“The bishop should consider well,” said Pepe Rey, “before he turns a Christian out of the church.”
“That is very true. I don’t know who can have put it into his lordship’s head that you are a man of very bad habits; I don’t know who has told him that you make a boast of your atheism everywhere; that you ridicule sacred things and persons, and even that you are planning to pull down the cathedral to build a large tar factory with the stones. I tried my best to dissuade him, but his lordship is a little obstinate.”
“Thanks for so much kindness.”
“And it is not because the Penitentiary has any reason to show you these considerations. A little more, and they would have left him stretched on the ground this afternoon.”
“Bah!” said the ecclesiastic, laughing. “But have you heard of that little prank already? I wager Maria Remedios came with the story. And I forbade her to do it–I forbade her positively. The thing in itself is of no consequence, am I not right, Senor de Rey?”
“Since you think so—-“
“That is what I think. Young people’s pranks! Youth, let the moderns say what they will, is inclined to vice and to vicious actions. Senor de Rey, who is a person of great endowments, could not be altogether perfect–why should it be wondered at that those pretty girls should have captivated him, and, after getting his money out of him, should have made him the accomplice of their shameless and criminal insults to their neighbors? My dear friend, for the painful part that I had in this afternoon’s sport,” he added, raising his hand to the wounded spot, “I am not offended, nor will I distress you by even referring to so disagreeable an incident. I am truly sorry to hear that Maria Remedios came here to tell all about it. My niece is so fond of gossiping! I wager she told too about the half ounce, and your romping with the girls on the terrace, and your chasing one another about, and the pinches and the capers of Don Juan Tafetan. Bah! those things ought not to be told.”
Pepe Rey did not know which annoyed him most–his aunt’s severity or the hypocritical condescension of the canon.
“Why should they not be told?” said Dona Perfecta. “He does not seem ashamed of his conduct himself. I assure you all that I keep this from my dear daughter only because, in her nervous condition, a fit of anger might be dangerous to her.”
“Come, it is not so serious as all that, senora,” said the Penitentiary. “I think the matter should not be again referred to, and when the one who was stoned says that, the rest may surely be satisfied. And the blow was no joke, Senor Don Jose. I thought they had split my head open and that my brains were oozing out.”
“I am truly sorry for the occurrence!” stammered Pepe Rey. “It gives me real pain, although I had no part in it–“
“Your visit to those Senoras Troyas will be talked about all over the town,” said the canon. “We are not in Madrid, in that centre of corruption, of scandal–“
“There you can visit the vilest places without any one knowing it,” said Dona Perfecta.
“Here we are very observant of one another,” continued Don Inocencio. “We take notice of everything our neighbors do, and with such a system of vigilance public morals are maintained at a proper height. Believe me, my friend, believe me,–and I do not say this to mortify you,–you are the first gentleman of your position who, in the light of day–the first, yes, senor–/Trojoe qui primus ab oris/.”
And bursting into a laugh, he clapped the engineer on the back in token of amity and good-will.
“How grateful I ought to be,” said the young man, concealing his anger under the sarcastic words which he thought the most suitable to answer the covert irony of his interlocutors, “to meet with so much generosity and tolerance, when my criminal conduct would deserve–“
“What! Is a person of one’s own blood, one who bears one’s name,” said Dona Perfecta, “to be treated like a stranger? You are my nephew, you are the son of the best and the most virtuous of men, of my dear brother Juan, and that is sufficient. Yesterday afternoon the secretary of the bishop came here to tell me that his lordship is greatly displeased because I have you in my house.”
“And that too?” murmured the canon.
“And that too. I said that in spite of the respect which I owe the bishop, and the affection and reverence which I bear him, my nephew is my nephew, and I cannot turn him out of my house.”
“This is another singularity which I find in this place,” said Pepe Rey, pale with anger. “Here, apparently, the bishop governs other people’s houses.”
“He is a saint. He is so fond of me that he imagines–he imagines that you are going to contaminate us with your atheism, your disregard for public opinion, your strange ideas. I have told him repeatedly that, at bottom, you are an excellent young man.”
“Some concession must always be made to superior talent,” observed Don Inocencio.
“And this morning, when I was at the Cirujedas’–oh, you cannot imagine in what a state they had my head! Was it true that you had come to pull down the cathedral; that you were commissioned by the English Protestants to go preaching heresy throughout Spain; that you spent the whole night gambling in the Casino; that you were drunk in the streets? ‘But, senoras,’ I said to them, ‘would you have me send my nephew to the hotel?’ Besides, they are wrong about the drunkenness, and as for gambling–I have never yet heard that you gambled.”
Pepe Rey found himself in that state of mind in which the calmest man is seized by a sudden rage, by a blind and brutal impulse to strangle some one, to strike some one in the face, to break some one’s head, to crush some one’s bones. But Dona Perfecta was a woman and was, besides, his aunt; and Don Inocencio was an old man and an ecclesiastic. In addition to this, physical violence is in bad taste and unbecoming a person of education and a Christian. There remained the resource of giving vent to his suppressed wrath in dignified and polite language; but this last resource seemed to him premature, and only to be employed at the moment of his final departure from the house and from Orbajosa. Controlling his fury, then, he waited.
Jacinto entered as they were finishing supper.
“Good-evening, Senor Don Jose,” he said, pressing the young man’s hand. “You and your friends kept me from working this afternoon. I was not able to write a line. And I had so much to do!”
“I am very sorry for it, Jacinto. But according to what they tell me, you accompany them sometimes in their frolics.”
“I!” exclaimed the boy, turning scarlet. “Why, you know very well that Tafetan never speaks a word of truth. But is it true, Senor de Rey, that you are going away?”
“Is that the report in the town?”
“Yes. I heard it in the Casino and at Don Lorenzo Ruiz’s.”
Rey contemplated in silence for a few moments the fresh face of Don Nominative. Then he said:
“Well, it is not true; my aunt is very well satisfied with me; she despises the calumnies with which the Orbajosans are favoring me–and she will not turn me out of her house, even though the bishop himself should try to make her do so.”
“As for turning you out of the house–never. What would your father say?”
“Notwithstanding all your kindness, dearest aunt, notwithstanding the cordial friendship of the reverend canon, it is possible that I may myself decide to go away.”
“To go away!”
“To go away–you!”
A strange light shone in Dona Perfecta’s eyes. The canon, experienced though he was in dissimulation, could not conceal his joy.
“Yes, and perhaps this very night.”
“Why, man, how impetuous you are; Why don’t you at least wait until morning? Here–Juan, let some one go for Uncle Licurgo to get the nag ready. I suppose you will take some luncheon with you. Nicolasa, that piece of veal that is on the sideboard! Librada, the senorito’s linen.”
“No, I cannot believe that you would take so rash a resolution,” said Don Cayetano, thinking himself obliged to take some part in the question.
“But you will come back, will you not?” asked the canon.
“At what time does the morning train pass?” asked Dona Perfecta, in whose eyes was clearly discernible the feverish impatience of her exaltation.
“I am going away to-night.”
“But there is no moon.”
In the soul of Dona Perfecta, in the soul of the Penitentiary, in the little doctor’s youthful soul echoed like a celestial harmony the word, “To-night!”
“Of course, dear Pepe, you will come back. I wrote to-day to your father, your excellent father,” exclaimed Dona Perfecta, with all the physiognomic signs that make their appearance when a tear is about to be shed.
“I will trouble you with a few commissions,” said the savant.
“A good opportunity to order the volume that is wanting in my copy of the Abbe Gaume’s work,” said the youthful lawyer.
“You take such sudden notions, Pepe; you are so full of caprices,” murmured Dona Perfecta, smiling, with her eyes fixed on the door of the dining-room. “But I forgot to tell you that Caballuco is waiting to speak to you.”
DISCORD CONTINUES TO GROW UNTIL WAR IS DECLARED
Every one looked toward the door, at which appeared the imposing figure of the Centaur, serious-looking and frowning; embarrassed by his anxiety to salute the company politely; savagely handsome, but disfigured by the violence which he did himself in smiling civilly and treading softly and holding his herculean arms in a correct posture.
“Come in, Senor Ramos,” said Pepe Rey.
“No, no!” objected Dona Perfecta. “What he has to say to you is an absurdity.”
“Let him say it.”
“I ought not to allow such ridiculous questions to be discussed in my house.”
“What is Senor Ramos’ business with me?”
Caballuco uttered a few words.
“Enough, enough!” exclaimed Dona Perfecta. “Don’t trouble my nephew any more. Pepe, don’t mind this simpleton. Do you wish me to tell you the cause of the great Caballuco’s anger?” she said, turning to the others.
“Anger? I think I can imagine,” said the Penitentiary, leaning back in his chair and laughing with boisterous hilarity.
“I wanted to say to Senor Don Jose–” growled the formidable horseman.
“Hold your tongue, man, for Heaven’s sake! And don’t tire us any more with that nonsense.”
“Senor Caballuco,” said the canon, “it is not to be wondered at that gentlemen from the capital should cut out the rough riders of this savage country.”
“In two words, Pepe, the question is this: Caballuco is–“
She could not go on for laughing.
“Is–I don’t know just what,” said Don Inocencio, “of one of the Troya girls, of Mariquita Juana, if I am not mistaken.”
