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HOME > Short Stories > Nacha Regules > CHAPTER XXII
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 The storm had passed. Calm had returned to the world. Monsalvat was living in a sanatorium at Almagro, to which his friends had taken him. Tranquil and silent, he spent nearly the entire day in the small park, with its lofty eucalyptus groves, thinking of nothing, trying not to think. He was new-born. What did the past matter? He was going to look ahead! Life lay before, not behind, him! Even Nacha no longer existed; or rather, had ceased to exist for him! With her, a whole universe—all that he knew and loved, all that his feelings and thought had created in him—had vanished from his heart and mind. Not that he denied the reality of the past year; but, the storm weathered, he found himself looking at a new world, and he could not live in its presence with the same opinions and feelings as before.
Peace had come to him; but he lacked something that he loved even more than peace: freedom; and now that he felt sane and sound, he wanted to escape from his present surroundings. Moreover, two inoffensive maniacs had recently come to the sanatorium. Their presence annoyed Monsalvat, for he could not see that they differed very much from himself. At times he wondered if his attempts to reform the world might not become a mania also, and bring him down to the level of these harmless lunatics.
His friends came but rarely to see him, for the sanatorium was a little distance out of town. Their consciences were clear since they were paying Monsalvat's expenses.
One afternoon, however, after Monsalvat's complete recovery, Ruiz de Castro and Torres called on him. They sat in the garden, talking and for the first time since his illness, touched on the forbidden subject. Monsalvat had perhaps led them on, by confiding to them his curious sensation of having just come to life, as fresh and new as a new-born baby. With a view to determining his friend's actual state of mind, Torres observed:
"So you see how useless all those efforts of yours really are...."
"Not at all," Monsalvat declared. "It is never useless to try to help people."
"Granted that you help others," de Castro broke in, "just the same, you did yourself a lot of harm!"
"You are quite mistaken. I have done myself a great deal of good—so much good that today I am not the discontented, dejected man I was a year ago. I don't know what I shall do tomorrow; but I know that if I am really a different man, I shall owe the transformation to my idealistic view of life."
"So you're going right on with that fool business!" Torres exclaimed. "I fail to see the new man in you. On the contrary, I should say your trouble is that life doesn't teach you anything. After a year of failure—failure in every sense of the word—you are still planning to reform the world, and all by yourself!"
Monsalvat was silent a moment. Then he answered calmly:
"It is life—not my failures, because I didn't fail—that has taught me how powerless individual effort is. I believe now that not only would I fail to reform the world, but also that a million men setting about it each on his own hook, as I did, would fail too."
"Well, at last!" exclaimed Ruiz de Castro. "It's about time you became convinced that the world can't be changed."
"I didn't say that. On the contrary I consider it more capable of reform now than ever it was. But I also know that a program is necessary, and a method, and training! I know now that the idealism of one individual, the action of one man, does not help much to bring about ultimate success. But I do not go back on individual ideals, individual accomplishment; because it is the individual who provides the impulse, the forward push, the motive power, if you like, without which nothing can move. The only trouble is that all these energies are isolated, uncoordinated.... However, you see my point: before you can have action to accomplish a purpose, you must have a vision of what the purpose is. The ideal precedes and accompanies the accomplishment of reform—that you understand! The world must be reformed, must be built up again rather, from its foundations. We must go about such a matter slowly—but not too slowly—and so, little by little...! But every so often the idealist, the dreamer, the madman and the fool, all those who fight the great battle with their hearts, must give a vigorous thrust forward!"
His two friends looked at one another.... A hopeless case!
"But why so many reforms in the world? Just so that you can marry a prostitute?" Torres brutally rejoined.
Monsalvat did not reply; and the doctor, ashamed of his outbreak, tried to make up for it by a show of affection. Monsalvat sat beside him on a bench; and as Torres went on to trivial matters, he patted his patient on the shoulder now and then.
After a while they went away, none too well pleased. Monsalvat saw plainly that everything about him—his opinions, his recent life, his feelings—were compromising these friends of his. They were kindly and relatively generous fellows, but he knew that they were weak in the presence of social pressure. However much they might care for him, if they should have to choose between him and society, they would without question side with the latter.
The moment this became clear to him, he thought of nothing but of making his escape. He did not want his friends to know where he was going. If he was compromising them he would spare them the trouble and the annoyance of having to desert him. He would desert them. He would rather appear ungrateful than accept the unpleasant situation which is bound to arise when people want to cut a friendship short, and have not the courage to do it. Monsalvat wished to be free also; free, not economically,—for he could earn a living somehow—but free from those friends who constituted the only bond still tying him to society.
