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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Venturita Wins Away her Sister’s Lover
By Armando Palacio Valdés (1853–1938)
From ‘El Cuarto Poder’: Translation of William Henry Bishop

GONZALO, after a little chat with his betrothed, arose, took a few turns up and down the long room, and went and sat down beside Venturita. The young girl was drawing some letters for embroidering.  1
  “Don’t make fun of them, Gonzalo: you know I draw badly,” said she, her eyes flashing at him a brilliant, archly provoking glance that made him lower his own.  2
  “I do not admit that: you do not draw badly at all,” he responded, in a low voice that was slightly tremulous.  3
  “How polite! You will admit that my drawing might be better, at any rate.”  4
  “Better? better?—everything in this world might be better. It is very good, I assure you.”  5
  “What a flatterer you’re getting to be. But I won’t have you laughing at me, do you hear? You need not try it.”  6
  “I am not in the habit of laughing at folks—least of all at you.” He did not raise his eyes from the drawing-paper in her lap, and his voice was yet lower and more unsteady.  7
  Venturita’s bewitching glance dwelt steadily upon him, and there might be read in it the sense of triumph and gratified pride.  8
  “Here, you draw the letters yourself, Mr. Engineer,” she said reaching the paper and pencil towards him with a charmingly despotic manner.  9
  The young man took them; lifted his gaze for an instant to hers, but dropped it again, as if he feared an electric shock; and began to draw. But instead of ornamental letters, it was a woman’s likeness that he depicted. First the hair ending in two braids down her back, then the low charming forehead, then a dainty nose, then a little mouth, then the admirably modeled chin melting into the neck with soft and graceful curves. It grew prodigiously like Venturita. While the girl, leaning close up against the shoulder of her future brother-in-law, followed the movements of the pencil, a smile of gratified vanity spread little by little over her face…. When the portrait was finished, she said in a roguish way, “Now put underneath it whom it is meant to represent.”  10
  The draughtsman now raised his head, and the smiling glances of the two met, as if with a shower of sparks. Then with a swift, decisive movement, he wrote below the sketch:—
  Venturita took possession of the piece of paper, and gazed at it a little while with delight; but next, feigning a disdainful mien, she thrust it back towards him, saying, “Here, take it, take it, humbug. I don’t want it.”  12
  But before it could reach the hand of Gonzalo, his intended playfully reached out hers and intercepted it, saying, “What mysterious papers are these?”  13
  Venturita, as if she had been pricked with a sharp weapon, sprang from her chair and forcibly grasped her sister’s wrist.  14
  “Give it to me, Cecilia! give it back! let it go,” she exclaimed; her countenance darting fire, though she tried to impose upon it a forced smile.  15
  [The amiable Cecilia yields it up. Venturita tears it in pieces. All are astonished at her violence. Her mother orders her from the room, and laments the waywardness of this younger daughter. Somewhat later Gonzalo, sad and downcast, is about to leave the house. As he extends his hand to the door, he notes that the cord that draws the latch is gently agitated from above.]  16
  He stood a moment immovable. Again he reached towards the latch, and again the mysterious motion from above was repeated. He went back and glanced up the staircase: from the top landing a pretty blonde head smiled down at him.  17
  “Do you want me to go up?” he asked.  18
  “No,” she replied, but with an intonation that clearly meant, “yes.”  19
  He immediately mounted the stairs on tiptoe.  20
  “We can’t stay here,” said Venturita: “they may see us. Come along with me.” And taking him by the hand, she led him through the corridors to the dining-room.  21
  Gonzalo dropped into a chair, but without loosing her hand.  22
  “Why has my mother got to mortify me at every instant, and before company?” she exclaimed. “If she thinks I will stand it she is very much mistaken. There is no consideration in this house except for that scapegrace brother of mine.”  23
  “Sweetheart, sweetheart, don’t fly out at me. I like you precisely because you have a will and a temper of your own. I have no fancy for women made of flour and water.”  24
  “I guess it’s because you are one of that stuff yourself.”  25
  “Not so much as you may think.”  26
  “I can never imagine your getting angry with anybody.”  27
  “Oh, very well; if I am of that sort then it is very proper that I should like amiable and tranquil women.”  28
  “Not at all, not at all,” she exclaimed, suddenly changing her ground. “The blonde complexion likes the brunette, the fat the thin, and the tall the short. Confess now, isn’t it because I am so little, and you so tall, that I please you?”  29
