Part 5 out of 5
had forgotten the streets. Then she might actually pass Rafael on the
way without knowing it, and wander aimlessly about while he would be
waiting for her at the hotel. No. It would be better to stay there!
It was now dusk and the hotel-room was virtually dark. She went to the
window again, trembling with impatience, filled with all the gloom of
the violet light that was falling from the sky with a few red streaks
from the sunset. They would surely lose the train now! They would have
to wait until the next day. That was a disappointment! They might have
trouble in getting away!
She whirled nervously about as she heard someone calling from the
"Madame, madame, a letter for you!"
A letter for her!... She snatched it feverishly from the bell-boy's
hand, while Beppa, seated on a trunk, looked on vacantly, without
She began to tremble violently. The thought of Hans Keller, the
ungrateful artist, suddenly rose in her memory. She looked for a candle
on the chiffonier. There was none. Finally she went to the balcony and
tried to read the letter in the little light there was.
It was his handwriting on the envelope--but tortuous, labored, as if it
were the product of a painful effort. She felt all her blood rush back
upon her heart. Madly she tore the letter open, and read with the haste
of a person anxious to drain the cup of bitterness at a single draught,
skipping a line here and a line there, taking in only the significant
"My mother very ill.... I must go home for a day or two ... my duty as a
son ... we'll soon meet again." And then all the cowardly, conventional
excuses that chivalry has created to soften the harshness of
desertion--the promise to join her again as soon as possible; passionate
protestations that she was the only woman in the world he loved.
Her first thought was to go back to Alcira at once, walk there if
necessary, find the scamp somewhere, throw the letter into his face,
beat him, claw him to pieces!
"Ah, the wretch! The infamous, cowardly, unspeakable wretch!" she cried.
Beppa had found a candle. She lighted it. And there her mistress
was--staggering, deathly pale, her eyes wide open, her lips white with
anguish! Leonora began to walk up and down the apartment, taut and
strained, as if her feet were not moving at all, as if she were being
thrust about by an invisible hand.
"Beppa," she groaned finally, "he has gone. He is deserting me."
The maid did not care about the desertion particularly. She had been
through that before. She was thinking about Leonora, waiting for the
impending crisis, studying the anguished countenance of her mistress
with her own placid, bovine eyes.
"The wretch!" Leonora hissed, pacing back and forth in the chamber.
"What a fool, what a complete, unconscionable fool I have been! Giving
myself to that man, believing in that man, trusting that man, giving up
my peace of mind, the last relative I had in the world for that man!...
And why would he not let me go off alone? He made me dream of an eternal
springtime of love, and now he deserts me.... He has tricked me ... he
is laughing at me ... and I can not hate him. Why did he insist on
rousing me when I was there alone, quite peaceful, forgetting
everything, sunk in a placid indulgent calm!... The cool fraud that he
was!... But what do I care, after all?... It's all over. Come Beppa,
cheer up! Hah-hah! Come, Beppa! We're off! We're off! We're going to
sing again! Off over the whole globe. Good-bye to this rat-hole forever!
I'm through educating children! Now for life again! And we'll drain them
dry, the brutes! Kick them about like the selfish donkeys they are!
Well, well! I can't believe I've been taken in this way! Isn't it a
joke? The best joke you ever heard! Ha, ha, ha! And I thought I knew the
world ...! Ha, ha! Ha, ha!..."
And her laugh was audible distinctly down in the square. It was a wild,
shrill, metallic laughter, that seemed to be rending her flesh! The
whole hotel was in commotion, while the actress, with foaming lips, fell
to the floor and began to writhe in fury, overturning the furniture and
bruising her body on the iron trimmings of her trunks.
"Don Rafael, the gentlemen of the Committee on the Budget are waiting
for you in the second section."
"I'll be there directly."
And the deputy bent low over his desk in the writing-room of the
Congress, went on with his last letter, adding one more envelope to the
heap of correspondence piled up at the end of the table, near his cane
and his silk hat.
This was his daily grind, the boresome drudgery of every afternoon; and
around him, with similar expressions of disgust on their faces, a large
number of the country's representatives were busy at the same task.
Rafael was answering petitions and queries, stifling the complaints and
acknowledging the wild suggestions that came in from the District--the
endless clamor of the voters at home, who never met the slightest
annoyance in their various paths of life without at once running to
their deputy, the way a pious worshipper appeals to the miracle-working
He gathered up his letters, gave them to an usher to mail, and
sauntering off with a counterfeit sprightliness that was more
counterfeit as he grew fatter and fatter with the years, walked through
to the central corridor, a prolongation of the lobby in front of the
_Salon de Conferencias_.
The Honorable senor don Rafael Brull, member from Alcira, felt as much
at ease as if he were in his own house when he entered that corridor,--a
dark hole, thick with tobacco smoke, and peopled with black suits
standing around in groups or laboriously elbowing their way through the
He had been there eight years; though he had almost lost count of the
times he had been "duly elected" in the capricious ups and downs of
Spanish politics, which give to Parliaments only a fleeting existence.
The ushers, the personnel of the Secretariat, the guards and janitors,
treated him with deferential intimacy, as a comrade on a somewhat higher
level, but as much of a fixture as they were to the Spanish Congress. He
was not one of those men who are miraculously washed into office on the
crest of a reform wave, but never succeed in repeating the trick, and
spend the rest of their lives idling on the sofas of the Conference
Chamber, with wistful memories of lost greatness, waiting to enter
Congress afternoons, to preserve their standing as ex-deputies, and
forever hoping that their party will some day return to power, so that
once again they may sit on the red benches. No, don Rafael Brull was a
gentleman with a District all his own: he came with a clean, undisputed
and indisputable certificate of election, whether his own party or the
Opposition were in the saddle. For lack of other discoverable merit in
him, his fellow-partisans would say: "Brull is one of the few who come
here on honest returns." His name did not figure brilliantly in the
Congressional record, but there was not an employee, not a journalist,
not a member of the "ex-honorables" who, on noticing the word "Brull" on
all the committees, did not at once exclaim: "Ah, yes! Brull ... of
Eight years of "service to the country." Eight years of lodging-house
life, while yonder lay a sumptuous home adorned with a luxuriousness
that had cost his mother and his father-in-law half a fortune! Long
seasons of separation from his wife and his children--and without
amusements, to avoid spending money lest the folks at home suspect him
of dereliction in public--and private--duty! What a dog's life his eight
years as deputy had been! Indigestion from the countless gallons of
sugared water drunk at the Congressional bar; callouses on his feet from
endless promenades along the central corridor, absentmindedly knocking
the varnish off the tiles of the wainscoating with the tip of his cane;
an incalculable quantity of _pesetas_ spent on carriages, through fault
of his supporters, who sent him trotting every morning from one Ministry
to the next, asking for the earth, and getting a grain of sand!
He had not as yet gotten anywhere in particular; but according to
Chamber gossip he was a "serious" well-balanced young man, of few words,
but good ones, and sure some day to be rewarded with a Portfolio.
Content with the role of safety and sanity that had been assigned to
him, he laughed very seldom, and dressed soberly, with not a dissonant
color to brighten his black attire. He would listen patiently to things
that did not concern him in the least, rather than venture a personal
opinion with the chance of going wrong--satisfied with premature
wrinkles, premature corpulency, and premature baldness, since nothing
could be more respectable than a thoughtful face, a conspicuous paunch,
and a pate that could shine with venerable brilliancy under the lamps of
the Chamber. At thirty-four, he looked more like forty-five. When he
spoke he would remove his spectacles with a gesture he had carefully
imitated from the deceased leader of "the Party." He would never take
the floor without prefacing his remarks with: "My understanding is ...,"
or "I have my own humble opinion on this matter...." And this was what
don Rafael Brull had learned in eight years of parliamentary assiduity!
