"What I think," said Rosarito, looking at him with eyes full of affection, "is that you will not find yourself at home among us."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I don't know whether I can make myself quite clear, cousin. I mean that it will not be easy for you to accustom yourself to the society and the ideas of the people of Orbajosa. I imagine so—it is a supposition."
"Oh, no! I think you are mistaken."
"You come from a different place, from another world, where the people are very clever, and very learned, and have refined manners, and a witty way of talking, and an air—perhaps I am not making myself clear. I mean that you are accustomed to live among people of refinement; you know a great deal. Here there is not what you need; here the people are not learned or very polished. Every thing is plain, Pepe. I imagine you will be bored, terribly bored, and that in the end you will have to go away."
The expression of sadness which was natural in Rosarito's countenance here became so profound that Pepe Rey was deeply moved.
"You are mistaken, my dear cousin. I did not come here with the ideas you fancy, nor is there between my character and my opinions and the character and opinions of the people here the want of harmony you imagine. But let us suppose for a moment that there were."
"Let us suppose it."
"In that case I have the firm conviction that between you and me, between us two, dear Rosarito, perfect harmony would still exist. On this point I cannot be mistaken. My heart tells me that I am not mistaken."
Rosarito blushed deeply, but making an effort to conceal her embarrassment under smiles and fugitive glances, she said:
"Come, now, no pretences. But if you mean that I shall always approve of what you say, you are right."
"Rosario," exclaimed the young man, "the moment I saw you my soul was filled with gladness; I felt at the same time a regret that I had not come before to Orbajosa."
"Now, that I am not going to believe," she said, affecting gayety to conceal her emotion. "So soon? Don't begin to make protestations already. See, Pepe, I am only a country girl, I can talk only about common things; I don't know French; I don't dress with elegance; all I know is how to play the piano; I——"
"Oh, Rosario!" cried the young man, with ardor; "I believed you to be perfect before; now I am sure you are so."
Her mother at this moment entered the room. Rosarito, who did not know what to say in answer to her cousin's last words, was conscious, however, of the necessity of saying something, and, looking at her mother, she cried:
"Ah! I forgot to give the parrot his dinner."
"Don't mind that now. But why do you stay in here? Take your cousin for a walk in the garden."
Dona Perfecta smiled with maternal kindness at her nephew, as she pointed toward the leafy avenue which was visible through the glass door.
"Let us go there," said Pepe, rising.
Rosarito darted, like a bird released from its cage, toward the glass door.
"Pepe, who knows so much and who must understand all about trees," said Dona Perfecta, "will teach you how to graft. Let us see what he thinks of those young pear-trees that they are going to transplant."
"Come, come!" called Rosarito to her cousin impatiently from the garden.
Both disappeared among the foliage. Dona Perfecta watched them until they were out of sight and then busied herself with the parrot. As she changed its food she said to herself with a contemplative air:
"How different he is! He has not even given a caress to the poor bird."
Then, thinking it possible that she had been overheard by her brother-in-law, she said aloud:
"Cayetano, what do you think of my nephew? Cayetano!"
A low grunt gave evidence that the antiquary was returning to the consciousness of this miserable world.
"Just so, just so!" murmured the scientist in a sleepy voice. "That young gentleman will maintain, as every one does, that the statues of Mundogrande belong to the first Phoenician immigration. But I will convince him—"
"But, Perfecta! There! Now you will insist upon it again that I have been asleep."
"No, indeed; how could I insist upon any thing so absurd! But you haven't told me what you think about that young man."
Don Cayetano placed the palm of his hand before his mouth to conceal a yawn; then he and Dona Perfecta entered upon a long conversation. Those who have transmitted to us the necessary data for a compilation of this history omit this dialogue, no doubt because it was entirely confidential. As for what the engineer and Rosarito said in the garden that afternoon, it is evident that it was not worthy of mention.
On the afternoon of the following day, however, events took place which, being of the gravest importance, ought not to be passed over in silence. Late in the afternoon the two cousins found themselves alone, after rambling through different parts of the garden in friendly companionship and having eyes and ears only for each other.
"Pepe," Rosario was saying, "all that you have been telling me is pure fancy, one of those stories that you clever men know so well how to put together. You think that because I am a country girl I believe every thing I am told."
"If you understood me as well as I think I understand you, you would know that I never say any thing I do not mean. But let us have done with foolish subtleties and lovers' sophistries, that lead only to misunderstandings. I will speak to you only in the language of truth. Are you by chance a young lady whose acquaintance I have made on the promenade or at a party, and with whom I propose to spend a pleasant hour or two? No, you are my cousin. You are something more. Rosario, let us at once put things on their proper footing. Let us drop circumlocutions. I have come here to marry you."
Rosario felt her face burning, and her heart was beating violently.
"See, my dear cousin," continued the young man. "I swear to you that if you had not pleased me I should be already far away from this place. Although politeness and delicacy would have obliged me to make an effort to conceal my disappointment, I should have found it hard to do so. That is my character."
"Cousin, you have only just arrived," said Rosarito laconically, trying to laugh.
"I have only just arrived, and I already know all that I wanted to know; I know that I love you; that you are the woman whom my heart has long been announcing to me, saying to me night and day, 'Now she is coming, now she is near; now you are burning.'"
These words served Rosario as an excuse for breaking into the laugh that had been dimpling her lips. Her soul swelled with happiness; she breathed an atmosphere of joy.
"You persist in depreciating yourself," continued Pepe, "but for me you possess every perfection. You have the admirable quality of radiating on all around you the divine light of your soul. The moment one sees you one feels instinctively the nobility of your mind and the purity of your heart. To see you is to see a celestial being who, through the forgetfulness of Heaven, remains upon the earth; you are an angel, and I adore you."
When he had said this it seemed as if he had fulfilled an important mission. Rosarito, overcome by the violence of her emotion, felt her scant strength suddenly fail her; and, half-fainting, she sank on a stone that in those pleasant solitudes served as a seat. Pepe bent over her. Her eyes were closed, her forehead rested on the palm of her hand. A few moments later the daughter of Dona Perfecta Polentinos gave her cousin, amid happy tears, a tender glance followed by these words:
"I loved you before I had ever seen you."
Placing her hands in those of the young man she rose to her feet, and their forms disappeared among the leafy branches of an oleander walk. Night was falling and soft shadows enveloped the lower end of the garden, while the last rays of the setting sun crowned the tree-tops with fleeting splendors. The noisy republic of the birds kept up a deafening clamor in the upper branches. It was the hour in which, after flitting about in the joyous regions of the sky, they were all going to rest, and they were disputing with one another the branches they had selected for sleeping-places. Their chatter at times had a sound of recrimination and controversy, at times of mockery and merriment. In their voluble twitter the little rascals said the most insulting things to each other, pecking at each other and flapping their wings, as orators wave their arms when they want to make their hearers believe the lies they are telling them. But words of love were to be heard there too, for the peace of the hour and the beauty of the spot invited to it. A sharp ear might have distinguished the following:
"I loved you before I had even seen you, and if you had not come I should have died of grief. Mamma used to give me your father's letters to read, and he praised you so much in them that I used to say, 'That is the man who ought to be my husband.' For a long time your father said nothing about our marrying, which seemed to me great negligence. Uncle Cayetano, whenever he spoke of you, would say, 'There are not many men like him in the world. The woman who gets him for a husband may think herself fortunate.' At last your father said what he could not avoid saying. Yes, he could not avoid saying it—I was expecting it every day."
Shortly after these words the same voice added uneasily: "Some one is following us."
Emerging from among the oleanders, Pepe, turning round, saw two men approaching them, and touching the leaves of a young tree near by, he said aloud to his companion:
"It is not proper to prune young trees like this for the first time until they have taken firm root. Trees recently planted have not sufficient strength to bear the operation. You know that the roots can grow only by means of the leaves, so that if you take the leaves from a tree—"
"Ah, Senor Don Jose," cried the Penitentiary, with a frank laugh, approaching the two young people and bowing to them, "are you giving lessons in horticulture? Insere nunc Meliboee piros; pone ordine vites, as the great singer of the labors of the field said. 'Graft the pear-tree, dear Meliboeus, trim the vines.' And how are we now, Senor Don Jose?"
The engineer and the canon shook hands. Then the latter turned round, and indicating by a gesture a young man who was behind him, said, smiling:
"I have the pleasure of presenting to you my dear Jacintillo—a great rogue, a feather-head, Senor Don Jose."
THE DISAGREEMENT CONTINUES TO INCREASE, AND THEREAFTER TO BECOME DISCORD
Close beside the black cassock was a fresh and rosy face, that seemed fresher and rosier from the contrast. Jacinto saluted our hero, not without some embarrassment.
