Part 3 out of 5
Leonora would never let him finish reading them. It was an amorous,
desperate lament; a cry of racking passion condemned to disappointment,
writhing in isolation like a wild beast in its cage: Luigi Macchia.
"And who is Luigi Macchia?" asked Rafael. "Why such despair?"
"He was a young fellow from Naples," Leonora answered, at last, one
afternoon, in a sad voice, and turning her head, as if to conceal the
tears that had come to her eyes. "One day they found him under the pine
trees of Posilipo, with a bullet through his head. He wanted to die, you
see, and he killed himself.... But put all this aside and let's go down
to the garden. I need a breath of air."
They sauntered along the avenue that was bordered with rose-bushes, and
several minutes went by before either of them spoke. Leonora seemed
quite absorbed in her thoughts. Her brows were knitted and her lips
pressed tightly together, as if she were suffering the sting of painful
"Suicide!" she said at last. "Doesn't that seem a silly thing to do,
Rafael? Kill yourself for a woman? Just as if we women were obliged to
love every man who thinks he's in love with us!... How stupid men are!
We have to be their servants, love them willy-nilly. And if we don't,
they kill themselves just to spite us."
And she was silent for a time.
"Poor Macchia! He was a good boy, and deserved to be happy. But if I
were to surrender to every desperate protestation made to me!...
However, he went and did just what he said he would do.... How crazy
they get! And the worst of it is, I have found others like him in my
She explained no farther. Rafael gazed at her, but respected her
silence, trying in vain to guess the thoughts that were stirring behind
her shining eyes, as green and golden as the sea under a noonday sun.
What a wealth of romance must be hidden in that woman's past! What
tragedies must have been woven into the checkered fabric of her
So the days went by, and election time came around. Rafael, in passive
rebellion against his mother, who rarely spoke a word to him now, had
completely neglected the campaign. But on the decisive Sunday he
triumphed completely, and Rafael Brull, Deputy from Alcira, spent the
night shaking hands, receiving congratulations, listening to serenades,
waiting for morning to come that he might run to the Blue House and
receive Leonora's ironic good wishes.
"I'm very glad to hear it," the actress said. "Now you'll be leaving
very soon and I'll lose sight of you. It was high time really! You know,
my dear child, you were beginning to get tiresome with your assiduous
worship, that mute, persistent, tenacious adoration of yours. But up in
Madrid you'll get over it all. Tut, tut, now ... don't say you won't. No
need to perjure yourself. I guess I know what young men are like! And
you're a young man. The next time we meet, you'll have other things in
your head. I'll be a friend, just a friend; and that's what--and all--I
want to be."
"But will I find you here when I come back?" Rafael asked, anxiously.
"You want to know more things than anybody I ever knew! How can I say
whether I'll be here or not? Nobody in the world was ever sure of
holding me. I don't know where I'll be tomorrow myself.... But, no," she
continued, gravely, "if you come back by next spring, you'll find me
here. I'm thinking of staying surely until then. I want to see the
orange-trees in bloom, go back to my early childhood--the only memories
of my past that have followed me everywhere. Many a time I have gone to
Nice, spending a fortune and crossing half the world to get there--and
just to see a handful of puny orange-trees in bloom; now I want to take
one great, deep, plunge into the deluge of orange blossoms that
inundates these fields every year. It's the one thing that keeps me in
Alcira.... I'm sure. So if you come back about that season, you will
find me; and we will meet for one last time; for that will be the limit
of my endurance. I shall simply have to fly away, however hard poor
auntie takes it.... For the present, however, I am quite comfortable.
You see I was so tired! I find this solitude a welcome refuge after a
stormy voyage. Only something very important indeed could persuade me to
leave it at once."
But they saw each other on many another afternoon in the garden, there.
It was saturated now with the fragrance of ripe oranges. The vast valley
lay blue beneath the winter sun. Oranges, oranges, everywhere, reaching
out, it seemed, through the foliage, to the industrious hands that were
plucking them from the branches. Carts were creaking all along the
roads, trundling heaps of golden fruit over the ruts. The large shipping
houses rang again with the voices of girls singing at their work as they
selected and wrapped the oranges in paper. Hammers were pounding at the
wooden crates, and off toward France and England in great golden waves
those daughters of the South rolled--capsules of golden skin, filled
with sweet juice--the quintessence of Spanish sunshine.
Leonora, standing on tiptoe under an old tree, with her back toward
Rafael, was looking for a particularly choice orange among the dense
branches. As she swayed this way and that, the proud, graceful curves of
her vigorous slenderness became more beautiful than ever.
"I'm leaving tomorrow," the young man said, dispiritedly.
Leonora turned around. She had found her orange and was peeling it with
her long pink nails.
"Tomorrow?" she said, smiling. "Everything comes if you wait long
enough!... The best of success to you, senor deputy."
And bringing the fragrant fruit to her lips, she sank her white,
glistening teeth into the golden pulp, closing her eyes rapturously, to
sense the full warm sweetness of the juice.
Rafael stood there pale and trembling, as if something desperate were
in his mind.
"Leonora! Leonora!... Surely you are not going to send me away like
And then suddenly, carried away by a passion so long restrained, so long
crushed under timidity and fear, he ran up to her, seized her hands and
hungrily sought her lips.
"Oh! What in the world are you up to, Rafael?... How dare you!" she
cried. And with one thrust of her powerful arms she threw him back,
staggering, against the orange-tree. The young man stood there with
lowered head, humiliation and shame written on every line of his face.
"You see, I'm a strong woman," said Leonora, in a voice quivering with
anger. "None of your foolish tricks, or you'll be sorry!"
She glared at him for a long time; but then gradually recovered her
equanimity, and began to laugh at the pitiable spectacle before her.
"But what a child you are, Rafael!... Is that what you call a friendly
good-bye?... How little you know me, silly! You force matters, you do, I
see. Well just understand, I'm impregnable, unless I choose to be
otherwise. Why, men have died without being able to kiss so much as the
tip of my fingers. It's time you were going, Rafael. We'll still be
friends, of course.... But in case we are to see each other again, don't
forget what I tell you. We are through with such nonsense once and for
all. Don't waste your time. I cannot be yours. I'm tired of men; perhaps
I hate them. I have known the handsomest, the most elegant, the most
famous of them all. I have been almost a queen; queen 'on the left hand
side,' as the French say, but so much mistress of the situation that,
had I cared to get mixed up in such vulgarity, I could have changed
ministries and overturned thrones. Men renowned in Europe for their
elegance--and their follies--have grovelled at my feet, and I have
treated them worse than I have treated you. The most celebrated women
have envied me and hated me--copying my dresses and my poses. And when,
tired of all that brilliancy and noise, I said 'Good-bye' and came to
this retreat, do you think it was to give myself to a village
_senorito_, though a few hundred country bumpkins think he is a
wonder?... Oh, say, Rafael, really...."
And she laughed a cruel, mocking laugh--that cut Rafael to the quick.
The young man bowed his head and his chest heaved painfully, as if the
tears that could not find issue through his eyes were stifling, choking
him. He seemed on the point of utter collapse.
Leonora repented of her cruelty.
She stepped up to the boy until she was almost touching him. Then taking
his chin in her two hands, she made him raise his head.
"Oh, I have hurt you, haven't I! What mean things I said to the poor
child! Let me see now. Lift that head up! Look me straight in the eye!
Say that you forgive me.... That cursed habit I have of never holding my
tongue! I have offended you; but please, don't pay any attention to
that! I was joking! What a fine way of repaying you for what you did
that night!... No; Rafael, you are a very handsome chap indeed ... and
very distinguished ... and you will make a great name for yourself, up
in Madrid!... You'll be what they call a 'personage,' and you'll
marry--oh my--a very stylish, elegant, society girl! I can see all
that.... But, meanwhile, my dear boy, don't depend on me. We are going
to be friends, and nothing more than friends, ever! Why, there are tears
in your eyes! Well, here. Come ... kiss my hand, I will let you ... as
you did that night--there, like that! I could be yours only if I loved
you; but alas! I shall never fall in love with the dashing Rafaelito!
I'm an old woman, already, and I've been so lavish with my heart, spent
it so freely, I'm afraid I have none left.... Poor, poor little Rafael!
I'm so sorry ... but, you see, you came so late ... so late ...!"
Hidden in the tall, thick rose-bushes that bounded the _plazoleta_ in
front of the Blue House, and under four old dead palms that drooped
their branches dry and melancholy under the vigorous tufts of younger
trees, were two rubblework benches, white-washed, the backs and armrests
of ancient Valencian tiles, the glazed surfaces flecked with arabesques
and varicolored fancies inherited from days of Saracen rule--sturdy, but
comfortable seats, with the graceful lines of the sofas of the
Eighteenth Century; and in them Leonora liked to spend her time in late
afternoons especially, when the palm trees covered the little square
with a cool, delightful shade.
On that warm March day, dona Pepa was sitting in one of them, her
silver-rimmed spectacles on her nose, reading the "Life" of the day's
saint. At her side was the maid. A true daughter of the _campagna_ of
Rome, Beppa had been trained to piety from her earliest years; and she
was listening attentively so as not to miss a word.
On the other bench were Leonora and Rafael. The actress, with lowered
head, was following the movements of her hands, busily engaged on some
Rafael found Leonora much changed after his months of absence.
She was dressed simply, like any young lady of the city; her face and
hands, so white and marble-like before, had taken on the golden
transparency of ripened grain under the continued caress of the
Valencian sun. Her slender fingers were bare of all rings, and her pink
ears were not, as formerly, a-gleam with thick clusters of diamonds.
"I've become a regular peasant, haven't I?" she said, as if she could
read in Rafael's eyes his astonishment at the transformation she had
undergone. "It's life in the open that works such miracles: today one
frill, tomorrow another, and a woman eventually gets rid of everything
that was once a part of her body almost. I feel better this way....
Would you believe it? I've actually deserted my dressing-table, and the
perfume I used lies all forsaken and forlorn. Fresh water, plenty of
fresh water ... that's what I like. I'm a long way from the Leonora who
had to paint herself every night like a clown before she could appear
before an audience. Take a good look at me! Well ... what do you think?
You might mistake me for one of your vassals almost, eh? I'll bet that
if I had gone out this morning to join your demonstration at the station
you wouldn't have recognized me in the crowd."
Rafael was going to say--and quite seriously, too--that he thought her
more beautiful than ever. Leonora seemed to have descended from her
height and drawn closer to him. But she guessed what was coming, and to
forestall any compliments, hastened to resume control of the
"Now don't say you like me better this way. What nonsense! Remember, you
come from Madrid, from real elegance, a world you did not know
before!... But, to tell the truth, I like this simplicity; and the
important thing in life is to please yourself, isn't it? It was a slow
transformation, but an irresistible one; this country life gradually
filled me with its peace and calm; it went to my head like a bland
delicious wine. I just sleep and sleep, living the life of a human
animal, free from every emotion, and quite willing never to wake up
again. Why, Rafaelito! If nothing extraordinary happens and the devil
doesn't give an unexpected tug at my sleeve, I can conceive of staying
on here forever. I think of the outer world as a sailor must of the sea,
when he finds himself all cosy at home after a voyage of continuous
"That's right, do stay," said Rafael. "You can't imagine how I worried
up in Madrid wondering whether or not I'd find you here on my return."
"Don't go telling any fibs," said Leonora, gently, smiling with just a
suggestion of gratification. "Do you think we haven't been following
your doings in Madrid? Though you never were a friend, exactly, of good
old Cupido, you've been writing him frequently--and all sorts of
nonsense; just as a pretext for the really important thing--the
postscript, with your regards to the 'illustrious artist,' sure to
provoke the consoling reply that the 'illustrious artist' was still
here. How those letters made me laugh!"
"Anyway, that will prove I wasn't lying that day when I assured you I
would not forget, in Madrid. Well, Leonora; I didn't! The separation has
made me worse, much worse, in fact."
