« PreviousContinue »
He was politely interrogatory, it seemed to me. The natural, good-humored expression never left his face, as though he had a fund of inexhaustible patience for dealing with the unaccountable trifles of a woman's conduct. Seraphina's shawl had slipped off her head. The Chica sidled towards her, sobbing a deep sob now and then, without any sign of tears; and with their scattered hair, their bare arms, the disorder of their attire, they looked like two women discovered in a secret flight for life. Only the mistress stood her ground firmly; her voice was decided; there was resolution in the way one little white hand clutched the black lace on her bosom. Only once she seemed to hesitate in her replies. Then, after a pause he gave her for reflection, he appeared to repeat his question. She glanced at me apprehensively, as I thought, before she confirmed the previous answer by a slow inclination of her head. Had he allowed himself to make a provoking movement, a dubious gesture of any sort, I would have flung myself upon him at once; but the nonchalant manner in which he looked away, while he extended to me his hand with the candlestick, amazed me. I simply took it from him. He stepped back, with a ceremonious bow for Seraphina. La Chica ran up close to her elbow. I heard her voice saying sadly, “You need fear nothing for yourself, chiid "; and they moved away slowly. I remained facing O'Brien, with a vague notion of protecting their retreat. This time it was I who was holding the light before his face. It was calm and colorless; his eyes were fixed on the ground reflectively, with the appearance of profound and quiet absorption. But suddenly I perceived the convulsive clutch of his hand on the skirt of his coat. It was as if accidentally I had looked inside the man—upon the strength of his illusions, on his desire, on his passion. Now he will fly at me, I thought, with a tremendously convincing certitude. Now All my muscles, stiffening, answered the appeal of that thought of battle. He said, “Won't you give me that light?” And I understood he demanded a surrender. “I would see you die first where you stand,” was my answer. This object in my hand had become endowed with moral meaning—significant, like a symbol—only to be torn from me with my life. He lifted his head; the light twinkled in his eyes. “Oh, I won't die,” he said, with that bizarre suggestion of humor in his face, in his subdued voice. “But it is a small thing; and you are young; it may be yet worth your while to try and please me—this time.” Before I could answer, Seraphina, from some little distance, called out hurriedly: “Don Juan, your arm.” Her voice, sounding a little unsteady, made me forget O'Brien, and, turning my back on him, I ran up to her. She needed my support; and before us La Chica tottered and stumbled along with the lights, moaning: “Madre de Dios! What will become of us now! Oh, what will become of us now!” “You know what he had asked me to let him do,” Seraphina talked rapidly. “I made answer, ‘No, give the light to my cousin.” Then he said, “Do you really wish it, señorita 2 I am the older friend.' I repeated, ‘Give the light to my cousin, señor.” He, then, cruelly, ‘For the young man's own sake, reflect, señorita.” And he waited before he asked me again, ‘Shall I surrender it to him?' I felt death upon my heart, and all my fear for you— there.” She touched her beautiful throat with a swift movement of a hand that disappeared at once under the lace. “And be. cause I could not speak, I Don Juan, you have just offered me your life—I Misericordia! What else was possible? I made with my head the sign “Yes.'” In the stress, hurry, and rapture encompassing my immense gratitude, I pressed her hand to my side familiarly, as if we had been two lovers walking in a lane on a serene evening. “If you had not made that sign, it would have been worse than death—in my heart,” I said. “He had asked me, too, to renounce my trust, my light.” We walked on slowly, accompanied in our sudden silence by the plash of the fountain at the bottom of the great square of darkness on our left, and by the piteous moans of the Chica. “That is what he meant,” said the enchanting voice by my side. “And you refused. That is your valor."
