Part 4 out of 5
was leaving the garden, she shut the gate behind him with such a violent
slam that the bars almost went flying.
Dona Bernarda was much pleased with Rafael. The angry glances, the
gestures of impatience, the wordless arguments between mother and son,
which the household had formerly witnessed in such terror, had come to
The boy had not been visiting the Blue House for some time. She knew
that with absolute certainty, thanks to the gratuitous espionage
conducted for her by persons attached to the Brull family. He scarcely
ever left the house; a few moments at the Club after lunch; and the rest
of the day in the dining-room, with her and family friends; or else,
shut up in his room, with his books, probably, which the austere senora
revered with the superstitious awe of ignorance.
Don Andres, her advisor, commented upon the change with a gloating "I
told you so." What had he always said, when dona Bernarda, in the
confiding intimacies of that friendship which amounted almost to a
senile, a tranquil, a distantly respectful passion, would complain of
Rafael's contrariness? That it would all pass; that it was a young man's
whim; that youth must have its fling! What was the use? Rafael hadn't
studied to be a monk! Many boys his age, and even older ones, were far
worse!... And the old gentleman smiled, for he was thinking of his own
easy conquests with the wretched flock of dirty, unkempt peasant girls
who wrapped the oranges in the shipping houses of Alcira. "You see, dona
Bernarda, you suffered too much with don Ramon. You are a bit too
exacting with Rafael. Let him have a good time! Let him enjoy himself!
He'll get tired of that chorus girl soon enough, pretty as she is. Then
you can take hold and start him right!"
Dona Bernarda once again had reason to appreciate the talent of her
counsellor. His predictions, made with a cynicism that always caused the
pious lady to blush, had been fulfilled to the letter!
She, too, was sure it was all over. Her son was not so blind as his
father had been. He had soon wearied of a "lost woman" like Leonora; he
had decided it was not worth while to quarrel with his mamma over so
trifling a matter, and have his enemies discredit him on that account.
He was returning to the path of duty; and to express her unbounded joy,
the good woman could not pamper him enough.
"And how about ... that?" her friends would ask her, mysteriously.
"Nothing," she would answer, with a proud smile. "Three weeks have gone
by and he hasn't shown the slightest inclination to go back. No, Rafael
is a good boy. All that was just a young one's notion. If you could only
see him keeping me company in the parlor every afternoon! An angel! Good
as pie! He spends hour after hour chatting with me and Matias's
And then, broadening her smile and winking cunningly, she would add:
"I think there's something doing in that direction."
And indeed something was "doing"; at least, to judge by appearances.
Bored with wandering from room to room through the house, sick of his
books, with which he would spend hours and hours turning pages without
really seeing a word that was printed on them, Rafael had taken refuge
in the sitting-room where his mother did her sewing, supervising a
complicated piece of embroidery that Remedios was making.
The girl's submissive simplicity appealed to Rafael. Her ingenuousness
gave him a sense of freshness and repose. She was a cosy secluded refuge
where he might sleep after a tempest. His mother's satisfied smile was
there to encourage him in this feeling. Never had he seen her so kind
and so communicative. The pleasure of having him once more safe and
obedient in her hands had mollified that disposition so stern by nature
as to verge on rudeness.
Remedios, with her head bowed low over her embroidery, would blush deep
red whenever Rafael praised her work or told her she was the prettiest
girl in all Alcira. He would help her thread her needles, and hold his
hands out to make a winding frame for the skeins; and more than once,
with the familiarity of an old playmate, he would pinch her
mischievously through the embroidery hoop. And she would never miss the
chance to scream scandal.
"Rafael, don't be crazy," his mother would say, threatening him
indulgently with her withered forefinger. "Let Remedios work; if you
carry on so I won't let you come into the parlor."
And at night, alone in the dining-room with don Andres, when the hour
of confidences came, dona Bernarda would forget the affairs of "the
House" and of "the Party," to say with satisfaction:
"It's going better."
"Is Rafael taking to her?"
"More and more every day. We're getting there, we're getting there! That
boy is the living image of his father when it comes to matters like
this. Believe me, you can't let one of that tribe out of your sight a
minute. If I didn't keep my eye peeled, that young devil would be doing
something that would discredit the House forever."
And the good woman was sure that Doctor Moreno's daughter--that
abominable creature whose good looks had been her nightmare for some
months past--no longer existed for Rafael.
She knew, from her spies, that on one market morning the two had met on
the street in town. Rafael had looked the other way, as if trying to
avoid her; the "_comica_" had turned pale and walked straight ahead
pretending not to see him. What did that mean?... A break for good of
course! The impudent hussy was livid with rage, you see, perhaps because
she could not trap her Rafael again; for he, weary of such
uncleanliness, had abandoned her forever. Ah, the lost soul, the
indecent gad-about! Excuse me! Was a woman to educate a son in the
soundest and most virtuous principles, make a somebody of him, and then
have an adventuress come along, a thousand times worse than a common
street-woman, and carry him off, as nice as you please, in her filthy
hands? What had the daughter of that scamp of a doctor thought?... Let
her fume! "You're sore just because you see he's dumped you for good!"
In the joy of her triumph dona Bernarda was thinking anxiously of her
son's marriage to Remedios, and, coming down one peg on the ladder of
her dignity toward don Matias, she began to treat the exporter as a
member of the family, commenting contentedly upon the growing affection
that united their two children.
"Well, if they're fond of each other," said the rustic magnate, "the
wedding can take place tomorrow so far as I'm concerned. Remedios means
a good deal to me; hard to find a girl like her for running a house; but
that needn't interfere with the marriage. I'm mighty well satisfied,
dona Bernarda, that we should be related through our children. I'm only
sorry that don Ramon isn't here to see it all."
And that was true. The one thing lacking to the millionaire's perfect
joy was that he would never have the chance to treat the tall, imposing
Don Ramon on equal terms for once,--the crowning triumph of a self-made
Dona Bernarda, too, saw in this union the realization of her fondest
dreams: money joined to power; the millions of a business, whose
marvelous successes seemed like deliberate tricks of Chance, coming to
revivify with their sap of gold the Brull family tree, which was showing
the signs of age and long years of struggle!
Spring had come on apace. Some afternoons dona Bernarda would take "the
children" to her own orchards or to the wealthy holdings of don Matias.
It was a sight worth seeing--the kindly shrewdness with which she
chaperoned the young couple, shouting with shocked alarm if they
disappeared behind the orange-trees for a moment or two in their
"That Rafael of ours," she would say to don Andres, mimicking the long
face he used to put on when bringing up her troubles with her husband,
"what a rascal he is! I'll bet he's got both arms around her by this
"Let 'em alone, let 'em alone, dona Bernarda! The deeper in he gets with
this one, the less likely he'll be to go back to the other."
Back to her?... There was no fear of that. It was enough to watch Rafael
picking flowers and weaving them into the girl's hair while she
pretended to fight him off, blushing like a rose, and quite moved at
"Now be good, Rafaelito," Remedios would murmur in a sort of entreating
bleat, "don't touch me; don't be so bold."
But her emotion would so betray her that you could see the thing she
most wanted in the world was for Rafael to place upon her body once
again those hands that made her tingle from the tips of her toes to the
roots of her hair. She resisted only because such was the duty of a
well-educated Christian girl. Like a young she-goat she would dash off
with graceful, tripping bounds between the rows of orange-trees, and _su
senoria_, the member from Alcira, would give chase with all his might,
his nostrils quivering and his eyes ablaze.
"Let's see if he can catch you!" the mother would call, with a laugh.
"Run and let him try to catch you!"
Don Andres would roll up his wrinkled face into the smile of an old
faun. Such play made him feel young again.
"Huh, _senora_! I believe you. This is getting on--on, and then some.
I'd say, marry them off pretty quick; for, if you don't, mark my word,
there'll soon be something for Alcira to laugh about."
And they were both mistaken. Neither the mother nor don Andres was
present to note the expression of dejection and despair on Rafael's face
when he was alone, shut up in his room, where, in the dark corners, he
could still see a pair of green, mysterious eyes gleaming at him and
Go back to her? Never! He still felt the shame, the humiliation of that
morning. He could see himself in all his tragic ridiculousness, in a heap
on the ground, trampled under foot by that Amazon, covered with dirt, as
humble and abashed as a criminal caught redhanded and with no excuse.
And then that word, that had cut like the lash of a whip: "Go!" As if he
were a lackey who had dared approach a Duchess! And then that gate
slamming behind him, falling like a slab over a tomb, setting up an
eternal barrier between him and the love of his life!
No, he would never go back! He was not brave enough to face her again.
That morning when he had met her by chance near the market-place, he
thought he would die of shame; his legs sagged under him, and the street
turned black as if night had suddenly fallen. She had disappeared; but
there was a ringing in his ears; and he had had to take hold of
something, as if the earth were swaying under his feet, and he would
He needed to forget that unutterable disgrace--a recollection as
tenacious as remorse itself. That was why he had plunged into the
affair with his mother's protegee--as a sort of anaesthetic. She was a
woman! And his hands, which seemed to have been unbound since that
painful morning, went out toward her; his tongue, free after his
vehement confession of love at the orchard-gate, spoke glibly now
expressing an adoration that seemed to go beyond the inexpressive
features of Remedios, and reach far, far away, to the Blue House, where
the other woman was, offended and in hiding.
With Remedios he would feel some sign of life, only to relapse into
torpid gloom the moment he was left alone. It was a foamy, frothy
intoxication he felt when with the girl, an effervescence that all
evaporated in solitude. He thought of Remedios as a piece of green
fruit--sound, free of cut or stain, and with all the color of maturity,
but lacking the taste that satisfies and the perfume that enthralls.
In his strange situation, spending days in childish games with a young
girl who aroused in him nothing more than the bland sense of fraternal
comradeship, and nights in sad and sleepless recollection, the one thing
that pleased him was intimacy with his mother. Peace had been restored
to the home. He could come and go without being conscious of a pair of
eyes glaring upon him and without hearing words of indignation stifled
between grating teeth.
Don Andres and his friends at the Club kept asking him when the wedding
would take place. In presence of "the children" dona Bernarda would
speak of alterations that would have to be made in the house. She and
the servants would occupy the ground floor. The whole first story would
be for the couple, with new rooms that would be the talk of the
city--they would get the best decorators in Valencia! Don Matias treated
him familiarly, just as he had in the old days when he came to the
_patio_ to get his orders from don Ramon and found Rafael, as a child,
playing at his father's feet.
"Everything I have will be for you two. Remedios is an angel, and the
day I die, she will get more than my rascal of a son. All I ask of you
is not to take her off to Madrid. Since she is leaving my roof, at least
let me be able to see her every day."
And Rafael would listen to all these things as in a dream. In reality he
had not expressed the slightest desire to marry; but there was his
mother, taking everything for granted, arranging everything, imposing
her will, accelerating his sluggish affection, literally forcing
Remedios into his arms! His wedding was a foregone conclusion, the topic
of conversation for the entire city.
