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Title: Nacha Regules
Author: Gálvez, Manuel
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Nacha Regules" ***

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Internet Archive)



                             NACHA REGULES



                             NACHA REGULES

                                  BY

                             MANUEL GÁLVEZ

          _Authorized Translation from the Original Spanish_

                                  BY

                              LEO ONGLEY


                            [Illustration]


                               NEW YORK
                        E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY
                           681 FIFTH AVENUE



                            Copyright, 1922
                       By E. P. Dutton & Company

                         _All Rights Reserved_


                         PRINTED IN THE UNITED
                           STATES OF AMERICA



                               CONTENTS

            CHAPTER                                        PAGE

               I                                            1

              II                                           18

             III                                           31

              IV                                           45

               V                                           55

              VI                                           68

             VII                                           86

            VIII                                           99

              IX                                          111

               X                                          126

              XI                                          137

             XII                                          148

            XIII                                          158

             XIV                                          173

              XV                                          187

             XVI                                          199

            XVII                                          211

           XVIII                                          219

             XIX                                          230

              XX                                          243

             XXI                                          255

            XXII                                          265

           XXIII                                          281

            XXIV                                          293

           EPILOGUE                                       301



                             NACHA REGULES



                             NACHA REGULES



                               CHAPTER I

An August night! Hot with the fever of her adolescence as a national
capital, Buenos Aires was ablaze with millions of lights and rejoicing
in noisy revelry.

The Centennial festivities had been going on since May. Thousands
of people had flocked in from every corner of the country, from
neighboring states and even from Europe. During these great days of
a nation's coming of age, the crowd, in one enormous, slowly moving
procession, thronged the asphalt pavements of the principle avenues.
The very streets and houses appeared to be in motion. When, toward
evening, the multitude increased, the congestion caused a swelling
which, it seemed, must at a given moment burst the bounds on either
side. At night some forty theatres, and innumerable movie-houses and
concert halls, crammed overflowing masses into their hungry maws, while
in the cabarets boisterous licence rubbed elbows with curiosity.

The cabaret, of "the Port"--as Argentina calls its chief city--is a
public dance hall: it provides a room, tables for drinking, and an
orchestra. The patrons are young men of the upper classes with their
mistresses; tourists and rustic sight-seers; and girls "of the town,"
who come alone. The tango, almost the only dance seen there, and the
orchestra, composed usually of white gangsters and mulattos are--with
the champagne bottle and the tuxedo--the normal expressions of the
Argentine suburban "soul"!

The musicians sing, shout, strike on the wooden pans of their
instruments, gesticulate. The silhouettes of the dancers twist and
intertwine, weave in and out across the floor, blend, and neutralize
each other; and the mandola, with its dark low tones, underlines the
tangos with long shadows of pain.

But there are other things in the cabaret besides dancing. On some
nights a sudden outburst of noise, from end to end of the hall, cuts
the tango in two, as it were, with an enormous, quivering gash. A man's
persistent ogling of another fellow's girl, a violent collision of
dancers, the suspicion of ridicule or insult, bring threats from mouths
contorted with anger, while revolvers are flourished in the air. The
_patota_, the inevitable leading actor in such scenes, is a group of
wealthy roisterers whose greatest pleasure is to annoy, insult, attack
with fist or weapon, in short, transform peaceable pleasure seeking
into a tavern brawl. To show resentment toward a _patota_, to resist
its aggressions, is to invite a drubbing from a pack trained to fight
as a gang, or an unfailing bullet fired treacherously from behind.

On that August night, in one of these crowded cabarets, frenzied
dancing was going on. Some gigantic invisible hand seemed to be
reaching down from the top of the hall, and incessantly stirring the
couples round and round. All the tables were full. Champagne bottles
raised their aristocratic necks from the icy prisons which held them.
Under the glow of the lights evening gowns blazed dazzlingly, and
the women's flesh shone gleaming, vibrant, golden, from the low cut
dresses. Tangos, tangos, more tangos! With the speed of a movie film,
and in chance groupings, graceful poses and involuntary caricatures
were sketched. The musicians, caught up in the madness of the throng,
shouted phrases of double meanings caught up for the purpose from the
latest song hits. A couple of "professionals" suddenly emerged, amidst
wild applause, from the common herd of the dance, which opened from the
centre to make way; and there, surrounded by a ring of faces, incited
by exclamations, admiring and picturesque, the two embraced, separated,
and came together again, interminably, with minutely patterned steps
and attitudes, to the music of an uneasy, sensuous, odorous tango,
which the mandola tried to sentimentalize with the wails of its deeper
notes.

When the exhibition was over, many eyes turned toward a man sitting
alone at a little table, conspicuous because he was so gloomy and
preoccupied, so completely indifferent to everything that was going on
around him. He was well dressed in a black suit that suggested both
elegance and severity. His face attracted; magnetic, it might have been
called; here, one felt, was a personality, a man who had fought his way
up in life through suffering. His features wore an expression of mental
and moral disquietude.

Unaccompanied save by his own thoughts, he was, nevertheless, furtively
watching a young girl who, with several other people, sat at a table
near by. This man was not in nor of the cabaret. When his gaze was not
fixed on his pretty neighbor it seemed to be seeking distant worlds,
wandering, perhaps, in search of something to fill his solitude or to
offer to this girl in one single passionate glance.

The youths with whom she was sitting formed a _patota_ of five. She
was dividing their attentions with three other women at the table. The
men did not belong to aristocratic society, though they were of "good
family" as the _porteños_--the people of Buenos Aires--say; the names
of their fathers', that is, were well-known in politics and business,
and appeared frequently in the society columns of the newspapers. As
individuals they had no distinction. They talked in loud, obtrusive
voices, using terms of gross familiarity in addressing one another.
When they laughed it was in a bellowing hilarity calculated to attract
attention; just as, when they danced, it was with tremendous waggles of
hips and shoulders. Of their champagne they were noisily ostentatious.
It was now mid-winter in Buenos Aires; but they were wearing light
suits and flashy neckties. Typical Argentine "sports" in short!

The girl, who had so impressed the solitary stranger, was taking no
part in the animation around her. Her quiet melancholy shadowed a
rather long face, a pair of burning dark eyes, a mouth that might
have been called too large. Everything about her contributed to the
tragic attractiveness of her person: the wide hat, which accentuated a
child-like quality in her; the elegance, somewhat affectedly careless,
of her dress; the relaxed indifference with which she moved her long
arms--thin but shapely, and covered, to above the elbow, by white
gloves. The low cut of her dress drew one's eye to the faint golden
tints of her skin. Her hair, of a dull golden shade, fell in loops over
her ears to form a frame for her features.

He observed that she was vainly trying to be merry, and to laugh with
her companions; but depression had obstinately seized on her, and she
lacked the will to master it. A moment came when her gloom increased
to the point of tears, and her companions remarked it. One of them, in
whom drink was already at work, cried out:

"What's the matter with you? Have you got the pip?"

He was a graceless individual, ugly, flat-nosed, restless, loud-voiced,
constantly gesticulating, whom the others called "the Duck."

His friends greeted this witticism with bursts of laughter. The girl
herself forced a smile in which the man at the neighboring table caught
something of her suffering. His facial muscles contracted slightly.

"Give her another swig of booze--it's good for what ails her!" bawled
the "Duck," inspired by the success of his previous venture.

"Don't mind him, Nacha!" said one of the women coldly, not as much from
real sympathy as from a sense of feminine loyalty.

Again there were outbursts of laughter in the group, and even from
people at other tables who had begun to listen. The girl, embarrassed,
mortified, looked timidly about in every direction. When her eyes met
those of the man who was sitting alone her self-consciousness increased.

The orchestra came to the end of a tango and, in the quiet which
followed, the members of the _patota_ set out to "rag" Nacha. One
of them, who seemed to be her "man," egged the others on. The women
playfully sided against her. Soon almost all the cabaret was taking
part in the game. At last Nacha, unable to endure the banter longer,
laid her face in her hands. The "Duck" moaned in burlesque: "Oh, Oh,
Oh!" while some of the spectators near by almost unhinged their jaws in
a roar of laughter, or chorused with the mourner in ridicule: "Oh, Oh,
Oh!"

"See here, you are making a fool of me in public!" exclaimed Nacha's
lover--and he added an oath.

Again the orchestra struck up a tango. The languid notes, the limping
rhythms, the thick, bee-like murmur of the mandola, came to drown both
curses and laughter alike. Again the couples were out on the floor,
here swinging together in tight embrace, there stilting along with
bodies stiffly erect and faces grave.

Nacha's "man" got up to dance with her. When, however, the girl
resisted, he lifted her violently in his arms and set her down in the
middle of the hall.

"Let me alone! I can't dance...."

"You are going to dance, I tell you.... You are only putting on!"

"But don't you see? I can't ... oh, please!"

The fellow grasped her around the waist and plunged with her into the
rhythmic whirl on the floor. The man who sat alone had started at the
brutality he was witnessing, as though a question had suddenly been
settled in his mind. Something dramatic seemed about to happen, and
many eyes watched him uneasily.

Nacha, with no heart for the dance, was not long in freeing herself
and returning to the table; now it was quite unoccupied, since all her
companions were on the floor. Her escort followed smiling with rage,
and sitting down beside her, began apparently to insult and threaten
her. His lower jaw was thrown far forward as he spoke; his teeth came
tight together, and his lips twisted themselves into all the grimaces
expressing anger and contempt.

"You'll pay for this ... as soon as we get out of here!" he said; and
meanwhile he clutched her arm in a grip that hurt.

The stranger was now looking closely at the man. The latter was a tall
strapping fellow, stockily built. His wide, close-shaven face showed
a scar across the chin. He had broad shoulders, a dark skin; and his
small hard eyes glittered with something of an Indian's haughtiness
and sinister ferocity. A large pearl adorned his made-up necktie. He
wore white spats over his patent leather shoes, and large rings on his
fingers.

There are plenty of men like this among the _porteños_! As vulgar as
they are rich, they are always showing off their dollars and their
women. They each set up a _ménage_ with some pretty girl--for otherwise
they would lose "standing." They spend their evenings in the theatres
and their nights in the cabarets or, for adventure, ragging with their
pals and their sweethearts some convenient victim; drinking champagne,
making an uproar, annoying everyone, bellowing at one another. Noisy,
aggressive, intrusive, they allow no one to look too pryingly, too
persistently, at them! Their right forefingers itch for the feel of
a revolver--an appendage that Nature should, to please them, have
grown on their right hands. Women, in their eyes, are mechanical
toys, objects without human feelings, to be bought and sold as such.
And yet women become attached to them; perhaps because they like the
manliness that such violence attests; or because these fellows show
their women off, give them distinction--of a certain kind. Passion also
inclines them to a certain fidelity at times. Some of them moreover are
university men, or belong to prominent families. However, they are all
office-seekers, all gamblers. They "go across" to Europe occasionally,
insulting well-bred people by their arrogance and their grossness as
_nouveaux riches_. In Paris they are always accompanied by _cocottes_,
and make disturbances in dance halls and cabarets to advertise their
South-American spirit and self-sufficiency. A repulsive type, in
short: a mixture of the barbarian and of the civilized human being,
of the gangster and the respectable citizen. The urban descendent of
the Argentine cow-puncher is an individual without scruples, morals or
discipline, with no law but caprice, and no ideal but pleasure.

Meanwhile Nacha, her face in her hands, was weeping. Her tormentor grew
angrier, raised his voice to a higher, more resonant pitch, threatened
her still more violently, called her hysterical, ridiculous, said
she was surely "kidding." Anything would succeed better with him, he
shouted, than cry-babying, and putting on.... At the single table near
by, the stranger was looking on intently, his features tense with
silent determination. How much longer could a self-respecting man hold
out against the challenge of that brutality?

The rapier-thrust of a violin bow gave the death stab to a dying tango.
The _patoteros_ and their women returned to their table. The fellow who
had wept vociferously before broke out again into mock lamentations
at sight of Nacha's tears. He stood up, rubbing his fists into his
eyes, and bawling grotesquely, like the dunce in school. His mirth
caught the mood of the entire cabaret. Every atom of it quivered in
titters of laughter. The butt of all this humor, hardened by this time,
was shedding her tears inwardly now. She even feigned indifference,
shrugging her shoulders and forcing her lips into an expression of
disdain. But the man who was watching saw confessed suffering in her
still reddened eyes.

When the next tango crushed this wretched farce under its innumerable
feet, another of the _patota's_ members, a tall thin youth, with a
girlishly slender waist, asked Nacha to dance with him.

"I said I didn't want to dance!"

"What?" Her lover sprang toward her and seized her by the arms,
determined to force her to her feet.

"Oh, please! I can't! ... I can't!"

"What do you mean--'can't'!"

The contest lasted only a second. The man won, inevitably. Pulling the
girl out of her chair he dragged her along to the centre of the room,
so that his friend could have a dance with her. But in his anger he
gave one push so violent that she fell to the floor.

And then something unheard of happened. The man who was alone had risen
suddenly at the beginning of the struggle. Now, to the stupefaction
of everyone, he stepped coolly forward. The crowd quivered with
excitement. A ring of uneasy faces formed around the chief actors in
the scene. The tango was broken off; the sombre moan of the mandola was
all that remained of it.

"What do you mean?" the girl's lover spat at him, while a leer of
primitive hatred flashed in his Indian eyes, now smaller and harder
than ever.

The coolness of the intruder amazed the crowd. He faced the fellow
calmly and addressed him with apparent indifference. Nothing but a
jerking of his lip muscles and a slight trembling of his hands betrayed
the indignation in him. He looked steadily at the man in front of him
and said slowly:

"You will please stop ill-treating this girl!"

No one could tell whether such coolness were due to foolhardiness or
to real courage. The man was of average, if not less than average
build, easy picking, obviously, for that semi-Indian and his pals, who
could finish him off in a jiffy, with fists or revolvers, as _patota_
preferences and custom might decide. The other members of the party
meanwhile stood about in paralyzed amazement that any one should
presume to call one of their fellows to account.

"What's that?" the fellow asked, as though he had not heard distinctly.

"Stop ill-treating this...."

A sudden attack from the four other members of the _patota_ cut off the
end of his sentence. At the same moment the onlookers discreetly drew
back. A chair was knocked over. There was a rush to get out through the
narrow doorway.

"Hold on there! Leave this fellow to me!" roared Nacha's owner. The
air was dotted for a moment with clenched, up-raised fists. Seeing his
friends still hedging the intruder about, their eagerness to attack
unappeased, the fellow pushed them back one by one toward their table.
Then he wheeled around on the spectators.

"This is nothing to stop dancing for, gentlemen!" To the musicians he
shouted: "Go on with the music! Give us a tango!"

The orchestra, which had disintegrated during the scene, assembled
around the music-stands again. After a few moments of aimless strumming
it began a dance in quick time. The crowd, partly out of respect for
the bully, and partly out of anxiety to dance down an incident which,
if repeated, could only end in a shooting, began another tango. No one
cared to return to a danger once safely passed.

Meanwhile the two men stood facing one another.

"You don't know me!" said the girl's lover at last, pulling at the
rings on his fingers as though to busy his hands, so eager to be at
the throat of the man opposite him. "You don't know me--but I know
you! You are Dr. Fernando Monsalvat. Well sir, let me give you a
suggestion. Leave us alone, and get out of here at once. You are older
than I--forty at least. I am only thirty, very fit, and used to these
affairs; and my friends are with me, their sleeves rolled up already,
you might say. Just go along home! Don't be throwing your life away!
And if I give you so much good advice _gratis_, it's because I have my
reasons for doing so!"

The fellow's friends looked at one another inquiringly.

Who could that man be? What reasons did their comrade have to prevent
them from breaking the presumptuous fool's head? The girl, seated at
the table, kept her eyes on her champion. The orchestra was playing a
wailing dance, limping with pauses, and mournful with the sighs of the
mandola. There were many couples dancing, the women clinging to their
partners' necks.

Monsalvat heard the man out in silence. He replied coolly:

"You can keep your advice to yourself! Meantime I want you to stop
ill-treating that poor girl!"

"That poor girl!"

The fellow took a step backward as though about to "rush" his opponent.
Rapidly his eyes took in everything around him. One hand felt for his
revolver. But Monsalvat's self-possession held the rowdy in check.
Perplexed, and already beaten, he began to feel ridiculous. This man
was not trying to provoke him; neither did he fear him. He saw that the
crowd and his companions had not noticed his compromising move; and
he decided he could calm down without loss of prestige. Two or three
minutes passed. Monsalvat waited as though entrenched in silence and
calm. Something emanated from him which quite disconcerted his enemy.
The latter lay aside his swaggering and said with a forced sarcastic
laugh:

"You know, I am afraid of you! That is why I don't touch you. You are
a regular man-eater, you see,--and that makes me spare my friends! I
don't want to see them beaten up!..."

He stopped short, for his sarcasm quite obviously fell flat, even in
his own estimation. He approached Monsalvat, and putting a hand on his
shoulder said:

"See here, Monsalvat, it's lucky for you that it was I you ran across
here ... however ... well ... never mind all that.... I'm going to make
you see you're wrong. I'm going to let you talk with her. You can ask
her any questions you see fit."

He went up to the girl and brought her back to introduce her.
Ashen-pale, embarrassed, she smiled an absurd little smile, probably to
hide her fear of some fatal outcome to the scene. Her eyes tremulously
nestled for a moment in Monsalvat's steady gaze; but the voice of her
master drove them from that refuge.

"This gentleman," he guffawed, "thinks I'm a blackguard more or less!
Well, I want you to tell him whether you are satisfied with what I do
for you or not. Tell him the truth, don't be afraid!"

Monsalvat, charmed and saddened, was still looking at Nacha, though he
scarcely saw her. His eyes, softened with a pity intense enough to be
pain, were remodelling a truer image of this girl of the underworld.
She did not dare look at him. Her eyes were raised to her "man." Her
mute question did not, apparently, interest Monsalvat, perhaps because
he knew what the answer would be.

"Answer! Are you satisfied?"

"Yes!"

Her voice was scarcely audible.

"And you have an easy time of it! You have a home, haven't you?"

Nacha saw what she must do. She must speak, declare herself satisfied
with her lot. To do anything else would be to draw down on herself this
man's anger at her champion. So suddenly she began to talk in a torrent
of rambling, half-coherent words.

"Yes. I am satisfied. Why not? I have a home. I'm lucky all right. I
don't have to chase around here and there the way I did before. And my
home is fine. I have all the money I want to spend, and two servants.
What more could I ask? And after all I went through before, it's quiet,
and safe! You don't know what I went through!"

And, once started, she went on endlessly. She seemed to be talking
into space, not addressing anyone in particular, and as if for herself
alone, as if to distract her own attention with her own words. All that
was not for Monsalvat's ears! She would have preferred that Monsalvat
should not hear her at all! The words came out, poured out, beyond the
control of will, much like a somnambulist's chatter. Monsalvat was not
listening. It was enough for him to look at her and be conscious of her
presence. Her gentleness, the tremulousness of her words, the sadness
of her eyes, were what absorbed his whole interest. What she was saying
did not matter. The tango throbbing through the air made him the more
aware of the despairing monotone of her voice. The mandola with its
bitter wail made her tragic melancholy only the more poignant.

Even Nacha's owner seemed for a moment to yield to the strange spell of
these combining sounds. Then he interrupted:

"Well! You see? Are you convinced? Didn't I say she was putting on?"

Throwing back his shoulders, he burst into a laugh that rang with
contempt. The tango was over, so was its spell.

The bully became the bully again. He approached his sweetheart, pushed
her toward his comrades, who were sitting at their table waiting to see
how it would all end.

"Now get out of here!" he said, turning to Monsalvat; "but before you
go, I'll tell you who I am. It's to your interest, friend--just a
moment--we might meet again--take a look at me!"

He was serious now. His right hand slipped through the opening of his
tuxedo and rested on his belt. Then he announced solemnly:

"I am Dalmacio Arnedo, 'Pampa Arnedo,' as they call me."

Monsalvat started. Instinctively he raised a hand, but immediately let
it fall. The five of the _patota_ made a rush for him. At the same
moment someone shouted: "The police!"

The cabaret seethed in confusion. Then suddenly an anxious calm fell
on the room, a forced appearance of peaceableness, prearranged for the
dull eyes of authority.

From the first there had been among the onlookers a certain number
who took sides with Monsalvat. His manner toward the _patota_ won
him sympathizers. Some of them felt that the man had the strength to
support his assurance. The girl herself aroused pity even though no
one had had the courage to speak up in her defence. Two or three of
these most sympathetic, or most prudent, individuals had called for the
police, to have help on hand in case of an outbreak from the rowdies.

As the alarm was given the members of the _patota_ hurried back to
their places. Monsalvat, facing Arnedo, exclaimed:

"You rotter!"

Pampa Arnedo, safely seated at his table, answered with a sinister
smile, while his friends beside him made noises with their lips,
grimaced, and began offering toasts, simulating exaggerated merriment.
Nacha looked pityingly at her protector. Who was this man? What did he
want of her?

The police after a rapid glance around the room decided that "law and
order" were still quite intact, and with solemn prudence went out
again. Monsalvat returned to his table and paid his reckoning. The Duck
began to sing the well-known tune from a popular variety show: "He's
going now, he's going now!..."

The other members of the _patota_, and even some neutrals, joined in
the chorus, "Now, now, he's going now!" Monsalvat, as he got up, saw
that the girl, too, was singing and laughing. He paused a moment,
reproachfully it seemed, his eyes dimmed with tears. Then quietly,
without haste, he left the cabaret, while the fellow who had burlesqued
Nacha's weeping broke out again with his "Oh, oh, oh!"



                              CHAPTER II


Monsalvat had come to a crossroad in his life. For nearly forty years
he had gone straight ahead, never hesitating as to which turning to
take. But now, as though a complete transformation had occurred within
him, he seemed a stranger to himself, and he did not know where this
stranger was going.

Heretofore he had lived without criticizing the world of which he was
a part--which means that he had been fairly happy. But during the past
few months he had come to view life and himself from a critical point
of view, and he had reached the conclusion that as human beings go, he
was one of the unfortunates.

He and his sister Eugenia were illegitimate children. His father, of
the aristocracy, and rich with many millions, had, some five years
before, died suddenly without leaving a will. Fernando was intelligent
and had something of his father's manner and bearing; and as the
legitimate heirs of the Monsalvat fortune were all girls, Fernando
was given a good education while his father was still alive. In order
to keep him away from his mother, an ignorant, irresponsible woman
of the immigrant class, the boy was sent to a boarding school. It
was only during vacations that he saw her. Fernando remembered his
father's visits, the discussions with his mother, the admonitions he
himself always received. Once his father had taken the boy to one of
his ranches near Buenos Aires, a piece of property as big as an entire
state, on which were marvelous forests, a house as magnificent as a
palace, and paddocks full of splendid bulls and woolly sheep. More
clearly than anything else, he remembered how his father took him along
almost stealthily, and replied evasively when a friend, on the train,
asked who the child with him was. Later, at boarding school, some boys
who knew his father's legitimate family, enlightened him as to his own
birth.

When he left college he took up law. He was an excellent student; and
even before any regular admission to the bar, he was filling a place in
the office of a well-known lawyer. Later he became this man's partner,
made money, and won recognition. For a scruple he left the law office
and went to Europe, remaining there two years. When he returned he was
thirty-two. No longer wishing to continue in his profession, he finally
obtained a consulship to an Italian city. It was now six months since
he had returned, after seven years' absence, to settle permanently in
his own country.

Fernando's mother was still living. She was ill, and aged; indeed,
although not yet seventy, she seemed quite decrepit. Her son saw little
of her. She lived with a mulatto servant in a rather poor neighborhood,
in an apartment house facing Lezama Park. Of his own sister he had seen
little.

Monsalvat had lived as do most decent men of his social position. He
had worked hard in his law office, and as consul had rendered services
of distinction. From boyhood, books had been his chief companions.
He had taken up sociology, and from time to time he got an article
published. His opinions were respected and discussed in certain
intellectual circles. Though not socially inclined, and in spite of his
timidity and lack of confidence, he frequented the clubs and theatres
and race courses of Buenos Aires. He was not often present at more
private social affairs, for the circumstances of his birth prevented
his receiving invitations from certain quarters. While a student he
lived on an allowance from his father. Now, on his return from Europe,
he found himself possessed of no other income than three hundred
_pesos_ monthly from a piece of property which his father had given him
upon his passing his law examinations.

The knowledge of his illegitimacy had exercised an incalculable
influence on his character and general outlook on life. When he was a
student certain youths of good family had made it plain that they did
not desire his friendship; and later he had been socially snubbed on
several occasions. He was, however, inclined to exaggerate the number
of these slights. If an acquaintance failed to notice him, as he passed
along the street, he believed the omission an intentional offense. If,
at a dance, a girl chanced to refuse his proffered arm, he was beset
always with the same thought.... "She does not dare to be seen with
me.... She knows!..." If he received in his examinations a lower mark
than the one he thought he must have earned, he did not for a moment
doubt that it was the stigma of his birth which was to blame. Not a day
passed that he did not at some moment revert to this preoccupation. He
bore society no grudge; on the contrary, it seemed to him quite natural
that, dominant ideas being what they are, he should be thought less
of. Nevertheless he felt humiliated, with a vague consciousness that
his value as a social being was diminished by a misfortune beyond his
control.

All this, of course, tended to isolate him, and confirmed his
tendencies toward bookishness. He had no real friends. He felt himself
to be quite alone in life--alone spiritually, that is; for social
relations in abundance could not fail a man of his intellect and
professional position, whose character, moreover, was above reproach,
and who, in spite of an outward coldness and an almost savage shyness
that frequently took possession of him, was a kind and likeable sort of
fellow.

This sense of solitude was tempered, if at all, by one or two
experiences in love. His dealings with women were not those current
among the young men of his generation. Gossip attributed, nevertheless,
sentimental affairs to him, some of them with women of prominence in
the life of the Capital. For Monsalvat, as his acquaintances noted,
knew how to please. There was something that appealed to women in the
soft inflections of his voice, and in the deep seriousness of his
eyes. But the secret of his successes probably lay in the fact that he
awakened in women that compassion which is so ruinous to them--so much
so that Monsalvat was quite as often the pursued as the pursuer. Two
or three times he had thought himself in love--mistakenly, as he soon
discovered; and women for their part had loved him, and with passion.
But these affairs were, after all, nothing but passing gratifications
of the instinct of playfulness--little love episodes at best.

In other respects his life might have been considered a model and an
exception. He was courteous and simple in manner, with no violent
dislikes for anyone. Kind, always ready to do a good turn, he pushed
considerateness even to extremes. He lived scrupulously within his
means. He never paid court to those in whose power it was to further
his advancement. He never indulged in petty disloyalties toward his
friends nor paid off injury with injury. His relations with people
were always sincere and free from intrigue. A useful and an honest
fellow Fernando Monsalvat might have been considered by anyone. Yet,
these several months past, he had been coming to the conclusion that
he had lived in a useless sort of way, that his life had been selfish,
mediocre, barren of any good. He was most of all ashamed of his
articles on moral and social subjects, all of them colored with "class"
prejudice, mere reflections of the conventional, insincere, and rankly
individualistic standards which pervaded the University, and which
never failed of approval from climbing politicians as well as from
the cultured _élite_. Monsalvat despised himself for having lived and
thought like any other man of his social group. What real good had he
ever accomplished? He had lived for himself alone; worked for the money
that work might bring him; written to gratify an instinct of vanity, a
desire for prominence, for applause. Now he endured a hidden torment:
he was disgusted with himself, with society, and even with life,
repenting, in his soul's secret, of so many wasted years.

To generous spirits, such moral crises are natural; moments are
sure to come when they must view their own conduct critically; and
at such junctures they loathe their sterile past. But how many ever
succeed in changing the direction of their lives? Most of us stifle
this moral unrest in the depths of our consciousness; discontented
and pessimistic, we go on living a life we hate, tempering the noble
impulses that beset our guilty consciences with considerations of
personal, even petty, interests that bid us take things as we find
them. This latter was the case with Monsalvat.

Two trifling events of his days in Paris had cast a gloom over his
outlook on life.

Convinced that he ought to put an end to his solitude, he decided to
marry; and he paid court to a girl of good family with whom he had
been on pleasantly cordial terms in Rome. But no sooner did the family
and the girl herself become aware of Monsalvat's intentions, than all
friendliness on their part vanished. An officious friend intimated to
Monsalvat--he never knew whether at the girl's own request, or that of
her parents--that his attentions were not desired.

Later, at the hotel where he was stopping, he made the acquaintance
of another fellow countrywoman. Friendship and flirtation followed.
Monsalvat became interested to the point of believing himself in love.
He made an offer of marriage and was contemptuously rejected, as though
such an idea on his part were in itself an insult. In situations of
this kind Monsalvat did not suffer so much on his own account; it was
not shame of being what he was that hurt him, but a deepening sense of
the injustice inherent in people and in things.

He had given barely a thought to the imperfection, the inequalities, of
the world he was living in. Full of his own thoughts, his own books,
his own pleasures, he had paid no attention to the cry of anguish
rising from the depths of the social order--as an established, an
immutable order he had accepted it all along.

The fact that not till he had felt them himself had he opened his eyes
to the flagrant injustices of society aroused a deep self-reproach in
Monsalvat. It seemed to him that at the bottom of his new opinions
purely selfish motives lay. On the other hand, it was to the universal,
the human aspects of his own case that he gave his attention. Besides,
does not selfishness play a little part in our striving toward the
greatest ends?

It was some six months before the scenes in the cabaret, that Fernando
Monsalvat, disheartened and disillusioned, had arrived in Buenos
Aires. At first it startled him to find himself judging people and
institutions so mercilessly. Why did he see everything in its darkest
colors? Had he become an incorrigible cynic? Eventually he came to
understand that the severe judgments he was formulating were the
natural consequence of the critical spirit now aroused within him. In
the complex motivation of the finest, noblest, most heroic gestures of
men, how many small, unconfessable impulses always have their play?

One afternoon chance revealed to him in vivid colors the degree to
which his life had been self-centered. The taxi in which he happened to
be riding came to a standstill at a turning in Lavalle Square. A crowd
was coming toward him, singing. It was a Sunday afternoon. He noticed
that all the doors of the neighborhood were closed. The singing came
nearer, swelling up from the street, rising above the tree tops. It
was an irritated, exasperated, tumultuous mob which was approaching;
and a song which both alarmed and attracted him was resounding from
hundreds of mouths, its spirit typified in the red flag waving above
the multitude. He got out of the taxi, and at that moment a bugle
sounded. The mob fell in on itself like a punctured balloon. There was
a volley of rifle shots, and in the confusion he could see the police
charging blindly with their swords. The song continued, however, for
a time; then the regimented violence of the Law was stronger than the
impulsive violence of the _Internationale_. The rabble broke into the
side streets and dispersed. The swords of the police eagerly sought out
the wretches crouching for shelter in the doorways. Other wretches were
in headlong flight, their eyes wide with terror. No one was paying any
attention to the dead or wounded. Doors and windows remained closed
and silent. To Monsalvat, sick with indignation, his soul flaming in
outrage, this very silence seemed a horrible complicity in a crime.

His transformation, however, was purely an inner one. To be sure, he
had somewhat changed his manner of living: he no longer went to his
club nor to parties; he avoided most of his former friends. But, after
all, what had he actually done these six months past? Had he perchance
even discovered the road he really wanted to take? He was ceaselessly
tormented by these questions, which plunged him for hours at a time
into inconclusive meditations.

On one point he was resolved: he would not resume his practice of
law. What need had he to earn money? To save it up? To spend it on
amusements? At any rate, he might give it away. But to whom, and how?
A friend, a successful lawyer, who had a high opinion of Monsalvat's
judicial learning, proposed making him a partner in his firm; but
Monsalvat did not accept the offer. He thought, finally, he would
prefer a clerkship in the Department of Foreign Relations, where his
seven years as consul would count, and where, too, he was already
looked upon with great favor. The Minister had promised him a post and
the appointment would be coming along almost any day.

Meanwhile he roamed the streets, gloomy and preoccupied, fleeing from
his acquaintances and the Centennial festivities of the fashionable
quarters to wander through the tenement districts and the slums.
Sometimes he would join the spectators of some street entertainment;
and as he listened to the talk of those about him, or spoke to them,
men and women, it surprised him to feel suddenly so much at home
with these poor people, so at one with them; till he remembered that
through his mother--born of laborers who had worked their way up to the
shopkeeping class--he, too, was _pueblo_, very much _pueblo_, a true
child of the proletariat.

One day he went to see the building--a small tenement--on the income
from which he was living. The house was a loathsome plague-spot in
which some fifteen wretched families lodged. How was it that it had
never before occurred to him to look this house up, he wondered,
disgusted with himself. And why had his agent never reported such
conditions? Then he remembered that he had visited the property in
person several times before his second trip to Europe; save that
then all this poverty and squalor seemed to him a natural, even an
excellent, thing! Was it not just this sort of surroundings which
pricked the ambition of these laboring people, spurred them to work
their way up to the comfort they had learned through hard experience
to appreciate? Was not this very misery the first rung on the ladder
of progress in this blessed country of opportunity, where "no one need
be poor unless he chooses to be"? Monsalvat thought with shame of his
earlier adherence to "economic liberalism," a toothless theory, surely
invented by the rich that they might continue to exploit the poor! How
much he would have given now never to have written those fine articles
of his! He went away resolved to mortgage the tenement, and put the
money into improvements which would make the building sanitary at least.

The people of his old world, his men friends especially, made fun
of his new views. He had not been talking much of his recent mental
struggles; but his aloofness, coupled with a few articles of his
giving voice to the protest within him, annoyed not a few of the
distinguished persons who had been wont to applaud him. Something had
gone wrong inside this man; and society commented on the change without
forbearance. Some said he was crazy, others thought there was something
off with his liver or his spleen. More than one of his old admirers
looked at him with a kind of fear. What was he going to do next?
Perhaps break with all established institutions.

Monsalvat, however, was nobody's enemy. Feelings of revolt could not
live long in his heart, but became transformed, soon after birth, into
a nameless anguish, a physical and moral uneasiness. He hated only
himself. His rebellion was a rebellion only against his own selfish
years.

What was it he wanted now? What was he looking for? What road was he
going to choose? He did not know. Around him he felt a great emptiness
that was ever growing greater. Wherever he went a sense of infinite
loneliness accompanied him. He spent hours pondering the future.
Meanwhile he had grown strangely sensitive emotionally; and it seemed
as though the moment had come when his outward life, as well, must
undergo its transformation.

One night idle curiosity led him to a cabaret. He knew little of this
form of diversion. The "show" entertained him; the tangos and the
orchestra stirred his emotions. This place of amusement seemed to be
a note of color in the bleak immensity of Buenos Aires. On the other
hand, he felt more alone than ever before. In all that dancing, in all
that music, he found, he scarcely knew why, the same sadness which was
in his soul. At times when the mandola wailed in a crescendo from the
depth of some vulgar popular tune--fraught with all the coarseness and
abjections of the tenements of the city--he seemed to hear in it a cry
of loneliness, despair, and bitterness rising from the dregs of life
itself.

It was on that night that his eyes first met Nacha's. They looked at
one another with surprise, and with a shade of embarrassment, as though
they knew one another. The girl lost her composure, lowered her eyes,
twisted her fingers nervously. For two hours Monsalvat lingered in
the cabaret, persisting in this flirtation. He did not understand why
he had never liked loose women; indeed, it all seemed to him rather
absurd--though the girl did have pretty eyes! Perhaps she was not what
she seemed! Perhaps she might some day love him, chance permitting.
Perhaps his loneliness would be more bearable if a woman like her were
there to sympathize with him. When she left the cabaret, he followed in
a taxi. With her companion, she went into a house. Monsalvat concluded
that she lived there. He got out of the taxi, and loitered about in the
middle of the dark street. She came out on the balcony for a moment,
casting two or three rapid glances in his direction.

A few nights later Monsalvat returned to the cabaret. He did not find
her there. His loneliness again became unbearably acute, and his
restlessness intolerable. It seemed to him more than ever imperative
that he find some purpose in life again, some clear comprehension of
his mission and destiny.

A few days later the scene in the cabaret occurred.



                              CHAPTER III


It was one o'clock when Monsalvat came out of the cabaret. As he
stepped out on the sidewalk the cold, waiting thief like at the door,
leapt at his throat and face. He turned up the collar of his overcoat
and walked slowly away, careless of direction, his eyes following the
sidewalk in front of him as a wheel follows a groove.

At the first street corner he paused. People were leaving theatres and
cafés, whirling away into the dark in taxis and automobiles. The trams
were crowded. The cross-streets, of unpretentious apartment houses and
second-rate shops, all darkened and asleep, were poorly lighted; but
at its southern end, the center of the capital's night life dusted the
sky with a golden sheen. Monsalvat turned in that direction, walking on
mechanically till he came out on the brilliantly illuminated avenue.
Through the immense plate glass windows of the cafés he could see
the multitudes of little tables, and topping them, hundreds of human
torsos gesticulating under thick waves of cigarette smoke, pierced with
colored lights; while through the opening and closing doors, tango
music broke in irregular surges, now strong, now weak. The street
corners were sprinkled with men stragglers or survivors from larger
groups of joy-seekers. Automobile horns, conversations in every tongue,
the bells of blocked street-cars, rent the lurid glow with resounding,
impatient clangor. But in spite of all the animation and illumination
of the theatre district, the merry-making had not the enthusiasm of the
earlier hours. Only that irreducible minimum of vitality remained, that
residue of joy-thirst, which survives evenings of revelry, clinging
tenaciously to the later hours, and scattering over the after-midnight
streets a pervading sense of weariness.

Indifferent to the animation of these glittering thoroughfares,
concentrated on his own inner misery, bewildered in the maze of
conflicting emotions within him, Monsalvat went on his way, but
walking more and more slowly now. He tried to analyze the thoughts
and sensations that were tormenting him; but the effort served only
to exasperate his distress. He had never suffered like this. All he
knew for the moment was that his heart, with an impulsiveness which
he felt certain was quite disinterested, had gone out to a girl he
saw doomed, the victim of her own will to live and of the evil nature
of others. How cowardly, futile, he had felt himself in the presence
of her helplessness and humiliation! And then something overwhelming,
imperious, had seemed to stir in his being, filling him with a courage
strangely unfamiliar to him, lifting him from his chair, and throwing
him forward against the girl's tormentors. But had he not played the
simple fool--in public? Had not even Nacha joined in the mockery as he
left the room, proving incapable of loyalty even toward the man who had
defended her? Then that final thrust of the bully: "Take a good look at
me! I am Dalmacio Arnedo! Pampa Arnedo!" In the days of his thoughtless
prosperity as a student and man of promise, Fernando had thought little
of the sister, Eugenia Monsalvat, who shared his own position in his
father's family. A touch of shame and sorrow had come to him when he
learned that she had left her--and his--mother's home--disappearing
from even that penumbra of respectability, to live as the mistress of a
man named Arnedo. So this was the man, thus crossing his path a second
time, rising before him leering and insulting, and pronouncing his own
name as a symbol of redoubled scorn for the name of Monsalvat! And that
sister, again! Had he done anything to prevent her fall, in the first
place, or to redeem her, now that she had fallen?

He was still walking slowly down the avenue of white lights when he
felt a touch on his arm. It was Hamilcar Torres, one of the most
intimate of his few intimate acquaintances.

"Give me a few moments, Monsalvat. Let's go in here, shall we?"

They entered one of the large cafés. The orchestra here, composed of
girls, was playing a languid gypsy waltz, the music and the musicians,
in combination, evoking expressions of melting languor on the faces
of the males who were assembled there, most of them, at this advanced
hour, gazing about in stupid rapture over wine glasses that were being
filled and filled again.

"It was I who sent for the police," said Torres, when they had taken
a table. He brought out the words very deliberately, marking the
syllables, and in a tone calculated to emphasize the allusion, though
his manner at once changed from a mood of reproving seriousness to one
of amusement, and bantering knowingness.

Torres was a physician; his strikingly white teeth, crisp curly
hair, eyebrows prominent over deep-set black eyes, suggested a
trace of African blood in his veins. Under a thick black mustache,
rather handsomely set against rosy, smooth-shaven cheeks, he smiled
continuously, sometimes sadly, sometimes ironically, sometimes with
affected malevolence and shrewdness.

Monsalvat did not reply. The doctor, turning sideways to the table,
crossed his long legs, and, thrusting them far beyond the limits of the
space which might reasonably be allowed to each patron of the café,
obstructed all passage near him.

"I followed along after you," he said, shifting uneasily on his chair
and turning his head so as to face Monsalvat, "because I wanted to put
you on your guard. You've got to be careful with these people, old man!
I know them--they won't stop at anything--and I saw that you ... and
the girl ... well ... er ... eh?"

His right finger pointed, on the query, to his own right eye, then
he waggled it at Monsalvat. Again his face varied from a rather
exaggerated severity to a knowing smile; and turning his head so that
it was once more in line with his body, and he had to look sideways at
Monsalvat, he added:

"No need to deny it, my boy! After all, the girl is pretty enough!
But--be careful.... When women like that get a hold of a fellow...!"

"Aren't you putting it rather strongly, Torres? I have a feeling that
this particular girl is not of just the kind that...."

"Just the kind that what?" snapped the doctor, still eyeing Fernando
sidewise, and with a mocking smile. "You don't know her!"

Then facing Monsalvat, and mustering a choleric frown for the occasion,
he added impressively in a mysterious and earnest tone of voice, as if
revealing something from a transcendental source:

"More than one man has gone to the dogs on that girl's account!"

Whereupon, with an air of philosophical indifference, he settled back
to his former comfortable position.

Monsalvat was not convinced. Nacha's gentle eyes seemed to refute the
miserable innuendos Torres was making. And yet, supposing it were all
true? What then? A wave of passionate curiosity swept over Monsalvat.
He wanted to know more. He must know more! Yet he said nothing. He
could not bring out the question that was hanging on his lips. Torres
divined what his friend was thinking, and pleased to be able to show
how intimately he knew the ins and outs of life in Buenos Aires, he
began:

"This Arnedo fellow--Pampa, as they call him--is real low-life, the
kind who wouldn't hesitate to put a bullet through your body, or forge
your name. Two or three times he has come near going to jail. And you
saw how he treats the girl! An out and out bully!"

"What's her name? Who is she?" interrupted Monsalvat, with
ill-concealed eagerness.

"She's known as Lila about town; but her real name is Ignacia
Regules--Nacha, as most people call her for short. Her mother kept
a student's boarding house--still does, for that matter. I knew her
mother ... because once...."

"Keep to Nacha, won't you?"

"I see; you want to hear all about the girl! That's the important
subject!" The doctor looked slyly at Monsalvat, enjoying the latter's
confusion at this sudden self-betrayal. "I'll tell you something
of what I know--not all, of course. I'm obliged to keep the most
interesting parts to myself. Well, this Nacha, while still living in
her mother's boarding house, fell in love with a student and ran away
with him. He kept her a couple of years or so; then he left her, and at
a very critical juncture--she was in the hospital, with a child that,
fortunately, did not live. When she came out she took a job in a store.
Probably she was willing enough to live a decent life, but the bad
example of some of her girl friends was too much for her. She began to
earn ten times more than what she got in the store--in a different way."

Torres winked as he now looked at Monsalvat.

"And how do you know all this?" the latter inquired.

"My dear fellow, that is something I don't tell."

The doctor did not wish to modify the effect of his story by simply
stating that Nacha had known a friend of his, and once, when she was
ill and Torres had been attending her, she had given him her whole
story. Torres enjoyed mystification for its own sake, and preferred,
just for the fun of it, to keep Monsalvat on edge a little longer.

And this game, for that matter, was working well. In utter distress,
Monsalvat stared fixedly, now at his friend, now at the orchestra, now
at the unknown faces about the great hall. But he did not see what was
before his eyes. His mind was filled with the image of his own sister,
abandoned to misfortune, perhaps now a common woman of the streets;
of his mother weeping her life out over her own and her daughter's
shame; of Nacha Regules, caught in the brutal clutches of Pampa Arnedo;
and finally of his own past self, happy, free to travel, flirting
with handsome women, courting literary fame, lounging at his club, or
attending fashionable parties! While he had been idling thoughtlessly
along in this relative but still gilded luxury, Eugenia Monsalvat was
falling lower and lower in the social scale! His sister! But not his
sister, only! Millions of women were enduring a misery like hers! And a
world of well-nourished, "successful" men and women went gaily on its
way, indifferent to the ceaseless suffering of these other women, proud
of its money, and its easy virtue, robbing the poor of sisters and
daughters, buying them, corrupting them, enjoying life.

"And then?" asked Monsalvat, noticing that Torres was studying him, and
eager to learn everything he could about the life of this girl, who
seemed to him at that moment to represent all the unfortunate women of
the earth in her person.

"Well, she left the store--you would never guess why! She wanted to
be 'respectable'! She took up some kind of work, I forget what; but
eventually she drifted into a café, as a waitress. Can you imagine
'respectable'--and a café waitress!"

