DON PEDRO DE VARGAS got out of bed in terror when he was told that his son had come home wounded. He ran to see him, examined his bruises and the wound in his arm, and saw that they were none of them attended with danger; but he broke out into threats of vengeance, and would not be pacified until he was made acquainted with the particulars of the affair, and learned that Don Luis had known how to avenge himself in spite of his theology.
The doctor came soon after to examine the wound, and was of opinion that in three or four days time Don Luis would be able to go out again as if nothing had happened. With the Count, on the other hand, it would be a matter of months. His life, however, was in no danger. He had returned to consciousness, and had asked to be taken to his own home, which was distant only a league from the village in which these events took place. A hired coach had been procured, and he had been conveyed thither, accompanied by his servant and also by the two strangers who had acted as his seconds.
Four days after the affair the doctors opinion was justified by the result, and Don Luis, although sore from his bruises and with his wound still unhealed, was in a condition to go out, and promised a complete recovery within a short time.
Don Pedro had not gone out to the country, nor had he occupied himself in any other way than in taking care of his son during his sickness. He was constantly at his side, waiting on him and petting him with tender affection.
If it is a confession you are about to make, my boy, it would be better for you to send for the reverend vicar. My standard of morality is an indulgent one, and I shall give you absolution for everything, without my absolution being of much value to you, however. But if you wish to confide to me some weighty secret, as to your best friend, begin by all means; I am ready to listen to you.
And that she is in love with you, and that on the night of St. Johns Eve you had a tender meeting with her until two oclock in the morning, and that, for her sake, you sought a quarrel with the Count of Genazahar, whose head you have broken.
A pretty secret to confide to me, truly! There isnt a cat or a dog in the village that is not fully acquainted with every detail of the business. The only thing there seemed a possibility of being able to conceal was, that your interview lasted until just two oclock in the morning; but some gipsy-cake women chanced to see you leave Pepitas house, and did not stop until they had told every living creature in the place of it. Pepita, besides, makes no great effort to conceal the truth, and in this she does well, for that would be only the concealment of Antequera. Since you have been wounded, Pepita comes here twice a day, and sends Antoñona two or three times more to inquire after you; and if they have not come in to see you, it is because I would not consent to their doing so, lest it should excite you.
No, my boy, I was neither surprised nor astounded. The matter has been known in the village only for four days, and indeed, to tell the truth, your transformation did create some surprise. Oh, the sly-boots! the wolf in sheeps clothing! the hypocrite! every one exclaimed; how we have been deceived in him! The reverend vicar, above all, is quite bewildered. He is still crossing himself at the thought of how you toiled in the vineyard of the Lord on the night of the 23d and the morning of the 24th, and of the strange character of your labors. But there was nothing in these occurrences to surprise me, except your wound. We old people can hear the grass grow. It is not easy for the chickens to deceive the huckster.
Dont be a fool; I do not say this to blame you. I say it in order to give myself an air of perspicacity. But let us speak with frankness. My boasting is, after all, without foundation. I knew, step by step, for more than two months past, the progress of your love affair with Pepita; but I know it because your uncle the dean, to whom you were writing all that passed within your mind, has communicated it to me. Listen to your uncles letter of accusation, and to the answer I gave him, a very important document, of which I have kept the copy.
Don Pedro took some papers from his pocket, and read aloud his brothers letter:
MY DEAR BROTHER:
It grieves me to the heart to be obliged to give you a piece of bad news; but I trust that God will grant you patience and endurance to enable you to hear it without feeling too much anger or bitterness.
Luisito has been writing me strange letters for some days past, in which he reveals, in the midst of his mystical exaltation, an inclination, earthly and sinful enough, toward a certain widow, charming, mischievous, and coquettish, who lives in your village. Until now I had deceived myself, believing Luisitos call to be a true one; and I flattered myself with giving to the Church of God a wise, virtuous, and exemplary priest. But his letters have dispelled my illusions. Luisito shows himself, in them, to have more of poetry than of true piety in his nature; and the widow, who must be a limb of Satan, will be able to vanquish him with but a very slight effort. Although I wrote to Luisito admonishing him to flee from temptation, I am already certain that he will fall into it. This ought not to grieve me; for if he is to be false to his vocation, to indulge in gallantries, and to make love, it is better that this evil disposition should reveal itself in time, and that he should not become a priest. I should not, therefore, see any serious objection to Luisitos remaining with you, for the purpose of being tested by the touchstone and analyzed in the crucible of such a love, making the little widow the agent by whose means might be discovered how great is the quantity of the pure gold of his clerical virtues, and how much alloy is mixed with that gold, were it not that we are met by the difficulty that the widow whom we would thus convert into a faithful assayer, is the object of your own addresses, and, it may be, your sweetheart.
