"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 taken possession of the neighboring province; but the insurrection was not spreading within the limits of the episcopal city. It might be supposed that modern culture had at last triumphed in its struggle with the turbulent habits of the great city of disorder, and that the latter was tasting the delights of a lasting peace. So true is this that Caballuco himself, one of the most important figures of the historic rebellion of Orbajosa, said frankly to every one that he did not wish to quarrel with the Government nor involve himself in a business which might cost him dear.
Whatever may be said to the contrary, the impetuous nature of Ramos had quieted down with years, and the fiery temper which he had received with life from the ancestral Caballucos, the most valiant race of warriors that had ever desolated the earth, had grown cooler. It is also related that in those days the new governor of the province held a conference with this important personage, and received from his lips the most solemn assurances that he would contribute as far as in him lay to the tranquillity of the country, and would avoid doing any thing that might give rise to disturbances. Reliable witnesses declare that he was to be seen in friendly companionship with the soldiers, hobnobbing with this sergeant or the other in the tavern, and it was even said that an important position in the town-hall of the capital of the province was to be given him. How difficult it is for the historian who tries to be impartial to arrive at the exact truth in regard to the sentiments and opinions of the illustrious personages who have filled the world with their fame! He does not know what to hold by, and the absence of authentic records often gives rise to lamentable mistakes. Considering events of such transcendent importance as that of the 18th Brumaire, the sack of Rome by Bourbon, or the destruction of Jerusalem—where is the psychologist or the historian who would be able to determine what were the thoughts which preceded or followed them in the minds of Bonaparte, of Charles V., and of Titus? Ours is an immense responsibility. To discharge it in part we will report words, phrases, and even discourses of the Orbajosan emperor himself; and in this way every one will be able to form the opinion which may seem to him most correct.
It is beyond a doubt that Cristobal Ramos left his house just after dark, crossed the Calle del Condestable, and, seeing three countrymen mounted on powerful mules coming toward him, asked them where they were going, to which they answered that they were going to Senora Dona Perfecta's house to take her some of the first fruits of their gardens and a part of the rent that had fallen due. They were Senor Paso Largo, a young man named Frasquito Gonzales, and a third, a man of medium stature and robust make, who was called Vejarruco, although his real name was Jose Esteban Romero. Caballuco turned back, tempted by the agreeable society of these persons, who were old and intimate friends of his, and accompanied them to Dona Perfecta's house. This took place, according to the most reliable accounts, at nightfall, and two days after the day on which Dona Perfecta and Pinzon held the conversation which those who have read the preceding chapter will have seen recorded there. The great Ramos stopped for a moment to give Librada certain messages of trifling importance, which a neighbor had confided to his good memory, and when he entered the dining-room he found the three before-mentioned countrymen and Senor Licurgo, who by a singular coincidence was also there, conversing about domestic matters and the crops. The Senora was in a detestable humor; she found fault with every thing, and scolded them harshly for the drought of the heavens and the barrenness of the earth, phenomena for which they, poor men! were in no wise to blame. The Penitentiary was also present. When Caballuco entered, the good canon saluted him affectionately and motioned him to a seat beside himself.
"Here is the individual," said the mistress of the house disdainfully. "It seems impossible that a man of such little account should be so much talked about. Tell me, Caballuco, is it true that one of the soldiers slapped you on the face this morning?"
"Me! me!" said the Centaur, rising indignantly, as if he had received the grossest insult.
"That is what they say," said Dona Perfecta. "Is it not true? I believed it; for any one who thinks so little of himself—they might spit in your face and you would think yourself honored with the saliva of the soldiers."
"Senora!" vociferated Ramos with energy, "saving the respect which I owe you, who are my mother, my mistress, my queen—saving the respect, I say, which I owe to the person who has given me all that I possess—saving the respect—"
"Well? One would think you were going to say something."
"I say then, that saving the respect, that about the slap is a slander," he ended, expressing himself with extraordinary difficulty. "My affairs are in every one's mouth—whether I come in or whether I go out, where I am going and where I have come from—and why? All because they want to make me a tool to raise the country. Pedro is contented in his own house, ladies and gentlemen. The troops have come? Bad! but what are we going to do about it? The alcalde and the secretary and the judge have been removed from office? Very bad! I wish the very stones of Orbajosa might rise up against them; but I have given my word to the governor, and up to the present—-"
He scratched his head, gathered his gloomy brows in a frown, and with ever-increasing difficulty of speech continued:
"I may be brutal, disagreeable, ignorant, quarrelsome, obstinate, and every thing else you choose, but in honor I yield to no one."
"What a pity of the Cid Campeador!" said Dona Perfecta contemptuously. "Don't you agree with me, Senor Penitentiary, that there is not a single man left in Orbajosa who has any shame in him?"
"That is a serious view to take of the case," responded the capitular, without looking at his friend, or removing from his chin the hand on which he rested his thoughtful face; "but I think this neighborhood has accepted with excessive submission the heavy yoke of militarism."
Licurgo and the three countrymen laughed boisterously.
"When the soldiers and the new authorities," said Dona Perfecta, "have taken from us our last real, when the town has been disgraced, we will send all the valiant men of Orbajosa in a glass case to Madrid to be put in the museum there or exhibited in the streets."
"Long life to the mistress!" cried the man called Vejarruco demonstratively. "What she says is like gold. It won't be said on my account that there are no brave men here, for if I am not with the Aceros it is only because I have a wife and three children, and if any thing was to happen—if it wasn't for that—"
"But haven't you given your word to the governor, too?" said Dona Perfecta.
"To the governor?" cried the man named Frasquito Gonzalez. "There is not in the whole country a scoundrel who better deserves a bullet. Governor and Government, they are all of a piece. Last Sunday the priest said so many rousing things in his sermon about the heresies and the profanities of the people of Madrid—oh! it was worth while hearing him! Finally, he shouted out in the pulpit that religion had no longer any defenders."
"Here is the great Cristobal Ramos!" said Dona Perfecta, clapping the Centaur on the back. "He mounts his horse and rides about in the Plaza and up and down the high-road to attract the attention of the soldiers; when they see him they are terrified at the fierce appearance of the hero, and they all run away, half-dead with fright."
Dona Perfecta ended with an exaggerated laugh, which the profound silence of her hearers made still more irritating. Caballuco was pale.
"Senor Paso Largo," continued the lady, becoming serious, "when you go home to-night, send me your son Bartolome to stay here. I need to have brave people in the house; and even with that it may very well happen that, some fine morning, my daughter and myself will be found murdered in our beds."
"Senora!" exclaimed every one.
"Senora!" cried Caballuco, rising to his feet, "is that a jest, or what is it?"
"Senor Vejarruco, Senor Paso Largo," continued Dona Perfecta, without looking at the bravo of the place, "I am not safe in my own house. No one in Orbajosa is, and least of all, I. I live with my heart in my mouth. I cannot close my eyes in the whole night."
"But who, who would dare——"
"Come," exclaimed Licurgo with fire, "I, old and sick as I am, would be capable of fighting the whole Spanish army if a hair of the mistress' head should be touched!"
"Senor Caballuco," said Frasquito Gonzalez, "will be enough and more than enough."
"Oh, no," responded Dona Perfecta, with cruel sarcasm, "don't you see that Ramos has given his word to the governor?"
Caballuco sat down again, and, crossing one leg over the other, clasped his hands on them.
"A coward will be enough for me," continued the mistress of the house implacably, "provided he has not given his word to any one. Perhaps I may come to see my house assaulted, my darling daughter torn from my arms, myself trampled under foot and insulted in the vilest manner——"
She was unable to continue. Her voice died away in her throat, and she burst into tears.
"Senora, for Heaven's sake calm yourself! Come, there is no cause yet!" said Don Inocencio hastily, and manifesting the greatest distress in his voice and his countenance. "Besides, we must have a little resignation and bear patiently the calamities which God sends us."
"But who, senora, who would dare to commit such outrages?" asked one of the four countrymen. "Orbajosa would rise as one man to defend the mistress."
"But who, who would do it?" they all repeated.
"There, don't trouble yourselves asking useless questions," said the Penitentiary officiously. "You may go."
"No, no, let them stay," said Dona Perfecta quickly, drying her tears. "The company of my loyal servants is a great consolation to me."
"May my race be accursed!" said Uncle Licurgo, striking his knee with his clenched hand, "if all this mess is not the work of the mistress' own nephew."
"Of Don Juan Rey's son?"
"From the moment I first set eyes on him at the station at Villahorrenda, and he spoke to me with his honeyed voice and his mincing manners," declared Licurgo, "I thought him a great—I will not say what, through respect for the mistress. But I knew him—I put my mark upon him from that moment, and I make no mistakes. A thread shows what the ball is, as the saying goes; a sample tells what the cloth is, and a claw what the lion is."
"Let no one speak ill of that unhappy young man in my presence," said Senora de Polentinos severely. "No matter how great his faults may be, charity forbids our speaking of them and giving them publicity."
"But charity," said Don Inocencio, with some energy, "does not forbid us protecting ourselves against the wicked, and that is what the question is. Since character and courage have sunk so low in unhappy Orbajosa; since our town appears disposed to hold up its face to be spat upon by half a dozen soldiers and a corporal, let us find protection in union among ourselves."
"I will protect myself in whatever way I can," said Dona Perfecta resignedly, clasping her hands. "God's will be done!"
"Such a stir about nothing! By the Lord! In this house they are all afraid of their shadows," exclaimed Caballuco, half seriously, half jestingly. "One would think this Don Pepito was a legion of devils. Don't be frightened, senora. My little nephew Juan, who is thirteen, will guard the house, and we shall see, nephew for nephew, which is the best man."