Monsalvat, more and more irritated at his companion's flippancy,
suggested that these attempts of Nacha to work and to be "respectable"
were certainly nothing against her. She might be a good girl, after all!

"Good? Of course! These girls are all good--almost all, at least. We do
judge them harshly, I realize. If they do wrong, it is without knowing
exactly that it is wrong. And some of them really have a high moral
code--for instance...."

Torres was not smiling now. Memories of the numberless poor creatures
he had known, memories of extraordinary cases of generosity, and
loyalty, and even heroism, for the moment drove his superficial
cynicism from him.

Monsalvat was not interested however, obsessed as he was by the image
of Nacha, who seemed to be appealing to him to rescue her. And rescue
her he would! He would save her from her present tragic situation,
from fearful hours awaiting her in the future, and from the memory of
frightful hours of the past. An idea that he must see her, speak to her
again, somehow, somewhere, took possession of him. But how? And where?
And supposing he should meet her again? What would he say to her? He
did not know; but his determination was not shaken on that account. He
would see her--and save her; not for her own sake, nor because he was
himself an "unfortunate" in society; nor because she was beautiful, and
his eyes had dwelt upon her; but for love of his sister rather, for the
sake of his own real self!

"These poor girls are simply victims of conditions, I suppose,"
continued Torres. "Nacha told me once that wherever she went, in shops,
or workrooms, or business offices, the men were after her. And it's
true, isn't it? We men, even the best of us, are a bad lot. I'd like to
know how a girl who hasn't enough to eat, and who lives in the worst
sort of surroundings, can resist temptation, especially when it comes
in the form of a good-looking fellow who offers to take her out of the
hell she is living in.... No, they are not to blame...."

Meanwhile the "Merry Widow" waltz floated languidly through the thick
air of the café like a maze of shimmering diaphanous silk or impalpable
tulle. But to Monsalvat it seemed that this music was winding itself
about him, body and soul, a merciless bandage which bound him tighter
and tighter, treacherously increasing the pain it promised to soothe.
The sadness dwelling at the core of all worldly pleasures fell from
each musical phrase, each bar, each note, on the heavy air of the café.
Music in such places as this always distressed Monsalvat. Tonight his
whole being was an open wound, over which the ceaselessly moving grind
of the music grated until he wondered that he did not scream with pain.
Was his own record absolutely clean? Had he, too, not bought favors
from women--be it, indeed, with flattery and favors returned? And where
were those women now?

Had they, too, by selling themselves, lost all right to the world's
respect, the right to be treated as human beings, to be pitied?
His fault? He despised himself utterly. Only the violence of his
self-reproach gave him the strength to bear his pain.

"And then what?" he queried, rousing himself from his abstraction.

Torres, who had been silent for a time, now answered the question that
came almost mechanically from Monsalvat's lips, and told all he knew
of Nacha's history. Outstanding in her checkered career had been her
love affair with the young poet, Carlos Riga. Together they had endured
the most frightful poverty in the Argentine bohemia. Nacha had left
him finally, driven away by sheer hunger--and the thought that perhaps
her being always with him was an unjust burden on her penniless lover.
In these circumstances she'd concluded that it was no use trying to
be a "decent" girl; and she had gone off "on her own," taking up with
a man--who was soon followed by another--better able to support her.
One day the idea came into her head that exclusive devotion to any
one protector meant a sort of unfaithfulness to Riga, whom she really
adored. From that moment she gave herself up to the roving life of the
cabarets and places of amusement. It was during this time that she met
Arnedo. He found her pretty, intelligent, admired the ease of manner
she had acquired in her mother's boarding house, was impressed by the
smatterings of culture she had absorbed from Riga and other young
writers she had known in Riga's company--in short, decided that Nacha
was the jewel he was looking for--a girl he could "flash" on Capitol
sportdom, and "show off" as his "woman" among people appreciative of
such display.

"A horrible story!" exclaimed Monsalvat, gloomily. "Can there be many
girls like that?"

"Thousands of them. And I really know something about it.... I have
long been a police physician. My dissertation was on that very
subject!" And he lectured at length on the theme, sparing no details
of the traffic which has made Buenos Aires famous as a market of human
flesh.

Monsalvat could not speak meanwhile. He was thinking of his sister,
trying to picture to himself what her lot must be. He saw her in the
abandonment that followed her disgrace, struggling not to lose her grip
on life, failing, struggling again to evade the deeper degradations of
the outcast she saw below her; and finally sinking in the loathsome
mire, dragged into its depths, by a trader's claws, perhaps, tortured,
enslaved, and--who could say!--dead! He listened with speechless
intentness. "What a ghastly nightmare this world is!" He stammered at
last:

"And what is being done to remedy all this?"

"What is there to do, my dear fellow? We would have to destroy
everything and construct society anew!"

At these words Monsalvat seized his friend's arm with violence;
his eyes were moist with emotion and his voice rang with a strange
solemnity, as he said slowly:

"Exactly! Exactly! Well, everything is being destroyed, and a new
society is coming into being!"

Torres assented, as far as his facial muscles were concerned,
responding to the suggestiveness of Monsalvat's moral earnestness,
to the emotion which his friend's vision of a great and approaching
Good stirred in his own sluggish depths. He even went so far as to
nod.... Then came reaction. His inner, his real self recovered from the
momentary spell of Monsalvat's ingenuous and lyric optimism. One look
about at the café's noisy and drunken hilarity, and the man of generous
instincts disappeared, giving place again to the man of the world,
the man like any other man, stamped with all the ideas and sentiments
of his kind. To Torres the words Monsalvat had spoken, his Quixotic
theories, his grief over things that were not only irremediable
and accepted, but even sanctioned, and necessary, began to appear
ridiculous, and speaking as a doctor, trained to seek the origin of
all human abnormalities in overstrung nerves and disturbed physical or
mental equilibrium, he replied lightly and skeptically as before:

"The problem, you see, is too complex ... there is no solution
really...."

Monsalvat did not hear him. Another voice was filling his ears, a voice
from a thousand throats, convicting him of his own responsibility, too,
for the world's crimes. His heart seemed to him a mournful, hollow,
and despairing bell; his eyes saw the world as a scene ready set for
tragedy--the tragedy, first, of his mother, deceived, suffering all her
life, and handing on suffering to her children; then his sister's; then
Nacha's. In an eternal chorus of tears rose the lamentations of the
lost women of the earth, the weeping of their parents, their brothers;
the cries of the children they were driven to destroy; their own
screams of shame, and clamorings of hunger.

"Why, man, what's the matter with you?" asked Torres finally. "Hadn't
we better be going? It's three o'clock."

Monsalvat nodded and got up. He took leave of Torres at once, on the
pretext he did not feel well, and started off for the South End, toward
the _Avenida de Mayo_, where he lived.

He went to bed at once upon reaching his rooms. But he could not
sleep. He did not know why it was; but the sound of the shots that had
brought down some of the human creatures in the mob at Lavalle Square,
and the song they had sung, became interwoven with one of the cabaret
tangos he had just been hearing. This strange music haunted his ears
and drove sleep far from him. Later, when he had fallen into a kind of
half slumber, there came towards him a procession of frightful figures,
howling and groaning louder and louder as they approached; and he knew
that this procession was Humanity. It was already dawn when he began to
sleep--uneasily and for only a little while. But even this semblance
of slumber brought with it a nightmare. A monstrous phantom, covered
with gold, silks, and precious stones, its jaws those of an apocalyptic
beast, its claws, too, dripping blood, was there before him, in his
room, although scarcely contained by it. The monster approached his
bed, showing its fangs, about to devour him; and this monster, with
its charnel house of a belly, where lay countless generations of the
world's unfortunates, was Injustice.

Monsalvat got up late. He was quiet now. At last there was new life
within him. Everything had new life, new meaning. What this new life
was he could not have said. But he knew that within him there was now
a sense of clearness where before there had been nothing but confusion
and obscurity.

He breakfasted and went out, thinking, rather vaguely, that he would go
to his mother's. But, as he walked on, he turned in another direction.
Moving absent-mindedly, yielding to a new sweet sense of inner calm, he
seemed not to notice the streets along which he passed. When he came
to himself, he noted that he was within a few yards of Nacha's house.
Without hesitating, certain now that he was doing the right thing, he
went up the steps and rang the bell.



                              CHAPTER IV


Nacha had not been able to sleep. Rarely, even in her unhappy life, had
she spent so bad a night. On arriving home from the cabaret, Arnedo
had gone to bed in silence. This Indian-like taciturnity of his always
terrified her. Dread of the man's violence, fear of being once more
abandoned, and forced to return to her former precarious circumstances,
mingled with the anxieties the day had brought her. Carlos Riga, she
had only that morning learned, was dying in a hospital ward. Yet
curiously, what tortured her more than grief for her former lover or
fear for her own life, was the uneasiness aroused within her by the
memory of how she had treated that unknown man who had so chivalrously
come to her defense in the cabaret. He had been ready to risk his life
for her, and she had rewarded him with a laugh, a laugh half of fear,
half of distraction; but to him it must have seemed one of treacherous
mockery.

Into her heart that night a new, a strangely engrossing uneasiness had
come, a presentiment which she could not have explained, but which she
knew she must conceal from Arnedo as though it were a crime. It was a
sense of impending evil, an accumulation of forebodings--reminiscences
that the news of Riga's condition had brought up, memories of the
evening itself; bits of her own past; pictures, which her frightened
imagination painted, of a terrible future--a future with at best such
poor, such ill-nourished, such unsubstantial hopes--all blending into a
vague conviction that Fate had decreed some great misfortune for her.

How she longed for the relief of slumber! She would need to look fresh
and happy when she faced Arnedo the following day. This preoccupation
filled her insomnia with a sort of hectic frenzy.

To destroy all traces of the hours of torment she was enduring, she
imagined herself digging little graves for them, and burying them one
by one under a dust of forgetfulness. Meanwhile, in her desire for the
dawn, she turned on the light every few minutes to see what time it
was. Four o'clock, half-past four, five! Never had a night lasted so
long! She thought the clock must be slow, and got up to see if there
were any signs of coming day. Darkness was still unbroken. Only a faint
glow in the depths of the sky seemed to presage the possibility of
morning. How she hungered for light in that overwhelming darkness!

And meanwhile the image of the man in the cabaret haunted her. He
looked at her so strangely! No one else had ever looked at her in
just this fashion. There was not in his eyes that desire which she
saw in the eyes of other men. It was something else, something else!
Especially from the moment when all the café had turned on her! Why
had he gazed at her so persistently? A few nights before, in this same
cabaret, her eyes had met those of this man. She had not been able to
keep from looking at him; she had not been able to avoid his gaze when
he looked her way. And then he had followed her home--doubtless to find
out where she lived. She had seen him lingering there in the street and
had stepped out on the balcony for a moment.... Who was he? Did he want
to take her from Arnedo, to have her for himself? Why should he wish to
defend her when his doing so could only injure her? He was to blame,
in large measure, for Pampa's bad humor. As for Pampa, she hated him;
but she could not leave him. He had broken her spirit. He could insult
her and knock her about; but instead of turning against him, she would
become more submissive and obedient than before. Why? How strange life
was! She would never understand herself. At times it seemed as though
another being dwelt within, forcing her to do things she could not
otherwise account for. Why else, for example, should she have behaved
so meanly, so contemptibly, towards this man who had defended her; who,
clearly, was interested in her; who was, perhaps, in love with her?
Why? Why? That whole long night she had tried not to think of this
stranger; but to no avail. There was something about the way he held
himself, something in his eyes, and in the words he spoke, which set
him apart from everyone else she knew. And this distinction fascinated
her. With what spirit he had faced that hostile gang! Something was
drawing her towards him. It would frighten her to meet him again--yet
she longed for just such an encounter. Why should she want to see him?
She did not know! She refused to know!

Only the memory of the poet who had been her lover softened the pain
of that unending night. He at least was good! He was loyal! He was
compassionate! His heart knew the most beautiful words in the world
with which to console; he had developed her intelligence, taught her
to bow her head to irremediable injustice. Only this, perhaps, had
saved her from the hard, cynical desperation of other women who had,
like her, been overcome by wrong. And now he was dying. He was perhaps
already dead. She had seen a report of his illness in a newspaper the
night before; and the shock of it had left her helpless to disguise the
sadness which possessed her as she sat with the others in the cabaret.

She felt responsible in a certain way for Riga's death. Had she not
abandoned him at the very moment when he most needed her support? And
why had she behaved so? Why was there this incessant contradiction
in her life? She had run away from home at the very time when she
had become most attached to her mother and her sister. She had loved
Riga passionately, and she had fled from him. She felt sympathy and
admiration for the man in the cabaret, and she had mocked him. Why
did she always act in this unaccountable way? Then Riga took entire
possession of her thoughts, and she lived over again the time that had
elapsed between their first meeting and her tragic abandonment of him.

It was in her mother's boarding house that they had begun their
friendship. Later, after her misfortune, she learned of the poet's
difficulties. Surrounded as she was by gross, vulgar people, she
thought of him as a noble and pure spirit. Years later, when she was
working as a waitress in a café, she met him again. They saw one
another several times, compared their troubles, were touched by each
other's sufferings. So they went to live together. This union lasted
three years; and in the midst of poverty, grief and despair, they came
to adore one another. They both worked hard; but Destiny seemed bent on
sucking their blood. As their circumstances became poorer and poorer,
Riga took refuge in drink and stopped writing. She had gone hungry,
taking the bread from her own mouth to feed him, to keep him alive. But
a day came when she had no more reserves of courage. She had endured
all she could. Life and youth cried out for their rights; and she went
away, exhausted physically and morally, weeping out all the remaining
strength of her broken heart.

A little before seven o'clock, taking care not to waken Arnedo, she
got out of bed again, and tiptoed to the door of the apartment,
stepped out to the elevator and rang the bell. When the car came up
she asked for the _Patria_, the newspaper to which Arnedo subscribed.
The postman had not yet delivered the mail and Nacha sent the boy
out to get the paper. While waiting for him to come back she walked
restlessly back and forth, from the window opening on the street, to
the front door. It was a dull, oppressive, cloudy morning; the sky had
a yellowish, dirty look. The air was very damp and on the window-panes
and outside woodwork large drops of moisture hung. Nacha had a painful
presentiment. Certainly such a day could bring nothing good. Pale,
trembling, she ran to the door the moment she heard the elevator start
again.

She snatched the paper eagerly from the boy's hand, opened it and
looked frantically at the inner page. The item, alas, was there, the
news which pierced her heart, and seemed like a claw tearing at her
breast! Shrinking, scarcely able to stand upright, she went to the
sitting-room and, still clutching the newspaper, threw herself on the
sofa. Now it seemed to her that her life was indeed all spent. She
lay there a long time, weeping. This man, to whom the newspaper bade
farewell with words of affection, was Carlos Riga, the poet who was all
generosity, all goodness, the boy who had been her lover and her friend
in the best years of her life! He was the inspired dreamer who had
freed her soul from the vulgar preoccupations of her kind; he was the
idealist who had shared illusions and hopes with her; he was the man
who had never spoken to her a word that was not kind and affectionate.
No tears were enough for this loss. What though she never saw him and
could not see him? She needed to know that he was alive, so as not to
be altogether bad, so as not to become utterly unworthy. She wept. For
death, in taking Riga away, broke her last connection with the only
happy hours she had known in her life as slave and outcast.

She sat up on the sofa at last and read and re-read the _Patria's_
tribute to the dead poet. Then she went to a closet and took from it
Riga's "Poems," which she had bought before he became her lover--later
he had written in a dedication which filled the first two blank pages.
With tears in her eyes she glanced over the well-known verses, but as
some of Pampa's snores echoed through the apartment, she hastily kissed
the volume, and put it back in its hiding place, fearful lest Pampa
should appear. She must also conceal the traces of her weeping lest
Arnedo get up suddenly and see her swollen face.

She returned to the sitting-room with the idea of writing perhaps to
her sister. She heard the cook stirring about in the kitchen. A talk
with the woman might distract her. With affected cheeriness she went
out and ordered breakfast.

How afraid she was to linger in any place where she might encounter
Arnedo! But she knew that he would demand an explanation of her gloom
of the night before, of her refusal to obey his orders and dance.
She went to the dining-room, in the corner of the apartment farthest
away from the room where Pampa was sleeping. These devices seemed to
postpone for awhile the moment she dreaded. What was Pampa going to
say? He might beat her! He might drive her out of the house! What could
she look forward to? Several times she asked the maid whether _el
Señor_ was getting up. In this way she learned when he was awake, when
he asked for his breakfast, when he went to take his bath. Strange he
should not be asking for her. And this silence terrified her! Finally,
at noon, knowing that he must be nearly dressed, she tried to prepare
herself to face him; but she was restless, anxious and nervous.

She heard his step approaching the dining-room. The door opened.
Scarcely glancing at her, and without a word of greeting, from the
threshold Pampa motioned to her to come to him.

As she went into the sitting-room, Nacha felt Arnedo's piercing gaze
upon her face. She did not know where to turn her eyes. Back to a
table, his hands in his pockets, Pampa stood watching her with a hard
smile, apparently enjoying her distress.

"Well," he said at last, "I want to know what was the matter with you
last night?"

"Nothing! I was ill--I told you."

She sat down as she spoke. Pampa, paying no attention to her answer,
began to whistle a tango. Half dead with fear, Nacha had scarcely been
able to articulate the words.

"Sick, eh?"

His hard eyes swept the girl sarcastically. A long silence followed,
broken only by the jangling of some keys which Pampa was turning over
and over in one of his pockets. He pretended to smile; then suddenly,
exasperated, almost shouting, and with an ugly word, he broke out,

"Sick! Do you think you can get away with that excuse?"

Nacha, in terror, drew back towards the sofa, her knees and hands
unsteady. Stammering, half crying, she begged him not to shout so. She
had not meant to offend him!

"I've good reason to shout," he continued. "I've told you, haven't
I, that I wouldn't stand your making up to anybody! You wore that
fool face of yours last night because you think you're in love with
someone--for all I know with that mangy cur who butted in. Well, I'm
not going to be made a fool of, understand? I'm not going to support a
woman who goes around cry-babying and putting on."

"I was sick, I tell you."

"And I tell you, you weren't! If you say that again, I'll break every
bone you've got in your body!"

"Pampa! please, don't talk so loud!"

Arnedo began to pace up and down, a torrent of vituperation and curses
flowing from his lips, his eyes glittering with savage cruelty. Nacha
thought for a moment of telling him the truth, that her tears were due
to her grief for the death of a man she had loved; but she knew Arnedo
would not believe her. Besides, would not her feeling for a man she
had broken with, irritate Pampa for the very reason that he could not
understand such subtleties of emotion? It seemed safest to be silent,
to endure his insults and his anger without replying.

At last, having worked off some of his temper, Arnedo announced that he
was going out, and would not be back for lunch. Nacha followed him to
the door, submissive, and still frightened. She even drew up to him as
though expecting a caress; but Arnedo brushed her aside contemptuously
and slammed the front door behind him.

Though Nacha could not restrain an access of nervous weeping she felt,
after all, a sort of relief. The scene had "ended well" for her! Her
thoughts were free now to return to Riga. She would go to the cemetery,
and at least see where they were burying him. And she would wear black,
very simple black, so as not to attract attention! In those moments at
least she must appear worthy of the humble poet who had loved her!

She had just finished dressing when the maid announced a caller.

"Who is it?"

"A gentleman. He will not give his name."

Nacha's heart began to beat more quickly, and with an unaccountable
expectancy.

"You know very well that I don't receive calls from gentlemen.... Is he
well dressed?"

The maid nodded.

"Tell him I am not at home. Just a moment--well--yes, tell him I am not
at home!"

The maid left the room, but returned almost immediately.

"He wouldn't go, Ma'am," she reported, considerably alarmed; "He walked
right in.... He looks all right, but...."

Nacha, with some uneasiness, went into the sitting-room. To her
amazement she found herself face to face with the stranger of the
cabaret.



                               CHAPTER V


"Who are you?... What do you want?..." asked Nacha after the first
moment of astonishment.

"Who am I? Nobody in particular! Just someone who has guessed that you
are unhappy, and is anxious to help you."

"But ... you must have understood that I didn't want to see you again!
I can't receive you here. You shouldn't have come to this house. It's
hard on me! Think of the consequences! Perhaps I may lose my place
here!"

"Your place here is what you hate more than anything else in the world!"

"How do you know? I'm not so sure.... I have a quiet home--and I'm
free!"

The way the man looked at her made her break off. They were both silent
for a time, the stranger, however, not taking his eyes from Nacha for
a moment. She could see that he wanted to speak, but evidently did not
dare. At last, in a low voice and with visible emotion, he began:

"Nacha--you see I know your name--you are not telling me the truth! You
are not free!... You are suffering; and last night I saw how much! From
the moment I first saw you I have felt a tremendous pity for you."

"Oh, really?" Nacha exclaimed, with a laugh of affected irony,
calculated to put an end to the conversation with this man who had
forced his way into her house, whose presence there was compromising
to her, and who now, into the bargain, was allowing himself to express
pity for her.

"Yes, real pity!" he repeated, evidently not understanding that her
laugh was aimed at him.

"How kind of you! You must be an unusual sort of person!" Nacha said
again, laughing scornfully.

"Your life is nothing but suffering," he continued, rather as though
he were talking to himself and had not heard what Nacha said. "Here
you live in humiliation, worry, perpetual terror of what is about to
happen. That is not _living_, Nacha!"

"Call it dying if you like then. You are very amusing. I am sorry you
must go at once! But if Pampa should find you here.... I wish he would
come!"

They stood facing each other there in the middle of the room, the
stranger listening quietly while Nacha poured out her nervousness in
words, and yet more words, hurriedly, interrupting herself with her own
forced laughter, and distractedly moving her hands and arms.

"Did you think you had made a hit with me? How funny! But don't fool
yourself! I can't help laughing though, at the very idea! You're crazy.
Only crazy people act the way you do. Anyway, I love Pampa. So there!
You see what women are. He treats me badly, he despises me, he beats
me--but I wouldn't leave him for the first booby who comes along!"

By way of reply he took her hand and led her to the sofa, where
obediently she sat down. In a low voice that had in it the same ring of
sincerity and feeling as before, he went on:

"Nacha, you accept this man's ill treatment because you are afraid of
something worse. You cannot bear to think that tomorrow, or whenever he
leaves you, you will have to go from one man to another--"

"This is too much! Who gave you the right to insult me? I am a decent
woman!"

And then, finding her own words ridiculous perhaps, she began to laugh;
and the laugh, this time, seemed to reveal her scorn for herself and
her pride withal in living as she was living. The man's compassion grew.

"Why do you do it Nacha?"

"What?" she exclaimed, without checking her laughter.

"You are trying to bring together things that don't belong together.
You are trying to make yourself out a bad woman, while really you are
good."

Nacha, abruptly, became serious. She lowered her eyes and for several
seconds sat motionless, looking at the floor, seemingly preoccupied.
Finally she raised her head, and slowly turned her gaze upon this
unknown friend. The peace she found in his eyes astonished her. After a
long silence she asked him gently:

"Who are you? What is your name?"

He told her.

"Fernando Monsalvat...." she repeated, as though trying to inscribe the
syllables on her memory. Then, apparently more at ease, she added with
a smile,

"Why did you come to this house? Not to do me harm?"

"To do you good, little friend."

The girl smiled again, and again lowered her eyes, only to raise them
once more to Monsalvat's face.

"Little friend--I like those words! Will you really be my friend,
really, in your heart? It does me good to hear you speak to me that
way. You don't know what it means to me to be told I am not bad. But,
just the same, I am bad! Only I do everything I can to make people
think I am even worse than I am."

She spoke in a yet lower tone as she went on, somewhat ill at ease from
the intimacy of her confession:

"We girls have to make a show of being what we are not. It's easier
that way for us to forget our real selves: we seem to become somebody
else. I even go so far as not to blame the girl I was yesterday for all
that makes me the girl I am today."

She was silent awhile, apparently searching her memory.

"Why do you try so hard to forget?" asked Monsalvat, "Wouldn't it be
better to remember--if the present is so sad?"

"Sad? No, it isn't sad. Other people might think so. But really it
isn't. It is worse than that rather: it is empty, without any feeling
at all. We live in a sort of perpetual confusion. It's almost like not
knowing whether you're alive or not."

"But why not remember what is good in the past? Why not dream?"

"Remember?" Her expression suggested that a world full of past
sufferings had taken possession of her imagination.

"Why remember? Just to feel bad?"

"Yes, little friend, to feel, and to suffer. If you didn't suffer,
you would be horrible, all of you. It is because you suffer that you
deserve pity and sympathy; and so you ought to seek out pain, and
treasure it."

Nacha raised her hands to her face. In his own trouble, and in the
compassion Nacha aroused in him, Monsalvat began to feel a kind of
satisfaction. If she could still feel so deeply, there was hope.

"No, no!" she broke out suddenly. "We haven't the right to suffer!"

"Human beings have no greater and more sacred right."

"But don't you see that we girls must always be gay, dance, laugh: our
profession is joy, not suffering. If we're glum, we lose our jobs. If
we are not ready for gaiety and caresses, we're accused of not earning
our pay."

Her lips smiled bitterly. Monsalvat, sitting with one elbow on his
knee, and his chin resting on his hand, was looking at her as though
trying to drink in her very soul.

"We have to make ourselves over," Nacha continued, "change our natures
as well as our names. Do you think it is only out of shame, or because
of our families, that we hide our identities? No, it isn't wholly that.
Taking another name makes us seem different somehow. It's like the
Carnival. Under a disguise, you can do and say all the crazy things
that come into your head. Are you ashamed afterwards? No, because when
you take off your mask you are no longer the person who played all
those wild pranks."

"And last night"--Monsalvat asked, after a brief pause, "why were you
so unhappy?"

Through his conversation with Torres he knew the answer to this
question; yet he listened anxiously for her reply.

"There you see what comes of being out of sorts!" she said at last.
"Why should anyone go to a cabaret to gloom and whimper like a
simpleton? Pampa had a right to be angry. I couldn't help it. I had
just learned that the only real friend I ever had, the only man I ever
really loved, was dying.... And you can imagine how I feel today.
It's lucky I can be alone.... I can afford to let myself cry ... and
remember!..."

Monsalvat had started at these words. He was glad to know that Nacha
was still capable of feeling. At the same time, what she said about her
love for Riga filled him with a vague uneasiness. Interrupting, he told
her that he had known the poet.

"You knew him? Really? When? Where?"

From that moment Nacha looked upon Monsalvat as a brother. The wave of
feeling carrying her towards him reached its height. She warmly took
his hand for a moment and asked him to talk to her about Carlos Riga.
There was tenderness in her eyes now. The last vestiges of distrust had
vanished. She could have told him everything in her life, shown him
the very bottom of her soul. He had known Riga! He need offer no other
credentials to claim her friendship!

They talked a long time of the poet, whom Monsalvat had met through
Edward Iturbide. The two men had never become intimate friends; for
Monsalvat did not frequent the literary Bohemia that had known Riga
best. Nacha eagerly sang the praises of her dead friend. Never had
there lived so fine a soul, so generous a heart, so kind a spirit!
Talking of him seemed to intoxicate her. She spoke confusedly, and at
times wildly, in a jerky monologue of broken phrases. The moment came
when her eyes filled with tears and she shook with emotion.

"And to think that I, who am speaking to you like this, I left him--the
best man who ever breathed! All because I was afraid of poverty, afraid
of hunger! It's true I've suffered, Monsalvat, in the life I have been
leading: no one can know how much. But all I have been through was
nothing compared to the despair I felt when I deserted Riga...."

The poor girl began to sob with great gasps that shook her from head to
foot. Monsalvat tried to comfort her in words that astonished him, as
he uttered them, for their consoling intensity: never had he heard nor
spoken such words before. They seemed to well up from the very depths
of suffering in which the girl before him was engulfed.

"I remember so well the morning when I left him," Nacha continued,
"I shall remember it all the days God lets me live. We had a poor
little room, dark, without air, the most miserable hole in a horrible
tenement; and we had no furniture--just two wretched cots, old and
broken and dirty. I hadn't slept that night, for I was crying all the
time, going over my plans, and imagining how he would feel when he
found I had gone."

She stopped a moment to check a sob, and then went on:

"At daybreak I dressed and made a little bundle of the few rags I
owned, and all quite calmly. I wanted to put off the terrible moment as
long as I could. But at last it came. I was going to leave him--and he
loved me! It was so hard to do what I had made up my mind I must do. I
went to take a last look at him. He was still asleep. I crept up to him
on tiptoe, and kissed him, on the forehead. I don't know what happened
then: I had to lean against the wall, for it seemed as though the whole
world were falling away from me. My heart must have stopped beating. I
thought I was dying and stayed there a long time, without moving, just
stupified. When I could move I sat down on my cot and cried, then I got
up to go. Every step hurt. I went so slowly, it seemed as though years
must have passed--and at the door I looked back.--Why was I leaving
him? Why? Why?... At last I crept out into the hall, and began to run,
to run like mad, down the stairs, and out into the street...."

"You must tell me your whole life, from the time when you left your
mother's," said Monsalvat after a pause.

Nacha hesitated, unwilling for a moment to comply. At last she told
him her first tragic adventure; her love affair with one of the
young men boarding in her mother's house; his brutality towards her
when her timidity and shame placed her at his mercy; his attempts to
exploit her, and the illness that followed. She recounted her attempts
to support herself, afterwards, by honest work, the usual story of
poverty, temptation and despair.

"There was no help for me. What could I do? I struggled from week to
week; but debts, hunger, the need of clothes to put on my back, the
luxury I saw around me!... One day I told a girl who worked in the
store and was my friend that I would do whatever she advised ... and
she took me to a house she knew...."

Nacha lowered her eyes, shame-faced.

"Did you live long in this fashion?" he asked when she had lapsed into
silence.

"Six months! Then one day I couldn't stand it any longer: I left
the store; and never went back to that house. I did sewing, I made
artificial flowers; but ... I had no luck. I took any work that came
my way; but there were always back debts to pay off ... and all the
while every man who came near me made love to me. More than once I
left my job in order to get away from them.... I hated them, feared
them, loathed them. At last, after several years of this struggle, I
got a job as waitress in a café. There I was more annoyed by men than
ever; but I earned enough to be able to afford a decent room and some
furniture of my own. And there I met Riga!"

"And then?"

"After I left him? I went down again, this time for good and all. It
was then that Arnedo took me."

They were silent for a space. Nacha did not move. Wide-eyed, she sat
staring straight in front of her. What did she see? What were her
thoughts? Monsalvat, watching her with an intensity that he had never
before experienced, thought the critical moment had come.

"Nacha," he said, "you must get out of all this!"

Without looking at him, she slowly shook her head.

"But your repentance...?"

"I do not repent." The words came out slowly and deliberately, and she
turned to look straight at Monsalvat. "I did not intend any wrong. What
should I repent for?"

"But you are dissatisfied with the way you're living?"

"God knows! I have suffered frightfully. How could one help being sorry
for such an unhappy life?"

"Well then, why don't you make up your mind to leave it?"

"I want to, but I can't. It's Fate! I was destined to be a bad woman!"

All the energy of his spirit rushed to Monsalvat's lips in words
frantically shaped to arouse in Nacha the decisive will to free herself
from evil, to find good at last. He seized both her hands. Feebly she
tried to pull away from him.

"Nacha, you must change your way of living. You must be yourself!
You must cease being someone else! You must learn to live! To live,
do you hear? So as to be able to dream, to love--to remember! Your
soul wants to be free, and together we are going to free it. This is
slavery! You have been speaking of what you have already suffered.
But that is nothing to the agonies that lie in wait for you. Youth
too will leave you; and the day will come when you will be old, sick,
worn out, a human rag, falling lower and lower. At last you will be,
not only morally, but physically, a slave--The trader who is even now
awaiting you will get you into his clutches. You will become a beast of
pleasure, locked up in a house of evil; and you will have lost life,
and hope--and love, too; for love has little to do with the criminal
instincts of the men who will live on what you earn. You will be sold
like a thing, at auction. 'How much is this woman worth? So much--take
her! She is yours!' And then you will fall so low that only the dens of
the underworld, only the gutters of the slums, will be open to you; for
you will be old, your beauty eaten away.... Then finally you will die
and no one will know that you have gone. Then Nacha, you, you whom I
am speaking to now, will be tossed into the potter's field like a dead
dog."

She was in a paroxysm of weeping now, writhing under this merciless
attack, throwing back her head and tossing out her arms in tragic
appeal to him to stop.

There was a ring at the front door.

Nacha started to her feet, and tried to remove the traces of her
weeping. However, it was only the servant bringing in a letter from
Arnedo. Nacha, dazed, had not the courage to open it. She asked
Monsalvat to read it to her. Arnedo announced that he was dining that
evening with some friends. Taking the letter Nacha stood motionless and
silent, staring straight before her. When Monsalvat spoke, she neither
answered nor looked up. A tragic expression settled on her face. She
was trembling violently. Suddenly, raising her hands to her head, she
cried:

"No, no, it can't be! It is madness. Go away at once! I never want to
see you again. I was crazy. Go, I say!"

Monsalvat looked at her in amazement. He did not know what to do. Could
he have lost her? Why a moment ago it seemed.... He tried to speak, to
explain. But she pointed to the door with an obstinacy and an energy
he had not dreamed she possessed. There was nothing for it but to
obey--but this was an overwhelming catastrophe falling on his life....
His heart was breaking.... As he left the room Nacha did not even bid
him good-bye.

Arnedo's two lines had sufficed to remind her of reality, or rather
of what she believed reality to be. With a great effort she stopped
weeping and recalling scenes of the dead past. She was a different
Nacha now; she was Lila, the tango dancer, Lila, the delight of the
cabarets. For a moment, she forgot even Riga.

But, towards five o'clock, her heart triumphed over her will. Suddenly,
desperately, fearful of being late, she put on her hat, rushed to the
street, and took a taxi to the cemetery.

The services had begun. Anxious not to be noticed, she hovered on
the edge of the cluster of people gathered there. It saddened her to
see that scarcely twenty of the poet's admirers had escorted him to
his grave. When they had all gone, she drew near to the spot where
her friend's body had been laid. Her handkerchief over her eyes, she
stood there a long time, motionless, clad in black, silently weeping,
an image of Grief itself. The sky was overcast; the cold drizzle was
gradually turning to rain. As the first gusts reached the mound on
which she lingered, Nacha slowly walked away, and returned to Arnedo's
apartment.



                              CHAPTER VI


Monsalvat wondered how, after the events of the previous night and
those of the afternoon, he could bring himself to dine that evening in
Ruiz de Castro's palatial residence, in company with various worldly
persons of the latter's selection. Was he not betraying his real self,
being unfaithful to the new Monsalvat, born of his recent struggles? As
he looked about him he could think only of the contrast between Nacha's
unhappy life and that of these pretty women; and how different was the
tragic dialogue which had occurred between him and that poor child,
from the gay conversation buzzing about this aristocratic table!

Strange that contact with reality should have made him forget the
occurrences of the afternoon! At this moment he had only a vague notion
of the things he had so recently been feeling, of the things he had so
recently been doing. He knew simply that he had just been living hours
of intense spiritual excitement--an exhilaration approaching delirium,
dominated by an obsession which had severed every connection between
him and his material surroundings, and left him completely indifferent
to whatever lay outside of his own inner preoccupations.

After leaving Nacha's apartment he had wandered about the streets for
a time. Then, a little quieted, he had called at the Ministry, less to
inquire about the position promised him than to give himself something
to do. There he met Ruiz de Castro, who had a few days before invited
him to dinner, and who now insisted on his acceptance for that evening.
He did not refuse. Why should he? Was he, perhaps intending to withdraw
from society altogether? At any rate, here he was now, surrounded by
elegant women, and by fashionable men of the world.

Ruiz de Castro, a classmate of Monsalvat's, was a likable fellow. His
principal occupation was making himself agreeable to everyone, old
or young, man or woman. He was a tall man and held himself extremely
well, though his carefully nursed mustache, the height of his collars,
the variety and splendor of his cravats, the profusion of jewelry on
his fingers, left a faint suggestion of the Don Juan and of the fop in
the total impression he made. Never had anyone seen Ruiz de Castro in
clothes which did not look fresh from the tailor's; and he never failed
to wear gloves even on the most terrible of summer's days. To a small
fortune of his own he had added that of a millionaire's widow. His
principal social hobby was the giving of suppers and small receptions
to persons chosen from the most select circles of Buenos Aires. A
lawyer by profession, he had read a great deal on all sorts of subjects
and could talk entertainingly on art, and letters in particular; indeed
by virtue of this intellectual pose, he considered himself superior
to his surroundings. His guests were always men of recognized talent;
doctors, distinguished lawyers, university professors, men prominent
in politics or literature. At such intimate parties these "highbrows"
and their wives, all of whom were art enthusiasts, talked painting
and sculpture, music and verse. Of course, for this élite, nothing
done in Argentina was of any account. To Monsalvat the women seemed to
be better informed on the whole, more sensitive and discerning than
the men. Of the ten there assembled, all of them elegant, beautiful,
and witty--were they not Argentine?--one wrote with real talent,
though not for the public; another knew the art and literature of
France better than a majority of Argentine novelists of much more
serious pretentions to learning; still another, a young woman who was
seated near Monsalvat, had studied philosophy diligently and had even
attended Bergson's seminars in Paris. On this particular evening they
were discussing Rodin, Debussy, Strauss and Zuloaga whose pictures at
the Exposition had aroused general enthusiasm among the artists and
amateurs of the capital.

Monsalvat felt out of place in this atmosphere. Most of the young
women he had not met until then, though he had some acquaintance with
their husbands. His being there at all was due to Ruiz de Castro's
affection for him. De Castro, a good Argentine and a good _porteño_,
instinctively admired success; and from his law school days had been
wont to see in this young fellow, who always came out highest in
examinations, and delivered the most impressive dissertations in class,
a quite exceptional being, destined to social and public recognition.
Monsalvat, for that matter, possessed a genuine distinction of his own
in Castro's eyes. His natural and simple manners were a delight to the
more sophisticated attorney, as were his quiet and correct conduct,
his way of never calling attention to himself even by his clothes, his
manner of speaking--which was not the fruit of careful premeditation,
but the spontaneous expression of a real preference for simplicity. It
was Ruiz de Castro who had done most to draw Monsalvat towards society,
literally dragging him into the Jockey Club, and then prompting various
of his invitations to society functions; for the ambitious lawyer felt
certain that a man of Monsalvat's promise would never fail to do honor
to his sponsor; and he was ingenuously eager out of sincere friendship
to have his friend's personal worth recognized by his own particular
set.

Monsalvat, however, was too modest for the rôle assigned him: he had an
exaggerated fear of appearing ridiculous. Dread of standing awkwardly
in the limelight, of doing the wrong thing there, always made him keep
his opinions to himself, no matter how much to the point they might
have been. Timid, lacking confidence in himself and in others, he
never gave anyone a glimpse of his real nature. Only a few intimate
friends, among them the women who loved him, knew and appreciated his
qualities. For them his was a deep, a noble, a generous spirit, modest
and simple, without ambitions; a man who lived a satisfying inner life,
and possessed an unusually rich culture. For others he was a colorless
uninteresting individual, a bore and a nonentity.

The subjects touched upon in the conversation at the dinner-table
developed nothing in common between Monsalvat and his neighbors. Art
had never attracted him; and he knew little about literature. He had
read voraciously, but rarely a novel or a volume of verse, or of
literary criticism. Thus it was that when the ladies around him talked
in dithyrambic ecstasies of Chabas or Loti, the conviction that he did
not belong in these surroundings, bore in upon him not without a twinge
of shame.

Monsalvat was not then thinking, nor did he wish to think, of what
had so profoundly absorbed him during the afternoon and the preceding
evening. Nacha's final attitude towards him, the manner of his
dismissal, had deeply humiliated him, and made him long for the
seclusion of his customary mode of living. What a fool to have believed
it possible to regenerate such a woman! But his dinner-coat helped him
to forget all this, clothing him for the moment with self-importance,
and inclination toward frivolity. He put his sister, Pampa Arnedo, his
conversation with Torres, all out of his mind.

One of the only two bachelors present among all these married people,
Monsalvat had been seated between two _niñas_, "girls," as unmarried
women, of whatever age, are chivalrously called in the Argentine. The
one on his right, Elsa, was a delightful creature, blond, virginal,
with the unspoiled, however mature, freshness of her twenty-five years.
The rather angelic slenderness of her shoulders gave her something
of the ingenuously innocent appearance of Botticelli's maidens, with
which the burning roses of her cheeks and lips scarcely harmonized.
But she differed from the paintings of the early masters in not
having a line that was either angular or rigid. Roundness, indeed,
was the conspicuous trait in the lines of her figure, the slope of
her shoulders, the modelling of her cheeks and chin. She spoke with
a certain ingenuous and charming candor, turning to full account her
acquaintance with books and authors, which was remarkably varied.
Monsalvat had known her in Paris five years before, and had called
at her rooms there. He had observed with astonishment that this
Botticellian virgin had among her favorite volumes the _Satiricon_ of
Petronius, Willy's latest novels, and other productions of the same
outlook on life. Elsa's main sport was playing with men and their
foibles. Her wide blue eyes, of a surpassing beauty, gazed out at the
world in such fashion that no male could long resist their spell.
She would smile maliciously at her victim and assail him on the side
of vanity, praising his talents, or whatever claim to distinction he
might have. She would listen to the frankest allusions--provoked, of
course, by her--without a trace of embarrassment or annoyance, though
she herself always avoided improprieties in speech, indeed every word
that came from her lips seemed the very breath of youthful innocence
itself. Nevertheless there were hostile tongues to criticise Elsa. When
an unfavorable comment reached her ears she would evince a discreet
amount of alarm, and then smile to show how little importance she
attached to such matters after all. As to love and marriage she had
no illusions. How could she, when every husband who came her way, no
matter how exemplary by reputation, made love to her at the slightest
provocation? Looking at the world through _fin de siècle_ French novels
and the anecdotes of her friends, she judged it even worse than it
is, seeing in it only the play of gross or perverted instincts. Never
having felt or inspired love, she could not recognize it in the world
about her. As to her women friends, they interested her so little that
she never thought of inquiring what women were really like. In her
heart she despised them and thought them poor fools to be talking of
the love their sweethearts and husbands had for them. She "knew!" On
more than one occasion, when she had heard a husband praised for his
faithfulness, she found a way of having a few moments' conversation
alone with him; and infallibly the model of fidelity soon was a model
no more. Monsalvat had had with her several diverting and flirtatious
conversations. But now, in his present critical state of conscience,
at the awakening within him of far different desires, he could not
possibly talk with her in the same tone. The young woman on his left,
addressed as Isabel, had a lively intelligence but few physical charms.
Nevertheless she displayed a certain attractiveness that evening. She
knew how to make the most of her few good points, chief among which
were her eyes, eager, sympathetic, trusting, questioning, quick to show
embarrassment. Her face was too long, her mouth too large. Though her
teeth were not pretty, she knew how to laugh--the clear, happy laughter
of youth--and she showed them constantly. Her temperament and ideas
were the exact opposites of Elsa's. Coming from a family of the old
Spanish stock, and of devout catholicism, Isabel was always talking
"tradition"; while Elsa, from one of the newer families, typified the
modern pagan and cosmopolitan spirit of Buenos Aires. Isabel was all
prejudices and enthusiasms. She talked excitedly, with passion. She
was incapable even of suspecting the true nature of Elsa's cynical
temperament. To her the world seemed better than it is. Only unmarried
men interested her, though the idea of marrying frightened her. Some
of the world's injustices were quite beyond her ken; but she believed
that whatever they might be, one should practise resignation. For
priests, whose words on any theme were pure gospel for her, she had a
superstitious reverence; she believed them pure and saintly all.

Monsalvat and his neighbors had maintained the most trifling of
conversations. Elsa, as was her way, tried to give it a suggestion of
intimacy, to which Monsalvat did not lend himself very cordially. He
would have preferred to talk to Isabel. But was even this pious woman,
with her dogmatic education, her habit of never doubting anything,
likely to understand the complex anxieties besetting him? He reached
the conclusion that he had nothing in common with his neighbors on
either side, addressed them only when courtesy required, and directed
his attention to the plump young woman opposite him, a rather amusing
person, well-read, talkative, and critical of things and persons. At
the moment she was running on about the theatres.

"You simply can't go to the _Odéon_! At least not on subscription
nights! It's scandalous, the plays those French writers give the
public! There's never a decent character in them. What right have they
to oblige the people who really support the theatres to listen to plays
full of workmen, strikers, thieves--all the rabble! I'm sure I don't
understand why the managers present such stuff!"

Isabel, and nearly everyone else who was listening, approved the
speaker's view of the matter. Elsa looked at Monsalvat out of the
corner of her eye, and smiled at him. For his part, he felt hot
indignation against this woman who mentioned working men and thieves in
the same breath, and would have nothing to do with humanity's troubles.
A reply rose to his lips; but he was afraid of appearing ridiculous,
and kept it to himself.

