A Wedding Trip by condesa de Emilia Pardo Bazán

A WEDDING TRIP
BY

EMILIA PARDO BAZÁN

TRANSLATED BY
MARY J. SERRANO

TRANSLATOR OF “MARIE BASHKIRTSEFF, THE JOURNAL
OF A YOUNG ARTIST,” ETC.
————

CASSELL PUBLISHING COMPANY
104 & 106 Fourth Avenue

Copyright, 1891, by

CASSELL PUBLISHING COMPANY.

All rights reserved.

THE MERSHON COMPANY PRESS,
RAHWAY, N. J.

A WEDDING TRIP.
Chapter I., II., III., IV., V., VI., VII., VIII., IX., X., XI., XII., XIII., XIV.

CHAPTER I.
That the wedding was not a fashionable one was to be seen at a glance. The bride and groom, indeed, so far as could be judged from externals, might mix in the most select society, but the greater number of the guests—the chorus, so to say—belonged to that portion of the middle class which merges into and is scarcely to be distinguished from the mass of the people. Among them were some curious and picturesque groups, the platform of the railway station at Leon presenting a scene that would have greatly interested a genre painter.

Just as in the ideal bridal scenes that we see painted on fans, it was noticeable here that the train of the bride was composed exclusively of the gentler, that of the bridegroom of the sterner sex. There was also noticeable a striking difference between the social conditions of the two parties. The bride’s escort, much the more numerous of the two, looked like a populous ant-hill. The women, both young and{2} old, wore the traditional black woolen dress, which, for the women of the lower classes who have some pretentions to gentility, has almost come to be the prescribed costume of ceremony; for the people still retain the privilege of donning gay colored garments on festive and joyous occasions. Among these human ants were several who were young and pretty, some of them joyous and excited with thoughts of the wedding, others lugubrious looking, their eyes red with weeping, thinking of the approaching parting. They were marshaled by half a dozen duennas of mature years who, from out the folds of their manto, cast around them on all sides sharp and suspicious glances. The whole troop of female friends flocked around the newly made bride, manifesting the puerile and eager curiosity which the spectacle of the supreme situations of life is apt to awaken in the breasts of the multitude. They devoured with their eyes the girl they had seen a thousand times before, whose every feature they knew by heart—the bride who, arrayed in her traveling dress, seemed to them a different being from the girl they had hitherto known.

The heroine of the occasion might be some eighteen years old; she might be thought younger, if one judged by the childish expression{3} of her mouth and the rounded contour of her cheeks, older, judging by the luxuriant curves of her figure and the exuberant life and vigor revealed in her whole person. Here were no high and narrow shoulders and impossible hips such as we see represented in fashion plates, that put one in mind of a doll stuffed with bran; this was a woman, not of the conventional type of an ephemeral fashion, but of the eternal type of the feminine form, such as nature and classic art have designed it. Perhaps this physical superiority detracted to a certain extent from the effect of the fanciful traveling dress of the bride, perhaps curves less rounded, firmer outlines of the arm and neck were required in order to wear with the necessary ease the semi-masculine dress of maroon-colored cloth and the coarse straw toque, on whose crown perched, with wings outspread over a nest formed of feathers, a humming-bird with irridescent plumage.

It was evident that these adornments of dress were new to the bride, and that the skirt, gathered and fastened around the waist, and the tight jacket, which followed closely the lines of the bust, made her feel ill at ease as a young girl at her first ball feels ill at ease in her décolleté gown, for in every unaccustomed fashion in dress there is something immodest{4} for the woman of simple habits. Besides, the mold was too narrow for the beautiful statue which it inclosed and which threatened at every moment to burst it, not so much by reason of its volume as because of the freedom and vigor of its youthful movements. The race of the strong and robust old man, the father, who stood there erect, his eyes fastened on his daughter, was not belied in this splendid specimen of womanhood. The old man, tall, firm and upright as a telegraph post, and a middle-aged Jesuit of short stature, were the only men noticeable among the feminine swarm.

The bridegroom was accompanied by some half-dozen friends, and if the retinue of the bride was the link that joins the middle class to the people, that of the bridegroom touched on the boundary line, in Spain as vague as it is extensive, between the middle class and the higher ranks. A certain air of official gravity, a complexion faded and smoked by the flare of the gas-jets, an indefinable expression of optimistic satisfaction and maturity of age, were signs indicative of men who had reached the summit of human aspirations in those countries which are in their decline—a government situation. One among them seemed to take precedence of the rest, by whom he was treated with marked deference.{5}

This group was animated by a noisy joviality restrained by official decorum; curiosity was rife here too, less open and ingenuous but keener and more epigrammatic in its expression than among the swarm of the female friends of the bride. There were whispered conversations, witticisms of the café, accentuated by a gesture of the hand or a push of the elbow, bursts of laughter quickly suppressed, glances of intelligence; cigar-ends were thrown on the ground with a martial air, arms were folded as if they had a tacit understanding with each other. The gray overcoat of the groom was noticeable among the black coats, and his tall figure dominated the figures of the men around him. Half a century, less a lustrum, successfully combated by the skill of the tailor and the arts of the toilet, shoulders that stooped in spite of their owner’s efforts to hold them erect, a countenance against whose pallor, suggestive of habitual late hours, were defined, sharply as lines drawn with pen and ink, the pointed ends of the mustache, hair whose scantiness was apparent even under the smooth brim of the ash-colored felt hat, skin wrinkled and pursy under the eyes, eyelids of a leaden hue, eyes lusterless and dull but a carriage still graceful, and the carefully preserved remains of former good looks—such{6} was the picture presented by the bridegroom. Perhaps the very elegance of his dress served to make all the more evident the ravages of time; the long overcoat was a trifle too tight for the waist, less slender than it had once been, the felt hat, jauntily tipped to one side, called loudly for the smooth cheeks and temples of youth. But all this notwithstanding, among that assemblage of vulgar provincial figures the figure of the bridegroom had a certain air of courtliness, the ease of a man accustomed to the commodious and comfortable life of great cities, and the dash of one who knows no scruples and stops at nothing when self-interest is in question. He showed himself superior to the group of his friends even in the good-humored reserve with which he received the innuendos and whispered jests, so appropriate to the bourgeois character of the wedding.

The engine now announced by a shrill whistle or two the approaching departure of the train; the hurry and movement on the platform increased and the floor trembled under the weight of the baggage-laden barrows. The warning cries of the officials were at last heard. Up to this time the wedding party had been conversing in groups in low and confidential tones; the approaching crisis seemed to reanimate them, to break the spell{7} as it were, transforming the scene in an instant. The bride ran to her father with open arms, and the old man and the young girl clasped each other in a long embrace—the hearty embrace of the people in which the bones crack and the breathing is impeded. From the lips of both, almost simultaneously, came rapid phrases in quick succession.

“Be sure and write to me every day, eh? Take care not to drink water when you are perspiring. Your husband has money—ask more if that should run out.”

“Don’t worry, father. I will do all in my power to come back soon. Take care of yourself, for Heaven’s sake—take care of your asthma. Go once in a while to see Señor de Rada. If you should fall ill, send me a telegram on the instant. On your word of honor?”

Then followed the hugs and hearty kisses, the sobs and snifflings of the retinue of the bride, and the last commissions, the last good-wishes.

“May you be as happy as the patriarchs of old.”

“San Rafael be with you, child.”

“Lucky girl that you are! To be in France without as much as stirring from your seat!”

“Don’t forget my wrap. Are the measures{8} in the trunk? Will you be sure not to mistake the threads?”

“Take care not to get open-work embroidery—that is to be had here.”

“Open wide those big eyes of yours and look about you, so that when you come back you will be able to give us an account of all that you have seen.”

“Father Urtazu,” said the bride, approaching the Jesuit already mentioned, and taking hold of his hand, on which she pressed her lips, letting fall on it at the same time two crystalline tears, “pray for me.”

And drawing closer to him, she added, in a low voice:

“If anything should happen to papa you will let me know at once, will you not? I will send you our address at every place where we may make any stay. Take care of him for me. Promise me to go occasionally to see how he is getting on. He will be so lonely.”

The Jesuit raised his head and fixed on the young girl his eyes, that squinted slightly, as is apt to be the case with the eyes of persons accustomed to concentrate their gaze; then, with the vague smile characteristic of those given to meditation, and in the confidential tone befitting the occasion:

“Go in peace,” he answered, “and God our{9} Lord be with you, for He is a safe companion. I have said the Itinerary for you that we may come back well and happy. Bear in mind what I have told you, little one; we are now, so to speak, a dignified married lady, and although we think our path is going to be strewn with roses and that everything is to be honey and sweetness in our new state, and that we are going out into the world to throw care to the winds and to enjoy ourselves—be on your guard! be on your guard! From the quarter where we least expect it, trouble may come, and we may have annoyances and trials and sufferings to endure that we knew nothing about when we were children. It will not do to be foolish, then, remember. We know that above there, directing the shining stars in their course, is the only One who can understand us and console us when He thinks proper to do so. Listen, instead of filling your trunks with finery, fill them with patience, child, fill them with patience. That is more useful than either arnica or plasters. If He who was so great, had need of it to help Him to bear the cross, you who are so little——”

The homily might have lasted until now, accompanied and emphasized from time to time by little slaps on the shoulder, had it not been{10} interrupted by the shock, rude as reality, of the train getting in motion. There was a momentary confusion. The groom hastened to take leave of everybody with a certain cordial familiarity in which the experienced eye could detect a tinge of affectation and patronizing condescension. He threw his right arm around his father-in-law, placing his left hand, covered with a well-fitting yellow castor glove, on the old man’s shoulder.

“Write to me if the child should fall ill,” entreated the latter with fatherly anxiety, his eyes filling with tears.

“Have no fear, Señor Joaquin. Come, come, you must not give way like this. There is no illness to be feared there. Good-by, Mendoya; good-by, Santián. Thanks! thanks! Señor Governor, on my return I shall claim those bottles of Pedro Jimenez. Don’t pretend you have forgotten them! Lucía, you had better get in now, the train will start immediately and ladies cannot——”

And with a polite gesture he assisted the bride to mount the steps, lifting her lightly by the waist. He then sprang up himself, scarcely touching the step, after throwing away his half-smoked cigar. The iron monster was already in motion when he entered the compartment and closed the door behind him.{11} The measured movement gradually grew more rapid and the entire train passed before the party on the platform, leaving on their sight a confused whirl of lines, colors, numbers, and rapid glances from the passengers looking out at every window. For some moments longer Lucía’s face could be distinguished, agitated and bathed in tears, the flutter of her handkerchief could be seen, and her voice heard saying:

“Good-by, papa. Father Urtazu, good-by, good-by. Rosario, Carmen, adieu.”

Then all was lost in the distance, the course of the scaly serpent could be traced only by a dark line, then by a blurred trail of thick smoke that soon also vanished into space. Beyond the platform, now strangely silent, shone the cloudless sky, of a steely blue, interminable fields stretched monotonously far into the distance, the rails showed like wrinkles on the dry face of the earth. A great silence rested upon the railway station. The wedding party had remained motionless, as if overwhelmed by the shock of parting. The friends of the bridegroom were the first to recover themselves and to make a move to depart. They bade good-by to the father of the bride with hasty hand-shakings and trivial society phrases, somewhat carelessly worded, as if addressed by a superior to an inferior, and then, in a body, took the{12} road for the city, once more indulging in the jests and laughter interrupted by the departure of the train.

The retinue of the bride, on their side, began to recover themselves also, and after a sigh or two, after wiping their eyes with their handkerchiefs, and in some instances even with the back of the hand, the group of black human ants set itself in motion to leave the platform. The irresistible force of circumstances drew them back to real life.

The father of the bride, with a shake of his head and an eloquent shrug of resignation, himself led the way. Beside him walked the Jesuit who stretched his short stature to its utmost height in order to converse with his companion, without succeeding, notwithstanding his laudable efforts, in raising the circle of his tonsure above the athletic shoulders of the afflicted old man.

“Come, come, Señor Joaquin,” said Father Urtazu, “a fine time you chose to wear that Good Friday face! One would suppose the child had been carried off by force or that the marriage was not according to your taste! Be reasonable. Was it not yourself, unhappy man, who arranged the match? What is all this grieving about, then?”

“If one could only be certain of the result{13} in all one does,” said Señor Joaquin, in a choking voice, slowly moving his bull-like neck.

“It is too late for those reflections now. But we were in such haste—such haste! that I don’t know what those white hairs and all the years we carry on our shoulders were for. We were just like the little boys in my class when I promise to tell them a story, and they are ready to jump out of their skins with impatience. By the faith of Alfonso, one might have thought you were the bride yourself—no, not that, for the deuce a hurry the bride was in——”

“Ah, father, what if you were right after all! You wanted to put off the marriage——”

“Softly, softly, my friend, stop there; I wanted to prevent it. I speak my mind frankly.”

Señor Joaquin looked more dejected than before.

“By the Constitution!” he cried, in distressed accents, “what a trial and what a responsibility it is for a father——”

“To have daughters,” ended the Jesuit, with a vague smile, pushing out his thick lips with a gesture of indulgent disdain; “and worst of all,” he added, “is to be more obstinate than a mule, if you will pardon me for saying so, and to think that poor Father Urtazu knows nothing about anything but his stones, and his{14} stars, and his microscope, and is an ignoramus and simpleton where real life is concerned.”

“Don’t make me feel any worse than I do already, father. It is trouble enough not to be able to see Lucía, for I don’t know how long. All that is wanting now is that the marriage should turn out badly and that she should be unhappy——”

“Well, well, give up tormenting yourself about it. What is done cannot be undone. In the matter of marriage only He who is above can tie and untie, and who knows but that all may turn out well, notwithstanding my forebodings and my foolish fears. For what am I but a poor blind creature who can see only what is right before his eyes? Bah! It is the same with this as with the microscope. You look at a drop of water with the naked eye and it looks so clear that you want to drink it up. But you place it under those innocent-looking little lenses and, presto! you find yourself face to face with all sorts of crawling things and bacteria dancing a rigadoon inside. In the same way He who dwells above the clouds up there sees things that to us dunces here below seem so simple, but which for Him have their meaning. Bah, bah! He will take care to arrange everything for us,{15} things we could never arrange for ourselves though we should try never so hard.”

“You are right, our chief trust must be in God,” assented Señor Joaquin, drawing a heavy sigh from the depths of his capacious chest. “To-night, with all this worry, the confounded asthma will give me enough to think of. I find it hard now to draw a breath. I shall sleep, if I sleep at all, sitting up in bed.”

“Send for that rascal, Rada,—he is very clever,” said the Jesuit, looking compassionately at the old man’s flushed face and swollen eyes, lighted by the oblique rays of the autumnal sun.

While the wedding-party defiled with funereal slowness through the ill-paved streets of Leon, the train hurried on, on, leaving behind the endless rows of poplars, that looked like a staff of music, the notes of a pale green traced on the crude red of the plains. Lucía, huddled up in a corner of the compartment, wept, without bitterness, with a sense of luxury, rather, with the vehement and uncontrollable grief of girlhood. The groom was quite conscious that it was his place to say some word, to show his affection, to sympathize with this first grief, to console it; but there are certain situations in life in which simple natures display tact and judgment, but in which the man of the world,{16} the man of experience, finds himself utterly at a loss what to do. At times a drachm of heart is worth a ton of talent. Where vain formulas are ineffectual, feeling, with its spontaneous eloquence, may be all-powerful. After racking his brains to find some opening to begin a conversation with his bride, it occurred to the bridegroom to take advantage of a trivial circumstance.

“Lucía,” he said in a somewhat embarrassed voice, “change your seat, my child; come over here; the sun falls full on you where you are, and that is very injurious.”

Lucía rose with the stiffness of an automaton, crossed to the other side of the compartment, and letting herself fall heavily into her seat, covered her face again with her delicate handkerchief, and once more gave vent in sobs to the tender emotions of her youthful breast.

The bridegroom frowned. It was not for nothing that he had spent forty odd years of existence surrounded by good-humored people of easy manners, shunning disagreeable and mournful scenes, which produced in his system an extraordinary amount of nervous disturbance, disgusting him, as the sublime horror of a tragedy disgusts persons of mediocre intelligence. The gesture by which he manifested his impatience was followed by a shrug of the{17} shoulders which said clearly, “Let us give the squall time to blow over; these tears will exhaust themselves, and after the storm will come fine weather.” Resolved, then, to wait until the clouds should clear away, he began a minute examination of his traveling equipage, informing himself as to whether the buckles of the shawl strap worked well, and whether his cane and his umbrella were properly fastened in a bundle with Lucía’s parasol. He also convinced himself to his satisfaction that a Russian leather satchel with plated clasps, which he carried at his side, attached to a leather strap slung across his shoulders, opened and shut easily, carefully replacing the little steel key of the satchel in his waistcoat pocket afterward.

He then took his railway-guide from one of the pockets of his overcoat and proceeded to check off with his fore-finger the names of the stations at which they were to stop on their route.

CHAPTER II.
We have now to learn whose was the breath that kindled the nuptial-torch on the present occasion.

Señor Joaquin, then called plain Joaquin,{18} had left his native place in the vigor of early manhood, strong as a bull and untiring in labor as a domesticated ox. Finding a place in Madrid as porter to a nobleman who had an ancestral estate in Leon, he became the broker, man of business, and confidential agent of all the people of repute of his native province. He looked up lodgings for them, found them a safe warehouse for their goods and was, in short, the Providence of Astorga. His undoubted honesty, his punctuality and zeal won for him so good a reputation that commissions poured in upon him in a constant and steady stream, and reals, dollars, and doubloons fell like a shower of hail into his pocket in such abundance, that fifteen years after his arrival in the capital Joaquin was able to unite himself in the indissoluble bonds of matrimony with a countrywoman of his own, a maid in the service of the nobleman’s wife, and the mistress, for a long time past, of the thoughts of the porter; and, after the marriage, to set up a grocery, over the door of which was inscribed in golden letters the legend: “The Leonese. Imported Provisions.” From a broker he then became the business manager of his compatriots in Madrid; he bought goods for them wholesale and sold them at retail, and everyone in Madrid who wished to obtain{19} aromatic chocolate, ground by hand, or biscuits of feathery lightness, such as only the women of Astorga possess the secret of making, found themselves obliged to have recourse to him. It became the fashion to breakfast on the Carácas chocolate and the biscuits of the Leonese. The magnate, his former master, set the example, giving him his custom, and the people of rank followed, their appetites awakened by the old-fashioned present of a dainty worthy of the table of Carlos IV or of Godoy. And it was worth while to see how Señor Joaquin, the commercial horizon ever widening before him, gradually came to monopolize all the national culinary specialties—tender peas from Fuentesauco, rich sausages from Candelario, hams from Calderas, sweetmeats from Estremadura, olives from the olive-groves of Seville, honeyed dates from Almeria, and golden oranges that store up in their rind the sunshine of Valencia. In this manner and by this unremitting industry Joaquin accumulated a considerable sum of money, if not with honor, at least with honesty. But, successful as he had been in acquiring money, he was more successful still in investing it after he had acquired it, in lands and houses in Leon, for which purpose he made frequent journeys to his native city.{20} After eight years of childless marriage he became the father of a healthy and handsome girl, an event which rejoiced him as greatly as the birth of an heiress to his crown might rejoice a king; but the vigorous Leonese mother was unable to support the crisis of her late maternity, and after clinging feebly to life for a few months after the birth of the child, let go her hold upon it altogether, much against her will. In losing his wife Señor Joaquin lost his right hand, and from that time forward ceased to be distinguished by the air of satisfaction with which he had been wont to preside at the counter, displaying his gigantic proportions as he reached to the highest shelf to take down the boxes of raisins, for which purpose he had but to raise himself slightly on the tips of his broad feet and stretch out his powerful arm. He would pass whole hours in a state of abstraction, his gaze fixed mechanically on the bunches of grapes hanging from the ceiling, or on the bags of coffee piled up in the darkest corner of the shop, on which the deceased was in the habit of seating herself at her knitting. Finally, he fell into so deep a melancholy that even his honest and lawful gains, acquired in the exercise of his business, became a matter of indifference to him, and the physicians prescribing for him the salubrious{21} air of his native place and a change in his regimen and manner of life, he disposed of the grocery, and with magnanimity not unworthy of an ancient sage, retired to his native village, satisfied with the wealth he had already acquired and unambitious of greater gains.

He took with him the little Lucía, now the only treasure dear to his heart, who with her infantile graces had already begun to enliven the shop, carrying on a fierce and constant warfare against the figs of Fraga and the almonds of Alcoy, less white than the little teeth that bit them.

The young girl grew up like a vigorous sapling planted in fertile soil; it almost seemed as if the life she had been the cause of her mother’s losing was concentrated in the person of the child. She passed through the crises of infancy and girlhood without any of those nameless sufferings that blanch the cheeks and quench the light in the eyes of the young. There was a perfect equilibrium in her rich organism between the nerves and the blood, and the result was a temperament such as is now seldom to be met with in our degenerate society.

Mind and body in Lucía kept pace with each other in their development, like two traveling companions who, arm in arm, ascend the hills{22} and help each other over the rugged places on their journey, and it was a curious fact that, while the materialist physician, Velez de Rada, who attended Señor Joaquin, took delight in watching Lucía and noting how exuberantly the vital current flowed through the members of this young Cybele, the learned Jesuit, Father Urtazu, was also her devoted admirer, finding her conscience as clear and diaphanous as the crystals of his microscope, neither of them being conscious that what they both admired in the young girl was, perhaps, one and the same thing seen from a different point of view, namely, perfect health.

Señor Joaquin desired to give Lucía a good education, as he understood it, and indeed did all in his power to cripple the superior nature of his daughter, though without success. Impelled on the one hand by the desire to bestow accomplishments on Lucía which should enhance her merit, fearing on the other lest it should be sarcastically said in the village that Uncle Joaquin aspired to have a young lady daughter, he brought her up in a hybrid manner, placing her as a day pupil in a boarding school, under the rule of a prudish directress who professed to know everything. There Lucía was taught a smattering of French and a little music; as for any solid instruction, it{23} was not even thought of; knowledge of social usages, zero; and for all feminine knowledge—a knowledge much vaster and more complicated than the uninitiated imagine—some sort of fancy work, as tedious and useless as it was ugly, patterns of slippers in the worst possible taste, embroidered shirt-bosoms, or bead purses. Happily, Father Urtazu sowed among so many weeds a few grains of wheat, and the moral and religious instruction of Lucía, although limited, was as correct and solid as her school studies were futile. Father Urtazu had more of the practical moralist than of the ascetic, and the young girl learned more from him concerning ethics than dogma. So that although a good Christian she was not a fervent one. The absolute tranquillity of her temperament forbade her ever being carried away by enthusiasm; there was in the girl something of the repose of the Olympian goddesses; neither earthly nor heavenly matters disturbed the calm serenity of her mind. Father Urtazu used to say, pushing out his lip with his accustomed gesture:

“We are sleeping, sleeping, but I am very sure we are not dead; and the day on which we awaken there will be something to see; God grant that it may be for good.”

The friends of Lucía were Rosarito, the{24} daughter of Doña Agustina, the landlady of the village inn; Carmen, the niece of the magistrate, and a few other young girls of the same class, many of whom dreamed of the gentle tranquillity, the peaceful monotony of the conventual life, forming to themselves seductive pictures of the joys of the cloister, of the tender emotion of the day of the profession, when, crowned with flowers and wearing the white veil, they should offer themselves to Christ with the exquisite sweetness of adding, “forever! forever!” Lucía had listened to them without a single fiber of her being vibrating responsive to this ideal. Active life called to her with deep and powerful voice. Nor did she feel any desire, on the other hand, to imitate others of her companions whom she saw furtively hiding love-letters in their bosoms or hurrying, eager and blushing, to the balcony. In her childhood, prolonged by innocence and radiant health, there was no room for any other pleasure than to run about among the shady walks that surrounded Leon, leaping for very joy, like a youthful nymph sporting in some Hellenic valley.

Señor Joaquin devoutly believed that he had given his daughter all the education that was necessary, and he even thought the waltzes and fantasies, which she pitilessly slaughtered{25} with her unskillful fingers on the piano, admirably executed. However deeply he might hide it in the secret recesses of his soul, the Leonese was not without the aspiration, common to all men who have exercised humble occupations and earned their bread by the sweat of their brows—he desired that his daughter should profit by his efforts, ascending a step higher in the social scale. He would have been well contented, for his own part, to continue the same “Uncle Joaquin” as before; he had no pretensions to be considered a rich man, and both in his disposition and his manners, he was extremely simple; but if he were willing to renounce position for himself, he was not willing to do so for his daughter. He seemed to hear a voice saying to him, as the witches said to Banquo, “Thou shalt get kings though thou be none.” And divided between the modest conviction of his own absolute insignificance and the moral certainty he entertained that Lucía was destined to occupy an elevated position in the world, he came to the not unreasonable conclusion that marriage was to be the means whereby the desired metamorphosis of the girl into the lady of rank was to be accomplished. A distinguished son-in-law was from this time forth the ceaseless aspiration of the ex-grocer.{26}

Nor were these the only weaknesses of Señor Joaquin. He had others, which we have no compunction in disclosing to the reader. Perhaps the strongest and most confirmed of these was his inordinate love of coffee, a taste acquired in the importing business, in the gloomy winter mornings, when the hoar frost whitened the glass-door of the show-case, when his feet seemed to be freezing in the gray atmosphere of the solitary shop, and the lately-abandoned, perhaps still warm bed, tempted him, with mute eloquence, back to his slumbers. Then, half-awake, solicited to sleep by the requirements of his Herculean physique and his sluggish circulation, Señor Joaquin would take the little apparatus, fill the lamp with alcohol, light it, and soon from the tin spout would flow the black and smoking stream of coffee which at once warmed his blood, cleared his brain, and by the slight fever and waste of tissue it produced, gave him the necessary stimulus to begin his day’s work, to make up his accounts, and sell his provisions. After his return to Leon, when he was free to sleep as long as he liked, Señor Joaquin did not give up the acquired vice but rather reinforced it with new ones; he fell into the habit of drinking the black infusion in the café nearest to his abode, accompanying it with a glass of Kummel, and by the perusal of a{27} political journal—always and unfailingly the same.

On a certain occasion it occurred to the government to suspend the publication of this newspaper for a period of twenty days; a little more and Señor Joaquin would have given up his visits to the café through sheer desperation. For, Señor Joaquin being a Spaniard, it seems needless to say that he had his political opinions like the best, and that he was consumed by a zeal for the public welfare, as we all of us are. Señor Joaquin was a harmless specimen of the now extinct species, the progressionist. If we were to classify him scientifically, we should say he belonged to the variety of the impressionist progressionist. The only event that had ever occurred to him during his life as a political partisan was that one day a celebrated politician, a radical at that time, but who afterward passed over bag and baggage to the conservatives, being a candidate for representative to the Cortes, entered his shop and asked him for his vote. From that supreme moment our Señor Joaquin was labeled, classified, and stamped—he was a progressionist of Don ——’s party. It was in vain that years passed and political changes succeeded one another and the political swallows, always in search of milder climes, took wing{28} for other regions; it was in vain that evil-disposed persons said to Señor Joaquin that his chief and natural leader, the aforesaid personage, was as much of a progressionist as his grandmother; that there were, in fact, no longer any progressionists on the face of the earth; that the progressionist was as much of a fossil as the megatherium or the plesiosaurus; it was in vain that they pointed out to him the innumerable patches sewed on the purple mantle of the will of the nation by the not impeccable hands of his idol himself. Señor Joaquin, even with all this testimony, was not convinced, but, change who might, remained firm as a post in his loyal attachment to the leader. Like those lovers who fix upon their memories the image of the beloved such as she appeared to them in some supreme and memorable moment, and in despite of the ravages of pitiless time, never again behold her under any other aspect, so Señor Joaquin could never get it into his head that his dear leader was in any respect different from what he had been at the moment when, with flushed face, he deigned to lean on the counter of the grocery, a loaf of sugar on the one side and the scales on the other, and with fiery and tribunitial eloquence ask him for his vote. From that time he was a subscriber to the organ of the aforesaid{29} leader. He also bought a poor lithograph, representing the leader in the act of pronouncing an oration, and placing it in the conventional gilt frame, hung it up in his bed-room, between a daguerreotype of his deceased spouse and an engraving of the blessed Santa Lucía, who displayed in a dish two eyes resembling two boiled eggs. Señor Joaquin accustomed himself to look at political events from the point of view of his leader, whom he called, quite naturally, by his baptismal name. Did matters in Cuba assume a threatening aspect? Bah! Señor Don —— says that complete pacification is an affair of a couple of months, at the utmost. Was it rumored that armed men were marching through the Basque provinces? There was no need to be frightened. Don —— affirmed that the absolutist party was dead and the dead do not come to life again. Was there a serious split in the liberal majority, some supporting X, others Z? Very well, very well, Don —— will settle the question; he is the very man to do it. Was there fear of a famine? Do you suppose Don —— is sitting idly sucking his thumb all this time? This very moment the veins (of the public treasury) will be opened. Are the taxes too heavy? Don —— spoke of economizing. Are the Socialists growing troublesome? Only{30} let them dare show themselves with Don —— at the head of affairs and he will soon put them down. And in this manner, without a doubt or a suspicion ever entering his mind, Señor Joaquin passed through the storm of the revolution and entered on the period of the restoration, greatly delighted to see that Don —— floated on the top of the wave and that his merits were appreciated, and that he held the pan by the handle to-day just as he had done yesterday.

Cherishing this sort of adoration for the leader, the reader may imagine what was the delight, confusion, and astonishment of Señor Joaquin at receiving a visit one morning from a grave and well-dressed person who had come to salute him in the name of Don —— himself.

The visitor was called Don Aurelio Miranda, and he occupied in Leon one of those positions, numerous in Spain, which are none the less profitable for being honorable, and which, without entailing any great amount of labor or responsibility, open to the holder the doors of good society by conferring upon him a certain degree of official importance,—a species of laical benefice in which are united the two things that, according to the proverb, cannot be contained in one sack. Miranda{31} came of a bureaucratic family, in which were transmitted by entail, as it were, important political positions, thanks to a special gift possessed by its members, perpetuated from father to son, a certain feline dexterity in falling always on their feet, and a certain delicate sobriety in the matter of expressing their opinions. The race of the Mirandas had succeeded in dyeing themselves with dull and refined colors, which would serve equally well as a background for white insignia or red device, so that there was no juncture of affairs in which they were the losers, no radicalism with which they could not make a compromise, no sea so smooth or so stormy that they could not fish successfully in its waters. The young Aurelio was born, it might be said, within the protecting shadow of the office walls. Before he had grown a beard or a mustache he had a position, obtained for him by paternal influence, aided by the influence of the other Mirandas. At first the employment was insignificant, with a salary that barely sufficed for the perfumes and neckties and other trifling expenses of the boy, who was naturally extravagant. Soon richer spoils fell to his share, and Aurelio followed in the route already marked out for him by his ancestors. Notwithstanding all this, however, it was evident{32} that in him his race had degenerated somewhat. Devoted to pleasure, ostentatious and vain, Aurelio did not possess the delicate art of always and in everything observing the happy medium; and he was wanting in the outward gravity, the composure of manner, which had won for past Mirandas the reputation of being men of brains and of ripe political experience. Conscious of his defects, Aurelio adroitly endeavored to turn them to account, and more than one delicate white hand had written for him perfumed notes, containing efficacious recommendations to personages of widely differing quality and class. In like manner, he gave himself out to be the companion and bosom friend of several political leaders, among others of the Don —— whom we already know. He had never spoken ten consecutive words having any relation to politics with any of them. He retailed to them the news of the day, the newest scandal, the latest double entendre, and the most recent burlesque, and in this way, without compromising himself with any, he was favored and served by all. He caught hold, like an inexpert swimmer, of the men who were more experienced swimmers than himself, and, sinking here and floating there, he succeeded in weathering the fierce political storms which beat upon Spain, following{33} the time-honored example of the Mirandas. But even political influence in time becomes exhausted, and there came a period in which such influence as Aurelio could command, now greatly diminished, was insufficient to keep him in the only place to his taste—Madrid, and he was compelled to go vegetate in Leon, between the government building and the cathedral, neither of which edifices interested him in the least. What was especially bitter to Aurelio was the consciousness that his decline in official life had its origin in another and an irreparable decline,—a decline in his personal attractions. After the age of forty he was no longer the subject of little notes of recommendation, or, at least, these notes were not so warm as before; in the offices of the notabilities his presence had come to be no more regarded than if he had been a chair or a table, and he himself was conscious that his fluency of speech was abandoning him. As he advanced in years he grew more like his ancestors. He began to acquire the seriousness of the Mirandas, and from an amiable rake he became a man of weight. Perhaps certain obstinate ailments, the protest of the liver against the unhealthy life—by turns sedentary, by turns full of feverish excitement—so long led by Aurelio, were not without their part in this{34} metamorphosis. Therefore, profiting by his sojourn in Leon and by the knowledge and singular skill of Velez de Rada, he devoted himself to the work of repairing the breaches made in his shattered organization; and the methodical life and the increasing gravity of his manners and appearance, which had been prejudicial to him in the capital, betraying the fact that he was becoming a useless and worn-out instrument, served him as a passport with the timid Leonese villagers, winning for him their sympathy and the reputation of being a person of credit and responsibility.

Miranda was in the habit of making an occasional trip to Madrid by way of diversion, and on one of these trips he had met, not long since, the Don —— of Señor Joaquin, whom we shall call Colmenar, through respect for his incognito—furious, at the moment, with a Don —— who took pleasure in thwarting all his plans and in nullifying his appointments. There was no means of coming to an understanding with this demon of a man, who persisted in cutting and mowing down the flourishing field of the Colmenarist adherents. Miranda, at the time in question, was in imminent danger of losing his position, and the words of the leader made him jump from his seat on the luxurious divan. “It is just as I say,” continued Colmenar; “it is{35} enough that I should have an interest in a man’s retaining his place for him to get him out of it. It is to be counted upon to a certainty. And there is no means of escaping it. He strikes without pity.”

“As for me,” answered Miranda, “if the worst were only to leave Leon—for, to tell the truth, that village bores me to death, although it is not without its advantages. But if matters go any further I shall be in a pretty fix.”

“And the most likely thing is that they will go further. Fortune is the enemy of the old. You have changed greatly for the worse, of late. That hair—do you remember what a splendid head of hair you had? We shall both soon be obliged to have recourse to acorn-oil as a heroic remedy in extremis.”

“To hear you speak,” exclaimed Miranda, twisting the locks on his temples with his former martial air, “one would suppose that I was bald. I think I manage to ward off the attacks of time very well. My ailments have made me a little——”

“Are you ill?” interrupted Colmenar; “leaks in the roof, my boy; leaks in the roof!”

“An affection of the liver, complicated with—— But in that antiquated village of Leon I have stumbled upon one of the most modern of physicians, a savant,” Miranda hastened{36} to add, observing the bored look of the leader, who feared he was going to be treated to a history of the disease. “I assure you that Velez de Rada is a prodigy. A confirmed materialist, it is true——”

“Like all doctors,” said Colmenar, with a shrug of the shoulders. “And how about other matters? Have you made many conquests in Leon? Are the Leonese girls susceptible?”

“Bah, hypocrites!” exclaimed Miranda, who, in the unreserve of confidential intercourse permitted himself to indulge in an occasional touch of irreverence. “The Jesuits have their heads turned with confraternities and novenas, and they go about devouring the saints with kisses. There is little social intercourse,—every one in his own house and God in the house of every one. But, after all, that suits me very well, since I require to rest and to lead a regular life.”

Colmenar listened in silence, tracing with his eyes the pattern on the soft, thick carpet.

At last he raised his head and slapped his forehead with his open palm.

“An unprecedented idea had just occurred to me,” he said, repeating the celebrated phrase of the Portuguese minister. “Why don’t you marry, my dear fellow?”{37}

“A bright idea, truly! A wife costs so little in these days. And afterward? ‘For him who does not like soup, a double portion.’ I am going to lose my situation, it may be, and you talk to me of marrying!”

“I do not propose, to you a wife who will lighten your purse, but one who will make it heavy.”

And the leader laughed loud and long at his own wit. Miranda remained pensive, thinking over the solid advantages of the plan, which he was not long in discovering. There could be no better means of providing against the assaults of hostile fortune and securing the doubtful future, before the few hairs he had left should have disappeared and the superficial polish conferred by fashion and the arts of the toilet should have vanished. And then, Leon was a city that suggested of itself matrimonial ideas. What was there to do but marry in a place where dullness reigned supreme, where celibacy inspired mistrust, and where the most innocent adventure gave rise to the most outrageous slanders? Therefore he said aloud:

“You are right, my boy. Leon is a place that inspires one with the desire to marry and to live like a saint.”

“The truth is, that for you,” continued Colmenar, “marriage has now become a necessity. Aside from the fact that it is high time for{38} you (here he smiled maliciously) to think of marrying, unless you want to be called an old bachelor, your health and your pocket both require it. If I cannot succeed in keeping you in your place what are you going to do? I suppose you have saved nothing?”

“Saved? I? Au jour le jour,” said Miranda, pronouncing with airy nonchalance the transpyrenean phrase.

“Well, then, il faut se faire une raison,” replied Colmenar, pleased to be able to display his learning in his turn.

“The question is to find the woman, the phoenix,” murmured Miranda, meditatively. “Girls of a marriageable age there are in plenty, but I have lost my reckoning here. Suggest some one you——”

“Some one here? God deliver you from the women of Madrid. They are more to be feared than the cholera? Do you know what the requirements are of any one of those angels? Do you know how much they spend?”

“So that——”

“The wife you require is in Leon itself.”

“In Leon! Yes, perhaps you are right, it might be easier there. But I don’t see—. The de Argas are already engaged; Concha Vivares is rich in expectations only; she has an aunt{39} who intends to make her her heiress at her death, but before that event occurs—— The de Hornillos girl—no, she has nothing but patents of nobility, and they won’t make the pot boil.”

“You are flying too high; young ladies are at a discount. Wait a moment and I will show you——”

Colmenar rose, and opening one of the drawers of his desk, took from it a strip of paper, yellow with age and covered with names, like a proscription list. And it was in truth a list; in it were inscribed in alphabetical order the names of the feudatories of the great Colmenarian personality, residing in the various provinces of the Peninsula. Under some of the names was written a capital L, which signified, “Loyal”; others were marked V L, “Very loyal”; a few were marked, “Doubtful.”

The leader placed his forefinger on one of the names marked L.

“I offer you,” he said to Miranda, “a young girl who has a fortune of perhaps more than two millions.”

Miranda opened wide his eyes, and stretched out his hand to take the auspicious list.

“Two millions!” he exclaimed. “But there is no one like you for these finds.”{40}

“You may have seen in Leon the person whose name is inscribed here,” continued Colmenar, indicating the line with his nail. “A robust, fine-looking old man, strong and vigorous still, Joaquin Gonzalez, the Leonese?”

“The Leonese! There is no one I know better. He has come to the government office of Leon several times, on business. Of course I know him. And now I remember that he has a daughter, but I have never taken any particular notice of her. She is very seldom seen.”

“They live very modestly. In ten years the fortune will double itself. He is a great man for business, the Leonese. A poor creature, a simpleton, in everything else; in politics he sees no further than his nose, but he has succeeded in making a fortune. This girl is his only child, and he adores her.”

“And don’t you think it likely that the girl may have formed some attachment already?”

“Bah, she is too young! The moment you present yourself—with your good address and your experience in such affairs——”

“Probably she is a ninny, and ugly into the bargain.”

“Her father was a magnificent-looking fellow in his youth, and her mother a handsome brunette,—why should the girl be ugly? No{41} one is ugly at fifteen. She will need polishing, it is true; but between you and a dressmaker that is a question of a month. Women are much more readily civilized and polished than men. The desire to please teaches them more than a hundred masters could do.”

“And what would all my friends say of me—especially in Leon—if they saw me marry the daughter of the Leonese?”

“Bah! bah! that is simply a question of making a change. After you are married, petition privately to be transferred to some other position. The old man will remain there, taking care of the property, and you and the girl will go live where nobody will know whether her father was an archduke or the executioner. After the marriage, you and your bride can take a little trip to the continent and in this way you will escape gossip during the first few months. And be quick about it before you begin to grow rotund, and your hair—— Ah, how time passes! It is sad to think how old we are getting.”

Miranda gazed at the point of his elegant tan-colored boot in silence, thoughtfully scratching his forehead.

“Find me an excuse to visit the house,” he said at last, with resolution. “They are unaccustomed to society, and it will be necessary{42} to have one. I shall not be required to parade the girl through the streets, I suppose.”

“You will make them a visit in my name. The old man will give you a warmer welcome than if you were the king himself!”

So saying, the leader seated himself at the table, which was littered with newspapers, letters, and books, and taking a sheet of stamped paper ran his hand over the white page, filling it with the rapid, almost unintelligible caligraphy of a man overwhelmed with business. He then folded the paper, slipped it into an envelope, and, without closing it, handed it to his friend.

When Miranda rose to take his leave he approached Colmenar, and speaking in a low voice, almost in a whisper, he murmured:

“Are you quite sure—quite certain about the—the two mill——”

“It is so likely I should be mistaken! All you have to do is to make inquiries in Leon. In conscience, you owe me a commission,” and the politician laughed and tapped Miranda on the cheek as if he were a child.

Under this exalted patronage Miranda presented himself in the peaceful abode of the Colmenarist feudatory, and was received as befitted a guest who came thus recommended. Naturally he resolved not to make himself{43} known at once as a suitor for the hand of Lucía. Besides being a want of delicacy this would also be a want of tact, and then Miranda proposed to himself, before taking any decided step, to study carefully the ground on which he was treading. He found that what the leader had told him with regard to the money was the truth, and even less than the truth. He saw a house, old-fashioned in style, rude and plebeian in its usages, but in which honesty presided, and a solid and secure capital, daily augmented through the judicious management of Señor Joaquin and his simple and economical mode of living. It is true that the worthy Leonese seemed to Miranda a tiresome companion, vulgar in his manners, weak in character, and mediocre in intellect,—stupid even, at times; but he was obliged to put up with him, and he even adapted himself so skillfully to the ideas of the old man that the latter was soon unable to sip his coffee or to read El Progreso Nacional, the organ of Colmenar, without the sauce of the witty commentaries that Miranda made on every article, every paragraph, every item of news it contained. Miranda knew by heart the obverse side, the inner aspect of politics, and he explained amusingly the sly allusions, the artful reservations, the covert satire, that abound in every important{44} newspaper, and that are a constant enigma for the simple-minded provincial subscriber. So that, since he had become intimate with Miranda, Señor Joaquin enjoyed the profound pleasure of being initiated into the mysteries, and he looked with disdain upon his Leonese co-religionists, who had not yet been admitted into the sanctuary of secret politics. In addition to these pleasures which he owed to Miranda’s friendship, the good old man swelled with pride—we already know how little of a philosopher he was—when he was seen walking side by side with a gentleman of so distinguished an appearance, the intimate friend of the governor, and the familiar companion of the highest people of the capital.

Lucía regarded the visit of the courteous and affable Miranda without displeasure, and noted with childish curiosity the neatness of his person, his well-polished shoes, his snowy linen, his scarf-pin, the curious trinkets attached to his watch-chain, for every woman—consciously or unconsciously—takes pleasure in these external adornments. Besides, Miranda possessed the art—and practiced it—of what we may call winning affection by diverting; he brought the young girl every day some new trifle, some novelty,—now a chromo, now a photograph, now rare flowers, now illustrated{45} periodicals, now a novel by Fernan Caballero, or Alarcon,—and the pretty gifts that flowed through the doors of the antiquated house, messages as it were, from modern civilization, were so many voices praising the generous giver. The latter succeeded in bringing his conversation to the level of Lucía’s understanding, and showed himself very well informed regarding feminine, or rather infantile matters, and the young girl would sometimes even consult him with regard to the style in which she should wear her hair and the make of her gowns, and Miranda would very seriously make her raise or lower, by two centimeters, the waist of her gown or her chignon. Incidents like these served to vary a little the monotony of the life of the Leonese maiden, lending a charm to her intercourse with her undeclared lover.