  “Yes, but by no means for that alone,” he said, laughing and pulling her nearer to him.  30
  “For what else?” with one of her siren looks.  31
  “Because you are so—homely.”  32
  “Thanks,” she replied, her whole fair countenance illuminated with vanity.  33
  “I suppose there is not a homelier one than you in Sarrió, or in the entire world.”  34
  “Still, you must have seen some homelier than I in your travels abroad? The Virgin save us! what a monster of ugliness I must be.” And she laughed with all her heart at the flattery contained in his reversed hyperboles.  35
  “We are not—comfortable here,” said the young man nervously. “Some one might enter, or—even Cecilia. And what excuse could I give?”  36
  “No matter what excuse: that is the least thing to consider. But if you are uneasy, we can go back to the drawing-room.”  37
  “Yes, let us go.”  38
  “Wait here an instant: I will go and see how the land lies.” But then, stopping at the door with a new idea that just entered her head, she turned back and said, “If you would promise to be very proper and formal, I would take you to my room.”  39
  “Word of honor,” he promised eagerly.  40
  “No attempted kissing, you know, or silly nonsense of any kind.”  41
  “Not a bit.”  42
  “You swear it?”  43
  “I do.”  44
  “Then stay here a little, and come up after me on the tips of your toes. Good-by for about two minutes.”  45
  He took her hand at this brief parting, and kissed it.  46
  “There, you see, you break your promise even before we begin,” she complained, affecting displeasure.  47
  “But I didn’t think that hands counted.”  48
  “Everything counts,” she retorted severely, but her eyes still smiled at him.  49
  [The young girl’s room is described,—a marvel of daintiness, luxury, and good taste, personal to herself. Gonzalo exclaims:—]  50
  “Oh, how much better this is than Cecilia’s room!”  51
  “You have seen hers?”  52
  “Yes: a few days ago she showed it to me, with its bare walls, poor pictures, bed without draperies, and most commonplace bureau.”  53
  “Be good enough to sit down: you have grown tall enough.”  54
  “You did wrong to let me come up here,” he said.  55
  “Why? what do you mean?” and she affected surprise, opening and shutting her bright eyes many times in succession, so that the effect was like that play of heat-lightning that is observed in the warm evenings of summer.  56
  “Because I feel that I am ill.”  57
  “You are ill? truly?” And now she opened her blue eyes widely; without, for all that, succeeding in giving them an innocent look.  58
  “Yes, that is—yes, a little.”  59
  “Do you want me to call assistance?”  60
  “That would do no good, as it is your eyes that are making all the trouble.”  61
  “Oh, then I will shut them up,” she said, laughing merrily.  62
  “Don’t shut them up, don’t shut them up, I beg of you. If you do, I shall be infinitely worse.”  63
  “I see it is best, in that case, that I should go away.”  64
  “And that would simply be to have my death at your door. Do you know why I think I am taken so ill? Because, I suppose, I cannot kiss down the lovely eyelids above those eyes that stab me through the heart.”  65
  “Oh, indeed? how badly off you are!” she rejoined, mocking him with the gayest laughter. “Well, I am sorry I cannot cure you.”  66
  “Then you will allow me to die?”  67
  “Certainly, if you wish to.”  68
  “But you will first let me imprint a kiss upon your delightful hair, at least?”  69
  “No indeed.”  70
  “Your hands, then?”  71
  “No, not my hands either.”  72
  “Nothing of your belongings? Oh, see how you make me suffer, what fatal harm you are doing me.”  73
  “Here is a glove you may kiss, if you want to,” and she tossed him one of her own that lay upon the dressing-table.  74
  He pressed it to his lips repeatedly, with glowing ardor.  75
  Disloyal, weak, a repellent character, as the critics like to say of the personages in novels who are not monumentally heroic and gifted with all the talents. But suppose the reader himself to be placed in that position, face to face with the younger Señorita Belinchon, receiving the meteor-like glances of her blue eyes, and hearkening to a voice with both grave and honeyed inflections that moved the very fibres of the soul, and suppose she should toss him a glove of hers to kiss,—I should very much like to hear in what severe terms he would decline the honor.  76
  “Now let us speak seriously [said Venturita]; let us talk of our situation. In spite of what you promised me three days ago, I have not heard that you have yet spoken with mama or papa, or even written to them. Quite the contrary, in fact: not only you let the time pass, while every day makes things worse, but you seem to show yourself even more devoted to Cecilia than before.”  77
  Gonzalo denied this with a shake of the head.  78
