One Last Effort: Chapter Five
El Último Esfuerzo by Delio Moreno Cantón: Chapter Five
This recent conversation bothered the clerk, and he was constantly going over doña Raimunda’s powerful words, examining them in all possible lights and giving his deliberations food for thought.
Get married! He who had entertained so many illusions of sweet family pleasures, who had resigned himself, defeated by Luck’s setbacks, to passing through the world never having walked arm in arm with a woman he loved. Get married, when he had further resigned himself to dying in complete solitude, without a desolate wife piously closing his eyelids in sorrow and loving children dampening his deathbed with tears. . . ! So, is there anyone who, in spite of his poverty, not only shows him respect, but does so to the point of caring about Hermenegildo López’s happiness? One who might in matrimony help him see his way to the end of his perpetual misfortunes?
But who is about to marry him? Who is about to receive as her husband a man who was rejected as such when he was young? He wasn’t old, no señor, but neither was he a boy. If only he could marry Lupita! She was so beautiful and so gracious! Hadn’t he seen older men marry young girls every day? No. He wouldn’t do this. No matter how much he might like a very young wife, he could win from her heart nothing more than respectful esteem, not the kind of overpowering love that would be for him and him alone. He had, then, to think of someone whose age better matched his own.
Bringing this reflection to a close, another name leaped into don Hermenegildo’s mind: doña Prudencia! After his last disaster, he once thought of declaring love for her, but without doing anything, he fearfully resolved to completely renounce the idea of marriage.
Doña Prudencia must be thirty-seven years old, and a woman of that age would ordinarily not attract the clerk’s attention. Would the widow who was in a comfortable position, if not rich, accept him who lived in misery with his meager salary and modest employment? It’s true that their friendship was bolstered by the esteem he enjoyed, and this, too, is a form of wealth. Although he was poor, his name was respected, which she knew perfectly well, judging by the appreciation and considerations with which she favored don Hermenegildo, and that was encouraging to him.
Without a doubt, doña Raimunda’s suggestions had fallen like rain on dry ground. Not only did her companion not dismiss a single one of those suggestions, despite arguing against them, he received them with quiet satisfaction. So it was that, from that point on, the idea of marriage was firmly fixed in his mind. And in order to concentrate on it and on who would be the object of his affections, he had continued talking with doña Prudencia, heeding the urgency of his desire in order to keep his timid nerves from making him more reticent, those wicked nerves that vibrated as if they would burst when their owner approached a woman with amorous intentions.
Occupied with these thoughts, he was going down the street one night after departing from the usual get-together when he was interrupted by a voice calling out to him.
It was Luis Robles.
The young man was somewhat short in stature, of sturdy build, fair-haired, with smiling face and blue eyes. Always good-natured, he was a famous party-goer, witty and charming. Carefree like few others, he never thought ahead and all his effort had been toward living life as happily as possible.
In school he was always trying to find out at the last moment what the day’s lesson was, the end result being that his name could be found on the detention list, either for bad conduct in class or for not knowing the assigned material.
During exams, he was saved many times by the daring gift of gab with which he responded to the reviewers, saying everything he knew, even though it wasn’t what they had asked him about, spilling out not a few uncertain dates from his abundant supply.
When the time for finals was nearing, he would resign himself to staying in his room in order to master the course materials. But these were many and it was impossible to recover in so short a period all the time lost in a year. His Latin teacher repeated to him and others non valet studere sed studuisse. There is no value in studying without having studied. But he had too much self-confidence to face the truth of this proposal, presenting himself before the good-humored review board like one destined for a triumph and behaving like a brave warrior about to acquit himself well in battle.
After one of these experiences in the subject of World History, one of his classmates said to him:
“Do you know that you’re shameless under fire?”
“You’ve named more dates than a chronology text.”
“It’s always a good idea to name the dates of related events that occur.”
“But they were completely absurd!”
“I went in there absolutely sure of myself. Do you think the reviewers have memorized all those numbers? Not one of them dared to contradict me, and instead they admired how knowledgeable I was.”
“To say that Constantinople fell to Mehmed II in 1506…”
“It wasn’t in 1506? Well, look; I remember something very important that happened in 1506.”
“You must be talking about the discovery of Yucatán.”
And he remained just as unperturbed.
He had yet another trait that gave a better idea of his character.
The third-year Latin professor, who was a priest, gave his students daily assignments to train them in composition and translation, exercises which were to be presented in written form. Luis, who thanks to his good memory could regularly respond to a lesson when he studied it at the last minute, never thought to bother his head with this new work. So it was that when the professor collected their notebooks to make corrections, our hero, when it came to his turn, calmly replied:
“I didn’t bring the assignment, father.”
“Well, you know you still have to do it.”
And the following day the invariable declaration from the student and the same reminder from the professor until, exasperated, the latter exclaimed:
“Listen, son. From now on, I’m not going to ask for your composition again, because it’s useless. Every day, after class, you will stay here to write it. Now you know.”
And so on it went. The priest, upon calling on the students one by one to present their notebooks, skipped Luis Robles. But one time, forgetting to do so, or better yet, probably believing that the lazy student had mended his ways, said to him when it came to be his turn:
“Your assignment, Robles.”
“But, father,” answered the one addressed, getting to his feet, “haven’t we agreed that I would stay every day to write it after class?”