“And he is jealous! After his horse, the first thing in creation for him is Mariquilla Troya.”
“A pretty insinuation that!” exclaimed Dona Perfecta. “Poor Cristobal! Did you suppose that a person like my nephew–let us hear, what were you going to say to him? Speak.”
“Senor Don Jose and I will talk together presently,” responded the bravo of the town brusquely.
And without another word he left the room.
Shortly afterward Pepe Rey left the dining-room to retire to his own room. In the hall he found himself face to face with his Trojan antagonist, and he could not repress a smile at the sight of the fierce and gloomy countenance of the offended lover.
“A word with you,” said the latter, planting himself insolently in front of the engineer. “Do you know who I am?”
As he spoke he laid his heavy hand on the young man’s shoulder with such insolent familiarity that the latter, incensed, flung him off with violence, saying:
“It is not necessary to crush one to say that.”
The bravo, somewhat disconcerted, recovered himself in a moment, and looking at Rey with provoking boldness, repeated his refrain:
“Do you know who I am?”
“Yes; I know now that you are a brute.”
He pushed the bully roughly aside and went into his room. As traced on the excited brain of our unfortunate friend at this moment, his plan of action might be summed up briefly and definitely as follows: To break Caballuco’s head without loss of time; then to take leave of his aunt in severe but polite words which should reach her soul; to bid a cold adieu to the canon and give an embrace to the inoffensive Don Cayetano; to administer a thrashing to Uncle Licurgo, by way of winding up the entertainment, and leave Orbajosa that very night, shaking the dust from his shoes at the city gates.
But in the midst of all these mortifications and persecutions the unfortunate young man had not ceased to think of another unhappy being, whom he believed to be in a situation even more painful and distressing than his own. One of the maid-servants followed the engineer into his room.
“Did you give her my message?” he asked.
“Yes, senor, and she gave me this.”
Rey took from the girl’s hand a fragment of a newspaper, on the margin of which he read these words:
“They say you are going away. I shall die if you do.”
When he returned to the dining-room Uncle Licurgo looked in at the door and asked:
“At what hour do you want the horse?”
“At no hour,” answered Rey quickly.
“Then you are not going to-night?” said Dona Perfecta. “Well, it is better to wait until to-morrow.”
“I am not going to-morrow, either.”
“When are you going, then?”
“We will see presently,” said the young man coldly, looking at his aunt with imperturbable calmness. “For the present I do not intend to go away.”
His eyes flashed forth a fierce challenge.
Dona Perfecta turned first red, then pale. She looked at the canon, who had taken off his gold spectacles to wipe them, and then fixed her eyes successively on each of the other persons in the room, including Caballuco, who, entering shortly before, had seated himself on the edge of a chair. Dona Perfecta looked at them as a general looks at his trusty body-guard. Then she studied the thoughtful and serene countenance of her nephew–of that enemy, who, by a strategic movement, suddenly reappeared before her when she believed him to be in shameful flight.
Alas! Bloodshed, ruin, and desolation! A great battle was about to be fought.
Orbajosa slept. The melancholy street-lamps were shedding their last gleams at street-corners and in by-ways, like tired eyes struggling in vain against sleep. By their dim light, wrapped in their cloaks, glided past like shadows, vagabonds, watchmen, and gamblers. Only the hoarse shout of the drunkard or the song of the serenader broke the peaceful silence of the historic city. Suddenly the “Ave Maria Purisima” of some drunken watchman would be heard, like a moan uttered in its sleep by the town.
In Dona Perfecta’s house also silence reigned, unbroken but for a conversation which was taking place between Don Cayetano and Pepe Rey, in the library of the former. The savant was seated comfortably in the arm-chair beside his study table, which was covered with papers of various kinds containing notes, annotations, and references, all arranged in the most perfect order. Rey’s eyes were fixed on the heap of papers, but his thoughts were doubtless far away from this accumulated learning.
“Perfecta,” said the antiquary, “although she is an excellent woman, has the defect of allowing herself to be shocked by any little act of folly. In these provincial towns, my dear friend, the slightest slip is dearly paid for. I see nothing particular in your having gone to the Troyas’ house. I fancy that Don Inocencio, under his cloak of piety, is something of a mischief-maker. What has he to do with the matter?”
“We have reached a point, Senor Don Cayetano, in which it is necessary to take a decisive resolution. I must see Rosario and speak with her.”
“See her, then!”
“But they will not let me,” answered the engineer, striking the table with his clenched hand. “Rosario is kept a prisoner.”
“A prisoner!” repeated the savant incredulously. “The truth is that I do not like her looks or her hair, and still less the vacant expression in her beautiful eyes. She is melancholy, she talks little, she weeps– friend Don Jose, I greatly fear that the girl may be attacked by the terrible malady to which so many of the members of my family have fallen victims.”
“A terrible malady! What is it?”
“Madness–or rather mania. Not a single member of my family has been free from it. I alone have escaped it.”
“You! But leaving aside the question of madness,” said Rey, with impatience, “I wish to see Rosario.”
“Nothing more natural. But the isolation in which her mother keeps her is a hygienic measure, dear Pepe, and the only one that has been successfully employed with the various members of my family. Consider that the person whose presence and voice would make the strongest impression on Rosarillo’s delicate nervous system is the chosen of her heart.”
“In spite of all that,” insisted Pepe, “I wish to see her.”
“Perhaps Perfecta will not oppose your doing so,” said the savant, giving his attention to his notes and papers. “I don’t want to take any responsibility in the matter.”
The engineer, seeing that he could obtain nothing from the good Polentinos, rose to retire.
“You are going to work,” he said, “and I will not trouble you any longer.”
“No, there is time enough. See the amount of precious information that I collected to-day. Listen: ‘In 1537 a native of Orbajosa, called Bartolome del Hoyo, went to Civita-Vecchia in one of the galleys of the Marquis of Castel Rodrigo.’ Another: ‘In the same year two brothers named Juan and Rodrigo Gonzalez del Arco embarked in one of the six ships which sailed from Maestricht on the 20th of February, and which encountered in the latitude of Calais an English vessel and the Flemish fleet commanded by Van Owen.’ That was truly an important exploit of our navy. I have discovered that it was an Orbajosan, one Mateo Diaz Coronel, an ensign in the guards, who, in 1709, wrote and published in Valencia the ‘Metrical Encomium, Funeral Chant, Lyrical Eulogy, Numerical Description, Glorious Sufferings, and Sorrowful Glories of the Queen of the Angels.’ I possess a most precious copy of this work, which is worth the mines of Peru. Another Orbajosan was the author of that famous ‘Treatise on the Various Styles of Horsemanship’ which I showed you yesterday; and, in short, there is not a step I take in the labyrinth of unpublished history that I do not stumble against some illustrious compatriot. It is my purpose to draw all these names out of the unjust obscurity and oblivion in which they have so long lain. How pure a joy, dear Pepe, to restore all their lustre to the glories, epic and literary, of one’s native place! And how could a man better employ the scant intellect with which Heaven has endowed him, the fortune which he has inherited, and the brief period of time on earth allowed to even the longest life. Thanks to me it will be seen that Orbajosa is the illustrious cradle of Spanish genius. But what do I say? Is not its illustrious ancestry evident in the nobleness and high-mindedness of the present Urbs Augustan generation? We know few places where all the virtues, unchoked by the malefic weeds of vice, grow more luxuriantly. Here all is peace, mutual respect, Christian humility. Charity is practised here as it was in Biblical times; here envy is unknown; here the criminal passions are unknown, and if you hear thieves and murderers spoken of, you may be sure that they are not the children of this noble soil; or, that if they are, they belong to the number of unhappy creatures perverted by the teachings of demagogues. Here you will see the national character in all its purity–upright, noble, incorruptible, pure, simple, patriarchal, hospitable, generous. Therefore it is that I live so happy in this solitude far from the turmoil of cities where, alas! falsehood and vice reign. Therefore it is that the many friends whom I have in Madrid have not been able to tempt me from this place; therefore it is that I spend my life in the sweet companionship of my faithful townspeople and my books, breathing the wholesome atmosphere of integrity, which is gradually becoming circumscribed in our Spain to the humble and Christian towns that have preserved it with the emanations of their virtues. And believe me, my dear Pepe, this peaceful isolation has greatly contributed to preserve me from the terrible malady connatural in my family. In my youth I suffered, like my brothers and my father, from a lamentable propensity to the most absurd manias; but here you have me so miraculously cured that all I know of the malady is what I see of it in others. And it is for that reason that I am so uneasy about my little niece.”
“I am rejoiced that the air of Orbajosa has proved so beneficial to you,” said Rey, unable to resist the jesting mood that, by a strange contradiction, came over him in the midst of his sadness. “With me it has agreed so badly that I think I shall soon become mad if I remain in it. Well, good-night, and success to your labors.”
