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The Grandee
by Armando Palacio Valds
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"Would you believe it?" she said one day; "there is no bearing with this gentleman since ladies have taken to visiting him. You cannot think what airs he gives himself. I am afraid that the next time I go to the Grange he will make me wait in the hall."

The guests laughed, and said really some notice ought to be taken about it; and as Fernanda smiled she cast an affectionate glance at the count; Don Pedro even relaxed his severe expression and burst into a roar of laughter. At such moments it was indeed a superhuman effort for the count to keep his countenance, when an abyss seemed to open at his feet. When alone with Amalia he reproached her for her audacity, and implored her by all that she held sacred to be more cautious; whilst she, perfectly unmoved, seemed to take a pleasure in his anxiety, and her lips curled in a disdainful enigmatical smile.

As they could not often meet at the Grange, Amalia managed other interviews, by admitting Jacoba into her confidence. In this person's house they met two or three times a week. The count entered by a little door opening on to a certain little street at one o'clock in the day, when people were dining. He had to wait at least two or three hours, and Amalia at last managed to get there under the pretext of having some commission for her protegee. But not being satisfied with this arrangement, she conceived the idea of his entering her house by the pew of the church of San Rafael. The count was horrified at such a manoeuvre; all his religious scruples revolted at the idea; he was terrified at the possibility of the discovery of the intrigue and the profanation of the sanctuary. What a scandal it would be! But Amalia laughed at his fears as if the terrible consequences of retribution did not concern her. She was a woman who had absolute confidence in her star. As first-rate toreadors consider themselves quite safe under the very horns of the bull, as long as they keep their presence of mind, so she set danger at defiance, and even went out of her way to court it with a coolness that was foolhardy.

And it must be confessed that her supreme calmness and incredible audacity saved her more than once. The Conde de Onis, the colossal man with a long beard, was a mere puppet in the hands of the bold, unprincipled little woman.

A mad passion had taken possession of them both, especially of her. By degrees she became so accustomed to not living without him, that a day was not bearable without seeing him alone, and to this end she brought incredible efforts of ingenuity and skill into play. If the combination of circumstances was such as to render it impossible for three or four days to have a tete-a-tete, her temper revolted against the restraint like an impatient prisoner, and she was ready to commit the greatest imprudence: she squeezed his hand and gave him little pinches in the presence of guests; she embraced him behind the doors, when under some pretext or another she escorted him into another room; and more than once she kissed him on the lips in the very presence of the Grandee, when he happened to turn his head, whilst Luis trembled and turned pale as a catastrophe seemed imminent.

By the expiration of some months his engagement with Fernanda gradually cooled, and it ended by being broken off altogether. This was all a preconcerted plan of Amalia's, arranged from the beginning with consummate art: she began by telling him how long he might be with his fiancee, notified the number of times he could ask her to dance, and finally it was she who suggested what he was to say to her. And as she had foreseen, the heiress of Estrada-Rosa, being proud, could not brook her lover's coldness, and so gave him back his liberty and his word.

The poor girl confided her trouble to Amalia, who was the only person who knew the cause of the much-talked-of broken engagement. She expressed great indignation at the count's behaviour, and spoke in strong terms of disapprobation of his conduct. In fact, she took the young girl's part and launched into praises on her behalf and spoke most flatteringly of her eyes, figure, discretion, and amiability; and she even went so far as to take ostensible measures for their reconciliation. In the bosom of confidence, particularly among the friends of Don Juan Estrada-Rosa, she was not contented with saying that Fernanda was superior to her ex-lover in every feeling, but she proclaimed Luis as an arrant impostor, hypocrite, &c. And when she saw him the next day in Jacoba's house, she embraced him, choking with laughter, saying:

"What a character I gave you yesterday before the various friends of Don Juan! You don't know! pincers would not get the words out of my mouth again!"

What with all this, and the remorse continually preying on him, the count was in a perpetual state of agitation. How far he was from being happy! But it was a way strewn with flowers, compared to what was coming. Five months after entering into this liaison, Amalia informed him that she believed she was enceinte. She told him this with a smile on her lips, as if she were mentioning that she had drawn a good ticket in the lottery. Luis felt giddy with terror, turned pale, and looked as if he were about to fall.

"Dios mio! what a misfortune!" he exclaimed, covering his face with his hands.

"Misfortune?" she returned in surprise. "Why? I am very happy."

Then seeing his eyes dilate in stupefaction, she laughingly explained that she was glad to have a pledge of their love, and that she had no fear because she would have everything so arranged that nothing would be discovered. And in truth she laced herself so tightly that nobody would have thought another creature's life was bound up in hers. The anxiety and distress of the count during this time of expectancy was awful! If any one looked at her attentively he trembled, and if, in the course of conversation, any guest made a casual allusion to some act of dissimulation, he turned pale as he thought they were speaking of him. He imagined smiles and meaning glances in every face, and the most innocent remarks were fraught in his mind with the deepest and most compromising insinuations.

In the meanwhile, Amalia ate and slept with composure, and her constant cheerfulness astonished the count, whilst it excited his admiration. Time went by, the seven months passed, and then the eighth. And hide as he would the fact from himself, there was no denying that the figure of his beloved was no longer slight; but when he made the remark to her in a great state of anxiety, she burst out laughing:

"Be silent, you foolish creature! You notice it because you know about it. Who is going to suspect anything because I am a little stouter? Sometimes one likes a loose corsage."

When the critical time arrived, she evinced a courage bordering on heroism. Luis wanted her to have a doctor.

"But why?" she said; "Jacoba's services will be quite sufficient, and it would be dangerous to trust the secret to anybody else."

The first symptoms came on in the early morning, so she kept her bed; but it was not until eight o'clock that she sent for Jacoba, who had been sleeping for some days in the house on pretence of making curtains. Then they were both locked in the room where everything in the way of linen was prepared; and without a groan, without an unnecessary movement, this brave woman went through the ordeal. The little creature was subsequently taken away by Jacoba in a bundle of linen after the servants had been sent out on various pretexts.

The count wept with joy and admiration at the happy solution of the difficulty. But when Jacoba told him that he was to take the child to the Quinones' door, he was quite overwhelmed. However, although his lover's plan quite took him aback, he did what he was told, and the crowning audacity of the lady turned out as she had foreseen. So now that the child was safe for ever, their love not only seemed strengthened and purified, but they felt the delightful flush of victory over unheard-of dangers before finally arriving in the port of safety.

With their heads bent over the child, and sometimes touching its forehead with their lips, they sat with their hands clasped in one another's, and talked, or rather wove dreams in their efforts to gain a glimpse into the unfathomable abysses of the future.

"What was to be the fate of the lovely little creature? How was she to be educated?" Amalia said she would undertake to have it treated like her own daughter, she would have her brought up as a perfect little lady, and she was sure Don Pedro would not oppose her in the matter. And as he would have no sons, what was more likely than that he would take a fancy to it and leave her a lot of money at his death.

But the count repudiated this idea with scorn. The child should have nothing from Don Pedro. He would leave her all his own money.

"But perhaps you will marry and have children," returned the lady, glancing at him with a mischievous smile. Then his fingers were laid on her lips in protest.

"Silence! silence! You know I can't bear anything of that; I am for ever united to thee."

Whereupon she kissed him with effusion.

"That's a compact, is it not so?"

"It is a compact," he replied, in a tone of decision.

"But do not trouble about leaving her your property in a will, because it would give rise to the suspicion that she is your daughter."

This difficulty absorbed them both for some minutes. Both were busy devising some means of eluding it. The count wanted to leave it to some confidential person in trust; but this idea also bristled with drawbacks, and they thought it would be better for the money to accumulate in his name in some bank until she came of age, and then a father could be invented who had fallen from the skies.

At last Amalia concluded by saying: "We shall talk for ever of this. Leave it to me."

And he was only too pleased to leave it to her, as he had unbounded confidence in her inexhaustible imagination, power of will, and limitless audacity.

When tired of talking of the future, they turned their attention to the present. The child had to be baptised, and the ceremony was fixed for the following day.

"Yes, and we have settled that I am to be the godmother, and you the godfather."

"What! I?" he exclaimed in astonishment. "But, my dear woman, do you not understand that it will give rise to suspicions?"

But the lady was obstinate. She had set her heart on his being godfather. If it gave rise to suspicions, well and good. She would do it without the least fear.

Then, seeing that he was really distressed at the idea, she changed her mind.

"Do not vex yourself, man, do not vex yourself," she said, giving a little pull at his beard. "It was only a joke. It would be fun to see you hold it at the font. I believe you would call out: 'Senores, here! come every one of you and see the father of this child.'"

It was finally settled that the godfather was to be Quinones, with Don Enrique Valero as his proxy, and she was to be the godmother, with Maria Josefa as her representative; and the count was quite satisfied with the arrangement. All that was cleverly and prudently arranged in a way to secure the welfare of his child. But just when he was feeling more comfortable, a noise in the passage made him jump from his armchair, and turn perfectly livid.

"What is the matter, man?"

"That noise?"

"It is Jacoba."

But seeing he was still uneasy, and his eyes looked scared, she got up, and holding the child in her arms she opened the door and exchanged a few words with Jacoba, who was in fact still there. After giving her the baby and locking the door, she came back and sat down again.

"How could you be such a coward, eh?"

"It is not cowardice," he returned, blushing. "It is being so constantly upset. I don't know what has come to me. Perhaps it is conscience."

"Bah! it is because you are a coward. What is the good of having such a powerful body if you have no spirit in it?"

Then, noticing the expression of pain and distress that overshadowed his face, she turned and embraced him with enthusiasm.

