HotFreeBooks.com
Dona Perfecta
by B. Perez Galdos
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5
Home - Random Browse

"How is the senora?"

"A little frightened. To-night I took away the six young men I had in the house."

"Why! don't you think they will be wanted there?" said Remedios, with alarm.

"They are wanted more in Villahorrenda. Brave men chafe at being kept in the house; is it not so, Senor Canon?"

"Senor Ramos, that house ought not to be left unprotected," said the Penitentiary.

"The servants are enough, and more than enough. But do you suppose, Senor Don Inocencio, that the brigadier employs himself in attacking the people's houses?"

"Yes, but you know very well that that diabolical engineer——"

"For that—there are not wanting brooms in the house," said Cristobal jovially. "For in the end, there will be no help for it but to marry them. After what has passed——"

"Senor Ramos," said Remedios, with sudden anger, "I imagine that all you know about marrying people is very little."

"I say that because a little while ago, when I was at the house, the mother and daughter seemed to be having a sort of reconciliation. Dona Perfecta was kissing Rosarito over and over again, and there was no end to their caresses and endearments."

"Reconciliation! With all these preparations for the war you have lost your senses. But, finally, are you coming with me or not?"

"It is not to Dona Perfecta's she wants to go," said the priest, "but to the hotel of the widow De Cuzco. She was saying that she does not dare to go alone, because she is afraid of being insulted."

"By whom?"

"It is easily understood. By that infernal engineer. Last night my niece met him there, and she gave him some plain talk; and for that reason she is not altogether easy in her mind to-night. The young fellow is revengeful and insolent."

"I don't know whether I can go," said Caballuco. "As I am in hiding now I cannot measure my strength against Don Jose Poquita Cosa. If I were not as I am—with half my face hidden, and the other half uncovered—I would have broken his back for him already twenty times over. But what happens if I attack him? He discovers who I am, he falls upon me with the soldiers, and good-bye to Caballuco. As for giving him a treacherous blow, that is something I couldn't do; nor would Dona Perfecta consent to it, either. For a stab in the dark Cristobal Ramos is not the man."

"But are you crazy, man? What are you thinking about?" said the Penitentiary, with unmistakable signs of astonishment. "Not even in thought would I advise you to do an injury to that gentleman. I would cut my tongue out before I would advise such a piece of villany. The wicked will fall, it is true; but it is God who will fix the moment, not I. And the question is not to give a beating, either. I would rather receive a hundred blows myself than advise the administration of such a medicine to any Christian. One thing only will I say to you," he ended, looking at the bravo over his spectacles, "and that is, that as my niece is going there; and as it is probable, very probable, is it not, Remedios? that she may have to say a few plain words to that man, I recommend you not to leave her unprotected, in case she should be insulted."

"I have something to do to-night," answered Caballuco, laconically and dryly.

"You hear what he says, Remedios. Leave your business for to-morrow."

"I can't do that. I will go alone."

"No, you shall not go alone, niece. Now let us hear no more about the matter. Senor Ramos has something to do, and he cannot accompany you. Fancy if you were to be insulted by that rude man!"

"Insulted! A lady insulted by that fellow!" exclaimed Caballuco. "Come that must not be."

"If you had not something to do—bah! I should be quite easy in my mind, then."

"I have something to do," said the Centaur, rising from the table, "but if you wish it——"

There was a pause. The Penitentiary had closed his eyes and was meditating.

"I wish it, Senor Ramos," he said at last.

"There is no more to be said then. Let us go, Senora Dona Maria."

"Now, my dear niece," said Don Inocencio, half seriously, half jestingly, "since we have finished supper bring me the basin."

He gave his niece a penetrating glance, and accompanying it with the corresponding action, pronounced these words:

"I wash my hands of the matter."



CHAPTER XXVIII

FROM PEPE REY TO DON JUAN REY

"ORBAJOSA, April 12.

"MY DEAR FATHER:

"Forgive me if for the first time in my life I disobey you in refusing to leave this place or to renounce my project. Your advice and your entreaty are what were to be expected from a kind, good father. My obstinacy is natural in an insensate son; but something strange is taking place within me; obstinacy and honor have become so blended and confounded in my mind that the bare idea of desisting from my purpose makes me ashamed. I have changed greatly. The fits of rage that agitate me now were formerly unknown to me. I regarded the violent acts, the exaggerated expressions of hot-tempered and impetuous men with the same scorn as the brutal actions of the wicked. Nothing of this kind surprises me any longer, for in myself I find at all times a certain terrible capacity for wickedness. I can speak to you as I would speak to God and to my conscience; I can tell you that I am a wretch, for he is a wretch who is wanting in that powerful moral force which enables him to chastise his passions and submit his life to the stern rule of conscience. I have been wanting in the Christian fortitude which exalts the spirit of the man who is offended above the offences which he receives and the enemies from whom he receives them. I have had the weakness to abandon myself to a mad fury, putting myself on a level with my detractors, returning them blow for blow, and endeavoring to confound them by methods learned in their own base school. How deeply I regret that you were not at my side to turn me from this path! It is now too late. The passions will not brook delay. They are impatient, and demand their prey with cries and with the convulsive eagerness of a fierce moral thirst. I have succumbed. I cannot forget what you so often said to me, that anger may be called the worst of the passions, since, suddenly transforming the character, it engenders all the others, and lends to each its own infernal fire.

