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Title: Morriña (Homesickness)
Author: Pardo Bazán, Emilia, condesa de
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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                                MORRIÑA

                           (_HOMESICKNESS_)



                                MORRIÑA
                           (_HOMESICKNESS_)

                            BY EMILIA PARDO
                           BAZÁN, TRANSLATED
                          BY MARY J. SERRANO

                            [Illustration]

                      CASSELL PUBLISHING COMPANY
                               NEW YORK

                          COPYRIGHT, 1891, BY

                      CASSELL PUBLISHING COMPANY.

                        _All rights reserved._

                      THE MERSHON COMPANY PRESS,
                             RAHWAY, N. J.



                                MORRIÑA

                           (_HOMESICKNESS_).



I.


If the apartment which Doña Nogueira de Pardiñas and her only son
Rogelio occupied in Madrid was neither the sunniest nor the most
spacious to be found in the city, it possessed, on the other hand, the
inestimable advantage of being situated in the Calle Ancha de San
Bernardo, so close to the Central University that to live in it was, as
one might say, the same as living in the university itself.

Seated in her leather-covered easy-chair by the window, widening and
narrowing the stocking she was

[Illustration: “Seated in her leather-covered easy-chair by the
window.”]

knitting without once looking at it, Señora de Pardiñas would follow her
adored boy with her gaze, which, traversing space and passing through
the solid substance of the walls, accompanied him to the very
lecture-room of the university. She saw him when he went in and when he
came out--she noticed whether he stopped to chat with any one, whom he
talked to, whether he laughed; she knew who his companions were, whom he
liked and whom he disliked; who were the industrious students and whom
the idle ones; who were regular and who were irregular in their
attendance. She was familiar, too, with the faces of the professors, and
made a study of their expression and their manner of returning the
salutations of the pupils, drawing from external signs important
psychological deductions bearing on the problem of the examinations:
“Ah, there comes old Contreras already, the Professor of Procedure. How
amiable he looks! what a saint-like face he has. How slowly he walks,
poor man. ’Tis easy to see that he suffers from rheumatism as I do. The
more’s the pity! I like him on that account, and not on that account
alone, but because I know that he is indulgent and that he will give
Rogelio a good mark in his examination. Now comes Ruiz del Monte, so
stiff and so conceited. He looks as if he were made all in one piece.
Poor us! Neither favor nor influence nor anything else is of any use
with him. He would have the boys know the studies as well as he does
himself. If he wants that let him give them his place in the
college--and the pay as well. Ah, here we have Señor de Lastra. He
stoops a little. What comical caricatures the boys make of him in the
class! And he is familiar to a fault. There he is now clapping Benito
Diaz, Rogelio’s great friend, on the back. He looks to me like a good
easy-going man. My blessing upon him! I don’t know what there is to be
gained by torturing poor boys and distressing their parents.”

Pausing in her soliloquy, the good lady ran her knitting needle through
the coil of her hair, now turning gray, and scratched her head lightly
with it. Suddenly her withered cheek flushed brightly as if a breath of
youth had blown across it.

“Ah, there is Rogelio,” she cried.

The student emerged from the building, wrapped in his crimson plush
cloak, his low, broad-brimmed hat slightly tipped to one side, his
glance fixed, from the first moment, on the window at which his mother
was sitting. Generally he would give her a smile, but sometimes,
assuming a serious air, he would raise his hand to his hat, and, with
the stiff movement of a marionette, mimic the salutation of the dandies
of the Retiro. The mother would return his salutation, shaking her hand
threateningly at him, convulsed with laughter, as if this were not a
jest of almost daily repetition. Then the boy would stop to chat for a
few minutes with some of his fellow-students; he would exchange a word
in passing with the match-vender, the ticket-vender, the orange-girl at
the corner, and the clerks of the neighboring shops, winding up with
some half-jesting compliment to the servants who stood chatting at the
doors; and finally he would ascend the steps of his own house, where
Doña Aurora was already waiting for him in the hall. His first words
were generally in the following strain:

“_Mater amabilis_, set quickly before your offspring corporeal
sustenance. I have an appetite that I don’t know where I got it. Ah-h-h!
If the beefsteak does not soon make its appearance, dreadful scenes of
cannibalism will be enacted.”

“Yes,” his mother would answer, smiling, “and it will all amount to your
eating a couple of olives and a morsel of meat. Go away with you, you
humbug! You have the appetite of a bird.”

The room in which they liked best to sit was neither the parlor--which
was almost always solitary and deserted,--nor Rogelio’s study, nor his
mother’s room; it was the dining-room, which adjoined the
reception-room. Here was the clock which informed Rogelio, negligent
about winding his watch, when it was time to go to college; here the
little table on which stood the work-basket with the unfinished stocking
buried under a pile of numbers of _Madrid Comico_, _Los Madriles_, and
all the _Ilustraciones_ that had ever been published; here the low,
broad, comfortable sofa and the capacious easy-chairs; here, on the
sideboard, refreshments for the inner man--a bottle of sherry and some
biscuits, or, in summer, fruits, which the boy ate with enjoyment; here,
in a glass, the branch of fresh lilacs, or the pinks which he wore in
his button-hole; here the earthen water jar exuding moisture from its
sides, and the bottle of syrup of iron, and the Japanese fan, and the
unfinished novel, with the marker between the leaves, and the
text-book, worn more by the ill-humor and displeasure with which it was
handled than by use; and finally, the little fireplace that had so good
a draught, which made up for the icy class-rooms, and the dilapidated
courts and passages of the temple of Minerva. With what enjoyment did
Rogelio go to warm himself by the fire before taking off his cloak when
he came in from college, stretching out his hands, cold as icicles, to
the blaze. The genial heat thawed his stiffened muscles, quickened his
impoverished blood, and gave him strength to ask, with a comical
pretense at scolding and coaxing entreaties mingled, for his breakfast,
almost regretting the promptness with which it was served, since it left
him a subject the less for his humorous jests. Before it had crossed the
threshold of the door, Doña Aurora was already crying out:

“Fausta! Pepa! Here is the señorito; bring the breakfast. Quick! Hurry!
Child, your syrup of iron. Shall I count your bitter drops for you!”

“What more bitterness do I want than the pangs of starvation! Here, you
who preside over the culinary department, may I be permitted to know
with what delicacies you intend to assuage to-day the pangs of hunger
that are gnawing my vitals? Have you prepared for me celestial ambrosia,
nectar from the calyxes of the flowers, or tripe and snails from the
Petit Fornos? Relieve me from this cruel uncertainty?

(Suppressed laughter in the kitchen.)

“Bring this crazy boy his breakfast, so that he may hold his tongue!”

Mother and son being seated at the table, the drops counted out and
drank, the steaming soup was set before them, followed by the couple of

[Illustration: “Suppressed laughter in the kitchen.”]

fried eggs, round and crisp-edged, and the beefsteak, invariably sent in
from the neighboring _café_. Only on this condition would Rogelio eat
it. No matter what pains Fausta, the Biscayan, might take, she could
never succeed in supplanting the cook of the _café_. The succulent piece
of underdone steak would come between two plates, with its accompaniment
of fried potatoes, tender, juicy, and appetizing. While Rogelio cut and
ate the meat, his mother watched him eagerly and anxiously, as if she
had never before seen this delicate youth, so different from the ideal
of a Galician mother. Twenty summers run to seed, a pale, dull
complexion, eyes black and sparkling, but with the eyelids drooping, and
surrounded by purple rings, a sarcastic mouth, the lips delicately
curved and somewhat pale, shaded by a light mustache, hair smooth and
silky, a head narrow at the temples, a slender throat, the back of the
neck slightly hollowed in, flat wrists and a graceful shape made up a
figure still immature, interrupted in its development by the _chlorosis_
which is the result of a hothouse existence in which the plant that
requires the pure, free air, dwindles and wilts. So that Doña Aurora did
not enjoy a moment’s peace of mind because of this son who, if not
exactly sickly, was of a nervous and delicate constitution, as was
evidenced by his moods of childlike gayety followed by periods of
causeless gloom. Therefore it was that she watched him at his meals as
eagerly as if every mouthful he swallowed were entering her own stomach
after a two days’ fast. In thought she said to the succulent meat: Go,
strengthen the child. Give him muscle, give him blood, give him bone.
Make him robust, manly, independent. Make him grow to be like a young
bull--although he should have all the savageness of one. No matter, all
the better, I only wish it might be so! Consider that all there is left
me in the world now to love, is that puny boy. And she would say aloud
to Rogelio:

“Eat, child, eat; flesh makes flesh.”



II.


Doña Aurora had her daily reception--and in the afternoon; nothing less,
indeed, than a five o’clock tea, as a society reporter would say--only,
without the tea or the wish for it, for if she had offered anything to
her guests, the Señora de Pardiñas, who was very old-fashioned in her
ideas, would undoubtedly have selected some good slices of ham or the
like substantial nourishment. As her friends knew that she was
accustomed to go out only in the morning wrapped in her mantle and her
fur cape to make a few unceremonious calls or to do some shopping, and
that she spent her afternoons at her dining-room window knitting, they
attended these receptions punctually, attracted to them by the cheerful
fire, by the easy-chairs, by friendship, and by habit.

The larger part of the circle of Doña Aurora’s friends was composed of
the companions of her deceased husband, magistrates, or, as she called
them in professional parlance, “Señores.” Some few of these, who had
already retired from active official life, were the most constant in
their attendance. Certain seats in the dining-room were regarded as
belonging of right to certain persons--the broad-backed easy-chair was
set apart for Don Nicanor Candás, the Crown Solicitor, who loved his
ease; the leather-covered arm-chair with the soft seat was for Don
Prudencio Rojas; the arm-chair covered with flowered cretonne by the
chimney corner--let no one attempt to dispute its possession with the
patriarch Don Gaspar Febrero. This venerable personage was the soul of
the company, the most active, the most imposing in appearance, and the

[Illustration: “The broad-backed easy-chair was set apart for Don
Nicanor Candás.”]

gayest of the assemblage, notwithstanding his eighty odd years and his
lame leg, broken by jumping from a horse-car. The first quarter of an
hour’s conversation was generally devoted to a discussion of the weather
and the health of the company; there was not one of these worthy people
who was not afflicted with some ailment or other. Some of them, indeed,
were full of ailments, so that neither their complaints nor the remedies
they discussed were of merely abstract interest. There an account was
kept of the fluctuations in the chronic catarrhs, the rheumatic pains,
the flatulent attacks, and the heartburns of each one of the assemblage,
and they discussed as solemnly as they had formerly discussed a judgment
the virtues of salycilic acid or of pectoral lozenges.

The sanitary question being exhausted--for everything exhausts
itself--they passed on, almost always following the lead of Señor
Febrero, to treat of less agreeable matters. The amiable old man could
not bear to hear all this talk of drugs, prescriptions, and potions.
“Any one would suppose one had one foot in the grave,” he would say,
smiling and showing his brilliant artificial teeth. The subject of the
conversation was changed, but it scarcely ever turned on questions of
the day. Like a gavotte played by a grandmother on an antiquated
harpsichord, the ritornello of souvenirs and reminiscences of the past
resounded here. The conversation usually began somewhat as follows:

“Do you remember when I received my appointment to the Canary Islands
during the ministry of Narvaez?”

Or:

“What times those were! At least ten years before the celebrated
Fontanellas case. My eldest son was not yet born.”

Señor de Febrero interposed to restrain them in these sorrowful
reminiscences of bygone days also, exclaiming with youthful vivacity:

“Why, that took place only yesterday, as one might say. In the life of a
nation what is a paltry twenty-five or thirty years?”

“Yes, but in a man’s life----”

“Or in a man’s life either, if it comes to that. Forty or fifty I call
the prime of life.”

“Speak for yourself. You have discovered the elixir of youth. You are as
fresh as a lettuce. But the rest of us look like parchment; we are only
fit to be wheeled out in the sun.”

With his crutch between his knees Don Gaspar laughed, and as he shook
his head the silvery curls of his wig shone in the light. I regret to be
obliged to pay tribute to descriptive truth by stating that Señor de
Febrero wore a wig and false teeth; but it must be added that their
falseness was so true that they were superior to the genuine articles
and would deceive the sharpest eye. With exquisite taste and consummate
art, the old man had had his wig made of hair as white as snow, and the
coronet of light white curls that encircled his ivory brow was like a
majestic aureole, very different from the thick forest of hair with
which would-be young old men persist in striving to repair the
irreparable ravages of time. In the same way the teeth, skillfully
imitating his own, somewhat uneven and worn, with a gap on the left
side, would have deceived anybody. With his beautiful hair, his
smooth-shaven face, his regular and still very expressive features, with
his pulchritude and dignity of mien, Don Gaspar reminded one of the
heads of the eighteenth century as they have come down to us in
miniatures. It seemed a pity that he should not wear an embroidered
satin coat; the cloth coat did not suit him. Even the ebony crutch, with
its blue velvet cushion, served to enhance and complete the commanding
dignity of his presence. With the gallantry of a bygone age, Don Gaspar,
the moment a woman appeared in sight, was all ardor, and honied speeches
flowed from his lips. Even to Señora Pardiñas, who was altogether out
of the lists, he did not neglect to pay attentions that were lover-like
and gallant, rather than merely polite.

It gratified the vanity of this old man, who wore his old age so
serenely and so gracefully, to hear his companions, all infirm, all
asthmatic, all with their chronic colds and coughs, all visibly bald,
say of him enviously:

“This Don Gaspar is wonderful. He will live to bury us all.”

It was also a gratification to his vanity to prove to them the strength
and clearness of his memory, and it was one which he often enjoyed, for
at the reception of the Señora de Pardiñas the thread of memory was
constantly spun, and intermingled with it was a strand of gold, but of
tarnished gold like that of an antique chasuble. Don Gaspar’s memory was
a sort of wardrobe in which were stored away among perfumes, duly
labeled and classified, events, names, dates, and even words. “This
Señor de Febrero is an old record-book,” Doña Aurora would say. When
there was a difference of opinion regarding the date of some past event,
Don Gaspar was appealed to as umpire.

“Isn’t it true, Señor de Febrero, that the Zaldivar case, at Seville,
was decided in the winter of ’56.”

“No, Señor, the winter of ’57. I remember it was on the 15th of
December--I mean the 16th, the birthday of our friend Don Nicanor
Candás.”

“But, good Heavens!” exclaimed Don Nicanor, when this was related to
him. “It is not right that any one should be endowed with a memory like
that. If that infernal Galician does not remember even the date of my
birth, a thing that I can never remember myself! As nobody is going to
steal any of my years away from me, I don’t see the use of keeping so
exact an account of them.”

Don Nicanor Candás, a retired Asturian, from Oviedo, suspicious and
conceited like all his townspeople, as biting as pepper and as sharp as
a thorn, afforded much amusement to the assemblage through his disputes
with Señor de Febrero, whom he opposed systematically, without
consideration for his patriarchal privileges or respect for his
honorable seniority. The better to confound his adversary Candás adopted
a singular method, which was not without humor. He pretended to be as
deaf as a post, and he always carried in the pocket of his coat a little
silver trumpet, which he put to his ear whenever he was able to answer
and refute his opponent’s arguments, but which he would say he had
forgotten to bring with him when, not being able to do this, he wished
to change the subject of conversation. Such a stratagem could not fail
to succeed, and by the help of it he was always enabled to avoid being
worsted in a dispute. In his language Señor de Candás was as rude and
ill-bred as Don Gaspar was choice, polite and mellifluous, and for this
reason he was out of harmony with the other _habitués_ of the house. Nor
was he so for this reason alone, but also because he was the only one of
them who preferred the news of the day to reminiscences of the past, the
only one who brought to this musty senate a breath of out-door air, of
real life.

The portentous memory of the octogenarian grew confused and uncertain
when recent events were concerned, and Candás, profiting by this defect
in the admirable faculties of the patriarch, was always trying to trip
him up. “Let us see,” he would say, “how our Don Gaspar would set about
proving an alibi. He is impregnable in all that relates to the
Calomarde ministry or the regency of Espartero, yet he does not remember
what he was doing this morning.” And imitating Don Gaspar’s voice, he
would add, “What did I do yesterday? Let me see. Did I go to see Rojas?
I think so. What am I saying? No, no. I was walking in Recoletos. Yet I
would not swear to that, either.”

This humorous criticism of the patriarch, might, to a certain extent, be
applied with equal justice to all the other “Señores.” It would seem as
if the present did not exist for them, as if the past only had life and
color. They discussed the news of the reporter, Don Nicanor, for a few
minutes with the pessimism that is characteristic of old age; then they
resumed their progress up the stream of time, plunging with supreme
satisfaction into the fogs of vanished years. Perhaps, along with old
age, they were influenced in this to some extent by the character
acquired in the practice of the law, a profession based on scientific
notions already stratified, a science purely historical, in which the
spirit of innovation is a heresy, and in which the judicial problems of
to-day are solved according to the standard of the Roman law or the
jurisdiction of the Visigoths. Thus it was that the reunions in the
house of the Señora de Pardiñas might be likened to a rock standing
motionless amid the ceaseless surge of the sea of life. The worthy
“Señores” did not see that among dusty and worm-eaten parchments, too,
living germs palpitate and the spirit of progress lives. Clinging to
vain formulas, they fancied they were the custodians of a sacred liquor,
when only the empty vase remained in their hands, and, treating of
innovations, they placed in the same category of heterodoxy the use of
the beard, inferior courts, trial by jury, and the revision of the
Codes.



III.


This assembly of sleep-walkers awakened to life and became animated at
the entrance Rogelio, who, before taking his afternoon drive or walk,
was in the habit of showing himself for a moment at the meeting,
laughing at what took place there, but good-naturedly, with the
mischievousness of a spoiled child. He had nicknamed it, “The Idle
Club.” Candás, on account of his bald yellow skull, he called “Lain
Calvo,” and the smooth-shaven and gallant Señor de Febrero, Nuño Rasura.
The servants called them by these names among themselves. Even the
Señora de Pardiñas laughed in secret, although she pretended to be vexed
and would say to the boy:

“It is very wrong for you to turn them into ridicule, in that
way--those poor gentlemen who are all so fond of you!”

And they were indeed fond of him. The moment Rogelio appeared it was as
if a ray of warm, golden sunlight had entered a closed and darkened room
where furniture, hangings, paper, and pictures have all acquired the
faded hue imparted by the dust and the damp. All the old men loved the
boy; one of them remembered him when he was a child in arms, another had
been present at his first communion; this one had brought him toys when
he had the scarlet-fever; that other, a professional colleague and the
intimate friend of his father, became a child again when he thought of
the baptismal sweetmeats. If they had acted according to their feelings,
notwithstanding the black fringe that adorned Rogelio’s upper lip, they
would have showered kisses on him, and brought him caramels and
peanuts. For them he was always the little one, the boy. It was true
that by a curious illusion the worthy guests of Señora de Pardiñas were
disposed to regard the young as children and those of mature years as
young. They would say, for instance; “So Valdivieso is dead! Why, he was
in the prime of life, he was only a boy!” And it was necessary for the
malicious Asturian, putting his ear-trumpet, or his hand as a
substitute, to his ear, to interpose, “A boy indeed! a pretty sort of
children you are dreaming of, truly. Valdivieso was past fifty.” “He was
not so old as that, not so old as that!” “What do you mean? And the time
he was in his nurse’s arms and learning to walk, does that count for
nothing?”

Where Rogelio was concerned, they carried to an extreme this whim of
forgetting the passage of time, and turning a deaf ear to the striking
of the clock. Every additional year he spent in the study of the law,
was for them a fresh wonder; they could not fancy him a lawyer: they
would have had him still at school learning to read. Once, on his return
from a summer excursion to San Sebastián, Señor de Rojas had said to him
with the utmost good faith:

“What a fine time you must have had, eh? Running about and playing on
the beach all day, I suppose?”

And the boy answered without betraying any annoyance, but with a grimace
of mischievous drollery:

“Yes, indeed, splendid! I made holes in the sand, and built little
houses with it. I never enjoyed myself so much.”

In reality the good heart of the young man had grown attached to the
assemblage of worthy old oddities who frequented the house. This very
Señor de Rojas, for example, inspired him with a feeling of affectionate
respect, on account of the justness of his views, and his unquestioned
probity. If Themis should descend to this lower sphere, she might take
up her abode in the house of Señor Rojas and she would find there an
altar erected to her and her image (of wood, according to Candás). A
jealous interpreter of the law in its literal signification, Rojas
walked along the narrow path that lay before him, without turning to the
right hand or to the left, with head erect, and with a tranquil
conscience. Convinced of the exalted dignity of his position, he
complied with the requirements of social decorum at the expense of
incredible privations in his house, sympathized with and seconded in
this heroic conduct by his wife. In the exercise of his functions he was
influenced neither by considerations of politics nor of friendship.
Interests involving millions had been intrusted to him, without
awakening in him the faintest touch of cupidity, which is only the
instinct of conservation expressing itself in the guise of
acquisitiveness. For this reason the honorable name of Prudencio Rojas
was pronounced, sometimes with veneration, sometimes with the disguised
and caustic irony which vice employs to discredit virtue. The sarcastic
Don Nicanor called Rojas a “puppet of the law.” He said that everything
about him, mind and character alike, was wooden, neither seeing nor
wishing to see that this kind of men, if laws were perfect as far as it
is possible for human laws to be, might, by their firmness and integrity
in applying them, bring back the golden age.

Often, of an afternoon, especially if it was very cold, or if it snowed
or rained, Rogelio, instead of going out, would settle himself
comfortably in a corner of the broad sofa and listen to the drowsy chat
of the old people. Whenever he could he tried to turn the conversation
toward a subject for him full of interest, and one of which he never
tired--his native Galicia, which he had left when he was very young.
Almost all the party were either natives of that province or had spent
long periods of time there, filling positions in the court of Marineda,
and they expatiated on the benignity and salubrity of the climate, the
cheapness and the excellent quality of the food, the easy and cordial
manners of the people and the extraordinary beauty of the scenery.

“I cannot understand why our amiable friend, Doña Aurora, does not take
the child to see his native place,” Señor de Febrero would say, stroking
the cushion of his crutch.

“I am always intending to do so,” Señora Pardiñas would answer, “but it
is one of those plans that something always happens to interfere with.
The truth is, as you know, that up to the present there has always been
some difficulty or other in the way.”

“Say that you are very fond of your ease, _mater amabilis_,” her son
would interpose. “If it had depended upon you, you would have been a
tree that you might have taken root where you had happened to be
planted.”

“Just as I take you to San Sebastián I might have taken you to Galicia,
child, but it has not been possible to do so. Do you think I don’t often
long myself to see my native place again? We who were born there--it is
foolishness--but our dearest wish is to go back to the old spot, and our
love for it never changes.”

“And we who were not born there love it too,” added Don Nicanor Candás,
armed with his trumpet. “I would give my little finger now to spend a
year in Marineda; I would rather go there than to Oviedo or to Gijón.

“But with me,” continued Señora Pardiñas, “something always occurred to
prevent me from carrying out my plan, as if the witches had interfered
in the matter. Do you long to see your native place again, before you
die? Well, wear yourself out with waiting until you are bent double with
old age. You shall hear the causes of my never going back there”--and
she would count them upon her fingers: “First, the difficulties in the
way of doing so. You leave your family, your home, your possessions, to
wander about the world, with a young child who is always delicate--from
Oviedo to Saragossa, then, on account of the Regency, to Barcelona, then
to the Supreme Court here. I was always saying to Pardiñas, ‘Resign your
position, man, resign your position, and let us return to the old land
and not leave our bones in a foreign soil. With what we have, we have
more than enough to live, and our family is not so large as to be a
burden to us.’ But you know what my poor husband was, there is no need
for me to tell you.”

(A murmur of sympathy in the audience.)

“He believed it was his duty to continue at his post to the end. And
whenever duty was in question--at any rate, that was his idea, and it
was necessary to respect it. And afterward, his health became so
wretched----”

Here Señora Pardiñas’ voice grew slightly husky. She put her hand into
her pocket, and taking out her handkerchief blew her nose and then wiped
her eyes.

“So that,” she repeated, with a sigh and a shrug of the shoulders, “when
the time came--And afterward you know how I was with my sisters-in-law,
the law-suits and the difficulties I was involved in. I thought I should
never be able to extricate myself from them. From home my old friends
wrote to me, ‘Come back, come back; in a day you will accomplish more
here than you could in a year there. What would you have?’ I was afraid
of the undertaking. With my rheumatism, to think of shutting myself up
in one of those coaches that you couldn’t open a window in if it was to
save your life! And when, well or ill, things were at last settled and
the tangle of the will was straightened out, lo and behold, they put a
railroad direct to Marineda. But by that time I had lost the wish to go,
for to return home to find myself at variance with all my
connections----”

“Not with all of them, mamma; according to your own account there are
several who have taken our part.”

“Bah, how can I tell? In our place, child, it is hard to know who is for
and who is against you. On that point I have had terrible
disappointments. When you least expect it, your friends betray you and
drive the knife into you up to the handle. To speak the truth, there we
are not frank and loyal, so to say, like the old Castillians.”

“You talk like a book,” assented Señor de Candás, who never let slip an
opportunity of showing his claws. “The Galicians may have all the good
qualities you please, but so far as being tricky and slippery and
deceitful is concerned, there is no one who can beat them. Don’t trust
to the word of a Galician, for they have no faith; or, if they have, it
is Punic faith. What must the Galicians be when the gypsies don’t
venture to pass through their country lest they should be cheated by
them?”

“Take care how you insult the old land,” said Rogelio.

“Why, that is a well-known fact. No gypsy will go to Galicia. They are
trickier and more crafty than all the gypsies put together. And as for
going to law--Good Lord! They are born litigants. And they will be sure
to get the best of you; the most ignorant peasant there could wind you
around his finger.”

“That is a proof,” responded Señor de Febrero, “that we are an
intelligent race; you will not deny that?”

Señor de Candás, removing the silver tube from his ear so as not to find
himself in the necessity of replying to this observation, and, in order
to finish his argument to his own satisfaction, continued:

“And there are simpletons, who call the Galicians clever! I call them
crafty. If they were clever, they would not be always sunk in poverty,
eaten up with envy, without ever making an effort to be anything better
than beggars and grumblers. They are more given to complaining than any
people I know. They are always crying and groaning about something.”

The ivory skin of Señor de Febrero flushed a little, for he found it
impossible to accustom himself to the malignant rudeness of Lain Calvo.

“You are a little severe, Señor Don Nicanor,” he said, “remember that we
Galicians are in the majority here. How would you like it if I were to
repeat to you now the vulgar saying, ‘Asturian, vain, bad Christian,
insane’?”

“There are plenty of fools,” continued the imperturbable Crown
Solicitor, “who make a great show of surprise when they hear these
things, but every one knows them so well that no one thinks it necessary
to repeat them. The Galician, it is true, possesses some shrewdness,
especially when the question is how to cheat his neighbor, but for all
that he can neither cultivate any industry nor better his miserable
condition. There he is, contented with his crust of corn bread, a poor
creature, without clothes to his back, who never eats meat and who does
not drink a glass of wine even once in the year. With all his
reputation for smartness, he sometimes seems more stupid than the
Aragonese themselves. He is stingy and he would save an _ochavitu_ even
if he had to scrape it from his skin with a file; but you need not fear
that he will ever think of investing this _ochavo_, or that he will have
the energy to work in earnest in the hope of saving a dollar. Nothing of
the kind. All he asks is to be let go on undisturbed in his lazy ways.
See, for instance, the network of railroads they have, and what use do
they make of them? They would not move a finger to attract summer
visitors. None of that desire to please, that neatness of the people of
our country.”

