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Title: Leon Roch (vol. 2 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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                               LEON ROCH

                               A ROMANCE

                                  BY

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

                    FROM THE SPANISH BY CLARA BELL

                        --AUTHORIZED EDITION--

                         TWO VOLUMES--VOL. II.

              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 II.


  CHAPTER                                            PAGE

  I.--WHICH TREATS OF THE CASTILIAN NOBILITY,
      OF THE LAWS OF MORALITY, OF ALL THAT
      IS MOST VENERABLE, AND OTHER SMALL
      MATTERS,                                          1

  II.--A PICTURE WHICH MIGHT BE A ZURBARAN BUT
       IS ONLY BY GOYA,                                14

  III.--THE REVOLUTION,                                22

  IV.--SUING OR DEFIANT?                               40

  V.--THE ICE GIVES WAY,                               50

  VI.--RETURN TO CONSCIOUSNESS,                        72

  VII.--WILL SHE DIE?                                  78

  VIII.--LEON ROCH PAYS A VISIT,                       92

  IX.--A PARTING,                                     103

  X.--BREAKFAST,                                      109

  XI.--THE PRIEST LIES AND THE COCK CROWS,            119

  XII.--THE STRIFE OF WORDS,                          128

  XIII.--ICES, HAM, CIGARS AND WINE,                  138

  XIV.--A NOCTURNAL VISIT,                            144

  XV.--LATET ANGUIS,                                  153

  XVI.--AN EXCESS OF ZEAL,                            161

  XVII.--THE TRUTH,                                   175

  XVIII.--THE BATTLE,                                 183

  XIX.--VULNERANT OMNES, ULTIMA NECAT,                205

  XX.--IN THE _Incroyable_ DRAWING-ROOM,              214

  XXI.--IMPOSSIBILITIES,                              227

  XXII.--VISITS OF CONDOLENCE,                        245

  XXIII.--THE VICTIMIZED HUSBAND,                     252

  XXIV.--THREE AGAINST TWO,                           268

  XXV.--THE END,                                      282



LEON ROCH



LEON ROCH.

PART II.



CHAPTER I.

WHICH TREATS OF THE CASTILIAN NOBILITY, OF THE LAWS OF MORALITY, OF
ALL THAT IS MOST VENERABLE, AND OTHER SMALL MATTERS.


The crisis through which the house of Telleria was passing remained
unsolved. In fact the catastrophe was so complete that to try to stem
it seemed madness; nothing could be done but to conceal it as long
as possible. The incorrigible actors in the wretched drama strained
every nerve to prolong their reign before abdicating disgracefully and
retiring into poverty; and though, behind the scenes, they were forced
to soliloquise on the fact that they had no servants, that there was
not a shop that would trust them, that they had not the bread of vanity
in the form of a carriage, to the world they made it known that they
were all ill. The marquis, poor man, suffered terribly from rheumatism;
the marquesa--it was most distressing--had sunk into an alarming state
of debility; the whole family were depressed and ailing. They received
no one, not even their most intimate friends; they gave no dinners, not
even to the hungry; they went nowhere, not even to the most interesting
first nights.

At church was the only place where they could appear with such rueful
countenances. What can be more edifying than to listen to the counsels
of religion and to shed a tear at the feet of the Mother of Sorrows.
Poor Milagros! The parishioners, who saw her come in and go out with a
penitent air that was an example to all, paid her woes the tribute they
claimed:

“Poor woman! what a trouble her sons have been to her!”

The evening meetings at the Marquesa de San Salomó’s, which were the
only refuge of the distressed family, were very quiet and consisted
of one or two poets, a few handsome women, half a dozen models of
piety and a half a dozen hypocrites. Rome was the favourite theme
of conversation, and “_l’Univers_” the favourite newspaper; the
poets recited verses that exhaled an odour of sanctity, and under
the influence of this suffocating literary incense the whole human
race was regarded as excommunicated. Gustavo Sudre’s speeches were
discussed beforehand; reputations were made for youths just come from
the seminary: such a one was a St. Paul, such another a St. Ambrose
or a Tertulian, or an Origen--in point of talent, of course; in short
the evenings at the San Salomó’s had that club-like character which is
a conspicuous feature of modern society. Political prejudices have
found their way into the drawing-room and make themselves felt in the
perfumed atmosphere of the boudoir, and more conspiracies are discussed
there than in the barracks.

The marquesa was young, pretty, tall and shapely, though rather
faded looking; her manners were pleasant and she patronised poetry,
especially when it was of a pious and mystical tone. A sworn foe to
materialism and liberalism and all the evils of modern civilisation,
she was both elegant and clever, and the hours of the _tertulias_
never seemed long; she had the art of spicing with wit and grace the
anathemas that fulminated from her drawing-room, and she encouraged
in her house and at her table a tone of moderation which was equally
agreeable to the patriarchs and the poets. The St. Pauls and St.
Ambroses no doubt swore to themselves that asceticism was better to
preach than to practise.

The Marquis de San Salomó, a man who would sooner have been sawn in
slices than have yielded a jot of his opinions--if indeed he had
any--was not a frequent figure at these meetings. He more often went
to the theatre, the casino, or other even less mentionable places of
amusement. By day he sat in his study and received bull-fighters and
all the rabble of the arena, and three-fourths of his conversation
consisted of the slang inseparable from the lowest type of sport, and
stories of the escapades of his boon companions. He was rich and not
only made his wife a handsome allowance for pin-money, but granted her
a considerable sum for religious purposes, so that a current account
with Heaven formed part of his regular household expenses. Of his
current account with the ladies of the ballet we need not give the
particulars.

On the evening of the day when the marquis had been to see Leon Roch at
Carabanchel his wife was conversing eagerly with a stiff old gentleman,
decorated with the ribbon of some military order; a most innocent,
harmless creature in spite of his calling, and one of those soldiers
whose existence seems intended to prove that the army is a perfectly
inoffensive body of men.

“It is vain to try to comfort me, General,” she said. “I am broken
hearted! You yourself have said in exquisite verses that a mother’s
heart is an inexhaustible treasury of endurance; but mine is full to
the brim, I can endure no more; it must overflow.”

“Then, my dear madam, of what use is your Christian resignation?” asked
the son of Mars, with a look of innocence worthy of a cherub all head
and wings. “The Lord will vouchsafe unexpected consolations. And María,
is she resigned?”

“What else do you expect from that angel? My poor child! You might
crucify her and she would not utter a groan. But Heaven always allows
its most saintly children to go through the severest trials. She, like
my adored Luis, only prays the Lord to take her to Himself; to him He
sent physical suffering; to her, mental anguish.”

“We see every day,” said the general with an expression of horror that
sat very funnily on his babyish face framed in white whiskers, “that
scandals, infidelities and wickedness are on the increase. All laws
human and divine are less and less respected every day. Where will
you find a man of upright character, or a trace of chivalrous honour?
Turn where you will there is nothing but effrontery and cynicism!
Only picture to yourself, my dear Milagros, what the end must be of a
society which, day by day and hour by hour, neglects all the principles
of religion. But no! I ought not to say that, for there are still
saints and martyrs. Your daughter for instance, deserted by her husband
for her very virtues, is by those virtues--by those very virtues let me
repeat--a shining example, a light, a standard in the battle.”

Yes, that she certainly was. Every group in the room was discussing
her. Deserted! and solely for being too good! Such a deed cried to
Heaven and clamoured for vengeance--a second deluge, the gulf that
yawned to swallow Korah, the fires of Sodom, the flies of Egypt,
the sword of Attila--of all these curses the one which seemed most
likely to be realised then and there was that of the flies in Egypt,
for their buzzing and their sting were not inadequately represented
by the spiteful tattle, the commonplace denunciations, and amateur
excommunication with which people of a certain way of thinking
castigate whatever they disapprove of in their fellow men.

“If the separation had been based on any other pretext,” said a poet
to a journalist, “it might pass ... for it is an obvious fact that
Leon....” But their voices were lost in a chorus of comments and
tittering. Two old ladies put their noses into the group to inhale the
atmosphere of scandal--more fragrant to them than the scent of roses.

“I have suspected it for a long time,” said the mistress of the house
to a deputy who held the archiepiscopal throne in the ultramontane
coterie. “Pepa Fúcar is a hussy. But there was never more than a crumb
of principle in all the Fúcar household. It does not do to be too
particular in the way you make either money or love. There are some
families that are fated to it.”

“I have no doubt that the connection is one of old standing,” replied
the deputy, who admired the marquesa’s dinners, and who was wont to
improve on her slanderous insinuations.

“From what I know now, and from certain dates,” added Pilar bowing
with a reproachful glance to Gustavo who just then entered the room,
“I can positively assert that they are of very old standing.” And she
continued her remarks in a low tone to the worthy general, who, though
fully determined never to be astonished at any wickedness could not
conceal his dismay and perplexity.

“Leon’s child!” he muttered.

In another part of the room the Marquis de Telleria was enlarging on
a new--a perfectly new idea--with a ready flow of hackneyed phrases.
This was the theory that we are all monstrously alike; that there are
no men of mark left, and that the world is dismally uniform. He--the
marquis--was in fact fast losing faith in the traditional chivalry of
the Spanish nation.

“Society is fast rushing on its ruin,” the general agreed, “and though
some deluded minds refuse to see it, it is none the less certain. You
have only to observe one thing, one most significant fact.”

Every one turned to look at the speaker, awaiting the announcement,
which might have been a declaration of war to judge from the grave
truculence of his face.

“Observe, I say, one fact. When there is any scandal, or rumour of a
scandal, who gives rise to it? Mark, I say, who gives rise to it. It is
always a man devoid of religion; one of those conceited and infatuated
beings who dare to despise the Christian faith, and who may be seen
every day flaunting their insolence, and lifting their heads to defy
the stars.”

This speech was received with the silence of grave consent; then a
question arose between the deputy and the journalist as to whether Leon
sinned from indifference or from perversity.

“There is no doubt of it,” said the deputy, “corruption is universal.
But while those who cling to the faith are in a position to amend and
save their souls, the rationalists are going on straight to ruin. Like
Samson, they have pulled the temple about their ears, and, like him,
they must perish in the ruins.”

Meanwhile Gustavo and the Marquesa de San Salomó were talking together
in too low a voice to be overheard.

“You ought--you must,” she said. “Tell the whole truth to María.”

“The truth? But I cannot trust to appearances. I have not at all made
up my mind as to Leon’s guilt. Until I have seen him and talked to him
I shall say nothing to my sister.”

“Then I will.”

“No, you will not.”

The lady was fractiously eager; she felt as though she could not
breathe freely till she had sent the arrow home to her friend’s heart.

“But I assure you I will,” she said, with dilated nostrils, sparkling
eyes and a mounting colour.

“In matters that concern my family the decision must be left to them.”

“Oh! I have a voice too in matters which concern your family,” said the
marquesa with an impertinent accent on the words “your family.”

“Never, with my consent,” retorted Gustavo, repressing his indignation.
He was pale, and his whole expression was that of a man who had worries
of his own. Pilar raised her voice.

“Our friend here--the father of his country--tells me that he cannot
make his speech to-morrow on the subject of article twenty-two.” There
was a murmur of dissatisfaction. “The president has allowed him to
exchange his turn.”

“When will it be then?”

“This sad business of his sister’s,” she went on, looking at Gustavo
with assumed sympathy. “Has been too much for his brain.”

Gustavo went across to where his mother was sitting.

“Compose yourself,” she said affectionately, “we are as miserable as
you can be, but we have not lost patience.”

“Ah well, I have.”

“But have you made any effort to verify the truth of this report
about Leon,” asked the deputy who gave himself the airs of a whole
convocation.

“Oh there is no lack of dates. Agustin went to see him to-day ... he
tried to bring him to a sense of duty....” And the conversation still
ran on this absorbing subject till presently the group was diminished
by several persons moving off to hear the mistress of the house read
an article by Louis Veuillot. Gustavo and his mother went into an
adjoining room.

“Is it true that my father went to-day to see Leon?”

“You heard me say so.”

“I was afraid that his journey to Carabanchel might have had another
object. It would be a fresh disgrace....”

“What nonsense! Disgrace! You are a perfect Don Quixote!”

“Yes,” said Gustavo with a glare of wrath in his eyes, “I am afraid he
went to throw himself at the feet of our enemy and to beg of him....”

“What shocking things you say! We, we, beg of him!”

“Oh! that would not astonish me; I am accustomed to shocking things. I
will go to see Leon and talk to him myself. Who knows but that he may
not be so guilty as we think. Horrible lies are invented in the world
and it is quite certain that all are not good who are supposed to be.
Others on the contrary--if he has really deserted my sister to live
with another woman all intercourse between us and him must cease; he
must be a stranger to us. Oh! what a shame it is--what misery--to have
received from such a man so many favours that we cannot throw back in
his teeth!”

“Good heavens! do not speak like that, you will attract attention,”
cried the marquesa alarmed by her son’s vehemence. “You are really
absurd!”

“Absurd!” repeated Gustavo bitterly. “What do I care; and after all I
am the only one of the family who feels the vileness of our existence.”

“Gustavo!”

“I speak for myself, only for myself. This house is as odious to me
as my own home. The everlasting babble about morality has deafened
me and prevents my hearing the voice of truth--truth, which the more
it is felt the less it is talked about. I am equally disgusted with
my own part in the world, with the position of my family, and the
worldly cynical set who call themselves my friends. I am satisfied with
nothing, and the one thing I hope for, is a voluntary exile that may
remove me from all who belong to me.”

“And do you wish to add fresh troubles to those I already have to
bear?” she said, visibly moved. “You, emigrate, renounce all your
future prospects--even the hope of becoming a minister....”

“No, the idea of emigrating is, of course, mere madness; I cannot go.
My ambition and my disgrace are one and I am bound to them as the
snail is to his shell. Here I must stay--for ever inseparable from
my family, my fancy, my class, and my principles!” He accented the
last word ironically. “I must live on, seeing what I see, and hearing
what I hear. By the way, I have a new disaster to tell you of. This
evening Polito was slapped in the face, in a house I need not name, in
consequence of a dispute over a game of cards. There was a fight, women
screamed--the police interfered....”

“But was he hurt?” asked his mother.

“No--a bruise or two; but the row was heard all down the street--no
matter the name of the street;” he groaned and went on: “We live in
an evil day, a day of wrath! However, from this time forth I shall
insist on managing the affairs of the house, and we shall see whether
I can get it out of the present difficulty, and save our credit at any
rate--save the honour which is no longer a fact but a fiction. I am
deeply vexed that my father should have gone to Leon with the purpose
that I suspect.”

“It is an absurd suspicion.”

“Nay--it is a miracle if I am mistaken. But I will know the truth, for
I will see Leon.”

“You?”

“Yes I. I must know his guilt from himself. I believe him to be in
error, but not in wilful sin; I will talk to him frankly and he will
answer me in the same way. If he is such a wretch he will have to
confess it ... meanwhile be sure you do not let a word of these reports
reach María’s ears.”

“Oh! I shall tell her myself; poor child! It would be a pity that she
should not know all the virtues of her loving husband! Fancy if a
stranger were to tell her, exaggerating or misrepresenting the facts.”

“Say nothing about it to her.”

“Do not interfere in that matter. I shall, and this very night. You
need not teach me my duties as an affectionate and anxious mother;
I know perfectly well what I ought to do. María must be informed of
everything. How do you know that we may not arrange a reconciliation?”

Gustavo was on the point of replying when their privacy was invaded
by a certain poet who was said to be very attentive to the marquesa
and one of her favourite followers--a common, clumsy-looking man, but
older than he seemed. There was no trace in his features of that lofty
refinement which might have entitled him to write, in a dozen different
metres, of the perennial founts of gladness and the mystical union of
souls, or to proclaim his indignation against those who denied or
ignored the existence of God. It was hard to credit so despicable a
person with magnanimity.

“It is admirable, unanswerable!” he exclaimed as he came in.

“What is?”

“Louis Veuillot’s article on modern society--on those base and corrupt
minds who, to smother their own remorse, wish to abolish faith. Do you
want this copy of the _Univers_, Gustavo?”

“You can take it if you will let me have it to-morrow. I have an
article to write on the same subject.”

They went into the drawing-room.

“Then it is understood we sing to-morrow,” said the marquesa to her
friend.

“Yes, to-morrow, without fail.” There was a rustling of silk dresses,
a chorus of: “To-morrow then, to-morrow--” a chirping of kisses and
moving of chairs. The company were dispersing. Some left in pairs:
some went smiling, others frowning. The Tellerias departed, then the
general, and the deputy with his archiepiscopal airs; and with him went
Gustavo, discussing church politics but without losing his expression
of gloom.

“Good-night, Pilar; to-morrow at San Prudencio.”

“Good-night--I will take your message to Padre Paoletti.”

And when they were all gone the Marquesa de San Salomó retired to pray
and to sleep.



CHAPTER II.

A PICTURE WHICH MIGHT BE ZURBARAN BUT IS ONLY BY GOYA.


María de Roch was very early at church next morning. For some time past
she had accustomed herself to rise early and perform her religious
duties so as to return home by nine o’clock, by which plan she avoided
meeting the crowd of worshippers who selected the more convenient
hours of the day. On this particular day, being Sunday, she was even
earlier than usual and came out of church having fulfilled the duties
that most flattered her soul; then, as usual, she spent the chief
part of the morning in religious reading. But she did not seek mental
nourishment in the rich stores of the older mystical literature of
Spain--writings purified in the crucible of the loftiest spiritual
faith and which are a real feast for the faithful soul, warming it
with a divine flame and edifying it with transcendental poetry and
morality. María fed her piety, sad to say, on the worst of contemporary
religious literature, the outcome, in many cases, of ecclesiastical
jobbery--in style a borrowed medley and in substance not really
religious at all, but materialistic in its tendencies--which, with
newspapers and prayer-books, forms the staple of the booksellers’
trade. Many of these effusions are translated from the French and
bear a “made to sell” stamp which is little short of profane. Their
covers do not lack the elegance and finish characteristic of good
modern workmanship; within lie prose and verse. But what prose! What
verse! There are certain ideas which demand simplicity of expression;
it is their natural garb, without which they cease to exist; there
are others which require dignity and grandeur, and which, lacking
these, degenerate into affectation and rhodomontade. María could
not appreciate these subtleties; her favourite works were full of
“celestial smiles” and “seraphic fires,” of “virgin souls” and “airs
from Heaven.” This sensual terminology appealed to her more directly
than any other language; her narrow intelligence would not have
understood any other or would have despised it, for her imagination
was particularly susceptible to the suggestions of her senses. María
admired the character of Santa Teresa because she had been taught to
do so, but she could not understand her sublime metaphysics. Seraphic
fervour was to her a flow of words or it was nothing. She did not
exhaust her brain by trying to conceive of the subtler forms of
devotion, nor was she capable of sublime abstractions. Her nature,
with its plain common-sense, was coarse, and led her to seek religious
fervour by other means. For instance, God’s mercy to his creatures was
to her a fact beyond dispute, but it only came home to her personally
as associated with some relic; the infinite perfection of the Creator,
though she believed in it implicitly, was real to her apprehension
only through the æsthetic medium of an image. The Virgin Mary, the
ideal which of all others most interpenetrates the heart of a woman,
did not fail to appeal to hers; but yet in order to feel her influence
in full force, to be wrought to enthusiasm or moved to tears, she would
steep--or shall I say dilute? her emotions in water from Lourdes.

Enough has been said to show that María’s religion was that of the
lower orders--meaning by low, incapable of thought and feeling, and
leading that mechanical existence of eating, digesting and sleeping,
which is the crassest and purest materialism. Vulgarity is not a class
distinction; it is an element, a component, a chemical constituent of
social geology; if a map could be constructed to show its distribution
it would appear as a black stain--a foul deposit--in every stratum
of humanity. And thus, just as a few elect spirits represent the
aristocracy of mind, María was the representative of vulgar credulity.
In other times and under other conditions, without ceasing to profess
piety or to pray six hours a day, she would have told fortunes by the
cards, have worked witchcraft by means of relics and rosaries, and have
mixed up her religious exercises with the tricks and arts of a gipsy.

But these are things of the past, though there are still malignant
souls in the world and gipsy arts and wiles, differing, it is true
from those of the middle ages. María’s aim and end was to belong
to every religious society, charitable or otherwise. She was, more
especially, what in the jargon of cant is known as a “_Josephina_,”
affiliated, that is to say, to a society named after St. Joseph, whose
principal object is to send up prayers for the Pope. It includes
a large number of highly respectable persons of whom no ridicule
is intended. María was a member of various other associations and
sisterhoods; nearly all of them have their periodical reports and
tracts, intended to consolidate their existence and to supply a form
of light literature which is sometimes extraordinarily droll to the
outsider. María accepted it all as unctuous and edifying and would
spend hours in reading the stories--would that we could reproduce a
few of them!--and addresses; and above all the section which may be
called “Mystico-pathological:” the list, that is to say, of the cures
effected every month by the wafers and ointments dipped in the famous
“_Perolito_” of Seville--miracles even greater than those wrought by
Holloway and other quacks. María had always by her a store of these
medicaments for the benefit of her friends and relations, being
absolutely convinced of their efficacy on those who employed them in
faith. The “Perolito” could never be a paying concern in any country
where common-sense and an efficient police were known. Though María
constantly aimed at treading in the footsteps of her brother Luis she
was free from his extravagant ecstasy, and her ideas and practice were
unlike his in many particulars. Her unhealthy pietism was the outcome
of a narrow intellect, and kept alive by her senses and the refractory
pride of her nature. Her ideas and feelings were absolutely foreign
to those of her husband, and we have seen what the character of her
affection for him was--the only affection of which she was capable--and
in her hours of penitential solitude how she had struggled to eradicate
even that! What violence she had done to her imagination in trying to
see as evil, what was good, as corrupt, what was worthy, as repulsive,
what was noble and attractive! She firmly believed that so long as
she allowed her mind to dwell on the image of her husband she was no
true saint. Was she right or wrong? None can tell but God who, in his
omniscience, saw the aspect that image wore.

“If only he were not an atheist!” was her constant thought; and the
response was an implacable determination never to have anything in
common with such a man. In thought she referred to that brother
whose shade would visit her in the lonely watches of the night and
it had been his wish--his will--that she and the atheist should live
separated; he had pronounced her free from her matrimonial bondage and
released her from the burden of earthly duty, that she might henceforth
belong solely to God. And now and again she would start from sleep in
an agony of distress, her forehead damp with sweat, and trembling in
every limb. “And if he loves some other woman!” she would mutter to
herself.

Her ideas had taken this turn. She could even bear to think that her
husband might die without loving her, but that he should live and love
some one else--that he should give to another that which ought to be
hers.--That was her real grief and constant mortification; and when
her reflections reached this point her whole being leaped into revolt
with an impulse which was the very passion of egotism.

During the period when Leon was gradually becoming estranged from her
María took a delight in humiliating him; it was a pleasure to see him
come in every evening, ready to receive the lash. Nay, sometimes, from
the force of habit and from the sincere regard which he had inspired
in her, she was really glad at his coming but she took care to conceal
both the gladness and the affection. Merciful Heaven! It would never do
to let it be said that she hailed and welcomed the “Atheist.” Secretly
she took an interest in everything that concerned him, gave orders for
his comfort, and if he were ailing, made him take advice and remedies,
only taking care not to give him water from the Grotto at Lourdes or
wafer from Seville as these are specific only for those who believe in
them.

When they talked to each other it cost her a constant effort to keep
herself from gazing with pleasure and sympathy on her husband’s
attractive face, and when she was alone, she repented of her weakness,
calling herself reprobate and sensual and imploring her brother in
Heaven to aid her by the virtue of certain sacred relics.--“But if only
he were not an atheist!” And she would weep at the thought.

When Leon left her once for all, María who had clenched the matter by
declaring that God forbid her to love him, felt utterly crushed; her
hearth was vacant and desolate. She was terrified too--of what? She
herself knew not. During one whole night she could not command her
mind to a single thought of devotion. She was stunned, but at the same
time her brain ached with a swarm of evil visions like the trampling
of horses snorting as they charge. She needed much reading and all the
counsel and warnings of her spiritual directors before she could fairly
bury the fair corpse of her departed happiness; much prayer, much
penance, much labour of her fancy to see what she knew to be good and
beautiful as evil and hideous. But she was not the first to undertake
this odious task of purifying her soul by the instrumentality of the
imagination--heaping foulness over the grave of all the joys of love
and graces of life; hermits and ascetics had done it before her, and
filled up the measure by personal castigation. María laboured in the
obscurity of her tortured brain to see the happy days of her honeymoon
in the darkest and foulest colours and so threw a lurid light on the
sweetest hours of her married life.--It was a frightful revulsion and
anarchy of soul.

As has been said, María, when her husband was absent for ever felt
a miserable void, anxiety and solitude. Where was he gone? She made
various enquiries, but without betraying her disquietude. She profaned
even her prayers by thinking of it--San Antonio! but this man was
hers--her husband and should belong to no one else!

Logic of this kind comes with fulminating force sometimes to a
half-demented brain; and the strange thing was that in spite of what
she choose to call Leon’s atheism, she had always recognised in him a
basis of honourable feeling in which she had perfect confidence. Still,
so narrow was her apprehension, that she had never thought of setting
that magnanimity against his disbelief. Why did she trust the honour of
an atheist? She did not know, but that she did was beyond dispute. Now,
when her husband, her mate, her companion, had left her, she was bereft
of all trust. María was going through a strange experience. It seemed
to be close to her, a monstrous and hideous presence that gazed at her,
that haunted her, that glided with a cold and slimy touch up the pleats
of her dress, looked into her heart with its wicked black eyes, poked
in its taper head, and then drew in its long writhing body to the very
tip of its slender tail--curled itself up in her heart where it lay
coiled, radiating an intolerable heat but as still and motionless as
death in the nest that it had made there.



CHAPTER III.

THE REVOLUTION.


The Marquesa de San Salomó was talking to María.

“My dear friend,” she began, “I would not be the last to come and
condole with you.”

“To pray with me?”

“Yes, to pray; but also to sympathise. I did not see you in church.
Padre Paoletti told me that you had come and gone early; and I quite
understood it. I long to talk to you and comfort you....”

“Comfort me?” said María much puzzled, “for my loneliness, my solitude
... but I have suffered long in silence, and the Lord has not denied me
sweet consolation. What are we here for but to suffer? We have only to
get that well into our minds and then no grief can find us unprepared.”

“Oh!” cried Pilar with eager admiration and kissing her friend, “how
good you are! What a saint! What a beautiful exception in this wretched
world! Folks ought to come and worship you and pray to you as much as
if you were canonized.”

“No, no, you are wrong, very wrong. What if I were to tell you that I
am dreadfully wicked?”

“You, wicked! you?” said Pilar looking as horrified as if the idea
were rank blasphemy. “And if you are a sinner what am I? Tell me
that.... What am I?” and she answered the question herself with a deep
and prolonged sigh, the pathetic expression of a conscience that was
too heavily laden. “It would be a marvel to me that there should be
any saints, even if the occasions of sin were rare, and half the world
lived in convents or in caves, setting each other a good example; but
now, when liberty has multiplied the opportunities of vice, and every
one does as he pleases, and there is hardly any one to set a worthy
example, it is miraculous. That is why I say that you ought to be
canonized; for in Madrid, which is beyond a doubt the wickedest place
under the sun--and in this century which, as Padre Paoletti says, is
the opprobrium of the ages--you have been able to defy the temptations
of the world and are worthy to be compared with the penitents, and
confessors, and even the martyrs of the Church.” She emphasised the
last words with marked meaning.

“Oh! do not speak so,” said María who though she liked flattery was
wont to conceal the fact.

“My dear, I think you admirable, wonderful,” added her friend with
affectionate rapture. “For I am miles behind you though I long to be
like you. Would that Heaven might grant me to take a single step alone
and unhindered in the path of perfection in which you are treading, and
on which I have not even started! Do you know what I should like? To
be constantly with you, to go to pray with you, if you would allow it,
to read what you read, to think as you think; and see whether in that
way I should feel better inspired. For the present I will only ask you
to give me something belonging to you--anything, a handkerchief for
instance, that I may always wear it in my bosom as if it were a relic.
I want always to touch something that you have touched. I would never
be without it, because when I see your handkerchief it will remind me
of you and of your goodness, and that will help me to conquer an evil
thought or a bad impulse. Admire you? And ought I not admire you, dear
angel? Indeed, _ma petite_, you do not know your own value. You will
see, when you die people will fight for pieces of your garments.”

“Pilar, you are offending Heaven by your adulation!”

“It is only that you are so good that you do not like to hear it. Your
brother in glory was just the same, but you are better than he.”

“Pilar, for God’s sake!” cried María, now really horrified.

“Yes, and greater than he; I say so. He was a saint but you are a
martyr as well. You have reached the climax of Christian heroism. I
know no living creature to compare with you, and I do not know whether
to admire or to pity you most.”

María did not understand her.

“The name of saint seems to me too weak--and what name of horror can I
give to the man who, having in his house such a treasure of goodness
and piety, abandoned it, despised it and covered himself with ignominy
by scorning gold for base metal, and filling the place of the angel
Heaven had granted him for a wife with a....”

“Pilar! Good God! Are you speaking of my husband?”

“Oh, my dearest friend,” said the marquesa, colouring with excitement,
“forgive me for being furious as I speak of it. I really cannot help
it!”

“But Leon.... Pilar, you do not know what you are saying; my husband is
a strictly moral man.”

It has been said that María was a woman of limited intellect though
of fairly strong feelings; her nature lacked delicacy and refinement,
but, at the same time, what was best in her was a basis of loyalty and
honour and a vein of innate rectitude which is always accompanied by
a certain confidence in the honesty of others. Her friend’s reticent
insinuations aroused her indignation.

“I see,” said Pilar, “that I have been very rash and indiscreet. You
have heard nothing.”

“I have heard nothing? What about?”

“Oh! I cannot tell you; I ought to have held my tongue. I thought that
your mother....”

“Speak out--you mentioned my husband....”

“And now I am sorry for it.”

“Then my husband--then you mean to say--he believes in nothing--there
is no hope for his soul--he is an atheist, an infidel ... but he is
perfectly well conducted and blameless in his life....”

Pilar suddenly burst out laughing; her loud and impertinent mirth,
lasting for some seconds, disturbed María beyond measure.

“If you call it blameless to desert his wife, who is a saint, and live
with another ...” said her friend, in a sharp rough tone like that of a
file on metal. María turned as pale as death, her eyes staring and her
lips parted.

“With another!” The idea was not a new one, but the fact was a shock.
She had anticipated the revelation by vague and timid suspicions; but
a sad truth startles us even when it has been foreseen in a terrible
dream. “With another, you said?”

“Yes, with another. All Madrid knows it but you.”

“You said--with another ...” repeated María who had half lost her wits
and stood stunned and paralysed as though those two terrible words were
a mass of stone that had fallen on her head.

“Yes, with another,” said Pilar, with another burst of laughter, which
did not argue any very great reverence for the saint of her adoration.

“And who is it?” asked María with a flash of vehemence, her
bewilderment suddenly changed to passionate excitement. “Who, I say,
who?”

“I thought you knew, poor martyr! It is Pepa Fúcar, the daughter of the
Marquis de Fúcar; the man whom all the papers call ‘the eminent Fúcar,’
because he has made a fortune by paving streets, laying down railroads,
poisoning the country with his tobacco--which is made they say of dead
leaves swept off the roads, and finally lending money to the government
during the war, at two hundred per cent; a specimen man of the century,
with a Haytian title; a product of parliamentary influence and work
done by contract. He cannot bear the sight of me because, one evening
at the Rioponces’, he began paying me compliments and I turned my back
on him, and whenever I see him within hearing in a drawing-room I begin
talking of the adulteration of tobacco, of the increase of asphalt
pavements, of the nuisance of gas, and of the shoes with brown paper
soles that he supplied to the troops.” And Pilar laughed sharply for
the third time.

But María had not listened to her spiteful sketch of the Marquis de
Fúcar. She heard nothing but the tumult in her own soul, the storm of
a rebellion, of a revolution, like the stormy rousing of a sleeping
crowd. The serpent that lay brooding in her heart suddenly brought
forth a swarm of others that started into life, alert and vicious,
gnawing, and vomiting fire. Her jealousy took the form of a legion of
invisible reptiles, stinging and scorching her on every side; this was
in fact the guise under which it presented itself to her imagination,
which always conceived of mental experiences as analogous to physical
sensations; to her a pleasure was actually a caress, and a pain a blow
or a pinch or a stab. The poor saint and martyr had never in her life
before felt anything like this, and she did not know what it meant. Her
grief was compounded with terror and surprise, and the shock was so
great that she forgot to turn to God, as might have seemed natural, or
to pray for patience or resignation.

What was this? It was the Real suppressing the Artificial; the woman’s
heart asserting its supremacy through the agency of a revolt of its
imprisoned, but genuine, emotions. It was an entire revolution of
woman’s nature claiming its rights, and throwing off all that was
false and assumed to raise the triumphant standard of truth and of
that nobler part which--whether she be lover, wife, or mother, good
or bad--makes her a true woman; makes her the other half of man--the
Eve to Adam--whether faithful or faithless, a heroine or a baggage.
This revolution is sometimes occasioned by the passion of love; but
not invariably, because love in its innocent simplicity yields to the
sophistries and treacherous blandishments of its brother mysticism.
What never fails to stir it up is the brutal and overwhelming passion
of jealousy, so well painted by Calderon as the hydra whose double
nature, diabolical and seraphical, betrays its birth as the hybrid
offspring of Love, which is divine, and Envy, the daughter of all the
devils. The sudden frenzy that had sprung up in María’s soul was more
akin to its mother Envy than to its father Love. It was an instrument
of torture and torment, a rack without respite, a fire that grew
fiercer each instant. Her bigotry was suddenly shattered like a tower
that has been undermined and blown to the winds. At that moment her
soul was dark; God utterly eclipsed. With a cry of anguish and clasping
her head in her hands she exclaimed: “Wretch! But you shall pay dearly
for it!”

Just at this juncture her mother entered the room and perceiving that
María had learnt all, she threw herself into her arms. María had no
tears; her eyes were dry and sparkling. The marquesa puckered her face
up to shed a tear she had ready, as we are prepared with sighs as we
enter the house of death.

“Do not suppress your grief, my darling child. I see you know the
worst. I would not have told you for fear of agitating your tender soul
... be calm. Pilar has told you? It is horrible, atrocious! but perhaps
not irremediable.... For days I have been miserable; but be calm; let
me see you resigned.”

Pilar thought it was her turn to speak again.

“The atrocity,” she said, “is all the greater under the circumstances.
It is a villainous thing to betray any woman, but a saint like you....
What is society coming to? In its passion for abolishing it will at
last abolish the soul! Oh! _c’est dégoutant_! and then the wretches
wonder that a handful of brave men stand forth, determined that God
shall not be pensioned off. They are furious because a standard is
raised to rally those who are ready to do battle for Religion, the
Mother of Duty. If they are conquered through treachery, which nowadays
triumphs everywhere, they will return to the charge ... they will
return again and again, till at last....”

As she spoke she had risen, and was now standing in front of a mirror
that formed the door of a wardrobe and contemplating her interesting
person, twisting from side to side to study the fall of her elegant
mantle and the effect of her fashionable hat. Her dainty, ungloved
hands arranged here a pleat and there a curl; and then she returned to
her seat.

“Did you hear that he is living there?” said the marquesa to her
daughter and softening the words with a kiss.

“With her?” cried María drawing aside from her mother’s embrace.
“Where?”

“At Carabanchel. Leon was so reckless as to take a lodging close to
Suertebella. There is a way through the park.”

“I will go there,” said María rising and pulling violently at the bell.

“My dear, be calm. You must not take it so.”

A maid answered the bell and María said: “My black dress.”

“Your black merino frock!” exclaimed her mother. “A pretty object you
will look! No, no, if you go at all--and we will talk of that--you must
dress as well and look as handsome and as nice as possible.”

“Oh dear!” cried María regretfully. “I have no gowns; nothing pretty or
nice; I have given all my good things away.”

“And you think you can go in that merino rag? Foolish child! how little
you know of men. Very well; go to find your husband a perfect guy, and
you will see how much he cares. Nay, appearances rule the world.”

“But first let us decide whether you had better go at all,” suggested
Pilar.

“Yes, I want to go ... I want to go,” María insisted, clasping her
hands, and her eyes glared with fury.

“No tragedies, no scenes--eh?”

“I do not think it is safe for you to go there. If he were to offer
you some grosser insult, if you were to meet Pepa face to face, or her
child--supposing that the child is in its father’s arms--for they say
he is devoted to it....”

“Its father?” said María “Why Federico is dead?”

“No, no,” said her friend, with the expression of cruel resolve that
she might have put on while thrusting a needle through some wretched
insect to add it to a collection. “No, do you not see? Your husband ...”

“Leon ... my husband ... Monina’s father!” exclaimed the poor woman.
The fresh blow stunned her as the first had done.

“So the people choose to say,” said Milagros trying to soften the shock.

“And you, Mamma, what do you think? Is it true?” asked María with great
anxiety.

These two women were not malicious; their state of mind--analogous to
that state of the body which is known to physicians as cachexy--was
the result of a lack of sound principle from moral impoverishment, a
disease caused by the life they led and the constant infection of an
atmosphere full of deceptions and scandal. Still, there was something
in them that made them revolt at their own cruelty; horrified at the
depth and bitterness of the cup they had put to María’s lips, they now
attempted to qualify it.

“No, I believe it is a fable.”

“No, I believe....” But Pilar, who was less generous than her friend,
did not finish her sentence.

“The idea arose,” she added, “from a certain likeness....”

“In Monina?”

“To Leon--I do not know what to think. It seems to me beyond a doubt
that the connection is of old standing.”

María bounced from her chair; there is no other word for that spring,
like a stag’s when wounded in his sleep, and she rushed to seize the
black merino gown in order to start at once.

“Do not be precipitate, do not be rash,” said her mother, detaining
her. “You cannot go at this time of day. It is quite dusk.”

“What does that matter?”

“No, you really must not.”

The evening had in fact come down on them and the room was almost dark.
“Lights--bring lights!” cried María, “I cannot bear this gloom.”

“I think that you ought to go,” her mother went on; “but not to-night,
to-morrow.”

“Marquesa, have you fully considered the step?” asked her friend.
“Will it not be a humiliation; would not silent contempt be more
dignified?”

“Oh!” said the affectionate and anxious mother; “I even hope for a
reconciliation.”

In truth her hopes were small, but it was what she most ardently
desired.

“A reconciliation! what madness! And you, María, do you believe in a
reconciliation?”

“I, I do not know, I cannot tell,” said María, helpless to answer
that or any other question. “I do not ask for reconciliation but for
punishment.”

“Oh! my dear, we are not acting a melodrama,” cried the marquesa
spreading out her hands with the affected solemnity of a white-robed
priest on the opera stage. “Peace, peace! be calm María; yes you must
go, and go dressed like other folks. That smell of dyed woolen ... pah!
it is intolerable.”

The two marquesas laughed at the jest, while Pilar threw the
objectionable garment aside. María glanced at it revengefully as much
as to say: “Why are you not silk, and well made, and fashionable?”

For the first time since she had renounced worldly things the plain
uniform of sanctity, which yesterday she would not have exchanged for
royal robes, struck her as ugly.

“The question of dress will be easily solved,” said Pilar, “you and
I are much alike in figure; I will bring some of my gowns for you to
choose from.”

“And a mantle?”

“Yes, and a hat.”

“At what time will you start?”

“At once.”

“No, to-morrow at noon,” said the mother, “we must not neglect the
proprieties--the proper time and opportunity.”

“I must go home to dinner, and I will return afterwards,” said Pilar.
“I will bring you what I have that is most suitable, for you to
choose from. We will make you quite beautiful. The worst thing that
could happen would be for Pepa Fúcar to laugh at you for fun. I shall
be back again in an hour and a half; we have no one coming to see
us this evening, and my husband is dining out with Higadillos and
some other bull-fighters, and a couple of deputies. _Au revoir_, my
dear--good-night, Milagros.” She kissed them both and disappeared.

During her absence the marquesa ate a little dinner; María none, though
there was no fast enjoined by the church almanac. Pilar by-and-bye
returned with a carriage-load of elegant raiment--beautiful dresses,
mantles, parasols, hats; and that nothing might be wanting she even
brought boots of the latest make and silk stockings _haute nouveauté_.
This was the sack-cloth worn by this coquettish votary of the faith!

The servants and the maid brought everything up and the sofas and
chairs were covered. Pilar, who was a capital show-woman told them to
place this gown here, and that hat there, so as to display them to the
best advantage. María sat gazing seriously enough at the gay colours,
the wonderful shapes and whimsical decorations devised by French
milliners. She looked, but she did not seem to see.

“Well what do you think? Which dress will you wear?”

“This is pretty,” said María pointing at one at random. “Who made it
for you?” And then again she sat gloomily staring before her. She was
like a reveller who has been long absent and is astonished to find the
fashions changed.

“What a tight shape!” she said.

“This pearl-grey will suit you.”

“No, I would rather wear black,” she said.

“That black corded silk with pale straw colour. That suits you to
perfection; I admire your taste though the season is not far advanced
it is hot. Which hat will you have?”

María looked at three hats that Pilar displayed. After long meditation
she said: “That black one with--what do you call that colour--cream?
and the bird is pretty too with those pale roses.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Pilar admiringly, “if you had not given up the world
for more than a single day you could not do better. How well you have
chosen. Very well, now you shall try them on. We must see if the gown
fits you; it can be taken in, or let out; I brought my maid, and
between us ...”

Before María could say a word her mother, Pilar, and the maid had begun
to divest her of the coarse grey flannel dress which looked like the
gown of some poverty-stricken priestling. But at this proceeding María
felt a slight reaction.

“Mercy!” she cried, “what are you doing?”

“Silly, silly child,” said the marquesa, “even at such a crisis can you
not forget the follies of your exaggerated devotion?”

María allowed herself to be led into the next room and in front of a
looking-glass; but the mirror was covered with a black curtain and
looked more like a catafalque. They pulled it aside, and in the glass
was born, as one might say, the charming image of María Sudre--a sudden
creation as it seemed in her eyes.

“Good Heavens!” she exclaimed, clasping her hands, “how thin I am!”

“Yes a little fallen away, but prettier, much prettier than ever,” said
her mother enthusiastically.

“Lovely, _charmante_!... Juana, come and dress this hair,” said Pilar
to the maid, who was famous as a hair-dresser.

“Be clever now; something simple. Just a knot that we may judge of the
effect of the hat.”

Juana quickly unfastened María’s plaits to begin her work, while María,
after looking at herself for a few minutes, fixed her eyes on her lap
and seemed to be praying in silence. She had seen her marble shoulders
and snowy throat and the sight had filled her with conscientious
alarms. Perhaps the reaction might have spurred her to resistance. If
an arrow shot from her mother’s well-aimed bow had not diverted her
thoughts.

“When I look at you, my darling, it is incredible to me how that
red-haired Pepa Fúcar....”

María’s jealousy started her into life again as a jaded horse is roused
by the spur. Her eyes flashed as they saw themselves in the glass. “How
lovely God has made us!” they seemed to say. She turned her head from
side to side, looking out of the corner of her eye to see as much as
she could of her profile. Yes, it was a fair vision! her paleness was
becoming; she might have been taken for a convalescent love-sick angel.

In no time at all Juana had dressed her hair high, so perfectly
becoming to María’s face and shape that the most famous coiffeur could
have done no better; it was hailed with an exclamation of surprise,
and María herself gazed in admiration, though she could not smile.
Then, having induced her to return to the room where stood a large pier
glass, they dressed her in a long princess gown, not an easy operation
now that her hair was done.

“Oh! how handsome she is! odious creature,” cried the owner of the
garment with a pinch of envy. “Now the mantle; we will try this
cashmere wrap with embroidery and a fringe. It was made by a disciple
of Worth’s.”

María obeyed blindly, allowing herself to be dressed, watching the
process in the glass with anxious eyes, and involuntarily giving
herself the moods and attitudes which were needed. The maid held up the
light to show the charming picture.

“Now for the hat!”

This was the finishing touch, and Pilar would trust no hands but her
own with the delicate task. It was like crowning a queen. She lifted
the hat and placed it carefully on her friend’s head. What a result!
what a success! what a triumph of the æsthetic arts! María was dressed.
Complete and perfect in fashion and style! A fashion plate of flesh!
Indeed, as she stood, she seemed the ideal and type of good taste; of
that perfection of dress combined with the perfection of beauty which
produce those distracting charms to which the prudence, the dignity,
and sometimes the wealth and salvation of men are sacrificed. Alas!
poor Adam! to think that there was a time when for full-dress you had
only to pluck a leaf from the first fig-tree!

“Now I am going,” said Pilar. “I have seen the effect; to-morrow I will
come back and dress you myself. I leave you everything complete: shoes,
stockings--look what pretty ones--take the blue pair. Will my shoes fit
you? I think so. Here are a pair of high boots and a pair of shoes....
I have even brought you gloves, for, if I am not mistaken, you have
none.--Good-bye till to-morrow.”

