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Raymond Nobourne, a suicide victim // Ramón Nonnato, suicida

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo (29 September 1864, Bilbao, – 31 December 1936, Salamanca) was a Spanish essayist, novelist, poet, playwright and philosopher. He wrote the short story “Raymond Nobourne, a suicide victim” (“Ramón Nonnato, suicida” )in 1913 and included it in a volume together with other short stories that was  titled “El Espejo de la Muerte” (“The Mirror of Death”)

There´s something in Unamuno´s literary style that I like and i don´t like at the same time. In the case of  “Raymond Nobourne, a suicide victim” I was not particularly thrilled by this style. It´s a terrible story indeed but it seems to me that the writer needs sometimes to stress this terrible quality in a rather artificial way, by, for example, repeating “ terrible” as an adjective that accompanies some of the story´s characters and situations. It was not therefore the style that attracted my attention but rather Unamuno´s literary power that enables him to describe with pitiless accuracy the distressing evidence of a wasted life. Because, yes, in spite of the author adding the adjective “poor” to the personal name of the story´s principal character-or may be just because of that- the narration falls upon the reader like a hard block of determinism where, it seems to me, there´s little room left for pity. That guy, Raymond Nobourne, was robbed by his father from having any chance in life and so was, before him, her own mother. We are confronted with an issue that has been going on for generations within the family realm, inside which loneliness, guilt and sacrifice make up the thread of the issue´s own perpetuation.

One of the purposes of this blog is to train myself in translations. I´ve translated “Raymond Nobourne, a siucide victim”  aiming at this purpose and i´ve done it fully conscious of my limits and, in fact, quite freely in regard to some repetitions of adjectives that i´ve allowed myself to avoid in the english version. For any mistakes in it I apologize beforehand.

Raymond Nobourne, a suicide victim

When, tired of knocking the door of his room, the servant forcing it, finally got in , he found his master, cold and pale, lying on his bed, with a trickle of blood flowing from his right temple and, beside him, a woman´s portrait that he always carried with him, almost like a talisman which he liked to stay gaping at.

As a matter of fact, the day before that grey autumns´s evening, just before sunset, Raymond Nobourne had shot himself. He was last seen that same evening walking alone ,like he used to, by the river bank, near its mouth, watching the waters carrying randomly the yellow leaves that had forever fallen from the poplars and that will never come back: “ Because the leaves and the new birds that will be coming back to the trees next spring, which i won´t see, won´t be the same ones”, said Nobourne to himself.

When the news of his suicide spread there was a pitiful exclamation in every mouth: “ Poor Raymond Nobourne¡” And even “It was his father who committed his suicide”

Some days before killing himself Nobourne payed back his remaining debts by selling the last of the numerous properties he had inherited from his father. The last property he sold was his mother´s ancestral home. He had previously spent a whole day in it , weeping for his helplessness and the inexisting memory of her, holding the old portrait of his mother in his hands. That portrait was the image of a hope and this hope was but a vanished memory.

The guy had misspent in crazy speculations and in phantastic financial and stock exchange operations that were meant to increase it, the wealth his father had left him, while he himself lived very modestly bordering almost poverty and suffering hardships. He hardly spent more than it was needed for a meagre decency, and besides this, he gave it all away to charity and favours. Because Nobourne, no matter how mean he was with regard to himself, was extremely lavish and generous towards the others, above all towards his father´s victims. He intended to increase his fortune as much as possible, to make it grow to the utmost in order to render it afterwards useful for the public benefit and redeem it in that way from its original sin. This was the reason for his behaviour. He didn´t think it was enough to give the money away to small charities, let alone to try making up for the harm his father had done. Spilt water could just not  be retrieved.

Fixed in his mind were the last words of his father on his deathbed:

-What i regret , dear son, is that this fortune i have so laboriously wrought and lifelong strived for, this fortune so well allocated and that, believe it or not, is a real work of art is going to disappear in your hands. You lack my espirit, you neither have my love for money nor my business sense. I admit i was mistaken with you.”

“Luckily” thought Nobourne when he listened to his father´s last words. His father, in effect, hadn´t been able to pass on to him his dismal and fierce love for money nor his passion for trade, which lead him to prefer a gain of three taking advantage of a legal loophole than a gain of four without it.

