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 Nacha's disappearance caused her sister profound disgust. There were not hours enough in the day for the stories she told the boarders about her sister, in an attempt to discredit Nacha forever. The rancher was thoroughly indignant, believing that he had been made a fool of. He had always had his suspicions of city folk! And he stamped out of the house booted and spurred as on the day of his arrival, confident that his prompt withdrawal from this society was a means of getting even with Cata, her sister, the students, who now openly tittered at him, and all the rest of the capital's inhabitants. A few days after taking a room in the house where Monsalvat was lodging Nacha wrote to her sister. She assured Cata she need no longer fear being compromised by her presence, since her desire to free herself of Nacha's society had been accomplished, even though not quite as she had planned. Her way lay open now to marriage with the doctor. Nacha would never annoy her nor see her again, if that suited Cata's desires. As to the rancher, Cata could throw all the blame on her in order to appease him, say what she would of her, even attribute to her the whole plan of the engagement. In this fashion Cata could wash her hands of the whole affair, and the rancher need not leave the pensión. Nacha wanted to ask him to forgive her for the trouble she had caused him; but she reflected that he probably would not understand her nor would anyone else for that matter. She had better let him think whatever had been put into his head by her sister.
Nacha borrowed a little money from the lawyer who had so disinterestedly come to her help before. This sum she hoped to return when her mother's house had been sold and she received her share of the inheritance. She paid Monsalvat's debts and used the rest of her money to provide him with clothing, Monsalvat protesting all the while, and even growing angry. But whenever Nacha threatened to leave him, he meekly allowed her to do as she pleased.
Little by little he grew better. Nacha's presence was a powerful tonic. Every afternoon they went out together for a walk to Palermo, to the Zoological Gardens, to Lezama Park. In a few months Monsalvat had recovered from his seriously weakened condition.
But while his general health improved, his eyesight grew steadily poorer. Newspapers were now quite beyond him. He could read nothing but books in large type, and then only with the help of a magnifying glass. One morning he had to admit that even that had become impossible. The objects in his room had receded, and came forward only to meet his outstretched hands. He was living in a mysterious, all-enveloping, and constantly deepening dusk. Up to that moment he had paid small heed to this trouble, believing it would pass with the rest of his ill-health. But on that morning the cruel thought came to him in all its horror—night was falling on his life! He was alone in a vast solitude, cut off from the world, from his friends, from Nacha. The realization of what was happening to him taxed all his resources of courage. As he searched the depths of his soul for the needed help, the world seemed to grow small, as ephemeral as a glittering bubble. After all, this last and greatest catastrophe was but a trifling detail in the universal tragedy! The ideas he had lived by lost their significance too in the slow, throbbing ache of this new pain. Death had already claimed a part of him!
He had mentioned to Nacha on several occasions that his sight was dim, and she, from her own observations had been well aware of it. Quite recently he had taken to leaning on her arm when they went out walking. But he could speak of this trouble only so long as he thought it unimportant. Now he was afraid to speak of it. Doing so might make it worse! He would say nothing; and when it had passed, he would remember his fears and confess them to Nacha. But would it pass? Monsalvat tried to use the power of suggestion on himself, fill his mind with hope, not so much for the sake of the hope itself as to be able to live, to go on living. How face the prospect of endless night? How endure the touch of Death's hand on living eyes?
But when Nacha came to his room one morning she understood what had happened. She did not utter a word; but Monsalvat felt that she had sensed his fear, his certainty! As she stood beside him, emotion mastered him for the moment. Holding out his arms to her, he drew her to him.
"Nacha!" His voice broke and he made a quick gesture, hinting at the cause of his distress.
"Don't feel so badly about it. We'll go to the doctor's this afternoon. Surely they will get well...!"
But her eyes filled with tears and, though he could no longer see her, she hid her face.
Nacha had already spoken of her fears to Torres, who called on his friend and watched him intently. He gave Nacha little encouragement. This had prepared her somewhat for an unfavorable report from the specialist. But she had spent the interval between Torres' visit and this call at the clinic in a state of increasing anxiety. Whenever she was with Monsalvat she could not keep her eyes away from his, as though her own clear sight must somehow summon his vision from the depths into which it had retreated.
The specialist made a long and thorough examination, and shook his head. There was no hope——
"Your case is not so serious, brother!" he said to Monsalvat. "I'll give you some drops which will improve your general eye condition a little."
"You think I will get better then?"
"A little—yes. It's quite possible. Science can do a great deal—and nature too has her surprises. In short, there's no reason to despair. I've seen worse cases!............
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