Open main menu

The Cigarette.


JULES CLARETIE.


"It was in the time of the war of Don Carlos, the last one, yes, sir. All this Basque country, these environs of Saint Sebastian, these mountains of Guipuzcoa, they have all reeked with blood and powder–and that for months, for long, long months. You must have seen many blackened and torn walls in the country. Yes, you say? Well! those were once farms, houses, abodes of life and happiness; now they are ruins, graveyards, almost. That is war.

"They fought–you should have seen them fight! The Carlists on one side, the soldiers of the government at Madrid on the other. These roads, look you, have beheld long trains of dead and wounded, poor lads who knew that they were doomed to die, and who asked themselves why–why? Civil wars, ah! fine things those civil wars are! And when one thinks that it may commence again to-morrow–who knows? Men are such fools!

"You see how it was; they bring us word, one fine morning, that the king is there, that Don Carlos is come; then it is all plain sailing, the old leaven rises, and you see our Basque peasants hastening to the pretender and supplying him with an army. That means wearing a fine uniform, with the flat cap cocked over the ear, and coming into the villages with trumpets sounding and, when they have stacked muskets, giving the girls a dance on the green to the accompaniment of their singing. It means, too, that they will hear the bullets whistle, for our Basques are brave, live frugally and die well. But good-by to the harvests, to the apple trees, to the daily life of their poor world! They fought all day long; they fought for three years. At a given moment, sir, you might have seen all these miry roads filled with men of the same country whose only thought it was to cut one another’s throat.

“You know the story of the siege of Bilbao, that the Carlists squeezed as if they had it in a vise. The city had to be relieved, and Don Carlos’ soldiers held the passes between Saint Sebastian and Bilbao, repelled the attacks that were made on them and thrashed the columns of troops that were hurled against them with the bayonet. The Carlist chief who commanded in this quarter was named Zucarraga. He was a hero, sir! An old army officer, who had returned his sword to the government of Madrid, saying: ‘Give it to some one else and let it be turned against my breast; the sword that I shall carry henceforth I will receive from my rightful king.’ Thirty years old he was, and handsome, tall, superb. He held the mountains about here, and never let go his hold. They sent their best troops against him, and every day they sent fresh troops. We saw them come back, the poor halting, crippled soldiers, with their decimated ranks and their officers borne on bloody litters, shaking their heads mournfully and saying: ‘See! it is for the sake of Spain that they are murdering Spain!’

“That Zucarraga! His reputation increased with every reverse of the national army. Folks said to one another: ‘It is Thomas Zumalacarregui come to life again!’ Zumalacarregui, you know, the paladin of the other Carlist war, in the old times. Even his name reminded people of the other one, and this made Zuccarraga a hero of romance, a general whose name was sung in the songs of the people, like the Cid.

“The general who was in command at Hernani–yes, the little town where, as the Gazette told us the other day, your great writer Hugo passed his childhood and the name of which he has made illustrious–the general, who kept sending his poor soldiers forward against the passes that Zucarraga was defending, was wild with rage. He had promised himself that he would force a passage, crush the flat-capped people and pierce their lines and relieve Bilbao. Ah! yes, indeed! Every attack was followed by a defeat, every assault resulted in something that was very near a rout. The dispirited troops returned with hanging head and heavy foot, leaving their dead lying by the roadside.

“As General Garrido one evening, up there on the Place de l’Ayuntamiento, was watching his shattered battalions as they slowly and sullenly re-entered their cantonments, while in the distance, over in the direction of the mountains, Zucarraga’s artillery was growling away as usual and we were looking at the smoke rising, rising from the depths of the valley along the bloodstained mountain-side, the general, I say–his gray hairs surmounted by his ros, his ros that in days gone by had been pierced by the bullets of the Moors–said, his fists clenched and his eyes flashing like a mitrailleuse:

"'Ah! that Zucarraga! that Zucarraga! that wretch of a Zucarraga! I would give my skin for his! And there is a fortune waiting for the man that kills him!'

“He was beside himself with rage, shedding bitter tears to see his regiments melting away like the snow among these defiles. It seemed to him as if all those brave boys that lay scattered along the roadside were children of his own whom he had lost, whom some one had taken from him and slaughtered. And who had done this? Zucarraga, Zucarraga’s Basques, the Carlists!

