El crimen de la esfinge / José Antonio Ramos Sucre

The Crime of the Sphinx

     “Yes, gentlemen, it’s true,” Don Álvaro said emphatically, as he tossed a cigarette celebrated by suspicious advertisement as though it were insipid; the masses don’t err when they attribute to the leprous the calculus of proportioning to healthy men the chance for contagion.
     He calmed for a moment his countenance and remained silent; he awaited the disapproval of the listeners to satisfy his mania for argument and polemic.
     But his words then ceased to arouse ironic commentary and sharp debate. Since it was about the ill par excellence, all were overcome by a respect that participated in compassion and fear.
     Thus, he was able to continue moved and theatrical:
     “The many years have not been able to extinguish the memory I hold of my friend Julius. The gracious courtesy, the clear disposition, the body of a prince conciliated him the sympathy of men and the love of women. His wandering and arbitrary character was like an artist’s. He lived for intrepid action and the gallant bond.
     One night he tenaciously followed down a narrow and ominous street the steps of a cloaked woman. After catching up to her, he confirmed his conjecture that she was young and beautiful. At first she displayed a haughty circumspection at being approached by the devoted young man. Saying she was married she easily imposed upon him that she would not uncover her face and that he never follow her home.
     However, she agreed to show up at the house he had reserved for his diversions on a hidden street. A desolate and spacious house, of difficult rent, in whose patio a fateful pine stood straight. I go there with frequency to liven the memory of its most unfortunate inhabitant.
     The insistence of that woman on remaining unknown at first flattered my friend’s novelistic spirit; then it aroused his curiosity. In order to resolve the enigma he determined to follow her home.
     And that’s what he did hiding once and again. Night was falling when he saw her penetrate that building at whose name he trembled. We already know it was an ancient construction, of a threatening Spanish impression, more like a prison than a hospital, with eminent walls, as though one might protect oneself during turbulent and armed days. Around its walls the uproar of the indocile aborigines was once dissipated.
     I didn’t expect to see him secluded there when I later attended the annual party, financed by the institution’s patrons.
     After the service, the priest accused life of being a perfidious accomplice, rejected happiness as an unworthy buffoon, spoke of the earth as an ill mother.
     A gust coming from the neighboring hills was purging the infected air, supplanting with rustic aromas the cloud of incense, shaking the candle flames and the tears of compassionate eyes.
     The sermon evoked the phosphated air of the ossuary, the mute entrance to the sepulcher, when he invited me to a remote spot.
     He preceded me with slow and thick feet that humiliated his tall bearing.
     When we arrived at the expected place, where the shade projected by a wall saved us from the sun, I was able to notice that he wore one of his old elegant suits in a woeful state, in imitation of his fortune.
     Then he spoke to me amid powerful sobs.”

La torre de Timón (1925)

{ José Antonio Ramos Sucre, Obra completa, Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1989 }

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