shuddered at finding herself so completely alone with her brother
who, to all appearance, was dying. Again she called--nay, screamed;
and at last she heard her husband’s step coming slowly towards her.



CHAPTER XXI.

A STRUGGLE WITH THE ANGEL.


Our hero, whom we have found to be almost always grave and silent
in the midst of the events and personages that surrounded him,
performing as it were a wordless rôle with the weary air of a
tired-out actor, and who hitherto has betrayed but a very small part
of his thoughts and feelings, was this evening more occupied than
usual with his own affairs, and was taking anxious counsel with
himself. When he had moved the invalid to the eastern side of the
garden he had taken a turn round the house; he could hear the chatter
of the servants in the yard, and the laughter of the girls and women,
who were sitting out in the street to breathe a little fresh air
and carrying on a flirtation with the coachmen and grooms from next
door. The noise disturbed him, and he went on along the winding path
through the vines; then, seating himself on a bench facing the north,
with his eyes fixed on the sky, he remained for a long time, his
elbow on the back of the seat, his hand supporting his head, and his
limbs stretched at ease.

He was learned in astronomy, and he longed for something that might
divert his mind from the gnawing pain that oppressed it. What better
respite could he find than in the contemplation of the unchanging
heavens--the covenant of promise of our high destiny--and in the
regularity and order of their motion--the emblem of eternity? His
saddened spirit flew away through those shoreless depths as to its
native element, and revelled in the thought of those incomprehensible
distances and unimaginable masses. High in front of him, solitary,
apparently motionless, watching, as it were, from its sublime
immutability the endless circling of the other stars, he saw the Pole
Star, the Alpha of the great scroll. Round it rolled the Great and
Little Bears, Cassiopeia and the rest, and his eye rested on Vega,
loveliest of the stars, with a mysteriously melancholy, tearful
gaze--a star so beautiful that we long to grasp it--if only we had
an arm 1,000,330 times as long as that which would enable us to
light a cigar at the sun. To the west sparkled the diamond fires
of the Northern Crown, dancing hand in hand as it were, and always
in pursuit of the glorious Arcturus--one of the grandest of those
distant suns, blazing serenely as if smiling in proud consciousness
of its splendour. It was growing late and Arcturus was sinking on
the horizon; but opposite rose Pegasus, then the hapless Andromeda,
reaching out towards Perseus with the Gorgon’s Head in his hand.
Capella alone by the shoulder of Auriga, shedding angry rays like
arrows and looking down on us from a distance of 170 billions of
leagues. Its burning glance takes seventy-two years to reach us.
Close followed the twinkling tangle of the tearful Pleiades, flying
from the hot pursuit of Aldebaran. Leon calculated how soon Orion
would appear, the glory of the heavenly panorama, and Sirius, before
whose splendour minor fires pale. His eye sought the coy glance of
Antares and the Scorpion’s head and tail; it lingered on the more
conspicuous nebulae, wandered along the Milky Way, where the Eagle
spreads its wings and the Swan displays its shining cross; he let all
this beauty and glory sink into his soul, reflecting how hard it must
be to the uninitiated to conceive of it as a dense dust of stars,
till at length he was tired of gazing. Something in the background of
his mind seemed to recall him to earthly cares, and a presentiment of
terror; he rose and went indoors.

Going from one room to another he presently heard voices; they were
those of María and her brother, talking in the garden, close to
the dining-room window. The subdued broken voice, interrupted by
coughing, sounded in his ear like María’s plaintive muttering and
sighing when she told the beads of her rosary. Going close to the
window he could hear more distinctly, and though he hated himself
for listening, a feeling, something like the morbid curiosity of a
criminal, rooted him to the spot. His eyes stared horror-stricken on
the couple in the garden and he turned pale as a guilty man might
who hears his doom. The very acuteness of his indignation made him
presently start from the window and set him wandering about the empty
rooms, every door and window having been left open for air; his
drooping figure was reflected in the mirrors as he passed, as if they
were tossing it from one to another; the birds that were asleep in
their cages fluttered as they heard him, and the curtains waved aside
to admit him as if he had been some important visitor.

At length he flung himself on a sofa in the library that was now used
as the invalid’s sitting-room, resting his head in his hands. Now and
then he muttered something to himself, or exclaimed as if he were
addressing some other person. Then he laughed--a laugh of scorn, of
mockery, or more probably of anger--for anger at its bitterest has
its sense of humour--and at last a phenomenon occurred in his brain
which is not uncommon when wrath and grief meet to work their will on
a man in solitude, darkness, and silence.

With his eyes shut--and this is the strangest part of it--he saw the
room in which he was sitting and himself just as he sat. Before him
stood a queer Japanese-looking figure, black, definite and distinct
against a background of brilliantly-lighted colours. The haggard form
was seated and as rigid as an inquisitor, the pallid passive face
was pinched and disfigured by a constant habit of putting on a sour
and mystical expression; the eyes, with greenish lights, were raised
to the ceiling or wandered round the room, gazing with indifference
at the drawings, maps and prints that covered the walls, or at the
matting on the floor.

Leon was asleep--that painful sleep which supervenes on the acuter
paroxysms of a suffering so deep that it cannot rise to the surface,
but makes itself a channel to the very depths of our being. There
was some one else in the room. Who were the group sitting there in
solemn conclave? These were Arcturus, Aldebaran, Vega, Capella,
Orion, Antares and, glorious above all, Sirius himself.... In his
delirious dream Leon saw himself start up, raging with fury and
courage; he flung himself on the gaunt dark figure; without a word of
warning he clutched him in his arms, shrieking: “Viper you have come
to rob me of my last hope! Die....”

The viper fixed on him a gaze of intense anguish, writhing and
groaning in his iron grasp, and his frail ribs gave way, cracking
like a nutshell.

“Who bid you interfere in the government of another man’s home?”
said Leon blind with rage. “Who gave you a right to rob me of what
is my own? Who are you? Where did you come from, with your hideous
boast and hypocrisy of virtue? Of what avail is it that you should
flay yourself alive if you have no true spirit of charity?” and the
hapless creature, gasping for breath and helpless with anguish,
closed its eyes in death under his crushing embrace. Leon, mad
with fury, still tightened his clutch; his victim seemed to fall
to pieces in his arms; nothing remained but a black bundle with
shrunken shanks, bony grasping fingers and a limp body--broken like a
cardboard manikin in the hands of a child....

Then, suddenly, the starry conclave laughed aloud and vanished, each
to his proper place; the lifeless mass slipped from the murderer’s
grasp and was transfigured before him. Its squalor turned to
grandeur, its feebleness became strength; it rose and grew stately;
a glory crowned its brow, shining wings grew from the dusty form; he
saw it stand before him on bare white feet unstained by the dust of
earth, and lift its muscular right arm holding a sword of fire. He
put his hand to his girdle--he, too, had a flaming sword and he drew
it forth and waved it with threatening defiance.

“Coward! do you think I fear your blade?”

“Impious wretch! Die!”

And then between them, her beauty illuminated by the glare of the
swords, stood María, lovely and seductive, her eyes glowing with
passion while her lips affected a peevish hypocrisy.

“Priest!” she cried, “leave him to me! Do you not see that he is
mine--that I love him?”

“Wretch, begone....”

“Oh! what wild raving,” exclaimed Leon, passing his hand across his
forehead which was damp with cold sweat, and shaking off the hideous
vision. Then he heard his wife’s voice calling him.

That cry: “Leon, Leon!” rang in his ears like a knell. He rose, and
slowly, slowly--grudgingly, almost revengefully--he went into the
garden.



CHAPTER XXII.

CONQUERED BY THE ANGEL.


“It is nothing, it is over,” murmured Luis as he saw his
brother-in-law coming towards them. “A sharper attack than usual ...
to-morrow....”

Leon stood looking at him but he did not touch him; silent, gloomy,
and oppressed by his recent nightmare, he dared not trust his own
feelings.

“No,” he said to himself, “it is nothing more than an antipathy which
will fade into pity--for the poor wretch is dying.”

Luis took his sister’s hands and addressed her in his weak,
quavering, broken voice, half-solemn but excited by the force of the
fever that was consuming him:

“The worst danger that awaits you is that you will be asked to yield
to compromises, to arrange matters. Guard yourself against this snare
of the devil. It is a snare, though it is hidden under roses, my
child. Between faith and unfaith no compromise is possible. Nay, can
you conceive of any between everlasting life and death? There is no
common measure for the temporal and the eternal. Make no concessions,
do not yield an inch of the firm and lofty ground you now stand upon.
You cannot be religious by halves; if you are not wholly religious
you are not religious at all. Our Lord requires that the work, to
be perfect, shall be so intimately complete that the abstraction
of a single jot nullifies the whole. Beware, I say, beware of the
snare!... Compromise is the note of the times we live in, and it
has sent more souls to hell than the crassest infidelity.... But
you ... remember me, think of me. Do not forget that I came here to
save you, to call you into the true path, and to die in your arms
that my presence should be more real to you. God sent us into the
world together and he bids us meet again at the foot of his throne of
glory.... María! María...!”

“Be calm; pray, pray be calm,” said María in desperate alarm.

Luis opened his eyes and looking up at Leon exclaimed in bewildered
accents: “there is some one there! María, who is that man?”

“It is Leon--my husband.... Send for the doctor, do not you think
that we ought, Leon? Call the servants--where are they all...?”

María started up and was going to call some one, but her brother
clung to her arm.

“Do not leave me alone,” he said. “Your husband, did you say; oh,
God, what is this doubt that torments me? Is it a foolish scruple,
like so many others I have suffered from, or is it a true warning of
conscience? Tell me, who is it...? Leon did you say?” But neither
of them replied and he went on: “I have offended him? What an idea.
I only gave my sister such advice as my faith required of me. It
was God that spoke through me ... God himself.... It is a mere
scruple--and yet even a scruple must be listened to.... Ah! here is
my good Paoletti!” But his eyes were still fixed on Leon.

“Padre Paoletti, tell me, have I offended him?” Then after a pause,
as though he had heard an answer he added: “no, no, very true. I
cannot have offended him, and if I have, to-morrow--on my death-bed,
I will ask his forgiveness. Then, too, I will warn her--María ...
once more....”

“We must carry him indoors,“ said Leon.

“I will call the servants,” gasped María who could hardly speak. But
the dying man pushed her aside, as she and Leon were about to lift
him.

“Let me be,” he said. “Sit down by me.” María obeyed, and bent
her head over his. “To-morrow, to-morrow when I have received my
Saviour--I will deliver up my soul ... but how cold it is! It is
snowing, is it not?” his dimmed eyes wandered heavenwards.

“There are no stars to-night,” he murmured hoarsely. “A dark night
before the dawn of glory. To-morrow--I will ask forgiveness of you
all, and fall asleep in the Lord’s arms--you see I am quite easy now,
quite at rest.... My only fear is that this respite may prolong my
life. Oh! I do not long for health, I do not want to be better, all I
ask is to suffer, to choke--suffocate--die. The relief I feel now....”

His head fell gently on his sister’s shoulder and lay there as
helplessly as though his neck were broken. He shut his eyes, his
breathing was no more than a fluttering sigh. He was dying as softly
as a bird drops to sleep.

“It is over,” said Leon bending over him.

María clung to the body and kept it from falling to the ground, and
when the servants came hurrying out and carried him to his bed, she
kissed him passionately again and again, kneeling by the cold form.
Leon, hardly certain even now that he could be dead, came to the
bedside to feel his pulse and hold a mirror to his lips; but his
wife started to her feet and standing in front of her husband, with
a prohibitory gesture and eyes flashing with horror and tears, she
cried out in a tone of furious scorn:

“Wretch! would you dare to touch him?”



CHAPTER XXIII.

WEATHER PERMITTING.


The sky was in a state of anarchy, neither clear nor overcast, blue
and smiling in one quarter, dark and gloomy in another. The tempest
seemed about to do battle with the fine weather, for they paused
looking at each other from opposite horizons and disputing the sky
inch by inch. The sun, as a neutral party, alternately shone down
upon the earth and hid behind the clouds, leaving it cold and dark.
Notwithstanding the crowd on the _Plaza de Toros_ did not seem to
fear the result. It was an afternoon like most April or May days in
Madrid, rough and windy, but, on the whole, inviting rather than
repellent; bringing more dust than rain, and threatening worse than
it performed, beyond drenching wedding parties, blowing up the
women’s skirts and whisking off the men’s hats.

The amphitheatre was crowded but dull. Excepting for a few minutes
occasionally it was all in shadow. The high structure of iron,
painted slate-colour, looked dingier than ever, its elegant
suggestion of manufactured architecture being little in harmony
with the boisterous, clamorous, inebriate, and debasing character
of the national Spanish festival. The uniformity of dress, which
increases every day to the great loss of æsthetic effect, would give
a public entertainment the aspect of a solemn congregation or a
patriotic meeting, if the picture were not disturbed by the roar of
voices--now an impatient murmur, now harsh yells of rage, in every
key of passion, pleasure and frenzy, forming the hideous music of the
sanguinary opera of which the libretto is the struggle in the arena.
Coloured handkerchiefs are fast disappearing; still, a few bright
spots of red and yellow, like gaudy butterflies, here and there
relieved the huge black spot, and the incessant flutter of fans gave
animation to the long rows of men and women. The uncovered seats on
the shady side, especially those affected by the youth and students
of the town, were closely packed with heads in ranks like the seeds
in an ear of maize. The less crowded places on the sunny side were
occupied by busy knots of press reporters, by country folks, by a
hundred or more of Andalusians, in manners and dress a grotesque
caricature of the _torero_; of hardworked artisans, seeking in this
wild orgy of excitement some respite from the dreary round of labour.
The distinguished society of _mataderos_, butchers, leather-dressers,
tanners, the myrmidons of the slaughterhouse and purveyors of fodder,
seethed like a boiling pot; and the hubbub, with the fitful ringing
of a bell, sounded like the spasmodic progress of a neighing and
kicking beast. The detestable medley of slang and dialects rose up
like the hissing of some coarse and malodorous fry as it simmers
over the fire. The _chula_ muttered a hoarse oath as she insolently
forced her way through the crowd, diffusing a mixed perfume of musk
and garlic; and the miserable lout whose natural destiny it was to
clean tripe and bladders, being incapacitated by nature for any more
worthy function in life, made a speaking-trumpet of his hand to hurl
a torrent of abuse, flavoured with a hot vapour of raw spirits, at
the president’s box, where it would, no doubt, reach the ears of some
official of the Spanish capital--the governor perhaps, or perhaps the
president of the council.

The front seats of the amphitheatre presented a more pleasing
spectacle; here there were a good many white mantillas decking pretty
heads, on which camellias as white as milk or as red as blood,
bloomed as naturally as though they had grown there. The ladies
of the _demi-monde_, with their unmistakable and characteristic
air--a sort of family likeness--their obtrusive elegance and vulgar
assertive beauty, formed a notable proportion of the long row,
elbowing here and there a woman of still lower morality. Some of
these faces were of wonderful beauty, others mere masks of white and
red, and burnt cork. Respectable families of the middle classes filed
in, led by the father--a merchant perhaps, or a rising stockbroker,
the head of a house of business, an infantry officer, a retired
magistrate, a contractor for the supply of bacon to the public
asylums, a stage baritone, an attorney, a professor of music--in
short, whatever you choose--and closed by the youngest child, a
little schoolboy. Here and there might be seen the essentially
Spanish figure of a wealthy woman of the shopkeeping class; showy,
generally very stout, with a certain loftiness as of a Roman matron
grafted on to her florid native smartness; equally proud of her
black eyes and her sparkling rings which cut into the flesh of her
fat fingers; shedding contemptuous glances on all sides, as much
as to convey that she is a very great lady and very rich, that her
shop, with its stock of ancient furniture, or her butchery, or her
pawnbroker’s parlour, is as good as the Bank of Spain, and that
so long as she lives there will be no lack of occupation for the
horrible gladiators below, who are loitering round the arena in green
and gold, or crimson and silver, their cruel weapons in their hands
and their spirits high with bold adventure. There is in the lavish
proportions and air of satiety of these women, in their pretentious
and sometimes cynical expression--particularly when they traffic
in human creatures--an indefinable look of depravity suggesting
Vitellius, Otho, or Heliogabalus; excepting that they are apt to turn
pale when they hear the fatal ‘_morituri te salutant_.’

Behind are four long rows of humbler folk, the respectable class
looking down on the disreputable class, very unpretending persons,
plain, pretty, or commonplace. Above, in the boxes, there are more
white mantillas--some covering grey heads, others framing the
sweetest specimens of youth and beauty; fiery carnations or starry
jasmine in their hair, cheeks like blush roses, eyes black or blue,
with lashes quivering like butterflies; cherry lips, a glance as
fickle as the light nod of a flower in the wind, and smiles that
reveal teeth like pearls; the all-pervading fan with its wordless
telegraphy in a thousand colours. This forms the bewildering charm of
all large assemblages in Spain--the same in the boxes of a theatre
as in the balconies over the streets--whenever there is a procession
or a spectacle, or whenever a king makes his entry or takes his
departure to do honour to a brand-new constitution.

There were faces there, withered, and faded, which betrayed even at
a distance the pains that had been taken to hide their ruin, and
others, young and innocent, that hid behind a fan when the loathsome
teasing of the bull began; there was no lack of splendour--an
atmosphere of elegance seemed to emanate from the style of dress,
the glances, the air with which the women were pretty or ugly, and
pervaded everything that they wore, from a blossom to the white
paint, from the curl that the breeze fluttered on their temples to
the jewel that rose and fell with every breath, and the glove that
waved as the little hands clapped applause.

There were groups of men too in the boxes, all in black, with their
elbows on the balustrade, and their hats tilted over their eyes,
with nothing vulgarly loud in their dress, but talking a language
savouring equally of the chamber of deputies and of the bull-ring, a
strange medley of high-flown phrases, witty conceits, and slang terms
full of point and metaphor, suggesting a mixture of cabbages and
roses in a basket of flowers. The tone of their conversation was one
of flippant scepticism; that of men who had ceased to believe even
in bull-fights, while they directed the fire of their opera-glasses
up and down the rows of ladies and made brutal comments on not a few
of them. Morality and frivolity were inextricably mixed and fell
together on the ear, just as gold and copper alike slip into the
slit in a poor-box. The same lips pronounced technical criticisms on
the tactics of the arena, and, almost in the same breath, blighted a
reputation.

Among them were legislators and men whose daily occupation was the
issue of decrees and regulations; some were impoverished aristocrats,
some enriched plebeians, wealthy country proprietors, retired
bull-fighters, elaborately preserved old dandies, here and there
an inquisitive foreigner. But the flower of the moneyed youth sat
below, in the places close behind the barrier--the favourite seats
of the true _dilettanti_, where a distinguished company of critical
spectators sit in judgment, including some names famous in the
history of the time; young men who lack neither talent nor culture,
and reporters, who dip their pen in the blood of the bull, so to
speak, to indite a style of prose which, like the atmosphere of the
cheaper boxes, is a steamy compound of raw garlic, musk, and brandy.

The hero of the fight was a bull called Sacristan, a huge brute,
broadly marked with black, strong, wild, and well armed. The sound of
the Olympian roar that hailed the fury of the beast’s first onslaught
was immediately succeeded by a dull murmur of dissatisfaction, and
every face--strange to say--was averted, for across the blood-stained
arena swept the spectre of a horse dragging its bowels, as a kite
drags its tail before it sinks for lack of wind.

The sport went on, though heavy rain-drops were already falling,
and at length, when Higadillos, in scarlet and gold, with his
knife in his iron hand, was inciting the beast just in front of
the president’s box, there was a general stir throughout the
amphitheatre. Every one got up, some screaming and some grumbling;
there was a universal upturning of heads, pushing of elbows, and
trampling of feet; a tremendous thunderclap rattled through the air,
and at the same instant the rain came down as though a sluice gate
had suddenly been opened in the clouds; a torrent--a cataract, that
thrashed the earth like whip thongs.

The confusion was frightful. Annoyance and good-humour vied with each
other in curses and jests. The strongest fairly elbowed their way
through the weaker, the nimblest leaped from seat to seat between
the old and stout, women implored for help, boys howled, the smart
bourgeoise had a head like a sponge and the men streamed like
Tritons. A few here and there, opened umbrellas which got in each
other’s way, their points hooking and catching like bats’ claws.

In the arena, meanwhile, the dripping fighters went on with the sport
and the bull, startled and drenched, was in no mood for play. The
flood of rain washed away every trace of the blood and the wretched
horses snorted up the moist air that refreshed them in their agony.
However, it was soon impossible to continue the fight; the flags were
streaming, it was hardly possible to see across the amphitheatre. The
bell of the tame bull was heard, and the baited beast, following the
sound, was led back into the stable.

The crowd, flying from the rain as if it had been a fire, collected
in the passages which could not contain them in spite of their great
size. Every staircase was blocked, and as no one cared to leave the
place so long as the torrent continued, the vast circular structure
was more like a huge barrel of soaked sardines than anything else.
Not one more could be wedged in. The women shook their cloaks, the
men cursed the skies, and some wrangled to get their money back.
Cries, laughter, jokes; feet trodden on; hats shedding little
rivulets of water; sneezing, shivering, coughing.

A party of young men from the barrier seats tried to force a way up
to the boxes.

“Let us get upstairs,” said one, “I think that Leon is there. He will
lend us his carriage and go home with the minister.”

