DON LUIS, in the middle of the street, at two oclock in the morning, was occupied with the thought, as we have said, that his life, which until now, he had dreamed might be worthy of the Golden Legend, was about to be converted into a sweet and perpetual idyl. He had not been able to resist the lures of earthly passion. He had failed to imitate the example set by so many saints, among others by St. Vincent Ferrer with regard to a certain dissolute lady of Valencia; though, indeed the cases were dissimilar. For if to flee from the diabolical courtezan in question was an act of heroic virtue in St. Vincent, to flee from the self-abandonment, the ingenuousness, and the humility of Pepita would in him have been something as monstrous and cruel as if, when Ruth lay down at the feet of Boaz, saying to him, I am thy handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid, Boaz had given her a blow and sent her about her business! Don Luis, then, when Pepita surrendered herself to him, was obliged to follow the example of Boaz, and exclaim: Daughter, blessed be thou of the Lord; thou hast showed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning.
Thus did Don Luis justify himself in not following the example of St. Vincent, and other saints no less churlish. As for the ill success of the design he had entertained of imitating St. Edward, he tried to justify and excuse that also. St. Edward married for reasons of state, and without entertaining any affection for Queen Edith; but in his case and in that of Pepita Jiménez there were no reasons of state, but only tender love on both sides.
Don Luis, however, did not deny to himselfand this imparted to his present happiness a slight tinge of melancholythat he had proved false to his ideal; that he had been vanquished in the conflict. Those who have no ideal, who have never had an ideal, would not distress themselves on this account. Don Luis did distress himself; but he presently came to the conclusion that he would substitute a more humble and easily attained ideal for his former exalted one. And although the recollection of Don Quixotes resolution to turn shepherd, on being vanquished by the Knight of the White Moon, here crossed his mind with ludicrous appositeness, he was in no way daunted by it. He thought, in union with Pepita Jiménez, to renew, in our prosaic and unbelieving time, the golden age, and to repeat the pious example of Philemon and Baucis, creating a model of patriarchal life in these pleasant fields, founding in the place where he was born a home presided over by religion, that should be at once the asylum of the needy, the centre of culture and friendly conviviality, and the clear mirror in which the domestic virtues should be reflected; joining in one, finally, conjugal love and the love of God, in order that God might sanctify and be present in their dwelling, making it the temple in which both should be His ministers, until by the will of Heaven they should be called to a better life.
The one was the displeasure, perhaps the anger, of his father, whom he had defrauded of his dearest hopes. The other was of a very different and, in a certain sense, of a much more serious character. Don Luis, while he entertained the purpose of becoming a priest, was right in defending Pepita from the gross insults of the Count of Genazahar by the weapons of argument only, and in taking no vengeance for the scorn and contempt with which those arguments were listened to. But having now determined to lay aside the cassock, and obliged, as he was, to declare immediately that he was betrothed to Pepita and was going to marry her, Don Luis, notwithstanding his peaceable disposition, his dreams of human brotherhood, and his religious belief, all of which remained intact in his soul, and all of which were alike opposed to violent measures, could not succeed in reconciling it with his dignity to refrain from breaking the head of the insolent Count. He knew well that dueling is a barbarous practise, that Pepita had no need of the blood of the Count to wash from her name the stain of calumny, and even that the Count himself had uttered the insults he had uttered, not because he believed them, nor perhaps through an excess of hatred, but through stupidity and want of breeding. Notwithstanding all these reflections, however, Don Luis was conscious that he would never again be able to respect himself, and, as a consequence, would never be able to perform to his taste the part of Philemon, if he did not begin with that of Fierabras, by giving the Count his deserts, asking God, meantime, never to place him in a similar position again.
This matter, then, being decided upon, he resolved to bring it to an end as soon as possible. And as it appeared to him that it would be inexpedient, as well as in bad taste, to arrange the affair through seconds, and thus make the honor of Pepita a subject of common talk, he determined to provoke a quarrel with the Count under some other pretext.
Thinking that the Count, being a stranger in the village and a confirmed gambler, might possibly be still engaged at play in the club-house, notwithstanding the lateness of the hour, Don Luis went straight there.
The club-house was still open, but both in the courtyard and the parlor the lights were nearly all extinguished. In one apartment only was there still a light. Thither Don Luis directed his steps, and on reaching it, he saw through the open door the Count of Genazahar engaged in playing monte, in which he acted as banker. Only five other persons were playing; two were strangers like the Count; the others were the captain of cavalry in charge of the remount, Currito, and the doctor. Things could not have been better arranged to suit the purpose of Don Luis. So engrossed were the players in their game that they did not observe him, who, as soon as he saw the Count, left the club-house and went rapidly homeward.
On reaching his house the door was opened for him by a servant. Don Luis inquired for his father, and finding that he was asleep, procured a light and went up to his own room, taking care to make no noise lest he should disturb him. There he took about a hundred and fifty piastres in gold that he had laid by, and put them in his pocket. He then called the servant to open the door for him again, and returned to the club-house.