"Tell her what you think--you ought to!" said Elsa.

This half mischievous encouragement seemed suddenly to re-enforce the
imperative of Monsalvat's own conscience. He felt somehow that he could
no longer avoid speaking. With a smile at the plump lady, he said in a
good-natured tone:

"But, dear madame, it is for people like you that just such plays are
given. How else could elegant and distinguished ladies of your world
know anything at all about human suffering?"

"But," said the devout Isabel, "one goes to the theatre to be amused!"

"If the show or the book is not to your liking...." Monsalvat began;
but he was interrupted by several voices, among them that of Dr.
Ercasty, who was sputtering about and exchanging knowing winks with his
neighbors at the table. Dr. Ercasty had long had his doubts about that
fellow, Monsalvat!

The plump lady's voice rose above the others:

"And why should we be bored with that sort of thing, Mr. Monsalvat? I
don't think I need to. Of course everyone is free to do as he likes. I
have my own troubles, and I believe everyone has at some time or other;
but I don't go about unloading them on everybody; so why should I be
made to listen to other people's tales of woe? Anyway, they don't ever
show us moral struggle, but just hatred, crime, and insults to society.
If there are people who are hungry, why don't they work? But I don't
care to go to the theatre to hear about things that don't interest
me, and that I can't help; and I care even less to hear myself being
blamed for all sorts of things I never heard of. The other day I saw
an impossible thing called "Élise of the Underworld." I never was more
disgusted! What on earth have we to do with that kind of women? No,
Monsalvat, you are defending ideas that I know you can't really believe
in."

Ercasty nodded congratulations to the plump lady and good humoredly
suggested that Monsalvat had better throw up the sponge in the argument.

Ercasty was a physician, though he had abandoned practice to fill an
important government position. In addition to a prominent paunch, and
forty years of experience in this world, his chief distinction was
his bland adeptness in the use of weapons little known in Argentine
society--paradox, irony, sarcasm. In spite of his smoothness, however,
Ercasty was a dangerous foe. When wounded he could fight back like a
lion at bay. Reactionary in everything, he would make no terms with
democracy, liberalism, or even individualism. "Society" was his god.
"Society" provided him with the ideas and sentiments he lived by. To
express an opinion contrary to those approved in the best society,
seemed to him a breach of good form, an offense as obnoxious as a
crime. Years before, when Monsalvat was writing for the _Patria_, the
articles which "Society" had so much applauded, wherein, with talent
and learning, he justified all the iniquities usually defended by daily
newspapers, distinguished persons, fashionable writers, and all good
Christians who interpret the teachings of Christ to the advantage of
their own worldly self-seeking, Ercasty had been a good friend of his.
Now the doctor would have enjoyed seeing him come to a violent end.

"Don't plead the cause of those people, Monsalvat, for Heaven's sake!"
exclaimed the plump lady.

"Of what people?"

"Oh, the rabble, the bad people, 'the people,' in short!"

"The sovereign people!" offered Ercasty contemptuously.

"Don't defend them!" continued the lady. "See what they tried to do
last May, just when we had a lot of very distinguished foreigners here,
ambassadors and their wives, representatives of European nobility
even! They wanted to make someone pay for their own laziness! So they
tried to cast discredit on their own country, and spoil the Centennial
celebration--a disgusting performance if ever there was one! What can
our distinguished visitors have thought? And to take advantage of such
an occasion to gain their ends! There's no name for such conduct,
Monsalvat!"

"And if I had been the government," said the doctor venomously, "I
would have taken all these gringo organizers, soap boxers, agitators
and strikers, and the bad Argentines who followed their example, stood
them in a row on the Plaza de Mayo and shot them down. That would have
been a number on the Centennial program, and example to the rabble!"

Monsalvat could listen no longer. He was quivering with indignation.
Usually serene, quiet, and incapable of hating anybody, he would at
this moment have enjoyed strangling the individual who was taunting
him so flippantly. Now he realized that all the men and women around
him were his enemies, representatives of his old out-worn ideas, of
prejudices which he had come to abhor. On their faces he could see
only insolent satisfaction with good living, a proclamation of inhuman
selfishness, a spirit of evil, hypocrisy, pride, an absence of all
human sympathy. What were their lives but one continuous lie? These
men and women had no real existence. They were insipid creatures of
something they called public opinion, thinking the thoughts of their
crowd, following the morals, the standards, the tastes, the fads of
their crowd! Their opinions were but a false semblance of opinion,
their feelings but imitations of other people's feelings, their tastes,
even their loves and their hates, mere aping pretense! Life for them
was a gigantic farce. Had any of them ever thought of living sincerely,
of seeking any meaning in all they were doing? And these people with
their accommodating philosophy, their pretentious political economy,
their hypocritical charity, were responsible for the poverty in the
world, for the misery of girls like Nacha, for the sufferings which
social injustice was heaping up on every hand! Why had he had to live
forty years before understanding this? How could he have sat at this
table a whole hour, forgetting all he had been through that afternoon?
But no! he was not sorry he had come! Henceforth he could have no
doubts as to his place in the general scheme of things: he belonged in
the front line of the attack on pride and falsehood and evil! All these
individuals around him were so many tools in the hands of Injustice;
and someone must put an end to their privileges, their ideas, their
unfeeling self-approval! At any cost, even at the cost of blood and
fire, brotherly love must be made to prevail over brute force! These
men who called themselves Christians must be taught what Christian love
really meant!

And the young ladies, the one on his left and the one on his right? To
him they seemed instruments of Wrong, monsters of selfishness, beings
without hearts. One represented the selfishness of pleasure, the other,
the selfishness of class. They could think only of themselves, of their
amusements, their clothes, their reading, their suitors, their pet
vices, or of their religious and social practices. To them the world
seemed quite satisfactory as it was; and everything could go on in the
same way to the end of time. In them there was no strong, spontaneous
desire for the happiness of others. They were innocent of any attempt
to relieve the pain of those who writhed in anguish in the world's
black depths. They were little china figures, fashioned to adorn the
society in which they lived, interested in knowing only the pleasant
aspects of life. Now and then, from a play or a book, they received
tidings of some one of life's tragedies; but always they turned away
with disgust: such things were not for their fragile and aristocratic
souls! Monsalvat was amazed at the ignorance, the unconscious cruelty
their attitude toward life brought with it; and he could not help
thinking of the outcry rising from the great city's multitudes who
might some day clamor for vengeance as well as for justice!

But at the same time Monsalvat wondered if his present views might
not perhaps be due to an attitude toward society engendered by his
illegitimacy. His enemies would say so at any rate. They would
attribute his bitterness to consciousness of his shameful birth,
suspect him of trying to avenge his mother's disgrace on society at
large. With how much truth? With none, whatever! Of that he was sure.
For beyond all such considerations, the question of justice itself
remained; and this justice, unaffected by personal wrongs, superior to
any mean satisfactions, condemned Evil as Evil, and indeed,--it could
not be otherwise--had decreed already the death of all that Monsalvat
so intensely hated.

At last, when he could no longer contain the indignation burning
within him, he began to speak; and the consternation was general.
Ruiz de Castro, who knew that his friend was an exceptionally timid
person, loath to attract any attention whatever, stared at Monsalvat in
astonishment. The doctor kept executing fidgety gestures of annoyance
and tried a number of times to interrupt. Isabel seemed to be agreeing
with Monsalvat's tirade, but refrained from committing herself since
she was unable to decide whether what she was hearing was for or
against religion. Elsa was enjoying the whole situation as if this
outburst were a new kind of lark. She sat looking at Monsalvat with
smiling delight.

What was he talking about? Of social inequalities; of the fact that
some of us have millions while others cannot buy even bread: that some
of us live in great palaces set in handsome parks; while others, in
dank, filthy, tenements, exist in a monstrous promiscuity which pens
ten and twelve human beings in one room; that some have a superfluity
of everything--property, comfort, pleasure, culture, education--and
that this superabundance does no one any good, since it does not go to
those who lack everything; that some women possess dozens of costumes
and necklaces worth thousands of dollars--every kind of luxury and
ornament--while other women have to sell their bodies, give up life,
health, their very souls, barely to clothe their nakedness, to have
just enough bread to keep alive!

"Well, why don't they work?" the plump lady who had been listening
horror-struck angrily inquired.

"Because they can't get work, madame! Because work, as things are now
organized, is another privilege which we selfishly keep for our own
purposes. I don't know how it happens that all the masses we trample on
have not risen to exterminate us!"

Indignant protests greeted this explosion. Elsa, vastly entertained,
laughed and applauded. Isabel became definitely hostile. All he was
saying she had finally concluded, was contrary to the views of the
Church Fathers. How frightful! The plump lady was quite frankly calling
Monsalvat an anarchist, an assassin, and an enemy of the established
order.

The guests had risen from the table and gathered into small groups. The
plump lady seemed determined to argue with Monsalvat. Ruiz de Castro
approached them, smiling.

"Are you two bent on rearranging the whole universe?" he asked in a
tone of conciliating banter.

"Do you know, this Monsalvat has become a dangerous anarchist!" the
woman replied.

"Yes! Nothing is so dangerous as telling the truth!" was Fernando's
rejoinder.

"But some individuals are even more dangerous than the truth--the
dreamers, I mean. Isn't that so?" Ruiz de Castro addressed the remark
to the plump lady.

"Certainly! And just consider what Monsalvat was saying about those
women! Why, he was practically blaming me for the fact that--that
they--well, you understand. Indeed you understand these matters only
too well! I believe that what is wrong with all those creatures is that
they lack the fear of God. Before giving themselves up to such a life
they ought to beg, take places as servants, go to houses of charity,
bestir themselves at any rate! There's no lack of work...! Let them do
like the men; but instead of turning into anarchists or socialists and
going about from strike to strike, they ought to submit to the will of
God, and resign themselves to their lot! As we all have to!"

"Yes, that is true," exclaimed Isabel, emphasizing the last word as if
she were impressed in advance by what she was going to say, and with
all the conviction of a person who has found a clinching argument.
"That is very, very true! Why stir up strikes? It's so wrong, so wrong!"

The plump lady added with a sigh of melancholy resignation: "Everyone
must accept his lot in life!"

"When it is yours," said Ruiz de Castro, smiling, "one can well afford
to think so. But I, instead of your lot, would choose your husband's!"

"Mine?" she exclaimed, passing over this gallantry. "But we are
almost poor! I can't say we are actually hard up; but aside from my
husband's salary as deputy, we have nothing but the rents from a few
insignificant pieces of property and a farm near Buenos Aires. Still, I
don't complain. Others have millions--Very well! I don't envy them: I
accept God's will."

Monsalvat began to wonder why he was lingering among these people, the
object of their general contempt. For that matter, he had no right to
be there. He took leave of his hosts and went away.

The night air cleared his brain; but how tired he was, how sick! As he
walked on, he began to feel in better spirits. He would have no more to
do with what he called organized Injustice. He saw now the road he must
henceforth follow. Good dwelt with the oppressed; and the only work
worthy of a man was to fight for the down-trodden. He would give his
life and the little money he had to the poor of the earth. People said
he wanted vengeance? Very well! That would be his vengeance!

It was midnight when he reached his rooms; there dissatisfaction with
himself came over him again. He took off his evening clothes, and
tossed them carelessly aside. His thoughts reverted to Nacha. Why had
she dismissed him after listening so long to him, after confiding her
own history so intimately? Could he have fallen in love with her? Was
this the explanation of his actions that evening? Oh, Nacha, Nacha!
What would he not give to see her, for even the hundredth part of a
second!

As his eye wandered about the room, he saw a letter lying on the table.
It was from his mother. She was asking him to come to her for she was
very ill, and believed death near. A few seconds later Monsalvat was
hurrying in a taxi toward Lezama Park.



                              CHAPTER VII


Monsalvat's mother had been a very pretty girl; but at sixty she
possessed not even the remnants of her earlier beauty. Aquilina Severin
had left her parents' modest shop to work at a fashionable dressmaker's
establishment on Florida Avenue. One fine day Fernando's father met her
on the street, made love to her in due form, and succeeded in winning
her. Aquilina was twenty when her son was born. Soon after this her
lover, Claudio Monsalvat, married a girl of his own social position;
which did not prevent his giving Aquilina an allowance and visiting her
from time to time. Ten years later a girl Eugenia, came into the world.
Claudio had made over a piece of property to Aquilina, but died without
bequeathing anything to his natural children. Their mother had urged
them to contest the will made wholly in favor of the legitimate family;
but Fernando, then in Europe, refused to consider such a suggestion.
His mother lived on the two hundred or so _pesos_ which were the income
from her property, until she sold it on the advice of an attorney of
the neighborhood. The proceeds of the sale were turned to good account
by various speculators; and shortly thereafter Aquilina found herself
in the street, penniless. From that time on her son supported her.

Of scant native endowments, Aquilina Severin had had little education,
and remained a stupid, incompetent woman. The comforts supplied by
Claudio represented the height of wellbeing in her eyes. She believed
herself a fine lady, deserving of the world's envy. Her parents had not
been married, and she had none of the current prejudices in favor of
legal unions. She considered love the important thing in these matters
and had for that sentiment a high regard, though the word "love" had a
very elastic scope in the usage of this unfortunate derelict.

Her daughter's education, under the circumstances, could only be
disastrous. Fernando at various times tried to take a hand in his
sister's training. He advised his mother to send her to school, and to
discourage certain of Eugenia's undesirable friendships. But Aquilina
always replied:

"And why? What will she get out of it? I never went to school, and I
came out all right! I know what I am doing, and it's nobody's business!"

Eugenia therefore got her schooling in the streets. She spent her days
with other small girls on the sidewalk, or on the window balconies,
where her graceful figure and fine black eyes attracted plenty
of attention. When Eugenia was twenty she made certain attempts
to overcome the waywardness naturally resulting from this bit of
mistraining. She even tried to get work in a shop. But Aquilina
objected, saying that the pay was an insult, that the girl would kill
herself with work, come to look old before her time, and by accepting
such a lowly station, harm her father and brother in the bargain. It
was Aquilina's desire that Eugenia meet some rich or distinguished man
who would fall in love with her and set her up in an establishment
of her own. She knew that no one but a laborer or some socially
insignificant person would marry her daughter; and she preferred one
of those extra-legal arrangements which she took as a matter of course
without the slightest scruple. Aquilina could conceive of nothing
better for her daughter than a situation resembling her own. She
believed romantically in eternal love, in everlasting fidelity--and in
men's promises! She never spoke of these ambitions to her daughter,
much less to her son; but Eugenia divined something of them just the
same.

In the house next door lived a family of position and wealth. One of
the sons of the family was wont to make eyes at Eugenia whenever he
caught sight of her, without going so far as to speak--out of fear
for Fernando perhaps, who in those days used to visit his mother two
or three times a week. One day Aquilina observed to Eugenia in a tone
which expressed her meaning even more clearly than did her words:

"Now we'll see if you can land your _beau_.... He's a fine young
man--and he's rich!"

"But, mother, do you think he will marry me?"

"I don't know. We'll find that out later; but if he's reliable, and
faithful, and affectionate, it doesn't matter much."

She stopped at the look of disgust and sadness in her daughter's eyes;
for Eugenia, curiously enough, was a very normal girl at bottom. She
wanted a husband and a home, but from all she had heard her mother say
on this topic, she believed that, preliminary to "landing" men, it was
necessary to angle for them.

It was at this time that Aquilina took into her service the woman,
Celedonia, who from then on, for ten years, was her constant companion.
Celedonia, a talkative, rather handsome creature, and of mixed blood,
kept the whole neighborhood busy talking scandal about her. Fernando
frequently begged his mother to get rid of her; but for Aquilina, her
new servant was the most entertaining of company. She brought home
all the gossip of the block; the deceptions practised by supposedly
rich people to make an impression at little expense; the quarrels of
husbands and wives; the love affairs of daughters or servants; the
pranks of the men in the various families; the vices, in short of
everybody. During Carnival, Celedonia always went, in costume and mask,
to the balls at the Victoria Theatre, where she encountered others
of mixed blood like herself. The next day she would come home, still
half drunk, and spend the afternoon telling her mistress what she had
seen. To Aquilina these stories of low-life were like a window opening
on a world of gaiety denied her. She would rock with laughter at the
anecdotes, enjoying descriptions of things of which she could have no
experience, and almost envying Celedonia her good times. Sometimes
Eugenia too was present, listening to these stories; and it never
occurred to her mother to cut them short on account of her daughter's
presence.

Not long before Fernando left on his second trip for Europe, Eugenia
made Arnedo's acquaintance. He was a bold, handsome, domineering youth,
apparently good-natured; and it did not take Eugenia long to fall in
love with him. The first time he saw her, as he chanced to be passing
the house she lived in, he made clear, in unmistakable fashion, what
a profound impression she made on him. Catching sight of her in her
doorway, he stopped a moment, on the sidewalk, then took up a position
on the street corner; after a while he walked past her several times
and finally approached. Eugenia, who was alone, stepped back a little;
but Arnedo snatched at her hand, and in an imperious tone, ordered her
to stay.

"But someone may be coming!"

"I don't care. I am crazy about you!" he declared, in a simulated burst
of emotion.

They talked awhile. They told one another their names; and Arnedo as he
caressed her hand, declared a consuming passion. For several evenings
they continued their conversations in the vestibule. Eugenia never
doubted Arnedo's sincerity when he promised to marry her very soon.

From that moment Arnedo was her master. Aquilina and Celedonia knew
what was going on but did not interfere. The girl's mother believed
that here at last was the man she was hoping for; and she was quite
confident that her daughter would know how to manage him; Celedonia was
not the one to discourage such conduct, surely.

Fernando was in Europe when Eugenia ran away with Arnedo. Her mother
imagined that this was a desirably decisive act. She did not quite
understand it, for the young people could perfectly well have taken her
into their confidence; but she thought that perhaps methods in these
matters had changed since her youth. As for Eugenia, she was quite
ready to believe, when Arnedo took her to his quarters, that the affair
was "serious." Nevertheless Arnedo left her at the end of a year.
Eugenia returned to her mother's; and Aquilina's only reproach was
on her lack of skill in managing men. For several weeks the girl was
keenly conscious of shame, especially when she met her acquaintances
of the neighborhood. One day she decided that she could no longer
live with her mother, whom her presence in the apartment disgraced;
and besides her mother's toleration of her conduct was extremely
distasteful to her. She went away, leaving no word as to where she was
going. For several months Aquilina had no news of her.

Eugenia's first flight had not been mentioned to Fernando; but when
letters from her ceased to come he demanded an explanation. On his
return from Europe, he got the whole story; Eugenia was living
somewhere with Arnedo--this was all the mother knew. Fernando was not
only distressed, but somewhat alarmed at this news, which, he believed,
might harm him in his profession if it were widely known. His sister's
conduct had a great deal to do with his leaving the country a second
time, and remaining away for seven years.

Since his return Fernando had visited his mother very little, in spite
of her ill-health. The mulatto woman, whom he intensely disliked, was
always present during his interviews with her. Once he had suggested
asking her to leave the room; but Aquilina begged him not to do so. For
that matter Celedonia needed no authorization from her mistress for
what she did or did not do. She ruled the establishment as absolute
sovereign, managing Aquilina's funds, and sharing life with her
mistress on equal terms. Aquilina adored her son, but she could not
prevent the mulatto's exhibiting some of the hatred Monsalvat inspired
in her; and the very natural effect of this was to discourage his
visits.

When he reached the apartment that night, he found the outer rooms
crowded with people. This convinced him that his mother must be dying;
and with a sinking heart he rushed to her bedroom. The mulatto and
another woman were there preparing hot applications; and he noticed
also a young girl of some twenty years who appeared both pretty and
respectable.

Monsalvat brushed the women aside and leaned over to kiss his mother.

"Have you sent for the doctor?" he asked turning around.

"Doctor! Why a doctor?" exclaimed the mulatto scornfully. "Here is
Mamita Juana, who knows more than all your doctors put together!"

Without replying, Fernando went to the door and addressing the men
gathered there asked if there was anyone who could deliver a letter for
him at once. A gray-haired old fellow with a long beard, his shoulders
bent, and his clothing quite disreputable, pressed forward, holding out
his hand.

"Don't you remember me, Doctor Monsalvat? Don't you remember Moreno,
the attorney? That's me! Why, we worked together once!"

Monsalvat remembered that he had given this man employment in his
office for a short time. Later he had found the old fellow again,
earning a miserable pittance from odd jobs in the law courts.

Monsalvat took a pencil from his pocket and wrote something on a card,
while Moreno went on talking:

"Here I am, Doctor, still alive, and that's some job! Those days are
over--my law days, I call them. Don't think I'm stuck on myself; but
just the same I'm proud of the work I did back there. The law in this
country of ours owes me something, Doctor! I helped it along. We took
part in some big law suits, and we won them. I say 'we' because, after
all, the other fellow did his share of the work. And here I am, Doctor,
with ten children on my hands, poor as a rat, and going down hill
fast...."

In spite of his shabbiness, Moreno still possessed some of the
manners of a more cultivated society than the one that now knew him.
He smelt of cheap whiskey and his person was none too clean; but the
semi-obscurity of the hall was to his advantage.

"Deliver this letter to this address at once. Take a cab, and wait for
an answer! Bring Dr. Torres back with you."

Fernando gave him some money, urged him to hurry, and was about to
return to his mother's bedside when a woman near by said:

"Don't let him go alone, sir. He'll stop for a drink in the first
saloon he sees."

"This is the companion of my sorrows," proclaimed Moreno, "and see how
she treats me! She owes me everything; I have given her ten children
and my name, raising her to my own social position--"

"He's just talking, sir. We have no ten children--only seven. He thinks
you'll give him some money."

The woman was half angry, half smiling; and the others standing around,
who seemed to have quite forgotten the sick woman, burst out laughing.

"You'd better let my husband go with him," said one of the women,
pointing to her man.

"All right. Will you?" asked Monsalvat.

Moreno, with an offended expression, placed one hand on his chest, and
declared oratorically:

"Doctor, what has been said is offensive to my...."

"Stop talking, my good Moreno, and hurry, if you please!" Monsalvat
interrupted. "I'll pay you well for your trouble."

"At your orders, Doctor, whatever you say," the man replied, inclining
his head in humility. "It's you that asks it, sir, and I'll do anything
for you! Just as in those distant days which never will return, Moreno,
Attorney at law, will always...."

The man who was to accompany him grasped his arm and hustled him away.
Fernando returned to his mother's room.

Aquilina was seriously ill. From her rapid pulse Monsalvat guessed
she must be suffering from a heart attack. But what was there to do?
He thought of cold applications and asked the girl, Moreno's oldest
daughter, to prepare them. The woman quack remained in the room, partly
enjoying the prospect of witnessing the doctor's failure, and partly
bored. Celedonia sat at the bedside, casting contemptuous glances at
Monsalvat.

"Leave me with my mother," he ordered, and the women went out,
grumbling.

When Aquilina found herself alone with her son, she began to weep. Up
to this moment she had been overwhelmed by the fear of death. But now
her son's presence seemed to comfort her.

"Fernando," she began, when she was able to speak, "I have been a bad
mother. If I could only see Eugenia before I go! Look for her ... find
her ... so that she will come tomorrow. I was a bad mother I guess! It
was my fault she went away! I knew what she was doing; I allowed her to
go on."

Fernando tried to console her, assuring her that she was exaggerating
her responsibility. He was sincere in this, for he could not believe
his own mother had consented to her daughter's wrong-doing. In the
miserable wretch before him he could see not a bad but an ignorant
woman, doomed by her own foolishness, and by the circumstances of her
life.

"Yes, a bad woman," repeated Aquilina. "After Eugenia had given herself
up to a bad life, I let her come here, and I let her give me money. At
first, after Arnedo left her, she came back, and wanted to be a good
girl. But Celedonia couldn't let her ... and I knew it all the time.
Oh, Fernando, can you forgive me? Can you forgive me for all the harm
I did you, too? I saw more than once how unhappy you were on account
of me. If I had been a good mother, I would rather have died than harm
you!"

Fernando scarcely heard the words. His mother's confession had made him
draw his hand away, instinctively. He sat with his elbows on his knees,
his hands clasped, his eyes closed. What pain this was, penetrating to
every fibre of his body! His mother's self-accusation gave him a sense
of unendurable shame; but at the same time the load of responsibility
resting on his shoulders seemed to grow lighter. Aquilina had grown
quieter after making her confession; and now he, too, felt a certain
measure of peacefulness creeping into his heart. When he first listened
to his mother's strange words he thought he was going to hate her,
loathe her; but now, on the contrary, he loved her more than before.
All the pity he was capable of seemed too little for this poor,
foolish, dying mother of his; he began to sob, kissed her, put his arms
around her with a tenderness which was the poor woman's only comfort
during those moments.

"Mother, it is my fault, not yours," he assured her, when he could
speak. "I intended coming to tell you so, even before you sent for me.
All the responsibility is mine. I have had a better chance than either
you or Eugenia; I knew more about life, and I should have taken care
of you, both of you, protected you--tried to educate you. That was
the task I should have set myself! Instead, I came here as little as
possible, because I didn't want to be reminded of the facts I hated. I
never really took any interest in you. Eugenia owes me nothing, because
I never gave her anything; I never spoke to her openly, frankly; I
never helped her by word or act. Instead of staying with you both to
take care of you, I went to Europe, to get away from my mother and
sister, to forget them."

"I brought disgrace upon you. You are paying for what is my fault,
Fernando."

"No, it is not your fault! Something far more guilty than you is to
blame! But, never mind! All this is very far away from us now, mother.
At last I have come to know myself, and to know the world we live in."

Aquilina suddenly grew worse. Fernando, anxiously waiting for the
doctor, sent Moreno's wife to watch for him at the street door. His
mother seemed to be struggling for breath, and he thought oxygen would
help her.

"You must find Eugenia," she gasped. "I need to know that she forgives
me. Look for her ... tell her...."

Fernando was afraid to think where he might find Eugenia. What had
become of her by this time? His thoughts turned to Nacha; and he
wondered if those two had perhaps met. Nacha, Eugenia!... Surely his
was a strange destiny, to have spent all his life far from this class
of women, and now to find himself taking a part in their lives. Nacha!
Eugenia! Was he in love with Nacha? If not, why did he think of her all
the time even on such an occasion as this one? And where would such a
love lead him? If he found Eugenia, he would take her to live with him.
Why should not Nacha live with them also, in fraternal companionship?
Eugenia, Nacha! The two seemed only one now. Their souls, their lives,
even their forms, seemed to blend into one haunting symbol of human
sorrow. Selfishness, ignorance and evil were their relentless enemies,
and worse than any of these was the smug indifference of the prosperous.

The doctor's arrival roused him from his ponderings. Torres sent him at
once for some oxygen, and he took Moreno with him.

In the hack he asked the old attorney if he knew where to find Eugenia.
Moreno knew perfectly well, but he did not wish to part with his
information too lightly. He assured Monsalvat that he did not know, but
that he could find out.

"It will be a hard piece of work, doctor; but as long as it's for
you.... I'm pretty hard up. You see how it is...."

"I'll give you whatever money you need. But you are to bring her to her
mother's the very first thing in the morning, understand?"

Moreno promised. He began to talk of Eugenia, of her beauty, of the
luxury amid which she was reported to be living. It was a shame ... but
what could be done about it? And he added philosophically, as if it
might console Monsalvat:

"You mustn't take it too hard, doctor. That's the way things go in this
world."

When they returned to the apartment with the oxygen, Aquilina was dead.



                             CHAPTER VIII


The fit of anger during which Nacha had ordered Monsalvat out of her
house had quite passed by the time she returned from the cemetery.
She could only marvel at her sudden refusal to hear more of what
but a few moments before had offered her starving life the ideal it
craved. Nevertheless, the regretful gentleness pervading her now was
due undoubtedly to the soothing effect of her visit to Riga's grave.
The thought of the dead poet made her repent of her sudden harshness
towards Monsalvat. After that silent leave-taking from her friend,
how indeed could she help yearning to turn away from the life she was
leading?

And yet could she accomplish that? No practicable plan occurred to her;
Monsalvat might have helped; but she, stupidly, had driven him away.
Strange how certain she felt, nevertheless, that he would not continue
offended, that he would forgive her for everything in the end. Still,
it was not probable now that he would look for her. Where could she
find him? What were his occupations? What places did he frequent? Alas!
she knew nothing of him at all, except his name.

By some strange confusion in her imagination, the figures of Monsalvat
and Riga began to blend in her memory. She could not think of one
apart from the other. Was there, perhaps, some spiritual resemblance
between them? Outwardly they were such different men. Monsalvat gave
an impression of serenity, of poise; Riga, on the contrary, seemed
all nerves, all tension. What had Riga, weak, sensitive, the typical
neurotic, the creature of whim and circumstance, to set against
Monsalvat's strength of mind and will? Evidently this courageous
stranger who had broken his way into her intimacy so suddenly had
most of the requirements for success. Riga was one of those men born
to fall of their own weakness, even before the battle of existence
overwhelms them. But both were generous, high-minded, incapable of
envy, or meanness of any kind. What good luck to have met a friend like
Monsalvat at just this moment! And what an irreparable misfortune to
have lost him forever!

When Arnedo came home early in the evening, he brought his friends,
and their women, with him as usual. Nacha was once more lost in gloom.
She tried to talk, and jest in the spirit of the party, but her words
seemed to stick in her throat, and her laughter had in it no note of
gaiety. Moreover, all her attempts to conceal her real state of feeling
were useless. Arnedo and his companions were not to be deceived; and
Pampa's face openly expressed the displeasure he was experiencing.
Finally he called one of the other men to an adjoining room and Nacha,
suspecting something, and listening intently, overheard this dialogue
between them.

"Why don't you get rid of her, old man? When a woman goes around
looking like Good Friday all day long...."

"She never used to be like that. There was no one could beat her
when it came to dancing, and seeing that things went right in the
kitchen, and dressing, and singing and playing, and entertaining people
generally. She always gave a fellow a good time, Nacha did. She was
good-natured, full of spirit, and...."

"Well, what's happened to her, do you suppose?"

"I don't know. Anyhow I'm going to let her go. You know, I told you
about that matter, down at Belgrano.... Well, it's just like this." And
Pampa gave a claw at the air with his fingers closing.

"I see," his companion replied. "So you've got a substitute for Nacha!
What about today's trip out there? Anything doing?"

Nacha did not care to listen further. She joined the other girls, and
was now apparently in better humor. When the two men came back she
plunged with deliberate fervor into the merriment, reaching out for the
champagne, and pretending drunkenness--not for Arnedo's edification,
indeed; she knew now that her fate was settled--but to leave a good
impression on all these people whom perhaps she would never see again.

Meanwhile the memory of Monsalvat and of Riga was vivid in her mind;
their image looked up at her from the hollow of her wine glass; she
seemed to see them standing in the doorways, their eyes sad with
reproach; now they were directly in front of her, now she felt them
by her side. One of Arnedo's friends was speaking, and she thought
surely it was Monsalvat's voice she heard and was about to call his
name. Later she had the impression that Riga was about to come into
the room; and she actually looked around at the door--not without some
alarm, on her companions' account. How terrified they would be at
this intrusion of the dead! Arnedo and his guests were talking of the
Centennial celebration; of "shows" and cabaret performances, of chorus
girls and races. There were three women and four men at the table, only
one of the latter in evening clothes. All of them had been present in
the cabaret at the time of the quarrel with Monsalvat; and, since that
whole occurrence was not an ordinary one, they soon began to discuss it.

"Who was that fool?" asked "the Duck," who had led the chorus of
burlesque weepers in the cabaret.

At this question everyone looked at Nacha, who sat there anxiously
shifting her eyes from one to another of her inquisitors.

"Why," drawled Arnedo, with an air of importance nevertheless, "he
is the brother of one of my best conquests. Don't you all remember
Eugenia?"

Nacha turned cold. Did Monsalvat know? Where was this Eugenia? Was
she, too, part of "the life"? Ah, yes; that was it! That explained
Monsalvat's actions, and his fervent words of that afternoon. So,
then, he was not in love with her! The interest he showed in her was
the interest he had in all girls sharing his sister's lot. How stupid
not to have thought of that before! Of course! How could a man like
Monsalvat care for an outcast like "Lila," like Nacha Regules!

Another guest, the man in the dinner-coat, a tall and skinny youth,
whom his companions, out of regard for his large-boned nose, called
"the Parrot," declared that Monsalvat wrote for the _Patria_, where
articles had appeared signed with that name; whereupon all four men
felt moved to express their scorn for this "literary fellow," a man who
spent his time reading trash and writing nonsense and could only be an
utter ninny. These young descendants of Moreira were, for that matter,
quite sincere in the contempt they voiced. Products of the aggressive
money-making illiteracy of the Argentine, they instinctively hated
the "intellectual" as a menace to the power of their class, and could
not look upon students and scientists save with disdainful hostility.
From their point of view any man under forty who lived for something
besides "a good time" was beyond comprehension. They despised books
and newspapers; for they vaguely realized that in these lay a power of
intelligence destined sooner or later to put an end to the half-breed
barbarism incarnate in themselves.

As the dinner went on, the _patoteros_ tried to exhibit their
brilliancy. But wit for them consisted at best in anecdotes of the sort
known in Argentina as "German jokes"; in pelting one another with bread
pills; or in suddenly bursting out with some deafeningly loud rendition
of a snatch from a music hall ballad. One of their best numbers was
"the Duck's" weeping act, his most successful parlor stunt. Then "the
Parrot" would rise from his place, disappear, and return wearing a
woman's hat; or Pampa, flourishing his revolver, would pretend he was
fighting a duel, seasoning his antics with picturesque obscenities from
the jargon of a well-known vaudeville act. The others, meanwhile, acted
as chorus and audience, laughing, and contributing an assortment of
musical accompaniments.

Nacha was now quite merry; she began to sing, beating time on her glass
with a spoon. The others took up the suggestion, and improvised an
orchestra. "The Parrot" jumped up on the table to conduct, the others
remaining in their places.

"Get down off of that!" yelled Arnedo.

The maid stopped in the doorway, doubling up with laughter at this
uproarious scene. Shrieks, explosions of mirth, snatches of song, the
clink of glasses, exclamations, and words from the gutter mingled in a
deafening din. Suddenly it occurred to Nacha to begin a _jota_. Arnedo
rushed at her, clasped her in his arms and bellowed:

"That's the way I like to see you, my little nigger!"

"I suppose so," said Nacha, throwing him off, "but what about your
'nigger' in Belgrano? You can do without me, now that you've found
someone who can stand you!"

Arnedo stopped short, paralyzed for the moment. Then his eyes slowly
went the rounds of his friends. Befuddled as he was, he could not
remember to which one of them he had mentioned this affair. He turned,
finally, on Nacha.

"Who told you that? Come, speak up, this moment. Have you had a
detective trailing me? You're mean enough to!..."

Nacha looked at him in astonishment, pretending she did not understand.

"What is the matter? What did I say?"

Arnedo staggered towards her, an arm lifted to strike. Nacha covered
her face with her hands to ward off the blow. The man was beside
himself with fury. It was not so much that Nacha knew about his
adventures; he had boasted of them to her more than once himself. What
irritated him, because it lowered his prestige with his "crowd," was
the fact that she was breaking with him. That was his right!... And
that she had found a pretext for doing so.... Besides, he got it into
his head that Nacha was going to Monsalvat; and the thought that the
man he had offended was turning the tables on him was unbearable. A new
idea, however, suddenly thrust itself upon him.

"Was it one of these girls who told you?" he broke out, facing the two
startled women.

"What's it all about?" asked one of them.

"This is the first I've heard of it," declared the other.

Arnedo seized his glass, which was full of wine, and drained it at a
gulp. He stood brooding for a few seconds at the table; then, thrusting
his right hand inside his belt, he cried out to the man with whom he
had been talking when Nacha overheard him:

"Now I remember! Of course it was you.... You thought you'd play a joke
on me by blabbing! You always were a dog; but now you're going to pay
up!"

Therewith he jerked out his revolver and began pointing it about in
various directions. His friends seized his arm, but in healthy fear of
an accident, refrained from any effort to take the weapon from him. The
scene was well on its way to a bad end, when a man named Amiral walked
in upon the group.

This fellow, the perfect type of the impoverished rake, was always
to be found hovering about some couple or other, never under any
circumstances accompanied by a woman; he would have to pay for her
drinks. He shared the champagne other people bought, rode in taxis
other people paid for, and even gathered a few crumbs from other
people's love affairs. Very tall, very thin, with extremely long arms,
skeleton-like legs, a wan face, thick up-turned mustache, and bulging,
glassy eyes, he was far from prepossessing in appearance. Though his
perpetual penury made him something of a joke with women, Amiral was
born for "gallant" adventure. In the eighteenth century he would have
been a Marquis of Marivaux or a Count of Goldoni, prodigal of love and
madrigals. In the less favorable present, his position in society, such
as it was, derived from his trips to Europe.

In Argentina there is no more valid claim to consideration than foreign
travels. The oftener one goes abroad, the greater one's "prestige,"
and Amiral "went across" every two years. He travelled parsimoniously,
carried his own luggage, never used a cab, and was extremely sparing of
tips. Generally he took lodgings in Paris, where he lived on borrowings
from his fellow-countrymen. He knew nothing of the French capital save
the life of the boulevards, of the Abbaye de Thélème, of the cabarets,
and of the furnished apartments on the Chaussée d'Antin. However, in
Argentina, this was readily marketable knowledge; a number of _patotas_
tolerated Amiral for his amiable discourses on the gay life of Paris.
His inevitable stock in trade was to expatiate on the theme that Buenos
Aires had "no atmosphere"; and could the authority of such a widely
travelled man be questioned in these matters? When, in the circles
he frequented, the discussion turned to women, someone could always
be heard to quote Amiral's oracular utterances: "Amiral says that in
Paris..." and the point under discussion was settled.

"Why, my good friends, what's all this, anyway? Are you rehearsing
for the movies?" said the new arrival, coming into the room with his
accustomed laugh, his grotesque arms describing absurdly elongated arcs
in the air.

"Why, you boys aren't serious, are you? Oh, say.... Really now, good
fellows like you...."

The intervention had a quieting effect on Arnedo, who put his revolver
away. One of the women tried to explain the scene to the newcomer, but
Amiral held her off at the ends of unbelievably long arms.

"No, no! No post mortems, please! The act is all over, my young
friends. Now for a merry little interlude. Come, bring on the suds!
Say, girl, hasn't Pampa got a couple of bottles of champagne? I like
mine dry."

The servant made haste to obey the order. Amiral punctiliously drank
a toast to the mutual love of "the Arnedos," and once more laughter,
shouting, dancing, clinking of spoons on glasses, general uproar,
became the order of the evening. Arnedo, supported by the hilarious
demands of the company, insisted that Nacha declare she had no
intention of leaving him; and yielding to this unanimous pressure,
she obeyed. Thus, under Amiral's protection, a reconciliation was
accomplished. Arnedo took Nacha from her place and made her sit on his
lap, while jests at this public flirtation began to fly back and forth.

The first bottle had been drunk, and they were making good headway
with the second, when Nacha, who had been gradually returning to her
depression, burst into tears:

"What's the meaning of this?" asked Amiral.

"Oh, nothing!" Arnedo growled. "Show her the label on a bottle and she
gets one of these fits."

Now completely succumbing to the champagne, her face distraught and
her arms and body twitching in absurd gestures, Nacha began to talk
in a rambling, incoherent jumble of words that moved the company to
uncontrollable hilarity.

"I loved him so much, and he died!" she moaned. "He was here this
afternoon, and he told me he loved me; and now he is dead. There never
was another man like him--so good, so brave! No one else would have
done what he did in the cabaret--Carlos Riga was his name. Oh, poor
girl that I am! He told me I would suffer--that I must suffer--but I
want to live--to live--I want to live and to suffer! He said he would
be my friend. Why did he do that? And then go and die right afterwards?
Everyone who loves me goes and dies! You're laughing at me! Why? Isn't
it the truth? I may be all you say I am, but I know what love is, and
I'm not going to leave this house...."

"She has a fine one on, has Nacha!"

"That's a shine for a cloudy day!"

But Nacha had lost consciousness of everything about her. Her eyes were
heavy with sleep. She sagged forward in her chair, till her head rested
on her arms, and, still at the table there, she fell fast asleep.

It was late the next day when she woke in bed; and the servant was
bringing her a note from Arnedo. In it he explained that he did not
care to have her remain a moment longer under his roof, that she was
free to go to Monsalvat or to whomever she preferred. With the message
he enclosed a hundred _peso_ bill.

Nacha read the letter without emotion. Her first thought was one
of shame at the spectacle she must have made the night before. As
for Arnedo, she was glad to have her relations with him end in this
fashion. A sudden and immediate break--yes, that was better! It was
clear he was still fond of her, otherwise he would have told her to go
himself, or have had the servant put her out. Consideration for her
feelings to such an extent as the letter showed was an incredible act
of delicacy on Pampa's part, had he been serious! She was tempted to
remain, just to go him one better. But no! She was through with Pampa
and his kind. Monsalvat had told her she was a good, a noble woman, at
heart. Could she not be, if she tried? Try she would, at any rate.

She wrote a few words to her former lover, assuring him that she bore
him no ill-will, and returning the hundred _pesos_. Then she quietly
packed her belongings, dressed, had her trunk carried downstairs, and
getting into a cab, gave the driver the address of a boarding house she
had selected from a list in the _Patria_. "Strictly respectable," the
advertisement had declared. Nacha felt quite elated now. To herself she
seemed to have already gone a long way on the road to respectability.



                              CHAPTER IX


The shock of his mother's death, and quite as much the story of Eugenia
she had told, left Monsalvat for some days in a veritable stupor. He
just let himself live on, listlessly yielding to the stream of passing
hours much as water-grasses in mid-river bend and curl to the current.
His mind was a blank, incapable of thinking, unresponsive alike to
memory and to hope. At intervals, indeed, in some chance moment of
awakened introspection, it occurred to him that this present spiritual
passivity must be very like Nacha's habitual condition--a barely
conscious drift down the course of events, thoughtless, will-less,
purposeless.

But such spiritual torpor could not last long in a man of Monsalvat's
vigor. Eventually he began to feel the need of action, and two
immediate projects seemed to present themselves: he must find his
sister, and he must attend to the restoration of his tenements.

One morning the broker he had commissioned to execute the mortgage
announced that he had drawn up the necessary papers, and that they were
ready for his signature. A bank was advancing forty thousand _pesos_
on the security of the improved property. Monsalvat gaily hurried to
announce the news to his tenants. To his surprise he saw no results of
the various measures toward cleaning up which he had suggested to the
janitor.

"Why didn't you carry out my orders?" he asked the latter, a lean,
loose-jointed immigrant from Aragón, whose arms bobbed up and down
against his enormously wide hips as he talked with a slightly
Andalusian lisp that had the intention of humor in it.

"I have, sir, I have. But these people--why, sir, what can a fellow do
with them? Take a look at them! Born pigs, pigs they will remain."

His labored jocularity failed, however, in quite concealing the
uneasiness the man was feeling at this unexpected visit from his
employer. As Monsalvat started for the door of the tenement the janitor
resumed:

"Going to talk to them? What's the use? They'll only lie to you. What
such folks need is the stick, I'm telling you, and not kind words, nor
favors."

But brushing him aside, Monsalvat went on into one of the apartments on
the ground floor, the door of which was open. In it lived an Italian,
with his wife and two children. The man, a laborer on some municipal
building job, was away at work. Monsalvat asked the woman if the
superintendent had conveyed his orders to her.

"There! Didn't I tell you?" the janitor commented triumphantly, at
the reply that he had not. And he added, with a burst of ill-natured
laughter, "The people, the sovereign people--pah!"

Monsalvat invited the fellow to leave him alone with the tenant.

"How much did you pay this month?" he inquired when the man was gone.

Foreseeing a raise in her rent, the woman put her apron to her eyes and
began wailing about the poverty, debts, and sickness in her family.
Monsalvat repeated his question.

"Twenty _pesos_," she replied, trembling.

Monsalvat had ordered his caretaker to reduce the rents by a half,
and his face flashed with anger. The woman, however, misinterpreted
her landlord's expression, which she thought due to surprise at the
smallness of the sum. Now, surely, he was going to raise the rent. Oh,
this America!

So from apartment to apartment Monsalvat went on pushing his inquiries.
Some of the tenants were not in, but he managed to visit a dozen or
more of them. It was the same story everywhere. He hurried down to the
superintendent's quarters and ordered him to assemble all the tenants
in the courtyard. When they had gathered there, he denounced the
trickery of his agent and discharged him on the spot.

"Your rents are reduced by one-half," he then explained to the crowd.
"But this will not be for long, because I am going to make some
expensive alterations. I want you to be comfortable in clean homes,
with plenty of air and sunlight. I want you to live like human beings,
and not like animals. When the contractors begin work here you will
probably have to move to some other house; but later when this building
has been made a fit and pleasant place to live in, you can return here."

