We learn about more about the men involved in the fraudulent business with the paintings. D Raimund, the Marquis of Gibalbín, needs the money because he is in debt after he embezzled money from his own business, and D Florián, the head marshal, owes money to the banks as he borrowed money to pay for the title he now has. That is why they decided to get involved in this business.
There is also a story about D Alejo, the priest, and a new character. This character is Matilde de Berraquera, a very attractive young woman, who is the clergyman’s kept woman. Matilde used to live in a hamlet outside Jerez, called Torremelgarejo. Her father sexually abused her since she was a child, and when she got pregnant, she felt afraid and fled to Jerez. Thinking that she would get help in church, she meets D Alejo, who treats her kindly and even finds her some rooms to live in. Yet, she realizes soon that D Alejo is as bad as her father, and even pregnant he uses her for his own pleasures, and Matilde has to pretend she enjoys his attentions. When Matilde has her baby, D Alejo takes the child away, and Matilde is distraught with grief as she hasn’t even had the opportunity to even see if her baby was a boy or a girl.
Now things are starting to change for Matilde. She has a suitor, who treats her as she likes, and after she and her suitor bed, she decides that she needs to finish things off with D Alejo. So that day she goes to the church and leaves a note for him in his confessional, telling him that she doesn’t want to see him again. After that, Matilde thinks that she should feel relieved and happy, but instead she experiences anguish and fear as she doesn’t know how she will support herself, and she suspects that Anton, her suitor, who is a apprentice in a bakery, won’t have much to his name. Then D Alejo turns up and tells her that he doesn’t mind if she has a suitor. He even likes the idea of her seeing this man as that way they can carry on as they do now without raising suspicion. Apparently, Matilde likes the idea: she will have Anton’s love and D Alejo’s money. It is clear that she agrees to his suggestion, and this time she even initiates their sexual encounter.
I imagine that D Alejo and Matilde will have some important part later in the novel. In this part of the novel Jacinto tries to get more money from the Marquis of Gibalbín, D Raimundo. He sends him a note, but when he doesn’t get a reply, he turns up at his big house. The servant sends him packing, but Jacinto is adamant and threatens to sit on the doorstep until D Raimundo receives him. Since the nobleman has guests for dinner that night, he begrudgingly agrees to see him, and even gives him more money. Yet, I am afraid that Jacinto might be in danger as D Raimundo has asked one of his servants to go after the sexton.
Apart from this main case, there is D Pedro and the case of Dª Adela. Thanks to his intervention, Dª Adela is released from jail and goes to live with Ángeles, the woman who was her nanny as a child. In the meantime Pedro gets to meet Adela every single Sunday. To his dismay he learns that Adela is engaged to the son of one of his father’s business associates. It is clear that Adela has no feelings for this man who she doesn’t really know. What she tells Pedro is that the most important thing is to get her mother’s acquittal. Pedro works hard on the case, and eventually realises that the reason why D Juan has accused his wife of adultery is to keep the dowry that Adela brought to the marriage. D Juan is in debt, and this is the only way he could keep the money from his wife’s dowry.
The trial starts in February, and D Pedro knocks down the testimony of all the witnesses from the accusation. The first one to testify is Mariano San Juan, the butler, who claimed to have seen Dª Adela and Manuel León de Calatrava kissing and cuddling. Manuel León de Calatrava was hired by D Juan to repair the roof in the house, and Dª Adela swears that she barely crossed two words with the man. When D Pedro questions Mariano San Juan, he knocks down his testimony, asking him how Dª Adela and Manuel León de Calatrava could engage in such an adulterous liaison when the butler was there as well as the seven or more workers that he employed for the repairs of the roof. Mariano San Juan is unable to respond and it is obvious that he has been lying.
Then it is the turn of Hortensia, the maid who claimed that the letters found were in Dª Adela’s hand. Both Dª Adela and her daughter told Pedro that Hortensia was just a poor, weak woman who would be coerced easily. According to these two women, Hortensia can’t write or read, so she couldn’t have identify the letters. This is proved in the trial when D Pedro shows Hortensia a letter, asking her if the handwriting is her lady’s, and when Hortensia says it is, Pedro announces that the piece of paper he has shown the maid is some document from the judge. So it is obvious that what the maid said about the letters is false.
I am enjoying this book so much. I love the cases in which Pedro is involved. The one about Dª Adela is really fascinating, and I like the romantic element that has now been added. I really hope that Pedro is able to court Adela, and after this mess with her parents, I do hope that she doesn’t have to marry the man her father chose for her.