Sunk in this sadness, in the clutch of the tranquillity which now
surrounded him and which he was afraid to break; weak, as a matter of
character, and without will power, he sought consolation in the
reflection that the solution his mother was preparing was perhaps for
His friendship with Leonora had been broken forever. Any day she might
take flight! She had said so very often. She would be going very
soon--when the blossoms were off the orange-trees! What would be left
for him then ... except to obey his mother? He would marry, and perhaps
that would serve as a distraction. Little by little his affection for
Remedios might grow. Perhaps in time he would even come to love her.
Such meditations brought him a little calm, lulling him into an
attitude of agreeable irresponsibility. He would turn child again, as he
once had been, have his mother take charge of everything; let himself be
drawn along, passive, unresisting, by the current of destiny.
But at times this resignation boiled up into hot, seething ebullitions
of angry protest, of raging passion. At night Rafael could not sleep.
The orange-trees were beginning to bloom. The blossoms, like an odorous
snow, covered the orchards and shed their perfume as far even as the
city streets. The air was heavy with fragrance. To breathe was to scent
a nosegay. Through the window-gratings under the doors, through the
walls, the virginal perfume of the vast orchards filtered--an
intoxicating breath, that Rafael, in his impassioned restlessness,
imagined as wafted from the Blue House, caressing Leonora's lovely
figure, and catching something of the divine fragrance of her redolent
beauty. And he would roll furiously between the sheets, biting the
pillow and moaning.
One night, toward the end of April, Rafael drew back in front of the
door to his room, with the tremor he would have felt on the threshold of
a place of horror. He could not endure the thought of the night that
awaited him. The whole city seemed to have sunk into languor, in that
atmosphere so heavily charged with perfume. The lash of spring was
stirring all the impulses of life with its exciting caress, and goading
every feeling to new intensity. Not the slightest breeze was blowing.
The orchards saturated the calm atmosphere with their odorous
respiration. The lungs expanded as if there were no air, and all space
were being inhaled in each single breath. A voluptuous shudder was
stirring the countryside as it lay dozing under the light of the moon.
Hardly realizing what he was doing, Rafael went down into the street.
Soon he found himself upon the bridge, where a few strollers, hat in
hand, were breathing the night air eagerly, looking at the clusters of
broken light that the moon was scattering over the river like fragments
of a mirror.
He went on through the silent, deserted streets of the suburbs, his
footsteps echoing from the sidewalks. One row of houses lay white and
gleaming under the moon. The other was plunged in shadow. He was drawn
on and on into the mysterious silence of the fields.
His mother was asleep, he suddenly reflected. She would know nothing. He
would be free till dawn. He yielded further to the attraction of the
roads that wound in and out through the orchards, where so many times he
had dreamed and hoped.
The spectacle was not new to Rafael. Every year he had watched that
fertile plain come to life at the touch of Springtime, cover itself with
flowers, fill the air with perfumes; and yet, that night, as he beheld
the vast mantle of orange-blossoms that had settled over the fields, and
was gleaming in the moonlight like a fall of snow, he felt himself
completely in control of an infinitely sweet emotion.
The orange-trees, covered from trunk to crown with white, ivory-smooth
flowerets, seemed like webs of spun glass, the vegetation of one of
those fantastic snow-mantled landscapes that quiver sometimes in the
glass spheres of paper-weights. The perfume came in continuous,
successive waves, rolling out upon the infinite with a mysterious
palpitation, transfiguring the country, imparting to it a feeling of
supernaturalness--the vision of a better world, of a distant planet
where men feed on perfume and live in eternal poetry. Everything was
changed in this spacious love-nest softly lighted by a great lantern of
mother-of-pearl. The sharp crackling of the branches sounded in the deep
silence like so many kisses; the murmur of the river became the distant
echo of passionate love-making, hushed voices whispering close to the
loved one's ears words tremulous with adoration. From the canebrake a
nightingale was singing softly, as if the beauty of the night had
subdued its plaintive song.
How good it was to be alive! The blood tingled more rapidly, more hotly,
through the body! Every sense seemed sharper, more acute; though that
landscape imposed silence with its pale wan beauty, just as certain
emotions of intense joy are tasted with a sense of mystic shrinking!
Rafael followed the usual path. He had turned instinctively toward the
The shame of his disgrace still smarted raw within him. Had he met
Leonora now in the middle of the road he would have recoiled in childish
terror; but he would not meet her at such an hour. That reflection gave
him strength to walk on. Behind him, over the roofs of the city, the
tolling of a clock rolled. Midnight! He would go as far as the wall of
her orchard, enter if that were possible, stand there a few moments in
silent humility before the house, looking up adoringly at the windows
behind which Leonora lay sleeping.
It would be his farewell! The whim had occurred to him as he left the
city and saw the first orange-trees laden with the blossoms whose
perfume had for many months been holding the songstress there in patient
expectation. Leonora would never know he had been near her in the silent
orchard bathed in moonlight, taking leave of her with the unspoken
anguish of an eternal farewell, as to a dream vanishing on the horizon
The gate with the green wooden bars came into view among the trees--the
gate that had been slammed behind him in insulting dismissal. Among the
thorns of the hedge he looked for an opening he had discovered in the
days when he used to hover about the house. He went through, and his
feet sank into the fine, sandy soil of the orange-groves. Above the tops
of the trees, the house itself could be seen, white in the moonlight.
The rain-troughs of the roof and the balustrades of the balconies shone
like silver. The windows were all closed. Everything was asleep.
He was about to step forward, when a dark form shot out from between two
orange-trees and stopped near him with a muffled growl. It was the house
dog, an ugly, ill-tempered animal trained to bite before it barked.
Rafael recoiled instinctively from the warm breath of that panting,
furious muzzle which was reaching for his leg; but the dog, after a
second's hesitation, began to wag its tail with pleasure; and was
content merely to sniff at the boy's trousers so as to make absolutely
sure of an old friend's identity. Rafael patted him on the head, as he
had done so many times, distractedly, in conversations with Leonora on
the bench in the _plazoleta_. A good omen this encounter seemed! And he
walked on, while the dog resumed his watch in the darkness.
Timidly he made his way forward in the shelter of a large patch of
shadow cast by the orange-trees, dragging himself along, almost, like a
thief afraid of an ambuscade.
He reached the walk leading to the _plazoleta_ and was surprised to find
the gate half open. Suddenly he heard a suppressed cry near by.
He turned around, and there on the tile bench, wrapped in the shadow of
the palm-trees and the rose-bushes, he saw a white form--a woman. As she
rose from her seat the moonlight fell squarely on her features.
The youth would have gladly sunk into the earth. "Rafael! You here?..."
And the two stood there in silence, face to face. He kept his eyes fixed
on the ground, ashamed. She looked at him with a certain indecision.
"You've given me a scare that I'll never forgive you for," she said at
last. "What are you doing here?..."
Rafael was at a loss for a reply. He stammered with an embarrassment
that quite impressed Leonora; but despite his agitation, he noticed a
strange glitter in the girl's eyes, and a mysterious veiling of her
voice that seemed to transfigure her.
"Come, now," said Leonora gently, "don't hunt up any far-fetched
excuses.... You were coming to bid me good-bye--and without trying to
see me! What a lot of nonsense! Why don't you say right out that you
are a victim of this dangerous night--as I am, too?"
And her eyes, glittering with a tearful gleam, swept the _plazoleta_,
which lay white in the moonlight; and the snowy orange-blossoms, the
rose-bushes, the palm-trees, that stood out black against the blue sky
where the stars were twinkling like grains of luminous sand. Her voice
trembled with a soft huskiness, as caressing as velvet.
Rafael, quite encouraged by this unexpected reception, tried to beg
forgiveness for the madness that had caused his expulsion from the
place; but the actress cut him short.
"Let's not discuss that unpleasant thing! It hurts me just to think of
it. You're forgiven; and since you've fallen on this spot as though
heaven had dropped you here, you may stay a moment. But ... no
liberties. You know me now."
And straightening up to her full height as an Amazon sure of herself,
she turned to the bench, motioning to Rafael to take a seat at the other
"What a night!... I feel a strange intoxication without wine! The
orange-trees seem to inebriate me with their very breath. An hour ago my
room was whirling round and round, as though I were going to faint. My
bed was like a frail bark tossing in a tempest. So I came down as I
often do; and here you can have me until sleep proves more powerful than
the beauty of this beautiful night."
She spoke with a languid abandonment; her voice quivering, and tremors
rippling across her shoulders, as if all the perfume were hurting her,
oppressing her powerful vitality. Rafael sat looking at her over the
length of the bench--a white, sepulchral figure, wrapped in the hooded
cape of a dressing-gown--the first thing she had laid hands upon when
she had thought of going out into the garden.
"I was frightened when I saw you," she continued, in a slow, faint
voice. "A little fright, nothing more! A natural surprise, I suppose;
and yet, I was thinking of you that very moment. I confess it. I was
saying to myself: 'What can that crazy boy be doing, at this hour, I
wonder?' And suddenly you appeared, like a ghost. You couldn't sleep;
you were excited by all this fragrance; and you have come to try your
luck anew, with the hope that brought you here at other times."
She spoke without her usual irony, softly, simply, as if she were
talking to herself. Her body was thrown limply back against the bench,
one arm resting behind her head.
Rafael started to speak once more of his repentance, of his desire to
kneel in front of the house there in mute entreaty for pardon, while she
would be sleeping in the room above. But Leonora interrupted him again.
"Hush! Your voice is very loud. They might hear you. My aunt's room is
in the other wing of the house, but she's not a heavy sleeper....
Besides, I don't care to listen to talk about remorse, pardon, and such
things. It makes me think of that morning. The mere fact that I am
letting you stay here ought to be enough, oughtn't it? I want to forget
all that.... Hush, Rafael! Silence makes the beauty of the night more
wonderful. The fields seem to be talking with the moon, and these waves
of perfume that are sweeping over us are echoes of their passionate
And she fell silent, keeping absolutely still, her eyes turned upward,
catching the moonbeams in their tear-like moisture. From time to time
Rafael saw her quiver with a mysterious tremor; then extend her arms and
cross them behind her head of golden hair, in a voluptuous stretch that
made her white robe rustle, while her limbs grew taut in a delicious
tension. She seemed upset, ill almost; at times her panting breath was
like a sob. Her head drooped over a shoulder and her breast heaved with
The youth was obediently silent, fearing lest the remembrance of his
base audacity should again come up in the conversation; and not
venturing to reduce the distance that separated them on the bench. She
seemed to divine what he was thinking and began to speak, slowly, of the
abnormal state of mind in which she found herself.
"I don't know what's the matter with me tonight. I feel like crying,
without knowing why. I am filled with a strange inexplicable happiness,
and yet I could just weep and weep. Oh, I know--it's the Springtime; all
this fragrance that whips my nerves like a lash. I really believe I'm
crazy.... Springtime! My best friend--though she has done me only wrong!