“The words were scarcely out of old Garrido’s mouth when, there on that Place that was swarming with troops, upon which the shades of night were descending, a tall, good-looking young fellow stepped forward and planted himself in front of the general's staff and, looking the old officer straight in the eye, brusquely said:

"'If I should kill Zucarraga, would you give me whatever I might ask you for?'

"'Who are you?' said Garrido.

"'Juan Araquil, a lad of this neighborhood. A man who is not afraid of death, but who has sworn that he will be rich.'

“The general eyed the man from head to foot. 'You are from Guipuzcoa? How is it that you are not with the army of Don Carlos?'

"'Because there is nothing that I care for in this world, excepting a woman whom I love.'

"'A fiancée?'

"'Ah! I wish it were a fiancée! No, a farmer’s daughter, with too much wealth for me, who am too poor and want to get money to win her.'

"He was well known throughout the countryside, was this Araquil, and we were all acquainted with his history, his love for the daughter of old Chegaray, a warm Guipuzcoa farmer, controlling four or five farms in this neighborhood and owner of hillsides where the apple trees bent beneath their weight of fruit and yielded cider in quantities–oh! it would have done you good to see. I have never tasted your French cider that they talk so much about, but isn’t it true that it is not as good as our cider of Guipuzcoa?–It is not I who make the assertion.

"Father Chegaray lived between Hernani and fort Santa Barbara, which you may have seen on your way here from Saint Sebastian. Old Chegaray was as proud of Pepa, his daughter, as an Andalusian woman is of her jewels. He would hold his head very erect when he conducted his little girl to vespers or to the romerias, at our season of merrymaking. It is at the romerias that the young folks become engaged to one another, frequently without the parents being consulted. How quickly it comes about, in the midst of laughter and the dance! A heart is captured and a life is given in exchange.

"Down yonder in the valley at Loyola, not very far from here, there lived in those days a tall, good-looking young scapegrace who was eternally fluttering about the pretty girls, and who had all the qualities, faith, which find favor in the eyes of young women, but not a single one of those that are regarded kindly by the young women’s parents. It was that same Araquil who had come to old General Garrido to tell the tale of his aspirations. A lively youth, this youngster was, always ready for some mad frolic; first in the game of tennis, strong as a horse and agile as a monkey, devil-may-care, prone to fisticuffs; killing his bulls in their impromptu novilladas as deftly as a professional espada and quite willing to get a broken head or a perforated hide upon any pretext, or upon none at all, for that matter. And bearing himself like a king, withal, with the air of a cavalier and a chin that was always freshly shaven, with the form of a Hercules and the hand of a woman. In addition to all this he had not a sou to his name, living from hand to mouth, now on the stakes of a tennis-match won from the lads of Bilbao or Tolosa, now on the proceeds of a bet made with the toreros, whom he braved–oh! so arrogantly!–in the bull-ring and in the combat with knives. At Saint Sebastian one day, when the bewildered cuadrilla could not dispose of the bull, a furious black brute with flanks specked with great spots of red foam, slavering at the mouth with blood and froth, Juan Araquil begins to hiss, and the people in the circus, spectators and toreros, shout: ‘Well, then, into the ring with you, into the ring!’ Ah! Juan did not hesitate, sir. He rises, he leaps over the railing, he takes from the astounded espada–perhaps he was pleased with the prospect of soon seeing this great fool impaled on the bull’s horns–he takes the short-handled sword, you know, he takes it like that, and planting himself squarely before the animal, he looks him in the face, he laughs in his nostrils, he makes a forward thrust with the point,–that way,– just as el Tato or Lagartijo might have done, and bam, bourn, the bull falls all in a lump, while Juan Araquil turns to the toreros and says to them, laughing all the while: 'You see, you fellows—it is easy enough!'

"But that is not the whole of the story. It made the toreros furious, wild with anger, to hear the shouts of the crowd, the bravos with which they saluted Araquil and the hisses that they visited upon the espada; they get together and surround Araquil, intending to take him to task for his audacity and perhaps, eh! parbleu, play him some nasty trick. Ah! well, very good! Araquil gives a look at this circle of enraged men. He gathers himself up, jumps clean over the head of the torero who is in front of him and makes his escape to the benches, leaving unbroken the circle that was about to close in on him and kill him. That evening he and one of the toreros fought with knives behind the circus and the torero buried his knife right in his chest. Juan Araquil kept his bed for two weeks, but when the two weeks were up he was as sound as ever. He was ready to kill another bull, and a torero as well, this time, should there be need of it.

