IT can not be denied that Antoñona had displayed great prudence, and that her language had been so dignified and proper that some may think it apocryphal, if there were not the very best authority for all that is related here, and if we did not know, besides, the wonders a woman may work by her natural cleverness when she is spurred on by interest or by some strong passion.
The consent she had succeeded in obtaining from Don Luis was an unexpected triumph; and in order to derive the greatest possible advantage from this triumph, she was obliged to make the most of her time, and to use all her worldly wisdom in preparing for the occasion.
Antoñona had suggested ten as the hour of Don Luiss visit, because this was the hour in which Don Luis and Pepita had been accustomed to see each other in the now abolished or suspended gatherings at the house of the latter. She had suggested this hour also in order to avoid giving rise to scandal or slander; for she had once heard a preacher say that, according to the Gospel, there is nothing so wicked as scandal, and that a scandal-monger ought to be flung into the sea with a millstone hung round his neck.
Antoñona then returned to the house of her mistress, very well satisfied with herself, and with the firm determination so to arrange matters that the remedy she had sought should not prove useless, or aggravate instead of curing Pepitas malady. She resolved to say nothing of the matter to Pepita herself until the last moment, when she would tell her that Don Luis had asked her of his own accord at what hour he might make a farewell visit, and that she had said ten.
In order to avoid giving rise to talk, she determined that Don Luis should not be seen to enter the house, and for this the hour and the internal arrangement of the house itself were alike propitious. At ten the street would be full of people, on account of the vigil, which would make it easier for Don Luis to reach the house without being observed. To enter the hall would be the work of a moment, and Antoñona, who would be waiting for him, could then take him to the library without any one seeing him.
All, or at least the greater part, of the handsome country-houses of Andalusia are built as double rather than single houses. Each of these double houses has its own door. The principal door leads to the courtyard, which is paved and surrounded by columns, to the parlors and the other apartments of the family. The other door leads to the inner yards, the stable, and coach-house, the kitchens, the mill, the wine-press, the granaries, the buildings where the oil, the must, the alcohol, the brandy, and the vinegar are kept in large jars, and also to the cask stores, or cellars, where the wine, new and old, is stored in pipes or barrels. This second house, or portion of a house, although it may be situated in the heart of a town of twenty or twenty-five thousand inhabitants, is called the farmhouse. The overseer, the foreman, the muleteer, the principal workmen, and the domestics who have been longest in the service of the master are accustomed to gather here in the evenings, during the winter, around the enormous fireplace of a spacious kitchen, and in summer in the open air, or in some cool and well-ventilated apartment, and there chat or take their ease until the masters family are ready to retire.
Antoñona was of opinion that the colloquy or explanation which she desired should take place between her mistress and Don Luis must be absolutely undisturbed, and interrupted by no one; and she therefore determined that, as it was St. Johns Eve, the maid-servants of Pepita should be to-night released from all their occupations, and should go to amuse themselves at the farmhouse, where, in union with the rustic laborers, they might get up impromptu amusements, to consist of the recitation of pretty verses, playing the castanets, and dancing jigs and fandangoes.
In this manner the dwelling-housewith no other occupants than Pepita and herselfwould be silent and almost deserted, and therefore quiet enough for the interview she had planned, and on which perhapsor rather to a certaintydepended the fate of two persons of such distinguished merit.