"But it is not anger alone that has brought me to the state of mind which I have described. A more expansive and noble sentiment—the profound and ardent love which I have for my cousin, has also contributed to it, and this is the one thing that absolves me in my own estimation. But if love had not done so, pity would have impelled me to brave the fury and the intrigues of your terrible sister; for poor Rosario, placed between an irresistible affection and her mother, is at the present moment one of the most unhappy beings on the face of the earth. The love which she has for me, and which responds to mine—does it not give me the right to open, in whatever way I can, the doors of her house and take her out of it; employing the law, as far as the law reaches, and using force at the point where the law ceases to support me? I think that your rigid moral scrupulosity will not give an affirmative answer to this question; but I have ceased to be the upright and methodical character whose conscience was in exact conformity with the dictates of the moral law. I am no longer the man whom an almost perfect education enabled to keep his emotions under strict control. To-day I am a man like other men; at a single step I have crossed the line which separates the just and the good from the unjust and the wicked. Prepare yourself to hear of some dreadful act committed by me. I will take care to notify you of all my misdeeds.

"But the confession of my faults will not relieve me from the responsibility of the serious occurrences which have taken place and which are taking place, nor will this responsibility, no matter how much I may argue, fall altogether on your sister. Dona Perfecta's responsibility is certainly very great. What will be the extent of mine! Ah, dear father! believe nothing of what you hear about me; believe only what I shall tell you. If they tell you that I have committed a deliberate piece of villany, answer that it is a lie. It is difficult, very difficult, for me to judge myself, in the state of disquietude in which I am, but I dare assure you that I have not deliberately given cause for scandal. You know well to what extremes passion can lead when circumstances favor its fierce, its all-invading growth.

"What is most bitter to me is the thought of having employed artifice, deceit, and base concealments—I who was truth itself. I am humiliated in my own estimation. But is this the greatest perversity into which the soul can fall? Am I beginning now, or have I ended? I cannot tell. If Rosario with her angelic hand does not take me out of this hell of my conscience, I desire that you should come to take me out of it. My cousin is an angel, and suffering, as she has done, for my sake, she has taught me a great many things that I did not know before.

"Do not be surprised at the incoherence of what I write. Diverse emotions inflame me; thoughts at times assail me truly worthy of my immortal soul; but at times also I fall into a lamentable state of dejection, and I am reminded of the weak and degenerate characters whose baseness you have painted to me in such strong colors, in order that I might abhor them. In the state in which I am to-day I am ready for good or for evil. God have pity upon me! I already know what prayer is—a solemn and reflexive supplication, so personal that it is not compatible with formulas learned by heart; an expansion of the soul which dares to reach out toward its source; the opposite of remorse, in which the soul, at war with itself, seeks in vain to defend itself by sophisms and concealments. You have taught me many good things, but now I am practising; as we engineers say, I am studying on the ground; and in this way my knowledge will become broadened and confirmed. I begin to imagine now that I am not so wicked as I myself believe. Am I right?

"I end this letter in haste. I must send it with some soldiers who are going in the direction of the station at Villahorrenda, for the post-office of this place is not to be trusted."



"APRIL 14.

"It would amuse you, dear father, if I could make you understand the ideas of the people of this wretched town. You know already that almost all the country is up in arms. It was a thing to be anticipated, and the politicians are mistaken if they imagine that it will be over in a couple of days. Hostility to us and to the Government is innate in the Orbajosan's mind, and forms a part of it as much as his religious faith. Confining myself to the particular question with my aunt, I will tell you a singular thing—the poor lady, who is penetrated by the spirit of feudalism to the marrow of her bones, has taken it into her head that I am going to attack her house and carry off her daughter, as the gentlemen of the Middle Ages attacked an enemy's castle to consummate some outrage. Don't laugh, for it is the truth—such are the ideas of these people. I need not tell you that she regards me as a monster, as a sort of heretic Moorish king, and of the officers here who are my friends she has no better opinion. In Dona Perfecta's house it is a matter of firm belief that the army and I have formed a diabolical and anti-religious coalition to rob Orbajosa of its treasures, its faith, and its maidens. I am sure that your sister firmly believes that I am going to take her house by assault, and there is not a doubt but that behind the door some barricade has been erected.

