As the days went by her madness and cruelty increased. At first she made a pretext of some act of carelessness on the part of the child to torment her. Afterwards she did not stop there, but she did it when it came into her mind, or when her physical state impelled her to do so. One torture of her own invention was that of pricking her hands with a needle, and she delighted in seeing them covered with indentures in a few days, when there was scarcely room to put another stab. She deputed this task to Concha, the executioner of her orders, who fulfilled it most conscientiously. She made her learn by heart long pieces of catechism much beyond her power. And if she stumbled three times, she said: "Go and ask Concha for a kiss."
This was the phase she had invented in derision for the little creature to get a stab with the needle. She was never allowed to change her underclothing, so the delicate skin of the child soon became chafed, and she could not help scratching herself. Whereupon Concha flew into a rage, accused her of having the itch, and pushed her from the room. It got worse and worse. The microscopic maid, at the instigation of her mistress, insisted on her wearing boots too small for her which made bad places on her feet and caused her dreadful pain.
One of the most terrible tortures the child suffered was when Amalia took it into her head she was not to cry. Sometimes she let her sob and moan under the blows, and she seemed to revel in the tears of the little creature, and in hearing her piteous entreaties between the sobs; but occasionally she insisted on her suffering in silence. As this was impossible she became like a ravenous wild beast.
The child could not, and a groan escaped.
"Silence!" she repeated, accompanying the command with several blows.
So Josefina tried to be silent, and made desperate efforts in the attempt, but in spite of herself the difficult respiration took the form of a groan. More blows.
"Silence, or I will kill you."
The little creature shut her mouth with all her might; she turned livid, and sometimes she fell down senseless. That tender heart was breaking from distress of mind.
At such moments Amalia experienced a diabolical sensation of mingled pleasure and pain similar to that which is felt in scratching a boil. Her boil was that violent passion—a mixture of love, licentiousness and arrogance. Not being able to vent upon her former lover the mortification which tore her heart, she wreaked her vengeance on the fruit of their love. When the child was bleeding and trembling at her feet, her looks of anguish, her gestures, and the tone of her voice seemed to her those of her lover, humiliated and supplicating, and then she experienced an awful pleasure which made her eyes shine and her nostrils dilate.
Josefina was a miniature likeness of Luis. When she had been happy, her face mobile and smiling, and her eyes shining with cheerfulness, it had not been so apparent; but now misery and pain had given to her look a profound melancholy, and to the lines of her face a certain expression of fatigue that were the two things which characterised her likeness to the Conde de Onis. When those beautiful blue eyes turned towards her in sweet resignation, when those red lips trembled in asking pardon, the Valencian felt a voluptuous feeling pervade her worn-out body, so that she was reminded of the pleasures she had experienced in the indulgence of her unlawful passion.
After all, she thought, she had not aged at all, in nothing but the fading of that face of hers and her head producing white hairs with such horrible rapidity. Her body, her breast, her arms, her neck retained the same alabaster hue, the same adorable brilliancy, the mark of a fine and beautiful race. She touched herself in search of consolation with feverish hands, and encountered the same softness and freshness. That body had not worn out. She still felt her own youth, the ardent circulation of her blood, the thirst for enjoyment, and the yearning for the rapture of love.
And yet all those delights were gone for ever; the novel of her life that had embellished her dark existence of latter years had come to the last chapter. She was an old woman! It was a settled fact. At this thought that branded itself on her brain as with a hot iron she felt overwhelmed by an animal necessity to cry, roar, or tear. It was at such times that the child underwent the cruellest punishments, and her fragile existence incurred real danger. Terror was another of the sufferings she frequently inflicted on her. In the late hours of the night she made her get up, and sent her to the most remote rooms of the house in search of something. The child returned pale, trembling, and overwhelmed with fear. Sometimes her terror was so great that she let the candlestick fall, and returned running and screaming with fright. Then Amalia, enraged, pinched her and struck her, and pretended she must go again to the place named. Then the little creature let herself be tortured rather than expose herself afresh to the same fright. On one of these occasions Amalia smiling fiercely, said:
"Ah! So the senorita is so cowardly? Very well, I must undertake to cure you of this weakness."
She recollected the extraordinary impressionability to nocturnal terrors that Luis had confessed with shame in moments of expansion. So she prepared dreadful alarms for her. Sometimes she hid behind a door, and when she was passing gave a loud cry as she seized her by the neck. At other times she took a knife and said her death had come, and told her to turn down her nightgown so that she could cut her throat easier. But this last did not produce as much effect as she expected. Josefina unconsciously longed for death which would release her from such a martyrdom. For a more efficacious cure of fear, Concha and she invented a fearful practical joke which would have been enough to terrify a brave man, much less a child six years old. They both dressed themselves up in sheets, left the room partially lighted whilst the child slept, put on masks like skulls, and at midnight they came in uttering fearful cries like souls from another world. When the little creature awoke and saw those apparitions, she was paralysed with terror, then she clapped her hands to her eyes and her whole body was bathed in a cold perspiration. Her heart beat so violently that it could be heard at a distance, she gave vent to a few hoarse, terrified cries, and finally, putting her hands to her breast, she fell senseless to the ground, a prey to fearful convulsions.
Her timidity was incurable; and, moreover, she was henceforth subject to faintings and to nocturnal frights. She would wake up with signs of great fear, look fixedly at one point in the room as if some apparition were there, her heart beat violently, and her brow was bathed in sweat. In such moments she completely lost consciousness. Amalia called her in vain. It was only when she put her hands upon her that she uttered a cry of fear and sunk her head in terror.
Serious disputes arose between Concha and Maria the ironer on account of these tortures. Maria was naturally compassionate, and she was sorry to see the martyrdom of the child, although she did not know all, for Amalia took care to keep it from the servants with the exception of Concha. Although Maria was not ill-tongued she could not abstain from blaming her mistress's conduct in the kitchen.
"My dear, it is worse than the Inquisition. It does not seem that we are Christians, but Jewish dogs. At one time so indulged that she was spoiled, and now suddenly the little angel is treated worse than an animal. I say the matter has gone beyond bounds! I cannot see such wickedness."
"Silence, little fool and meddler," interposed Concha, "who made you boss of the show? If the senora wishes to teach the child what is right, is she to consult you how to do it? Do you know what it is to bring up children? If she has to be punished it is right it should be done by a hardworking, honourable woman. Some day she will give her thanks for it."
"Yes, thanks, indeed! She will give them from the cemetery. A month hence she will be gone."
"Very well, and what is that to do with you? Are you her mother?"
They quarrelled three or four times like this, and the dwarfish sempstress's shamelessness and evil-mindedness always showed themselves.
At last being unable to endure such a spectacle with patience, Maria determined to go away. One day she went to the senora, and with the excuse that ironing was bad for her, she asked for her wages. Amalia was quite aware of the real reason, as she knew of her having complained of her cruelty, but she dissimulated as usual:
"Yes, girl, I understand that ironing is tiring for you. You don't enjoy much health. I also have not been well for some days. To contend all one's life with sickness, and now at the end to have this child, on whom all my hopes were founded, turn out so ungrateful and perverse! I don't know how I have patience."
Maria hesitated for an instant.
"Well, you see, senora—children will be children."
The wife of the Grandee saw that if she pursued the subject the ironer would say something disagreeable, so she cut short the remark, paid her her wages, and dismissed her affably.