“One must either choke this Don Nicanor or take no notice of what he
says,” exclaimed Nuño Rasura, furious, “for he won’t listen to argument.
Where is that network of railroads he talks about? A pretty network!
Full of holes. He wants everything to be done in a day; no one but God
can work miracles! Everything needs time and patience. Let Don Nicanor
take note of the growing importance of beautiful Vigo. Its cool climate,
its coasts and rivers are the admiration of the newspapers. And the
women--always excepting those present, but then my good friend is from
there, too. And the fish, the like of which is to be found nowhere else,
what do you say of that? My dear Doña Aurora, I have eaten neither
sardines nor soles since I left there. Just before the downfall of
O’Donnell, I remember we were taking baths in Marin, and they brought a
turbot to the door that----”

Here the old man went on spinning the thread of memory, and Rogelio,
leaning with his elbow on the sofa, his cheek in the palm of his hand,
listened absorbed. It seemed to him as if he

[Illustration: “Rogelio ... his cheek in the palm of his hand, listened
absorbed.”]

were listening to some family tradition. The apartment, and the people
in it assumed an air of friendly intimacy; the atmosphere, moral and
material, was genial; the world was as comfortable and easy for him as
the cushion against which he leaned. Each of the company was for him, if
not a father, at the least an uncle. Around him reigned sweet security;
and as in certain luxurious abodes embarrassment and privation betray
themselves, so in this modest dining-room was plainly visible domestic
comfort, the most perfect golden mediocrity that poet could dream or
philosopher desire. Harmony and moderation are always beautiful, and
Rogelio, without being able to define this beauty that surrounded him,
felt it and sheltered himself in it as the bird shelters itself among
the feathers of its nest. And while the blazing logs crackled in the
fireplace, and the sounds of the mortar came softened from the kitchen,
and the old men chatted and his mother knitted her stocking, the boy,
plunged in vague reverie, tried to picture to himself what that
beautiful country, that green Galicia, abounding in rivers, in flowers,
and in lovely girls was like.



IV.


The whole street--shopkeepers, peddlers, servants, and inhabitants--all
knew Rogelio; as the saying is, every one had some account to settle
with him. He was familiar with all the establishments, or rather, the
modest little shops for the sale of crockery, imported provisions,
novelties, cordage and periodicals, interspersed among the ancient and
imposing ancestral houses of the Calle Ancha, which was animated by the
presence of the students and by the passing up and down of the street
cars.

But those with whom Rogelio was most intimate were the drivers of the
hackney coaches, of which there was a stand in the little square of
Santo Domingo. Doña Aurora seldom went out that a twinge of her
rheumatism or the cold or the heat did not decide her to send for one of
those vehicles, so shabby in appearance but so comfortable and
convenient. She called them, emphatically, her “equipages,” and declared
laughingly that her coach stood always waiting at the door with so
punctual a driver that he had never once kept her waiting. Rogelio, as
the only son of wealthy parents, indulged in a more luxurious mode of
conveyance; his mother allowed him to keep a dashing brougham and a pair
of spirited horses at the livery stable of Augustin Cuero, so that on
feast days he might drive in the Retiro, or wherever he might like. She
would not consent to his keeping a saddle horse, through fear of an
accident. But nothing in the world would have induced Señora Pardiñas
herself to make use of that toy equipage. She was perfectly satisfied
with her quiet hacks. Except on some special occasion--to make visits
of ceremony or the like--she cared not a jot whether her carriage had a
little extra varnish or her coachman wore gloves or a goat-skin cape.
Owing to the frequency with which she employed them and to judicious
tips all the drivers of the square were devoted to Doña Aurora, as well
as greatly attached to the Señorito, though he loved to torment them,
especially his compatriots, the Galicians, whom he was never tired of
teasing. He ridiculed their native land, he sang the _Muñeira_ for them,
he spoke to them in the Galician dialect, like the servants in Ayála’s
comedies, and if by a miracle they were vexed, he would say:

“I too, swift charioteer, am a Galician, a Galician of the Galicians.”

To which they would answer:

“What a droll señorito!”

Whenever he went to engage a carriage for his mother the moment they
caught sight of him, if he was a league away, they would laugh and
lower the sign. And he would appear upon the scene addressing them
something in this fashion:

“Winged Automedon, touch your fiery courser with the whip that he may
fly to my enchanted palace. Already the generous steed, impatient,
champs the golden bit. Behold him flecked with snowy foam. _Buloniu_, of
what were you thinking, that you did not perceive my approach?”

“I was reading _La Correspondencia_, Señorito.”

“_La Correspondencia!_ What name have thy sacrilegious lips pronounced?
_La Correspondencia!_ By the tail of Satan! A revolutionary, an
anarchical, a nihilistic sheet. Quick! Cast away that venom before thou
comest near the honorable dwelling of peaceful citizens. Hasten, run,
fly, coachman! Hurrah, Cossack of the desert! On, drunkard, demagogue!”

The more extravagant the absurdities he strung together the more
delighted were the drivers.

One morning Rogelio left the house wrapped up to the eyes in his cloak,
for these closing days of October were bitterly cold, although the
bright Madrid sun was shining in all its splendor. As usual, his errand
was to go in search of a carriage for Doña Aurora. On reaching the
corner of the square he caught sight of one of his favorite equipages--a
landau whose lining of Abellano shagreen was less soiled and worn than
that of the generality of those vehicles. The driver, a stout man, fair
and ruddy, answering to the name of Martin, was a Galician. Rogelio made
signs to him as he approached, crying:

“Martin, Martin of the cape! Ho, with the imperial chariot!”

The driver was conversing with a woman whose face was hidden from the
student, but at the sound of Rogelio’s voice she turned around and he
saw that she was young and not ill-looking, of humble appearance and
dressed in mourning.

“Señorito, what a coincidence!” exclaimed Martin, as he recognized
Rogelio. “This young girl is looking for the señorito’s house and she
was just asking me the way there. She is a country-woman of ours. She
brings a letter----”

“Will you let me look at the direction?” said the student, changing his
manner and the tone of his voice completely, as he addressed the young
girl.

The girl handed him the note, for it was only a note.

“Why, it is for mamma!” he said, as he looked at the superscription.
“Come with me; I will show you where the house is. Do you, driver,
follow in our resplendent wake with your imperial chariot, drawn by
that stately swan.”

“Many thanks, Señorito,” said the girl in a sweet and well modulated
voice, and with the sing-song accent peculiar to the Galicians of the
coast. “There is no need for you to trouble yourself. I can see the door
of the house from here; the driver pointed it out to me.”

[Illustration: “Will you let me look at the direction?”]

“It is no trouble; I am going that way,” replied the young man.

Without offering any further objection the girl walked with him in the
direction of the house. Rogelio instinctively took her left as he would
have done with a lady. He had not gone a dozen steps, however, before he
repented of his gallantry. In the first place, his companions would
ridicule him unmercifully if they should chance to meet him accompanying
so politely a girl wearing a shawl over her head and dressed in a plain
merino skirt. In the second place, Rogelio was at the age when a boy
brought up under maternal influence in the pure atmosphere of home
cannot avoid a feeling of painful shyness when brought in contact with
persons of the other sex with whom he is unacquainted. It is true that
women of an inferior station did not confuse him so much; young ladies
were like death to him; he always fancied they were making fun of him,
that everything they said to him was only in sport; to draw him out,
enjoy his confusion, and ridicule him afterward among themselves with
malicious and pitiless irony. Walking at the side of this girl dressed
in mourning, however, he experienced the same sort of confusion, for,
notwithstanding her humble dress, neither in her manner nor in her
appearance was there a trace of vulgarity. “Shall I speak to her?” he
said to himself. “Will she laugh at me? She will laugh at me more if I
say nothing. No, I must say something to her.” What he said--and with
the utmost seriousness, was:

“Do you know whom that letter is from that you are taking to mamma?”

“Why, certainly;” she replied; “it is from the young ladies at General
Romera’s. Don’t you know them?”

“Of course I do. General Romera was a friend of papa’s. We have not seen
them for a long time.”

“Doña Pascuala, the elder, has been sick. She had something they call
_tonsilitis_. Ah, she was very ill!”

“And is she better now?” asked Rogelio, for the sake of saying
something, for anxiety for Doña Pascuala’s tonsils would never have
deprived him of his sleep.

“She is entirely well now. If she was not well I should not have left
her.”

“Were you--living there?” (Rogelio did not venture to say _at service_.)

“Yes, Señor, ever since I came from the old land.”

“Ah, you are a Galician, then?”

“There is no reason why I should be ashamed of it.”

“Nor I either, _caramba_!”

“No, Señor, no indeed. It is a very good country, better than Madrid or
than any other place in the world.”

Rogelio smiled, pleased with the girl’s patriotism, and beginning to
feel at home with her, for she seemed to him incapable of ridiculing
any one. They were now near the house; Martin, who had gone on in
advance, stopped his hack, a task which was easier than to make him
start, and at the door stood Doña Aurora, making signs to her son.



V.


“Mamma, here is some one with a love-letter for you.”

“Who? This girl?”

“Yes, Señora--from the Señoritas Romera,” said the young Galician.

“Come here, let me see. Perhaps it is something that requires immediate
attention.”

But no sooner had she torn open the envelope than she burst into a
laugh.

“How crazy I am! Without my glasses--Here, child, read it you.”

Rogelio unfolded the missive and began in a pompous voice:

“High and mighty and most tormented lady: if your beauty----”

“See, child; have sense and read what is set down there; there is a
terrible draught and the rheumatism in my joints won’t allow me to
stand here listening to nonsense.”

In his natural tone of voice Rogelio read as follows:

“Most respected friend: Esclavita Lamas, the bearer, will inform you of
the favor she desires; all we can say is that during the time she was
with us, she was most exemplary in her conduct and fulfilled her duties
faithfully; so much so that we are very sorry to lose her, as we have no
fault to find with her; quite the contrary.

“Your old and affectionate friends,

                    “Pascuala and Mercedes Romera.”

“Is there nothing more, child?”

“There is a foolish postscript that it is not necessary to read.”

“A foolish postscript?”

“Yes; asking why no one ever sees me now and saying that I must be grown
a fine-looking young fellow. The stereotyped, silly compliments----”

“I am always telling you so, child!” exclaimed his mother, with
vexation. “You never go to spend ten minutes at the house of these poor
ladies, who are so fond of you. They have seen you so petted that they
will think it is all my fault. Well, I speak to you often enough about
them. Pascuala and Mercedes! If you don’t go, I shall.”

“But, _mater terribilis_, when I put my foot in that reception room, I
get so sleepy that I can do nothing but yawn!”

“Well, they are a pair of saints.”

“Amen; I don’t dispute their sanctity; I am only saying that they are
very tiresome and that they never stop talking. They keep up a duet like
the Germans in _La Diva_. ‘Rogelio, how is mamma?’ ‘And how are you
getting on with your studies?’” And he imitated the husky voice and
Malagan accent of the old maids.

“What nonsense you talk,” said Señora de Pardiñas, repressing a smile,
“I don’t know why Pascuala and Mercedes should make you sleepy.”

“Unfathomable mysteries of the human heart. Profound arcana. In that
_dimora casta e pura_ a fatal narcotic pervades the atmosphere.”

“Humbug!”

During this skirmish between mother and son the girl stood waiting,
motionless, with her eyes fixed upon the ground. Doña Aurora, at last
remembering her presence, turned toward her:

“Excuse me, child; this letter says that you will tell me what you have
come to see me about. Will you come upstairs?”

“No, Señora. Don’t put yourself to any trouble on my account. Here will
do just as well.”

“Well, let me hear. Is it some favor you wish to ask of me?”

“Favor? No, Señora. I would like to enter into service in your
house--or in the house of some other Galician family,” she added, after
a pause.

Doña Aurora looked fixedly at the petitioner and fancied she reddened
slightly under her gaze.

“You--were not contented at the Señoritas de Romera’s, then?”

“Yes, Señora, I was contented enough--and I think they were pleased with
me, too. You can see that from the letter they gave me. As far as the
Señoritas are concerned I would be in glory, for they are as good as
they can be, not belittling others. God grant them every prosperity!
Only that sometimes--there are good people that one doesn’t find one’s
self at home with. Those ladies are from Malaga, in the Andalusian
country, and they have customs and dishes that I don’t understand. Even
their way of talking is strange to me. When they tell me to do a thing
and I don’t understand, I feel as if I had heard my death sentence.
And, then, Señora, the truth before all--not to be among people of one’s
own country, never to hear it mentioned, even, makes one’s heart very
sad. For the half of the wages and with double the work I would rather
serve a person from my own place.”

All this she said with an air of so much sincerity that Doña Aurora’s
good-will toward her increased, prepossessed in her favor as she already
was by the respectable and decorous bearing of the girl, so different
from the bold manners of the Madrid Menegildas. Only there was something
in the girl’s story that was not altogether clear to her. There must be
some mystery in all this. Before the door the driver was smoking his
cigarette, while the hack, with drooping head and projecting lower lip,
was dreaming of abundant fodder and delightful meadows.

“Child,” said Señora Pardiñas. “I am going to sit down in the carriage.
As I am not as young as you are I feel tired standing, and my legs are
bending under me. If you don’t want to go upstairs, come over to the
carriage with me.”

The little Galician helped Doña Aurora to settle herself in the vehicle,
and the latter when she was seated said:

“Tell me, if you were so greatly attached to your country how was it
that you came here?”

Ah, this time there was not the slightest doubt of it; it was a blush,
and a vivid blush, that dyed the girl’s cheeks. And when she answered
one must be deaf, and very deaf, not to perceive that she stammered,
especially at the first words.

“Sometimes--one has--to do what one’s heart least prompts one to do,
Señora. We are children of fate. I was brought up by my uncle, the
parish priest of Vimieiro. It was the will of God to take him to himself
and I was left without a protector. To get one’s bread one must work. I
was a queen in my own house; now I am a servant. God be praised, and may
we never lose the power of our hands or our health.”

“Why did you not go out to service there?” persisted Señora Pardiñas,
who had a keener scent than a bloodhound where a secret was concerned.
And that the secret was there she could not doubt on seeing that it was
not now a blush but a hot flame that passed over Esclavita’s face.

“I--I couldn’t find a place,” she answered, in choking accents. “And
then, as everybody there knows me, I was ashamed.”

Doña Aurora Pardiñas reflected for some two minutes, and speaking gently
to soften the harshness of the words:

“Let us see,” she said. “You can refer only to the Señoritas de Romera
who--knew nothing about you before you went to their house. Isn’t it so?
It would be well, then,--you will see that yourself,--if you could find
some one here who knew you at home who would recommend you.”

The girl hesitated for an instant, and then said:

“The Señorito Gabriel Pardo de la Lage and his sister know who I am.”

“Rita Pardo? The wife of the engineer? I am very well acquainted with
her. And you say that she knows you?”

The girl answered by raising her hand and shrugging her shoulders as
much as to say, “Why, ever since I was born!”

“Well, child,” rejoined Señora Pardiñas, frankly, “I am sorry that you
should leave the Romeras. You could not find a better house or better
ladies.”

“I do not deny that,” replied Esclavita with greater emphasis than
before, if possible; “only that I have told you the truth, Señora, as if
I were talking to my dead mother or to the confessor. I was seized with
homesickness, and if I hadn’t left them I think I should have lost my
reason or have gone straight to my grave. I couldn’t eat. I would go off
by myself to a corner to think. I grew paler and paler every day, and so
thin that my clothes hung loose on me. At night I had fits of choking,
as if some one was tightening a rope about my neck. But in spite of all
that I was loth to say anything to the Señoritas. They saw it
themselves, though, and they were the first to advise me, if I did not
go back home, to look for a place with some family from there! ‘Child,
you are so altered that you don’t look like the same person,’ were the
very words they used.”

As she said this, Esclavita’s chin trembled like a child’s when it is
making an effort to keep from bursting into sobs. Her eyes could not be
seen, as she had cast them down, according to her wont.

“Calm yourself,” Señora Pardiñas said kindly. She was beginning to
conceive an irresistible sympathy for this girl, whose bearing was so
modest and whose heart was apparently so tender. How different she was
from the impudent servants of Madrid, the gadabouts of the suburbs,
shameless termagants who could not stay in any decent house. It was not
two hours ago that Pepa, the house-maid, for a mere nothing had thrown
aside all decency and scolded like a fishwoman. This little Galician
might have had--well, some slip--for the reasons she gave for leaving
her native place did not seem all clear; but her whole appearance was
so--well, so like that of an honest woman--God alone knew how the poor
thing had been tempted.

[Illustration: “‘See,’ she said, putting her head out of the carriage
door.”]

“See,” she said, putting her head out of the carriage door, “for the
present I cannot give you a decided answer as to whether I will take you
or not. Come to the house to see me to-morrow morning about this time.
I should be glad to--but I must think the matter over. If I should not
be able to take you myself, I will look for a place for you with some
other Galician family. Tell me your conditions, in case any one else
should want to know.”

Esclavita, meantime, stood rolling an end of her black silk handerchief
between her thumb and forefinger.

“May God reward you!” she answered. “As for the wages, a dollar more or
a dollar less makes no difference to me. Work does not frighten me. I
would not engage as a cook, for I don’t know how to make those fine
dishes that are the fashion now. I understand simple dishes like those
of my native place. In everything else I think I could give
satisfaction--in the cleaning, the mending, and the ironing. All I ask
is that in the family you look for there should not be--well, men,
who----”

“I understand, I understand,” interrupted Doña Aurora. And she added
jestingly, “But in that case, tell me why you want to come to my house.
Haven’t you seen that there is a man in it?”

And she pointed to Rogelio who, relieved from his embarrassment by his
mother’s presence, stood leaning against the carriage door, looking at
the girl. Esclavita followed the direction of Señora Pardiñas’ hand; for
the first time her eyes, green, changeful, sincere, rested on the
student. After a pause she said with a smile:

“Is that young gentleman your son? May God spare him to you for many
years. That isn’t the kind of man I mean, he is only a boy.”

Rogelio changed countenance as if he had received the most outrageous
insult. He tried to disguise his annoyance by a laugh, but the laugh
died away in his throat. It must be confessed that he even felt his eyes
fill with tears of vexation. It was one of those moments of insensate
and profound rage which must come at one time or another to the man
whose childhood has been unduly prolonged; moments in which he desires,
as if it were the highest good, to possess the bitter treasure of
experience--sorrows, disappointments, trials, struggles, sickness, gray
hairs, wrinkles, calamities, betrayal of friendship and of love--all,
all, so that he may hear the supreme word, so that he may taste the
fruit of good and evil, the immortal apple, golden on the one side,
blood-red on the other. All, so that he may fulfill the destiny of
humanity, all, so that he may pass through the cycle of life.



VI.


When the driver whipped up his horse, Señora Pardiñas called out to her
son, who was on the box:

“Give him Rita Pardo’s direction.”

Rogelio obeyed; but when they reached the house in the dingy Calle del
Pez, in which the engineer’s wife lived, he jumped down and opening the
carnage door, said to his mother:

“I won’t go in. To make your inquiries you have no need of me.”

“And where are you going now?”

“Oh, to take a turn,” responded the student, indifferently, with a
farewell gesture of the hand which betrayed the impatience of the boy
growing into manhood to assert his manly independence, something like
the nervous fluttering of the wings of the bird when his cage door is
opened to him. Without further explanation he drew his cloak more
closely about him and disappeared around the nearest corner. His mother
followed him with her eyes as long as he remained in sight, then she
sighed to herself and half smiled. “It must come some day,” she thought.
“He is at an age when the reins cannot be held too tightly. Of course,
the poor boy does not impose upon me, that is only to show his
independence; he will look in at a few shop-windows, buy half-a-dozen
periodicals, and take a turn or two with any friend he chances to meet,
and then go to the apothecary’s. If I could only see him strong, robust,
burly--there are boys at his age that are perfect giants that have a
beard like a forest. He is so delicate, and so puny! Our Lady of Succor,
bring me safely through!”

These maternal anxieties had calmed down by the time Señora Pardiñas,
releasing her grasp on the banister of the stairs, had rung the bell of
Rita Pardo’s apartment--a third floor with the pretensions of a first.
The door was opened by a girl of eleven or twelve, pale, black-eyed,
with her hair in disorder, her dress in still greater disorder, who as
soon as she saw the visitor ran away, crying:

“Mamma! Mamma! Señora de Pardiñas!”

“Show her into the parlor; I will come directly,” answered a woman’s
voice from the inner regions of kitchen or pantry. Doña Aurora, without
waiting for the permission, was already entering the parlor, a perfect
type of middle-class vulgarity, full of showy objects, and without a
single solid or artistic piece of furniture. There were three or four
chairs covered with plush of various colors, an _étagère_ on which were
some cast-metal statuettes; several trumpery ornaments and silver
articles which were there only because they were silver; two
oil-paintings in oval frames, portraits of the master and the mistress
of the house, dressed in their Sunday finery; on the floor was a
moquette carpet, badly swept. It was evident that the parlor was seldom
cleaned or aired, and the carpet gave unmistakable indications of the
presence of children in the house.

At the end of ten minutes, Rita Pardo, the engineer’s wife, made her
appearance. She came in fastening the last button of a morning gown, too
fine for the occasion, of pale blue satin trimmed with cream-colored
lace, which she had put on without changing her undergarments soiled in
her household tasks. She had powdered her face, and put on her
bracelets. Although she was no longer young and her figure had lost its
trimness, neither maternity nor time had been able to dim her piquant
beauty, but the coquette whom we remember laying her snares for her
cousin, the Marquis of Ulloa, had been transformed into a circumspect
matron, with that veneering of decorum under which only the keen eye of
the student of human nature could discover the real woman, such as she
was, and would ever remain; for the real man and the real woman, however
they may disguise themselves, do not change. She greeted Señora de
Pardiñas cordially, with her usual, “What a pleasure to see you, Aurora!
Heavens! in this life of Madrid months may pass without seeing one’s
friends or knowing whether they are living or dead. You have caught me
like a fright. The mornings are terrible--they slip away in listening to
idle chatter and sending and receiving messages. How sorry Eugenio will
be----”

No sooner had Doña Aurora broached the subject of her visit than Rita
Pardo suspended the flow of her talk and waited to hear further, with
evident curiosity depicted in her voluptuous black eyes, and on her
hard, fresh mouth. A series of ambiguous gestures and malicious little
laughs was the prelude to the following commentary:

“What do you tell me? What do you tell me? Esclavita Lamas. The rector
of Vimieiro’s Esclavita Lamas! Ta, ta, ta, ta, ta! And how has Esclavita
Lamas happened to come across you?--Isn’t she a girl with auburn hair?”

“I don’t know whether her hair is auburn or not. She wears a shawl over
her head. She is in deep mourning and looks very neat. Her appearance is
greatly in her favor.”

“Well, well, well! Esclavita Lamas! Who would have thought it! Yes, she
is, as we say in our part of the country, very demure, very mannerly;
she talks so soft and low that at times you can scarcely hear her. She
smells a hundred leagues off of the sacristy and of incense. A little
saint!”

[Illustration: “Who would have thought it!”]

Doña Aurora was more discouraged than was reasonable by this preamble;
she resolved, however, to disguise her feelings and to find out the
truth, the whole truth, even though it should grieve her to the heart to
hear any ill of the girl, in whom she was deeply interested.

“So that you know her very well?” she said.

“Heavens! As well as I know my own fingers. Indeed I know her! Lamas
Tarrío was a great friend of the family even while he was in the other
parish in the mountains before papa presented him for Vimieiro. He
always lived in our house, and he was very fond of making presents. What
lard, what cheese, what eggs at Easter and what capons at Christmas he
used to give us! Papa thought a great deal of him, for in the mountains
he took charge of the collecting of the rents. In short, he was devoted
to us. He was indebted to papa, too, for a great many favors, important
favors, Doña Aurora.”

“Well, what I want to know is what relates to the girl. If her
antecedents are good, and I can admit her into my house, I shall be
glad of it. I am not satisfied with Pepa, and I have taken a liking to
this girl.”

Rita Pardo smiled maliciously, as she smoothed out the lace of her left
sleeve, a little crumpled with use. She arched her eyebrows, and made a
grimace difficult of interpretation.

“Um! Good antecedents may mean much or little, as you know. What is good
for one is only middling for another. In that matter, some people are
more particular than others. If the girl pleases you so much----”

“No, not so fast!” exclaimed Señora de Pardiñas, alarmed. “For me good
antecedents are good antecedents, neither more nor less. Be frank and
tell me all you know, for that is what I have come for; and now with the
thorn of suspicion you have planted in my mind, I would not take the
girl, not if she were crowned with glory, unless you explain to me----”

Rita smoothed out her lace again, and gave a little sigh of
embarrassment as she answered:

“Aurora, there are certain things that, no matter how public they may
be, one cannot have it on one’s conscience to reveal them. You know
nothing about the matter, eh? Then it would be very ugly on my part to
enlighten you. So much the better if it has not reached your ears; it is
an advantage for Esclavita. And you can take her without any hesitation;
I am certain she will turn out an excellent servant.”

“You are jesting, Rita,” said Señora de Pardiñas, letting her growing
irritation get the better of her, “You envelop the affair in mystery,
you make a mountain out of it, and then you tell me that I may take
Esclavita. No, child; in my house people are not received in that way,
without knowing anything about them. Explain what you mean----”

When the interview had reached this point Rita assumed a manner that was
almost discourteous; she threw herself back, her nostrils dilated, her
bosom swelled, and she began to excuse herself from answering with an
air of offended dignity and wounded modesty.

When, after exhausting all her arguments, Doña Aurora obtained for her
sole response, “I am very sorry, but it is impossible,” she rose,
without troubling herself to conceal the annoyance this impertinent
affectation of modesty had given her. She was just saying angrily,
“Excuse my having come to trouble you,” when after a loud ring at the
bell, followed by exclamations in a childish voice in the hall, the
eldest girl--the twelve-year-old madcap, rushed joyfully into the
parlor, crying:

“Mamma! mamma! Uncle Gabriel!”

Then, the widow Pardiñas, with sudden inspiration, planted her feet
firmly on the floor, saying to herself:

“Now I shall have my revenge. Now you shall see, hypocritical cat,
impostor, humbug!”



VII.


The commandant, dressed in the costume of a peasant, unceremoniously
entered the room with his niece, who was the apple of his eye, his arm
encircling her waist as if he was going to dance a waltz with her. In
the salutation he exchanged with his sister, however, Doña Aurora could
detect a shade of coldness, not far removed from dislike, a feeling
which can sometimes be dissimulated where strangers are concerned, but
never where its object is a member of one’s family. After the customary
salutations and compliments, Señora de Pardiñas, who did not belie her
race so far as wiliness and obstinacy were concerned, said tentatively:

“Well, I will leave you now. After all, I did not find out what I had
come to learn, and consequently---- Your sister is very reserved, Señor
de Pardo.”

“Upon my faith, I have never thought so,” answered the artilleryman
bluntly, almost rudely.

“Well, every one speaks of the fair according to the bargain he has
made. With me she has shown herself extraordinarily reticent.” And
without heeding the gesture or the glance of Rita, she continued
undaunted: “For the last quarter of an hour I have been asking
information from her in vain about a young countrywoman of ours,
Esclavita Lamas, the niece of the rector of Vimieiro.”

