THE WHITE BUTTERFLY
By Jose Selgas
Translated by Mary J. Serrano.
Berta has just completed her seventeenth year. Blissful age in which Love
first whispers his tender secrets to a maiden's heart! But cruel Love, who
for every secret he reveals draws forth a sigh! But here is Berta, and
beside her is a mirror, toward which she turns her eyes; she looks at
herself in it for a moment and sighs, and then she smiles. And good reason
she has to smile, for the mirror reveals to her the loveliest face
imaginable; whatever disquiet Love may have awakened in her heart, the
image which she sees in the mirror is enchanting enough to dispel it.
And why should it not? Let us see. "What has her heart told her?" "It has
told her that it is sad." "Sad! and why?" "Oh, for a very simple reason!
Because it thrills in response to a new, strange feeling, never known
before. It fancies—curious caprice!—that it has changed owners." "And
why is that?" "The fact is, that it has learned, it knows not where, that
men are ungrateful and inconstant, and this is the reason why Berta
sighs." "Ah! And what does the mirror tell her to console her?" "Why, the
mirror tells her that she is beautiful." "Yes?" "Yes; that her eyes are
dark and lustrous, her eyebrows magnificent, her cheeks fresh and rosy."
"And what then?" "It is plain; her heart is filled with hope, and
therefore it is that Berta smiles."
This is the condition of mind in which we find her. Up to the present she
has passed her life without thinking of anything more serious than the
innocent pranks of childhood; she was a child up to the age of seventeen,
but a boisterous, gay, restless, daring, mischievous child; she turned the
house upside down, and in the same way she would have been capable of
turning the world upside down; she had neither fears nor duties; she
played like a crazy thing and slept like a fool. For her mother had died
before Berta was old enough to know her; and although her mother's
portrait hung at the head of her bed, this image, at once sweet and
serious, was not sufficient to restrain the thoughtless impetuosity of the
girl. She was, besides, an only daughter, and her father, of whom we shall
give some account later, adored her. In addition to all this, her nurse,
who acted as housekeeper in the house, was at the same time the accomplice
and the apologist of her pranks, for the truth is she loved her like the
apple of her eye.
Less than this might have sufficed to turn an angel into an imp, and
indeed much less would have sufficed in Berta's case, for the natural
vivacity of her disposition inclined her to all kinds of pranks.
Opposition irritated her to such a degree as to set her crying. But what
tears! Suddenly, in the midst of her sobs, she would burst out laughing,
for her soul was all gayety, spontaneous, contagious gayety, the gayety of
the birds when day is breaking.
But this gayety could not last for ever; and, willing or unwilling, the
moment had to come some time when Berta would quiet down; for it was not
natural that she should remain all her life a madcap; and this moment at
last arrived; and all at once the girl's boisterous gayety began to calm
down, to cloud over, like a storm that is gathering, like a sky that is
The nurse is the first to observe this change in Berta, and although the
girl's pranks had driven her to her wits' end, seeing her silent,
thoughtful, pensive, that is to say, quiet, she is overjoyed. The girl is
now a woman. Profound mystery! She has left off the giddiness of childhood
to take on the sedateness of youth. Poor woman! she does not know that a
young girl is a thousand times more crazy than a child. But the fact is
that Berta does not seem the same girl. And the change has taken place of
a sudden, from one day to another, in the twinkling of an eye, so to say.
And sedateness becomes her well, very well. She seems taller, more—more
everything; nothing better could be asked of her; but since she has
become sensible the house is silent. The songs, the tumult, all the
boisterousness of the past have disappeared. The good nurse, who is
enchanted to see her so quiet, so silent, so sedate, yet misses the noisy
gayety that formerly filled the house; and if the choice had been given
to her, she would hardly have known which to prefer.
In this way the days pass calm and tranquil. Berta, who had always been
so early a riser, does not now rise very early. Does she sleep more?
That is what no one knows, but if she sleeps more she certainly eats less;
and not only this, but from time to time, and without any apparent cause,
heart-breaking sighs escape her.
The nurse, who idolizes her, and who would do anything in the world to
please or to serve her, observes it all but says nothing. She says
nothing, but she thinks the more. That is to say, that at every sigh she
hears she draws down her mouth, screws up her eye, and says to herself:
"Hm! there it is again."
Of course she would not remain silent for long; for she was not a woman to
hold her tongue easily. Besides, Berta's sedateness was now getting to be
a fixed fact, and the nurse was at the end of her patience; for as she was
accustomed to say, "A loaf that is put into the oven twisted will not come
out of it straight."
And if she succeeded in keeping silence for a few days, it was only
because she was waiting for Berta herself to speak and tell her what was
on her mind; but Berta gave no sign that she understood her; her heart
remained closed to the nurse, notwithstanding all her efforts to open it.
The key had been lost, and none of those that hung at the housekeeper's
girdle fitted it. It would be necessary to force the lock.
One day the nurse left off temporizing and took the bull by the horns. She
entered Berta's room, where she found her engaged in fastening a flaming
red carnation in her dark hair.
"There! that's what I like to see," she said. "That's right, now. What a
beautiful pink! It is as red as fire. And pinks of that color don't grow
in your flower-beds!"
Berta cast down her eyes.
"You think I can't see what is going on before my eyes," she continued,
"when you know that nothing can escape me. Yes, yes. I should like to see
the girl that could hoodwink me! But why don't you say something? Have you
lost your tongue?"
Berta turned as red as a poppy.
"Bah!" cried the nurse. "That pink must have flown over from the terrace
in front of your windows. I can see the plant from here; there were four
pinks on it yesterday, and to-day there are only three. The neighbor, eh?
What folly! There is neither sense nor reason in that."
This time Berta turned pale, and looked fixedly at her nurse, as if she
had not taken in the sense of her words.
"I don't mean," resumed the nurse, "that you ought to take the veil, or
that the neighbor is a man to be looked down upon either; but you are
worthy of a king, and there is no sort of sense in this. A few signals
from window to window; a few sidelong glances, and then—what? Nothing.
You will forget each other. It will be out of sight out of mind with both
Berta shook her head.
"You say it will not be so?" asked the nurse.
"I say it will not," answered Berta.
"And why not? Let us hear why not? What security have you—"
Berta did not allow her to finish.
"Our vows," she said.
"Vows!" cried the nurse, crossing herself. "Is that where we are!—Vows!"
she repeated, scornfully; "pretty things they are—words that the wind
Some memory of her own youth must have come to her mind at this moment,
for she sighed and then went on:
"And would they by chance be the first vows in the world to be broken?
To-day it is all very well; there is no one else for you to see but the
neighbor; but to-morrow?"
"Never," replied Berta.
"Worse and worse," returned the nurse; "for in that case he will be the
first to tire of you, and then hold him if you can. To-day he may be as
sweet as honey to you, but to-morrow it will be another story. What are
you going to say? That he is young, and handsome? Silly, silly girl. Is he
any the less a man for that? Do you want to know what men are?"