"No, you are not a coward, but you are innocent, eh? And it is that that I love you for. I love you more than my life, and you love your little girl, don't you? I am all yours. You are my only love. I am not really married."

Then she caressed him in a kitten-like way, passing her delicate white hands over his face, and kissing him several times; then she put her arms round his neck, and gave him little mouse-like bites. And at the same time, she, who was generally so grave and quiet, let flow a perfect stream of affectionate words which calmed and charmed him to a wonderful degree. The fire which shone in her mysterious, large, treacherous-looking eyes, now broke forth in veritable flames. Passion had taken possession of her being, but it was also fraught with the malicious pleasure of a satisfied caprice, vengeance and treachery.

The Conde de Onis felt himself more in her power with every day that dawned. The caresses of his lover were tender, but her eyes, even in the moments of greatest abandon, retained a cruel cat-like look; and his love was strangely mingled with fear. Some times his superstitious mind would make him wonder if this Valencian woman were an incarnate devil of temptation.

After saying three or four times that he must go without being able to break away from her, he at last got free from her arms, and rose from the armchair. The farewell was long as usual, for Amalia would not leave him until she saw he was quite intoxicated with the power of her caresses.

Jacoba was expecting him outside the door. After taking him along several corridors, they came to the place of the secret staircase leading into the library. Here she signed to him to wait whilst she reconnoitered to see that nobody was about the passages. Then she came back again to tell him all was right, and the count went down with as little noise as possible.

The intermediary left him at the passage after opening the door. Then he bent down with his hands on the ground to prevent any one seeing him from the street, and so crossed the passage to the pew. He opened the door and entered. The darkness blinded him. He made a few steps forward, when he felt a sudden blow on his shoulder, and a rough voice said in his ear, "Die, wretch!"

The blood froze in his veins, but he gave a spring forward and saw a dark heap blacker than the darkness. Quick as a dart it threw itself on him, and he would soon have done for it with his enormous strength if he had not heard a stifled laugh, and the voice of Amalia said:

"Take care, Luis, or you will hurt me!"

He was dumb with astonishment for some minutes.

"But how did you get here?" he said at last.

"By the front staircase. I popped on this black cap and ran down."

Then, seeing that he looked cross and disgusted at a joke in such bad taste, she stood on tiptoe, put her arms round his neck, and after pressing a long and passionate kiss upon his lips, she said, in a coaxing tone:

"Now I know that you are not a coward, but I wanted to prove it."



CHAPTER V

THE JOKES OF PACO GOMEZ

In spite of all the efforts of Paco Gomez, Garnet could not be made to believe that he was acting in good faith. His jocose nature and the practical jokes he had been known to perpetrate had made an unfavourable impression on the Indian. It was in vain that he put on a grave and circumspect manner and held long conversations on the rise and fall of stocks, besides praising his house above all modern buildings, and giving him valuable hints in the game of chapo, the dandy of Lancia saw that there was no dissipating the look of distrust in the old bear's bloodshot eyes. In this dilemma he appealed to Manuel Antonio for help, for he had such a delightful joke in his head that any assistance seemed better than giving it up.

"Don't be so foolish, Santos," said the Chatterbox to him one evening, as he was walking through the Bombe with Garnet. "You see that as you have passed the half of your life behind a counter you don't understand these Lancians. I won't say Fernanda is deeply in love with you, but she is going the way to be so. I tell you, and I say the same everywhere, for I have remarked it for some time. Women are capricious and incomprehensible; they reject a thing one day, and want it the next, when they are then disposed to stretch a point to get it. Fernanda began by snubbing you——"

"In every possible way, in every possible way," returned the Indian sullenly.

"Pure fancy, my man; she is a very proud girl who will never make herself cheap. But proud as she may be, she will marry either the Conde de Onis or you, the only two matches there are in Lancia for her: the count with his nobility and you with your money. But Luis is a strange sort of man; I think he is quite incapable of marrying, and I am sure she thinks so too. You are the only one left, and you will be the one to get the prize. Besides, whatever women may say, they admire great strong fellows like you; why you are a perfect oak, my man," he added with a look of admiration.

Garnet gave vent to a grunt of assent, and the Chatterbox passed his hands over his body, as if he were a learned connoisseur of the human masculine form.

"What muscles, my boy! What shoulders!"

"Yes, these shoulders have earned many thousand pounds."

"How? Carrying sacks?"

"Sacks!" exclaimed Garnet smiling scornfully. "They are for the common herd. No, great cases of sugar like waggons."

The Bombe was deserted at that hour. It was a large promenade in the form of a drawing-room, which had been recently built on the site of the famous wood of San Francisco, from which there was a fine view. This wood of large, old twisted oaks, some of which formed part of a primeval forest, was where the monastery was founded which gave its origin to Lancia, and it served as a place of recreation and amusement to the town until the first houses were built there. Then it fell into a state of neglect, until the last municipal corporation carried out certain improvements which won the hearts of all reforming spirits. They made a promenade with little rustic gardens and a road among the trees that led to the town. On weekdays there was no one there but a few priests in long black cloaks and large felt hats; the secular element was represented by two or three little parties of Indians discussing in loud voices the price of shares, the value of certain plots of ground in the Calle de Mauregato just opened, or some valetudinarian come to get an hour's sunshine before the chill of the afternoon.

And where were the ladies?

Oh! the ladies of Lancia know perfectly well what is due to themselves, and they had far too great a regard for the laws of good form to appear on days that were not fete days; and even then they did not do it without taking proper precautions.

No lady of Lancia would think of being so vulgar as to go to the Bombe on a Sunday before the arrival of others of her class; and it was a superhuman effort to arrange for all to appear simultaneously. So after three o'clock in the afternoon they were waiting about, gloved and bonneted, peeping at each other out of the windows.

"The Zamoras are coming now!"

"There go the Mateos!"

And so they finally sallied forth in due dignity to the promenade where the band had been performing different fantasias on airs from "Ernani" or "Nabuco" for the edification of the children and a few appreciative artisans. It must not be thought that the distinguished society of Lancia went with one rush to the open-air salon. Nothing of the kind. Before putting foot there, they took a few turns in a little walk a short way off. From thence they took a survey, and ascertained whether anybody had yet ventured as far as the promenade.

At last, by the time the shadows were falling amid the old oaks, and the fog was gathering from the mountains, and getting up the nostrils, in the throats, and down the bronchial tubes of the people of high degree, all the local beauties had assembled in crowds at the promenade. What was a catarrh, a cold, or even inflammation of the lungs compared to the disgrace of being the first at the Bombe!

What a wonderful example of fortitude! What an instance of the power that self-respect exercises over the minds of superior beings!

This exquisite sense of duty which Nature has written in indelible characters on the hearts of the worthy, was shown in a still more remarkable fashion at the private balls given by the Casino of Lancia every fortnight during the winter.

It will be easily surmised that none of the high-born senoritas who demurred at appearing at the promenade when it was empty, were likely to be the first to arrive at the salon of the Casino. But as there was no side walk here, from whence they could take a bird's-eye view, and they could not keep a watch from the windows at night, these clever young ladies, as high-born as they were ingenious, hit upon a means of saving their honour.

Soon after ten o'clock, when the ball was supposed to begin, they sent their papas or brothers on a little voyage of discovery. They went in in a careless sort of way, sat down in the armchairs, cut a few jokes with the raw youths in buttoned up frock-coats who were impatiently standing about, fastening each other's gloves, and then, making some excuse, they soon retired to tell their families that nobody had arrived yet.

Ah! how often did those young men in the frock-coats wait the whole night in vain for the arrival of their beautiful partners!

The candles burnt low, and the orchestra, after futilely playing two or three dances, became quite demoralised; and the musicians laughed and joked in loud tones, walked about the room, and even smoked.

The maids and men-servants yawned and made allusions to the blessing of sleep, and at last the president gave the sign of dismissal, and the youths retired to their respective homes as sad as they were conventional.

That was indeed a touching spectacle to see those heroic young girls sacrifice their great desire to go to the ball rather than outrage the fundamental principles on which the happiness and comfort of society are founded!

Paco then came in with the Pensioner.

"They will tell you the same as I," continued Manuel Antonio, shading his eyes with his ivory white hand.

In the distance Paco really looked like a perch crowned with a cucumber, for his head was so unusually small that all his hats came down over his ears. Walking by his side was Senor Mateo with his enormous white moustachios and proud military bearing, although we know he was the greatest civilian that Lancia had known for centuries.

Garnet gave a few grunts to express the profound contempt with which the two persons inspired him, the one for his want of conventionality, and the other for not having even a paltry investment in the Three per Cents.

"Come, my dear fellows, and do me the favour of making this stupid fellow believe that he is a good match for any girl, although he will not believe it."

"Certainly; for if Don Santos is not a match with five or six million reales, I don't know who is," exclaimed Mateo feelingly, as befitted the father of four marriageable daughters who did not marry.

"Draw it mild, Don Cristobal; draw it mild!" said the Indian, with a stern look.

"What? Have you more, then? I am glad of it. I only speak according to report."

"I have five hundred thousand dollars, and not a lapiz[J] less."

The three friends exchanged a significant look, and Manuel Antonio, not being able to keep from laughing, embraced him, saying:

"All right, Santos, all right! But this about the lapiz quite affects me."

Garnet was a man who was continually tripping in his vocabulary. He really was ignorant of the proper way of expressing many colloquial terms, and the result was often very funny. Doubtless it was due to his not hearing well; it was some years since he had left America, and consorted with people of culture. His dreadful solecisms were quite proverbial in Lancia.