He was one of those precocious youths whom the indulgent university sends prematurely forth into the arena of life, making them fancy that they are men because they have received their doctor's degree. Jacinto had a round, handsome face with rosy cheeks, like a girl's, and without any beard save the down which announced its coming. In person he was plump and below the medium height. His age was a little over twenty. He had been educated from childhood under the direction of his excellent and learned uncle, which is the same as saying that the twig had not become crooked in the growing. A severe moral training had kept him always straight, and in the fulfilment of his scholastic duties he had been almost above reproach. Having concluded his studies at the university with astonishing success, for there was scarcely a class in which he did not take the highest honors, he entered on the practice of his profession, promising, by his application and his aptitude for the law, to maintain fresh and green in the forum the laurels of the lecture-hall.
At times he was as mischievous as a boy, at times as sedate as a man. In very truth, if Jacinto had not had a little, and even a great deal of liking for pretty girls, his uncle would have thought him perfect. The worthy man preached to him unceasingly on this point, hastening to clip the wings of every audacious fancy. But not even this mundane inclination of the young man could cool the great affection which our worthy canon bore the charming offspring of his dear niece, Maria Remedios. Where the young lawyer was concerned, every thing else must give way. Even the grave and methodical habits of the worthy ecclesiastic were altered when they interfered with the affairs of his precocious pupil. That order and regularity, apparently as fixed as the laws of a planetary system, were interrupted whenever Jacinto was ill or had to take a journey. Useless celibacy of the clergy! The Council of Trent prohibits them from having children of their own, but God—and not the Devil, as the proverb says—gives them nephews and nieces in order that they may know the tender anxieties of paternity.
Examining impartially the qualities of this clever boy, it was impossible not to recognize that he was not wanting in merit. His character was in the main inclined to uprightness, and noble actions awakened a frank admiration in his soul. With respect to his intellectual endowments and his social knowledge, they were sufficient to enable him to become in time one of those notabilities of whom there are so many in Spain; he might be what we take delight in calling hyperbolically a distinguished patrician, or an eminent public man; species which, owing to their great abundance, are hardly appreciated at their just value. In the tender age in which the university degree serves as a sort of solder between boyhood and manhood, few young men—especially if they have been spoiled by their masters—are free from an offensive pedantry, which, if it gives them great importance beside their mamma's arm-chair, makes them very ridiculous when they are among grave and experienced men. Jacinto had this defect, which was excusable in him, not only because of his youth, but also because his worthy uncle stimulated his puerile vanity by injudicious praise.
When the introduction was over they resumed their walk. Jacinto was silent. The canon, returning to the interrupted theme of the pyros which were to be grafted and the vites which were to be trimmed, said:
"I am already aware that Senor Don Jose is a great agriculturist."
"Not at all; I know nothing whatever about the subject," responded the young man, observing with no little annoyance the canon's mania of supposing him to be learned in all the sciences.
"Oh, yes! a great agriculturist," continued the Penitentiary; "but on agricultural subjects, don't quote the latest treatises to me. For me the whole of that science, Senor de Rey, is condensed in what I call the Bible of the Field, in the 'Georgics' of the immortal Roman. It is all admirable, from that grand sentence, Nec vero terroe ferre omnes omnia possunt—that is to say, that not every soil is suited to every tree, Senor Don Jose—to the exhaustive treatise on bees, in which the poet describes the habits of those wise little animals, defining the drone in these words:
"'Ille horridus alter Desidia, latamque trahens inglorius alvum.'
"'Of a horrible and slothful figure, dragging along the ignoble weight of the belly,' Senor Don Jose."
"You do well to translate it for me," said Pepe, "for I know very little Latin."
"Oh, why should the men of the present day spend their time in studying things that are out of date?" said the canon ironically. "Besides, only poor creatures like Virgil and Cicero and Livy wrote in Latin. I, however, am of a different way of thinking; as witness my nephew, to whom I have taught that sublime language. The rascal knows it better than I do. The worst of it is, that with his modern reading he is forgetting it; and some fine day, without ever having suspected it, he will find out that he is an ignoramus. For, Senor Don Jose, my nephew has taken to studying the newest books and the most extravagant theories, and it is Flammarion here and Flammarion there, and nothing will do him but that the stars are full of people. Come, I fancy that you two are going to be very good friends. Jacinto, beg this gentleman to teach you the higher mathematics, to instruct you concerning the German philosophers, and then you will be a man."
The worthy ecclesiastic laughed at his own wit, while Jacinto, delighted to see the conversation turn on a theme so greatly to his taste, after excusing himself to Pepe Rey, suddenly hurled this question at him:
"Tell me, Senor Don Jose, what do you think of Darwinism?"
Our hero smiled at this inopportune pedantry, and he felt almost tempted to encourage the young man to continue in this path of childish vanity; but, judging it more prudent to avoid intimacy, either with the nephew or the uncle, he answered simply:
"I can think nothing at all about the doctrines of Darwin, for I know scarcely any thing about him. My professional labors have not permitted me to devote much of my time to those studies."
"Well," said the canon, laughing, "it all reduces itself to this, that we are descended from monkeys. If he had said that only in the case of certain people I know, he would have been right."
"The theory of natural selection," said Jacinto emphatically, "has, they say, a great many partisans in Germany."
"I do not doubt it," said the ecclesiastic. "In Germany they would have no reason to be sorry if that theory were true, as far as Bismarck is concerned."
Dona Perfecta and Senor Don Cayetano at this moment made their appearance.
"What a beautiful evening!" said the former. "Well, nephew, are you getting terribly bored?"
"I am not bored in the least," responded the young man.
"Don't try to deny it. Cayetano and I were speaking of that as we came along. You are bored, and you are trying to hide it. It is not every young man of the present day who would have the self-denial to spend his youth, like Jacinto, in a town where there are neither theatres, nor opera bouffe, nor dancers, nor philosophers, nor athenaeums, nor magazines, nor congresses, nor any other kind of diversions or entertainments."
"I am quite contented here," responded Pepe. "I was just now saying to Rosario that I find this city and this house so pleasant that I would like to live and die here."
Rosario turned very red and the others were silent. They all sat down in a summer-house, Jacinto hastening to take the seat on the left of the young girl.
"See here, nephew, I have a piece of advice to give you," said Dona Perfecta, smiling with that expression of kindness that seemed to emanate from her soul, like the aroma from the flower. "But don't imagine that I am either reproving you or giving you a lesson—you are not a child, and you will easily understand what I mean."
"Scold me, dear aunt, for no doubt I deserve it," replied Pepe, who was beginning to accustom himself to the kindnesses of his father's sister.
"No, it is only a piece of advice. These gentlemen, I am sure, will agree that I am in the right."
Rosario was listening with her whole soul.
"It is only this," continued Dona Perfecta, "that when you visit our beautiful cathedral again, you will endeavor to behave with a little more decorum while you are in it."
"Why, what have I done?"
"It does not surprise me that you are not yourself aware of your fault," said his aunt, with apparent good humor. "It is only natural; accustomed as you are to enter athenaeums and clubs, and academies and congresses without any ceremony, you think that you can enter a temple in which the Divine Majesty is in the same manner."
"But excuse me, senora," said Pepe gravely, "I entered the cathedral with the greatest decorum."
"But I am not scolding you, man; I am not scolding you. If you take it in that way I shall have to remain silent. Excuse my nephew, gentlemen. A little carelessness, a little heedlessness on his part is not to be wondered at. How many years is it since you set foot in a sacred place before?"
"Senora, I assure you——But, in short, let my religious ideas be what they may, I am in the habit of observing the utmost decorum in church."
"What I assure you is——There, if you are going to be offended I won't go on. What I assure you is that a great many people noticed it this morning. The Senores de Gonzalez, Dona Robustiana, Serafinita—in short, when I tell you that you attracted the attention of the bishop——His lordship complained to me about it this afternoon when I was at my cousin's. He told me that he did not order you to be put out of the church only because you were my nephew."
Rosario looked anxiously at her cousin, trying to read in his countenance, before he uttered it, the answer he would make to these charges.
"No doubt they mistook me for some one else."
"No, no! it was you. But there, don't get angry! We are talking here among friends and in confidence. It was you. I saw you myself."
"You saw me!"
"Just so. Will you deny that you went to look at the pictures, passing among a group of worshippers who were hearing mass? I assure you that my attention was so distracted by your comings and goings that—well, you must not do it again. Then you went into the chapel of San Gregorio. At the elevation of the Host at the high altar you did not even turn around to make a gesture of reverence. Afterward you traversed the whole length of the church, you went up to the tomb of the Adelantado, you touched the altar with your hands, then you passed a second time among a group of worshippers, attracting the notice of every one. All the girls looked at you, and you seemed pleased at disturbing so finely the devotions of those good people."