She kissed her noisily and whispered in her ear: “To-morrow will be a
day of trial for you. I will order tapers to be lighted before the Holy
Picture in San Prudencio--but the Lord will uphold you, poor dear saint
and martyr! By the way, my dear, the ceremony at San Lucas’ to-day
had all that aspect--that veneer, so to speak--of vulgar display that
sticks to everything that Antoñita de Rosafría takes in hand. You
should have seen the hangings and the flags! It was like a political
demonstration. If they had struck up Riego’s hymn, I should not have
been astonished. And, oh, my dear, what a sermon! You should hear that
man’s squeaky voice! As for edification!--Well, I must not stay any
longer; it is growing late. Good-bye. But one thing strikes me: shall I
have tapers lighted before Our Lady of Sorrows?”

“Yes,” said María eagerly, “Our lady of Sorrows.”

“Good-bye Milagros; to-night I have my place at the opera; I shall be
in time for two acts of The Huguenots.... To-morrow then, at noon.”

“At noon, and bring Juana--I will bring my dressing-case, for in this
house there is not even a powder puff.”

“Good-night--good-night.”



CHAPTER IV.

SUING OR DEFIANT?


The marquesa begged her daughter to go to bed, and María gladly obeyed,
for she was very weary. She slowly divested herself of the handsome
garments which had so unexpectedly resuscitated the beautiful young
woman she had once been, and retired to her alcove. She was shivering
with cold and had sunk into a fit of deep melancholy. After a long
silence, during which she lay watching her mother with anxious eyes,
she turned her face to the images, pictures, and relics which made her
alcove a sort of oratory, and began to pray. The marquesa, who could
also on great occasions make a due display of fervour, knelt kissing
the feet of a crucifix.

“Give me my rosary, mamma,” said María; and the marquesa took her the
beads which hung at the foot of the cross.

“Now you can leave me,” said her daughter. “I am sleepy, and when I
have said my prayers I shall fall asleep.”

The marquesa fixed the hour at which they were to set out next day. It
was agreed that they should both go and that the mother should remain
in the carriage while María went in to see her husband.

“My heart tells me that we shall do great things, perhaps effect a
reconciliation,” said the marquesa, kissing her daughter. “Now go to
sleep and do not worry yourself with matters of conscience. You see the
consequences of your obstinacy; honestly, my dear child, I put myself
in a husband’s place--any husband’s; it is not that I wish to blame
devotion, true devotion. Am not I a pious and sincere Catholic, though
an unworthy one? Do I fail in my religious exercise? You should have
thought of this mania for sanctity before you married and took up other
duties.”

“One thing strikes me,” said María showing clearly that she was not
worrying herself about matters of conscience, “I ought to have some
jewelry to-morrow--a brooch, bracelets, earrings--you can bring me
anything you think proper out of the case I gave you to take care of.”

“Very well,” said her mother with some embarrassment. “But almost all
your trinkets wanted mending--I sent them to Ansorena. But I will
see....”

“Rafaela tells me that you took away all the plate yesterday.”

“Yes, all of it. My dear child, I am always in a fright at your living
alone in this great house. There are so many robberies.”

“I do not want the plate--but tell me, did you not take the silk
curtains too, and my lace, and the inlaid ink-stand and card case--oh!
and those two vases, and the Sêvres jars, and the fan painted by
Zamacois and the water-colour by Fortuny, and several other things?”

“You have a remarkably good memory,” said the marquesa, laughing to
conceal her annoyance. “Yes, I took them away. Such treasures ought not
to be left in danger of robbery. Do you know that Madrid is swarming
with burglars?”

“Then bring me my watch,” said María turning over in bed, “I had better
know the time to a minute.”

“Very well--but I remember it is gone to be mended. It did not go.”

“Then I must do without it; goodnight, mamma.”

“To-morrow at ten. I will be here in time to dress you. Goodnight, my
darling.”

But María could not sleep. For the first time in her life she realised
one of her earliest dreams of pious mortification; she had imagined
the possibility of lying on a bed of brambles, so that her body
being tormented to the great edification of the soul, she might the
better emulate the penitent saints whose lives she had read with such
enthusiasm. That night her bed was a bed of thorns, till it became a
bed of burning coals, and seemed to scorch her limbs. She felt like
St. Laurence on his gridiron, or St. John in his cauldron; she could
generally get to sleep by repeating her prayers, but to-night they hung
buzzing on her lips, like bees at the door of a hive, while her brain
seemed on fire, writhing like some soul in the depths of hell, nipped
and stung by Satan’s ministers. She could bear it no longer; in her
ears was a continual hissing like frying; it bewildered her brain; her
very eyes ached in the dark. She sprang out of bed and struck a light.

“Now,” she said to herself, as she slipped some clothes on. “Now, this
minute!”

Without stopping to put on her shoes and stockings she went to look
at the clock in her boudoir, her heart sank when she saw that it only
marked one. Still so early! She calculated how long it would be till
sunrise; then she shut herself into her boudoir. Who can tell what she
did there? In the silence of the night and of empty rooms the clocks,
with their regular ticking, like breathing, seem to live and watch.
Perched on the chimney-shelves, these bronze personages, with faces
like masks with twelve eyes, would make us believe that they can hear
and understand by the same internal organs which produce that ceaseless
and rythmical beat. The clock in María’s boudoir was the only witness
to her proceedings; the portrait of Leon even knew nothing about them,
for it hung with its face to the wall. The clock heard her, then, as
she opened and shut various trunks; heard the pleasant splash of water
as it flowed into the marble bath and over the rounded limbs of a human
statue, dancing and rippling like the waters of a fountain in which
alabaster tritons and nymphs disport themselves among translucent jets,
cascades, and clouds of spray. The impudent rogue of a clock chuckled
to itself as it steadily snapped its hundred teeth; it was long since
it had heard such music. Then it smelt the faint, sweet savour of
perfumes--it was long since that scent had been used there.

María returned to the boudoir carrying the light with her, and her
first glance was at the dial near which she placed the candle. A
quarter past two. Oh, what a bore is a clock that insists on telling
you that it is very early! She had wrapped herself in an ample white
sheet like a cloak, which helped to produce a reaction after the cold
bath; her face was a little blue, but none the less charming, and her
small hands clutched the wrapper to gather it round her, as a dove
folds her grey wings over her white breast. The reaction from cold
water is rapid and complete. She soon felt warm again, and then, as
the reversed portrait caught her eye, she raised her arms to take it
down--but it was too high. She mounted on a chair to reach it, and we
have it on the authority of the clock that his mistress in her light
attire was a charming figure which he opened his twelve eyes wide to
gaze at.

María unhooked the portrait and, turning it round, set it upon a
chair. There, as if he were present in the flesh, were the manly bust,
the clever head, the deep honest eyes of Leon Roch; it was like the
sudden entrance of a living person. María was strangely startled; all
her blood rushed to her heart, leaving her veins empty and chill;
breathless and rigid, she looked at the picture as though it were
the apparition of some one long dead, or the embodiment of a face in
a dream. It did not frown at her but gazed with a serene and kind
expression--the natural expression of a warm and loyal nature. María
stooped forward; her face was close to the portrait--then she drew
back; with her hand she wiped off a little dust, and having done
this, she kissed her husband--once, twice, thrice, on different parts
of his face. At that instant she heard a dull, smothered chuckle--it
was the clock, taking a deeper breath with the hoarse effort that is
preparatory to its striking.

Three o’clock! the creature was growing more amiable and was getting
the better of its mania for asserting that it was early. The house,
as has been said, was on the outskirts of the city, and she could
hear the cocks crowing to proclaim the end of this miserable, dreary,
never-ending night.

“It will soon be day,” thought María. “As soon as it is day I will set
out.”

Then she proceeded to dress. All the things that Pilar had brought
were lying on the chairs, and, but that there were on the walls three
several pictures of St. Joseph, the room might have been taken for that
of a woman of the world after a night of dissipation.

María examined the colours of the silk stockings and finally selected
the blue pair which she pulled over the rosy feet. Shoes were a more
difficult matter; she tried the boots and shoes--happily her friend’s
foot seemed to be the twin brother to her own--but she doubted as to
the particular pair--boots or shoes? A question as important as the
greater alternative: Heaven or Hell?

After much hesitation the boots were definitely discarded and she
decided on the shoes--high shoes of bronze kid, Louis XV. shape, and
embroidered with steel--gems in their way. María looked at them for
a long time and then put them on. She had very pretty feet--prettiest
of all when bare--still, she must have shoes on as a social necessity,
though it was not _de rigeur_ in the days of Venus; and María looked
down with satisfaction at the artificial beauties of feet with which
not Daphne herself could have run, but which, nevertheless, were
pretty enough to behold. She placed her foot firmly on the ground,
contemplating the ankle; she turned on her heel and moved the pointed
toe, almost like a thimble; the foot as well as the face has an
expression of its own. María was satisfied and gave her mind to other
matters.

Stays; coiffure; two important matters which could not be attended to
together. The first is sometimes a question of strength; the second
a sublime work of art. María began with the more serious matter, and
it needed no hydraulic pressure to imprison her slender waist. The
hair-dressing was a greater difficulty. She seated herself at the
dressing-table in a meditative attitude, with her hands raised like
a priest who pauses to pray before touching some sacred object, and
at length, after various attempts she succeeded in restoring to some
extent the structure that Juana had achieved the previous evening--a
perfectly simple knot, as it had to be in the absence of various
articles of the toilet. But it was becoming, and that was the main
point. No puffs or padding.

The rest of her toilet was on the lines of last night’s rehearsal:
the black silk dress, with its linings and trimmings of straw colour;
the hat, which might have been the creation of fairy hands....
Nothing could be better or more bewitching. María gazed at herself in
astonishment; she was a different woman! It could not be she who was
so beautiful. It was magic. Nay, a good Catholic could not believe in
magic! It was a special mercy of Heaven, a providential interposition,
to enable her to carry out a meritorious purpose. It could be none
other than God who had lent her such exceptional beauty and such
brilliant and becoming attire. Superstition clung to her soul as a
limpet sticks by suction to a rock.

“God consents, it is God’s will--” she said to herself, eagerly seizing
on the idea.

Then she looked at herself once more--in front, in profile--yes, she
looked well. How slender and well-formed she was, how gracefully her
head was poised on her shoulders! The misty veil slightly shaded her
pale face, as it might be the shadow of a bird flying by and pausing
to admire so sweet a picture. There was a sort of symbolical passion
in the depths of the black velvet with lights of straw-coloured silk;
in that sombre nimbus with sulphurous gleams framing her delicate
complexion there was a perfect harmony; and in those melancholy
sea-blue eyes, that looked as if a threat lurked under their sadness, a
revenge under their pain, under their tenderness a dagger.

“Gloves!” she exclaimed, “where are they? How provoking if Pilar should
have forgotten to leave them.”

She found them however, and put them on.

“I have no trinkets, but that is of no consequence--I have my virtue,”
she added to herself, “that is the only thing that really matters.”

After another glance in the mirror she went on: “Yes, I am handsome--if
only I can say just what I feel.... If I can find the right words....”

She pulled the bell, startling all the household. The servants were
some time getting up, but at last they appeared. Her maid, who came
sleepy and stupid into her room, was astounded at seeing her mistress
ready dressed--and so beautifully dressed! María desired her to send
Señor Pomares to her at once. The worthy man, who had been recalled
after Leon’s departure, presently made his appearance, with a puffy,
stupid face and tottering with the bewildered air of a man who has been
roused from his deepest and sweetest slumbers. But María did not look
at him.

“Order the carriage to be got ready at once,” she said. The steward
looked blank with astonishment.

“But--you forget,” he said, “you forget...?”

“What?”

“That the carriage is gone.”

“To be sure, very true,” said María. “I had forgotten. Well, send for a
hired carriage, a landau.”

“At this hour?”

“Is it not daylight?”

“Dawn is only just breaking.”

“What has that to do with it? It seems to me that you want to make
difficulties ... you are of no use at all--”

Pomares was dumbfounded. So hasty ... so violent.... His mistress must
be mad.

“Well, why do you not stir, in Heavens name?” she exclaimed, “why do
you stand staring at me? A carriage, and at once, at any cost!”

“Very good, Señora; I will go and see.”

“At once; as quickly as possible. I want to be off as soon as it is
light.”

After infinite trouble Pomares, dragging his weary limbs from one place
to another, succeeded in hiring a carriage; but not till the day was
somewhat far advanced. María burning with impatience, waited in her
room. She took a cup of black coffee, and then alternately paced the
room and paused to pray, or sat sunk in thought.

When at length the landau was announced she started up, and going
straight to a pretty little cupboard she took out a bottle of not
remarkably pure water. Her lips moved, muttering no doubt a prayer,
while she poured part of the contents into a silver cup; then,
carefully lifting her veil she drank that water which was from the
sacred Grotto at Lourdes.



CHAPTER V.

THE ICE GIVES WAY.


María had not gone more than half a mile when a terrible reflection
occurred to her--a thought at once so serious and so obvious that she
was on the point of turning back. It struck her that her dress, having
been chosen with a view to an afternoon drive, was unsuitable for so
early a visit--nay, ridiculous not to say “loud.” How could she have
overlooked this when she was dressing? Why had she not chosen other and
simpler things, more suitable according to all the accepted laws of
society for morning wear? She was really upset and distressed; however,
there was now no remedy; so, though she was vexed to think that on
such an occasion she should not be a model of good taste, she consoled
herself with the reflection that beauty lays down the laws of fashion
and has never been its slave. Other and more important matters soon put
all thoughts of dress out of her head. As she drove along she tried to
compose and remember appropriate phrases and speeches. She knew exactly
what her husband would say, and how she, as the outraged wife, ought to
reply. Sentence after sentence surged up in her brain as readily as if
it were the crucible of the Spanish Academy. Now and then an adjective
seemed too weak and she substituted a stronger one; here and there a
statement of fact gave way to a hypothesis; and thus anticipating the
utterance of her wrath and injuries, she grew so excited that she spoke
aloud to herself.

She paid no heed to the road along which she was being carried, nor to
any object she passed. At the same time, as frequently happens when
the mind is full of a fixed group of ideas, María, while she took no
conscious note of the more important details, involuntarily absorbed
certain trivial and minute ones. She observed a dead bird lying by the
road, and a tavern sign-board in which the letter A was missing; as she
passed the tram-car she perceived that the driver was blind of one eye.
This is one of the commonest and oddest of mental phenomena.

At length she reached the hamlet, or rather detached suburb--neither
town nor country, but an irregular medley of mansions and dung-hills.
Not knowing precisely which way to go, she enquired of some women who
civilly directed her; the man drove on. Now she was near the house--it
must be quite close. Her heart throbbed wildly, and all the speeches
she had so laboriously prepared deserted her at once.

The carriage stopped ... she could hardly stand. She saw a gate leading
into a large court-yard, full of furniture cases, and an iron bed
packed for moving. There was a woman too, talking to some one she could
not see. María went in and approached her; then, to her horror, she saw
that she was talking to herself; was she mad? But María asked for Don
Leon Roch.

“Don Leon Roch?” said Facunda with a good-humoured smile after a pause
of astonishment. “He is up there.” And she pointed to a door through
which a staircase was visible.

María hurried up, but about half way she was forced to stop for breath.
At the top she went into a large light room; there was no one there.

She saw books, articles of furniture that she recognised, all in
confusion as packed for removal, but no one ... no one.

Suddenly, like a bird that hops out of a hedge at the sound of a voice,
a little girl appeared from behind a table. She held a broken doll and
was eating a piece of bread. She was warmly wrapped up, and on her head
she wore a little white hood, very much like a nun’s. Her face was that
of a cherub, if a cherub can be supposed to have a little wet nose from
a cold sharp morning. Monina fixed her eyes on the dazzling vision
that had suddenly appeared in the doorway and stared at it speechless
and motionless. This was not a lady; it was a doll, a very large doll
dressed like a lady, and the child’s astonishment soon changed to
alarm. She saw the figure come slowly towards her without taking her
eyes off her ... and such eyes! Monina turned white and would have
cried out but she was too frightened. This enormous doll came slowly up
to her without seeming to walk, and when it had reached her it stooped
down ... the poor little thing was too much terrified to scream;
those eyes had turned her to stone. It put out a hand and laid it on
Monina’s shoulder. Then, clutching the little arm, it squeezed it
tighter--tighter--like an iron vice, while in a voice which Monina did
not recognise as human, but rather as the strange croak which dwells in
a doll’s body and utters “papa” and “mamma,” it asked her:

“Who are you? What is your name?”

The instinct of self preservation conquered her terrors, and at last
poor Ramona found her voice. She gave a shrill cry and pulled away her
arm. Leon Roch came to the door of the adjoining room where he too
stood still, like a statue in a niche. Unlike St. Thomas, he saw but
he could not believe. For a minute or two he could not shake off his
dismay and astonishment, seeing clearly the dilemma in which he was
placed. Her appearance there was extraordinary no doubt, but anything
rather than absurd; what was absurd, was her coming fashionably
bedizened with such extravagant elegance at this hour of the morning.
It was a phenomenon which had formed no factor in his calculations and
which was, so far, perfectly inexplicable. Having presently mastered
his feelings and determined to face the scene that was evidently
inevitable, Leon, before saying a word to his wife, took Monina’s
hand, went to the top of the stairs and called some one to whom he
entrusted the child; then, turning back into the room, he shut the door
resolutely, like a lion-tamer who locks himself in with the savage
favourites, who, to him, are, after all, only part of his family.

María had seated herself; in fact she could hardly stand.

“You did not expect me?” she said tremulously.

“No, I certainly did not.”

“You thought you were free! poor man ... free to pursue ... without
a road ... free, I mean, to pursue the road of infamy without let or
hindrance. No, no! you must account to ... to me....”

All the speeches that María had in fancy delivered with so much unction
had evaporated, word by word. She made a desperate effort to remember
a single effective phrase; in vain! they were gone. She could hardly
catch at a word as they whirled through her brain, and she could only
cry out in a husky voice:

“Guilty wretch!”

Leon smiled slightly and María went on: “Wretch! I am here to apprehend
you.”

“Very well,” said Leon calmly accepting the idea. “But allowing that I
am guilty, and a wretch, and that you are the police--you have no chain
to fetter me with because you yourself have broken it.”

María had prepared her rejoinders on the supposition that her husband
would answer her as she had imagined; but as Leon said something quite
different she was in the position of an actor who has lost his cues.

“The chain,” she murmured, not at the instant understanding what he
meant, “and I, you say, have broken it.”

“Yes, you. Who but you gave me my liberty?”

“You are a wretch, a libertine, a villain!” cried María dropping
into the vulgar recrimination of every angry wife. “Liberty? What
do you mean by it? You have none. You are my husband--tied to me by
a bond that none but God can sever, since it was He who bound us.
You abominable materialists think that the ordinance of matrimony is
a thing to be played fast and loose with. I tell you it is a divine
institution.”

“And a human institution as well. But we need not bandy words María.
Tell me what did you come here for?”

“And now he dares to ask me what I came for!” she exclaimed, her
nervousness giving way to a frenzy of wrath. “I will tell you. I came
to require of you an account of your criminal behaviour, to surprise
you in your lair, to put you to open shame, and then--and then to scorn
you.”

“But you could have scorned me without coming here.”

“I wished to see whether you had a remnant of shame and decency;
whether I could surprise you, face to face; if you would dare to
confess your sin....”

“You have, you see, surprised me somewhat,” said Leon raising his eyes.
“As regards my sins, if I have committed any, it is not to you that I
owe a confession.”

“What audacious impudence!... But I came for something more,” added
María livid with rage. “I came in the hope of finding here that
abandoned woman, and of giving her the name she deserves; to ...” She
clenched her fists and her eyes glared.

“What woman?”

“The hypocrite can ask! I do not name her for it would stain my lips
... do you dare to tell me that you are not on terms of disgraceful--of
criminal intimacy with her?”

“With whom?”

“With her....” And she pointed in the direction of Suertebella.

“María” said Leon gravely and turning pale, “I do not like to see
you a propagator of base slander. I should find it very difficult to
cease to respect you; but if you wish that I should never fail in the
consideration which I owe to you, never repeat that question. Be silent
... go ... leave me. You do not want my love since your religion is
all in all to you; go, serve your altars, and leave me alone with my
conscience.”

María drew herself up, clenching her arms against her breast like a
wild beast preparing to spring; her eyes for a moment seemed dimmed,
but the next instant they flashed fire.

“Coward, villain!” she exclaimed. “Do you dare to tear yourself away
from me, your lawful wife, the wife to whom you belong and whom you
shall never escape!... No, never--since God has pronounced us one? Who
are you, a miserable wretch, to desecrate a sacrament and disobey the
Father of us all?”

“Desecrate a sacrament? I ... I?” Leon stood up and went close to his
wife. “It is not I,” he said, “who desecrate the sacrament.”

“Who then?”

“You,” he said, pointing with his finger so close to her face that it
was as if he meant to put out her eyes.

“I?”

“You.--You cast it to the winds. When I was trying to save our home and
peace you said to me: ‘My God requires me to say that I do not love
you.’”

For a second María was abashed and silent; her wrath had abated a
little.

“It is true that I said that. And, after all, if you desire my love,
why do you not try to merit it by becoming a Christian and a Catholic.
In spite of your wicked atheism I cannot say that I do not love you ...
a little. But oh! why are you not like me? Why do you not imitate my
piety?”

“Because it is beyond me,” he retorted sarcastically, “because there
are forms of piety so unnatural, so insane, so absurd, silly and
irrational.... But at least you must admit that it was you, you
yourself who desecrated the sacrament.”

“But I,” replied his wife, catching at a cogent argument. “I have been
faithful and you have not.”

Leon was staggered for an instant.

“I have been faithful too,” he said. “I swear it before God and by
the sacred memory of my father and mother! Faithful, tender and kind
to the last extremity--even when you, carried away by a sickly piety,
and by the example and ardent warnings of your hapless brother, built
up a wall of ice between your soul and mine. You refused to bestow on
me even the commonplaces of affection, the gentle words and tones
which may take the place of love when love is dead; you humiliated me
with your senseless scruples and cruel recriminations, that bore a
hideous resemblance to vulgar abuse; you made my home empty and dark,
casting a gloom over it that oppressed my heart, dried my brain, and
embittered my blood; you took a delight in neglecting your person to
the extent even of sluttishness; to annoy me more deeply you dressed
in absurd and shapeless clothes, and took a pride in making yourself
repulsive and odious. Every word I spoke you regarded as blasphemy,
and all my thoughts and feelings were crimes worthy to be punished by
the inquisition. You were mad and blind! If you felt called to such
a career of sanctity why did you not try to imitate the patience--a
saintly patience, surely--with which I endured your proud assumption
of humility, your unchristian bitterness, and your devotion, which for
insolence, vexatiousness and recalcitrancy was for all the world like
the pranks of a troup of demons playing the part of angels with masks
on.

“And you come to me--to me who have borne all this--to me whom you have
hated and tormented--to me! and call me to account instead of asking
my forgiveness. ‘Pardon,’ María is the only word that it becomes you
to utter this day! after all your bigotry, and hypocrisy, and insults,
you desire me to account to you ... for what? A woman who has told her
husband that she does not love him cannot call him to account. I have
been more than considerate in not declaring our marriage as void, in
still acknowledging you as my wife, in regarding myself as still bound
to you by some invisible tie, in asking not for liberty but only for
peace--not for compensation but only for respite!”

“You might indeed lodge some complaint against me,” retorted María,
“if, since that time, you had been as faithful to me as I have been to
you. But you have not; nay you have long, long been false to me.”

“It is not true.”

“Yes, false and faithless,” she insisted, clinging to the statement
with feverish vehemence. “And instead of defending yourself you turn
upon me! Those are the tactics of every clever criminal.... I was
blind, ignorant of your perfidy. You have cheated me shamefully!”

“It is not true.”

“For a long time, for years.”

“Not true.”

“But at last it has all come to my knowledge. I have discovered the
whole truth. You cannot deny it, for the present throws light on
the past and your crime of to-day betrays that of yesterday. You
have lost all decency; you do not even hide the distant date of your
intimacy--and here, in this house, where you have buried yourself to
revel in your sin, you pass whole days playing with that child ... with
that sniffling little brat!...”

Leon glared at his wife with a terrible expression; his eyes darted
arrows of wrath. María drew a deep breath and added in a hoarse voice:
“With her child--which is yours.”

With livid lips and a murderous glare in his eyes, looking as an
assassin may in the very act, Leon went up to his wife and seizing her
by the arm he shook her in his fury:

“It is a calumny,” he said, “a lie....”

Then he let her go, swallowing down the rest of the words that were on
his tongue.

María stung and devoured by all the serpents of jealousy, had no words
for the rage that burned within her; for when jealousy has reached
a certain pitch it cannot find utterance--it must act. Her revenge
could not be satisfied with anything less than the destruction of the
innocent cause of her indignation. To tear Monina limb from limb was
what her passion prompted her to do, and without a moment’s hesitation
she acted on the impulse; she snatched up the doll that Monina had left
on a chair and tore it to pieces--arms, legs, hair--the trembling hands
of the outraged wife wreaked her vengeance on the senseless toy. Then,
flinging the fragments away, she exclaimed in broken gasps:

“There ... that ... that is how your lawful wife ought to treat her ...
her....” She was almost choking.

Leon, recovering his self-command, spoke again.

“I should have thought you incapable of becoming the mouthpiece of such
an infamous slander. Of what use is piety if it leaves you in ignorance
of the first elements of charity? You never can have had any feelings!”

“Oh yes, I had once,” said María exhausted by her own rage. “But I can
thank God that I have not transmitted them to any child of yours. He
has blessed me in making me childless, as He has blessed other women in
giving them children. He could not grant a family to an atheist!”

“Your blasphemy appals me,” said Leon, who could endure no more. “Can
a sacrament be more utterly annulled, or a bond more effectually cut?
Between you and me, María, there is a great gulf--bottomless and
infinite; a space of endless desert in which, try as I may, I cannot
see a single idea or feeling that we can have in common. Let us part
forever; do not try to bring together two distinct worlds which cannot
approach each other without tempest and lightnings. If there ever were
two irreconcilable beings, we are they. For I too am a fanatic; you
have taught me to be, like you, a bigot--an ardent, even a relentless
bigot. We will part, each to his own shore, and let the waste that lies
between us be as the ocean of oblivion. Nay, to soothe our consciences,
I will say the ocean of forgiveness. Each may forgive; both may forget
... good-bye.”

While he was speaking María’s feelings of anger and revenge had
given way to other and very different sentiments, calmer and more
contemplative, which by degrees took absolute possession of her
agitated mind. She looked at her husband and found him--why should she
deny it?--worthier than ever to be the friend and companion of a loving
wife. His face had a charm of its own, with the dark beard that gave it
an indefinable expression of romantic melancholy, with the eager eyes
and broad brow, on which a reflected gleam of sunshine at that moment
fell, like a beam of glory on that wise and intelligent head. This mute
contemplation of his manly good looks appealed directly to her heart
and made it beat with excitement. Her first and only love revived;
she remembered the happiness of the early days of their marriage and
against the background of these memories the fact stood out that
the man was interesting, attractive, and--why not confess it?--very
good-looking; she could not take her eyes off his face. ‘But not for
her--for another woman!’ This was the spark that fired the whole
edifice, that scathed and rent her soul, so that all her piety leaked
out, so to speak. This was the diabolical idea that turned her ice to
fire, her scorn to a tenderer passion and all that was harsh in her
nature to gentleness--that lent grace and elegance even to her absurd
dress. She was desperately in love, in short, from jealousy rather than
from sympathy. It was a fearful blow to her to hear herself calmly
dismissed--with a friendly pardon, it is true--but still definitely
dismissed. She could have borne to accept her dismissal and part from
him for ever; she might even forget him, and forgive him for having
ceased to love her ... but that he should love another....

“No, never, never!” she exclaimed, as the result of her reflections;
and her eyes sparkled through tears. But she would not confess the
weakness, and hastily drying her eyes she went on:

“One night you asked me....”

“Yes, I asked you....”

“And I told you that God forbid my love for you ... and it is true; God
did forbid it. I felt it in my soul, but yet ... you see, you should
not have taken the answer. You should have asked once more.”

“But I had asked you so often, and in so many different ways.”

“Well, now I ask you,” and she went up to him and laid her hands on his
shoulders; “I ask you: ‘Do you still love me?’” Leon’s nature rebelled
against a lie. He paused to question his conscience. For an instant he
thought that a generous falsehood would be the nobler course; but then
he revolted against the notion of a mock devotion. Almost before he had
thought out the matter the truth broke from his lips.

“No.... My God ... mine, María, compels me to say No.”

She dropped back into her seat. It was with a sort of roar that she
exclaimed:

“Your God is a fiend!”

“You have no claim to anything more than my respect.”

“You love some one else?” she went on, gnawing the corner of her
handkerchief, “tell me the truth.... I know you are truthful ...
confess it and I will leave you in peace for ever.”

“But I deny your right to ask,” said Leon after a moment’s hesitation.

“Deny my right if you will; but reply.”

Leon was on the point of saying: “Well then I do.” But there are cases
in which the truth is a form of murder; when it is baser than a lie.

“Well then,” he said, “no.”

“Your face betrays you, it is false!” said María starting up.

“My face?”

“You never used to tell lies.... I know that you never told lies. But
this minute you prove to me that you have lost even that grace!”

Leon made no reply, and María, after a short pause, went on:

“I have no further business here....” Still he said nothing; he did
not even look at her. “None, none,” she said. “I blush to think that
I should ever have crossed the threshold of this abode of scandal and
wickedness.”

She moistened her parched lips with her tongue, but there was a bitter
dryness on both, compared to which aloes are as honey for sweetness.
Her impulse was to spit out something ... to spit out that other She
whose name was as the savour of fruits plucked in the court of hell.
She stammered some inarticulate words and bit her lips till the blood
came.

“It is a shame ... a disgrace!” she muttered. “To have fallen to such
depths ... to have flung myself at the feet of this wretch ... a woman
like me ... a woman!...” She was too angry to shed tears--even tears of
rage. “Scorned ... despised....”

“Despised, no,” said her husband, moving towards her with an impulse of
generosity.

“Despised as if I were a....”

“Never despised....”

“Not even....”

“Well?”

“Not worthy of your consideration.”

“Consideration, certainly ...” said Leon who was as much disturbed as
she was; but she was going through a phase of reaction into the depths
of dejection.

“To you,” she went on, “I am not even good to look at. You hate the
sight of me; I have lost....”

“No,” said Leon “I swear to you that, since I first met you, I have
never seen you so beautiful as you are to-day.”

“And yet,” she cried writhing in her chair, “and yet you do not love
me....”

“You,” retorted Leon “you who have so much cultivated the spiritual
life must surely know that beauty of face and person is not what can
best captivate the soul!”

“And to you my nature is hideous?” And she struck her forehead with
a wild groan, as though she had suddenly remembered some vital fact
or had come to her right mind after an interval of mental delusion.
“How should it be otherwise when I am a Christian and you a reprobate
atheist? Of course, of course ... and I have been so mad--mad do I
say?--So wicked, as to take my eyes for a moment away from my Lord and
Saviour to gaze on you--an infidel. I have put off my black serge to
dress myself in this frippery, fit only for a lost woman, with the
base purpose of pleasing--of courting you. My God! canst Thou ever
forgive me?”

She snatched off her hat in delirious rage, and tearing it to fragments
strewed them about the floor. In her haste she pulled down her hair
which she had not fastened securely; the black locks fell about her
temples and over her shoulders. She looked like a mad creature as she
went close up to her husband and said to him in a low voice:

“I am as bad as you. I am an unworthy wretch. I forgot my God, my
duty, and my dignity for your sake.... Wretch! I do not deserve to be
called a saint, for a saint....” She glanced at her handsome dress with
horror. “Women who devote themselves truly to God would not have put
on this livery of sin. I am ashamed to see myself so tricked out. Away
with you, for filthy rags!”

She tore the trimmings with unnatural strength, rending the stuff and
ripping off the buttons, and at length she threw off her cloak and
gloves and flung them into a corner.

“Enough, enough; I have stooped too low. I will return to God--to my
seclusion and indifference to this world. I will curse my beauty for
having pleased you. I will return to the peaceful practice of religion.
No worldly humiliations can touch me then; I will find rest in sacred
meditations, conversing with God and seeing the angels, and hearing the
music of their songs in Heaven; I will go back to my peaceful life
where, at any rate, I may be so happy as to forget you! In its gloom
you will not come to curse my sight.... I have sinned and am unworthy
of the least of the Lord’s mercies. Forgive, O Lord! Forgive! Never
again will I sin thus.”

She fell on her knees and melted into tears that flowed in a ready
torrent, while she covered her face with her trembling hands. They
trickled through her fingers, and down on to her bosom, where she had
torn her dress open. Leon was alarmed; the pathetic, helpless attitude
and bitter fit of weeping touched him deeply. He bent over her and
raising her in his arms placed her in a seat.

“María for God’s sake do not go mad,” he said. “Compose
yourself--control yourself.” But she kept her hands clasped over her
face.

Leon laid his hand on her shoulder, tried to rearrange her disordered
hair and pull her dress round her--for she had really half-undressed
herself in her fury. Suddenly she threw her arm round his neck with a
convulsive energy and he felt her burning lips close to his cheek, but
she did not kiss him; in a husky faint voice she said:

“I will strangle you--I will murder you if you love any one else.--Am
I not handsomer, am I not more beautiful than she is?... Mine! you
are mine.... Mine only....” But her grasp relaxed and her arms fell
helplessly by her side; her head drooped on her breast, her hair
veiling her face; a spasmodic quiver passed over her throat and
neck--a shiver of the skin; he heard a faint murmur from her lips:
“Dying--sinful....” And she sat in a heap speechless and unconscious.
He felt her heart--her pulse; there was no perceptible flutter.

He rushed to the stairs, shouting for help. No sooner had he opened
the door than the room was full of people. Curiosity had brought the
neighbours together, for they had heard loud voices; the cries they
knew were uttered by the wife of Señor Leon Roch, and a wife who cries
out is a legitimate object of sympathy and curiosity. They rushed up
into the room, and with them the Marquis de Fúcar, who had come to give
Leon his little commission for Paris. But they all stood in helpless
astonishment.

“Take her to my house at once,” said Fúcar. “Have you any brandy, any
spirit? The first thing is to put her to bed, to send for a doctor....
Take her to my house.”

“No, the doctor can come here,” said Leon.

“But you have no bed,” said Fúcar looking round at the dismantled room.

“There is my bed,” said Facunda. “A king has not got a better.”

“Move away all of you--let me see. I think her heart is still beating.”

“Yes, yes, it is certainly beating,” exclaimed Leon hopefully.

“It will be nothing--merely a fainting fit--and all for a squabble! You
see the consequences of exageration.... But we must get her to bed.
Wrap her in a cloak--get me a cloak.”

The Marquis de Fúcar was an invaluable person in these emergencies,
when prompt decision, energy, and a tone of command are indispensable.
Four strong arms lifted María, wrapped her carefully in a cloak, and
carried her down stairs. It was like carrying a body to be buried. Leon
looked on and allowed them to act, as he would have looked on at any
other step Fúcar might have taken. It was like a scene in a dream, and
for some time he failed to remember that this arrangement, which from
one point of view was the best thing that could be done, from another
was the very reverse; but by that time the little procession had
started.

Pepa’s astonishment on seeing this inanimate figure brought into her
house can easily be imagined.... “Merciful Heaven! María Sudre!” and
what a state she was in. She could understand the fainting fit, but it
was not so easy to account for the torn dress and dishevelled hair.

They carried her into the first bed-room they came to and laid her on
the bed.

“You have forgotten the most important thing of all,” said Pepa. “To
undo her stays.”

“To be sure. How stupid of us!”

And, as he spoke, Don Pedro cut the laces with his pocket-knife. The
village doctor now came in; he spoke of congestion of the brain, and
regarded the case as serious. A messenger was at once despatched to
bring the most celebrated consulting physician of Madrid. Presently,
however, an improvement was evident; María turned over, opened her
eyes, and breathed more easily. If it were but a fainting fit after all.

But María as she recovered her faculties was evidently delirious; she
took no heed of where she was or of those who stood by her side, not
recognising her husband. After talking feebly but wildly for a few
minutes she fell asleep; silence, perfect silence, was indispensable.
The doctor gave some instructions and prescriptions.

“Now,” he said, “leave her in silence and darkness. There is at any
rate no immediate danger; but you must not allow the slightest sound in
this room or in those adjoining; and she is better alone than with more
than one person in the room.” He went away.

Pepa with her finger to her lips enjoined silence. Leon and the Marquis
Fúcar stood speechless, gazing at the patient. At the end of half an
hour Pepa said:

“She is sound asleep and seems to be comfortable. When she wakes I will
come and sit with her; I will see that she has everything she needs.”

“No, no,” Leon interposed eagerly. “I beg--I entreat you not to come
into the room at all.” Pepa bowed her head and she and her father went
away on tiptoe.

Leon sat down by the bed. He was still under the influence of the
horror and alarm of the first shock, and even now had no clear idea of
the position in which he and his wife stood to each other. María lay
still, sleeping as if she were quite tired out; the hapless husband
looked vaguely round the room. He sighed. There was something eerie
in the air. Presently Pepa returned through a door concealed by some
hangings; Leon looked up, startled and vexed; but she came nearer
evidently puzzled and inquisitive. She was paler even than María--as
pale as death. Her footfall was inaudible on the thick carpet and she
might have been a ghost. She took no notice of Leon’s anxious gesture
of warning but came close to the bed, and looked down fixedly at the
sleeping woman as if she were studying the most interesting, but at
the same time the most appalling, object in the universe. At her
heels crept Monina, as softly as a kitten that steals in and out, and
clutching at her mother’s skirts in visible alarm, she pointed to the
bed and whispered: “Big dolly dead.”



CHAPTER VI.

RETURN TO CONSCIOUSNESS.


Leon Roch sat alone, but not at peace, by the bed where his wife
lay sleeping. Watching her face, to note in its varying expression
anything that might be a symptom of danger or a sign of improvement,
his attention wandered occasionally from the patient to himself and
the painful position in which he was placed by events and persons.
How was it that he had fallen into it. How was it that he had not
been able to foresee and prevent this diabolical crossing of the two
circles in which he moved--the two orbits of antagonistic ideas and
feelings? And as he asked himself the answer came with a mocking laugh
from the depths of his consciousness, in the words of his own theories
at the time of his engagement and marriage. In the early days of this
veracious history he had, as we know, dreamed magnificent dreams, and
among others that of moulding his life by making himself its master
and ruling it absolutely to his will. But the men who cherish this
dream of triumph take no account of what we may call Social Destiny--an
irresistible power composed of creeds--our own and others; of personal
or collective resistance; of the errors--nay of the virtues--of our
neighbours; of a thousand trifles which, from time to time, must be
defied or deferred to; and finally of law and custom which it is rarely
permissible, or even possible, to fight single-handed.

Leon was sorry for himself; at the same time he could not help laughing
himself to scorn. “It is really absurd,” he said to himself, “that a
stone cannot move without rolling down hill.”

As he thought of all this and much more, he did not cease to watch
the progress of his patient. Two or three times in the course of the
day María roused from her torpid state, but her mind was clouded; she
knew no one and talked wildly. Conscious of suffering and unable to
determine or localize it she tried to fling herself out of bed, and
Leon had to use some force to prevent her. Towards night she became
quieter but the fever did not diminish. The doctor, however, found
that her pulse was steadier. In her sleep she spoke more clearly and
coherently, but at last, clasping her hands on her bosom she cried
aloud: “No, no, never! He is mine--mine!” With this she woke to clear
consciousness; her eyes wandered round the room examining the walls,
the ceiling, the bed--she perceived that she was in a strange place.
Her calm gaze showed that her mind was collected though somewhat weary
and that she had recovered her powers of judgment. Seeing her husband
sitting by the bed, alone, watchful, and anxious, her eyes softened and
she smiled as she said: “You?”

Leon went close to her and bent down putting his hand under the
coverlet to feel her pulse; she clutched at his wrist and clasped it
to her breast saying with a tremulous sob:

“What a mercy, to know that it was only a dream. I saw you--it was
dark, and they were going to put you into a fiery furnace. I was
terrified to death--I screamed out....”

Her imagination, excited by emotion and rage had been entangled in a
vortex of horrible visions--a frenzying whirl of shapes and colours
ending without colour or shape, and then had gone through an agony
of terror--lost in a void of space and blackness, filled only by
the very presence of Fear. As she reached the bottom of the abyss,
rushing downwards with increasing impetus, she was suddenly dazzled
with light. This was Hell. She saw it of course with its hideous
inhabitants as she had imagined them in her waking hours from written
descriptions and pictures; but as our conceptions of the supernatural
are always modified by the ideas of the time, and wear the aspect of
familiar scenes and objects--so that, as we know, our notion even of
the Almighty varies with the age--María saw the infernal precincts
as vast railway tunnels or gasometers reeking with smoke and stench,
or as a murky foundry with its roaring forges and machines clashing
and shrieking, with the groaning of bellows, the thud of hammers, and
the glare and swelter of a furnace. The demons, while retaining their
traditional guise of deformed men with hoofs and tails, seemed to toil
like smiths and scavengers, like the myrmidons of a gas-factory or of
a coal-mine, the Cyclops of Birmingham or Sheffield. All were grimy,
and bathed in sweat, and shiny as with the exuded grease of machinery.
It was a gulf formed by the meeting of tunnels, and galleries, and iron
causeways; the atmosphere was a mixture of coal dust, sulphur, gas and
petroleum--the odour was most abhorrent to our heroine. In the midst
of it all there was a tumult, a noise, a turmoil of which she could
have given no conception but by saying that a thousand trains rushed
at express speed on a central point and met--but no sooner was the
catastrophe accomplished than it at once began again. Locomotives were
in fact the principal feature in the Inferno of her delirious dream;
she saw them tearing past, flying with wings tipped with claws of iron,
snorting, groaning, rolling fiery eyes, and breathing out smoke and
sparks and steam. Though they were as large--as she thought--as in
real life, in that infinite void they were as a cloud of flies buzzing
stupendously.

Soon after their marriage Leon and María had made a tour in Germany
where, among other things, they had seen Krupp’s great foundry works
at Essen. The scene had made a deep impression on María that had never
quite been effaced, and in this torment of hallucination the images
brought away from that immense laboratory played a leading part in
the composition of the picture of the eternal limbo whither men are
consigned for their sins. Smaller foundries of the same kind, at
Barcelona and in France, had supplied various details and gave movement
to the terrific scene. The damned were spun round in a lathe and
rounded off like cannons or passed between rollers, coming out as flat
as paper; then they were cast into the white heat of the furnace and
recovered their natural form. Some were put into chains and their heads
laid on an anvil under a gigantic hammer that crushed their skulls. The
inferior demons--the rabble rout of Hell, amused themselves by drilling
holes in the skulls of some of their victims, and inserting a spoonful
of fused metal--the extract of a heap of books which were seething
in a bulky black cauldron, a hell-broth of heretical ideas. Others,
whose crime was evil-speaking of sacred things, had their tongues torn
out by particularly hideous fiends, and these tongues, hundreds and
thousands of them, were twisted together to form a rope which was then
hung to the vault, looking like strings of sausages put there to dry.
Others again were put through a strange torment, almost impossible to
describe. The wretches were knotted together, legs with arms, and arms
with heads, into a string or chain--a tissue of suffering and wailing.
This chain was then dragged out by a huge screw, till its length was
stretched from miles to leagues, while the bones cracked with a noise
like that of nuts trampled on by a thousand horses, and the flesh
was racked and torn; and these again, being flung into the furnace,
recovered their original shape to go once more through the same torture.

María saw all this in an anguish of terror: She was there, and she
was not; she could not shriek, she could not even breathe. But at
length there came a moment when terror gave way to grief. Among the
crowd of damned--guilty of unpardonable sin--was one who seemed to be
especially heinous, judging from the crowd of demons, male and female,
who surrounded him. This was Leon. María saw him seized, clutched by
the horrible greasy hands, cast into the boiling cauldron, dragged out
with a skimmer, pushed back with a spoon. Finally they picked him up
on a pitchfork and carried him to the mouth of a furnace so fiery that
any earthly fire would seem as ice by comparison. Then it was that
María uttered a cry, threw up her arm and hand--her arm that seemed of
enormous length, her hand that smarted with the burning heat:

“No, no, never--he is mine!”

The dream was broken, it vanished like the page of a book that is
suddenly closed--but the impression remained.



CHAPTER VII.

WILL SHE DIE.


María awoke to find herself in a large, bare room. Her husband stood in
front of her, alive and tangible. She did not recognize the place, but
she felt that she was in safe hands.

“Whose house is this?” she asked.

“Mine.... Be calm. I am here.--Do you not see me?”

María’s eyes wandered round the walls, and up to the ceiling.

“What a dismal place!” she murmured. “And I--did I come here?”

Then she was silent, trying to collect her confused memories.