"We all know already what your boasting and bragging signify," replied Dona Perfecta. "Poor Ramos! You want to pretend to be very brave when we have already had proof that you are not worth any thing."
Ramos turned slightly pale, while he fixed on Dona Perfecta a strange look in which terror and respect were blended.
"Yes, man; don't look at me in that way. You know already that I am not afraid of bugaboos. Do you want me to speak plainly to you now? Well, you are a coward."
Ramos, moving about restlessly in his chair, like one who is troubled with the itch, seemed greatly disturbed. His nostrils expelled and drew in the air, like those of a horse. Within that massive frame a storm of rage and fury, roaring and destroying, struggled to escape. After stammering a few words and muttering others under his breath, he rose to his feet and bellowed:
"I will cut off the head of Senor Rey!"
"What folly! You are as brutal as you are cowardly," said Dona Perfecta, turning pale. "Why do you talk about killing? I want no one killed, much less my nephew—a person whom I love, in spite of his wickedness."
"A homicide! What an atrocity!" exclaimed Don Inocencio, scandalized. "The man is mad!"
"To kill! The very idea of killing a man horrifies me, Caballuco," said Dona Perfecta, closing her mild eyes. "Poor man! Ever since you have been wanting to show your bravery, you have been howling like a ravening wolf. Go away, Ramos; you terrify me."
"Doesn't the mistress say she is afraid? Doesn't she say that they will attack the house; that they will carry off the young lady?"
"Yes, I fear so."
"And one man is going to do that," said Ramos contemptuously, sitting down again, "Don Pepe Poquita Cosa, with his mathematics, is going to do that. I did wrong in saying I would slit his throat. A doll of that kind one takes by the ear and ducks in the river."
"Yes, laugh now, you fool! It is not my nephew alone who is going to commit the outrages you have mentioned and which I fear; if it were he alone I should not fear him. I would tell Librada to stand at the door with a broom—and that would be sufficient. It is not he alone, no!"
"Pretend you don't understand! Don't you know that my nephew and the brigadier who commands that accursed troop have been confabulating?"
"Confabulating!" repeated Caballuco, as if puzzled by the word.
"That they are bosom friends," said Licurgo. "Confabulate means to be like bosom friends. I had my suspicions already of what the mistress says."
"It all amounts to this—that the brigadier and the officers are hand and glove with Don Jose, and what he wants those brave soldiers want; and those brave soldiers will commit all kinds of outrages and atrocities, because that is their trade."
"And we have no alcalde to protect us."
"Nor governor. That is to say that we are at the mercy of that infamous rabble."
"Yesterday," said Vejarruco, "some soldiers enticed away Uncle Julian's youngest daughter, and the poor thing was afraid to go back home; they found her standing barefooted beside the old fountain, crying and picking up the pieces of her broken jar."
"Poor Don Gregorio Palomeque, the notary of Naharilla Alta!" said Frasquito. "Those rascals robbed him of all the money he had in his house. And all the brigadier said, when he was told about it, was it was a lie."
"Tyrants! greater tyrants were never born," said the other. "When I say that it is through punctilio that I am not with the Aceros!"
"And what news is there of Francisco Acero?" asked Dona Perfecta gently. "I should be sorry if any mischance were to happen to him. Tell me, Don Inocencio, was not Francisco Acero born in Orbajosa?"
"No; he and his brother are from Villajuan."
"I am sorry for it, for Orbajosa's sake," said Dona Perfecta. "This poor city has fallen into misfortune. Do you know if Francisco Acero gave his word to the governor not to trouble the poor soldiers in their abductions, in their impious deeds, in their sacrilegious acts, in their villanies?"
Caballuco sprang from his chair. He felt himself now not stung, but cut to the quick by a cruel stroke, like that of a sabre. With his face burning and his eyes flashing fire he cried:
"I gave my word to the governor because the governor told me that they had come for a good purpose."
"Barbarian, don't shout! Speak like other people, and we will listen to you."
"I promised that neither I nor any of my friends would raise guerillas in the neighborhood of Orbajosa. To those who wanted to take up arms because they were itching to fight I said: 'Go to the Aceros, for here we won't stir.' But I have a good many honest men, yes, senora; and true men, yes, senora; and valiant men, yes, senora; scattered about in the hamlets and villages and in the suburbs and the mountains, each in his own house, eh? And so soon as I say a quarter of a word to them, eh? they will be taking down their guns, eh? and setting out on horseback or on foot, for whatever place I tell them. And don't keep harping on words, for if I gave my word it was because I don't wish to fight; and if I want guerillas there will be guerillas; and if I don't there won't, for I am who I am, the same man that I always was, as every one knows very well. And I say again don't keep harping on words, eh? and don't let people say one thing to me when they mean another, eh? and if people want me to fight, let them say so plainly, eh? for that is what God has given us tongues for, to say this thing or that. The mistress knows very well who I am, as I know that I owe to her the shirt on my back, and the bread I eat to-day, and the first pea I sucked after I was weaned, and the coffin in which my father was buried when he died, and the medicines and the doctor that cured me when I was sick; and the mistress knows very well that if she says to me, 'Caballuco, break your head,' I will go there to the corner and dash it against the wall; the mistress knows very well that if she tells me now that it is day, although I see that it is night, I will believe that I am mistaken, and that it is broad day; the mistress knows very well that she and her interests are for me before my own life, and that if a mosquito stings her in my presence, I pardon it, because it is a mosquito; the mistress knows very well that she is dearer to me than all there is besides under the sun. To a man of heart like me one says, 'Caballuco, you stupid fellow, do this or do that.' And let there be an end to sarcasms, and beating about the bush, and preaching one thing and meaning another, and a stab here and a pinch there."
"There, man, calm yourself," said Dona Perfecta kindly. "You have worked yourself into a heat like those republican orators who came here to preach free religion, free love, and I don't know how many other free things. Let them bring you a glass of water."
Caballuco, twisting his handkerchief into a ball, wiped with it his broad forehead and his neck, which were bathed in perspiration. A glass of water was brought to him and the worthy canon, with a humility that was in perfect keeping with his sacerdotal character, took it from the servant's hand to give it to him himself, and held the plate while he drank. Caballuco gulped down the water noisily.
"Now bring another glass for me, Senora Librada," said Don Inocencio. "I have a little fire inside me too."
"With regard to the guerillas," said Dona Perfecta, when they had finished drinking, "all I will say is—do as your conscience dictates to you."
"I know nothing about dictations," cried Ramos. "I will do whatever the mistress pleases!"
"I can give you no advice on so important a matter," answered Dona Perfecta with the cautiousness and moderation which so well became her. "This is a very serious business, and I can give you no advice about it."
"But your opinion——"
"My opinion is that you should open your eyes and see, that you should open your ears and hear. Consult your own heart—I will grant that you have a great heart. Consult that judge, that wise counsellor, and do as it bids you."
Caballuco reflected; he meditated as much as a sword can meditate.
"We counted ourselves yesterday in Naharilla Alta," said Vejarruco, "and we were thirteen—ready for any little undertaking. But as we were afraid the mistress might be vexed, we did nothing. It is time now for the shearing."
"Don't mind about the shearing," said Dona Perfecta. "There will be time enough for it. It won't be left undone for that."
"My two boys quarrelled with each other yesterday," said Licurgo, "because one of them wanted to join Francisco Acero and the other didn't. 'Easy, boys, easy,' I said to them; 'all in good time. Wait; we know how to fight here as well as they do anywhere else.'"
"Last night," said Uncle Paso Largo, "Roque Pelosmalos told me that the moment Senor Ramos said half a word they would all be ready, with their arms in their hands. What a pity that the two Burguillos brothers went to work in the fields in Lugarnoble!"
"Go for them you," said the mistress quickly. "Senor Lucas, do you provide Uncle Paso Largo with a horse."
"And if the mistress tells me to do so, and Senor Ramos agrees," said Frasquito Gonzalez, "I will go to Villahorrenda to see if Robustiano, the forester, and his brother Pedro will also—"
"I think that is a good idea. Robustiano will not venture to come to Orbajosa, because he owes me a trifle. You can tell him that I forgive him the six dollars and a half. These poor people who sacrifice themselves with so little. Is it not so, Senor Don Inocencio?"
"Our good Ramos here tells me," answered the canon, "that his friends are displeased with him for his lukewarmness; but that, as soon as they see that he has decided, they will all put the cartridge-box in their belts."
"What, have you decided to take to the roads?" said the mistress. "I have not advised you to do any such thing, and if you do it, it is of your own free-will. Neither has Senor Don Inocencio said a word to you to that effect. But if that is your decision, you have no doubt strong reasons for coming to it. Tell me, Cristobal, will you have some supper? Will you take something—speak frankly."
"As far as my advising Senor Ramos to take the field is concerned," said Don Inocencio, looking over his spectacles, "Dona Perfecta is quite right. I, as an ecclesiastic, could advise nothing of the kind. I know that some priests do so, and even themselves take up arms; but that seems to me improper, very improper, and I for one will not follow their example. I carry my scrupulosity so far as not to say a word to Senor Ramos about the delicate question of his taking up arms. I know that Orbajosa desires it; I know that all the inhabitants of this noble city would bless him for it; I know that deeds are going to be done here worthy of being recorded in history; but notwithstanding, let me be allowed to maintain a discreet silence."
"Very well said," said Dona Perfecta. "I don't approve of ecclesiastics taking any part in such matters. That is the way an enlightened priest ought to act. Of course we know that on serious and solemn occasions, as when our country and our faith are in danger, for instance, it is within the province of an ecclesiastic to incite men to the conflict and even to take a part in it. Since God himself has taken part in celebrated battles, under the form of angels and saints, his ministers may very well do so also. During the wars against the infidels how many bishops headed the Castilian troops!"