"Good Heavens! How many things I have done!" exclaimed Pepe, half angry, half amused. "I am a monster, it seems, without ever having suspected it."
"No, I am very well aware that you are a good boy," said Dona Perfecta, observing the canon's expression of unalterable gravity, which gave his face the appearance of a pasteboard mask. "But, my dear boy, between thinking things and showing them in that irreverent manner, there is a distance which a man of good sense and good breeding should never cross. I am well aware that your ideas are——Now, don't get angry! If you get angry, I will be silent. I say that it is one thing to have certain ideas about religion and another thing to express them. I will take good care not to reproach you because you believe that God did not create us in his image and likeness, but that we are descended from the monkeys; nor because you deny the existence of the soul, asserting that it is a drug, like the little papers of rhubarb and magnesia that are sold at the apothecary's—"
"Senora, for Heaven's sake!" exclaimed Pepe, with annoyance. "I see that I have a very bad reputation in Orbajosa."
The others remained silent.
"As I said, I will not reproach you for entertaining those ideas. And, besides, I have not the right to do so. If I should undertake to argue with you, you, with your wonderful talents, would confute me a thousand times over. No, I will not attempt any thing of that kind. What I say is that these poor and humble inhabitants of Orbajosa are pious and good Christians, although they know nothing about German philosophy, and that, therefore, you ought not publicly to manifest your contempt for their beliefs."
"My dear aunt," said the engineer gravely, "I have shown no contempt for any one, nor do I entertain the ideas which you attribute to me. Perhaps I may have been a little wanting in reverence in the church. I am somewhat absent-minded. My thoughts and my attention were engaged with the architecture of the building and, frankly speaking, I did not observe——But this was no reason for the bishop to think of putting me out of the church, nor for you to suppose me capable of attributing to a paper from the apothecary's the functions of the soul. I may tolerate that as a jest, but only as a jest."
The agitation of Pepe Rey's mind was so great that, notwithstanding his natural prudence and moderation, he was unable to conceal it.
"There! I see that you are angry," said Dona Perfecta, casting down her eyes and clasping her hands. "I am very sorry. If I had known that you would have taken it in that way, I should not have spoken to you. Pepe, I ask your pardon."
Hearing these words and seeing his kind aunt's deprecating attitude, Pepe felt ashamed of the sternness of his last words, and he made an effort to recover his serenity. The venerable Penitentiary extricated him from his embarrassing position, saying with his accustomed benevolent smile:
"Senora Dona Perfecta, we must be tolerant with artists. Oh, I have known a great many of them! Those gentlemen, when they have before them a statue, a piece of rusty armor, a mouldy painting, or an old wall, forget every thing else. Senor Don Jose is an artist, and he has visited our cathedral as the English visit it, who would willingly carry it away with them to their museums, to its last tile, if they could. That the worshippers were praying, that the priest was elevating the Sacred Host, that the moment of supreme piety and devotion had come—what of that? What does all that matter to an artist? It is true that I do not know what art is worth, apart from the sentiments which it expresses, but, in fine, at the present day, it is the custom to adore the form, not the idea. God preserve me from undertaking to discuss this question with Senor Don Jose, who knows so much, and who, reasoning with the admirable subtlety of the moderns, would instantly confound my mind, in which there is only faith."
"The determination which you all have to regard me as the most learned man on earth annoys me exceedingly," said Pepe, speaking in his former hard tone. "Hold me for a fool; for I would rather be regarded as a fool than as the possessor of that Satanic knowledge which is here attributed to me."
Rosarito laughed, and Jacinto thought that a highly opportune moment had now arrived to make a display of his own erudition.
"Pantheism or panentheism," he said, "is condemned by the Church, as well as by the teachings of Schopenhauer and of the modern Hartmann."
"Ladies and gentlemen," said the canon gravely, "men who pay so fervent a worship to art, though it be only to its form, deserve the greatest respect. It is better to be an artist, and delight in the contemplation of beauty, though this be only represented by nude nymphs, than to be indifferent and incredulous in every thing. The mind that consecrates itself to the contemplation of beauty, evil will not take complete possession of. Est Deus in nobis. Deus, be it well understood. Let Senor Don Jose, then, continue to admire the marvels of our church; I, for one, will willingly forgive him his acts of irreverence, with all due respect for the opinions of the bishop."
"Thanks, Senor Don Inocencio," said Pepe, feeling a bitter and rebellious sentiment of hostility springing up within him toward the canon, and unable to conquer his desire to mortify him. "But let none of you imagine, either, that it was the beauties of art, of which you suppose the temple to be full, that engaged my attention. Those beauties, with the exception of the imposing architecture of a portion of the edifice and of the three tombs that are in the chapel of the apse, I do not see. What occupied my mind was the consideration of the deplorable decadence of the religious arts; and the innumerable monstrosities, of which the cathedral is full, caused me not astonishment, but disgust."
The amazement of all present was profound.
"I cannot endure," continued Pepe, "those glazed and painted images that resemble so much—God forgive me for the comparison—the dolls that little girls pay with. And what am I to say of the theatrical robes that cover them? I saw a St. Joseph with a mantle whose appearance I will not describe, out of respect for the holy patriarch and for the church of which he is the patron. On the altar are crowded together images in the worst possible taste; and the innumerable crowns, branches, stars, moons, and other ornaments of metal or gilt paper have an air of an ironmongery that offends the religious sentiment and depresses the soul. Far from lifting itself up to religious contemplation, the soul sinks, and the idea of the ludicrous distracts it. The great works of art which give sensible form to ideas, to dogmas, to religious faith, to mystic exaltation, fulfil a noble mission. The caricatures, the aberrations of taste, the grotesque works with which a mistaken piety fills the church, also fulfil their object; but this is a sad one enough: They encourage superstition, cool enthusiasm, oblige the eyes of the believer to turn away from the altar, and, with the eyes, the souls that have not a very profound and a very firm faith turn away also."
"The doctrine of the iconoclasts, too," said Jacinto, "has, it seems, spread widely in Germany."
"I am not an iconoclast, although I would prefer the destruction of all the images to the exhibition of buffooneries of which I speak," continued the young man. "Seeing it, one may justly advocate a return of religious worship to the august simplicity of olden times. But no; let us not renounce the admirable aid which all the arts, beginning with poetry and ending with music, lend to the relations between man and God. Let the arts live; let the utmost pomp be displayed in religious ceremonies. I am a partisan of pomp."
"An artist, an artist, and nothing more than an artist!" exclaimed the canon, shaking his head with a sorrowful air. "Fine pictures, fine statues, beautiful music; pleasure for the senses, and let the devil take the soul!"
"Apropos of music," said Pepe Rey, without observing the deplorable effect which his words produced on both mother and daughter, "imagine how disposed my mind would be to religious contemplation on entering the cathedral, when just at that moment, and precisely at the offertory at high mass, the organist played a passage from 'Traviata.'"
"Senor de Rey is right in that," said the little lawyer emphatically. "The organist played the other day the whole of the drinking song and the waltz from the same opera, and afterward a rondeau from the 'Grande Duchesse.'"
"But when I felt my heart sink," continued the engineer implacably, "was when I saw an image of the Virgin, which seems to be held in great veneration, judging from the crowd before it and the multitude of tapers which lighted it. They have dressed her in a puffed-out garment of velvet, embroidered with gold, of a shape so extraordinary that it surpasses the most extravagant of the fashions of the day. Her face is almost hidden under a voluminous frill, made of innumerable rows of lace, crimped with a crimping-iron, and her crown, half a yard in height, surrounded by golden rays, looks like a hideous catafalque erected over her head. Of the same material, and embroidered in the same manner, are the trousers of the Infant Jesus. I will not go on, for to describe the Mother and the Child might perhaps lead me to commit some irreverence. I will only say that it was impossible for me to keep from smiling, and for a short time I contemplated the profaned image, saying to myself: 'Mother and Lady mine, what a sight they have made of you!'"
As he ended Pepe looked at his hearers, and although, owing to the gathering darkness, he could not see their countenances distinctly, he fancied that in some of them he perceived signs of angry consternation.
"Well, Senor Don Jose!" exclaimed the canon quickly, smiling with a triumphant expression, "that image, which to your philosophy and pantheism appears so ridiculous, is Our Lady of Help, patroness and advocate of Orbajosa, whose inhabitants regard her with so much veneration that they would be quite capable of dragging any one through the streets who should speak ill of her. The chronicles and history, Senor Don Jose, are full of the miracles which she has wrought, and even at the present day we receive constantly incontrovertible proofs of her protection. You must know also that your aunt, Dona Perfecta, is chief lady in waiting to the Most Holy Virgin of Help, and that the dress that to you appears so grotesque—went out from this house, and that the trousers of the Infant are the work of the skilful needle and the ardent piety combined of your cousin Rosarito, who is now listening to us."