Pardo listened like one in whose memory some vague recollection has been
awakened.

“Stay--let me think--Vimieiro--Lamas--Lamas Tarrío. He was an intimate
friend of papa’s. Rita knows all about him; she has the whole story at
her fingers’ ends.--What objection have you to tell it to Doña Aurora?”

A caricaturist desiring to represent _bourgeois_ dignity in its most
exaggerated form might have copied with exactness the features and
expression of Rita as, arching her brows and pointing to her eldest
daughter leaning against the commandant’s knees, she exclaimed
impressively:

“The child!”

“Well, what of the child?” responded Don Gabriel, imitating his sister’s
tragic tone. “Is it one of those shocking things that innocent ears must
not hear--that the cat has had kittens, for instance?”

“Gabriel, you are dreadful,” groaned Rita, casting up her beautiful
southern eyes. “When one is killing one’s self, trying to make your
nieces what they ought to be in society, you must do your best to--there
is no use in trying to struggle against people’s dispositions.”

“Well,” insisted the obstinate Doña Aurora, “I come back to my
complaint. Rita, don’t say that it was for the child’s sake that you
refused to give me the information I asked. The child was not present,
and even if she had been, by sending her out of the room----”

[Illustration: “Well, what of the child?”]

“Which is what I am going to do now. Eugenita, child, go practice your
Concone.”

The girl left the room, much against her will, casting on her uncle, as
she went, a couple of affectionate farewell glances; but no scale or
study was heard to tell that she had shut herself in the musical
torture-chamber in which our young ladies, worthy of a better fate, are
condemned to dislocate their fingers daily.

“You shall hear,” said Doña Aurora, emphatically, “now that we can speak
freely. The question is that that girl, Esclavita Lamas, wants to enter
my service; and that I, for my part, am greatly pleased with what I have
seen of her. But I know nothing about her past, nor why she left her
native place. There seems something odd in the whole affair. Your sister
knows the story, and neither for God’s sake nor the saints’ will she
tell it to me. There you have the cause of our dispute. It was beginning
to grow serious when you came in.”

“The story,” said Gabriel, nervously wiping his gold-rimmed spectacles,
and putting them on again carefully. “Wait a moment, Señora; for if my
treacherous memory does not deceive me--Rita, is not that the Father
Lamas who took a poor girl off the street into his house for charity?
Tell the truth, or I shall write this very day to Galicia to inquire.”

“Heavens! What notions you have! You are growing more unbearable every
day--Was I not going to tell you the truth? Yes, that was the Lamas, and
since you insist upon opening his grave, and dragging him out to public
shame, do it you, for I don’t want to have such a thing on my
conscience.”

“It should weigh more heavily upon your conscience,” replied Gabriel,
with vehemence, “to try to prevent the girl getting her place on account
of the sins of others. Now I can tell you the whole story, Doña Aurora,
by an end I have unwound the skein; it is the same with stories as with
an old tune--if one remembers the first bar, one can sing the whole of
it through without a mistake. And I can tell you that it is a novel, a
real novel.”

“It may seem so to you,” said Rita, venomously, pulling the lace of her
sleeves again. “As for me--there are certain things---- Well, I wash my
hands of it.”

Doña Aurora concealed the satisfaction her victory gave her, but, a
woman after all, she said to herself, casting a side glance at Rita:

“I’ve got the best of you, hypocrite!”

“You shall hear,” began the commandant. “This Father Lamas was a
simple-minded man, illiterate as all the rural clergy were at that
time,--now they are much more enlightened,--and not over-intelligent;
but he performed all his parochial duties faithfully, and if he
committed faults he succeeded in hiding them. If you cannot be chaste,
be cautious, as the saying is. Well, one night there came to the door of
the rectory a girl, about tea years old, an orphan, who lived upon
charity; in one house they gave her a piece of corn bread, in another a
bundle of corn leaves to sleep upon, here a ragged shawl, there a pair
of old shoes. In this way the wretched girl managed to live. The rector
took pity upon her and said to her: ‘Stay here; you can learn housework;
you will have clothes to wear, a bed to sleep in, and good hot soup to
nourish you.’ And so it was decided--the girl stayed.”

“The girl was Esclavita?”

“No, Señora, no Señora. Wait a while. The girl turned out bright and
capable; she put away from her her melancholy, as they say in our
country, and she even grew rosy and handsome. And--” here the voice of
the commandant took a sarcastic tone--“when the flower of maidenhood
bloomed--”

“Oh, Gabriel,” remonstrated Rita, “certain things should be spoken of in
a different way. There is no need of entering into details that----”

“Bah!” said Doña Aurora. “We are all of us married and I am an old
woman. We know all about it and are not to be so easily shocked as that
comes to, my dear. Go on. What came afterward?”

“Afterward came Esclavita.”

Although Señora Pardiñas had affirmed that she _knew all about it_, this
piece of information, given thus suddenly, almost made her jump in her
chair.

“Ah!” she exclaimed, and then looked very thoughtful. “That is why the
poor girl--well, and afterward?”

“Afterward,” cried Rita impetuously, unable to keep silent any longer,
“papa had the greatest difficulty to pacify Señor Cuesta, the Cardinal
Archbishop. As the Archbishop himself was so virtuous he maintained
strict discipline and permitted no misconduct. If it were not for all
papa’s efforts with his eminence, to-day one entreaty and to-morrow
another, Lamas Tarrío would have been deprived of his license and would
have been left to rot in the ecclesiastical prison. For it is one thing
for a priest to commit a fault that no one knows anything about, and
another to scandalize his parishioners, bringing up the child in his own
house, outraging public opinion, petting and indulging her----”

“My father,” said Gabriel, interrupting his sister, “with one hand
smoothed down the Archbishop and with the other hammered away at the
sinner. By dint of exhortations he succeeded in having the siren sent
away from the rectory; but Lamas continued to see her. At last papa
took a firm stand and prevailed on him to allow the mother to be sent to
Montevideo, on condition that he was permitted to keep the child.”

“Yes,” again interposed Rita, “a fine remedy that was, worse than the
disease. The man became wilder and more reckless than he had been
before. He spent night after night without closing an eye, crying and
screaming. He had a rush of blood to the head--he was in our house at
the time--so that they were obliged to apply more than forty leeches to
him at once, and the blood that came was as black as pitch. We thought
he would go mad; he would go about the corridors tearing his hair,
calling on the woman’s name with maudlin expressions of endearment.”

As Rita said this her brother observed that the curtains of the
adjoining room moved as if they had been stirred by a breath of
hoydenish curiosity, and the outlines of an inquisitive little nose
were vaguely defined against them.

[Illustration: “The outlines of an inquisitive little nose were vaguely
defined against them.”]

“See,” he said, “now it is you who are getting beyond your depth. All
that has nothing whatever to do with the case. Let us end the story at
once, and let me tell it in my own way. Poor Lamas became so ill that
the Archbishop himself was sorry for him, and sent for him to cheer him
and inspire him with thoughts of penitence. And in effect, in process of
time he grew calmer and even behaved himself very well afterward. The
only fault to be found with him was that he brought up the child with
extraordinary indulgence; but as the feelings of a father, even when
they contravene both human and divine laws, have something sacred,
people shut their eyes to this. He introduced the girl as his niece. As
such children do not inherit, the priest saved up money, ounce upon
ounce, which he put into Esclavita’s own hand; but the girl, who had
turned out very discreet and very devout, and, in addition to that, very
unselfish, when Lamas died, gave all this money, in gold as she had
received it, for masses and prayers for the soul of the sinner. This act
alone will give you an idea of the girl’s character. There are not many
girls who would do so much even if they had been born in a better
station and in a more orthodox manner.”

“As my brother is of a romantic turn he sees things in that way,”
interposed Rita.

“Señora de Pardiñas, I give you my word as a gentleman that I neither
add nor diminish. That girl, in my opinion, would be capable of going
bare-footed on a pilgrimage to any part of the world in order to get the
soul of the rector of Vimieiro out of purgatory.”

“And well he would need it,” said Rita, “and her mother too, who, by all
accounts, does not lead the life of a saint over there in America.”

“Good Heavens! How merciless you women can be, who have never had to
suffer for the want of consideration or of bread,” exclaimed Pardo, now
really angry. “I do not err on the side of philanthropy, but there are
certain things that I cannot understand in people who make a boast of
being good Christians and who go to mass and say their prayers. Fine
prayers those are! Is that what you understand by charity? Well, my
dear, I declare that Esclavita is worth more than----”

Fortunately he restrained himself in time and ended:

“Than some other people. How is she to blame for her parents’ faults?
Tell me that! And she is expiating them as if she had committed them.
She even left her native place, it seems, so as not to be where people
know and remember and discuss----”

“I would swear the same thing,” asserted Doña Aurora warmly. “Now I know
why it was that she became so confused when she was asked certain
questions. I am of the same opinion as you, Pardo, that she is good,
that she has noble sentiments, and that those traits do her honor.”

“Yes, be guided by my brother, admit her into your house,” exclaimed
Rita, with a spiteful and insolent laugh. “For giving advice, Gabriel
has a special gift. I tremble when he and my husband get together. If
Eugenio were to be led by him we should be living on charity. Take that
girl on your hands, and you will see how it will end. Then you will say,
‘Rita Pardo was right after all.’”

Señora Pardiñas thought within herself:

“I will take her if only to spite you, hypocrite, impostor. I have taken
your measure, now.”

When Gabriel was going out, he found his eldest niece waiting for him in
the reception room. He caught her by the waist, and lifting her up to a
level with his mouth, whispered in her ear:

“Good little girls, if they want Uncle Gabriel to love them, must not
go peeping and spying and hiding themselves behind portières. They must
obey mamma because she is mamma, and she will not tell them to do
anything wrong. Take care and don’t bite, little lizard. Good little
girls--are good. Ah-h-h! my cravat!”

[Illustration: “He caught her up by the waist.”]

“Uncle Gabriel, will you take me with you?” coaxed the little madcap.
“With you, yes; with you, no; with you, yes, I will go. Come, take me
with you!”

[Illustration: “The commandant threw a kiss to the girl, which she
promptly returned.”]

“To Leganes it is that I will take you. Be good now! Study your French
lesson! Comb that mane of yours! Run into the kitchen to see what the
girl is about there! Papa likes his roast beef well done! See to papa’s
roast beef!”

As he crossed the threshold the commandant threw a kiss to the girl,
which she promptly returned.



VIII.


Doña Aurora was in the habit of taking her son his chocolate every
morning before he was out of bed, for, old-fashioned in many other
respects, the household was old-fashioned also in the matter of early
rising. Those were delightful moments for the doting mother.

The boy, as she called him, felt on awakening that causeless joy
peculiar to the springtime of life, that season when each new day seems
to come fresh from the hands of time, golden and beautiful, and
embellished with delights, before painful memories have begun to weigh
down the fluttering wings of hope. Rogelio, who in the afternoon
suffered from occasional fits of nervous depression, in the morning was
as gay and sprightly as a bird. Even his chatter resembled the chirping
of birds or the cooing of infants when they open their eyes in the
morning. His mother, after removing the articles of clothing and the
books lying about, would seat herself at his bed-side and hold the tray,
so that the chocolate might not spill as the boy dipped the golden
biscuits into it, while a glass of pure fresh milk stood beside it
waiting its turn.

[Illustration: “His mother ... would seat herself at his bed-side and
hold the tray.”]

And what anxiety and trouble this glass of milk cost Doña Aurora! She
knew more on the subject than the entire municipal board of chemists;
without analysis or instruments or other nonsense of the kind, she could
distinguish, simply by looking at it, by its color and its odor, every
grade and quality of milk that is consumed in Madrid. For her hopes of
seeing Rogelio grow robust were all centered in that glass of milk drank
before going to college, and in the beefsteak eaten after returning from
it.

While he was taking his chocolate, it was that all the events of the
preceding day were discussed, the amusing skirmishes between Nuño Rasura
and Lain Calvo, the college jokes, the latest crime, last night’s fire,
together with all the trifling incidents of that home so truly peaceful
like many another in the capital, notwithstanding the provincial
superstition that Madrid is a perpetual whirlpool or vortex, Rogelio’s
first words on the morning following the day of the Galician’s
application were to ask his mother with ill-disguised interest:

“Well, what did they tell you about the fair maid--of all work?”

There was nothing strange or out of the way in his asking this question,
and yet Doña Aurora was somewhat embarrassed by it, and hesitated
whether she should tell him what she had heard or keep it to herself.
No, it would be more prudent to say nothing about it. It was a serious
matter, and if Rogelio should be wanting in discretion--it was necessary
to proceed with caution.

“See, little mouse, in the first place I must tell you that I have
dismissed Pepa.”

“Hello! Is a change of ministry to take place here without my being
consulted in the matter?”

“You shall hear! She was getting to be very conceited, very fond of
answering back. So I handed her her wages. I will bear anything from
them but answering back. I suppose there was a lover in the business or
she would not----. To tell the truth I am tired of these Madrid
servants, they are so upsetting and unbearable with their airs and
assurance. I prefer a modest, docile girl. With a civil word you can
conquer me, I can’t help it. If you were to see that Pepa, as stubborn
as a mule and as wild as a mountain rabbit. Ah, I can’t believe that she
is gone!”

“_Mater_, enough of _prolegomena_,” exclaimed the boy, dipping the end
of his biscuit into the milk. “All this means that you are going to take
the black-robed Unknown. She found her way straight into your heart
through your eyes. We all have our weaknesses.”

“Don’t be foolish. What I want is that things should run smoothly in
the house. That is a deserving girl. When I say so----”

Ah! those resolutions to be reticent, those determinations to be
discreet, shun them as you would fire, for they open wide the door to
unrestrained confidences. Señora de Pardiñas meant to be silent, but who
is silent after letting out the first hint. Nor would Rogelio have given
her any peace. Besides, Doña Aurora in her heart was eager to recount
her triumph and tell how she had got the best of that hypocritical
humbug, Rita Pardo. This sweet satisfaction was the reward of her
victory. There is a pleasure whose origin cannot be defined but whose
attraction we almost all feel, in relating these tragic episodes of
human life which by their reaction on society affect us all, which
interest us, because they appeal to our sentiments of compassion and
justice, and at the same time present to us grave problems, not for our
solution, but only for our consideration, as we consider the argument of
a tragedy which we see represented on the stage and which arouses our
horror and pity. Rogelio, leaning with his elbow on his pillow and with
wide open eyes, waited eagerly for his mother’s romantic story.

“You see,” said the latter, when she had finished her story, “that we
must treat the poor girl with some consideration. In the circumstances
she could not have behaved better than she has done. She has shown
herself to be remarkably unselfish, and along with that, religious and
discreet. As far as I understand she believes herself to be under a ban,
and that she must bear the sins of her parents, and it makes her ashamed
that in her native place they should see her and remember what has
happened. We must be very careful how we speak to her. Her father we
must not even mention; still less her mother--for the wretched woman is
still living and wandering about the world, leading Heaven knows what
sort of a life.”

“Well,” responded Rogelio, recovering his good humor, “it seems then
that we are to regard the girl as if she were a mushroom. If the
question ever turns on fathers or mothers I will say to her--“Of course
I know you never had any. Will that do?”

“Child, don’t be absurd. Eat that other biscuit. What I mean is that you
must not tease her. People who have suffered great misfortunes are very
sensitive; the least thing is apt to upset them. I should like her to be
contented. In this Madrid, where there are so few good servants, to find
a virtuous girl of so attractive an appearance is a great piece of good
luck, I can tell you. They are either like sergeant-majors or like
rushes.”

“Shall I buy a bunch of flowers to present to her gallantly when she
enters our mansion?” asked the student. His mother gave him an
affectionate little tap, saying:

“What I am going to buy is a washstand and a few other necessary
articles, for that untidy Pepa has left the room like a den of lions;
otherwise this girl, who is so neat, will not find a place to wash her
hands. A washstand, some soap, a little table, and new mat so that she
may not have to step on the tiles, that are as cold as ice, when she
gets out of bed in the morning. Or better than a mat would be a piece of
moquette carpet, and it can be had so cheap. I am going to buy her some
warm cloth, too, to make a little jacket. I don’t believe she has a
wrap; she came without any yesterday. I don’t know how she may be off
for clothing. I am sorry now for the three beautiful garments I gave to
Pepa less than a fortnight ago.”

“Bah! All you have to do is to order a trousseau from Paris, like that
of the Señora de Cánovas, for instance. Ten dozen elegant wrappers and
four thousand pairs of silk stockings. Would that be enough?”

Doña Aurora went out early and returned home before twelve with her new
acquisitions. It was a pleasure to her to see the room swept and the
washstand and the piece of carpet in their places. She put out clean
towels and had a white quilt put on the bed to make the iron bedstead
look more attractive. She left the room for a moment, and on returning
she could not help bursting out laughing. In a blue glass was a cheap
bunch of flowers and Rogelio was hidden behind the door, watching.

“What do you think of that idea, eh? Now we have a bouquet. _Caray_,
_carapuche_, as Lain Calvo says. They are gardenias; ten dollars they
cost me. Shall I go get a begonia? It would look very well beside the
washstand. We will write a description of it afterward: ‘The alcove was
transformed at the touch of a fairy’s wand into a leafy winter garden.’”

Esclavita was engaged when she presented herself at about one o’clock.
But she wished to go to say good-by to the Señoritas de Romera. She did
not install herself in her new home until the afternoon, when she
brought a boy with her to carry her trunk--one of those Galician trunks
covered with leather, with tin clamps. It was so light that at the foot
of the staircase the girl took it on her shoulders and carried it
upstairs herself. In this trunk, which was almost empty, she carried all
the wealth she had inherited from the rector of Vimieiro.



IX.


During the first few days she was like a hen in a strange yard. In
truth, whether it were owing to sad recollections, or to the strange
malady of homesickness from which she had suffered ever since her
arrival in Madrid, the girl began to decline visibly in looks and she
fell into a state of dejection which, though it did not prevent her from
working with diligence and even with ardor, deprived her of the
elasticity which lightens toil. It was plain to be seen that she had
grown thinner, and although from the slenderness of her form and from
the expression of her face it was evident she was younger, from her
serious turn of mind, and the gravity of her demeanor, she might be
thought twenty-eight or thirty.

It is to be adverted that this species of melancholy or dejection did
not interfere with the strict performance of her duties. On the contrary
Esclavita was a model servant. She rose very early, almost with the sun,
indeed, and before the cook had thought of lighting the fire she was
already arranging everything for the breakfast of the mistress and the
young master. From the very first day she took charge of the preparation
of the chocolate, a duty which she performed with scrupulous care. The
secret, which is fast becoming lost, of making chocolate--of the number
of times necessary for it to boil up, and of the amount of beating
required in order that a solution of cocoa should be aromatic, smooth,
and nutritious--Esclavita knew so well that Doña Aurora declared she had
never in her life tasted chocolate like hers. In the sweeping, too, she
was no less skillful. With her handkerchief knotted at the back of her
head and her skirt turned up around her and fastened behind, she would
sweep quietly, not making a great disturbance and upsetting everything
in the room, yet doing the work thoroughly. That she did not brush and
beat too vigorously, annoying everybody in the house, under pretense of
cleaning, was an additional merit in the eyes of Doña Aurora, who could
not bear rough or noisy people. But what the new maid excelled most in
was the mending. It was evident that she was less accustomed to cooking,
ironing, or housework than to sedentary tasks. Seated in a low chair by
the window, in a couple of hours she would empty the basket of linen,
and her invisible darns, her skillful patches, her firmly sewed strings
and her well-fastened buttons were Doña Aurora’s admiration. She would
say to her friends:

“I am not afraid now of wearing my best linen every day. This Esclavita
does not leave a bit of torn lace or embroidery unmended. It is a
pleasure to see her with the needle in her hand.”

But at the same time Doña Aurora’s expansive disposition was little in
accord with the reserved melancholy of the girl. The more pleased she
was with her service the more she desired to see her go about with that
lightheartedness that shows a cheerful conformity with one’s lot in life
and the occupation in which one is engaged. All the consideration she
had for that blessed girl, and yet she looked always dissatisfied and
gloomy! In the kindness of the Señora de Pardiñas there was an element
of selfishness, the natural outgrowth of that kindness; if she conferred
a benefit on any one, she wished to enjoy in return the spectacle of
that person’s felicity; and so strong was this feeling that in order to
live tranquil and happy she needed to be persuaded that everybody around
her was tranquil and happy too. In deciding to take Esclavita she had
been influenced by two motives; the first was to spite “that hateful
Rita Pardo”; the second to make a girl of so engaging an appearance as
Esclavita happy, playing in a certain sense the rôle of Providence, and
reconciling her with destiny, for her fatal and implacable from the very
hour of her birth. And in the latter generous desire she could not
succeed because the girl would not respond to her efforts and allow
herself to be cheerful.

One day Doña Aurora noticed that Esclavita ate scarcely anything,
persisting at the same time in going on with her work, saying in answer
to her mistress’s questions that there was nothing the matter with her.
Señora de Pardiñas was of a frank, impetuous, and straightforward
character, such as is rarely to be met with among the Galicians; the
moment a thought came into her mind she gave expression to it, and when
anything prevented her doing this she felt as if she had something
sticking in her throat. Without further delay, then, she brought the
girl close to a window where the shade of her black silk handkerchief
would not conceal the expression of her eyes or the working of her
features.

“What is the matter with you, child?” she asked her without preface,
with motherly solicitude. “Is there anything troubling you? Do you want
for anything?”

The girl turned red, as was habitual with her when she was affected by
any emotion, and answered in a low voice:

“No, Señora. How could I want for anything? May God reward you for your
kindness.”

“But what is the matter, then? Are you not happy here, either? Do we
treat you badly? Does the other girl not behave as she ought? Do you
want more covering?”

As the girl remained silent, answering these questions in the negative
by a shake of the head, Señora de Pardiñas went on:

“You will do very wrong, I warn you, if you lock up your trouble in your
own heart. It is worse for yourself if you are foolish. When you might
be happy, I don’t understand the reason of this reserve and this
nonsense. For my part I like to see pleasant faces around me. A gloomy
countenance, especially when there is no cause for it, disgusts me.”

The last words she pronounced in a tone of annoyance, seeing that
Esclavita persisted in her obstinate silence. At the same time she said
in her own mind, “The girl has the good qualities of our country, but
she has its defects as well. She is modest, respectful, and quiet, but
she is a little foxy, too, and there is no way of knowing what she is
thinking about, or what are her feelings. The jades here are barefaced
and impudent, but at least they are not deceitful; they call bread bread
and wine wine; it is either yes or no. For a disposition like mine----”

While these thoughts were passing through her mind, the bell rang, and
the voice of Rogelio, who had just returned from college, was heard in
the hall. Esclavita’s cheeks grew redder than they were before, and she
made an involuntary movement as if to run away and hide herself. “Ta,
ta!” said Señora Pardiñas to herself, a sudden thought flashing across
her mind, “I noticed that the lad seemed to have something against this
girl. He speaks to her so coldly, which is unusual with him. That must
be it. The poor girl is dejected because she sees that she has not
fallen into the boy’s good graces. I must set this matter right. It is
plain that Esclavita is too sensitive and when she fancies that she is
not liked----” She resumed aloud, “Well, child, if you are
dissatisfied----”

“I am not dissatisfied; no, Señora,” answered Esclavita, respectfully
and not without firmness, “unless others are dissatisfied with me. I am
perfectly contented; it would be a pity if I was not. But others----”

“What has put that idea into your head?” said her mistress, looking at
her fixedly. “Have I ever found fault with you since you came into the
house?”

“No, Señora, you are very kind. I am not complaining of anybody,”
responded the girl. “I am only afraid--well, that I may not give
satisfaction. If I did not give satisfaction I would rather not stay.
Unless people were satisfied with me I would rather be in purgatory--or
worse.”

“Hold your tongue, silly girl, hold your tongue,” said her mistress
reprovingly. “Of course you give satisfaction. Go to your mending. If I
hear any more of this nonsense, you shall see.”

As soon as a favorable opportunity presented itself Doña Aurora took her
son to task. “I am convinced,” she said, “that the secret cause of all
Esclavita’s dejection is your manner toward her. You speak to Fausta in
a different way; you may not be aware of it, but with Fausta you are
always jesting or disputing, and with the other one you are always
serious and formal; she fancies you do not like her, that she does not
give satisfaction, as she says. I assure you that the poor girl is
greatly distressed and that she is capable of worrying herself into a
sickness about it. These nervous girls are ticklish creatures to deal
with. And apart from that, on account of her--the rector, eh?--the girl
gets more and more sensitive every day. On my word I pity her. If I were
you I would speak to her--well--with more kindness.”

The student listened to his mother’s words with his face turned toward a
picture, that seemed to possess a great attraction for him. When he was
at last obliged to answer, he did so jestingly. “Don’t say another word.
I shall get a mandolin and give the young lady a serenade this very
night. I will bring her another bouquet and see if I can’t write her
some sentimental verses, like those of my friend Anastasio Cardona. You
shall see! you shall see! We will sign a treaty of peace, the
illustrious kitchen-maid and I.”

In reality, Rogelio was extraordinarily flattered and pleased by
Esclavita’s complaint. If his coldness and indifference touched her so
profoundly, it was because the girl did not regard him as a child, or,
as she said, a boy. Is any one vexed or troubled by what a child does or
says? There was not a doubt but that she looked on him as a man, and a
man on whose conduct her peace of mind depended; she took it so much to
heart that her spirits and even her health were affected by it. Rogelio
allowed his mind to dwell with pleasure on this thought. During
breakfast, however, notwithstanding his mother’s repeated signals, he
made no change in his manner toward the girl. Without knowing why, he
felt ashamed of making this alteration in Doña Aurora’s presence.
However, he glanced furtively from time to time at Esclavita, who--no
doubt from the excited state of his imagination--seemed to him thin and
pale and drooping like a willow. As this idea took possession of him his
noble youthful heart overflowed with compassion, but his vanity,
youthful also, thrilled with sweet satisfaction. “And it is on my
account that she suffers thus,” he thought. “To judge by the respectful
attention with which she serves me one might almost think her afraid of
me.”

Rogelio was washing his hands in his room when he heard a light tap at
the door, and in answer to his summons, “Come in,” Esclavita entered
carrying a shallow willow basket containing half a dozen ironed shirts.
Holding her burden in her uplifted hands, the girl’s fine figure and her
graceful and rhythmic gait were displayed to advantage. She was going to
lay the shirts upon the bed and leave the room again without speaking,
when Rogelio, going up to her and shaking his hand threateningly at her,
cried:

“Let us see how these cuffs are ironed. If I find a single scorch on
them, woe be to you!”

On hearing the young man’s voice,

[Illustration: “Holding her burden in her uplifted hands.”]

Esclavita started, imagining at first that he was scolding her in
earnest; but when she raised her eyes and noticed the expression on his
countenance, she saw that he was jesting. Her glance revealed such
sincere joy, she was so visibly relieved, so delighted, in a word, that
the young man’s kind heart was once more pleasurably thrilled, and in
order to conceal his emotion he went on with the jest.

“Is it right that I should go about like a half-pay government official
with my shirts looking like the face of the worthy Señor Don Prudencio
Rojas? Let me see; lift up that snowy gauze and show me those inner
garments. If my _togæ pretextæ_ display the wrinkles of old age, fly, I
warn you, beyond the reach of my avenging wrath.”