"A great many, and some of them were illustrious warriors. But these times are not like those senora. It is true that, if we examine the matter closely, the faith is in greater danger now than it was then. For what do the troops that occupy our city and the surrounding villages represent? What do they represent? Are they any thing else but the vile instruments of which the atheists and Protestants who infest Madrid make use for their perfidious conquests and the extermination of the faith? In that centre of corruption, of scandal, of irreligion and unbelief, a few malignant men, bought by foreign gold, occupy themselves in destroying in our Spain the deeds of faith. Why, what do you suppose? They allow us to say mass and you to hear it through the remnant of consideration, for shame's sake—but, the day least expected—For my part, I am tranquil. I am not a man to disturb myself about any worldly and temporal interest. Dona Perfecta is well aware of that; all who know me are aware of it. My mind is at rest, and the triumph of the wicked does not terrify me. I know well that terrible days are in store for us; that all of us who wear the sacerdotal garb have our lives hanging by a hair, for Spain, doubt it not, will witness scenes like those of the French Revolution, in which thousands of pious ecclesiastics perished in a single day. But I am not troubled. When the hour to kill strikes, I will present my neck. I have lived long enough. Of what use am I? None, none!"
"May I be devoured by dogs," exclaimed Vejarruco, shaking his fist, which had all the hardness and the strength of a hammer, "if we do not soon make an end of that thievish rabble!"
"They say that next week they will begin to pull down the cathedral," observed Frasquito.
"I suppose they will pull it down with pickaxes and hammers," said the canon, smiling. "There are artificers who, without those implements, can build more rapidly than they can pull down. You all know that, according to holy tradition, our beautiful chapel of the Sagrario was pulled down by the Moors in a month, and immediately afterward rebuilt by the angels in a single night. Let them pull it down; let them pull it down!"
"In Madrid, as the curate of Naharilla told us the other night," said Vejarruco, "there are so few churches left standing that some of the priests say mass in the middle of the street, and as they are beaten and insulted and spat upon, there are many who don't wish to say it."
"Fortunately here, my children," observed Don Inocencio, "we have not yet had scenes of that nature. Why? Because they know what kind of people you are; because they have heard of your ardent piety and your valor. I don't envy the first ones who lay hands on our priests and our religion. Of course it is not necessary to say that, if they are not stopped in time, they will commit atrocities. Poor Spain, so holy and so meek and so good! Who would have believed she would ever arrive at such extremities! But I maintain that impiety will not triumph, no. There are courageous people still; there are people still like those of old. Am I not right, Senor Ramos?"
"Yes, senor, that there are," answered the latter.
"I have a blind faith in the triumph of the law of God. Some one must stand up in defence of it. If not one, it will be another. The palm of victory, and with it eternal glory, some one must bear. The wicked will perish, if not to-day, to-morrow. That which goes against the law of God will fall irremediably. Let it be in this manner or in that, fall it must. Neither its sophistries, nor its evasions, nor its artifices will save it. The hand of God is raised against it and will infallibly strike it. Let us pity them and desire their repentance. As for you, my children, do not expect that I shall say a word to you about the step which you are no doubt going to take. I know that you are good; I know that your generous determination and the noble end which you have in view will wash away from you all the stain of the sin of shedding blood. I know that God will bless you; that your victory, the same as your death, will exalt you in the eyes of men and in the eyes of God. I know that you deserve palms and glory and all sorts of honors; but in spite of this, my children, my lips will not incite you to the combat. They have never done it, and they will not do it now. Act according to the impulse of your own noble hearts. If they bid you to remain in your houses, remain in them; if they bid you to leave them—why, then, leave them. I will resign myself to be a martyr and to bow my neck to the executioner, if that vile army remains here. But if a noble and ardent and pious impulse of the sons of Orbajosa contributes to the great work of the extirpation of our country's ills, I shall hold myself the happiest of men, solely in being your fellow-townsman; and all my life of study, of penitence, of resignation, will seem to me less meritorious, less deserving of heaven, than a single one of your heroic days."
"Impossible to say more or to say it better!" exclaimed Dona Perfecta, in a burst of enthusiasm.
Caballuco had leaned forward in his chair and was resting his elbows on his knees; when the canon ended he took his hand and kissed it with fervor.
"A better man was never born," said Uncle Licurgo, wiping, or pretending to wipe away a tear.
"Long life to the Senor Penitentiary!" cried Frasquito Gonzalez, rising to his feet and throwing his cap up to the ceiling.
"Silence!" said Dona Perfecta. "Sit down, Frasquito! You are one of those with whom it is always much cry and little wool."
"Blessed be God who gave you that eloquent tongue!" exclaimed Cristobal, inflamed with admiration. "What a pair I have before me! While these two live what need is there of any one else? All the people in Spain ought to be like them. But how could that be, when there is nothing in it but roguery! In Madrid, which is the capital where the law and the mandarins come from, every thing is robbery and cheating. Poor religion, what a state they have brought it to! There is nothing to be seen but crimes. Senor Don Inocencio, Senora Dona Perfecta, by my father's soul, by the soul of my grandfather, by the salvation of my own soul, I swear that I wish to die!"
"That I wish those rascally dogs may kill me, and I say that I wish they may kill me, because I cannot cut them in quarters. I am very little."
"Ramos, you are great," said Dona Perfecta solemnly.
"Great? Great? Very great, as far as my courage is concerned; but have I fortresses, have I cavalry, have I artillery?"
"That is a thing, Ramos," said Dona Perfecta, smiling, "about which I would not concern myself. Has not the enemy what you lack?"
"Take it from him, then."
"We will take it from him, yes, senora. When I say that we will take it from him—"
"My dear Ramos," exclaimed Don Inocencio, "yours is an enviable position. To distinguish yourself, to raise yourself above the base multitude, to put yourself on an equality with the greatest heroes of the earth, to be able to say that the hand of God guides your hand—oh, what grandeur and honor! My friend, this is not flattery. What dignity, what nobleness, what magnanimity! No; men of such a temper cannot die. The Lord goes with them, and the bullet and the steel of the enemy are arrested in their course; they do not dare—how should they dare—to touch them, coming from the musket and the hand of heretics? Dear Caballuco, seeing you, seeing your bravery and your nobility, there come to my mind involuntarily the verses of that ballad on the conquest of the Empire of Trebizond:
"'Came the valiant Roland Armed at every point, On his war-horse mounted, The gallant Briador; His good sword Durlindana Girded to his side, Couched for the attack his lance, On his arm his buckler stout, Through his helmet's visor Flashing fire he came; Quivering like a slender reed Shaken by the wind his lance, And all the host united Defying haughtily.'"
"Very good," exclaimed Licurgo, clapping his hands. "And I say like Don Renialdos:
"'Let none the wrath of Don Renialdos Dare brave and hope to escape unscathed; For he who seeks with him a quarrel, Shall pay so dearly for his rashness That he, and all his cause who champion, Shall at my hand or meet destruction Or chastisement severe shall suffer.'"
"Ramos, you will take some supper, you will eat something; won't you?" said the mistress of the house.
"Nothing, nothing;" answered the Centaur. "Or if you give me any thing, let it be a plate of gunpowder."
And bursting into a boisterous laugh, he walked up and down the room several times, attentively observed by every one; then, stopping beside the group, he looked fixedly at Dona Perfecta and thundered forth these words:
"I say that there is nothing more to be said. Long live Orbajosa! death to Madrid!"
And he brought his hand down on the table with such violence that the floor shook.
"What a valiant spirit!" said Don Inocencio.
"What a fist you have!"
Every one was looking at the table, which had been split in two by the blow.
Then they looked at the never-enough-to-be-admired Renialdos or Caballuco. Undoubtedly there was in his handsome countenance, in his green eyes animated by a strange, feline glow, in his black hair, in his herculean frame, a certain expression and air of grandeur—a trace, or rather a memory, of the grand races that dominated the world. But his general aspect was one of pitiable degeneration, and it was difficult to discover the noble and heroic filiation in the brutality of the present. He resembled Don Cayetano's great men as the mule resembles the horse.
The conference lasted for some time longer, but we omit what followed as not being necessary to a clear understanding of our story. At last they separated, Senor Don Inocencio remaining to the last, as usual. Before the canon and Dona Perfecta had had time to exchange a word, an elderly woman, Dona Perfecta's confidential servant and her right hand, entered the dining-room, and her mistress, seeing that she looked disturbed and anxious, was at once filled with disquietude, suspecting that something wrong was going on in the house.
"I can't find the senorita anywhere," said the servant, in answer to her mistress' questions.
"Good Heavens—Rosario! Where is my daughter?"
"Virgin of Succor protect us!" cried the Penitentiary, taking up his hat and preparing to hurry out with Dona Perfecta.
"Search for her well. But was she not with you in her room?"
"Yes, senora," answered the old woman, trembling, "but the devil tempted me, and I fell asleep."
"A curse upon your sleep! What is this? Rosario, Rosario! Librada!"
They went upstairs and came down again, they went up a second time and came down again; carrying a light and looking carefully in all the rooms. At last the voice of the Penitentiary was heard saying joyfully from the stairs:
"Here she is, here she is! She has been found."
A moment later mother and daughter were standing face to face in the hall.
"Where were you?" asked Dona Perfecta, in a severe voice, scrutinizing her daughter's face closely.
"In the garden," answered the girl, more dead than alive.
"In the garden at this hour? Rosario!"
"I was warm, I went to the window, my handkerchief dropped out, and I came down stairs for it!"