"Thanks, Rafael," Leonora answered, quite seriously, as if she had lost
mastery over the irony of former days. "I know you're telling the
truth. And it saddens me, because it really is too bad. You understand,
of course, that I can't love you.... So--if you don't mind--let's talk
of something else."
And hastily, to shift the conversation from such dangerous ground, she
began to chat about her rustic pleasures.
"I have a hen-coop that's too charming for anything. If you could only
see me mornings, in a circle of cackling feathers, throwing fusillades
of corn about to keep the roosters away. You see they get under my
skirts and peck at my feet. It's hard to realize I can be the same woman
who, just a few months ago, was brandishing a stage lance and
interpreting Wagner's dreams, no less, as finely as you please! You'll
soon see _my_ vassals. I have the most astonishing layers you ever saw;
and every morning I rummage around in the straw like a thief to get the
eggs, and when I find them, they are still warm.... I've forgotten the
piano. I hadn't opened it for more than a week, but this afternoon--I
don't know why--I just felt like spending a little while in the society
of the geniuses. I was thirsty for music ... one of those moody whims of
the olden days. Perhaps the presentiment that you were coming: the
thought of those afternoons when you were upstairs, sitting like a booby
in the corner, listening to me.... But don't jump to the conclusion, my
dear deputy, that everything here is mere play--just chickens and the
simple life. No, sir! I have turned my leisure to serious account. I
have done big things to the house. You would never guess! A bathroom, if
you please! And it just scandalizes poor auntie; while Beppa says it's
a sin to give so much thought to matters of the body. I could give up
many of my old habits, but not my bath; it's the one luxury I have kept,
and I sent to Valencia for the plumbers, the marble, and the wood and...
well ... it's a gem. I'll show it to you, by and by. If some fine day I
should suddenly take it into my head to fly away, that bath will remain
here, for my poor aunt to preach about and show how her madcap niece
squandered a mint of money on sinful folly, as she calls it."
And she laughed, with a glance at the innocent dona Pepa, who, there on
the other bench, was for the hundredth time explaining to the Italian
maid the prodigious miracles wrought by the patron of Alcira, and trying
to persuade the "foreigner" to transfer her faith to that saint, and
waste no more time on the second or third raters of Italy.
"Don't imagine," the actress continued, "that I forgot you during all
this time. I am a real friend, you see, and take an interest! I learned
through Cupido, who ferrets out everything, just what you were doing in
Madrid. I, too, figured among your admirers. That proves what friendship
can do! ... I don't know why, but when senor Brull is concerned, I
swallow the biggest whoppers, though I know they're lies. When you made
your speech in the Chambers on that matter of flood protection, I sent
to Alcira for the paper and read the story through I don't know how many
times, believing blindly everything said in praise of you. I once met
Gladstone at a concert given by the Queen at Windsor Castle; I have
known men who got to be presidents of their countries on sheer
eloquence--not to mention the politicians of Spain. The majority of
them I've had, one time or another, as hangers-on in my
dressing-room--once I had sung at the 'Real.' Well, despite all that, I
took the exaggerations your party friends printed about you quite
seriously for some days, putting you on a level with all the solemn
top-notchers I have known. And why, do you suppose? Perhaps from my
isolation and tranquillity here, which do make you lose perspective; or
perhaps it was the influence of environment! It is impossible to live in
this region without being a subject of the Brulls!... Can I be falling
in love with you unawares?"
And once more she laughed the gleeful, candid, mocking laugh of other
days. At first she had received him seriously, simply, under the
influence still of solitude, country life and the longing for rest and
quiet. But once in actual contact with him again, the sight, again, of
that lovesick expression in eyes which now, however, showed a trace of
self-possession, the old teaser had reappeared in her; and her irony cut
into the youth's flesh like a steel blade.
"Stranger things than that have happened," Rafael snapped boldly, and
imitating her sarcastic smile. "It's humanly conceivable that even you
should wind up by falling in love with even me--out of pity, of course!"
"No," answered Leonora bluntly. "It's not even humanly conceivable. I'll
never fall in love with you ... And even if I should," she continued in
a gentle, almost mothering tone, "you would never know about it. I
should keep it jolly well to myself--so as to prevent your going crazy
on finding your affections returned. All afternoon I have been trying
to evade this explanation. I have brought up a thousand subjects, I have
inquired about your life in Madrid--even going into details that haven't
the slightest interest for me--all to keep the talk off love. But with
you, that's impossible; you always come back to that sooner or later.
Very well, so be it ... But I'll never love you--I must not love you. If
I had made your acquaintance somewhere else, but under the same romantic
circumstances, I don't say it mightn't have happened. But here!... My
scruples may make you laugh, but I feel as though I'd be committing a
crime to love you. It would be like entering a home and repaying the
hospitality by purloining the silverware."
"That's a new kind of nonsense you are talking," Rafael exclaimed. "Just
what do you mean? I don't think I understand, exactly."
"Well, you live here, you see, and you hardly realize what it's all
like. Love for love's sake alone! That may happen in the world where I
come from. There folks aren't scandalized at things. Virtue is
broad-minded and tolerant; and people, through a selfish desire to have
their own weaknesses condoned, are careful not to censure others too
harshly. But here!... Here love is the straight and narrow path that
leads to marriage. Now let's see how good a liar you are! Would you be
capable of saying that you would marry me?..."
She gazed straight at the youth out of her green, luminous, mocking
eyes, and with such frankness that Rafael bowed his head, stuttering as
he started to speak.
"Exactly," she went on. "You wouldn't, and you are right. For that
would be a piece of solemn, deliberate barbarity. I'm not one of the
women who are made for such things. Many men have proposed marriage to
me in my time, to prove what fools they were, I suppose. More than once
they've offered me their ducal crowns or the prestige of their
marquisates, with the idea that title and social position would hold me
back when I got bored and tried to fly away. But imagine me married!
Could anything be more absurd?"
She laughed hysterically, almost, but with an undertone that hurt Rafael
deeply. There was a ring of sarcasm, of unspeakable scorn in it, which
reminded the young man of Mephisto's mirth during his infernal serenade
"Moreover," continued Leonora, recovering her composure, "you don't seem
to realize just how I stand in this community. Don't imagine what's said
about me in town escapes me ... I just have to notice the way the women
look at me the few times I go in there. And I know also what happened to
you before you left for Madrid. We find out everything here, Rafaelito.
The gossip of these people carries--it reaches even this solitary spot.
I know perfectly well how your mother hates me, and I've even heard
about the squabbles you've had at home over coming here. Well, we must
put a stop to all that! I am going to ask you not to visit me any more.
I will always be your friend; but if we stop seeing each other it will
be to the advantage of us both."
That was a painful thrust for Rafael. So she knew! But to escape from
what he felt to be a ridiculous position, he affected an air of
"Don't you believe such bosh! It's just election gossip spread by my
enemies. I am of age, and I daresay I can go where I please, without
"Very well; keep on coming, if you really want to; but all the same, it
shows how people feel toward me--a declaration of war, virtually. And if
I should ever fall in love with you ... heavens! What would they say
then? They'd be sure I had come here for the sole purpose of capturing
their don Rafael! You can see how far such a thing is from my mind. It
would be the end of the peace and quiet I came here to find. If they
talk that way now, when I'm as innocent as a lamb, imagine how their
tongues would wag then!... No, I'm not looking for excitement! Let them
snap at me as much as they please; but I mustn't be to blame. It must be
out of pure envy on their part. I wouldn't stoop to provoking them!"
And with a turn of her head in the direction of the city that was hidden
from view behind the rows of orange-trees, she laughed disdainfully.
Then her gleeful frankness returned once more--a candor of which she was
always ready to make herself the first victim--and in a low,
confidential, affectionate tone she continued:
"Besides, Rafaelito, you haven't had a good look at me. Why, I'm almost
an old woman!... Oh, I know it, I know it. You don't have to tell me.
You and I are of the same age; but you are a man; and I'm a woman. And
the way I've lived has added considerably to my years. You are still on
the very threshold of life. I've been knocking about the world since I
was sixteen, from one theatre to another. And my accursed disposition,
my mania for concealing nothing, for refusing to lie, has helped make me
worse than I really am. I have many enemies in this world who are just
gloating, I am sure, because I have suddenly disappeared. You can't
advance a step on the stage without rousing the jealousy of someone; and
that kind of jealousy is the most bloodthirsty of human passions. Can
you imagine what my kind colleagues say about me? That I've gotten along
as a woman of the _demimonde_ rather than as an artist--that I'm a
_cocotte_, using my voice and the stage for soliciting, as it were."
"Damn the liars!" cried Rafael hotly. "I'd like to have someone say that
in my hearing."
"Bah! Don't be a child. Liars, yes, but what they say has a grain of
truth in it. I have been something of the sort, really; though the blame
had not been wholly mine ... I've done crazy foolish things--giving a
loose rein to my whims, for the fun of the thing. Sometimes it would be
wealth, magnificence, luxury; then again bravery; then again just plain,
ordinary, good looks! And I would be off the moment the excitement, the
novelty, was gone, without a thought for the desperation of my lovers at
finding their dreams shattered. And from all this wild career of
mine--it has taken in a good part of Europe--I have come to one
conclusion: either that what the poets call love is a lie, a pleasant
lie, if you wish; or else that I was not born to love, that I am immune;
for as I go back over my exciting and variegated past, I have to
recognize that in my life love has not amounted to this!"
And she gave a sharp snap with her pink fingers.
"I am telling you everything, you see," she continued. "During your long
absence I thought of you often. Somehow I want you to know me
thoroughly, once and for all. In that way perhaps we can get along
together better. I can understand now why it is a peasant woman will
walk miles and miles, under a scorching sun or a pouring rain, to have a
priest listen to her confession. I am in that mood this afternoon. I
feel as though I must tell everything. Even if I tried not to, I should
not succeed. There's a little demon inside me here urging me, compelling
me, to unveil all my past."
"Please feel quite free to do so. To be a confessor even, to deserve
your confidence, is some progress for me, at any rate."
"Progress? But why should you care to progress ... into my heart! My
heart is only an empty shell! Do you think you'd be getting much if you
got me? I'm absolutely, absolutely worthless! Don't laugh, please! I
mean it! Absolutely worthless. Here in this solitude I have been able to
study myself at leisure, see myself as I really am. I recognize it plain
as day: I am nothing, nothing. Good looking?... Well, yes; I confess I
am not what you'd call ugly. Even if, with a ridiculous false modesty, I
were to say I was, there's my past history to prove that plenty of men
have found me beautiful. But, alas, Rafaelito! That's only the outside,
my facade, so to speak. A few winter rains will wash the paint off and
show the mould that's underneath. Inside, believe me, Rafael, I am a
ruin. The walls are crumbling, the floors are giving way. I have burned
my life out in gaiety. I have singed my wings in a headlong rush into
the candle-flame of life. Do you know what I am? I am one of those old
hulks drawn up on the beach. From a distance their paint seems to have
all the color of their first voyages; but when you get closer you see
that all they ask for is to be let alone to grow old and crumble away on
the sand in peace. And you, who are setting out on your life voyage,
come gaily asking for a berth on a wreck that will go to the bottom as
soon as it strikes deep water, and carry you down with it!... Rafael, my
dear boy, don't be foolish. I am all right to have as a friend; but it's
too late for me to be anything more ... even if I were to love you. We
are of a different breed. I have been studying you, and I see that you
are a sensible, honest, plodding sort of fellow. Whereas I--I belong to
the butterflies, to the opposite of all you are. I am a conscript under
the banner of Bohemia, and I cannot desert the colors. Each of us on his
own road then. You'll easily find a woman to make you happy.... The
sillier she is, the better.... You were born to be a family man."