"But it could not be otherwise. Here they have the most antiquated ideas respecting society, religion, the state, property. The religious exaltation which impels them to employ force against the Government, to defend a faith which no one has attacked, and which, besides, they do not possess, revives in their mind the feudal sentiment; and as they would settle every question by brute force, with the sword and with fire, killing all who do not think as they do, they believe that no one in the world employs other methods.

"Far from intending to perform quixotic deeds in this lady's house, I have in reality saved her some annoyances from which the rest of the town have not escaped. Owing to my friendship with the brigadier she has not been obliged to present, as was ordered, a list of those of the men in her service who have joined the insurgents; and if her house was searched I have certain knowledge that it was only for form's sake; and if the six men there were disarmed, they have been replaced by six others, and nothing has been done to her. You see to what my hostility to that lady is reduced.

"It is true that I have the support of the military chiefs, but I make use of it solely to escape being insulted or ill-used by these implacable people. The probabilities of my success consist in the fact that the authorities recently appointed by the commander of the brigade are all my friends. I derive from them the moral force which enables me to intimidate these people. I don't know whether I shall find myself compelled to commit some violent action; but don't be alarmed, for the assault and the taking of the house is altogether a wild, feudal idea of your sister. Chance has placed me in an advantageous position. Rage, the passion that burns within me, will impel me to profit by it. I don't know how far I may go."



"APRIL 17.

"Your letter has given me great consolation. Yes; I can attain my object, employing only the resources of the law, which will be completely effectual for it. I have consulted the authorities of this place, and they all approve of the course you indicate. I am very glad of it. Since I have put into my cousin's mind the idea of disobedience, let it at least be under the protection of the law. I will do what you bid me, that is to say I will renounce the somewhat unworthy collaboration of Pinzon; I will break up the terrorizing solidarity which I established with the soldiers; I will cease to make a display of the power I derived from them; I will have done with adventures, and at the fitting moment I will act with calmness, prudence, and all the benignity possible. It is better so. My coalition, half-serious, half-jesting, with the army, had for its object to protect me against the violence of the Orbajosans and of the servants and the relations of my aunt. For the rest, I have always disapproved of the idea of what we call armed intervention.

"The friend who aided me has been obliged to leave the house; but I am not entirely cut off from communication with my cousin. The poor girl shows heroic valor in the midst of her sufferings, and will obey me blindly.

"Set your mind at rest about my personal safety. For my part, I have no fear and I am quite tranquil."



"APRIL 20.

"To-day I can write only a few lines. I have a great deal to do. All will be ended within two or three days. Don't write to me again to this miserable town. I shall soon have the happiness of embracing you.

"PEPE."



CHAPTER XXIX

FROM PEPE REY TO ROSARITO POLENTINOS

"Give Estebanillo the key of the garden and charge him to take care about the dog. The boy is mine, body and soul. Fear nothing! I shall be very sorry if you cannot come down stairs as you did the other night. Do all you can to manage it. I will be in the garden a little after midnight. I will then tell you what course I have decided upon, and what you are to do. Tranquillize your mind, my dear girl, for I have abandoned all imprudent or violent expedients. I will tell you every thing when I see you. There is much to tell; and it must be spoken, not written. I can picture to myself your terror and anxiety at the thought of my being so near you. But it is a week since I have seen you. I have sworn that this separation from you shall soon be ended, and it will be ended. My heart tells me that I shall see you. I swear that I will see you."



CHAPTER XXX

BEATING UP THE GAME

A man and a woman entered the hotel of the widow De Cuzco a little after ten o'clock, and left it at half-past eleven.

"Now, Senora Dona Maria," said the man, "I will take you to your house, for I have something to do."

"Wait, Senor Ramos, for the love of God!" she answered. "Why don't we go to the Casino to see if he comes out? You heard just now that Estebanillo, the boy that works in the garden, was talking with him this afternoon."

"But are you looking for Don Jose?" asked the Centaur, with ill-humor. "What have we to do with him? The courtship with Dona Rosario ended as it was bound to end, and now there is nothing for it but for my mother to marry them. That is my opinion."

"You are a fool!" said Remedios angrily.

"Senora, I am going."

"Why, you rude man, are you going to leave me alone in the street?"

"Yes, senora, unless you go home at once."

"That's right—leave me alone, exposed to be insulted! Listen to me, Senor Ramos. Don Jose will come out of the Casino in a moment, as usual. I want to see whether he goes into his hotel or goes past it. It is a fancy of mine, only a fancy."

"What I know is that I have something to do, and that it is near twelve o'clock."

"Silence!" said Remedios. "Let us hide ourselves around the corner. A man is coming down the Calle de la Triperia Alta. It is he!"

"Don Jose! I know him by his walk."

"Let us follow him," said Maria Remedios with anxiety. "Let us follow him at a little distance, Ramos."