"When our toreros are wounded, you know, they don't regard it as a matter of much consequence. Their skin unites again, their flesh heals quickly. They are carried off riddled with wounds from the bulls' horns, they are given up for dead—a sign of the cross, well, requiescat!—and at the month's end there they are, back again, with the espada or the banderilla in their hand. That was the kind of clay that Juan Araquil was made of! A slash of a knife or a blow from a tennis-racket—nothing hurt him. He was a man of iron, a genuine Basque.

"Then, besides, he had remedies for wounds, for he dabbled a little in almost everything and had associated with the bone-setters and the folks who make drugs and ointments out of the herbs that grow on the mountain to set you on your feet when there is anything wrong with you. He had even caused to be compounded for himself a sort of extract of some malignant plants or other, I don't know exactly what—flowers of aconite, or something of that description—which he carried about with him in a ring on his finger, saying that a man should always have it in his power to be master of his own life, and that sometimes, when one wishes to make an end of it, he fails to find his knife ready at hand. A knife, that may be taken from you; a ring, no—and by a simple movement of the finger to the lips, you are free. There! He was a man, was that Araquil.

"So one day (it was Easter Monday), at the romeria of Loyola, this handsome young fellow of twenty-five, who had been loved but had never loved, met a young girl whom he invited to dance with him, even as he had invited many another. It was Pepa Chegaray. A waltz-tune has the effect of turning young folks' brains, and the guitarero is the grand-master of the art of love—that is the way I feel about it, at least. It was fated that neither Juan nor Pepa were to forget that first interview, that dance in the open air, the music accompanied by smiles and song, more intoxicating than our cider.

In the morning there rises a beautiful star.
They say there is none more beautiful in the heavens;
But here on earth, Oh, my loved one, there is one that is brighter
And which has not its equal in the blue sky,
And to that one my heart goes forth
As the water flows, seeking its level.

"Ever since that Easter Monday Juan Araquil, usually so cheerful, had been morose and very gloomy, having but little to say, and there was never a smile to be seen on the face of Father Tiburcio Chegaray down there in his home. The reason of it was that that good-for-nothing urchin Love had passed that way.

"Oh! it was an absorbing, an engrossing love, that fell on them as swiftly as a thunder-clap. It happens that way, sometimes. She dreamed of him; he could think of nothing but her. He was as melancholy as a garden where there are no flowers, and his love did not improve his temper. Why? Because he had not a douro in his pocket, and Pepa was rich, and, what was worse yet. Father Tiburcio, that man of iron, had told his daughter that never, never would he give his Pepa to a man whose sole fortune was his tennis-ball.

"'But after all,' Araquil said to Father Chegaray one day, 'Pepa loves me; she has told me that she does.'

"'She has told me so, too,' replied the father.

"'I adore her. I am mad with love for her. I shall kill myself unless you give her to me. What must I do to obtain her for my wife?'

"'Do what I have always done,' replied the farmer, 'work, and bring home the wherewithal to buy bread for the children. I have not toiled all my life long to throw away my money and my daughter on a man who does nothing but hang around the romerias. When you can come to me and tell me that you have saved up a little something and can supply your share of bread and salt, you shall have Pepa, since she loves you.'

"'And the share that I must contribute is—how much?' Juan asked.

"'Two thousand douros!'

"That's equal to ten thousand francs of your money.

"'Two thousand douros!' said Araquil, very pale. 'Where can I look to find such a sum as that?'

"'I found it in the ground, I did,' the farmer answered. 'Seek it there!'

"And Tiburcio was not a man to go back on his word when he had once said a thing, not he! All that was left for Araquil to do was to kill himself, as he had threatened, or else go to work with pick and spade and earn the money. Pepa, like a good girl, would not disobey her father, but she was very much in love with the good-looking youngster and would subdue her impatience and wait until Juan had collected the required sum. In their furtive meetings, however, as well as in their conversations in presence of the old man, she did not attempt to conceal from Araquil that her feeling for him was of that nature that forms an indissoluble tie between two beings until it is sanctified by the last sacrament. She had even sworn to him—she had sworn it on the mass-book of her dead mother—that she would never be another's if she could not be his. Such a vow, uttered by a creature as beautiful as the stars in heaven, was well calculated to inspire courage in the heart of a bold man. Juan said to himself: 'Well! yes; yes, I will get them, those two thousand douros! I don't see how I am to get them, but I will get them!'