Esclavita’s face, that had been gradually clearing up, brightened as she
lifted up the cloth with a look of affectionate mischievousness.

“Let us see, Señorito,” she said, “let us see what fault you have to
find with these bosoms. Not even the king himself wears finer ones.”

“What the king wears is bibs; let us not get things mixed up. Let me see
those prodigies.”

And indeed they were beautifully ironed, so smooth and lustrous that it
would have been an unreasonable exaction to require them to be better
done.

“Well, for this time I grant you your life. But woe to you if you should
ever grow negligent in the performance of so sacred a duty.”

“No, Señor; no, Señor. They shall be whiter and whiter every day. As
white as doves.”

“Deign to tell me that in Galician; I intend to begin the study of that
language, as I am so perfect now in Greek and in Sanscrit that I cast
the professors in the shade. What is dove in Galician?”

“And you are from there and you don’t know that. Well, what a being! It
is called _pomba_, and also _suriña_.”

“Ah! _suriña_, how sweet that sounds! I shall begin to-morrow to study
the classic tongues; you shall be my teacher. ‘Mademoiselle Suriña;
professor of languages; lessons given at the house.’ We will put a card
on the window and an advertisement in _El Imparcial_. Suriña, take those
shirts off the bed; they are in the way there. Put them in the wardrobe.
So!”

“Oh, Señorito, how upset your wardrobe is!” exclaimed the girl when she
opened it.

[Illustration: Esclavita.]

“Put it in order, then, Suriña. The putting in order of wardrobes is a
part of the lesson in Galician.”



X.


Whether it were owing to this circumstance or not, it is not to be
denied that, after signing the truce with Rogelio, Esclavita’s manner
and appearance underwent a complete change. Her eyes brightened, her
cheeks grew rosy, her voice lost its melancholy accent, she was less
silent; and while her occupations continued the same, her manner of
performing them was so different, that if she had looked before like a
resigned victim to duty and had seemed to cast a shadow of gloom over
the house as she went about her work, her brisk and active movements now
filled it with cheerfulness.

Doña Aurora did not cease to congratulate herself on this change.
“Praised be God,” she would say. “That is the way I like to see people
around me look. I can’t endure those people who go about with
long-drawn, gloomy faces, without knowing why or wherefore. You see,
child. It was all on your account, neither more nor less. Now that you
treat her with a little friendliness see how she is a different person.”

And different indeed she was. Even her physique had undergone a
favorable change. Whether in sign of happiness or for some other reason
unknown to us, she had removed the black kerchief from her head,
allowing her hair to fall negligently down her neck, whose extraordinary
whiteness was set off by the black silk of her neck-kerchief. Her
complexion now was the complexion of the young maidens of Galicia, that
bright complexion that seems to preserve the dewy freshness of their
native land, and whose rosy tint puts to shame the sickly pallor of the
daughters of Madrid. Her expressive eyes, green, with yellowish lights,
emphasized the vernal and delicate character of Esclavita’s beauty,
reminding one of a valley watered by two crystalline rivulets. But the
girl’s chief beauty was her hair, auburn changing to gold where it
caught the light, that, parted in the middle, flowed in luxuriant
natural waves on either side of the head, crowning the low forehead and
the delicate temples. She wore it hanging down her back in two thick
braids, or gathered up in a heavy coil at the back of the head, and if
in the morning it looked smooth and even lustrous while damp with the
water which was the only cosmetic Esclavita used, as the day wore on,
and she went about her work, it curled up, and, rough and silky at the
same time, framed her face in an aureole like that of a saint in some
old painting. And indeed Esclavita, with her simple rustic manner of
wearing her hair, reminded one of some old Flemish painting on wood, or
one of the creations of early Italian art, the resemblance being
heightened by her modest air, her downcast look, that odor of incense
and the sacristy, which Rita Pardo had observed in her. Looking at her
full face when she smiled, the type of the rustic could be descried
through the angular outlines of the virgin.

All these perfections and graces, with many more that I refrain from
mentioning, were perceived through his spectacles, appreciated, talked
about, and lauded to the skies by the discreet octogenarian whom Rogelio
called Nuño Rasura, and whom we with more respect call Don Gaspar. Nor
did he wait to pronounce his panegyric until the transformation we have
spoken of took place, but from the very first day on which she had
opened the door for him the gallant old man began to extol her merits,
wearying the rest of the company with his exaggerated praises, his
rhapsodies, his silly effusions, and, in the words of the Crown
Solicitor, his archfooleries.

“Just see,” Señor de Febrero would say, throwing back his handsome
Orleanic head and gently smoothing the curls of his wig or stroking the
velvet cushion of his crutch, “what judgment our excellent friend Doña
Aurora has shown in choosing this girl, who is unique in her class. In
the first place, she is so handy, so careful, so industrious, and then
she has such a modest and truthful air, a great merit in my eyes, now
that good manners are out of date and that viragos and strapping jades
swarm around us. In former times--do you remember, friend Candás--women
were all like this girl, there was none of that effrontery that we see
nowadays.”

“Yes, yes, very demure, on the outside,” the incorrigible Don Nicanor
would respond, putting his ear-trumpet into requisition--“little saints,
all sweetness and softness. But within they made up for it. You may say
so indeed! But I have cut my wisdom teeth and I am not to be imposed
upon by those Madonna faces.”

“See how far our friend Candás carries his evil-mindedness! That may be
the case in Asturia, in your part of the country, but it is not so in
ours; am I not right, Doña Aurora? And there is no denying that as
boldness and want of decorum in a woman repel, so neatness and modesty
are an additional attraction.”

Here Señora de Pardiñas was obliged to use all her efforts to keep from
bursting out laughing, for Rogelio, who had followed the conversation
from his corner on the sofa, made a comical grimace and winked at her
roguishly to give point to the old man’s remarks.

But before many days were over the benevolent admiration of Señor de
Febrero was converted into a keen interest, an irrepressible curiosity
to know all that related to “our little country-woman.”

“Tell me how you came to get her?” he asked Señora de Pardiñas, speaking
rather with his half-closed and expressive eyes that sparkled behind his
glasses than with his voice.

“She was recommended to me by the daughters of Romera, whom you must
know.”

“Ah-h-h-h yes, yes! Romera, Romera. Of course.” And he settled his
glasses on his well-shaped nose. “But our little friends, the Romeras,”
he continued, with the persistence of a judge who is conducting a
cross-examination and the obstinacy of an old man who is bent on gaining
the information he desires, “they did not bring her from Galicia, did
they? I did not know they had ever been there. Is not the girl a
Galician?”

“A Galician, yes,” said Doña Aurora, without volunteering any further
information.

“She belongs to a decent family, eh?” continued the undaunted Nuño
Rasura. “So I should judge, at least--and I have a keen scent,” he
added, laying his finger on his classical nose. “As for her language,
she speaks well, with the exception of an occasional solecism. Her
appearance is refined and lady-like. So she belongs to a decent family,
eh?”

“Decent, yes,” Señora Pardiñas was obliged to answer, making a mental
reservation.

“But what are they? Artisans? Householders? Employees?”

“No, she is the niece” (Doña Aurora’s voice grew slightly husky) “of a
village priest.”

“So, so, so!” exclaimed the dean emphatically. “Did I not say so? The
niece of a clergyman! _Boccato di cardinale!_ Those girls are always
very pious, admirably brought up, and above temptation. So, so!”

Señora de Pardiñas tried to turn the conversation, but if there is
anything in the world more persistent than a child’s caprice, it is an
old man’s whim. Don Gaspar played with his crutch, turning it round and
round, and then, unable to restrain himself longer, said:

“Do you know, friend Aurora, if I may say so, that I have not yet taken
a good look at the face of that girl? And I am curious to know if she
really resembles a certain Señorita de Vivero--a lovely girl she was, by
the way--that we boys used to call the little Magdelen--somewhere about
the year ’24 or ’25. Could you not call her with the excuse of bringing
a glass of water, or the like?”

The meaning look that passed between mother and son was observed by
Lain Calvo, who exclaimed with simulated terror, and forgetting for the
moment his pretended deafness:

“_Caray_, my dear Doña Aurora, don’t call that nymph, I beg of you; if
you do, you will be responsible for the ruin of our friend Señor de
Febrero. At Don Gaspar’s age, the passions make sad havoc. Prudence, Don
Gasparin, remember that there is a heaven above us.”

When Esclavita, whom Doña Aurora called under some pretext, entered the
room, no one could help smiling. This embarrassed the girl, who, not
knowing the cause of their merriment, blushed furiously, and as a
consequence, looked lovelier than ever, with that charm peculiar to her,
that chaste and modest air, through which could be divined a firmness of
character bordering on obstinacy. Señor de Febrero devoured her with his
eyes. The old man’s head was turned. When Esclavita had left the room
Lain Calvo whispered to Señora de Pardiñas:

“Well, the girl may be a treasure, but as for me”--and he touched his
throat significantly--“I can’t swallow her. I steer clear of those girls
that grow confused the moment one looks at them. Keep an eye upon her,
Doña Aurora. Take care!”

“I don’t know why you should say that, Señor Candás,” said Señora de
Pardiñas with displeasure, wounded in the affection she felt for the
girl.

“Girls like that, that look as quiet as mice, are very limbs of Satan,”
declared the malicious Asturian. “They pretend to be modest, and all
they want is to be coaxed; they pretend to be innocent, and they are
more full of wiles than the devil himself. They are the kind of women
who say, ‘Don’t ask me for a kiss, that would be shocking! But if you
steal one, why, it can’t be helped.’”

“Señor Candás, there are certain insinuations that can only be qualified
as venomous,” Nuño Rasura exclaimed angrily, striking the floor with his
crutch. “When the honor of the fair sex is in question, one cannot be
too careful; one should consider well what one says and not speak
lightly of any one.”

“So, so!” replied the Crown Solicitor, taking refuge in his deafness. “I
see this class of women give you, too, something to think about. It is
not for nothing that we have lived all these years, and have lost our
teeth and our hair. But tell me, Doña Aurora, how this wandering
princess happened to come here. Was she forsaken by some Galician Æneas?
There seems to be some mystery in the affair.”

“Not at all, Señor,” exclaimed Señora de Pardiñas sharply. “Don’t fancy
that by thinking evil in this case you will think right. On account of
the death of--of her uncle, she was obliged to go out to service.”

“And how long has she been at service?”

“Well, for a year and a half, more or less.”

“And she has been in two situations already. Bad! bad!”

“What do you mean by bad? Nothing of the kind! You are altogether
mistaken, Don Nicanor. The poor girl was affected with a sort of
homesickness, the homesickness that we Galicians feel when we leave our
country for the first time, and she wanted at least to be with some
family from there. As you Asturians are a more mixed race, you can’t
understand that. Ask the Romeras if they have any complaint to make of
the girl; for it was from there she came to this house--which is very
much at your service.”

“Ah! ah! homesickness, eh? Romantic notions and affectations,
_carapuche_! Now, indeed, I can safely predict that you will be obliged
to take that princess lime-leaf tea for her nerves, every morning. She
has more airs than Lucifer! When she has good food and is well treated,
I don’t see what the deuce it matters to her what may be the nationality
of the people she is with.”

“You are mistaken,” said Señor de Febrero angrily. “This malady called
homesickness is a serious affection with our country people, Señor de
Candás, and I have even known persons to die of it. Don’t laugh; every
one there, even to the cats, knows that, and if you don’t know it, learn
it now. Sometimes it is cured by evoking in the mind of the patient a
recollection of home. Have you never heard of the conscript who was
dying of homesickness in the hospital at Havana? Well, how do you think
he was cured, and that like magic? By hearing the _muñeira_ played on
the bagpipes of his native place. Exactly as I say, by hearing the
_muñeira_.”

“Don’t be a fool, man, for Heaven’s sake. That conscript must have been
as drunk as a fiddler. Pure drunkenness. I would soon cure him with a
good flogging.”

“There is no use in talking to you, Don Nicanor. You refuse to believe
what we all know to be true. It would be better to pretend to be deaf,
as you do. If our little countrywoman does not suit you, Doña Aurora,
for such a servant I----”

“Well, I protest! If this man doesn’t want to carry off the fair Helen
that you have discovered! It is a crime against public morality. Say
no, Doña Aurora; this is something serious!”

“Of course I shall say no, for my own sake. I am too well pleased with
Esclavita to wish to part with her.”

Rogelio had been listening in silence to the dispute between Nuña Rasura
and Lain Calvo. He was inclined to share the indulgent views of his
mother and the ex-president of the court. With all this, however, he was
at times tempted to believe that the spiteful Asturian knew more about
life and was a better judge of human nature than they. By an illusion
common to the inexperienced, cynicism and pessimism seemed to him the
highest expression of human knowledge. His own inclination to think well
of everybody must be the result, he thought, of his youth and
inexperience. “Any one can throw dust in my eyes,” he said to himself.
“I am a child, but I am determined not to remain one forever.”



XI.


Esclavita was crossing the hall when she heard her young master’s voice
calling her:

“Esclavita!”

“I am coming.”

“Come quickly! Your presence is required to relieve me from an appalling
situation.”

The girl entered the student’s room and found him standing in his shirt
sleeves in the middle of the floor, his waist-coat in one hand while the
other was tightly clasped, as if it held some precious object.

“A moment ago,” he cried tragically, opening his hand, in which was a
small mother-of-pearl button, “this precious button flew with
lightning-like swiftness from my collar. Can you secure it in its place
again without inflicting with the murderous steel a mortal wound upon my
throat?”

Esclavita smiled, and, putting her hand into her pocket, took out her
needle-case, spool, and thimble. This latter was open at both ends, like
the thimbles used by the peasantry. She put it on quickly, with equal
quickness threaded her needle, knotted the thread, and took between her
thumb and forefinger the little pearl button. She pulled out the threads
where the button had come off, set the button in its place, and inserted
the needle. Here began the difficulties of the undertaking. It was
impossible to draw the needle straight through without pricking the
young man’s chin, smooth and clean as a woman’s. He pretended to be
making desperate efforts to assist in the operation, accompanying them
by comical grimaces and cries of, “Help! She is severing my carotid
artery! she is piercing my jugular vein! she is performing the
dangerous operation of tracheotomy upon me without my having the croup!”
And the girl, smiling, but undisturbed, would say, “Hold your head up a
little--take care, now--there, that will do; I will soon be through.” At
last, with a triumphant gesture, she twisted the thread around the
button to form the stem, fastened it by a stitch or two, and then broke
it off.

[Illustration: “Hold your head up a little--take care, now--there, that
will do.”]

“Hurrah! Victory! Now button it for me.”

The slender fingers, marked with the pricking of the needle, passed over
the throat of the student, who broke into fresh cries:

“Oh! Oh! Oh! she is p-i-i-i-nching me.”

As soon as the collar was buttoned, however, he said softly, as if he
were begging her to render him some important and difficult service:

“Esclavita, deign to encircle my neck with this halter.”

Esclavita took the silk necktie, and as she put it around the young
man’s neck their glances met. During the previous operations this had
not happened, for Rogelio’s head had been turned aside, as far as his
fits of laughing would permit; but now it could not be avoided, for
Esclavita’s face was raised, and Rogelio, taller than she, looked, of
necessity, into her eyes, green, shot with golden lights; and the
parting of the hair, straight and even, like a furrow cut through a
field of ripe grain; and her rounded forehead, smooth and fine, and the
little blue veins in her temples and eyelids. He inhaled her sweet
breath, that intoxicated him for a moment, as if he had opened a jar of
oxygen.

It was but for a moment, but it was a moment which seemed to Rogelio a
year. Childhood, with its butterfly lightness, its blue and silvery
skies, was left behind forever. Esclavita, having finished tying the
cravat, drew back to a little distance, the better to observe the effect
of the bow.

It was as if the communication between the wire and the battery had been
interrupted. Rogelio came to his senses. “How disgraceful!” he thought.
“What a vexation for my mother!”

The precepts of morality, which others learn as a rational necessity
and a compulsory duty, or as a part of their religion, Rogelio, who as
an only son, had been petted and spoiled, had learned through the medium
of his feelings. All his ideas of decorum, of goodness, of rectitude,
had come to him by this indirect but pleasant path. “Ah! what a grief it
would be to me, child, if you were to do such or such a thing!” his
mother used to say. “Heavens! what a mortification for me if you should
commit this or that fault!” Thus it was that, without being conscious of
it, what Rogelio first considered in all his actions was the effect they
would be apt to produce on his mother’s feelings; and this was now his
first thought when the vertigo passed away that had obscured his reason,
while the girl was close beside him. When Esclavita had left the room
his very want of confidence in himself made him take an honorable
resolve, that of avoiding fresh temptations and still greater dangers.
These resolutions are difficult to keep when the temptation is close at
hand. Rogelio felt his first desire return to him continually, and the
same fumes mount into his brain, like puffs of hot air. At table; when
she came to his room, bringing the light, or some message, or his linen,
he could not help devouring her with his eyes, following the perfect
lines of her slender form, noting the grace and lightness of her
movements. The stronger and more passionate his desire, the more
embarrassed did he feel himself in the girl’s presence. When with her it
seemed to him impossible that he should ever venture to pay her a
serious compliment; while in the solitude of his own room at night,
unable to sleep, and tossing about restlessly in his narrow bed, he felt
himself equal to any undertaking, no absurdity seemed to him
unreasonable, and he even thought--strange effect of passion--that it
was his bounden duty to do what in the light of day he regarded as a
crime and an act of madness. “And then,” he said to himself, “no one can
call me a child any longer, and I shall be fully convinced myself that I
am not one.” This absurd idea vanished in the morning, when his mother,
according to her old affectionate habit, brought him his chocolate. When
he saw Doña Aurora, dressed in her plaid morning gown, come into his
room with the tray in her hands, when he tasted the fresh biscuit, the
spoiled child felt all the power of the moral law imposing itself upon
him with apodictic force; and precepts, unknown or denied a few moments
before, now presented themselves to him clearly, significantly, plainly.
“To give mamma cause for grief--it makes me shudder even to think of it;
it would be unpardonable. Even though she should not discover it I
should fancy she was reading it in my eyes, in my very breathing. And
she would discover it,--she would discover it, there is not a doubt of
it. Mamma is very shrewd, easy-going and good-natured as she appears. No
one can throw dust in her eyes. She knows me so well that before the
words were out of my mouth she can tell what I am going to say. As she
cares for no one and thinks of nothing but me. God grant I may never
give her cause for grief.”

Thus this criminal in thought studied Doña Aurora’s countenance
attentively, fearful lest some glance he might chance to cast at
Esclavita should betray him. At times he exposed himself to the risk of
attracting attention by going to the opposite extreme, affecting not to
look at the girl, and avoiding even the contact of her dress when she
waited on him at table. It is true that this simple contact affected
him so powerfully as to cause him pain from the intensity of the
emotion. His was the passionate desire of youth that has not learned
either how to control itself or how to attain its object. After avoiding
Esclavita for two or three days, he would devise some excuse to go and
surprise her in the little room where she ironed and where the basket
containing the mending was kept, and when he was there, the only thing
that occurred to him to do was to sit down in a chair and cheat his
passionate longing by contemplating the girl who, rosy and perspiring,
her right arm curved out firmly, leaned with all her weight on the iron
as she smoothed the bosoms and the cuffs of his shirts. When the impulse
to embrace her became too violent, Rogelio would rise and take refuge in
his little study. There, on the polished desk were the hateful
text-books, printed on brown paper with worn and blurred type,

[Illustration: “Contemplating the girl who ... leaned with all her
weight on the iron.”]

exhaling aridity and tedium from their musty leaves and gray covers.
Rogelio had never had any liking for these books, but now, whenever he
opened one of them to go over a lesson, a thick fog seemed to envelop
his faculties, and a sort of moral dissolution to take place in his
spirit, where a rebellious voice would whisper softly such heresies as
these: “Go, child, give up those futilities, renounce that dry,
worthless, empty, sapless science of the schools. Real life and humanity
are something altogether different from this. This pretended nourishment
for the mind is a collection of antiquities, the rind of a lemon which
the hand of history has been squeezing dry for nineteen centuries. All
that you are studying is out of date. They wish to store your mind with
mummified remains, dusty rags, and old cobwebs. They wish to fill your
head with antiquated juridical rubbish, and they desire that at a bound
you should be as old as your mother’s guests, Lain Calvo, Nuño Rasura,
and the honorable Puppet. They would have you be of wood, like him. No,
you are of flesh and blood, you are a man; life calls to you, and life,
at your age, in default of a pursuit which would unfold your faculties
harmoniously is--Esclavita.”

To these vague promptings, translated here into plain and vulgar speech,
the student responded by yawning, rising nervously from his chair, and
taking down from the book-shelf a novel or the latest number of _Madrid
Comico_, which, throwing himself on the bed, he would eagerly devour,
seeking thus to forget his feverish longings.

He had not the resource of a cigar, for he belonged to the younger
generation who do not smoke; and who, unless God take pity upon them,
will come in time to faint like an Englishwoman at the smell of a
Havana. He was deprived of this sweet soother of impatience, this great
counselor in trouble, this powerful sedative, this most spiritual of
material distractions. One day he thought about it a great deal. “What
would happen to me if I should smoke?” he said to himself. “The first
thing would be that I should grow dizzy, perhaps sick at my
stomach--yes, there is not the least doubt of it. And then mamma would
know that I had been smoking, from the smell. No, the remedy is worse
than the disease.”

The idea of smoking, which pleased him, because there was something
manly and rakish about it, suggested another expedient, more effective,
besides being easy and pleasant to put in practice. How was it that it
had never occurred to him before when it was so simple, so extremely
simple, and even so natural and right, and especially when it would be
so efficacious as a consolation in his present suffering. “Why, the only
thing to be wondered at is, that I should not have a sweetheart
already,” he said to himself. “Every one I know has one. And they are
quite right. If I had one, I should get rid of these crazy notions. I
shall take a sweetheart, yes, indeed. There is nothing wrong in having
a sweetheart, and even if mamma should find it out, she will not be
vexed on account of it. One nail drives out another. That will be my
chief distraction.”

The post being created, it now only remained to find some one to fill
it. Rogelio passed in mental review all the young ladies with whom he
was acquainted. Some of them were ugly; others were already engaged;
this one was too old; that one was never to be met outside her house;
one would turn him into ridicule; another would require him to prove his
affection for her by performing some difficult task. He remembered at
last that in a little street opening on to the Calle Ancha de San
Bernardo, just in front of his house, there lived three or four young
girls, daughters of an employee in the Colonial Department. They were
not bad-looking, especially the youngest, a pale blonde, whose
complexion, eyes, and hair were all the same color, which was becoming
to her, giving her a certain resemblance to the Infanta Eulalia. Rogelio
looked at her occasionally, receiving prompt payment of every one of his
glances. “The little blonde will suit me,” he thought. “It will not be
necessary for me even to move from the dining-room.” Accordingly, the
very day on which the thought occurred to him he took up his post before
breakfast by the window, and, opening it slightly, looked toward the
windows of the third floor opposite. At one of them was the blonde,
dressed in a soiled and crumpled morning-gown of dotted percale. On the
railing of the window hung various undergarments, more than half worn,
drying, and on a bureau he could see some bottles covered with dust, the
empty cage of a lark, some old rags, and an old shoe. As he contemplated
this interior, in no wise resembling a Dutch interior, Rogelio
abandoned his purpose of looking there for a sweetheart. He remained for
the space of ten minutes or so, perplexed. Then he said to himself: “I
shall look somewhere else, that’s all. As for remaining without a
sweetheart, I cannot make up my mind to that; it would be absurd.”



XII.


One Sunday morning Señora de Pardiñas awoke her son with the following
intimation: “To-day we must make some visits; there is no help for it;
we owe visits to everybody. I sent to Augustin’s livery stable for the
landau; he says it will be at the door punctually at two o’clock. Ah,
and what do you think? I shall go dressed so that if I look at myself in
the glass I won’t know myself. The dressmaker brought me my black velvet
gown, trimmed with jet and lace, yesterday; the hat to match is ready,
too. I shall put on all my finery. You must stop in at the barber’s
after breakfast; your hair needs cutting.”

Rogelio grumbled not a little; he declared that he had two or three
indispensable tasks to perform that day, but all in jest, for he saw
very well that Señora Pardiñas was resolved not to go to bed that night
without having laid a grand sacrifice on the altar of social duty. At a
quarter before two Rogelio had finished fastening the first row of
buttons of his English frock-coat, before his bureau glass. Fortunately
it was Sunday, when the neighborhood of the University is of all places
the one where a student is least likely to be met with. For a pretty
teasing he would have to stand if any of his college companions should
chance to meet him in his present guise, dressed like a _gentleman_,
with gloves and a silk hat. Accustomed to the cloak and the low,
broad-brimmed hat, he felt at first as if to wear a frock-coat were like
going disguised. There lay the silk hat, shining and resplendent, on the
table of the study, and beside it the gloves, the cane, the Russian
leather card-case and the handkerchief with its handsome embroidered
initial. He took note of all these articles, placed his hat a little to
one side, over his carefully smoothed hair, and was proceeding to draw
on his gloves with the ill humor that was habitual to him when
performing this operation, when his mother entered.

“Heavens! _mater admirabilis!_” he exclaimed. “How magnificent you look!
Ho! for our handsome women, our stately and aristocratic dames.”

What Doña Aurora really looked was very uncomfortable, with all this
finery, which only on state occasions could she bring herself to wear.
She never wanted anything better than her comfortable mantle, her merino
gown, and her large fur cape. All this frippery was enough to put one
out of temper. The weight of the hat, with its high bows, obliged her to
bend her head; the steels of the skirt impeded her movements. But there
was nothing for it but to submit to this tyranny of fashion at least
twice a year. She, like Rogelio, carried a card-case, and a list of the
houses where she owed visits. Peeping out from her mink muff was a
handsome lace handkerchief, perfumed with some delicate extract, and in
her ears were two fine solitaires--the modest elegance of a lady who
aspires only to dress in a style suited to her station. And yet such is
the power of the arts of the toilet and of dress that Doña Aurora seemed
to have left ten of her fifty odd years inside the door of her
dressing-room; her face glowed with pleasurable animation, and in her
bearing there was an unaccustomed dignity.

Esclavita stood behind with her wrap, which she was to take in the
carriage lest the afternoon should turn cold, busying herself--with that
admiring interest which attached servants display when they see their
masters or mistresses in gala dress--in giving a touch here and there to
her gown, smoothing out its folds and brushing off some almost
imperceptible speck of dust from the bottom of the flounce. Suddenly the
girl raised her eyes and exclaimed, casting a glance of frank admiration
at Rogelio:

“Our Lady of the Hermitage! how fine the Señorito is!”

“He looks like a fashion-plate, does he not? Turn round, Rogelio, turn
round--so. The coat looks as if it grew upon you.”

“Mamma!” protested Rogelio. But he was obliged to allow himself to be
examined and re-examined by Esclavita, and even to consent to her giving
the collar of his coat a touch with the brush. The girl’s eyes told him
with innocent speech that he looked _well_. She arranged his cuffs and
when they were going downstairs, she even called after him:

“There! There is a bit of the wool of the carpet on the right leg of
your trousers.”