The new Conservative leader, seeing that he could always depend on
Brull's vote and that Alcira elections cost "the Party" nothing, had a
certain consideration for Rafael. He was a soldier always on hand for
roll-call, whenever a new Parliament was formed. He would present
himself with his certificate of election, whether his party, with all
the insolence of victory, occupied the benches on the Right, or hungry
and defiant, and reduced in numbers, was huddled on the Left, determined
to find fault with everything the reigning Ministry did. Two sessions as
part of the minority had won him a certain intimacy with the leader in
that frank comradeship that Oppositions always have, since, from leader
down to the most silent member, all the deputies "out of power" are on a
level. Besides, in those two seasons of misfortune, to aid in the
destructive tactics of his faction, he put little interpellations to the
government, at the openings of the sessions when the crowds were small;
and more than once he heard from the pale smiling lips of the chief:
"Very good, Brull; that was to the point." And such congratulations
were duly echoed in his home city, where rustic imagination did the
In addition, a few parliamentary honors had come his way; the "Grand
Cross" had been given him, as it is given to most deputies of a certain
length of service--from membership, eventually, on committees charged
with representing the legislative branch of the government at formal
public functions. If an "Answer to the Message" was to be taken "to the
Palace," he was one of those chosen for the purpose; and he trembled
with emotion to think of what his mother, his wife, all the people down
yonder at home would say if they could see him riding there in the
sumptuous carriage of state, preceded by bright-liveried horsemen and
saluted by trumpets blaring the royal march! He was also usually among
the delegates who came out on the staircase of the Congress to welcome
Their Majesties on the opening of a parliament. Finally, for one
session, he was on "the Committee for the Interior," an appointment that
raised his prestige a thousand percent among the ushers.
"That fellow Brull," they would say in the Chamber, "will be somebody
the day his party returns to power."
Well, now "the Party" was in power again. During one of those ordered,
calculated "changes of direction" to which Spain lives subject, because
of its parliamentary system of party weights and party balances, the
Conservatives captured the premiership; and Rafael went on the budget
committee. There he would do something more than make interpellations
when he opened his mouth to speak. In fact he had to win his spurs,
justify his filling one of those posts which, according to report, his
chief was holding for him.
The green deputies, the younger set constituting the new majority, elect
and triumphant through grace of the Ministry of the Interior, respected
him and deferred to what he said, much as students listen to a tutor who
they know receives his orders from the master directly--the
subordination of freshmen, as it were, to the sophomore who knows the
Whenever a vote was being taken and the Opposition was excited over the
chance of putting the government in the minority, the Premier would look
about anxiously over the hall for Brull.
"See here, Brull, better bring your people in; we're going to have a
And Brull, proud at being noticed thus, would dash out like a streak of
lightning while the bells were ringing and the ushers were running about
summoning the deputies to vote. He would make the rounds of the desks in
the writing rooms, elbow his way into groups in the corridors; and
filling with self-importance because of the authority conferred upon
him, he would rudely shoo the ministerial flock off toward the Chamber,
grumbling fogeywise and assuring them that "in his time," when he was
serving his first term, there was "far better discipline." When the vote
was all in and the victory won, he would sigh with satisfaction. He had
saved the government! And perhaps the nation!
At times a residue of the sincerity and frankness of his character as a
boy would rise to the surface in him. Then cruel doubts would assail his
faith in himself. Weren't they all playing a stupid comedy there
without the slightest wit or sense in it? Really was what they said and
did there of the slightest importance to the country--to anybody?
Standing in the corridor, he would feel the nervous flutter of the
journalists about him--those poor, intelligent, attractive, young
fellows, who found it so hard to make a living. From the press-gallery
they would sit and look down on the legislators the way birds in the
treetops must look down on the wretchedness of the streets below,
laughing at the nonsense those solemn baldpates were talking! Could a
farce on the stage be more amusing?
To Rafael those "intellectuals" seemed to bring a breeze from out of
doors into the close, sordid, vitiated air of the Chamber. They stood
for the thought of the world outside--the idea fatherless, unsponsored,
the aspiration of the great masses--a breath of fresh air in the
sick-room of a chronic invalid forever dying, forever unburiable.
Their judgment always differed from that of the country's
representatives. His Excellency senor don What's-his-Name was in their
eyes, a mud-eel, and in their lingo a _congrio_; the illustrious orator
What-do-you-call-him, who took up a sixteen-page sheet in the
Congressional Record every time he spoke, was a _percebe_, a "barnacle
on the keel of Progress"; every act of parliament struck them as a bit
of balderdash, though, to hold their jobs, they praised it to the skies
in their articles. And why was it that the country, in some mysterious
way, would always think eventually what those boys thought, so long, and
only so long, as they remained boys? Would they have to come down from
their scats in the press-gallery to the red benches on the floor before
the real will of the country would make itself felt?
Rafael Brull finally realized that national opinion was present on the
floor, among his fellow members, also, but like a mummy in a
sarcophagus: bound hand and foot in rhetoric and conventional utterance,
spiced, embalmed with proprieties that made any outburst of sincerity,
any explosion of real feeling, evidence of "bad taste!"
In reality everything was going well with the Ship of State. The nation
had passed from action to talk, and from talk to passivity, and from
passivity to resignation. The era of revolutions was gone forever. The
infallible system of government had proved to be this mechanism of
pre-arranged "crises" and amicable exchanges of patronage between
Liberals and Conservatives, each member of the party in power and each
member of the party out of power knowing just what he was to say and
just what he was to get.
So, in that palace of over-ornate architecture, as pretentious and as
showy as the mansion of a millionaire _parvenu_, Rafael was condemned to
spend his lifetime, foregoing the blue sky and the flowering fields and
orchards of Alcira that a family ambition might be realized.
Nothing noteworthy had occurred during those eight years. His life had
been a muddy, monotonous stream, with neither brilliancy nor beauty in
its waters, lazily meandering along, like the Jucar in winter. As he
looked back over his career as a "personage," he could have summed it up
in three words: he had married.
Remedios was his wife. Don Matias was his father-in-law. He was
wealthy. He had control over a vast fortune, for he exercised despotic
rule over his wife's peasant father, the most fervent of his admirers.
His mother seemed to have put the last of her strength into the
arrangement of that "marriage of convenience." She had fallen into a
senile decrepitude that bordered on dotage. Her sole evidence of being
alive was her habit of staying in church until the doors were closed and
she could stay no longer. At home she did nothing but recite the rosary,
mumbling away in some corner of the house, and taking no part in the
noisy play of her grandchildren. Don Andres had died, leaving Rafael
sole "boss" of "the Party." He had had three children. They had had
their teeth, their measles, their whooping-cough. These episodes, with a
few escapades of that brother of Remedios, who feared Rafael's paunch
and bald head more than the wrath of don Matias, were the only
distractions in a thoroughly dull existence.
Every year he bought a new piece of land. He felt a thrill of pride when
from the top of San Salvador--that Hermitage, alas, of such desperate
and unfading memory!--he looked down upon the vast patches of land with
orange-trees in straight rows and fenced in by green walls, that all,
all, belonged to him. The joy of ownership, the intoxication of property
had gone to his head.
As he entered the old mansion, entirely made over now, he felt the same
sense of well-being and power. The old chest in which his mother used to
keep her money stood where it had always stood; but it was no longer
devoted to savings hoarded slowly at the cost of untold sacrifice and
privation to raise mortgages and temporize with creditors. Never again
had he tip-toed up in the dark to rifle it. Now it was his own. And at
harvest time it became literally crammed with the huge rolls of
banknotes his father-in-law paid over in exchange for the oranges of the
Brull orchards. And Rafael had a covetous eye on what don Matias had in
the banks; for all that, too, would come to him when the old man died.