"And how he cudgeled his brains with cogitating over different projects, and how he strove and toiled! He was near dashing his head against the wall of the tennis-ground at Saint Sebastian one day in his fury at having lost a game with the champion of Tolosa by a point. The betting was heavy. It would have been a nest-egg for him had he won. And Araquil was beaten by a point, by a miserable point, and the boys of Hernani with him! He tore his hair, he thumped himself on the forehead, he was beside himself with rage.

"He must have those two thousand douros, and he kept repeating to himself what Pepa had said to him:

"'Life with you or with no one, Araquil. But I shall obey my father while he is alive, and I shall always respect my father's wishes when he is dead.'

"He had reached such a state, poor Juan, that he thought of going far away. He had been told that the Basques who emigrated sometimes made their fortune out there at La Plata, in America. Yes, sir, it seems that the tennis-players of our country are able to pick up dollars by the handful at Buenos Ayres. The pretty house that you will see to the right of the road as you go back to Saint Sebastian belongs to a young fellow of Hernani who made his money in that way in the southern part of the New World. If it had not been for the idea of leaving Pepa, of never seeing her, even from a distance, at mass or at vespers, at the bull-fights, or even at her window when he passed the farmhouse, Araquil would certainly have gone away. Yes, he would have gone away. And then, a trapper or a gold-hunter, as the occasion offered, he would have sought wealth, since the old man had said to him: 'Seek!' It would have been better for him had he done so.

"But while matters were in this condition, along comes the war, the last war, and sets the land on fire,—there is no other way of expressing it than that,—and the things that I have been telling you of happened before Bilbao. So, then, to resume my story, this tall young adventurer comes and posts himself before General Garrido, who is in a despairing mood, and briefly relates his history, and while the old veteran of Morocco, now beaten by the Carlists, looks at him with frowning eyes, Juan Araquil adds:

"'If the life of Zucarraga is worth a fortune, as you say, general, I will win that fortune!'

"'The life of Zucarraga is worth more than a fortune,' Garrido replied. 'It counterbalances the lives of thousands of my poor boys. The name Zucarraga means resistance, it means the key that will unlock Bilbao for us, it means a continuation of slaughter, that is all. You are not a soldier. I have no orders to give you, but if you do what you say you will do, remind me of what I have said!'

"'Very well!' said Juan. 'We shall meet soon again, general!'

"Old Garrido shrugged his shoulders and wondered for a moment if the man was not a spy.

"Araquil, for his part, allowed his mind to dwell on only one thing: Zucarraga's life was worth a fortune! And that fortune, for which he cared as much as he cared for a raw onion, he longed for it only because it would give him his Pepa. He left Hernani, he disappeared from sight. Nothing was heard of him for several days. The general said: 'I have been dealing with a crazy man,' and went on to make preparation for a night attack, intending to surprise Zucarraga and carry the pass in the darkness, with only the flashes of his musketry to light him.

"In the meantime Araquil was roaming about the Carlist intrenchments. With his knife in his pocket, that knife that at need he could hurl with the force of a ball from a musket and plant unerringly in the remote target, he waited, sleeping by the light of the stars, wherever he chanced to be, for an opportunity of approaching Zucarraga and ridding old Garrido of the Carlist chieftain. What was the life of that partisan commander to him? War with artillery, war with the knife, it is war all the same. One has the right to kill when he stakes his own life at the same time. He kept repeating these arguments to himself and was on the alert, watching his chance. One night when he had come too near to the half-wrecked farmhouse in which Zucarraga had his quarters among the ruins, a sentry's bullet whistled close to Araquil's head, so close that it carried away a little of the flesh from his left ear. He paid not the slightest attention to it, and regretted only one circumstance, that the Carlist sentinel had, caught sight of him. Had it not been for that he would have leaped the wall and been at Zucarraga's side! Now it was all to do over again.

"Very well, then; he would begin again on the morrow. But that morrow was the very day that Garrido had selected for the night attack. Juan Araquil, lying in a ditch, like a wild beast crouching in his lair, was forming his plans for reaching Zucarraga, this time, at every risk, at the very moment when old Garrido was sending out an attacking column against the Carlists. Araquil was surprised when the first shots of the engagement reached his ears, the succeeding ones delighted him. As there was a battle on, Zucarraga would come forth, would lead his troops into the firing. If Juan could slip up to him it would soon be done: the knife to his heart, and in open conflict, this time, not in a cowardly ambush. Ah! so Zucarraga's blood was worth a fortune? Father Chegaray should have his two thousand douros—and so much the worse for the Carlists!