At first it was matter of no little surprise in Leon that the fashionable Miranda should choose for his companion Señor Joaquin, a man on whose square shoulders the peasant’s jacket seemed unalterably riveted and fastened; but gossip was not long in arriving at a rational explanation of the phenomenon, and Lucía’s companions soon began to tease her unmercifully about Señor de Miranda’s passion, his attentions, his presents, and his devotion. She{46} listened to them with a tranquil smile, never blushing, never losing a moment’s sleep on account of it all; nor did her heart beat a second faster when she heard Miranda’s ring at the bell, followed by the noise made by his resplendent boots as he entered the room. As no tender speech of Miranda’s came to confirm the words of her companions, Lucía continued tranquil and careless as ever. But Miranda, resolved now to bring his enterprise to a termination, and thinking that he had spent time enough in paving the way, one day, after sipping his coffee and reading El Progreso Nacional in the company of Señor Joaquin, asked the latter in plain terms for his daughter’s hand.

The Leonese was struck dumb with amazement and knew not what to say or do. His dream—Lucía’s entrance, so ardently desired, into the circles of polite society—was about to be realized. But we must be just to Señor Joaquin. He did not fail to perceive clearly, in this supreme moment, certain unfavorable points in the proposed marriage. He saw the difference in the ages of the prospective bride and bridegroom; he knew nothing of Miranda’s pecuniary position, while his daughter’s magnificent dowry was a matter of certainty; in short, he had a vague intuition of the base{47} self-interest on which the demand was founded. The suitor showed himself a skillful strategist, forestalling suspicion, in a manner, and anticipating the thoughts of the Leonese.

“I myself,” he said, “have no fortune. I have my profession—it is true”; (Miranda, like most other Spaniards, had studied law and obtained his degree in early manhood) “and if I should some day lose my position I have energy enough, and more than enough, to work hard and open an office in Madrid, where I could have a fine practice. I desire ease and comfort for my wife, but for her alone; as for my own wants, what I have is sufficient to supply them. The difference in fortune deterred me for a long time from asking Lucía’s hand, but the sentiment with which so much beauty and innocence has inspired me was too powerful to resist; notwithstanding this, however, if Colmenar had not assured me that you were generous-minded and disinterested, I should never have summoned resolution——”

“Señor Colmenar has far too high an opinion of me,” responded the flattered Leonese; “but those things require consideration. Go take a little trip——”

“In a fortnight I will come back for your answer,” responded Miranda, discreetly, taking his hat to go.{48}

He passed the fortnight in a Satanic frame of mind, for it was undoubtedly ridiculous for a man of his pretensions and his rank to have asked in marriage the daughter of a grocer and to be obliged to wait in the ante-chamber of the shop, so to say, until they should deign to open the door to admit him. Meanwhile Señor Joaquin, reading his newspaper and sipping his coffee alone, missed him greatly, and the idea of the marriage began to take root in his mind. Every day he thought the friend of Colmenar more and more desirable for a son-in-law. Notwithstanding this, however, he did what people usually do who desire to follow their inclinations without bearing the responsibility of their actions—he took counsel with some friends in regard to the matter, hoping to shelter himself under their approbation. In this expectation he was disappointed. Father Urtazu, who was the first person that he consulted, exclaimed, with his Navarrese frankness:

“For the old cat the tender mouse! The sweet-tongued, smooth-faced Don knows very well what he is about. But don’t you see, unhappy man, that the old fop might be Lucía’s father? Heaven knows what adventures he has had in the course of his life! Holy Virgin! who can tell what stories he may not have hidden away in the pockets of his coat!”{49}

“But what would you do if you were in my case, Father Urtazu?”

“I? Take a year to think of it instead of a fortnight, and another year after that, for whatever might chance to turn up.”

“By the Constitution! You have not observed the merits of Señor Aurelio, father.”

“The merits—the merits—pretty merits, indeed! Pish, pish! Unless it be a merit to go dressed like a dandy, displaying a couple of inches of his shirt cuffs, and giving himself the airs of a young man, when he is older-looking than I, for, though it be true that my hair is gray, at least the tree has not dropped its leaves!”

And Father Urtazu pulled with energy the stout iron-gray locks that grew on his temples, bristly as brambles.

“What does the child herself say about it?” he asked, suddenly.

“I have not yet spoken to her——”

“But that is the first thing to be done, unhappy man! Ah, how true is it that the mind, becomes dull with age. What are you waiting for?”

Velez de Rada was even yet more decided and uncompromising.

“Marry your daughter to Miranda!” he cried, raising his eyebrows with an angry and{50} indignant gesture. “Are you mad? The finest specimen of the race that I have met with here for the past ten years. A girl who has red globules enough in her blood to supply all the anæmic mannikins that promenade the streets of Madrid! Such a figure! Such a poise! Such proportions! And to Miranda who——” (here professional discretion sealed the lips of the physician, and silence reigned in the room).

“Señor Rada,”—Señor Joaquin, who was a little hard of hearing, began timidly.

“Do you know what is the duty of a father who has a daughter like Lucía?” the physician resumed. “To look, like Diogenes, for a man who, in constitution and exuberance of vitality, is her equal, and unite them. Do you consider that, with the indifference that prevails in this matter of marriage, with the sacrilegious unions we are accustomed to see between impoverished, sickly, and tainted natures and healthy natures, it is possible that at no distant date—in three or four generations more, perhaps—the utter deterioration of the peoples of Europe will be an assured fact? Or do you think that we can with impunity transmit to our descendants poison and pus in place of blood?”

Señor Joaquin left the doctor’s office a little{51} frightened, but more confounded, consoling himself with the thought, however, that the misfortunes predicted for his race would not happen for a century to come, at the soonest. The last disappointment that awaited him in his matrimonial consultations came from a sister of his, a very old woman who, in her youthful days, had been a laundress, but who was now supported by her brother. The poor woman, whose deceased husband had led her a dog’s life, exclaimed, in her husky voice, raising her withered hands to heaven, and shaking her trembling head:

“Miranda? Miranda? Some rascal, I suppose; some villain. May a thunderbolt strike——”

The Leonese waited to hear no more, and regarded his consultation as at an end.

The most important part of the question—Lucía’s opinion—was still wanting. Her father was racking his brains to find a diplomatic means of discovering it, when the young girl herself provided him with the desired opportunity.

“Papa,” she asked one day, with the utmost innocence, “can Señor Miranda be ill? He has not been here for several days.”

Señor Joaquin seized the opportunity and laid before her Miranda’s proposal. Lucía listened{52} attentively, with surprise depicted in her lustrous eyes.

“See there!” she said, at last. “Rosarito and Carmela were right, then, when they declared that Señor Miranda came here on my account. But who would have imagined it?”

“Come, child, what answer shall I give the gentleman?” asked the Leonese, with anxiety.

“Papa, how should I know? I never suspected that he wanted to marry me.”

“But, on your part, do you like Señor Miranda?”

“Like him? That I do. Though he is not so very young, he is still handsome,” answered Lucía, with the utmost naturalness.

“And his disposition, his manners?”

“He is very polite, very amiable.”

“Is the idea disagreeable to you that he should live here always—with us?”

“Not at all. On the contrary, he amuses me greatly when he comes.”

“Then, by the Constitution! you are in love with Señor Miranda?”

“See there! I don’t think that, though I have never thought much about those things, or what it may be like to fall in love; but I imagine it must be more exciting like, and that it comes to one more of a sudden—with more violence.”{53}

“But these violent attachments, what need is there of them to be a good wife?”

“None, I suppose. To be a good wife, Father Urtazu says, the most needful thing is the grace of God—and patience, a great deal of patience.”

Her father tapped her on the cheek with his broad palm.

“By the Constitution! you talk like a book. So, then, according to that, I am going to give Señor Miranda pleasing news!”

“Oh, father, the matter needs thinking over. Do me the favor to think over it for me, you; what do I know about marrying, or——”

“See here, you are now a big girl. You are too much of a simpleton.”

“No,” said Lucía, fixing her clear eyes on the old man’s face, “it is not that I am simple, it is that I do not wish to understand—do you hear? For if I begin to think about those things I shall end by losing my appetite, and my sleep, and my light-heartedness. To-night, of a certainty, I shall not close my eyes, and afterward Señor de Rada will say in Latin that I am ill in mind and that I am going to be ill in body. I wish to think of nothing but my amusements and my lessons. Of that other matter, no; for, if I did, my fancy would wander on and on, and I should pass whole hours{54} with my hands crossed before me, sitting motionless as a post. The truth is that when my thoughts run that way I fancy there is not a man in all the world to equal the lover I picture to myself; who, for that matter, is not in this world,—don’t imagine it,—but far away in distant palaces and gardens. But I don’t know how to explain myself. Can you understand what I mean?”

“Have they been putting the notion into your head of becoming a nun like Agueda, the daughter of the directress of the seminary?” cried Señor Joaquin, angrily.

“Oh, no, indeed!” murmured Lucía, whose glowing and animated face looked like a newly opened rose. “I would not be a nun for a kingdom. I have no vocation for that kind of life.”

“It is settled”; said Señor Joaquin to himself; “the pot begins to boil; the girl must be married.” And he added aloud: “If that is the case, then, child, I think you should not scorn Señor de Miranda. He is a perfect gentleman, and for politics—what an understanding he has! He is not displeasing to you?”

“I have said already that he is not,” replied Lucía, in more tranquil tones.

That same afternoon the Leonese himself took this satisfactory answer to Miranda.{55}

Colmenar wrote to Señor Joaquin a letter that was not without its effect. And before many days had elapsed Miranda said to his future father-in-law, in a pleased and confidential tone:

“Our friend Colmenar will be padrino; he delegates his duties to you, and sends this for the bride.”

And he took from its satin-lined case a pearl-handled fan, covered with Brussels lace, light as the sea-foam, that a breath sufficed to put in motion.

To describe Señor Joaquin’s gratification and pride would be a task beyond the power of speech. It seemed to him as if the personality of the famous political leader had suddenly, and by some occult means, become merged in his own; he fancied himself metamorphosed, become one with his idol, and he was almost beside himself with joy; and any doubts that might still have lingered in his mind, with regard to the approaching nuptials, vanished. Unwilling to be behind Colmenar in generosity, in addition to settling a liberal allowance on Lucía, he presented her with a large sum of money for the expenses of the wedding journey, whose route, traced by Miranda, included Paris, and certain beneficial mineral springs prescribed for him some time before by Rada, as a{56} sovereign remedy in bilious disorders. The idea of the journey appeared somewhat strange to Señor Joaquin. When he married, the only excursion he made was from the porter’s lodge to the grocery. But since his daughter was making her entrance into a higher social sphere, it was necessary to conform to the usages of her new rank, however singular they might appear. Miranda had declared this to be so and Señor Joaquin had agreed with him; mediocre natures are always ready to yield to the authority of those who care to take the trouble to manage them.

Any one with the slightest knowledge of provincial towns can easily picture to himself how much comment and criticism, open and concealed, were aroused in Leon by the marriage of the distinguished Miranda with the low-born heiress of the ex-grocer. It was criticised without measure or judgment. Some censured the vanity of the old man who, tired at the end of his days of his humble station, desired to bestow upon his daughter the style and rank of a marchioness (there were not a few for whom Miranda served as the traditional type of the marquis). Others criticised the bridegroom as a hungry Madridlenian, who had come to Leon with a superabundance of airs and an empty purse, in order to free himself from his embarrassments{57} by means of Señor Joaquin’s dollars. Others again described satirically the appearance the country girl, Lucía, would make when she should wear for the first time a hat and a train and carry a parasol. But these criticisms were disarmed of their sting by the proud satisfaction of Señor Joaquin, the childish frivolity of the bride, and the courteous and well-bred reserve of the bridegroom. Lucía, true to her purpose of not thinking of the marriage itself, busied her thoughts with the nuptial accessories and described to her friends with satisfaction the proposed journey, repeating the euphonious names of cities that seemed to her enchanted regions,—Paris, Lyons, Marseilles,—where the girl fancied the sky must be of a different color, and the sunshine of a different nature, from the sunshine and the sky of her native village. Miranda, by means of a loan he had negotiated, purposing to repay it afterward with his generous father-in-law’s money, ordered from the capital exquisite presents—a set of diamonds and a box filled with elegant articles of wearing apparel, the work of a celebrated man-milliner. Lucía, who after all was a woman, and to whom all these splendors were new, more than once, like Faust’s Marguerite, pleased herself by trying on the precious baubles before the looking-glass, shaking her head to make the diamonds in the{58} earrings, and in the flowers scattered among her dark tresses, flash back the light more brightly. In this way women amuse themselves when they are young and sometimes long after they have ceased to be young. But Lucía was not to preserve her youth forever.

CHAPTER III.
Meantime the train continued on its way. The tears of the bride had ceased to flow, leaving scarcely a trace behind them, even in reddened eyelids. So it is with the tears we shed in youth—tears without bitterness that, like a gentle dew, refresh instead of scorching. She began to be interested by the stations which they passed along the route and the people that looked in curiously at the door of the compartment. She put a thousand questions to Miranda, who explained everything to her, sparing no effort to amuse her, and varying his explanations with an occasional tender speech which the young girl heard without emotion, thinking it the most natural thing in the world that a husband should manifest affection for his wife, and betraying by not the lightest heaving of the chest the sweet confusion that love awakens. Miranda once more found himself in his element, tears having{59} ceased and serenity and good-humor being restored. Pleased with the result, he even thanked in his own mind one of the causes that had contributed to it—an old woman carrying an enormous basket on her arm, who slipped into the compartment a few stations before Palencia, and whose grotesque appearance helped to call back a smile to Lucía’s lips.

On reaching Palencia, the old woman left the compartment, and a well-dressed man with a serious expression of countenance silently entered.

“He looks like papa,” said Lucía in a low voice to Miranda. “Poor papa!” And this time a sigh only was the tribute paid to filial affection.

Night was approaching; the train moved slowly, as if fearing to trust itself to the rails, and Miranda observed that they were greatly behind time.

“We shall arrive at Venta de Baños,” he said, turning the leaf of the Guide, “much later than the usual time.”

“And in Venta de Baños——” began Lucía.

“We can sup—if they allow us time to do so. Under ordinary circumstances there is not only time to sup but also to rest a little, while waiting for the other train, the express, which is to take us to France.”{60}

“To France!” Lucía clapped her hands as if she had just heard a delightful and unexpected piece of intelligence. Then, with a thoughtful air, she added gravely. “Well, for my part, I should like to have some supper.”

“We shall sup there, of course; at least I hope the train will stop long enough to allow us to do so. You have an appetite, eh? The fact is that you have eaten scarcely anything to-day.”

“With the hurry and excitement, and attending to the serving of the chocolate, and grief at leaving poor papa and seeing him so downcast—and——”

“And what else?”

“And—well, one does not get married every day and it is only natural that it should upset one a little—it is a very serious thing—. Father Urtazu warned me of that, so that last night I did not close my eyes and I counted the hours, and the half hours, and the quarters, by the cuckoo-clock in the reception-room, and at every stroke I heard, tam, tam, ‘Stop, you wretch,’ I cried, ‘and let me cover my face with the bed clothes and go to sleep, and then wake me if you can.’ But it was all of no use. Now that it is over, it is just like jumping a wide ditch—you give the jump, and you think no more about it. It is over.”{61}

Miranda laughed; sitting beside his bride, looking at her closely, she seemed to him very lovely, transformed almost, by her traveling dress and the animation that flushed her cheeks and brightened her fresh complexion. Lucía, too, began to return to the unrestraint of her former intercourse with Miranda, somewhat interrupted of late by the novelty of their position toward each other.

“Don’t laugh at my nonsense, Señor de Miranda,” murmured the young girl.

“Do me the favor not to misunderstand me, child,” he answered. “And my name is Aurelio, and you should address me as thou not you.”

The whole of this dialogue had passed in an undertone, the interlocutors bending slightly toward each other and speaking in low, almost lover-like accents. The presence of a witness to their conversation, in the person of their fellow-traveler, who leaned back silently in his corner, by the restraint it imposed, imparted to their whispered words a certain air of timidity and mystery which lent them a meaning they did not in themselves possess. The same words spoken aloud would have seemed simple and indifferent enough. And so it often is with words—they derive their value not from what they express in themselves{62} but from the tone in which they are uttered and the relation they bear to other words, like the pieces of stone employed in mosaic that, according to the position in which they are set, represent now a tree, now a house, now a human countenance.

The train at last stopped at Venta de Baños, and the lamps of the station glared upon them like fiery eyes through the light mist of the tranquil autumn night.

“Is it here—is it here we are to stop for supper?” asked Lucía, whose appetite and curiosity were both alike sharpened by the event, new for her, of supping at the restaurant of a railway station.

“Here”; answered Miranda, speaking much less cheerfully than before. “Now we shall have to change trains. If I had the power, I would alter all this. There can be nothing more annoying. You have to hunt up your luggage so that it may not be carried off to Madrid—you have to move all your traps——”

As he spoke, he took down from the rack the rug, valise, and bundle of umbrellas, but Lucía, youthful and vigorous, daughter of the people as she was, snatched from his hand the bag, which was the heaviest of the articles, and leaping lightly as a bird to the ground, ran toward the restaurant.{63}

They seated themselves at the table set for travelers; a table tasteless in its appointments, that bore the stamp of the vulgar promiscuousness of the guests who succeeded one another at it without intermission. It was long and was covered with oilcloth and surrounded, like a hen by her chickens, by smaller tables, on which were services for tea, coffee, and chocolate. The cups, resting mouth downward on the saucers, seemed waiting patiently for the friendly hand which should restore them to their natural position; the lumps of sugar heaped on metal salvers looked like building materials—blocks of white marble hewn for some Lilliputian palace. The tea-pots displayed their shining paunches and the milk-jugs protruded their lips, like badly brought-up children. The monotony that reigned in the long hall was oppressive. Price-lists, maps, and advertisements hanging from the walls, lent the apartment a certain official air. The end of the room, occupied by a tall counter covered with rows of plates, groups of freshly washed glasses, fruit-dishes in which the pyramids of apples and pears looked pale beside the bright green of the moss around them. On the principal table, in two blue porcelain vases, some drooping flowers—late roses and odorless sunflowers—were slowly withering. The travelers{64} came in one after another and took their places, their features drawn with sleep and fatigue, the men with their traveling caps pulled down over their brows, the women with their heads covered with woolen hoods, their figures concealed by long gray water-proof cloaks, their hair disordered, their cuffs and collars crumpled. Lucía, with her smiling face, her well-fitting jacket and her fresh and natural complexion, formed a striking contrast to the women around her, and it seemed as if the crude yellow light of the gas-jets had concentrated itself above her head, leaving the faces of the other guests in a turbid half-light. They were served the invariable restaurant dinner—vegetable-soup, broiled chops, sapless wings of chickens, warmed-over fish, slices of cold ham, thin as wafers, cheese, and fruits. Miranda ate little, rejecting in turn every dish offered him, and, asking in a loud and authoritative voice for a bottle of Sherry and another of Bordeaux, he poured out some of each of the wines for Lucía, explaining to her their particular qualities. Lucía ate voraciously, giving full rein to her appetite, like a child on a holiday. With each new dish was renewed the enjoyment that a stomach unspoiled and accustomed to simple food experiences in the slightest culinary novelty. She sipped the Bordeaux, clicking{65} her tongue against the roof of her mouth, and declaring that it smelled and tasted like the violets that Velez de Rada used sometimes to bring her. She held up the liquid topaz of the sherry to the light and closed her eyes as she drank it, declaring that it tickled her throat. But her great orgy, her forbidden fruit, was the coffee. We, the faithful and exact chroniclers of Señor Joaquin, the Leonese, have never been able to discover the secret and potent reason which had always made him prohibit the use of coffee to his daughter, as if it were some poisonous drug or pernicious philter; a prohibition all the more inexplicable since we are already aware of the inordinate passion for coffee cherished by our good Colmenarist himself. Lucía, forbidden to taste the black infusion, of which she knew her father swallowed copious draughts every day, had taken it into her head that the prohibited beverage was nectar itself, the very ambrosia of the gods, and she would sometimes say to Rosarito or Carmen, “Wait until I am married, and I will drink as much coffee as I please. You shall see if I don’t.”

The coffee of the restaurant of Venta de Baños was neither very pure nor very aromatic, and yet when for the first time Lucía introduced the little spoon filled with the liquid{66} between her lips, when she tasted its slight bitterness and inhaled the warm fumes rising from it, she felt a profound thrill run through her frame, something like an expansion of her being, as if all her senses had opened simultaneously like the buds of a tree bursting into bloom at once. The glass of Chartreuse, sipped slowly, left in her mouth a penetrating and strengthening odor, a slight and pleasant thirst, extinguished by the last sips of the coffee sweetened by the powdered sugar that lay in little eddies at the bottom of the cup.

“If papa were to see me now,” she murmured, “what would he say?”

Miranda and Lucía were the last to rise from the table. The other passengers were already scattered about in groups on the platform, waiting to obtain seats in the express which had just arrived and which stood, vibrating still with its recent motion, in front of the railway station.

“Come,” said Miranda, “the train is going to start. I don’t know whether we shall be able to find a vacant compartment or not.”

They began their peregrination, passing through all the coaches in turn in search of a vacant compartment. They found one at last, not without some difficulty, and took possession of it, throwing their parcels on the{67} cushions. The opaque light of the lantern, filtering through the blue silk curtain, the dull, uniform, gray hue of the covers, the silence, the air of repose succeeding the glare and confusion of the restaurant, invited to rest and sleep, and Lucía unfastened the elastic of her hat, which she took off and placed in the rack.

“I feel dizzy,” she said, passing her hand over her forehead. “My head aches a little—I am warm.”

“The wines, the coffee,” responded Miranda, gaily. “Rest for a moment while I go to inventory the luggage. It is an indispensable formality here.” Saying this, he lifted one of the cushions of the coach, placed the rolled-up rug under it for a pillow, and raised the arm dividing the two seats, saying:

“There, you have as comfortable a bed as you could wish for.”

Lucía drew from her pocket a little silk handkerchief neatly folded, spread it lightly over the cushion to prevent her head coming in contact with the soiled cover, and lay down on her improvised couch.

“If I should fall asleep,” she said to Miranda, “waken me when we come to anything worth seeing.”

“Depend upon me to do so,” answered Miranda. “I will be back directly.”{68}

Lucía remained alone in the compartment, her eyes closed, all her faculties steeped in a pleasant drowsiness. Whether it were owing to the motion of the train, the sleeplessness of the previous night, or her invariable habit in Leon of retiring to rest at this hour—half-past ten—or all these things together, certain it is that sleep fell upon her like a leaden mantle. The tension of her nerves relaxed, and that indescribable sensation of rhythmic warmth, which announces that the circulation is becoming normal and that sleep is approaching, ran through her veins. Lucía crossed herself between two yawns, murmured a Paternoster and an Ave Maria, and then began to recite a prayer, in execrable verse, which she had learned from her prayer-book, beginning thus:

Of the little child,
Innocent and simple,
Lord, just and merciful,
Grant me the sleep.
All of which operations, if they were performed for the purpose of driving away sleep, had the effect, rather, of inducing it. Lucía exhaled a gentle sigh, her hand fell powerless by her side, and she sank into a sleep as peaceful and profound as if she were reposing on the most luxurious of couches.

Miranda, meanwhile, was engaged in the important{69} task of making an inventory of the luggage, which was by no means scant, consisting of two large trunks, a hat-box, and a leather case designed to preserve smooth and unwrinkled the bosoms of his dress-shirts. He had no other resource than to wait patiently for the turn of the luggage marked “A. M.,” standing in front of the long counter covered with trunks, boxes, and valises of every description, to which the porters of the station, bending under their burden, the veins on their necks standing out like cords with the exertion, were constantly adding. When they reached the counter, they hastened to throw down their load with brutal recklessness, making the boards of the trunks creak and their iron bands squeak. At last Miranda’s luggage was dispatched, and his check in his pocket, he jumped from the platform to the track and went in search of his compartment. It was no easy matter to find it, and he opened several doors in turn before he reached his own. Sometimes a head would appear at the opening and a harsh voice say, “It is full.” In others of the compartments he caught sight, through the half-open door, of confused forms, people huddled up in corners, or lying stretched on the cushions. At last he found his own compartment.{70}

The form of Lucía, extended on the improvised bed, completed the picture of peace and quietude presented by this moving bed-room. Miranda gazed at his bride for a while, without any of the sentimental or poetic thoughts which the situation might seem to suggest, occurring to his mind.

“She is undoubtedly a fine girl,” was the reflection of this man of mature years and experience. “And, above all, her skin has the down of the apricot while it still hangs upon the tree. It would almost seem as if that devil of a Colmenar knew things by intuition. Another would have given me the millions, but with some virgin and martyr of forty. But this is syrup spread on pie, as the saying is.”

While Miranda was thus commenting on his good fortune, he took off his hat and put his hand into the pocket of his overcoat to take from it his red and black checked traveling-cap. There are movements which when we execute them make us think instinctively of other movements. The arm of Miranda, as it descended, was conscious of a void, the want of something which had before disturbed him, and the owner of the arm becoming aware of this gave a sudden start and began to examine his person from head to foot. Hastily and with trembling hands he touched in turn his{71} breast and waist without finding what he was in search of, and angrily and impatiently he gave utterance to stifled imprecations and round oaths; then he struck his forgetful brow as if to compel remembrance by the shock; memory, thus evoked, at last responded. At supper he had removed the satchel, which had disturbed him while he was eating, from his person and placed it on an empty chair at his side. It must be there still, but the cars would start in a few minutes. The smoke-stacks were already puffing and snorting like angry cats, and two or three shrill whistles announced the near departure of the train. Miranda was for a moment undecided what to do.

“Lucía,” he said aloud.

The only answer was the deep and regular breathing of the young girl, indicating heavy and profound sleep.

Then he took a sudden resolution, and with an agility worthy of a youth of twenty, leaped to the ground and ran in the direction of the restaurant. A satchel like his, filled with money in its various and most seductive forms—gold, silver, bills, letters of exchange—was not to be lost in this way. Miranda flew.

Most of the lights in the restaurant were by this time extinguished; one lamp only still burned in each of the four-armed chandeliers;{72} the waiters sat chatting together in corners or carried lazily to the kitchen obelisks of greasy plates and mountains of soiled napkins. On the large table, now almost empty, the two tall vases stood in solitary state, and in the dim light the white expanse of the table cloth had the lugubrious aspect of a winding sheet. On the counter a kerosene lamp shed around a circumscribed circle of yellowish light, by which the master of the establishment—the marble slab serving him for a desk—was making entries in a large account book. Miranda, still under the influence of his recent fright, went up to him quite close, touching him almost.

“Have you noticed—” he began breathless—“has any of the waiters found——”

“A satchel? Yes, Señor.”

The friend of Colmenar once more breathed freely.

“Is it yours?” asked the landlord, suspiciously.

“Yes, it is mine. Give it to me at once; the train is just going to start.”

“Have the goodness to give me some details that may serve to identify it.”

“It is of Russian leather—dark red—with plated clasps.”

“That is enough,” said the landlord, taking from a drawer in the counter the precious{73} article and delivering it without demur to its lawful owner. The latter, without stopping to examine it, slung it hastily over his shoulder, plunged his hand into his waiscoat pocket and drawing out a handful of silver coins, scattered them over the marble counter, saying, “For the waiters.” The action was so rapid that some of the coins, rolling about, danced around for a moment over the smooth surface and then fell flat on the marble with a ringing sound. Before the silvery vibration had ceased, Miranda was hurrying to the train. In his confusion he missed the door.

“The train is going to start, Señor,” cried the waiters. “This way—this way!”

He rushed excitedly toward the platform; the train, with the treacherous slowness of a snake, began to move slowly along the rails. Miranda shook his clenched hand at it and a feeling of cold and impotent rage took possession of his soul. In this way he lost a second, a precious second. The progress of the train grew gradually quicker, as a swing set in motion describes at every moment wider curves and flies more rapidly through the air. Precipitately and without seeing where he went, Miranda jumped to the track to make his way to the first-class carriages which, as if in mockery, defiled at this moment past his{74} eyes. He tried to leap on the steps, but missed his footing and fell with violence to the ground, experiencing, as he fell, a sharp and sudden pain in the right foot. He remained on the ground in a half-sitting posture, uttering one of those imprecations which, in Spain, the men who most pride themselves on their culture and good-breeding are not ashamed to borrow from the vocabulary of thieves and murderers. The train thundered past, majestic and swift, the black engine sending forth sparks of fire that seemed like fantastic sprites dancing about among the nocturnal shadows.

A few moments after Miranda had left the train to go in search of his satchel, the door of the compartment in which Lucía was asleep was opened and a man entered. He carried in his hand a portmanteau, which he threw down on the nearest cushion. He then closed the door, seated himself in a corner and pressed his forehead against the glass of the window, cold as ice and moist with the night dew. In the darkness outside nothing could be seen but the indistinct bulk of the platform, the lantern of the guard as he walked up and down, and the melancholy gas lights scattered here and there.

When the train started, a few sparks, rapid as exhalations, passed before the glass against which the newcomer was leaning his forehead.{75}

CHAPTER IV.
The latter, when tired of looking out into the darkness, he turned his gaze on the interior of the compartment, thought it strange enough that the girl who lay sleeping there before him, so much at her ease, should have come here instead of going into one of the compartments reserved for ladies. And to this reflection succeeded an idea which contracted his brows with a frown and curved his lips in a disdainful smile. A second glance which he cast at Lucía, however, inspired him with more charitable thoughts. The light of the lamp, whose blue shade he drew aside in order to obtain a better view of the sleeping girl, fell directly upon her, but the flame flickered with the motion of the train, now leaving her form in shadow, now illuminating it brightly. The light brought into relief the salient points of her face and her form. The forehead, white as a jasmine flower, the rosy cheeks, the rounded chin, the slightly parted lips giving egress to the soft breath and disclosing to view the pearly teeth, gleamed, as the strong clear light fell upon them; one arm supported her head in the attitude of an antique bacchante, the whiteness of the hand contrasting with the blackness of the hair, while the other hand,{76} also ungloved, hung by her side in the abandonment of sleep, the veins slightly swollen from the posture, which caused the blood to flow downward, the wedding-ring gleaming on the little finger. Every time the form of Lucía came within the luminous zone, the chased metal buttons cast forth golden gleams, flashing red over the maroon cloth of the jacket; and here and there, beneath the pleated flounce bordering the skirt, could be caught glimpses of the lace of the petticoats and of the exquisite bronze leather shoe with its rounded heel. From the whole person of the sleeping girl there exhaled an indescribable aroma of freshness and purity, a breath of virtuousness, as it were, that could be perceived leagues away. This was not the bold adventuress, the low-flying butterfly in search of a light at which to scorch its wings; and the traveler, as this reflection passed through his mind, wondered at this young creature sleeping tranquilly here alone, exposed as she was to the risk of insult and to all sorts of disagreeable accidents, and he recalled to mind a picture he had once seen in a magnificent copy of illustrated fables representing Fortune awakening the careless boy sleeping on the brink of the well. It suddenly occurred to him that perhaps his traveling-companion was some English or American miss who{77} carried in her pocket as escort and attendant a six-barreled revolver. But although Lucía was as fresh and robust as a Niobe—a type very common among Yankee girls—in certain details the Spanish type was so plainly visible that, as the traveler contemplated her, he was constrained to say to himself, “She does not bear the remotest resemblance to a foreigner.” He looked at her for some time longer, as if seeking in her appearance the solution of the mystery, then, slightly shrugging his shoulders as if to say, “After all, what does it matter to me,” he took a book from his portmanteau and began to read; but the wavering light making the letters dance on the white page at every jolt of the carriage, he soon closed the book again. He then pressed his forehead once more against the cold window-pane and thus remained, motionless and lost in thought.

The train hurried forward on its course, swaying and leaning to one side occasionally, stopping only for a moment at the stations, whose names the officials called out in gutteral and melancholy tones. After each stop the train, as if it had gathered fresh force from the momentary rest, hurried forward with greater speed than before, like a steed that feels the spur. Owing to the difference of temperature between the outer air and the air of the carriage,{78} the window-pane was covered with a lace-like mist, and the traveler, becoming tired perhaps of dissolving it with his breath, devoted himself anew to the observation of the sleeping girl and, as the slow hours passed, yielding to an involuntary feeling which appeared ridiculous to himself, he grew more and more impatient, indignant, almost, to see the unruffled serenity of this insolent sleep; and he could not help wishing, in spite of himself, that his fellow-traveler might awake, if only to give him some opportunity of gratifying his curiosity concerning her. Perhaps there was no slight degree of envy mingled with this impatience. What delightful and desirable sleep! What beneficent repose! It was the untroubled sleep of youth, of innocent girlhood, of a tranquil conscience, of a rich and happy temperament, of health. Far from being disfigured, far from showing that cadaverical hollowness, that contraction of the corners of the mouth, that species of general distortion, which betrays in the countenance whose muscles are no longer carefully adjusted to an artificial expression, the corroding cares of sleepless hours, in Lucía’s face shone the peacefulness which forms so large a part of the charm of sleeping childhood. Once, however, she softly sighed. The cold night air penetrated through the crevices of{79} the closed windows. The traveler rose, and without observing that there was a bundle of shawls in the rack, opened his own portmanteau and taking out a fine Scotch woolen plaid spread it gently over the form of the sleeping girl. The latter turned slightly, without wakening, her head remaining in the shadow.

Outside, the telegraph posts looked like a row of specters, the trees shook their disordered locks, agitating their branches that seemed like arms stretched out in supplication; here and there a gray house rose solitary in the landscape, like the immense head of some granite sphinx—all confused, vague, blurred in outline, shifting as the clouds of smoke from the engine that enveloped the train like the breath of the fiery dragon enveloping his prey. Inside the carriage reigned unbroken silence; it seemed like an enchanted region. The traveler drew the blue curtain before the lamp, leaned back in a corner, closed his eyes and stretching out his legs rested his feet against the seat in front. In this way station after station was passed. He dozed a little and then, astonished at the prolonged sleep of Lucía, rose, fearing lest she might have fainted. He went forward and leaned over her, and, having convinced himself of the peaceful and regular breathing of the young girl, returned to his seat.{80}

A diffused and pale light began to shed itself over the landscape. Already could be discerned the shapes of mountains, trees, and huts. Night, retiring, swept away in her train the trembling stars, as a sultana gathers up her veil broidered with silvery arabesques. The slender circle of the waning moon grew pale and vanished in the sky, whose dark blue changed to the opaque blue of porcelain. A chill ran through the veins of the traveler, who pulled up the collar of his overcoat and instinctively stretched his feet toward the heater in whose metallic bosom the water danced with a gurgling sound. Suddenly the door of the compartment was opened and a morose-looking man, wearing a hat with a gilt band, and carrying in his hand a sort of tongs, or punch, entered hastily.

“Your tickets, Señor,” he cried, in short, imperious tones.

The traveler put his hand into his waistcoat pocket and drew from it a piece of yellow cardboard.

“The other, the ticket of the lady. Eh, Señora, Señora, your ticket!”

Lucía was now partially awake, and throwing down the Scotch plaid she sat upright and began to rub her eyes with her knuckles, like a sleepy child. Her hair was disordered and{81} flattened against the flushed cheek on which she had been lying, a loosened braid hung over one shoulder and, unbraided at the end, floated in three strands. Her crushed white petticoat rose rebellious under her cloth skirt, the string of one of her shoes had become untied and strayed over her instep. Lucía looked around her with wandering and uncertain gaze; she seemed serious and surprised.

“The ticket, Señora, the ticket!” the official continued to cry, in no very amiable tone of voice.

“The ticket?” she repeated. And she looked around again, unable to shake off completely the stupor of sleep.

“Yes, Señora, the ticket,” repeated the official, still less amiably than before.

“Miranda! Miranda!” cried Lucía at last, linking together her scattered recollections of the day before. And she looked anxiously on all sides, amazed at not seeing Miranda in the compartment.

“Señor de Miranda has my ticket,” she said, addressing the official, as if the latter must of necessity know who Miranda was.

The official, puzzled, turned toward the traveler, his right hand extended for the ticket.

“My name is not Miranda,” said the latter{82} quietly. And as he saw the angry official again turn rudely to Lucía, he said to her.

“Are you traveling alone, Señora?”

“No, Señor,” answered Lucía, now greatly distressed. “Of course I am not traveling alone; I am traveling with Don Aurelio Miranda, my husband,” and as she pronounced the words, she smiled involuntarily at the new and curious sound of the expression, uttered by her lips.

“She seems very young to be married,” said the traveler to himself; but, remembering the ring he had seen gleaming on her finger, he asked aloud:

“Where did you take the train?”

“At Leon. But is not Miranda here? Holy Virgin! Señor, tell me—allow me——”

And forgetting that the train was in motion she was going to open the door hastily when the official interposed, seizing her by the arm with force.

“Eh, Señora,” he said in a rude voice, “do you want to kill yourself? Are you mad? And let us end this at once. I want the ticket.”

“I haven’t it. How can I give it to you if I haven’t it?” exclaimed Lucía, greatly distressed, her eyes filling with tears.

“You will have to buy one at the next station{83} then, and pay a fine,” growled the official, more angrily than before.

“Don’t trouble the lady any more,” said the traveler, interfering very opportunely, for tears as big as filberts now began to course down Lucía’s cheeks. “Insolent!” he continued angrily. “Do you not see that some unforeseen accident has happened to this lady? Come, take yourself off or——”

“But you see, sir, we have our duties to consider, our responsibilities——”

“Say no more, but go. Take this for the lady’s fare.”

As he spoke, he put his right hand into the pocket of his overcoat and drew from it some greasy-looking papers of a greenish color, the sight of which at once restored serenity to the frowning brow of the official who, as he took the proffered bill, lowered by two or three tones the pitch of his gruff voice.

“I beg your pardon,” he said, placing it in his soiled and well-worn pocket-book. “Your word would have been sufficient. I did not recognize you at first, but I recollect your face very well now, and I remember having often seen both you and your father, Señor de Artegui——”

“Well then,” rejoined the traveler, “if you know me, you know that I am not in the habit{84} of wasting words. Go.” And pushing the man out of the compartment, he closed the door behind him. But he opened it again quickly and calling to the official, who was running with incredible agility along the narrow ledge beside the steps, he cried to him in sonorous tones:

“Hist, hist! If you should come across a gentleman called Miranda in any of the carriages, let him know that his wife is here.”

This done he seated himself again in his corner, and lowering the window eagerly drew in the vivifying morning air. Lucía, drying her eyes, which had twice that day shed unaccustomed tears, felt at the same time extraordinary uneasiness and an inexplicable sense of contentment. The action of the traveler caused her the profound joy which generous actions are apt to awaken in souls yet unspoiled by contact with the world. She ardently desired to thank him, but she could not summon courage to do so. He, meantime, sat watching the sunrise with as much intentness as if it were the most novel and entertaining spectacle in the world. At last the young girl, conquering her timidity, with trembling lips said the most stupid thing which it was possible, under the circumstances, to say (as usually happens when one prepares a speech for any occasion beforehand):{85}

“Señor—I cannot pay you what I owe you until Miranda comes. He has the money——”

“I do not lend money,” answered the traveler quietly, without turning around, or removing his gaze from the eastern sky, where dawn was breaking through light clouds touched with gold and crimson.

“Well, but it is not just that you should—in this way—without knowing who I am——”

The traveler did not answer.

“But tell me, for Heaven’s sake!” resumed Lucía, in the silvery tones of her infantile voice, “what can have become of Miranda? What do you think of the situation in which I am placed? What am I to do now?”

The traveler turned round in his seat and confronted Lucía with the air of a man who finds himself forced to take part in a matter that does not concern him but who resigns himself to the necessity. The fresh tones of Lucía’s voice suggested to him the same reflection as before:

“It seems impossible that she should be married. Any one would think she was still in the school-room.” And aloud he said:

“Let us see, Señora. Where did you part from your husband? Do you remember?”

“I cannot tell. I fell asleep.”{86}

“And where did you fall asleep? Can you not remember that either?”

“At the station where we took supper. At Venta de Baños. Miranda got out to see to the luggage, telling me to rest awhile—to try to sleep——”

“And you tried to some purpose!” murmured the traveler, with a slight smile. “You have slept ever since—five hours at a stretch.”

“But—I got up so early yesterday. I was worn out.”

And Lucía rubbed her eyes as if they were still heavy with sleep. Then taking from her hair two or three hair-pins, she fastened back the rebellious braids with them.

“You say,” questioned the traveler, “that you have come from Leon?”

“Yes, Señor. The wedding was at eleven in the morning, but I had to get up early to arrange about the refreshments,” said Lucía, with the simplicity of a girl unaccustomed to social usages. “It was half-past three when we left Leon.”

The traveler looked at her, beginning to understand the mystery. The girl gave him the key to the woman.

“I might have known it,” he said to himself. “You traveled together as far as Venta de Baños?” he asked Lucía aloud.{87}

“Yes, yes; we took supper there. Miranda, no doubt, stayed there to check the luggage.”

“Impossible. The operation of checking the luggage is always over in time for the passengers to take the train. Some unforeseen accident, some mischance must have occurred.”

“Do you think—tell me frankly—that he could have left me on purpose?”

So childlike and real a grief was depicted on Lucía’s countenance as she uttered these words, that the serious lips of the traveler were once more involuntarily curved in a smile.

“Just think of it!” she added, nodding her head gravely and thoughtfully. “And I, who fancied that when a woman married she had some one to keep her company and to take care of her! Some one to give her his protection and support! Well, if this can happen before twenty-four hours have passed—what is to be expected afterward!”

“Undoubtedly—undoubtedly your husband is much more distressed at what has happened than you are. Believe me, something has occurred of which we know nothing, and which will explain the conduct of Señor Miranda. Or have you any reason, any motive to suspect that—that he wished to abandon you?”

“Motive! Of course not! None whatever! Señor de Miranda is a very reliable person.”{88}

“You call him Señor de Miranda?”

“No—he told me yesterday to call him Aurelio—but as I have not much confidence with him yet—and as he is older than I—in short, it did not come to my tongue.”

The traveler closed his lips, forcing back a whole flood of indiscreet questions which crowded to his mind, and turned again to the window in order not to lose the magnificent spectacle offered him by nature. The sun was rising above the summit of a neighboring mountain, dispelling by his rays the morning mists that sank slowly into the valley in lace-like fragments, and flooding the clear blue atmosphere with a fresh, soft light. Down the granite flank of the mountain, glistening with mica, descended a foaming torrent, and through the dark shadow of the oak groves could be caught a glimpse of a little meadow in the tender green tones of young grass, where a flock of sheep were browsing; their white forms starred the verdant carpet like enormous flakes of wool. Through the deafening noise of the train one might fancy one could hear, in that picturesque and sunny spot, distant trills of birds, and the silvery tinkling of bells.

After gazing for some time at the beautiful view, now fading into the distance, the traveler sank back wearily into his corner, his arms{89} dropped powerless by his side, and a faint sigh, which told of fatigue rather than of sorrow, escaped from his lips.

The sun was mounting in the heavens, and his rays began to dance on the windows of the carriage and on the brows of its two occupants, seeming to invite them to look at each other, and, simultaneously, they furtively measured each other with their glances, whence resulted a scene in dumb show, represented by the girl with infantile naturalness and with frowning reserve by the man.

