Chapter 13




CHAPTER XIII

A CASUS BELLI

After this prank the Troyas commenced a conversation with their visitors about the people and the affairs of the town. The engineer, fearing that his exploit might be discovered while he was present, wished to go, which displeased the Troyas greatly. One of them who had left the room now returned, saying:

"Suspiritos is now in the yard; she is hanging out the clothes."

"Don Jose will wish to see her," said another of the girls.

"She is a fine-looking woman. And now she arranges her hair in the Madrid fashion. Come, all of you."

They took their visitors to the dining-room—an apartment very little used—which opened on a terrace, where there were a few flowers in pots and many broken and disused articles of furniture. The terrace overlooked the yard of an adjoining house, with a piazza full of green vines and plants in pots carefully cultivated. Every thing about it showed it to be the abode of neat and industrious people of modest means.

The Troyas, approaching the edge of the roof, looked attentively at the neighboring house, and then, imposing silence by a gesture on their cavaliers, retreated to a part of the terrace from which they could not see into the yard, and where there was no danger of their being seen from it.

"She is coming out of the kitchen now with a pan of peas," said Maria Juana, stretching out her neck to look.

"There goes!" cried another, throwing a pebble into the yard.

The noise of the projectile striking against the glass of the piazza was heard, and then an angry voice crying:

"Now they have broken another pane of glass!"

The girls, hidden, close beside the two men, in a corner of the terrace, were suffocating with laughter.

"Senora Suspiritos is very angry," said Rey. "Why do they call her by that name?"

"Because, when she is talking, she sighs after every word, and although she has every thing she wants, she is always complaining."

There was a moment's silence in the house below. Pepita Troya looked cautiously down.

"There she comes again," she whispered, once more imposing silence by a gesture. "Maria, give me a pebble. Give it here—bang! there it goes!"

"You didn't hit her. It struck the ground."

"Let me see if I can. Let us wait until she comes out of the pantry again."

"Now, now she is coming out. Take care, Florentina."

"One, two, three! There it goes!"

A cry of pain was heard from below, a malediction, a masculine exclamation, for it was a man who uttered it. Pepe Rey could distinguish clearly these words:

"The devil! They have put a hole in my head, the——Jacinto, Jacinto! But what an abominable neighborhood this is!"

"Good Heavens! what have I done!" exclaimed Florentina, filled with consternation. "I have struck Senor Don Inocencio on the head."

"The Penitentiary?" said Pepe Rey.

"Yes."

"Does he live in that house?"

"Why, where else should he live?"

"And the lady of the sighs——"

"Is his niece, his housekeeper, or whatever else she may be. We amuse ourselves with her because she is very tiresome, but we are not accustomed to play tricks on his reverence, the Penitentiary."

While this dialogue was being rapidly carried on, Pepe Rey saw, in front of the terrace and very near him, a window belonging to the bombarded house open; he saw a smiling face appear at it—a familiar face—a face the sight of which stunned him, terrified him, made him turn pale and tremble. It was that of Jacinto, who, interrupted in his grave studies, appeared at it with his pen behind his ear. His modest, fresh, and smiling countenance, appearing in this way, had an auroral aspect.

"Good-afternoon, Senor Don Jose," he said gayly.

"Jacinto, Jacinto, I say!"

"I am coming. I was saluting a friend."

"Come away, come away!" cried Florentina, in alarm. "The Penitentiary is going up to Don Nominative's room and he will give us a blessing."

"Yes, come away; let us close the door of the dining-room."

They rushed pell-mell from the terrace.

"You might have guessed that Jacinto would see you from his temple of learning," said Tafetan to the Troyas.

"Don Nominative is our friend," responded one of the girls. "From his temple of science he says a great many sweet things to us on the sly, and he blows us kisses besides."

"Jacinto?" asked the engineer. "What the deuce is that name you gave him?"

"Don Nominative."

The three girls burst out laughing.

"We call him that because he is very learned."

"No, because when we were little he was little too. But, yes, now I remember. We used to play on the terrace, and we could hear him studying his lessons aloud."

"Yes, and the whole blessed day he used to spend singling."

"Declining, girl! That is what it was. He would go like this: 'Nominative, rosa, Genitive, Dative, Accusative.'"

"I suppose that I have my nickname too," said Pepe Rey.

"Let Maria Juana tell you what it is," said Florentina, hiding herself.

"I? Tell it to him you, Pepa."

"You haven't any name yet, Don Jose."

"But I shall have one. I promise you that I will come to hear what it is and to receive confirmation," said the young man, making a movement to go.

"What, are you going?"

"Yes. You have lost time enough already. To work, girls! Throwing stones at the neighbors and the passers-by is not the most suitable occupation for girls as pretty and as clever as you are. Well, good-by."

And without waiting for further remonstrances, or answering the civilities of the girls, he left the house hastily, leaving Don Juan Tafetan behind him.

The scene which he had just witnessed, the indignity suffered by the canon, the unexpected appearance of the little doctor of laws, added still further to the perplexities, the anxieties, and the disagreeable presentiments that already disturbed the soul of the unlucky engineer. He regretted with his whole soul having entered the house of the Troyas, and, resolving to employ his time better while his hypochondriasm lasted, he made a tour of inspection through the town.

He visited the market, the Calle de la Triperia, where the principal stores were; he observed the various aspects presented by the industry and commerce of the great city of Orbajosa, and, finding only new motives of weariness, he bent his steps in the direction of the Paseo de las Descalzas; but he saw there only a few stray dogs, for, owing to the disagreeable wind which prevailed, the usual promenaders had remained at home. He went to the apothecary's, where various species of ruminant friends of progress, who chewed again and again the cud of the same endless theme, were accustomed to meet, but there he was still more bored. Finally, as he was passing the cathedral, he heard the strains of the organ and the beautiful chanting of the choir. He entered, knelt before the high altar, remembering the warnings which his aunt had given him about behaving with decorum in church; then visited a chapel, and was about to enter another when an acolyte, warden, or beadle approached him, and with the rudest manner and in the most discourteous tone said to him:

"His lordship says that you are to get out of the church."

The engineer felt the blood rush to his face. He obeyed without a word. Turned out everywhere, either by superior authority or by his own tedium, he had no resource but to return to his aunt's house, where he found waiting for him:

First, Uncle Licurgo, to announce a second lawsuit to him; second, Senor Don Cayetano, to read him another passage from his discourse on the "Genealogies of Orbajosa"; third, Caballuco, on some business which he had not disclosed; fourth, Dona Perfecta and her affectionate smile, for what will appear in the following chapter.



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