Berta, going up to her nurse, put her hand over her mouth and answered
"No, I don't want to know."
The nurse left Berta's room, holding her hands to her head and saying to
"Mad, stark, staring mad!"
We know already that Berta has a father, and now we are going to learn
that this father, without being in any way an extraordinary being, is yet
no common man. To look at him, one would take him to be over sixty; but
appearances are in this case deceitful, for he is not yet forty-nine.
In the same city in which he dwells live some who were companions of his
childhood, and they are still young; but Berta's father became a widower
shortly after his marriage, and the loss of his wife put an end to his
youth. He settled his affairs, gave up his business, realized a part of
his property and retired from the world. That is to say, that he devoted
himself to the care of his daughter, in whom he beheld the living image of
the wife he had lost. Why should he wish to be young any longer? He grew
aged then long before he had grown old.
Berta—Berta. In this name all his thoughts were centred, and in his
thoughts there was much of sweetness and much of bitterness, for there is
not in the circle of human happiness a cup of honey that has not its drop
To see him now walking up and down his room, looking now at the ceiling,
now at the floor, biting his nails and striking his forehead, one would
think the heavens were about to fall down and crush him or the earth to
open up under his feet.
Suddenly he struck his forehead with his open palm, and crossing over to
the door of the room, he raised the curtain, put out his head, and opened
his lips to say something; but the words remained unuttered, and he stood
with his mouth wide open, gazing with amazement at the nurse who, without
observing the movement of the curtain, was approaching the door,
gesticulating violently; it was evident that she had something
extraordinary on her mind.
Berta's father drew aside; the nurse entered the room, and the two
remained face to face, looking at each other as if they had never seen
each other before."
"What is the matter, Nurse Juana?" asked Berta's father. "I never saw you
look like that before."
"Well, you look no better youself. Any one would say, to see you, that you
had just risen from the grave."
Berta's father slowly arched his eyebrows, heaved a profound sigh, and
sinking into a chair, as if weighed down by the burden of existence, he
"What is the matter?"
"The matter is," answered the nurse, "that the devil has got into this
"It is possible," he answered; "and if you add that it is not an hour
since he left this room, you will not be far wrong."
"The Lord have mercy on us!" exclaimed the nurse: "the devil here!"
"Yes, Nurse Juana, the devil in person."
"And you saw him?"
"I saw him."
"What a horrible visitor!" exclaimed Juana, crossing herself.
"No," said Berta's father, "he is not horrible; he took the appearance of
a handsome young man who has all the air of a terrible rake."
"And how did this demon come in?"
"By the door, Juana, by the door."
"What a man!" cried the nurse in dismay.
Berta's father was very kind-hearted, and he had a very good opinion of
mankind; thus it was that he shook his head despondently as he replied:
"A man!—A man would not be so cruel to me. To take Berta from me is to
take my life. It is to assassinate me without allowing me a chance to
defend myself; and that is the most horrible part of it—they will be
married, and Berta will be united for life to the murderer of her father."
The nurse folded her arms and there was a moment of sorrowful silence.
Suddenly she said:
"Ah!—Berta will refuse."
A bitter smile crossed the lips of the unhappy father.
"You think she will not?" said the nurse. "Now, we shall see."
And she turned to go for Berta, but at the same moment the curtain was
raised and Berta entered the room.
The red carnation glowed in her black hair like fire in the darkness; her
eyes shone with a strange light, and in the fearless expression of her
countenance was to be divined the strength of an unalterable resolution.
She looked alternately at her father and at her nurse, and then in a
trembling voice she said:
"I know all. It may be to my life-long happiness; it may be to my eternal
misery; but that man is the master of my heart."
She smiled first at her father and then at her nurse; and left the room
with the same tranquillity with which she had entered it.
The nurse and the father remained standing where she left them,
motionless, dumb, astounded.
The devil then had succeeded in gaining an entrance into Berta's house in
the manner in which we have seen; and not only had he gained an entrance
into it, but he had taken possession of it as if it had always been his
own. He was hardly out of it before he was back again. He spent in it
several of his mornings, many of his afternoons, and all his evenings; and
there was no way of escaping his assiduous visits, for Berta was always
there to receive him. And it was not easy to be angry with him, either;
for he possessed the charm of an irresistible gayety, and one had not only
to be resigned but to show pleasure at his constant presence. Besides,
neither Berta's father nor the housekeeper dared to treat him coldly; they
felt compelled, by what irresistible spell they knew not, to receive him
with all honor and with a smiling countenance.
This is the case when they are under the influence of his presence: but
when he is absent, the father and the nurse treat him without any ceremony
whatever. The two get together in secret and in whispers revenge
themselves upon him by picking him to pieces. In these secret backbitings
they give vent to the aversion with which he inspires them; and the father
and the nurse between them leave him without a single good quality.
And it is not without reason that they berate him, for since he took the
house by storm nothing is done in it but what pleases him; he it is who
rules it, he it is who orders everything. For Berta thinks that all he
does is right, and there is no help for it but to bow in silence to her
But they are not satisfied with berating him; they also conspire against
him. What means shall they take to overthrow the power of this unlawful
ruler?—for in the eyes of the housekeeper he is a usurper, and in those
of Berta's father, a tyrant;—turn him out of the house? This is the one
thought of the conspirators. But how? This is the difficulty which
Two means entirely opposed to each other occur to them—to fly from him or
to make a stand against him. To fly is the plan of Berta's father; it is
the resource which is most consistent with his pacific character. To fly
far from him, far away, to the ends of the earth.
But to this the housekeeper answers:
"Fly from him! What nonsense! Where could we go, that he would not follow
us? No; such folly is not to be thought of. What we ought to do is to take
a firm stand and defend ourselves against him."
"Defend ourselves against him!" exclaimed Berta's father. "With what
weapons? With what strength?"
"Neither strength nor weapons are required," replied the nurse. "Some day
you bar the door against him, and then he may knock in vain. Satan turns
away from closed doors."
"Nurse Juana, that is folly," replied Berta's father; "if he does not come
in by the door he will come in by the window, or down the chimney."
Juana bit her lips reflectively, for what she had never been able to
explain satisfactorily to herself was how he had succeeded in entering the
house for the first time, for the door was always kept closed; it was
necessary to knock to have it opened; and it was never opened unless under
the inspection of the housekeeper; she always wanted to know who came in
and who went out, and in this she was very particular. How then had he
been able to come in without being seen or heard?
Her first inquiries on this mysterious point were addressed to Berta—and
Berta answered simply that he had entered without knocking because the
door was open. This the nurse found impossible to believe.
She remained thoughtful, then, for this demon of a man, it seemed, could
in truth enter the house even if the door were barred.
The conspirators did not get beyond these two courses of action: to fly or
to defend themselves. To fly was impossible, and to defend themselves was
impracticable. Berta's father and the housekeeper discussed these two
points daily without seeing light on any side. And must they resign
themselves to living under the diabolical yoke of that man? Both found
themselves in a situation that would be difficult to describe. They lived
in constant trepidation, fearing they knew not what.
