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A fresh attempt to see his cousin that evening failed, and Pepe Rey shut himself up in his room to write several letters, his mind preoccupied with one thought.
"To-night or to-morrow," he said to himself, "this will end one way or another."
When he was called to supper Dona Perfecta, who was already in the dining-room, went up to him and said, without preface:
"Dear Pepe, don't distress yourself, I will pacify Senor Don Inocencio. I know every thing already. Maria Remedios, who has just left the house, has told me all about it."
Dona Perfecta's countenance radiated such satisfaction as an artist, proud of his work, might feel.
"Set your mind at rest. I will make an excuse for you. You took a few glasses too much in the Casino, that was it, was it not? There you have the result of bad company. Don Juan Tafetan, the Troyas! This is horrible, frightful. Did you consider well?"
"I considered every thing," responded Pepe, resolved not to enter into discussions with his aunt.
"I shall take good care not to write to your father what you have done."
"You may write whatever you please to him."
"You will exculpate yourself by denying the truth of this story, then?"
"I deny nothing."
"You confess then that you were in the house of those——"
"And that you gave them a half ounce; for, according to what Maria Remedios has told me, Florentina went down to the shop of the Extramaduran this afternoon to get a half ounce changed. They could not have earned it with their sewing. You were in their house to-day; consequently—"
"Consequently I gave it to her. You are perfectly right."
"You do not deny it?"
"Why should I deny it? I suppose I can do whatever I please with my money?"
"But you will surely deny that you threw stones at the Penitentiary."
"I do not throw stones."
"I mean that those girls, in your presence—"
"That is another matter."
"And they insulted poor Maria Remedios, too."
"I do not deny that, either."
"And how do you excuse your conduct! Pepe in Heaven's name, have you nothing to say? That you are sorry, that you deny—"
"Nothing, absolutely nothing, senora!"
"You don't even give me any satisfaction."
"I have done nothing to offend you."
"Come, the only thing there is left for you to do now is—there, take that stick and beat me!"
"I don't beat people."
"What a want of respect! What, don't you intend to eat any supper?"
"I intend to take supper."
For more than a quarter of an hour no one spoke. Don Cayetano, Dona Perfecta, and Pepe Rey ate in silence. This was interrupted when Don Inocencio entered the dining-room.
"How sorry I was for it, my dear Don Jose! Believe me, I was truly sorry for it," he said, pressing the young man's hand and regarding him with a look of compassion.
The engineer was so perplexed for a moment that he did not know what to answer.
"I refer to the occurrence of this afternoon."
"To your expulsion from the sacred precincts of the cathedral."
"The bishop should consider well," said Pepe Rey, "before he turns a Christian out of the church."
"That is very true. I don't know who can have put it into his lordship's head that you are a man of very bad habits; I don't know who has told him that you make a boast of your atheism everywhere; that you ridicule sacred things and persons, and even that you are planning to pull down the cathedral to build a large tar factory with the stones. I tried my best to dissuade him, but his lordship is a little obstinate."
"Thanks for so much kindness."
"And it is not because the Penitentiary has any reason to show you these considerations. A little more, and they would have left him stretched on the ground this afternoon."
"Bah!" said the ecclesiastic, laughing. "But have you heard of that little prank already? I wager Maria Remedios came with the story. And I forbade her to do it—I forbade her positively. The thing in itself is of no consequence, am I not right, Senor de Rey?"
"Since you think so——"
"That is what I think. Young people's pranks! Youth, let the moderns say what they will, is inclined to vice and to vicious actions. Senor de Rey, who is a person of great endowments, could not be altogether perfect—why should it be wondered at that those pretty girls should have captivated him, and, after getting his money out of him, should have made him the accomplice of their shameless and criminal insults to their neighbors? My dear friend, for the painful part that I had in this afternoon's sport," he added, raising his hand to the wounded spot, "I am not offended, nor will I distress you by even referring to so disagreeable an incident. I am truly sorry to hear that Maria Remedios came here to tell all about it. My niece is so fond of gossiping! I wager she told too about the half ounce, and your romping with the girls on the terrace, and your chasing one another about, and the pinches and the capers of Don Juan Tafetan. Bah! those things ought not to be told."
Pepe Rey did not know which annoyed him most—his aunt's severity or the hypocritical condescension of the canon.
"Why should they not be told?" said Dona Perfecta. "He does not seem ashamed of his conduct himself. I assure you all that I keep this from my dear daughter only because, in her nervous condition, a fit of anger might be dangerous to her."
"Come, it is not so serious as all that, senora," said the Penitentiary. "I think the matter should not be again referred to, and when the one who was stoned says that, the rest may surely be satisfied. And the blow was no joke, Senor Don Jose. I thought they had split my head open and that my brains were oozing out."
"I am truly sorry for the occurrence!" stammered Pepe Rey. "It gives me real pain, although I had no part in it—"
"Your visit to those Senoras Troyas will be talked about all over the town," said the canon. "We are not in Madrid, in that centre of corruption, of scandal—"
"There you can visit the vilest places without any one knowing it," said Dona Perfecta.