This did not prevent the servant telling in confidence at a certain house where she went in service what was going on at the Quinones. The news spread in the same confidence from one to another, and in a short time there was a considerable number of persons acquainted with the cruelties perpetrated on the child.
The Conde de Onis, to avoid the curiosity of the public, which worried him above all things, and also to be free of Amalia, to whom he had told nothing, had removed about a month ago to the Grange. He had not written to his old love, although he thought of doing so every day to tell her of his determination to marry. But so great was the terror with which the Valencian inspired him, that the pen fell from his hands every time he took it up to acquaint her with the fact. He thus let the days go by in this continual state of indecision, thinking with anxiety how enraged she would be, and like all weak natures, hoping that some unforeseen event would arrange a compromise. That way of breaking the connection without any quarrel or explanation whatsoever was quite in accordance with his character. He knew nothing of his child's tortures, nevertheless he felt such sudden anxiety when he thought of her that his nerves were quite shaken, and he walked up and down the room in visible agitation. The passionate love with which Fernanda had inspired him had made him forget Josefina a little. He occasionally thought of her with bitterness; he thought that even if he married Fernanda, he would not attain happiness if he could not see his child every day; although he quite understood that that would be impossible whilst she remained in Amalia's power. Then he thought of taking her away with him, and it gave him pleasure to imagine wild projects of getting hold of her, and flying with her and Fernanda to some remote and tranquil spot in the world.
The count was going through one of these days of vacillation when Micaela, the most excitable and violent of the Pensioner's four undines, appeared at the Quinones' house. She came for the purpose of asking Amalia's advice about a dress that she was planning for the next ball at the Casino. In spite of her thirty years and more, she still laid siege to the masculine sex. Visitors at this hour were rare, but as the noble family of the Pensioner was so intimate with the senora, the servant did not hesitate to show her up to the boudoir where she was.
"How tiresome of me, is it not? But, dear, it is the only time that I thought I should find you alone," she said, with the gracious volubility that characterised the Mateo's daughters.
Amalia received her cordially, albeit with a certain surprise and uneasiness that escaped Micaela. They entered on the matter in hand, and the question of dress soon completely absorbed them. Amalia took her friend towards the window. But they had not said many words, when Micaela thought she heard a feeble groan in the room. Turning her head, she saw in a corner Josefina on her knees, tied by the elbows to the dressing-table so that she could not get up without raising the heavy piece of furniture, which was far beyond her strength. Amalia hastened to give an explanation:
"This child is getting so naughty that I am obliged to tie her to keep her quiet. Yesterday she bit the sewing-maid's finger, now she has just broken a looking glass. One has not patience to bear it!"
Micaela, who was shocked at the punishment, was silent. The wife of Quinones went on talking with assumed indifference about the dress; but in spite of its being a theme that ought to have interested her, the girl was absent-minded, and cast frequent glances at the child. Josefina let another groan escape, whereupon her godmother turned round with ill-repressed anger.
"Will you be quiet? will you be quiet?" And she looked at her for some time with extraordinary severity.
She returned to the conversation, but a slight change was noticeable in her voice. Micaela paid less and less attention. Indignation had risen to her throat, and she would have ended by making some unpleasant remark to her friend, if the child had not moaned again.
"Come, I see she is not going to leave us in peace," said the lady, making an effort to smile, "I shall have to set her free."
Then she went and untied her, taking some time to do it, for the cord was tied as many times round her little body as if she were a heavy box. But when the time came for the child to get up she could not. No doubt the muscles had become strained during the hours she had been in that painful position.
"Up, longshanks!" she said jokingly, as she helped her to rise.
Micaela watched the scene in stupefaction, whilst her eyes blazed with fury.
"You did not like the position, eh? Then, my child, if you don't want to return to it, you must be good and obedient. Is it not so, Micaela?"
But Micaela did not open her lips, feeling each moment more brow-beaten in spite of the honeyed smile on the Valencian's face.
"Very well," she continued, caressing the red face of the child, "you are forgiven now, but take care about being naughty. Go down and ask Concha for a kiss."
On hearing these words, the child grew deadly pale, remained motionless for some moments, and finally went to the door with an uncertain step. Before arriving there, Micaela, who observed her attentively, noticed that she raised her eyes full of tears, but Amalia merely pursued the conversation on toilettes. Before three minutes had elapsed low, distant cries of the child reached the boudoir. Micaela was thunderstruck, and she bent her head towards the door so as to hear better. But Amalia quickly rose from her seat and went to shut it. The cries were still audible, but the nervous girl had meanwhile to listen to Amalia's remarks. She was seized with great uneasiness, her face became flushed, and she was a prey to the burning desire of shaming the wicked woman, and overwhelming her with such opprobriums as Jew, scoundrel, infamous one. She suddenly became aware of all that went on in that house. First the jealousy, then the news of the marriage of Luis falling like a bombshell, then the miserable revenge wreaked on the child for the forsaking of the father. She well knew the spiteful nature of the Valencian. But what good would it do to insult her at that moment? It would only make a great scene, and she would be sent from the house. In spite of her violent temper, Micaela had a kind heart. What she was most intent upon, was doing something to help the unhappy little creature. And she had sufficient self-control to dissimulate a little, and to consider that the best course was to tell everything immediately to the count, who must be ignorant of such cruel revenge. She finished the interview as soon as possible, and took her leave without being able entirely to hide her distress. Once in the street, she felt the necessity of unburdening her heart. She thought of Maria Josefa who lived in the neighbourhood, and who professed such tender affection for the foundling.
She entered her house agitated and trembling, and before uttering a single word, she fell on the sofa and fanned herself with the end of her mantilla.
"Uf! I am suffocated. I don't know what has come to me. She is an infamous creature—a wicked woman who ought to burn in hell! I have always said so, only my fools of sisters would not believe me. This choking is very tiresome.... She has a heart of stone!"
"But what is it?" asked the wise old maid with terror, and dying of curiosity.
Then the nervous daughter of the Pensioner, stuttering with rage, told her how she had found Josefina, the pallor of the child at the curious suggestion of the godmother, and then the cries she had heard as if she were being tormented. Maria Josefa immediately united her imprecations with those of the girl. Then they went over all the instances of cruelty that they knew of the wife of the Grandee, and they made up their minds to acquaint the count with what had happened after ascertaining a few more details. For this purpose they had that same afternoon a talk with Maria, the laundry-maid, who had left the Quinones house some days ago. At first she was cautious for fear of the consequences, but she concluded by letting her tongue loose and recounting the thousand iniquities perpetrated on the foundling by the Senora de Quinones. They were horrorstruck. They thought of telling the judge; but besides making an enemy of the fiery Valencian (which be it said to their credit they did not much mind for such a cause) they knew that it would be a fruitless effort. The Quinones were the most important people of the place. Don Pedro being the head of the Government Party in the province, all the authorities were quite under his influence. Everything would be covered up and remain as it was before. The best thing was to appeal to the count; but he was at the Grange just then. Besides, although everybody, or nearly everybody, knew the secret of the child's birth, it was impossible to take it as a matter of course. After some debates they decided to write him the following letter, signed by Maria Josefa:
"Senor Conde de Onis,—My esteemed friend, I beg, with due reserve, to tell you that the child that was adopted by our friends the Quinones, in whom we are all so much interested, is an object of cruel tortures in that house; and I believe that it is our duty to intervene to stop it. You will tell me what ought to be done, which I as a woman would not think of. If you would like to hear particulars of the martyrdom of the little creature you can refer to Maria, who left service in Don Pedro's house some days ago.
