Literary Thoughts edition presents The Swan of Vilamorta by Emilia Pardo Bazán ------ The Swan of Vilamorta (El cisne de Vilamorta) is a novel written in 1885 by Emilia Pardo Bazán (1851-1921) and translated into English by Mary J. Serrano (18xx-1923) in 1891. It is situated in Vilamorta (Dead Town), which is a small Galician city modeled principally on Carballino, near which Pardo Bazán had spent the happy days of her early married life, and tells the story of the "swan", a young poet and lawyer named Segundo García. All books of the Literary Thoughts edition have been transscribed from original prints and edited for better reading experience. Please visit our homepage www.literarythoughts.com to see our other publications.
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Transscribed and Published by Jacson Keating (editor)
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Behind the pine grove the setting sun had left a zone of fire against which the trunks of the pine trees stood out like bronze columns. The path was rugged and uneven, giving evidence of the ravages wrought by the winter rains; at intervals loose stones, looking like teeth detached from the gum, rendered it still more impracticable. The melancholy shades of twilight were beginning to envelop the landscape; little by little the sunset glow faded away and the moon, round and silvery, mounted in the heavens, where the evening star was already shining. The dismal croaking of the frogs fell sharply on the ear; a fresh breeze stirred the dry plants and the dusty brambles that grew by the roadside; and the trunks of the pine trees grew momentarily blacker, standing out like inky bars against the pale green of the horizon.
A man was descending the path slowly, bent, apparently, on enjoying the poetry and the peace of the scene and the hour. He carried a stout walking-stick, and as far as one could judge in the fading light, he was young and not ill-looking.
He paused frequently, casting glances to the right and to the left as if in search of some familiar landmark. Finally he stood still and looked around him. At his back was a hill crowned with chestnut trees; on his left was the pine grove; on his right a small church with a mean belfry; before him the outlying houses of the town. He turned, walked back some ten steps, stopped, fronting the portico of the church, examined its walls, and, satisfied at last that he had found the right place, raised his hands to his mouth and forming with them a sort of speaking trumpet, cried, in a clear youthful voice:
"Echo, let us talk together!"
From the angle formed by the walls, there came back instantly another voice, deeper and less distinct, strangely grave and sonorous, which repeated with emphasis, linking the answer to the question and dwelling upon the final syllable:
"Let us talk togethe-e-e-e-r!"
"Are you happy?"
"Happy-y-y-y!" responded the echo.
"Who am I?"
To these interrogations, framed so that the answer should make sense with them, succeeded phrases uttered without any other object than that of hearing them reverberated with strange intensity by the wall. "It is a lovely night."—"The moon is shining."—"The sun has set."—"Do you hear me, echo?"—"Have you dreams, echo, of glory, ambition, love?" The traveler, enchanted with his occupation, continued the conversation, varying the words, combining them into sentences, and, in the short intervals of silence, he listened to the faint murmur of the pines stirred by the evening breeze, and to the melancholy concert of the frogs. The crimson and rose-colored clouds had become ashen and had begun to invade the broad region of the firmament over which the unclouded moon shed her silvery light. The honeysuckles and elder-flowers on the outskirts of the pine grove embalmed the air with subtle and intoxicating fragrance. And the interlocutor of the echo, yielding to the poetic influences of the scene, ceased his questions and exclamations and began to recite, in a slow, chanting voice, verses of Becquer, paying no heed now to the voice from the wall, which, in its haste to repeat his words, returned them to him broken and confused.
