Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
CASTLES IN SPAIN
Ruth welcomed him with her usual smile--once he had thought it the most beautiful thing in the world. In the twilight of the April evening her face gleamed almost marble white. He dragged a footstool up to her side.
"Little woman, you are looking pale," he declared. "Give me your hands to hold. Can't you see that I have come just at the right time? Even the coal barges look like phantom boats. See, there is the first light."
She shook her head slowly.
"To-night," she murmured, "there will be no ships, Arnold. I have looked and looked and I am sure. Light the lamp, please."
"Why?" he asked, obeying her as a matter of course.
She turned in her chair.
"Do you think that I cannot tell?" she continued. "Didn't I see you turn the corner there, didn't I hear your step three flights down? Sometimes I have heard it come, and it sounds like something leaden beating time to the music of despair. And to-night you tripped up like a boy home for the holidays. You are going out to-night, Arnold."
"A man whom I met the other night has asked me to dine with him," he announced.
"A man! You are not going to see her, then?"
He laughed gayly and placed his hand upon the fingers which had drawn him towards her.
"Silly girl!" he declared. "No, I am going to dine alone with her brother, the Count Sabatini. You see, I am private secretary now to a merchant prince, no longer a clerk in a wholesale provision merchant's office. We climb, my dear Ruth. Soon I am going to ask for a holiday, and then we'll make Isaac leave his beastly lecturing and scurrilous articles, and come away with us somewhere for a day or two. You would like a few days in the country, Ruth?"
Her eyes met his gratefully.
"You know that I should love it, dear," she said, "but, Arnie, do you think that when the time for the holiday comes you will want to take us?"
He sat on the arm of her chair and held her hand.
"Foolish little woman!" he exclaimed. "Do you think that I am likely to forget? Why, I must have shared your supper nearly every night for a month, while I was walking about trying to find something to do. People don't forget who have lived through that sort of times, Ruth."
She sighed. Strangely enough, her tone had in it something of vague regret.
"For your sake, dear, I am glad that they are over."
"Things, too, will improve with you," he declared. "They shall improve. If only Isaac would turn sensible! He has brains and he is clever enough, if he weren't stuffed full with that foolish socialism."
She looked around the room and drew him a little closer to her.
"Arnold," she whispered, "now that you have spoken of it, let me tell you this. Sometimes I am afraid. Isaac is so mysterious. Do you know that he is away often for the whole day, and comes back white and exhausted, worn to a shadow, and sleeps for many hours? Sometimes he is in his room all right, but awake. I can hear him moving backwards and forwards, and hammering, tap, tap, tap, for hours."
"What does he do?" Arnold asked quickly.
"He has some sort of a little printing press in his room," she answered. "He prints some awful sheet there which the police have stopped. The night before last he had a message and everything was hidden. He spent hours with his face to the window, watching. I am so afraid that sometimes he goes outside the law. Arnold, I am afraid of what might happen to him. There are terrible things in his face if I ask him questions. And he moves about and mutters like a man in a dream--no, like a man in a nightmare!"
Arnold frowned, and looked up at the sky-signs upon the other side of the river.
"I, too, wish he were different, dear," he said. "He certainly is a dangerous protector for you."
"He is the only one I have," the girl replied, with a sigh, "and sometimes, when he remembers, he is so kind. But that is not often now."
"What do you do when he is away for all this time?" Arnold asked quickly. "Are you properly looked after? You ought to have some one here."
"Mrs. Sands comes twice a day, always," she declared. "It is not myself I trouble about, really. Isaac is good in that way. He pays Mrs. Sands always in advance. He tries even to buy wine for me, and he often brings me home fruit. When he has money, I am sure that he gives it to me. It isn't that so much, Arnold, but I get frightened of his getting into trouble. Now that room of his has got on my nerves. When I hear that tap, tap, in the night, I am terrified."
"Will you let me speak to him about it, Ruth?"
Her face was suddenly full of terror.
"Arnie, you mustn't think of it," she begged. "He would never forgive me--never. The first time I asked him what was going on there, I thought that he would have struck me."
"Would you like me to go in and see next time he is out?"
"Not for the world," she replied. "Besides, you couldn't. He has fixed on a Yale lock himself. No one could open the door."
"You have never seen what he prints?"
"Never," she replied. "He knows that I hate the sight of those pamphlets. He never shows them to me. He had a man to see him the other night--the strangest-looking man I ever saw--and they talked in whispers for hours. I saw the man's face when he went out. It was white and evil. And, Arnold, it was the face of a man steeped in sin to the lips. I wish I hadn't seen it," she went on, drearily. "It haunts me."
He did his best to reassure her.
"Little Ruth," he said, "you have been up here too long without a holiday. Wait till Saturday afternoon, when I draw my new salary for the first time. I shall hire a taxicab. We will have it open and drive out into the country."
Her face lit up for a moment. Her beautiful eyes were soft, although a few seconds later they were swimming with tears.
"Do you think you will want to go when Saturday afternoon comes?" she asked. "Don't you think, perhaps, that your new friends may invite you to go and see them? I am so jealous of your new friends, Arnold."
He drew her a little closer to him. There was something very pathetic in her complete dependence upon him, a few months ago a stranger. They had both been waifs, brought together by a wave of common adversity. Her intense weakness had made the same appeal to him as his youth and strength to her. There was almost a lump in his throat as he answered her.
"You aren't really feeling like that, Ruth?" he begged. "Don't! My new friends are part of the new life. You wouldn't have me cling to the old any longer than I can help? Why, you and I together have sat here hour after hour and prayed for a change, prayed for the mystic treasure that might come to us from those ships of chance. Dear, if mine comes first, it brings good for you, too. You can't believe that I should forget?"
For the first time in his life he bent over and kissed her upon the lips. She suffered his caress not only without resistance but for a single moment her arms clasped his neck passionately. Then she drew away abruptly.
"I don't know what I'm doing!" she panted. "You mustn't kiss me like that! You mustn't, Arnold!"
She began to cry, but before he could attempt to console her she dashed the tears away.
"Oh, we're impossible, both of us!" she declared. "But then, a poor creature like me must always be impossible. It isn't quite kind of fate, is it, to give any one a woman's heart and a woman's loneliness, and the poor frame of a hopeless invalid."
"You're not a hopeless invalid," he assured her, earnestly. "No one would ever know, to look at you as you sit there, that there was anything whatever the matter. Don't you remember our money-box for the doctor? Even that will come, Ruth. The day will come, I am sure, when we shall carry you off to Vienna, or one of those great cities, and the cure will be quite easy. I believe in it, really."
"I used to love to hear you talk about it," she said, "but, somehow, now it seems so far off. I don't even know that I want to be like other women. There is only one thing I do want and that is to keep you."
"That," he declared, fervently, "you are sure of. Remember, Ruth, that awful black month and what we suffered together. And you knew nothing about me. I just found you sitting on the stairs with your broken stick, waiting for some one to come and help you."
"And you picked me up and carried me into your room," she reminded him. "You didn't have to stop and take breath as Isaac has to."
"Why, no," he admitted, "I couldn't say you were heavy, dear. Some day or other, though," he added, "you will be. Don't lose your faith, Ruth. Don't let either of us leave off looking for the ships."
"Very well," she said, letting her hand fall once more softly into his, "I think that I am very foolish. I think that yours has come already, dear, and I am worse than foolish, I am selfish, because I once hoped that they might come together; that you and I might sit here, Arnold, hand in hand, and watch them with great red sails, and piles and piles of gold and beautiful things, with our names written on so big that we could read them even here from the window."
She burst into a peal of laughter.
"Oh, those children's days! What an escape they, were for us in the black times! Do you know that we once actually told one another fairy stories?"
"Not only that but we believed in them," he insisted. "I am perfectly certain that the night you found my star, and it seemed to us to keep on getting bigger and bigger while we looked at it, that from that night things have been getting better with me."
"At least," she declared, abruptly, "I am not going to spoil your dinner by keeping you here talking nonsense. Carry me back, please, Arnold. You must hurry up now and change your clothes. And, dear, you had better not come in and wish me good-night. Isaac went out this morning in one of his savage tempers, and he may be back at any moment. Carry me back now, and have a beautiful evening. To-morrow you must tell me all about it."
He obeyed her. She was really only a trifle to lift, as light as air. She clung to him longingly, even to the last minute.
"And now, please, you are to kiss my forehead," she said, "and run away."
"Your forehead only?" he asked, bending over her.
"My forehead only, please," she begged gravely. "The other doesn't go with our fairy stories, dear. I want to go on believing in the fairy stories...."
Arnold had little enough time to dress, and he descended the stone steps towards the street at something like a run. Half-way down, however, he pulled up abruptly to avoid running into two men. One was Isaac. His worn, white face, with hooked nose and jet-black eyes, made him a noticeable figure even in the twilight. The other man was so muffled up as to be unrecognizable. Arnold stopped short.
"Glad you're home, Isaac," he said pleasantly. "I have just been talking to Ruth. I thought she seemed rather queer."
Isaac looked at him coldly from head to foot. Arnold was wearing his only and ordinary overcoat, but his varnished shoes and white tie betrayed him.
"So you're wearing your cursed livery again!" he sneered. "You're going to beg your bone from the rich man's plate."
Arnold laughed at him.
"Always the same, Isaac," he declared. "Never mind about me. You look after your niece and take her out, if you can, somewhere. I am going to give her a drive on Saturday."
"Are you?" Isaac said calmly. "I doubt it. Drives and carriages are not for the like of us poor scum."
His companion nudged him impatiently. Isaac moved away. Arnold turned after him.
"You won't deny the right of a man to spend what he earns in the way he likes best?" he asked. "I've had a rise in my salary, and I am going to spend a part of it taking Ruth out."
Isaac laughed scornfully.
"A rise in your salary!" he muttered. "You poor slave! Did you go and kiss your master's foot when he gave it to you?"
"I didn't," Arnold declared. "To tell you the truth, I believe it would have annoyed him. He hasn't any sense of humor, you see. Good night, Isaac. If you're writing one of those shattering articles to-night, remember that Ruth can hear you, and don't keep her awake too late."
Arnold walked on. Suddenly his attention was arrested. Isaac was leaning over the banister of the landing above.
Arnold paused for a moment.
"What is it?" he asked.
Isaac came swiftly down. He brushed his cloth hat further back on his head as though it obscured his vision. With both hands he gripped Arnold's arm.
"Tell me," he said, "what do you mean by that?"
"What I said," Arnold answered; "but, for Heaven's sake, don't visit it on poor Ruth. She told me that you had some printing-press in your room to set up your pamphlets, and that the tap, tap at night had kept her awake. It's no concern of mine. I don't care what you do or what rubbish you print, but I can't bear to see the little woman getting frailer and frailer, Isaac."
"She told you that?" Isaac muttered.
"She told me that," Arnold assented. "What is there in it?"
Isaac looked at him for a moment with an intentness which was indescribable. His black eyes seemed on fire with suspicion, with searchfulness. At last he let go the arm which he was clutching, and turned away.
"All right," he said. "Ruth shouldn't talk, that's all. I don't want every one to know that I am reduced to printing my little sheet in my bedroom. Good night!"
Arnold looked after him in surprise. It was very seldom that Isaac vouchsafed any form of greeting or farewell. And then the shock came. Isaac's companion, who had been leaning over the banisters, waiting for him, had loosened the muffler about his neck and opened his overcoat. His features were now recognizable--a pale face with deep-set eyes and prominent forehead, a narrow chin, and a mouth which seemed set in a perpetual snarl. Arnold stood gazing up at him in rapt amazement. He had seen that face but once before, yet there was no possibility of any mistake. It seemed, indeed, as though the recognition were mutual, for the man above, with an angry cry, turned suddenly away, buttoning up his overcoat with feverish fingers. He called out to Isaac--a hurried sentence, in a language which was strange to Arnold. There was a brief exchange of breathless words. Arnold moved slowly away, but before he had reached the street Isaac's hand was upon his shoulder.
"One moment!" Isaac panted. "My friend would like to know why you looked at him like that?"
Arnold did not hesitate.
"Isaac," he said, gravely, "no doubt I seemed surprised. I have seen that man before, only a night or two ago."
"Where? When?" Isaac demanded.
"I saw him hanging around the house of my employer," Arnold said firmly, "under very suspicious circumstances. He was inquiring then for Mr. Rosario. It was the night before Rosario was murdered."
"What do you mean by that?" Isaac asked, hoarsely.
"You had better ask yourself what it means," Arnold replied. "For Ruth's sake, Isaac, don't have anything to do with that man. I don't know anything about him--I don't want to know anything about him. I simply beg you, for Ruth's sake, to keep out of trouble."
Isaac laughed harshly.
"You talk like a young fool!" he declared, turning on his heel.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.