“And if he is not there we can go with the Fúcars--gentlemen, if you
please--allow me.--Go on Polito, why are you staying behind?”

“Confound you! don’t you see that I am dying for want of breath?...
and wet to the skin? Wait till I have put a tar lozenge in my
mouth--what a deluge! what a scene!”

With the greatest difficulty, pushing hard and being roundly abused,
they succeeded in reaching the boxes. The crush there was equally
great for, as the rain fell obliquely and had flooded the boxes on
one side of the amphitheatre, the occupants had crowded out into the
corridor behind.

“Here is Leon,” cried Polito, going up to a group that stood round
some great man. “I say, Leon, will you let us have your carriage?”

“Yes, take it, I do not want it.”

“Bravissimo! you are a brick; we can have the carriage--come on!”

Among the men stood ladies in couples, in groups, in dozens, waiting
for the weather to clear. Up here every one was in a good-humour,
laughing and jesting; for this class of spectators is not so
seriously annoyed by a delay which to those below is a serious
grievance. Indeed, the unforeseen has greater charms for them than a
programme fulfilled; they have plenty of pleasures and a surprise or
a little check has a certain relish. After all, the rain is not a
serious evil to people who keep a carriage.

“How will those poor people from the open seats get on?” said a lady
to her companion, as they came out of their box with an elderly man.
“They are really almost justified in asking for their money back.
They paid to see the bull-fight and not to get drenched. However, as
it was for charity....”

The two ladies stopped to speak to one and another of their
acquaintance.

“What fun! What an excitement! It is quite delightful! Where are you
going now? What, are you wet?... They are asking for their money
back, how glad Higadillos must have been--he was dying of fright....
It seems not to be raining so hard now, but the arena is flooded....
Well, I am going.” The speaker lightly laid her hand on the arm of
a gentleman who was talking to some others; bankers, deputies and a
minister or two.

“Are you coming to dinner?”

“With pleasure; but now? at once?--I have burnt my ships--that is to
say I have sent away my carriage.”

“Then come with us,” said the lady taking the arm that Leon offered.
“I have no patience to wait any longer.”

“But it is still pouring; you will have to wait at the entrance and
the line of carriages will be a long one.”

“Never mind, let us go.” The other lady followed on the arm of the
old gentleman.

“I thought you were at Suertebella. You told me that you were not to
come back till next week.”

“I came back to-day because Papa wrote to me that he was to arrive
soon with a Frenchman--a banker--and I had to arrange matters in the
house.”

“When I saw you in the box I meant to go round and speak to you; to
ask if you had any news of Federico.”

“I!” exclaimed the lady with surprise and annoyance. “He does not
write to me; he cannot write to me. I heard from his cousins that he
was leaving Cuba to go--how should I know where he is going; no where
for any good.”

“And the little girl, how is she?”

“I did not bring her with me; I left her there. Sweet pet, she is not
very well, she has been ailing for some days. When are you coming
to see her? I want to get back again; I should not have been here
now but for Papa.... I cannot bear to leave her. He is going to have
a sort of meeting of bankers at our house; you know ... about the
national loan. Don Joaquín Onésimo can tell you all about it and I
had better say nothing about it.”--Here she lowered her voice so as
not to be heard by the couple who were close behind them.--“For he
would bore us to death with the national debt, and taxable property,
and the mortgage of shares. That man is a deluge of administration;
but Papa desired me to be very civil; so this evening we four
will dine together--quite a family party. I hate ceremony; I am
so accustomed to be alone at Suertebella with my little girl that
society tires me and upsets me.”

The two couples made their way down with considerable difficulty. The
wet and dripping mob waiting for the rain to cease had no mind to be
accommodating to those happier individuals who had carriages.

“Allow me, gentlemen--would you mind...?” And at each entreaty they
advanced a step or two.

Once down the stairs and safe in the large hall they drew a breath of
relief, as though they had accomplished a long and difficult journey,
though it was full of people impatiently watching the incessant drip
from the eaves, and putting out their hands to feel whether the storm
were abating. Some ventured forth under umbrellas, others made a rush
for an omnibus. Gentlemen’s coachmen were on the look-out for their
masters, and Pepa’s took up the two ladies and the two gentlemen and
rolled off, splashing up the mud, down the broad street which turns
out of the Carretera de Aragón (Aragón Street). There it turned
into the court-yard of the Fúcars’ house and drew up under a covered
vestibule--a large alcove with scagliola columns and two enormous
candelabra, shrouded in linen covers and looking like a couple of
Carthusian friars.

Leaving the great staircase on the left the party went into the
splendid rooms on the ground-floor which were arranged for daily
use; the first-floor rooms--the most airy, sunniest, pleasant, and
by far the most magnificent, were only opened to the public on great
occasions; thus it is that vanity overrides sanitary considerations.



CHAPTER XXIV.

REMINISCENCES--ANXIETIES.


They sat down to dinner, as Pepa had said, a party of four. Happy
to find herself with friends so good and few, the millionaire’s
daughter showed her pleasure frankly but discreetly during the
meal, after which they all went together into the drawing-room
where Pepa received her more intimate acquaintance. There she had
collected various treasures of art and numberless trifles of French
workmanship, adding prettiness to splendour, and novelty to beauty,
all so skilfully arranged to surprise or delight the eye that the
palace of caprice itself could not be more delightful. They sat
together for some time till the Countess de Vera left to go to the
theatre, Don Joaquín Onésimo offering to escort her. Then the other
two were alone.

On a crimson divan, over which hung a genre picture representing a
squalid party of gypsies with their asses--fashion attributes a very
high value to this class of work just now, and pays for them their
weight in gold--while not far off, on a pedestal representing three
elephants’ heads, stood a Chinese vase in which grew a drooping
broad-leaved begonia--Pepa and Leon Roch sat side by side; she very
communicative; he gloomy, and silent.

“It all happened just as I foresaw,” said Pepita. “Federico, far
from improving at Havana, went from bad to worse. I told papa he
would, here he had got into some absurd and discreditable business,
and there ... well it would seem that distance makes men reckless. I
am ashamed when I think of it; I cannot get used to the idea that my
husband could be guilty of such dirty work. Why, out there he had to
hide and make his escape, for my father’s correspondents there would
have put him in prison ... when I think that it was my madness, my
idiotic folly, that brought this disgrace on my father’s house!...
All the mischief arose from that cursed passion for gambling; but
who could control it? It was in his blood--part and parcel of his
being. I assure you,” she added after a pause and passing her hand
across her eyes, “that I have gone through hours of intense misery
and untold struggles; for there were some things that I could not
tell papa, and at the same time I was forced to apply to him to get
out of the compromising difficulties in which my husband placed me
by his enormous losses. But you too have suffered, more than enough
Señor de Roch. I do not believe that hearts are made of flesh and
blood as anatomists tell us; they are stone and iron which cannot be
broken, or mine must have been crushed. I have shed so many tears,”
she again wiped her eyes--“that I think I can have none left to shed
if any further grief befalls me.... But how could I hope to see the
fulfilment of all the fancies and bright dreams of that bygone time?
Ah! reality tames us; we live to learn. Good heavens! when I think of
what I have gone through for mere appearances!... Indeed Leon, I have
suffered cruelly. This palace, which to others is a scene of feasting
and amusement, to me is full of sorrows; there is not an object
which does not bear the mark, as it were, of my sighs; there is not
a spot of which I could not say: ‘Here I cried on such a day; there
I thought I should die of grief.’ If I were to try to tell you all I
should never come to an end.” And Pepita waved her hand to indicate
the endlessness of what she might relate if she were not afraid of
boring her friend.

“No, no, tell me everything. Do I not know the worst, the really
incomprehensible beginning of it all: your marriage to that rascal
Cimarra? That you, with your morbid imagination--a sort of moral
atrophy in spite of your good heart--should have made such a mistake
I cannot understand; but that your father should have consented!...
To be sure, when his party came to the front and made Federico a
provincial governor, he seemed for a time to have amended his ways;
he was the model man in office. When he held a high position in
the exchequer no one could have recognised the old Cimarra in that
punctual, almost stoical functionary; he was so anxious to be thought
a judicious and important personage that it was quite ridiculous,
and I believe your father allowed himself to be taken in by the
masquerade. Besides, your father had dealings with the exchequer
in those days; I heard something of a loan on the salt tax and a
mortgage on salt mines ... but it was you, Pepa, who were to be given
in pledge and put in the power of that ruffian. I was not surprised
at the trouble that followed, but oh! how deeply I pitied you. At the
time when you married I was happy; since then ... but you see I know
the worst of your miserable story, and if there is anything I do not
know, lose no time in telling me.”

Pepa laughed; then turning to her friend with a reproachful air she
said:

“But I like your coolness; ‘tell me, tell me,’ you say? But you tell
me nothing. It is not that there is any lack of interesting chapters
in your history--nay, of grand, not to say poetic passages, but that
you are the most reticent soul alive. You can endure the bitterest
griefs without any one ever knowing it. But I am very much interested
in what goes on in your house; I know that you and María never meet
but at meals, and that not every day. You see, though you are so
prudent, your mother-in-law is not. She answers those that ask ...
and Polito; he tells tales of what occurs--and of what does not occur
as well.”

Leon sighed. Pepa hid a smile with her fan and went on:

“You have married into a delightful family!”

There was a long silence during which they both sat gazing at the
flowers in the carpet. In this hushed and solitary house, where not
a sound was to be heard, a sort of melancholy or sleepiness pervaded
the air which was conducive to meditation. Pepa rose and paced the
room as though she were racking her brain for some adequate mode of
expressing something that was stirring in her mind and that must be
said.

The reader has been told that she was not handsome, and why should
I repeat it. But there is nothing so bad as to have good in it, nor
woman so plain that she has no detail of beauty. Pepa indeed did
not lack charms, and to some she possessed them in a high degree;
her eyes were effective, small but very bright, with a sweet and
caressing glance. What was most conspicuous in her was her thick red
hair and the dead whiteness of her skin which gave her the effect
of a statue of alabaster and gold. She was tall and somewhat bony,
but this defect was qualified by her well-proportioned limbs and the
exquisite lightness of her gait, with an air of gentle confidence
that was extremely captivating. The volubility of her tongue covered
a grave and thoughtful nature; she seemed to have no pride at all,
and her manners, somewhat independent of etiquette, were most
engagingly frank and cordial. Her caprices and eccentricities were so
much changed from what they were when we first saw her at Iturburua,
that she was hardly like the same woman. Sorrow, that tames all, had
brandished her scourge over Pepita’s head, and there was little left
of her old violence beyond a rare and transitory echo. She presently
returned to her seat, and for some minutes she silently watched
the intelligent but melancholy countenance of her old friend. Leon
remained lost in thought, like a mathematician absorbed in the depths
of a calculation.

“What are you thinking of?” Pepa suddenly asked.--But it would fill
three chapters to say what Leon was thinking of at that moment.

“Of nothing,” he said with affected indifference, “of the miseries
and farces of life.”

“You cannot forget your mamma-in-law?” said Pepa laughing. “Do you
never go to her parties? She began them again with great display when
she went out of mourning for her son Luis Gonzaga, who died just
six months ago, if I remember rightly. I can keep account of the
most important events in your family. Would you believe it ... her
evenings are quite famous.”

“Oh, I believe it. They will no doubt become famous.”

“The Count de Vera tells me that she gave a capital supper the night
before last. Do not you think that your brothers-in-law must have
pledged the family standard for a good round sum? But some people
really do not know what to do with their money!”

They both laughed, but Leon suddenly turned melancholy.

“Change the subject,” he said; “it is a painful one.”

“Your mother-in-law has found the philosopher’s stone,” Pepa went on,
“you ought to be proud of having any one in your family who is so
clever in that art!... Well, I heard--servants always have the most
delightful stories, and they tell each other everything--oh! the most
amusing detail ... shall I tell you?”

“No, for pity’s sake.”

“Nonsense, let me tell you.”

“I can guess it: that on the very day of the great supper there was
nothing to eat; that there was a commotion in the house because some
purveyor or confectioner brought a bill for twenty or thirty dollars
... oh! I know it all; it is an every day dilemma.”

“But perhaps you do not know of the scandalous flirtation that the
Marquesa de San Salomó carries on with Gustavo, in his father’s
house even. Vera told me that they were always together, sitting in
a corner, whispering and cooing with an air of mystery and devotion
in the most impudent, the most audacious way!... So they say, but
perhaps it is slander; so many lies get about.”

“So many!”

“And have you heard of her poet?” Pepa went on with malicious
enjoyment. “Has not the marquis told you about him? This inspired
being whose verses are all about white doves and lilies of peace, the
Christian home, the glories of Sinai, the Virgins of the Lord, pious
aspirations, the azure empyrean, the spirits of the deep and the soul
of Virtue--this sublime Christian poet adores your mother-in-law as
his Beatrice.” Pepa could not help laughing. “It is she who inspires
him with all these divine visions and metaphysical raptures. It is a
pity you should not have seen him; he is quite a character. To talk
to him after reading his verses is like falling from the clouds into
a mud heap. You have not only dramas in your family but farces!”

“Pepita for pity’s sake do not torture me,” said Leon rising to go.
“You know that I can never get accustomed to certain things which
some people do not mind at all so long as they do not go on in their
own houses. They do not, to be sure, go on in mine; but still, I see
them in that of a man who has a right to call me his son. It crushes
me ... I feel that I cannot live here, I must leave Madrid, my mind
is quite made up; I must go....”

“Go! where?”

“Anywhere. I must find some excuse.--I can make one,” he said
with prompt determination. “I know that it is my fate to live in
isolation, to have no home, no family ... well if I must, I must. And
what can be better? A very good thing is solitude....”

“And you will leave Spain?” asked Pepa, trying to conceal her emotion.

“I do not know even that.”

“Nothing calls you abroad?”

“No ... I shall not leave the country. It might seem that after all
that has happened in my house and in the isolation in which I live
there, I could have no interest in my home; and yet, if I am far from
Madrid I feel utterly forlorn. I have friends here....”

“Stay, I can suggest a delightful retreat,” said Pepa eagerly. “Do
you know that close to Suertebella there is a charming little house
to let?”

“Close to Suertebella?” muttered Leon, on whose fancy the plan smiled
greatly. “I will think about it; I will go and see the rooms.”

“There you can devote yourself entirely to study; no one will
interrupt you. It is such a pretty place, especially just now when
the corn fields are all green, and you should see the poppies! You
can look over our grounds and those of Vista-Alegre, and beyond that
miles of lovely fields with flocks of sheep here and there. The house
is flooded with light and sunshine; you will see how cheerful it
is. Then it is so snug--just big enough for one person. A splendid
sitting-room for studying in--for fighting it out with your books,
arranging your papers, notes, and names, and thrusting pins through
your miserable insects. You will be so comfortable there. The people
of the house are quiet respectable folks, and the silence, the
stillness, the peace!...”

Pepa folded her hands devoutly to convey an idea of the peace she
described. “They will not feed you very well perhaps, but you are not
an epicure, and when you want a good dinner you can come to us. You
have only to go down into the cow-yard, open a door--two steps....”

“Two steps?” said Leon, pleased by this tempting description.

“Two steps, and you are in the cow-yard and then in the little garden
where Monina plays.”

“Where Monina plays.”

They had drawn closer together in their eager gestures as they had
become more interested in the dialogue and their hands met now and
then, like birds that flutter and coo.

“Monina may perhaps make a little noise and disturb you at your
work--but you will forgive her, will you not?” As she spoke Pepa
winked her eyelids to keep her tears from falling.

“Forgive her! Why Pepa, you may think it lucky if I do not devour her
with kisses.”

“And it is a fortnight since you saw her, you bad man!”

“I will go to see her to-morrow,” said Leon, his face as bright now
as it had before been gloomy.

“To-morrow; then I am to expect you?” said Pepa, who was half
reclining on the divan so that her elbow was buried in the pillows.

“Yes, you may expect me; did you say the child was ailing?” he added
with some anxiety.

Pepa was on the point of replying when a servant hurried into the
room who had just arrived tired and breathless from Suertebella. Pepa
gazed at him in horror. What had happened? A very simple matter. The
little girl had suddenly been taken ill--very ill indeed.

“Good God!” cried Pepa starting from her seat. “And I here, idling
... amusing myself! I must be off at once. Order the carriage ...
Lola, my cloak ... make haste! What is the matter? She coughs you
say--is choking?... Has she had a fall? or caught cold. She got
wet in the park. My poor darling. A doctor ... send at once to Dr.
Moreno.”

“I will see to that, go at once,” said Leon, not less alarmed than
the mother.

“She has been in a draught and I told them again and again to
take the greatest care ... but servants will always give a child
everything it cries for....”

“Oh go at once, do not delay. I will see that Moreno follows you in
my carriage as quickly as possible ... and perhaps it will be nothing
after all!”

Pepa started, and Leon went in search of the doctor.

We must go no farther in our story without explaining that Leon Roch
visited at the Fúcar’s house as the friend of the marquis, no less
than as a true and loyal friend of his daughter’s. Theirs was not
the only house in which he was intimate; he went to many in search
of some diversion from his melancholy in pleasant society and worthy
friendships. At the same time it must be owned that his visits to
Pepa had of late been long ones. Why? Some people would have answered
the question promptly, to his discredit; but their answer lacks
evidence. There had budded in Leon’s soul, without his dreaming of
its strength, a pure and tender passion of which more will be told
presently.



CHAPTER XXV.

MARÍA EGYPTIACA DRESSES IN GREY AND DOES NOT WASH HER HANDS.


After calling on the doctor, who lived in the house opposite his own,
and imploring him to go at once to Carabanchel, for which he lent
him his carriage, Leon went home, fully determined to follow him
thither as early as possible next morning. The house was silent and
unlighted; every footstep echoed and every shadow seemed exaggerated.
A sleepy man-servant opened the door, following him, half-nodding, to
his room.

“You can go,” said his master. “I shall not go to bed to-night. Is
your mistress gone to her room?”

“She was in the oratory till eleven--I will go and ascertain.”

“No, you need not ask. Who has been here this evening?”

“The Señora Marquesa de San Joselito, and Doña Perfecta.”

Leon repeated the names with dull indifference.

“And they went away when prayers were over.”

“Very well, you can go.”

The man went away; but he noticed in Leon Roch an anxious and absent
manner, indicating that he was absorbed by some ruling idea; still, a
servant cannot offer to console his master or to persuade him out of
his melancholy by demonstrations of affection, so he went.

Leon was alone, and flinging himself into a seat with his elbow on
a little table and his chin resting on his hands, his eyes--eyes as
black as night--half-closed, he sat thinking. Of what, God alone
knows. So complete was his abstraction from external things that
he did not hear the soft footfall of a dark form which entered
noiselessly, more like a ghost than a woman, and came close up to
him. It touched him on the shoulder, and as he turned to look up
Leon gave a cry of alarm. The fact is that there are occasions and
circumstances when our mind is in a state that makes the simplest
events and the most familiar faces seem strange and terrible.

“You startled me,” he said.

“That is strange! so cool a man, so brave and sensible, to be
frightened at me!” said María in the doleful, mechanical voice that
she had adopted for the last few months. She was robed in a morning
gown of a dull mouse-grey and of the most exaggerated simplicity of
make; she was pale and looked sallow, but from want of care rather
than from self-mortification; her neat feet were concealed in a pair
of coarse felt slippers, and her figure revealed neither shape nor
grace; her fine hair hid itself as if ashamed under the folds of a
cap of hideous dimensions.

After looking at him for a minute or two María said in a hard voice:
“well, are you afraid of me?”

“Yes, I am afraid of you,” he replied, taking his eyes off his wife
and looking at the ground.

“What next!” said María, smiling with an expression of disdainful
superiority. “Because I am so ugly? But, would you believe it, I am
delighted to see you quail before me. It is the privilege of humility
that it can abash the gaze of the proud.” And as she spoke she seated
herself.

Then, either because she detected a look of disgust on her husband’s
face, or because she fancied she did, she added: “it annoys you that
I should disturb you? So I supposed. That is the very reason why
I shall stay. My duty comes before everything: and my conscience
requires me to ask you what you have been doing for so long. Leon,
your conduct is far from right. You never were a Christian but you
kept up appearances at any rate; now, you do not even do that.”

“You do everything in your power to make my home unendurable,”
replied Leon coldly. “Your disgust at the presence of those friends
whom I most care to see, added to your fancy for filling the house
with people whom I dislike; your constant absence--for you too go
out, and a great deal more than I do--spending whole days in church;
the extraordinary change in your very nature from being loving and
amiable to harshness and scolding, are additional motives for my
remaining within doors as little as possible. The house is full of
gall and bitterness which weighs upon my soul as soon as I enter it.”

“Oh! how can you say such abominable things?” cried María, casting up
her eyes to Heaven and clasping her hands under her chin.

“It is only the truth; I have no art to conceal the truth. You have
made my house a desert cave, cold, empty, and dark ... and I want
light, light!”

María was cowed for an instant by his vehemence, then, making great
efforts to check her tears, she went on:

“You need not fancy that your violence will wear out my patience. For
some time you have taken to talking to me as if I were one of the
men you argue with at your club, or debating societies, or whatever
you call them. Light, do you say? Light? Then you are at last tired
of your blindness? What do I ask better than to show you the light?
It is you who are determined that I shall not--that you will remain
as you are--blind. You refuse to see! To me it would be the greatest
comfort if we could save our souls together; but you will not ...
you will rush on to destruction. I, so far as I am concerned, to my
dying hour will never cease to say: ‘Leon, Leon, look and see....
And you laugh? But I am hardened against your laughter; God grants
me such patience that I can bear to be the victim of your mockery as
well as of your scorn and spite. Laugh as much as you please--laugh
me to scorn! I do not care; nay, I ask it of you; my one hope, my one
desire is to suffer and endure.’”

