FROM THE SPANISH OF JUAN VALERA
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY THE AUTHOR WRITTEN SPECIALLY FOR THIS EDITION
NEW YORK D. APPLETON AND COMPANY 1886
COPYRIGHT, 1886, BY D. APPLETON AND COMPANY.
AUTHOR'S PREFACE TO THE AMERICAN EDITION.
To the Messrs. Appleton.
GENTLEMEN: It was my intention to write a preface for the purpose of authorizing the edition you are about to publish in English of "Pepita Ximenez"; but, on thinking the matter over, I was deterred by the recollection of an anecdote that I heard in my young days.
A certain gallant, wishing to be presented at the house of a rich man who was about to give a magnificent ball, availed himself for that purpose of the services of a friend, who boasted of his familiarity with the great man, and of the favor he enjoyed with him. They proceeded to the great man's house, and the gallant got his introduction; but the great man said to him who had introduced the other, "And you, who is to introduce you, for I am not acquainted with you?" As I entertain a profound respect and affection for this country, and have not, besides, the assurance that such an occasion would require, it would not do for me to say what the introducer of my story is said to have answered, "I need no one to introduce or to recommend me, for I am just now going away."
I infer from my story, as its evident moral, that I ought to refrain from addressing the public of the United States, to which I am entirely unknown as an author, notwithstanding the fact of my having maintained pleasant and friendly relations with its Government as the representative of my own.
The most judicious and prudent course I can adopt, then, is to limit myself to returning you earnest thanks for asking from me an authorization of which you did not stand in need, either by law or by treaty, for wishing to make known to your countrymen the least insipid of the products of my unfruitful genius, and for your generous purpose of conceding to me author's rights.
This, however, does not preclude the fact that, in thus expressing my thanks to you publicly, I incur a responsibility which I did not assume on any other occasion, either in Germany, Italy, or any other country where my works have been translated; for then, if they failed to please the public, although the fact might pain me, I could still shrug my shoulders, and throw the blame of failure on the translator, or the publisher; but in this case I make myself your accomplice, and share, or rather receive, all the disgrace of failure, if failure there should be.
"Pepita Ximenez" has enjoyed a wide celebrity, not only in Spain, but in every other Spanish-speaking country. I am very far from thinking that we Spaniards of the present day are either more easily satisfied, less cultured than, or possessed of an inferior literary taste to, the inhabitants of any other region of the globe; but this does not suffice to dispel my misgivings that my novel may be received with indifference or with censure by a public somewhat prejudiced against Spain by fanciful and injurious preconceptions.
My novel, both in essence and form, is distinctively national and classic. Its merit—supposing it to have such—consists in the language and the style, and not in the incidents, which are of the most commonplace, or in the plot, which, if it can be said to have any, is of the simplest.
The characters are not wanting, as I think, in individuality, or in such truth to human nature as makes them seem like living beings; but, the action being so slight, this is brought out and made manifest by means of a subtile analysis, and by the language chosen to express the emotions, both which may in the translation be lost. There is, besides, in my novel a certain irony, good-humored and frank, and a certain humor, resembling rather the humor of the English than the esprit of the French, which qualities, although happily they do not depend upon puns, or a play upon words, but are in the subject itself, require, in order that they may appear in the translation, that this should be made with extreme care.
In conclusion, the chief cause of the extraordinary favor with which "Pepita Ximenez" was received in Spain is something that may fail to be noticed here by careless readers.
I am an advocate of art for art's sake. I think it in very bad taste, always impertinent, and often pedantic, to attempt to prove theses by writing stories. For such a purpose dissertations or books purely and severely didactic should be written. The object of a novel should be to charm, through a faithful representation of human actions and human passions, and to create by this fidelity to nature a beautiful work. The object of art is the creation of the beautiful, and whoever applies it to any other end, of however great utility this end may be, debases it. But it may chance, through a conjunction of favorable circumstances, by a happy inspiration, because in a given moment everything is, disposed as by enchantment, or by supernatural influences, that an author's soul may become like a clear and magic mirror wherein are reflected all the ideas and all the sentiments that animate the eclectic spirit of his country, and in which these ideas and these sentiments lose their discordance, and group and combine themselves in pleasing agreement and harmony.
Herein is the explanation of the interest of "Pepita Ximenez." It was written when Spain was agitated to its center, and everything was thrown out of its regular course by a radical revolution that at the same time shook to their foundations the throne and religions unity. It was written when everything in fusion, like molten metal, might readily amalgamate, and be molded into new forms. It was written when the strife raged fiercest between ancient and modern ideals; and, finally, it was written in all the plenitude of my powers, when my soul was sanest and most joyful in the possession of an enviable optimism and an all-embracing love and sympathy for humanity that, to my misfortune, can never again find place within my breast.
If I had endeavored by dialectics and by reasoning to conciliate opinions and beliefs, the disapprobation would have been general; but, as the conciliating and syncretic spirit manifested itself naturally in a diverting story, every one accepted and approved it, each one drawing from my book the conclusions that best suited himself. Thus it was that, from the most orthodox Jesuit father down to the most rabid revolutionist, and from the ultra-Catholic who cherishes the dream of restoring the Inquisition, to the rationalist who is the irreconcilable enemy of every religion, all were pleased with "Pepita Ximenez."
It would be curious, and not inopportune, to explain here how it came about that I succeeded in pleasing every one without intending it, without knowing it, and, as it were, by chance.
There was in Spain, some years ago, a conservative minister who had sent a godson of his to study philosophy in Germany. By rare good fortune this godson, who was called Julian Sanz del Rio, was a man of clear and profound intelligence, of unwearied application, and endowed with all the qualities necessary to make of him a sort of apostle. He studied, he formulated his system, he obtained the chair of metaphysics in the University of Madrid, and he founded a school, from which has since issued a brilliant pleiad of philosophers and statesmen, and of men illustrious for their learning, their eloquence, and their virtues. Chief among them are Nicolas Salmeron, Francisco Giner, Gumersindo Azcarate, Federico de Castro, and Urbano Gonzalez Serrano.
The clerical party soon began to stir up strife against the master, the scholars, and the doctrines taught by them. They accused them of mystical pantheism.
I, who had ridiculed, at times, the confused terms, the pomp of words, and the method which the new philosophers made use of, regarded these philosophers, nevertheless, with admiration, and took up their defense—an almost solitary champion—in periodicals and reviews.
I had already maintained, before this, that our great dogmatic theologians, and especially the celebrated Domingo de Soto, were more liberal than the liberal rationalists of the present day, affirming, as they do, the sovereignty of the people by divine right; for if, as St. Paul declares, all authority proceeds from God, it does so through the medium of the people whom God inspires to found it; and because the only authority that proceeds directly from God is that of the Church.
I then set myself to demonstrate that, if Sanz del Rio and his followers were pantheists, our mystical theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were pantheists also; and that, if the former had for predecessors Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, and Krause, St. Theresa, St. John de la Cruz, and the inspired and ecstatic Father Miguel de la Fuente followed, as their model, Tauler and others of the Germans. In saying this, however, it was not my intention to deny the claims of any of these mystical writers as founders of their school in Spain, but only to recognize, in this unbroken transmission of doctrine, the progressive continuity of European civilization.
For the purpose of carrying forward my undertaking, I read and studied with ardor every Spanish book on devotion, asceticism, and mysticism that fell into my hands, growing every day more charmed with the richness of our literature in such works; with the treasures of poetry contained in them; with the boldness and independence of their authors; with the profound and delicate observation, in which they excel the Scotch school, that they display in examining the faculties of the soul; and with their power of entering into themselves, of penetrating to the very center of the mind, in order there to behold God, and to unite themselves with God, not therefore losing their own personality, or their capacity for an active life, but issuing from the ecstasies and ravishments of divine love more apt than before for every work that can benefit the human species, as the steel is more finely tempered, polished, and bright after it has burned in the fires of the forge.
Of all this, on its most poetic and easily understood side, I wished to give a specimen to the Spanish public of to-day, who had forgotten it; but, as I was a man of my epoch, a layman, not very exemplary as regards penitential practices, and had the reputation of a freethinker, I did not venture to undertake doing this in my own name, and I created a theological student who should do it in his. I then fancied that I could paint with more vividness the ideas and the feelings of this student by contrasting them with an earthly love; and this was the origin of "Pepita Ximenez." Thus, when it was farthest from my thoughts, did I become a novelist. My novel had, therefore, the freshness and the spontaneity of the unpremeditated.
The novels I wrote afterward, with premeditation, are inferior to this one.
"Pepita Ximenez" pleased the public also, as I have said, by its transcendentalism.