That your son should turn out to be your rival would be too serious a matter. This would be a monstrous scandal, and to avoid it in time I write to you to-day, to the end that, under whatever pretext, you may send or bring Luisito herethe sooner the better.
Don Luis listened in silence, and with his eyes cast down. His father then read him his reply to the dean:
DEAR BROTHER AND VENERABLE SPIRITUAL FATHER:
I return you a thousand thanks for the news you sent me, and for your counsel and advice. Although I flatter myself with not being wanting in shrewdness, I confess my stupidity on this occasion; I was blinded by vanity. Pepita Jiménez, from the time that my son arrived here, manifested so much amiability and affection toward me that I began to indulge in pleasing hopes on my own account. Your letter was necessary to undeceive me. I now understand that in making herself so sociable, in showing me so many attentions, and in dancing attendance on me, as she did, this cunning Pepita had in her mind only the father of the smooth-faced theologian. I shall not attempt to conceal from you that, for the moment, this disappointment mortified and distressed me a little; but when I reflected over it with due consideration, my mortification and my distress were converted into joy.
Luis is an excellent boy. Since he has been with me I have learned to regard him with much greater affection than formerly. I parted from him, and gave him up to you to educate, because my own life was not very exemplary, and, for this and other reasons, he would have grown up a savage here. You went beyond my hopes and even my desires, and almost made a father of the Church of Luisito. To have a holy son would have flattered my vanity; but I should have been very sorry to remain without an heir to my house and name, who would give me handsome grandchildren, and who after my death would enjoy my wealth, which is my glory, for I acquired it by skill and industry, and not by cunning and trickery. Perhaps the conviction I had that there was no remedy, and that Luis would inevitably go abroad to convert the Chinese, the Indians, or the blacks of the Congo, made me resolve on marrying, so as to provide myself with an heir.
Naturally enough, I cast my eyes on Pepita Jiménez, who is not, as you imagine, a limb of Satan, but a lovely creature, as innocent as an angel, and ardent in her nature, rather than coquettish. I have so good an opinion of Pepita that, if she were sixteen again, with a domineering mother who tyrannized over her, and if I were eighty, like Don Gumersindothat is to say, if death were already knocking at the doorI would marry Pepita, that her smile might cheer me on my deathbed, as if my guardian angel had taken human shape in her, and for the purpose of leaving her my position, my fortune, and my name. But Pepita is not sixteen, but twenty; nor is she now in the power of that serpent, her mother; nor am I eighty, but fifty-five. I am at the very worst age, because I begin to feel myself considerably the worse for wear, with something of asthma, a good deal of cough, rheumatic pains, and other chronic ailments; yet devil a bit do I wish to die, notwithstanding! I believe I shall not die for twenty years to come, and, as I am thirty-five years older than Pepita, you may calculate the miserable future that would await her, tied to an old man who would live forever. At the end of a few years of marriage she would be reduced to hating me, notwithstanding her goodness. Doubtless it is because she is good and wise that she has not chosen to accept me for a husband, notwithstanding the perseverance and the obstinacy with which I have proposed to her.
How much do I not thank her for this now! Even my self-love, wounded by her scorn, is soothed by the reflection that, if she does not love me, at least she loves one of my blood, is captivated by a son of mine. If this fresh and luxuriant ivy, I say to myself, refuses to twine around the old trunk, worm-eaten already, it climbs by it to reach the new sprout it has put fortha green and flourishing offshoot. May God bless them both, and make their love prosper!
