One Last Effort: Chapter Nineteen
Editor's Note: Here is Chapter 19 of One Last Effort, painstakingly translated by reader and expat, Nadine Calder. For more info on Nadine and why she did this, start reading at Chapter One!
Luis Robles walked into the dance like lord and master. He exchanged a handshake here, a nod of the head to a señora there, or he approached a señorita with whom he entertained himself, conversing with that liveliness that made him so agreeable to everyone, especially the women.
His poems, which occasionally appeared in La Voz Pública, were all dedicated “To Matilde,” “To Luisa,” “To Margarita,” to women only. And truthfully, not just a few desired to see their praises sung in print so that people would say "this Matilde is Matilde So-and-So" or "this Luisa is Luisa Somebody-or-Other".
Antonia Pacheco was not at the dance, which allowed her boyfriend to roam as he liked without finding himself restrained by her vigilance. She frequently complained to him about his verses dedicated to other women she supposed were in love with him, and he always got off by saying:
"But how can you believe that I would be in love with her, forgetting about you? Dedicating verses to women is something that’s done everywhere without anyone seeing in it anything more than the poet’s gallantry. To suppose that I could like someone else is doing yourself no favor, and you’re being unfair with yourself; you’re worth much more than that."
Despite all that, he didn’t put a stop to casting his hook everywhere he went, even if he never formally thought about anyone other than Antonia Pacheco.
Lupita was one of those who again attracted the journalist’s attention upon his return from Mexico City. He hung around her on various occasions, more likely at times when don Hermenegildo was nowhere around, after he learned of the latter’s relationship with the young woman. Luis even spoke with her once through the shutters, but Lupita didn’t show herself to be very friendly, simply for the reason that after hearing that Antonia Pacheco was his girlfriend, she didn’t trust her old admirer.
Other than that, she liked him very much and would have sacrificed don Hermenegildo not once, but a thousand times for the other man. But she understood that the clerk was the one she could count on and everything else was nothing more than heavenly music. So she discreetly avoided having Luis Robles talk to her, afraid of compromising herself and having it brought to the clerk’s attention, although she regretted not being able to give the audacious young man occasion to address her with the complimentary phrases that were so characteristic of him.
Since she had been widowed, Lupita hadn’t been to any dance other than the one for doña Raimunda’s saint’s day, and she had therefore accepted without hesitation the invitation from her old friend Chonita, because it occurred to her that she was sure to encounter Luis, who never turned down the opportunity to have a good time. It shouldn’t be thought that she wanted to see him with any objective other than to innocently tease him about Antonia Pacheco and anything else that might seem opportune. But then, without giving any clue by which the young man could know who he was speaking with, she would also ask him about herself, Lupita, the daughter of doña Prudencia, to see what he would say.
When don Hermenegildo came into the dance with his lady friends and looked in the large mirror hanging in the hall, he could hardly believe that the image reflected there could be his own. He looked very tall, very extravagant: larger than life. It would have been impossible to guess that beneath that hood, beneath that smock, was hidden the serious figure of the circumspect Hermenegildo López, so respected by all and with such good friends among the most discriminating of the city’s social circle.
But there was no doubt that it was he, and convinced that it wouldn’t be a good idea to continue staring at himself, he set about looking for Lupita, who was already circulating with her other two companions.
The young woman’s return to the parlor hadn’t been fruitless. She encountered Luis Robles talking with a beautiful and elegant girl, and without realizing why, she felt upset. Upon passing by him, and in order to get his attention, she said to him disguising her voice:
"Adios, masked lady," he responded, almost without turning his head and continuing the conversation which seemed to interest him.
Lupita knew the girl who was talking with the journalist. She was Lola González, a politician’s daughter, very much fussed over by the opposite sex.
Luis danced with her and don Hermenegildo with Lupita to the piece that had started to play, and several times the two couples did the paso de la cadena together. Unable to control herself, the widow discreetly followed the other couple with her eyes to see if they were talking and always found them in a conversation that must have pleased Lola González very much because she was often laughing.
Don Hermenegildo was suffocating in the confinement of his costume. Every time he paused to make the cadena, he took advantage of the occasion to move the mask and better accommodate his eyes that felt like they were in the dark, and he was short of breath.
Several times he had tried to talk to people he knew when he encountered them, but his disguised voice seemed ridiculous to him, like that of a hoarse soprano, and he trembled desperately for fear of being discovered.
"A serious man like me, Hermenegildo López, looking like a scarecrow, is something never before seen. I know what I’m talking about."
Once the piece ended, he took Lupita by the arm and set out with her to wander through the rooms.
His stroll felt triumphant. Taking with him that young woman who would soon be his wife, that beautiful young woman to whom he would never have dreamed of directing his words of love and who filled him with more than his modest hopes for matrimony could have hoped for, the fifty-year-old felt himself swell with pride and he walked as if he wanted to tell everyone at the dance:
"You don’t know who this is. You can’t appreciate, because her face is hidden behind a mask, the value of the woman who walks with me and leans on my arm. She is a treasure. Men should envy me."