The morning after the event which might well be called a catastrophe,
Leon had discussed with the Marquis de Fúcar and Moreno Rubio the best
means of moving María back to Madrid. Don Pedro thought the scheme
dangerous, and the physician had firmly opposed it, saying that, in the
state in which she was, the journey, no matter how carefully managed,
might result in a rapid and fatal collapse. Leon was excessively
annoyed and disappointed; nay, would certainly have carried out his
purpose, if the doctor had not threatened to withdraw, and give up
all further responsibility. As it was impossible to remove her from
Suertebella, though it was the last spot on earth where she ought, or
could wish to be, he thought that the best plan would be to dismantle
the room; and by the permission of his generous host he removed all the
pictures, ornaments, porcelain and bric-a-brac. The room itself was
very unpretending and was only hung with a common paper, so that it now
looked bare enough.

“Yes, you came here,” replied her husband, stroking her hair. “You have
been ill; but you are better now; it will be nothing serious.”

“Ah yes!” said María, struck with a sudden pang of remembrance. “It was
my jealousy, your infidelity that brought me here.--But is this the
house?”

“This is my bedroom.”

“Those walls--that high ceiling.--Why did you not take me home at once?”

“We will go when you have rested a little.”

“What has been the matter?”

“A little over-fatigue; it will lead to nothing serious.”

“I remember--you behaved disgracefully to me. What did I say to you?
Did I say I forgave you? Or did I only dream it?”

“Yes--you forgave me,” said Leon to soothe her.

“You promised you would love no one but me. You swore that you loved
me, and to make me believe it you gave me proofs.... Is it so or did I
dream it?”

“It is quite true.”

“Ah! and you told me you had made up your mind to renounce your
errors, and to believe all that I believe. That was not a dream?”

“No, a reality.--You must compose yourself.”

“And then we made it up--was that it?”

“Just so.”

“And loved each other as we used when we were first married.”

“Yes--just so.”

“And you said I had been deceived as to your connection with....”

María turned her head and fixed her eyes on her husband’s face.

“We will not discuss the past,” he said kindly. “We must make an effort
to restore you to health, and you must help us, María.”

“Help you, what to do?”

“To save you, María.”

“Aye indeed! I must try to save myself! My God! I have sinned....” She
was overcome with grief.

“I am speaking of your life--of your bodily health which is in danger.”

“Oh! I do not care for the health of my body, but for that of my soul
which is in peril.... A little while ago, I do not exactly know how
long, I thought I was dead. Now I am alive; but I think I shall die
soon ... and I am in mortal sin.”

“You dreamt it, my child, it was a dream. Be calm, do not frighten
yourself.”

“In mortal sin,” repeated María putting her hands to her head. “Tell
me did I dream then that you told me...?”

“I?”

“That you did not love me?”

“What could it be, but a dream?”

María threw her arms round her husband’s neck and gently drew his face
down to her own.

“Say it again that I may get rid of the miserable impression of that
horrible dream.” They exchanged a few words in a low voice.

“Then give me a proof of your affection,” said María. “As we are a long
way from Madrid, and as I cannot go out for some days, send a message
for me to Padre Paoletti. I want to talk to him.”

“I will fetch him myself.”

“You yourself?”

“Why not? I don’t mind taking any trouble to gratify you.”

In the course of the day the doctor came. Leon had thought it prudent
to confide to him some of his secrets, for, as María’s attack had been
brought on by mental excitement, it was necessary that the physician
should be aware of the delicate details. Moreno Rubio and Leon Roch
were close friends; their intimacy was founded on sympathies of
character, and on common grounds of scientific views and interests.
That morning, when Leon had disclosed to his friend such facts as were
indispensable to a sure diagnosis, they had a conversation of which
some important fragments may be recorded.

“So that in short you do not care for your wife--neither more nor
less,” said Rubio, who liked to state facts as plainly as possible.

“I have always had a horror of falsehood,” replied Leon. “And I am
bound to confess that María does not inspire me with any affectionate
emotion. I have two feelings when I think of her: one is the deepest
pity; the other is a certain amount of respect.”

“Precisely; but those feelings are not enough to make a good husband;
however, there are others in your soul which might make you--and
assuredly do make you a kind-hearted man. Tell me, do you wish your
wife to live?”

Leon started like a man who has been struck.

“Such a question is an insult. The very disquietude of my conscience
impels me to desire that María should not die.”

“Very good. Then if you wish that María should live,” said Moreno,
laying his hand on his friends’ shoulder, “the first indispensable
thing is to soothe the irritation produced by her jealousy--which,
unfortunately, is but too well-founded; her mind has received a
terrible shock, and it must be allowed to recover its balance. Every
life has, as it were a rhythm, a beat, of its own, to which it goes
on regularly and smoothly. A sudden and complete disturbance of the
measure may result in the gravest consequences, even in death. We have
here an instance in point. We must therefore lay ourselves out to
restore as quickly, and as effectually as possible, the steady measure
that has been disturbed; then we can deal with the frightful blow to
the nervous system which has affected, and may be fatal to the brain.
All these jealousies must be eliminated as quickly as possible, so that
her feelings not being excited, the whole machine may have a chance of
recovering its tone and balance. All the scenes which gave rise to her
attack must by degrees be effaced from her memory. If she lives there
will be time enough to let her know the truth. She must be saved from
any fresh outbreaks of anger or despair by being persuaded that nothing
has occurred; and above all, my dear friend, you must treat her like
a sick child; give her every thing she asks for and indulge all her
whims, particularly as concerns anything that may divert and occupy her
mind. Your wife--I am well aware--will claim your love and devotion: it
is impossible to restrict her in her demands.”

It was after this that Leon raised the question of removing his wife
from Suertebella; but Rubio positively negatived the proposal.

Having abandoned this idea as homicide--that was the word employed by
Moreno--they agreed to dismantle the room, to send to Madrid for the
servants who were in the habit of waiting on María and for various
trifles which would answer the purpose of carrying out the illusion.
Before they parted Leon said to his friend.

“Answer me frankly. Will my wife die?”

“It is impossible to say. It may yet end fatally. You must leave me to
ascertain precisely the kind of trouble with which we have to contend.”

That evening, when María was herself again, after going through her
visions of a hell full of hideous machines and toiling demons, Moreno
came in as was previously mentioned.

“Ha, ha!” he exclaimed, smiling as he found the husband and wife in
such close proximity. “Like two turtle-doves! And how is my patient?--A
good pulse; but we must have rest, absolute rest of body and mind.”

María looked at her husband and frowned.

“No, no. You are not to look so cross at this good man who is as
devoted to you as a newly-married lover. You will see--in a few days
you will be able to go out together to smell the lilacs, and watch the
butterflies. A sensible woman ought never to listen to spiteful gossip.
When people are envious what can they do but talk nonsense? Now, my
dear lady, you are going to be perfectly rational and calm; we are
going to sign a permanent peace and be very fond and loving.... I say
it for you both.... Well, let me see your tongue.”

Then he himself mixed a draught, Leon and Rafaela helping him.

While this was going forward in the sick room the Marquis de Fúcar,
setting aside for a moment the great business of the loan, already
almost concluded, went to join his daughter, and said with a grave face:

“Rubio’s anticipations are very serious. I am afraid we shall have a
terrible calamity under our roof. However, we must not despair; science
can do much, and God can do more. All we can do is to help science
to the best of our little power, and to implore the intervention of
Providence.”

Pepa, raising her anxious eyes to look at her father lifted a face so
pale that it was death-like; and with the desperation of a person who
tears open a wound that it may bleed more freely, she asked:

“Is she dying?”

“That was what I was telling you, and you did not listen,” said Don
Pedro, who was also suffering from a wound. “It is only our duty to
show our unfortunate guest how deeply we sympathise in his misfortune.
We must do something worthy of our house and name. Do not you think
it will be well to perform a religious ceremony that may give due
expression to our desire to see María out of danger? We will do it on
a scale of magnificence. The chapel here stood me in eighty thousand
dollars--though it might have cost less if the artists I employed had
been men of less talent and pretensions.--Well then, to-morrow I will
have a solemn penitential service, which all the servants and people
shall attend, with you at their head. I give you full authority to
spend as much as you think proper in tapers. The worthy priest from
Polvoranca shall celebrate mass, and if you would like to have some
more priests, send to all that are within reach.”

Having thus spoken, he sighed deeply and left her. Was it that, having
a heavy burthen on his own soul, he yearned to petition the favour and
mercy of Heaven on his own behalf? But we do not know what were the
troubles which had so suddenly transformed the marquis’ radiant smiles
into a sour grimace of annoyance. The loan, after crossing the troubled
waters of the Spanish bourse with a fair wind, would this very day
reach the haven of realization; and it was quite certain that Fúcar,
Soligny and a few other birds of the same feather in Paris, Amsterdam,
and London, would haul in a handful of gold for interest, brokerage and
commission. What then...?

The chapel of Suertebella was a handsome edifice, at one angle of
the mansion; high-roofed, thick-walled, and shining as if it had
been varnished. The interior was of stucco, full of imitations of
coloured marbles and porphyry, with a great deal of gilding on bosses
and mouldings, which produced the effect of a lavish display of
livery-buttons and gold cord on the pediments and spandrils. The style
of architecture can only be described as Græco-Chino-Roman--Gothic
gargoyles combined with ornament of the new classical style which
originated at Munich, and which our architects have adopted for the
porticoes of our houses, the pantheons of our cemeteries, the entrances
of our town-halls, and the dining-rooms of our millionaires. The
pseudojasper, gold, and brilliant colours dazzled the eye till they all
seemed to be swimming round and round the dome like fishes in a glass
bowl. The roof was supported by highly respectable angels who, in the
sculptor’s studio, had played the part of seductive nymphs; and the
paintings in the dome represented the cardinal Virtues, who had been
predestined to figure as Muses. Everything blazed with the glaring
splendour which is now fashionable in our private rooms, and which
in them is not out of place. There was not a Christian attribute or
allegory that had not been evolved from the palette or the sculptor’s
mould by the artists employed to decorate this chapel. We shall
presently become acquainted with a ribald jester who, it was said,
was one day giving a farcical, not to say a sacrilegious explanation
of the figures that adorned it: This female figure with bandaged eyes
and a chalice in her hand, represented Spain whom the financiers of
state had blindfolded that she might not see the bitterness of her cup
of ruin; that one, leaning on an anchor, with her eyes disconsolately
turned up to Heaven, was Commerce in despair; and the matron caressing
a whole tribe of children was Beneficence, a pleasing emblem of the
interest taken by the Fúcars in property and labour, and of the tender
solicitude with which they lent them a helping hand to the work-house.
The four Fathers of the Church, all represented as writing very
gravely with “The Eagle’s Quill,” personified the Press, always ready
to sing the praises of wealthy capitalists, who, before acting on
their own account, take advantage of its ready pen. The vessel sinking
in the waves of Tiberias was the State, whose orators and leaders
suffer so much buffeting, while the Multiplication of the Loaves was
obviously prefigurative of the distribution and reception of certain
articles supplied under contract; finally, the stolid Sibyls, sitting
with their hands before them in utter absence of mind, represented
government administration. And the irreverent commentator went on to
give new readings of the texts that were inscribed on the fillets and
architraves for the edification of the faithful: “I am Pedro (Peter)
and on this stone I will build my house. Give unto me that which is
Cæsar’s, and that which is God’s.”

The chapel, the allowance being made for modern taste in ecclesiastical
architecture, was a handsome one. It was on a level with the
ground-floor, and there was a second door to the garden by which the
congregation were admitted. The roof rose higher than that of the
house, displaying its bell-tower somewhat ostentatiously. It was
dedicated to San Luis Gonzaga--whose image--a really fine piece of
sculpture--stood on the high altar beneath a large representation of
Calvary.

The pious ceremony took place, as Don Pedro had arranged. The sun had
scarcely risen when wax tapers innumerable were lighted on the high
altar and in the side chapels, and thousands of delicious flowers,
arranged in jars and vases, added their tribute of beauty and perfume.
The little sanctuary was, to use a vulgar phrase, a blaze of splendour.
The lights and odours inspired a sort of fervour by stimulating the
senses and firing the imagination, so that sight and hearing were
powerfully excited. All the servants on the estate were present, from
the steward to the lowest scullion, and from the head-gardener to the
tiniest stable-boy. The service was celebrated by the priest from
Polvoranca, a humble protégé of the great house; an old man, somewhat
ridiculous in appearance, uniting to the most elaborate ugliness
certain eccentricities and manias which, though they had gone much
against him in his ecclesiastical career, had made him well known in
all the country side. He received from Don Pedro a small salary for
officiating every Sunday for the benefit of the servants and women of
the house, and hearing them confess once a year--a pious formality that
the millionaire kept up, with a view to protecting himself against
peculation and domestic difficulties of various kinds.

Pepa Fúcar attended the service in the gallery communicating with the
interior of the house; and with her, her waiting-maid and Monina, who
could not understand why she was to be so quiet and good, and was on
the point of lifting up her voice with a loud shout at the most solemn
part of the service. Heaven only knows what she might have said if the
nurse had not held her tightly, stopping her mouth, and threatening
her that God would punish her by taking away her tongue. This had the
desired effect, and Monina sat patiently till the end.

Pepa Fúcar knelt on a stool and leaned over the front of the balcony.
Who can guess what was in her mind during that solemn hour, or for
what, in truth, her aching soul petitioned?

The service ended, every one left the chapel, but Pepa remained in
her place without moving from the attitude she had taken up from
the beginning. With her head bent over the cushion and her face
half-hidden in her folded hands she had not breathed a word or a sigh.
When, at last, she looked up and prepared to rise, she gazed fixedly
at the altar without any definite expression on her face; the cushion
was wet with her tears, as though a jug of water had been spilt over
it. She left the chapel and went towards her rooms; she was silent and
grave, her eyes were red, her lips parted as if she must suffocate if
she could not draw a deep breath. At the door of her own room she met
her father.

Don Pedro, though he had not been present in person at the service,
had looked out on to the chapel through a little window in the wall to
the left, which opened from a passage in the house, and was screened
by a figure of St. Luke the Evangelist. From thence Fúcar could note
that all his household were present and that none were missing; he
could admire the magnificence of his private sanctuary--_la cathédrale
pour rire_, as our ribald jester called it--which in his eyes was “a
gem among basilicas” and “full of character.” Indeed, it would have
been difficult to refuse that modicum of praise to the grand Christian
scheme of decoration worked out by one of the chief scene-painters of
the capital.

But we have reason to believe that the good man’s mind rose above this
to a loftier range of ideas. He was deeply troubled that day, and no
doubt, as he put his solemn face out of the opening in such a manner
that it might have been taken for that of an Evangelist or a Father of
the Church, his feelings were reverent and prayerful, and he craved
something of the Creator. Still, this is mere hypothesis and devoid of
foundation; it is put forward here for what it is worth, to fill up the
vacuum which must exist in a total absence of data.

This much, at any rate, is certain. He stopped to say to his daughter:

“Every one was there.”

“And how is she this morning? Do you know?” asked Pepa in a voice so
husky that it sounded as though her lungs, in their scorching thirst
had consumed the air they breathed.

“Be hopeful, my child. The unfortunate woman passed a quieter night,
and she is better, Moreno tells me.”

“So that she will recover....”

“It is very probable....” said Don Pedro, but the indifference of his
tone showed that he was thinking of something else. “Really, my child,
it seems as though God were piling every calamity on us at once!”

As he spoke the poor gentleman could not control his feelings. He held
out his arms to his daughter who threw herself into them, and exclaimed
in a voice choked with agitation: “Child of my heart--my jewel! How
unfortunate you are!”

Pepa shed on her father’s shoulder the few tears she had saved from the
Mass. Don Pedro, commanding himself, said with an effort: “But we must
not exaggerate.--Nothing is positive.--To-morrow....”

Pepa went into her own room and her father retired to his, where,
for the twentieth time, he read and re-read a number of letters and
telegrams which had made a deep impression on a mind usually as bright
and clear as the spring air and sunshine.



CHAPTER VIII.

LEON ROCH PAYS A VISIT.


Acting on a generous impulse, and being desirous of fulfilling the
promise he had made to his wife, Leon Roch set out for Madrid and went
to the church of St. Prudencio in search of Father Paoletti. Nothing
could be more unlikely than that he should set foot in such a place,
and when the serving-brother had asked him to wait in the bare parlour,
he had leisure to reflect on the matter and on himself, with a sort of
incredulous surprise, feeling as though either the place he was in or
he himself must be the creation of a dream. The man who vows that he
will never cross the threshold of some particular door must be either
very foolish or very proud, or incapable of discerning that the swift
turns of life bring us in front of those portals--open them--and push
us in; and we do not even think of escape.

Leon had not had much time for these reflections when a priest stood
before him; a singularly small man of middle age, with a tiny, pale,
boyish face, and such large inquisitive, piercing eyes, that, in fact,
he seemed all eyes. The deliberateness of his gait contrasted strangely
with the smallness of his person; his steps were measured, even
stately, with a firm, slow tread such as might result from constantly
wearing shoes soled with lead. Paoletti bowed to his visitor with
elegant politeness, and Leon, who was in no mood for ceremony, briefly
explained his object. Paoletti, seating himself in front of the weary
infidel with the calm tenacity of a humble believer, listened to him
with the benevolence of a father confessor, cast down his eyes, knit
his fingers, and twirled his thumbs--his hands it may be noted were as
slender and delicate as those of a fine lady.

“Let us go,” he said looking up and stopping the rotation of his
thumbs. “I have heard of her journey to Carabanchel and of her illness,
but I did not know that it was serious, nor that she had been carried
to Suertebella.--To the house itself?”

“To the house itself,” said Leon gloomily.

“I suppose then,” said Paoletti with a subtle intonation, “that the
marquis’ daughter has come to Madrid with her darling child.”

“She is to do so to-day.”

“And you?”

“I do not purpose leaving María so long as she is ill.”

“You impress me very favourably, Señor,” said the Italian, giving Leon
his hand with a hearty gesture. “At the same time your position with
reference to that blessed martyr is a strange one, and unpleasant for
both of you.”

“It is the singularity of our position,” said Leon, “that made
me decide on coming myself, that I might give you certain items
of information which concern no one but me, and request your
co-operation...”

“Mine?”

“Yes--to help me to carry out my arrangements, and get out of my
difficulties as well as possible.”

Paoletti knit his brows. He had risen to start at once; but he now sat
down again, and once more began to twirl his thumbs.

“In the first place,” he said in the tone of a man accustomed to drive
matters home, “explain to me the motives which brought you here. It is
strange enough that you should come to confess to me, surely?” And he
smiled with sarcastic triumph in a way that to Leon was more offensive
than open mockery would have been.

“To confess?--yes indeed!”

“No, no, Señor,” said Paoletti with an affectation of sweetness which
betrayed his Italian blood, “I do not expect you to confess--far from
it! you will neither lay bare your conscience, nor retract your errors.
You will only tell me what I know already--what every one knows. And
all in order that I may help you...” And the priest ended his sentence
by quoting the reports diffused by Pilar de San Salomó’s gossiping
circle.

“In all that there is a little truth and a great deal of falsehood,”
said Leon. “It is false to say that Monina is my child; it is false
to accuse me of such a connection with Pepa Fúcar. That I love her is
true--and that every kind of love for my unhappy wife is dead within
me. I have no feeling left for her but calm regard, and a dispassionate
respect for her virtues which I fully acknowledge.”

“Regard, respect!” said Paoletti. “Appreciation of her virtues!...
This, Sir, is something. The pure and noble soul of María Egyptiaca
deserves more, much more, it is true; but if we might hope that your
regard and respect would develop and expand....” Again he took Leon’s
hand in his own which was as white and cold as marble--“we might bring
about a reconciliation.”

“Impossible!” said Leon. “Utterly, totally impossible. A little while
since it would have been easy--but what effort did she make to effect
it?--You ought to know.”

The little man looked at the ground and nodded affirmatively.

“Of course! you know all about it!” said Leon bitterly. “My wife’s
conscience-keeper, the ruler of my household, the master of my married
life, who has held the sacred chain in his hand and could bind or
unloose--the man whom I see now for the first time since he came to see
my hapless brother-in-law, Luis Gonzaga, who died in my house--this
man who, though it is no earthly concern of his, has secretly disposed
of my happiness and of my life as a master does of his purchased
slaves.--You, I say, must of course, know everything.”

“This worldly tone of haughty philosophy is well known to me too,
Señor,” said Paoletti, in a tone of apostolic reproof. “If you wish me
to meet you on that ground and to confute you utterly I will do so.”

“No--I did not come here to argue. The horrible struggle is over--I am
beaten, after having risked honour and delicacy, after fighting with
skill, nay, and with fury. My opinions were settled long since, and
cannot now be altered. This is not the moment for discussion; we are in
presence of a terrible fact.”

“María then is dying?”

Leon told Paoletti of his wife’s visit to his lodgings, and of the
scene which culminated in the fainting fit and subsequent illness of
the saintly María.

There was a pause; then Paoletti said severely:

“It is clear to me that María loves you, and that you are the real
traitor to the contract--guilty to-day as you were yesterday and
from the beginning. Without further knowledge of the facts, I cannot
pronounce on the step taken by my beloved daughter; but such a step,
such a proceeding, taken as it stands, argues that she still loves you,
and that her tender soul is full of sweetness and kindness for a man
who is wholly undeserving of them.”

“You, who know everything, know very well that my wife no longer
loves me; and if those who are incapable of judging of a pure and
noble feeling choose to give the name of love to a sentiment that has
no title to it, I shall at once assert myself as the sole judge of
my unhappy wife’s feelings, and declare that they do not satisfy my
demands, that I repudiate them, and put them out of court in deciding
on the question of separation or reunion.”

Paoletti stood lost in thought.

“There is no fundamental and moral bond between us,” Leon went on.
“María and I are two separate souls: in my mind I see her and myself as
the very idea incarnate of divorce.”

“Yes--a group of statuary--a work of art!” said Paoletti, a lightning
shaft of malice flashing across the dark cloud of his austerity.

“Well, yes--a work of art--which did not originate spontaneously,
mark you, but was somebody’s doing, somebody’s work. My wife does not
love me. I believe she might have loved me as I hoped, if the grave
faults of her character, instead of diminishing and vanishing under
my authority and tenderness, had not become more marked under alien
influences. She does not love me; I do not love her. Consequently any
reconciliation is out of the question.”

“You cannot say,” added the priest, with some severity, tempered
however by tolerance, “that I have not listened to you with patience.”

“Patience! I have had much longer patience!”

“Even those who have it least retain with it a touch of the Christian
about them, caballero.--Then the long and short of it, Señor de Roch,
is that you do not love your wife and she does not love you--you
respect and regard her.--But what is the upshot of it all? Or to put
it plainly, what did you come here for?”

“María begged me to fetch her confessor. Far from opposing her I
consented with pleasure.”

“Then let us go at once!” said Paoletti rising.

“The most important thing is yet to come,” said Leon laying his hand on
the priest’s robe. “You, with your perspicacity will at once perceive
that I need not have come myself merely to fetch you. I came to tell
you what no one else could tell you. Consider in the first place that
her mind is the part really affected.”

“I see.”

“I ought to tell you that I honestly desire that she should recover,”
said Leon with firm composure. “I call God to witness that this is the
truth: I hope and wish, without any kind of mental reservation, that my
wife may live.”

“I perfectly understand; you wish that she should get well again--that
her nervous excitement should be soothed and removed, and to that end
nothing must be suggested to her that can remind her of the cause of
her illness. Comforting and pleasing ideas must be kept before her,
to help her to disentangle the confusion caused by her indignation
and unsatisfied passions; my spiritual guidance must be qualified by
a certain infusion of worldly tact, so as to foster her illusions and
conceal the sad truth,--the father-confessor must be to some extent
a physician, allaying jealousy and encouraging hope, so as to clutch
back, as it were, the life that is fluttering to escape--that will
escape, beyond recall, if the mental excitation that has imperilled it
is not promptly banished.”

Leon admired the confessor’s sagacity.

“Very good,” Paoletti went on; “I will do my best. I cannot pledge
myself without knowing more exactly in what spiritual frame of mind my
beloved daughter may be.”

“María is at Suertebella.”

“So I understand.”

“She must on no account be made aware of it.”

“Well--let that pass--” said Paoletti looking at the ground and
screwing up his mouth. “It is a subterfuge which I hold excusable.”

“She insists on displaying the affection which now--rather late in the
day--she feels for me.”

“Nor does that seem to me blamable. It may be allowed, considering that
you think very little of her affection.”

“While María is ill she must not be allowed to fancy that I care for
any other woman.”

“Stay, stay,” said Paoletti, putting up his white hand as if to screen
himself. “This is going too far. I have slipped some rather thick
threads through the eye of the needle but the camel, my dear Sir, the
camel is too much for me. That is a gross imposition.”

“It is common charity.”

“Truth forbids it.”

“Her health requires it.”

“A mere physical necessity to which we must not attach too much
importance. My saintly daughter will die as a Christian should,
contemning the baser and more worldly passions.”

“It is always our first duty to guard against death.”

“Always, if we can do so without baseness. Am I to allow that angelic
martyr to believe in her husband’s innocence when she is actually
under the same roof as her rival? I will grant you that there may be
nothing existing to insult or injure her while she, the unhappy wife,
is breathing her last. Still, the frightful fact remains.--I will tell
her nothing unless she asks, but if she questions me--and she will, she
will!”

“You are right!” exclaimed Leon struck by this solemn appeal. “It
is a farce, equally unworthy of her and of me. The truth terrifies
me--the lie disgusts me; but the truth is certain death, and the
lie possible recovery.--Do not come to Suertebella. I will find a
priest--anybody--the vicar of the parish, or the house chaplain.”

He was leaving the room when Paoletti called him back in a conciliatory
tone.

“You must be fully aware,” he said, “that the presence of no other
confessor will have the same effect as mine. If you will pledge
yourself not to interfere in any particular, I will go with you with
pleasure, to comfort and help the hapless sufferer. Nay, more,” he
added with a burst of feeling, “I may tell you frankly that I earnestly
wish to go. She is so saintly, so admirable! I not only admire and
respect her--I look up to her as a superior being.”

“And what will you tell her?”

“What it is my duty to tell her,” replied the Italian fixing a pair
of eyes on Leon’s face, which might have been a hundred pairs. “It
strikes me as strange that a man who declares that he had thrown off
every matrimonial tie, should trouble himself so much about his wife’s
conscience.”

“I am not anxious about her conscience, but about her health,” said
Leon who was getting very weary.

“You tell me you do not love her, nor she you?”

“Yes.”

“But it is her person--her mortal part, that a man may claim, not her
exquisite conscience.”

“Quite true,” said Leon, draining the cup. “I leave her conscience
to you, who have made it. I have no wish to put in a claim for the
monstrosity.”

“I forgive you the word,” said Paoletti looking down. “Now Señor--Yes
or No.”

“Do you intend to kill her?”

“I!” and then, with a sigh, he added: “We will ask her who it is that
has killed her?”

Leon’s heart sank within him; after a moment’s reflection he stamped
his foot. A stamp sometimes strikes out an idea as a spark may flash
from an iron shoe. Leon had an idea.

“Let us go, at any rate,” he said. “I will leave so delicate a matter
to your own conscience.”

“And to prove worthy of your confidence,” said the priest, unable
to conceal his satisfaction, “I may promise you to reconcile truth
and prudence as far as lies in my power, and to do my utmost not
to agitate the last hours--if the Lord so wills it--of my precious
daughter in the Church. I am perfectly certain that my presence will be
the greatest comfort to her.”

“Come then.”

“I am at your service in an instant,” said Paoletti, hastening as much
as he could with his heavy step to fetch his hat and cloak. But pausing
in the door-way he observed: “it is very early; you, perhaps have not
had breakfast. Will you have some chocolate?”

“No thank you,” said Leon bowing. “No indeed.”

And an hour later they got out of the carriage at the door of
Suertebella.



CHAPTER IX.

A PARTING.


The penitential mass had been celebrated, and Paoletti had gone into
the room where his saintly daughter lay dying in alternate torments
of fever and doubt, when Leon, hurrying from room to room, went in
search of Pepa. He found her at last in Ramona’s room. He had something
very important to say to her and it might be supposed that Pepa was
expecting this, for she was standing breathless, with her eyes fixed on
the door, listening for his footstep, and as he entered she went a few
paces towards a recess in the room, suggesting to him by the expression
of her steps--for steps, too, have a language of their own--that they
would talk more at their ease there than anywhere else. Monina ran to
meet him and threw her arms round his legs, looking up in his face.
He took her up, and the child, finding herself perched so high, began
teasing him to admire the artistic beauties of a small clay vase with a
handle and spout, a recent gift from the priest of Polvoranca, and then
amused herself by holding on to his ear.

“Monina, be quiet--do not be troublesome,” said her mother. “I
know--yes I know what you have come to say.--Child be quiet; come to
me.”

She took Monina from Leon’s arms and held her in her own. “You need
not tell me; I understand--I know--I must go away. I had made up my
mind to it, even if I were forced to leave without seeing you.”

“I appreciate your delicacy,” said Leon. “Yes, go to your house in
Madrid, and for the present forget my existence.”

“That I can hardly do.--Child, you are choking me,” said Pepa to Monina
who was now pulling her mother’s ear. “Get down and run away.--But I
will go, without even asking when I am to see you again. I dread to ask
and I feel for you in having to give me a reply.”

Leon looked down and said nothing. There was not a kind word, a
friendly formality, a common expression of hope even, which, on his
lips, would not require a criminal accent. Silence seemed to him more
decorous than any protestation of purity of purpose. They both were
speechless for some little time, not daring to look at each other, each
dreading to read the other’s face and knowing that it would reflect
his--or her--own feelings.

“Ask me nothing--tell me nothing--do not utter even a name that can
appeal to her,” Leon said at length. “Keep your heart full of generous
feeling, and dismiss all hope.”

Pepa wanted to say something, but her voice was so tremulous that she
could not: “Nothing will be left me,” she thought to herself, “nothing
but the old dreary miserable thought: she will pray and pray--and live;
I, hoping and still hoping, shall die.”

Leon who seemed to read her thoughts in her contracted brow, said,
looking into her face:

“It is in critical moments that the generosity or selfishness of a soul
is revealed.”

Pepa was trembling in every limb; she propped her head on one hand, and
looking down at her knees, on which Ramona’s tiny fingers were playing
a tune, she said:

“I do not know whether mine is generous or selfish. I only know that I
shed many tears just now in praying that God would let no one die for
my happiness. How bitter our prayers can sometimes be! How cruelly our
thoughts can torture us in the effort to prevent the flowers we must
pluck and cast out turning into snakes! I have prayed more to-day than
in any one day of my life before; but I cannot be sure of having prayed
rightly and from a pure heart. The battle raged within me; I believe
that the words I used had a different meaning every minute--that the
name of God meant the Devil--that love meant hate, and life stood for
death. The feeling and the thought were struggling for the mastery and
each tried to find expression in words.--I did not really pray, I was
not really good; and yet, indeed, indeed, I meant to be. I am so much
a woman, so little of a saint.--But I shall not feel so wicked when I
have found courage enough to pray clearly and boldly that we may both
die--then everything will come right....”

She rose.

“In short,” she said, “I am going. You know that my only joy in life is
to obey you.”

“Thanks--thanks...” murmured Leon, taking up Monina.

“Say good-bye,” said Pepa, fixing a tender gaze on the child and the
man who held her.

Leon held the little girl in a close embrace and kissed her again and
again; such demonstrations of affection, he reflected, could hardly
be deemed a scandal when bestowed on this angel-baby. He carried her
up and down the room two or three times to conceal the emotion which,
rebelling against every moral effort, was too legible in his face; and
though he did not glance at the mother, she, sitting in her corner,
might be sure that he was conscious of her presence. Passion has the
keenest sight, and wonderful skill in discovering the thoughts of the
object of its devotion, in assimilating them and extracting nutriment
from this exciting but ethereal food.

As to the unhappy man himself, never had he so deeply felt as at this
moment the irresistible charm of this sweet little creature--the child
of a woman who was not his wife, and of a man whom he detested. He felt
as if it would be impossible to part from this treasure and live--not
that it was his, though he had accustomed himself to regard it as very
much his own. His love for the child was as inseparable from the image
of its mother as two stars that give but one light. It was an adopted
affection which usurped in his solitary soul the vacant hearth and
warming fire that ought to have been for another. Was it his fault if
in his weary journeying across the waste these two faces smiled upon
him, one all dimples and the other all love, brightening the melancholy
horizon of life and encouraging him to walk on, even when his strength
was failing him, and he stumbled over the stones and thorns. In Pepa he
had found affection, gentleness and a confiding nature--a mysterious
promise of the peace he had dreamed of, the happiness he had so vainly
and so painfully sought. It was the ideal family, with every human
element in it except, alas! legitimacy; and the very fact of its being
only a vision and not a reality, gave it added enchantment and greater
attractions. Pepa’s passionate devotion, and the tenacity which made
her give it the pre-eminence over every other feeling, far from causing
him any anxiety, altogether bewitched him; he saw in it the offering
of her whole heart without reserve, the incalculating generosity which
prompts a soul to abandon itself wholly without any concealment,
without cloking its faults or veiling a single thought. Those who have
been beggars for love cannot repel that which flows in their way,
though the tide be too strong and boils and foams. At the same time he
felt a sort of pride and pious emotion as he saw that this noble heart,
without ceasing to be duteously religious, was nevertheless his, by a
supreme law of humanity; and feeling himself so beloved--so completely
the lord and master of her thoughts he could do no less than give his
heart wholly to her. That secondary and long-past affection that he had
known before the dawn of the glory in which they now saw each other
faded into nothingness, as the stars do at sunrise.

However, this was not the moment for such reflections. Leon set the
child on her mother’s knee and said:

“Not another instant! Good-bye. If I find it necessary to explain your
absence to your father I will venture to tell him all about it.”

“I will tell him myself.”

And they precipitately left the room by different doors.



CHAPTER X.

BREAKFAST.


The historian does not feel it a serious lapse of duty not to have
mentioned already that the Tellerias flew to Suertebella as soon as
they heard of María’s serious illness. It is so much a matter of
course that the reader will have taken it for granted, though this
truthful narrative has not spoken of it in so many words. A thing which
it is necessary to state, in case posterity--always inquisitive and
impertinent--cares to know, is that on the morning of that eventful
Tuesday--the day of the penitential mass, of Paoletti’s visit, and of
Pepa’s departure--the marquesa with her husband and Polito, heard, with
blank astonishment, this emphatic decision pronounced by Leon Roch:

“You cannot see María!”

“Not to-day even? I can hardly believe my ears!” exclaimed Milagros,
unable to command her indignation. “To forbid a mother who has come to
see her sick child!”

“And me, her father!”

Polito said nothing, but whipped his trousers with the cane he held in
his hand.

“What reason can you have for such a proceeding?”

“I can find a reason when I want to give one,” said Leon.

“I demand to go in and see my daughter, to nurse her, sit with her....”

“I nurse her and sit with her.”

“And you give us no reason, no explanation of such atrocious cruelty,
Good God!” exclaimed the marquis looking solemn--which is as much as to
say that he looked very comical.

Leon enlarged on María’s extremely delicate mental condition, and of
his fears of the consequences of some indiscretion if he allowed her
family to see her.

“Is she alone now?”

“Her confessor is with her.”

The marquesa drew her son-in-law aside. “Really,” she said, “I could
not have believed that you would go to such an extreme. Tell me,
explain to me all the horrors that have taken place here.... Ah! my
poor unhappy daughter does not even know, I daresay, that she is under
the same roof as her husband’s mistress.... And you are afraid lest I
should open her eyes, lest she should learn the truth from my lips--for
from me she always hears the truth, spontaneously and naturally--for I
do not know how to act, how to affect anything.”

“No madam, I am not afraid,” said Leon, only anxious to end the
discussion. “But you will not see your daughter till she is quite well
again.”

“And what right have you over the wife you have betrayed and neglected?
Or have you repented? Do you wish?...”

Her tone and expression suddenly changed. The angry scowl vanished like
a cloud before the sun; her eyes sparkled with youthful eagerness, and
the bird in her hat almost seemed to flutter in its gauzy nest.

“You have some plan for a reconciliation?” she said in bitter-sweet
tones. “If so, I am the last person to wish to interfere with them. And
if it is the outcome of sincere repentance....”

“I have no plan for reconciliation; it is out of the question,” said
her son-in-law shortly as the Marquis de Fúcar came into the room.

The master of the house, putting aside his cares and anxieties to
fulfil the duties of hospitality and do the honours of his splendid
house, came to make his bow to the Tellerias and condole with them on
María’s illness, begging them to consider the house at their disposal
as long as it might suit them to stay. And as the melancholy cause of
their visit was not a matter of a few hours, the open-handed gentleman,
anxious to give his hospitality a character worthy of his European
notoriety, begged the trio to remain the day--to pass the night--to
stay the next day and the next night, for as long as they might wish;
pressed them to breakfast--lunch--dine--sup;--to sit down and rest, to
lie down and sleep--to make themselves completely at home, since here
were tables, a larder, a cellar and servants--rooms enough to hold half
the human race--horses to ride--flowers to pluck--etc., etc.

“Oh, thank you, thank you! How good you are!”

And María’s mother pressed Fúcar’s hand in speechless emotion. On such
occasions, silence, a glance to Heaven, a silent clasp of the hand
are more eloquent than a hundred phrases in praise of the generosity
of those “who allow us to forget that we live in an age tainted by
Materialism.” The lady endeavoured to give her face the expression
which, in her own opinion, was most becoming to her peculiar style
of beauty, or rather to those faded remains of it which were not yet
devoid of brilliancy when art, dress, sentiment, and judicious gesture
set them in the most becoming light. In talking on indifferent subjects
with her host she contrived to lead him into a sentimental vein with
so much grace and persuasiveness that the stock-broker listened to her
with enchantment.

Meanwhile Telleria had led Leon to a window, and was saying to him with
ponderous dignity:

“Matters have come to such a pass, and your behaviour is apparently
so preposterous, that I really must insist on your giving me a
satisfactory explanation; otherwise it will be necessary to take it up
on the ground....”

“On the ground of honour!” said Leon sarcastically. “But you see it
would be difficult for you and me to meet on that ground.”

“A father-in-law, of course.--It is not that I have any wish to augment
the scandal by adding another and a worse one. We have the greatest
confidence in your gentlemanly feeling, and that Castilian nobility
which we Spaniards can never wholly belie, even if we wish it. And
if God should touch your heart, and you were to effect a permanent
reconciliation with my beloved daughter....”

“That I shall never do.”

“Very well.--Then....” The marquis looked at his son-in-law with an eye
which--considering the serio-comic aspect of the man--might fairly be
called terrible.

“Then I know how to act.”

They were in a Chinese boudoir full of figures frightful enough to
give nightmares. On its painted walls, amid sporting butterflies, were
gilt dwarfs and monsters, meditative storks, platforms with impossible
stairs, trees that looked like hands, and faces that looked like
wafers. The human figures did not stand on their ill-shaped feet; the
trees had no roots; the houses were as much in the air as the birds.
There was no solid ground; everything was suspended ’twixt earth
and heaven on a background of shining black, like a sky of ink. The
vacuous Chinese faces, looking on with stolid impartiality, seemed
to be making their own reflections on the living scene, and the gold
and silver butterflies amused the fancy with a sort of reflection on
those dream-like walls, of the Marquis de Telleria’s ambiguous smile.
Chocolate-coloured bronzes stood in every corner and on every table;
and those solemn idols--melancholy, hideous, dropsied and gloomy--might
have been the embodiment of Don Agustin de Sudre’s grievances and woes.

It was like turning over a leaf in a picture book to go from this
Chinese apartment into the billiard-room, an Arab divan, where
Leopoldo with a tube for inhaling tar between his teeth, as if it were
a cigar, was amusing himself with practising the game.

A footman came into the room.

“Did you ring, Sir?”

“Yes,” said the young man without looking up, “bring me some beer.”

The servant was leaving the room when Polito called after him to ask if
breakfast would soon be ready.

“In a few minutes, Sir.”

And he went on playing with the balls.

The master of the house had left the Chinese boudoir to his visitors,
and a pompous, red-faced maître d’hotel, picked up in some Paris café,
who might have passed for an English lord but for his smooth servility
and obsequious nervousness, waited on the lady to take her orders.

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “A mere trifle--anything will do for me.--Have you
any potted shrimps? No?--never mind. But I cannot eat anything smoked.
A beef steak, not overdone.”

“And do not forget,” said her husband to this benevolent official,
whose black frock-coat was emblematic of the Christian grace of
hospitality. “Do not forget that we drink nothing but Sauterne.”

Fúcar presently reappeared, still melancholy, but in a great hurry,
proving that sorrows are not incompatible with an appetite. It was late
and the whole party were in need of food.

The Tellerias and Don Onésimo, who made his appearance after they had
begun, did honour--in gastronomic cant--to the marquis’ cook. Milagros,
to be sure, whether from fastidious elegance or because grief had
spoilt her appetite, hardly tasted anything.

“Do not let your anxiety be too much for you,” said Don Pedro, “you
must try to eat something. I have much to worry me too--yet reason
tells me I must eat. Make an effort, and do likewise.”

The happy efforts of Don Pedro’s self-command were amply proved by a
slice of steak which he was carrying morsel by morsel to his mouth,
plentifully seasoned with its own gravy, and butter and lemon. Milagros
after her oysters, only tasted and minced at the food, but really ate
nothing; while her husband ate of every dish, savoury or sweet, first
gazing at them with a flattering smile and then paying them treacherous
attentions with his fork. Truffles, sausages, and smoked tongue,
with other trifles more filling than digestible, tempted him to make
acquaintance with their charms.

“And Pepa?” asked Don Onésimo suddenly.

“At Madrid,” replied Fúcar, not lifting his eyes from his plate, on
which the remains of the steak might have represented the treasury
of Spain so much was it shrunk in dimensions. A long silence ensued,
interrupted at last by Don Pedro himself, who again remarked to his
neighbour:

“My dear madame, my dear friend, it is our duty to control our
feelings.--Besides, it is not a desperate case, María is better
to-day.--What, tears? Come, come, just half a glass of Sauterne.”

The marquesa did not refuse. When she had swallowed the wine she said:

“We shall see if my tiger of a son-in-law will allow me to see my
daughter this evening.”

Fúcar, anxious to avoid such a critical subject, spoke of a report he
had heard that Polito was about to marry a rich Cuban heiress, whose
family had lately settled in the capital with all the ostentation and
_éclat_ of an enormous fortune. The marquesa acknowledged the report,
and Leopoldo indirectly confirmed it with a great deal of the false
modesty that cloaks vanity. The rumours were true as to the young
man’s pretensions and daily pursuit of the young lady on horseback or
on foot; but, in spite of these attentions, the engagement was purely
mythical, with nothing real about it but the marquesa’s vehement
ambition of seeing her son possessed of a handsome and unencumbered
fortune. The young lady’s family, named Villa-Bojío, though they were
good friends of his mother’s were averse to Leopoldo as a suitor;
still, their opposition was not very vehement, and Milagros laboured in
silence, with all the diplomacy and finesse of which she was mistress,
to turn this golden dream into at least a silver reality.

Presently, the subject being exhausted, she rose from table, and a
servant offered the gentlemen the finest cigars the world produces.
This article--to speak commercially--was the very choicest of all
the good things in the millionaire’s house. His correspondents at the
Havana sent, for his private use, the pick of their best, in return
for the magic arts he employed to coax the government into making the
rest of the nation consume the very worst. Matches were struck and the
smokers smacked their lips.

“Polito,” said Fúcar, “if you wish to ride tell Salvador to saddle
Selika for you.”

The smart rider of other people’s horses needed no second bidding,
but went down to the stables at once. Don Pedro sighed and signed to
the poorer marquises--one noble by birth and one by his wits--who,
following the millionaire marquis, seemed to offer him a sort of
idolatrous worship, watching his glance, and burning the incense of
his own tobacco in his honour. When they were alone Don Pedro confided
to them in a low voice and with a melancholy face an idea--a piece of
news--a fact. And thus, pouring the woes of his anxious soul into the
ears of his friends, the worthy magnate found himself relieved; he
breathed more easily, and could even throw off a little joke and laugh
with that fat chuckle which we first heard at Iturburua.

“What a world we live in! What vicissitudes, what unexpected
reverses!--Then there is that foolish tendency in human nature to
exaggerate misfortunes and regard them as irreparable....”

Onésimo, for his part, was completely stunned by the information his
noble friend had communicated. He began to think that Don Pedro,
utterly absorbed in his complicated speculations and the metaphysics
of loans, had failed to understand the bearing of this more vulgar
dilemma. Telleria, on the contrary had listened to Fúcar’s melancholy
tale with a sense of sudden joy, and had an idea of his own on the
subject--happy idea. This he fondly turned over in his mind as he
sat gazing at the painted walls of the dining-room, decorated with
a perfect deluge of dead game and fish--partridges, hares, deer and
lobsters, and a corresponding deluge of fruit, vegetables, gourds and
butterflies. The carved oak panelling also displayed hunting-trophies
and emblems--pouting masks blowing horns, dogs, birds hanging by the
heads or heels; in short so many representations of the animal and
vegetable kingdom that it might have been the palace of indigestion.