The rationalists supposed that I had rejected the old ideals, as my hero casts off the clerical garb. And the believers, with greater unanimity and truth, compared me to the false prophet who went forth to curse the people of Israel, and without intending it exalted and blessed them. What is certain is that, if it be allowable to draw any conclusion from a story, the inference that may be deduced from mine is, that faith in an all-seeing and personal God, and in the lore of this God, who is present in the depths of the soul, even when we refuse to follow the higher vocation to which he would persuade and solicit us—even were we carried away by the violence of mundane passions to commit, like Don Luis, almost all the capital sins in a single day—elevates the soul, purifies the other emotions, sustains human dignity, and lends poetry, nobility, and holiness to the commonest state, condition, and manner of life.
Such is, in my opinion, the novel you are now about to present to the American public; for I repeat that I have not the right to make the presentation.
Perhaps, independent of its transcendentalism, my novel may serve to interest and amuse your public for a couple of hours, and may obtain some favor with it; for it is a public that reads a great deal, that is indulgent, and that differs from the English public—which is eminently exclusive in its tastes—by its generous and cosmopolitan spirit.
I have always regarded as a delusion of national vanity the belief that there is, or the hope that there ever will be, anything that, with legitimate and candid independence, may be called American literature. Greece diffused herself throughout the world in nourishing colonies, and, after the conquests of Alexander, founded powerful states in Egypt, in Syria, and even in Bactriana, among peoples who, unlike the American Indians, possessed a high civilization of their own. But, notwithstanding this dispersion, and this political severance from the mother-country, the literature of Syracuse, of Antioch, and of Alexandria was as much Greek literature as was the literature of Athens. In my opinion, then, and for the same reason, the literature of New York and Boston will continue to be as much English literature as the literature of London and Edinburgh; the literature of Mexico and Buenos Ayres will continue to be as much Spanish literature as the literature of Madrid; the literature of Rio Janeiro will be as much Portuguese literature as the literature of Lisbon. Political union may be severed, but, between peoples of the same tongue and the same race, the ties of spiritual fraternity are indissoluble, so long as their common civilization lasts. There are immortal kings or emperors who reign and rule in America by true divine right, and against whom no Washington or Bolivar shall prevail—no Franklin succeed in plucking from them their scepter. These tyrants are called Miguel de Cervantes, William Shakespeare, and Luiz de Camoens.
All this does not prevent the new nation from bringing to the common fund, and pro indiviso, of the culture of their race, rich elements, fine traits of character, and perhaps even higher qualities. Thus it is that I observe, in this American literature, of English origin and language, a certain largeness of views, a certain cosmopolitanism and affectionate comprehension of what is foreign, broad as the continent itself which the Americans inhabit, and which forms a contrast to the narrow exclusivism of the insular English. It is because of these qualities that I venture to hope now for a favorable reception of my little book; and it is in these qualities that I found my hope that the fruits of Spanish genius in general will, in future, be better known and more highly esteemed here than in Great Britain.
Already, to some extent, Irving, Prescott, Ticknor, Longfellow, Howells, and others have contributed, with judgment and discretion, translating, criticising, and eulogizing our authors, to the realization of this hope.
Forgive my wearying you with this long letter, and believe me to be sincerely yours,
NEW YORK, April 18, 1886.
LETTER OF THE AUTHOR iii
PEPITA XIMENEZ 1
I—LETTERS OF MY NEPHEW 4
III.—EPILOGUE. (LETTERS OF MY BROTHER) 263
"Nescit labi virtus."
The reverend Dean of the Cathedral of ———, deceased a few years since, left among his papers a bundle of manuscript, tied together, which, passing from hand to hand, finally fell into mine, without, by some strange chance, having lost a single one of the documents contained in it. Inscribed on this manuscript were the Latin words I use above as a motto, but without the addition of the woman's name I now prefix to it as its title; and this inscription has probably contributed to the preservation of the papers, since, thinking them, no doubt, to be sermons, or other theological matter, no one before me had made any attempt to untie the string of the package, or to read a single page of it.
The manuscript is in three parts. The first is entitled "Letters from my Nephew"; the second, "Paralipomena"; and the third, "Epilogue—Letters from my Brother."
All three are in the same handwriting, which, it may be inferred, is that of the reverend dean; and, as taken together they form something like a novel, I at first thought that perhaps the reverend dean wished to exercise his genius in composing one in his leisure hours; but, looking at the matter more closely, and observing the natural simplicity of the style, I am inclined to think now that it is no novel at all, but that the letters are copies of genuine epistles which the reverend dean tore up, burned, or returned to their owners, and that the narrative part only, designated by the biblical title of "Paralipomena," is the work of the reverend dean, added for the purpose of completing the story with incidents not related in the letters.
However this may be, I confess that I did not find the reading of these papers tiresome; I found them, indeed, rather interesting than otherwise; and as nowadays everything is published, I have decided to publish them too, without further investigation, changing only the proper names, so that if those who bear them be still living they may not find themselves figuring in a book without desiring or consenting to it.
The letters contained in the first part seem to have been written by a very young man, with some theoretical but no practical knowledge of the world, whose life was passed in the house of the reverend dean, his uncle, and in the seminary, and who was imbued with an exalted religious fervor and an earnest desire to be a priest.
We shall call this young man Don Luis de Vargas.
The aforesaid manuscript, faithfully transferred to print, is as follows.
LETTERS FROM MY NEPHEW.
DEAR UNCLE AND VENERABLE MASTER:
Four days ago I arrived in safety at this my native village, where I found my father, the reverend vicar, our friends and relations all in good health. The happiness of seeing them and conversing with them has so completely occupied my time and thoughts, that I have not been able to write to you until now.
You will pardon me for this.
Having left this place a mere child, and coming back a man, the impression produced upon me by all those objects that I had treasured up in my memory is a singular one. Everything appears to me more diminutive, much more diminutive, but also more pleasing to the eye, than my recollection of it. My father's house, which in my imagination was immense, is, indeed, the large house of a rich husbandman, but still much smaller than the seminary. What I now understand and appreciate better than formerly is the country around here. The orchards, above all, are delightful. What charming paths there are through them! On one side, and sometimes on both, crystal waters flow with a pleasant murmur. The banks of these streams are covered with odorous herbs and flowers of a thousand different hues. In a few minutes one may gather a large bunch of violets. The paths are shaded by majestic trees, chiefly walnut and fig trees; and the hedges are formed of blackberry-bushes, roses, pomegranates, and honeysuckle.
The multitude of birds that enliven grove and field is marvelous.
I am enchanted with the orchards, and I spend a couple of hours walking in them every afternoon.
My father wishes to take me to see his olive-plantations, his vineyards, his farm-houses; but of all this we have as yet seen nothing. I have not been outside of the village and the charming orchards that surround it.
It is true, indeed, that the numerous visits I receive do not leave me a moment to myself.
Five different women have come to see me, all of whom were my nurses, and have embraced and kissed me.
Every one calls me Luisito, or Don Pedro's boy, although I have passed my twenty-second birthday; and every one inquires of my father for the boy, when I am not present.
I imagine I shall make but little use of the books I have brought with me to read, as I am not left alone for a single instant.
The dignity of squire, which I supposed to be a matter for jest, is, on the contrary, a serious matter. My father is the squire of the village.
There is hardly any one here who can understand what they call my caprice of entering the priesthood, and these good people tell me, with rustic candor, that I ought to throw aside the clerical garb; that to be a priest is very well for a poor young man, but that I, who am to be a rich man's heir, should marry, and console the old age of my father by giving him half a dozen handsome and robust grandchildren.
In order to flatter my father and myself, both men and women declare that I am a splendid fellow, that I am of an angelic disposition, that I have a very roguish pair of eyes, and other stupid things of a like kind that annoy, disgust, and humiliate me, although I am not very modest, and am too well acquainted with the meanness and folly of the world to be shocked or frightened at anything.
The only defect they find in me is that I am too thin through over-study. In order to have me grow fat they propose not to allow me either to study or even to look at a book while I remain here; and, besides this, to make me eat of as many choice dishes of meats and confectionery as they know how to concoct in the village.
It is quite clear—I am to be stall-fed. There is not a single family of our acquaintance that has not sent me some token of regard. Now it is a sponge-cake, now a meat-salad, now a pyramid of sweetmeats, now a jug of sirup.
And these presents which they send to the house are not the only attentions they show me. I have also been invited to dinner by three or four of the principal persons of the village.
To-morrow I am to dine at the house of the famous Pepita Ximenez, of whom you have doubtless heard. No one here is ignorant of the fact that my father is paying her his addresses.
My father, notwithstanding his fifty-five years, is so well preserved that the finest young men of the village might feel envious of him. He possesses, besides, the powerful attraction, irresistible to some women, of his past conquests, of his celebrity, of having been a sort of Don Juan Tenorio.