To his astonishment, his words were welcomed with no enthusiasm
whatever. Instead of pleasing his listeners, indeed he seemed to have
insulted them. Some commented with a shrug of their shoulders; others
began whispering together. One old woman burst out weeping. A man who
talked with a Galician accent voiced the protest that was in all their
minds. They were being put out of the house, just as a pretext for
higher rents afterwards. Calling the man by name, Monsalvat tried to
explain.

"Don't you understand? I am thinking only of your own good. If you live
under hygienic conditions, with plenty of air and light, you will have
less sickness, and lose less time from your work. Life will be that
much easier for you, anyway."

But the man did not understand. If they were satisfied, why force
on them something they did not ask for? They lived like pigs? Well,
had they ever lived any other way? Hygiene and air were all right
for rich people. But poor folks had always gotten along without air;
and as for hygiene,--what was hygiene anyway but some new fad of the
white-collared crowd? Anyway, if poor people had a hard life, the
rich needn't try to improve it with their uplift. Everybody knew only
too well what rich people were like. If they were easy with you one
moment, it was only to take it out on you at some other time. Mr.
Landlord could leave them alone with his lower rents and his remodelled
tenements. They wouldn't have the lower rents, and they wouldn't move a
stick or stone out of there.

The Galician looked defiantly at Monsalvat as he talked. His auditors,
evidently a majority of the tenants in the building, loudly applauded
his concluding words.

"He's right! He's right!"

And Monsalvat saw more than one hostile glance coming his way.
Disheartened now, he did not care to reply. What could he say that he
had not said? Merely assuring them again that the month's rent for each
apartment would be ten _pesos_ instead of twenty, he went away, leaving
his tenants to continue discussing their grievances together.

As he walked toward his lodgings, he tried to convince himself that
this incident was not a proper cause for discouragement; that, on the
contrary, it emphasized the need of going on, of struggling with these
people, even against their wills, for their own good. Their ignorance
was the natural consequence of such absorbing poverty. When had culture
ever existed apart from a certain amount of material wellbeing? And
how really poor in every sense were these unfortunate tenants of his;
their minds dulled by the grind of daily toil, their vision blurred to
the most obvious beauties of life. It was understandable, indeed, that
they should mistrust everything, even the best intentions of people who
really had their welfare at heart. But he was sure of his road now; all
doubt and faltering had left him. The difficulties he encountered only
spurred him to new energy and a light was shining in his heart.

He had reached the steps leading up to his house when someone, from
a carriage window, beckoned to him to stop. It was Ruiz de Castro,
smart, dapper, gloved and perfumed as usual, bearing himself with his
customary correctness and as always looking quite the conqueror. And
following him out of his conveyance came Ercasty, who greeted Monsalvat
with an affected courtesy quite in contrast with his obvious annoyance
at this encounter.

"My dear fellow," Ruiz exclaimed, "you have no idea what an uproar
you caused the other night. I have been busy apologizing for you ever
since." And he laughed with his characteristic mannerliness, trying to
appear amused as though it were all a joke. The doctor, however, eyed
Monsalvat with aggressive hauteur, gazing skyward with intentional
rudeness, whenever Fernando began to speak.

"Certainly it would never have occurred to anyone but Fernando
Monsalvat to defend those women seriously." Castro continued: "All the
ladies have decided you must be the wildest libertine in Buenos Aires.
Something of a reputation, eh?"

"The injustice of such an inference must be rather obvious," said
Monsalvat. "It offends me, however, only in the abstract, as something
wrong, and therefore ugly. So far as I am concerned personally, it is
nothing to me at all.

"I shall continue being what I am--regardless of what people think."
The doctor, much annoyed, suddenly abandoned his passive attitude. It
was incompatible with his veneration for "society" to admit that an
individual could be other than what "society" declared him to be.

"That is sheer nonsense," he broke in aggressively. "What counts is
public opinion. A man is, in any practical sense, exactly and only what
people consider him to be."

Monsalvat took no notice of the interruption.

"I am not sorry that I spoke up in defense of those poor women," he
said, addressing his remarks to Ruiz de Castro alone. "I assure you, we
do not know them. To us they seem like animals, things without souls,
without personalities. Well, we're wrong. They are human beings. They
feel, and love, and hate, like any one of us. But even though it should
not be so, granted they are virtually animals, whose fault is it?"

"It's idiotic to blame society for the manner of living of these
people," the doctor asserted roundly. "They behave as they do because
they are degenerates."

"No, not degenerates: victims! Many of them try to work. Pitiful
salaries, with debts they can't avoid, drive them into the power
of vice. A few of them may, indeed, be degenerates--off-spring of
feeble-minded or alcoholic parents for whom, in a more roundabout way,
we are perhaps just as much to blame. But, on the whole, the cause
of the social evil, as of other evils, is in me, in Ruiz, in you, in
the man going by there in that automobile, in the factory owner, in
the store proprietor, in the criminal laws which give a sanction to
economic injustice, in our moral ideas, in our conceptions of life--in
our civilization, in short. The fact is, we have no human sympathy,
no sense of justice, no pity. Countless numbers of these poor girls
might still be saved, because they have not yet completely lost their
self-respect. But what have we ever done to rehabilitate one of them?
Do we ever go into the places where they live with any purpose but a
shameful one? Do we ever extend the hand of Christian fellowship to
the outcast? Can any one of us say that he has never, even by tacit
complicity, helped to bring about the degradation of any woman? No, we
are all the accomplices, witting and unwitting, of an infinitude of
crimes. And yet those girls are our sisters; creatures, as people say,
with souls to save, unfortunates feeling the same call to life that we
all feel, and, like all of us, destined to the death that engulfs all
our hopes and all our sorrows...."

Ruiz de Castro, from temper of mind, and in spite of the circumstances
in which life placed him, was not insensible to an idealistic appeal.
His face showed the impression Monsalvat's words made on him. Not so
his companion, however, who in this case, as in all others, was quite
indifferent as to whether Monsalvat was right or not. For him the
important point was that the whole discussion annoyed him, as something
improper, in bad taste. It was Ercasty's belief that an educated man
like Monsalvat, a "gentleman" in other words, ought to have the ideas
and sentiments of his class. In defending workmen and prostitutes, and
other kinds of low people, Monsalvat, in his opinion, was behaving
like a vulgar plebeia. The doctor would have conceded to anyone the
right to defend fend such unfortunates in the conventional way--with
condescending charitableness, or with witty paradoxes; but this fellow
was talking like a social agitator; attacking society, insulting
class, ignoring tradition. What were policemen's clubs for except to
use on such dangerous lunatics? As Ruiz and his companion bowed him a
cold "good day," Monsalvat went up toward his front door. Chancing to
turn around before going in, he caught a glimpse of the doctor still
sputtering abuse in his direction. For his own part he pitied the man,
with that exultant sense of superiority which a new vision brings.

As it was still only eleven o'clock, he decided to go at once to the
house where his mother had lived, for a further talk with Moreno. At
the door he met the latter's daughter. Monsalvat had first noticed
Irene Moreno the night of his mother's death, and he had taken a liking
to her. She had been so gentle, so affectionate towards Aquilina
Severin, so skillful in tending her, so ready to do anything she could.
The sight of the poor child now caused him a most painful impression:
slight of frame, but graceful, nervous, agile, under a shock of almost
blonde hair, she seemed a pretty little flower that was being trampled
upon, bruised and soiled in that life of the tenements. To atone
for the utter incompetence of the father, she and her mother sewed,
embroidered, and in other ways made frantic efforts to assemble the
pennies needed for the daily bread of that household. To Irene fell
the care of her six younger brothers and sisters; and it was she who
delivered her mother's and her own needle work at the stores.

"I am going next door for a moment," the girl replied to a question
from Monsalvat, looking up at him shyly out of her dark, steel blue
eyes. "There is a woman there who has just lost her little boy. He was
only two years old. The poor thing is a widow and has no work."

"Won't you take her something from me--from us both?"

"I have something already," Irene answered. Knowing the circumstances
of the Moreno family, Monsalvat wondered how much such alms could
amount to; and Irene, though much embarrassed by his insistence,
could not evade confessing that she was taking the woman one _peso_,
the total of her ready cash. Monsalvat put into her hand all the
money he had in his pocket, not daring, however, to suggest that she
keep that poor little _peso_ for herself. Then he followed her back
into the Moreno apartment. Moreno was out, as usual. That systematic
ne'er-do-well was scarcely ever at home if he were sober enough to be
elsewhere. His wife, too, was absent, for the moment, trying, as Irene
explained, to place her eldest son as an errand boy somewhere. With the
children running in and out, hungry, squawling, half-naked, the rooms
were in a disorder, which Irene, visibly troubled at being taken thus
unawares, kept trying to excuse, betraying her uneasiness further by a
constant fluttering of the eyelids which, to Monsalvat, somehow seemed
particularly appealing.

Monsalvat turned the conversation, as soon as possible, upon the
subject of his sister, whom Irene said she also had known. "Eugenia was
such a generous girl," she added. "I grew to be very, very fond of her.
And she dressed so wonderfully! People said she had piles of money. But
she was always doing something for somebody. She never forgot to bring
us some little present whenever she called on Aquilina; and I remember,
too, that she never went away without telling me to be a good girl.
That always amused me. But Eugenia was so pretty!"

"And did she ever mention me?" Monsalvat asked anxiously.

"Yes," said Irene, "often! Though she seemed to feel you did not much
approve of her."

"And where is she now? Do you think your father will really find her?"

Irene reddened, and seemed reluctant to answer. When Fernando repeated
his question she replied that her father certainly did not know where
Eugenia was. No one did, for that matter, as Eugenia never would tell
her address. Moreno was just trying to get money out of Monsalvat. "And
please don't give him any more," she begged. "He only drinks it up, and
he always makes a lot of trouble for us here in the house when he gets
drunk."

In Irene's opinion, it was useless to look for Eugenia. No one had any
idea as to where she was living. It would be better just to wait. She
would turn up sooner or later to see her mother. Then they would tell
her about the poor woman's death, and let her know that her brother was
anxious to see her.

"And tell her, too, as simply as you can, Irene, that I hold nothing
against her; and that I want her to come and live with me."

Monsalvat spoke with an emotion which, without his being aware of it,
found a responsive chord in Irene's starved little heart. As their eyes
chanced to meet, Monsalvat divined that this poor child was in love
with him.

"And you," he exclaimed, "why haven't you some kind of work?"

"I've looked for work, outside, but without much success. We take in
sewing, you see, mother and I. She knows how to embroider, and she is
teaching me how to do it. But we make so little at it."

Irene's eyes filled with tears, as memories of her hardships rose
before her. While Monsalvat sat silent, moved by what he heard, she
told him that Moreno sometimes beat her; but that was nothing to the
agony she endured when the children cried with hunger.

"I can't bear it. It breaks my heart to hear them."

And she began to sob. Monsalvat tried to comfort her, and talked to her
awhile, as a brother might. Suddenly he got up to leave. Nacha's image,
persistent and irresistible, was taking possession of him. Irene gave
a quick glance at him and saw that he was going. Seizing his hand, she
threw herself on the ground before him.

"Take me with you!" she cried. "I will be your servant, your slave,
anything you wish, because I know you will help mother and father--and
the children. It will be your bread they eat. Only take me away,
please. I love you, I respect you. If you don't take me, what's to
become of me? I'll go away with the first man who comes along. Yes, I
will! I'll be like Eugenia--but at least the family won't starve."

"Please get up," said Monsalvat, embarrassed. They stood facing one
another. Saddened and silent, he looked at her.

"A year ago I would have taken you with me, Irene. Now it is
impossible. But you don't need to humiliate yourself to persuade me
to help your people. They shall have everything I can give them. Now,
promise me you will not do anything foolish. I shall be your friend,
and come to see you."

Irene, without replying, went into a corner of the room, and began
to weep heart-rendingly. What could he do? Profoundly distressed,
Monsalvat went away.

All day the thought of Irene troubled him; but towards evening he
decided he must make two calls: one upon Nacha, the other upon Torres.
It was impossible to wait longer; he must see Nacha, and as to Torres,
he needed his help in looking for Eugenia.

He went to Nacha's apartment. His jerk at the bell brought him suddenly
face to face with Arnedo. He turned cold.... The latter surveyed him
from head to foot, in utter astonishment.

"So it's true she was carrying on with you, is it? What did you come
here for? To find her? Don't you know I threw her out ten days ago?
She's probably running around the streets, like the rest of her kind."

He tried to make his tone scornful; he did not want to betray the anger
Monsalvat's presence aroused in him. But Monsalvat had recovered his
self-command. Quite serenely he declared that he had had nothing to do
with Nacha. The proof of this was that he had not until that moment
known that she had left. If there had been anything between them,
wasn't it rather strange that ten days should pass without their seeing
one another?

"Just the same," said Arnedo, yielding to this argument, "you have no
business to come here. And you can get out at once. If you don't, I'll
throw you down those stairs!"

Monsalvat was unruffled. He looked into Arnedo's eyes with so quiet
and peaceable an expression that the latter could not but restrain his
violence.

"Why do you take things that way?" said Monsalvat. "I wish you would
listen to me with a little patience. I did come to see Nacha, not with
the intentions you may have supposed, but for her good. I know that she
wants to lead a decent life. Don't you think it is only just and human
to encourage her? If you have ever cared for her, don't stand in her
way now! At least let her save herself, if she can!"

Arnedo listened, his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the ground.
At first he wanted to laugh; for this all seemed so ridiculous, and
sentimental. But suddenly he became serious, as though Monsalvat's
words were sinking in.

"But it isn't only on Nacha's account that I came. I also wanted to
talk with you. I wanted to ask you where Eugenia Monsalvat is."

He spoke gravely and in a tone which seemed to make an impression on
the young _patotero_.

"My mother has died, and she asked me to look for her. I want to keep
my promise that I would. No one knows where my sister is, Arnedo. Do me
a kindness and tell me."

"I don't know where she is. If I find out...."

As they parted, they shook hands. Arnedo was beginning to understand
Monsalvat. He knew that this man, who seemed to have forgotten the
scene in the cabaret, was no coward; that there was in him something
that he had known in no one else. He went with Fernando to the elevator
and again shook hands with him.

Monsalvat found Torres in his office. In order not to add to his
friend's shame and grief, the doctor listened without looking up.
Monsalvat had found it easy enough to speak of his sister to Arnedo;
but to speak of her to Torres--what an effort it cost him! And he had
something even harder to do; he must tell him he was also looking
for Nacha. Torres would think that he was in love with the girl, and
perhaps laugh. Yet, when Monsalvat, with a tremendous effort, told him
that there was need of finding Nacha, too, Torres gravely replied that
Nacha must be found.

For he, too, was beginning to understand Monsalvat.



                               CHAPTER X


The boarding house to which Nacha had fled belonged to an old maid of
French extraction known as Mlle. Dupont. This elderly landlady quite
won Nacha's heart with her amiability and delicate ways, her politeness
and her unquestionable respectability. Poor Nacha had never in her
whole life been so well treated; the years she had last lived through
had prepared her to be particularly surprised and pleased by the
attentions with which she now found herself surrounded. She attributed
to kindliness and goodness of heart the courtesies which were due to
"Mademoiselle's" punctilious ceremoniousness; and she thought that her
landlady did her a great honor in demonstrating so much affection for
her.

As a matter of fact, Mlle. Dupont had as many wrinkles in her soul
as on her face. Her apparent amiability expressed itself chiefly
in certain phrases of endearment or pity such as _ma petite_, _ma
chérie_, _Oh, quel malheur_! and others of the same nature. To hear
her, one might have thought that to this sensitive being everything was
delicious, enchanting, exquisite, worthy of compassion or sympathy. The
daughter of Bayonne Protestants, she had turned Catholic, and was, at
bottom, a narrow, egotistic, rather ridiculous old woman. She treated
all her boarders as she treated Nacha, and was prodigal to them of
similar amenities. She must have been about forty-five; but she looked
more than fifty. She was tall, angular, stiff in her movements, with
masculine features, and hair and eyebrows of a reddish cast. Her nose
was sharply molded, and her hair, combed high in an ancient style,
covering the greater part of her forehead and her ears, and hanging
down the sides in ringlets that were not always in curl, gave her a
somewhat ludicrous appearance. When she wished to appear particularly
sweet-natured, she would lean ceremoniously toward the person
addressing her, all the while smiling and blinking her small eyes.

Mlle. Dupont would quite frequently visit Nacha in her room.

"Always alone!" she would exclaim, clasping her hands, and shaking her
head. "Would you care for a little company?"

"Yes, indeed; I'd be delighted!"

Then she would sit down beside Nacha and tell her what a fancy she had
taken to her, and how she hoped she would never leave her house, and
how much she enjoyed her.

"You are such a good girl, Nacha!"

"Oh, 'good,' Mademoiselle!"

Her landlady continued in eulogistic strain; and then came the moment
for exchanging confidences! She wanted to know "everything" about her
new friend, about her family, about the kind of work she had done, and
what she lived on.... Nacha trembled before this curiosity. What should
she reply? Such questions from anyone else would have annoyed her; but
in "Mademoiselle's" case they seemed prompted by the affection she
professed for her new friend, and a desire to be useful to her, and to
know her better.

"Why do you want to know?" Nacha would ask.

"Oh, Mlle. Nacha! Nothing! Nothing at all! You wouldn't believe me if
I told you--it's just because I'm so fond of you, you are so good,
so--how shall I say--so innocent!"

Nacha reddened. Mlle. Dupont, watching her out of the corner of her
eye, and a little constrained, reddened also. "Oh, I can tell at a
glance! You are not like some of the other girls I have known. As for
me I admire goodness so much that I cannot understand how some women
... I don't know how it is! ... you see I was brought up on very
religious principles; and I can't help having such high standards about
character that I really can't endure the thought of the slightest
slip.... No, I always say; let a woman have all the faults she likes:
but let her morals at least be above reproach!"

Nacha, terrified, was wondering if "Mademoiselle" knew anything about
her life; but she could only conclude that her being allowed to remain
under that roof at all proved that her hostess was in total ignorance
of her history. All these declarations of lofty principles and
integrity of character, confirmed by the obvious austerity of her daily
life, caused poor Nacha to look upon Mlle. Dupont as a superior being.
Here at last was someone worthy of her intense admiration! She went
so far as to try to model her conduct upon that of her landlady, and
avoided going out, believing that temptation and vice hovered outside
the precincts of that house of refuge.

So she remained all day long in her room, going over the incidents
of the day just passed, dreaming, wondering who Monsalvat could be,
and what he wanted of her. Was he really what he appeared? Or had he
practised a miserable deception on her, making use of his eloquent
words to get her away from Arnedo, for his own advantage? This was not
impossible; for to men all means are justified when the end is the
woman their caprice has fastened upon. And she could not doubt that
she was pleasing to Monsalvat. She remembered how he had looked at
her, the first time they had ever seen one another, in the cabaret; he
had followed her to the house--he had gone again to the cabaret to see
her--and then how he had defended her! It couldn't be merely out of
pity that he had risked incurring the insults and the violence of the
_patota_! Does a man take such risks except for love? No, there could
be no doubt: he was in love with her....

But, did she want him to be? What was the strange feeling she had for
the man? Love or hate? Sometimes she thought she loved him with all
the strength of her being; but when she remembered that she was now
without resources, and that she would sooner or later be forced to have
recourse to the means of livelihood so loathsome to her, she hated him.
Why had he come to her house to torment her? Why had he spoken to her
that way, knowing as he must that a woman of her kind is an outcast,
and cannot change the manner of life that makes her so? Was he perhaps
a lunatic, who took pleasure in doing her harm? Her head swam with all
these questions and uncertainties. Then again at times she reproached
herself for having driven Monsalvat away. How happy it made her even to
remember that he had thought they might be friends!

Meanwhile Nacha was living on the money she had raised by pawning a
few jewels. She was sorry now not to have accepted the sum Arnedo had
offered her. Why so many scruples about accepting money? They became
her strangely! Mlle. Dupont required payment in advance; so that she
had had to part with a small brooch on the very day of her arrival
in the boarding house. The jewels she still possessed were of a very
modest sort and would scarcely provide her with means for even a month.

When she left Arnedo's apartment it was not with the intention of
trying to lead a decent life. Convinced that she could not help being
what she was, she had resolved to go on making a living as before. But
now two things held her back; the memory of Monsalvat, and her regard
for Mlle. Dupont. Never, while in that house, could she fall short
of her "Mademoiselle's" ideals! The Frenchwoman's eloquence on the
subject of "character" had impressed her. She felt the charm and the
tranquillity of living respectably; and it was not merely the happy
freedom from remorse which soothed her: the decency within her seemed,
at last, to have found a home.

More helpful than anything else, however, was the thought of Monsalvat.
In spite of her apparent evasion, he had conquered her, leaving on
her spirit an ineffaceable imprint. Simply remembering him made it
impossible for her to take up again her shameful profession; and when,
hard pressed by need of money, or by habit of mind, she thought of
yielding, Monsalvat's image appearing before her, imperious yet kind,
strengthened her impulse to resist.

A month and a half passed while Nacha lived on in a beclouded dream,
completely inactive. She got up at eleven, lunched with the other
boarders, spent the afternoon in an easy chair, dreaming, reading,
letting her somewhat indolent imagination wander; or she would lend
herself to confidential chats with "Mademoiselle." She almost never
went out. In the evening, after dinner, she joined the other boarders
at their card games, and then went to bed late.

She did not care to call on her friends, for fear they would drop in to
see her and compromise her with "Mademoiselle." Sometimes she thought
she would go out to try to discover Monsalvat's whereabouts; but she
knew nothing of his occupations, his associates, or the places he
frequented. She felt certain that his being in the cabaret was quite
accidental, and that, as he could scarcely hope to see her there, he
would never go back.

She had spoken of him with some of the other people in the house, but
they knew nothing she did not already know. One of them mentioned
having read an article of Monsalvat's in the _Patria_, and Nacha
telephoned to the newspaper office to ask for Monsalvat's address.
However, no one there knew it.

On the few occasions when Nacha went out it was with Mlle. Dupont.
One afternoon the latter insisted on Nacha's accompanying her to a
"meeting." Nacha, curious, and eager for diversion, accepted the
invitation, and together, they drove to a house in Independence Street.
On the door Nacha saw a sign bearing a proper name and under it the
legend "Happiness taught here." Beyond this door, in a room of small
size, were several benches and chairs, occupied by a scattering of
people. An individual, who looked like a Gypsy, was standing before
this audience addressing it. Just as Nacha and Mlle. Dupont came in, he
gave the order "Grand Chain!" and Nacha could not help laughing at this
reminiscence of a country dance. "Mademoiselle" looked solemn reproof
at her. The participants in the performance, men and women, as soon as
they heard these words, took hold of hands and stood in a circle until
the Gypsy-like performer, with a sanctimonious air, announced that "the
spirit" had taken possession of him. One of the audience asked the
spirit several questions, which the man answered in a faint, doleful,
ghostly voice that seemed to come from beyond the tomb. When the
questions were disposed of, Nacha, who had been frightened at first,
wanted to speak with Riga. If she could only ask him what she should
do! but she did not dare. Besides it was late and the man announced
that the séance was over.

After their return to the house Nacha and Mlle. Dupont could talk
of nothing but the spiritualist meeting. Mademoiselle was a fervent
believer in all such manifestations, which did not prevent her
being an extremely devout Catholic, and the esteemed friend of some
French priests who frequently called upon her. Nacha inquired of
"Mademoiselle" if spirits knew everything.

"_Ah, mais oui!_ Everything--the past, the future, what one ought to
do--they can tell you everything, _ma, chère_!"

"They are better than cards then? Or fortune tellers?"

"Oh, much better, cards sometimes lie, but spirits, never, _ma petite_,
never! How could a spirit lie! _Mais ce n'est pas possible, mon amour!_"

Nacha liked to have her fortune read from cards at frequent intervals.
Now she thought she would prefer to talk with Riga, the "professor of
happiness" acting as medium. Riga would not lie to her. Nevertheless,
on the two or three other occasions when she went to a spiritualist
séance she had not the courage to ask that Riga's spirit be summoned.
It was not so much shyness nor shame which held her back, as fear--Riga
would be sure to reproach her for her manner of living....

But one day a strange thing happened! Nacha unwittingly came upon
Mlle. Dupont in circumstances so compromising to that lady that Nacha,
confused, and distressed, thought only of relieving her friend's
embarrassment. Nothing, thought Nacha, but her entire confidence could
show Mlle. Dupont that she still held her in high regard. So, swayed by
a generous impulse, she told her hostess the story of her own life. And
when she had done so Mlle. Dupont turned upon her with a request for
the month's rent!

Another crumbled illusion! Nacha wept bitterly over its ruins. It was
faith in this woman's strength which had helped her all this while to
resist despair; now she had lost the only refuge she knew in the whole
world; and tomorrow she would lose what would cost her more than either
of these: she would lose hope in herself. She would have to go back
to the world which had doomed her to a disreputable life, which would
allow her to live no other....

She decided, however, before taking any other measure to meet Mlle.
Dupont's demands for money, to call on Torres for help. But, the next
day, early in the morning, the servant told her that one of the priests
who frequently called on Mlle. Dupont wanted to speak to her. Nacha
went to the parlor. Father Duchaine, round of figure and of face, sat
there waiting for her. His gestures too were round, as were his short
fat fingers; and he spoke with a round little mouth. Nacha did not
conceal her astonishment at this unexpected call.

"Mademoiselle, the fact is...."

He stood, apparently searching for words with which to state the fact,
gazing at the floor, placing his right hand on his mouth, and taking it
away when his meaning required the elucidation of a circle described by
a fat arm in the air.

"You know Mademoiselle! Such a saint! Her parents, although they were
not Catholics, were good people, God-fearing, virtue-loving. Providence
was watching over our dear Mademoiselle! When they died, her aunt, a
good religious woman, took her to live with her; and in this aunt's
house Mademoiselle became a convert."

Nacha, gazing wide-eyed at the priest, wondered what this was all about.

"Well, you know, you understand of course--in short, it seems that your
life has not been exactly--what can I say--exemplary! Perhaps I am not
clear.... You know, you understand, that in this house ... where ...
how shall I put it?..."

His eyes rolled upward, and he wriggled in search of elusive phrases.
His arm beat the air when suddenly the desired words slipped into
place, and beaming, he exclaimed, "where virtue is crystal pure! You
see that you ... with your way of living ... and no ... that is to say
... well, it really will not do for you to remain here!..."

"You mean, she is putting me out of the house!" exclaimed Nacha, with
indignation.

"Ah!... You understand.... Yes, you understand--precisely!..."

"Very well, I shall go today. Now be so kind as to leave me."

The priest made a well rounded bow, and went out. Scarcely had he set
foot in the hall than he returned, for he had heard Nacha calling him.

"You wish...?"

Nacha had for a moment thought of throwing more light on the "crystal
pure" virtue to which the priest had alluded. She would have enjoyed
the relief of striking out once at least at the perversity and
hypocrisy her landlady represented....

"What is it, señorita?"

But Nacha suddenly felt that such vengeance was a small piece of
business. No, it was not in her to be petty in this fashion! Let this
woman put her out on the street; let her tell her priests what Nacha
had told her in confidence in order to console her; let her do what she
would! She, at least, Nacha Regules, could not betray to anyone what
she had promised never to reveal!

"Nothing, Father! Leave me, please!"

She went to her room, dressed as carefully as the day before, and went
out to the street. There she took a passing taxi, giving the chauffeur
the address of a boarding house in Lavalle Street. She would never be
asked if her past life had been "exemplary" before being admitted to
lodge in this house!



                              CHAPTER XI


Mme. Annette's house, facing a well-known park, was the most
aristocratic of its kind in all Buenos Aires. It was a resort of
millionaires, prominent politicians, and representatives of the city's
best families. At times half the cabinet was to be found there, not,
of course, assembled in council. Public report had it that when the
Chamber of Deputies lacked a quorum, it was customary to telephone to
Mme. Annette's; and never had this measure, unparliamentary though it
might be, failed to produce satisfactory results. At the very entrance
one began to breathe an air of luxury; then one stepped into a world
of silks, embroideries, gilt furniture, rich rugs, and heavy hangings.
A persistent aroma of rose water was wafted through the rooms, where a
subdued, mysterious, light invited to low-voiced conversation.

Nacha was waiting in a small inner reception room. A woman, whom she
did not know, was also sitting there; "Madame" had left them for a
moment to receive a caller. Suddenly a familiar figure appeared in the
doorway. "Amelia!" Nacha, with an exclamation of surprise, ran to meet
her friend, and kissed her.

"You here! Why, didn't you get married?" She lowered her voice at the
question. Amelia might feel ashamed in the presence of the strange
woman....

"Yes, I got married.... But ... here I am just the same!"

She talked in a very loud voice, laughed boldly, and emphasized
whatever she had to say with graceful movements of her snake-like body
and her long thin arms. She was dressed in a somewhat fantastic and
exuberant fashion, not without elegance. A strong scent of violets
pervaded the atmosphere about her.

"I should worry!" she continued; "Listen, little one. I'll admit that
when I got married I had some idea of living respectably. That's the
truth. You can say what you like. But you don't know what I married. He
used to work when he was a bachelor--in a dry goods store. But after we
were married he left his job, and wanted to live on me--thought I could
go right on doing what I did before. Well, this is what I said to him:
I said, "All right. I'll go back to the old life; but feed you with the
money I earn? Not much! So here I am. How do I look? Not getting old
very fast, eh?"

"You look splendid, Amelia, and more attractive than ever. What a
figure you have!"

"It isn't so bad, is it? But it's wasted on the old fogies who come
here. It makes you tired. Say, do you remember the wild times we had,
Nacha, when we were just kids, and I called myself an anarchist, and
said everybody ought to have one good fling at life?"

"And aren't you an anarchist now?"

"Me? You're crazy, little one. No more of those fool ideas for me.
Listen, I'm convinced now that we girls of the profession are one of
the strongest pillars of society...."

She flung this out in ringing tones; and then, at Nacha's horrified
expression, burst out laughing, throwing herself over to one side of
her chair with the sensuous grace and calm indifference of a cat.

Madame's arrival interrupted this conversation. When she saw Amelia she
greeted her with flattering warmth, and immediately left the room with
her. The stranger looked at Nacha and seemed about to speak. But Nacha
was lost in wonderment over all the things that may drive a woman to
her ruin. Amelia was frankness itself, and if she said she had married
with the hope of leading a decent life, it must be true; so then it was
her husband, on whom she had built all her hopes of decency, who had
thrust her back into vice!

She was interrupted in her thoughts by the entrance of a very young
girl, at whom Nacha gazed, charmed and astonished by the grace, and
innocent expression, of this delightful little person. She could not
take her eyes away from her; the girl, answering her shy smile, asked,
simply,

"What's your name? You look so good!"

"I'm not good, but I should like to be!"

The child--she seemed no older--sat down beside Nacha, and began to
talk with her. Although she was actually seventeen, her slight, almost
frail, figure made her seem barely fourteen or fifteen. Nacha was
horrified by this little creature's presence in that place. Didn't her
parents know where she was? And how could Mme. Annette let her come
there? And the men, those respectable gentlemen who were such good
friends of Madame's, how could they fail to utter a word of protest or
of pity? No, she could not understand the world; for it despised her
and all women like her, insulted her and pushed her towards crime and
every form of misery; yet she was capable of feeling pity for the girl
at her side; and she knew many women of her sort who would not have
allowed a horror such as this child's presence there, to be committed.
She wanted to ask this young thing to tell her how she came to be in
such a place, but she hesitated. The other woman's presence embarrassed
her.

"Tell me," Nacha whispered, taking the girl's hand. "Why is it--how
does it happen that--?"

The child raised her clear innocent eyes to Nacha's, in wonder.

"Why do you come to this house?" Nacha asked finally, blushing for her
curiosity.

The girl raised troubled eyes to Nacha; then she replied quite simply,
without the slightest suggestion of reproach toward anyone in her voice:

"My aunt sends me."

"And how long have you been coming here?"

"Two months."

"And before that--you had a sweetheart? Who deceived you?"

"No, I never had a sweetheart. My aunt made me come--"

"I can't believe it! So this is what life has become for you! Why, you
ought to be out playing with other children.

"Yes."

Nacha could scarcely breathe for indignation. Then little by little,
she brought out the child's story.

About eight years before, the girl's aunt had visited her parents, who
were Spanish and lived in great poverty in La Coruña. This aunt was
rich, and owned a store in Buenos Aires. Her little niece attracted
her; and as the child's parents had ten other children, they gave her
up to what seemed to them a prosperous future. Her aunt took her back
with her, always treated her kindly; but the store no longer prospered,
and finally, she was forced to close it. She told her little niece one
day that they were so poor she would have to earn some money.

"We hadn't anything to eat," the child went on. "I didn't see what my
aunt could do. And I didn't know what the place was she was sending me
to. So I came, as she told me. But when I went home I cried, and said
to my aunt I couldn't come to this house any more.... My aunt begged
me to be brave, and told me that she was responsible for everything.
But--it seemed so bad to me! I felt everything was all wrong. But my
aunt says that when people do what they are forced to do, they are not
really bad.... Can that be true? Tell me what you think?"

Nacha overwhelmed with horror, did not know what to reply.

"And is it wrong?"

Mme. Annette came in at this point and took the girl away with her.
Nacha got up from her chair and rushed after them; but from the
threshold of the room into which Madame had swept, she caught sight
of a man and stopped short. Then she came back to the strange woman,
towards whom, until this moment, she had felt a slight hostility.

"What a shame that is!" she broke out. "I have never in my life heard
anything like that child's story. Exploited by her own aunt!"

"Don't be so angry," said the woman gently, as Nacha, beside herself
with indignation, sat down.

"It's no good complaining. I have seen so many awful things that
nothing shocks me, absolutely nothing!"

Her words were correct but had a foreign accent. She was neither
pretty nor well dressed; but she had marvellous blue eyes, and looked
intelligent. Nacha, who until then had scarcely noticed her, now felt
strongly attracted to her; and as they waited there they talked with
increasing confidence to one another. Nacha learned that she was of a
respected and well-known family of a town in northern France, and that
she had come to South America under contract to give some concerts. But
the theatres in which her manager required her to sing were of such a
kind--the Royal, for instance--that she refused. She had, however, no
resources, so finally she made terms with the company, and was taken
to a "_pension d'artistes_," at which she was expected to live. She
soon found out what sort of a "_pensión_" it was, and rebelled against
the conditions of life there. After leaving the place abruptly, she
tried to earn a living by working in an art shop. The usual temptations
followed. Then came a love affair with one of its patrons: it ended
badly....

She smiled ironically as she looked at the tangled skein of her
memories.

"When I think of my parents," she continued, "I am very unhappy. I
would give my life to see them--but it costs so much to go to Europe!"

Madame came bustling in.

"Nacha, will you come, please. I want to introduce you to an old
friend of the house--a good friend. Let me see--are you well dressed?
Your stockings might be better. Next time do be careful about your
foot-wear."

Nacha was about to address her, but Madame began again:

"Be a good girl, child. You're pretty enough--and you have pretty
manners, too, I know you have, when you want to!"

Leaving Nacha under the august protection of a venerable "father of
his country," Madame took up a position on the balcony of one of the
rooms facing the street, and began peering with great interest through
the branches of the trees in the park; for it was time for her little
daughter to come home from the convent where she was being instructed
in all the virtues and accomplishments befitting a young lady of the
wealthy classes. And Madame dreamed a little of this tender off-spring
who, in a few years, if all her schemes went well, would be happily
married, and highly respected; and she would owe this happiness to
her mother's skill in managing a business that had no equal in Buenos
Aires;--on the champagne alone she made a hundred pesos a day! Yes,
"Madame" flattered herself that she knew the value of institutions;
with her talent for managing, her tact, and her French ways, she had
succeeded in accumulating a large fortune--thanks to the support and
approval of Politics, Finance and Aristocracy!

A commotion behind her interrupted her reveries. She turned and saw the
worthy senator, now sputtering with rage. His story was soon told. With
a flounce "Madame" hurried out to find Nacha who had fled to the little
reception room, empty now, where she was standing in front of a mirror,
arranging the disorder of her hair.

"Nacha, what does this mean? Do you want to ruin the reputation of my
house?"

"No, Madame. But I've had enough of it."

"You're a fool! You're old enough to have got rid of your silly
notions."

Nacha's cheeks turned a flaming red and her eyes shone with anger as
she screamed at Madame:

"Don't you dare say a word to me or I'll get the police! What do you
mean by taking a child of seventeen into this house? You miserable old
woman!"

"So you're going for the police are you? Well, it happens that the
police take their orders from me! So don't waste your time telling them
tales about this house. I never ruined any woman! You and your like
ruin yourselves, because you want to, because you take to vice like
ducks to water, because you are...."

But it was little use for "Madame" to wear herself out screaming and
running after Nacha; for Nacha, with her hands over her ears, refused
to hear, which enraged "Madame" all the more. The girl was running
through the rooms, slamming doors, and shrieking out words certain to
be offensive to "Madame's" professional dignity. In this fashion, Nacha
in the lead, and "Madame" after her, they reached the stairway, down
which Nacha passed light as a breeze. As she opened the sumptuous glass
entrance door, and saw "Madame" at the top of the stairs, she stuck out
her tongue at her qualifying the dignified lady's trade with certain
terms which even her long experience had not prepared her to hear with
equanimity.

"You old criminal!"

"Get out of here, viper!"

The door slammed, and Nacha jumped into a cab and drove home. Scarcely
had she reached her room when she took off her hat and threw herself
down on her bed, weeping convulsively. Her whole body was shaking with
a nervous chill. She tried to muffle the sounds of her weeping, but
could not. A girl who occupied the room next to hers, came in, greatly
alarmed. Should she send for the doctor?--

"Just leave me alone, I want to be alone...."

"Are you angry with me?" asked the girl gently. She was a plump little
person with black eyes and dark, soft skin, and was called Julieta.

Nacha, suddenly yielding to the girl's gentleness, sat up and kissed
her; but she could not check her sobs and asked again to be left alone.

"And what about the doctor?" asked Julieta. "You had better have him.
You are not well."

"All right. Get him!..."

Nacha turned toward the wall, still weeping.

In the evening the doctor arrived. Nacha who had not eaten anything was
still lying on her bed, and still in her street clothes. The doctor
declared the attack to be entirely a matter of nerves and prescribed
rest and quiet.

The succession of shocks she had just lived through; Mademoiselle's
treachery; the loss of a cherished illusion; the suppression in her
of any hope of leading a new life; worst of all, the effect of her
decision to return to her former mode of living, had all been so many
blows at her strength, physical and moral.

In her sufferings and vacillations, nothing had caused her so much
torment as the thought of Monsalvat. Even worse than the certainty
that her life was now definitely ruined, was the despair which took
possession of her whenever she thought of this man.--She no longer
doubted she loved him! His image, always present to her eyes, had
assumed gigantic proportions in those moments when she was committing
acts that were fatal to all her hopes. As she entered that house of
evil it seemed to her that Monsalvat's spirit was waiting there on the
stairs, trying to prevent her from passing. She had closed her eyes,
and lowered her head, and she had walked straight through the shadowy
figure that was trying to save her.... But, all the time she was there,
he haunted her. The slightest noise made her think he was coming into
the room. A voice in the corridor made her start for fear it was his
voice. Once she had even thought she saw him pass by the open door....

Where was he now? she wondered. Why did he not look for her? Couldn't
he guess how much she needed his protection? Without it she could not
help but fall from depth to depth of degradation. Why had not Monsalvat
appeared in that house of vice as she so desperately hoped, to rescue
her? Why didn't he come now to free her from all this suffering?

Then she remembered that Monsalvat had told her, on the one occasion
when they had talked together, that she ought to suffer--only so could
she deserve pardon and pity. Those were his words.... She brooded over
them. Nothing else gave any meaning to her miserable existence. She
would welcome suffering then, and resign herself to grief! A little
quieted, she went to sleep.



                              CHAPTER XII


September! Springtime! Buenos Aires with all the handsome trees of its
avenues, its parks and open squares, and of its wide promenades along
the river bank, was turning green as if by magic, offering to the
delighted eye every conceivable shade of verdure. It was as though the
hand of a great and invisible artist were retouching the somewhat faded
picture Winter had turned over to him. He crushed under his swift brush
the emerald of English lawns, spattered canary yellow on the shoots
of young shrubs, with an impatient stroke of the knife scraped from
the leaf fronds their velvety coverings of dull blue, burnt sienna and
fawn, in order to freshen them up with aurora yellow, sepia, cobalt;
poured out on the great parks all the chromes of his cosmic palate;
rejuvenated the willows with ingenious splashes of those gamboge shades
which remind one of fantastic tropical climes; and turned high noon
into a glittering dream of gold. Oh, Springtime in Buenos Aires! Season
of awakening grace and enchanting harmony, with nothing of the torpor
of hot climates, the over-vivid colorings of the tropics, nor of the
sluggishness of those lands where nature puts human energy to sleep
through a long winter! Springtime in Buenos Aires! The air quivers
with a dust of gold, which seems to float down from the brilliant
sky, emanate from the trees, the flowers, and the grass, enveloping
the buildings and transfiguring the human beings who pass through it.
Springtime in Buenos Aires!

But for Monsalvat the spring was a season of sadness. To him the light
and color and sounds of the reinvigorated city were meaningless. He
noticed neither the satisfaction of the plants and grasses in the stir
of life within them, nor the delight shining in the faces about him.
He was alone in the Universe, a stranger to the world he lived in,
for that world was now his enemy; a stranger also, through birth and
station, to the world of those who are down-trodden, and oppressed.
His mother dead, his sister lost, and that other woman in whom his
new life had taken form, as yet unfound, he was alone. The friends of
former times laughed at his ideas and ideals, said he had a new "pose,"
thought him crazy. What could he discuss with them except the trivial
events of the social farce? They neither understood him nor wished to
understand. He was utterly and irrevocably alone. If some one chanced
to mention the beauty of the day, he answered--but to himself--"What
is that to me?" What is there beyond our own sensations? Does even
the material world exist save as our senses make us aware of it? And
his sensations told him that there was nothing but sadness, grief,
loneliness and gloom in all the human beings around him. The world was
his own unhappy creation, the work of his agonized spirit. No, that
Springtide was for him a time of bitterness.

All the while Nacha, with her somewhat ingenuous aspirations to a new
kind of life was hiding at Mlle. Dupont's, Monsalvat had been searching
for her. With Torres, he had sought her at Mme. Annette's toward the
beginning of September, about a month before Nacha had gone there. He
had been also to the house of Juanita Sanmartino, and the more recent
disappointment of not finding Nacha there filled him with gloomy
foreboding. Where was she? No one knew. Torres was certain she had not
returned to her former means of livelihood; for in that case she would
have appeared at one of these houses. It was Torres' theory that she
was living with someone, perhaps some former friend, perhaps a recent
chance acquaintance.

And Eugenia Monsalvat? No one could give him any clue to her
whereabouts either. Had she changed her name? Was she dead? Or dragging
out a wretched existence in the big city's underworld?

Towards the end of September, an appointment as second chief of staff
in a department of the Ministry of Foreign Relations came to distract
Monsalvat from his obsession of loneliness and failure. He began now
to spend all his afternoons working at the Ministry. Some of his
colleagues, who had heard the rumors current about Monsalvat's opinions
and eccentricities, tried to make him talk, to force him to commit
himself; but he maintained his reserve, and skillfully turned aside the
indiscreet insinuations aimed at him.

On a certain morning of this same month, Monsalvat betook himself to
his mother's former lodgings, for he thought it time to call upon the
Morenos. Since the morning when he had suspected that Irene was in
danger of falling in love with him, he had avoided seeing her. What
might such a feeling on her part lead to? Yet, free as he was from
other entanglements why should he not accept the affection of this
pretty and passionate girl? She was experienced enough to know what she
was doing--there would be no deception.... In his solitude, with no
friend on all the wide horizon of his life, why run away from Irene?...
But there was Nacha.... What though his search had been useless, and he
had no news of her, nor any kind of assurance that she ever thought of
him? No; he could not, now, permit himself to love another woman. He
was bound as by a vow. Was he then in love with Nacha? One whole week
he fought out the answer; called himself ridiculous, despised himself,
tried to detach his thoughts from everything which might draw him
towards her; it was of no avail. On the contrary, the more he thought
of her the more he longed to find her. But he had not forgotten Irene.
He did not go to see her; but he sent her money in amounts which to
her family seemed enormous. Irene wrote to thank him and asked to be
allowed to see him in his rooms if he would not come to call on her.

On this September afternoon Monsalvat found the entire Moreno family at
home, to his relief; for he did not want to be alone with Irene.

"My Protector," exclaimed Moreno, at sight of him, "my Doctor, Savior
of my accursed tribe, Light of Legal Science! Model of Generosity!"

Monsalvat protested at these eulogies and tried to escape from Moreno's
determined embrace. His wife was laughing at her husband, and at the
same time, crying, as she kissed Monsalvat's hand and pointed to the
children.