If ever I have been guilty of any foolish thing in my life, Spring was
at the bottom of it.... It's youth reborn in us--madness paying us its
annual visit.... And I--ever faithful to her, adoring her; waiting in
this out-of-the-way spot almost a year for her to come, to see her once
more in her best clothes, crowned with orange-blossoms like a virgin--a
wicked virgin who pays me back for my devotion with betrayal!... Just
see what I've come to! I am ill--I don't know why--with excess of life,
perhaps. She drives me on I don't know where, but certainly where I
ought not to go.... If it weren't for sheer will-power on my part, I'd
collapse in a heap on this bench here. I'm just like a drunken man
bending every effort to keep his feet and walk straight."
It was true; she was really ill. Her eyes grew more and more tearful;
her body was quivering, shrinking, collapsing, as if life were
overflowing within her and escaping through all her pores.
Again she was silent, for a long time, her eyes gazing vacantly into
space; then, she murmured, as if in answer to a thought of her own.
"No one ever understood as well as He. He knew everything, felt as
nobody ever felt the mysterious hidden workings of Nature; and He sang
of Springtime as a god would sing. Hans used to remark that many a time;
and it's so."
Without turning her head she added, in a dreamy musing voice.
"Rafael, you don't know _Die Walkuere_, do you? You've never heard the
He shook his head. And Leonora, with her eyes still gazing moonward, her
head resting back against her arms, which escaped in all their round,
pearly strength from her drooping sleeves, spoke slowly, collecting her
memories, recreating in her mind's eye that Wagnerian scene of such
intense poetry--the glorification and the triumph of Nature and Love.
Hunding's hut, a barbaric dwelling, hung with savage trophies of the
chase, suggesting the brutish existence of man scarcely yet possessed of
the world, in perpetual strife with the elements and with wild animals.
The eternal fugitive, forgotten of his father,--Sigmund by name, though
he calls himself "Despair," wandering years and years through the
forests, harrassed by beasts of prey who take him for one of themselves
in his covering of skins, rests at last at the foot of the giant oak
that sustains the hut; and as he drinks the hidromel in the horn offered
to him by the sweet Siglinda, he gazes into her pure eyes and for the
first time becomes aware that Love exists.
The husband, Hunding, the wild huntsman, takes leave of him at the end
of the rustic supper: "Your father was the Wolf, and I am of the race of
Hunters. Until the break of day, my house protects you; you are my
guest; but as soon as the sun rises in the heavens you become my enemy,
and we will fight.... Woman, prepare the night's drink; and let us be
off to bed."
And the exile sits alone beside the fireplace, thinking of his immense
loneliness. No home, no family, not even the magic sword promised him by
his father the Wolf. And at daybreak, out of the hut that shelters him
the enemy will come to slay him. The thought of the woman who allayed
his thirst, the sparkle of those pure eyes wrapping him in a gaze of
pity and love, is the one thing that sustains him.... She comes to him
when her wild consort has fallen asleep. She shows him the hilt of the
sword plunged into the oak by the god Wotan; nobody can pull it out: it
will obey only the hand of him to whom it has been destined by the god.
As she speaks the wandering savage gazes at her in ecstasy, as if she
were a white vision revealing to him the existence of something more
than might and struggle in the world. It is the voice of Love. Slowly he
draws near; embraces her; clasps her to his heart, while the door is
pushed open by the breeze and the green forest appears, odorous in the
moonlight--nocturnal Springtime, radiant and glorious, wrapped in a
mantle of music and perfume.
Siglinda shudders. "Who has come in?" No one--and yet, a Stranger has
entered the hovel, opening the door with an invisible hand. And Sigmund,
at the inspiration of Love, divines the identity of the visitant. "It is
Springtime laughing in the air about your tresses. The storms are gone;
gone is the dark solitude. The radiant month of May, a young warrior in
an armor of flowers, has come to give chase to bleak Winter, and in all
this festival of rejoicing Nature, seeks his sweetheart: Youth. This
night, which has brought you to me, is the unending night of Spring and
And, Leonora was thrilled as she heard in her memory the murmur of the
orchestra accompanying the song of tenderness inspired by Spring; the
rustle of the forest branches benumbed by the winter, now swaying with
the new sap that had flowed into them like a torrent of vitality; and
out on the brightly lighted _plazoleta_ she could almost see Sigmund and
Siglinda clasping in an eternal unseverable embrace, as she had seen
them from the wings of the opera, where she would be waiting as a
Valkyrie to step out and set an audience wild with her mighty
She was feeling the same loneliness and yearning that Sigmund felt in
Hunding's hovel. Without a family, without a home, wandering over the
world, she longed for someone to lean on, someone to clasp tenderly to
her heart! And it was she who unconsciously, instinctively, had drawn
closer to Rafael, and placed her hand in his.
She was ill. She sighed softly with the appealing entreaty of a child,
as if the intense poetry of that memory of music had shattered the frail
remnant of will that had kept her mistress of herself.
"I don't know what's the matter with me to-night. I feel as though I
were dying.... But such a sweet death! So sweet!... What madness,
Rafael! How rash it was of us to have seen each other on such a
And with supplicating eyes, as if entreating forgiveness, she gazed out
into the majestic moonlight, where the silence seemed to be stirring
with the palpitation of a new life. She could divine that something was
dying within her, that her will lay prostrate on the ground, without
strength to defend itself.
Rafael, too, was overwhelmed. He held her clasped against his breast,
one of her hands in his. She was weak, languid, will-less, incapable of
resistance; yet he did not feel the brutal passion of the previous
meeting; he did not dare to move. A sense of infinite tenderness came
over him. All he yearned for was to sit there hour after hour in contact
with that beautiful form, clasping her tightly to him, making her one
with him, as a jewel-case might guard a jewel.
He whispered mysteriously into her ear, hardly knowing what he was
saying; tender words that seemed to be coming from someone within him,
thrilling him with a tingling, suffocating passion as they left his
Yes, it was true; that night was the night dreamed of by the immortal
Poet; the wedding night of smiling Youth and of martial May in his armor
of flowers. The fields were quivering voluptuously under the rays of the
moon; and they, two young hearts, feeling the flutter of Love's wings
about their hair, why should they sit unresponsive there, blind to the
beauty of the night, deaf to the infinite caress that was echoing from
"Leonora! Leonora!" moaned Rafael.
He had slipped down from the bench. Before he was aware of it, he found
himself kneeling at her feet, clutching her hands, and thrusting his
face upward without daring to reach her lips.
She drew weakly back, protesting feebly, with a girlish plaint:
"No, no; it would hurt me.... I feel that I'm dying."
"You belong to me," the youth continued with an exaltation
ill-suppressed. "You belong to me forever; to gaze into your dear eyes,
and to murmur in your ear, your sweet, beautiful, name, and die, if need
be, here. What do we care for the world and its opinions?"
And Leonora with weakening resistance, continued to refuse:
"No, no.... I must not. It's a feeling I can't explain."
And that was so. The gentle quiver of Nature under the kiss of
Springtime, the intense perfume of the flower that is the emblem of
virginity, had transfigured that madcap singer, that adventuress of a
career so checkered, who had been violently thrust into her first
experience of passion, and now for the first time felt the blush of
modesty in the arms of a man. Nature, intoxicating her, shattering her
will, seemed to have created a strange virginity in that body so
familiar with the call of passion.
"Oh, Rafael, what is happening to me?... What's happening to me? It must
be love; a new love that I did not think I should ever know.... Rafael ...
Rafael, my own boy!"
And weeping softly, she took his head in her hands, pressed her lips to
his, and then fell back in her seat with eyes distended, maddened with
the joy of that kiss.
"I belong to you, Rafael! Yours ... but forever. I have always loved you
from the first, but now ... I adore you.... For the first time in my
life I say that with all my soul."
Hardly able to realize his good fortune, Rafael was thrilled by a deeply
generous sentiment. There was nothing he would not give to that
"Yes; you belong to me forever.... I will marry you."
But in his dreamy, wild intoxication he saw the artiste's eyes open wide
in surprise, as a sad smile flitted across her lips.
"Marry me And why?... That's well enough for other women; but me you
must love, my darling child, ever so much, as much as you can.... Just
love me!... I believe only in Love!"
"But my dear child, when are we getting to this island of yours?... It
bores me to be here sitting on this seat, so far away from my little
boy, watching his arms get tired from all that rowing. I must kiss him..
even if he says no! It will rest him, I am sure."
And rising to her feet, Leonora took two steps forward in the white
boat, though threatening to upset it, and kissed Rafael several times.
He lay aside the oars and laughingly defended himself.
"Madcap! We'll never get there at this rate. With rests like this we
make very little progress, and I've promised to take you to my island."
Once again he bent to the oars, heading out toward midstream over the
moonlit water, as if to vouchsafe the groves on either bank an equal
pleasure in the romantic escapade.
It had been one of her caprices--a desire repeated during his visits to
the Blue House on some afternoons, in the presence of dona Pepa and the
maid, and on every night, as he passed through the opening in the hedge
where Leonora's bare arms were waiting for him in the darkness.
For more than a week Rafael had been living in a sweet dream. Never had
he imagined that life could be so beautiful. It was a mood of delicious
abstraction. The city no longer existed for him. The people that moved
about him seemed like so many spectres: his mother and Remedios were
invisible beings. Their words he would hear and answer without taking
the trouble to look up.
He spent his days in feverish impatience for night to come--that the
family might finish supper and leave him free to go to his room, whence
he would cautiously tip-toe, as soon as the house was silent and
everybody was asleep.
Indifferent to everything foreign to his love, he did not realize the
effect his conduct was having on his mother. She had noticed that his
door was locked all morning while he slept off the fatigue of a
sleepless night. She had already tired of asking him whether he was ill,
and of getting the same reply:
"No, mama; I've been working nights; an important study I'm preparing."
It was all his mother could do on such occasions to restrain herself
from shouting "Liar!" Two nights she had gone up to his room, to find
the door locked and the keyhole dark. Her son was not inside. She would
lie awake for him now; and every morning, somewhat before dawn, she
would hear him softly open the outside door and tip-toe up the stairs,
perhaps in his stocking-feet.
The female Spartan said nothing however, hoarding her indignation in
silence, complaining only to don Andres of the recrudescence of a
madness that was upsetting all her plans. Through his numerous henchmen
the counselor kept watch upon the young man. His spies followed Rafael
cautiously through the night, up to the gate of the Blue House.
"What a scandal!" exclaimed dona Bernarda. "At night, too! He'll wind
up by bringing her into this house! Can it be that that simpleton of a
dona Pepita is blind to all this?"
And there was Rafael, unaware of the storm that was gathering about his
head, no longer deigning even to speak to Remedios, or look at her, as
with her head bowed like a sulky goat, she went around stifling her
tears at the memory of those happy strolls in the orchard under dona
The deputy had eyes for nothing outside of the Blue House; his happiness
had blinded him. The one thing that annoyed him was the necessity of
hiding his joy--his inability to make his good fortune public, so that
all his admirers might learn of it.