And who, then, is this man who rules them with his presence and who has
made himself master of Berta's heart? His name is Adrian Baker, he lives
alone, and he possesses a large fortune. This is all that is known about
For the rest, he is young, tall, graceful in figure, with hair like gold
and a complexion as fair as snow; ardent and impassioned in speech, and
with steadfast, searching, and melancholy eyes, blue as the blue of deep
His manners could not be more natural, affectionate, and simple than they
are. He enters the house and runs up the stairs, two steps at a time.
Nothing stops him. If he meets Berta's father, he rushes to him and
embraces him, and the good man trembles from head to foot in the pressure
of those affectionate embraces. If it is the housekeeper who comes to meet
him, he lays his hand affectionately on her shoulder, and he always has
some pleasant remark to make, some cunning flattery which awakens in the
nurse a strange emotion. She feels as if the sap of youth were, of a
sudden, flowing through her veins.
There is no way of escaping the magic of his words, the spell of his
voice, the charm of his presence. Juana has observed that when he looks at
Berta his eyes shine with a light like that which the eyes of cats emit in
the dark; she has observed also that Berta turns pale under the power of
his glance, and that she bows her head under it as if yielding to the
influence of an irresistible will.
She has observed still more: she has observed that this mysterious man at
times sits lost in thought, his chin resting on his hand and a frown on
his brows, as if he saw some dreadful vision before him, and that
presently, as if awakening from a dream, he talks and smiles and laughs as
before. Berta's father has observed, on his side, that he knows something
about everything, understands something of everything, has an explanation
for everything, comprehends and divines everything, as if he possessed the
secret of all things. And these observations they communicate to each
other, filled with wonder and amazement.
Sometimes, sitting beside Berta, he amuses himself winding the linen floss
or the silks with which she is embroidering, or in cutting fantastic
figures out of any scrap of paper that may be at hand. Then he is like a
child. At other times he speaks of the world and of men, of foreign
countries and of remote ages, with so much gravity and judgment that he
seems like an old man who has retired from the world laden with wisdom and
But when he seats himself at the piano, then one can only yield one's self
unresistingly to the caprices of his will. The keys, touched by his
fingers, produce melodies so sparkling, so joyous, that the soul is filled
with gayety; but suddenly he changes to another key and the piano moans
and sighs like a human voice, and the heart is moved and the eyes fill
with tears. But this is not all; for, when one least expects it, thunder
low and deep seems to roll through the instrument; and strains are heard,
now near, now distant, that thrill the heart, and tones that fill the soul
with terror; through the vibrating chords all the spirits of the other
world seem to be speaking in an unknown tongue.
It is all very well for the housekeeper to regard Adrian Baker as the
devil in person, or as a man possessed by the devil, or at least as an
extraordinary being, who possesses the diabolical secret of some
wonder-working philtre. It is all very well for Berta's father to see in
him a masterful mind and an eccentric nature. And who knows—he has
sometimes heard of mysterious fluids, of subtle forces which attract arid
repel, of dominating influences, of marvels of magnetism; and although he
has never given a great deal of thought to any of those matters, he thinks
about them since he has felt himself dominated by this singular personage,
and Adrian Baker has become, in fact, his fixed idea, his absorbing
thought, his unceasing preoccupation, his constant monomania. Berta's
father and the housekeeper may very well attribute to him marvellous
powers, suggested by their own excited imaginations; but we must not share
in those hallucinations, nor are we to conclude from them that Adrian
Baker is outside the common law to which ordinary mortals are subject.
This is evident; but, still, who is Adrian Baker?
We shall present here all the information that we have been able to gather
about him, and let each one draw from it the conclusion he pleases.
It is not yet quite two years since one of the carriages which transport
passengers from the railway station to the city which is the scene of our
story, drove rapidly from the station; the energy with which the coachman
whipped up his horses showed the haste or the importance of the travellers
This carriage entered the city and stopped before the door of the best
hotel of the place; there the solitary traveller it carried alighted from
it, and this traveller was Adrian Baker. He was enveloped in a travelling
great-coat lined with costly fur. The eagerness with which the waiters of
the hotel hastened to meet him showed that they had discovered in the new
guest a mine of tips. The coachman took his leave of him, hat in hand, and
as he turned away looked around at the bystanders, displaying to them a
gold coin in his left eye.
Nothing more was needed to cause the luggage of the guest to be whisked
off to the most sumptuous room in the hotel. Seven cities of Greece
disputed with one another the honor of having been the birthplace of
Homer; more than seven waiters disputed with one another the honor of
carrying Adrian Baker's valise. He was like a king entering his palace.
For several days he was to be seen alone and on foot, traversing the
streets and visiting the most noteworthy buildings; then, alone also, but
in a carriage, he was to be seen viewing the wildest and most picturesque
spots in the neighborhood, with the attention of an artist, a philosopher,
or a poet.
He was affable and easy in his manners; and he soon had many friends who
talked admiringly of his eccentricities, of his riches, and of his
learning; so that he was for some time the lion of the day, and therefore
the favorite subject of every conversation. To win his friendship would
have been for the men a triumph; and to win his heart would have been for
the haughtiest woman more than a triumph; but Adrian Baker kept his inmost
heart closed alike to friendship and to love; so that only three things
were known about him—that he was young, that he was rich, and that he had
travelled over half the world.
He was supposed to be an Englishman, a German, or an American; in the
first place, because he was fair, and in the second place, because,
although he spoke Spanish as if it were his native tongue, a certain
foreign flavor was to be noticed in his accent, which each one interpreted
according to his fancy.
For the rest, he seemed pleased with the beauty of the sky and the gayety
of the landscape, and although he had told no one whether he intended to
remain there long or not, the fact was that he did not go away. Doubtless
he grew tired of the life at the hotel, for one day he suddenly bought a
fine house and established himself in it like a prince. This edifice,
venerable from its antiquity, had the grandiose aspect of a palace, and
one of its angles fronted Berta's house.
This is all that was known about Adrian Baker. We now know, therefore,
that the mysterious Adrian Baker was neither more nor less than Berta's
One night, returning from his daily visit to Berta, he entered the house,
crossed the hall, and shut himself up in his own apartments. Shortly
afterwards the great door of the palace, creaking harshly on its hinges,
was closed; the lights were extinguished one by one, and everything
remained in profound silence. Adrian Baker, however, was not asleep.
At the further end of the room, which was lighted by the soft light of a
lamp, he sat with his elbows resting on a mahogany table and his face
buried in his hands, seemingly lost in thought. And his thoughts could not
be of a pleasant nature, for the stern frown upon his brow showed that
some storm was raging behind that forehead smooth as a child's and pale as
death. The light of the lamp, reflected from his golden hair, seemed to
envelop his head in fantastic lights and shadows.