I have not yet made the acquaintance of Pepita Ximenez. Every one says she is very beautiful. I suspect she will turn out to be a village beauty, and somewhat rustic. From what I have heard of her I can not quite decide whether, ethically speaking, she is good or bad; but I am quite certain that she is possessed of great natural intelligence. Pepita is about twenty years old and a widow; her married life lasted only three years. She was the daughter of Dona Francisca Galvez, the widow, as you know, of a retired captain
"Who left her at his death, As sole inheritance, his honorable sword,"
as the poet says. Until her sixteenth year Pepita lived with her mother in very straitened circumstances—bordering, indeed, upon absolute want.
She had an uncle called Don Gumersindo, the possessor of a small entailed estate, one of those petty estates that, in olden times, owed their foundation to a foolish vanity. Any ordinary person, with the income derived from this estate, would have lived in continual difficulties, burdened by debts, and altogether cut off from the display and ceremony proper to his rank. But Don Gumersindo was an extraordinary person—the very genius of economy. It could not be said of him that he created wealth himself, but he was endowed with a wonderful faculty of absorption with respect to the wealth of others; and, in regard to dispensing, it would be difficult to find any one on the face of the globe with whose maintenance, preservation, and comfort, Mother Nature and human industry ever had less reason to trouble themselves. No one knows how he lived; but the fact is that he reached the age of eighty years, saving his entire income, and adding to his capital by lending money on unquestionable security. No one here speaks of him as a usurer; on the contrary, he is considered to have been of a charitable disposition, because, being moderate in all things, he was so even in usury; and would ask only ten per cent a year, while throughout the district they ask twenty and even thirty per cent, and still think it little.
In the practice of this species of industry and economy, and with thoughts dwelling constantly on increasing instead of diminishing his capital, indulging neither in the luxury of matrimony and of having a family, nor even of smoking, Don Gumersindo arrived at the age I have mentioned, the possessor of a fortune considerable anywhere, and here regarded as enormous, thanks to the poverty of these villagers, and to the habit of exaggeration natural to the Andalusians.
Don Gumersindo, always extremely neat and clean in his person, was an old man who did not inspire repugnance.
The articles of his modest wardrobe were somewhat worn, but carefully brushed, and without a stain; although from time immemorial he had always been seen with the same cloak, the same jacket, and the same trousers and waistcoat. People sometimes asked each other in vain if any one had ever seen, him wear a new garment.
With all these defects, which here and elsewhere many regard as virtues, though virtues in excess, Don Gumersindo possessed excellent qualities; he was affable, obliging, compassionate, and did his utmost to please and to be of service to everybody, no matter what trouble, anxiety, or fatigue it might cost him, provided only it did not cost him money. Of a cheerful disposition, and fond of fun and joking, he was to be found at every feast and merry-making around, that was not got up by contribution, which he enlivened by the amenity of his manners, and by his discreet although not very Attic conversation. He had never had any tender inclination for any one woman in particular, but, innocently and without malice, he loved them all; and was the most given to complimenting the girls, and making them laugh, of any old man for ten leagues around.
I have already said that he was the uncle of Pepita. When he was nearing his eightieth year, she was about to complete her sixteenth. He was rich; she, poor and friendless.
Her mother was a vulgar woman of limited intelligence and coarse instincts. She worshiped her daughter, yet lamented continually and with bitterness the sacrifices she made for her, the privations she suffered, and the disconsolate old age and melancholy end that awaited her in the midst of her poverty. She had, besides, a son, older than Pepita, who had a well-deserved reputation in the village as a gambler and a quarrelsome fellow, and for whom, after many difficulties, she had succeeded in obtaining an insignificant employment in Havana; thus finding herself rid of him, and with the sea between them. After he had been a few years in Havana, however, he lost his situation on account of his bad conduct, and thereupon began to shower letters upon his mother, containing demands for money. The latter, who had scarcely enough for herself and for Pepita, grew desperate at this, broke out into abuse, cursed herself and her destiny with a perseverance but little resembling the evangelical virtue, and ended by fixing all her hopes upon settling her daughter well, as the only way of getting out of her difficulties.
In this distressing situation Don Gumersindo began to frequent the house of Pepita and her mother, and to pay attentions to the former with more ardor and persistence than he had shown in his attentions to other girls. Nevertheless, to suppose that a man who had passed his eightieth year without wishing to marry, should think of committing such a folly, with one foot already in the grave, was so wild and improbable a notion, that Pepita's mother, still less Pepita herself, never for a moment suspected the audacious intentions of Don Gumersindo. Thus it was that both were struck, one day, with amazement, when, after a good many compliments between jest and earnest, Don Gumersindo, with the greatest seriousness and without the least hesitation, proposed the following categorical question:
"Pepita, will you marry me?"
Although the question came at the end of a great deal of joking, and might itself be taken for a joke, Pepita, who, inexperienced though she was in worldly matters, yet knew by a certain instinct of divination that is in all women, and especially in young girls, no matter how innocent they may be, that this was said in earnest, grew as red as a cherry and said nothing. Her mother answered in her stead:
"Child, don't be ill-bred; answer your uncle as you should: 'With much pleasure, uncle; whenever you wish.'"
This "with much pleasure, uncle—whenever you wish," came then, it is said, and many times afterward, almost mechanically from the trembling lips of Pepita, in obedience to the admonitions, the sermons, the complaints, and even the imperious mandate of her mother.
I see, however, that I am enlarging too much on this matter of Pepita Ximenez and her history; but she interests me, as I suppose she should interest you too, since, if what they affirm here be true, she is to be your sister-in-law and my step-mother. I shall endeavor, notwithstanding, to avoid dwelling on details, and to relate briefly what perhaps you already know, though you have been away from here so long.
Pepita Ximenez was married to Don Gumersindo. The tongue of slander was let loose against her, both in the days preceding the wedding and for some months afterward.
In point of fact, ethically considered, this marriage was a matter that will admit of discussion; but, so far as the girl herself is concerned, if we remember her mother's prayers, her complaints, and even her commands—if we take into consideration the fact that Pepita thought by this means to procure for her mother a comfortable old age, and to save her brother from dishonor and infamy, constituting herself his guardian angel and his earthly providence, we must confess that our condemnation will admit of some abatement. Besides, who shall penetrate into the recesses of the heart, into the hidden secrets of the immature mind of a young girl brought up, probably, in the most absolute seclusion and ignorance of the world, in order to know what idea she might have formed to herself of marriage? Perhaps she thought that to marry this old man meant to devote her life to his service, to be his nurse, to soothe his old age; to save him from a solitude and abandonment embittered by his infirmities, and in which only mercenary hands should minister to him; in a word, to cheer and illumine his declining years with the glowing beams of her beauty and her youth, like an angel who has taken human form. If something of this, or all of this, was what the girl thought, and if she failed to perceive the full significance of her act, then its morality is placed beyond question.
However this may be, leaving aside psychological investigations that I have no authority for making, since I am not acquainted with Pepita Ximenez, it is quite certain that she lived in edifying harmony with the old man during three years, that she nursed him and waited upon him with admirable devotion, and that in his last painful and fatal sickness she ministered to him and watched over him with tender and unwearying affection, until he expired in her arms, leaving her heiress to a large fortune.
Although more than two years have passed since she lost her mother, and more than a year and a half since she was left a widow, Pepita still wears the deepest mourning. Her sedateness, her retired manner of living, and her melancholy, are such that one might suppose she lamented the death of her husband as much as though he had been a handsome young man. Perhaps there are some who imagine or suspect that Pepita's pride, and the certain knowledge she now has of the not very poetical means by which she has become rich, trouble her conscience with something more than doubt; and that, humiliated in her own eyes and in those of the world, she seeks, in austerity and retirement, consolation for the vexations of her mind, and balm for her wounded heart.
People here, as everywhere, have a great love of money. Perhaps I am wrong in saying, as everywhere; in populous cities, in the great centers of civilization, there are other distinctions which are prized as much as or even more than money, because they smooth the way to fortune, and give credit and consideration in the eyes of the world; but in smaller places, where neither literary nor scientific fame, nor, as a rule, distinction of manners, nor elegance, nor discretion and amenity in intercourse, are apt to be either valued or understood, there is no other way by which to grade the social hierarchy than the possession of more or less money, or of something worth money. Pepita, then, in the possession of money, and beauty besides, and making a good use, as every one says, of her riches, is to-day respected and esteemed in an extraordinary degree. From this and the surrounding villages, the most eligible suitors, the wealthiest young men, have crowded to pay their court to her. But, so far as can be seen, she rejects them all, though with the utmost sweetness, for she wishes to make no one her enemy; and it is commonly supposed that her soul is filled with the most ardent devotion, and that it is her fixed intention to dedicate her life to practices of charity and religious piety.