"But this unhappy fellow surely does not think," continued the Chatterbox, regardless of Garnet's resentful look, "that because Fernanda Estrada-Rosa is a bit coquettish, that he is not taken with her little set-up airs like every other man! Fool, fool, more than fool!" and so saying he gave him a few taps on the large red nape of his neck. "Besides she is a daughter of Don Juan Estrada-Rosa, the greatest Jew in the province!"

"But, man, Fernanda is quite different," said the Pensioner, who was not in the plot. "She is a very rich girl, and there is no need for her to marry for money."

Then the others came down upon him with a vengeance: Where there is money more is wanted. Ambition is insatiable. Fernanda was very proud, and she would never stand being outdone in show by any other girl in Lancia. Now if Don Santos chose a wife in the town she would find her such a formidable rival that it would be a continual annoyance to her. The only person Don Santos had to fear was the Count of Onis, but he seemed to have gone off, for his eccentric character, and the strange attacks to which he was frequently subject, had ended by disgusting the young girl.

Won over by these arguments, backed up by nods of intelligence from Paco, the Pensioner saw the wisdom of the idea, and went over to their side, and then the three tried their best to persuade the Indian that no young girl would hold out long against him, if he once laid siege to her.

Paco alluded mysteriously to certain information in his possession, which was the strongest evidence that the girl's treatment of him was nothing but little airs of vanity put on to make herself more valuable. But it was a secret, he said, which could not be revealed without a breach of the confidence and regard due to the friend who had revealed it.

In spite of all this Garnet would not give in. He was like a mastiff under the caresses and turbulent treatment of children, for he only cast angry looks at his tormentors, and every now and then gave vent to ominous growls.

Manuel Antonio repeated the list of his subtle arguments, enforcing them with sundry embraces, pats, and pinches, for he was eloquent and plausible to a degree. Paco let Manuel go on, taking care to give him many a sly corroborative wink, for he was certain that Garnet had no confidence in his remarks. But he came in with the final stroke. After having had himself implored and entreated by his two allies, who promised eternal secrecy by the nails of Christ, he finally drew a letter from his pocket. It was from Fernanda to a friend at Nieva. After casually explaining how it came into his hands, Paco read with the bated breath of mystery:

"There is no foundation in what you say of Luis. I have not renewed, nor do I wish to renew, my relations with him, and this for reasons too many to be given, and some of which you know. The suit of Don Santos, as there is nobody else, has a far better chance. He is certainly old for me, but very conventional and affectionate. I should not be surprised if I ended by having him."

Garnet listened with great attention, opening his eyes unusually wide with astonishment. When Paco finished, he said in a deep voice, "This letter is ipocryphal."

The three friends turned round in surprise, and great was their difficulty to keep from laughing, whilst Manuel Antonio improved the occasion by giving Don Santos another embrace and saying:

"Go to, you rude, mistrustful thing! Show him the letter, Paco. Do you not know Fernanda's writing? Emilita is constantly having letters from her. You are too modest, Santos. I will not say you are a perfect gentleman, but you have a certain grace and a certain je ne sais quoi."

"Yes, I should think so!" exclaimed Paco; "and you take what Manuel Antonio says, for he is a judge."

"There are some who can tell at once, my dear fellow," continued the latter, in a quick voice. "They have only to cast their eyes on a face and they know whether it is handsome, ugly, or mediocre."

But not wishing to waste any more breath in forwarding Paco's plans they left Garnet in peace, and the Chatterbox changed the conversation.

"Ah! here come some friends of yours, Don Cristobal!"

And raising his head the Pensioner saw eight or ten soldiers approaching. They were officers of the battalion of Pontevedra, which, to his disgust, had recently arrived for the garrison of the town.

Mateo gnashed his teeth, and gave utterance to sounds indicative of his hatred of the armed force, and then exclaimed in an ironical tone:

"How delightful to see warriors in time of peace!"

"You are quite cracked about them, Don Cristobal. Soldiers are very useful."

"Useful!" exclaimed the Pensioner, in a rage. "What use are they I should like to know? How are they useful?"

"They keep the peace, man."

"They keep war, you mean. The Civil Guard can keep us from rogues, but they foment dissensions and cause the ruin of the country. Directly they see the enemy appear, they take care to go off in another direction, and then they get appointments, crosses, and pensions. I maintain that as long as there are soldiers, there will be no peace in Spain."

"But, Don Cristobal, supposing a foreign nation attacked us?"

The Pensioner gave an ironical smile and shook his head several times before replying.

"Get along, silly; why the only country that could attack us by land is France, and if France should ever do so, what good would these stupid little officers in uniform be to us?"

"Well, apart from that, soldiers are good for trade. The shops profit by them, and the hotel-keepers benefit also."

Manuel Antonio only defended the military to aggravate Mateo, but there was a shade of irony in his present remarks that was excessively aggravating.

"That is just what it is! And it is that which annoys me so, for where does the money come from that they spend, you foolish fellow? Why, from you and from me, and from that gentleman; in fact, from every one who pays anything to the State in one form or another. The result is that they spend without producing, and so set a bad example in the towns; for idleness is a corrupting influence to those that are inclined to be lazy. Do you know what the army costs? Why, the naval and military Ministers take between them half of the national grant. That is to say, justice, religion, the expenses of the maintenance of our relations with other countries, and the working of all material interests, do not take as much to keep as these scarlet trousered young gentlemen. If other nations of Europe have a great army, what is that to do with it? Let them have it. Besides, they can allow themselves this luxury because they have money. But we are a poor little nation with only outside show. Besides, in other countries there are international complications, from which we are fortunately free. France is too afraid of the intervention of other countries to attack us, but if perchance it did attack us, it would conquer us just as much with an army as without one."

The Pensioner was very emphatic in his arguments, which, with his eyes blazing with anger, he enforced with vehement gesticulations of the hands.

Manuel Antonio was delighted at seeing him get into a rage; and at that moment the little company of officers passed near with a polite "Good-day," which they all returned excepting Don Cristobal, who took no notice of the greeting.

"I really think you go too far, Don Cristobal. Now what do you think of Captain Nunez who has just gone by? Is he not a perfect gentleman with courteous, pleasant manners?"

"He would be better with a pickaxe in his hand, and more useful to his country," returned the Pensioner crossly.

"But what is the good of putting yourself out when, according to report, he is going to be your son-in-law, as he is going to marry Emilita?" said the Chatterbox with mischievous delight.

Paco and Don Santos burst out laughing, for Don Cristobal was quite crushed, and with great difficulty he said:

"Whoever heard such nonsense!" and then relapsed into silence, for the news was a dreadful blow, as it put him in the most awkward position.

The silence was noticed by the others, who winked and smiled behind his back.

But Paco was also pre-occupied, for when he had a practical joke in that little knob of a head of his, he was as restless and full of thought as a poet or painter with some great work on hand; and it was only after working hard for some days, that he all but won over the Indian to his plan; and the question of his going formally to ask Don Juan Estrada-Rosa for his daughter's hand in marriage was actually under discussion. According to Paco and his supporters, that was considered the most direct way, and best calculated to succeed, for any other seemed round-about. The day that Don Juan should see him come forward with his ten millions and an offer of marriage, he would spare no means to make his daughter consent, and she herself would not be averse. For as they could not have the Conde de Onis, who could she marry better than a man so rich, so proper, so robust, so illustrious? This last epithet, gravely suggested by Paco, nearly spoilt the whole thing, as he was splitting with suppressed laughter. Garnet noticing this fact cast an angry glance at him, and as his confidence was again shaken, a delay of some days ensued.

Nevertheless, the moment arrived when the Indian gave credence to his words through overhearing him from a neighbouring room speak plainly to the Conde de Onis. From that day he put faith in him, and consulted him as to how to bring about his purpose. Paco said it was better not to mention it first to the girl.

As good generals surprise the enemy and conquer by a bold, unexpected stroke, it was the unanimous opinion that the best course would be to call on Don Juan, ask for a private interview and go straight to the point. There was no fear but what the banker would jump at the idea; the girl would probably be somewhat surprised, but under the influence of her father she would soon give in. The important things of life were generally decided by a bold stroke—"nothing venture nothing have."

Finally, Garnet gave in, and commenced proceedings with all due solemnity. The first thing to be considered was the hour at which it would be best to call, and twelve o'clock was finally decided on. His costume was also a subject of deep discussion; and Paco maintained that he would look most imposing in uniform, such as that worn by an honorary chief of the civil administration. It would not be difficult to get a nomination if he paid handsomely for it, but it could not be done under a month's delay, so the uniform had to be given up, and it was settled he was to wear a black frock-coat with his medal as town-councillor; the day was the last thing to be arranged, which was fixed for Monday. In the meanwhile the traitor Paco lost no time in letting out in conversation with Don Juan Estrada-Rosa that Garnet was hoping and wishing to be accepted as his son-in-law. Don Juan, who was rich as well as proud, and so adored his daughter that he thought a duke at least would come from Madrid to ask her hand in marriage, was furious, called him an impudent fellow, and swore that sooner than let her marry such a boor he would rather she remained unmarried.

"Well, then, take care, Don Juan," said Paco smiling maliciously, "for the day will come when least expected when he will appear at your house to ask for Fernanda's hand."

"He will do nothing of the sort," returned the banker, "he knows too well that he would be kicked downstairs."

