The bold spirit of Lieutenant Rubio, sharpened, by the circumstances, conceived a most happy idea; he thought the best way of passing the time until the dinner-hour would be to construct a swing in which the ladies could be pulled backwards and forwards for some minutes by the gentlemen, who would have the pleasure of managing the apparatus. No sooner said than done. Ropes were found, a board was cut, in less than a quarter of an hour everything was in order. Whilst the arrangements were being completed, Rubio kept on giving expressive winks to his companions, who understood, smiled, held their tongues, and greatly admired the audacity and penetration of the lieutenant of the Third. The swing was now fixed. Who is to be the first? They all evinced the same shame, and the same colour suffused their cheeks. One mischievously thought of suggesting Nuncita. The rest applauded the idea. Nuncita held back in dismay. Carmelita neither conceded, nor withheld her permission. The entreaties were repeated on all sides.
The young men seemed each minute to be more taken with the idea. At last, almost by force, and amid the frantic applause of the party, Cuervo, the herculean cornet of the First, took the "child" up in his arms and seated her on the board.
"Hold tight, Nuncia!" cried Paco Gomez, whilst the aforesaid cornet and some other friends began to swing her.
"Gently! gently!" exclaimed Carmelita.
No fear; they were careful because they were afraid she would fall. But, carefully as they moved the swing, the air gradually began gently to raise her skirts. The officers laughed and went on with the swing until there was quite an exhibition.
"Go it! go it!"
The girls, with mingled amusement and shame, hid their faces, fell into each other's arms, and whispered into each other's ears.
"Stop! stop, gentlemen!" cried Carmelita.
Nobody took any notice. The "child's" clothes went higher and higher. One did not know where they would stop.
"Stop! stop! por Dios, senor cadet!"
"Go it with her!" cried the soldiers.
And the swing went quicker and quicker, and Nuncita was so frightened that she had no time to think of modesty.
"Senor cadet! senor captain!" cried Carmelita all trembling, waving her arms, with her lower jaw distended, beating against the upper one, which was also distended, with a strange trembling. "Senor captain, stop, por Dios! For the love of the Holy Virgin! Stop! stop! stop!"
"So-o-o!" exclaimed Paco.
But the captain was obdurate and would not leave off. The skirts of Nuncita were now as high as they could go. The young girls turned their backs, and some ran laughing to hide themselves among the trees. It was only when the officers had completed their shameless act that they gave in and allowed Nuncita to get down. Her sister, instead of being angry with the guilty ones, flew upon "the child" full of fury, with her eyes flaming with rage.
"Get down, you bad girl! you shameless creature! Is this the education you learnt from your parents? Is this what the confessor tells you to do?"
Nuncita, quite upset, puckered up her face and began to cry.
The young men and women tried to calm the infuriated Carmelita. The captain and the cadet took all the blame. It was in vain. The anger was not appeased until it had vented itself in many violent and offensive remarks. The poor "child," seated sobbing on the ground with her face hid in her hands, excited the compassion of all present, who interceded for her incessantly.
It was then a question as to who was to get up into the swing next? Nobody wished to, which was very natural. How could one be swung by such bold, shameless men? It was in vain that soldiers and civilians explained their conduct in the past event, and solemnly swore not to do it again, but to be orderly and prudent and always under the ladies' orders. But they were not to be trusted. The lieutenant Rubio especially inspired them with a great terror as they considered him, and not without reason, as the instigator of all the shameless tricks.
But when they were quite at their wits' end, lo! and behold Consuelo, the brave, determined child, who shortly before had climbed the tree, whispered to one of her companions, came forward and said, to the horror of the other girls:
"I will do it. Help me, gentlemen."
A cry of enthusiasm greeted these spirited words. For some instants nothing was heard but "Viva Consuelo! viva Consuelo!" from the delighted company. There was not one that did not wish to help her and load her with flowers and presents. The athletic cadet, with a knightly air, knelt on one knee and asked her to place her foot on the other. The intrepid girl, nothing loth, consented, and with one spring she was on the seat. Both soldiers and civilians thought they were in luck's way. They exchanged looks of intelligence, they had no intention of keeping their word, and they were determined to repay the girl's confidence with the blackest treason. But when they were getting the apparatus ready and preparing to execute their malicious design, Consuela made a sign to her friend, who immediately came forward with a handful of pins and fastened her skirts together in such a way that even when the swing moved the point of her foot could not be seen.
The weaker sex applauded with mad enthusiasm.
"Good, Consuelo! good!"
The men, vexed and defeated as they were, dared not protest too much, but they complained of her want of confidence, whilst the maiden herself, proud of the feat, looked at them with a smile of derision. The pins were such a success that no girl got up into the swing without prudently having her skirts pinned together.
Whilst such memorable scenes were being enacted in the wood Jaime Moro, scorning rural pleasures, tried to get Fray Diego and Don Juan Estrada-Rosa to make up a party for a game of tresillo.
He was bored in church, he was bored in the woods, in the town, and in the country. He only recovered his serenity of mind, and regained his equanimity and cheerfulness of spirits, when he took the cards into his hand. Fate was against him. There were no cards in the house. But he did not give in. He went down into the kitchen, called a servant aside who looked sharp and active, and giving him a pourboire, he told him to run to the town and get a couple of packets of cards. In the meanwhile he was strenuous in his efforts to entertain his companions, chatting away on subjects most interesting to them, and, above all, trying to conciliate Don Juan, who showed a decided tendency to go off and take a turn in the grounds and pay a visit to the mill like the other guests. Moro was at his wits' end, fearing he would not hold out till the servant's return, but happily he arrived in time. Directly he held in his hands the much-desired cards he was another man. Secure now of victory, he dragged off his friends to one of the quiet rooms of the house, had a square table brought, candles, beer, cigars, and there they were!
After such a narrow shave of losing it, Jaime Moro enjoyed his pleasure with a gusto that was enviable. A large number of shallower people, without sufficient imagination to understand or enjoy the delights of tresillo, had gone off, with the Pensioner as their guide, to take a turn round the place, and afterwards to visit the new-fashioned mill which the count had had erected a short time ago.
Captain Nunez, the bridegroom, with a few of his friends who were less partial to the feminine sex, such as Garnet, Don Enrique, Saleta, Manin, and a few others, were of the party. They could not get the count to go because he was not to be found. It was said he was giving orders to the men and surveying some works a little way off, but he was not anywhere about. However, a capable sort of half majordomo volunteered to act as guide.
The property was situated on the decline of the same hill as that on which Lancia is built. At the back of the house there was a wood that shut out the view of the town, so that although it was so near it seemed as if it were a hundred miles away; at the same time it protected it against the north and west winds, only leaving it exposed to the gentle breezes from the south and east. The noises of the town did not penetrate as far as there; only the bells of the cathedral muffled by the distance sounded sweetly at certain hours of the day. The high road goes behind the wood. Another little one branching from it brought it into communication with the estate. As we know, there was no park a l'Anglais here, or au Francais, no little gardens, or cascades, or artificial grottoes. It was a property half for amusement, half for work. First came the wood, then the house with its courtyard, then a large deserted garden, and then immense meadows extending along the skirt of the hill as far as the river and even to the opposite bank. Sheep graze in these meadows, and the tinkling of their bells with the barking of the dogs are heard. It is easy to imagine that you are in the bosom of solitary nature, so profound is the peace, only broken by the song of a bird or the moo of a cow.
The excursionists went through the stables that were in good order, for the count was much interested in the cattle. Nevertheless, Saleta affirmed that he had seen much better in Holland, and one or two coarse incidents were here given to show the care of the Dutch in this respect. When they had been over the stables, they took the road across the fields and went down to the river, adorned on either side with alder trees and poplars, which formed at intervals a thick coppice, under which the river made its dark and gloomy way. The Loro is one of the smallest, and yet one of the most original rivers in Spain. Before arriving at the sea, "to die" as the poet says, it makes as many twists and turns as any crafty old fellow, who tries to evade the law to which all created beings are subject. It is impossible to imagine a more capricious stream. It sallies forth, brave and buoyant, as if it were going on for miles straight away to the ocean. But after a quarter of a mile it stops, turns, and meanders back nearly to where it started from, which gives some cause for thinking that it is going to take a higher course. It then starts afresh, not willingly, but by force of circumstances; this time it is lost to view, and everybody thinks it will never reappear, but it is not so. When the sly fox knows that he cannot be seen from the town, he sets about returning to it, but for shame's sake he makes a little detour, and stays a short while at some village near the same district. It never takes a frank and open course. Like all depraved characters it abhors the light, and takes every opportunity of avoiding trouble, by hiding under bushes, where it stops and grows corrupt in degrading idleness. Nobody can trust it. Many fine young men have been deceived by it seeming like an old rheumatic invalid, incapable of taking a step, and following its invitation to bathe where they were made to think it was only about a foot and a half deep, they were miserably drowned in its slimy depths.
In this river there were no naiads of celestial beauty ready to cleave the crystal waters with their alabaster arms, and no gracious undines with fair hair to come forth at night and play upon the surface.
The river Loro is gloomy, inimical to all poetic fancy, no fantastic figures hover there. The only thing it seems to take pleasure in harbouring is a vast quantity of frogs, so large that it makes one giddy to think that a number of them can live together, and the banks resound with the cheerful sound of their harmonious voices, which thundering sound prevented Saleta declaring, as he did when a little distance off, that when on the banks of the Yumuri on a certain evening, he was lucky enough to kill a crocodile with a stone. 'Tis true that under the piercing glance of his colleague Valero, he hastily added that the crocodile was quite young and only had one row of teeth.
