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 One afternoon as Torres was lunching with Ruiz de Castro in a restaurant on the Esmeralda he thought he caught a glimpse of Nacha. As a matter of fact it was Nacha. She was returning to the store where she had been employed some six years earlier, and with her were a number of other girl employees, for it was nearly two o'clock, the end of the lunch hour. Torres would have gone up to speak to her if he had been alone; but Ruiz was relating his adventures with that plump lady who had carried on so persistent a discussion with Monsalvat at de Castro's dinner party, and had so eloquently defended established institutions.
"You don't say!" murmured Torres, absently; for all his attention was fixed on the slender figure hovering in front of the huge shop door which was about to open and swallow her up.
"She's a wonder, my friend," proclaimed Ruiz, who was given to committing indiscretions in words as well as actions. "What passion! and how she can sob!"
When Torres reached his house he went at once to talk to Monsalvat who was now living with him. After the serious illness that had followed close upon his interview with Nacha, Torres had taken him in hand, and when he discovered that his patient was paying no attention to doctor's orders, had carried him off to his own home where he could insist on obedience. He persuaded Monsalvat to ask for a two months' leave, for there was no doubt that he was suffering from brain-fag and serious nervous derangement.
Torres had a theory that Monsalvat's condition was not entirely due to his passion for Nacha. He knew the history of his friend's moral struggles, and he believed that the causes of Monsalvat's illness were numerous and complex. The latter's abrupt change of attitude towards life could not but profoundly affect his whole nature. Following this, had come several months of constant self-reproach, and self-disgust for the uselessness and selfishness of his life up to that time. He went as far as to blame himself for his inability to transform the world. Torres had tried, vainly, to prove to him that he was far from useless, and that no one could have called him selfish. His conduct compared surprisingly well with that of other men of his generation; and his reputation indicated general recognition of that fact. Monsalvat protested that all this might be true from a superficial and worldly view of his life, but it only proved how false were society's standards.
"Useless and selfish," Monsalvat repeated. "Not less so than prominent politicians or ranch owners, lawyers, and men in society. We are all selfish. I do not condemn myself only. I condemn all the rest as well. The world is full of evil, selfishness, meanness—and I have shared in it all. That is why I despise myself, and abhor my past life."
Torres wisely kept silent, for fear of exciting his patient.
It was clear also that the knowledge of his sister's mode of life, and of the degradation his mother had fallen into before her death, had seriously injured Monsalvat's nervous system. The scene with Irene, his worrying about the tenement, the anxieties of that search through the world of fallen women, the sight of so many horrors, had all left their mark on him; and finally the shock of Eugenia's death, intensified by the manner in which he had learned of it, had played its part in undermining his health. Obviously his love for Nacha, his unsuccessful attempt to save her, the knowledge that she was leading a vicious life, perhaps because of him, were the principal causes of his breakdown, but all these other matters played an important part in bringing about his present condition.
Now, however, after two months of rest and quiet, Monsalvat was beginning to be himself. The companionship of Torres had done him a great deal of good. The doctor made him eat, gave him stimulants when he needed them, encouraged him to spend most of his time out of doors and even stayed up with him on the nights when he was unable to sleep.
Torres might have accomplished a complete cure, had not the evil that flourishes in certain human hearts prevented. Monsalvat had recently received some anonymous letters, four in all. One of them insulted him by insulting his mother, another called him to account for living on women, and being an anarchist! The other two were content with intimating that he belonged in a lunatic asylum, and would soon be put there. The effect of these letters was to excite him so that he could neither sleep nor eat. The first especially reawakened in him his life-long obsession, cruelly reminding him of what was, in his estimation, the reason for his moral bankruptcy.
The doctor wondered who could have sent these letters, for Monsalvat's position was not such as to excite envy. At the Ministry his new ideas had become known, and Monsalvat was looked upon with hostility or contempt. Even the Minister mistrusted him now. In the social circles where he was once respected, he had lost all consideration. Ercasty was methodically discrediting him, with admirable persistence and thoroughness. Informed by mutual acquaintances of Monsalvat's views with respect to Nacha and other girls of her sort, and of that frantic search through houses of ill-fame, he confirmed the rumor that Monsalvat had fallen very low indeed. At first he was content with making insinuations; but finally he came out with the bald statement that Monsalvat was a vulgar exploiter of women. Of course there were not lacking those who accused him of participating in frightful anarchist plots, and preparing bombs for wholesale assassinations.
Financially too he was ruined. The forty thousand of the mortgage raised on his property had melted away. His mother's debts, the mulatto's blackmail, Moreno's incessant appeals, had taken several thousand. His excursion through the city's public houses had cost him four thousand pesos. Ten thousand pesos had gone for improvements on the tenement. Monsalvat decided he would have to sell the building, for his salary was barely enough for his own expenses, and his tenants either paid no rent or paid very little.
That afternoon Monsalvat was reading as he lay in bed. The book beside him was the New Testament. On his face was reflected something of the serenity of late afternoon. When Torres opened the window to let in air and sunshine, everything in the room seemed to draw a breath, and grow animate. A bar of light like a luminous golden coverlet spread over the bed.
"Look at that!" exclaimed the doctor. "And you spend your time shut up here almost in the dark. You'll never get well that way. You ought to go to Palermo, stay out in the sun—and not read or write a line."
"I know what I need," replied his friend quietly.
"What do you need? You are always mysterious."
Monsalvat went on reading. Torres remained with him for a few moments and then withdrew without a word.
The doctor had been observing his friend for over a month, with constantly growing curiosity. Monsalvat's intelligence seemed to have grown sharper and deeper. He was still weak in body but his mind was keener than ever. He reasoned with irrefutable logic, and divined his opponent's arguments at a word. Torres attributed this mental fitness to mental exercise. His patient talked with no one but his host, did not go out, read very little; but all day long he was occupied in thinking and remembering, trying to interpret his past life, trying to understand the significance of the life he was then experiencing. He spent hours analyzing the persons he knew, and with extraordinary penetration. Torres was more than once overcome with amazement when Monsalvat guessed his thoughts.
"Why should you be startled?" Monsalvat asked him on a certain occasion. "What has happened is simply this. I am living from within now. Up to six months ago I lived from without, superficially; and the life I lived seemed to be the life of other people rather than my own. It was an objective, a false, a lying kind of life. Just like your own and that of nearly everyone. A materialistic kind of life, never transcending the commonplace, devoid of mystery, and of genuinely spiritual anxiety. But now my eyes are open and I begin to understand. I have analyzed myself, I have looked within; and I have discovered a great many things there that I knew nothing of. I know now what there is in me, and what parts of it are worth something, and what I must give to others. And I even begin to suspect why I am alive!"
"I knew before that...."
Torres stopped abruptly, not caring to end his sentence. He pretended to have forgotten what he wanted to say.
"Why don't you go on? Have you really forgotten what was on the tip of your tongue? Well, I know what it was. You were going to say that all that happened this past year, and the love I found, wou............
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