One day he fled from the sanatorium. As he possessed only the clothes he was wearing and his pockets were empty, he walked from Almagro to the capital. It was dawn when he started out. The limpid sky deepened into a blue which still showed a few stars. In the streets the shadows were slowly drawing back into such retreats as the trees offered, hanging veil-like about their trunks and branches, and in the distance, out towards the harbor, a delicate rose light had risen to view. What an extraordinary sensation, this first contact with living things, after months of isolation! How innocent life seemed, and young! Oh, surely, the world was new, it had been born again!
Passing along the solitary streets, he lived in his dream, feeling neither cold nor fatigue. Everything had been made over. The sky was clearer than before, objects had an unknown beauty, men were living in harmony.
Then it occurred to him that so it must always seem to one who wanders alone under a sky, and amid colors that offer love to a world awakening to the day; and then he remembered that of all men, only the humble of the earth see this dawn-light, and carry something of its tenderness in their hearts. Was it this, perhaps, which kept them from noticing the approach of another dawn, already sending its heralds across the sky?
He had left the tree-bordered avenues now. The city was awakening. Poor folk, laborers for the most part, passed him now at every step. House doors were opening. The deep blue of the sky had given place to a luminous clarity, and the world was rosy for a moment, enveloped in a shining softness. Then the sun rose, and morning filled with sounds and lights, joys and sorrows. Life! Monsalvat took a deep breath; for it seemed that with this air he breathed in freedom too. He felt that he was sound and good.
But suddenly fatigue overtook him. He tried to distance it, but in vain. It hung on his legs, weighting down his body, making it hard for him to walk. When he reached the Plaza del Once he sat down on a bench, and rested there for an hour, dozing a little. Then he began to consider his situation. Where should he go? First of all he must find lodgings. In a miserable hotel on the Plaza, they refused to give him a room because he had no luggage; and be met with the same refusal in other cheap inns. So the morning passed. Finally he bethought him of a Spaniard whose wife kept a boarding house on the Plaza Lavalle, and for whom he had once done a favor; so he set out for this address.
It was already past noon and he began to feel the pangs of hunger. He tried to pass quickly by the Court buildings in the Plaza Lavalle, anxious to escape the notice of his former colleagues. But suddenly, as he was crossing the street, he saw in front of him a shabbily dressed individual who was bowing to him with exaggerated servility. It was none other than Moreno, still haunting the courts in quest of copying to do, or errands to run. Monsalvat inquired after his wife and Irene.
"Oh, Doctor, misfortune has taken possession of my hearth and home! Irene—but why speak of past troubles? Some other time, Doctor, I'll tell you this melancholy story. Now we are struggling, with a little success, I may say, against the cruel persecutions of the Fates. My wife has a position as janitress in a tenement house. It's a little distance out, over Barracas way, near the bridge. But we manage to keep alive."
As he went on talking it occurred to Monsalvat that he had found a solution for his problem. He asked Moreno if there were any unoccupied rooms in the house he spoke of.
"Yes, Doctor, there are. But why this question?"
"Because I wish to take one of them at once."
Moreno stood open-mouthed with astonishment. Then he protested in a welter of words. He could never permit Doctor Monsalvat, that light of the Law, to live in the wretched hovel which he inhabited. Monsalvat, however, insisted that that was his affair. Moreno concluded that Monsalvat had chosen that section of the city to carry out some kind of philanthropical scheme, and consented to take him home. Besides, he was sure to profit eventually by Monsalvat's presence in the same house! A peso here and there, for a quiet little session in a saloon now and then, to say nothing of the pretexts he could find for borrowing—urgent creditors, need of clothing, food, and so on!
Moreno was giving his address when some words of Monsalvat's thrust him into unfathomable depths of bewilderment. The doctor was actually asking him for carfare! Moreno stood transfixed, his arms outspread, a look of terror on his sallow face.
"You're surely joking, Doctor!" he exclaimed, incredulous. "Can it be that Moreno, poor pariah that he is, Moreno, stepson of Providence, should be asked to lend a—a nickel—to the learned and illustrious Doctor Fernando Monsalvat?"
He looked at his admired protector and saw that now, at least, the man was not to be envied. He was on the point of taking back what he had said about a room to let in his tenement house. Finally, in a burst of generosity, he took a dime from his pocket and gave it to Monsalvat. As the latter walked away, Moreno stood a full quarter of an hour, his arms crossed on his chest, meditating and philosophizing on the vicissitudes of human destiny.
Monsalvat took up his abode in the tenement. He wrote to his father's wife, suggesting a cash compromise for the rights to his father's property that he might claim from the surmised exi............
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