CHAPTER XXVII – In the Twilight
In Capitan Tiago’s house also great preparations had been made. We know its owner, whose love of ostentation and whose pride as a Manilan imposed the necessity of humiliating the provincials with his splendor. Another reason, too, made it his duty to eclipse all others: he had his daughter Maria Clara with him, and there was present his future son-in-law, who was attracting universal attention.
In fact one of the most serious newspapers in Manila had devoted to Ibarra an article on its front page, entitled, “Imitate him!” heaping him with praise and giving him some advice. It had called him, “The cultivated young gentleman and rich capitalist;” two lines further on, “The distinguished philanthropist;” in the following paragraph, “The disciple of Minerva who had gone to the mother country to pay his respects to the true home of the arts and sciences;” and a little further on, “The Filipino Spaniard.” Capitan Tiago burned with generous zeal to imitate him and wondered whether he ought not to erect a convento at his own expense.
Some days before there had arrived at the house where Maria Clara and Aunt Isabel were staying a profusion of eases of European wines and food-stuffs, colossal mirrors, paintings, and Maria Clara’s piano. Capitan Tiago had arrived on the day before the fiesta and as his daughter kissed his hand, had presented her with a beautiful locket set with diamonds and emeralds, containing a sliver from St. Peter’s boat, in which Our Savior sat during the fishing. His first interview with his future son-in-law could not have been more cordial. Naturally, they talked about the school, and Capitan Tiago wanted it named “School of St. Francis.” “Believe me,” he said, “St. Francis is a good patron. If you call it ‘School of Primary Instruction,’ you will gain nothing. Who is Primary Instruction, anyhow?”
Some friends of Maria Clara came and asked her to go for a walk. “But come back quickly,” said Capitan Tiago to his daughter, when she asked his permission, “for you know that Padre Damaso, who has just arrived, will dine with us.”
Then turning to Ibarra, who had become thoughtful, he said, “You dine with us also, you’ll be all alone in your house.”
“I would with the greatest pleasure, but I have to be at home in case visitors come,” stammered the youth, as he avoided the gaze of Maria Clara.
“Bring your friends along,” replied Capitan Tiago heartily. “In my house there’s always plenty to eat. Also, I want you and Padre Damaso to get on good terms.”
“There’ll be time enough for that,” answered Ibarra with a forced smile, as he prepared to accompany the girls.
They went downstairs, Maria Clara in the center between Victoria and Iday, Aunt Isabel following. The people made way for them respectfully. Maria Clara was startling in her beauty; her pallor was all gone, and if her eyes were still pensive, her mouth on the contrary seemed to know only smiles. With maiden friendliness the happy young woman greeted the acquaintances of her childhood, now the admirers of her promising youth. In less than a fortnight she had succeeded in recovering that frank confidence, that childish prattle, which seemed to have been benumbed between the narrow walls of the nunnery. It might be said that on leaving the cocoon the butterfly recognized all the flowers, for it seemed to be enough for her to spread her wings for a moment and warm herself in the sun’s rays to lose all the stiffness of the chrysalis. This new life manifested itself in her whole nature. Everything she found good and beautiful, and she showed her love with that maiden modesty which, having never been conscious of any but pure thoughts, knows not the meaning of false blushes. While she would cover her face when she was teased, still her eyes smiled, and a light thrill would course through her whole being.
The houses were beginning to show lights, and in the streets where the music was moving about there were lighted torches of bamboo and wood made in imitation of those in the church. From the streets the people in the houses might be seen through the windows in an atmosphere of music and flowers, moving about to the sounds of piano, harp, or orchestra. Swarming in the streets were Chinese, Spaniards, Filipinos, some dressed in European style, some in the costumes of the country. Crowding, elbowing, and pushing one another, walked servants carrying meat and chickens, students in white, men and women, all exposing themselves to be knocked down by the carriages which, in spite of the drivers’ cries, made their way with difficulty.