My father, according to the general opinion, has not succeeded better than her other suitors; but Pepita, to fulfill the adage that "courtesy and candor are consistent with each other," takes the greatest pains to give him proofs of a frank, affectionate, and disinterested friendship. She is unremitting in her attentions to him, and, when he tries to speak to her of love, she brings him to a stop with a sermon delivered with the most winning sweetness, recalling to his memory his past faults, and endeavoring to undeceive him in regard to the world and its vain pomps.
I confess that I begin to have some curiosity to know this woman, so much do I hear her spoken of; nor do I think my curiosity is without foundation, or that there is anything in it either vain or sinful. I myself feel the truth of what Pepita says; I myself desire that my father, in his advanced years, should enter upon a better life, should forget, and not seek to renew the agitations and passions of his youth, and should attain to the enjoyment of a tranquil, happy, and honorable old age. I differ from Pepita's way of thinking in one thing only; I believe my father would succeed in this rather by marrying a good and worthy woman who loved him, than by remaining single. For this very reason I desire to become acquainted with Pepita, in order to know if she be this woman; for I am to a certain extent troubled—and perhaps there is in this feeling something of family pride, which, if it be wrong, I desire to divest myself of—by the disdain, however honeyed and gracious, of the young widow.
If my situation were other than it is, I should prefer my father to remain unmarried. Then, being the only child, I should inherit all his wealth, and, as one might say, nothing less than the position of squire of the village. But you already know how firm is the resolution I have taken. Humble and unworthy though I be, I feel myself called to the priesthood, and the possessions of this world have but little power over my mind. If there is anything in me of the ardor of youth, and the vehemence of the passions proper to that age, it shall all be employed in nourishing an active and fecund charity. Even the many books you have given me to read, and my knowledge of the history of the ancient civilizations of the peoples of Asia, contribute to unite within me scientific curiosity with the desire of propagating the faith, and invite and animate me to go forth as a missionary to the far East. As soon as I leave this village, where you, my dear uncle, have sent me to pass some time with my father, and am raised to the dignity of the priesthood, and, ignorant and sinner as I am, feel myself invested, by free and supernatural gift through the sovereign goodness of the Most High, with the power to absolve from sin, and with the mission to teach the peoples, as soon as I receive the perpetual and miraculous grace of handling with impure hands the very God made man, it is my purpose to leave Spain, and go forth to distant lands to preach the gospel.
I am not actuated in this by any species of vanity. I do not desire to believe myself superior to other men. The power of my faith, the constancy of which I feel myself capable, everything after the favor and grace of God, I owe to the judicious education, to the holy teaching, and to the good example I have received from you, my dear uncle.
There is something I hardly dare confess to myself, but which, against my will, presents itself with frequency to my mind; and, since it presents itself to my mind, it is my desire, it is my duty to confess it to you: it would be wrong for me to hide from you even my most secret and involuntary thoughts. You have taught me to analyze the feelings of the soul; to search for their origin, if it be good or evil; to make, in short, a scrupulous examination of conscience.
I have often reflected on two different methods of education: that of those who endeavor to keep the mind in innocence, confounding innocence with ignorance, and believing evil that is unknown to be avoided more easily than evil that is known; and that of those, on the other hand, who courageously, and as soon as the pupil has arrived at the age of reason, show him, with due regard for modesty, evil in all its hideous ugliness and repulsive nakedness, to the end that he may abhor and avoid it. According to my way of thinking, it is necessary to know evil in order the better to comprehend the infinite divine goodness, the ideal and unattainable end of every virtuously born desire. I am grateful to you that you have made me to know, with the honey and the oil of your teaching, as the Scripture says, both good and evil, to the end that I should aspire to the one and condemn the other, knowingly and with discreet ardor. I rejoice that I am no longer in a state of mere innocence, and that I shall go forward in the progress toward virtue, and, in so far as is permitted to humanity, toward perfection, with a knowledge of all the tribulations, all the asperities that there are in the pilgrimage we are called upon to make through this valley of tears; as I am not ignorant, on the other hand, of how smooth, how easy, how pleasant, how flowery, the road is, in appearance, that leads to perdition and eternal death.
Another thing for which I feel bound to be grateful to you is the indulgence, the toleration, not condescending nor lax, but, on the contrary, grave and severe, with which you have been able to inspire me for the errors and the sins of my fellow-men.
I say all this to you because I wish to speak to you on a subject of so delicate a nature that I hardly find words in which to express myself concerning it. In short, I often ask myself whether the resolution I have adopted had not its origin, in part at least, in the character of my relations with my father. In the bottom of my heart have I been able to pardon him his conduct toward my poor mother, the victim of his errors?
I consider this matter carefully, and I can not find an atom of hatred in my breast. On the contrary, gratitude fills it entirely. My father has brought me up affectionately. He has tried to honor in me the memory of my mother, and one would have said that in my bringing up, in the care he took of me, in the indulgence with which he treated me, in his devotion to me as a child, he sought to appease her angry shade—if the shade, if the spirit of her who was on earth an angel of goodness and gentleness, could be capable of anger. I repeat, then, that I am full of gratitude toward my father; he has acknowledged me, and, besides, he sent me at the age of ten years to you, to whom I owe all that I am.
If there is in my heart any germ of virtue, if there is in my mind any element of knowledge, if there is in my will any honorable and good purpose, to you it is I owe it.
My father's affection for me is extraordinary; the estimation in which he holds me is far superior to my merits. Perhaps, vanity may have something to do with this. In paternal love there is something selfish; it is, as it were, a prolongation of selfishness. If I were possessed of any merit, my father would regard it all as a creation of his own, as if I were an emanation of his personality, as much in spirit as in body. Be this as it will, however, I believe that my father loves me, and that there is in his affection something self-sustaining, and superior to all this pardonable selfishness of which I have spoken.
I experience a great consolation, a profound tranquillity of conscience—and for this I return most fervent thanks to God—when I take cognizance of the fact that the power of blood, the tie of nature, that mysterious bond that unites us, leads me, without any consideration of duty, to love my father and to reverence him. It would be horrible not to love him thus—to be compelled to force myself to love in order to obey a divine command. Nevertheless—and here comes back my doubt—does my purpose of becoming a priest or a friar, of not accepting, or of accepting only a very small part of the immense fortune that will be mine by inheritance, and which I might enjoy even during my father's lifetime, does this proceed solely from my contempt of the things of this world, from a true vocation for a religious life, or does it not also proceed from pride, from hidden rancor, from resentment, from something in me that refuses to forgive what my mother herself, with sublime generosity, forgave? This doubt assails and torments me at times, but almost always I resolve it in my favor, and come to the conclusion that I have no feeling of pride toward my father: I think I would accept from him all he has, if I were to need it, and I rejoice to be as grateful to him for little as for much.
Farewell, uncle; in future I will write to you often, and as much at length as you recommend me, if not quite so much so as to-day, lest I should appear prolix.
I begin to be tired of my stay in this place, and every day the desire grows stronger within me to return to you and to receive my ordination; but my father wishes to accompany me, he wishes to be present at that solemn ceremony, and desires that I should remain here with him at least two months longer. He is so amiable, so affectionate with me, that it would be impossible for me not to gratify him in all his wishes. I shall remain here, therefore, for the time he desires. In order to give him pleasure I do violence to my feelings, and make an effort to seem interested in the amusements of the village, the country sports, and even shooting, in all of which I am his companion. I try to appear gayer and more animated than I am by nature. As, in the village, half in jest, half by way of eulogy, I am called the saint, I endeavor, through modesty, to avoid the appearance of sanctity, or to soften and humanize its manifestations with the virtue of moderation, displaying a serene and decent cheerfulness which was never yet opposed to holiness nor to the saints. I confess, nevertheless, that the merry-making and the sports of these people, with their coarse jokes and boisterous mirth, weary me. I do not want to fall into the sin of scandal, nor to speak ill of any one, though it be only to you and in confidence, but I often think that it would be a more difficult enterprise, as well as a more rational and meritorious one, to preach the gospel to these people, and try to elevate their moral nature, than to go to India, Persia, or China, leaving so many of my country-people behind, who are, if not perverted, at least to some extent gone astray. Many, indeed, are of the opinion that modern ideas, that materialism and infidelity, are to blame for this; but if that be the case, if they it be that produce such evil effects, then it must be in some strange, diabolical, and miraculous manner, and not by natural means; since the fact is that here the people read no books, either good or bad, so that I do not well see how they can be perverted by any evil doctrines the books in fashion may contain. Can these evil doctrines be in the air, like a miasma or an epidemic? Perhaps—and I am sorry this thought, which I mention to you only, should occur to me—perhaps the clergy themselves are in fault. Are they, in Spain, equal to their mission? Do they go among the people, teaching and preaching to them? Are they all capable of this? Have those who consecrate themselves to a religious life and to the salvation of souls a true vocation for their calling? Or is it only a means of living, like any other, with this difference, that in our day only the poorest, only those who are without expectations and without means, devote themselves to it, for the very reason that this calling offers a less brilliant prospect than any other? Be that as it may, the very scarcity of virtuous and learned priests arouses all the more within me the desire to be a priest. I would not willingly let self-love deceive me. I recognize all my defects, but I feel within me a true vocation, and many of those defects it may still be possible, with the divine help, to correct.
