The next afternoon, the house seemed overwhelmed by its responsibilities. For a task that might seem simple, the staff had managed to make a pageant of it. They had been ordered to prepare for their new mistress to set sail for Rome by tomorrow morning. Though they had not been informed of the length of Veronica’s stay in Italy, they had gathered from her orders that they were to prepare baggage for an indefinite leave. She would take the castle’s under-butler and two maids with her, leaving the remainder of the staff to maintain the castle in her absence.
Señor Rios and Señor Borges had both assured her that there were frequent voyages made between the port of Barcelona and the Italian Coast, and that she could return when she wanted to with no more than a three-day notice. She had continuously thanked them for all their help and praised them for their expediency. They had made this terrible ordeal so much lighter to bear, she told them.
And in truth, she was more than a little frightened by how easy it all was, how willing everyone was to please her now. It was a strange sensation to play this role that her aunt had excelled at for so long. It seemed to bring them all a special joy to be of service to her.
By her butler, she was informed that someone had chosen to arrive at the house unannounced to call on Veronica and pay her condolences. With much trepidation, the man quietly informed his lady that it was Doña Ferrero who waited on the main floor to be received.
This was unimaginable to Veronica, that this woman, of all people, would even think to visit her at a time like this. After all that had happened to ensure they should never see each other privately or socially again. Veronica had suffered over the loss of this woman in the past days, as she had suffered for her aunt. She had loved the woman who would have been her mother-in-law, and it was no mere loss to Veronica that the woman’s warmth and loving affection would need come to an end. But Veronica did not hesitate to know that it was a chance she would gladly indulge in, this woman’s love, before she would escape from the city.
Arriving at the door of the main salon, Veronica was greeted by Francesca with a pained face and opened arms meant to receive the girl. Veronica felt her entire body fall when she witnessed this woman’s expression of pained love. She ran unashamedly into the woman’s arms.
“My child, this is a catastrophe. Oh, my sweet girl, no you mustn’t cry, you mustn’t. I promise you it will be all right.”
The woman’s words came with a loving rich sound, and in those few moments, Veronica felt that the woman’s words might somehow be true. But her delusion soon fell apart, returning Veronica to the task at hand: to announce that she was leaving the city for as long as she could.
“He has gone too far, I have told him. To behave like this to a girl such as you is an outrage! To think that he would be so horrible as to renounce his engagement, to go against what has been settled by his father... I cannot even bear to think on it!”
The woman moved them both to a sofa, never releasing the girl’s hand, relieved to finally have the sweet child near her. She had suffered the entire affair alone, it seemed.
“My God, you should have seen him when he told us. So terrified, so offensive. Joaquim leapt to his feet like an animal to strike him. I had to physically put myself between them to stop Joaquim. But then Dídac said to him that he had done this specifically to hurt his father, that he would not marry you and would renounce his legal studies for no other reason than to spite his father, because... It was too much, even I could not stop Joaquim. He went as far as to push me to the floor to get at him! And then what he did...oh, God. They fought each other like wild animals. Joaquim tried to murder him but found that Dídac would not let him.
“The boy thrashed my husband within an inch of his life. His physicians say he will be in bed for a month, if he lives. Oh God, what has befallen us?”
The woman had begun to cry, weeping with frustration at it all. She could not understand any of this, as it seemed to have no reason.
“Why, Veronica? What was it that brought him to this state? I cannot believe a word he says. Do you know what has led him to become a criminal? He has gone mad, I tell you! He will not even speak to me. To me! His own mother!”
“I do not know, Doña. It was a great pain to me to be cast out of his life,” she whispered slowly. “And then to lose my aunt…”
“But no, dear, this must be some tragic mistake. He would not ever think of such a thing if he were not suffering from some terrible mental illness. Some vicious evil must be at the heart of this all. You mustn’t believe that he does not wish to marry you, dear, it simply cannot be true. We must weather this storm together and see him through it.
“His father! His father has ordered me to have the boy thrown in prison, cast out of the city itself! To prevent just that, I was forced to have him locked inside his father’s study. He has tried to escape repeatedly in the last two days and we cannot even open the door to bring him food. Oh, but you must come to our house to help resolve this terrible ordeal. You must come to tell him that you will stand by him through this terrible time in his life and that you forgive him.”
Veronica stared without flinching at this woman’s pleading eyes. So, it had come to this, had it? This would be her last chance to have her dream resurrected from the ashes.
“I will not,” she said plainly. “I will do no such thing.”
Francesca stared at the girl, dumbfounded. This was as incredible as it was unexpected. She did not believe that she had heard correctly.
“What do you mean, child? Surely you do not believe that this is truly what Dídac wants?”
“That is of no consequence now. And I do not wish to injure you more than you have been. You must believe me when I say that I love you so deeply. But I have decided that it is best that I not marry your son.”
“But you cannot believe this!” Francesca screamed.
“Doña, I do love your son, and I love you, but we have passed the point of repair in this matter. He did not break off our engagement in a rash of screaming, as you have said he did with you. He stated quite calmly and plainly that he would not marry me because he did not love me, and that he never had. As plainly as that, he said this. And more, he said he would not marry me because he refused to live the life that both his family and mine demanded of him, and in this he told me with irrevocable and painful words that we are finished.”
Francesca convulsed at the girl’s words, feeling the final blow that crumbled the disbelief that she had allowed for herself during the past days. She sobbed uncontrollably, and Veronica felt such empathy, modulating her words to make the moment as short as possible.
“I do not mean to harm you by saying these things, Doña, but simply to help you understand that there is nothing that can be done to rectify this. He has injured me beyond reason. And, though I forgive him for what he cannot be, I will not attempt some idle last hope of gaining his love again. Doña, I will not live the rest of my life with some small part of me that is unable to trust that he will not injure me in this fashion again. There is really nothing else to say on it. I will not even go with you to assist you in helping him. I cannot imagine such a thing, and furthermore, I have not the time for it. You should know that I am leaving the city tomorrow, possibly forever. I set sail for Rome in the morning.”
Veronica had said everything she had wanted to, just enough to make her point clear and only enough so as not to destroy the poor woman irreparably.
The tears had continued until her final words, and then Francesca at last understood that this ordeal was as terrible as she had feared. With the young lady’s final word, fell all the woman’s hopes for her dream.
Veronica rose to take her leave. She felt she should leave the woman now and allow her to find her way back to the challenge that awaited her at home. Slowly, and as quietly as possible, Veronica whispered goodbye and bent down to kiss Francesca’s wet cheek. She turned and walked out of the room, fearing that this would be the last moment she would ever share with this beloved woman.
As she returned to her room, Veronica felt an exhaustion for the end of this pain. And in the final moments before her last dreams of Barcelona came, she felt the end of the suffering and cried. Whatever would come in the morning would not be a part of her memories. For Veronica, the end of Barcelona happened on this night.