Having taken all these precautions, the terrible practical joker of Lancia felt he was quite secure. With the exception of the three or four friends who helped him to persuade Don Santos, nobody knew about his plot. But the Sunday afternoon preceding the event, he and Manuel Antonio went round and told people about the joke, and said that they had better be at the Cafe Maranon the next day if they wanted to see it out. In the provinces, where there are not many amusements, these practical jokes are made quite a business, and much time and thought are given to their conception and organisation.

The youths of Lancia were delighted at Paco's project, for it presented especial attraction, the victim not being a poor fellow whom they might feel for, but a rich man; and in the depth of every heart there is always a grain of hatred for any one who has much money. So the news got bruited about, and on the following day there were more than fifty young fellows at the Cafe Maranon. But they did not make themselves conspicuous until Garnet appeared. The cafe was situated on a first floor (for the ground floors were never used at that time for such a purpose) in the Calle de Altavilla, almost opposite Don Juan Estrada-Rosa's house, which was large and sumptuous, although not so much so as the one that Don Santos had recently built, and that where the cafe was, was old and dilapidated. The resort of customers was a room, where there was a billiard-table, and two little side rooms furnished with little wooden tables for refreshment, all dirty, murky and shabby. How different were those times to the magnificent Cafe Britanico of today in the same street, with marble tables, colossal mirrors and gilded columns like the finest in Madrid!

Spying through the little windows the gay assembly of youths, eager for excitement, saw Garnet pass by correctly dressed, balancing his colossal body on legs that looked too small for it. They saw him enter Estrada-Rosa's house, and heard the sound of the door being shut upon him. Nothing more was seen, but the windows of the cafe were simultaneously opened and filled. Those who could find no place got up on seats behind their companions. Every eye was fixed on the opposite door, and thus they waited for a quarter of an hour. At the end of that time the purple face of Garnet reappeared. It was indeed a fearful sight. It looked just as if the man had been nearly strangled, and his ears were the colour of blood. A perfect storm of coughs, shouts and howls greeted his appearance. The Indian turned his head and gave an astonished look at the excited crowd who were laughing for some unknown reason at him. But he was not long before he saw that he was the victim of a practical joke. His eyes glared fiercely round, and he burst out in a fit of intolerable rage:

"Liars!"

And he then fled like a wild boar pursued by a pack of hounds, amid the hisses and laughter of the youths, only turning his head from time to time to repeat the strong expletive.



CHAPTER VI

THE SENORITAS DE MERE

So Emilita Mateo had really won the heart of a captain of the battalion of Pontevedra. But it had not been done without several days' hard work, in the way of coy glances, aimless laughter, childish pranks, mincing ways and numberless little tricks. She had, in short, called all her forces into play, being by turns straightforward and malicious, kind and rude, reserved and teasing, grave and frolicsome, like a wild thing, like a silly irresponsible child, but none the less adorable.

Finally Nunez, Captain Nunez could not resist such a provoking mixture of innocence and guile; he was first taken with her, and ended by falling in love. He was a man with a wide face, lean, grave, and bilious looking, having a moustache and imperial, and languid, dull looking eyes, very conscientious in his duties, and very fond of taking long walks. This type of silent, conventional man is most susceptible to the charm of cheerfulness and vivacity. Emilita won his heart by calling him grumpy, giving him pinches by way of teasing him, saying that his words had to be drawn out with a corkscrew, and letting him have the full benefit of her chaff.

The family of Mateos was quite upset by this wonderful success. Jovita, Micaela and Socorro, being elder sisters of the happy maiden, were both jealous and flattered. They felt that the preference of such a gallant infantry officer was an honour which was reflected over the whole family, and placed them in a superior position in the eyes of their friends and acquaintances. But at the same time, considering that Emilita was the youngest, they did not like her having a lover, or being married before themselves. It was decidedly premature for her to be engaged, as she was not more than twenty-four, and a smile of scorn and surprise contracted the lips of the three elder sisters at the idea of such an innocent, unconventional creature being married. So that although they sang the captain's praises to their friends, speaking highly of his personal attractions, crediting him with a brave and generous heart, testifying to his riches, as if they managed his exchequer, and vaguely referring to certain influential patronage which would put him, sooner or later, in the way of the distinctions of a general, they certainly never forgave him his chronological error.

On the other side Don Cristobal, the father of that perverse, coquettish angel, found himself suddenly in such an awkward position that it nearly drove him mad. He was ashamed at having to give his consent to a daughter of his being courted by a soldier after having so often called the military idle and bloodthirsty, and having clamoured for the reduction of the army. How would he be able to face all his friends in the future? Many dreadful days of doubt ensued. His hatred against the army and the marines was so deeply rooted in his heart that it could not be eradicated in a moment. Nevertheless, he was obliged to confess that the very noble behaviour of Captain Nunez had influenced him to a great extent. The wish of seeing his daughters married was quite as strong as his dislike of the armed force. In his worry he deplored Nunez having a commission in the infantry. If he could only have been a sailor the gravity of the situation would have been so much lessened. He recollected that in his diatribes against the army, he had admitted that a few ships contributed to the safety of the colonies. The same thing applied to the civil guard, but as to the rest of the land forces there was no excuse, there was no means of getting out of the dilemma.

Under such awkward circumstances he elected to shut himself up at home. The engagement of his daughter got spread abroad and became a settled affair, and he was afraid of practical jokes. Fear made him take the false step of playing fast and loose, which was unworthy of his character and antecedents. That is to say, that whilst continuing publicly to affect a scorn of the land forces, when talking with his daughter's bridegroom or other military men, he was quite suave and showed as much interest in the questions he asked them about their profession, as if they served in some civil office of the State. Nobody would have thought, to hear him enter into the details of the active, reserve, and militia forces, that the man entertained an eternal, undying hate against them. But the Pensioner attained a greater perfection in his role than anybody could have dared to expect. He did not pretend to get on with them as soldiers, when he considered them a social plague, but as men they might, according to their qualities, be worthy of esteem.

The love affair of Emilita, like that of many others, had begun and gone on in the house of the Meres. These were two senoritas past eighty years of age, and not yet a hundred. From all accounts, they were already grown up at the beginning of the nineteenth century. They had no relations in Lancia, and nobody recollected their father, who died when they were little girls. He had held some appointment in the Exchequer department. It is possible, from its remote date, that he was a collector of the excise or some other taxes now extinct.

In the first place the dress of these interesting senoritas savoured of the eighteenth century, to which they belonged. They could not put up with the fashions of the present day. They wore straight black gowns with lead sewn at the bottom to prevent their turning up, very long waisted bodies, tight sleeves with puffs, low cashmere shoes, and a coiffure too funny for anything. The mantilla they adopted was not of net, but of serge with a velvet fringe, such as is only worn by the working classes; and they carried a stick as a support.

They affected a perfect courtesy, a versatility of character, and an insatiable passion for society and gaiety perfectly astonishing at their age. They certainly had not retained in the present century the licence of manners and wickedness which, according to historians, characterised the society of the past. It would be impossible to imagine creatures more simple. They seemed quite ignorant of life, everything surprised them, and they could not believe in evil. Thus they were frequently the victims of practical jokes at the hands of their friends and guests, without either of them expressing any great surprise at it. From time immemorial they had been accustomed to open their house of an evening to the young people of Lancia, who were attracted by the liberty prevalent there.

The custom of tutoyant everybody was tacitly allowed, and it was curious to hear young men of eighteen years of age talking so familiarly to old ladies who might have been their great-grandmothers. It was Carmelita here, and Nuncita there, because the eldest was named Dona Carmen, and the youngest Dona Anunciacion. Three or four generations had passed through that little drawing-room of the Calle del Carpo, so modest and neat, with its polished wood floors, straw-bottomed chairs, red damask sofa, mahogany sideboard with branch candlesticks, its tortoiseshell framed mirror, and several little pictures in pastels representing the story of Romeo and Juliet. The reception of the de Meres was the oldest institution of Lancia, and, contrary to the usual course of things, these old ladies who had not been able to marry themselves, had a perfect mania for helping everybody else to marry. Innumerable were the marriages due to that little drawing-room. Directly they heard that a young man was more attracted to one young lady than another, our senoritas set to work preparing the noose which was to unite them with an indissoluble bond. Indeed, they would allow no one to have the chair by a certain lady's side, so that when a certain gentleman should come it should be all ready for him, and he would only have to take it. Then they were loud in their praises of a certain gentleman to a certain lady, and would go to a certain gentleman full of the wonders of a certain lady's cleverness, economy, handiness, piety, and beauty. Then they repaired to the house of a certain young lady's mamma, where they had long private, important conversations, and they bearded a certain young gentleman's papa, when all their diplomatic arts were brought into play to soften his heart. And the reward of all these efforts was a little box of sweets on the day of the marriage! So all the mothers of marriageable girls adored the old ladies, and blessings and praises were showered upon them. They were hailed half a mile off, and on coming out of church, matrons hastened to offer them an arm as a support.

But, on the other side, those who had any son of a marriageable age, regarded them with distrust and dislike, and dubbed them as interfering intermediaries.

When the first touch of love was felt in the heart of some susceptible youth, he repaired immediately to the abode of the Las Meres.

"Carmelita, I am in love!"

"With whom, my heart, with whom?" asked the elder with the greatest interest.

"With Rosario Calvo."

"Aha! The rogue has good taste. There isn't a prettier or better educated girl. You were born for one another."

And then the young fellow had the pleasure of hearing for some time panegyrics on his adored one.

"I hope that you will help me."

"As much as you like, dear heart."

