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"With regard to the guerillas," said Dona Perfecta, when they had finished drinking, "all I will say is—do as your conscience dictates to you."
"I know nothing about dictations," cried Ramos. "I will do whatever the mistress pleases!"
"I can give you no advice on so important a matter," answered Dona Perfecta with the cautiousness and moderation which so well became her. "This is a very serious business, and I can give you no advice about it."
"But your opinion——"
"My opinion is that you should open your eyes and see, that you should open your ears and hear. Consult your own heart—I will grant that you have a great heart. Consult that judge, that wise counsellor, and do as it bids you."
Caballuco reflected; he meditated as much as a sword can meditate.
"We counted ourselves yesterday in Naharilla Alta," said Vejarruco, "and we were thirteen—ready for any little undertaking. But as we were afraid the mistress might be vexed, we did nothing. It is time now for the shearing."
"Don't mind about the shearing," said Dona Perfecta. "There will be time enough for it. It won't be left undone for that."
"My two boys quarrelled with each other yesterday," said Licurgo, "because one of them wanted to join Francisco Acero and the other didn't. 'Easy, boys, easy,' I said to them; 'all in good time. Wait; we know how to fight here as well as they do anywhere else.'"
"Last night," said Uncle Paso Largo, "Roque Pelosmalos told me that the moment Senor Ramos said half a word they would all be ready, with their arms in their hands. What a pity that the two Burguillos brothers went to work in the fields in Lugarnoble!"
"Go for them you," said the mistress quickly. "Senor Lucas, do you provide Uncle Paso Largo with a horse."
"And if the mistress tells me to do so, and Senor Ramos agrees," said Frasquito Gonzalez, "I will go to Villahorrenda to see if Robustiano, the forester, and his brother Pedro will also—"
"I think that is a good idea. Robustiano will not venture to come to Orbajosa, because he owes me a trifle. You can tell him that I forgive him the six dollars and a half. These poor people who sacrifice themselves with so little. Is it not so, Senor Don Inocencio?"
"Our good Ramos here tells me," answered the canon, "that his friends are displeased with him for his lukewarmness; but that, as soon as they see that he has decided, they will all put the cartridge-box in their belts."
"What, have you decided to take to the roads?" said the mistress. "I have not advised you to do any such thing, and if you do it, it is of your own free-will. Neither has Senor Don Inocencio said a word to you to that effect. But if that is your decision, you have no doubt strong reasons for coming to it. Tell me, Cristobal, will you have some supper? Will you take something—speak frankly."
"As far as my advising Senor Ramos to take the field is concerned," said Don Inocencio, looking over his spectacles, "Dona Perfecta is quite right. I, as an ecclesiastic, could advise nothing of the kind. I know that some priests do so, and even themselves take up arms; but that seems to me improper, very improper, and I for one will not follow their example. I carry my scrupulosity so far as not to say a word to Senor Ramos about the delicate question of his taking up arms. I know that Orbajosa desires it; I know that all the inhabitants of this noble city would bless him for it; I know that deeds are going to be done here worthy of being recorded in history; but notwithstanding, let me be allowed to maintain a discreet silence."
"Very well said," said Dona Perfecta. "I don't approve of ecclesiastics taking any part in such matters. That is the way an enlightened priest ought to act. Of course we know that on serious and solemn occasions, as when our country and our faith are in danger, for instance, it is within the province of an ecclesiastic to incite men to the conflict and even to take a part in it. Since God himself has taken part in celebrated battles, under the form of angels and saints, his ministers may very well do so also. During the wars against the infidels how many bishops headed the Castilian troops!"