Absorbed in his occupation, pleased with the harmonious sounds of the verse, he did not notice the approach of three men of odd and grotesque appearance, wearing enormous broad-brimmed felt hats. One of the men was leading a mule laden with a leathern sack filled, doubtless, with the juice of the grape; and as they walked slowly, and the soft clayey soil deadened the noise of their footsteps, they passed close by the young man, unperceived by him. They exchanged some whispered words with one another. "Who is he, man?"—"Segundo."—"The lawyer's son?"—"The same."—"What is he doing? Is he talking to himself?"—"No, he is talking to the wall of Santa Margarita."—"Well, we have as good a right to do that as he has."—"Begin you ——"—"One—two—here goes——"
And from those profane lips fell a shower of vile words and coarse and vulgar phrases, interrupting the Oscuras Golondrinas which the young man was reciting with a great deal of expression, and producing, in the peaceful and harmonious nocturnal silence, the effect of the clatter of brass pans and kettles in a piece of German music. The most refined expressions were in the following style: "D—— (here an oath). Hurrah for the wine of the Border! Hurrah for the red wine that gives courage to man! D——" (the reader's imagination may supply what followed, it being premised that the disturbers of the Becquerian dreamer were three lawless muleteers who were carrying with them an abundant provision of the blood of the grape).
The nymph who dwelt in the wall opposed no resistance to the profanation and repeated the round oaths as faithfully as she had repeated the poet's verses. Hearing the vociferations and bursts of laughter which the wall sent back to him mockingly, Segundo, the lawyer's son, aware that the barbarians were turning his sentimental amusement into ridicule, became enraged. Mortified and ashamed, he tightened his grasp on his stick, strongly tempted to break it on the ribs of some one of them; and, muttering between his teeth, "Kaffirs! brutes! beasts!" and other offensive epithets, he turned to the left, plunged into the pine grove and walked toward the town, avoiding the path in order to escape meeting the profane trio.
The town was but a step away. The walls of its nearest houses shone white in the moonlight, and the stones of some buildings in course of erection, garden walls, orchards, and vegetable beds, filled up the space between the town and the pine grove. The path grew gradually broader, until it reached the highroad, on either side of which leafy chestnut trees cast broad patches of shade. The town was already asleep, seemingly, for not a light was to be seen, nor were any of those noises to be heard which reveal the proximity of those human beehives called cities. Vilamorta is in reality a very small beehive, a modest town, the capital of a district. Bathed in the splendor of the romantic satellite, however, it was not without a certain air of importance imparted to it by the new buildings, of a style of architecture peculiar to prison cells, which an Americanized Galician, recently returned to his native land with a plentiful supply of cash, was erecting with all possible expedition.
Segundo turned into an out-of-the-way street—if there be any such in towns like Vilamorta. Only the sidewalks were paved; the gutter was a gutter in reality; it was full of muddy pools and heaps of kitchen garbage, thrown there without scruple by the inhabitants. Segundo avoided two things—stepping into the gutter and walking in the moonlight. A man passed so close by him as almost to touch him, enveloped, notwithstanding the heat, in an ample cloak, and holding open above his head an enormous umbrella, although there was no sign of rain; doubtless he was some convalescent, some visitor to the springs, who was breathing the pleasant night air with hygienic precautions. Segundo, when he saw him, walked closer to the houses, turning his face aside as if afraid of being recognized. With no less caution he crossed the Plaza del Consistorio, the pride of Vilamorta, and then, instead of joining one of the groups who were enjoying the fresh air, seated on the stone benches round the public fountain, he slipped into a narrow side street, and crossing a retired little square shaded by a gigantic poplar turned his steps in the direction of a small house half hidden in the shadow of the tree. Between the house and Segundo there stood a lumbering bulk—the body of a stage-coach, a large box on wheels, its shafts raised in air, waiting, lance in rest, as it were, to renew the attack. Segundo skirted the obstacle, and as he turned the corner of the square, absorbed in his meditations, two immense hogs, monstrously fat, rushed out of the half-open gate of a neighboring yard, and at a short trot that made their enormous sides shake like jelly, made straight for the admirer of Becquer, entangling themselves stupidly and blindly between his legs. By a special interposition of Providence the young man did not measure his length upon the ground, but, his patience now exhausted, he gave each of the swine a couple of angry kicks, which drew from them sharp and ferocious grunts, as he ejaculated almost audibly: "What a town is this, good Heavens! Even the hogs must run against one in the streets. Ah, what a miserable place! Hell itself could not be worse!"