He would willingly have gone back to the days of the Roman decadence,
when the love affairs of the powerful became matters of national
"What do I care for their gossip" he once said to Leonora. "I love you
so much that I'd like to see the whole city worship you in public. I'd
like to snatch you up in my arms, and appear upon the bridge at high
noon, before a concourse stupefied by your beauty: 'Am I or am I not
your "_quefe_"?' I'd ask. 'Well, if I am, adore this woman, who is my
very soul and without whom I could not live. The affection which you
have for me you must have also for her.' And I'd do just as I say if it
"Silly boy ... adorable child," she had replied, showering him with
kisses, brushing his dark beard with her soft, quivering lips.
And it was during one of their meetings--when their words were broken
by sudden impulses of affection, and their lips were tightly pressed
together--that Leonora had expressed her capricious desire.
"I'm stifling in this house. I hate to caress you inside four walls, as
if you were only a passing whim. This is unworthy of you. You are Love,
who came to seek me out on the most beautiful of nights. I like you
better in the open air. You look more handsome to me then, and I feel
And recalling those trips down the river about which Rafael had told her
so many times when they were only friends--that islet with its curtains
of reeds, the willows bending over the water and the nightingale singing
from its hiding-place--she had asked him, eagerly:
"What night are you going to take me there? It's a whim of mine, a wild
idea; but, what does love exist for, if not to make people do the
foolish things that sweeten life?... Carry me off in your boat! The bark
that bore you there will transport the two of us to your enchanted
island; we will spend the whole night in the open air."
And Rafael, who was flattered by the idea of taking his love publicly
down the river, through the slumbering countryside, unfastened his boat
at midnight under the bridge and rowed it to a canebrake near Leonora's
An hour later they emerged through the opening in the hedge, arm in arm,
laughing at the mischievous escapade, disturbing the majestic silence of
the landscape with noisy, insolent kisses.
They got into the boat, and with a favoring current, began to descend
the Jucar, lulled by the murmur of the river as it glided between the
high mudbanks covered with reeds that bent low over the water and
formed mysterious hiding places.
Leonora clapped her hands with delight. She threw over her neck the silk
shawl with which she had covered her head. She unbuttoned her light
traveling coat, and inhaled with deep enjoyment the moist, somewhat
muggy breeze that was curling along the surface of the river. Her hand
trembled as it dipped into the water from time to time.
How beautiful it was! All by themselves, and wandering about, as if the
world did not exist; as if all Nature belonged to them, to them alone!
Here they were, slipping past clusters of slumbering houses, leaving the
city far behind. And nobody had suspected that passion, which in its
enthusiasm had broken its chains and left its mysterious lair to have
the heavens and the fields for sympathetic witnesses. Leonora would have
wished that the night should never end; that the waning moon, which
seemed to have been slashed by a sword, should stop eternally in the sky
to wrap them forever in its feeble, dying light; that the river should
be endless, and the boat float on and on until, overwhelmed by so much
love, they should breathe the last gasp of life away in a kiss as
tenuous as a sigh.
"If you could only know how grateful I am to you for this excursion,
Rafael!... I'm happy, so happy. Never have I had such a night as this.
But where is the island? Have we gone astray, as you did the night of
No! At last they reached the place. There Rafael had spent many an
afternoon hidden in the bushes, cut off by the encircling waters,
dreaming that he was an adventurer on the virgin prairies or the vast
rivers of America, performing exploits he had read about in the novels
of Fenimore Cooper and Mayne Reid.
A tributary joined the Jucar at this point, emptying gently into the
main stream from under a thicket of reeds and trees that formed a
triumphal arch of foliage. At the confluence rose the island--a tiny
piece of land almost level with the water, but as fresh as green and
fragrant as an aquatic bouquet. The banks were lined with dense clumps
of cane, and a few willows that bent their hairy foliage low over the
water, forming dark vaults through which the boat could make its way.
The two lovers entered the shade. The curtain of branches concealed them
from the river; a bare tear of moonlight managed to filter through the
mane of willows.
Leonora felt a first sense of uneasiness in this dark, damp, cave-like
haunt. Invisible animals took to the water with dull splashes as they
heard the boat's bow touch the mud of the bank. The actress clutched her
lover's arm with nervous pleasure.
"Here we are," murmured Rafael. "Hold on to something and get out.
Careful, careful! Don't you want to hear the nightingale? Here we have
It was true. In one of the willows, at the other side of the island, the
mysterious bird was trilling from his hiding place, a dizzying shower of
notes, which broke at the crescendo of the musical whirl-pool into a
plaint as soft and long-sustained as a golden thread stretched in the
silence of the night across the river, that seemed to be applauding
with its hushed murmur. To get nearer, the lovers went up through the
rushes, stopping, bending over at each step, to keep the branches from
crackling underneath their feet.
Favoring moisture had covered the islet with an exuberant undergrowth.
Leonora repressed exclamations of glee as she found her feet caught in
meshes of reeds or received the rude caresses of the branches that
snapped back, as Rafael went ahead, and brushed against her face. She
called for help in a muffled voice; and Rafael, laughing also, would
hold out his hand to her, taking her finally to the very foot of the
tree where the nightingale was singing.
The bird, divining the presence of intruders, ceased his song. Doubtless
he had heard the rustle of their clothing as they sat down at the foot
of the tree, or the tender words they were murmuring into each other's
Over all, the silence of slumbering Nature reigned--that silence made up
of a thousand sounds, harmonizing and blending in one majestic calm; the
murmur of the water, the stirring of the foliage, the mysterious
movements of unseen creatures crawling along under the leaves or
patiently boring their winding galleries in the creaking trunks.
The nightingale began again to sing, timidly, like an artist afraid of
an impending interruption. He uttered a few disconnected notes with
anxious rests between them--love sighs they seemed, broken by sobs of
passion. Then gradually he took courage, regained self-confidence, and
entered on his full song, just as a soft breeze rose, swept over the
island, and set all the trees and reeds rustling in mysterious
The bird gradually grew intoxicated with the sound of his own trilling,
cadenced, voice; one could almost see him up there in the thick
darkness, panting, ardent, in the spasm of his musical inspiration,
utterly engrossed in his own beautiful little world of song, overwhelmed
by the charm of his own artistry.
But the bird had ceased his music when the two lovers awoke in a tight
embrace, still in ecstasy from the song of love to which they had fallen
asleep. Leonora was resting a dishevelled head on Rafael's shoulder,
caressing his neck with an eager, wearied breathing, whispering in his
ear, random, incoherent words that still were vibrant with emotion.
How happy she was there! Everything comes for true love! Many a time,
during the days of her unkindness to him, she had looked out from her
balcony upon the river winding down through the slumbering countryside;
and she had thought with rapture of a stroll some day through that
immense garden on Rafael's arm--of gliding, gliding down the Jucar, to
that very island.
"My love is an ancient thing," she murmured. "Do you suppose, I have
been loving you only since the other night? No, I have loved you for a
long, long time.... But don't you go and get conceited on that account,
_su senoria_! I don't know how it began: It must have been when you were
away in Madrid. When I saw you again I knew that I was lost. If I still
resisted, it was because I was a wise woman; because I saw things
clearly. Now I'm mad and I've thrown my better judgment to the winds.
God knows what will become of us.... But come what may, love me, Rafael,
love me. Swear that you'll love me always. It would be cruel to desert
me after awakening a passion like this."
And, in an impulse of dread, she nestled closer against his breast, sank
her hands into his hair, lifted her head back to kiss him avidly on the
face, the forehead, the eyes, the lips, nibbling playfully, tenderly at
his nose and chin, yet with an affectionate vehemence that drew cries of
mock protest from Rafael.
"Madcap!" he muttered, smiling. "You're hurting me."
Leonora looked steadily at him out of her two great eyes that were
a-gleam with love.
"I could eat you up," she murmured. "I feel like devouring you, my
heaven, my king, my god.... What have you given me, tell me, little boy?
How have you been able to fascinate me, make me feel a passion that I
never, never felt before?"
And again they fell asleep.
Rafael stirred in his lover's arms, and suddenly sat up.
"It must be late. How many hours have we been here, do you suppose?"
"Many, many hours," Leonora answered sadly. "Hours of happiness always
go so fast."
It was still dark. The moon had set. They arose and, hand in hand,
groping their way along, they reached the boat. The splash of the oars
began again to sound along the dark stream.
Suddenly the nightingale again piped gloomily in the willow wood, as if
in farewell to a departing dream.
"Listen, my darling," said Leonora. "The poor little fellow is bidding
us good-bye. Just hear how plaintively he says farewell."
And in the strange exhiliration that comes from fatigue, Leonora felt
the flames of art flaring up within her, seething through her organism
from head to foot.
A melody from _Die Meistersinger_ came to her mind, the hymn that the
good people of Nuremberg sing when Hans Sachs, their favorite singer, as
bounteous and gentle as the Eternal Father, steps out on the platform
for the contest in poetry. It was the song that the poet-minstrel, the
friend of Albrecht Duerer, wrote in honor of Luther when the great
Reformation broke; and the prima donna, rising to her feet in the stern,
and returning the greeting of the nightingale began:
"_Sorgiam, che spunta il dolce albor,
cantar ascolto in mezzo ai fior
voluttuoso un usignol
spiegando a noi l'amante vol_!..."
Her ardent, powerful voice seemed to make the dark surface of the river
tremble; it rolled in harmonious waves across the fields, and died away
in the foliage of the distant island, whence the nightingale trilled an
answer that was like a fainting sigh. Leonora tried to reproduce with
her lips the majestic sonorousness of the Wagnerian chorus, mimicking
the rumbling accompaniment of the orchestra, while Rafael beat the
water with his oars in time with the pious, exalted melody with which
the great Master had turned to popular poetry adequately to greet the
outbreak of Reform.
They went on and on up the river against the current, Leonora singing,
Rafael bending over the oars, moving his sinewy arms like steel springs.
He kept the boat inshore, where the current was not so strong. At times
low branches brushed the heads of the lovers, and drops of dew fell on
their faces. Many a time the boat glided through one of the verdant
archways of foliage, making its way slowly through the lily-pads; and
the green overhead would tremble with the harmonious violence of that
wonderful voice, as vibrant and as resonant as a great silver bell.
Day had not yet dawned--the _dolce albor_ of Hans Sachs' song--but at
any moment the rosy rim of sunrise would begin to climb the sky.
Rafael was hurrying to get back as soon as possible. Her sonorous voice
of such tremendous range seemed to be awakening the whole countryside.
In one cottage a window lighted up. Several times along the river-bank,
as they rowed past the reeds, Rafael thought he heard the noise of
snapping branches, the cautious footsteps of spies who were following
"Hush, my darling. You had better stop singing; they'll recognize you.
They'll guess who you are."
They reached the bank where they had embarked. Leonora leaped ashore.
They must separate there; for she insisted on going home alone. And
their parting was sweet, slow, endless.
"Good-bye, my love; one kiss. Until tomorrow ... no, later--today."
She walked a few steps up the bank, and then suddenly ran back to
snuggle again in her lover's arms.
"Another, my prince ... the last."