Your affectionate friend,
MARIA JOSEFA HEVIA."
Luis crumpled up the letter in his clenched hands, and all the blood rushed to his face. Without thinking of what he was doing he left the house, and almost unwittingly took the road to Lancia, where he arrived in a few minutes. The vague and terrible presentiment that had oppressed him was finally realised—Amalia was revenging herself cruelly. The underlying drift of the letter was evidently an appeal to him, as the father of Josefina, and the cause of her misery. Not knowing what course to take, he went to think it over at his house, where he only had an old woman in charge. From her he ascertained the whereabouts of Maria, and finally sent her a message to come and see him. The laundry-maid was quite aware of the object of the summons. She went to the town as quickly as possible, and after making him promise not to make use of her name, she gave him a circumstantial account of what the innocent child was exposed to. He listened, pale and horrorstruck, unable to repress the violent, quick beating of his heart. When she came to certain hateful and terrible details, the count began to pace up and down the room like a caged wild beast, as he tore his hair, struck his brow, and uttered cries of rage. Once more alone, a thousand wild ideas passed through his mind. He thought of going to the Quinones' house and taking away the child by force; he wanted to wring the neck of the vile woman; he wanted to tell Don Pedro the whole story; he wanted to inform the judge, and have the infamous creature imprisoned.
Fortunately, these fits of rage were as short as they were violent, and then ensued prostration and tears. He went to the house of his fiancee and told her with sobs what had happened, thus making his confession for the first time. The good Fernanda mingled her tears with his, distressed at the fate of the unhappy little creature, and at the misery of her lover. They spent some time talking over the terrible events, and seeking means of thwarting that direful revenge. Fernanda at last persuaded him to try gentle means. To think of compassing anything by force was absurd, for the count, not having yet acknowledged his sin, he had no legal right over the child. To provoke a scandal was useless. No servant would dare witness against his mistress, and things would be worse than they were before. Finally, the count decided to write a letter to his old love.
"I have just heard that our Josefina, our adored Josefina, is undergoing incredible tortures at your hands. I believe it is a vile calumny. I know your character is quick and fiery, but it is noble, and I cannot attribute such cowardice to you. I only write to you to ascertain that the angelic little creature continues to be the delight of your life. If it should not be so, tell me, and we will find some means of transferring her to my care. I suppose you are aware of the step I am about to take. I have nothing to say to you on the subject. The step was inevitable, sooner or later. At all events, you can be sure that my remorse is softened by the sweet recollection of the years that I have loved you. Farewell! Write me some kind word."
Josefina was wasting away. Her cheeks were as pale as wax; there was constantly a look of terror in her sweet, gentle eyes, around which suffering had traced a purple circle. She spoke little, and never laughed. When she was left in peace she sat in some corner, and remained motionless looking at one spot, or she went to the window and wrote on the panes of the glass with her finger.
Sometimes, in spite of such misery, the childish nature asserted itself. If the cat approached her slowly with his tail in the air, his back arched, soliciting a caress with a weak purr, she would throw herself upon the ground, call him, drag him to her, stroke his fur, scratch his head, tickle the back of his neck, and murmur words of affection in his ear, a course of spoiling that the animal received with transports of delight.
"I love you, I love you. You are my good cat. Are you not good? You must not scratch me as you did. Who do you like best in the house? Say, treasure. Who gave you a sardine yesterday? Who puts you a saucer of milk every day? And if I could always give you fish too, I would, because I know it is what you like best. Is it not, my treasure? But you must not steal or you know you will be beaten. Don't get on Manin's bed and be naughty or you will be killed. I heard so the other day in the kitchen. And catch a lot of mice, so that godmother will like you and will not turn you out."
The cat, delighted, purred from the depths of his throat with pleasure, and rubbed himself more and more vehemently against her. The child held him up to her mouth, put her arms around him, pressed him to her heart, kissed him, and sometimes, forgetting her sufferings, she shed tears of tenderness. But any noise in the next room made her jump up with terror in her eyes, she pushed the cat away from her and stood motionless, waiting for what was to come, and it was almost always some cruel punishment.
"You naughty girl! So you dirty your clothes like that crawling about on the floor! Wait a bit! wait a bit!"
Continual shocks had so upset her constitution that her health was quite out of order. But although it was not her fault she was treated as if it were, and once Concha's fury was so great that she seized her by the ears and made her lick the ground.
The most terrible hour for the little creature was lesson time. Amalia gave her early in the morning long pieces of sacred history and grammar to learn. Josefina retired to a corner and made desperate efforts to commit them to memory. A little before the dinner hour Concha, who was deputed for the task, took a chair, drew out the famous whalebone, and with that in one hand, and the book in the other, she commenced her pedagogic functions. Every time the child hesitated or forgot a word, it cost her a blow from the whalebone on her face, hand, or neck; and as her memory was not very strong the pounding was incessant.
It was still worse when her godmother taught her. Concha was coldly cruel, but Amalia became irritable directly; the crying of the child worried her nerves, she flew into a rage like a hungry panther, and finished by striking her frantically until she fell trembling and bleeding at her feet.
Her hatred to the little creature seemed increased if possible after the letter from the count. Her pride, wounded to the quick by the cold, self-sufficient, insulting diplomacy conveyed to her mind by the words of her old love, she vented her rage upon the daughter. Besides, the idea of Luis being distressed at hearing of the tortures was an additional inducement to continue them unsparingly. Let her suffer! let him suffer! the vile, perfidious creature who had taken her youth, and then when she was old cast her from him like an old rag to be swept away.
On one of these days of intense raging anger the life of Josefina was in imminent danger. At the usual hour she had been summoned to the dining-room for her lessons. Concha took a seat and drew with unfeigned delight the fatal whalebone from her bosom, for the administration of blows seemed a physical pleasure that day. Trembling as usual the child came and gave her the books, and then with stammering tongue began saying a chapter of sacred history, when Manin's entrance interrupted them. He came in with his eternal green jacket, short breeches and rough manners, making the floor tremble under his hobnailed boots. It was this costume, which even in the country was out of date, that chiefly gave rise to the notoriety and fame he had been supposed to have as a formidable bear-hunter. He entered with his head down as usual; he peered in at the door, saying:
"Concha, haven't you anything to eat here?"
"Is your stomach so empty, Manin?" returned the needlewoman laughing.
The peasant opened his mouth wide to join in the laugh.
"Yes, God have mercy! I can't wait a minute more. You all seem barefooted Brothers in this house; you have no thought of food till the time comes."
"Well, come along you great greedy creature," said Concha putting the book and whalebone on the chair, and going in a petulant way to the dresser.