“Suffer and endure!” exclaimed Leon bitterly. “That is not my
desire, to be sure, but it is my lot. God has so ordered it that
where I looked for peace and love I find constant war--war to the
knife. I hoped to bear a gentle burden, and a hideous log fell on to
my shoulders, tiring me, galling and wounding me!”

“And that log am I! Thank you,” cried María spitefully, unable to
swallow the worldly mortification which struggled with her less
genuine mysticism. “This weary burden is your wife?”

“Yes, it is you. I can only speak plainly. I am bound to be honest.”

“Then cast it off! Rid yourself of this intolerable burthen,” she
cried with nervous excitement, her cheeks glowing and her eyes
sparkling. “I am a load on your shoulders and you hesitate to throw
me off! Kill me, kill me at once!--martyrdom is my vocation!”

Leon looked at her scornfully and said very gravely:

“I do not kill--for that.”

“For what then? Nay, you kill for everything. There are other ways of
killing besides blows; grief kills too.”

“If grief could kill, María, I should by this time be dead and
buried. This infernal torture by a slow fire, this incessant
discussion and recrimination arising from the radical opposition of
our views on the things of the next world--and indeed of this--are
a constant succession of blows that kill ... aye more surely than
steel or lead! Ah! the misery of two beings, together and yet apart;
of feeling that two souls that ought to be one are growing further
and further asunder, each on its own side.... For all this I grieve
bitterly, bitterly, child--and then to find a cold and lonely hearth
where the wife I loved once sat--to be isolated and abandoned....”
And Leon, deeply agitated, broke down and was silent.

“And in this separation,” said María, “who is to blame but you?
You, who by nature are obdurate to all arguments, blindly obstinate
in your atheism and materialism. What have I done constantly,
repeatedly, but offer terms of peace and union?”

“What can you have to offer but thorns, bitterness and repulsion?
What peace but that of the grave, the peace of a perfunctory, absurd
and debasing formalism. You have no genuine feelings--nothing but
capricious terrors, horrible stubbornness, a barren and morose
mysticism which excludes all genuine love. Nay, do not talk to me of
peace, you who have turned against me, doing all you can to vex and
gnaw my heart with the fangs of ferocious fanaticism; to me you are
like a harpy who calls your venom by the name of Faith, and who have
poisoned me with that diabolical secretion.”

“Nay,” cried María with the air of a martyr, “abuse and insult me as
much as you will, but do not attack my faith; that is blasphemy.”

“It is not blasphemy; I only tell you that you, and you alone, have
made our marriage tie a chain of bondage. You, María you! When we
married you had your beliefs and I had mine, and my respect for
every man’s conscience is so great that I never thought of trying to
eradicate your faith; I gave you complete liberty; I never interfered
with your devotions, even when they were so excessive as to mar the
happiness of our home. Then there came a day when you went mad--I
can find no other word to describe the terrific exaggeration of
your bigotry since, six months ago, here in my garden, your hapless
brother died in your arms. Since then you have not been a woman but
a monster of bitterness and vexatiousness; an incarnation of the
inquisition in the form of a woman. You have not merely tormented me
by ceasing to be in any way amiable and by your odious assumption of
sanctity, but you have persecuted me with attempts to make of me too
a hypocritical and ridiculous bigot. I have tried to make you give up
your monomania; I have even tried giving way to some extent to your
earnest entreaties; but you asked too much. It is impossible, utterly
impossible, that I should lend myself to the sanctimonious farce,
when I thought the moment propitious for acting with determination I
have made superhuman efforts to free you from your own fanaticism,
but, as you know, it has proved impossible. I have fought for it
desperately, have tried every means, every argument of reason, of
affection, of command--all in vain. Your spirit has succumbed to
some irresistible power, and you live under the dominion of dark
influences which I cannot defy. There are some invisible meshes,
inscrutable ties, bonds that unite and shears that divide, without
my seeing how or when. Against these I am impotent. María, I am
defeated--I acknowledge it. I can have nothing more to say to you but
a sad farewell, and to remind you that you once loved me--that we
have been for a time happy together. It is a sad, a very sad, end; it
leaves no room for hope!”

María was so impatient to be heard that she hardly waited for him to
cease before she broke in:

“I too have my bill of indictment, and it is a heavy one. I was
brought up in our holy faith and taught to put my faith into practice
in all sincerity and truth. I married you--I loved you, I believed
you to be good, kind, honourable, and did not understand the hideous
void in your soul; I loved you--and I love you still, for it is
my duty to love and respect you; but I soon began to see that in
loving you I followed the promptings of a worldly passion, and that
my choice was a fatal mistake; that my soul was in the utmost peril
of contamination; that we could never come to an agreement; that
your learning was of a most pernicious character; that I, as your
wife and influenced by your reprobate ideas, might fall into the
depths and lose my faith.--I was on my guard. I fully admit that
you were tolerant and lenient, that you did not abuse my devotions,
nor mock at religion as you have done since. But you cannot deny
that there was a certain amount of contempt in the facilities you
granted me; you had a particular smile when I spoke to you of such
subjects.--However, we got on very well. Then one day it struck me:
‘I am a fool if I do not convert him. Why should I not light the
lamp of faith in that darkened soul?’ But you gave me to understand
that I was mad, that all believers were mad; and you smiled--how you
smiled--and with what affectation of good humour you would laugh at
all our sacred dogmas. ‘Let things alone,’ you said, ‘let every man
save his soul in his own way.’ This made me miserable, for there is
but one--if I repeat it a thousand times--there is but one way of
being saved. Then came those dreadful days, that I can only call my
sainted brother’s Holy Week--the days of agony of that angelic being,
whom God vouchsafed to send to me that he might direct my steps into
the right road--I see that the recollection of them vexes you. You
cannot forget the bitter humiliation of your spirit in those days
when the mere presence of my brother was a constant ground of remorse
to you.”

Leon made no reply, he did not even look at his wife. There was
something so repellent in her appearance that it vexed his sight as
much as her words revolted his feelings.

“I too felt remorse or rather deep repentance for my sins, and an
eager desire to grow more like the angel whose soul, as God had
willed, was twin to mine. I believe I am reserved for a death no
less glorious than his. Celestial fires were lighted in my heart,
ardent but pure--different indeed from my love for you! What joys
I felt, what heavenly strains I heard, what visions I saw, what
glories I dreamed of, what anxieties I endured, what a craving for
sorrow on earth that I may be happy in heaven! What a longing to
die that I may enjoy, if only a small part of that sacred peace in
which my brother revelled. I have prayed and longed till my brother
has appeared to me, whether in my dreams or no I know not, radiant
with happiness and beauty, calling me to him, and repeating the
exhortations and warnings he gave me in the last hour of his life.
I never pass a night without hearing his voice in my ears! You, of
course, will not believe in this ecstasy, you are fast bound in
materialism and can see only with your bodily eyes. Oh! wretched
handful of clay! And this is what the world calls a wise man, because
he has learnt half a dozen facts which cannot matter to any one.
Wretched and miserable man! Still more miserable if you had no one to
intercede for you, to beseech God for the mercy you do not deserve.”

“Thank you!” said Leon drily; and as his wife came nearer to him he
put out his hand to keep off the contact of that grey dress. There
was something in the smell of the coarse woollen stuff that sickened
him.

“Your irony will not avail to quell or to shake me,” exclaimed
his wife. “I know that your stubbornness will yield at last, a
voice in my soul tells me so. God himself tells me so, when I feel
myself uplifted by thoughts of him; the blessed patriarch Saint
Joseph assures me of it--my friend and intercessor, my most loving,
most tender and most pitiful patron,” and she spoke the canting
superlatives with honeyed unction. “O Lord!” she went on, raising
her eyes and crossing her hands, no longer marked by the refined
cleanliness of former times, “save him, snatch him from the
pestilent and atheistic set among which he has fallen, raise him up
to thy glory and make him abhor these damnable doctrines!” Then she
remained absorbed in muttered prayer, presently however she laid
one hand on his shoulder, and raising the other with a gesture of
threatening admonition, she went on in a low voice:

“The day will come when you will crave my pardon on your knees, when
you will entreat me with tears to teach you how to pray; when you
will fling yourself, like me, at the foot of dusty altars caring not
that your hands should be dirty; when you will dress in sackcloth;
live, like me, in perpetual fear of your conscience; feel that a
smile, a glance, a frivolous thought is a sin; renounce all the joys
of the world and find delight in incessant prayer and unwearied
worship, neglecting all outward things, contemning all care of your
body in perpetual penance. Ah! yes, you must save your soul; my
patron saints cannot do less than grant me this; they will intercede
to God for you, and God will forgive you and call you to himself,
with me for your guide! What a triumph, what a victory that will be!”

She took her stand in the middle of the room in a dramatic attitude,
with her hand raised, her eyes fixed, and her head thrown back, and
exclaimed:

“Wretched atheist, I will save you in spite of yourself!”

Leon watched her in silence as she left the room. Long endurance had
made him stoical; she had hammered so long and so constantly on his
heart that it seemed to have turned to a dead cold anvil. But he let
his fist fall on the arm of his chair with such force that the very
floor trembled. It was as much as to say: “No more, no more of this!”



CHAPTER XXVI.

THE DEVOURING OGRE--CROUP.


Quite early in the morning Leon set out in his carriage for
Carabanchel. The air was fresh from the rain which had not ceased
during the night, and every object was reflected dully in the
liquid mud, as in a dirty mirror. Workmen and carters swearing like
gentlemen--the comparison is commonly made the contrary way--were
wending their way along the roads and across the bridge, met by
muleteers from Fuenlabrada, and market gardeners from Leganés or
Moraleja; while Madrid, in the dismal dawn, was sending out her
pauper dead, borne on the shoulders of the living, to San Isidro or
Santa María.

After passing the lower village of Carabanchel, Leon skirted a
splendid park lying between the lower and the higher villages;
upper Carabanchel having the advantage if not actually in point of
architecture, at any rate in situation and outlook.

The demesne of Suertebella is one of those estates which ample
wealth and perseverance have succeeded in creating in the
neighborhood of Madrid, and which can stand comparison with the more
famous grounds of Vista-Alegre, Montijo and others. There was a noble
growth of elms, acacias, sophoras, with the still rarer beauty of a
wide spread of turf planted with grand sequoias, Japanese medlars,
magnolias and other exotic trees with huge shrubs of fuchsias, tree
ferns, cactus and araucarias; aviaries full of every variety of wild
and tame fowl; stables in which the horses lived like gentlemen,
cow-houses and poultry-yards. There was a river running through the
estate with a boat on it, a shooting-gallery, a croquet-ground, a
grotto, a pond stocked with fish, and even a heap of ruins with the
inevitable adjuncts of ivy and moss. The house, though recently
built of brick and stucco was sumptuous and elegant; especially the
interior, where a lavish hand and experienced taste had collected
all the rarest and costliest luxuries that modern art can produce.
All the rooms were on the ground floor, the sitting-rooms in a long
suite, handsomely decorated. Of course there was an Arabian divan in
the latest fashion, and a Japanese room, and a Gothic room, and an
orthodox Louis XV. drawing-room. The Marquis Fúcar prided himself on
each being perfectly “in keeping,” and the most beautiful object in
creation would fail to meet his approval if it had not what he called
“character”: “In perfect character you see,” was his favourite form
of praise.

Leon made his way through half a dozen of these vast empty
rooms, dismally draped in silk, like shrouded princes; their
vacant spaciousness made him think of huge yawning mouths.
The carpets--softer and deeper than the mattresses in some
houses--deadened the sound of his steps; the splendid parcel-gilt
bronzes, still smelling of the packing-case, and the varnish on the
freshly-cleaned pictures reflected every intrusive ray of light,
while the clocks repeated their tedious monologue, breaking the
silence of the cavern-like rooms. There were historical portraits,
frowning sternly; Poussinesque groups of figures dancing or playing
rustic games on the tapestry; Dead Christs of jaundiced hue, reposing
in the lap of the weeping Virgin; dozens of bull-fighters and mincing
ladies, such as the modern Spanish school turns out by hundreds to
meet the taste of the amateurs of the day; watercolours of a rather
free and easy character; stalwart nymphs à la Rubens, and lean
studies of racers painted with as much elaboration as though they
were the most eminent portraits. Graceful vases, little porcelain
kittens grinning over the edge of a jug, and flower stands supported
on the backs of some hideous hippopotamus or monstrous griffin.

The servants he met, looked full of consternation and the maids had
their eyes red with crying; a few hasty words put him in possession
of the facts. In front of several pictures of saints, tapers were
burning, and he heard the sound of prayers and sobs.

At last he reached the silent, half-darkened room which was the
centre of all this woe. He approached very softly as though it were
the scene of some event of transcendental importance to the whole
human race. It was a very tiny, humble drama that was being enacted
there; the death-struggle of a frail insignificant creature--one of
those inappreciably small catastrophes which make no echo in the
world since they snatch away no great man, no useful woman, though
they bring anguish and terror into a thousand homes. This death
would leave no one widowed or orphaned, would bring neither ruin,
nor wealth, nor change, nor even mourning on any house; it would be
no more than one more victim added to the hecatomb of little ones
through whom Providence, by snatching them away at the very threshold
of life, wrings the heart of mothers. The human race must be daily
decimated it would seem, to prevent its overwhelming increase.

Pepa, still dressed as she had been at the bull-fight had sunk into
a chair, her hands folded, her eyes fixed; her speechless despair
terrified all who were with her, and some who could not control their
grief left the room to cry. She was sitting close to a little bed so
daintily pretty that the fairies themselves could make nothing more
innocently fresh; it was like a little basket of gilt cane fit to
contain the most delicate flowers, and the white curtains, with their
lace and pink ribbands, were so fine and white that the angels might
have played at hide-and-seek among the folds. Leon went up to the
head of the dying child that lay heavy and motionless on the pillow;
the pillow was covered with golden curls and wet with tears. Leon
himself was tremulous with apprehension; his heart stood still with
anguish as he looked at Monina--the little face, pale with suffering,
the lips blue, the eyes wide open and the lashes wet with tears, her
throat swollen and dark from the swelling of the veins--and worst
of all as he heard the plaintive, stertorous groaning which was
neither a cough nor a sigh--hoarse, guttural and yet sharp, as harsh
as the whistle of a pipe in a demon’s mouth, a horrible, mechanical
recurring crow. The child struggled with suffocation, clutching at
her throat to seek relief, as if she could give a passage to the
air for which her lungs were panting. This agony of an infant by
strangulation with no possibility of relieving it, while neither
science nor a mother’s love can loosen the invisible cord that is
choking the baby throat--the little neck, generally as white as a
lily and now as livid as a piece of dead flesh; the ebbing of a pure,
blameless, loving, angelical life in the most tragical torments, with
the convulsions of a strangled criminal and the misery of asphyxia,
is one of the most appalling instances of the inexorable fate which,
whether it be for trial or for punishment, oppresses humanity.

In the clutches of this monster Monina looked from one to another,
at her mother and at the nurses, as if to implore them to release
her from this dreadful thing, from this undreamed-of punishment--a
cruel drama of Dame Nature! Despair filled every heart; in the face
of this terror no one could shed a tear; through each mind flashed
the sacrilegious thought, like a gleam of infernal light, that there
was--there could be, no God.

Leon knew not what to say, and for a minute or two his eyes wandered
in bewildered horror from the child to the mother, and noted the
most trivial details; the table covered with medicine bottles, the
child’s playthings scattered on the floor--shabby undressed dolls,
horses without legs and cats without tails--they looked as forlorn
and disconsolate as the human watchers. When he studied the child’s
face and then looked into that of the doctor who was still standing
by her, Leon augured the worst. Pepa looked up at him with tearful
eyes and said in a low, heart-broken tone:

“She will die.”

Leon, for the sake of saying something tried to assure her that it
was not certain. In vain.

“There is no hope,” she said, “Moreno says there is none. That
now....” But she could say no more she covered her face and burst
into floods of tears.

This form of suffering was new to Leon, a terrible and unfamiliar
grief that had fallen on him like a bolt from the skies. He had first
seen the child some few months since, and had found infinite delight
in her bewitching little ways, though this alone perhaps hardly
suffices to account for the acuteness of his pain in seeing the
suffering of a child that was not his, and of a woman who was not his
wife.

The croup, to make it more cruel, has deceptive intervals each
invariably the precursor of a worse attack. The monster relaxes his
grip that the victim may breathe once more, and know how precious air
is, how sweet is life. After a violent fit of coughing a spurious
amendment is perceptible. Under the influence of tartar emetic,
Monina was able to cough away some portion of the false membrane
that forms in the windpipe; relieved for the moment, she breathed
more freely, and looked round her brightly; Pepa leaned forward to
rearrange the bed clothes which she had tossed off in her struggles.
When Monina caught sight of Leon she set up the peevish whimper of a
sick child when it sees any one standing with its mother or nurse;
it is its way of expressing jealousy which is one of the first
sentiments developed in the human breast.

“But my pet, it is Leon.... Do not you want him? Then he shall go....
Go away, naughty man,” and a plaintive murmur repeated: “Naughty.”

“Go away, go away. I will punish him.... Spit it out my pretty.”
The little girl did as she was bid; then her mind seemed to wander.
“More, more,” she said--always a child’s cry when it is pleased or
amused. Then, with her eyes shut, and as if in delirium, she put
her tiny hand out from under the coverlet and waved it up and down.
The infant gesture struck them to the heart; she was bidding them
farewell. Its baby grace was tragical.

A moment after all the worst symptoms reappeared--the hard, rasping
cough, the suffocation, the agonised struggle and the shrill, crowing
noise. Leon, as he heard it, felt as if a red-hot needle was piercing
his brain. The child was choking, dying.

Pepa, with a cry of anguish, fell senseless on the floor.

They carried her to her own room. Leon stayed with Monina. How many
things flashed through his brain in a minute--in a single minute.
He himself wondered to find that his grief completely filled and
occupied his mind as if the poor little child was all that the world
contained for him to love and care for. Since his father’s death
he had not felt his heart so strongly drawn to any creature at the
moment of death. He was not even remotely connected with the child’s
parents, and yet he felt as if its death would rob him of something
strangely near and dear. No doubt the mother and child were to some
extent one in the passion of pity which absorbed his soul to the
exclusion of every other feeling.

On their first acquaintance he and Monina had established an ardent
friendship--not wholly disinterested to be sure on the child’s
part, since it involved frequent visits to the toy-shop and the
confectioner’s--and not unfrequently he had found himself neglecting
a more important engagement in order to go to the Fúcars’ house to
play with Monina. She was so sweet, so merry, so intelligent, so
inquisitive. Her ungrammatical chatter was so expressive, she made
such intelligent remarks, she was so lively, so graceful, so gentle,
so docile! The friendship had been but brief, but in that short time
Leon had played every game that a man can devise; he had carried her
pick-a-back; had tried to teach her to speak, to give a penny to a
beggar, to forgive when she was hurt, to pity the poor, to be kind to
animals, to obey her mother, to answer as soon as she was spoken to,
not to cry for nothing. He had grown accustomed to her winning smile
and could not bear to miss it. How could any one help adoring such a
rosy dawn even though it were veiled in mist? Monina’s real name was
Ramona, after Pepa’s mother, the late Marquesa de Fúcar. She was two
years old and not very like her mother, for she was very pretty--pink
and white, with eyes of cherubic blue and a sweet round lisping
mouth, slightly built and as restless as a bird. Her chirping jargon,
with every verb made regular, fascinated him; and when she took a
fancy to flit from spot to spot--fluttering like a butterfly and as
busy as a bee, he could not take his eyes off her. Play brought roses
to her cheeks; she was so overflowing with life that she laughed when
she talked, flew rather than walked, and her innocent questions and
baby comments would startle him with an innocent logic with which
infants so often confound the wise.

And now, what a terrible change! A single day had sufficed to
transform this bright and guileless being into a suffering wreck. In
a few hours there would be left on earth of tiny Monina but a fast
corrupting mass from which men must avert their gaze.--The idea was
too hideous; Leon could not resign himself to it. No, Monina must not
die. Without that sweet life he could not live.

Why?--but he could not tell why; all he knew was that a fibre, a
nerve, an aching cord was tied--nailed, to his heart, and that Ramona
was pulling at it, to fly away to heaven. Till now the bond had
seemed a mere nothing, a fancy, an amusement; now he felt that it
had struck deep roots which must be torn up and carry a large part of
his heart with them.

All this crossed rapidly through his mind; then he turned to speak to
the doctor. There was no hope; the child could not live twenty-four
hours; the medicine he had given did not seem to produce the
perspiration and relief which might have opened the door of hope.

“And is there nothing else to be done?” asked Leon, as pale as a
corpse himself.

“We can try mercurial rubbing.”

Not a minute was wasted; the doctor suggested, Leon gave orders with
fevered haste, and the nurses and servants executed them with eager
promptitude.