After many moments of immobility and silence, he struck the table
violently with the palm of his hand, exclaiming:
"Accursed riches! Odious learning! Cruel experience!"
Then he rose to his feet, and striding up and down the room like a madman,
he cried in smothered accents:
"Faith! Faith! Doubt is killing me!"
A moment later he shook his beautiful head and burst into a terrible
"Very well," he said. "The proof is a terrible one, but I require this
proof. I must descend into the tomb to obtain it: well, then, I will
descend into the tomb. I must consult the sombre oracle of death
concerning the mysteries of life: well, then, I will consult it."
At this moment the glass chimney of the lamp burst, falling to the floor
in a thousand fragments; the lurid flame sent forth a black smoke that
filled the room with shadows which crept along the walls, mingled together
on the ceiling, and crossed one another on the floor; the furniture seemed
to be moving, the ceiling sinking down, and the walls receding.
In the midst of this demon dance of lights and shadows, the flame of the
lamp went out, as if in obedience to an invisible breath, and in the
darkness that followed all was silence.
Something extraordinary must have occurred in Berta's house, for the nurse
seemed to have been seized by a sudden fit of restlessness that would not
let her sit still for a moment. She went to and fro, upstairs and down,
out and in, with the mechanical movement of an automaton. It was a sort of
nervous attack that had in a moment increased twofold the housekeeper's
domestic activity. Suddenly she would stand still, and placing her
forefinger on her upper lip she would remain motionless, as if she were
seeking in her mind the explanation of some mystery or the key to some
riddle, gesticulating with expressive eloquence, and, so to say, thinking
But the cause of the agitation which we observe in her could not be a very
alarming one, for in the midst of it all there was apparent something like
joy, a secret joy which in spite of herself was perceptible through her
restlessness and her gesticulations. In our poor human nature, joy and
sorrow often manifest themselves by the same symptoms; and a piece of good
news will agitate us in the same way as a piece of bad news.
Be this as it may, what is certain is that the housekeeper seemed to be
excited by some secret thought which she turned over and over in her mind,
and that she was waiting for something with impatience, for from time to
time she stood still, stretched out her neck, and listened.
Suddenly the door-bell rang twice; slowly, deliberately, producing on the
nurse the effect of an electric shock. She threw down some house-linen
which she had in her hands, overturned a chair or two that stood in her
way, and tore a curtain that opposed her progress, leaving devastation and
destruction in her wake, like a storm.
She pulled the cord which opened the door, and she pulled it so violently
that the door sprang wide open, giving admittance to Berta's father, who
entered slowly, leaning on his cane like a man whose vitality is beginning
to fail. As he entered, he raised his eyes with a look of melancholy
discouragement, and at the head of the stairs he saw the housekeeper, who
seemed to be trying to tell him something, gesticulating violently and
waving her arms like the apparatus of a semaphore. The good man did not
understand a word of this telegraphic language, and he stopped at the foot
of the stairs, endeavoring to comprehend the meaning of the signs which
the housekeeper was excitedly making above his head. But, naturally, he
was not very skilful in this kind of investigation, and his not very vivid
imagination was at this moment paralyzed. Finally, he shrugged his
shoulders with a sort of resigned and patient desperation, as if to say,
"What are you trying to tell me?" The housekeeper folded her arms and
shook her head three times; this meant: "Stupid! stupid! stupid!" The good
man bent his head under the triple accusation, and proceeded to ascend the
stairs. At the head Nurse Juana was waiting for him, and without further
ceremony she took him by the hand and drew him into his room; and there,
after assuring herself that no one was within hearing, she put her mouth
close to the ear of Berta's father, and in a mysterious voice, and with an
air of profound mystery, she said to him:
"He is going away!"
"He is going away!" repeated Berta's father, exhaling a profound sigh.
"Yes," she added; "we are going to be free."
"Free!" repeated the good man, shaking his head with an air of
incredulity. Then he asked:
"And where is he going?"
"He is going very far away," answered the nurse. "That is certain. He is
going very far away, to some place, I don't know where, at the other end
of the earth. It is a sudden journey."
The good man sighed again despondently; Nurse Juana looked at him with
"Any one would suppose that I had just given you a piece of bad news. Can
that man have bewitched you to the extent—"
"Yes," he interrupted, "for if he goes he will not go alone; he will take
Berta with him, and then what is to become of us?"
"Nothing of the kind," replied Juana. "He will go alone—entirely alone."
"Worse and worse," said the father, "for then, what is to become of
"Nothing," said the nurse. "Out of sight, out of mind. The absent are
forgotten; the dead are buried. That is the way of the world. Berta knows
all about it; she told me herself, and she is as calm and as cool as
possible. Bah, she won't need any cordial to keep her up when she is
bidding him good-bye."
As she uttered the last word she turned her head and she could not
restrain the cry that rose to her lips as she saw Adrian Baker, who had
just entered—Adrian Baker, in person, paler than ever, dressed in a
handsome travelling suit. His eyes shone with a strange lustre, and a
smile, half sad, half mocking, curved his lips.
He begged a thousand pardons for the surprise which he had caused them,
and said that unforeseen circumstances obliged him to undertake a sudden
journey to New York, where he was urgently called by affairs of the
greatest importance, but that he would return soon.
"I am going away," he ended, "but I leave my heart here and I will come
back for it."
Saying this, he embraced Berta's father so affectionately that the worthy
man was deeply moved, and Nurse Juana, dominated by the voice and the
presence of this singular man, felt a tear or two spring to her eyes,
which she hastened to wipe away with the corner of her apron.
Adrian Baker laid his hand on her shoulder, a hand which the nurse felt
tremble, and she trembled herself as she heard him say:
"That is the way of the world, eh? Well, we shall see."
Then he left the room, and the father and the nurse followed him
Berta came out to meet them, and her hand sought Adrian Baker's, and both
hands remained clasped for a long time.
"You will come back soon?" asked Berta, in soft and trembling accents.
"Soon," he answered.
"When?" she asked.
"Soon," repeated Baker. "If you wait for me your heart will announce my
return to you."
"I will wait for ever for you," said Berta, in a choking voice, but
without a tear in her eyes.
Their hands unclasped, Adrian Baker hurried to the stairs, ran down
precipitately, and shortly afterward they heard the rolling of the
carriage which bore him away.
Bertha gave her father a gentle smile and then ran to shut herself up in
As the noise of the carriage wheels died away in the distance, like a
dying peal of thunder, the housekeeper crossed herself, and said:
"He is gone; now we can breathe freely."
Apparently Nurse Juana knew the human heart well, or at least Berta's
heart, for three months had passed since Adrian Baker had sailed for New
York, and not once had she been able to surprise a tear in the eyes of the
girl to whom she had taken the place of a mother. Berta apparently felt no
grief at his absence.