They quite understood each other these two. The needlewoman was hard, cruel, and stubborn, but the majordomo knew how to get at the few grains of good humour she had. He teased her unmercifully, he pinched her when she passed by him, and said a thousand coarse, shameless things to her which she knew how to take in the opposite sense. And the dwarfish maid, who was neither kind nor pretty, and whose cruel nature had choked every germ of pleasantness and transformed her into a priestess of misery, a fatal, pitiless Eumenide, was pleasant and obliging to that brute. She admired his bearish manners, his roughness, his greediness, and his insolent, careless way of treating everybody, including the pompous Senor de Quinones. Manin was a solemn-faced rogue with his shameful rudeness, his deportment of a brave hunter of wild beasts. Sly-faced rogue! for with all his shameless rudeness, his posing as a hunter of wild beasts, and his slovenly dress, he had known how to take life easily in this world without spoiling his hands, nor hurting his back by hard work in his village. The needlewoman fetched a plate of cold meat and put it on the oilcloth of the table without any apology for a serviette; then she cut half a loaf and left him with the indispensable bottle of white wine and a glass by the side of the meat. Concha then re-seated herself, and the child approaching repeated the words that she had just said. In a few moments, zas! a blow with the whalebone and a cry of pain. Immediately afterwards another blow and another cry, and so it went on. The needlewoman was delighted that she stumbled more than usual. Manin devoured his food in silence, only occasionally turning his head with marked indifference towards the sad scene. Soon he began murmuring at every blow like a machine:
"Give it! Go it! That was good! There's a blow!" and other similar exclamations.
The sacred history lesson came to an end, and there was a respite before taking the grammar, when the maid began joking cheerfully with the majordomo. She was in an angelic humour.
"Did you ever see such meat?"
"Fine, truely fine."
"The worst of it is it will spoil your appetite for dinner."
Whereupon the room then vibrated with the fellow's laughter.
"This? Yes! It would be something for me to lose my appetite. You will have to put a hot iron in the water, like you do for the senora."
"I would put it on your body, you great pig."
"Look here, Concha, none of your teasing; because although you are only a little bit of a thing, and you have roguish eyes and a mouth like a cherry, you shall have such a blow one of these days, without your knowing whence it comes, that all that little row of pearls I see now shall be knocked down your throat."
"Silence! silence, you old clod-hopper; you are a fine one for blows. You couldn't give them if you tried in such a tight costume. You are indeed a fright."
"You are not saying this from your heart, but because you think it fine."
"I know very well that there is a good deal behind all that. (And here he gave her a few rough digs in the ribs). If I could catch you in a maize field!"
"It would only be as if you caught me in the market-place. No; you are nothing but jaw and tongue."
"And hands too to touch what is nice," returned the barbarian, taking hold of the needlewoman's chin with his hand.
"Leave go! leave go, you pig!" And she gave him a blow on the fingers with the whalebone. Then the rude fellow caught hold of her again, and she defended herself again in the same way. He then tried to get hold of her waist, whereupon the maid ran across the room pretending to be angry.
"Don't touch me, Manin, or I will call the senora."
But Manin did not care; he ran after her with grunts and laughter, catching hold of her here and seizing her there, whilst his cheeks, which were as hard and coarse as an elephant's hide, came in for blows from the servant, without showing that he felt them. The furniture was knocked about, the ground shook, the plates rang on the dresser, and still he did not give in, but he grew more and more false and fawning. The rogue knew that, irascible and fiendish as the little woman was, she was open to flattery like all human beings, and that it was for the interest of his stomach to keep her in a good humour. Finally, roaring like a bull, he caught her by the waist and held her up in the air. He held her up without any effort, as if she were a three-year old child.
"Now, little spitfire, what do you say now? Where is your courage? Where are your hands? Come, witch, and ask pardon, or I will let you fall like a frog," roared the great bear, moving her to and fro in the air.
"Let me go, Manin! Let me go, ass! There will be a row! Look here, I shall scream!"
At last he put her down gently, and the maid, panting, dishevelled and frowning, so as to look more angry, said in an excited voice:
"You have no shame, Manin. If we were not in this house as we are I would smash this lamp on your face for your rudeness and insolence. But here are the servants listening to all this, and what will they say? Don't say another word, for I won't answer you."
"So you can scream now, vain little thing, after you have been in the seventh heaven," muttered Manin, in a drawling tone, looking at her angrily and pushing up his beard.
"If you don't get out of my sight, you ruffian!" exclaimed the little servant, as she looked at him with laughter in her eyes, in spite of herself.
Then Manin re-seated himself for the consumption of the rest of the bread, and to drink another glass of white wine. Josefina meanwhile sobbed in a corner, putting her wounded hands to her mouth and patting her cheeks, contused with the whalebone blows. Manin then deigned to cast a look at her.
"Don't cry, little fool, the pain of the blows will go by, and the sense will remain in your head for ever," he said, cutting a piece of bread with his clasp-knife and putting it into his mouth. "If you would like to know my opinion, the more they beat you, the more pleased you ought to be. What would you be if Concha was not kind enough to beat you well? A little ignoramus, not worth a measure of acorns, a little beast, God save the comparison. And now what will you be? As fine a woman as you can see." (He paused whilst he cut another piece of bread and chewed it so that it caused a large lump in his right cheek). "Come, if I had had masters like you have to bruise my skin with blows, I should not be an ass now; they would not call me Manin, but Don Manuel, and instead of being a miserable underling I should be going about giving myself airs, walking down Altavilla with my hands behind me like the senores, and reading the papers in the casinos." (Another pause, and another cutting of a hunch of bread). "It is nothing but just, if you will see it so. How can you learn such difficult things without a few whippings? Whoever learned daque without being beaten? Nobody. Then if you get learning you should thank God for having put a mistress over you like an aureole. For the end will please you; you will have soft hands and delicate feet, is it not so?"
Concha, having now resumed her severe manner, seated herself and made an imperious gesture to the child to approach. It was the turn for grammar and it went worse than the history, either from want of memory or because she was upset by fear. Then the whipping recommenced; a whalebone blow now and then, then oftener and oftener. Manin, true to his pedagogical opinions, applauded with his mouth full, and cut his bread into wonderful geometrical shapes before conducting them with all solemnity to his mouth. The faults were many, the blows were the same. But at the end of the lesson Concha thought that besides the punishment at every fault there was a certain reparation due for general naughtiness, and so she had better conclude by a beating that would include everything. Therefore she jumped up from her chair, and brandishing the formidable whalebone, exclaimed:
"Now to make you study better and to open your mind! Now!"
The blows were so hard and so many that, trying to escape the torture, the little creature seized hold of the skirts of her torturer with her clenched hands. Without knowing how, perhaps through having carelessly caught hold of them, the string which held them broke and they fell off, leaving the needlewoman only in her undergarment. She gave a cry of shame and quickly pulled up the skirts. Then, without waiting to tie them on again, she cast a glance of the deepest anger at the child and left the room holding her things on with her hands.
"You have done it finely now—finely, finely, finely!" said Manin, dexterously cutting the mouthful he was about to raise to his lips.
The little creature paralysed with terror did not cry even; her wounds ceased to hurt her. At the end of a few minutes Concha reappeared accompanied by the senora, who came in with a sarcastic smile.
"It seems that the senorita takes pleasure now in unrobing girls in public. You like that, senorita, do you not? Manin must have had a nice view of Concha. Eh, Manin?"
She took a few steps forward. The child receded in dismay.
"Don't be afraid, senorita. I have not come to beat you. Who gives heed to whippings? I have only come to invite you to take a turn in the cellar—the cellar with the rats—you know it. There you can amuse yourself in undressing any rat of the many that will pay their respects to you. Come along. Give me your hand so that I can take you with all ceremony."
The child ran behind a chair, from whence, being pursued by Amalia and Concha, she got under the table, and finally took refuge behind the majordomo.
"Manin! Manin! For God's sake hide me!"
But he took her by the arm and handed her over to the senora. Then they each took a hand, and in spite of her piercing cries they dragged her off.