The traveler was a man in the vigor of his age and in the age of vigor. He might be, at a rough guess, from twenty-eight to thirty-two years of age. His pale countenance was a degree more pale on the cheeks, generally the seat of what, in the language of poetry, are called “roses.” Notwithstanding this, he did not seem to be of a sickly constitution. His frame was well proportioned, his beard was black and fine, his hair soft and wavy, straying where it would without regard to symmetry or art, but not without a certain fitness in its natural arrangement that gave character and beauty to the head. His features were well formed, but overshadowed by melancholy and stamped with the traces of suffering—not the physical suffering which undermines the health,{90} wastes the tissues, withers the skin, and dulls or glazes the eye, but the moral, or, rather, the intellectual suffering which only deepens the circles under the eyes, furrows the brow, blanches the temples, and concentrates the gaze, at the same time rendering the bearing careless and apathetic. Apathy—this was what was most apparent in the traveler’s manner. All his attitudes and gestures expressed fatigue and exhaustion. Something there was broken or out of order in that noble mechanism,—some one of the springs, which, when snapped, interrupt the functions of the inner life. Even in his attire the languor and despondency which were so plainly visible in his countenance were perceptible. It was not negligence, it was indifference and dejection of spirits that were expressed by the dark gray suit, the gold chain,—out of place on a journey,—the cravat, carelessly and loosely tied, the new Suède gloves of delicate color, that ten minutes’ wear would soil. The traveler did not possess that exquisite and intelligent taste in dress which gives attention to details, which makes a science of the toilet; in him was revealed the man who is superior to fashion because, while not ignorant of it, he disdains it—a grade of culture which belongs to a higher sphere than fashion, which after all is a{91} social distinction, and he who rises superior to fashion is also superior to social distinctions. Miranda wore the livery of elegance, and therefore, before being attracted by Miranda’s person, the gaze was attracted by his attire, while that which attracted the attention in Artegui was Artegui himself. The carelessness of his attire did not detract from, it rather made more evident the distinction of his person; the various articles composing his dress were rich of their kind: the cloth was English, the linen of the finest quality, and both shoes and gloves were of the best make. All this Lucía noted instinctively rather than intelligently, for, inexperienced and new to the world, she had not yet arrived at an understanding of the philosophy of dress,—a science in which women in general are so learned.

Artegui, on his side, regarded her as the traveler, returning from snow-clad and desert lands, regards some smiling valley which he chances upon by the way. Never before had he seen united to the grace of youth so much vigor and luxuriant bloom. Notwithstanding the night spent in the railway-carriage, the face of Lucía was as fresh as a rose, and her disordered hair, flattened down in places, gave her the air of a naiad, emerging bareheaded and dewy from the bath. Her eyes, her features,{92} all were smiling, and the sun, indiscreet chronicler of faded complexions, played harmlessly over the golden down that covered the cheeks of the young girl, imparting to them the warm tones of antique marble.

Lucía waited for the traveler to speak to her and her glance invited him to do so. But, as he did not seem disposed to gratify her wishes, she resolved, when some time had elapsed, to return to the charge, and cried:

“Well, and what am I going to do? You do not tell me how I am to get out of this difficulty.”

“To what place were you and your husband going, Señora?” he asked.

“We were going to France, to Vichy,—where the doctors had ordered him to take the waters.”

“To Vichy, direct? Did you not intend to stop at any place on the way?”

“Yes, at Bayonne; we were to rest there for a while.”

“You are certain of this?”

“Quite certain. Señor de Miranda explained it to me a hundred times.”

“In that case I will tell you what my opinion is. There is no doubt that your husband, detained by some accident, the nature of which we need not now stop to inquire into, remained{93} in Venta de Baños last night. As a precautionary measure we will send him, if you wish, a telegram from Hendaya; but what I suppose is that he will take the first train which leaves for France to join you there. If we go back you run the risk of crossing him on the way, and thus losing time, besides giving yourself unnecessary trouble. If you get out at the first station we come to and wait for him there——”

“Yes, that would be the best thing to do.”

“No, because he would not know you had done so; and as several hours have already elapsed, and he will be on his way to join you, and we have no means of letting him know, and the train stops only for a moment at those stations, I do not think it would be best. Besides, you might both have to remain for a considerable time in some wretched railway station waiting for another train. That course is not advisable.”

“Well, then, what do you suggest?” said the young girl eagerly, and with the greatest confidence, encouraged by the “if we go back” of the traveler, which tacitly promised her assistance and support.

“To go on to Bayonne, Señora; it is the only course to pursue. Your husband will probably take the first train for that place.{94} We shall arrive in the afternoon, and he will arrive in the evening. Since he has not telegraphed to you to return (which he could have done), it is because he is on his way to join you.”

Lucía interposed no objection. Ignorant of the route herself, she felt a singular relief in trusting to the experience of another. She turned toward the window in silence and followed with her gaze the broken line of the sierra, which stood sharply defined against the clear sky. The train began to move more slowly. They were nearing a station. “What place is this?” she asked, turning toward her companion.

“Miranda de Ebro,” he answered laconically.

“How thirsty I am,” murmured Lucía. “I would give anything for a glass of water.”

“Let us get out; you can get some water at the restaurant,” responded Artegui, whom this unexpected adventure was beginning to draw from his abstraction. And springing down before her he offered his arm to Lucía, who took it without ceremony, and, urged by thirst, hurried toward the bar, where some half-empty bottles, half-eaten oranges, jars of fruit syrups and flasks of orange-flower water, disputed with one another the possession of a zinc-covered counter and some yellow painted shelves.{95} The water was served, and, without waiting for the sugar to dissolve, Lucía drank it quickly, in gulps, and then shook the moisture from her fingers, drying them with her handkerchief.

Artegui paid.

“Thank you,” she said, looking at her taciturn companion. “It was delicious—when one is thirsty—Thank you, Señor—What is your name?”

“Ignacio Artegui,” he answered, with a look of surprise.

Ingenuousness sometimes resembles boldness, and it was only the innocent look of the clear eyes fixed upon his that enabled the traveler to distinguish between them in the present instance.

“Is there anything else you would like?” he said. “Some breakfast? a cup of coffee or chocolate?”

“No, no, at present I am not at all hungry.”

“Wait for me in the carriage, then, I am going to settle about your ticket.”

He returned shortly, and the train soon started on its way, the motion that by night had seemed vertiginous, now seeming only tiresome. The sun mounted toward the zenith, and warm, heavy gusts of wind, like fiery breaths, stirred the atmosphere. A cloud{96} of coal dust from the engine entered through the window and settled on the white muslin covers that protected the backs of the seats. At times, contrasting with the penetrating odor of the coal, came a puff of woody perfume from the oak groves and the meadows stretching on either hand. The landscape was full of character. It was the wild and beautiful scenery of the Basque provinces. All along the road rose frowning heights crowned by massive casemates and strong castles, recently constructed for the purpose of holding in subjection those indomitable hills. On the sides of the mountain could be discerned broad trenches and lines of redoubts, like scars on the face of a veteran. Tall and graceful poplars girdled the well-cultivated, green and level plains, like necklaces of emerald. Above the neat, white houses rose the belfry towers. Lucía crossed herself at sight of them.

Passing by Vitoria a thought of home came to her mind. It was suggested by the long rows of elms that surround and beautify the city.

“They look like the trees in Leon,” she murmured with a sigh.

And she added in a lower voice, as if speaking to herself:

“I wonder what poor papa is doing now?”{97}

“Does your father reside in Leon?” asked Artegui.

“Yes, in Leon. If he were to know of what has happened, he would be terribly distressed. After all the charges and the advice he gave me! To beware of thieves—not to get sick—not to go in the sun—not to get wet. When I think of it——”

“Is your father an old man?”

“He is getting on in years, but he is strong and well-preserved, and handsomer in my eyes than gold. I have the good luck to have the best father in all Spain—he has no will but mine.”

“You are an only child, perhaps?”

“Yes, Señor, and I lost my mother when I was but that high,” and Lucía held out her open hand, palm downward, on a level with her knee. “Why, I was not even weaned when my mother died! And see! that is the only misfortune that has ever happened to me; for, except in that, there may be plenty of happy people in the world, but no one could be happier than I have been.”

Artegui fixed on her his deep and imperious eyes.

“You were happy?” he repeated, as if echoing the young girl’s thought.

“Yes, indeed; Father Urtazu used sometimes{98} to say to me, ‘Take care, child, God is paying you in advance; and afterward, when you die, do you know what he is going to say to you? That there is nothing owing to you.’”

“So that,” said Artegui, “you missed nothing in your quiet life in Leon? You wished for nothing?”

“Yes, sometimes I had longings, but without knowing precisely what for. I think now that what I wanted was change—to travel. But I was never impatient, because I always felt that sooner or later I should obtain what I wished. Was I not right? Father Urtazu used to laugh at me sometimes, saying, ‘Patience, every autumn brings its fruit.’”

“Father Urtazu is a Jesuit?”

“Yes, and so learned! There is nothing he does not know. Sometimes, to vex Doña Romualda, the directress of the seminary I attended, I used to say to her, ‘I would rather have Father Urtazu for my teacher than you.’”

“And now,” said Artegui, with the brutal curiosity that prompts the fingers to tear apart the bud, leaf by leaf, until its inmost heart is laid bare, “and now you are happier than ever before? I should say so! Just think of it—to be married, nothing less!”

Lucía, without perceiving the ironical accent{99} in which her companion uttered these words, answered frankly:

“Well, I will tell you. I always wanted to marry to please my father. I did not want to torment him with all that nonsense about lovers with which other girls torment their parents. My friends, that is some of them, if they chanced to see an officer of the garrison pass before their window—lo! on the instant they were dying in love with him, and it was nothing but sending and receiving letters. I used to be amazed at their falling in love in that way, just from seeing a man pass by in the street—and as I had never felt anything for any one of those men, and as I already knew Señor de Miranda, and father liked him so much, I thought to myself, ‘It is the best thing I can do; in this way I shall have no trouble about the matter,’—was I not right?—‘I have only to close my eyes, say yes, and the thing is done. Father will be pleased, and I also.’”

Artegui looked so fixedly at her, that Lucía felt her cheeks burn beneath the ardor of his gaze, and blushing to the roots of her hair, she murmured:

“I tell you all the nonsensical thoughts that come into my head. As we have nothing else to talk about——”

He continued to search with his gaze the{100} open and youthful countenance before him, as the steel blade probes the living flesh. He knew very well that frankness and candor are often more truly the signs of innocence than reticence and reserve, and yet he could not but marvel at the extreme simplicity of the young girl. It was necessary in order to understand it, to consider that the vigorous physical health of the body had preserved the spirit pure. Fever had never rendered languid the gaze of those eyes with their bluish cornea; the excitation that wastes the strength of the growing girl, in the trying age between ten and fifteen, had never paled those fresh and rosy lips. Lucía might be likened to a rosebud with all its petals closed, raising itself proudly in the midst of its brilliant green leaves upon its strong and graceful stem.

The heat, which had been steadily increasing, was now overpowering. When they arrived at Alsásua, Lucía again complained of thirst and Artegui, offering her his arm, conducted her to the dining-room of the restaurant, reminding her that as several hours had passed since she had supped, it would be well to eat something now.

“Breakfast for two,” he called to the waiter, clapping his hands to attract the man’s attention.{101}

The waiter approached, his napkin thrown over his shoulder. He had a bronzed face and a soldierly air which accorded ill with the patent leather shoes, and hair flattened down with bandoline, which is the livery imposed by the public on its servants in these places. A broad scar, running across the left cheek from the end of the mustache down the neck, added to his martial appearance. The waiter stared fixedly at Artegui for a moment, then, giving a cry, or rather a sort of canine bark, he exclaimed:

“It is either he himself or the devil in his shape! Señorito Ignacio! It is a cure for sore eyes——”

“You here, Sardiola?” said Artegui quietly. “We shall have a good breakfast then, for you will see to it that we are well served.”

“Yes, Señorito, I am here. Afterward,” he said, laying marked emphasis on the word, and lowering his voice, “as I found everything belonging to me destroyed—the house burned to the ground and the field laid waste—I set to work to earn my living as best I could. And you, Señorito, are you going to France?”

“I am going to France, but if you keep on chattering we shall have no breakfast to-day.”

“That would be a pretty thing——”

Sardiola spoke a few words in the Biscayan{102} dialect, bristling with z’s, k’s, and t’s, to some of his fellow-waiters. Breakfast was at once served to Artegui and Lucía, the man taking his stand behind the chair of the former.

“So you are going to France?” he went on. “And the Señora Doña Armanda—is she well?”

“Not very well,” answered Ignacio, the cloud deepening on his brow. “She suffers a great deal. When I left her, however, she was feeling slightly better.”

“When she sees you at home once more she will be quite well again.”

And looking at Lucía, and striking his forehead with his clenched hand, Sardiola suddenly cried:

“The more so as—— How stupid I am! Why of course the Señora Doña Armanda will get well when she sees joy entering her doors! What a pleasure to see you married, Señorito, and to so lovely a girl! I wish you every happiness!”

“Dolt!” said Ignacio, gruffly and impatiently, “this lady is not my wife.”

“Well, it is a pity she is not,” answered the Biscayan, while Lucía looked smilingly at him. “You would make a pair that—not if you were to search the wide world through—only that the Señorita—{103}—”

“Go on,” said Lucía, intensely amused, busying herself in removing the tissue paper from an orange.

“Shall I, Señorito Ignacio?”

Artegui shrugged his shoulders. Sardiola, taking this for a sign of assent, launched forth:

“The young lady looks as if she were never out of temper, and you—you are always as if you had just received a beating. In that you would not be a very good match for each other.”

Lucía burst into a laugh and looked at Artegui, who smiled indulgently, which encouraged her to laugh still more. The breakfast proceeded in the same cordial manner, animated by Sardiola’s chatter and by the infantile delight of Lucía. On their return to the cars the waiter accompanied them to the very door of the compartment and, had Lucía been owner of the arms of Artegui, she would have thrown them around Sardiola’s neck when the latter repeated, raising his eyes to heaven, and in the tone in which one prays, when one prays in earnest:

“The Virgin of Begoña be with you, Señorito—God grant that you may find Doña Armanda well—command me as if I were a dog, your dog. Remember that I am here at your service.”{104}

“Thank you,” said Artegui, assuming once more his habitual look of gloomy reserve.

The train started and Sardiola remained standing on the platform waving an adieu with his napkin, without changing his attitude, until the smoke of the engine had vanished on the horizon. Lucía looked at Artegui and questions crowded to her lips.

“That poor man is greatly attached to you,” she said at last.

“I was so unfortunate as to render him a service at one time,” answered Ignacio, “and since then——”

“Hear that! and you call that a misfortune. Well, then, you have been very unfortunate ever since this morning, for you have rendered me a hundred services already.”

Artegui smiled again as he looked at the young girl.

“The misfortune does not consist,” he said, “in rendering a service, but in the recipient showing so much gratitude.”

“Well, then, I too suffer from the same disease as Sardiola, and I am not ashamed of it,” declared Lucía; “you shall see by and by.”

“Bah! all that is wanting is that I should have people grateful to me without cause,” responded Artegui, in the same festive tone. “It is not so bad when there is some motive{105} for gratitude, as in the case of that poor Sardiola.”

“What did you do for him?” asked Lucía, unable to keep her inquisitive lips closed.

“Not much. I cured him of a wound—a rather serious one.”

“The wound that left that scar on his cheek?”

“Yes.”

“Are you a doctor?”

“An amateur one, and that by chance.” Artegui relapsed into silence, and Lucía did not venture to ask any more questions. The heat continued to increase. Although it was autumn the weather was suffocating, and the dust from the engine, diffused through the heated atmosphere, was stifling. The scenery grew wilder as they proceeded, the country growing more and more mountainous and rugged. Occasionally they entered a tunnel, and then the darkness, the rush of the train, the damp, underground air, penetrating into the compartment, mitigated to some extent the intense heat.

Lucía fanned herself with a newspaper, arranged for her by Artegui in the form of a shell; light, transparent drops of perspiration dotted her rosy neck, her temples, and her chin. From time to time she dried them with her{106} handkerchief. The tresses of her hair, uncurled and damp, clung to her forehead. She loosened her stiff collar, took off her necktie, which was strangling her, and leaned back languidly in her corner. In order to soften the light in the compartment, Artegui drew the little curtains of the low windows, producing a vague and mysterious bluish atmosphere that gave the place the air of a submarine grotto, the noise of the train, not unlike the roar of the ocean, contributing to the illusion. Insensible to the heat, Artegui raised the curtain slightly and looked out at the landscape—the oak groves, the sierra, the deep valleys. Once he caught a glimpse of a picturesque train of pilgrims. The scene vanished quickly, but he had time to distinguish the forms of the pilgrims, their scapulars hanging around their necks, wending along the narrow road on foot or in wagons drawn by oxen, the men wearing the red or blue flat woolen cap of the country, the women with their heads covered with white handkerchiefs. The procession resembled the descent of the shepherds in the Christmas representation of the Adoration. The bright sunshine, falling full upon the figures of the pilgrims, bestowed upon them the crude tones of figures of painted clay. Artegui drew Lucía’s attention to the scene; she raised the curtain in{107} her turn, leaned out of the window, and gazed at the spectacle until a bend of the road and a rapid movement of the train hid the picture from view. It seemed as if the tunnels took a malicious pleasure in shutting out from their sight the most beautiful views on the route. Did they catch sight of a smiling hill, a group of leafy trees, a pleasant meadow, lo! the train entered a tunnel and they remained motionless at the window, daring neither to speak nor move, as if they had suddenly entered a church. Lucía, now somewhat accustomed to the heat, looked with great interest at the various objects along the road. The tall match factories, with their white-washed walls and large painted signs, pleased her greatly, and at Hernani she clapped her hands with delight on catching a glimpse, to the left of the road, of a magnificent English park, with its gay flower knots contrasting with the green grass, and its stately coniferous trees, with their symmetrical pendant foliage. At Pasajes, after the wearisome monotony of the mountains, their eyes were at last refreshed with a view of the blue sea that stretched before them, its surface gently rippling while the vessels anchored in the bay swayed with a gentle motion, and a sea-breeze, pungent and salt, fluttered the silk curtains of the carriage, fanning the perspiring brows of{108} the weary travelers. Lucía gazed in wonder at the ocean, which she had never seen before, and when the tunnel suddenly and without warning spread a black veil over the scene, she remained leaning on her elbows at the window, with dilated eyes and parted lips, lost in admiration.

As the hours went by, and they advanced on their journey, Artegui lost something of his statue-like coldness, and, growing by degrees more communicative, explained to Lucía the various views of this moving panorama. The young girl listened with that species of attention which is so delightful to a teacher—that of the pupil, enthusiastic and docile at the same time. Artegui, when he chose to speak, could be eloquent. He described the customs of the country; he related many particulars concerning the villages and the hamlets of which they caught glimpses on their way. Eyes fixed and observant, a countenance all attention, changing its expression at the narrator’s will, responded to his words. So that, when the train stopped at Irún, and they heard the first words spoken in a foreign tongue, Lucía exclaimed, as if with regret:

“What! Are we there already?”

“In France? Yes,” answered Artegui, “but we have still some distance to travel before{109} reaching Bayonne. They examine the luggage here; this is the custom-house of Irún. They will not trouble us much, though; people coming from France to Spain are the victims of the custom-house officials, but no one supposes that those who travel from Spain to France carry contraband articles or new clothes——”

“But I carry new clothes!” exclaimed Lucía. “My wedding outfit. Do you see that big trunk that they have set there on the counter? That is mine, and that other is Miranda’s, and the hat-box——”

“Give me the check and the keys to have them examined.”

“The check and the keys? Miranda has them—not I.”

“In that case you will be left without luggage. You will have to remain here until your husband joins you.”

Lucía looked at Artegui with something like dismay, but the next moment she burst out laughing.

“Left without luggage!” she repeated.

And her silvery laughter burst forth afresh. She thought it a delightful incident to be left without her luggage; she seemed to herself like a child lost in the streets, who is taken in charge by some charitable person until her{110} home can be found. It was a perfect adventure. Child as Lucía was, she might have taken it either as matter for laughter or matter for tears; she took it as matter for laughter, because she was happy, and until they reached Hendaya the burst of merriment that enlivened the carriage did not cease. At Hendaya the dinner served to prolong these moments of perfect cordiality. The elegant dining-room of the railway station at Hendaya, adorned with all that taste and attention to detail displayed by the French to serve, attract, and squeeze the customer, invited to intimacy, with its long and discreet curtains of subdued hues, its enormous chimney-piece of bronze and marble, its splendid sideboard surmounted by a pair of large round Japanese vases, ornamented with strange plants and birds, gleaming with Ruolz silver, and laden with mountains of opaque china. Artegui and Lucía selected a small table with two covers where, sitting opposite each other, they could converse together in low tones so that the firm, grave sounds of their Spanish speech might not attract attention amid the confused and gliding sounds of the chorus of French accents proceeding from the general conversation at the large table. Artegui played the rôle of butler and cupbearer, naming the dishes, pouring out the{111} wines, carving the meat, anticipating Lucía’s childish caprices, shelling the almonds and peeling the apples for her, and dipping the ruddy grapes into the crystal bowl of water. A cloud seemed to have been lifted from his now animated countenance and his movements, although calm and composed, showed less weariness and listlessness than before.

When they re-entered the carriage, night was approaching, and the sun was sinking in the west with the swiftness peculiar to autumn. They closed the windows on one side of the compartment and the flickering light played on the ceiling of the carriage, appearing and disappearing like children playing hide and seek. The mountains grew black, the clouds in the distance turned flame color, then faded, one by one, like a rose of fire dropping its glowing petals. The conversation between Artegui and Lucía languished and then ceased entirely, both relapsing into a gloomy silence,—he showing his accustomed air of fatigue, she lost in a profound revery, dominated by the saddening influence of the hour. The twilight deepened, and from one of the carriages could be heard rising above the noise made in its slow progress by the train, a sorrowful and passionate chorus in a foreign tongue; a zortzico, intoned in deep, full voices by a party of young Biscayans{112} on their way to Bayonne. Now and then a cascade of mocking laughter interrupted the song; then the chorus would rise again, tender and melancholy as a sigh, toward the heavens, black now as ink. Lucía listened, and the train, slowly making the descent, accompanied with its deep vibration the voices of the singers.

The arrival at Bayonne surprised Artegui and Lucía as if they had wakened from a prolonged sleep. Artegui quickly drew his hand away from the knob of the window on which it had been resting and the young girl looked around her with an air of surprise. She noticed that it had grown cool, and she buttoned her collar and put on her necktie. Men with woolen caps, girls wearing handkerchiefs fastened at the back of the head, a stream of passengers of diverse appearance and social condition pushed and elbowed one another and bustled about in the large station. Artegui gave his arm to his companion so that they might not lose each other in the crowd.

“Had your husband decided on any particular hotel at which to stop in Bayonne?” he asked.

“I think,” murmured Lucía, making an effort to remember, “that I heard him mention a hotel called San Estéban. I remembered it{113} because I have a very pretty picture of that saint in my missal.”

“Saint Étienne,” said Artegui to the driver of the omnibus, who, seated on the box, his head turned toward them, was waiting for orders.

The horses set off at a heavy trot, and the vehicle rolled along through the well-paved streets until it reached a house with a narrow door, marble steps flanked by consumptive-looking plants in pots, and bright gas-lamps, before which it stopped.

A fair, tall woman, neatly dressed, wearing a freshly ironed pleated cap, came to the door to receive them and hastened to give Artegui’s valise to a waiter.

“The lady and gentleman would like to have a room?” she murmured in French, in mellifluous and obsequious tones.

“Two,” answered Artegui laconically.

“Two,” she repeated in Spanish, although with a transpyrenean accent. “And would the lady and gentleman like them connected?”

“Entirely separate.”

“Tout à fait. They shall be prepared.”

The landlady called a chambermaid, no less neat and obliging than herself, who, taking two keys from the board on which were hanging{114} the keys of the hotel, ascended the waxed stairs, followed by Artegui and Lucía.

She stopped on the third landing, a little out of breath, and opening the doors of two rooms adjoining each other, but separate, struck a match, lighted the candles on the chimney-piece of each and then withdrew. Artegui and Lucía stood silent for a few moments at the doors of their respective rooms; at last, the former said:

“You must want to wash your hands and face and brush the dust of the road from your dress and rest for a while. I will leave you now. Call the chambermaid if you should require anything; here every one speaks a little Spanish.”

“Good-by,” she answered mechanically.

When the noise made by the closing of the door announced to Lucía that she was alone, and she cast her eyes around this strange room, dimly illumined by the light of the candles, the excitement and bewilderment she had felt during the journey vanished; she called to mind her little room at Leon, simple but dainty as a silver cup, with its holy-water font, its saint, its boxes of mignonette, its work-table, its capacious cedar wardrobe filled with freshly ironed linen. She thought, too, of her father, of Carmela and Rosarito, of{115} all the sweet past. Then sadness overpowered her; fears, vague but none the less real, assailed her; the position in which she found herself seemed to her strange and alarming: the present looked threatening, the future dark. She sank into an easy-chair and gazed fixedly at the light of the candles with the abstracted look of one lost in deep and painful meditation.

CHAPTER V.
An hour, or perhaps an hour and a half, might have passed when Lucía heard a knock at the door of her room, and opening it she found herself face to face with her companion and protector, who gave proof, by his white cuffs and some slight changes which he had made in his dress, of having paid that minute attention to the business of the toilet which is a part of the religion of our age. He entered, and without seating himself, held out to Lucía his pocket-book, filled with money.

“You have here,” he said, “money enough for any occasion that may arise until your husband joins you. As the trains are apt to be delayed at this season, I do not think he will be here before morning, but even if he should not arrive for a week, or even a month, there is enough to last you till then.”{116}

Lucía looked at him as if she had not understood his meaning, without making any motion to take the pocket-book. He slipped it into her palm.

“I am obliged to go out now, to attend to some business,” he said; “after which I will take the first train for Paris. Good-by, Señora,” he ended ceremoniously, taking two steps toward the door.

Then, grasping his meaning, the young girl, with pale and troubled countenance, caught him by the sleeve of his overcoat, exclaiming:

“What—what do you mean? What are you saying about the train?”

“What is natural, Señora,” said the traveler, with his former tired gesture, “that I am going to continue my journey; that I am going to Paris.”

“And you are going to leave me in this way—alone! Alone here in France!” said Lucía, in the greatest distress.

“Señora, this is not a desert, nor need you fear that any harm will befall you. You have money. That is the one thing needful on French soil; that you will be well served and waited upon, I will guarantee.”

“But—good heavens! Alone! alone!” she repeated, without loosening her hold on Artegui’s sleeve.{117}

“Within a few hours your husband will be here.”

“And if he does not come?”

“Why should he not come? What puts it into your head that he will not come?”

“I do not say that he will not come,” stammered Lucía. “I only say that if he should delay——”

“In fine,” murmured Artegui, “I, too, have my occupations—it is imperative that I should go.”

Lucía answered not a word to this, but, loosening her hold on his sleeve, she sank again into her chair and hid her face in her hands. Artegui approached her and saw that her bosom heaved with a quick, irregular motion, as if she were sobbing. Between her fingers drops flowed as copiously as if they had been squeezed out of a sponge.

“Lift up your face,” said Artegui in an authoritative voice.

Lucía raised her flushed, moist countenance and, in spite of herself, smiled as she did so.

“You are a young girl,” he said, “a young girl who is not bound to know what the world is. I, who have seen more of it than I could wish, would be unpardonable if I did not undeceive you. The world is a collection of eyes, ears, and mouths that close themselves to all{118} that is good and open themselves eagerly to all that is evil. My company at present is more to your injury than your advantage. If your husband has not exceptionally good judgment—and there is no reason to suppose that he has—it will give him but little satisfaction to find you so protected.”

“Good heavens! and why? What would have become of me if I had not met you so opportunely? That dreadful official might have put me in prison. I don’t know what Señor de Miranda will say but, as for poor papa, he would kiss the ground you walk upon, I am sure of it.”

And Lucía, with a gesture of passionate and plebeian gratitude, made a movement as if to kneel before Artegui.

“A husband is not a father,” he answered. “The only reasonable, the only sensible course, Señora, is for me to go. I telegraphed from Ebro to Miranda, so that if your husband should be there, he may be told you are waiting here for him in Bayonne.”

“Go, then.”

And Lucía turned her back on Artegui, and leaning her elbows on the window-sill, looked out of the window.

Artegui remained for a moment standing in the middle of the room, looking at the young{119} girl, who doubtless was swallowing her tears silently, undecided what to do. At last he approached her, and almost in a whisper:

“After all,” he murmured, “there is no need to be so greatly troubled. Dry your tears, for if you live long enough you will have time and cause in plenty for them to flow.”

Lowering still more his sonorous voice, he added:

“I will remain.”

Lucía turned round as if she had been moved by a spring, and, clapping her hands, cried with childish delight:

“Thank you! Thank you, Señor de Artegui. Oh, but will you stay in earnest? I am beside myself with joy. What happiness! But,” she added suddenly, as if the thought had only just occurred to her, “can you remain? Will it be a sacrifice, will it be a trouble to you?”

“No,” answered Artegui, with a gloomy countenance.

“That lady, that Doña Armanda, who is expecting you in Paris—may not she, too, need you?”

“She is my mother,” answered Artegui, and Lucía was satisfied with the response, although it failed to answer her question.

Artegui, meanwhile, pushed a chair toward{120} the table, and seating himself in it leaned his elbow on the cover and burying his face in his hands, gave himself up to his thoughts. Lucía, from the embrasure of the window, was observing his movements. When ten minutes had passed, and Artegui had neither moved nor spoken, she approached him softly, and, in a timid and supplicating voice, stammered:

“Señor de Artegui——”

He looked up. His face wore its former gloomy expression.

“What do you wish?” he asked hoarsely.

“What is the matter? It seems to me that you are—very downcast and very sad—I suppose it is on account of—what we were saying—see, if it annoys you so greatly, I think I prefer that you should go. Yes, I am sure I do.”

“I am not annoyed. I am—as I always am. It is because you know me so little that you are surprised at my manner.”

And seeing that Lucía remained standing with a remorseful expression on her countenance, he motioned to the other chair. Lucía drew it forward and sat down in it, facing Artegui.

“Say something,” continued Artegui, “let us talk. We must amuse ourselves, we must chat—as we did this afternoon.”{121}

“Ah, this afternoon you were in a good humor.”

“And you?”

“I was suffocated with the heat. Our house at Leon is very cool; I am much more susceptible to the heat than to the cold.”

“You found it pleasant, no doubt, to wash off the dust of the road. It is so refreshing to make one’s toilet after a journey.”

“Yes, but——” Lucía stopped. “I missed one thing—a very important thing,” she added.

“What? Cologne water, perhaps. I forgot to bring you my necessaire.”

“No, indeed,—the trunk which contained my linen—I could not change my things.”

Artegui rose.

“Why did you not mention this before?” he said. “We are precisely in the place where Spanish brides purchase their wedding outfits!—I will be back directly.”

“But—where are you going?”

“To bring you a couple of changes of linen; you must be in torture with those dusty garments.”

“Señor de Artegui! for Heaven’s sake! I am imposing on your good nature; wait——”

“Why do you not come with me to choose them?”

And Artegui handed Lucía her toque.{122}

The scruples that at first presented themselves to the young girl’s mind vanished quickly like a flock of frightened quail, and a little confused, but still more happy, she hastily took Artegui’s offered arm.

“We shall see the streets, shall we not?” she exclaimed excitedly.

And as they went down the waxed and slippery stairs, she said, with a remnant of provincial scrupulousness and shyness:

“Of course, Señor de Artegui, my husband will repay you all you are spending.”

Artegui tightened his clasp on her arm with a smile, and they walked on through the streets of Bayonne, as much at home with each other as if they had lived all their lives together. The night was worthy of the day. In the soft blue sky the stars shone clear and bright. The gas-lights of the innumerable shops, which in Bayonne trade upon the vanity of the wealthy and migratory Spaniards, encircled the dark blocks of houses with zones of light, and in the show-cases gleamed, in every tone of the chromatic scale, rich stuffs, porcelains, curious bronzes, and costly jewels. The pair walked on in silence, Artegui accommodating his long manly stride to the shorter step of Lucía. The streets were filled with people who walked along quickly, with an air of animation, like{123} people engaged in some business that interests them; not with the languid air of the southern races, who walk for exercise or to kill time. The tables standing in front of the cafés were crowded with customers, for the mild atmosphere made it pleasant to sit in the open air, and under the bright light of the gas lamps the waiters hurried about serving beer, coffee, or chocolate bavaroise; and the smoke of the cigars, and the rustling of newspapers, and the talk, and the sharp ring of the dominoes on the marble made the sidewalk full of life. Suddenly Artegui turned the corner of the street and led the way into a rather narrow shop, whose show-case was almost filled by two long morning-gowns adorned with cascades of lace, one of them trimmed with blue, the other with pink ribbons. Inside the shop were numberless articles of underwear for women and children, coquettishly displayed,—jackets with extended sleeves, wrappers hanging in graceful folds. The ivory white of the laces contrasted with the chalky white of the muslins. Here and there the brilliant colors, the silk and gold of some morning cap resting on its wooden stand, rose in contrast from among the white masses lying around on all sides like a carpet of snow.

The proprietress of the establishment, like{124} most of the shopkeepers of Bayonne, spoke Spanish; and when Lucía asked her for two suits of linen she availed herself of her knowledge of the language of Cervantes to endeavor to persuade her to launch into further purchases. Taking Lucía and Artegui for a newly married couple she became flattering, insinuating, importunate, and persisted in showing them a complete outfit, lauding its beauty and its cheapness. She threw on the counter armfuls of articles, floods of lace, embroidery, batiste. Not content with which, and seeing that Lucía, submerged in a flood of linen, was making signs in the negative with head and hands, she touched another spring, and took down enormous pasteboard boxes containing diminutive caps, flannel, swaddling-clothes, finely scalloped cashmere and piqué cloaks, petticoats of an exaggerated length, and other articles which brought the blood to Lucía’s cheeks.

Artegui put an end to the attack by paying for the suits selected, and giving the address of the hotel to which they were to be sent.

This done, they left the shop; but Lucía, enchanted with the beauty and serenity of the night, expressed a wish to remain out a little longer.

They retraced their steps, passing again before{125} the brilliantly lighted cafés and the theater, and took the road to the bridge, at this hour almost deserted. The lights of the city were tremulously reflected on the tranquil bosom of the Adour.

“How bright the stars are!” exclaimed Lucía; and suddenly pulling Artegui by the sleeve, to arrest his steps. “What star is that,” she said, “that shines so brightly?”

“It is called Jupiter. It is one of the planets belonging to our system.”

“How bright and lovely it is! Some of the stars seem to be cold, they tremble so as they shine; and others are motionless, as if they were watching us.”

“They are, in effect, fixed stars. Do you see that band of light that crosses the sky?”

“That looks like a wide silver gauze ribbon?”

“That is the Milky Way; a collection of stars, the number of which is so great as to be inconceivable even to the imagination. Our sun is one of the ants of that ant-hill,—one of those stars.”

“The sun—is it a star?” asked the young girl in surprise.

“A fixed star—we whirl around it like mad people.”

“Ah, how delightful to know all those{126} things! In the school I attended, we were not taught a particle of all that, and Doña Romualda used to laugh at me when I would say I was going to ask Father Urtazu—who is always looking at the heavens through a big telescope—what the stars and the sun and the moon are.”

Artegui turned to the right, following the embankment, while he explained to Lucía the first notions of that science of astronomy which seems like a celestial romance, a fantastic tale written in characters of light on sapphire tablets. The young girl, enraptured, gazed now at her companion, now at the serene firmament. She was amazed, above all, at the magnitude and number of the stars.

“How vast the sky is! Dear Lord! if the material, the visible heavens are so great, what must the real heavens be, where the Virgin, the angels, and the saints are!”

Artegui shook his head, and bending toward Lucía, murmured:

“How do those stars seem to you? One might fancy they were sad. Is it not true that when they twinkle they look as if they were shedding tears?”

“They are not sad,” responded Lucía, “they are pensive, which is a very different thing. They are thinking, and they have something{127} to think about,—to go no further, God who created them.”

“Thinking! They think as much as that bridge or those vessels think. The privilege of thinking”—Artegui laid a bitter emphasis on the word privilege—“is reserved for man, the lord of creation. And if there be on those stars, as there must be, men endowed with the privileges and the faculties of humanity, they it is who think.”

“Do you believe there are people on those stars? Do you think they are like us, Señor de Artegui? Do they eat? Do they drink? Do they walk?”

“Of that I know nothing. There is only one thing I can assure you of, but that with full knowledge and perfect certainty.”

“What is that?” asked the young girl, with curiosity, watching, by the uncertain light of the stars Artegui’s countenance.

“That they suffer as we suffer,” he answered.

“How do you know that?” she murmured, impressed by the hollow tone in which the words were uttered. “Well, for my part, I fancy that in the stars that are so beautiful and that shine so brightly, there is neither discord nor death, as there is here. It must be blissful there!” she declared, raising her hand and pointing to the refulgent orb of Jupiter.{128}

“Pain is the universal law, here as well as there,” said Artegui, looking fixedly at the Adour which ran, dark and silent, at his feet.

They spoke little more until they reached the hotel. There are conversations which awaken profound thoughts and which are more fittingly followed by silence than by frivolous words. Lucía, tired, without knowing why, leaned heavily on the arm of Artegui, who walked slowly, with his accustomed air of indifference. The last words of their conversation were discordant—almost hostile.

“At what hour does the morning train arrive?” asked Lucía suddenly.

“The first train arrives at five or thereabouts.”

The voice of Artegui was dry and hard.

“Shall we go to meet it to see if Señor de Miranda is on it?”

“You may do so if you choose, Señora; as for me, permit me to decline.”

The tone in which he answered was so bitter that Lucía did not know what to reply.

“The employees of the hotel will go,” added Artegui, “whether you do or not, to meet the trains. There is no need for you to rise so early—at least, unless your conjugal tenderness is so great——”

Lucía bent her head, and her face flushed as{129} if a red-hot iron had passed close to it. When they entered the hotel the landlady approached them; her smile, animated by curiosity, was even more amiable and obsequious than before. She explained that she had forgotten a necessary formality—to enter the names of the lady and gentleman, and their nationality, in the hotel register.

“Ignacio Artegui, Madame de Miranda; Spaniards,” said Artegui.

“If the gentleman had a card——” the landlady ventured to say.

Artegui gave her the desired slip of pasteboard, and the landlady was as profuse in her courtesies and thanks as if she were excusing herself for complying with the required formality.

“When the morning train arrives,” said Ignacio, “give orders to inquire for Monsieur Aurelio Miranda—don’t forget! Let him be told that Madame is in this hotel, that she is well, and that she is waiting for him to join her. Do you understand?”

“Parfait,” answered the Frenchwoman.

Lucía and Artegui bade each other good-night at the doors of their respective rooms. Lucía, as she was about to undress, saw the purchases she had made, lying on the table. She put on the fresh linen with delight, and{130} lay down thinking she was going to sleep profoundly, as she had done the preceding night. But she did not enjoy the repose she had anticipated: her sleep was restless and broken. Perhaps the strangeness of the bed, its very softness, produced in Lucía the effect which unaccustomed luxuries produce in persons habituated to a monastic life, of whom it may be said with truth, paradoxical as it may appear, that comfort makes them uncomfortable.

CHAPTER VI.
When the chambermaid wakened Lucía in the morning, bringing her a bowl of coffee, the first piece of news she gave her was that Monsieur de Miranda had not arrived in the train from Spain. Lucía sprang out of bed and dressed herself quickly, trying to bring together her scattered recollections and glancing around her room with the surprise which those unused to traveling are apt to experience on awakening for the first time in a strange place. She looked at the clock upon the table; it was eight. She went out into the corridor and knocked softly at the door of Artegui’s room.

The latter, who was in his shirt-sleeves, finishing his toilet, when he heard the knock, quickly{131} dried his hands and face, threw his overcoat over his shoulders, and opened the door.

“Don Ignacio—good-morning. Do I disturb you?”

“No, indeed, will you come in?”

“Are you dressed already?”

“Almost.”

“Do you know that Señor de Miranda has not come by the morning train?”

“I have been told so.”

“What do you say to that? Is it not very strange?”

Ignacio did not answer. He began, in truth, to think the conduct of this bridegroom, who had abandoned his bride on their wedding-day in the carriage of a railway train, strange and more than strange. Of course, some disagreeable and unforeseen accident must have occurred to the unknown Miranda; whose fate, by a singular chance, had come to influence his own in the manner it had done during the last forty-eight hours.

“I will telegraph everywhere,” he said; “to Alsásua, to—— do you wish me to telegraph to Leon, to your father?”

“God forbid!” exclaimed Lucía “he would be capable of taking the next train to come in search of me, and suffocating on the way with asthma—and with worry. No, no!”{132}

“At all events I am going to take measures——”

And Artegui thrust his arms through the sleeves of his overcoat and took up his hat.

“Are you going out?” asked Lucía.

“Do you need anything else?”

“Do you know—do you know that yesterday was Saturday and that to-day is Sunday?”

“As a general thing Sunday does follow Saturday,” answered Artegui, with amiable badinage.

“You don’t understand me.”

“Explain yourself, then. What do you wish?”

“What should I wish but to go to mass like all the rest of the world?”

“Ah!” exclaimed Artegui. Then he added: “True. And you wish——”

“That you should accompany me. I am not going to mass alone, I suppose?”

Artegui smiled again, and the young girl observed how well a smile became that countenance, generally so emotionless and somber. It was like the dawn when it tints the gray mountains with rose-color; like a sunbeam piercing the mists on a cloudy clay. The eyes, the pallid and hollow cheeks kindled; youth was renewed in that countenance faded by{133} mysterious sorrows, and darkened by perpetual clouds.

“You should always smile, Don Ignacio,” exclaimed Lucía. “Although,” she added reflectively, “the other way you look more like yourself.”

Artegui, smiling more brightly than before, offered her his arm; but she declined to take it. When they reached the street she walked along in silence, with downcast eyes; she missed the protecting shade of the black veil of her lace manto, which concealed her face and gave her so modest an air when she walked under the beams of the half-ruined vaulted roof of the cathedral at Leon. The cathedral of Bayonne seemed to her as delicately beautiful as a filigree ornament, but she could not listen to the mass so devoutly there as in the other; the exquisite purity of the temple, like an elaborately carved casket; the vivid coloring of the Neo-Byzantine figures painted on a gold background in the transept, the novelty of the open choir; of the tabernacle, isolated and without ornament; the moving of the prayer-desks; the walking to and fro of the women who rented the chairs, all disturbed her. It seemed to her as if she were in a temple of a different faith from her own. A white-robed virgin, wearing a mantle ornamented with gold bands and holding in her{134} arms the Divine Infant in one of the chapels of the nave, tranquillized her somewhat. Then she recited a number of Hail Marys; she pulled apart one by one the leaves of the blood red roses of the rosary, of the mystic lilies of the litany. She left the temple with a light step and a joyful heart. The first object on which her eyes fell when she reached the door was Artegui looking with interest at the Gothic cinter of the portal.

“I have sent telegrams to all the various stations on the route, Señora,” he said, politely raising his hat when he saw her; “especially to the most important station, Miranda de Ebro. I have taken the liberty of signing them with your name.”

“Thanks—but have you not heard mass?” exclaimed the young girl, looking at him in surprise.

“No, Señora; I come, as I have just told you, from the telegraph office,” he answered evasively.

“You must hurry, then, if you wish to be in time. The priest has just this moment come out, in his vestments.”

A slight frown crossed Artegui’s face.

“I shall not go to mass,” he said, half seriously, half jestingly. “At least not unless you particularly desire it—in which case—{135}—”

“Not go to mass!” exclaimed the young girl with wide-open eyes, amazed and disturbed as well. “And why do you not go to mass? Are you not a Christian?”

“Let us suppose that I am not,” he stammered, in a low voice, like a criminal confessing his crime before his judge, and shaking his head with a melancholy air.