It occurred to Rafael that she might be poking fun at him, as she so
often did. But no; there was a ring of sincerity in her voice. The
forced smile had vanished from her face. She was speaking tenderly,
affectionately, as if in motherly counsel to a son in danger of going
"And don't make yourself over, Rafael. If the world were made up of
people like me, life would be impossible. I too have moments when I
should like to become a different person entirely--a fowl, a cow, or
something, like the folks around me, thinking of money all the time, and
of what I'll eat tomorrow; buying land, haggling with farmers on the
market, studying fertilizers, having children who'd keep me busy with
their colds and the shoes they'd tear, my widest vision limited to
getting a good price for the fall crop. There are times when I envy a
hen. How good it must be, to be a hen! A fence around me to mark the
boundaries of my world, my meals for the trouble of pecking at them, my
life-work to sit hour after hour in the sun, balanced on a roost.... You
laugh? Well, I've made a good start already toward becoming a hen, and
the career suits me to a 't.' Every Wednesday I go to market, to buy a
pullet and some eggs; and I haggle with the vendors just for the fun of
it, finally giving them the price they ask for; I invite the peasant
women to have a cup of chocolate with me, and come home escorted by a
whole crowd of them; and they listen in astonishment when I talk to
Beppa in Italian! If you could only see how fond they are of me!... They
can hardly believe their eyes when they see the _sinorita_ isn't half so
black as the city people paint her. You remember that poor woman we saw
up at the Hermitage that afternoon? Well, she's a frequent visitor, and
I always give her something. She, too, is fond of me.... Now all that is
agreeable, isn't it? Peace; the affection of the humble; an innocent old
woman, my poor aunt, who seems to have grown younger since I came here!
Nevertheless, some fine day, this shell, this rustic bark that has
formed around me in the sun and the air of the orchards, will burst, and
the woman of old--the Valkyrie--will step out of it again. And then, to
horse, to horse! Off on another gallop around the world, in a tempest of
pleasure, acclaimed by a chorus of brutal libertines!... I am sure that
is bound to happen. I swore to remain here until Spring. Well, Spring is
almost here! Look at those rose-bushes! Look at those orange-trees!
Bursting with life! Oh, Rafael, I'm afraid of Springtime. Spring has
always been a season of disaster for me."
And she was lost in thought for a moment. Dona Pepa and the Italian maid
had gone into the house. The good old woman could never keep away from
the kitchen long.
Leonora had dropped her embroidery upon the bench and was looking
upward, her head thrown back, the muscles of her arching neck tense and
drawn. She seemed wrapt in ecstacy, as if visions of the past were
filing by in front of her. Suddenly she shuddered and sat up.
"I'm afraid I'm ill, Rafael. I don't know what's the matter with me
today. Perhaps it's the surprise of seeing you; this talk of ours that
has called me back to the past, after so many months of tranquillity....
Please don't speak! No, not a word, please. You have the rare skill,
though you don't know it, of making me talk, of reminding me of things I
was determined to forget.... Come, give me your arm; let's walk out
through the garden; it will do me good."
They arose, and began to saunter along over the broad avenue that led
from the gate to the little square. The house was soon behind them, lost
in the thick crests of the orange-trees. Leonora smiled mischievously
and lifted a forefinger in warning.
"I took it for granted you had returned from your trip a more serious,
a more well-behaved person. No nonsense, no familiarities, eh? Besides,
you know already that I'm strong, and can fight--if I have to."
Rafael spent a sleepless night tossing about in his bed.
Party admirers had honored him with a serenade that had lasted beyond
midnight. The "prominents" among them had shown some pique at having
cooled their heels all afternoon at the Club waiting for the deputy in
vain. He put in an appearance well on towards evening, and after shaking
hands once more all around and responding to speeches of congratulation,
as he had done that morning, he went straight home.
He had not dared raise his head in Dona Bernarda's presence. He was
afraid of those glowering eyes, where he could read, unmistakably, the
detailed story of everything he had done that afternoon. At the same
time he was nursing a resolve to disobey his mother, meet her
domineering, over-bearing aggressiveness with glacial disregard.
The serenade over, he had hurried to his room, to avoid any chance of an
Snug in his bed, with the light out, he gave way to an intense, a
rapturous recollection of all that had taken place that afternoon. For
all the fatigue of the journey and the bad night spent in a
sleeping-car, he lay there with his eyes open in the dark, going over
and over again in his feverish mind all that Leonora told him during
that final hour of their walk through the garden. Her whole, her real
life's story it had been, recorded in a disordered, a disconnected
way--as if she must unburden herself of the whole thing all at
once--with gaps and leaps that Rafael now filled in from his own lurid
Italy, the Italy of his trip abroad, came back to him now, vivid,
palpitant, vitalized, glorified by Leonora's revelations.
The shadowy majestic Gallery of Victor Emmanuel at Milan! The immense
triumphal arch, a gigantic mouth protended to swallow up the Cathedral!
The double arcade, cross-shaped, its walls covered with columns, set
with a double row of windows under a vast crystal roof. Hardly a trace
of masonry on the lower stories; nothing but plate glass--the windows of
book-shops, music shops, cafes, restaurants, jewelry stores,
haberdasheries, expensive tailoring establishments.
At one end, the Duomo, bristling with a forest of statues and perforated
spires; at the other, the monument to Leonardo da Vinci, and the famous
_Teatro de la Scala_! Within the four arms of the Gallery, a continuous
bustle of people, an incessant going and coming of merging, dissolving
crowds: a quadruple avalanche flowing toward the grand square at the
center of the cross, where the Cafe Biffi, known to actors and singers
the world over, spreads its rows of marble tables! A hubbub of cries,
greetings, conversations, footsteps, echoing in the galleries as in an
immense cloister, the lofty skylight quivering with the hum of busy
human ants, forever, day and night, crawling, darting this way and that,
Such is the world's market of song-birds; the world's Rialto of Music;
the world's recruiting office for its army of voices. From that center,
march forth to glory or to the poorhouse, all those who one fine day
have touched their throats and believed they have some talent for
singing. In Milan, from every corner of the earth, all the unhappy
aspirants of art, casting aside their needles, their tools or their
pens, foregather to eat the macaroni of the _trattoria_, trusting that
the world will some day do them justice by strewing their paths with
millions. Beginners, in the first place, who, to make their start, will
accept contracts in any obscure municipal theatre of the Milan district,
in hopes of a paragraph in a musical weekly to send to the folks at home
as evidence of promise and success; and with them, overwhelming them
with the importance of their past, the veterans of art--the celebrities
of a vanished generation: tenors with gray hair and false teeth; strong,
proud, old men who cough and clear their throats to show they still
preserve their sonorous baritone; retired singers who, with incredible
niggardliness, lend their savings at usury or turn shopkeepers after
dragging silks and velvets over world famous "boards."
Whenever the two dozen "stars," the stars of first magnitude that shine
in the leading operas of the globe, pass through the Gallery, they
attract as much admiring attention as monarchs appearing before their
subjects. The _pariahs_, still waiting for a contract, bow their heads
in veneration; and tell, in bated breath, of the castle on Lake Como
that the great tenor has bought, of the dazzling jewels owned by the
eminent soprano, of the graceful tilt at which the applauded baritone
wears his hat; and in their voices there is a tingle of jealousy, of
bitterness against destiny--the feeling that they are just as worthy of
such splendor--the protest against "bad luck," to which they attribute
failure. Hope forever flutters before these unfortunates, blinding them
with the flash of its golden mail, keeping them in a wretched despondent
inactivity. They wait and they trust, without any clear idea of how they
are to attain glory and wealth, wasting their lives in impotence, to die
ultimately "with their boots on," on some bench of the Gallery.
Then, there is another flock, a flock of girls, victims of the Chimera,
walking with a nimble, a prancing step, with music scores under their
arms, on the way to the _maestro's_; slender, light-haired English
_misses_, who want to become prima donnas of comic opera; fair-skinned,
buxom Russian _parishnas_ who greet their acquaintances with the
sweeping bow of a dramatic soprano; Spanish _senoritas_ of bold faces
and free manners, preparing for stage careers as Bizet's
cigarette-girl--frivolous, sonorous song-birds nesting hundreds of
leagues away, and who have flown hither dazzled by the tinsel of glory.
At the close of the Carnival season, singers who have been abroad for
the winter season appear in the Gallery. They come from London, St.
Petersburg, New York, Melbourne, Buenos Aires, looking for new
contracts. They have trotted about the globe as though the whole world
were home to them. They have spent a week in a train or a month on a
steamer, to get back to their corner in the Gallery. Nothing has
changed, for all of their distant rambles. They take their usual table.
They renew their old intrigues, their old gossip, their old jealousies,
as if they had been gone a day. They stand around in front of the
show-windows with an air of proud disdain, like princes traveling
incognito, but unable quite to conceal their exalted station. They tell
about the ovations accorded them by foreign audiences. They exhibit the
diamonds on their fingers and in their neckties. They hint at affairs
with great ladies who offered to leave home and husband to follow them
to Milan. They exaggerate the salaries they received on their trip, and
frown haughtily when some unfortunate "colleague" solicits a drink at
the nearby Biffi. And when the new contracts come in, the mercenary
nightingales again take wing, indifferently, they care not whither. Once
more, trains and steamers distribute them, with their conceits and their
petulances, all over the globe, to gather them in again some months
later and bring them back to the Gallery, their real home--the spot to
which they are really tied, and on which they are fated to drag out
their old age.
Meantime, the _pariahs_, those who never arrive, the "bohemians" of
Milan--when they are left alone console themselves with tales of famous
comrades, of contracts they themselves refused to accept, pretending
uncompromising hauteur toward impresarios and composers to justify their
idleness; and wrapped in fur coats that almost sweep the ground, with
their "garibaldis" on the backs of their heads, they hover around
Biffi's, defying the cold draughts that blow at the crossing of the
Gallery, talking and talking away to quiet the hunger that is gnawing at
their stomachs; despising the humble toil of those who make their living
by their hands, continuing undaunted in their poverty, content with
their genius as artists, facing misfortune with a candor and an
endurance as heroic as it is pathetic, their dark lives illumined by
Hope, who keeps them company till she closes their eyes.
Of that strange world, Rafael had caught a glimpse, barely, during the
few days he had spent in Milan. His companion, the canon, had run across
a former chorister from the cathedral of Valencia, who could find
nothing to do but loiter night and day about the Gallery. Through him
Brull had learned of the life led by these journeymen of art, always on
hand in the "marketplace", waiting for the employer who never comes.
He tried to picture the early days of Leonora in that great city, as one
of the girls who trot gracefully over the sidewalks with music sheets
under their arms, or enliven the narrow side streets with all those
trills and cadences that come streaming out through the windows.
He could see her walking through the Gallery at Doctor Moreno's side: a
blonde beauty, svelte, somewhat thin, over-grown, taller than her years,
gazing with astonishment through those large green eyes of hers at the
cold, bustling city, so different from the warm orchards of her
childhood home; the father, bearded, wrinkled, nervous, still irritated
at the ruin of his Republican hopes; a veritable ogre to strangers who
did not know his lamb-like gentleness. Like exiles who had found a
refuge in art, they two went their way through that life of emptiness,
of void, a world of greedy teachers anxious to prolong the period of
study, and of singers incapable of speaking kindly even of themselves.
They lived on a fourth floor on the _Via Passarella_--a narrow, gloomy
thoroughfare with high houses, like the streets of old Alcira, preempted
by music publishers, theatrical agencies and retired artists. Their
janitor was a former chorus leader; the main floor was rented by an
agency exclusively engaged from sun to sun in testing voices. The others
were occupied by singers who began their vocal exercises the moment they
got out of bed, setting the house ringing like a huge music-box from
roof to cellar. The Doctor and his daughter had two rooms in the house
of _Signora Isabella_, a former ballet-dancer who had achieved notorious
"triumphs" in the principal courts of Europe, but was now a skeleton
wrapped in wrinkled skin, groping her way through the corridors,
quarreling over money in foul-mouthed language with the servants, and
with no other vestiges of her past than the gowns of rustling silk, and
the diamonds, emeralds and pearls that took their turns in her stiff,
shrivelled ears. This harpy had loved Leonora with the fondness of the
veteran for the new recruit.