"Why didn't you ask Librada to get it for you? Librada! Where is that girl? Has she fallen asleep too?"
Librada at last made her appearance. Her pale face revealed the consternation and the apprehension of the delinquent.
"What is this? Where were you?" asked her mistress, with terrible anger.
"Why, senora, I came down stairs to get the clothes out of the front room—and I fell asleep."
"Every one here seems to have fallen asleep to-night. Some of you, I fancy, will not sleep in my house to-morrow night. Rosario, you may go."
Comprehending that it was necessary to act with promptness and energy, Dona Perfecta and the canon began their investigations without delay. Questions, threats, entreaties, promises, were skilfully employed to discover the truth regarding what had happened. Not even the shadow of guilt was found to attach to the old servant; but Librada confessed frankly between tears and sighs all her delinquencies, which we will sum up as follows:
Shortly after his arrival in the house Senor Pinzon had begun to cast loving glances at Senorita Rosario. He had given money to Librada, according to what the latter said, to carry messages and love-letters to her. The young lady had not seemed angry, but, on the contrary, pleased, and several days had passed in this manner. Finally, the servant declared that Rosario and Senor Pinzon had agreed to meet and talk with each other on this night at the window of the room of the latter, which opened on the garden. They had confided their design to the maid, who promised to favor it, in consideration of a sum which was at once given her. It had been agreed that Senor Pinzon was to leave the house at his usual hour and return to it secretly at nine o'clock, go to his room, and leave it and the house again, clandestinely also, a little later, to return, without concealment, at his usual late hour. In this way no suspicion would fall upon him. Librada had waited for Pinzon, who had entered the house closely enveloped in his cloak, without speaking a word. He had gone to his room at the same moment in which the young lady descended to the garden. During the interview, at which she was not present, Librada had remained on guard in the hall to warn Pinzon, if any danger should threaten; and at the end of an hour the latter had left the house enveloped in his cloak, as before, and without speaking a word. When the confession was ended Don Inocencio said to the wretched girl:
"Are you sure that the person who came into and went out of the house was Senor Pinzon?"
The culprit answered nothing, but her features expressed the utmost perplexity.
Her mistress turned green with anger.
"Did you see his face?"
"But who else could it be but he?" answered the maid. "I am certain that it was he. He went straight to his room—he knew the way to it perfectly well."
"It is strange," said the canon. "Living in the house there was no need for him to use such mystery. He might have pretended illness and remained in the house. Does it not seem so to you, senora?"
"Librada," exclaimed the latter, in a paroxysm of anger, "I vow that you shall go to prison."
And clasping her hands, she dug the nails of the one into the other with such force as almost to draw blood.
"Senor Don Inocencio," she exclaimed, "let us die—there is no remedy but to die."
Then she burst into a fit of inconsolable weeping.
"Courage, senora," said the priest, in a moved voice. "Courage—now it is necessary to be very brave. This requires calmness and a great deal of courage.
"Mine is immense," said Senora de Polentinos, in the midst of her sobs.
"Mine is very small," said the canon; "but we shall see, we shall see."
Meanwhile Rosario—with her heart torn and bleeding, unable to shed tears, unable to be at peace or rest, transpierced by grief as by a sharp sword, with her thoughts passing swiftly from the world to God and from God to the world, bewildered and half-crazed, her hands clasped, her bare feet resting on the floor—was kneeling, late in the evening, in her own room, beside her bed, on the edge of which she rested her burning forehead, in darkness, in solitude, and in silence. She was careful not to make the slightest noise, in order not to attract the attention of her mother, who was asleep, or seemed to be asleep, in the adjoining room. She lifted up her distracted thoughts to Heaven in this form:
"Lord, my God, why is it that before I did not know how to lie, and now I know? Why did I not know before how to deceive, and now I deceive? Am I a vile woman? Is this that I feel, is this that is happening to me, a fall from which there can be no arising? Have I ceased to be virtuous and good? I do not recognize myself. Is it I or is it some one else who is in this place? How many terrible things in a few days! How many different sensations! My heart is consumed with all it has felt. Lord, my God, dost thou hear my voice, or am I condemned to pray eternally without being heard? I am good, nothing will convince me that I am not good. To love, to love boundlessly, is that wickedness? But no—it is no illusion, no error—I am worse than the worst woman on earth. A great serpent is within me, and has fastened his poisonous fangs in my heart. What is this that I feel? My God, why dost thou not kill me? Why dost thou not plunge me forever into the depths of hell? It is frightful, but I confess it to the priest—I hate my mother. Why is this? I cannot explain it to myself. He has not said a word to me against my mother. I do not know how this is come to pass. How wicked I am! The demons have taken possession of me. Lord, come to my help, for with my own strength alone I cannot vanquish myself. A terrible impulse urges me to leave this house. I wish to escape, to fly from it. If he does not take me, I will drag myself after him through the streets. What divine joy is this that mingles in my breast with so cruel a grief? Lord God, my father, illumine me. I desire only to love. I was not born for this hatred that is consuming me. I was not born to deceive, to lie, to cheat. To-morrow I will go out into the streets and cry aloud to all the passers-by: 'I love! I hate!' My heart will relieve itself in this way. What happiness it would be to be able to reconcile every thing, to love and respect every one! May the Most Holy Virgin protect me. Again that terrible idea! I don't wish to think it, and I think it. Ah! I cannot deceive myself in regard to this. I can neither destroy it nor diminish it—but I can confess it; and I confess it, saying to thee: 'Lord, I hate my mother!'"
At last she fell into a doze. In her uneasy sleep her imagination reproduced in her mind all she had done that night, distorting it, without altering it in substance. She heard again the clock of the cathedral striking nine; she saw with joy the old servant fall into a peaceful sleep; and she left the room very slowly, in order to make no noise; she descended the stairs softly, step by step and on tiptoe, in order to avoid making the slightest sound. She went into the garden, going around through the servants' quarters and the kitchen; in the garden she paused for a moment to look up at the sky, which was dark and studded with stars. The wind was hushed. Not a breath disturbed the profound stillness of the night. It seemed to maintain a fixed and silent attention—the attention of eyes that look without winking and ears that listen attentively, awaiting a great event. The night was watching.
She then approached the glass door of the dining-room and looked cautiously through it, from a little distance, fearing that those within might perceive her. By the light of the dining-room lamp she saw her mother sitting with her back toward her. The Penitentiary was on her right, and his profile seemed to undergo a strange transformation, his nose grew larger and larger, seeming like the beak of some fabulous bird; and his whole face became a black silhouette with angles here and there, sharp derisive, irritating. In front of him sat Caballuco, who resembled a dragon rather than a man. Rosario could see his green eyes, like two lanterns of convex glass. This glow, and the imposing figure of the animal, inspired her with fear. Uncle Licurgo and the other three men appeared to her imagination like grotesque little figures. She had seen somewhere, doubtless in some of the clay figures at the fairs, that foolish smile, those coarse faces, that stupid look. The dragon moved his arms which, instead of gesticulating, turned round, like the arms of a windmill, and the green globes, like the lights of a pharmacy, moved from side to side. His glance was blinding. The conversation appeared to be interesting. The Penitentiary was flapping his wings. He was a presumptuous bird, who tried to fly and could not. His beak lengthened itself, twisting round and round. His feathers stood out, as if with rage; and then, collecting himself and becoming pacified, he hid his bald head under his wings. Then the little clay figures began to move, wishing to be persons, and Frasquito Gonzalez was trying to pass for a man.
Rosario felt an inexplicable terror, witnessing this friendly conference. She went away from the door and advanced, step by step, looking around her to see if she was observed. Although she saw no one, she fancied that a million eyes were fastened upon her. But suddenly her fears and her shame were dispelled. At the window of the room occupied by Senor Pinzon appeared a man, dressed in blue; the buttons on his coat shone like rows of little lights. She approached. At the same instant she felt a pair of arms with galloons lift her up as if she were a feather and with a swift movement place her in the room. All was changed. Suddenly a crash was heard, a violent blow that shook the house to its foundations. Neither knew the cause of the noise. They trembled and were silent.
It was the moment in which the dragon had broken the table in the dining-room.
UNFORESEEN EVENTS—A PASSING DISAGREEMENT
The scene changes. We see before us a handsome room, bright, modest, gay, comfortable, and surprisingly clean. A fine matting covers the floor, and the white walls are covered with good prints of saints and some sculptures of doubtful artistic value. The old mahogany of the furniture shines with the polish of many Saturday rubbings, and the altar, on which a magnificent Virgin, dressed in blue and silver, receives domestic worship, is covered with innumerable pretty trifles, half sacred, half profane. There are on it, besides, little pictures in beads, holy-water fonts, a watch-case with an Agnes Dei, a Palm Sunday palm-branch, and not a few odorless artificial flowers. A number of oaken bookshelves contain a rich and choice library, in which Horace, the Epicurean and Sybarite, stands side by side with the tender Virgil, in whose verses we see the heart of the enamored Dido throbbing and melting; Ovid the large-nosed, as sublime as he is obscene and sycophantic, side by side with Martial, the eloquent and witty vagabond; Tibullus the impassioned, with Cicero the grand; the severe Titus Livius with the terrible Tacitus, the scourge of the Caesars; Lucretius the pantheist; Juvenal, who flayed with his pen; Plautus, who composed the best comedies of antiquity while turning a mill-wheel; Seneca the philosopher, of whom it is said that the noblest act of his life was his death; Quintilian the rhetorician; the immoral Sallust, who speaks so eloquently of virtue; the two Plinys; Suetonius and Varro—in a word, all the Latin letters from the time when they stammered their first word with Livius Andronicus until they exhaled their last sigh with Rutilius.