Day was breaking, announced not by the song of the lark, as in the
garden of Shakespere's lovers at Verona, but by the sound of carts,
creaking over country roads in the distance, and by a languid, sleepy
melody of an orchard boy.
"Good-bye, Rafael.... Now I must really go. They'll discover us."
Wrapping her coat about her she hurried away, waving a final farewell to
him with her handkerchief.
Rafael rowed upstream toward the city. That part of the trip--he
reflected--alone, tired, and struggling against the current, was the one
bad part of the wonderful night. When he moored his boat near the bridge
it was already broad day. The windows of the river houses were opening.
Over the bridge carts laden with produce for the market were rumbling,
and orchard women were going by with huge baskets on their heads. All
these people looked down with interest on their deputy. He must have
spent the night fishing. And this news passed from one to the other,
though not a trace of fishing tackle was visible in the boat. How they
envied rich folks, who could sleep all day and spend their time just as
Rafael jumped ashore. All that curiosity he was attracting annoyed him.
His mother would know everything by the time he got home!
As he climbed slowly and wearily, his arms numb from rowing, to the
bridge, he heard his name called.
Don Andres was standing there, gazing at him out of those yellow eyes of
his, scowling through his wrinkles with an expression of stern
"You've given me a fine night, Rafael. I know where you've been. I saw
you row off last night with that woman; and plenty of my friends were on
hand to follow you and find out just where you went. You've been on the
island all night; that woman was singing away like a lunatic.... God of
Gods, boy! Aren't there any houses in the world? Do you have to play the
band when you're having an affair, so that everybody in the Kingdom can
come and look?"
The old man was truly riled; all the more because he was himself the
secretive, the dexterous, libertine, adopting every precaution not to be
discovered in his "weaknesses." Was it anger or envy that he felt on
seeing a couple enough in love with each other to be fearless of gossip
and indifferent to danger, to throw prudence to the winds, and flaunt
their passion before the world with the reckless insolence of happiness?
"Besides, your mother knows everything. She's discovered what you've
been up to, these nights past. She knows you haven't been in your room.
You're going to break that woman's heart!"
And with paternal severity he went on to speak of dona Bernarda's
despair, of the danger to the future of the House, of the obligations
they were under to don Matias, of the solemn promise given, of that poor
girl waiting to be married!
Rafael walked along in silence and like an automaton. That old man's
chatter brought down around his head, like a swarm of pestering
mosquitoes, all the provoking, irritating obligations of his life. He
felt like a man rudely awakened by a tactless servant in the middle of a
sweet dream. His lips were still tingling with Leonora's kisses! His
whole body was aglow with her gentle warmth! And here was this old
curmudgeon coming along with a sermon on "duty," "family," "what they
would say"--as if love amounted to nothing in this life! It was a plot
against his happiness, and he felt stirred to the depths with a sense of
outrage and revolt.
They had reached the entrance to the Brull mansion. Rafael was fumbling
about for the key-hole with his key.
"Well," growled the old man. "What have you got to say to all this? What
do you propose to do? Answer me! Haven't you got a tongue in your head?"
"I," replied the young man energetically--"will do as I please."
Don Andres jumped as though he had been stung. My, how this Rafael had
changed!... Never before had he seen that gleam of aggressiveness,
arrogance, belligerency in the eye of the boy!
"Rafael, is that the way you answer me,--a man who has known you since
you were born? Is that the tone of voice you use toward one who loves
you as your own father loved you?"
"I'm of age, if you don't mind my saying so!" Rafael replied. "I'm not
going to put up any longer with this comedy of being a somebody on the
street and a baby in my own house. Henceforth just keep your advice to
yourself until I ask for it. Good day, sir!"
As he went up the stairs he saw his mother on the first landing, in the
semi-darkness of the closed house, illumined only by the light that
entered through the window gratings. She stood there, erect, frowning,
tempestuous, like a statue of Avenging Justice.
But Rafael did not waver. He went straight on up the stairs, fearless
and without a tremor, like a proprietor who had been away from home for
some time and strides arrogantly back Into a house that is all his own.
"You're right, don Andres. Rafael is not my son. He has changed. That
wanton woman has made another man of him. Worse, a thousand times worse,
than his father! Crazy over the huzzy! Capable of trampling on me if I
should step between him and her. You complain of his lack of respect to
you! Well, what about me?... You wouldn't have thought it possible! The
other morning, when he came into the house, he treated me just as he
treated you. Only a few words, but plain enough! He'll do just as he
pleases, or--what amounts to the same thing--he'll keep up his affair
with that woman until he wearies of her, or else blows up in one grand
debauch, like his father.... My God! And that's what I've suffered for
all these years. That's what I get for sacrificing myself, day in day
out, trying to make somebody out of him!"
The austere dona Bernarda, dethroned by her son's resolute
rebelliousness, wept as she said this. In her tears of a mother's grief
there was something also of the chagrin of the authoritarian on finding
in her own home a will rebellious to hers and stronger than hers.
Between sobs she told don Andres how her son had been carrying on since
his declaration of independence. He was no longer cautious about
spending the night away from home. He was coming in now in broad
daylight; and, afternoons, with his meals "still in his mouth" as she
said, he would take the road to the Blue House, on the run almost, as if
he could not get to perdition soon enough. The dead hand of his father
was upon him!
All you had to do was look at him. His face discolored, yellow, pale;
his skin drawn tight over his cheekbones; and--the only sign of
life--the fire that gleamed in his eyes like a spark of wild joy! Oh, a
curse was on the family! They were all alike ...!
The mother did her best to conceal the truth from Remedios. Poor girl!
She was going about crestfallen and in deep dejection, unable to explain
Rafael's sudden withdrawal.
The matter had to be kept secret; and that was what held dona Bernarda's
rage within bounds during her rapid, heated exchanges with her son.
Perhaps everything would come out all right in the end--something
unforeseen would turn up to undo the evil spell that had been cast over
Rafael. And in this hope she used every effort to keep Remedios and her
father from learning what had happened. She feigned contentment in their
presence, and invented a thousand pretexts--studies, work, even
illness--to justify her son's neglect of his "fiancee." At the same
time, the disconsolate mother feared the people around her--the gossip
of a small town, bored with itself, ever on the alert, hunting for
something interesting to talk about and get scandalized about.
The news of Rafael's affair spread like wildfire meanwhile, considerably
magnified as it passed from mouth to mouth. People told hair-raising
tales of that expedition down the river, of walks through the orange
groves, of nights spent at dona Pepa's house, Rafael entering in the
dark, in his stocking feet, like a thief; of silhouettes of the lovers
outlined in suggestive poses against the bedroom curtain; of their
appearing in windows their arms about each other's waists, looking at
the stars--everything sworn to by voluntary spies, who could say "I saw
it with my own eyes"--persons who had spent whole nights, on the
river-bank, behind some fence, in some clump of bushes, to surprise the
deputy on his way to or from his assignations.
In the cafes or at the Casino, the men openly envied Rafael, commenting
with eyes a-glitter on his good fortune. That fellow had been born under
a lucky star! But later at home they would add their stern voices to the
chorus of indignant women. What a scandal! A deputy, a public man, a
"personage" who ought to set an example for others! That was a disgrace
to the constituency! And when the murmur of general protest reached the
ears of dona Bernarda, she lifted her hands to heaven in despair. Where
would it all end! Where would it all end! That son of hers was bent on
Don Matias, the rustic millionaire, said nothing; and, in the presence
of dona Bernarda, at least, pretended to know nothing. His interest in a
marriage connection with the Brull family counselled prudence. He, too,
hoped that it would all blow over, prove to be the blind infatuation of
a young man. Feeling himself a father, more or less, to the boy, he
thought of giving Rafael just a bit of advice when he came upon him in
the street one day. But he desisted after a word or two. A proud glance
of the youth completely floored him, making him feel like the poor
orange-grower of former days, who had cringed before the majestic,
grandiose don Ramon!
Rafael was intrenched in haughty silence. He needed no advice. But alas!
When at night he reached his beloved's house--it seemed to be redolent
with the very perfume of her, as if the furniture, the curtains, the
very walls about her had absorbed the essence of her spirit--he felt the
strain of that insistent gossip, of the persecution of an entire city
that had fixed its eyes upon his love.
Two against a multitude! With the serene immodesty of the ancient
idylls, they had abandoned themselves to passion in a stupid, narrow
environment, where sprightly gossip was the most appreciated of the
Leonora grew sad. She smiled as usual; she flattered him with the same
worship, as if he were an idol; she was playful and gay; but in moments
of distraction, when she did not notice that he was watching, Rafael
would surprise a cast of bitterness about her lips--and a sinister light
in her eyes, the reflection of painful thoughts.
She referred with acrid mirth one night to what people were saying about
them. Everything was found out sooner or later in that city! The gossip
had gotten even to the Blue House! Her kitchen woman had hinted that she
had better not walk so much along the river front--she might catch
malaria. On the market place the sole topic of conversation was that
night trip down the Jucar ... the deputy, sweating his life out over
the oars, and she waking half the country up with her strange songs!...
And she laughed, but with a hard, harsh laugh of affected gaiety that
showed the nervousness underneath, though without a word of complaint.
Rafael remorsefully reflected that she had foreseen all that in first
repelling his advances. He admired her resignation. She would have been
justified in rebuking him for the harm he had done her. As it was, she
was not even telling him all she knew! Ah, the wretches! To harass an
innocent woman so! She had loved him, given herself to him, bestowed on
him the royal gift of her person. And the deputy began to hate his city,
for repaying in insult and scandal the wondrous happiness she had
conferred on its "chief"!
On another night Leonora received him with a smile that frightened him.
She was affecting a mood of hectic cheerfulness, trying to drown her
worries by sheer force, overwhelming her lover with a flood of light,
frivolous chatter; but suddenly, at the limit of her endurance, she gave
way, and in the middle of a caress, burst into tears and sank to a
divan, sobbing as if her heart would break.
"Why what's the matter? What has happened ...?"
For a time she could not answer, her voice was too choked with weeping.
At last, however, between sobs, burying her tear-stained face on
Rafael's shoulder, she began to speak, completely crushed, fainting from
She could stand it no longer! The torture was becoming unbearable. It
was useless for her to pretend. She knew as well as he what people were
saying in the city. They were spied upon continuously. On the roads, in
the orchard, along the river, there were people constantly on the watch
for something new to report. That passion of hers, so sweet, so
youthful, so sincere, was a butt of public laughter, a theme for idle
tongues, who flayed her as if she were a common street-woman, because
she had been good to him, because she had not been cruel enough to watch
a young man writhe in the torment of passion, indifferently.... But
though this persecution from a scandalized public was bad enough, she
did not mind it. Why should she care what those stupid people said? But,
alas, there were others--the people around Rafael, his friends, his
family, ... his mother!
Leonora sat silent for a moment, as if waiting to see the effect of that
last word; unless, indeed, she were hesitating, out of delicacy, to
include her lover's family in her complaint. The young man shrank with a
terrible presentiment. Dona Bernarda was not the woman to stand by idle
and resigned in the face of opposition, even from him!