"A great many, and some of them were illustrious warriors. But these times are not like those senora. It is true that, if we examine the matter closely, the faith is in greater danger now than it was then. For what do the troops that occupy our city and the surrounding villages represent? What do they represent? Are they any thing else but the vile instruments of which the atheists and Protestants who infest Madrid make use for their perfidious conquests and the extermination of the faith? In that centre of corruption, of scandal, of irreligion and unbelief, a few malignant men, bought by foreign gold, occupy themselves in destroying in our Spain the deeds of faith. Why, what do you suppose? They allow us to say mass and you to hear it through the remnant of consideration, for shame's sake—but, the day least expected—For my part, I am tranquil. I am not a man to disturb myself about any worldly and temporal interest. Dona Perfecta is well aware of that; all who know me are aware of it. My mind is at rest, and the triumph of the wicked does not terrify me. I know well that terrible days are in store for us; that all of us who wear the sacerdotal garb have our lives hanging by a hair, for Spain, doubt it not, will witness scenes like those of the French Revolution, in which thousands of pious ecclesiastics perished in a single day. But I am not troubled. When the hour to kill strikes, I will present my neck. I have lived long enough. Of what use am I? None, none!"
"May I be devoured by dogs," exclaimed Vejarruco, shaking his fist, which had all the hardness and the strength of a hammer, "if we do not soon make an end of that thievish rabble!"
"They say that next week they will begin to pull down the cathedral," observed Frasquito.
"I suppose they will pull it down with pickaxes and hammers," said the canon, smiling. "There are artificers who, without those implements, can build more rapidly than they can pull down. You all know that, according to holy tradition, our beautiful chapel of the Sagrario was pulled down by the Moors in a month, and immediately afterward rebuilt by the angels in a single night. Let them pull it down; let them pull it down!"
"In Madrid, as the curate of Naharilla told us the other night," said Vejarruco, "there are so few churches left standing that some of the priests say mass in the middle of the street, and as they are beaten and insulted and spat upon, there are many who don't wish to say it."
"Fortunately here, my children," observed Don Inocencio, "we have not yet had scenes of that nature. Why? Because they know what kind of people you are; because they have heard of your ardent piety and your valor. I don't envy the first ones who lay hands on our priests and our religion. Of course it is not necessary to say that, if they are not stopped in time, they will commit atrocities. Poor Spain, so holy and so meek and so good! Who would have believed she would ever arrive at such extremities! But I maintain that impiety will not triumph, no. There are courageous people still; there are people still like those of old. Am I not right, Senor Ramos?"
"Yes, senor, that there are," answered the latter.
"I have a blind faith in the triumph of the law of God. Some one must stand up in defence of it. If not one, it will be another. The palm of victory, and with it eternal glory, some one must bear. The wicked will perish, if not to-day, to-morrow. That which goes against the law of God will fall irremediably. Let it be in this manner or in that, fall it must. Neither its sophistries, nor its evasions, nor its artifices will save it. The hand of God is raised against it and will infallibly strike it. Let us pity them and desire their repentance. As for you, my children, do not expect that I shall say a word to you about the step which you are no doubt going to take. I know that you are good; I know that your generous determination and the noble end which you have in view will wash away from you all the stain of the sin of shedding blood. I know that God will bless you; that your victory, the same as your death, will exalt you in the eyes of men and in the eyes of God. I know that you deserve palms and glory and all sorts of honors; but in spite of this, my children, my lips will not incite you to the combat. They have never done it, and they will not do it now. Act according to the impulse of your own noble hearts. If they bid you to remain in your houses, remain in them; if they bid you to leave them—why, then, leave them. I will resign myself to be a martyr and to bow my neck to the executioner, if that vile army remains here. But if a noble and ardent and pious impulse of the sons of Orbajosa contributes to the great work of the extirpation of our country's ills, I shall hold myself the happiest of men, solely in being your fellow-townsman; and all my life of study, of penitence, of resignation, will seem to me less meritorious, less deserving of heaven, than a single one of your heroic days."
"Impossible to say more or to say it better!" exclaimed Dona Perfecta, in a burst of enthusiasm.
Caballuco had leaned forward in his chair and was resting his elbows on his knees; when the canon ended he took his hand and kissed it with fervor.