They went for some distance along the gloomy bank of the Loro and crossed it by a rustic bridge, where the count had had it turned from its course by means of an aqueduct to work a mill. But just then a sudden desire seized the friends of the bridegroom, who were genuine representatives of the most vigorous and masculine element of the battalion, to show off the strength and muscular power of their legs. A lieutenant jumped the aqueduct. A captain, to be in no way behind the subaltern, did the same, but he got his feet wet. His amour propre being excited, he took off his coat and jumped it again easily. The others did the same. The scene then assumed the appearance of the Olympian games, or still more those of the famous American display. But Nunez was a great jumper. He was well known in all the army, especially in the infantry, as an adept in this art. He jumped three or four times with the greatest ease; but naturally wishing to surpass his companions, and give a striking proof of his skill, he affirmed in a scornful tone that that was nothing, and that he was capable of jumping the aqueduct backwards. These words were received with respect by his colleagues, but also with a silence which the captain took for sceptical. He did not divest himself of a particle of his uniform, such courses were only for neophytes, but took a leap, and arriving at the edge of the water, turned and jumped, but unfortunately his feet were caught in some rushes and he fell flat into the stream. He was hidden for a moment from the sight of his friends, and came up puffing and blowing like a regular triton, saying that it was nothing, and that he was going to jump again to show them how it could be done. But his father-in-law would not allow it. He passed his hands over his body to see if he were wet, as of course he was, and then a prey to the wildest agitation, he, who a short while since would have exterminated the whole army completely, set to bawling:
"He must change his things! Now, at once!—Inflammation of the lungs!—Change his things!—Shivers!—Rheumatic fever!"
And other exclamations more or less coherent that gave proof of his profound interest in the officer's health.
In spite of his martial calling, Nunez acceded to the entreaties, and turned back to the house with his face frowning and furious, fully resolved to undress as far as his underthings, and go to bed whilst they sent to Lancia for a change of clothes. All his friends crowded round him, and so they arrived at the house.
Emilita, who was at the window, seeing them come along like this, asked in surprise:
"What is this?"
"Nothing," cried Papa, "but Nunez fell into the aqueduct."
On hearing these words, Emilita naturally uttered a shriek of horror, and fell senseless into the arms of several ladies. Nunez, transformed into a hero, forgetting his own health, ran to her assistance. In a few moments the place was filled with glasses of water, and two or three bottles of anti-spasmodic appeared upon the scene. When she began to recover consciousness and the critical moment of tears arrived, her sister Micaela, no longer able to control herself, attacked her father violently:
"This has been an act of cruelty! Do you think your daughter has a heart of bronze? You must indeed be deficient in tact to hurt a poor creature like this!"
The poor creature repaid the defence with an affectionate look as she gave her her hand. The Pensioner, being then reduced to the last stage of humility, scarcely dared to murmur, that seeing that Nunez was at her side, there was no cause for so much concern.
The ladies thought that Micaela had been disrespectful to her father, but they could not do less than admit that it had been a blunder, and they were full of sympathy for the unhappy bride.
FERNANDA AND THE WINE
Fernanda was not present at any of these scenes. Early in the day she had resorted to the wood, but soon tiring of playing the part of modest nymph with her friends, she wandered off to more solitary places. Her head, generally so erect, was bowed under the weight of depression or preoccupation; her flexible, supple figure moved from side to side like the body of a bedouin; those dark African eyes, the most precious ornament of the noble city of Lancia, were fixed upon the ground, and the very deep line on her forehead testified to the fixed, gloomy drift of her thoughts.
How much she had gone through these two months! The impression that her love for the count had made in her heart, checked at first by pride and the hope of having it returned, had full sway directly she discovered the secret of his disaffection, and her whole being became possessed with the passions of love and jealousy. These feelings were all the more acute, inasmuch as she clearly saw that she had long been deceived by Luis, who had feigned affection for her whilst his heart was given to another.
The miserable treachery of Amalia enraged her and inspired her with horror and exasperation. But that of the count, it must be confessed, added poignancy to her grief and depth to her passion.
Nevertheless she knew how to maintain the same friendly relations; but in spite of herself, and without her even being conscious of it, a slight shade of bitterness and scorn betrayed itself at times either in her manner, eyes, or tone, which did not escape the attention of the sharp Valencian.
With her ex-fiance she retained a circumspect demeanour; she dropped the aggressive tone she had taken with him, and adopted a more suave and formal manner, but to her vexation, the emotion she experienced when speaking to him was not unfrequently revealed by a slight alteration in her voice, and by her turning alternately red and white. Her inner life during those six months was devoured by a feverish, anxious, uncertain activity, veiled with difficulty under a tranquil, proud demeanour. At times she could not bear the tension of the dumb rage which possessed her, and it vented itself in a torrent of burning, insulting words, which were uttered in a low voice, when she surprised any sign of intelligence between the traitors. Her ardent, proud nature, flattered by a father who indulged her to a fault, and by a score of adorers prostrate at her feet, rebelled like a wild colt against this obstacle, the first she had ever encountered in her life.
In these moments of frenzy she fostered ideas of revenge. She wrote several anonymous letters to Don Pedro, but none arrived at their destination, for she tore them up before posting them, because the pride, that was one of her characteristics, revolted against such a low proceeding; and they were destroyed with bitter tears of anger. After tearing up the last that she wrote she had reason to be glad of her course of action, for she casually learnt that very evening, that no letter reached Quinones without first passing through the hands of his wife.
Sometimes, unable to bear it any longer, she would throw herself into an armchair where she remained for a long time with her eyes fixed, in deep and miserable meditation. At these moments she was a prey to sudden fits of tenderness, she confessed without shame, nay even with voluptuous enjoyment, the love that she felt; she pardoned Luis with all her heart, and vowed to love him all her life long in silence and never to belong to another man. As days went by this feeling increased and took the form of a morbid, irrational desire. The excitement of her feelings, which took possession of her whole being, combined with the bitterness of wounded self-love, fostered this same desire. There was little wanting when she saw Luis at her side to make her open her heart to him and confess the passion that consumed her.
Hardly conscious of what she was doing, Fernanda sought for her ex-fiance all over the place. Everything interested her; the wood, the house, the servants, even the animals grazing in the meadows were accorded a sympathetic glance. How pleasant even that tumble-down house corroded with damp and mice seemed to her! After wandering for some time through the most solitary parts of the wood, she absently made her way to the meadows; there she went along until she came to a certain spot where there were some workmen making a ditch to drain the land. She knew without inquiring that the count after inspecting the work for some time had gone off. She waited for a little while to divert attention, and then she went on with a slow step dragging her parasol along the ground like one who is uncertain where to go next. In fact she did not know, but that was not for want of an object, but because she knew not where the count was. A cruel idea floated in her brain without taking form—she fancied that Luis at that moment might be alone with Amalia. By degrees, as she walked through the fields, the idea gained force, and the stronger it grew, the more her heart was filled with spite and anger. Why? was she not perfectly aware of their criminal relations? Yes, and the more angry the idea made her, the more determined she was not to stand it, for she thought she had a right to prevent their being together. Without having a clear notion of what she was about, she quickened her step. Her nerves became more and more agitated; by the time she arrived at the courtyard she was perfectly certain that the adulterers were together, and alone. She entered the house, and like one who visits it from curiosity she explored it all, even to the most remote little rooms. But she did not find them, and the fact of not finding Amalia anywhere confirmed her suspicions. Tired with hunting about, and excited with nervous anxiety, she went again into the open air. She avoided people who might detain her and repaired to the garden, and directly she put her foot there she was imbued with fresh hope of finding them. That verdant spot where the little trees left to their own sweet will, were so interlaced as to form an impenetrable mass was a perfect place for love passages. She went cautiously and noiselessly along the paths which had almost disappeared under their carpets of grass, intersected in many places by brambles and branches of trees. Sometimes a little clump of irises obstructed her path and she was obliged to jump over it, or else a rhododendron, stretching its boughs to embrace a camellia in front, had formed a bower so low that she was obliged to bend a good deal to get along. She thought she heard the sound of voices a little distance off. She stood motionless and waited for some minutes, and then she turned to listen, and directed her steps to the spot whence it came.
It was them! Yes, it was them.
Before hearing the voice distinctly she knew it was them. They were going down a path much narrower and more secluded than the others, bounded on one side by the wall, and on the other by a high, quickset hedge.
Amalia had hold of the count's arm with an air that was half imperious, half careless, with her eyes on the ground, whilst he, smiling and subservient, bent towards her as he whispered words into her ear. Fernanda watched them through the foliage from a distance. Emotion glued her to the ground for some instants. The awakening of her pride as a woman seemed to outweigh her sense of misery and anger.
After an anxious scrutiny of Amalia's appearance, she could not forbear murmuring:
"What can this man have fallen in love with? Yes, she is a skinny cat!"
Her next thought was:
"What are they saying?"
Seized with a strong desire to hear their words, and without thinking of the danger that she ran, she went nearer and nearer to the hedge, bending her body so as not to be seen. Having found the shadiest, safest spot, she listened, although she could only hear them as they passed by, as soon as they were a little way off not a word was audible, so the snatches of conversation were rather incoherent.
"Her legs are very rough. You should see how fat she is getting. Neither starch nor rose powder soothes the irritation of the skin," said the lady.
"They are talking of the baby," thought Fernanda.
"I have never seen her in her bath. How much I would give to be present one day!"
"It is because you do not want to."
"No, no, but I do not want to expose you to the danger that would accrue from my doing so."
No more could be heard, but she felt she must wait for them to get to the end of the path and then turn.
"So I hear you were at those childish, silly old ladies," she heard Amalia say as they repassed her hiding-place.
"I assure you I was at the Casino. All the members of the club met to discuss the question of the re-decoration of the salon. It was to be over at ten, and we did not get away until twelve. You know the argumentative, aggressive character of Don Juan, don't you? I have not been to the de Meres for an age. Since some people set to——"
The words were here lost again to Fernanda.