The dinner at the house of Pepita Ximenez, which I mentioned to you, took place three days ago. As she leads so retired a life, I had not met her before; she seemed to me, in truth, as beautiful as she is said to be; and I noticed that her amiability with my father was such as to give him reason to hope, at least judging superficially, that she will yield to his wishes in the end, and accept his hand.
As there is a possibility of her becoming my step-mother, I have observed her with attention; she seems to me to be a remarkable woman, whose moral qualities I am not able to determine with exactitude. There is about her an air of calmness and serenity that may come either from coldness of heart and spirit, with great self-control and power of calculating effects, accompanied by little or no sensibility, or that may, on the other hand, proceed from the tranquillity of her conscience and the purity of her aspirations, united to the purpose of fulfilling in this life the duties imposed upon her by society, while her hopes are fixed meantime upon loftier things, as their proper goal. What is certain is that, either because with this woman everything is the result of calculation, without any effort to elevate her mind to a higher sphere, or, it may be, because she blends in perfect harmony the prose of daily life with the poetry of her illusions, there is nothing discernible in her out of tone with her surroundings, although she possesses a natural distinction of manner that elevates her above and separates her from them all. She does not affect the dress of a provincial, nor does she, on the other hand, follow blindly the fashions of the city; she unites both these styles in her mode of dress in such a manner as to appear like a lady, but still a lady country-born and country-bred. She disguises to a great extent, as I think, the care she takes of her person. There is nothing about her to betray the use of cosmetics or the arts of the toilet. But the whiteness of her hands, the color and polish of her nails, and the grace and neatness of her attire denote a greater regard for such matters than might be looked for in one who lives in a village, and who is said, besides, to despise the vanities of this world, and to think only of heavenly things.
Her house is exquisitely clean, and everything in it reveals the most perfect order. The furniture is neither artistic nor elegant, nor is it, on the other hand, either pretentious or in bad taste. To give a poetic air to her surroundings, she keeps in the saloons and galleries, as well as in the garden, a multitude of plants and flowers. There is not, indeed, among them any rare plant or exotic, but her plants and flowers, of the commonest species here, are tended with extraordinary care.
Canaries in gilded cages enliven the whole house with their songs. Its mistress, it is obvious, has need of living creatures on which to bestow some of her affection; and besides several maid-servants that one would suppose she had selected with care, since it can not be by mere chance that they are all pretty, she has, after the fashion of old maids, various animals to keep her company—a parrot, a little dog whose coat is of the whitest, and two or three cats, so tame and sociable that they jump up on one in the most friendly manner.
At one end of the principal saloon is a species of oratory, whose chief ornament is an Infant Jesus, carved in wood, with red and white cheeks and blue eyes, and altogether quite handsome. The dress is of white satin, with a blue cloak full of little golden stars; and the image is completely covered with jewels and trinkets. The little altar on which the figure is placed is adorned with flowers, and around it are set pots of broom and laurel; and on the altar itself, which is furnished with steps, a great many wax tapers are kept burning. When I behold all this I know not what to think, but for the most part I am inclined to believe that the widow loves herself above all things, and that it is for her recreation, and for the purpose of furnishing her with occasions for the effusion of this love, that she keeps the cats, the canaries, the flowers, and even the Infant Jesus itself, which, in her secret soul, perhaps, does not occupy a place very much higher than the canaries and the cats.
It can not be denied that Pepita Ximenez is possessed of discretion. No silly jest, no impertinent question in regard to my vocation, and, above all, in regard to my approaching ordination, has crossed her lips. She conversed with me on matters relating to the village, about agriculture, the last crop of grapes and olives, and the means of improving the methods of making wine, expressing herself always with modesty and naturalness, and without manifesting any desire of appearing to know more than others.
There were present at dinner the doctor, the notary, and the reverend vicar, who is a great friend of the house, and the spiritual father of Pepita.
The reverend vicar must have a very high opinion of the latter, for on several occasions he spoke to me apart of her charity, of the many alms she bestows, of her compassion and goodness toward every one. In a word, he declared her to be a saint.
In view of what the vicar has told me, and relying on his judgment, I can do no less than wish that my father may marry Pepita. As my father is not fitted for a life of penance, in this way only could he hope to change his mode of life, that up to the present has been so dissipated, and settle down to a well-ordered and quiet, if not exemplary, old age.
When we reached our house, after leaving that of Pepita Ximenez, my father spoke to me seriously of his projects. He told me that in his time he had been very wild, that he had led a very bad life, and that he saw no way of reforming, notwithstanding his years, unless Pepita were to fall in love with and marry him.
Taking for granted, of course, that she would do so, my father then spoke to me of business. He told me that he was very rich, and would leave me amply provided for in his will, even though he should have other children. I answered him that for my plans and purposes in life I needed very little money, and that my greatest satisfaction would always consist in knowing him to be happy with wife and children, his former evil ways forgotten. My father then spoke to me of his tender hopes with a candor and vivacity that might make one suppose me to be the father and the old man, and he a youth of my age, or younger. In order to enhance the merit of his mistress, and the difficulties of his conquest, he recounted to me the accomplishments and the excellences of the fifteen or twenty suitors who had already presented themselves to Pepita, and who had all been rejected. As for himself, as he explained to me, the same lot, to a certain extent, had been his also; but he flattered himself that this want of success was not final, since Pepita showed him so many kindnesses, and an affection so great that, if it were not love, it might easily, with time, and the persistent homage he dedicated to her, be converted into love. There was, besides, in my father's opinion, a something fantastic and fallacious in the cause of Pepita's coldness, that must in the end wear away. Pepita did not wish to retire to a convent, nor did she incline to a penitential life. Notwithstanding her seclusion and her piety, it was easy to see that she took delight in pleasing. Her neatness and the exquisite care she took of her person had in them little of the cenobite. The cause of her coldness, then, my father declared to be, without a doubt, her pride—a pride, to a certain extent, well founded. She is naturally elegant and distinguished in appearance; both by her force of character and by her intelligence she is superior to those who surround her, no matter how she may seek, through modesty, to disguise it. How, then, should she bestow her hand upon any of the rustics who, up to the present time, have been her suitors? She imagines that her soul is filled with a mystic love of God, and that God only can satisfy it, because thus far no mortal has crossed her path intelligent enough and agreeable enough to make her forget even her image of the Infant Jesus. "Although it may seem to indicate a want of modesty on my part," added my father, "I flatter myself with being such a one."
Such, dear uncle, are the occupations and the projects of my father here, and such the matters, so foreign to my nature, and to my aims and thoughts, of which he speaks to me with frequency, and on which he requires me to give an opinion.
It would almost seem as if your too indulgent opinion of my judgment had extended itself to the people here, for they all tell me their troubles, and ask my advice as to the course they should adopt. Even the reverend vicar, exposing himself to the risk of betraying what might be called secrets of confession, has already come to consult me in regard to several cases of conscience that have presented themselves to him in the confessional.
One of these cases, related, like all the others, with much mystery, and without revealing the name of the person concerned, has greatly interested me.
The reverend vicar tells me that a certain penitent of his is troubled by scruples of conscience, because, while she feels herself irresistibly attracted toward a solitary and contemplative life, she yet fears at times that this devout fervor is not accompanied by a true humility, but that it is in part excited by, and has its source in, the demon of pride himself.
To love God in all things, to seek him in the inmost recesses of the soul wherein he dwells, to purify ourselves from all earthly passions and affections, in order to unite ourselves to him—these are, in truth, pious aspirations and virtuous inclinations; but the doubt arises in determining whether the source of these aspirations and inclinations be not an exaggerated self-love. "Have they their origin," the penitent it seems asks herself, "in the thought that I, although unworthy and a sinner, presume my soul to be of more value than the souls of my fellow-mortals?—that the interior beauty of my mind and of my will would be dimmed by harboring affection for the human beings by whom I am surrounded, and whom I deem unworthy of me? Do I love God above all things, infinitely, or only more than the little things that I know, and that I scorn and despise, that can not satisfy my heart? If my piety is founded upon this feeling, then there are in it two great defects: the first, that it is not based upon a pure love of God, full of humility and charity, but on pride; and the second, that this piety, because it is thus without foundation, is unstable and inefficacious. For who can be certain that the soul will not forget the love of its Creator, when it does not love him infinitely, but only because there is no other being whom it deems worthy of endowing with its love?"
