What a long talk you must have had! The sermon our student has been preaching this time can not have been that of the seven wordsit came very near being that of the forty hours. It is time you should go now, Don Luis; it is almost two oclock in the morning.
Pepita was like one transformed. One might suppose that the joys she had missed in her childhood, the happiness and contentment she had failed to taste in her early youth, the gay activity and sprightliness that a harsh mother and an old husband had repressed, and, as it were, crushed within her, had suddenly burst into life in her soul, like the green leaves of the trees, whose germination has been retarded by the snows and frosts of a long and severe winter.
A town-bred lady, familiar with what we call social conventionalities, may find something strange, and even worthy of censure, in what I am about to relate of Pepita. But Pepita, although refined by instinct, was a being in whom every feeling was spontaneous, and in whose nature there was no room for the affected sedateness and circumspection that are customary in the great world. Thus it was that, seeing the obstacles removed that had stood in the way of her happiness, and Don Luis conquered, holding his voluntary promise that he would make her his wife, and believing herself, with justice, to be lovednay, worshipedby him whom she too loved and worshiped, she danced and laughed, and gave way to other manifestations of joy that had in them, after all, something childlike and innocent.
Two thoughts now presented themselves to her mind, both equally serious; the one possessing a merely mundane interest, the other an interest of a higher nature. The first thought was that her conduct to-nightthe delirium of passion once pastmight prejudice her in the opinion of Don Luis; but, finding after a severe examination of her conscience, that neither premeditation nor artifice had had any part in her actions, which were the offspring of an irresistible love, and of impulses noble in themselves, she came to the conclusion that Don Luis could not despise her for it, and she therefore made her mind easy on that point.
Nevertheless, although her frank confession that she was unable to comprehend a love that was purely spiritual, and her taking refuge afterward in her chamberwithout foreseeing consequenceswere both the result of an impulse innocent enough in itself, Pepita did not seek to deny in her own mind that she had sinned against God, and on this point she could find for herself no excuse. She commended herself, with all her heart, therefore, to the Virgin, entreating her forgiveness. She vowed to the image of Our Lady of Solitude, in the convent of the nuns, seven beautiful golden swords of the finest and most elaborate workmanship, to adorn her breast, and determined to go to confess herself on the following day to the vicar, and to submit herself to the harshest penance he should choose to impose upon her, in order to merit the absolution of those sins by means of which she had vanquished the obstinacy of Don Luis, who, but for them, would without a doubt have become a priest.
So much the better. There is nothing more tiresome than jealousy. Well, I will try to satisfy your curiosity. This same Count has given room enough for talk. He is a dissipated fellow, a gambler, and a man of no principle whatever, but he has more vanity than Don Roderick on the gallows. He made up his mind that my mistress should fall in love with him and marry him, and as she has refused him a thousand times he is mad with rage. This does not prevent him, however, from keeping in his money chest more than a thousand piastres that Don Gumersindo lent him years ago, without any more security than a bit of paper, through the fault and at the entreaty of Pepita, who is better than bread. The fool of a Count thought, no doubt, that Pepita, who was so good to him when a wife that she persuaded her husband to lend him money, would be so much better to him as a widow that she would consent to marry him. He was soon undeceived, however, and then he became furious.
The lights of the shops and of the booths in the fair were now extinguished, and every one was going home to bed, with the exception of the owners of the toy-shops and other poor hucksters, who slept beside their wares in the open air.
Don Luis, once out of sight of Antoñona, gave a loose rein to his thoughts. His resolution was taken, and all his reflections tended to confirm this resolution. The sincerity and ardor of the passion with which he had inspired Pepita, her beauty, the youthful grace of her person, and the fresh exuberance of her soul, presented themselves to his imagination and made him happy.
Notwithstanding this, however, he could not but reflect, with mortified vanity, on the change that had been wrought in himself. What would the dean think? How great would be the horror of the bishop! And, above all, how serious were the grounds for complaint he had given his father! The displeasure of the latter, his anger when he should know of the bond which united his son to Pepita, caused him infinite disquietude.
As for whatbefore he fellhe had called his fall, it must be confessed that, after he had fallen, it did not seem to him either so very serious or so very reprehensible. His spiritual-mindedness, viewed in the light that had just dawned upon him, he fancied to have had neither reality nor consistency; to have been but the vain and artificial product of his reading, of his boyish arrogance, of his aimless softness in the innocent days of his college life. When he remembered that he had at times thought himself the recipient of supernatural gifts and graces, had heard mystic whisperings, had held spiritual communion with superior beings; when he remembered that he had fancied himself almost beginning to tread the path that leads to spiritual union, through contemplation of the Divine, penetrating into the recesses of the soul, and mounting up to the region of pure intelligence, he smiled to himself, and began to suspect that during the period in question he had not been altogether in his right mind.
It had all been simply the result of his own arrogance. He had neither done penance, nor passed long years in meditation; he did not possess, nor had he ever possessed, sufficient merits for God to favor him with such privileges as these. The greatest proof he could give himself of the truth of this, the greatest certainty he could possess that the supernatural favors he had enjoyed were spurious, mere recollections of the authors he had read, was that not one of them had ever given him the rapture of Pepitas I love you, or of the soft touch of her hand caressing his dark locks.
Don Luis had recourse to another species of Christian humility, to justify in his eyes what he now no longer called his fall, but his change of purpose. He confessed himself unworthy to be a priest. He reconciled himself to becoming a commonplace married man, a good sort of country gentleman, like any other, taking care of his vines and olives, and bringing up his childrenfor he now desired to have childrenand to being a model husband at the side of his Pepita.