As he went up the stairs he saw his mother on the first landing, in the semi-darkness of the closed house, illumined only by the light that entered through the window gratings. She stood there, erect, frowning, tempestuous, like a statue of Avenging Justice.
But Rafael did not waver. He went straight on up the stairs, fearless and without a tremor, like a proprietor who had been away from home for some time and strides arrogantly back Into a house that is all his own.
“You’re right, don Andres. Rafael is not my son. He has changed. That wanton woman has made another man of him. Worse, a thousand times worse, than his father! Crazy over the huzzy! Capable of trampling on me if I should step between him and her. You complain of his lack of respect to you! Well, what about me?... You wouldn’t have thought it possible! The other morning, when he came into the house, he treated me just as he treated you. Only a few words, but plain enough! He’ll do just as he pleases, or—what amounts to the same thing—he’ll keep up his affair with that woman until he wearies of her, or else blows up in one grand debauch, like his father.... My God! And that’s what I’ve suffered for all these years. That’s what I get for sacrificing myself, day in day out, trying to make somebody out of him!”
The austere dona Bernarda, dethroned by her son’s resolute rebelliousness, wept as she said this. In her tears of a mother’s grief there was something also of the chagrin of the authoritarian on finding in her own home a will rebellious to hers and stronger than hers.
Between sobs she told don Andres how her son had been carrying on since his declaration of independence. He was no longer cautious about spending the night away from home. He was coming in now in broad daylight; and, afternoons, with his meals “still in his mouth” as she said, he would take the road to the Blue House, on the run almost, as if he could not get to perdition soon enough. The dead hand of his father was upon him!
All you had to do was look at him. His face discolored, yellow, pale; his skin drawn tight over his cheekbones; and—the only sign of life—the fire that gleamed in his eyes like a spark of wild joy! Oh, a curse was on the family! They were all alike ...!
The mother did her best to conceal the truth from Remedios. Poor girl! She was going about crestfallen and in deep dejection, unable to explain Rafael’s sudden withdrawal.
The matter had to be kept secret; and that was what held dona Bernarda’s rage within bounds during her rapid, heated exchanges with her son.
Perhaps everything would come out all right in the end—something unforeseen would turn up to undo the evil spell that had been cast over Rafael. And in this hope she used every effort to keep Remedios and her father from learning what had happened. She feigned contentment in their presence, and invented a thousand pretexts—studies, work, even illness—to justify her son’s neglect of his “fiancee.” At the same time, the disconsolate mother feared the people around her—the gossip of a small town, bored with itself, ever on the alert, hunting for something interesting to talk about and get scandalized about.