Acquisitiveness--money and land--had become his one, his ruling passion.
Monotony, meanwhile, had turned him into an accurate, methodical,
meticulous machine; so that every night he would make out a schedule,
hour for hour, of all that he would do on the following day. At the
bottom of this passion for riches conjugal contagion probably lay. Eight
years of unbroken familiarity had finally inoculated him with most of
the obsessions and most of the predilections of his wife.
The shrinking, timorous little she-goat that used to gambol about with
him in pursuit, the poor child who had been so wistful and downcast
during the days of his wantonness, had now become a woman with all the
imperious obstinacy, all the domineering superiority of the female of
the species as it has evolved in the countries of the South. Cleanliness
and frugality in Remedios took the form of unendurable tyranny. She
scolded her husband if he brought the slightest speck of dust into the
house on his shoes. She would turn the place upside down, flay all the
servants alive, if ever a few drops of oil were spilled from a jar, or a
crumb of bread were wasted on the table.
"A jewel for the home! And didn't I tell you so?" her father would
whisper, satisfied with his daughter's obtrusive qualities.
Rafael, for his part, found them intolerable. He had tried to love his
bride in the early months of their marriage. He made an honest effort to
forget, and recall the playful, passionate impulses he had felt on those
days when he had chased her around the orchards. But after a first fever
of passion had passed, she had proved to be a cold, calculating
child-bearer, hostile to expansiveness of love out of religious
scruples, viewing it her duty to bring new offsprings into the world to
perpetuate the House of Brull and to fill "grandaddy" don Matias with
pride at sight of a nursery full of future "personages" destined to the
heights of political greatness in the District and in the nation.
Rafael had one of those gentle, temperate, honest, households that, on
the afternoon of their walk through Valencia, don Andres had pointed out
to him as a radiant hope, if only he would turn his back on his mad
adventure. He had a wife; and he had children; and he was rich. His
father-in-law ordered shotguns for him from his correspondents in
England. Every year a new horse was added to the stable, and don Matias
would see to purchasing the best that could be found in the fairs of
Andalusia. He hunted, took long horseback rides over the roads of the
district, dispensed justice in the _patio_ of the house, just as his
father don Ramon had done. His three little ones, finding him somewhat
strange after his long absences in Madrid and more at home with their
grand-parents than with him, would group themselves with bowed, bashful
heads around his knees, silently waiting for his paternal kiss.
Everything attainable around him was within his reach for the asking;
and yet--he was not happy.
From time to time the adventure of his youth would come back to his
mind. The eight years that had passed seemed to have put a century
between him and those ancient days. Leonora's face had slowly, slowly,
faded in his memory, till all he could remember were her two green eyes,
and her blond hair that crowned her with a crown of gold. Her aunt, the
devout, ingenuous dona Pepa, had died some time since--leaving her
property for the salvation of her soul. The orchard and the Blue House
belonged now to Rafael's father-in-law, who had transferred to his own
home the best of its equipment--all the furniture and decorations that
Leonora had bought during her period of exile, while Rafael had been in
Madrid and she had thought of living the rest of her life in Alcira.
Rafael carefully avoided revisiting the Blue House, out of regard for
his wife's possible susceptibilities. As it was, the woman's silence
sometimes weighed heavily upon him, a strange circumspection, which
never permitted the slightest allusion to the past. In the coldness and
the uncompromising scorn with which she abominated any poetic madness in
love, an important part was doubtless played by the suppressed memory of
her husband's adventure with the actress, which everybody had tried to
conceal from her and which had deeply disturbed the preparations for her
When the deputy was alone in Madrid, as much at liberty as before his
marriage, he could think of Leonora freely, without those restraints
which seemed to disturb him back at home in the bosom of his family.
What could have become of her? To what limits of mad frolic had she gone
after that parting which even after years had passed, still brought a
blush of shame to Rafael's cheeks? The Spanish papers paid very little
attention to matters of foreign art. Only twice in their columns did he
discover Leonora's stage name with an account of her new triumphs. She
had sung in Paris in French, with as much success as a native _artiste_.
The purity of her accent had surprised everyone. In Rome she had played
the "lead" in an opera by a young Italian composer, and her coming had
been announced by press agents as a great event. The opera had failed to
please; not so the singer. Her audience had been moved to tears by her
execution of a scene in the last act, where she wept for a lost love.
After that--silence, no news whatever! She had disappeared. A new love
affair, Rafael supposed, a new outburst of that vehement passion which
made her follow her chosen man like a slave. And Rafael felt a flash of
jealousy at the thought, as if he had rights over the woman still, as if
he had forgotten the cruelty with which he had bidden her farewell.
That, fundamentally, had been the cause of all the bitterness and
remorse in his life. He understood now that Leonora had been his one
genuine passion: the love that comes to people once in a lifetime. It
had been within reach of his hand, and he had failed to grasp it, had
frightened it away forever with a cowardly act of villany, a cruel
farewell, the shame of which would go to the grave with him. Garlanded
in the orange-blossoms of the orchard, Love had passed before him,
singing the Hymn of wild Youth that knows neither scruples nor ambition.
Love, true love had invited him to follow--and he had answered with a
stab--in the back! That love would never return, as he well knew. That
mysterious being with its smiles and with its frolics, goes forever when
once it goes. It knows no bartering with destiny. It demands blind
obedience and bids the lover take the woman who offers her hand,
orchard-maid or prima donna as she may be. The man who hesitates is
And Rafael felt that an endless night had closed around him! He found
all his efforts to escape from his dullness and depression vain. He
could not shake off the senility that was creeping over his spirit.
Sadly he bowed to the conviction that another love like the first was
For two months he had been the lover of Cora, a popular girl of the
private rooms of the Fornos, a tall, thin, strong Galician beauty--as
strong, alas, as the other. Cora had spent a few months in Paris, and
had returned thence with her hair bleached and a distinctly French
manner of lifting her skirt as if she were strolling along the
_trottoir_ of the _boulevards_. She had a sweet way of mixing French
words in her conversation, calling everybody _mon cher_ and pretending
expertness in the organization of a supper. At all events she shone like
a great _cocotte_ among her competitors, though her real asset was a
line of _risque_ stories, and a certain gift for low songs.
Rafael soon wearied of this affair. He did not like her manufactured
beauty, nor her tiresome chatter that always turned on fashions. She was
always wanting money for herself and for her friends. Rafael, as a
wealthy miser, grew alarmed. Remorsefully he thought of his children's
future, as if he were ruining them; and of what his economical Remedios
would say of his considerably augmented expenditures. Well he knew that
Remedios haggled for everything down to the last _centimo_, and that her
one extravagance was an occasional new shawl for the local Virgin, and
an annual _fiesta_ for the Saint with a large orchestra and hundreds of
candles! He broke off relations with the Galician _boulevardiere_, and
found the rupture a sweet relief. It seemed to remove a sully from the
memory of his youthful passion. Moreover, his Party had just returned to
power and it was important to have no blemish on his standing as a
"serious" person! He resumed his seat on the Right, and near the Blue
Bench this time, as one of the senior deputies. The moment for work had
come! Now, it was time to see whether he could not make a position for
himself with one good boost!
They named him to the Committee on the Budget, and he took it upon
himself to refute certain strictures presented by the Opposition to the
Government program on Pardon and Justice. One friend he could count on
was the minister: a respectable, solemn marquis who had once been an
Absolutist, and who, wearied of platonisms, as he put it, had finally
"recognized" the liberal regime, without amending his former ideas,
Rafael was as nervous as a schoolboy on the eve of his first
examinations. At the library he studied everything that had been said on
the subject by countless deputies in a century of Parliamentary
government. His friends in the Conference Chamber--the legislative
bohemia of "ex-honorables" and unsuccessful aspirants, who were loyal to
him in gratitude for passes to the floor--were encouraging him and
prophesying victory. They no longer approached him to begin: "When I was
auditor ..." to indulge in a veritable intoxication on the fumes of
their past glory; no longer did they ask him what don Francisco thought
of this, that, or the other thing, to draw their own wild inferences
from his replies and start rumors going based on "inside information."