Needless to say, general laughter resulted in the boy’s leaving the classroom.
And so he managed to get by until advancing to professional studies and embarking on the study of Jurisprudence. He found no more pleasure in the celebrated institutions of Justinian and the depths of P. Taparelli than in Naquet’s formulas or De Candolle’s observations. He wasn’t lacking, however, in the virtue of perseverance and, still rubbing his eyes, he would load up his books and march off to the class which he tried to entertain by putting forward some point he claimed to find questionable and engaging the instructor in discussion for as long as possible.
Before long came the first year exam, on which he received a grade that barely permitted him to go on to the second year. And it was said that it was thanks to some discreet and opportune gifts to the professor and the school’s director that he didn’t fail. After that, he was very happy to spend his vacation in his hometown, delighting his poor father with news of the encouraging results and managing to get his permission to prolong the break… necessary, he said, to rest his overburdened intellectual faculties so that once refreshed, he could embark anew on his studies with more spirit and to better benefit.
Having these facts, and knowing him better, we can follow along with Luis in company of don Hermenegildo, with whom he walked toward the latter’s home. As soon as the bachelor saw the younger man, he felt come to his lips the string of affectionate questions he kept ready to unload on the first person he happened to run into.
“Hello, Luis. Good to see you. How are you?”
“Pretty good, don Hermenegildo. And you, how’s it going?”
“Bad, my boy. But how is it that you always want to turn the conversation back around to me? And your papá? I hope he’s just as strong and healthy as the last time I had the pleasure of greeting him. Don’t forget to give him very kind regards when you write to him. And the rest of the family, all’s well?”
“Fine, with the exception of an elderly maid we love very much and who for several days, according to what they write me, has had a very high temperature. “
“You don’t say! Such a good woman.”
“Do you know her, don Hermenegildo?”
“No, but I can imagine. Those elderly maids are generally good. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about. So she’s sick! You have to wonder why some things happen!”
“What do you want? People in small towns get sick just as they do in Mérida.”
“I don’t say they don’t; but it’s sad . . . and what are they giving her for it?”
“Listen, don Hermenegildo; I want to ask you a favor.”
“With much pleasure. Let’s hear it.”
“I’m in love.”
“Ah, yes! The young men’s sickness. And what, is this about asking a young lady to be your girlfriend?”
“No, sir. What I want is to have you ask permission for me to visit her at home.”
“That’s no inconvenience at all, as long as her parents are open to the idea…”
“That’s precisely the question. If her parents were open to the idea, I would go there alone. But that’s not the case and for that reason I need you.”
“But if they’re opposed to you, they’ll say no.”
“With that in mind, I want the one who asks for the permission to be none other than you, who are very esteemed and respected in their house and besides that, you like me and claim to be a great friend of my father. You can give me a good recommendation.”
Don Hermenegildo felt his vanity flattered by the young man who sought his respectability and influence in order to win over the girl’s parents, but forewarned as they were against Luis. How could he tell them that their daughter’s suitor was responsible and hard-working, with excellent prospects for the future and other favorable characteristics, if on the contrary he had the reputation he had, giving no thought to the fact that he hadn’t a penny to his name? But how could he decline the young man’s request? Embarrass him by letting him know he didn’t want to recommend him due to his less than spotless reputation? He, incapable of displeasing the most wicked man in the world? Never in his life! Accept the assignment? Considering the prudence and respectability of that “highly distinguished family” that has opened its doors and honored him with their confidence, how could he suggest that they warmly welcome a young man who has little to recommend him as nothing less than their daughter’s future? Wouldn’t he be contributing to the unhappiness that could befall the girl?
He was continuing to walk along in this perplexed state when Luis asked him:
“Will you do it?”
“But, Luis. Keep in mind that you haven’t even told me the girl’s name.”
“Lupita. As if you don’t already know.”
“Lupita?,” exclaimed don Hermenegildo in amazement.
“Lupita Fernández, doña Prudencia’s daughter.”
“But haven’t I heard that she’s going with Fermín Dorantes?”
“Yes. She talks with him sometimes, but everyone knows she doesn’t really like him.”
“Well, then, she’ll talk with you, too.”
“No, she won’t, because I never get the chance. But she laughs, and you’ll see that this is a good sign.”
“But even if you can make her smile, as long as you don’t have an understanding, what good will permission to enter her house do you?”
“That’s it precisely! If we had an understanding and we could have a conversation when I approach her, the rest would not matter much to me. But since she goes inside without listening to what I have to say, I want the visits as a way to take that option away from her. Anyway, that’s my plan and I know women. I have my reasons to believe that Lupita, in spite of everything, likes me.”
Don Hermenegildo heard the determined young man with envy. What he wouldn’t have given to be half as daring! He was afraid to accept the delicate and serious assignment proposed to him and he thought about changing the subject, but Luis was a crazy man and there would be no way to dissuade him.
There was no other recourse, and in the end he had to agree to the venture cast upon him, but with the saving condition that he was doing so because the request had been made and for no other reason.
Luis departed giving him repeated thanks and a strong and painful handshake, demonstrating his hope that a recommendation like don Hermenegildo’s would not fall on deaf ears. And the bachelor went on to his poor home where his widowed sister and the nighttime crying of his little nephews awaited him, rubbing his bruised hand and feeling uneasy about the pressures placed upon him by Luis’s request.