  “But I have seen you. If you do not love her, this conduct towards her is very bad; and if you do love her, then your conduct towards me is infamous.”  79
  “Are you not yet sure that my heart is yours alone?” he asked, his impassioned glance fixed upon her face.  80
  “No.”  81
  “Yes, yes, yes, it is; a thousand times yes. But I cannot be in Cecilia’s company and be harsh and indifferent with her. That would be too dreadful. I would rather tell her what has happened and have done with it, once for all.”  82
  “Tell her, then.”  83
  “I dare not.”  84
  “Very well, don’t tell her, then. You and I will break off all that is between us. It will be better so, anyway,” said his fair young companion tartly.  85
  “For God’s sake, Venturita, don’t say that; don’t talk that way. You frighten me; you will make me think you don’t love me. You must understand that my position in all this is strange, compromising, terrible. On the very point of marrying a most estimable girl, without any fault on her part, without any falling-out to serve as a pretext, or any circumstance whatever to forewarn her of such a thing, I am suddenly to say to her, ‘All is over between us, because I do not love you, and never have loved you.’ Could any conduct be more brutal and odious? And your parents,—how are they going to take my conduct? Most likely, after indignantly scoring me as I shall deserve, they will order me out of their house, and never let me set foot in it again.”  86
  “Very good, very good: then marry her, I say,—and I wish you joy of her,” said Venturita, springing up very pale.  87
  “Never! that will never be. I shall either marry you or nobody else in all the wide world.”  88
  “Then what are we going to do?”  89
  “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t know;” his head drooping in abject sadness.  90
  A silence fell upon them for a moment, broken by Venturita, who said, tapping lightly on his bowed head, “Rack your brains, man; invent something.”  91
  “I’m trying and trying, but nothing comes of it.”  92
  “You are good for nothing. Come, you must go now. Leave the thing to my charge. I will speak to mama. But you must write a letter to Cecilia.”  93
  “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Venturita!” he protested in anguish of soul.  94
  “Then don’t do it, and—what is the next step on the programme, tell: do you think I am going to serve as a plaything for you?”  95
  “If I could only dispense with writing such a letter,” he responded, cringing with humility. “You cannot imagine what violence it does to my whole nature. Would it not do, instead, if I should cease coming to the house for some days?”  96
  “Yes, yes, it would. Off with you now, and don’t come back,” said the girl, herself moving towards the door to depart. But he restrained her, by one of her braids of hair.  97
  “Don’t be offended with me, my beautiful one,” he entreated. “Well you know that you have enchanted me, that you tread me under the sole of your pretty foot. In the long run I shall do whatever you want me to, even to jumping into the sea if you desire it. I was only trying to spare Cecilia suffering.”  98
  “Conceited fellow! I’ll wager now you think Cecilia will die of love for you.”  99
  “If she gives herself no great concern, so much the better; I shall thus escape enduring remorse.”  100
  “Cecilia is cold; she neither loves nor hates with any warmth of feeling. Her disposition is excellent; selfishness has no part in it; you would find her always exactly the same,—that is, neither gay nor sad. She is apathetic, incapable of being wounded by any disappointment,—at least, if she is, she never shows it. What are you doing there?—” she broke off, rapidly whirling around to face him.  101
  “I was trying to unbraid your hair. I wanted to see it loose, as you let me see it once before. There is not a more beautiful sight in the world.”  102
  “I don’t know that I object, if it is your whim to see it,” replied the maiden,—who was proud, and with reason, of her wealth of shining hair.  103
  “What loveliness! it is one of the wonders of the world.” He touched the flowing locks gently; weighed them in his hands with delight; then, taken with a sudden enthusiasm, he cried, “I must bathe in them; let me bathe in this river of molten gold.”  104
  [At this moment one of the sewing-girls, sent after some patterns, chanced to enter the room. Gonzalo looked up, paler than wax; the servant colored violently with confusion. Venturita alone kept her calmness. First managing to make her ringer bleed by an adroit blow against the wardrobe, she said coolly:—]  105
  “O Valentina, won’t you do me the favor to tie up my hair. I cannot do it myself, on account of having hurt my finger!” (showing it). “Don Gonzalo was just going to try, but he would make very awkward work of it.”  106

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