Now, quite frankly, they "advised" him, giving him hints in accordance
with what they had said or meant to say during that discussion of the
budget back in Gonzalez Brabo's time, to end by murmuring, with a smile
that gave him the shudders: "Well, anyhow, we'll see! Good luck to you!"
And that flock of disgruntled spirits who sat around waiting for an
election that would never come and ran like old war-horses at the scent
of gun-powder to group themselves, as soon as a row started and the bell
began to ring for order, in two factions on either side of the
president's chair, could never have imagined that the young deputy, on
many a night, broke off his study with a temptation to throw the thick
tomes of records against the wall, yielding finally, with thrills of
intense voluptuousness, to the thought of what might have become of him
had he gone out into life on his own in the trail of a pair of green
eyes whose golden lights he thought he could still see glittering in
front of him between the lines of clumsy parliamentary prose, tempting
him as they had tempted him of yore!
"Order of the day. Resumption of debate on ecclesiastical
The Chamber suddenly came to life with a wild movement of dispersion,
something comparable to the stampede of a herd or the panic of an army.
The deputies of quickest motory reactions were on their feet in an
instant, followed by dozens and dozens of others, all making for the
doors. Whole blocks of seats were emptied.
The Chamber had been packed from the opening of the Session. It was a
day of intense excitement: a debate between the leader of the Right and
a former comrade who was now in the Opposition. The jealousy between the
two old cronies was resulting in a small-sized scandal. Mutual secrets
of their ancient intimacy as colleagues were coming to light--many of
the intrigues that had settled historic parliamentary contests for the
premiership. The galleries were filled with spectators who had come to
enjoy the fun. The deputies and ministers occupied every seat on either
hand of the presidential chair. But now the incident was closed. Two
hours of veiled insult and pungent gossip had passed all too soon. And
the phrase "Ecclesiastical Appropriations" had served as a fire-alarm.
Run--do not walk--to the nearest exit!
However, the name of the orator who was now being given the floor
served to check the stampede somewhat, much as routs have been stopped
by some great historic warcry. A few deputies hurried back to their
benches. All eyes turned toward the extreme Left of the Chamber, where,
a white head, rising above the red seats over a pair of spectacles and a
gently ironical smile, was coming into view.
The old man was on his feet, at last. He was small, so frail of person,
that he hardly overtopped the men still seated. All his vital energies
had been concentrated in that huge, nobly proportioned head of his, pink
at the top, with shocks of white hair combed back over it. His pale
countenance had the warlike transparency of a sound, vigorous old age.
To it a shining, luminous silvery beard added a majesty like that with
which Sacred Art used to picture the Almighty.
The venerable orator folded his arms and waited for the noise in the
Chamber to cease. When the last determined fugitives had disappeared
through the exit doors, he began to speak. The journalists in the
press-gallery craned their necks toward "the tribune," hushing for
silence in order not to lose a word.
This man was the patriarch of the Chamber. He represented "the
Revolution"--not only the old-fashioned, the political, revolution, but
the modern, the social and economic revolution. He was the enemy of all
present systems of government and society. His theories irritated
everybody, like a new and incomprehensible music falling on slumbering
ears. But he was listened to with respect, with the veneration inspired
by his years and his unsullied career. His voice had the melodious
feebleness of a muffled, silver bell; and his words rolled through the
silence of the hall with a certain prophetic stateliness, as if the
vision of a better world were passing before his eyes as he spoke, the
revelation of a perfect society of the future, where there would be no
oppression and no misery, the dream he had so often dreamed in the
solitude of his study.
Rafael was sitting at the head of the committee bench, somewhat apart
from his companions. They were giving him ample room, as bull-fighters
do their _matador_. He had bundles of documents and volumes piled up at
his seat, in case he should need to quote authorities in his reply to
the venerable orator.
He was studying the old man admiringly and in silence. What a strong,
sturdy spirit, as hard and cold and clear as ice! That veteran had
doubtless had his passions like other men. At moments, through his calm
impassive exterior, a romantic vehemence would seem to burn, a poetic
ardor, that politics had smothered, but which smouldered on as volcanic
fires lie dormant rumbling from time to time under the mantle of snow on
a mountain peak. But he had known how to adjust his life to duty; and
without belief in God, with the support of philosophy only, his virtue
had been strong enough to disarm his most violent enemies.
And a weakling, a dawdler like himself, must reply to a hero like
that!... Rafael began to be afraid; and to recover his spirits he swept
the hall with his eyes. What the regular hangers-on of the sessions
would have called a medium-sized house! A few deputies scattered about
the benches! But the public galleries were filled with spectators,
workingmen mostly, absolutely quiet, and all ears, as if they were
drinking in every word of the old republican! In the reserved seats,
just previously packed with curiosity-seekers interested in the set-to
scheduled for the opening of the session, only a few foreign tourists
were left. They were taking in everything--even the fantastic uniforms
of the mace-bearers; and they were determined not to leave until they
were put out. A few women of the so-called "parliament set," who came
every afternoon when there was a squabble on the program, were munching
caramels and staring in wonderment at the old man. There he was, the
arch enemy of law and order! The man whose name it was bad form to
mention at their afternoon teas! Who would have supposed he had such a
kindly, harmless face? How easily, with what naturalness and grace, he
wore his frock coat! Incredible!... In the diplomatic gallery a solitary
lady! She was extravagantly attired in a huge picture hat with black
plumes. Almost hidden behind her was a fair haired youth, his hair
parted in the middle, his dress the height of correctness and foppery.
Some rich tourist-woman probably! She was directly opposite Rafael's
bench. He could see that her gloved hand rested on the railing, as she
moved her fan to and fro with an almost discourteous noise. The rest of
her body was lost in the darkness of the gallery. She bent back from
time to time to whisper and laugh with her escort.
Somewhat reassured by the empty appearance of the house, Rafael scarcely
paid any further attention to the orator. He had guessed all that the
man would say, and he was satisfied. The outline of the long answer he
had prepared would not in the least be affected.
The old man was inflexible and unchangeable. For thirty years he had
been saying the same thing over and over again. Rafael had read that
speech any number of times. The man had made a close study of national
evils and abuses, and had formulated a complete and pitiless criticism
of them in which the absurdities stood out by force of contrast. With
the conviction that truth is forever the same and that there is nothing
ever so novel as the truth, he had kept repeating his criticism year
after year in a pure, concise, sonorous style that seemed to scatter the
ripe perfume of the classics about the muggy Chamber.
He spoke in the name of the future Spain, of a Spain that would have no
kings, because it would be governed by itself; that would pay no
priests, because, respecting freedom of conscience, it would recognize
all cults and give privileges to none. And with a simple, unaffected
urbanity, as if he were constructing rhyming verses, he would pair
statistics off, underscoring the absurd manner in which the nation was
taking leave of a century of revolution during which all peoples had
done things while Spain was lying stagnant.