"I see ... mother!" he said in a stifled voice. "She has been up to
something. Tell me what it is. Don't be afraid. To me you are dearer
than anything else in the world."
"Well ... there is auntie ..." Leonora resumed; and Rafael remembered
that dona Pepa, remarking his assiduous visits to the Blue House, had
thought her niece might be contemplating marriage. In the afternoon,
Leonora explained, she had had a _scene_ with her aunt. Dona Pepa had
gone into town to confession, and on coming out of church had met dona
Bernarda. Poor old woman! Her abject terror on returning home betrayed
the intense emotion Rafael's mother had succeeded in wakening in her.
Leonora, her niece, her idol, lay in the dust, stripped of that blind,
enthusiastic, affectionate trust her aunt had always had for her. All
the gossip, all the echoes of Leonora's adventurous life, that
had--heretofore but feebly--come to her ears, the old lady had never
believed, regarding them as the work of envy. But now they had been
repeated to her by dona Bernarda, by a lady "in good standing," a good
Christian, a person incapable of falsehood. And then after rehearsing
that scandalous biography, Rafael's mother had come to the shocking
effrontery with which her niece and Rafael were rousing the whole city;
flaunting their wrong-doing in the face of the public; and turning her
home, the respectable, irreproachable home of dona Pepa, into a den of
vice, a brothel!
And the poor woman had wept like a child in her niece's presence,
adjuring her to "abandon the wicked path of transgression," shuddering
with horror at the great responsibility she, dona Pepa, had unwittingly
assumed before God. All her life she had labored and prayed and fasted
to keep her soul clean. She had thought herself almost in a state of
grace, only to awaken suddenly and find herself in the very midst of sin
through no fault of her own--all on account of her niece, who had
converted her holy, her pure, her pious home into an ante-chamber of
hell! And it was the poor woman's superstitious terror, the conviction
of damnation that had seized on dona Pepa's simple soul, that wounded
Leonora most deeply.
"They've robbed me of all I had in the world," she murmured desperately,
"of the affection of the only dear one left after my father died. I am
not the child of former days to auntie; that is apparent from the way
she looks at me, the way she shuns me, avoiding all contact with me....
And just because of you, because I love you, because I was not cruel to
you! Oh, that night! How I shall suffer for it!... How clearly I foresaw
how it would all end!"
Rafael was humiliated, crushed, filled with shame and remorse at the
suffering that had fallen upon this woman, because she had given herself
to him. What was he to do? The time had come to prove himself the
strong, the resourceful man, able to protect the beloved woman in her
moment of danger. But where should he strike first to defend her?...
Leonora lifted her head from her lover's shoulder, and withdrew from his
embrace. She wiped away her tears and rose to her feet with the
determination of irrevocable resolution.
"I have made up my mind. It hurts me very much to say what I am going to
say; but I can't help it. It will do you no good to say 'no'--I cannot
stay under this roof another day. Everything is over between my aunt and
me. Poor old woman! The dream I cherished was to care for her lovingly,
tenderly till she died in my arms, be to her what I failed to be to
father.... But they have opened her eyes. To her I am nothing but a
sinner now and my presence upsets everything for her.... I must go away.
I've already told Beppa to pack my things.... Rafael, my love, this is
our last night together.... To-morrow ... and you will never see me
The youth recoiled as if someone had struck him in the breast.
"Going? Going ...? And you can say that coolly, simply, just like that?
You are leaving me ... this way ... just when we are happiest ...?"
But soon he had himself in hand again. This surely could be nothing more
than a passing impulse, a notion arrived at in a flash of anger. Of
course she did not really mean to go! She must think things over, see
things clearly. That was a crazy idea! Desert her Rafaelito? Absurd!
Leonora smiled sadly. She had expected him to talk that way. She, too,
had suffered much, ever so much, before deciding to do it! It made her
shudder to think that within two days she would be off again, alone,
wandering through Europe, caught up again in that wild, tumultuous life
of art and love, after tasting the full sweetness of the most powerful
passion she had ever known--of what she believed was her "first love."
It was like putting to sea in a tempest with destination unknown. She
loved him, adored him, worshipped him, more than ever now that she was
about to lose him.
"Well, why are you going?" the young man asked. "If you love me, why are
you forsaking me?"
"Just because I love you, Rafael.... Because I want you to be happy."
For her to remain would mean ruin for him: a long battle with his
mother, who was an implacable, a merciless foe. Dona Bernarda might be
killed, but never conquered! Oh, no! How horrible! Leonora knew what
filial cruelty was! How had she treated her father? She must not now
come between a son and a mother! Was she, perhaps, a creature accursed,
born forever to corrupt with her very name the sacredest, purest
relations on earth?
"No, you must be good, my heart. I must go away. We can't go on loving
each other here. I'll write to you, I'll let you know all I'm doing....
You'll hear from me every day, if I have to write from the North Pole!
But you must stay! Don't drive your mother to despair! Shut your eyes to
the poor woman's injustice! For after all, she is doing it all out of
her immense love for you.... Do you imagine I am glad to be leaving
you--the greatest happiness I have ever known?"
And she threw her arms about Rafael, kissing him over and over again,
caressing his bowed, pensive head, within which a tempest of conflicting
ideas and resolutions was boiling.
So those bonds which he had come to believe eternal were to be broken?
So he was to lose so easily that beauty which the world had admired, the
possession of which had made him feel himself the first among men? She
talked of a love from a distance, of a love persisting through years of
separation, travel, all the hazards of a wandering life; she promised to
write to him every day!... Write to him ... from the arms of another
man, perhaps! No! He would never give up such a treasure; never!
"You shall not go," he answered at last decisively. "A love like ours is
not ended so easily. Your flight would be a disgrace to me--it would
look as if I had affronted you in some way, as if you were tired of me."
Deep in his soul he felt eager to make some chivalrous gesture. She was
going away because she had loved him! He should stay behind, sad and
resigned like a maid abandoned by a lover, and with the sense of having
harmed her on his conscience! _Ira de dios_! He, as a man, could not
stand by with folded arms accepting the abnegation of a woman, to stick
tied to his mother's apron-strings in boobified contentment. Even girls
ran away from home and parents sometimes, in the grip of a powerful
love; and he, a man, a man "in the public eye" also--was he to let a
beautiful girl like Leonora go away sorrowful and in tears, so that he
could keep the respect of a city that bored him and the affection of a
mother who had never really loved him? Besides, what sort of a love was
it that stepped aside in a cowardly, listless way like that, when a
woman was at stake, a woman for whom far richer, far more powerful men
than he, men bound to life by attractions that he had never dreamed of
in his countrified existence, had died or gone to ruin?...
"You shall not go," he repeated, with sullen obstinacy. "I won't give up
my happiness so easily. And if you insist on going, we will go
Leonora rose to her feet all quivering. She had been expecting that; her
heart had told her it was coming. Flee together! Have her appear like an
adventuress, drawing Rafael on, tearing him from his mother's arms after
crazing him with love? Oh, no! Thanks! She had a conscience! She did
not care to burden it with the execration of a whole city. Rafael must
consider the matter calmly, face the situation bravely. She must go away
alone. Afterwards, later on, she would see. They might chance to meet
again; perhaps in Madrid, when the Cortes reassembled! He would be
there, and alone; she could find a place at the _Real_, singing for
nothing if that should prove necessary.
But Rafael writhed angrily at her resistance. He could not live without
her! A single night without seeing her would mean despair. He would end
as Macchia ended! He would shoot himself!
And he seemed to mean it. His eyes were fixed on the floor as if he were
staring at his own corpse, lying there on the pavement, motionless,
covered with blood, a revolver in its stiffened hand.
"Oh, no! How horrible! Rafael, my Rafael!" Leonora groaned, clasping him
around the neck, hanging upon him in terror.
Her lover continued to protest. He was free. Had he been a married man;
if, in his flight, he were leaving a wife behind to cry betrayal, or
children calling for his help in vain, it would all be a different
matter. She could properly feel the repugnance of a kind heart unwilling
that love should mean a shattered home! But whom was he abandoning? A
mother, who, in a short time, would find consolation in the thought that
he was well and happy, a mother jealous of any rivalry in her son's
affection, and to that jealousy willing to sacrifice his very happiness!
Any harm an elopement would bring would by no means be irreparable. No,
they must go away together, parade their love through the whole world!
But Leonora, lowering her head again, repeated feebly:
"No, my mind is made up. I must go alone. I haven't the strength to face
a mother's hatred."
Rafael flushed indignantly:
"Why not say outright that you don't love me. You're tired of me, and of
this environment. The hankering for your old life has come over you
again; your old world is calling!"
The actress fixed her great, luminous, tear-stained eyes upon him. And
they were filled with tenderness and pity.
"Tired of you!... When I have never felt such desperation as tonight!
You say I want my old life back. You don't realize that to leave here
seems like entering a den of torture.... Oh, dear heart, you'll never
know how much I love you."
"Well, then ...?"
And to tell everything, to spare no detail of the danger he would face
after separation, Rafael spoke of the life he would lead alone with his
mother in that dull, unspeakable city. Leonora was assuming that
affection played some part in his mother's indignant opposition. Well,
dona Bernarda did love him--agreed: he was her only son; but ambition
was the decisive thing in her schemes, her passion for the
aggrandizement of the House--the controlling motive of her whole life.
She was openly, frankly, using him as security in an alliance she was
planning with a great fortune. She wanted to marry him to money: and if
Leonora were to go, if he were left alone, forsaken, then despair--and
time, which can do all things--would break his will; and eventually he
would succumb, like a victim at the altar, who, in his terror and
abasement, does not sense the real significance of the sacrifice forced
The words reached a jealous spot in Leonora's heart. All the scattered
rumors that had come to her ears in former days now echoed in her
memory. She knew that Rafael was telling the truth. The man she loved,
given away by his mother--to another woman!... Lost forever if she lost
him now!... And her eyes opened wide with horror and revulsion.
"And I refuse, Leonora, do you understand? I refuse!" continued her
lover with unaffected resolution. "I belong to you, you are the only
woman I love. I shall follow you all over the world, even against your
wishes, to be your servant, see you, speak to you, and there are not
millions enough in the world to stop me!"
"Oh, my darling! My darling! You love me, you love me--as I love you!"
And in a frenzy of passion she fell impetuously, madly upon him,
clutching him in her arms like a fury. In her caresses Rafael felt an
intensity that almost frightened him. The room seemed to be whirling
about him. Trembling, limp and weak, he sank to the divan, overwhelmed,
pounded to pieces, it seemed, by that vehement adoration, that caught
him up and carried him away like a tumultuous avalanche. His senses left
him in that trembling confusion, and he closed his eyes.
When he opened them, the room was dark. Around his neck he could feel a
gentle arm that was tenderly sustaining him, and Leonora was whispering
in his ear.