It is true that during these three months of absence a letter had been
received from New York, in which Adrian Baker said to Berta all that is
said in such cases; it was a simple, tender and earnest letter, that did
not seem to have been written three thousand miles away; on the other side
of the great ocean in which the most ardent and the most profound passions
are wrecked. It is true that this letter was answered by return of mail,
and that it traversed the stormy solitudes of the sea full of promises and
It is also true that Berta put away Adrian Baker's letter carefully,
treasuring it as one treasures a relic. It is true that she passed whole
hours seated at her piano running her fingers up and down the keys,
playing Adrian Baker's favorite airs, which he himself had taught her. But
except this, Berta lived like other girls; she had an excellent appetite
and she slept the tranquil sleep of a happy heart. She spent the usual
time at her toilet table and she took pleasure in making herself
beautiful. Some of the asperities of her character had become softened;
she spoke with all her natural vivacity, and, finally, she never mentioned
Adrian Baker's name.
Her father and her nurse observed all this and deduced as a consequence
that the traveller had left no trace in Berta's heart. Only one fear
troubled them,—the fear that he would return.
In this way another month passed, and the memory of Adrian Baker began to
wear away; if his name was sometimes mentioned, it was as one evokes the
memory of a dream.
The dream, however, at times assumed the aspect of an impending reality.
He might return, and beyond a doubt he had not intended to remain away for
ever; his last farewell had not been an eternal one. If he himself was on
the other side of the ocean, three thousand miles away, that is, in New
York, at the other end of the earth, more, in the other world, his house
was there, opposite them, open, kept by his servants with the same luxury
and the same pomp as before he had gone away; his house that seemed like
an enchanted palace waiting for its owner; and the order and care with
which everything was conducted in it indicated that the servants did not
wish to be surprised by the sudden appearance of their master; that is to
say, that Adrian Baker might return at any moment. The plants on the
terrace spread their branches as full of life as if they were tended by
the hands of Adrian Baker himself.
Berta's father and the housekeeper saw in this house a constant menace; it
came to be for them the shadow, so to say, of Adrian Baker; but for all
that, time passed and the traveller did not return.
Spring came, and nature bloomed again with all the richness of vegetation
which she displays in southern climes; and it is in the heart of the South
that the scene of our story is laid. Everything put on its fairest and
most smiling aspect, and the soul felt the vague happiness of a hope that
is about to be realized.
Berta shared in this beautiful awakening of nature, and it might be said
that her every beauty had acquired a new charm; her eyes seemed larger,
her glance gentler, calmer, more profound; her cheeks fresher, softer, and
rosier; and her smile more tender, innocent, and enchanting. Her figure
had acquired a majestic ease, which gave to her movements voluptuousness
and firmness. It seemed as if youth had made a supreme effort, and in
giving the last touch to her beauty had obtained a masterpiece. She was in
the full splendor of her loveliness.
In exchange, Adrian Baker's palace one morning appeared as gloomy as a
sepulchre; the drawn blinds and the closed hall-door gave it the aspect of
a deserted house; profound silence reigned within it, and yet the palace
of Adrian Baker was still inhabited.
In the hall the figure of the porter appeared like a shade; he was dressed
entirely in black, and all the other servants of the house were also clad
in mourning, and in their faces were to be observed signs of sadness.
What had happened?
What had happened was simply that Adrian Baker had died in New York of
an acute attack of pneumonia. The news had spread through the city with
the rapidity with which bad news spreads, and it had also penetrated
into Berta's house. At first it seemed incredible that Adrian Baker should
have died, as if the life of this man were not subject to the
contingencies to which the lives of other mortals are subject. But the
tidings had been confirmed and they must be believed. Besides, the aspect
of the palace bore testimony to the authenticity of the news. In that
house hung with black the very stones seemed to mourn. The news had come
in a black-bordered letter dated in New York and signed by the head
of the house of Wilson and Company, with which Adrian Baker had large sums
Berta's father and the housekeeper looked at each other with amazement,
and repeated, one after the other:
"He is dead!"
"He is dead!"
Berta, pale as death itself, surprised them as they uttered these words,
and in a sepulchral voice she said:
"Yes, he has died in New York, but he lives in my heart."
And turning from them she fled to her room and seated herself at the
window from which she could see the terrace of the palace. The flowers,
agitated gently by the breezes of spring, leaned toward Berta as if
sending her a melancholy greeting. She gazed at them without a tear in her
eyes. The extreme pallor of her face and the slight trembling of her lips
alone revealed the grief that afflicted her soul.
Suddenly the flight of a white butterfly circling in the air attracted her
gaze. She followed it absently with her eyes, and the butterfly, as if
drawn by Berta's gaze, tracing capricious circles, left the terrace, flew
swiftly to Berta's window and entered the room.
With an involuntary movement Berta extended her hands to catch it, but the
butterfly darted between them, and circled swiftly and silently about her
head, forming around her brow a sort of aureole, which appeared and
disappeared like a succession of lightning flashes. The wings of the
butterfly glowed above Bertha's head with a light like the first splendors
of the dawn. Then it passed before her eyes, she saw it hovering over the
flowers on the terrace, and then it disappeared from her gaze as if it had
vanished into air. Her eyes sought it with indescribable eagerness, but in
vain; she saw it no more.
She clasped her hands and two large tears rose to her eyes and rolled down
On the following day the housekeeper, entering Berta's room, saw a shadow
outlined against the wall above the head of her bed. This shadow, as the
nurse looked, took the form of a human head.
It was the head of Adrian Baker, the same head, with its pale forehead,
its compelling glance, and its smile, at once sweet, sad, and mocking.
The housekeeper, out of her wits with terror, crossed herself as if she
had seen a diabolical vision and hurried out of the room.
Adrian Baker's death has wrought terrible ravages in Berta. She does not
distress those around her by ceaseless sighs and tears; she does not
continually proclaim in words the depth of her sorrow; on the contrary,
she hides her grief in her own breast, devours her tears in secret, chokes
back her sighs and utters no unavailing complaints; Adrian Baker's name is
never heard from her lips.
It might be thought that she had consoled herself easily, if in her eyes
there did not lie the shadow of a deep grief, if the pallor of her cheeks
did not cover her youthful beauty like a funeral pall, if her hollow voice
did not reveal the profound loneliness of her heart. At times she smiles
at her father, but in her smiles there is an inexpressible bitterness. She
can be seen fading away, like the flame of an expiring lamp. Like a miser
she hides her grief in the bottom of her heart, as if she feared that it
might be taken from her.
Her father and her nurse see her growing thin, they see her fading away,
they see her dying, without being able to stop the ravages of the
persistent, voiceless, inconsolable grief that is slowly sapping her youth
and her life, and they curse the name of Adrian Baker, and they would at
the same time give their lives to bring him back to life; but death does
not give up its prey, and only one hope remains to them, the last hope—
But time passes, and the memory of Adrian Baker, like a slow poison, is
gradually consuming Berta's life.
Everything has been done: she has been surrounded with all the delights of
the world; the most eligible suitors have sued for her favor; youth,
beauty, and wealth have disputed her affection with one another, but her
grief has remained inaccessible; she has been subjected to every proof,
but it has not been possible to tear from her soul the demon image of
Adrian Baker. Medical skill has been appealed to, and science has
exhausted its resources in vain, for Berta's malady is incurable.