“Good heavens! What are you then?” And Lucía clasped her hands in distress.

“What Father Urtazu would call an unbeliever.”

“Ah,” she cried impetuously. “Father Urtazu would say that all unbelievers are wicked.”

“Father Urtazu might add that they are even more unhappy than wicked.”

“It is true,” replied Lucía, trembling still like a tree shaken by the blast. “It is true, even more unhappy; Father Urtazu would certainly say nothing else. And how unhappy they must be! Holy Virgin of the Rosary!”

The young girl bent her head as if stunned by the sudden blow. The religious sentiment, dormant, until now, along with so many other sentiments, in the depths of her serene and placid soul, awoke with vigor at the unexpected shock. Two sensations struggled for{136} the mastery—piercing pity on the one hand, mingled terror and repulsion on the other. Horrified, she was prompted to move away from Artegui, and for this very reason her heart melted with compassion when she looked at him. The people were coming out of the church; the portico poured forth wave after wave of this human sea, and Lucía, standing erect and pale as a Christian martyr in the arena, was hemmed in by the crowd. Artegui offered her his arm in silence; she hesitated at first, then accepted it, and both walked mechanically in the direction of the hotel. The morning, slightly cloudy, promised a temperature cooler and more agreeable than that of the day before. A delightful breeze was blowing, and through the light clouds the sun could be seen struggling, like love struggling through the clouds of anger.

“Are you sad, Lucía?” Artegui asked the young girl softly.

“A little, Don Ignacio.” And Lucía heaved a profound sigh. “And you are to blame for it,” she added, in a gently reproachful tone.

“I?”

“Yes, you. Why do you say those foolish things, that cannot be true?”

“That cannot be true?”

“Yes, that cannot be true. How can it be{137} true that you are not a Christian? Come, you are saying what you do not mean.”

“And how does it matter to you, Lucía?” he exclaimed, calling her for the second time by her Christian name. “Are you Father Urtazu? Am I one who interests or concerns you in any way? Will you be called upon in any tribunal to answer for my soul? Child, this is a matter that touches you in no way.”

“Does it not, indeed? I declare, Don Ignacio, to-day you talk as if—as if you were crazy. Why should it not matter to me whether you are saved or lost, whether you are a Christian or a Jew!”

“A Jew! As far as being a Jew is concerned, I am not that,” responded Artegui, endeavoring to give a playful turn to the conversation.

“It is the same thing—to deny Christ is to be a Jew in fact.”

“Let us drop this, Lucía; I don’t want to see you look like that, it makes you ugly!” he said lightly, alluding, for the first time, to Lucía’s personal appearance. “What, do you wish to do now? Shall I take you to see some of the curiosities of the place? The hospital? The forts?”

He spoke with more cordiality of manner than he had yet manifested, and Lucía’s soul{138} was tranquillized, as when oil is poured on the troubled waters.

“Could we not make a little excursion into the country? I am passionately fond of trees.”

Artegui turned toward the theater, before the door of which two or three little basket-carriages were standing. He made a sign to the driver of the nearest, a Biscayan, who, raising his whip, touched with it the flanks of the Tarbes ponies, that, with a shake of the mane, prepared to start. Lucía sprang in and seated herself in the light vehicle, and Artegui, taking his place beside her, called to the driver:

“To Biarritz.”

The carriage set off, swift as an arrow, and Lucía closed her eyes, letting her thoughts wander at will, enjoying the light caresses of the breeze, that blew back the ends of her necktie and her wavy tresses. And yet the scenery, picturesque and smiling, was well worthy of a glance. They passed cultivated fields, country houses with pointed roofs, English parks carpeted with fresh turf and fine grass, yellow now with the hues of autumn. Descrying a footpath winding among the fields, Artegui called to the driver to stop, and giving his hand to Lucía helped her to alight. The Biscayan sought the shelter of a wall{139} where his horses, bathed in sweat, might rest with safety, and Artegui and Lucía proceeded on foot along the little path, the latter, who had now recovered her childlike gayety and her innocent delight in bodily motion, leading the way. She was enchanted with everything: the clover blossoms that covered the dark green field with crimson dots; the late chamomile and the pale corn-flowers growing by the roadside; the fox-gloves, that she gathered with a smile, bursting the pods between her hands; the curling plumes of the celery; the cabbages growing in rows, each row separated by a furrow. The earth, from over-culture, over-manuring, over-plowing, had acquired an indescribable air of decrepitude. Its flanks seemed to groan, exuding a viscous and warm moisture like sweat, while in the uncultivated land bordering the path were spots of virgin soil where grew at will the ornamental superfluities of the fields,—vaporous grasses, many-colored flowers, and sharp thistles.

The path was too narrow to admit of their walking side by side, and Artegui followed Lucía, although he strayed occasionally into the fields, with little regard for proprietorial rights. The young girl at last paused in her meandering course at the foot of a thick osier plantation on the borders of a marsh,{140} shading a steep grassy bank from which could be obtained a view of the road they had traversed. They seated themselves on the natural divan and looked at the plain that stretched before them like a patch-work composed of the various shades of the vegetables cultivated in the different fields. In the high-road, that wound along like a white ribbon, they could distinguish a black spot—the basket-carriage and the ponies. The sun shone with a mild light that came softened through a veil of clouds, and the landscape showed dull tones,—sea-greens, sandy yellow patches, faint ash-colored distances, soft tints that were reflected in the tranquil pond.

“This is very lovely, Don Ignacio,” said Lucía, in order to say something, for the silence, the profound solitude of the place, was beginning to weigh upon her spirits. “Don’t you like it?”

“Yes, I like it,” answered Artegui, with an absent air.

“Although it seems, indeed, as if you liked nothing. You seem, always, as if you were tired—that is to say, not tired, but sad, rather. See here,” continued the young girl, taking hold of a flexible osier branch and wreathing it playfully around her head, “I wager you would not believe that your sadness is communicating{141} itself to me, and that I, too, begin to be—I don’t know how to describe it—well, preoccupied. I would give, I don’t know what, to see you contented and—natural, like other men. Neither in your face nor your expression do you resemble other men, Don Ignacio.”

“And I, on my side,” he responded, “find your gayety infectious; I am sometimes in a better humor than you are yourself. Happiness, too, is contagious.”

As he spoke he drew toward him another osier branch, whose tender peel he stripped off with his fingers and threw into the pond, watching fixedly the circles it made on the surface of the water as it sank.

“Of course it is,” assented Lucía; “and if you wished to be frank, if you made up your mind to—to confide to me the cause of your trouble, you should see that in a second’s time I would chase away that shadow that you now wear on your face. I don’t know why it is that I imagine that all this seriousness, this gloom, this dejection is not caused by real unhappiness, but by—by—I don’t know how to explain myself—by nonsensical notions, by ideas without rhyme or reason, that swarm in your brain. I wager I am right.”

“You are so right,” exclaimed Artegui, dropping the osier branch and seizing the{142} young girl’s hand, “that I am now firmly persuaded that pure and sinless natures possess a certain power of divination, a certain marvelous and peculiar intuition denied to us who, in exchange, see clearly the irremediable sadness of life.”

Lucía looked with a serious and disturbed countenance at her companion.

“You see!” she found voice to say at last, making an effort to form her lips into a smile and succeeding with difficulty. “So that all those foolish notions that resemble the houses of cards that father used to build for me when I was a child, and which would fall down at a breath, have now vanished?”

“In this you are mistaken, child,” said Artegui, dropping her hand with one of his languid, mechanical gestures. “The contrary is the case. When sadness springs from some definite cause, if the cause is removed the sadness may also disappear; but if sadness springs up spontaneously in the soul like those weeds and rushes you see growing on the borders of that pond, if it is in ourselves, if it is the essence of our being, if it does not spring up here and there only, but everywhere, if nothing on earth can alleviate it, then—believe me, child, the patient is beyond help. There is no hope for him.”{143}

He smiled as he spoke, but his smile was like the light falling on a statue in a niche.

“But, tell me,” said Lucía, with painful and feverish curiosity. “Have you ever met with any terrible misfortune—any great grief?”

“None that the world would call such.”

“Have you a family—who love you?”

“My mother adores me—and if it were not for her——” said Artegui, allowing himself to be drawn, as if against his will, into the gentle current of confidence.

“And your father?”

“He died many years ago. He was a Biscayan, a Carlist emigrant, a man of great energy, of indomitable will; he took refuge in the interior of France; he found himself there without money and without friends; he worked as he had fought, with lion-like courage, and succeeded in establishing a vast commercial business, accumulating a fortune, buying a house in Paris and marrying my mother, who belongs to a distinguished Breton family, also legitimist. I was their only child; they lavished affection upon me but without neglecting my education or spoiling me by over-indulgence. I studied, I saw the world, I expressed a wish to travel, and my mother placed the means of doing so at my disposal; I had whims, many whims, when I grew up, and they were gratified,{144} I have traveled in the United States and in the East, not to speak of Europe; I spend the winters in Paris and in summer I generally go to Spain; my health is good and I am not old. You see then that I am what people are accustomed to call a favorite of fortune, a happy man.”

“It is true,” said Lucía; “but who knows that it is not for that very reason that you are as you are! I have heard it said that for bread to be sweet it must be earned; it is true that I have not earned it and yet so far I have not found it bitter.”

“There was a time,” murmured Artegui, as if in answer to his own thoughts, “when I fancied that my apathy proceeded from the security in which I lived, and I desired to be indebted to myself, myself only, for a livelihood. For two years I refused to receive the allowance made me by my parents, devoting myself ardently to work and earning, as active partner in a large commercial house which I entered, more than sufficient for my wants; fortune attended me, like a faithful lover, but this constant and pitiless competition sickened me and I desired to try some work in which mind and body both should have a part and in which the gain should be no more than sufficient for my wants. I studied medicine, and{145} taking advantage of the war at that time raging in the north of Spain, I joined the forces of Don Cárlos. My father’s name opened every door to me, and I devoted myself to practicing in the hospitals——”

“Was it then that you cured Sardiola?”

“Precisely, the poor devil had been horribly wounded by a discharge of grapeshot; his cheek was laid open and the jawbone injured, and, in addition, he was bleeding from an artery. The cure was a difficult but most successful one. I worked hard at that time and it was the period during which I suffered least from tedium. But in exchange——”

Artegui paused, fearing to proceed.

“To what purpose, child, to what purpose should I go on? I don’t even know why I should have given you all these nonsensical details, probably to you as unintelligible as the ravings of a madman are to the sane.”

“No, indeed,” declared Lucía, half offended, “I understand you very well, and, as a proof that I do, I am going to tell you what you have kept to yourself. You shall see that I will,” she cried, as Artegui smilingly shook his head. “You were less bored during the period in which you were an amateur physician, but in exchange—seeing so many dead people and so much blood and so much cruelty, you{146} became still more—more of an unbeliever than you were before. Have I guessed right or not?”

Artegui looked at her, mute with amazement, and his brow contracted in a frown.

“And do you want me to tell you more? Well, that is what is the matter with you and it is for that reason that you are so dissatisfied with fate and with yourself. If you were a good Christian, you might indeed be sad, but with a different sort of sadness, more gentle and more resigned. For when one has the hope of going to heaven, one can suffer here in patience without giving way to despair.”

And as Artegui, with compressed lips, silently turned his head aside, the young girl murmured in a voice gentle as a caress:

“Don Ignacio, Father Urtazu has told me that there are men who do not wish to admit what the church teaches and what we believe, but who, in their own way, according to their fancy, in short, worship a God whom they have created for themselves, and who believe also that there is another life and that the soul does not die with the body—are you one of those men?”

He did not answer, but seizing a couple of osier branches, bent them forcibly between his fingers until they snapped. The broken{147} branches hung down limply from the tree, held together by the bark, like broken limbs held together by the skin.

“You are not one of those men, either?” resumed the young girl, turning toward him, her hands joined together, almost kneeling on the bank. “Don’t you believe, even in that way? Don Ignacio, do you indeed believe in nothing? In nothing?”

Ignacio sprang to his feet, and standing on the summit of the bank overlooking the whole landscape, slowly said:

“I believe in evil.”

From a distance the group might have seemed a piece of statuary. Lucía, completely overwhelmed, almost knelt, her hands clasped in an imploring attitude. Artegui, his arm raised, his form erect, challenging with sorrowful glance the blue vault above, might have been taken for some hero of romance, some rebellious Titan, were it not for his modern costume, with its prosaic details; the sky grew momentarily darker; leaden clouds, like enormous heaps of cotton, banked themselves up over Biarritz and the ocean. Gusts of hot air blew low down, almost along the ground, bending the reeds and setting in motion the pointed foliage of the osiers with its fiery breath. The plain exhaled a deep groan at these menacings of the{148} storm. It seemed as if evil, evoked by the voice of its worshiper, had appeared, in tremendous form, terrifying nature with its broad black wings, to whose flapping fancy might have attributed the suffocating exhalations that heated the atmosphere. Murky and dark, like the surface of a steel mirror, the lake slept motionless and the aquatic flowers drooped on its border. Artegui’s voice, more intense than loud, resounded through the awe-inspiring silence.

“In evil,” he repeated, “that surrounds and envelops us on all sides, from the cradle to the grave; that never leaves us; in evil, that makes of the earth a vast battle-field where no being can live but by the death and the suffering of other beings; in evil, which is the pivot on which the world turns and the very mainspring of life.”

“Señor de Artegui,” stammered Lucía faintly, “it would seem, according to what you say, that you pay to the devil the worship you refuse to God.”

“Worship! no! Shall I worship the iniquitous power that, concealed in darkness, works for the general woe? To fight, to fight against it is what I desire, now and always. You call this power the devil; I call it evil, universal suffering. I know how alone it may be vanquished.”{149}

“By faith and good works,” exclaimed the young girl.

“By dying,” he answered.

Any one who had observed these two from a distance,—a young and handsome man and a blooming young girl,—conversing alone in the shady meadow, would have taken them, to a certainty, for a pair of lovers, and would never have imagined that they were speaking of suffering and death, but of love, which is life itself. Artegui, standing on the bank, could see his image reflected in the blue eyes which Lucía lifted toward him; eyes, that notwithstanding the darkness of the sky, seemed to sparkle with light.

“By dying!” she echoed, as the tree echoes back the sound of the blow that wounds it.

“By dying. Suffering ends only with death. Only death can vanquish the creative force that delights in creating so that it may afterward torture its unhappy creation.”

“I do not understand you,” murmured Lucía, “but I am afraid.” And her form trembled like the osier branches.

Artegui was silent, but a deep and powerful voice resounding through the heavens suddenly mingled with the strange dialogue. It was the thunder which pealed in the distance, solemn and awe-inspiring. Lucía uttered a{150} low cry of terror and fell prone upon the grass. The clouds broke and large drops of rain fell with a sound like that of molten lead upon the silky leaves of the osiers. Artegui hurried down the bank, and taking Lucía in his arms, with nervous force, began to run, without looking to the right or to the left, leaping ditches, crossing newly plowed fields, pressing under foot celery plants and cabbages, until, beaten by the rain and pursued by the thunder, he reached the high road. The driver was energetically uttering maledictions on the storm when Artegui placed Lucía, almost insensible, on the seat and pulled up the oilcloth cover hastily to protect her as far as was possible from the rain. The ponies, terrified by the tempest, without waiting for the touch of the whip, with pricked-up ears and distended nostrils, set off toward Bayonne.

CHAPTER VII.
Lucía had just finished drying her wet garments at the fire that Artegui had lighted for her. Her hair, which the rain had flattened against her forehead, was beginning to curl slightly at the temples; her clothing was still steaming, but the beneficent warmth pervading her frame had in some degree brought back her{151} natural buoyancy of spirits. Only the feathers of her hat, drooping sadly, notwithstanding their owner’s efforts to restore to them their graceful curl by holding them to the fire, bore witness to the ravages of the storm.

Artegui leaned back in an easy-chair, listless as usual, plunged in idle revery. He was resting, doubtless, from the fatigue caused by lighting the logs that burned so cheerfully in the fireplace, and ordering and pouring out the tea, to which he had added a few drops of rum. Silent and motionless now, his eyes rested alternately on Lucía and on the fire, which formed a shifting red background to her head. While Lucía had been incommoded by the weight of her wet garments and the pressure of her damp shoes, she too had remained silent and constrained, nervously fancying she still heard the pealings of the thunder and felt the sting of the rain drops beating against her face, like needles.

Little by little the genial influence of the heat relaxed her stiffened limbs and loosened her paralyzed tongue. She stretched her feet and hands toward the blaze, spread out her skirts, to dry them equally, and finally sat down on the floor, Turkish-fashion, the better to enjoy the warmth of the fire, which she contemplated with fixed and absorbed gaze, listening{152} to the crackling of the logs as she watched them gradually change from red to black.

“Don Ignacio,” she said suddenly.

“Lucía?”

“I wager you do not know what I am thinking of?”

“You will tell me.”

“The things that have been happening to me since yesterday are so strange, and the life I have been leading so out of the usual course—what you told me there—beside the pond, seems to me so singular, so extraordinary, that I am wondering whether I did not fall asleep in Miranda de Ebro and have not yet awakened. I must be still in the railway-carriage; that is to say my body must be still there, for my soul has flown away and is dreaming such wild dreams—against my will.”

“I don’t know what there is that is strange in anything that has happened to you; on the contrary, it is all very commonplace and simple. Your husband is left behind on the road. I meet you afterward by chance, and stay with you to take care of you until he arrives. Neither more nor less. Let us not weave a romance out of this.”

Artegui spoke with the same slow and disdainful intonation as usual.

“No,” persisted Lucía, “it is not what has{153} happened to me that I find strange. What I find strange is—you. Come, Don Ignacio, you know it very well. I have never before seen any one who thinks as you think, or who speaks as you speak. And therefore, at times,” she murmured, taking her head between her hands, “the idea comes to me that I am still dreaming.”

Artegui rose from his chair and drew near the fire. His manly figure loomed up in the glowing light, and to Lucía, from her seat on the floor, he looked taller than he really was.

“It is right,” he said, inclining himself before her, “that I should ask your pardon. I am not in the habit of saying certain things to the first person I meet, and still less to persons like you. I have talked a great deal of nonsense, which naturally frightened you. Besides being out of place, my conduct was in bad taste and even cruel. I acted like a fool and I am sorry for it, believe me.”

Lucía, lifting up her face, looked at him in silence. The glow of the fire turned her chestnut hair to gold, and cast a rosy hue over her countenance. The eyes she raised to his, as he stood looking down at her, were shining brightly.

“I have two temperaments,” Artegui resumed, “and, like a child, I give way to the impulses{154} of both without reflection. In general, I am what my father was—firm of will, reticent, and self-controlled; but at times my mother’s temperament governs me. My poor mother suffered when she was very young, in her remote castle in Brittany, from nervous attacks, fits of gloom, and mental disturbance which she has never succeeded in overcoming completely, although she has suffered less from them since my birth than she did before. She lost a part of her malady and I acquired it. Is it to be wondered at if I sometimes act and speak, not like a man, but like a woman or a child!”

“The truth is, Don Ignacio,” exclaimed Lucía, “that in your sober senses you would not think what—what you said there.”

“In company with you,” he said, “with a young and loyal creature who loves life, and feels, and believes, what business had I to speak of anything sad, or to set forth abstruse theories, turning a pleasure excursion into a lecture? Could anything be more absurd? I am a fool. Lucía,” he ended, with naturalness and without bitterness, “you will forgive me for my want of tact, will you not?”

“Yes, Don Ignacio,” she murmured, in a low voice.

Artegui drew his chair toward the fire and{155} sat down, stretching out his hands and feet toward the blaze.

“Are you still cold?” he asked Lucía.

“No, indeed; on the contrary, I am delightfully warm.”

“Let me feel your hands.”

Lucía, without rising, held out her hands to Artegui, who found that they were soft and warm and soon released them.

“On account of the rain,” he continued, “I could not take you a little farther, as I wished to do, to Biarritz, where there are very pretty villas and parks in the English style. Indeed, we enjoyed scarcely anything of the beautiful country. How fragrant the hay and the clover were! And the earth. The smell of freshly turned earth is somewhat pungent but pleasant.”

“What was most fragrant of all was a bed of mint growing by the pond. I am sorry I did not bring a few of the plants with me.”

“Shall I go get you some? I would be back directly.”

“Heavens! What nonsense, Don Ignacio, to think of going for them now,” said Lucía; but the pleasure caused by the offer dyed her cheeks with crimson. “Do you hear how it is raining?” she added, to change the subject.

“The morning gave no indication of the{156} coming storm,” replied Artegui. “France has, in general, a moist climate, and this basin of the Adour is no exception to the rule. It was a pity not to have been able to drive through Biarritz! There are many fine palaces and agreeable places of resort there. I would have taken you to see the Virgin, who, from her station on a rock, seems to command the troubled waters to be still. There could not be a more artistic idea.”

“How! the Virgin!” said Lucía, greatly interested.

“A statue of the Virgin, standing among the rocks; at sunset the effect is marvelous; the statue seems made of gold and is surrounded by a sea of fire. It is like an apparition.”

“Oh, Don Ignacio, will you take me there to-morrow?” cried Lucía, with, eager, wide-open eyes and clasped hands.

“To-morrow”—Artegui again relapsed into thought. “But, Señora,” he said presently, in a changed voice, “your husband will probably arrive to-day.”

“True.”

The conversation ceased of itself and both sat gazing silently into the fire. Artegui added fresh logs, for the embers were now burning low. The blazing brands crackled and occasionally one would burst open like a ripe{157} pomegranate, sending forth a shower of sparks. The fiery edifice sank under the weight of the fresh materials. The flames gently licked their new prey and then began to dart into it their asp-like tongues, drawing from it with each ardent kiss a cry of pain. Although it was scarcely past the meridian hour, the apartment was almost dark, so black was the sky outside and so fierce the storm.

“You have not breakfasted yet, Lucía,” said Artegui, suddenly remembering the fact, and rising. “I am going to give orders to have your breakfast sent here.”

“And you, Don Ignacio?”

“I—will breakfast too, down-stairs in the dining-room. It is high time now.”

“But why do you not breakfast here with me?”

“No, I will breakfast down-stairs,” he said, going toward the door.

“As you choose—but I am not hungry. Don’t send me anything. I feel—I don’t know how.”

“Eat something—you have been chilled and you need something to restore the circulation.”

“No—though if you were to breakfast here with me I might perhaps make the effort,” she persisted, with the obstinacy of a self-willed child.{158}

Artegui shrugged his shoulders resignedly, and pulled the bell-rope. When the chambermaid entered the room a quarter of an hour later with the tray, the fire was burning more brightly and merrily than ever, and the two arm-chairs, one on either side of the fireplace, and the table covered with a snowy cloth, invited to the enjoyment of the unceremonious repast. The glass, the coolers, the salver, the vinegar cruets, the silver bands of the mustard vessel sparkled in the light; the radishes, swimming in a fine porcelain shell, looked like rose-buds, the fried sole displayed its lightly browned back garnished with curled parsley and slices of lemon of a pale gold color; the juicy beefsteak rested in a lake of melted butter; and in the lace-like glasses sparkled the deep garnet of the Burgundy and the ruddy topaz of the Chateau-Yquem. Every time the waiter came and went to bring or to take away a dish, he laughed to himself at the Spanish lovers, who had asked for separate rooms to breakfast together in this way—tête-à-tête by the fire. As a Frenchman, he took advantage of the occasion to raise the price of everything. He handed Artegui the list of wines, giving him at the same time suggestions and advice.

“The gentleman will want iced champagne—I will bring it in a cooler, it is more convenient.{159} The pine-apples we have are excellent, I will bring some—we receive our Malaga direct from Spain—ah, the Spanish wines! there is no place like Spain for wines.”

And bottles continued to arrive, and the already formidable array of glasses standing beside each of the guests to increase. There were wide flat glasses, like the crater of the ancients, for the foaming champagne; narrow, green glasses, with handles, for the Rhine wine; shallow glasses, like thimbles, with a short stem for the southern Malaga. Lucía had taken only a few sips of each of the wines, but she had tasted them all, one after another, through childish curiosity; and now, with her head a little heavy, blissfully forgetful of the events of the morning’s excursion, she sat leaning back in her chair, her bosom heaving, her white teeth gleaming between her moist rosy lips when she smiled—the smile of a bacchante who is still innocent and who for the first time has tasted the juice of the grape. The atmosphere of the closed room was stifling—pervaded with the savory odors of the succulent dishes, the mild warmth of the fire, and the faint resinous aroma of the burning logs. A charming subject it would have formed for a modern anacreontic ode—the woman holding up her glass, the wine falling in{160} a clear and sparkling stream, the thoughtful looking man gazing alternately at the disordered table and the smiling nymph with glowing cheeks and sparkling eyes. Artegui felt so completely master of himself that, melancholy and disdainful, he looked at Lucía as the traveler looks at the wayside flower from which he voluntarily turns aside his steps. Neither wines nor liqueurs, nor the soft warmth of the fire were of avail now to draw the pessimist from his apathetic calm; through his veins the blood flowed slowly, while through Lucía’s veins it coursed, rapid, generous, and youthful. But for both the moment was one to be remembered—one of supreme concord, of sweet forgetfulness; the past was blotted out; the present was like a peaceful eternity shut within four walls, in the pleasant drowsiness of the silent room. Lucía let both arms hang over the arms of her chair, her fingers loosened their clasp, and the glass they had held fell with a crystalline sound on the brass fender, breaking into countless fragments. The young girl laughed at the accident, and with half-closed eyes fixed upon the ceiling, yielded unresistively to the feeling of lethargy that was stealing over her,—a suspension, as it were, of all the faculties of being. Artegui, meanwhile, calm and silent, sat upright in his chair, haughty as an ancient{161} stoic; his soul was pervaded by a bitter pleasure,—the pleasure of feeling himself to be truly dead and of knowing that treacherous nature had tried her arts in vain to resuscitate him.

And thus they might have remained for an indefinite period had not the door suddenly opened to admit, not the waiter, still less the expected Miranda, but a young man of some twenty-four or twenty-five years of age, of medium height, and of abrupt and familiar manners. He had his hat on, and the first objects to attract the eye in his person were the gleaming pin of his necktie and his low-cut light yellow shoes, of a somewhat daring fashion, like those of a manolo. The entrance of this new personage effected a transformation in the scene; while Artegui rose to his feet, furious, Lucía, restored to full consciousness, passed her hand over her forehead and sat upright in her chair, assuming an attitude of reserve, but unable to steady her gaze, which still wandered.

“Hello, Artegui, you here? I saw your name just now in the register, and I hurried up,” said the newcomer, with perfect self-possession. Then suddenly, as if he had but just seen Lucía, he took off his hat and bowed to her easily, without adding another word.

“Señor Gonzalvo,” responded Artegui, veiling his anger under an appearance of icy reserve,{162} “we must have become very intimate since last we saw each other. In Madrid——”

“You are always so English—so English,” said the young man, showing neither confusion nor embarrassment. “You see I am frank, very frank; in Madrid we each had our business or our pleasures to attend to, but in a foreign land it is pleasant to meet a compatriot. In fine, I beg your pardon, I beg your pardon. I see that I have disturbed you. I regret it for the lady’s sake——”

Here he bowed again, while his eyes, from between their half-closed lids, cynically devoured Lucía’s countenance lighted by the glow of the dying brands.

“No, stay!” cried Artegui, rising, and seizing the intruder hastily by the arm, seeing that he had turned to leave the room. “Since you have entered this apartment so unceremoniously, I wish you to understand that you do not discover me in any discreditable adventure, nor is that the reason of my displeasure at your intrusion.”

“Don’t say another word. I am not asking any questions,” said the young man, shrugging his shoulders.

“Don’t imagine that I care a jot about what you think of me, but this lady is—an honorable woman; owing to circumstances, which{163} it is unnecessary to explain, she is traveling under my protection until she is joined by her husband,” and observing the half-suppressed smile on his interlocutor’s face, he added:

“I advise you to believe what I say, for my reputation for truthfulness is perhaps the only thing on which I set any value.”

“I believe you, I believe you”; returned the young man simply, and with an accent of sincerity. “You have the name of being eccentric, eccentric, but frank as well. Besides, I am an expert, an expert, an expert in the matter, and I can recognize a lady——”

As he spoke he bowed for the third time to Lucía, with easy grace. The latter rose with instinctive dignity, and with a serious and composed air returned the salute. Artegui then advanced and uttered the prescribed formula:

“Señor Don Pedro Gonzalvo, the Señora de Miranda.”

“Miranda—yes, yes, I saw the name, I saw the name on the hotel register. I know a Miranda who was to have been married about this time—an old bachelor, an old bachelor?”

“Don Aurelio?” Lucía asked involuntarily.

“Precisely. I am intimate, intimate with him.”{164}

“He is my husband,” murmured Lucía.

The young man’s face flushed with eager curiosity, and he once more fixed his small eyes on Lucía’s countenance, which he scanned with implacable tenacity.

“Miranda—ah, so you are the wife, the wife of Aurelio Miranda!” he repeated, without further comment. But discreetly-repressed curiosity was so apparent in his manner, that Artegui imposed upon himself the task of giving the young man a full and minute account of all that had occurred. Gonzalvo listened in silence, repressing with the discreetness of the man of the world the malicious smile that rose to his lips. It was evident that the comical conjugal mishap of the middle-aged rake diverted the youthful rake excessively. A stray sunbeam, breaking through the gray clouds, threw into relief the blonde, lymphatic countenance of the young man,—the freckled skin, the delicate but characteristically marked features. His white hands, resembling those of a woman, played with his steel watch-chain; on the little finger of one of them gleamed a large carbuncle, side by side with another ring, a school-girl’s simple trinket—a little cross of pearls set in a hoop of gold, much too small for the finger it encircled.

“So that you know nothing, nothing of Miranda{165}’s whereabouts,” he asked, when he had heard the narration to the end.

“Nothing up to the present,” gravely answered Artegui.

“This is delightful! delightful!” muttered the young man under his breath, laughing with his eyes rather than with his mouth. “Was there ever such an adventure! Miranda must be a sight to see! a sight to see!”

Artegui looked at him fixedly, intercepting the indiscreet laughter of his eyes. With an air of great gravity, he said:

“Are you a friend of Don Aurelio Miranda?”

“Yes, very much so, very much so,” lisped Gonzalvo, who had a habit of dropping two or three letters in every word, repeating the word itself two or three times to make amends; which was productive of a singular confusion in his speech, especially when he was angry, when he would jumble up or leave out entire words.

“Very much so, very much so,” he continued. “Everywhere, everywhere in Madrid I used to meet him. He belonged at one time to the—what’s its name—the Rapid Club, the Rapid Club, and he used to frequent with us young men, with us young men, the—well, the Apollo, the Apollo.”

“I am very glad of it,” cried Artegui, without{166} losing his air of gravity for a moment. “Well then, Señora,” he continued, addressing Lucía, “you have here what you stood so greatly in need of two days ago—a friend of your husband’s, who has on all accounts a much greater claim than I to serve as your escort until such time as Señor Miranda may make his appearance.”

At this unexpected turn Gonzalvo smiled, bowing politely, like a man of the world accustomed to all sorts of situations; but Lucía, a look of astonishment on her still flushed face, drew back, as if in refusal of the new escort offered to her.

This dumb show was interrupted by the entrance of the waiter who handed to Artegui, on a salver, a blue envelope. It seemed impossible for Artegui to be paler than he already was, and yet his cheeks grew perceptibly whiter as, tearing open the envelope, he read the telegram it contained. A cloud passed before his eyes, instinctively he grasped the chimney-piece for support, leaning heavily against the mantle-shelf. Lucía, recovering from her first astonishment, rushed toward him and placing her clasped hands on his arm said to him with eager entreaty:

“Don Ignacio, Don Ignacio, don’t leave me in this way. For the little time that now remains{167}—what trouble would it be for you to stay? I don’t know this gentleman. I have never seen him before——”

Artegui listened mechanically, like one in a state of catalepsy. At last he found his voice; he looked at Lucía in surprise, as if he now saw her for the first time, and in faint accents said:

“I must go to Paris at once—my mother is dying.” Lucía felt as if she had received a blow on the head from some unseen hand, and stood for a moment speechless, breathless, pulseless. When she had recovered herself sufficiently to exclaim:

“Your mother! Good heavens! What a misfortune!” Artegui had already turned to leave the room, without waiting to listen to the lisped offers of service with which Gonzalvo was overwhelming him.

“Don Ignacio!” cried the young girl, as she saw him lay his hand on the knob.

As if those vibrant tones had reawakened memory in the unhappy son, he retraced his steps, went straight to Lucía, and, without uttering a word took both her hands in his and pressed them in a strong and silent clasp. Thus they remained for a few seconds, neither saying to the other a word of farewell. Lucía tried to speak, but it seemed to her as if a soft silken cord were tightening around her neck{168} and slowly strangling her. Suddenly Artegui released her hands; she drew a deep breath and leaned against the wall, confused, scarcely conscious. When she looked around her she saw that she was alone in the room with Gonzalvo, who was reading, half aloud, the telegram which Artegui had left behind him on the table.

“It was the truth, it was the truth—and the telegram is in Spanish,” he murmured. “‘The Señora dangerously ill. She desires Señorito to come. Engracia.’ Who may Engracia, Engracia, Engracia be? Ah, now I know—Artegui’s nurse, the nurse to a certainty. Well, well! I don’t know whether he will catch the express” (this word Gonzalvo pronounced as if it were written epés). “Half-past two—it is only a little while since the express arrived from Spain—yes, he will still have time to catch it.”

He put back again into his pocket the beautiful skeleton watch, with its double face, and turning his small eyes toward Lucía, he added:

“I am sorry for this for your sake, Señora; now I am your escort. The best thing you can do is to put yourself under my care. My sister is here with me, here with me, and I will get you a room together. It is not fit, it is not{169} fit that a lady should be alone in this way in a hotel.”

Gonzalvo offered her his arm and Lucía was mechanically going to take it when the door opened a second time and the waiter, with a theatrical gesture, announced:

“Monsieur de Miranda.”

It was, in truth, the unlucky bridegroom, who came limping with difficulty into the room, his right foot still almost useless; the sharp pain of the dislocation, the result of his jump, being renewed every time he attempted to place it upon the ground. The habitual dignity of his bearing thus destroyed, his forty odd years revealed themselves in unmistakable characters in every feature of his face; the melancholy-looking black line of the mustache stood sharply defined against the withered skin; the eyelids drooping, the temples sunken, his hair in disorder, the ex-beau resembled one of those ruins, beautiful in the twilight, but which in the full noonday are seen to be only crumbling walls, nettles, brambles, and lizards. And as Lucía stood hesitating, unable either to utter a word of welcome or to throw herself into his arms, Gonzalvo, the constant censor of matrimony, terminated the strange situation by bursting out laughing and advancing to give a serio-comic embrace to{170} the pitiable caricature of the returned husband.

CHAPTER VIII.
A few days’ sojourn in Bayonne sufficed to alleviate greatly the pain of Miranda’s foot and to make Pilar Gonzalvo and Lucía acquainted, and even in some degree intimate with each other. Like Miranda, Pilar was on her way to Vichy, with the difference that, while what Miranda required of the waters was that they should eliminate the bile from his system, the little Madridlenian was going to the health-giving springs in search of particles of iron to enrich her blood and restore the brilliancy to her lustrous eyes. Eager, like all people of weak and delicate organization, for novelty and excitement, the new friendship with Lucía, the curious incidents of the wedding journey, and the inspection of her bridal finery, which Pilar looked at, article by article, examining the lace on every jacket, the flounces on every dress, the initials on every handkerchief, served to divert her greatly. Besides, the frank simplicity of the Leonese offered a virgin and uncultivated soil in which to plant the exotic flowers of fashion, and the poison weeds of society scandal. Pilar, at the time we speak of{171} twenty-three years old, had the precocious malice characteristic of young girls who, connected with the aristocracy, through their social relations, and belonging to the middle class, through their antecedents, are familiar with society in all its aspects, and can as easily discover who has given a rendezvous to a duke as who it is that corresponds with the neighbor on the third floor. Pilar Gonzalvo was tolerated in the distinguished houses of Madrid. To be tolerated is one of the degrees of social standing; to be received, as her brother was, is another degree; beyond being tolerated and received is the highest degree of all—to be courted; few enjoy the privilege of being courted; this being reserved for the notabilities who are chary of their society, who allow themselves to be seen once or twice a year; for the bankers and wealthy men who give balls, entertainments, and midnight masses, with a supper afterward; for beauties, during the brief and dazzling period of their full efflorescence; for politicians during the time when they are in power, like cards when they are trumps. There are cases of persons who have been received and who suddenly find themselves courted for some particular reason,—for inventing a new style of wearing the hair, on account of a winning horse, a whispered scandal of{172} which they are the heroes, and which people fancy they can read in their faces.

Of these ephemeral successes Perico Gonzalvo had had many; his sister not one, in spite of repeated efforts on her part to obtain one. She did not succeed even in being tolerated or admitted. The world is wide for men, but narrow, narrow for women. Pilar always felt the invisible barrier that raised itself between her and those noblemen’s daughters whose brothers associated so familiarly with Perico. Hence sprung up in her breast a secret rancor that, struggling with admiration and envy, produced the nervous irritation that undermined the health of the Madridlenian. The fever of an unsatisfied desire, the pangs of wounded vanity, destroyed the equilibrium of a not very healthy or well-balanced organization. Like her brother, she had a skin of lymphatic whiteness, whose many freckles she concealed with cosmetics; her eyes were blue and expressive though not large, and her hair, which she had the art of arranging becomingly, was fair. Her ears, at this time, seemed made of wax, her thin lips appeared like a faint red line above the sallow chin, her blue veins showed under the skin and her gums, pale and flaccid, imparted to the sparse teeth the hue of old ivory. Spring had set in{173} for her under very unfavorable auspices; the Lenten concerts and the last balls of the Easter holidays, of which she had not missed one, had cost her palpitations of the heart every night, indescribable weariness in the limbs, strange caprices of appetite; the anæmia was turning to neurosis; and Pilar masticated, in secret, bits of the clay statuettes that adorned the corner shelves of her dressing-room. She experienced intolerable pains in the epigastrium, but in order not to interrupt her amusements she was silent about all this. At last, as summer approached, she resolved to speak of her ailments, thinking, not without reason, that the malady offered a good pretext for taking a trip to the country, in conformity with the canons of good society. Pilar lived with her father and a paternal aunt, neither of whom was willing to accompany her; the father, a superannuated magistrate, being reluctant to leave the Bourse, where, on the sly, he speculated with moderation and success; the widowed aunt dreading the dissipations which her niece was no doubt planning as a part of the treatment. This task then devolved upon Perico Gonzalvo, who accompanied his sister to El Sardinero, counting upon finding there friends who would relieve him in his duties as escort. And so it was; there were plenty of acquaintances{174} at the seashore, who undertook to keep Pilar constantly on the go and to take her everywhere. But, unfortunately for Perico, the sea baths, which in the beginning had been of service to his sister, ended, when she indulged in them to excess, wishing to swim and display her skill in the water, in inflicting serious injury on her delicate organization; and she began once more to suffer from lassitude, to awaken bathed in perspiration, to lose her appetite for plain food, while she ate voraciously of dainties. What most terrified her was to see that her hair had begun to fall out in handfuls. It enraged her every time she combed it, and she would scream out to Perico and tell him to bring her some remedy before she should become entirely bald. One day the physician who attended her took her brother aside and said to him: “You must be careful with your sister. Don’t let her take any more baths.”

“But is she seriously ill, seriously ill?” asked the young man, opening his small eyes to their fullest extent.

“She may become so in a short time.”

“The devil, the devil, the devil! Do you think she has consumption, consumption?”

“I do not say that. I do not think the lungs are affected as yet, but the moment least{175} expected there will be a determination of blood to them, congestion will supervene and—— We see cases of that kind every day. The blood is greatly impoverished. She has the pulse of a chicken and there is present, besides, an extreme degree of nervous excitement, which increases periodically, with profound gastric disturbance. If you follow my advice you will avail yourselves of the autumn for a course of mineral waters.”

“Panticosa, Panticosa?”

“In this case I think the iron springs of Vichy preferable. Anæmia is the first enemy to be combatted, and the gastric symptoms are also benefited by those waters. After Vichy come Aguas Buenas and Puertollano; but attend to the matter at once. Within the last fortnight she has lost ground, and the falling of the hair and the sweats are very serious symptoms.”

And as Perico was going away with bent head, the doctor added:

“Above all, no excitement, no dancing, no swimming—mental repose—neither music nor novels. Peasant women, afflicted with the disease from which your sister is suffering, cure themselves with water into which a handful of nails or old iron has been thrown. Civilization tends to make everything artificial. If she{176} wants to get well let her not keep late hours, let her attend no entertainments;—a loose corset—low heels——”

“Yes, yes, order the impossible, the impossible,” lisped Perico, under his breath. “Ask my sister to give up a single one of her pleasures; she would not do so though she knew Old Nick were to carry her off if she refused.”

When Pilar heard the opinion of the Esculapius she threw her arms around Perico’s neck in a transport of sisterly affection such as she had never before manifested. She employed a thousand wiles to obtain her desire; she grew gentle, obedient, prudent in all things, and promised all and more than all that was asked of her.

“Periquin, precious, come, say that you will take me. Say that you will take me, silly. There is no one in the world to be compared to you. What Puertollano are you talking about? Let us go to France. How delightful! It seems like a dream. What will Visitacion and the de Lomillos say when they hear it! But you see, when the doctor orders it, it has to be done. You think I am going to be in your way, hanging on to you all the time? No, my dear boy, I shall find plenty of friends. Don’t you suppose there will be some one there whom we know? I will manage, you{177} shall see. I will make a gown of gray holland, that will last me—Well, well, don’t be waspish. I know that I must lead a regular life, of course, and go to bed early—at eight, with the chickens. What more do you want? Ah, what a treasure of a brother Heaven has bestowed upon me. No wonder all the girls are dying of love for him!”

“Do you think, do you think that you are deceiving me with your flatteries? Go, leave me in peace. I shall take you because it is necessary, it is necessary; if I did not, who could put up with you, put up with you next winter? But see that you behave sensibly, or I shall throw all that confounded hair into the fire,—with all your efforts you never look like a lady.”

Pilar swallowed the insult, as in such circumstances she would have swallowed a much more disagreeable dose, and thought only of the fashionable excursion which was to crown, with so much splendor, her summer expedition. Gonzalvo senior, who, besides his half-pay, had some private means, loosened his purse-strings on the occasion, not without advising his daughter, however, to be prudent and economical. With Perico’s affairs he never interfered; he made him a monthly allowance and pretended not to see that Perico spent ten times{178} as much as he received, gave himself the airs of a prince, and never asked for an increase in the sum given him.

Thus provided, the brother and sister set out from El Sardinero in triumph for France. They rested at Bayonne, putting up at the Hotel St. Étienne, where we had the honor of making their acquaintance. Perico thought he saw the heavens open before him when he learned that Miranda and his wife intended to go on to Vichy, and recognized that Lucía was the person best suited to relieve him in the duty of bearing Pilar company, and even of nursing her should it become necessary. He accordingly encouraged the intimacy between the two women, and it was arranged that they should all travel together to Vichy.

The details given by her brother concerning Lucía and Miranda sharpened singularly the eager curiosity of the sick girl, and her keen scent perceived romantic possibilities in the events that had happened to the newly married pair. The brother and sister had conversed at length about the matter, in half-finished phrases, venturing at times on some coarser or more graphic expression than usual, with much laughter on both sides. One of Lucía’s greatest pleasures was the conversations she occasionally held with Perico, when the latter{179} deigned to treat her, not as a child, but as a grown woman, communicating to her certain details, anecdotes, and events which, as a general thing, do not reach the ears of young girls brought up with strictness and decorum. Perico and his sister, who had no great amount of tenderness or affection for each other, had yet a perfect understanding in the field of scandal, and at times the sister completed the piquant phrase arrested on the lips of the brother by a touch of the delicacy which the presence of a woman inspires in the man least capable of delicacy. Pilar experienced an unhealthy enjoyment in witnessing aspects of the cosmograma of life unknown to the noblemen’s daughters so greatly envied by her, who, living in the cloistral atmosphere of their palaces, watched over constantly by the mother or the austere governess, bear on their brows, at the age of twenty-five, the stamp of their haughty innocence.