By the time he had reached the door of the house, he had, to some extent, regained his composure. The house was small and pretty and had a cheerful air. There was no railing outside the windows, only the stone ledges, which were covered with plants in pots and boxes; through the windows shaded by muslin curtains a light could be seen burning, and in the silent façade there was something peaceful and attractive that invited one to enter. Segundo pushed open the door and almost at the same instant there was heard in the dark hall the rustling of skirts, a woman's arms were opened and the admirer of Becquer, throwing himself into them, allowed himself to be led, dragged, carried bodily, almost, up the stairs, and into the little parlor where, on a table covered with a white crochet cover, burned a carefully trimmed lamp. There, on the sofa, the lover and the lady seated themselves.
Truth before all things. The lady was not far from thirty-six or thirty-seven, and what is worse, could never have been pretty, or even passably good-looking. The smallpox had pitted and hardened her coarse skin, giving it the appearance of the leather bottom of a sieve. Her small black eyes, hard and bright like two fleas, matched well her nose, which was thick and ill-shaped, like the noses of the figures of lay monks stamped on chocolate. True, the mouth was fresh-colored, the teeth white and sound like those of a dog; but everything else pertaining to her—dress, manner, accent, the want of grace of the whole—was calculated rather to put tender thoughts to flight than to awaken them. With the lamp shining as brightly as it does, it is preferable to contemplate the lover. The latter is of medium height, has a graceful, well-proportioned figure, and in the turn of his head and in his youthful features there is something that irresistibly attracts and holds the gaze. His forehead, which is high and straight, is shaded and set off by luxuriant hair, worn somewhat longer than is allowed by our present severe fashion. His face, thin and delicately outlined, casts a shadow on the walls which is made up of acute angles. A mustache, curling with the grace which is peculiar to a first mustache, and to the wavy locks of a young girl, shades but does not cover his upper lip. The beard has not yet attained its full growth; the muscles of the throat have not yet become prominent; the Adam's apple does not yet force itself on the attention. The complexion is dark, pale, and of a slightly bilious hue.
Seeing this handsome youth leaning his head on the shoulder of this woman of mature age and undisguised ugliness, it would have been natural to take them for mother and son, but anyone coming to this conclusion, after a single moment's observation, would have shown scant penetration, for in the manifestations of maternal affection, however passionate and tender they may be, there is always a something of dignity and repose which is wanting in those of every other affection.
Doubtless Segundo felt a longing to see the moon again, for he rose almost immediately from his seat on the sofa and crossed over to the window, his companion following him. He threw open the sash, and they sat down side by side in two low chairs whose seats were on a level with the flower-pots. A fine carnation regaled the sense with its intoxicating perfume; the moon lighted up with her silvery rays the foliage of the poplar that cast broad shadow over the little square. Segundo opened the conversation this wise:
"Have you made any cigars for me?"
"Here are some," she answered, putting her hand into her pocket and drawing from it a bundle of cigars. "I was able to make only a dozen and a half for you. I will complete the two dozen to-night before I go to bed."
There was a moment's silence, broken by the sharp sound made by the striking of the match and then, in a voice muffled by the first puff of smoke, Segundo went on:
"Why, has anything new happened?"
"New? No. The children—putting the house in order—and then—Minguitos. He made my head ache with his complaining—he complained the whole blessed evening. He said his bones ached. And you? Very busy, killing yourself reading, studying, writing, eh? Of course!"
"No, I have been taking a delightful walk. I went to Peñas-albas and returned by way of Santa Margarita. I have seldom spent a pleasanter evening."
"I warrant you were making verses."
"No, my dear. The verses I made I made last night after leaving you."
"Ah! And you weren't going to repeat them to me. Come, for the love of the saints, come, recite them for me, you must know them by heart. Come, darling."
To this vehement entreaty succeeded a passionate kiss, pressed on the hair and forehead of the poet. The latter raised his eyes, drew back a little and, holding his cigar between his fingers after knocking off the ashes with his nail, proceeded to recite.