"It was a plucky fight that was fought that night. Garrido's troops were in earnest, they came up to the assault of the intrenchments with bayonets fixed and struck up against the Carlists, whom they thought to surprise, but who were on the alert. The murdering, the killing went on under the cover of the darkness of night. Breasts were pierced by bayonets, heads were broken by revolvers. The work of slaughter was carried on by men who were invisible to one another. And I say again, what a pity it is that such things should happen among Spaniards!

"And the bloody work went on for a long time. At early dawn the soldiers of the army were once again retreating, poor devils, and what frightful loss their attempt had cost them! The attack had been fruitless. A night of slaughter that only added another to their series of defeats. Old Garrido, down there in his camp, would shed fresh tears of rage. The Carlists, on the other hand, after having fought all night, saluted the dawn with their joyful shouts: Harri! Harri! Then all at once their shouts, their glee subsided, and a black silence fell upon them. Their invincible chieftain—he whose voice had been heard that night in every quarter of the field animating his men: 'Come, courage, my children! Stand up to the enemy!' Zucarraga—had been brought in, wounded in the leg, the bone shattered, so it was said. It was in front of the gutted, empty house where he usually slept. The prisoners of the army of Madrid—the Carlists had made many prisoners during the night—saw this superb, lofty young man, his face as pale as his white beret, with his black beard, surrounded by his officers. Zucarraga could no longer stand erect; his friends were sustaining him, holding him under the armpits. Some of his men brought a bench and he was placed upon it with his leg extended at full length.

"Araquil was among the onlookers.

"He had been captured with Garrido's men and with them placed in the general herd, and now Carlist sentries, with loaded muskets, were standing guard over him, together with the others. His knife, his famous knife, had been of no use to him. When, swept away by the prevailing disorder, he had seen himself captured and included among the number of the prisoners, he had thrown it away, saying to himself: 'It will be to do over again!' And now, doomed as he probably was to be shot, since he alone among the prisoners was not in uniform, he said to himself that it was all over, all over, and that Pepa would marry another or would die a maid; and he shot a bitter, envenomed glance toward that human victim who was escaping him, toward that Zucarraga, whom he was beginning to hate, he could not tell why—or because, rather, while Zucarraga lived, his, Araquil's, life was a barren one, Pepa was lost to him.

The Carlist officers were bustling anxiously about Zucarraga. Some of them were down on their knees examining the wound. One of them was calling for a surgeon.

"'The surgeon! The surgeon, valgame Dios! Where is Urrabieta, then? Where is he?'

"Urrabieta was the surgeon of the Carlist detachment. Men were looking for him in every direction. The officers were beginning to become impatient. Zucarraga, smiling, made a motion with his hand and said, very gently: 'Wait. Perhaps Urrabieta has fallen asleep. He must have had so much to do, last night!'

"All at once a sergeant came running up toward the officers, very pale and with tears in his eyes. Urrabieta, the surgeon, had just been found among the dead, where he had fallen, laid low by a bullet, upon the corpse of a Naverrese whose wound he had been looking to. It had happened in the darkness, like all the rest of it. A stray bullet. Those bits of lead, they bring death just as surely to those who cure as to those who kill!

"Then there was consternation among the Carlists. Zucarraga's wound might be serious; nay, it was serious. And no surgeon to attend to it! Waiting to summon those of the adjacent army-corps, that would be a proceeding fraught with danger. He was losing blood freely. Then one of his officers walked straight up to the group of prisoners and asked in a loud voice:

"'Is there a surgeon among you?'

"Garrido's men looked one another in the face. No, there was no surgeon. They were all soldiers.

"'No one who can dress a wound?'

"Thereupon a man made answer: 'Yes, I can!'

"'Step forward, you!'

"The man came forth from the drove of poor, dejected creatures, wounded, some of them. He advanced with head proudly erect. It was Araquil.

"'You are not a soldier?' said the officer.

"'No.'

"'Why are you here?'

"'Because they put me here. I am not a combatant, I am not. I was going to Bilbao to visit my relations, and the battle blocked my way. That is how it was.'

"'And you know something of medicine?'