CHAPTER XI.

THE PRIEST LIES AND THE COCK CROWS.


When María saw Padre Paoletti enter her room she gave a cry of joy.
She looked at him with affection and then turned her eyes on Leon,
expressing her gratitude for this concession--which in truth was little
short of sublime--by holding out a hand to each. This simple and
natural action, without a spoken word, was the epitome of her whole
life, and might be regarded as the synthesis of my story so far as she
was concerned. They asked her in the same breath how she was feeling,
and the same answer did for both.

“I think I must be better--I feel brighter.”

Leon patted her shoulder saying: “Then I will leave you.”

“No, no,” exclaimed Padre Paoletti with eager haste, seating himself at
her left hand. “Doña María and I are not going to discuss matters of
conscience. The doctor has satisfied us that her condition is not so
serious as to require any immediate care for the concerns of her soul,
nor is she strong enough for any long dissertation on spiritual things
which, though most soothing and precious exhaust the attention. We will
all three talk together for a little while; yes, Señor, all three of
us--and presently, when her mind is calmer and clearer--all in good
time--my precious spiritual daughter can be left alone with me for a
few minutes.”

He ended with a smile which was reflected in María’s face as the sea
reflects the colour of the sky.

Paoletti, as will have been seen, was smooth-tongued and affable; he
could be both sensible and agreeable; his appearance was modest and
attractive, for besides a pleasant face he had the added charm of
the clearest, sweetest and most pathetic voice that ever was heard.
His speech was at once soft and firm, with a mysterious combination
of two qualities that would seem to be antagonistic: precision and
dreaminess. An after-taste of his native Italian, though partly effaced
by the habit of speaking Spanish, gave it a slightly plaintive cadence
which contrasted strangely with its vigorous inflections and strongly
accented consonants. Well aware of his own skill in using the precious
instrument that nature had given him, he took every advantage of it,
polishing his language and suiting his words to his ideas and his
voice to his words with the greatest nicety. His love of sonorous
superlatives made his language tiresome.

While he talked he gave free play to the brilliancy and mobility of his
striking eyes; their various changes, I might say phases, of expression
seconded the eloquence of his tongue. His glance seemed to prolong the
impression of his words: indeed it went further than speech, where
speech could not reach. It was to his voice what music is to poetry.
Of course there was much art in the wonderful charm of these gifts;
still, the chief source of it was a natural grace, and a long habit
of searching consciences, of reading faces, of surprising secrets by a
piercing glance or by a clenching argument.

“From what our learned friend tells us,” he said, “our beloved patient
will soon be quite herself again. It has been a nervous seizure which
will pass away, and her state will soon become normal. We are all
liable to the treacherous effects of sudden impressions which raise a
storm in the nervous system beyond the power of reason to control. The
Devil--always on the watch, the flesh--rarely mortified as it should
be, rise up and assault us, taking us by surprise. On one hand we have
an illusion of the senses which not merely magnify, but distort every
object, on the other a fevered imagination which wanders whither it
ought not, and sees everything in hues of fire and blood. The judgment
succumbs to a hallucination--a mere hallucination, my dear daughter.
Then comes the reaction, generally after a severe attack of physical
suffering, and we see things in their true light; we see that our
motives were inadequate, that we made too much of some gossip--or
perhaps calumny, that we have seen visions and dreamed dreams--yes,
mere dreams.--Well, we will talk all this over later. For the present
try to rest, and bring your mind to a state of exalted contemplation
and peace.--You seem very comfortably lodged here. I admire your
husband’s taste in retiring to such quiet quarters. I like Carabanchel
immensely. Doña María, when you are able to get up again and your
husband takes you out--for of course you will take her out--you will
see what splendid wheat grows in the fields about here.--It is a
paradise for poultry too; you cannot walk a yard without treading on
the chickens.--Well, this is sermon enough for to-day, Señora. We began
with the soul and ended with poultry. Well well!”

At this moment they heard a cock crow.

“St. Peter’s cock!” said Paoletti in a low voice to Leon. Then, looking
quickly round at María he went on:

“I began with thinking of your soul and ended with the cocks and hens
in the village. Another time we will begin with the farm-yard and rise
to Heavenly things ... God be with you.”

“But are you really going?” said María sincerely distressed.

“I will take a little walk and get something to eat and come back
later.”

“On no account,” said Leon. “You will eat something here.”

“Thank you, thank you, Doña María,” said Paoletti, bending over the
lady with a very mundane bow and smiling familiarly. “Your husband
is most kind. I have never seen him since that melancholy time when
our dear Luis quitted this world for a better. It has given me great
pleasure to see him to-day.”

María looked at her husband with a mixed expression of kindliness and
aversion.

“Do you know, my dear lady,” he went on, “that to-day, by the most
extraordinary coincidence, I discovered something?”

“What?” asked María anxiously.

“We will talk of it by-and-bye--I do not want to fatigue you.”

“No, do tell me,” said María in the plaintive tone of a child who begs
for something it ought not to have.

“Well, then, I have discovered,” said the Italian, lowering his voice
as though he did not wish Leon to hear, “that your husband is not
so wicked as he seems; that all you heard--all the thousand stories
which I know Doña Pilar told your mother--are a complete mistake, a
misapprehension--I am assured--do you hear me?--I am assured that there
never has been any such infidelity....”

María’s eyes glittered with excitement and pride. These words, which,
coming from him were as Gospel truth, fell on her tortured spirit
like balm applied by angel’s hands. She felt as though she were being
lifted from a black abyss into the light and fresh air of a lovely day.
Afterwards she brought mature reflection to bear on these statements
and to test them severely; but for the moment the priest’s words had
an immediate effect on her penitential credulity. If Paoletti had
told her it was midnight, she would sooner have doubted her own eyes
than his statement. Without knowing what to say or how to express her
satisfaction she gazed alternately at the priest and at her husband,
clasping their hands.

“Yes, indeed,” added Paoletti. “There is no ground whatever for
believing him to be unfaithful. My friend here....”

But at this moment again they heard the cock crow, and the priest broke
off as though his voice failed him. He recovered himself, however, and
to change the subject said:

“So now my sweet friend, you have only to get well as soon as possible.
Oh! what a beautiful service you missed yesterday! When you get out
again we will show you some prints that came to us yesterday--and we
have a fresh supply of water from Lourdes.--But I was forgetting; we
have been eating the chocolate you sent us. I must thank our kind
benefactress in the name of all the household.”

“It is nothing--a trifle, God knows!”

“Doña Perfecta was quite vexed with us because we could not make use of
her contribution. An angelic creature, Doña Perfecta! What a beautiful
soul! And that poor Doña Juana. Last night she worried us to death, and
even called us despots because we have forbidden the porter’s wife to
make coffee for her and the other devout women who rise very early to
go to communion and want to breakfast directly after. But really the
porter’s lodge was a perfect restaurant on some Sundays.”

The doctor now came into the room.

“There is a great deal of talking here!” said he, “I shall have to come
in like a schoolmaster with a cane and command silence.”

“I--not another word! I believe I have talked more than enough,” said
the confessor. “I am going to take a turn outside.”

He drew Leon into the recess of the window.

“Well?” he said.

“Admirable,” said Leon, who had fully appreciated the priest’s
dexterity--and again they heard the cock crow.

“I have denied my God! I have connived at falsehood!” said Paoletti
with a smile that might mean compunction. “If that cock continues to
warn me with that crow that seems sent by Heaven, I shall not be able
to hold out in this treason to my Master.”

“It is an act of charity,” replied Leon. “A cock cannot be expected to
understand that.”

“She, and God, will forgive me I trust. I have never told her a lie or
deceived her before--she has never heard me utter a word that was not
truth itself, and she believes me implicitly.”

Leon stood silent for a minute after these words, which revived
forgotten pangs like a blow on an old wound.

The physician gave a most hopeful report of his patient.

“Do you hear what the doctor says?” asked the priest in an undertone.
“A good report, my dear sir--we may feel sure that Doña María will be
spared to us.”

This possessive plural, used and repeated without the slightest
intention to wound, was the cruelest sarcasm that Leon ever endured
in the whole course of his life. He had seen, and rejoiced to see, the
miraculous effect of the priest’s words on the hapless María; but this
familiarity with his wife, though strictly within the limits of the
charmed circle of spiritual affection, disgusted him excessively. It
was one of the fateful moments of his life; he stood face to face with
the overweening authority, the absolute and omniscient dominion with
which he had been fighting in the dark during the long years of his
married life. It saddened him and struck shame to his soul. Aye! That
moral divorce of which he had often spoken, and which he felt divided
them, had never been complete and final till this instant. Till now he
had still cherished esteem, respect; but even these slender threads
were now worn very thin, if not actually broken, and soon, very soon,
they must give way.

Controlling all expression of this feeling he went to his wife’s
bedside and said:

“Señor Paoletti and I are going to get something to eat. Rafaela will
sit with you till we return.”

“Oh, yes! go and eat some breakfast,” said María joyfully, and with a
softer look in her eyes. “But do not be long, I want to see you, and
to talk to you.--Do not forget that I must have you with me, that you
are not to leave me for an instant. Now that we have the opportunity
you will see what a scolding, what a sermon, we can give you--Padre
Paoletti and I. I can see you already cowed and humiliated--poor man!
Miserable atheist!--But make haste; I want to see you. Look; to-night
we will have that sofa placed here, close to the bed, so that you may
sleep by my side; then I shall sleep more quietly, and if I should
dream any nonsense I can put out my hand and touch you, and then I
shall rest in peace.”

“Very well; I will do all you wish,” said her husband, torn in his mind
while his heart was full of bitterness.

“And listen,” said María holding his sleeve. “See that some one brings
me to-day--at once--my rosary, and my crucifix, and all my books of
devotion off the table in my room; all the books, every one, and the
water from Lourdes, and my relics, my precious relics.”

“Rafaela shall go to Madrid this afternoon and bring you everything.”

“It is easy to see that this is an atheist’s room,” said the sick woman
reverting to the impertinent phraseology which she had only forgotten
under the pressure of acute jealousy. “There is not a single religious
picture, not an image, nothing to betray that we are Christian souls.
However, go to breakfast, go and eat. The good Padre has had no food
to-day I daresay--poor man! Give him the best of everything--do you
hear? The best. Confess your own inferiority and humble yourself before
him. Talk to him of me, and learn to appreciate me better.”

Leon could hardly conceal a bitter smile as he left the room; and once
more that cock was heard to crow.



CHAPTER XII.

THE STRIFE OF WORDS.


As soon as Fúcar heard the solemn tread of Padre Paoletti’s leaden
foot on the floors of his house, he hastened to pay him the usual
compliments, putting his house, his table, and his servants at his
disposal--his carriages, chapel and treasures of art. It might have
been supposed, from the lavish generosity with which he offered
everything that could give joy and comfort to necessitous humanity,
that he was lord and master over the whole created world. And bowing
as low as his burly dignity would allow he expressed, by his polite
subserviency, how inferior are all the riches and splendours of the
world to the humility of a simple priest, who has no gala dress but his
gown, and no palace but his cell.

Paoletti, who was an accomplished connoisseur, not only of the fine
arts but of all the arts of life, complimented his host on the
magnificence of Suertebella, thus giving the marquis a fair excuse for
indulging his favourite vanity, which was to display the mansion, room
by room, and do the duties of showman. The excursion was a long one
and would have been enough to fatigue the strongest head, the gorgeous
apartments contained such a miscellaneous collection of pretty things.
Padre Paoletti admired everything with much politeness, showing
that he was a man well versed in collections and curiosities. Don
Pedro, who talked like the reporter to a newspaper and praised up the
mediocre and even inferior works, was apt to quote the price of certain
objects--pictures bought of Goupil, or porcelains from some auction at
the hotel Drouot, most of them mere good imitations.

“I am overdone, positively overdone with fine things,” said he, looking
into Paoletti’s face and folding his hands with an air of resignation.
“I am the slave of wealth, my good Padre. No one would think it, but in
fact it is the most intolerable form of slavery. I really envy those
who live at ease, with the freedom and independence that poverty gives;
without the anxieties of business, with no banquet but what I could eat
out of a bowl and no mansion but some cell or hut or cave!”

“But my dear Sir,” said the Italian, raising his hand to his mouth to
conceal a yawn, “nothing can be easier than to realize such a wish. To
be poor! When I hear poor men sigh and wish they were millionaires,
I laugh and sigh; but when I hear a rich man pine for a hovel and
six feet of ground in which to rest his bones, I say what I take the
liberty of saying to you: Why do you not retire among the hermits of
Cordova? Why not exchange Suertebella for a recluse’s cell?”

And he ended as he had begun, with a hearty laugh; but he yawned again,
screening it behind his white hand.

“That is it--put in that way it sounds easy enough,” said Fúcar,
laughing too. “But--what of social ties--of our duties to the State,
who cannot spare her most useful sons? But dear me, it strikes me--how
careless I am! It is so late, and you have eaten nothing.”

“Oh! never mind--do not trouble yourself.”

“Never mind! What next? Even your sainted body must be fed.”

“On a little plain chocolate--nothing more. It is a missionary’s body
and can endure much.”

“Leon,” cried Don Pedro to his friend, whom he spied passing across the
next room, “I will order them to serve breakfast in the Hall of Hymen.
Then you will be close to your wife: and you, Señor Paoletti, will not
care for the bustle of the dining-room; all the party are breakfasting
in there.... Bautista, Philidor!”

Hailing his Spanish servants and his French majordomo, the marquis made
the whole household stir in the service of his guests. The multitude
and zeal of the domestics resulted in a general clatter; hasty steps
echoed over the inlaid floors, and on all sides the clinking of bottles
and glasses was heard on metal trays, and the rattle of plates--welcome
sounds to the hungry but courteous visitor, while the fragrance of
stewed and fried meats pervaded the passages and rooms, as incense
floats from chapel to chapel in a church.

The Hall of Hymen, so called because, in the middle of it, stood a
group personifying marriage--two figures clasped in each other’s arms
holding two torches of which the marble flames burnt as one--was quite
close to the room which we may call María’s; but it did not adjoin it.
A table was laid at once, and Leon and the priest sat down.

“_Consommé_,” said Leon pointing to a tureen full of rich soup. “It
will be very good for you,” and he helped him to a large plateful.

“I have been thinking,” said Paoletti when, after a few spoonfuls, he
was recovering from the exhaustion he had been suffering under for one
hour past, “that in the whole course of my life--not a short one, nor
free from strange conjuncture--I never have seen such a picture as we
two compose at this moment.”

“What picture?”

“Ourselves--you and I eating together. Nothing is the outcome of
chance; God alone knows what divine purpose our strange meeting may
be destined to work out. What wonderful changes, even in the highest
destinies, have been wrought before now by the meeting--apparently
fortuitous--of two persons! Reflect upon it, my dear Sir: sometimes a
few minutes thought, or some incidental remark may suffice to throw a
vivid light into the soul, and meanwhile.--No, no, thanks; no highly
flavoured dishes; none of the delicacies of modern cooking.--Have you
reflected...?”

“Will you have some wine?” asked Leon much disinclined to follow the
priest on the antipathetic theme of his observations.

“No, I never drink it. A little water, if you please, and God bless
the giver. Any fool, seeing us sitting opposite each other, would
criticise you or me--: ‘Look at that wretched priest making up to a
freethinker,’ they would say; or ‘Look at the infidel hob and nob with
the parson;’ not understanding that though we are eating a little bread
and meat together truth can never come to a compromise with error, nor
error ever forgive truth, her bitterest foe,--Strawberries? I never
taste them--since truth puts error to shame; hence she flies before
truth, hiding herself blindly in her own conceits, or filling her ears
with the tumult of the world.--But you are not eating!”

“I have no appetite.”

Paoletti had eaten but little; Leon hardly anything. Fixing his
expressive eyes on Leon’s face, the Italian said with startling
emphasis:

“Señor Don Leon, of all the world you seem to me the most to be pitied.
Our poor Doña María is not to be pitied; no, only to be admired. If she
dies she will enter the realm of the blest wearing many crowns, and
among them the crown of martyrdom; if she lives she will be an example
to all women. She is a fair lily, combining the graces of beauty,
purity and fragrance.”

“Yes. She was, no doubt, such a lily,” said Leon, turning very white,
while his whole being quivered with excitement.--“A lily which, in
its purity and fragrance, invited Christian love and promised all the
honest joys of life....”

“But it grew close by a thistle....”

“No,” interrupted Leon. “A hippopotamus came and broke it down with its
ruthless tread.”

The padre’s eyes grew bigger.

“She is a treasure of great price...” he said.

“She was a treasure of great price,” said Leon, tying a knot in his
napkin and drawing it very tight, “but with coarse passions and a
nature at once visionary and sensual.”

“A purifying hand was extended to cleanse away the dross...”

“A hand of ice--that snatched out the diamonds and left false stones
instead.”

“Why did the owner neglect his jewel?”

“When the thieves do not break in by the door, but mine underground,
the owner does not discover them till they have stolen his gem.--They
robbed her of her love, generosity and trust, and left me nothing but
cold duty and moral proprieties. She was like a crystal fountain--they
dried up the spring, the water became stagnant, and when I hoped to
drink nothing remained but filthy sediment. By constantly flowing, the
water, though somewhat bitter, would have grown sweet. But they stopped
the current and a foul swamp was the result.”

“Nay, the water is sweet and of wondrous power,” said Paoletti with a
seraphic look. “The mystic water, freely bestowed; the very essence of
the soul: Divine Love. Where so precious a fount is found on earth it
is only just that God should absorb it, and break the cup.”

“Nay, the cup is just what has been left for me.”

“A golden cup; the only thing that can excite the cupidity of a man
devoid of faith. The miserable slave of ‘Matter’ can never crave that
precious drink; his thirst cannot be allayed by spiritual love; it
is only a form of avarice and can be slaked by the possession of the
golden vessel--physical beauty.”

“For you who know nothing of love but through sin--for you who never
felt love but only hear of it, taking in at your ears the secrets of
others who love, to you much of what concerns only the heart of man
must be an inexplicable mystery. You see nothing in life but duties
fulfilled and sins committed. This is much, no doubt, but it is not
all. Only the man who has never drank at all can enjoy the insipid
draught of mysticism, or the bitter savour of sin.”

“Only the man who has never drank at all, and who nevertheless is not
thirsty, can, by the blessed gift of intuition--which is one of the
best graces of our nature--fully enter into all the emotions of true
love, from the noblest to the basest. The man who knows everything
can feel for everything. You, who abuse us so roundly, might have
found friends in those whom you have believed to be your enemies,
and peacemakers in your married life in those whom you regard as its
disturbers.”

“I refuse any such co-operation.”

“What right have you to complain when you have yourself broken every
tie? The mere circumstance that he chooses to consider himself outside
of the pale of the Church, deprives a man of the right of complaining
of the pressure of a bond which is in its nature a religious one. ‘I
need no religion,’ they say--‘I abominate it, I cast it from me; but
I do not allow religion to defend itself against my attacks, I do not
allow it to claim its own!’”

“No--what I do not allow it to claim is mine.”

“God will have the divine part...”

“And I demand the human part...”

Neither of the men finished his sentence.

“The human part is a convenient loop-hole,” said Paoletti sharply,
“through which a man sneaks into unfaithfulness and adultery, leaving
the martyred wife alone and without protection.”

“But the divine part puts the martyred wife under the protection of
those who drink of the spiritual fount!”

“What would become of her if it were not so? the wretched soul must
become corrupt from contact with a soul already corrupt.”

“I never tried to corrupt her: I tried to save her by persuasion,
almost always by kindness, sometimes by authority verging on
tyranny....”

“You confess it--you confess that you were despotic!”

“Not such despotism as it might have been in vulgar hands. Some would
have punished, I simply prohibited--and my prohibitions were constantly
disobeyed--I could not have insisted without going to cruel lengths.”

“And the dove fled from the talons of the vulture,” said Paoletti with
a sort of honeyed sarcasm.

“Yes.--And fell into those of the vampire who sucked all the sweetness
out of my existence. I was teaching my treasure to trust me and you
taught her to loathe me; I never argued against her beliefs, I made no
objection to her having a judicious confessor--but her sanctimonious
friends disgusted me. And my enemy was not a man but a whole army--a
host that called itself celestial, and that has made itself formidable
by gaining allies in bigots and hysterical wretches who believe
themselves to be saints. I tried to fight in the dark, but in the dark
I was cut in pieces. An act of hypocrisy such as has saved many a weak
man, would perhaps have saved me. She, poor deluded soul, bound over
to mysticism by promises of celestial joys, proposed terms of peace;
nothing could be easier--: ‘Abjure your mad scepticism; come into our
fold,’ she said. This was what they wanted! But I would not purchase
peace by an imposture, nor try to capture the heart that was slipping
away from me by false professions of faith. I would not add another
to the host of hypocrites who make up the greater portion of modern
society.--Time went on; the struggle had to be fought out. My sincerity
exasperated my wife’s spiritual advisers: the ministers of interference
and of misapplied piety.

“But after all, what does it matter? I would rather be infamous in your
eyes than in my own.”

“A man who fears any eyes but those of God should never speak of such
things.”

“And if we are not allowed to talk, what are we allowed to do? You
pile a mountain on to a hapless wretch and may he not groan when he is
crushed?”

“Lift up your hands and hold off the rock that weighs upon you.”

“I cannot, I cannot. It bears the burthen of centuries, and is formed
of the bones of a thousand generations!”

“Poor insect!” said Paoletti ironically. “I declare nothing on earth
moves me to pity so much as a philosopher. For my own part I can
only beg you to express yourself with perfect frankness on all your
feelings....”

“With frankness?”

“With perfect frankness, sparing me no hard words.”

“When the storm overtakes me and lashes me and fells me to the ground,
what am I to think of that terrific power? can I stop it, can I punish
it, can I even insult and abuse it? What can I say that will hurt it,
how can I defend myself against so formidable a foe--who is but empty
air?”

“Dear Sir,” said Paoletti folding his hands with an expression of
compunction: “I, as a humble but outraged priest, pity you and forgive
you.” And then his slow, leaden step sounded across the floor as he
made his way back to the sick-room.



CHAPTER XIII.

ICES, HAM, CIGARS AND WINE.


The news of María’s improvement flew from room to room, and down to
the stable where Polito was lounging about; to the hot-houses where
Telleria and Onésimo were inspecting the pines and making sapient
observations on the progress of acclimatisation--which, according to
Don Joaquin, must, in time, lead to a vastly increased production of
taxable material; to the aviary where Milagros was lost in admiration
at the piping of the little birds, an amusement very much to her taste;
and was everywhere received with joy. A number of visitors besides
the Tellerias had come to make enquiries, and each and all were met
with the same obsequious politeness on the part of the marquis. Some
only left a card and went away, but more intimate friends staid awhile
to condole with Milagros, who, after making the tour of the garden,
went indoors to recover from her fatigues on a sofa in the Chinese
drawing-room. There, amid the bronze idols and sombre porcelains, she
breathed forth her complaints and lamentations.

“That monster cannot make any objection now to my seeing my
daughter.... Here!”

A footman, who was going through the room with a tray of glasses and
liqueur, paused at the call.

“Bring me an ice.”

“What flavour does the Señora prefer?”

“Pineapple if you have it or banana. Pilar will you have some?”

“I have this instant been fed with some cocoanut
sweetmeat--plum-pudding--sherry, and I do not know what more! That
worthy stone-mason Marquis tried to be revenged on me for all my jokes
by stuffing me to death. He insists that I am to dine here, to ride in
his carriages, use his horses and carry off all his camellias. We know
well enough that the worthy broker has a good cook, good horses, a fine
garden and a tribe of bedizened servants.--The cook, I may say, is not
much to boast of, an apprentice from the Trois frères Provenceaux--I
declare this gingerbread palace oppresses me more than I can say; it is
for all the world like a pawnbroker’s shop; or a livery coat figged out
with gold lace, or.... But, my dear Milagros, do you know that we have
an important part to play? Shall we go into María’s room? Shall the
reconciliation be effected at once?”

The marquesa’s eyes opened wider like the revolving light when it is
growing broader; but they collapsed again as she said:

“The reconciliation! Oh, that, unluckily, is not in the programme.”

“And Pepa--where is she?”

“At Madrid.”

“It would be an awkward thing if she were to come to Suertebella. But I
do not understand how María came here.”

“My poor child was stricken down by a sudden attack. She was in a house
where there was no furniture--no beds, nothing decent. Don Pedro had
her carried here. I am truly grateful to him for his kindness! But
that wretched son-in-law of mine--I cannot help it, I must just tell
you.--Ah! here is the ice.”

The lady had risen to her feet with some degree of maternal and womanly
dignity; but she suddenly calmed down, and dropping into her seat again
among the monsters, she proceeded to eat the ice which soon disappeared
in the depths of her afflicted person.

Polito had come back to the billiard-room where he was playing with his
friend Perico Nules.

“Here, Philidor,” he suddenly exclaimed. “Just be good enough to order
some one to bring me a little mild-cured ham, and a glass of....”

“Of sherry?” Polito hesitated, scratching his beard.

“No--you bother me. _Chateau Yquem._ If I could only do without this
beastly tar; but I cannot, I choke directly.... Stay, one moment _mon
cher Philidor_, some ham for this gentleman too, or some smoked tongue
and a glass of _Pajarete_.”

When they were alone Polito lifted his fingers significantly to his
lips and said to his companion: “Smoke?”

“Yes, let us smoke,” said the other taking his pipe out of his pocket.

“No man, not your own tobacco. There is a chest full of cigars. All the
produce of _Vuelta Abajo_ is in this house.”

The worthy couple, using their cues as walking-sticks, made their
way to a box which, by its insidious fragrance betrayed the superior
quality and aristocratic brand of the cigars that lay packed within the
cedar boards.

“Very good tobacco--capital!”

“Look here my boy, all this comes, beyond a doubt, from the wealth of
the nation.... We may as well lay in a stock.” And he plunged his hand
into the box.

“Come, this is going too far!” said Perico Nules somewhat scandalized
at the proceeding.

“Nonsense! Let us sing like Raoul _chascun per se_,” and he hummed
the words to Meyerbeer’s air, the Marquis de Fúcar’s store of cigars
diminishing perceptibly meanwhile.

“And, after all, what is all this that we see and touch--and smoke?”
said Nules, striking a match. “What is the gorgeous and luxurious place
where we now are? this magnificent room, with its fine Arabian tiles,
the horses on which we were riding this afternoon, the pines in the
hot-house, the pictures, flowers, carpets, vases.--What are they all?
They are the juice, the savour, the very extract of our beloved native
land--you understand? And as everything displaced by foul means from
its natural position tends, sooner or later to return to it--just as
animal organisms assimilate from nourishment the equivalent of what
they lose by wear and tear, the obvious consequence....”

Here the servant came in with the ham, and his presence postponed the
inference.

“And as we ourselves are the country, or an integral part of it,” said
Leopoldo.

“The country is claiming its own again,” added Nules attacking the food.

This humorous youth was the originator, according to trustworthy
authority, of the ribald and malicious interpretation of the pictures
and texts in the chapel.

“Wealth, my dear boy,” he went on smacking his lips over the
_Pajarete_, “works in a circle, you understand? It returns to the
point it started from.--The State robs my father of half his income
from Xeres in the form of taxes; Fúcar, under the happy impetus of a
loan, robs the treasury of half a year’s revenue; and I drink Fúcar’s
wine and smoke his cigars, thus supplying wants which my father fails
to satisfy by reason of the heavy taxation. You follow me in my
explanation of this circulation? But there are still a few cigars left
in the case; if we leave them, the servants will smoke them.”

“Heaven forefend! _Pietoso ciel!_” sang Leopoldo. “That would be too
much! _In tal periglio estremo_,” and again he hummed his Meyerbeer’s.

“Oh! what luck!” exclaimed Nules, looking out of the window. “Here
are the Villa-Bojío party--mamma and two interesting daughters.”
Leopoldo peeped out to see the ladies stepping out of a landau at
the front door, and his heart stirred in his breast with some little
excitement--like the kernel of a “withered nut rattling within its
hollow shell,” as the wind sways the bough on which it hangs.

“Let us take them out for a drive,” suggested Nules.

“To be sure, what fun!--Philidor,” shouted Polito, “let us have a
carriage out.--But come and meet them.”

“We will drive them out to Leganes.”

“There is nothing to see there.”

“We can show them the lunatics.”



CHAPTER XIV.

A NOCTURNAL VISIT.


The improvement in the poor saint and martyr’s condition continued all
day; but in the evening she was worse again. María had a headache and
became dull and melancholy. Paoletti had been with her most of the
afternoon, but had talked very little, and only of unimportant trifles.
Leon too, had been in her room for some length of time, and more than
once.

“Listen to me,” María said to him. “I do not know whether my fancy is
disturbed by fever, or whether it is an illusion of the senses but I
feel....”

“What do you feel?”

“As though somewhere--I do not know where, there were a number of
people walking about.... It seems to me that I can hear a bustle of
servants and the rattling of crockery--I even smell the steam of food
which sickens me.”

Leon tried to coax her out of these notions but could not succeed; she
was not satisfied till Paoletti, whom she trusted as the incarnation of
truth, said:

“My dear daughter, this noise and these smells are perhaps merely
over-excitement....” This time the cock did not crow.

“I must pray,” said María. “But do not go away Leon, stay here. Seeing
me so ill, I imagine you will not laugh at me because I say my
prayers. I want you to hear me, and to be silent and listen--it is your
duty to do so. If you do not believe you can listen and be silent. Do
not go, do not leave the room....”

“I am here.”

“Sit down, and do not look at the floor, look at me. Padre Paoletti
and I will pray; and you--there, close there--and keep quiet. Every
word we utter will be a lash--but keep quiet and do not move, look at
me--there, so; so that I can see you.”

And taking hold of his hand she looked tenderly in his face.

“You ought not to try to pray,” said Leon. “Our kind friend Señor
Paoletti will pray--listen only, and do not exhaust yourself.”

“Very well,” said María taking a medal which Rafaela had brought her
from under her pillow. “Now, to please me, kiss this medal.”

Leon kissed it, not once but again and again. María did the same; then
she murmured:

“Mother of God! save my atheist; and if he will not be saved, save me,
and so long as I live enable me to be faithful.”

Quite unconsciously she had revealed her whole nature in this brief
supplication. The sum total of her ideas was: “Let me be saved, even
if to secure my salvation I must trample underfoot the first law of
married life; while I neglect every human duty in order to aspire and
rise to ecstasy, let my husband, the man whom the Church has bound to
me, love me devotedly and passionately, and never even look at another
woman.” In a word: she wanted for herself, as being in possession of
the truth, the fullest liberty while he, as the slave of error, was to
bear all the burthen.

The room gradually grew darker--sank into funereal gloom pierced only
by the cadenced tones of the priest as he repeated the prayers. It
was strange, but true; the voice which was exquisitely modulated in
conversation sounded rather harsh as he went through the droning round
of _Paternosters_ and _Ave Marias_.

Rafaela brought in a light just as the Padre ended, and the sudden
transition from the monotonous sound to the lighter tones of
conversation was like coming out of a sepulchral vault into life and
day. Paoletti, after a few cheerful words to his saintly daughter, took
his leave, promising to return on the morrow. Leon, bent on politeness,
conducted him as far as the “Hall of Hymen.”

“God grant,” said the priest with some acrimony, “that her health may
allow of my telling her the truth. This farce is ceasing to be an act
of charity!”

Leon watched the confessor as he carefully descended the steps and got
into a carriage, and as he heard the wheels crunching the gravelled
road across the park he turned to go into the house.

“The truth--the truth!” he said to himself. “Yes, let her know it and
live! It is my sincerest wish.”

The rest of the party were spending a gay evening in the tapestried
drawing-room--so called because it was hung with such works of art,
in which the faded hues and ghastly faces seemed to represent a
world of consumptive victims. Leon had no desire to join them; he
went back to his wife. During the evening nothing occurred worthy of
mention, excepting that the doctor, not yet quite satisfied as to the
issue, insisted more stringently than ever on complete rest, and put
a positive veto on prayers and religious excitement. It was about
ten o’clock when María, after a little calm sleep became restless
and eager to talk. Leon in obedience to her wishes, had placed the
sofa by the side of her bed and was trying to get some repose. But
María began asking him a hundred questions about himself and others,
mixed up with the old familiar homilies, the old impertinences that
had so often annoyed him in former days: He was called an atheist, a
hardened materialist, an enemy to God, a man of pride and sin--though
all this vituperation was accompanied and sweetened by María’s pretty
hand coaxingly stroking the infidel’s beard, patting his cheek or
pinching his throat, so sharply indeed, now and then, that her husband
exclaimed: “Oh! you are hurting me!”

“You deserve worse than that.--But much will be forgiven you if you
only do your sacred duty by me.”

After this there was a long pause when both seemed to be sleeping, but
suddenly María awoke with a start saying:

“Come now Leon--which of us is more worthy?”

“Why you of course; there cannot be a doubt of that.”

“Help me to remember. Did I really tell you that I did not love you,
and did you tell me that you did not love me?”

Leon was puzzled and did not know what to say.

“I remember nothing of it,” he said at last.

“What do you mean? You do not remember? Did I dream it?”

“I do not remember. I have made it my business to cultivate oblivion.”

“But do not leave me.”

“I have not moved.”

“Come closer--so. How pale you are and your eyes are hollow. Come quite
close and lay your head by mine.”

Then she fell asleep again, her hand still clutching her husband’s
hair, as painters represent an executioner holding the head of a
traitor up to public view.

The sickly, tremulous glimmer of the night-light, in the porcelain
shade with its opalescent and pearly transparency, throwing a broad
quavering circle on the ceiling, gave light enough to cast ill-defined
shadows of their forms and faces. The sad twilight, suggesting that
which must prevail in Limbo, gave a doubtful solidity to everything in
the room, and soothed the senses to a torpid state verging on stupor.
Leon lay neither waking nor sleeping; fatigue kept him from thorough
wakefulness and anxious thoughts prevented sleep. The night was far
advanced when he heard a slight noise in the room, and looked up much
startled, for it seemed impossible that any one should come in at that
hour. His blood ran chill as he saw a form, a shape, a shade slowly
coming towards him. It looked no more substantial than an optical
illusion caused by the mysterious light in the china shade. Happily
he had no belief in ghosts. He wanted to examine the phantom, which
he immediately perceived to be a living human creature, but he could
not stir. María’s fingers held his hair, and the slightest movement
would have disturbed his wife who was sleeping peacefully. He raised
his arm to gesticulate a warning as he could not express himself in
any other way, but the figure paid no heed; it came up to the bed and
leaned over it with evident curiosity, not unmingled with fear. Leon
could feel himself enveloped, so to speak, in a gaze of melancholy
pathos. His heart throbbed as violently as a maniac struggling in a
strait waistcoat. He was furious--he dared not speak, dared not move
to exorcise this nightmare visitation; he saw that the phantom--to
give it this childish appellation--moved its head as if in reproach,
or disapprobation, or despair. Then it fled hastily and incautiously,
making more noise than at its entrance, and leaving a sort of chill on
its passage, like that of a sudden draught of air.

María woke with a start.

“Leon, Leon,” she cried, “I saw....”

“What? Do not talk wildly.”

“I saw--and I heard a noise like that of a silk gown--some one
running....”

“Compose yourself. No one has been in the room.”

“But I saw it,” said María, covering her eyes with her hands. “I
thought a woman went out at that door.”

“Go to sleep again, and do not see and hear things that do not exist.”

“Was it Padre Paoletti?”

“How could it be my child? It is midnight.--He will come to-morrow.”

“Oh! I want him to explain it to me; no one can explain it but he.”

She went to sleep again with her hands piously folded, thus leaving her
husband’s head free. Leon, finding it impossible to sleep when his mind
was in such a turmoil, feeling sure too that he heard some movement in
the adjoining room, rose with the greatest caution, and walking softly
and slowly left the room. As he went into the next room he heard the
sound--impossible to mistake for any other--of the swift rustle of
a silk dress. He followed it from room to room, but the noise fled
before him--like some prowling creature that feels itself hunted and
flies to hide its prey in the darkness. At last, in a room called the
_Incroyable_, the fugitive dropped exhausted into a seat. There was no
lamp or candle in the room, but through a ventilator that opened above
one of the doors a broad beam of light fell from the lamp that burned
all night in the corner of one of the wide corridors. This partial and
somewhat romantic light, though insufficient for reading, for looking
at prints, or for examining the china, was enough to recognise, or even
to study a face by, if need be.

Pepa Fúcar, for it was she who was flying through her father’s house
like a soul in torment, sat huddled in a chair with her face hidden in
her clasped hands and bent down almost to her knees. She moaned rather
than spoke:

“I know what you are going to say to me--I know; do not speak to me.”

“For Heaven’s sake!” murmured Leon standing in front of her. “How
imprudent!”

“I will not come again; I will not do it again. I know I have no
right--that it is my fate to be wretched and forsaken--always forsaken.
I have nothing to complain of--I can demand no explanations--I dare ask
nothing. Even to love you is forbidden.”

Leon sat down by her side. She did not cease her heart-broken rocking,
nor take her hands down from her face. But presently, drawing herself
up as though to give herself courage, and conquer her heart by
trampling it down--and she even stamped on the floor with her feet--she
wiped away her tears with her trembling hands, for she was not
collected enough to take out her handkerchief--nay, as a matter of fact
she had lost it--and said with an effort:

“It is over--I am not wanted here--I feel so much, and I have no
rights--I am a disgraced woman. Your wife might strike me and only be
applauded for it.... Good-bye.”

Leon pointed to the door, but he did not speak.

She looked at him with pathetic devotion, but suddenly lifting her
hand she laid it on his head and with the strength of intense passion
she grasped his hair and pulled him down. He was forced to bend--lower,
lower; she held his head with both hands for an instant, and then she
hit it--as if it were a thing she could break.

“It is my turn,” she said in a broken voice--“mine, to--pull your
hair!” Leon pulled himself up--half-angry, half-forgiving.

“Go,” he said.

“Yes,” she replied, “good-bye. I do not wish to bring disgrace upon
you. I will go at once. My heart is bursting--it chokes me to cry and
to run. Do not follow me.”

She slipped a key into the lock of the museum door, which opened from
one corner of the room they were in, and vanished in the darkness. Leon
departed by the way by which he had come, returning to his post like a
faithful soldier.



CHAPTER XV.

LATET ANGUIS.


In the course of that afternoon Don Pedro Fúcar had invited Doña
Pilar de San Salomó--whom we have seen looking on at the interesting
spectacle of her friend swallowing an ice in the Chinese boudoir--to
go round the hot-houses with him, and cast a glance, by the way, at
the English horses he had just had sent to him from a famous stable
in London. The worthy money-dealer, the “product of his century,” the
noble who derived his patent, not indeed from battles against the
Moors, but at any rate from contracts with good Christians, was well
aware of the small estimation in which he was held by Pilar. Still,
not content with having the exchequer of both hemispheres at his feet,
he was very anxious to stand in the good graces of the initiated,
so he overwhelmed his guest with attentions and civilities. Besides
displaying with more than usual zeal all the splendours of Suertebella,
he presented to her some of the treasures it contained: exotic flowers
in costly vases, rare fruits, and, to crown all, some sacred relics
from the altars in his chapel. With all his habits of politeness the
moneyed magnate could not conceal that each gift cost him a greater
pang than the last, and at length so far forgot himself as to sigh
deeply, gazing at the ground, as though he might there see written in
mysterious characters--like the binomial theorem on Newton’s tomb--the
formula of a bargain or a loan which might bring the very earth we
dwell on into the money safe of the Fúcars.

The lady, misinterpreting this disturbance of mind, ascribed it to the
day’s events, to Pepa’s painful and compromising position, and the
unexpected presence of Leon Roch and his wife. Satisfied that she was
on the right scent, Pilar, as they returned to the house, expressed her
thanks for all her host’s attentions, and added:

“And your kindness is all the more striking when I reflect that you
must just now be greatly troubled by all these rumours.”

“And such rumours!” exclaimed Don Pedro with tragic emphasis. “You
cannot imagine!... You may fancy what they must be to make this
mountain quake!” And he laid his hand on his breast to indicate that
even that rock had its hidden springs of sentiment.

At five o’clock Don Pedro took his leave, after once more placing the
house and all it contained at the service of the Tellerias. He himself
went to Madrid to dine with his daughter, and was not to return till
the next morning. Still, if anything serious required his presence he
would come at any hour of the night. Happily María was much better
and would no doubt recover. After greeting Gustavo, who had but just
arrived, having been delayed by his parliamentary duties and the
responsibilities of his office, he left the house.

Pilar also had intended starting for Madrid, but she was detained by
Gustavo who was very anxious to tell her Heaven knows what; however,
the lady listened to him eagerly, and with the keenest enjoyment of
some stupendous piece of gossip of very doubtful taste, but which
gratified her curiosity and her malice. They walked out together in the
garden, Pilar exclaiming from time to time with a peal of laughter:

“It is like a practical joke which at the same time is a kick or a
beating! It is one of those providential dispensations which make the
victim cry and every one else laugh. But in this case there is no call
for pity or sympathy. Merciful Heaven! What a great man you are and how
unfailingly ready to help every one! Why, you intercept the progress
of evil by arranging things as cleverly as a novel writer, giving us a
surprise that is positively alarming--but a surprise that compels us to
turn to you and cry out: ‘Lord have mercy! Give us warning before you
strike!’”

This profane sally was followed by another burst of laughter; then she
said saucily:

“I shall go there.”

“You!--what for?”

“I should like to see their faces,” said Pilar stuffing her
handkerchief into her mouth; and she wiped the tip of her tongue as the
tip of a weapon is polished after being dipped in poison. “I will find
some pretext.”

It was dusk by the time Pilar called for her carriage; she ordered the
coachman to drive her to the Fúcar’s house in Madrid.

She went in. Don Pedro and his daughter were just sitting down to
dinner with Don Onésimo and Doña Vera. Fúcar invited Pilar to join
them, but she excused herself, saying that she had only just time to
give them the good news of which she was the bearer. She kissed Pepa,
she gave her hand to Onésimo and then began to pet Monina.

“What is it?” asked Don Pedro.

“That María is really almost well again. And it is quite certain that a
reconciliation would be effected--Milagros herself told me so. I am so
glad! I cannot bear marriages that turn out badly.--My little Monina,
will you not give me a kiss?”

“No,” said Monina decidedly, turning away and covering her face with
her little hands.

“Oh, silly, cruel child!”

“I do not love you....”

Repulsed on this quarter Pilar turned to Pepa, and glancing at her
compassionately she said:

“Good-bye dear ... you know I feel deeply for all your troubles.”

She rustled out on Don Pedro’s arm, whispering a few words in his ear
which had the effect of a pistol-shot. As she parted from him at the
carriage door, the lady fired a parting shot.

“I wished to warn you, that you might be on your guard. Resignation,
Señor Marqués, Christian submission is what is wanting.”

Pepa meanwhile, lost in painful meditation, did not know what to
think nor to what possible issue to look. Her spirit was torn by dark
presentiments and wild conjectures. This news of a reconciliation had
pierced her soul like a three-edged blade.

The quartette sat gloomily enough through the meal; to Pepa food was
a nauseous mixture that she simply could not swallow, and her father
hardly eat anything either. In the midst of her utter misery, Pepa, who
had noticed her father’s strange look of worry and vexation since the
day before, saw that this evening he was almost beside himself. Don
Joaquin too, the partner of all the marquis’ secrets was irritable;
what was happening?

“Ah!” said Pepa to herself, seizing on a notion sad enough in itself
but at this moment a happy one for her; “My father must have suffered
some great reverse of fortune; he is ruined perhaps, we shall be
beggars.”

This idea, gloomy as it was, comforted her. Her father’s melancholy,
in that case, had nothing to do with her personal griefs. What did she
care for other interests, for all the money, all the bonds, all the
securities, all the loans past, present or to come? That evening, Pepa
might have passed close to all the stamped paper in the world piled up
in a heap and set fire to on all four sides at once, and she would not
even have cast a glance at the ruin.

After dinner, and when their friends had left them, Pepa and Don Pedro
withdrew to the room where Monina slept just as the little angel,
despoiled of her clothes, was being put into the rosy paradise of
innocent dreams. Don Pedro took his grandchild in his arms, and kissing
her with even more tenderness than usual, said:

“Poor little dove! you shall never fall into the clutches of that
vulture!”

“What is the matter Papa?--What is the matter?” exclaimed Pepa, adding
her more urgent embrace to the soft clasp of Monina’s arms round the
marquis’ bull-neck.

“Nothing, my child. Nothing. Do not be uneasy, do not let yourself be
agitated; trust in me, and I will put everything right.”

“But will not you explain to me?...”

“Certainly not.”

“Has anything gone wrong in your business?”

“No my pet, no,” said Fúcar repelling this conjecture with some
indignation as casting a reflection on his dignity as a man of business.

“I have made ten millions clear by the last loan. Divest your mind at
once of such a dismal idea!”

