Through the open window the air-steeped outdoors passed into his room, quietly enveloping him, stealing him into his very thought. Esperanza, Julia, the sorry mess he had made of life, the years to come even now beginning to weigh down, to crush-they lost concreteness, diffused into formless melancholy. The tranquil murmur of conversation issued from the brick-tiled azotea where Don Julian and Carmen were busy pottering away among the rose pots.
"Papa, and when will the 'long table' be set?"
"I don't know yet. Alfredo is not very specific, but I understand Esperanza wants it to be next month."
Carmen sighed impatiently. "Why is he not a bit more decided, I wonder. He is over thirty, is he not? And still a bachelor! Esperanza must be tired waiting."
"She does not seem to be in much of a hurry either," Don Julian nasally commented, while his rose scissors busily snipped away.
"How can a woman be in a hurry when the man does not hurry her?" Carmen returned, pinching off a worn with a careful somewhat absent air. "Papa, do you remember how much in love he was?"
"In love? With whom?"
"With Esperanza of course. He has not have another love affair that I know of," she said with a good-natured contempt of an attractive woman for a brother who is apathetic of feminine charms. "What I mean is that at the beginning he was enthusiastic-flowers, serenades, notes, and things like that-"
Alfredo remembered that period with a wonder not unmixed with shame. That was less than four years ago. He could not understand those months of great hunger that was not of the body or yet of the mind, a craving that had seized him one quiet night when the moon was abroad; and under the dappled shadow of the trees in the plaza, man wooed maid. Was he being cheated by life? Lo0ve-he seemed to have missed it. Or was the love that others told about a mere fabrication of perfervid imagination, an exaggeration of the common place, a glorification of insipid monotonies such as made up his love life? Was love a combination of circumstances, or sheer native capacity of soul? In those days love was, for him, still the eternal puzzle; for love, as he knew it, was a stranger to love as he divined it to be.
Sitting quietly in his room now, he could almost revive the restlessness of those days, the feeling of tumultuous haste, such as he knew so well in his boyhood when something beautiful was going somewhere and was trying to get there in time to see, "Hurry, hurry, or you will miss it," someone had seemed to urge in his ears. So he had avidly seized on the shadow of Love and deluded himself for a long while in the way of humanity from time immemorial. In the meantime, he became very much engaged to Esperanza.
Why would men so mismanage their lives? Greed, he thought was what ruined so many. Greed-the desire to crowd into moment all the enjoyment it will hold, to squeeze from the hour all the emotion it will yield. Men commit themselves when but half-meaning to do so, sacrificing possible future fullness of ecstasy to the craving for immediate excitement. Greed-mortgaging the future for the sake of a present interesting reaction. Greed-forcing the hand of Time, or of Fate.
"What do you think happened?" asked Carmen pursuing her thought.
"I suppose long-engaged people are like that: warm now, cool tomorrow. I think they are oftener cool than warm. The very fact that an engagement has been allowed to prolong itself argues a certain placidity of temperament-or of affection-on the part of either, or both." Don Julian loves to philosophize. He was talking now with an evident relish for words, his resonant, very nasal voice toned down to monologue pitch. "That phase you were speaking of is natural enough for a beginning. Besides, that, as I see it, was Alfredo's last race with escaping youth-"
Carmen laughed aloud at the thought of her brother's perfect physical repose-almost indolence-disturbed in the role suggested by her father's figurative language.