It is concerning this case of conscience, refined and subtle enough thus to exercise the mind of a simple rustic, that the reverend vicar has come to consult me. I would have excused myself from saying anything in the matter, alleging, as a reason for doing so, my youth and inexperience; but the reverend vicar has shown himself so persistent in the matter that I could do no less than discuss the question with him. I said—and it would rejoice me greatly should you concur in my opinion—that what this troubled penitent requires is to regard those who surround her with greater benevolence; to try to throw over their faults—instead of analyzing and dissecting them with the scalpel of criticism—the mantle of charity, bringing into relief and dwelling upon their good qualities, to the end that she may esteem and love them; to endeavor, in fine, to behold in every human being an object worthy of her love, a true fellow-creature, her equal, a soul wherein there is a treasure of good qualities and virtues—a being made, in short, in the image and likeness of God. Entertaining this exalted view of our surroundings, loving and esteeming others for what they are, and as more than they are, striving not to hold ourselves superior to them in anything, but, on the contrary, searching courageously in the depths of our own conscience for the purpose of discovering all our faults and sins, and thus acquiring a devout humility and contempt of self, the heart will feel itself full of human affection, and, instead of despising, will value highly the worth of things and of persons, so that if afterward divine love should, with irresistible power, erect itself upon and tower above this foundation, there can then be no fear but that such a love has its origin, not in an exaggerated self-esteem, in pride, or in an unjust contempt for our neighbor, but in a pure and holy contemplation of the Infinite Beauty and Goodness.
If, as I suspect, it be Pepita Ximenez who has consulted the reverend vicar in regard to these doubts and tribulations, I think my father can not yet flatter himself with being very dear to her; but, if the vicar should resolve on giving her my advice, and she accepts it and acts upon it, then she will either become a sort of Maria de Agreda, a self-conscious recluse, or, what is more probable, she will cast away mysticism and coldness altogether, and will consent to accept, without further caviling, the hand and heart of my father who is in no respect her inferior.
My life in this place begins, from its monotony, to be wearisome; and not because it is, physically, less active here than it was elsewhere, for I walk and ride a great deal, and make excursions into the country, and, to please my father, visit the club-house and go to parties, and live, in short, in a state of dissatisfaction with myself and with my surroundings. But my intellectual life is a blank; I read nothing, and there is hardly a moment left me in which to reflect and meditate with tranquillity; and, as reflection and meditation were what constituted the chief charm of my existence, my life without them seems to me monotonous. Thanks to the patience which you have recommended to me for every occasion, I am able to endure it.
Another thing that prevents my spirit from being completely at rest is the longing, that becomes every day more ardent within me, to embrace that life to which, without a moment's vacillation, I have been for years inclined. It seems to me that, in those moments when I feel myself so near to the realization of the constant dream of my life, it is something like a profanation to allow my mind to be distracted by other objects. So much does this idea torment me, and to so many doubts does it give rise within me, that my admiration for the beauty of things created—of the heavens so full of stars, in these serene nights of spring, and in this favored region of Andalusia; of these smiling fields, now covered with verdure, and of these cool and pleasant gardens, abounding in shady and delightful walks, in gently flowing streams and rivulets, in sequestered nooks, in birds that enliven them with song, and in flowers and odorous herbs—this admiration and enthusiasm, I repeat, which formerly seemed to me in perfect harmony with the religious feeling that filled my soul, animating and exalting it, instead of weakening it, seems to me now almost a sinful distraction, and an unpardonable forgetfulness of the eternal for the temporal, of the uncreated and the spiritual for the material and created. Although I have made but little progress in virtue, although my mind is never free from the phantasms of the imagination, although the interior man is never exempt in me from the influence of external impressions, and from the need of employing in meditation the fatiguing argumentative method; although I can not, by an effort of love, withdraw myself to the very center of pure intelligence, to the loftiest sphere of thought, in order to behold there goodness and truth divested of images and forms, yet I confess to you that the method of mental prayer, unrestricted by set forms, makes me afraid. Even rational meditation inspires me with distrust. I do not want to employ a process of reasoning in order to know God, nor to adduce arguments for loving, in order to love him. I desire, by a single effort of the will, to elevate myself to and be absorbed in the divine contemplation. Oh, that I had the wings of a dove, to fly to the bosom of him whom my soul loveth! But what and where are my merits? Where the mortifications, the extended prayers, and the fasting? What have I done, O my God, that thou shouldst favor me?
I know that the ungodly of the present day accuse—though without any foundation whatever—our holy religion of inciting souls to abhor the things of this world, to despise or to contemn nature, perhaps to fear it also, as if there were in it something diabolical, placing all their affections on what these ungodly call the monstrous egotism of divine love, for it is herself, they say, the soul loves in loving God; I know, too, that this is not the case; that the divine love is charity, and that to love God is to love all things, for all things are in God, in a supreme and ineffable manner. I know that I commit no sin in loving material things for the love of God, which is to love them for themselves, righteously; for what are material things but the manifestation, the creation of the love of God? And, notwithstanding, I know not what undefinable fear, what unwonted scruple, what vague and scarcely perceptible remorse torments me now, when, as formerly, as in other days of my youth, as in childhood itself, I feel an effusion of tenderness, a sort of ecstasy of enthusiasm, on penetrating into some leafy grove, on hearing the song of the nightingale, or the twittering of the swallows, or the tender cooing of the dove; on looking at the flowers, on beholding the stars. I imagine, at times, that there is in all this something of sensual pleasure, a something that makes me forget, for the moment at least, more lofty aspirations. I do not desire that in me the spirit should sin against the flesh; but neither do I desire, on the other hand, that the beauty of the material world—that its delights, even those most delicate, subtle, and ethereal ones that are perceived rather by the spirit than by the senses, such as the soft sigh of the zephyr, laden with rural scents, the song of the birds, the peaceful and majestic silence of the night in these gardens and orchards—should distract me from the contemplation of higher beauty, or weaken, even for a moment, my love toward Him who has created this harmonious fabric of the world.
I know that all these material things are like the letters of a book, the signs and characters in which the soul, eager for knowledge, may find a hidden meaning, and decipher and discover the beauty of God that, though but dimly, is shadowed forth in them, and of which they are the pictures or rather emblems, because they do not represent, but only symbolize it. On this distinction I dwell at times to strengthen my scruples and mortify the flesh. For, I consider, if I love the beauty of earthly things as they are, it is idolatry; I ought to love this beauty as a sign, as the symbol of a beauty occult and divine, and infinitely superior to it in all things.
A few days ago I completed my twenty-second year. Heretofore, my religious fervor has been such that I have felt no other love than the immaculate love of God himself and of his holy religion, which I desire to diffuse and see triumphant in all the regions of the earth. I confess that something of a profane sentiment has mingled itself with this purity of affection. You are aware of this; I have told it to you many times, and you, regarding me with your accustomed indulgence, have answered me that man is not an angel, and that even to aspire to so great a degree of perfection is pride; that I should endeavor to moderate these sentiments rather than seek to eradicate them entirely. Love of knowledge, a desire for the reputation which is founded on the possession of knowledge, even a not unfavorable opinion of one's own merits, these, even when kept within just bounds, though guarded and moderated by Christian humility, and directed toward a good end, have in them, doubtless, something of selfishness, but they may serve as a stimulus and a support to the noblest and most constant resolutions. The scruples that trouble my conscience now, therefore, have not their source in pride, in an overweening self-confidence, in a desire for worldly fame, or in a too great love of knowledge. Nothing of this nature it is that troubles me; nothing bearing any relation to self-conceit, but, in a certain sense, something entirely opposed to it. I feel a lassitude, a debility and abandonment of the will so great—I am so ready to weep for tenderness when I see a little flower, when I contemplate the ray, mysterious, tenuous, and swift, of a remote star—that it almost makes me afraid.
Tell me what you think of these things; and if there be not something morbid in this disposition of my mind.
The amusements of the country, in which, very much against my will, I am compelled to take part, still go on.
My father has taken me to see almost all his plantations, and he and his friends are astonished to find me not altogether ignorant in matters pertaining to the country. It would seem as if, in their eyes, the study of theology, to which I have dedicated myself, were incompatible with a familiarity with Nature. How much have they not wondered at my knowledge, on seeing me discriminate, among the vines that have only just begun to sprout, the common from the choice varieties! How much have they not wondered, too, at my being able to distinguish, among the young plants in the fields, the shoots of the barley from those of the bean; at my being familiar with many fruit and shade trees; at my knowing the names of many plants, even, that grow spontaneously in the woods, as well as something of their properties and virtues!
Pepita Ximenez, who has heard through my father of the delight I take in the gardens here, has invited me to visit one that she owns at a short distance from the village, and eat the early strawberries that grow there. This caprice of Pepita's to show so many little attentions to my father, while at the same time she declines his addresses, seems to me at times to partake somewhat of coquetry, and to be worthy of reprobation. But when next I see her, and find her so natural, so frank and so simple, this bad opinion is dispelled, and I can not believe her to have any other end in view than to maintain the friendly relations that exist between her and our family.
