"Don Pascal!" cried some of the Spaniards.
"Senores, the Senor Ibarra lives, while I, if I had not been crushed, should have died of fright."
Ibarra had been to inform himself of Maria Clara.
"Let the fete continue, Senor Ibarra," said the alcalde, as he came back. "Thank God, the dead is neither priest nor Spaniard! You ought to celebrate your escape! What if the stone had fallen on you!"
"He had presentiments!" cried the notary. "He did not want to go down, that was plain to be seen!"
"It's only an Indian!"
"Let the fete go on! Give us music! Mourning won't raise the dead. Captain, let the inquest be held! Arrest the head builder!"
"Shall he be put in the stocks?"
"Yes, in the stocks! Music, music! The head builder in the stocks!"
"Senor Alcalde," said Ibarra, "if mourning won't raise the dead, neither will the imprisonment of a man whose guilt is not proven. I go security for his person and ask his liberty, for these fete days at least."
"Very well! But let him not repeat it!" said the alcalde.
All kinds of rumors circulated among the people. The idea of a miracle was generally accepted. Many said they had seen descend into the trench at the fatal moment a figure in a dark costume, like that of the Franciscans. 'Twas no doubt San Diego himself.
"A bad beginning," muttered old Tasio, shaking his head as he moved away.
Ibarra, who had gone home for a change of clothing, had just finished dressing when a servant announced that a peasant wished to see him. Supposing it to be one of his laborers, he had him taken to his work room, which was at the same time his library and chemical laboratory. To his great surprise he found himself face to face with the mysterious Elias.
"You saved my life," said the man, speaking in Tagalo, and understanding the movement of Ibarra. "I have not half paid my debt. Do not thank me. It is I who should thank you. I have come to ask a favor."
"Speak!" said his listener.
Elias fixed his melancholy eyes on Ibarra's and went on:
"When the justice of man tries to clear up this mystery, and your testimony is taken, I entreat you not to speak to any one of the warning I gave you."
"Do not be alarmed," said Crisostomo, losing interest; "I know you are pursued, but I'm not an informer."
"I don't speak for myself, but for you," said Elias, with some haughtiness. "I have no fear of men."
Ibarra grew surprised. This manner of speaking was new, and did not comport with the state or fortunes of the helmsman.
"Explain yourself!" he demanded.
"I am not speaking enigmas. To insure your safety, it is necessary that your enemies believe you blind and confiding."
"To insure my safety?" said Ibarra, thoroughly aroused.
"You undertake a great enterprise," Elias went on. "You have a past. Your grandfather and your father had enemies. It is not criminals who provoke the most hatred; it is honorable men."
"You know my enemies, then?"
"I knew one; the dead man."
"I regret his death," said Ibarra; "from him I might have learned more."
"Had he lived, he would have escaped the trembling hand of men's justice. God has judged him!"
"Do you also believe in the miracle of which the people talk?"
"If I believed in such a miracle, I should not believe in God, and I believe in Him; I have more than once felt His hand. At the moment when the scaffolding gave way I placed myself beside the criminal." Elias looked at Ibarra.
"You—you mean that you——"
"Yes, when his deadly work was about to be done, he was going to flee; I held him there; I had seen his crime! Let God be the only one who has the right over life!"
"And yet, this time you——"
"No!" cried Elias. "I exposed the criminal to the risk he had prepared for others; I ran the risk myself; and I did not strike him; I left him to be struck by the hand of God!"
Ibarra regarded the man in silence.
"You are not a peasant," he said at last. "Who are you? Have you studied?"
"I've need of much belief in God, since I've lost faith in men," said Elias, evading the question.
"But God cannot speak to resolve each of the countless contests our passions raise; it is necessary, it is just, that man should sometimes judge his kind."
"For good, yes; not for evil. To correct and ameliorate, not to destroy; because, if man's judgments are erroneous, he has not the power to remedy the evil he has done. But this discussion is over my head, and I am detaining you. Do not forget what I came to entreat; save yourself for the good of your country!" And he started to go.
"And when shall I see you again?"
"Whenever you wish; whenever I can be of use to you; I am always your debtor!"
All the distinguished people of the province were united in the carpeted and decorated booth. The alcalde was at one end of the table, Ibarra at the other. The talk was animated, even gay. The meal was half finished when a despatch was handed to Captain Tiago. He asked permission to read it; his face paled; then lighted up. "Senores," he cried, quite beside himself, "His Excellency the captain-general is to honor my house with his presence!" And he started off running, carrying his despatch and his napkin, forgetting his hat, and pursued by exclamations and questions. The announcement of the tulisanes could not have put him to greater confusion.
"Wait a moment! When is he coming? Tell us?"
Captain Tiago was already in the distance.
"His Excellency asks the hospitality of Captain Tiago!" the guests exclaimed, apparently forgetting that they spoke before his daughter and his future son-in-law.
"He could hardly make a better choice," said Ibarra, with dignity.
"This was spoken of yesterday," said the alcalde, "but His Excellency had not fully decided."
"Do you know how long he is to stay?" asked the alferez, uneasily.
"I'm not at all sure! His Excellency is fond of surprising people."
Three other despatches were brought. They were for the alcalde, the alferez, and the gobernadorcillo, and identical, announcing the coming of the governor. It was remarked that there was none for the curate.
"His Excellency arrives at four this afternoon," said the alcalde, solemnly. "We can finish our repast." It might have been Leonidas saying: "To-night we sup with Pluto!"
The conversation returned to its former course.
"I notice the absence of our great preacher," said one of the clerks, an honest, inoffensive fellow, who had not yet said a word. Those who knew the story of Ibarra's father looked significantly at one another. "Fools rush in," said the glances of some; but others, more considerate, tried to cover the error.
"He must be somewhat fatigued——"
"Somewhat!" cried the alferez. "He must be spent, as they say here, malunqueado. What a sermon!"
"Superb! Herculean!" was the opinion of the notary.
"Magnificent! Profound!" said a newspaper correspondent.
In the other booth the children were more noisy than little Filipinos are wont to be, for at table or before strangers they are usually rather too timid than too bold. If one of them did not eat with propriety, his neighbor corrected him. To one a certain article was a spoon; to others a fork or a knife; and as nobody settled their questions, they were in continual uproar.
Their fathers and mothers, simple peasants, looked in ravishment to see their children eating on a white cloth, and doing it almost as well as the curate or the alcalde. It was better to them than a banquet.
"Yes," said a young peasant woman to an old man grinding his buyo, "whatever my husband says, my Andoy shall be a priest. It is true, we are poor; but Father Mateo says Pope Sixtu was once a keeper of carabaos at Batanzas! Look at my Andoy; hasn't he a face like St. Vincent?" and the good mother's mouth watered at the sight of her son with his fork in both hands!
"God help us!" said the old man, munching his sapa. "If Andoy gets to be pope, we will go to Rome! I can walk yet! Ho! Ho!"
Another peasant came up.
"It's decided, neighbor," he said, "my son is to be a doctor."
"A doctor! Don't speak of it!" replied Petra. "There's nothing like being a curate! He has only to make two or three turns and say 'deminos pabiscum' and he gets his money."
"And isn't it work to confess?"
"Work! Think of the trouble we take to find out the affairs of our neighbors! The curate has only to sit down, and they tell him everything!"
"And preaching? Don't you call that work?"
"Preaching? Where is your head? To scold half a day from the pulpit without any one's daring to reply and be paid for it into the bargain! Look, look at Father Damaso! See how fat he gets with his shouting and pounding!"
In truth, Father Damaso was that moment passing the children's booth in the gait peculiar to men of his size. As he entered the other booth, he was half smiling, but so maliciously that at sight of it Ibarra, who was talking, lost the thread of his speech.
The guests were astonished to see the father, but every one except Ibarra received him with signs of pleasure. They were at the dessert, and the champagne was sparkling in the cups.
Father Damaso's smile became nervous when he saw Maria Clara sitting next Crisostomo, but, taking a chair beside the alcalde, he said in the midst of a significant silence:
"You were talking of something, senores; continue!"
"We had come to the toasts," said the alcalde. "Senor Ibarra was mentioning those who had aided him in his philanthropic enterprise, and he was speaking of the architect when your reverence——"
"Ah, well! I know nothing about architecture," interrupted Father Damaso, "but I scorn architects and the simpletons who make use of them."
"Nevertheless," said the alcalde, as Ibarra was silent, "when certain buildings are in question, like a school, for example, an expert is needed——"
"An expert!" cried the father, with sarcasm. "One needs be more stupid than the Indians, who build their own houses, not to know how to raise four walls and put a roof on them. Nothing else is needed for a school!"
Every one looked at Ibarra, but, though he grew a little pale, he pursued his conversation with Maria Clara.
"But does your reverence consider——"
"See here!" continued the Franciscan, again cutting off the alcalde. "See how one of our lay brothers, the most stupid one we have, built a hospital. He paid the workmen eight cuartos a day, and got them from other pueblos, too. Not much like these young feather-brains who ruin workmen, paying them three or four reales!"
"Does your reverence say he paid but eight cuartos? Impossible!" said the alcalde, hoping to change the course of the conversation.
"Yes, senor, and so should those do who pride themselves upon being good Spaniards. Since the opening of the Suez Canal, corruption has reached even here! When the Cape had to be doubled, not so many ruined men came here, and fewer went abroad to ruin themselves!"