Pepa, having recovered her senses, had returned to her post by the
child’s bed, to watch the last flickering of that precious life,
to give her baby, water, kisses, gentle touches, to listen to her
breathing, and gaze into her dim eyes. Her face betrayed the efforts
she was making in order that her anguish as a mother might not hinder
her usefulness as a nurse; alert, careful, forgetful of herself
and of everything else, her whole soul was absorbed in covering
up the little tossing arms and in listening to the choking cough,
the rattling breath, the gasping croak, more tragical than any
cry--sounding now like the creak of metal that needs greasing, and
now like a low, shrill whistle, or a musical note in a dream.

The hours went on--what fearful hours! And yet the day was too soon
gone and it was night! No one had kept count of the time, not a
sound was to be heard but that of suppressed sobs; all hearts sank
under the pressure of a crushing weight. The whole great house was
full of dismayed grief; and of the odour of the tapers that were
burning before the Virgin and the Saints. The daughter of the house
was dying; she no longer even put her hands to her throat to “take
that away.” She lay there helpless, worn out, conquered in the fight;
her head was sunk deep in the pillow, and her little hands, spread
motionless, had ceased to twist the sheet into cords. If only the
cruel scourge would let her die thus. But no; once more its clutch
was relaxed for an instant and Monina again murmured: “more.”

“She is dreaming of her toys,” whispered Pepa, pressing her
handkerchief to her lips as though to hush her sobs while her tears
ran in streams through her fingers.

The child still murmured softly, calling Tachana and Guru, the two
children of a neighbour with whom she was in the habit of playing.
Then came another fit of suffocation so violent that it surely must
be the last. Pepa cried aloud:

“She is dying now ... she is dying.” She flung herself over the bed,
clasping the child in her arms then, wild with grief, the wretched
mother clutched at her own throat as if she would strangle herself
in her delirium of woe. It was a natural semi-savage gesture, a
primitive instinct of suffering with the sufferer she loved.

They tried to lead her away, but it was impossible to move her; she
clung to the bed.

Leon whispered to the doctor: “why do you not, as a last resource,
try tracheotomy?”

But Moreno Rubio answered in a hollow voice:

“At that age it is tantamount to murder.”

“We must try everything; even murder.”

The two men looked like spectres risen from the grave to conspire.

“You desire it?”

“Yes--I desire it.”

“We must consult the mother.”

“No--I take the responsibility.”

The physician shrugged his shoulders; then he went to a table that
was hidden by the curtain.

“My darling,” cried Pepa, “why must you die? Why leave me alone--more
lonely than I am? O Lord God! O Blessed Virgin of Sorrows! Why do you
take my child ... my only child? Monina--Mona....”

She had no suspicion of what Leon and the doctor were projecting; she
did not see that Moreno held in his hand a blade--a tiny but terrible
weapon, more fatal perhaps than the executioner’s axe.

“Monina, sweet angel, my cherub--open your eyes, look at me....”

Her grief was growing fierce; the terrible glare of her wild eyes,
her dry, white, quivering lips, the nervous tension of her hands, all
betrayed that intensity of misery which gives a bereft mother the
aspect of a fury.

“Monina! my child, my darling! If you die, I die; I cannot let you go
without me!” And she devoured her with kisses.

“Pepa,” said Leon, “we are going to make a last effort ... do not be
frightened.”

“She is dead--I tell you she is dead....”

But Monina, as though in reply, turned over suddenly and with a
violent fit of coughing threw out some more of the suffocating
growth; then again she lay still, though breathing hoarsely.

“She is cold--icy cold!” exclaimed Pepa. “Doctor, doctor--”

Moreno went at once.

“No, not icy,” said Leon, laying his hand on the child’s head, “on
the contrary--she is moist.”

“Yes, with perspiration,” said the doctor after a pause.

He felt the baby limbs and his eye, accustomed to watch the
fluctuations of life, were intent on the flickering of this one
which, when it was so nearly extinct, wavered--though perhaps only
for a moment.

“Yes, her skin is moist,” Leon repeated.

“Quite moist!” Pepa echoed with a deep sigh.

Then they were silent; a faint ray of hope had fallen on them--almost
adding a pang--for it was not possible--no, not possible!

“Keep her well covered,” said the doctor, in the short imperious tone
of a pilot steering a life-boat; and then, unable to contain himself,
he swore a mighty oath. Six hands covered Monina closely.

Leon and Pepa looked at Moreno. But they dared ask no questions;
it was better to be in suspense, which is a kind of hope, and the
doctor’s face revealed nothing beyond a reprieve of immediate fear.

“She is still perspiring?”

“Yes.”

“Still?”

“Yes--rather more.”

And they watched the almost imperceptible moisture on the delicate
skin as if the existence of the universe depended on it.

“But is it not a favourable symptom?” Leon said at last.

“Favourable, yes. But even....”

“Can we not help nature?“ said Pepa.

“Nature does not require our aid at present.”

“But--is it possible...?”

“I can say nothing, nothing.”

“And it is still going on?”

“Yes, so far....”

“Oh, my darling! She will live....”

Behind the chair on which Pepa was sitting hung a picture of the
Virgin with two tapers burning in front of it. Pepa started up, flung
herself on her knees and kissed the very ground before it. For a few
minutes she remained sobbing violently with her face buried in the
carpet. Certain that she could not overhear him Moreno whispered low
in Leon’s ear:

“If expectoration continues to any favourable extent it is possible
that she may be saved; but for four chances in her favour there are
ninety-six against her.--So say nothing to the mother....”

“Four in her favour,” thought Leon, “that is something--and I feel
hopeful ... sure!”

His heart seemed to leap with a mad jubilation. The life of the whole
human race might have been in the balance. There, under his very
eyes, hanging on a thread--a breath.

Time went on; Pepa had come back to watch and was walking up and
down like a wounded lioness. She did not want to ask anything; it
was enough to read their faces and note their actions. There was
something new and fresh in the air--the circling of the universe
seemed to have been suddenly reversed. The two men were visibly
anxious, but not downcast.

“What is it?” asked the mother.

“Hope,” said Leon.

“Very little,” muttered Moreno.

Pepa clasped her hands in an ecstasy of thankfulness.

“Nay, do not allow yourself to be too sanguine,” said the doctor.
“The reaction that has set in is not, so far, sufficient--far from
it. It may be a delusive relief, like the former ones--go and lie
down for a little while.”

“I! lie down; I, rest, when my baby is getting better?”

“But still....”

“She is perspiring a good deal--a great deal,” exclaimed the mother,
whose excited hopes magnified the cool moisture into a heavy dew.
“God will let her live, He will give me my treasure.”

She knelt down by the bedside, clasping her hands close to the
child’s little form without daring to touch her; hardly daring to
breathe lest her sighs should disturb the blessed reaction. Monina
was lying comfortably and her breath came less painfully.

“It is possible? say Doctor....”

“I can say nothing yet....” said the inexorable physician. “The
hope--the chances, are very slight. We shall see how she goes on.”

“Oh! all will be well; the Blessed Virgin will have pity on a lonely
mother ... Leon what do you think?”

“I, I cannot tell,” replied Leon. “I do not know, but I feel ... but
I dare not, I dare not. Still I feel encouraged ... who can tell ...
perhaps....” Pepa could hardly repress a cry of joy.

“Oh! how can I bear it? She may live! But if we are deceived, if we
are mistaken. Merciful Father! Blessed Virgin! Why do you let me hope
if after all you rob me of my only treasure--the joy of my life, of
my home, of my soul?” And she wandered vaguely about like a demented
creature, not knowing what to do.

“Let us pray, let us pray,” she said at length. “The Virgin has heard
me and I will beseech her, entreat her, till I can see and feel no
more. Pray, Leon, with me--why do you not pray?”

“I too am praying,” replied Leon, bowing his head.

“You! you? Those who ask in fervent humility will be heard; but you!
How do you pray?”

She seized his arm and dragged him towards the picture, in her
frantic energy her strength was surprising.

“As you will,” said Leon, who was no longer master of himself; and
he never knew how, but he found himself on his knees, and with eyes
raised to Heaven he exclaimed in piteous accents: “Merciful God! save
her life, she is what I love best.”

A dying child, a despairing mother, a man on his knees praying after
a fashion of his own. It strikes me that it is folly to write of such
commonplace occurrences.



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE MOTHER.


What a night they passed. Nothing happened, and yet it was as full
of interest as the years of an eventful life. Pepa was in such a
state of nervous excitement that her brain seemed to be affected; she
laughed while she cried, and her broken sentences, often incoherent
and irrelevant, betrayed that her mind was tossed between despair
and hope. She would sit trembling like an old woman, and again, flit
restlessly about the room like a child that does not know what it
wants.

Monina’s skin was still warm and moist--that moisture was as a dew
from Heaven. The deadly greyness of her face gave way to a faint pink
tinge; it was a joy to watch the frail flowers of life blossoming
again where, so lately, had been a desert of death. Her breathing
grew easy, and on her silent and slightly parted lips dawned the
sweetest charm of infancy, a happy smile. It was impossible to look
at her and not to hope; and it was impossible to refuse to listen to
that hope which seemed an inspiration from Heaven.

The dawn was breaking when Moreno Rubio once more addressed Pepa:

“I can now pronounce a definite opinion.”

“Yes? My little girl....”

“The child is out of danger,” said the doctor, clasping the mother’s
hand. “This favourable reaction has saved her. Leon wanted me to try
tracheotomy.... But the treasure we thought we had lost is restored
to us.”

Pepa kissed his hands, bathing them in tears.

“It is none of my doing, Señora, but Nature’s, helped by tartar
emetic and the caustic solution ... nay, Nature’s only; or, to speak
truly, God’s. Now it is time that I should get a little rest.”

And after giving a few instructions he left.

Pepa could not speak; she was dumb with joy; she knelt down and
remained absorbed in prayer for more than half an hour. Leon sat by
the child’s bed, his head sunk between his hands. Suddenly he heard
a voice close to him; he looked up and saw Pepa.

“What a night you have had,” she said. “Hours of anxiety--death and
then joy! You have no children; if you had, how happy your children
would be! The interest you have shown in this little one--a friend’s
child only, not related to you....”

“It is an irresistible passion,” he said, “that I cannot account for;
it is a strange folly indeed.”

“A folly! Oh, no! I like you to love my child. If I were to live for
a thousand years, Leon, I should never forget the hours during which
my heart and brain went through so much suffering; and the last thing
I should forget would be the moment which was to me the most solemn
and critical of all, and the words I heard and which are stamped on
my mind as if they had been burnt in.”

“I do not know what you are talking about.”

“Nor I, either, I believe,” she answered, leaning over him. “Joy
has turned my brain, I think, I feel a sort of aberration or
bewilderment.... Can it be true that I have my little one? That this
angel is still left to comfort me in my loneliness?”

She looked at the child and bending over her, kissed her forehead
very softly, so as not to disturb her sleep. When she looked up again
at her friend he noted a strange light in her eyes.

“You are too much excited,” he said. “You ought to go to bed and
sleep for some time. Poor little mother! You have gone through a
great deal since the night before last.”

“Yes,” replied Pepa, “a great deal; but not only now; before that
too; I am familiar with misery.”

“Be calm, you are half delirious.”

“And as I was saying,” she went on with an air of sudden
recollection, and a bright smile, “I shall never forget your words:
‘Spare her life. She is what I love best in the world.’” Leon looked
down. “But I am glad, so glad, that you are so fond of her,” said
Pepa on the point of crying. “For then I am not the only creature
to love her. You are a good old friend, a friend of my childhood. I
have always valued you, and now more than ever, when I see what an
interest you take in Monina, a true warm interest.--Leon, I feel that
I must break a silence that is killing me and tell you a secret that
I cannot bear to keep....”

Her head drooped on Leon’s shoulder; she wept copiously, and he
did not speak. He felt the weight of her head, the warmth of her
breath, and the moisture of her tears, and he sat silent--stern and
self-controlled. Pepa might have been shedding her tears on a rock.
Suddenly a sense of dignity and modesty sprang up in Pepa’s soul; she
lifted her head, crimson with blushes and gave a little cry of dismay.

“Pepa,” said Leon, taking her hand in a firm, kind grasp, “your child
is safe. I am going now.”

At this instant they were both startled by hearing a sweet, silvery
voice--an angel’s voice speaking from Heaven--which said:

“Mamma, Mamma!”

Pepa covered her with kisses. Monina sat up and began to ask for
everything: she wanted meat, and fish, beef, sugar-plums, bread and
butter--all at once, altogether and a great deal, more, more ...
and then not knowing words enough for her desires, she asked for
‘things,’ a comprehensive word, representing in a child’s vocabulary
its insatiable desire for possession; epitomising its instincts of
craving and greed.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE MARQUIS DE FÚCAR ENJOYS THE SPECIAL FAVOUR OF HEAVEN.


From this moment Ramona’s illness needed no special attention, and
as soon as its favourable termination was known in Madrid, the
great house was filled with friends who called to congratulate the
mother, just as they had before called to condole with her and make
enquiries. There are people to whom this is the whole of life,
who spend year after year in congratulating or condoling, and who
would perish for want of occupation if there were no deaths or
christenings, no carriages and visiting cards.

Leon set out for Madrid when the carriages with their gaudy coats
of arms were beginning to stream into the park of Suertebella. Even
when he had got half way he turned back to leave a message about some
medicine that he feared might be forgotten, and his mind was so full
of Monina that all day long he was thinking: “If they let her get up
too soon--if they do not keep her warm enough.... If they put too
much chloral in the cough mixture.... If they let her eat sweets....”

After settling various matters of business and paying one or two
indispensable visits in the evening, he went to bed early. He did not
see his wife and she took no steps to see him.

Next morning he set out for Suertebella where a surprise awaited
him; the Marquis de Fúcar had just arrived there, accompanied by his
French friend, the Baron de Soligny, who, like Fúcar himself, was one
of those banker-princes who go about the world in search of those
tremendous strokes of business which seem most easy to meet with in
bankrupt or impecunious communities, just as there are certain trees
that grow spontaneously and flourish best on the poorest soil.

They were soon joined by the Marquis Joaquín de Onésimo whom Fúcar
had invited to discuss, without loss of time, a grand project for a
national loan.

Leon found the marquis unusually grave and thoughtful, with gleams
however of good spirits; a most unaccountable state of affairs, for
the most precarious business never seemed to affect the serenity
of his perfectly artificial exterior. When he spoke of Monina’s
illness and marvellous recovery, Don Pedro, who was devoted to his
little grandchild, was quite happy; but his eyes fell again and he
frowned--he smiled--then he was solemn; and at length, putting his
arm through Leon’s and taking him aside, he said:

“We must prepare Pepa for some bad news.”

“Bad news?”

“Yes, and I say bad news because.... Well, I hardly know why. Still,
the news of a death, whoever the victim may be, is in a way bad
news.” And the marquis fumbled in his pockets which were full of
cards, letters and papers, covered with notes in pencil scribbled in
his carriage, in the train, in his office.

“Here is the message. It is a frightful catastrophe--the wreck of an
American steamer between Puerto-Cabello and Savanilla.... The papers
here have not mentioned it, but my Havana correspondent telegraphs
this.... Do you see? The steam packet _City of Tampico_....”

Leon turned pale as he read the message.

“So that Pepa....” he murmured.

“Hush, not a word; she might hear you and she is quite unprepared.
Yes, my daughter is a widow.”

Leon Roch was speechless.

“Between ourselves, and in the strictest confidence,” Don Pedro
went on, putting his mouth close to Leon’s ear that he might not be
overheard, “it is a real mercy for Pepa, and for me too, in spite of
the shock of the catastrophe. If Federico had returned to Europe he
would have ruined her and me too. A merciful providence, it would
seem, has cut the knot in a sudden and tragical manner, and released
my daughter and me from the miserable position in which we were
placed by her marriage with that gambling, swindling, forger. It was
a girl’s fancy which cost us all very dear. Do me the favour to shut
that door that we may talk freely. We must not be overheard.”

Leon did as he was desired.

“You,” he said, “are the proper person to tell her.”

“There is no help for it; I must confess that I do not think that
Pepa will be heart-broken or even grieved. It will be a painful
shock--not even that perhaps. Between you and me ...” and he lowered
his voice to a whisper, although the door was shut--“I believe that
Pepa loved her husband as little as it is possible to love a husband,
do you understand? I cannot help thinking that her feelings towards
that scoundrel of the first water were very nearly akin to mine, and
I never concealed the fact that I hated him--hated him with all my
heart. Pepitinilla will not shed many tears--By Heaven! Very likely
none at all!”

And the marquis rubbed his hands as he did when he had concluded
a good stroke of business. The very Exchequer office quaked in
the recesses of its empty vaults when the Marquis de Fúcar rubbed
his hands. “It is a mercy, a real mercy, for her and for me,”
he repeated, as if he were talking to himself, “Providence has
interfered to save us. If that man had come back to Europe--and he
would have come back when he had spent all his money--Ah! Vampire!
You were not satisfied with fleecing me in Madrid but you must need
get hold of all the moneys in the hands of my Havana correspondent,
you were not content with forging letters to rob me of the thirty
thousand dollars I had in Ferguson’s house in London, but when we
sent you to Cuba you must try the same trick again. Rascally gambler!
But God can punish, God will not let a rogue escape!...” and he
ground one fist into the palm of the other hand. Then, as if he had
remembered the duty imposed upon him by human dignity and christian
charity, he added:

“But we must forgive the dead, and I forgive him with all my heart.
His punishment has been terrible. What awful disasters these fires
on American vessels are! Not a soul was saved on board the City of
Tampico but the cabin boys and one passenger--a mad Quaker. Federico
embarked in her with the intention of going to Colon, and on to
California, the natural home of adventurers; he had made away with
all the money I had in a house there--how wonderfully Providence has
put a stop to his criminal career! And then you freethinkers declare
that the Almighty is too great to trouble himself about our miserable
little lives! I tell you he does; I tell you he does! Of course we
must not exaggerate, and I do not pretend to say that he attends to
every trifle when he is asked. But you see?--my daughter filled the
house with tapers when Monina was ill and put up prayers to all the
saints.... They would have enough to do up there if they attended to
all the mothers whenever a child coughs or sneezes; but great crimes,
great rogues....”

Leon had nothing to say to this interpretation of the working and
ways of Providence.

“Well, well,” the marquis went on. “He disgraced my name and
tormented my little fool of a daughter. But it is all over; may the
earth--the waters--lie lightly on him.... There is one thing I never
could comprehend, and that will always, always be a mystery to me....”

“I can guess what,” said Leon quickly. “You cannot imagine what made
Pepa marry Cimarra. She is kind-hearted, intelligent, and full of
feeling; Federico was always a heartless reprobate; you had only to
talk to him for half an hour to discover what a shallow, selfish
creature he was.”

“Just so. Well, I do not deny that I brought up Pepa very badly. She
is very much altered; her troubles have done for her what I failed
to do. Only four years ago she was so capricious.... But you can
remember her. Really, but that she has a heart of gold, my daughter
might have been my greatest grief, I own it.--But then, what a soul
she has! What noble sentiments, and what a depth of tenderness under
the whims and airs that come to the surface.... Mere bubbles, mere
bubbles--I can find no other word--while her true self is sound and
good to the core. I will tell you one thing that I am as sure of
as I am of the Gospel: if my daughter had but married a good man,
judicious and at the same time attractive, whom she could have loved
without reserve, she would have been a woman out of a thousand--a
model wife and mother....”

“I am sure of it,” said Leon gloomily.

“And the more I feel it,” Fúcar went on, folding his arms, “the less
can I understand her fancy for Cimarra; a fancy, I say, for I can
think of no other word. She never even tried to justify herself by
the attraction that a handsome man always has for a woman, though
Cimarra was what you call a good-looking man....”

“Decidedly.”

“In spite of that I cannot comprehend it, for Pepa felt no charm,
no fascination; in short, her choice seemed to me a very bad one;
however, I could not oppose her, I had not the strength to oppose
her. That has always been my weak point. When Pepa was but a baby
she used to whip me and I laughed at it; when she grew to be a woman
she wasted a perfect fortune in trifles, and still I laughed. When
Federico asked for her hand, when I spoke to her about it and she
said she would accept him--well, I did not feel inclined to laugh;
but I consented. What could I do? At the same time Pepa did not
seem to me to be very much in love; still Federico suited her for a
husband.

“In short, on an evil day they were married--I spent a hundred
thousand dollars on the wedding! What a day! If the whole human
race had married on that day it could not have brought more
misfortunes on my devoted head. My poor child has never had a
happy hour since. She seemed to be consumed by some mysterious
anguish--moral? physical? God only knows! She was mad after every
form of entertainment and luxury--it is madness. Look at the girls
of the present day; they marry for nothing on earth but to be free
to amuse themselves, to spend money and whirl giddily through life.
Not even during the honeymoon did I ever see Pepa and her husband
really loving to each other. ‘This is like having a wooden doll for
a husband,’ I said to myself. Sometimes she was silent, sometimes
drunk--I can find no other word--drunk with banquets, balls, trumpery
novelties, and fine clothes. Every day she must have something new,
and sometimes not all the marvels of the Arabian Nights would have
cheered her melancholy. Poor foolish child! As for Federico, she
troubled herself no more about him than if he had been a chair. She
treated him as if he were an idiot. Ah! Leon, my good friend, we live
in a strange world. A vale of mistakes, that is what I call it.”

“I do not deny it; but it is even more a vale of tears.”

