Literary

A Carnation for an Old Man by Hugh Walpole

HUGH WALPOLE

b.1884 d.1941Walpole was a popular and critical success in his day, and his ‘Herries’ books are still in print. Tartarus PressHere is a short story by writer and lecturer Hugh Walpole.

A CARNATION FOR AN OLD MAN

Richard Herries, his sister Margaret, and their friend, Miss Felstead, arrived in Seville one February evening soon after midnight.

Their Seville adventure began unfortunately. As Margaret Herries always declared afterwards: ‘We might have known that it was fated to end disastrously. It had so dismal a beginning.’

It had indeed. At each visit they expected to step out of the train into a glorious tumultuous mixture of castanets, bull-fighters, carnations, Carmen and Andalusian dancers. Instead of this they were received by a gentle drizzle and a Square quite silent and occupied only by some somnolent motor-cars.

They needed encouragement. It had been a long and wearisome journey from Granada. Why, as Margaret said over and over again in the course of it, when Granada and Seville were so close to one another on the map they should be such an infinite distance by train only the Spanish railway authorities could explain, and they, so she was informed, never explained anything. They had been already unfortunate at Granada where it had been cold and where Miss Felstead (who was very romantic) had been unable, in spite of bribes, to persuade the custodian to allow her to see from the Alhambra Tower the sunset light up the Sierras. It would be too bad were Seville to be unfavourable also.

But it really started badly. They had engaged rooms at the Hotel Royal in the Plaza de San Fernando. This had been done only after a most vigorous and almost acrimonious discussion. The point was that the Hotel Royal was a Spanish hotel run for the Spanish and therefore cheaper than those which accommodated especially the English and American. Cheaper, yes, but, Margaret was sure, much nastier. Wasn’t Spanish sanitation notorious? What about the smells they had smelt in Barcelona? And didn’t the Spaniards cook everything in rancid oil? Economically minded though Margaret always was, for once she was against economy. She changed places indeed with her brother, who was the most generous soul alive. But the bill at the English hotel in Granada had seemed to him quite beyond justice, and an English lady (a very clean and particular English lady) had told him that she always patronised the Royal when she went to Seville. An excellent hotel, she told him, clean, the servants polite and remarkably willing. A marvellously cheap Pension and the food good and plentiful. So Richard had for once insisted.

And now behold the miserable commencement! Miss Felstead (who had eyes like gimlets) perceived at once that in the Square there were two hotel omnibuses asleep like everything else, and that on the windows of one of these were inscribed the magical words ‘Hotel Royal,’ so she marshalled the two young dreamy porters and steered them with the luggage in the proper direction.

On the steps of the omnibus was a hotel porter fast asleep. He was awakened, the luggage piled on the roof of the omnibus and the three travellers installed inside. Then occurred the disgraceful event! After waiting for some ten minutes and drinking in the miserable fact that Seville station at midnight in the rain was worse than Sheffield on a Sunday, it occurred to Margaret Herries that nothing at all was happening. The hotel porter, who was again dozing off, explained to Richard–who had a literary rather than practical knowledge of Spanish–that the driver of the omnibus had, some half-hour before, disappeared into the station for conversation with a friend.

‘Well,’ suggested Richard, ‘fetch him.’

The porter, who had all the individuality, nobility and gravity of his race, walked with dignified austerity to the edge of the station, looked at it, shook his head, and returned wrapped in melancholy and thinking, apparently, of lottery tickets. After a while he pressed, very gently, the hooter of the omnibus, but with no result. Then, strongly urged, he went once more to the edge of the station but returned empty-handed.

So half an hour was passed. By this time Margaret and her friend were frantic with railway-nerves, bodily hunger (they had had only twenty minutes at Bobadilla to snatch some food three hours earlier), weariness and disappointment. Finally all the luggage was taken off the omnibus, after another half an hour a taxi-cab was found and they set off for the hotel. The last view they had of the porter was curled up inside the omnibus, happily reposing.

As Margaret always afterwards said, this was an Omen. She had herself never believed very much in Omens before. Miss Felstead was the one for Omens–but after the horrible week in Seville with its dreadful ending she never laughed at Omens again.