More money, he pointed out, was spent on the maintenance of the Royal
House than upon public education. Conclusion: the support of a single
family in idleness was worth more than the awakening of an entire people
to modern life! In Madrid, in the very capital, within sight of every
one of his hearers, the schools remained in filthy hovels, while
churches and convents rose overnight on the principal streets like
magic palaces. During twenty-odd years of Restoration, more than fifty
completely new, religious edifices, girding the capital with a belt of
glittering structures, had been built. On the other hand, only a single
modern school, at all comparable to the ordinary public schools of any
town in England or Switzerland! The young men of the nation were feeble,
unenthusiastic, selfish and--pious--in contrast with fathers, who had
adored the generous ideals of liberty and democracy and had stood for
action, revolt! The son was an old man at majority, his breast laden
with medals, with no other intellectual stimulus than the debates of his
religious fraternity, trusting his future and his thinking to the Jesuit
introduced into the family by the mother, while the father smiled
bitterly, realizing that he was a back-number, belonging to a different
world, to a dying generation--though to a generation which had
galvanized the nation for a moment with the spirit of revolutionary
Here was the Church collecting pay for its services from the faithful,
and then over again from the State! Here was the Ministry of the
Interior appealing for a reduction in taxes--a program of strict
economy--while new bishoprics were being created and ecclesiastical
appropriations swelled for the benefit of the upper clergy; and with no
advantage at all, meanwhile, to the proletariat of the soutane, to the
poor curates who, to make a bare living, had to practice the most
impious worldliness and unscrupulously exploit the house of God! And
while this was going on public works could wait, towns could go without
roads, Districts without railroads, though the wildest savages of Asia
and Africa had both! Fields could continue to perish of drought while
nearby rivers continued to pour their unutilized waters into the sea!
A thrill of conviction rippled through the Chamber. The silence was
absolute. Everybody was holding his breath so as not to lose a syllable
from that faint voice, which sounded like a cry from a distant tomb. It
was as though Truth in person were passing through those murky
precincts; and when the orator ended with an invocation to the future,
in which social absurdities and injustice should no longer exist, the
silence became deeper still, as if a glacial blast of death were blowing
upon those brains that had thought themselves deliberating in the best
of all possible worlds.
It was now time for the reply. Rafael arose, pale, pulling at his cuffs,
waiting a few minutes for the excitement in the Chamber to subside. The
audience had relaxed and was whispering and stirring about, after the
sustained attention compelled by the concise style and the barely
audible voice of the old man.
If Rafael was depending on the sympathy of an audience to encourage him,
things looked promising indeed! The hall began to empty. Why not? Who is
interested in a committee's reply to the Opposition? Besides, Brull had
a bundle of documents on hand. A long-winded affair! Let's escape!
Deputies filed by in line across the semi-circle in front of him; while
above, in the galleries, the desertion was general. The caramel-chewers,
noting that the display of celebrities was over for the day, rose from
their places. Their coaches were ready outside for a ride through the
Castellana. That strange woman in the diplomatic gallery had also risen
to go. But no: she was giving her hand to her companion, bidding him
good-bye. Now she had resumed her seat, continuing the busy movement of
her fan that annoyed Rafael so. Thanks for the compliment, my fair one I
Though as far as he was concerned, the whole audience might have gone,
leaving only the president and the mace-bearers. Then he could speak
without any fear at all! The public galleries, especially, unnerved him.
Nobody had moved there. Those workingmen were without doubt waiting for
the rebuttal of his answer from their venerable spokesman. Rafael felt
that the swarthy heads above all those dirty blouses and shirt-fronts
without collars or neckties were eyeing him with stony coldness. "Now
we'll see what this ninny has got to say!"
Rafael began with a eulogy on the immaculate character, the political
importance and the profound learning of that venerable septuagenarian
who still had strength to battle consistently and nobly for the lost
cause of his youth. An exordium of this nature was the regular
procedure. That was how "the Chief" did things. And as he spoke,
Rafael's eyes turned anxiously upon the clock. He wanted to be long,
very long. If he did not talk for an hour and a half or two hours he
would feel disgraced. Two hours was the least to be expected from a man
of his promise. He had seen party chiefs and faction leaders go it for a
whole afternoon, from four to eight, hoarse and puffing, sweating like
diggers in a sewer, with their collars wilted to rags, watching the
great hall-clock with the intentness of a man waiting to be hanged.
"Still an hour left before closing time!" a speaker's friends would say.
And the great orator, like a wearied horse, but a thoroughbred, would
find new energy somewhere and start on another lap, round and round,
repeating what he had already said a dozen times, summarizing the two
ideas he had managed to produce in four hours of sonorous chatter. With
duration as the test of quality, no one on the government had yet
succeeded in equaling a certain redheaded deputy of the Opposition who
was forever heckling the Premier, and could talk, if need be, three days
in succession for four hours a day.
Rafael had heard people praise the conciseness and the clarity of
new-fangled oratory in the parliaments of Europe. The speeches of party
leaders in Paris or in London took up never more than half a column in a
newspaper. Even the old man he was answering had adopted, to be original
in everything, that selfsame conciseness: every sentence of his
contained two or three ideas. But the member from Alcira would not be
led astray by such niggardly parsimony. He believed that ponderousness
and extension were qualities indispensable to eloquence. He must fill a
whole issue of the Congressional Record, to impress his friends back
home in the District. So he talked and talked on, trying deliberately to
avoid ideas. Those he had he would keep in reserve as long as possible,
certain that the longer he held them prisoner the longer and more solemn
would his oration be.
He had gained a quarter of an hour without making any reply to the
previous speech whatever, and literally burying his illustrious
antagonist in flowers. _Su senoria_ was noteworthy firstly, because,
secondly, because, fourteenthly, because ... Nay more, he had
accomplished this, performed that, endeavored the other
thing--"But"--and with this _but_, alas, Rafael must begin to loosen up
on a little of what he had prepared in advance. _Su senoria_ was an
"ideologue" of immense talent, but ever removed from reality; he would
govern peoples in accordance with theories dug out of books, without
paying any attention to practical considerations, to the individual and
indestructible character possessed by every nation!...
And it was worth sitting an afternoon even in that Chamber to hear the
slighting tone of scorn with which the member from Alcira emphasized
that word _ideologue_ and that phrase about "theories dug out of books"
and "living removed from reality!"
"Good, fine. That's the way to give it to him," his comrades encouraged,
nodding their sleek bald-pates in indignation against anybody who tried
to live apart from reality. Those _ideologues_ needed somebody to tell
them what was what!
And the minister, Rafael's friend, the only auditor left on the Blue
Bench, pressing his huge paunch against the desk, turned his head--an
owlish, hairy head with a sharp beak--to smile indulgently on the young
The orator continued, his confidence increasing as he went on, fortified
by these signs of approval. He spoke of the patient, deliberate study
the committee had made of this matter of the ecclesiastical bud-gets. He
was the most modest, the least among them, but there were his
comrades--they were there, in truth, solemn gentlemen in English
frock-coats, with their hair parted in the middle, from their foreheads
to the napes of their necks--studious young men--who had flattered him
with the honor of speaking for them--and if they had not been more
economical, it was because greater economy had been impossible.
And the heads of the committee-men nodded as they murmured gratefully:
"Say, this fellow Brull can make quite a speech!"
The government was ready to exercise any economy that should prove
prudent and feasible, without prejudice to the dignity of the nation;
but Spain was an eminently religious country, favored by God in all her
crises; and no government loyal to the national genius could ever touch
a _centimo_ of the ecclesiastical appropriation. Never! Never!...
On the word _never_ his voice resounded with the melancholy echo that
rings in empty houses. Rafael looked in anguish at the clock. Half an
hour. Half an hour gained, and still he had not really damaged his
outline. His talk was going so well that he was sorry the Chamber was
far from crowded!... Before him, in the shadows of the diplomatic
gallery, that fan kept fluttering. Pesky woman! Why couldn't she keep
quiet and not spoil his speech!