"But Father Damaso——"
"You know the Indian; as soon as he has learned anything, he takes a title. All these beardless youths who go to Europe——"
"But, your reverence, listen——" began the alcalde, alarmed by the harshness of these words.
"Finish as they merit," continued the priest. "The hand of God is in it; he is blind who does not see that. Already even the fathers of these reptiles receive their chastisement; they die in prison! Ah——"
He did not finish. Ibarra, livid, had been watching him. At these words he rose, gave one bound, and struck out with his strong hand. The monk, stunned by the blow, fell backward.
Surprised and terrified, not one of the spectators moved.
"Let no one come near!" said the young man in a terrible voice, drawing his slender blade, and holding the neck of the priest with his foot. "Let no one come, unless he wishes to die."
Ibarra was beside himself, his whole body trembled, his threatening eyes were big with rage. Father Damaso, regaining his senses, made an effort to rise, but Crisostomo, grasping his neck, shook him till he had brought him to his knees.
"Senor de Ibarra! Senor de Ibarra!" stammered one and another. But nobody, not even the alferez, risked a movement. They saw the knife glitter; they calculated Crisostomo's strength, unleashed by anger; they were paralyzed.
"All you here, you have said nothing. Now it rests with me. I avoided him; God brings him to me. Let God judge!"
Ibarra breathed with effort, but his arm of iron kept harsh hold of the Franciscan, who struggled in vain to free himself.
"My heart beats true, my hand is firm——" And he looked about him.
"I ask you first, is there among you any one who has not loved his father, who has not loved his father's memory; any one born in shame and abasement? See, hear this silence! Priest of a God of peace, thy mouth full of sanctity and religion, thy heart of corruption! Thou canst not know what it is to be a father; thou shouldst have thought of thy own! See, in all this crowd that you scorn there is not one like you! You are judged!"
The guests, believing he was going to strike, made their first movement.
"Do not come near us!" he cried again in the same threatening voice. "What? You fear I shall stain my hand in impure blood? Did I not tell you that my heart beats true? Away from us, and listen, priests, believing yourselves different from other men, giving yourselves other rights! My father was an honorable man. Ask the country which venerates his memory. My father was a good citizen, who sacrificed himself for me and for his country's good. His house was open, his table set for the stranger or the exile who should turn to him! He was a Christian; always doing good, never pressing the weak, nor forcing tears from the wretched. As to this man, he opened his door to him, made him sit down at his table, and called him friend. And how did the man respond? He falsely accused him; he pursued him; he armed ignorance against him! Confiding in the sanctity of his office, he outraged his tomb, dishonored his memory; his hate troubled even the rest of the dead. And not yet satisfied, he now pursues the son. I fled from him, avoided his presence. You heard him this morning profane the chair, point me out to the people's fanaticism; but I said nothing. Now, he comes here to seek a quarrel; I suffer in silence, until he again insults a memory sacred to all sons.
"You who are here, priests, magistrates, have you seen your old father give himself for you, part from you for your good, die of grief in a prison, looking for your embrace, looking for consolation from any one who would bring it, sick, alone; while you in a foreign land? Then have you heard his name dishonored, found his tomb empty when you went there to pray? No? You are silent; then you condemn him!"
He raised his arm. But a girl, rapid as light, threw herself between him and the priest, and with her fragile hands held the avenging arm. It was Maria Clara. Ibarra looked at her with eyes like a madman's. Then, little by little, his tense fingers relaxed; he let fall the knife, and, covering his face with his hands, he fled.
The noise of the affair spread rapidly. At first no one believed it, but when there was no longer room for doubt, each made his comments, according to the degree of his moral elevation.
"Father Damaso is dead," said some. "When he was carried away, his face was congested with blood, and he no longer breathed."
"May he rest in peace, but he has only paid his debt!" said a young stranger.
"Why do you say that?"
"One of us students who came from Manila for the fete left the church when the sermon in Tagalo began, saying it was Greek to him. Father Damaso sent for him afterward, and they came to blows."
"Are we returning to the times of Nero?" asked another student.
"You mistake," replied the first. "Nero was an artist, and Father Damaso is a jolly poor preacher!"
The men of more years talked otherwise.
"To say which was wrong and which right is not easy," said the gobernadorcillo, "and yet, if Senor Ibarra had been more moderate——"
"You probably mean, if Father Damaso had shown half the moderation of Senor Ibarra," interrupted Don Filipo. "The pity is that the roles were interchanged: the youth conducted himself like an old man, and the old man like a youth."
"And you say nobody but the daughter of Captain Tiago came between them? Not a monk, nor the alcalde?" asked Captain Martin. "I wouldn't like to be in the young man's shoes. None of those who were afraid of him will ever forgive him. Hah, that's the worst of it!"
"You think so?" demanded Captain Basilio, with interest.
"I hope," said Don Filipo, exchanging glances with Captain Basilio, "that the pueblo isn't going to desert him. His friends at least——"
"But, senores," interrupted the gobernadorcillo, "what can we do? What can the pueblo? Whatever happens, the monks are always in the right——"
"They are always in the right, because we always say they're in the right. Let us say we are in the right for once, and then we shall have something to talk about!"
The gobernadorcillo shook his head.
"Ah, the young blood!" he said. "You don't seem to know what country you live in; you don't know your compatriots. The monks are rich; they are united; we are poor and divided. Try to defend him and you will see how you are left to compromise yourself alone!"
"Yes," cried Don Filipo bitterly, "and it will be so as long as fear and prudence are supposed to be synonymous. Each thinks of himself, nobody of any one else; that is why we are weak!"
"Very well! Think of others and see how soon the others will let you hang!"
"I've had enough of it!" cried the exasperated lieutenant. "I shall give my resignation to the alcalde to-day."
The women had still other thoughts.
"Aye!" said one of them. "Young people are always the same. If his good mother were living, what would she say? When I think that my son, who is a young hothead, too, might have done the same thing——"
"I'm not with you," said another woman. "I should have nothing against my two sons if they did as Don Crisostomo."
"What are you saying, Capitana Maria?" cried the first woman, clasping her hands.
"I'm a poor stupid," said a third, the Capitana Tinay, "but I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to tell my son not to study any more. They say men of learning all die on the gallows. Holy Mary, and my son wants to go to Europe!"
"If I were rich as you, my children should travel," said the Capitana Maria. "Our sons ought to aspire to be more than their fathers. I have not long to live, and we shall meet again in the other world."
"Your ideas, Capitana Maria, are little Christian," said Sister Rufa severely. "Make yourself a sister of the Sacred Rosary, or of St. Francis."
"Sister Rufa, when I'm a worthy sister of men, I will think about being a sister of the saints," said the capitana, smiling.
Under the booth where the children had their feast the father of the one who was to be a doctor was talking.
"What troubles me most," said he, "is that the school will not be finished; my son will not be a doctor, but a carter."
"Who said there wouldn't be a school?"
"I say so. The White Fathers have called Don Crisostomo plibastiero. There won't be any school."
The peasants questioned each other's faces. The word was new to them.
"And is that a bad name?" one at last ventured to ask.
"It's the worst one Christian can give another."
"Worse than tarantado and saragate?"
"If it weren't, it wouldn't amount to much."
"Come now. It can't be worse than indio, as the alferez says."
He whose son was to be a carter looked gloomy. The other shook his head and reflected.
"Then is it as bad as betalapora, that the old woman of the alferez says?"
"You remember the word ispichoso (suspect), which had only to be said of a man to have the guards lead him off to prison? Well, plibastiero is worse yet; if any one calls you plibastiero, you can confess and pay your debts, for there's nothing else left to do but get yourself hanged. That's what the telegrapher and the sub-director say, and you know whether the telegrapher and the sub-director ought to know: one talks with iron wires, and the other knows Spanish, and handles nothing but the pen."
The last hope fled.
THE FIRST CLOUD.
The home of Captain Tiago was naturally not less disturbed than the minds of the crowd. Maria Clara refused to be comforted by her aunt and her foster-sister. Her father had forbidden her to speak to Crisostomo until the ban of excommunication should be raised.
In the midst of his preparations for receiving the governor-general Captain Tiago was summoned to the convent.
"Don't cry, my child," said Aunt Isabel, as she polished the mirrors with a chamois skin, "the ban will be raised. They will write to the holy father. We will make a big offering. Father Damaso only fainted; he isn't dead!"
"Don't cry," whispered Andeng; "I will arrange to meet Crisostomo."
At last Captain Tiago came back. They scanned his face for answers to many questions; but the face of Captain Tiago spoke discouragement. The poor man passed his hand across his brow and seemed unable to frame a word.
"Well, Santiago?" demanded the anxious aunt.
He wiped away a tear and replied by a sigh.
"Speak, for heaven's sake! What is it?"
"What I all the time feared," he said at last, conquering his tears. "Everything is lost! Father Damaso orders me to break the promise of marriage. They all say the same thing, even Father Sibyla. I must shut the doors of my house to him, and—I owe him more than fifty thousand pesos! I told the fathers so, but they wouldn't take it into account. 'Which would you rather lose,' they said, 'fifty thousand pesos or your soul?' Ah, St. Anthony, if I had known, if I had known!"