The nurse firmly believes that Adrian Baker has bewitched her; he has
diffused through her blood a diabolical philtre. Strong love will survive
absence, but no love will survive death. Berta, consequently, was
Her father has only one thought, expressed in these words: "He has gone
away and he is taking her with him; after all, he is taking her with
But there is still one other resource to be appealed to—solitude, the
fields, nature. Who can tell! the sky, the sun, the air of the country,
may revive her; the poetry of nature may awaken in her heart new feelings
and new hopes; the murmur of the waters, the song of the birds, the shade
of the trees—why not? There is no human sorrow, however great it may be,
that does not sink into insignificance before the grandeur of the heavens.
At a little distance from the city Berta's father has a small villa, whose
white walls and red roof can be seen through the trees which surround it.
There could not be a more picturesque situation. To the right, the
mountain; to the left, the plain; in front, the sea, stretching far in the
distance, until it blends with the horizon; and that nothing may be
wanting to complete the picture, the ruins of an ancient monastery, seated
on the slope of the mountain, can be seen from the villa.
Berta offered no resistance, for it was a matter of indifference to her
whether she lived in the city or in the country; the only thing she showed
any desire about was that the piano should be taken with them, as if she
regarded it as a dear friend and her only confidant; and the family
removed to the villa and established themselves in it.
Berta herself arranged the room which she was to occupy in the villa. This
opened on the garden and served her both as bedroom and dressing-room.
Above her bed she hung a beautiful life-size photograph of a head. It was
that of Adrian Baker, with his pale, smooth brow, his large blue eyes and
his beautiful golden curls—the head of Adrian Baker admirably
photographed, and which she herself had shaded.
For the piano no place could be found to please Berta. There was only one
common room in the villa, the parlor, which at times also served as a
dining-room. She was hesitating between the parlor and her bedroom, when
the idea occurred to her to put it in a small pavilion covered with vines
and honeysuckles, which stood in a corner of the garden and which was used
as a hot-house. The idea seemed to be a happy one, and she smiled as it
occurred to her, and the piano was placed in the pavilion, like a bird in
The journey must have fatigued Berta, for she retired early to her room,
where the nurse left her in bed. Did she sleep? We cannot say; but at dawn
the songs of the birds that made their nests in the garden caused her to
rise. She opened the window-shutters and a flock of birds flew away
frightened, to hide themselves in the tops of the trees, gilded by the
first rays of the sun. Before long, however, the boldest of them returned
to hop before her window, looking at Berta with a certain audacious
familiarity as if they recognized in her an old friend. A few grains of
wheat and a few crumbs of bread scattered on the window-sill gradually
attracted the more timid, who grew at last to be familiar. The slightest
movement, indeed, caused them to take flight precipitately; but they soon
recovered their lost confidence and they returned again to hop gayly on
the iron railing of the window.
Berta watched them, and as she watched them she smiled; and at the end of
a few days she had induced them to come in and out with perfect
confidence. In her solitary walks through the garden and through the
avenue of lime trees which led to the villa, they followed her, flying
from tree to tree. She spent a few hours of the morning, every day, in the
pavilion, and there the birds came also, mingling their joyous carols
with the melancholy strains of the piano; but the mad gayety of the birds
was powerless to mitigate the profound sadness of Berta; her one thought
was still Adrian—Adrian Baker.
This name, which never escaped her lips, was to be seen written everywhere
by Berta's hand, on the garden walls, on the trunks of the trees; and even
the vines that covered the pavilion had interlaced their branches in such
a manner that "Adrian Baker" could be deciphered in them. This name was to
be met everywhere, like the mute echo of an undying memory.
During the morning hours Berta's countenance seemed to be more animated,
and her cheeks had even at times a rosy hue; but as the day declined her
transient animation faded away, as if the sun of her life too approached
Seated at her window she contemplated in silence the clouds illumined by
the last rays of the setting sun. Juana, who had exhausted in vain all her
subjects of conversation, was with her. A sudden brightness hovered over
Berta's head for an instant, circled swiftly around it, and then vanished
"Did you see it?" cried Berta.
"Yes," answered the nurse, "it was a white butterfly that wanted to settle
on your head."
"Well?" asked Berta.
"White butterflies," said the nurse, "are a sign of good luck; they always
bring good news."
"Yes," answered Berta, pressing her nurse's hand convulsively. "That is my
white butterfly, and this time it will not deceive me. Adrian is coming—
yes, he is coming for me; that is what it has come to tell me—I was
waiting for it."
The nurse gazed at her for a moment with dilated eyes; the setting sun
illumined Berta's countenance with a strange light, and the poor woman,
unable to support the look which burned in the eyes of the sick girl, bent
her head and clasped her hands, saying to herself:
"My God! She has lost her mind!"
The idea that Berta had lost her reason threw the housekeeper into a state
of distraction. She would hide herself in the remotest corners of the
house to cry by herself. She could not bear alone the burden of so
terrible a secret, but to whom could she confide it? How stab the father's
heart so cruelly! To tell him that Berta had lost her reason would be to
kill him. The good man watched over his daughter with the eyes of love,
but love itself made him blind and he did not perceive her madness.
And the housekeeper became every day more and more convinced of the
reality of this dreadful misfortune. During the night she stole many times
to the sleeping girl's bedside and listened to her calm breathing. No
extraordinary change, either in her habits, or her acts, or her words,
gave evidence of the wandering of her mind. True; but she was waiting for
Adrian Baker and she declared that he would come. It was in vain she tried
to persuade her that this was folly, for Berta either grew angry and
commanded her to be silent, or smiled with scornful pity at her arguments.
Was not this madness?
The housekeeper suddenly lost her appetite and her sleep; and she shunned
Berta's father, for she was not sure of being able to keep the secret
which she carried in her bosom. The same thought kept revolving in her
mind like a mill. It seemed as if Berta's madness was going to cost the
nurse also her reason.
One night she lay tossing about, unable to sleep, her imagination filled
with dreadful spectres. In the midst of the darkness she saw faces
approaching and receding from her, that laughed and wept, that vanished to
appear again, and all these faces that danced before her eyes had,
notwithstanding their grotesque features, a diabolical likeness to the
head of Adrian Baker. The nurse, terrified, shut her eyes, that she might
not see them, but notwithstanding she still continued seeing them.
She thought that she was under the influence of a nightmare, and making an
effort she sat up in the bed. Suddenly she heard a distant sound of sweet
music, a mysterious melody whose notes died away on the breeze.
She listened attentively, and she soon comprehended that the music she
heard came from the piano; and she sprang out of bed, crying:
She began to dress herself quickly, groping for her things in the
darkness, saying as she did so, in a voice full of anguish:
"Alone, in the pavilion, and at this hour! Child of my heart, you are
All the visions she had seen disappeared; she saw nothing, she only heard
the distant notes of the piano breaking the silence of the night.
