The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Niven Wilder

  • On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travellers into the gulf below.
  • The bodies of the victims were approximately collected and approximately separated from one another, and there was great searching of hearts in the beautiful city of Lima.
  • Left alone in Lima the Marquesa’s life grew more and more inward. She became increasingly negligent in her dress and like all lonely people she talked to herself audibly. All her existence lay in the burning center of her mind.
  • Letter-writing had to take the place of all the affection that could not be lived.Untitled
  • She secretly refused to believe that anyone (herself excepted) loved anyone. All families lived in a wasteful atmosphere of custom and kissed one another with secret indifference. She saw that the people of this world moved about in an armour of egotism, drunk with self-gazing, a thirst for compliments, hearing little of what was said to them, unmoved by the accidents that befell their closest friends, in dread of all appeals that might interrupt their long communion with their own desires.
  • This day there fell one of those little moments. We both said hasty things and went off to our rooms. Then each turned back to be forgiven. Finally only a door separated us and there we were pulling it in contrary ways.
  • She was one of those persons who have allowed their lives to be gnawed away because they have fallen in love with an idea several centuries before its appointed appearance in the history of civilization.
  • But always the next morning she had to face the fact that the women in Peru, even her nuns, went through life with two notions: one, that all the misfortunes that might befall them were merely due to the fact that they were not sufficiently attractive to bind some man to their maintenance and, two, that all the misery in the world was worth his caress.
  • She resembled the swallow in the fable who once every thousand years transferred a grain of wheat, in the hope of rearing a mountain to reach the moon. Such persons are raised up in every age; they obstinately insist on transporting their grains of wheat and they derive a certain exhilaration from the sneers of the bystanders.
  • At times, after a day’s frantic resort to such invocations, a revulsion would sweep over her. Nature is deaf. God is indifferent. Nothing in man’s power can alter the course of law. Then on some street-corner she would stop, dizzy with despair, and leaning against a wall would long to be taken from a world that had no plan in it. But soon a belief in the great Perhaps would surge up from the depths of her nature and she would fairly run home to renew the candles above her daughter’s bed.
  • It was full of wounding remarks rather brilliantly said, perhaps said for the sheer virtuosity of giving pain neatly.
  • Most of all she longed to be back in this simplicity of love, to throw off the burden of pride and vanity that hers had always carried.
  • Because they had no family, because they were twins, and because they were brought up by women, they were silent.
  • It was not of him, at all events, that the bitterest tongue in France had remarked only fifty years before: that many people would never have fallen in love if they had not heard about it.
  • Now he discovered that secret from which one never quite recovers, that even in the most perfect love one person loves less profoundly than the other.
  • And the silence of the three of them had made a little kernel of sense in a world of boasting, self-excuse and rhetoric.
  • But there seemed to have been written into his personality, through some accident or early admiration of his childhood, a reluctance to own anything, to be tied down, to be held to a long engagement.
  • They loved one another deeply but without passion. He respected the slight nervous shadow that crossed her face when he came too near her.
  • The public for which masterpieces are intended is not on this earth.
  • Don Andrés taught the Perichole a great many things and to her bright eager mind that was one of the sweetest ingredients of love.
  • A Curious and eager soul was imprisoned in all this lard, but by dint of never refusing himself a pheasant or a goose or his daily procession of Roman wines, he was his own bitter jailer.
  • Like all beautiful women who have been brought up amid continual tributes to her beauty she assumed without cynicism that it must necessarily be the basis of anyone’s attachment to herself; henceforth any attention paid to her must spring from a pity full of condescension and faintly perfumed with satisfaction at so complete a reversal.

 

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