That Don Juan must be her father? She would soon find out.
When they reappeared the count was tenderly caressing the hand of his beloved, and smiling and chatting with an expression of rapturous happiness.
"I have often thought of giving up seeing you. At night when I am alone in bed, I am a prey to terrible remorse, and I say to myself, 'There must be an end of this,' and I determine to leave Lancia, and I map out a new plan of life: I imagine myself travelling over all Europe; I forget you; I return at the end of some years, and instead of the old love a tender friendship fills my heart in which we can indulge without fear of Heaven's chastisement. But as the morning dawns, these resolutions vanish; I succumb to temptation; I see you at your house, and the more I see you, the more I hear your adored voice——"
Fernanda clutched at the trunk of a magnolia for support.
As they turned, it was Amalia who was speaking:
"This is not true. I have told you that I am always haunted by a black shadow. However much I pretend to imagine that I am the first——"
"The first and the last! I shall never love another woman but you."
"You don't know how jealous I am of the past. Every day more so. Tell the truth. Did you love her or not?"
"Then how could you——?"
Fernanda could hear no more, but she had heard enough to make the tears rush to her eyes. She was about to withdraw, when she saw the traitors come to a standstill at the end of the path.
Amalia threw her arms around her lover's neck, pressed her lips upon his mouth, and gave him a kiss that was prolonged, prolonged for an eternity. Fernanda closed her eyes; when she opened them they were going away hand in hand.
She lets them leave the garden, and then follows them immediately. Where are they going? Once in the courtyard, she notices that they stop and turn in the direction of the house. She enters on their track, but they have disappeared, and she does not know to which room they have repaired. She imprudently explores them all, overwhelmed with emotion she cannot control, whilst given over to a strong burning desire to find them out.
"Where are you going, Fernanda?" asks a young man.
"I am going to find the bride."
"Then you are going wrong, for she is at the other end of the house in one of the rooms looking north."
She turned back to avoid suspicion, and then explored the building again. At last she arrived at a certain little room which was locked, and which was no other than the celebrated Countess's Chamber. She was about to turn the handle of the door as she had done to the others when a slight sound rooted her to the spot. She put her ear to the door. "It is them!"
She left the place and ran like mad to the wood, where, arrived at a solitary spot, she sits at the foot of a tree and leans her head against the trunk. With her eyes fixed on space, her face changed and sad, and her hands crossed upon her knee, her whole attitude was expressive of dumb, despairing agony.
The hour for dinner arrived. Two parallel tables had been arranged in the large salon on the ground floor.
The dispersed party reassembled at the magic word of dinner shouted to the four winds by the rough voice of Manin and the silvery one of Manuel Antonio.
When poetic sentiments have their course in the open air in the middle of woods they greatly facilitate the secretion of the gastric juices. So the nymphs as well as the fauns did full justice to the olives, the cucumbers, and the slices of sausage before sitting down to the tables. By the unanimous voice of the military and clergy, worthily represented by Fray Diego, the task of giving each guest his seat was to be undertaken by the bride.
The merry, wayward Emilita, transformed suddenly into a very grave matron, filled the office with a tact and amiability that won her the approbation of the assembly; every girl was given the youth she liked best as a partner, and to every older person, was accorded the companion who was most congenial in character and tastes.
But mad was the applause when she put Lieutenant Rubio between the two Senoritas de Mere. She left this facetious act to the last, which cleverness saved the officer from thinking it was intentional.
Finding himself the victim of such a trick the military man was put out, and was even on the point of protesting against this arrangement of Emilita, but he controlled himself against this outrage of all the laws of gallantry; and as he was taking his place it occurred to him to parody the words of Napoleon as he looked at his two neighbours: "From the height of these two seats forty centuries contemplate me."
This remark won the applause of the company, and put the injured creature into a good humour, and he got on so well with his little old friends that he was that evening voted a capital sort of fellow.
Moro was seated by the side of the count, and during the dinner he impressed on him the advantage of having a billiard-table in the palace of the Grange. He knew every make, but the best was indisputably that of Tutau of Barcelona, and he praised up the article as if he were a traveller for the house. Luis' face showed his disappointment and vexation at not being by Amalia, but Emilita neither dared to put him there, nor by Fernanda. The first would have been a scandal, the second a vexation to both.
They feasted like at a banquet in the "Iliad." But the Achilles of this extensive repast was Manin, the rough Manin who, according to those that were next to him, consumed no less than eleven calabashes of wine. Certainly Manin deserved being called, if not a Sueve, as that would offend Saleta, at least a Lombard. He talked and halloed as if he were in the street.
The three Fates of the Pensioner, who from the time Fray Diego gave his blessing to their sister, had gained so much childish grace, threw pellets of bread at the officers, who cast glances at the bride, and winked at their friend Nunez, as they murmured remarks which sent them off into fits of laughter.
Paco Gomez was having a battle royal with Maria Josefa. It was difficult to say which of the two had the worst of it, and which launched the sharpest, most envenomed darts. Saleta being some way off from his friend and censor, Don Enrique Valero, was enjoying himself to his heart's content, relating to Don Juan Estrada-Rosa and two other gentlemen how he made the conquest of a certain English lady, wife of a consul he had known at Hong-Kong, on his way out to the Philippines. The ship only stopped there twenty-four hours. In this short time he won her heart and made her go off with him. But he had to separate from her at once, for the event was made the subject of a diplomatic reclamation on the part of Great Britain.
Manuel Antonio being suddenly seized with a great interest in a scarlet subaltern by his side overwhelmed him with delicate attentions.
"Federico—a little olive—don't take so much mustard, it will spoil it. Keep yourself for the partridges. I know they are most excellent. Do you like Bordeaux? Stop a moment, I will get you some."
And rising from the table in his eagerness to serve, he fetched a couple of bottles and placed them before the youth.
"So Lancia seems to agree with you. When you came six months ago you looked thin and pale. I said, 'What a sad sight, and a young man so bright and pleasant.' Because I thought you were suffering from the chest. I know you had a hard time of it in Barcelona. Eh? and see now, whoever would have thought it? I recollect that when you arrived you wore a gabardine of the colour of flies' wings, very well made, and a scarf of a very pretty sky blue. I recollect that the civil costume suited you very well, but I like you better in uniform. It may be fancy, but I can't help it. I say that with the uniform and with the moustache you are, to my mind, just perfect."
Sundry significant coughs from the officers facing them paralysed him suddenly. But it did not affect him long, for he was incapable of being put to shame by anybody.
The one who was the most put out and cross was the ensign himself.
As the banquet drew to its close some of the gentlemen, favoured by the Muses, rose to propose toasts in verse or something approaching it. And those who had not a poetic vein congratulated the bridal pair in prose, but the result in either case was the same—to wish the bride and bridegroom an eternal honeymoon; and the periodical which announced the marriage the following day, also expressed the same wish. The toast of the father of the bride was the most original and interesting of all. Was it not strange to hear the bitter enemy of the armed force sing its praises, and declare himself a sworn partisan of the increase of the contingent, and the pay of the officers? He was so moved at his own words that the tears coursed down his cheeks. Of course some said he wept the wine he had drunk, but we are far from believing this malevolent insinuation, first, because it is absurd to talk of weeping wine, and secondly, because his tone was so sincere and his manner so pathetic that nobody could doubt that his words came from the bottom of his heart.
"It is a comfort," he said—"yes, it is a comfort that God has let me see my daughter marry an honourable soldier—for to speak of a soldier in Spain is to speak of honour. To keep up the army, to honour the army, is to keep up and honour the honour of the nation. To keep up the army is to keep up the power and prosperity of the country. To keep up the army is to keep up our prestige with the greatest nations of Europe. To keep up the army is to live respected by the world. To keep up the army is to keep up ourselves. To keep up the army——"
"Let the army be kept up, but let Don Cristobal sit down," called out somebody.
The Pensioner held his position, cast a look of sad reproach to the place whence the voice had come, raised his pocket handkerchief to his eyes to dry his tears, calmly drank the wine that remained in his glass, and gravely took his seat amid the applause and laughter of the company.
Fernanda did not open her lips during the dinner. All the efforts of Garnet, who, through the kindness of Emilita had been placed near to his much-desired lady love, were without effect. Neither by talking of saffron and describing how tobacco is gathered, making exact calculations on each load of sugar, and what would be the profit if duty were lowered, nor going over the hundred and one interesting details of the importation of salted meats from the Argentine Republic and the codfish from Newfoundland, could Romeo extract more than dry monosyllables from his Juliet. All she did was to hand him her glass from time to time, and say in an imperious tone: "Some more wine."
The Indian quickly complied with the request, and the young lady emptied the glass at one gulp, put it on the table, then cast her contemptuous eyes over the guests, and fixed them persistently upon Amalia. By degrees those eyes became heavier, the eyelids drooped, they became inflamed and turned from one side to the other with more difficulty.
Don Santos, who was astonished at this manner of drinking, ventured to say:
"Fernanda, you drink like a fish. Stupid! I am afraid I have offended you."
"Give me wine," returned Fernanda, giving him such a strange look that it quite upset him.
All the toasts having been now given, drunk, and responded to, the cheerful company again dispersed. The Pensioner and the officers averse to love-making were the only ones who remained at table. They entered into discussions on the best way of increasing, without much affecting the Treasury, captains' pay by eight dollars, lieutenants' by five, and ensigns' by three a month. Without this reform, the interested parties explicitly stated that there would very soon be a complete dissolution of the army, and it would cease to be the pivot of the honour of the country, and we should never rise to the dignity of other nations, nor have prosperity, power and honour in our lives.
Jaime Moro went in search of Fray Diego and Don Juan Estrada-Rosa and dragged them to the tresillo table. Don Juan had lost and so was reluctant, but the plausible fellow managed to convince him that the reason he had not won in the morning was because he, Moro, never lost at that time, but his luck always turned in the afternoon, so he had a good chance of winning now.