Maria Clara was sobbing.
"Don't cry, my child," he said, turning to her; "you aren't like your mother; she never cried. Father Damaso told me that a young friend of his is coming from Spain; he intends him for your fiance——"
Maria Clara stopped her ears.
"But, Santiago, are you mad?" cried Aunt Isabel. "Speak to her of another fiance now? Do you think your daughter changes them as she does her gloves?"
"I have thought about it, Isabel; but what would you have me do? They threaten me, too, with excommunication."
"And you do nothing but distress your daughter! Aren't you the friend of the archbishop? Why don't you write to him?"
"The archbishop is a monk, too. He will do only what the monks say. But don't cry, Maria; the governor-general is coming. He will want to see you, and your eyes will be red. Alas, I thought I was going to have such a good afternoon! Without this misfortune I should be the happiest of men, with everybody envying me! Be calm, my child, I am more unhappy than you, and I don't cry. You may find a better fiance; but as for me, I lose fifty thousand pesos! Ah, Virgin of Antipolo, if only I have luck tonight!"
Salvos, the sound of wheels and of horses galloping, the band playing the Royal March, announced the arrival of His Excellency the governor-general of the Philippine Islands. Maria Clara ran to hide in her chamber. Poor girl! Her heart was at the mercy of rude hands that had no sense of its delicate fibres.
While the house was filling with people, while heavy footsteps, words of command, and the hurling of sabres and spurs resounded all about, the poor child, heart-broken, was half-lying, half-kneeling before that picture of the Virgin where Delaroche represents her in a grievous solitude, as though he had surprised her returning from the sepulchre of her son. Maria Clara did not think of the grief of this mother; she thought only of her own. Her head bent on her breast, her hands pressed against the floor, she seemed a lily broken by the storm. A future for years caressed in dreams, illusions born in childhood, fostered in youth, grown a part of her being, they thought to shatter all these with a word, to drive it all out of her mind and heart. A devout Catholic, a loving daughter, the excommunication terrified her. Not so much her father's commands as her desire for his peace of mind demanded from her the sacrifice of her love. And in this moment she felt for the first time the full strength of her affection for Crisostomo. The peaceful river glides over its sandy bed under the nodding flowers along its banks; the wind scarcely ridges its current; it seems to sleep; but farther down the banks close in, rough rocks choke the channel, a heap of knotty trunks forms a dyke; then the river roars, revolts, its waters whirl, and shake their plumes of spray, and, raging, beat the rocks and rush on madly. So this tranquil love was now transformed and the tempests were let loose.
She would have prayed; but who can pray without hope? "O God!" her heart complained. "Why refuse a man the love of others? Thou givest him the sunshine and the air; thou dost not hide from him the sight of heaven. Why take away that love without which he cannot live?"
The poor child, who had never known a mother of her own, had brought her grief to that pure heart which knew only filial and maternal love, to that divine image of womanhood of whose tenderness we dream, whom we call Mary.
"Mother, mother!" she sobbed.
Aunt Isabel came to find her; her friends were there, and the governor-general had asked for her.
"Dear aunt, tell them I am ill!" she begged in terror. "They will want me to play and sing!"
"Your father has promised. Would you make your father break his word?"
Maria Clara rose, looked at her aunt, threw out her beautiful arms with a sob, then stood still till she was outwardly calm, and went to obey.
"I want to talk with that young man," said the general to one of his aids; "he rouses all my interest."
"He has been sent for, my general; but there is here another young man of Manila who insists upon seeing you. We told him you have not the time; that you did not come to give audiences. He replied that Your Excellency has always the time to do justice."
The general, perplexed, turned to the alcalde.
"If I am not mistaken," said the alcalde, with an inclination of the head, "it is a student who this morning had trouble with Father Damaso about the sermon."
"Another still? Has this monk started out to put the province to revolt, or does he think he commands here? Admit the young man!" And the governor got up and walked nervously back and forth.
In the ante-chamber some Spanish officers and all the functionaries of the pueblo were talking in groups. All the monks, too, except Father Damaso, had come to pay their respects to the governor.
"His Excellency begs your reverences to attend a moment," said the aide-de-camp. "Enter, young man!"
The young Manilian who confounded the Tagalo with the Greek entered, trembling.
Every one was greatly astonished. His Excellency must be much annoyed to make the monks wait this way. Said Brother Sibyla:
"I have nothing to say to him, and I'm wasting my time here."
"I also," said an Augustin. "Shall we go?"
"Would it not be better to find out what he thinks?" asked Brother Salvi. "We should avoid a scandal, and we could remind him—of his duty——"
"Your reverences may enter," said the aid, conducting back the young man, who came out radiant.
The fathers went in and saluted the governor.
"Who among your reverences is the Brother Damaso?" demanded His Excellency at once, without asking them to be seated or inquiring for their health, and without any of those complimentary phrases which form the repertory of dignitaries.
"Senor, Father Damaso is not with us," replied Father Sibyla, in a tone almost as dry.
"Your Excellency's servant is ill," added the humble Brother Salvi. "We come, after saluting Your Excellency and inquiring for his health, to speak in the name of Your Excellency's respectful servant, who has had the misfortune——"
"Oh!" interrupted the captain-general, with a nervous smile, while he twirled a chair on one leg. "If all the servants of my Excellency were like the Father Damaso, I should prefer to serve my Excellency myself!"
Their reverences did not seem to know what to reply.
"Won't your reverences sit down?" added the governor in more conventional tone.
Captain Tiago, in evening dress and walking on tiptoe, came in, leading by the hand Maria Clara, hesitating, timid. Overcoming her agitation, she made her salute, at once ceremonial and graceful.
"This signorita is your daughter!" exclaimed the surprised governor. "Happy the fathers whose daughters are like you, signorita. They have told me about you, and I wish to thank you in the name of His Majesty the King, who loves the peace and tranquillity of his subjects, and in my own name, in that of a father who has daughters. If there is anything you would wish, signorita——"
"Senor!" protested Maria, trembling.
"The Senor Don Juan Crisostomo Ibarra awaits Your Excellency's orders," announced the ringing voice of the aide-de-camp.
"Permit me, signorita, to see you again before I leave the pueblo. I have yet things to say to you. Senor acalde, Your Highness will accompany me on the walk I wish to take after the private conference I shall have with the Senor Ibarra."
"Your Excellency," said Father Salvi humbly, "will permit us to inform him that the Senor Ibarra is excommunicated——"
The general broke in.
"I am happy," he said, "in being troubled about nothing but the state of Father Damaso. I sincerely desire his complete recovery, for, at his age, a voyage to Spain in search of health would be somewhat disagreeable. But all depends upon him. Meanwhile, God preserve the health of your reverences!"
"In his own case also everything depends upon him," murmured Brother Salvi as he went out.
"We shall see who makes the earliest voyage to Spain!" added another Franciscan.
"I shall go immediately," said Father Sibyla, in vexation.
"We, too," grumbled the Augustins.
Both parties bore it ill that for the fault of a Franciscan His Excellency should have received them so coldly.
In the ante-chamber they encountered Ibarra, who a few hours before had been their host. There was no exchange of greetings, but there were eloquent looks. The alcalde, on the contrary, gave Ibarra his hand. On the threshold Crisostomo met Maria coming out. Looks spoke again, but very differently this time.
Though this encounter with the monks had seemed to him of bad augury, Ibarra presented himself in the utmost calm. He bowed profoundly. The captain-general came forward.
"It gives me the greatest satisfaction, Senor Ibarra, to take you by the hand. I hope for your entire confidence." And he examined the young man with evident satisfaction.
"Senor, so much kindness——"
"Your surprise shows that you did not expect a friendly reception; that was to doubt my fairness."
"A friendly reception, senor, for an insignificant subject of His Majesty, like myself, is not fairness, but favor."
"Well, well!" said the general, sitting down and motioning Crisostomo to a seat. "Let us have a moment of open hearts. I am much gratified by what you are doing, and have proposed you to the Government of His Majesty for a decoration in recompense for your project of the school. Had you invited me, I should have found it a pleasure to be here for the ceremony. Perhaps I should have been able to save you an annoyance. But as to what happened between you and Father Damaso, have neither fear nor regrets. Not a hair of your head shall be harmed so long as I govern the islands; and in regard to the excommunication, I will talk with the archbishop. We must conform ourselves to our circumstances. We cannot laugh at it here, as we might in Europe. But be more prudent in the future. You have weighted yourself with the religious orders, who, from their office and their wealth, must be respected. I protect you, because I like a good son. By heaven, I don't know what I should have done in your place!"
Then, quickly changing the subject, he said:
"They tell me you have just returned from Europe. You were in Madrid?"
"Yes, senor, several months."
"How happens it that you return without bringing me a letter of recommendation?"
"Senor," replied Ibarra, bowing, "because, having heard there of the character of Your Excellency, I thought a letter of recommendation would not only be unnecessary, but might even offend you; the Filipinos are all recommended to you."
