« PreviousContinue »
seen; but with those eyes, that mouth, and that figure, I care not how shapeless it be-yes, I repeat, were it a monstrous blot upon thy charms, I should be as devoted to it as to them. Wilt thou not unmask them?—or must I be a suppliant at thy feet for the favour I beg?'
Thou wilt repent thy indiscretion,' urged the stranger.
Had Don Manuel read Shakspeare, he would have exclaimed, like Claudio,
I'll hold my mind, wert thou an Ethiop.'
It was in a similar vein, however, that he said, 'I will abide the conse quences, whatever they be.'
'Enough, enough,' replied the unknown; thou shalt see me without my mask, but thy hands alone must remove it; by thyself shall thy ungoverned impatience be chastised.'
Thanks, thanks, fair Serranita,' he said. favoured mortals. Give me the lyre, O muses! inspired!'
'Envy me, ye less At this moment I am
At this moment thou art a madman, and the next moment thou wilt be a fool,' was the flattering reply, which in his eagerness to behold the speaker he heeded not.
Vexation! I cannot untie this knot: let me cut it. Ah! how beauti-'
The concluding syllable died away on his lips. In full view was a nose, not of the pigmy kind that we mortals generally wear, but one whose gigantic style of architecture would have added dignity, if not grace, to the front of a Cyclops. There it stood in the centre of that radiant countenance, the monarch of all it surveyed, displaying such a luxuriance of growth as bespoke extraordinary carelessness on the part of the cultivator, who had thus suffered it to run to seed. The line of Quevedo,
'Erase un hombre á una nariz pegado,'
gives but a poor notion of the relations between it and its possessor. For some moments following his rash discovery, the eyes of our hero performed the office of his tongue. At length, finding it absolutely necessary to say something, he made a desperate attempt at a few phrases of gallantry, but all in vain. Confusedly they came forth; in fact he knew not what he was saying, and spoke as incoherently as if the human steeple he was gazing at was in reality one nodding over his head, and about to crush him to the earth. Fortunately for his embarrassment, the Serranita, who doubtless was hardened by sad experience to such scenes, laughed loud and long, in evident enjoyment of his perplexity. Far from resenting the look of horror and blank disappointment with which he regarded her, it seemed to gratify her rather than otherwise. The longer she laughed, the higher rose our hero's courage, his ideas at the same time returning to a convalescent state, the first symptom of which was to descry an imaginary friend in an unknown passer-by. Under pretence, therefore, of having something important to communicate, he hastily arose, and, without casting another look at the portentous unmasked,
muttered between his teeth an icy 'á los pies de usted,' and ingloriously betook himself to flight.
Shame and mortification added wings to his feet. Turning neither to the right hand nor to the left, lest a chance side-glance should reveal the hateful nose, he shot swiftly forwards, haunted by an indefinable dread of something terrible to be encountered by looking back, and only to be shunned by speed of foot. A few steps brought him to the thickest of the throng,-another sent him into the centre of a quadrille party. An earthquake could not have wrought direr mishaps than he did as he worked his way through it. Those who were tripping it on the fantastic toe found themselves on a sudden unceremoniously tripped up, and rolling fantastically on the hard marble pavement. As for the author of their overthrow, he was unconsciously pursuing his way with the air of a conqueror; breastplates and helmets, ruined past a tinsmith's skill, clashing at his feet; while his path was strewed with roses (artificial) from the hair of affrighted maidens. Regardless of these, and a thousand other impediments, he made no pause until he reached the outer door. There Don Manuel stopped, too breathless and faint to dive into the darkness beyond, where for ever would he gladly have entombed himself and his agitated spirits. His purpose changed, however, as the cool midnight air flowing into the heated rooms awakened calmer thoughts in his bewildered brain. The result of these deliberations was to suggest that he felt hungry-exceedingly hungry. He was in no mood to contest the point, and therefore turned away from the door, and with a slow and sober pace bent his steps towards the refreshment room. Throwing himself into a chair beside one of the nearest tables, he took up the bill of fare, and began to study it with great zeal. Nevertheless the past still engrossed his thoughts; for the waiter, whom he had summoned upon entering, had to report himself twice before the purport of his words was clearly understood.