But for her everything was wrong with Seville from the beginning and, oddly, for Richard everything was right. He was an old man now–seventy-five years of age–and of course wanted his comforts. As a matter of fact the Herries always did want their comforts and saw that they got them. But once and again there would be a ‘freak’ Herries who never seemed to know quite what he did want, and Richard had been rather like that. It was because he had been like that that his many sisters had always looked after him so thoroughly. First Hettie, and then, when she married, Florence, and then, when she married, Rosalind, and then, when she died, the youngest of them, Margaret. On two occasions Richard had almost married, might have been married altogether had he not been looked after so completely.

He had not, be it understood, objected to being looked after; he had rather liked it. He had felt perhaps that only so could he preserve his own secret life. And then they were immensely kind, especially Margaret.

Margaret had always adored her brother. She was not at all a sentimental person. She was a definite type of Englishwoman–a little mannish, thick-set and square, given to white collars, Scotch tweeds and brogues, rosy of complexion with strong black hair flecked now with grey, a snub nose, an obstinate mouth and a clear calm forehead. No other country could possibly produce a woman so calm, so determined, so masculine and yet feminine, so kind and so obtuse and so certain that all the things that she didn’t know were unworthy of any sensible person’s attention, so unsexual and yet so obviously designed for maternity.

She poured all her maternity on to Richard and yet apparently without a shadow of emotion. They never under any conditions showed emotion the one for the other, but they were devoted, self-sacrificing, and very good companions.

For seventy-five years Richard Herries had submitted to his sisters because he was both lazy and dreamy. He was the Herries type that dreams dreams and they have always either submitted and been wrapped away to nothing or rebelled and been cast out.

People described him as a ‘dear little old man.’ He was short and fat with snow-white hair and rosy cheeks, clean-shaven and of an immaculate shining neatness. He had a delightful chuckle, a fashion of jingling his change in his wide trousers pocket. He seemed to enjoy everything. No one would have guessed that for some while now he had been one of the loneliest souls in Christendom.

It had begun a year or two before at a concert of modern music in Berlin. Schnabel was playing and he, Richard, had suddenly realised that he was miserably unhappy, that he had wasted the whole of his life, that he had done none of the things that he ought to have done. Margaret was with him and he bought her a tie-pin. Nevertheless, for some days he still felt miserable. This feeling returned at certain intervals, once when he watched ‘Punch and Judy’ outside the Garrick Theatre, once when he read Madariaga’s Englishmen, Frenchmen, Spaniards, once when he ate too much at a dinner-party, once when he saw his reflection in a looking-glass, once when he was staying in Cumberland and watched the birds fly over Derwentwater on a September evening. . . . And now again on this visit to Spain!

He connected these distresses at once, like all good Herries, with his stomach. He liked his food and his wine, but when he was unhappy he had only a biscuit for luncheon.

He rearranged his pictures in his London flat, hanging the Utrillo over the piano and the Segonzac over the bookcase, hoping that that would put things right. He had fancied at the time that it had, but here he was now in Spain with no pictures to rehang and his stomach in perfect order.

He was unhappy, rebellious and discontented, and especially he detested Miss Felstead. When a very courteous, aged English gentleman detests an amiable lady, what is he to do about it? Avoid her company? Yes, but you cannot do that if you are travelling with her in a foreign country. Say as little as possible? This he tried, but his unusual silence at once aroused suspicion. Was he ill? Was he uncomfortable? Was he (Margaret hinted) simply sulking? Whenever Margaret thought that anything was wrong she was extremely sensible and cheerful. She was as sensible as a chemist’s shop and as cheerful as a fine day on the Scottish moors. She was breezy and jolly and accommodating. Miss Felstead, on the other hand, was tender and gentle and mysterious. In shape Miss Felstead was as slender as an umbrella handle, and in complexion rather blotchy, so that, quite frankly, when she was tender she was awful.

