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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Noonday Apparition in the Glen
By Juan Valera (1824–1905)
 
From ‘Pepita Jiménez’: Translation of William Henry Bishop

MY father, wishing to pay off to Pepita the compliment of her garden party, invited her in her turn to make a visit to our country-house of the Pozo de la Solana…. We had to go in the saddle. As I have never learned to ride horseback, I mounted, as on all the former excursions with my father, a mule which Dientes, our mule-driver, pronounced twice as good as gold, and as steady as a hay-wagon…. Now Pepita Jiménez, whom I supposed I should see in side-saddle on an animal of the donkey species also,—what must she do but astonish me by appearing on a fine horse of piebald marking, and full of life and fire. It did not take me long to see the sorry figure I should cut, jogging along in the rear with fat Aunt Casilda and the vicar, and to be mortified by it. When we reached the villa and dismounted, I felt relieved of as great a load as if it was I that had carried the mule, and not the mule that had carried me….  1
  Bordering the course of the brook, and especially in the ravines, are numerous poplars with other well-grown trees, which in conjunction with the shrubbery and taller herbs, form dusky and labyrinthine thickets. A thousand fragrant sylvan growths spring up spontaneously there; and in truth it is difficult to imagine anything wilder, more secluded, more completely solitary, peaceful, and silent, than that spot. In the blaze of noonday, when the sun is pouring down his light in floods from a sky without a cloud, and in the calm warm hours of the afternoon siesta, almost the same mysterious terrors steal upon the mind as in the still watches of the night. One comprehends there the way of life of the ancient patriarchs, and of the heroes and shepherds of primitive tradition, with all the apparitions and visions they were wont to have,—now of nymphs, now of gods, and now of angels, in the midst of the brightness of day.  2
  In the passage through those dusky thickets, it came about at a given moment, I know not how, that Pepita and I found ourselves side by side and alone. All the others had remained behind.  3
  I felt a sudden thrill run over all my body. It was the very first time I had ever been alone with that woman; the place was extremely solitary, and I had been thinking but now of the apparitions—sometimes sinister, sometimes winsome, but always supernatural—that used to walk at noonday in the sight of the men of an earlier time.  4
  Pepita had put off at the house her long riding-skirt, and now wore a short one that did not hamper the graceful lightness of her natural movements. On her head she had set a charmingly becoming little Andalusian shade-hat. She carried in her hand her riding-whip; and somehow my fancy struck out the whimsical conceit that this was one of those fairy wands with which the sorceress could bewitch me at will, if she pleased.  5
  I do not shrink from setting down on this paper deserved eulogies of her beauty. In that wild woodland scene, it seemed to me even fairer than ever. The plan that the old ascetic saints recommended to us as a safeguard,—namely, to think upon the beloved one as all disfigured by age and sickness, to picture her as dead, lapsing away in corruption, and a prey to worms,—that picture came before my imagination in spite of my will. I say “in spite of my will,” because I do not believe that any such terrible precaution is necessary. No evil thought as to the material body, no untoward suggestion of a malign spirit, at that time disturbed my reason nor made itself felt by my senses or my will.  6
  What did occur to me was a line of reasoning, convincing at least in my own mind, that quite obviated the necessity of such a step of precaution. Beauty, the product of a divine and supreme art, may be indeed but a weak and fleeting thing, disappearing perchance in a twinkling: still the idea and essence of that beauty are eternal; once apprehended by the mind of man, it must live an immortal life. The loveliness of that woman, such as it has shown itself to me to-day, will vanish, it is true, within a few brief years; that wholly charming body, the flowing lines and contours of that exquisite form, that noble head so proudly poised above the slender neck and shoulders,—all, all will be but food for loathsome worms; but though the earthly form of matter is to change, how as to the mental conception of that frame, the artistic ideal, the essential beauty itself? Who is to destroy all that? Does it not remain in the depths of the Divine Mind? Once perceived and known by me, must it not live forever in my soul, victorious over age and even over death?  7
 
 
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