"We cannot permit such modesty, Doctor. We are yours, entirely yours.
To think that the whole Moreno family, and Moreno himself ... _Quantum
mutatus ab illo!_ as Cicero said. You see I do not forget my Latin!
Culture, Doctor! I was a man of law once, I lived among books and
historic cases--and now I am a pauper, a drunkard, a...."

Irene, standing in a corner of the room, covered her face, ashamed.
From the moment Monsalvat had come into the room she had not moved,
waiting for the avalanche of thanks she had foreseen, to pass.
Monsalvat, as embarrassed as she by Moreno's words, finally made his
way through the huddling children and held out his hand to her.

"The flower of my house!" exclaimed Moreno, adding in a melancholy
tone, "Ah, if we were not so poor, I would give her to no one but a
Prince--or--pardon me--to a Dr. Monsalvat, who is like a prince; for he
is a Prince of Jurisprudence...."

Neither Monsalvat nor Irene were listening. Monsalvat had started
when he felt Irene's burning hand in his, and saw her eyes, darkened
with the passion that consumed her. He looked at her a moment and,
not knowing what to say, turned to address Moreno's fawning flattery.
Monsalvat then took leave, saying he had come especially to learn if
Irene had some news for him.

"I am going to tell it to you. Come!" Irene replied with a strange
burst of energy; and she faced him with flashing eyes and quivering
lips.

Monsalvat shook hands with her parents and followed to the narrow
hallway which led to the stairs. Moreno was coming along too but Irene
told him to stay with her mother.

"She gives the orders! Now you see, Doctor, what has become of my
paternal authority. I'm just the watch-dog. I hear and obey, for fear
of the whip! When your career is over, that's what you get! My dear
doctor, I am your servant!" Monsalvat followed Irene down the dark hall
for a few yards. They came closer to one another, his clothing touched
hers. He was conscious of the girl's burning passion, he felt himself
being drawn towards her. In the semi-darkness Irene's brilliant eyes
gleamed strangely.

"Well, what news?" asked Monsalvat uneasily.

"News!" Irene with quick violence pulled Monsalvat's face toward hers
and placed on his mouth her hot, trembling lips.

He turned faint. His will abandoned him. He heard the wild, mad words
Irene was saying. "He must take her away!" She pressed her trembling
body close to his. Suddenly Monsalvat came to himself. Nacha's image
arose before his eyes.... With a strength which came from the depths
of his soul he pushed Irene away from him. This poor passionate girl
was threatening his ideal. All that he had so far accomplished was in
danger of crumbling to dust. The only justification of his life would,
with a moment's weakness, be lost. He said good-bye to her, asked her
to forgive him and walked quietly toward the stairs.

"Don't leave me this way," she cried. "If I can't work for you, live
for you, I shall die, I shall kill myself ... if you won't take me with
you!"

But Monsalvat did not hear. He was already in the street.

Irene, shaken by violent shudders and sobs, with a wild cry, threw
herself against the wall.

After this episode he was more eager than ever to find Nacha. He began
to make the rounds of cabarets, restaurants, and theatres. But day
after day passed, and there was not the slightest news of her. He began
to despair when it occurred to him that the streets might furnish him
the information he so anxiously sought. He became a vagabond, roaming
about hour after hour, morning, afternoon, and night. The avenues in
the centre of the city, those where women of pleasure passed, came
to know him. He thought he saw Nacha, quickened his step, followed
the woman. It was not she. He sought her face in the crowds that all
morning wander idly up and down the _Avenida Florida_. He sought it in
the throngs loitering on the wide promenade when the lights of the shop
windows drive back the shadows of the high buildings. He sought her
among the young and pretty women who surreptitiously pass up and down
the avenue, in quest of bread, love, pleasure. He sought her at night
in the streets leading toward the theatres, the movies, the cabarets.
And his shadow passing up and down these places was no different from
that of a man timidly seeking a daughter of joy. The thousand noises
of the street, the cries of newspaper venders, automobile horns,
street-car gongs, phonographs playing in the shops, the persistent
scraping of shoe leather on the sidewalk, the voices of the toy
venders, of the sellers of lottery tickets, of the flower girls, rang
out in the strange chaotic symphony of the city. But he was deaf to
it all. Lights glittered, electric street-signs flashed; blue, red,
green, yellow lamps shone out from windows, sometimes far above the
street; but he went by unaware of all this nightly brilliancy. The show
windows tempted with jewels, flowers, books; he was blind to them. He
went on, heedless of the marvelous spectacle offered by the streets of
cosmopolitan exuberant, noisy, energetic, restless Buenos Aires. He was
incapable of seeing anything but the face he sought: Nacha's face.

And while he searched for Nacha, he searched the streets for his sister
also. But not with the same eagerness. For Eugenia, whom he scarcely
knew, he had never had much affection. Besides, there was so little
hope of finding her in this fashion! In the ten years that had passed
since he had seen her, the transformation of an innocent twenty year
old girl into a courtesan must have been thoroughly accomplished. How
could he recognize her even if he met her? He wanted to come upon her
and help her, yes;--but from sense of duty; and because of his mother's
last wish.

October now. A month and a half had passed in useless searching.
Discouraged, he thought of giving up all hope, and returning to his
former way of life, since he had failed in his first duty, that of
finding Nacha. He tried to discover arguments to justify his abandoning
what he called his "duty." What was Nacha after all? Well then--was he
going to fall in love with that kind of a woman, and make her represent
an ideal, a duty, a reason for living? Had he brought ruin upon her?
Why did he want to see her?

He began to think that he would never find her, that she was
irrecoverably lost. And it was his fault! It was he who had gone to
see her, tried to influence her, caused trouble between her and her
lover. It was only just that he should help her to regain her moral
independence, the right she shared with every human being to hope and
to love. He could not let her continue in slavery, any more than he
could allow any other human beings whom he, personally, knew, to remain
enslaved! But he hoped also, in saving her, to save himself. It was
not exploitation by others that threatened him, but his own coldness
of fear, and the uselessness of his empty life. He wanted to free
himself from the clutch of vanity, from the all-enveloping net of human
selfishness. He must accomplish something good and great! To redeem the
slaves of degrading labor, of destructive passion, of vice and greed,
there was a man's task. Well, the opportunity for that might come....

But meanwhile there was a girl who was unhappy, who needed his help.
Would it be such a small thing to save her? He could imagine himself
quite content were that accomplished. Suddenly hope sprang up in the
midst of his discouragement. If his tenants refused to allow the
improvements he had wanted to make in the tenement, he would use the
forty thousand _pesos_ of his mortgage in carrying on a thorough search
of the city. Surely Nacha would be found! Before long, however, he
had to part with a considerable sum to pay off his mother's debts;
and to buy from Celedonia some letters of Eugenia's which the mulatto
intimated she could profitably sell to the newspapers. Monsalvat had an
uneasy feeling that this procedure of hers had been suggested by that
enthusiastic admirer of his, Moreno.

One October afternoon Torres, whom he met on the street, exclaimed,
"I have some news. Nacha has gone back to the profession. A few days
ago she was at Madame Annette's." This was a blow as well as a relief.
But his friend's words seemed to summon Nacha from the air. All that
afternoon, all night, all the next day, and the days following, Nacha
was with him, and in the midst of intense suffering he felt a new,
strange joy....



                             CHAPTER XIII


During the ten days when Nacha lay ill in bed her story reached the
ears of everyone in the boarding house and aroused general interest.
The girls of this calling, who are not yet hardened by cynicism
and despair, are for the most part sentimental, even romantic, and
invariably sympathize with the hero or the heroine, as the case may
be, of a moving love story. Nacha was reported to be suffering from a
passion for a man who had spoken to her only once; it was asserted also
that she knew neither who he was, nor where he came from; but the fact
that she must needs be unfaithful to this platonic and strange love,
could not fail to arouse the liveliest sympathy among all these girls.
They pitied her from their hearts, and considered it quite natural that
she should be ill under the circumstances. When a girl loved a man as
much as this, it was a shame that she should have to live as Nacha was
living! What did this man look like, they wondered, and what could
he and Nacha have talked about in that one fatal conversation? Then
from trying to imagine what this love story must have been, they began
to recall others in which they had played a part. But none of them
was like Nacha's which, they agreed, surpassed even the "daily love
stories" of the newspapers. And they envied Nacha, and hoped for an
experience like hers, even though, like her, they might have to suffer
hunger and sickness.

The owner of the house, Doña Lucía, was a silent little old woman. She
kept two rooms, spotlessly clean, and entirely unattractive, for her
own use. She never ate with her boarders and was too timid to call on
them in their rooms or make any advances to them. Of a good provincial
family, she concealed her name, for she thought it discreditable to
have such lodgers in her house. Her family was little known in Buenos
Aires, and as a matter of fact, she had little affection for any of its
members; nevertheless she had a superstitious respect for "good blood"
and would have suffered anything rather than disgrace an old name. Poor
and alone, forgotten by her relatives, this widow of an officer who had
died insane, had taken up her quarters in a boarding house kept by a
friend. Even then lodgers of doubtful respectability were frequenting
it. Doña Lucía was aware of this fact but never dared mention it to her
friend, and when the latter died, she kept the house going. She had
resolved to take in no one without references, but she was too timid to
insist on this point. Moreover she always found it hard not to believe
what she was told. After awhile she grew accustomed to the class of
boarders who sought her house; and the girls had a genuine respect for
this old lady who went to church so often, and looked so severe.

When Nacha was well enough to get up, she went to call on Doña Lucía,
to thank her for kind attentions such as goblets of port wine, and the
paying of her medicines at the drug store during her illness. Doña
Lucía revealed that all this had been done at the expense of three of
the lodgers, Julieta, Sara and Ana María. These girls barely knew her
and Nacha was touched by their generosity. She was well aware that
Sara earned little having recently had difficulties with the police;
Julieta was a quiet little person who made barely enough to live on,
and Ana María's own bad health required a considerable expenditure for
medicines. Their care of Nacha must have been at the cost of their own
necessities.

Nacha could not but admit that she would have done as much for Julieta
and Sara, who were already her friends; but it surprised her very
much that Ana María should have shared in this expense. Ana María
had visited her only twice during her illness. The first time she
had come in with Julieta, and Nacha had been disagreeably affected
by her presence. She was painfully emaciated, her cheeks sunken and
yellow and her wide eyes looked frightened. Nacha decided she must be
consumptive. She noted that her features were fine, of an aristocratic
caste. During that first visit Nacha could not keep from staring at
Ana María's wasted form, her prominent shoulder blades, her sunken
chest, the transparent skin of her hands. The girl spoke slowly and
there was in her voice a haunting melancholy. No one knew much about
her. She claimed that her name was Ana María Gonzalez, but offered
nothing to prove it. She seemed destitute of plans, of desire to live,
of interests. Julieta had heard, from a friend, that Ana María had once
possessed every luxury. A success in the "profession," she had owned a
fine house, plenty of money, her own automobile; but quite recently,
and very suddenly had come the decay of fortune and health. There
was something mysterious about her which excited Nacha's curiosity.
The second time she saw her, Nacha was alone in her room. Ana María,
staring at her with her wide strange eyes, questioned her about her
life. Nacha's answer appeared to interest her but little; indeed, she
seemed at times not to be listening. When Nacha began to talk about
Monsalvat, however, Ana María suddenly became all attention. She seemed
to be absorbing this part of the story with all her senses, with all
her soul; yet, when Nacha had ended, she left the room without a word.

Since that afternoon Nacha had not seen her, but she spoke of her to
Julieta and Sara. Julieta, plump and gentle, with velvety eyes and red
lips, still retained a great deal of girlish modesty. She cherished
the dream that a grand passion would come to her rescue. At times
she became melancholy, even pessimistic, but she did not yet count
herself among the lost. One result of this was that the other girls
considered her "respectable." Among these others was Sara, who had
all the appearance of having fallen very low indeed, yet she had led
this life scarcely a year. Vice had, however, set its mark on her. She
liked coarse stories, and obscene words. When, in the dining-room,
some one of the men living in the house told a questionable anecdote,
Sara never failed to respond with something worse. She was tall, thin,
quick of movement with long arms and legs. Her face was sufficiently
pretty, but it was her mouth people noticed; a mouth that was large,
the lips mobile, and curving slightly upward, red as pomegranates, and
moist. When talking, she moved her head constantly, gesticulating with
her long arms. She rarely sat still, preferring to walk up and down,
and she could not say a sentence without covering a distance of two or
three yards, lifting her feet as though about to execute a dance step,
laughing and opening her mouth wide so that one could see her long
uneven teeth. There was not the slightest reserve nor modesty about
her and she sought her patrons in the street with an indifference to
appearances which distressed Julieta. Sara seemed oddly unaware of
her situation, and of the difference between her and decent women. As
to men, they were all the same to her. She liked them all, and never
attempted to claim any one of them. Doña Lucía could not bear her and
would have put her out had she dared, for Sara and her friends, when
they were in a merry mood, would sing, talk loud, and burst into roars
of laughter, all to the great distress of Doña Lucía, who implored
the saints to free her from this disgraceful boarder. Sara's one fear
was the police. She had only lately been arrested on the street and
since then had become very cautious. Ana María gave every evidence
of thoroughly disliking her; and several times when Sara indulged in
coarse speeches, she had left the table. This always seemed a good joke
to Sara, who, between bursts of laughter, would call Ana María "Madame
Pompadour," though no one knew where she found this name, nor why she
applied it to Ana María.

"Ana María must be half crazy," Nacha was saying. "I am afraid of her."

"You needn't be," Julieta replied. "She suffers a good deal. Nobody
knows what she's been through before coming to this. I'm sorry for her.
The poor girl has a kind heart."

"Yes, of course!" exclaimed Sara, with a laugh, walking up and down in
the room. "You always think they have 'kind hearts.' I think she's got
a lot of silly pride. She thinks herself better than the rest of us."

"Well, isn't she?" asked Julieta.

Nacha, now almost well, dreaded the moment of complete recovery. That
moment would exact her return to what she hated. She would have given
years from her life to be able to live as a decent girl. Moreover
she was afraid of having another attack of illness if she could not
have the decency she craved. But it was neither for fear of illness,
nor love of decency that she wanted to keep "straight." It was for
Monsalvat, who was in her thoughts night and day, whether she slept
or lay awake, when she talked with her companions, and when she read,
alone in her room.

One afternoon when Julieta came in Nacha said to her, "I want to be
good--on his account, you see, Julieta. I'd do anything, work in a
store, or whatever comes along. Do you think there's any chance--of my
being what I ought to be?"

Julieta, who had been listening with a woeful expression in her dark
eyes, smiled gently, and caressed Nacha's hand, but she did not look at
her friend.

"Why don't you answer me? Do you think it impossible that I--that any
woman--for love, and thinking all the time of him...? Is it impossible?
Tell me the truth. If you don't tell me what you really think you're
not my friend. Is it possible? Answer me!"

"It would be if it depended only on us. But people make it so hard for
us! They don't want us to be good, Nacha!"

Both girls knew how true that was, and remained silent a long time,
saddened, hurt, looking at one another like little children who have
lost their mother.

Nevertheless Nacha determined to make one more attempt to save herself.
She would find Monsalvat. She would seek him to the ends of the earth!
So she began questioning the two students who lived in the house, a
pair of lazy rascals, who took small interest in anything beyond their
immediate horizon. One of them, Grajera, a short dark youth, as ugly
as he was talkative, a chronic law-student, dissipated, incapable of
telling the truth, had tried every makeshift for raising money. He had
taught the art of skating, delivered lectures on tuberculosis, acted
in cheap theatres, written articles for small town newspapers, and
invented a system for never paying hotel or boarding house bills. Nacha
had known him years ago in her mother's boarding house, and, because
Grajera had made Riga's acquaintance there, was on friendly terms with
him. He was besides an amusing table companion. Nacha implored him
to find out where Monsalvat lived, and Grajera willingly promised to
do so. The only trouble was that he always forgot to attend to this
commission.

The other youth, also nominally a student, although it would have been
hard to discover of what, was of a family from Córdoba, the son of a
well-known judge, whose death after a laborious and austere life, had
been generally lamented. Panchito, who had been sent away from home on
account of early misbehavior, returned to Córdoba after his father's
death, but was now once more in Buenos Aires, incorrigible as ever,
always on the lookout for a chance to play a trick to his advantage,
always running after women and always lying to everybody. Nacha asked
him also to try to discover Monsalvat's whereabouts; but Panchito
never thought about anything except the next races, handicaps, betting
favorites and other topics of the turf. He always jotted down in a note
book the wind velocity, the weight of each horse, the condition of the
track, and other highly significant details. Yet, notwithstanding all
this care, and the scientific accuracy of the data on which Panchito
based his calculations, he invariably lost.

When she saw that her friends were not going to help her much, Nacha
had recourse to a woman who told fortunes from cards. She had been
recommended by Sara, who asserted that she never failed to foretell
exactly what was going to happen. Nacha sent for her, and watched
breathlessly, in tense excitement, while the dirty, yellow-skinned old
sybil prepared to read her fate from a greasy pack of cards, which had
been shuffled by Nacha, and cut with her left hand.

"The ace of diamonds and the four of clubs mean recovery from sickness.
But here's the four of hearts; that means successful love; completely
successful; because here's the two of hearts, do you see, which means a
proposal! Then--here's a dark woman, and serious illness!"

"Yes. It's a woman. But there's nothing here that means love. It's
certainly a woman, Miss."

Nacha tried to find an interpretation that would fit all of this. Could
Monsalvat be ill? or in love with another woman? Such an idea was
unbearable. Then she asked the question that was uppermost in her mind.
"Where did Monsalvat live?"

"Here's the king of hearts! That means a dark man, of strong character,
and generous."

"That's it, of course! Well, where is he?"

"This doesn't say. But here's the two of spades. That means a letter,
or news, or an arrival. Either the dark man is going to write to you;
or he is coming here at any moment."

Nacha gladly paid the old woman the five _pesos_ she charged for her
services. This left her penniless, but she was happy! Everything looked
hopeful now. Several times during the day she thought Monsalvat was
about to arrive on the scene. The following day, she felt so certain
that someone was coming that she waited in the courtyard; and she was
immensely surprised when some newcomers turned out to be a man and wife
with their twelve year old daughter, relatives of Panchito's, and just
landed from Córdoba. No sooner were they installed in their rooms than
there was a general rush to Panchito's quarters for an explanation.
Panchito, still half asleep, was forced to receive his callers in bed.
Grajera, in the bedroom opposite, was snoring and Sara tried to rouse
him with ticklings, slaps, and cold water, until there was a general
protest. Meanwhile Panchito tried desperately to piece together an
explanation of his relatives' arrival at his boarding house.

"Just like that donkey to come here," he was saying. "I told him what
kind of a house this was, and what made him bring his family here, I
don't know! Oh, I've got it! I didn't see through it before! This is
some of my old woman's work, that's what it is! Of course! I wrote her
that I was living in a very respectable house, with a highly religious
family, and that they made me go to confession twice a month--and the
old woman must have repeated all this to that bumpkin uncle of mine who
lives out in the country, in Saint Joseph's Sleepy Hollow--and he took
it into his head to come here...."

"Where did you say he lived?" inquired Sara, her mouth open from ear to
ear.

"Saint Joseph's Sleepy Hollow--a little village over toward...."

But the name called forth a series of witticisms at which Sara was
nearly beside herself with mirth. Panchito implored the girls to behave
properly. He didn't want his relatives to become aware of their mistake
if it could be prevented. Then he drove all his visitors out, and went
back to bed.

That afternoon Grajera and Panchito presented themselves, in throes of
laughter, at Nacha's door. They had just beheld Sara reclining on a
couch, her long legs waving in the air, while she lent an obliging ear
to a detailed account of all the troubles, sicknesses and operations of
the lady from Córdoba, who had evidently taken a great fancy to this
sympathetic listener.

Doña Lucía was delighted with her new boarders, though somewhat
astonished when they informed her that they had selected her house
because it had been recommended to them for its atmosphere. Doña Lucía
could only nod and curtsey, and turn every color of the rainbow. She
perceived, however, that her guests from Córdoba would require her to
set a good table; and, against her will, she found herself forced to
ask Nacha for her board.

This was what Nacha had been dreading. She could not blame Doña Lucía,
who was well within her right. All night long she tried to devise some
means of escaping the inevitable. Should she try a hand at a gambling
table, buy a lottery ticket, ask someone to lend her money...? But at
two o'clock the next day she put on her street clothes and started off
for the house of Signora Sanmartino, avoiding Julieta's clear eyes as
she did so; for she was ashamed, not so much because of the act itself
as because of what it signified, the betrayal of a feeling which had
ennobled her and purified her in the eyes of her companions.

Nacha knew Juanita Sanmartino of old. Although Juanita was an Italian
she might have been Queen Victoria's own sister. The same complexion,
the same downward curving nose, the same odd and rather ridiculous way
of wearing her hair. Like Mme. Annette, she had a daughter, and for her
daughter's sake traded in the misfortunes of other women. Her daughter,
a pretty girl of fourteen, lived in the house; and her pristine
innocence seemed quite untouched by her surroundings.

Nacha returned crushed. She paid for a few days' board; then went to
her room, and threw herself on her bed, weeping.

Suddenly she felt a presence in the room and sat up. More skeleton-like
than ever, Ana María stood looking at her. Nacha gave a little scream.
The girl tried to take her hand, but Nacha drew away, shuddering, from
the touch of her skin.

"Why ... are you afraid ... of me?"

Ana María's words struck her ear like a voice from beyond the grave.
It was growing dark; but Nacha had not the courage to get up and turn
on the light, nor did she know what to reply. So she waited, hoping
Julieta would come in.

"Tell me again about Monsalvat," commanded Ana María feverishly.

"I think he must have loved me very much, don't you? Who else would
have done what he did for me? And yet sometimes I think it was not for
me at all, but for his sister who was betrayed, and who is lost, as I
am lost. I think he did for me what he wanted to do for her."

Ana María's expression was very strange, her eyes wild as though she
saw something as ghastly as death. Nacha, terrified, was about to cry
out; but Ana María sat silent, her wasted body scarcely able any longer
to hold the unhappy spirit that was trying desperately to tear itself
out of it. Finally she stood up and went out of the room, but with
an unsteady step, leaning on the articles of furniture she passed.
When Julieta and Sara came in, Nacha told them about Ana María's
unaccountable behavior.

"Perhaps she knew Monsalvat. Perhaps he was a lover of hers," suggested
Sara.

"Oh," cried Nacha, with a start. "I see what it is. I see! His sister!"

Julieta rushed to the girl's room to discover if this were true. She
found Ana María lying on her bed, motionless, apparently asleep.
While Julieta stood looking at her, she opened her eyes once or twice
but apparently saw nothing. Julieta spoke to her, but received no
reply. She knew this was all very strange, but stood hesitating, not
knowing what to do, until Ana María grew restless and began to murmur
unintelligibly. Then Julieta called Sara and Nacha. It occurred to them
to give the sick girl some brandy; but she grew worse, and began to
moan. Then she became delirious. They sent for the doctor. The whole
house was curious, now, to see what was going on. Some of the boarders
crowded into the room, others stood around the door asking questions.
Doña Lucía, full of scruples, did not venture to come in.

When the doctor arrived, Ana María was dying. He was not long in
discovering what had happened, for a morphine syringe lay on the floor,
and on the table by the bed there was a bottle of the drug.

Julieta and Nacha searched through the dead girl's belongings for a
clue to her name; and they soon came upon some old letters tied up
in blue ribbon. Almost everyone began "Dear Eugenia" and ended "Your
brother" or "Fernando." Among them were three photographs, one of an
elderly man, one of a woman, and one of Fernando Monsalvat. Nacha
took possession of this last. There could no longer be any doubt. The
unfortunate morphine addict was Eugenia Monsalvat....

Nacha had never seen death at close hand before. Obsessed by the
scene she had just witnessed, she imagined herself dying, forsaken by
everyone she knew. The horrible pictures Monsalvat had painted of what
lay in store for her rose threateningly in her memory; and she was so
terrified by her imaginings that she could not bear to be alone for a
single moment, nor could she bring herself to go to bed. Once when she
tried to sleep fully dressed, she awoke suddenly, uttering a shriek
which startled the entire household. In her dream she had been locked
in a coffin....

Panchito's aunt, and Doña Lucía set the room in order, and performed
the last services for poor Ana María. Sara, whose custom it was to go
out to the streets every night after dinner, remained in the room,
silent, and full of grotesque fears. As the women sat watching the
dead girl one of them began to pray, and the girls joined in, shaken
and weeping. The rough pine coffin, the two yellow tapers, the tearful
prayers for the unhappy creature who had died in poverty, and far
from any of her kin, the grief of these other girls, who wept as if
repentent of all the tawdry weakness of their lives, formed a scene
impressive even to the three or four men looking on. It seemed as
though Ana María's long days of suffering, and short hours of joy, her
caresses and her laughter, the goblets of champagne that those dead
hands had raised to then living lips, and the soft silks that had once
touched that cold body, were transformed into tears now, blinding the
eyes of these girls, who wept for her past, for her death, for her
suffering, but above all, for her despair.

At a certain moment, when the women began to pray, the two students,
empty-headed and irreligious as they were, had the same impulse. They
too wished to offer something to the dead; and at precisely the same
moment, hastily, and each trying to hide the gesture from the other,
they crossed themselves. At any other time this would have been the
occasion of ridicule; but now each turned away with a smile that had
in it more of pity than anything else; for even they felt that there
was in that room something more than a tragic death; to cross ones-self
in the presence of these even more tragic lives seemed indeed a small
thing.



                              CHAPTER XIV


The doctor's words rang in Monsalvat's ear.

"Nacha has returned to the profession." How ironical the phrase!
Profession, in truth, but of despair instead of faith in God, in law,
in science! Yet oddly enough, this very relapse of hers gave him hope.
He knew now where to look for her; and at the thought his blood ran
faster. The very signs on the street corners spoke of finding her;
automobile horns, the cries of street venders, all the incongruous
voices of the enormous city, clamored to him that soon he would find
Nacha. When his thoughts dwelt on all that was horrible, inhuman and
painful in the life the girl must at that very moment be leading, his
heart seemed to grow cold. No, it was better not to think.... Yet, were
it not for these facts too horrible to think of, he might never trace
her!

So, with his friend the doctor, he began the search for Nacha, and also
for his sister, although his recovery of Eugenia was now a secondary
interest. Together they started on a painful and long journey through
the circles of that living hell reserved for fallen women, a martyrdom
among other more frightful martyrdoms. Yet these stages of his journey
led him through only the first circles of that inferno; for it was
in these first circles that he expected to find the two women he was
seeking. There are other circles more frightful and more tragic still.

With the doctor as his guide Monsalvat descended into these regions.
The entrance gate was Madame Annette's front door; and upon it might
very well have been blazoned forth

    "Through me you pass into the city of woe,
    Through me you pass into eternal pain,
    Through me among the people lost for aye!"

But, alas, these were not the only gates of hell! Their number was
infinite, and the women who passed through returned no more. However,
the door of Mme. Annette's house was the principal gate, the gate of
gold!

"Nacha Regules?" the French woman repeated coldly. "I don't know her."

The doctor persisted however in his inquiries, for he had caught a
false intonation in the woman's denial. Mme. Annette kept to her first
statement; and as he watched her vulgar gestures and listened to her
displeasing voice, Monsalvat felt an indefinable uneasiness. How could
such a woman, disagreeable, coarse, bad-tempered as she appeared, have
the patrons of the sort Torres asserted she had? Surely crime lurked
under the apparent luxury of this place; and if this evil enchantress
succeeded in satisfying her aristocratic clients, it was with morsels
of delicate flesh obtained by the most unspeakable deceptions and
cruelties!

"Shall I call in the girls?" Mme. Annette asked abruptly, mistrustful
of her callers; for she scarcely knew Torres and she had noticed
Monsalvat's disgust.

"Let us go to the dining-room. Ask them to have a glass of champagne
with us," the doctor replied.

Three of the girls came in. One of them was the child with whom Nacha
had made friends. Monsalvat started at sight of this young thing. His
eyes flashed anger as he looked at Mme. Annette, who lowered hers,
more frightened than ashamed. Torres called the child to him and she
sat down on the sofa beside him. Mme. Annette left her callers for
a moment while she went to prepare the champagne. A fine-looking
brunette, who declared herself a Paraguayan, entered into conversation
with Monsalvat. Her eyes, indeed all her features, and her manner of
speaking, bore witness to not very remote Indian ancestors. She knew
nothing of Nacha or Eugenia, had never heard of them. Monsalvat, who
thought every woman in this profession must be the victim of hostile
circumstances, asked her to tell him her story. No doubt she too had
suffered at the hands of father, or lover, or some exploiter of women!
The girl, however, protested that the life she was leading was the only
life for her. It meant pleasure, freedom, money; she did not have to
work and heard nothing but pretty speeches from men. As she spoke a
savage sensuality played about her eyes and lips. Obviously she loved
pleasure for pleasure's sake. While she praised her profession she blew
kisses into the air or pressed her arms tightly against her breasts
in a kind of ecstasy; and she drank her champagne slowly, tasting its
sweetness to the full, licking her lips, and looking mischievously
at Monsalvat out of the corner of her eye. He was thinking meanwhile
that though she was far from looking upon herself as a victim, she
was one nevertheless. Who could tell what fatal inheritance was hers?
The descendant perhaps of alcoholics who had sought in liquor some
alleviation for the misery of their material circumstances, or for that
other misery caused by the hatred and prejudices of their neighbors! A
link by itself meant nothing. One had to consider the whole chain; evil
could be born only of evil.

Meanwhile Torres was obtaining information. The child beside him knew
nothing of Eugenia but she recalled very distinctly a girl who had come
there one afternoon. "She felt so sorry for me," the child went on,
"and her name was Nacha. She went away, because she had a quarrel with
Madame--I don't know what about--."

Madame meanwhile had admitted to Torres, when he told her that they
wanted to find Nacha for some reason connected with "justice," that she
had been there.

"You put her in jail, do! That's where she belongs! You ought to hear
the language she uses! I'm a respectable woman: I don't owe a cent to
anybody, and I'm a good mother! There aren't many who pay more for
their daughter's education! Some of the best people in Buenos Aires are
my friends and that impudent little hussy allows herself to talk back
to me!"

As the two men were leaving they met an acquaintance of the doctor's at
the curb. Just as she was getting out of a taxi Torres inquired of the
seductive Amelia if she could give him any news of Nacha.

"Go to Juanita's. Someone told me only yesterday that she went there.
I must say I don't understand Nacha. Juanita's of all places! Such a
crazy thing to do! One must keep up one's position, don't you think?
There's no need of stepping down in the world before one has to. She
just lowers herself going to Juanita's.... How am I looking, darling
Doctor? Am I getting old, do you think? Well, so long! Good-bye, old
man!"

It was still only about six o'clock; and they decided to go to the
Sanmartino house then and there. Juanita received them in a large
parlor, stuffy with hangings and filled with pretentious furniture.
With her usual stately dignity and Victoria-like appearance, Mme.
Sanmartino met her two callers very graciously. Monsalvat who was
standing in the middle of the room saw a little girl of thirteen or so
pass through the hall. He felt that behind the portières of the doorway
women were watching; and it seemed to him that everywhere in that
house, in the air, in the furnishings, were traces of Nacha; yet he
divined also that he would not find her there.

"Yes, she used to come here," Juanita was saying in an ingratiating
tone, slowly moving her head up and down. "A very nice girl, too. Quite
pretty! But she doesn't come any more. No doubt she has found somebody
to take care of her...."

She stopped, and looked at both men fearing her words might have
wounded one of them. Monsalvat had not been able to control a start.

"Well, anyway, she doesn't come here any more, but I don't know why.
Sometimes our patrons take girls away from the house--and set them up.
But I don't think that in this case...."

Monsalvat turned pale. He had lost her again! But Torres inquired the
name of the patron who had made friends with Nacha, and Juanita gave it
to him at once. Then, in the silence that followed, the doctor looked
at his friend and nodded. Monsalvat understood. Now was the time to ask
about Eugenia; but he had not the courage. Torres came to his rescue,
but obtained no satisfaction. Perhaps the girl had changed her name!
Monsalvat described her. But what good was his description? There were
several girls in that very house who answered it.

"Did you see that child in the hall?" Monsalvat asked nervously when he
and Torres reached the street.

"That's Juanita's daughter. It's strange, isn't it? Juanita is
sacrificing herself for that child. She hopes to work up a business
that's good enough to sell, and then retire on a small fortune. It's
for her daughter's sake that she exploits other women!"

Monsalvat demurred. "Why did she keep her daughter in such
surroundings?"

"Why, those girls wouldn't say a word in that child's presence that
she oughtn't to hear! Of course, now and then, they may let something
slip without thinking. But, after all, that child couldn't help but
consider that the relations between men and women are nothing but a
simple business arrangement. She will see that the girls she knows sell
themselves, and she too will sell herself, to some good fellow with a
fortune; but her price will be not twenty or thirty thousand dollars
but a hundred thousand. She'll make a good match."

Monsalvat was losing hope. That inferno was too vast, the catacombs
of this subterranean world too obscure and intricate! Torres, as
if to cheer him, drew a paper from his pocket. It was a sinister,
a terrifying list of two hundred houses of the kind they had just
visited, some of them aristocratic, some of them middle class, most of
them modest or shabby; and somewhere in these houses were the women
they sought! Monsalvat kept the list, but decided to continue his
search alone. He could not take up more of the doctor's time.

Torres insisted, however, on taking him to a house where there was a
good chance of obtaining information. They sent in their names and
a servant ushered them into a room which had none of the perfumed,
wholesale, elegance of Mme. Annette's house, nor the heavy, mediocre
luxuriousness over which Juanita queened it. Here everything was
extremely simple without being actually shabby. The owner of the
establishment was not long in appearing.

"Florinda," said the doctor, "this is my friend Monsalvat--and this is
my friend Florinda, the most charming of creoles...."

"At your service, gentlemen. I am entirely at your orders, but don't
believe what this flatterer says. He's an old friend--from good old
times, long past. But sit down sir! So honored by your call...."

Florinda, a creole, in the forties, tall and thin and decidedly plain,
was married, and had a battalion of children whom she kept at the
back of the house. The youngest was six months old. Her husband was
obligingly unaware of his wife's occupation; and he was too prudent,
"too good-natured," Florinda put in, to inquire as to the source of
the money which supported him. He always left the house early in the
morning and returned late at night. He loved and admired his faithful
consort, model of wives and housekeepers, and always proclaimed her
a "thorough lady." His own claims to distinction, a slow and pompous
manner of speaking, exaggerated manners, constant praise of his wife's
good qualities and his amazing physical beauty, attached her with
unbreakable bonds to this ideal husband.

"Oh, you want to know something about Nacha, sir?" Florinda murmured,
in her thin and somewhat sleepy voice. "Yes, I know her. Distinguished,
isn't she? Always very correct, and very kind! I know her. I have the
pleasure of her acquaintance, and I have always been very fond of her,
for I know how to value people, and I always recognize good breeding. I
can't bear people who are ill-bred. And I always say that breeding is
something that can't be taught. You get it in your cradle. Good blood
is the best certificate...."

The conversation went on at length. Torres always found this woman
amusing. Now and then he produced a word or phrase of double meaning,
whereupon Florinda would lower her eyes, and smile, looking like a
plump, good-natured cat.

However, she did not know Nacha's lodging place, and had never heard
of Eugenia. The two friends left, Florinda taking leave of them with a
whole series of bows, pretty speeches, and every manner of courtesy.

"Now there's a woman who really thinks she's respectable and she sold
her own daughter. Queer, isn't it?"

"We are all responsible for things such as that," Monsalvat exclaimed,
as if thinking aloud. "In that sale, the man who bought the girl was
guilty, and the parents and friends of the man to whom she was sold
had their share of guilt; and the teachers who taught that man; and
the authors of the books he read. For who of all these prevented that
sale? And what law have the law-makers devised to abolish these evils?
And weren't all those who looked on, and did nothing to prevent,
accomplices?"

Torres did not accept this collective guilt. From his point of view the
man responsible for a crime was the man who committed it or the man who
helped directly. Society? Bah! What was society but an abstraction?
Only the individual exists, and society is made up of individuals.
Monsalvat took leave of the doctor because he did not want to discuss
theories with him; he was in no mood for discussion. He affirmed, and
roundly, dogmatically, sometimes with the ideas and often in the very
language of the prophets....

Monsalvat, his list in his pocket, continued his journey next day
through the regions of the accursed. Two days later, as his eye fell
quite by chance on the police news in the morning paper, he learned of
his sister's death. The item gave the drug addict's name, mentioned
her career as a courtesan; and after thus delivering over to public
ignominy a respected name, went on to moralizings of the kind always
available in the make-up rooms of certain newspapers.

Eugenia's death, and under such conditions, was a heavy blow. Monsalvat
suddenly grew ten years older. Now he was indeed alone. His attempts
to find Nacha became frantic; failure exasperated him. No sooner was
he out of his office in the afternoon than he jumped into a taxi and
started off on his search; so all October passed.

But these regions of the lower world cannot be traversed with impunity
by the first corner. Monsalvat did not know the ways of these circles;
and he experienced annoyances, insults, all manner of humiliation. In
some houses they demanded money. In one he was robbed. On more than one
occasion he failed to gain admission and was bespattered with gross
words from within the fast-locked doors; and all the while he suffered
for these unhappy inmates as well as for himself, and came out from
his exploration of the dark wood of evil, his heart bleeding, his soul
aching, and his brain confused and exhausted.

Everything was useless! Nowhere was there trace of Nacha. Time and hope
were passing, and Monsalvat began to have periods of doubt. Perhaps
he would not find Nacha; perhaps he had not found himself! In moments
of weakness he regretted the comparative happiness of his former
life. He began to believe himself defeated, and fell into profound
discouragement.

He tried to forget; he planned several articles; he thought again of
his proposed remodelling of the tenement building, held in check by
the obstinacy of his tenants. Poor creatures! Exploited for centuries,
their grand-parents, their parents, they themselves, knew nothing else;
how could they then sense his good intentions? Their whole experience
prevented it. They could not help believing that his plans concealed
a new form of exploitation; and they considered his request for them
to move as an infringement on their rights. They were now protesting
angrily against the regulations of the new superintendent who was
trying to make his tenants observe a few elementary practices of public
hygiene. Monsalvat was anxious to have the work begun; for the sum lent
him by the bank was in danger of disappearing what with his constant
charities to people who really needed aid, and to those who imposed
upon his good faith and sympathy.

One afternoon in November he went to the tenement house. In its
over-shadowed courtyard hungry, ragged children were running about;
a few women waiting for a husband or a daughter to come home, sat
paring vegetables, while someone at the back of the house played an
accordion. The yard was littered with boxes, boards, baskets, broken
flower-pots, and all sorts of articles. At sight of Monsalvat, the
children began rushing from one end of the house to the other yelling
that the landlord had come. One might have thought from their mother's
expressions that they were announcing an enemy.

The court was soon full of people, for many of the tenants were home
from work at that hour. Monsalvat noticed a girl, rather well dressed,
and wearing a large hat, who drew near to one of the groups as he began
speaking:

"You showed me a little while ago that you did not trust me; and when
I thought it over, I decided you did right, for I hadn't talked to you
sincerely, although I tried to. But I didn't know how to tell you what
is so simple after all; and it is that I can't help thinking of you
all as my brothers, because you _are_ my brothers; and I want to free
you from needless suffering. I'm not much. I can't do a great deal for
you. I can't even give you this house because it's mortgaged; but it's
mortgaged so that you can have air and light and sanitary conditions,
so that you can live like human beings. All the money raised on this
house will be spent on it to make it a good house to live in. Then you
will come back to it and you will pay me very little rent, less than
you pay now. All I want from you is enough to pay the interest on the
mortgage. I could sell this house and rent another; but I cannot have
you herded together like cattle! Please don't doubt me. I am not your
enemy, I am your friend...."

But they did not understand. "He's some joker," a sharp voice
exclaimed. Someone else invited him to shut up and go away. That struck
the crowd as humorous and there were bursts of laughter. The children,
no longer scared, clapped and shouted. A creole, who was a typesetter
and an anarchist, was about to make a speech in behalf of those who
refused to accept the plan, when there was a sudden commotion.

"There's that street-walker turned traitor!" yelled one of the women
shaking her fist at the girl Monsalvat had noticed.

Everyone turned on her, insulting her and threatening her. The girl
defended herself vigorously; until suddenly she began to cry. This
pacified the tenants. Only the women scoffed at her tears, not
believing that one such as she could really weep. They would have
liked to scratch her and tear out her hair in vengeance for her hats
and dresses which seemed so fine to them. How ironical that this girl
should be the only one of his audience to try to defend Monsalvat, and
to insist that the plan he proposed was to everyone's advantage!

Earlier in his career Monsalvat would have been amazed that of all
these people, a good sort after all, no one but this girl should
understand him! But now it seemed to him quite natural. He had learned
that girls such as she know the full meaning of suffering; and he
knew now that grief was the school for kindness and understanding.
Moreover, a girl of this profession, even though born into the laboring
class, does not belong to it. Through her dealings with the rich, she
acquires the ways of the rich and she learns to understand these ways.
In addition her experience of men teaches her that, if some of them are
possessed of perversity and cruelty hard to conceive of, others have an
equally unbelievable kindness of heart.

Monsalvat saw that it was impossible to convince these people by any
such methods as those he had tried, and went away. But he returned the
next day, and every day; for he was determined to make friends with
his tenants. He found work for some of those who needed it, and he was
generous to those who could not pay their rent.

One day he talked with the girl who had taken his side in the courtyard
scene. She was a short, sad-faced little thing, who behaved so properly
in the house that no one could have guessed the nature of her trade.
He listened with sympathy but with no particular interest to the story
she was telling him of her experiences, until she began talking about
Florinda. Then it occurred to him to ask if she knew Nacha. She replied
that she did not; but a week or so later she announced to him with a
smile that she had just met the girl he had asked her about.

"You called her Nacha, didn't you? A slender girl who lived awhile with
Pampa Arnedo? Well, go to this address. The house belongs to a woman
who is paralyzed and pushes herself about in a wheel chair. I go there
quite often; and Nacha and I are getting to be good friends."

But Monsalvat was no longer listening. He could hear nothing now in the
whole wide universe but the words ringing in his heart.... Nacha found!
Nacha at this address! And he actually held the address on a slip of
crumpled paper in his hand! Never had Nacha seemed so near as at this
moment....



                              CHAPTER XV


That fifteenth of November was, for Nacha Regules, one of the
unforgettable days of her life; for it brought her intense happiness
and at the same time almost unbearable sorrow. She had not gone to the
house of the paralytic the day before, as she was occupied in moving
to another boarding house. Doña Lucía's had become distasteful to her
since she had discovered that one of the men there was accustomed to
spend the afternoon reading in one room while his wife received men in
another. She had made inquiries of the other boarders, expressed her
indignation, complained to Doña Lucía. The husband thereupon sought an
interview with her. He was a vigorous blond, with a yellow mustache,
prominent eyes, and a misshapen mouth.

"You have the wrong idea about me," he began. "I'm an honorable man;
I never owed a cent to anybody, and what's more, I don't owe anybody
a cent now; and what my wife does is her own business, a private
matter...."

Nacha did not care to talk with him; so she told him he was quite
right and put an end to the interview. However she left the house two
days later. On account of an unpleasant incident at Juanita's she
ceased going there also; and Julieta introduced her to her friend, the
paralytic.

She arrived at this woman's house early one afternoon, and found her
alone. The paralytic asked to be read to and Nacha began reading aloud
the interminable novel her employer was engaged upon. Nacha had felt
depressed and nervous when she arrived, although she had no special
reason for feeling so; but this narrative full of absurd adventures,
related in an even more absurd style, amused and diverted her. She read
for nearly an hour. The paralytic, by no means stupid nor illiterate,
had no very high opinion of such hair-raising stories; but she had
no other book on hand to entertain herself with. At three o'clock
the servant, with a suggestion of mystery in her manner, called her
mistress out of the room. The paralytic rolled herself down the hall to
the parlor. In a short time she returned and told Nacha someone wanted
to see her.

"Who is it? Tell me! If you don't I won't go--I can't--"

Her heart was pounding violently as if it were the clapper of a
swinging bell. Fear vibrated through her and an indefinable distress;
though she knew that Monsalvat was there ... and yet ... trembling, she
hesitated, not knowing whether to run away or throw herself into his
arms.

"It's a friend of yours. Why do you want to know who it is? I don't
know him. He looks all right, and that's enough for me. He's waiting
for you. Go along! I tell you he's a friend--but what's the matter with
you? Are you afraid of something? If there is anything wrong I won't
let you go--"

This put an end to Nacha's indecision. Fear of not seeing him took
possession of her, soul and body, and pushed her down the corridor
to the room where he was waiting. She was still trembling; she did
not know what she was going to say, nor how she was going to act,
and she wanted to cry. Even at the door she hesitated, and felt
faint; everything grew blurred around her. She heard the voice of the
paralytic following her down the hall, calling, "Go in! Go right in!"
She heard a voice clamoring from her heart commanding her to open the
door.--Then what happened she never knew. Someone must have opened the
door from within, and then closed it. She was trembling and weeping,
her hands pressed to her face. She could not see Monsalvat; but she
felt his presence beside her.

