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Pepe Rey was disturbed and perplexed, enraged with himself and every one else; he tried in vain to imagine what could be the conflict that had arisen, in spite of himself, between his ideas and the ideas of his aunt's friends. Thoughtful and sad, foreseeing future discord, he remained for a short time sitting on the bench in the summer-house, his chin resting on his breast, his forehead gathered in a frown, his hands clasped. He thought himself alone.
Suddenly he heard a gay voice humming the refrain of a song from a zarzuela. He looked up and saw Don Jacinto sitting in the opposite corner of the summer-house.
"Ah, Senor de Rey!" said the youth abruptly, "one does not offend with impunity the religious sentiments of the great majority of a nation. If you doubt it, consider what happened in the first French revolution."
When Pepe heard the buzzing of this insect his irritation increased. Nevertheless there was no anger in his soul toward the youthful doctor of laws. The latter annoyed him, as a fly might annoy him, but nothing more. Rey felt the irritation which every importunate being inspires, and with the air of one who brushes away a buzzing drone, he answered:
"What has the French revolution to do with the robe of the Virgin?"
He got up and walked toward the house, but he had not taken half a dozen steps before he heard again beside him the buzzing of the mosquito, saying:
"Senor Don Jose, I wish to speak to you about an affair in which you are greatly interested and which may cause you some trouble."
"An affair?" said the young man, drawing back. "Let us hear what affair is that."
"You suspect what it is, perhaps," said Jacinto, approaching Pepe, and smiling with the air of a man of business who has some unusually important matter on hand; "I want to speak to you about the lawsuit."
"The lawsuit! My friend, I have no lawsuits. You, as a good lawyer, dream of lawsuits and see stamped paper everywhere."
"What! You have not heard of your lawsuit?" exclaimed the youth, with amazement.
"Of my lawsuit! But I have no lawsuits, nor have I ever had any."
"Well, if you have not heard of it, I am all the better pleased to have spoken to you about it, so that you may be on your guard. Yes, senor, you are going to have a suit at law."
"And with whom?"
"With Uncle Licurgo and other land-owners whose property borders on the estate called The Poplars."
Pepe Rey was astounded.
"Yes, senor," continued the little lawyer. "To-day Uncle Licurgo and I had a long conference. As I am such a friend of the family, I wanted to let you know about it, so that, if you think well of it, you may hasten to arrange the matter."
"But what have I to arrange? What do those rascals claim from me?"
"It seems that a stream of water which rises in your property has changed its course and flows over some tile-works of the aforesaid Uncle Licurgo and the mill of another person, occasioning considerable damage. My client—for he is determined that I shall get him out of this difficulty—my client, as I said, demands that you shall restore the water to its former channel, so as to avoid fresh injuries, and that you shall indemnify him for the damage which his works have already sustained through the neglect of the superior proprietor."
"And I am the superior proprietor! If I engage in a lawsuit, that will be the first fruit that those famous Poplars, which were mine and which now, as I understand, belong to everybody, will have ever produced me, for Licurgo, as well as some of the other farmers of the district, have been filching from me, little by little, year after year, pieces of land, and it will be very difficult to re-establish the boundaries of my property."
"That is a different question."
"That is not a different question. The real suit," exclaimed the engineer, unable to control his anger, "will be the one that I will bring against that rabble who no doubt propose to themselves to tire me out and drive me to desperation—so that I may abandon every thing and let them continue in possession of what they have stolen. We shall see if there are lawyers and judges who will uphold the infamous conduct of those village legists, who are forever at law, and who waste and consume the property of others. I am obliged to you, young gentleman, for having informed me of the villanous intentions of those boors, who are more perverse than Satan himself. When I tell you that that very tile-yard and that very mill on which Licurgo bases his claim are mine—"
"The title-deeds of the property ought to be examined, to see if possession may not constitute a title in this case."
"Possession! Those scoundrels are not going to have the pleasure of laughing at me in that way. I suppose that justice is honestly and faithfully administered in the city of Orbajosa."
"Oh, as to that!" exclaimed the little lawyer, with an approving look, "the judge is an excellent person! He comes here every evening. But it is strange that you should have received no notice of Senor Licurgo's claims. Have you not yet been summoned to appear before the tribunal of arbitration?"
"It will be to-morrow, then. Well, I am very sorry that Senor Licurgo's precipitation has deprived me of the pleasure and honor of defending you, but what is to be done? Licurgo was determined that I should take him out of his troubles. I will study the matter with the greatest care. This vile slavery is the great drawback of jurisprudence."
Pepe entered the dining-room in a deplorable state of mind. Dona Perfecta was talking with the Penitentiary, as he entered, and Rosarito was sitting alone, with her eyes fixed on the door. She was no doubt waiting for her cousin.