And yet Nobourne had been his father´s lawyer in the numerous lawsuits in which this man was always involved: a lawyer for free, as a matter of course. Acting as his father´s lawyer Nobourne came to know the most out-of.-the-way nooks of the money lender´s hole, damp darknesses where his soul, subject to an inescapable slavery, ended up sickening in sadness. There was no way out because: Who could resist the cold and sharp look of that predator?

Gloomy years also those he had spent in high school studying for a degree he hated because he was forced to by his father. After spending the dreary course in a shabby house of one of his father´s debtors, a way by which his father seeked to get paid pack his loan interests , when for his summer holidays he moved to his coastal village, Nobourne liked to walk alone to the seashore to take comfort from his loneliness in the ocean´s loneliness and to forget there the earthly plights that encumbered his soul. He had always felt the call of the sea like the call of a comforting mother so that, sitting on a rock covered by seaweed, he would gaze at her poor mother´s portrait, doing as if the waves rocking to and fro would be the lullaby he had not been granted in the cradle.

He had dreamt of becoming a sailor to better flee from his father´s house and to better look after his soul´s loneliness, but he had to quit the sea because his father, needing a costless lawyer to bend the law, forced him to do so. So much for his sinister high school years.

He couldn´t either look for any refreshing comfort in his childhood memories because his childhood had been like a winter night in a desert of ice. Alone, always alone except for his father who hardly talked to him other than about his dirty businesses and who once in a while told him: “ All this that i do, i do it for your sake, mostly for your sake. I want you to be rich, very rich, immensely rich so that you can marry the daughter of the richest of all those rich people that despise us” He felt these words weren´t  nothing but a lie and that he was being used by his father as a pretext for trying, deep down in his heart , to justify himself for all his usury and greed. It was then, in this dreary youth, that he found his mother´s portrait and started to worship it. His father never talked to him about her.

And the guy, while listening to his colleagues in class talking about their mothers, couldn´t help figuring out how her mother would have been. He used to question in vain the old, dry ,stiff maid that was his father´s confident, the one whose hands had taken him away from those of his first nursemaid, whom he never saw again.That stubbornly silent and frowning woman never sung to him a song, hers was, however, the furthest memory he could recall from his childhood.

¡His childhood! He never had one. His whole childhood had been but a cold and grey day that had lasted quite a few years. Each of his childhood days had been the same and also every hour of them. The school had been no less dreary than his home. His colleagues mocked him cruelly, like children usually do, for his fathers´tricks and when they once saw him crying because they called him “usurer´s son”, the more blatant their mockery became.

The nursemaid left them because she didn´t get paid. It was the way how the usurer acted in order to collect the money her husband owed him. Instead of paying her monthly for the milk she nursed from her breasts, he would discount it from the amount of her husband´s debt.

Raymond Nobourne had been pulled out of the womb of her mother´s still tepid corpse. She had died shortly before giving birth, fourty two years before the day of his suicide. He was therefore a natural born suicide victim.

Alas his mother! How she got excited in the last days of her life everytime she thought about the idea of giving birth to a son that would bring brightness to that cold and gloomy home and change the soul of that terrible man! “ At least- she thought- i won´t be alone in the world and by singing to my child i´ll avoid hearing the money clinking that comes from his secret chamber! And who knows!… May be he changes!” She dreamt about taking her child to the seashore in the bright days, nursing him with her breasts before the beating breast of the earth´s nursemaid, joining her songs to that other cradle song where so many pains of the toiled human race have found their rest.

¿How did she come to marry that man? Not even she knew it. Something to do with her family,with her father doing some kind of dubious business with her husband to be. She thought about something terrible over which she didn´t want to linger. She remember one day in which her mother´s eyes were red from crying. Her father made her call and told her:

– Dear daughter, my salvation, the salvation of the whole family relies on you. Not only an overwhelming ruin but dishonour will be brought upon us without your sacrifice

– Tell me, dear father”-she answered.

– It´s necessary that you marry Atanasio, my business partner.