Every day Doctor Moreno went to a cafe of the Gallery, where he would
meet a group of old musicians who had fought under Garibaldi, and young
men who wrote _libretti_ for the stage, and articles for Republican and
Socialist newspapers. That was his world: the only thing that helped him
endure his stay in Milan. After a lonely life back there in his native
land, this corner of the smoke-filled cafe seemed like Paradise to him.
There, in a labored Italian, sprinkled with Spanish interjections, he
could talk of Beethoven and of the hero of Marsala; and for hour after
hour he would sit wrapt in ecstasy, gazing, through the dense
atmosphere, at the red shirt and the blond, grayish locks of the great
Giuseppe, while his comrades told stories of this, the most romantic, of
During such absences of her father, Leonora would remain in charge of
_Signora Isabella_; and bashful, shrinking, half bewildered, would spend
the day in the salon of the former ballet-dancer, with its coterie of
the latter's friends, also ruins surviving from the past, burned-out
"flames" of great personages long since dead. And these witches, smoking
their cigarettes, and looking their jewels over every other moment to be
sure they had not been stolen, would size up "the little girl," as they
called her, to conclude that she would "go very far" if she learned how
to "play the game."
"I had excellent teachers," said Leonora, in speaking of that period of
her youth. "They were good souls at bottom, but they had very little
still to learn about life. I don't remember just when I began to see
through them. I don't believe I was ever what they call an 'innocent'
Some evenings the Doctor would take her to his group in the cafe, or to
some second balcony seat under the roof of _La Scala_, if a couple of
complimentary tickets happened to come his way. Thus she was introduced
to her father's friends, bohemians with whom music went hand in hand
with the ideas and the ideals of revolution, curious mixtures of artist
and conspirator; aged, bald-headed, near-sighted "professors," their
backs bent by a lifetime spent leaning over music stands; and swarthy
youths with fiery eyes, stiff, long hair and red neckties, always
talking about overthrowing the social order because their operas had
not been accepted at _La Scala_ or because no _maestro_ could be found
to take their musical dramas seriously. One of them attracted Leonora.
Leaning back on a side-seat in the cafe, she would sit and watch him for
hours and hours. He was a fair-haired, extremely delicate boy. His
tapering goatee and his fine, silky hair, covered by a sweeping, soft
felt hat, made her think of Van Dyck's portrait of Charles I of England
that she had seen in print somewhere. They called him "the poet" at the
cafe, and gossip had it that an old woman, a retired "star," was paying
for his keep--and his amusements--until his verses should bring him
fame. "Well," said Leonora, simply, with a smile, "he was my first
love--a calf-and-puppy love, a schoolgirl's infatuation which nobody
ever knew about"; for though the Doctor's daughter spent hours with her
green golden eyes fixed upon the poet, the latter never suspected his
good fortune; doubtless because the beauty of his patroness, the
superannuated _diva_, had so obsessed him that the attractions of other
women left him quite unmoved. How vividly Leonora remembered those days
of poverty and dreams!... Little by little the modest capital the Doctor
owned in Alcira vanished, what with living expenses and music lessons.
Dona Pepa, at her brother's instance, sold one piece of land after
another; but even such remittances were often long delayed; and then,
instead of eating in the _trattoria_, near _la Scala_, with dancing
students and the more successful of the young singers, they would stay
at home; and Leonora would lay aside her scores and take a turn at
cooking, learning mysterious recipes from the old _danseuse_. For weeks
at a time they would live on nothing but macaroni and rice served _al
burro_, a diet that her father abhorred, the Doctor, meanwhile,
pretending illness to justify his absence from the cafe. But these
periods of want and poverty were endured by father and daughter in
silence. Before their friends, they still maintained the pose of
well-to-do people with plenty of income from property in Spain.
Leonora underwent a rapid transformation. She had already passed her
period of growth--that preadolescent "awkward age" when the features are
in constant change before settling down to their definitive forms and
the limbs seem to grow longer and longer and thinner and thinner. The
long-legged spindling "flapper," who was never quite sure where to stow
her legs, became the reserved, well-proportioned girl with the
mysterious gleam of puberty in her eyes. Her clothes seemed, naturally,
willingly, to curve to her fuller, rounding outlines. Her skirts went
down to her feet and covered the skinny, colt-like appendages that had
formerly made the denizens of the Gallery repress a smile.
Her singing master was struck with the beauty of his pupil. As a tenor,
Signor Boldini had had his hour of success back in the days of the
_Statuto_, when Victor Emmanuel was still king of Piedmont and the
Austrians were in Milan. Convinced that he could rise no higher, he had
come to earth, stepping aside to let those behind him pass on, turning
his stage experience to the advantage of a large class of girl-students
whom he fondled with an affectionate, fatherly kindliness. His white
goatee would quiver with admiring enthusiasm, as, playfully, lightly, he
would touch his fingers to those virgin throats, which, as he said,
were his "property." "All for art, and art for all!" And this motto, the
ideal of his life, he called it, had quite endeared him to Doctor
"That fellow Boldini could not be fonder of my Leonora if she were his
own daughter," the Doctor would say every time the _maestro_ praised the
beauty and the talent of his pupil and prophesied great triumphs for
And Leonora went on with her lessons, accepting the light, the playful,
the innocent caresses of the old singer; until one afternoon, in the
midst of a romanza, there was a hateful scene: the _maestro_, despite
her horrified struggling, claimed a feudal right--the first fruits of
her initiation into theatrical life.
Through fear of her father Leonora kept silent. What might he not do on
finding his blind confidence in the _maestro_ so betrayed? She sank into
resigned passivity at last, and continued to visit Boldini's house
daily, learning ultimately to accept, as a matter of professional
course, the repulsive flattery of refined vice.
Poor Leonora entered on a life of wrong through the open door, learning,
at a single stroke, all the turpitude acquired by that shrivelled
_maestro_ during his long career back-stage. Boldini would have kept her
a pupil forever. He could never find her just well enough prepared to
make her debut. But hardly any money was coming from Spain now. Poor
dona Pepa had sold everything her brother owned and a good deal of her
own land besides. Only at the cost of painful stinting could she send
him anything at all. The Doctor, through connections with itinerant
directors and impresarios _a l'aventure_, "launched" his daughter
finally. Leonora began to sing in the small theatres of the Milan
district--two or three night engagements at country fairs. Such
companies were formed at random in the Gallery, on the very day of the
performance sometimes,--troupes like the strolling players of old,
leaving at a venture in a third-class compartment on the train with the
prospect of returning on foot if the impresario made off with the money.
Leonora began to know what applause was, what it meant to give _encore_
after _encore_ before crowds of rustic landowners, dressed in their
Sunday clothes, and ladies with false rings and plated chains; and she
had her first thrills of feminine vanity on receiving bouquets and
sonnets from subalterns and cadets in small garrison towns. Boldini
followed her everywhere, neglecting his lessons, in pursuit of this, his
last depraved infatuation. "All for art, art for all!" He must enjoy the
fruits of his creation, be present at the triumphs of his star pupil! So
he said to Doctor Moreno; and that unsuspecting gentleman, thankful for
this added courtesy of the master, would leave her more and more to the
old satyr's care.
The escape from that life came when she secured a contract for a whole
winter in Padua. There she met the tenor Salvatti, a high and mighty
_divo_, who looked down upon all his associates, though tolerated
himself, by the public, only out of consideration for his past.
For years now he had been holding his own on the opera stage, less for
his voice than for his dashing appearance, slightly repaired with pencil
and rouge, and the legend of romantic love affairs that floated like a
rainbow around his name--noble dames fighting a clandestine warfare for
him; queens scandalizing their subjects by blind passions he inspired;
eminent divas selling their diamonds for the money to hold him faithful
by lavish gifts. The jealousy of Salvatti's comrades tended to
perpetuate and exaggerate this legend; and the tenor, worn out, poor,
and a wreck virtually for all of his pose of grandeur, was able to make
a living still from provincial publics, who charitably applauded him
with the self-conceit of climbers pampering a dethroned prince.
Leonora, playing opposite that famous man, "starring," singing duets
with him, clasping hands that had been kissed by the queens of art, was
deeply stirred. This, at last, was the world she had dreamed of in her
dingy garret in Milan. Salvatti's presence gave her just the illusion of
aristocratic grandeur she had longed for. Nor was he slow in perceiving
the impression he had made upon that promising young woman. With a cold
calculating selfishness, he determined to profit by her naive
admiration. Was it love that thrust her toward him? As, so long
afterwards, she analyzed her passion to Rafael, she was vehemently
certain it had not been love: Salvatti could never have inspired a
genuine feeling in anyone. His egotism, his moral corruptness, were too
close to the surface. No, he was a philanderer simply, an exploiter of
women. But for her it had been a blinding hallucination nevertheless,
fraught, during the first days, at least, with the delicious
exhiliration, the voluptuous abandonment of true love. She became the
slave of the decrepit tenor, voluntarily, just as she had become her
_maestro's_ slave through fear. And so complete had her infatuation
been, so overpowering its intoxication, that, in obedience to Salvatti,
she fled with him at the end of the season, and deserted her father, who
had objected to the intimacy.
Then came the black page in her life, that filled her eyes with
anguished tears as she went on with her story. What folks said about her
father's end was not true. Poor Doctor Moreno had not committed suicide.
He was altogether too proud to confess in that way the deep grief that
her ingratitude had caused him.
"Don't talk to me about that woman," he would say fiercely to his
landlady at Milan whenever the old _danseuse_ would mention Leonora. "I
have no daughter: it was all a mistake."
Unbeknown to Salvatti, who became terribly grasping as he saw his power
waning, Leonora would send her father a few hundred francs from London,
from Naples, from Paris. The Doctor, though in direst poverty, would at
once return the checks "to the sender" and, without writing a word;
where-upon Leonora paid an allowance every month to the housekeeper,
begging her not to abandon the old man.
The unhappy Doctor needed, indeed, all the care the landlady and her old
friends could give him. The _povero signor spagnuolo_--the poor Spanish
gentleman--spent his days locked up in his room, his violoncello between
his knees, reading Beethoven, the only one "in his family"--as he
said--"who had never played him false." When old Isabella, tired of his
music, would literally put him out of the house to get a breath of air,
he would wander like a phantom through the Gallery, distantly greeted
by former friends, who avoided closer contact with that black
despondency and feared the explosions of rage with which he received
news of his daughter's rising fame.
A rapid rise she was making in very truth! The worldly old women who
foregathered in the ballet-dancer's little parlor, could not contain
their admiration for their "little girl's" success; and even grew
indignant at the father for not accepting things "as things had to be."
Salvatti? Just the support she needed! An expert pilot, who knew the
chart of the opera world, who would steer her straight and keep her off
The tenor had skilfully organized a world wide publicity for his young
singer. Leonora's beauty and her artistic verve conquered every public.
She had contracts with the leading theatres of Europe, and though
critics found defects in her singing, her beauty helped them to forget
these, and one and all they contributed loyally to the deification of
the young goddess. Salvatti, sheltering his old age under this prestige
which he so religiously fostered, was keeping in harness to the very
end, and taking leave of life under the protecting shadow of that woman,
the last to believe in him and tolerate his exploitation.
Applauded by select publics, courted in her dressing-room by celebrated
men and women, Leonora began to find Salvatti's tyranny unbearable. She
now saw him as he really was: miserly, petulant, spoiled by praise.
Every bit of her money that came into his hands disappeared, she knew
not where. Eager for revenge, though really answering the lure of the
elegant world she glimpsed in the distance but was not yet a part of,
she began to deceive Salvatti in passing adventures, taking a diabolical
pleasure in the deceit. But no; as she looked back on that part of her
life with the sober eye of experience, she understood that she had
really been the one deceived. Salvatti, she remembered, would always
retire at the opportune moment, facilitating her infidelities. She
understood now that the man had carefully prepared such adventures for
her with influential men whom he himself introduced to make certain
profits out of the meeting--profits that he never declared.