Agreed! They would go together: to continue their love duct in some
charming place, where nobody knew them, where envy and vulgarity would
not disturb. Leonora knew every nook in the world. She would have none
of Nice and the other cities of the Blue Coast, pretty places,
coquettish, bepowdered and rouged like women fresh from their dressing
tables! Besides there would be too many people there. Venice was better.
They would thread the narrow, solitary silent canals there, stretched
out in a gondola, kissing each other between smiles, pitying the poor
unfortunate mortals crossing the bridges over them, unaware of how great
a love was gliding beneath their feet!
But no, Venice is a sad place after all: when it rains, it rains and
rains! Naples rather; Naples! _Viva Napoli_! And Leonora clapped her
hands in glee! Live in perpetual sunshine, freedom, freedom, freedom to
love openly, as nakedly as the _lazzaroni_ walk about the streets! She
owned a house in Naples,--at Posilipo, that is--a _villino_, in pink
stucco, a dainty little place with fig trees, nopals and parasol pines,
that ran in a grove down a steep promontory to the sea I They would fish
in the bay there--it was as smooth and blue as a looking-glass! And
afternoons he would row her out to sea, and she would sing, looking at
the waters ablaze with the sunset, at the plume of smoke curling up from
Vesuvius, at the immense white city with its endless rows of windows
flaming like plaques of gold in the afterglow. Like gipsies they would
wander through the countless towns dotting the shores of the miraculous
Bay; kissing on the open sea among the fisherboats, to the accompaniment
of passionate Neapolitan boat-songs; spending whole nights in the open
air, lying in each other's arms on the sands, hearing the pearly
laughter of mandolins in the distance, just as that night on the island,
they had heard the nightingale! "Oh, Rafael, my god, my king! How
When day dawned, they were still sitting there weaving fanciful plans
for the future, arranging all the details of their elopement. She would
leave Alcira as soon as possible. He would join her two days later, when
all suspicion had been quieted, when everybody would imagine she was
far, far away. Where would they meet? At first they thought of
Marseilles, but that was a long way off! Then they thought of Barcelona.
But that, too, meant hours of travel, when hours, minutes, counted for
so much. It seemed utterly incredible that they could live two days
without each other! No, the sooner they met again the better! And,
bargaining with time like peasants in a market, at last they chose the
nearest city possible, Valencia.
For love--true love--is fond of brazenness!
They had just finished lunch among the trunks and boxes that occupied a
great part of Leonora's room in the _Hotel de Roma_ in Valencia.
For the first time they were at a table in familiar intimacy, with no
other witness than Beppa, who was quite accustomed to every sort of
surprise in her mistress's adventurous career. The faithful maid was
examining Rafael with a respectful kindliness, as if he were a new idol
that must share the unswerving devotion she showed for Leonora.
This was the first moment of tranquillity and happiness the young man
had tasted for some days. The old hotel, with its spacious rooms, its
high ceilings, its darkened corridors, its monastic silence, seemed to
him a veritable abode of delight, a grateful place of refuge where for
once he would be free of the gossip and the strife that had been
oppressing him like a belt of steel. Besides, he could already feel the
exotic charm that lingers around harbors and great railroad terminals.
Everything about the place, from the macaroni of the lunch, and the
Chianti in its straw-covered, heavy-paunched bottle, to the musical,
incorrect Spanish of the hotel-proprietors--fleshy, massive men with
huge mustaches in Victor Emmanuel style--spoke of flight, of delightful
seclusion in that land so glowingly described by Leonora.
She had made an appointment with him in that hotel, a favorite haunt of
artists. Somewhat off the main thoroughfares, the "Roma" occupies one
whole side of a sleepy, peaceful, aristocratic square with no noise save
the shouting of cab-drivers and the beating of horses' hoofs.
Rafael had arrived on the first morning train--and with no baggage; like
a schoolboy playing truant, running off with just the clothes he had on
his back. The two days since Leonora left Alcira had been days of
torture to him. The singer's flight was the talk of the town. People
were scandalized at the amount of luggage she had. Counted over in the
imagination of that imaginative city, it eventually came to fill all the
carts in the province.
The man who knew the business to the bottom was Cupido, the barber, who
had dispatched the trunks and cases for her. He knew where the dangerous
woman was bound, and he kept it so secret that everybody found it out
before the train started. She was going back to Italy! He himself had
checked and labelled the baggage to the Customs' House at the
frontier--cases as big as a house, man! Trunks he could have lain down
comfortable in, with his two "Chinamen" to boot! And the women, as they
listened to his tale, applauded the departure with undissimulated
pleasure. They had been liberated from a great danger. Joy go with her!
Rafael kept quite to himself. He was vexed at the curiosity of people,
at the scoffing sympathy of his friends who condoled with him that his
happiness was ending. For two days he remained indoors, followed by his
mother's inquiring glances. Dona Bernarda felt more at ease now that the
evil influence of the "chorus girl" promised to be over; but none the
less she did not lose her frown. With a woman's instinct, she still
scented the presence of danger.
The young man could hardly wait for the time to come. It seemed
unbearable for him to be there at home while "she" was away off
somewhere, alone, shut up in a hotel, waiting just as impatiently as he
was for the moment of reunion.
What a sunrise it had been that day when he set out! Rafael burned with
shame as he crept like a burglar in his stockings and on tip-toe,
through the room where his mother received the orchard-folk and adjusted
all accounts pertaining to the tilling of the land. He groped his way
along guided by the light that came in through the chinks in the closed
windows. His mother was sleeping in a room close by; he could hear her
breathe--the labored respiration of a deep sleep that spelled recovery
from the insomnia of the days of his love trysts. He could still feel
the criminal shudder that rippled through him at a slight rattle of the
keys, which had been left with the confidence of unlimited authority in
the lock of an old chest where dona Bernarda kept her savings. With
tremulous hands he had collected all the money she had put away in the
small boxes there. A thief, a thief! But, after all, he was taking only
what belonged to him. He had never asked for his share of his father's
estate. Leonora was rich. With admirable delicacy she had refused to
talk of money during their preparations for the journey; but he would
refuse to live on her! He did not care to be like Salvatti, who had
exploited the singer in her youth! That thought it had been which gave
him strength to take the money finally and steal out of the house. But
even on the train he felt uneasy; and _su senoria_, the deputy, shivered
with an instinctive thrill of fear, every time a tricorne of the Civil
Guard appeared at a railroad station. What would his mother say when she
got up and found the money gone?
As he entered the hotel his self-confidence returned and his spirits
revived. He felt as if he were entering port after a storm. He found
Leonora in bed, her hair spread over the pillow in waves of gold, her
eyes closed, and a smile on her lips, as if he had surprised her in the
middle of a dream, where she had been tasting her memories of love. They
ordered lunch in the room early, intending to set out on their journey
at once. Circumspection, prudence, until they should be once beyond the
Spanish border! They would leave that evening on the Barcelona mail for
the frontier. And calmly, tranquilly, like a married couple discussing
details of house-keeping in the calm of a quiet home, they ran over the
list of things they would need on the train.
Rafael had nothing. He had fled like a fugitive from a fire, with the
first clothes he laid hands on as he bounded out of bed. He needed many
indispensable articles, and he thought of going out to buy them--a
matter of a moment.
"But are you really going out?" asked Leonora with a certain anguish, as
if her feminine instinct sensed a danger. "Are you going to leave me
"Only a moment. I won't keep you waiting long."
They took leave of each other in the corridor with the noisy,
nonchalant joy of passion, indifferent to the chamber-maids who were
walking to and fro at the other end of the passageway.
"Good-bye, Rafael.... Another hug; just one more."
And as, with the taste of the last kiss still fresh on his lips, he
reached the square, he saw a bejewelled hand still waving to him from a
Anxious to get back as soon as possible, the young man walked hurriedly
along, elbowing his way among the cab-drivers swarming in front of the
great _Palacio de Dos Aguas_, closed, silent, slumbering, like the two
giants that guarded its portals, displaying in the golden downpour of
sunlight the overdecorated yet graceful sumptuousness of its roccoco
The deputy turned around at the sound of his name, and blanched as if he
had seen a ghost. It was don Andres, calling to him.
"I came by the Madrid express. For two hours I've been hunting for you
in all the hotels of Valencia. I knew you were here.... But come, we
have a great deal to talk over. This is not just the place to do it."
And the old Mentor glowered hatefully at the _Hotel de Roma_, as if he
wanted to annihilate the huge edifice with everybody in it.
They walked off, slowly, without knowing just where they were going,
turning corners, passing several times through the same streets, their
nerves tense and quivering, ready to shout at the top of their lungs,
yet using every effort to speak softly, so as not to attract attention
from the passers-by who were rubbing against them on the narrow
Don Andres, naturally, was the first to speak:
"You approve of what you've done?"
And seeing that Rafael, like a coward, was trying to pretend innocent
astonishment, asking "what" he had done, observing that he had come to
Valencia on a matter of business, the old man broke into a rage.
"Now, see here, don't you go lying to me: either we're men or we're not
men. If you think you've acted properly, you ought to stand up for it
and say so. Don't imagine you're going to pull the wool over my eyes and
then run off with that woman to God knows where. I've found you and I'm
not going to let you go. I want you to know the truth. Your mother is
sick abed; she tipped me off and I caught the first train to get here.
The whole house is upside down! At first it was thought a robbery had
been committed. By this time the whole city must be agog about you. Come
now!... What do you say to that? Do you want to kill your mother? Well,
you're going about it right! Good God! And this is what they call a 'boy
of talent,' a 'young man of promise'! How much better it would have been
if you were a dunce like me or your father--but a dunce at least who
knows how to get a woman if he has to, without making a public ass of
Then he went into detail. Rafael's mother had gone to the old chest to
get some money for one of her laborers. Her cry of horror and alarm had
thrown the whole house into an uproar. Don Andres had been hastily
summoned. Suspicions against the servants, a "third degree" for the
whole lot, all of them protesting and weeping, in outrage! Until finally
dona Bernarda sank to a chair in a swoon, whispering into her adviser's
"Rafael is not in the house. He has gone ... perhaps never to return. I
am sure of it--he took the money!"
While the others were getting the sobbing mother to bed, and sending for
the doctor, don Andres had made for the station to catch the express. He
could tell from the way people looked at him that everybody knew what
had been going on. Gossip had already connected the excitement in the
Brull mansion with Rafael's taking the early train! He had been seen by
several persons, in spite of his precautions.
"Well, is the Hon. don Rafael Brull, member from Alcira, satisfied with
his morning's work? Don't you think the laugh your enemies have raised
deserves an _encore_!"
For all his bitter sarcasm the old man spoke in a faltering voice, and
seemed on the verge of tears. The labor of his entire life, the great
victories won with don Ramon, that political power which had been so
carefully built up and sustained over decades, was about to crumble to
ruins; all because of a light-headed, erratic boy who had handed to the
first skirt who came along everything that belonged to him and
everything that belonged to his friends as well.
Rafael had gone into the interview in an aggressive mood, ready to
answer with plain talk if that sodden idiot should go too far in his
recriminations. But the sincere grief of the old man touched him deeply.