She remained silent and couldn´t avoid trembling from head to toes. Her father taking her daughter´s silence for a consent, added:

-Thank you, dear daughter, I didn´t expect anything else from you. Indeed, this sacrifice…

-Sacrifice?- she replied just for the sake of replying

-Indeed, dear daughter, indeed, you don´t know him yet, you yet don´t know him as i do…

Ramón Nonnato, suicida

Cuando harto de llamar a la puerta de su cuarto, entró, forzándola, el criado, encontróse a su amo lívido y frío en la cama, con un hilo de sangre que le destilaba de la sien derecha, y, junto a él, aquel retrato de mujer que traía constantemente consigo, casi como un amuleto, y en cuya contemplación se pasaba tantas horas. Y era que en la víspera de aquel día de otoño gris, a punto de ponerse el día, Ramón Nonnato se había pegado un tiro. Habíanle visto antes, por la tarde, pasearse, solo, según tenía por costumbre, a la orilla del río, cerca de su desembocadura, contemplando cómo las aguas se llevaban al azar las hojas amarillas que desde los álamos marginales iban a caer para siempre, para nunca más volver, en ellas, “Porque las que en la primavera próxima , la que no veré, vuelvan con los pájaros nuevos a los árboles, serán otras”, pensó Nonnato.

Al desparramarse la noticia del suicidio hubo una sola y compasiva exclamación. “¡Pobre Ramón Nonnato!” Y no faltó quien añadiera: “Le ha suicidado su difunto padre.”

Pocos días antes de darse así la muerte había pagado Nonnato su última deuda con el producto de la venta de la última finca que le quedaba de las muchas que su padre heredó, y era la casa solariega de su madre. Antes fue a ella y se estuvo allí solo durante un día entero, llorando su desamparo y la falta de un recuerdo, con un viejo retrato de su madre entre las manos. Era el retrato que traía consigo, sobre el pecho, imagen de una esperanza que para él había sido siempre recuerdo, siempre.

El pobre hombre había desbaratado la fortuna que su padre le dejara en locas especulaciones enderezadas a acrecentarla, en fantásticas combinaciones financieras y bursátiles, mientras vivía con una modestia rayana en la pobreza y ceñido de privaciones. Pues apenas si gastaba más de lo preciso para sustentarse con un discreto decoro, y, fuera de esto, en caridades y favores. Porque el pobre Nonnato, tan tacaño para consigo mismo, era en extremo liberal y pródigo para con los demás, sobre todo con las víctimas de su padre. La razón de su conducta era que buscaba aumentar lo más posible su fortuna, hacerla enorme, y emplearla luego en vasto objeto de servicio a la cultura pública, para redimirla así de su pecado de origen. No le parecía bastante haberla distribuido en pequeñas caridades, y mucho menos haber tratado de cancelar los daños de su padre. No es posible recoger el agua derramada. Llevaba siempre fijas en la mente las últimas palabras que al morir le dirigió su padre, y fueron así:

– Lo que siento, hijo mío, es que esta fortuna tan trabajosamente fraguada y cimentada por mí; esta fortuna tan bien repartida, y que es, aunque tú no lo creas, una verdadera obra de arte, se va a deshacer en tus manos. Tú no has heredado mi espíritu, ni tienes amor al dinero, ni entiendes de negocio. Confieso haberme equivocado contigo

“Afortunadamente”, pensó Nonnato al oir estas últimas palabras de su padre. Porque, en efecto, no había logrado éste infundirle su recio y sombrío amor al dinero, ni aquella su afición al negocio, que le hacía preferir la ganancia de tres con engaño legal a la de cuatro sin él. Y eso que el pobre Nonnato había sido el abogado de los pleitos en que de continuo se metía aquel hombre terrible: un abogado gratuito, por supuesto. En su calidad de abogado de su padre, es como Nonnato tuvo que penetrar en los más recónditos recovecos del antro del usurero, tinieblas húmedas donde acabó de entristecérsele el alma, presa de una esclavitud irrescatable. Ni podía libertarse, pues ¿Cómo resistir la mirada cortante y fría de aquel hombre de presa?

Años tétricos los de la carrera del pobre Nonnato, de aquella carrera odiada que estudiaba obligado a ello por su padre. Cuando durante los veranos se iba de vacaciones a su pueblo costero, después de aquel tenebroso curso de estudios, pasado en una miserable casa de uno de los deudores de su padre, que así le sacaba más interés a su préstamo, íbase Nonnato solo a orillas del mar a consolarse de su soledad con la soledad del Océano, y a olvidar las tristezas de la tierra. El mar le había siempre llamado como una gran madre consoladora, y sentado a su orilla sobre una roca ceñida de algas, contemplaba el retrato aquel de su pobre madre, fingiéndose que el canto brezador de las olas era el arrullo de cuna que no le había sido concedido oír en su infancia.