Pepe went to his room, but feeling neither a desire for sleep or the need of physical repose,–on the contrary, a violent excitation of mind which impelled him to move, to act,–he walked up and down the room, torturing himself with useless cavilling. After a time he opened the window which overlooked the garden and, leaning his elbows on the parapet, he gazed out on the limitless darkness of the night. Nothing could be seen, but he who is absorbed in his own thoughts sees with the mental vision, and Pepe Rey, his eyes fixed on the darkness, saw the varied panorama of his misfortunes unroll itself upon it before him. The obscurity did not permit him to see the flowers of the earth, nor those of the heavens, which are the stars. The very absence of light produced the effect of an illusory movement in the masses of foliage, which seemed to stretch away, to recede slowly, and come curling back like the waves of a shadowy sea. A vast flux and reflux, a strife between forces vaguely comprehended, agitated the silent sky. The mathematician, contemplating this strange projection of his soul upon the night, said to himself:
“The battle will be terrible. Let us see who will come out of it victorious.”
The nocturnal insects whispered in his ear mysterious words. Here a shrill chirp; there a click, like the click made with the tongue; further on, plaintive murmurs; in the distance a tinkle like that of the bell on the neck of the wandering ox. Suddenly Rey heard a strange sound, a rapid note, that could be produced only by the human tongue and lips. This sibilant breathing passed through the young man’s brain like a flash of lightning. He felt that swift “s-s-s” dart snake-like through him, repeated again and then again, with augmented intensity. He looked all around, then he looked toward the upper part of the house, and he fancied that in one of the windows he could distinguish an object like a white bird flapping its wings. Through Pepe Rey’s excited mind flashed instantly the idea of the phoenix, of the dove, of the regal heron, and yet the bird he saw was noting more than a handkerchief.
The engineer sprang from the balcony into the garden. Observing attentively, he saw the hand and the face of his cousin. He thought he could perceive the gesture commonly employed of imposing silence by laying the finger on the lips. Then the dear shade pointed downward and disappeared. Pepe Rey returned quickly to this room, entered the hall noiselessly, and walked slowly forward. He felt his heart beat with violence. He waited for a few moments, and at last he heard distinctly light taps on the steps of the stairs. One, two, three–the sounds were produced by a pair of little shoes.
He walked in the direction whence they proceeded, and stretched out his hands in the obscurity to assist the person who was descending the stairs. In his soul there reigned an exalted and profound tenderness, but–why seek to deny it–mingling with this tender feeling, there suddenly arose within him, like an infernal inspiration, another sentiment, a fierce desire for revenge. The steps continued to descend, coming nearer and nearer. Pepe Rey went forward, and a pair of hands, groping in the darkness, came in contact with his own. The two pairs of hands were united in a close clasp.
LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS
The hall was long and broad. At one end of it was the door of the room occupied by the engineer, in the centre that of the dining-room, and at the other end were the staircase and a large closed door reached by a step. This door opened into a chapel in which the Polentinos performed their domestic devotions. Occasionally the holy sacrifice of the mass was celebrated in it.
Rosario led her cousin to the door of the chapel and then sank down on the doorstep.
“Here?” murmured Pepe Rey.
From the movements of Rosarito’s right hand he comprehended that she was blessing herself.
“Rosario, dear cousin, thanks for allowing me to see you!” he exclaimed, embracing her ardently.
He felt the girl’s cold fingers on his lips, imposing silence. He kissed them rapturously.
“You are frozen. Rosario, why do you tremble so?”
Her teeth were chattering, and her whole frame trembled convulsively. Rey felt the burning heat of his cousin’s face against his own, and he cried in alarm:
“Your forehead is burning! You are feverish.”
“Are you really ill?”
“And you have left your room—-“
“To see you.”
The engineer wrapped his arms around her to protect her from the cold, but it was not enough.
“Wait,” he said quickly, rising. “I am going to my room to bring my travelling rug.”
“Put out the light, Pepe.”
Rey had left the lamp burning in his room, through the door of which issued a faint streak of light, illuminating the hall. He returned in an instant. The darkness was now profound. Groping his way along the wall he reached the spot where his cousin was sitting, and wrapped the rug carefully around her.
“You are comfortable now, my child.”
“Yes, so comfortable! With you!”
“With me–and forever!” exclaimed the young man, with exaltation.
But he observed that she was releasing herself from his arms and was rising.
“What are you doing?”
A metallic sound was heard. Rosario had put the key into the invisible lock and was cautiously opening the door on the threshold of which they had been sitting. The faint odor of dampness, peculiar to rooms that have been long shut up, issued from the place, which was as dark as a tomb. Pepe Rey felt himself being guided by the hand, and his cousin’s voice said faintly:
They took a few steps forward. He imagined himself being led to an unknown Elysium by the angel of night. Rosario groped her way. At last her sweet voice sounded again, murmuring:
They were beside a wooden bench. Both sat down. Pepe Rey embraced Rosario again. As he did so, his head struck against a hard body.
“What is this?” he asked.
“Rosario–what are you saying?”
“The feet of the Divine Jesus, of the image of Christ crucified, that we adore in my house.”
Pepe Rey felt a cold chill strike through him.
“Kiss them,” said the young girl imperiously.
The mathematician kissed the cold feet of the holy image.
“Pepe,” then cried the young girl, pressing her cousin’s hand ardently between her own, “do you believe in God?”
“Rosario! What are you saying? What absurdities are you imagining?” responded her cousin, perplexed.
Pepe Rey felt drops of moisture on his hands.
“Why are you crying?” he said, greatly disturbed. “Rosario, you are killing me with your absurd doubts. Do I believe in God? Do you doubt it?”
“I do not doubt it; but they all say that you are an atheist.”
“You would suffer in my estimation, you would lose your aureole of purity–your charm–if you gave credit to such nonsense.”
“When I heard them accuse you of being an atheist, although I could bring no proof to the contrary, I protested from the depths of my soul against such a calumny. You cannot be an atheist. I have within me as strong and deep a conviction of your faith as of my own.”
“How wisely you speak! Why, then, do you ask me if I believe in God?”
“Because I wanted to hear it from your own lips, and rejoice in hearing you say it. It is so long since I have heard the sound of your voice! What greater happiness than to hear it again, saying: ‘I believe in God?’ “
“Rosario, even the wicked believe in him. If there be atheists, which I doubt, they are the calumniators, the intriguers with whom the world is infested. For my part, intrigues and calumnies matter little to me; and if you rise superior to them and close your heart against the discord which a perfidious hand would sow in it, nothing shall interfere with our happiness.”
“But what is going on around us? Pepe, dear Pepe, do you believe in the devil?”
The engineer was silent. The darkness of the chapel prevented Rosario from seeing the smile with which her cousin received this strange question.
“We must believe in him,” he said at last.
“What is going on? Mamma forbids me to see you; but, except in regard to the atheism, she does not say any thing against you. She tells me to wait, that you will decide; that you are going away, that you are coming back—- Speak to me with frankness–have you formed a bad opinion of my mother?”
“Not at all,” replied Rey, urged by a feeling of delicacy.
“Do you not believe, as I do, that she loves us both, that she desires only our good, and that we shall in the end obtain her consent to our wishes?”
“If you believe it, I do too. Your mama adores us both. But, dear Rosario, it must be confessed that the devil has entered this house.”
“Don’t jest!” she said affectionately. “Ah! Mamma is very good. She has not once said to me that you were unworthy to be my husband. All she insists upon is the atheism. They say, besides, that I have manias, and that I have the mania now of loving you with all my soul. In our family it is a rule not to oppose directly the manias that are hereditary in it, because to oppose them aggravates them.”
“Well, I believe that there are skilful physicians at your side who have determined to cure you, and who will, in the end, my adored girl, succeed in doing so.”
“No, no; a thousand times no!” exclaimed Rosario, leaning her forehead on her lover’s breast. “I am willing to be mad if I am with you. For you I am suffering, for you I am ill; for you I despise life and I risk death. I know it now–to-morrow I shall be worse, I shall be dangerously ill, I shall die. What does it matter to me?”
“You are not ill,” he responded, with energy; “there is nothing the matter with you but an agitation of mind which naturally brings with it some slight nervous disturbances; there is nothing the matter with you but the suffering occasioned by the horrible coercion which they are using with you. Your simple and generous soul does not comprehend it. You yield; you forgive those who injure you; you torment yourself, attributing your suffering to baleful, supernatural influences; you suffer in silence; you give your innocent neck to the executioner, you allow yourself to be slain, and the very knife which is plunged into your breast seems to you the thorn of a flower that has pierced you in passing. Rosario, cast those ideas from your mind; consider our real situation, which is serious; seek its cause where it really is, and do not give way to your fears; do not yield to the tortures which are inflicted upon you, making yourself mentally and physically ill. The courage which you lack would restore you to health, because you are not really ill, my dear girl, you are–do you wish me to say it?–you are frightened, terrified. You are under what the ancients, not knowing how to express it, called an evil spell. Courage, Rosario, trust in me! Rise and follow me. That is all I will say.”
“Ah, Pepe–cousin! I believe that you are right,” exclaimed Rosario, drowned in tears. “Your words resound within my heart, arousing in it new energy, new life. Here in this darkness, where we cannot see each other’s faces, an ineffable light emanates from you and inundates my soul. What power have you to transform me in this way? The moment I saw you I became another being. In the days when I did not see you I returned to my former insignificance, my natural cowardice. Without you, my Pepe, I live in Limbo. I will do as you tell me, I will arise and follow you. We will go together wherever you wish. Do you know that I feel well? Do you know that I have no fever: that I have recovered my strength; that I want to run about and cry out; that my whole being is renewed and enlarged, and multiplied a hundred-fold in order to adore you? Pepe, you are right. I am not sick, I am only afraid; or rather, bewitched.”