After three years of this sort of life, when Leonora had reached the
full splendor of her beauty, she chanced to become the favorite of
fashion for one whole summer at Nice. Parisian newspapers, in their
"society columns" referred, in veiled language, to the passion of an
aged king, a democratic monarch, who had left his throne, much as a
manufacturer of London or a stockbroker of Paris would leave his office,
for a vacation on the Blue Coast. This tall, robust gentleman with a
patriarchal beard--the very type of the good king in fairy tales--had
not hesitated to be seen in public with a beautiful _artiste_.
That conquest, fleeting though it had been, put the finishing touch on
Leonora's eminence! "Ah! La Brunna!" people would declare
enthusiastically. "The favorite of king Ernesto.... Our greatest
artist." And troops of adorers began to besiege her under the keen,
mercenary eyes of the tenor Salvatti.
About this time her father died in a hospital at Milan--a very sad end,
as Signora Isabella, the former ballet-dancer, explained in her letters.
Of what had he died?... The old lady could not say, as the physicians
had differed; but her own view of the matter was that the _povero signor
spagnuolo_ had simply grown tired of living--a general collapse of that
wonderful constitution, so strong, so powerful, in a way, yet strangely
susceptible to moral and emotional influences. He was almost blind when
admitted to the hospital. He seemed quite to have lost his mind--sunk in
an unbreakable silence. Isabella had not dared to keep him in her house
after he had fallen into that coma. But the strange thing was, that as
death drew near, his memory of the past suddenly cleared, and the nurses
would hear him groan for nights at a time, murmuring in Spanish with
"Leonora! My darling! Where are you?... Little girl, where are you?"
Leonora wept and wept, and did not leave her hotel for more than a week,
to the great disgust of Salvatti, who observed, in addition, that tears
were not good for her complexion.
Alone in the world!... Her own wrong-doing had killed her poor father!
No one was left now except her good old aunt, who was "existing" far
away in Spain, like a vegetable in a garden, her stupid mind entirely on
her prayer-book. Leonora vented her anguish in a burst of hatred for
Salvatti. He was responsible for her abandonment of her father! She
deserted him, taking up with a certain count Selivestroff, a handsome
and wealthy Russian, captain in the Imperial Guard.
So she had found her destiny! Her life would always be like that! She
would pass from stage to stage, from song to song, belonging to
everybody--and to nobody!
That fair Russian, so strong, so manly, so thoroughly a gentleman, had
loved her truly, with a passionate humble adoration.
He would kneel submissively at her feet, like Hercules in the presence
of Adriadne, resting his chin on her knees, looking up into her face
with his gray, kindly, caressing eyes. Timidly, doubtfully, he would
approach her every day as if he were meeting her for the first time and
feared a repulse. He would kiss her softly, delicately, with hushed
reserve, as if she were a fragile jewel that might break beneath his
tenderest caress. Poor Selivestroff! Leonora had wept at the thought of
him. In Russia and with princely Russian sumptuousness, they had lived
for a year in his castle, in the country, among a population of sodden
_moujiks_ who worshipped that beautiful woman in the white and blue furs
as devotedly as if she had been a Virgin stepping forth from the gilded
background of an ikon.
But Leonora could not live away from stageland: the ladies of the rural
aristocracy avoided her, and she needed applause and admiration. She
induced Selivestroff to move to St. Petersburg, and for a whole winter
she sang at the Opera there, like a grand dame turned opera singer out
of love for the work.
Once more she became the reigning _belle_. All the young Russian
aristocrats who held commissions in the Imperial Guard, or high posts in
the Government, spoke enthusiastically of the great Spanish beauty; and
they envied Selivestroff. The count yearned moodily for the solitude of
his castle, which held so many loving memories for him. In the bustling,
competitive life of the capital, he grew jealous, sad, melancholy,
irritable at the necessity of defending his love. He could sense the
underground warfare that was being waged against him by Leonora's
One morning she was rudely awakened and leapt out of bed to find the
count stretched out on a divan, pale, his shirt stained with blood. A
number of gentlemen dressed in black were standing around him. They had
just brought him in from a carriage. He had been wounded in the chest.
The evening before, on leaving the theatre, the count had gone up for a
moment to his Club. He had caught an allusion to Leonora and himself in
some words of a friend. There had been blows--then hasty arrangements
for a duel, which had been fought at sunrise, with pistols. Selivestroff
died in the arms of his mistress, smiling, seeking those delicate,
powerful, pearly hands for one last time with his bleeding lips. Leonora
mourned him deeply, truly. The land where she had been so happy with the
first man she had really loved became intolerable to her, and abandoning
most of the riches that the count had given her, she went forth into the
world again, storming the great theatres in a new fever of travel and
She was then just twenty-three, but already felt herself an old woman.
How she had changed!... More affairs? As she went over that period of
her life in her talk with Rafael, Leonora closed her eyes with a shudder
of modesty and remorse. Drunk with fame and power she had rushed about
the world lavishing her beauty on anyone who interested her for the
moment. The property of everybody and of nobody! She could not remember
the names, even, of all the men who had loved her during that era of
madness, so many had been caught in the wake of her stormy flight across
the world! She had returned to Russia once, and been expelled by the
Czar for compromising the prestige of the Imperial Family, through an
affair with a grand duke who had wanted to marry her. In Rome she had
posed in the nude for a young and unknown sculptor out of pure
compassion for his silent admiration; and she herself made his "Venus"
public, hoping that the world-wide scandal would bring fame to the work
and to its author. In Genoa she found Salvatti again, now "retired," and
living on usury from his savings. She received him with an amiable
smile, lunched with him, treated him as an old comrade; and at dessert,
when he had become hopelessly drunk, she seized a whip and avenged the
blows she had received in her time of slavery to him, beating him with a
ferocity that stained the apartment with gore and brought the police to
the hotel. Another scandal! And this time her name bandied about in a
criminal court! But she, a fugitive from justice, and proud of her
exploit, sang in the United States, wildly acclaimed by the American
public, which admired the combative Amazon even more than the artist.
There she made the acquaintance of Hans Keller, the famous orchestra
conductor, and a pupil and friend of Wagner. The German _maestro_ became
her second love. With stiff, reddish hair, thick-rimmed eyeglasses, an
enormous mustache that drooped over either side of his mouth and framed
his chin, he was certainly not so handsome as Selivestroff. But he had
one irresistible charm, the charm of Art. With the tragic Russian in her
mind and on her conscience, she felt the need of burning herself in the
immortal flame of the ideal; and she adored the famous musician for the
artistic associations that hovered about him. For the first time, the
much-courted Leonora descended from her lofty heights to seek a man's
attention and came with her amorous advances to disturb the placid calm
of that artist so wholly engrossed in the cult of the sublime Master.
Hans Keller noticed the smile that fell like a sunbeam upon his music
scrolls. He closed them and let himself be drawn off on the by-paths of
love. Leonora's life with the _maestro_ was an absolute rupture with all
her past. Her one wish was to love and be loved--to throw a cloak of
mystery over her real self, ashamed as she now was of her previous wild
career. Her passion enthralled the musician and she in turn felt at once
stirred and transfigured by the atmosphere of artistic fervor that
haloed the illustrious pupil of Wagner.
The spirit of Him, the Master, as Hans Keller called Wagner with pious
adoration, flashed before the singer's eyes like the revealing glory
that converted Paul on the road to Damascus. Music, as she now saw
clearly for the first time, was not a means of pleasing crowds,
displaying physical beauty, and attracting men. It was a religion--the
mysterious power that brings the infinite within us into contact with
the infinite that surrounds us. She became the sinner awakening to
repentance, and yearning for the atoning peace of the cloister, a
Magdalen of Art, touched on the high road of worldliness and frivolity
by the mystic sublimity of the Beautiful; and she cast herself at the
feet of Him, the supreme Master, as the most victorious of men, lord of
the mystery that moves all souls.
"Tell me more about Him," Leonora would say. "How much I would give to
have known him as you did!... I did see him once in Venice: during his
last days ...he was already dying."
And that meeting was, indeed, one of her most vivid and lasting
memories. The declining afternoon enlivening the dark waters of the
Grand Canal with its opalescent spangles; a gondola passing hers in the
opposite direction; and inside, a pair of blue, imperious eyes, shining,
under thick eyebrows, with the cold glint of steel--eyes that could
never be mistaken for common eyes, for the divine fire of the Elect, of
the demi-God, was bright within them! And they seemed to envelop her in
a flash of cerulean light. It was He--ill, and about to die. His heart
was wounded, bleeding, pierced, perhaps, by the shafts of mysterious
melody, as hearts of the Virgin sometimes bleed on altars bristling with
Leonora could still see him as if he were there in front of her. He
looked smaller than he really was, dwarfed, apparently, by illness, and
by the wrack of pain. His huge head, the head of a genius, was bent low
over the bosom of his wife Cosima. He had removed the black felt hat so
as to catch the afternoon breeze full upon his loose gray locks. His
broad, high curved forehead, seemed to weigh down upon his body like an
ivory chest laden full of unseen jewels. His arrogant nose, as strong as
the beak of a bird of prey, seemed to be reaching across the sunken
mouth toward the sensuous, powerful jaw. A gray beard ran down along the
neck, that was wrinkled, wasted with age. A hasty vision it had been, to
be sure; but she had seen him; and his venerable figure remained in her
memory like a landscape glimpsed at the flare of a lightning-flash. She
had witnessed his arrival in Venice to die in the peace of those canals,
in that silence which is broken only by the stroke of the oar--where
many years before he had thought himself dying as he wrote his
_Tristan_--that hymn to the Death that is pure, to the Death that
liberates! She saw him stretched out in the dark boat; and the splash of
the water against the marble of the palaces echoed in her imagination
like the wailing, thrilling trumpets at the burial of Siegfried--the
hero of Poetry marching to the Valhalla of immortality and glory upon a
shield of ebony--motionless, inert as the young hero of the Germanic
legend--and followed by the lamentations of that poor prisoner of life,
Humanity, that ever eagerly seeks a crack, a chink, in the wall about
it, through which the inspiriting, comforting ray of beauty may
And the singer gazed with tearful eyes at the broad _boina_ of black
velvet, the lock of gray hair, two broken, rusty steel pens--souvenirs
of the Master, that Hans Keller had piously preserved in a glass case.
"You knew him--tell me how he lived. Tell me everything: talk to me
about the Poet ... the Hero."
And the musician, no less moved, described the Master as he had seen him
in the best of health; a small man, tightly wrapped in an
overcoat--with a powerful, heavy frame, however, despite his slight
stature--as restless as a nervous woman, as vibrant as a steel spring,
with a smile that lightly touched with bitterness his thin, colorless
lips. Then came his "genialities," as people said, the caprices of his
genius, that figure so largely in the Wagner legend: his smoker, a
jacket of gold satin with pearl flowers for buttons; the precious cloths
that rolled about like waves of light in his study, velvets and silks,
of flaming reds and greens and blues, thrown across the furniture and
the tables haphazard, with no reference to usefulness--for their sheer
beauty only--to stimulate the eye with the goad of color, satisfy the
Master's passion for brightness; and perfumes, as well, with which his
garments--always of oriental splendor--were literally saturated; phials
of rose emptied at random, filling the neighborhood with the fragrance
of a fabulous garden, strong enough to overcome the hardiest uninitiate,
but strangely exciting to that Prodigy in his struggle with the Unknown.
And then Hans Keller described the man himself, never relaxed, always
quivering with mysterious thrills, incapable of sitting still, except at
the piano, or at table for his meals; receiving visitors standing,
pacing back and forth in his salon, his hands twitching in nervous
uncertainty; changing the position of the armchairs, rearranging the
furniture, suddenly stopping to hunt about his person for a snuff-box or
a pair of glasses that he never found; turning his pockets inside out,
pulling his velvet house-cap now down over one eye, now back over the
crown of his head, or again, throwing it into the air with a shout of
joy or crumpling it in his hand, as he became excited in the course of a
And Keller would close his eyes, imagining that he could still hear in
the silence, the faint but commanding voice of the Master. Oh, where was
he now? On some star, doubtless, eagerly following the infinite song of
the spheres, a divine music that only his ears had been attuned to hear!
