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position. All the Englishmen had excellent dispositions. He would, personally, go to the foot of the Holy See on his knees, if necessary. Meantime, a document—he should at once prepare a justificative document. The archbishop, it is true, did not like him on account of the calumnies of that man O'Brien. But there was, beyond the seas, the supreme authority of the Church, unerring and inaccessible to calumnies. I
All that time Seraphina's hand was lying passiye in my_palm-warm, soft, living; all the life, all the world, all the happiness, the only desire and I dared not close my grasp, afraid of the vanity of my hopes, shrinking from the intense felicity in the audacious act. Father Antonio-I must say the word-blubbered. He was now only a tender-hearted, simple old man, nothing more.
“Before God now, Don Juan. . . . I am only a poor priest, but invested with a sacred office, an enormous power. Tremble, Señor, it is a young girl ... I have loved her like my own; for, indeed, I have in baptism given her the spiritual life. You owe her protection; it is for that, before God, Señor- ”
It was as if Carlos had swooned; his eyes were closed, his face like a carving. But gradually the suggestion of a tender and ironic smile appeared on his lips. With a slow effort he raised his arm and his eyelids, in an appeal of all his weariness for my ear. I made a movement to stoop over him, and the floor, the great bed, the whole room, seemed to heave and sway. I felt a slight, a fleeting pressure of Seraphina's hand before it slipped out of mine; I thought, in the beating rush of blood to my temples, that I was going mad.
He had thrown his arm over my neck; there was the calming austerity of death on his lips, that just touched my ear and departed, together with the far-away sound
of the words, losing themselves in the remoteness of another world:
“Like an Englishman, Juan." “On my honour, Carlos."
His arm, releasing my neck, fell stretched out on the coverlet. Father Antonio had mastered his emotion; with the trail of undried tears on his face, he had become a priest again, exalted above the reach of his earthly sorrow by the august concern of his sacerdocy.
“Don Carlos, my son, is your mind at ease, now?” Carlos closed his eyes slowly.
“Then turn all your thoughts to heaven.” Father Antonio's bass voice rose, aloud, with an extraordinary authority. “You have done with the earth.”
The arm of the nun touched the cords of the curtains, and the massive folds shook and fell expanded, hiding from us the priest and the penitent.
SERAPHINA and I moved towards the door sadly, as if under the oppression of a memory, as people go back from the side of a grave to the cares of life. No exulta-, tion possessed me. Nothing had happened. It hady been a sick man's whim.
“Señorita,” I said low, with my hand on the wrought bronze of the door-handle, “Don Carlos might have died in full trust of my devotion to you—without this.”
“I know it," she answered, hanging her head.
“Yes, it is you only, he has asked. You have remembered it very well, Señor. And you—you ask for nothing.”
“No,” I said;“neither from your heart nor from your Rom conscience nor from your gratitude. Gratitude from you! As if it were not I that owe you gratitude for haying condescended to stand with your hand in mine if only for a moment—if only to bring peace to a dying man; for giving me the felicity, the illusion of this wonderful instant, that, all my life, I shall remember as those who are suddenly stricken blind remember the great glory of the sun. I shall live with it, I shall cherish it in my heart to my dying day; and I promise never to mention it to you again.”
Her lips were slightly parted, her eyes remained downcast, her head drooped as if in extreme attention. “I asked for no promise," she murmured coldly.
My heart was heavy. “Thank you for that proof of your confidence,” I said. “I am yours without any promises. Wholly yours. But what can I offer? What help? What refuge? What protection? What can I do? I can only die for you. Ah, but this was cruel of Carlos, when he knew that I had nothing else but my poor life to give.”
“I accept that,” she said unexpectedly.
“Señorita, it is generous of you to accept so worthless a gift-a life I value not at all save for one unique memory which I owe to you."
I knew she was looking at me while I swung open the door with a low bow. I did not trust myself to look at her. An unreasonable disenchantment, like the awakening from a happy dream, oppressed me. I felt an almost angry desire to seize her in my arms—to go back to my dream. If I had looked at her then, I believed I could not have controlled myself.
She passed out; and when I looked up there was O'Brien booted and spurred, but otherwise in his lawyer's black, inclining his dapper figure profoundly before her in the dim gallery. She had stopped short. The two maids, huddled together behind her, stared with terrified eyes. The flames of their candles vacillated very much.
I closed the door quietly. Carlos was done with the earth. This had become my affair; and the necessity of coming to an immediate decision almost deprived me of my power of thinking. The necessity had arisen too swiftly; the arrival of that man acted like the sudden apparition of a phantom. It had been expected, however; only, from the moment we had turned away from Carlos' bedside, we had thought of nothing but ourselves; we had dwelt alone in our emotions, as if there had been no inhabitant of flesh and blood on the earth
but we two. Our danger had been present, no doubt, in our minds, because we drew it in with every breath. It was the indispensable condition of our contact, of our words, of our thoughts; it was the atmosphere of our feelings; a something as all-pervading and impalpable as the air we drew into our lungs. And suddenly this danger, this breath of our life, had taken this material form. It was material and expected, and yet it had the effect of an evil spectre, inasmuch as one did not know where and how it was vulnerable, what precisely it would do, how one should defend one's self.
His bow was courtly; his gravity was all in his bearing, which was quiet and confident: the manner of a capable man, the sort of man the great of this earth find invaluable and are inclined to trust. His fullshaven face had a good-natured, almost a good-humored expression, which I have come to think must have depended on the cast of his features, on the setting of his eyes on some peculiarity not under his control, or else he could not have preserved it so well. On certain occasions, as this one, for instance, it affected me as a refinement of cynicism; and, generally, it was startling, like the assumption of a mask inappropriate to the action and the speeches of the part.
He had journeyed in his customary manner overland from Havana, arriving unexpectedly at night, as he had often done before; only this time he had found the little door, cut out in one of the sides of the big gate, bolted fast. It was his knoekingI had heard, as I hurried after the priest. The major-domo, who had been called up to let him in, told me afterwards that the señor intendente had put no question whatever to him as to this, and had gone on, as usual, towards his own room. Nobody knew what was going on in Carlos' chamber, but, of course, he came upon the two
hin señor intendentet him in, to major-domo,