“I went up to Artegui’s room,” said Perico to Pilar, “because, to tell you the truth, to tell you the truth, my curiosity was aroused when I heard he had a fine girl, a fine girl with him.”

“It was enough to arouse the curiosity of the statue of Mendizabal itself. That Artegui, who has never been known to make a slip.”

“An eccentric fellow, an eccentric fellow.{180} Rich as Crœsus and he leads the life of a friar. If I had his money, his money—you should see!”

“But tell me, don’t you think there is something between Artegui and Lucía?”

“Pish, no,” said Perico, who, differing in this from his sister, was not addicted to speaking ill of people unless they had given him some cause of offense. “This Artegui has only milk in his veins, milk in his veins, and I am very sure he has not said as much as that to her!” and he snapped his thumb nail against the tip of his forefinger.

“The truth is that she has not a particle of style about her. But let us come to facts, Periquin; did you not tell me that she was greatly grieved and upset when he went away and Miranda came in afterward?”

“But put yourself in her place, put yourself in her place. Miranda looked like a scarecrow——”

“No, I should not like to be in her place,” exclaimed Pilar, bursting into a laugh.

“And then the idiot did what all coxcombs do when they are angry,” continued Perico, laughing in his turn. “When he ought to have tried to make himself agreeable, to say something to the poor girl, he launched into a philippic against her because she did not return to Miranda de{181} Ebro, de Ebro, to take care of his dislocated foot. And then, it could have happened to no one but him to faint for a dislocation and neglect to telegraph to his wife to inform her of it. And he asked her with a tragic air, ‘Where is your attentive companion gone to?’ The man was heavenly.”

“You see, it is as I said, the husband is jealous. You are nothing but a simpleton.”

“Child, child, child! No one can deceive me in those matters! I tell you, I tell you, there was nothing between Artegui and Lucía, Lucía. I’d bet a hundred dollars this moment, this moment——”

“And I,” insisted Pilar, with the clairvoyance of an invalid, “can assure you that as far as she is concerned—as for him I have not seen him, if I were to see him I should know—but as for her, I heard her heave sigh after sigh—and they were not for Miranda. She is pensive at times, and then again she brightens and laughs and is like a child.”

“Bah, bah, bah! I don’t say that in her secret heart—but you know nothing about those matters, and I can assure you that as for there being anything between them, there was nothing of the kind. I ought to know.”

“And I too,” persisted Pilar. “Well, we are both right. There is nothing between them,{182} but she is—what is it they say of pigeons?—struck on the wing.”

“Bah, bah!” said Perico again, manifesting in this way his contempt for everything like sentiment, illusion, or the like romantic nonsense. “That is of no consequence, that is of no consequence. Miranda will be lucky if nothing worse awaits him than that. It is a piece of stupidity, a piece of stupidity to dislocate one’s foot and be obliged to wait two days to have it set, to have it set, leaving one’s bride to travel about the world alone. It is charming, charming. What vexes him most is that it should be known, be known—I tease him——”

“No, see here, don’t make him angry. You know they have come to us as if they had dropped down from heaven.”

“Don’t worry, child; don’t worry. The truth of the matter is that Miranda cannot live, cannot live without me, because he is bored to death; and no one but me can drive away the spleen, the spleen, the spleen, talking to him of his conquests. And he looks like a piece of putty. He would need to drink half Vichy to cure him—To begin cutting capers at his age, at his age——”

It was not spleen that was the matter with Miranda, however; it was the affection of the{183} liver, greatly aggravated by anger caused by the ridiculous adventure which had cut short the wedding trip. His temples had a greenish hue, the shadows under his eyes were purple, the bile had imparted a yellow tinge to the skin; and, as the proximity of a new house makes old houses look still older, so did Lucía’s youthful bloom emphasize the deterioration in her husband. The enchanting transition from girlhood to womanhood was now taking place in Lucía; her movements, slower and more composed, were more graceful than formerly, while in him maturity was fast passing into old age, rather because of physical decay than of years. The stronger the evidence he gave of failing health, the deeper the traces left upon his countenance by suffering, the more tender and affectionate did Lucía show herself toward him. A certain moroseness, a certain inexplicable harshness on the part of Miranda, did not discourage her in her task; she waited upon him with the solicitude of a daughter; she spoke to him affectionately; she herself prepared his medicines and bandaged the injured foot with the pious care she might have displayed in dressing the image of a saint; she was happy, touched even, if he but found the bandage properly adjusted. At last, Miranda was able to walk without risk. Dislocations are{184} not generally attended by serious consequences, although at Miranda’s age they are apt to be somewhat obstinate. He was soon pronounced cured, and the whole party prepared to set out for Vichy.

The season was advancing; it was now almost the middle of September, and to wait longer would be to expose themselves to the persistent rains of that place. At Miranda’s request, the landlord wrote to the Springs to engage lodgings. With a verbosity peculiarly French he tried to convince Miranda and Perico that they ought to hire a châlet in order to save the ladies the annoying familiarity of the hotel table, and make them feel as if they were at home. Divided between the two families the expense would not be excessive, and the advantages would be many. This was agreed upon, and Miranda asked for his bill at the hotel, which was brought to him, written in almost illegible characters. When he had succeeded in deciphering them he sent for the landlady.

“There is an error here,” he said, putting his finger on the scrawl, “you have made a mistake against yourself. You have made out my wife’s bill for the same number of days as mine, while in reality it should be made out for two days more.”{185}

“Two days more?” repeated the landlady reflectively.

“Yes, Señora, was she not here two days before I came?”

“Ah, you are right—but Monsieur Artegui paid for those days.”

Lucía, who, at the time, was folding some articles of clothing preparatory to packing her trunk, turned her head suddenly, like a bird at the fowler’s call. Her face was pale.

“Paid!” repeated Miranda, in whose lackluster eyes flashed a short-lived spark. “Paid! and by what right did he pay for them, Señora, I should like to know?”

“Señor, that does not concern me” (ce n’est pas mon affaire), exclaimed the landlady, having recourse, the better to explain her meaning, to her native tongue. “I receive travelers, is it not so? A lady and a gentleman arrive, is it not so? The gentleman pays me for the time the lady has been here, when he takes his departure, and I do not ask if he has the right to pay me or not. Is it not so? He pays, and that is all (voilà tout).

“Well,” said Miranda, raising his voice, “this lady’s bills are paid by me and by no one else, and you will do me the favor to send a check to—that gentleman, returning him the amount he has paid.”{186}

“The gentleman will be so kind to excuse me,” protested the landlady, slaughtering the Spanish language, without compunction, in her confusion. “I must decline to do what the gentleman asks; I am truly desolate, but this cannot be done; this has never been done in our house. It would be an offense, a serious offense, and Monsieur de Artegui would have much reason to complain. I beg the gentleman’s pardon.”

“Go to the devil!” answered Miranda in excellent Spanish, at the same time turning his back upon his interlocutor, and forgetting, as was usual with him when he was annoyed, his artificial politeness in his mortification at the landlady’s refusal to comply with his wishes.

Lucía on this night, too, bandaged Miranda’s foot, now almost well. She did it with her accustomed lightness of touch and skill, but, as she placed her husband’s foot upon her knee, the better to arrange the compress and secure the elastic bands around the joint, she did not smile as formerly. In silence she performed her task of mercy, and on rising from the ground she breathed a light sigh, such a sigh as one breathes after completing some task fatiguing alike to mind and body.{187}

CHAPTER IX.
The châlet hired at Vichy by the families of Miranda and Gonzalvo bore the poetic name of “Châlet of the Roses.” In justification of its name, along its open-work balusters had been trained the airy festoons of a wilderness of climbing roses, at the extremities of whose branches languidly drooped the last roses of the season. Roses of a pale yellow contrasted with flame-hued Bengal roses; and dwarf-roses, of a warm flesh-tint, looked like diminutive faces, curiously peeping in at the windows of the châlet. In the peristyle grew in graceful confusion roses of all sorts and colors. Pink Malmaison roses lifted themselves proudly on their stems; tea-roses dropped their leaves languidly; roses of Alexandria, beautiful and stately, poured from their cups their intoxicating perfume; moss-roses smiled ironically, with their carmine lips half hidden by their luxuriant green mustaches; white roses rivaled the snow with their cold pure beauty, their modest primness like that of artificial flowers. And among her lovely sisters the exotic viridiflora hid her sea-green buds, as if ashamed of the strange lizard-like hue of her flowers, of her ugliness as a monstrosity, interesting only to the botanist.

The châlet had the usual two stories,—the{188} entresol, consisting of a dining-room, kitchen, small parlor, and reception-room; the main floor being reserved for the bedrooms and dressing-rooms. Along the main story ran a balcony protected by a railing of lace-like delicacy, and along the entresol ran a similar balcony, which was almost completely covered by trailing vines. A delicate iron railing separated the châlet from the public road—an avenue bordered with trees; low walls performed the same office with respect to the adjoining houses and gardens. At either side of the entrance stood, on a massive gray column, a bronze figure of a boy, holding up in his chubby arms a ground glass globe, which protected a gas-jet. It was evident at a glance that the châlet, with its thin wooden walls, could afford but slight protection to its inhabitants against the cold of winter or the heat of summer; but in the mild and genial autumn weather this fanciful building, with its light and delicate ornamentation, carved like a drawing-room toy, adorned with blooming rose-garlands, was the most coquettish and delightful of abodes; the most appropriate nest possible to imagine for a pair of loving turtle-doves. I regret to have to give these charming dwellings, which abound in Vichy, the foreign name of châlet, but how is it to be avoided if there is no corresponding{189} term in our own tongue? What we call cabin, cottage, or country house is not at all what is understood by the word châlet, which is an architectural conception peculiar to the Helvetian valleys, where art, deriving its inspiration from nature, reproduced the forms of the larches and spruce trees and the delicate arabesques of the ice and the hoar-frost, as the Egyptians copied the capitals of their columns from the lotus-flower. The châlets of Vichy are built solely for the purpose of being rented to foreigners. The wife of the concierge undertakes the management of the house, the marketing, and even the cooking; the concierge himself attends to the cleaning of the house, prunes the plants in the little garden, trains the vines, sweeps the sanded walks, waits at table, and opens the door. The Mirandas and the Gonzalvos, then, installed themselves in the châlet without further trouble than giving the concierge their wraps and taking their places at the dining-room table.

Although Lucía, and still more Pilar, felt fatigued after the long railway journey, they could not help admiring the beauty of the abode which fate had allotted them. The balcony, especially, they thought delightful for sewing or reading. It brought to Pilar’s mind the many water-color scenes, landscapes painted{190} on fans, and sentimental pictures that she had seen representing the now hackneyed subject of a young girl with her head framed in foliage. Lucía, on her side, compared her house in Leon, antique, massive, bare and gloomy, with this dwelling, where all was neat and bright, from the shining waxed floors to the curtains of blue cretonne adorned with clusters of pink bell-flowers. When Lucía sprang out of bed on the day following that of their arrival, her first impulse was to go out into the balcony; from thence she went down into the garden, fastening up her morning gown with pins, to keep it from being wet by the damp grass. She looked at the roses, fresh from their bath of dew, lifting themselves proudly on their stems, each with its necklace of pearls or diamonds. She inhaled the odor of each in turn, passing her fingers over their leaves without daring to pluck them. At this hour the roses had scarcely any perfume; what she perceived was, rather, the aroma of the general freshness and moistness that rose from the beds of flowers and from the surrounding trees. In Vichy there are trees everywhere; in the afternoon, when Lucía and Pilar went out to see something of the town, they uttered exclamations of delight at every turn at the sight of some tree, some alley, or some park. Pilar{191} thought Vichy had an elegant aspect; Lucía, less well-informed in matters of elegance and fashion, enjoyed simply the spectacle of so much verdure, so much nature, which rested her eyes, making her think at times that, notwithstanding its crowded streets and its brilliant shops, Vichy was a village, exactly suited to gratify her secret desire and need for solitude. A village of palaces, with all the adornments and refinements of comfort and luxury characteristic of our age, but a village after all.

Pilar and Miranda began to take the waters simultaneously, although with the difference of method required by the different natures of their maladies. Miranda drank the powerful water of the Grande Grille, undergoing at the same time a complicated course of treatment of local effusions, baths and douches, while the anæmic girl drank in small doses the pungent, gaseous, and ferruginous water of the Source des Dames. From this time forth a constant struggle went on between Pilar and those who had charge of her. It was necessary to use heroic efforts to prevent her leading the same life as the fashionable visitors, who spent the entire day in displaying their toilets and amusing themselves. From this point of view the presence in Vichy of some six or eight Spanish ladies, acquaintances of the Gonzalvos,{192} who intended to remain till the end of the season, was pernicious to Pilar. The best and most brilliant part of the season was over; the races, the pigeon-shooting, the public excursions in chaise and omnibus to the Bourbonese, beginning in August, had ended in the early part of September. But there still remained the concerts in the Park, the promenade on the asphalt-paved avenue, the nightly entertainments in the Casino; the theater, which, now soon to close, was more and more crowded every night. Pilar was dying to join the dozen or so of her fashionable compatriots who were participating in the short-lived round of watering-place gayeties. The physician at Vichy who attended Pilar, while he recommended amusements for Miranda, prohibited strictly to the anæmic girl every species of excitement, advising her strongly to avail herself of the semi-rural character of the town to lead a country life as far as was possible, going to bed with the chickens and rising with the sun. This regimen required a great deal of perseverance on the part of the patient, and, more than this, to have some one constantly at her side who should oblige her to follow strictly the doctor’s orders. Neither Miranda nor Perico was calculated for this office. Miranda complied with the social requirements, exhorting Pilar{193} to “take care of herself,” and “not to be imprudent,” with that fictitious interest which egotists display when the health of another is in question. Perico grew angry at seeing his sister pay so little heed to the advice of the doctor, a neglect that might delay the cure, and consequently prolong their stay in Vichy; but he was incapable of watching over her and seeing that she carried out the orders she had received. He would say to her at times:

“I hope the devil will fly away with you, fly away with you, and that you may be as yellow as a lemon this winter. You will have it so, so let it be.”

The only person, then, who devoted herself to the task of making Pilar observe the regimen prescribed by the doctor, was Lucía. She did so, moved by that need of self-sacrifice experienced by young and vigorous natures, who must have an outlet for their superabundant energy, and by the instinct which impels such natures to feed the animal neglected by every one else, or to protect the child abandoned in the street. There was no one within Lucía’s reach but Pilar, and on Pilar Lucía placed her affections. Perico Gonzalvo did not sympathize with Lucía, whom he thought very provincial and very little womanly, as far as the art of pleasing was concerned. Miranda,{194} now somewhat rejuvenated by the favorable effects of the first week of the waters, went with Perico to the Casino and to the Park, holding himself erect and twisting his mustache once more. The two women, then, were thrown upon each other’s society. Lucía subjected herself in everything to the mode of life of the patient. At six she softly rose and went to awaken the sick girl, so that prolonged sleep might not induce debilitating sweats. Then she would take her out on the balcony on the ground floor to breathe the pure air of morning, and both enjoyed the country sunrise, which seemed to electrify Vichy, causing it to thrill with a sort of matutinal expectancy.

The business of the day began very early in the town, for almost all of the inhabitants kept boarders during the season, and were obliged to do their marketing and be ready to give breakfast to their guests by the time these should have returned from drinking their morning glass of water. Usually the mornings were rather cloudy, and the summits of the tall trees rustled as the breeze played through them. Now and then some workman would pass by with long beard, ill-washed and shy face, shuffling his feet, only half awake, unable to shake off fully the leaden sleep which had overpowered him, exhausted by fatigue, the{195} night before. The domestic servants, with their baskets of coal on their arms, their large aprons of gray or blue cloth, and their smoothly combed hair—like that of a woman who has but ten minutes in the day for her toilet, and who makes good use of them—walked with quick step, fearing to be late. From a neighboring barracks came the soldiers, holding themselves erect, their uniforms tightly buttoned across their chests, their ears red from the vigorous rubbing they had given them during the matutinal ablutions, the backs of their heads close shaven, their hands in their trousers’ pockets, and whistling an air. An old woman, with a clean white cap, her gown turned up, carefully swept up the dead leaves which strewed the asphalt pavement, followed by a lap-dog that sniffed, as if trying to recover the scent, at each heap of leaves swept up by the diligent broom. There were vehicles in great number, and of various forms and sizes, and Lucía amused herself by watching them and noting the different styles and shapes to be seen. Some, mounted on enormous wheels, were drawn by little donkeys with pricked-up ears, driven by women with harsh and weather-beaten countenances, who wore the classic Bourbonese hat, a species of straw basket with two black velvet ribbons crossing{196} each other over the crown; these were milk-wagons; at the back of the wagon was a row of tin cans containing the milk. The carts employed in the transport of earth and lime were more clumsy than these and were drawn by strong percherons, with harnesses adorned by tassels of red wool. Going for their load, they rolled along with a certain carelessness; while, returning laden, the driver cracked his whip, the horse trotted along spiritedly and the bells of the harness tinkled. When the weather was fine, Lucía and Pilar would go down into the little garden and stand with their faces pressed to the iron railing, looking out into the avenue; but on rainy mornings they remained on the balcony, sheltered by the carved projections of the châlet, and listening to the noise of the raindrops plashing fast, fast on the leaves of the plane trees that rustled with a silky murmur.

But the weather seemed determined to favor the travelers, and shortly after their arrival in Vichy began a series of days as brilliant and serene as it was possible for days to be in autumn, that season so peculiarly serene, especially in its early part.

The sky was clear and cloudless, the air genial, vegetation in all the plenitude of its splendor of coloring and growth; the afternoons{197} were long, the mornings were bright, and Lucía availed herself of this conjunction of favorable circumstances to persuade Pilar to take a trip into the country in accordance with the doctor’s advice. It was a part of the treatment that Pilar should take rides on a donkey in order that the uneven trot of the animal might serve her as exercise, setting her blood in motion without fatiguing her; and although the sick girl cordially detested this species of conveyance, and, until they emerged from the town, persisted in going on foot, dragging herself laboriously along rather than mount it, yet she consented to do so when they were outside the town. The exercise excited her, and imparted a faint color to her cheeks. Lucía would joke with her about her appearance.

“You see how beneficial it is to ride a spirited steed,” she would say. “You look splendid; you look like a different person; see, to make a conquest, all you have to do is to take a turn up and down as you are now, before the Casino, when the band is playing.”

“Horrors!” exclaimed the sick girl, with a little cry. “What if the Amézegas were to see me—they who never ride except in a jaunting car or a brougham!”

The two friends would go sometimes to the Montagne Verte, sometimes to the Source des{198} Dames, sometimes to the intermittent spring of Vesse. The Montagne Verte is the highest point in the neighborhood of Vichy. The hill is covered with vegetation, but scrubby vegetation, scarcely rising above the surface of the earth, so that from a distance it looked to them like the head of a giant covered with short and very thick hair. When they reached the summit, they ascended to the mirador, and looked through the great field-glass, examining the immense panorama that lay spread before them. The gentle slopes, clad with vines, descended to the Allier, which wound in the distance like an enormous blue snake. Far away the chain of the Fonez raised its snow-capped hills, the giants of Auvergne, vaporous and gray, looked like cloud-phantoms; the castle of Borbon Busset emerged from the mists, its seignorial towers casting into the shade the peaceful palace of Randan, with all the disdain of a legitimate Bourbon for the degenerate branch of Orleans. Lucía’s favorite excursion was to the Source des Dames; a narrow footpath, shaded by leafy trees, gently followed the course of the Sichon, pausing, when the river paused to form a shallow lake, and then continuing its winding course along the border of the tranquil stream. At every step some picturesque accident broke the monotony of{199} the rows of poplars and elms,—now a lavatory, now a little house standing on the river’s brink, now a dam, now a mill, now a duck pond. The mill, in particular, seemed as if it might have been placed there by some landscape painter for artistic effect. Ancient and moss-grown, it rested on wooden posts that were slowly decaying in the water; in the center of the structure the wheel gleamed like an enormous eye shining in the brown and wrinkled forehead of a Cyclops. The drops of liquid silver that leaped from spoke to spoke with every revolution one might fancy tears dropping from the immense eye, and the groan to which the massive wheel gave utterance as it turned completed the resemblance, imitating the breathing of the monster. Through the ill-joined planks of a bridge, boldly thrown across the very bend of the cataract which formed the dam, could be caught glimpses of the water foaming and roaring below. In the dam some half-dozen ducks were lazily paddling, and innumerable sparrows flew hither and thither under the irregular eaves of the roof, while in the dark aperture of one of the irregularly placed windows grew a pot of petunias. Lucía loved to sit and watch the mill from the bank opposite, lulled by the monotonous snore of the wheel and the gentle plash of the water.{200} Pilar preferred the intermittent spring, which procured her the emotions of which her sickly organization was so avid. The spring was reached by a pleasant path, and from the bridge could be obtained a fine view of the surrounding country.

The Allier is a broad and deep stream, but at this season of the year its waters are greatly diminished by the summer draughts, the channel being almost dry, except in the deepest parts, leaving the sandy bed of the river exposed to view in broad white bands. In places, dark rocks intercepted the current, forming eddies where the water foamed angrily and then went on its way, calm and placid as before. Beyond stretched an open plain. Wide meadows, with here and there cows grazing and sheep browsing, were bounded on the horizon line by pale green poplars, straight, with pointed tops, like the artificial trees of the toy sets. The osiers, on the contrary, were squat and round, looking like balls of somber verdure dotting the meadow. In the distance could be seen the summit of the Montagne Verte, outlined in pure dark green against the sky with a certain hardness and distinctness, that reminded one of a Flemish landscape. On the river bank the right arms of the washerwomen, rising and falling like the{201} arms of marionettes could be seen, and the monotonous sound of the bat beating the linen could be heard. Carts laden with sand and gravel slowly ascended the rough slope of the bank, and then as slowly crossed the bridge, the team bathed in sweat, the bells tinkling at rare intervals. Auvergnese peasant women walked along, dressed in dull-colored garments, wearing the straw panier above the white coif, guarding their cows, whose udders, swelling with milk, swung as they went, and which, looking with melancholy gaze at the passers-by, would suddenly start on an oblique run, lasting some ten seconds, after which they resumed their former slow and resigned pace. At the corner of the bridge a poor man, decently clad, and with the air of a soldier, begged for charity with only a supplicating inflexion of the voice and a sorrowful contraction of the brow.

In proportion as they left the bridge behind them, penetrating more deeply into the shade of the road leading to Vesse, the heart of Lucía, who felt herself now really in the country, would grow lighter. The trees here were wilder, less straight and symmetrical than in Vichy; the path less even and more natural; the grass borders less trim, and the villas and houses on either side of the road less neatly{202} kept and handsome. No zealous hand removed the dry leaves that formed a natural carpet for the ground. At intervals was to be seen some shed, in whose dark shadow gleamed the agricultural implements, and the rural and pungent odor of the turned-up earth penetrated the lungs, healthy and strengthening as the wholesome vegetables growing in the neighboring gardens. The distance from the bridge to the spring was short. Arrived there they crossed the hall of the little house, entered the garden, and directed their steps toward the vine-covered arbor containing the fountain. They found the basin empty; from the brass tube of the jet not a drop of water flowed. But Pilar knew beforehand the precise time at which the singular phenomenon would occur, and made her calculations with exactness. During the interval before the water made its appearance, she would remain leaning over the basin, her heart palpitating, silently listening, with her right hand held like an ear-trumpet to her ear.

“He is coming; I hear him hissing,” Lucía would say, as if they were speaking of some monster.

“You will see that he won’t come for five minutes yet,” Pilar would answer in a tone of conviction.{203}

“I tell you he is coming, my dear; he is sputtering now.”

“Let me listen. No, no! It is the noise of the wind shaking the trees. You are dreaming.”

Then a short pause of complete silence would follow—a tragic interval.

“Hist! now, now!” the sick girl would cry, clapping her hands; “now it is coming, and in earnest!”

In effect, a strange gurgling noise was heard, followed by a shrill whistle, and then a jet of boiling water, which emitted an intolerable odor of sulphur, rose straight, swift, and foaming to the very roof of the high arbor. A thick steam enveloped the basin, and diffused itself through the atmosphere, now filled with the sickening odor of the sulphur. Thus the stream rose impetuously until the force below began to diminish when, with the fury of impotence, it issued in wild leaps, like the convulsions of an epileptic, writhing in anger, sputtering with desperate articulation; at last it would fall down, vanquished and powerless, sending forth only at rare intervals a thin stream, like the last flashes of a dying taper. Its agony ended with two or three hiccoughs from the tube at whose orifice the stream would appear, but without sufficient force to{204} emerge. The spring would not now flow again for ten hours at least.

Lucía and Pilar would often dispute together about the termination of the phenomenon as they had done about its beginning.

“It has stopped. He is going to sleep. Good-night, sir,” Lucía would exclaim with a wave of the hand.

“No, child. He will make his appearance three or four times yet before he goes to rest.”

“He can’t.”

“He can. You shall see; he will give a few little spits more, as the servant of a cousin of mine, an artillery officer says. Hush, listen, listen to him still snoring! One, two, three, now he is spitting!”

“Four, five, six! There, he won’t come back again. The poor fellow is tired out.”

“No, he won’t come again now; he has given his last gasp.”

Returning, the friends would find the bridge more animated than they had found it on going to the spring. This was the hour at which the townspeople and the bathers returned from their expeditions into the country, and many equestrians were to be seen hastening to the town, displaying their riding-trousers and buttoned gaiters, against which gleamed brightly stirrup and spur. An occasional sociable, looking{205} like a light canoe, proceeded on its way, drawn by its handsome pair of well-matched ponies, with lustrous coats and clean hoofs, proud of their elegant burden. Hasty glimpses could be caught of wide straw hats, profusely adorned with lilacs and poppies; of light gowns, laces, and ribbons; light-colored muslin parasols; gay countenances, gay with the gayety of good society, which is always set in a lower key than, the gayety of common people. This latter was enjoyed by the pedestrians, for the most part happy family parties, who wore contentedly the livery of golden mediocrity or even of plain poverty; the father, obese, gray-haired, red-faced, with gray or maroon coat, carrying on his shoulder the long fishing pole; the daughter wearing a dark woolen gown, a little black straw hat adorned with a single flower, carrying on her left arm the little basket containing the flies and other piscatorial appurtenances, and leading by the right hand the little brother who had outgrown his trousers and jacket and who showed the ankles of his boots, proudly holding the pail in which floated the foolish fishes, victims of the death-dealing pastime of his father.

Lucía took such delight in the view of the bridge and the river that she retarded her steps in passing them in order to prolong the pleasure.{206} The green curtain of the new park stretched before her view. The whole of this beautiful garden was a marsh, until the massive dykes erected by Napoleon III to prevent the inundations following the rise of the Allier, and the draining of the ground, transformed it into a paradise. The choice trees growing in the fertile soil had for the most part tones intense and soft, like green plush; but some of them, now turning yellow, shone, in the light of the setting sun, like pyramids of golden filagree work. Others were reddish with a brick-like red, that, where the sun fell, showed carmine. The sick girl, as they returned to the town, liked to sit and rest awhile on one of the benches of the park. There were generally visitors there at this hour, and sometimes they would meet members of the Spanish colony, acquaintances of Perico or Miranda, with whom they would exchange salutations and the trivial phrases current in society. Sometimes, too, the rich Cubans, the de Amézegas, would flash like comets on their sight, with their extraordinary hats, their enormous parasols, and their fanciful adornments, always in the height of the fashion. Pilar could distinguish them a league away by their famous hats, impossible to confound with any other head-covering whatsoever. They resembled two large pudding dishes, completely{207} covered with small, fine, red feathers and adorned each with a natural bird, a species of pheasant, artistically mounted with outspread wing, and head turned gracefully to one side. This strange semi-Indian ornament suited well the tropical pallor and flashing eyes of the two young Cubans. When they drew near, Lucía would give Pilar a push with her elbow, saying, with a touch of malice:

“See, there come the wonderful foreign birds of those friends of yours.”

The meeting with “the Amézegas,” as Perico called them, always produced a slight degree of fever in Pilar, which left her prostrate for a couple of hours afterward. When she descried them in the distance she instinctively arranged her hair, put forward her foot covered with a little Louis XV shoe of Morocco leather, and nervously passed her hand over the brown lace of her wrap, bringing into full view the turquoise arrow that fastened it. They would enter into conversation, the de Amézegas speaking in languid or disdainful accents, looking at the sky or at the passers-by and striking the ground with the knobs of their parasols as they spoke. Short answers, lazily given—“What would you have, child?” “It was magnificent,” “More people there than ever,” “Of course the Swede was there,”{208} “Cream-colored satin and grenadine the color of heliotrope, combined,” “As usual, devoted to her,” “Yes, yes, it is warm,” “Well, I am glad you are better, child,”—responded to the eager questions of Pilar. Then the Cubans would continue on their way with titters politely suppressed, half-finished phrases, and a rustle of new fabrics, planting their heels firmly on the ground as they walked. For at least a quarter of an hour afterward, Pilar did nothing but criticise the belles, and others, also.

“They are getting to be more and more extravagant and loud every day. Now, do you like that odd gown with the head of a bird, to match the bird on the hat, fastening every pleat? They look like a glass case in the Museum of Natural History. Even on the fan a bird’s head! It is not credible that Worth should have conceived that grotesque style. I believe they make them at home themselves with the help of the maid and then say they were ordered from Worth.”

“But it is said for a fact that their father is a very wealthy banker in Havana.”

“Yes, yes; they have more tricks than trapiches,”[A] said Pilar, repeating a jest that had been going the rounds of Madrid all the winter, à-propos of the Amézegas.

[A] A sugar plantation in Cuba.

{209}

“There is no doubt but that birds are a very curious ornament. I have one, too, in a hat.”

“Yes, in a toque; but that is different. Besides, a married lady can use certain things that in the dress of a young girl——”

“And for that reason Perico was quite right not to buy you that wrap embroidered in colored beads that you took such a fancy to. It was very striking.”

“Nothing of the kind. It was very distinguished-looking. What do you know of those matters?”

“I? Nothing,” answered Lucía, smiling.

“The gown of the Swede must have been lovely—cream-color and heliotrope! I like the combination. But how she is making herself talked about with Albares—a married man! Good need they both have of the waters!”

“Why, I heard your brother say that she does not take the slightest notice of him.”

“Bah! unless you would have them pay the town-crier to publish it! Albares is a fool, inside and out, who loves to attract attention. The fact is that every one in Vichy is talking about them.”

Lucía remained thoughtful, her gaze fixed on the flower-knots of the park, that looked like enameled medallions fastened on a green satin skirt. They were formed of several varieties of{210} the coleus; those in the center had lance-shaped and brilliant leaves of dark brown, purplish red, brick-red, red of the color of the turkey’s comb, rose-red. At the edge, a row of ruins of Italy, showed their bluish disks against the fresh vivid green of the grass. The larches and the pines formed, here and there, in some retired corner of the park, woody, Swiss-like clumps, their innumerable branches drooping languidly to the ground. Through the light foliage of the majestic catalpas streamed the last rays of the setting sun, and splashes of golden light danced here and there upon the fine sanded walk. The place had the mysterious and secluded air of a temple. A solemn, poetic silence prevailed, which it almost seemed a sacrilege to break by a word or movement.

The visitors had begun to leave the park, the light crunching of the gravel under their feet sounding fainter and fainter in the distance. But the two friends were in the habit of remaining to “lock up the place” as the saying is, for it was precisely at the sunset hour that Lucía thought the park most beautiful in this melancholy autumnal season. The dying rays of the sun, now low in the western sky, fell almost horizontally on the grassy meads, lighting them up with hues like liquid gold. The dark cones of the fir trees dotted this ocean of{211} light in which their shadows were disproportionately prolonged. The plane trees and the Indian chestnuts were dropping their leaves, and from time to time a burr would fall to the ground with a hard, dull sound, and opening allow the shining chestnut to roll out. In the large flower-knots, which contrasted with the green of the grass, the pale eglantine dropped its fragile petals at the faintest breeze, the verbenas trailed themselves languidly, as if weary of life, their capriciously growing stalks breaking the oval outlines of the bed; the sweet milfoil raised its shower of blue stars, and the rare coleuses displayed the exotic tints and the metallic luster of their spotted leaves, resembling the scales of a serpent, white with black spots, green with flesh-colored veins, dark amaranth striped with copperish red. A profound thrill, precursor of winter, ran through all nature, who seemed to have adorned herself in her richest attire for her death. Thus, the virgin vine was arrayed in her splendid purple robe and the white poplar raised coquettishly its plumy white crest; thus the coralline decked itself with chains and rings of blood-red coral and the zinnias ran through the whole scale of vivid colors in their broidered petticoats. The striped maize shook its green and white-striped{212} silken skirts with melodious rustle, and far away on the edge of the meadow, bathed in sunlight, a few tender saplings bent their youthful heads. The dead leaves covered the paths in such abundance that Lucía felt with delight her foot sink up to the ankle in the soft carpet. The contact of the edge of her gown with the leaves produced a quick murmuring sound, like the hurried breathing of some one following close behind; and, a prey to childish terror, she would turn back her head now and again and smile at herself when she saw that her fears were illusory. There were many varieties of leaves, some dark, decayed, almost rotted; others dry, brittle, shriveled; others yellow or still greenish, moist with the sap of the branch through which they had drawn their life. The carpet lay thicker in the shady spots by the borders of the lake, whose surface rippled like undulating glass at the light contact of the evening breeze, breaking into innumerable wavelets, that dashed unceasingly against one another.

Tall weeping-willows bent with a melancholy air above the water, that reflected back their tremulous branches, among which could be seen the disk of the sun, whose rays, concentrated by this species of camera obscura, struck the eye with the force of arrows. In a labyrinth in{213} the lake, an enormous clump of malangas displayed their exuberant tropical vegetation, their gigantic fan-like leaves motionless in the still air. Swans and ducks paddled—the former, with their accustomed fantastic grace, swaying their long necks, the latter, quacking harshly,—toward the bank, the moment Lucía and Pilar appeared, in quest of bits of bread, which they swallowed greedily, raising their tails in the air as each mouthful went down. The islet, with its pine tree, cast a mysterious shade over the surface of the lake. A sheaf of reeds raised their slender forms and by their side the sharp poas shook their brushes of chestnut velvet.

A delightful coolness rose from the water. The landscape breathed a tender melancholy, a gentle drowsiness, the repose of mother nature, fatigued with the continued production of the summer, and preparing for her winter sleep. Lucía was no longer a child; external objects now spoke to her eloquently, and she began to listen to their voice. The scene before her plunged her into vague meditation. Her soul seemed to detach itself from her body, as the leaf detaches itself from the branch, and like it to wander without aim or object, yielding itself up to the delight of annihilation, to the sweetness of non-existence. And how pleasant death must be, a death like that of the leaves,—{214}a gentle loosening of the bonds of life, the passage to more beautiful regions, the satisfaction of the mysterious longings hidden in the recesses of the soul! When ideas like these thronged to her mind, a bird, perhaps, would fly down from some tree; she would hear the fluttering of its wings in the air; it would hop along the sanded walk, ruffling its feathers among the dead leaves; she would approach, and suddenly it would fly away and go to perch on the topmost branch of the murmuring acacias.

CHAPTER X.
The voice of the sick girl would break the spell.

“Eh, child, what are you thinking about? How romantic those girls brought up in the provinces are!”

The sharp and clear-sighted eyes of Pilar fastened themselves, as she said this, on Lucía’s face, where she descried a faint shadow, a sort of gray veil extending from the forehead and the temples to the circles under the eyes, and a certain sunkenness at the corners of the mouth. Her morbid curiosity was awakened, inspiring her with a desire to dissect for her pastime this simple heart. Her unerring{215} woman’s instinct had revealed many things to her, and unable to content herself with a discreet guess, she desired to obtain the confidence of Lucía. It would be one more emotion for her to enjoy during her stay at the springs.

“I don’t know what I was thinking about—nothing,” answered Lucía, calling to her aid the most commonplace of excuses and the most common.

“Because it sometimes seems as if you were sad, pretty one; and I don’t know why you should be sad, for you are precisely in the most delightful part of the honeymoon. Ah, you are to be envied! Miranda is very agreeable. He has good manners, a good presence.”

“Yes, indeed; a very good presence,” repeated Lucía, like an echo.

“And he dotes upon you. Why, any one may see that. True, he goes about a good deal with my brother—but what would you have, child? All men are like that. The chief thing is that when they are with one they should be amiable and affectionate—and that they should not be jealous. No, that good quality, at least, Miranda has; he is not jealous.”

Lucía turned red as fire, and, stooping down, gathered a handful of dry leaves from the ground, in order to hide her confusion; then{216} she amused herself crumbling them between her thumb and forefinger and blowing the dust into the air.

“And yet,” continued Pilar, “any one else in his place—No, see, if I were a man, I don’t know what I should have done—this thing of having a stranger escorting one’s bride for so many days—in that way, in such close company—and precisely when——”

At this direct and brutal thrust, Lucía raised her head, and fixed on her friend the ingenuous but dignified and severe glance which at times shone in her eyes. Pilar, skillful in her tactics, drew back in order the better to make her spring.

“It is true that any one who knew you and him, would be just as unsuspicious as Miranda. You, as we all know, a little saint, an angel in a niche; and he—he is a gentleman of the old school, notwithstanding his eccentricities—he is as honorable as the Cid. He takes it from far back. I have known him very well for a long time past,” declared Pilar, who, like all young girls of the middle class who have mixed in good society, was eager to have it appear that she knew everybody.

“You—you have known him for a long time?” murmured Lucía, conquered, offering the sick girl her arm to lean upon.

“Yes, child. He goes to Madrid every{217} year; sometimes to spend the whole winter there, but generally only a month or two in the spring. He has little liking for society; he was invited to several houses, for his father, the Carlist chief, was a distinguished man in his part of the country, and he is connected with the Puenteanchas and with the Mijares, who are also Urbietas, but he was so chary of his society that every one was dying to have him. Once, because he danced a rigadoon, at Puenteancha’s, with Isabelita Novelda, they teased her about it all the evening—they said she could now undertake to tame wild beasts; that she could take Plevna without firing a gun—Isabelita was as proud as a peacock, and it turned out that the Puenteancha had requested him to dance, as a favor to her, and that he had consented, saying that he would dance with the first woman he met—he met Isabelita and he asked her. Fancy how the silly girl looked when it was known! After being convinced that she had made a conquest! Her nose grew longer than it was, and it was long enough already—ha, ha!”

The sick girl’s laughter ended in a cough—a little cough that tickled her throat and took away her breath, compelling her to sit down on one of the rustic benches of the park. Lucía slapped her gently on the back without speaking,{218} not wishing to say a word that might change the current of the conversation. Her eyes spoke for her.

“I can tell you it was a dreadful disappointment,” resumed Pilar, when she had recovered her breath. “The hundreds of thousands of francs which his father had laid by for him would have suited the Noveldita exactly—but they say that he does not like women!”

“He does not like women?” said Lucía, as if the pronoun he could refer to only one person.

“They say, however, that as a son he has few equals—he pets his mother like a baby. She is said to be a woman of great refinement, belonging to the French aristocracy—extremely delicate in her health, and I even think that long ago, when she was young——”

The sick girl tapped her forehead significantly with her forefinger.

“It seems the father desired that the child should be born on Spanish soil and he brought his wife before her confinement to Ondarroa, his native place; they accustomed the boy to speak Spanish, except with his nurse, with whom he spoke the Basque dialect. Paco Mijares, who is a relation of his and knows all about it, told me so.”

Lucía listened eagerly, drinking in every{219} word with avidity, to all these insignificant details.

“He has curious fancies and caprices. At one time he took the notion to work and entered a commercial house. After that he studied medicine and surgery, and I understand that he put Rubio and Camison in the shade. In Madrid he went to the hospitals to study for pleasure; at the time of the war he did the same thing. Do you know where I sometimes used to meet him in Madrid? In the Retiro, looking fixedly at the large lake. What is the matter, child?”

Lucía, with closed eyes and deathly pale, leaned back against the trunk of the tree that shaded the bench on which they sat. When she opened her eyes, the shadow on her temples was more marked, and her gaze wandered like that of a person recovering from a swoon.

“I don’t know—I sometimes seem to lose consciousness in that way. It is as if there were a sinking here,” she murmured, laying her hand on her heart.

“It is as I thought,” said Pilar to herself. “She has begun her capers early,” she added, in her own mind, cynically. Night was falling rapidly; a cold breeze stirred the foliage of the trees; the two friends, shivering, drew their wraps closer around them. At the same moment{220} two dark figures appeared at the end of the avenue. They were those of Miranda and Perico, who manifested some surprise at finding Lucía and Pilar in the park at this late hour.

“A pretty way, a pretty way to cure yourself! The devil! you’ll be lucky if you don’t get an attack of pneumonia for this! get up, you crazy girl; come, come!”

Pilar rose, weak and pale, and took Miranda’s arm. Perico offered his to Lucía, whose natural vigor of constitution had by this time got the better of her momentary faintness.

“I doubt if she can take the waters to-morrow,” the latter said to her companion. “She was rather excited to-day, and now the reaction shows itself in fatigue.”

“I wager she would be strong enough, strong enough, if I offered to let her go to the Casino!”

“Ah, Periquillo of my soul!” cried the sick girl, whose fine ear had not lost a word of the conversation, “will you let me go, eh? What harm would that do me? Miranda, you intercede for me.”

“Once in a while—it might be good for her—it would serve to distract her.”

“Don’t mind what he says, Gonzalvo. Señor Duhamel says she ought not to go, and who knows best, she or the doctor?” said Lucía.{221}

“And you?” asked Perico, incited to a touch of gallantry by the hour, the sight of the husband walking in front, and his inveterate habits,—“and you, young and pretty as you are, why do you not come to the Casino? All that finery that is lying idle in your trunks would be better employed where it could be seen. Come, make up your mind, make up your mind, and I will bring you a bunch of camellias like the one the Swede carried last night.”

“I have no desire to eclipse the Swede,” said Lucía, with a smile. “Where would she be if I were to show myself?”

“Well, although you say it in jest, in jest, it is the simple truth,” and Perico traitorously lowered his voice. “You are worth a dozen Swedes”; and in a louder tone, he added: “If Juanito Albares did not make such a fool of himself, deuce a one would look at her, would look at her.”

(Juanito Albares, as Perico familiarly called him, was a duke, a grandee of Spain, a count and a marquis, and had I know not how many other titles besides, a fact worthy to be borne in mind by the future biographers of the elegant Gonzalvo.)

“Where are your eyes, then?” exclaimed Lucía, with Spanish frankness. “You have{222} great audacity to say that! The Swede is beautiful! Her complexion is whiter than milk, and then her eyes——”

“Put no confidence in whiteness,” interposed Pilar, “while Venus’s towel and Paris white are to be bought. She is too large.”

“Too tall,” declared Perico, like the fox in the fable.

“Never mind,” said Miranda, in a low voice, to Pilar. “We will make that obstinate brother of yours listen to reason, and you shall go some night to the Casino. A pretty thing it would be if you were to leave Vichy without seeing the theater and listening to the concert. It would be unheard of.”

“Ah, Miranda! You are my guardian angel! If there is no other way of accomplishing it, you and I will run away some night—an elopement. We will do as they do in the novels: you shall come on a fiery steed, I will get up behind, and let them overtake us if they can. We will first put Perico and Lucía under lock and key, and leave them there to do penance for their sins, eh? What do you say?”