Pepe Rey was greatly disconcerted. At the same instant Dona Perfecta rose abruptly from her seat, and, without saying a word, walked toward the house, followed by the Penitentiary. The others rose also. Recovering from his stupefaction, the young man was about to beg his cousin's pardon for his irreverence, when he observed that Rosarito was weeping. Fixing on her cousin a look of friendly and gentle reproof, she said:
"What ideas you have!"
The voice of Dona Perfecta was heard crying in an altered accent:
The latter ran toward the house.
THE EVIDENCE OF DISCORD IS EVIDENT
Pepe Rey was disturbed and perplexed, enraged with himself and every one else; he tried in vain to imagine what could be the conflict that had arisen, in spite of himself, between his ideas and the ideas of his aunt's friends. Thoughtful and sad, foreseeing future discord, he remained for a short time sitting on the bench in the summer-house, his chin resting on his breast, his forehead gathered in a frown, his hands clasped. He thought himself alone.
Suddenly he heard a gay voice humming the refrain of a song from a zarzuela. He looked up and saw Don Jacinto sitting in the opposite corner of the summer-house.
"Ah, Senor de Rey!" said the youth abruptly, "one does not offend with impunity the religious sentiments of the great majority of a nation. If you doubt it, consider what happened in the first French revolution."
When Pepe heard the buzzing of this insect his irritation increased. Nevertheless there was no anger in his soul toward the youthful doctor of laws. The latter annoyed him, as a fly might annoy him, but nothing more. Rey felt the irritation which every importunate being inspires, and with the air of one who brushes away a buzzing drone, he answered:
"What has the French revolution to do with the robe of the Virgin?"
He got up and walked toward the house, but he had not taken half a dozen steps before he heard again beside him the buzzing of the mosquito, saying:
"Senor Don Jose, I wish to speak to you about an affair in which you are greatly interested and which may cause you some trouble."
"An affair?" said the young man, drawing back. "Let us hear what affair is that."
"You suspect what it is, perhaps," said Jacinto, approaching Pepe, and smiling with the air of a man of business who has some unusually important matter on hand; "I want to speak to you about the lawsuit."
"The lawsuit! My friend, I have no lawsuits. You, as a good lawyer, dream of lawsuits and see stamped paper everywhere."
"What! You have not heard of your lawsuit?" exclaimed the youth, with amazement.
"Of my lawsuit! But I have no lawsuits, nor have I ever had any."
"Well, if you have not heard of it, I am all the better pleased to have spoken to you about it, so that you may be on your guard. Yes, senor, you are going to have a suit at law."
"And with whom?"
"With Uncle Licurgo and other land-owners whose property borders on the estate called The Poplars."
Pepe Rey was astounded.
"Yes, senor," continued the little lawyer. "To-day Uncle Licurgo and I had a long conference. As I am such a friend of the family, I wanted to let you know about it, so that, if you think well of it, you may hasten to arrange the matter."
"But what have I to arrange? What do those rascals claim from me?"
"It seems that a stream of water which rises in your property has changed its course and flows over some tile-works of the aforesaid Uncle Licurgo and the mill of another person, occasioning considerable damage. My client—for he is determined that I shall get him out of this difficulty—my client, as I said, demands that you shall restore the water to its former channel, so as to avoid fresh injuries, and that you shall indemnify him for the damage which his works have already sustained through the neglect of the superior proprietor."
"And I am the superior proprietor! If I engage in a lawsuit, that will be the first fruit that those famous Poplars, which were mine and which now, as I understand, belong to everybody, will have ever produced me, for Licurgo, as well as some of the other farmers of the district, have been filching from me, little by little, year after year, pieces of land, and it will be very difficult to re-establish the boundaries of my property."
"That is a different question."
"That is not a different question. The real suit," exclaimed the engineer, unable to control his anger, "will be the one that I will bring against that rabble who no doubt propose to themselves to tire me out and drive me to desperation—so that I may abandon every thing and let them continue in possession of what they have stolen. We shall see if there are lawyers and judges who will uphold the infamous conduct of those village legists, who are forever at law, and who waste and consume the property of others. I am obliged to you, young gentleman, for having informed me of the villanous intentions of those boors, who are more perverse than Satan himself. When I tell you that that very tile-yard and that very mill on which Licurgo bases his claim are mine—"
"The title-deeds of the property ought to be examined, to see if possession may not constitute a title in this case."
"Possession! Those scoundrels are not going to have the pleasure of laughing at me in that way. I suppose that justice is honestly and faithfully administered in the city of Orbajosa."
"Oh, as to that!" exclaimed the little lawyer, with an approving look, "the judge is an excellent person! He comes here every evening. But it is strange that you should have received no notice of Senor Licurgo's claims. Have you not yet been summoned to appear before the tribunal of arbitration?"
"It will be to-morrow, then. Well, I am very sorry that Senor Licurgo's precipitation has deprived me of the pleasure and honor of defending you, but what is to be done? Licurgo was determined that I should take him out of his troubles. I will study the matter with the greatest care. This vile slavery is the great drawback of jurisprudence."
Pepe entered the dining-room in a deplorable state of mind. Dona Perfecta was talking with the Penitentiary, as he entered, and Rosarito was sitting alone, with her eyes fixed on the door. She was no doubt waiting for her cousin.
"Come here, you rascal," said his aunt, smiling with very little spontaneity. "You have insulted us, you great atheist! but we forgive you. I am well aware that my daughter and myself are two rustics who are incapable of soaring to the regions of mathematics where you dwell, but for all that it is possible that you may one day get down on your knees to us and beg us to teach you the Christian doctrine."
Pepe answered with vague phrases and formulas of politeness and repentance.
"For my part," said Don Inocencio, with an affected air of meekness and amiability, "if in the course of these idle disputes I have said any thing that could offend Senor Don Jose, I beg his pardon for it. We are all friends here."
"Thanks. It is of no consequence."
"In spite of every thing," said Dona Perfecta, smiling with more naturalness than before, "I shall always be the same for my dear nephew; in spite of his extravagant and anti-religious ideas. In what way do you suppose I am going to spend this evening? Well, in trying to make Uncle Licurgo give up those obstinate notions which would otherwise cause you annoyance. I sent for him, and he is waiting for me now in the hall. Make yourself easy, I will arrange the matter; for although I know that he is not altogether without right on his side—"
"Thanks, dear aunt," responded the young man, his whole being invaded by a wave of the generous emotion which was so easily aroused in his soul.
Pepe Rey looked in the direction of his cousin, intending to join her, but some wily questions of the canon retained him at Dona Perfecta's side. Rosario looked dejected, and was listening with an air of melancholy indifference to the words of the little lawyer, who, having installed himself at her side, kept up a continuous stream of fulsome flatteries, seasoned with ill-timed jests and fatuous remarks in the worst possible taste.
"The worst of it is," said Dona Perfecta to her nephew—surprising the glance which he cast in the direction of the ill-assorted pair—"the worst of it is, that you have offended poor Rosario. You must do all in your power to make your peace with her. The poor child is so good!"
"Oh, yes! so good," added the canon, "that I have no doubt that she will forgive her cousin."
"I think that Rosario has already forgiven me," affirmed Rey.
"And if not, angelic breasts do not harbor resentment long," said Don Inocencio mellifluously. "I have a great deal of influence with the child, and I will endeavor to dissipate in her generous soul whatever prejudice may exist there against you. As soon as I say a word or two to her——"
Pepe Rey felt a cloud darken his soul and he said with meaning:
"Perhaps it may not be necessary."
"I will not speak to her now," added the capitular, "because she is listening entranced to Jacinto's nonsense. Ah, those children! When they once begin there is no stopping them."
The judge of the lower court, the alcalde's lady, and the dean of the cathedral now made their appearance. They all saluted the engineer, manifesting in their words and manner, on seeing him, the satisfaction of gratified curiosity. The judge was one of those clever and intelligent young men who every day spring into notice in official circles; aspiring, almost before they are out of the shell, to the highest political and administrative positions. He gave himself airs of great importance, and in speaking of himself and of his juvenile toga, he seemed indirectly to manifest great offence because he had not been all at once made president of the supreme court. In such inexpert hands, in a brain thus swollen with vanity, in this incarnation of conceit, had the state placed the most delicate and the most difficult functions of human justice. His manners were those of a perfect courtier, and revealed a scrupulous and minute attention to all that concerned his own person. He had the insufferable habit of taking off and putting on every moment his gold eye-glasses, and in his conversation he manifested with frequency the strong desire which he had to be transferred to Madrid, in order that he might give his invaluable services to the Department of Grace and Justice.