“That is it, bewitched.”
“Bewitched! Terrible eyes look at me, and I remain mute and trembling. I am afraid, but of what? You alone have the strange power of calling me back to life. Hearing you, I live again. I believe if I were to die and you were to pass by my grave, that deep under the ground I should feel your footsteps. Oh, if I could see you now! But you are here beside me, and I cannot doubt that it is you. So many days without seeing you! I was mad. Each day of solitude appeared to me a century. They said to me, to-morrow and to-morrow, and always to-morrow. I looked out of the window at night, and the light of the lamp in your room served to console me. At times your shadow on the window was for me a divine apparition. I stretched out my arms to you, I shed tears and cried out inwardly, without daring to do so with my voice. When I received the message you sent me with the maid, when I received your letter telling me that you were going away, I grew very sad, I thought my soul was leaving my body and that I was dying slowly. I fell, like the bird wounded as it flies, that falls and, falling, dies. To-night, when I saw that you were awake so late, I could not resist the longing I had to speak to you; and I came down stairs. I believe that all the courage of my life has been used up in this single act, and that now I can never be any thing again but a coward. But you will give me courage; you will give me strength; you will help me, will you not? Pepe, my dear cousin, tell me that you will; tell me that I am strong, and I will be strong; tell me that I am not ill, and I will not be ill. I am not ill now. I feel so well that I could laugh at my ridiculous maladies.”
As she said this she felt herself clasped rapturously in her cousin’s arms. An “Oh!” was heard, but it came, not from her lips, but from his, for in bending his head, he had struck it violently against the feet of the crucifix. In the darkness it is that the stars are seen.
In the exalted state of his mind, by a species of hallucination natural in the darkness, it seemed to Pepe Rey not that his head had struck against the sacred foot, but that this had moved, warning him in the briefest and most eloquent manner. Raising his head he said, half seriously, half gayly:
“Lord, do not strike me; I will do nothing wrong.”
At the same moment Rosario took the young man’s hand and pressed it against her heart. A voice was heard, a pure, grave, angelic voice, full of feeling, saying:
“Lord whom I adore, Lord God of the world, and guardian of my house and of my family; Lord whom Pepe also adores; holy and blessed Christ who died on the cross for our sins; before thee, before thy wounded body, before thy forehead crowned with thorns, I say that this man is my husband, and that, after thee, he is the being whom my heart loves most; I say that I declare him to be my husband, and that I will die before I belong to another. My heart and my soul are his. Let not the world oppose our happiness, and grant me the favor of this union, which I swear to be true and good before the world, as it is in my conscience.”
“Rosario, you are mine!” exclaimed Pepe Rey, with exaltation. “Neither your mother nor any one else shall prevent it.”
Rosario sank powerless into her cousin’s arms. She trembled in his manly embrace, as the dove trembles in the talons of the eagle.
Through the engineer’s mind the thought flashed that the devil existed; but the devil then was he. Rosario made a slight movement of fear; she felt the thrill of surprise, so to say, that gives warning that danger is near.
“Swear to me that you will not yield to them,” said Pepe Rey, with confusion, observing the movement.
“I swear it to you by my father’s ashes that are–“
“Under our feet.”
The mathematician felt the stone rise under his feet–but no, it was not rising; he only fancied, mathematician though he was, that he felt it rise.
“I swear it to you,” repeated Rosario, “by my father’s ashes, and by the God who is looking at us—- May our bodies, united as they are, repose under those stones when God wills to take us out of this world.”
“Yes,” repeated the Pepe Rey, with profound emotion, feeling his soul filled with an inexplicable trouble.
Both remained silent for a short time. Rosario had risen.
“Already?” he said.
She sat down again.
“You are trembling again,” said Pepe. “Rosario, you are ill; your forehead is burning.”
“I think I am dying,” murmured the young girl faintly. “I don’t know what is the matter with me.”
She fell senseless into her cousin’s arms. Caressing her, he noticed that her face was covered with a cold perspiration.
“She is really ill,” he said to himself. “It was a piece of great imprudence to have come down stairs.”
He lifted her up in his arms, endeavoring to restore her to consciousness, but neither the trembling that had seized her nor her insensibility passed away; and he resolved to carry her out of the chapel, in the hope that the fresh air would revive her. And so it was. When she recovered consciousness Rosario manifested great disquietude at finding herself at such an hour out of her own room. The clock of the cathedral struck four.
“How late it is!” exclaimed the young girl. “Release me, cousin. I think I can walk. I am really very ill.”
“I will go upstairs with you.”
“Oh, no; on no account! I would rather drag myself to my room on my hands and feet. Don’t you hear a noise?”
Both were silent. The anxiety with which they listened made the silence intense.
“Don’t you hear any thing, Pepe?”
“Pay attention. There, there it is again. It is a noise that sounds as if it might be either very, very distant, or very near. It might either be my mother’s breathing or the creaking of the vane on the tower of the cathedral. Ah! I have a very fine ear.”
“Too fine! Well, dear cousin, I will carry you upstairs in my arms.”
“Very well; carry me to the head of the stairs. Afterward I can go alone. As soon as I rest a little I shall be as well as ever. But don’t you hear?”
They stopped on the first step.
“It is a metallic sound.”
“Your mother’s breathing?”
“No, it is not that. The noise comes from a great distance. Perhaps it is the crowing of a cock?”
“It sounds like the words, ‘I am going there, I am going there!’ “
“Now, now I hear,” murmured Pepe Rey.
“It is a cry.”
“It is a cornet.”
“Yes. Let us hurry. Orbajosa is going to wake up. Now I hear it clearly. It is not a trumpet but a clarionet. The soldiers are coming.”
“I don’t know why I imagine that this military invasion is going to be advantageous to me. I feel glad. Up, quickly, Rosario!”
“I feel glad, too. Up, up!”
In an instant he had carried her upstairs, and the lovers took a whispered leave of each other.
“I will stand at the window overlooking the garden, so that you may know I have reached my room safely. Good-by.”
“Good-by, Rosario. Take care not to stumble against the furniture.”
“I can find my way here perfectly, cousin. We shall soon see each other again. Stand at your window if you wish to receive my telegraphic despatch.”
Pepe Rey did as he was bade; but he waited a long time, and Rosario did not appear at the window. The engineer fancied he heard agitated voices on the floor above him.
The inhabitants of Orbajosa heard in the twilight vagueness of their morning slumbers the same sonorous clarionet, and they opened their eyes, saying:
Some murmured to themselves between sleeping and waking:
“At last they have sent us that rabble.”
Others got out of bed hastily, growling:
“Let us go take a look at those confounded soldiers.”
Some soliloquized in this way:
“It will be necessary to hurry up matters. They say drafts and contributions; we will say blows and more blows.”
In another house were heard these words uttered joyfully:
“Perhaps my son is coming! Perhaps my brother is coming!”
Everywhere people were springing out of bed, dressing hastily, opening the windows to see the regiment that caused all this excitement entering the city in the early dawn. The city was gloom, silence, age; the army gayety, boisterousness, youth. As the army entered the city it seemed as if the mummy received by some magic art the gift of life and sprang with noisy gayety from its damp sarcophagus to dance around it. What movement, what shouting, what laughter, what merriment! There is nothing so interesting as a regiment. It is our country in its youthful and vigorous aspect. All the ineptitude, the turbulence, the superstition at times, and at times the impiety of the country as represented in the individual, disappears under the iron rule of discipline, which of so many insignificant figures makes an imposing whole. The soldier, or so to say, the corpuscle, separating at the command “Break ranks!” from the mass in which he has led a regular and at times a sublime life, occasionally preserves some of the qualities peculiar to the army. But this is not the general rule. The separation is most often accompanied by a sudden deterioration, with the result that if an army is the glory and honor of a nation, an assemblage of soldiers may be an insupportable calamity; and the towns that shed tears of joy and enthusiasm when they see a victorious battalion enter their precincts, groan with terror and tremble with apprehension when they see the same soldiers separate and off duty.
This last was what happened in Orbajosa, for in those days there were no glorious deeds to celebrate, nor was there any motive for weaving wreaths or tracing triumphal inscriptions, or even for making mention of the exploits of our brave soldiers, for which reason all was fear and suspicion in the episcopal city, which, although poor, did not lack treasures in chickens, fruits, money, and maidenhood, all of which ran great risk from the moment when the before-mentioned sons of Mars entered it. In addition to this, the native town of Polentinos, as a city remote from the movement and stir brought with them by traffic, the newspapers, railroads, and other agents which it is unnecessary now to specify, did not wish to be disturbed in its tranquil existence.
Besides which, it manifested on every favorable occasion a strong aversion to submitting to the central authority which, badly or well, governs us; and calling to mind its former privileges and ruminating upon them anew, as the camel chews the cud of the grass which it ate yesterday, it would occasionally display a certain rebellious independence, and vicious tendencies much to be deplored, which at times gave no little anxiety to the governor of the province.