“Just so. Well, as I was saying, I began to be very anxious about my
Pepilla’s health and even her reason. Happily her child was born, and
from that time I date her regeneration. She ceased to be captious and
extravagant; she devoted herself to the care of the little girl and
gained that balance of mind, that majestic dignity--I can find no
other word--that she has never lost. It was just at the time when the
child was born that Cimarra showed himself the blackguard he was. But
you know--all Madrid knows the history of his infamy, his swindling
villainy. He shortened my life by ten years, the scoundrel! How many
tears has my poor girl shed in this very room! How many times has
she begged my pardon for having given me such a rascally son-in-law!
‘I was mad,’ she would say, ‘I did not know what I was doing.’ While
he was ruining me, she would kiss me and implore my forgiveness. ‘We
must set one thing against the other,’ I said.... Well, it is all
over! God Almighty ... Providence ... You had better prepare her for
the news.”

“I?”

“Yes, you are clever; now I should not know what to do but just go in
and say: ‘Pepa, your husband is dead....’ Now you can go in and take
up a newspaper, and say: ‘What a terrible fire at sea!’”

“I? No, not I. Excuse me, I cannot invent a scene. It is your duty,
or that of some member of the family.”

“My dear fellow, do me the favour. You are such an old friend.”

At this moment the door opened and Pepa came in fresh and smiling.
Leon Roch felt a thrill at the sight; she seemed to him more
beautiful than he had ever before thought her, and his heart leaped
with joy. It was a shock of surprise and exquisite pleasure, like
that of a happy memory, or the flash of a new idea in the mind,
filling his soul with brightness. He gazed at her a moment in
silence, seeing her in a haze of glory; she was transfigured in his
sight, and her commonplace features, by some miracle, had adapted
themselves to the type of the ideal woman.

“You have come at the right moment, Pepinilla.“

“Papa,” she said, “Monina is awake now, come and see her. How are
you, Leon?”

“Stop a moment, child? Leon wants to speak to you, he wants to read
you something--some paper in which....”

“It is all Don Pedro’s nonsense; I have read nothing.”

“What a lovely day,” said Pepa, going to the window through which the
sun was shining gloriously, “look Leon. Do you see a roof there among
the trees? That is the house of which I was speaking. Do you know
Papa that he is looking out for a solitude where he may retire from
the vanities of the world. I recommended him to look at the little
house belonging to Trompeta, where the priest of Polvoranca lived.”

“It is a pretty place, and not two steps from here. Do you really
want to come to this suburb? Well, my dear boy, if you want to find a
den where you can devote yourself to gnawing at your books....”

“I hardly know, I am quite undecided,” said Leon, staring vacantly at
the roof which he could just see among the verdure. “Let us go to see
Mona.”

Pepa led the way.

“What is worrying you, my dear fellow?” said Fúcar to the younger
man in a tone of kindly familiarity and laying his hand on Leon’s
shoulder. “I know of course that your wife--ah, this is the
deplorable result of exaggeration. You have it in a nutshell: piety
is a virtue; but carry it to excess and what is the consequence?
Misery and horrors.”

Then, as they went on, Fúcar leaning on Leon’s arm, he said in a low
voice:

“My poor Ramona was just such another. There was no bearing it. Still
this sort of infidelity--a religious passion--must be winked at, must
be forgiven. I ask you, what is a man to do in such a case? It is
frightful but irremediable. When a wife is faithful to her husband
there is no reason, no excuse even for a separation and nevertheless
she may be too much for endurance. I feel for you. I can only repeat
what I said: we live in a vale of mistakes.”

Not long after Leon took his leave. He was so absorbed in thought
that he failed to bow to Don Joaquín Onésimo who was walking in the
park with the French baron, and discussing the pending loan with the
deep interest that some men feel in a public calamity. On reaching
Madrid he got out of his carriage to walk home, and he wandered
through endless streets and turnings like a man walking in his sleep,
seeing nothing and hearing nothing but a voice within which said
again and again: “A widow!”



CHAPTER XXIX.

ERUNT DUO IN CARNE UNA.


For several days Leon did not go to Suertebella excepting once to
leave a complimentary card at the door. He spent most of his time
away from home; he had given up study and packed all his books into
cases. He frequented clubs and meetings, but his friends found him
taciturn and indifferent alike to gossip, news and discussion. He
talked of a journey without saying whither, of a long absence; but
if he had occasion to speak on any other subject it was with a
bitterness of sarcasm or invective very unlike his usual serene and
lofty way of viewing the events of life or the persons with whom he
had come in contact.

One night at the beginning of April he went home soon after eleven.
The door was opened by an under-servant.

“Where is Felipe? Why does he not let me in as usual?” asked the
master.

“Felipe is not in the house, Sir.”

“Where is he then?”

“My mistress has dismissed him.”

“What for? Was there anything wrong?”

“She was angry because he would not go to confess, Sir.”

“You do then?”

“Yes, Señor; once a month. My mistress takes care of that; if we
do not bring home a certificate she turns us into the street. But
Ventura, the coachman, has a friend who is a sacristan and who can
get him as many as he wants and so he satisfies my mistress who
believes he goes to confess. If it were not for your Honour, Sir, my
wife and me, we should have been off long ago from this place where
so much is expected and there is never a moment’s peace. When a poor
man has been hard at work all the week and Sunday afternoon comes
round what a terrible thing it is that he cannot be allowed to go
for a walk, but must needs be packed off to hear a sermon. My wife
says she can stand it no longer! And then look at the scarecrow she
has brought into the house. This morning when she sent off Felipe
she said she should put some one in his place at once. I thought she
would promote my brother Ramón: but no, she wrote a letter to the
priests at San Prudencio, and before we could turn round, in came a
fellow that looks like a sacristan, fat, red-faced and clean-shaved,
with coat tails down to the ground, a low-crowned black hat, a
sanctimonious, spiteful face and the manners of neither a man nor
a woman. My mistress told me that I was to take Felipe’s place and
the porter was to take mine and that this new gentleman--Pomares
is his name--was to be the new porter and a sort of steward and
superintendent of the rest of us.”

“You do not know what you are talking about. There has never been a
steward in my house!”

“Steward. The mistress herself said steward; and the long-tailed
rascal grinned and looked at us with his fishy squint as much as to
say: ‘I’ll send you to the right about.’ And then he preached us a
sermon and looked as sweet as he knew how, and called us all his
brothers and crossed his hands and declared he loved us all dearly!”

“Is your mistress in her oratory?” asked Leon.

“I believe she is in her sitting-room.”

Leon went into his wife’s boudoir where he found her talking with
Doña Perfecta, a confidential friend whom she took with her when she
went out at night. The worthy dueña was startled to see the master of
the house, and having no doubt a subtle intuition that a scene was
impending, she rose and took her leave.

No sooner were they alone than Leon began, without betraying any
annoyance or temper.

“María, is it true that you have dismissed poor Felipe?”

“Perfectly true.”

“Before turning him out of the house you would have done well to
reflect that I was very fond of the lad for his attention, his desire
to learn, and his thoroughly good heart which covered a multitude of
childish and provoking faults. I took him from your mother’s house
because whenever he came here, he was in such ecstasies at the sight
of so many books....”

“And in spite of these admirable qualities I was obliged to discharge
him,” said María coldly.

“But why? Did he fail in his duty to you?”

“Yes, shamefully. For a long time I have made him go to confess.
To-day I reproved him for having omitted last Sunday and the Sunday
before, and the impudent fellow, instead of being penitent, turned
upon me and said in the coolest way: ‘Señora, leave me in peace; I do
not want to have anything to do with your priests.’”

“Poor Felipe! And in his place,” Leon went on without betraying his
purpose, “you have engaged an elderly man....”

“Yes, Señor Pomares. I had hoped that you might come in early this
evening that I might speak to you and have your consent. He is a
very superior man, full of piety and good feeling, who thoroughly
understands his business.”

“I have no doubt of it.”

“And who can do as much work in a day as two or three of your
profligate idlers. He is a perfectly confidential person and to
whom you may entrust your house, your interests, your most private
business without the smallest hesitation.”

“I should like to see him. Send for him.”

María did so and in about five minutes the weak-eyed, red-faced
dignitary made his appearance, exactly such as the man-servant had
described him. After gazing at him from head to foot, Leon said very
quietly:

“Very good, Señor Pomares. I will give you my first instructions.”

“What are your wishes, Sir?” said the new steward in mellifluous
tones and arching his eyebrows.

“That you walk out of my house, this instant.”

“Leon!” cried María, seeing with astonishment the wrath in her
husband’s face.

“You have heard me. Take your baggage and be off without loss of
time.”

“The lady--your wife sent for me,” said the old man with an attempt
at firmness, feeling himself strong in his mistress’s support.

“I am the master of the house, and I order you to go,” said Leon in a
voice that admitted of no reply, “and I warn you that if you ever set
foot within this house again you will go out not by the door, but by
the window.”

The man made a low bow and vanished.

“Good heavens!” cried María, folding her hands, “what a shame! To
treat such a good, humble, respectable man in such a way!”

“From this hour,” said Leon looking his wife full in the face,
“understand that everything in this house is changed. Henceforth
I find that I must absolutely interfere with your proceedings and
snatch you, either with or against your will, from the monstrous
course of life into which you have drifted; I must cure you, as
mad people are cured, by removing you as far as possible from the
influences that have occasioned your madness. My long suffering has
been fatal to us both; but now my determination, which will border
I warn you on tyranny--and by no fault of mine--is to straighten
somewhat the crooked paths in which you have chosen to walk.”

“I am resigned to endure,” said María with the hypocritical unction
she had learnt to display. “I will drink the cup you force to my
lips. What is it to be? What do you require of me? Will you kill me;
or is your cruelty more refined? Will you force me to renounce the
habits of piety that I have formed? Do you mean to make me abjure my
faith?”

“I have no desire that you should abjure your faith.... No, what I
want is something quite different. Woe is me!”

He turned away as though he really did not know what he wanted. In
point of fact while María was calm and played the part of the victim
to admiration, Leon was disturbed, and hesitated in his part of
executioner.

“I do not wish to have any discussion with you to-night,” he said.
“We have fought too long without result, but now it strikes me that
some definite action on my part may rescue us from this hideous
state of things. Forgive me if instead of giving you explanations
I threaten you, if instead of arguing I command, if instead of
answering you I say nothing.”

“What do you require? Tell me at once.”

“I am going to leave Madrid.”

“Why? Are you tired of theatres, bull-fights, clubs, and atheistical
meetings? Ah! if you leave this it will not be to live in a desert
but to go to Paris, or London, or Germany!”

“You forsook and neglected me,” said Leon sadly. “You avoided me and
flung me back upon the frivolities of society; you, entrenched in
your impeccability, have destroyed all that might have been the joy
and comfort of my life and have made my home the abode of misery.”

María was speechless.

“Well then,” said Leon with unwonted vehemence. “I am tired of having
no home. I am determined to have one.”

“And is not this your home? For my part I am always here,” said
María, as coldly as though she spoke with a mouth full of snow.

“This my home! And what are you? Harsh, thorny and repellent!
Henceforth....”

“You have only to command, and yet you are far more agitated than I;
my resignation gives me self-control, while with all your haughty
tyranny you tremble and turn pale! In one word Leon, what would you
have?”

“I am going to leave Madrid. That is imperatively necessary.”

“What is the matter?”

“I do not want ... I cannot stay here; I have no comfort, no
affection in my own house; I have no one to care for me, since the
companion of my life, instead of surrounding me with gentleness and
tenderness and fondness, has shut herself up in an icy shroud. She,
in the delirium of her exaggerated pietism, and I, in the gloomy
solitude of my scepticism, are not, and can never be, a sympathetic
and happy pair. Some men might be able to vegetate in this barren,
arid atmosphere; I cannot. My soul cannot be fed with study only;
however, as it can have no other nourishment, it is forced to be
content with that.”

“And why can you not study here?”

“Here!” exclaimed Leon, amazed at the proposal. “I cannot stay here.
I have told you already that I am going away.”

“I do not understand you?”

“I daresay not; it is quite possible that you do not; but who will
understand me ... who?”

He clasped his hands over his head with a bitter groan of despair;
and María, respecting his anguish, refrained from making the
impertinent remarks she was accustomed to indulge in on such
occasions. At last she repeated her former suggestion:

“You can study as much as you like here. Let us live together. You
will not interfere with my religious exercises, nor I with your
studies. We shall be two recluses--I devoted to faith and you to
atheism.”

“A beautiful prospect indeed! Nay, what I crave is not a cell, but
a home; I have no contempt for the joys of life; I ask to enjoy
them, in all moderation and honesty; I do not want a life of fevered
exaltation, but a wholesome and practical life, the only life
that leads to true human virtue, to duties fulfilled, to a free
conscience, to peace and honour. What I want now is what I looked for
when I married you. Do you understand?”

“Yes, I understand. What I do not understand is why, in order to
gain such a home, you must quit Madrid.”

“You quit it with me.”

“I!”

“Where I go you must go.”

“San Antonio! help me to do my duty!” said María with sanctimonious
resignation. “And where do you propose to take me?”

“Wherever you please. But when once we are settled in the place we
select for a residence you will lead a totally different life.”

“How?”

“I shall lay down a plan which you will have to follow with perfect
exactitude. I shall forbid your going to church on ordinary days; I
will not have my house filled with the crowd of priests and bigots
that have taken this house by storm; I shall weed out your books,
picking out those which are really pious from others that are mere
farrago of horrible nonsense and rhapsody....”

“Go on, pray go on; what more?” said María with cold sarcasm.

“I have only one thing to add; and that is that you can take your
choice between this and a complete separation, henceforth for the
rest of our lives.”

María turned pale.

“You are cruel! abominable!” she exclaimed. “Give me time to consider
at any rate. All this is to take place away from Madrid, you say?”

“Yes, quite away. You may choose the place.”

“Come, come, do not drive me crazy with your preposterous nonsense,”
she suddenly said, trying to make light of it, “nothing shall induce
me to leave Madrid.”

“Then good-bye,” said Leon. “Henceforth you are mistress of this
house. Our separation is an established fact--not by law, but by
my will. To-morrow my lawyer will call upon you and tell you what
allowance I propose to make you. Now good-bye; in matters of business
there is nothing like decision and promptitude. It is settled.” And
he went towards the door.

“Wait,” said María following him; but then, as though she repented of
the impulse, she folded her hands and raised those sea-blue eyes to
the ceiling.

“O Lord!--Blessed Virgin!--Luis, my brother! inspire me rightly; tell
me what I ought to do.”

Leon waited; they looked at each other in silence. Then, yielding
to some instinct, he went up to her and took her hand with tender
respect, saying as he did so:

“María, is it possible that I count for nothing in your memory, in
your heart? My name that you bear--my person as your husband--do
these not appeal to you? Does my presence rouse no feeling in you,
no echo of the past even? Has fanaticism crushed every faintest
thrill of human feeling in your soul--even pity and charity? Has it
extinguished every glimmer of duty and fitness?”

María covered her eyes with her hands as though in contemplation of
some mental vision. “Answer me this last question: do you not love
me?” María looked up; her eyes were red but not moist, and she gave
him a cold grudging glance, as we bestow a penny on a beggar to be
rid of him. Then she said in a dull dry voice:

“Wretched infidel, my God commands me to say: No.”

Leon turned away without a word and went to his room. He remained
up all night arranging his things and packing books, clothes and
papers. The next morning he left the house, not without looking back
at it for the last time; it was not merely a home closed against
him; it was hope deceived, an ideal life blasted and wrecked, like a
cathedral that has been destroyed by an earthquake. There was still a
fibre in his heart that attached him to that cherished ruin, but he
wrenched it out and flung it from him.



CHAPTER XXX.

AN IRRUPTION OF THE BARBARIANS; ALARIC, ATTILA, AND OMAR.


“Now then, Facunda, make haste, Señor Don Leon will be in soon from
his ride and he will be put out if his room is not done. Though,
Lord knows, he is never put out! A better man never was born. ‘Good
day, Facunda; have you fed your poultry? And Señor Trompeta, how is
he?’--‘Pretty well, thank you Señor Don Leon!’--And that is all we
have to say to each other. Well, well ... and only yesterday Trompeta
was saying there must be two hundred books here; more like two
thousand! Señor Don Leon Roch--it is a queer common sort of name--as
common as ours.--Every time he goes to Madrid, he brings back a whole
carriage full of books and then he makes these pictures. Señor Don
Leon, I wish you would tell me what is the use of them? They are
pretty too. Red and green lines, and spots, and splashes of every
colour. Now if I could only read I might know all about it, for here,
at the edge, there are letters and words scribbled....

“But come, woman! What are you about Facunda, gaping and dawdling
like a booby? Make haste and sweep and clear up before the master
comes. Then you can go down to the kitchen and eat the slice of ham
that is frizzling in the pan; and then take a turn in the sun!”

The speaker was Dame Facunda Trompeta, whose habit it was to talk
to herself whenever she was alone, addressing herself by name and
praising or scolding herself in turns. Even when she did not actually
express herself in words she did by gesture and grimace. She was the
happy wife of José Trompeta, a worthy coal merchant of Madrid, who,
having made a humble fortune by his trade, had retired to Carabanchel
to spend the rest of his days in peace. No life could in fact be more
peaceful and quiet than that of these two childless old folks. They
were both easy-tempered creatures and took affectionate care of each
other in their old age, with a kindly and respectful tenderness that
defied the chill of advancing years. They had bought the little house
of which they occupied the ground floor, letting the upper part at
a fair profit to some of the swarming families of the city who fled
from the whooping-cough or the measles.

In the beginning of April these rooms had been taken by a gentleman,
who had previously been very often to the great house of Suertebella
and who seemed to be a man of distinguished education, though he
hardly ever laughed and spoke as rarely as possible. The room Leon
had taken was spacious but bare; it might have been a prior’s cell,
lofty, airy and old-fashioned. From the windows to the east the trees
of Vista Alegre were visible in the distance, and in the foreground
the park of Suertebella; between this and the Trompeta’s little
court-yard, there was a gate in the wall, which almost always stood
open. To the west lay the picturesque road through Upper Carabanchel
with the park of La Montija, and the blue undulations and green
levels of a country which, from March till the beginning of June, is
not without a charm of its own. Out of this large room, which served
as drawing-room, dining-room and study, opened a bed-room and two
other tiny rooms, in one of which his servant slept. A few articles
of furniture brought from Madrid, with books, geological specimens,
prints, maps, an easel with paints and portfolios, a microscope, some
geological hammers, a simple chemical apparatus for analysis by
evaporation and the blow-pipe, filled the large room.

“There, now your room is ready and you can come in as soon as you
like,” said Facunda dropping into the student’s arm-chair; “you
cannot complain of my having turned your things topsy-turvy.” For the
worthy woman not only talked to herself, but addressed remarks to the
absent. “And tell me, Señor Don Leon, if you please, is it true that
formerly you used to go to dine frequently at Suertebella? Though you
now go there very seldom it strikes me that you admire the Señorita
Marquesa more than enough. She is so rich that her not being handsome
does not matter. You keep away from the great house at present
because she is in mourning. I know, I know what you fine folks
are!...” And Facunda paused, for she not only addressed her invisible
interlocutors but imagined their answers. It was not a harangue but a
discussion.

“What do you say? I am talking nonsense? Is it not a fact that you
are sweet upon the lady? All that courting of the child, what does
that mean; you may talk--San Blas! but if you were not a married
man.... However, you fine gentlemen are not so very particular. Don’t
talk to me; I was in service for twenty years with a countess, and
I could tell you things!... But come, come, Facunda, what are you
doing idling here? Stir about, woman, trot round. You have not got
the _puchero_ on yet.... Hark! what is that? What a noise, who can it
be?”

On the stairs there was a clatter of baby laughter and the busy
patter of little feet. Monina, Tachana and Guru, after playing in the
grounds, had wandered into the cow-yard and through the gate into the
Trompetas’ little plot, and finding themselves there they had set
their hearts on a regular exploration of the house, Monina’s nurse
following in their wake.

We have already made acquaintance with Monina, but Tachana and Guru
are strangers. Tachana, a young person of three, was the daughter
of the bailiff at Suertebella, Catalina by name, with a sweet
little face and a shy, quiet manner; she was Ramona’s companion
in all her games, and though they quarrelled on an average three
times an hour--not unfrequently fighting like infant furies--they
were the best friends in the world, and either of them would cry
bitterly if the other were threatened with punishment. It is easy to
understand how, by the process of transformation that words undergo
in baby mouths, Catalina or Catana had become Tachana, what is less
intelligible is how a boy christened Lorenzo, came to be called Guru;
but so it was, and even stranger travesties of names have been known.
Guru, who was Tachana’s brother, was nearly six, he was as grave and
demure as his sister, an unusually thoughtful but a fine, handsome
boy, and the pride of his father--with a sweetheart, and a watch,
and a little great coat, and a stick--and he always spoke of the two
younger children as ‘the girls.’

“Facunda,” said the voice of the nurse from below, “the locusts are
upon you. Mind, they do no mischief.”

They rushed up in a crowd, Monina skipping and dancing, Tachana
walking with much dignity with a shawl tied round her waist for a
train, while Guru gave himself the airs of the father of a family,
warning them to be careful and well behaved.

“Why here is my little day-star!” cried Facunda, snatching up Monina
and covering her with kisses. Ramona kicked with all the strength of
her little legs, crying:

“No, no, ugly old woman!”