Richard had never liked her, but she was one of those English maiden ladies with no money and no relations upon whom others are always taking pity. It was rumoured, too, that she was extremely intelligent, that she would have been an authoress of note had she not possessed so critical a mind. When she was young she read Dante in Italian and belonged to a Browning Society, now that she was no longer young she raved about a Czecho-Slovakian pianist and read papers like ‘Light’ and ‘Whence? Why? Whither?’ But Richard had always suspected her intelligence and his suspicions were confirmed when in the Prado, before ‘Las Hilanderas,’ she had said: ‘Very fine, of course, but does one like it?’

That evening, in order to annoy her, he had passionately defended the bull-fight and had sent her at once into a rocking wailing recitative of ‘Ah, but the horses! The poor, poor horses!’

He suspected that in her heart she detested him as truly as he detested her. She was jealous, in the curious tenacious way that such maiden ladies have, of Margaret’s affection for him. The thought that she perhaps detested him gave him some comfort.

In any case, and for whatever the reason, he had from the moment that he set foot in Seville the worst attack of rebellion he had ever known.

He was exceedingly fond of Spain and of the Spanish. It was by his firm wish that they were there now. Margaret did not like Spain; it seemed to her a lazy, purposeless, priest-ridden country. She could not understand what Richard saw in it, but loved him too dearly to refuse his wish.

He timidly suggested that he should come this time without her. He, seventy-five years of age and travel alone?

‘But I’m perfectly fit. I’ve been there before. I know the language.’

Margaret smiled then, one of those smiles peculiarly the property of the Herries women, a smile self-confident, indulgent, maternal, kindly and patronising, a smile that had, on more than one earlier occasion, made murder a conceivable practice.

‘Dear Richard . . . at your age . . . and Spain of all countries to be alone in!’

Yes. ‘Spain of all countries!’ That was Margaret’s honest view of it. She thought that Spain was bad for everybody and especially for the Spaniards.

So, whether it were Margaret’s anti-Spanish feeling or Miss Felstead’s romanticism or simply the air or the disappointment over the omnibus at the station or the fact that they were at a Spanish hotel, whatever the reason, from the very first moment in Seville Richard and Margaret were at loggerheads.

‘If I only had known!’ Margaret said again and again afterwards. But of course she did not know. No one, thank heaven, ever does.

Richard had never been to Seville before. His first visit, some ten years earlier, had been along the southern coast, Malaga, Algeciras and Cadiz. The second time, five years ago, had taken him into the Basque country and as far south as Madrid and Toledo. At present his favourite town in Spain was Segovia, but he had stayed there only two days because Margaret was homesick for Cumberland. He looked back on it as a lovely city of silver-grey stone, flowers and green trees. He wouldn’t mind settling there, he had told Margaret, for a year or two.

He was thinking of Segovia this first morning in Seville. He had slipped out of his hotel without letting the women know and had almost the air of a guilty schoolboy as, seeing the tower of the Cathedral beckoning to him across the blue above the Spanish Bank, he turned in that direction.

After that first step his story enters into another world. How many other worlds are there? Millions, says one, none at all, says another. ‘Two are all I need,’ says the poet. Richard Herries had all his life known only one and longed always, like ancestors of his, for another. Margaret’s account of it afterwards was: ‘On that very first morning in Seville he was unwell. Of course for one thing we were staying in a hotel for Spaniards–a most unwise thing to do, but Richard would have it. Then he went out all by himself that first morning, a most unusual thing for him to do. If I had only known that first day how ill he was!’

Luckily she did not.

But he didn’t feel ill at all. He had never felt so well in his life before.

Although the sky was blue there was a sharp nip in the air. It was eleven o’clock and everyone was beginning to wake up. At one all the shops would shut until four, the hour when everyone would really be awake. This was a sort of false dawn and very pleasant it was. In February Seville knows nothing of tourists save for an occasional meteoric flash of a boat-load from Cadiz or Malaga or Gibraltar. Richard might be said to be the guest of all the town.

His head was undoubtedly queer–not unpleasantly so, but as though he had taken a draught of some very potent sparkling wine. His limbs were light, made of gauze, and he seemed to have no age at all.