Be this as it may, yesterday afternoon we went to Pepita's garden. It is charmingly situated, and as delightful and picturesque a place as one can imagine. The river, that by means of innumerable drains waters almost all these gardens, falls into a deep ravine, bordered on both sides by white and black poplars, osiers, flowering oleanders, and other leafy trees. The waterfall, clear and transparent, precipitates itself into this ravine, sending up a cloud of spray, and then follows its tortuous course by a channel formed for it by Nature herself, enameling its banks with a thousand plants and flowers, and just now covering them with a multitude of violets. The declivity at the end of the garden is full of walnut, hazel, fig, and other fruit trees; and in the level portion are beds planted with strawberries and vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes, beans, and peppers. There is also a little flower-garden, with a great abundance of flowers, of the kinds most commonly cultivated here. Roses especially abound, and of these there are innumerable varieties. The house of the gardener is prettier and cleaner than the houses of its class that one is accustomed to see in this part of the country; and near it there is another smaller building, dedicated to the use of the mistress of the place, where Pepita regaled us with a sumptuous collation. The pretext for this collation was the strawberries, to eat which was the chief purpose of our visit. The quantity of strawberries, considering the earliness of the season, was astonishing. They were served with the milk of goats belonging also to Pepita.
There were present at this banquet the doctor, the notary, my aunt Casilda, my father, and myself, and of course the indispensable vicar, spiritual father, and, more than spiritual father, admirer and perpetual eulogist of Pepita.
By a sort of sybaritic refinement, it was not by the gardener, nor his wife, nor the son of the gardener, nor by any other rustic, that we were served at this banquet, but by two lovely girls, confidential servants, in a manner, of Pepita's, dressed like peasants, but with the greatest neatness and even elegance. They wore gowns of gay-colored percale, short, and confined at the waist, and around their shoulders silk handkerchiefs. Their lustrous and abundant black hair, without covering, was braided and arranged in a knot behind; and in front they wore curls confined to the head by large hair-pins, here called caracols. Above the knot or chignon they each displayed a bunch of fresh roses.
Pepita's attire, except that it was black and of rich material, was equally unpretending. Her merino gown, made in the same style as those of her maids, without being short, was yet not long enough to catch the dust of the ground. A modest handkerchief of black silk covered also, according to the usage of the country, her shoulders and bosom; and on her head she wore no other ornament, either flower or jewel, than that of her own blonde tresses.
The only particular, with respect to Pepita, in which I observed a certain fastidiousness, and in which she departed from the customs of the country-people, was in wearing gloves. It is evident that she takes great care of her hands, and is, perhaps, to a certain extent, vain of their beauty and whiteness, as well as of her rose-colored and polished nails; but if this be so, it is to be pardoned to the weakness of the flesh; and indeed, if I remember aright, I think that St. Theresa, in her youth, had this same species of vanity, which did not prevent her, however, from becoming a great saint.
In truth, I can understand, even though I do not excuse, this little piece of vanity. It is so distinguished, so aristocratic to possess a beautiful hand! I even think, at times, that there is something symbolic in it. The hand is the instrument by which we execute our works, the sign of our nobility, the means by which the intellect gives form and shape to its artistic conceptions, by which it gives reality to the mandates of its will, by which it exercises the dominion that God conceded to man over all other creatures. The rough, strong, sinewy, horny hand, it may be, of a laborer, a workman, testifies nobly to this dominion, but on its rudest and least intellectual side. The hands of Pepita, on the contrary, transparent almost, like alabaster, but rosy-hued, and in which one can almost see the pure and subtle blood circulate that gives to the veins their faint, bluish tinge—these hands, I say, with their tapering fingers, and unrivaled purity of outline, seem the symbol of the magic power, the mysterious dominion, that the human spirit holds and exercises, without the intervention of material force, over all those visible things that are the creation of God by a direct act of his will, and which man, as the instrument of God, improves and completes. It would be impossible to suppose that any one with hands like Pepita's should have an impure thought, a gross desire, an unworthy purpose at variance with the purity of the hands that would be called upon to put them into effect.
It is unnecessary to say that my father appeared as much charmed with Pepita, and she as attentive and affectionate toward him, as always; though her affection seemed, perhaps, of a character more filial than he could have wished. The fact is, that my father, notwithstanding the reputation he has of being in general but little respectful or reverent toward women, treats this one woman with such respect and consideration that not even Amadis, in the most devoted period of his wooing, showed greater toward Oriana. Not a single word that might shock the ear, no indelicate or inopportune compliment, no coarse jest, of the kind the Andalusians permit themselves so frequently to employ, does he ever indulge in. Hardly does he dare say to Pepita, "What beautiful eyes you have!" and, indeed, should he say so, he would only speak the truth, for Pepita's eyes are large, green as those of Circe, expressive, and well shaped. And what enhances their beauty is that she seems unaware of all this, for there is not to be detected in her the slightest wish to please or attract any one by the sweetness of her glances. One would say she thought eyes were only made to see with, and for no other purpose; the contrary of what I suppose to be the opinion, according to what I have heard, of the greater number of young and pretty women, who use their eyes as a weapon of offense, or as a sort of electric battery, by means of which to subdue hearts and captivate them. Not like those, indeed, are Pepita's eyes, wherein dwell a peace and a serenity as of heaven. And yet it can not be said that there is anything of coldness in their glance. Her eyes are full of charity and sweetness. They rest with tenderness on a ray of light, on a flower, on the commonest object in nature; but with greater tenderness still, with signs of a softer feeling, more human and benign, do they rest on her fellow-man, without his daring to imagine in that tranquil and serene glance, however young or handsome or conceited he may be, anything more than charity and love toward a fellow-man, or, at most, a friendly preference.
I sometimes wonder if all this can be studied, and if Pepita be, in truth, an accomplished actress; but the acting would be so perfect, and so purposeless the play, that it seems to me, after all, impossible that this should be the case. Nature herself it is, then, who serves as teacher and as type for that glance and for those eyes. First, Pepita loved her mother; then circumstances led her to love Don Gumersindo through duty, as the companion of her existence; and then, doubtless, all passion that any earthly object could inspire was extinguished in her breast, and she loved God, and loved material objects for the love of God; and so arrived at last at a peaceful and even enviable condition of spirit, in which, if there be anything to censure, it is perhaps a certain vanity of which she is herself unconscious. It is very convenient to love in this mild fashion, without allowing ourselves to be disturbed by our feelings, to have no passion to combat, to make of our love and affection for others an addition to, and, as it were, the complement of self-love.
I ask myself at times if, when I censure this state of mind in Pepita, it be not myself I censure. How do I know what passes in the soul of this woman that I should censure her? Perhaps, in thinking I behold her soul, it is my own soul that I behold. I never had nor have I now any passion to conquer. All my virtuous inclinations, all my instincts, good or bad, tend, thanks to your wise teachings, without obstacle or impediment, to the furtherance of the one purpose. In the fulfillment of this purpose, I should find not only my noble and disinterested desires, but my selfish ones also, satisfied—my love of glory, my desire for knowledge, my curiosity to see distant lands, my longing for name and fame. All these are centered in the completing of the career upon which I have entered. I fancy at times that, in this respect, I am more worthy of censure than Pepita, supposing her even to be worthy of censure at all.
For, as regards myself, I have been invested with the lesser orders; I have cast out from my soul the vanities of the world; I have received the tonsure; I have consecrated myself to the service of the altar. Yet I have a future full of ambition before me, and I dwell with pleasure on the thought that this future is within my reach. I please myself in thinking that the conditions I possess for it are real and efficacious; though I call humility to my aid, at times, to save me from an overweening self-confidence.
To what, on the other hand, does this woman aspire, and what are her hopes? I censure her for the care she takes of her hands, for regarding her beauty, perhaps, with complacency; I almost censure her for her neatness, for the attention she bestows on her dress; for a certain indefinable coquetry there is in the very modesty and simplicity of her attire. But what! must virtue be slovenly? Must holiness be unclean? Can not a pure and clean soul rejoice in the cleanliness and purity of the body also? Is there not something reprehensible in the displeasure with which I regard the neatness and purity of Pepita? Is this displeasure, perchance, because she is to be my step-mother? But, perhaps, she does not wish to be my step-mother! Perhaps she does not love my father! It is true, indeed, that women are incomprehensible. It may be that in her secret heart she already feels inclined to return my father's affection, and marry him, though, in accordance with the saying that "what is worth much, costs much," she chooses first to torment him with her affected coldness, to reduce him to unquestioning submission, to put his constancy to the proof, and then means to end by quietly saying Yes. We shall see.