“Bless her, the darling! You, Catana, don’t get into mischief or I
will be after you.... Lorenzo, let Monina alone. Naughty boy, what
are you doing to the child? Let her be, poor little thing.”

Monina and Tachana trotted all round the rooms. They were already
tired with playing in the garden, and their faces were hot and their
eyes bright. Monina had dimples that an angel might have coveted at
the corners of her mouth when she laughed, and Tachana’s dark curls
fell over her forehead so that she had to push them out of her eyes,
which she was constantly blinking as though the light hurt them.
Monina, on the contrary, kept hers wide open with a keen, restless,
investigating glance, the expression of insatiable curiosity and
ambition which wanted first to examine and then to have everything
that came within her ken.

Facunda told them to be very good and to touch nothing, and she
would have been more precise in her injunctions but that she
heard the voice of the nurse down-stairs gossiping with Casiana,
the wife of one of the game-keepers. It is within the limits of
possibility--happily an infinitely remote possibility--that the
earth, rebelling against the laws of attraction, might quit its orbit
and perish in flames from dashing against some other globe; but under
no conceivable theory could it have been possible that Facunda,
hearing the voices of two other women, should resist the attraction
and not run to hear what they were talking about. Consequently she
left the children, creeping silently and cautiously half way down
the stairs. Monina and Tachana meanwhile had come to a standstill in
front of the table on which lay the geological plates, and drawings
finished or in progress. A smile of triumph, such as might light
up the countenance of the discoverer of a new world, shone on each
little face. What pretty things! What bright colours! They had no
idea of what the pictures meant, but they admired them none the less
for that; indeed, they were almost like one of their own works of
art, when a kind hand supplied them with paper and pencils. Guru, who
had a paint box, could certainly have produced works in this style.
These were not mere pictures of babies and houses and horses; they
were a gorgeous blaze of colour and splendour!

Now it is a well-known fact that when a child sees a thing it
admires, be it what it may, it never takes it for granted that it
is finished. It always wishes to add some embellishments of its
own handiwork. Children have, no doubt, a loftier ideal of art
than their elders, and from their point of view every work of art
will bear touching up. This was Monina’s opinion, at any rate, who
discovering on the table and close at hand an ink-stand, dipped her
small finger in and drew a broad black line across the drawing.
Enchanted with the marked effect of the experiment she laughed with
glee, looking round at her companions who laughed too, and Monina,
encouraged by success put her whole little hand into the ink and
daubed the paper from end to end. The result was sublime. Over the
strata, carefully washed in with various tints, lay heavy black
clouds, charged, it would seem, with thunder and rain.

Tachana was much too dainty to put her fingers into the ink; on the
other hand, she was great at pencil effects. Happy opportunity! On
the table lay a blue chalk pencil and on a portfolio stand, close by,
a fine geological atlas--a master-piece of German lithography--was
lying open. These delightful gaudy pages wanted improving; who could
doubt it; an industrious hand might draw a bold line round the margin
of each. What could be better? This was Tachana’s idea and she was a
Raphael in strong lines which she executed with unhesitating dash.

Guru knew that their efforts might end in a whipping and he bid the
little girls cease their mischief; but at the same time he felt
that it was a grand opportunity for him--he, who had a paint box,
and really knew how to “do pictures” almost as good as those of
Velasquez. Monina’s was horrid daubing! What was the meaning of the
black blotches and crosses with which her dirty little fingers had
marked the margin of the print? Appearances might be saved if only
he were to embellish the picture with a house in one corner of it--a
house with two windows like eyes, a chimney at the top, and a dog in
front of the door. No sooner thought of than done. He selected a red
chalk pencil that there might be no mistaking his work for Monina’s,
he took another plate and began his house. In less than five minutes
he had added a horse with a man riding on it and smoking a pipe
bigger than the house.

Three artists can never work in one studio without occasional
outbreaks of temper. Monina wanted to add a touch to Guru’s house,
and he shoved her off with his elbow. Monina snatched away the sheet
saying: “Mine, mine!”

Then Tachana echoed the cry: “Mine!”

The plate, which was of folio size, fell off the table, Tachana and
Monina each seized one end and--crash. The two babies shouted with
glee as it tore across and Monina clapped her inky little paws.

“Oh! you naughty girls, now see what you have done!” said Guru,
turning pale with horror. But Monina’s only reply was to snatch down
another print and tear a piece out of it. Then she clutched the
pencil from Tachana and across the long lines that she had so gravely
drawn, Monina scribbled a perfect spider’s net of flourishes, holding
the pencil by the middle and scratching with all her might and main.
Guru at last succeeded in putting a stop to her Vandalic energy, and
threatened to slap her; but the little imp escaped, skipping about
the room and wiping her grimy little fingers on the silk cushions.

In the course of her peregrinations her eye fell on the table on
which stood the microscope and she stopped short to stare at it,
standing on tiptoe with her hands on the edge of the table. Then she
tried to reach it exclaiming:

“My! pretty, pretty!” which being interpreted, meant to convey the
idea that she supposed it to be a new toy and intended for her.

“Look at her! naughty, naughty,” said Guru, “now she wants the
eye-glass.”

And Guru himself, anxious to prove his superior knowledge, drew the
instrument within reach and applied his right eye to the top of the
tube.

“In this glass I can see Paris,” he announced.

Tachana had pulled a chair to the table that she might see too; but
Monina had gotten ahead of her; she climbed up on the chair, and from
thence, on all fours, on to the table, sending the microscope and the
rest of the apparatus crashing to the floor.

At this moment a man entered the room. The three little Vandals were
turned to stone; Monina on the table, not in the least abashed but
very grave and her eyes very wide open; Tachana on the chair, her
finger in her mouth and her eyes downcast; Guru looking for a corner
where he might hide himself.

“What have these brats been doing?--San Blas! What a mess!” cried
Facunda, who came in at the master’s heels.

Leon cast a despairing glance at the torn prints, the scribbled
atlas, the microscope on the floor; that one glance was enough to
reveal the extent of the disaster.

“You little wretches, what have you done?” he exclaimed, going up to
the table. “And you, Facunda, what were you thinking of to leave them
alone here? What were you about? Listening to gossip no doubt--You
are a worse baby than they are!”

He stamped his feet angrily. Then he heard a piteous cry from
Tachana--a cry from her baby heart.

“Was it you, Monina?” said Leon, looking at the child with grave
displeasure. Monina shook her head in denial till it seemed as though
she would shake it off; at the same time her conscience no doubt
pricked her, for she looked at her hands like a second Lady Macbeth.

“But it was you ... look at your hands. You little wretch!”

Monina looked up in his face, imploring mercy; two large tears rolled
down her cheeks, and her face was puckered up for a whimper when
Tachana’s lamentations suddenly filled the house; she was a perfect
Magdalen; there was nothing for it but to believe in the sincerity of
such noisy repentance.

“There, there,” said Leon, kissing the two little sinners and taking
Monina in his arms, “do not cry any more. What a pretty pair of
hands! What would Mamma say? Come and wash them--you dirty little
creature!”

“The nurse let them come up alone, that she might stay down-stairs
and gossip and chatter,” said Facunda, following with the water jug,
“I cannot be everywhere at once; it is all her fault.”

Monina’s hands were washed; then Leon, seating himself, took a young
lady on each knee.

“Look, what a lot of mischief you have done,” he said, “and Guru,
where is Guru?”

Lorenzo had vanished. “He is at the bottom of it all,” said Facunda.
“These poor little dears would have done no harm if he had not led
them into it.”

“Guru, Guru,” cried the two babies in a duet, laying the burthen of
the crime on the shoulders of their absent accomplice.

“That monkey of a boy! If I catch him here....”

Monina, whose alarm had given place to sauciness, was pulling Leon’s
beard.

“Stop! little lady, you hurt,” he exclaimed.

“Tachana say,” babbled Monina. “Tachana say....”

“Well, what does Tachana say?”

“Tachana say ... you am my papa.”

“No, no,” said Leon, looking at Tachana who was sucking her fingers.
“I am not your papa. Take your hand out of your mouth and tell me why
you say I am your papa.”

Very slowly, and in low tones Tachana made answer:

“My mamma say you am.”

Monina, who was a merry little soul and who when she had got an
idea into her head stuck to it and repeated it, burst into shouts
of laughter, clapping her hands and kicking with delight as if her
feet had a language of their own, and repeated again twenty or thirty
times:

“You am my papa. You am my papa....”

Facunda turned to leave the room saying to herself:

“Why, it is as clear as day; I did not need the child to tell me
that.”

“Señora Facunda,” said Leon. “The nurse may leave the children. I
will take them home.”



CHAPTER XXXI.

THE CRISIS.


An hour later Monina and Tachana were playing on the floor with paper
birds and boxes that Leon had made for them, while he restored order
and sorted out what could be saved from the effects of the invasion.
The noise of an opening door made him look up and he saw before him
his father-in-law, the Marquis de Tellería. He looked aged, and his
face, more lined and wrinkled than usual, betrayed some nervous
tension or perhaps the neglect of some cosmetic he was accustomed to
use; his eyes, dim with tears or want of sleep, blinked and twinkled
like little lamps that flicker for want of oil and struggle with a
feeble smoky flame. His dress only remained unchanged and was as
precise and neat as ever; but his voice, formerly bold and decided,
as that of a man who has always something to say that is worth
hearing, was low, timid and deprecatory. Leon felt greater pity than
ever for the old man, and he offered him a chair.

“I am suffering from fever,” said the marquis, putting out a hand
that Leon might feel his pulse. “For the last three nights I have
not slept at all; and last night I thought I should have died of
exhaustion and shame.”

Leon asked one or two questions as to the cause of his distress and
sleeplessness.

“I will tell you all about it. From you I can have no secrets,” said
Tellería sighing deeply. “In spite of all that has happened between
you and María--which I deplore with all my heart--oh! but I still
hope to see you reconciled.... In spite of everything you will always
be a son to me--a dear son.”

So much mellifluous flattery put Leon on his guard.

“Well, dreadful things have been happening. Your hair will stand on
end when you hear it all, my dear son. But I have a good deal of
fever, have I not? My temperament is so sensitive and nervous, and
I cannot bear these great agitations. God grant you may never go
through in your own house such scenes as have taken place in ours
these last few days! I have come on purpose to tell you, and you see
I do not know how to begin. I am afraid.... I dare not.”

“I understand it all perfectly,” said Leon, interrupting this long
preamble. “The moment has come when it is no longer possible to carry
on the system of drifting. Everything in this world must come to an
end, even the dishonest farce of those who live by spending what they
have not got. A day comes when the creditors are tired of waiting,
when the workmen who have been put off from day to day--upholsterers,
tailors, drapers, purveyors of all kinds--send a cry up to heaven,
and ceasing to ask, proceed to take; ceasing to grumble, begin to
rail.”

“Yes,” said the marquis closing his eyes. “That day has come. They
would not listen to my good counsel and now the catastrophe has
fallen; a hideous catastrophe, of which it is impossible to foresee
the consequences. In one word, my dear fellow, we are in danger of
having an attachment put upon the house.... I do not care for the
loss of all the fashionable rubbish that Milagros has collected
from half a hundred shops without paying for it; what I feel is the
scandal, the disgrace! The day before yesterday a dealer who supplies
us with groceries, and who has been to the house again and again, set
up the most terrific hubbub on the stairs. I heard his torrent of
abuse in my study, and rushed out in a fury, but he retreated into
the street where he continued his harangue. Yesterday the man we hire
the carriage from refused to serve us any more, and the worst of it
is that he wrote me a most insolent letter.... I will show you....”

“No, no. There is no need,” said Leon, staying the trembling hand
with which the old man was fumbling in his pockets. “I can imagine
what the poor wretch would say.”

“Yesterday I was summoned before the magistrate; those rascally
shop-keepers--fuel merchants, upholsterers, and dealers of every
degree, had put in above five and twenty claims against me. It is
horrible to have to talk of such low things; the words seem to burn
my mouth, and my face tingles with shame. Tell me--say that you pity
me.”

“I do indeed,” said Leon moved to sincere commiseration.

“I do not pretend to excuse myself,” the marquis went on with
melodramatic pathos and closing his eyes. “Every resource is
exhausted and every door is closed. Of our jewels nothing is
left--not even the pawnbroker’s tickets. A money-lender to whom I
applied yesterday, the only one in whom I had the slightest hope,
gave me a very rough reception and showed me out with speeches that
I would rather forget. Oh! it is dreadful to have to tell you such
things, Leon, and I do not know how I find courage to say them; I
go round and round the treadmill of misery into which I have been
thrust, and still it seems to me that it is all a lie--that it cannot
be I who have to bear such things--I, Agustín Luciano de Sudre,
Marquis de Tellería, the son of one of the noblest gentlemen of
Extremadura and heir to a name that has been handed down through
centuries with dignity and honour.”

“Yes,” said Leon stiffly, “it might well be a lie! and the most
improbable part of it is that after having been rescued already, more
than once, by generous hands from this abyss of disgrace and misery,
you have fallen into it again.”

“You are right, but I am weak; and the fault is not mine alone,” said
the marquis as meekly as a schoolboy. “My wife and my sons have given
me a push that my fall might be the quicker and more certain. If I
were to tell you the worst, the darkest feature of it all--indeed
my dear Leon, my only friend, I must tell you all, though these are
things that a man only tells to the pillow he sleeps on, and blushes
even then. But I have no secrets from you ... still it is hard, very
hard ... all the blood of the Castilian nobles that flows in my veins
curdles at the thought, and I feel as if an invisible hand held my
lips.”

“But if it is not the aim and object of your visit, you need say
nothing about it.”

“Nay, it has to be said, bitter as it is. You know that Gustavo has
been very intimate for some time with the Marquesa de San Salomó.
Well, Gustavo--but I do not believe that it was his idea, I believe
it was some cunning suggestion of my wife’s--Milagros--I hardly know
how to speak of it--what words to use in speaking of the members of
my own family. In short, Pilar de San Salomó gave Gustavo a certain
sum of money, for what purpose I do not know, but a considerable
sum, which my miserable wife, on some inconceivable pretence, chose
to appropriate; they made their own arrangements; whether there was
any promissory-note or written agreement I did not hear. But my son,
who is a gentleman, finding himself seriously compromised, had a
violent scene with his mother only last evening about this money,
and you cannot conceive the row there was in the house. Gustavo and
Polito were ready to fight. I had to strain every nerve to keep
peace. At last Gustavo went off to his own room; I, suspecting
something worse, followed him and found him with a pistol at his
head, about to shoot himself.... Then there was another scene and
a fresh outburst, with the addition, this time, of his mother’s
horror.... Oh, what a night! My dear fellow, what a dreadful night!
To crown all, the servants, in despair of being paid a farthing, have
left the house after insulting us with a chorus of abuse, calling us
... But no, there are words which I cannot utter.”

The marquis was quite beside himself; great drops of sweat stood on
his forehead and his breast heaved like that of a man who has been
carrying a terrific burthen. Leon found no words to break the pause
that ensued. It was Don Agustín who at length collected his failing
strength and, putting on the most dismal and appealing face that he
could command, exclaimed:

“Leon, my son, save me, save me from this depth of misery! If you do
not I shall die ... we shall all die--save my noble name!”

“How?” asked Leon coldly.

“Do you not see that I am disgraced?”

“Certainly; but I do not see how I am to prevent it.”

“But could you bear to see your relations begging their bread?” said
his father-in-law, employing a figure of speech that he thought must
prove effective.

“I am quite willing to save my relations from beggary. But if you
expect me to pay the debts you have incurred by wastefulness,
dissipation and vanity, so that you may be free to begin again and
get into fresh debt, and go on living in the same scandalous way, I
am obliged to say very plainly: No. Not once, but several times, have
I extricated you from a similar predicament. I have heard endless
promises of amendment, endless schemes of reform; but they have all
resulted in greater extravagance than ever. You, the marquesa, and
Polito have eaten up a good quarter of my fortune; I can do no more.”

Leon’s resolute energy startled the hapless marquis, who sat stunned;
the bluntness of his son-in-law’s refusal deprived him for a time of
the power of speech; at last, stammering and hesitating like a man
who has lost count in telling his beads, he managed to speak.

“I am not asking your charity ... that is not in my nature ...
whenever I have appealed to your generosity ... you have had my bond
... and interest.”

“The bond is a mere formality, the interest purely visionary; I
have accepted the hypothesis simply and solely to give a gift the
semblance of a loan. What security can you give who have neither
land, nor houses, not even a stick that does not belong to your
creditors? What I have done for you has been anything rather than
really generous, Señor; it is a crime. I have not succoured the needy
but sheltered the vicious!”

“Good God!” cried the marquis quaking with astonishment;
“remember--what you have done for me--for my sons and my wife was the
natural outcome of your affection for us ... but Leon, for the last
time ... this is the critical moment of my life. The honour of my
house is at stake.”

“Your house has no such thing as honour; it has had none for a long
time past.”

The marquis drew up his effeminate head; his wrinkled cheeks were
purple, and his eyes flashed as though a sudden light had blazed up
in front of him; it almost seemed as if there might be a grain of
dignity still lurking in the soul of this man, weak as he was, in
mind as in body, a spark of honour urging him on like a dastardly
soldier who, after keeping out of danger in a battle, tries in the
last extremity to escape the taunts of his comrades by seeking a
glorious death. But Leon’s ascendancy over the poor coward was so
great that he could not find strength to speak and could only groan,
while his head fell again on his breast and he listened dully to his
son-in-law. He was but a dry and blasted tree, awaiting the fatal axe.

“No honour,” repeated Leon, “unless we give the word a purely
conventional and fictitious sense. True honour does not consist in
repeating a set of formulas to protect ourselves against weakness
and meanness. It is based on noble deeds, on prudent and respectable
conduct, on domestic honesty and an unbroken word. Where these do
not exist who can talk of honour? Where everything is falsehood,
insolvency, vice and folly how can there be honour? Since we are here
in strict privacy supposing I remind you of your wife’s proceedings,
of Polito’s, nay of your own?”

The marquis put out a deprecatory hand as if to implore his
son-in-law to do nothing of the kind. But Leon thought it right to
strike home.

“I entreat you,” said Tellería penitently, “not to go on with your
list of grievances. I regret them bitterly; I do not deny that I have
committed follies ... who has not? It is the way of the world. Now
that I am sinking, Leon, either put out a hand to save me or leave
me to perish; but do not vilify me, do not make my fate more cruel
than it is. Of course I have no right to appeal so frequently to your
generosity. Still, you must reflect that your circumstances and mine
are widely different. I have children, and you have not.”

“But ...” Was he going to say: “‘But I may have some day?’”

The marquis sat for a few minutes looking at the two little girls
playing in the middle of the room.

“Well,” said Leon. “I will make you an allowance sufficient to enable
you to live decently, but this is all I can do. I have not a gold
mine; nor, if I had, would it ever fill up the gulfs that you open
at my feet from time to time.”

Don Agustín turned pale, and as he sat gazing at the floor he mumbled
with his jaws as though he were turning over the dry husk of a fruit.

“An allowance!” he muttered. In fact the idea stuck in his throat,
and though common gratitude forbid his making any overt objection his
changed expression plainly showed that this eleemosynary annuity,
doled out by pity, revolted his pride and embittered his blood. So
complete was his moral obliquity that, while he felt no degradation
to ask a loan on fictitious security, tantamount in fact to a
distinct purpose of never repaying it, he was wounded to the quick
by this offer of a pension which he called “throwing his bread in
his teeth.” Besides, his selfish pride made him recalcitrant to any
scheme which did not extricate him from his immediate dilemma. What
did he care for living the decent and respectable life that Leon
spoke of? What does the spendthrift care for the future? His first
anxiety is to avoid scandal at a great crisis, so that, when it is
past, he may go on again with a bold front and a confident stride
along the same road of ruin and insolvency which was so familiar to
him. However, the marquis had too much respect for propriety and too
much genuine courtesy to allow him to betray his feelings; on the
contrary, he expressed himself grateful for “the St. Bernard’s mess
of pottage”--the pittance that his son-in-law had offered.

“An allowance,” he said trying to make the best of it, “you are
most liberal; I am grateful for your foresight. But in point of fact
it will not get me out of the scrape. The ship is wrecked, and your
allowance is land in sight a hundred miles away.”

He could find nothing else to say; but he was paler than ever, and
did not raise his eyes from the ground. Vexation and disgust had
changed his features as if he were suddenly and miraculously aged.
His lips were pinched between two deep wrinkles, and his moustache,
all unstiffened, stuck out in every direction, as threatening as
a hedgehog’s spines. His cheeks, of a dull and faded pink, were
furrowed and worn, and under his eyes were deep ridges of puffy white
flesh; it almost seemed as though his neck was leaner and his ears
larger and more transparent, while his temples had taken the yellow
hue of a mortuary taper; he seemed to have fallen into decrepitude.
However, after a few moments of reflection over his hapless fate,
he raised his head, and forced his lips into a grimace in which a
hypocritical smile hardly concealed the foaming of rage.

“You are, I am sure, most kind and considerate,” he began. “But if we
owe much to you, on your part, you have ample reason for your good
offices. We cannot be expected to overlook the fact that you have
made our beloved María a miserable woman.”

“That I have made her miserable,” said Leon quietly.

“Yes, most wretched! though we have kept it quiet out of
consideration for you--too much consideration. At last our feelings
are too much for us and we cannot sit by in silence when we see that
angel’s sufferings. Do you mean to say that you do not see that the
grief of her separation from you will bring her to the grave?”

