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On the day following that of this lamentable quarrel, various rumors regarding Pepe Rey and his conduct spread through Orbajosa, going from house to house, from club to club, from the Casino to the apothecary's and from the Paseo de las Descalzes to the Puerta de Baidejos. They were repeated by every body, and so many were the comments made that, if Don Cayetano had collected and compiled them, he might have formed with them a rich "Thesaurus" of Orbajosan benevolence. In the midst of the diversity of the reports circulated, there was agreement in regard to certain important particulars, one of which was the following:
That the engineer, enraged at Dona Perfecta's refusal to marry Rosario to an atheist, had raised his hand to his aunt.
The young man was living in the widow De Cusco's hotel, an establishment mounted, as they say now, not at the height, but at the depth of the superlative backwardness of the town. Lieutenant-colonel Pinzon visited him with frequency, in order that they might discuss together the plot which they had on hand, and for the successful conduct of which the soldier showed the happiest dispositions. New artifices and stratagems occurred to him at every instant, and he hastened to put them into effect with excellent humor, although he would often say to his friend:
"The role I am playing, dear Pepe, is not a very dignified one; but to give an annoyance to the Orbajosans I would walk on my hands and feet."
We do not know what cunning stratagems the artful soldier, skilled in the wiles of the world, employed; but certain it is that before he had been in the house three days he had succeeded in making himself greatly liked by every body in it. His manners were very pleasing to Dona Perfecta, who could not hear unmoved his flattering praises of the elegance of the house, and of the nobility, piety, and august magnificence of its mistress. With Don Inocencio he was hand and glove. Neither her mother nor the Penitentiary placed any obstacle in the way of his speaking with Rosario (who had been restored to liberty on the departure of her ferocious cousin); and, with his delicate compliments, his skilful flattery, and great address, he had acquired in the house of Polentinos considerable ascendency, and he had even succeeded in establishing himself in it on a footing of familiarity. But the object of all his arts was a servant maid named Librada, whom he had seduced (chastely speaking) that she might carry messages and notes to Rosario, of whom he pretended to be enamored. The girl allowed herself to be bribed with persuasive words and a good deal of money, because she was ignorant of the source of the notes and of the real meaning of the intrigue, for had she known that it was all a diabolical plot of Don Jose, although she liked the latter greatly, she would not have acted with treachery toward her mistress for all the money in the world.
One day Dona Perfecta, Don Inocencio, Jacinto, and Pinzon were conversing together in the garden. They were talking about the soldiers and the purpose for which they had been sent to Orbajosa, in which the Penitentiary found motive for condemning the tyrannical conduct of the Government; and, without knowing how it came about, Pepe Rey's name was mentioned.
"He is still at the hotel," said the little lawyer. "I saw him yesterday, and he gave me remembrances for you, Dona Perfecta."
"Was there ever seen such insolence! Ah, Senor Pinzon! do not be surprised at my using this language, speaking of my own nephew—that young man, you remember, who had the room which you occupy."
"Yes, I know. I am not acquainted with him, but I know him by sight and by reputation. He is an intimate friend of our brigadier."
"An intimate friend of the brigadier?"
"Yes, senor; of the commander of the brigade that has just arrived in this district, and which is quartered in the neighboring villages."
"And where is he?" asked the lady.
"I think he is stopping at Polavieja's," observed Jacinto.
"Your nephew and Brigadier Batalla are intimate friends," continued Pinzon; "they are always to be seen together in the streets."
"Well, my friend, that gives me a bad idea of your chief," said Dona Perfecta.
"He is—he is very good-natured," said Pinzon, in the tone of one who, through motives of respect, did not venture to use a harsher word.
"With your permission, Senor Pinzon, and making an honorable exception in your favor, it must be said that in the Spanish army there are some curious types——"
"Our brigadier was an excellent soldier before he gave himself up to spiritualism."
"That sect that calls up ghosts and goblins by means of the legs of a table!" said the canon, laughing.
"From curiosity, only from curiosity," said Jacintillo, with emphasis, "I ordered Allan Kardec's book from Madrid. It is well to know something about every thing."
"But is it possible that such follies—Heavens! Tell me, Pinzon, does my nephew too belong to that sect of table-tippers?"
"I think it was he who indoctrinated our valiant Brigadier Batalla."
"Yes; and whenever he chooses," said Don Inocencio, unable to contain his laughter, "he can speak to Socrates, St. Paul, Cervantes, or Descartes, as I speak to Librada to ask her for a match. Poor Senor de Rey! I was not mistaken in saying that there was something wrong in his head."
"Outside that," continued Pinzon, "our brigadier is a good soldier. If he errs at all, it is on the side of severity. He takes the orders of the Government so literally that, if he were to meet with much opposition here, he would be capable of not leaving one stone upon another in Orbajosa. Yes, I advise you all to be on your guard."
"But is that monster going to cut all our heads off, then? Ah, Senor Don Inocencio! these visits of the army remind me of what I have read in the lives of the martyrs about the visits of the Roman proconsuls to a Christian town."
"The comparison is not wanting in exactness," said the Penitentiary, looking at the soldier over his spectacles.
"It is not very agreeable, but if it is the truth, why should it not be said?" observed Pinzon benevolently. "Now you all are at our mercy."
"The authorities of the place," objected Jacinto, "still exercise their functions as usual."
"I think you are mistaken," responded the soldier, whose countenance Dona Perfecta and the Penitentiary were studying with profound interest. "The alcalde of Orbajosa was removed from office an hour ago."
"By the governor of the province?"
"The governor of the province has been replaced by a delegate from the Government, who was to arrive this morning. The municipal councils will all be removed from office to-day. The minister has so ordered because he suspected, I don't know on what grounds, that they were not supporting the central authority."
"This is a pretty state of things!" murmured the canon, frowning and pushing out his lower lip.
Dona Perfecta looked thoughtful.
"Some of the judges of the primary court, among them the judge of Orbajosa, have been deprived of office."
"The judge! Periquito—Periquito is no longer judge!" exclaimed Dona Perfecta, in a voice and with the manner of a person who has just been stung by a snake.
"The person who was judge in Orbajosa is judge no longer," said Pinzon. "To-morrow the new judge will arrive."
"A rascal, perhaps. The other was so honorable!" said Dona Perfecta, with alarm. "I never asked any thing from him that he did not grant it to me at once. Do you know who will be the new alcalde?"
"They say a corregidor is coming."
"There, say at once that the Deluge is coming, and let us be done with it," said the canon, rising.
"So that we are at the brigadier's mercy!"
"For a few days only. Don't be angry with me. In spite of my uniform I am an enemy of militarism; but we are ordered to strike—and we strike. There could not be a viler trade than ours."
"That it is, that it is!" said Dona Perfecta, with difficulty concealing her fury. "Now that you have confessed it——So, then, neither alcalde nor judge——"
"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.
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