And to choke his emotion, the musician would sit down at the piano,
while Leonora, responsive to his mood, would approach him, and standing
as rigid as a statue, with her hands lost in the musician's head of
rough tangled hair, sing a fragment from the immortal _Tetralogy_.
Worship of Wagner transformed the butterfly into a new woman. Leonora
adored Keller as a ray of light gone astray from the glowing star now
extinguished forever; she felt the joy of humbleness, the sweetness of
sacrifice, seeing in him not the man, but the chosen representative of
the Divinity. Leonora could have grovelled at Keller's feet, let him
trample on her--make a carpet of her beauty. She willed to become a
slave to that lover who was the repository of the Master's thoughts; and
who seemed to be magnified to gigantic proportions by the custody of
such a treasure.
She tended him with the exquisite watchfulness of an enamored servant,
following him, on his trips in the summer, the season of the great
concerts, to Leipzig, Geneva, Paris; and she, the most famous living
prima donna, would stay behind the scenes, with no jealousy for the
applause she heard, waiting for Hans, perspiring and tired, to drop the
baton amid the acclamations of the audience and come back-stage to have
her dry his forehead with an almost filial caress.
And thus they traveled about Europe, spreading the light of the Master;
Leonora, voluntarily in the background, like a patrician of old, dressed
as a slave and following the Apostle in the name of the New Word.
The German musician let himself be adored, receiving all her caresses of
enthusiasm and love with the absent-mindedness of an artist so
preoccupied with sounds that at last he comes to hate words. He taught
his language to Leonora that she might some day realize a dream of hers
and sing in Bayreuth; and he grounded her in the principles that had
guided the Master in the creation of his great characters. And so, when
Leonora made her appearance on the stage one winter with the winged
helmet and the lance of the Valkyrie, she attained an eminence in
Wagnerian interpretation that was to follow her for the remainder of her
career. Hans himself was carried away by her power, and could never
recover from his astonishment at Leonora's complete assimilation of the
spirit of the Master.
"If only He could hear you!" he would say with conviction. "I am sure He
would be content."
And the pair traveled about the world together. Every springtime she, as
spectator, would watch him directing Wagnerian choruses in the "Mystic
Abyss" at Bayreuth. Winters it was he who went into ecstasies under her
tremendous "_Hojotoho_!"--the fierce cry of a Valkyrie afraid of the
austere father Wotan; or at sight of her awakening among the flames for
the spirited Siegfried, the hero who feared nothing in the world, but
trembled at the first glance of love!
But artists' passions are like flowers, fragrant, but quickly
languishing. The rough German musician was a simple person, unstable,
fickle, ready to be amused at any new plaything. Leonora admitted to
Rafael that she could have lived to old age submissively at Keller's
side, pampering his whims and selfish caprices. But one day Keller
deserted her, as she had deserted others, to take up with a sickly,
languid contralto, whose best charms could have been hardly comparable
to the morbid delicacy of a hot-house flower. Leonora, mad with love and
jealousy, pursued him, knocking at his door like a servant. For the
first time she felt the voluptuous bitterness of being scorned,
discarded, until reaction from despair brought her back to her former
pride and self-control!
Love was over. She had had enough of artists; though an interesting sort
of folk they were in their way. Far preferable were the ordinary, normal
men she had known before Keller's time! The foolisher--the more
commonplace--the better! She would never fall in love again!
Wearied, broken in spirit, disillusioned, she went back into her old
world. But now the legend of her past beset her. Again men came,
passionately besieging her, offering her wealth in return for a little
love. They talked of killing themselves if she resisted, as if it were
her duty to surrender, as if refusal on her part were treachery. The
gloomy Macchia committed suicide in Naples. Why? Because she did not
capitulate to his melancholy sonnets! In Vienna there had been a duel,
in which one of her admirers was slain. An eccentric Englishman followed
her about, looming in her pathway everywhere like the shadow of a fatal
Destiny, vowing to kill anybody she should prefer to him.... She had had
enough at last! She was wearied of such a life, disgusted at the male
voracity that dogged her every step. She longed to fall out of sight,
disappear, find rest and quiet in a complete surrender to some boundless
dream. And the thought--a comforting, soothing thought, it had been--of
the distant land of her childhood came back to her, the thought of her
simple, pious aunt, the sole survivor of her family, who wrote to her
twice every year, urging her to reconcile her soul with God--to which
end the good old Dona Pepa was herself aiding with prayer!
She felt, too, somehow, without knowing just why, that a visit to her
native soil would soften the painful memory of the ingratitude that had
cost her father's life. She would care for the poor old woman! Her
presence would bring a note of cheer into that gray, monotonous
existence that had gone on without the slightest change, ever. And
suddenly, one night, after an "Isolde" in Florence, she ordered Beppa,
the loyal and silent companion of her wandering life, to pack her
Home! Home! Off for her native land! And might she find there something
to keep her ever from returning to the troubled stirring world she was
She was the princess of the fairy tales longing to become a shepherdess.
There she meant to stay, in the shade of her orange-trees, now and then
fondling a memory of her old life, perhaps, but wishing eternally to
enjoy that tranquillity, fiercely repelling Rafael, therefore, because
he had tried to awaken her, as Siegfried rouses Brunhilde, braving the
flames to reach her side.
No; friends, friends, nothing else! She wanted no more of love. She
already knew what that was. Besides, he had come too late....
And Rafael tossed sleeplessly in his bed, rehearsing in the darkness the
story he had been told. He felt dwarfed, annihilated, by the grandeur of
the men who had preceded him in their adoration of that woman. A king,
great artists, handsome and aristocratic paladins, Russian counts,
potentates with vast wealth at their command! And he, a humble country
boy, an obscure junior deputy, as submissive as a child to his mother's
despotic ways, forced to beg for the money for his personal expenses
even--he was trying to succeed them!
He laughed with bitter irony at his own presumptuousness. Now he
understood Leonora's mocking tone, and the violence she had used in
repulsing all boorish liberties he had tried to take. But despite the
contempt he began to feel for himself, he lacked the strength to
withdraw now. He had been caught up in the wake of seduction, the
maelstrom of love that followed the actress everywhere, enslaving men,
casting them, broken in spirit and in will, to earth, like so many
slaves of Beauty.
"Good morning, Rafaelito ... we are seeing each other betimes today....
I am up so early not to miss the marketing. I remember that Wednesday
was always a great event in my life, as a child. What a crowd!..."
And Leonora, with the great swarming cities far from her mind, was
really impressed at the numbers of bustling people crowding the little
square, called _del Prado_, where every Wednesday the "grand market" of
the Alcira region was held.
Their sashes bulging with money bags, peasants were coming into town to
buy supplies for the whole week out in the orange country. Orchard women
were going from one stall to the next, as slender of body and as neatly
dressed as the peasant girls of an opera ballet, their hair in
_senorita_ style, their skirts of bright batiste gathered up to hold
their purchases and showing fine stockings and tight-fitting shoes
underneath. Tanned faces and rough hands were the only signs to betray
the rustic origin of the girls; because those were prosperous days for
the orange growers of the District.
Along the walls hens were clucking, ranged in piles and tied together by
the feet. Here and there were pyramids of eggs, vegetables, fruit. In
"shops" that were set up in the morning and taken down at night,
drygoods dealers were selling colored sashes, strips of cotton cloth and
calico, and black woolsey, the eternal garb of every native of the
Jucar valley. Beyond the Prado, in _El Alborchi_, was the hog market;
and then came the _Hostal Gran_ where horses were tried out. On
Wednesdays all the business of the neighborhood was transacted--money
borrowed or paid back, poultry stocks replenished, hogs bought to fatten
on the farms, whole families anxiously following their progress; and new
cart-horses, especially, the matter of greatest concern to the farmers,
secured on mortgage, usually, or with cash saved up by desperate
Though the sun had barely risen, the crowd, smelling of sweat and soil,
already filled the market place with busy going and coming. The
orchard-women embraced as they met, and with their heavy baskets propped
on their hips, went into the chocolate shops to celebrate the encounter.
The men gathered in groups; and from time to time, to "buck up" a
little, would go off in parties to swallow a glass of sweet brandy. In
and out among the rustics walked the city people: "petty bourgeois" of
set manners, with old capes, and huge hempen baskets, where they would
place the provisions they had bought after tenacious hagglings;
_senoritas_, who found in these Wednesday markets a welcome relief from
the monotony of their secluded life at home; idlers who spent hour after
hour at the stall of some vendor friend, prying into what each marketer
carried in his basket, grumbling at the stinginess of some and praising
the generosity of others.
Rafael gazed at his friend in sheer astonishment. What a beauty she was!
Who could ever have taken her, in that costume, for a world-famous prima
Leonora looked the living picture of an orchard girl: a plain cotton
dress, in anticipation of spring; a red kerchief around her neck; her
blond hair uncovered, combed back with artful carelessness and hastily
knotted low on the back of her head. Not a jewel, not a flower! Only her
height and her striking comeliness marked her off from the other girls.
Under the curious, devouring glances of the whole market throng, Rafael
smilingly greeted her, feasting his eyes on her fresh, pink skin, still
radiant from the morning bath, inhaling the subtle, indefinable
fragrance that hovered about that strong, healthy, youthful person.
She was constantly smiling, as if bent on dazzling the bumpkins, who
were gaping at her from a distance, with the pearly flash of her teeth.
The market-place began to buzz with admiring curiosity, or the thrill of
scandal. There, face to face, in view of the whole city, the deputy and
the opera singer were talking and laughing together like the best of
Rafael's supporters--the chief officials in the city government--who
were loitering about the square, could not conceal their satisfaction.
Even the humblest of the constables felt a certain pride. That beautiful
fairy was talking with "the Chief," smiling at him, even. What an honor
for "the Party!" But after all, why not? Everything considered, don
Rafael Brull deserved all that, and more! And those men, who were very
careful to keep silent when their wives spoke indignantly of the
"stranger," admired her with the instinctive fervor that beauty
inspires, and envied the deputy his good fortune. The old orchard-women
wrapped the couple in caressing glances of approval. There was a
handsome pair! What a fine match!
The town ladies in passing by would draw up full height and pretend not
to see them. On meeting acquaintances they would make wry faces and say
ironically: "Did you see?... here she is, in full sight of everybody,
casting her fly for dona Bernarda's son!" What a disgrace! It was
getting so a decent woman hardly dared go out of doors!
Leonora, quite unconscious of the interest she was arousing, chattered
on about her shopping. Beppa, you see, had decided to stay at home with
her aunt that morning; so she had come with her gardener's wife and
another woman--there they were over there with the large baskets. She
had no end of things to get--and she laughed as she read off the list. A
regular housewife she had become, yes, sir! She knew the price of
everything and could tell down to a _centime_ just what it was costing
her to live. It was like those hard times back in Milan, when she had
gone with her music roll under her arm to get macaroni, butter or coffee
at the grocer's. And what fun it all was!... However, Leonora observed
that, without a doubt, her audience was interpreting her cordial offhand
way with Rafael in the worst light possible. She gave him her hand and
took leave. It was growing late! If she stood there much longer the best
of the market would be carried off by others--if she found anything at
all left! "Down to business, then! Good-bye!"
And the young man saw her make her way, followed by the two country
women, through the crowds, pausing at the booths, welcomed by the
vendors with their best smiles, as a customer who never haggled;
interrupting her purchases to fondle the filthy, whining children the
poor women were carrying in their arms, and taking the best fruits out
of her basket to give to the little ones.