A smile curled the lips of the old soldier, who replied slowly, as though meditating and weighing his words:
"I cannot help being flattered that you think so. And yet, young man, you should know what a weight rests on our shoulders. Here we old soldiers have to be all—king, ministers of state, of war, of justice, of everything; and yet, in every event, we have to consult the far-off mother country, which often must approve or reject our propositions with blind justice. If in Spain itself, with the advantage of everything near and familiar, all is imperfect and defective, the wonder is that all here is not revolution. It is not lack of good will in the governors, but we must use the eyes and arms of strangers, of whom, for the most part, we can know nothing, and who, instead of serving their country, may be serving only their own interests. The monks are a powerful aid, but they are not sufficient. You inspire great interest in me, and I would not have the imperfection of our governmental system tell in anyway against you. I cannot watch over any one; every one cannot come to me. Tell me, can I be useful to you in any way? Have you any request to make?"
"Senor," he replied, "my great desire is for the happiness of my country, and I would that happiness might be due to the efforts of our mother country and of my fellow-citizens united to her and united among themselves by the eternal bonds of common views and interests. What I would ask, the Government alone can give, and that after many continuous years of labor and of well-conceived reforms."
The general gave him a long look, which Ibarra bore naturally, without timidity, without boldness.
"You are the first man with whom I've spoken in this country," cried His Excellency, stretching out his hand.
"Your Excellency has seen only those who while away their lives in cities; he has not visited the falsely maligned cabins of our villages. There Your Excellency would be able to see veritable men, if to be a man a noble heart and simple manners are enough."
The captain-general rose and walked up and down the room.
"Senor Ibarra," he said, stopping before Crisostomo, "your education and manner of thinking are not for this country. Sell what you own and come with me when I go back to Europe; the climate will be better for you."
"I shall remember all my life this kindness of Your Excellency," replied Ibarra, moved; "but I must live in the country where my parents lived——"
"Where they died, you would say more justly. Believe me, I, perhaps, know your country better than you do yourself. Ah, but I forget! You are to marry an adorable girl, and I'm keeping you from her all this time! Go—go to her! And that you may have more freedom, send the father to me," he added, smiling. "Don't forget, though, that I want your company for the promenade."
Ibarra saluted, and went out.
The general called his aide-de-camp.
"I am pleased," said he, giving him a light tap on the shoulder; "I have seen to-day for the first time how one may be a good Spaniard without ceasing to be a good Filipino. What a pity that this Ibarra some day or other——but call the alcalde."
The judge at once presented himself.
"Senor alcalde," said the general, "to avoid a repetition of scenes like those of which you were a spectator to-day—scenes, I deplore, because they reflect upon the Government and upon all Spaniards—I recommend the Senor Ibarra to your utmost care and consideration."
The alcalde perceived the reprimand and lowered his eyes.
Captain Tiago presented himself, stiff and unnatural.
"Don Santiago," the general said affectionately, "a moment ago I congratulated you upon having a daughter like the Senorita de los Santos. Now I make you my compliments upon your future son-in-law. The most virtuous of daughters is worthy of the first citizen of the Philippines. May I know the day of the wedding?"
"Senor——" stammered Captain Tiago, wiping drops of sweat from his brow.
"Then nothing is settled, I see. If witnesses are lacking, it will give me the greatest pleasure to be one of them."
"Yes, senor," said Captain Tiago, with a smile to stir compassion.
Ibarra had gone off almost running to find Maria Clara. He had so much to talk over with her. Through a door he heard the murmur of girls' voices. He knocked.
"Who is there?" asked Maria.
The voices were hushed, but the door did not open.
"It's I. May I come in?" demanded Crisostomo, his heart beginning to beat violently.
The silence continued. After some moments, light foot-steps approached the door, and the voice of Sinang said through the keyhole:
"Crisostomo, we're going to the theatre to-night. Write what you have to say to Maria Clara."
"What does that mean?" said Ibarra to himself as he slowly left the door.
That evening, in the light of countless lanterns, to the sound of bells and of continuous detonations, the procession started for the fourth time.
The captain-general, who had set out on foot, accompanied by his two aides-de-camp, Captain Tiago, the alcalde, the alferez, and Ibarra, and preceded by the guards, to open a passage, was to view the procession from the house of the gobernadorcillo. This functionary had built a platform for the recitation of a loa, a religious poem in honor of the patron saint.
Ibarra would gladly have renounced the hearing of this composition, but His Excellency had ordered his attendance, and Crisostomo must console himself with the thought of seeing his fiancee at the theatre.
The procession began by the march of the silver candelabra, borne by three sacristans. Then came the school children and their master, then other children, all with paper lanterns, shaped and ornamented according to the taste of each child—for each was his own lantern-maker—hoisted on bamboo poles of various lengths and lighted by bits of candles. An effigy of St. John the Baptist followed, borne on a litter, and then came St. Francis, surrounded by crystal lamps. A band followed, and then the standard of the saint, borne by the brothers of the Third Order, praying aloud in a sort of lamentation. San Diego came next, his car drawn by six brothers of the Third Order, probably fulfilling some vow. St. Mary Magdalen followed him, a beautiful image with splendid hair, wearing a costume of silk spangled with gold, and holding a handkerchief of embroidered pina in her jewelled hands. Lights and incense surrounded her, and her glass tears reflected the varied colors of Bengal lights. St. John the Baptist moved far ahead, as if ashamed of his camel's hair beside all this gold and glitter.
After the Magdalen came the women of the order, the elder first, so that the young girls should surround the car of the Virgin; behind them was the curate under his dais. The car of the Virgin was preceded by men dressed as phantoms, to the great terror of the children; the women wore habits like those of religious orders. In the midst of this obscure mass of robes and cowls and cordons one saw, like dainty jasmines, like fresh sampages amid old rags, twelve little girls in white, their hair free. Their eyes shone like their necklaces. One might have thought them little genii of the light taken prisoner by spectres. By two wide blue ribbons they were attached to the car of the Virgin, like the doves which draw the car of Spring.
At the gobernadorcillo's the procession stopped, all the images and their attendants were drawn up around the platform, and all eyes were fixed on the half-open curtain. At length it parted, and a young man appeared, winged, booted like a cavalier, with sash and belt and plumed hat, and in Latin, Castilian, and Tagal recited a poem as extraordinary as his attire. The verses ended, St. John pursued his bitter way.
At the moment when the figure of the Virgin passed the house of Captain Tiago, a celestial song greeted it. It was a voice, sweet and tender, almost weeping out the Gounod "Ave Maria." The music of the procession died away, the prayers ceased. Father Salvi himself stood still. The voice trembled; it drew tears; it was more than a salutation: it was a supplication and a complaint.
Ibarra heard, and fear and darkness entered his heart. He felt the suffering in the voice and dared not ask himself whence it came.
The captain-general was speaking to him.
"I should like your company at table. We will talk to those children who have disappeared," he said.
Crisostomo, looking at the general without seeing him, asked himself under his breath: "Can I be the cause?" And he followed the governor mechanically.
Why were the windows of the house of the alferez not only without lanterns, but shuttered? Where, when the procession passed, were the masculine head with its great veins and purple lips, the flannel shirt, and the big cigar of the "Muse of the Municipal Guard"?
The house was sad, as Sinang said, because the people were gay. Had not a sentinel paced as usual before the door one might have thought the place uninhabited.
A feeble light showed the disorder of the room, where the alfereza was sitting, and pierced the dusty and spider-webbed conches of the windows. The dame, according to her idle custom, was dozing in a fauteuil. To deaden the sound of the bombs, she had coifed her head in a handkerchief, from which escaped her tangled hair, short and thin. This morning she had not been to mass, not because she did not wish it, but because her husband had not permitted it, accompanying his prohibition with oaths and threats of blows. Dona Consolacion was now dreaming of revenge. She bestirred herself at last and ran over the house from one end to the other, her dark face disquieting to look at. A spark flashed from her eyes like that from the pupil of a serpent trapped and about to be crushed. It was cold, luminous, penetrating; it was viscous, cruel, repulsive. The smallest error on the part of a servant, the least noise, drew forth words injurious enough to smirch the soul; but nobody replied; to offer excuse would have been to commit another crime.
In this way the day passed. Meeting no opposition—her husband had been invited to the gobernadorcillo's—she stored up spleen; the cells of her organism seemed slowly charging with electric force, which burst out, later on, in a tempest.
Sisa had been in the barracks since her arrest the day before. The alferez, fearing she might become the sport of the crowd, had ordered her to be kept until the fete was over.
This evening, whether she had heard the song of Maria Clara, whether the bands had recalled airs that she knew, for some reason she began to chant, in her sympathetic voice, the songs of her youth. The soldiers heard and became still; they knew these airs, had sung them themselves when they were young and free and innocent. Dona Consolacion heard, too, and inquired for the singer.
"Have her come up at once," she said, after a moment's reflection, something like a smile flickering on her dry lips.
The soldiers brought Sisa, who came without fear or question. When she entered she seemed to see no one, which wounded the vanity of the dreadful muse. Dona Consolacion coughed, motioned the soldiers to withdraw, and, taking down her husband's riding whip, said in a sinister voice:
"Vamos, magcanter icau!"
It was an order to sing, in a mixture of Castilian and Tagalo. Dona Consolacion affected ignorance of her native tongue, thinking thus to give herself the air of a veritable Orofea, as she said in her attempt at Europea. For if she martyred the Tagalo, she treated Castilian worse, though her husband, and chairs and shoes, had contributed to giving her lessons.
Sisa had been happy enough not to understand. The forehead of the shrew unknotted a bit, and a look of satisfaction animated her face.