The offspring of his muse was a poem in imitation of Becquer. His auditor, who listened to it with religious attention, thought it superior to anything inspired by the muse of the great Gustave. And she asked for another and then another, and then a bit of Espronceda and then a fragment or two of Zorrilla. By this time the cigar had gone out; the poet threw away the stump and lighted a fresh one. Then they resumed their conversation.
"Shall we have supper soon?"
"Directly. What do you think I have for you?"
"I haven't the least idea."
"Think of what you like best. What you like best, better than anything else."
"Bah! You know that so far as I am concerned, provided you don't give me anything smoked or greasy——"
"A French omelet! You couldn't guess, eh? Let me tell you—I found the receipt in a book. As I had heard that it was something good I wanted to try it. I had always made omelets as they make them here, so stiff, that you might throw one against the wall without breaking it. But this—I think it will be to your taste. As for me, I don't like it much, I prefer the old style. I showed Flores how to make it. What was in the one you ate at the inn at Orense? Chopped parsley, eh?"
"No, ham. But what difference does it make what was in it?"
"I'll run and take it out of the pantry! I thought—the book says parsley! Wait, wait."
She overturned her chair in her haste. An instant later the jingling of her keys and the opening and closing of a couple of doors were heard in the distance. A husky voice muttered some unintelligible words in the kitchen. In two minutes she was back again.
"Tell me, and those verses, are you not going to publish them? Am I not going to see them in print?"
"Yes," responded the poet, slowly turning his head to one side and sending a puff of smoke through his lips. "I am going to send them to Vigo, to Roberto Blanquez, to insert them in the Amanecer."
"I am delighted! You will become famous, sweetheart! How many periodicals have spoken of you?"
Segundo laughed ironically and shrugged his shoulders.
"Not many." And with a somewhat preoccupied air he let his gaze wander over the plants and far away over the top of the poplar whose leaves rustled gently in the breeze. The poet pressed his companion's hand mechanically, and the latter returned the pressure with passionate ardor.
"Of course. How do you expect them to speak of you when you don't put your name to your verses?" she said. "They don't know whose they are. They are wondering, likely——"
"What difference does the name make? They could say the same things of the pseudonym I have adopted as of Segundo García. The few people who will trouble themselves to read my verses will call me the Swan of Vilamorta."
Segundo García, the lawyer's son, and Leocadia Otero, the schoolmistress of Vilamorta, had met each other for the first time in the spring at a pilgrimage. Leocadia had gone with some girls to whom she had taught their letters and plain sewing. Before the chorus of nymphs Segundo had recited verses for more than two hours in an oak grove far from the noise of the drum and the bagpipes, where the strains of the music and the voices of the crowd came softened by distance. The audience was as silent as if they were hearing mass, although certain passages of a tender or passionate nature were the occasion, among the children, of nudges, pinches, laughter instantaneously suppressed; but from the black eyes of the schoolmistress, down her cheeks, pitted by the smallpox and pale with emotion, flowed two large, warm tears, followed so quickly and in such abundance by others that she was obliged to take out her handkerchief to wipe them away. And returning by starlight, descending the mountain on whose summit stood the sanctuary, by sylvan footpaths carpeted with grass and bordered with heather and briars, the order of march was as follows: first the children, running, jumping, pushing one another among the heather and greeting every fall with shouts of laughter; Leocadia and Segundo behind, arm-in-arm, pausing from time to time to talk in subdued tones, almost in whispers.