The alcalde's lady was a good-natured woman, whose only weakness was to fancy that she had a great many acquaintances at the court. She asked Pepe Rey various questions about the fashions, mentioning establishments in which she had had a mantle or a skirt made on her last journey to the capital, contemporaneous with the visit of Muley-Abbas, and she also mentioned the names of a dozen duchesses and marchionesses; speaking of them with as much familiarity as if they had been friends of her school-days. She said also that the Countess of M. (famous for her parties) was a friend of hers and that in '60 she had paid her a visit, when the countess had invited her to her box at the Teatro Real, where she saw Muley-Abbas in Moorish dress and accompanied by his retinue of Moors. The alcalde's wife talked incessantly and was not wanting in humor.
The dean was a very old man, corpulent and red-faced, plethoric and apoplectic looking, a man so obese that he seemed bursting out of his skin. He had belonged to one of the suppressed religious orders; he talked only of religious matters; and from the very first manifested the most profound contempt for Pepe Rey. The latter appeared every moment more unable to accommodate himself to a society so little to his taste. His disposition—not at all malleable, hard, and very little flexible—rejected the duplicities and the compromises of language to simulate concord when it did not exist. He remained, then, very grave during the whole of the tiresome evening, obliged as he was to endure the oratorical vehemence of the alcalde's wife, who, without being Fame, had the privilege of fatiguing with a hundred tongues the ears of men. If, in some brief respite which this lady gave her hearers, Pepe Rey made an attempt to approach his cousin, the Penitentiary attached himself to him instantly, like the mollusk to the rock; taking him apart with a mysterious air to propose to him an excursion with Senor Don Cayetano to Mundogrande, or a fishing party on the clear waters of the Nahara.
At last the evening came to an end, as every thing does in this world. The dean retired, leaving the house, as it seemed, empty, and very soon there remained of the alcalde's wife only an echo, like the buzz which remains in the air after a storm has passed away. The judge also deprived the company of his presence, and at last Don Inocencio gave his nephew the signal for departure.
"Come, boy, come; for it is late," he said, smiling. "How you have tormented poor Rosarito, has he not, child? Home, you rogue, home, without delay."
"It is time to go to bed," said Dona Perfecta.
"Time to go to work," responded the little lawyer.
"I am always telling him that he ought to get through with his business in the day-time, but he will not mind me."
"There is so much, so very much business to be got through."
"No, say rather, that confounded work which you have undertaken. He does not wish to say it, Senor Don Jose, but the truth is that he is writing a book on 'The Influence of Woman in Christian Society,' and, in addition to that, 'A Glance at the Catholic Movement in'—somewhere or other. What do you know about glances or influences? But these youths of the present day have audacity enough for any thing. Oh, what boys! Well, let us go home. Good-night, Senora Dona Perfecta—good-night, Senor Don Jose—Rosarito."
"I will wait for Senor Don Cayetano," said Jacinto, "to ask him to give me the Augusto Nicolas."
"Always carrying books. Why, sometimes you come into the house laden like a donkey. Very well, then, let us wait."
"Senor Don Jacinto does not write hastily," said Pepe Rey; "he prepares himself well for his work, so that his books may be treasures of learning."
"But that boy will injure his brain," objected Dona Perfecta. "For Heaven's sake be careful! I would set a limit to his reading."
"Since we are going to wait," said the little doctor, in a tone of insufferable conceit, "I will take with me also the third volume of Concilios. What do you think, uncle?"
"Take that, of course. It would never do to leave that behind you."
Fortunately Senor Don Cayetano (who generally spent his evenings at the house of Don Lorenzo Ruiz) soon arrived, and the books being received, uncle and nephew left the house.
Rey read in his cousin's sad countenance a keen desire to speak to him. He approached her while Dona Perfecta and Don Cayetano were discussing some domestic matter apart.
"You have offended mamma," said Rosarito.
Her features expressed something like terror.
"It is true," responded the young man; "I have offended your mamma—I have offended you."
"No, not me. I already imagined that the Infant Jesus ought not to wear trousers."
"But I hope that you will both forgive me. Your mamma was so kind to me a little while ago."
Dona Perfecta's voice suddenly vibrated through the dining-room, with so discordant a tone that her nephew started as if he had heard a cry of alarm. The voice said imperiously:
"Rosario, go to bed!"
Startled, her mind filled with anxious fears, the girl lingered in the room, going here and there as if she was looking for something. As she passed her cousin she whispered softly and cautiously these words:
"Mamma is angry."
"She is angry—be on your guard, be on your guard."
Then she left the room. Her mother, for whom Uncle Licurgo was waiting, followed her, and for some time the voices of Dona Perfecta and the countryman were heard mingled together in familiar conference. Pepe was left with Don Cayetano, who, taking a light, said;
"Good-night, Pepe. But don't suppose that I am going to sleep, I am going to work. But why are you so thoughtful? What is the matter with you?—Just as I say, to work. I am making notes for a 'Memorial Discourse on the Genealogies of Orbajosa.' I have already found data and information of the utmost value. There can be no dispute about it. In every period of our history the Orbajosans have been distinguished for their delicate sense of honor, their chivalry, their valor, their intellectuality. The conquest of Mexico, the wars of the Emperor, the wars of Philip against the heretics, testify to this. But are you ill? What is the matter with you? As I say, eminent theologians, valiant warriors, conquerors, saints, bishops, statesmen—all sorts of illustrious men—have flourished in this humble land of the garlic. No, there is not in Christendom a more illustrious city than ours. Its virtues and its glories are in themselves enough and more than enough to fill all the pages of our country's history. Well, I see that it is sleepy you are—good-night. As I say, I would not exchange the glory of being a son of this noble city for all the gold in the world. Augusta, the ancients called it; Augustissima, I call it now; for now, as then, high-mindedness, generosity, valor, magnanimity, are the patrimony of all. Well, good-night, dear Pepe. But I fancy you are not well. Has the supper disagreed with you?—Alonzo Gonzalez de Bustamante was right when he said in his 'Floresta Amena' that the people of Orbajosa suffice in themselves to confer greatness and honor on a kingdom. Don't you think so?"
"Oh, yes, senor; undoubtedly," responded Pepe Rey, going abruptly toward his room.
THE DISCORD GROWS
During the following days Pepe Rey made the acquaintance of several of the people of the place; he visited the Casino, and formed friendships with some of the individuals who spend their lives in the rooms of that corporation.
But the youth of Orbajosa did not spend all their time in the Casino, as evil-minded people might imagine. In the afternoons there were to be seen at the corner of the cathedral, and in the little plaza formed by the intersection of the Calle del Condestable and the Calle de la Triperia, several gentlemen who, gracefully enveloped in their cloaks, stood there like sentinels, watching the people as they passed by. If the weather was fine, those shining lights of the Urbs Augustan culture bent their steps, still enveloped in the indispensable cloak, toward the promenade called the Paseo de las Descalzas, which was formed by a double row of consumptive-looking elms and some withered bushes of broom. There the brilliant Pleiad watched the daughters of this fellow-townsman or that, who had also come there for a walk, and the afternoon passed tolerably. In the evening, the Casino filled up again; and while some of the members gave their lofty minds to the delights of monte, others read the newspapers, while the majority discussed in the coffee-room subjects of the various kinds, such as the politics, horses, bulls, or the gossip of the place. The result of every discussion was the renewed conviction of the supremacy of Orbajosa and its inhabitants over all the other towns and peoples on the face of the earth.
These distinguished men were the cream of the illustrious city; some rich landowners, others very poor, but all alike free from lofty aspirations. They had the imperturbable tranquillity of the beggar who desires nothing more so long as he has a crust of bread with which to cheat hunger, and the sun to warm him. What chiefly distinguished the Orbajosans of the Casino was a sentiment of bitter hostility toward all strangers, and whenever any stranger of note appeared in its august halls, they believed that he had come there to call in question the superiority of the land of the garlic, or to dispute with it, through envy, the incontestable advantages which nature had bestowed upon it.
When Pepe Rey presented himself in the Casino, they received him with something of suspicion, and as facetious persons abounded in it, before the new member had been there a quarter of an hour, all sorts of jokes had been made about him. When in answer to the reiterated questions of the members he said that he had come to Orbajosa with a commission to explore the basin of the Nahara for coal, and to survey a road, they all agreed that Senor Don Jose was a conceited fellow who wished to give himself airs, discovering coalbeds and planning railroads. Some one added:
"He has come to a bad place for that, then. Those gentlemen imagine that here we are all fools, and that they can deceive us with fine words. He has come to marry Dona Perfecta's daughter, and all that he says about coalbeds is only for the sake of appearances."