And everywhere general admiration! "_Asi, sinorita_!--Here, my dear
young lady!" "_Vinga, dona Leonor_!--This way, dona Leonora!" the
huckstresses cried, calling her by name to show greater intimacy. And
she would smile, with a familiar intimate word for everybody, her hand
frequently visiting the purse of Russian leather that hung from her
wrist. Cripples, blind beggars, men with missing arms or legs, all had
learned of the generosity of that woman who scattered small change by
Rafael gazed after her, smiling indifferently in acknowledgment of the
congratulations the town notables were heaping on him. The
_alcalde_--the most hen-pecked husband in Alcira, according to his
enemies--affirmed with sparkling eyes that for a woman like that he was
capable of doing almost any crazy thing. And they all joined in a chorus
of invidious praise, taking it for granted that Rafael was the
_artiste's_ accepted lover; though the youth himself smiled bitterly at
the thought of his real status with that wonderful woman.
And she vanished, finally, into the sea of heads at the other end of the
market-place; though Rafael, from time to time, thought he could still
make out a mass of golden hair rising above the _chevelures_ of the
other girls. Willingly he would have followed; but Don Matias was at his
side--don Matias, the wealthy orange exporter, father of the wistful
Remedios who was spending her days obediently at dona Bernarda's side.
That gentleman, heavy of speech and heavier still of thought, was
pestering Rafael with a lot of nonsense about the orange business,
giving the young man advice on a new bill he had drawn up and wanted to
have introduced in Congress--a protectionist measure for Spanish
oranges. "Why, it will be the making of the city, boy! Every mother's
son of us swimming in money!" as he guaranteed with his hand upon his
But Rafael's gaze was lost in the distant reaches of the Prado, to catch
one more fleeting glimpse of a golden head of hair--proof of Leonora's
presence still! He found it hard to be courteous, even, to this man who,
according to authentic rumor, was destined to be his father-in-law. Of
all the drawling trickling words only a few reached his ears, beating on
his brain like monotonous hammer blows. "Glasgow ... Liverpool ... new
markets ... lower railroad rates ... The English agents are a set of
"Very well, let them go hang," Rafael answered mentally. And giving a
mechanical "yes, yes!" to propositions he was not even hearing, he gazed
away more intently than ever, fearing lest Leonora should already have
gone. He felt relieved, however, when a gap opened in the crowd and he
could see the actress seated in a chair that had been offered her by a
huckstress. She was holding a child upon her knees, and talking with a
tiny, wretched, sickly creature who looked to Rafael like the
orchard-woman they had met at the hermitage.
"Well, what do you think of my plan?" don Matias asked.
"Excellent, magnificent, and well worthy of a man like you, who knows
the question from top to bottom. We'll discuss the matter thoroughly
when I return to the Cortes."
And to avoid a second exposition, he patted the wealthy boor on the
back, and wondered why in the world Fortune should have picked such a
disgusting man to smile on.
The whole city had known don Matias when he went around in peasant's
clogs and worked a tiny orchard he had secured on lease. His son, a
virtual half-wit, who took advantage of every opportunity to rifle the
old man's pockets and spend the money in Valencia with bull-fighters,
gamblers and horse-dealers, went barefoot in those days, scampering
about the roads with the children of the gipsies encamped in _El
Alborchi_. His daughter--the now well-behaved, the now modest, Remedios,
who was passing day after day at complicated needlework under the
tutelage of dona Bernarda--had grown up like a wild rabbit of the
fields, repeating with shocking fidelity all the oaths and vile language
she heard from the carters her father drank with.
"But you have to be an ox to get rich these days!" the barber Cupido
would say when don Matias came up for discussion.
Little by little the man had worked his way into the orange export
business--to England especially. His first stock he bought on credit;
and at once Fortune began to blow upon him with bloated cheeks, and she
was still puffing and puffing! His wealth had been accumulated in a few
years. In crises where the most powerful vessels foundered, that rude
and heavy bark, sailing on without chart or compass, suffered not the
slightest harm. His shipments always arrived at the psychological
moment. The fancy, carefully-selected oranges of other merchants would
land at Liverpool or London when the markets were glutted and prices
were falling scandalously. The lucky dolt would send anything at all
along, whatever was available, cheap; and circumstances always seemed to
favor him with an empty market and prices sky-high regardless of
quality. He realized fabulous profits. He had nothing but scorn for all
the wiseacres who subscribed to the English papers, received daily
bulletins and compared market quotations from year to year, getting, for
all their pains, results that made them tear their hair. He was an
ignoramus and he was proud of it! He trusted to his lucky star. Whenever
he thought it best, he would ship his produce off from the port of
Valencia, and--there you are!--it would always turn out that his oranges
found no competition on arrival and brought the highest prices. More
than once it had happened that rough weather held his vessel up.
Well--the market would sell out, and his shipment would have a clear
field just the same!
Within two years he had a place in town and had become a "personage." He
would smilingly declare that he wouldn't "go to the wall for under
eighty thousand _duros_." Later, ever on the wing, his fortune reached
dizzy heights. Folks whispered in superstitious awe the figures he made
in net profits at the end of every sailing. He owned warehouses as
large as churches in the vicinity of Alcira, employing armies of girls
to wrap the oranges and regiments of carpenters to make the crates. He
would buy the crop of an entire orchard at a single glance and never be
more than a few pounds off. As for the pay he gave, the city was proud
of its millionaire. Not even the Bank of Spain enjoyed the respect and
confidence his firm had won. No clerks and cashiers! No mahogany
furniture! Everything above board! Ask for a hundred thousand; and if
don Matias said "yes," he just went in to his bedroom and, God knows
from where, he would draw out a roll of bank-notes the size of your
And this lucky rustic, this upstart lout, rich without deserving it for
any competence he had, was giving himself the airs of an intelligent
dealer, presuming to approach Rafael, "his deputy," with a proposal for
a freight-rate bill to promote the shipping of oranges into the interior
of Spain! As if a little thing like a bill in Congress would make any
difference to his way of getting money!
Of his wretched past don Matias preserved but a single trait: his
respect for the house of Brull. The rest of the city he treated with a
certain uppishness; but he could not conceal the awe which dona Bernarda
inspired in him--a feeling that was strengthened by gratitude for her
kindness in singling him out (after he had become rich), and for the
interest she showed in his "little girl." He cherished a vivid memory of
Rafael's father, the "greatest man" he had known in all his life. It
seemed as though he could still see don Ramon stopping on his big horse
in front of his humble farmhouse and, with the air of a grand lord,
leaving orders for what don Matias was to do in the coming elections.
He knew the bad state in which the great man had left his affairs upon
his death; and more than once he had given money to dona Bernarda
outright, proud that she should do him the honor of appealing to him in
her straits. But in his eyes, the House of Brull, poor or rich, was
always the House of Brull, the cradle of a dynasty whose authority
no power could shake. He had money. But those _others_, the
Brulls--ah!--they had, up there in Madrid, friends, influence! If they
wanted to they could get the ear of the Throne itself. They were people
with a "pull," and if anyone suggested in his presence that Rafael's
mother was thinking of Remedios as a daughter-in-law, don Matias would
redden with satisfaction and modestly reply:
"I don't know; I imagine it's all talk. My Remedios is only a town girl,
you see. The senor deputy is probably thinking of someone from the
'upper crust' in Madrid."
Rafael had for some time been aware of his mother's plans. But he had no
use for "that crowd." The old man, despite his boresome habit of
suggesting "new bills," he could stand on account of his touching
loyalty to the Brull family. But the girl was an utterly insignificant
creature, pretty, to be sure, but only as any ordinary young girl is
pretty. And underneath that servile gentleness of hers lay an
intelligence even more obtuse than her father's, a mind filled with
nothing but piety and the religious phrases in which she had been
That morning, followed by an aged servant, and with all the gravity of
an orphan who must busy herself with the affairs of her household and
act as head of the home, Remedios had walked by Rafael twice. She
scarcely looked at him. The submissive smile of the future slave with
which she usually greeted him had disappeared. She was quite pale, and
her colorless lips were pressed tight together. Without a doubt in the
world she had seen him, from a distance, talking and laughing with "the
chorus girl." His mother would know all about it within an hour! Really,
that young female seemed to think he was her private property! And the
angry expression on her face was that of a jealous wife taking notes for
Scenting a danger Rafael took hasty leave of don Matias and his other
friends, and left the market place to avoid another meeting with
Remedios. Leonora was still there. He would wait for her on the road to
the orchard. He must take advantage of the early hour!
The orange country seemed to be quivering under the first kisses of
spring. The lithe poplars bordering the road were covered with tender
leaves. In the orchards the buds on the orange-trees, filling with the
new sap, were ready to burst, as in one grand explosion of perfume, into
white fragrant bloom. In the matted herbage on the river-banks the first
flowers were growing. Rafael felt the cool caress of the sod as he sat
down on the edge of the road. How sweet everything smelled! What a
beautiful day it was!
The timorous, odorous violet must be sprouting on the damp ground yonder
under the alders! And he went looking along the stream for those little
purple flowers that bring dreams of love with their fragrance! He would
make a bouquet to offer Leonora as she came by.
He felt thrilled with a boldness he had never known before. His hands
burned feverishly. Perhaps it was the emotion from his own sense of
daring. He had resolved to settle things that very morning. The fatuity
of the man who feels himself ridiculous and is determined to raise
himself in the eyes of his admirers, excited him, filling him with a
What would his friends, who envied him as Leonora's lover, say if they
knew she was treating him as an insignificant friend, a good little boy
who helped her while away the hours in the solitude of her voluntary
A few kisses--on her hand; a few kind words; many many cruel jests, such
as come from a chum conscious of superiority ... that was all he had won
after months and months and months of assiduous courtship, months of
disobedience to his mother, in whose house he had been living like a
stranger, without affection, at daggers' points; months of exposure to
the criticism of his enemies, who suspected him of a liaison with the
"chorus girl" and were raising their brows, horror-stricken, in the name
of morality. How they would scoff, if they knew the truth! Those
addlepates down at the Club were always boasting of their amorous
adventures, which began inevitably with the sudden physical attack and
ended in easy triumph.
With the Spaniard's mortal dread of looking ridiculous, Rafael began to
assure himself that those brutes were right--that such was the road to
a woman's heart. He had been too respectful, too humble, gazing at
Leonora, timidly, submissively, from afar, as an idolater might look at
an ikon. Bosh! Wasn't he a man, and isn't the man the stronger? Some
show of a male authority, that was what she needed! He liked her! Well,
that was the end of it! His she must be! Besides, since she treated him
so kindly, she surely loved him! A few scruples perhaps! But that would
be nothing, before a show of real manhood!
Just as this valorous decision had emerged in the full splendor of its
dignity from the mess of vacillation in his weak, irresolute character,
Rafael heard voices down the road. He jumped to his feet. Leonora was
approaching, followed by the two peasant women, who were bent low under
their heavily laden baskets.
"Here, too!" the actress exclaimed with a laugh that rippled charmingly
under the white skin of her throat. "You are getting to be my shadow. In
the market place, on the road, everywhere! I find you every time I look
She accepted the bouquet of violets from the young man's hand, inhaling
their fragrance with evidence of keen enjoyment.
"Thanks, Rafael, they are the first I have seen this season. My
beautiful, faithful old friend! Springtime! You have brought her to me
this year, though I felt her coming days before! I am so happy--can't
you see? I feel as though I'd been a silkworm all winter, coiled up in a
cocoon, and had now suddenly grown my wings! And I'm going to fly out
over this great green carpet, so sweet with its first perfumes! Don't
you feel as I do, Rafael?..."
Rafael, gravely, said he did. He, too, felt a seething in his blood, the
nip of life in every one of his pores! And his eyes ran over the bare
neck in front of him, a neck of such tempting smoothness, its white
beauty set off by the red kerchief; and over the violets resting on that
strong, robust bosom. The two orchard women exchanged a shrewd smile, a
meaningful wink, at sight of Rafael, and went on ahead of their
mistress, with the evident design of not disturbing the couple by their
presence; but Leonora caught the look on their faces.
"Yes, go right on," she said. "We'll take our time, but we'll be there
And when they were out of hearing she resumed, pointing to the women
with her closed parasol:
"Did you see that? Didn't you notice their smiles and the winks they
exchanged when they saw you on the road?... Oh, Rafael! You are blind as
a bat! And no good is going to come of it! If I had any reputation to
lose, I'd be mighty careful with a friend like you! What do you suppose
they are thinking?"