A sad and ugly story was told about Leocadia Otero. Although, without actually saying so, she had given it to be understood that she was a widow, it was whispered that she had never been married; that the puny Dominguito, the little cripple who was always sick, was born while she lived in the house of her uncle and guardian at Orense, after the death of her parents. What was certain was that her uncle had died shortly after the birth of the child, bequeathing to his niece a couple of fields and a house in Vilamorta, and Leocadia, after passing the necessary examinations, had obtained the village school and gone to settle in that town. She had lived in it now for more than thirteen years, observing the most exemplary conduct, watching day and night over Minguitos, and living with the utmost frugality in order to rebuild the dilapidated house, which she had finally succeeded in doing shortly before her meeting with Segundo. Leocadia was a woman of notably industrious habits; in her wardrobe she had always a good supply of linen, in her parlor bamboo furniture with a rug before the sofa, grapes, rice, and ham in her pantry, and carnations and sweet basil in her windows. Minguitos was always as neat as a new pin; she herself, when she raised the skirt of her habit of Dolores, of good merino, displayed underneath voluminous embroidered petticoats, stiff with starch. For all which reasons, notwithstanding her ugliness and her former history, the schoolmistress was not without suitors—a wealthy retired muleteer, and Cansin, the clothier. She rejected the suitors and continued living alone with Minguitos and Flores, her old servant, who now enjoyed in the house all the privileges of a grandmother.
The iniquitous wrong suffered by her in early youth had produced in Leocadia, absorbed as she was in her bitter recollections, a profound horror of marriage and an insatiable thirst for the romantic, the ideal, which is as a refreshing dew to the imagination and which satisfies the emotions. She had the superficial knowledge of a village schoolmistress—rudimentary, but sufficient to introduce exotic tastes into Vilamorta; that is to say, a taste for literature in its most accessible forms—novels and poetry. She devoted to reading the leisure hours of her monotonous and upright life. She read with faith, with enthusiasm, uncritically; she read believing and accepting everything, identifying herself with each one of the heroines, in turn, her heart echoing back the poet's sighs, the troubadour's songs, and the laments of the bard. Reading was her one vice, her secret happiness. When she requested her friends at Orense to renew her subscription to the library for her they laughed at her and nicknamed her the "Authoress." She an authoress! She only wished she were. If she could only give form to what she felt, to the world of fancy she carried in her mind! But this was impossible. Never would her brain succeed in producing, however hard she might squeeze it, even so much as a poor seguidilla. Poetry and sensibility were stored up in the folds and convolutions of her brain, as solar heat is stored up in the coal. What came to the surface was pure prose—housekeeping, economy, stews.
When she met Segundo, chance applied the lighted torch to the formidable train of feelings and dreams shut up in the soul of the schoolmistress. She had at last found a worthy employment for her amorous faculties, an outlet for her affections. Segundo was poetry incarnate. He represented for her all the graces, all the divine attributes of poetry—the flowers, the breeze, the nightingale, the dying light of day, the moon, the dark wood.
The fire burned with astounding rapidity. In its flames were consumed, first her honorable resolution to efface by the blamelessness of her conduct the stigma of the past, then her strong and deep maternal affection. Not for an instant did the thought present itself to Leocadia's mind that Segundo could ever be her husband; although both were free the difference in their ages and the intellectual superiority of the young poet placed an insurmountable barrier in the way of the aspirations of the schoolmistress. She fell in love as into an abyss, and looked neither before nor behind.
Segundo had had in Santiago, during his college days, youthful intrigues, adventures of a not very serious nature, such as few men escape between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five, occasionally taking part, also, in what in that romantic epoch were called orgies. Notwithstanding all this, however, he was not vicious. The son of a hysterical mother, whose strength was exhausted by repeated lactations, and who at last succumbed to the debility induced by them, Segundo's spirit was much more exacting and insatiable than his body. He had inherited from his mother a melancholy temperament and innumerable prejudices, innumerable instinctive antipathies, innumerable superstitious practices. He had loved her, and he cherished her memory with veneration. And more tenacious even than his loving remembrance of his mother was the invincible antipathy he cherished for his father. It would not be true to say that the lawyer had been the murderer of his wife, and yet Segundo clearly divined the slow martyrdom endured by that fine nervous organization, and had always before his eyes, in his hours of gloom, the mean coffin in which the dead woman was interred, shrouded in the oldest sheet that was to be found.