"Come here, you rascal," said his aunt, smiling with very little spontaneity. "You have insulted us, you great atheist! but we forgive you. I am well aware that my daughter and myself are two rustics who are incapable of soaring to the regions of mathematics where you dwell, but for all that it is possible that you may one day get down on your knees to us and beg us to teach you the Christian doctrine."
Pepe answered with vague phrases and formulas of politeness and repentance.
"For my part," said Don Inocencio, with an affected air of meekness and amiability, "if in the course of these idle disputes I have said any thing that could offend Senor Don Jose, I beg his pardon for it. We are all friends here."
"Thanks. It is of no consequence."
"In spite of every thing," said Dona Perfecta, smiling with more naturalness than before, "I shall always be the same for my dear nephew; in spite of his extravagant and anti-religious ideas. In what way do you suppose I am going to spend this evening? Well, in trying to make Uncle Licurgo give up those obstinate notions which would otherwise cause you annoyance. I sent for him, and he is waiting for me now in the hall. Make yourself easy, I will arrange the matter; for although I know that he is not altogether without right on his side—"
"Thanks, dear aunt," responded the young man, his whole being invaded by a wave of the generous emotion which was so easily aroused in his soul.
Pepe Rey looked in the direction of his cousin, intending to join her, but some wily questions of the canon retained him at Dona Perfecta's side. Rosario looked dejected, and was listening with an air of melancholy indifference to the words of the little lawyer, who, having installed himself at her side, kept up a continuous stream of fulsome flatteries, seasoned with ill-timed jests and fatuous remarks in the worst possible taste.
"The worst of it is," said Dona Perfecta to her nephew—surprising the glance which he cast in the direction of the ill-assorted pair—"the worst of it is, that you have offended poor Rosario. You must do all in your power to make your peace with her. The poor child is so good!"
"Oh, yes! so good," added the canon, "that I have no doubt that she will forgive her cousin."
"I think that Rosario has already forgiven me," affirmed Rey.
"And if not, angelic breasts do not harbor resentment long," said Don Inocencio mellifluously. "I have a great deal of influence with the child, and I will endeavor to dissipate in her generous soul whatever prejudice may exist there against you. As soon as I say a word or two to her——"
Pepe Rey felt a cloud darken his soul and he said with meaning:
"Perhaps it may not be necessary."
"I will not speak to her now," added the capitular, "because she is listening entranced to Jacinto's nonsense. Ah, those children! When they once begin there is no stopping them."
The judge of the lower court, the alcalde's lady, and the dean of the cathedral now made their appearance. They all saluted the engineer, manifesting in their words and manner, on seeing him, the satisfaction of gratified curiosity. The judge was one of those clever and intelligent young men who every day spring into notice in official circles; aspiring, almost before they are out of the shell, to the highest political and administrative positions. He gave himself airs of great importance, and in speaking of himself and of his juvenile toga, he seemed indirectly to manifest great offence because he had not been all at once made president of the supreme court. In such inexpert hands, in a brain thus swollen with vanity, in this incarnation of conceit, had the state placed the most delicate and the most difficult functions of human justice. His manners were those of a perfect courtier, and revealed a scrupulous and minute attention to all that concerned his own person. He had the insufferable habit of taking off and putting on every moment his gold eye-glasses, and in his conversation he manifested with frequency the strong desire which he had to be transferred to Madrid, in order that he might give his invaluable services to the Department of Grace and Justice.
The alcalde's lady was a good-natured woman, whose only weakness was to fancy that she had a great many acquaintances at the court. She asked Pepe Rey various questions about the fashions, mentioning establishments in which she had had a mantle or a skirt made on her last journey to the capital, contemporaneous with the visit of Muley-Abbas, and she also mentioned the names of a dozen duchesses and marchionesses; speaking of them with as much familiarity as if they had been friends of her school-days. She said also that the Countess of M. (famous for her parties) was a friend of hers and that in '60 she had paid her a visit, when the countess had invited her to her box at the Teatro Real, where she saw Muley-Abbas in Moorish dress and accompanied by his retinue of Moors. The alcalde's wife talked incessantly and was not wanting in humor.
The dean was a very old man, corpulent and red-faced, plethoric and apoplectic looking, a man so obese that he seemed bursting out of his skin. He had belonged to one of the suppressed religious orders; he talked only of religious matters; and from the very first manifested the most profound contempt for Pepe Rey. The latter appeared every moment more unable to accommodate himself to a society so little to his taste. His disposition—not at all malleable, hard, and very little flexible—rejected the duplicities and the compromises of language to simulate concord when it did not exist. He remained, then, very grave during the whole of the tiresome evening, obliged as he was to endure the oratorical vehemence of the alcalde's wife, who, without being Fame, had the privilege of fatiguing with a hundred tongues the ears of men. If, in some brief respite which this lady gave her hearers, Pepe Rey made an attempt to approach his cousin, the Penitentiary attached himself to him instantly, like the mollusk to the rock; taking him apart with a mysterious air to propose to him an excursion with Senor Don Cayetano to Mundogrande, or a fishing party on the clear waters of the Nahara.