But while making this unnecessary though rapid enumeration, we have not observed that two women have entered the room. It is very early, but the Orbajosans are early risers. The birds are singing to burst their throats in their cages; the church-bells are ringing for mass, and the goats, going from house to house to be milked, are tinkling their bells gayly.
The two ladies whom we see in the room that we have described have just come back from hearing mass. They are dressed in black, and each of them carries in her right hand her little prayer-book, and the rosary twined around her fingers.
"Your uncle cannot delay long now," said one of them. "We left him beginning mass; but he gets through quickly, and by this time he will be in the sacristy, taking off his chasuble. I would have stayed to hear him say mass, but to-day is a very busy day for me."
"I heard only the prebendary's mass to-day," said the other, "and he says mass in a twinkling; and I don't think it has done me any good, for I was greatly preoccupied. I could not get the thought of the terrible things that are happening to us out of my head."
"What is to be done? We must only have patience. Let us see what advice your uncle will give us."
"Ah!" exclaimed the other, heaving a deep and pathetic sigh; "I feel my blood on fire."
"God will protect us."
"To think that a person like you should be threatened by a ——. And he persists in his designs! Last night Senora Dona Perfecta, I went back to the widow De Cuzco's hotel, as you told me, and asked her for later news. Don Pepito and the brigadier Batalla are always consulting together—ah, my God! consulting about their infernal plans, and emptying bottle after bottle of wine. They are a pair of rakes, a pair of drunkards. No doubt they are plotting some fine piece of villany together. As I take such an interest in you, last night, seeing Don Pepito having the hotel while I was there, I followed him——"
"And where did you go?"
"To the Casino; yes, senora, to the Casino," responded the other, with some confusion. "Afterward he went back to his hotel. And how my uncle scolded me because I remained out so late, playing the spy in that way! But I can't help it, and to see a person like you threatened by such dangers makes me wild. For there is no use in talking; I foresee that the day we least expect it those villains will attack the house and carry off Rosarito."
Dona Perfecta, for she it was, bending her eyes on the floor, remained for a long time wrapped in thought. She was pale, and her brows were gathered in a frown. At last she exclaimed:
"Well, I see no way of preventing it!"
"But I see a way," quickly said the other woman, who was the niece of the Penitentiary and Jacinto's mother; "I see a very simple way, that I explained to you, and that you do not like. Ah, senora! you are too good. On occasions like this it is better to be a little less perfect—to lay scruples aside. Why, would that be an offence to God?"
"Maria Remedios," said Dona Perfecta haughtily, "don't talk nonsense."
"Nonsense! You, with all your wisdom, cannot make your nephew do as you wish. What could be simpler than what I propose? Since there is no justice now to protect us, let us do a great act of justice ourselves. Are there not men in your house who are ready for any thing? Well, call them and say to them: 'Look, Caballuco, Paso Largo,' or whoever it may be, 'to-night disguise yourself well, so that you may not be recognized; take with you a friend in whom you have confidence, and station yourself at the corner of the Calle de Santa Faz. Wait a while, and when Don Jose Rey passes through the Calle de la Triperia on his way to the Casino,—for he will certainly go to the Casino, understand me well,—when he is passing you will spring out on him and give him a fright.'"
"Maria Remedios, don't be a fool!" said Dona Perfecta with magisterial dignity.
"Nothing more than a fright, senora; attend well to what I say, a fright. Why! Do you suppose I would advise a crime? Good God! the very idea fills me with horror, and I fancy I can see before my eyes blood and fire! Nothing of the sort, senora. A fright—nothing but a fright, which will make that ruffian understand that we are well protected. He goes alone to the Casino, senora, entirely alone; and there he meets his valiant friends, those of the sabre and the helmet. Imagine that he gets the fright and that he has a few bones broken, in addition—without any serious wounds, of course. Well, in that case, either his courage will fail him and he will leave Orbajosa, or he will be obliged to keep his bed for a fortnight. But they must be told to make the fright a good one. No killing, of course; they must take care of that, but just a good beating."
"Maria," said Dona Perfecta haughtily, "you are incapable of a lofty thought, of a great and saving resolve. What you advise me is an unworthy piece of cowardice."
"Very well, I will be silent. Poor me! what a fool I am!" exclaimed the Penitentiary's niece with humility. "I will keep my follies to console you after you have lost your daughter."
"My daughter! Lose my daughter!" exclaimed Dona Perfecta, with a sudden access of rage. "Only to hear you puts me out of my senses. No, they shall not take her from me! If Rosario does not abhor that ruffian as I wish her to do, she shall abhor him. For a mother's authority must have some weight. We will tear this passion, or rather this caprice, from her heart, as a tender plant is torn out of the ground before it has had time to cast roots. No, this cannot be, Remedios. Come what may, it shall not be! Not even the most infamous means he could employ will avail that madman. Rather than see her my nephew's wife, I would accept any evil that might happen to her, even death!"
"Better dead, better buried and food for worms," affirmed Remedios, clasping her hands as if she were saying a prayer—"than see her in the power of—ah, senora, do not be offended if I say something to you, and that is, that it would be a great weakness to yield merely because Rosarito has had a few secret interviews with that audacious man. The affair of the night before last, as my uncle related it to me, seems to me a vile trick on Don Jose to obtain his object by means of a scandal. A great many men do that. Ah, Divine Saviour, I don't know how there are women who can look any man in the face unless it be a priest."
"Be silent, be silent!" said Dona Perfecta, with vehemence. "Don't mention the occurrence of the night before last to me. What a horrible affair! Maria Remedios, I understand now how anger can imperil the salvation of a soul. I am burning with rage—unhappy that I am, to see such things and not to be a man! But to speak the truth in regard to the occurrence of the night before last—I still have my doubts. Librada vows and declares that Pinzon was the man who came into the house. My daughter denies every thing; my daughter has never told me a lie! I persist in my suspicions. I think that Pinzon is a hypocritical go-between, but nothing more."
"We come back to the same thing—that the author of all the trouble is the blessed mathematician. Ah! my heart did not deceive me when I first saw him. Well, then senora! resign yourself to see something still more terrible, unless you make up your mind to call Caballuco and say to him, 'Caballuco, I hope that—'"
"The same thing again; what a simpleton you are!"
"Oh yes! I know I am a great simpleton; but how can I help it if I am not any wiser? I say what comes into my head, without any art."
"What you think of—that silly and vulgar idea of the beating and the fright—is what would occur to any one. You have not an ounce of brains, Remedios; to solve a serious question you can think of nothing better than a piece of folly like that. I have thought of a means more worthy of noble-minded and well-bred persons. A beating! What stupidity! Besides, I would not on any account have my nephew receive even so much as a scratch by an order of mine. God will send him his punishment through some one of the wonderful ways which he knows how to choose. All we have to do is to work in order that the designs of God may find no obstacle. Maria Remedios, it is necessary in matters of this kind to go directly to the causes of things. But you know nothing about causes—you can see only trifles."
"That may be so," said the priest's niece, with humility. "I wonder why God made me so foolish that I can understand nothing of those sublime ideas!"
"It is necessary to go to the bottom—to the bottom, Remedios. Don't you understand yet?"
"My nephew is not my nephew, woman; he is blasphemy, sacrilege, atheism, demagogy. Do you know what demagogy is?"
"Something relating to those people who burned Paris with petroleum; and those who pull down the churches and fire on the images. So far I understand very well."
"Well, my nephew is all that! Ah! if he were alone in Orbajosa—but no, child. My nephew, through a series of fatalities, which are trials, the transitory evils that God permits for our chastisement, is equivalent to an army; is equivalent to the authority of the government; equivalent to the alcalde; equivalent to the judge. My nephew is not my nephew; he is the official nation, Remedios—that second nation composed of the scoundrels who govern in Madrid, and who have made themselves masters of its material strength; of that apparent nation—for the real nation is the one that is silent, that pays and suffers; of that fictitious nation that signs decrees and pronounces discourses and makes a farce of government, and a farce of authority, and a farce of every thing. That is what my nephew is to-day; you must accustom yourself to look under the surface of things. My nephew is the government, the brigadier, the new alcalde, the new judge—for they all protect him, because of the unanimity of their ideas; because they are chips of the same block, birds of a feather. Understand it well; we must defend ourselves against them all, for they are all one, and one is all; we must attack them all together; and not by beating a man as he turns a corner, but as our forefathers attacked the Moors—the Moors, Remedios. Understand this well, child; open your understanding and allow an idea that is not vulgar to enter it—rise above yourself; think lofty thoughts, Remedios!"
Don Inocencio's niece was struck dumb by so much loftiness of soul. She opened her mouth to say something that should be in consonance with so sublime an idea, but she only breathed a sigh.
"Like the Moors," repeated Dona Perfecta. "It is a question of Moors and Christians. And did you suppose that by giving a fright to my nephew all would be ended? How foolish you are! Don't you see that his friends support him? Don't you see that you are at the mercy of that rabble? Don't you see that any little lieutenant can set fire to my house, if he takes it into his head to do so? But don't you know this? Don't you comprehend that it is necessary to go to the bottom of things? Don't you comprehend how vast, how tremendous is the power of my enemy, who is not a man, but a sect? Don't you comprehend that my nephew, as he confronts me to-day, is not a calamity, but a plague? Against this plague, dear Remedios, we shall have here a battalion sent by God that will annihilate the infernal militia from Madrid. I tell you that this is going to be great and glorious."
"If it were at last so!"
"But do you doubt it? To-day we shall see terrible things here," said Dona Perfecta, with great impatience. "To-day, to-day! What o'clock is it? Seven? So late, and nothing has happened!"
