They began to talk of distractions, offered to take me to the theater; stopped my studies, and gave me foaming new milk to drink. Afterwards they poured cold water over my head and back to fortify my nerves; and I noticed that my father at table or in the morning when I went to his bedroom to bid him good morning, would gaze at me fixedly for some little time, and would sometimes pass his hand down my spine, feeling the vertebrae. I hypocritically lowered my eyes, resolved to die rather than confess my crime. As soon as I was free from the affectionate solicitude of my family, I found myself alone with my lady of the portrait. At last, to get nearer to her, I thought I would do away with the cold crystal. I trembled upon putting this into execution; but at last my love prevailed over the vague fear with which such a profanation filled me, and with skillful cunning I succeeded in pulling away the glass and exposing the ivory plate. As I pressed my lips to the painting I could scent the slight fragrance of the border of hair, I imagined to myself even more realistically that it was a living person whom I was grasping with my trembling hands. A feeling of faintness overpowered me, and I fell unconscious on the sofa, tightly holding the miniature.
When I came to my senses I saw my father, my mother, and my aunt, all bending anxiously over me; I read their terror and alarm in their faces; my father was feeling my pulse, shaking his head, and murmuring:
“His pulse is nothing but a flutter, you can scarcely feel it.”
My aunt, with her claw-like fingers, was trying to take the portrait from me, and I was mechanically hiding it and grasping it more firmly.
“But, my dear boy—let go, you are spoiling it!” she exclaimed. “Don’t you see you are smudging it? I am not scolding you, my dear.—I will show it to you as often as you like, but don’t destroy it; let go, you are injuring it.”
“Let him have it,” begged my mother, “the boy is not well.”
“Of all things to ask!” replied the old maid. “Let him have it! And who will paint another like this—or make me as I was then? Today nobody paints miniatures—it is a thing of the past, and I also am a thing of the past, and I am not what is represented there!”
My eyes dilated with horror; my fingers released their hold on the picture. I don’t know how I was able to articulate:
“You—the portrait—is you?”
“Don’t you think I am as pretty now, boy? Bah! one is better looking at twenty-three than at—than at—I don’t know what, for I have forgotten how old I am!”
My head drooped and I almost fainted again; anyway, my father lifted me in his arms on to the bed, and made me swallow some tablespoonfuls of port.
I recovered very quickly, and never wished to enter my aunt’s room again.
AN ANDALUSIAN DUEL
Serafin Estebanez Calderon