The first visit was to the house of Don Gaspar Febrero, to see the
daughter of the worthy dean, who was on the eve of her departure for the
Philippine Islands with her husband, a staff-officer, who had been
ordered to Manilla. They talked about the voyage, the climate, the
hurricanes, the clearness of living there, and of the old gentleman, who
was to be left behind alone. Fortunately, he had never been in better
health, never more animated nor more gay. Only a moment before, taking
advantage of the pleasant weather, he had gone out, leaning on his
crutch, for a little walk in the sun. Gratified by this satisfactory
account, they left the abode of Nuño Rasura, and proceeded to make
other visits more or less of the same ceremonious nature. At some of the
houses they merely left cards, and these were the most pleasing visits
for Rogelio, who, as he approached each door, repeated under his breath
the customary aspiration: “I pray the saints they be not in!”

But his desperation reached its height when his mother announced to him
that they were now going for a moment to the house of the Señoritas
Pascuala and Mercedes de Romera.

“Mother mine, if it be possible, spare me this sacrifice!” he cried.
“_Carapuche_, as our friend of the ear-trumpet says, don’t you know that
I shall be obliged to pinch myself to keep from falling asleep at that
house?”

“So nice as you look and you don’t want to make a good impression on
the pretty girls? Come, come, give the direction--Calle del Barquillo.”

The house of the old maids had a surprise in store for the student, in
the person of the sprightly girl who came out to receive the visitors
and show them into the parlor, saying that her aunts would come
immediately. In saying this she practiced a thousand witcheries with her
features and her eyes, which were black, small, sparkling, and very
expressive. The niece of the de Romeras wore a rather short dress, a
token that she had not yet reached the dignity of the mantilla, and an
apron with a bib, with a bright-colored embroidered border. A blue
ribbon, tied in a bow, fastened the end of her short braid, and her
shoes, worn at the toes, gave evidence of the restlessness of the small
feet with their arched insteps within. Pascuala, the elder of the old
maids, soon came into the parlor, sniffling and coughing, declaring that
her sister was unable to leave her room, as she was suffering from a
cold still worse than her own, which made it necessary for her to avoid
a change of temperature. “And to keep my sister in-doors is like giving
her a stab,” she added. Presently she presented her niece as she might
have presented a frisky little dog who disturbed the drowsy quietude of
that peaceful abode. “This is my god-daughter, Inocencia, the second
eldest girl of my brother Sebastian, who resides in Loja. He has left
the poor thing with us because she requires to have her teeth attended
to; she has a tooth growing over another, and it will have to be
extracted. She is very lively and can’t remain still for a moment; there
is no kind of shoe that is strong enough for her; that is why you see
her so badly shod.” These explanations being made, it was in order to
speak of Esclavita; and in view of the fact that the matter could not be
discussed before a child, and as Mercedes, besides, wished to enjoy the
society of Doña Aurora, the two ladies went into the dressing-room,
leaving Rogelio and Inocencia alone. “Go show him the albums and the
views of Granada, child,” was the order the girl received from her aunt
as the latter left the parlor.

Inocencia obeyed--playing off all her coquettish arts as she walked over
to the table--and cried precipitately and with an affected lisp:

“Come here, come here, and look at the pictures Aunt Pascua told me to
show you! They are lovely!”

Although the idea of looking at pictures was little to the taste of the
_gentleman_ with frock-coat and silk hat, ashamed to refuse, he went and
seated himself beside the girl who, as she opened the album, darted at
him, with all the boldness of fourteen, an incendiary glance--a glance
impossible to be misunderstood. When he found himself alone with the
girl, it occurred to the student that there could not be a more
propitious occasion to provide himself with a sweetheart than the
present one. His vanity was a little piqued, it is true, at the thought
that she was so young; a sweetheart of eighteen or twenty would have
done him some credit, while this would look like playing at lovers; but
when he was beside her, and looked at her more closely, with her
well-formed little figure, developed with Southern precocity, and her
full upper lip, slightly raised by the projecting tooth, she seemed to
him a woman in miniature, and he thought to himself:

“I will declare myself now!”

He declared himself accordingly, without further preamble or preface,
with high-sounding phrases culled from farces and comedies, magazines
and college jests. The girl, without manifesting the slightest
surprise, listened with a serious air, rolling between her thumb and
finger an end of the ribbon tying her braid, which she had brought
forward to show off the beauty of her hair, putting in practice at the
same time all the airs and graces of a finished coquette. The student
raising his voice a little, the girl whispered:

“Hshh! They are in the dressing-room there!”

Rogelio lowered his voice and redoubled his entreaties, although he
began to feel a strong inclination to burst out laughing. After making
three or four gestures in the negative, the girl all at once, and
without further preface, said yes.

“Give me a token of your love!” implored Rogelio; and without waiting
for permission he bent his head and kissed her on the cheek, feeling as
if he were kissing the painted cheek of a doll--smooth, rosy, and
insensible. Inocencia betrayed no emotion whatever--neither pleasure nor
coyness--at receiving the kiss; on the contrary, seizing the student by
the lapel of his coat, she declared, with an air of conviction:

“I think we ought to say _thou_ to each other. All my girl friends and
their sweethearts do.”

“Very well, I will say _thou_ to _thee_. See, I am doing so now!”

She continued, with the same decision and eagerness:

“We ought to write to each other every day, too; every day, without
missing a single one. My sister Lucia’s sweetheart writes a letter that
long to her every morning; and another, every afternoon, that is longer
still.”

“Very well; we will write to each other, too. I will make arrangement
with the servant to carry our letters.”

“And you must give me your likeness. Have you a photograph? My parents
would not let me have mine taken until I have my tooth drawn, but I can
give you some of my hair for a locket. Shall I cut you some now?” she
added, playing with the curly ends of her braid.

“No, it will be time enough when I give you my likeness.”

The girl rose quickly and walked on tiptoe to the door of the room where
the grown people were chatting. She returned with the same caution, a
look of satisfaction on her face.

“I thought god-mother was coming,” she said. “But I was mistaken; they
are having a great chat.”

She resumed her seat beside the student, and three or four minutes
passed without either speaking. The girl waited, surprised that her
lover should have nothing to say to her; but the young man, ransack his
brain as he would, could not find a word to say. All he felt was a wild
desire to laugh, and to keep from doing so he covered his mouth with his
handkerchief. His _sweetheart_, looking at the handkerchief, observed
the richly-embroidered initial, and asked quickly:

“What letter is that?”

“R. My name is Rogelio.”

“I was going to ask you what your name was. How shall I address your
letters? Señor Don Rogelio----”

“Pardiñas.”

“Pardiñas, Pardiñas, Pardiñas.” The girl repeated the name several times
to herself as if afraid of forgetting it, and then, looking the student
straight in the face, she said to him, in solemn accents:

“Are we to be married?”

Here Rogelio could no longer restrain his hysterical inclination to
laugh. He laughed with his mouth, with his eyes, with his whole body,
holding his sides, that ached with the violence of his laughter; and
throwing himself back in his chair, he sighed:

“Ah, I shall die! I shall die!”

“What are you laughing at?” asked the girl, a little offended. “You act
like a fool. Tell me whether we are to be married or not.”

“Of course we are to be married. Only I can’t help laughing. Let me
laugh or I shall become ill.”

As soon as his laughter had exhausted itself, Inocencia whispered in his
ear:

“Will you pass by the house to-morrow at nine? I will be at the window.
At that time I always stand at the window to see the mounted artillery
pass. It is a very pretty sight. What are you going to be?”

“A lawyer.”

“That’s a pity; then you won’t wear a uniform.”



XIII.


Rogelio was still laughing at himself at the idea of his engagement when
they were nearing the bottom of the stairs, for which reason he
neglected to offer Doña Aurora his arm, as was his custom. A sudden cry
and the sound of a fall froze the blood in his veins as he saw his
mother slip and fall headlong down the stairs on the tiled floor of the
hall. It is only on supreme occasions that the real depth of our
sentiment is revealed to us. Rogelio did not know that there were chords
in his larynx or tones in his voice capable of the heart-rending pathos
with which he uttered the words:

“Mother! my darling mother!”

He cleared at a bound the steps down which his mother had fallen, and
in an instant had her on her feet and was holding her in his arms and
pressing her to his heart, examining her wildly to assure himself that
she was not dead and that she had no bones broken. Suddenly he uttered a
terrified cry.

“Blood, mamma! you are bleeding. Where are you bleeding? Here. Good
heavens, blood!”

Her head had struck against the edge of one of the steps, and the wound
was bleeding slightly. Half stunned as Señora de Pardiñas was by the
force of the blow, the agonized voice of her son recalled her to
herself, and she answered faintly:

“Don’t be frightened, child; it is nothing; you may believe me, it is
nothing. I am a little better now.”

“There is no one in the porter’s room. I am going upstairs to get some
vinegar--some water----”

“No, child, no, for Heaven’s sake. Don’t call any one; make no
disturbance. Help me gently to the carriage. For illness or the like,
the best place is home.”

Trembling, and covered with a cold sweat, Rogelio assisted his mother to
the carriage, into which he lifted her bodily, and then made her lean
back in a corner while he fanned her with his handkerchief, thinking,
with terror, “Can there have been any injury to the brain?”

“Home--drive slowly,” he said to the coachman, who had turned round
curious to know what had happened. And unable to control himself, he
threw his arms around his mother, putting the question usual in such
cases:

“But mamma, how did you fall?”

“I don’t know, child. My foot slipped; it must have been the heels of
the new shoes; or my foot may have caught in the flounce of my dress.”

“It was my fault not to have given you my arm. I am a brute. Where does
it pain you? How do you feel now, mamma?”

“I don’t know; I think I am going to faint,” answered his mother, in a
weak voice.

And indeed she looked as if she were going to faint, to judge from the
cold perspiration and the deathly pallor that overspread her face.
Rogelio, greatly alarmed, was on the point of calling out to the
coachman to drive to an apothecary’s when his mother revived a little
and made signs to him that she was better, and the carriage rolled on
toward the house. When Rogelio, assisted by the footman, was helping his
mother out of the carriage, she uttered a cry.

“Where do you feel pain?” Rogelio asked her.

“In this leg. There, don’t be frightened. It is nothing.”

When Esclavita was informed of what had occurred, she hastened to her
mistress without useless outcries, and quickly and skillfully loosened
her clothing, applied vinegar to her temples, and afterward undressed
her and put her comfortably to bed. Doña Aurora complained of a desire
to retch, of heaviness, of oppression, of continued nausea, and an
inclination to vomit--all which made the student say to himself with
terror, “My God! there is concussion of the brain.” He called Esclavita
apart and said to her hurriedly: “Take care of her, I am going to
Sanchez del Abrojo and I will not come back without him.”

In effect, he returned with him after a delay of two hours, and the
distinguished physician, having made a careful examination of the
patient, and a minute and skillful investigation into the manner of the
fall, was obliged to acknowledge that there had been a little, a very
little, cerebral congestion. The only treatment he prescribed was rest
in bed, and diet until the disturbance in the stomach should be settled.
The other injuries were of little consequence--the lesion on the
forehead did not go beyond the skin; the contusion on the left leg was
no more than a bruise of little importance. In short, it was nothing.
All she required was rest.

To carry out the physician’s orders, then took place that revolution in
the habits of the household, and that transformation in the aspect of
the house itself, which sickness always brings with it. The household
concentrated itself within the narrow limits of the bedroom and
dressing-room of the patient. Rogelio and Esclavita took up their
station there--the former receiving the visitors; the latter changing
the cloths wet with arnica, bringing cups of lime-leaf tea, burning
lavender, and undertaking whispered commissions and receiving keys
slipped into her hand secretly. “Don’t let the boy want for anything.
Remember to warm his bed.” To these recommendations, which Esclavita
listened to with religious attention, followed suppressed groans. “Oh,
how this wretched leg hurts me. My head is splitting with pain!”

Esclavita performed her duties as sick nurse with that earnest and
silent assiduity which she always displayed when employed in the service
of others. She came and went with noiseless footsteps and without
rustling of garments. She took charge of everything, and if she was
absent for a moment from the bedroom it was because she was in the
kitchen, compounding some potion. She even managed to get time to give
Rogelio his dinner, without neglecting her mistress; but no one knew at
what hour she herself had taken food on that memorable day.

When the night was advanced and every one had retired, she trimmed a
lamp carefully and set it on the floor so that the light should not
disturb the patient. She then placed a low chair at the head of the bed
and seated herself in it. As Rogelio, who was sitting in an easy-chair
in the dressing-room, made no motion to retire, she went to him and
whispered to him, in tones of entreaty, “Go to bed, Señorito; don’t stay
here.” The patient, who had begun to doze, overheard the words and added
her entreaties to Esclavita’s, saying, “Child, do go to bed. You are not
accustomed to sitting up; it will injure your health. Don’t be foolish;
go to bed. Esclavita is taking the best possible care of me.” But it was
impossible to persuade Rogelio, and they compromised the matter by
deciding that a temporary bed should be made for him on the floor. The
little Galician, displaying extraordinary strength, brought in two
mattresses, beat the pillows noiselessly, and as noiselessly made up the
bed. Rogelio divested himself of his coat and waistcoat only, and thus,
half dressed, lay down. Then only did he begin to feel the extreme
exhaustion which follows great shocks and profound emotions. At the same
time a comical recollection crossed his mind.

“And my sweetheart,” he said to himself, “will she be at the window
to-morrow to see me pass by?”



XIV.


Although tired out by the emotions of the day and comparatively tranquil
in his mind in regard to his mother’s condition, Rogelio tossed and
turned about for a long time before he fell into a light doze. He did
not succeed, however, in obtaining a sound and restorative sleep; his
slumbers were interrupted and restless and visited by distressing
dreams, in which he seemed to be always falling down, down, rapidly,
interminably, with the added distress of never being able to reach the
ground and of seeing below him the place on which he was about to be
dashed. In one of those painful and involuntary efforts which we make in
our sleep to shake off a bad dream or to change its character, he woke
with a start and looked about him wonderingly, unable to remember at
first how it was that he came to be sleeping here, in his mother’s room.

Absolute silence reigned around. The room, dimly lighted by the little
lamp, was in a semi-obscurity; his mother, he thought, must be asleep,
for he could hear her breathing deeply, almost snoring; at the head of
the bed he saw Esclavita sitting motionless, with large, wide-open eyes
fixed on himself. An irresistible impulse made him call to her with the
accent of a child who, because of some nocturnal fright, begs not be
left alone.

“Esclavita! Hist! Esclavita!” he called softly. “Come here!”

The girl glided toward him, silently as a shadow, and bent over him.

“Is mamma asleep?” he asked.

“Sound asleep.”

“Well, I am wide awake now. Talk to me--softly, so that we may not
waken her.”

“Ah, Señorito, and how if we should disturb her?”

“There is no fear of that. Come closer, and speak softly.”

“Wouldn’t it be better for you to go to sleep?”

“Sleep! If you knew the horrible dreams I have had! No, I would rather
stay awake now. Sit down here.”

“Where?”

“Here on the floor beside me. Otherwise we cannot speak in a
whisper--and we might waken mamma.”

Esclavita acceded to the proposal without demur, and stretched herself
on the floor, almost cheek to cheek with Rogelio, but without losing her
modest and reserved air, showing in this that she was born in the land,
where bucolic naturalness of action is united to modesty of demeanor.
The girl’s pure virginal breath mingled for the second time with that
of the student, but the feelings it awakened in him now were of a very
different nature from those he had experienced on the former occasion.
Whether it was that the shock caused by his mother’s fall had
transformed his youthful sensations into sentiment, or that the place in
which he was did not admit of evil thoughts, certain it is that near to
him as Esclavita was, and easy as it would have been to take liberties
with her, it did not even enter into his mind to attempt doing so; all
he was conscious of was a sort of affectionate effusiveness, unusual
with him, a feeling of inexplicable tenderness, which caused his eyes to
fill with tears. Reaching out his hand, he grasped Esclavita’s and,
pressing it with force, said:

“Esclavita, mamma came near being killed to-day.”

“Thank God it was nothing serious, Señorito!” answered the girl,
returning the pressure.

“And if she had been killed, what should I have done, tell me that?”

Esclavita did not answer, thereby showing her wisdom, for the question
put to her was one of those which do not admit of being answered in
words. She pressed more forcibly than before the student’s hot,
trembling hand in hers, and her eyes responded in the half shadow with a
long and eloquent glance.

“If she had died,” continued Rogelio, yielding to his involuntary
emotion, “you see that I should have no one in the world but you, no
one.”

“I?” stammered the girl, whose hand trembled in the student’s clasp.

“Yes, you; and no one but you. Relations I have none--that is to say, I
have several aunts at home in Galicia, with whom we are on cat-and-dog
terms. You see what a protection they would be, child. As for
friends--well, two or three in the University over there--college
friends, that are of little account. Then the old men who come to see
mamma. Of much use they would be; they are all in their dotage. It is as
I say, Suriña. I should have only you.”

[Illustration: “Rogelio had raised himself on his elbow.”]

Rogelio had raised himself on his elbow as he spoke, in order to make
himself heard by the girl without disturbing his mother, and this
lowering of his voice made his words more persuasive, bestowing on them
the passionate and mysterious air of a confession. Persuaded himself, he
persuaded his hearer. He was not in a frame of mind to measure the
importance of his words or to calculate the effect they might produce,
still less did he suspect that sensibility and goodness may, on certain
occasions, be more fatal than anger and hate. There was a large share of
nervousness in his emotion, and the words fell from his lips in the
reaction after the morning’s fright as a groan follows a painful hurt,
involuntarily and almost unconsciously. All there was in him of the
child--and there was much--overflowed in this affectionate unburthening
of his heart, and he neither desired nor could he foresee any further
consequence, granting even that in moments like these it is possible to
calculate effects.

“You, Suriña,” he repeated, yielding his hand to the hands that with
almost convulsive force pressed his. “You care for me, and a great deal,
too, do you not?”

Unable to respond in words, she nodded her head energetically.

“I knew it. I had guessed it; and that is the reason why I told you that
no one would be left me but you and that I should cling to you; do you
know that? Even if you had told me that it was not so, I should not have
believed it. You care for me--and for mamma, too.”

“That I do,” said the girl at last, recovering her speech and
withdrawing a little from the student. “I don’t know what it was that
came over me in this house that made me take a--a kind of affection for
it--a very, very great affection from the first moment I crossed its
threshold. Why, it seemed to me as if I was at home again. As you are
from there--But I think the more one tries to explain these things, the
less one is able to do it. What I know is that if I had remained with
those other ladies, it would have soon been all over with me.”

“And why, then, were you so sad at first here, Esclavita?”

“You shall hear. I thought you had taken a dislike to me.”

“I a dislike to you!”

“Yes, and thinking of that I became very melancholy. The _worm_ got into
my head.”

“The _worm_?”

“That is what we say at home, when one gets a notion one can’t get rid
of into one’s head. I would spend the whole blessed night trying to
untangle the skein--What shall I do to make the Señorito lose his
dislike for me? What means shall I take to please him? And the worst of
it was--you may believe what I say, for it is as true as that God is in
heaven--that heavy as my heart was, I did not feel as I did in the
other house. No; from this house I would not have gone, not if I was to
be cut in quarters--unless I was turned out of it.”

“Because you knew I liked you, Sura?”

“No, indeed I didn’t know it. I give you my word I thought you hated me.
It made me so wretched that I wanted to die.”

“And I am ready to die with joy at hearing you, Suriña. You are not
comfortable there, child. Put your head on this pillow. Here, let me
pull it out to make room for you.”

Esclavita laid her head on the pillow without embarrassment or mistrust,
and both remained silent for a while, absorbed in the happiness of the
moment. The dim light of the lamp threw the girl’s features into relief,
bestowing on the lights a pure pale tint, on the shadows a uniform
grayish rose. Her head had the effect of a fine engraving, and Rogelio
expressed his admiration by saying:

“Suriña, you are lovely.”

At this moment Doña Aurora sighed profoundly and both started, although
their conversation could in no sense be called guilty. The nurse rose to
go see what was the matter. She returned in a moment, saying:

“She sleeps like a saint.”

“Settle yourself comfortably again. I want to ask you something. Give me
your hand. What put it into your head to care so much whether I liked
you or not?”

“Ah, I don’t know. From the first day I said to myself, If they don’t
want you here, Esclavita, it is because there is no room for you in the
world. You came into it against the will of Our Lord. God has always
looked on you with disfavor. Didn’t you know it, Señorito?”

“Yes, I knew it, Suriña. But it is dreadful to say that. Why should God
look on you with disfavor?”

The girl half raised herself in her place, her eyes wide open, terrified
at seeing that the fact which she was trying to bring herself to
disclose was already known.

“Don’t be foolish,” murmured Rogelio, kindly. “What fault is it of
yours, child? The same thing might have happened to me or to any one. We
don’t choose our parents. Foolish girl!”

“If you knew how _that_ weighs on me here,” exclaimed the girl
vehemently, opening her heart as one seeks to open one’s lungs to the
air when one feels that one is going to faint. “I am always saying to
myself, Esclavita, it is impossible that God should love you. You can
never have any good fortune, never. Since the hour in which you were
born you have been in the power of the Evil One, and he is not likely
to let go what he has once got hold of. No matter how hard you may try
to be an angel, you will be forever in mortal sin. You must be so; there
is no remedy for it. For you there is neither father nor mother, nor
anything but shame when you are asked about them. And in the same way
all you undertake must go against you, and if you take a liking to any
person, worse still; for God will take away that person’s affection from
you.”

“Well, with me that is not going to happen, my white dove. I am as fond
of you as if you were a king’s daughter. And mamma is very fond of you,
too; don’t you know that she took a liking to you from the very first
day?”

Esclavita, when she heard this assertion, raised her head and turned her
eyes toward Señora de Pardiñas’s bed. Her glance and her smile were full
of meaning, but Rogelio was in no mood to interpret them. He was not in
a condition of mind for reasoning; he wanted to be gently soothed by the
affection which he needed as a sedative and a medicine. Seeing that in
Esclavita’s presence he no longer felt the same temptations as before,
he thought that his affection for her had been purified, and that this
anomalous courtship was the most innocent thing in the world. Or to say
the whole truth; he was passing through an emotional crisis, and he
neither weighed nor measured his words nor his affirmations. This was
for him one of those moments in which we obey our natural impulses, our
secret egotism, and abandon ourselves to the pleasure of feeling
ourselves loved and of making ourselves still more dearly loved. It is
as natural for one who is sad to seek consolation as it is for one who
is hungry to seek food.

“Mamma is very fond of you,” he repeated. “You don’t seem to believe
me. Silly girl! why, she herself scolded me because I treated
you--well--a little coldly at first. She told me you were unhappy on
that account.”

Esclavita lowered her eyes, doubtless lest they should betray her
thoughts and forebodings regarding the future.

“See,” said Rogelio, softly, “if you knew how well I feel with you here
beside me! I even think I am beginning to grow sleepy, and that I shall
have no more bad dreams or such nonsense. I think I shall sleep as sound
as a patriarch; but for that you must have the good nature to stay there
at my feet. If you go away I shall waken up again.”

“I won’t go away!” the girl answered with decision. “Not with pincers
would they be able to pull me away from here.”

“Well, then, I shall go to sleep. Ah, how pleasant!”

Tasting already the first sweet sip of that cup of oblivion which
sleep, when it follows some great moral or physical shock, presents to
our lips, Rogelio spoke once more:

“Suriña?”

“Well?”

“Do you care for me?”

He only half-heard her answer, and for this reason he was never quite
certain that it was this--so romantic and unsuited to a country girl:

“Until the hour of my death.”



XV.


Notwithstanding her positive promise, when Rogelio opened his eyes after
a peaceful and beneficial sleep, he saw Esclavita standing at his
mother’s bedside, giving her a cup of broth. Señora de Pardiñas
complained greatly of the contusion in the spine, but her headache was
much better. Sanchez de Abrojo soon came and justified her complaints by
saying that, judging by the symptoms, the contusion threatened to assume
an erysipelatous character, for which reason, in order to avoid the
pernicious effects of cold on the injured parts, it would be well to
remain in bed. “And even if he had given me permission, I could not have
got up,” Señora de Pardiñas said. “I feel as if I had been tossed in a
blanket and been beaten with sand-bags afterward. There is not a bone
in my body that does not ache. It is only now that I begin to feel the
full effects of the bruise.”

Rogelio took his chocolate, seated at the foot of his mother’s bed, and
showed little inclination to stir from there. But Doña Aurora soon
observed this. “Oh, oh, child,” she cried, “Hurry off to college! You
know very well that the professors, especially Ruiz del Monte, won’t
excuse absences. The examinations will come afterward, and then you will
be wondering why you didn’t pass.”

He must, then, shake off his laziness, go to his room, bathe his face
with cold water, wrap himself well in his cloak and proceed to the
confounded “_chocolate factory_,” as he called the University, for the
reason that in no place is there more grinding going on. When he left
the warm atmosphere of the house, his faculties brightened by his
matutinal ablutions, and felt the cold of the early morning in his eyes
and on his lips, it seemed to Rogelio as if a veil of fog had suddenly
been rent apart and his recollections of the day before took clear and
distinct shape in his mind. At this hour his sweetheart, the little girl
with the superfluous tooth, would be leaning over the balcony to see,
first the mounted artillerymen, and then himself pass by. Rogelio shook
with laughter when he recalled this episode. “What a joke!” he said to
himself. “What a way I took to find a sweetheart!” Then he remembered
what had passed during the night. “I don’t know what came over me,” he
thought. “Mamma’s fall dazed me. I said some stupendous things to
Esclavita. That, indeed, was like a declaration of love, in earnest;
yes, truly. And I felt it all, and if I had not tried hard to control
myself, I should have cried. And she, too, was inclined to be
sentimental. But looking at it calmly, nothing that we said to each
other compromises either of us. They were words that slip from
one--well--because at times--if I were required now to give an
explanation of why I said them I could not do it. They came without my
thinking. Perhaps this is _love_; as for the other, that was pure
make-believe. Well, _this_ at least, if mamma were to find it out, would
not vex her so much as what was near happening the other day. In what
happened last night I don’t see anything bad.” And as he exchanged a
salutation at the door of the University with the sleepy door-keeper,
his thoughts took another direction, and he said to himself, “I shall
make a nice show of myself if I am questioned on the lesson to-day.”

In the afternoon the house was full of friends who had heard of the
accident and who had come to offer their services. There were two or
three ladies who were allowed into the bed-room to chat with the
patient, whose head was well now and who, consequently, was not
disturbed by the noise. The _habitués_ of the house came as usual and
remained in the dressing-room to accompany the “son of the victim,” as
Rogelio laughingly called himself. They discussed the possible
consequences of the fall; they devoted a good half hour to a
consideration of what would have happened if the patient, instead of
setting her heel down in _this_ way had set it down in _that_. Only Lain
Calvo, the representative in that senile assemblage, at once of common
sense and of malevolence, pretended deafness more than ever, confining
himself to stirring the fire and looking over the pictures and
caricatures in the illustrated periodicals. Two or three times he took
his ear-trumpet from his pocket and made a pretense of cleaning it and
putting it into his ear, but the plainest proof that he heard perfectly
was, that under pretense of showing some illustration or other in _La
Ilustracion Iberica_ to Rogelio, he leaned toward the student and said
to him with a look that would better have become the face of a
mischievous urchin than of a grave old man:

“When are those manikins going to stop their senseless chatter, boy?
They are even more idiotic to-day than usual. What is the use of talking
about what the possible consequence might be of something that might
possibly have happened but that didn’t happen? It is like saying, ‘If
she had fallen on her head instead of on her side it would have killed
her.’”

Then another discussion arose--in relation also to the great event of
the fall--as to whether it might not be well for some friend to stay and
take care of the patient, as there were certain services which Rogelio,
being a man and inexperienced in such matters besides, could not very
well render her. But here Don Gaspar Febrero broke out, emphasizing his
asseverations by striking the ferule of his crutch against the
chimney-guard:

“Why, she has the best nurse she could possibly have! Don’t be afraid
but that our friend Doña Aurora will be well taken care of by the
sympathetic Esclavita. You may be sure she will wait on her like a
sister of charity. Don’t pity Doña Aurora; pity a poor fellow like me,
rather, who will have no Esclavita at his pillow to close his dying
eyes, when his last hour comes.”

The company here all protested, with the exception of Lain Calvo, whose
attention seemed to be occupied in adjusting his trumpet in his ear.

“You, Don Gaspar, why, you will live to bury us all! Why you are only in
the prime of life! You are as vigorous as a boy.”

Don Gaspar shook his head, but with an air of such Olympic serenity,
with so animated an expression on his classical features that he seemed
rather a demi-god of antiquity affirming his immortality than an old man
of our restless age announcing the decline of his vital powers.

“The truth is,” interposed Lain Calvo, “that we are all like moldy
parchment, ready to burn to dust at a touch, like the mummies of Peru.
Is not that what you were saying, Don Gaspar?”

“He was saying,” screamed Rojas, “that he would like to have Esclavita,
Doña Aurora’s maid, to nurse him when he is sick.”

“What an idea!” exclaimed the Asturian. “With a girl like that to take
care of him, an old man would soon be in his grave, even if he were as
strong as an oak, _caray_. Unless he were like King David.” And turning
to Rogelio, he added. “What does the son of the house say to that? Would
he be willing to give up the pretty girl to the old fellows? Wouldn’t
he protest against it?”

Whether because of the manner in which the question was put to him, or
because his conscience was not altogether tranquil, or finally because
owing to his youth and inexperience he had not the self-possession
demanded by the occasion, Rogelio turned crimson (which was the more
noticeable in him, on account of his habitual pallor), and stammered:

“No--to Señor Febrero--I--I--” And in his own mind, he said “Hypocrite!
You can’t hear, indeed. I verily believe you can hear the grass grow.”

The arrangements for the night were the same as on the previous night,
only that, in order not to vitiate the air of the bed-room, Rogelio’s
bed was placed in the dressing-room, the door between the two rooms
being left open. It was long before the patient fell asleep; she
complained of much pain, of a sensation of heat in the injured leg, and
an unaccountable feeling of weariness. Rogelio, laying his hand on her
forehead, noticed that it was hot, a fact which kept him from sleeping,
without preventing him, however, from wondering a little if Esclavita
would come to chat a while with him, a thing which he at once feared and
desired. Debating this question in his mind, he at last fell asleep, and
waking toward morning, he saw the girl approach his bedside. Leaning
over him, she said quickly, “I can’t stir from there; she is continually
asking for water. She complains of pains all over her body. It is all
the effect of the fall.” Rogelio, greatly troubled, answered softly,
“Very well, Suriña.” But this bad news prevented him from falling asleep
again. Was there any danger? Was this the beginning of a fever? The
doctor, who came at an early hour, relieved him from his apprehensions.
“All this,” he said, “is the after-effect of the fall. The fever is
slight. The inflammation we will soon have under control. Give me a
piece of paper. You will see an improvement by evening.” In the evening,
instead of the promised improvement, there was an increase in the fever,
but at nightfall a change for the better took place, and at ten o’clock
the patient ate with appetite the wing of a chicken. “Ah, God be
praised!” she cried. “The pain in my bones seems better now. I felt such
an oppression inside. Child, I think I shall soon be myself again.” This
cheerful prognostication was followed by a period of freedom from pain,
and toward midnight Doña Aurora was enjoying the profound and peaceful
slumber of a convalescent.

“To-day she will come flying,” said Rogelio to himself, resolving to
keep awake, and notwithstanding his sophistical arguments to prove _all
that_ of no importance whatever, he felt his nerves thrill with
excitement, and his heart throb tumultuously.

[Illustration]



XVI.


She came on tiptoe with an air of gayety and animation that contrasted
with her usual reserve of manner, and curled herself up on the floor
like a pet kitten, at the foot of her master’s bed. The latter, however,
did not dedicate his first words to her, but instinctively consecrated
them to the real love of his life, the mother who had borne him; who was
sleeping close by in the next room.

“Only think what happiness, Esclavita! Mamma is almost entirely well. I
can scarcely believe it. She gave me a terrible fright. This morning
when you told me how ill she felt, I could not go to sleep again.”

Esclavita gave the student a curiously penetrating and meaning glance,
and then answered:

“I prayed earnestly to Our Lady of Slavery that the mistress might get
better. I offered her a mass, besides. You see how the Virgin has
listened to my prayers, Señorito.”

“Of course. You must have a great deal of influence with the saints.”

“Yes,” murmured the girl, “I have--to obtain what is against myself.”

“Against yourself!” exclaimed Rogelio, surprised and somewhat
displeased. “And is it against yourself that my mother should get well?”

“That she should get well--no,” stammered Esclavita; “that she should
get well, no, indeed; and I hope God will take me to himself before he
takes her. But as soon as her illness is over our sitting up with her
will be over. And when that is over, these pleasant times will be over.”

The explanation flattered Rogelio’s vanity, assuring him once more that
he was loved, and not as a child is loved, but as a man is loved by a
woman; in which consisted the whole charm of this singular intercourse,
that not even to himself did he venture to call amorous. These words,
that were rendered sweeter to him by the tremulous and regretful tones
in which they were uttered, impelled Rogelio to put his arm around her
head, and, drawing it toward him, he tenderly pressed it to his breast.
Esclavita’s breath came and went so tumultuously that Rogelio said to
her at last, affectionately:

“There, I will release you. I don’t want to hurt you or distress you.”

“Hurt me, no,” murmured the girl; “hurt me, no.”

Rogelio did not again attempt to caress her. It was not necessary that
he should impose any restraint upon himself in order to treat Esclavita
with respect here, almost at his mother’s bedside, or to refrain from
these manifestations of affection, that were fraternal rather than
lover-like; of whose real meaning and significance he himself was
ignorant. He only permitted himself to pass his hand now and again over
her loosely-flowing and luxuriant auburn hair. Esclavita’s hair looked
softer than it really was, but it was certainly pleasant to pass his
hand over the warm, wavy tresses.

“Don’t you want to sleep a little?” he said. “You have been sitting up
for two nights, and you must be worn out. If mamma moves I will waken
you. I will not sleep in any case.”

Esclavita refused. To sit up three nights! What was that? She had spent
forty nights without taking off her clothes, when nursing the priest
during his last illness, without other rest than such as was afforded
her by leaning back in an old arm-chair and dozing for five minutes or
so at a time. Do without rest for three nights! She could do without
rest for three months if it were necessary.

“Well, if you don’t want to sleep, amuse me, then. Tell me something,”
he said.

“Ah, Señorito, a good person you ask to tell you something! One who
knows nothing herself.”

“Of course you know something, silly girl. Tell me something about our
native place. I am dying to hear about it. When I left there I was only
a child. I can scarcely remember it.”

Hearing him speak of her native land, Esclavita’s eyes glowed in the
darkness like the eyes of a cat.

“Don’t you remember it at all, Señorito?” she asked.

“Well, I will tell you. Searching in my memory I fancy I can see a great
many green fields and a rough sea, very green, too. But it is all very
confused. Do you know what I can remember most distinctly? A sailor
taking me in his arms to bathe me; I fancy I can see him now before me,
as black as pitch and smelling of sardines.”

“And why don’t you go back there to see it all again?”

“This year it will go hard with me or I will persuade mamma to go. We
will pass through Marineda and Compostela. We shall see the provinces of
Pontevedra and Orense. We will feast upon oysters and lobsters. It must
be like Paradise there. We will take you with us. You shall see.”

“Me?” said the girl, shaking her head. “Me? Ah, no; you will see that
you will not take me.”

“Why not, silly girl?”

“When my heart tells me anything it always comes true, and my heart
tells me that my eyes shall never see home again.”

“Be still, bird of ill omen! Let me get through with the worry of the
examinations and you shall see. So it is a beautiful place, eh? Come,
tell me all about it? What is it like? They say it is the loveliest
province in all Spain.”

“Or in all the world; I have already told you so,” Esclavita answered,
with profound conviction. “If you were to see the rivers of Pontevedra
you would be struck dumb with admiration. If you were to see them
casting the nets for sardines!”

“It must be delightful. You are already making me long to see it. And
the pilgrimages with their drums and bagpipes, what do you say of them?”

“A festival like one of those,” declared the girl, very seriously, “is
better than all the diversions of Madrid put together. There I was very
gay and I danced every Sunday; here I feel as if my _paletilla_[A] had
sunk in.”

 [A] Paletilla: xiphisternum, metasternum, or ensiform cartilage.

“And what do you mean by that? Tell me.”

“It is a bone that we have here,” she answered, touching her breast,
“that when it sinks in, it seems as if one’s soul sank, too; one keeps
growing sadder and sadder, and one loses one’s color and appetite, so
that after a while if one doesn’t get it raised again, one dies.”

“Do you believe that, child?”

“It is the truth. Some people say that all that about the _paletilla_ is
the effect of witchcraft, but I have seen two or three die already
because they wouldn’t have it raised.”

“Well, then, Suriña, sometimes it seems as if my _paletilla_, too, had
fallen, for I have fits of the spleen and I lose my appetite completely.
I have got the notion into my head that as soon as I go home I shall get
strong and grow as fat as a pig--so,” and he puffed out his cheeks to
show how fat he expected to become. “Here, I will always be as thin as
a lath. The life here is not calculated to make one grow strong. Come,
tell me something about home.”

Esclavita obeyed, and began to narrate, without order or descriptive
skill, incidents connected with her own history rather than having any
relation to the country. “When I was a child, such or such a thing took
place--” “One afternoon when I went to see the sardine fishing--” “When
I was learning to make lace with the bobbins--” “Once when we were
baking the bread in our oven.” The very personality of these
recollections lent them a singular charm in Rogelio’s eyes. While he
listened to the girl’s words, it seemed as if the vanished memories of
his childhood took definite and distinct shape in his mind. The room
seemed to be filled with rural scents of mint, anise, new-mown hay. The
illusion was so strong that he drew Esclava’s head toward him and
smelled it. “Your hair smells like--like the fields,” he said. While the
girl talked, his determination to go _home_ grew every moment stronger.
“If I don’t go home,” he thought, “I shall never be a man. It is the
first thing to be done. I am going to ask mamma to go when she is well.
It is a wonder she has never gone there before to spend the summer
instead of going to that ill-smelling, crowded San Sebastián. The moment
I set foot in the old land I shall grow as strong as a young ox.”

“Ah, Señorito,” said Esclavita softly, “how ugly and arid all the
country on the way coming here seemed to me! Not a solitary tree, not a
streamlet, not a green bush. How can the farmers live here?”

“Better than there, foolish girl. This is the land that produces bread
and wine.”

“Holy Mother! It seems impossible that people could live contented in
that parched land. And then, never to see the sea! When you look at the
sea, it seems the same as if you were looking at the grandeur of God.
Isn’t it true that only God could create a thing so grand as the sea,
and all that comes out of it? Those pretty little shells; so many, many
kinds of fishes, the sardines, that are the maintenance of the poor.”

“You talk like a book, Esclavita. I am not surprised that your devoted
Nuño Rasura----”

“Who?”

“Señor de Febrero, child.”

“The old man with the crutch?”

“Yes. Well, he says that you are a treasure. You must know that he is
head over ears in love with you.”

“Nonsense. Don’t make sport of me.”

“I am in earnest. Why, he wants to take you to his own house. They say
it will end by his offering you his lily-white hand and his lame foot.
He has conceived for you an insensate passion which will carry him to
the tomb in the flower of his youth, in the smiling age of illusion,
before he has reached his eighty-sixth April.”

“Well, well! Poor man, he hasn’t even the use of his legs.”

“Hold your tongue, ungrateful girl; hypocrite, rather. You will gain
nothing by concealing the profound impression which his curling locks
have made upon you.”

“Yes, taken from some dead man’s head,” said the girl, smiling
humorously.

“His pearly teeth and his slender form. But lay no plans, traitress, for
I will not allow you to follow that Don Juan. If you should prove false
to your duty, be prepared to die at my hands. I will tear your heart out
if you betray me.”

He ran his hand through her tresses caressingly, and murmured softly:

“Suriña will not go with the old man. Suriña belongs to me. Who wanted
to steal her from me? Let them prepare to defend themselves; let them
prepare to defend themselves. Suriña is mine!”



XVII.


On the following day Doña Aurora was so much better that she was able to
sit up for a couple of hours, and when night came she refused to consent
to Rogelio’s sleeping in her room. “It does not suit me,” she said. “You
don’t sleep comfortably; you lie awake for a long time; you toss about;
you chat with Esclavita. Last night I could hear you between sleeping
and waking, and then you get up in the morning looking pale and
miserable; and you have no appetite.” When Señora de Pardiñas was saying
this the girl, who had been going about the room putting things in
order, turned her back quickly to her, pretending to be looping up a
curtain which had become unfastened, an operation which

[Illustration: “The girl ... turned her back quickly to her, pretending
to be looping up a curtain.”]

engaged her attention for some time. The student fixed his eyes with
alarm on his mother’s countenance; but that dear face, so little
schooled in dissimulation, and so familiar to him in its every line,
reflected no other thought than that to which her lips had given
utterance, and the student, breathing freely once more, acceded to her
wish that he should sleep that night in his own room. His mother was
not without reason in saying that he needed sleep. At the most important
stage of his development, his health not yet fully established after a
childhood, if not precisely sickly, at least weakly, his delicate
organization was easily disturbed, and the three nights of wakefulness
he had spent had begun to tell upon him.

When he was in his own room, however, he felt sad and solitary.
Accustomed to be surrounded by tenderness and indulgent care--wrapped in
cotton, as it were--he was avid of affection, and two days had sufficed
to habituate him to those tender and novel conversations, carried on at
an unusual hour with a woman who offered him so large a measure of
affection and loyalty that not even his own mother, seemingly, lavished
love upon him more profusely. If Rogelio had been able to analyze his
sentiments he would have found that a great part of the charm of his
intercourse with Esclavita consisted in the fact that in it he was the
one who commanded, while the woman of twenty-five, who at first had
treated him like a stripling, a _boy_, was now all obedience, submissive
as a very _slave_. No matter how loving and tender his mother might be,
Rogelio was always conscious of his subjection to her; the habit of
respecting and obeying her had become rooted in his nature, keeping him
in a state of perpetual childhood. In his intercourse with the girl, on
the contrary, he could gratify at once his youthful vanity and his vague
and secret longing to assume the virile toga, the symbol of human
dignity.

For this reason the interruption in those pleasant nocturnal chats vexed
him greatly. He was on the point of stealing into his mother’s
dressing-room on tiptoe at about one o’clock to bring back a smile to
Suriña’s countenance that had grown a mile long. But what if his mother
should surprise them? She would think all sorts of evil things; it would
be a dreadful affliction to her; she might have a relapse; perhaps she
would dismiss Esclavita. The instinct of cautiousness, which in moments
of passion springs up in the soul to moderate the fever that urges to
rash resolutions and wild extremes, counseled him to observe prudence;
and on the following day, when he saw Esclavita’s face looking pale and
haggard, he drew her into a corner of the hall and said to her, between
jest and earnest, “Suriña, don’t wear that look of misery. Last night I
thought a great deal about you and about our chats together. I longed to
go to you, but I did not dare to do so. We must be careful for poor
mamma’s sake. Come, Esclava, smile on your lord!”

This glimpse of happiness sufficed to bring back the color to the girl’s
cheeks, and even to restore to her, apparently, cheerfulness and
serenity.

Rogelio had consented to sleep in his own room, partly through prudence,
partly through filial respect. “Only let mamma get quite well,” he
thought, “let her be herself again; that is the first thing. Until she
is strong and well, let Esclavita nurse her, that is all. But mamma is
much better now, and will soon be convalescent; in eight or ten days
more there will not be a trace of the injury left. Then we shall have
time enough for all the chats we desire. Mamma will go out, or she will
be occupied with her visitors, and--we shall have all the liberty we
want. I must tell Sura this to make her completely happy.”

He watched for a favorable opportunity to communicate these agreeable
plans to her. Kept a prisoner in the patient’s room during these days,
Esclavita did not enter that of the student; it was necessary to take
the hall as the center of operations, and Rogelio resolved to wait there
for her in the afternoon, as the morning slipped away between breakfast
and college. At about four o’clock, the coming and going of Doña
Aurora’s daily visitors introduced a certain animation and disorder into
the house which were favorable to Rogelio’s plans. And on these days
there were many visitors, for Señora de Pardiñas’s illness not being of
a nature to exact quietude, imposed upon her friends the duty of keeping
her company. Not only the gentlemen came, but also the feminine
contingent, composed almost entirely of mothers of families of moderate
means, who, lacking Doña Aurora’s wealth, could indulge only
occasionally in the luxury of visiting, and then not without much
previous preparation so as to present themselves in public with the
respectability demanded by their station as the wives of magistrates. On
the afternoon in question two ladies came who allowed themselves to be
seen but seldom: the wife of the President of the Court, Don Prudencio
Rojas, and the wife of the ex-Crown Solicitor, Don Nicanor Candás,
nicknamed Lain Calvo. If a painter, had desired to symbolize Dignity
clad in the garb of modesty he need only have copied faithfully the
costume and the features of Señora de Rojas. For one whose sentiments
had not been perverted or distorted and whose sensibilities had not been
blunted, there was something in the appearance of this simply dressed
woman, socially insignificant, which would impel him irresistibly to
uncover the head and bend the knee before her. Her worn black velvet
wrap, scrupulously brushed, carefully altered to meet the fashion of the
day at the cost of a week’s labor, perhaps; her bonnet, the lace on
which betrayed by its gloss its home making-up; her new two-button
gloves of a dark and serviceable color, bought for the occasion; her
old-fashioned earrings, each a cluster of minute brilliants; her white
hair, worn smooth over the temples with the supreme decorum of a widowed
queen who has renounced the aspiration to please, revealed more courage,
more endurance, more secret heroism than any beggar’s rags, any
invalid’s uniform, any nun’s sackcloth. The living commentary and
perhaps the best explanation of the strict integrity of the husband was
the aureole of domestic patience and of serene acceptance of daily
sacrifice which surrounded the brow of the wife. The severity and
inflexibility of Rojas in his manner of interpreting and administering
the law were softened by the sweetness of his wife, whom ancient Rome
would have chosen as a priestess of domestic piety. This matron had
never asked, even in her own mind, why her life, for thirty years or
more, should be one continued act of self-abnegation. She knew, and this
sufficed, that in her house the stern image of duty was worshiped side
by side with the gilded statue of decorum, and without a protest she had
consecrated herself to the worship of both deities.

There could not be a greater contrast than that which existed between
Señora de Rojas and Señora de Candás. As in the magistracy great
importance is attached to family antecedents, doubtless his marriage to
so vulgar a woman, who, according to report, had been the landlady of an
inn at Gijón, had had much to do with certain clouds that at one time
had rested on the reputation of the Crown Solicitor, and had caused his
colleagues, irritated at being obliged to associate with her, to regard
him with a disfavor which was heightened by the incorrigible mordacity,
the mocking cynicism, and the intermittent deafness of the Asturian.
Señora de Candás, a stout woman with a wen on the left eye-lid, who was
very showy in her dress, always wearing gowns full of furbelows, and
bonnets looking like sentry-boxes or preserving kettles, who spoke
partly in Spanish, partly in the Asturian dialect, calling her husband
_this one_, and describing in mixed company ailments which, with more
propriety, might have been allowed to remain buried in oblivion--was a
perfect type of incurable and ingrained vulgarity; a vulgarity which was
proof against example, against the atmosphere of the court, against
ridicule, and against the influence of time, which smoothes and
polishes, as the waves smooth and polish the roughest stone. If Don
Nicanor had ever made the effort to civilize his wife, he had certainly
long since given up the task; and besides, his colleagues affirmed that
to polish Pachita it would be necessary for Don Nicanor to begin by
polishing himself, and abjuring the roughness of his speech, the
harshness of his manners, and the bad taste of his opinions; for even
the opinions of the Crown Solicitor were in bad taste, or at least
seemed to be so from his manner of expressing them.

But whether he were or were not on a level with his Pachita (and perhaps
the only superiority he possessed over her was his masculine acuteness
of intellect and his learning), it was certain that Don Nicanor seemed
at times a little ashamed of his better half. A concealed observer,
stationed at Doña Aurora’s door and noting first Señor de Rojas and then
Señor de Candás, each accompanied by his wife, as they entered the house
on the day in question, might, from this observation alone, have been
able to form a correct idea of the psychic natures of each of the
couples and of the moral atmosphere of their houses. Rojas offered his
arm to his wife as they were going upstairs, hurried forward to ring the
bell, and then stood aside courteously at the door to allow her to enter
first, afterward drawing aside the portière of the dining-room (where
the receptions were once more held). His manner of seating himself
beside her, of associating her with him in his inquiries for the health
of Rogelio’s mother, was full of the same consideration, the same
delicate feeling of reverential familiarity, if I may say so, and the
magistrate, in respecting his partner, showed that he respected himself.
Señor de Candás, on the contrary, entered with the same want of ceremony
as on the other days, and almost left his wife in the corner where he
left his umbrella. One might have thought that Pachita and her husband
were strangers to each other who had met by chance on the staircase. But
further: while Señor de Rojas, conversing with his wife in the same
deferential tone as with Doña Aurora, made no motion to go until Señora
de Rojas gave the customary signal, saying: “When you wish, Prudencio,
we will go home,” Señor de Candás, brusquely cutting short a harangue of
Pacha on the dearness and the rancidness of bacon in Madrid, said, with
the greatest rudeness:

“Eh, Pacha, hold your tongue and come on; it is time for us to go.”

Señor de Candás left the room first, doubtless to show the way to his
wife, who was floundering through the ceremonies of leave-taking, and
was just in time to surprise two persons who were whispering earnestly
together at the further end of the hall. No one could excel the sly
Asturian in the art of appearing not to see what was not meant for him
to see, but as for seeing, _carapuche_, he saw so much that long after
he had quitted the house a smile still played among the wrinkles of his
Voltairian countenance.

[Illustration: “Great news, Suriña! This summer we are to go home--all
of us.”]

What Rogelio was saying to the girl with so much eagerness was:

“Great news, Suriña! This summer we are to go home--all of us. Mamma has
promised me.”



XVIII.


Señora de Pardiñas was now pronounced entirely well, and the
advisability of her going out for a walk was being considered, when one
morning, at the hour when Rogelio had his lecture on Political Economy,
an hour which was unusually early for visitors, Don Nicanor arrived,
smiling, and seemingly in a very good humor. He pretended to be
surprised at finding none of the accustomed visitors there, whereupon
Doña Aurora, who was knitting a woolen stocking, answered with much show
of reason that as it wanted at least two hours to the usual time of
their arrival, it was not strange that none of them had yet come. But
apparently Lain Calvo did not hear this answer, for he had kept his ear
trumpet in his pocket, using his hand as a substitute.

“Tell me, Doña Aurora, have you not noticed something?” he asked,
settling himself comfortably in his easy-chair, whose broad back already
bore the impress of his form.

Doña Aurora raised her eyes with an expression that seemed to say:
No--that is to say, I don’t know. Do me the favor to explain yourself.

“Did you not notice the other day, the day that Pacha and I were
here----”

“Yes, yes; I know--Friday.”

“How dejected the wife of Rojas seemed?”

“Poor woman! She is never very cheerful; but she never seems
discontented, either. She is an excellent woman! As good as gold!”

“Well, she tried hard to conceal her grief, but it was very evident,
especially to those of us who were already aware of the circumstances.”

“Why, what has happened? Have they had any trouble?” asked Señora de
Pardiñas in alarm, for she sincerely esteemed and liked Señora de Rojas.

“Joaquin--the son, the judge--they have transferred him again from one
end of Spain to the others, two months after the first transfer, and
just when his wife is about to be confined. That will convince him that
one cannot play the Quixote here, _carapuche_. Fancy a young man, who is
beginning his career, making his début by opposing so powerful a chief
as Colmenar, who has at his back the Minister of the Department. He will
soon see, he will soon see that they are not the people to be trifled
with. And he will see, too, of how much consequence the law is. A judge
can be transferred only at his own instance? Well, put in the royal
order, ‘at his own instance,’ and that settles it. Why, there have been
people who were placed on the retired list ‘at their own instance.’ And
when they protested, they were told they were wanting in respect for the
Minister.”

“But, Señor Don Nicanor, that is very creditable to the Rojases. It is
evident the young man is of his father’s school. People as upright as
that are seldom seen nowadays. I understand nothing about those things,
but I remember the affair was discussed here, and it was said that they
wanted Joaquin Rojas to be a party to a dreadful piece of dishonesty--a
robbery of----”

“The idea of a jackanapes like that,” continued Lain Calvo, persisting
in his deafness, “wishing to set himself up in opposition to the
Minister. The Rojases are as stubborn as mules. _Talis pater_--a fanatic
the father, a fanatic the son. That is to say, a still greater fanatic,
although that might seem to be impossible. For the father at least does
not get himself into a fix; he adheres to the letter of the law and
that is the end of it. The code says white? White let it be, then. Does
it say black? Then let it be black. Rojas is a machine for carrying out
the law. If the law to flog criminals or to cut off their ears were
still in force, Rojas would himself go about seeing it carried into
execution. But the boy! Because he has read a few trashy German and
Italian books, translated into worse gibberish, he plays the learned man
and the phi-los-o-pher. A judge a phi-los-o-pher! Fancy! What
pretentiousness!”

“Well, for my part,” protested Doña Aurora, without raising her voice,
for she knew how much faith to put in the Crown Solicitor’s deafness, “I
think that in every situation in life a man should behave himself with
dignity and propriety. For that reason I have a great deal of sympathy
for the Rojases.”

“And as a natural consequence,” continued Lain Calvo, “they are very
straitened in their circumstances. They never light a fire in that
house, they eat only the plainest food, they drink no coffee. The salary
is not enough to meet the expenses of moving from one place to another;
he has married a girl without a penny, and as soon as things come to a
crisis the young gentleman will lower his tone. Necessity teaches more
than all the universities put together. They will tame him yet. He will
be as soft as a glove before the year is over.”

Convinced that she would gain nothing by argument, Doña Aurora went on
narrowing the heel of her stocking, contenting herself with shaking her
head in dissent from time to time, for her quick temper would not allow
her to listen quietly to the spiteful remarks of the malicious Asturian.

“We all begin life with the idea that we are going to reform the world,”
he went on, “but very soon we take in our sails. Oh, yes, we soon take
in our sails. Or if we do not, we lead a miserable existence. You will
see that the storm that has caught Joaquin will reach his father also.
It is brewing for him. Before the year is out they will give him a
lesson he won’t forget. They cannot transfer him? They will superannuate
him, then. I am no lover of the past like Don Gaspar and the others, but
I must acknowledge that in my day politics had less to do with the
magistracy than it has now. That is the way things come and that is how
we must take them. Those gentlemen are always in the clouds,
_carapuche_. Complete fools! The new generation understand things
better. I am the only one of our circle who lives in the world. If it
were not for this cursed deafness----”

“Don’t come to me with stories about your deafness,” protested Señora
de Pardiñas. “God deliver me from deaf people like you. You hear more
than you ought to hear. Give over your nonsense with me, eh? I wasn’t
born in the year of the fools.”

“And the craziest of them all,” continued Lain, pretending not to have
heard, “is the worthy Don Gaspar. He is a perfect simpleton. He has gone
back to his childhood. We shall have to give him a nurse, or at the
least a maid to take care of him. That is what he wants, and that is
what he sighs for, and he is trying to steal away from you the one you
have chosen for your boy. I am speaking in earnest; as sure as my name
is Nicanor he is crazy for your maid, for Esclava, or whatever her name
is. No boy of twenty could be more desperately in love than he is with
her. I am certain that Rogelio is not half so deeply smitten.”

On hearing Rogelio’s name, and observing the tone in which it was
uttered by Candás, Señora de Pardiñas started, and let her knitting fall
on her lap.

[Illustration: “On hearing Rogelio’s name ... Señora de Pardiñas started
and let her knitting fall on her lap.”]

“As for Rogelio,” continued the Asturian, with the same affectation of
indulgence, “what has happened to him is so natural at his age that the
wonder would be if it had not happened. It is plain. A woman of
twenty-five, good-looking and affectionate; a boy of twenty, what was to
happen? A glance to-day, a touch to-morrow, a caress in the hall, a
romp in the reception-room--youthful follies that come to an end of
themselves.”

Señora de Pardiñas jumped in her chair as if she had been moved by a
spring.

“Do you know what you are saying?” she exclaimed. “Do you think it is
right to say such things for no other reason than your own pleasure,
without any proof or foundation whatever? Are you to let your tongue
gallop away with you without caring whom you knock down? Rogelio, poor
boy, is incapable of such conduct in his mother’s house.”

“Of course I can understand your attaching little importance to the
matter, and turning it into ridicule, for those things are follies
natural to youth; and for that reason when I caught them the other day
in the reception-room billing and cooing like a pair of turtle-doves, I
said to them in my own mind: ‘That’s right, children, amuse yourselves;
that is the law of God.’ But when I think of that other driveler, with
his eighty odd years, playing the love-sick swain, I vow I could lay him
across my knee and give him a sound flogging for an arch fool.”

And Doña Aurora felt that she could with the greatest pleasure have
performed the same operation on the person of the incorrigible Asturian.
To say these dreadful things to her and to say them in that treacherous
way, that did not even give her a chance to set him right, for with the
pretense of his deafness, he might assert what he chose regardless of
all that might be said either in denial or disproof of his words. It was
enough to make one’s blood boil with rage. It was a stupid, shameless,
insufferable jest. And was she going to let it pass? No, indeed. Señora
de Pardiñas’s anger was aroused; the blood boiled in her veins.
“Hypocrite! liar! fire-brand! tale-bearer! fox!” she said to the
Asturian in her own mind. “Now I am going to settle accounts with you.”
She rose from her chair, went up quickly to him, put her hand in the
pocket of his coat with the dexterity of a professional pickpocket, and
took from it the case which contained his ear-trumpet. And before the
astonished Lain Calvo could make a movement to defend himself, Doña
Aurora had taken the silver tube out of its case, introduced it into his
ear, and screamed with all her might:

“Whenever you talk to me in future, either use your trumpet or else make
up your mind to hear what I say in answer to you. All that about Rogelio
and Esclava is the suggestion of your own vile thoughts, do you hear? My
boy is not in the habit of flirting with his mother’s servants, do you
hear? People are not so loose and so shameless in their conduct as you
try to make them out to be, do you hear? do you hear? And decent people
are not the same as villains, do you hear? And I am not so great a
simpleton, listen well to what I say, that such things could take place
under my very nose without my seeing them. And malicious people are not
to my taste, do you hear? For I always think of the saying, ‘Ill-doers,
ill-deemers,’ do you hear?”

Her philippic ended, she let herself fall on the sofa, agitated and
unstrung, while the Asturian, putting both his hands up to his bald
crown, exclaimed in distressed accents:

“_Carapuche_, Aurorina, you have broken the drum of my ear. Another such
outbreak as that and you would leave me deaf.”



XIX.


But no sooner had the hypocritical Lain Calvo taken his departure than
Doña Aurora, whose agitation had now subsided, and in whose mind anger
had given place to reflection, scratched her head with her knitting
needle, as was her habit, and put to herself the question invariably
suggested by mistrust.--“And why should it not be true?” Without the
need of any great perspicacity, without possessing the Crown Solicitor’s
evil-mindedness, her own good sense suggested to her that such proverbs
as, ‘Fire and tow,’ etc., were not without foundation. And by a natural
process of reasoning, based on common sense, Señora de Pardiñas arrived
at a conclusion exactly the reverse of her first conviction, and
accused herself of being simple-minded and credulous, because not only
the possibility but the probability also of so obvious a result had not
occurred to her until it had been maliciously brought to her notice by a
stranger, when it was her duty to have foreseen the danger. “We mothers
make the mistake of thinking that boys will always remain boys,” she
said to herself, “and time passes, and they become men without their
mustaches waiting for our permission to grow. When we don’t imagine they
are still children we go to the opposite extreme and think that they are
old men, and ought to have as much sense as we have ourselves--another
absurdity, another mistake. Youth will have what belongs to it, and it
is a folly to shut our eyes to it. The worst of it here is that we have
the enemy within our very gates. And it was I myself who admitted her. I
opened the door and invited her in. Besides putting myself in a
humiliating and unbecoming position, I have placed the temptation in his
way and increased the seriousness of the consequences that may
follow--and how serious they may be! Of course I never supposed that
Rogelio was going to live all his life like a saint, but this--here, in
the very house----”

Another scratching of the head suggested to her the logical counterpoise
to these reflections. “It is very likely that that vile old man may have
slandered my boy and poor Esclava merely for the pleasure of slandering.
I am not so easily deceived where birds of that feather are in question,
and it was precisely on account of her modest and serious appearance
that I took a liking to Esclava. It is true her family antecedents are
not in her favor, and that she has bad blood on both sides, but in
that--in that one is sometimes apt to be greatly mistaken; people are
not like peppers, that grow good or bad according to the seed they
spring from. No, there is only one course to be pursued here--to
observe, to be on the alert, and to provide some outside distraction for
the boy. I will be guided by circumstances. I am not going to commit the
cruelty of turning the girl away without a word of warning. If all this
should turn out to be only stories of Don Nicanor, I should have it on
my conscience. And if it is the truth, the lad might rebel and we should
have a fine time. These first fancies are apt to be very violent with
boys. I must proceed with caution. Aurora, imagine that you are a
policeman, and that they have set you to track a crime. Keep your eyes
open, be prudent, and suspect everything.”

Never was programme more literally carried out. Señora de Pardiñas
occupied herself from that very instant in making up for lost time. In
proportion as she had been trusting and credulous before, did she become
incredulous and mistrusting from the moment when suspicion first
suddenly laid its cold touch upon her. She watched them adroitly,
without betraying her suspicions or allowing her uneasiness to be
perceived. In every woman, in the most innocent and frankest even, there
is the germ of the detective. The habits of dissimulation, practiced
from childhood, make it easy for her to play the part. In order not to
awaken suspicion, Doña Aurora resolved to exercise her surveillance over
one only of the supposed criminals. And, indeed, in the circumstances it
cannot be denied that watching Esclavita it was unnecessary to watch
Rogelio. And this was what Señora de Pardiñas did. Making use of her
indisputable right she studied, without a moment’s cessation, every
action, every step, every movement of her servant. She knew at what
hour she awoke in the morning, what she did when she arose, how often
and with what object she entered Rogelio’s room; how she spent the
afternoon; in what way she was occupied when there were visitors; when
she retired for the night, and when she put the light out. And it must
be confessed that at first this espionage was absolutely without result.
Esclavita, when she left the room, attended at once to the making of the
chocolate, and afterward to her toilet, which was simple; she did not
even arrange her hair in the coil at the back of the head which is the
only adornment indulged in by the domestics of Madrid. She put Rogelio’s
study and bed-room in order while he was at college or out walking; she
never entered either room when he was there. Esclavita never went out on
Sundays except to go to church, consequently Rogelio did not go out
either. During the receptions Rogelio did not stir from his corner on
the sofa, nor the girl from her basket of mending, except to open the
door. And the evenings, which, unless some college friend came to see
him, Rogelio spent reading the magazines or at the theater, Esclavita
spent in her room sewing or doing some other work for herself. There was
nothing in all this to arouse suspicion, and Señora de Pardiñas would
have slept with a tranquil mind if her powers of observation had been of
a more vulgar order.

But she was not a woman to let pass unnoticed certain things,
insignificant in appearance, but in reality very significant and even
alarming for a suspicious mother--loose threads which her maternal
perspicacity divined to belong to a tangled skein. These indications,
signs or guides for the investigations of the watchful mother, were
something of the following nature: At breakfast, when Esclava brought
Rogelio his pills or his syrup of iron, or when she handed him some
favorite dish, there passed between them (and it would have been useless
to try to persuade Doña Aurora to the contrary, for she had seen it only
too well) an exchange of glances, at times languishing and sentimental,
at times flashing and ardent. When Esclavita went to open the door at
Rogelio’s ring she showed an eagerness which she was very far from
showing when it was one of the tiresome old men who rang the bell; it
was evident that she recognized the Señorito’s ring, and even the sound
of his step upon the stairs. When Esclavita was ironing Rogelio’s linen,
she took the greatest possible pains with it, and this sign was also
observable in the manner in which she arranged his room and waited on
him at the table. Sometimes, when Rogelio was going out of an evening,
the girl would be in the hall and they would exchange a few words, but
always in so low a tone that it was impossible to catch what they said;
the same thing happened when Rogelio came in from college in the
morning, if Doña Aurora did not chance to be in the reception-room at
the time. Finally, and this last was the most significant sign of all,
Rogelio had, on two or three occasions, objected to accompanying his
mother when she went out, and although he always finally yielded, it was
with much grumbling and evident dissatisfaction.

This was all Señora de Pardiñas perceived, but this was enough and more
than enough to keep her in a state of constant anxiety, and to inspire
her with an ardent desire to put an end, in the quietest way possible,
to this ambiguous situation, and to unwind the skein which threatened
otherwise to become, with time, an inextricable tangle. She did not
dare to stir from the house lest she should thus afford them dangerous
opportunities. Such a course may be followed for a time, but it cannot
be continued through a whole winter without arousing suspicion. Rogelio
had already, on several occasions, manifested much surprise at the
discontinuance of the morning drives. “_Mater_,” he said to her
jestingly, “we are soon destined to witness grave disturbances if you
persist in your seclusion, disdaining the gilded chariots that wait
impatiently to receive you at the foot of our palace walls, that,
reclining luxuriously on their embroidered cushions, you may resume your
accustomed matutinal drives. An imposing demonstration is being
organized in which ten thousand of the most distinguished Phætons are to
take part; discourses in the sweet tongue of the troubadour Macías and
the eloquent jargon of Duke Pelayo are to be pronounced. Martin the
_Buloniu_ and José the _Cabaleiro_ are to speak. The government has
adopted precautionary measures and the affair will come off in the
tavern.”

When the _habitués_ of the house learned of Doña Aurora’s seclusion,
they, too, felt themselves obliged to enter their protest against it on
hygienic grounds. “Friend Aurora, you must not give way to indolence.
Take care how you create humors that may afterward give you trouble.
Look at me, I owe my good health and my cheerful spirits to my habit of
never letting a day pass without walking a certain distance. Less than a
league will not thin the blood. Since the accident to my foot I walk
more than that.” This advice came from the worthy Nuño Rasura. “Exercise
is very necessary,” added Señor de Rojas, with his accustomed
sententiousness, “for the body, and, if it goes to that, for the mind
as well. Walking, the mind is diverted. There is nothing like a little
walk, and if one finds it tiresome, why one can count the stones, or the
trees, or the numbers on the houses.” These counsels at last put Doña
Aurora out of patience. “People have a sort of mania for giving advice
without knowing what is the matter or where the shoe pinches,” she said
to herself. “These gentlemen seem determined on having happen here what
shouldn’t happen. That intermeddler, Don Nicanor, is right in saying
that they all live in the clouds.”

Doña Aurora, however, was not long in convincing herself that her plan
of remaining always at home was impracticable, and it irritated her to
think that perhaps she was taking unnecessary trouble, for the
inclination of the young people for each other did not seem so strong as
to justify all these

[Illustration: “And dismissing it shortly afterward, returned home on
foot.”]

precautions; and even if it were, to try to prevent them from seeing
each other alone was like putting doors to an open field. A device then
occurred to her by means of which to clear up her doubts and measure the
magnitude of the danger. She had a key secretly made for the door of the
apartment; and, provided with this, she drove out one morning in one of
her “equipages”--that of Martin, it chanced to be--and dismissing it
shortly afterward, returned home on foot, opened the door noiselessly
with her key, and made her way softly to the lion’s den, where she
supposed she should find Esclavita, nor was she mistaken. She found her
quietly seated at her sewing, as usual, with that pensive and absorbed
air which characterized her.

“Where is the Señorito?” Doña Aurora asked her suddenly, with the
intention of taking her off her guard.

The girl, raising her serene or rather melancholy countenance, answered:

“I believe he is studying in his room. How did you get in, Señora? I did
not hear the bell.”

“Fausta was going out,” hurriedly explained Doña Aurora, feeling as if
she herself had been caught in the snare she had laid. She even felt her
cheeks grow red. This was what might be called a take-in! So much
secrecy about having the key made only to find that nothing particular
was going on at the house, and that when she expected to surprise them
in a stolen meeting she found everything going on in its usual routine.
And yet she was not convinced. No, indeed. Let Satan convince himself.
“Can this girl be slyer than I had imagined?” she thought. “Can she be
deceiving me without my knowing it? Are they both laughing at me? For
the glances and the whispered words when they meet and the unwillingness
the boy shows to leave the house--no one can make me lose sight of all
that; I have seen it, and what I see I see, and not all the preaching of
all the bare-footed friars in the world would make me believe anything
else. Instead of this failure reassuring me, I believe it will put me
more on my guard than ever. No, I am not to be so easily hoodwinked as
that. To protect my son I shall do everything in human power to do. They
shall find me prepared--whatever may happen. That girl makes me afraid.
She looks--I don’t know how--but I am not pleased with her. She is a
true Galician: she keeps everything to herself, and one can never be
sure of her, for she never lets you see what is passing in her mind.
Well, then, against deceit greater deceit. Wait, wait for awhile; I
shall find a way to get rid of you, and to get rid of you decently, in a
way that will give you no room for complaint; on the contrary, you will
be obliged to say that you are contented. And now--one nail drives out
another, and boys will be boys--I am going to provide Rogelio with an
amusement. I am going to give you a rival. Wait, girl; against wiles,
counter-wiles. I have found a rival who shall supplant you.”



XX.


And in effect, before twenty-four hours had passed, Señora de Pardiñas
had arranged an interview between her son and Esclavita’s rival. The
place of rendezvous was the abode of the aforesaid rival, an obscure
abode and not a very odorous one, as is apt to be the case with the
dwellings of individuals of her class; for which reason, in order that
Rogelio should make himself acquainted with the bearing and the figure
of his new sweetheart, she was brought out into the yard unadorned, her
graceful form was covered only by an old blanket, which Augustin Cuero,
the proprietor of the livery stable, hastened to take off, so that not a
single one of her charms should remain hidden from view.

She was a beautiful Andalusian pony, sorrel, with black feet, with a
small, thin head, sinewy legs, curved and shining hoofs, a coat
dazzlingly bright, dilated and sensitive nostrils, and an eye full of
fire and sweetness; she was young, gentle, graceful, spirited, one of
those animals which do honor to the race of Spanish horses by the beauty
of their appearance, by their intelligence, and by their noble and
generous natures. Augustin Cuero was lavish in his praises of the
animal, affecting to be grieved at parting from so precious a treasure.

“I assure you, Señora, that a finer horse is not to be seen to-day on
the Castellana. She has not a single blemish. And she is a saint--a
skein of silk; an infant could manage her. Spirited as she is, she is
incapable of playing a trick. So that a man becomes attached to her, and
when one sells her, it is like parting, one might almost say, with one
of the family.”

[Illustration: “I assure you, Señora, that a finer horse is not to be
seen to-day on the Castellana.”]

“Yes,” answered Señora Pardiñas, who had an eye for a bargain, “but you
won’t attempt to deny that this kind of horse is not now in fashion. The
horses that are in style now have a neck a mile long, and are shaped
like a tooth-pick.”

“Yes, the English horses; a ridiculous fashion, like a great many
others. And those are for a certain kind of young gentlemen and certain
circumstances. For the hippodrome and that sort of nonsense. A pony
like this will always be of use. Anxious enough the _Baraterin_, is to
buy her from me; only we can’t come to an agreement about the price. The
Señorito there can tell you so.”

“That is true, mamma,” affirmed Rogelio, stroking the silky coat of the
gentle animal. “I can bear witness to it. Augustin asked him the same
price that he has asked you, and the bull-fighter offers him two ounces
less; he is wild about her; he is all the time hanging around her; he
makes her more visits!”

“Let him give up hanging around her then, for she is yours,” exclaimed
the mother, with decision, enjoying the sight of the happiness depicted
on the countenance of her son, who, on hearing those heavenly words,
with a spontaneous movement threw his arms around the neck of the pony
and planted a hearty smack on her soft black nose.

The price and the time of payment being agreed upon, Doña Aurora
proposed to leave the pony in the care of Augustin for the present. But
Rogelio, almost wild with delight, would not hear of this or of any
other definite arrangement being made. “You know nothing about it,
mamma,” he cried. “I will take charge of that, leave it all to me.
Likely, indeed, that I should spend a whole day without knowing how my
pony goes! Every morning and evening I must have a look at my lady pony.
Leave it all to me, I say.” Doña Aurora ended by acceding to his wishes,
and investing him with full powers in the matter, saying, “Very well,
arrange it to suit yourself, then.” When the question arose as to a name
for the pony, the young man said, smiling, “I will call it ‘Suriña.’”

The cardinal affections of the human soul are at times marvelously
clear-sighted counselors. Señora de Pardiñas had divined, enlightened by
maternal affection, that with a young man of twenty--and one young for
his age--a woman can have no more dangerous rival than a fine horse. The
horse is not merely a distraction for a couple of hours daily, but an
occupation and a preoccupation from sunrise to sunset. To make
investigations with regard to what it has eaten, and whether it has been
robbed of its feed; to see if it has been rubbed down, and if all the
operations of its toilet have been performed--and the toilet of a fine
horse occupies almost as much time as the toilet of a beautiful woman;
then the affectionate understanding that establishes itself between the
horseman who for the first time enjoys the possession of a horse, and
the animal; the tenderness that springs from ownership, the exchange of
caresses, the sugar robbed from the breakfast table to take to it; the
fresh bread put away in the waistcoat pocket, the pleasure produced by
the joyful whinny of the animal when its keen sense of smell and its
delicate perception tell it that its master is approaching with the
dainty. Then the anxieties regarding its health--a horse gives as much
anxiety in this respect as a child. “Señorito, I don’t know what is the
matter with the pony, it hasn’t eaten its feed to-day. I notice that its
eyes look dull--” “Señorito, to-day the pony has not--” But who can
enumerate the ailments from which a pony may suffer. With all these
cares, there are others of a different order, having relation to what
may be called the wedding-finery of horsemanship--the saddle of the best
pig-skin, small, fanciful, that crackles at the touch; the saddle-cloth
of handsome felt, adorned with English ciphers; the steel stirrup, the
fine head stall that gives free play to the graceful movements of the
slender head; and for the rider, the whip with its chased silver handle,
the Tyrolese gloves, the cravat with white horseshoes on a gray ground.
All is excitement, all is delight in the enchanting honeymoon of the
young man and his pony. And what emotion when it is brought out of the
stable! What pride in displaying it before his friends! What ineffable
joy to ride up and down the shady walks of Moncloa, seated on its back;
to see a carriage approach in which some black-robed beauty reclines,
and under the fascinating gaze of the beautiful unknown to make it rear
and prance and show off its grace and spirit until it is covered with
foam and sweat! What delight to put it through all its paces,--passing
from the measured pace to the quick trot, then to the fiery gallop, and,
as he strokes with his palm the neck of the obedient brute, to hear it
snort with pleasure, thrilling through all its sensitive nerves and its
vigorous and sinewy muscles like a young girl when the arm of her agile
partner encircles her waist as he leads her to the dance!

There was not a doubt but that the idea of the pony had been a happy
one, suggested as it was by experience, and infinitely superior to that
commonplace artifice of taking a sweetheart, which had suggested itself
to the innocent mind of Rogelio as a sovereign remedy against his
incipient love-sickness. His mother did not need now to ask him to
accompany her on her expeditions or to invent excuses to get him out of
the house. Of his own accord the young man spent his time between his
house and the stall of his favorite. The weather was now growing milder.
The closing days of March, notwithstanding the bad reputation of that
variable month, were clear, calm, and pleasant, and every afternoon, at
three o’clock, Rogelio rode out to enjoy the first warm airs of spring,
now alone, again with some friend, and again with the riding-master, to
return home at dusk healthily tired, intoxicated with the pure air,
strengthened and exhilarated, and his mind free from enervating
thoughts. Between this vein of activity which his mother had discovered,
and study no longer to be avoided, as the examinations were approaching
with alarming swiftness, how or when could he find time to devote to
Esclavita?

His mother did not on this account relax her vigilance, however, or
abandon her well-considered plan of defense. One day Don Gaspar Febrero,
having gone somewhat earlier than usual to Doña Aurora’s, found himself
alone with her, and, according to his custom, turned the conversation on
Esclavita, praising her so extravagantly that his companion at last
began to grow impatient.

“Now that you speak of the girl,” she said, when the old man allowed her
to get in a word, “I wish to say something to you about her. But promise
me first that you will answer me with the frankness due to our
long-standing friendship.”

“Can you doubt it? Why of course I shall, my dear Aurora. In what way
can I serve you?”

“You shall hear. It is something that I have been thinking of sitting
here alone in the mornings when the boy is at college. As you will be
very lonely, no doubt, when Felisa starts on her long voyage to the
Philippines, I have thought--so that you might not miss so greatly the
attentions to which you have been accustomed--what do you think?”

“Let us hear--let us hear. Since the idea is yours--you always reason
very judiciously, my dear friend----”

“As you have often told me that you thought Esclavita so excellent a
servant----”

The sprightly old man made a quick movement of delighted surprise,
settled his spectacles on his nose, and eagerly and tremulously, in
disjointed phrases, exclaimed:

“My dear friend! my dear friend! what is it you are saying? what is it
you are saying? Have you considered well before speaking? To part with
that treasure! that treasure! You overwhelm me with this proof of your
goodness. Yes, indeed, but in conscience no, I cannot accept. Now I see
of what friendship is capable, Aurora! No, it would be too selfish on my
part. You have not thought well over the matter. Are you speaking in
earnest? in earnest?”

Señora de Pardiñas felt the pricking of remorse at this spontaneous
effusion of gratitude, and hastened to add:

“Listen and you will see that it would be for my own advantage as well
as for yours. There is something of selfishness in the offer, too, Don
Gaspar, it is not all a kindness. As I am thinking of taking Rogelio on
a visit to our native place this year----”

“A reason the more, my friend; a reason the more. You cannot dispense
with the services of such a girl, traveling. The times are bad. With the
Higinias that are going, who would part with an Esclavita? And an
Esclavita of that stamp! Have you thought seriously over the matter, I
mean _seriously_?”

As he spoke thus, Nuño Rasura jumped up and down in his chair, twirling
his crutch between his palms. His eyes sparkled, his form straightened
itself like a boy’s, and his breast rose and fell with his agitated
breathing.

“Heaven help us!” thought Doña Aurora, “I shall have to lift the man up
from the floor with a spoon.” And as she remained silent, affecting to
be considering the good man’s arguments, the latter added quickly and
energetically, like a child who pretends to be yielding to persuasion in
accepting a toy:

“That is to say--of course I know from the very fact of your proposing
it to me that you have thought well over it. I see that you are right in
what you say; very right, very right, Aurora. Traveling, one is better
alone; the boy and his mother, of course, of course. As for me, it is
enough that you should propose it; I accept, I accept; do you hear, my
friend? I accept.”

“It is true,” reflected Doña Aurora, “that that slippery Don Nicanor,
who is stuffed full of malice and who is capable of thinking evil of his
own mother, irritates one at times; but these simpletons, too, who can
never understand a hint--well, there are days when they keep one’s
nerves on the stretch like the strings of a guitar.”

Don Gaspar’s scruples being thus vanquished, he himself arranged a plan
of action, which he laid before Doña Aurora--as soon as his daughter
should go away, he would take Esclavita as his housekeeper. The
octogenarian added, rubbing his hands:

“Don’t let Candás know anything about the matter. I don’t want to be
made the subject of annoying jests.”



XXI.


This domestic conspiracy was kept a profound secret. Doña Aurora was
silent, for women know how to keep a secret when they resolve to do so,
especially if their affections are concerned, and Don Gaspar did not
open his lips because he dreaded more than the cholera the jokes and
insinuations of the Crown Solicitor, and no less--if we must betray the
secrets of his household--the anger of his daughter Felisa. The latter,
suspicious as a wife, distrusting the sociable and gallant disposition
of the old man, had made it her business to provide him with the
ugliest, most ignorant, and worst-tempered Maritornes to be found, for
she always saw in the distance the menacing shadow of a stepmother.
Until Felisa should have started on her voyage to the fifth division of
the globe, the old man did not dare even to hint at his desire of taking
into his service the gentle and pretty Esclavita. It was with the
greatest difficulty that he was able to control his impatience and wait
for this event, for his old age was a second childhood. Capricious and
impatient as a child, if he yielded to his impulses, he would stamp upon
the floor whenever anything interfered with the gratification of his
desires. The outlet he sought for his impatience was a _tête-à-tête_
with Doña Aurora before the arrival of the other visitors, when he would
talk to her ramblingly, as old people are wont to talk, of his plans for
the future, of the comfort he should enjoy with Esclavita to wait upon
him, of the favors he would heap upon her, of how easy it would be to
wait on an old man like him, without any family, and many other things
of the same kind. And when the good man, owing to the presence of
others, was unable to dilate on his favorite theme, he gave his
excellent friend glances and winks of intelligence. He smiled at her
without any cause, and, in short, sought to give vent to his exuberant
and boyish gayety. “Heaven grant he may keep his reason,” said Señora de
Pardiñas to herself. “I don’t know why we should wonder at the craziness
of youth, when old men can act in this way. No boy could be more deeply
smitten. I declare, if he is not wild for his daughter to take herself
off, so that he may get Esclavita at once. If I did not know that he is
a really excellent man and that the girl, on her part, is incapable of
laying a trap for him, I should be a little uneasy, for no one can tell
where these things will end, and if he should take it into his head to
marry!--” The idea of Don Gaspar marrying a girl of twenty-five was so
absurd that Señora de Pardiñas laughed to herself, and the monologue
ended by the good lady scratching her head with her knitting-needle, and
saying, as a corollary of her reflections: “It won’t be my fault if
anything extraordinary should happen. To find a good situation for a
good servant is not a crime. All I am sorry for is that that tiresome
Felisa Febrero keeps forever putting off her departure for the
Philippines.”

It was true, indeed, that Don Gaspar’s daughter delayed her journey in a
way to make the blood boil in the veins of a more patient person than
Doña Aurora. What made the latter wild was that the time for the
examinations to take place was now drawing near, after which she had
resolved to take a trip to Galicia, and to leave Esclavita behind or to
take her with her seemed equally impracticable. Don Gaspar kept her
informed of the news regarding his daughter’s departure, looking more
and more joyful as the time drew nearer. “They are packing the trunks.”
“They have made inquiries concerning the dates of sailing of the
steamers.” “On Thursday, or at furthest on Saturday, they will be on
their way to Cadiz.” At last he came one day with a face looking more
radiant, more Olympic than usual, under the aureole of his beautiful
white curls. “Friend Aurora,” he said, “they are to leave us this
afternoon.” It was agreed that for appearance’s sake a few days should
be allowed to pass before giving warning to the ignorant and slatternly
Estremaduran who waited on Don Gaspar, and informing Esclavita of her
change of situation. “Friend Aurora, do you take charge of that,” said
the octogenarian. But although he thus laid all the responsibility on
the shoulders of Doña Aurora, he could not resist the temptation, as he
was passing the

[Illustration: “As he was passing the confectionary of La Pajarita.”]

confectionary of La Pajarita when he was taking his constitutional on
the following day in the Puerta del Sol, to enter the shop and buy half
a pound of caramels and bonbons. He hid his purchase in an inside pocket
of his coat and when, stopping at the house of Señora de Pardiñas,
Esclavita opened the door for him, he glanced around furtively, put his
hand into his pocket, and drawing out the cartridge slipped it into her
palm as if it were a _billet doux_. “Fresh,” was the only word his
pleasing agitation allowed him to utter, as he put the gift into her
hand.

Very reluctantly, and with much hemming and hawing, Doña Aurora set
about performing her disagreeable task of getting rid of Esclavita. She
would have felt less embarrassed if she had been called upon to break to
her the news of some great misfortune, such as the death of some one
dear to her, or some pecuniary loss, for, after all, in such a case she
would have none of the responsibility nor would she be in any way to
blame, while in merely announcing to her the impending change of abode
and of employers, she felt, with her natural sense of right, to which
nothing but her maternal affection could blind her, that there was
something of harshness and cruelty in her conduct, although this was
dictated by motives such as no prudent mother could disregard. “It is
even a matter of conscience with me,” she said to herself, to fortify
her courage. “I was thoughtless in bringing temptation within Rogelio’s
reach. Felisa Febrero has shown more knowledge of the world than I, for,
old as her father is, she would not put him in danger’s way. The boy has
more sense than could have been expected, not to have lost his head
completely. No, no, it is better to blush once than to turn pale a
hundred times. To-day I will get rid of her. As soon as Rogelio goes to
college----”

There are in the tones of the human voice mysterious notes of warning
which in certain situations reveal our inmost thoughts before we have
put them into words. The simple words, “Come here, Esclavita,” words
such as a servant hears innumerable times in the course of a day, echoed
on this occasion with an ominous sound in the soul of the young
Galician. All the blood in her body rushed to her heart, and when she
entered the room where her mistress was awaiting her she already knew by
intuition the purport of what she was about to hear.

Doña Aurora was seated, not in the dining-room, but in her son’s study,
where she was in the habit of going, in his absence, to write a note, to
make up her accounts, or the like, and perhaps also to satisfy that
instinctive and restless curiosity characteristic of an absorbing
affection when it reaches the height of a passion. She made Esclavita
sit down in a chair beside her and began to speak, without looking at
her, occupying herself in taking the pens, one by one, from a little
pen-box and placing them symmetrically, side by side, upon the table--On
account of the trip to Galicia, there was nothing else to be done--To
travel with three people was not the same as to travel with only two,
that required no explanation--A situation in the house of Señor de
Febrero was the best thing a girl like her could possibly desire; it was
a great piece of good fortune. She would be, not a servant, but the
housekeeper. She would be treated with every kind of consideration. The
labor of waiting on one person only would not kill her; by taking a
little trouble to please that excellent gentleman she would be in
heaven--almost as if she were in her own house. Finally, Don Gaspar,
too, was from Galicia. There would be no cause for her to feel lonesome
there, as she had felt in the house of the Señoritas Romera.

When she had brought forward all these arguments she felt her mind
relieved and, still apparently intent on the symmetrical arrangement of
the rows of pens, gave a side glance at the girl. Esclavita remained
motionless in her seat, her hands folded in her lap, her feet side by
side, her eyes cast down; she, too, was little prone to throw open
those windows of the soul to prying eyes.

“Well, what do you say?” asked Señora de Pardiñas at last, beginning to
grow impatient, as she always did when she was met by a passive
resistance.

“What should I say?” asked Esclavita in husky tones, but with apparent
calmness.

“Say yes or no; say whether you like the situation I propose to you, or
whether you would prefer to look for another, which should be more to
your taste.”

There was an interval of silence, and then the girl answered in a voice
deprived of all expression by her effort to render it calm:

“If there is no great hurry, I will give you my answer to-morrow or the
day after.”

“I understand you,” said Señora de Pardiñas, in her own mind. “You want
to have a talk with the boy first. Very good. I am prepared for whatever
may happen. Here I am on guard and here I mean to remain. The first
thing I shall do is to see that you don’t take him by surprise. I shall
be on the alert, never fear!”

That afternoon, however, she was obliged to leave the house, contrary to
her habit, to go to the railway station to see Felisa Febrero off, in
compliance with one of those irksome social duties which cannot be
evaded and which always seem to come at the most inopportune moment.
Rogelio, too, had gone out riding, but owing to the necessity of
attending to his studies now that the examinations were close at hand,
he shortened his ride, and it was just as he was entering the house,
flushed with exercise, fanning himself with his gray hat and cracking
his whip, that Esclavita caught him by the sleeve and drew him, almost
by force, into the study, bringing him to a stand-still beside the very
table on which Doña Aurora had that morning drawn up her army of pens.

“Has anything happened, Suriña?” he asked. “What is the matter with
you?”

“Didn’t I tell you--that I wasn’t going to Galicia,” she cried, “either
this year or any other year? Your mamma has dismissed me. She is going
to leave me at Señor Febrero’s.”

“What are you saying? What do you mean? Tell me, tell me all about it.”

The girl told him all she herself knew. Her eyes were dry, but her mouth
and chin quivered. Her bosom heaved, and in her manner of telling what
had occurred, in that despairing cry for help, like the cry of a
drowning man when he is about to sink beneath the waves, there was a
vehemence and disorder which formed a contrast to her habitual
composure, and which might well have moved one with more years and
experience than Rogelio. While he stammered, “No, it cannot be possible,
you won’t leave us, what nonsense,” he clasped his arms involuntarily
around the girl’s slender form, and the thrill of passion he had felt
four or five months before awoke within him again, more ardent than
ever, inspiring him with courage to rebel, to protest, and to defend
Esclavita as we defend what belongs to us and is a part of our life.
“Some one must have been telling her stories,” he said; “but who and
why? What motive have we given for talk, Suriña? Why, since mamma’s
illness we have scarcely spoken a word together. You never put your foot
here. This is very strange; this must not be. I will arrange the matter.
The idea of your leaving us! No, my pretty one.”

Cheered and revived by these promises, Esclavita nestled close to
Rogelio’s bosom, as if she sought there a refuge whence no one could
tear her, and Rogelio, with youthful and irresistible transport, covered
her with kisses and tried to lift up her head, seeking her lips. The
bell rang, unheard by either. It rang again, this time energetically and
impatiently, and with an abrupt and simultaneous movement they drew
apart. The girl smoothed her hair, and arranged her neckerchief with
trembling fingers, saying:

“I am going to open the door; it is the Señora.”



XXII.


When Señora de Pardiñas observed that her son looked pale and
preoccupied that evening at dinner, and even answered her shortly when
she spoke to him, she thought to herself at once, “We are in for it now.
That jewel has given him her news.” She intercepted, too, furtive
glances, frightened and eloquent, between them, but she bore it all in
silence, saying to herself, “According to Don Nicanor one must pretend
to be a fool for a quarter of an hour every day in this world. But more
than that falls to my share, for I must pretend to be a fool for months
to come.” She pretended to be a fool then, acting as if she did not
notice anything unusual in her son’s manner, asking him with a great
show of interest about the pony, the stable, his companions in his
rides. When the table-cloth was removed she introduced another subject
of conversation, very timely, and of immediate and vital importance,
namely, the examinations. “I think your turn will come about Wednesday
or Thursday, child,” she began, “so that this week I shall have my hands
full. For the fact is, that with those gentlemen one never knows what
course to take. If they were all like Contreras! He knows how to be
reasonable. Only Contreras won’t be your professor this year. With the
others one doesn’t know what course to pursue; if one were to listen to
this one and that one, it would be enough to make one crazy. Lastra
wants people to bow down before him, to pay him the compliment of
begging him, to be indebted to him. Ruiz del Monte seems to be just the
opposite; if he is spoken to in behalf of a boy, he takes a dislike to
him and torments the life out of him. You know whether that is so or
not; it was your friend Diaz, the one who writes verses, who told me so.
Of Albirán they tell a different story--that he does not disregard
intercession, but in rule and measure; according to whom it comes from.
The safest thing would be for you to study, child.”

“I do study, mamma,” answered the student laconically.

During the whole of the evening it was impossible to draw another word
from him. He turned over the illustrated papers, he took them up and
laid them down, he changed his seat, passing from the chair to the sofa
and from the sofa to the chair; he sighed profoundly, and, in short,
gave every possible sign of distress, making no effort to conceal this
distress, but, on the contrary, seeming to desire that his mamma should
notice it. At last, when the latter said to him, “Are you not going for
a while to the theater to-night?” he answered, in a hard and resolute
tone:

[Illustration: “He sighed profoundly and, in short, gave every possible
sign of distress.”]

“No, I am going to bed. My head aches a little.”

And he left the room and walked noisily through the hall to his study,
which he entered, slamming the door behind him.

“It is as I said; we are in for it now,” she said to herself. “I have
made a great mistake. I should have waited to settle this affair until
the examinations were over, a few days before our departure. It was a
piece of stupidity on my part. Well, you see, I wanted to get out of the
mess quickly; but I was wrong. There are things that it is better to go
slowly about. I must only see if I can remedy matters now by putting off
the girl’s departure; otherwise the boy will be all upset when he most
needs to keep a cool head. We must wait a while. I must see if I can
persuade Don Gaspar to wait. I shouldn’t wonder if it would be harder to
make the old man listen to reason than the boy. What complications! That
perfidious Rita Pardo was right. One ought to consider well whom one
receives into one’s house.”

There then took place in the little domestic drama that was now drawing
near to its _dénouement_ one of those byplays, like momentary truces,
during which the actors, while appearing to be occupied with other
interests, or while thus occupied in reality, do not yet lose sight of
the main subject of the drama, continuing still to play a part, so to
speak, and maintaining silence regarding the matter which chiefly
occupies their minds, without deceiving anybody by this silence. Señora
de Pardiñas put off the girl’s departure from day to day, calming the
puerile impatience of Don Gaspar Febrero at the delay, with the excuse
of the nearness of the examinations and the impossibility of remaining
at such a time without a servant. Esclavita waited, hiding in the depths
of her heart a tenacious hope, based on the words and the promises of
Rogelio; and Rogelio, preoccupied and agitated, waited in vain for an
opportunity to say something--something very serious and decided--to his
mother. To speak the truth, however, if his mother had given him this
opportunity he would not have known how to avail himself of it. As time
passed, the courage which he had felt at first evaporated by degrees,
like the essence in a vial which is left uncorked. It requires more
resolution than appears at first sight for a good son to place himself
in direct opposition to a good mother, and take a step, which to a
certain extent emancipates him from maternal authority, but which at the
same time wrings the inmost fibers of his heart. So blended together are
natural duty, habit, and even that excusable selfishness which counsels
us to place ourselves without reserve in the hands of one who loves us
better than ourselves, that the breaking of this bond is an act of
supreme courage, one of those efforts from which the will shrinks,
unless it be of finely-tempered metal. Against a severe father there is
always energy; his very severity serves as a tonic to the will; but a
mother like Rogelio’s, whose first thought had always been her son, who
had made him the object of so much solicitude, sparing him even the
trouble of considering and the effort of desiring; a widowed mother,
delicate in health, who had made it a practice to anticipate the wishes
of her son, in this way preventing the will of her son from ever
acquiring the robustness which struggles and privations give, was an
adversary against whom Rogelio had not the strength to measure himself.
“If she herself would introduce the subject,” he thought. But the truth
is that if she had introduced it, the result would have been the same.
All he ventured to do was to enter a mute protest, to show himself
melancholy at times, and at times ill-tempered and sullen. “Mamma, in
order not to see me looking unhappy, is capable of anything,” he
reasoned, with the logic of a spoiled child. Only that his mamma knew
how to discriminate between toys.

The examinations, too, had their effect in weakening his resolution
still more. What with his studies, his fears of failure, and the coming
and going of the friends who brought him an account of the rise and
fall, so to say, of the marks, Rogelio found himself outside the magic
circle by which an absorbing passion surrounds us, and if it were not
that occasionally a pair of greenish eyes looked steadily into his, he
would even have forgotten the danger which, by a curious illusion,
seemed to him every day less imminent, being in reality more so, for the
departure for Galicia was inevitably to take place immediately after the
examinations.

And the examinations came, and Rogelio found that he had passed in two
branches, but in one--the most difficult and uncongenial to him--there
came upon him, like a dash of cold waiter, a _conditioned_. “I know who
is to blame for this!” thought his mother, looking through the
half-closed door at Esclava, who was dusting the pictures in the parlor.
“This is what comes of flirtation; but what is to be done? every age has
its tastes. He will gain in September what he loses now; he is young
enough, provided he keeps well. And let us be just; the pony, too, made
him lose his head in this last term. It is true that that was all the
better. About the time lost in that way I don’t complain. The pony has
behaved well. It deserves a lump of sugar.”



XXIII.


[Illustration: “A great many friends came to bid them good-by.”]

On the last evening spent in Madrid by Doña Aurora and her son, before
setting out for their native place, a great many friends came to bid
them good-by, and there was a pleasant informal reception at the house.
It was now the end of June, and the most enjoyable hour for a social
gathering was really between ten and eleven at night, when a fresh and
healthy breeze blows even through the heated streets of old Madrid, the
Madrid which is not shaded by trees and which enjoys little of the
benefit of the municipal watering. The neighbors on the second floor,
nieces of a brigadier, came down, and they were also joined by the
Marchioness de Andrade, a compatriot of Doña Aurora, a handsome and
elegant woman who moved in aristocratic circles, and was consequently
accustomed to keep late hours. Señora de Pardiñas, finding herself
surrounded by visitors, gave herself up to the task of entertaining them
to the best of her ability, without seeking to guide the conversation,
which soon drifted to subjects connected with the country to which she
was about to return after an absence of so many years. The Marchioness,
who was of a vain and lively disposition, said that she thought of going
to Vigo soon, displaying at the same time a new bracelet of sapphires
and diamonds, with an air of mystery. “She is evidently thinking of
marrying again,” thought Doña Aurora. “Who may her intended be? God
grant she may choose well.”

Rogelio had quietly slipped away without saying a word to any one. His
retreat did not pass unnoticed by his mother, but, besides there being
no remedy for it, she discovered other reasons for resignation. “Bad
luck is not always going to follow us, and, at the worst, we are going
away to-morrow,” she thought. (Esclavita still foreboded danger and
trouble, but far in the distance.) “To-morrow at this hour we shall be
near Avila. When shall I hear the whistle of the train?”

Rogelio retired to his study, impelled by a vague hope of seeing the
girl, explaining to her his attitude during these days, and the
impossibility of his acting differently, of rebelling and refusing to go
with his mother. He foresaw that Esclavita, availing herself of the
occasion, would soon join him, and to attract her attention he lighted a
lamp, striking a great many matches in the operation, and walking about
the room noisily; he opened the drawers and made the door creak two or
three times. He did not venture to call her, through fear of his
mother’s keen ear, for, according to his paradoxical and hyperbolical
expression, she could hear better than the deaf Candás.

He was not obliged to wait long. After ten minutes or so he heard a
knock at the door, and before he had time to say, “Come in,” Esclavita
entered. The light of the lamp standing on the table of the study which
communicated with the bedroom and dressing-room of the student, fell
full on the girl’s face, and Rogelio suddenly realized how thin and pale
her face had grown during the last fortnight, presenting now a spiritual
and refined type of beauty that might have served as a model for one of
those waxen images which are used to inclose the bones of unknown
martyrs.

Rogelio went up to Esclavita and took her hand in his--it was burning
with fever.

Without exchanging a word, they involuntarily looked around for a seat
where they could sit down side by side. There was none in the study,
which was furnished with a high stool and half a dozen chairs, and
without reflecting they went into the inner room, where Rogelio, putting
his arm around the girl’s neck drew her toward the couch and made her
sit down beside him. They remained silent for a space of five minutes or
so, Rogelio pressing and stroking the girl’s hand, hardened somewhat by
labor, the fingers marked by the pricking of the needle, as if to
communicate to it the coolness of his palms and draw from it its fever.
But he could think of nothing to say except the commonplaces usual on
parting, and at last, unwilling to remain silent any longer, he resolved
to avail himself of that poor resource.

[Illustration: “Rogelio, putting his arm around the girl’s neck.”]

“Suriña, silly girl, don’t be like that,” he began. “See, I have been
thinking a great deal; this has troubled me more than you. Nothing would
be gained by opposing mamma now. We should afflict her greatly. She
might even become ill on account of it, but she would not change her
resolution. Have patience. Within three months, or even less, we shall
be back here again, and we shall see each other, for you will enjoy a
great deal more liberty at Señor Febrero’s than here. You know already
that I shall always love you, foolish girl. Don’t desert me for the
tender Nuño Rasura. There, silly girl, there, my dove, don’t look like
that. If you do, you will make me very unhappy.”

Esclavita only answered by shaking her head with persistent melancholy.
After a while she responded in a tolerably firm voice;

“Gay I cannot be; but I am not sad, either. Don’t be troubled on my
account. Only my head is--as if there was something wrong going on
inside.”

“Suriña! child!”

“It is as I say. I am here, eh? I am listening to you? I answer you?
Well, it is as if I were listening to some person--far away, from the
other world, talking to me.”

“Good heavens!” exclaimed the student shuddering. “I would rather see
you cry. If you cried you would not have such wild notions, Sura. Cry
and give way to your grief; but don’t say those dreadful things.”

“I cry inwardly, not with my eyes. I cannot shed a tear. I was the same
way once before, when my father died,” responded the girl quietly,
without either of them taking notice of the word _father_, which,
perhaps, for the first time in her life, Esclavita uttered without
mystery or circumlocution.

“Child, you seem to me to be ill. Ah! you have fever. Promise me that
you will go to-morrow to see Sanchez del Abrojo.”

“No, it isn’t sickness. I was never better in my life. It is a
_warning_.”

“Sura, be silent, for Heaven’s sake! You are talking wildly----”

He bent toward the girl and kissed her cold cheek; she made no
resistance. She seemed to be more resigned, and it was in a tone that
was natural and almost confidential that she uttered the following
extravagances:

“Rogelio, there are certain things that the dead warn the living about;
don’t doubt it. Three days before my father’s death I saw a large black
bird at the foot of my bed. Yesterday I saw the same bird again. He flew
so fast that I couldn’t see where he disappeared to, but I saw him as
surely as that we are here now. I shall never go home again, never. Time
will show, and then you will see that what I tell you is true and you
will say, ‘Esclavita was right.’ If I was as sure of having a million
ounces I should be considering now where to hide them so that they
should not be stolen from me. Last night----”

She lowered her voice and whispered to Rogelio:

“A dog in the next house howled till morning, and that means that some
one is going to die.”

“Heavens! Suriña,” for the second time exclaimed Rogelio, now
superstitiously affected by this strange conversation, “you are crazy!
Don’t you know, Suriña, that scores of people die or are at the point of
death every night in Madrid? Just imagine; if the dogs have to announce
all those deaths they have enough to do. There would be announcements
enough to fill an extra sheet of _La Correspondencia_. The fact is,
Sura, that you feel badly because we are going away and you remain
behind. I, too, have been troubled for some time past about the trip. I
have had some frightful moments. Afterward I reflected--and--I think it
is better to be resigned to things as they are, for if we rebel it will
only make matters worse. In three months, Suriña--in ninety days (and
perhaps even less) you will have me here again. My first visit shall be
to Doña Sura. Come, don’t look like that. I love you dearly, believe it.
We shall be able in time to win mamma over. You haven’t yet told me
to-day that you care for me. Come!”

With the gesture of a child asking for a caress he approached his cheek
to Esclavita’s lips, and the latter, without protest, as if she were
performing an accustomed act, pressed her lips to it. Like her palms,
they were hot and dry, and it seemed to Rogelio as if they burned his
flesh, causing him a sensation that was painful rather than pleasant.
Only, caresses were a resource to render this last painful interview a
little less intolerable, and the student, in default of arguments by
which to console the poor deserted girl, had recourse to caresses,
without being influenced by a motive less pure or noble....

“Suriña, Suriña, I think I hear the marchioness saying good-by in the
hall. If she is going, it is because every one else has gone. Mamma will
be here directly, I am certain. Try to slip away without being seen.
Good-by; go quietly so that no one may hear you.”

The girl obeyed with the same passiveness she had shown throughout, in
her utter submissiveness, not even claiming the last embrace. Rogelio
lighted the lamp again, carefully straightening the wick. He then closed
the bedroom window, and standing before his bureau glass, brushed his
hair and parted it with a little comb. Then putting his hands into his
trousers pockets he stood for a while studying carefully, with eager
curiosity, his own countenance, questioning his own eyes in the mirror,
as if to convince himself that, after this vertigo had passed away, he
still preserved his individuality, and that there did not remain in him
a something belonging to another individuality, a something which could
not be effaced and which would betray him. Then the thought of his
mother came again to oppress his heart. But this feeling, suddenly gave
way to a burst of joy, and running to the window he threw it open,
allowing the pure night air to blow in upon him and, grasping the window
bars, drew a long, deep breath.



EPILOGUE.


Punctual as the sun, Don Gaspar made his appearance at four in the
afternoon with a little carriage, to take his future housekeeper back
with him to his house. Being told that Esclavita was on her way there,
he again got into his shabby landau and told the coachman to drive
quickly home. His impatience would not permit him to walk with his lame
foot.

At the last moment Doña Aurora had called Esclavita and put into her
hands, in addition to her wages, a handsome present of money and a pair
of torquoise earrings. “I don’t want her to go away dissatisfied,” she
said to herself. “And, indeed, the poor girl looked greatly altered. I
really believe she had a liking for the boy, which makes my resolution
all the more prudent. I pity her, and I know that it is folly for me to
do so. Where could she find a home like the one I have provided for her?
I am doing her a very great service; that is what sets my mind at rest.
She has a sinecure.”

With all this, Señora de Pardiñas could not repress a certain feeling of
disquietude, of secret pain, of overwhelming pity, which she afterward
interpreted as a presentiment of coming evil. “The idea of my pitying
her,” she said to herself, “when I am certain that I have found her the
best situation a girl of her class could possibly desire.” And Señora de
Pardiñas was firmly convinced of the truth of what she said. Like many
good-hearted people, incapable of hating or injuring any one, who like
to think that they are acting in the interests of others when they are
really prompted by self-interest, she wished to persuade herself that
she had at heart Esclava’s good, and not, primarily, her son’s welfare,
just as this motive might seem to her, and as it really was.

She was somewhat reassured when she heard Fausta joking Esclavita in the
kitchen, humming, “And now I serve a doting old man, and I am the
mistress of the house.”

“Fausta is right,” she thought. “She will be mistress in Señor de
Febrero’s house. If she doesn’t make herself too much so----”

The train for Galicia started at thirty-five minutes past seven, and at
that pleasant twilight hour the platform of the Northern Depot was
filled with a hurried and animated crowd of travelers and their friends
who had come to see them off, the latter envying those who were going to
see beautiful scenery, to breathe the sea air, to enjoy a cool
temperature, and to spend a few months pleasantly in a healthy and

[Illustration: “And now I serve a doting old man, and I am the mistress
of the house.”]

temperate climate. Here were no sad parting scenes. It was not the
good-by of the sailor, the leave-taking of the soldier departing for the
war, the homesick farewell of the emigrant. Those who were going were
joyous and excited; those who remained behind, outwardly gay. Only, at
one end of the train, at the door of a first-class carriage, could be
seen a group of four or five persons, exchanging long and lingering
embraces. It was composed of two men, one of them young, the other
already in the decline of life, with bowed heads but erect forms, and
three ladies, two young, the third a white-haired old lady, who
frequently applied their handkerchiefs to their reddened eyes. Inside
the car was a nurse, holding an infant in her arms. Lain Calvo
approached Doña Aurora and said to her, pointing to the group:

“Do you see the Rojases there? Fanatics to the end, to death. They have
transferred the son again to Marineda on account of that affair with the
Minister, and even if he knew he was going to die of want, he would
travel first-class, through respect for his office. If they transfer him
a third time, he says he will send in his resignation. And they have
paid off Rojas himself already. Haven’t you heard of it? He was put on
the retired list a week ago.”

“What do you tell me?” exclaimed Señora de Pardiñas, with genuine
sorrow. “Heaven help us! Unhappy people! Where will that poor Matilde
Rojas find a man who will be willing to marry her without a penny? I
declare I shall have that family in my thoughts during the whole of the
journey. What a world this is, Don Nicanor!”

Doña Aurora tried to make her way toward the group to shake hands with
the ladies of the Rojas family, but it was not possible, the warning
bell sounded, the engine snorted, and wheelbarrows, laden with baggage
checked for the train, were passing on all sides. Rogelio, who was on
the train, reached out his hand to assist his mother, who ascended the
steps slowly, smiling because a flounce of her dress had caught on one
of them, and the noise made by the starting of the train drowned the
voice of Lain Calvo as he cried:

“Beware of the girls of Vigo, Rogelio! they are tempting morsels, my
boy!”

The train, swaying gently, hurried on its way. Evening closed in with
serene splendor, and Rogelio as he looked out of the window fancied he
could already descry the fresh Galician valleys, the leafy chestnut
trees, the blue waters girdling the most beautiful country in the world.

But he did not perceive Esclavita, who, from the other side of the
platform, followed the train with her eyes until it passed, swift and
majestic, from her sight. When the last black smoke-wreath had
disappeared in the distance, trembling as if with cold, she turned her
steps slowly toward the city, resolved that the sun, which was just
sinking below the horizon, should never again rise for her. Let us leave
the unhappy girl, for, however hard we might try we could never dissuade
her from her purpose. Don Gabriel Pardo, who is fond of generalizing in
a dogmatic way, and who, in support of a favorite theory, will make use
of the most illogical arguments, would tell us, if we asked him to
account for this tragedy, that the mental aberration which leads to
suicide is a natural outcome of the melancholy temperament of the Celtic
race, that great martyr of history; just as if the newspapers did not
every day record similar cases of suicide in every province of Spain.

[Illustration]


                               THE END.

                     *       *       *       *       *


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