Alas! Bloodshed, ruin, and desolation! A great battle was about to be fought.
Orbajosa slept. The melancholy street-lamps were shedding their last gleams at street-corners and in by-ways, like tired eyes struggling in vain against sleep. By their dim light, wrapped in their cloaks, glided past like shadows, vagabonds, watchmen, and gamblers. Only the hoarse shout of the drunkard or the song of the serenader broke the peaceful silence of the historic city. Suddenly the “Ave Maria Purisima” of some drunken watchman would be heard, like a moan uttered in its sleep by the town.
In Dona Perfecta’s house also silence reigned, unbroken but for a conversation which was taking place between Don Cayetano and Pepe Rey, in the library of the former. The savant was seated comfortably in the arm-chair beside his study table, which was covered with papers of various kinds containing notes, annotations, and references, all arranged in the most perfect order. Rey’s eyes were fixed on the heap of papers, but his thoughts were doubtless far away from this accumulated learning.
“Perfecta,” said the antiquary, “although she is an excellent woman, has the defect of allowing herself to be shocked by any little act of folly. In these provincial towns, my dear friend, the slightest slip is dearly paid for. I see nothing particular in your having gone to the Troyas’ house. I fancy that Don Inocencio, under his cloak of piety, is something of a mischief-maker. What has he to do with the matter?”
“We have reached a point, Senor Don Cayetano, in which it is necessary to take a decisive resolution. I must see Rosario and speak with her.”
“See her, then!”
“But they will not let me,” answered the engineer, striking the table with his clenched hand. “Rosario is kept a prisoner.”
“A prisoner!” repeated the savant incredulously. “The truth is that I do not like her looks or her hair, and still less the vacant expression in her beautiful eyes. She is melancholy, she talks little, she weeps—friend Don Jose, I greatly fear that the girl may be attacked by the terrible malady to which so many of the members of my family have fallen victims.”
“A terrible malady! What is it?”
“Madness—or rather mania. Not a single member of my family has been free from it. I alone have escaped it.”
“You! But leaving aside the question of madness,” said Rey, with impatience, “I wish to see Rosario.”
“Nothing more natural. But the isolation in which her mother keeps her is a hygienic measure, dear Pepe, and the only one that has been successfully employed with the various members of my family. Consider that the person whose presence and voice would make the strongest impression on Rosarillo’s delicate nervous system is the chosen of her heart.”
“In spite of all that,” insisted Pepe, “I wish to see her.”