When they reached the entrance to the châlet, where lights were already shining among the dark foliage of the trees, Miranda said to himself:

“This one is more amusing than my wife.{223} At least she says something, if it is only nonsense; and she is cheerful, although she has half of one lung God knows in what condition.”

“This girl is more insipid than water, than water,” Perico, on his side, said to himself on parting from Lucía.

Meantime the longed-for day of the evening entertainment arrived. Pilar was in the habit of spending a couple of hours daily in the Salle des Dames of the Casino, generally from one to three o’clock in the afternoon. The Salle des Dames is one of the many attractions of the fine building which is the center of the gayety of the town, where the ladies who are subscribers to the Casino can take refuge without fear of masculine intrusion; there they are at home, and rule with absolute sway; they play the piano, embroider, chat, and sometimes indulge in a sherbet or some sweetmeat or bon-bon, which they nibble with as much enjoyment as if they were mice let loose in a cupboard full of dainties. It might be taken for a modern Moorish harem, a gynecæum, not hidden within the modest shadow of the home, but situated in the most public of all possible places. There congregated all the feminine stars of the firmament of Vichy, and there Pilar met assembled the small but brilliant Spanish-American colony—the de Amézegas, Luisa Natal, the{224} Countess of Monteros; and there was established a sort of Spanish coterie which, if not very numerous, was none the less animated and gay. While some blonde Englishwoman executed pieces of classic music on the piano, and the Frenchwomen seized the occasion to display exquisite worsted-work, at which they worked at the rate of two or three stitches an hour, the Spanish women, more sincere, gave themselves up frankly to idleness and spent the time chatting and fanning themselves. A fine geographical globe at the farther end of the parlor seemed asking what was its object and aim in such a place; and in exchange, the portraits of the two sisters of Louis XVI, Victoria and Adelaide, traditional dames of Vichy, with powdered hair and rosy, smiling faces, presided over the exhibition of frivolity continually being celebrated in their honor. There were whisperings, like the flutterings of bird’s wings in an aviary; sounds of laughter, like the sound of pearls dropping into a crystal cup; the silky flutter of fans, the click of the sticks, the noise made by the casters of the chairs rolling over the waxed floors, the frou-frou of skirts, like the rustling of insects’ wings. The air was perfumed by the mingled odors of gardenia, toilet vinegar, smelling-salts, and perfumery. On chairs and tables lay trinkets and articles of{225} adornment, long-handled silk parasols embroidered in gold, work-boxes of Russian leather, work-baskets of straw ornamented with worsted balls and tassels; here a lace scarf, there a lawn handkerchief; here a bunch of flowers exhaling in death their sweetest perfume, there a dotted tulle veil, and, resting on it, the pins used to fasten it. The group of Spanish women, headed by Lola Amézega, who was of a very resolute character, maintained a certain independence and intimacy among themselves, very different from the reserve of the Englishwomen, between whom and the Spanish group there was even perceptible a feeling of secret hostility and mutual contempt.

It afforded great diversion to the Spanish group to see the Englishwomen gravely take out a newspaper, as large as a sheet, from their pockets, and read it from the first word to the last.

Pilar had been unable to persuade Lucía to accompany her to the Salle des Dames; the shyness and timidity resulting from her provincial education deterred her from going; she dreaded, more than fire, the inquisitive glances of those women, who examined her toilet as minutely as a skillful confessor examines the recesses of the conscience of his penitent. Pilar, on the contrary, was there in her natural element.{226} Her rather shrill voice yielded in power only to the Cuban lisp of the leader, Lola Amézega.

Let us listen to the concert:

“Well, I bought this to-day,” Lola was saying unconstrainedly, as she turned up the sleeve of her pink muslin gown, trimmed with dark garnet bows, and displaying to view a bracelet, from which hung a little pig with curled-up tail and swelling sides, executed in fine enamel.

“I have one in another style,” said Amalia Amézega, showing a pig no less resplendent than her sister’s, which dug its snout into the lace of her necktie.

“Heavens! what an ugly fashion!” exclaimed Luisa Natal, a belle whose attractions were now on the wane, and who was very careful to use no ornaments except such as might serve to enhance her beauty. “For my part, I would not wear such creatures. They make one think of black-pudding, don’t they, countess?”

The Countess of Monteros, a Spanish woman of the old-fashioned type, very devout and somewhat austere, nodded in the affirmative.

“I don’t know what they are going to invent next,” she said slowly. “I have seen in the shops, elephants, lizards, frogs, and toads, and even spiders,—in short, the most disgusting{227} creatures possible,—as ornaments for young ladies. In my youthful days we had no fancy for such oddities; fine brilliants, beautiful pearls, a ruby heart—and, yes, we wore cameos, also, but it was a charming caprice—one had one’s likeness or that of some virgin or saint engraved on the stone.”

There was a brief silence; the Amézegas, subjugated by the imperiousness of that authoritative voice, did not venture to reply.

“See, countess,” said Pilar, at last, delighted to have an opportunity to enrage the Amézegas, “what is really pretty is that pin of Luisa’s.”

Luisa drew from her hair the long golden pin with its head of amethyst set with diamonds.

“The Swede wore one like it yesterday,” she said, handing it to the countess. “She had on the whole set—earrings, a necklace of amethyst balls, and the pin. She looked magnificent with those and the heliotrope gown.”

“Last night?” asked Pilar.

“Yes, at the theater. The other was gloomy and listless as usual; at ten he entered her box and handed her the customary bouquet of camellias and white azaleas; they say it costs him seventy francs a night. It is a regular addition to his bill at the hotel.”{228}

“That nephew of mine has neither shame nor discretion,” said the Countess of Monteros gravely.

“A married man!” said Luisa Natal, who lived very happily with her husband, who blindly obeyed all her caprices.

“And is it known, finally, whether the Swede is the daughter or the wife of that baron of—of—I never can remember his name—well, of that old man who escorts her?” asked the countess, allowing herself to be drawn at last, in spite of her dignity, into the current of curiosity.

“Of Holdteufel?” asked Amalia Amézega, in a sing-song voice. “Bah! who knows! But judging by the liberty he allows her he would seem to be her husband rather than her father.”

“One needs to have effrontery,” continued Luisa Natal, with gentle and smiling condemnation, “to make one’s self the talk of every one in that way.”

“The idea!” said Pilar, in her thin voice. “Why, that is what he wants. What do you suppose? The point of the thing and the pleasure of it are in being talked about.”

“Juanito was always the same—always fond of making a noise,” murmured the countess softly, remembering how her nephew, when a wild boy of ten, used to go to her house and{229} give her a headache, teasing her for a thousand nonsensical things.

“Why, the day before yesterday——”

Eager curiosity was expressed in every face. The group drew their chairs closer together and for a full minute a sound of casters rolling over the floors could be heard.

“The day before yesterday,” continued Amalia Amézega, lowering her voice, “she went to the shooting match——”

“Do you shoot now?” asked Pilar and Luisa Natal simultaneously.

“A little, for amusement,” and Lola smoothed down the straight black fringe of hair that covered her forehead to within half an inch of the eyebrows, making her look like a page of the Middle Ages, setting off the tropical pallor of her face and her large eyes like those of a child, but of a malicious and precocious child.

“Well,” continued Amalia, seeing that her audience was listening attentively, “Gimenez, and the little Marquis of Cañahejas, and Monsieur Anatole were there, and they were all talking about a paragraph in Figaro, alluding to a scandal caused at one of the most fashionable watering places in France, or all Europe, by the insane passion of a Spanish grandee for a Swedish lady——”

“Only the initials of the names were given,”{230} added Lola; “but it was as clear as daylight. And to make it more clear it said, ‘This worthy grandson of the Count of Almaviva spends a fortune in flowers!’”

A chorus of laughter broke from the circle. Lola had a way of saying things with a certain lisp and a movement of the eyelids that greatly added to their piquancy.

“And she? How does she receive his attentions?” asked Pilar.

“She?” replied Lola. “Oh, every night, on receiving the bouquet, she answers invariably: ‘Dhanks, tuke, you are too amiaple!’”

They laughed more loudly than before. Even the countess smiled, holding her fan before her face for the sake of propriety.

“Hist!” said Luisa Natal, “there she comes.”

“The Swede!” exclaimed Pilar.

They all turned round, greatly excited. The door of the Ladies’ Parlor opened slowly, an old man, dressed with elegant simplicity, with white side-whiskers, the rest of his face being smoothly shaven, stood in a courtly attitude at the threshold of the door, while a tall and graceful woman passed into the room; her classic beauty was set off by her gown of black silk, close-fitting and sparkling with jet; the hat of tulle, trimmed with golden wheat-ears,{231} rested on her brow like a diadem; her walk was noble and queenly. Without deigning to salute any one, she went straight to the piano and, seating herself before it, proceeded to play a mazourka of Chopin’s in a masterly manner. Her attitude served to display to advantage the stately grace of her figure—the long and rounded arms, the hips, the shoulder-blades, which at every movement of her white hands defined themselves clearly through the tight-fitting bodice.

“Is it not true,” said Pilar in a low voice to Luisa Natal, “that if Lucía Miranda were to dress like her, she would resemble her somewhat in her figure?”

“Bah!” murmured Luisa Natal, “the Mirandita has not an atom of chic.”

From the group of Englishwomen now broke forth the energetic hissing sound which in every language signifies “Silence! hold your tongues and listen, or at least permit others to listen.” The Spanish women touched one another with their elbows and imperturbably went on with their whispering.

“Do you see that man?” said Lola Amézega.

“Who? who? who?” They all asked in chorus.

“Who do you suppose? Albares. There,{232} there at the window. Take care. Don’t let him see that you are observing him.”

Looking in at the window overlooking the roof of the Casino was to be seen, in effect, a youthful, almost boyish face defined against the porcelain-like whiteness of the necktie, among whose folds rested one of those agates called “cat’s eyes,” on which the caprice of fashion has of late bestowed so exaggerated a value. A morning-suit of a soft, exquisite shade of gray, a fine beaver hat, a gardenia in the button-hole, and chamois gloves of a rather bright color—such were the details of the costume of the inquisitive young man who was thus exploring with his gaze the Salle des Dames. He presented a strange mixture of weakness and strength; with an under-sized frame, he had the muscles of a Hercules. Gymnastic exercises, fencing, riding, and hunting had apparently hardened a constitution, which nature had made weakly, almost sickly. He was short of stature, his limbs were delicate as a woman’s, but the muscles were of steel. That this was the case was apparent from the manner in which his garments hung upon him; from a certain virile turn of the knees and the shoulders; in addition to this he had that air of haughty superiority which wealth, birth, and the habit of command, united, bestow.

But if the duke had expected to be rewarded{233} for his indiscretion, he was doomed to disappointment; for the Swede, after she had played with perfect self-possession and consummate skill some half-dozen mazourkas, arose with no less majesty than she had displayed on her entrance to the room, and without looking to the right or left walked straight toward the door. This opened as if by magic, and the diplomat with the white side-whiskers presented himself, grave and courteous as before, and offered her his arm. It was the exit of a queen, très réussie, as the group of Frenchwomen said among themselves.

“One would think she was the Princess Micomicona,” said Lola Amézega, who had spent no less than two hours before the looking-glass, that morning, practicing the regal walk of the Swede.

“What an air!” said Luisa Natal. “No, it cannot be denied that she is a handsome woman. What a figure! and what hands! Have you noticed them?”

“What a disappointment for Albares!” exclaimed Amalia; “she did not even know he was there.”

Every eye was turned toward the window. The duke had disappeared.

“Now he has no doubt gone to the park to try to meet her; shall we go see?”

“Yes, yes; the sight will be amusing.”{234}

They rose, and hastily gathering up their fans, parasols, and veils, hurried toward the door.

“Eh, young ladies!” said the Countess of Monteros, “don’t walk so fast. I am not so young as you are, and I shall be left behind. By my faith,” she added, under her breath, “when I see my fine nephew I shall tell him what I think of him for making that poor Matilde, who is an angel, grieve herself to death by his conduct, as he is doing.”

While Pilar amused herself in a manner so agreeable to her inclinations, Lucía sat waiting for her on the balcony of the châlet. At this hour neither Miranda nor Perico was in the house. The Casino had swallowed up every one. Only at rare intervals was a passer-by to be seen in this retired neighborhood. The only sound to be heard was the monotonous noise of the machine on which the daughter of the concierge was sewing. In the garden, the roses, drunk with the sunshine which they had been quaffing all the morning, exhaled themselves in perfumes; even the cold white roses showed the effects of the heat in a tinge, like pale flesh-color, but flesh-color still. It seemed as if all the odors of the garden had mingled together to form one sole odor, penetrating, powerful, inebriating, like the fragrance of a single{235} rose, but a rose of gigantic size—a glowing rose that exhaled from its purple mouth an intoxicating and deadly fragrance. Lucía had taken her work and busied herself at it for a while, but after a quarter of an hour or so the cushion fell from her lap, the thimble slipped from her finger, and she sat with vacant gaze fixed on the clump of rose bushes, until at last her eyelids closed of themselves, and leaning her forehead against the vine that covered the balcony, she abandoned herself to the delicious enjoyment of the balmy air, unconscious of external sights or sounds, scarcely breathing. Two months before she could not have remained quiet for half an hour; the beauty of nature would have incited her to physical activity. Now, on the contrary, it invited her to repose, it produced in her a sort of half-conscious torpor, like that of the lizard sleeping in the sun.

One afternoon Pilar, returning from the clubhouse, found Lucía more pensive than usual.

“Silly child,” she said, “of what are you thinking? If you were to go to the Casino it would amuse you greatly.”

“Pilarcita,” murmured Lucía, throwing her arms around the neck of her friend, “will you keep a secret for me if I tell you one?”

The eyes of the sick girl lighted up.

“Of course I will! open your heart to me,{236} child. In confidence, is it not so? You may tell me anything. I have seen so many things—there is nothing that could surprise me.”

“Listen,” said Lucía, “I want to know, at all costs, how Don Ignacio Artegui’s mother is.”

Pilar drew back, disappointed; then laughing, with her cynical laugh, she cried:

“Is that all? A great secret that! What a big handful three flies make.”

“For Heaven’s sake!” entreated Lucía uneasily, “don’t give a hint of this to any one. I am dying to know, but if any one should hear—Miranda or——”

“Simpleton! I shall soon learn what you wish to know, and without any one hearing anything about it. I have a hundred ways of finding out. I promise you your curiosity shall be gratified.”

Pilar tapped Lucía, who looked serious and a little confused, two or three times on the cheek.

“Are we going to take a walk to-day, madam nurse?” she asked.

“Yes, and you shall drink some milk in Vesse. But put on a warmer dress, for Heaven’s sake; you are so careless, you are quite capable of exposing yourself to taking a cold. Have you not observed how fragrant the roses{237} are? In Leon there are hardly any roses; I remember that I used to place all I could find before the image of the Virgin, which I have there in my room.”

CHAPTER XI.
The Casino was for Perico and Miranda, as for all the other idlers of the colony, house and home during the time they spent at the springs. The great edifice, taken as a whole, might be likened to a concert of voices, inviting to the enjoyment of the rapid and easy life of our age. The spacious peristyle, the principal façade with its broad roof, its private garden where exotic plants grow in graceful baskets, and its rich and fanciful ornamentation of dazzling whiteness; the tall columns of burnished porphyry that support the interior portion of the building; its luxurious arm-chairs and broad divans; the mischievous cupids (artistic symbol of the ephemeral passions that last during a two weeks’ course of the waters), that run around the cornice of the large ball-room or hover on the blue background of the broad panels of the theater; the profusion of gold, artistically disposed in touches, like points of light, or in long stripes, like sunbeams; the{238} large window—everything, in short, contributes to give one the idea of an Athenian temple, improved and enriched with the benefits and pleasures of modern civilization. A glance at the southern façade of the Casino discovers at once the numen to whom worship and sacrifice are here paid, the nymph of the waters, gracefully inclining her urn, while from some rushes at her feet emerge two cupids, one of them supporting a shell, which receives in its hollow the sacred water that flows in a copious stream from the urn. The priests and flamens of the temple of the nymphs are the waiters of the Casino who, at a sign, a movement of the lips, hasten, swiftly and silently, to bring the desired article—cigars, newspapers, writing-materials, refreshments, even the waters, which they carry at a run, in a little tank, turned mouth downward over a plate, so that they may not lose their temperature or the gases which give them their value.

Miranda’s favorite resort was the reading-room, where were to be found various Spanish periodicals, including the organ of Colmenar, which he read with the air of a statesman. Perico was more frequently to be found in another apartment, gloomy as a cave, with hangings of a dirty gray, adorned with red fringe, in which a row of spotted guttapercha benches{239} stood fronting a row of tables covered with the traditional melodramatic and much worn green cloth. As the out-going tide deposits on the shore fringe after fringe of seaweed, so on the backs of the red guttapercha benches had the heads and shoulders of the players deposited a series of layers of filth, signs which grew more marked in proportion as the benches receded and the play rose from harmless piquet to exciting écarté, for the row began with social games and ended with games of chance. The benches at the entrance were clean in comparison with those at the far end of the room. This apartment, in which rites so unholy were practiced in honor of the nymph of the waters, had witnessed many deeds of prowess of Perico, which, from the resemblance they bore to others of the same order, do not deserve special mention. Still less worthy of description are the scenes, dear to the novelist, that succeeded one another at the gaming tables. Play at Vichy partakes, to some extent, of the hygienic refinement characteristic of the place, whose inhabitants take pleasure in saying that no one has ever blown his brains out in their town on account of the green cloth, as constantly happens at Monaco; so that the hall of the Casino does not lend itself to descriptions of the dramatic or soul-harrowing{240} order. There the loser puts his hands into his pockets and walks out of the room, more or less disgusted according as he happens to be of the nervous or the lymphatic temperament, but satisfied that he has been fleeced in a perfectly legitimate manner, a fact which is guaranteed to him by the presence there of government officials and agents of the company of lessees with the purpose of preventing cheating, quarreling, or disturbances of a similar kind, proper only to low gambling houses and not at all in place in those Olympic regions in which the cards are dealt with gloved hands.

It is to be adverted that although Perico was one of those who most contributed, by the pomade on his hair and the friction of his shoulders, to grease and polish the backs of the guttapercha benches, he did not correspond to the traditional type of the gambler, as portrayed in pictures of a moral and edifying character. When he lost, it never occurred to him to tear his hair, blaspheme, or raise his clenched fists to Heaven. It is true, indeed, that he took every precaution which it was possible to take not to lose. Play is like war; fortune and chance are said to decide the victory in both; but the skillful strategist knows very well that a plan which is the result at once of insight and of reflection, which is at{241} the same time analytic and synthetic, generally secures an easy triumph. In both cases, an error in calculation may lead to ruin, and in both, if it be true that the skillful generally vanquish, it is no less true that the daring at times sweep all before them and conquer in their turn. Perico possessed a profound knowledge of the science of play, and, in addition, carefully studied the character of his adversaries, a course which seldom fails to produce happy results. There are people who grow angry or confused in playing, and act according to the mood they chance to be in, so that it is easy to surprise and vanquish them. Perhaps the enigma called luck, chance, or happy inspiration is nothing but the superiority of the man who retains his judgment and his self-possession over other men who are mad with passion. In short, Perico, who, although impulsive and loquacious to excess, had a head cool as ice, understood so well the marches and counter-marches of the battle fought every day in the Casino, that after winning many small fortunes he succeeded in winning a large fortune in the shape of a good-sized bundle of thousand-franc notes, which he quietly put into his waistcoat pocket and then walked out of the hall with his accustomed air and bearing, leaving the loser to reflect on the transitoriness of all{242} earthly possessions. This happened on the day following that on which Lucía had manifested to Pilar so great an interest in the health of Artegui’s mother. Perico was not naturally parsimonious, at least not unless he needed money for his amusements, when he would economize a maravedi, and making a sign to Pilar, who was in the Salle des Dames, to walk with him outside on the roof, he said to her, giving her his arm:

“So that you may not be always saying that I did not buy you anything at Vichy, see, I am going to make you a present.”

“A present?” and Pilar opened wide her eyes.

“A present, yes. One would think that I had never made you a present before. Come, say what you want, say what you want.”

“But are you in earnest? How generous you are getting!” said the sick girl; “will you buy me anything I ask you?”

“Come to the shops and choose,” he said, leading the way.

Pilar hesitated long, like a child before a dish of various kinds of sweetmeats; at last she made choice of two diamonds, clear as two drops of water, for her ears, and a hand mirror, with a frame of chased gold, a novel and fanciful trinket worn hanging from the belt, a style of{243} ornament which no one in Vichy but the Swede had yet been seen to wear. On returning home with her purchases, the sick girl’s eyes shone so brightly and her cheeks were so rosy that Perico said:

“You women are the very devil. One has only to give you a tambourine or a bell, a bell, to cure you of all your ailments. I laugh at drugs, I laugh at drugs. I wager you have no pain in the stomach, now.”

“Periquillo! You are a jewel! See, I am wild with joy, and if you would only—ah! say yes.”

“If I would only—Do you want me to buy you something else? No, child, enough for to-day.”

“No, nothing of the sort—but to-night—I should like to go to the concert to show the mirror; neither Luisa Natal nor either of the Amézegas has one like it, or even knows that such a thing is to be had in Vichy. They will open their eyes with astonishment. Come, Periquin, you will take me, won’t you. For once, come, say yes.”

Lucía begged Pilar, almost on her knees, to give up the dangerous pleasure she longed for. It was precisely the most critical stage of her malady. Duhamel hoped that nature, aided by a regular way of life, would conquer in the{244} struggle, and that perhaps a couple of weeks of determined self-denial on her part would decide the victory in her favor. But it was impossible to dissuade the sick girl from her purpose. She spent the day feverishly examining the contents of her wardrobe; when night came she went to the Casino, escorted by Miranda; she wore a dress which she had not before worn, thinking it too thin and summery—a gown of white gauze spotted with carnations of various colors; from her belt hung the mirror; in her ears sparkled the solitaires, and in her hair, placed with Spanish grace, was a bunch of carnations. Thus arrayed, and flushed with fever and gratified vanity, she looked almost handsome, notwithstanding her freckles and the emaciation of her features, worn by illness. She had, then, a great success at the Casino; it may be said that she shared the honors of the evening with the Swede, and with an eccentric English lord, of whom it was rumored that he had the floor of his stable covered with a Turkish carpet and his reception-room paved with stone. Happy and admired, to Pilar the Casino seemed like a scene from the Arabian Nights, with its countless gas-lights, its perfumed atmosphere, through which floated the strains of the magnificent orchestra; its ball-room where the sportive cupids on the ceiling seemed{245} to hover in a golden mist. Gimenez, the little Marquis of Cañahejas, and Monsieur Anatole disputed with one another the pleasure of dancing with her. Miranda danced a rigadoon with her, and, to crown her happiness and triumph, the Arézegas kept casting furtive glances, during the evening, at the little mirror—a style of trinket like which there was but one other in the room, that which gleamed at the side of the Swede. It was, in short, one of those moments that stand alone in the life of a vain girl, when gratified pride gives rise to emotions so sweet as almost to be mistaken for feelings deeper and purer, that forever remain unknown to such natures. Pilar danced with each one of her partners as if he had been her favored lover, so brightly did her eyes sparkle, so happy did she seem. Perico could not but say to her, sotto voce:

“You are dancing, eh? We shall see what Duhamel will say to-morrow. It will be heavenly, heavenly. To-morrow I shall make my escape, my escape. To a certainty you will explode, you will explode like a firecracker.”

“Don’t imagine it. I feel so well!” she exclaimed, drinking a glass of iced water flavored with currant syrup which Monsieur Anatole, the Hispanomaniac had just brought her.{246}

On the following morning, when Lucía went to waken Pilar, she involuntarily started back when she saw her. The sick girl lay with one cheek buried in the pillows; her sleep was uneasy and broken; in her ears, colorless as wax, the solitaires still gleamed, their limpid purity contrasting with the ashen hue of the cheek and neck. There were black shadows under her eyes. Her tightly-drawn lips resembled two withered rose-leaves. The general effect was corpse-like. On the chairs were scattered various articles of clothing used the night before; the white satin shoes, heel upward, were at the foot of the bed; on the floor some carnations were lying, and the never-enough-to-be-admired mirror, the innocent cause of all this evil, rested on the night table. Lucía softly touched the shoulder of the sleeping girl, who awoke with a start and raised herself on her elbow; her half-opened eyes were dull and glazed, like the eyes of a dead animal; a heavy, fetid odor was perceptible; the sick girl was bathed in perspiration.

She could not get up, for on placing her foot on the floor she was seized with a chill, her teeth chattered, an icy sweat bathed her limbs, and she was obliged to cover herself up again with the bed-clothes. She felt, in addition, a sharp and violent pain in her left side. She{247} shook like a reed in the wind and all the coverings which were put over her were ineffectual in restoring warmth to her chilled body.

Lucía rushed to the room of her husband, who, between sleeping and waking, was smoking a cigarette. The waters agreed with Miranda: the faded tones of his skin, under which the blood was beginning again to circulate and the adipose tissue to be renewed, were disappearing, giving place to that look of mature freshness which bestows a certain beauty on stout well-preserved women of middle-age. Such was the physical effect of the waters upon Miranda; their moral effect was a desire for rest and selfish ease, an inclination to fall into a regular way of living, such as is often observable in persons of mature years, and which makes them regard as an irreparable misfortune half-an-hour’s delay in dinner or bed-time. The ex-beau desired to lead an easy comfortable existence, to take care of his precious health, and, in short, to sustain the traditional reputation for respectability and importance of the Mirandas. Lucía entered the room like a whirlwind, and pale and trembling said:

“Get up; go and see if you can find Señor Duhamel and bring him at once. Pilar is very ill.”

Miranda sat up in bed.{248}

“Of course the crazy creature is ill. Why, she danced last night as if she were out of her senses! She was well-employed!”

Lucía looked at her husband in astonishment.

“Go at once,” she said, “go at once! She has had a chill—she complains of a pain in her side, and she has almost lost her voice.”

Miranda rose grumbling.

“I don’t know what her brother is here for,” he muttered, drawing on his boots. “He might very well go.”

“Tell him so, you, if you wish,” said Lucía, her eyes swimming in tears. “I cannot go into Gonzalvo’s room to waken him. In any case you were going to rise now to drink the waters.”

“It would be time enough for that in three quarters of an hour. One would suppose that girl was the only person here whose health is of any consequence. Other people, too, are sick and have to take care of themselves. To-day, precisely, I am feeling wretched.”

Lucía had been in the habit of manifesting a deep interest in Miranda’s health, asking him every day those minute particulars which mothers are wont to ask their children—and which bore the indifferent; but on this occasion she turned her back on him and went to{249} the kitchen where she asked the wife of the concierge for a cup of lime-leaf tea and carried it herself to Pilar.

Duhamel frowned when he saw the patient. What most displeased him was to learn that she had taken two or three iced drinks at the ball. Duhamel was a little old man with skin like parchment, in whose bright and searching eyes all the vitality of his body seemed to have concentrated itself. His hair and eyebrows were gray, but of his teeth, which were long and yellow as ivory, and which he showed when he smiled, which was often, not one was wanting.

In his movements he was quick and gliding as an eel. Having at one time gone to Brazil on a scientific expedition, he possessed a smattering of Brazilian Portuguese, which he persisted in trying to pass off for Spanish.

“Let the whole treatment, ó tratamento, be stopped,” he said, addressing himself exclusively to Lucía, although the sick girl’s brother was present, guided doubtless by that infallible instinct possessed by the physician and which enables him to distinguish at once the person most interested in his instructions and most capable of carrying them out: “The patient, a doente, has done wrong in disobeying my orders in this way.”{250}

“But now, what is to be done?”

“We will try a strong counter-irritant; there is congestion of the lungs; we must try to dissipate it. Bon Dieu! to dance and take iced drinks! And now we have the sweats to fight against.”

This dialogue between the doctor and Lucía took place at a sufficient distance from the sick girl’s bed to prevent her from hearing it. Lucía informed herself minutely regarding all that concerned the nursing of the patient, the hours at which nourishment was to be given to her, and the precautions which it was necessary to observe. After she had applied to Pilar the remedies prescribed by the doctor, she set the room in order, moving about on tiptoe, half closed the shutters, and then installed herself at the bedside in a low sewing-chair. Pilar was very feverish and suffered greatly from thirst. At every moment Lucía would put to her lips the glass of gum-water, previously warmed on the little stove. In the afternoon Duhamel came again and found that the counter-irritant had had the effect of restoring to some extent the sick girl’s voice, and rendering her breathing easier. The fever, however, was high, the perspiration having been checked. The pulmonary congestion lasted for eight days, and when, in obedience{251} to Duhamel’s orders—as lying in bed increased the fever and debilitated her—Pilar rose, the girl looked like a specter; to the symptoms, bad enough in themselves, of anæmia were now added others more alarming still. Her limbs no longer supported the weight of her clothing, which slipped down from them as if they had been the limbs of a badly stuffed doll. She herself was alarmed, and in one of those moments of clairvoyance which are apt to visit persons suffering from the dreadful disease which now held her in its clutches, she asked for the famous mirror, which Lucía, in order not to vex her, gave her very unwillingly. When Pilar saw herself in the glass she recalled her image as she had seen it on the night of the ball, the carnations in her artistically arranged hair, her face beaming with happiness. The contrast between her face as she now saw it and as she had seen it a week ago, was so strong that Pilar threw the mirror with a quick movement on the ground. The glass was broken and the exquisitely chased frame dinted by the blow.

It was not long, however, before the flattering illusion which mercifully blinds the consumptive to his danger and smooths his path to the very portals of the tomb, again took possession of her. The symptoms of the disease{252} were so marked that seeing them in another she would have regarded them as fatal; and yet Pilar, animated as ever, continued to lay out plans for the future and thought she was suffering only from an obstinate cold, which would eventually cure itself. She had a constant hacking cough, with viscous expectoration; the slightest increase of temperature excited profuse perspiration, and instead of her former capricious appetite she had now an intense loathing for food. In vain the wife of the concierge put in practice all her culinary arts, inventing a hundred dainty dishes. Pilar regarded them all alike with repugnance, especially such as were of a nutritious kind. There began now for both the friends a valetudinarian existence. Lucía scarcely ever left Pilar, taking her out on the balcony to breathe the fresh air if the weather was fine, keeping her company in her room if it was bad, using all her efforts to amuse her and to make the hours seem less tedious. The sick girl now began to feel the impatience, the desire for change of scene, which generally seizes those affected by the disease from which she suffered. Vichy had become intolerable to her; the more so, as she saw that the season was now drawing to a close, that the Casino was fast becoming deserted, that the opera-troupe were about to{253} depart, and the brilliant swallows of fashion to take flight for other regions. The Amézegas had come to bid her good-by, and to give her the last vexation of the season. If Lucía had followed her own inclinations, she would have received them in the little parlor down-stairs, making some excuse for Pilar; but the latter persisted in her desire that they should come up to her room, and Lucía was compelled to yield. The Cubans were triumphantly happy because they were going to Paris to make their purchases for the winter, and from thence to display their finery at the most fashionable entertainments in Madrid and in the Retiro, and they spoke with the lisp and with the affected airs habitual to them on such occasions.

“Yes, child, who could endure it here any longer—this place has grown so stupid—not a soul to be seen. Yes, Krauss has gone. She has a contract in Paris. She scored a triumph on the last night of ‘Mignon.’ Some of the hotels are closed already. As you may suppose the rope has followed the pail; when the Swede left, was it likely he was going to remain? He will follow her to Stockholm. Yes, indeed! but have you not heard? On the day of her departure he filled her carriage with flowers. A whole parlor carriage filled with{254} gardenias and camellias; just think of it! He has spent a small fortune already in flowers. Luisa Natal?—why, where should she go but to Madrid? Ah! the countess will stop at Lourdes on her way—she intends to remain at least a week there. Yes, Cañahejas is going on a visit to a castle belonging to some relations of Monsieur Anatole, where they will shoot until November. Gimenez? I don’t know, child; he is always engaged in some mysterious affair or other. They say that Laurent, the soprano of the company—that cross-eyed woman—I don’t believe a word of it—he is an incorrigible braggart——”

“And you, you remain here, eh?” added Amalia, joining her lisp to Lola’s. “How long, child? But you will die of ennui, here. This is a convent, now! Why, that is nothing—what signifies a cold? Cheer up. This winter the Puenteanchas will give some private theatricals—the Monteros told me so. The Torreplanas de Arganzon have already signified their intention of receiving on Thursdays. We shall have Patti in the Real, and Gayarré,—think of it! We have sent to secure a box in case we should not arrive in time.”

“I am going to order a couple of frocks from Worth—simple ones, as I am not married. One for skating—I dote upon skating! In the{255} Casa de Campo last year—do you remember, Amalia?—that day——”

“That the king complimented you on your skating? Yes, I remember it, of course.”

And the voices of both sisters mingled in a concert of little laughs of gratified pride; both saw again in imagination the frozen lake, the trees covered with their embroidery of frost, the early morning mist, and the youthful figure of the king, his countenance pale with cold, with his effeminate frame, his easy and elegant manners, and his half-mischievous, half-courteous smile as he bent forward to compliment the skater on her skill.

The visit left Pilar more impatient, more feverish, more excited than ever. Pilar was desperate; at any cost she desired to leave Vichy, to fly away, to break from the dark prison of sickness and make her appearance once more, a brilliant butterfly, in the world of fashion. She fully believed herself able to do so; she did not doubt but that her strength was equal to it. No less impatient than herself were two other persons—Miranda and Perico. Perico, accustomed to live in perpetual divorce from himself, could not endure solitude, which compelled him to keep his own company; and as for Miranda, the period prescribed for his drinking the waters being now{256} at an end and his health notably improved, he thought it was time to betake himself to winter quarters and enjoy in peace the result of the treatment. It annoyed him extremely to see that his wife, appointed by high decrees to nurse himself, should neglect, as she did, her providential mission, dedicating her days and nights to a stranger suffering from a malady painful to witness and perhaps contagious. Therefore, he suggested to Lucía that they should take their departure, leaving the Gonzalvos to their fate, as those are left behind, in a shipwreck, for whom there is no room in the lifeboat. But contrary to all his expectations, he met with a vehement and obstinate resistance from Lucía. She indemnified herself now, by giving free utterance to her feelings, for all she had hitherto concealed, even from herself.

“It would be necessary to have no heart—to have no heart!” she said. “Poor Pilar, she would be well off indeed with her brother, who does not know even how to arrange her pillows, for a nurse. What would become of her? I cannot bear even to think of it.”

“She could send for a sister of charity—she would not be the first who has done so,” answered Miranda roughly.

“How cruel—poor girl! To talk like that{257} is even worse than leaving her to die alone like a dog.”

“Well, as for her, confound me if she would have stayed behind for you or for me, or for the angel Gabriel himself. And what obligation are we under to nurse her? One would think——”

“Do you not say that you are Gonzalvo’s friend?” said Lucía, riveting her gaze on her husband.

“His friend, yes, in a social way. What do you know about those things? We are friends as hundreds of other people are friends.”

“Then why do we live in the same house with the Gonzalvos. They were not my friends; but now I have come to like her, and the idea of going away and leaving her so ill——”

“Good Heavens! has she not her father, her aunt, her brother? Let them come, in the devil’s name, to take care of her. What have we to do with the matter? If your vocation was to be a sister of charity, you should have said so before, and not have got married, my child. Your duty now is to see to your husband and your house, and nothing more.”

“Well,” said Lucía, raising her face, in which the rounded and evanescent contours of youth were beginning to lose themselves in the{258} firmer outlines of early womanhood: “I will go, if you command me; but I am none the less convinced that it is a wicked action to abandon a friend in this way in her dying moments.”

She left the room. In her mind there was beginning to germinate a singular conception of marital authority; she thought her husband had a perfect, incontestable and manifest right to forbid her every species of enjoyment or happiness, but that she was free to suffer; and that to forbid her to suffer, to forbid her to devote herself, as she wished to do, to the care of the sick girl, was cruel tyranny. These strange notions are common enough with the unhappy, who often take refuge in suffering as in a sanctuary, in order to avail themselves of the immunity it confers.

The question, however, settled itself better than Lucía could have anticipated, for that very afternoon Perico took part in it, and decided it with his accustomed effrontery.

“Good-by, my dear boy,” he said, entering Miranda’s room, dressed in traveling attire, wearing cloth gaiters and a felt cap, and carrying a double-barreled fowling-piece slung across his shoulder.

And as Miranda looked at him in amazement:{259}

“I have made up my mind,” he said. “Vichy is too stupid, and as Anatole makes a point of it——”

“You are going to Auvergne?”

“To the Castle of Ceyssat, of Ceyssat. It seems there are hares and deer there by the hundred, by the hundred—and one can have a good time at the castle; there is a large party—eighteen guests.”

Miranda put as much energy as he could summon into his voice and gestures, and said to the enthusiastic sportsman:

“But Lucía and I had decided on returning to Spain in two or three days at the latest, and as Pilar is—in delicate health—your presence here is indispensable.”

“Go to the deuce, to the deuce!” exclaimed Perico, faithful to his rule of always speaking his mind freely. “Can’t you wait a fortnight to oblige me? What are you going to do in Spain? To bury yourself in Leon, and vegetate there, vegetate there. Here you are in the honeymoon, the honeymoon. Not a word, not a word. I will leave my sister with you. I know she will be well taken care of, well taken care of. Good-by; I must catch the train. I will bring you back a deer’s head for a cane-rack.

“But listen; see here—{260}—”

Perico was already at the door. Miranda called to him from the window; but the young man turned round smiling, and waving him an adieu, hurried on in the direction of the station. And so it was that in this struggle between two selfish natures, the most daring, if not the bravest or the noblest, conquered.

Miranda was in a diabolical humor when Duhamel came to afford him some slight consolation, saying that the sick girl during the last few days had shown signs of improvement and that she ought to avail herself of them to return to Spain in search of a milder climate, adding, in his broken French-Portuguese that, as he intended, like most of the other consulting physicians of Vichy, to return soon to Paris, they might travel together, and in this way he would be able to see how the motion of the train agreed with the patient, and to determine whether she needed to rest or whether she could bear the journey to Spain without further delay. The doctor’s advice appeared to every one to be very judicious and Lucía wrote a letter to Perico, at the dictation of Pilar, charging him to return within a fortnight, as that was the date fixed upon by Duhamel to close his office at Vichy. The new arrangement moderated in some slight degree the ill-humor of Miranda, consoled{261} Lucía, and rejoiced the patient, who longed, above all things, to return to Madrid.

It was true; the very frailty of Pilar’s constitution, opposing less resistance to the disease, retarded the inevitable termination of her sufferings; and as the hurricane that uproots oaks only bends the reed, so was the progress of the malady which had declared itself less violent in this delicate frame than it would have been in a more vigorous one. In a portion of one of the lungs, tubercles were present, and those terrible breaches had already been made in it which doctors call cavities; but the other lung was still unaffected. It is with the lungs, however, as it is with fruit—a very brief space of time is sufficient to infect a sound one if the one beside it be decayed. At all events, the momentary improvement in Pilar was so marked as to allow of her taking a short walk every morning, leaning on Lucía’s arm; and her disinclination for food was now not so obstinate as before.

CHAPTER XII.
The aspect of Vichy, in truth, in those last days of October, was well calculated to inspire sadness. Dead leaves lay everywhere. The{262} park, formerly so full of animation, was deserted; only a few visitors, who had come late in the season to drink the waters—and who were really ill—were to be seen promenading the asphalt pavement lately thronged with richly-dressed people and enlivened by the buzz of cheerful conversation. No one hastened now to sweep up and carry away the yellow leaves that covered the ground like a carpet, for Vichy, so clean and attractive in the season, becomes neglected-looking and filthy as soon as its fashionable summer guests have turned their backs upon it. The whole town looked as if a general removal were taking place; the adornments of the balconies of the châlets, deserted now by their tenants, had been removed, so that they might not be injured by the rains; in the streets were heaps of brick and mortar to be used in building, which no one had ventured to undertake in the summer, not wishing to mar the beauty of the place during the season. The shops for the sale of articles of luxury had, one after another, closed their shutters, and their owners, taking with them their wares, had departed for Nice, Cannes, or some other wintering place of the kind. A few shops still remained open, and their show-cases served to divert Lucía and Pilar when they went out for their leisurely{263} walks. The chief of these was a shop for the sale of curiosities, antiques, and objects of art, situated almost in front of the famous “Nymph,” and consequently at the back of the Casino. The shop being too small to conveniently hold the mare magnum of objects which it contained, they overflowed its limits and invaded the sidewalk. It was a delightful occupation to rummage among its recesses, and to pry into its corners, making at every instant some new and curious discovery. The proprietors of the shop, having little business at this season, made no objection to their doing so. They were a married couple: the husband a Bohemian from the Rastro, with sleepy eyes, a well worn coat and a torn necktie worthy of a place among the antiques of his shop; the wife fair, thin, willowy, and agile as a garret cat, gliding among the precious objects heaped up to the ceiling. Lucía and Pilar found great amusement in examining the heterogeneous assemblage. In the center of the shop, a superb table of Sèvres porcelain and gilt-bronze proudly displayed its splendor. On the central medallion was represented in enamel, on a blue background of the shade peculiar to pâte tendre, the broad, good-natured, but rather sad countenance of Louis XVI; around this was a circle of smaller medallions, representing the{264} graceful heads of the ladies of the court of the guillotined king—some with powdered hair, piled high on the head, and surmounted by a large basket of flowers; others with hoods of black lace fastened under the chin; all with immodestly décolleté gowns, all smiling and richly dressed, with the freshest of complexions and the rosiest of lips. If Lucía and Pilar had been learned in history, how many reflections would have been suggested to them by the sight of all these ivory necks adorned with diamond necklaces or tight velvet bands, destined, doubtless, like that of the king who presided with melancholy air over the beautiful bevy, to bow to the executioner’s knife.

The pride of the collection was the ceramics. There were a number of Dresden figures, pure, soft, and delicate in coloring as the clouds painted by the dawn; rosy cupids garlanded with wreaths of sky-blue flowers; shepherdesses with a complexion of milk and roses guarding sheep adorned with crimson bows; nymphs and swans who exchanged amorous compliments in groves of a pale green, planted with roses; violinists holding the bow with affected grace, advancing the right foot, ready to take part in a minuet; flower-girls who simperingly pointed to the basket of flowers which they carried on their left arms. Side by side{265} with these pastoral fancies, rare products of Asiatic art displayed their strange and deformed shapes, like idols of a barbarous faith; across rotund vases, adorned with yellow leaves and purple or flame-colored flowers, flew bands of unnatural-looking birds or glided monstrous reptiles; on the dark background of flat-sided vases stood out boldly fantastic scenes—green rivers flowing over ochre beds; kiosks of crimson lake, hung with golden bells; mandarins with gorgeous trains falling in straight lines, sleek, drooping mustaches, oblique eyes, and heads like pumpkins. The Majolica and Palissy plates seemed fragments taken from the bed of the sea, pieces of some sunken reef or of some oozy river-bed. There, among sea-weed and algae, glided the gleaming, slimy eel, the mussel opened its fluted shell, the silver bream flapped its tail, the snail lifted up its agate horn, the frog stared with stony eyes, and the many-clawed crab, looking like an enormous black spider, moved along with a sidewise motion. There was a dish on which Galatea reclined among the waves, her coursers, blue as the sea, pawing the air with their webbed hoofs, while Tritons, with puffed-out cheeks, blew their winding trumpets. In addition to the porcelain there were pieces of silver, antique and heavy, such as are handed down from{266} father to son in honest provincial families; enormous salvers, broad trays, huge soup-tureens with massive artichokes for handles; there were wooden coffers inlaid with pearl and ivory; iron chests carved with the delicacy of filagree-work; china tankards of antique shape, with metal bands that recalled the beer-drinkers immortalized by Flemish art.