"Senora—"

"Only a minute, then, Dona Remedios. After that I must go."

They walked on about thirty paces, keeping at a moderate distance behind the man they were watching. The Penitentiary's niece stopped then and said:

"He is not going into his hotel."

"He may be going to the brigadier's."

"The brigadier lives up the street, and Don Pepe is going down in the direction of the senora's house."

"Of the senora's house!" exclaimed Caballuco, quickening his steps.

But they were mistaken. The man whom they were watching passed the house of Polentinos and walked on.

"Do you see that you were wrong?"

"Senor Ramos, let us follow him!" said Remedios, pressing the Centaur's hand convulsively. "I have a foreboding."

"We shall soon know, for we are near the end of the town."

"Don't go so fast—he may see us. It is as I thought, Senor Ramos; he is going into the garden by the condemned door."

"Senora, you have lost your senses!"

"Come on, and we shall see."

The night was dark, and the watchers could not tell precisely at what point Senor de Rey had entered; but a grating of rusty hinges which they heard, and the circumstance of not meeting the young man in the whole length of the garden wall, convinced them that he had entered the garden. Caballuco looked at his companion with stupefaction. He seemed bewildered.

"What are you thinking about? Do you still doubt?"

"What ought I to do?" asked the bravo, covered with confusion. "Shall we give him a fright? I don't know what the senora would think about it. I say that because I was at her house this evening, and it seemed to me that the mother and daughter had become reconciled."

"Don't be a fool! Why don't you go in?"

"Now I remember that the armed men are not there; I told them to leave this evening."

"And this block of marble still doubts what he ought to do! Ramos, go into the garden and don't be a coward."

"How can I go in if the door is closed?"

"Get over the wall. What a snail! If I were a man——"

"Well, then, up! There are some broken bricks here where the boys climb over the wall to steal the fruit."

"Up quickly! I will go and knock at the front door to waken the senora, if she should be asleep."

The Centaur climbed up, not without difficulty. He sat astride on the wall for an instant, and then disappeared among the dark foliage of the trees. Maria Remedios ran desperately toward the Calle del Condestable, and, seizing the knocker of the front door, knocked—knocked three times with all her heart and soul.



CHAPTER XXXI

DONA PERFECTA

See with what tranquillity Senora Dona Perfecta pursues her occupation of writing. Enter her room, and, notwithstanding the lateness of the hour, you will surprise her busily engaged, her mind divided between meditation and the writing of several long and carefully worded epistles traced with a firm hand, every hair-stroke of every letter in which is correctly formed. The light of the lamp falls full upon her face and bust and hands, its shade leaving the rest of her person and almost the whole of the room in a soft shadow. She seems like a luminous figure evoked by the imagination from amid the vague shadows of fear.

It is strange that we should not have made before this a very important statement, which is that Dona Perfecta was handsome, or rather that she was still handsome, her face preserving the remains of former beauty. The life of the country, her total lack of vanity, her disregard for dress and personal adornment, her hatred of fashion, her contempt for the vanities of the capital, were all causes why her native beauty did not shine or shone very little. The intense shallowness of her complexion, indicating a very bilious constitution, still further impaired her beauty.

Her eyes black and well-opened, her nose finely and delicately shaped, her forehead broad and smooth, she was considered by all who saw her as a finished type of the human figure; but there rested on those features a certain hard and proud expression which excited a feeling of antipathy. As some persons, although ugly, attract; Dona Perfecta repelled. Her glance, even when accompanied by amiable words, placed between herself and those who were strangers to her the impassable distance of a mistrustful respect; but for those of her house—that is to say, for her relations, admirers, and allies—she possessed a singular attraction. She was a mistress in governing, and no one could equal her in the art of adapting her language to the person whom she was addressing.

Her bilious temperament and an excessive association with devout persons and things, which excited her imagination without object or result, had aged her prematurely, and although she was still young she did not seem so. It might be said of her that with her habits and manner of life she had wrought a sort of rind, a stony, insensible covering within which she shut herself, like the snail within his portable house. Dona Perfecta rarely came out of her shell.

Her irreproachable habits, and that outward amiability which we have observed in her from the moment of her appearance in our story, were the causes of the great prestige which she enjoyed in Orbajosa. She kept up relations, besides, with some excellent ladies in Madrid, and it was through their means that she obtained the dismissal of her nephew. At the moment which we have now arrived in our story, we find her seated at her desk, which is the sole confidant of her plans and the depository of her numerical accounts with the peasants, and of her moral accounts with God and with society. There she wrote the letters which her brother received every three months; there she composed the notes that incited the judge and the notary to embroil Pepe Rey in lawsuits; there she prepared the plot through which the latter lost the confidence of the Government; there she held long conferences with Don Inocencio. To become acquainted with the scene of others of her actions whose effects we have observed, it would be necessary to follow her to the episcopal palace and to the houses of various of her friends.

