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Juan Valera (1824–1905). Pepita Jimenez.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Part II.—Paralipomena

Chapter VIII

AT this point in our narrative we can not refrain from calling attention to the character of authenticity that stamps the present history, and paying a tribute of admiration to the scrupulous exactness of the person who composed it. For, were the incidents related in these paralipomena fictitious, as in a novel, there is not the least doubt but that an interview so important and of such transcendent interest as that of Pepita and Don Luis would have been brought about by less vulgar means than those here employed.

Perhaps our hero and heroine, in the course of some new excursion into the country, might have been surprised by a sudden and frightful tempest, thus finding themselves obliged to take refuge in the ruins of some ancient castle or Moorish tower, with the reputation, of course, of being haunted by ghosts or other supernatural visitants. Perhaps our hero and heroine might have fallen into the power of a party of bandits, from whom they would have escaped, thanks to the presence of mind and courage of Don Luis; taking shelter afterward for the night—they two alone, and without the possibility of avoiding it—in a cavern or grotto. Or, finally, perhaps the author would have arranged the matter in such a way that Pepita and her vacillating admirer would have been obliged to make a journey by sea, and, although at the present day there are neither pirates nor Algerine corsairs, it is not difficult to invent a good shipwreck, during which Don Luis could have saved Pepita’s life, taking refuge with her afterward on a desert island, or some other equally romantic and solitary place.

Any one of these devices would more artfully prepare the way for the tender colloquy of the lovers, and would better serve to exculpate Don Luis. We are of the opinion, nevertheless, that, instead of censuring the author for not having had recourse to such complications as those we have mentioned, we ought rather to thank him for his conscientiousness in sacrificing to the truth of his relation the marvelous effect he might have produced had he ventured to adorn it with incidents and episodes drawn from his own fancy.

If the means by which this interview was brought about were, in reality, only the officiousness and the skill of Antoñona, and the weakness with which Don Luis acceded to her request that he should grant it, why forge lies, and cause the two lovers to be impelled, as it were, by Fate, to see and speak with each other alone, to the great danger of the virtue and honor of both? Nothing of the kind! Whether Don Luis did well or ill in keeping his appointment, and whether Pepita Jiménez, whom Antoñona had already told that Don Luis was coming of his own accord to see her, did well or ill in rejoicing over that somewhat mysterious and untimely visit, let us not throw the blame on Fate, but on the personages themselves who figure in this history, and on the passions by which they are actuated. We confess to a great affection for Pepita; but the truth is before everything, and must be declared, even should it be to the prejudice of our heroine.

At eight o’clock, then, Antoñona had told her that Don Luis was coming, and Pepita, who had been talking of dying, whose eyes were red, and her eyelids slightly inflamed with weeping, and whose hair was in some disorder, thought of nothing from that moment but of adorning and dressing herself to receive Don Luis. She bathed her face with warm water, so that the ravages her tears had made might be effaced to the exact point of leaving her beauty unimpaired, while still allowing it to be seen that she had wept. She arranged her hair so as to display, rather than a studied care in its arrangement, a certain graceful and artistic carelessness, that fell short of disorder, however, which would have been indecorous; she polished her nails, and, as it was not fit that she should receive Don Luis in a wrapper, she put on a simple house-dress. In fine, she managed instinctively that all the details of her toilet should concur in heightening her beauty and grace, but without allowing any trace to be perceived of the art, the labor, and the time employed in the details. She would have it appear, on the contrary, as if all this beauty and grace were the free gift of Nature, something inherent in her person, no matter how she might, owing to the vehemence of her passions, neglect it on occasion.

Pepita, so far as we have been able to discover, spent more than an hour in these labors of the toilet, which were to be perceived only by their results. She then, with ill-concealed satisfaction, gave herself the final touch before the looking-glass. At last, at about half-past nine, taking a candle in her hand, she descended to the apartment in which was the Infant Jesus. She first lighted the altar candles, which had been extinguished; she saw with something of sorrow that the flowers were drooping; she asked pardon of the sacred Image for neglecting it so long, and, throwing herself on her knees before it, prayed in her solitude with her whole heart, and with that frankness and confidence that a guest inspires who has been so long an inmate of the house. Of a Jesus of Nazareth bearing the cross upon his shoulders, and crowned with thorns; of an Ecco Homo, insulted and scourged, with a reed for derisive sceptre, and his hands bound with a rough cord; of a Christ Crucified, bleeding and in the last throes of death, Pepita would not have dared to ask what she now asked of a Saviour, still a child, smiling, beautiful, untouched by suffering, and pleasing to the eye. Pepita asked him to leave her Don Luis; not to take him away from her, since he, who was so rich and so well provided with everything, might, without any great sacrifices, deny himself this one of his servants, and give him up to her.

Having completed these preparations, which we may classify as cosmetic, decorative, and religious, Pepita installed herself in the library, and there awaited the arrival of Don Luis with feverish impatience.

Antoñona had acted with prudence in not telling her mistress that Don Luis was coming to see her until a short time before the appointed hour. Even as it was, thanks to the delay of her gallant, poor Pepita, from the moment in which she had finished her prayers and supplications to the Infant Jesus, to that in which she beheld Don Luis standing in the library, was a prey to anguish and disquietude.

The visit began in the most grave and ceremonious manner. The customary salutations were mechanically interchanged, and Don Luis, at the invitation of Pepita, seated himself in an easy-chair, without laying aside his hat or cane, and at a short distance from her. Pepita was seated on the sofa; beside her was a little table on which were some books, and a candle, the light from which illuminated her countenance. On the desk also burned a lamp. Notwithstanding these two lights, however, the apartment, which was large, remained for the greater part in darkness. A large window, which looked out on an inner garden, was open on account of the heat; and although the grating of the window was covered with climbing roses and jasmine, the clear beams of the moon penetrated through the interlaced leaves and flowers, and struggled with the light of the lamp and candle. Through the open window came, too, the distant and confused sounds of the dance at the farmhouse, which was at the other extremity of the garden, the monotonous murmur of the fountain below, and the fragrance of the jasmine and roses that curtained the window, mingled with that of the mignonette, sweet-basil, and other plants that adorned the borders beneath.

There was a long pause—a silence as difficult to maintain as it was to break. Neither of the two interlocutors ventured to speak. The situation was, in truth, embarrassing. They found it as difficult to express themselves then as we find it now to reproduce their words; but there is nothing else for it than to make the effort. Let us allow them to speak for themselves, transcribing their words with exactitude.