Far from bringing the boy back to you, I shall keep him hereby force, if it be necessary. I have determined to oppose his entering the priesthood. I dream already of seeing him married. I shall grow young again contemplating the handsome pair joined together by love. And how will it be when they shall have given me a family of grand-children? Instead of going as a missionary, and bringing back to me from Australia, or Madagascar, or India, neophytes black as soot, with lips the size of your hand, or yellow as deerskin, and with eyes like owls, will it not be better for Luisito to preach the Gospel in his own house, and to give me a series of little catechumens, fair, rosy, with eyes like those of Pepita, who will resemble cherubim without wings? The catechumens he would bring me from those foreign lands I should have to keep at a respectful distance, in order not to be overpowered by their odor; while those I speak of would seem to me like roses of Paradise, and would come to climb up on my knees, and would call me grandpapa, and with their little hands pat the bald spot I am beginning to acquire.
When I was in all my vigor I had no particular longing for domestic joys: but now that I am approaching old age, if I have not already entered on it, as I have no intention of turning monk, I please myself in thinking that I shall play the part of a patriarch And do not imagine, either, that I am going to leave it to time to bring this young engagement to a happy close. No! I shall myself set to work to do this.
Continuing your comparison, since you speak of Pepita as a crucible and Luis as a metal, I shall find, or rather I have found already, a bellows, or blow-pipe, very well adapted to kindle up the fire, so that the metal may melt in it the more quickly. Antoñona has an understanding with me already, and through her I know that Pepita is over head and ears in love.
We have agreed that I shall continue to seem blind to everything, and to know nothing of what passes. The reverend vicar, who is a simple soul, always in the clouds, helps me as much as Antoñona does, or more, and without knowing it, because he repeats to Pepita everything Luis says to him, and everything Pepita says to Luis; so that this excellent man, with the weight of half a century in each foot, has been convertedoh, miracle of love and of innocence!into a carrier-dove by which the two lovers send each other their flatteries and endearments, while they are as ignorant as he is of the fact.
So powerful a combination of natural and artificial methods ought t o give an infallible result. You will be made acquainted with this result when I give you notice of the wedding, so that you may come to perform the ceremony, or else send the lovers your blessing and a handsome present.
The reverend Deanfearing the ridicule of his brother at the spiritual-mindedness of Don Luis having thus come to naught, and recognizing also that he would not play a very dignified part in the village, where every one would say he was a poor hand at turning out saintsdeclined to be present, excusing himself on the ground of being too busy, although he sent his blessing, and a magnificent pair of earrings as a present for Pepita.
That night Don Pedro gave a magnificent ball in the courtyard of his house and the contiguous apartments. Servants and gentlemen, nobles and laborers, ladies and country-girls were present, and mingled together as if it were the ideal golden agethough why called golden I know not. Four skilful, or, if not skilful, at least indefatigable, guitar-players played a fandango; two gipsies, a man and a woman, both famous singers, sang verses of a tender character and appropriate to the occasion; and the schoolmaster read an epithalamium in heroic verse.
There were tarts, fritters, jumbles, gingerbread, sponge-cake, and wine in abundance for the common people. The gentry regaled themselves with refreshmentschocolate, lemonade, honey, and various kinds of aromatic and delicate cordials.
Don Pedro was like a boysprightly, gallant, and full of jests. It did not look as if there were much truth in what he had said in his letter to the Dean in regard to his rheumatism and other ailments. He danced the fandango with Pepita, as also with the most attractive among her maids, and with six or seven of the village girls. He gave each of them, on reconducting her, tired out, to her seat, the prescribed embrace, and to the least demure a couple of pinches, though this latter forms no part of the ceremonial. He carried his gallantry to the extreme of dancing with Doña Casilda, who could not refuse him, and who, with her two hundred and fifty pounds of humanity, and the heat of July, perspired at every pore. Finally, Don Pedro stuffed Currito so full, and made him drink so often to the health of the newly married pair, that the muleteer Dientes was obliged to carry him home to sleep off the effect of his excesses, slung like a wine-skin across the back of an ass! The ball lasted until three in the morning; but the young couple discreetly disappeared before eleven, and retired to the house of Pepita.
Although it is the unfailing use and custom of the village to treat every widow or widower who marries again to a terrible charivarithat particularly noisy kind of mock serenadeleaving them not a moments rest from the cow-bells during the first night of marriage, Pepita was such a favorite, Don Pedro was so much respected, and Don Luis was so beloved, that there were no bells on this occasion, nor was there the least attempt made at ringing thema singular circumstance, which is recorded as such in the annals of the village.