It must also be taken into account that Orbajosa had rebellious antecedents, or rather ancestry. Doubtless it still retained some of those energetic fibres which, in remote ages, according to the enthusiastic opinion of Don Cayetano, impelled it to unexampled epic deeds; and, even in its decadence, occasionally felt an eager desire to do great things, although they might be only barbarities and follies. As it had given to the world so many illustrious sons, it desired, no doubt, that its actual scions, the Caballucos, Merengues, and Pelosmalos, should renew the glorious /Gesta/ of their predecessors.
Whenever there was disaffection in Spain, Orbajosa gave proof that it was not in vain that it existed on the face of the earth, although it is true that it was never the theatre of a real war. The spirit of the town, its situation, its history, all reduced it to the secondary part of raising guerillas. It bestowed upon the country this national product in 1827, at the time of the Apostolics, during the Seven Years’ War, in 1848, and at other epochs of less resonance in the national history. The guerillas and their chiefs were always popular, a fatal circumstance due to the War of Independence, one of those good things which have been the origin of an infinite number of detestable things. /Corruptio optimi pessima/. And with the popularity of the guerillas and their chiefs coincided, in ever-increasing proportion, the unpopularity of every one who entered Orbajosa in the character of a delegate or instrument of the central power. The soldiers were held in such disrepute there that, whenever the old people told of any crime, any robbery, assassination, or the like atrocity, they added: “This happened when the soldiers were here.”
And now that these important observations have been made, it will be well to add that the battalions sent there during the days in which the events of our story took place did not go to parade through the streets, but for another purpose which will be clearly and minutely set forth later on. As a detail of no little interest, it may be noted that the events here related took place at a period neither very remote nor very recent. It may also be said that Orbajosa (called by the Romans Urbs Augusta, although some learned moderns, enquiring into the etymology of the termination /ajosa/[*] are of the opinion that it comes by it from being the richest garlic-growing country in the world) is neither very near Madrid nor very far from it; nor can we say whether its glorious foundations are laid toward the north or toward the south, toward the east or toward the west; but that it may be supposed to be in any part of Spain where the pungent odor of its garlic is to be perceived.
[*] Rich in garlic.
The billets of residence being distributed by the authorities, each soldier went to seek his borrowed home. They were received by their hosts with a very ill grace and assigned the most atrociously uninhabitable parts of the houses. The girls of the city were not indeed among those who were most dissatisfied, but a strict watch was kept over them, and it was considered not decent to show pleasure at the visit of such rabble. The few soldiers who were natives of the district only were treated like kings. The others were regarded as invaders.
At eight in the morning a lieutenant-colonel of cavalry entered the house of Dona Perfecta Polentinos with his billet. He was received by the servants, by order of its mistress, who, being at the time in a deplorable state of mind, did not wish to go down stairs to meet the soldier, and by them he was shown to the only room in the house which, it seemed, was disposable, the room occupied by Pepe Rey.
“Let them settle themselves as best they can,” said Dona Perfecta, with an expression of gall and vinegar. “And if they have not room enough, let them go into the street.”
Was it her intention to annoy in this way her detested nephew, or was there really no other unoccupied room in the house? This we do not know, nor do the chronicles from which this true history is taken say a word on this important point. What we know positively is that, far from displeasing the two guests to be thus boxed up together, it gave them great pleasure, as they happened to be old friends. They were greatly surprised and delighted when they met, and they were never tired of asking each other questions and uttering exclamations, dwelling on the strange chance that had brought them together in such a place and on such an occasion.
“Pinzon–you here! Why, what is this? I had no suspicion that you were in this neighborhood.”
“I heard that you were in this part of the country, Pepe; but I had no idea, either, that I should meet you in this horrible, this barbarous Orbajosa.”
“But what a fortunate chance! For this chance is most fortunate– providential. Pinzon, between us both we are going to do a great thing in this wretched town.”
“And we shall have time enough to consult about it,” answered the other, seating himself on the bed in which the engineer was lying, “for it appears that we are both to occupy this room. What the devil sort of a house is this?”
“Why, man, it is my aunt’s. Speak with more respect about it. Have you not met my aunt? But I am going to get up.”
“I am very glad of it, for then I can lie down and rest; and badly I need it. What a road, friend Pepe, what a road, and what a town!”
“Tell me, have you come to set fire to Orbajosa?”
“I ask you because, in that case, I might help you.”
“What a town! But what a town!” exclaimed the soldier, removing his shako, and laying aside sword and shoulder-belt, travelling case and cloak. “This is the second time they have sent us here. I swear to you that the third time I will ask my discharge.”
“Don’t talk ill of these good people! But you have come in the nick of time. It seems as if Providence has sent you to my aid, Pinzon. I have a terrible project on hand, an adventure,–a plot, if you wish to call it so, my friend,–and it would have been difficult for me to carry it through without you. A moment ago I was in despair, wondering how I should manage, and saying to myself anxiously, ‘If I only had a friend here, a good friend!’ “
“A project, a plot, an adventure! One of two things, Senor Mathematician: it is either the discovery of aerial navigation, or else some love affair.”
“It is serious, very serious. Go to bed, sleep a while, and afterward we will talk about it.”
“I will go to bed, but I will not sleep. You may say all you wish to me. All that I ask is that you will say as little as possible about Orbajosa.”
“It is precisely about Orbajosa that I wish to speak to you. But have you also an antipathy to this cradle of illustrious men?”
“These garlic-venders–we call them the garlic-venders–may be as illustrious as you choose, but to me they are as irritating as the product of the country. This is a town ruled by people who teach distrust, superstition, and hatred of the whole human race. When we have leisure I will relate to you an occurrence–an adventure, half- comic, half-tragic–that happened to me here last year. When I tell it to you, you will laugh and I shall be fuming. But, in fine, what is past is past.”
“In what is happening to me there is nothing comic.”
“But I have various reasons for hating this wretched place. You must know that my father was assassinated here in ’48 by a party of barbarous guerillas. He was a brigadier, and he had left the service. The Government sent for him, and he was passing through Villahorrenda on his way to Madrid, when he was captured by half a dozen ruffians. Here there are several dynasties of guerilla chiefs–the Aceros, the Caballucos, the Pelosmalos–a periodical eruption, as some one has said who knew very well what he was talking about.”
“I suppose that two infantry regiments and some cavalry have not come here solely for the pleasure of visiting these delightful regions.”
“Certainly not! We have come to survey the country. There are many deposits of arms here. The Government does not venture, as it desires, to remove from office the greater number of the municipal councils without first distributing a few companies of soldiers through these towns. As there is so much disturbance in this part of the country, as two of the neighboring provinces are already infested, and as this municipal district of Orbajosa has, besides, so brilliant a record in all the civil wars, there are fears that the bravos of the place may take to the roads and rob all they can lay hands on.”
“A good precaution! But I am firmly convinced that not until these people die and are born over again, not until the very stones have changed their form, will there be peace in Orbajosa.”
“That is my opinion too,” said the officer, lighting a cigarette. “Don’t you see that the guerilla chiefs are the pets of this place? Those who desolated the district in 1848 and at other epochs, or, if not they, their sons, are employed in the market inspector’s office, at the town gates, in the town-hall, in the post-office; among them are constables, sacristans, bailiffs. Some have become powerful party leaders and they are the ones who manage the elections, have influence in Madrid, bestow places–in short, this is terrible.”
“And tell me, is there no hope of the guerilla chiefs performing some exploit in these days? If that should happen, you could destroy the town, and I would help you.”
“If it depended upon me—- They will play their usual pranks no doubt,” said Pinzon, “for the insurrection in the two neighboring provinces is spreading like wildfire. And between ourselves, friend Rey, I think this is going to last for a long time. Some people smile and say that it would be impossible that there should be another insurrection like the last one. They don’t know the country; they don’t know Orbajosa and its inhabitants. I believe that the war that is now beginning will have serious consequences, and that we shall have another cruel and bloody struggle, that will last Heaven knows how long. What is your opinion?”
“Well, in Madrid I laughed at any one who spoke of the possibility of a civil war as long and as terrible as the Seven Years’ War; but since I have been here—-“
“One must come to the heart of this enchanting country, see the people at home, and hear them talk, to know what the real state of affairs is.”
“Just so. Without knowing precisely on what I base my opinion, the fact is that here I see things in a different light, and I now believe that it is possible that there may be a long and bloody war.”
“But at present my thoughts are occupied less by the public war than by a private war in which I am engaged and which I declared a short time ago.”
“You said this was your aunt’s house. What is her name?”
“Dona Perfecta Rey de Polentinos.”
“Ah! I know her by reputation. She is an excellent person, and the only one of whom I have not heard the garlic-venders speak ill. When I was here before I heard her goodness, her charity, her innumerable virtues, everywhere extolled.”
“Yes, my aunt is very kind, very amiable,” said Rey.
Then he fell into a thoughtful silence.
“But now I remember!” exclaimed Pinzon suddenly. “How one thing fits in with another! Yes, I heard in Madrid that you were going to be married to a cousin of yours. All is clear now. Is it that beautiful and heavenly Rosario?”
“Pinzon, we must have a long talk together.”
“I imagine that there are difficulties.”
“There is something more; there is violent opposition. I have need of a determined friend–a friend who is prompt to act, fruitful in resource, of great experience in emergencies, astute and courageous.”