"'No. But I know how to treat wounds. I am a bit of a torero at odd times.'

"The officer was distrustful and brought Araquil up to Zucarraga, who allowed his big black eyes to rest on the handsome young fellow. Then the Carlist chief called on him for an explanation. Araquil invented a story: he was longing to embrace his old parents, who were shut up in Bilbao. It was not his fault if the civil war separated families like that. He went his way, leading his usual life among the firing of the hostile armies.

"'You belong to the Basque country? Why are you not with the legitimist Pretender?' Zucarraga asked in turn.

"'Because I take sides with no one.'

"'The officers had been examining and scrutinizing the young man rather doubtfully. His answer elicited some murmurs among them, which Zucarraga checked.

"'Every one is free to do as he pleases,' he gently said. Then, bending his limpid glance straight into Juan's eyes: 'You say that you know something of the healing art? Can you, at least, alleviate my pain? I am suffering greatly.'

"He pointed to his bare, bloodstained leg beneath the trousers that had been turned up and that were stiff with the red fluid.

"Araquil took off his jacket, impetuously tore off the left sleeve of his shirt and on the improvised bandage, unseen of all, all the time manipulating the bit of linen, he slowly poured a few drops of a liquid—that which he had in his ring on his finger—and then, pale as a sheet, took two steps forward toward Zucarraga, who had never taken his eyes off him for a moment.

"There was no tremor in Araquil's hand as it held that piece of linen, marked with a small yellow stain. As he was about to kneel before Zucarraiga to bind up his wound, one of the officers said to the Carlist leader:

"'We know nothing of this man!'

"The other replied, still with a smile on his face:

"'True, but neither do we know the physician, nor the priest.'

"And he stretched his leg out toward Juan Araquil with a painful effort.

"'But what causes that yellow spot?' a captain inquired.

"'A remedy of my own, for the wound of the corrida,' Juan replied.

"'Nonsense!'

"During all the operation Zucarraga never once took his great black eye away from that of Juan, and scarcely had the bandage been applied to the wound when the partisan said: 'I feel better already!' Then, addressing Juan: 'You are free.'

"'But, general——,' interjected an officer.

"Zucarraga raised his head. 'The least that I can do, sir,' said he, 'for this good youth is to repay his service by another.' Then, addressing Araquil: 'What will you have beside?'

"'Nothing,' answered the other.

"Zucarraga took from the pocket of his tunic a little cigarette case of Manilla straw and handed it to Juan: 'In remembrance of me!'

"'No,' said Juan.

"'Oh! oh!'—and Zucarraga smiled—'I fear that you don't cherish very kindly feelings toward the servants of Don Carlos. Will you accept nothing from me?'

"'Yes, a cigarette.'

"Araquil selected a papelito from the cigarette case and was looking at it and turning it about in his fingers in a mechanical sort of way before putting it in his pocket, when Zucarraga asked him:

"'Your name?'

"'Juan Araquil.'

"'Well! Araquil, go, and God be with you! And if you want to see your relations, wait until we make our entry into Bilbao. It won't be long!—Give me your hand!'

"Araquil, who was very pale, shook the hand that the wounded man held out to him, put on his jacket, and with a salute to the officers and a salute to the prisoners, forthwith took himself off, very leisurely, without hurrying, followed still by the penetrating look of the Carlist hero.

"That same evening, in the little inn-parlor at Hernani that served as headquarters, old Garrido beheld the tall young man with whom he had conversed six days before on the Place de l'Ayuntamiento brought in under guard of some soldiers.

"The general was beside himself, he was ill, was threatened with congestion of the brain; since the disaster of the previous night he had been talking of shooting himself. He received Araquil as he would have received a dog.

"'What do you want here, fellow? What assurance have I that you did not put those miserable Carlists on their guard?'

"'You ask me what I want, general? I want to talk to you—to you, alone! Yes, alone!'

"And the lad spoke in 'such a distinct tone that old Garrido saw that he had something of importance to say and signed to his officers to leave them, the man and him.

"'Well! what is it?' he asked, when Juan's request had been complied with and they were alone.

"Araquil waited a moment before speaking, as if the saliva had retreated from his mouth and left it parched and dry; then all at once he blurted out:

"'You told me, general, that Zucarraga's life was worth a fortune?' And as Garrido made no answer: 'I am here to claim that fortune; I have earned it!'