The president, so restless and vigilant, so ever-ready with watch and
bell in hand when any of the Opposition had the floor, was now sitting
back in his chair with his eyes shut, dozing away with the confidence of
a stage director who is sure the show will go off without a hitch. The
panes of the glass dome were glowing under the rays of the sun, but they
allowed only a diffuse, green light, a discreet, soft, crypt-like
clarity to seep through into the Chamber that lay below in monastic
calm. Through the windows over the president's chair, Rafael glimpsed
patches of the blue sky, drenched in the gentle light of an afternoon of
Springtime. A white dove was hovering in the perspective of those blue
Rafael felt a slackening of his powers of endurance, as if an
irresistible languor were stealing over him. The sweet smile of Nature
peering at him through the transoms of that gloomy, parliamentary tomb
had taken him back to his orange-orchards, and to his Valencian meadows
covered with flowers. He felt a curious impulse to finish his speech in
a few hasty words, grab his hat and flee, losing himself out among the
groves of the Royal Gardens. With that sun and those flowers outside,
what was he doing in that hole, talking of things that did not concern
him in the least?... But he successfully passed this fleeting crisis. He
ceased rummaging among the bundles of documents piled up on the bench,
stopped thumbing papers so as to hide his perturbation, and waving the
first sheet that came to his hand, he went on.
The intention of the gentleman in opposing this appropriation was not
hidden from him. On this matter he had his own, his private and personal
ideas. "I understand that _su senoria_, in here proposing retrenchment,
is really seeking to combat religious institutions, of which he is a
And as he reached this point, Rafael dashed wildly into the fray. He was
treading firm and familiar ground. All this part of the speech he had
prepared, paragraph by paragraph: a defense of Catholicism, an apology
_pro fide_, so intimately bound up with the history of Spain. He could
now use impassioned outbursts and tremors of lyric enthusiasm, as if he
were preaching a new crusade.
On the Opposition benches he caught the ironic glitter of a pair of
spectacles, the convulsions of a white chin quivering over two folded
arms, as if a kindly, indulgent smile had greeted his parade of so many
musty and faded commonplaces. But Rafael was not to be intimidated. He
had gotten away with an hour almost! Forward, to "Section Two" of the
outline, the part about the great national and Christian epic! And he
began to reel off visions of the cave of Covadonga; the fantastic tree
of the Reconquest "where the warrior hung up his sword, the poet his
harp," and so on and so on, for everybody hung up something there; seven
centuries of wars for the cross, a rather long time, believe me,
gentlemen, during which Saracen impiety was expelled from Spanish soil!
Then came the great triumphs of Catholic unity. Spain mistress of almost
the whole world, the sun never allowed to set on Spanish domains; the
caravels of Columbus bearing the cross to virgin lands; the light of
Christianity blazing forth from the folds of the national banner to shed
its illuminating rays throughout the earth.
And as if this hymn to enlightening Christianity, chanted by an orator
who could now hardly see across the gloomy hall, had been a signal, the
electric lights went on; and the statues, the escutcheons, and the
harsh, blatant figures painted on the cupola, sprang forth from
Rafael could hardly contain his joy at the facility with which his
speech was developing. That wave of light which was shed over the hall,
in the middle of the afternoon, while the sun was still shining, seemed
to him like the sudden entrance of Glory, approaching to give him the
accolade of renown.
Caught up now in the real torrent of his premeditated verbosity, he
continued to relieve himself of all that he had learned by cramming
during the past few days. "In vain does _su senoria_ fatigue his wits.
Spain is and will remain a profoundly religious country. Her history is
the history of Catholicism: she has survived in all her times of storm
and stress by tightly embracing the Cross." And he could now come to the
national wars; from the battles in which popular piety saw Saint James,
on his white steed, lopping off the heads of the Moors with his golden
cutlass, to the uprising of the people against Napoleon, behind the
banner of the parish and with their scapularies on their bosoms. He did
not have a word to say about the present. He left the pitiless criticism
of the old revolutionist intact. Why not? The dream of an ideologue! He
was absorbed in his song of the past, affirming for the hundredth time
that Spain had been great because she had been Catholic and that when
for a moment she had ceased to be Catholic, all the evils of the world
had descended upon her. He spoke of the excesses of the Revolution, of
the turbulent Republic of '73, (a cruel nightmare to all right-thinking
persons) and of the "canton" of Cartagena (the supreme recourse of
ministerial oratory),--a veritable cannibal feast, a horror that had
never been known even in this land of _pronunciamientos_ and civil wars.
He tried his best to make his hearers feel the terror of those
revolutions, whose chief defect had been that they had revolutionized
nothing.... And then came a panegyric on the Christian family, on the
Catholic home, a nest of virtues and blessings, whereas in nations where
Catholicism did not reign all homes were repulsive brothels or horrible
"Fine, Brull, very good," grunted the minister, his elbows stretched
forward over his desk, delighted to hear his own ideas echoing from the
young man's mouth.
The orator rested for a moment, with his glance sweeping the galleries
now bright with the electric lighting. The woman in the diplomatic
section had stopped fanning herself. She was following him closely. Her
eyes met his.
Of a sudden Rafael nearly fell to his seat. Those eyes!... Perhaps an
astonishing resemblance! But no; it was she--she was smiling to him with
that same jesting, mocking smile of their earlier acquaintance!
He felt like the bird writhing on the tree unable to free itself from
the hypnotic stare of the serpent coiled near the trunk. Those
sarcastic, mischievous eyes had upset all his train of thought. He tried
to finish in some way or other, to end his speech as soon as possible.
Every minute was an added torment to him; he imagined he could hear the
mute gibes that mouth must be uttering at his expense.
Again he looked at the clock; in fifteen minutes more he would be
through. And he spurted on at a mad pace, with a hurried voice,
forgetting the devices he had thought of to prolong the peroration,
dumping them out all in a heap--anything to get through! "The
Concordate... sacred obligations toward the clergy ... their services
of old ... promises of close friendship with the Pope ... the generous
father of Spain ... in short, we cannot reduce the budget by a _centimo_
and the committee stands, by its proposals without accepting a single
As he sat down, perspiring, excited, wiping his congested face
energetically, his bench companions gathered around him congratulating
him, shaking his hands. He was every inch an orator! He should have gone
deeper into the matter and taken even more time! He shouldn't have been
And from the bench below came the grunt of the minister:
"Very good, very good. You said exactly what I would have said."
The old revolutionist arose to make a short rebuttal, repeating the
contentions of his original speech, of which no denial had been
"I'm quite tired," sighed Rafael, in reply to the felicitations.
"You can go out if you wish," said the minister. "I think I'll answer
the rebuttal myself. It's a courtesy due to so old a deputy."
Rafael raised his eyes toward the diplomatic gallery. It was empty. But
he imagined he could still make out the plumes of a woman's hat in the
He left his bench hastily and hurried to the corridor, where a number of
deputies were waiting with their congratulations.
Not one of them had heard him, but they were all profuse in their
flattering remarks. They shook his hand and detained him maddeningly.
Once more he thought he could descry at the end of the corridor, at the
foot of the gallery staircase, standing out against the glass exit-door,
those black, waving plumes.
He elbowed his way through the crowds, deaf to all congratulations,
brushing aside the hands that were proferred to him.
Near the door he stumbled into two of his associates, who were looking
out with eyes radiant with admiration.
"What a woman? Eh?"
"She looks like a foreigner. Some diplomat's wife, I guess!"
As he came out of the building he saw her on the sidewalk, about to step
into a vehicle. An usher of the Congress was holding the carriage door
open, with the demonstrative respect inspired by the goldbraid shining
on the driver's hat. It was an embassy coach!
Rafael approached, believing, from the carriage, that it still might
prove to be a case of an astonishing resemblance. But no; it was she;
the same woman she had always been, as if eight hours and not eight
years had passed:
"Leonora! You here!..."