There is no creature on earth however insignificant that does not try
to bite or sting when it is trodden under foot. The marquis, wounded
in his pride and cheated of his wild hopes, had recourse to his sting.

“This is too complicated a question to be discussed in a hurry. Do
you, as her father, demand an explanation of my action? Because, if
so, you have been a long time thinking of it. María and I parted more
than a month ago.”

“But the fact that I have delayed it need not prevent my doing so
now,” retorted Don Agustín, plucking up his courage now he thought
that he had laid his hand on one of those weapons which give a coward
the advantage over the most valiant foe. “I am a father, and a
devoted one. There is no name for your behaviour to María, that angel
of goodness! In the first place you assailed her with your atheism
and almost broke her heart by your materialistic views. Do you think
that the piety of a woman, brought up as she has been, in the true
faith, is not even deserving of respect when she desires to practice
it with all due fervour? Without beliefs and without faith, do you
expect to govern the world or a family by the laws of an atheistical
Utopia?”

“And what in God’s name do you know about governing the world, or
even a family?” cried Leon, laughing bitterly at his father-in-law’s
solemnity. “When did you ever know anything about religion? When had
you any beliefs, or faith, or anything of the kind to boast of?”

“Very true; I am not learned in such matters,” replied Tellería
conscious of his incompetence. “I am ignorant; but I cherish certain
traditions which have been stamped on my heart from childhood, that I
have never forgotten in spite of my shortcomings; and by the light of
those principles I can declare that you have behaved atrociously to
María, and that by forcing her to this separation you have trampled
on every sound principle and all that the human conscience holds most
sacred.”

This hackneyed scrap of newspaper bombast exasperated Leon more
perhaps than the speaker’s pretensions merited. Pale with wrath, he
turned upon him at once:

“Of what good are your moral laws and your interpretation of the
human conscience? A beautiful thing indeed is your reverence for
tradition. Why! I was such a fool as to endure for four years a
life of mental asphyxia in a world where everything is dogma and
formula! Morality, religion, honour!--Words! mere words! Wealth even
is an empty mockery; the very laws are mere formula--made brand-new
every day and never obeyed; the whole thing is a miserable farce--a
stage, where the actors are never weary of cheating each other and
the rest of the world in their lying parts, and making believe to be
virtuous, pious, or noble. This is your model society, worthy to be
preserved intact to all futurity!... No one must lay a finger on it,
or even find fault with it. I, you say have failed in respect to that
herd of hypocrites who succeed in hiding their depravity from the
million, and are clever enough to pass for creatures with a soul and
conscience--I, who have seen and suffered, and said nothing, not even
in opposition to the aberrations of a wife, who, though less guilty,
is more fanatical than most--I, you say, have broken the laws of
morality! How and in what respect I ask you?

“Nay, but I will tell you. I have been such a fool as to yield to
the contemptible formulas which in your world pass for principles;
I have looked on in silence and been content to screen vice and
extravagance, supplying money to a spendthrift father, and wasteful
mother, and libertine sons. I have encouraged dissolute living, have
lent support to every vice--nay even to crime. These sins I have
committed, and I own them to my shame!”

Provoked at first, and lashing his fury with his own words, Leon
struck the table, threatened his father-in-law with his fist, till
the old man shrank almost to nothing as he sat through this philippic
with his eyes fixed on a water-jar that stood on the table, wondering
whether it were large enough for him to hide in.

Monina and Tachana, terrified by Leon’s vehemence, gathered up their
paper playthings and, daring neither to laugh nor to cry, crept
silently away into a corner of the room.

“I only spoke as a father,” said the marquis in so faint a voice
that it might really have come from the bottom of the vase.

“And I spoke as a man wounded in his tenderest feelings, a husband
exiled from his hearth by a cruel inquisition, and cast into the
loneliness of practical celibacy by gross fanaticism and heartless
bigotry. Those moral laws of which you talk so much condemn me, I
know, for what they most absurdly call my atheism; but the true
atheist, the hardened materialist, are those who trick themselves out
in borrowed robes to be my accusers, and who would be just as ready
to dress themselves up as harlequins to dance at a fancy ball. But
though I should scorn to defend myself before them, I would have them
know that I am the victim and not the executioner, and that I have
quite made up my mind henceforth to defy the censure of hypocrites
and the attacks of detractors. I mean to go my own way; I know where
to find truth and the really immutable laws. I can scorn dogmas and
traditions! It will be a pleasure to me to show my contempt, not in
secret but publicly, for a tribunal that deserves no veneration,
and a verdict pronounced in accordance with the clamour of a crowd
devoid of all moral sense. Composed of agitators, hypocrites, rakes,
idlers and bigots; of antiquated fops and decrepit youth, of foolish
women and men who traffic in public moneys and private consciences;
of would-be authorities who are but apes, of men who would sell
everything--even their honour--and others who would sell themselves,
but that no one will buy them; of worldlings who put on an air of
sanctity--mere bags of rottenness with human faces; of cowards,
sneaks and renegades; of all in short who would like to constitute
the basis of society and who do not hesitate to insist that all
mankind ought to be moulded after their image and likeness. Well! let
them stay where they are! I will withdraw--I have withdrawn--leaving
my hapless wife behind me, by her desire, not my own, I can look on
from afar at the edifying spectacle. They understand each other--they
live from day to day, spending what is not their own; paying for
church ceremonies, and encouraging vice; dividing their inheritance
between sacristans and ballet-girls. Families are either dying out,
or perpetuated by generations of unhealthy descendants; the most
serious facts and laws of life are laughed to scorn; virtue and true
piety are contemned, while they preach in bombastic rhetoric a scheme
of morality of which they are utterly ignorant and a God whose laws
they have not studied. They, indeed, are atheists, a thousand times
over, who measure the sublime purposes of the Almighty by the puny
standard of their mean and selfish souls!”

The burning words had parched his lips; he took the jar from the
table and drank some water. His hapless opponent had shrunk so
completely into nothingness that he had ceased to think of the vase
as a conceivable hiding-place; his eyes now rested on a match-box as
though to say: “How happy should I be if only I might disappear into
that!”

Being a man of the world with a multitude of commonplaces at his
command, even on the most critical occasions, Tellería was trying to
find some words that might release him from the present dilemma, or
at any rate cover his discomfiture.

“I will not attempt to imitate you,” he began, pulling himself
together and clearing his throat. “I shall indulge in no violent
language. I have appealed to the laws of morality and to them I still
appeal. You have sinned against my daughter and against society at
large ... that is how I feel it, and how I must continue to speak
of it. I go back to the insult you have offered to María, who is a
faithful and blameless wife, and to the underhand manner of your
separation. In short, I do not believe that it was María’s bigotry
that moved you to it, I strongly suspect ...”

But the marquis did not finish his sentence. Tachana was heard
crying. She and Monina had crept behind a chair and had been peeping
through the bars in great alarm at the two men who were arguing so
fiercely. Tired at last of this amusement they had begun to quarrel;
Ramona had slapped her companion.

“Whose children are those?” asked the marquis eagerly, “that
red-haired child is Pepa’s, surely?”

“Yes; Monina, come here.”

“Suertebella is here is it not?”

“Quite near.”

“To be sure!” The marquis had an idea--slow of wit as he was and
rarely able to boast of an idea of his own; for his logic, like his
phrases, was borrowed ready made. He felt a strange light flash
through his murky brain; yes! yes! he had an idea, and nothing on
earth should persuade him to abandon it! He rose.

“Good-bye,” he said shortly, putting on a face so solemn as to be
quite ludicrous.

“Good-bye,” answered Leon in no way disconcerted.

“We will meet again and renew our discussion of the laws of
morality,” added Don Agustín, “of my daughter’s position--your
desertion--her honour--all these are very serious matters.” And as
he drew himself up he seemed to grow taller; the match-box, the
water-jar, the chair he sat in, nay, the room itself seemed too small
to hold him.

“Very well, discuss it at once!”

“No. We must be calm, very calm. My daughter must put herself under
the protection of the law. I shall communicate with my family on the
subject. It is a most serious matter ... my honour....”

“Ah! To be sure; your honour!” said Leon with a laugh. “Very good; we
will try to find it, and when we have succeeded we can talk about it.
Good-bye.”

The marquis departed. Though somewhat crestfallen at the failure
of his application for money, he was very proud of himself. There
was something in his mind which made him swell as he thought of
it; the stairs, the doorway, were not big enough for him--even the
street, the fields, the whole wide world! It was the idea which
had slipped in hardly visible and expanded within him, suggesting
with miraculous fertility a thousand accessory possibilities of the
most flattering description, raising him in his own estimation, and
lowering others. How comforting it is to have an idea! especially
when it condones our own sins by showing us the sins of others, and
allows us to say with satisfaction: “Ah! we are all alike, all alike!”



CHAPTER XXXII.

REASON _VERSUS_ PASSION.


The following day Leon had visitors; two friends who gave him some
information which, though certainly interesting, was far from
pleasing to him, and he spent the day in agitations and the night
without sleep. Early in the morning he called Facunda and told her
that he was going away; then an hour later he said to himself: “No I
must stay--I ought to stay.”

In the afternoon he rode out, and on his return sent a message to
Pepa saying that he wished to speak with her.

Since the day when the news of Cimarra’s death had reached them,
Leon had hardly seen her; a feeling of delicacy had kept him from
repeating his visits to Suertebella.

Pepa received him in the evening in Monina’s nursery, where he had
seen the little girl suffering and dying. This evening the saucy
baby, lying half-uncovered on the bed, was rebellious to the law
which sends children to sleep betimes. Kicking and tossing between
the sheets she was chattering to herself, relating scraps of all the
stories she knew, full of fun and impudence; beginning long speeches
that ended in nothing, punishing her doll after she had fed it,
sitting up in bed to bow like a gentleman, and making a peep-hole
with her tiny fingers to imitate the Baron de Soligny’s eye-glass.
After much ado, between laughter and a pretence of severity, Pepa
succeeded in making her kneel up and repeat a _pater noster_ with a
very bad grace and a great many yawns. This she followed up with a
baby hymn and, as though this innocent litany had a soporific virtue,
Monina dropped upon the pillow and her eyelids closed over her
unwilling eyes while she was still murmuring the last words of the
verse.

They stood watching her for some time in silence, and then Leon,
bending down to kiss her, said:

“Good-bye, little pet,” in a tremulous voice.

“Why good-bye?” asked Pepa anxiously. “Are you going away?”

“Yes.”

“You sent word that you wanted to see me?”

“To take leave.”

“Are you not happy here?”

“Immensely happy--but I must not stay.”

“I do not understand; have you made it up with your wife?”

“No.”

“You are going abroad?”

“Perhaps.”

“Where to?”

“I have not made up my mind.”

“But you will let us know; you will write?”

“Nay; perhaps not even that.”

Pepa looked steadily at the floor.

“It is folly that you and I should talk in riddles and beat about the
bush,” said Leon. “For some months we have always used vague phrases,
as if we had something to hide. If there is any guilt in our souls it
had better be plainly uttered than hypocritically concealed. In fact
I must speak out.

“After I had so completely lost every dream of domestic happiness
I became a constant visitor at your house. Perhaps--nay indeed,
certainly--I went there too often. My loneliness, my dulness, my
longing for some of the pleasures of a home life, led me there in
search of that comfort which is as necessary to the human soul as
equilibrium is to the body. I was perishing of cold; what wonder then
that I went where I found warmth? I began by amusing myself with
Monina, I ended by worshipping her, for I felt not merely a want
but the maddest craving to love and be loved. It is so easy to win
a child’s love. I had a wild desire to revel in childish things, to
lay my heart, empty and void as it was, at her baby feet for her to
stamp upon it--I do not know how else to express it--but you will
understand. I always fancy you can read my soul since yours is no
secret to me. I feel as though for a long time we had been acting a
comedy....”

“I never act!” interrupted Pepa.

“No, no, nor I, but listen. I was alone; at home, in the street, in
the turmoil of society everywhere; always alone except when I was
by your side. A fatality ... nay, I will not give that conventional
name to the consequences of our own errors and want of foresight....
I will say the situation in which we had placed ourselves forbid our
declaring honestly the feelings of our hearts. We were both married.”

“Yes,” said Pepa calmly and steadily, as having often made the same
reflection, and said the same thing to herself, having contemplated
the fact many times and from every possible point of view.

“Now, to be sure, you are free, but I am not. The situation is not
materially altered; but the fact that you are a widow is maddening
me.--I ought not to be here at this moment--and yet here I am! When
I see you and Monina dressed in black I am filled with a ferment of
sacrilegious passion; I struggle to quell it and be silent, but you
yourself drag me on with irresistible force and compel me.... Well,
there is but one way of saying it ... to tell you that I love you;
that I have loved you for a long time. I cannot find courage or words
to curse this passion, which in me is the outcome of my banishment
from all happiness, and in you of ... I don’t know what.”

“It was born with me,” said Pepa under her breath. “You have told
me what my heart knew already.... But to hear you say it ... with
your own lips ... here, to my face.... Here, where only God and I can
hear....”

Her voice failed her and she turned as pale as death: she could
find no utterance for the feelings that crowded on her soul, but
she seized one of Leon’s hands and kissed it again and again with
passionate tenderness.

“We are in a very difficult position,” he said. “We must face it
together.”

“A difficult position!” repeated Pepa with candid surprise, as though
to her it seemed a very simple matter.

“Yes, for at this moment we are both the victims of calumny.”

Pepa shrugged her shoulders as much as to say: “What do I care for
calumny?”

“You will feel with me that I made a great mistake in coming to live
so near you.”

“A mistake! In coming to Carabanchel!” she exclaimed in an accent
that conveyed that if that was a mistake, then so was the daily
rising of the sun.

“Yes, a great mistake. But indeed I, who am regarded by a good many
people as a man of sense, am always making mistakes in matters of
conduct.” Pepa thought that possible. “My last blunder has given
a pretext to scandal. My poor darling, do you know that they say
in Madrid that within two months of your husband’s death you have
encouraged a lover; that I am that lover; and that we are living
in open defiance of all decency and morality. Not content with
this they have chosen to invent a piece of retrospective slander,
supporting it by what passes for substantial evidence.”

“And what is that?”

“Monina is said to be my child.”

For a minute Pepa stood bewildered; but the terrible charge had made
no very deep impression on her mind. By a rapid and inexplicable
process of logic she said:

“The calumny is so preposterous, so absurd, that we need not let it
distress us.”

“Do you know of any shield against which the arrows of calumny are
shattered?” said Leon. “There is but one and that is innocence. Our
innocence, Pepa, is not immaculate. The slander that is directed
against us is not without foundation; it is mistaken only as to the
facts. It is false when it asserts that I am your favoured lover, but
it is true when it says that I love you--it lies when it says that
Monina is my child, but it is true--” Pepa did not let him finish the
sentence.

“But it is true that you love her as if she were!” she exclaimed with
joyous haste.

“Calumny may be wrong as to the facts, but failing facts she has
intentions, desires, hopes to go upon. Answer me, can you say that we
are innocent?”

“No. I, at any rate, am not. The scandal that has dragged my name in
the mud is a just punishment,” said Pepa sadly. “And if I think of
it with less horror than I ought to feel, it is because there is
so much, so very much to excuse part--most--the foundation of the
report. You are upright, honest, steadfast--I am not. I have allowed
myself to cherish feelings in my heart in opposition to my duty; I am
a wicked woman, Leon; I do not deserve your love; I am guilty, and I
cannot feel that delicate horror of calumny you feel.”

“Pepa, Pepa, do not talk so,” said Leon grasping her hand. “It is
not thus that I have seen you, dreamed of, as, by degrees, you have
conquered my heart and become sovereign of my affections.”

“But if you cannot love me as I am,” she said, her words almost
choked with grief and bitterness, “why did you not come in time? Oh!
if you had come when I wanted you, you might have found me lofty and
pure! What a high and holy devotion--worthy of you indeed--you would
have found under the childish follies which were nothing but the
mad outbursts of an oppressed heart and a fevered fancy, if you had
come in time and vouchsafed a loving word to the wilful girl, mad
and foolish as she was, what a treasure of devotion would have been
yours!--it was reserved for you, and in your hands it would have been
refined and purified. I was a rough ore, apparently of no value--nay,
I might have been a misfortune to the owner--you thought so? But all
I needed was to fall into hands that were not put out to take me; I
was an instrument that could yield no music excepting in the hands
for which I was born, and without my natural master all was jangling
discord. Do not complain then if you now find me somewhat wanting in
principles and moral sense. I have suffered much; I have led a life
of constant and fearful struggle with myself, my life has been passed
in utter disharmony with those I have had to live with; I felt myself
scorned and misunderstood and that has always weighed upon my soul;
it made me unreasonable and perverse and so, by degrees, I lost that
purity of soul which once I cherished for you--you who would not have
it as a gift! I am not so strict as you are; my conscience is less
sensitive, and I have no courage left for further sacrifices, for my
heart is weary and as full of wounds as a madman who tries to kill
himself. I cannot admit that the world has the right to require me
to torture myself any more; it has imposed sufferings enough upon
me--and so I dare to ask you too to be less severely strong, to
ignore the moral susceptibilities of society, to make some concession
to feeling, to remain here and see me every day, to pay me some
portion of the debt you owe me--by loving a little.”

She could not command her voice to the end of her speech and burst
into tears.

“It was my idiotic pride,” said Leon, more ready to accuse than to
defend himself, “that has brought misery on us both. May the scorn of
which you speak be visited on my own head and all the evil wrought by
my mistake be mine to suffer!”

“Nay, you need no more disasters; you have had enough to go through!
The fault was not all yours. I had no other merit than that of
loving you; I was wilful, violent and spoilt; I quite understand
your preference for ... her; and she was so handsome; I was never
good-looking.... And now, now after so many years, you come to me
... and now....” She could not say it; her brow was contracted with
despair, at length, with a gesture of horror, as if she saw some
terrific vision she said hoarsely: “You have a wife.”

Leon could say nothing in reply to the appalling eloquence of this
fact. He bent his head in silence. “A wife! handsome, saintly,
impeccable!” Pepa went on. “But even so, have I not triumphed? You
have left her and come to me.” And she looked up radiantly.

“No, no,” said Leon eagerly. “It is she who has left me. I loved her
and did all in my power to prevent the rupture of the sacred tie that
binds us; I have kept my marriage vows faithfully ... till now, when
I have broken them.”

“And they are better broken!” exclaimed Pepa vehemently. “Why should
you respect the judgment of fools? Why should the image of your wife
come between you and me?”

“Pepa, my dearest, be calm for pity’s sake; your wild words alarm me.”

“But I tell you I have no moral sense; I lost it--you took it with
my last hopes. When one is hopeless is that not the same as being
wicked? I have been wicked ever since that evening when my last hope
died out of me as though it had been my very soul, and left me rigid
and cold--as if really and truly mad. From that moment I have gone
wrong in everything; I married just as I might have flung myself into
the sea; I married as a substitute for suicide. I did not know what I
was doing, but there was a seed of evil in me that I actually tried
to foster into growth. If only I had been well educated! but I had no
education; I was a savage, and I loved to display my riches, social
advantages and pinchbeck splendour,--just as the Caffirs display
feathers and beads. And bitter pique rankled in my heart and made
me resolve that I would give to the least worthy suitor what I had
intended for the most worthy. If I could not have the best I would
take the worst! Do you remember my throwing out my jewels on the
dust-heap? I wanted to do the same with myself. Of what use was I if
no one loved me? How could I marry a good and worthy man? It would
have been folly ... no, no, I wanted to hate some one--to hate the
man who was nearest to me--whom the world would call my other half,
and the church pronounce my mate. You see I longed to be wicked! In
our rank of life, you know, when a girl of base instincts craves for
liberty, marriage is a wide and open door. In my madness I said to
myself: ‘I am rich; I will marry a fool and I shall be free;’ and I
never thought of my poor father. Oh yes, I have been very wicked!

“Well, many a girl has done the same, though not with such fatal
consequences. I married, and every conceivable misfortune fell
upon me and mine ... I was free--but you were as far off as ever.
Your very virtue enraged me, though it gave me much to think of.
Would you believe that I was quite humiliated by it, and at times
flattered my fancy by dreams of being virtuous too? God knows what
the end might have been! He saved me by giving me my child. Her birth
brought an interval of peace which till then I had not known; as
Monina grew under my eyes I seemed to become miraculously gifted with
intelligence, prudence, a love of order, and common-sense. I was a
different creature, I became what I should have been if, instead of
the torments of rejected love, I had lived in peace under the yoke of
your authority.

“Now I am cured of those vagaries which made me notorious; I am not
as good as I ought to be; I do not fear God as I ought; I cannot feel
ready to sacrifice my feelings to the laws to which I have been a
martyr; I see now that I have been living in a world of empty dogmas,
where fine words are more plentiful than good deeds, and so I say: ‘I
am free, you are free....’”

“I?”

“Yes, you. For a man is free who breaks his chains. Did you not say
that she had left you?”

“Yes!” A pained and doubting expression came over Leon’s features.

“No! I see that it is I--always I--who am really abandoned!” cried
Pepa. “Well, so be it!”

“Abandoned, no. But there is a moral impossibility which neither you
nor I can fail to see. As for me, I am in the most desperate and
wretched dilemma that any man ever had to face.”