He was accustomed to the quiet and removed but friendly dignity of the Spaniard. That was one of the things that he liked best about Spain. They never pressed you to buy anything or go anywhere or do anything active, with the important exception, of course, of the boys who wanted to clean your boots for you. If you were a pretty young woman and alone, they might stare at you and even follow you, because pretty young women do not walk about alone in Spain, but that was the only active interest they took. And yet they were friendly, kind and beautifully polite. Richard loved good manners.

So to-day as Richard passed under the lovely portal that leads into the garden where the orange trees nestle under the Cathedral walls the audacious thought came to him that he would stay in Seville for many weeks, perhaps until June even, see the Holy Week with its processions, enjoy the Feria, bask in the suns of May and, best of all, bury his nose in carnations. Now all his life long his favourite flower had been the carnation, and especially that purple one that is divinely streaked with mauve and crimson.

It had been his thought when he had first come to Spain that he would find a country buried in carnations, but it had been on every occasion too early in the year and he had been bitterly disappointed when offered a miserable bunch of these flowers, already half dead, for the exorbitant sum of four or five pesetas. Why, they were cheaper in Piccadilly!

But now standing in that lovely garden with its uneven and crooked flags beneath his feet, the Giralda at his left stretching to the heavens, and the Patio de los Naranjos, its stone encrusted as though with jewels, the Madonna above the great door regarding him so benignly, the birds flying from buttress to buttress, he trembled with the excitement of his new experience–he would stay here. Margaret and Miss Felstead should return without him. He had in his heart the sweet burning awe of falling once again in love. . . .

He gave some money to the old twisted beggar who, with trembling hand, lifted the black leather flap for him to enter, and passed inside.

Luncheon at the Royal was served from half-past twelve until half-past two, and at half-past two Richard had not yet returned. Margaret was a resolute, contained, sensible woman, but her distress was nevertheless acute and it was not made easier by Elsie Felstead’s little wails: ‘I know something has happened to him! How could we let him go out alone! He might be ill and neither of us know it for days! What about the police?’

‘Oh, be quiet, Elsie!’ Margaret seldom snapped at her friend, but when she did her friend knew it. ‘Of course he’s all right. Richard’s not a child and he knows Spanish far better than we do.’ All the same she could have flung her arms around him and kissed him when he came in at last through the hotel door.

Instead of kissing him, being English, she scolded him.

Richard was very quiet. He said he was sorry, but he had been in the Cathedral. He had not noticed the time. It was a very beautiful cathedral.

Every sympathy must be felt for Margaret. Here she was in a strange country and her only brother, who was in her charge, whom she loved very dearly, was ill and refused to admit it.

That evening she attacked him about it.

‘Richard, you are not well. Go to bed and I’ll have some dinner sent up to you.’

‘I’m perfectly well.’ His voice was testy and his eyes absent-minded.

‘Now I know you’re not. You can’t deceive me after all these years. You are sickening for something or that’s what you look like. Elsie agrees with me.’

‘Damn Elsie,’ said Richard.

Margaret was upset and with reason. This was altogether unlike Richard. ‘Will you let me take your temperature?’

‘No.’

Then followed Margaret’s most irritating method of persuasion, her jolly, patronising, friendly method.

‘Now, old boy,’ putting her hand on his shoulder, ‘this is childish. What harm is there in my taking your temperature? After all, if you are going to be ill you may just as well know it.’

‘But I am not going to be ill,’ he answered with much firmness. ‘As a matter of fact I never felt better.’ Then he went on, looking at her in an odd way, rather as though he were seeing her now for the first time in his life. ‘The fact is, Margaret, I’m going about by myself a bit while we’re here. You and Elsie might go to Malaga or Cadiz perhaps if you are bored by Seville–just for a day or two–‘

He looked at her sternly as though he were giving her an order. He had never looked at her like that in all their lives together before. But she simply answered:

‘Very well, Richard. Perhaps we will.’ And she said nothing more about temperatures.

