“Are you mad? It’s impossible,” Dídac hissed at the Marquesa. “She would never want such a thing. How can you imagine this for her? You’re her aunt, are you not? Do you not care for her honor? I won’t do it, I will not! Can you imagine how severe a disaster it would be for us if my family were to find out?”
“Please, señor,” she rolled her eyes, “you would not be here in this room now if that were of the slightest concern to either of us.”
She had settled him down to talk in her sitting room, pulling him to his seat lovingly, inspiring that wonderful passion in which he had felt absolute contentment the entire week after she’d accepted his terms of love.
But with only a few moments of caressing between them, she had put the same question to the boy as bluntly and indelicately as she had Veronica.
“How can you suggest this? She is to be my wife. Do you not care at all what this would do to her?”
“And what would it do to her? What would it do to you, for that matter? Are you not a gentleman, will you not treat her with all of the love and discretion that you would a wife? You have been waiting for this for months, have you not? You mean to tell me you would not jump at the opportunity to consummate your marriage with her now?”
“This is blasphemy! How dare you suggest I would dishonor her in that way before we are properly wed?”
“Spare me,” Marcelina grunted with the rise of her hand to shun his response. “You will not convince me that you believe such nonsense. Not after you’ve suffered to have me as your lover, not after you have wept tears in this very room for me to love you. I have spared you this as much as I can, but the time for you to play the role of a man is before you. There is nothing more of this sniveling that I will take from you. Veronica is a woman now, and as she has agreed to take you as her husband, so you should have the decency to take her into your arms now and cherish her for it. That’s what all this has been for! Can’t you see? I do love you, but I will not marry you. Your boyish sentimentalities must come to an end. You must move on to your duties, and I must move on with my life, as well.”
He was destroyed by this. The catalog of pain she sputtered out at him was more lethal than any sword. He could not feel his fingers any longer; it seemed the blood had emptied from his face.
“You promised me we would be together. You told me so yourself!”
“I did say those things, but you hear into those words implications that simply do not exist. We will always be together! You are to marry her, are you not? For all purposes, she is now my daughter, you will soon be my son, and there is no more instruction that you require. It is time you left the nest of my bed and take with you the considerable talents I have fostered in you. Exercise them on the woman you have chosen to be your wife! It is of no consequence how you feel; she will expertly manage through the effects of those outside influences you speak of, I assure you. You will remember, señor, as I have instructed you, be assured that her education on the subject of being a great woman has been magnified tenfold. And she is a great woman, I have seen to at least that much. Nothing but your love and affection will be of any concern to her in this life. Now, enough of this talk. She will accompany me here from now on and I expect you to be a good husband to her, as she will be an excellent wife to you. It is settled, Dídac. Your chosen life will begin now. You have made all of this quite necessary.”
Veronica was nervous enough to be considered ill as the two ladies rode in the black carriage through the downtown streets of the city. She had never spent much time in this section of town, only coming two or three times in the past half year. And she could not say she was entirely saddened by this, for the trip across town was one that she did not enjoy. From the window of their carriage, she had seen many horrors that she would consciously have to put out of her mind just to sleep. This was not the beautiful world of the upper city with its graceful monuments and palaces; certainly not the Castell de Amontoní. What she saw around her were the poor everywhere, who rotted along with the crumbling ghettos. Though it was one of the richest cities in Europe, a city that once could only be compared in wealth to the old Republic of Venice or the Genoa of centuries earlier, Barcelona accommodated sectors of poverty even in the security of its stunning wealth. And while these ghettos were sporadic along their journey to the district that sheltered the Marquesa’s townhouse, the glimpses of utter despair in these dying souls was a horror Veronica could barely keep her eyes open to.
As the carriage pulled into their street, she felt only a slight relief that they had arrived, for though she was thankful to be free of those haunting glimpses, the realization of what she would face this evening made her most anxious.
Lights could already be seen in the windows and courtyards of the street, as the orange fire from the sun slowly dimmed in the western mountains. They settled in comfortably, preparing themselves for a private dinner that Dídac had been sent for to attend.
“He will be here shortly. Is there anything else you need from me before we begin?”
“How exactly will this work? What is your plan?” Veronica asked, fidgeting with her burgundy satin sleeve.
“I really don’t feel the inclination to reiterate something so ridiculously simple.” Marcelina was more than aware of the edge in her voice, she simply could not help but feel nervous as they both waited. The difficult part of all this was that the woman hadn’t the vaguest notion of why she should be so concerned after all this time. She sold herself on this theory and settled back to wait the fifteen-minute eternity it took for her coachman to return with the young Ferrero.
