Ghosts of Passion

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In London, a young man uncovers a haunting secret between his hosts, delving into love, illusion, and the ghostly shadows of the heart.

When I was studying in London, every Thursday I would dine at the house of my distant relatives, the Moraleses, who from the first day welcomed me and treated me with great affection.

Husband and wife were a stark contrast: he was robust, sanguine, frank, cheerful, in favor of practical solutions; she was pale, nervous, romantic, in pursuit of the ideal. His name was Alberto; she bore the old-fashioned name of Isabella.

For my youthful imagination, these two beings represented prose and poetry.

Isabella went out of her way to serve me dishes I liked, my favorite treats, and with her own hands, she prepared for me in a polished Russian coffee pot the strongest and most aromatic coffee a connoisseur could desire.

Her long, fine fingers offered me the porcelain cup, thin as an eggshell, and as I savored the delicious brew, Isabella’s eyes, dark and warm like the coffee itself, fixed on me in a magnetic manner. It seemed they wished to make close contact with my soul.

The Moraleses were wealthy and esteemed. They lacked nothing that contributes to the highest possible happiness in this world. Yet, I began to ponder that a marriage between people of such different moral and physical constitutions could not be happy.

Although everyone said that Don Alberto Morales overflowed with kindness and his wife with decorum, there seemed to be a mystery in their home to me. Would Isabella’s coffee-colored pupils reveal it to me?

Gradually, Thursday after Thursday, I took a selfish interest in solving the problem. At twenty, it’s not easy to remain indifferent to such expressive eyes, and my peace of mind began to be disturbed, my will to weaken.

After the meal, Mr. Morales would go out; he went to the Casino or some social gathering, as he was sociable, leaving Isabella and me to linger, watching a movie, discussing books, playing chess, or talking.

Sometimes the neighbors from the second floor would come down for a little while; other times we were alone until eleven, the time I usually left, before the door was closed. And, with the vanity of a young man, I thought it quite remarkable that Don Alberto Morales was not jealous of me.

One night in May, warm and starry, with the balcony open and the scent of acacias intoxicating my heart, the devil tempted me stronger, and I decided to declare myself.

I was already stuttering my words, not exactly of passion, but of attachment, surrender, and tenderness, when Isabella stopped me by saying she was so certain of my loyal friendship that she wished to confide in me a very serious matter, the terrible secret of her life.

I halted my confessions to hear the lady’s, and it was not pleasant to hear from her lips, trembling with shame, the story of a love affair.

“My only regret, my only mistake,” murmured Isabella, distressed, “is called the Duke of Alarcón. He is, as everyone knows, a wastrel and a swordsman. He has in his power my letters, written in moments of delirium. I don’t know what I would give to get them back.”

And I saw, in the light of the bright stars, a slow tear slide from her dark pupils…

Leaving Isabella, I was determined to see the Duke of Alarcón the next day. My youthful arrogance dictated such a resolution. The Duke, upon receiving my card, met with me immediately in his artistic smoking room and, at the first mention of the matter that motivated my visit, shrugged his shoulders and amiably said:

“I am not surprised by your action, but I ask you to believe me, and I give you my word of honor that what I am about to tell you is the absolute truth. I consider the case of Mrs. Morales the most peculiar that has ever happened to me. Not only do I not possess nor have I ever possessed the documents that lady refers to, but I have never had the pleasure… because it would be a pleasure, of meeting her… I repeat I affirm it on my word of honor!”

His response was so implausible that, despite the Duke’s tone of absolute sincerity, I remained skeptical, perhaps even insolent.

“I see you do not believe me,” the Duke then added. “I am not offended. I expected it. You may doubt my word; but neither you nor anyone has the right to assume that I am a man who avoids a personal encounter through subterfuge. If what you seek is a duel, I am at your disposal. I only ask you to consult… Mr. Morales before deciding this matter one way or another. I said ‘Mr.’ Do not look at me with those horrified eyes… Listen to me until the end. Mrs. Isabella Morales, who is generally considered a very honorable lady, must have suffered a nightmare and dreamed that we had a relationship, that we saw each other, that she wrote to me, etcetera. Under the influence of illusory remorse, she has told her husband ‘everything’… that is, ‘nothing’…; but ‘everything’ for her; and the husband came here like you, only more angry, naturally, to demand an explanation, wanting to spill my blood. If I were not so composed, by this time the murder of Morales would weigh on my conscience… or he would have killed me (not that it couldn’t happen). Fortunately, I was not perturbed, and by asking Morales about the times his wife claimed our criminal meetings took place, I was able to convincingly demonstrate that at those times I was in Paris, Seville, or London. With equal ease, I disproved other details provided by Mrs. Isabella. So, Mr. Morales, very confused and astonished, had to leave apologizing. If you ask me how I explain such an extraordinary event, I will tell you that I believe this lady, whom I have since tried to get to know (I swear to you on my mother’s memory that before, not even by sight!…), suffers from some moral illness… and has had a vision…; well, she has seen a ghost of love…, and that ghost, who knows why, has taken my form. And that’s all… Do not be so amazed. In ten years, if you deal with some women, you will get used to not being amazed by almost anything.”

I left the Duke’s house in an indescribable state of mind. There was no way to refute him, and yet disbelief persisted. Impressed, however, by the firm and categorical declarations of the dandy, I dedicated myself from that point on, not to courting Isabella, but to observing Morales.

I tried to talk to him a lot, to get him to open up, and I gradually extracted, thread by thread, conversations about marital fidelity, the incidents that can be caused by a mistake, the hallucinations we sometimes suffer, the ravages caused by fantasy… Finally, one day, as if by accident, I let slip in the conversation the name of the Duke of Alarcón and an allusion to his conquests… And then Morales, looking me straight in the eye, with a gesture between mocking and serious, asked:

“What? Have they sent you there too? Poor Isabella, it’s clear she has no cure!”

I needed no more to fully confess my actions, and Morales, smiling, though his resonant voice somewhat altered, told me:

“You should know that when I went to the Duke of Alarcón’s house, I already had certain inklings and suspicions about Isabella’s hallucination, which I was fully convinced of afterward. Although I may not seem jealous, and it might even be said that I am overly trusting, I have always watched over Isabella, because I love her very much, and at no time could she have committed the crimes she accused herself of without my noticing. I realized it was a phantasmagoria, a dream, and I resigned myself to the hypothesis of an imaginary fault… Who knows if that ghost of passion and repentance serves as a shield against reality! What I assure you is that Isabella, as long as I live, will never leave the realm of phantoms… And let’s never speak of this again in our lives!”

I took the hint, and from then on, I avoided staying alone with Isabella, and even looking into her dark eyes, clouded by chimera.

Also read: The Man Who Planted Trees

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