And she laughed with a pout of condescension, as though for her part,
she did not care what people might be saying about her friendship with
"On the market-place all the huckstresses talk to me about you, with the
idea of flattering me. They assure me we'd make a wonderful couple. My
kitchen woman seizes every opportunity to tell me how handsome you are.
You ought to thank her.... Even my aunt, my poor aunt, with one leg in
the grave, drew it out the other day to say to me: 'Do you notice that
Rafael visits us quite frequently? Do you think he wants to marry you?'
Marry, you see! Ha, ha, ha! Marry! That's all poor auntie can see in the
world for a woman!"
And she went on gaily chattering like a wild bird escaped from a cage
and happy at its liberty, though her frank, mocking laughter was in
strange contrast with the expression of sinister determination on
"But how glum and queer you look today! Are you ill?... What's the
Rafael took advantage of this opening. Ill, yes! Sick with love! He knew
the whole place was gossiping about them. But it wasn't his fault. He
simply couldn't hide his feelings. If she only realized what that mute
adoration was costing him! He had tried to root the thought of her out
of his mind, but that had been impossible. He must see her, hear her! He
lived for her alone. Study? Impossible! Play, with his friends? They had
all become obnoxious to him! His house was a cave, a cellar, a place to
eat in and sleep in. He left it the moment he got out of bed, and kept
away from the city, too, which seemed stuffy, oppressive, like a jail to
him. Off to the fields; to the orchards, to the Blue House where she
lived! He would wait and wait for afternoon to come--the time when, by a
tacit arrangement neither of them had proposed, he might enter her
orchard and find her on the bench under the four dead palms!... Well, he
could not go on living that way. Poor folks envied him his power,
because he was a deputy, at twenty-five! And yet his one purpose in life
was to be ... well, she could guess what ... that garden bench, for
instance, gently, deliciously burdened with her weight for whole
afternoons; or that needlework which played about in her soft fingers;
or one of her servants, Beppa, perhaps, who could waken her in the
morning, bend low over her sleeping head, and smooth the loose tresses
spread like rivulets of gold over the white pillow. A slave, an animal,
a thing even, provided it should be in continuous contact with her
person--that was what he longed to be; not to find himself obliged, at
nightfall, to leave her after a parting absurdly prolonged by childish
pretexts, and return to his irritating, common, vulgar life at home, to
the solitude of his room, where he imagined he could see a pair of green
eyes staring at him from every dark corner, tempting him.
Leonora was not laughing. Her gold-spotted eyes had opened wide; her
nostrils were quivering with emotion. She seemed deeply moved by the
young man's eloquent sincerity.
"Poor Rafael! My poor dear boy!... And what are we going to do?"
Down at the Blue House, Rafael had never dared speak so openly. The
presence of Leonora's servants; the nonchalant, mocking air with which
she welcomed him at the door; the irony with which she met his every
hint at a declaration had always crushed, humiliated him. But there, on
the open highway, it was different somehow. He felt free. He would empty
his whole heart out.
What anguish! Every day he went to the Blue House trembling with hope,
enthralled in his dream of love! "Perhaps it will be today," he would
say to himself each time. And his legs would give way at the knees, and
he would choke as he swallowed! Then, hours later, at nightfall, he
would slink home, downcast, dispirited, desperate, staggering along the
road under the star-light as if he were drunk, repressing the tears
burning in his eyes, longing for the peace of death, like a weary
explorer who must go on and on breaking his way over one ice-field after
another. She must have noticed, surely! She must have seen the untiring
efforts he made to please her!... Ignorant, humble, recognizing the vast
gulf that separated them because of the different lives they had led,
how he had worked to raise himself to a level with the men who had loved
and won her! If she spoke of the Russian count--a model of stylish
elegance--the next day, to the great astonishment of his mother, Rafael
would take out his best clothes and, all sweating in the hot sun and
nearly strangled by a high collar, he would set out along that same
road--his Road to Calvary--walking on his toes like a boarding-school
girl in order not to get his shoes dirty. If Hans Keller had come to
Leonora's mind, he would run through his histories of music, and
dressing up like some artist he had read about in novels, would come to
her house fully intending to deliver an oration on the immortal Master,
Wagner, whom he knew nothing at all about, but whom he adored as a
member of his family.... Good God! All that was ridiculous, he knew very
well; it would have been far better to present himself just as he was,
undisguised, in all his littleness. He knew that this pretending to
equality with the thousand or more figures flitting in Leonora's memory,
was grotesque. But there was nothing, absolutely nothing he would not do
to stir her heart a little, be loved for a day, a minute, a second--and
There was a note of such real feeling in the youth's confession that
Leonora, more and more deeply moved, unconsciously drew closer to him,
almost grazing him as they walked along; and she smiled slightly, as she
repeated her previous phrase--a blend of motherly affection and
"Poor Rafael!... My poor dear boy!"
They had reached the gate to the orchard. The walk inside was deserted.
In the little square some hens were scratching about.
Overwhelmed by the strain of that confession, in which he had vented the
anguish and dreams of many months, Rafael leaned against the trunk of an
old orange-tree. Leonora stood in front of him, listening to his words,
with head lowered, making marks on the ground with the tip of her red
Die, yes; he had often read in novels about people dying for love. And
he had always laughed at the absurdity of such a thing. But he
understood now. Many a night, tossing in his delirium, he had thought of
ending his misery in some tragic manner. The violent, domineering blood
of his father seethed in his veins. Once firmly convinced she could
never be his, he would kill her, to keep her from belonging to
anybody... and then stab himself! They would fall together to the
blood-soaked ground, and lie there as on a bed of red damask, and he
would kiss her cold lips, without fear of being disturbed; kiss her and
kiss her, till the last breath of his life exhaled upon her livid mouth.
He seemed to be saying all that with deadly earnestness. The muscles of
his strong face quivered, and his eyes--Moorish eyes--glowed like live
coals. Leonora was looking at him passionately now, as if a man were in
front of her. She shuddered with a strange fascination as she pictured
his barbarous dreams, fraught with blood and death. This was something
new! This boy, when he saw that his love was vain, would not gloomily
and prosaically slay himself as Macchia, the Italian poet, had done. He
would die, but asserting himself, killing the woman, destroying his idol
when it would not harken to his entreaties!
And, pleasantly excited by Rafael's tragic demeanor, she gave way to the
thrill of it, letting herself be carried along by his anguished rapture.
He had taken her arm and was drawing her off the path, out among the
low-hanging branches of the orange-trees.
For some time they were both silent. Leonora seemed to be drinking in
the virile perfume of that savage passionate adoration.
Rafael thought he had offended her, and was sorry for his violent words.
She must pardon him; he was beside himself, exasperated beyond bounds at
her strange resistance. Leonora! Leonora! Why persist in spoiling a
perfectly beautiful thing? He was not wholly a matter of indifference in
her eyes. She did not dislike him. Otherwise she would not have let him
be a friend and have permitted his frequent visits. Love?... Of course
she did not love him--poor unhappy wretch that he was, incapable of
inspiring passion in a woman like her. But let her just accept him. He
would teach her to love him in time, win her by the sheer beauty of his
own tenderness and worship. His love alone, alas, was great enough for
both of them and for all the famous lovers in history put together! He
would be her slave; a carpet for her to tread underfoot; a dog, always
at her feet, his eyes burning with the fire of eternal fidelity! She
would finally learn to be fond of him, if not out of passion, at least
out of gratitude and pity!
And as he spoke, he brought his face close to Leonora's, looking for his
own image in the depths of her green eyes; and he pressed her arm in a
fever of passion.
"Careful, Rafael.... That hurts! Let go, of me."
And as if suddenly sensing a danger in the full of a sweet dream, she
shuddered and pulled herself free with a nervous violence.
Then, quite recovered from the intoxication into which she had been led
by Rafael's passionate appeal, she began to speak calmly, composedly.
No; what he asked was impossible. Her fate was ordained; she did not
want love any more.... Friendship had carried them a bit astray. It was
her fault, but she would find a way to remedy that. If she had known him
years before--perhaps! She might have learned to love him. He was more
worthy of being loved than many of the men she had accepted. But he had
come too late. Now she was content with just living. Besides, what a
horror! Imagine a "grand passion" in a petty environment such as they
were in, a tiny world of gossip-mongers and evil tongues! Imagine having
to hide like a criminal to express a noble emotion! No, when she loved,
she loved in the open, with the sublime immodesty of the masterpiece
that scandalizes bumpkins with its naked beauty! How impossible it would
be, finding herself nibbled at constantly by gossiping fools, quite
beneath her contempt. She would feel the scorn and the indignation of a
whole town about her. They would accuse her of leading an innocent boy
astray, alienating him from his own mother. "No, Rafael; a thousand
times no; I have a little conscience left! I'm not the irresponsible
siren I used to be."
"But what about me?" cried the youth, seizing her arm again with a
boyish petulance. "You think of yourself and of other people, but never
of me. What am I going to do all along with my suffering?"
"Oh, you? Why ... you will forget," said Leonora gravely. "I have just
realized this very moment that it is impossible for me to stay here any
longer. We two must separate. I will leave before Spring is over; I'll
go ... I don't know where, back to the world at any rate, take up my
singing again, where I'll not find men of just your kind. Time, and my
absence, will attend to the curing of you."
Leonora winced before the flash of savage desire that gleamed in
Rafael's eyes. On her face she felt the ardent breath of lips that were
seeking her own, and she heard him murmur with a stifled roar of
"No. You shall not go; I refuse to let you go!"
And she felt his strong arms close about her, swaying her from head to
foot, in a clasp to which madness added strength. Her feet left the
ground, and a brutal thrust threw her to her side at the foot of an
But, in a flash, the Valkyrie reappeared in Leonora. With a supreme
effort, she struggled free from the encircling vise, sat up, threw
Rafael violently to his back, got to her feet, and stamped a foot
brutally and mercilessly down upon the young man's chest, using her
whole weight as though bent on crushing the very framework of his body.
Her face was an inspiring thing to look upon. She seemed to have gone
mad! Her blond hair had fallen awry and was flecked with leaves and
grass and bark. Her green eyes flashed with metallic glints, like
daggers. Her lips were pale from emotion. And in that wild posture,
whether through force of habit, or the suggestiveness of the effort she
had made, she raised her warcry--a piercing, savage "_Hojotoho!_" that
rent the calm of the orchard, frightening the hens and sending them
scampering off over the paths. Her parasol she brandished as if it were
the lance of Wotan's daughter, and several times she aimed it at
Rafael's eyes, as if she intended to spear him blind.
The youth seemed to have collapsed less from the violence of the
struggle than from an overpowering sense of shame. He lay motionless on
the ground, without protesting, and as if not caring ever to rise
again--longing to die under the pressure of that foot which was so
heavily weighing down upon him, taking away his breath.
Leonora regained her composure, and slowly stepped back. Rafael sat up,
and reached for his hat.
It was a painful moment. They stood there cold, as if the sun had gone
out and a glacial wind were blowing through the orchard.
Rafael kept his eyes to the ground, afraid to look up and meet her gaze,
ashamed at the thought of his disordered clothes, which were soiled with
dirt; humiliated at having been beaten and pummeled like a robber caught
by a victim he had expected to find powerless.
He heard Leonora's voice addressing him with the scornful "_tu_" a lady
might use toward her lowest inferiors.
He raised his head and found Leonora looking at him, her eyes ablaze
with anger and offended dignity.
"I'm never taken by force," she said coldly. "I give myself ... if I
feel like it."
And in the gesture of scorn and rage with which she dismissed him,
Rafael thought he caught a trace of loathing at some memory of
Boldini--that repugnant lecher, who had been the only person in the
world to win her by violence.
Rafael tried to stammer an excuse, but that hateful association of the
brutal scene rendered her implacable.
"Go! Go, or I'll beat you again!... And never come back!"
And to emphasize the words, as Rafael, humiliated and covered with dirt,