Dídac was slightly nauseous as he walked in, that much he was certain of, and that both ladies looked so fantastically gorgeous was of little comfort.
Veronica thought he was the most beautiful creature she had ever seen and was instantaneously rendered dumb. She could not think of a word to speak as he advanced to kiss her hand, then turning to Marcelina, whom he realized should’ve been acknowledged first.
Marcelina was too distracted to have noticed this, she was making calculations for difficult scenarios that would only occur years from now.
All at once, the Marquesa noticed the silence of the room and snapped to the present.
“So, tell us, dear, how is everything going at the university?” It just slipped out naturally without the slightest measure of forethought; she would regret it for hours, she surmised. How to make him understand she couldn’t care less about his response?
“Excellent, Marquesa, things couldn’t be better.” The immediate silence that ensued was a nightmare for him.
“Perhaps we should have more interesting dinner companions over in the future, dears. It seems we’re far too familiar with each other to have much worthwhile to say. For Heaven’s sake, it is to be her birthday in two days. Let’s talk of that, shall we?”
“Please forgive me, Marquesa, I have had a great deal of pressure on my mind from school and I haven’t been devoting myself completely to this party. Do forgive me.” He felt the nausea subsiding a bit and a better inclination to converse casually, eventually bringing them through the various courses with a variety of amusing tales and spurts of witty laughter, and of course his plans for celebrating Veronica’s sixteenth birthday. But when the dinner was through and they had retired to the salon, Dídac fell into silence again.
“I see it’s time to take my leave of you two,” Marcelina said pleasantly, “I have affairs that will keep me awake for an hour or so. I will be sure and make up for it in the morning. Don’t bother waking me, Veronica. Señor Ferrero, of course, you may have my carriage return you when you are ready. Good night, dears.”
The woman left as noisily as possible, though she would have denied ever having done so by her own will.
Dídac could feel the silence as the doors were shut upon him. He sat now with this girl who looked like a china doll, eerily perfect and silent, and he felt a great loathing for it. He had been fending off the fears of finding himself in this situation, and Dídac hated that it had come to pass. And he felt that all his fears were valid. He no longer wanted to be here, all this was wrong. What he saw in her now was simply a memory, something he had fallen in love with half a year ago and idealized ever since. For him, she was the epitome of everything a man could want in a wife. But perhaps that was just it: she was to be his wife. It had always been an abstract idea that he imagined to look like a perfect oil painting: otherworldly and beautiful, yet unreal. He had once begged her to write him, but he could not remember the last time he had read one of her letters. His eyes had long since took to staring at the characters of the words, but he was somehow unable to make any sense of them. He did not want to make sense of them! He did not want to hear her speak of Constantine or Caesar. He did not want to visualize those thoughts coming from her lips. He wanted her to be his wife, not his school mate. And the less she spoke, the more he was attracted to her. He loathed himself for this, but he knew it was quite beyond his abilities to change. This part of him had been cemented early, he suspected. No amount of awareness could uproot his vile need. So, in that moment, he convinced himself she was a china doll, sitting quietly and waiting for him to play with her. He felt almost a violence rising in him to shatter that countenance.
Veronica rose from her seat, waking him from his rambling thoughts. He naturally stood for her, letting her slip her arm into his, as if to lead him out of the room. She walked with him slowly and silently without uttering a word.
Veronica brought him upstairs to her bedroom, noticing that no one was to be seen in this house anymore. She imagined her aunt had sent the expected staff to bed early and she shouldn’t have to be concerned with their sudden arrival. She thanked the woman in her mind for that much help. As bold as she felt in bringing him up to her room, she was relieved to have one less concern to fumble with in her thoughts.
She did not lead him to her sitting room, but rather proceeded to have him escort her directly to her bedroom, only slipping out of his arm to close the door firmly behind them.
Dídac could not speak at all, he had lost that basic ability long ago, or at least somewhere back on the first flight of stairs. But this did not matter.
Veronica was more than aware of what she had begun by bringing him here, and she saw no reason to delay the inevitable with a painful and clumsy dialogue that would only serve to confuse the matter more.
She kissed him slowly, raising her arms sweetly around his neck to feel his full height.
He trembled as she did this, understanding all at once that this awesomely difficult encounter had somehow been choreographed for him in advance. Settling himself on this ridiculous notion, he felt his hands come to life and simply let it begin.