Seated at the end of the table was Manin, who, without interfering with the officers' conversation, employed himself in lazily cutting slices of bread with his clasp-knife, and putting large pieces in his mouth, which he washed down with long draughts of Burgundy left in the bottles. He did not approve of the dinner that Maranon, the master of the cafe of Altavilla, had supplied them. After stuffing like a savage, he said that all the dishes were just as if they came from the perfumers, and that where there was plenty of beans with black pudding, sausage and marrow bones, no macaroni was wanted. It must be observed that to Manin every dish he did not know was macaroni, which was a source of much amusement to the Grandee.
Whilst concluding the meal so indecorously, he kept up a stream of complaints against it, and Don Cristobal, at whom he cast sundry angry glances, seemed to be held in some degree responsible for it.
Suddenly the door was opened with a great clamour, and four girls rushed into the room in such a state of excitement that the little party was quite taken aback. Without paying any attention to the others, they all turned to Quinones' majordomo:
"Manin, a bear! Manin, a bear!"
"Where?" he asked, without moving.
"In the wood."
"Who put it there?"
The four stood astounded at this strange question. At last one of them ventured timidly to remark:
"He came by himself."
"Bah! bah! bah!" returned the majordomo rudely.
And he returned to his lumps of bread with more ardour than ever, which perhaps justified malicious people of the town saying that they did not want to hear of the bears he had killed, for he was nothing but a rustic clown.
"But, child, say how you saw it," said the sympathetic Consuelo, who now put in her word, whereupon one who was paler than the others advanced and said with some difficulty:
"How fearful! Madre mia, how fearful! I thought I should have died—because you see the bear—the bear was horrible."
She was in such a state of panic, that she could only utter these incoherent words.
Then the resolute Consuelo came forward, and said in a firm voice:
"You see, Manin, this child was with us in the thickest part of the wood a long way off. She heard a bird sing, a mavis I believe—was it not a mavis? Very well, then she heard a thrush, and she turned in the direction whence the sound came. She went some distance, but could not come across it. When she turned back, the bear came out of the bushes, it attacked her, pulled her to the ground, and without doing her any harm, we do not know why, it went off and disappeared."
The famous bear-hunter then quietly rose from his seat, and said in the quiet, firm tone pertaining to heroes:
"Let us go and see what it is."
He asked for a gun, and followed from afar by the pallid damsels, he beat the wood. The only thing forthcoming was a German pig, one of a pair that the count had to improve the breed. The female had died, and the male wandered about sad and alone in the depths of the wood whilst his companion was metamorphosed into black puddings and chops. There were strong suspicions that the author of the attack was this widowed hog, but the young lady of the adventure swore and maintained that it had been a bear that had attacked her, and that they were not to tell her it was that animal, because she had often seen a bear in the zoological museum of the university.
Fernanda had gone off some time before with Garnet. They repaired to the garden. There the young lady took his arm and went several times up and down the same path, where she had seen the count and Amalia.
"You are very much in love with me. Is it not so?" she asked, suddenly.
The Indian surprised, murmured: "Oh! yes; they say that I am an ass, and it is true."
"And what do you feel. Come let us see. What do you feel? Explain yourself."
"I, what?" he exclaimed in surprise.
"Yes, what do you feel when you see me? What do you feel when another man comes near me? Take the count for instance. What do you feel at this instant with my arm in yours? Describe me your sensations; what passes in your mind."
"I, senorita.... I don't know how to describe it.....Your word is my law as much as if I were one of your family ... and it is the same with Don Juan your father, although he may be a bit cantankerous.... What does it signify to me if he be cantankerous or not? If I married you, I have a house thank God.... Yes, and it is not because I say it, but my house is worth more than his, as you know. But we would travel first, in France, Italy, England, whereever you like.... And if it cost us five thousand dollars, what would that matter?"
Garnet held forth for some time in this strain, and Fernanda turned a deaf ear to him. At last the boasting tone bored her, and she said, with a touch of anger:
"Will you be quiet, sir?"
Poor Don Santos was quite crushed, and they went on in silence for some time.
"How ugly all this is!"
"Everything! The house, the wood, the meadows, the garden. See how hideous this magnolia is!"
"The house is very ugly, and very old; I have often said so. Still, they might give it a coat of whitewash and paint the balconies. The wood is worth nothing, it is no use, and it takes up space that would be valuable for garden produce, or wall fruit or such like."
Fernanda burst out laughing.
"Don't you suffer sometimes from sadness, Don Santos?"
"Sadness? never. I am always cheerful. Only once when I was robbed of eight thousand dollars by a knave I had an angry fit which lasted for two days."
"How ugly the sun is, now seen through the branches of the trees!"
"Would you like to return to the house?"
"No, take me to the river. I have a burning face, and I should like to refresh it with a little water."
They went down by the meadows to the river, and there the heiress of Estrada-Rosa, in spite of Don Santos' advice, bathed her face for some time. After she had dried it, they slowly ascended the path to the house.
"How am I now? All right, eh? You can't think how everything bores me here! I can't do any more; all this wearies me. I was not born to walk about the meadows like the cows. I like cities, salons, luxury. I should like to travel as you say and see Paris, London, Vienna. How stupid Lancia is! Is it not so? These eternal walks on the Bombe! That San Francisco Park! That tower of the Cathedral so black and so sad! Then always the same faces. The only amusing person in Lancia is yourself. Whenever I see you I cannot help smiling. Why do they call you Garnet? I think your colour is more like a turquoise. You had slaves there in America. Oh! how I should like to have slaves! It is so tiresome to ask for things as a favour! But, no, in America they have yellow fever. I should prefer to go to China."
The more she went on talking, the more excited she became, contradicting her own words, as her thoughts became more and more incoherent. Don Santos tried to make a remark, but she stopped him by putting her hand on his mouth.
"Let me talk, sir! I want to tell you all."
The Indian began to be anxious as the excitement of the girl went on increasing. She chattered away in a familiar, rude sort of way.
"Give me a cigar."
"Fernanda! A cigar! You will be ill."
"Silence! what are you saying fool? I sick! You are trying to annoy me! Give me a cigar or I will leave you here."
The Indian took out his case, and the pretty heiress took one, bit off the top with her sharp teeth, and asked for a match. Garnet gave her a lighted one, at the same time shaking his head in disapproval. When she had taken two or three whiffs, she made a gesture of disgust and exclaimed:
"What infamous cigars! Look, smoke it yourself."
And she put it in his mouth. There was no gesture of disgust with Garnet as he smoked it.
"I should think I will smoke it!" he said with a smile of beatitude. "They cost me two hundred dollars the thousand, but now you have tried one, they are worth a million."
"Come on and don't make impertinent speeches. Take me to the house. This glare sickens me."
They reached the courtyard arm in arm. There a young fellow called out to them:
"Where are you off to? The people are in the wood."
"Tell the people that I scorn them all," returned Fernanda, with an angry gesture that provoked a smile from the youth.
"You don't know the house?" she added, lowering her voice and turning to Don Santos. "Then I will be your guide, you shall see it."
They mounted the mouldy, shabby staircase, and Fernanda, chattering continuously, did the honours of all the rooms to the Indian.
"Here is the celebrated Countess's Chamber!" she exclaimed with a peculiar intonation when they reached it. "I am tired."
They went in and the girl shut the door.
"It is pretty, eh? It is the most beautiful and the brightest room in the house. If this furniture could only tell amusing secrets, it never would have done. Look, tell me something to make me laugh or you will see me cry like a very schoolgirl. See now, I am crying. Sit down here you silly. What a pretty waistcoat you have on! How well it shows the line of the figure! Look at this couch. It is large, eh? It is wide, it is beautiful, it is artistic. Look, then, I should like to burn it. To avoid sitting on it I am going to sit on your knees."
And she suited the action to the words. Garnet lost his head when he found himself with such a sweet burden, and with incredible audacity he put an arm round her waist.
The girl jumped up as if she had been pinched.
"What are you doing, you brute? Do you think that we are in the plantation and that I am some black wild creature?"
After looking at him for some time with angry eyes, her face cleared and her lips expanded in a sweet smile.
"Do you love me very much?"
"Of course not," said the Indian, in a teasing tone.
"Then you shall have one minute's happiness. See, I will let you give me a kiss, mind only one, and you must swear that nobody shall know about it."
The Indian made a solemn promise.
"Good! now give me the kiss here on the temple. The first and the last you will ever give me in your life. Wait a bit," she added once more jumping up. "For this kiss I am to give you fifty buffets on your purple cheeks. Do you agree to the compact?"
Garnet immediately consented. The young girl then reseated herself on his knees, and bent her head to receive the kiss.
"Good! now it is my turn!" she exclaimed with childish merriment. "Prepare to receive your buffets. What cheeks! Dios mio, how magnificent! Do you see how blue they are? Well, I am going to turn them green. Attention! One! the first. Two! the second. Three! the third. Four! Five!"
The strong, small hand of the beautiful vixen struck into the red cheeks of the Indian with no slight effect. His eyes began to get as red and angry as those of a wolf, his blood suddenly became inflamed, and with a sudden movement, he seized her roughly by the waist.
Fernanda uttered a terrified cry.
"What is the matter? Why are you angry?"
"Leave me, leave me, you brute!"
She struggled in desperation but she could not release herself.
Once more free, she was perfectly sober. She cast a vague, strange look at the Indian, and this look, suddenly assuming an expression of horror, was fixed upon him as upon some wild animal that had just attacked her.
"What are you doing here? Ah, yes!" she exclaimed raising her hand to her forehead. "My God! What has come to me? Am I dreaming?"
Then once more fixing her angry, menacing eyes upon him, she cried in a rage:
"What are you doing standing there? Leave the room immediately! Leave the room! leave the room!" she repeated with a voice which grew louder each time.
