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ive, and there was something shrewd in his simplicity. Indeed, he must have displayed much tact and shrewdness to have defeated all O'Brien's efforts to oust him from his position of confessor to the household. What had helped him to hold his ground was that, as he said to me once, "I, too, my son, am a legacy of that truly pious and noble lady, the wife of Don Riego. I was made her spiritual director soon after her marriage, and I may say that she showed more discretion in the choice of her confessor than in that of her man of affairs. But what would you have? The best of us, except for Divine grace, is liable to err; and, poor woman, let us hope that, in her blessed state, she is spared the knowledge of the iniquities going on here below in the Casa."
He used to talk to me in that strain, coming in almost every evening on his way from the sick room. He, too, had his own perplexities, which made him wipe his forehead repeatedly; afterwards he used to spread his red bandanna handkerchief over his knees.
He sympathized with Carlos, his beloved penitent, with Seraphina, his dear daughter, whom he had baptized and instructed in the mysteries of “our holy religion," and he allowed himself often to drop the remark that his “illustrious spiritual son," Don Balthasar, after a stormy life of which men knew only too much, had attained to a state of truly childlike and God-fearing innocence a sign, no doubt, of Heaven's forgiveness for those excesses. He ended, always, by sighing heartily, to sit with his gaze on the floor.
That night he came in silently, and, after shutting the door with care, took his habitual seat, a broad wooden armchair.
"How did your reverence leave Don Carlos?" I asked.
"Very low," he said. "The disease is making terrible ravages, and my ministrations I ought to be used to the sight of human misery, but- ” He raised his hands; a genuine emotion overpowered him; then, uncovering his face to stare at me, “ He is lost, Don Juan," he exclaimed.
"Indeed, I fear we are about to lose him, your reverence," I said, surprised at this display. It seemed inconceivable that he should have been in doubt up to this very moment.
He rolled his eyes painfully. I was forgetting the infinite might of God. Still, nothing short of a miracle But what had we done to deserve miracles?
"Where is the ancient piety of our forefathers which made Spain so great?” he apostrophized the empty air, a little wildly, as if in distraction. "No, Don Juan; even I, a true servant of our faith, am conscious of not having had enough grace for my humble ministrations to poor sailors and soldiers—men naturally inclined to sin, but simple. And now—there are two great nobles, the fortune of a great house. ..."
I looked at him and wondered, for he was, in a manner, wringing his hands, as if in immense distress.
"We are all thinking of that poor child—mas que, Don Juan, imagine all that wealth devoted to the iniquitous purposes of that man. Her happiness sacrificed."
"I cannot imagine this—I will not," I interrupted, so violently that he hushed me with both hands uplifted.
"To these wild enterprises against your own country," he went on vehemently, disregarding my exasperated and contemptuous laugh. "And she herself, the nina. I have baptized her; I have instructed her; and a more noble disposition, more naturally inclined to the virtues and proprieties of her sex— But, Don Juan, she has pride, which doubtless is a gift of God, too, but it is made a snare of by Satan, the roaring lion, the thief of souls. And what if her feminine rashness—women are rash, my son," he interjected with unction—“and her pride were to lead her into
—I am horrified at the thought—into an act of mortal sin for which there is no repentance?"
"Enough!" I shouted at him.
"No repentance," he repeated, rising to his feet excitedly, and I stood before him, my arms down my sides, with my fists clenched.
Why did the stupid priest come to talk like this to me, as if I had not enough of my own unbearable thoughts?
He sat down and began to flourish his handkerchief. There was depicted on his broad face—depicted simply and even touchingly —the inward conflict of his benevolence and of his doubts.
"I observe your emotion, my son," he said. I must have been as pale as death. And, after a pause, he meditated aloud, “ And, after all, you English are a reverent nation. You, a scion of the nobility, have been brought up in deplorable rebellion against the authority of God on this earth; but you are not a scoffer—not a scoffer. I, a humble priest - But, after all, the Holy Father himself, in his inspired wisdom— I have prayed to be enlightened. ..."
He spread the square of his damp handkerchief on his knees, and bowed his head. I had regained command over myself, but I did not understand in the least. I had passed from my exasperation into a careworn fatigue of mind that was like utter darkness.
"After all," he said, looking up naively, "the business of us priests is to save souls. It is a solemn time when death approaches. The affairs of this world should be cast aside. And yet God surely does not mean us to abandon the living to the mercy of the wicked."
A sadness came upon his face, his eyes; all the world seemed asleep. He made an effort. "My son," he said with decision, "I call you to follow me to the bedside of Don Carlos at this very hour of night. I, a humble priest, the unworthy instrument of God's grace, call upon you to bring him a peace which my ministrations cannot give. His time is near."