"Tell this woman to sing!" she said to the orderly. "She doesn't understand; she doesn't know Spanish!"
The orderly spoke to Sisa, and she began at once the "Night Song."
At first Dona Consolacion listened with a mocking smile, but little by little it left her lips. She became attentive, then serious. Her dry and withered heart received the rain. "The sadness, the cold, the dew come down from the sky in the mantle of the night," seemed to fall upon her heart; she understood "the flower, full of vanity, and prodigal with its splendors in the sun, now, at the fall of day, withered and stained, repentant and disillusioned, trying to raise its poor petals toward heaven, begging a shade to hide it from the mockery of the sun, who had seen it in its pomp, and was laughing at the impotence of its pride; begging also a drop of dew to be let fall upon it."
"No! Stop singing!" she cried in perfect Tagal. "Stop! These verses bore me!"
Sisa stopped. The orderly thought: "Ah, she knows the Tagal!" And he regarded his mistress with admiration.
She saw she had betrayed herself, became ashamed, and shame in her unfeminine nature meant rage. She showed the door to the imprudent orderly, and shut it behind him with a blow. Then she took several turns around the room, wringing the whip in her nervous hands. At last, planting herself before Sisa, she said to her in Spanish: "Dance!"
Sisa did not move.
"Dance! Dance!" she repeated in a threatening voice. The poor thing looked at her with vacant eyes. The vixen took hold of one of her arms and then the other, raising them and swaying them about. It was of no use. Sisa did not understand.
In vain Dona Consolacion began to leap about, making signs for Sisa to imitate her. In the distance a band was playing a slow and majestic march; but the creature leaped furiously to another measure, beating within herself. Sisa looked on, motionless. A faint curiosity rose in her eyes, a feeble smile moved her pale lips; the alfereza's dance pleased her.
The dancer stopped, as if ashamed, and raised the terrible whip, well known to thieves and soldiers.
"Now," said she, "it's your turn! Dance!" And she began to give light taps to the bare feet of bewildered Sisa, whose face contracted with pain; the poor thing tried to ward off the blows with her hands.
"Ah! You're beginning, are you?" cried Dona Consolacion, with savage joy, and from lento, she passed to allegro vivace.
Sisa cried out and drew up first one foot and then the other.
"Will you dance, accursed Indian!" and the whip whistled.
Sisa let herself fall to the floor, trying to cover her feet, and looking at her tormenter with haggard eyes. Two lashes on the shoulders forced her to rise with screams.
Her thin chemise was torn, the skin broken and the blood flowing.
This excited Dona Consolacion still more.
"Dance! Dance!" she howled, and seizing Sisa with one hand, while she beat her with the other, she commenced to leap about again.
At length Sisa understood, and followed, moving her arms without rhythm or measure. A smile of satisfaction came to the lips of the horrible woman—the smile of a female Mephistopheles who has found an apt pupil: hate, scorn, mockery, and cruelty were in it; a burst of demoniacal laughter could not have said more.
Absorbed by her delight in this spectacle, the alfereza did not know that her husband had arrived until the door was violently thrown open with a kick.
The alferez was pale and morose. When he saw what was going on, he darted a terrible glance at his wife, then quietly put his hand on the shoulder of the strange dancer, and stopped her motion. Sisa, breathing hard, sat down on the floor. He called the orderly.
"Take this woman away," he said; "see that she is properly cared for, and has a good dinner and a good bed. To-morrow she is to be taken to Senor Ibarra's."
Then he carefully closed the door after them, pushed the bolt, and approached his wife.
RIGHT AND MIGHT.
It was ten o'clock in the evening. The first rockets were slowly going up in the dark sky, where bright-colored balloons shone like new stars. On the ridge-poles of the houses men were seen armed with bamboo poles, with pails of water at hand. Their dark silhouettes against the clear gray of the night seemed phantoms come to share in the gayety of men. They were there to look out for balloons that might fall burning.
Crowds of people were going toward the plaza to see the last play at the theatre. Bengal fires burned here and there, grouping the merry-makers fantastically.
The grand estrade was magnificently illuminated. Thousands of lights were fixed round the pillars, hung from the roof and clustered near the ground.
In front of the stage the orchestra was tuning its instruments. The dignitaries of the pueblo, the Spaniards, and wealthy strangers occupied seats in rows. The people filled the rest of the place; some had brought benches, rather to mount them than to sit on them, and others noisily protested against this.
Comings and goings, cries, exclamations, bursts of laughter, jokes, a whistle, swelled the tumult. Here the leg of a bench gave way and precipitated those on it, to the delight of the spectators; there was a dispute for place; and a little beyond a fracas of glasses and bottles. It was Andeng, carrying a great tray of drinks, and unfortunately she had encountered her fiance, who was disposed to profit by the occasion.
The lieutenant, Don Filipo, was in charge of the spectacle, for the gobernadorcillo was playing monte, of which he was a passionate devotee. Don Filipo was talking with old Tasio, who was on the point of leaving.
"Aren't you going to see the play?"
"No, thank you! My own mind suffices for rambling and dreaming," replied the philosopher, laughing. "But I have a question to propose. Have you ever observed the strange nature of our people? Pacific, they love warlike spectacles; democratic, they adore emperors, kings, and princes; irreligious, they ruin themselves in the pomps of the ritual; the nature of our women is gentle, but they have deliriums of delight when a princess brandishes a lance. Do you know the cause of all this? Well——"
The arrival of Maria Clara and her friends cut short the conversation. Don Filipo accompanied them to their places. Then came the curate, with his usual retinue.
The evening began with Chananay and Marianito in "Crispino and the Gossip." The scene fixed the attention of every one. The act was ending when Ibarra entered. His coming excited a murmur, and eyes turned from him to the curate. But Crisostomo observed nothing. He gracefully saluted Maria and her friends and sat down. The only one who spoke to him was Sinang.
"Have you been watching the fireworks?" she asked.
"No, little friend, I had to accompany the governor-general."
"That was too bad!"
Brother Salvi had risen, gone to Don Filipo, and appeared to be having with him a serious discussion. He spoke with heat, the lieutenant calmly and quietly.
"I am sorry not to be able to satisfy your reverence, but Senor Ibarra is one of the chief contributors to the fete, and has a perfect right to be here so long as he creates no disturbance."
"But is it not creating a disturbance to scandalize all good Christians?"
"Father," replied Don Filipo, "my slight authority does not permit me to interfere in religious matters. Let those who fear Senor Ibarra's contact avoid him: he forces himself upon no one; the senor alcalde and the captain-general have been in his company all the afternoon; it hardly becomes me to give them a lesson."
"If you do not put him out of the place, we shall go."
"I should be very sorry, but I have no authority to remove him."
The curate repented of his threat, but there was now no remedy. He motioned to his companions, who rose reluctantly, and all went out, not without hostile glances toward Ibarra.
The whisperings and murmurs began again. Several people came up to Crisostomo and said:
"We are with you; pay no attention to them!"
"To whom?" he asked in astonishment.
"Those who have gone out because you are here; they say you are excommunicated."
Ibarra, surprised, not knowing what to say, looked about him. Maria's face was hidden.
"Is it possible? Are we yet in the middle ages?" he began. But he checked himself and said to the girls:
"I must excuse myself; I will be back to go home with you."
"Oh, stay!" said Sinang. "Yeyeng is going to dance!"
"I cannot, little friend."
While Yeyeng was coming forward, two soldiers of the guard approached Don Filipo and demanded that the representation be stopped.
"And why?" he asked in surprise.
"Because the alferez and his wife have been fighting; they want to sleep."
"Tell the alferez we have the permission of the alcalde of the province, and nobody in the pueblo can overrule that, not even the gobernadorcillo."
"But we have our orders to stop the performance."
Don Filipo shrugged his shoulders and turned his back. The Comedy Company of Tondo was about to give a play, and the audience was settling for its enjoyment.
The Filipino is passionately fond of the theatre; he listens in silence, never hisses, and applauds with measure. Does not the spectacle please him? He chews his buyo and goes out quietly, not to trouble those who may like it. He expects in his plays a combat every fifteen seconds, and all the rest of the time repartee between comic personages, or terrifying metamorphoses. The comedy chosen for this fete was "Prince Villardo, or the Nails Drawn from the Cellar of Infamy," comedy with sorcery and fireworks.
Prince Villardo presented himself, defying the Moors, who held his father prisoner. He threatened to cut off all their heads at a single stroke and send them into the moon.
Fortunately for the Moors, as they were preparing for the combat, a tumult arose. The music stopped, and the musicians assailed the theatre with their instruments, which went flying in all directions. The valiant Villardo, unprepared for so many foes, threw down his sword and buckler and took to flight, and the Moors, seeing the hasty leave of so terrible a Christian, made bold to follow him. Cries, exclamations, and imprecations rose on all sides, people ran against one another, lights went out, children screamed, and benches were overturned in a hurly-burly. Some cried fire, some cried "The tulisanes!"
What had happened? The two guards had driven off the musicians, and the lieutenant and some of the cuadrilleros were vainly trying to check their flight.
"Take those two men to the tribunal!" cried Don Filipo. "Don't let them escape!"
When the crowd had recovered from its fright and taken account of what had happened, indignation broke forth.