At last the evening came to an end, as every thing does in this world. The dean retired, leaving the house, as it seemed, empty, and very soon there remained of the alcalde's wife only an echo, like the buzz which remains in the air after a storm has passed away. The judge also deprived the company of his presence, and at last Don Inocencio gave his nephew the signal for departure.
"Come, boy, come; for it is late," he said, smiling. "How you have tormented poor Rosarito, has he not, child? Home, you rogue, home, without delay."
"It is time to go to bed," said Dona Perfecta.
"Time to go to work," responded the little lawyer.
"I am always telling him that he ought to get through with his business in the day-time, but he will not mind me."
"There is so much, so very much business to be got through."
"No, say rather, that confounded work which you have undertaken. He does not wish to say it, Senor Don Jose, but the truth is that he is writing a book on 'The Influence of Woman in Christian Society,' and, in addition to that, 'A Glance at the Catholic Movement in'—somewhere or other. What do you know about glances or influences? But these youths of the present day have audacity enough for any thing. Oh, what boys! Well, let us go home. Good-night, Senora Dona Perfecta—good-night, Senor Don Jose—Rosarito."
"I will wait for Senor Don Cayetano," said Jacinto, "to ask him to give me the Augusto Nicolas."
"Always carrying books. Why, sometimes you come into the house laden like a donkey. Very well, then, let us wait."
"Senor Don Jacinto does not write hastily," said Pepe Rey; "he prepares himself well for his work, so that his books may be treasures of learning."
"But that boy will injure his brain," objected Dona Perfecta. "For Heaven's sake be careful! I would set a limit to his reading."
"Since we are going to wait," said the little doctor, in a tone of insufferable conceit, "I will take with me also the third volume of Concilios. What do you think, uncle?"
"Take that, of course. It would never do to leave that behind you."
Fortunately Senor Don Cayetano (who generally spent his evenings at the house of Don Lorenzo Ruiz) soon arrived, and the books being received, uncle and nephew left the house.
Rey read in his cousin's sad countenance a keen desire to speak to him. He approached her while Dona Perfecta and Don Cayetano were discussing some domestic matter apart.
"You have offended mamma," said Rosarito.
Her features expressed something like terror.
"It is true," responded the young man; "I have offended your mamma—I have offended you."
"No, not me. I already imagined that the Infant Jesus ought not to wear trousers."
"But I hope that you will both forgive me. Your mamma was so kind to me a little while ago."
Dona Perfecta's voice suddenly vibrated through the dining-room, with so discordant a tone that her nephew started as if he had heard a cry of alarm. The voice said imperiously:
"Rosario, go to bed!"
Startled, her mind filled with anxious fears, the girl lingered in the room, going here and there as if she was looking for something. As she passed her cousin she whispered softly and cautiously these words:
"Mamma is angry."
"She is angry—be on your guard, be on your guard."
Then she left the room. Her mother, for whom Uncle Licurgo was waiting, followed her, and for some time the voices of Dona Perfecta and the countryman were heard mingled together in familiar conference. Pepe was left with Don Cayetano, who, taking a light, said;
"Good-night, Pepe. But don't suppose that I am going to sleep, I am going to work. But why are you so thoughtful? What is the matter with you?—Just as I say, to work. I am making notes for a 'Memorial Discourse on the Genealogies of Orbajosa.' I have already found data and information of the utmost value. There can be no dispute about it. In every period of our history the Orbajosans have been distinguished for their delicate sense of honor, their chivalry, their valor, their intellectuality. The conquest of Mexico, the wars of the Emperor, the wars of Philip against the heretics, testify to this. But are you ill? What is the matter with you? As I say, eminent theologians, valiant warriors, conquerors, saints, bishops, statesmen—all sorts of illustrious men—have flourished in this humble land of the garlic. No, there is not in Christendom a more illustrious city than ours. Its virtues and its glories are in themselves enough and more than enough to fill all the pages of our country's history. Well, I see that it is sleepy you are—good-night. As I say, I would not exchange the glory of being a son of this noble city for all the gold in the world. Augusta, the ancients called it; Augustissima, I call it now; for now, as then, high-mindedness, generosity, valor, magnanimity, are the patrimony of all. Well, good-night, dear Pepe. But I fancy you are not well. Has the supper disagreed with you?—Alonzo Gonzalez de Bustamante was right when he said in his 'Floresta Amena' that the people of Orbajosa suffice in themselves to confer greatness and honor on a kingdom. Don't you think so?"
"Oh, yes, senor; undoubtedly," responded Pepe Rey, going abruptly toward his room.
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