"To the cellar, no! to the cellar, no! Godmother, pardon. Kill me sooner. See what a terror I have. No, not to the cellar for the rats to eat me!"
The servants came out in the passage and assisted at the scene in solemn silence. The cries of the child were soon lost in descending the dark winding staircase leading to the underground cellar.
Amalia opened the door of the horrible place and pushed her daughter inside. She banged the door to, and the child running to get out, caught her hand in it. A fearful cry of pain was heard. The Valencian reopened the door, and gave such a rough push to the child that she was thrown on the ground, and then she turned the key.
The cellar was a dark, damp prison, only lightened by a few stray rays of light from an ox-eye above. It had once been used as a wine-cellar, now there were only empty bottles there. Scarcely was the child alone, when she got up, looked round mad with fright, tried to cry, but she was unable to utter, and finally, extending her hands in an excess of fearful trembling, she fell senseless to the ground. At the end of half an hour the stable-boy, who had witnessed the incarceration, came to the door being moved by compassion, and looked through the keyhole. There was nothing to be seen. He called very gently:
The child did not reply. He called louder. The same silence. Alarmed, he called and knocked at the door with all his might without obtaining any reply. Then, at the risk of losing his place, he went quickly upstairs to say what had happened. Amalia sent Concha with the key to see what had occurred. Paula and she together carried the little creature upstairs senseless, cold, and with all the signs of death upon her face. Afraid of the complications that might arise, the wife of the Grandee put her quickly to bed, where she soon came to herself, but a serious fever immediately set in. The doctor was sent for. He found her very ill. To account for the injury of her hand and the contusions about her, Amalia, clever in lying, invented a story that the doctor believed, or pretended to believe. She hovered for some days between life and death. Amalia followed the course of the illness with anxious eyes. She was not unhappy at the thought of losing the being upon whom she had vented the bitter disappointment of her heart, but she was distressed at the idea of losing her revenge at one blow. When Josefina had been in bed three days, she heard that Fernanda had left for Madrid the previous evening in the postchaise, and that Luis would only be four or five days before joining her. This was a severe shock; a burning wave of bile inundated her heart, and that night she too had fever. So they were escaping! There would be no possible revenge for the traitor. He would go to Madrid; he would marry; he would perhaps have news there of his daughter's death, but the caresses of his adored bride would soon put it out of his mind. Of that long, ardent love affair there would be nothing left but a man parading his bliss through Europe, and a poor old sad woman in Lancia, a laughing-stock for the Lancian circles. Her flaccid flesh trembled. The revengeful instincts of her race cried out in futile rage. No, no, it could not be! She would sooner drag his dead daughter to his feet; she would sooner kill him with a stab in the heart!
A singular and terrible idea occurred to her—to tell her husband everything. She ignored what she would incur herself, but it would provoke an immediate scandal. Don Pedro was violent, and he enjoyed great power and prestige. Who could say the harm that such a bomb would cause? Certainly he was paralysed, and he could not take personal revenge; but would not that proud, punctilious man find means of repaying the injury that had been done him? She would come to grief herself, but she would willingly fall if the traitor paid for his treachery. After a long struggle with these thoughts she did not dare run the risk of making the confession by word of mouth, nor writing under her own name, but, disguising the handwriting, she wrote an anonymous letter:
"The child that you adopted six years ago is the daughter of your wife and a gentleman who visits your house, whom you call your friend. I do not tell you the name. Look for him, and you will soon come across the traitor.
(Signed) A FAITHFUL FRIEND."
She posted the epistle and anxiously waited to see the effect.
Don Pedro received it in her presence and read it, whilst her face violently contracted and assumed a cadaverous pallor.
"Who writes to you?" she asked in a natural way.
The Grandee replied immediately, and folding and retaining the letter, he said, with some effort to control his voice that trembled:
"Nobody. One of the persons I recommended, complains that he has been kept waiting. This governor! He has nor memory, no regularity at all!"
Anxiously and restlessly awaiting the course of events, she retired to her boudoir. Jacoba came in the evening with an air of mystery and gave her a letter from the count.
"What does this man want with me?" she asked in a surprised, vexed tone.
"I don't know, senorita. He wrote the letter in my house, and is there waiting for the answer."
The count's letter ran thus:
"Amalia, I know that our child is in danger of death. By all that you love best in the world, by the salvation of your soul, grant me an interview. I must speak to you. If this evening it cannot be, come to-morrow to Jacoba's house.
"Yours! yours!" she murmured with a bitter smile. "You have been mine, but you have changed your owner, and it will cost you dear."
"Shall I take the answer, senorita?"
She stood pensive for a few minutes, walked up and down the room completely absorbed in thought, went to the window and looked through the panes. Finally, half turning round, she said very abruptly:
"Very well; I will go to-morrow at the hour of Mass."
"He asked after the child with the greatest interest."
"Say that she is better."
The intermediary retired, and Amalia remained for a long time looking at the street through the window-panes without seeing it. From seven o'clock in the morning of the following day, Luis was waiting for her in Jacoba's little house. It only consisted of a kitchen on the ground-floor and a little bedroom upstairs, and both so low that the count's head, with his hat on, touched the ceiling. In this little room he was walking up and down with impatient steps, with his hands in his pockets looking cautiously every minute through the blinds of the only window there was. The lady did not arrive until nine o'clock. He saw her coming with her mantilla veiling her eyes, her missal in her hand, and her rosary hanging on her wrist, with a firm, self-assured step, as if she were coming to give orders to her old protegee. When he heard her voice in the kitchen his heart beat quickly, he began to tremble, and in his agitation he forgot all that he was going to say.
"How are you, count?" she said, with perfect naturalness as she came in and gave him her hand.
"Very well—and thou?"
She raised her head as if she were surprised to hear him tutoyer her, and replied, as she looked at him fixedly:
"And the child?"
The man's face brightened at hearing this news. A ray of happiness shone in his eyes, and taking the hand of his former lover, he led her to the poor, straw-stuffed sofa, and said:
"Let us sit down, Amalia. Although it may be a liberty on my part, I beg of you to let me go on tutoyant you when we are alone. I do not forget, I never can forget, how many happy hours I owe you, and how much happiness you brought into my sad, monotonous life. You revealed to me all that was sweetest and best in my heart without my hardly suspecting it. All the first impulses of my soul were for you. Until now, you alone had penetrated it and sounded, and knew its melancholy, weakness, and tenderness. If I separate from you, it is only in obedience to a law of nature which impels us all to found a family. I have nobody in the world but my mother, who may soon leave me alone. You ought not to mind my wishing to make a home, and have an heir to my name and estates. Besides, my conscience rebukes me."
The count, delighted at the improvement of the child, was more expansive and loquacious than usual, being unable to hide his happiness, and thinking everything was arranged according to his wishes. Josefina was happy with her mother, he happy with Fernanda, and Amalia, being resigned, would grant him a sweet affection that would get purer every day.
She looked at him now with a certain quizzical curiosity.
When he had finished, she said, with a sarcastic smile:
"From the night you saw Fernanda in her splendid recherche dress, this feeling of conscience must have been insupportable."
The count smiled too, somewhat shamefacedly.