Going into the hall she groped her way to Berta's room. She gently pushed
in the door, which opened noiselessly, and an indistinct glimmer, like the
last gleam of twilight, met her eyes. It was the light of the night-lamp
burning softly in its porcelain vase.
Her first glance was at the bed, which, in the indistinct light, presented
to her eyes only a shapeless object; but in a moment more she saw that the
bed was empty.
She thought of taking the lamp that burned in the corner of the room to
light her way and going to the pavilion, but at this moment she felt a
breath of cold damp air blowing softly on her face.
She turned her eyes in the direction from which the breeze had come, and
observed that the window was wide open and that outside all was profound
And filled with indescribable amazement, unwilling to believe the evidence
of her eyes, she saw what appeared to be a human figure standing
motionless in front of the window, its hands clasped and its forehead
resting against the window-frame.
A cold perspiration, like that of death, broke out over her; she would
have shuddered, but she could not; she attempted to cry out, but her voice
died away in her throat; she attempted to fly, but her feet, fastened to
the ground, refused to carry her.
With her eyes starting from their sockets, her mouth wide open, and terror
depicted on her countenance, she stood as if petrified, without the
strength to keep erect or the will to fall.
And in truth she had some reason to be terrified.
Before her stood Berta, leaning motionless against the window, drinking in
with rapt attention the notes which at that moment came in a torrent from
It was not Berta, then, who was breaking the silence of the night with
that mysterious music.
What unknown hand, what invisible hand was it that drew those sounds from
the chords of the piano in the midst of the silence and the solitude of
the night! Was what her eyes saw real! Was what her ears were listening to
real! Or was it all the dreadful hallucination of a terrible dream!
And this was not all; for the memory of the terrified nurse recalls with a
secret shudder those mysterious melodies which now enchain her ear. Yes;
through the piano roll sounds like the rumbling of thunder, and strains
are heard, now near, now far, that thrill the heart, and tones that fill
the soul with terror; through the vibrating chords all the spirits of the
other world seem to be speaking in an unknown tongue.
I do not know how long the housekeeper might have stood silent and
motionless, under the influence of the terror which mastered her, if Berta
had not observed her.
It caused her neither surprise nor alarm to see her nurse there.
Approaching her she took her by the hand, and, shaking her gently, said:
"Do you see?—Do you hear?—It is Adrian—Adrian who has come for me; the
white butterfly did not deceive me."
The housekeeper had by this time recovered herself sufficiently to pass
her hand over her forehead and to rub her eyes.
"I knew that he would come," continued Berta; "I have been waiting for him
The nurse, as if by a supreme effort, drew a deep breath.
"Do you hear those sighs that come from the piano?" said Berta. "It is he;
he is calling me; and since you are here, let us go to meet him."
And taking the lamp in her hand as she spoke, she added:
Nurse Juana followed her like a ghost.
They entered the garden and walked toward the pavilion. The pale light of
the lamp illumined Berta's countenance, shedding around it a fantastic
light that made the surrounding darkness seem more intense.
The nurse felt herself drawn along by Berta; she walked mechanically; a
power stronger than her terror impelled her.
In this way they crossed the garden and reached the door of the pavilion.
There Berta stopped, and called softly:
But there was no response to her call.
Then they entered the pavilion.
Juana caught hold of Berta to keep from falling, and closed her eyes.
The light of the lamp illumined the pavilion, whose solitude seemed
startled by this unexpected visit; the piano was open and mute.
"No one!" exclaimed Berta, sighing.
"No one," repeated Juana, opening her eyes.
And so it was; the pavilion was empty.
It is beyond a doubt that Berta's piano has the marvellous quality of
making its strings sound without the intervention of the human hand. And
this being the case, it must be admitted that this marvellous instrument
is, in addition, a consummate musician, for it plays with the skill
attained only by great artists.
But since Nurse Juana cannot conceive how a piano can play of itself,
without a hand moving the keys, she has decided that in this diabolical
affair an invisible hand, the ghostly hand of some spirit from the other
world, has intervened.
This supposition is not altogether admissible, for it seems to have been
sufficiently proved that spirits do not possess hands. But the nurse does
not stop for such fine distinctions, and she firmly believes that the
spirit of Adrian Baker is wandering about the villa. Condemned perhaps to
eternal torment, he takes pleasure in torturing the living even after his
And it is indeed a diabolical amusement, for the serenade is repeated
nightly; the family are aroused from sleep; they hasten to the pavilion
and the piano becomes silent; they enter it and they find no one. They
have observed that the airs played by Berta in the morning are repeated by
the piano at night.
Juana is assailed by continual terrors; there is no peace in the house.
Berta's father is unable to explain the mystery, and his mind is filled
with confusion and his heart is a prey to sudden alarms. The light of day
dissipates the agitation of their minds, they fancy themselves the victims
of vain hallucinations, and, arming themselves with heroic valor, they
make plans for unravelling the awesome mystery.
The most courageous among them would hide in the pavilion, and there await
in concealment the hour of the strange occurrence; in this way they would
discover what fingers drew those sounds from the piano.
Strong in this purpose they awaited the first shades of night; but then
the courage of the strongest failed. The air became filled with fearful
shadows, the silence with mysterious noises, and no one ventured to leave
the house. They spent the nights in vigil and the terror by which all were
possessed made them seem interminable.
And for Berta, on the other hand, the days were interminable, and she
awaited the nights with eager impatience.
One afternoon she expressed a desire to visit the ruins of the monastery,
and she showed so much eagerness in the matter that there was no resource
but to accede to her wish. Her father and her nurse resolved to accompany
her, and the three set out.
The distance between the villa and the monastery was not great, but the
party walked slowly. In the winding path the ruins disappeared suddenly
behind a hill, as if the earth had swallowed them; a few steps further on
they suddenly reappeared; and the travellers stood before the ruined
From this point the eye could contemplate the ruined walls, the broken
partitions, the ceilings fallen in, and between the loose stones the
solitary flowers of the ruin. Only the arches which supported the vaulted
roof of the chapel had resisted the corroding influence of time.
The nurse would have now willingly returned to the villa, and Berta's
father had no desire to go any further, but Berta passed through the
ruined portico, and they were obliged to follow her.
She made her way into the chapel, passing under the crumbling arches which
threatened at every moment to fall down and crush her, and she emerged at
what must have been the centre of the monastery, for the remains of the
wall and some broken and unsteady pilasters showed four paths which,
uniting at their extremities, formed a square. This must have been the
cloister, in the middle were vestiges of a choked-up cistern.
Here Berta sat down on a piece of cornice which was imbedded in the
rubbish. She seemed pleased in the midst of this desolation. Her father
and the nurse joined her with terror depicted on their countenances; they
had heard the noise of footsteps in the chapel; more, Juana had seen a
shadow glide away; how or where she did not know, but she was sure that
she had seen it.