She was deeply alarmed. She lay for a long while awake thinking. What had happened to her brother? Something had occurred during those hours when he was alone in the town? Love? Absurd at his age . . . and yet one read in the newspapers the oddest stories about old men. A Spanish siren? They were pretty, some of these Spanish women with their combs and black shawls. But no . . . not Richard. . . . He was not like that. She resolved that she would not let him escape her in the morning. Where he went so would she.

And then in the morning an awful thing occurred. Richard lied to them both. He had never, in Margaret’s belief, lied to her before. Dressed and ready, Margaret knocked at his door. He poked his head out.

‘All right, my dear. Go down and wait for me. I’ll be with you in a moment.’

They sat, the two of them, in the little hall of the Royal and waited. They waited for a long time, very uncomfortable because the men also seated in the hall, and having apparently all the day in front of them, stared at them so markedly. At last they sent someone up to enquire. He came back. The señor was not there. The femme-de-chambre had seen him, half an hour before, with his hat and cane. Was there another exit to the hotel? Yes, there was another exit . . . Margaret and Miss Felstead stared at one another in mutual horror.

Richard was not only unwell; he was also insane. But Richard was not insane; he was merely conscious of happiness as he had never been conscious of it before.

On making his escape he went straight to the Cathedral, passed through the Court of the Orange Trees, gave half a peseta to the blind beggar who lifted the black flap for him, and stepped into his true life.

That was how he now expressed it to himself, that was how he saw it. He was seventy-five years of age, had had on the whole a full, interesting and happy existence, and yet–had never been alive until yesterday! Had been asleep, mummified, blind, deaf, dumb and had not known it.

It was not, as he very well knew, that this church was of such marvellous beauty. He had seen cathedrals possibly of greater beauty, Chartres, St. Mark’s in its own kind, even Ely on its slender scale. It was not that he was converted suddenly to any religious belief. Like most men he did not believe in very much but rather snatched at moments of love and beauty for confirmation of his unuttered hopes. It was not that he felt better or kinder or wiser since yesterday; it was simply that he was alive, alive to his finger-tips. It was like falling in love, but there was no one to fall in love with.

If it were not the most beautiful cathedral that he had ever seen, it was nevertheless the most alive. It gave him an impression of vastness as no other cathedral had done. But it was a vastness perfectly lighted. Although far from the darkness of a cathedral like Barcelona, it was quite without the shrill brightness that takes away mystery. The light came from many sources, now in long paths of softening colour, now in splashes of blue and purple that seemed almost to spring like fountains from the ground, now in dim misty gold from behind the shadowy pillars. In all this clarity there was no especial neatness or spruceness. What especially pleased him was that the building seemed always to continue its own natural life, crumbling here, breaking away a little there, stiffening in one place, failing in another. The magnificent colour of the highly placed windows was enrapturing. Never in his life had he seen such true deeps of rose and opal and onyx and crimson. High in air the windows sailed like magical clouds on the points of the vast pillars, and the great gates, thin like black silver or a wall of gold, like the gate before the altar, or a mist of cloud, were everywhere.

On this second day he realised that the church was like a town: here women were kneeling, there children playing, priests passed swiftly on some business, on a seat near to him a woman was suckling a child, before a neighbouring chapel two dogs were playing, two old men were sweeping with brooms, some men in a group near by were discussing their affairs. Life, heightened by the beauty and majesty of the place, was going on everywhere around him, and to himself too something especial was about to happen.

He looked up, a smile on his lips, as though he knew what was coming, and encountered the grave, happy eyes of Santa Emilia.

Santa Emilia has been waiting (for how many years I shouldn’t like to say) very patiently in the right corner of a picture that hangs in a chapel that shall be nameless, nameless because it would be a piece of the worst impertinence if, in the course of this little history, I were to reveal her exact position. I will not even assert definitely that her name is Emilia.

On one of the walls of one of these chapels, then, there is a large painting (by Murillo, perhaps, as so many of the paintings in this city are by that artist), and it is flanked on either side by some six other paintings in the shape of panels. These panels are of a lovely gentle colouring–soft rose and silver, the palest of greens and of dove grey. It was in the largest of these panels that Emilia had for so many years been so sweetly and patiently sitting. In her picture the heavens open and someone, God the Father Himself, perhaps, is delivering judgment, and several Saints seated on the grass listen in a mild surprise.