Segundo's family consisted of his father, an aunt, advanced in years, two brothers, and three sisters. The lawyer García enjoyed the reputation of being wealthy—in reality this fortune was insignificant—a village fortune accumulated penny by penny, by usurious loans and innumerable sordid privations. His practice brought him in something, but ten mouths to feed and the professional education of three sons swallowed up not a little. The eldest of the boys, an officer in an infantry regiment, was stationed in the Philippine Islands, and, far from expecting any money from him, they were thankful if he did not ask for any. Segundo, the second in age as well as in name, had just been graduated—one lawyer more in Spain, where this fruit grows so abundantly. The youngest was studying at the Institute at Orense, with the intention of becoming an apothecary. The girls spent the days running about in the gardens and cornfields, half the time barefooted, not even attending Leocadia's school to save the slight expense that would be incurred in procuring the decent clothing which this would necessitate. As for the aunt—Misía Gáspara—she was the soul of the house, a narrow and sapless soul, a withered old woman, silent and ghost-like in appearance, still active, in spite of her sixty years, who, without ceasing to knit her stockings with fingers as yellow as the keys of an old harpsichord, sold barley in the granary, wine in the cellar, lent a dollar at fifty per cent. interest to the fruit-women and hucksters of the market, receiving their wares in payment, measured out the food, the light, and their clothing to her nieces, fattened a pig with affectionate solicitude, and was respected in Vilamorta for her ant-like abilities.
It was the lawyer's aspiration to transmit his practice and his office to Segundo. Only the boy gave no indication of an aptitude for stirring up law-suits and prosecutions. How had he achieved the miracle of passing with honor in the examinations without ever having opened a law-book during the whole term, and failing in attendance at the college whenever it rained or whenever the sun shone? Well, by means of an excellent memory and a good natural intelligence; learning by heart, when it was necessary, whole pages from the text-books, and remembering and reciting them with the same ease, if not with as much taste, as he recited the "Doloras" of Campoamor.
On Segundo's table lay, side by side, the works of Zorrilla and Espronceda, bad translations of Heine, books of verse of local poets, the "Lamas-Varela," or, Antidote to Idleness, and other volumes of a no less heterogeneous kind. Segundo was not an insatiable reader; he chose his reading according to the whim of the moment, and he read only what was in conformity with his tastes, thus acquiring a superficial culture of an imperfect and varied nature. Quick of apprehension, rather than thoughtful or studious, he had learned French without a teacher and almost by intuition, in order to read in the original the works of Musset, Lamartine, Proudhon, and Victor Hugo. His mind was like an uncultivated field in which grew here and there some rare and beautiful flower, some exotic plant; of the abstruse and positive sciences, of solid and serious learning, which is the nurse of mental vigor—the classics, the best literature, the severe teachings of history—he knew nothing; and in exchange, by a singular phenomenon of intellectual relationship, he identified himself with the romantic movement of the second third of the century, and in a remote corner of Galicia lived again the psychological life of dead and gone generations. So does some venerable academician, over-leaping the nineteen centuries of our era, delight himself now with what delighted Horace and live platonically enamored of Lydia.
Segundo composed his first verses, cynical and pessimistic in intention, ingenuous in reality, before he had reached the age of seventeen. His classmates applauded him to the echo. He acquired in their eyes a certain prestige, and when the first fruits of his muse appeared in a periodical he had, without going beyond the narrow circle of the college, admirers and detractors. Thenceforth he acquired the right to indulge in solitary walks, to laugh rarely, to surround his adventures with mystery, and not to play or take a drink for good-fellowship's sake except when he felt in the humor.
And he seldom felt in the humor. Excitation of the senses, of a purely physical nature, possessed no attraction for him; if he drank at times through bravado, the spectacle of drunkenness, the winding-up of student orgies—the soiled tablecloth, the maudlin disputes, his companions lying under the table or stretched on the sofa, the shamelessness and heartlessness of venal women—repelled him and he came away from such scenes filled with disgust and contempt, and at times a reaction proper to his complex character sent him, a sincere admirer of Proudhon, Quinet, and Renan, to the precincts of some solitary church, where he drew in with delight long breaths of the incense-laden air.