She smiled, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to see him
"I saw you and heard you. You did very well, Rafael: I enjoyed it."
And grasping his hand in a frank, hearty clasp of friendship, she
entered the carriage with a rustle of silk and fine linen.
"Come! Won't you step in too?" she asked, smiling. "Join me for a little
drive along the Castellana. It's a magnificent afternoon; a little fresh
air won't do any harm after that muggy room."
Rafael, to the astonishment of the usher, who was surprised to see him
in such seductive company, got in; and the carriage rolled off. There
they were, together again, sitting side by side, swaying gently back and
forth with the motion of the soft springs.
Rafael was at a loss for words. The cold, ironic smile of his former
lover chilled him. He was flushed with shame at the thought of how he
had treated that beautiful creature the last time they had seen each
other. He wanted to say something, and yet he could not find a way to
begin. The ceremonious, formal _usted_ she had employed in inviting him
into the carriage embarrassed him. At last he ventured, timidly, also
avoiding the intimate _tu_!
"Imagine our meeting here! What a surprise!"
"I got in yesterday; tomorrow I leave for Lisbon. A short stop, isn't
it! Just time for a word with the director of the _Real_; perhaps I'll
come next winter to sing _Die Walkuere_ here. But let's talk about you,
illustrious orator.... But I may say _tu_ to you, mayn't I?" she
corrected--"for I believe we are still friends."
"Yes, friends, Leonora.... I have never been able to forget you."
But the feeling he put into the words vanished before the cold smile
with which she answered.
"Friends; that's it," she said, slowly. "Friends, and nothing more.
Between us there lies a corpse that prevents us from getting very close
to each other again."
"A corpse?" asked Rafael, not catching her meaning.
"Yes; the love you murdered.... Friends, nothing more; comrades united
by complicity in a crime."
And she laughed with cruel sarcasm, while the carriage turned into one
of the avenues of Recoletos. Leonora looked vacantly out upon the
central boulevard. The rows of iron benches were filled with people.
Groups of children in charge of governesses were playing gaily about in
the soft, golden splendor of the afternoon.
"I read in the papers this morning that don Rafael Brull, 'of the
Finance Commission,' if you please, would undertake to speak for the
Ministry on the matter of the budget; so I got down on my knees to an
old friend of mine, the secretary of the English embassy, and begged him
to come and take me to the session. This coach is his.... Poor fellow!
He doesn't know you, but the moment he saw you stand up to speak, he
took to his heels.... He missed something though; for really, you
weren't half bad. I'm quite impressed. Say, Rafael, where do you dig up
all those things?"
But Rafael looked uneasily at her cruel smile and refused to accept her
praise. Besides, what did he care about his speech? It seemed to him
that he had been for years and years in that coach; that a whole
lifetime had gone by since he left the halls of the Congress. His gaze
was fixed on her in admiration, and his astonished eyes were drinking in
the beauty of her face, and of her figure.
"How beautiful you are!" he murmured in impulsive enchantment. "The same
as you were then. It seems impossible that eight years can have flown
"Yes; I admit that I bear up well. Time seems not to touch me. A little
longer at the dressing table--that's all. I'm one of the people who die
in harness, so to speak, making no concessions, so far as looks go, to
old age. Rather than surrender, I'd kill myself. I intend to put Ninon
de Lenclos in the shade!"
It was true. Eight years had made not the slightest impression on her.
The same freshness, the same robust, energetic slenderness, the
identical flames of arrogant vitality in her green eyes. Instead of
withering under the incessant parching of passion's flame, she seemed to
grow stronger, hardier, in the crucible.
She measured the deputy with sarcastic playfulness.
"Poor Rafael! I'm sorry I can't say as much for you. How you've changed!
You look almost like a Knight of the Crown. You're fat! You're bald! And
those eyeglasses! Why, I could hardly recognize you in the Chamber. How
my romantic Moor has aged! You poor dear! You even have wrinkles!..."
And she laughed, as if it filled her with intense joy, the joy of
vengeance, to see her former lover so crestfallen at her portrayal of
"You're not happy, are you! I can see that. And yet, you ought to be.
You must have married that girl your mother picked for you. You
doubtless have children.... Don't try to fib to me, just to seem more...
what shall I say ... more interesting! I can see it from the looks of
you. You are the _pater familias_ all over. I am never mistaken in such
things!... Well, why aren't you happy? You have all the requisites for a
personage of note, and you will shortly be one. I'll bet you wear that
sash to hold your paunch in! You are rich, you make speeches in that
horrid, gloomy, cave. Your friends back home will go into ecstasies when
they read the oration their honorable deputy has delivered; and I
imagine they're already preparing fireworks and music for a reception
to you. What more could you ask for?"
And with her eyes half-closed, smiling maliciously, she waited for his
reply, knowing in advance what it would be.
"What more can I ask for? Love; Leonora, the love I once had ... with
And with the vehemence of other days, as if they were still among the
orange-trees of the old Blue House, the deputy gave way to his eight
years of longing.
He told her of the image he nourished in his sadness. Love! The Love
that passes but once in a lifetime, crowned with flowers, and followed
by a retinue of kisses and laughter. And whosoever follows him in
obedience, finds happiness at the end of the joyous pathway; but
whosoever, through pride or selfishness, lags by the wayside, comes to
lament his folly and to expiate his cowardice in an everlasting life of
tedium and sorrow! He had sinned, grievously. That he would confess! But
could she not forgive him? He had paid for his deliquency with eight
long, monotonous, crushing, meaningless years, one suffocating stifling
night that never broke into morning. But they had met again! There was
still time, Leonora! They could still call back the Springtime of their
lives, make it burgeon anew, compel Love to retrace his footsteps, pass
their way again, stretching forth his sweet hands of youth to them!
The actress was listening with a smile upon her lips, her eyes closed,
her head thrown back in the carriage. It was an expression of intense
pleasure, as if she were tasting with delight the fire of love that was
still burning in Rafael, and that, to her, meant vengeance.
The horses were proceeding at a walk along la Castellana. Other
carriages were going by and the people in them peered back at the coach
with that beautiful, unknown woman.
"What is your answer, Leonora? We can still be happy! Forget the past
and the wrong I did you! Imagine it was only yesterday that we said
good-bye in the orchard, and that we are meeting again today to begin
our lives over again from the beginning, to live together always,
"No," she replied coldly. "You yourself just said so: Love passes but
once in a lifetime. I know that from cruel experience. I have done my
best to forget. No, Love has passed us by! It would be sheer folly for
us to ask him to hunt us up again. He never comes back! Our most
desperate effort could revive barely the shadow of him. You let him
escape. Well, you must weep for your loss, just as I had to weep for
your baseness ... Besides, you don't realize the situation we are in
now! Don't you remember what we talked about on our first night there in
the moonlight? 'The arrogant month of May, the young warrior in an armor
of flowers, seeks out his beloved, Youth.' Well, where is our youth now?
Quite frankly, you can find mine on my dressing-table! I buy it at the
perfumer's; and though that gentleman is quite skilled at disguising me,
there's an oldness of the spirit underneath, a terrible thing I don't
dare think about, because it frightens me so. And yours, poor
Rafael--you just haven't any, not even the kind you can buy! Take a good
look at yourself! You're ugly, to put it mildly, my dear boy! You're
lost that attractive slimness of your younger days. Your dreams make me
laugh! A passion at this late date! The idyll of a middle-aged siren and
a bald-headed father of a litter of children, with a paunch, with a
paunch, with a paunch! Oh, Rafael! Ha, ha, ha!"