It is impossible to suppose that Santa Emilia herself was watching for any casual comer. For one thing her chapel was dark, well defended by its high iron gates, and it was but seldom that visitors penetrated that obscurity. Then she had other things to do. Her face, young, eager, ardent, was raised to the sky in an attitude of worship, her hands with their lovely slender fingers folded on her lap, a green scarf falling lightly over the white meshes of her robe. Why, after all these years, should she notice Richard Herries? The answer to that is that obviously it must have been astonishing to her that anyone should notice her at all, choose her from among so many others. She was carrying in one hand a red flower that might have been a carnation (Richard was certain that it was) and it was the agitation of this flower against her fingers that warned her that something exceptional was occurring. So she turned and looked towards the gates and at once in that first glance exchanged they loved one another.

She had been waiting always for just such an experience as this. She had never known anything of earthly love. From her babyhood her life had been dedicated to Christ and she had wanted nothing else. When the Pestilence had struck her convent in Seville she had been only twenty-three years of age, but was even then distinguished among the others for the purity and goodness of her life.

The Pestilence was raging throughout Seville and she had gone into the town and wrought so many services there in caring for the sick and comforting the bereaved that, at her death from that same disease, she had been canonised.

She was only a very minor Saint; she had not lived long enough nor caused enough public attention (for with Sainthood as with everything else, advertisement is a great help) to be remembered very dearly by anyone. And then her position was obscure, seated there in one of the most obscure paintings in one of the darkest of the chapels. She was nevertheless most happy, for to worship God continually when you are certain of His existence is the happiest of all possible lives.

Nevertheless she was, and always had been, a completely human being as well as a Saint, and now, looking down into the rosy, earnest face of that old man who was so very like the child that she might have had, had life been different, she loved him as she would, had it been so ordered, have loved her son.

Richard stayed there a long time. He told her many things that he had never told anyone in his life before. Then he went away. . . .

His life was at once, from that moment, so immensely heightened, intensified and ennobled that anyone, encountering him, must perceive the change. All true love must of course ennoble the possessor of it, but here was a miracle–not because Santa Emilia had turned her head and smiled at him–Saints are continually engaged in these acts of mercy–but because this experience had come to him so very late in his life when everything might have been supposed to be over for him.

Back in his hotel he wanted very badly to give some sort of explanation to the two ladies. But what could he say? He was not so rapt in his own miracle but that he could realise perfectly well that to say to Margaret: ‘You must excuse me if I seem a little absent-minded. The fact is that I have fallen in love with a Saint in the Cathedral,’ would be simply to invite her instantly to summon a doctor.

So he said nothing at all. But he was in fact so charming, so gentle and so happy that Margaret asked him no questions. One thing that pleased her greatly was to see that he had quite altered his attitude to Miss Felstead. He was not irritated any longer by her remarks, did not snap at her romanticism, was patient with her sentiment. He was patient with everyone and everything and his eyes shone with a happy light.

‘We were quite wrong,’ his sister said to her friend, ‘to think him ill. Seville seems to be doing him a world of good. We may as well stay on for a while, although I can’t say that I like either the hotel or the town.’

He had now, it was plain, a passion for the Cathedral, and in that, too, they allowed him to have his way. After all it did no one any harm.

In many places of worship it would soon have attracted attention that a little elderly gentleman should stay for so long, day after day in the same position, his face close to the iron gates, staring in front of him. But in this Cathedral nothing human was either odd or vulgar.

He told her everything, he who had never told anyone anything before. Few people realise the tomb-like silence in which most Englishmen spend their lives. Their education trains them to silence, their marriage system encourages it, their belief in physical exercise makes intellectual silence easy.