Pepa looked straight into his eyes in agonised expectation of what he
might say next.

“I am married; I do not love my wife, nor does she love me. We are
incompatible natures; there is a gulf between us. We are separated
by utter antipathy, as strong in her as in me. But why did my wife
become alienated from me? She was faithful and virtuous, she brought
no dishonour on my name--if she had I would have killed her! As it is
I cannot kill her--nor divorce her; even a legal separation is out of
the question. The only crime that has come between us is religion.
Of what do I accuse her? Of being a bigot, a fanatic. And is that a
fault?... Who can decide? Now and then with shameful sophistry it has
occurred to me that I might accuse her of insanity; horrible thought!
And what right have I to call any excess of pious practices insane?
God alone can read hearts and determine the boundary line between
piety and fanaticism. In my own soul I can declare that my wife is a
fanatic; but I have no right to accuse her before all the world.”

Leon spoke calmly and judicially as he uttered these questions and
answers. As though he were pleading and arguing for and against a
criminal.

“My wife has sinned against love, which is as much a law of marriage
as fidelity,” he went on. “But she has done nothing to disgrace me;
is there then sufficient cause for me to pronounce myself free?”

“Yes, if your wife has ceased to love you; she has annulled the
marriage.”

“She has annulled it by her fanatical religion. But I look into my
conscience and say: ‘Am I not as guilty as she is?’ For if she has a
form of fanaticism that impels her to abhor me, have I not a kindred
fanaticism which makes me abhor her? She holds a scheme of belief
that parts her from me; I too have a scheme of belief that drives me
from her. Am I not perhaps a bigot too?”

“You, no! It is she, it is she.”

“At the stage which we have reached, which of us is the more to
blame? Fanatical she is, no doubt; but she has a thoroughly good and
upright nature. María is incapable of a dishonourable action; she is
a bigot and narrow-minded, but she is honest. She does not love me,
but she loves no one else. Am I not perhaps the guilty one ... I who
love another?” He passed his hand across his aching brow and paused
to consider the desperate case.

“Even if I should decide that I would be free,” he said at last. “I
could marry no one else. I could not dream of founding another home;
neither law nor conscience would admit of it. I must abide by the
consequences of my errors. I am not, and I never can be, one of the
crowd who acknowledge no law human or divine; I cannot do as those do
who have a moral code for their public acts but whose private life is
corrupt, whose thoughts are evil. My family, if I had one would be
illegitimate, my children would be bastards and nameless, we should
breathe an atmosphere of disgrace. Do not suppose that in speaking
thus and in flying from the situation in which we find ourselves, I
am surrendering to the gossip of Madrid; nor even that, in speaking
of the illegitimacy of such ties, I am bowing to the decisions of the
law which is impotent to decide the right and wrong of this vital
question on moral grounds. I am simply obeying my conscience, which
makes itself heard above all the other voices of my heart. Appeal to
your own conscience....”

Pepa drooped sadly as though she were falling to the ground, but
putting her hand to her head she murmured:

“My conscience is love.”

There was something deeply pathetic in this declaration from a woman
who for long years had been storing up treasures of affection without
knowing on whom to bestow them and who now saw herself condemned to
lavish them as best she might on the images of a joyless and fevered
fancy.

“But picture to yourself,” said Leon, “all the odious and
disreputable conditions of an illegitimate, or I would rather say an
immoral, family. The children without a name--the ever-present image
of the absent wife....”

“Do not name her; I tell you not to name her,” cried Pepa, making
an effort not to be too vehement. “Her mad fanaticism excludes her
altogether!”

“But if I am no less fanatical?”

“No, that makes no difference!”

“Well, there is one remedy for the state of mind from which you and I
are doomed to suffer.”

“What is that?”

“Hope.”

“Hope!” murmured Pepa, shaking her head; the word found a melancholy
echo in her brain. “Hope! that is my fate, there are lives in which
hope is a torment and not a comfort.”

“Look at that little angel,” said Leon, pointing to Monina who slept
in blissful ignorance at the storm that was rolling over her innocent
dreams; “there is your true conscience. When all this agitation is
over if your bitterness still survives and your sad memories prompt
you to wander from the right path, let your thoughts dwell upon your
child. You will find that act like a magic charm. A hundred sermons,
and all the logic in the world, could not teach you what you will
learn from one smile of that tiny creature, whose innocence hardly
seems of the earth; and in her eyes you will read perfect truth.”

“You are right, you are right,” cried Pepa bursting into tears.

“Her eyes are like a mirror in which if you can read it rightly you
may see something of the future. Think of your child as grown up, as
a woman fifteen years hence; how could you bear that some malignant
tongue should whisper in her ear shameful tales of her mother’s
disgrace? Think of your feelings if some one were to say to her:
‘your mother, before she had been a widow two months, had taken for
her lover a married man, the husband of a faithful wife.’”

“Oh, no!” cried Pepa with a flash of indignation, “that they shall
never say!”

“But they will say so; why not? If they are ready to say what is
not true, why should they not say what is? You must think of the
fateful and inevitable influence that a parent’s actions have on the
children. There is certain tradition of morality which is a great
protection against disaster and dishonour.”

“I implore you not even to suggest that my child can ever be anything
but innocence itself!” exclaimed Pepa, drowned in tears.

Then they were both silent; they sat on Ramona’s bed, arm in arm,
with their faces very near together, wrapped, as it were, in an
atmosphere of tenderness that breathed from them both, gazing in
loving contemplation of the child’s happy slumbers. Deep, very deep,
down in her heart Pepa was thinking: “child of my body and soul, I
can be happy so long as I feel that you are mine, and fancy that I
can bestow you on some one I can trust.”

Presently they rose from their place side by side and Pepa seated
herself in a dim corner.

“I must be going,” said Leon.

“Already!” said Pepa in dismay and looking up at him imploringly.

Leon was about to answer when they heard footsteps and the marquis
came into the room; he was in the habit of coming to bid his daughter
good-night before he retired for the evening. He was surprised to see
Leon, though there was nothing unusual in the hour for a visit.

“What is the matter? Is Monina ill?”

“No, Papa, she is quite well.”

“Ah. I fancied--” and the marquis kissed his daughter. “I am glad to
see you here,” he said kindly to Leon.

“I came to say good-bye to Pepa and to you.”

“You are going on a journey? Well, it is the best thing you can do.
And where are you going?”

“I have not made up my mind.”

“And you start....”

“To-morrow.”

“If you go to Paris I will give you a commission. I will go to your
lodgings early in the morning; just now I am going to bed, I have a
headache.”

Leon saw that he must leave at once.

“Good-bye, good-bye,” he said grasping Pepa’s hands. Their eyes
met with a keen glance; she was disappointed at this abrupt
leave-taking. Leon looked at the sleeping child and then, with calm
self-possession, he went out. He felt a stranger in the suites of
rooms as he passed through them; but the pretty nest he had just
left was so intimately part of his life that he could hardly forbear
from turning back to breathe once more in that atmosphere of peace
and contentment--an atmosphere full of the delicious sense of home,
hallowed by a woman’s love and a child’s slumbers.

As they parted Don Pedro said:

“I am very uneasy at having heard no details of Federico’s death.”

Leon made no reply; he went out into the garden. There, so many
remembrances appealed to his affections that at every step he paused
to sigh and dream. He had reached the avenue that led from the
gardens to the stables when he heard himself called, with a shrill
“_hist_” that came on his ear as sharp as a dart. He turned and saw
Pepa, wrapped in a shawl with her head uncovered, coming towards him
in breathless haste. She eagerly grasped his hand.

“I could not bear that we should part like this,” she said, “it is
too hard!”

“It is as it ought to be,” replied Leon greatly disturbed. “And what
does it matter? I shall come in to-morrow for a moment.”

“For a moment!” cried Pepa in pathetic reproach. “Think what it is to
have given years--long years--as long as centuries, and to be repaid
with moments!”

Leon took both her hands firmly in his.

“My dearest,” he said, “one of us must yield to the other. I know,
and I tell you, that if I allow myself to be dragged away by you our
ruin is complete. Then let yourself be guided--not dragged away--by
me and save our souls alive.”

“And then--but I know what you will say: Hope! Every madman has his
hobby!” and she smiled, a heart-rending smile of self-pity that might
have drawn tears from a stone. “Hope! and if I die first?”

“No, no, you will not die ...” Leon murmured, taking her head between
his hands as if she had been a child and kissing her.

“I am but a helpless thing,” stammered Pepa, who could hardly
command her voice, “you can do what you will with me; but you are
cruel.”

“And you will obey?”

“Nay, you need not ask; I have long obeyed you in intention. I used
to dream that you came to see me, when you had in fact forgotten
my very existence; that you commanded me to break with every duty,
and I obeyed you with all the force of my will and desires. This
submission was my only joy--a melancholy one! Do not blame me for the
aberrations of a broken heart--I only tell you that you may see that
if I would follow you to any crime, I shall not refuse to follow you
when you lead me to do right.”

“Where would you have me lead you?” muttered Leon clasping his brow.
“Tell me, if I were to say ...”

“What?” asked Pepa quickly and catching at his idea as a bird catches
a seed before it can fall to the ground.

“The idea of flight has passed through your mind?“

“Oh! every idea in turn has passed through my mind.”

“So that if I were to say ...”

“If you say ‘come,’ I am ready.“

“Now?”

“This very minute. I would take my baby in my arms....“

Pepa, vehement in her devotions, looked first at the house and then
in his face; forgetful of every other consideration, she could think
of nothing but the two beings she loved. Leon was going through a
brief but agonising struggle. He stamped with his foot like the
Warlocks of old when they wanted to call up a familiar spirit.

“But I must bid you let me go alone, and wait, and hope,” he said at
length, with a firmness that was almost heroic, and Pepa bowed her
head with resignation. “I say it because I love you--out of a certain
selfishness too, for I cannot bear to destroy a beautiful dream.”

“I submit,” said Pepa, but the word was hardly more than a moan, and
hiding her face on his breast, she sobbed aloud. Then she added: “but
you will fix a time. If I were to die before....”

This idea of an early death was fixed in her mind like a sinister
star that nothing could eclipse.

“Yes, I will fix a time. I promise that.”

“And when it comes....”

“When it comes--” echoed Leon who could hardly breathe; some demon
seemed to have flung a rope round his neck and to be tightening the
noose.

“Supposing that God does not open the way....”

“But He will.”

“And if He does not.”

“But He will.”

“But, I say if He does not?”

“You will see He will.”

“Your conviction makes me believe it, but I do not know why,” said
Pepa, turning her head on his shoulder as though it were a pillow
on which she might fall asleep. “Now, if you want me to go home
satisfied, tell me that you love me very much.” Her eagerness had
taken a childish tone.

“You know it.”

“That you will love me always--always.”

“That in fact I loved you when we played together and stained our
faces with blackberries,” added Leon, stroking the golden head.

“What days those were!” said Pepa, smiling like a soul in bliss, “we
could talk for hours of those recollections, taking the words out
of each other’s mouth. Ah! our life then was what life ought to be.
Really life; not these horribly short moments and sudden changes. If
only we might chatter, laugh, remember, talk nonsense and read each
other’s thoughts and wishes!”

“If we could...!”

“But we must live apart. We have lived apart all our lives, and yet
I feel as if I were saying good-bye for the first time. You go to an
inn and I to a palace.”

“Take care of your child for me.”

“Oh! there is one terrible thought: if it is long before you come
again she will not know you, she will be afraid of you.”

“She will soon get over that.”

“But are you not coming again to-morrow morning?”

“What for? That we may have another and more cruel parting? If I
were to see you again my courage might fail me.”

“I will send Monina to see you.”

“Yes, send her,” and Leon coughed.

“Mercy!” exclaimed Pepa anxiously, and turning up the collar of his
coat. “You are catching cold! it is chilly--take care of yourself ...
so--”

“Thank you, my darling; I am cold, I confess.”

“Well, then, we part now?”

“Yes,” said Roch, “now or never.”

The words: “then never!” were on Pepa’s lips, but she dared not utter
them.

“And you will write to me very often, like a good boy?“

“Yes, every week.”

“Long, long letters?”

“As long and as full as the thoughts of a man that waits in hope.”

“And where shall I write to you?”

“I will let you know. Let us walk towards the house; you must not go
back alone. We will part there.”

“Come as far as the door of the museum; I came out there and can get
in again.”

They walked on; Leon with his right arm round Pepa and holding both
her hands in his left.

“It is a dark night,” observed Pepa, with that inexplicable impulse
to speak of trivial things which comes over us when the mind is fully
occupied with a fixed train of ideas.

“Are you happy?” asked Leon trying to speak lightly.

“How should I be when you are going away? And yet I am, glad of all
you have said to me. It is a mixture of pain and gladness. First I
say to myself: ‘what joy!’ and then I feel that I shall die of grief.”

“And I feel just the same,” said Leon gloomily. They were at the door
of the museum.

“Good-bye, good-bye,” she said, “remember, you are mine.”

“_Au revoir_,” said Leon in a choked voice, and he kissed her twice.
“This one for Monina, and this for her mother.”

The door opened on a dark staircase; Leon gently pushed Pepa in and
hurried away; she reappeared for a moment and he waved his hand.

In a few minutes he had reached his lodgings; crushed with grief
he threw himself into his study chair, not knowing whether to find
relief in tears or in dumb despair. His heart was broken; and yet the
deep and spacious reservoir of sorrow and passion had not yet poured
the whole of its crushing contents on his devoted head.


END OF VOL. I.



=GLORIA.=--A NOVEL, by =B. Pérez Galdós=, from the Spanish by Clara
Bell, in two vols. Paper, $1.00, Cloth, $1.75.


“B. Pérez Galdós is like a whirlwind, resistless as he sweeps
everything before him, while beneath, the waters of passion foam and
heave and are stirred to their depths. Some chapters of this novel
are absolutely agonizing in their intensity of passion, and the surge
and rush of words bears the reader along breathless and terrified,
till he finds himself almost ready to cry out. In others, the storm
is lulled and the plash of waves is as musical as the author’s native
tongue. In others still, he drones through the lazy summer day, and
the reader goes to sleep. However, the story as a whole is stormy,
and the end tragic; yet we are lost in wonder at the man who can so
charm us.

“It is throughout a terrible impeachment of religious intolerance.
If it had been written for a people possessing the temper of
Englishmen or of Americans we should say that it must mark an epoch
in the political and religious history of the country. Even written
as it is by a Spaniard, and for Spaniards, allowing as we must for
Spanish impulsiveness and grandiloquence, which says a great deal
to express a very little, we cannot but believe that the work is
deeply significant. It is written by a young man and one who is
rapidly rising in power and influence; and when he speaks it is with
a vehement earnestness which thrills one with the conviction that
Spain is awaking. ‘Fresh air,’ cries he, of Spain, ‘open air, free
exercise under every wind that blows above or below; freedom to be
dragged and buffeted, helped or hindered, by all the forces that are
abroad. Let her tear off her mendicant’s hood, her grave-clothes and
winding-sheet, and stand forth in the bracing storms of the century.
Spain is like a man who is ill from sheer apprehension, and cannot
stir for blisters, plasters, bandages and wraps. Away with all this
paraphernalia, and the body will recover its tone and vigor.’ Again:
‘Rebel, rebel, your intelligence is your strength. Rise, assert
yourself; purge your eyes of the dust which darkens them, and look
at truth face to face.’ Strange language this for Spain of the
Inquisition, for bigoted, unprogressive, Catholic Spain. The author
goes to the root of Spanish decadence; he fearlessly exposes her
degradation and declares its cause. All students of Spanish history
will find here much that is interesting besides the story.”--_The
Yale Literary Magazine_.


_William S. Gottsberger, Publisher, New York._



=MARIANELA.=--By =B. Pérez Galdós=, from the Spanish by Clara Bell,
in one vol. Paper, 50 cts. Cloth, 90 cts.


“Galdós is not a novelist, in the sense that now attaches to that
much-abused word, but a romancer, pure and simple, as much so as
Hawthorne was, though his intentions are less spiritual, and his
methods more material. Marianela is the story of a poor, neglected
outcast of a girl, an orphan who is tolerated by a family of miners,
as if she were a dog or a cat; who is fed when the humor takes them
and there is any food that can be spared, and who is looked down upon
by everybody; and a boy Pablo, who is older than she, the son of a
well-to-do landed proprietor, whose misfortune it is (the boy’s, we
mean) that he was born blind. His deprivation of sight is almost
supplied by the eyes of Marianela, who waits upon him, and goes with
him in his daily wanderings about the mining country of Socartes,
until he knows the whole country by heart and can when need is find
his way everywhere alone. As beautiful as she is homely, he forms an
ideal of her looks, based upon her devotion to him, colored by his
sensitive, spiritual nature, and he loves her, or what he imagines
she is, and she returns his love--with fear and trembling, for
ignorant as she is she knows that she is not what he believes her to
be. They love as two children might, naturally, fervently, entirely.
The world contains no woman so beautiful as she, and he will marry
her. The idyl of this young love is prettily told, with simplicity,
freshness, and something which, if not poetry, is yet poetic. While
the course of true love is running smooth with them (for it does
sometimes in spite of Shakespeare) there appears upon the scene
a brother of the chief engineer of the Socartes mines who is an
oculist, and he, after a careful examination of the blind eyes of
Pablo, undertakes to perform an operation upon them which he thinks
may enable the lad to see. About this time there also comes upon
the scene a brother of Pablo’s father, accompanied by his daughter,
who is very beautiful. The operation is successful, and Pablo is
made to see. He is enchanted with the loveliness of his cousin, and
disenchanted of his ideal of Marianela, who dies heart-broken at
the fate which she knew would be hers if he was permitted to see
her as she was. This is the story of Marianela, which would have
grown into a poetic romance under the creative mind and shaping hand
of Hawthorne, and which, as conceived and managed by Galdós, is a
realistic one of considerable grace and pathos. It possesses the
charm of directness and simplicity of narrative, is written with
great picturesqueness, and is colored throughout with impressions of
Spanish country life.”--_The Mail and Express, New York, Thursday,
April 12, 1883_.


_William S. Gottsberger, Publisher, New York._



=TRAFALGAR.=--A Tale, by =B. Pérez Galdós=, from the Spanish by Clara
Bell, in one vol. Paper, 50 cents. Cloth, 90 cents.


“This is the third story by Galdós in this series, and it is not
inferior to those which have preceded it, although it differs from
them in many particulars, as it does from most European stories
with which we are acquainted, its interest rather depending upon
the action with which it deals than upon the actors therein. To
subordinate men to events is a new practice in art, and if Galdós
had not succeeded we should have said that success therein was
impossible. He has succeeded doubly, first as a historian, and then
as a novelist, for while the main interest of his story centres in
the great sea-fight which it depicts--the greatest in which the
might of England has figured since her destruction of the Grand
Armada--there is no lack of interest in the characters of his story,
who are sharply individualized, and painted in strong colors. Don
Alonso and his wife Doña Francisca--a simple-minded but heroic old
sea-captain, and a sharp-minded, shrewish lady, with a tongue of her
own, fairly stand out on the canvas. Never before have the danger and
the doom of battle been handled with such force as in this spirited
and picturesque tale. It is thoroughly characteristic of the writer
and of his nationality.”--_The Mail and Express, New York_.

_William S. Gottsberger, Publisher, New York._



=THE MARTYR OF GOLGOTHA=, by =Enrique Pérez Escrich=, from the
Spanish by Adèle Josephine Godoy, in two volumes. Price, paper
covers, $1.00. Cloth binding, $1.75.


“There must always be some difference of opinion concerning the
right of the romancer to treat of sacred events and to introduce
sacred personages into his story. Some hold that any attempt to
embody an idea of our Saviour’s character, experiences, sayings and
teachings in the form of fiction must have the effect of lowering
our imaginative ideal, and rendering trivial and commonplace that
which in the real Gospel is spontaneous, inspired and sublime. But to
others an historical novel like the ‘Martyr of Golgotha’ comes like
a revelation, opening fresh vistas of thought, filling out blanks
and making clear what had hitherto been vague and unsatisfactory,
quickening insight and sympathy, and actually heightening the
conception of divine traits. The author gives also a wide survey of
the general history of the epoch and shows the various shaping causes
which were influencing the rise and development of the new religion
in Palestine. There is, indeed, an astonishing vitality and movement
throughout the work, and, elaborate though the plot is, with all
varieties and all contrasts of people and conditions, with constant
shiftings of the scene, the story yet moves, and moves the interest
of the reader too, along the rapid current of events towards the
powerful culmination. The writer uses the Catholic traditions, and in
many points interprets the story in a way which differs altogether
from that familiar to Protestants: for example, making Mary Magdalen
the same Mary who was the sister of Lazarus and Martha, and who sat
listening at the Saviour’s feet. But in general, although there is
a free use made of Catholic legends and traditions, their effort
is natural and pleasing. The romance shows a degree of a southern
fervor which is foreign to English habit, but the flowery, poetic
style--although it at first repels the reader--is so individual, so
much a part of the author, that it is soon accepted as the naive
expression of a mind kindled and carried away by its subject. Spanish
literature has of late given us a variety of novels and romances,
all of which are in their way so good that we must believe that
there is a new generation of writers in Spain who are discarding
the worn-out forms and traditions, and are putting fresh life and
energy into works which will give pleasure to the whole world of
readers.”--_Philadelphia American, March 5, 1887_.

William S. Gottsberger, Publisher, New York.





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