"Don't believe it, Amalia. I have always felt remorse. Certainly, on getting old, one sees things more clearly. My beard is white in many places, as you can see. That which is excusable in a youth as wildness, as an irrepressible ebullition of vitality, becomes crime in an older person. Love at my age ought not to clip the wings of reason, and if it does, it merits the term of madness. My determination may be hard for both of us. It is very trying to me; it costs me a good deal to break loose from a liaison that force of time has almost converted into a habit. Besides, unfortunately, there exists a bond between us which is impossible to break completely. Destiny has brought forth from the mire of our sin a beautiful blossom, a sweet white lily. Let us remove the stain from her brow, although she is the offspring of an unlawful passion, do not let us corrupt her with our blameworthy conduct. Let us make ourselves worthy of her by living like Christians."
"All this is very well, only I am sorry that this course of Christian doctrine has come so late, and so simultaneous with the arrival of your old fiancee to the place, because it seems as if you had completely forgotten your catechism, until she came to refresh your memory. But, after all, it is not for me to interfere as it does not concern me. The gist of it all is that you are going to marry. You do well. Man is badly off alone, and when he finds a worthy companion like you have done, he ought not to lose the opportunity. Fernanda is a very good girl; I am sure that she will make you happy; you will have many sons, and after a long and happy life you will go to heaven."
This state of resignation surprised Luis and he could not help feeling somewhat taken aback.
"And you, too, will be happy?" he timidly asked.
"I? what does it signify if I am happy or unhappy?" she said, shrugging her shoulders disdainfully.
"Don't say that, Amalia! Happiness is not that madness to which we have given ourselves up these seven years. There is a taste of bitterness in that, which I have noticed for some time and which you will soon perceive. A pure, worthy life, a quiet conscience, and the esteem of honourable persons will give you more pleasure than criminal passion. Besides, you have what I have not; you have an angel with you, a fragrant, beautiful lily that will sweeten your existence."
"Ah, yes, Josefina! Really, so she is to be the one who is to afford me my only pleasant times in the future!"
This was said with such a strange inflexion of voice, so sharp and so strident that Luis shivered.
"What do you mean by that?"
"I mean what I say, that it is fortunate I have Josefina to cheer me."
"But you say it in such a strange way."
The Valencian then gave a curious forced laugh of sinister sound that came from the back of her throat.
Luis looked at her fixedly, getting more and more uneasy.
"But what a fool you are, Luis! How more than foolish! Egotism has so blinded your eyes that you cannot see what is before you. If you were twenty, this innocence might perhaps inspire me with pity, but at your age it only fills me with scorn and derision. To think that three or four insolent remarks on morality and conscience will suffice to make me contentedly accept the humiliation you impose upon me; to suppose that I, whom if you do not know, you ought to know, am going to consent to be cast away like an old rag, that I am to crawl like an enamoured slave at the feet of Fernanda, to serve her as a footstool when she mounts to her couch, is the height of stupidity and nonsense. Why don't you ask me to be bridesmaid at once?"
The count looked at her with dilated eyes full of anxiety and fear.
"So what I have heard of the tortures you have inflicted on our daughter is true?"
"Quite true! And you do not yet know all. Look here, I am going to tell you all, so that you may not say you are deceived."
Then, in a few incisive words, with a cruel satisfaction revealed in her voice, she put before him the fearful picture of the pain and misery suffered by the unhappy little creature during the last few months. The account was infinitely more shocking than the one Maria, the ironer, had given. The count, pale and overwhelmed, without making the slightest movement, looked the picture of despair. He soon covered his face with his hands, and so listened until the end.
"Oh, how infamous! oh, how infamous!" he groaned to himself.
"Yes, very infamous, but I hope to be more so. Have you heard all these infamies? Then they are nothing compared to what I shall do."
"You shall not do it, you wicked woman!" exclaimed Luis. "I would sooner strangle you with my own hands."
The Valencian rushed to the door.
"If you come a step nearer, I'll shriek!"
"Oh, infamous, infamous person!" exclaimed the count, again in a deep voice, "and God allows such monsters upon the earth!"
He took a few steps back and cast himself again upon the sofa. He rested his elbows on his knees, and put his head between his hands. After some time he raised it saying:
"Well, what do you exact from me?"
Amalia took a step towards him.
"That which you ought to expect, if you have any common sense left. I don't ask for our connection to continue, because at the pass we have come to it is not possible; it would be like giving the lie to love, and I have too much pride for that. But I do not want you or this woman to make me a laughing-stock; I am not going to be made a subject of derision to those who know of our connection: and those are all who visit at the house. I demand as the condition of the child being as she was, that you immediately break with Fernanda and think no more of her."
"But, Amalia," he exclaimed, in accents of misery, "you know quite well it is impossible; my wedding is fixed; all Lancia knows it. Fernanda is waiting for me in Madrid; only a few days are wanting——"
"And if only a minute were wanting, this wedding shall not take place. If you marry Fernanda the child shall pay for the offence in the way you know."
"Oh, I will prevent it. I will tell the authorities. I will ask for the care of the child."
"This is only talking for talking sake, Luis," replied Amalia, calm and smiling. "The authorities of Lancia are under the Quinones. Nobody would dare say a word against me."
"If I refer the whole matter to Don Pedro."
"He will not believe you, and if he did believe you, instead of impeding my revenge which is also his, he would help me."
A long silence then ensued. The count was plunged in thought with his hand pressed against his brow. Suddenly he rose hastily, and walked up and down the room in an agitated way.
"It cannot be! it cannot be!"
The Valencian followed him with her eyes. At last she said, as she walked to the door:
The count retained her with a gesture. "Stop."
Amalia stopped motionless, with her hand on the latch of the door as her piercing glance rested upon him.
The count went on walking for some time without paying any attention to her.
"Very well," he said, in a hoarse voice, stopping short, "the marriage shall not take place; you will tell me what I am to do."
His altered face evinced the calmness of despair.
"You will have to write a letter to Fernanda to bade her farewell."
"I will write it."
"Now, at once."
"Now, at once."
Amalia went to the stairs and asked Jacoba for a writing-case. As there was no table there, she put it on the chest of drawers. The count approached and began to write standing. Amalia approached too.
"This is what I want you to write to her."
It was the rough draft of the letter. The count cast his eye over it.
"My good friend Fernanda," it ran, "I wanted you to be away so as to tell you in writing what would be beyond my powers to say to you. I cannot be yours. It is not necessary to give you the reasons because you will guess them. Would that I loved you enough to ignore everything and fly with you! Unfortunately, or fortunately, there are things that weigh on my heart more than love. Pardon me for having deceived you and try to be happy as it is the wish of your best friend.
He traced the lines of this letter with a trembling hand, and before finishing it, tears rose to his eyes.
The noble Grandee easily guessed the author of his disgrace. As soon as he read the anonymous letter and recovered his self-command, his suspicions fell upon the Conde de Onis. In this he was only influenced by the likeness that he now clearly saw between him and the foundling. For either his excessive pride had blinded his eyes, or else because Amalia had known how to keep him deceived, he had never noticed anything between them beyond a cool, conventional friendship at which nobody could have taken umbrage. The same pride arrested the course of his bitter thoughts by making the most of this consideration. Why give any importance to what an anonymous letter said? Why not suppose it was a vile calumny by which some enemy tried to envenom his existence? But the dart had gone so deep into his heart that he could not pull it out. All the considerations invented by his inclination could not destroy the perfect conviction that, without his knowing how, had taken shape in his brain. Sundry details, unnoticed at the time, soon stood out and guided him like lighted torches. The first of all was naturally the illness of his wife simultaneous with the appearance of the child. He recalled her strange aversion to having a doctor to see her; then the indulgence and extreme attention lavished on the child. He also recollected the visits that at one time his wife made to the Grange on the pretext of getting plants. There was no circumstance connected with the count's friendship and the finding of the child that he did not turn over and weigh thoughtfully. He became silent and meditative. The hard look of his piercing eyes was always fixed upon Amalia directly she came into the room. Sometimes he had the child fetched on some pretext or another, and looked at her for a long time trying to decipher in the lines of her face the enigma of her existence.