Berta smiled and said:
"The noise of footsteps and a shadow? Very well; what harm can those
footsteps or that shadow do us? They are perhaps the footsteps of Adrian
Baker following us; it is his shade that accompanies us. What is there
strange in that? Do you not know that I carry him in my heart? Do you not
know that I am waiting for him, that I am always waiting for him?"
At the name of Adrian Baker, Berta's father and the nurse shuddered.
"Yes, my child," said the former, "but we are far from the villa, the sun
is setting—it is growing late."
"Yes, yes," said Juana, "let us go back."
Berta drew her father affectionately toward her and said:
"Dear father, I am not mad. Juana, I am not mad. Adrian promised me that
he would return, and he will return. I am waiting for him. Why should that
be madness? I know that I grieve you, and I do not wish to grieve you. I
have begged God a thousand times on my knees to tear his image from my
heart and his memory from my mind; but God, who sees all things, from whom
nothing is hidden, to whom all things are possible, has not wished to do
it. Why? He alone knows."
The father's eyes filled with tears, and the nurse hid her face in her
hands to keep back the sobs that rose in her throat.
"Yes, it is growing late. But I am very tired. Let us wait a moment."
They had nothing to say in answer to her words, nor could they have said
anything, for their voices failed them.
All three remained silent.
Suddenly they looked at one another with indescribable anxiety, for all
three had heard a sigh, a human sigh that seemed exhaled by the ruins
Could it have been the wind, moaning as it swept through the sharp points
of the broken walls?
Berta rose to her feet, and cried twice in a loud voice:
Her voice was borne away on the breeze, losing itself in the distance. But
before the last notes died away, another voice resounded among the ruins,
The sun had just set, and the twilight shadows gathered swiftly, as if
they had sprung up from among the ruins, hiding the broken pillars and the
In one of the angles of the cloister appeared a moving shadow. This shadow
advanced slowly until it reached the middle of the court where the remains
of the disused cistern were seen. There it stopped, and in a soft clear
voice uttered the words:
"It is I, Berta; it is I."
"He!" she cried, extending her arms in the air.
Juana uttered a cry of terror and caught hold of Berta with all the
strength left her; the father tried to rise, but, unable to sustain
himself, fell on his knees beside his daughter.
It was not possible to reject the evidence of their senses. Whatever might
be the hidden cause of the marvel, the dark key of the mystery, the shadow
which had just appeared in the angle of the cloister was clearly the
authentic image, the vera effigies, the very person of Adrian Baker. The
astonished eyes of Berta, of her father, and of the nurse could not refuse
to believe it.
His fair curls, his pale brow, the outlines of his figure, his air, his
glance, his voice—all were there before the amazed eyes of Berta, her
father, and the nurse.
Now, was this a fantastic creation of their troubled senses? Was it a
phantom of the brain, or a reality? Did all three suffer at the same time
the same hallucination? The fixed thought of all three was Adrian Baker—
and the senses often counterfeit the reality of our vain imaginings. The
state of their minds, the place, the hour—and then, the air produces
sounds that deceive; the light and the darkness mingling together in the
mysterious hour of twilight people the solitude with strange visions. And
in the midst of those ruins, which began to assume fantastic forms, and
which seemed to move, in the gathering shades of twilight, Berta, her
father, and the nurse might well believe themselves in the presence of a
spectre evoked there by their presence.
But the fact was, that the shadow, instead of vanishing, instead of
changing its shape, as happens with chimeras of the brain, assumed before
their eyes a more distinct form, more definite outlines, according as he
approached the group.
Reaching them, he took gently in his the hands Berta held out to him. His
eyes shone with the light of a supreme triumph.
"It is I," he said, in a moved voice. "I, Adrian Baker. I am not a spectre
risen from the tomb."
Berta felt herself growing faint and was obliged to sit down; and Adrian
Baker continued thus:
"Forgive me. I have put your heart to a terrible proof, but the doubts of
my soul were still more terrible. The world had filled my spirit with
horrible distrust and I desired to sound the uttermost depths of your
love. It has resisted absence, and it has resisted death. Your love for me
was not a passing fancy; you did not deceive yourself when you vowed me an
eternal love. I left you in order to watch you and I died to comprehend
you. I have followed you everywhere; I have not separated from you a
single moment. My sweet Berta! You waited for me living, and you have
waited for me dead. 'If you wait for me,' I said, 'your own heart will
announce my return to you,' and you see I have returned. I felt for you an
immense tenderness, but a terrible doubt consumed my heart. Had my riches
dazzled you? Forgive me, Berta. A fatal learning had frozen faith in my
soul; I doubted everything, and I doubted your heart also—I doubted you."
Berta clasped her hands, and raising her eyes to heaven, exclaimed
"My God! what cruel injustice!"
"Yes!" burst out Adrian Baker; "cruel injustice! but you have resuscitated
my heart; you have brought my soul back to life."
"Ah," said Berta, laying her hands on his breast, "what if it were too
Then, turning to her father and the nurse, she said:
"I feel very cold; let us return to the villa;" and leaning on Adrian
Baker's arm, she led the way.
Her father and the nurse followed her in silence. The good man had
comprehended everything, but the poor woman comprehended nothing.
What passed that night in the villa it is not necessary to relate; it was
a night of pain, of agitation, and of anguish. It was necessary to go to
the city for a physician; why? Because Berta was dying. Adrian Baker was
the image of despair; the unhappy father wept as if his heart would break,
and the nurse stole away from time to time to cry, unable to restrain her
At dawn it was necessary to go again to the city, for the physician of the
body had exhausted the resources of science, and they were obliged to have
recourse to the physician of the soul.
Dawn was just breaking when a priest alighted at the door of the villa.
The sick girl received him, if we may be allowed the expression, with
melancholy gladness, and a little later all was over.
In the middle of the room, on a funeral bier, lighted by six large wax
tapers, which cast a melancholy light around, lay the body of the dead
girl. The window admitted the morning light; and the autumn wind, tearing
the dead leaves from the trees in the garden, scattered them over the
inanimate form of Berta, as if death thus rendered homage to death.
Attracted by the light of the torches, a white butterfly flew silently in
and circled around and around the head of the dead girl.
Watching the body were the father, leaning over the bier, bowed down under
the weight of an immeasurable grief; the nurse dissolved in tears; Adrian,
with dry and glittering eyes, pale, motionless, mute, terrible in his
anguish; and the priest with folded arms and head bent over his breast,
murmuring pious prayers.
Such was the scene which the morning sun lighted in Berta's room. The
birds of the garden alighted on the rail of the window, but did not
venture to enter; they looked in apprehensively and flew away terrified;
they twittered on the branches of the trees, and their melancholy
chirpings seemed like sighs.
Breathing a sigh torn from the inmost depths of his soul, Adrian Baker
exclaimed in a hollow voice:
"Miserable man that I am! I have killed her!"
"Ah, yes," said the priest, slowly shaking his head. "Divine Justice—