It had been an inescapable nightmare, the confusion of it all. The next morning, Veronica heard from the staff of the repercussions of that night’s event, little bits and pieces that were not entirely certain of the whole. Most of the relayed fragments were suspect to a much more devious truth.
The understanding was this: an uproarious battle of voices had ensued in Veronica’s bedroom between the Marquesa de Amontoní and the General de Flores, an argument filled with such heated language that the Marquesa’s own staff had intruded upon the scene as many as two times against her wishes, fearing for her safety. Objects were destroyed: vases, crystal, even windows were shattered. This was a battle that was inconceivable between a lady and a gentleman, a battle entirely unheard of under the Amontoní roof.
“The language she used, my God. I’ve never heard such words from a lady’s mouth,” said Clara to the girl in a dark whisper. The maid spoke as if she were horrified by them, the words, condemnations, some filthy derivations of slang from other Spanish dialects even, words she would not even have to courage to admit in a confessional, she said.
“She spoke as if she didn’t care who heard her,” said a kitchen maid who had delivered supper to the footmen after the event. “And Nicolau, he was outraged. Beyond offended that she should slap him in the face when he barged in for the second time out of concern for her safety. All the crashing of the furniture. One of his men said that after things settled, Nicolau would take his leave of the house. Disastrous for us all, really. This is most unfortunate,” she ended.
Veronica had lived through all of this without a solitary word from Marcelina. If the woman had so much as looked upon her, it might all have been sufferable, this whispering noise from the household, these half-truths based on half-truths. But Marcelina kept to herself after it was over and throughout the following morning. She avoided the girl. And when Marcelina eventually did show up at the girl’s new room, the servants having moved her out of the scandalous scene completely, Veronica feared the worst. And the worst might mean that she would be sent back to her mother, back to Madrid, where she would live through her engagement without this woman’s support.
Marcelina had simply entered Veronica’s suite without knocking, closing the anti-room door with a whisper behind her and crossing over to her niece silently. The woman’s face was pure agony, and Veronica found she must mimic this emotion instantly. Marcelina enclosed her arms around the child for a long while before uttering anything, satisfied to simply hold her.
Everything which Veronica had isolated and imprisoned in the recesses of her mind came bursting out onto her face, and the tears threatened to end her if she didn’t let them flood the room in their huge surges. She shuddered in her aunt’s arms and felt the acute edge of her pain as never before.
With this, Marcelina found herself in tears. None of these tears seemed to be over something specific, rather they were a vehicle for the misery of the night’s event. She hadn’t cried until now; indeed, she could not remember the last time she felt so vulnerable to tears. Everything in her life had been designed to preserve her happiness for so long, she could not even remember a time when the walls had come crashing in on her house. That her own will could not prevent anything so horrid from happening devastated her, utterly. Marcelina had always understood that true and absolute control was simply an illusion conjured and held to by a simple and selfish mind. The truth was reason enough for tears.
“He is gone, dear. You will not see him ever again.” Marcelina felt that this one truth might anchor her back to the struggle she faced. It was a place from which to begin again.
“I am so sorry, dear. Oh, my child, I am so sorry I let this happen to you. All of it is my fault,” Marcelina sobbed.
Veronica pulled away from her with a horrified start. “No!”
Marcelina didn’t understand this, the tortured look upon the girl’s face. What was this?
“No, Tia, all this is my fault,” the girl sobbed. “I did it, I let him touch me, I’m the one who wanted it to happen. Oh God, I’m so sorry, Tia, I didn’t understand. I wanted it to do it and I couldn’t think of what might happen.”
“But this is nonsense, Veronica, this murmuring. What do you speak of? You did nothing wrong!”
“Oh no, Tia, it was all my doing!”
The girl could not be stopped now and the story sprang forth from her like a tidal wave. She relied on their intimacy to reconstruct the story with the most intimate of details, of the joys and the horrors. She left out nothing. Veronica simply had to tell the woman everything she could remember. Any fear of harsh judgments could bear no weight on her mind, the need to release it all was too great.
And when she was through, Veronica felt a sweet relief for one precious moment before the terribleness of it all came back and forced the miserable tears out again.
Marcelina sat back on the sofa now and stared out into space, her tears drying, her composure returning. “I understand dear, I see what happened.” She smiled now, “Well, I suppose it’s reasonable for you to know that Eduardo was very sorry, as well. He managed to carry a huge amount of the blame upon his shoulders, even before I recriminated him to take on the full load.”
Veronica did not know how to respond, she did not understand what was meant by this.
“I sent him out of this house for reasons other than merely what happened between you both.”
“Reasons?” Veronica whispered.
A stitch of pain folded above Marcelina’s eyes. “It is terrible of me, I am so ashamed by the way I’ve behaved, the things I said to him. I didn’t want to hear anything he said.”
“What do you mean?” the girl prompted when the woman fell silent.
“My first thought was not of you,” she said painfully. “It did not even cross my mind that something might be terribly wrong with you. I was furious with him because he slept with someone else. Can you imagine that? Me, a widow, and him a married man who had been failing his wife with me now for… I don’t know how many years. As if I were some celebrated courtesan! And I was outraged that he had taken on another woman! And that it should be my niece under my own roof filled me with such fury that I set out to murder him right there in the room. I threw things at him, hoping to knock him into death. And I wouldn’t listen to a thing he had to say. I felt myself falling out of the violence only after everything had been smashed, and even when I somehow brought up my composure about me, I still would not listen to a thing he said.”
Veronica understood now, and it was only of the slightest comfort that her aunt had not known how much she had suffered in the silence of the morning.
“But you needn’t worry about any of it, dear. He was simply not compatible with you, there really isn’t more to it than that. Don’t feel shame in it, darling, really. He was a very unusual man, physically, and he is more than used to not being compatible with most women. I’m sure he suffers for it immensely. But let us put it all behind us now.”