"Here we are very observant of one another," continued Don Inocencio. "We take notice of everything our neighbors do, and with such a system of vigilance public morals are maintained at a proper height. Believe me, my friend, believe me,—and I do not say this to mortify you,—you are the first gentleman of your position who, in the light of day—the first, yes, senor—Trojoe qui primus ab oris."
And bursting into a laugh, he clapped the engineer on the back in token of amity and good-will.
"How grateful I ought to be," said the young man, concealing his anger under the sarcastic words which he thought the most suitable to answer the covert irony of his interlocutors, "to meet with so much generosity and tolerance, when my criminal conduct would deserve—"
"What! Is a person of one's own blood, one who bears one's name," said Dona Perfecta, "to be treated like a stranger? You are my nephew, you are the son of the best and the most virtuous of men, of my dear brother Juan, and that is sufficient. Yesterday afternoon the secretary of the bishop came here to tell me that his lordship is greatly displeased because I have you in my house."
"And that too?" murmured the canon.
"And that too. I said that in spite of the respect which I owe the bishop, and the affection and reverence which I bear him, my nephew is my nephew, and I cannot turn him out of my house."
"This is another singularity which I find in this place," said Pepe Rey, pale with anger. "Here, apparently, the bishop governs other people's houses."
"He is a saint. He is so fond of me that he imagines—he imagines that you are going to contaminate us with your atheism, your disregard for public opinion, your strange ideas. I have told him repeatedly that, at bottom, you are an excellent young man."
"Some concession must always be made to superior talent," observed Don Inocencio.
"And this morning, when I was at the Cirujedas'—oh, you cannot imagine in what a state they had my head! Was it true that you had come to pull down the cathedral; that you were commissioned by the English Protestants to go preaching heresy throughout Spain; that you spent the whole night gambling in the Casino; that you were drunk in the streets? 'But, senoras,' I said to them, 'would you have me send my nephew to the hotel?' Besides, they are wrong about the drunkenness, and as for gambling—I have never yet heard that you gambled."
Pepe Rey found himself in that state of mind in which the calmest man is seized by a sudden rage, by a blind and brutal impulse to strangle some one, to strike some one in the face, to break some one's head, to crush some one's bones. But Dona Perfecta was a woman and was, besides, his aunt; and Don Inocencio was an old man and an ecclesiastic. In addition to this, physical violence is in bad taste and unbecoming a person of education and a Christian. There remained the resource of giving vent to his suppressed wrath in dignified and polite language; but this last resource seemed to him premature, and only to be employed at the moment of his final departure from the house and from Orbajosa. Controlling his fury, then, he waited.
Jacinto entered as they were finishing supper.
"Good-evening, Senor Don Jose," he said, pressing the young man's hand. "You and your friends kept me from working this afternoon. I was not able to write a line. And I had so much to do!"
"I am very sorry for it, Jacinto. But according to what they tell me, you accompany them sometimes in their frolics."
"I!" exclaimed the boy, turning scarlet. "Why, you know very well that Tafetan never speaks a word of truth. But is it true, Senor de Rey, that you are going away?"
"Is that the report in the town?"
"Yes. I heard it in the Casino and at Don Lorenzo Ruiz's."
Rey contemplated in silence for a few moments the fresh face of Don Nominative. Then he said:
"Well, it is not true; my aunt is very well satisfied with me; she despises the calumnies with which the Orbajosans are favoring me—and she will not turn me out of her house, even though the bishop himself should try to make her do so."
"As for turning you out of the house—never. What would your father say?"
"Notwithstanding all your kindness, dearest aunt, notwithstanding the cordial friendship of the reverend canon, it is possible that I may myself decide to go away."
"To go away!"
"To go away—you!"
A strange light shone in Dona Perfecta's eyes. The canon, experienced though he was in dissimulation, could not conceal his joy.
"Yes, and perhaps this very night."
"Why, man, how impetuous you are; Why don't you at least wait until morning? Here—Juan, let some one go for Uncle Licurgo to get the nag ready. I suppose you will take some luncheon with you. Nicolasa, that piece of veal that is on the sideboard! Librada, the senorito's linen."
"No, I cannot believe that you would take so rash a resolution," said Don Cayetano, thinking himself obliged to take some part in the question.
"But you will come back, will you not?" asked the canon.
"At what time does the morning train pass?" asked Dona Perfecta, in whose eyes was clearly discernible the feverish impatience of her exaltation.
"I am going away to-night."
"But there is no moon."
In the soul of Dona Perfecta, in the soul of the Penitentiary, in the little doctor's youthful soul echoed like a celestial harmony the word, "To-night!"
"Of course, dear Pepe, you will come back. I wrote to-day to your father, your excellent father," exclaimed Dona Perfecta, with all the physiognomic signs that make their appearance when a tear is about to be shed.
"I will trouble you with a few commissions," said the savant.
"A good opportunity to order the volume that is wanting in my copy of the Abbe Gaume's work," said the youthful lawyer.
"You take such sudden notions, Pepe; you are so full of caprices," murmured Dona Perfecta, smiling, with her eyes fixed on the door of the dining-room. "But I forgot to tell you that Caballuco is waiting to speak to you."
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