In front of Capitan Basilio’s house some young women called to our acquaintances and invited them to enter. The merry voice of Sinang as she ran down the stairs put an end to all excuses. “Come up a moment so that I may go with you,” she said. “I’m bored staying here among so many strangers who talk only of game-cocks and cards.”
They were ushered into a large room filled with people, some of whom came forward to greet Ibarra, for his name was now well known. All gazed in ecstasy at the beauty of Maria Clara and some old women murmured, as they chewed their buyo, “She looks like the Virgin!”
There they had to have chocolate, as Capitan Basilio had become a warm friend and defender of Ibarra since the day of the picnic. He had learned from the half of the telegram given to his daughter Sinang that Ibarra had known beforehand about the court’s decision in the latter’s favor, so, not wishing to be outdone in generosity, he had tried to set aside the decision of the chess-match. But when Ibarra would not consent to this, he had proposed that the money which would have been spent in court fees should be used to pay a teacher in the new school. In consequence, the orator employed all his eloquence to the end that other litigants should give up their extravagant claims, saying to them, “Believe me, in a lawsuit the winner is left without a camisa.” But he had succeeded in convincing no one, even though he cited the Romans.
After drinking the chocolate our young people had to listen to piano-playing by the town organist. “When I listen to him in the church,” exclaimed Sinang, pointing to the organist, “I want to dance, and now that he’s playing here I feel like praying, so I’m going out with you.”
“Don’t you want to join us tonight?” whispered Capitan Basilio into Ibarra’s ear as they were leaving. “Padre Damaso is going to set up a little bank.” Ibarra smiled and answered with an equivocal shake of his head.
“Who’s that?” asked Maria Clara of Victoria, indicating with a rapid glance a youth who was following them.
“He’s–he’s a cousin of mine,” she answered with some agitation.
“And the other?”
“He’s no cousin of mine,” put in Sinang merrily. “He’s my uncle’s son.”
They passed in front of the parish rectory, which was not one of the least animated buildings. Sinang was unable to repress an exclamation of surprise on seeing the lamps burning, those lamps of antique pattern which Padre Salvi had never allowed to be lighted, in order not to waste kerosene. Loud talk and resounding bursts of laughter might be heard as the friars moved slowly about, nodding their heads in unison with the big cigars that adorned their lips. The laymen with them, who from their European garments appeared to be officials and employees of the province, were endeavoring to imitate whatever the good priests did. Maria Clara made out the rotund figure of Padre Damaso at the side of the trim silhouette of Padre Sibyla. Motionless in his place stood the silent and mysterious Fray Salvi.
“He’s sad,” observed Sinang, “for he’s thinking about how much so many visitors are going to cost. But you’ll see how he’ll not pay it himself, but the sacristans will. His visitors always eat at other places.”
“Sinang!” scolded Victoria.
“I haven’t been able to endure him since he tore up the Wheel of Fortune. I don’t go to confession to him any more.”
Of all the houses one only was to be noticed without lights and with all the windows closed–that of the alferez. Maria Clara expressed surprise at this.
“The witch! The Muse of the Civil Guard, as the old man says,” exclaimed the irrepressible Sinang. “What has she to do with our merrymakings? I imagine she’s raging! But just let the cholera come and you’d see her give a banquet.”
“But, Sinang!” again her cousin scolded.
“I never was able to endure her and especially since she disturbed our picnic with her civil-guards. If I were the Archbishop I’d marry Her to Padre Salvi–then think what children! Look how she tried to arrest the poor pilot, who threw himself into the water simply to please”
She was not allowed to finish, for in the corner of the plaza where a blind man was singing to the accompaniment of a guitar, a curious spectacle was presented. It was a man miserably dressed, wearing a broad salakot of palm leaves. His clothing consisted of a ragged coat and wide pantaloons, like those worn by the Chinese, torn in many places. Wretched sandals covered his feet. His countenance remained hidden in the shadow of his wide hat, but from this shadow there flashed intermittently two burning rays. Placing a flat basket on the ground, he would withdraw a few paces and utter strange, incomprehensible sounds, remaining the while standing entirely alone as if he and the crowd were mutually avoiding each other. Then some women would approach the basket and put into it fruit, fish, or rice. When no one any longer approached, from the shadows would issue sadder but less pitiful sounds, cries of gratitude perhaps. Then he would take up the basket and make his way to another place to repeat the same performance.