“But then....”

“It is nothing; do not worry yourself. Sleep peacefully and leave it to
me to put everything right.”

“And you are going out?” said Pepa disconsolately, as her father
disengaged himself from the loving arms that held him.

“Yes, I have something I must attend to this evening. The Minister of
Finance expects me. This miserable country does not find the last loan
enough--it wants another.”

“I am really most uneasy. What was it that Pilar said to you?”

“To me? nothing,” said the marquis a little awkwardly. “Nothing but
what you heard.”

“She whispered something.”

“No--at least I do not remember it. The reconciliation of our friend
Leon with poor María seems to be a settled thing--that was all. I
am glad, for it is altogether wrong that two persons of the highest
character--a good husband and a good wife--should quarrel about a Mass
more or less. It is perfect insanity.--Good-bye sweet-heart.”

“Reconciliation!” exclaimed Pepa with flashing eyes.

The marquis, who did not happen to see her at this instant, took a few
steps towards the door.

“Let us be thankful that those who are good can be brought together
again,” he murmured as he left the room. “But for the wicked there can
be neither peace nor pardon.--May God forgive him!”

Pepa was about to speak, but the words on her lips were so tempestuous
that she restrained herself. She sat a long time without stirring.
Then she grew restless, walked up and down the room, called her maid,
gave some orders, contradicted them, scolded the nurse, and wandered
aimlessly about the house.

When Monina was fairly asleep Pepa locked herself into her own room:
beyond a doubt some mystery was in the air, filling it with an electric
tension that could be felt though not seen. But every human soul
tormented by a crushing grief is disposed to imagine that the unknown
woes of others must be of a similar character, and Pepa believed that
her father’s uneasiness must be in some way akin to her own sorrows,
or at any rate that their griefs had a common origin. The magnitude of
her own misery blinded her to every other; she could not think that any
living soul could be troubled by another cause than this dreaded truce
between Leon and María which had been so abruptly announced.

No arguments to prove that the source of our anguish may be a lie have
any effect in extracting the sting; on the contrary, a syllogism is
the worst forceps in the world and when it is applied to extract only
a thorn it seems to increase the smart a hundred-fold. Pepa, when she
tried to convince herself that Pilar’s information was a fiction, only
tortured herself the more. This reconciliation racked her as though a
harrow were being dragged over her bleeding heart.

It was growing late, and Don Pedro, she knew, would not come till
morning. His benevolence and liberality maintained more than one house
in Madrid besides his own.

An idea had entered Pepa’s head, and she did not hesitate to carry it
out. She drove to Suertebella, crept into the house through the museum
and the _Incroyable_ drawing-room, whence she made her way through the
long suites of apartments to the room she wanted to reach. As we have
seen she realised her project; with regard to its issue we can only beg
the reader to have patience and read on.



CHAPTER XVI.

AN EXCESS OF ZEAL.


Very early on the Wednesday morning Leon went out to take a walk in
the garden. When he went in again, he sat down alone in the “Hall of
Hymen,” where he was presently joined by Gustavo. Telleria had put on
a face of stern severity and held his head high with an assumption of
forensic dignity, and a certain ostentation and inflation of demeanour
due apparently to the glow kept up inside him by the combustion of
“laws human and divine;” so that he seemed ready to burst, but for
the relief afforded by the crater of his mouth through which all this
inflammatory ferment found an issue, mingled with the lava of his
indignation. Leon saw at once that mischief was brewing.

“I have been anxiously awaiting daylight to have an opportunity of
talking to you,” said Gustavo in dry tones that argued considerable
annoyance.

“If you were so impatient,” replied Leon even more drily, “you might
have struck a light and we could have talked at night.”

“At night? No. I feared I might disturb you in more agreeable society,”
said the lawyer sarcastically.

“Then speak at once, and as briefly as you can. Forget, for once, that
you are an orator, and that you spend your life among women who are
never tired of talking.”

“I am sorry to disappoint you, but I must tell you that I cannot be
brief.”

“So much the worse,” said Leon with sullen bitterness. “Since you must
preach, begin by preaching patience.”

“You have plenty for your own evil deeds,” replied Gustavo hotly. “What
I ought to preach to you now, is submission, if you were capable of it.”

“Submission? Am I not listening to you?” said Roch, who had reached a
state of mind in which he found it impossible to conceal his antipathy
for the whole family.

“Still you will need it--for your sceptical coolness, which is simply
the corruption of your dead soul, will not stand you in stead when you
hear what I have to say to you. You know that I am opposed to duelling
as being contrary to all laws human and divine.”

“I defend the practice no more than you do; but I could think even
duelling a good thing if the laws human and divine of which you speak
are yours.”

“They are mine, and they are the only true ones. I hate duelling as
being absurd and sinful; still....”

“Still, under existing circumstances,” said the other interrupting
him, “you are willing to risk damnation for the pleasure of killing me.”

“It will be no pleasure, _I_ am a Christian.”

“Speak out,” said Leon growing angry. “What are you driving at?
Have you come to challenge me? A duel is an absurdity which is very
generally accepted; a murder depending on luck and skill which
occasionally is irresistibly forced on us. I accept this challenge to
murder--whenever you please; today, to-morrow, with the weapons you may
select.”

“No, you have quite misunderstood me,” said Gustavo turning the
question like a lawyer who only wishes to prolong a case. “I was saying
that even though I am no advocate of duelling this would be an occasion
when I might set aside my religious scruples and take up a pistol or a
sword....”

“Then do so.”

“No.--You have done evil enough to justify such a man as I am in
trampling on every moral prejudice, on all laws human and divine, and
trusting to a weapon to execute justice. But....”

“But....” said Leon mimicking his brother-in-law’s tone. “Speak, my
dear fellow; speak and think frankly, as I do when I say: ‘I hate you.’”

“Nay. My principles do not allow me to say, ‘I hate you;’ but, ‘I pity
you.’ Not, ‘I will kill you;’ but ‘God will kill you!’”

“Then do not speak in accordance with your principles; adopt some
others for the nonce--try mine.”

“If I did I should place myself in antagonism to all law, human and
divine. But to conclude: a duel is out of the question, because in this
case every advantage would be on my side. In the first place: I am
right and you are wrong; you are the criminal and I the judge; and by
all the laws of logic I am the conqueror and you are the vanquished.
In the second place: I am skilled in the use of every kind of weapon,
having for the sake of my health kept myself in constant practice by
shooting at a mark and fencing; while you, who have given your whole
time to the study of physics and geology, cannot handle either a pistol
or a sword. So that even on the ground of brute force I must be the
conqueror. In spite of all this, much as it may surprise you....”

“You forgive me!” exclaimed Leon controlling his rage to indulge his
sarcasm. “Thanks--a thousand thanks--with your elephant-load of ‘laws
human and divine.’”

“I do not forgive you,” said the other putting all the dramatic
emphasis he could command into his fine deep voice. “In renouncing the
advantages I have over you I simply renounce the task of punishing you
with my own hand, and deliver you over to the arm of God, which is
already raised to strike you.”

“Again many thanks,” repeated Leon but his irony was not unmixed with
anger. “You are no doubt God’s high sheriff. It is, I presume to
your familiarity with God, whose apostle you are, that you owe your
knowledge of his high purposes and your certainty of divine justice.”

“The purposes of Providence are seen in events, of which the ordering
is sometimes so clear that none but an idiot can fail to see in them
the threatening gesture of that awful arm. I do not fancy myself an
inspired prophet. To foretell your punishment I only needed to know a
fact of which you are ignorant. That is why I refuse to fight, that is
why I leave your chastisement in the Hands of One who will inflict it
more surely than I can. And that is why I say: ‘You will die!’”

“Die!” exclaimed Leon who, though he scorned his adversary, could not
hear these words without a shock.

“Yes, you. You will die of rage!”

“That I think likely enough,” said Leon, thinking over the odious list
of his wife’s family. “One may die too of a surfeit of relations; and
when a man whose only object in life is domestic happiness, with its
pure and honourable joys, finds nothing but a chamber of torture where
he is martyred on the rack, it is probable that he will writhe and
grow weary of it. There are poisonous herbs, and there are venomous
families.”

“You will die of sheer rage,” Gustavo went on with brutal insistence.
“I know it, I have seen it--I have it in my own keeping--in a sealed
packet in my desk, of which every letter is a drop of the mortal poison
which will be the death of you.”

“I do not understand,” said Leon, his curiosity roused at last. “What
is it? A lawsuit? Do you think you can kill me with a lawsuit? You
wretched law-mongers spend your lives in poisoning the human race, and
you think that I shall swallow the bait of your sophistry.--I do not
want to know what horrible intrigue you have been plotting against me.”

“I am plotting no intrigue--there is no intrigue in the matter.--There
is nothing but justice; and even of that justice I am not the
originator but the instrument. Under other circumstances I should have
done nothing to abet it, but since your behaviour to my poor sister,
aggravated too by the disgraceful facts that have lately come to my
knowledge....”

“When?” asked Leon and his voice was like distant thunder.

“You do not know?”

“No. What are these disgraceful facts?”

“And the hypocrite can ask!--Here.”

“Here!--what?”

“You try to ignore it, but your pale face betrays your guilt, and under
the pangs of awakened conscience even the hardened mask of the sceptic
must blush. Quite lately I have seen you in all the naked hideousness
of your nature, and the depravity of your moral sense. It is monstrous!”

“Explain yourself--or ...” and Leon’s hands were clenched as though he
longed to choke some one.

“By all means. Is your connection with the mistress of this house any
secret, as well as your treacherous betrayal of the most saintly, pure,
and angelic woman that God ever sent into this world? However, your
conduct up to this time, though a breach of every law, human or divine,
has not been grossly scandalous. Though morally criminal, you have not
yet fallen in the scale of wickedness to the level where it is hard to
distinguish a man from a devil.”

“Pray describe to me that depth of vileness in which I might be taken
for one of your friends,” said Leon, again lending his fury the guise
of an acrid humour which, like absinthe, embitters and intoxicates a
man while it makes him laugh.

“Why do you ask me to tell you things you full well know? But, to be
sure, there are reprobate natures which like to have the mirror held up
to them, and revel in the hideousness of their own image, like apes who
gaze at their reflection in a puddle.”

“No more of this coarse rigmarole and sham rhetoric! Speak plainly,
state facts, call things by their names; we want no special pleading
and parliamentary rhodomontade; I am sick of this endless parade of
words, and confusion of divine laws with human subterfuge.”

“Oh, very well,--then I will speak plainly. After reducing my
unfortunate sister to the state in which she now lies, any man,
however wicked, might respect her weakness, if not her innocence. In
every dying human creature there is something of the angel. You have
not respected even that; while your saintly victim is lying on her
death-bed, soothed perhaps by your lies, and believing you less base
than you really are, you can meet your paramour in the _Incroyable_
room. Cheating one, and making love to the other; killing one by
inches, and giving the other the affection due to your wife! Well,
I can understand this, Leon. I can understand falsehood and guilty
passion.--What I cannot understand, because it seems to me baseness too
utter for humanity; is that both crimes should be committed under the
same roof. Two such deeds of infamy are too much at the same time and
place.”

Leon, before his accuser had ended his diatribe, had broken out into
a frank fit of scornful laughter which seemed to have dissipated his
indignation.

“Laugh--laugh away--I am not surprised at that. I am well aware of the
audacious cynicism which lies hidden behind that mask of philosophical
virtue. Your whole moral nature is like an artificial plant, which
it is easy to strip of the flowers and leaves which have given it a
semblance of life. That is what your moral theories are: artificial
flowers; for natural flowers which have perfume and colour cannot
bloom in an empty vessel, or grow from a soil of mathematical formulas
and barren science. And to think that I could defend you against the
accusations of my family! that I could ever have believed in your
honour! Good Heavens! how could I be so deceived.”

“But are you perfectly certain that I did meet Pepa while my wife was
asleep?” asked Leon in a sarcastic tone which conveyed his sovereign
contempt. “Did you see it? There are eyes that see falsehoods.”

“I saw it. I was sitting with my mother, who, whatever her faults may
be as a woman, is a tender and loving parent, and who could not tear
herself away from this house where her only daughter is suffering.
Not being able to see her, in consequence of your cruel and selfish
prohibition, she resigned herself to weep and watch from a distance the
door of María’s room. I sat with her all night, to share her grief,
while my father--whose weakness in the most critical circumstances is
really inexcusable--took a lamp and went to inspect a collection of
curiosities to which only men are admitted by special permission from
Fúcar. Polito had drunk too much, with his friend Perico Nules, and was
rather noisy. He began by wandering about the passages and annoying
the maid servants, till I went after him, and succeeded in locking him
up,--by midnight he was sleeping like a drunken angel. My mother and I
were making up accounts in the Chinese boudoir and trying to arrange
our disordered affairs; afterwards she said her prayers, and I, after
searching the house in vain for a book to read, also gave myself up to
my devotions. Within these magnificent walls, where so many marvels are
collected, where copies from the antique alternate with monstrosities
of gaudy taste, representative of modern art, there is everything that
man can ask for, excepting a library. Since, on entering this house one
must leave one’s intelligence on the doorstep, it is as well perhaps
that one’s senses should be kept alive to make it easier!--My mother
was tired of praying but was not sleepy; she was thinking of our dear
María and of some way of cheating you and seeing her daughter. She
would not go to bed and treading on tiptoe, she took to wandering
through the rooms. As she approached the _Incroyable_ room she thought
she heard voices. She called me, and I hastened to join her; we went
forward together and listened. The first sounds we heard were sobs, as
we thought, but we at once understood that they were in fact passionate
kisses. It was you--and she.--We hid behind the group of Meleager and
Atalanta in the corridor and heard her open the door into the museum;
we afterwards heard you pass through the room, returning to hide your
disgraced head, crowned, as I may say, with laurels of infamy, on the
pillow of your martyred wife. The woman who was with you was Pepa; and
to remove every doubt my father can confirm it, for he met her as he
was returning with the lamp in his hand from the cabinet of curiosities
he had been inspecting.”

“And is that all?” said Leon calmly. “Has your espionage discovered no
more than that? There are creatures who cannot breathe without exhaling
slander!”

“Slander! What next? Of course I know that you can give the facts an
interpretation favourable to yourself. You are never at a loss for
sophistries to defend yourself.”

“I, defend myself! I, condescend to touch the dirt-heap of your foul
suspicions, to argue about a fact that you and your mother have seen
through the jaundiced spectrum of your impure imaginations!--Never!”

“The device is an ingenious one, but it fails of its effect. I am not
convinced.”

“I do not want to convince either you or her,” said Leon with vehement
fury. “Your opinion is to me so absolutely worthless that I positively
feel a certain satisfaction in leaving you in your mistake. Your
infernal nimbus of evil thoughts becomes you so amazingly. Do you
think that I flatter myself that I can change the baseness of your
souls, or by any waste of words create an idea of purity and honour
in a mind tainted with the leprosy of chronic sin? Your opinions, and
the opinions of all your execrable family, who repay solid benefits
with slander, are to me no more than the rain which wets us but cannot
blacken us. Do we quarrel with the coach-wheel which splashes us with
mud? And you--the political and religious moralist, always preaching
party-sermons; you--a machine for grinding out ready-made morality;
you--who pound up ‘laws human and divine’ into a patent lozenge, to
cram the world with an anodyne of sophistry and piety flavoured to each
man’s taste--you cannot dose me with morality packed into a sugar-plum!
My faults may perhaps serve your turn as virtues, and the base
sentiments that I disown and cast out, you may, if you please, pick out
of the dirt and make the pride and boast of your conscience. Before
preaching to me why do you not look at home? If you study yourself you
must surely see that your life, your fame, and your credit would vanish
like smoke if San Salomó were a man instead of a puppet.”

Gustavo’s lips were bloodless, his hands trembled and his eyes flashed
as Leon spoke; and then, not knowing what to say, he hesitated a few
minutes before he spoke.

“You are a skilful antagonist,” he said, “and have turned the point
against my own breast. Well--I do not deny it; you may learn from me at
any rate the virtue of candour, the merits of confession, of which an
atheist is incapable. I plead guilty; the giddy whirl of the world, the
weakness of Man’s nature, the blandishments of flattery and applause
have led me, I own, into antagonism to those laws, human and divine,
which I acknowledge and respect. I am the first to accuse myself, as
I was the first to cast a stone at the scandals of my family, and the
first to defend you so long as I believed in your integrity--you know
that. But there is no sort of comparison between your crime and mine,
between your treachery and mine. We have both sinned; you, out of sheer
cynicism and absolute ignoring of right, I out of weakness of will. In
you there is nothing but evil, there is no door by which good can enter
into your darkened soul; in me, though my deeds have been evil, faith
is still left--a way by which good may come in. Your sin stands alone
in its hideous blackness; mine has brought with it the precious grace
of repentance. You are not capable of any amendment; I am. You see
nothing beyond; I see salvation, because I see amendment. To me, the
very idea of sin suggests that of pardon. I do not know my own destiny,
but I do know that of the human race, and the fact that Heaven exists
is enough for me. You know nothing, and evil has no terrors for you
because you do not believe in the existence of Hell.”

“This is sophistry, and mere juggling with words. What can you know
of what I think or am? Do you believe that men and souls are at the
mercy of your apostolic dogmatism, of your insolent and official
interpretation of the gospel by which you issue death-warrants or
reprieves? You fancy yourself a sort of inspector of passports to
Heaven! But do you suppose that there really is an office where our
luggage is examined to see if we are smuggling tobacco--that is to
say anything prohibited in your manufactories of lies where ideas are
stamped and then sold, all cut and dried, to hypocrites?--Do me the
favour and honour of relieving me of your presence or I cannot answer
for observing the respect due to this house and to the tie which unites
us.”

“You are the murderer of an angel!” bellowed Gustavo, mad with fury.

“I shall really lose patience with your follies,” said Leon, taking
three steps forward with so threatening a gesture that Gustavo
involuntarily retreated, but he was no coward and at once made a stand.
“Be silent or you will find out that my endurance has an end and see
what a man can do when he can bear no more.” And pointing to the window
Leon extended an arm which, though by no means Herculean, was capable
of exerting no small strength.

“And if you continue to provoke me, although I am no advocate of
duelling, and have no practice with pistols or swords, and no skill in
preaching sermons, I will promise you a pleasant half-hour. I will show
you how an apostle flies out of window and no earthly power can prevent
it.”

“Indulge if you choose in such an abuse of brute strength!” retorted
Gustavo with a glare of defiance. “You have murdered my sister as it
is.”

“You cannot aggravate my rage by saying that,” cried Leon beside
himself. “Your sister and yourself, your father and your mother, are to
me no more than the birds that fly past. You have ceased to exist for
me.--Now choose--the door or the window.”

The dispute might have terminated in a fray and perhaps some act of
violence, but the marquesa came rushing in with loud cries, and behind
her Don Agustin in evident dismay and alarm.

“What is all this? Leon--Gustavo--my dear children!” cried the lady,
interposing with outstretched arms.

“This man,” roared Gustavo.

“Leon--what will you do next? After shutting up our darling so
cruelly....”

“I--shut her up! I?” said Leon talking rather wildly. “No, there she
is; I leave her to you, I make you a present of her.”

“You would not allow us to go in to see her. Thinking of that sweet
martyr, I have not slept a wink all night,” said the marquis.

“Go in, all of you,” said Leon pointing to the door leading to his
wife’s room. “Go in.”

And without waiting for another word, the Tellerias rushed in. A
vehement sound of kissing ensued, given with a warmth and eagerness
that were only natural after this enforced separation.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE TRUTH.


After the first greetings were over María asked:

“Tell me, Mamma, did I dream it, or is it true that I heard Gustavo’s
voice and my husband’s as if they were quarrelling?”

“We had a little discussion,” said the young man, who had not yet
recovered from his pallor and nervousness, nor got rid of the lines
in his forehead--that sacred tablet on which fancy might read the
decalogue and the latest code.

“No, no, mere words and rubbish,” interrupted Milagros, whose one idea
was the reconciliation, a thought intimately allied with the wish.

“Your respected husband, made madly savage by my accusations, proposed
to settle my share in the business by flinging me over the balcony like
a cigar-end,” said Gustavo, and he tried to laugh at his own wit in
the belief that the effort would restore his nerves to their normal
balance.

“Where was this?”

“In the ‘hall of Hymen.’”

“What is that?”

“Don’t worry yourself about it, my darling child.”

“My dearest daughter,” said her father, caressing her, “you must
learn to accustom yourself to view your husband’s proceedings with
indifference, and to feel that what he does, or leaves undone cannot
matter to you. It is greatly to be regretted that you cannot get over
certain deeply-rooted feelings, and that you are bent on being a martyr
and struggling against wind and tide.”

“What are you talking about, Papa?” asked María bewildered.

“I,” continued Don Agustin, laying his hand on his burly person to
attest his honour, “I am determined to bring all the energy of my
character to bear on the one object of avoiding a scandal which must
bring discredit on us all, and place you in the most ridiculous
position.”

“Agustin,” said Milagros, unable to conceal her vexation, “you had
better go and study the museum. You are not wanted here.” And she gave
emphasis to the hint by nudging her husband’s elbow to convey to him
that the time had not come for any display of energy or avoidance of
scandal. As a woman and a mother she had understood the illusion in
which Leon had chosen to leave his wife, and approving it, endeavoured
to keep it up.

“What museum?” asked María more and more puzzled, and seizing at once
on any clue that might strengthen her awakened suspicions.

“A museum not far off,” stammered the marquis taking his wife’s hint
and acting upon it to the best of his intelligence, for with all his
faults he was devoted to his daughter. “One that has lately been opened
at Suertebella....”

María looked from one to another in blank astonishment, questioning
them with dull bewilderment in her eyes, while her lips could hardly
frame the enquiries that formed themselves in her brain.

“Suertebella--near this?” she murmured. “Tell me one thing.”

“What?”

“What is it, my child?”

“How is it that I seem to feel the stone and mortar of that house
here--in my very being; I feel its walls....”

“What are you talking about my love?”

“Its walls are crushing me.”

“Good Heavens! do not talk so wildly!”

“What delirious fancies are these! It is much to be regretted that your
sound judgment....”

“This house....”

“Is a house ... you know, a building....”

At this instant Polito flew into the room with outspread arms and flung
them round his sister exclaiming: “Mariquilla, so at last your blessed
husband will allow us to see you! He is a gaoler, a bandit, a wretch!
I was in the court-yard looking on at a fight between two dogs and
fourteen rats when they told me I might see you. I rushed up.--And your
husband is out there too, looking like a statue, and more stony than
the group of Hymen. Dear little woman, you are quite well now, are you
not?--you will get up and get away from this place?”

Milagros almost skinned her elbow driving it against her son’s ribs,
but without putting a check on this torrent of indiscretion.

“There is a strange and horrible look of fear on all your faces,” said
María, gazing at them all in turn. “You look as if you longed to tell
me, but at the same time wanted to hide some dreadful fact.”

“My darling child, you are still far from strong,” said the marquis
stroking her hair. “When you are quite well again and can come home
with us....”

“The poor child fancies things that have no existence,” said Milagros
anxiously. “It would be far better if you would all go and leave us to
ourselves.”

“You are deceiving me, you are in league to deceive me!” cried María
with sudden frenzy. And raising the Crucifix that lay upon her pillow,
she said:

“Dare to tell a falsehood in the face of this.”

They all were silent except Gustavo, and he, extending an oratorical
and legislative hand towards the sacred image, said, with grandiloquent
emphasis:

“I abhor falsehood, and I believe that it can never under any
circumstances be wrong or injurious to speak the truth.”

Milagros seized him as if to thrust him out of the room; but he went
closer to his sister and, patting her cheeks, bent over her to say:

“But you are worrying yourself about trifles. Your saintliness and
virtue have given you a position so exalted that you can afford to look
down with contempt on a man who deserves nothing else from you. You are
better already, and before long we will take you home, to our house,
where you will be better cared for than ever, where we shall appreciate
your worth and adore you as you deserve to be adored.... Rejoice
instead of sorrowing, and give thanks for your recovered freedom. Poor
martyr!”

Gustavo did not mean to be perverse, but he was possessed with a
perfectly fanatical form of what is called public virtue.

“Poor martyr.” María repeated sadly, fixing her eyes on vacancy, on a
remote spot where there was absolutely nothing to be seen, nothing but
the vague projection of her own thought. After a short silence she said
in a voice that became weaker as she spoke:

“I dreamed it. I dreamed the truth, and falsehood cheated me when I
awoke.”

Then, suddenly sitting up in bed, she cried out: “Where is my husband?”

“He will come this moment, my sweet,” said her mother kissing her
fondly. “Compose yourself, or you will make yourself ill again.”

“Who was it but you that filled my mind with jealousy?” the martyr went
on, turning indignantly on her mother. “Why should you try to soothe
me now? Fetch my husband and Padre Paoletti.--Every one else must go;
leave me with them.”

She put her hand to her forehead with a sharp cry.

“What is it? Merciful Heaven!”

“A pain in my head,” she murmured closing her eyes. “A pain that
pierces and burns my brain.--That woman! Mamma, do you see her? That
woman has driven a red hot nail into my head.”

They all stood dumb with horror.

“Help me, help me!” cried María fairly raving. “Do you not see her
coming towards me? Will no one have the charity to drive her away, to
throttle her? Jesus, Saviour of my soul--protect me!”

There was a solemn and terrified silence, broken only by the marquis,
who indulged in a smothered fit of coughing. Milagros was crying,
kissing her daughter, and appealing to her with tender words. But María
did not answer; her eyes were shut and her speechless stupor was like
the silence of death.

They were rushing for the doctor when he came in. He immediately
pronounced the patient to be in a very critical state; he was
excessively angry, saying that he would take no responsibility, as his
orders had not been obeyed, and ordered every one out of the room with
exasperated indignation.

Heroic remedies could alone avail. The battle which had seemed to be
won, would yet be lost but by the grace of God. His utmost powers
must be put forth to make up for this sudden desertion on the part
of Nature; she had gone over to the enemy’s camp, leaving science
single-handed and almost desperate.

       *       *       *       *       *

After his dispute with his brother-in-law, Leon had remained quiet
for a little while; then he was seized with that craving for violent
exercise which comes over us in certain states of mind, as though a
skein of suffering were wound round us and we must walk far to release
ourself.

For above an hour he paced about the grounds. When he came in again, as
he was passing through the “Hall of Hymen,” he perceived, on a chair,
a broad brimmed black hat. Seated on the divan which surrounded the
pedestal of the marble group, he discovered the diminutive person of
Padre Paoletti, looking smaller than ever in his hunched-up attitude.
Out of the little black mass came his pleasant face and those eyes
which sparkled so vividly, as he slowly uncurled himself like a snail
creeping out of its shell. It was a strange fact, but in his present
state of mind the presence of the priest seemed to comfort Leon.

“They told me as I came in,” said Paoletti in evident distress, “that
Doña María was suddenly very much worse. You see how useless our deceit
has been. Is the time come for the truth?”

“Perhaps,” said Leon holding the door for Paoletti to go into the room
first.

They arrived just as Moreno was applying the last resources of his
skill. Paoletti at once retired to pray in the chapel, which was ablaze
with tapers; the husband and the physician remained to watch with
infinite anguish and pity the drama of a diseased brain where ideas--or
intangible fluids--and organic life--or a mysterious essence--were
going the circuit of the nervous centres in a bewildering round,
their obscure struggle hastening on the divorce which we call death.
Everything was done that lay in human power to avert immediate danger
and divert the mischief from the centre to the extremities. But no
remedy availed to rouse the reaction that might have expelled the
enemy. It progressed triumphantly, like a desperate invader who has
burnt his ships. They tried everything and each trial only confirmed
them in despair.

All day the sufferer lay in a state of alternate delirium and
prostration. The physician announced with solemn decision that the end
could not be far off.

“What remains to be done,” he said, “is in the hands of the physician
of the soul.”

Later in the day María seemed to wake up and her mind was clear; she
was quite herself again, and enjoying that brief interval of lucidity
which nature almost always grants in such cases, as though to allow
those who are about to pass into the other world to cast a parting
glance on this which they are quitting.

“Pray leave me alone with my spiritual director,” said María in feeble
accents, and the husband and doctor at once left the room. There was no
further need for science or earthly love.



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE BATTLE.


María fixed her eyes on Paoletti’s face with a softened gaze. The
circumstances were so solemn that even the good little priest,
accustomed as he was to melancholy and emotional scenes, was deeply
moved. Controlling himself however, he went up to the bed, and taking
the fevered white hand that she held out to him, said with mystical
enthusiasm:

“We are alone, my beloved daughter--my sister and friend, whom I love
most truly; alone with our spiritual thoughts and sacred fervour. Fear
has no place here; joy reigns alone. Arise, pure conscience, fear not;
appear in all your brightness, rejoice in your own beauty, and instead
of dreading the hour of release look forward to it eagerly. Oh Triumph!
do not disguise thyself under a false semblance of defeat.”

María, less eager than usual to swallow the sweet droppings of this
mystical honeycomb, was thinking, in fact, of something else. It was
with bitterness as well as sadness that she said:

“I have been deceived.”

“With a pious purpose,” replied Paoletti promptly. “The alarming state
of your health required the concealment of the painful truth. Forgive
me if I too lent myself to the deception which was, as I repeat, a
deed of Christian charity. I saw how necessary it was to second your
husband’s beneficent plan....”

“And he has kept me, and is keeping me, under that woman’s roof,” she
exclaimed, half-choking.

“It was through no fault of his. There was no other house within reach
where you could have the requisite medical attendance and be properly
taken care of. I entirely approve of your having been brought here. A
life in imminent peril is not a thing to be lifted and carried about
like a sack. The best thing that could happen to you was to be here.”

“And I dreamed it--and when I woke they denied it.” She was too weak to
speak more than a few words at a time, and it is impossible to give any
idea of the feeble, extinct, quavering tones of her voice. It was like
that of a forsaken child, wearied out with calling and crying for its
mother.

“And my husband and that woman,” she went on, “will meet hour after
hour in this house to embrace and to count ...” again her voice failed
her, and Paoletti himself felt a lump rising in his throat.

“To count the minutes I have left to live--as I count the beads of my
rosary.”

There was a pause, during which the confessor tried to regain his
composure.

“My dearest friend in the Lord,” he began, “this is really a monstrous
invention of your fancy. Listen to me while I tell you the exact facts,
the truth to which I bear witness as a servant of God. The truth can
do no harm to a noble soul like yours; a conscience so brave and so
blameless will not be unhinged by a revelation of human weakness which
cannot in any way affect it, any more than the dust blown up from the
highway can affect the purity and whiteness of the clouds in the sky.
You shall hear the whole truth, with nothing kept back and nothing
added. Don Leon, it is true, loves this lady; he himself owned as much
to me; and as he did not tell me under the seal of confession, I may
and ought to tell you. But at the same time, I solemnly declare to you
that the lady is not now at Suertebella, but that your husband himself
begged and desired her to leave. Decency I may say required it, which
is the outward sign of the grace of modesty. Your unhappy husband is,
of course, incapable of any moral feeling; but, thanks to a cultivated
mind, he has the religion of appearances, and can always assume that
superficial guise of virtue which we term chivalry.”

María made no reply. Her white hand, which had not, during her brief
illness, had time to grow thin and retained its delicate roundness,
was playing with the fringe of the counterpane. Not far from this
restless hand was the small bullet-head of the Italian; his face pale
and lifeless when he sat with his eyes cast down, though, when he
looked up, they glittered with a flash that suggested the sparkling of
fireworks.

“I cannot believe,” said the priest fixing María with the fascination
of that glance, “that a spirit so fortified by divine love as yours is,
can allow these facts to disturb it. I know you well, and I cannot
imagine that beautiful soul fettered and dragged down by trivial
anxieties like any ordinary woman, or detaching its thoughts from the
sublime ideal spheres to wander through the murky paths of worldly
disputations, like idle minds that find time too long. Am I right my
beloved daughter? Am I mistaken in thinking that those eyes, accustomed
to the splendours of Heaven, can no longer deign to look down on the
feebler lights of earth?”

“I am jealous,” said María the tone in which we state a pathetic truth.
And just as the centurion gave the Redeemer a sponge dipped in vinegar
for refreshment when he was athirst, the priest poured honey and
vinegar into María’s parched soul.

“Jealous!” he said. “Jealous, when you have fired your heart with the
love that is never unrequited! Unless I have failed to enter into the
feelings of my illustrious penitent, she must have fortitude, and
grace, and a sense of divine love which will raise her above such base
anxieties. Jealous--of whom? Of another woman, and for the sake of a
man; jealous, of nothing in a creature who is nothing and who is worth
nothing!--Some radical change must have taken place in your mind, my
dear daughter. What has occasioned it?”

“Jealousy,” murmured María from the depths of her anguish.

Then, by slow degrees, frequently pausing to rest, María related all
that had happened since Pilar de San Salomó had told her of Leon’s
infidelities, until she lost consciousness. She told the priest
everything, omitting nothing of importance, nor any interesting detail.

“Excepting your outbursts of indignation, your sacrifice to worldly
prejudice in the matter of dress, and your overhasty action, there is
nothing reprehensible in your conduct,” said Paoletti as he sat with
his head resting on his hand and his eyes cast down on the floor--like
a weapon laid by in its sheath, listening to her story, word by word,
drop by drop like an extract distilled from an alembic. María breathed
a sigh of relief.

“I thought I had sinned heavily,” she said.

“You have sinned no doubt, in the way I have said; but it is no mortal
sin. I see in your visit nothing more than a woman’s natural impulse
to prevent the rupture of a sacred tie. I have told you already, many
times, that your pure desire to cultivate the spiritual life, and his
deep contempt for the faith cannot exempt either of you from the duties
of married life. So long as you both live, you are bound together by
the sacrament of marriage, and when one strove to burst the bonds it
was only natural and right that the other should fly to prevent it;
nay to tighten the tie if that were possible. Ah! my most precious
daughter, how often have we talked it over!”

María nodded affirmatively and fixed her eyes on the ceiling.

“When my object was to give a fixed purpose to your beautiful life, I
have often said this,” continued Paoletti, not lifting his gaze from
the ground, but staring at the carpet, as if he did not know where to
look. “Many times as you know, I have quieted your mind on this point
when you were disturbed by scruples. ‘No,’ I have said, ‘God cannot
require a married woman to close her mind to every consideration of
what she owes to her husband.’ He, even though he may have erred in
spiritual things, has a right which cannot be abrogated even though
his ideas and principles may be in direct opposition to those of his
wife. Although, seeing his contumacious incredulity it is impossible
that you should give him an atom--I say an atom since I must perforce
use a material image--an atom, I say, of your exquisite spirit, of
those graces which are claimed by their Creator; although you cannot
have any single idea in common, nor that confidence which might fill
him with vain hopes that he could ever turn his wife out of the path
of perfection in which she is walking--still, all that is not of the
spirit is his; all that is essentially of the flesh and world. You have
confided to me all your most intimate thoughts, all the tender secrets
of your soul--all your husband’s expressions and opinions; I have fully
appreciated him and on my knowledge of the facts I laid down for you a
scheme of life to which you have perfectly conformed until now, when I
find you distraught and wandering from the path. But remember all we
have said about it, and my arguments which will set everything in its
right light; and never confuse spiritual things with what is merely
human, or that which is of God with the things of the flesh.”

María said nothing, but turned herself wearily on her pillow.

“Speak to me, my dear and precious lamb.”

“My husband said a great deal....” she murmured.

“Yes; and you know that in our delightful discussions I was always able
to confute his sophistical arguments; you always saw I was right--you
were always convinced.”

“But then I was not jealous--and jealousy--I know it now as surely as I
know God--jealousy is my way of loving.”

“Yes, you loved him!” said Paoletti a good deal confused, as he
glanced up for a moment and then looked down again, “because you took
an interest in him, and did not wish him to suffer; and in this I
supported you--always supported you.”

“But still, he said a great deal,” repeated María in the same weary
tone of an unhappy child. “He said that you....”

“Well, that I?”

“That you, by constantly pruning my affections to concentrate them on
God, by pruning my ideas, from a terror of atheism, by robbing him of
my heart and leaving nothing but duty, had left him nothing of his wife
but the slave of his desires.”

“Oh! woman, woman!” exclaimed Paoletti eagerly and not without some
dignity. “How often have I refuted this argument, which is terrible
only in appearance, and left you soothed and reassured!”

“But can you refute the fact....”

“What fact?”

“That I am jealous, envious; that now I long for what is no longer
mine.”

The worthy priest looked up and raised his head: nay, not content with
this, but wishing, it would seem, to let the light of his eyes shine
forth like a beacon to guide the wandering seaman, he rose to his feet
and stood looking down on his penitent. He was in fact uncomfortable,
ill at ease, and, if the truth must be told, not entirely pleased with
himself.

“My dear lady,” he went on, piercing her with his glance as an angel
might pierce with his sword, “I shall be compelled to speak to you with
a severity which ill accords with the friendship--Friendship, do I
say?--respect, veneration, which I feel for you; for indeed your many
and great perfections have made me cease to regard you as a penitent or
even as a friend in the Lord; I have learnt to think of you as a saint,
as a pure and exquisite creature, far above myself in every respect.
And now...!”

There was a pause. María, moved by this appeal, folded her white hands
and exclaimed fervently:

“O Lord! and my precious brother! come both of you and help me!”

“Call upon them with a heart purified from all baser affections, which
are, as I may say, the rust of the soul,” said Paoletti, feeling the
fount of his eloquence unsealed. “If you call upon them so, they will
respond. A fervent spiritual impulsion, my sweet friend,” and he
pressed his hand to his heart as though he were clutching it. “A deep
yearning from the soul, an afflatus arising from two aspirations: the
desire to cast off this foul body and the craving to fly up and away to
the radiant and serene realm above, never to return. Courage, beautiful
soul--on whose wings we may already see the pearly reflections of the
glorious day of Paradise--courage! and let not your wings droop. You
are near the goal. Gaze upwards,” and he suited the action to the word,
“do not look down; that will make you giddy--look up, and you will see
the loveliness and splendour that lies before you, infinitely beyond
anything that your fancy can dream of in its most rapturous flights.
There you will hear celestial strains, and feel that exquisite and
joyful ease which will wrap you in ecstasy, in a robe of ravishment,
and in heavenly contemplation. Do not look back, seraphic soul, I
entreat you; for your own sake and for ours who look on you as an
example, for the Glory of God who made you so perfect as His crowning
work, for His own pleasure and glory; on my knees I beseech you--I
a humble priest of no worth, of no account, but that it has been my
privilege to lead you in the path to eternal joys, oh beatific soul!
Thus winning some small merit which is as nothing by the side of yours.”

There was a silence. Paoletti was a man of entire good faith and meant
all he said; he knelt down and clasped his hands.

“You--on your knees,” murmured María. “No no--not that. I will do as
you desire me. But how am I to escape from the feelings that possess
me?”

“Feel something different,” said the Italian rising. “You must know
it well; you who have schooled your heart and mind with the care and
watchfulness of a saint. Do you experience any diminution in the
fervour or depth of your love to God, in your pious zeal?”

María waved her hand in negation. Then, turning her head towards
Paoletti that he might hear her better, she said:

“And if I do not cast out--what you bid me cast out, will it delay my
salvation?”

“Nay, angel of goodness! Never for an instant have I doubted of your
salvation. What, can a soul so full of merits be lost? Never.--There
is no need for you to tell me that these feelings which have come to
agitate you are untainted by rancour, and will not prevent your full
forgiveness of those by whom offences have come. Am I wrong?”

María shook her head.

“Then your salvation is sure. If I try to eradicate this insignificant
weed it is only because I long to see so lovely a soul absolutely
spotless--because I cannot be satisfied with a victory, but crave a
triumph and long to see you wear the crown, not merely of virtue but
of sanctity. What I desire,” he added enthusiastically, “is that you
should rise to Heaven bathed in light and glory, hailed by rejoicing
angels and that you should not look back from the everlasting threshold
of star-sown sapphire, even to cast a glance of contempt at this world.
What I desire to see in you, is absolute purity, the celestial essence
of love!”

“All this I can have without being able to free myself from earthly
griefs. If I can be saved as I am, God may take me as I am.”

Paoletti was silent; suddenly he said:

“My dear daughter, do you, with all your heart, forgive those who have
sinned against you?”

A pause.

“Yes,” said María, when the priest had given up all hope of a reply. “I
forgive my husband whose infidelity has killed me.” And as she spoke
the tears flowed down her cheeks.

“And her, too--the woman who has robbed you of your husband’s
affection.--Do you forgive her?”

Paoletti stood waiting with his eyes fixed on the dying woman’s face.
María closed hers in deep abstraction. The priest thought it was the
end; he bent over her in great alarm. But presently he heard a sob
which said: “Yes--her, too.”

“Then my beloved and noble daughter, if you forgive--which is the only
way to expel the evil leaven from your soul, you will enter the gates
of Heaven in triumph,” said the Padre in a voice of dramatic solemnity.

There could be no doubt that he held the key of those gates. Suddenly,
inspired as it seemed by the supernatural influence the priest
exercised over her, María rallied her strength and particularly her
powers of voice. Even her pale cheeks recovered a tinge of colour which
gave fresh brilliancy and eagerness to her eyes.

“Your words have given me new life!” she said, without difficulty.
“I had a cloud, a veil before my eyes, and it has vanished; I see
clearly--so clearly that I can only marvel at the mercies the Lord has
vouchsafed to me in shedding this light on my soul, and know not how
to thank Him. He has shown me the path by which I may go to Him, and
called me with the voice of His loving kindness. I will follow--I come,
I come, my God, Father and Redeemer, I clasp thy cross!”

“This, this is what I longed for, my beloved penitent and friend,”
exclaimed the enraptured priest, while tears started to his eyes and
ran down his cheeks. “Soon your spirit will dwell in the realms of
eternal bliss. How blessed is it, my daughter, to have no fear of
death, but, on the contrary, to look forward with joy to the moment
when the last spark of this miserable existence is lost in the first
radiance of a life of endless glory! Sweetest soul, purified by prayer,
by unfailing piety, by heroic mortification of the evil within, by
incessant absorption into the divine idea--spread your wings, whiter
than sunlit clouds--fear not, soar upwards, fix your eyes on the goal,
open your ears to the hymn that greets you, inhale the ineffable
fragrance of Paradise, be bold to enter the fatherly presence of the
Creator of the sun and stars--who will welcome you with the smile which
gave birth to light itself, and receive you as a martyr and a saint.”

“Yes--” said María folding her hands calmly across her bosom. “I feel
myself float upwards, and I can find no words to express my happiness.
I feel as if I had already forgotten the language of this world and
could not speak it. My last words still shall be that I forgive with
all my heart, those who have sinned against me.”

There was a pause during which the priest murmured a prayer.

“Father,” said María letting her hand fall on the bed to rouse him from
the mystic trance into which he seemed to have fallen: “It strikes me
that I ought to tell my husband that I forgive him.”

“It is unnecessary, but you can do so.”

“Who knows but that a few words spoken in such a solemn moment may not
have an awakening effect on his perishing soul.”

“Yes, indeed; it is an idea worthy of your lovely character.--We will
tell him.”

“At such a moment,” added María recurring to the ideas which Paoletti
regarded as beneath her, and talking with nervous eagerness, “he cannot
contradict me. Ah! he is so ready with his answers when I accuse him
that he sometimes confounds me. Once....”

She paused a minute and then went on. “Once he came to me very
melancholy and weary. It was a very wet night--and the poor fellow,
having lent his carriage to a friend who was ill, was wet to the skin.
The same day a friend had died, to whom he was very much attached,
a well-known atheist, who, as you know, had constantly shared my
poor Leon’s studies and opinions. Yes--he was very sad.--I pitied
him as I saw him come in, but I was at my prayers, and I could not
interrupt them. He changed his clothes, but he shivered just as much
in his dry things as in his wet ones; he was trembling with fever. I
ordered the servants to prepare some warm tea for him, and then went
on with my prayers, beseeching God that He would touch his heart--but
He never heard me!--Suddenly Leon came and sat down by me on a low
stool almost at my feet, and took my hand and kissed it; his lips
were burning: ‘I want to love and to be loved,’ he said. ‘Living like
this, we are like two thistles growing each by itself in a field.’ It
was all I could do not to listen to him. I was obliged to put down my
prayer-book, but I went on praying without it, and kept my eyes fixed
and my mind concentrated on holy things, so as to keep out all other
thoughts. That very day you and I had talked together for a long time
about the tactics employed by an infidel mind to entrap the godly. I
fortified myself by recalling your words and let the electric current
of affection that came from me to him pass by. I remained a perfect
statue; I knew that I ought to be angry, so I was, and I flung his
atheism in his teeth. He shivered with his chill and said: ‘Well, as my
home is empty for me, I will go to some asylum.’ What things he said!
‘I want to love and to be loved,’--he said that again and again. He
would laugh and pay me compliments like a boy; then he would talk about
the house, and the children we never had.--But I was firm and as cold
as ice, for if I had shown him the least tenderness, how elated he
would have been, and I utterly humiliated!--And I should have felt that
my humiliation was the abasement of the Christian Faith and Church.
My plan was traced out for me--and how wisely! I rose from my knees:
‘Be converted and then I will listen to you,’ I said, and I left him
alone.--How well I remember that night. I remember that as I went into
my own room, I was quite grieved to see him so cold, and I took a cloak
down from the door. I had begun my prayers again in my room when I
heard him say: ‘Curses on those who made you what you are!’”