We do not know what Dona Perfecta would have been, loving. Hating, she had the fiery vehemence of an angel of hatred and discord among men. Such is the effect produced on a character naturally hard, and without inborn goodness, by religious exaltation, when this, instead of drawing its nourishment from conscience and from truth revealed in principles as simple as they are beautiful, seeks its sap in narrow formulas dictated solely by ecclesiastical interests. In order that religious fanaticism should be inoffensive, the heart in which it exists must be very pure. It is true that even in that case it is unproductive of good. But the hearts that have been born without the seraphic purity which establishes a premature Limbo on the earth, are careful not to become greatly inflamed with what they see in retables, in choirs, in locutories and sacristies, unless they have first erected in their own consciences an altar, a pulpit, and a confessional.

Dona Perfecta left her writing from time to time, to go into the adjoining room where her daughter was. Rosarito had been ordered to sleep, but, already precipitated down the precipice of disobedience, she was awake.

"Why don't you sleep?" her mother asked her. "I don't intend to go to bed to-night. You know already that Caballuco has taken away with him the men we had here. Something might happen, and I will keep watch. If I did not watch what would become of us both?"

"What time is it?" asked the girl.

"It will soon be midnight. Perhaps you are not afraid, but I am."

Rosarito was trembling, and every thing about her denoted the keenest anxiety. She lifted her eyes to heaven supplicatingly, and then turned them on her mother with a look of the utmost terror.

"Why, what is the matter with you?"

"Did you not say it was midnight?"

"Yes."

"Then——But is it already midnight?"

Rosario made an effort to speak, then shook her head, on which the weight of a world was pressing.

"Something is the matter with you; you have something on your mind," said her mother, fixing on her daughter her penetrating eyes.

"Yes—I wanted to tell you," stammered the girl, "I wanted to say——Nothing, nothing, I will go to sleep."

"Rosario, Rosario! your mother can read your heart like an open book," exclaimed Dona Perfecta with severity. "You are agitated. I have told you already that I am willing to pardon you if you will repent; if you are a good and sensible girl."

"Why, am I not good? Ah, mamma, mamma! I am dying!"

Rosario burst into a flood of bitter and disconsolate tears.

"What are these tears about?" said her mother, embracing her. "If they are tears of repentance, blessed be they."

"I don't repent, I can't repent!" cried the girl, in a burst of sublime despair.

She lifted her head and in her face was depicted a sudden inspired strength. Her hair fell in disorder over her shoulders. Never was there seen a more beautiful image of a rebellious angel.

"What is this? Have you lost your senses?" said Dona Perfecta, laying both her hands on her daughter's shoulders.

"I am going away, I am going away!" said the girl, with the exaltation of delirium.

And she sprang out of bed.

"Rosario, Rosario——My daughter! For God's sake, what is this?"

"Ah, mamma, senora!" exclaimed the girl, embracing her mother; "bind me fast!"

"In truth you would deserve it. What madness is this?"

"Bind me fast! I am going away—I am going away with him!"

Dona Perfecta felt a flood of fire surging from her heart up to her lips. She controlled herself, however, and answered her daughter only with her eyes, blacker than the night.

"Mamma, mamma, I hate all that is not he!" exclaimed Rosario. "Hear my confession, for I wish to confess it to every one, and to you first of all."

"You are going to kill me; you are killing me!"

"I want to confess it, so that you may pardon me. This weight, this weight that is pressing me down, will not let me live."

"The weight of a sin! Add to it the malediction of God, and see if you can carry that burden about with you, wretched girl! Only I can take it from you."

"No, not you, not you!" cried Rosario, with desperation. "But hear me; I want to confess it all, all! Afterward, turn me out of this house where I was born."

"I turn you out!"

"I will go away, then."

"Still less. I will teach you a daughter's duty, which you have forgotten."

"I will fly, then; he will take me with him!"

"Has he told you to do so? has he counselled you to do that? has he commanded you to do that?" asked the mother, launching these words like thunderbolts against her daughter.

"He has counselled me to do it. We have agreed to be married. We must be married, mamma, dear mamma. I will love you—I know that I ought to love you—I shall be forever lost if I do not love you."

She wrung her hands, and falling on her knees kissed her mother's feet.

"Rosario, Rosario!" cried Dona Perfecta, in a terrible voice, "rise!"

There was a short pause.

"This man—has he written to you?"

"Yes."

"And have you seen him again since that night?"

"Yes."

"And you have written to him!"

"I have written to him also. Oh, senora! why do you look at me in that way? You are not my mother.

"Would to God that I were not! Rejoice in the harm you are doing me. You are killing me; you have given me my death-blow!" cried Dona Perfecta, with indescribable agitation. "You say that this man—"

"Is my husband—I will be his wife, protected by the law. You are not a woman! Why do you look at me in that way? You make me tremble. Mother, mother, do not condemn me!"

