Noli Me Tangere: Chapter 55 – The Catastrophe

There in the dining-room Capitan Tiago, Linares, and Aunt Isabel were at supper, so that even in the sala the rattling of plates and dishes was plainly heard. Maria Clara had said that she was not hungry and had seated herself at the piano in company with the merry Sinang, who was murmuring mysterious words into her ear. Meanwhile Padre Salvi paced nervously back and forth in the room.

It was not, indeed, that the convalescent was not hungry, no; but she was expecting the arrival of a certain person and was taking advantage of this moment when her Argus was not present, Linares’ supper-hour.

“You’ll see how that specter will stay till eight,” murmured Sinang, indicating the curate. “And at eight he will come. The curate’s in love with Linares.”

Maria Clara gazed in consternation at her friend, who went on heedlessly with her terrible chatter: “Oh, I know why he doesn’t go, in spite of my hints–he doesn’t want to burn up oil in the convento! Don’t you know that since you’ve been sick the two lamps that he used to keep lighted he has had put out? But look how he stares, and what a face!”

At that moment a clock in the house struck eight. The curate shuddered and sat down in a corner.

“Here he comes!” exclaimed Sinang, pinching Maria Clara. “Don’t you hear him?”

The church bell boomed out the hour of eight and all rose to pray. Padre Salvi offered up a prayer in a weak and trembling voice, but as each was busy with his own thoughts no one paid any attention to the priest’s agitation.

Scarcely had the prayer ceased when Ibarra appeared. The youth was in mourning not only in his attire but also in his face, to such an extent that, on seeing him, Maria Clara arose and took a step toward him to ask what the matter was. But at that instant the report of firearms was heard. Ibarra stopped, his eyes rolled, be lost the power of speech. The curate had concealed himself behind a post. More shots, more reports were heard from the direction of the convento, followed by cries and the sound of persons running. Capitan Tiago, Aunt Isabel, and Linares rushed in pell-mell, crying, “Tulisan! Tulisan!” Andeng followed, flourishing the gridiron as she ran toward her foster-sister.

Aunt Isabel fell on her knees weeping and reciting the Kyrie eleyson; Capitan Tiago, pale and trembling, carried on his fork a chicken-liver which he offered tearfully to the Virgin of Antipolo; Linares with his mouth full of food was armed with a case-knife; Sinang and Maria Clara were in each other’s arms; while the only one that remained motionless, as if petrified, was Crisostomo, whose paleness was indescribable.

The cries and sound of blows continued, windows were closed noisily, the report of a gun was heard from time to time.

“Christie eleyson! Santiago, let the prophecy be fulfilled! Shut the windows!” groaned Aunt Isabel.

“Fifty big bombs and two thanksgiving masses!” responded Capitan Tiago. “Ora pro nobis!”

Gradually there prevailed a heavy silence which was soon broken by the voice of the alferez, calling as he ran: “Padre, Padre Salvi, come here!”

“Miserere! The alferez is calling for confession,” cried Aunt Isabel. “The alferez is wounded?” asked Linares hastily. “Ah!!!” Only then did he notice that he had not yet swallowed what he had in his mouth.

“Padre, come here! There’s nothing more to fear!” the alferez continued to call out.

The pallid Fray Salvi at last concluded to venture out from his hiding-place, and went down the stairs.

“The outlaws have killed the alferez! Maria, Sinang, go into your room and fasten the door! Kyrie eleyson!”

Ibarra also turned toward the stairway, in spite of Aunt Isabel’s cries: “Don’t go out, you haven’t been shriven, don’t go out!” The good old lady had been a particular friend of his mother’s.

But Ibarra left the house. Everything seemed to reel around him, the ground was unstable. His ears buzzed, his legs moved heavily and irregularly. Waves of blood, lights and shadows chased one another before his eyes, and in spite of the bright moonlight he stumbled over the stones and blocks of wood in the vacant and deserted street.

Near the barracks he saw soldiers, with bayonets fixed, who were talking among themselves so excitedly that he passed them unnoticed. In the town hall were to be heard blows, cries, and curses, with the voice of the alferez dominating everything: “To the stocks! Handcuff them! Shoot any one who moves! Sergeant, mount the guard! Today no one shall walk about, not even God! Captain, this is no time to go to sleep!”

Ibarra hastened his steps toward home, where his servants were anxiously awaiting him. “Saddle the best horse and go to bed!” he ordered them.

Going into his study, he hastily packed a traveling-bag, opened an iron safe, took out what money he found there and put it into some sacks. Then he collected his jewels, took clown a portrait of Maria Clara, armed himself with a dagger and two revolvers, and turned toward a closet where he kept his instruments.