But when the Indian got as far as the door, she rushed before him, flew along the passages, and when she reached the staircase she fell down in a swoon.
She was lifted up and every care was bestowed upon her. When she recovered consciousness a torrent of tears streamed from her eyes, and continued all the afternoon. And when the party started for home she was still weeping.
"Did you see that this girl of Estrada-Rosa cried from the effects of wine?" said Captain Nunez, laughing.
Shortly before the rosy dawn opened wide the windows of the East, Satan, who rose in a mischievous humour, sent the most knavish and wanton of the demons to Lancia with orders to awaken it from its slumbers. So the minister of hell waved his black wings over the city, and gave vent to loud discordant laughter, which was effectual in arousing all the inhabitants from their dreams. They awoke with the most immoderate desires to upset, make fun of, and laugh at all ruling authorities, to improvise couplets, and say rude things. One of these people, we can imagine it must have been Jaime Moro, called his servant directly he had jumped out of bed, and asked him with a smiling countenance if Don Nicanor, the bass of the cathedral, would lend him his instrument. The servant without replying, instantly left the room, and soon reappeared with an enormous serpent (wind instrument) in his hands. And without any respect for his master, he applied the mouthpiece to his lips and produced a sound like the roaring of a lion. Moro, lightly attired as he was, made a pirouet and gave three or four taps of the heel in sign of great appreciation, as if that barbarous sound had touched the most delicate fibres of his heart. After trying himself to produce the same noise and ascertaining that he was quite equal to the achievement, he dressed himself, and after taking a hurried breakfast, he sallied into the street, wrapped in his cloak, under the folds of which he had put the instrument that had so delighted him. He stopped everybody with a mysterious wink, and retiring to the nearest portico, he, full of excitement, showed them his hidden treasure. Nobody asked what he was going to do with it. They smiled, squeezed his hand significantly, and whispered in his ear:
"When is it to be?"
"To-night. The carriage leaves at twelve."
"They will escape us."
"Bah! all precautions are taken."
And he went on his way muffled up to the eyes, for the cold was indeed diabolical.
The others not only smiled and pressed his hand, but each of them took from the pockets of his overcoat or from inside his gabardine some powerful instrument, albeit of an inferior kind to the above-mentioned one, and Moro applauded and praised each one, without boasting of his own superiority. And so he continued his round-about and tiring walk until he arrived not at Don Romana's confectioner's shop, which was the usual glorious termination of his morning expeditions, but at the house of Paco Gomez. The place resounded with the quick steps and many voices of a number of busy young people. They were all working with great energy, and with a diligence rarely seen in workshops. Some were cutting out banners, others were moulding cardboard masks, some were painting black letters on the sides of a lantern, some were dressing up two guy figures in gorgeous attire, and some were trying the mouthpieces of various wind instruments and serpents similar to that brought by Moro. The scene of action was an immense dismantled room. Paco Gomez lived in the palace of a marquis, to whom his father was majordomo and who never came to Lancia. The implacable practical joker was a vigilant and careful director of all the work of his companions, leaving the room every minute to give orders to the servants, or to receive some message sent to him. Never was he more indefatigable. He was generally rather disagreeable, and even with his jokes he brought to bear a certain scornful manner, either real or assumed, that made him more formidable. But now he strained every nerve in the matter, for it was a question of the most stupendous and best-arranged farce that the town of Lancia had ever witnessed since the monks of San Vicente came to found it. The cause of it was that Fernando Estrada-Rosa was to marry (the pen scarcely dares write it), Fernanda Rosa was to marry (how difficult it is to say it), was to marry Garnet!
From the time of the memorable scene at the Grange, Fernanda lived in a stupor of misery, in a depression of body and soul that alarmed her father. The doctor was sent for, and he said it was nothing more than a nervous attack, which would be cured by a journey to the court, drives and amusements. But the girl absolutely refused to try these remedies. She declined drives, theatres, parties, and, still more, a journey anywhere. She only went from her room to the dining-room, and from thence to her father's room, where she only stayed a short time. She had no energy to go on to the second floor, nor spirit to enter into, and direct the duties of the servants. She was mostly shut up in her own room, where she had nothing to do, and she would throw herself into a chair and remain for a long time motionless with her hands on her knees and her eyes fixed. Sometimes she began to read, but finding that the book conveyed nothing to her mind, she ended by casting it aside. Sometimes she appeared at the window, and remained whole hours with a miserable face upon the balcony, whilst her eyes were fixed on space, or on a point of the street without seeing the passers by, or replying to the many greetings made to her, or noticing that she was making herself an object of curiosity to the neighbours. But all at once she was seized with a desire to go to Madrid, and the journey had to be arranged instantly. She expressed her wish in the morning, and by the evening the father and daughter were in the diligence, so eager and vehement had the girl been in demanding the journey. Once started, her state of mind was completely changed. She threw herself madly and wildly into all the pleasures of Madrid that were attractive to a rich, beautiful, provincial girl. She passed two months in the intoxication of theatres, drives, grand evening parties, and concerts. A nervous sort of cheerfulness seemed suddenly to have taken possession of her, and she appeared happy in the midst of the noise and whirl of society, where she was soon known by the nickname of "The African." To add to the gaiety of her life, she liked to dine at cafes and restaurants like a dissipated youth. Don Juan was divided betwixt his pleasure of seeing her contented, and the acute sense of discomfort that the disorganised life, so contrary to his usual habits, and age, caused him.
One afternoon, as they were returning from the drive on the Prado, Fernanda suddenly began sobbing violently. Don Juan was astonished and taken aback, for she had been laughing all the afternoon, and making fun of a certain youth who persisted in following the carriage.
"What has come to you? Fernanda, my daughter!"
The girl did not reply. With her handkerchief to her eyes, and her body shaken by her sobs, she only wept more bitterly.
"Fernanda! por Dios! people are looking at you!"
The crying then changed to an attack of nerves, and Don Juan told the coachman to drive home at once. But before arriving there, the young girl ceased weeping, raised her head, and said in a tone of determination:
"Papa, I want to go back to Lancia!"
"All right, my daughter; we will go to-morrow."
"No, no; I want to go now, at once."
"But think, there is only one hour before the train goes."
"There is plenty of time."
There was nothing to be done but to have their things packed in the trunks and to rush in haste to the station, and the nerves of the excited girl were only somewhat calmed when the whistle of the engine announced their departure and they were off over the arid tracts of land outside Madrid.
The day following her arrival at Lancia, she did not appear to greet her father, nor to take chocolate with him as usual. When the father was thinking of calling her, a servant suddenly entered his room looking pale and agitated.
"The senorita is taken very ill!"
Don Juan repaired to his daughter's apartment, and found her in all the agonies of violent sickness.
"Quick! fetch the doctor!" cried the poor father.
Fernanda made a negative gesture, and weakly muttered: "No; send for the father confessor."
But no notice was taken of this remark. The doctor came, and after carefully considering the case, he called Don Juan aside and said to him:
"Your daughter has taken a large quantity of laudanum."
"For what?" asked the father without understanding.
"For the reason that these quantities are generally taken—to poison herself."
"Daughter of my soul! what have you done?" cried the unhappy parent, and he was about to rush back to his daughter's room, but the doctor detained him.
"She is in no danger now. She has brought up all the poison, and with the medicine I am going to give her she will soon be quite herself. The important thing now is to avoid a repetition of the act."
"Oh, no! I will see about that."
And he ran to his daughter's room, but he could not get a word out of her; she persisted in asking for the father confessor. At last he went himself to fetch the priest, and soon returned with him.
During the confession Don Juan walked up and down the wide corridor of the house, a prey to burning curiosity. At last the father confessor appeared, and without replying to the father's dumb look of inquiry, he took him by the hand and conducted him to his own room, where they shut themselves in. When they came out at the end of an hour the old banker's cheeks were on fire, his white hair was in disorder, and his eyes showed signs of weeping. He bade farewell to the canon on the staircase and went back to his room, where he remained with the door locked. There he stayed all day and all night, without heeding the messages that his daughter sent him to come and see her.
The father confessor offered himself to interview Garnet and make all the arrangements. The Indian chuckled with delight when he learnt what was wanted. But his plebeian nature and avarice, which had always been his ruling passion, turned his head. When the canon came to discuss the matter with him, he found him completely changed; he hesitated, grunted, shook his head, talked in broken phrases of the luxury that Fernanda had been brought up to, and of the great expenses accruing to matrimony. In short, he asked for a dot. The father confessor, who was a just man, full of feeling, could not contain himself before such low conduct, and he overwhelmed him with insults. But the churl did not mind that. Being sure of Don Juan's daughter, he stood his ground, laughed like a beast, scratched his head, and muttered some coarse remark which increased the canon's anger.
When, with many evasions, he had to acquaint Don Juan with what had happened, the disgraced parent was nearly mad with despair and anger. He tore his hair, used very strong language, and spoke of shooting his daughter and then himself. With much trouble the canon succeeded in calming him. At last he listened to reason and the negotiations went on, and after disputing like merchants over the amount of the dot, it was settled what it should be, and Garnet consented to give his toad-like hand to the most highly prized girl in Lancia at that time.
But the worst had to come. Fernanda had to be told. When she learnt that a marriage was arranged between her and Don Santos, she was utterly overwhelmed with dismay, and she fainted away. When she came to, she plainly said that she would never do it, no, not if they flayed her alive. Neither her father confessor's remarks, nor the prospect of disgrace, nor the tears of her father, could persuade her. It was only when she saw her frantic parent put the mouth of the revolver to his temple to take his life, that she rushed to stop him, promising to accede to his wish. And this was how this unnatural marriage came about.
When the noble sons of Lancia learnt the arrangement, they were all overwhelmed with disgust. An immense wave of shame swept into their cheeks. This wave of feeling only came to Lancia with such marked effect when there was a question of fate favouring some Lancian more than was just. If somebody drew a successful lottery ticket, or got some good appointment, or if it were a question of a marriage with a rich woman, or a great success in business, or somebody got famous by his talent, the fine perspicacity of the inhabitants of Lancia was in revolt, and at once set to work to depreciate the money, the talent, the instruction or the industry of the neighbour, and to put things in their true light. Such a feeling might easily be confounded with envy, nevertheless the truly observant would soon gather from the remarks in the gatherings at shops and in the gossips in the streets, that it was only love, albeit it might be too warm, which prompted them to deteriorate the merits of their neighbours and thus generously to renounce the reflected glory which might have accrued to them from a false conception of their value. The marriage of Garnet caused profound astonishment, which was followed by an outcry of indignation. Never were the cheeks of Lancians so dyed with shame as they were at that moment; not even when the press of Madrid happened to eulogise a certain comedy written by a son of the place. What rude remarks ensued, first against Don Juan, and then against Fernanda! Strange to relate, the young men were wild with rage; they maintained that legislation was deficient if it had no power to prevent such unnatural proceedings. The result of all this was that the turbulent feelings aroused by the news were to be vented by the youths of Lancia in a stupendous farce, of which we have witnessed the inaugurations, to testify to their profound disgust at such an out-of-the-way marriage.
The persons concerned heard of the plan, and they tried to evade the blow by keeping the day of the ceremony secret, and then to have it celebrated outside the place. But their precautions were of no avail. The young men found out that the marriage was to be in the early days of February at the estate that Estrada-Rosa had, half a mile from Lancia. Spies were placed in the Calle de Altavilla and round about Garnet's house to prevent them going off unobserved, and a thousand ingenious plans for the annoyance of the bridal pair were hatched in the most fertile brains of the town. As the preparations for the carnival were at the same time, it was decided that the first blow should be in the form of a great burlesque masquerade that was to leave the house of Paco Gomez at twelve o'clock and parade the streets. In a carriage drawn by four oxen arrayed in pink calico, with their horns adorned with branches there were three mummers which were supposed to represent Fernanda Estrada-Rosa, her father, and Garnet, the latter in a cocked hat. From time to time the carriage stopped, and they performed such a ridiculous farce that the people roared with delight, and crowds gathered to witness it. Fernanda was made to kiss Garnet with transports of enthusiasm, and he being smaller could only encircle her with his arms below her waist, and Don Juan meanwhile was laughing and shaking a bag of money. Occasionally another mummer appeared from the bottom of the carriage, and he was supposed to represent the Conde de Onis. He gave Fernanda a kiss, turned his back on Garnet, and then vanished as quickly as he came. As this pantomime was to be performed in the Calle de Altavilla, in front of Estrada-Rosa's very house, the scandal was dreadful, and the crowds immense. Don Juan in a paroxysm of anger acquainted the Governor, who was a great friend of his, with the facts, and determined to leave with Fernanda the next day. The malicious youths, who had foreseen this determination, had contrived means to render it ineffectual, and they had prepared as we have seen a grand performance of rough music for the night.
It had to be ready betimes, for the marriage had not yet taken place, but they did not want them to escape without it. Armed then with as many noisy instruments as they could muster, with great glass slides on which were painted the same grotesque figures of the carriage, with coarse designations below, three hundred youths assembled in Altavilla with torches in their hands, and they were accompanied by half the people of the place, who encouraged them with their laughter. The noise was horrible. When it ceased, a voice was heard to shout some indecent couplet, upon which the hilarity became outrageous. Lieutenant Rubio, always original, crept along the cornice of the chapel of San Fructuoso, situated almost in front of Estrada-Rosa's house, and rang a bell. Paco Gomez went swiftly from one group to another prompting them in the most insulting couplets, so that the chief points should be given in the loudest tones. Moro went on blowing his serpent enough to hurt his lungs, whilst the Chatterbox who had been one of the most active promoters of the "rough music," treacherously entered the house of Don Juan, pretending to come like a faithful friend, when in reality he was spying out what was going on there. But the political chief thought it was time to officiate as Neptune and calm the stormy waves. When the "rough music" had got so far, he sent to Altavilla, Nola, the head of the municipal guards, accompanied by two of the company, who happened to be Lucan the Floren and Pepe le Mota, with orders to stop the scandal and clear the street. The Lancians had long given up recognising the divine origin of authority, when it was represented by Floren, or Pepe le Mota. And not only did they cast a doubt upon their right divine, but when they saw them from afar the spirit of rebellion seemed to increase. Was this because the Lancians were predestined by the blind impulses of their nature to war against the established order? It is not very probable. None of the historians of Lancia have noted rebellion against institutions as an especial characteristic of the race. It is more natural to suppose that what irritated them most was the nose of Nola, which was just like the button of an electric bell, and the unpleasant voice of Lucan the Floren, and the monstrously bent legs of Pepe le Mota. Besides, these respectable agents of government authority were quite cognisant of the anarchical tendencies manifested sometimes by the people of Lancia. But they never thought that their appearing without proper precautions among the crowd of Altavilla, would entail their leaving it without truncheons, without sabres, without kepis, and with buffeted cheeks. Nevertheless, such is the recorded account.
The political chief, not wishing to submit blindly to the decrees of fate, sent immediately for the lieutenant of the civil guard to come with eight of his company, to avenge the unfortunate Nola, Lucan, Floren, and Pepe le Mota. Inflamed with success the harlequins of Altavilla tried to resist. In the meanwhile the lieutenant, a prey to martial ardour, ordered all swords to be unsheathed, and with a fierce smile he charged upon the crowd like a wild boar, and all the Lancians were terrified at the sight. There was a strong tendency to retire from the field of battle, but at that moment somebody infused courage into their hearts by holding out deceptive hopes of victory. "Down with the civilians!" "Down with the cocked hats!" "Death to the potato-face!" Such were the seditious cries that issued from the throats of those rash youths. And some stones were thrown at the same time. The trombones, bassoons, and cornets a piston, of which the harmonious strains had accompanied so many mazurkas in the bosom of peace, were suddenly transformed into warlike weapons, shining formidably in the light of the torches. The cocked hat of the lieutenant was struck ignominiously to the ground by one of them. Whereupon he picked it up, and his bellicose spirit was so stirred, that a line of foam encircled his lips, and he rushed into the battle with his eyes aflame and breathing hardly. Then the youths of Lancia rallied with renewed vigour, whilst menacing cries filled the air, and the swords of the civilians were soon heard upon some of their backs.
The retreat of the fine young fellows of Lancia on that memorable night, when pursued by the bloodthirsty civilians, was like the flight of a herd of deer from jackals.
The ground was strewn with bronze instruments, witnesses of the fray. The indomitable lieutenant gave vent to his anger for some time in the streets, animating his company with strong interjections, and urging his party on to the pursuit of the rebels, like a hunter calling his pack of hounds in pursuit of a stag.
Thus it was that Paco Gomez, being persistently followed by cocked hats, found himself obliged to avoid a blow by jumping into the larder of the confectioner shop of Don Romana, where he fell headlong to the ground on a dish of soft eggs, and completely destroyed a magnificent burrage tart destined for the precentor of the cathedral. And it was the same with Jaime Moro, who, after losing Don Nicanor's serpent in the fray, narrowly escaped being immolated by the magnificent sabre of a civilian. It was only by taking the precaution of lowering his head, when the blow was struck, that he escaped an effusion of blood. The sword came in contact with the wall of a house, doing no little damage thereby; and months afterwards, Moro delighted in showing as a trophy the piece that was broken away, to strangers who came to Lancia, and with the relation of his prowess on that memorable night, his heroic heart was filled with pleasure.
Many others of those magnanimous youths underwent considerable discomfort from their conduct; some from the sword-cuts, and the majority from the falls and the shocks which resulted from the disbandment. Nevertheless the victory was not gratuitous for the agents of the government.
Besides the destruction of the cocked hat of the lieutenant, and several contusions of his subordinates, the constitutional power suffered an important reverse in the person of one of its oldest representatives—in the person of Nola, the head of the municipals. As we know, this person, who was so unpopular in Lancia on account of the shortness and excessive roundness of his nose, lost in the first struggle his kepis, his sword, and the honour of his cheeks. Anger and revenge reigned in his heart. But he could not do anything to gratify these feelings, because he was deprived of all coercive means. Instead, however, of prudently retiring to the portal of the Ecclesiastical Court, like Floren and Pepe le Mota, he remained in the middle of the street contemplating the battle with anxiety, and on seeing that it was going in favour of the institutions that he represented, delight overflowed his municipal heart.
"Good luck to the guardians! Long may they have it! Down with the rabble! These vagabonds are punished for once!"
Such were the bellicose cries that issued from his throat. Nevertheless, when least expected, considering that his enemies were flying in complete confusion, he received a blow on his button of a nose from what turned out to be the smooth, compact surface of a piece of lime. The whole of his nervous system was affected by the blow, and being unable to withstand such a shock, he fell senseless to the ground, after his brave spirit managed to utter the melancholy remark, "I am undone! These shameless fellows have done for me!"
So fell that valiant supporter of order, that brave fellow, who had always been victorious in his incessant struggles with the vagabonds of the suburbs. He was lifted up and taken into Don Matia's apothecary's shop which happened to be near. From thence he was taken to the hospital, and the town lost its protecting shield for some days, for neither Lucan el Floren nor Pepe le Mota could be compared with Nola in energy. Whilst these events were going on in Altavilla and the adjacent streets, Don Juan Estrada-Rosa, a prey to indescribable rage, was pacing his room and tearing his hair. The hypocritical consolations of the Chatterbox, or as he was also termed the Magpie of Sierra, were powerless to calm him; and he talked of rushing into the street and avenging himself upon the insolent mob.