"You have already condemned yourself—that is enough. Obey me, and I will forgive you. Answer me—when did you receive letters from that man?"

"To-day."

"What treachery! What infamy!" cried her mother, roaring rather than speaking. "Had you appointed a meeting?"

"Yes."

"When?"

"To-night."

"Where?"

"Here, here! I will confess every thing, every thing! I know it is a crime. I am a wretch; but you who are my mother will take me out of this hell. Give your consent. Say one word to me, only one word!"

"That man here in my house!" cried Dona Perfecta, springing back several paces from her daughter.

Rosario followed her on her knees. At the same instant three blows were heard, three crashes, three reports. It was the heart of Maria Remedios knocking at the door through the knocker. The house trembled with awful dread. Mother and daughter stood motionless as statues.

A servant went down stairs to open the door, and shortly afterward Maria Remedios, who was not now a woman but a basilisk enveloped in a mantle, entered Dona Perfecta's room. Her face, flushed with anxiety, exhaled fire.

"He is there, he is there!" she said, as she entered. "He got into the garden through the condemned door."

She paused for breath at every syllable.

"I know already," returned Dona Perfecta, with a sort of bellow.

Rosario fell senseless on the floor.

"Let us go down stairs," said Dona Perfecta, without paying any attention to her daughter's swoon.

The two women glided down stairs like two snakes. The maids and the man-servant were in the hall, not knowing what to do. Dona Perfecta passed through the dining-room into the garden, followed by Maria Remedios.

"Fortunately we have Ca-Ca-Ca-balluco there," said the canon's niece.

"Where?"

"In the garden, also. He cli-cli-climbed over the wall."

Dona Perfecta explored the darkness with her wrathful eyes. Rage gave them the singular power of seeing in the dark peculiar to the feline race.

"I see a figure there," she said. "It is going toward the oleanders."

"It is he!" cried Remedios. "But there comes Ramos—Ramos!"

The colossal figure of the Centaur was plainly distinguishable.

"Toward the oleanders, Ramos! Toward the oleanders!"

Dona Perfecta took a few steps forward. Her hoarse voice, vibrating with a terrible accent, hissed forth these words:

"Cristobal, Cristobal—kill him!"

A shot was heard. Then another.



CHAPTER XXXII

CONCLUSION

From Don Cayetano Polentinos to a friend in Madrid:

"ORBAJOSA, April 21.

"MY DEAR FRIEND:

"Send me without delay the edition of 1562 that you say you have picked up at the executor's sale of the books of Corchuelo. I will pay any price for that copy. I have been long searching for it in vain, and I shall esteem myself the most enviable of virtuosos in possessing it. You ought to find in the colophon a helmet with a motto over the word 'Tractado,' and the tail of the X of the date MDLXII ought to be crooked. If your copy agrees with these signs send me a telegraphic despatch at once, for I shall be very anxious until I receive it. But now I remember that, on account of these vexatious and troublesome wars, the telegraph is not working. I shall await your answer by return of mail.

"I shall soon go to Madrid for the purpose of having my long delayed work, the 'Genealogies of Orbajosa,' printed. I appreciate your kindness, my dear friend, but I cannot accept your too flattering expressions. My work does not indeed deserve the high encomiums you bestow upon it; it is a work of patience and study, a rude but solid and massive monument which I shall have erected to the past glories of my beloved country. Plain and humble in its form, it is noble in the idea that inspired it, which was solely to direct the eyes of this proud and unbelieving generation to the marvellous deeds and the pure virtues of our forefathers. Would that the studious youth of our country might take the step to which with all my strength I incite them! Would that the abominable studies and methods of reasoning introduced by philosophic license and erroneous doctrines might be forever cast into oblivion! Would that our learned men might occupy themselves exclusively in the contemplation of those glorious ages, in order that, this generation being penetrated with their essence and their beneficent sap, its insane eagerness for change, and its ridiculous mania for appropriating to itself foreign ideas which conflict with our beautiful national constitution, might disappear. I fear greatly that among the crowd of mad youth who pursue vain Utopias and heathenish novelties, my desires are not destined to be fulfilled, and that the contemplation of the illustrious virtues of the past will remain confined within the same narrow circle as to-day. What is to be done, my friend? I am afraid that very soon our poor Spain is doomed to be so disfigured that she will not be able to recognize herself, even beholding herself in the bright mirror of her stainless history.