No one, standing near at hand, would have heard anything: Richard’s lips indeed did not move, but Santa Emilia heard everything. So many things that she could not have believed possible! How far from her cloistered Spanish life of four hundred years before was this strange English one; a family life, made up of gardens shadowed by old trees and guarded by rose-red walls, of sports desperately important, of sisters and sisters and sisters, of many months of rain and mist and fog, of a religion that was no religion, and, finally, what drew her heart just as four hundred years ago it would have been drawn, a sense of babyhood, a perpetual nursery with rocking cradles and the good God coming laden with gifts for good children down through the chimney–as though this little old man with the white hair were the child for whom, although she did not know it, she had always longed.

Yes, he told her everything–even that he had thought that Spain would be filled with carnations, but that, alas, he had found only some faded ones. Was that a carnation that she held in her hand? Yes, she told him that it was. It had not been one until that moment. As she spoke it became one. She spoke, but no one watching beside Richard would have seen her lips move. He alone saw and heard.

In another place and at another time he would have known that he was very unwell. His heart had been for many years weak and all the symptoms that he so greatly dreaded were now present. But he did not realise them. He was not aware of his body. He was happy as one is happy in a dream when one suddenly, after aeons of disappointment, has perfect satisfaction. Santa Emilia went with him everywhere. Margaret and Miss Felstead of course did not know this. Margaret was worried a little about his appearance. Like many good women she was especially proud of detecting the approach of illness in anyone. She was certain that Richard ‘was sickening for something.’ But he denied any ailment. He had never, he told her, felt so well in his life before, and that indeed was true.

Taking Santa Emilia everywhere, he found Seville most enchanting. Even the Museo, with its too saccharine Murillo, its pathetic air of desertion, its courtyard that echoed so sadly the weary feet of the tourists, seemed to him beautiful because of Santa Emilia’s pride in it. Seville, in spite of its energy and jollity and measure of full, healthy life, is especially the city of children and old men. Nowhere in Spain–and I suspect nowhere else in the world–are there such marvellous old men with such marvellous faces, and nowhere else are the children so gay. No matter where–in the crowded Sierpes, along the banks of the brown Guadalquivir, in the quiet fountain-singing gardens of Murillo–it is the old men and the children who are everywhere.

When at last Santa Emilia knew how deeply she loved her friend, she asked Santa Isabela what she must do. Santa Isabela had always stood, a tall and gracious figure, at her side, looking up towards God coming in Judgment.

‘I have been here,’ Santa Emilia said, ‘such a very long time. There are so many parts of Heaven that I have not visited. We should be so very happy together.’

‘Perhaps,’ said Santa Isabela, ‘he does not want to leave the world yet. I have noticed how strongly men cling to the world.’

‘I will ask him,’ said Santa Emilia.

She asked him.

He said that he would go wherever she would take him. She promised that he should see gardens and gardens of carnations. He told her that he wanted only the one that she carried in her hand.

It was afternoon when she told him this and Vespers were just over. Two choir-boys were showing some tourists the carving in the Choir, and one of them swung on the foot of the great bronze lectern to show the tourists what a Spanish choir-boy dared to do. Many women were kneeling in the vast church, and their prayers rose up to the Madonna above the High Altar; she bent upon them glances of the utmost tenderness and protection.

‘Yes,’ said Santa Isabela. ‘You are permitted to go. Santa Rosa will take your place here.’

So they went together into Heaven.

A little crowd gathered. The Englishman had fallen suddenly in a faint. No, alas, he was dead. Of heart failure, said one of the Canons who had been passing and knew something of medicine.

Behind Margaret’s deep distress there were two consolations: she had known for days that he was not well although he said otherwise, and on his face there was a look of radiant happiness.

It was not until many weeks later that the Dean of the Cathedral, who was an authority on the pictures, taking some friends into the little chapel, was puzzled.

‘I always had thought,’ he explained, ‘that Santa Emilia held a flower. I was wrong. I must have been deceived by the light.’

‘And who was Santa Emilia?’ asked a friend.

‘A minor Saint. Nothing much is known about her. She died young, very young, in this city, of the Plague.’

The End.

Walpole’s short stories are appreciated by aficionados of supernatural fiction.Anthologies edited by Walpole – Tartarus Press 

 

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