I rose up, startled by his solemnity, by the hint of hidden significance in these words.
"Is he dying now?” I cried.
"He ought to detach his thoughts from this earth; and if there is no other way— "
"What way? What am I expected to do?"
"My son, I had observed your emotion. We, the appointed confidants of men's frailties, are quick to discern the signs of their innermost feelings. Let me tell you that my cherished daughter in God, senorita Doña Seraphina Riego, is with Don Carlos, the virtual head of the family, since his Excellency Don Balthasar is in a state of, I may say, infantile innocence."
"What do you mean, father?" I faltered.
"She is waiting for you with him," he pronounced, looking up. And as his solemnity seemed to have deprived me of my power to move, he added, with his ordinary simplicity, "Why, my son, she is, I may say, not wholly indifferent to your person."
I could not have dropped more suddenly into the chair had the good padre discharged a pistol into my breast. He went away; and when I leapt up, I saw a young man in black velvet and white ruffles staring at me out of the large mirror set frameless into the wall, like the apparition of a Spanish ghost with my own English face.
When I ran out, the moon had sunk below the ridge of the roof; the whole quadrangle of the Casa had turned black under the stars, with only a yellow glimmer of light falling into the well of the court from the lamp under the vaulted gateway. The form of the priest had gone out of sight, and a far-away knocking, mingling with my footfalls, seemed to be part of the tumult within my heart. Below, a voice at the gate challenged, "Who goes there?" I ran on. Two tiny flames burned before Carlos' door at the end of the long vista, and two of Seraphina's maids shrank away from the great mahogany panels at my approach. The candlesticks trembled askew in their hands; the wax guttered down, and the taller of the two girls, with an uncovered long neck, gazed at me out of big sleepy eyes in a sort of dumb wonder. The teeth of the plump little one—La Chica—rattled violently like castanets. She moved aside with a hysterical little laugh, and glanced upwards at me.
I stopped, as if I had intruded; of all the persons in the sickroom, not one turned a head. The stillness of the lights, of things, of the air, seemed to have passed into Seraphina's face. She stood with a stiff carriage under the heavy hangings of the bed, looking very Spanish and romantic in her short black skirt, a black lace shawl enveloping her head, her shoulders, her arms, as low as the waist. Her bare feet, thrust into high-heeled slippers, lent to her presence an air of flight, as if she had run into that room in distress or fear. Carlos, sitting up amongst the snowy pillows of eider-down at his back, was not speaking to her. He had done; and the flush on his cheek, the eager luster of his eyes, gave him an appearance of animation, almost of joy, a sort of consuming, flamelike brilliance. They were waiting for me. With all his eagerness and air of life, all he could do was to lift his white hand an inch or two off the silk coverlet that spread over his limbs smoothly, like a vast crimson pall. There was something joyous and cruel in the shimmer of this piece of color, contrasted with the dead white of the linen, the duskiness of the wasted face, the dark head with no visible body, symbolically motionless. The confused shad«ws and the tarnished splendor of emblazoned draperies, looped up high under the ceiling, fell in heavy and unstirring folds right down to the polished floor, that reflected the lights like a sheet of water, or rather like ice.
I felt it slippery under my feet. I, alone, had to move, in this great chamber, with its festive patches of color amongst the funereal shadows, with the expectant, still figures of priest and nun, servants of passionless eternity, as if immobilized and made mute by hostile wonder before the perishable triumph of life and love. And only the impatient tapping of the sick man's hand on the stiff silk of the coverlet was heard.
It called to me. Seraphina's unstirring head was lighted strongly by a two-branched sconce on the wall; and when I stood by her side, not even the shadow of the eyelashes on her cheek trembled. Carlos' lips moved; his voice was almost extinct; but for all his emaciation, the profundity of his eyes, the sunken cheeks, the hollow temples, he remained attractive, with the charm of his gallant and romantic temper worn away to an almost unearthly fineness.
He was going to have his desire because, on the threshold of his spiritual inheritance, he refused, or was unable, to turn his gaze away from this world. Father Antonio's business was to save this soul; and with a sort of simple and sacerdotal shrewdness, in which there was much love for his most noble penitent, he would try to appease its trouble by a romantic satisfaction. His voice, very grave and profound, addressed me:
“ Approach, my son—nearer. We trust the natural feelings of pity which are implanted in every human breast, the nobility of your extraction, the honor of your hidalguidad, and that inextinguishable courage which, as by the unwearied mercy of God, distinguishes the sons of your fortunate and unhappy nation." His bass voice, deepened in solemn utterance, vibrated huskily. There was a rustic dignity in his uncouth form, in his broad face, in the gesture of the raised hand. "You shall promise to respect the dictates of our conscience, guided by the authority of our faith; to defer to our scruples, and to the procedure of our Church in matters