"I do not wish to close this letter without informing you of a disagreeable event—the unfortunate death of an estimable young man, well known in Madrid, the civil engineer Don Jose de Rey, a nephew of my sister-in-law. This melancholy event occurred last night in the garden of our house, and I have not yet been able to form a correct judgment regarding the causes that may have impelled the unfortunate Rey to this horrible and criminal act. According to what Perfecta told me this morning, on my return from Mundo Grande, Pepe Rey at about twelve o'clock last night entered the garden of the house and shot himself in the right temple, expiring instantly. Imagine the consternation and alarm which such an event would produce in this peaceable and virtuous mansion. Poor Perfecta was so greatly affected that we were for a time alarmed about her; but she is better now, and this afternoon we succeeded in inducing her to take a little broth. We employ every means of consoling her, and as she is a good Christian, she knows how to support with edifying resignation even so great a misfortune as this.

"Between you and me, my friend, I will say here that in young Rey's fatal attempt upon his life, I believe the moving causes to have been an unfortunate attachment, perhaps remorse for his conduct, and the state of hypochondriasm into which he had fallen. I esteemed him greatly; I think he was not lacking in excellent qualities; but he was held in such disrepute here that never once have I heard any one speak well of him. According to what they say, he made a boast of the most extravagant ideas and opinions; he mocked at religion, entered the church smoking and with his hat on; he respected nothing, and for him there was neither modesty, nor virtue, nor soul, nor ideal, nor faith—nothing but theodolites, squares, rules, engines, pick-axes, and spades. What do you thing of that? To be just, I must say that in his conversations with me he always concealed these ideas, doubtless through fear of being utterly routed by the fire of my arguments; but in public innumerable stories are told of his heretical ideas and his stupendous excesses.

"I cannot continue, my dear friend, for at this moment I hear firing. As I have no love for fighting, and as I am not a soldier, my pulse trembles a little. In due time I will give you further particulars of this war.

"Yours affectionately, etc., etc."



"APRIL 22.

"MY EVER-REMEMBERED FRIEND:

"To-day we have had a bloody skirmish on the outskirts of Orbajosa. The large body of men raised in Villahorrenda were attacked by the troops with great fury. There was great loss in killed and wounded on both sides. After the combat the brave guerillas dispersed, but they are greatly encouraged, and it is possible that you may hear of wonderful things. Cristobal Caballuco, the son of the famous Caballuco whom you will remember in the last war, though suffering from a wound in the arm, how or when received is not known, commanded them. The present leader has eminent qualifications for the command; and he is, besides, an honest and simple-hearted man. As we must finally come to a friendly arrangement, I presume that Caballuco will be made a general in the Spanish army, whereby both sides will gain greatly.

"I deplore this war, which is beginning to assume alarming proportions; but I recognize that our valiant peasants are not responsible for it, since they have been provoked to the inhuman conflict by the audacity of the Government, by the demoralization of its sacrilegious delegates; by the systematic fury with which the representatives of the state attack what is most venerated by the people—their religious faith and the national spirit which fortunately still exists in those places that are not yet contaminated by the desolating pestilence. When it is attempted to take away the soul of a people to give it a different one; when it is sought to denationalize a people, so to say, perverting its sentiments, its customs, its ideas—it is natural that this people should defend itself, like the man who is attacked by highwaymen on a solitary road. Let the spirit and the pure and salutiferous substance of my work on the 'Genealogies'—excuse the apparent vanity—once reach the sphere of the Government and there will no longer be wars.

"To-day we have had here a very disagreeable question. The clergy, my friend, have refused to allow Rey to be buried in consecrated ground. I interfered in the matter, entreating the bishop to remove this heavy anathema, but without success. Finally, we buried the body of the young man in a grave made in the field of Mundo Grande, where my patient explorations have discovered the archaeological treasures of which you know. I spent some very sad hours, and the painful impression which I received has not yet altogether passed away. Don Juan Tafetan and ourselves were the only persons who accompanied the funeral cortege. A little later, strange to say, the girls whom they call here the Troyas went to the field, and prayed for a long time beside the rustic tomb of the mathematician. Although this seemed a ridiculous piece of officiousness it touched me.

"With respect to the death of Rey, the rumor circulates throughout the town that he was assassinated, but by whom is not known. It is asserted that he declared this to be the case, for he lived for about an hour and a half. According to what they say, he refused to reveal the name of his murderer. I repeat this version, without either contradicting or supporting it. Perfecta does not wish this matter to be spoken of, and she becomes greatly distressed whenever I allude to it.

"Poor woman! no sooner had one misfortune occurred than she met with another, which has grieved us all deeply. My friend, the fatal malady that has been for so many generations connatural in our family has now claimed another victim. Poor Rosario, who, thanks to our cares, was improving gradually in her health, has entirely lost her reason. Her incoherent words, her frenzy, her deadly pallor, bring my mother and my sister forcibly to my mind. This is the most serious case that I have witnessed in our family, for the question here is not one of mania but of real insanity. It is sad, terribly sad that out of so many I should be the only one to escape, preserving a sound mind with all my faculties unimpaired and entirely free from any sign of that fatal malady.