"Well, this morning," said another, a merchant who had failed, "they told me at the Dominguez' that the gentleman has not a peseta, and that he has come here in order to be supported by his aunt and to see if he can catch Rosarito."
"It seems that he is no engineer at all," added an olive-planter, whose plantations were mortgaged for double their value. "But it is as you say: those starvelings from Madrid think they are justified in deceiving poor provincials, and as they believe that here we all wear tails—"
"It is plain to be seen that he is penniless—"
"Well, half-jest and the whole earnest, he told us last night that we were lazy barbarians."
"That we spent our time sunning ourselves, like the Bedouins."
"That we lived with the imagination."
"That's it; that we lived with the imagination."
"And that this city was precisely like a city in Morocco."
"Well! one has no patience to listen to those things. Where else could he see (unless it might be in Paris) a street like the Calle del Condestable, that can show seven houses in a row, all of them magnificent, from Dona Perfecta's house to that of Nicolasita Hernandez? Does that fellow suppose that one has never seen any thing, or has never been in Paris?"
"He also said, with a great deal of delicacy, that Orbajosa was a city of beggars; and he gave us to understand that in his opinion we live in the meanest way here without being ourselves aware of it."
"What insolence! If he ever says that to me, there will be a scene in the Casino," exclaimed the collector of taxes. "Why didn't they tell him how many arrobas of oil Orbajosa produced last year? Doesn't the fool know that in good years Orbajosa produces wheat enough to supply all Spain, and even all Europe, with bread? It is true that the crops have been bad for several years past, but that is not the rule. And the crop of garlic! I wager the gentleman doesn't know that the garlic of Orbajosa made the gentleman of the jury in the Exposition of London stare!"
These and other conversations of a similar kind were to be heard in the rooms of the Casino in those days. Notwithstanding this boastful talk, so common in small towns, which, for the very reason that they are small, are generally arrogant, Rey was not without finding sincere friends among the members of the learned corporation, for they were not all gossips, nor were there wanting among them persons of good sense. But our hero had the misfortune—if misfortune it can be called—to be unusually frank in the manifestation of his feelings, and this awakened some antipathy toward him.
Days passed. In addition to the natural disgust which the social customs of the episcopal city produced in him, various causes, all of them disagreeable, began to develop in his mind a profound sadness, chief among these causes being the crowd of litigants that swarmed about him like voracious ants. Many others of the neighboring landowners besides Uncle Licurgo claimed damages from him, or asked him to render accounts for lands managed by his grandfather. A claim was also brought against him because of a certain contract of partnership entered into by his mother and which, as it appeared, had not been fulfilled; and he was required in the same way to acknowledge a mortgage on the estate of The Poplars executed in an irregular form by his uncle. Claims swarmed around him, multiplying with ant-like rapidity. He had come to the determination to renounce the ownership of his lands, but meanwhile his dignity required that he should not yield to the wily manoeuvres of the artful rustics; and as the town-council brought a claim against him also on account of a pretended confusion of the boundary lines of his estate with those of an adjoining wood belonging to the town-lands, the unfortunate young man found himself at every step obliged to prove his rights, which were being continually called in question. His honor was engaged, and he had no alternative but to defend his rights to the death.
Dona Perfecta had promised in her magnanimity to help him to free himself from these disgraceful plots by means of an amicable arrangement; but the days passed, and the good offices of the exemplary lady had produced no result whatever. The claims multiplied with the dangerous swiftness of a violent disease. Pepe Rey passed hour after hour at court, making declarations and answering the same questions over and over again, and when he returned home tired and angry, there appeared before him the sharp features and grotesque face of the notary, who had brought him a thick bundle of stamped papers full of horrible formulas—that he might be studying the question.
It will be easily understood that Pepe Rey was not a man to endure such annoyances when he might escape from them by leaving the town. His mother's noble city appeared to his imagination like a horrible monster which had fastened its ferocious claws in him and was drinking his blood. To free himself from this monster nothing more was necessary, he believed, than flight. But a weighty interest—an interest in which his heart was concerned—kept him where he was; binding him to the rock of his martyrdom with very strong bonds. Nevertheless, he had come to feel so dissatisfied with his position; he had come to regard himself as so utterly a stranger, so to say, in that gloomy city of lawsuits, of old-fashioned customs and ideas, of envy and of slander, that he resolved to leave it without further delay, without, however, abandoning the project which had brought him to it. One morning, finding a favorable occasion, he opened his mind to Dona Perfecta on this point.
"Nephew," responded that lady, with her accustomed gentleness, "don't be rash. Why! you are like fire. Your father was just the same—what a man he was! You are like a flash—I have already told you that I will be very glad to call you my son. Even if you did not possess the good qualities and the talents which distinguish you (in spite of some little defects, for you have those, too); even if you were not as good as you are; it is enough that this union has been proposed by your father, to whom both my daughter and myself owe so much, for me to accept it. And Rosarito will not oppose it since I wish it. What is wanting, then? Nothing; there is nothing wanting but a little time. The marriage cannot be concluded with the haste you desire and which might, perhaps, give ground for interpretations discreditable to my dear daughter's reputation. But as you think of nothing but machines, you want every thing done by steam. Wait, man, wait; what hurry are you in? This hatred that you have taken to our poor Orbajosa is nothing but a caprice. But of course you can only live among counts and marquises and orators and diplomats—all you want is to get married and separate me forever from my daughter," she added, wiping away a tear. "Since that is the case, inconsiderate boy, at least have the charity to delay for a little this marriage, for which you are so eager. What impatience! What ardent love! I did not suppose that a poor country girl like my daughter could inspire so violent a passion."
The arguments of his aunt did not convince Pepe Rey, but he did not wish to contradict her. A fresh cause of anxiety was soon added to those which already embittered his existence. He had now been in Orbajosa for two weeks, and during that time he had received no letter from his father. This could not be attributed to carelessness on the part of the officials of the post-office of Orbajosa, for the functionary who had charge of that service being the friend and protege of Dona Perfecta, the latter every day recommended him to take the greatest care that the letters addressed to her nephew did not go astray. The letter-carrier, named Cristoval Ramos, and nicknamed Caballuco—a personage whose acquaintance we have already made—also visited the house, and to him Dona Perfecta was accustomed to address warnings and reprimands as energetic as the following:
"A pretty mail service you have! How is it that my nephew has not received a single letter since he has been in Orbajosa? When the carrying of the mail is entrusted to such a giddy-pate, how can things be expected to go well? I will speak to the governor of the province so that he may be careful what kind of people he puts in the post-office."
Caballuco, shrugging his shoulders, looked at Rey with the most complete indifference.
One day he entered the house with a letter in his hand.
"Thank Heaven!" said Dona Perfecta to her nephew. "Here are letters from your father. Rejoice, man! A pretty fright we have had through my brother's laziness about writing. What does he say? He is well, no doubt," she added, seeing that Pepe Rey opened the letter with feverish impatience.
The engineer turned pale as he glanced over the first lines.
"Good Heavens! Pepe, what is the matter?" exclaimed Dona Perfecta, rising in alarm. "Is your father ill?"
"This letter is not from my father," responded Pepe, revealing in his countenance the greatest consternation.
"What is it, then?"
"An order from the Minister of Public Works, relieving me from the charge which was confided to me."
"What! Can it be possible!"
"A dismissal pure and simple, expressed in terms very little flattering to me."
"Was there ever any thing so unjust!" exclaimed Dona Perfecta, when she had recovered from her amazement.
"What a humiliation!" exclaimed the young man. "It is the first time in my life that I have received an affront like this."
"But the Government is unpardonable! To put such a slight upon you! Do you wish me to write to Madrid? I have very good friends there, and I may be able to obtain satisfaction for you from the Government and reparation for this brutal affront."
"Thanks, senora, I desire no recommendations," said the young man, with ill-humor.
"But what a piece of injustice! what a high-handed proceeding! To discharge in this way a young man of your merit, an eminent scientist. Why, I cannot contain my anger!"
"I will find out," said Pepe, with energy, "who it is that occupies himself in injuring me."
"That minister—but what is to be expected from those infamous politicasters?"
"In this there is the hand of some one who is determined to drive me to desperation," declared the young man, visibly disturbed. "This is not the act of the minister; this and other contrarieties that I am experiencing are the result of a revengeful plot, of a secret and well-laid plan of some implacable enemy, and this enemy is here in Orbajosa, this plot has been hatched in Orbajosa, doubt it not, dear aunt."
"You are out of your mind," replied Dona Perfecta, with a look of compassion. "You have enemies in Orbajosa, you say? Some one wishes to revenge himself upon you? Come, Pepillo, you have lost your senses. The reading of those books in which they say that we have for ancestors monkeys or parrots has turned your brain."