“From no selfish motives,” I said, troubled, as if all the great incertitude of my mind had been awakened by the sound that brought so much delight to my heart. “My valor is nothing.” “It has given me a new courage,” she said. “You did not want more,” I said earnestly. “Ah! I was very much alone. It is difficult to—” She hesitated. “To live alone,” I finished. “More so to die,” she whispered, with a new note of timidity. “It is frightful. Be cautious, Don Juan, for the love of God, because I could not xx We stopped. La Chica, silent, as if exhausted, drooped lamentably, with her shoulder against the wall, by Seraphina's door; and the pure crystalline sound of the fountain below, enveloping the parting pause, seemed to wind its coldness round my heart. “Poor Don Carlos!” she said. “I had a great affection for him. I was afraid they would want me to marry him. He loved your sister.” “He never told her,” I murmured. “I wonder if she ever guessed.” “He was poor, homeless, ill already, in a foreign land.” “We all loved him at home,” I said. “He never asked her,” she breathed out. “And, perhaps— but he never asked her.” “I have no more force,” sighed La Chica, suddenly, and sank down at the foot of the wall, putting the candlesticks on the floor. “You have been very good to him,” I said; “only he need not have demanded this from you. Of course, I understood perfectly. . . . I hope you understand, too, that I x “Señor, my cousin,” she flashed out suddenly, “do you think that I would have consented only from my affection for him?” “Señorita,” I cried, “I am poor, homeless, in a foreign land. How can I believe? How can I dare to dream?—unless your own voice—” “Then you are permitted to ask. Ask, Don Juan.” I dropped on one knee, and, suddenly extending her arm, she pressed her hand to my lips. Lighted up from below, the picturesque aspect of her figure took on something of a transcendental grace; the unusual upward shadows invested her beauty with a new mystery of fascination. A minute passed. I could hear her rapid breathing above, and I stood up before her, holding both her hands. “How very few days have we been together,” she whispered. “Juan, I am ashamed.” “I did not count the days. I have known you always. I have dreamed of you since I can remember—for days, for months, a year, all my life.” The crash of a heavy door flung to, exploded, filling the galleries all round the patio with the sonorous reminder of our peril. “Ah! We had forgotten.” I heard her voice, and felt her form in my arms. Her lips at my ear pronounced: “Remember, Juan. Two lives, but one death only.” And she was gone so quickly that it was as though she had passed through the wood of the massive panels. The Chica crouched on her knees. The lights on the floor burned before her empty stare, and with her bare shoulders the tone of old ivory emerging from the white linen, with the wisps of raven hair hanging down her cheeks, the abandonment of her whole person embodied every outward mark and line of desolation. “What do you fear from him?” I asked. She looked up; moved nearer to me on her knees. “I have a lover outside.” She seized her hair wildly, drew it across her face, tried to stuff handfuls of it into her mouth, as if to stop herself from shrieking. “He shook his finger at me,” she moaned. Her terror, as incomprehensible as the emotion of an animal, was gaining upon me. I said sternly: “What can he do, then?” “I don't know.” She did not know. She was like me. She feared for her love. Like myself! Was there anything in the way of our undoing which it was not in his power to achieve?
"Try to be faithful to your mistress,” I said, “and all may be well yet.” She made no answer, but staggered to her feet, and went away blindly through the door, which opened just wide enough to let her through. There were clouds on the sky. The patio, in its blackness, was like the rectangular mouth of a bottomless pit. I picked up the candlesticks, and lighted myself to my room, walking upon air, upon tempestuous air, in a feeling of insecurity and exultation. The lights of my candelabrum had gone out. I stood the two candlesticks on a table, and the shadows of the room, uplifted above the two flames as high as the ceiling, filled the corners heavily like gathered draperies, descended to the foot of the four walls in the shape of a military tent, in which warlike objects vaguely gleamed: a trophy of ancient arequebuses and conquering swords, arranged with the bows, the spears, the stick and stone weapons of an extinct race, a war collar of shells or pebbles, a round wicker-work shield in a halo of arrows, with a matchlock piece on each side—of the sort that had to be served by two men. I had left the door of my room open on purpose, so that he should know I was back there, and ready for him. I took down a long straight blade, like a rapier, with a basket hilt. It was a cumbrous weapon, and with a blunt edge; still, it had a point, and I was ready to thrust and parry against the world. I called upon my foes. No enemy appeared, and by the light of two candles, with a sword in my hand, I lost myself in the foreshadowings of the future. It was positive and uncertain. I wandered in it like a soul outside the gates of paradise, with an anticipation of bliss, and the pain of my exclusion. There was only one man in the way. I was certain he had been watching us across the blackness of the patio. He must have seen the dimly-lit dumbshow of our parting at Seraphina's door. I hoped he had understood, and that my shadow, bearing the two lights, had struck him as triumphant and undismayed, walking upon air. I strained my ears. I had heard. . . . Somebody was coming towards me along the silent galleries. It was he; I knew it. He was coming nearer and nearer. In the