And she laughed a cruel, mocking laugh—that cut Rafael to the quick. The young man bowed his head and his chest heaved painfully, as if the tears that could not find issue through his eyes were stifling, choking him. He seemed on the point of utter collapse.
Leonora repented of her cruelty.
She stepped up to the boy until she was almost touching him. Then taking his chin in her two hands, she made him raise his head.
“Oh, I have hurt you, haven’t I! What mean things I said to the poor child! Let me see now. Lift that head up! Look me straight in the eye! Say that you forgive me.... That cursed habit I have of never holding my tongue! I have offended you; but please, don’t pay any attention to that! I was joking! What a fine way of repaying you for what you did that night!... No; Rafael, you are a very handsome chap indeed ... and very distinguished ... and you will make a great name for yourself, up in Madrid!... You’ll be what they call a ‘personage,’ and you’ll marry—oh my—a very stylish, elegant, society girl! I can see all that.... But, meanwhile, my dear boy, don’t depend on me. We are going to be friends, and nothing more than friends, ever! Why, there are tears in your eyes! Well, here. Come ... kiss my hand, I will let you ... as you did that night—there, like that! I could be yours only if I loved you; but alas! I shall never fall in love with the dashing Rafaelito! I’m an old woman, already, and I’ve been so lavish with my heart, spent it so freely, I’m afraid I have none left.... Poor, poor little Rafael! I’m so sorry ... but, you see, you came so late ... so late ...!”
Hidden in the tall, thick rose-bushes that bounded the plazoleta in front of the Blue House, and under four old dead palms that drooped their branches dry and melancholy under the vigorous tufts of younger trees, were two rubblework benches, white-washed, the backs and armrests of ancient Valencian tiles, the glazed surfaces flecked with arabesques and varicolored fancies inherited from days of Saracen rule—sturdy, but comfortable seats, with the graceful lines of the sofas of the Eighteenth Century; and in them Leonora liked to spend her time in late afternoons especially, when the palm trees covered the little square with a cool, delightful shade.
On that warm March day, dona Pepa was sitting in one of them, her silver-rimmed spectacles on her nose, reading the “Life” of the day’s saint. At her side was the maid. A true daughter of the campagna of Rome, Beppa had been trained to piety from her earliest years; and she was listening attentively so as not to miss a word.
On the other bench were Leonora and Rafael. The actress, with lowered head, was following the movements of her hands, busily engaged on some embroidery.