Our Friend Manso

By Benito Pérez Galdós; Robert Russell | Go to book overview

XXVIII
IRENE'S HEAD DOMINATED THE OTHER THREE

OR AT LEAST, hers was the one I saw most clearly. When I began to speak, in a rather insecure voice, the pseudo-Moorish decorations of the box seats seemed to be making grimaces right into my eyes. People adjusting their opera glasses, plus the movement of so many ladies' fans--it all distracted me. In one of the lower proscenium boxes there was an accursed woman whose extra-large fan kept opening and closing constantly with an impertinent scraping sound. I imagined that she was either emphasizing certain of my sentences or mocking me with cloth peals of laughter. Damn the commentary! As I would be finishing a sentence, bringing it round to a full and well-wrought ending, I heard that scritch and it turned my nerves into taut wires. But there was nothing for it but to be patient and go on, because I couldn't say to the fan-lady, as I would to a pupil in my class, "Please have the courtesy not to butt in!"

And I went on, and on. One phrase after another, sentence upon sentence, the speech kept coming out clean, clear, proper, with that easy flow which had cost me so much hard work. It kept coming out, yes it did, and I was not displeased. And as I kept speaking my critical judgment was saying, "Not bad, no sir. I like it; keep it up . . ."

What shad I say about my talk? To copy it here would be out of order. One of the many periodicals we have, all of them distinguished by their eager efforts to gain regular subscribers, published it verbatim, and any curious person may read it there. It offered no great novelty and contained no idea of the first rank. It was a short, simple dissertation for what is called an audience, that's to say a gathering of many people whose total sum is really nobody. The whole thing came down to a few observations on indigence, its causes, its relationship to the law, our common life and our habits of work. There followed a review of our beneficent institutions, during which I gave special emphasis to the ones which attempt to protect the young. In this section of

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