What there is no question about is, that our garden-party was decorously merry. We talked of flowers, of fruit, of grafts, of planting, and of innumerable other things relating to husbandry, Pepita displaying her knowledge of agriculture in rivalry with my father, with myself, and with the reverend vicar, who listens with open mouth to every word she utters, and declares that in the seventy-odd years of his life, and during his many wanderings, in the course of which he has traversed almost the whole of Andalusia, he has never known a woman more discreet or more judicious in all she thinks and says than she.
On returning home from any of these excursions, I renew my entreaties to my father to allow me to go back to you, in order that the wished-for moment may at last arrive in which I shall see myself elevated to the priesthood. But my father is so pleased to have me with him, he is so happy here in the village, taking care of his plantations, exercising the judicial and executive authority of squire, paying homage to Pepita, and consulting her in everything as his Egeria, that he always finds, and will find perhaps for months to come, some plausible pretext to keep me here. Now he has to clarify the wine of I know not how many casks; now he has to decant more wine still; now it is necessary to hoe around the vines; now to plow the olive-groves and dig around the roots of the olives; in fine, he keeps me here against my wishes—though I should not say "against my wishes," for it gives me great pleasure to be with my father, who is so good to me.
The evil is, that, with this way of life, I fear I shall grow too material. I am conscious in my devotions of a certain aridity of spirit. My religious fervor diminishes; common life begins to penetrate, to infiltrate itself into my nature; when I pray, I suffer distractions; in my solitary meditations, when the soul should raise itself up to God, I can no longer concentrate my thought as formerly. My sensibility of heart, on the other hand, that refuses to occupy itself with any worthy object, that does not employ and consume itself on its legitimate ends, wells forth and, as it were, overflows, at times, for objects and under circumstances that have something in them of puerile, that seem to me ridiculous, of which I am ashamed. If I awaken in the silence of the night and hear by chance some love-lorn rustic singing, to the sound of his badly played guitar, a verse of a fandango or a rondena, neither very discreet, nor very poetical, nor very delicate, I am wont to be affected as if I were listening to some celestial melody; a feeling of pity, childish and insensate, comes over me at times. The other day the children of my father's overseer stole a nest full of young sparrows, and on seeing the little birds, not yet fledged, torn thus violently from their tender mother, I felt a sudden pang of anguish, and I confess I could not restrain my tears. A few days before this, a peasant had brought in from the fields a calf that had broken its leg; he was about to carry it to the slaughter-house, and came to ask my father what part of it he wished for his table. My father answered, the head and the feet, and a few pounds of the flesh. I was touched by compassion on seeing the calf, and, but that shame prevented me, would have bought it from the man, in the hope of curing and keeping it alive. In fine, my dear uncle, nothing less than the confidence I have with you would make me recount to you these signs of an extravagant and restless emotion, so that you may judge by them how necessary it is that I should return to my former way of life, to my studies, to my lofty speculations, and be at last elevated to the priesthood, in order to provide with its fit and proper aliment the fire that consumes my soul.
I continue to lead the same life as usual, and am detained here still by my father's entreaties.
The greatest pleasure I enjoy, after that of being with him, is my intercourse and conversation with the reverend vicar, with whom I am in the habit of taking long walks. It seems incredible that a man of his age—for he must be near eighty—should be so strong and active, and so good a walker. I grow tired sooner than he; and there is no rough road, no wild place, no rugged hill-top, in the neighborhood, where we have not been.
The reverend vicar is reconciling me, in a great degree, with the Spanish clergy, whom I have stigmatized, at times, in speaking with you, as but little enlightened. How much more to be admired, I often say to myself, is this man, so full of candor and benevolence, so simple and affectionate, than one who may have read many books, but in whose soul the flame of charity burns less brightly than, fed by the purest and sincerest faith, it does in his! Do not suppose from this that the understanding of the reverend vicar is a limited one; his is a spirit uncultured, indeed, but clear and sagacious. At times I fancy that the good opinion I entertain of him may be due to the attention with which he listens to me; but, if this be not the case, it seems to me that he reasons on every subject with remarkable perspicacity, and that he knows how to unite an ardent love of our holy religion with an appreciation of all the good things that modern civilization has brought us. I am charmed, above all, by the simplicity, the sobriety of sentiment, the naturalness, in short, with which the reverend vicar performs the most disagreeable works of charity. There is no misfortune he does not seek to alleviate, no suffering he does not strive to console, no error he does not endeavor to repair, no necessity which he does not hasten solicitously to relieve.
In all this, it must be confessed, he has a powerful auxiliary in Pepita, whose piety and compassionate disposition he is always extolling.
This species of homage which the vicar pays to Pepita is founded upon, and goes side by side with, the practice of a thousand good works—the giving of alms, prayer, public worship, and the care of the poor. Pepita not only gives alms for the poor, but also gives money for novenas, sermons, and other observances of the Church. If the altars of the parish are gay, at times, with beautiful flowers, these flowers are due to the bounty of Pepita who has sent them from her garden. If Our Lady of Sorrows, instead of her old worn cloak, wears to-day a resplendent and magnificent mantle of black velvet, embroidered with silver, Pepita it is who has paid for it.
These, and other similar acts of beneficence, the vicar is always extolling and magnifying. Thus it is, when I am not speaking of my own aims, of my vocation, of my studies, to hear about which gives the reverend vicar great delight, and keeps him hanging upon my words, when it is he who speaks and I who listen, that, after a thousand turns, he always ends by speaking of Pepita Ximenez. And of whom, indeed, should the reverend vicar speak to me? His intercourse with the doctor, with the apothecary, with the rich husbandmen of the place, hardly gives motive for three words of conversation. As the reverend vicar possesses the very rare quality, in one bred in the country, of not being fond of scandal, or of meddling in other people's affairs, he has no one to speak of but Pepita, whom he visits frequently, and with whom, as may be gathered from what he says, he is in the habit of holding the most familiar colloquies.
I know not what books Pepita Ximenez has read, nor what education she may have received; but, from what the reverend vicar says, it may be deduced that she possesses a restless soul and an inquiring spirit, to which a multiplicity of questions and problems present themselves that she longs to elucidate and resolve, bringing them for that purpose before the reverend vicar, whom she thus puts into a state of agreeable perplexity.
This man, educated in country fashion, a priest whose breviary is, as one may say, his library, possesses an understanding open to the light of truth, but is wanting in original power, and thus the problems and questions Pepita presents to him open before him new horizons and new paths, nebulous and vague indeed, and which he did not even imagine to exist, which he is not able to follow with exactitude, but whose vagueness, novelty, and mystery enchant him.
The vicar is not ignorant of the danger of all this, and that he and Pepita expose themselves to fall, without knowing it, into some heresy; but he tranquillizes his conscience with the thought that, although very far from being a great theologian, he has his catechism at his fingers' ends, he has confidence in God that he will illuminate his spirit, and he hopes not to be led into error, and takes it for granted that Pepita will follow his counsels, and never deviate from the right path.
Thus do both form to themselves a thousand poetical conceptions, full of charm, although vague, of all the mysteries of our religion and the articles of our faith. Great is the devotion they profess to the most holy Virgin, and I am astonished to see how they are able to blend the popular idea or conception of the Virgin with some of the sublimest theological thoughts.
From what the vicar relates, I can perceive that Pepita Ximenez's soul, in the midst of its apparent calmness and serenity, is transfixed by the sharp arrow of suffering; there is in it a love of purity in contradiction with her past life. Pepita loved Don Gumersindo as her companion, as her benefactor, as the man to whom she owed everything; but she is tortured, she is humiliated by the recollection that Don Gumersindo was her husband.
In her devotion to the Virgin there may be detected a feeling of painful humiliation, of suffering, of sadness, produced by the recollection of her ignoble and childless marriage.
Even in her adoration of the Infant Jesus, in the beautiful carved image she has in her house, there is something of maternal love that lacks an object on which to expend its tenderness, of maternal love that seeks this object in a being not born of sin and impurity.
The vicar says that Pepita worships the Infant Jesus as her God, but that she also loves him with the maternal tenderness she would feel for a son, if she had one, and whom she had no cause to regard with any other feeling than affection. The vicar sees that Pepita, in her prayers to the Holy Virgin, and in her care of her beautiful image of the Child Jesus, has in her thoughts the ideal Mother and the ideal Son, both alike immaculate.
I confess that I know not what to think of all these singularities. I know so little of women! What the vicar tells me of Pepita surprises me; and yet, though on the whole I believe her to be good, rather than the contrary, she inspires me at times with a certain fear on my father's account. Notwithstanding his fifty-five years, I believe that he is in love; and Pepita, although virtuous through conviction, may, without premeditating or intending it, be an instrument of the spirit of evil, may practice a species of coquetry, involuntary and instinctive, more irresistible, efficacious, and fatal, than that which proceeds from premeditation, calculation, and reasoning.