DON LUIS had been sunk in meditation for a long time, seated before his desk, with his elbows resting upon it, when he heard a noise close by. He raised his eyes and saw standing beside him the meddlesome Antoñona, who, although of such massive proportions, had entered like a shadow, and was now watching him attentively, with a mixture of pity and of anger.
Antoñona, taking advantage of the hour in which the servants dined and Don Pedro slept, had penetrated thus far without being observed, and had opened the door of the room and closed it behind her so gently that Don Luis, even if he had been less absorbed, would not have noticed it.
She had come resolved to hold a very serious conference with Don Luis, but she did not quite know what she was going to say to him. Nevertheless, she had asked heaven or hell, whichever of the two it may have been, to loosen her tongue and bestow upon her the gift of speechnot such grotesque and vulgar speech as she generally used, but correct, elegant, and adapted to the noble reflections and beautiful things she had in her mind and wanted to express.
I have to say, resumed Antoñona, that what you are plotting against my mistress is a piece of wickedness. You are behaving like a villain. You have bewitched her; you have given her some malignant potion. The poor angel is going to die; she neither eats nor sleeps, nor has a moments peace, on account of you. To-day she has had two or three hysterical attacks at the bare thought of your going away. A good deed you have done before becoming a priest! Tell me, wretch, why did you not stay where you were, with your uncle, instead of coming here? She, who was so free, so completely mistress of her own will, enslaving that of others, and allowing her own to be taken captive by none, has fallen into your treacherous snares. Your hypocritical sanctity was doubtless the lure you employed. With your theologies and your pious humbug you have acted like the wily and cruel sportsman, who whistles to attract the silly thrushes only to catch them in his net.
Antoñona, returned Don Luis, leave me in peace. For Gods sake, cease torturing me! I am a villain; I confess it. I ought not to have looked at your mistress; I ought not to have allowed her to believe that I loved her; but I loved her, and I love her still, with my whole heart; and I have given her no other potion or philtre than the love I have for her. It is my duty, nevertheless, to cast away, to forget this love. God commands me to do so. Do you imagine that the sacrifice I make will not beis not alreadya tremendous one? Pepita ought to arm herself with fortitude and make a similar sacrifice.
You do not give even that consolation to the unhappy girl, replied Antoñona. You sacrifice voluntarily, on the altar, this woman who loves you, who is already yoursyour victim. But shehow do you belong to her that she should offer you up as a sacrifice? What is the precious jewel she is going to renounce, what the beautiful ornament she is going to cast into the flames, but an ill-requited love? How is she going to give to God what she does not possess? Is she going to try to cheat God, and say to Him: My God, since he does not love me, here he is; I offer him up to you; I will not love him either. God never laughsif He did, He would laugh at such a present as that!
Don Luis, confounded, did not know what answer to return to these arguments of Antoñona, more painful than her former pinches. Besides, it was repugnant to him to discuss the metaphysics of love with a servant.
What would I have you do? replied Antoñona, more gently and with insinuating accents; I will tell you what I would have you do. If you can not cure the malady of my mistress, you should at least alleviate it a little. Are you not saintly? Well, the saints are compassionate, and courageous besides. Dont run away like an ill-mannered coward, without saying good-by. Come to see my mistress, who is sick. Do this work of mercy.
It will not do so; you dont see the matter in its proper light. You shall go to see her, and, with your honeyed tongue and the gift of the gab that Nature has bestowed upon you, you will put some resignation into her soul, and leave her consoled for your departure; and if you tell her, in addition to this, that you love her, and that it is only for the sake of God you are leaving her, her womans vanity, at least, will not be wounded.
And why should it be to tempt God? Since God can see the rectitude and the purity of your intentions, will He not grant you His favor and His grace that you may not yield to temptation during the visit to her, which it is but justice you should make? Ought you not to fly to her to deliver her from despair, and bring her back to the right path? If she should die of grief at seeing herself scorned; or if, in a frenzy, she should seize a rope and hang herself to a beam, I tell you, your remorse would be harder to bear than the flames of pitch and sulphur that surround the caldrons of Lucifer.