"That's why they are for!" cried a woman, brandishing her arms; "to trouble the pueblo! They are the real tulisanes! Fire the barracks!"
Stones rained on the group of cuadrilleros leading off the guards, and the cry to fire the barracks was repeated. Chananay in her costume of Leonora in "Il Trovatore" was talking with Ratia, in schoolmaster's dress; Yeyeng, wrapped in a shawl, was attended by Prince Villardo, while the Moors tried to console the mortified musicians; but already the crowd had determined upon action, and Don Filipo was doing his best to hold them in check.
"Do nothing rash!" he cried. "To-morrow we will demand satisfaction; we shall have justice; I promise you justice!"
"No," replied some; "that's what they did at Calamba: they promised justice, and the alcalde didn't do a thing! We will take justice for ourselves! To the barracks!"
Don Filipo, looking about for some one to aid him, saw Ibarra.
"For heaven's sake, Senor Ibarra, keep the people here while I go for the cuadrilleros!"
"What can I do?" demanded the perplexed young fellow; but Don Filipo was already in the distance.
Ibarra, in his turn, looked about for aid, and saw Elias. He ran to him, took him by the arm, and, speaking in Spanish, begged him to do what he could for order. The helmsman disappeared in the crowd. Animated discussions were heard, and rapid questions; then, little by little, the mass began to dissolve and to wear a less hostile attitude. It was time; the soldiers arrived with bayonets fixed.
As Ibarra was about to enter his house that night a little man in mourning, having a great scar on his left cheek, placed himself in front of him and bowed humbly.
"What can I do for you?" asked Crisostomo.
"Senor, my name is Jose; I am the brother of the man killed this morning."
"Ah," said Ibarra, "I assure you I am not insensible to your loss. What do you wish of me?"
"Senor, I wish to know how much you are going to pay my brother's family."
"Pay!" repeated Crisostomo, not without annoyance. "We will talk of this again; come to me to-morrow."
"But tell me simply what you will give," insisted Jose.
"I tell you we will talk of it another day, not now," said Ibarra, more impatiently.
"Ah! You think because we are poor——"
Ibarra interrupted him.
"Don't try my patience too far," he said, moving on. Jose looked after him with a smile full of hatred.
"It is easy to see he is a grandson of the man who exposed my father to the sun," he murmured between his teeth. "The same blood!" Then in a changed tone he added: "But if you pay well—friends!"
HUSBAND AND WIFE.
The fete was over, and the inhabitants of the pueblo now perceived, as they did every year, that their purses were empty, that in the sweat of their faces they had earned scant pleasure, and paid dear for noise and headaches. But what of that? The next year they would begin again; the next century it would still be the same, for it had been so up to this time, and there is nothing which can make people renounce a custom.
The house of Captain Tiago is sad. All the windows are closed; one scarcely dares make a sound; and nowhere but in the kitchen do they speak aloud. Maria Clara, the soul of the house, is sick in bed. The state of her health could be read on all faces, as our actions betray the griefs of our hearts.
"What do you think, Isabel, ought I to make a gift to the cross at Tunasan, or that at Matahong?" asks the unhappy father. "The cross at Tunasan grows, but that at Matahong perspires. Which do you call the more miraculous?"
Aunt Isabel reflected, nodded her head, and whispered:
"To grow is more miraculous; we all perspire, but we don't all grow."
"That's so, yes, Isabel; but, after all, for wood to perspire—well, then, the best thing is to make offerings to both."
A carriage stopping before the house cut short the conversation. Captain Tiago, followed by Aunt Isabel, ran down the steps to receive the coming guests. They were the doctor, Don Tiburcio de Espadana, his wife, the Doctora Dona Victorina de Los Reyes de de Espadana, and a young Spaniard of attractive face and fine appearance.
The doctora wore a silk dress bordered with flowers, and a hat with a large parrot perched among bows of red and blue ribbons. The dust of the journey mingling with the rice powder on her cheeks, exaggerated her wrinkles; as when we saw her at Manila, she had given her arm to her lame husband.
"I have the pleasure of presenting to you our cousin, Don Alfonso Linares de Espadana," said Dona Victorina, indicating the young man; "the adopted son of a relative of Father Damaso's, and private secretary of all the ministers——"
The young man bowed low; Captain Tiago barely escaped kissing his hand.
While the countless trunks, valises, and bags are being cared for and Captain Tiago is conducting his guests to their apartments, let us make a nearer acquaintance with these people whom we have not seen since the opening chapters.
Dona Victorina is a woman of forty-five summers, which, according to her arithmetic, are equivalent to thirty-two springs. In her youth she had been very pretty, but, enraptured in her own contemplation, she had looked with the utmost disdain on her numerous Filipino adorers, even scorning the vows of love once murmured in her ears or chanted under her balcony by Captain Tiago. Her aspirations bore her toward another race.
Her first youth, then her second, then her third, having passed in tending nets to catch in the ocean of the world the object of her dreams, Dona Victorina must in the end content herself with what fate willed her. It was a poor man torn from his native Estramadure, who, after wandering six or seven years about the world, a modern Ulysses, found at length, in the island of Luzon, hospitality, money, and a faded Calypso.
Don Tiburcio was a modest man, without force, who would not willingly have injured a fly. He started for the Philippines as under-clerk of customs, but after breaking his leg was forced to give up his position. For a while he lived at the expense of some compatriots, but he found their bread bitter. As he had neither profession nor money, his advisers counselled him to go into the provinces and offer himself as a physician. At first he refused, but, necessity becoming pressing, his friends convinced him of the vanity of his scruples. He started out, kept by his conscience from asking more than small fees, and was on the road to prosperity when a jealous doctor called him to the attention of the College of Physicians at Manila. Nothing would have come of it, but the affair reached the ears of the people; loss of confidence followed, and then loss of patrons. Misery again stared him in the face when he heard of the affliction of Dona Victorina. Don Tiburcio saw here a patch of blue sky, and asked to be presented.
They met, and after a half-hour of conversation, reached an understanding. Without doubt she would have preferred a Spaniard less halting, less bald, without impediment of speech, and with more teeth; but such a Spaniard had never asked her hand, and at thirty-two what woman is not prudent?
For his part, Don Tiburcio resigned himself when he saw the spectre of famine raise its head. Not that he had ever had great ambitions or great pretensions; but his heart, virgin till now, had pictured a different divinity. He was, however, somewhat of a philosopher. He said to himself: "All that was a dream! Is the reality powdered and wrinkled, homely and ridiculous? Well, I am bald and lame and toothless."
They were married then, and Dona Victorina was enchanted with her husband. She had him fitted out with false teeth, attired by the best tailors of the city, and ordered carriages and horses for the professional visits she intended him again to make.
While thus transforming her husband, she did not forget herself. She discarded the silk skirt and jacket of pina for European costume, loaded her head with false hair, and her person with such extravagances generally as to disturb the peace of a whole idle and tranquil neighborhood.
The glamour around the husband first began to dim when he tried to approach the subject of the rice powder by remarking that nothing is so ugly as the false or so admirable as the natural. Dona Victorina looked unpleasantly at his teeth, and he was silent. Indeed, at the end of a very short time the doctora had arrived at the complete subjugation of her husband, who no longer offered any more resistance than a little lap-dog. If he did anything to annoy her, she forbade his going out, and in her moments of greatest rage she tore out his false teeth, and left him, sometimes for days, horribly disfigured.
When they were well settled in Manila, Rodoreda received orders to engrave on a plate of black marble:
"Dr. De Espadana, Specialist in All Kinds of Diseases."
"Do you wish me to be put in prison?" asked Don Tiburcio in terror.
"I wish people to call you doctor and me doctora," said Dona Victorina, "but it must be understood that you treat only very rare cases."
The senora signed her own name, Victorina de los Reyes de de Espadana. Neither the engraver of her visiting cards nor her husband could make her renounce that second "de."
"If I use only one 'de,' people will think you haven't any, imbecile!" she said to Don Tiburcio.
Then the number of gewgaws grew, the layer of rice powder was thickened, the ribbons and laces were piled higher, and Dona Victorina regarded with more and more disdain her poor compatriots who had not had the fortune to marry husbands of so high estate as her own.
All this sublimity, however, did not prevent her being each day older and more ridiculous. Every time Captain Tiago was with her, and remembered that she had once really inspired him with love, he sent a peso to the church for a mass of thanksgiving. But he had much respect for Don Tiburcio, because of his title of specialist, and listened attentively to the rare sentences the doctor's impediment of speech let him pronounce. For this reason and because the doctor did not lavish his visits on people at large he had chosen him to treat Maria.
As to young Linares, Dona Victorina, wishing a steward from the peninsula, her husband remembered a cousin of his, a law student at Madrid, who was considered the most astute of the family. They sent for him, and the young man had just arrived.
Father Salvi entered while Don Santiago and his guests were at the second breakfast. They talked of Maria Clara, who was sleeping; they talked of the journey, and Dona Victorina exclaimed loudly at the costumes of the provincials, their houses of nipa, and their bamboo bridges. She did not omit to inform the curate of her friendly relations with the "Segundo Cabo," with this alcalde, with that councillor, all people of distinction, who had for her the greatest consideration.
"If you had come two days earlier, Dona Victorina," said Captain Tiago, profiting by a slight pause in the lady's brilliant loquacity, "you would have found His Excellency the governor general seated in this very place."