The lawyer García made no protest against his son's literary inclinations because he regarded them as a passing amusement proper to his age, a youthful folly, like dancing at a village feast. He began to grow uneasy when he saw that Segundo, after graduation, showed no inclination to help him in the conduct of his tortuous law-suits. Was the boy, then, going to turn out good for nothing but to string rhymes together? It was no crime to do this, but—when there was not a pile of law-papers to go through and stratagems to think of to circumvent the opposing party. Since the lawyer had observed this inclination of his son he had treated him with more persistent harshness and coldness than before. Every day at table or whenever the occasion offered, he made cutting speeches to him about the necessity of earning one's own bread by assiduous labor, instead of depending upon others for it. These continual sermons, in which he displayed the same captious and harassing obstinacy as in the conduct of his law-suits, frightened Segundo from the house. In Leocadia's house he found a place of refuge, and he submitted passively to be adored; flattered in the first place by the triumph his verses had obtained, awakening admiration so evidently sincere and ardent, and in the second place attracted by the moral well-being engendered by unquestioning approval and unmeasured complacency. His idle, dreamy brain reposed on the soft cushions which affection smoothes for the beloved head; Leocadia sympathized with all his plans for the future, developing and enlarging them; she encouraged him to write and to publish his verses; she praised him without reserve and without hypocrisy, for, for her, whose critical faculty was situated in her cardiac cavities, Segundo was the most melodious singer in the universe.
Gradually the loving prevision of the schoolmistress extended to other departments of Segundo's existence. Neither the lawyer García nor Aunt Gáspara supposed that a young man, once his education was finished, needed a penny for any extraordinary expense. Aunt Gáspara, in particular, protested loudly at every fresh outlay—after filling her nephew's trunk one year she thought he was provided with shirts for at least ten years to come: clothes had no right to tear or to wear out, without any consideration, in that way. Leocadia took note of the wants of her idol; one day she observed that he was not well supplied with handkerchiefs and she hemmed and marked a dozen for him; the next day she noticed that he was expected to keep himself in cigars for a year on half a dollar, and she took upon herself the task of making them for him, furnishing the material herself gratis. She heard the fruit-women criticising Aunt Gáspara's stinginess; she inferred from this that Segundo had a poor table, and she set herself to the task of devising appetizing and nutritious dishes for him; in addition to all which she ordered books from Orense, mended his clothes, and sewed on his buttons.
All this she did with inexpressible delight, going about the house with a light, almost youthful step, rejuvenated by the sweet maternity of love, and so happy that she forgot to scold the school-children, thinking only of shortening their tasks that she might be all the sooner with Segundo. There was in her affection much that was generous and spiritual, and her happiest moments were those in which, as they sat side by side at the window, his head resting on her shoulder, she listened, while her imagination transformed the pots of carnations and sweet basil into a virgin forest, to the verses which he recited in a well-modulated voice, verses that seemed to Leocadia celestial music.
The medal had its obverse side, however. The mornings were full of bitterness when Flores would come with an angry and frowning face, her woolen shawl twisted and wrinkled and falling over her eyes, to say in short, abrupt phrases:
"The eggs are all used; shall I get more? There is no sugar; which kind shall I buy—that dear loaf sugar that we bought last week? To-day I got coffee, two pounds of coffee, as if we had a gold mine. I won't buy any more cordial—you can go for it yourself—I won't."
"What are you talking about, Flores? What is the matter with you?"
"I say that if you like to give Ramon, the confectioner, twenty-four reals a bottle for anisette, when it is to be had for eight at the apothecary's, you can do so, but that I am not going to put the money in that thief's hand; he will be asking you five dollars a bottle for it next."
Leocadia would come out of her reverie with a sigh, and go to the bureau drawer for the money, not without thinking that Flores was only too right; her savings, her couple of thousand reals laid by for an emergency, must be almost gone; it was better not to examine into the condition of the purse; better put off annoyances as long as possible. God would provide. And she would scold the old woman with feigned anger.
"Go for the bottle; go—and don't make me angry. At eight the children will be here and I have my petticoat to iron yet. Make Minguitos his chocolate; you would be better employed in seeing that he has something to eat. And give him some cake."
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