The cruel mocker! How she laughed! How she was avenging herself. Rafael
grew angry at this cutting, ironic resistance. He began to flame with a
more excited passion.... The ravages of time made no difference. Could
not Love work miracles! He loved her more than he had ever loved her in
the olden days. He felt a mad hunger for her. Passion would give them
back the fires of youth. Love was like a springtime that brings new sap
to branches grown numb in the winter's cold. Let her say "Yes," and on
the instant she would behold the miracle, the resurrection of their
slumbering past, the awakening of their souls to the future of love!
"And your wife? And your children?" Leonora asked, brutally, as if she
wished to bring him back to realities, with a smarting lash from a whip.
But Rafael was now beside himself, drunk with the nearness of all that
beauty, and with the waves of perfume that filled the interior of the
Wife? Family? He would leave everything for her: family, future,
position. It was she he needed to live and be happy!
"I will go with you; everybody is a stranger to me when I think of you.
You, you alone, are my life, my love!"
"Many thanks," Leonora answered curtly. "I could not accept such a
sacrifice.... Besides, all that sanctity of the home you were just
talking about a few moments ago in the Chamber? And all that Christian
morality, without which civilization would go to the damnation bow wows!
How I laughed when I heard you say that. How you were stuffing those
And again she laughed cruelly, at the contrast between his pious words
in Congress and his mad idea of forsaking everything to follow her
around the world. Oh, the hypocrite! She had felt, as she sat listening
to him, that his speech was a pack of lies, a mess of conventional
trumpery and platitudes! The only one there who had spoken with any real
sincerity, any real virtue, was that little old man, whom she had
listened to with veneration because he had been one of her father's
Rafael was crushed with bitter shame. Leonora's flat refusal, her
pitiless mockery of his speech, had brought him to realize the enormity
of his baseness. She was avenging herself by bringing him face to face
with the abjectness of his mad, hopeless passion, which made him capable
of committing the lowest deeds!
Dusk was gathering. Leonora ordered the driver to the Plaza de Oriente.
She was stopping in one of the houses near the Opera where many
theatrical people lodged. She was in a hurry! She had a dinner
engagement with that young man from the Embassy, and two musical critics
were to be introduced to her.
"And I, Leonora? Are we not to see each other any longer?"
"As far as my door, if you wish, and then ... till we meet again!"
"Oh, please, Leonora, stay here a few days! Let me see you! Let me have
the consolation of talking to you, of feeling the bitter pleasure of
your ridicule, at least!"
Stay a few days!... Her days did not belong to her. She traveled from
one end of the world to the other, with her life marked off to the tick
of the clock. From Madrid to Lisbon--an engagement at the San
Carlos--three performances of Wagner! Then, a jump to Stockholm! After
that she was not quite sure where she would go; to Odessa, or to Cairo.
She was the Wandering Jew, the Valkyrie galloping along on the clouds of
a musical tempest, from frontier to frontier, from pole to pole,
arrogant, victorious, suffering not the slightest harm to health or
"Oh, if you only would! If you would let me follow you! As your friend,
nothing more! As your servant, if necessary!"
And he grasped her hand, passionately, thrusting his fingers up her
sleeve, fondling the delicate arm underneath her glove. She did not
"There! Do you see, Rafael?" she said, smiling coldly. "You have touched
me, and it's useless; not the slightest thrill. You're as good as dead
to me. My flesh does not tingle at your fondling. In fact, I find it all
Rafael realized that it was true. She had once trembled madly under his
caresses. Now she was quite insensible, quite cold!
"Don't worry, Rafael. It's over, spelled with a capital _O_. It's not
worth wasting a moment's thought on. As I look at you now I feel the way
I do when I see one of my old dresses that, in its time, I went mad
over. I see nothing but the defects--the absurdities of the fashion that
is out of date. Our passion died as it should properly have died.
Perhaps your deserting me was for the best. It was better for you to
default in the full splendor of our honeymoon than to have broken with
me afterwards, when I should have moulded my nature forever to your
caresses. We were brought together ... oh, by the orange perfume, by
that cursed Springtime; but you were not meant for me, nor was I ever
meant for you. We are of different breeds. You were born a bourgeois. I
am an out-and-out bohemian! Love and the novelty of my kind quite,
dazzled you. You struggled hard, you beat your wings, to follow me, but
you fell to earth from the very weight of your inherited traits. You
have the appetites and the ambitions of people like you! Now you imagine
you are unhappy! But you'll find you're not when you see yourself become
a personage,' when you count the acreage of your orchards over, when you
see your children growing up to inherit papa's power and fortune. This
business of love for love's sake, mocking at law and morality, scorning
life and peacefulness, that is our privilege, the privilege of us
bohemians--the sole blessing left to us mad creatures whom society looks
upon--quite properly, I suppose--with disdainful mistrust. Each to his
own! The poultry to their quiet roost, where they can fatten in the sun;
the birds of passage to their wandering life of song, sometimes in a
flowering garden, sometimes in the cold and storm!"
And smiling again, as if those words, uttered with such gravity and
conviction, had been too cruel in their effective summary of the whole
story of their love, she added in a jesting tone:
"That was a fine little paragraph, wasn't it? What a pity you didn't
hear it in time to tack it on at the end of your speech!"
The carriage had entered the _Plaza de Oriente_; and was drawing up in
front of Leonora's house.
"May I go in with you?" the deputy asked anxiously, much as a child
might beg for a toy.
"Why? You'll only be bored. It will be the same as here. Upstairs there
is no moon, and there are no orange-trees in bloom. You can't expect two
nights like that in a life like yours. Besides, I don't want Beppa to
see you. She has a vivid recollection of that afternoon in the Hotel de
Roma when I got your note. I'd lose prestige with her if she saw me in
With a commanding gesture she motioned him to the sidewalk. When the
carriage had gone they stood there together for a moment looking at each
other for the last time.
"Farewell, Rafael. Take good care of yourself, and try not to grow old
so rapidly. I believe it's been a real pleasure, though, to see you
again. I needed just this to convince myself it was really all over!"
"But are you going like this!... Is this the way you let a passion end
that still fills my life!... When shall we see each other again?"
"I don't know: never ... perhaps when you least expect it. The world is
large, but when a person gads about it the way I do, you never can tell
whom you are going to meet."
Rafael pointed to the Opera nearby.
"And if you should come to sing ... here?... If I were actually to see
Leonora smiled haughtily, guessing what he meant.
"In that case, you will be one of my countless friends, I suppose, but
nothing more. Don't imagine that I'm a saint even now. I'm just as I was
before you knew me. The property of everybody--understand--and of
nobody! But of the janitor of the opera, if necessary, sooner than of
you. You are a corpse, in my eyes, Rafael.... Farewell!"
He saw her vanish through the doorway; and he stood for a long time
there on the sidewalk, completely crushed, staring vacantly into the
last glow of twilight that was growing pale beyond the gables of the
Some birds were twittering on the trees of the garden, shaking the
leaves with their mischievous playfulness, as if the fires of Springtime
were coursing in their veins. For Spring had come again, faithful and
punctual, as every year.
He staggered off toward the center of the city, slowly, dejectedly, with
the thought of death in his mind, bidding farewell to all his dreams,
which that woman seemed to have destroyed forever in turning her back
implacably upon him. Yes! A corpse, indeed! He was a dead man dragging a
soulless body along under the sad glimmering of the first street-lamps.
Farewell! Farewell to Love! Farewell to Youth! For him Springtime would
never return again. Joyous Folly repelled him as an unworthy deserter.
His future was to grow a fatter and fatter paunch under the frock coat
of a "personage"!
At the corner of the Calle del Arenal he heard his name called. It was
a deputy, a comrade of "the Party" who had just come from the session.
"Let me congratulate you, Brull; you were simply monumental! The Chief
spoke enthusiastically of your speech to the Prime Minister! It's a
foregone conclusion. At the first new deal you'll be made
director-general or undersecretary at least! Again, my congratulations,