“But my beloved daughter,” said Paoletti, “you are agitating yourself
unduly with these reminiscences.”

“I think I can see him now!” she went on with an ecstatic fire in
her eye. “He was so pale, and his eyes were full of a desolate
melancholy--he looked like a hungry child that puts out its arms to
seek its mother’s breast and finds a stone.--I fancy I can still feel
the rough touch of his beard on the back of my hand, and the weight of
his weary head on my knees. I did not let it rest there, but I looked
at him, asking myself why God had allowed materialism and disbelief
to find a place in such a handsome head. And there is something
fascinating in his black eyes--the grasp of his hand is so firm and
manly--he has a combination of gravity and brightness--strength that
does not detract from the beauty....”

“Friend of my soul,” interrupted Paoletti, “I conclude that when you
dwell at length on his perfections, it is only to wonder how the
Omnipotent in his supreme wisdom could join them to a blind soul,
spiritually dead.”

“Just so, just so.--But these memories crowd upon me and I cannot
shake them off. They are too strong for me.--I remember one day, after
several days of disagreement, he came into the room quite furious. It
was the first time I ever saw him in a passion, and it frightened me
excessively. He spoke very violently, took my hand and shook it as if
he wanted to wrench it off. I fell on my knees.--I fancy I can feel his
hand now with a grip like a vice; oh! if I really felt it I believe
it would make me wish to live!--He said cruel things to me, but even
though he was so angry, he could not be brutal. This sudden fit of
rage was in fact a joy to me, for it showed me how much he loved me;
but as I had no doubts of his fidelity I did not choose to make any
show of affection. I knew very well that he would not hurt me, so I
said to him: ‘You may kill me if you like, I do not care; but give me
an hour--I am dividing my clothes among the poor.’ That was the truth;
above a hundred poor wretches were waiting at the door. I was so proud
of my charitable action that I could afford to despise the tyrant.--And
he said: ‘It is horrible to have a wound aching in one’s soul and not
to be able to return blow for blow, to take the smallest revenge, to
kill or even to punish....’ But ah! he was splendid in his wrath.”

“Enough of this,” said the priest with sudden decision “I cannot allow
another word of these memories which imperil your soul. You, who could
then struggle to keep your spirit pure, will surely not succumb now.”

“No, I will not succumb”--said María, but there was a look of
anguish in her white face which betrayed what it cost her to break
the mysterious chains that held her even in this supreme hour. “I
have mortified myself indeed, and fought many battles to divest my
mind of the sense of his attractions, and see the bare and hideous
skeleton of the man. It was you who advised me to think of him as a
skeleton--and it has been my salvation.--For my soul would inevitably
have been lost.--Father, would it not?--if I had yielded to his
persuasions. It would have led me into sin--Father, would it not?--He
would have triumphed over me spiritually speaking and have led my soul
astray--Father, would he not?” And at each question, betraying her
doubts and inward struggle, the priest replied by an emphatic sign of
assent. “I said to him: ‘I am yours in all indifferent matters, but
my spirit you shall never subdue.’--Sometimes I forced myself to pass
weeks without saying a word to him--I was right, was I not?”

“My poor unfortunate friend,” said Paoletti with a sigh, “you are
asking me things you have asked a thousand times before. Let us turn
over this gloomy page which we have amply discussed already, and
discourse of God and of forgiveness....”

“Of forgiveness!” said María raising her head without moving her body.
“Of what forgiveness?”

Her eyes had the wild glare that prognosticates delirium; she suddenly
sat up in bed and clasping her hands to her head, exclaimed:

“I do not forgive, I do not forgive--I cannot--my husband only--I
forgive him. Leon I will forgive you if you will return to me.--Not
her, not her....” She could say no more; she threw up her arms and fell
back as if she were dying.

Paoletti gazed at her in horror; María kept her eyes fixed on his
with a crazy glare. The priest felt the cold sweat start on his brow,
and his heart beat as though it would burst his ribs. Presently María
closed her eyes; the crisis wore itself out in exhaustion, sighs, and
sobs. Paoletti said in tones which he meant to be awful:

“Thou Soul! that I believed to be victorious, and that art yet yielding
to the Foe: God will not forgive those who show no forgiveness!” And
falling on his knees, he took the crucifix between his hands and prayed
in silence. He was in truth in deep distress--a shepherd striving to
save his favourite lamb. For some time María neither spoke nor moved.
At length, with a deep sigh, she said in accents of despair: “I am a
miserable sinner and cannot hope to be saved.”

The hapless tortured soul was struggling like a shipwrecked wretch, one
hand stretched up to Heaven and the other feeling for earth.

“I am overwhelmed with grief,” said Paoletti looking up, and his face
was wet with sincere tears. “The soul that I believed I had won to fill
a glorious throne in Heaven, has suddenly fallen into the abyss....”

“Into the abyss,” echoed María with a heart-breaking sob.

“And still I beseech the Lord that he will save it--that he will save
this most precious soul; that he will not condemn it, that he will have
mercy upon it.--Oh! Merciful Saviour I have seen her Thine, wholly
Thine, and to see her now, given over to Satan!--Is she not a pearl
of great price? How canst Thou bear that she should fall into the pit
of everlasting punishment? Hast Thou not purified and tried her as a
jewel to be worn by Thee throughout eternity? Hapless soul,” he went
on, turning to María, “listen to my last appeal if you hope not to see
the robe of purity and beatitude turned into one of agonizing flames.
Return to a better mind; to that sweet and elect state which affords
greater delights than the most exquisite perfumes, the most delicious
food, and the loveliest sights on earth. Save thyself yet, if not from
this world, at least from Hell!”

This vigorous allocution produced its effect; the reverend orator
continued to pour out his poetical eloquence, not without feeling
though somewhat theatrical and full of figurative rhetoric; and
lavishly adorned with “celestial splendour, seraphic choirs, divine
love, and white-robed spirits.” When he had ended, María, kissing the
crucifix that her pastor put into her hands, shed a few bitter tears as
she said:

“I resign all to Thee, blessed Redeemer--there is no leaven in my soul
of baser affections. I resign them all with my life and cast them
into the fire. Still, one thing remains; but you, Father, who can do
everything, can pluck out this last thorn from my heart.”

“What is that?”

“Prove to me that Pepa’s child is not my husband’s.”

“How can I prove that, unfortunate woman?” cried Paoletti
thunderstruck. “How should I know the secrets of hearts? It may be
so, my child--and it may not.” And then the worthy man, knowing only
the surface of human nature and not the depths of the heart, added in
perfect good faith: “She is a pretty little girl.”

This was seizing a spear to pierce the heart and shorten the agony.
María writhed in her bed.

“Noble and beautiful soul,” exclaimed Paoletti rising to his feet
with glowing looks and an uplifted hand: “Throw off this last earthly
anxiety, cast away these dregs of life, and keep the vessel pure to
receive the precious water of eternal glory.”

“I want to be saved,” murmured María, who now looked more dead than
alive.

“Then free yourself, purge your soul completely, and forgive.”

“I do--I will--I forgive....” The words sounded like the faint
mysterious whisper of a soul escaping, and dying on the lips of the
speaker.

“Forgive, and your salvation is assured.” The priest seemed to grow
taller with his solemn and mystical enthusiasm. María’s was mingled
with a superstitious terror which made her hair stand on end, and hang
dishevelled like grass swept down by the swift rush of a passing train.

“Kiss this sacred image,” said Paoletti, “and forget the
world--totally, absolutely.”

“I do,” murmured María from the depths of the gulf of
self-mortification into which she had fallen.

“That there is such a thing as a man or woman in it.”

“I do,” said the voice, more softly, as though from a lower depth.

“Let it be quite indifferent to you whether your body is at Suertebella
or in your own house. Mortify your self-love to a conviction that the
temporal triumphs of the wicked cannot affect you. Divest yourself of
every feeling of aversion for this house, and remember that the chapel
here is dedicated to St. Luis Gonzaga, whose very image and portrait
our beloved Luis was.”

This reminiscence seemed to rouse María.

“Yes--I am reconciled to the place. The mere sound of your name, my
most blessed brother, fills me with joy. May your glorified spirit come
to succour mine.”

“Amen, amen!” María kissed the crucifix.

“I wish all I possess--if I possess anything--to be given to the poor.
You and my husband will agree about that. I wish to be buried by my
brother’s side, and let Masses be said over my body at the altar of the
saint I most venerate: St. Luis Gonzaga.”

“Yes, my beloved daughter. It cannot matter to so noble a soul that the
altar is at Suertebella.”

“Nothing matters, I forgive with all my heart.--I am reconciled to my
Saviour and can hope!”

Paoletti with outstretched hands and half-closed eyes solemnly, slowly
pronounced absolution.

“Now that you are reconciled to God,” he said with some emotion, “you
can receive the Holy Sacrament.”



CHAPTER XIX.

VULNERANT OMNES, ULTIMA NECAT.


The ceremony took place at dusk with great pomp and unction. The
palatial house of Suertebella was admirably suited to the ostentatious
display of a splendid ceremonial, the tribute of worldly wealth to an
august mystery. Exquisite flowers, and tapers innumerable are thought
the most proper offerings to do honour to the Lord of Lords. Amid such
dazzling accessories even the works of human hands showed to greater
advantage; as though they too borrowed a reflection of glory from the
presence of the Deity. The sounds of weeping which were audible here
and there--in a corner of the Chinese boudoir, or from behind some
Greek statue, whose majestic features looked like an embodiment of the
perfect balance of spirit and matter--added to the melancholy solemnity
of the scene. Piety and dread, the one founded on reverence and the
other on the approach of Death, were blended into a single emotion.

The priest of Polvoranca brought the sacred Host from the church in
a carriage sent for the purpose and followed by a long train in slow
procession. The very horses seemed to understand that they ought to
make no noise and step quietly. The portico was crowded with people,
under the ruddy glare of the torches they held, in liveries and in
plain dress--masters and servants, all alike on their knees.

The little bell with its mysterious sound of consolation and awe,
echoes through the long corridors rousing the marble figures from
their stony dreams. Comic or grave, the works of art seem to put on
a semblance of Christian reverence; the polished floors reflect the
gleam of tapers; flowers and tapestries seem to bow in silent worship.
Footsteps sound heavily on the boards; they might be the distant
roll of muffled funeral drums. Presently they fall more dully on the
carpets, suggesting a subterranean procession. At last they come to
a standstill--there is silence as of the grave: the procession has
reached the chamber of death. Then for a while the whole house is
deserted; all the inhabitants have collected in the immediate vicinity
of the closing scene. Those who cannot actually witness it can fancy
themselves in that room, filled with light and suffering, and they
sob and revel in the picture, imagining what they cannot see. It is
easily conjured up, and their spirits quake before it. In the halls and
passages, all deserted and all blazing with tapers, the still air gives
an impression of suspended breath, speechless and awe-stricken. There
is not a sound--except that in some remote corner there is a rustle--as
it were a whisper--of a woman’s dress that stealthily hastens by and is
lost in the distance.

Time goes on. Then at first a murmuring drone is heard, steps
again--the servants reappear with their heavy tapers--the noise grows
louder--the shadows of the living fall on the painted figures on the
walls and across the waxed floors--the procession closes with a gaudy
array of liveries and dresses of every colour, men and women of every
degree; some quite callous faces, others really sad or pitiful--the
whole with its accompaniment of prayer and response from the priest
and his acolytes. This procession, in which some walk with a sort of
rapture of grief while others are chilled with dread, makes its way
to the sound of a bell rung by a boy--the very boy known to Monina as
Guru--and goes out again through the hall and portico where some kneel
to see it depart and others still follow with bared heads.--Within,
the scent of the flowers hangs about the house as though it were the
mysterious breath of the invisible Guest who has passed through it.

“I am the Way and the Life and the Truth.”

       *       *       *       *       *

All the family had been present; the marquesa prostrate on the floor
in her anguish, unable even to kneel, while her husband and sons
were bitterly and sincerely grieved. When the Sacrament was ended
they separated, all closely attended by their most intimate friends.
Milagros entirely lost consciousness; she was carried to a sofa in the
Chinese room where her kind friends plied her with restoratives and
sought to give her consolation. The marquis, forgetting his interest
in the art and curiosities of the house, fled from his importunate
comforters, and begged to be left alone. He buried himself in a recess
in the tapestried room, behind a marble Satyr, and gave himself up to
meditations on the vanity of human grandeur. Gustavo devoted himself
to his mother and submitted to the jeremiades of the poet of “pious
raptures” and “white souls.” Leopoldo did nothing but sigh; he was
nervous and tremulous, for the cold hand of death had come so near to
him that he fancied he could feel its touch.

Numbers of visitors were departing, and in the park stood rows of
carriages, the coachmen addressing each other by their master’s name:
“Garellano! You there?”--“Cerinola, you’re wanted.”--“Lepanto, move on
a little.”

It was a beautiful night, calm and clear, lighted by a pallid, full
moon; the distant horizon looked deceptively like a calm sea. The
smaller stars sank into insignificance, but the larger ones shone
brightly, trembling rather than twinkling. Nature was lovely and seemed
to breathe forth peace and love. It was an hour to be born in, rather
than to die in.

Nothing can make man feel so dwarfed as the contemplation of the
sublime indifference of the skies to all the woes of earth. The most
disastrous moral revolution could never give rise to the tiniest film
of cloud. All the tears of weeping humanity will never form a single
drop of water in infinite space.

Leon came out of his wife’s room to express his thanks to the master of
the house.

“My dear friend,” said Fúcar, wringing his hands, “accept the sincere
condolences of a much troubled man. I myself am the victim of a very
serious misfortune.”

“Is any one ill?”

“No, no; we will discuss it another day--this is not the time.--Nay,
nay, you have nothing to thank me for; it was no more than my duty. As
you see I ordered them to decorate the house properly--suitably for
so solemn a ceremony, and as befits my firm religious convictions. I
had all the camellias brought in from the green-house, and all the
rhododendrons and orange-trees in those heavy wooden tubs ... but there
are occasions when I grow reckless, when I think even exaggeration is
not out of place.... You shall know all in good time ... we will talk
it over....”

He went off to Madrid in his carriage, reflecting on the catastrophe
in his house, on the bad government of a nation which, the day after
issuing one loan, found it necessary to start another.

Leon went back to his wife’s room. The end was at hand. Rafaela,
Paoletti, Moreno Rubio and himself gathered round María who, since the
last words of confession she had uttered had been rapidly sinking,
and looked every moment more like death. Her face, which nature had
moulded on a type of ideal beauty, looked even more perfect at this
moment, when physical vitality was almost extinct; and its fixity
and whiteness, the immobility of that calm repose on the pillow, the
sculpturesque stillness of every feature and muscle betraying no sign
of suffering, made her look like some marble image of Death--noble and
dignified, with nothing vulgar in its details--aristocratic, if so to
speak, and wrought to grace the monument of some great lady. She lay
motionless; she was privileged to enter the dark realm with tranquil
deliberation and free from bodily pain, as we pass from one scene to
another in the varying phases of a dream.

Her half-closed eyes, under their black lashes, were fixed on her
husband’s gloomy and rigid face. Leon stood by the bed, gazing sadly
at the loveliness to which Death was lending a sublimer beauty, and
reflecting in a vein of sentimental philosophy on this transformation
of his wife into a statue. The solemnity of the scene, the silence,
broken only by her breathing which grew more difficult every moment,
the sad fixity of those dying eyes, fastened on him like a mysterious
tendril that could not be torn away, filled his brain with thoughts of
himself and of her,--two beings who called themselves husband and wife,
and between whom there was no link but that gaze. He sounded the depths
of his soul, trying to find in it some faded remnant of love, that he
might offer it as a last blossom of conjugal devotion to the woman who
lay there dying in the cold solitude of mysticism; but he sought in
vain--he could find none. All the wealth of love and regard that his
heart had once contained had been diverted from its legitimate centre,
and been stored and hidden in another part of his nature.

But though he found no affection, the beautiful creature who had been
the pride of his earlier life filled him with such deep and keen pity
that he could, in that hour of grief, have mistaken it for love. As he
watched the ebb of that life which might have been the crown and joy
of his own, Leon felt the tears rise to his eyes and a tight grip on
his heart. “Unhappy woman!” he thought to himself. “May God forgive you
for all the ill you have done me; I mourn for you as if I had loved
you; and I pity you,--not so much for dying young but for the cruel
disappointment in store for you when you learn--and you must learn it
soon--that the love of God is only a sublimer development of love for
those whom he has created!”

He went closer to her, attracted by her eyes which had opened a little
wider; he looked at the soft, almost invisible down that shaded her
lip, the bright light in her eye, with its tawny hazel iris; he felt
the warmth of her breath--now scarcely perceptible.--Poor soul, poor
soul! There are no words to describe the pathos which she could not
utter in words, but only by the last gleam of those eyes that were
almost extinct.

Behind the external calmness of her attitude and the steady gaze of her
eye, who knows what anxieties, what torments, nay what petty worries
may not have been racking her and dull jealousies vaguely stirring in
the depths of her dying soul--since there was no physical means of
giving them utterance! but the surface betrayed nothing, just as the
frozen surface of a river prevents our hearing the swift and noisy flow
of the deeper current.

Leon understood this. He saw a tear glittering in each of María’s
eyes: the last and only means of expression for the one surviving human
feeling of her soul, brought from the unsounded depths to which the
world still clung by a slender root of desire. Two half-formed tears,
that did not overflow, were all that came to light from that hidden
fount. Leon bent down and pressed his lips firmly to her cold forehead;
as he did so he heard a sigh of satisfied longing. A strong shudder ran
through her frame and in a steady voice she said: “Ah! Thanks!”

There was silence--an awful silence, while María Egyptiaca was tossing
on the threshold of the invisible land, like a grain of sand flung
up by the waves on to a shore where human ken cannot penetrate. The
bystanders murmured with a sigh that she was dead--they might speak
aloud now. Leon closed her eyes with a timid hand--he was afraid of
hurting her.

The priest on his knees prayed in silence, his eyes tightly shut, like
a prisoner whose dungeon windows are closed with double shutters. Leon
stood for a few minutes, gazing at the remains of one of the most
beautiful women of her day--with the added reputation of being the
most saintly of her native city; and he shuddered with grief as he
remembered the past, and realized what his present feelings were. How
sad was the stillness of those limbs not yet cold, of the features in
which beauty so masked death, that it would not have been hard to call
death life and life death.

Deeply agitated, and with his heart oppressed with intense pity, he
quitted the room, feeling as if he had left his youth behind him.
The devout watchers and some of the servants remained there; Paoletti
withdrew to the chapel. The news flew through the house; there was a
sound of weeping, the bustle of attendants rushing for restoratives,
the sighs and lamentations of friends coming and going. Leon took
refuge in the hall of Hymen, where he threw himself on a couch and lay
staring at an antique clock, which bore an inscription on a semicircle
above the dial, like a frowning brow: _Vulnerant omnes, ultima necat._



CHAPTER XX.

IN THE _INCROYABLE_ DRAWING-ROOM.


He called together the servants and a few faithful friends, and having
made all the necessary arrangements he withdrew to the end of the house
nearest to his own room. He felt he must be alone. In the midst of his
regrets he felt a certain satisfaction in having fulfilled his duty to
his wife to the last hour of her life. He ordered his servant on no
account to allow any one to disturb him, and he locked himself in the
_Incroyable_ drawing-room.

At last he could enjoy the solitude he longed for; he could think over
the course of events, his own position and the state of his mind; he
cast a glance at the past, and another at the future.

The painful struggle which he had carried on for so long with an ideal
differing from his own was now over. He was free. But his freedom was
tainted with sorrow, for it had been granted him by death; and he had
been released from his fetters by a beautiful and melancholy being,
whom he could by no means hate but only pity and respect. The obstacle
that death had removed, and which dwelt not merely in his memory but
in his heart, had won his tender sympathy by the mere fact of her
pathetic end. It lent her the halo of innocence, and the radiance of an
angel.

Still dwell as he might on this image--an interesting and touching
one if not actually beloved--he could not help feeling an impulse of
happiness. The future was before him. A door stood open--the door to a
new life, where perhaps he might find the realisation of the dream he
had indulged in so vainly in the past life which was now buried in a
peaceful grave. The sense of recent loss made him afraid to contemplate
the future and kept his fancy so far chastened that he did not rush
into visions of rapturous days nor build castles in the air, either in
the sunny regions of the probable, or the darker chaos of the purely
imaginary. It was with real pain that he felt the homage of pious
respect to the past chequered by visions of the future. But hope, like
remorse, is so inevitably a part of the logic of events that it can
be considered part and parcel of our conscience. We cannot lock the
door on remorse when that intruder knocks and insists on admittance;
and in the same way, we cannot turn away hope when it comes, walks in,
calls us, invades us, takes possession, settles itself deliberately,
and unrolls the enchanting panorama of happiness to come. No wilful
blindness will avail to prevent our gazing on the horizon of life which
is lighted up by hope; nay, there is not a moment, however painful,
which is not linked with those hoped-for moments still remaining
in store in the unknown future. Life is a constant anticipation of
something remote and before us; indeed, nature herself has understood
this law, for none of the superior creatures have eyes behind them.

Thus he sat debating and suffering, not choosing to let his thoughts
wander whither they inevitably tended, and taking a morbid pleasure
in trying to relink his broken chain. He felt a certain pride in
setting aside every thought of his own advantage, however legitimate,
and tried to force his fancy to a dignified indifference to the more
pleasing aspect of the events of the night. But though the spirit has
wondrous sails that bear it onward, and without which it could make no
way, it no less needs that ballast which is called egoism. Egoism is
indispensable; without it the sails would flap idly, and man would be
the toy of the hurricane. With it, and bereft of sails, he would be no
better than a hulk. The perfect vessel is one in which the sails and
the ballast are rightly proportioned.

As he reflected thus, Leon Roch made up his mind that he could not be
a hulk. Nay--he had just flung all his ballast overboard to sail, as
swift as lightning, over the waters of a bright ideal when he heard a
noise--a sound that made him thrill as the rope of the topmast vibrates
before a rising storm--the rustle of a woman’s dress and the murmur of
a sigh. He looked up and Pepa Fúcar stood before him.

Her aspect startled him, he could not ask her any questions. Her face
was like that of a corpse that has risen from the grave in sheer terror
of death. Her teeth chattered as though she were cold. Tragedy itself
looked out of her eyes; in her hand she held a paper.

With a great effort Leon said:

“For God’s sake leave me in peace--my poor wife is dead.”

“And I ...” but she could not speak; she was trembling, as though the
chill of the grave had fallen on her. At last she finished her sentence:

“I came, some time since, to tell you that my husband is alive.”

Leon sat as if he had not heard; it was his conscience which cried out:

“Your husband!”

“Is alive.”

She put her hand to her head, feeling as if all the blood in her body
were surging there.

“Have you seen him?”

“Yes, and I should have died of fear if it had not been that you are
here to protect me against that ruffian!”

These words roused Leon from a sort of stupor.

“I--what have I to do with it?” he exclaimed as though trying to fight
his way out of this terrible nightmare by some hypocrisy of dignity.
“Leave me. Have I anything to do with your husband--or with you either?”

In his soul a storm was raging which he was trying to quell by decency,
honour--walls of sand which broke down at a touch. His brain was in
a whirl, and conscious of no desire but that he could hate instead
of loving her, he ordered Pepa to leave the room. Giving way to an
impulse--whether of disgust or of honour he hardly knew, he said:

“Leave me--I desire you to leave me. Do not disturb me. I do not want
you. I cast you from me--I turn you out....”

“You are not in your right mind,” said Pepa sadly, “you can turn me out
of the room--but not out of your heart.”

“Did you come here to mock me?” he went on wildly, “when I most deserve
your respect.... What you have told me is a lie.”

“Ah! would to God it were!” said the poor woman clasping her hands. “My
father told me the dreadful news this morning; but I did not think he
would dare to appear before me. But this evening, I was sitting in my
room, and I heard a noise in the garden--I went to the window--I saw a
man--it was he. The light from the hall lamp fell on his hated face--I
saw him and knew him. I thought the earth would open and swallow me--I
was shivering with cold and fear. I could not help running--running all
over the house, and fancying I heard him close behind me and felt his
hand on my shoulder. I rushed out of the back door--if there had been
no door I must have jumped out of the window. I went into the yard--I
could not stop--out into the street. There I took a hackney carriage
and flew here to tell you. I waited a long time in the museum; then I
was out of patience....”

“And the child?”

“She is not at home. I should have brought her with me if she had
been; but Papa had taken her this evening to see Countess Vera. I had
intended to go too--but I knew what was going on here and I could not
bear to go into company; I said I was not well enough.”

“And what a time for coming here!” exclaimed Leon bitterly. “You cannot
even comfort me.”

“Why, what do you object to in my presence?”

“It is a profanation, a scandal! I have no words for it; it fills me
with a horror that I cannot overcome.”

“I am not to blame for what has happened.--It is God’s will and
ordering.--But do not let us lose time in lamentations; let us
consider, let us decide what we are to do.”

“Who?”

“We--you and I.--Will you abandon me to my fate in this unequal
struggle? Do you know what that wretch means to do?--My father told me
all about it. He has been two days in Madrid staying in his uncle’s
house on purpose to spy me and watch me.--I do not know who can have
told him, his uncles I suppose. Gustavo is his lawyer, and he is
going to bring a charge against me.--And the base wretch could write
to my father this morning, declaring that he had repented of all his
wickedness, and imploring his forgiveness.--Inside that letter there
was a note for me. Read it.”

Leon’s first impulse was to refuse to look at the letter; but he
snatched it out of Pepa’s hand, he knew not how or why; and read as
follows:

“A man who is dead has no right to expect fidelity in the wife who
survives him. Happily for me, the Almighty saw fit to save my precious
life. As the moment draws near when I may hope to embrace my wife and
child, I have the honour of informing the first of those beloved beings
that I have made up my mind to forgive her, provided she hastens to
submit to my authority as a husband, seeing that my supposed departure
from this world is some excuse for her delinquency. At the same time
if the above-mentioned beloved being persists in believing that I
am still food for the fish in the Gulf of Mexico, I hereby take the
liberty of assuring her that I shall avail myself of the rights granted
to me by law. My dear daughter cannot be allowed to grow up in the lap
of such a mother. I am sure that the lady whose husband I have the
honour to be will not prefer the delights of a criminal attachment to
the sweet duties of motherhood--but, if she should, I shall bring an
action in due form, having an abundance of witnesses who can prove the
preliminary information required by law, and I shall claim my daughter,
since the law will place her in my paternal care as soon as she is
three years old.

“In order that my estimable wife may fully appreciate the strength of
my position as an injured husband, I would beg her to spend an hour in
her father’s library, and there, in the third book-case, on the second
shelf, she will find the last edition of the code, in which interesting
work I would advise her to study Act 20, cap. I, clause II.

  “F. Cimarra.”

“That is the man, all over!” exclaimed Leon crumpling up the paper.
“His style, his insolence, his mean irony, his absolute lack of decency
and feeling. I know the hand that strikes me--God in Heaven! If such
an attack, from such a villain, is not enough to justify a man in
trampling on all law and custom, in forgetting his dignity nay, and his
conscience--if this is not an excuse for rebellion and fury, I do not
want to live!--life is not worth having!” He flung the paper on the
floor and Pepa set her foot on it.

“And I will do the same to you, vile wretch, and your latest Code!” she
exclaimed. Then she dropped on the sofa and bursting into tears she
went on:

“And to think of my baby, my little Monina in the hands of that
ruffian. Monina, who is my only joy, snatched away from you and me! The
mere thought of such a thing drives me mad.”

Leon looked at the floor with stern determination.

“A bold stroke on my part may save us yet,” said Pepa, looking up with
a resolute flash.

“Hush--wait--” said Leon anxiously putting up his hand. “Listen.”

They were silent, holding their breath even.

And they heard in the corridor the slow solemn steps of many men
carrying some heavy burden. The sound came nearer, passed, and died
away. Pepa and Leon each in the attitude of holding the other back,
listened in reverent silence to the procession that passed so near to
them. Their beating hearts seemed to throb in unison. When silence had
once more fallen on the house Leon looked at Pepa who had bent her
head and whose eyes were full of tears.

“Are you praying?” he said.

“Oh! God!” exclaimed Pepa clasping her hands over her heart. “She
is at peace,--I am tortured with grief and anxiety; she is enjoying
eternal bliss as the reward of her virtues, and I am pointed at as a
guilty creature, threatened with persecution, and my wretched heart is
to be made the sport of the tricks of the law.--No, merciful Lord! I
never prayed that she might die in order that I might triumph and be
happy--that I never asked. I was not so wicked, and I do not deserve
such punishment.--I hated her sometimes it is true, but not now, not
now. I do not know whether I am afraid of her now, or whether it is
only reverence that keeps her always in my thoughts--I see her before
me wherever I turn, dead, and yet living.”

“She is happy!” said Leon in dull tones.

“But we have no time to be melancholy. We must decide, and act at once.
Listen, I have a plan; the best, the only plan....”

“A plan.”

“Yes, I will tell you. First I must fetch my child. I feel as if they
wanted to take her from me, as if you and she and I were in danger....”

“Fetch her now, at once.”

“It is only ten o’clock. There is time to go and return quickly. I have
spoken to Lorenzo, our best coachman, and the carriage is waiting.
Will you promise to wait here till I return?”

“Yes, I promise,” said Leon looking at her but beyond her. “Fly and
fetch Monina; bring her quickly; I too am afraid....”

“Till then do not stir from hence....”

She went away through the museum.

Leon for a long time could not restore order in his mind. Before
deciding on any definite course of action it was necessary to form a
clear idea of the situation in its true aspect and proportions, without
regarding it as better or as worse than it really was. But in spite of
every effort he could not think with any kind of lucidity; all mental
discipline was lost to him. His utter physical exhaustion and the
moral chaos that had come upon him had resulted in a sort of lethargy,
in which his brain was lulled to sleep while his senses ran riot in
feverish disorder. We have once before seen him in a similar mood.

The room seemed to assume a circular shape, for his eyes were incapable
of taking exact note of what they saw, and the walls spun round him and
with them in a giddy whirl the objects that adorned them. These were
for the most part engravings, plates, jars, medals and plaster reliefs
of the time of the French _Directoire_, when a revolution in taste
took place as a trivial corollary to the revolution in politics. After
cutting off heads the mania for innovation set to work to reform hats.
Industry had no mind to retire in favour of liberty, and on the top of
the mound of skulls piled up during the reign of terror, it stuck a
dress-maker’s doll.

There were men tightly buttoned into impossible coats, choked in
yards of neck-cloth, and crowned with incredible hats. Some carried
knotted sticks, others twisted canes; they were curled like the Furies
and shod like dancing-masters. Some had huge chains with seals like
bell-clappers hanging from their pockets; in some it was difficult to
distinguish their legs from their skirts, or where the man ended and
his clothes began. They looked like objects in a nightmare, chimeras,
the distorted metamorphosis of human beings into long-legged wading
birds with glasses on their bills and buskins on their feet. The women
displayed more than their ankles in tightly-drawn stockings, and
on their heads wore towers of felt, fur and feathers, buckram, and
ribbands; mounds, weather-cocks, pagodas, spires or tubs. If a crowd of
witches had set up for being fashionable they might have appeared in
such a guise.

All these figures seemed to be flying in a mad race round the room.
They were a motley rabble, a whirling tornado of cudgels, legs, noses,
eyeglasses, petticoats, fans and hats, whence proceeded whistling,
shouts, scoffing and laughter. All humanity rammed into a cannon as
large as the world, and fired off into the air in a million fragments,
could not have covered the sky with a more hideous cloud.

Leon saw a figure step out of the circle and come towards him, and
he suddenly felt an impulse of rage, just like that which he had
felt in the morning against his brother-in-law--a rage which now no
consideration of respect interfered to quell. The hateful figure that
approached him was the most grotesquely monstrous of all that crazy
rout; his mean smile was an insult to human reason, to decency, to
virtue, to everything that distinguishes man from brutes.

“Horrible wretch!” Leon cried--or fancied he cried, rushing upon him,
and seizing him by the collar. “Do you think I am afraid of you? Why do
you take her from me? Yours! do you say she is yours? But I will give
you a lesson and rid society of your vile presence....”

He clutched his victim with all his strength, saying:

“You have rights? I trample them under foot. You have ties? I break
them. You shall soon see what I care for your rights and ties--no
more than for your life, which is full of evil and disgrace. I loathe
you as the embodiment of all the wickedness on earth.--Respect you?
Respect the law, the sacrament which you represent as I respected them
in her who is no longer of this world?--How dare you name her in the
same breath with yourself? In her I respected the austerity of virtue,
of exalted piety, honour, innocence, weakness and beauty. But what is
there in you but corruption, lies and foulest vice?--It is in vain for
you to crave my pity: pity was not made to bestow on venomous reptiles.
Do not ask me to let you have your child.--Shall an angel be thrown
to the dogs?--Your child loathes you, your wife hates you, I--I will
murder you!”

He felt as though he were rolling down a precipice in the dark, with
his victim in his grasp. Then he unconsciously sank into a troubled
slumber that lasted some time. He woke in a calmer frame of mind;
though still confused, he could make out surrounding objects, and by
degrees saw them more distinctly. The figures on the walls were in
their places, as insolently lifelike as ever, not more hideous or more
pleasing than of old. Leon heard not a sound; everything was still. He
looked at his watch; it was half-past eleven.

His first clear idea was that he must at once quit the house and go to
his own home.

He thought of María dead, and of Pepa living,--he saw them as though
they had been standing side by side in front of him; and at the same
moment, as if his thought had evoked her presence, Pepa came into the
room from the museum with Monina in her arms.



CHAPTER XXI.

IMPOSSIBILITIES.


“Here she is!” she said with pride. “You see I have had to carry her.”

She was quite out of breath and could scarcely speak.

The poor little child, sleepy and cross, allowed Leon to take her in
his arms and laid her head on his shoulder only to fall asleep again.

“Have you nothing to say to him?” said Pepa, caressing one of her
little hands. “Mona, my pretty one, tell him what I said to you.”

The little one shut her eyes, murmured a few words and gave herself up
to sleep, without a fear or a care, on the very brink of the gulf that
yawned at her deluded mother’s feet.

“She is asleep,” said Leon gently drawing the curly head to a more
comfortable position on his shoulder. “We must talk very softly, since
the force of circumstances compels us to meet and to speak.”

“We cannot stay here: we should be overheard from the corridor,” said
Pepa taking him by the hand. “Besides, I must show you something which
is in another part of the house. Come with me.”

He obeyed her. Pepa opened the door into the museum. There was a
candle which she lighted; she led the way through a room full of old
pictures, into a second and a third one, Leon carrying Monina, followed
her without a word. At last he saw where he was.

“Here we shall not be disturbed by intruders, or by that mob of
simpletons who have invaded the house,” she said.

They went into the very room where Monina had lain ill with the croup.
A woman was there prepared to take Pepa’s orders; she was the wife of
one of the men about the place whom Pepa could trust, and as her own
maids were at Madrid, she had got this woman to attend to Mona, who
was at once put to bed. Teresa sat down by the bed, strictly enjoined
to call out if any one came into the room; then Pepa led Leon into the
next room.

“This is my own room,” she said, “no one can hear us here. And now for
my secret. Sit down. Mercy how pale you are!--And I?”

“You are pale, too,” said Leon sitting down wearily.

“We reflect each other,” she said, trying to sweeten by a slight jest
the gall they both had to drink. Leon was in no mood to notice the
elegance of the bedroom, in which the magnificence of the decorations
was such as, in the days of faith, was lavished on chapels and altars.
He paid no heed to the handsome tables and wardrobes of ebony inlaid
with marbles, to the monumental bed, also of ebony, which, with its
vast spread of mattresses and pillows, covered with some curious
dark-hued cloth of gold, looked singularly like a catafalque; he did
not glance at the religious pictures in their silver frames--some like
those that his wife had loved--nor at the elegant lamp that had just
been lighted and shed a discreet and moon-like light in the room. At
any other time its splendour would have attracted his attention, but
not now.

“Your secret? What is your secret?” he said impatiently.

“My secret,” repeated Pepa sadly, “it is that we will fly, fly--you
have only to consent, and we will go at once--we three, without being
seen by a soul.”

“Fly! What mad folly!” he exclaimed, striking his forehead with his
hand. “And at such a moment! Your conscience, my own, our very love
itself rises up in protest against such an idea. Can you forget what
has this moment taken place under this roof?--Good Heavens! You expect
me to be devoid of the respect and consideration due to the dead! You
ask me, when these hands have scarcely closed her eyes--! What should I
be if I could consent! I should deserve to fall even lower than those
calumniators who are so ready to call me María’s murderer.--I cannot
conceive that you could love me if you should see me suddenly fall into
such depths of baseness, if I were capable of anything so hideously
iniquitous and immoral.”

Every word was a twist to the rope that was strangling the hapless
Pepa. They both were silent for some time, without looking at each
other. Suddenly she laid her hand on his arm, gazing at him with
haggard eyes, and said in a voice he never before had heard from her:

“Very well--then I will go to my husband.”

“What! What do you mean?”

“There is nothing for it but to submit to him. Can I put it more
plainly. Either I fly with you, or I go into the wild beast’s cage.”
Leon felt an internal shock; his soul seemed to leap up within him, to
bound from its central seat.

“Plainer still?” she went on, going close up to him and leaning over
him so that he might mark the angry glare of her small eyes. “Gustavo
can give you the fullest details. Gustavo came to Papa this morning
to explain to him my husband’s claims. Federico is his client; the
creature has entrusted the defense of his rights to that man.”

“Now I understand why he threatened me with some mysterious
punishment.--And were you present at his interview with your father?”

“Yes.--My father had just been telling me that it was this resurrection
of the enemy that had been troubling him so much--he had heard that
Federico had returned. Pilar told him last night that he was here.--The
shock had quite taken away my breath, when in came the pompous lawyer.
He came, he said, as the friend of both parties, and most anxious to
compromise matters rather than bring them into court. The hypocrite!
His roundabout speeches gave us the sensation of the jarring of a
machine that wants oiling, which tortures one’s nerves and makes one’s
head ache.... My father and he went on for ever so long, beating about
the bush with high-flown phrases that made me furious. I should have
turned the lawyer out of the house. But you can imagine his ponderous
emphasis and the complacent twaddle with which he tormented me--and
after talking for an age, he explained that he had already drawn up a
statement of the case.”

Pepa paused to take breath and recruit her moral energies, of which she
seemed to have an inexhaustible supply.

“My father,” she went on, “put forward a great many arguments and
considerations. I said that the man who was brave enough to take my
child from me, might come and drag her out of my arms. I believe that
in my indignation I said very rude things to Gustavo. He apologized for
his interference, alleging that he was merely an agent. All he wished
was that we should come to an agreement, that the best course would be
a friendly compromise, so as not to give rise to a scandal. I tried to
defend myself against the horrible insinuations as to my own character,
but an uneasy conscience checked me; I blundered and hesitated, and in
trying to prove myself innocent I believe I did the very reverse.”

“And what more did the raving moralist say?”

“He went on for about half an hour quoting laws,” said Pepa, again
trying to infuse a drop of humour in her bitter cup. “He began with
Deuteronomy, went on to the Germans and Tacitus, and then referred to
various modern authorities; finally, thinking he had not bored us
enough, he quoted sections, chapters, schedules--what not? I really was
amused as I listened to him....”

“You were amused?”

“Yes,--I thought what fun it would be to put him in the middle of our
big pond and let him declaim to the frogs and fishes.--He was extremely
tedious, telling me in the most elaborate and polite terms that the law
was entirely on his client’s side, and that nothing could be easier
than to prove me guilty. He has plenty of witnesses.”

“Witnesses? To what? Oh! I do not believe they can prove anything in
spite of his malice. But they can calumniate you, disgrace you, drag
your name and character in the mire; and you may lose your child when
she has reached the age prescribed by law. If we fly we shall only be
helping them to prove their case, and then you would be sure to lose
the child.”

“But if we went a long way off?”

“Do not take a panic. Do not think of flight, which would condemn you
unheard. While he brings an action against you, you must invoke the
intervention of the law, to prevent him from exercising his paternal
authority, on the ground of his extravagance, of misappropriation of
moneys, forgery--a whole catalogue of crimes that it will be easy to
prove if your father will support you.”

“I see what you mean. But you are under a delusion. You do not know the
worst.”

“What is that?”

“You think, no doubt, that my father warmly took my part?”

“Of course.”

“But you are mistaken. Alas for me--and for you, too, dear friend of my
soul--we are alone and undefended; everything, every one, is against
us: religion, laws, relations--the good and the evil alike--the whole
world. When the great Gustavo enlarged on the legal advantage his
client had over me I flew into a rage--still, I controlled myself to
say that Federico could not insist on exercising paternal authority,
and that if he was determined on a quarrel I would accuse him of
the things you know of. My father listened to all this very calmly;
I saw him ready to yield to all sorts of odious compromises.... He
stuttered and stammered, and made speeches that turned my heart cold:
‘My daughter will be reasonable--we must all make some sacrifice--I,
if Federico will meet me half way--well, we must see--perhaps we can
do everything he wishes--the first point is to avoid a scandal.’--And
this point of avoiding a scandal, which he recurred to at least twenty
times, showed me that he is not prepared to defend me as I should
wish.--A compromise! And with what a man! Good God! Then he talked of
coming to terms with Federico’s uncles, two very worthy men whom you
know; one is a judge in the supreme court and the other president of
the examining body--What will come of it all? What do you think of
it--what can you say to it?”

“That if your father deserts you, you must fight alone.”

“Just so, and I will fight alone. Thank you for that. You restore
my courage which my father crushes entirely with his extraordinary
antipathy to ‘exaggeration,’” exclaimed Pepa with eager vehemence. ”If
when you know what my weapons are!--It was to show you those that I
brought you here. You shall see.”

In one corner of the room Leon observed an inlaid cabinet which Pepa
now pointed to; it was not very large, of elegant workmanship, but
evidently solidly constructed. She went up to this bureau, and opening
the outer doors revealed a whole series of smaller doors, pigeon-holes
and drawers. She touched a spring and a secret division flew open.

“This part of the cabinet,” she said with a smile, “is the _Ark of
sorrows_.--Now, do you know that?”

“It is a letter of mine.”

“You wrote it to me when you were at college, preparing for the School
of Mines.... Read it and meditate on what you wrote to me then: ‘That
you were madly in love with me....’ You may laugh now, if you can, at
your youthful folly.--Why did you not treasure up my letters as I did
yours? I did not say that my love was a madness, but it filled my soul
and moulded my nature, as everything does that is an eternal part of
it.--And this; do you know this?”

“It is a tie-pin,” he said taking it up. “It was mine.”

“Yes--you dropped it in our house one day when you came to dinner. You
were engaged then to that poor soul, but I still hoped you would not
marry her.--I found it lying on the carpet and I kept it.--And these
flowers?”

“They are some camellias I gave you once on your fête day--San José.”

“Yes, and the next evening you came to see me in my box and I saw you
looking with the greatest interest at....”

“Poor flowers!--I did not think to see them again, or that they could
speak to me as they do now, reminding me of all the feelings and dreams
of my life. Do you know they are not dried up as I should have expected
them to be after such a length of time?”

“My kisses have embalmed them and kept them fresh--kisses that I have
given them so often!--But we must not delay. Give me all that.”

She replaced the objects in their little nook, with as reverent a touch
as though they had been the most precious relics.

“Stay there in your melancholy little sleep, poor little treasures,”
she said. Then she went on: “Now that you have seen the Ark of Sorrows
I will show you the Chamber of Horrors!”

She opened a concealed drawer and took out a packet of papers
tied together with red tape, like lawyers’ letters. Leon took it,
understanding what it must contain, and they sat down to examine it.

“Here,” said Pepa with a shudder, at the sight of this record of
disgrace, “here is the evidence of the martyrdom I have suffered as
the wife of that reprobate: vile secrets that he confided to me under
pressure of circumstances, when he wanted money. Every page is the
record of some act of villainy that I concealed with the greatest
care; the evidence of crimes that I succeeded in frustrating, or which
remained hidden among the rubbish of some government office. Look at
them, and you will see that I have ample means of proving that my
husband is disqualified not merely for exercising paternal rights, but
even for holding a place in anything like decent society.”

Leon looked through the packet with considerable curiosity, glancing
over some things, and reading others with care. There were letters to
and from well-known firms, private contracts, memoranda, accounts,
papers with government seals, pages which had evidently been extracted
from important documents, and a judicial decision which had obviously
been signed under a false impression or in a moment of surprise.--When
he had examined them all, he returned the packet to Pepa.

“Burn it,” he said.

“What?” she exclaimed, holding out her hand, but not taking it in her
astonishment. “Shall I find them of no use?”