So at the end of a few days Rosario Calvo, who had never before set foot in the house of the de Meres, became a regular habituee of the evening gatherings. However did they manage to get the girl there? It is difficult to say, but they had brought so many affairs to a successful issue that they certainly must have had some simple, sure recipe. They were as affectionate to their friends as if they were all near relations. Stories of self-abnegation were told of them which did them great honour. During the dreadful revolution of 1823, one of their guests, a cavalry lieutenant, took refuge in their house. The senoritas received him, and hid him for some days, and finally he escaped in the clothes of the servant. But hearing that the police were going to search the house, they were terror-struck at the thought of the lieutenant's uniform being found. Where could it be hidden so as not to betray him? Carmelita at this critical moment hit upon a brilliant, brave idea. She put on the uniform herself underneath her female attire. And yet this lieutenant treated them with such ingratitude that he never all his life found ten minutes to write them a letter of thanks.

But this was not the only act of ingratitude on the part of their guests, who made as much use of their kindness as they could, enjoyed the company and conversation of the prettiest girls in Lancia, arranged matrimonial alliances, and directly all this business was concluded, they found that their affairs or their position precluded their frequenting the parties any more, and they scarcely greeted them when they met their old hostesses in the street. The same can be said of the mammas, who made so much of the senoritas before marrying their daughters, and dropped them when that was done. But this neglectful conduct neither damped the kindness of the good ladies nor quelled their optimistic spirit. They kept up an incessant stream of new-comers to their house, and whilst forgetting the ingratitude of the old ones, they set their minds on the worthiness that they attributed to the new. Besides, they harboured no rancour or ill-feeling in their hearts, and they were not even offended at practical jokes, although some of them were really very serious. Paco Gomez arranged one that was so startling that it is still told in Lancia with gusto.

Ladies could not go to the parties every evening in the winter, they generally went on Saturdays and Wednesdays. But there were a few young men who hardly ever missed going at an early hour, even if they went on to other houses afterwards. On these quiet evenings a game of brisca was generally got up. Paco took Nuncita as a partner, and Captain Nunez, or some other young fellow, Carmelita. But one evening they were regretting that the signs made during the game were so common and hackneyed, that it was impossible to make them unnoticed by the opponents. So both sides agreed to change them. Paco taught some to Nuncita, and the opponent several more to Carmelita. But these new signs were all so improper that they are only seen in taverns and bad houses. Yet those innocent women took them as a matter of course in perfect unconcern. Some days went by and they were quite accustomed to their use, when Paco suggested a game to several of the guests. Then ensued a scene of comic surprise. Every time one of the two senoritas made a sign, there was an explosion of merriment. And instead of showing the door to the cruel shameless author of the joke, and forbidding his ever returning, the kind senoritas only crossed themselves in surprise, and laughed with the others when they found it out.

"Blessed Santo Cristo of Rodillero! Whoever would have thought it! So we have committed all these sins in ignorance!"

"I shall not confess them, then," exclaimed Nuncita, with determination.

"You will confess them, child," returned the elder, severely.

"But I won't."

"Child!"

"But I don't want to."

"Silence, child, you will confess them three times. To-morrow I shall take you myself to Fray Diego."

Nuncita still protested under her breath like a wilful child, until the severe glances of her elder sister made her be silent, but she was still in a pet. Sometimes without any reason she had these exhibitions of ill-temper and rebellion, and Carmelita had to call all her authority into play to bring her to reason, but this was a rare occurrence. Although only three or four years older than herself, Nuncita, from long custom, weakness of character, or maybe from liking to appear young before people, recognised her sister's authority and accorded her an obedience and submission that many mothers of daughters would envy. It was seldom necessary to call her to order, but when it was so, Nuncita bowed her head, and was soon seen to put her handkerchief to her eyes and leave the room, whilst Carmelita followed her movements with a fixed look and shook her head severely. A little more, and she would have chastised her in public and sent her to bed without any supper. For such reasons, and because Dona Carmelita frequently called her so, Dona Nuncita, who was over eighty years of age, went by the name of "the child" in Lancia.

Both sisters worked heroically in the love affair of Emilita Mateo, and Captain Nunez was besieged in the regular way. For a month at least, until they saw he was well under weigh, no chair was left vacant for him excepting by the side of Don Cristobal's youngest girl. In the game of lottery, which was a perfect passion in that society, Nuncita took care that papers should be found with their names combined. When reference was made to the officer and Emilita they were mentioned as one person, already united and inseparable. Services of such great importance were repaid by the Pensioner by a gratitude which beamed from his eyes, and he would gladly have prostrated himself at their feet and kissed the edge of their square gowns. But his dignity and his long series of diatribes against the army chained his feet and forbade these, and all other manifestations of delight. He was deprived even of the consolation of exhibiting pleasure at the sight of the soldier at the promenade with his daughter. But we know that the senoritas cared little for the gratitude of their guests. They married them from their irresistible propensity in this direction, which was as much a necessity of their constitution as web-spinning is to the spider, or singing in the woods is to the birds. Once launched in matrimony, the men and women guests lost all attraction for the Senoritas de Mere. Their attention was immediately turned to the fresh young people who came and took refuge under their protecting wings. But there was one who caused them such bitter disappointment that a little more would have brought them to the grave. Never in their lives had they come across such an incomprehensible man as the count. What the poor things went through to put him in the right path, in the flowery path of Hymen! But the devil slipped through their fingers like an eel.

For some evenings he appeared tender and devoted to Fernanda, never leaving her side for an instant. The glances of the two sisters were then fixed upon them with visible interest; by dint of signs they kept them from interruption, a little more and they would have requested the others to lower their voices, so that the noise should not disturb them. And then suddenly when least expected the count was absurd enough to leave his seat in an absent-minded way with a yawn, and walk off by himself and sit at a corner of the table; whilst Fernanda, on her side, was also very whimsical, for she would take the opportunity to start an animated conversation with the son of the Chief Magistrate of the Court without vouchsafing a look at her fiance. Carmelita and Nuncita were taken aback when this occurred, and they retired to rest full of consternation. After the final break, and when they were quite certain that the chance of bringing such a magnificent marriage to pass was not reserved for them, they lowered their ambition and turned their attention to Garnet who had been pressing for their help for some time.

But impious fate was again against them. Fernanda snubbed any conciliatory remark that they made to her in favour of the Indian. If she noticed that the senoritas arranged the chairs, so that he would have to sit by her side, she instantly upset their manoeuvres and skilfully managed for a contrary effect. When sides were arranged for brisca or tute she would not accept him as a partner and preferred to give up the game than do so. In short she was so quick and wide awake that she was invincible on every side. Nevertheless, the de Meres persisted in their project, and worked for its accomplishment with the patience which is the surest means for the success of great undertakings.

Some days after the practical joke of Paco Gomez on Don Santos, there assembled at the famous party, besides three or four youths, the same Paco, Manuel Antonio, Don Santos, Captain Nunez, Don Cristobal, Maria Josefa Hevia, and two of the Mateo girls.

They were not yet thinking of playing. They were all seated excepting Paco, who was walking up and down the drawing-room, telling them the joke he had the other night at the theatre with Manin the majordomo of Quinones. Since the latter had been paralysed, his well-known companion had to go about the town without his shadow. But in consideration of the regard shown him by his master, the guests of Don Pedro took a good deal of notice of him, and in spite of the rusticity of his manners and the countrified aspect of his attire, they greeted him familiarly when they met him in the street, invited him into a cafe, and sometimes took him to the theatre. It was Manin here, and Manin there, the great peasant had made himself famous, not only in Lancia, but in the whole of the province. Those short breeches, those white woollen stockings with coloured stripes, that green cloth jacket and wide brimmed hat, gave him an original aspect in the town, where it would be difficult to find a man in such attire.

He was an unfailing source of astonishment to strangers, especially as they saw him associate on an equal footing with the senores of the place; for they seemed to seek his society not only out of respect for the Grandee, but because they found pleasure in Manin's uncouth manners. Besides, Manin was a celebrated bear-hunter, and it was reported that he had occasionally had deadly struggles with the beasts. Those who were partial to that kind of sport professed great regard and respect for him. Nevertheless, the enemies that the majordomo had in his village laughed sarcastically, and said that the bears were all a farce, and he had never seen one in his life, much less struggled with them. They added that Manin had never been anything more than a country clown, until Don Pedro took it into his head to raise him from his obscure position.

Impartiality obliges us to give this evidence, but we can take it for what it is worth. It must, however, be confessed that the conduct of Manin gave it a semblance of truth, for although he often offered to take his friends bear-hunting, he never kept his promise. But perhaps this was due to his respect for the well-being and safety of the bears of his country. Is it sufficient evidence for dubbing a man a mere country clown? Nobody could say so. It would be more logical to assume that the celebrated Manin, like everybody who rises above the common herd, was a victim of the insinuations of the envious.

So Paco, with his usual freedom, quite regardless of the presence of ladies, told how he and some other friends who had a theatre ticket took Manin to the stage box. The majordomo had never before seen women dancers. When they first appeared on the scene, Manin, thinking that they had bare legs, was perfectly scandalised and fixed his eyes, glowing with anger and indignation, upon them. "But you have not seen the best," Paco said, "wait a bit." When the orchestra began to play, the dancers shook their castanettes, and with a turn they raised their legs as high as their heads. "Shame!" exclaimed the poor fellow, clapping his hands to his face. "What will happen next?"

Paco told the story quite naturally, as he walked up and down the drawing-room, with his head down, and his hands in his trousers-pockets. The young ladies felt inclined to blush, and everybody laughed excepting Garnet, who was still smarting from the joke of the other day.