'Ah! what do I wish to take? Hum-bring me—a nose.'
'Sorry we have no noses,' said the attendant, but there are some excellent tongues at your service.'
'Nonsense,' replied Don Manuel. Vamos á ver,' he added, bring me some jamon de Asturias,' which was accordingly set before him.
While the pangs of hunger were being appeased, those of memory grew less sharp; each mouthful of savoury ham that disappeared from view falling like balm upon his vexed thoughts, and helping to banish some compunctious visitings regarding broken vows and a deserted phenomenon.
'Wonderful are the works of Nature!' was his inward remark, as he replenished his plate for the third time; but never was she so wonderful or so false as in this case, never. As for the usual specimens of her fancy which deform our streets, she seems to have been merely trying her hand at something new, and to have sent them into the world in disgust at her failure. But this is quite another thing. To chisel out a form of exquisite grace, and when nothing but a single stroke was wanting to make it faultless-to stay her hand, and pronounce her work perfect, is very inexcusable in Nature-I'm not sure
whether it isn't a decided case of malice prepense against the feelings of her children and then to make us fancy it all loveliness, and to entrap us into loving it, and bestowing on it honied sentences! Fool that I was, to be so taken in!'
As remembrance thus touched upon the part he had so recently played, Don Manuel groaned aloud, and gnashed his teeth in a most violent manner, whereby a choice morsel of ham came to an untimely end; but, this outbreak over, his reflections by degrees rolled back to their former channel.
'Well, the fault is not mine, but Nature's; and, to speak the truth, I am afraid that now-a-days she has turned a swindler-yes, a low swindler. But if she has done me once, it shall only be once; for if she makes another attempt to impose on me, I'll immediately get up a society for putting her down. So let her beware.'
With this consoling reflection, and the aid of sundry vasos of Manzanilla, our hero's past adventure faded from his thoughts at the moment that some one proceeded to occupy a chair on the opposite side of the table. This of itself was not enough to attract his attention; but when a long black shadow crossed the board, and fell upon his plate, he lifted up his eyes with a mingled feeling of awe and amazement. Powers of grace! it was the nose. Confronting him with all its artillery of charms, and apparently in the happiest humour with itself and every one, its bright eyes sparkling with smiles appeared to invite a renewal of the conversation so abruptly terminated in the ballroom. By its side stood the tall cavalier we have alluded to before, now rather thrown into the background, and immovable and grave as a
To start up, with the intention of again escaping, was the first impulse of Don Manuel, after recovering from his astonishment; but his strength failed him as the nose, wreathed in a most fascinating smile, inquired if he was going away without inviting it to sup.
Can the force of audacity go further thought he, as he sank back in his chair in a state of petrifaction. To invite itself to sup with me!—me, whom it has tricked beyond endurance-whom it has seen escaping from its presence as from an accursed thing-to claim me as a friend! And then the cool familiarity of its manner: decidedly nothing human would have acted so. Have I committed some crime, and is this "goblin damn'd" sent to follow me wherever I go, as a punishment for my sins? Nothing more likely. I have heard of the evil eye that haunts people to their graves, and this must be a variety of the same tribe,-an evil nose, whose duty is to meet me unexpectedly at the corners of streets and in lone places, and to lean over my shoulder amid crowds, and make my life a chain of miseries. Pero venga loque venga, I defy its powers! and if it be of flesh,' he muttered, grasping his knife, and waving it aloft, bitterly shall it repent this presumption.'
Probably the nose descried the sanguinary complexion of his musings; for as his uplifted knife carved the air in dangerous vicinity, it drew back with some precipitation, doubtless unwilling to be cut down in the flower of its youth.
I shall not cause you much expense,' were its next words: 'a glass of ponche á la romana, and nothing more.'