“Why, this is even more serious than a challenge.”
“A great deal more serious. It would be easy to fight with another man. With women, with unseen enemies who work in the dark, it is impossible.”
“Come, I am all ears.”
Lieutenant-colonel Pinzon lay stretched at full length upon the bed. Pepe Rey drew a chair up to the bedside and, leaning his elbow on the bed and his head on his hand, began his conference, consultation, exposition of plan, or whatever else it might be called, and continued talking for a long time. Pinzon listened to him with profound attention and without interrupting him, except to ask an occasional question for the purpose of obtaining further details or additional light upon some obscure point. When Pepe Rey ended, Pinzon looked grave. He stretched himself, yawning with the satisfaction of one who has not slept for three nights, and then said:
“You plan is dangerous and difficult.”
“But not impossible.”
“Oh, no! for nothing is impossible. Reflect well about it.”
“I have reflected.”
“And you are resolved to carry it through? Consider that these things are not now in fashion. They generally turn out badly and throw discredit on those who undertake them.”
“I am resolved.”
“For my part, then, although the business is dangerous and serious– very serious–I am ready to aid you in all things and for all things.”
“Can I rely upon you?”
“To the death.”
A TERRIBLE BATTLE-STRATEGY
The opening of hostilities could not long be delayed. When the hour of dinner arrived, after coming to an agreement with Pinzon regarding the plan to be pursued, the first condition of which was that the friends should pretend not to know each other, Pepe Rey went to the dining- room. There he found his aunt, who had just returned from the cathedral where she had spent the morning as was her habit. She was alone, and appeared to be greatly preoccupied. The engineer observed that on that pale and marble-like countenance, not without a certain beauty, there rested a mysterious shadow. When she looked up it recovered its sinister calmness, but she looked up seldom, and after a rapid examination of her nephew’s countenance, that of the amiable lady would again take on its studied gloom.
They awaited dinner in silence. They did not wait for Don Cayetano, for he had gone to Mundogrande. When they sat down to table Dona Perfecta said:
“And that fine soldier whom the Government has sent us, is he not coming to dinner?”
“He seems to be more sleepy than hungry,” answered the engineer, without looking at his aunt.
“Do you know him?”
“I have never seen him in all my life before.”
“We are nicely off with the guests whom the Government sends us. We have beds and provisions in order to keep them ready for those vagabonds of Madrid, whenever they may choose to dispose of them.”
“There are fears of an insurrection,” said Pepe Rey, with sudden heat, “and the Government is determined to crush the Orbajosans–to crush them, to grind them to powder.”
“Stop, man, stop, for Heaven’s sake; don’t crush us!” cried Dona Perfecta sarcastically. “Poor we! Be merciful, man, and allow us unhappy creatures to live. And would you, then, be one of those who would aid the army in the grand work of crushing us?”
“I am not a soldier. I will do nothing but applaud when I see the germs of civil war; of insubordination, of discord, of disorder, of robbery, and of barbarism that exist here, to the shame of our times and of our country, forever extirpated.”
“All will be as God wills.”
“Orbajosa, my dear aunt, has little else than garlic and bandits; for those who in the name of some political or religious idea set out in search of adventures every four or five years are nothing but bandits.”
“Thanks, thanks, my dear nephew!” said Dona Perfecta, turning pale. “So Orbajosa has nothing more than that? Yet there must be something else here–something that you do not possess, since you have come to look for it among us.”
Rey felt the cut. His soul was on fire. He found it very difficult to show his aunt the consideration to which her sex, her rank, and her relation to himself entitled her. He was on the verge of a violent outbreak, and a force that he could not resist was impelling him against his interlocutor.
“I came to Orbajosa,” he said, “because you sent for me; you arranged with my father–“
“Yes, yes; it is true,” she answered, interrupting him quickly and making an effort to recover her habitual serenity. “I do not deny it. I am the one who is really to blame. I am to blame for your ill-humor, for the slights you put upon us, for every thing disagreeable that has been happening in my house since you entered it.”
“I am glad that you are conscious of it.”
“In exchange, you are a saint. Must I also go down on my knees to your grace and ask your pardon?”
“Senora,” said Pepe Rey gravely, laying down his knife and fork, “I entreat you not to mock me in so pitiless a manner. I cannot meet you on equal ground. All I have said is that I came to Orbajosa at your invitation.”
“And it is true. Your father and I arranged that you should marry Rosario. You came in order to become acquainted with her. I accepted you at once as a son. You pretended to love Rosario–“
“Pardon me,” objected Pepe; “I loved and I love Rosario; you pretended to accept me as a son; receiving me with deceitful cordiality, you employed from the very beginning all the arts of cunning to thwart me and to prevent the fulfilment of the proposals made to my father; you determined from the first day to drive me to desperation, to tire me out; and with smiles and affectionate words on your lips you have been killing me, roasting me at the slow fire; you have let loose upon me in the dark and from behind an ambush a swarm of lawsuits; you have deprived me of the official commission which I brought to Orbajosa; you have brought me into disrepute in the town; you have had me turned out of the cathedral; you have kept me constantly separated from the chosen of my heart; you have tortured your daughter with an inquisitorial imprisonment which will cause her death, unless God interposes to prevent it.”
Dona Perfecta turned scarlet. But the flush of offended pride passed away quickly, leaving her face of a greenish pallor. Her lips trembled. Throwing down the knife and fork with which she had been eating, she rose swiftly to her feet. Her nephew rose also.
“My God! Holy Virgin of Succor!” she cried, raising both her hands to her head and pressing it between them with the gesture indicative of desperation, “is it possible that I deserve such atrocious insults? Pepe, my son, is it you who speak to me in this way? If I have done what you say, I am indeed very wicked.”
She sank on the sofa and covered her face with her hands. Pepe, approaching her slowly, saw that his aunt was sobbing bitterly and shedding abundant tears. In spite of his conviction he could not altogether conquer the feeling of compassion which took possession of him; and while he condemned himself for his cowardice he felt something of remorse for the severity and the frankness with which he had spoken.
“My dear aunt,” he said, putting his hand on her shoulder, “if you answer me with tears and sighs, you will not convince me. Proofs, not emotions, are what I require. Speak to me, tell me that I am mistaken in thinking what I think; then prove it to me, and I will acknowledge my error.”
“Leave me, you are not my brother’s son! If you were, you would not insult me as you have insulted me. So, then, I am an intriguer, an actress, a hypocritical harpy, a domestic plotter?”
As she spoke, Dona Perfecta uncovered her face and looked at her nephew with a martyr-like expression. Pepe was perplexed. The tears as well as the gentle voice of his father’s sister could not be insignificant phenomena for the mathematician’s soul. Words crowded to his lips to ask her pardon. A man of great firmness generally, any appeal to his emotions, any thing which touched his heart, converted him at once into a child. Weaknesses of a mathematician! It is said that Newton was the same.
“I will give you the proofs you ask,” said Dona Perfecta, motioning him to a seat beside her. “I will give you satisfaction. You shall see whether I am kind, whether I am indulgent, whether I am humble. Do you think that I am going to contradict you; to deny absolutely the acts of which you have accused me? Well, then, no; I do not deny them.”
The engineer was astounded.
“I do not deny them,” continued Dona Perfecta. “What I deny is the evil intention which you attribute to them. By what right do you undertake to judge of what you know only from appearances and by conjecture? Have you the supreme intelligence which is necessary to judge justly the actions of others and pronounce sentence upon them? Are you God, to know the intentions?”
Pepe was every moment more amazed.
“Is it not allowable at times to employ indirect means to attain a good and honorable end? By what right do you judge actions of mine that you do not clearly understand? I, my dear nephew, manifesting a sincerity which you do not deserve, confess to you that I have indeed employed subterfuges to attain a good end, to attain what was at the same time beneficial to you and to my daughter. You do not comprehend? You look bewildered. Ah! your great mathematician’s and German philosopher’s intellect is not capable of comprehending these artifices of a prudent mother.”
“I am more and more astounded every moment,” said the engineer.
“Be as astounded as you choose, but confess your barbarity,” said the lady, with increasing spirit; “acknowledge your hastiness and your brutal conduct toward me in accusing me as you have done. You are a young man without any experience or any other knowledge than that which is derived from books, which teach nothing about the world or the human heart. All you know is how to make roads and docks. Ah, my young gentleman! one does not enter into the human heart through the tunnel of a railroad, or descend into its depths through the shaft of a mine. You cannot read in the conscience of another with the microscope of a naturalist, nor decide the question of another’s culpability measuring ideas with a theodolite.”
“For God’s sake, dear aunt!”
“Why do you pronounce the name of God when you do not believe in him?” said Dona Perfecta, in solemn accents. “If you believed in him, if you were a good Christian, you would not dare to form evil judgments about my conduct. I am a devout woman, do you understand? I have a tranquil conscience, do you understand? I know what I am doing and why I do it, do you understand?”
“I understand, I understand, I understand!”
