PEPITA, who had risen as the reverend vicar was about to take his leave, after she had closed the door, stood for a moment motionless in the middle of the roomher gaze fixed on space, her eyes tearless. A poet or an artist, seeing her thus, would have been reminded of Ariadne, as Catullus describes her, after Theseus has abandoned her on the island of Naxos. All at once, as if she had but just succeeded in untying the knot of a cord that was strangling her, Pepita broke into heartrending sobs, let loose a torrent of tears, and threw herself down on the tiled floor of her apartment. There, her face buried in her hands, her hair loose, her dress disordered, she continued to sigh and moan.
She might have remained thus for an indefinite time if Antoñona had not come to her. Antoñona had heard her sobs from without, and hurried to her apartment. When she saw her mistress extended on the floor, Antoñona gave way to a thousand extravagant expressions of fury.
Heres a pretty sight! she cried; that sneak, that blackguard, that old fool, what a way he has to console his friends! I shouldnt wonder if he has committed some piece of barbaritygiven a couple of kicks to this poor child, perhaps; and now I suppose he has gone back to the church to get everything ready to sing the funeral chant, and sprinkle her with hyssop, and bury her out of sight without more ado.
Antoñona was about forty, and a hard workerenergetic, and stronger than many a laborer. She often lifted up, with scarcely more than the strength of her hand, a skin of oil or of wine weighing nearly ninety pounds, and placed it on the back of a mule, or carried a bag of wheat up to the garret where the grain was kept. Although Pepita was not a feather, Antoñona now lifted her up in her arms from the floor as if she had been one, and placed her carefully on the sofa, as though she were some delicate and precious piece of porcelain that she feared to break.
What is the meaning of all this? asked Antoñona. I wager anything that drone of a vicar has been preaching you a sermon as bitter as aloes, and has left you now with your heart torn to pieces with grief.
Then, seeing that Antoñona was waiting anxiously to hear her speak, and feeling the need of unburdening herself to some one who could sympathize more fully with her, and with more human feeling, Pepita spoke as follows:
The reverend vicar has admonished me gently to repent of my sins; to allow Don Luis to go away; to rejoice at his departure; to forget him. I have said yes to everything; I have promised him to rejoice at Don Luiss departure; I have tried to forget him, and even to hate him. But, look you, Antoñona, I can not; it is an undertaking superior to my strength. While the vicar was here I thought I had strength for everything; but no sooner had he gone than, as if God had let go His hold of me, I lost my courage, and fell, crushed with sorrow, on the floor. I had dreamed of a happy life at the side of the man I love; I already saw myself elevated to him by the miraculous power of lovemy poor mind in perfect communion with his sublime intellect, my will one with his, both thinking the same thought, our hearts beating in unison. And now God has taken him away from me, and I am left alone, without hope or consolation. Is this not frightful? The arguments of the reverend vicar are just and full of wisdom; for the time, they convinced me. But he has gone away, and all those arguments now seem to me worthlessa tissue of words, lies, entanglements, and sophistries. I love Don Luis, and this argument is more powerful than all other arguments put together. And if he loves me in return, why does he not leave everything and come to me, break the vows he has taken, and renounce the obligations he has contracted? I did not know what love was; now I knowthere is nothing stronger on earth or in heaven. What would I not do for Don Luis? And hehe does nothing for me! Perhaps he does not love me. No; Don Luis does not love me. I have deceived myself; I was blinded by vanity. If Don Luis loved me, he would sacrifice his plans, his vows, his fame, his aspirations to be a saint and a light of the Church, he would sacrifice all to me. God forgive me, what I am about to say is horrible, but I feel it here in the depths of my heart, it burns here in my fevered brow: for him I would give even the salvation of my soul!
Yes, child; you are talking indeed a little naughtily. Heaven help us! To think how this coxcomb of a theologian has turned your head! Well, if I were in your place, I would not take Heaven to task, which is in nowise to blame, but the jackanapes of a collegian, and I would have it out with him, or never again call myself Pepita Jiménez. I should like to go hunt him up, and bring him here to you by the ear, and make him beg your pardon and kiss your feet on his knees.
No, Antoñona; I see that my madness is contagious, and that you are raving too. There is, in fact, nothing left for me to do but what the reverend vicar advises. And I will do it, even though it should cost me my life. If I die for him, he will then love me; he will cherish my image in his memory, my love in his heart; and God, who is so good, will permit me to see him again in Heaven with the eyes of the soul, and will let our spirits mingle together and love each other there.
Good gracious, child! she said; do you want to make me take out my handkerchief and begin to bellow like a calf? Calm yourself, and dont talk about dying, even in jest. I can see that your nerves are very much excited. Shant I bring you a cup of fine flower tea?
I shall close the window, then, to see if you can sleep. How should you feel well when you have not slept for days? The devil take that same Don Luis, with his fancy for making himself a priest! A nice price you are paying for it!
The latter, either thinking she was asleep, or hoping her to be so, bent over Pepita, imprinted a kiss softly and slowly on her white forehead, smoothed out the folds of her dress, arranged the windows so as to leave the room half dark, and went out on tiptoe, closing the door behind her, without making the slightest noise.