I have done with sermons, returned Don Luis, calmly. The bad success of the last one I preached has clearly convinced me that God does not call me to that path in life, and I have chosen another. You, Count, have wrought my conversion. I have thrown aside the cassock. I have come here for amusement; I am in the flower of my youth, and I want to enjoy it.
Don Luis seated himself at the table, and took out all his gold. At sight of it the Count regained his serenity completely, for it must have exceeded in amount the sum he had in the bank, and he thought he should at once win it of this novice.
And the best of it is that I have not only a strong understanding, but a strong will as well. But though I may have the stubbornness of a donkey, I am not such a donkey as many people in this neighborhood.
It is a common saying that those who are fortunate in love are unfortunate at play, but the reverse of this is often more nearly the truth. He who is fortunate in one thing is apt to be fortunate in everything; it is the same when one is unfortunate.
The Count continued to draw cards, but no three turned up. His emotion, notwithstanding his efforts to conceal it, was great. Finally, he came to a card which he knew by certain lines at the top to be the king of hearts, and paused.
Count, I should be quite willing to trust the word of a gentleman, and allow him to remain in my debt, if it were not that in doing so I should fear to lose your friendship, which I am now in a fair way to gain; but as I heard this morning of the cruelty with which you have treated certain friends of mine to whom you are indebted, I do not wish to run the risk of becoming culpable in your eyes by means of the same fault. How ridiculous to suppose that I should voluntarily incur your enmity by lending you money which you would not repay me, as you have not repaid, except with insults, that which you owe Pepita Jiménez!
This last insult, which reflected on his birth and on the honor of her whose memory was most sacred to him, was never finished; its end never reached the ears of him against whom it was directed. For, with marvelous quickness, dexterity, and force, he reached across the table which was between himself and the Count, and with the light, flexible bamboo cane with which he had armed himself, struck his antagonist on the face, raising on it instantly a livid mark.
There was neither retort, outcry, nor uproar. When the hands come into play, the tongue is apt to be silent. The Count was about to throw himself on Don Luis for the purpose of tearing him to pieces, if it were in his power. But opinion had changed greatly since yesterday morning, and was now on the side of Don Luis. The captain, the doctor, and even Currito, who now showed more courage than he had done on that occasion, all held back the Count, who struggled and fought ferociously to release himself.
I do not seek to prevent a duel, said the captain; a duel is inevitable. I only seek to prevent your fighting here like two porters. I should be wanting in self-respect if I consented to be present at such a combat.
It was not yet daylight. It was agreed that the apartment in which they were should be the field of combat, the door being first closed. The captain went to his house for the swords, and returned soon afterward carrying them under the cloak which he had put on for the purpose of concealing them.
We already know that Don Luis had never wielded a weapon in his life. Fortunately, the Count, although he had never studied theology, or entertained the purpose of becoming a priest, was not much more skilled than he in the art of fence.
Don Luis and the Count divested themselves of their coats and waistcoats, remaining in their shirt-sleeves, and each selected his weapon. The seconds stood on one side. At a signal from the captain the combat began. Between two persons who know neither how to parry a stroke nor how to put themselves on guard, a combat must of necessity be brief; and it was.
The fury of the Count, restrained for some time past, now burst forth and blinded his reason. He was strong, and he had wrists of steel; and with his sword he showered down on Don Luis a storm of strokes without order or sequence. Four times he succeeded in touching Don Luiseach time, fortunately, with the flat of his weapon. He bruised his shoulders, but did not wound him. The young theologian had need of all his strength to keep from falling to the floor, overcome by the force of the blows and the pains of his bruises. A fifth time the Count hit Don Luis, on the left arm, and this time with the edge of his weapon, although aslant. The blood began to flow abundantly. Far from stopping, the Count resumed the attack with renewed fury, in the hope of again wounding his antagonist. He almost placed himself under the weapon of Don Luis. The latter, instead of putting himself in position to parry brought his sword down vigorously on his adversary, and succeeded in wounding the Count in the head. The blood gushed forth, and ran down his forehead and into his eyes. Stunned by the blow, the Count fell heavily to the floor.
The whole combat was a matter of a few seconds. Don Luis had remained tranquil throughout, like a Stoic philosopher who is obliged by the hard law of necessity to take part in a conflict opposed alike to his habits and his ways of thought. But no sooner did he see his antagonist extended on the floor, bathed in blood and looking as though he were dead, than he experienced the most poignant anguish, and feared for a moment that he should faint. He who, until within the last five or six hours, had held unwaveringly to his resolution of being a priest, a missionary, a minister, and a messenger of the Gospel, had committed, or accused himself of having committed, during those few hours, every crime, and of breaking all the commandments of God. There was now no mortal sin by which he was not contaminated. First, his purpose of leading a life of perfect and heroic holiness had been put to flight; then had followed his purpose of leading a life of holiness of a more easy, commonplace sort. The devil seemed to please himself in overthrowing his plans. He reflected that he could now no longer be even a Christian Philemon, for to lay his neighbors head open with a stroke of a sabre was not a very good beginning of his idyl.