Pilar was enchanted especially with the agate cup-shaped jewel-cases, with the jewelry of different epochs, from the amulet of the Roman lady to the necklace of false stones and fine enamels of the time of Marie Antoinette; but what most delighted Lucía were the church ornaments, which awoke in her the religious sentiment, so well calculated to move her sincere and ardent soul. The figures of two of the apostles, solemnly pointing heavenward, stood outlined in brass on two stained glass windows, doubtless torn from the ogive of some dismantled monastery. On a triptych of brownish yellow ivory were represented Eve, with meager nude figure, offering Adam the fatal apple, and the Virgin in the mysteries of the Annunciation and of the Ascension; all incorrectly done, with that divine candor of early sacred art, in the ages of faith. Notwithstanding the rudeness of the design, the face of the Virgin, the modesty of her downcast look, the mystic{267} ideality of her attitude charmed Lucía. If she had had money enough, she would certainly have bought a crucifix which lay unnoticed among the other curiosities of the shop. It was of ivory also, and was made in a single piece, with the exception of the arms. The expression of the dying Christ, nailed to a rich pearl cross, was painfully realistic, the nerves and muscles showing the contraction of the death agony. Three diamond nails pierced the hands and feet. Lucía said a paternoster every day before it and even kissed the knees when she thought herself unobserved.

She enjoyed looking at paintings; all the more as she could understand them, which was not the case with all of the objects of art, some of which she thought ugly and extravagant enough. It was plain that that fierce swaggerer, rushing, sword in hand, on his adversary, was going to cleave his heart in twain at a blow. What a lovely sunrise in that Daubigny! With what naturalness those sheep of Jacque—valued at a thousand francs apiece (there were twelve in the picture) were browsing! How white the feet which that Favorite Sultana of Cala y Mora was dipping in the marble basin! The head of the young girl, after Greuze, was a marvel of innocent grace. And that Quarrel in a Flemish Inn—it was enough to make one{268} laugh to see how the earthenware flew around in fragments, and the copper saucepans rolled about, and the two plowmen of St. Oustade, misshapen and clownish-looking, distributed blows and cuffs on all sides, their ape-like ugliness heightened by the grotesqueness of their attitudes.

But even more than the bazar of objects of art, where so great a diversity of forms and colors, styles and artistic ideals, after all confused her, did one among the many stalls at the edge of the sidewalk near the Casino, interest Lucía. These stalls represented the modest and unpretending branches of trade. Here an old German cried his wares—glasses to drink the waters—engraving on them with an emery wheel the initials of the purchasers’ names in their presence; there a Swiss offered for sale toys, dolls, little boxes, and book folders carved in beech-wood by the shepherds; here lenses were sold, there combs and writing-materials. Lucía’s favorite stall was one presided over by a peddler of curiosities from Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Mother-of-pearl calvaries with simple carvings in relief, pen handles of olive-wood terminating in a cross, heads of the Virgin cut on shell, brooches and trinkets of enamel adorned with arabesques, cups of black bitumen, aromatic lozenges—{269}such were the contents of the peddler’s box. All this was sold by an Israelite of not unpleasing appearance, with black eyes and yellow skin, wearing a dark red Arab fez and wide trousers, gentle, insinuating, a Levantine in everything, with a smattering of many languages and a good knowledge of Spanish, which, but for the use of an occasional archaism, he spoke like a native. In this man’s conversation Lucía found entertainment in the absence of other sources of interest. She would question him about the holy village of Bethlehem, the sacred house of Nazareth, Mount Olivet, and all the other holy places which she had pictured to herself as situated rather in some mysterious and remote paradise than on the earth. Between Lucía and the peddler there was thus established the habit of having a ten minutes chat every afternoon in the open air, which she enjoyed all the more when he told her that he was a Christian and a Catholic, catechized and instructed by the Franciscans of Bethlehem. Lucía bought specimens of all his wares, even to a rosary of those opaque greenish beads, called, not without some analogical similitude, Job’s tears.

“I don’t know how you can like that ugly rosary,” said Pilar.{270}

“But just see,” exclaimed Lucía, “they look like real tears.”

But the swallow of the Levant, too, flew away in his turn, in search of milder climes. One day they did not find Ibrahan Antonio in his accustomed place; discouraged, perhaps, by a day without a sale, he had packed up his wares and departed, no one knew whither. Lucía missed him; but the retreat was a general one; on all sides, closed up and empty shops were to be seen. On the pavements were mountains of straw, piles of wrapping paper, packing cases and boxes bearing in large letters the word “fragile.” The gloom, the disorder, the ever-increasing bareness of a removal reigned. Pilar thought Vichy in this condition so unattractive that she planned excursions which should take her away from the principal streets. One morning she took a fancy to go to the pastry-cook’s shop and witnessed the manufacture of two or three thousand cakes and bonbons. On another morning she visited the subterranean galleries which contain the immense reservoirs of water and the enormous pipes that supply the baths of the thermal establishment. They descended a narrow staircase whose lowest steps were lost in the obscurity of the gallery. The keeper preceded them, carrying in her hand a miner’s{271} flat-shaped lamp, which emitted a disagreeable odor. Miranda carried another lamp, and a little street urchin, who made his appearance among them as suddenly as if he had fallen down from the clouds, took charge of a third. The vaulted roof was so low that Miranda was obliged to stoop down in order to avoid striking his head against it. The narrow passage made an abrupt turn and they suddenly found themselves in another gallery, which received, as in a yawning mouth, the pipes that, owing to the perpetual dampness, were here covered with rust. From the roof exuded a fine white moisture that sparkled in the light; on either hand flowed a stream of water over a bed of residuum and alkaline phosphates, white and floury, like newly fallen snow. As they advanced further into the long subterranean gallery, a suffocating heat announced the passage of the overflow of the Grande Grille, the temperature of whose waters was still higher in this confined atmosphere than it was at its source. From the walls, covered with patches of mildew and limy scales, hung monstrous fungi, cryptogamous plants full of venom, whose noxious whiteness gleamed on the wall like a pale and sinister eye gleaming in a livid countenance. Dusty cobwebs shrouded the elbows of the pipes like gray winding-sheets shrouding forgotten{272} corpses. Through the loose stones of the pavement could be caught glimpses of the black water below. They could hear plainly the steps of the people passing overhead, and the hard sound of the horses’ hoofs. At intervals there was an airhole, through the iron grating of which came the daylight, livid and sepulchral, imparting a yellow tinge to the red flame of the lamps. The pipes wound like intestines through the damp passage, now dragging themselves along the ground like gigantic serpents, now reaching upward to the roof, like the black tentacles of some enormous polypus. At one time they emerged from the corridors into a brighter spot—a species of circular cave with a skylight, in whose far end yawned the open mouth of the Lucas well, disclosing the still, somber, and unfathomable water within. The urchin held his lamp over the brink and looked down. The keeper seized him by the arm.

“Eh, my friend,” she said, “take care that you don’t fall in there. It would not be easy to go down a hundred yards, which is the depth of that hole, to look for you.”

Lucía, fascinated, approached the mouth of the well. The mephitic gases it exhaled made the smoky flames of the lamps flicker. Here the temperature was not warm, but{273} cold—a dense, airless cold, which made breathing difficult. An iron door opened into another gallery, on entering which they all drew back in alarm, with the exception of the keeper, at finding themselves surrounded by a vast expanse of water, a sort of subterranean lake. They were standing on a narrow plank, thrown like a bridge across the reservoir. The water, lying in its stone tomb, had a stillness and limpidity that had something lugubrious in them. The flame of one of the lamps, that had been left on the opposite bank to show the extent of the deposit, threw long lines of wavering light over the gloomy transparence of the lake, and looked, in the distance, like the torch of a hired assassin in some Venetian prison. So fantastic was the aspect of this lake, overhung by a granite sky, that one might fancy it peopled with floating corpses. Lucía and Pilar experienced a vague terror, and like children, or rather, like women, they were especially horrified at the idea that in some one of the narrow and confused passages, they might stumble over a rat. They knew that the deposits of water communicated with the sewers, and two or three times already they had turned pale, fancying they had seen a black shadow pass by, which was only the wavering shadow of some parasites cast by the light of the lamps{274} upon the wall. Suddenly both women uttered a cry; this time there was no room for doubt, they heard the sharp, shrill squeal of a rat. Lucía stood for an instant motionless, with dilated eyes; it was impossible here to run away. But the street urchin and the keeper burst out laughing; they were both familiar with the sound, which was produced by the corking of the bottles of mineral water on the other side of the wall. The two women breathed more freely, however, when they emerged from the gloomy labyrinth, and saw once more the light of day and felt the fresh air blowing across their perspiring brows.

One place only did Lucía visit unaccompanied—the church of St. Louis. At first the Leonese, accustomed to the grandeur of the superb basilica of her native place, was not greatly pleased with the edifice. St. Louis is a poor mediæval rhapsody conceived by a modern architect; the interior is disfigured by being painted in tawdry colors; in a word, it resembles an actress masquerading as a saint. But Lucía found in the temple a Virgin of Lourdes, which charmed her exceedingly. It stood in a grotto of blooming roses and chrysanthemums, and above its head was the legend: I am the Immaculate Conception. Lucía knew very little about the apparitions of{275} Bernadette, the shepherdess, or the miracles of the sacred mountain; but notwithstanding this, the image exercised a singular fascination over her, seeming to call to her with mysterious voice that floated among the grateful perfumes of the flowers, and the flickering of the tall white tapers. The image, gay, smiling, and simple, with floating robes and blue mantle, touched Lucía’s soul more than the stiff images of the cathedral of Leon, clad in their pompous garments, had ever done. One afternoon, as she was going to the church, she saw a funeral procession pass along and she followed it. It was the funeral of a young girl, a Child of Mary. The beadle, dressed in black, a silver chain around his neck, walked with official gravity at the head of the procession; four young girls, dressed in white, followed him, their teeth chattering with cold, their cheeks violet, but proud of their important rôle of carrying the ribbons. Then came the priests, grave and composed, their rich voices swelling at intervals on the still air. Inside the hearse, adorned with black and white plumes, was the coffin covered with a snow-white cloth starred with orange-blossoms, white roses, and heaps of lilacs that swayed with every movement of the car. The Children of Mary, the companions of the deceased, walked along almost gayly, lifting{276} up their muslin skirts to keep them from touching the muddy ground. The civil commissary, in his robes, headed the mourners; behind him came a crowd of women dressed in black, in the midst of whom walked the family of the dead girl, their faces red and their eyes swollen with weeping. The church bells tolled with melancholy sound while the coffin was being taken out of the hearse and placed on the catafalque. Lucía entered the nave and piously knelt down among those who were mourning for one whom she had never seen. She listened with a melancholy pleasure to the office for the dead, the prayers intoned in full and mellow voices by the priests. Those unknown Latin phrases had for her a clear signification; she did not understand the words, but she could comprehend without difficulty that they were laments, menaces, complaints, and at times ardent and tender sighs of love. And then, as had happened in the park, there came to her mind the secret thought, the desire to die, and she said to herself that the dead girl lying there in her coffin, covered with flowers, calm and peaceful,—seeing nothing, hearing nothing of the miseries of this wretched world, that goes round and round, and yet in all its countless revolutions never brings a good day nor an hour of happiness,—was more to{277} be envied than she who was alive and obliged to feel, to think, and to act.

“Yes, but—the soul!” Lucía said to herself.

Thus curiously did a simple and ignorant girl repeat the thought expressed in the philosophical soliloquy of the Danish dreamer!

“Ah, and how good it must be to be dead,” thought Lucía. “Don Ignacio was right in saying that—that—well, that there is no such thing as happiness. If one only knew what fate awaited one in the other world! Where now is the soul of that body that lies there! And what would be the use of dying if after all one does not cease to exist, and to be conscious of what is going on around one.”

Certain it is that these wild imaginings, aided by the sleepless hours passed at the sick girl’s bedside, and perhaps by another cause, also, dimmed the freshness of Lucía’s complexion, and tinged with gloom her once happy and tranquil disposition. Miranda, who, cut off from all other society, now sought that of his wife, was struck by the melancholy expression of her countenance, and thoughts, never fully set at rest since the unfortunate mishap of the wedding journey, sprung up again in his mind. This thorn, which pierced his vanity, the keenest of his feelings, to the quick, could never cease to rankle. Had Miranda’s nature{278} been more amiable, he might have won by love the open and generous heart of the young Leonese, but it would seem as if some demon inspired him always to do exactly the opposite of what he ought to have done. He acquired the habit of speaking harshly to Lucía, and of treating her with a certain scorn, as if he never forgot her inferiority of station. He reminded her by covert allusions of her social position. He spied upon her every action, reproached her with the time spent in taking care of Perico’s sister, and, in short, adopted a system of opposition and tyranny, admirably adapted to succeed with weak or perverse women, whom it subjugates and charms. Lucía it brought to the verge of desperation.

A few days before the one fixed for Perico’s return, Pilar received from him a letter which she handed to Lucía to read. He announced in it his near return and gave at the same time some details of the fashionable life he was leading at the Castle of Ceyssat, and, among other pieces of news, mentioned the death of the mother of Ignacio Artegui, which Anatole had communicated to him, thinking it would interest him as concerning a compatriot. He added that the son had taken the body to Brittany, to the same old castle of Houdan, at which his childhood had been passed, for interment. Miranda{279} was present when this paragraph was read, and noticed the rapid glance of intelligence that passed between Pilar and Lucía and the sudden pallor that overspread the face of his wife. Lucía left the house that afternoon and went to the church of St. Louis, in which she spent half an hour or so. She went back to the châlet, entered her room, where there were writing materials, wrote a letter, which she hid in her bosom, ran down-stairs and walked rapidly in the direction of the main street. Night was falling, the first lamps were being lighted, and the street urchins, the choirboys of civilization, were standing about on the pavement, crying out the names of the Paris papers which had just arrived. Lucía went straight toward the red lamp of the shop and dropped her letter into the wooden letter-box. At the same instant she felt her arm seized in a vise-like grip and turned around. Miranda was beside her.

“What is the meaning of this,” he cried, in a voice of suppressed anger. “You here, and alone,—what are you doing?”

“Nothing,” she stammered.

“Nothing! why, have you not just dropped a letter into the letter-box?”

“Yes, a letter,” she answered.

“Why did you lie, then?” exclaimed the{280} husband, in furious accents, his mouth and chin trembling with jealous rage.

“I don’t know what I may have said when you hurt my arm,” answered Lucía, recovering her self-possession. “What is true is that I dropped a letter there just now.”

“And why did you not give it to me to post? Why did you come here yourself—alone?”

“I wished to post it myself.”

Some passers-by turned around to listen to the dialogue carried on in angry tones and in a foreign tongue.

“We are making a scene,” said Miranda. “Come.”

They turned into a solitary street and for the space of a few minutes both maintained an eloquent silence.

“For whom was that letter?” the husband at last asked abruptly.

“For Don Ignacio Artegui,” answered Lucía, in a firm and composed voice.

“I knew it!” said Miranda under his breath, suppressing a malediction.

“He has lost his mother. You yourself heard so to-day.”

“It is highly indecorous, highly ridiculous,” said Miranda, whose voice sounded harsh and broken like the crackling of burning brambles,{281} “for a lady to write in this unceremonious fashion to a man.”

“I am indebted to Señor de Artegui for services and favors,” said Lucía, “which compel me to take a part in his griefs.”

“Those services, if there be such, it is my duty to acknowledge. I would have written to him.”

“Your letter,” objected Lucía simply, “would not have served to console him, while mine would; and as it was not a question of etiquette but of——”

“Hold your tongue,” cried Miranda rudely; “hold your tongue and don’t talk nonsense,” he continued, with that roughness which even men of culture do not hesitate to display when speaking to their wives. “Before marrying you should have learned how to conduct yourself in society, so as not to bring ridicule upon me by committing silly actions, which are in bad taste. But I have no right to complain; what better could I have expected when I married the daughter of a retailer of oil and vinegar!”

Miranda walked with long strides, dragging rather than supporting his wife, and they had now almost reached the châlet. At this offensive speech Lucía, with pale cheeks and flashing eyes, freed herself violently from his clasp, and stood still in the middle of the road.{282}

“My father,” she cried, in a loud voice, making an effort to keep back her sobs, “is an honest man, and he has taught me to be honest, too.”

“Well, one would never have known it,” replied Miranda, with a bitter and ironical laugh. “To judge by appearances he has taught you to palm off the spurious article for the genuine as he himself probably did with his provisions.”

At this last stab Lucía rushed forward, passed through the gate, hurried up the stairs as quickly as she had a short time before descended them, and shutting herself in her room gave free vent to her anguish. Of the thoughts that passed through her mind during this long night, which she spent extended on a sofa, the following letter, assuredly not intended by its author for publication and still less intended to awaken the applause of future generations, will give some idea:

Dear Father Urtazu: The fits of rage you warned me about are beginning to come, and that sooner and with more frequency than I had thought possible. The worst of it is, that thinking well over the matter, it seems to me that I myself am in some sort to blame. Don’t laugh at me, for pity’s sake, for I am trying to keep my tears back while I write, and this blot, which I hope you will excuse, is even caused by one of them falling upon the paper. I am going to tell you everything as if I were in Leon,{283} kneeling before you in the confessional. The mother of Señor de Artegui is dead. You already know from my previous letters that this is a terrible misfortune, for it may bring with it others—which I do not wish even to think about, father. In short, I reflected that Señor de Artegui would be very sad, very sad, and that perhaps no one would think of saying a kind word to him and especially of speaking to him of our Lord, in whom he cannot but believe—is it not so, father?—but whom he may forget, perhaps, in the bitterness of his grief. Moved by these considerations I wrote him a letter, consoling him as best I could—I wish you could have seen it. I said a great many things in it that I think were very fine and very comforting. I told him that God sends us sorrows so as to make us turn to Him in our grief; that then it is He is most with us—in short, all that you have taught me. I told him, besides, to be assured that he was not the only one who mourned for that poor lady, that saint; that I mingled my tears with his, although I knew that she was now in glory, and that I envied her. Ah, and that is the truth, father! Who so happy as she? To die, to go to heaven! When shall I attain such happiness!

But to return to my story. I went to post the letter and Miranda followed me and seized me by the arm, and heaped insults upon me, calling me all sorts of bad names, and, what I felt more than all, insulting my father. Poor, dear father! How is he to blame for what I may do? Tell him nothing of all this, Father Urtazu, for the love of God! I was so indignant that I answered him haughtily, and then went and shut myself up into my room. I feel as crushed as if the house had fallen in upon me.

My health is beginning to suffer from all these things.{284} Tell Señor Velez de Rada that when he sees me he will no longer be pleased with my looks. My head is dizzy just now and I often have severe fits of giddiness. Good-by, father; advise me, for I am bewildered by all this. Sometimes I think I have done wrong, and again I think I am not in any way to blame. Is pity a sin? When I look into my heart I find only pity there; nothing more.

Excuse the writing, for my hand trembles greatly. Write soon, for charity’s sake, for we are shortly to leave this place, and I should like to receive a letter from you before we go. Your respectful daughter in Jesus Christ,

Lucía Gonzalez.
To those familiar with the conversational style of Father Urtazu, and who desire to have some knowledge of the epistolary style employed by so learned a man, the following letter will afford satisfaction:

Lucigüela of my sins: Ah, child, how well we know how to represent things so as to put our dear little selves in the best light! Pity, eh? I’ll give you pity! You did wrong, and very wrong, to write that letter without your husband’s knowledge, and I am not surprised that he should have behaved like a very dragon about it. You should have asked his permission; and if he had refused it—patience! Did I not tell you, child, that to be a good wife and to make the journey in peace you should put a couple of arrobas of patience in your trunks? We forget to do that, and this is the result. Go, unlucky child, and buy a supply of patience now where you are, and feed upon it, for you stand sorely in need of it. Your husband ought not to have insulted your good, kind father (although in some respects he deserves it, and I know myself the reason why), but remember that he was angry, and when{285} one is excited,—I, who have a hot temper myself, can make allowance for him! As I said before, patience, patience, and no more clandestine notes. What call had you to turn preacher? And there is no need to grieve. God tightens the cord, but he does not strangle; he is no executioner, and perhaps when you least expect it, he will send you consolation—as a gift, and not because of your own merits. And good-by, for the mail is closing; and besides, I have the lungs of a frog on the slide of a microscope, and I am going to study the manner in which those little people breathe. Remember to say a few prayers, eh? And that will take down our pride a little. The blessing of God and of San Ignacio be with you, child.

Alonzo Urtazu, S.J.
When these counsels reached her, Lucía had already done by instinct what Father Urtazu advised her to do. Mild and gentle now as a lamb, her every glance was a mute petition for pardon. Miranda persistently avoided looking at her, treating her with icy contempt. From the constant strain on her feelings, and her continued attendance on Pilar, the roses in Lucía’s cheeks had turned to lilies, and she had grown noticeably thinner, although her appetite continued good. One morning Duhamel called her aside, and said to her in his Portuguese-French.

“You must take care of your health, menina. Conservar-se. Vae cair doente. Less watching, less fatigue, regular sleep. So much nursing altera-the a saude.”{286}

“Do you think I shall take Pilar’s disease?” asked Lucía, in so tranquil a voice that Duhamel stared at her.

“No, it is not that.” And the physician, lowering his voice still more, entered into a long and serious conversation with her.

That night Lucía answered Father Urtazu’s letter in these words:

Dear Father: Blessed be your lips! for it almost seems as if you had the gift of prophecy, so true were your words when you said that I should receive consolation. I am wild with joy, and I hardly know what I am writing…. A child! what happiness, Father Urtazu! To-morrow I am going to begin working on the baby-clothes, that the little angel may not run any risk of coming into the world, like our Lord, without swaddling clothes in which to wrap him. I am putting a great deal of nonsense in this letter and a few tears, too, but not like the last—these are tears of joy.

To-morrow or the day after we shall leave Vichy. Miranda and I are to spend a few days in Paris before returning to Leon. (I am wild to be there to tell father the news; don’t tell him you, however; I want to give him a surprise.) Poor Pilar and her brother are going on to Spain, if the state of her health will admit of it, and she has not to stop at some place on the road—to die, perhaps. For I am not deceived by her apparent improvement; she is marked for death. What I regret most is to have to leave her two or three weeks before—But I am so happy that I don’t want to think of that. Offer up a prayer for me.

CHAPTER XIII.
The Gonzalvos were unable to go on to Spain, for midway on the journey Pilar was seized with symptoms so alarming, such sweats, swoons, fits of retching and exhaustion, that they thought her last hour was at hand, and that it would be fortunate if she reached Paris alive; in which case Doctor Duhamel was not without hope that a few days rest there would restore her strength sufficiently to allow of their proceeding on their way. Miranda, who had thought himself already rid of the dying girl, whom, although he did not nurse her himself, it annoyed him to see others nursing, accepted this change of program with ill-concealed discontent; Lucía, who could not reconcile herself to the idea of deserting her friend on the brink of the grave, as it were, with a lightening of the heart; and Perico, confident as he was that his sister would lack no attention, with the secret determination to see all there was to be seen in Paris. As for Pilar herself, possessed by the strange optimism characteristic of her malady, she manifested great delight at the prospect of visiting the capital of luxury and fashion, resolving to make her purchases for the winter there that she might be as good as “those affected Amézegas.”{288}

They arrived in the great French capital on a dark and foggy morning and were at once assailed by innumerable runners from the hotels, each calling their attention to his omnibus and disputing their possession with his rivals. One of these runners, with a dark face crossed by a long scar, approached Miranda and said to him in good Spanish:

“Hotel de la Alavesa, Señor—Spanish spoken—Spanish waiters—olla served every day—Rue Saint-Honoré, the most central situation.”

“It would be well to go there,” said Duhamel, touching Miranda on the arm. “In a Spanish hotel a doente will receive better attention.”

“Let us go, then,” said Miranda resignedly, giving the check for his luggage to the runner. “Look here,” he added, addressing Perico, “you and I will go with the luggage in the hotel omnibus, and we will send Lucía and Pilar in one of those hackney-coaches—they do not jolt so much.”

They carried Pilar almost bodily from the railway carriage to the coach. The runner installed himself on the box after giving many charges and instructions to the postillion of the omnibus, and the driver whipped up his sorry-looking nag. After driving through several{289} broad and magnificent streets they stopped in front of the Hotel de la Alavesa, and Lucía, springing lightly as a bird to the ground, said to the runner:

“Do me the favor to assist me in helping this young lady out of the carriage, she is ill.”

But suddenly recognizing the man’s face, she cried excitedly:

“Sardiola!”

“Señorita!” responded the Biscayan, showing no less joy, cordiality, and surprise than Lucía had done. “And I did not recognize you! How stupid of me! But one sees so many travelers at that blessed station, meeting them there when they arrive, and taking them there when they are going away, that it is not to be wondered at.”

And after looking at Lucía for a few moments longer, he added:

“But the truth is, too, that you yourself are greatly changed. Why, you don’t look like the same person as when Señorito Ignacio was with you——”

At the sound of this name, so long unheard by her, Lucía turned as red as a cherry, and dropping her eyes, she murmured:

“We will go at once to our rooms. Come, Pilar. Here, put your arm around my neck—now the other around Sardiola’s—don’t be{290} afraid to lean; there! Shall we carry you in the queen’s chair?”

And the Biscayan and her valorous friend, crossing hands, raised the sick girl gently in the improvised throne, on which she sank like an inert mass, letting her head fall on Lucía’s shoulder. In this way they went up-stairs to the entresol, where Sardiola showed the two women into a large and airy room, containing the customary marble mantle-piece, the immense beds with hangings, the moquette carpet, somewhat soiled and worn in places, the wash-stand and the traditional clothes-rack. The windows of the room looked out into a small garden, in the center of which was a light kiosk constructed of wood and glass, which served as a bath-house. They placed Pilar in an arm-chair and Sardiola stood waiting for further orders. His eyes, dark and brilliant as those of a Newfoundland pup, were fixed on Lucía with a submissive and affectionate look truly canine. She, on her side, had to bite her lips to keep back the questions which crowded impatiently to them. Sardiola, divining her thoughts with the loyal instinct of the domestic animal, anticipated her words.

“If the ladies should need anything,” he said hesitatingly, as if fearing to seem intrusive, “let{291} them call upon me at any time. If I am at the station, Juanilla will come; she is the chambermaid of this floor—an obliging girl, and quick as lightning. But if ever I can be of any service—well, it would delight me greatly; it is enough for me to have seen the Señorita with Señorito Ignacio——”

And as Lucía remained silent, questioning only with the mute and ardent language of the eyes, the Biscayan continued:

“Because—did the Señorita not know? Well it was the Señorito himself who got me this place. As the Alavese took Juanilla, who is a cousin of mine, with her and it made me, well—sad, to see those hills which no one but us country lads and the wild beasts had, with God’s help, ever climbed before, overrun by government troops, and, in short, as I was dying of sadness in that station, I wrote to the Señorito—his mother, may her soul rest in glory, was still living—and he recommended me to the Alavesa, and here I am at your service, living in clover.”

Lucía’s eyes continued their mute questioning, more eager than ever. Sardiola continued:

“But what most pleased me was to live so near the Señorito——”

“So near?” mutely asked the shining eyes.

“So near,” he said in response, “so very{292} near that—why it is delightful!—you have only to cross the garden there to reach his house.”

Lucía ran to the balcony, and, as pale as wax, looked with wild eyes at the building opposite. Sardiola followed her to the window and even the sick girl turned her head around with curiosity.

“Look there,” explained Sardiola. “Do you see that wall there and that other wall which joins it at a right angle? Well, those are the walls of the hotel. Now look at that other wall, which forms the third side of the square—that is the wall of Don Ignacio’s house; it opens on the Rue de Rivoli. Do you see those steps leading into the garden? You ascend by those into the corridor on the first floor, into which the dining-room opens—a very handsome room! The whole house is handsome. Don Ignacio’s father accumulated a great deal of money. Do you see that little tree there at the foot of the steps, that sickly-looking plane tree? That is where the Señorito used to take his mother to sit to breathe the air; she died of a disease the name of which I don’t remember, but which means—well, that the heart becomes greatly enlarged—and as she had dreadful fits of oppression at times so that she could scarcely breathe, just{293} like a fish when it is taken out of the water; she had to be brought down into the garden, and even then there was not air enough for her, and she would sit for an hour trying to get her breath. If you had seen the Señorito! That was what might be called devotion! He supported her head, he warmed her feet with his hands, he kissed her a thousand times in an hour, he fanned her—well, it was a sight worth seeing! A purer soul God never sent into the world nor shall we see another like her in our time. After death the blessed saint looked so smiling and so natural and so handsome, with her fair hair! He it was that looked like a dead person; if he had been lying in the coffin any one would have taken him for the corpse.”

“Silence!” the eloquent eyes suddenly commanded.

And Sardiola obeyed. Duhamel, Miranda, and Perico were entering the room. Duhamel examined the apartment minutely and declared it, in his Lusitanian-French jargon, to be sheltered, convenient, not too high, yet well ventilated, and in every way suitable for the patient. Miranda and Perico retired to the adjoining room to wash themselves after the journey, and tacitly, without debating the question, it was decided that patient and{294} nurse should room together, and that the two men should occupy together also the room in which they were. Miranda interposed no objection to this sacrifice on Lucía’s part; for Duhamel, calling him aside, informed him that the disease was rapidly nearing its fatal termination, and that he thought the sick girl could hardly live a month longer, in view of which fact Miranda silently resolved to depart with his wife in eight or ten days’ time under some pretext or other. But fate, which had ordained that these events should have a very different dénouement, disposed matters in such a way, employing Perico as her instrument, that Miranda very soon began to find himself contented, diverted, and happy in this Parisian Babylon; this gulf among whose reefs and shoals the artful Gonzalvo piloted him with more skill and dexterity than singleness of purpose.

“What the deuce, what the deuce are you going to bury yourself in Leon for now?” exclaimed Perico. “You will have time enough, time enough to bore yourself there! Take my advice and avail yourself of the opportunity. Why, you are well enough now! Those waters have made you look ten years younger.”

The sly fellow knew very well what he was about. Neither her father nor her aunt had manifested any very great desire to come and{295} take care of Pilar, and he foresaw that on him would devolve the disagreeable office of sick nurse. His mind, fertile in wiles, suggested a thousand artifices by which to charm Miranda in that magical city that of itself turns the heads of all who set foot in it. Lucía’s husband made acquaintance with the refinements of the French cuisine in the best restaurateurs, (close your eyes, ye purists!) and the experienced gourmet of middle age came to take a profound interest in the question as to whether the sauce Holandaise were better in this restaurant or in the one two doors below, and when the stuffed mushrooms had their richest flavor. In addition to these gastronomic enjoyments he took pleasure in frequenting the variety theaters, of which there are so many in Paris. He was amused by the comic songs, the contortions of the clown, the rollicking music, and the airy and almost Eden-like costumes of the nymphs, who went disguised as saucepans, violins, or puppets. It is even stated—but on evidence insufficient to establish it as a historical fact—that the illustrious ex-beau sought to recall his past glories and to refresh his dry and withered laurels, and selected for his victim a certain proscenium-rat, in the high-sounding language of the stage, called Zulma, although every one was well aware that in less exalted{296} regions she might be called Antonia, Dionisia, or the like. This creature sang with inimitable grace the refrains of certain chansonnettes, and it was enough to make one split one’s sides laughing to see her when, with her hand on her hip, her right leg in the air, a wink in her eye, and parted lips she uttered some slang expression—a cry from the fish-stands or the market, repeated by her rosy mouth for the delectation and delight of the audience. Nor were these the only graces and accomplishments of the singer, for the choicest part of her repertory, the quintessence of her art, she kept rather for her hours of dalliance with those fortunate mortals who succeeded in obtaining access, well-provided with gold-dust, to this Danaë of the stage. What feline wiles did she employ with her adorers; calling grave men of sixty her little mice, her little dogs, her little cats, her bébés, and other endearing and delightful names, sweeter to them than honey. And what shall I say of the incomparable humor and grace with which she held between her pearly teeth a Russian pipe while she sent into the air wreaths of blue smoke; the contraction of her lips, accentuating the curves of her retroussé nose and the dimples of her puffed-out cheeks? What of the skill with which she balanced herself on two chairs at once without sitting, properly{297} speaking, on either of them, since her shoulders rested against the back of the one and her heels on the seat of the other? What of the agility and dexterity with which she swallowed in ten minutes ten dozen of raw oysters, accompanied with two or three bottles of Rhine wine, so that it almost seemed as if her throat had been annointed with oil to let them slip down smoothly? What of the smiling eloquence with which she proved to some friend that such or such a diamond ring was too small for his finger while it fitted hers as if it had been made for it? In short, if the adventure that was then whispered in the corridors of a certain variety theater and at the table d’hôte of the Alavesa seems unworthy of the traditional splendor of the house of Miranda, at least it is but just to record that its heroine was the most entertaining, cajoling, and dangerous of the feline tribe that then mewed discordantly on the Parisian stage.

While Perico and Miranda kept off the blues in this way, Pilar’s remaining lung was gradually being consumed, as a plank is consumed with dry-rot. She did not grow worse because that was now impossible, and her existence, rather than life, was a lingering death, not very painful, disturbed only by an occasional fit of coughing which threatened to choke her. Life{298} was in her like the flickering flame of a candle burned to the socket, which the slightest movement, the least breath of air will suffice to extinguish. She had lost her voice almost entirely, so that she could speak only in soft, low tones, such as a drum stuffed with cotton might emit. Fits of somnolence, frequent and protracted, would overpower her, periods of profound stupor, of utter exhaustion, which simulated and foreshadowed the final repose of the tomb. Her eyes closed, her body motionless, her feet side by side as if she already lay in her coffin, she would lie for hours and hours on the bed, giving no other sign of life than a faint, sibilant breathing. It was generally at the noonday hour that this comatose sleep took possession of her, and her nurse, who could do nothing for her but leave her to repose, and who was oppressed by the heavy atmosphere of the room, impregnated with the emanations from the medicines and the vapor of the perspiration—atoms of this human being in process of dissolution—would go out on the balcony, descend the stairs leading into the garden, and seating herself in the shade of the stunted plane tree, would pass there the hours of the siesta, sewing or crocheting. Her work consisted of diminutive shirts, bibs equally diminutive, petticoats neatly scalloped. In this{299} sweet and secret occupation the hours passed by unnoticed, and occasionally the needle would slip from her skillful fingers and the silence, the solitude, the serenity of the heavens, the soft rustle of the sickly looking trees would tempt the industrious needlewoman into a pensive revery. The sun darted his golden arrows through the foliage across the sanded paths at this hour, and the air was dry and mild. The walls of the hotel and of Artegui’s house formed a sort of natural stove, attracting the solar heat and diffusing it through the garden. The railing which shut in the square bordered the Rue de Rivoli, and through its bars could be seen pass by, enveloped in the blue mists of evening, coaches, light victorias, landaus, whirled rapidly along by their costly teams, equestrians who at a distance looked like puppets, and workmen who looked like shadows cast from a Chinese lantern. In the distance gleamed at intervals the steel of a stirrup, the gay color of a gown or of a livery, the varnished spokes of a swiftly revolving wheel. Lucía’s attention was attracted by the many varieties of horses. There were Normandy horses with powerful haunches, strong necks and lustrous coats, deliberate in pace, that drew, with a movement at once powerful and gentle, the heavy vehicles to which they{300} were harnessed; there were English horses with long necks, ungraceful, but stylish, that trotted with the precision of marvelous automatons; Arabian horses, with flashing eyes, quivering and dilated nostrils, shining hoofs, dry coats, and thin flanks; Spanish horses—although of these there were but few—with luxuriant manes, superb chests, broad loins, and forefeet that proudly pawed the air. As the sun sank lower in the west, the carriages could be distinguished in the distance by the scintillation of the lamps, but their forms and colors all blending together confusedly, Lucía’s eyes soon wearied of the effort of following them, and with renewed melancholy she fixed her gaze on the puny and consumptive-looking plants of the garden. At times her solitude was broken in upon, not by any traveler, either male or female—for visitors to Paris as a general thing do not spend the afternoon under a plane tree working—but by Sardiola, in propria persona, who, under pretext of watering the plants, plucking up a weed here and there, or rolling the sand of the path, held long conversations with his pensive compatriot. Certain it is that they were never in want of a subject on which to talk. Lucía’s eyes were no less tireless in asking questions than Sardiola’s tongue was eager to respond to them. Never were matters{301} insignificant in themselves described with greater minuteness of detail. Lucía was now familiar with the eccentricities, the tastes and the ideas of Artegui, and knew by heart his traits of character, and the events of his life, which were in no wise remarkable. The reader may find matter for surprise in the fact that Sardiola should be so well acquainted with all that related to a man with whom his intercourse had been so slight, but it is to be observed that the Biscayan’s native place was at no great distance from the family estate of the Arteguis, and that he was the intimate friend of Ignacio’s former nurse, on whom the care of the solitary house now devolved. The pair held long and intimate conversations together in their diabolical dialect, and the poor woman never wearied of relating the wonderful sayings and doings of her nursling, which Sardiola heard with as much delight as if he had himself performed the feminine functions of Engracia. Through this channel Lucía came to have at her finger’s ends the minutest particulars regarding the disposition and character of Ignacio; his melancholy and silence as a child, his misanthropy as a youth, and many other details relating to his parents, his family, and his fortune. Does fate indeed at times please herself by bringing together mysteriously and by{302} tortuous ways two lives that constantly come in contact with and influence each other, without apparent cause or reason? Is it true that, as there are secret bonds of sympathy between souls, so there are other bonds connecting events, which link them together in the sphere of the material and the tangible?

“Don Ignacio,” said the good Sardiola, “was always so. You see they say that he never had any bodily ailment, not even so much as a toothache. But his nurse Engracia says that from the cradle he suffered from a kind of sickness of the soul or the mind, or whatever it may be called. When he was a child, he was subject to strange fits of terror when night came, without any known cause for them. His eyes would grow larger and larger like that” (Sardiola traced in the air with his thumb and forefinger a series of gradually widening circles) “and he would hide in a corner of the room, huddled up like a ball, and stay there without budging until morning dawned. He would never tell his visions, but one day he confessed to his mother that he saw terrible things—all the members of his family, with the faces of corpses, bathing and splashing about in a pool of blood. In short, a thousand wild fancies. The strangest part of the matter was that in the daytime the Señorito was as brave{303} as a lion, as everybody knows. At the time of the war it was a pleasure to see him. Why bless you! he would go among the balls as if they were sugar plums. He never carried arms, only a hanging satchel containing I don’t know how many things—bistouris, lancets, pincers, bandages, sticking-plaster. Besides this he had his pockets stuffed with lint and rags and cotton batting. I can tell you, Señorita, that if promotion were to be earned by showing no disgust for those good-for-nothing liberals, no one would be better entitled to it than Don Ignacio. On one occasion a bomb fell not two steps away from him. He stood looking at it, waiting for it to explode, no doubt, and if Sergeant Urrea, who was standing beside him at the time, had not caught him by the arm—— Why, he would not retire even when the enemy charged on us with the bayonet. In one of these charges a guiri[B] soldier—accursed be every one of his race—charged at him with his bayonet. And what do you suppose Don Ignacio did?—it would not have occurred even to the devil himself to do it—he brushed him aside with his hand as if he had been a mosquito, and the barbarian lowered his bayonet and allowed himself to be brushed aside. The Señorito gave him a look. Heavens! such a{304} look, half-serious, half-smiling, that must have made the boor blush for shame.”

[B] Government.

Then followed an account of the attentions lavished by the son upon his mother during her last illness.

“I fancy I can see them now. There, there where you are sitting, Doña Armanda; and he just here where I am standing, be it said with all respect. Well, he would bring her down into the garden and he would place her feet on a stool and put a dozen pillows of all sizes and shapes behind her head, to help the poor lady to breathe easier. And the potions! and the draughts!—digitalis here, atropina there. But it was all of no use—at last the poor lady died. Would you believe that Don Ignacio showed no extravagant grief? He is like a well; he keeps everything inside, so that, having no outlet, it suffocates him. But he did not deceive me with his calmness, for when he said to me, ‘Sardiola, will you watch by her with me to-night,’ I thought of—see what a foolish fancy, Señorita—but I thought of a cornet in our ranks who used to play a famous reveille, that was so clear and full and beautiful; and one day he played out of tune, and as we laughed at him he took his cornet and blew it and said, ‘Boys, my poor little instrument has met with a misfortune, and it has{305} cracked.’ Well, the same difference of sound that I noticed in the cornet of that fool, Triguillos, I noticed in the voice of the Señorito. You know what a sonorous voice he has, that it would be a pleasure to hear him give the word of command; but that day his voice was—well, cracked. In short, he himself arrayed Doña Armanda in her shroud, and he and I sat up with her, and at daybreak off to Brittany in a special train,—with the body in a lignum-vitæ coffin, trimmed with silver,—to the old castle, to bury the poor lady among her parents, her grandparents, and all the rest of her ancestors.”

Lucía, who, her work fallen on her lap, had been listening with all her faculties, now concentrated them in her eyes to put a mute question to Sardiola. The quick-witted Biscayan answered it at once.

“He has never come back since and no one knows what he intends to do. Engracia has not had a word from him. Although, indeed, for that matter, he never tells his plans to a living soul. Engracia is there alone by herself, for he dismissed all the other servants, rewarding them well, before he went away. She attends to the little, the nothing, indeed, there is to attend to, opening the windows occasionally, so that the dampness may not have it all{306} its own way with the furniture,—passing a duster——”

Lucía turned her head and looked intently at the windows, closed at the time, behind which she could see passing at intervals the figure of an elderly woman, whose head was covered with the traditional Guipuscoan cap, fastened with its two gilt pins.

“The house ought to be taken care of,” continued Sardiola, “for that blessed Doña Armanda kept it like a silver cup—it is handsomely furnished and very spacious. And now that it occurs to me,” he exclaimed suddenly, slapping his forehead, “why don’t you go to see it, Señorita? I will speak to Engracia, she will show us over it. Come, make up your mind to go.”

“No,” answered Lucía faintly; “what for?”

“Why, to see it, of course. You will see Señorito Ignacio’s room, with his books and the toys he had when he was a child, for his nurse Engracia has kept them all.”

“Very well, Sardiola,” answered Lucía, as if asking a respite. “Some day when I am in the humor. To-day I am not in the mood for it. I will tell you when I am.”

Lucía was, in fact, greatly preoccupied by a matter which gave more anxiety to her than to any one else. Duhamel had told her that{307} Pilar’s end was drawing near, and Pilar, who had not the slightest suspicion of this, gave no indication of wishing to prepare her soul for the solemn change. They talked to her of God, and she answered, in a scarcely audible voice, with remarks about fashions or pleasure parties; they wished to turn her thoughts toward solemn things and the unhappy girl, with scarcely a breath of life left in her body, uttered some jest that sounded funereal, coming from her livid lips.

All Lucía’s pious eloquence was of no avail to conquer the invincible and beneficent illusion that remained with Pilar to the last. She appealed to Miranda and Perico, but they both shrugged their shoulders and declared themselves altogether inexperienced in such duties and but little adapted for them. The very day on which it occurred to her to speak to them of the matter, they had a supper arranged with Zulma and some of her gay companions in the snuggest and most retired little dining-room at Brébant’s—a fit time this to think of such things. Lucía, however, found some one to help her out of her difficulty, and this was no other than Sardiola, who was acquainted with a Jesuit, a compatriot of his, Father Arrigoitia, and who brought him in a trice. Father Arrigoitia was as tall as a bean-pole, with stooping shoulders;{308} and was as gentle and insinuating in his manners as his compatriot, Father Urtazu, was harsh and abrupt. He made his first visit with the pretext of bringing news from Pilar’s aunt; he returned to inquire, with a great appearance of interest, about the bodily health of the sick girl; he brought her some earth from the holy grotto of Manresa, and some pectoral lozenges of Belmet, all wrapped up carefully together; and, in short, used so much tact and skill that after a week’s acquaintance with him Pilar asked of her own accord for what the Jesuit so greatly desired to give her. As Father Arrigoitia was leaving the room of the now dying girl, after having pronounced the words of absolution, he heard behind the door sobs, and a voice saying: “Thanks, many thanks!” Lucía was there, weeping bitterly.