From his corner, where he sat like a sulky bear, he cast grim and angry glances at Paco. What had happened in Estrada-Rosa's house, when the Indian went to ask for the hand of the senorita? Not a word could be got out of Don Juan nor his daughter; but a certain little servant-maid informed the world that Don Juan refused him with the deepest scorn, that Garnet made mention of his millions and maintained that Fernanda would never have a chance of a better marriage. Then Don Juan got in a rage, called him a sponger, and sent him off with offensive epithets. Every time Paco caught one of the angry glances, he smiled and winked at Manuel Antonio.

"I say, Carmela," he said, coming to a stand before a little picture painted in oils, "where did you buy this San Juan?"

"Jesus! senor," exclaimed Carmelita; "it is not a San Juan, but a Salvador! See how the poor little fellow is laughing!"

"Ah! so it is a Salvador. What is the difference?"

The Senoritas de Mere, hearing such a question, went nearly wild with amusement. They laughed till the tears came.

"Ay, what, Paquito! Ay, what, my heart! You don't know the difference between a San Juan and a Salvador?"

And they laughed and laughed again. They had not heard anything so funny for many years. When they were a little more composed, they dried their tears and used their handkerchiefs vigorously. Paco, who liked to see them so merry, went on to inquire:

"But come, when did you buy this Salvador, that I never saw till now?"

"It was in Nuncia's room, my dear; but it did not do there, because it came in the way of the bed, and so we put it here."

"It was given to Carmela when papa was alive," said Nuncita, "by a painter from Madrid who spent a few days here."

"Were you young then?" asked Paco, gravely, turning to Carmelita.

"Yes, very young."

"Was the painter famous?"

"Very."

"Then I know who it was. It was Murillo."

"No; I don't think that was his name."

"Then it was Velasquez."

"That name sounds more like it. He was a young man, very short, and very gallant. Was he not, Nuncia?"

"Did he not address some soft words to you?"

Nuncita lowered her eyes and blushed.

"Who would recollect these things now?"

"He was very much in love," continued Carmelita; "and at the same time he was most well-bred and clever."

"Of an amorous disposition, did you say? It can be no other than Velasquez."

"He was not named Velasquez, he was called Gonzalez," interposed Nuncita, timidly.

And after this remark she blushed again.

"That's it! Gonzalez!" exclaimed her sister, recollecting.

"Well, it is all the same; he would be a contemporary of his—of the great race of painters of the seventeenth century," remarked Paco, not the least put out by the laughter of the guests, who were astonished at the innocence of the poor women.

"How did he make love to thee?" he continued, with a caressing touch of Nuncita's cheek. "It seems to me you were very coquettish, eh, Carmela?"

This remark was provocative of a smile from the company.

"Carmela, por Dios! and are these gentlemen going to make believe I was a coquette?" exclaimed the "child" in real concern.

"They would only believe the truth, girl," said Paco. "Now, don't you recollect you lent a willing ear to the ecclesiastical attorney, called Don Maximo, and no sooner had he left the house than you were talking on the balcony with Lieutenant Paniagua?"

Nuncita smiled with pleasure at the recollection of those times, and replied as she lowered her eyes with gracious timidity:

"Don Maximo came to the house every day, but it was never a question of love."

"Neither a courtship nor a refusal?" asked Paco. "Then confess that the one you really liked was the lieutenant, and done with it."

"What! you were in love with a soldier?" asked Emilita, with pleasant volubility, as she cast a teasing glance at Nunez. "Then you must have had bad taste."

The Pensioner became suddenly serious and his moustache went up in horror at his daughter's sally, but he was immediately calmed at seeing that the captain, instead of being offended, only returned a loving smile, and like all the rest treated it as a joke.

"She is not the only one who has had such bad taste," said Carmelita, with marked insinuation, delighted at the chance of making such a clever hit.

"And who was this lieutenant? Some useless puppy, like we have here?" continued Emilia, with the same taking levity.

"Gently, gently, Emilia!" returned Paco. "Paniagua was lieutenant of the third regiment of infantry of Flanders, and a very brave man."

"No, dear, no," interposed Nuncita, "to put the matter right, he was of the Royal Guard."

"Was he not an archer?"

"No, dear heart, I say he was of the Royal Guard."

Don Cristobal hid his amusement under a fit of coughing, and Manuel Antonio and the young people laughed heartily.

"Paniagua was a very remarkable man," continued Paco. "He was endowed with a decision of character befitting soldiers. The day that he arrived, he saw Nuncia at the window in the morning, and in the evening he managed to give her, in the portico of San Rafael after nones, a letter of declaration which ran thus:

"'Senorita, in confusion and fear and doubting if in your kind condescension you will pardon my boldness, I confess that my only joy is in loving you.'"

"Oh! you rogue! what a memory you have!" exclaimed Nuncita, now fairly overcome.

The fact was, Paco, to whom, after many entreaties, "the child" had shown the letters she had kept of Paniagua's, learnt the original document by heart and recited it everywhere to the great delight of his friends.

"He was what may be called a resolute man. The character of a person is shown like that. How different to the soldiers of the present day, who before proposing to a girl, dangle about for a whole year and then delay saying: 'Child, when shall we go to church?'"

These words were uttered with a look at the corner, where Emilita and the captain were sitting. The latter took the remark and became serious, and the girl tried to look unconscious although grateful in her heart to Paco for giving the hint; whilst the Pensioner twisted his moustache with a trembling hand, fearing that Nunez would take offence, but glad with the hope that these opportune allusions would bring him to the point.

Tired of conversation, the young people proposed a game of forfeits. It is a game which wide-awake men always turn to their own advantage.

Fernanda let Garnet sit by her side. She was vexed at the winks and signs of Paco that she had noticed. She was a very proud creature, but she prided herself on her sense of justice. She could not bear anybody to be made fun of in her presence, even if it were the lowest, most insignificant being. Maybe the sense of pride, which was one of her tenderest and most touchy points, made her alive to the wounds inflicted on that of others. Although she hated Garnet, she was sorry to see him made an object of derision, particularly as she was the cause; but this did not prevent her treating him with overbearing airs herself; but it is thought, and not without reason, that although the rebuffs of the lady one loves may inflict misery, they do not sting like practical jokes. The Indian, seeing himself so honoured, was beside himself with delight, and set to overwhelming her as usual with a thousand attentions. Fernanda accepted them with a grave demeanour, but not with repugnance. Then came as usual that game of "three times yes, and three times no," the favourite of all present. Thus Society amused itself with what had entertained its fathers and grandfathers, and with what they thought would amuse their children. Innocent people! There was one spirit there to whom this attribute did not apply. Paco played with the peevish condescension, of a man in advance of his time, making many stupid mistakes, which showed the inattention characteristic of superior beings. Nunez, on the contrary, was all there. Never was a man more at home in such matters, nor one who entered into them more thoroughly. His bright intelligence had penetrated all the secrets of the game of forfeits, and he knew how to get the best out of everybody according to the circumstances in question. For example, when a young lady had to whisper to him, he instantly became deaf, and the girl was obliged to bend more and more until her ruddy lips brushed the ear of the captain. If he were condemned to represent the paper corner of the Puerta del Sol and consequently had to have pieces of paper stuck on his face, &c. &c., the wily Nunez did not guess who it was doing it until he had passed his hands over the girl.

But he gave the clearest demonstration of his portentous talent and the vast knowledge he had acquired in this department of science, when he proposed that the senorita, to whom he would tell what she had in her pocket, would have to kiss him. The young ladies were all so sure that he would not be successful that they willingly accepted the condition. He was certainly wrong in his attempt at guessing the contents of the pocket of Carmelita, wrong again with Fernanda, with Maria Josefa, with Micaela, but see, what a sly rogue! he knew exactly what was in Emilita's: some scissors, a handkerchief, a thimble, and three caramels. The girl began to groan and clasp her hands in a state of nervous collapse. "It was a trap! a trap!" The captain serene, unperturbed, and dignified as some hero of antiquity, refuted the imputation, and proved to satiety that there was no question of a trap. "I do not say," he added with a Mephistophelian smile, "but what it was an understood thing between us, as I was allowed to see beforehand what her pocket contained."

The girl then became still more emphatic in her protestations against this statement, and she became agitated to an incomprehensible degree, and ran to the opposite end of the room, as far as possible from the captain, as if he were going to take by force what he had a right to. Those on her side were the women, whilst the men took the part of the captain. The drawing-room was then transformed into a perfect pandemonium. They all talked, laughed, and screamed without coming to any understanding. But, as is easily supposed, the one who screamed and gesticulated the most, was the girl concerned. Nevertheless, Don Cristobal, seeing there were no signs of coming to an understanding and wishing to countenance his daughter's course of action, intervened in the dispute like a majestic god extending his right hand to calm the waves of the stormy sea.

"Emilita," he said in a tone of command, "play is play; give a kiss to this gentleman."

It is noticeable that he did not say to "the captain," nor "to this senor officer." His lips still revolted at using a term exclusively military.

"But papa!" exclaimed the younger daughter, red as a poppy.

"It must be done!" he returned, with his extended right hand in the most commanding attitude that could be assumed by such a godlike pensioner.

There was no help for it. Emilita, confused and ashamed, with her cheeks like two fires, advanced with a hesitating step to the brave captain of Pontevedra, who was sharp enough to bring his lips to play upon the brilliant colouring of her face.

But lo and behold! hardly was this effected than up jumps a basilisk of a Micaela, who was indeed the most irascible of the four nereids who inhabited the depths of the dwelling of the Pensioner.

"How shameless! These are not decent games, but low tricks. I am not astonished at Nunez, for men are what they are. But I am astonished at you, Emilita. It seems to me that a little more modesty and shame would not become you badly. But what is to be done, when those, whose duty it is to inspire you with it are the first to abet what is wrong?"