"What! His Excellency was here? And at your house? Impossible!"
"I repeat that he was seated exactly here. If you had come two days ago——"
"Ah! What a pity Clarita did not fall ill sooner!" she cried. "You hear, cousin! His Excellency was here! You know, Don Santiago, that at Madrid our cousin was the friend of ministers and dukes, and that he dined with the Count del Campanario."
"The Duke de la Torre, Victorina," suggested her husband.
"It is the same thing!"
"Shall I find Father Damaso at his pueblo to-day?" Linares asked Brother Salvi.
"Father Damaso is here, and may be with us at any moment."
"I'm very glad! I have a letter for him, and if a happy chance had not brought me here, I should have come expressly to see him."
Meanwhile the "happy chance," that is to say, poor Maria Clara, had awakened.
"Come, de Espadana, come, see Clarita," said Dona Victorina. "It is for you he does this," she went on, turning to Captain Tiago; "my husband attends only people of quality."
The sick-room was almost in obscurity, the windows closed, for fear of draughts; two candles, burning before an image of the Virgin of Antipolo, sent out feeble glimmers.
Enveloped in multiple folds of white, the lovely figure of Maria lay on her bed of kamagon, behind curtains of jusi and pina. Her abundant hair about her face increased its transparent pallor, as did the radiance of her great, sad eyes. Beside her were her two friends, and Andeng holding a lily branch.
De Espadana felt her pulse, examined her tongue, asked a question or two, and nodded his head.
"Sh—she is s—sick, but she can be c—cured."
Dona Victorina looked proudly at their audience.
"Lichen with m—m—milk, for the m—m—morning, syrup of m—m—marshmallow, and two tablets of cynoglossum."
"Take courage, Clarita," said Dona Victorina, approaching the bed, "we have come to cure you. I'm going to present to you our cousin."
Linares, absorbed, was gazing at those eloquent eyes, which seemed to be searching for some one; he did not hear Dona Victorina.
"Senor Linares," said the curate, drawing him out of his abstraction, "here is Father Damaso."
It was indeed he; but it was not the Father Damaso of heretofore, so vigorous and alert. He walked uncertainly, and he was pale and sad.
With no word for any one else, Father Damaso went straight to Maria's bed and took her hand.
"Maria," he said with great tenderness, and tears gushed from his eyes, "Maria, my child, you must not die!"
Maria Clara looked at him with some astonishment. No one of those who knew the Franciscan would have believed him capable of such display of feeling.
He could not say another word, but moved aside the draperies and went out among the plants of Maria's balcony, crying like a child.
"How he loves his god-daughter!" every one thought.
Father Salvi, motionless and silent, watched him intently.
When the father's grief seemed more controlled, Dona Victorino presented young Linares. Father Damaso, saying nothing, looked him over from head to foot, took the letter, read it without appearing to comprehend, and asked:
"Well, who are you?"
"Alfonso Linares, the godson of your brother-in-law——" stammered the young fellow. Father Damaso threw back his head and examined him anew, his face clearing.
"What! It's the godson of Carlicos!" he cried, clasping him in his arms. "I had a letter from him some days ago. And it is you? You were not born when I left the country. I did not know you!" And Father Damaso still held in his strong arms the young man, whose face began to color, perhaps from embarrassment, perhaps from suffocation. Father Damaso appeared to have completely forgotten his grief.
After the first moments of effusion and questions about Carlicos and Pepa, Father Damaso asked:
"Let's see, what is it Carlicos wishes me to do for you?"
"I think he says something about it in the letter," stammered Linares again.
"In the letter? Yes, that's so! He wishes me to find you employment and a wife. Ah, the employment is easy enough, but as for the wife!—hem!—a wife——"
"Father, that is not so urgent," said Linares, with confusion.
But Father Damaso was walking back and forth murmuring: "A wife! A wife!" His face was no longer sad or joyful, but serious and preoccupied. From a distance Father Salvi watched the scene.
"I did not think the thing could cause me so much pain," Father Damaso murmured plaintively; "but of two evils choose the least!" Then approaching Linares:
"Come with me, my boy," he said, "we will talk with Don Santiago." Linares paled and followed the priest.
SCRUTINY OF CONSCIENCE.
Long days followed by weary nights were passed by the pillow of the sick girl. After a confession to Father Salvi, Maria Clara had had a relapse, and in her delirium she pronounced no name but that of her mother, whom she had never known. Her friends, her father, her aunt, watched her, and heaped with gifts and with silver for masses the altars of miraculous images. At last, slowly and regularly, the fever began to abate.
The Doctor de Espadana was stupefied at the virtues of the syrup of marshmallow and the decoction of lichen, prescriptions he had never varied. Dona Victorina was so satisfied with her husband that one day when he stepped on her train, in a rare state of clemency she did not apply to him the usual penal code by pulling out his teeth.
One afternoon, Sinang and Victorina were with Maria; the curate, Captain Tiago, and the Espadanas were talking in the dining-room.
"I'm distressed to hear it," the doctor was saying; "and Father Damaso must be greatly disturbed."
"Where did you say he is to be sent?" asked Linares.
"Into the province of Tabayas," replied the curate carelessly.
"Maria Clara will be very sorry too," said Captain Tiago; "she loves him like a father."
Father Salvi looked at him from the corner of his eye.
"Father," continued Captain Tiago, "I believe her sickness came from nothing but that trouble the day of the fete."
"I am of the same opinion, so you have done well in not permitting Senor Ibarra to talk with her; that would only have aggravated her condition."
"And it is thanks to us alone," interrupted Dona Victorina, "that Clarita is not already in heaven singing praises with the angels."
"Amen!" Captain Tiago felt moved to say.
"I think I know whereof I speak," said the curate, "when I say that the confession of Maria Clara brought about the favorable crisis that saved her life. I do not deny the power of science, but a pure conscience——"
"Pardon," objected Dona Victorina, piqued; "then cure the wife of the alferez with a confession!"
"A hurt, senora, is not a malady, to be influenced by the conscience," replied Father Salvi severely; "but a good confession would preserve her in future from such blows as she got this morning."
"She deserved them!" said Dona Victorina. "She is an insolent woman. In church she did nothing but look at me. I had a mind to ask her what there was curious about my face; but who would soil her lips speaking to these people of no standing?"
The curate, as if he had not heard this tirade, continued: "To finish the cure of your daughter, she should receive the communion to-morrow, Don Santiago. I think she does not need to confess, and yet, if she will once more, this evening——"
"I don't know," said Dona Victorina, profiting by the pause to continue her reflections, "I don't understand how men can marry such frights. One easily sees where that woman came from. She is dying of envy, that shows in her eyes. What does an alferez get?"
"So prepare Maria for confession," the curate continued, turning to Aunt Isabel.
The good aunt left the group and went to her niece's room. Maria Clara was still in bed, and pale, very pale; beside her were her two friends.
Sinang was giving her her medicine.
"He has not written to you again?" asked Maria, softly.
"He gave you no message for me?"
"No; he only said he was going to make every effort to have the archbishop raise the ban of excommunication——"
The arrival of Aunt Isabel interrupted the conversation.
"The father says you are to prepare yourself for confession, my child," said she. "Sinang, leave her to examine her conscience. Shall I bring you the 'Anchor,' the 'Bouquet,' or the 'Straight Road to Heaven,' Maria?"
Maria Clara did not reply.
"Well, we mustn't fatigue you," said the good aunt consolingly; "I will read you the examination myself, and you will only have to remember your sins."
"Write him to think of me no more," murmured the sick girl in Sinang's ear.
But Aunt Isabel came back with her book, and Sinang had to go.
The good aunt drew her chair up to the light, settled her glasses on the tip of her nose, and opened a little book.
"Give good attention, my child: I will begin with the commandments of God; I shall go slowly, so that you may meditate: if you don't hear well, you must tell me, and I will repeat; you know I'm never weary of working for your good."
In a voice monotonous and nasal, she began to read. Maria Clara gazed vaguely into space. The first commandment finished, Aunt Isabel observed her listener over her glasses, and appeared satisfied with her sad and meditative air. She coughed piously, and after a long pause began the second. The good old woman read with unction. The terms of the second commandment finished, she again looked at her niece, who slowly turned away her head.
"Bah!" said Aunt Isabel within herself, "as to taking His holy name in vain, the poor thing has nothing to question: pass on to the third."
And the third commandment sifted and commentated, all the causes of sin against it droned out, she again looked toward the bed. This time she lifted her glasses and rubbed her eyes; she had seen her niece raise her handkerchief, as if to wipe away tears.
"Hm!" said she; "hm! the poor child must have fallen asleep during the sermon." And putting back her glasses on the tip of her nose, she reflected:
"We shall see if besides not keeping the holy feast days, she has not honored her father and her mother." And slowly, in a voice more nasal than ever, she read the fourth commandment.
"What a pure soul!" thought the old lady; "she who is so obedient, so submissive! I've sinned much more deeply than that, and I've never been able to really cry!" And she began the fifth commandment with such enthusiasm that she did not hear the stifled sobs of her niece. It was only when she stopped after the commentaries on wilful homicide, that she perceived the groanings of the sinner. Then in a voice that passed description, and a manner she strove to make menacing, she finished the commentary, and seeing that Maria had not ceased to weep:
"Cry, my child, cry!" she said, going to her bedside; "the more you cry the more quickly will God pardon you. Cry, my child, cry; and beat your breast, but not too hard, for you are ill yet, you know."