"Perhaps my uncle has heard something; he is here now, I hear him coming upstairs."
"Thank God!" said Dona Perfecta, rising to receive the Penitentiary. "He will have good news for us."
Don Inocencio entered hastily. His altered countenance showed that his soul, consecrated to religion and to the study of the classics, was not as tranquil as usual.
"Bad news!" he said, laying his hat on a chair and loosening the cords of his cloak.
Dona Perfecta turned pale.
"They are arresting people," added Don Inocencio, lowering his voice, as if there was a soldier hidden under every chair. "They suspect, no doubt, that the people here would not put up with their high-handed measures, and they have gone from house to house, arresting all who have a reputation for bravery."
Dona Perfecta threw herself into an easy chair and clutched its arms convulsively.
"It remains to be seen whether they have allowed themselves to be arrested," observed Remedios.
"Many of them have—a great many of them," said Don Inocencio, with an approving look, addressing Dona Perfecta, "have had time to escape, and have gone with arms and horses to Villahorrenda."
"They told me in the cathedral that he is the one they are looking for most eagerly. Oh, my God! to arrest innocent people in that way, who have done nothing yet. Well, I don't know how good Spaniards can have patience under such treatment. Senora Dona Perfecta, when I was telling you about the arrests, I forgot to say that you ought to go home at once."
"Yes, I will go at once. Have those bandits searched my house?"
"It is possible. Senora, we have fallen upon evil days," said Don Inocencio, in solemn and feeling accents. "May God have pity upon us!"
"There are half a dozen well-armed men in my house," responded the lady, greatly agitated. "What iniquity! Would they be capable of wanting to carry them off too?"
"Assuredly Senor Pinzon will not have neglected to denounce them. Senora, I repeat that we have fallen upon evil days. But God will protect the innocent."
"I am going now. Don't fail to stop in at the house."
"Senora, as soon as the lesson is over—though I imagine that with the excitement that there is in the town, all the boys will play truant to-day——But in any case I will go to the house after class hours. I don't wish you to go out alone, senora. Those vagabond soldiers are strutting about the streets with such insolent airs. Jacinto, Jacinto!"
"It is not necessary. I will go alone."
"Let Jacinto go with you," said the young man's mother. "He must be up by this time."
They heard the hurried footsteps of the little doctor, who was coming down the stairs in the greatest haste. He entered the room with flushed face and panting for breath.
"What is the matter?" asked his uncle.
"In the Troyas' house," said the young man, "in the house of those—those girls—"
"Finish at once!"
"Caballuco is there!"
"Up there? In the house of the Troyas?"
"Yes, senor. He spoke to me from the terrace, and he told me he was afraid they were coming there to arrest him."
"Oh, what a fool! That idiot is going to allow himself to be arrested!" exclaimed Dona Perfecta, tapping the floor impatiently with her foot.
"He wants to come down and let us hide him in the house."
The canon and his niece exchanged a glance.
"Let him come down!" said Dona Perfecta vehemently.
"Here?" repeated Don Inocencio, with a look of ill-humor.
"Here," answered the lady. "I don't know of any house where he would be more secure."
"He can let himself down easily from the window of my room," said Jacinto.
"Well, if it is necessary——"
"Maria Remedios," said Dona Perfecta, "if they take that man, all is lost."
"I am a fool and a simpleton," answered the canon's niece, laying her hand on her breast and stifling the sigh that was doubtless about to escape from it; "but they shall not take him."
Dona Perfecta went out quickly, and shortly afterward the Centaur was making himself comfortable in the arm-chair in which Don Inocencio was accustomed to sit when he was writing his sermons.
We do not know how it reached the ears of Brigadier Batalla, but certain it is that this active soldier had had notice that the Orbajosans had changed their intentions; and on the morning of this day he had ordered the arrest of those whom in our rich insurrectional language we are accustomed to call marked. The great Caballuco escaped by a miracle, taking refuge in the house of the Troyas, but not thinking himself safe there he descended, as we have seen, to the holy and unsuspected mansion of the good canon.
At night the soldiers, established at various points of the town, kept a strict watch on all who came in and went out, but Ramos succeeded in making his escape, cheating or perhaps without cheating the vigilance of the military. This filled the measure of the rage of the Orbajosans, and numbers of people were conspiring in the hamlets near Villahorrenda; meeting at night to disperse in the morning and prepare in this way the arduous business of the insurrection. Ramos scoured the surrounding country, collecting men and arms; and as the flying columns followed the Aceros into the district of Villajuan de Nahara, our chivalrous hero made great progress in a very short time.
At night he ventured boldly into Orbajosa, employing stratagems and perhaps bribery. His popularity and the protection which he received in the town served him, to a certain extent, as a safeguard; and it would not be rash to affirm that the soldiers did not manifest toward this daring leader of the insurrection the same rigor as toward the insignificant men of the place. In Spain, and especially in time of war, which is here always demoralizing, these unworthy considerations toward the great are often seen, while the little are persecuted pitilessly. Favored then by his boldness, by bribery, or by we know not what, Caballuco entered Orbajosa, gained new recruits, and collected arms and money. Either for the great security of his person or in order to save appearances, he did not set foot in his own house; he entered Dona Perfecta's only for the purpose of treating of important affairs, and he usually supped in the house of some friend, preferring always the respected domicile of some priest, and especially that of Don Inocencio, where he had taken refuge on the fateful morning of the arrests.
Meanwhile Batalla had telegraphed to the Government the information that a plot of the rebels having been discovered its authors had been imprisoned, and the few who had succeeded in escaping had fled in various directions and were being actively pursued by the military.
There is nothing more entertaining than to search for the cause of some interesting event which surprises or agitates us, and nothing more satisfactory than to discover it. When, seeing violent passions in open or concealed conflict, and led by the natural intuitive impulse which always accompanies human observation we succeed in discovering the hidden source from which that turbulent river had derived its waters, we experience a sensation very similar to the delight of the explorer or the discoverer of an unknown land.
This delight Providence has now bestowed upon us; for, exploring the hidden recesses of the hearts which beat in this story, we have discovered an event that is assuredly the source of the most important events that we have narrated; a passion which is the first drop of water of the impetuous current whose course we are observing.
Let us go on with our story, then. To do so, let us leave Senora de Polentinos, without concerning ourselves in regard to what may have happened to her on the morning of her conversation with Maria Remedios. Returning to her house, full of anxiety, she found herself obliged to endure the apologies and the civilities of Senor Pinzon, who assured her that while he lived her house should not be searched. Dona Perfecta responded haughtily, without deigning to look at him, for which reason he asked her politely for an explanation of her coldness, to which she replied requesting Senor Pinzon to leave her house, deferring to a future occasion the explanation which she would require from him of his perfidious conduct while in it. Don Cayetano arriving at this moment, words were exchanged between the two gentlemen, as between man and man; but as we are more interested at present in another matter, we will leave the Polentinos and the lieutenant-colonel to settle matters between them as best they can, and proceed to examine the question of the sources above mentioned.
Let us fix our attention on Maria Remedios, an estimable woman, to whom it is indispensably necessary to devote a few words. She was a lady, a real lady—for, notwithstanding her humble origin, the virtues of her uncle, Senor Don Inocencio, also of low origin, but elevated by his learning and his estimable qualities, had shed extraordinary lustre over the whole family.
The love of Remedios for Jacinto was one of the strongest passions of which the maternal heart is capable. She loved him with delirium; her son's welfare was her first earthly consideration; she regarded him as the most perfect type of beauty and talent ever created by God, and to see him happy and great and powerful she would have given her whole life and even a part of the life to come. The maternal sentiment is the only one which, because of its nobility and its sanctity, will admit of exaggeration; the only one which the delirium of passion does not debase. Nevertheless it is a singular phenomenon, frequently observed, that this exaltation of maternal affection, if not accompanied with absolute purity of heart and with perfect uprightness is apt to become perverted and transformed into a lamentable frenzy, which may lead, like any other ungoverned passion, to great errors and catastrophies.
In Orbajosa Maria Remedios passed for a model of virtue and a model niece—perhaps she was so in reality. She served with affection all who needed her services; she never gave occasion for gossip or for scandal; she never mixed herself up in intrigues. She carried her religion to the extreme of an offensive fanaticism; she practised charity; she managed her uncle's house with the utmost ability; she was well received, admired and kindly treated everywhere, in spite of the almost intolerable annoyance produced by her persistent habit of sighing and speaking always in a complaining voice.
But in Dona Perfecta's house this excellent lady suffered a species of capitis diminutio. In times far distant and very bitter for the family of the good Penitentiary, Maria Remedios (since it is the truth, why should it not be told?) had been a laundress in the house of Polentinos. And let it not be supposed that Dona Perfecta looked down upon her on this account—nothing of the kind. She behaved to her without any haughtiness; she felt a real sisterly affection for her; they ate together; they prayed together; they confided their troubles to each other; they aided each other in their charities and in their devotions as well as in domestic matters; but, truth to say, there was always a something, there was always a line, invisible but which could not be crossed between the improvised lady and the lady by birth and ancestry. Dona Perfecta addressed Maria as "thou," while the latter could never lay aside certain ceremonial forms. Maria Remedios always felt herself so insignificant in the presence of her uncle's friend that her natural humility had acquired through this feeling a strange tinge of sadness. She saw that the good canon was a species of perpetual Aulic councillor in the house; she saw her idolized Jacintillo mingling on terms of almost lover-like familiarity with the young lady, and nevertheless the poor mother and niece visited the house as little as possible. It is to be observed that Maria Remedios' dignity as a lady suffered not a little in Dona Perfecta's house, and this was disagreeable to her; for in this sighing spirit, too, there was, as there is in every living thing, a little pride. To see her son married to Rosarito, to see him rich and powerful; to see him related to Dona Perfecta, to the senora—ah! this was for Maria Remedios earth and heaven, this life and the next, the present and the future, the supreme totality of existence. For years her mind and her heart had been filled by the light of this sweet hope. Because of this hope she was good and she was bad; because of it she was religious and humble, or fierce and daring; because of it she was whatever she was—for without this idea Maria, who was the incarnation of her project, would not exist.
