They retraced their steps up the path to the house, and Marcelina kissed her niece good night, leaving the girl at the doors to her room. Veronica’s maidservant, relieved to finally be done with the day’s duties, helped the girl to quickly undress and bathe before exiting with no more than “Good evening, Miss.”
Slowly, the spoken truths replayed in Veronica’s mind in a relentless fashion, disturbing her deeply. She embraced an unexpected sublime happiness, despite the disturbance, and it was all she could do to keep from pulling her hair by the roots as she carelessly brushed her long, dark waves. When she eventually tried to lie down, her body moved of its own accord, and she could not manage to keep still on her bed for long. She rose to pace about the floor of her large room; she needed to dance, she wanted to scream.
It was more than an hour later when she lost all stamina for this overwhelming ritual and finally found her way to bed. Pulling the covers up to her head, she prayed to the Virgin a prayer of gratitude for all that was beginning in her life. She took in the deepest breath and turned her face into her pillow. Her mind quickly began to lose its clarity and drift away. This was the luxurious sensation of happiness at its finest, she thought.
As her hearing slowly became more attuned to sounds in the settling house, she heard distinct footsteps approaching from down the hall. They were heavy steps along the wooden floor, and it sounded as if the person could not be bothered to make use of the rugs to reduce the inconsiderate resonance where possible. They were the footsteps of a man, that much she was certain of; a woman’s footsteps would never lumber so awkwardly.
As they were passing her doors, Veronica rose from her bed without thought to walk across the space and past the small sitting area in her suite. The light coming from underneath the doors was faint. After the footsteps moved by, Veronica floated to the door with the finesse of a feline and managed to avoid making the slightest noise. When the man sounded far enough away, she turned the knob silently, cringing at the light creak made by the poorly-maintained lock, before opening the door to peek her head out into the hallway.
Veronica believed it was General de Flores that she saw walking towards the end of the hall and around the corner. He was fully dressed in his uniform, the same that he’d worn to the opera. She guessed he was headed towards her aunt’s suite.
The General and his wife did not share the same sleeping quarters. It was not customary for people of privilege to share the same quarters; that was an inconvenience embraced by the lower classes. Though they appeared to be completely enamored with each other in public, gossip Veronica had overheard from the servants indicated that the Floreses never shared each other’s company in bed any longer. They had borne several children, the youngest of which was Angelica, but were not accustomed to sleeping together.
She wondered why he was going to her aunt’s room at this time of night. It was obviously too late for more drinking, even for Marcelina, who preferred to be up after hours and sleep through the morning.
Veronica walked back to her boudoir and grabbed a robe, quickly gathering it around herself. She opened the door to her room and slid into the hallway with the same furtiveness, confident that the General was too far down the hall to notice her presence behind him. Making her way around the corner, she paid particular attention to the sounds her feet produced along the floorboards on account of her slippers. The more she tried to pass down the hallway silently, the louder her steps seemed to become. But Veronica was still confident that she would remain unnoticed if she kept a sufficient distance between them.
He was now too far ahead of her to be seen, having walked around another corner. But when he did come into view again, he appeared only for a moment before sliding through the door to the Marquesa’s suite, attempting to enter with neither her aunt’s knowledge nor invitation. Veronica didn’t know what to do. She felt she should go and fetch one of the servants, but found she couldn’t stop walking forward. Within five feet of the threshold, the shuffling sounds from her slippers was far too loud to consider continuing unnoticed.
She was stuck. Curiosity would not let her retreat and her need for stealth wouldn’t permit her to advance. She stopped and leaned against the wall of the corridor. I simply must know what he’s doing in there!she thought. As she made every effort to conclude this wretched enterprise without a sound, she heard someone else walking down the hallway behind her at a distance. Whoever it was, was upon her now. In a very clear panic, Veronica decided that she must fix herself to appear as if her standing in the hallway was the most ordinary thing in the world.
It was her aunt’s maid, Dolça. The older woman rounded the corner near where Veronica stood, carrying an oil lamp in one hand and fresh linens in the other. The woman glanced at Veronica and paused, at first startled, then appeared to wonder what the girl was doing up and out of her room at this hour.
“Señorita,” the woman greeted her, bowing quickly.
Veronica stood still now, watching the maid pass to enter Marcelina’s room and shut the door behind her. In but a few moments, the maid emerged from the room empty-handed, catching the girl’s eye again.
“Señorita, is there something needed?”
“Oh, no,” Veronica said awkwardly, “I was just taking a walk. I thought I heard someone in the hall. Is my aunt asleep, yet?”
The maid looked at her as if she were disturbed, or at least seemed so. “Yes, señorita, the Marquesa has retired for the night.” And with that, the woman turned to leave, not bothering to make any further inquiries.
Veronica fancied that the woman didn’t seem to mind her hovering about the hallway. This struck her as perfectly natural and profoundly stupid. Couldn’t the woman see how plainly suspicious it was for her to be up and standing in the hallway for no clear reason in the dead of night?
For a moment, she entertained the notion of knocking on her aunt’s door, just for the opportunity to see the General inside, but she knew she was nowhere near that bold. Veronica settled for returning to her room as quickly as she could manage. If she couldn’t sleep before, she was sure that it would be impossible now.
But her exhaustion crept up on her faster than she would have believed, and soon she drifted off with thoughts of the moonlit garden. In that vision, her aunt’s words came to her over and over again.