“God in whom you do not believe, sees what you do not see and what you cannot see–the intention. I will say no more; I do not wish to enter into minute explanations, for I do not need to do so. Nor would you understand me if I should tell you that I desired to attain my object without scandal, without offending your father, without offending you, without giving cause for people to talk by an explicit refusal–I will say nothing of all this to you, for you would not understand it, either, Pepe. You are a mathematician. You see what is before your eyes, and nothing more; brute matter and nothing more. You see the effect, and not the cause. God is the supreme intention of the world. He who does not know this must necessarily judge things as you judge them–foolishly. In the tempest, for instance, he sees only destruction; in the conflagration, ruin; in the drought, famine; in the earthquake, desolation; and yet, arrogant young man, in all those apparent calamities we are to seek the good intentions–yes, senor, the intention, always good, of Him who can do nothing evil.”
This confused, subtle, and mystic logic did not convince Pepe Rey; but he did not wish to follow his aunt in the tortuous path of such a method of reasoning, and he said simply:
“Well, I respect intentions.”
“Now that you seem to recognize your error,” continued the pious lady, with ever-increasing confidence, “I will make another confession to you, and that is that I see now that I did wrong in adopting the course I did, although my object was excellent. In view of your impetuous disposition, in view of your incapacity to comprehend me, I should have faced the situation boldly and said to you, ‘Nephew, I do not wish that you should be my daughter’s husband.’ “
“That is the language you should have used to me from the beginning,” said the engineer, drawing a deep breath, as if his mind had been relieved from an enormous weight. “I am greatly obliged to you for those words. After having been stabbed in the dark, this blow on the face in the light of day is a great satisfaction to me.”
“Well, I will repeat the blow, nephew,” declared Dona Perfecta, with as much energy as displeasure. “You know it now–I do not wish you to marry Rosario!”
Pepe was silent. There was a long pause, during which the two regarded each other attentively, as if the face of each was for the other the most perfect work of art.
“Don’t you understand what I have said to you?” she repeated. “That every thing is at an end, that there is to be no marriage.”
“Permit me, dear aunt,” said the young man, with composure, “not to be terrified by the intimation. In the state at which things have arrived your refusal has little importance for me.”
“What are you saying?” cried Dona Perfecta violently.
“What you hear. I will marry Rosario!”
Dona Perfecta rose to her feet, indignant, majestic, terrible. Her attitude was that of anathema incarnated in a woman. Rey remained seated, serene, courageous, with the passive courage of a profound conviction and an immovable resolve. The whole weight of his aunt’s wrath, threatening to overwhelm him, did not make him move an eyelash. This was his character.
“You are mad. Marry my daughter, you! Marry her against my will!”
Dona Perfecta’s trembling lips articulated these words in a truly tragic tone.
“Against your will! She is of a different way of thinking.”
“Against my will!” repeated Dona Perfecta. “Yes, and I repeat it again and again. I do not wish it, I do not wish it!”
“She and I wish it.”
“Fool! Is nothing else in the world to be considered but her and you? Are there not parents; is there not society; is there not a conscience; is there not a God?”
“Because there is society, because there is a conscience, because there is a God,” affirmed Rey gravely, rising to his feet, and pointing with outstretched arm to the heavens, “I say and I repeat that I will marry her.”
“Wretch! arrogant man! And if you would dare to trample every thing under your feet, do you think there are not laws to prevent your violence?”
“Because there are laws, I say and I repeat that I will marry her.”
“You respect nothing!”
“Nothing that is unworthy of respect.”
“And my authority, my will, I–am I nothing?”
“For me your daughter is every thing–the rest is nothing.”
Pepe Rey’s composure was, so to say, the arrogant display of invincible and conscious strength. The blows he gave were hard and crushing in their force, without any thing to mitigate their severity. His words, if the comparison may be allowed, were like a pitiless discharge of artillery.
Dona Perfecta sank again on the sofa; but she shed no tears, and a convulsive tremor agitated her frame.
“So that for this infamous atheist,” she exclaimed, with frank rage, “there are no social conventionalities, there is nothing but caprice. This is base avarice. My daughter is rich!”
“If you think to wound me with that treacherous weapon, evading the question and giving a distorted meaning to my sentiments in order to offend my dignity, you are mistaken, dear aunt. Call me mercenary, if you choose. God knows what I am.”
“You have no dignity!”
“That is an opinion, like any other. The world may hold you to be infallible. I do not. I am far from believing that from your judgments there is no appeal to God.”
“But is what you say true? But do you persist in your purpose, after my refusal? You respect nothing, you are a monster, a bandit.”
“I am a man.”
“A wretch! Let us end this at once. I refuse to give my daughter to you; I refuse her to you!”
“I will take her then! I shall take only what is mine.”
“Leave my presence!” exclaimed Dona Perfecta, rising suddenly to her feet. “Coxcomb, do you suppose that my daughter thinks of you?”
“She loves me, as I love her.”
“It is a lie! It is a lie!”
“She herself has told me so. Excuse me if, on this point, I put more faith in her words than in her mother’s.”
“How could she have told you so, when you have not seen her for several days?”
“I saw her last night, and she swore to me before the crucifix in the chapel that she would be my wife.”
“Oh, scandal; oh, libertinism! But what is this? My God, what a disgrace!” exclaimed Dona Perfecta, pressing her head again between her hands and walking up and down the room. “Rosario left her room last night?”
“She left it to see me. It was time.”
“What vile conduct is yours! You have acted like a thief; you have acted like a vulgar seducer!”
“I have acted in accordance with the teachings of your school. My intention was good.”
“And she came down stairs! Ah, I suspected it! This morning at daybreak I surprised her, dressed, in her room. She told me she had gone out, I don’t know for what. You were the real criminal, then. This is a disgrace! Pepe, I expected any thing from you rather than an outrage like this. Every thing is at an end! Go away! You are dead to me. I forgive you, provided you go away. I will not say a word about this to your father. What horrible selfishness! No, there is no love in you. You do not love my daughter!”
“God knows that I love her, and that is sufficient for me.”
“Be silent, blasphemer! and don’t take the name of God upon your lips!” exclaimed Dona Perfecta. “In the name of God, whom I can invoke, for I believe in him, I tell you that my daughter will never be your wife. My daughter will be saved, Pepe; my daughter shall not be condemned to a living hell, for a union with you would be a hell!”
“Rosario will be my wife,” repeated the mathematician, with pathetic calmness.
The pious lady was still more exasperated by her nephew’s calm energy. In a broken voice she said:
“Don’t suppose that your threats terrify me. I know what I am saying. What! are a home and a family to be outraged like this? Are human and divine authority to be trampled under foot in this way?”
“I will trample every thing under foot,” said the engineer, beginning to lose his composure and speaking with some agitation.
“You will trample every thing under foot! Ah! it is easy to see that you are a barbarian, a savage, a man who lives by violence.”
“No, dear aunt; I am mild, upright, honorable, and an enemy to violence; but between you and me–between you who are the law and I who am to honor it–is a poor tormented creature, one of God’s angels, subjected to iniquitous tortures. The spectacle of this injustice, this unheard-of violence, is what has converted my rectitude into barbarity; my reason into brute force; my honor into violence, like an assassin’s or a thief’s; this spectacle, senora, is what impels me to disregard your law, what impels me to trample it under foot, braving every thing. This which appears to you lawlessness is obedience to an unescapable law. I do what society does when a brutal power, as illogical as irritating, opposes its progress. It tramples it under foot and destroys it in an outburst of frenzy. Such am I at this moment–I do not recognize myself. I was reasonable, and now I am a brute; I was respectful, and now I am insolent; I was civilized, and now I am a savage. You have brought me to this horrible extremity; infuriating me and driving me from the path of rectitude which I was tranquilly pursuing. Who is to blame–I or you?”
“Neither you nor I can decide the question. I think we are both to blame: you for your violence and injustice, I for my injustice and violence. We have both become equally barbarous, and we struggle with and wound each other without compassion. God has permitted that it should be so; my blood will be upon your conscience, yours will be upon mine. Enough now, senora. I do not wish to trouble you with useless words. We will now proceed to acts.”
“To acts, very well!” said Dona Perfecta, roaring rather than speaking. “Don’t suppose that in Orbajosa there is no civil guard!”
“Good-by, senora. I will now leave this house. I think we shall meet again.”
“Go, go! go now!” she cried, pointing with an energetic gesture to the door.
Pepe Rey left the room. Dona Perfecta, after pronouncing a few incoherent words, which were the clearest expression of her anger, sank into a chair, with indications of fatigue, or of a coming attack of nerves. The maids came running in.
“Go for Senor Don Inocencio!” she cried. “Instantly–hurry! Ask him to come here!”
Then she tore her handkerchief with her teeth.
On the day following that of this lamentable quarrel, various rumors regarding Pepe Rey and his conduct spread through Orbajosa, going from house to house, from club to club, from the Casino to the apothecary’s and from the Paseo de las Descalzes to the Puerta de Baidejos. They were repeated by every body, and so many were the comments made that, if Don Cayetano had collected and compiled them, he might have formed with them a rich “Thesaurus” of Orbajosan benevolence. In the midst of the diversity of the reports circulated, there was agreement in regard to certain important particulars, one of which was the following:
That the engineer, enraged at Dona Perfecta’s refusal to marry Rosario to an atheist, had raised his hand to his aunt.
