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

DON LUIS was of a stubbornly persistent, obstinate nature; he had what, when well directed, makes that desirable quality called firmness of character. Nothing abased him so much in his own eyes as to be inconsistent in his opinions or his conduct. The plan and aim of Don Luis’s whole life, the plan which he had declared and defended before all those whom he associated with,—his moral ideal of himself, in fact, which was that of an aspirant to holiness, a man consecrated to God and imbued with the sublimest philosophy of religion,—all that could not fall to the ground without causing him great distress of mind; as fall it would if he let himself be carried away by his love for Pepita. Although the price to be received was an incomparably higher one, he felt that he was going to imitate the improvident Esau of Holy Writ, and sell his birthright for a mess of pottage.  1
  We men in general are wont to be but the poor plaything of circumstances; we suffer ourselves to be borne along by the current, and do not direct ourselves unswerving to a single aim. We do not choose our own destiny, but accept and carry on that which blind fortune assigns to us. With many men the kind of occupation they follow, the political party they belong to—pretty much all the circumstances of their lives, turn upon hazards and fortuitous events; it is not plan but the whims and caprices of fortune that settle it.  2
  The pride of Don Luis rebelled against such an order of things with an energy that was disposed to be titanic. What would be said of him—above all, what must he think of himself—if his life’s ideal, if the new man whom he had created within his being, if all his praiseworthy reachings out towards virtue, honor, and holy ambition, were to vanish in an instant, consumed by the warmth of a look, a passing glance from a dark eye, as the frost liquefies in the yet feeble rays of the morning sun?  3
  These and yet other reasons of a like egotistical sort, in addition to considerations of real merit and weight, contended against the attractions of the young widow. But all his reasoning alike put on the garb of religion; so that Don Luis himself, not able to distinguish and discriminate clearly between them, would mistake for the love of God not only that which was really love of God, but also his own self-love. He recalled, for instance, the lives of many of the saints who had resisted yet greater temptations than his own; and he would not reconcile himself to be less heroic than they. He remembered especially that notable case of firmness shown by St. John Chrysostom; who was able to remain unmoved under all the blandishments of a good and loving mother, deaf to her sobs, her most affectionate entreaties, all the eloquent and feeling pleas that she made to him not to abandon her and become a priest. She led him, for this interview, even to her own room, and made him seat himself beside the bed in which she had brought him into the world; but all in vain. After having reflected upon this, Don Luis could not endure in himself the weakness of failing to scorn the entreaties of a stranger woman, of whose very existence he had been ignorant but a short time before, and of wavering still between his duty and the allurements of that charming person; whose feeling, furthermore, for all he knew, was but coquetry, instead of real love for him.  4
  Next, Don Luis reflected on the august dignity of the sacerdotal office to which he was called; in his thoughts he set it high above all the other institutions, above all the poor thrones and principalities of the earth; and this because it was never founded by mortal man, nor caprice of the noisy and servile crowd, nor through any invasion nor inheritance of power by barbarous rulers, nor by the violence of mutinous troops led on by greed; nor had it been founded by any angel, archangel, or any created power whatever, but by the eternal Paraclete himself. How! was he indeed yielding to the charm of a giddy girl,—to a tear or two, perhaps feigned at that,—was he for such a motive to belittle and put aside that greatest of dignities, that sacred authority which God did not concede even to the very archangels nearest his throne? Could he ever be content to descend to the common herd, to be lost among them? Could he be merely one of the flock when he had aspired to be its shepherd, tying or untying on earth what God should tie or untie in heaven, pardoning sins, regenerating souls by water and the Spirit, teaching them in the name of an infallible authority, and pronouncing judgments which the Lord would then ratify and confirm in highest heaven?…  5
  When Don Luis reflected upon all this, his soul flew aloft and soared high above all the clouds into the farthest empyrean; and poor Pepita Jiménez was left behind there, far below, scarce visible, as one might say, to the naked eye.  6
  Soon however would his winged imagination cease its flight, his spirit return to earth. Then once more he would see Pepita, so gracious, so youthful, so ingenuous, so loving; and Pepita combated within his heart his most inflexible determinations. Don Luis dreaded, with but too much reason, that in the end she would scatter them all to the winds.  7
 
 
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