"The general looked at him, knitting his eyebrows, wondering if he could have heard aright, and Araquil stood there, facing him, pale as death.

"'What do you mean? How, earned it?' said Garrido after a moment's silence. 'I do not understand you.'

"'It is very simple, nevertheless,' Juan answered. 'Zucarraga will never again give the command to fire on your troops.'

"'He is dead?'

"'He ought to be, by this time. If it is not all over to-night, it will be by to-morrow.'

"Old Garrido was deeply moved, and his face was as white as his mustache. He wished to know more, not understanding Araquil's 'it will be by to-morrow,' and the lad told him everything: how he had tracked the Carlist chief, how he had endeavored to plant his knife in his breast, and, finally, how he had poured upon the raw flesh of the wounded man the poison of that ring that he had been keeping for himself.

"It seemed to the general as if he were choking, strangling, in the clutches of some hideous nightmare. Beneath his snowy locks his black eyes blazed like balls of fire. He only allowed himself to say:

"'You did that, you? You did that? To a wounded man?'

"Then Juan, speaking as a madman might speak, went on to tell how he would have done a great deal more than that for the sake of winning Pepa, and that as Father Chegaray had insisted on a portion of two thousand douros, he had taken those two thousand douros where he could find them. And besides—and the general himself had said it—he had caused the death of many men, and was continually causing their death, and brave men, too, this Zucarraga!

"'In battle, yes!' said Garrido hotly. 'In battle!'

"But that was an argument that had no force for Araquil; the only justification that he offered for what he had done was his passion for Pepa. He wanted Pepa. He could purchase her with the blood of Zucarraga* It was well. That was all there was of it.

"Garrido had promised; Araquil came there, demanding payment of the debt. The general said:

"'It is no more than just.'

"He asked where Pepa lived, summoned an aid-de-camp, gave him the address and, pointing to Araquil, said:

"'You will lodge that man in the Fonda del Sol. And to-morrow you will have the chaplain in readiness. Yes, for a marriage. Go!'

"Juan's night in the fonda that had been transformed into a guardhouse seemed to him to pass very slowly. A long, long night it was, that seemed as if it would never end, with the distant barking of dogs—those howls that tell of coming death—and the sound of firing down there in the direction of the Carlist advanced posts.

"With the approach of morning he fell into a light slumber, dreaming of Pepa and, in his dream, placing gold coins in old Chegaray's skinny hand, the portion of a living woman, the money received for a corpse.

"It was broad day when a detachment of soldiers, headed by a sergeant, came to take Juan from the guardhouse. Who was it that wanted him? The general. More than this, in reply to Araquil's questions, the sergeant would not answer. They ascended the main street of Hernani, the little, narrow street where the houses were crowded and bunched closely together, with ancient escutcheons carved on their sandstone walls and those blue and yellow moucharabies that struck you as so pretty awhile ago, until at last they halted on the Grande Place. The weather was splendid; a brilliant sun was gilding the red walls of the old church and the shattered ruins, blackened by fire, of the Hôtel de Ville. The square was crowded with people; troops were drawn up in line, and near the church steps stood Garrido in full uniform, very pale, with his officers about him, while a few steps away, beautiful as a saint in the black veils of her holiday attire, was Pepa, with old Chegaray standing at her side.

"Araquil beheld all that at a glance: the assembled troops with their bayonets gleaming in the sunlight, the general, the beautiful girl, and through the open doors of the church, down there at the bottom of the scene, a chapelle ardente, the great chapel all streaming with light and gold.

"They conducted him before Garrido.

"Araquil cast a searching look upon Pepa, and she regarded him with a strange air from out her black eyes beneath their fringe of long lashes, and it seemed to Juan that the gilded mass-book that she held in her hand—the book upon which she had sworn to be his wife—was trembling in the clasp of her black-gloved fingers.

"'Bring hither the priest!' said the general. "The holy man appeared upon the steps of stone as if he had been awaiting the general's order—a white-robed priest, who stopped upon the threshold, motionless as a statue—the while the great bells in the campanile were pealing forth from their wide mouths, wide-gaping mouths like those of great siege-guns, their festal hosannah, the merry marriage hymn, the hymn of the happy!

"'Tiburcio Chegaray,' said the general, then, addressing the old farmer, 'here is Juan Araquil with the portion of two thousand douros that you demanded as the condition of giving him your daughter. That which is promised should be performed. Do you consent to the marriage of Juan Araquil and your child?'