“No,” said Leon.

“How is that? Can I do nothing with them?”

“You can certainly--but....”

“Well?”

“In such painful circumstances it is best to speak quite plainly.--We
owe each other the truth, though it may crush the being we love best in
the world.”

“I do not understand.”

“Burn all this.”

“Why?”

“Burn it,--because you must not use it. It is a two-edged sword which
will wound you when you use it. Forgive my entire frankness; with
this in your hand you could triumphantly attack your husband. Under
the feeblest rule of justice there is enough here to throw a man into
prison.--But if you achieve that the wretch would meet his fate in good
company....”

“In good company?”

“The fact is that, in Spain, men of a certain stamp are never put into
prison even if they deserve it. This horrible revelation might easily
heap disgrace....”

“On others?”

“Yes, and on one whom you truly love and could not bear to injure.
Burn them all, Pepa, for God’s sake.” The poor woman pressed her hand
tightly to her eyes to check her tears. But with a fresh flash of her
unquenchable spirit, she took up the packet and replaced it in the
Chamber of Horrors, which she locked, saying:

“I will burn them at another time.” Then turning to Leon she said in a
low voice:

“Then I can do nothing legally to incapacitate my husband?”

“Nothing.”

“Is it impossible that I should take legal measures against him?”

“Impossible. I understand now your father’s hesitancy, his weak
submission, which is neither more nor less than fear--the fear of going
to law with an enemy who has been his accomplice. It is altogether out
of the question, my dearest.”

“Quite, quite.--Why should we try to find crooked ways of escape? My
friend, my lover--husband--all in all, the only soul to which my soul
is kin, dare as much as I can dare!” she exclaimed with that fervid
courage which sometimes made her so beautiful. “The straight and easy
way lies before us, the only way: Flight. The carriage is waiting;
there is nothing to stop us, we want nothing. You are rich--I am even
richer--everything favours us, urges us to act....”

“Impossible! Madness!” said Leon gloomily.

“Madness? It seems so, I admit, but it is not mad really.--It seems
monstrous and scandalous, and yet to me--knowing the danger and knowing
the foe we have to deal with it is perfectly natural. Do you suppose I
would propose such a thing to you if it were not necessary? You do not
know, you do not see that I and Monina and you are in imminent danger.
I dread some insult--a duel--a murder.--Every moment is precious. He
respects nothing. I expect every instant to see him come in....”

“No, and again no,” repeated Leon with a determination that was almost
cruel.

Pepa, who with all her temerity was still under his dominion, dared no
longer protest against this resolute pride, and insist on taking the
only path to happiness that lay open to her. She was afraid that her
obstinacy might provoke further difficulties, and she stood looking
at the Sphinx, hoping that a solution of the problem might suggest
itself, instead of that which to her looked so easy. At length, tired
of waiting, she said:

“Then if everything is impossible I must do as my father desires me,
and receive the wretch with open arms.”

“You, in the power of that brute!” exclaimed Leon; the cord, stretched
to the utmost, snapped asunder. “Before that can happen I must have
lost every drop of blood in my body.”

“Well, if the monster can be gorged with the Code,” said Pepa
sarcastically, “I will fling my child to him and come to live with you.”

“Part with the child?”

“You see,--that is still more impossible. Whichever way I turn I see
nothing but impossibilities.”

“Nay, there is one point,” said Leon meditating, “from which we can
look and see something besides the impossible.”

“And where is it?”

“You shall know in good time; but first I must talk to your father, and
to your husband.”

“You?”

“Yes. I will speak with him--or with his uncles who are honourable
and respectable men. Can you imagine no way in which the matter may be
settled without flying, or going to law?”

“By my going to him?”

“Without even that.”

“I know of none.”

“But I do.”

“Then you know of some way of working miracles.--No, no miracle will do
here. The only real miracle is flight.”

“No.”

“Then we must fight it; we will fight him together, you and I.”

“You and I? Then we should lose, and your child would be taken from you
without fail.”

“Well then; as you close every way of escape, open another; it is the
least you can do.”

“To-morrow!” said Leon sadly and looking at the floor: “I will open the
only way there is.”

“To-morrow!” cried Pepa with a gesture of indignant impatience, and
then relapsing into dejection as a glowing cinder suddenly becomes mere
ashes. “Your to-morrows kill me!”

“Then you insist on the idea of flying?”

“I insist, because every minute you stay here, that I and my child stay
here, but increases the peril for all of us. This night, which to you
is one of mourning, is the turning point of my fate. He is capable--how
can I tell! I fear the worst and tremble at every sound. I am so
miserably afraid.--I know that if he heard of your being here, he
would come and insult you,--fancy your fighting with him!--I am afraid
of his insulting her, of his coming before me face to face. He always
hated you.... I am afraid even that he might assassinate you.--I feel
as though every conceivable horror were closing round me--I seem to
see blood.--And it would be so easy now to step out of this circle of
terrors. Oh! take me away and give me shelter in your house.”

“Everything in good time.”

“Will you wait for me there?”

Leon was on the point of replying, when he thought he heard steps and
talking behind one of the doors.

“Where does that door lead to?” he asked in a low voice.

“Into a room opening into the Chinese boudoir.”

“You see; they are watching all we do, listening to all we say. Those
are the witnesses preparing their evidence.”

“God knows who they may be! Suppose it were my husband....” said Pepa
in Leon’s ear, like thief talking to thief in the silence of the room
they have robbed. “Suppose he were to come in here. He might kill us
both and hardly be blamed for it. The law would protect him; you are in
his wife’s room.”

A cold shiver ran through every vein in Leon’s body.

“Hush,” he whispered to Pepa. “Some one is spying us. But the voices
are those of inquisitive women and stupid men servants. They have no
weapons but their tongues.”

“And we are here that the witnesses may rehearse their parts!”
exclaimed Pepa starting away from him and rushing to the door, like a
lioness at bay. “Who is there, listening, prying, watching me, with his
ear to my keyhole? I am at home, in my own house, and those who treat
me with disrespect shall suffer for it!” Then turning to Leon she went
on: “And still you doubt! Danger surrounds us--I tremble for your life,
for everything I hold dear.”

Outside the door there was silence; they heard the soft footfall of
women creeping away.

“You hear those cat-like steps,” he said. “Cowards like that do not
kill, but they will scratch our faces.”

As he spoke they both started with alarm at hearing some one come into
Monina’s room. It was the Marquis de Fúcar. He was much agitated.

“I must speak to my daughter,” he said to Leon very solemnly. “What
would become of her if an anxious father.... And then a few words with
you, Leon. No, it will be better that I should talk to you first....
It is a most delicate subject.--I have just come--my dear Pepa, one
moment. Leon and I have two words to say to each other. We will go into
the child’s room.”

Pepa was left alone; she could hear the voices of her father and her
friend, but could distinguish no words. In a few minutes Don Pedro came
back to Pepa alone; she looked anxiously at the door for Leon’s return;
but, as her father told her, they had agreed that Leon should not be
present at the interview between the father and daughter.

Leon withdrew to the room he had been quartered in, not far from the
_Incroyable_ room, and spent a night of cruel anxiety and internal
struggle. At first it was like a violent argument between two
contending parties. Then the turmoil in his soul took the form of
crucial questions which had to be answered. Should he fly with her at
once? This was not even to be thought of.

Fly with her by-and-bye? He could not decide.

Leave her to the tender mercies--perhaps almost to the brutality--of
that other? Out of the question.

For the moment mere decency required him to quit Suertebella, and
withdraw to his own house, where he might further consider what
remained to be done. This was the obvious thing; but even more obvious
was it not to abandon her who so valiantly tried to defend herself. If
there was danger for both of them at Suertebella he could do no less
than remain there in defiance of the world’s opinion. The comments of
others on any business of his had become a matter of indifference to
him, and he decided to act on the dictates of his conscience, and to
defy the judgment of the multitude. By remaining he might baffle the
painful impression left by the visits he would be forced to receive
next day from his friends and acquaintances--a crowd anxious to offer
condolences under any circumstances. Everybody knew what was going
on, and it was quite certain that even his slightest acquaintance
would come to see him here on the scene of his misfortune and of this
exciting piece of scandal. At first he thought he would decline to
receive any one; then he came to a contrary conclusion. No, he would
boldly face the intolerable nuisance of curiosity and impertinence. Why
not? The social swarm, living on the sweets of their own sins flavoured
with the criticism of the sins of other people--he could only despise
and not fear them. Besides all this, Don Pedro had begged him to remain
and lend his assistance in carrying out a beneficent project which
he was turning over in his mind, and which was sure to turn out well
though it was neither a contract nor a loan.



CHAPTER XXII.

VISITS OF CONDOLENCE.


Leon was awake and fighting his mental battle till daybreak; then he
felt very weary, and locking himself into his room, he slept for some
hours with that deep sleep which is apt to visit the condemned wretch
on the last morning, a sort of intoxication produced by violent and
long-continued sorrow.

It was about ten o’clock when he called his servant to help him dress,
gaining much interesting information meanwhile. The señora’s body had
been carried into the chapel by the kind permission of Don Pedro, and
Padre Paoletti had watched by it all night, and would remain there all
day and the night to come, praying incessantly. Padre Paoletti, with
the parish priests of Polvoranca and the neighbouring village, had
performed Mass early that morning at the altar of St. Luis Gonzaga.

Then Paoletti made his appearance to discuss various pious legacies
left by the deceased. To all this Leon gave his most anxious attention,
and he gave further orders to the priest so that whatever remained to
be done might be carried out with all magnificence. The marquis himself
came in, and they sat talking for a long time, without excitement or
hard words, gloomy and calm like a couple of diplomatic envoys from
conquered nations who in the midst of disaster are anxious to checkmate
a victorious usurper.

“It all rests with you,” said Don Pedro again and again, with a
melancholy expression. “You are master of the situation.”

But even after these words the conversation continued for some little
time longer, growing more and more grave and gloomy, till the last
sentences sounded almost like a funeral chant. The conference, like
some on which the fate of nations has turned, ended in a breakfast. But
on this occasion it was eaten in silence and hardly touched, a thing
which never happens in politics.

In the afternoon visitors began to arrive. Leon saw a melancholy
procession of black coats and heard a succession of sighs which
announced the comers like vocal visiting cards. Some with warm and
genuine sympathy, and others with total indifference, expressed their
sorrow at the event of the previous day; but without mentioning what,
thus offering an opportunity for a satirical explanation. Some shook
their heads, expressing: “What a world we live in!” Others squeezed
his hand as much as to say: “You have lost your wife! When shall I
have such a piece of luck!” Two hundred black-gloved hands pressed his
in turn. To him, feeling giddy and stunned and paying no attention
to their monotonous formulas, all they could say sounded like a hiss
and hum of irony. If the _Incroyables_ themselves had taken up their
parable, speaking through the mass of neckcloth that almost covered
their mouths, it could not have produced a more discordant mockery of
woe. Some, of course, had come out of sincere regard; some to witness
this extraordinary scene, this scandal above scandals; to look close
at the widower who, after killing his wife with neglect, flaunted
his connection with a married woman under the very roof where the
innocent victim had died only a few hours since. This idea lurked
perhaps in only a few minds, but it did in some. After paying their
respects to the mourner, several went into the chapel to gaze at the
dead--beautiful even in death.

At last the dismal crowd grew thinner--only three were left--two--one.
He was one of Leon’s most intimate friends and he stayed some time.
Then Leon was alone.

“Can I speak to you?” he heard a voice say at the door and he started
on seeing Gustavo.

“If you will speak briefly and plainly,” he replied.

His brother-in-law slowly approached.

“We are quitting this house,” he said, “which to us is the abode of
sorrow and sin. You, I presume, will remain here, bound to it as you
are by interest and passion. We are glad to be free from you. My mother
desires me to beg that you will not attempt to see her and take leave
of her.”

“I had already made up my mind to forego that honour,” said Leon
coldly. “Pray be good enough to make that clear to all your family.”

“Very good.--I can only congratulate myself on being the very opposite
to you,” said the lawyer laying his hand on his breast. “I answer your
ironical philosophy with Christian charity, and announce to you that my
mother, my father, all of us forgive you.”

“Thank them in my name. I am edified and delighted by such Christian
conduct.”

“We forgive you, not merely for the sad end....”

“What! again?”

“Not merely for the sad end to which you have brought my sister, but
for the insult you have offered to her sainted remains.”

Leon sat silent, dignified and sad.

“Do you protest? Do you deny it?” said Gustavo.

“I deny nothing. I have the pleasure, on the contrary, of leaving you
undisturbed in the unenviable enjoyment of your base imaginings.”

“Then we will drop this odious subject. We are convinced, you are
impenitent; each must hold his own.--Before we part for ever I am
anxious to have you understand that I have done nothing to encourage
Cimarra, or to incite him to attack you. He came to my house, and
consulted me; I advised him and drew up his case. All the rest is your
own doing.”

“Be quite easy. Do not torment your conscience about that man; while
defending his lawful rights, you may possibly guide him into the path
of salvation.”

“Your atheistical mockery cannot disturb my conscience, which, though
it is far from spotless, at any rate can see what is just and right.
Whether Federico’s repentance is sincere or not I cannot tell. But it
is against all sound doctrine to reject a man who confesses his sins
and declares he is resolved to act rightly for the future. If he is
brought to profess repentance, he may be led to desire it; and the
desire is half-way to the accomplishment of the fact. In this respect
this man’s form of evil has an advantage over your hardened disbelief,
since you can never confess nor repent.”

“I do beg you,” said Leon “to spare me the soporific treatment of
your sermons. The strangest thing about them is that they are in fact
grossly heterodox. A pretty apostle the Church can boast of!--Polito
might have come to announce the forgiveness of the family, and he would
not have preached to me.”

“He wished to come, but mamma would not allow it. His impetuous nature
fills her with alarm. We all hope that as he is about to undertake the
sobering duties of married life he may settle down, and break himself
of the vices which scandalize us.”

“Leopold is going to be married? Allow me to congratulate the lady,
though I have not the pleasure of knowing her.”

“The difficulties between my family and the Villa Bojios were all
removed last night when the young lady’s mother came to call and was
most lavish in her affectionate condolences. The Villa Bojios have
lately lost a son, and the mothers mingled their tears; it was agreed
that Leopold and Susana should be married as soon as we are out of
mourning.”

“Congratulate your mother for me--I wish her every success.”

“The covert satire of your tone is worthy of your utter disregard of
our sorrow.--I have had nothing whatever to do with this business,
and you yourself know very well that I have bewailed from my heart
all the disgrace which has fallen on the family in consequence of my
father’s misdemeanours, my mother’s folly and Polito’s vices. You, when
I believed you to be honest and honourable, were the confidant of my
griefs. Now, when we recoil from you with invincible repugnance, I feel
I must tell you that I cannot eat a morsel of bread in peace until we
have repaid to the uttermost farthing a man who does not deserve to be
our creditor.”

“If you mean me, I look for no indemnification. I am sufficiently
repaid with ingratitude.”

“That is all very fine,” said Gustavo sarcastically. “What I have said
I have said. Now, we meet no more. My last word is to acknowledge
that I was mistaken in saying that you would die of rage: You will
live on cynicism.--I know, the carriage is waiting and the trunks
packed for a theatrical flight in defiance of social decency and the
laws of morality. Well, well; it is no more than might be expected of
you.--_Bon voyage_, son of Satan....”

“Your penetration and information as to my proceedings are really
remarkable!--Now, if you please we will part.”

“It is my desire.”

“And I insist upon it. Good-bye.”

Not long after, peeping through the blinds, he watched the departure of
what had been his family. The marquis, feeble and crushed, was almost
carried by the poet who was still in attendance. His wife, really
broken-hearted, was a pathetic object. Polito, his throat muffled up
in voluminous wraps, gave one arm to the young lady who was to be
his wife, while in the other he held a dog. Milagros was supported
and almost lifted into the carriage by Pilar and Señora de Villa
Bojío.--Whips cracked, the horses pawed, and one, two, three, four
coaches rolled across the park bearing away the dozen or so of human
creatures, to whom the solemnity of a recent sorrow lent factitious
respectability.



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE VICTIMIZED HUSBAND.


As evening drew on Leon went into the room where his wife had died.
There were a variety of objects left there which he wished to collect
and remove. The house was deserted; he could hear the echo of his own
steps, and the few lights cast deep shadows. He thought he perceived a
figure coming in from the portico to the principal corridor, walking
stealthily and softly like a thief, listening to every sound and
keeping a sharp look-out. The first flash of suspicion followed by
a noiseless explosion of hatred, as the shot follows the match, so
startled Leon that his immediate impulse was to hide himself, and watch
the intruder unseen. He shrunk behind a hanging and saw him creep by:
It was He. Leon perceived it more from an instinctive loathing than by
seeing him; just as, in a different sense, a spirit of divination is
born of lofty and passionate love.

Cimarra passed him with a cat-like step, prying about cautiously as he
went. He turned down a carpeted gallery where the walls were covered
with a valuable collection of political caricatures from the comic
papers and broadsheets of every country, displayed in a chronological
series--the history of a century in mockery and laughter. In the
corners were four old-fashioned screens covered with water-colours for
which there had been no room on the walls. Leon slipped behind the
nearest and watched the intruder, who sat down on a large divan in the
middle. To account for what followed it is necessary to explain that,
on arriving at Suertebella, the new-comer had held a colloquy with one
of the under-servants on whom he could depend.

“Be so good,” he said, “as to go to the chapel and say to Padre
Paoletti that I have come here to speak with he knows whom; and that I
will wait for him in the gallery of caricatures. Show him the way up
the stairs to the tribune, across the old picture-room, and down the
little passage.”

Soon Leon heard the familiar leaden shuffle. The door of the little
passage opened and the priest came in. Leon could see him perfectly,
because the gallery had glass doors to the entrance hall which was
always brilliantly lighted up at night.

Cimarra hastened forward to meet the confessor; they sat down side by
side.

“Your respected uncles,” the priest began, “sent me word last evening
that you wished to speak with me; but I did not suppose that it would
be to-night, or in this house, but later, and in the confessional.”

“I have things to discuss with you later and in the confessional,”
replied the other. “But you understand that here, and to-night, I have
something else to talk about. That is to say, dear Señor Paoletti, that
there are two subjects to be discussed--one of considerable interest,
and the other very urgent.”

“Then begin with what is urgent, and leave what is merely interesting
till a future opportunity.”

“To begin with what is urgent--I take it for granted that you know all
the secrets of this house; I do not of course mean the secrets of the
confessional.”

“I know none whatever,” said the priest drily.

“That merely means that I have no claim on your confidence. But, in
short, do you not know what my wife proposes to do? I hear she intends
to fly with her lover.”

“Sir,” said Paoletti sternly, “I know nothing whatever of what you
expect me to tell you; I never intrude where I am not invited, and it
is a matter of perfect indifference to me whether the guilty persons
escape or no. I am here to watch and pray by the body of a sainted
daughter and friend, whose spiritual director I had the honour to be.”

“I know it.--But you are respected and esteemed by all. Don Pedro
highly appreciates you; my wife is very religious, and when she is
in trouble she likes to talk about the Virgin _del Cármen_, and the
saints. It might have happened that she should have sent for you
to console and strengthen her this morning, and this evening you
might--how can I tell? You might have known things of which I am
ignorant, and you might--you might, just possibly, have been able and
willing to give me some information and extricate me from my position
of uncertainty.”

“I know nothing; nor, if I did, could I lower myself to play the part
of the spy and tale-bearer, which you seem to expect,” exclaimed
Paoletti rather hotly. “You do not know me; your worthy uncles have
failed to explain to you the sort of man I am. My office is to
console the afflicted and reprove the erring; I have no concern with
worldly affairs. Those who need me will find me nowhere but in the
confessional. Good-night, Caballero.”

He rose to go. Cimarra detained him, holding his robe.

“But I have much to explain to you,” he said. “Do not judge me so
hastily. If I were to confess, if I were....”

The priest sat down again.

“No, I cannot confess here and now. To you it would be an act of sheer
hypocrisy. Such a farce would ill-beseem me. I wish to speak the truth,
even though the truth that comes from my lips should deal ruin and
terror like ball from a cannon. Allow me, in the first place, to tell
you something about myself, that you may the better understand the
urgency of my claims.

“I must begin by saying that I always was fully conscious of my own
slender merit, and that the moral world was to me a citadel with closed
and barred gates. I never had any wish to expose myself to the labour
of besieging the citadel or scaling its walls. It was my fortune--or
misfortune, which, it is hard to decide--not to believe in God or
in anything beyond this atrocious barred dungeon in which we are
confined; and with this comfortable lack of creed I enjoyed a tranquil
frame of mind which lulled my spirit to lethargy and enabled me to
remain supremely indifferent to the good or bad opinion of others.”

The priest, really horrified at hearing such an appalling profession
of faith, again turned to go, saying that he was open to confession,
but did not profess to tame monsters; but Federico only smiled, and
detaining the Italian he went on:

“But stay. I have something to say that may perhaps please you
better.--I am weary of it all. I have been rich, and poor; powerful,
and a beggar; I have seen all that is to be seen and enjoyed all that
is to be enjoyed. With regard to women, I may say that on the whole
I despise them; and I have no belief in anybody’s virtue. If you ask
my opinion of men I can only say with the sceptical poet: ‘_Plus je
connais les hommes plus j’aime les chiens._’”[A]

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

      [A] The better I know men, the better I love dogs.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

“Allow me to advise you to go and live in the company of dogs, or to
found a canine colony where you will feel more at your ease,” said
Paoletti with grim irony. “I am only waiting to see if any spark of
light will flash from the horrible blackness of your soul. But I see
none.”

“I am coming to a delicate point. You know all about my wife.--When I
was supposed to be dead she fell in love with another man. I believe
she had loved him long before. Pepa hated me from the day she married
me. In point of fact I did everything to justify her hatred. I treated
her ill, I degraded her, I compromised her again and again by my
pecuniary delinquencies; I spent her money on other women; my language
was not refined, any more than my behaviour; I looked upon her as a
useful piece of property, neither more nor less.”

“Enough of this!” exclaimed the priest, starting away from him as
though he were some loathesome vermin. “If this is a confession of
sin I will listen to it; but if it is merely an outrageous display of
hardened cynicism I cannot--I cannot bear it.”

“You have interrupted me at the most important point. I was just going
to say that now my wife to a certain extent commands my respect;
that I acknowledge myself guilty towards her, and in every way her
inferior, that I deserve her contempt; that it is only natural, and
even legitimate in theory--I may warn you that I too have theories--and
I admit that, in theory, it is only natural that Pepa should love
another man: as natural as that the birds should build their nests in
the branches of trees rather than in the jaws of foxes.”

“It never can be natural and legitimate for a married woman to love
any man but her husband,” said Paoletti very gravely. “What would have
been natural and legitimate is that your wife, instead of listening to
the addresses of a married man and contributing to the martyrdom of a
perfect angel, should have dedicated to God the affections you have
ceased to deserve.”

“Mysticism is a figurative fount which cannot satisfy the thirsty. She
did not crave to love a phantom but a man. I have reasons for believing
that she has loved him from her childhood. In one of our violent
quarrels, which used to be of daily occurrence, she said: ‘You are not
my husband and never have been; my husband is there....’ and she tapped
her forehead. Another time she said: ‘Marrying you was a deliberate
act of self-degradation.’ In short, respected father, at this moment
I confess to a grain of respect for the wretched soul who has been my
victim. As a woman I do not care a straw for her. She does not appeal
to my heart, to my imagination, or to my senses. So far as love goes, I
could almost let her go, let her break one tie to form the other; but
my pride rebels. Another thing I may tell you is that I hate the man; I
have hated him ever since we were at college together; I believe that
my aversion and her love have run in parallel grooves till an unlucky
moment when they came into collision, and broke out in conflict,--and I
must conquer--I must conquer.”

“You have only to assert your rights. But this is no concern of mine; I
plead not for law but for virtue.”

“I am coming to that point. We have here an alliance of virtue and law,
and both are on my side,” Cimarra went on with increased vehemence.
“I am the stronger and she the weaker party; I am the defendant, and
they are the criminals. I am protected alike by religion and morality;
by God and his laws, by the Church and by public opinion. Nothing, no
one, can protect them. The ground on which I stand is solid earth,
the best suited to my purposes, desiring as I do to be reconciled to
the powers that rule the world, and to become a useful wheel in the
social machine. Feeling secure in my position, and upheld both by human
Justice, and by what you call divine laws, I intended to prosecute them
on legal grounds, to exhaust every means, to worry them out of their
lives and give them no peace nor breathing time; to cover them with
dishonour, heap disgrace on them ... to attack them with the code in
one hand and the anathemas of the Church in the other. These were my
weapons; but, you must know, that my worthy uncles and my respected
father-in-law have spent this whole day in concocting a compromise. Oh!
my illustrious father-in-law is an eminently practical man, with an
intense horror of exaggeration. He is as fond of me as he might be of
the toothache. Unfortunately for him, this man, who is all-powerful in
society, and who has a right to treat Spaniards as if they were slaves
he had bought or could sell, can do nothing to hurt me. The arm of the
law, if he used it to attack me, would turn and wound him too.”

“And you say that Don Justo Cimarra and Don Pedro Fúcar have been
planning a compromise?” said Paoletti, who, in spite of his resolution,
was yielding a little to curiosity.

“An amicable separation.--But as yet there is nothing proved,
my dear sir. All must depend on our philosopher, geologist,
cave-hunter.--Gustavo told me that everything was prepared for their
flight, and I believe him--I must confess that I should do the same in
their place!”

“So far as I am concerned I can only say that the matter does not
interest me in the least,” said Paoletti, subduing his curiosity. “You
are talking of law-suits, not of a case of conscience.”

“I will go on to speak of my wife. You know that I have a daughter?”

“Yes,” and again the priest felt the prick of curiosity.

“Monina is my child. Well, _señor cura_, the only being in the world
who can rouse my soul to anything like an emotion, the only creature
who, now and then, makes me think and feel unlike my habitual self, for
whom a smile still lingers in that dark, unfathomed region which we
call the soul--for lack of any other name, is my little daughter. I do
not know what comes over me; when I was at the point of death in that
horrible ship with its cargo of petroleum, everything vanished from
my mind but the sense of danger, and in the midst of that danger that
little golden head rose up before my eyes. I fancied that I clung to it
to save myself in that wretched leaky boat which seemed every moment to
be sinking. You will smile at my folly.--I used to play with her, to
make her laugh that I might laugh too....”

“At last, at last,” said Paoletti with satisfaction. “Here is the spark
I was looking for.”

“No--do not suppose there is any particular virtue in it; it is only
that my little fair-haired child--or toy--with her angel’s eyes, has a
wonderful charm for me. I fancy I love her, and should love her more if
I had her more constantly with me. I hear she was near dying of croup.
I long to have her in my arms. What do you say to this?”

“I say that there is no soil, however barren, from which no flower can
spring.”

“This has nothing to do with flowers.--What I want to tell you is that
as I passed through New York, I saw, in a shop window, a little toy
carriage full of dolls and pulled by a string, and I bought it to bring
to her.”

Paoletti smiled.

“I see all your pride, your indifference to your wife, your hatred of
your rival, the law-suit and possible compromise; I see your atrocious
atheism, your passions, your inhuman cynicism,--your love for the
child, and the little carriage pulled by a string,”--Cimarra had it in
his hand.--“But I do not see what I can do in the matter.”

“Now we have come to the point, to what, as I said, is urgent. I am
most anxious to know what they are plotting.--Is he here to-night? I
was told he had some friends to see him. I am perfectly convinced that
you know it; my wife is sure to have told you.”

“To have told me? I believe the lady has a particular dislike to me.”

“You must know through the Condesa de Vera, who is my wife’s most
intimate friend; she, if I mistake not, is one of your flock.”

“I know nothing, and they have told me nothing,” said the priest with
some asperity. “And even if I knew....”

“Oh! you need not be afraid that in case of their attempting to fly, I
should go in for high tragedy, and make a scene. I do not challenge or
kill. I am more philosophical than all your philosophers put together.”

“I can only repeat that I know nothing and want to know nothing.”

“It is impossible that such a man as you should have come to the house
two days in succession and not know everything that goes on in it.”

“But I am not a friend in this house--I am a foe.”

“Then as you cannot satisfy my curiosity,” said the intruder sadly,
“you cannot help me I suppose?”

“In what?”

“To see the child.”

“It is vain to ask me a favour which is altogether out of my sphere.
Nothing on earth would induce me to take a step beyond this room. Apply
to the servants.”

“No one will do a thing for me for fear of Fúcar. My affectionate
father-in-law has given strict orders that I am not to be admitted. All
the way from the gate I only found one servant who would take a bribe.
Even the dogs hate me here.”

“Steal in like a thief.”

“I am afraid of being seen.”

“Go in as a father.”

“I cannot, at any rate at this hour.”

“Much less can I.”

“If the Countess de Vera is here and you say only two words to her--if
you only tell her with your usual eloquence what I want, what I
wish--she will not refuse you. I solemnly swear to you that I have
no evil intention whatever. I only want to give my child three good
kisses....”

“_Vade retro._ I do not trust your intentions which may be what you
describe them, or may be utterly vile.”

“I will not insist. At any rate I have the grace not to be an obstinate
beggar.--The only important subject of our interview may be regarded as
disposed of. You will forgive my boldness.”

“It is forgiven.”

“The other question of interest which I proposed to discuss with you,
and which can be postponed, is closely connected with what I have been
saying. Supposing my wife is subdued by the threat of the law, controls
her passion and sends the geologist about his business.... In a short
time it will be quite easy for you to become Pepa’s spiritual director.”

“I do not go where I am not bidden.”

“Pepa has many friends who are your daughters in the Church, who
form, if I may say so, your spiritual family. The Condesa de Vera in
particular....”

“Yes, I am her director; she honours me by her friendship.”

“Just so. Then if you chose you could be Pepa’s. Her lonely life would
predispose her to mysticism. The mind of a poor weak woman, when her
illusions are past, turns to the altar.”

”Well, you may have a really good and honest purpose in suggesting
this. If what you desire is that I should interfere to make the best
of an unhappy marriage, and snatch back to God two souls that the
Devil claims, the idea seems to me a good one. But to that end, you
must begin by abjuring your atrocious opinions, and become a sincere
Catholic.”

“So far as that goes, I have no wish to disturb the general concord. I
am most anxious to be reconciled to society, to show my respect for its
venerable institutions, to settle down and give rise to no scandals,
above all not to set a bad example to the lower orders, who, if they
see a man in broad-cloth neglect going to church, think that they may
commit robbery and murder. I have no intention of starting afresh with
a map in my hand, or of toiling in business to accumulate a fortune
for myself. I am sure that I shall get on and that even Fúcar, who
thinks himself a little Almighty, will cease to call me a ruffian
and even agree at last to make bargains and do business with me. The
present generation has a powerful gift of forgetfulness. It is very
easy to rehabilitate oneself in a society like ours, a medley of the
most dissimilar elements--all bad, and governed by the worst--the love
of show. In quite half of the households of a certain class we see
the _ménage à trois_; public administration ought to be called public
prevarication; high and low are distinguished by nothing on earth but
the different clothes under which they hide their grossly scandalous
conduct; politics are a system of pillage; the people are ruined in
taxes and enrich themselves by lotteries; justice is the curse of fools
and the blessing of the knowing; and if two or three agree to call some
puppet a remarkable man, every one believes them. Nothing is easier
than to make a robe of honour and put it on, to become a distinguished
patriot and public character, and see your portrait on the penny
match-boxes. I would undertake, if I gave my mind to it, to make people
think I was worthy to be canonized within a couple of years. But I am
not prepared to turn bigot just yet.--As to our marriage do not worry
yourself with trying to patch that up--it is past remedy; but if she,
from an honest instinct, packs off her lover, then make a saint of
her, and you will comfort her greatly. I should be glad to see my wife
devout, pious and good; I like your edifying folks. Leave me to recover
my own footing in society in my own way. What I ask of your goodness
and Catholic feeling is that, after you have gained the control of
Pepa’s mind--without any idea of bringing us together, for which I
do not care in the least--you will induce her to allow me to see the
child. There would be no need for my coming here; I would rather not,
I have always hated Suertebella; but some one could bring her to see
me--you, for instance. Let us say she should come and dine with me
twice a week, or once a week: nothing more than that.”

“What depths of utter apathy!” exclaimed Paoletti with intense
bitterness. “I have seen many men of such temper in society in Spain;
but you, with your detestable pessimism, could give them points and
beat them all.”

“I at any rate say what I mean.”

“The long and short of it is, Señor Cimarra, that you are in my eyes so
abominable that I cannot see my way to gratifying the only legitimate
desire which lurks, almost invisible, in the blackness and barrenness
of your soul. Do not count upon me for anything. If your wife repents
and dismisses her lover, and if I am called in--which is no doubt,
very possible--to direct her conscience, my first task will be to cure
her of her sinful griefs; and then I will turn her thoughts to God,
who is the only refuge of those poor women who have been so rash as
to love unworthy men. What joy for me to win a fresh battle against
Satan. You--you do not exist, you are nothing to me! Do not keep me any
longer; let me return to watch by the beloved dead.”

“I shall not go into the chapel; I have a horror of dead people. Pardon
me for having disturbed you, reverend Father.”

“I will not neglect to pray for you.”

“I do not refuse--on the contrary, I thank you.”

“I look forward to the day of your repentance.”

“Thank you; you are most kind. It is more than I deserve. Good-bye, a
thousand apologies.”

The little priest went softly away; his heavy steps died away in the
passage which led to the chapel. Cimarra went out the same way; but
he went down the steps and not into the little sanctuary where the
illumination of mortuary torches filled him with more dread than
respect. He crossed the deserted park, shrinking into the shadow of the
trees when, now and again, he heard footsteps. Every now and then he
felt his pocket to be sure that he had not lost the toy for Monina.

Presently, in the course of his nocturnal expedition, he saw Fúcar’s
carriage drive in at the gates, and from his safe distance he addressed
him in thought rather than in words: “Ah! my friend, what eyes I caught
you making this afternoon in the street at the fair American who came
with me from the States. Jupiter! you wished she was for you I’ll
wager.”

He saw the marquis get out of the carriage with another man, and
muttered to himself: “My uncle is with him! What is up I wonder. Oh!
dread curiosity! Why do you torment me as if you were jealousy?”



CHAPTER XXIV.

THREE AGAINST TWO.


The next evening, at the hour fixed by Don Pedro, Leon made his way
to Pepa’s sitting-room. She was there with her father and a third
person. Monina, who had been dancing and skipping round her mother, was
condemned to retire to bed; a banishment involving floods of tears, but
against which there is no appeal for the little ones when their elders
have business to discuss. The marquis half-buried in a deep arm-chair,
with his fat chin resting on his shirt front, his lips sticking out as
if too much flesh had gone to the making of his face, his brows knit
under a labyrinth of wrinkles--the scars, as it were, won in a hundred
fights against “all exaggeration,” was an impressive personage. The
third of the trio was an old man with white hair, a dry thin face, and
excessively short-sighted, to judge from the strong concavity of his
gold-mounted spectacles which were astride on a nose that, for size and
curve, was more like a pelican’s bill than anything else in creation.
His manners had the gravity of a student mixed with the patriarchal
frankness of a man of good birth. They were all in mourning, and the
grief of Pepa’s heart overflowed her eyes.

“Here he is,” said Don Pedro taking his daughter’s hand caressingly.

“So I see,” said Pepa looking up at Leon and then looking away. “And
now he is to repeat what my father told me, and I would not believe.”

“My dearest child,” said Fúcar, “this is a case of honour, of duty, of
social decency, of morality--both in the true and in the more customary
sense. Consider.--You cannot have everything you want.”

“I know it, I know it,” murmured Pepa, fixing a stony gaze on the
table-cloth before her.

“Much as it costs me,” said Leon feeling that brevity was most to the
purpose. “I must declare that I see it to be an inexorable duty to part
from the woman I love, and give up every hope of ever making her mine.”

No one said a word in reply. Pepa let her head drop on her father’s
shoulder and closed her eyes. Leon took one of her hands, which she
passively surrendered, and said with much feeling:

“It is the greatness of a crisis that tests greatness of soul.”

Again there was a pause; then Don Pedro, swallowing half his words and
twisting his mouth nervously, began as follows:

“And I declare that we have come to this peaceable and happy compromise
on the strength of an agreement concluded between Don Justo Cimarra and
myself, by which my respected friend undertakes that his nephew will
withdraw his action....” Don Pedro fairly choked. Don Justo came to the
rescue.

“And renounce the rights he might legally assert.”

“Just so, he renounces all use of the weapon that the law places
within his reach, on condition that he, who by every theory of law,
morality, and religion is out of place in this miserable conjunction
of three persons where there should be but two, shall disappear
completely.--My dear friend,” he went on, turning to Leon with a
conciliatory smile, “you, by retiring from a position untenable by law
and morality--impossible, in fact, but for the corruption and laxity
of modern society--you have saved us from a disgraceful scandal. I can
only thank you with all my heart, and....”

Again Don Pedro cast an appealing glance at his friend.

“The circumstances of the case,” Don Justo went on emphasizing his
speech with his forefinger, “are exceptional. For my part, I am
thankful that the quarrel should be made up. I was the first to advise
my nephew to withdraw from it, if we could only insure the permanent
absence of this gentleman...” and the finger pointed at Leon. “But
as the circumstances of the case are so exceptional--I must repeat
it--and as the very small moral worth of my nephew himself would seem
to justify that rebellion against his authority which we are anxious
to avert...” and the finger pointed in mute accusation to Pepa. “I
was, as I say, the first to advise the concessions demanded by this
gentleman...” again the finger indicated Leon, “and which, I admit,
are quite in the spirit of true judicial prudence. In view, then, of
all these facts I thought it well to draw up in concert with my friend
here...” the finger after wavering like the needle of a compass turned
to the marquis--“the articles of an honourable peace, I pledged my word
of honour that my nephew should accept the condition proposed by Señor
Don Leon and fulfil his part of the compact.”

The worthy gentleman, who paused now and then in his speech to give it
greater emphasis, here stopped for a moment, and then went on:

“The condition laid down by this gentleman, and agreed to, by proxy,
by what I am obliged to term the innocent party--in the eyes of the
law--is that this lady shall live with her father and her daughter,
here at Suertebella; and that my nephew shall never, under any
pretence, cross the boundary line of the estate, thus effecting
a separation which, without being hostile, shall be absolute and
complete.”

“And everything has been settled in a satisfactory manner,” said Don
Pedro, relaxing his frown and stroking his daughter’s hair with his
heavy hand, while she said not a word, and did not even open her eyes.
“Time, time,” he said, “time is the remedy for all things.--Do you not
think so, Leon?”

“I, for my part,” said Leon, “do not expect time to give me what it
has not got to bestow. I hate to forget--it is the death of the heart.
My feelings will be the same that they are now to my dying day--but
at a distance, where I can never be troubled by a wretch whom I have
always despised, and always shall despise. I have spent my life in the
pursuit of an ideal--the ideal Christian family: the centre of peace
and corner-stone of virtue; the stepping-stone to moral perfection; the
fount in which each and all may be baptised and purified. Such a home
is an education; it compels us to grow to a higher standard and rubs
off the asperities of our nature, giving us the most precious lessons
by placing in our care the men of the future, that we may train them
from the cradle to years of discretion.--And all this has been, and
must ever be, to me no more than a dream. Two women have crossed my
path, Religion gave me the first, and religion, wrongly understood,
tore her from me. The second would have given me herself--gave me her
heart and soul; and I took the gift; but the law deprives me of it,
and I have no choice but to resign it. All my attempts to achieve the
lovely reality will be no less ill-fated. Society threw this woman into
the arms of another man, and if I claim her I condemn her and myself
to a life of unqualified disgrace, on a level with the basest of those
I most abhor. Nay, and our dishonour becomes a legacy to innocent
creatures, guiltless of the errors committed before they were born, but
nevertheless coming nameless and dishonoured into the world.”

He kissed Pepa’s hand which she had left in his, and then went on:

“The presence of these two persons, who will be scandalized, no doubt,
by my words, shall not prevent my expressing my feelings.--To me, this
woman is mine, mine by the divine law of love. I, radical as I am, bow
to this law of the heart; but when I wish to put these anarchical views
into practice, I tremble and dare not. The fierce rebellion lingers
in my soul and cannot venture forth. Those who cannot transform the
world and uproot its errors, must respect them. Those who cannot see
the mysterious limit-line between legality and iniquity, must yield to
the law with the patience of slaves. Those whose souls rise with cries
and struggles in a revolt which seems legitimate, are nevertheless
incompetent to place a sounder constitution in the place of that which
crushes them, and can only suffer in silence.”

“We are all slaves to the laws of the age we live in,” said Don Justo
sternly.

“That is true,” Leon said; he was evidently speaking for Pepa’s
benefit alone. “Our spirits are but a part of the spirit that made
those laws; we are so far responsible for their defects that we must
accept the consequences. If every one who felt injured by the machine
in which we move--the majority in lazy indifference--if the sufferers,
I say, were to set to work to alter it and could not repair it, what
a world this would become! We must submit to be torn and mangled,
secretly bewailing our misery, and only wishing we could live to see
new machinery at work. But even that, I have no doubt, would hurt some
one, since every improvement in one phase of human life brings some
fresh form of suffering. Life is an aspiration--a thirst which revives
as soon as it is quenched. If we could conceive of immortality under
no other aspect, we could imagine it as consisting in seeing ourselves
constantly under the dominion of--whether in small actions or in great
ones--and constantly enchanted by the lovely vision of that distant
horizon we call perfection.--If you, poor soul, could only know how I
have fought with myself since we last talked together. I reconsidered
every impossible alternative. It would be so easy to escape from this
maze by simply following the impulse of my heart, and shielding myself
behind theoretical and selfish arguments which no one but myself could
follow and which even I could not distinctly marshall.--You were
ready to come, the carriage was waiting, all the means of flight were
ready, there was not an obstacle in sight and we could have afforded
to think lightly of the opinion of society.--To be off and happy in
some distant land! How easy and pleasant it seemed! You--not my wife--I
your lover; both living in the practice of social anarchy, our illicit
connection an outrage on the noblest and most necessary institution of
human society; I haunted by a ghost, and you by a living man, who on
every possible occasion would proclaim and urge his rights; neither of
us having any claims against others while the whole world would have
claims against us. Your daughter, again, growing up with this horrible
example before her innocent eyes; and on what moral ground could you
damn me if one day she felt inclined to become the mistress of the
first man who fell in love with her? When once we break the bounds,
we have no choice but to cast off all the ties that give order and
stability to the world.--Yes, I thought over everything that could be
said on either side. Then I considered whether I could not stay here,
and soothe my anxieties with the satisfaction of being near you, even
though I should neither see you nor speak to you. But that again cannot
be. If I stay within reach of you, some time or other, almost without
intending it, we should be certain to meet. Then that man I loathe
would interfere--I should be unable to control my hatred, and I know,
I feel, it would end in bloodshed. If I do not go away--far away, and
soon--I know how that baleful impulse would grow stronger in me; it
is like some hideous bidding to kill. Under my calmer reason turbid
springs seethe in my soul, surging up to sweep away every obstacle.
There is that within me which urges me to violence and rebellion; but
I lack courage, for I reflect that nothing permanent, right, or moral,
can be built up on anarchy or on blood. I take refuge in my conscience,
and I have decided to go. I go to save your honour and the happiness of
your child.”

Pepa did not lift her head nor open her eyes and she spoke with bitter
despair.

“I am incapable of argument; I seek one, but in vain; I look into my
soul and I find nothing but love.”

Then she slowly raised herself and opened her hot and aching eyes; but
she looked at no one as she added:

“I am punished. When I see that the fetters which link me to a villain
cannot be broken, I cannot help remembering that the fault is all my
own.--Yes, mine; for in a fit of jealous pique I bound myself for life
to a worthless wretch. I flung myself into evil; degrading myself and
my father, and turning marriage into a wicked and hideous farce.--Why
had I no patience? I rushed into marriage with a strange impulse
towards martyrdom. It was the mad vanity of anguish which seeks to add
to its tortures.--Then, when you thought I was free, why did you seek
me? We both made a cruel mistake in binding ourselves with intolerable
bonds. As soon as you were free, I was suddenly caught again, and in
that fatal pillory; but I hoped some chivalrous hand might dash it to
pieces.”

“There was no way but bloodshed,” Leon said hastily.

Pepa made no answer.

“I am the victim,” she exclaimed after a painful silence. “And I cannot
bear to die--it is grief and punishment. I hate to be sacrificed;
it is misery, utter misery, even if it is right and just--even if I
deserve it. Here, before me, I see two respectable men--my father and a
judge. Well, before them, and before you.--The man I claim....” And she
fixed her eyes on Leon’s with an indescribable expression of love and
reproach; she gasped for air and hardly seemed to have breath enough
to speak: “You are mine--and before you all three I declare that this
desertion...” she burst into tears and added feebly: “is cowardly.”

Don Justo lifted up his calm persuasive voice.