"A better man was never born," said Uncle Licurgo, wiping, or pretending to wipe away a tear.
"Long life to the Senor Penitentiary!" cried Frasquito Gonzalez, rising to his feet and throwing his cap up to the ceiling.
"Silence!" said Dona Perfecta. "Sit down, Frasquito! You are one of those with whom it is always much cry and little wool."
"Blessed be God who gave you that eloquent tongue!" exclaimed Cristobal, inflamed with admiration. "What a pair I have before me! While these two live what need is there of any one else? All the people in Spain ought to be like them. But how could that be, when there is nothing in it but roguery! In Madrid, which is the capital where the law and the mandarins come from, every thing is robbery and cheating. Poor religion, what a state they have brought it to! There is nothing to be seen but crimes. Senor Don Inocencio, Senora Dona Perfecta, by my father's soul, by the soul of my grandfather, by the salvation of my own soul, I swear that I wish to die!"
"That I wish those rascally dogs may kill me, and I say that I wish they may kill me, because I cannot cut them in quarters. I am very little."
"Ramos, you are great," said Dona Perfecta solemnly.
"Great? Great? Very great, as far as my courage is concerned; but have I fortresses, have I cavalry, have I artillery?"
"That is a thing, Ramos," said Dona Perfecta, smiling, "about which I would not concern myself. Has not the enemy what you lack?"
"Take it from him, then."
"We will take it from him, yes, senora. When I say that we will take it from him—"
"My dear Ramos," exclaimed Don Inocencio, "yours is an enviable position. To distinguish yourself, to raise yourself above the base multitude, to put yourself on an equality with the greatest heroes of the earth, to be able to say that the hand of God guides your hand—oh, what grandeur and honor! My friend, this is not flattery. What dignity, what nobleness, what magnanimity! No; men of such a temper cannot die. The Lord goes with them, and the bullet and the steel of the enemy are arrested in their course; they do not dare—how should they dare—to touch them, coming from the musket and the hand of heretics? Dear Caballuco, seeing you, seeing your bravery and your nobility, there come to my mind involuntarily the verses of that ballad on the conquest of the Empire of Trebizond:
"'Came the valiant Roland Armed at every point, On his war-horse mounted, The gallant Briador; His good sword Durlindana Girded to his side, Couched for the attack his lance, On his arm his buckler stout, Through his helmet's visor Flashing fire he came; Quivering like a slender reed Shaken by the wind his lance, And all the host united Defying haughtily.'"
"Very good," exclaimed Licurgo, clapping his hands. "And I say like Don Renialdos:
"'Let none the wrath of Don Renialdos Dare brave and hope to escape unscathed; For he who seeks with him a quarrel, Shall pay so dearly for his rashness That he, and all his cause who champion, Shall at my hand or meet destruction Or chastisement severe shall suffer.'"
"Ramos, you will take some supper, you will eat something; won't you?" said the mistress of the house.
"Nothing, nothing;" answered the Centaur. "Or if you give me any thing, let it be a plate of gunpowder."
And bursting into a boisterous laugh, he walked up and down the room several times, attentively observed by every one; then, stopping beside the group, he looked fixedly at Dona Perfecta and thundered forth these words:
"I say that there is nothing more to be said. Long live Orbajosa! death to Madrid!"
And he brought his hand down on the table with such violence that the floor shook.
"What a valiant spirit!" said Don Inocencio.
"What a fist you have!"
Every one was looking at the table, which had been split in two by the blow.
Then they looked at the never-enough-to-be-admired Renialdos or Caballuco. Undoubtedly there was in his handsome countenance, in his green eyes animated by a strange, feline glow, in his black hair, in his herculean frame, a certain expression and air of grandeur—a trace, or rather a memory, of the grand races that dominated the world. But his general aspect was one of pitiable degeneration, and it was difficult to discover the noble and heroic filiation in the brutality of the present. He resembled Don Cayetano's great men as the mule resembles the horse.
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