Thank heaven! it is flesh and blood after all,' thought Don Manuel; for I never heard of ghosts being addicted to liquor. Little mercy, however, shall I show it, for none it deserves for this impertinent freedom.'
Senorita,' he replied, I shall be delighted to offer you anything you choose to take; but, pardon me,' he added, in tones most cuttingly bland, 'will that nose permit a glass to reach your lips?'
Strange to say, the kindly interest exhibited in the question served only to augment the cheerfulness of his opposite, who, laughingly requested him to be under no uneasiness on that account.
'But, talking of glasses,' she continued, had you stood before one ere enacting the runaway, you might have furnished yourself with a capital picture of horror. Being a poet, your fancy might have gleaned something new for dying scenes and speechless emotions. You do not object to copying from yourself, do you?'
Quite unpardonable was its assurance in daring even to address him; but this style of being facetious upon the awkward display he had made was doubly aggravating, and accordingly it stirred up within our hero the lowest deeps of his virtuous indignation.
What! to be treated with levity by a monstrosity like this!-a thing disowned by humanity!-it, that day after day should be sad and silent, conscious of being an outcast from kind feelings,-it, that should laugh at the shadow of a jest upon its own deformity, and be thankful for the honour done it,-that should stand afar off from the haunts of men, whose image it libels,-it to forget its place, and intrude among the well-proportioned and unblemished as an equal,nay, to launch its jest at one of them! That is a crime against society too deep to be forgiven, and therefore,' said our hero to himself, I owe it as a duty to myself and society to humble its insolence. I shall see if I cannot bring it to a proper sense of its misconduct. I believe, Senorita,' he said aloud, you have a taste for poetry?'
'You are not mistaken,' said the Serranita. Will you not favour us with a specimen of your muse? Pray translate into words the charms my mask concealed."
Hum-that is beyond my powers; but allow me, instead, to repeat a charming epigram of Alcazar. Far be it from me to insinuate anything; but it warns us to be on our guard against every face whose nose israther strongly developed.'
Having received the requisite permission, he then repeated the following lines:
'Lady fair, no whisper goes
To ask whence springs the nose
What! wondrous more! thou canst not tell?
Then be it mine office to conjecture
That so interminable a feature,
Where'er it sprung, cannot end well.'
With the last line of the preceding effusion parting from his lips, Don Manuel directed a look at the delinquent organ, in expectation of seeing
it convulsed by all the agonies of remorse, or at least blushing a repentant crimson. But nothing of the kind followed. Far from being downcast, the object of his wrath, though nearly breathless from laughter, was loud in praises of his taste.
'Very good, indeed,' it said. "Where it ends"-capital! Really you are so amusing to-night, Don Manuel, that I must reward you by showing" where it ends."
So saying, the unknown raised her hand to her head, and quick as thought the nose fell from its place, and lay on the table before our hero. How shall we paint his confusion and desperation of mind as he gazed on the astounding sight, and recalled the rudeness and unfeeling discourtesy of his previous conduct?
'Pecador de mi he exclaimed, it is of pasteboard-it is false, and the real one is not less perfect than the other features of her face. Oh, Senorita burst from his lips in the most penitent accents, and rushing forward, he was proceeding to throw himself at her feet to sue for pardon, to bewail his indiscretion in the most abject terms within the reach of language; but a gesture of impatience on the part of the unknown, blasted all his hopes. Rising from her seat, and taking the arm of her companion, she quitted the room with a slow and dignified step, very unlike the former precipitate retreat of Don Manuel, of whom she took no farther notice than by coldly bestowing on him a repelling 'beso á usted la mano.'
If for the rest of the night our hero wandered he knew not where, with no clear perception of anything; and if, on courting repose, he dreamt of being stabbed to the heart by a sabre-like nose, which, as he gasped his last, changed into a lovely ballet-dancer, who made his dying frame its stage, and indulged in pirouettes on the extreme tip of his own nasal feature; though his medical adviser might ascribe such unwholesome visions to indigestion, yet it is more probable that the origin of his malady might be traced to the Lonja of Seville.