When her eyes opened again, Montalvo, officer, notary, and soldiers, all had vanished.
THE MARE’S STABLE
When Lysbeth’s reason returned to her in that empty room, her first sense was one of wild exultation. She was free, she was not Montalvo’s wife, never again could she be obliged to see him, never again could she be forced to endure the contamination of his touch—that was her thought. She was sure that the story was true; were it not true who could have moved the authorities to take action against him? Moreover, now that she had the key, a thousand things were explained, trivial enough in themselves, each of them, but in their sum amounting to proof positive of his guilt. Had he not spoken of some entanglement in Spain and of children? Had he not in his sleep—but it was needless to remember all these things. She was free! She was free! and there on the table still lay the symbol of her bondage, the emerald ring that was to give him the means of flight, a flight from this charge which he knew was hanging over him. She took it up, dashed it to the ground and stamped upon it. Next she fell upon her knees, praising and blessing God, and then, worn out, crept away to rest.
The morning came, the still and beautiful autumn morning, but now all her exultation had left her, and Lysbeth was depressed and heavy hearted. She rose and assisted the one servant who remained in the house to prepare their breakfast, taking no heed of the sidelong glances that the woman cast at her. Afterwards she went to the market to spend some of her last florins in necessaries. Here and in the streets she became aware that she was the object of remark, for people nudged each other and stared at her. Moreover, as she hurried home appalled, her quick ear caught the conversation of two coarse women while they walked behind her.
“She’s got it now,” said one.
“Serve her right, too,” answered the other, “for running after and marrying a Spanish don.”
“Marrying?” broke in the first, “it was the best that she could do. She couldn’t stop to ask questions. Some corpses must be buried quickly.”
Glancing behind her, Lysbeth saw the creature nip her nostrils with her fingers, as though to shut out an evil smell.
Then she could bear it no longer, and turned upon them.
“You are evil slanderers,” she said, and walked away swiftly, pursued by the sound of their loud, insulting laughter.
At the house she was told that two men were waiting to see her. They proved to be creditors clamouring for large sums of money, which she could not pay. Lysbeth told them that she knew nothing of the matter. Thereupon they showed her her own writing at the foot of deeds, and she remembered that she had signed more things than she chose to keep count of, everything indeed that the man who called himself her husband put before her, if only to win an hour of blessed freedom from his presence. At length the duns went away vowing that they would have their money if they dragged the bed from under her.