In person, Maria Remedios could not be more insignificant than she was. She was remarkable for a surprising freshness and robustness which made her look much younger than she really was, and she always dressed in mourning, although her widowhood was now of long standing.
Five days had passed since the entrance of Caballuco into the Penitentiary's house. It was evening. Remedios entered her uncle's room with the lighted lamp, which she placed on the table. She then seated herself in front of the old man, who, for a great part of the afternoon, had been sitting motionless and thoughtful in his easy chair. His fingers supported his chin, wrinkling up the brown skin, unshaven for the past three days.
"Did Caballuco say he would come here to supper to-night?" he asked his niece.
"Yes, senor, he will come. It is in a respectable house like this that the poor fellow is most secure."
"Well, I am not altogether easy in my mind, in spite of the respectability of the house," answered the Penitentiary. "How the brave Ramos exposes himself! And I am told that in Villahorrenda and the surrounding country there are a great many men. I don't know how many men——What have you heard?"
"That the soldiers are committing atrocities."
"It is a miracle that those Hottentots have not searched the house! I declare that if I see one of the red-trousered gentry enter the house, I shall fall down speechless."
"This is a nice condition of things!" said Remedios, exhaling half her soul in a sigh. "I cannot get out of my head the idea of the tribulation in which Senora Dona Perfecta finds herself. Uncle, you ought to go there."
"Go there to-night? The military are parading the streets! Imagine that some insolent soldier should take it into his head to——The senora is well protected. The other day they searched the house and they carried off the six armed men she had there; but afterward they sent them back to her. We have no one to protect us in case of an attack."
"I sent Jacinto to the senora's, to keep her company for a while. If Caballuco comes, we will tell him to stop in there, too. No one can put it out of my head but that those rascals are plotting some piece of villany against our friend. Poor senora, poor Rosarito! When one thinks that this might have been avoided by what I proposed to Dona Perfecta two days ago——"
"My dear niece," said the Penitentiary phlegmatically, "we have done all that it was in human power to do to carry out our virtuous purpose. More we cannot do. Convince yourself of this, and do not be obstinate. Rosarito cannot be the wife of our idolized Jacintillo. Your golden dream, your ideal of happiness, that at one time seemed attainable, and to which like a good uncle, I devoted all the powers of my understanding, has become chimerical, has vanished into smoke. Serious obstructions, the wickedness of a man, the indubitable love of the girl, and other things, regarding which I am silent, have altered altogether the condition of affairs. We were in a fair way to conquer, and suddenly we are conquered. Ah, niece! convince yourself of one thing. As matters are now, Jacinto deserves something a great deal better than that crazy girl."
"Caprices and obstinate notions!" responded Maria, with an ill-humor that was far from respectful. "That's a pretty thing to say now, uncle! The great minds are outshining themselves, now. Dona Perfecta with her lofty ideas, and you with your doubts and fears—of much use either of you is. It is a pity that God made me such a fool and gave me an understanding of brick and mortar, as the senora says, for if that wasn't the case I would soon settle the question."
"If she and you had allowed me, it would be settled already."
"By the beating?"
"There's no occasion for you to be frightened or to open your eyes like that. There is no question of killing any body. What an idea!"
"Beating," said the canon, smiling, "is like scratching—when one begins one doesn't know when to leave off."
"Bah! say too that I am cruel and blood-thirsty. I wouldn't have the courage to kill a fly; it's not very likely that I should desire the death of a man."
"In fine, child, no matter what objections you may make, Senor Don Pepe Rey will carry off the girl. It is not possible now to prevent it. He is ready to employ every means, including dishonor. If Rosarito—how she deceived us with that demure little face and those heavenly eyes, eh!—if Rosarito, I say, did not herself wish it, then all might be arranged, but alas! she loves him as the sinner loves Satan; she is consumed with a criminal passion; she has fallen, niece, into the snares of the Evil One. Let us be virtuous and upright; let us turn our eyes away from the ignoble pair, and think no more about either of them."
"You know nothing about women, uncle," said Remedios, with flattering hypocrisy; "you are a holy man; you do not understand that Rosario's feeling is only a passing caprice, one of those caprices that are cured by a sound whipping."
"Niece," said Don Inocencio gravely and sententiously, "when serious things have taken place, caprices are not called caprices, but by another name."
"Uncle, you don't know what you are talking about," responded Maria Remedios, her face flushing suddenly. "What! would you be capable of supposing that Rosarito—what an atrocity! I will defend her; yes, I will defend her. She is as pure as an angel. Why, uncle, those things bring a blush to my cheek, and make me indignant with you."
As she spoke the good priest's face was darkened by a cloud of sadness that made him look ten years older.
"My dear Remedios," he said, "we have done all that is humanly possible, and all that in conscience we can or ought to do. Nothing could be more natural than our desire to see Jacintillo connected with that great family, the first in Orbajosa; nothing more natural than our desire to see him master of the seven houses in the town, the meadow of Mundogrande, the three gardens of the upper farm, La Encomienda, and the other lands and houses which that girl owns. Your son has great merit, every one knows it well. Rosarito liked him, and he liked Rosarito. The matter seemed settled. Dona Perfecta herself, without being very enthusiastic, doubtless on account of our origin, seemed favorably disposed toward it, because of her great esteem and veneration for me, as her confessor and friend. But suddenly this unlucky young man presents himself. The senora tells me that she has given her word to her brother, and that she cannot reject the proposal made by him. A difficult situation! But what do I do in view of all this? Ah, you don't know every thing! I will be frank with you. If I had found Senor de Rey to be a man of good principles, calculated to make Rosario happy, I would not have interfered in the matter; but the young man appeared to me to be a wretch, and, as the spiritual director of the house, it was my duty to take a hand in the business, and I took it. You know already that I determined to unmask him. I exposed his vices; I made manifest his atheism; I laid bare to the view of all the rottenness of that materialistic heart, and the senora was convinced that in giving her daughter to him, she would be delivering her up to vice. Ah, what anxieties I endured! The senora vacillated; I strengthened her wavering mind; I advised her concerning the means she might lawfully employ to send her nephew away without scandal. I suggested ingenious ideas to her; and as she often spoke to me of the scruples that troubled her tender conscience, I tranquillized her, pointing out to her how far it was allowable for us to go in our fight against that lawless enemy. Never did I counsel violent or sanguinary measures or base outrages, but always subtle artifices, in which there was no sin. My mind is tranquil, my dear niece. But you know that I struggled hard, that I worked like a negro. Ah! when I used to come home every night and say, 'Mariquilla, we are getting on well, we are getting on very well,' you used to be wild with delight, and you would kiss my hands again and again, and say I was the best man on earth. Why do you fly into a passion now, disfiguring your noble character and peaceable disposition? Why do you scold me? Why do you say that you are indignant, and tell me in plain terms that I am nothing better than an idiot?"
"Because," said the woman, without any diminution of her rage, "because you have grown faint-hearted all of a sudden."
"The thing is that every thing is going against us, woman. That confounded engineer, protected as he is by the army, is resolved to dare every thing. The girl loves him, the girl—I will say no more. It cannot be; I tell you that it cannot be."
"The army! But do you believe, like Dona Perfecta, that there is going to be a war, and that to drive Don Pepe from the town it will be necessary for one half of the nation to rise up against the other half? The senora has lost her senses, and you are in a fair way to lose yours."
"I believe as she does. In view of the intimate connection of Rey with the soldiers the personal question assumes larger proportions. But, ah, niece! if two days ago I entertained the hope that our valiant townsmen would kick the soldiers out of the town, since I have seen the turn things have taken, since I have seen that most of them have been surprised before fighting, and that Caballuco is in hiding and that the insurrection is going to the devil, I have lost confidence in every thing. The good doctrines have not yet acquired sufficient material force to tear in pieces the ministers and the emissaries of error. Ah, niece! resignation, resignation!"
And Don Inocencio, employing the method of expression which characterized his niece, heaved two or three profound sighs. Maria, contrary to what might have been expected, maintained absolute silence. She showed now neither anger nor the superficial sentimentality of her ordinary life; but only a profound and humble grief. Shortly after the good canon had ended his peroration two tears rolled down his niece's rosy cheeks; before long were heard a few half-suppressed sighs, and gradually, as the swell and tumult of a sea that is beginning to be stormy rise higher and higher and become louder and louder, so the surge of Maria Remedios' grief rose and swelled, until it at last broke forth in a flood of tears.
A CANON'S TORTURE
"Resignation, resignation!" repeated Don Inocencio.
"Resignation, resignation!" repeated his niece, drying her tears. "If my dear son is doomed to be always a beggar, well, then, be it so. Lawsuits are becoming scarce; the day will soon come when the practice of the law will be the same as nothing. What is the use of all his talent? What is the use of his tiring his brain with so much study? Ah! We are poor. A day will come, Senor Don Inocencio, when my poor boy will not have a pillow on which to lay his head."
"Man! can you deny it? Tell me, then, what inheritance are you going to leave him when you close your eyes on this world? A couple of rooms, half a dozen big books, poverty, and nothing more. What times are before us, uncle; what times! My poor boy is growing very delicate in his health, and he won't be able to work—it makes him dizzy now to read a book; he gets a headache and nausea whenever he works at night! He will have to beg a paltry situation; I shall have to take in sewing, and who knows, who knows but we may have to beg our bread!"