This heated diatribe against the author of her days turned him pale and paralysed him. There was a moment of embarrassed silence; then they were all eager to defend Emilita, and maintain the purity and perfect innocence of such games. The argument repeated most often was that as there was no malice prepense it was of no account, because the important thing in these matters was the intention.

"Was the kiss given with intention?" asked one of the most dialectical youths. "No? Then it was as if it had not been given."

Nunez assented gravely, being a little irritated, and eyeing his future sister-in-law with some misgiving.

But she declined to surrender to such self-evident demonstrations, and continued to request, each time more violently and in a higher key, that her younger sister might have a little shame, and her senor father a little feeling. But as nobody appeared with these requisites in their hands, to comply with these requests, there was nothing for it but to go on lowering her diapason until her angry protestations were gradually transformed into a far-away mutter like the sounds of distant thunder, and the party returned to its normal state of calm.

But the game of forfeits was over for that night. Nuncita, who was generally the one for bright ideas, suggested that they should play at la boba (the fool). I do not know why, but this game had a particular attraction for the youngest of the Senoritas de Mere. It is impossible to say what it was that pleased the ex-fiancee of the Lieutenant Paniagua, when she managed to get the fool on to any of her girl guests, and what anxiety and concern she evinced when she had it herself and could not get rid of it. Paco Gomez took the pack of cards and took out the three knaves, then knowing Nuncita's weakness, and wishing, according to his temperament, to put her out a little, he made a sign to the others that she had the knave, and all the guests soon became a party to her keeping it. The result was that the "fool" was nearly always in the hands of "the child," and try as she would, no efforts could relieve her of it. This, in spite of her natural gentleness, finally enraged her. The party laughed, and so did she, but more with her lips than her heart. At last, in a moment of anger, she dashed down the cards and declared she would not play any more. Carmelita, seeing such an act of discourtesy, intervened severely as was her custom in any case of insubordination.

"What temper is this? Wherefore this madness? What will these gentlemen think? They will say, and rightly, that you have no education, and that our family has not known how to bring you up. Now, take the cards at once."

"I don't want to."

"What! what do you say, stupid? You—you are mad. Was there ever such a wayward creature? Ta—take up the cards at once."

Anger made her stutter so much that only incoherent sounds proceeded from her toothless mouth.

"Hum!" muttered Nuncita as she twisted her lips into a sulky pout.

"Child, don't enrage me!" cried her elder sister.

"I don't want to, I don't want to," repeated the obstinate creature with decision.

And at the same time she dragged her reluctant feet into the other room.

But her sister immediately followed with the severest and most authoritative demeanour imaginable, prepared to correct that beginning of rebellion which in time might lead to most fatal consequences. A sound of dispute was heard, the sharp angry voice of Carmelita was raised, then it toned down, became more persuasive and reasoning, until it regained its normal suavity, as the echo of a sob reached the ears of the guests. Finally, at the end of some time, Carmelita reappeared with a slower step than her sister, with her eyes blazing with authority, and the majestic attitude befitting those who dictate laws to the beings Providence has confided to their care. "The child" came behind ashamed and submissive, with inflamed cheeks and tearful eyes. She reseated herself at the table without daring to raise her eyes to her elder sister, who still regarded her with a certain severity, humbly took up the cards, and began to play again. But instead of this touching example of respect and submission making a grave impression on the onlookers, it provoked a smile of amusement on almost all their faces, and there emanated from some of them inopportune bursts of laughter that were only repressed with difficulty.

Nevertheless the game did not last long. The hour approached for the select party to disperse.

"Maria Josefa, I saw your godchild at the promenade to-day," said Paco Gomez, as he absently shuffled the cards. "I gave it a kiss. She gets prettier every day. How old is it now?"

"You can calculate. We had it baptised in February. Two and a half months."

"Was it with its mother?" asked Manuel Antonio, smiling in a peculiar way.

"No! I met the mother afterwards in Altavilla and exchanged a remark with her," he gravely returned with assumed naturalness.

The greater part of the guests looked at him with a smile, and with an expression of reserved malice that surprised Fernanda. Only the two Senoritas de Mere and Garnet remained unconcerned without taking any notice of the conversation.

"But what godchild of yours are they talking about—of the baby adopted by the Quinones?" asked the heiress of Estrada-Rosa of Maria Josefa.

"Yes."

"Well, then, how are they speaking of its mother?"

"Because these two have an evil tongue. God keep us from that!" returned the old maid, also smiling with malicious pleasure, and at the same time looking at the young girl with the pitiful kindness accorded to innocent creatures.

"But who do they suppose is its mother?"

"Who could it be?—Amalia!—Silence!" she added hastily, lowering her voice.

Fernanda was stupefied. The news was so new and surprising to her that she kept her eyes fixed on her friend as if she had not heard. In the excitement of the moment she had not heard the first words of Paco, but only thought it was a question of his being warm in his praise of the beauty of the child.

"It belongs to those it likens," murmured the Magpie of Sierra, with the same intentional malignity. "Yes, it is like its mother—and its father. Its father was a fine boy."

Fernanda, a sudden prey to overwhelming curiosity, insane curiosity that urged her on, agitated and breathless without her knowing why, bent again towards Maria Josefa, and putting her mouth to her ear, she asked in an agitated voice:

"But who is its father?"

The old maid turned towards her, and fixed her eyes upon her with an expression of surprise mingled with the aforesaid indulgent compassion.

"But don't you really know?"

The girl made a sign in the negative, and at the same time she felt overwhelmed by terrible emotion. A cold chill swept suddenly through her inner being. Pale as death, she hung on the lips of Maria Josefa as if her sentence of life or death depended on them. Her excitement was quite evident to the lady, and after looking at her fixedly for a minute she said:

"No! I won't tell you. What is the good? Perhaps it is all a calumny."

Fernanda instantly regained her self-possession.

"All right!" she returned, with a gesture of displeasure; "be silent, for after all what has all this to do with me?"

This gesture wounded the old maid, who quickly returned with a malicious smile:

"But it is precisely because it does concern you that I am afraid to tell you."

"I don't understand."

Maria Josefa bent towards her and said:

"Because they say that the father of the creature is Luis."

As she had anticipated the blow, Fernanda remained unmoved, and asked her with indifference:

"What Luis?"

"The count, girl."

"And why should it concern me that Luis is the father?"

Maria Josefa was somewhat disconcerted at this question.

"Because he was your betrothed."

"But as he is not so now," she returned, with a scornful shrug of the shoulders.

And then she begun talking to Garnet, who was on her other side, but the indifference was only put on from pride. An inexplicable penetrating sadness fell upon her soul, and took complete possession of her without leaving her power to think or do anything.

If Garnet had not been such a mere animal he would have seen directly that the smile with which she listened to his uncultured, rough conversation was only a stereotyped one without any expression whatever, and that the monosyllables and incoherent replies that fell from her lips showed very clearly that she was not listening to him, but to Paco Gomez, Manuel Antonio, and the others, as they went on chattering about the foundling child.

With what interest did she catch every word that these busybodies interchanged. And as they went on making the fact clear with increasing details, intermixing joking remarks and funny inuendos, there was a tightening at her heart, and it gradually contracted as if they were all compressing it in their hands one after the other to hurt her, but her face remained calm, and not the slightest contraction showed the pain she was suffering.

The party broke up at twelve as usual, and it was a great comfort to Fernanda to breathe the cool, damp, night air. She longed to be alone with her thoughts and think over what she had just heard.

It had rained a good deal. The streets, paved with flat stones, shone in the light of the lanterns. On leaving the house some took the lower road, and others, amongst whom was Fernanda, went off in the direction of the plaza. They had only gone a few steps when they heard the loud trotting of some horses that had that instant come round the corner, and were bearing down upon them.

"Ah! here is the Baron and his servant," said Manuel Antonio.

It was, in fact, the hour in which the eccentric Baron took his habitual ride through the streets of Lancia. His famous horse was pirouetting as usual, and making such a noise that although his servant's steed was much more quiet, it seemed as if a squadron were going through the town.

As they passed the party Manuel Antonio, with his usual forwardness, cried out, "Good night, Baron." But he only turned his awful face towards them, looked at them fixedly with his blood-shot eyes, and then proceeded without a remark.

The Chatterbox abashed said:

"Go on, drunk as usual!"

They all pretended to look upon it as a joke, but at the bottom they all more or less felt the same alarm on seeing that sinister figure. Fernanda, as a woman, and in her particular state of mind, was visibly affected, and after they had passed she followed the two horses with eyes of terror until they were lost in the darkness.

On retiring to bed, with her wounded heart, she wished to analyse the emotion which swayed her, and to trace it back to the cause. She felt ashamed of herself. Her pride made her cry out with rage in a loud voice:

"What have these bad goings on to do with me? What have I to do with him or her?"

But hardly had she uttered these words than she felt the scalding tears upon her cheeks, and the heiress of Estrada-Rosa quickly turned and hid her face, suffused with blushes, in the pillows.



CHAPTER VII

THE INCREASE OF THE CONTINGENT

The terrible difficulties that were to arise with the marriage of Emilita, on account of the anti-bellicose opinions of her father, were got over with more facility than could have been expected.