“Give them to God,” answered the Jesuit gently. “Come, there is no occasion for grief, Señora Doña Lucía; on the contrary, we have cause for congratulation.”

“No, no; I am weeping for joy,” answered the nurse. And as the black cassock and the tall belted figure of the Jesuit were receding from view, she softly called to him. The priest retraced his steps.

“I too, Father Arrigoitia, desire to confess myself, and soon, very soon,” she said.{309}

“Ah, very good, very good. But you are in no danger of death, thanks be to God. In San Sulpicio, in the confessional to the right, as you enter—I am always at your service, Señora. I shall return shortly to see our little patient. There, don’t cry, you look like a Magdalen.”

That afternoon Lucía went down as usual into the garden. But so exhausted was she both in mind and body that, leaning back against the trunk of the plane tree, she soon fell fast asleep. Before long she began to dream, and the oddest part of her dream was that she did not imagine she was in any strange or unknown place, but in the very spot where she sat in the garden, only that this, in the capricious mirroring of her dream, instead of being small and narrow, seemed to be enormous. It was the same garden but seen through a colossal magnifying-glass. The railing had receded far, far away into the distance and looked like a row of points of light on the horizon; and this increase in its size increased the gloom of the little garden, making it seem like a dry and parched field. Casting her eyes around, Lucía fixed her gaze on what seemed to be the front of Artegui’s house, from one of whose open windows issued a pale hand that made signs to her. Was it a man’s hand or a woman’s hand? Was it the hand of a living{310} being or of a corpse? Lucía did not know, but the mysterious beckoning of that unknown hand exercised a spell over her that grew stronger every moment and she ran on and on, trying to approach the house. But the field continued to stretch away; one sandy belt followed another; and after walking hours and hours she still saw before her the long row of sickly plane trees fading into the distance and Artegui’s house further off than ever. But the hand continued to beckon furiously, impatiently, like the hand of an epileptic agitating itself in the air; its five fingers resembled whirling asps, and Lucía, breathless, panting, continued to run on and on, and one plane tree succeeded another and the house was still in the distance. “Fool that I am!” she cried, “since I cannot reach it running, I will fly.” No sooner said than done; with the ease with which one flies in dreams, Lucía stood on tip-toe, and presto! she was in the air at a bound. Oh, happiness! oh, bliss! the field lay beneath her, she winged her way through the serene, pure blue atmosphere; and now the house was no longer distant, and now there was an end to the interminable row of plane trees, and now she distinguished the form to which the hand belonged. It was a form, slender, without being meager, surmounted by a countenance{311} manly, though of a melancholy cast, but which now smiled kindly, with infinite tenderness. How fast Lucía flew! how blissfully she drew her breath in the serene atmosphere! Courage, it is but a little distance now! Lucía could hear the flapping of her wings, for she had wings, and the grateful coolness refreshed her heart. Now she was close beside the window.

Suddenly she felt two sharp pains pierce her flesh as if she had received two wounds at once, made by two different weapons; hovering in the air above her she saw an enormous pair of shears, two white dove’s wings stained with blood fell to the ground, and losing her power she, too, fell, down, down, not on the soil of the garden, but into an abyss, a deep, deep gulf. At the bottom two lights were burning, and the pitying eyes of a woman dressed in white were fixed upon her. It seemed to her as if she had fallen into the grotto at Lourdes—it could be no other; it was exactly as she had seen it in the church of St. Louis at Vichy, even to the roses and the chrysanthemums of the Virgin. Oh, how fresh and beautiful was the grotto with its murmuring spring! Lucía longed to reach it—but as generally happens in nightmares, she was wakened by the shock of her fall.{312}

CHAPTER XIV.
A few days after she had made her confession, Pilar expired. Her death was almost sweet, and altogether different from what they had expected it would be, inasmuch as it was painless. A more severe fit of coughing than usual interrupted her respiration and the flame of life went out, as the flame goes out in a lamp when the oil is exhausted. Lucía was alone with the sick girl at the time, supporting her while she was coughing, when suddenly dropping her head forward she expired. The horrible malady, consumption, has so many different phases and aspects that, while some of its victims feel life slowly ebbing away from them hour by hour, others fall into eternity as suddenly as the wild animal falls into the snare. Lucía, who had never seen any one die before, did not suppose that this was anything more than a deep swoon; she could not think that the spirit abandoned, without a greater struggle and sharper pangs, its mortal tenement. She ran out of the room calling for assistance. Sardiola was the first to come to the bedside in answer to her cries, and shaking his head he said, “It is all over.” Miranda and Perico came shortly afterward; they were both in the hotel at the time, it being eleven{313} o’clock, the hour at which they left the bed for the breakfast table. Miranda raised his eyebrows when he received the intelligence and setting his voice in a solemn key, said:

“It was to be feared, it was to be feared. Yes, we knew she was very ill. But so suddenly, good heavens!—it does not seem possible.”

As for Perico, he hid his face in his hands, and murmured more than thirty times in succession, “Good heavens! Good heavens! What a misfortune! What a misfortune!” And I must add, in honor of the sensibility of the illustrious schemer, that he even changed countenance perceptibly, and that he made desperate attempts to shed, and did at last succeed in shedding a few of those drops called by poets the dew of the soul. I have not wished to omit these details lest it might be thought that Perico was heartless, the fact being that curious and minute statistical researches show him to have been less so than two-thirds of the progeny of Adam. Sorrowful and dejected in very truth, he allowed Miranda to lead him to his room, and it has also been ascertained for a fact that in the whole course of that day no other nourishment passed his lips than two cups of tea and a boiled egg, which at nightfall extreme debility obliged him to swallow.{314}

Father Arrigoitia and Doctor Duhamel, in union with Miranda, empowered by telegraph by the sorrowing family of Gonzalvo, provided the dead girl with all that she now needed—a shroud and a coffin. Pilar, arrayed in the robe of a Carmelite nun, was placed in the casket which was laid on the bed she had occupied when living. Candles were lighted and the body left, in accordance with the Spanish custom, in the chamber of death, the French custom being to place the corpse, surrounded by lighted candles, at the entrance to the room, in order that every one who passes the door may sprinkle it with holy water, using for the purpose a sprig of box floating in a vessel standing near by. The funeral services and the interment were to take place on the following day.

The arrangements for these were soon made, and at about three in the afternoon, Father Arrigoitia was already reading from his breviary, beside the open window in the chamber of death (from which all traces of disorder had disappeared), the prayers for the dead, Lucía answering “Amen” between her sobs. The flame of the tapers, paled by the glorious brightness of the sun, showed like a reddish point of light, with the black line of the wick strongly marked in the center. The rumbling{315} of approaching and receding carriage wheels could be heard, causing the windows to rattle as they passed by; and above the noises of the street the voice of the Jesuit father, saying:

“Qui quasi putredo consumendus sum, et quasi vestimentum quod comeditur a tinea.”

As if in protest to the funeral hymn, the glorious winter sun darted his rays upon the bowed gray head of the priest, and lighted with warm tones Lucía’s neck, bowed also.

And the prayer continued:

“Hen mihi, Domine, quia peccavi nimis in vita mea.”

A sunbeam, brighter and more daring than its fellows, stole into the room and fell across the form of the dead girl. Pilar was wasted away almost to a skeleton; death had bestowed neither beauty nor majesty on this body, emaciated, diseased, and consumed by fever. The white head-dress brought into relief the greenish pallor of the sunken countenance. She seemed to have shrunk and diminished in size. Her expression was undecided, between a smile and a grimace. Her teeth, of an ivory hue, were visible. On her breast gleamed in the sunlight the metal of a crucifix which Father Arrigoitia had placed between her hands.{316}

The Jesuit and the friend of the dead girl prayed for about an hour. At the end of that time the priest rose, saying that he would return to watch beside the body after he had attended to some urgent business, which required his presence at his own house. He looked at Lucía and, noticing that her cheeks were pale and her eyes swollen, he said to her kindly:

“Go rest a little, child; you are as pale as the corpse. God does not require that you should treat yourself in this way.”

“Instead of resting, father,” returned Lucía. “I will go down into the garden to breathe the fresh air awhile—Juanilla will remain here. I feel the need of air, my head is burning.”

The Jesuit fixed his glance on her anew, and, suddenly putting his mouth close to her ear, he whispered, as if he were in the confessional:

“Now that this poor girl is dead, you know what my advice is, do you not? Put miles between you, daughter; this neighborhood, this place does not suit you. Return to Leon. If I chance to be sent there—I shall be able to congratulate you.”

And as Lucía gave him an eloquent glance, he added:

“Yes, yes, put miles between you. How many sick souls have I cured with only this{317} remedy! Well, good-by, good-by for a little while. Yes, my dear child, yes; God keeps an account of all these things in Heaven.”

“Father, I wish I were in her place,” murmured Lucía, pointing to the dead girl.

“Holy Virgin! No, child. You must live in order to serve God by fulfilling his will. Good-by for a while, eh?”

When Lucía went down into the garden, to her eyes, fatigued with weeping, it seemed less sickly-looking and arid than usual. The yucas raised their majestic heads wearing perennial crowns; the plants exhaled a faint rural odor, more grateful, at any rate, than the odor of the wax. The sun was sinking low in the west, but his rays still gilded the points of the lance-shaped heads of the railings. Lucía, from habit, seated herself under the plane tree, which the blasts of winter had despoiled of its last withered leaf. The quiet of this solitary retreat brought familiar thoughts again to her mind. No, Lucía could weep no more; her dry eyes could not shed another tear; what she desired was rest—rest. God and nature had forbidden her to wish for death; so that, employing an ingenious subterfuge, she wished for a long sleep, a sleep without end. While she was absorbed in these thoughts, she saw Sardiola running toward her.{318}

“Señorita! Señorita!” The good Biscayan was panting for breath.

“What is the matter?” she asked, languidly raising her head.

“He is there,” said Sardiola, gasping.

“He is—there.” Lucía sat erect, rigid as a statue, and pressed her hands to her heart.

“The Señorito—Señorito Ignacio. He arrived this morning—he is going away again to-night—where, no one knows—he refused to see me—Engracia says he looks worse even than when he left for Brittany.”

“Sardiola,” said Lucía, in a faint voice, feeling her heart contract until it seemed to be no bigger than a hazelnut; “Sardiola——”

“I must go back, they need me at every moment. On account of to-day’s misfortune there are a hundred errands to be done. Can I do anything for you, Señorita?”

“Nothing.” And Lucía’s faint voice died away in her throat. There was a buzzing sound in her ears, and railing, walls, plane tree and yucas seemed to whirl around her. There are in life supreme moments like this, when feeling, long suppressed, rises mighty and triumphant, and proclaims itself master of the soul. It was this already; but the soul was perhaps ignorant, or only vaguely conscious of its subjection, when suddenly it feels itself stamped,{319} as with a red-hot iron, with the seal of its bondage. Although the comparison may appear irreverent, I shall say that the same thing happens here, in a measure, as in conversions; the soul wavers, undecided for a time, knowing neither what course it is taking, nor what is the cause of its disquiet, until a voice from on high, a dazzling light, suddenly come to dispel every doubt. The assault is swift, the resistance faint, the victory sure.

The sun was sinking rapidly in the west, the garden was in shadow, Sardiola, the faithful watch-dog who had given the alarm, was no longer there. Lucía looked around with wandering gaze, and put her hand to her throat, as if she were strangling. Then she fixed her eyes on the house opposite as if by some magic art its walls of stone could transform themselves into walls of glass, and disclose to her what was within. She gazed at it fascinated, suppressing the cry that rose to her lips. The dining-room door stood ajar. This was not unusual, the nurse Engracia frequently standing at its threshold of an afternoon to breathe the fresh air and chat awhile with Sardiola; but there was something now in the aspect of the half-open door that froze Lucía’s heart with terror, and at the same time filled her soul with ardent joy. Through her brain, incapable of{320} thought, ran the refrain, with the monotonous regularity of the ticking of a clock:

“He came this morning; he is going away to-night.”

Then, her nerves irritated by this iteration, the sounds blended confusedly together and she heard clearly only the last word of the refrain—“night, night, night,” which seemed to sink and swell like those luminous points that we see in the darkness during sleepless hours, which approach and recede, without apparent change of place, by the mere vibration of their atoms. She pressed her temples between her hands as if she sought to arrest the movement of the persistent pendulum, and rising, walked slowly, step by step, toward the vestibule of Artegui’s house. As she put her foot on the first step of the stairs, there was a buzzing in her ears like the humming of a hundred gadflies, that seemed to say:

“Do not go; do not go.”

And another voice, low and mysterious, like the voice of the wind among the dry boughs of the plane tree, murmured in a prolonged whisper:

“Go, go, go!”

She mounted the steps. When she reached the second step she stumbled forward, tripping on the hem of her merino dressing-gown, which{321} she now noticed, for the first time, not only bore the traces of her attendance in the sick room, but was both ugly and of an unfashionable cut. She noticed, too, that her cuffs were limp and wet with the tears she had lately shed, and on her skirt were bits of thread, evidences of her sewing. She passed both hands over her dress, mechanically brushing off the threads, and smoothed out her cuffs as she went toward the door. Here she hesitated again, but the semi-obscurity that now reigned gave her courage. She pushed open the door and found herself in a large and gloomy apartment—the dining-room, whose dark, leather-covered walls, high presses of carved oak, and chairs of the same wood, gave it an air of still greater gloom.

“This is the dining-room,” said Lucía aloud, and she looked around in search of the door. It was situated at the far end, fronting the door which led from the garden. Lucía walked toward it, raised the heavy portière, turned the knob with her trembling hand, and emerged into a corridor which was almost dark. She stood there breathless and uncertain which way to turn, regretting now that she had so persistently refused to visit the house before. Suddenly she heard a sound, the rattling of plate and china. Engracia was doubtless washing{322} the dishes in the kitchen. She turned and walked along, the corridor in the opposite direction. The thick carpet deadened the sound of her footsteps. She groped her way along the wall in search of a door. At last she felt a door yield to her touch, and, still groping, she entered a small room, stumbling, as she went, over various objects; among others, the metal bars of a bedstead. From this room she passed into another and much larger apartment, faintly illuminated by the expiring daylight, that entered through a high window. Lucía immediately came to the conclusion that this must be Artegui’s room. There were in it shelves laden with books, costly skins scattered around carelessly on the carpet, a divan, a panoply of handsome weapons, some anatomical figures, a massive writing-table littered with papers, several bronze and terra-cotta figures, and above the divan hung the portrait of a woman whose features she was unable to distinguish. Half-fainting, Lucía dropped on the sofa, clasping both hands over her breast that heaved with the wild throbbing of her heart, and said aloud:

“His room!”

She remained thus for a time, without a thought, without a wish, abandoning herself to the happiness of being here, in this spot, where{323} Artegui had been. Night was rapidly approaching, and she would soon have found herself in utter darkness if some one had not just then lighted a lamp outside, whose light entered through the window. At sight of the light Lucía started.

“It must be night,” she exclaimed, this time also aloud.

A thousand thoughts rushed through her mind. No doubt they were already inquiring about her in the hotel. Perhaps Father Arrigoitia had already returned, and they might even now be searching for her in the garden, in her room, everywhere. She herself did not know why it was that the thought of Father Arrigoitia came to her mind before that of Miranda—but certain it is that her chief fear was that she might suddenly come face to face with the amiable Jesuit who would say to her, “Where have you been, my child?” Troubled by these fancies, she rose tremblingly to her feet, saying in a low tone to herself:

“It is not right to leave the corpse alone—alone.”

And she tried to find the door, but suddenly she stood motionless, like an automaton whose works have run down. She heard steps in the corridor, approaching steps, firm and resolute; no, they were not those of Engracia. The{324} door of the room opened, and a man entered. Lucía was now in the little room, concealed behind the curtain. This was not completely, drawn, and through the opening she saw the man light a match and then light a candle in one of the candlesticks; but the light was unnecessary, she had already recognized Artegui.

Yes, it was he, but he looked even more dejected, and his face bore stronger traces of suffering than when she had last seen him. His countenance was almost livid, his black beard heightening its pallor, and his eyes shone feverishly. He sat down at the table and began to write some letters. He was seated directly opposite Lucía, and she devoured him with her eyes. As he finished each letter she said to herself:

“I have seen him; I will go now.”

But she still remained. At last Artegui rose and did a curious thing; he went over to the portrait hanging above the divan and kissed it. Lucía, who had followed his every movement with intense interest, saw that the likeness was that of a woman who closely resembled Artegui, and softly murmured:

“His mother!”

The skeptic then opened a drawer in his writing-table, and drew from it an oblong shining object, which he examined with minute care.{325} He was absorbed in his occupation, when suddenly he felt his arm grasped convulsively and saw beside him a woman with a countenance paler than his own, eyes fixed and burning like two coals of fire, lips parted to speak but mute, mute. He dropped the pistol on the floor and caught hold of her. Her form yielded to his touch like a flower broken on its stem, and he found himself with Lucía lying insensible in his arms.

Alarmed, he laid her on the divan, and going to his dressing-room brought from it a bottle of lavender water, which he poured over her brow and temples, at the same time tearing open her gown to allow her to breathe more freely. Not for an instant did it occur to him to call Engracia; on the contrary, he murmured in low tones:

“Lucía, do you hear me? Lucía—Lucía; it is I, only I—Lucía!”

She opened her dazed eyes and answered in a voice low, also, but clear:

“I am here, Don Ignacio. Where are you?”

“Here, here—do you not see me?—here at your side.”

“Yes, yes; I see you now. Is it really you?”

“Tell me, I entreat you, Lucía, what this—this miracle means. How did you come here?”{326}

“Tell you—tell you—I cannot, Don Ignacio—my head feels confused. As you were here, I wished to see you and I said to myself, I must see him. No, it was not I that said so; it was a chorus of little birds that sang it within me, and so I came. That is all.”

“Rest,” said Artegui, in gentlest accents, as if he were speaking to a child. “Lean your head on the cushion. Would you like a cup of tea—or anything else? Do you feel better now?”

“No, let me rest, let me rest.” Lucía closed her eyes, leaned back on the divan, and remained silent. Artegui gazed at her anxiously with dilated eyes, still trembling with excitement. He placed a footstool under her feet, over which he drew the folds of her gown. Lucía remained passive, murmuring disconnected words in a low voice, still slightly wandering, but speaking now less incoherently and with clearer enunciation.

“I don’t know how I came here—I was afraid, so much afraid of meeting some one—of meeting—Engracia—but I said to myself, on, on! Sardiola says he is going away to-day, and if he goes away—you too are going to Leon—and then, for all time to come, Lucía, unless it be in heaven, I don’t know where you will see him again! When thoughts like these{327} come to one’s mind, one is afraid of nothing. I trembled, I trembled like a leaf—it may be that I broke something in the little room—I should be sorry for it if I did—and I should be sorry, too, if Father Urtazu and Father Arrigoitia should blame me, as they will, oh, indeed they will—I shall tell them I only wanted to see him for an instant—as the light fell upon his face I could see him clearly; he looks so pale, always so pale! Pilar too, is pale, and I—and everybody—and the world, yes, the world that was rose-colored and azure before—but now—— Well, as I wanted to see him, I entered. The dining-room is large. Engracia was washing the dishes. How I ran! It was a chance to have found his room. It is a pretty room. His mother’s likeness is there—poor lady! Duhamel is a great doctor, but there are diseases for which there is no cure, as I well know, but the grave. That is a cure for everything. How pleasant it must be there—and here too. It is pleasant; one feels like sleeping, because——”

“Sleep, Lucía, my life, my soul,” murmured a passionate and vibrant voice. “Sleep, while I guard your slumbers, and fear nothing. Sleep; never in your cradle, watched over by your mother, did you sleep more secure. Let them come, let them come to seek you here!”{328}

Like a hind wounded by an arrow from some unseen hand, Lucía started at the sound of those words, and opening her eyes, and passing her hand over her forehead, she sprang to her feet and standing before Artegui looked around her, her cheeks flushed with sudden shame; her glance and her intelligence now clear.

“What is this?” she cried, in a changed voice—“I here—yes, I know now what brought me here, why I came and when—and I remember, too—ah! Don Ignacio, Don Ignacio! You must be surprised, and with good reason, to meet me again when you least expected. At what a moment did I come! Thanks, Holy Virgin; now I am in possession of all my senses and my reason, and I can throw myself at your feet, Don Ignacio, and say to you, ‘For God’s sake, by the memory of your mother who is in heaven,—by—by—all you hold sacred, never again, promise me, never again to think of taking the life you can employ so usefully!’ If I knew how to speak, if I were learned like Father Urtazu, I would put it in better words, but you know what I mean—is it not so?—promise me never again—never again——”

And Lucía, with disheveled hair, pathetic, beautiful, threw herself at Artegui’s feet and embraced his knees. Artegui raised her with difficulty.{329}

“You know,” he said, with confusion, “that I have attached little value to life; more, that I have hated it ever since I have realized its hollowness, and have known what a useless burden it is to man; and now that my mother is dead, and there is no one to feel my loss——”

A torrent of tears and sobs straight from the heart were Lucía’s answer. Artegui lifted her in his arms, and, placing her on the sofa, seated himself beside her.

“Don’t cry,” he said, speaking more composedly; “don’t cry; rejoice rather, for you have conquered. And is this to be wondered at since you embody the illusion dearest to man, the one illusion that is worth a hundred realities, the illusion that vanishes only with life! The most persistent and invincible of all the illusions that nature has contrived to attach us to life and prevent the world going back to chaos! Listen to me! I will not tell you that you are for me happiness, for happiness does not exist, and I will not deceive you; but what I will say is this, that for your sake a noble spirit may worthily prefer life to death. Among the deceptions which attach us to life, there is one that cheats us more sweetly than all the others, with delights so blissful, so intoxicating, that a man may well give himself up to a joy that,{330} though it be a fictitious one, can thus embellish and gild existence. Hear me, hear me. I have always shunned women, for knowing the mysterious doom of sorrow pronounced on man, the irremediable suffering of life, I did not wish to attach myself through them to this abode of misery, nor give life to beings who should inherit as their birthright suffering, the only inheritance which every human being has the certainty of transmitting to his children. Yes, I regard it as a matter of conscience to act thus and diminish by so much the sum of sorrows and evils; when I considered how overwhelming was this sum, I cursed the sun that engenders life and suffering on the earth; the stars that are the abodes of misery; the world that is the prison in which our doom is fulfilled, and finally love, love which sustains and preserves and perpetuates unhappiness, interrupting, in order to prolong it, the sacred repose of annihilation. Annihilation! Annihilation was the haven of repose which my weary spirit wished to reach. Annihilation, nothingness, absorption in the universe, dissolution for the body, peace and eternal silence for the spirit. If I had had faith, how beautiful and attractive and sweet would the cloister have seemed to me! Neither will, nor desire, nor feelings, nor passions—a robe of sackcloth,{331} a walking corpse beneath. But——” Artegui bent toward Lucía uneasily.

“Do you comprehend me?” he suddenly asked.

“Yes, yes,” she said, and a shiver ran through her frame.

“But I saw you,” continued Artegui. “I saw you by chance; by chance, too, and without any volition of my own, I remained for a time at your side, I breathed the same air, and against my will—against my will—I knew—I did not wish to acknowledge your victory to myself, nor did I know it until I left you to the embraces of another. Ah, how I have cursed my folly in not taking you with me then! When I received your letter of condolence, I was on the point of going to seek you——”

Artegui paused for a moment.

“You were the illusion. Yes, through you, nature, inexorable and persistent, once more entangled my soul in her snares. I was vanquished. It was not possible now to obtain the quietude of soul, the annihilation, the perfect and contemplative tranquillity to which I aspired; therefore I desired to end the life that each day grew more intolerable to me.”

He paused again, and, seeing that Lucía continued silent, added:

“It may be that you do not fully comprehend{332} me. There are things which, although true, are difficult of comprehension to those who hear them for the first time. But you will understand me if I tell you plainly that I will not die because I love you and you love me; and now, come what may, I will live.”

He pronounced these words with an energy that had more of violence than of love in it, and throwing his arms around Lucía, he drew her to him with resistless force. She felt as if she were clasped in a fiery embrace, in which her strength was gradually melting away, and summoning all the power of her will, by a desperate effort she tore herself from Artegui’s arms and stood trembling, but erect, before him. Her tall form, her gesture of supreme indignation might have made her seem like a Greek statue, had it not been for the black merino gown, which served to destroy the illusion.

“Don Ignacio,” stammered the young Leonese, “you deceive yourself, you deceive yourself. I do not love you—that is to say, not in that way; no, never!”

“Swear it, if you dare!” he thundered.

“No, no; it is enough for me to say so,” replied Lucía, with growing firmness. “Not that.” And she took two steps toward the door.{333}

“Listen to me for an instant,” he said, detaining her; “only for an instant. I have wealth, more than I can make use of. I have made arrangements to leave this place to-night. We are in a free country; we will go to a country still more free. In the United States no one asks any one where he comes from, whither he is going, who he is, or what is his business. We will go away together. A life spent together, do you hear? See, I know you desire it. Your heart urges you to consent. I know with absolute certainty that you are neither happy, nor well married; that your health is failing; that you suffer. Do not imagine that I do not know this. No one loves you but me, and I offer you——”

Lucía took two steps more, but this time toward Artegui, and with one of those rapid, childish, joyous gestures which women sometimes employ on the most solemn and serious occasions, she said to him:

“Do you believe that? Well then, Don Ignacio, God will send me by-and-by some one who will love me!”

Ignacio bent his head, vanquished by that cry of victorious nature. Lucía seemed to him the personification of the great Mother he had calumniated and cursed, that, smiling, fecund, provident and indulgent, symbolized life, indestructible{334} and inexhaustible, saying to him: “Foolish skeptic! see how unavailing are your efforts against me. I am eternal.”

“No matter,” he murmured, resigned and humble. “For that very reason I will respect your sacred rights.”

He caught her by the folds of her gown, and gently made her sit down again.

“Now let us talk together,” he said quietly. “Tell me why you refuse. I cannot understand you,” he added, with renewed vehemence. “Was it not love, was it not love you showed me on the journey and in Bayonne? Is it not love that makes you come here to-day—alone—to see me? Oh, you cannot deny it. You may invent a thousand sophisms, you may weave a thousand subtleties, but—it is plain to be seen! Do you know that if you deny it, you say what is not true? I did not know that in your innocent nature there was room for falsehood.”

Lucía raised her head.

“No, Don Ignacio,” she said, “I will speak the truth—I think it is better that I should do so now, for you are right, I came here—yes, you must hear me. I have loved you madly ever since that day at Bayonne—no, ever since the moment I first saw you. Now you know it. I am not to blame; it was against my will,{335} God knows. At first I thought it could not be possible, that all I felt for you was pity, and—well, gratitude, for all the services you had rendered me. I believed that a married woman could feel love for no one but her husband. If any one had told me it was that, I should certainly have denied it indignantly. But by dint of thinking—no, it was not I who made the discovery; I did not even suspect it. It was another person, one who knows more than I do about the mysteries of the heart. See, if I had known that you were happy, I should have been cured of my love—or if any one had shown me, in my turn, pity. Charity! Pity! I have it for every one and for me—no one, no one has it. So that—do you remember how light-hearted I was? You declared that my presence brought with it joy. Well—now I have fallen into the habit of indulging in thoughts as gloomy as your own—and of wishing for death. If it were not for the hope I have, nothing would make me happier than to lie down in Pilar’s place. I used to be strong and healthy—I never know now what it is to be well for a moment. This has come upon me like a thunderbolt. It is a punishment from God. The greatest bitterness of all is to think of you—that you must be unhappy in this world, lost in the next.”{336}

Artegui listened with mingled joy and pity.

“So that, Lucía——” he said meaningly.

“So that you who are so good, for if you were not good I should not have cared for you in this way, will let me go now. Or if you do not, I shall go without your leave, even if I should have to jump out of the window.”

“Unhappy woman!” he murmured gloomily, relapsing into his former state of dejection, “you have stumbled across happiness—that is to say, not happiness, but at least its shadow, but a shadow so beautiful——”

He rose to his feet suddenly, shaking himself and writhing like a lion in his death agony.

“Give me a reason!” he cried, “or I shall kill myself at your feet. Let me at least know why you refuse. Is it for your father’s sake? your husband’s? your child’s? the world’s? Is it——”

“It is,” she murmured, bending her head, and speaking with great sweetness, “it is for the sake of God.”

“God!” groaned the skeptic. “And if there be no——”

A hand was placed upon his mouth.

“Can you still doubt his existence when to-day, by a miracle—you yourself have said it—by a miracle—he preserved your life?”

“But your God is angry with you,” he objected.{337} “You offended him by loving me; you offend him by continuing to love me; by coming here you have offended him still more deeply——”

“Though I stood on the brink of perdition, though I were sinking in the flames of hell—my God is ready to save and to pardon me if my will be turned to Him. Now, now I will ask Him to save me.”

“And He will not save you,” replied Artegui, taking both her hands in his; “He will not save you; for wherever you may go, though you should hide yourself from me in the very center of the earth, though you should take refuge in the cell of a convent, you will still adore me, you will offend Him by thinking of me. No, the sincerity of your nature will not permit you to deny it. Ah! if one could only love or not love at will! But your conscience tells you plainly that, do what you may, I shall always be in your thoughts—always. And for the very reason that it horrifies you that this should be so, so it will be. And more—the day will come when, like to-day, you will desire to see me, although it be but for a moment, and overcoming all the obstacles that lie in your way, and breaking down the barriers that oppose themselves to your will, you will come to me—to me.”{338}

And he shook her violently by the wrists, as the hurricane shakes the tender sapling.

“God,” she murmured faintly, “God is more powerful than you or I or any one. I will ask Him to protect me and He will do it; He must do it; He will do it, He will do it.”

“No,” responded Artegui energetically. “I know that you will come, that you will fall, as the stone falls, drawn by its own weight, into this abyss or this heaven; you will come. See, I am so certain of this, that you need not fear now that I shall kill myself. I will not die because I know that one day you will inevitably come to me; and on that day—which will arrive—I wish to be still in the world that I may open my arms to you thus.”

Had not Lucía’s back been turned to the light, Artegui must have perceived the joy that diffused itself over her countenance, and the swift glance of gratitude she raised to heaven. He waited with outstretched arms. Lucía bowed her form, and, swift as the swallow that skims the crest of the waves in its flight across the seas, rushed toward him, and rested her head for an instant on his shoulder.

Then, and no less swiftly, she went toward the table, and taking from it the candlestick handed it to him and said in a firm and tranquil voice:{339}

“Show me the way out.”

Artegui led the way without uttering a word. His blood had suddenly cooled, and after the terrible crisis his habitual weariness and melancholy were greater than before. They passed through his room and entered the corridor in silence. In the corridor Lucía turned her head for an instant and fixed her eyes on Artegui’s countenance as if she wished to engrave his image in indelible characters on her memory. The light of the candle fell full upon it, bringing it out in strong relief against the dark background of the embossed leather that covered the walls. It was a handsome face; handsomer, even, from its expression and character than from the regularity of its features. The blackness of the beard contrasted with its interesting pallor, and its air of dejection made it resemble those dead faces of John the Baptist, so vigorous in chiaroscuro, produced by our national tragic school of painting. Artegui returned Lucía’s gaze with one so full of pain and pity that she could bear her feelings no longer, and ran to the door. At the threshold Artegui looked down into the dark recesses of the garden.

“Shall I accompany you?” he said.

“Do not advance a step. Put out the light, and close the door.”{340}

Artegui obeyed the first command; but, before executing the second, he murmured in Lucía’s ear:

“In Bayonne you once said to me, ‘Are you going to leave me alone?’ It is my turn to ask you the same question now. Remain. There is still time. Have pity on me and on yourself.”

“Because I have pity” she replied, in a choking voice, “for that very reason—farewell, Don Ignacio.”

“Good-by,” he answered, almost inaudibly. The door closed.

Lucía looked at the sky in which the stars were shining brightly, and shivered with cold. She knelt down in the vestibule and leaned her face against the door. At that moment she remembered a trivial circumstance—that the door was covered on the inner side with a brocade of a dark red color, harmonizing with the color of the leather on the walls. She did not know why she remembered this detail; but so it often happens in supreme moments like this, ideas come to the mind that possess no importance in themselves, and have no bearing on any of the momentous events which are taking place.

Miranda had gone out that afternoon,—to clear his brain, as he said. On his return to{341} the hotel, he went up to the death-chamber and found Juanilla watching there by the dead girl, and worn out with fatigue and terror. She said complainingly that the Señorita Lucía had asked her to watch for a little while in the room, but that she had now been a long, long time here, and that she could bear it no longer. Not the faintest misgiving entered the suspicious mind of Miranda, then, and he answered with naturalness:

“The Señorita has probably gone to lie down for a while, she must be very tired,—but you can go. I will send Sardiola to take your place.”

He did so; and the dinner-bell of the hotel sounding immediately afterward, he went down into the dining-room, having that day an excellent appetite, a thing by no means of daily occurrence in the present debilitated condition of his stomach. The bell was yet to ring twice before the soup should be served, and knots of the guests were standing about the room, conversing while they waited; the greater number of them were talking about Pilar’s death, in low tones, through consideration for Miranda, whom they knew to be her friend. But one group, composed of Navarrese and Biscayans, were talking aloud, the subject of their conversation being of a nature that called for no such precaution. Nevertheless,{342} so strongly was Miranda’s attention attracted by their words that he stood motionless, all his faculties concentrated in the one faculty of hearing, and scarcely daring to breathe. After listening for ten minutes he knew more than he desired to know: that Artegui was in Paris, that he lived in the neighboring house, and that his dwelling could be reached by crossing the garden, since one of the Biscayans mentioned that he had gone that way to visit him in the morning. The waiter, who was passing at the moment with a tray full of plates of steaming soup, signified to Miranda that he might now take his place at the table; but the latter, without heeding him, ran up-stairs like a madman and rushed into the chamber of death.

“Where is the Señorita Lucía?” he abruptly asked Sardiola, who was watching by the body.

“I do not know.” The Biscayan looked up and by a swift intuition he read in the distorted features of the husband a hundred things at once. Miranda rushed out like a rocket, and went through the rooms calling Lucía’s name. There was no answer. Then he went quickly out on the balcony and ran down into the garden.

A dark form at the same moment descended the stairs leading from the vestibule of Artegui’s home. By the light of the stars and of{343} the distant street lamps could be perceived the unsteadiness of the gait, the frequent pressing of the hands over the face. Miranda waited, like the hunter lying in wait for his prey. The figure drew nearer. Suddenly from a clump of bushes emerged the form of a man, and the silence was broken by a vulgar exclamation, which in polite language might be rendered:

“Shameless woman!”

Sounds of violence followed, and a body fell to the ground. At this moment another figure came running down the staircase of the hotel, and rushing between the two, bent down to raise Lucía from the ground. Miranda gesticulated wildly, and in a hoarse, choking voice, stuttering with rage, and throwing every vestige of good-breeding to the winds, cried:

“Out of this, boor, intermeddler! What business is this—is this of yours? I struck—struck her, because I had—had—had the right to do so, and because I wished to do it. I am her husband. If you don’t take yourself off without delay I will cut—cut you in two. I will let daylight through you.”

If Sardiola had been a stone wall he could not have paid less heed to the words of Miranda than he did. With supreme indifference to his threats, and with Herculean force, he took the unconscious form in his arms, and{344} thrusting the husband aside with a vigorous movement, carried his lovely burden up the stairs, not stopping till he had placed it on a sofa in the chamber of death. The madman followed close behind, but he controlled himself somewhat, seeing the warlike attitude and the flashing eyes of the Carlist ex-volunteer, who formed a rampart with his body for the defense of the insensible woman.

“If you do not take yourself off——” yelled Miranda, shaking his clenched fists.

“Take myself off!” repeated Sardiola quietly. “In order that you may strangle her at your ease. You ought to be ashamed of yourself to touch even so much as a thread of the Señorita’s garments.”

“But you—by what authority do you come here? Who has sent for you?” and Miranda’s countenance was convulsed with senile rage. “Begone!” he cried, with renewed anger, “or I shall find a weapon.” The bloodshot eyes of the husband glanced around the room until they fell upon the corpse, which preserved in the midst of all this violence its vague funereal smile. Sardiola, meantime, putting his hand into his waistcoat pocket, drew from it a medium-sized knife, probably used for cutting tobacco, and threw it at his adversary’s feet.{345}

“There is one!” he cried, with the proud and chivalric air so frequently seen among the Spanish populace. “God has given me good hands with which to defend myself.”

Miranda stood for a moment, hesitating, then his rage boiled over again and he yelled out:

“I warn you that I will use it! I will use it! Go away, then, before I lose my patience.”

“Use it,” replied Sardiola, smiling disdainfully, “let us see how much courage there is behind those bold words—for, as for my leaving the room—unless the Señorita herself commands me to do so——”

“Go, Sardiola,” said a faint voice from the sofa, and Lucía, opening her eyes, fixed them with a look of mingled gratitude and authority on the waiter.

“But Señorita, to go away and——”

“Go, I say.” And Lucía sat erect, apparently quite calm. Miranda held the knife in his right hand. Sardiola, throwing himself upon him, snatched the weapon from his grasp, and taking a sudden resolution ran out into the corridor shouting, “Help! help! the Señorita has been taken ill.” At his cries, two persons who had just come up the stairs hurried forward into the chamber of death. They were Father Arrigoitia and Duhamel, the physician. A strange scene met their view; at the foot of{346} the bed, on which lay the dead girl, a woman stood with outstretched hands trying to protect her sides and her bosom from the blows which a man was showering down upon her with his clenched fists. With a vigor not to be looked for in one of his frail physique, Father Arrigoitia rushed between the pair, receiving as he did so, if report speak truly, a blow or two on his venerable tonsured crown, and Duhamel, emulating, in the honor of science, the courage of the Jesuit, seized the furious man by the arm, and succeeded in preventing further violence. Pity it is that no stenographer could have been present at the time to take down the eloquent discourse, in broken French-Lusitanian-Brazilian, addressed by the doctor to Miranda for the purpose of demonstrating to him the cruelty and barbarity of striking in this way a menina, in Lucía’s condition. Miranda listened with a countenance that grew darker and darker every moment, while Father Arrigoitia lavished cares and affectionate attentions on the maltreated woman. Suddenly the husband confronted the doctor and asked something in a hoarse voice.

“Yes,” answered Duhamel, nodding his head affirmatively, with the quick and energetic movement of a pasteboard doll moved by a string.{347}

Miranda looked around the room, he fixed his eyes in turn on his wife, on the Jesuit, on the doctor. Then he took a hand of each of the two latter, and begged them, with much stuttering, to grant him an interview of a few minutes. They went into the adjoining room and Lucía remained alone with the corpse. She might almost have fancied all that had passed a terrible nightmare. Through the open window could be seen the dark masses of the trees of the garden; the stars shone brightly, inviting to sweet meditation; the tapers burned beside Pilar, and in Artegui’s dwelling the light could be seen shining behind the curtains. To descend ten steps and find herself in the garden, to cross the garden and find herself clasped to a loving heart, for her soft as wax, but hard as steel for her enemies—horrible temptation! Lucía pressed her hands with all her force to her heart, she dug her nails into her breast. One of the blows which she had received caused her intense pain; it was on the shoulder blade, and it seemed as if a screw were twisting the muscles until they must snap asunder. If Artegui were to present himself now! To weep, to weep, with her head resting on his shoulder! At last she remembered a prayer which Father Urtazu had taught her, and said: “My God, by your cross grant{348} me patience, patience.” She remained for a long time repeating between her moans—“patience.”

Father Arrigoitia at last made his appearance. His sallow forehead was contracted in a frown, and clouded with gloom. He and Lucía stood for a long time conversing together on the balcony without either of them feeling the cold, which was sharp. Lucía at last gave free rein to her grief.

“You may judge if I would speak falsely—with that corpse lying there before me. This very moment I might go away with him, father—and if God were not above in the heavens——”

“But he is, he is, and he is looking at us now,” said the Jesuit, gently stroking her cold hands. “Enough of madness. Do you not see how your punishment has already begun? You are innocent of what Don Aurelio charges you with and yet his atrocious suspicion is not without some appearance of foundation—you yourself have given it by going to that man’s house to-day. God has punished you in that which is dearest to you—in the little angel that has not yet come into the world.”

Lucía sobbed bitterly.

“Come, courage daughter; courage, my poor child,” continued the spiritual father, in accents{349} that every moment grew more tender and consoling. “And in the name of God and of His Holy Mother, to Spain! To Spain, to-morrow!”

“With him?” asked Lucía, terrified.

“He is packing his trunks to leave Paris to-night. He is going to Madrid. He is leaving you. If you would throw yourself at his feet and humbly and repentantly——”

“Not that, Father,” cried the proud Castilian. “He would think I was what he has called me; no, no.” And more gently she added: “Father, I have done what is right to-day, but I am exhausted. Ask nothing more from me to-day. I have no strength left. Pity, Señor; pity!”

“Yes, I will ask you for the love of Jesus Christ to set out to-morrow for Spain. I shall not leave you until I put you on board the train. Go, my dear daughter, to your father. Can you not see that I am right in advising you as I do? What would your husband think of you if you were to remain here?—with only a wall between you. You are too good and prudent even to think of such a thing. In the name of your child! That its father may be convinced—for in time, witnessing your conduct, he will be convinced. Ah, let man not divide those whom God has joined together.{350} He will return, he will return to his wife. Do not doubt it. To-day he has allowed himself to be carried away by his anger—but later——”

Sobs deeper and more piteous than before were Lucía’s only answer.

Father Arrigoitia pressed the hands of the weeping woman tenderly in his.

“Will you give me your promise?” he murmured, with earnest entreaty, but also with the authority of one accustomed to exact spiritual obedience.

“Yes,” answered Lucía, “I will go to-morrow; but let me give way to my misery now—I can bear it no longer.”

“Yes, weep,” answered the Jesuit. “Relieve your sorrow-laden heart. Meanwhile, I will pray.”

And returning to the bedroom he knelt down beside the bed of death, and taking out his breviary began in grave and composed accents to read by the flickering light of the tapers the solemn service for the dead.

 

For more than a fortnight the idle tongues of Leon found food for gossip in the strange circumstance of Lucía Gonzalez’s arrival alone, sad and deteriorated in looks, at her father’s home. The wildest stories were invented to{351} explain the mystery of her return, the seclusion in which she chose to live, the heavy cloud of gloom that rested constantly on the countenance of Uncle Joaquin Gonzalez, the disappearance of the husband, and the innumerable other things which hinted at scandal or domestic infelicity. As usually happens in similar cases, a few grains of truth were mixed up with a great deal of fiction, and some of what was said was not without a semblance of reason; but for want of the necessary data wherewith to complete and elucidate the known facts of the story, public opinion groped about blindly for a time and at last went altogether astray. As may be inferred, however, the scandalmongers performed their part with diligence and zeal, some criticising the mature dandy who had wanted to marry a young wife; some the vain and foolish father who had sacrificed his daughter’s happiness to his wish to make her a lady; some the crazy girl who—— In short, they tacked on so many morals to Lucía’s story, that I may well be excused from adding another. What was most severely criticized, however, was the modern fashion of the wedding trip, a foreign and reprehensible innovation, calculated only to give rise to disgusts and annoyances of all kinds. I suspect that, warned by Lucía’s sad example, handed{352} down by tradition, and repeated in turn to all the marriageable girls of the place, that for a century to come not a Leonese bride will be found willing to stir an inch from the domestic hearth, at least during the first ten years of her married life.

THE END.