"Oh, I know very well what I am talking about! Fine times before us!" added the excellent woman, forcing still more the lachrymose note in her diatribe. "My God! What is going to become of us? Ah, it is only a mother's heart that can feel these things! Only a mother is capable of suffering so much anxiety about a son's welfare. How should you understand it? No; it is one thing to have children and to suffer anxiety on their account and another to sing the gori gori in the cathedral and to teach Latin in the institute. Of great use is it for my son to be your nephew and to have taken so many honors and to be the pride and ornament of Orbajosa. He will die of starvation, for we already know what law brings; or else he will have to ask the deputies for a situation in Havana, where the yellow fever will kill him."
"No, I am not grieving, I am silent now; I won't annoy you any more. I am very troublesome, always crying and sighing; and I am not to be endured because I am a fond mother and I will look out for the good of my beloved son. I will die, yes, I will die in silence, and stifle my grief. I will swallow my tears, in order not to annoy his reverence the canon. But my idolized son will comprehend me and he won't put his hands to his ears as you are doing now. Woe is me! Poor Jacinto knows that I would die for him, and that I would purchase his happiness at the sacrifice of my life. Darling child of my soul! To be so deserving and to be forever doomed to mediocrity, to a humble station, for—don't get indignant, uncle—no matter what airs we put on, you will always be the son of Uncle Tinieblas, the sacristan of San Bernardo, and I shall never be any thing more than the daughter of Ildefonso Tinieblas, your brother, who used to sell crockery, and my son will be the grandson of the Tinieblas—for obscure we were born, and we shall never emerge from our obscurity, nor own a piece of land of which we can say, 'This is mine'; nor shall I ever plunge my arms up to the elbows in a sack of wheat threshed and winnowed on our own threshing-floor—all because of your cowardice, your folly, your soft-heartedness."
The canon's voice rose higher every time he repeated this phrase, and, with his hands to his ears, he shook his head from side to side with a look of mingled grief and desperation. The shrill complaint of Maria Remedios grew constantly shriller, and pierced the brain of the unhappy and now dazed priest like an arrow. But all at once the woman's face became transformed; her plaintive wail was changed to a hard, shrill scream; she turned pale, her lips trembled, she clenched her hands, a few locks of her disordered hair fell over her forehead, her eyes glittered, dried by the heat of the anger that glowed in her breast; she rose from her seat and, not like a woman, but like a harpy, cried:
"I am going away from here! I am going away from here with my son! We will go to Madrid; I don't want my son to fret himself to death in this miserable town! I am tired now of seeing that my son, under the protection of the cassock, neither is nor ever will be any thing. Do you hear, my reverend uncle? My son and I are going away! You will never see us again—never!"
Don Inocencio had clasped his hands and was receiving the thunderbolts of his niece's wrath with the consternation of a criminal whom the presence of the executioner has deprived of his last hope.
"In Heaven's name, Remedios," he murmured, in a pained voice; "in the name of the Holy Virgin——"
These fits of range of his niece, who was usually so meek, were as violent as they were rare, and five or six years would sometimes pass without Don Inocencio seeing Remedios transformed into a fury.
"I am a mother! I am a mother! and since no one else will look out for my son, I will look out for him myself!" roared the improvised lioness.
"In the name of the Virgin, niece, don't let your passion get the best of you! Remember that you are committing a sin. Let us say the Lord's Prayer and an Ave Maria, and you will see that this will pass away."
As he said this the Penitentiary trembled, and the perspiration stood on his forehead. Poor dove in the talons of the vulture! The furious woman completed his discomfiture with these words:
"You are good for nothing; you are a poltroon! My son and I will go away from this place forever, forever! I will get a position for my son, I will find him a good position, do you understand? Just as I would be willing to sweep the streets with my tongue if I could gain a living for him in no other way, so I will move heaven and earth to find a position for my boy in order that he may rise in the world and be rich, and a person of consequence, and a gentleman, and a lord and great, and all that there is to be—all, all!"
"Heaven protect me!" cried Don Inocencio, sinking into a chair and letting his head fall on his breast.
There was a pause during which the agitated breathing of the furious woman could be heard.
"Niece," said Don Inocencio at last, "you have shortened my life by ten years; you have set my blood on fire; you have put me beside myself. God give me the calmness that I need to bear with you! Lord, patience—patience is what I ask. And you, niece, do me the favor to sigh and cry to your heart's content for the next ten years; for your confounded mania of sniveling, greatly as it annoys me, is preferable to these mad fits of rage. If I did not know that you are good at heart——Well, for one who confessed and received communion this morning you are behaving—"
"Yes, but you are the cause of it—you!"
"Because in the matter of Rosario and Jacinto I say to you, resignation?"
"Because when every thing is going on well you turn back and allow Senor de Rey to get possession of Rosario."
"And how am I going to prevent it? Dona Perfecta is right in saying that you have an understanding of brick. Do you want me to go about the town with a sword, and in the twinkling of an eye to make mincemeat of the whole regiment, and then confront Rey and say to him, 'Leave the girl in peace or I will cut your throat'?"
"No, but when I advised the senora to give her nephew a fright, you opposed my advice, instead of supporting it."
"You are crazy with your talk about a fright."
"Because when the dog is dead the madness is at an end."
"I cannot advise what you call a fright, and what might be a terrible thing."
"Yes; because I am a cut-throat, am I not, uncle?"
"You know that practical jokes are vulgar. Besides, do you suppose that man would allow himself to be insulted? And his friends?"
"At night he goes out alone."
"How do you know that?"
"I know every thing; he does not take a step that I am not aware of; do you understand? The widow De Cuzco keeps me informed of every thing."
"There, don't set me crazy. And who is going to give him that fright? Let us hear."
"So that he is disposed—"
"No, but he will be if you command him."
"Come, niece, leave me in peace. I cannot command such an atrocity. A fright! And what is that? Have you spoken to him already?"
"Yes, senor; but he paid no attention to me, or rather he refused. There are only two people in Orbajosa who can make him do what they wish by a simple order—you and Dona Perfecta."
"Let Dona Perfecta order him to do it if she wishes, then. I will never advise the employment of violent and brutal measures. Will you believe that when Caballuco and some of his followers were talking of rising up in arms they could not draw a single word from me inciting them to bloodshed. No, not that. If Dona Perfecta wishes to do it—"
"She will not do it, either. I talked with her for two hours this afternoon and she said that she would preach war, and help it by every means in her power; but that she would not bid one man stab another in the back. She would be right in opposing it if anything serious were intended, but I don't want any wounds; all I want is to give him a fright."
"Well, if Dona Perfecta doesn't want to order a fright to be given to the engineer, I don't either, do you understand? My conscience is before every thing."
"Very well," returned his niece. "Tell Caballuco to come with me to-night—that is all you need say to him."
"Are you going out to-night?"
"Yes, senor, I am going out. Why, didn't I go out last night too?"
"Last night? I didn't know it; if I had known it I should have been angry; yes, senora."
"All you have to say to Caballuco is this: 'My dear Ramos, I will be greatly obliged to you if you will accompany my niece on an errand which she has to do to-night, and if you will protect her, if she should chance to be in any danger.'"
"I can do that. To accompany you, to protect you. Ah, rogue! you want to deceive me and make me your accomplice in some piece of villany."
"Of course—what do you suppose?" said Maria Remedios ironically. "Between Ramos and me we are going to slaughter a great many people to-night."
"Don't jest! I tell you again that I will not advise Ramos to do any thing that has the appearance of evil—I think he is outside."
A noise at the street-door was heard, then the voice of Caballuco speaking to the servant, and a little later the hero of Orbajosa entered the room.
"What is the news? Give us the news, Senor Ramos," said the priest. "Come! If you don't give us some hope in exchange for your supper and our hospitality——What is going on in Villahorrenda?"
"Something," answered the bravo, seating himself with signs of fatigue. "You shall soon see whether we are good for anything or not."
Like all persons who wish to make themselves appear important, Caballuco made a show of great reserve.
"To-night, my friend, you shall take with you, if you wish, the money they have given me for—"
"There is good need of it. If the soldiers should get scent of it, however, they won't let me pass," said Ramos, with a brutal laugh.
"Hold your tongue, man. We know already that you pass whenever you please. Why, that would be a pretty thing! The soldiers are not strait-laced gentry, and if they should become troublesome, with a couple of dollars, eh? Come, I see that you are not badly armed. All you want now is an eight-pounder. Pistols, eh? And a dagger too."
"For any thing that might happen," said Caballuco, taking the weapon from his belt and displaying its horrible blade.
"In the name of God and of the Virgin!" exclaimed Maria Remedios, closing her eyes and turning her face in terror, "put away that thing. The very sight of it terrifies me."
"If you won't take it ill of me," said Ramos, shutting the weapon, "let us have supper."
Maria Remedios prepared every thing quickly, in order that the hero might not become impatient.
"Listen to me a moment, Senor Ramos," said Don Inocencio to his guest, when they had sat down to supper. "Have you a great deal to do to-night?"
"Something there is to be done," responded the bravo. "This is the last night I shall come to Orbajosa—the last. I have to look up some boys who remained in the town, and we are going to see how we can get possession of the saltpetre and the sulphur that are in the house of Cirujeda."
"I asked you," said the curate amiably, filling his friend's plate, "because my niece wishes you to accompany her a short distance. She has some business or other to attend to, and it is a little late to be out alone."
"Is she going to Dona Perfecta's?" asked Ramos. "I was there a few moments ago, but I did not want to make any delay."