When she raised her eyes she saw what anguish was, an anguish made up
of torturing memories, and the presentiment of a fatality even then
rearing insuperable obstacles between them; yet this pain only added to
the intense joy of that moment.

"Nacha, why did you drive me away that afternoon? That was the
beginning of all the unhappiness I have had since. Perhaps I didn't act
as I should have done. Well, then, I ask you to forgive me. Since that
day I have thought only of you. The problem of your life has become
the problem of mine. I have searched for you in all the places I could
think of--and how it hurt, Nacha, not to find you...."

They stood there facing one another, her hands in his. Nacha, in her
emotion, lowered her head. She did not know how to act with this man
who was so simple and so good. She felt that she too must be frank
and straightforward. She had no right to conceal anything from him,
disguise her real thoughts, lie to him. She could not foresee what the
outcome of this meeting was to be. Should she let herself be carried
along by whatever happened? If Monsalvat should want her, why she was
his, body and soul! If not, what then?

And now she was beside him on the sofa, listening to what he was
saying; and while he told her of all the efforts he had made to find
her he wondered if the woman sitting beside him could be worthy of a
passion such as his. Fearful of analyzing his emotion, fearful that
his thoughts might dwell too long on this doubt, he tried to put all
his feeling and enthusiasm into his story. His words summoned before
Nacha, breathlessly listening, the long caravan of his dreams, his life
of other years, and his life now; he talked to her of the ideals which
tormented him, and without which he could not live; and he told her
that at last he had found out the purpose of a man's life: to work for
others, to live for those who have need of us.

Nacha was listening in silence. Sometimes she had dreamed of what this
meeting of theirs would be like; and she had imagined that nothing
at such a moment could serve their emotion but abandonment--kisses,
caresses more than humanly sweet. For such, to her then, was love;
but now she understood that there was a love greater than that. She
was undaunted, but surprised. She did not know whether to delight in
it or be saddened by it. The man she was listening to was not of her
world; to her he was an enigma, something perhaps too far above her
for her groping comprehension. She could not hope ever to understand
him. How could she, poor fallen woman that she was, destitute of every
possession, rise to the world of a being such as he? And sadness cast
a beautifying shadow over her face. Monsalvat noticed the distress
in her eyes and asked why she was troubled. She made a great effort
not to burst into tears, using all her strength of will to master her
weakness. And she won. Suddenly she perceived that she too was strong,
for her will had made its decision.

"I am sad ... because ... I do not love you. And I know that I never
shall!"

Monsalvat, in complete stupefaction, looked at her. He could not
understand. He had always believed this woman loved him. He had felt,
as one feels a human presence that can neither be heard nor seen, the
presence of a great love between them. And now ... it was impossible!
What was the secret of this baffling mystery? Could Nacha be once more
under Arnedo's control? He tried to prove to her that it was himself
she loved; and as do all lovers, he presented arguments that sober
sense would have declared absurd. The whole strength of his case lay in
the tone of his voice, and the sincerity of his emotion.

"No, I do not love.... It's no use. I can never love you. You have been
very kind to me, very generous, and loyal. I love you as a friend ...
but that is all."

Her words seemed only to show Monsalvat to what extent this passion
possessed him. At times he had believed that the feeling animating
him was simply a desire to regenerate this girl who was worthy of
a better fate than the one he saw her struggling with, a desire to
save another human being from falling to the lowest depths of evil, a
desire to accomplish something for the sake of good; since, up to that
time he had lived only for himself. At the same time he believed that
he loved her; but this love of his seemed to mingle with all these
other feelings and desires. Now, with genuine terror, he saw that all
his ideals, all his desires of regeneration for her and for himself,
were either disappearing, or retreating to the background of his
consciousness. At that moment he was nothing but a man in love, and she
the adored woman! Nacha was no longer a wanton needing to be saved. All
that had not the slightest importance. It was blotted out of his mind,
in fact; and there remained only the body and soul of a woman for whom
he would have given his life. In his absorption in this tremendous fact
he quite forgot himself; and he was shaken by a convulsion that rose
from the depths of his soul.

"Yes, you love me, Nacha, and you must belong to me--for life. I
promise to make you happy. Whatever tenderness, whatever good there is
in me is all for you, Nacha. I'll do whatever you want, whatever you
command...."

He was suddenly startled and he checked himself. How far was he going?
The idea of offering himself as a husband passed through his mind. He
grew red, and was deeply distressed. The idea seemed absurd. Then, as
it occurred to him that this was the only means of winning Nacha, he
clung to the idea desperately. She could not refuse such an offer. It
would make her understand the extent of this affection. A man of his
position, a man of talent, respected in the community, marrying a girl
who had offended against its code! Nacha would be thankful; she would
know how to value such a sacrifice.

"Nacha," he began solemnly, "I shall make you my wife. You must marry
me...."

Nacha was profoundly stirred. She tried to speak and could not, so hard
was she fighting for self control. She only could know what a ghastly
struggle that was because she knew how she loved him. She had loved him
too much before. It was worse now, after hearing his generous words.
A voice whispered to her to throw herself into his arms. Something in
the very centre of her being was impelling her towards him; but another
voice told her she had no right, outcast as she was, to marry this man;
that such an act would make her guilty forever of having destroyed him
as a part of society. A sacrifice was demanded of her! She must be more
generous even than he, subdue herself, suffer, submit to her fate,
refrain from dragging him down with her! She did not know where the
voice came from. It may have been crying out to her from that afternoon
when she first listened to Monsalvat telling her to suffer in order to
find redemption; but it was a voice that awed her tormented soul even
while it bade her speak and leave this man. Then the strange serenity
of sacrifice came to her rescue. She was pale as death, and smiled so
as not to weep. She summoned all the love within her not to let her
yield.

"Yes, you must marry me," Monsalvat was insisting desperately.

"No."

"What is it, Nacha? Why are you so strange? I love you, you love me...."

Her will triumphed. She called to mind other moments of her life and
made one supreme effort. Then she began to laugh.

"No, I couldn't love you. All this is ridiculous anyway! Such
make-believe is unworthy of you. I put you out of my house once before,
and I'll do it again. You simply want to make fun of me, because I'm a
poor girl, and defenceless. You wanted to make a fool of me, getting me
to swallow all this stuff! But now it's my turn to laugh at you, just
as I did in the cabaret. I--married! And to you, a crazy man!"

She broke into a laugh that was loud and false and harsh.

Monsalvat remained seated, his hands clasped over his head; he was
dizzy with pain, and he could not understand....

"You are mad ... you have gone mad!" he exclaimed.

Was she really fainting? She saw Monsalvat cover his face with his
hands; she turned to the wall and leaned against it, letting herself
weep for a brief moment. There was relief in that. With renewed
strength, she sat down on a chair and waited. Soon Monsalvat stood up.
He too was pale as he came near her and, barely looking at her, held
out his hand.

"Some time ... you will ... let me see you?" he faltered.

"No. Why should I? I don't love you. Leave me. And if it's true that
you love me, forget me as soon as you can. Go, please! I am ill, and
want to be alone...."

Monsalvat did not insist. He could not have done so. He took his hat
and went away, stumbling like a man who has come to the end of his
strength. One might have thought him sick, or crazy, or perhaps drunk,
as he staggered out. Crossing that threshold was like wrenching his
soul from his body; and in the little parlor that knew only shabbiness
and shame, grief remained, lending it a dignity it had never known
before.

Nacha could no longer hold her anguish at bay. She snatched off her hat
with a frantic gesture, and tore it into bits. Moaning and weeping she
fled into one of the other rooms and threw herself down on the bed.

The cripple rolled her wheel chair to the door and looked in. Believing
that she understood Nacha's trouble, she did not disturb her, but went
away again. She talked to the girls awhile; but the tragedy she saw
close at hand saddened her; for it reminded her of old intimate griefs
of her own. She too, in her youth, had known love, in far away Italy;
and that love had been maimed and destroyed. After that, dishonor and
vice seemed a small matter; yet, at times, even now, she went back in
thought to the home of her childhood, so different in its simple beauty
from the wretchedness of her present surroundings. But here she was,
old, crippled, with no choice but to go on in the familiar rut. Why let
herself be saddened then? She had known life, and found that melancholy
had a bad effect on the liver! So she chatted with the girls, merrily,
as was her custom whenever she felt a touch of sadness.

But someone came in, and asked for Nacha. The cripple rolled her chair
into the bedroom where the girl was still weeping, her head almost
hidden by the pillow.

"Nacha child! Don't cry that way! Why let yourself suffer so? No man is
worth it. You know that. You are worth more than the best of them, you
have a good heart ... and they...."

She muttered an obscene word to herself and began to laugh.

"Come, Nacha, someone wants to see you. They are all alike! No one of
them is worth more than another. They're all rotten--just good to ruin
women and then desert them. Come, child, come--here's a friend!"

She patted Nacha on the shoulder, and told her she would send her
caller in. Nacha suddenly sat up. She wiped away her tears and said
quietly, "No, señora. Don't send him. I am going away for good."

"But, child, why? Are you angry with me?" the old cripple exclaimed,
astonished by Nacha's tone. "Aren't you ever coming back to my house?"

"Neither to your house nor to any other. I am not angry. You have been
very kind to me, and I shall never forget it."

"Well then...." The woman did not know what to make of the girl's words.

Nacha was silent while she smoothed her hair, and straightened her
dress. Then she kissed the cripple, took both her hands and said, her
lips quivering with pain:

"It's because ... I want to be worthy ... of that man's love...."

"Oh, I see. You want to be respectable for awhile, and then get
married...."

The cripple spoke with the certainty of a woman who understands what
she is talking about. Nacha's expression, however, indicated that her
purpose was not quite as the cripple supposed.

"What is it then? Tell me. You know I like you, child, and respect you.
And I'd do for you anything you ask. If you want to live decent, and
need money, I'll give it to you--I'll save so I can!"

Nacha was touched.

"You are good, señora. I thank you from my very heart; and because I
know how good you are, I'll tell you. No, I'm not going to get married.
I couldn't let him marry me. But he loves me--so much! And if he gives
me such great love, I want to be decent. Not to get married, no, just
to be worthy of living in his thoughts, and in his heart...."

The paralytic drew the girl's head down to her twisted old lips and
kissed her. Freeing herself from the woman's embrace, Nacha hastily
left the room.

As she fled down the stairs she realized that it was many years since
she had felt as happy as at that moment!



                              CHAPTER XVI


One afternoon as Torres was lunching with Ruiz de Castro in a
restaurant on the Esmeralda he thought he caught a glimpse of Nacha.

As a matter of fact it was Nacha. She was returning to the store where
she had been employed some six years earlier, and with her were a
number of other girl employees, for it was nearly two o'clock, the end
of the lunch hour. Torres would have gone up to speak to her if he
had been alone; but Ruiz was relating his adventures with that plump
lady who had carried on so persistent a discussion with Monsalvat at
de Castro's dinner party, and had so eloquently defended established
institutions.

"You don't say!" murmured Torres, absently; for all his attention was
fixed on the slender figure hovering in front of the huge shop door
which was about to open and swallow her up.

"She's a wonder, my friend," proclaimed Ruiz, who was given to
committing indiscretions in words as well as actions. "What passion!
and how she can sob!"

When Torres reached his house he went at once to talk to Monsalvat who
was now living with him. After the serious illness that had followed
close upon his interview with Nacha, Torres had taken him in hand, and
when he discovered that his patient was paying no attention to doctor's
orders, had carried him off to his own home where he could insist on
obedience. He persuaded Monsalvat to ask for a two months' leave, for
there was no doubt that he was suffering from brain-fag and serious
nervous derangement.

Torres had a theory that Monsalvat's condition was not entirely due
to his passion for Nacha. He knew the history of his friend's moral
struggles, and he believed that the causes of Monsalvat's illness were
numerous and complex. The latter's abrupt change of attitude towards
life could not but profoundly affect his whole nature. Following this,
had come several months of constant self-reproach, and self-disgust for
the uselessness and selfishness of his life up to that time. He went
as far as to blame himself for his inability to transform the world.
Torres had tried, vainly, to prove to him that he was far from useless,
and that no one could have called him selfish. His conduct compared
surprisingly well with that of other men of his generation; and his
reputation indicated general recognition of that fact. Monsalvat
protested that all this might be true from a superficial and worldly
view of his life, but it only proved how false were society's standards.

"Useless and selfish," Monsalvat repeated. "Not less so than prominent
politicians or ranch owners, lawyers, and men in society. We are all
selfish. I do not condemn myself only. I condemn all the rest as well.
The world is full of evil, selfishness, meanness--and I have shared in
it all. That is why I despise myself, and abhor my past life."

Torres wisely kept silent, for fear of exciting his patient.

It was clear also that the knowledge of his sister's mode of life, and
of the degradation his mother had fallen into before her death, had
seriously injured Monsalvat's nervous system. The scene with Irene, his
worrying about the tenement, the anxieties of that search through the
world of fallen women, the sight of so many horrors, had all left their
mark on him; and finally the shock of Eugenia's death, intensified
by the manner in which he had learned of it, had played its part in
undermining his health. Obviously his love for Nacha, his unsuccessful
attempt to save her, the knowledge that she was leading a vicious life,
perhaps because of him, were the principal causes of his breakdown, but
all these other matters played an important part in bringing about his
present condition.

Now, however, after two months of rest and quiet, Monsalvat was
beginning to be himself. The companionship of Torres had done him a
great deal of good. The doctor made him eat, gave him stimulants when
he needed them, encouraged him to spend most of his time out of doors
and even stayed up with him on the nights when he was unable to sleep.

Torres might have accomplished a complete cure, had not the evil that
flourishes in certain human hearts prevented. Monsalvat had recently
received some anonymous letters, four in all. One of them insulted
him by insulting his mother, another called him to account for living
on women, and being an anarchist! The other two were content with
intimating that he belonged in a lunatic asylum, and would soon be
put there. The effect of these letters was to excite him so that he
could neither sleep nor eat. The first especially reawakened in him
his life-long obsession, cruelly reminding him of what was, in his
estimation, the reason for his moral bankruptcy.

The doctor wondered who could have sent these letters, for Monsalvat's
position was not such as to excite envy. At the Ministry his new
ideas had become known, and Monsalvat was looked upon with hostility
or contempt. Even the Minister mistrusted him now. In the social
circles where he was once respected, he had lost all consideration.
Ercasty was methodically discrediting him, with admirable persistence
and thoroughness. Informed by mutual acquaintances of Monsalvat's
views with respect to Nacha and other girls of her sort, and of that
frantic search through houses of ill-fame, he confirmed the rumor that
Monsalvat had fallen very low indeed. At first he was content with
making insinuations; but finally he came out with the bald statement
that Monsalvat was a vulgar exploiter of women. Of course there were
not lacking those who accused him of participating in frightful
anarchist plots, and preparing bombs for wholesale assassinations.

Financially too he was ruined. The forty thousand of the mortgage
raised on his property had melted away. His mother's debts, the
mulatto's blackmail, Moreno's incessant appeals, had taken several
thousand. His excursion through the city's public houses had cost him
four thousand _pesos_. Ten thousand _pesos_ had gone for improvements
on the tenement. Monsalvat decided he would have to sell the building,
for his salary was barely enough for his own expenses, and his tenants
either paid no rent or paid very little.

That afternoon Monsalvat was reading as he lay in bed. The book beside
him was the New Testament. On his face was reflected something of the
serenity of late afternoon. When Torres opened the window to let in air
and sunshine, everything in the room seemed to draw a breath, and grow
animate. A bar of light like a luminous golden coverlet spread over the
bed.

"Look at that!" exclaimed the doctor. "And you spend your time shut up
here almost in the dark. You'll never get well that way. You ought to
go to Palermo, stay out in the sun--and not read or write a line."

"I know what I need," replied his friend quietly.

"What do you need? You are always mysterious."

Monsalvat went on reading. Torres remained with him for a few moments
and then withdrew without a word.

The doctor had been observing his friend for over a month, with
constantly growing curiosity. Monsalvat's intelligence seemed to have
grown sharper and deeper. He was still weak in body but his mind was
keener than ever. He reasoned with irrefutable logic, and divined his
opponent's arguments at a word. Torres attributed this mental fitness
to mental exercise. His patient talked with no one but his host, did
not go out, read very little; but all day long he was occupied in
thinking and remembering, trying to interpret his past life, trying
to understand the significance of the life he was then experiencing.
He spent hours analyzing the persons he knew, and with extraordinary
penetration. Torres was more than once overcome with amazement when
Monsalvat guessed his thoughts.

"Why should you be startled?" Monsalvat asked him on a certain
occasion. "What has happened is simply this. I am living from within
now. Up to six months ago I lived from without, superficially; and
the life I lived seemed to be the life of other people rather than my
own. It was an objective, a false, a lying kind of life. Just like
your own and that of nearly everyone. A materialistic kind of life,
never transcending the commonplace, devoid of mystery, and of genuinely
spiritual anxiety. But now my eyes are open and I begin to understand.
I have analyzed myself, I have looked within; and I have discovered a
great many things there that I knew nothing of. I know now what there
is in me, and what parts of it are worth something, and what I must
give to others. And I even begin to suspect why I am alive!"

"I knew before that...."

Torres stopped abruptly, not caring to end his sentence. He pretended
to have forgotten what he wanted to say.

"Why don't you go on? Have you really forgotten what was on the tip
of your tongue? Well, I know what it was. You were going to say that
all that happened this past year, and the love I found, would lead me
straight to ... mysticism!"

"What? No, no, not that, exactly."

But that was exactly what he had been thinking. Monsalvat knew how
abhorrent to a man as orderly and normal, as submissive to society's
dicta, as Torres, the word "mysticism" must be. The doctor had come
to admit society's responsibility for much of the unhappiness in the
world; but he had no sympathy for those heroic acts necessary to drive
out injustice. He admired Monsalvat but at the same time considered his
passion for redeeming others a form of insanity. According to Torres
a normal man should accept things as they are. The rebel, he who at
sight of the suffering of life's victims, breaks out into indignant
accusations or takes up some useless but heroic work, was, in his
estimation, a madman.

Since his recent glimpse of Nacha, Torres had been anxious to talk to
her. Once or twice he watched the girls coming out of the shop. He saw
Nacha again, but it was very evident that she avoided him. Convinced
that Nacha did not care to hear any news of Monsalvat, whose friendship
with him she must have known, he gave up his attempt to communicate
with her.

The days went by. Monsalvat never spoke of Nacha and little by little
Torres came to the conclusion that he had forgotten her.

One morning, in March, Torres went to his guest's room at a very early
hour, to dissuade him from going away.

"Why leave me, Monsalvat? Stay here a couple of months longer, until
you are quite all right again. The kind of breakdown you're just
getting over is no joke, my dear boy. And where are you going without
a cent to your name, eh? Back to your quixotic notions about righting
all humanity's wrongs, and redeeming people who have nothing to redeem
about them? That's all nonsense, and leads nowhere. One man alone can't
accomplish anything. All you can do is harm, filling the heads of those
poor people with wild ideas. No, my son. The world is full of evil.
Well, what's to be done? You have to take it as it is, and get what
good you can out of it, and--'forward, march!' Eh?"

Monsalvat did not reply. He lay on his side, his elbow resting on the
pillow, his hand on his breast, and his eyes turned towards the window.
But he was not looking at what was out there beyond him: he was looking
within, searching his own heart and the hearts of a multitude of other
human beings whom he saw there standing between him and his friend. The
doctor's words reached him from far, far away--so far that he scarcely
understood them. Meanwhile the window seemed to be catching fire,
making its offering of light to Monsalvat as from a golden, quivering
sheet of flame!

The doorbell rang. Without moving, Monsalvat said:

"That's the postman. He is bringing a letter from Nacha--for you."

Torres smiled at this prophecy; a forced smile, however, for he feared
that it might be true. He got up and was about to leave the room when
the maid came in with a letter. The doctor signed the receipt for which
the messenger was waiting, placing it for that purpose on the table
near Monsalvat's bed. He did not notice that Monsalvat's eyes were
fixed intently on the small bit of paper. Then he opened the letter and
looked at its signature, disconcerted. Monsalvat laughed, enjoying his
friend's confusion.

"It's from Ruiz de Castro. He wants to see me ... some affair of his
... he doesn't say what ..." stammered Torres, thrusting the letter
into his pocket. Then he went out, embarrassed and perplexed, while
Monsalvat smiled to himself.

For the letter actually did come from Nacha! She wrote that she wanted
to see Torres, but not at the entrance to the shop. From her letter it
appeared that she did not know where Monsalvat was. She wanted to find
out--that was why she wrote about him. She had learned that he was ill;
"Was it true?" she asked; and "was she to blame?"

That evening Torres went to the lodgings at the address Nacha had sent
him. He found a respectable house, the tenants of which appeared to be
shop employees and their families.

"You don't know what I've been through," murmured Nacha. "We met one
afternoon, and I--"

Torres knew something of this meeting.

"But you don't know why I acted as I did," Nacha continued. "It was
because I loved him; because I didn't want to do him harm. So that he,
distinguished and fine as he is, shouldn't be ruined by associating his
life with that of a ... someone like myself.... You see? Since that day
I have lived straight; and somehow, I'm still alive, although really
I am dying ... with grief.... But this I accept, for his sake, and to
make up for the kind of life I led before. I accept it so that he may
not have to suffer, so that he will forget me, and be happy, and go on
with the kind of life he ought to have--even though I die of it. What
good am I?"

They were alone, facing each other over a small table, lit by a small
lamp which had been pushed to one side. Torres felt the shadows of
the room pressing around his throat, choking him. Nacha's face alone
stood out, catching the light. The doctor was thinking of the frightful
pranks Destiny can play.

But this emotion passed, and the man of the world, laden with
prejudices, falsehood, cruelties--and good, withal, replaced the plain
and honest man of feeling.

"You couldn't know what I've been through," Nacha repeated. "Since
that afternoon I have earned my living by work. First there were days
of discouragement, when I went hungry. Then I found employment in a
shop. Eleven hours a day and thirty dollars a month! I get a bonus
too. But there are fines for the slightest thing. Altogether I earn
about sixty dollars more or less--there's no rest during those eleven
hours. Sometimes they send me with a load of goods up to the fifth
floor. We aren't allowed to use the elevators. It isn't a gay life, you
see. But it's for him, so I don't mind! Not so that he'll love me--I'm
not worthy of living with him--just to deserve, even at a distance, a
little of the love he has for me!"

Torres looked away from her; it occurred to him that this change in
Nacha was a danger for Monsalvat. He believed he must save his friend
once for all, and to accomplish that required a lie. He reflected that
it was really too bad that deceit should at times be necessary, even
to accomplish good results. Something inquired of him if he really
believed that the purpose he had in view was "good." He hesitated a
moment; but he remembered the world's opinion, the world's morality,
the world's sentiments. He turned towards Nacha, and with a gesture as
if he was casting from him an unpleasant thought, and in a hard voice,
he said:

"You must not see him again, Nacha, ever. Anyway, he has forgotten
you. Yes! He is in love with another woman, and is thinking of getting
married. You don't want to wreck his plans, eh?"

She could not see. Everything was dark. She felt a "yes" come
mechanically from her throat, and she put out a hand, so inert, that
it barely felt the rapid pressure of another hand. Then came the noise
of a closing door, and the sound of retreating footsteps. But darkness
remained, empty ... and endless.

                   *       *       *       *       *

As she sat at the small table, her senses dull to everything, she did
not hear a knock at her door; nor was she aware that a man had come in
and was there, before her, waiting. A sudden leap of her heart, and a
flash of consciousness made her raise her eyes. She thought she must be
feverish, in a delirium! She would have cried out, but something within
her, that overpowered her, muffled her voice.

"Nacha!" he said.

"Is this true? It is not a dream? Not a dream?"

They were face to face, but they could not speak. No words could
express what shone in Monsalvat's eyes, and echoed in Nacha's
breathless weeping. The room seemed to fill with memories of the
distant past, scenes fraught with sorrow, and ancient longings, taking
on a strange, mysterious life, like an old temple that has heard the
prayers of centuries.

Nacha's tears were for what had been, and what ought to have been;
for what she had not wanted to be, and what the world had forced her
to become. Monsalvat sat at her side, caressing her hands; but he saw
facing him the two men he had been in his lifetime, and he demanded an
account of them for what his life had been, looking into their very
souls, cursing them; and before Nacha passed the different women who
had dwelt in her body, the bad woman, and the good, the victim and the
weakling.

And in that dim light, they understood one another, these two suffering
human beings. The light in the heart of each shone out to the other.
Their heads drew close together. Without knowing it, without seeking
it, they kissed gently, like children of one mother.



                             CHAPTER XVII


Monsalvat that very afternoon had taken lodgings in the house in order
to be near Nacha. As Torres signed it, he read the receipt of the
special delivery letter; and he hurried to the Messenger Service Bureau
and there learned Nacha's address. When he reached the building where
she lived he noticed a sign announcing a furnished room to let in this
tenement which was an old family dwelling, now rented out to numerous
lodgers. Monsalvat took the room on the top floor facing the street.
Thus, it happened that when he appeared in Nacha's quarters he was
already a tenant in the same house.

Torres' efforts to find out what had become of Monsalvat were all
unsuccessful. He even wrote to Nacha, who replied that she had not seen
him nor had any news of him. These falsehoods did not much trouble her
conscience. She wanted to keep Monsalvat near her, have him for herself
alone; and she was fearful of his friends, of his associates at the
ministry, of everything which threatened to interrupt her possession
of him. When, in the afternoon, she came home from work, she could
scarcely breathe with the anxiety and the fear of no longer finding him
there.

But the emotion she felt was to all appearances purely fraternal.
Suffering had spiritualized it. The first kiss had been the last. Nacha
knew how little the physical aspect of love meant. She could not offer
her lover something of as little price as her body. To Monsalvat she
would give her heart and soul and whatever good there was in her; her
tenderness, as immeasurable as space, and her suffering, as deep as
the sea. Nor did he desire her. Nacha was no longer a mere woman to
him; she had become a symbol, tremendously significant, of all women
who pay the penalty she was paying, of those victims rejected by
society--daughters of the mire and of human misery; and she was his
sister as well. If at times he desired Nacha, the desire was fleeting,
a passing sentiment. He knew that it was this sentiment which had drawn
him towards her; and in this fact he saw a proof of the wisdom of
instinct, of nature's fundamental soundness; for desire had, in moments
of vacillation and uneasiness of conscience, led him to the right road.
Now he was no longer a man of the world, nor a distinguished lawyer,
nor anything else that he had been. As far as the world was concerned,
he was a ruined man. But in his own eyes he had saved himself, found a
purpose for his life; the purpose to give everything he had to others,
and to suffer for them. What did all the rest matter if, in this course
of conduct, he found what he recognized as the "Good" he craved?

And so time passed. Nacha went to the shop in the morning, and returned
at night. Monsalvat went out only to go to the Ministry, and to offer
relief to those in great need. When he came back from the office he
gathered the children in the house together and taught them to read;
and his evenings were for Nacha, for long waking dreams--a book in his
hands, and silence keeping watch over them like a faithful dog. His
evenings were for that idealized love which Nacha too now understood.

But one evening Nacha told him of the doubts that troubled her. Why
sacrifice one's life, and tranquillity, and happiness, for others? With
so much wretchedness in the world, what could one man's slow and small
accomplishment matter? And why give one's whole soul to something that
offered no visible reward?

"Nacha," he replied, "to sacrifice ourselves for others is a duty. It
is the only reason for our living. If we all accepted this principle,
life would be inconceivably beautiful. And what other principle makes
our lives consistent with our opinions and our ideals--granted we have
opinions and ideals? It is an obligation we owe to those from whom we
have taken their share of happiness. There are not many who pay this
debt, not many who comply with this law. People not only resist the law
of love implicit in sacrifice, but they will to be selfish, and bad.
But doesn't that make it all the more our duty, Nacha, to do what we
can? We must win forgiveness for the wrongs we do our brothers, for the
guilt of society in which we all share."

He stopped, and looked dreamily before him, as though he saw some
luminous object in the distance. Then, after a moment of silence, he
added:

"The work of one individual has tremendous value as an example. Good
work is not lost. It arouses other souls; and each one of these will
waken others, who, but for them, would continue to sleep. So, little by
little, daylight will come; injustice will cease; and poverty will be a
word."

Monsalvat was at work on two plays which Nacha helped him to copy.
They proved to be somewhat incoherent compositions, full of anguish,
and love, and pity. They excited keen interest among the theatrical
managers to whom he submitted them but no one cared to produce
them. Some one of the readers who examined them called the plays
"anti-social"; and they were generally considered dangerous to
established order. In truth, they contained too much human sympathy:
but it may well be that justice, or even simple honesty, is a serious
menace to society!

One Sunday afternoon Julieta came to call on Nacha. She was no longer
the smiling Julieta of old. Bad luck had been haunting her footsteps
of late; and for the last few weeks she had known what it was to go
hungry. While she was telling Nacha her troubles Monsalvat came in.
Julieta did not know him, and stopped short.

"It is my friend," said Nacha. "He can help you. Go on!"

Julieta, reassured as much by a glance at Monsalvat as by Nacha's
words, told how her small savings had all been spent to help Sara who
had suddenly developed a horrible disease.

"I thought I could earn more if I had to," said Julieta, "but I haven't
been able to. I've had to give up my room at Lavalle Street; and they
are going to put me out of the lodging house where I have been staying,
because my rent isn't paid. I can't go out on the street! But I'm
discouraged. What can I do? I had hoped to get away from this life
somehow; and now it seems as though I would have to go deeper into it
than ever before--and after seeing what has happened to poor Sara! Oh,
I can't bear to think of it!"

"Everything is going to come out right for you," Monsalvat said to
her gently. "What little I have is yours. Don't thank me. No, I shall
be angry if you do. It isn't mine after all. No one is the _owner_ of
money. It's stupid to think so! Don't lose heart. I'm going to take
care of all your troubles. No, it isn't only for you I am doing this.
It's for myself, you see."

Monsalvat had received his salary that afternoon. He had just paid his
rent; and he gave all that remained to Julieta, who let herself be
persuaded finally to accept it. Then he left the girls alone.

As he went out of the door, he found, leaning against the wall
opposite, his legs crossed, an ill-favored individual who looked at
him with an impudent and sinister smile. Nacha could not endure this
cross-eyed and thoroughly unprepossessing loafer, who, it was rumored,
was a police spy. His small, close-set eyes, low forehead, crushed-in
nose and vicious expression all suggested the jail bird; and Nacha
could never see him without having a ghastly vision of all the crimes a
man is capable of; nor was she alone in fearing him. But she learned on
a certain occasion that he knew her past life, and the discovery kept
her awake many nights. As the days passed without her hearing anything
more from him, she put aside the worst of her fears. The man watched
Monsalvat closely and even followed him on the street.

When Monsalvat returned to Nacha's room, Julieta had gone. Nacha was
depressed and this he naturally attributed to Julieta's trouble. But
Nacha was tormented by various concerns of her own, of which she never
spoke. One was her wretched poverty. To eke out her salary she took
in sewing, and was often at work until midnight. At a word from her
Monsalvat would have given her every cent he had, and gladly have gone
penniless and hungry. But Nacha had told him that she was earning
enough to live on. She would not speak of her difficulties; besides
if she did, Monsalvat would work himself into a fever of indignation
against the exploiters of women workers.

But Nacha had other troubles too. Latterly a terrifying idea had taken
possession of her: she had seen Pampa, and believed that he was again
pursuing her. One afternoon as she left the store she caught a glimpse
of him, and she slipped into the thick of the crowd waiting for a
street-car. When she saw, however, that he had stopped on the corner
and was looking this way and that for her, she hastily got into a cab.
Once again she saw him prowling in the vicinity of the shop as she was
going to work. She was terrified, and clutched her companion's arm so
tight the girl gave an exclamation of pain. After that she met Arnedo
every day. Sometimes he had a friend with him. Just the day before, as
she was going into the store a little late, and alone, he spoke to her.
Strange that he should remember her so tenderly! His voice had grown
soft as he spoke her name, and his eyes seemed to look deep into hers.
She trembled; and her fear prevented her from uttering a word; but,
with terror, she realized that she could never feel indifferent to this
man.

And at home, sitting opposite Monsalvat, she suffered torment, for
the thought of Arnedo would not give her any peace. Her conscience
seemed to have become an Inquisition; her thoughts, instruments of
torture that hurt her physically, clouded her eyes, and kept her from
working over her seams. Once, at midnight, while she was sewing, the
evil thought which until then had remained something vague, distant,
nebulous, suddenly took definite and horrible form. She struggled not
to think what she did not want to think. She would rather have died
than think it.

For it had occurred to her there in her room that night that it could
not be her destiny to live the life that she was then leading. If it
were, why couldn't she be happy? Why couldn't she have even peace? Why
so much suffering? What was in store for her? What was she looking
forward to, there? She told herself that this was only a transitory
stage in her life, only a bridge perhaps, leading to something else.
But whither? Why was she living there near that man? Marry him? No,
she had never taken that seriously! That was a beautiful dream--a
dream that she had no right to! Be his mistress then? Oh that, never!
Nor did he desire it. Then she wondered what this emotion that she
felt for him could be. Did she love him? She admired him: never had
she believed there could be such a great soul as his. To her he
represented all the Goodness in the world. But did she love him the
other way--with her senses? Yes, perhaps, when she first met him in the
cabaret! But not now! Now he was like a father, a brother, a son. She
loved him too much to love him that way. And with what pity she loved
him! For he was wasting his life for her, giving up his position, his
friends, neglecting even his work, living alone and in poverty, all for
her! Then the evil thought returned. Supposing she should run away?
Supposing she should feel perfectly certain that she was destined not
to be good, and should return to the old life? And there was Arnedo!
What could he want of her? She compared the two men, Monsalvat, all
soul, all gentleness, all idealism; and Arnedo, physical strength,
brutality, materialism. Monsalvat attracted her soul, her thoughts--the
best in her. She trembled to think that Pampa might again attract her
physically, inflame her senses, rouse all the desires in short, which
were the worst in her! She shuddered at the thought that Arnedo might
regain the control over her he once possessed: and in this torment she
wept for Monsalvat--and for herself.



                             CHAPTER XVIII


One afternoon in June, distressed by the oppressive humidity and
suffocating heat that precedes a storm, Monsalvat went out on the
balcony of his room, and from there he saw Nacha coming home. Her slow
dragging step startled him, seeming to announce a catastrophe.

He met her in the court and asked what had happened. Nacha, speechless,
held out her hand to him. She seemed crushed, defeated by life.
Monsalvat felt certain that something serious must have happened, or
Nacha, reserved as she always was, would never have clung in such
fashion to his hand in the presence of others. Heads were poked out of
the windows and the women and some of the men talking or working in the
_patio_ looked at one another and began to laugh. However, Monsalvat
and Nacha were too much preoccupied by their anxiety to separate.
Monsalvat took Nacha to her room, supporting her by an arm; and there
she told him what had happened.

She had for some days recently felt tired and ill, the result of
standing so many hours at a stretch, and so frequently climbing three
or four pairs of stairs, as the employees were not allowed to use the
elevators. That afternoon she had been ordered to carry a mannequin
down several flights. She demurred, saying that her strength would
give out; but the manager turned a deaf ear. Laden with the heavy
wooden figure, she reached the bottom of the first flight, staggering
and faint with the strain. She set it down resolved to go no further
with it; but a message reached her to the effect that if she did not
comply with her orders, she would be dismissed. So she attempted to go
down another flight, some of the employees laughing at the ridiculous
figure she presented, others silently pitying her. She tried to pull
herself together for a final effort, went down a few steps, and
then--she did not know how it happened--she fell, and rolled down
a half flight to the landing. When she regained consciousness, she
found herself surrounded by employees. The manager, watch in hand, was
observing her, and the mannequin lay in pieces near by. She asked to
go home and was told that she would forfeit her pay for the hours she
was absent, also for the time during which she had lain unconscious.
That explained the manager's presence with his watch! And somehow this
last cruelty, trifling as it was, took the heart out of her. What was
she but a slave, worth only so many hours work to her owner? Then she
was also told that she must pay for the mannequin.--Pay for it? Cold,
frightened, wide-eyed, she had scarcely understood what they were
saying. Pay, yes, pay so much every month, ten dollars a month knocked
off her salary. That was what they meant. "How was she going to live on
what was left?" "You can manage," they replied. "That's your business,
not ours." She had no strength to argue the matter. Money, tradition,
power were all against her. Probably they had right on their side too,
as they had everything else!

When Monsalvat left her, he found Mauli and some others of his
neighbors near the door. They grimaced at him. The caretaker, who had
just left the group, to avoid Fernando's seeing him, stepped into a
doorway and turned his back. Monsalvat passed by quite indifferent to
the manoeuvre.

But no sooner was he out of sight than the man turned around and went
to Nacha's door and knocked. Nacha, still crying, let him in. He was
a person of disagreeable aspect, due chiefly to his over-meek and
righteous expression, and his trick of keeping his eyes on the ground,
and never looking at anyone he was speaking to. He never laughed, and
walked very softly, with his arms close to his body. To his tenants he
was merciless. Should they perchance fall two weeks behind with their
rent, they were dispossessed even though sick in bed. A coward, he
could nevertheless always count on the protection of the police in case
of need.

"I have come ... Miss--(or would Madame, perhaps, be more appropriate?)
to say that I am obliged--to give you notice. I hope you understand.
Your conduct in this house cannot be allowed by any one who takes his
responsibilities--as I hope I take mine--seriously. My landlady has the
utmost confidence in me, and, under the circumstances...."

Nacha did not understand. She looked at the deceptive, hypocritical
face, trying to guess what words it was going to utter. She could not
imagine what this man wanted of her.

"There now--you're playing innocent. Well, I don't like to explain too
much in detail.... It would be better if you noticed for yourself that
this is a decent house, and it isn't a house where women--ah--women,
such as you.... Ha! Ha! In short, Miss, or Missus, no more calls from
gentlemen! If you want that kind of thing, you know, there are ...
well, there are places...."

"You are mistaken!" cried Nacha, suddenly springing to her feet.

The man lowered his eyes with an exaggeration of humility, and seemed
to shrink, as he replied: "Of course we are all human, and of course,
likely to make mistakes. Ha-ha! But we know something about you, Miss.
No, I'm not saying anything ... but.... Can you deny having lived in a
certain "house" on ---- Street, eh? Am I mistaken about that, eh? Ha
ha!"

Nacha, in a fury, drew near him. She was impelled to strike him and
drive him out of there by main force; but she thought of the scandal
it would cause, and of Monsalvat; and she remembered that the odious
creature in front of her had certain powers, as representing the
landlady: he was the figurehead for a multi-millionairess, ruling for
her, collecting her rents.... To prevent her losing thirty or forty
dollars he put the hungry or the sick out on the street, or widows with
their broods of children. It was his function to turn over the entire
amount of monthly rent to the fine lady, his employer, so that she
could eventually distribute handsome sums to convents and sisterhoods!

"For all of me, Miss, you could stay. I don't interfere with people's
business. But the landlady--ha-ha!--doesn't want women of your kind...."

Nacha was losing her self-possession, and with a scream of anger,
she broke out, "Shut up, you devil! What kind? Get out of here this
instant, you coward!"

He opened the door and from the threshold shouted so that every one
could hear him, but all the while keeping his appearance of humility:

"What kind? Your kind, Missus, and we don't want none of your kind
here!"

Nacha threw herself on the floor, trembling, and with no strength left;
and she heard a laugh, cruel and startling, coming up from the _patio_.
It went through her like a knife. Her whole being rebelled. She wanted
to shout out in protest; but she could only be vanquished. Then a chill
crept in through her body to her very heart and soul. She shook for
hours in its grip.

Monsalvat knew nothing of what had happened; for it chanced that he
had lessons to give that evening and during the moment when he stopped
at Nacha's room on his return from supper, she did not let him see how
ill she was. He was still concerned about her accident at the store,
and urged her not to take it too much to heart. He was going to sell
his tenement very soon, and whatever money he received from it would be
hers.

Three nights a week Monsalvat held classes for some of the workmen in
the district. He had begun with three or four pupils, but they had
increased in numbers until now he had a class of twenty or thirty.
They all knew how to read. He talked to them about history, about the
different countries he had travelled in, about ethics. His simple
eloquence attracted these simple workers. As he commented upon some of
the day's occurrences, or a passage in some book, he summoned before
them a vision of a new society, of an era of love, and justice. At such
times his voice rang with human sympathy and a strange mystic fervor.

But on that night Monsalvat could not speak to his class in this
strain; for there was hate in his heart. The cruel treatment Nacha
had suffered in the store had stirred him to the depths of his
consciousness, and a multitude of details accumulated there and
forgotten, had risen to the surface, looming large with sudden
significance.

As the workmen filed into the room they shook hands with Monsalvat and
exchanged a few words with him. He always asked after their children,
or their wives and mothers. Then most of them sat down. A few preferred
to stand, leaning against the wall.

"Today," he was saying, "I came to understand something which I have
never understood before, though it is something true, something
fundamental! I have been talking to you about love's power to change
the world. Well, I was wrong! Love cannot transform the world. It
is nineteen hundred years since the world heard the most sublime
definition of love. None since has surpassed it, for none can. Yet
this love, in spite of the example given us with its definition,
has accomplished nothing. What then can we accomplish? If the words
that were spoken those many years ago have never been understood by
mankind, that must mean that men will never understand any words of
love. So then, we must preach hate. For to preach love is to become
the accomplice of injustice. To preach love is to work for the
preservation of things as they are, to wait for the advent of a day
that will never come! Love is almost always passive, inert. Hate is
action. Hate will give us strength; and with this strength we shall
succeed in winning the world to love. This then is what we must do.
Through hate, move on to love. Through violence, the instrument of
hate, impose peace, fraternity, justice! Moreover, when we use hate and
violence, we who are the underdogs, you and I, my friends, will only
be using the methods used toward us. Those who control, despise and
hate us, and use violence against us every moment of their lives. They
have organized hate and violence. They use force not only in secret,
but in broad daylight. I have seen how they use it on the human body,
its life and health, imposing monstrous and destructive tasks on human
beings! I have seen how they use it on human minds, condemning them to
eternal ignorance! I have seen them use it on women, and on children.
Even those who come to us with gentle words, hate us and only want
our servitude to continue. No, my friends. Love will not set us free.
Will the British shareholder who receives enormous dividends for his
capital invested in our railroads, in our large stores, in our packing
houses, listen to the voice of love? Will the tenement landlords who
throw women and sick children out on the street listen to the voice of
love? Do you believe they will? Will they listen to any language other
than that of check and bank note? But there is another language which
they can understand even though they don't want to, the language of our
violence!"

His pupils listened, motionless, but stirred. Some of them seemed
uneasy, as at the memory of a wrong; others looked at their teacher
with pity and with pain; others appeared rapt in a vision of new
worlds. It was evident too that more than one of them had difficulty
in understanding, and that nearly all of them were trying to establish
a relation between their own past and the words they were listening
to. For they had led lives of suffering always. They knew squalor, and
hunger; but with the years they had grown accustomed to misery and
poverty.

There was a pause. No one moved. No one, not even Monsalvat, dared
to speak. Something impressive was there among those men, like a
visible presence, and they seemed all to be gazing at it; and it was
everywhere. It was in each one of them, and in their comrade's eyes, in
the echo of their teacher's words that haunted their ears, in the deep
stillness of the room, in the rapid beating of their hearts.

The silence continued. One man tried to speak, but he looked about him
at his listeners, and said no more. At last they understood that there
was nothing to say, and they all got up simultaneously. One by one they
shook hands with Monsalvat. Never had those hands of theirs seemed so
warm, so vibrant, so vigorous. Some of the men had tears in their eyes,
one could not have told whether from joy or sadness.

When his class had gone, Monsalvat felt that he had accomplished an
act of justice, that he had taken a step, at least, toward the world's
transformation. Living as he did on sentiment and imagination, with
little or no sense of reality, he believed in the efficacy of the
vague abstract formulas he preached. In his ardent desire for a better
world there was a deal of mysticism: he lacked concrete rules, plans
of action, the realization that discipline is the basis of progress.
In his individualistic and lyric exaltation, he imagined that by means
of the just and tragic emotions of revolt, such as he had that evening
preached, and only through such means, could a better society be
brought about.

The next day he received a summons from the police. He was not
disturbed; but he supposed that the secret-service had reported him.
On arriving at headquarters he was led to the chief's office, where
he found himself face to face with an official personage who affected
Napoleonic brusqueness and thoroughness, and tried hard, in spite of
a sharp, thin face, to look like that Conqueror. Monsalvat knew him,
which did not prevent the chief's adopting a condescending manner
towards him.

"It's a bad plan, my good fellow, to talk as you've been doing," the
officer said, slowly walking up and down, his hand on his sword-belt,
and putting a degree more of stiffness into his rigidly erect carriage.
"Dangerous theories.... It's incomprehensible to me that a man of
your station in life should plot against our government, against our
country--as if conditions here were not the best to be found anywhere!
As if anyone who wanted to couldn't become rich in this country! You
people get a few ideas out of anarchist literature, and lose your heads
over them. All that stuff comes from your old and rotting Europe. It
has no possible application in a country like this, where every man has
a chance, where no one need go hungry, where no one can complain of
injustice...."

Monsalvat, who was staring hard at the orator, started, then looked his
amazement. Surely the man was joking! But no, he was perfectly serious,
and perfectly convinced. Monsalvat then remembered having heard this
identical speech a hundred, a thousand times before. Worse than that,
he remembered having written those very words himself! It was not
likely that he would be convinced by all this, nor attempt an answer.
Even the Chief of Police was aware of that, and ended the interview.
Before dismissing Monsalvat, however, he made him read a social law
which he was formulating. Monsalvat glanced through it and took himself
off, honoring the officer with the slightest of bows.

Although the incident was trifling, it depressed Monsalvat. It made
clear to him what he had become in this last year he had lived through.
Standing in that room at Police Headquarters, observing the chief's
attitude towards him, interpreting the mere fact of his being thus
summoned, he saw clearly both what he had been, and what he had ceased
being. Before, he had had position, money, a flattering reputation,
friends. Now he had nothing; he was but a poor devil, at the mercy
of the police. And all for what? What had he accomplished in a year?
He had lifted three or four women out of the gutter, taught a few
men to read--but what did that signify in the infinite sea of human
misery and ignorance? Monsalvat was strong in his convictions and in
his moral health, strong with love of the good, strong in gentleness
and pity; but now doubt was for the moment stronger than he, and he
knew the all-permeating bitterness of temptation. In a moment of moral
weakness he thought of giving up this hopeless task, of returning to
his own world, and to his former station in it. A sadness, as vast as
the universe, chilled his heart, and soul, and mind. He was wandering
alone and forgotten in a ghastly wilderness; and this loneliness in the
death-like, icy solitude of the world was too frightful to endure. He
had sought out this life he was leading for the good of others; he had
given what he had to others; he had devoted himself to his task, with
joy and faith, with physical and moral courage; but now he broke down,
for his whole life seemed a failure; he wept for that Monsalvat of whom
he had hoped so much, not knowing that the strongest falter on their
way and that such weaknesses are but a respite, a halt, giving renewed
strength to go on with the day's march!



                              CHAPTER XIX


That same afternoon, while Monsalvat was wrestling with his doubts,
Nacha was on the way to Belgrano to see Julieta.

Tormented by her anxieties, the slow progress of the street-car racked
her nerves. She would never get there! And now it was stopping again!
She looked angrily at the woman who dawdled cumbersomely in getting
on or off. Didn't they care how long they took? Why were they so fat?
Two or three men near her attempted to flirt, but Nacha's contemptuous
eyes discouraged them. At the end of the first half hour she bought a
newspaper, but when she tried to read it, she found that she did not
understand a word. She made repeated efforts to fix her attention on
the police news. At the end of two or three phrases, a line perhaps,
her mind jumped to other things. Then she realized that she was not
reading and began again, with the same result. At last she tossed the
newspaper away.

The car had now reached streets where there was little traffic, and
went more rapidly. At the end of an hour, it had arrived at Belgrano.
Nacha got out and walked along silent avenues that were well shaded by
fine trees. In her nervous haste she almost ran past pretty villas,
with their flower-filled gardens, that spoke of peace and comfort. Over
some of the streets the trees formed an arch and the air was sweet
with perfume. Only the footsteps of an occasional passer-by broke the
silence of this suburb, apparently the home of calm and contentment.
But Nacha could not yield to this atmosphere. Grief and terror drove
her relentlessly on.

Julieta was working in Belgrano in a shop on Cabildo Street. Like
Nacha, she earned very little; but her expenses were slight, for she
was living with friends who accepted only a small sum in payment for
her room and board. Before concluding arrangements with the husband
and wife, people from her home town who had known her family, she told
them the kind of life she had led up to that time. The wife hesitated
a moment; but the husband, who was a militant Socialist, declared in
a loud voice, with sweeping gestures and oratorical phrases, that
there were no prejudices in his home, that he considered it a duty to
contribute to the moral regeneration of anyone who needed it!

While Nacha waited for Julieta to come home, the Socialist and his wife
chatted with her while their brood of children flocked around with
staring eyes. The man's countless questions distracted her a little
from her worries. But it required a great effort to attend to what he
was saying. Every once in a while her expression grew blank, and her
eyes opened wide as though she were in a paroxysm? of fear.

When Julieta finally appeared, she took Nacha to her room.

"What is the trouble?" she exclaimed. "Something has happened! Come,
tell me about it," and they sat down on the edge of the bed.

"I am running away!" Nacha said in a quivering voice.

"Running away! From whom?"

"I don't know. From Monsalvat, from Arnedo, from that awful man in the
house there--from myself! I am afraid of myself, Julieta! If you knew
what presentiments I have! Everything is black, and full of horror--and
crimes--and ... oh, I don't know what!"

"Presentiments?"

"Yes, something horrible is going to happen to me. Julieta listen! I
have a presentiment that...."

She could not go on, for her teeth chattered; her throat worked
convulsively, and her eyes were starting from her head with
terror. Julieta looked at her with gentle, sad eyes, and murmured
affectionately to her, as to a child.

"No, no! I must tell you. You must know about it--this feeling I have
almost drives me crazy! It makes me desperate!"

"But," said Julieta, "what is the matter?"

Nacha told her about Arnedo's renewed pursuit of her. He wanted to
carry her off! And he was obstinate, and wild, and bad! And he always
got what he wanted! And what could she do to stop him? He had such will
power! And then ... why did she feel this strange attraction towards
him? She didn't love him. She hated him rather--he was so brutal with
her! And yet, she never would have left him of her own accord; and now
she was sure she would go away with him if he insisted very much. That
was what terrified her. To go away with Arnedo, after all her struggles
to be decent! To make Monsalvat suffer so, when he was so good to her,
and had given up everything for her sake! To go down again into that
evil world from which he had rescued her!

"But Nacha, you must not lose courage! I thought you were quite safe.
It was you who saved me! Why must you go back again, if you don't want
to?"

"I have to! It's Fate! I always said I was destined to be a bad
woman! Every time I tried to be good something happened to break up
all my plans. Now it seems impossible for me to be decent. Everything
is against me! Look at what happened to me in the store! Why should
everything be so hard for me?"

"But why don't you tell him about it--Fernando, I mean? He worships
you, and he'll make everything right. I am sure that he is more than a
match for Arnedo. Why doesn't he have the man arrested? Or you can both
leave the house!"

"But Julieta, you don't know what has happened! That awful man,
Mauli, knows about me; and he told everyone in the building--that's
why they're all after me, laughing at me and insulting me! The
superintendent called me a name--that I deserved perhaps, once.... Oh,
if you only knew! And they say Mauli is a police agent, a spy--Today,
when I left the store, I saw him talking to Pampa! I couldn't move I
was so scared--just stood there frozen on the sidewalk. They tried to
get out of sight, but I could see they were on friendly terms. Who
knows but that they are planning something, Julieta! I have imagined
so many awful things. I couldn't go home, that's why I came here. I
want to get away from those men, from Monsalvat, from myself, from all
the things I am afraid of! For something is sure to happen--today or
tomorrow, or ... sometime."

Julieta insisted that Nacha should tell Monsalvat everything.

"But how can I tell him that I am likely to go away with Pampa!"

"Don't you love Monsalvat, Nacha? I don't understand you! You used to
adore him! Why, you talked of nothing else! And now...."

"Now I love him more than I ever did. I know how fine he is, how
good--whatever you want to call it! He wanted to marry me...."

"And why didn't you let him, Nacha?"

"Just because I love him so much. He has lost everything on my account,
position, money, friends--even his health! I can't let him go on like
that. He ought to go back to his place in life, and leave me to my
fate. A girl like me has no right to marry a man as good as he is and
ruin him. He was generous towards me, and I want to be generous too. If
he has sacrificed everything for me, and the sacrifice turns out to be
of no avail, I ought to pay him back, make him give up leading a life
that is so useless!"

"Useless, Nacha? Haven't we both a chance to be decent? Didn't he make
you become the girl you are? What more could any one do?"

Nacha was silent. Then she came closer to Julieta and said, speaking
very low:

"I'll be good, yes! But I shall never, never be happy. I am more
unhappy now than I ever was. Bad luck follows me everywhere. I can't be
meant for this kind of life! If I was, I ought not to be so uneasy all
the time, I ought to feel contented at least! But I don't, I don't! And
it grows worse every day!"

Julieta, however, was determined to convince her friend that she must
talk things over with Monsalvat. Nacha consented finally to go back
with her after supper, and discuss her fears with him.

Monsalvat meanwhile was anxiously awaiting Nacha's return. When, after
reaching home from his visit to Police Headquarters, he discovered
that she was not in, he became alarmed. A woman who lived next door
told him that Nacha had probably gone out to find new quarters, as the
superintendent had "ordered her out." Monsalvat at once went down to
the _patio_ in search of an explanation of this report.

It was already dark. The air in the courtyard was heavy with the smell
of cooking. Mothers were crooning to their babies, and children were
whimpering. From one of the windows came the strumming of a guitar; and
in a corner of the courtyard two old men were gossiping in Genoese.

The superintendent had, until that moment, been quite servile in his
attitude toward Monsalvat. But he knew now that this tenant of his
had been called to account by the police, and he intended to use this
bit of information. He began, however, by attracting an audience.
He intensified his attitude of humility. As he bent his head before
Monsalvat's energetic accusations, he had all the appearance of being
bullied by his lodger.

"Yes, sir. You can shout if you like, and insult me, and even strike
me. I'm only a poor man, so what does it matter? But I have to carry
out my orders. And the landlady, who is a fine woman, and highly
respectable, doesn't want anyone in this house with dangerous ideas in
their heads, nor any woman like that!"

Monsalvat lost all the serenity that still remained to him after the
events of the day. He clenched his fists, ready to attack this man, at
the first word of allusion to Nacha.

"So that's why, sir, I'm asking you to let us have your room. We are
very sorry, of course; but it can't be helped! As to the young lady
you're so friendly with, let me tell you--if my respectable tenants
here present will excuse the word--we don't want any street-girls in
this house!"

His hearers, now fairly numerous, burst into a loud guffaw. Monsalvat,
exasperated beyond endurance, seized the man by the shoulder and said
to him in a voice that shook with anger:

"You'll get what's coming to you, you hypocrite!"

But something made him glance around. Mauli was standing close to
him, smiling his crooked smile. He stopped short. This evil-looking
individual represented law and order, force and reason, organized
society, of which he was one of the props! He was the enemy, hidden
until that moment, but now revealed, his enemy, indeed, for Monsalvat
felt himself to be the only champion there of the justice and goodness
in human nature!

The superintendent made no move to defend himself from Monsalvat's
threatened attack, but appeared to shrink, become more humble still. He
smiled however, a treacherous and evil smile, and with lowered eyes, he
murmured meekly:

"You ain't fair to me--but I don't need to defend myself! I'll trust
to getting my reward in Heaven! No, I'm not going to fight this here
gentleman, but I am going to ask the landlady to get him a pretty suit
of striped clothes, and have his head shaved, and put him where he can
have plenty of cold showers...."

His audience greeted this allusion with explosions of mirth; and
encouraged by his success, the superintendent continued:

"As to the young lady--excuse me, sir, the princess, I mean--as to the
fair princess in room No. 22, I'll present her with...."

Monsalvat had turned his back on the man, and was trying to force his
way out of the crowd. But people, eager to prolong the scene as much as
possible, got in his way.

"What? What will you present her with?" shrilled the women.

"I'll present her with--excuse the expression, ladies!--with a yellow
ticket!"

Coarse, brutal laughter greeted this witticism and people gathered
round the superintendent to make him repeat his part of the dialogue.
As Monsalvat went slowly up the stairs it seemed to him that these
people were all flaunting their heartless mirth in his face. He was
incapable of seeing or hearing anything. His feeling for Nacha had, for
a moment, carried him away, spurred him to violence! But instantly,
he had realized that if he did not curb it, it would be ruinous to
himself, as well as to her. No, he could not risk leaving her alone,
abandoned to herself, and to the cruelties she would be sure to
experience.

After reaching his room, he began thinking of that humanity, whose
foul words and coarse laughter were even then following him up the
stairs. Now at last he saw how useless his ideals and his work were.
What could he accomplish while men continued to be so full of evil?
Yet whose fault was it? Whose but that of the men and women who allow
the poor to wallow in poverty, ignorance, and the grossness which is
perhaps but a protection necessary for self-preservation? No, the evil
in these people was not inborn! It was acquired; it came from hunger,
from disease, from the sense of being shut out from the banquet of
life at which so many feast! And little by little he began to think of
those who were still laughing at him under his window as no more than
unconscious victims; and he pitied them, he even forgave them!

There was a knock at the door, and Nacha appeared, accompanied by
Julieta. Mauli, lounging about the front door, was the only person in
the house who had seen them come in. As they passed, he turned aside,
but no sooner were they on their way up the stairs than he ran to get
the superintendent; and together they tiptoed to Monsalvat's door,
where they stood with an ear to the panel, listening, and kneeling
to look through the keyhole. What they saw was a girl sobbing, and a
man looking very wretched; but this of course failed to arouse any
compassion in them. Finally when they saw that the girls were taking
leave of their host, they scuttled away.

No sooner had Nacha and Julieta left him than Monsalvat went to the
police station. He had no fears on Mauli's account; for, unpleasant as
the man was, he was nevertheless in the employ of the department, and
not likely therefore, Monsalvat thought, to take direct part in any
plot of Arnedo's. So he had assured Nacha, quieting her fears a little.
At the station they promised him to assign a special watchman to the
house; and the latter returned with him, went up to Nacha's door, and
told Monsalvat he would keep watch all night.

Monsalvat could not bring himself to believe that he had correctly
heard the unbelievable things that Nacha was saying. How was it
possible that Nacha should no longer love him, that she should be able
to go away with Arnedo when, if what she declared was true, she hated
the fellow! At certain moments he thought he must have dreamed the
cruel words that rang in his ears: and that night as he lay in bed,
Despair blew with icy breath upon his hands, and lips, creeping through
his blood to his heart, and to his brain, threatening to wither forever
the warm hope that was his life.

The next morning Nacha went to the store, and returned in an almost
happy frame of mind. It had made her feel freer to tell Monsalvat how
she felt towards him. Up to that moment it had seemed to her that she
was deceiving him, and not treating him fairly. Now an enormous weight
had been lifted from her conscience. Also she knew that Monsalvat had
understood. Her words had caused him keen suffering, but now he would
return to his old world and forget her!

Monsalvat did not see her when she returned from work. He had gone
directly from his office to see Torres. The doctor had just come in
from his calls.

"I told you so," Torres asserted, after Monsalvat had related his
conversation with Nacha. "No good can come of dealing with such women.
You have got nothing out of it but disillusionment and bitterness:
you've lost almost a year of your life--and that isn't all! Your
reputation is quite done for, my boy. You'll have a job of it, to
rehabilitate yourself socially!"

Monsalvat listened, wondering how this friend, the only one now left
him, could know him so little. He had come to confide his trouble to
the only human being of his own class who would consent to listen to
him: and he had been misunderstood! It seemed useless to explain.
Abruptly, without shaking hands with Torres, he went away, downcast
and ill. Why hope for anything from anyone? Life weighed too heavy on
him; he had no illusions, no hopes; and then it was that he knew what
the frigid abysses of solitude are really like! Abysses into which
everything falls away, and vanishes, and nothing, not even feeling
remains....

Not caring to go home he wandered about the streets. At dinner time he
went into a coffee house and drank a little coffee. Then he continued
his aimless walk for several hours, scarcely conscious of what he was
doing, or of the passing of time. At last he went back to his room
and tried to read, but with no success. Finally he wrote Nacha a long
letter, in which he tried to convince her that she loved him; strove to
communicate his own feeling to her, painted the serene and happy days
awaiting them if only Nacha would accept the love stretching out its
imploring hands towards her!

An hour passed, two hours, three hours. Monsalvat wrote for a time,
then broke off, then resumed writing. He would get up, pace to and fro,
sit down again. It was now two o'clock. Everything was silent; the
house, and the street outside.

But suddenly the silence was broken. He heard a noise like that of
an automobile stopping near by. Then a door opened, and there was a
subdued sound of footsteps in the courtyard. Monsalvat leaned out
of his window, which opened on the street; but he could distinguish
nothing. Then he went out to the narrow hallway which led to his room.
From there he could not see the lower hall; so he went downstairs.
There was no one to be seen in the _patio_, and everything was silent
once more. Only in Mauli's room, almost directly facing Nacha's, was
there a light. It must have been he coming home, Monsalvat concluded;
and he returned to his room. Then he lay down, and quite exhausted,
fell into a heavy sleep.

A few minutes later, however, a strange noise aroused him. He thought
it must have been a scream; not a sharp cry, but muffled, stifled, as
though coming from a distance. Then, as his brain cleared a little, he
decided it had been from close at hand--from the street, from the front
door, perhaps. He heard men's voices, the noise of footsteps, and an
automobile approaching. Jumping up from his bed, he leaned out from the
window.

He must have uttered a frantic cry; for what he saw was as distinct and
horrible and swift as the visions in a dream.... Four men came out from
under the archway of the front door. They were carrying something, a
dark huddled form that moved; and now they were thrusting it into the
automobile drawn up at the curb. A woman!



                              CHAPTER XX


He did not know what to do. At the police station they could give
him no information concerning Nacha's whereabouts. It had been
ascertained, from the testimony of three watchmen, that on the night
of her disappearance an automobile was noticed about two o'clock in
the morning, going full speed in a southerly direction. One of the
watchmen declared he had seen a woman in the car, and that several men
were holding her down. Another asserted that there was no woman in the
automobile he had noticed. Torres, when Monsalvat consulted him about
the matter, openly expressed his satisfaction. In his opinion the
abduction was only simulated. He believed that Nacha had been a party
to it, that she wished to leave Monsalvat, and had not known how to go
about it.

"The probabilities are that she has gone off with Arnedo. Was it likely
that this girl could continue long in the nunnery you condemned her to?
Of course she wanted Pampa! Those fellows know how to keep the interest
of women. When a girl falls in love with one of them she never gets
over it. I know dozens of cases! It's as though they were bewitched.
Well, now you're free! That scheme of yours really was ridiculous!"

Monsalvat looked at him hard. Torres was aware of his friend's reproach
but did not desist from his criticism. They stood facing one another in
the doctor's consultation room. Torres in his long white apron looked
even more like a Moor than usual, for the enveloping white brought out
sharply the blackness of his eyes and crisply curling hair.

"Yes, ridiculous!" he repeated. "Do you think that such magnanimous
acts suit these times? It's all right to want to rescue a girl from
living as Nacha was doing--you may even go so far as to fall in love
with her and want to marry her! That kind of thing happens every day.
But the absurdity in all this is that a man with your gifts should
devote himself to missionary work and go about among lost women with
the idea that he is going to save them!"

Monsalvat did not care to hear more of this and went away.

Within a few days a letter reached him from Nacha. Its few short lines
had evidently been written in haste. She had been locked up, she wrote,
in a house of ill-fame in the _la Boca_ section; and she added that
she was not seeing Pampa. Monsalvat must not look for her! It was her
destiny to be "bad," and she had to fulfill this destiny. She hoped he
would be happy, and go back to his place in the world, to that carefree
life from which, all unknowingly, she had drawn him away. Monsalvat
remained a long time looking at this letter, reading it over and over,
pausing at every word. If only between the lines, he might discover the
address of the house where Nacha was being held--

Not yet defeated, he once more set out on a search for her. He looked
at the list of houses the doctor had given him to see if there were
any house in la Boca mentioned there; but there was none. However,
there were ten or twelve in the Barracas quarter. One afternoon, after
leaving the Ministry he set out to visit one of these.

In a low section of the city, at the back of a two-storied house, in a
dark corner of a street that led nowhere, he found the wretched house
that was listed. At his knock at the door a toothless and unkempt old
hag appeared. She was standing barefoot in the dirty water that she
was swishing over the stone floor with an old broom. Monsalvat had
never seen so lamentable a specimen of humanity. The bony old creature
was scantily covered by a wrapper which, as it flapped open, revealed
the appalling ugliness of her shrunken, discolored flesh and deformed
body. When Monsalvat asked for the proprietor of the house, this human
remnant showed her livid gums, and assured him she was the person in
question. With a few apologies, she made him come in, and leaving him,
went to put on more decent attire. Monsalvat found himself in a room
permeated by a peculiar smell compounded of incense and smoke from
the stove. It amused him to observe that the walls were papered with
pictures of saints. In a corner, a candle was burning in front of St.
Anthony. The chromos covered everything, even the head of the wooden
bed, and the door.

The old woman returned somewhat tidier in appearance, and accompanied
by a red-haired girl of about seventeen, poorly dressed, and very
deaf. Monsalvat thought she must be a servant in one of the wretched
houses of the neighborhood. He informed the old woman of his purpose in
coming, and she at once asked for money. He gave her ten _pesos_ which
she acknowledged by telling him that the day before a girl had told
a story about a woman who had been stolen and locked up in a certain
house in _la Boca_.

Where could he see the girl?

The old woman screamed into the red-haired girl's ear inquiring who had
told her this story. She mentioned a name.

"It's someone who just happened to be here--she isn't likely to come
back. But I'll tell you where you can see her. Do you know the Basque
woman's house? Well, they're going to have a party there tomorrow
night, and the girl is sure to be there. Ask for Gertrude. She's a
thin, dark piece ... puts on lots of airs."

Monsalvat could not leave without calling the old woman to account
for her trade, or at least for having such young girls about. The hag
laughed shrilly, opening her toothless mouth wide, and rocking her body
back and forth. Whenever she stopped a moment in her glee she wiped her
nose on her arm.

"So you think we ruin girls, do you? That's a good one! Listen, tell
me! How old do you think I am? Fifty-two--not a year more! Well, look,
in all the twenty years I've been in this business I never deceived nor
ruined any woman. A good one, that is! I don't force women to this kind
of work. Criminal, you call it? Well, what about the 'City of Paris'
that pays its employees so little they have to get money somewhere
else? What do you call that? Say, I know something about what's going
on! I used to be up in the world once! You ought to have seen the
folks who came to my house! Yes, a fine idea, you have! But I don't
take advantage of anybody--Talk to me! Say, listen! Women don't ruin
other women! It's you fine gentlemen that ruin them! That's a good one!
Ha-ha! And if some woman helps to ruin another it's not us poor ones!
That's a good one all right!"

The next evening Monsalvat set out for the Basque woman's house, where
he was to inquire for "Gertrude." He went through dark sinister streets
and at last came to what he thought must be the place. It was in a
junction of two alleys, near the _Hospicio de la Merced_.

A desolate quarter of the town it was, depressing in lines and color.
A short narrow street went upgrade between two high walls, then turned
abruptly. From the direction in which Monsalvat was approaching, the
walls and trees of the women's insane asylum alone were visible. All
the rest was sky and night. Silence like that of the desert reigned,
and a solitude fit for nameless crimes. Monsalvat shivered with a vague
uneasiness. He turned at the end of the passage, and saw a multitude
of distant lights. The view widened. Something ominous breathed in the
thick darkness. On one side of the street stretched a low wall; and in
the distance, beyond that, the wide inky railroad. The huge formless
bulks of empty cars mingled in undistinguishable masses down there in
those dreary yards; and beyond, from the skyline of the city electric
lights were glittering. Here and there yellow signals glowed in the
blackness, and to the left stretched a line of dingy houses. The house
Monsalvat was seeking must be one of these.

In a building in front of him a door was open. He could hear talking
inside, laughter, the sound of a piano. He called out to announce his
presence. Someone shouted to him to come in. From the other end of
the entrance hall a girl, who was having some beer with her escort,
called out to ask him what he wanted. Perhaps Monsalvat's appearance
aroused mistrust in her companion. At any rate they replied that the
lady of the house was busy and that a party was going on. Monsalvat
however was persistent. Finally they let him pass into an inner room.
The proprietress, a very tall and heavy Basque, whom he encountered in
the _patio_, seemed to have her doubts about him too. Monsalvat made up
some pretext for staying there a few moments, and in addition gave the
woman money. The girl who was drinking beer turned out to be Gertrude.
The proprietress called her aside so that Monsalvat could talk to her.

"How should I know?" exclaimed Gertrude. "I heard the story; but who
knows if it's true? And what's more I don't remember anything about it.
That was a good many days ago."

"It isn't so many days ago, because all this happened last week."

"I tell you I don't know anything about it. I wasn't the one who told
the story in the first place. It was somebody else."

Monsalvat noticed that the youth who had been drinking beer with her
was watching him. In the inner room a tango was going on. From the
_patio_ Monsalvat could see the profile of a tall mulatto who was
playing the piano, in a very temperamental style, striking the piano
case, whistling, breaking out into song. The air was heavy with odors
and smoke, and the sensuousness of the dance floated out into the
_patio_ like the scent of an overripe fruit. Monsalvat was on the point
of leaving, tired of his vain attempt to get information, when the girl
suddenly changed her manner. Monsalvat thought he had noticed the youth
making signs to her, but at the time attached no importance to this
detail. Gertrude, now gracious and smiling, said that she would give
him the address of the house the girl was supposed to be in; but begged
him not to tell anyone she had done so, or they would kill her. At this
point the youth drew near, and in greeting to Monsalvat, removed his
cap. Gertrude mentioned a street and number, and explained to the youth
what it was all about. The latter offered to accompany Monsalvat. He
knew the house in question, and if the gentleman went alone, they would
not let him in. The young fellow appeared good-natured, and Monsalvat
concluded that he was probably a young workman. With his characteristic
hopefulness where human nature was concerned he accepted the proffered
company, and, after the youth had taken leave of three or four friends
there, they started off together.

For a quarter of an hour they walked through dark streets entirely
unknown to Monsalvat. Then they came out on a wilderness of vacant
lots. Suddenly, as they turned a corner, his guide gave a peculiar
whistle so shrill that it pierced the darkness like a knife. Before
Monsalvat could ask what this meant he saw four toughs descending on
him with pointing revolvers. Obviously this was no time for talk, nor
for complaint. Resignedly he handed over all the money he had with him.

He was not disheartened, however, nor was he angry with the thieves.
He told himself that the poor devils no doubt needed the money, and
thought no more of the incident. Following, as he believed, the same
road he had come by, he reached the river, and at sight of it, felt
that he had returned again to civilized regions. After inquiring his
road, he started off on foot, for he had no other way of covering the
long distance separating him from _la Boca_.

As he went along he pondered his situation; and doubt tormented him.
Failure appeared constantly in his path. For the hundredth time he went
over the confession Nacha had made to him in Julieta's presence on the
eve of her abduction. How could she possibly fear being attracted by
Arnedo, brutal and tyrannous as he was? How, after several months of
an honest and decent life, could it be so easy for her to go back to
a vicious world? Yet that was what her return to Arnedo meant. What
unfathomable depths, what mysteries there are in human hearts! He could
not believe that Nacha had ceased to love him. She loved him, not only,
as she supposed, as a daughter loves her father, or as a sister her
brother, or a believer God: she loved him with her whole being. But
Nacha must have had her moments of doubt too, and it was then that the
memory of her life with Pampa, its violences and its caresses, must
have pursued her as Pampa himself was doing; and her very honesty with
herself would in such a case make her feel ashamed, and confirm her
fears that she was destined to an evil life.

He was following the river bank where old boats lay sleeping. A
sailor's chanty disturbed the silence. Taverns, bearing exotic names
that recalled all the countries of the earth, lined the other side of
the street, and within, grimy men were drinking. Monsalvat thought of
his earlier years, of his travels, of his sojourns in Italy, of the
women who had loved him, of his carefree and happy life. And there he
was, on his way back from a house of ill-fame, fresh from the society
of a thief, trudging along in this wretched district, in search of a
lost woman! And he felt an immense pity for himself....

He asked a passer-by to direct him to the address Gertrude had given
him. It was not far from there. With a good-bye to the river, which
had summoned before him some of his happiest memories, saddening him
withal, he set out for his destination.

Now he was passing through a street which had on one side a high wall,
possibly that of a cathedral, or a convent, or perhaps merely that
of a factory, a black railing topping it; and now he was going down
another street lined with taverns, and Scandinavian lodging houses.
Monsalvat looked in through some of the open doorways, his eye
attracted by foreign wall decorations. In one of these lodging places,
the proprietor and his family were entertaining the boarders. A small
house, its balconies full of potted flowers, rubbed shoulders with
a tightly closed hovel in front of which was a street lamp bearing
the legend "Fram." In another of these taverns an old street-walker,
wearing an extraordinary assortment of garments, and ironically enough
preserving, even in her present decay, something of the unusual, even
noble beauty she had once possessed, was amusing, with her drunken
antics, four tall, fair-haired and silent men who were evidently
sailors. Monsalvat passed on through another street, shaded by a few
trees; and the taverns here, with their walls of one color, vivid
blues, or greens, suggested the decorations of Russian ballets.
Finally, among the shanties built on piles, because of flood tides,
and constructed of the cheapest sort of wood, with tin roofs, he found
the address Gertrude had mentioned; for it was not fictitious. Pushing
open the door, he went in. No, Nacha could not possibly be here. No
one could be capable of holding a woman prisoner in such a place. Only
the off-scourings of the human race could frequent such a den as this!
The _patio_, of large proportions, opening into low-ceilinged rooms,
was roofed over. About fifty individuals, dirty and ill-smelling, sat,
or stood about, in groups. There were even some negroes there, clearly
North Americans. No one was talking. Three or four women, dressed in
screaming red, were running about from one group to another.... No!
Nacha was not there! And Monsalvat went away convinced that he had been
the victim of a brutal joke.

The following day, desperately anxious to find Nacha, and save her from
the fatal surroundings into which she had probably fallen, he returned
to the house near the _Hospicio de la Merced_. By dint of money he
succeeded in interviewing Gertrude alone. The girl, with admirable
levity, laughed at the trick she had played him. Then she tried to put
the blame on the youth who had led Monsalvat into the ambush.

"And how is it you are living with a thief?" Monsalvat inquired.

"Oh, I don't pry into other people's business!"

"But you know that he assaults people and robs them?"

"Well, what of it? And what's that to you?"

After a long discussion and the promise of more money if it proved
that she had not deceived him again, Monsalvat obtained the address he
wanted. It was that of a house of good appearance between Lezama Park
and la Boca; and it cost him a considerable sum to get into it. At his
request the proprietress introduced all the girls who were there at the
moment. But Nacha was not among them. One girl, however, turned out to
have been a member of the group who had been with Nacha in the cabaret
on the night he came to her defence. Monsalvat took her aside. She was
a fat, stupid-looking creature, sniffling constantly.

"I saw you that night, you remember? And I wanted to know you. What
luck to meet you at last, old fellow!"

This was very friendly treatment from a person he had never spoken to
before. Monsalvat explained the object of his visit. The girl looked
disappointed, but gave him what information she had.

"I don't know anything, you understand! But I heard talk about
something going on. One night they brought a girl here, and kept her
two days--but I was away all that time. Then they took her somewhere
else. And you say it was Nacha? Who would have thought it! And she was
always so stuck-up--to think of what's happened to her now!"

Monsalvat asked her to explain what she meant.

"Why they say that she was taken to one of those houses--oh, the very
worst! Somewhere in Olavarría Street, or Necochea--I'm not sure which.
If you want to find her, go to those houses and inquire."

Monsalvat started out again. Twice he had gone down into this hell; he
had never thought he would have to descend to the very lowest circles
of the abyss. But for Nacha's sake he went even into those ghastly
caverns where lie the unhappy beings who have lost not only their
bodies, but their minds and their souls too. And as he wandered among
the shades there--they could not be called living beings--Monsalvat
wondered how this last of all crimes could be allowed in a world that
also contains beauty and kindness; for these women had been degraded
from the human estate to that of beasts. And other human beings had
allowed this to happen; and still other human beings had caused it....



                              CHAPTER XXI


The quest through _la Boca_ proved vain. No one would give him any
information. But he was sent hither and yon, serving now as a joke and
now as a prey to robbers. He was always assured that such and such
an individual could no doubt tell him what he wanted to know, and
Monsalvat would run this clue down, from café to café, from tavern to
tavern. In this fashion he traversed the entire district of _la Boca_,
that sinister "Tenderloin" of Buenos Aires. He went to gaming houses,
lupanars, saloons. He entered cheap hotels and lodging houses.

Here English or German phrases fell on his ear; there he heard
Norwegian, Russian, or Finnish. In another quarter he found a medley
of Balkan tongues, and in yet another he recognized the barbarous Arab
dialects of Northern Africa. One day he found himself at a Korean bar;
on another in a Chinese eating house. Once he made his way into a
gathering of Turks. In the course of one month he encountered all kinds
of people. A motley throng of gamblers, down-and-outs, and criminals
passed before him: yet all was useless. He learned nothing of Nacha.

He went back one afternoon to the house where she had been kept a few
days, and wondered why he had not thought of doing so before. Instead,
however, of questioning the girls, he interviewed the proprietress in
person, and offered to give her a thousand _pesos_ if she could provide
him with reliable information concerning Nacha's whereabouts. The
woman was an old creature full of cunning and lies, hard to understand
because of her mumbling and her odd use of words. She was smoking
stubby cigars which she made herself, from Paraguay tobacco. But the
sum this caller offered for a little information made her open her
wrinkled eyelids wide. She began to tell him all she knew.

It so happened also that she detested Pampa. He had treated her
badly on various occasions, using her for the accomplishment of his
crimes, and then failing to pay for her services. With the help of
his _patota_, and Mauli, he had brought Nacha to her house where she
was kept locked up like a prisoner. She would not allow any man to
come near her, however, screaming, scratching and biting like a fury.
Finally Arnedo, revolver in hand, made her write to Monsalvat, thinking
to tame her in that way and show her how useless any resistance was.

"How did she receive Arnedo's attentions?" Monsalvat asked.

"You ought to have seen her!" the old woman replied, drawing at her
cigar butt. "She called him names, just the way she did me, and
everyone else she could think of. What words she used! And he didn't
run after her much either! I guess he brought her here to get even with
someone. With whom? How should I know, son?"

"And you don't know where Nacha is?"

"Yes. She's...."

She moved her cigar stump to the other side of her mouth.

"See here, young man, if you put down fifty _pesos_ of that thousand
now, I'll give you a pretty little piece of information. True as I'm
telling you! This old body wouldn't lie! I was raised to speak the
truth, and I'll die doing the same!"

Monsalvat handed her the sum she asked, and the old creature gave him
two bits of advice. He was to talk to a certain Amiral, a poor wretch
who was a friend of Arnedo's, and who, for money, would get the truth
out of Pampa. However, the other, and the better course to follow, in
her opinion, was to see a washerwoman named Braulia, who knew all the
vicious resorts of the district for she kept them "stocked" with girls.

Braulia proved to be a negress, who lived in a shanty, at the back of
a vacant lot. After much chattering she told him that she would answer
his question the following night, when he was to meet her at a certain
café, on the river bank. Fearing a decoy, for he had learned to be
mistrustful, he asked her why he could not wait on the street corner,
or in some café he knew. The negress replied that he would have to go
where she told him, and if that didn't suit him he could go without
what he was looking for.

The next evening he went to the café designated. His entrance there
appeared not to attract attention. As a matter of fact its patrons had
instantly spotted him, but they pretended not to notice his presence.
The place was a foul den, much like a cave, so low was its roof. The
chairs, benches and tables were greasy and ill-smelling. A mulatto in
his shirt-sleeves was waiting on the customers. Three North American
negroes, so drunk they could not stand, were singing something with
a cakewalk rhythm. Opening their mouths wide, they stretched their
thick lips from ear to ear, showing their red gums and gleaming white
teeth. One of them was playing a large accordion. From the table where
Monsalvat was sitting he could see the port light of a boat, and above,
the starry sky. Every few minutes a drunken man staggered up the street.

While he was waiting for some message from the negress, a man came up
to him, and, telling him he belonged to the secret police, advised him
to leave. "This is no place for you," he said. "Whoever it was told you
to come here is just planning to rob you." Monsalvat left the place,
and never returned to it.

He decided to see Amiral; but this turned out to be more easily planned
than done. Amiral apparently never ate at home and rarely slept there;
and it was of course useless to write to him since he was quite
likely to show the communication to Arnedo. So, while trying to find
the elusive Amiral, Monsalvat continued his seeking of Nacha. He was
beginning now to absent himself from his office for entire afternoons.
List in hand, he went about stirring up all the back waters of this
dismal slough of despond.

"She is not here. We don't know her," they would tell him.

Then he would go to another house, and another, and yet another. He
would explain his object, argue with the unfriendly "Madames," give
countless details about Nacha. At times he begged for help; but at
others, he would become enraged and insult the woman who told him "She
is not here." Exasperated, maddened, he would rush out and stumble
into the first taxi that passed, giving addresses of yet other houses.
For he could think of nothing but this purpose. He came to the point
of believing that everyone was in league to outwit him. But he would
succeed yet! He had one irresistible ally: the will to find her!

"She is not here. We don't know her."

"What? Not here either?" Then the earth must have swallowed her! They
all knew nothing about her, these people? That was a lie! They wanted
to lead him on, exploit him, as they had done countless times. There
was nothing but lies and hypocrisy and evil in these women. And he
had defended them, ruined himself for them! Ah, Nacha! Nacha! What
had her unhappy destiny brought her to? She asked him not to look for
her, since she was destined to a bad life! But all the more would he
persist, with all the more eagerness, all the more desperation! He
would seek her, not for love, but to save her from those stagnant
waters on whose brim ill-fated women and girls lurched and staggered,
dizzy with the poisonous gases of that loathsome morass!

"She is not here. We don't know her."

Every word fell on him like a whip-lash. He would come out of these
accursed houses, sick, in physical pain; and he could not grow used
to disappointments. At first his heart had been high with hope. But
now his step was beginning to falter, and a strange expression had
come over his face. His eyes glanced nervously about at people and
objects in the room, or stared at the woman he was questioning. He knew
that she too would say, "She is not here." Yet he went on to the next
house and to the next, repeating his frantic question. Then, almost
invariably, without a word more he would rush out; though once, to the
stupefaction of the women, he uttered an exclamation of anguish, and
staggered to a chair.

"She is not here. We don't know her," was the unvarying reply.

At the thought that she might be dead his throat tightened and closed,
while the rest of his body felt the oppression as of a great weight of
earth upon it. Nacha dead! What was he to do in a world without Nacha?
Should he return to the place he had formerly occupied in life? Or
consecrate himself to those other wretches of the underworld? But then
Nacha could not have died without his feeling it, without his knowing
it! No, Nacha could not be dead! She was alive! She loved him! She was
waiting for him!

"She is not here. We don't know her."

Well, didn't he know that Nacha wasn't there? Nacha loved him, and was
expecting him, somewhere. That much was sure! If he had come to this
particular house to inquire it was merely to be thorough. The people
there could all go to the devil for all he cared! He wasn't going to
ask any favors of them! Nacha was waiting for him.... What did the rest
of the world matter ... society, or its victims, or the cabaret, or the
workmen murdered in the Square, or his mother's death, or his sister's!
Nacha was expecting him! His heart, where a sweet, incessant song was
singing, leapt, mad with joy, like the throbbing breast of a bird!
Nacha was expecting him....

But where?

Meanwhile Monsalvat was not altogether unmindful of himself. He
noticed that at times his mind became blank, and that at such moments
he would turn deathly pale, and be unable to walk. Then again he
suffered from pains at the base of his brain, as if a wedge had been
hammered into his skull at that point. He wondered if this presaged
mental derangement. Was he going mad? He ate next to nothing, and slept
little. Worried about his condition, he spent a week in bed.

One afternoon a letter came from the Ministry. It contained his
dismissal. Monsalvat read the document, smiling. With it was a letter
from the under-secretary who expressed his chief's regrets at being
forced to take such action; but Monsalvat's frequent absences from the
office, his lack of attention to his work, which, of course, might
result in serious consequences, left the Minister no choice in the
matter.

Monsalvat tossed both communications to the floor. "What does such
nonsense matter to me? Nacha is waiting for me!"

The "nonsense," nevertheless, had serious implications. November was
upon him and he had paid only a third of the interest on the mortgage.
The Bank was insisting on payment, but he had no idea where to get the
three thousand _pesos_ needed. Moreover he was constantly giving away
more than he could possibly afford, and naïvely letting himself be
robbed on every hand. He had borrowed at high rates and had never paid
any of the accumulating interest. The Bank, however, came to his rescue
by selling the tenement, obtaining scarcely sixty thousand at the
auction, which occurred on an oppressive November day. Very few bidders
appeared; for it was just the beginning of that financial crisis which
was to come to a head some fifteen months later, in 1913. Property
values were going down. Money stringency was acute. No one was risking
investment in real estate except at a bargain. The Bank recovered its
forty thousand _pesos_ with the interest. Monsalvat paid his minor
borrowings and in the end found himself possessed of some ten thousand
_pesos_. He now felt quite at ease. On that sum he could live two
years in case he found no work. But it was written that bad luck was
to pursue him. The bank in which he deposited his money failed within
three months!

He met Amiral one morning, and, without preamble, told him that he
wanted him to find out from Arnedo, as skillfully as possible, where
Nacha was. Amiral, at mention of this name, smiled understandingly. He
stroked his long brown mustache, and stretching out his thin arms, he
exclaimed:

"Just what I always said! Of course a man like you who has lived in
Paris--why, when they told me you were trying to reform our girls over
here, I wouldn't believe them, for I felt sure you knew better....
Well, I'm glad to see I was right!"

Monsalvat wanted to knock the fellow down but contained himself.
Amiral, thoroughly pleased with his penetration, added, in a
confidential tone:

"It was clever of you to think of this disguise; because here in Buenos
Aires, alas! there is no atmosphere.... One has to provide it ... ha!
ha! ... provide it!"

Monsalvat wasted no time trying to correct Amiral's interpretation of
his conduct, but with brutal directness offered him a thousand _pesos_
to find out where Nacha was. Amiral staggered back dramatically. He
thought that it perhaps became him to be angry; but, having consulted
his conscience, he decided to accept. There was no need of being
offended for so small a sum! Had it been fifty or a hundred thousand...!

Several days passed. Monsalvat was frightened by a rapid change for
the worse in his nervous condition. One afternoon as he was drinking
some coffee in a pastry shop near the business centre of the town, the
mental blankness he knew and dreaded came upon him. His hands trembled,
and he broke into a cold sweat. A waiter helped him into a cab. When
he reached his room he found he could neither read nor write. His mind
seemed scattered, broken into bits. All his strength was gone. From
day to day his organism seemed to lose coordination, as if all the
parts of his being had escaped the control of his will. Different men
seemed to manifest themselves within him; as he wonderingly observed
them, he found the acts and thoughts of these other Monsalvats quite
inexplicable.

Finally, one December morning, Amiral told him that Arnedo knew nothing
about Nacha. After keeping her several days locked up in a certain
house, he had taken her to another, from which, after a week or two,
she had run away.

Monsalvat believed her lost forever. At the same time he was astonished
at the slight impression Amiral's words seemed to make on him. He
stood motionless for a long time gazing blankly into the distance, but
he felt so ill that he yielded to a desire to go to some friend. He
called on de Castro, preferring not to see Torres, who might think him
either sick or insane. Ruiz was profoundly distressed at sight of him.
Monsalvat noticed his friend's pitying expression and stammered some
incoherent words. Then he collapsed.

A deep, painful night had settled on him, body and soul, nor could
his mind see in that sudden darkness. His whole being had become
insensible. For him now there was no longer either Nacha or Monsalvat;
nor struggling nor rest; for him there was neither truth or beauty; the
world had been blotted out.



                             CHAPTER XXII


The storm had passed. Calm had returned to the world.

Monsalvat was living in a sanatorium at Almagro, to which his friends
had taken him. Tranquil and silent, he spent nearly the entire day in
the small park, with its lofty eucalyptus groves, thinking of nothing,
trying not to think. He was new-born. What did the past matter? He was
going to look ahead! Life lay before, not behind, him! Even Nacha no
longer existed; or rather, had ceased to exist for him! With her, a
whole universe--all that he knew and loved, all that his feelings and
thought had created in him--had vanished from his heart and mind. Not
that he denied the reality of the past year; but, the storm weathered,
he found himself looking at a new world, and he could not live in its
presence with the same opinions and feelings as before.

Peace had come to him; but he lacked something that he loved even more
than peace: freedom; and now that he felt sane and sound, he wanted to
escape from his present surroundings. Moreover, two inoffensive maniacs
had recently come to the sanatorium. Their presence annoyed Monsalvat,
for he could not see that they differed very much from himself. At
times he wondered if his attempts to reform the world might not become
a mania also, and bring him down to the level of these harmless
lunatics.

His friends came but rarely to see him, for the sanatorium was a little
distance out of town. Their consciences were clear since they were
paying Monsalvat's expenses.

One afternoon, however, after Monsalvat's complete recovery, Ruiz de
Castro and Torres called on him. They sat in the garden, talking and
for the first time since his illness, touched on the forbidden subject.
Monsalvat had perhaps led them on, by confiding to them his curious
sensation of having just come to life, as fresh and new as a new-born
baby. With a view to determining his friend's actual state of mind,
Torres observed:

"So you see how useless all those efforts of yours really are...."

"Not at all," Monsalvat declared. "It is never useless to try to help
people."

"Granted that you help others," de Castro broke in, "just the same, you
did yourself a lot of harm!"

"You are quite mistaken. I have done myself a great deal of good--so
much good that today I am not the discontented, dejected man I was
a year ago. I don't know what I shall do tomorrow; but I know that
if I am really a different man, I shall owe the transformation to my
idealistic view of life."

"So you're going right on with that fool business!" Torres exclaimed.
"I fail to see the new man in you. On the contrary, I should say your
trouble is that life doesn't teach you anything. After a year of
failure--failure in every sense of the word--you are still planning to
reform the world, and all by yourself!"

Monsalvat was silent a moment. Then he answered calmly:

"It is life--not my failures, because I didn't fail--that has taught me
how powerless individual effort is. I believe now that not only would I
fail to reform the world, but also that a million men setting about it
each on his own hook, as I did, would fail too."

"Well, at last!" exclaimed Ruiz de Castro. "It's about time you became
convinced that the world can't be changed."

"I didn't say that. On the contrary I consider it more capable of
reform now than ever it was. But I also know that a program is
necessary, and a method, and training! I know now that the idealism
of one individual, the action of one man, does not help much to bring
about ultimate success. But I do not go back on individual ideals,
individual accomplishment; because it is the individual who provides
the impulse, the forward push, the motive power, if you like, without
which nothing can move. The only trouble is that all these energies are
isolated, uncoordinated.... However, you see my point: before you can
have action to accomplish a purpose, you must have a vision of what the
purpose is. The ideal precedes and accompanies the accomplishment of
reform--that you understand! The world must be reformed, must be built
up again rather, from its foundations. We must go about such a matter
slowly--but not too slowly--and so, little by little...! But every so
often the idealist, the dreamer, the madman and the fool, all those who
fight the great battle with their hearts, must give a vigorous thrust
forward!"

His two friends looked at one another.... A hopeless case!

"But why so many reforms in the world? Just so that you can marry a
prostitute?" Torres brutally rejoined.

Monsalvat did not reply; and the doctor, ashamed of his outbreak, tried
to make up for it by a show of affection. Monsalvat sat beside him on a
bench; and as Torres went on to trivial matters, he patted his patient
on the shoulder now and then.

After a while they went away, none too well pleased. Monsalvat saw
plainly that everything about him--his opinions, his recent life, his
feelings--were compromising these friends of his. They were kindly and
relatively generous fellows, but he knew that they were weak in the
presence of social pressure. However much they might care for him, if
they should have to choose between him and society, they would without
question side with the latter.

The moment this became clear to him, he thought of nothing but of
making his escape. He did not want his friends to know where he was
going. If he was compromising them he would spare them the trouble and
the annoyance of having to desert him. He would desert them. He would
rather appear ungrateful than accept the unpleasant situation which is
bound to arise when people want to cut a friendship short, and have
not the courage to do it. Monsalvat wished to be free also; free, not
economically,--for he could earn a living somehow--but free from those
friends who constituted the only bond still tying him to society.

One day he fled from the sanatorium. As he possessed only the clothes
he was wearing and his pockets were empty, he walked from Almagro to
the capital. It was dawn when he started out. The limpid sky deepened
into a blue which still showed a few stars. In the streets the shadows
were slowly drawing back into such retreats as the trees offered,
hanging veil-like about their trunks and branches, and in the distance,
out towards the harbor, a delicate rose light had risen to view. What
an extraordinary sensation, this first contact with living things,
after months of isolation! How innocent life seemed, and young! Oh,
surely, the world was new, it had been born again!

Passing along the solitary streets, he lived in his dream, feeling
neither cold nor fatigue. Everything had been made over. The sky was
clearer than before, objects had an unknown beauty, men were living in
harmony.

Then it occurred to him that so it must always seem to one who wanders
alone under a sky, and amid colors that offer love to a world awakening
to the day; and then he remembered that of all men, only the humble of
the earth see this dawn-light, and carry something of its tenderness in
their hearts. Was it this, perhaps, which kept them from noticing the
approach of another dawn, already sending its heralds across the sky?

He had left the tree-bordered avenues now. The city was awakening.
Poor folk, laborers for the most part, passed him now at every step.
House doors were opening. The deep blue of the sky had given place to a
luminous clarity, and the world was rosy for a moment, enveloped in a
shining softness. Then the sun rose, and morning filled with sounds and
lights, joys and sorrows. Life! Monsalvat took a deep breath; for it
seemed that with this air he breathed in freedom too. He felt that he
was sound and good.

But suddenly fatigue overtook him. He tried to distance it, but in
vain. It hung on his legs, weighting down his body, making it hard
for him to walk. When he reached the Plaza del Once he sat down on a
bench, and rested there for an hour, dozing a little. Then he began to
consider his situation. Where should he go? First of all he must find
lodgings. In a miserable hotel on the Plaza, they refused to give him
a room because he had no luggage; and be met with the same refusal in
other cheap inns. So the morning passed. Finally he bethought him of a
Spaniard whose wife kept a boarding house on the Plaza Lavalle, and for
whom he had once done a favor; so he set out for this address.

It was already past noon and he began to feel the pangs of hunger. He
tried to pass quickly by the Court buildings in the Plaza Lavalle,
anxious to escape the notice of his former colleagues. But suddenly, as
he was crossing the street, he saw in front of him a shabbily dressed
individual who was bowing to him with exaggerated servility. It was
none other than Moreno, still haunting the courts in quest of copying
to do, or errands to run. Monsalvat inquired after his wife and Irene.

"Oh, Doctor, misfortune has taken possession of my hearth and home!
Irene--but why speak of past troubles? Some other time, Doctor, I'll
tell you this melancholy story. Now we are struggling, with a little
success, I may say, against the cruel persecutions of the Fates. My
wife has a position as janitress in a tenement house. It's a little
distance out, over Barracas way, near the bridge. But we manage to keep
alive."

As he went on talking it occurred to Monsalvat that he had found a
solution for his problem. He asked Moreno if there were any unoccupied
rooms in the house he spoke of.

"Yes, Doctor, there are. But why this question?"

"Because I wish to take one of them at once."

Moreno stood open-mouthed with astonishment. Then he protested in a
welter of words. He could never permit Doctor Monsalvat, that light of
the Law, to live in the wretched hovel which he inhabited. Monsalvat,
however, insisted that that was his affair. Moreno concluded that
Monsalvat had chosen that section of the city to carry out some kind
of philanthropical scheme, and consented to take him home. Besides,
he was sure to profit eventually by Monsalvat's presence in the same
house! A _peso_ here and there, for a quiet little session in a
saloon now and then, to say nothing of the pretexts he could find for
borrowing--urgent creditors, need of clothing, food, and so on!

Moreno was giving his address when some words of Monsalvat's thrust
him into unfathomable depths of bewilderment. The doctor was actually
asking him for carfare! Moreno stood transfixed, his arms outspread, a
look of terror on his sallow face.

"You're surely joking, Doctor!" he exclaimed, incredulous. "Can it be
that Moreno, poor pariah that he is, Moreno, stepson of Providence,
should be asked to lend a--a nickel--to the learned and illustrious
Doctor Fernando Monsalvat?"

He looked at his admired protector and saw that now, at least, the man
was not to be envied. He was on the point of taking back what he had
said about a room to let in his tenement house. Finally, in a burst of
generosity, he took a dime from his pocket and gave it to Monsalvat.
As the latter walked away, Moreno stood a full quarter of an hour,
his arms crossed on his chest, meditating and philosophizing on the
vicissitudes of human destiny.

Monsalvat took up his abode in the tenement. He wrote to his father's
wife, suggesting a cash compromise for the rights to his father's
property that he might claim from the surmised existence of an early
will, rights that Ruiz de Castro had always urged him to assert. As
long as he had enough to live on, he had seen no reason why he should
claim any of the Monsalvat property. His letter was modest in its tone,
intimating that only a distressing financial situation could have
persuaded him to bring up the question of his father's testamentary
provisions. Moreno delivered the letter.

His father's wife had never been kindly disposed toward him, had in
fact injured him in every way she could. Determined that her daughters
should know nothing of their father's illegitimate family, she had
never permitted him even to meet his half-sisters. They had been led
to believe that Fernando Monsalvat was a distant relative. The letter
itself remained unanswered; but its recipient sent back a fifty _peso_
bill. Money meant nothing to Monsalvat and, always slow to perceive bad
intentions in others, he did not catch the offensive tone of the reply.
On the contrary, he acknowledged the remittance in cordial fashion, and
felt quite happy about having received it. He purchased a few articles
of clothing, paid his rent, and rewarded Moreno for his services.
During the next month he lived on the good will of Moreno's wife, who
let him stay on without paying, telling the landlord that the room
occupied by her protégé was without a tenant. She also saw to it that
he had something to eat, giving him whatever was left over from her own
table; and that was little enough.

Meanwhile he wrote articles and sent them out to newspapers and
periodicals. He was convinced that he now had something to say, and
decided henceforth to give his energies to writing. One review accepted
an article, sending him thirty _pesos_, which he at once handed over to
his protectress.

Two months passed, two strange months during which he lived indoors,
entirely shut up within himself, far from everyone and everything.
Often he spent the day in bed, talking only to Moreno, who frequently
came to provide him with conversation. More than once the man recalled
Irene's tragic story; but Monsalvat listened to it with interest every
time, stirred by the curious spectacle of this father, who in telling
of his daughter's sufferings, lost something of his absurdity; and not
unmindful of the part he himself had played in the girl's unhappy life.

According to Moreno, Irene had fallen in love with someone who could
not share her passion; as a result she had for several weeks been
crazed with grief. At the slightest provocation she would fly into a
rage, threaten her mother, insult Moreno, attack the children. Then a
suitor presented himself, a young man who worked in a barber-shop near
by. He was an ugly, dark-skinned, almost grotesque fellow; but Irene
accepted him, no one knew why, for plainly she cared nothing for him.
However, someone in the neighborhood told her that her betrothed had
a mistress. As a matter of fact he had put an end to these relations;
but Irene, humiliated, hurt and angered by the deception, went out of
her head, called a man in from the street, told him what had happened,
and offered herself to him. Her suitor heard gossip of the incident,
rushed to Irene's room, and tried to shoot her. He missed his aim, was
arrested, tried, and imprisoned. Then Irene ran away. All that Moreno
could discover about her after that was that every week she visited the
fellow at the prison. How she made a living, he did not know.

"She's lost, doctor, lost!" Moreno would sob. "The flower of the
family! So good, and such a worker--as pretty as they make them! And
to think that I am the guilty one, I, most contemptible of drunkards!
There you see the consequences of vice--for my poor little girl is the
child of alcohol! That's why she turned out as she did--my fault!"

And he covered his unwashed face with his two hands, and occupied
Monsalvat's only chair while the latter dressed.

One day Monsalvat decided to go out. He had just put on a summer
overcoat--directly over his shirt, for his jacket and waistcoat he had
pawned--when Moreno's wife came in to announce some ladies who were
asking to see him. He looked sternly at the woman. He was sure she had
reported the sad case of "the poor fellow starving on the top floor" to
some charitable society! He went out to the _patio_ resolved to pay no
attention to the ladies.

Noisy outcries were coming from one of the rooms--a woman's voice
cursing these charity visitors who had refused her any help, because
she had a child and wasn't married, and screaming denunciations of
charity organizations in general and of the poor wretches who toadied
to these fine ladies so as to get money out of them. The visitors
seemed neither angered nor intimidated. Evidently they were accustomed
to such scenes.

"Is what that woman says true?" asked Monsalvat.

"Why I know you!" exclaimed the other--the plump lady who, at a dinner
at Ruiz de Castro's, had been so oratorical in her defense of the
established order.

Monsalvat shook hands coldly with both ladies. They tried to conceal
the surprise and pain his obviously distressful circumstances caused
them.

"Is what that woman says true?" Monsalvat inquired again.

"Yes, Monsalvat, but--"

He paid no attention to Isabel's excuses.

"Then this woman is quite right. You have no charity in you. You are
doing this kind of thing for selfish motives, and nothing else--just to
occupy your time, fill conspicuous positions in charity organizations!"

Launched on this theme, he drove harshly, savagely ahead, as though
executing judgment. Wrapped in his overcoat which was too loose for
him, now and then moving his shoulders in a gesture of scorn, his
eyes wide open, and seemingly larger so emaciated was his face, he
presented an extraordinary spectacle as he denounced these stylish,
distinguished, perfumed ladies, so out of place in that dreary
courtyard of the slums. They listened to him without a word. Isabel,
indeed, unnoticed by Monsalvat, softly stole from the group and went
up to the woman whose outcries had started the scene, giving her all
the money she had in her purse. Nor did Monsalvat observe that when she
returned she removed a glove and took a ring from her finger. Suddenly,
and quite humbly she said:

"Here, Monsalvat, take this, please sell it; and give the money to this
woman."

Monsalvat took the ring.

"And if you--"

She looked at him fearful of offending: he was shaking his head.
Drawing him aside, she began to talk with him more in confidence.

"You need to, Monsalvat! Please accept part of the ring's value! We all
have to live. Don't think us so bad--When I spoke as I did that night,
you remember, it was because I knew nothing about life--I too have
suffered since then, and now I understand many things...."

Though Monsalvat was unyielding on this point, he shook hands with
his callers in far more friendly fashion, and left the building
accompanied by Moreno, who could not get over his amazement at what was
going on before his eyes. He did not lose much time before offering,
unsuccessfully, to sell the ring himself. Monsalvat saw that as a
matter of fact these two women like many others of their class were not
thoroughly bad as he had believed. If they appeared to disadvantage it
was because of the atmosphere of gross selfishness in which they had
been brought up, in which they had lived all their lives. The bad in
them was not an individual thing inherent in their characters, but the
result of prevailing ideas, the collective product of a self-satisfied
and unintelligent, rather than unfeeling, society.

They took a street-car going towards the business section of the city.
Monsalvat was glad of Moreno's company; for a sudden fit of weakness
had come over him. He had scarcely been able to walk the three blocks
to the car line, so unsteady were his legs under him. In the tram he
felt quite nauseated. Houses and sidewalks were being pushed by some
mysterious force out of their true plane, and were rising, sinking,
retreating. The car was crowded. Moreno moved forward to find a seat,
leaving Monsalvat sitting in the rear of the tram.

They were passing through Piedras Street. At the corner of Méjico,
the man beside him rose to give his place to a woman. Monsalvat did
not look at her, merely noticing that she was in mourning. In a few
moments, however, he felt that she was looking at him. An acquaintance
perhaps who had recognized him! And he grew uneasily conscious of his
bedraggled appearance. Then he reflected that with his week's growth of
beard and his thread-bare coat, his startling emaciation, his whole air
of weakness and sickness, he must be quite secure. No one would know
him. The thought consoled him, but he turned carelessly towards the
window, so as to hide his face.

Suddenly he heard a soft voice murmuring his name. He turned pale, and
his hands began to tremble. A whole row of houses plunged several yards
into the ground, changing color as they sank. The car seemed to lurch
to one side threatening to fall over on itself.

"It's so long since we have seen one another," the voice was
saying. "My mother died, and I am living in Tacuarí Street, in our
boarding house. I have been there some time. My sister runs the
house--and I--"

Monsalvat had regained a more normal state of consciousness, but he
said nothing. He could not speak. Nacha's voice was like a music
infinitely sweet, echoing in his ears as in a delicious dream,
something vague and hazy like a memory from a past beyond any but the
vaguest sort of remembering....

Finally he looked into her eyes.

In his stained clothing, in his pitiful weakness Nacha read his tragic
story at a glance. Here was a sick man! His eyes had lost the keenness
they once possessed. They were faded and glazed, apparently incapable
of concentrating on any object.

As the car crossed the Avenida de Mayo a fellow of very ordinary
appearance, apparently a rustic, came up to Nacha and touched her on
the shoulder. She introduced him to Monsalvat.

"We are to be married soon," she said. "I met him in the boarding house
where I live. We are going to the country, to his ranch--"

Nacha's fiancé was looking at Monsalvat with evident mistrust, and
showed his impatience to get off the car.

"Where do you live?" asked Nacha, as they were leaving.

"Where do I live?" he exclaimed, as though that were the most singular
of inquiries.

Then he grew pale again; and again his hands began to tremble.

"I want you to be a witness at our marriage," she pleaded as she
pressed his hand with a tenderness he could not remember ever to have
felt before.

"Come, come, we must be going!" the fiancé protested with ill-concealed
annoyance.

"You can't refuse, Monsalvat. Please! Be good to me for this last
time--Tell me where you live!"

Monsalvat heard a voice giving his address.

"He lives in my house, Madame. I am Moreno, the attorney, at your
service. I consider myself a faithful friend of this illustrious
gentleman. I belong to the ancient family of the Morenos of Chivilcoy;
and though the unkind Fates...."

Monsalvat no longer felt the pressure of that warm hand.

Nacha, on the arm of her future husband, had stepped down from the car.



                             CHAPTER XXIII


Arnedo kept her locked up in first one house and then another,
and Nacha's hatred of him grew until the intensity of her feeling
frightened her. Such hate as this threatened to swallow up all other
feelings, to absorb her utterly in itself, poisoning and destroying
her. If she had been attracted to him before he carried her off, it was
because she believed that he desired her. When she discovered, however,
that his abduction of her was not for love, but for vengeance, to get
even with Monsalvat; when she saw that he was actuated by something
evil in him, which he could not have changed even though he had wanted
to, she began to think of him as something monstrous and diabolical. He
was the savage with no rôle to play in civilization, powerless--save
for evil!

In the first prison he put her in she saw him only once, on the
occasion when, pointing a revolver at her, he forced her to write the
letter which was to be a final blow at Monsalvat. The effect of this
incident on Nacha had been to rouse in her profound pity for the man
she was so wounding. Again she was causing him suffering! She imagined
him searching for her through all the dreary reaches of the city; and
her constant thinking of him always brought her to one conclusion; for
her, happiness could consist only in offering up her whole being in
sacrifice for this man!

The owners of both houses had presented her to their best patrons.
Nacha, frantic with rage, had driven them out of her presence. She was
determined to escape and threatened to get the police. But so close was
the watch kept over her that she could not even get a letter into the
mail-box. In the second house she was sent to she made friends with one
of the girls, the unfortunate daughter of an English drunkard whose
stepmother had driven her away from home. Nacha, through Laura's help,
succeeded in having her case brought to the attention of two men who
frequented the house on Laura's account. One of them, an influential
lawyer, informed the police of the situation and Nacha was given her
freedom. Pampa would have gone to prison if Nacha had not refused to
admit that she knew who was responsible for her abduction.

Nacha was taken from this house to the police station, to state her
case. The lawyer talked to her awhile; and, when he understood her
situation, offered her money, and asked her what she was going to do.

"What can I do, sir? Follow my destiny...."

"Your destiny? That word doesn't mean anything. Every one makes his own
destiny. You ought to go back to your mother's."

"They won't take me back!"

"Very well then. I'll go see them and settle the matter."

Nacha meanwhile lived in the house where Julieta was lodged. Together
the two girls went to the tenement where Nacha had been living, to get
her furniture and clothes. Although the room had been rented to someone
else the caretaker very humbly and sanctimoniously collected half a
month's rent from them, saying that Nacha would have to pay storage on
her things before she could have them. She inquired for Monsalvat and
learned that he had gone away. A few days later the lawyer told Nacha
that she could return to her home. Her mother had died, and her sister,
Catalina, was running the house.

Her sister received her with the indifference she might have shown
to a stranger. When she found herself in her childhood home, Nacha
could have wept, so many were the scenes that passed again through
her memory. She thought of her absent mother, and of her meeting in
that very house with Riga! But her sister's abrupt manner, assumed to
conceal her feelings, Nacha believed--restrained her.

"When did--it happen?" asked Nacha.

"A month ago."

"Did she speak of me? Did she forgive me before she died?"

"Yes. And she asked me to look for you. But I scarcely knew where to
find you."

This implied an effort which Catalina, as a matter of fact, had never
made; nor had she any intention of looking for her sister. Her hope
was that Nacha would never turn up, that she would thus be left in
undisturbed possession of her mother's house. Soon after Nacha's
disappearance, Cata had married a fellow quite inferior to her own
station. Her mother had been much offended at the match and refused to
see Cata, choosing to consider her as completely lost as Nacha. But
when the husband died, her mother consented to have her return to live
with her. The property left the two daughters consisted of a small
house in Liniers and the furnishings of the _pensión_--some thirty
thousand _pesos_ all told.

Nacha found her sister much changed. Ten years earlier Cata had been a
lively and not unattractive young person. Now she was slow in movement
and heavy, and as she was very short, there was nothing graceful about
her figure. In the old days, although they squabbled a great deal, the
sisters had managed to get along together. But Cata's disposition had
soured, though her ill-temper could not have been guessed from her
fair-skinned and pretty face. Nacha noticed this change with alarm. How
could she have become so bitter, and sharp-tongued, when she had once
been so cheerful? What made her sister so envious and jealous, and full
of petty meanness?

Nacha settled down in the house. She rarely went out, because she
did not want to arouse suspicions in her sister. She helped with the
multitudinous tasks of the household, and little by little took on
all the work, as Cata skillfully disengaged herself from it. With the
students and other men boarders Nacha's dealings were of the briefest.
She barely spoke to them, so fearful was she of having Cata doubt her
intentions of being an honest woman.

But it was written that Nacha must suffer in every relationship. Cata
was constantly spying upon her. If Nacha stopped a moment in the
_patio_ to exchange a few words with a boarder, her sister would eye
her suspiciously and take up a position somewhere near at hand, so as
to observe her. Nacha could not discuss the most trifling matter with
her sister without hearing allusions to her past life. If they happened
to be commenting on some one of the boarders, such as, for instance,
the desirability of giving the preference to one student instead of
another, in the question of terms, Cata would grow impatient.

"Of course, you must be right. You have known so many men...."

Nacha might have borne such jibes in private. But her sister often got
them off at table in front of everyone. Some of the boarders would
laugh. Others felt secretly sorry for Nacha. Once, when Nacha did not
eat what was on the plate before her, Cata asked:

"Doesn't this fare suit you? I suppose at the famous houses that you
are used to living in, they had better cooks."

She was no more successful in finding happiness in other quarters.
At first she had searched persistently for Monsalvat but had not
obtained the slightest news of him. Torres or Ruiz de Castro could,
she believed, have told her where he was, but she did not care to see
either of these men. She remembered how Torres had lied to her, telling
her that Monsalvat was in love with another woman. She had no reason
to believe that he would not lie to her again. In Torres' opinion,
as doubtless in Ruiz de Castro's, she was to blame for Monsalvat's
situation; she was an enemy, to be kept at a distance! Nevertheless, as
the months went by and her anxiety concerning him increased, she went
one day to Torres' office, and with tears in her eyes asked for news
of her friend. Torres told her the truth. Monsalvat had been very ill,
had fled from the sanatorium, and no one had the slightest idea where
he was. Nacha, however, believed that Torres was trying to put her off,
and left after reproaching him for his past cruelty towards her.

One morning there arrived at the _pensión_ a boarder who seemed
startlingly out of place in that student boarding house. He was
a corpulent fellow, heavy-shouldered, slow-moving, with enormous
hands, and short fat fingers. His face was not altogether ugly: the
features were large and firmly cut, and as immobile as though carved
in oakwood. On the day of his arrival he wore riding breeches and
boots. He spoke rarely, as though he feared his voice might sound too
loud; but he burst into great shouts of laughter at the nonsensical
stories with which the students regaled the dinner-table. Cata found
out all there was to learn about his life. He was rich--owned a ranch
in Pergamino--and had come to the _pensión_ because it had been
recommended to him by one of the students who worked as one of his
hands during the holidays. Little did he suspect that the young man
in question had congratulated himself on thus providing his fellow
students with excellent first-hand material for their amusement! Cata,
however, would not allow the slightest disrespect to this "native" of
whom she made a protégé. By good-natured jokes at the beginning of
their acquaintance, followed by maternal advice, Cata succeeded in
bringing about certain changes in his attire, and modifying some of his
rustic habits. The fellow was a good sort at bottom, and lent himself
willingly to Cata's polishing, much to the amazement both of Nacha and
the students who wondered what all this might portend.

One fine day Nacha discovered the explanation of her sister's conduct.
The rancher began making love to her, and Nacha sensed that he did
so at Cata's skillfully disguised instigation. Still Nacha could not
understand Cata's sudden affection for her since the new boarder's
arrival. Then she perceived that Cata was planning to get rid of her
and was counting on the rancher's pliability in her determined hands,
and also on Nacha's attractions.

His gallantries were far from being agreeable to Nacha, who did not
find them improved by the fact that he was well provided with money.
She was quite determined to refuse him when he finally declared his
intentions. She had not foreseen that Cata would speak for him.

"You have no reason to refuse. Why should you be so hard to suit?"

Nacha lowered her head and remained silent a long time.

"Your presence here is compromising to me. Everyone knows about you,
even though you appear to be respectable now. But some day you are sure
to go back to your old ways. I'm still young enough to marry again--in
fact I'm thinking quite seriously of it. Your being here is really
inconvenient. It may interfere with my plans. Don't be angry! I'm only
telling you the truth!"

Cata went on at some length advising her sister to make this sacrifice
in atonement for her past sins--though really there was no great
sacrifice in becoming a married woman at last and in going to live on
a fine ranch with a man who was so good and so much in love! When Cata
stopped talking Nacha raised her tear-filled eyes and said simply:

"Very well. I accept him."

Her suitor then discussed the matter with her. Nacha thought it only
honest to tell him all about herself.

"So they told me!" the rancher replied with a coarse laugh.

Nacha was blank with amazement. Never had she believed her sister's
perfidy could go so far!

"But look here, girlie, I rounded you up with the idea of getting
married. It's fierce for a man to live alone all his life; and I
thought it would be fine to have some one like you around!"

And he licked his lips at the prospect of the life awaiting him with
Nacha as a companion.

Then she learned another detail concerning her sister's manoeuvres.
A doctor in one of the distant provinces was paying court to Cata.
Although he was poor, her scheming young sister had resolved not to let
him escape. That had been her reason for speeding Nacha's departure.
The rancher had said something about marriage to Nacha; but Cata,
fearing that such formalities might involve too great delay, told him
her sister's story and insinuated that he might take her away with him
as his mistress.

"There are plenty of cow-punchers who carry off a girl and put her in
the ranch house with no question of marriage! It's better for them not
to marry, of course. I don't say I approve of that sort of thing; but
I can see that it's more convenient, and practical--and it's cheaper!
Then, after a while, if they still like the girl, they can marry. If
she doesn't suit, or they find another one they like better, they can
let the first one go.... They all do that, all of them!"

Then, as if to put the finishing touch on her speech of persuasion, she
added:

"That's what you men are like. You know how to live!"

At first her protégé listened to these words with stupefaction; then
he assumed a greedy smile. Just to think that he might have been fool
enough to get married! Country folk had reason to distrust these city
people!

But Nacha resigned herself to the conditions devised, unknown to her,
by her sister. She would suffer and serve; and after a few years of
fidelity and submission on her part, the man might marry her. So the
honest woman she was going to be would atone for the ten misspent years
of her life. It was a tragic solution of her problem, for it took her
away from Monsalvat forever--for all the rest of the time she might
live on earth....

Since resigning herself to this sacrifice she viewed the rancher with
changed eyes. She discovered now that he had a few really admirable
qualities. He was loyal, sincere, manageable and plucky, like the
good son of the pampas that he was; and he showed no small amount of
genuine feeling. Nacha began to think that a woman of intelligence and
skill might civilize this rough fellow without encountering very much
discouragement. On the morning when she met Monsalvat, the rancher,
really in love with her, and delighted with Nacha's sweetness of
disposition, had promised to marry her there in Buenos Aires, before
going to the ranch, sparing her the humiliation of the trying-out
process to which he had intended to subject her.

Nacha went occasionally with him to the shops, to buy furnishings for
the ranch house. It was on one of these shopping tours that she met
Monsalvat.

Monsalvat was reading in bed next morning when there came a knock at
the door. "Come in!" he called.

In the opening doorway Nacha appeared. She was dressed in black as
on the preceding afternoon, and this sombre mourning emphasized
the fairness of her skin, enhancing its charm. She seemed happy,
light-hearted, as though her problem in life had been well disposed of.

Monsalvat lay back among his pillows at her request. His sight had
grown very poor and persistent efforts to read had done him a great
deal of harm. That morning his eyes were paining him severely. All
the objects he looked at had the vague uncertain outline one sees in
certain impressionist paintings. Without saying a word, Nacha noticed
all the details of the room. Then she took off her hat, and, looking
attentively at her friend, said, simply:

"I have come to stay."

"I knew you would come!" he replied, holding out a hand to her. "But I
never dared hope that you would stay--"

"Always!" she said, taking his hand, and sitting down on the edge of
the bed.

"Always?" he wondered. "How is that possible? Aren't you going to get
married?"

"No--You need someone to take care of you. I can't marry now!"

"Why, Nacha?"

"Because such a marriage would be a lie...."

Was he dreaming? There was no happiness such as this in the waking
world! Nacha went on to say that she did not love the man she had
intended marrying, nor could she ever love him. Why should she
sacrifice herself?"

"You are right," Monsalvat exclaimed. "A sacrifice without a purpose,
of no real utility, is absurd--more than that, is immoral! We ought
only to sacrifice ourselves when we love our sacrifice. I believe,
Nacha, that sacrifice ought to give us our highest spiritual enjoyment!"

Nacha was silent; but she was thinking that the sacrifice she was then
entering upon was of such a kind. Had she married her rancher she would
have had among other advantages, that security in life which only a
vagabond or a woman such as she had once been, could appreciate fully.
Money, a home, comforts, all these would have come to her with this
marriage. And then if this man, fifteen years older than she, should
die before she did, she would be free, and in possession of a fortune.
On the other hand, with Monsalvat, nothing but anxiety and trouble
awaited her. Instead of a ranch, she would have a room in a tenement
house; instead of a home, a poor friend in need of her care; instead of
comfort, poverty; and instead of the day of liberation and inherited
riches, long years of suffering at the bedside of a sick man. Two ways
of sacrifice lay before her. But she did not hesitate now. Her lot was
with Monsalvat. What though it should prove unhappy? In it she could
find in the midst of suffering and pain, love and joy, without which,
now that she had glimpsed them once again in Monsalvat's face, she
could not live....



                             CHAPTER XXIV


Nacha's disappearance caused her sister profound disgust. There were
not hours enough in the day for the stories she told the boarders about
her sister, in an attempt to discredit Nacha forever. The rancher was
thoroughly indignant, believing that he had been made a fool of. He had
always had his suspicions of city folk! And he stamped out of the house
booted and spurred as on the day of his arrival, confident that his
prompt withdrawal from this society was a means of getting even with
Cata, her sister, the students, who now openly tittered at him, and all
the rest of the capital's inhabitants.

A few days after taking a room in the house where Monsalvat was lodging
Nacha wrote to her sister. She assured Cata she need no longer fear
being compromised by her presence, since her desire to free herself of
Nacha's society had been accomplished, even though not quite as she had
planned. Her way lay open now to marriage with the doctor. Nacha would
never annoy her nor see her again, if that suited Cata's desires. As to
the rancher, Cata could throw all the blame on her in order to appease
him, say what she would of her, even attribute to her the whole plan of
the engagement. In this fashion Cata could wash her hands of the whole
affair, and the rancher need not leave the _pensión_. Nacha wanted to
ask him to forgive her for the trouble she had caused him; but she
reflected that he probably would not understand her nor would anyone
else for that matter. She had better let him think whatever had been
put into his head by her sister.

Nacha borrowed a little money from the lawyer who had so
disinterestedly come to her help before. This sum she hoped to return
when her mother's house had been sold and she received her share of
the inheritance. She paid Monsalvat's debts and used the rest of her
money to provide him with clothing, Monsalvat protesting all the while,
and even growing angry. But whenever Nacha threatened to leave him, he
meekly allowed her to do as she pleased.

Little by little he grew better. Nacha's presence was a powerful tonic.
Every afternoon they went out together for a walk to Palermo, to the
Zoological Gardens, to Lezama Park. In a few months Monsalvat had
recovered from his seriously weakened condition.

But while his general health improved, his eyesight grew steadily
poorer. Newspapers were now quite beyond him. He could read nothing but
books in large type, and then only with the help of a magnifying glass.
One morning he had to admit that even that had become impossible. The
objects in his room had receded, and came forward only to meet his
outstretched hands. He was living in a mysterious, all-enveloping, and
constantly deepening dusk. Up to that moment he had paid small heed to
this trouble, believing it would pass with the rest of his ill-health.
But on that morning the cruel thought came to him in all its
horror--night was falling on his life! He was alone in a vast solitude,
cut off from the world, from his friends, from Nacha. The realization
of what was happening to him taxed all his resources of courage. As
he searched the depths of his soul for the needed help, the world
seemed to grow small, as ephemeral as a glittering bubble. After all,
this last and greatest catastrophe was but a trifling detail in the
universal tragedy! The ideas he had lived by lost their significance
too in the slow, throbbing ache of this new pain. Death had already
claimed a part of him!

He had mentioned to Nacha on several occasions that his sight was dim,
and she, from her own observations had been well aware of it. Quite
recently he had taken to leaning on her arm when they went out walking.
But he could speak of this trouble only so long as he thought it
unimportant. Now he was afraid to speak of it. Doing so might make it
worse! He would say nothing; and when it had passed, he would remember
his fears and confess them to Nacha. But would it pass? Monsalvat tried
to use the power of suggestion on himself, fill his mind with hope, not
so much for the sake of the hope itself as to be able to live, to go on
living. How face the prospect of endless night? How endure the touch of
Death's hand on living eyes?

But when Nacha came to his room one morning she understood what had
happened. She did not utter a word; but Monsalvat felt that she had
sensed his fear, his certainty! As she stood beside him, emotion
mastered him for the moment. Holding out his arms to her, he drew her
to him.

"Nacha!" His voice broke and he made a quick gesture, hinting at the
cause of his distress.

"Don't feel so badly about it. We'll go to the doctor's this afternoon.
Surely they will get well...!"

But her eyes filled with tears and, though he could no longer see her,
she hid her face.

Nacha had already spoken of her fears to Torres, who called on his
friend and watched him intently. He gave Nacha little encouragement.
This had prepared her somewhat for an unfavorable report from the
specialist. But she had spent the interval between Torres' visit and
this call at the clinic in a state of increasing anxiety. Whenever she
was with Monsalvat she could not keep her eyes away from his, as though
her own clear sight must somehow summon his vision from the depths into
which it had retreated.

The specialist made a long and thorough examination, and shook his
head. There was no hope----

"Your case is not so serious, brother!" he said to Monsalvat. "I'll
give you some drops which will improve your general eye condition a
little."

"You think I will get better then?"

"A little--yes. It's quite possible. Science can do a great deal--and
nature too has her surprises. In short, there's no reason to despair.
I've seen worse cases!"

They left the clinic and went home. They must be alone for awhile!
In spite of the doctor's words, Monsalvat thought that despair would
choke him; and Nacha could not bear to watch his suffering without
trying to console him. Besides, an idea had occurred to her after her
recent interview with Torres, an idea, which even in the midst of the
dejection she shared with Monsalvat, had the power to bring her great
happiness.

On reaching the house they went to Monsalvat's room, and Nacha turned
the key in the lock to keep out the Moreno children.

"I want to tell you something," she began, helping Monsalvat to find a
chair, and sitting down beside him.

"How ghastly this thing is, Nacha!" he murmured.

"We'll find a way out. Every problem in life has an answer--if we can
only find it!"

She drew his head towards her and kissed him on the forehead, while her
hand caressed his neck and eyes. At any other time Monsalvat would have
been startled by such tenderness on her part. Only three or four times,
on the occasion of some surpassing emotion, had they ever kissed;
and then as brother and sister might. But now he did not know how to
interpret her caresses. Was it possible that Nacha loved him? Loved
him as a lover, and not as she had so persistently believed? His old
passion for her stirred within him anew, and an immeasurable sweetness
poured through his being. Yet he exclaimed:

"It isn't worth while living like this!"

The words were decisive for Nacha. She did not look at him but she knew
that he was waiting; and slowly, with tears in her eyes, she brought
her head close to his and kissed him on the lips.

"You must not say that," she whispered. "You must not say anything
against Life--the life God made!"

And strangely, in the midst of this new and overwhelming trouble,
Monsalvat tasted happiness. Nacha loved him! And Nacha for her part
wondered how it was that she had never before known how great was her
love for this man, who sat there blind and silent before her. It was
better that it should have come about in such a fashion, better that
her love had so delayed in revealing itself. Now it could soften the
blow Fate was dealing him!

"I want you to listen," she said. "I have found the answer...."

Monsalvat turned towards her as if to look at her. No words came from
his lips but his expression showed that he felt he was in the presence
of something surpassingly beautiful, something which was to consecrate
his life. His heart-beats quickened. In that silence he lived with
an intensity that crowded years into those few moments. His soul was
waiting, with an anxiety mixed with pain and faith and love; and there
was in this pause something of that breathless suspense which comes
before a storm, or descends upon an artist as he listens to the voices
crying out to him to create them in beauty.

In the darkness around him he heard Nacha's voice, warm with emotion,
but confident, resolute.

"Once, more than a year ago, you asked me something. I refused then,
though I loved you in my heart!... It was because I did not want to
hurt you, to spoil your chance in life. You had given everything you
had for me, and lost everything through me. Now I can ask the same
thing of you...."

She stopped. In a flash the future swept before her: she saw Monsalvat
as he was, sick, blind, forever incapable of earning enough to live on;
alone in the world, with nothing before him but suffering and endless
night. She grew pale and looked away.

"Now I want you ... to marry me ..." she said slowly.

He dropped his head and was silent. For some time neither of them
stirred. Neither cared to break that pause in which the tragedy of each
of their lives was to find its solution.

"No!" he said at last.

He heard Nacha sob.

"I love you too much, Nacha," he went on, "to accept such a sacrifice.
Stay with me, take care of me for a little while--yes--that I can
allow--but to let you unite your life that is still so young with that
of a broken invalid--no! I cannot."

His words, falling like so many blows on her heart, only strengthened
her resolution.

"I am not doing this out of affection nor out of gratitude. It is for
my own sake!"

"Nacha, you are young! You must not sadden your whole life--look at the
situation I am in. It is more than probable that I shall have hunger,
poverty at least, to look forward to."

"I can resign myself to all that. You told me once that it was
necessary to suffer--I have never forgotten what you said!"

"But a whole lifetime of it, Nacha!"

"A whole lifetime then! I accept it--I desire it. I want to redeem the
past--I want to deserve forgiveness...."

"Who is there to forgive you, Nacha?" he exclaimed, drawing her toward
him.

"I don't know--God, perhaps, if he exists. Life, against which I have
sinned--Love, that I have wronged--myself--myself especially: I need to
earn forgiveness from myself!"

And slowly, wonderingly, but inevitably, Monsalvat found her lips. She
was answered!

"Your life is mine, Fernando," she said gently, and Monsalvat knew from
her voice that she was smiling. "Your suffering is my suffering, your
joy my joy! Only death can part us."

And on those blind eyes a great light descended, infinite, filling the
world; and he knew that some of this radiance sprang from the depths of
his own soul, glorifying the years that lay before him, and before all
his suffering, hungering, striving human brothers....



                               EPILOGUE


Two years had passed since their marriage. Nacha had taken up the
management of her mother's house, and was proving skillful at a task
which her sister's flight to a distant province with her new husband
greatly simplified for her.

For Monsalvat her devotion knew no bounds. With Nacha beside him
he scarcely needed eyes; but he could not reconcile himself to his
uselessness. If he had only been able at least to go on working for
the poor and the oppressed! He had to content himself with gathering
together the children of the neighborhood and teaching them whatever
he could, without the use of his sight. It annoyed him not to be able
to teach them to read; for he believed that if ever the world was to
be made new it would be through love, and through books! Of these last
he gave as many as he could afford to the boys and girls who showed
promise of making good use of what he taught them.

The presence of this blind man was a strange note in the little middle
class boarding house. The students all felt a deep and affectionate
veneration for him. Many of them became his friends, and not a few his
true disciples. They read to him, and together they discussed articles
and books; but these young people liked best to hear him talk of that
vision which never ceased to shine in his darkness. At times his words
flamed with the passion for justice within him. At others they seemed
to pour out quietly and evenly like so many beams of that light in
which, to his listeners, beauty and truth was revealed.

Since he had come there to live, gross words and vulgar anecdotes had
vanished as if by magic. At the long dinner-table there seemed now
always to be something to talk about; for the students shared their
day's experiences and discoveries with Don Fernando, and the ideas they
had found interesting grew and became animate as they discussed them
with their blind host.

When they sat together in the evening, talking and dreaming of new
forms of beauty which might come into being on the earth, there would
come a hush as the blind man spoke of his gods: Life and Love, and
Mankind. His fervent words sowed faith in the young hearts of his
hearers.

So the days passed, and the night in which he lived was no longer
tragic as at first; but sweet, peaceful, and alive with familiar
voices. For him there gleamed little familiar stars in the depths of
that all-enveloping darkness.

Weeks and months passed; and the last days of July arrived in a tragic
year, feverish days when War stepped into the scene and claimed every
conversation wherever a group gathered. The sirens of the newspaper
buildings gave the news which set moving through the city crowds sick
with dread, bewildered, obsessed by images of war, delirious. Newspaper
headlines, infected by the general madness, grew to enormous size,
quivering before the eyes of their troubled readers; and the familiar
world was clad in the terrible strangeness of a bad dream.

Monsalvat could not escape learning the monstrous news. His face
drawn and pale, he listened to the reading of newspapers, countless
newspapers; and in the squares and public places he heard the distress
and horror of the throng. Yet even then his hard-won serenity did not
abandon him.

The Great War began, and one afternoon in August the students brought
in the news that the German cavalry was invading France. Most of the
students were already at the dinner-table. Those who came in cried out
from the doorway:

"It's begun. Germany has invaded French soil!"

The brutal news was a whip-lash to all those gathered there. They were
silent a moment, and then came a flood of words, words of amazement, of
imprecation, or of sympathy. One student jumped to his feet with a cry
of "_Vive la France!_"

But the blind man said nothing. He seemed lost in his own thoughts. At
last, at a chance word, he began to speak, and his voice betrayed his
distress, though serenity, optimism, illusion, still possessed him.

"This war is a monstrous crime," he said, "the greatest crime ever yet
committed on this earth. Not so much on account of the millions of
human beings it will destroy, as because it tears to shreds one of the
finest illusions ever dreamed by generous hearts."

A shadow passed over his face:

"But in spite of everything, let the infamy of this war be welcome!
_They_ have willed it, _they_ shall have it!"

His hearers looked at one another with questioning eyes. Then in a
flash they understood.

"Who are _They_?" "Those," he replied, "who, controlling forces, abuse
them; who, possessing plenty, let the hungry starve; who, enjoying
happiness, stir not a finger to make a better world, that all may have
their chance to live, and love, and give! The powerful, I mean, who
change life to death, and love to hatred!"

"But the Day _is_ coming," he cried. "This war is indeed the beginning
of _Der Tag_! I feel it coming--a part of it is here already within my
heart. I do not know how it is to come, whether little by little, or
suddenly, flamingly, like an avenger!"

"But I know that the Day is coming--the Day that will be sacred to
Justice!"

In the silence that followed, the young minds to whom he had spoken
thought of what such a day would mean, to each of them, to all whom
they knew; and the eyes of some of those who listened, dreaming and
desiring better things, grew wet....

At the far end of the table, Monsalvat, head erect, sat gazing at the
future, at what lay beyond the great Crime, at that Dawn whose splendor
would justify the hopes of the dead, and the efforts of the living.

And his night lifted and lightened with the radiance of innumerable
stars.


                                THE END

                   *       *       *       *       *


                         TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES


Italic text is denoted by _underscores_.

In the Spanish original version of this work the author quoted the
province of Córdoba, in Argentina. However, in the present English
translation the province is named Cordova. To avoid confusion with the
Spanish city of Córdova, in the present transcription the name has been
changed to Córdoba.

A number of words in this book have both hyphenated and non-hyphenated
variants. For the words with both variants present the one more used
has been kept.

Obvious punctuation and other printing errors have been corrected.





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