THIS gentleman who for love's sake, Señor, conquered his coldness and his laziness and became all fire and energy, was named Don Juan Gutiérrez Rubín de Celis. He was a caballero of the Order of Santiago--some say that he wore also the habit of Calatrava--and the colonel of the regiment of the Tres Villas. He was of a lovable nature, and ostentatious and arrogant, and in all his ways dilatory and apathetic to the very last degree. So great were his riches that not even he himself knew the sum of them: as you will understand when I tell you that on an occasion of state--it was the entry into the City in the year 1716 of the new Viceroy, the Marqués de Valero--pearls to the value of thirty thousand pesos were used in the mere trimming of his casacón.
Being of an age to take part so nobly in that noble ceremony, he must have been a gentleman well turned of forty, Señor, when the matters whereof I now am telling you occurred: of which the beginning--and also the middle and the ending, because everything hinged upon it--was his falling most furiously in love with a very beautiful young lady; and his falling in love in that furious fashion was the very first sign of energy that in all his lifetime, until that moment, he had shown. The name of this beautiful young lady with whom he fell in love so furiously was Doña Sara de García Somera y Acuña; and she was less than half as old as he was, but possessed of a very sensible nature that made her do more thinking than is done usually by young ladies; and she was of a noble house, and a blood relative of the Viceroy's: for which reason the Viceroy--who by that time was Don Juan de Acuña, Marqués de Casafuerte--was much interested in the whole affair.
The love-making of this so notoriously lazy gentleman did not at all go upon wheels, Señor: because Doña Sara set herself--as was her habit when dealing with any matter of importance--to thinking about it very seriously; and the more that she thought about it the more she made her mind up that so dull and so apathetic a gentleman--who, moreover, was old enough to be her father--would not in the least be the sort of husband that she desired. But also, because of her good sense, she perceived that much was to be said in favor of entering into wedlock with him: because his rank and his great wealth made him one of the most important personages in the Vice-Kingdom; and, moreover, for all that he was old enough to be her father, he still was a very personable man. And so she thought very hard in both directions, and could not in either direction make up her mind.
While matters were in this condition, Señor--Don Juan furiously in love with Doña Sara, and Doña Sara thinking in that sensible way of hers about being temperately in love with Don Juan--something happened that gave a new turn to the whole affair. This thing that happened was that the Viceroy--who was a great friend of Don Juan's; and who, as I have mentioned, was a kinsman of Doña Sara's, and much interested in all that was going forward--appointed Don Juan to be Prior of the Consulado; that is to say, President of the Tribunal of Commerce: which was a most honorable office, in keeping with his rank and his riches; and which also was an office--because all the work of it could be done by deputy, or even left undone--that fitted in with Don Juan's lazy apathy to a hair.
Now at that time, Señor, the building of the Aduana de Santo Domingo was in progress--it ceased to be a custom-house many years ago, Señor; it is occupied by the Secretaría de Comunicaciones now--and it had been in progress, with no great result from the work that laggingly was done on it, for a number of years. The charge of the making of this edifice rested with the Consulado; and, naturally, the new Prior of the Consulado was even more content than had been his predecessors in that office to let the making of it lag on.
Then it was, Señor, that there came into the sensible mind of Doña Sara a notable project for proving whether Don Juan's lazy apathy went to the very roots of him; or whether, at the very roots of him--over and above the energy that he had shown in his furious love for her--he had energy that she could arouse and could set a-going in practically useful ways. And her reasoning was this wise: that if Don Juan could be stirred by her urgence to do useful work with vigor, then was it likely that her urgence would arouse him from all his apathies--and so would recast him into the sort of husband that she desired to have. Therefore Doña Sara told Don Juan that she would marry him only on one condition; and that her condition was that he should finish completely the long-drawn-out building of the Aduana within six months from that very day! And Don Juan, Señor, was so furiously in love with Doña Sara that in the same instant that she gave him her condition he accepted it; and he--who never had done a hand's turn of work in all his lifetime--promised her that he would do the almost impossible piece of work that she had set him to do: and that the Aduana should be finished completely within six months from that very day!
And then all the City was amazed--and so, for that matter, Don Juan himself was--by the fire and the force and the breathless eagerness with which he set himself to the task that Doña Sara had put upon him. In a single moment he had gone to every one of all the architects in the City urging them to take in charge for him that almost impossible piece of building; and in the very next moment--every one of all the architects in the City having made answer to him that what he wanted of them could not even by a miracle be accomplished--he himself took charge of it: and with a furiousness that matched precisely--as Doña Sara perceived with hopeful satisfaction--with the furiousness of his love.
What Don Juan did in that matter, Señor, was done as though in the insides of him were tempests and volcanoes! From the Tierra Caliente he brought up as by magic myriads of negro workmen to do the digging and the heavy carrying; all the quarries around the City he crammed full of stone-cutters; every mason was set to work at wall-laying; every carpenter to making the doors and the windows; every brick-yard to making the tiles for the roof and the floors; every blacksmith to making the locks and the hinges and the window-gratings and the balcony rails. And in the midst of his swarms of laborers Don Juan himself worked harder than all of them put together; and was everywhere at once among them urging them to hurry and to hurry; and to any one of them who showed even the slightest sign of lagging there came from Don Juan's mouth a berating volleying of scorpions and snakes and toads!
In very truth, Señor, such was Don Juan's raging energy that he was as a frenzied person. But it was a frenzy that had no real madness in it: because everything that he did and that he made to be done was directed by a most sensible discretion--so that not a moment of time nor the turn of a hand was wasted, and in every single instant the building grew and grew. And the upshot of it all was that he accomplished just what he had made his whole soul up he would accomplish: within the six months that Doña Sara had given him to do his work in, he did do it--and even with a little time to spare. Three full days before the last of his six months was ended the Aduana was finished to the very least part of its smallest detail; and Don Juan--all aglow over his triumphant fulfilment of Doña Sara's almost impossible condition--carried the key of that perfectly completed vast structure to the Palace, and there placed the key of it in the Viceroy's hands!
Moreover--that all the world might know why it was, and for whom it was, that his great work had been accomplished--Don Juan caused to be carved on a wall of the building a most artfully contrived inscription: that seemed only to give soberly his own name, and the names of the Consules associated with him, and the date of the Aduana's completion; but that was so arranged that the first letters of the five lines of it together made the initials of Doña Sara's name.
Don Juan thus having done what Doña Sara had set him to do, and what every one of all the architects in the City had declared could not be done even by a miracle, it was evident to the whole world that at the very roots of him was more blazing energy than would suffice for the equipment of a half hundred of ordinary men. Wherefore Doña Sara was well satisfied--her urgence having stirred him to do that great useful work with such masterful vigor--that her urgence equally would arouse him from all of his apathies: and so would recast him into the sort of husband that she desired to have. Therefore Doña Sara immediately gave to Don Juan her hand in marriage: and as the Aduana still is standing--and precisely where, faster than a miracle, Don Juan built it--the Señor has only to look at it, and to read the inscription showing Doña Sara's initials, to know both the truth of this curious story and that Doña Sara's choice of a husband was well made.