Don Andres, who resembled Rafael's father as the cat resembles the
tiger, could think of nothing but Brull politics; and he was almost
sobbing as he saw the danger which the prestige of the Brull House was
With bowed head, crushed by the realization of the scene that had
followed his flight, Rafael did not notice where they were going. But
soon he became conscious of the perfume of flowers. They were crossing a
garden; and as he looked up he saw the figure of Valencia's conqueror on
his sinewy charger glistening in the sun.
They walked on. The old man began in wailing accents to describe the
situation which the Brull House was facing. That money, which perhaps
Rafael still had in his pocket--more than thirty thousand
_pesetas_--represented the final desperate efforts of his mother to
rescue the family fortune, which had been endangered by don Ramon's
prodigal habits. The money was his, and don Andres had nothing to say in
that regard. Rafael was at liberty to squander it, scatter it to the
four winds of heaven; but don Andres wasn't talking to a child, he was
talking to a man with a heart: so he begged him, as his childhood
preceptor, as his oldest friend, to consider the sacrifices his mother
had been making--the privations she had imposed upon herself, going
without new clothes, quarreling with her help over a _centimo_, despite
all her airs as a grand lady, depriving herself of all the dainties and
comforts that are so pleasant to old age--all that her son, her _senor
hijo_, might waste it in gay living on a woman! Thirty thousand! And
don Andres mentioned the sum with bated breath! It had taken so much
trouble to hoard it! Come, man! The sight of such things was enough to
make a fellow cry like a baby!...
And suppose his father, don Ramon, were to rise from the grave? Suppose
he could see how his Rafael were destroying at a single stroke what it
had cost him so many years to build up, just because of a woman!...
They were now crossing a bridge. Below, against the background of white
gravel in the river-bed the red and blue uniforms of a group of soldiers
could be seen; and the drums were beating, sounding in the distance like
the humming of a huge bee-hive--worthy accompaniment, Rafael reflected,
to the old man's evocation of the youth's father. Rafael thought he
could almost see in front of him the massive body, the flourishing
mustache, the proud, arrogant brow of don Ramon, a born fighter, an
adventurer destined from the cradle to lead men and impose his will upon
What would that heroic master of men have said of this? Don Ramon would
give a lot of money to a woman--granted--but he wouldn't have swapped
all the beauties on earth put together for a single vote!
But his son, the boy on whom he had grounded his fondest hopes--the
redeemer destined to raise the House of Brull to its loftiest glory--the
future "personage" in Madrid, the fondled heir-apparent, who had found
his pathway already cleared for him at birth--was throwing all his
father's labors through the window, the way you toss overboard
something it has cost you nothing to earn! It was easy to see that
Rafael had never known what hard times were--those days of the
Revolution, when the Brulls were out of power and held their own just
because don Ramon was a bad man with a gun--desperate election
campaigns, when you marched to victory over somebody's dead body, bold
cross-country rides on election night, never knowing when you would meet
the _roder_ in ambush--the outlaw sharpshooter who had vowed to kill don
Ramon; then endless prosecutions for intimidation and violence, which
had given dona Bernarda and her husband months and months of anxiety,
lest a catastrophe from one moment to the next bring prison and
forfeiture of all their property! All that his father had gone through,
for his boy's sake; to carve out a pedestal for Rafael, pass on to him a
District that would be his own, blazing a path over which he might go to
no visible limit of glory! And he was just throwing it all away,
relinquishing forever a position that had been built up at the cost of
years and years of labor and peril! That is what he would be doing,
unless that very night he returned home, refuting by his presence there
the rumors his scandalized adherents were circulating.
Rafael shook his head. The mention of his father had touched him, and he
was convinced by the old man's arguments; but none the less he was
determined to resist. No, and again no; his die was cast: he would
continue on his way.
They were now under the trees of the Alameda. The carriages were rolling
by, forming an immense wheel in the center of the avenue. The harnesses
of the horses and the lamps of the drivers' boxes gleamed in the
sunlight. Women's hats and the white lace shawls of children could be
seen through the coach windows as they passed.
Don Andres became impatient with the youth's stubbornness. He pointed to
all those happy, peaceful-looking families out for their afternoon
drive--wealth, comfort, public esteem, abundance, freedom from struggle
and toil! _Cristo_, boy! Was that so bad, after all? Well, that was just
the life he could have if he would be good and not turn his back on his
plain duty--rich, influential, respected, growing old with a circle of
nice children about him. What more could a decent person ask for in this
All that bohemian nonsense about pure love, love free from law and
restraint, love that scoffs at society and its customs, sufficient unto
itself and despising public opinion, that was just bosh, the humbug of
poets, musicians and dancers--a set of outcasts like that woman who was
taking him away, cutting him off forever from all the ties that bound
him to family and country!
The old man seemed to take courage from Rafael's silence. He judged the
moment opportune for launching the final attack upon the boy's
"And then, what a woman! I have been young, like you, Rafael. It's true
I didn't know a stylish woman like this one, but, bah! they're all
alike. I have had my weaknesses; but I tell you I wouldn't have lifted a
finger for this actress of yours! Any one of the girls we have down home
is worth two of her. Clothes, yes, talk, yes, powder and rouge inches
deep!... I'm not saying she's bad to look at--not that; what I say
is... well, it doesn't take much to turn your head--you're satisfied
with the leavings of half the men in Europe...."
And he came to Leonora's past, the lurid, much exaggerated legend of her
journey through life--lovers by the dozens; statues and paintings of her
in the nude; the eyes of all Europe centered on her beauty; the public
property of a continent! "That was virtue to go crazy about, come now!
Quite worth leaving house and home for, no doubt of that!"
The old man winced under the flash of anger that blazed in Rafael's
eyes. They had just crossed another bridge, and were entering the city
again. Don Andres, wretched coward that he was, sidled away to be within
reach of the customs' office if the fist he could already see cleaving
the air should come his way.
Rafael, in fact, stopped in his tracks, glaring. But in a second or two
he went on his way again, dejected, with bowed head, ignoring the
presence of the old man. Don Andres resumed his place at the boy's side.
The cursed old fox! He had stuck the knife in the right place! Leonora's
past! Her favors distributed with mad lavishness over the four corners
of the globe! An army of men of every nation owning her for a moment
with the appeal of luxury or the enchantment of art! A palace today and
a hotel tomorrow! Her lips repeating in all the languages of Babel the
very words of love that had fired him as if he had been the first to
hear them! He was going to lose everything for that--that refuse, as don
Andres said--a public scandal, a ruined reputation; and a murdered
mother perhaps,--for that! Oh, that devil of a don Andres! How cunningly
he had slashed him, and then plunged his fingers into the bleeding gash
to make the wound deeper! The old man's plain common-sense had shattered
his dream. That man had been the rustic, cunning Sancho at the side of
the quixotic don Ramon; and he was playing the same role with Rafael!
Leonora's story came back to the boy in one flash--the frank confession
she had made during the days of their mere friendship, when she had told
him everything to prevent his continuing to desire her. However much she
might adore him, he would be nothing after all but a successor to a
Russian count, and a German musician; the latest, simply among those
countless ephemeral lovers, whom she had barely mentioned but who must
none the less have left some trace in her memory. The last item in a
long inventory! The most recent arrival, coming several years late, and
content to nibble at the soggy over-ripe fruit which they had known when
it was fresh and firm. Her kisses that so deeply disturbed him! What
were they but the intoxicating, unhealthful perfume of a whole career of
corruptness and licentiousness, the concentrated essence of a world
madly dashing at her seductive beauty, as a bird of night breaks its
head against the globe of a lighthouse? Give up everything for that! The
two of them traveling about the world, free, and proud of their
passion!... And out in that world he would encounter many of his
predecessors; and they would look at him with curious, ironic eyes,
knowing of her all that he would know, able to repeat all the panting
phrases she would speak to him in the exaggerations of her insatiable
passion! The strange thing about it was that all this had not occurred
to him sooner. Blind with happiness, he had never thought an instant of
his real place in that woman's life!
How long had they been walking through the streets of Valencia?... His
legs were sagging under him! He was faint with weariness. He could
hardly see. The gables of the houses were still tipped with sunlight,
yet he seemed to be groping about in a deep night.
"I'm thirsty, don Andres. Let's go in somewhere."
The old man headed him toward the Cafe de Espana, his favorite resort.
He selected the table in the center of the big square salon under the
four clocks supported by the angel of Fame. The walls were covered with
great mirrors that opened up fantastic perspectives in the dingy room
where the gilded ornaments were blackened by the smoke and a crepuscular
light filtered in through the lofty skylight as into a sombre crypt.
Rafael drank, without realizing just what his glass contained--a poison,
it felt like, that froze his heart. Don Andres sat looking at the
writing articles on the marble table: a letter-case of wrinkled
oil-cloth, and a grimy ink-well. He began to rap upon them with the
holder of the public pen--rusty and with the points bent--an instrument
of torture well fitted for a hand committed to despair!
"We have just an hour to catch our train! Come, Rafael, be a man!
There's still time! Come, let's get out of this mess we're in!"
And he held out the pen, though he had not said a word about writing to
"I can't, don Andres. I'm a gentleman. I've given my word; and I will
not go back upon it, come what may!"
The old man smiled ironically.
"Very well, be as much of a gentleman as you please. She deserves it!
But when you break with her, when she leaves you, or you leave her,
don't come back to Alcira. Your mother won't be there to welcome you! I
shall be--I don't know where; and those who made you deputy will look
upon you as a thief who robbed and killed his mother.... Oh, get mad if
you want to--beat me up even; people at the other tables are already
looking at us.... Why not top the whole business off with a saloon
brawl? But just the same, everything I've been saying to you is gospel
In the meantime Leonora was growing impatient in her hotel room. Three
hours had gone by. To relieve her nervousness she sat down behind the
green curtain at the window watching pedestrians crossing the square.
How like a small piazza of old Florence this place was, with its stately
aristocratic residences, shrouded in imposing gloom; it's grass-grown,
cobblestone pavements hot from the sun; its sleepy solitude: an
occasional woman, or a priest, or a tourist,--and you could hear their
footsteps even when they were far away! Here was a curious corner of the
_Palacio de Dos Agnas_--panels of jasper stucco with a leaf design on
the mouldings! That talking came from the drivers gathered in the hotel
door--the innkeeper and the servants were setting the chairs out on the
sidewalk as if they were back at home--in a small Italian town! Behind
the roof opposite, the sunlight was gradually fading, growing paler and
softer every moment.
She looked at her watch. Six o'clock! Where on earth could that Rafael
have gone? They were going to lose the train. In order to waste no time,
she ordered Beppa to have everything in readiness for departure. She
packed her toilet articles; then closed her trunks, casting an inquiring
glance over the room with the uneasiness of a hasty leave-taking. On an
armchair near the window she laid her traveling coat, then her hand-bag,
and her hat and veil. They would have to run the moment Rafael came in.
He would probably be very tired and nervous from returning so late.
But Rafael did not come!... She felt an impulse to go out and look for
him; but where? She had not been in Valencia since she was a child. She