She smiled sweetly as she uttered the last words, and taking a tone of familiar and affectionate admonition, she added:
"My dear boy, the people of Orbajosa may be rude and boorish rustics, without learning, or polish, or fine manners; but in loyalty and good faith we yield to no one—to no one, I say, no one."
"Don't suppose," said the young man, "that I accuse any one in this house. But that my implacable and cruel enemy is in this city, I am persuaded."
"I wish you would show me that stage villain," responded Dona Perfecta, smiling again. "I suppose you will not accuse Uncle Licurgo, nor any of the others who have brought suits against you; for the poor people believe they are only defending their rights. And between ourselves, they are not altogether wanting in reason in this case. Besides, Uncle Licurgo likes you greatly. He has told me so himself. From the moment he saw you, you took his fancy, and the poor old man has conceived such an affection for you—"
"Oh, yes—a profound affection!" murmured Pepe.
"Don't be foolish," continued his aunt, putting her hand on his shoulder and looking at him closely. "Don't imagine absurdities; convince yourself that your enemy, if you have one, is in Madrid, in that centre of corruption, of envy and rivalry, not in this peaceful and tranquil corner, where all is good-will and concord. Some one, no doubt, who is envious of your merit——There is one thing I wish to say now—and that is, that if you desire to go there to learn the cause of this affront and ask an explanation of it from the Government, you must not neglect doing so on our account."
Pepe Rey fixed his eyes on his aunt's countenance, as if he wished to penetrate with his glance the inmost depths of her soul.
"I say that if you wish to go, do so," repeated Dona Perfecta, with admirable serenity, while her countenance expressed the most complete and unaffected sincerity.
"No, senora: I do not wish to go."
"So much the better; I think you are right. You are more tranquil here, notwithstanding the suspicions with which you are tormenting yourself. Poor Pepillo! We poor rustics of Orbajosa live happy in our ignorance. I am very sorry that you are not contented here. But is it my fault if you vex and worry yourself without a cause? Do I not treat you like a son? Have I not received you as the hope of my house? Can I do more for you? If in spite of all this you do not like us, if you show so much indifference toward us, if you ridicule our piety, if you insult our friends, is it by chance because we do not treat you well?"
Dona Perfecta's eyes grew moist.
"My dear aunt," said Pepe, feeling his anger vanish, "I too have committed some faults since I have been a guest in this house."
"Don't be foolish. Don't talk about committing faults. Among the persons of the same family every thing is forgiven."
"But Rosarito—where is she?" asked the young man, rising. "Am I not to see her to-day, either?"
"She is better. Do you know that she did not wish to come down stairs?"
"I will go up to her then."
"No, it would be of no use. That girl has some obstinate notions—to-day she is determined not to leave her room. She has locked herself in."
"What a strange idea!"
"She will get over it. Undoubtedly she will get over it. We will see to-night if we cannot put these melancholy thoughts out of her head. We will get up a party to amuse her. Why don't you go to Don Inocencio's and ask him to come here to-night and bring Jacintillo with him?"
"Yes, when Rosarito has these fits of melancholy, the only one who can divert her is that young man."
"But I will go upstairs——"
"No, you must not."
"What etiquette there is in this house!"
"You are ridiculing us. Do as I ask you."
"But I wish to see her."
"But you cannot see her. How little you know the girl!"
"I thought I knew her well. I will stay here, then. But this solitude is horrible."
"There comes the notary."
"Maledictions upon him!"
"And I think the attorney-general has just come in too—he is an excellent person."
"He be hanged with his goodness!"
"But business affairs, when they are one's own, serve as a distraction. Some one is coming. I think it is the agricultural expert. You will have something to occupy you now for an hour or two."
"An hour or two of hell!"
"Ah, ha! if I am not mistaken Uncle Licurgo and Uncle Paso Largo have just entered. Perhaps they have come to propose a compromise to you."
"I would throw myself into the pond first!"
"How unnatural you are! For they are all very fond of you. Well, so that nothing may be wanting, there comes the constable too. He is coming to serve a summons on you."
"To crucify me."
All the individuals named were now entering the parlor one by one.
"Good-by, Pepe; amuse yourself," said Dona Perfecta.
"Earth, open and swallow me!" exclaimed the young man desperately.
"Senor Don Jose."
"My dear Don Jose."
"Esteemed Don Jose."
"My dearest Don Jose."
"My respected friend, Don Jose."
Hearing these honeyed and insinuating preliminaries, Pepe Rey exhaled a deep sigh and gave himself up. He gave himself up, soul and body, to the executioners, who brandished horrible leaves of stamped paper while the victim, raising his eyes to heaven with a look of Christian meekness, murmured:
"Father, why hast thou forsaken me?"
HERE WAS TROY
Love, friendship, a wholesome moral atmosphere, spiritual light, sympathy, an easy interchange of ideas and feelings, these were what Pepe Rey's nature imperatively demanded. Deprived of them, the darkness that shrouded his soul grew deeper, and his inward gloom imparted a tinge of bitterness and discontent to his manner. On the day following the scenes described in the last chapter, what vexed him more than any thing was the already prolonged and mysterious seclusion of his cousin, accounted for at first by a trifling indisposition and then by caprices and nervous feelings difficult of explanation.
Rey was surprised by conduct so contrary to the idea which he had formed of Rosarito. Four days had passed during which he had not seen her; and certainly it was not because he did not desire to be at her side; and his situation threatened soon to become humiliating and ridiculous, if, by boldly taking the initiative, he did not at once put an end to it.
"Shall I not see my cousin to-day, either?" he said to his aunt, with manifest ill-humor, when they had finished dining.
"No, not to-day, either. Heaven knows how sorry I am for it. I gave her a good talking to this morning. This afternoon we will see what can be done."
The suspicion that in this unreasonable seclusion his adorable cousin was rather the helpless victim than the free and willing agent, induced him to control himself and to wait. Had it not been for this suspicion he would have left Orbajosa that very day. He had no doubt whatever that Rosario loved him, but it was evident that some unknown influence was at work to separate them, and it seemed to him to be the part of an honorable man to discover whence that malign influence proceeded and to oppose it, as far as it was in his power to do so.
"I hope that Rosarito's obstinacy will not continue long," he said to Dona Perfecta, disguising his real sentiments.
On this day he received a letter from his father in which the latter complained of having received none from Orbajosa, a circumstance which increased the engineer's disquietude, perplexing him still further. Finally, after wandering about alone in the garden for a long time, he left the house and went to the Casino. He entered it with the desperate air of a man about to throw himself into the sea.
In the principal rooms he found various people talking and discussing different subjects. In one group they were solving with subtle logic difficult problems relating to bulls; in another, they were discussing the relative merits of different breeds of donkeys of Orbajosa and Villahorrenda. Bored to the last degree, Pepe Rey turned away from these discussions and directed his steps toward the reading-room, where he looked through various reviews without finding any distraction in the reading, and a little later, passing from room to room, he stopped, without knowing why, at the gaming-table. For nearly two hours he remained in the clutches of the horrible yellow demon, whose shining eyes of gold at once torture and charm. But not even the excitement of play had power to lighten the gloom of his soul, and the same tedium which had impelled him toward the green cloth sent him away from it. Shunning the noise, he found himself in an apartment used as an assembly-room, in which at the time there was not a living soul, and here he seated himself wearily at a window overlooking the street.
This was very narrow, with more corners and salient angles than houses, and was overshaded throughout its whole extent by the imposing mass of the cathedral that lifted its dark and time-corroded walls at one end of it. Pepe Rey looked up and down and in every direction; no sign of life—not a footstep, not a voice, not a glance, disturbed the stillness, peaceful as that of a tomb, that reigned everywhere. Suddenly strange sounds, like the whispering of feminine voices, fell on his ear, and then the rustling of curtains that were being drawn, a few words, and finally the humming of a song, the bark of a lap-dog, and other signs of social life, which seemed very strange in such a place. Observing attentively, Pepe Rey perceived that these noises proceeded from an enormous balcony with blinds which displayed its corpulent bulk in front of the window at which he was sitting. Before he had concluded his observations, a member of the Casino suddenly appeared beside him, and accosted him laughingly in this manner:
"Ah, Senor Don Pepe! what a rogue you are! So you have shut yourself in here to ogle the girls, eh?"