Amalia saw all this, and read the thoughts of her husband like an open book.
"When is Luis to be married?" asked the Grandee one day in an assumed, careless tone.
"They say it will be some time yet. He has to arrange I don't know how many matters before going to Madrid," she replied, with the greatest calmness.
"Is he still at the Grange?"
"Yes, always; he only comes in sometimes of an evening, according to what he told me one day when I met him in Barrosa's shop."
The very next evening the count appeared at the party.
"What? You here? Have you left the Grange?" Don Pedro asked, with a penetrating glance.
"Definitely, no; I have the carriage below. I am going back to sleep."
"You must be dull there, eh?" asked Don Cristobal Mateo.
"In the day, no; I am very busy with agricultural occupations, with the mill, cattle, &c. But the evenings are very long."
Luis only came for the sake of seeing his daughter. Amalia had not allowed it until the child had partially recovered; then she was dressed as before, and she resumed her old rights. But not the affection. The charm was gone, because Luis hated her, especially through having had to submit through coercion. With the ardent passion full of love and mystery there had also mingled an attachment to the little creature. But the tortures that her mad anger inflicted on the little girl had made a gulf between them. The poor child, clad in rich clothes, wandered alone about the palace of the Quinones without inspiring any one with tenderness. Amalia avoided her. The servants, ashamed of their unkind treatment, and sulky at the sudden change which put the foundling again above them, did not speak to her. The long martyrdom she had undergone and the terrible illness with which it terminated had made great ravages in her appearance. Her pale cheek was as transparent as mother-of-pearl; there was still a dark black circle from agitation and pain round her eyes. The count's heart contracted every time he saw her, and it cost him some effort to restrain his tears.
Amalia did not tell her lover of the imprudent anonymous letter she had sent to Quinones. Fearing from her husband's excitability some serious consequence would ensue, she determined to get him off the scent, as it was not possible to restore his tranquillity. The course that seemed to her best to take was to remove his suspicions from Luis and put them on Jaime Moro. He was the only one who, by his position, age, and appearance could seem like a probable lover. She began by treating him before Don Pedro with particular partiality, picking him out from the other guests in a very conspicuous manner. She cast smiling, significant glances at him; she took pleasure in standing behind his chair when he was playing at tresillo and joking with him; she called him every minute to her on some pretext or other, and then kept him at her side with long whispering conversations in which her cheek came in close proximity with his. It was not so easy as it seemed to make a conquest of Moro, although it was only a make-believe. He was not at all churlish; on the contrary, he had a just reputation of being gentlemanly and courteous with ladies; but when ladies stand in the way of billiards or tresillo there is nobody six miles round so cross and uncivil. Amalia was a great bore to him when the tresillo players were waiting for him. Then his answers to her questions did not come readily; he smiled mechanically and gave frequent longing glances at the table where his companions were enjoying the delights of some trick with a good suit.
"Moro, sit here, we will have a chat together."
Moro trembled as if the world were coming to an end. He took a seat by the side of the lady with a face that was very long, not at all consistent with the passion that was supposed to consume his breast. The Grandee had paid little heed to these marks of favour and insinuating smiles of his wife. He looked at them with vacant eyes without any suspicion arising in his mind, which was entirely turned in the right direction. Nevertheless, Amalia was so persistent and seemed so engrossed, that the noble gentleman began to pay heed to those signs and to attribute some significance to them. The Valencian felt the pleasure of triumph. Her machinations were about to be realised. And to give an important, decisive stroke to her plot, she suddenly thought of a dangerous trick. She was seated in a corner with Jaime Moro at her side, quite in sight of Don Pedro. Moro was distrait as usual, and the wife of Quinones had to make prodigious efforts to sustain the conversation; she smiled, she coquetted, she involved him in a mesh of honeyed phrases, which she greatly intensified with her smile so as to attract Don Pedro's attention.
"What is it? Are you looking at my bracelet?"
Moro had not noticed it.
"It is very pretty," he quickly returned politely.
"It belonged to my mother. It is better than it looks. This portrait, which is of my grandmother, is made in mosaic. Look!"
Whereupon she raised her hand, and Moro looked at it with assumed admiration.
"Look well at it."
And she raised it a little more so as to bring it near his face. Then seeing out of the corner of her eye that Don Pedro was looking at her, she lifted it a little more so as to brush the lips of the young man; then she instantly withdrew it with a quick gesture. Moro was quite taken aback. He involuntarily looked at Don Pedro, and seeing that his glance was fixed on him with a cold piercing look, he coloured up to the eyes; and Amalia rose and left the room as if to hide her confusion.
The proud Grandee was fully overwhelmed by the secret that he thought he had discovered. His ideas underwent a sudden shock. Agitated by a thousand conflicting suspicions, dominated by furious anger, he moved the cards in his trembling hands without thinking of them, for his mind was full of awful revenge against his wife and against him. Against whom? Who was the traitor? Doubt inflamed his rage. What he had seen was very conclusive. Nevertheless, he could not get the Conde de Onis out of his mind. The testimony of his eyes was arrayed against his instinct, a voice within that told him continually the name of his enemy.
The count himself then appeared at the party. He greeted Amalia coldly, and was going straight to the library, when Manuel Antonio caught hold of him by the tail of his coat.
"Where are you off to, Luis? Come here, boy; don't go and bury yourself in the game directly. Look here, Maria Josefa and Jovita have been disputing every evening about the date of your marriage. But I said to them: 'Don't dispute any more. If Luis comes to-day he is so kind that he will certainly tell you himself.'"
"Then you told them wrong," replied the count, approaching the group.
"Have you turned so cross then?"
"It is not crossness, it is ignorance. These ladies know very well that things don't happen as, and when, we wish. If I were to name a date now, and it turned out differently they would think that I had been making fun of them."
In spite of the efforts he made to smile, the face of the count expressed infinite sadness, and his voice was low and hoarse.
"No, no! nothing of the sort!" exclaimed Jovita, laughing. "Tell us any day, and if it should turn out differently we shall think it was not by your wish."
"Very well, then, to-morrow."
"So soon as that!" cried both old maids in astonishment.
"You are not easy to please. What day do you want me to marry? Fix it yourselves."
The count had not said a word to anybody about his marriage being broken off. The innate weakness of his character made him withhold a piece of news that would so soon spread abroad. He fought shy of public curiosity and avoided questions at which his face might betray the cause of such a determination. And he trembled and became profoundly sad every time, like now, the matter was alluded to. Until then nothing had transpired. It was thought in the town from day to day that he would go to Madrid to join his bride. Nevertheless, Manuel Antonio, whose olfactory sense was superior to that of all his contemporaries, had scented something. And with the tenacity and dissimulation of an Isabella of England, he began to collect bits of news and piece them together in such a way that at the present time he was very near the truth.
"You seem very sad, Luisito," he said to him suddenly. "You look more like making your will than being married."
The count was affected, and not knowing what to say, he answered, with a forced smile:
"Marriage is a very serious step."
He then tried to beat a retreat, but Manuel Antonio retained him again. He wanted to get a key to the enigma at all costs, and to have his suspicions confirmed, so seconded by Maria Josefa, who knew better than he what line to adopt, he kept up the conversation for some time on the difficult subject. Luis was on thorns. He kept looking at Amalia, as if he were claiming what she had been obliged to concede him. The lady at last rose, put her head out of the door, and then resumed her seat. In a few moments Josefina's pale, gentle face appeared. She cast her sad eyes over the room, and at a sign from her godmother she directed her steps to the library. She passed the count, he half turned towards her and gave her a rapid, anxious look, which did not escape the sharp eyes of his interlocutors. The child raised her eyes shining with a happy smile to his. It was a magnetic shock that suddenly filled her childish heart with joy. The guests tried to keep her, but obedient to the command of her godmother she went on to the library. A few minutes afterwards, Quinones sharp voice was heard:
"Is not the Conde de Onis there? Why does he not come in?"
"I am coming, Don Pedro," returned Luis, quickly, glad to escape from the boring group.
On his entering the library, in less time than it takes to tell, a terrible scene took place that put everything in commotion, and terrified the guests. Don Pedro, with the cards in his hand, was with Jaime Moro and Don Enrique Valero. Saleta, who made the fourth, was sitting talking to the chaplain behind him. Three or four people were standing round the table watching the game. Josefina was near the noble Grandee with her arms crossed, waiting for the benediction before going to bed. At the count's entrance, Quinones darted a rapid, sharp glance at him, and then gave one of deep hatred at the child, as he said, with a sarcastic smile:
"Ah, do you want your blessing? Take your blessing."
And so saying he gave her a tremendous blow that felled her to the ground, whilst blood flowed from her mouth and nostrils.
Luis seemed to feel the blow in his own cheeks. All the blood left them and he turned deadly pale; then his will being overpowered by a blind impulse, he cried out:
"It is a vile shame! It is a cowardly act!"
He then tried to throw himself on Quinones, but the others held him back, whilst Don Pedro called out in a loud voice, mad with anger, "At last! At last, dog!"
He made a supreme effort to rise from his chair and attack the destroyer of his honour. He half managed it, but finally fell back senseless with his mouth distorted. The guests had all risen and rushed to the library. The ladies shrieked in terror. The men behind asked what had happened. The Conde de Onis cast a frenzied look at them, stepped to the spot where Josefina was lying, lifted her from the ground, and with her in his arms, he tried to pass out, but Amalia stood in the way.
"Where are you going?"
Then she tried to snatch the child from him. But Luis stretched out his hand, caught the Valencian by the hair, and after shaking her roughly three or four times, he cast her away from him, and made for the drawing-room door. He flew down the staircase and out into the street, where his carriage was waiting for him, and jumping into it with his precious burthen, he said to the coachman:
"Quick, to the Grange!"
The heavy vehicle jolted along the badly paved streets, and he was not long in reaching the high road. The moon shone high in the firmament. Great thick clouds floated across its disc, but it reappeared directly. A stormy wind soughed in the upper atmospheric regions. Silence and peace reigned below.
Josefina still remained unconscious. The count wiped the blood away with his handkerchief. Then he tried to revive her by imprinting long, passionate kisses upon her alabaster cheek.
At last her eyes opened, she looked at the count with a strange intensity and then they lighted up with a sweet smile:
"Is that you, Luis?"
"Yes, my life, it is I."
"Where are you taking me to?"
"Where you like."
"Take me far away, very far away! Take me to your house. Take me, even if you can't feed me. Being with you I shan't mind dying."
The count pressed her to his heart and covered her with kisses.
"Yes, yes, you are going to my house," he exclaimed, whilst tears bathed his cheeks. "You shall never leave it, because they would have to take my life before they should take you. Listen, Josefina, I am going to tell you something. Try and understand. Make an effort and you will do so. I am your father. The Senores de Quinones took you into their house; but I am your father. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Luis, I understand you."
"They took you in because I was wrong enough to give you up to them instead of keeping you with me."
"Now I understand you, Luis. You were not wrong. You were good, and I love you."
"Yes, child of my soul, I love you more than my life. Forgive me."
"I love you too—but not them. I loved godmother once, but not now. She has beaten me so much. If you could but know! She bit me, she scratched me, she dragged me on the ground, she told Concha to beat me with a broom, she tied me with a string like a dog."
"Don't, don't, you kill me!" said Luis, sobbing.
"Don't cry, Luis, don't cry! See how kind you are; you are crying for me."
"Should I not cry for you as you are my daughter? I am your father! Don't you know it, don't you know it?"
"Yes, I know it. You are my father, and I am your daughter. I am sleepy—let me sleep upon your breast."
And her little fair head sank in sleep. The count bent his own to imprint a kiss upon her brow, and his lips encountered the fire of fever.
The little creature enjoyed a few minutes lethargic sleep. Occasional cold shivers ran through her delicate little body. At last she awoke with a cry.
"Luis, they are taking me away! Look at them, look at them! There they are!" Her eyes were full of wild terror.
"No, daughter, no, they are trees on the road waving their branches towards us."
"Don't you see Don Pedro threatening me? Don't you hear what he is saying?"
"Calm yourself, my soul, it is the roaring of the wind."
"You are right. They are gone now. Look how the moon is shining! Look at the beautiful fields and the quantities of flowers! A palace of crystal! There is a child playing with a white cat. How lovely! It is prettier than Rose. Let me play with her, Luis."
"You shall play as much as you like, and I will buy you a white cat and a white dove that will eat out of your hand."
"No, I don't want you to spend money; I am contented if you don't leave me."
"Never, you shall live with me always, because you are my daughter. Go to sleep, my heart."
"Darkness again! It has come back. Take them away, Luis, take them! for God's sake! How they are pulling at me!"
"Don't be afraid, you are with me. Look, there is the moon again. Do you see how it shines? Sleep, my heart."
"It is true—Yes I see the fields full of flowers—I see the white cat—The child is not there—Where is it, Luis?"
"It is in my house waiting to play with you. We are very near now. Go to sleep."
"Yes, Luis, I am going to sleep. You tell me to, don't you? I ought to obey you because I am your daughter. I am cold. Hold me tighter."
He pressed her closer and closer to his breast. Josefina slept at last. The carriage rolled along the deserted road, past the fields lighted by the light of the moon. The wind moaned in the distance. The trees began to wave their branches.
The drive to the Grange was reached.
Luis bent his head to wake the child, but on giving her a kiss, he felt the coldness of death. He raised her quickly, he shook her violently several times as he called her loudly:
"Josefina! Daughter! daughter! daughter! Wake up!"
The fair head of the child fell from one side to the other like a lily with a broken stem.
Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON & CO.
London & Edinburgh
[A] A peseta is worth 9-1/2d.
[B] Spanish game of cards.
[C] One of the Spanish military orders formed to wage war against infidels.
[D] Spanish games of cards.
[E] About L700 or L800.
[F] Spanish game of billiards.
[G] The officer who collects the king's revenue.
[H] About L300.
[I] About L400.
[J] Lapiz, a black stone. He meant to say apice, the smallest part.
[K] An old-fashioned dance still in vogue in Galicia and Asturias. One chants a song, and the others join in the chorus.