"What has my poor daughter done to them?" he exclaimed with a trembling voice which nearly broke into sobs.
Fernanda had retired early to her room and gone to bed. It is difficult to know whether the excitement in the street conveyed anything to her or not. When Don Juan after a sudden resolution went up to her room to waken her, the eyes which encountered the candle that he lighted, were dry and brilliant, without signs of having either slept or wept. He told her to dress immediately, and he gave orders to the servants to light all the lights of the house, so as to deceive those without, and he then went out with her by the coachhouse door which led into a little solitary street. They were only accompanied by Manuel Antonio, and they went by the quietest streets to the house of the Pensioner. Once there, they sent a message to Don Santos for him to come immediately and another to the father confessor. When they had both arrived, the father, daughter, and these two gentlemen, with Manuel Antonio and Jovita Mateo, sallied forth secretly from Lancia by the high-road of Castille. After going some way they waited for the coach that Don Juan had ordered. The six had to manage as best they could in the little carriage, and it fell to Manuel Antonio's lot to sit on the box. Half an hour later they were at the banker's country-house. An altar was quickly erected, and before the morning broke, the father confessor blessed the union of the affianced pair. Fernanda did not open her lips the whole way, and she preserved the same silence during the preparations for the ceremony. She appeared tranquil, in a state of absolute indifference, or rather of somnolence, like a person who having been violently awakened from a dream is hardly conscious of what is going on around. And this lethargy continued after pronouncing the "Yes" before the altar. Neither the affectionate, eloquent conversation of the priest, nor the incessant jokes of Manuel Antonio during the breakfast, nor the caresses of Jovita, nor the assumed rough sort of cheerfulness of her father, could draw her from her strange absence of mind. The day broke, a sad, foggy day that filtered through the windows in a melancholy fashion. They all did their best to seem cheerful; they talked in a loud voice, they made fun of the servant's dullness, and Manuel Antonio's fear of some contretemps. Nevertheless, a deep sadness pervaded the atmosphere. When there was a pause in the conversation, the brows wrinkled and the countenances darkened, and when it was resumed the words sounded melancholy in the luxurious dining-room.
The bride retired to change her dress, and she soon reappeared with the same impassive demeanour.
According to Don Juan's arrangements they were to go immediately to the next town and there take the postchaise. The insulting people of Lancia were thus to be frustrated. When they went down to the garden, where the carriage was waiting, a cold, fine rain was falling. Fernanda kissed her father and got into the carriage. On receiving that kiss on his cheek, the poor old man felt as if a current of cold air passed through him paralysing his members and freezing his heart.
The priest cried:
"Good-bye, Fernanda, take care of yourself, Fernanda. Good-bye, Santos. Come back soon."
And so they were off. In less than an hour they arrived at Meres, waited for the diligence, and got in. The attentions of Garnet could not provoke a smile or gracious word from the lips of his bride, but his grotesque gestures and the nonsense that he talked sometimes brought a look of fatigue and disgust into the young girl's marble face. She slept at intervals or looked with vacant eyes at the landscape. When they arrived at the neighbourhood of Leon it was night.
But what happened at Leon? On arriving at the place, where the diligence changed horses, they found a large crowd of people, they heard rough voices and the discordant sound of musical instruments with the jingling of bells, and large transparent pictures were seen waving over the crowd.
Paco Gomez, being richer in resources than Ulysses, had written beforehand to some friends of his at Leon, suggesting that they should organise some rough music when Garnet and his bride passed that way. Everything was in readiness. Nevertheless the preparations would have come to naught had it not been for the treachery of Manuel Antonio, for on his arrival at Lancia he secretly made Paco acquainted with all that was taking place. Whereupon Gomez profited by the telegraphic communication, recently instituted, and put himself in communication with his followers. Fernanda was some time in realising that this excitement was on her account, but when some cries that reached her ears made her sensible of the fact she turned pale, her eyes dilated, and uttering a cry she threw herself against the little window with the intent of throwing herself out, but Garnet caught her by the waist. The young girl struggled for some moments in fury, but not being able to free herself from those strong bear-like arms, she threw herself back in the seat, covered her face with her hands, and burst into passionate sobbing.
Dios mio! Her sin had indeed been great, but what a fearful punishment!
FIVE YEARS AFTER
Five years have passed. The noble city of Lancia has changed little in appearance and still less in customs; several gilded cages in the form of gorgeous houses, built with Indian money round about the San Francisco Park; foot-ways in various streets that never had them in former times, three more lamps in the Plaza de la Constitucion; a supplementary municipal guard that owed its existence, less to the necessities of the service, than to the efforts of the justice of the peace, a fellow of excellent ideas almost entirely devoted to Venus, and whose propitiatory sacrifices to Vulcan were only made at the expense of the municipality; in the Bombe promenade a few bronze statues with falling drapery of which the erection caused great scandal, and the magistrate Saleta was informed at the Grandee's evening party that the half nude was a hundred times more suggestive than the complete; a few silver threads in the heads of our old acquaintances; and the radiant countenance of Manuel Antonio, the most fetching of all the sons of the famous city, showed signs that his beauty was on the wane, like a dream fading in the cold wind of morning, or snowdrops falling in the silence of a day in winter.
The same vegetative, dull, sleepy life; the same gatherings in the shop-parlours, where the sweets of slander were regaled; and personal nicknames still weighed like lead upon the well-being of several respectable families. On sunny afternoons there were the same groups of clerics and military airing themselves in the Bombe. The great bells of the cathedral continued to peal at certain hours, when old lady-devotees were seen hastily wending their way to the service of the rosary, or nones, and the monotonous voice of the canons sounded solemnly in the silence of the old vaulted aisles.
In Altavilla at the evening hour the eternal groups of youths still laughed and talked in loud tones still loth to let any pretty dressmaker, or plump servant-maid pass by without rendering them homage with their eyes or lips, and not seldom with their hands. And there in the heights of the firmament there were the same clusters of greyish clouds heaped together in solemn silence over the old cathedral to listen on melancholy autumn nights to the wind moaning through the high tin arrow on the tower. We are in November. The Conde de Onis was accustomed to ride on dull days as well as fine. The society of men pleased him less and less. His character had become more secretive and melancholy. Sin had destroyed the feeble germs of cheerfulness which nature had put in his heart. The gloomy, extravagant, fanatical temperament of the Gayosos had been increased by the incessant gnawing of remorse, his imagination was distorted, his slight activity enervated, and his whole existence darkened.
People worried him. He imagined hostility in their glances, and he saw hidden meanings in their most innocent remarks that made his blood boil with rage. He never dared enter churches, nor fall on his knees as formerly before the bleeding crucifix in his mother's room. If he heard hell mentioned, he fled in terror. He gave plentiful alms to churches, and paid for Masses he never heard; he put candles before the images, and in the privacy of his chamber he puerilely amused himself in asking fate, by the tossing of money, whether he would be eternally damned or whether he would only go to purgatory. When he heard the chant of priests going to a funeral he grew pale, trembled and stopped his ears. At night he would suddenly jump up from sleep in a cold sweat, crying miserably: "There is nothing but death, nothing but death!" For some time he lived thus in almost utter retirement without going out more than he was made to by her, whose will ruled his own. But at last his suffering became too intense, and he feared his gloomy thoughts would upset his reason, so he took to riding or walking in the country until he was tired out. The physical fatigue relieved his mind, and the sight of nature soothed his tormented imagination.
It was a dark, cold evening. The clouds pressed heavily upon the hills looking towards the north, and hid the high mountains of Lorrin that stretch like a distant curtain in the west. Heavy rains had fallen converting the low part of the town into a lagoon, and the roads, which went from thence, into seas of mud. In spite of this, the count ordered his horse to be saddled. He left Lancia by the Castilian Road, and galloped amid splashes of mud across meadows and chestnut woods. The yellow leaves of the trees shone like gold, a thousand little streams made their uncertain way down the base of the hill where the waters were deposited on the pasture land with its gentle soft green undulations. A darker fringe marked the stream of the Lora, which hides itself mysteriously under the osiers and thick lines of alder trees. The count, with his head thrown back and his eyes half closed, inhaled with delight the fresh humidity of the afternoon. The road flanked the hill in gentle decline. Before crossing it, and losing sight of the town, he stopped his horse and cast a look back. Lancia was a heap, albeit not large, of red roofs over which waved the dark arrow on the cathedral spire. Below was a yellow spot—the oak-wood of the Grange, and a little lower down were the old orange-coloured turrets of his solitary house. The rain had ceased. A cold wind dispersed the clouds and scattered them behind the mountains; the sky became clear with the pale blue of autumn days, and a few stars appeared like diamonds in the horizon. The trees, mountains, streams and verdure-clad valley shone indistinctly under the clearness of the twilight. The count again put his horse to a gallop and quickly descended the hill which hid Lancia from view. The wind affected his senses and whistled in his ears producing a sweet intoxication that dissipated the black clouds of his imagination. Along the muddy road he only met a stray herd of cattle with its driver, or a waggon drawn leisurely by oxen, in which the carter carelessly slept at the bottom. But before turning a corner he thought he heard the distant sound of wheels and bells. It was the coach that arrived at Lancia in the evening. As it passed by him, he cast an absent glance into the interior, two large shining eyes encountered his own, which gave him a sort of an electric shock. He quickly turned his head again, but there was nothing then to be seen but the back of the coach disappearing in the distance. He pulled the rein of his horse and followed it, but after a few moments in a stunned sort of way stopped ashamed, and went on with his ride.