The speaker was Don Juan Tafetan, a very amiable man, and one of the few members of the Casino who had manifested for Pepe Rey cordial friendship and genuine admiration. With his red cheeks, his little dyed mustache, his restless laughing eyes, his insignificant figure, his hair carefully combed to hide his baldness, Don Juan Tafetan was far from being an Antinous in appearance, but he was very witty and very agreeable and he had a happy gift for telling a good story. He was much given to laughter, and when he laughed his face, from his forehead to his chin, became one mass of grotesque wrinkles. In spite of these qualities, and of the applause which might have stimulated his taste for spicy jokes, he was not a scandal-monger. Every one liked him, and Pepe Rey spent with him many pleasant hours. Poor Tafetan, formerly an employe in the civil department of the government of the capital of the province, now lived modestly on his salary as a clerk in the bureau of charities; eking out his income by gallantly playing the clarionet in the processions, in the solemnities of the cathedral, and in the theatre, whenever some desperate company of players made their appearance in those parts with the perfidious design of giving representations in Orbajosa.
But the most curious thing about Don Juan Tafetan was his liking for pretty girls. He himself, in the days when he did not hide his baldness with half a dozen hairs plastered down with pomade, when he did not dye his mustache, when, in the freedom from care of youthful years, he walked with shoulders unstooped and head erect, had been a formidable Tenorio. To hear him recount his conquests was something to make one die laughing; for there are Tenorios and Tenorios, and he was one of the most original.
"What girls? I don't see any girls," responded Pepe Rey.
"Yes, play the anchorite!"
One of the blinds of the balcony was opened, giving a glimpse of a youthful face, lovely and smiling, that disappeared instantly, like a light extinguished by the wind.
"Yes, I see now."
"Don't you know them?"
"On my life I do not."
"They are the Troyas—the Troya girls. Then you don't know something good. Three lovely girls, the daughters of a colonel of staff, who died in the streets of Madrid in '54."
The blind opened again, and two faces appeared.
"They are laughing at me," said Tafetan, making a friendly sign to the girls.
"Do you know them?"
"Why, of course I know them. The poor things are in the greatest want. I don't know how they manage to live. When Don Francisco Troya died a subscription was raised for them, but that did not last very long."
"Poor girls! I imagine they are not models of virtue."
"And why not? I do not believe what they say in the town about them."
Once more the blinds opened.
"Good-afternoon, girls!" cried Don Juan Tafetan to the three girls, who appeared, artistically grouped, at the window. "This gentleman says that good things ought not to hide themselves, and that you should throw open the blinds."
But the blind was closed and a joyous concert of laughter diffused a strange gayety through the gloomy street. One might have fancied that a flock of birds was passing.
"Shall we go there?" said Tafetan suddenly.
His eyes sparkled and a roguish smile played on his discolored lips.
"But what sort of people are they, then?"
"Don't be afraid, Senor de Rey. The poor things are honest. Bah! Why, they live upon air, like the chameleons. Tell me, can any one who doesn't eat sin? The poor girls are virtuous enough. And even if they did sin, they fast enough to make up for it."
"Let us go, then."
A moment later Don Juan Tafetan and Pepe Rey were entering the parlor of the Troyas. The poverty he saw, that struggled desperately to disguise itself, afflicted the young man. The three girls were very lovely, especially the two younger ones, who were pale and dark, with large black eyes and slender figures. Well-dressed and well shod they would have seemed the daughters of a duchess, and worthy to ally themselves with princes.
When the visitors entered, the three girls were for a moment abashed: but very soon their naturally gay and frivolous dispositions became apparent. They lived in poverty, as birds live in confinement, singing behind iron bars as they would sing in the midst of the abundance of the forest. They spent the day sewing, which showed at least honorable principles; but no one in Orbajosa, of their own station in life, held any intercourse with them. They were, to a certain extent, proscribed, looked down upon, avoided, which also showed that there existed some cause for scandal. But, to be just, it must be said that the bad reputation of the Troyas consisted, more than in any thing else, in the name they had of being gossips and mischief-makers, fond of playing practical jokes, and bold and free in their manners. They wrote anonymous letters to grave personages; they gave nicknames to every living being in Orbajosa, from the bishop down to the lowest vagabond; they threw pebbles at the passers-by; they hissed behind the window bars, in order to amuse themselves with the perplexity and annoyance of the startled passer-by; they found out every thing that occurred in the neighborhood; to which end they made constant use of every window and aperture in the upper part of the house; they sang at night in the balcony; they masked themselves during the Carnival, in order to obtain entrance into the houses of the highest families; and they played many other mischievous pranks peculiar to small towns. But whatever its cause, the fact was that on the Troya triumvirate rested one of those stigmas that, once affixed on any one by a susceptible community, accompanies that person implacably even beyond the tomb.
"This is the gentleman they say has come to discover the gold-mines?" said one of the girls.
"And to do away with the cultivation of garlic in Orbajosa to plant cotton or cinnamon trees in its stead?"
Pepe could not help laughing at these absurdities.
"All he has come for is to make a collection of pretty girls to take back with him to Madrid," said Tafetan.
"Ah! I'll be very glad to go!" cried one.
"I will take the three of you with me," said Pepe. "But I want to know one thing; why were you laughing at me when I was at the window of the Casino?"
These words were the signal for fresh bursts of laughter.
"These girls are silly things," said the eldest.
"It was because we said you deserved something better than Dona Perfecta's daughter."
"It was because this one said that you are only losing your time, for Rosarito cares only for people connected with the Church."
"How absurd you are! I said nothing of the kind! It was you who said that the gentleman was a Lutheran atheist, and that he enters the cathedral smoking and with his hat on."
"Well, I didn't invent it; that is what Suspiritos told me yesterday."
"And who is this Suspiritos who says such absurd things about me?"
"Girls," said Tafetan, with smiling countenance, "there goes the orange-vender. Call him; I want to invite you to eat oranges."
One of the girls called the orange-vender.
The conversation started by the Troyas displeased Pepe Rey not a little, dispelling the slight feeling of contentment which he had experienced at finding himself in such gay and communicative company. He could not, however, refrain from smiling when he saw Don Juan Tafetan take down a guitar and begin to play upon it with all the grace and skill of his youthful years.
"I have been told that you sing beautifully," said Rey to the girls.
"Let Don Juan Tafetan sing."
"I don't sing."
"Nor I," said the second of the girls, offering the engineer some pieces of the skin of the orange she had just peeled.
"Maria Juana, don't leave your sewing," said the eldest of the Troyas. "It is late, and the cassock must be finished to-night."
"There is to be no work to-day. To the devil with the needles!" exclaimed Tafetan.
And he began to sing a song.
"The people are stopping in the street," said the second of the girls, going out on the balcony. "Don Juan Tafetan's shouts can be heard in the Plaza—Juana, Juana!"
"Suspiritos is walking down the street."
"Throw a piece of orange-peel at her."
Pepe Rey looked out also; he saw a lady walking down the street at whom the youngest of the Troyas, taking a skilful aim, threw a large piece of orange-peel, which struck her straight on the back of the head. Then they hastily closed the blinds, and the three girls tried to stifle their laughter so that it might not be heard in the street.
"There is no work to-day," cried one, overturning the sewing-basket with the tip of her shoe.
"That is the same as saying, to-morrow there is to be no eating," said the eldest, gathering up the sewing implements.
Pepe Rey instinctively put his hand into his pocket. He would gladly have given them an alms. The spectacle of these poor orphans, condemned by the world because of their frivolity, saddened him beyond measure. If the only sin of the Troyas, if the only pleasure which they had to compensate them for solitude, poverty, and neglect, was to throw orange-peels at the passers-by, they might well be excused for doing it. The austere customs of the town in which they lived had perhaps preserved them from vice, but the unfortunate girls lacked decorum and good-breeding, the common and most visible signs of modesty, and it might easily be supposed that they had thrown out of the window something more than orange-peels. Pepe Rey felt profound pity for them. He noted their shabby dresses, made over, mended, trimmed, and retrimmed, to make them look like new; he noted their broken shoes—and once more he put his hand in his pocket.
"Vice may reign here," he said to himself, "but the faces, the furniture, all show that this is the wreck of a respectable family. If these poor girls were as bad as it is said they are, they would not live in such poverty and they would not work. In Orbajosa there are rich men."
The three girls went back and forward between him and the window, keeping up a gay and sprightly conversation, which indicated, it must be said, a species of innocence in the midst of all their frivolity and unconventionality.
"Senor Don Jose, what an excellent lady Dona Perfecta is!"
"She is the only person in Orbajosa who has no nickname, the only person in Orbajosa who is not spoken ill of."
"Every one respects her."
"Every one adores her."
To these utterances the young man responded by praises of his aunt, but he had no longer any inclination to take money from his pocket and say, "Maria Juana, take this for a pair of boots." "Pepa, take this to buy a dress for yourself." "Florentina, take this to provide yourself with a week's provisions," as he had been on the point of doing. At a moment when the three girls had run out to the balcony to see who was passing, Don Juan Tafetan approached Rey and whispered to him: