an unequal marriage

(translated by Toshiya Kamei)



It was starting to get dark by the time we reached Covadonga. A crescent moon was almost in the middle of the sky, and its weak light was mixed with the last hints of twilight, giving a fantastic aspect to all objects, amplifying their proportions with indecisive silhouettes.
         For days we had been dreaming of Covadonga. With a feverish impatience to visit that historic place, we revived its traditions and chronicles in our minds and expanded the legends that sprouted from each one of the cantos inspired by those rocks, sacred for the Spaniards. Thus, as we arrived and descended into the ravine at the mysterious hour, our imagination was piqued, and we thought we were hearing the shriek of the Moors and the hoarse cry of the Christians; and we gazed at those soaring crags in wonderment, and Covadonga seemed like an enormous granite shell that had closed its huge valves to shelter a band of heroes like a pearl, and opened them later to disperse the seeds of a people who would grow stronger every day, reconquer their homeland, and wave their flags triumphantly over half the world in the sixteenth century.
         We took shelter in an inn, and at eight in the evening, we sat to eat with the few pilgrims who were there.
         The after-dinner conversation took on a pleasantly informal tone, because there were only a few of us and we all had come in search of the impression the place produced in us.
         Across the table from me sat a young German man, who looked about thirty-five, and at his side a woman of about fifty-five—it was impossible to tell at first sight whether she was his mother or wife.
         The two spoke Spanish correctly and were tactful enough not to say anything in German to each other, for fear that we wouldn't understand it, thus proving to us, though indirectly, they were persons of distinction.
         Halfway through the meal, we already knew the woman was the wife of the German, whose name was Leopoldo Schloesing; but to our surprise, his wife called him Guillermo, while he was Don Leopoldo to us.
         Perhaps Leopoldo came to notice that we were puzzled by this, besides their great age difference and their deep affection for each other, as, turning to me, he said:
         "Do you think my wife is older than I am?"
         I didn't know how to answer, because saying no was a lie that my eyes would have given away; yet saying yes was a lack of manners toward the woman, who smiled sweetly when she heard her husband's question and looked at him with a deep tenderness.
         "Well, no, señor," continued the German. "I'm at least eight years older than she is, and I can assure you of that on my word of honor."
         None of us dared say a word. If what he had said was a joke, even though laughing at it would probably have offended the woman, we would give way to laughter; but as he said it, his features assumed a solemn expression, his voice had prophetic vibrations, and he looked beyond us, his eyes lost in infinity.
         "It's not a secret, nor do I want to make a mystery out of what I'm going to tell you. Surely you will take me for a madman and feel pity for my poor Margarita, but it's true."
         The woman squeezed her husband's arm, laid her head on his shoulder, and we saw her eyes well up in tears.
         It seemed as though we were dreaming, and even a servant and two girls who served the table stood thunderstruck with the plates and cutlery, which they washed in a basin at the back of the dining room.
         The lamps seemed to have dimmed. The man had begun to move us, even fascinate us.
         I was twenty-eight years old; I was honest, hardworking, and intelligent; with all my heart, I loved Margarita, who was then twenty and lived with her kind mother in Hamburg—not rich, but not destitute either. Her father, at his death, had left them income, well invested, enough to cover the needs of the two women, who had no other relative.
         "Our love had grown when we were children, and I was waiting to make my fortune to marry Margarita; well, for that, I not only had her mother's approval, but the kind woman also loved me like her own son.
         "In those days a brilliant enterprise in America fell into my lap, which would take too long to explain, but after a year's absence from my country, it would quadruple my investment; but I didn't have the capital, and it came to worry me so much that Margarita and her mother noticed something was wrong with me, and they urged me to reveal my secret. How could I have refused? They were my only loved ones on earth! When I told them everything, they tried to comfort me; but I was inconsolable as I felt a fortune slipping through my fingers, and with it, my happiness, because the realization of my marriage depended on it.
         "A few days later, on arriving at Margarita's house, the two women flung themselves into my arms, shedding happy tears. They had sold everything they owned and were offering it to me for my enterprise.
         "I adamantly refused to accept it, but they begged, cried, and insisted on it, making me understand that we were all part of the same family, that we had to share one another's joys, sorrows, and hopes, and if that money was lost, Margarita and I would marry penniless, and I would support the family with the blessed fruits of my labor. I couldn't possibly refuse the offer. I accepted it: the day for my departure arrived; I said goodbye to Margarita and her mother, and set sail for America."




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