"I have not been able to give your remembrances to Don Inocencio, for the poor man has suddenly fallen ill and refuses to see even his most intimate friends. But I am sure that he would return your remembrances, and I do not doubt that he could lay his hand instantly on the translation of the collection of Latin epigrams which you recommend to him. I hear firing again. They say that we shall have a skirmish this afternoon. The troops have just been called out."



"BARCELONA, June 1.

"I have just arrived here after leaving my niece in San Baudilio de Llobregat. The director of the establishment has assured me that the case is incurable. She will, however, have the greatest care in that cheerful and magnificent sanitarium. My dear friend, if I also should ever succumb, let me be taken to San Baudilio. I hope to find the proofs of my 'Genealogies' awaiting me on my return. I intend to add six pages more, for it would be a great mistake not to publish my reasons for maintaining that Mateo Diez Coronel, author of the 'Metrico Encomio,' is descended, on the mother's side, from the Guevaras, and not from the Burguillos, as the author of the 'Floresta Amena' erroneously maintains.

"I write this letter principally for the purpose of giving you a caution. I have heard several persons here speaking of Pepe Rey's death, and they describe it exactly as it occurred. The secret of the manner of his death, which I learned some time after the event, I revealed to you in confidence when we met in Madrid. It has appeared strange to me that having told it to no one but yourself, it should be known here in all its details—how he entered the garden; how he fired on Caballuco when the latter attacked him with his dagger; how Ramos then fired on him with so sure an aim that he fell to the ground mortally wounded. In short, my dear friend, in case you should have inadvertently spoken of this to any one, I will remind you that it is a family secret, and that will be sufficient for a person as prudent and discreet as yourself.

"Joy! joy! I have just read in one of the papers here that Caballuco had defeated Brigadier Batalla."



"ORBAJOSA, December 12.

"I have a sad piece of news to give you. The Penitentiary has ceased to exist for us; not precisely because he has passed to a better life, but because the poor man has been, ever since last April, so grief-stricken, so melancholy, so taciturn that you would not know him. There is no longer in him even a trace of that Attic humor, that decorous and classic joviality which made him so pleasing. He shuns every body; he shuts himself up in his house and receives no one; he hardly eats any thing, and he has broken off all intercourse with the world. If you were to see him now you would not recognize him, for he is reduced to skin and bone. The strangest part of the matter is that he has quarreled with his niece and lives alone, entirely alone, in a miserable cottage in the suburb of Baidejos. They say now that he will resign his chair in the choir of the cathedral and go to Rome. Ah! Orbajosa will lose much in losing her great Latinist. I imagine that many a year will pass before we shall see such another. Our glorious Spain is falling into decay, declining, dying."



"ORBAJOSA, December 23.

"The young man who will present to you a letter of introduction from me is the nephew of our dear Penitentiary, a lawyer with some literary ability. Carefully educated by his uncle, he has very sensible ideas. How regrettable it would be if he should become corrupted in that sink of philosophy and incredulity! He is upright, industrious, and a good Catholic, for which reasons I believe that in an office like yours he will rise to distinction in his profession. Perhaps his ambition may lead him (for he has ambition, too) into the political arena, and I think he would not be a bad acquisition to the cause of order and tradition, now that the majority of our young men have become perverted and have joined the ranks of the turbulent and the vicious. He is accompanied by his mother, a commonplace woman without any social polish, but who has an excellent heart, and who is truly pious. Maternal affection takes in her the somewhat extravagant form of worldly ambition, and she declares that her son will one day be Minister. It is quite possible that he may.

"Perfecta desires to be remembered to you. I don't know precisely what is the matter with her; but the fact is, she gives us great uneasiness. She has lost her appetite to an alarming degree, and, unless I am greatly mistaken in my opinion of her case, she shows the first symptoms of jaundice. The house is very sad without Rosarito, who brightened it with her smiles and her angelic goodness. A black cloud seems to rest now over us all. Poor Perfecta speaks frequently of this cloud, which is growing blacker and blacker, while she becomes every day more yellow. The poor mother finds consolation for her grief in religion and in devotional exercises, which each day she practises with a more exemplary and edifying piety. She passes almost the whole of the day in church, and she spends her large income in novenas and in splendid religious ceremonies. Thanks to her, religious worship has recovered in Orbajosa its former splendor. This is some consolation in the midst of the decay and dissolution of our nationality.

"To-morrow I will send the proofs. I will add a few pages more, for I have discovered another illustrious Orbajosan—Bernardo Amador de Sota, who was footman to the Duke of Osuna, whom he served during the period of the vice-royalty of Naples; and there is even good reason to believe that he had no complicity whatever in the conspiracy against Venice."



Our story is ended. This is all we have to say for the present concerning persons who seem, but are not good.

THE END

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5
Home - Random Browse