Maria Clara divined that there must be some misfortune there, and full of interest she asked concerning the strange creature.
“He’s a leper,” Iday told her. “Four years ago he contracted the disease, some say from taking care of his mother, others from lying in a damp prison. He lives in the fields near the Chinese cemetery, having intercourse with no one, because all flee from him for fear of contagion. If you might only see his home! It’s a tumbledown shack, through which the wind and rain pass like a needle through cloth. He has been forbidden to touch anything belonging to the people. One day when a little child fell into a shallow ditch as he was passing, he helped to get it out. The child’s father complained to the gobernadorcillo, who ordered that the leper be flogged through the streets and that the rattan be burned afterwards. It was horrible! The leper fled with his flogger in pursuit, while the gobernadorcillo cried, ‘Catch him! Better be drowned than get the disease you have!’”
“Can it be true!” murmured Maria Clara, then, without saying what she was about to do, went up to the wretch’s basket and dropped into it the locket her father had given her.
“What have you done?” her friends asked.
“I hadn’t anything else,” she answered, trying to conceal her tears with a smile.
“What is he going to do with your locket?” Victoria asked her. “One day they gave him some money, but he pushed it away with a stick; why should he want it when no one accepts anything that comes from him? As if the locket could be eaten!”
Maria Clara gazed enviously at the women who were selling food-stuffs and shrugged her shoulders. The leper approached the basket, picked up the jeweled locket, which glittered in his hands, then fell upon his knees, kissed it, and taking off his salakot buried his forehead in the dust where the maiden had stepped. Maria Clara hid her face behind her fan and raised her handkerchief to her eyes.
Meanwhile, a poor woman had approached the leper, who seemed to be praying. Her long hair was loose and unkempt, and in the light of the torches could be recognized the extremely emaciated features of the crazy Sisa. Feeling the touch of her hand, the leper jumped up with a cry, but to the horror of the onlooker’s Sisa caught him by the arm and said:
“Let us pray, let us pray! Today is All Souls’ day! Those lights are the souls of men! Let us pray for my sons!”
“Separate them! Separate them! The madwoman will get the disease!” cried the crowd, but no one dared to go near them.
“Do you see that light in the tower? That is my son Basilio sliding down a rope! Do you see that light in the convento? That is my son Crispin! But I’m not going to see them because the curate is sick and had many gold pieces and the gold pieces are lost! Pray, let us pray for the soul of the curate! I took him the finest fruits, for my garden was full of flowers and I had two sons! I had a garden, I used to take care of my flowers, and I had two sons!”
Then releasing her hold of the leper, she ran away singing, “I had a garden and flowers, I had two sons, a garden, and flowers!”
“What have you been able to do for that poor woman?” Maria Clara asked Ibarra.
“Nothing! Lately she has been missing from the totem and wasn’t to be found,” answered the youth, rather confusedly. “Besides, I have been very busy. But don’t let it trouble you. The curate has promised to help me, but advised that I proceed with great tact and caution, for the Civil Guard seems to be mixed up in it. The curate is greatly interested in her case.”
“Didn’t the alferez say that he would have search made for her sons?”
“Yes, but at the time he was somewhat–drunk.” Scarcely had he said this when they saw the crazy woman being led, or rather dragged along, by a soldier. Sisa was offering resistance.
“Why are you arresting her? What has she done?” asked Ibarra.
“Why, haven’t you seen how she’s been raising a disturbance?” was the reply of the guardian of the public peace.
The leper caught up his basket hurriedly and ran away.
Maria Clara wanted to go home, as she had lost all her mirth and good humor. “So there are people who are not happy,” she murmured. Arriving at her door, she felt her sadness increase when her fiancÃ© declined to go in, excusing himself on the plea of necessity. Maria Clara went upstairs thinking what a bore are the fiesta days, when strangers make their visits.
Leave a Reply