History will not speak (although it could with more reason than it does of many events) of that solemn day when Nunez had to go in proper form and ask Don Cristobal for the hand of his daughter, of the memorable embrace with which the latter received him, clasping him warmly to his civil breast with that incredible fusion of two heterogeneous elements created to repel each other, and the artless graces of the sweet coy angel are taken for granted and understood. If this particular page were the subject for any historian, he could not abstain from drawing attention to the extreme importance of such concord, which until then had been considered impossible, and at the same time he would impartially show the reverse side of the picture, laying before future generations the way the maligned patrician, Don Cristobal Mateo, was the victim of a social injustice, and of the persecution of his brother citizens.

It must be said that all the world in Lancia thought themselves entitled to joke this respectable and ancient functionary on the marriage of his daughter, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, but whenever the matter was referred to, allusion was made to the antagonistic opinions he had hitherto held on the abolition of the land forces. The marriage was called the increase of the contingent, and some were impertinent enough to give it that name before his future son-in-law.

One can easily conceive what it cost him to give up a tiresome and ill-judged fad.

But in spite of all the diatribes and murmurs of the neighbours, that hurt Mateo's feelings more than they affected his good humour, and in spite of the envy that burned in the majority of hearts, the increase of the contingent was to be consummated.

The time fixed for the auspicious occasion was the month of August. By that time it had acquired such importance that, as generally happens in little places, hardly anything else was talked of. The relations of the Pensioner, and his four daughters were numberless, and they all expected to be invited on the day of the marriage. And then, on the other side, some of the worthy and punctilious officers of the battalion of Pontevedra, friends of the bridegroom, were filled with the same desire.

As it was not possible to entertain so many people in the poetic dwelling of the Pensioner, they thought of celebrating the marriage in the country. The house most fitting for the occasion, by reason of its proximity to the town, was the Grange.

Don Cristobal made the request to the count, with whom he and his daughters were on very friendly terms, and he immediately placed it at his disposal. The happy union, the safe pledge of peace between the civil and military elements, was celebrated early in the day at the church of San Rafael. Fray Diego performed the ceremony, as he enjoyed great prestige among the officers for being the strangest priest and the most inveterate toper of the capital. More than twenty ladies, and almost as many gentlemen, assisted at the service. That over, they all resorted to the Grange to spend the day there. Carriages were not required to go to a place so near the town. But they had the Count of Onis and the Quinones' to convey the bride and bridegroom, and a few elderly people like the two Senoritas de Mere. The guests included almost all the Grandee's party, several of that of the de Meres, and a good number of officers.

The count had the old house arranged as well as possible. It was as well known to almost everybody as their own homes, for being so near the town, and having such a beautiful wood, it was the best place for fetes champetres, and the counts had never refused permission for these occasions. When they had arrived and enjoyed the chocolate, which was waiting for them in the large room, paved with brick on the ground floor, which served as dining-room, they dispersed without ceremony over the house and about the estate, prepared to kill the time as well as they could until the bell rang for dinner.

The bride, with Amalia, who had been her bridesmaid, and two other ladies sat quietly in one of the rooms. Her eyes were shining, her cheeks red, and it was in vain that she tried to conceal the deep emotion she was feeling under a dignified and serious demeanour.

Those in her company, who were all married, caressed her incessantly, passed their hands over her hair, gave her little pats on the cheeks, and sometimes took her by the hands and impressed a kiss on her forehead, with the half tender, half ironical condescension evinced by the long experienced to the novices in matrimony. There is not one who does not feel at the sight of a bride the echo of certain distant music in her heart, the taste of the honey of the remote moon comes to her lips; but it comes, alas! with the bitter taste of several years of matrimonial prose. In every married woman there is a poet disillusioned of his muse. Hence the Byronic smile on her face at the sight of the happiness shining in the eyes of a bride.

Emilita had changed her character in a quarter of an hour. All the playfulness and sprightliness she had hitherto displayed was now changed to gravity and sedateness. She talked wisely with the matrons, her companions, about starting the larder, about domestic servants, who were considered by all to be dreadfully going down, and the price of meat. She seemed to have grown so old in this quarter of an hour that it was surprising not to see some silver threads in her golden hair. To turn to her sisters, they, in strange contrast, seemed to have lost some years since the investiture of the younger one. They had gone back to childhood. Like creatures longing to disport themselves in the light and air, the three rushed into the wood, making the silence that reigned there ring with their voices and innocent shouts of laughter. Virgen del Amporo! how they jumped! how they laughed! What impish tricks those little mad things were up to! For the greater enjoyment of the innocent games that their youthful retrogression demanded, they threw off their mantillas, let their hair loose, took off their gloves, cast aside fan and parasol, did all that youth could suggest, and were as pranksome as any children. Not only was their angelic hair allowed to float upon their shoulders, but they took off watches, rings, and bracelets and handed them to papa, taking him by the collar to give him a thousand caresses, like bright and affectionate children as they were. Then, seeing that some of the officers of the battalion were looking at them, they turned red and confused, pinned up their skirts until the foot and part of the leg was visible, and then ran through the wood, avoiding, like the nymphs of Diana, the ardent glances of the officers.

And when they reached a distant solitary spot, where the shadows deepened, and they were beyond the reach of mundane noises and malicious eyes of men, they shouted with delight like God's little birds to their companions to come and enjoy the delightful quiet where they could display their charms and enjoy themselves without fear of being surprised. Then one proposed to play at skipping and the rest acceded, clapping their hands. Jovita was the first. Jump, jump, until she fell on the grass in a state of exhaustion, pressing her hand to her heart that palpitated with fatigue, not with the insane agitation of youthful passions. Then another jumped, and then another, until they were all exhausted but merry, their rosy cheeks and bright eyes showing the pleasant happiness accruing to an innocent mind. When tired of this they proposed the game of "Let them give unto the kite a little onion with the mite." What laughter and merriment ensued! How the quiet wood echoed with the silvery voices of those beautiful, delicate creatures! Wearied of this game they dispersed for a little. A few formed a group seated at the foot of the trunk of an oak, and went in for the pleasant enjoyment of recounting in a low voice a thousand puerilities; others went in with enthusiasm for the search of little blue flowers, with which they made chains to deck themselves with; others ran after each other like swallows in the air uttering piercing screams the while. The steadier ones devoted their efforts to catching grasshoppers and other timid insects. But they soon reassembled, for a very daring girl proposed climbing a tree if they helped her; and another one said Yes, she would help her. So bear a hand! the spirited girl, who was named Consuelo, set about putting her little feet in the most accessible branches. The wayward companion, who was no other than Socorro, the third of the Pensioner's sirens, helped her. Consuelo finally climbed to where two branches crossed, from thence she got on to another, and all the nymphs applauded, and shouted with enthusiasm.

But lo and behold! Rubio, the lieutenant of the Third, a man known among his companions in arms as a genius in the art of enslaving the opposite sex, suddenly raised his bold head above the bushes. The nymphs, on seeing him, uttered a piercing cry, and stood petrified in the act in which he had surprised them. Consuelo, from the top of the tree, apostrophised him violently. If it had been in her power she would have immediately transformed that new Actaeon into a stag. But there, entre nous, it is possible that she would have preferred first to transform him into a husband, regardless of a more exact rendering of the classical metamorphosis.

But Rubio, the lieutenant of the Third, knew perfectly well what these shrieks and apostrophisings were worth. He was not put out, he smiled maliciously, and called with a rough voice to his brothers in arms. What confusion! What terror among those merry daughters of the wood as the sons of Mars approached in a closed line! Without picking up their mantillas, gloves or parasols, nothing, in short, that belonged to them, they fled through the plantation uttering cries of terror. But the satyrs in red trousers willingly followed them, caught them up, and took them captive with hateful laughter. In the meanwhile poor Consuelo, besieged by three of these bold satyrs, simply declined to come down until they went fifty yards off. But they, the cruel creatures, they refused. The nymph entreated, got angry, and was on the point of crying, but neither her anger nor her tears could soften the stony hearts of the infamous satyrs. At last she resigned herself to coming down, and although she took many modest precautions, they managed to see a foot charmingly shod, and a suspicion of leg, which made them roar with delight. But where was Rubio? Where was the most terrible and fiercest of all? They did not know, but at the end of some time he appeared from the glade, bringing with him Socorro, the most sentimental of Don Cristobal's undines. His cruel features bore an expression of triumph, and hers evinced the shame and submission of a captive. Many hours later, near midnight, seated at a table of the Cafe Maranon, and surrounded by eight or ten of his companions, the lieutenant of the Third related with a malevolent smile his conquest of the nymph, calculating that he had managed to imprint at least twenty-five or thirty kisses on different parts of her bewitching face, and all the sons of Mars applauded and celebrated this fresh triumph of their heroic companion with Homeric shouts of laughter.

Finally the conquerors modified their tyranny, and order was re-established, thanks to the opportune arrival of the Senoritas de Mere, who appeared with Maria Josefa and Paco Gomez. The little ladies, the only ones, in fact, to whom the matrimonial event was due, had turned over their boxes for a befitting toilette for the occasion, and Carmelita wore a dress of black bombazin, which only came out on state occasions, whilst Nuncita, being younger and less sedate, was able to wear a clear dress bordered with flowers, such as are only seen in pictures of the past century. They were very cheerful, satisfaction shone in their eyes, but their legs were not equal to the eternal youth of their hearts; they supported themselves on sticks, and leant with their free hands on the arms of their companions. They were received with cheers and hurrahs. Many rude jokes were levelled at them, to which nobody assented more willingly nor laughed more heartily than the little saints of Mere, so there was little merit in quizzing them. They were never seen to be cross with their friends, and so fun was pushed so far with them that it sometimes bordered on coarseness; but they were very prone to intestine warfare, and to get cross with each other; however, we know the leading feature of these performances.

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