"Old Chegaray answered in a hoarse voice:

"'Yes!'

"'Juan Araquil,' said Garrido, "you consent to receive Pepa Chegaray as your wife?'

"'Yes,' replied Juan, in a tone of deep feeling.

"He had thrown into that yes the very essence of his being. The priest stood waiting, ready to give them his benediction.

"'Pepa Chegaray,' demanded Garrido, turning to the young woman, 'do you consent to receive Juan Araquil, who stands before you, as your husband?'

"Pepa advanced two steps toward Juan, cast her handsome black eyes upon him, and made answer:

"'No!'

"There was a stifled outcry among the crowd that filled the space behind the line of soldiers, an ominous oh! The soldiers stood motionless, watching the scene.

"'No,' repeated the young girl, raising her voice, 'I have sworn that I would marry no one but you, and having made that vow, I will marry no one. But never will I be the wife of a dastard!'

"Juan Araquil might have been taken for one bereft of reason, as he stood there looking at her; his face was haggard and drawn and as white as the priest's cope. Far, very far in the distance, from the depths of the valley, the assemblage could now hear the mournful sound of a bell as it rose and rose and swelled over the intervening hills, the sound of the funeral knell, the long-drawn, wailing lament of the bell mourning the dead. The Carlists were ringing the knell of the dying, and the poison had done its work.

"The bells of Hernani, too, as if wishing in their turn to do honor to the dying man, had gradually ceased ringing; they were silent, up there in their tower, and all that was heard was the tolling of the knell, the distant knell.

"Then, all at once, the knell, too, ceased tolling and a silence settled down upon the crowded place, as if the wind had whispered to all those ears the news that all was over down there in the valley.

"'Zucarraga is dead!' said old Garrido.

"Araquil cast a burning glance toward Pepa, as if beseeching her to read his thoughts.

"'It is for thy sake! It was for thy sake!' he said to her reproachfully.

"Pepa turned away her head.

"Then the general, addressing Juan, coldly said:

"'Araquil, what disposition do you wish made of your two thousand douros?'

"'The money?' Araquil had understood. 'Let it be given to the poor. I want nothing for myself, not even a cross in the graveyard.' Pointing to the platoon that had acted as guard to him, he added: 'That is for me, I suppose?'

"'Araquil, no man takes a soldier's life by poison,' replied Garrido.

"Then Juan Araquil made the sign of the cross, kneeled before the priest and said aloud: 'God have mercy on my soul!' And now the bells of Hernani were tolling the knell for the dying, even as those of the plain had done, down beneath the hill of Santa Barbara.

"Juan arose, took from the pocket of his jacket a cigarette, the cigarette that Zucarraga had given him, and asked the sergeant for a light. When the papelito was alight he placed it between his lips, turned and gave a last look at Pepa, who made a movement as if she would have gone to him, but nerved herself and remained where she was, and the tall, handsome lad, with a melancholy smile upon his face, lifted his head proudly and was lost to sight among the soldiers, who moved off in obedience to a sign from Garrido.

"Pepa turned, endeavoring to see him, to catch one last glimpse of him; she could not distinguish him in the circle of muskets that was receding along the church wall; all that she could make out was a little cloud of smoke, a thin blue smoke that rose above the heads of the men, among the flashing bayonets, and floated away in the clear sky.

"And chants were begun, and prayers were put up, there in the church, while Juan Araquil, passing along that red wall, in the bright sunlight, was taking the last pull at his cigarette.

"Then, amid the silence as of death that reigned over the place, Pepa heard a command given in the distance and a rattling as of arms shifted, and then there came to her ears, distinctly audible, this word: 'Fire!'

"She fell upon her knees, heartbroken, and was beginning to recite aloud: 'Our Father, which art in heaven,—' but the crash of the discharge that ensued immediately brought her prayer to an abrupt end.

"At the same instant Juan Araquil, who until then had remained erect against the wall of the parsonage, his breast streaming with blood, sank, face downward, lifeless to the ground.

"When the sergeant approached the body to fire the 'shot of mercy' into the ear, the cigarette that Juan was holding in his fingers was still emitting a little thread of blue smoke—Zucarraga's cigarette! And that smoke outlived Zucarraga the hero, and Araquil the murderer."



Copyright.svg PD-icon.svg This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.
Original:

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

 
Translation:

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1952, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.