The young man was living in the widow De Cusco’s hotel, an establishment mounted, as they say now, not at the height, but at the depth of the superlative backwardness of the town. Lieutenant-colonel Pinzon visited him with frequency, in order that they might discuss together the plot which they had on hand, and for the successful conduct of which the soldier showed the happiest dispositions. New artifices and stratagems occurred to him at every instant, and he hastened to put them into effect with excellent humor, although he would often say to his friend:
“The role I am playing, dear Pepe, is not a very dignified one; but to give an annoyance to the Orbajosans I would walk on my hands and feet.”
We do not know what cunning stratagems the artful soldier, skilled in the wiles of the world, employed; but certain it is that before he had been in the house three days he had succeeded in making himself greatly liked by every body in it. His manners were very pleasing to Dona Perfecta, who could not hear unmoved his flattering praises of the elegance of the house, and of the nobility, piety, and august magnificence of its mistress. With Don Inocencio he was hand and glove. Neither her mother nor the Penitentiary placed any obstacle in the way of his speaking with Rosario (who had been restored to liberty on the departure of her ferocious cousin); and, with his delicate compliments, his skilful flattery, and great address, he had acquired in the house of Polentinos considerable ascendency, and he had even succeeded in establishing himself in it on a footing of familiarity. But the object of all his arts was a servant maid named Librada, whom he had seduced (chastely speaking) that she might carry messages and notes to Rosario, of whom he pretended to be enamored. The girl allowed herself to be bribed with persuasive words and a good deal of money, because she was ignorant of the source of the notes and of the real meaning of the intrigue, for had she known that it was all a diabolical plot of Don Jose, although she liked the latter greatly, she would not have acted with treachery toward her mistress for all the money in the world.
One day Dona Perfecta, Don Inocencio, Jacinto, and Pinzon were conversing together in the garden. They were talking about the soldiers and the purpose for which they had been sent to Orbajosa, in which the Penitentiary found motive for condemning the tyrannical conduct of the Government; and, without knowing how it came about, Pepe Rey’s name was mentioned.
“He is still at the hotel,” said the little lawyer. “I saw him yesterday, and he gave me remembrances for you, Dona Perfecta.”
“Was there ever seen such insolence! Ah, Senor Pinzon! do not be surprised at my using this language, speaking of my own nephew–that young man, you remember, who had the room which you occupy.”
“Yes, I know. I am not acquainted with him, but I know him by sight and by reputation. He is an intimate friend of our brigadier.”
“An intimate friend of the brigadier?”
“Yes, senor; of the commander of the brigade that has just arrived in this district, and which is quartered in the neighboring villages.”
“And where is he?” asked the lady.
“I think he is stopping at Polavieja’s,” observed Jacinto.
“Your nephew and Brigadier Batalla are intimate friends,” continued Pinzon; “they are always to be seen together in the streets.”
“Well, my friend, that gives me a bad idea of your chief,” said Dona Perfecta.
“He is–he is very good-natured,” said Pinzon, in the tone of one who, through motives of respect, did not venture to use a harsher word.
“With your permission, Senor Pinzon, and making an honorable exception in your favor, it must be said that in the Spanish army there are some curious types—-“
“Our brigadier was an excellent soldier before he gave himself up to spiritualism.”
“That sect that calls up ghosts and goblins by means of the legs of a table!” said the canon, laughing.
“From curiosity, only from curiosity,” said Jacintillo, with emphasis, “I ordered Allan Kardec’s book from Madrid. It is well to know something about every thing.”
“But is it possible that such follies–Heavens! Tell me, Pinzon, does my nephew too belong to that sect of table-tippers?”
“I think it was he who indoctrinated our valiant Brigadier Batalla.”
“Yes; and whenever he chooses,” said Don Inocencio, unable to contain his laughter, “he can speak to Socrates, St. Paul, Cervantes, or Descartes, as I speak to Librada to ask her for a match. Poor Senor de Rey! I was not mistaken in saying that there was something wrong in his head.”
“Outside that,” continued Pinzon, “our brigadier is a good soldier. If he errs at all, it is on the side of severity. He takes the orders of the Government so literally that, if he were to meet with much opposition here, he would be capable of not leaving one stone upon another in Orbajosa. Yes, I advise you all to be on your guard.”
“But is that monster going to cut all our heads off, then? Ah, Senor Don Inocencio! these visits of the army remind me of what I have read in the lives of the martyrs about the visits of the Roman proconsuls to a Christian town.”
“The comparison is not wanting in exactness,” said the Penitentiary, looking at the soldier over his spectacles.
“It is not very agreeable, but if it is the truth, why should it not be said?” observed Pinzon benevolently. “Now you all are at our mercy.”
“The authorities of the place,” objected Jacinto, “still exercise their functions as usual.”
“I think you are mistaken,” responded the soldier, whose countenance Dona Perfecta and the Penitentiary were studying with profound interest. “The alcalde of Orbajosa was removed from office an hour ago.”
“By the governor of the province?”
“The governor of the province has been replaced by a delegate from the Government, who was to arrive this morning. The municipal councils will all be removed from office to-day. The minister has so ordered because he suspected, I don’t know on what grounds, that they were not supporting the central authority.”
“This is a pretty state of things!” murmured the canon, frowning and pushing out his lower lip.
Dona Perfecta looked thoughtful.
“Some of the judges of the primary court, among them the judge of Orbajosa, have been deprived of office.”
“The judge! Periquito–Periquito is no longer judge!” exclaimed Dona Perfecta, in a voice and with the manner of a person who has just been stung by a snake.
“The person who was judge in Orbajosa is judge no longer,” said Pinzon. “To-morrow the new judge will arrive.”
“A rascal, perhaps. The other was so honorable!” said Dona Perfecta, with alarm. “I never asked any thing from him that he did not grant it to me at once. Do you know who will be the new alcalde?”
“They say a corregidor is coming.”
“There, say at once that the Deluge is coming, and let us be done with it,” said the canon, rising.
“So that we are at the brigadier’s mercy!”
“For a few days only. Don’t be angry with me. In spite of my uniform I am an enemy of militarism; but we are ordered to strike–and we strike. There could not be a viler trade than ours.”
“That it is, that it is!” said Dona Perfecta, with difficulty concealing her fury. “Now that you have confessed it—- So, then, neither alcalde nor judge—-“
“Nor governor of the province.”
“Let them take the bishop from us also and send us a choir boy in his stead.”
“That is all that is wanting–if the people here will allow them to do it,” murmured Don Inocencio, lowering his eyes. “They won’t stop at trifles.”
“And it is all because they are afraid of an insurrection in Orbajosa,” exclaimed Dona Perfecta, clasping her hands and waving them up and down. “Frankly, Pinzon, I don’t know why it is that even the very stones don’t rise up in rebellion. I wish you no harm; but it would be a just judgment on you if the water you drink turned into mud. You say that my nephew is the intimate friend of the brigadier?”
“So intimate that they are together all day long; they were school- fellows. Batalla loves him like a brother, and would do anything to please him. In your place, senora, I would be uneasy.”
“Oh, my God! I fear there will be an attack on the house!”
“Senora,” declared the canon, with energy, “before I would consent that there should be an attack on this honorable house–before I would consent that the slightest harm should be done to this noble family–I, my nephew, all the people of Orbajosa—-“
Don Inocencio did not finish. His anger was so great that the words refused to come. He took a few steps forward with a martial air, then returned to his seat.
“I think that your fears are not idle,” said Pinzon. “If it should be necessary, I—-“
“And I—-” said Jacinto.
Dona Perfecta had fixed her eyes on the glass door of the dining-room, through which could be seen a graceful figure. As she looked at it, it seemed as if the cloud of apprehension which rested on her countenance grew darker.
“Rosario! come in here, Rosario!” she said, going to meet the young girl. “I fancy you look better to-day, and that you are more cheerful. Don’t you think that Rosario looks better? She seems a different being.”
They all agreed that the liveliest happiness was depicted on her countenance.
About this time the following items of news appeared in the Madrid newspapers:
“There is no truth whatever in the report that there has been an insurrection in the neighborhood of Orbajosa. Our correspondent in that place informs us that the country is so little disposed for adventures that the further presence of the Batalla brigade in that locality is considered unnecessary.”
“It is said that the Batalla brigade will leave Orbajosa, as troops are not required there, to go to Villajuan de Nahara, where guerillas have made their appearance.”
“The news has been confirmed that the Aceros, with a number of mounted followers, are ranging the district of Villajuan, adjacent to the judicial district of Orbajosa. The governor of the province of X. has telegraphed to the Government that Francisco Acero entered Las Roquetas, where he demanded provisions and money. Domingo Acero (Faltriquera), was ranging the Jubileo mountains, actively pursued by the Civil Guards, who killed one of his men and captured another. Bartolome Acero is the man who burned the registry office of Lugarnoble and carried away with him as hostages the alcalde and two of the principal landowners.”
“Complete tranquillity reigns in Orbajosa, according to a letter which we have before us, and no one there thinks of anything but cultivating the garlic fields, which promise to yield a magnificent crop. The neighboring districts, however, are infested with guerillas, but the Batalla brigade will make short work of these.”
Orbajosa was, in fact, tranquil. The Aceros, that warlike dynasty, worthy, in the opinion of some, of figuring in the “Romancero,” had