El había querido hacerse marino para huir mejor de casa de su padre, para cultivar la soledad de su alma; pero su padre, que necesitaba un abogado gratuito, le obligó a estudiar leyes para torcerlas, renunciando al mar. De aquí lo tétrico de sus años de carrera.

Y ni aun tuvo en ellos el consuelo de refrescarse el alma a solas con el recuerdo de sus mocedades, porque éstas habíalas pasado como una sola noche de invierno en un desierto de hielo. Solo, siempre solo con aquel padre que apenas le hablaba como no fuese de sus feos negocios, y que de cuando en cuando le decía: “Porque esto lo hago por ti, principalmente por ti, casi sólo por ti. Quiero que seas rico, muy rico, inmensamente rico, y que puedas casarte con la hija del más rico de esos ricachos que nos desprecian.” Mas el chico sentía que aquello era mentira, y que él no era sino un pretexto para que su padre se justificase ante sí mismo, en el foro de su conciencia, su usura y su avaricia. Y fué entonces, en aquella tétrica mocedad, cuando dio con el retrato de su madre y empezó a dedicarle culto. El padre, por su parte, jamás le habló de ella.

Y el pobre mozo, que oía a sus compañeros hablar de sus madres, trataba de figurarse cómo había podido ser la suya. E interrogaba en vano a aquella antigua sirvienta, seca y dura, la confidente de su padre, la que le había tomado de brazos de su nodriza, a la que no había vuelto a ver. Nunca le oyó cantar a aquella mujer ceñuda y tercamente silenciosa. Y era ella la que se perdía en sus más remotos recuerdos de niñez.

¡Niñez! No la había tenido. Su niñez fue un solo día largo, un día gris y frío de unos cuantos años, porque todos sus días fueron iguales e iguales las horas todas de cada uno de sus días. Y la escuela, no menos tétrica que su hogar. En ella le dirigían bromas feroces, como son las bromas infantiles, sobre las mañas de su padre. Y cuando le vieran una vez llorar al llamarle el hijo del usurero, redoblaron las burlas.

La nodriza lo había dejado en cuanto pudo porque no se le pagaba su servicio en rigor. Era el modo que tenía el usurero de cobrarse una deuda del marido de ella. Y así, en vez de pagarle sus mesadas por dar leche de su pecho al pobrecito Nonnato, íbaselas descontando de lo que su marido le debía.

Habíanle sacado a Ramón Nonnato del cadáver tibio de su madre, que murió poco antes de cuando había de darle a luz, cuarenta y dos años antes del día aquel en que se suicidó. Y es, pues, que había nacido con el suicido en el alma.

¡La pobre madre! ¡Cuántas veces en sus últimos días de vida, se ilusionaba con que el hijo tan esperado habría de ser un rayo de sol en aquel hogar tenebroso y frío y habría de cambiar el alma de aquel hombre terrible! “ ¡ Y por lo menos-pensaba- no estaré ya sola en el mundo, y cantando a mi niño no oiré el rechinar del dinero en ese cuarto de los secretos! ¡ Y quien sabe!…¡Acaso cambie!” Y soñaba con llevarle en los días claros a la orilla del mar, a darle allí el pecho frente al pecho palpitante de la nodriza de la tierra, uniendo su canto al eterno canto de cuna que tantos dolores del trabajado linaje humano adormeciera.

¿Cómo se encontró casada con aquel hombre? Ni ella lo sabía. Cosa de su familia, de su padre, que tenía negocios oscuros con el que luego fue su marido. Sospechaba algo pavoroso, pero en que no quería entrar. Recordaba que un día, después de varios en que su madre tuvo de continuo enrojecidos los ojos por el llanto, la llamó su padre al cuarto de las solemnidades y le dijo:

– Mira, hija mía, mi salvación, la salvación de la familia toda, depende de ti. Sin un sacrificio tuyo, no sólo la ruina completa, sino además la deshonra.

– Mándeme, padre- respondió ella

– Es menester que te cases con Atanasio, mi socio. La pobre, temblando de los talones a la nuca, se calló, y su padre, tomando su silencio por un otorgamiento, añadió:

– Gracias, hija, gracias; no esperaba yo otra cosa de ti. Sí, este sacificio…

– ¿Sacrificio?- dijo ella por decir algo.

-¡Oh, sí, hija mía; no le conoces, no le conoces como yo!…

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