"It must be Fernanda." A passing, but very definite feeling told him the fact. Nevertheless he might be mistaken. He had heard no news of her arrival. He knew that she had been a widow for some months. Garnet had at last met his end like an ox from a fit of apoplexy. But at the same time everybody knew that the widow of the Indian bore a deadly hatred against Lancia ever since the humiliating practical joke that her compatriots had played on her at the time of her marriage. The fact of her not having come there at the death of her father the preceding year was a clear proof of it. The Count thought of all this for some minutes, and then put it from his mind, for his thoughts were changed by the sight of a dark thick cloud which presaged another storm. But something indefinite and sweet remained in his mind, which put him in a good humour. He turned the horse and arrived at Lancia very late in the evening, very tired, and covered with mud; but his heart was light and cheerful without his knowing why.
Fernanda never hesitated for an instant. She saw him, and knew him so well, that she even noticed the marks that time and care had left upon his face. He seemed older, and she thought she saw silver streaks in his long red beard. At the same time she was agreeably impressed by the suffering, anxiety, and sadness that she read in the eyes that rested an instant upon her. The memory of her old fiance had always remained green in the depths of her heart. Neither treachery, scorn, nor the thousand distractions to which she resorted in her frivolous, restless, Parisian life had been able to destroy it. If she had found happiness in the power of wealth and health, she would not have been open to that soft wave of sympathy which delighted her for an instant. In such perverse pleasure in the count's sadness there was the bitterness of the slighted woman, but there was also a certain breezy, vapourous feeling like hope, which sang and laughed in her soul, and dissipated the black thoughts which had accumulated in her mind. It was necessity, and not will which obliged her to return to Lancia where she had vowed never again to set her foot. Her husband had made a will in her favour, which his brothers had disputed, and the consequence was a lawsuit, which was soon given in her favour.
She came accompanied by an old servant of her father's, whom she had made her dame de compagnie, and a majordomo. From Madrid she had telegraphed to a cousin who, with Manuel Antonio, two of the daughters of Mateo, and a few more friends were awaiting her arrival on the badly paved Place of the Post, where the diligence stopped. And then followed embraces, huggings and kisses, questions, exclamations and tears. The offended heiress of Estrada-Rosa never thought she could have felt so much pleasure in returning to her native place. In the ardour of their affection, her friends almost carried her off to her house. There they all left her with the exception of Emilita Mateo, to whom Fernanda signed to remain. Then the two friends, with their arms round each other's waists, went slowly up that wide polished staircase which Fernanda had so often trod as a child with bare feet. They soon shut themselves in the old library of Estrada-Rosa to enjoy an hour of sweet confidences. Amid smiles, kisses, and vows of eternal friendship the history of those five years was told. Fernanda talked of her late husband in a tone that lapsed from compassionate to depreciative, for she had lived with him in a state of antagonism of ideas and tastes that had kept them apart. She had been neither happy nor miserable. They had been five years of excitement, filled with crowded streets, splendid theatres, magnificent hotels, gorgeous dresses, many acquaintances, and not a single friend. Her husband devoted himself to the satisfaction of her fancies like some wild bear who obeys the whip of the keeper with growls. They had had one child that had died at four months old.
The skittish Emilita was very unhappy in her marriage. Nunez had turned out a fast man. Fernanda knew something about it, but not much. It is not easy to go into certain significant details in letters. He began very well, but then he went wrong with bad companions; at first he took to gambling, then to drinking, then he went after women, and it was this last that Emilita felt so deeply. She had willingly pardoned him all the rest. She had borne his coming home drunk in the early hours of the morning, she had pawned her earrings and her mantilla for him, but she could not stand seeing him going into the house of a bad woman who lived in the Calle de Cerrajerias. On saying this the Pensioner's daughter burst into a torrent of tears. The sight of her trouble was the more distressing, as a piquant sort of cheerfulness had always been her peculiar characteristic. Fernanda caressed her tenderly and wept with her. After some minutes silence she said:
"But do you go on loving him?"
"Yes, girl, yes," she exclaimed with rage, "I cannot help it. I am more and more blindly in love."
"Well, por Dios! Your poor father must be very much put out."
"As you can imagine! And the worst of it is," she added, weeping bitterly, "that now he has returned to his mania against the army. He says awful things about soldiers! Yes, yes, awful! Directly I enter the house he begins going on, on purpose to annoy me. My sisters support him. They call us idle good-for-nothings, and say that the contingent ought to be reduced."
Here the tender heart of the wife of Nunez was torn with sobs. Fernanda, who had also cried at the sight of her affliction, could not help smiling.
"Your sisters, too?"
"I should think so! They all—they all want it to be reduced!"
When the daughter of Estrada-Rosa had shown her that the reduction of the land forces was not so easy as it seemed, her spirits gradually rose. Then they arranged a surprise for the Lancian society. Fernanda was to appear that evening without previous announcement at the house of Quinones. The idea filled them both with childish delight, and after concerting the details, Emilita went off, promising to return and fetch her friend. It was ten o'clock when they both mounted the stone steps, which were as damp as ever, of the large seignorial stairway of the Quinones. On arriving at the top, Emilita would not let the servant announce them, but opened the door herself, and pushed Fernanda in. She was an apparition calculated to throw all the guests into ecstasies. The daughter of Estrada-Rosa was resplendent in a most elegant dress from one of the first modistes of Paris. Her beauty, which her compatriots had only known in the bud, had blossomed during the five years of refined and elegant life into a magnificent rose. She had always been admired for the dignity of her bearing, the brilliancy of her large dark eyes, and the delicacy of her skin, but her beauty had acquired in Paris the necessary adjuncts of the most finished manners, and a perfect taste in dress—two distinctions she would never have attained in Lancia. Her black silk dress revealed her neck and shoulders, and a few strings of pearls, twisted in her hair, were all the ornaments she wore. Amalia was the first to see her, and the sight of her beauty caused a sudden chill at her heart, but she recovered herself immediately and ran to greet her.
"Oh! I knew you had arrived, but I never thought you would be so kind as——"
Their eyes met and that glance revealed the hatred that burned in the depth of their souls. But circumstances were changed. Five years ago Amalia had been the most elegant and distinguished lady of the place; the only one whose bearing and refinement of manners had raised her to a more cultivated and spiritual sphere. But Fernanda now had the advantage of her, for the former had visibly aged. Many silver threads were noticeable in her hair; her complexion, always pale, had lost its freshness; then her desire and taste for dress had palled, and she had gone on taking the tone of the ordinary commonplace society surrounding her, and so had become more and more careless of her appearance. A bitter smile wreathed her lips, as she exchanged the necessary greetings with Fernanda, who enjoyed her triumph with a grave, serene content.
The ladies immediately surrounded her. There was a rush of kisses and embraces, accompanied with loud expressions of delight. The men, who formed a circle behind, also stretched out their hands and pressed that of the beautiful traveller. And between so many congratulatory and pleasant greetings, and either from forgetfulness or shame, nobody dared make any remark about the loss that the young girl had recently sustained, and so there was no allusion made to the cross old bear who slept his eternal sleep in a cemetery at Paris. When the excitement of the greetings had somewhat abated, Amalia took her smilingly by both hands and exclaimed as her eyes swept over her costume:
"Do you know mourning is very elegant in Paris?"
Fernanda made a moue of disdain.
"Dress is of little importance if mourning is in the heart," said Maria Josefa, whose tongue had grown considerably sharper in the five years that had passed.
Fernanda's cheeks flushed red. She was as ashamed as if it were a crime at not feeling the loss of Garnet. Then, irritated by the sense of antagonism, she was on the point of showing her vexation; but she turned her back and began talking to some other ladies.
At that moment the Conde de Onis came out of the library and advanced to greet her. She gave him her hand with an affectionate smile. Nevertheless, the dark circles round her eyes betrayed her emotion. To hide her feelings she went on to the library saying with assumed levity that she would leave them all as she much wished to see Don Pedro.
The noble Grandee was sitting in his chair with the cards in his hand. His hair and his beard were white, but just as erect and fierce-looking as ever. His energetic features seemed more marked; his piercing eyes shone with a fiercer fire. Moving with difficulty his great athletic body, so helpless in the lower limbs, the lines of his face were distorted with an expression of ferocious impotence that inspired sadness and fear. But if he was broken down in body, his proud spirit, seemed only to assert itself the more remarkably. His respect for himself at bearing the name of Quinones increased every day, with his scorn for all other people born under the stigma of any other name. Being profoundly thankful to Heaven for the favour accorded him, he would have thought it a sin to envy other men the power of using their legs. What was the good of Juan Fernandez being able to walk, run and jump if, after all, he was only named Juan Fernandez? The only thing that troubled him sometimes was whether it was befitting the dignity of a Quinones to have utterly helpless extremities, and if it would not be preferable for them to participate in the glory of the rest of his body. But such unpleasant thoughts were put away by thinking that dead or alive, those extremities occupied a superior position in society.
When Fernanda entered the library he fixed his eyes on her, and gave her a look, which took her in from head to foot. Neither the girl's beauty, nor bearing, singularly elegant as it was, seemed to please him, for he immediately turned to the cards and said in an insolent, patronising tone:
"Holla, little one! Is it you? When did you arrive?"
In spite of being offended at such a tone, Fernanda saluted him affectionately.
"I am pleased to see you so well, dear," he continued, "and I take the opportunity of condoling with you. You know I have not written letters for years. I was sorry about Santos. Do you hear, Moro? Are you ever going to give me a decent card again? He was a good subject, an excellent neighbour, incapable of harming any one. You will not get another husband like him. He had one quality not easily met with—modesty. In spite of the money that he made he never pretended to go out of his sphere; he always showed himself respectful to his superiors. Was it not so, Saleta, that he was not one of those parvenu popinjays who, as soon as they hear the clink of money in their pockets, forget all about profits and percentage, as if they had never gone in for them. Valero, sit down and say if this trick will be mine. Have you come to settle here, child? or are you going back to the franchutes?" (francais).