“Try,” he said, “to see the immediate details in their true
proportions, and fix your thoughts on broad and eternal facts. The soul
may grow to the dignity of its sorrows and borrow from them a sort of
majesty to rule the spirit.”

“True,” said Leon sadly. “Our very wounds reveal a secret and ineffable
fount of compensation. Pepa--my darling, my heart’s wife--wife, I
say, by an unwritten law on which we may not act, which can never be
of any avail; but which lurks in my soul like the germ of truth, a
holy seed buried in the depths of being.--Look into your soul and you
will see yourself nobler and more worthy in your sorrow than in the
satisfaction of your passion. Though we are conquered and humiliated by
the crushing necessity that parts us--a mysterious mixture of something
dignified and venerable with iniquity and injustice, a horrible and
unnatural coalition, we may enjoy the noblest form of triumph. You are
religious; and I believe in the immortality of the soul, in eternal
justice, in final perfection: a brief creed but a grand and firm one.
We are conquered; we are victims and martyrs. But Hope has no limits.
It is a grace which links us to the unknown and calls to us from afar,
beautifying life and giving us strength to stand firm and walk onward.
We will not be so criminal as to cut the thread which guides us forward
to a goal which, though remote, is not invisible to eyes that are not
bound by an evil conscience. Conquer despair, rise superior to it;
resign yourself, and hope.”

“Hope? Have I not said that I should die hoping?” said Pepa bitterly,
recurring to an old idea. “It is my punishment; my heart told me long
since that its name was Hope. And if I die?”

“It matters not.”

“It matters not?” she said, for Leon’s fervent spirituality did not
meet her mood. He would have said more, but he was at an end of his
arguments, and the suggestions of consolation and hope with which he
tried to do battle were, he saw, of no more avail than weapons which
break in the hand in the heat of a fray. He knew not what to say.
Feeling, which can sometimes be quelled by reason, and which he had
studiously endeavoured to subdue and control, rose in revolt, snatched
up its despotic sceptre and asserted its dominion. He rose.

“Now--so soon?” said Pepa rushing into his arms with a sudden overflow
of passion.

”Heaven forgive me!” cried Leon choked with emotion. “With my wretched
arguments, I am belabouring myself with my own logic. It is a horrible
farce a mockery of morality and cannot bind me.”

Pepa clasped her hands as if in prayer and preparing for death, and
Leon was on the point of uttering some wildly subversive ideas which
came boiling from his heart like the lava from a volcano, when the
maid rushed in who had charge of Monina. She was pale and trembling.

“What is the matter?” said the marquis.

“The man--there!”

“Who?”

“A man. He came in suddenly--he is kissing the child.”

“It is he!” exclaimed Fúcar much agitated.

“He!”

“But it was agreed that he was not to come!”

“He--he is here?” cried Leon suddenly losing logic, reason, prudence
and self-command, and flaring up in frenzy. “Let him dare to come in!
Does he presume to desecrate these walls? I am glad to meet him here--I
will tear him limb from limb like a foul beast!”

He turned to the door, where a man was standing. Pepa, with a piercing
shriek, fell senseless. Don Pedro threw his strong arms round Leon to
hold him back, and the older gentleman rushed forward indignantly to
check his nephew’s further advance.

“For mercy’s sake!--in the name of all the Saints!” exclaimed Don Pedro.

“Stand back!” said Don Justo. “Do not stir a step forward.”

“What business have you here?” cried Leon with contemptuous insolence.

“Go,” said the magistrate. “Have you forgotten our agreement?”

“No. The agreement is not yet in force,” replied Cimarra, not moving
an inch, and fixing his eyes on Leon with the glare of a wild tiger.
“I came to see my little girl for the last time. I will not contravene
the compromise, if others adhere to it. I have no desire to come here
unless you are here.”

“I entreat you to go away,” said Don Pedro to Federico.

“He must go first.”

But the gloomy, surly figure in the door-way made no sign of moving.

“He must go first,” echoed Cimarra.

“Yes--I first--wretch!--So it must be,” said Leon.

Meanwhile Don Pedro and a maid had lifted Pepa and carried her to a
sofa.

“You first,” Federico insisted, his cynicism yielding for a moment to
an impulse of real dignity. “If not, I....”

“Nay; I will go first,” said Leon bitterly. “It is but right.”

He went up to the senseless form lying pale and dumb on the sofa, and
gazed at her for a moment; he looked up at Cimarra, and bending over
Pepa, kissed her cheek with tender passion. Then, fixing his eyes on
her husband, he said:

“Bully! Thus I take leave of the woman you claim as your wife. If it is
a crime, kill me; you have a right to do so.--Have you a weapon?”

“Yes,” said Federico sullenly, and putting his hand into his
breast-pocket. It seemed as though a spark of honour, vigour and
dignity had suddenly flashed into being in this abject creature--a
corpse returned from the grave--as the will-o’-the-wisp suddenly
flickers up from a foul morass. He stood face to face with his foe, a
pistol in his hand, with a dull roar in his voice, and a sinister light
in his eye. Leon waited calmly. But Don Pedro and his friend seized
Federico and held his arms. After a violent struggle, they succeeded in
pulling him back; Leon remained standing with his arms folded, in the
middle of the room.

“Leave the house!” cried Don Justo to his nephew.

“I will answer for the other,” said Don Pedro.

Don Justo dragged Federico away, not allowing him to pause an instant
till he was fairly out of the house.

Leon sadly but steadily quitted the room by the other door. Fúcar
accompanied him as far as the Chinese room, where he left him,
stretched like a lifeless body on a divan.

“Go” he said, “leave us, and put an end to this misery.” And he went
back to his daughter.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE END.


Leon lay there a long time, unconscious of the flight of time.
His scattered faculties slowly recovered their power of calmly
contemplating the situation, though he found no peace. He rose to leave
the house, and wandered vaguely from one room to another, seeking his
way to the hall. When at length he reached it, he thought he heard
strange voices, and stood still to listen; then, turning away, he
descended a flight of back stairs that led to the basement floor, and
tried to find his way out into the garden. After going in and out
for some time in the endless and tortuous corridors of the servant’s
premises, he saw a door which he opened.

All the blood in his body rushed in a cold tide to his heart and gave
him a shock like a sudden fall, as he found himself in the chapel,
lighted up by innumerable flambeaux. He took off his hat and gazed
with open eyes. He was too much startled to do anything for some time
but stand motionless at the door; he hardly seemed to breathe, and
his bewildered mind was aware only of a mountain of light, for so it
appeared to him: a mass of ruddy slender flames which stretched their
quivering tongues to the very roof, rising from the melting wax that
dropped in yellow streams. In the midst, as a base to this blazing
pyramid, a funereal object filled, as it were the throne of honour;
white drapery and two marble hands were all that could be distinguished.

It needed all his manly courage to carry him nearer. Before stepping
forward he glanced round him. No one was there; he could not hear a
sound, not even a living breath, was audible; the cold remains of a
human being, robed in the garments of a saintly death, seemed guarded
by silence. The statue of a pallid youth stood upon the altar; his
eyes, painted like life, shone across the chapel, to watch all who
entered, and say: “Beware! Touch her not!”

Leon advanced slowly, treading softly that he might not hear the sound
of his own steps. Reverence, the sanctity of the spot, his agonising
hesitancy between the wish to approach and the instinct to withdraw,
caused him to go through half a dozen separate states of mind in the
course of the twenty steps between the door and the altar: anxiety and
curiosity, nay fear--or superstition. He had time to assure himself
that it was awe that held him back, and the audacious curiosity of that
very awe which urged him forward.

He saw her. There she lay, before him, on the ground, and at the very
threshold, as it were, of the realm where her immortal soul might find
complete repose. Her spirit, selfish rather than generous, had already
passed, with a sigh perhaps of surprise and awe, into the unknown
land where love is the only wisdom, and where good and evil are more
exactly appreciated and understood.

After once looking at her, and the first shock of reverence and pain
over, he remained gazing thus; hearing the throbbing in his own temples
and the rush of the blood in his veins, like the roar of an internal
tide.

She was covered with a white robe, laid over her limbs by pious
friends, with severe purity. Ample folds lay in straight lines from
her neck to her feet, broken only by the marble hands which held a
crucifix. A semi-transparent veil was over her face, neither concealing
it nor too plainly revealing the outline, but letting it be seen
vaguely, remotely as it were, through a mist of clouds, like the image
that survives from a dream in eyes but half-awake. He would have liked
to see more clearly what remained of her unequalled beauty, which,
under the hand of death, was fading like some withered violet-tinted
flower. In that face, blind and dead as it was, there was still some
trace of expression. Leon found himself gazing into the depths of that
vacant mystery, made deeper by the clouds of gauze, and recognised the
look he had last seen on her features--a look less of love than of
irony.

His brain was busy with all the solemn thoughts that besiege a man
in the great crises of life: he reflected on the wide distance that
divides us from true happiness--a distance that mind cannot measure,
and that man has no means of shortening. Suddenly his meditations were
interrupted by a commonplace and intrusive sound--a cough. He looked
round. He and the dead were not alone. In a corner of the chapel sat
a watcher. It was the little priest, seated on a bench with his eyes
fixed on his prayer-book. Leon could not help admiring the fidelity
of the spiritual friend who, having been her guide during life, had
constituted himself her guardian in death. Without lifting his head,
the Italian raised his eyes and looked for a few seconds at Leon
fixedly--very fixedly. Then he looked down again and went on reading.
This simple, calm drooping of the eyes was expressive of the most
sovereign contempt imaginable. Paoletti murmured on, as though not a
soul were present: “_Ego sum vermis et non homo, opprobium hominum et
abjectio plebis._”

Why was it that, as he left the chapel--no less reverently than he had
entered it--Leon felt in his soul a soothing sense of consolation?--He
had seen, face to face the worst terrors of the moral and physical
world, and the struggle to which the contemplation had given rise
had left his soul surrounded by melancholy ruins. _Impavidum ferient
ruinae_, as a heathen said! But though he was crushed, alone, exiled
and injustly judged, what could he care while his conscience was free
in the sunshine that brightens it when it is sure of having acted
rightly.

       *       *       *       *       *

On returning to his empty house he found his servant busy packing in
obedience to his orders given a few hours since. The man expressed
great joy at seeing him, and when Leon enquired as to the cause of his
eager satisfaction, the faithful fellow replied:

“At the Señora Marquesa’s, and in all the houses where you are known,
they said you would be brought home with a bullet through your brains
to-night. They were so sure of it that I could not help crying.”

Leon smiled sadly.

“And so, when I came in to pack, the first thing I did was to hide your
pistols, in case you should kill yourself here if you had not done it
before.”

“Where have you put them? Are they loaded?” said Leon hastily.

“Oh! Master, do not kill yourself!” cried the terrified man.

“Nay, be easy, my friend,” said Leon pointing to his forehead. “This
brain is not bent on suicide.--As to the pistols, if they are loaded
you had better drop them into the street, for the first fool to
experiment upon.”

“Throw them away! They are beauties!”

“Well, keep them yourself then; keep them till you marry.”

“You forget, Sir; I am married.”

“Well then, till you are a widower.”

       *       *       *       *       *

  “_From Marqués de Fúcar to Marqués de Onésimo._

  “MADRID, December 1st.

 “Before leaving London via Hamburg to purchase the twenty bales of
 tobacco, sell all the Rio Tinto shares, and the foreign consols. Buy
 at once Paris Gas, and Spanish _crédit mobilier_. The loan--the third
 State loan this year--is getting on capitally. I want an investment
 here to enable me to propose to the Government to pay off part of the
 foreign coupons to English holders, which will promote the affair here
 very effectually; the profits I anticipate from this are incalculable.
 For everything else act on my instructions of November 23rd. Do not
 forget my orders for taking every advantage of the Hamburg tobacco
 merchants; no backwardness; business is good, so you need not run up
 to extravagant prices.

 “My daughter keeps well. Very sad, very lonely, in fairly good health,
 resigned and calm. She never leaves Suertebella. Mona, sweeter every
 day, sends you three kisses. The wretch holds to his bargain and never
 molests us. He has turned stock-broker, and they tell me he watches
 the market with great patience and judgment, and is making a huge
 fortune. He is clever enough, there is no doubt of that.

 “I expect you to eat your Christmas dinner at Suertebella.

  “Yours as ever,
  “P. Fúcar.

 “P. S. If you should come across that queer fellow give him my kind
 regards--but only mine.”


THE END.



ADVERTISEMENTS


 =ANTINOUS.=--A Romance of Ancient Rome, by =George Taylor=, from the
 German by Mary J. Safford, in one vol. Paper, 50 cts. Cloth, 90 cts.

 “One of the most thoughtful, feeling, and at the same time scholarly
 romances yet translated from the treasury of German literature.
 Although the story is laid in the midst of a Roman emperor’s court, it
 touches only a few characters, and those not of the higher and more
 aristocratic class. Located amidst scenes of almost fabulous wealth
 and extravagance, the story is severely simple in style; and although
 the author describes with the zeal of a well-informed archæologist
 the wonders of Rome and the enormous expenditures of Hadrian in
 architecture and landscape-manufacturing, there is no excess in the
 language which places these before us. The most remarkable thing about
 the book is that no love-making or love intrigues are found in its
 pages. In this respect it is even more unique than ‘John Inglesant.’
 But like that romance its chief interest rests on the contrast of
 religious opinions. The age was one of change and doubt. The ancient
 cults of Rome and Greece had wholly lost their hold upon the minds of
 thinking men. Christianity, although not yet free from persecution,
 was gaining a wider influence, as men turned away dissatisfied from
 the ideal of their fathers and found in the spiritual religion of
 the despised Nazarene a comfort and a solace which no external rites
 could convey. It is the contrast between the subtle spiritual element
 and the various forms of idolatry adopted by Rome and Egypt, that
 constitutes the strength and fascination of this book.”--_Utica
 Herald._

 “The story of Antinous lends itself easily to philosophical romance:
 a hero who could be made unhappy but not corrupt by an emperor--who
 remained faithful to Hadrian after he had ceased to honor him, not
 from self-interest, but because in soothing the nerves of an imperial
 invalid, he added to the comfort of the world; and who sacrificed his
 life at last for a benefactor whom he no longer loved--is a hero such
 as is rarely found in literature.”--_The Critic, N. Y._

 “It has to the full that strange glamour which lends to romances their
 peculiar charm, and in many respects is comparable to Kingsley’s
 ‘Hypatia.’”--_Yale Literary Magazine._


_William S. Gottsberger, Publisher, New York._


=CLYTIA.=--A Romance of the Sixteenth Century, by =George Taylor=, from
the German by Mary J. Safford, in one vol. Paper, 50 cts. Cloth, 90 cts.

“If report may be trusted ‘George Taylor,’ though writing in German,
is an Englishman by race, and not merely by the assumption of a
pseudonym. The statement is countenanced by the general physiognomy
of his novels, which manifest the artistic qualities in which German
fiction, when extending beyond the limits of a short story, is usually
deficient. ‘Antinous’ was a remarkable book; ‘Clytia’ displays the
same talent, and is, for obvious reasons, much better adapted for
general circulation. Notwithstanding its classical title, it is a
romance of the post-Lutheran Reformation in the second half of the
sixteenth century. The scene is laid in the Palatinate; the hero,
Paul Laurenzano, is, like John Inglesant, the pupil, but, unlike John
Inglesant, the proselyte and emissary, of the Jesuits, who send him
to do mischief in the disguise of a Protestant clergyman. He becomes
confessor to a sisterhood of reformed nuns, as yet imperfectly detached
from the old religion and forms the purpose of reconverting them.
During the process, however, he falls in love with one of their number,
the beautiful Clytia, the original, Mr. Taylor will have it, of the
lovely bust in whose genuineness he will not let us believe. Clytia,
as is but reasonable, is a match for Loyola; the man in Laurenzano
overpowers the priest, and, after much agitation of various kinds, the
story concludes with his marriage. It is an excellent novel from every
point of view, and, like ‘Antinous’ gives evidence of superior culture
and thoughtfulness.”--_The London Saturday Review._

  _William S. Gottsberger, Publisher, New York._


 =THE DEVIL’S PORTRAIT.=--By =Anton Giulio Barrili=, from the Italian
 by Evelyn Wodehouse, in one vol. Paper, 40 cents. Cloth, 75 cents.

“The wide and terrible limits of Italian tragedy have seldom been
filled out with a rounder measure than in this powerful but melancholy
romance of the 14th century. It is a romance of art and passion; the
art which made the walls of old churches glow with frescoes before
which the world now stands to study and admire, and the passion which
not only loves and adores, but which hates and destroys. It is a
romance not only of the brush but of the dagger.

“The scene is laid in Arezzo in the Val di Chiana. The town is small,
with wide, clean, small, and well-paved streets, possesses many
celebrated works of art, has a bishop, two inns, and a café, and women
who are passing fair. Among the women is Fiordalisa, the daughter of
the painter Jacopo, a disciple of the school of Taddeo Gaddi. Ever
since she had come with her father from Florence, where she was born,
to live at Arezzo, she has been acknowledged as a peerless beauty.
These are the warm colors, borrowed from the world about him, in which
the Italian novelist paints her:

 “‘Good God! how beautiful she looked there, twice... with her eyes
 cast down, and her head and throat jealously guarded by a veil of
 white silk flowing over her shoulders. Dressed simply in a robe of
 some half-woollen, half-silken stuff, made with loose sleeves, and
 large folds descending gracefully from her hips: a white kerchief just
 covering the nape of her neck, but no other trimming or superfluous
 adornment to disguise the curves of her perfect form, Madonna
 Fiordalisa seemed a very miracle of grace and beauty. The head crowned
 with chestnut tresses, and the profile of that delicately-tinted face,
 both displayed such purity of outline, combined with such sweetness of
 expression, that it seemed to Spinello that he had never before beheld
 anything to compare with them.’”--_Literary World, Boston._


_William S. Gottsberger, Publisher, New York._


 =THE ELEVENTH COMMANDMENT.=--A Romance by =Anton Giulio Barrili=, from
 the Italian by Clara Bell, in one vol. Paper, 50 cts. Cloth, 90 cts.

 “If Italian literature includes any more such unique and charming
 stories as this one, it is to be hoped that translators will not fail
 to discover them to the American public. The ‘Eleventh Commandment’
 deals with a variety of topics--the social intrigues necessary to
 bring about preferment in political life, a communal order, an
 adventurous unconventional heiress, and her acquiescent, good-natured
 uncle, and most cleverly are the various elements combined, the whole
 forming an excellent and diverting little story. The advent of a
 modern Eve in the masculine paradise (?) established at the Convent
 of San Bruno is fraught with weighty consequences, not only to the
 individual members of the brotherhood, but to the well-being of
 the community itself. The narrative of M’lle Adela’s adventures is
 blithely told, and the moral deducible therefrom for men is that, on
 occasion, flight is the surest method of combating temptation.”--_Art
 Interchange, New York._

 “Very entertaining is the story of ‘The Eleventh Commandment,’
 ingeniously conceived and very cleverly executed.”--_The Critic, New
 York._


 =A WHIMSICAL WOOING.=--By =Anton Giulio Barrili=, from the Italian by
 Clara Bell, in one vol. Paper, 25 cts. Cloth, 5 cts.

 “If ‘The Eleventh Commandment,’ the previous work of Barrili, was a
 good three-act play, ‘A Whimsical Wooing’ is a sparkling comedietta.
 It is one situation, a single catastrophe, yet, like a bit of
 impressionist painting of the finer sort, it reveals in a flash all
 the possibilities of the scene. The hero, Roberto Fenoglio, a man of
 wealth, position, and accomplishments, finds himself at the end of his
 resources for entertainment or interest. Hopelessly bored, he abandons
 himself to the drift of chance, and finds himself, in no longer space
 of time than from midnight to daylight--where and how, the reader
 will thank us for not forestalling his pleasure in finding out for
 himself.”--_The Nation, New York._

 “‘A Whimsical Wooing’ is the richly-expressive title under which
 ‘Clara Bell’ introduces a cleverly-narrated episode by Anton Giulio
 Barrili to American readers. It is a sketch of Italian life, at once
 rich and strong, but nevertheless discreet in sentiment and graceful
 in diction. It is the old story of the fallacy of trusting to a proxy
 in love matters.”--_Boston Post._


_William S. Gottsberger, Publisher, New York._


 =THE WANE OF AN IDEAL.=--A Novel, by =La Marchesa Colombi=, from
 the Italian by Clara Bell, in one vol. Paper cover, 50 cts., Cloth
 binding, 90 cts.

 “If this is a fair specimen of the work of the Marchesa Colombi, she
 is assuredly entitled to a high place among the novelists of the
 day. The scene of the story is laid in a little village in the north
 of Italy where lives the ‘Dottorino,’ as he is called, the village
 doctor, a gross, ignorant man, but with a gift for a certain sort of
 humor and graceful flattery which make him a welcome guest at the
 table of the rich Signor Pedrotti. The novel is chiefly concerned with
 the doctor’s son, Giovanni, whose infancy under the care of a stupid
 yet wholly devoted servant, La Matta, is portrayed with inimitable
 pathos and humor. As he grows up, Pedrotti becomes, in a sense, his
 patron. But the lad has met Pedrotti’s daughter, Rachel, and his love
 being reciprocated he determines to attain wealth and fame that he
 may win her father’s consent to their marriage. Pedrotti treats the
 proposal with utter contempt and shuts the door in his face. The youth
 pledges his love anew to Rachel, who promises to wait for him, and
 he then goes to Milan, where after a dreary struggle with poverty he
 becomes a celebrated advocate, rich as well as famous. But absence
 dims his ideal and the blandishments of a beautiful countess drive the
 image of Rachel for a time from his thoughts.

  “He had started in live in extreme poverty but with a great love
  in his heart; and the goal he had set before his eyes was wealth
  and distinction, but still for the sake of love. Now, wealth and
  distinction were his--but the love he had lost on the way.

 “The closing part of the story tells how, actuated by a sense of
 duty rather than of love, he goes back to the little village to
 claim the hand of the woman who has waited for him so long. The
 ending is written with remarkable power and stamps the book with a
 quality closely akin to greatness. All the characters are strongly
 individualized; the author’s humor is spontaneous and delightful; and
 on every page there is displayed a subtle knowledge of the human heart
 and of the fatal consequences of ignoble motives which, in spite of
 some unpleasant episodes, renders _The Wane of an Ideal_ as wholesome
 morally as it is artistically effective and complete.”--_The Literary
 World._


 =QUINTUS CLAUDIUS.=--A Romance of Imperial Rome, by =Ernst Eckstein=,
 from the German by Clara Bell, in two vols. Paper, $1.00. Cloth, $1.75.

 “We owe to Eckstein the brilliant romance of ‘Quintus Claudius,’
 which Clara Bell has done well to translate for us, for it is worthy
 of place beside the Emperor of Ebers and the Aspasia of Hamerling.
 It is a story of Rome in the reign of Domitian, and the most noted
 characters of the time figure in its pages, which are a series of
 picturesque descriptions of Roman life and manners in the imperial
 city, and in those luxurious retreats at Baiae and elsewhere to
 which the wealthy Romans used to retreat from the heats of summer.
 It is full of stirring scenes in the streets, in the palaces, in the
 temples, and in the amphitheatre, and the actors therein represent
 every phase of Roman character, from the treacherous and cowardly
 Domitian and the vile Domitia down to the secret gatherings of the
 new sect and their exit from life in the blood-soaked sands of the
 arena, where they were torn in pieces by the beasts of the desert. The
 life and the manners of all classes at this period were never painted
 with a bolder pencil than by Eckstein in this masterly romance, which
 displays as much scholarship as invention.”--_Mail and Express, N. Y._

 “These neat volumes contain a story first published in German. It is
 written in that style which Ebers has cultivated so successfully. The
 place is Rome; the time, that of Domitian at the end of the first
 century. The very careful study of historical data, is evident from
 the notes at the foot of nearly every page. The author attempted
 the difficult task of presenting in a single story the whole life
 of Rome, the intrigues of that day which compassed the overthrow of
 Domitian, and the deep fervor and terrible trials of the Christians
 in the last of the general persecutions. The court, the army, the
 amphitheatre, the catacombs, the evil and the good of Roman manhood
 and womanhood--all are here. And the work is done with power and
 success. It is a book for every Christian and for every student, a
 book of lasting value, bringing more than one nation under obligation
 to its author.”--_New Jerusalem Magazine, Boston, Mass._

 “_A new Romance of Ancient Times!_ The success of Ernst Eckstein’s
 new novel, ‘Quintus Claudius,’ which recently appeared in Vienna, may
 fairly be called phenomenal, critics and the public unite in praising
 the work.”--_Grazer Morgenpost._

 “‘Quintus Claudius’ is a finished work of art, capable of bearing any
 analysis, a literary production teeming with instruction and interest,
 full of plastic forms, and rich in the most dramatic changes of
 mood.”--_Pester Lloyd._


_William S. Gottsberger, Publisher, New York._


 =PRUSIAS.=--A Romance of Ancient Rome under the Republic, by =Ernst
 Eckstein=, from the German by Clara Bell. Authorized edition. In two
 vols. Paper, $1.00. Cloth, $1.75.

 “The date of ‘Prusias’ is the latter half of the first century B.
 C. Rome is waging her tedious war with Mithridates. There are also
 risings in Spain, and the home army is badly depleted. Prusias comes
 to Capua as a learned Armenian, the tutor of a noble pupil in one of
 the aristocratic households. Each member of this circle is distinct.
 Some of the most splendid traits of human nature develop among these
 grand statesmen and their dignified wives, mothers, and daughters. The
 ideal Roman maiden is Psyche; but she has a trace of Greek blood and
 of the native gentleness. Of a more interesting type is Fannia, who
 might, minus her slaves and stola, pass for a modern and saucy New
 York beauty. Her wit, spirit, selfishness, and impulsive magnanimity
 might easily have been a nineteenth-century evolution. In the family
 to which Prusias comes are two sons, one of military leanings, the
 other a student. Into the ear of the latter Prusias whispers the
 real purpose of his coming to Italy. He is an Armenian and in league
 with Mithridates for the reduction of Roman rule. The unity which
 the Senate has tried to extend to the freshly-conquered provinces of
 Italy is a thing of slow growth. Prusias by his strategy and helped
 by Mithridates’s gold, hopes to organize slaves and disaffected
 provincials into a force which will oblige weakened Rome to make
 terms, one of which shall be complete emancipation and equality
 of every man before the law. His harangues are in lofty strain,
 and, save that he never takes the coarse, belligerent tone of our
 contemporaries, these speeches might have been made by one of our own
 Abolitionists. The one point that Prusias never forgets is personal
 dignity and a regal consideration for his friends. But after all, this
 son of the gods is befooled by a woman, a sinuous and transcendently
 ambitious Roman belle, the second wife of the dull and trustful
 prefect of Capua; for this tiny woman had all men in her net whom she
 found it useful to have there.

 “The daughter of the prefect--hard, homely-featured, and hating the
 supple stepmother with an unspeakable hate, tearing her beauty at
 last like a tigress and so causing her death--is a repulsive but very
 strong figure. The two brothers who range themselves on opposite
 sides in the servile war make another unforgettable picture; and the
 beautiful slave Brenna, who follows her noble lover into camp, is a
 spark of light against the lurid background. The servile movement
 is combined with the bold plans of the Thracian Spartacus. He is a
 good figure and perpetually surprises us with his keen foresight and
 disciplinary power.

 “The book is stirring, realistic in the even German way, and full of
 the fibre and breath of its century.” _Boston Ev’g Transcript._


 =THE WILL.=--A Novel, by =Ernst Eckstein=, from the German by Clara
 Bell, in two vols. Paper, $1.00 Cloth, $1.75 per set.

 “SINCE the appearance of ‘Debit and Credit’ we have not seen a German
 novel that can rank, in the line struck out by that famous work, with
 ‘The Will,’ by Ernst Eckstein. It is a vivid picture of German city
 life, and the characters, whether quaint, commonplace, tragical, or a
 mixture of all three, are admirably drawn. All the German carefulness
 is in Eckstein’s work, but there is besides a sparkle and _verve_
 entirely French--and French of the best kind.”--_Catholic Mirror,
 Baltimore._

 “The chief value of the book is in its well-drawn and strong pictures
 of life in both German cities and villages, and Clara Bell, has, as
 usual, proved herself a mistress of the German Tongue.”--_Sunday Star,
 Providence._

 “Ernst Eckstein, hitherto known as a writer of classical romance, now
 tries his hand upon a _genre_ story of German life. To our mind, it is
 his most successful work.”--_Bulletin, San Francisco, Cal._

 “The present work is entitled ‘The Will,’ and is written by Ernst
 Eckstein, the author of the striking historical novel, Quintus
 Claudius. The name of Clara Bell as the translator from the German is
 assurance enough of the excellence of its rendering into English. The
 plot of the story is not a novel one, but it is skillfully executed,
 and the whole tale is developed with much dramatic power.”--_Boston
 Zion’s Herald._

 “‘The Will,’ by Eckstein, is the latest and best work of its author.
 The scene, the people, the events of the story are new, the plot is
 ingenious, and the action rapid and exciting enough to please the most
 jaded novel reader. The character of schoolmaster Heinzius would alone
 make the reputation of a new writer, and there are other sketches from
 life none the less masterly. Ernst Eckstein excels in heroines, of
 whom there are several in the book--all clearly defined--contending
 for the sympathy of the reader.”--_The Journal of Commerce, New York._


_William S. Gottsberger, Publisher, New York._


 =APHRODITE.=--A Romance of Ancient Hellas, by =Ernst Eckstein=, from
 the German by Mary J. Safford. Authorized edition. In one volume.
 Paper cover, 50 cts. Cloth binding, 90 cts.

 “A charming love tale with poetic grace of style and of sentiment.
 A delicate art atmosphere permeates the story, and a strong and
 well-sustained dramatic interest attaches to the plot. The Greece
 of antiquity is here reproduced with great vividness, indicating
 on the part of the author thoughtful research and a rare faculty
 for assimilating the materials he has gathered in the course of his
 studious reading. The work is steadily entertaining throughout, and
 while it amuses, it imparts information through the agency of a wholly
 delightful fiction.”--_Saturday Evening Gazette, Boston._

       *       *       *       *       *

 “‘APHRODITE’ is a story of the Greece of olden time, the scene being
 laid in Miletus, 551 B. C., and concerns itself with the art-life
 of a young sculptor named Acontius, who won fame by his statuary in
 Miletus, and won at the same time the love of Cydippe, the daughter
 of Charidemus, the archon of the city. It is a simple story, which
 Eckstein has to tell, a story which has been told in all lands and
 tongues ever since there were young people in the world, and they were
 in the habit of loving each other; but there must be something in it
 after all, for as he tells it, it seems to have happened yesterday,
 and not further away than the next street. There is in it that touch
 of nature which makes the whole work kin, and which puts back the
 clock of time until its hands touch the dead and gone centuries.
 Acontius and Cydippe may have lived and died twenty-three hundred
 years ago, as Eckstein tells us, but we doubt it, for reading his
 glowing and picturesque pages we feel that they are alive and exempt
 from death, as exempt as Paris and Helen, Romeo and Juliet, or that
 pair of pure and happy lovers, Porphyry and Madeline. The charm of
 this story, or one of its charms, for they are many, consists in the
 life which Eckstein has imparted to his characters, and the vividness
 with which he has realized the scenes in which they lived, moved and
 had their being.”--_Mail and Express, N. Y._


_William S. Gottsberger, Publisher, New York._


 =THE KING’S TREASURE HOUSE.=--A Romance of Ancient Egypt, by =Wilhelm
 Walloth=, from the German by Mary J. Safford, in one vol. Paper, 50
 cts. Cloth, 90 cts.

 “It deals, in the main, with the cruel bondage of the Israelites
 in Egypt, and is remarkably varied in incident and impressive in
 dramatic power. The interest is uncommonly exciting, and is sustained
 with great skill to the very end. A fine poetic feeling pervades
 the narrative, and the descriptive portions of the book often glow
 with picturesque splendor. The work is also very attractive in the
 cleverness and the vividness with which the manners and people of
 ancient Egypt are depicted, showing in this aspect careful thought
 and study. The story may take a foremost rank in the long line
 of German romances which have aimed at reproducing the life of
 antiquity.”--_Boston Saturday Evening Gazette, May 23, 1886._


 =THE CHALDEAN MAGICIAN.=--An Adventure in Ancient Rome, by =Ernst
 Eckstein=, from the German by Mary J. Safford. One vol. Paper, 25 cts.
 Cloth, 50 cts.

“The ‘Chaldean Magician’ is a tale of Rome in the days of the
Emperor Diocletian, and is an exposé of the so-called magical art of
that period. The love story which runs through it will please the
sentimental, while the pictures given of Roman life and society will
interest the general reader.”--_Chicago Evening Journal._


_William S. Gottsberger, Publisher, New York._


 =ASPASIA.=--A Romance, by =Robert Hamerling=, from the German by Mary
 J. Safford, in two vols. Paper, $1.00. Cloth, $1.75.

 “We have read his work conscientiously, and, we confess, with profit.
 Never have we had so clear an insight into the manners, thoughts, and
 feelings of the ancient Greeks. No study has made us so familiar with
 the age of Pericles. We recognize throughout that the author is master
 of the period of which he treats. Moreover, looking back upon the work
 from the end to the beginning, we clearly perceive in it a complete
 unity of purpose not at all evident during the reading.”

 “Hamerling’s Aspasia, herself the most beautiful woman in all Hellas,
 is the apostle of beauty and of joyousness, the implacable enemy of
 all that is stern and harsh in life. Unfortunately, morality is stern,
 and had no place among Aspasia’s doctrines. This ugly fact, Landor
 has thrust as far into the background as possible. Hamerling obtrudes
 it. He does not moralize, he neither condemns nor praises; but like
 a fate, silent, passionless, and resistless, he carries the story
 along, allows the sunshine for a time to silver the turbid stream, the
 butterflies and gnats to flutter above it in rainbow tints, and then
 remorselessly draws over the landscape gray twilight. He but follows
 the course of history; yet the absolute pitilessness with which he
 does it is almost terrible.”--_Extracts from Review in Yale Literary
 Magazine._

 “No more beautiful chapter can be found in any book of this age than
 that in which Pericles and Aspasia are described as visiting the poet
 Sophocles in the garden on the bank of the Cephissus.”--_Utica Morning
 Herald._

 “It is one of the great excellencies of this romance, this lofty song
 of the genius of the Greeks, that it is composed with perfect artistic
 symmetry in the treatment of the different parts, and from the first
 word to the last is thoroughly harmonious in tone and coloring.
 Therefore, in ‘Aspasia,’ we are given a book, which could only proceed
 from the union of an artistic nature and a thoughtful mind--a book
 that does not depict fiery passions in dramatic conflict, but with
 dignified composure, leads the conflict therein described to the final
 catastrophe.”--_Allgemeine Zeitung_, (Augsburg).


_William S. Gottsberger, Publisher, New York._


 =A BOOK ABOUT ROSES.=--_How to Grow and Show Them!_ By =S. Reynolds
 Hole=, in one volume. Paper, 50 cts. Cloth, 90 cts.

 “There is a June fragrance about this little book that is particularly
 refreshing, now that we are on the edge--very ragged edge, to be
 sure--of summer. They say the flowers know those who love them,
 and come forth only at their bidding. If this be so, surely Mr.
 Hole should be a successful cultivator, as he is certainly an
 entertaining writer on a subject in which he has long been a
 recognized authority. This is the seventh edition of his ‘Book About
 Roses’ that has been called for, and in responding to the demand
 the happy author contributes some of the latest results of his
 experience, which will be gratefully received by all rosarians. Mr.
 Hole is an enthusiast, and he communicates much of that quality to
 his pages. It is impossible to read long in this charming volume
 without becoming impressed with a profound conviction that a rose
 is the most perfect thing in creation. Aside from its value as a
 guide to cultivators, whether professional or amateur, the work
 possesses a rare fascination, that partly belongs to the subject and
 partly to its happy manner of treatment. There is a vein of playful
 humor in Mr. Hole’s writing that rarely degenerates into flippancy,
 and occasionally a little flight of sentimentalism that accords
 well with his theme, mingling agreeably enough with the purely
 scientific disquisitions like a wholesome perfume, which is happily
 not a hot-house, but an out-of-door one. We cordially commend this
 book to all who are interested in the cultivation of the queen of
 flowers.”--_Chicago Evening Journal._

 “The whole volume teems with encouraging data and statistics; and,
 while it is intensely practical, it will interest general readers by
 an unfailing vivacity, which supplies garnish and ornament to the
 array of facts, and furnishes ‘ana’ in such rich profusion that one
 might do worse than lay by many of Mr. Hole’s good stories for future
 table-talk.”--_Saturday Review._

 “It is the production of a man who boasts of thirty ‘all England’
 cups, whose Roses are always looked for anxiously at flower-shows,
 who took the lion’s share in originating the first Rose-Show _pur
 et simple_, whose assistance as judge or _amicus curiae_ is always
 courted at such exhibitions. Such a man ‘ought to have something to
 say worth hearing to those who love the Rose,’ and he _has_ said
 it.”--_Gardeners’ Chronicle._

 “A very captivating book, containing a great deal of valuable
 information about the Rose and its culture, given in a style which can
 not fail to please.”--_Journal of Horticulture._


_William S. Gottsberger, Publisher, New York._


 =A TRAGEDY AT CONSTANTINOPLE.=--By =Leila-Hanoum=, translated from the
 French, with notes, by =Gen. R. E. Colston=, one vol. pa., 50 cts.
 Clo., 90 cts.

 “The romance has for its groundwork the mysterious and fascinating
 subject of harem life in the East, and is founded on facts. The
 tragedy is one no less thrilling in culmination than the violent
 ending of the Sultan Abdul-Aziz, which startled the world only a few
 years ago. The author works her way to this climax by a narrative
 almost as strange as a chapter out of the Arabian Nights. Incidentally
 it falls to her lot to reveal the secrets of the harems so jealously
 guarded from observation. She seems to have enjoyed inside views of
 those shrouded places to an extent rare if not unprecedented among
 persons not actually inmates of them. At all events no work surpasses
 this in its disclosures of the deep shadows of that female slavery
 which remains the foulest blot upon the domestic institutions of
 Turkey. The Empress Eugénie, Midhat-Pasha, Reshid-Pasha, Hassan-Bey,
 and other personages of rank and power in their day, are among the
 characters who play their part in this extraordinary book. General R.
 E. Colston, long identified with the Egyptian Army, is the translator,
 and supplies a preface so good that it should not be skipped.”--_The
 Journal of Commerce, New York._

 “It is a translation from the French by Leila-Hanoum, by Gen. R. E.
 Colston, late Bey on the General Staff, Egyptian Army, who thinks
 (and we agree with him) that it will give the readers a more complete
 idea of the Mussulman than he could obtain by wading through volumes
 of mere description. What the novels of Georg Ebers are to the life
 of ancient Egypt and Rome, and the stories of Galdós are to the life
 of Spain, the Tragedy in the Imperial Harem is to the life of Turkey,
 as revealed in the luxuriant, indolent idleness of the Sultan and
 in the endless intrigues of his Pashas and Beys, and as concealed
 (at least from the eye of the Giaour) in the stifling recesses of
 the seraglio. It is a story of love and vengeance, the love and the
 vengeance of harem life running like a black thread through the tawdry
 splendor of two generations, and shooting its stains along the web
 and woof of other lives than those of the sufferers. If it reminds
 us of anything, it is of the early romantic work of Byron, who was
 the first Englishman whom the East really inspired, and who painted
 with singular poetic power the dark unbridled passion of its souls of
 fire--‘with whom revenge was virtue.’ We have in the Tragedy in the
 Imperial Harem a prose-poem of striking interest, and of permanent
 value, as a picture of Eastern manners.”--_The Mail and Express, New
 York._


_William S. Gottsberger, Publisher, New York._



  A PRACTICAL METHOD
  FOR
  LEARNING SPANISH
  BY
  A. RAMOS DIAZ DE VILLEGAS


 “Spanish is not under any circumstances a difficult language to
 learn. It has in its construction and pronunciation an encouraging
 directness very unlike the grammatical involutions of German and the
 delicate sound-shadings of French. Working in accordance with the
 rules of almost any ‘system,’ a diligent student can in a very little
 while acquire a fair mastery of the language; though it is true that
 some of the ‘systems’ are much more difficult than others. One of the
 simplest and best of them all is ‘A Practical Method for Learning
 Spanish,’ by Señor A. Ramos Diaz de Villegas, just now published by
 William S. Gottsberger, New York. The ‘method’ of Señor de Villegas
 comprehends a collection of anecdotes arranged in short lines with an
 English translation, similarly arranged, on the corresponding opposite
 page; familiar phrases, with idiomatic renderings in English in
 parallel columns; a vocabulary of words in common use, and a complete
 list of the Spanish irregular verbs. It will be observed that this
 method hardly can be called original; that it is more or less that of
 Morales, of Velazquez, of Prendergast, and that some of its features
 are found in Ollendorff and in Ahn; but in simplicity of arrangement
 and directness of purpose it is superior to all of these--Prendergast
 possibly excepted. It certainly is what it is called--a practical
 method for learning Spanish. With a relatively small outlay of mental
 exertion it produces exceptionally good results.”--_Philadelphia
 Times, June 24, 1882._


  ONE VOL., 12MO.--PRICE 75 CENTS.

  =Sent by mail, post-paid, on receipt of price.=

  WILLIAM S. GOTTSBERGER,
  _Publisher_,

  11 Murray Street,      New York.


  A METHOD FOR THE
  IDIOMATIC STUDY OF GERMAN
  BY
  OTTO KUPHAL, Ph. D.
  --PART ONE--
  _LESSONS, EXERCISES, AND VOCABULARY._
  Large 12mo.--536 pages. Price $2.25.

This Method is based on the principles of modern philosophy. Gradual
progress and spontaneous development are its leading features. The
sentence is the unit. Natural language precedes literary language. The
example teaches the rule; language teaches grammar.

The work is printed entirely in the Roman character.

 “_Spoken language is to written language what the real object is to
 its description._

 “The knowledge of language is based on sound. Sound is the soul of
 language; without it language is dead. Sound imparts life; vividly
 and forcibly it impresses _facts_ upon the mind, and _facts_ are the
 _absolute basis_ of _all_ knowledge. _No true, no real knowledge_ of
 language has ever been attained, unless it was founded on this solid
 basis which _the living voice_ alone has the power to create.

 “The study of language must conform to the process of nature. Language
 was spoken many ages before letters or books were even thought of, and
 no one ever attempted to read or write his mother-tongue before he was
 able to understand and to speak it. _To go counter to the sequence in
 which the faculties naturally and spontaneously develop, is to oppose
 the precepts of nature. We must understand a language before we can
 speak it; we must speak a language before we can read it._ _Reading_
 is indirect _hearing_. In reading we mentally _pronounce_ the author’s
 words and these mental _sounds_ are reported to the brain. If we
 cannot _pronounce_, we cannot _read_. When we begin to read our
 mother-tongue, we recall to our mind _known_ sounds and _known_ ideas.
 Must the process not be the same when we begin to read a foreign
 tongue? To make reading _the starting-point_ in the acquisition of
 a foreign language is contrary to reason and the student, after
 fruitless efforts, invariably abandons his task.”--_Extract from
 Author’s Preface._


_William S. Gottsberger, Publisher, New York._


       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber’s Notes:

Italic text is denoted by _underscores_ and bold text by =equal signs=.

Obvious printing mistakes have been corrected.

Variations in spelling, hyphenation, and accents remain as in the
original unless noted below.

  Title page, “PEREZ” changed to “PÉREZ.”
  Page 6, “archepiscopal” changed to “archiepiscopal” (“to a deputy who
    held the archiepiscopal throne”).
  Page 12, 14, 37, 69, 183, “Maria” changed to “María.”
  Page 22, “Solomó” changed to “Salomó” (“The Marquesa de San Salomó
    was talking”).
  Page 63, “mement” changed to “moment” (“said Leon after a moment’s
    hesitation”).
  Page 85, “sicence” changed to “science” (“to help science to the best
    of our little power”).
  Page 86, “cemetries” changed to “cemeteries” (“the pantheons of our
    cemeteries”).
  Page 90, “deen” changed to “been” (“it would have been difficult to
    refuse”).
  Page 148, “wakfulness” changed to “wakefulness” (“kept him from
    thorough wakefulness”).
  Page 167, “rigimarole” changed to “rigmarole” (“this coarse rigmarole
    and sham rhetoric”).
  Page 184, “christian” changed to “Christian” (“a deed of Christian
    charity”).
  Page 211, “utterence” changed to “utterance” (“means of giving them
    utterance”).
  Page 270, “Leen” changed to “Leon” (“and the finger pointed at
    Leon”).
  Page 287, “Fucar” changed to “Fúcar” (“Yours as ever, P. Fúcar.”).

The following changes were made:

  Page 34, “eat” changed to “ate” (“her absence the marquesa ate”).
  Page 168, superfluous “a” removed in “nature is like an artificial
    plant.”
  Page 280, “Leon” changed to “Federico” (“said Don Pedro to Federico”).





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