But as if grief had need of mystery and solitude, Maria Clara, finding herself surprised, stopped sobbing little by little and dried her eyes. Aunt Isabel returned to her reading, but the plaint of her audience having ceased, she lost her enthusiasm; the second table of the law made her sleepy, and a yawn broke the nasal monotony.
"No one would have believed it without seeing it," thought the good woman; "the child sins like a soldier against the first five commandments, and from the sixth to the tenth not so much as a peccadillo. That is contrary to the custom of the rest of us. One sees queer things in these days!" And she lighted a great candle for the Virgin of Antipolo, and two smaller ones for Our Lady of the Rosary and Our Lady of the Pillar. The Virgin of Delaroche was excluded from this illumination: she was to Aunt Isabel an unknown foreigner.
We may not know what passed during the confession in the evening. It was long, and Aunt Isabel, who at a distance was watching over her niece, could see that instead of offering his ear to the sick girl, the curate had his face turned toward her. He went out, pale, with compressed lips. At the sight of his brow, darkened and moist with sweat, one would have said it was he who had confessed, and absolution had been denied him.
"Maria! Joseph!" said the good aunt, crossing herself, "who can comprehend the girls of to-day!"
THE TWO WOMEN.
Dona Victorina was taking a walk through the pueblo, to see of what sort were the dwellings and the advancement of the indolent Indians. She had put on her most elegant adornments, to impress the provincials, and to show what distance separated them from her sacred person. Giving her arm to her limping husband, she paraded the streets of the pueblo, to the profound amazement of its inhabitants.
"What ugly houses these Indians have!" she began, with a grimace. "One must needs be an Indian to live in them! And how ill-bred the people are! They pass us without uncovering. Knock off their hats, as the curates do, and the lieutenants of the Civil Guard."
"And if they attack me?" stammered the doctor.
"Are you not a man?"
"Yes, but—but—I am lame."
Dona Victorina grew cross. There were no sidewalks in these streets, and the dust was soiling the train of her dress. Some young girls who passed dropped their eyes, and did not admire at all as they should her luxurious attire. Sinang's coachman, who was driving Sinang and her cousin in an elegant tres-por-ciento, had the effrontery to cry out to her "Tabi!" in so audacious a voice that she moved out of the way.
"What a brute of a coachman!" she protested; "I shall tell his master he had better train his servants. Come along, Tiburcio!"
Her husband, fearing a tempest, turned on his heels, and they found themselves face to face with the alferez. Greetings were exchanged, but Dona Victorina's discontent grew. Not only had the officer said nothing complimentary of her costume, but she believed she detected mockery in his look.
"You ought not to give your hand to a simple alferez," she said to her husband, when the officer had passed. "You don't know how to preserve your rank."
"H—here he is the chief."
"What does that mean to us? Do we happen to be Indians?"
"You are right," said Don Tiburcio, not minded to dispute.
They passed the barracks. Dona Consolacion was at the window, as usual dressed in flannel, and puffing her puro. As the house was low, the two women faced each other. The muse examined Dona Victorina from head to foot, protruded her lip, ejected tobacco juice, and turned away her head. This affectation of contempt brought the patience of the doctora to an end. Leaving her husband without support, she went, trembling with rage, powerless to utter a word, and placed herself in front of the alfereza's window. Dona Consolacion turned her head slowly back, regarded her antagonist with the utmost calm, and spat again with the same cool contempt.
"What's the matter with you, dona?" she asked.
"Could you tell me, senora, why you stare at me in this fashion? Are you jealous?" Dona Victorina was at last able to say.
"I jealous? And of you?" replied the alfereza calmly. "Yes, I'm jealous of your frizzes."
"Come away there!" broke in the doctor; "d—d—don't pay at—t—t—tention to these f—f—follies!"
"Let me alone! I have to give a lesson to this brazenface!" replied the doctora, joggling her husband, who just missed sprawling in the dust.
"Consider to whom you are speaking!" she said haughtily, turning back to Dona Consolacion. "Don't think I am a provincial or a woman of your class. With us, at Manila, the alferezas are not received; they wait at the door."
"Ho! ho! most worshipful senora, the alferezas wait at the door! But you receive such paralytics as this gentleman! Ha! ha! ha!"
Had she been less powdered Dona Victorina might have been seen to blush. She started to rush on her enemy, but the sentinel stood in the way. The street was filling with a curious crowd.
"Know that I demean myself in speaking to you; persons of position like me ought not! Will you wash my clothes? I will pay you well. Do you suppose I do not know you are a washerwoman?"
Dona Consolacion sat erect. To be called a washerwoman had wounded her.
"And do you think we don't know who you are?" she retorted. "My husband has told me! Senora, I, at least——"
But she could not be heard. Dona Victorina, wildly shaking her fists, screamed out:
"Come down, you old hussy, come down and let me tear your beautiful eyes out!"
Rapidly the medusa disappeared from the window; more rapidly yet she came running down the steps, brandishing her husband's terrible whip. Don Tiburcio, supplicating both, threw himself between, but he could not have prevented the combat, had not the alferez arrived.
"Well, well, senoras!—Don Tiburcio!"
"Give your wife a little more breeding, buy her more beautiful clothes, and if you haven't the money, steal it from the people of the pueblo; you have soldiers for that!" cried Dona Victorina.
"Senora," said the alferez, furious, "it is fortunate that I remember you are a woman; if I didn't, I should trample you down, with all your curls and ribbons!"
"Move on, charlatan! It's not you who wear the breeches!"
Armed with words and gestures, with cries, insults, and injuries, the two women hurled at each other all there was in them of soil and shame. All four talked at once, and in the multitude of words numerous verities were paraded in the light. If they did not hear all, the crowd of the curious did not fail to be diverted. They were looking forward to battle, but, unhappily for these amateurs of sport, the curate came by and established peace.
"Senoras! senoras! what a scandal! Senor alferez!"
"What are you doing here, hypocrite, carlist!"
"Don Tiburcio, take away your wife! Senora, restrain your tongue!"
Little by little the dictionary of sounding epithets became exhausted. The shameless shrews found nothing left to say to each other, and still threatening, the two couples drew slowly apart, the curate going from one to the other, lavishing himself on both.
"We shall leave for Manila this very day and present ourselves to the captain-general!" said the infuriated Dona Victorina to her husband. "You are no man!"
"But—but, wife, the guards, and I am lame."
"You are to challenge him, with swords or pistols, or else—or else——" And she looked at his teeth.
"Woman, I've never handled——"
Dona Victorina let him go no farther; with a sublime movement she snatched out his teeth, threw them in the dust, and trampled them under her feet. The doctor almost crying, the doctora pelting him with sarcasms, they arrived at the house of Captain Tiago. Linares, who was talking with Maria Clara, was no little disquieted by the abrupt arrival of his cousins. Maria, amid the pillows of her fauteuil, was not less surprised at the new physiognomy of her doctor.
"Cousin," said Dona Victorina, "you are to go and challenge the alferez this instant; if not——"
"Why?" demanded the astonished Linares.
"You are to go and challenge him this instant; if not, I shall say here, and to everybody, who you are."
The three friends looked at each other.
"The alferez has insulted us. The old sorceress came down with a whip to assault us, and this creature did nothing to prevent it! A man!"
"Hear that!" said Sinang regretfully. "There was a fight, and we didn't see it!"
"The alferez broke the doctor's teeth!" added Dona Victorina.
Captain Tiago entered, but he wasn't given time to get his breath. In few words, with an intermingling of spicy language, Dona Victorina narrated what had passed, naturally trying to put herself in a good light.
"Linares is going to challenge him, do you hear? Or don't let him marry your daughter. If he isn't courageous, he doesn't merit Clarita."
"What! you are going to marry this gentleman?" Sinang asked Maria, her laughing eyes filling with tears. "I know you are discreet, but I didn't think you inconstant."
Maria Clara, white as alabaster, looked with great, frightened eyes from her father to Dona Victorina, from Dona Victorina to Linares. The young man reddened; Captain Tiago dropped his head.
"Help me to my room," Maria said to her friends, and steadied by their round arms, her head on the shoulder of Victorina, she went out.
That night the husband and wife packed their trunks, and presented their account—no trifle—to Captain Tiago. The next morning they set out for Manila, leaving to the pacific Linares the role of avenger.
By the feeble moonlight that penetrates the thick foliage of forest trees, a man was making his way through the woods. His movement was slow but assured. From time to time, as if to get his bearings, he whistled an air, to which another whistler in the distance replied by repeating it.
At last, after struggling long against the many obstacles a virgin forest opposes to the march of man, and most obstinately at night, he arrived at a little clearing, bathed in the light of the moon in its first quarter. Scarcely had he entered it when another man came carefully out from behind a great rock, a revolver in his hand.
"Who are you?" he demanded with authority in Tagalo.
"Is old Pablo with you?" asked the newcomer tranquilly; "if so, tell him Elias is searching for him."
"You are Elias?" said the other, with a certain respect, yet keeping his revolver cocked. "Follow me!"