Lupita’s thoughts were very different. She answered with extreme sobriety the questions her fiancé asked her from time to time because she found herself preoccupied. Luis Robles was still at Lola González’s side. One time, though, she found the young man’s place occupied by someone else. She felt like a weight had been lifted from her heart and saw it as her opportunity to look for him before he became ensnared in another similar conversation. But how could she manage that, linked as she was with don Hermenegildo? A plan suddenly occurred to her.
"Take me to the ladies’ room," she said to him. "I need to fix my hair because the mask is making it come undone."
And she entered the room. A good many of the dancers were there. Some were sipping wine or eating, others were powdering themselves in front of the mirrors. In several places, groups could be seen securing with pins a skirt that had come loose or a hairdo that had come undone, and two were smoking in a corner. Several masked women, their faces almost uncovered, were fanning themselves. One girl, with one foot up on a chair, was fixing her garter because her stocking was slipping, and one affectionate mamá, undoubtedly thinking of the children she’d left at home, was stealthily slipping into her pockets the candies and other sweets she had taken from the table.
Lupita looked everywhere trying to find one of her friends so she could return to the parlor. Next to the table, where there was an oil lamp, she recognized by her costume, Chonita, who was standing with her back to the light. Behind her, a woman, half kneeling on the floor, was sewing onto her dress the wide lace that had been almost completely ripped off by a couple who were galloping, more than dancing, running over anyone who got in their way. She had to wait for two or three minutes and meanwhile she glanced at herself in the mirror before which she would have spent more time if it weren’t for her impatience to leave.
The two friends finally returned to the parlor. And again Luis Robles was at Lola González’s side. The widow felt like pins were sticking her all over her body.
"Could Luis be in love with Lola?", she asked Chonita.
"I don’t know, but it’s not impossible."
"But don’t they say he’s Antonia Pacheco’s boyfriend?"
"Hija, men don’t worry about things like that. Antonia Pacheco isn’t here and he makes sure he doesn’t waste any time."
At this they noticed don Hermenegildo, seated alone in a corner, with his hands on his mask and watching the ladies’ room. Lupita, to avoid rejoining him, turned back to the far side of the room.
At that moment Luis Robles stood up. The two girls drew near and, touching him on his back with her fan as she passed by, Lupita said to him:
"I have to talk with you."
Luis turned his head and took a closer look at the two friends. They didn’t make a bad impression, but he stayed where he was without following them. They came back toward him a little, and he noticed that one made a point of nodding at him. Then he approached.
"A little while ago I was looking for you, masked ladies."
"I believe it. You must have thought you would find us alongside Lola González."
"I went to sit over there because I was tired of waiting for you."
"And how did you know we were coming?"
"Because your papá told me so."
The two masked girls burst out laughing.
"You liar! We’re orphans."
"Well, don’t you worry about that because I‘m here to serve as your tutor."
"You’d be a courageous rascal to be our tutor."
"Don’t offend my humanitarian sentiments, masked lady. I’m capable of having all women as my pupils."
The masked girls began laughing again. Meanwhile, Luis watched them attentively, trying to find some indication that would reveal who they were. The only thing he’d been able to figure out was that one of them, at least, the one who had nodded, was young and not lacking in beauty, to judge by the part of her shapely arms that were bare from the top of her gloves all the way to her shoulders. The other wore half sleeves and left nothing to be seen but the round, white nape of her neck shaded by black curls. Her body was attractive, but he couldn’t be sure that she wasn’t a well-preserved older woman.
Who could those gals be? The one with the fan, despite her youth, couldn’t she turn out to be some wild beast, escaped from her captor, who was taking advantage of Carnaval to hide her face and trick the unsuspecting?
Luis was suspicious and didn’t dare invite them to dance.
Lupita linked her arm in his, without letting go of Chonita’s, and leaning to one side to talk in his ear, said to him:
"So it’s more than one woman, you rogue? I’m going to tell Antonia on you."
"Because I was talking with Lola González? But surely you know that it’s only you I love, masked lady."
"Don’t talk nonsense. I can tell you that I’ve seen you prowling around a certain street."
"A street where the person you liked before you went to Mexico City lives."
"I don’t know who you’re talking about."
At that moment the orchestra began to play.
"Masked ladies, this dance is promised to me. I’m going to look for my partner."
"I thought that rather than seem ill-mannered. You might at least ask us to dance."
"I’ll be back soon."
"Don’t forget, I have a lot to tell you."
In fact, Luis had every intention of returning. The conversation was beginning to interest him because it seemed that they were talking about Lupita, and he wanted to hear what they could tell him about her.
The two girls in disguise met a couple of young men who asked them to dance, and they joined the disorder into which everyone in the place was slipping.
As for the dutiful don Hermenegildo, he spent the dance standing opposite the door to the ladies’ room, patiently waiting for Lupita to come out.