At that moment three heavy knocks sounded on the door. “Who’s there?” asked Ibarra in a gloomy tone.

“Open, in the King’s name, open at once, or we’ll break the door down,” answered an imperious voice in Spanish.

Ibarra looked toward the window, his eyes gleamed, and he cocked his revolver. Then changing his mind, he put the weapons down and went to open the door just as the servant appeared. Three guards instantly seized him.

“Consider yourself a prisoner in the King’s name,” said the sergeant.

“For what?”

“They’ll tell you over there. We’re forbidden to say.” The youth reflected a moment and then, perhaps not wishing that the soldiers should discover his preparations for flight, picked up his hat, saying, “I’m at your service. I suppose that it will only be for a few hours.”

“If you promise not to try to escape, we won’t tie you the alferez grants this favor–but if you run–”

Ibarra went with them, leaving his servants in consternation.

Meanwhile, what had become of Elias? Leaving the house of Crisostomo, he had run like one crazed, without heeding where he was going. He crossed the fields in violent agitation, he reached the woods; he fled from the town, from the light–even the moon so troubled him that he plunged into the mysterious shadows of the trees. There, sometimes pausing, sometimes moving along unfrequented paths, supporting himself on the hoary trunks or being entangled in the undergrowth, he gazed toward the town, which, bathed in the light of the moon, spread out before him on the plain along the shore of the lake. Birds awakened from their sleep flew about, huge bats and owls moved from branch to branch with strident cries and gazed at him with their round eyes, but Elias neither heard nor heeded them. In his fancy he was followed by the offended shades of his family, he saw on every branch the gruesome basket containing Balat’s gory head, as his father had described it to him; at every tree he seemed to stumble over the corpse of his grandmother; he imagined that he saw the rotting skeleton of his dishonored grandfather swinging among the shadows–and the skeleton and the corpse and the gory head cried after him, “Coward! Coward!”

Leaving the hill, Elias descended to the lake and ran along the shore excitedly. There at a distance in the midst of the waters, where the moonlight seemed to form a cloud, he thought he could see a specter rise and soar the shade of his sister with her breast bloody and her loose hair streaming about. He fell to his knees on the sand and extending his arms cried out, “You, too!”

Then with his gaze fixed on the cloud he arose slowly and went forward into the water as if he were following some one. He passed over the gentle slope that forms the bar and was soon far from the shore. The water rose to his waist, but he plunged on like one fascinated, following, ever following, the ghostly charmer. Now the water covered his chest–a volley of rifle-shots sounded, the vision disappeared, the youth returned to his senses. In the stillness of the night and the greater density of the air the reports reached him clearly and distinctly. He stopped to reflect and found himself in the water– over the peaceful ripples of the lake he could still make out the lights in the fishermen’s huts.

He returned to the shore and started toward the town, but for what purpose he himself knew not. The streets appeared to be deserted, the houses were closed, and even the dogs that were wont to bark through the night had hidden themselves in fear. The silvery light of the moon added to the sadness and loneliness.

Fearful of meeting the civil-guards, he made his way along through yards and gardens, in one of which he thought he could discern two human figures, but he kept on his way, leaping over fences and walls, until after great labor he reached the other end of the town and went toward Crisostomo’s house. In the doorway were the servants, lamenting their master’s arrest.

After learning about what had occurred Elias pretended to go away, but really went around behind the house, jumped over the wall, and crawled through a window into the study where the candle that Ibarra had lighted was still burning. He saw the books and papers and found the arms, the jewels, and the sacks of money. Reconstructing in his imagination the scene that had taken place there and seeing so many papers that might be of a compromising nature, he decided to gather them up, throw them from the window, and bury them.

But, on glancing toward the street, he saw two guards approaching, their bayonets and caps gleaming in the moonlight. With them was the directorcillo. He made a sudden resolution: throwing the papers and some clothing into a heap in the center of the room, he poured over them the oil from a lamp and set fire to the whole. He was hurriedly placing the arms in his belt when he caught sight of the portrait of Maria Clara and hesitated a moment, then thrust it into one of the sacks and with them in his hands leaped from the window into the garden.

It was time that he did so, too, for the guards were forcing an entrance. “Let us in to get your master’s papers!” cried the directorcillo.

“Have you permission? If you haven’t, you won’t get in,’” answered an old man.

But the soldiers pushed him aside with the butts of their rifles and ran up the stairway, just as a thick cloud of smoke rolled through the house and long tongues of flame shot out from the study, enveloping the doors and windows.

“Fire! Fire!” was the cry, as each rushed to save what he could. But the blaze had reached the little laboratory and caught the inflammable materials there, so the guards had to retire. The flames roared about, licking up everything in their way and cutting off the passages. Vainly was water brought from the well and cries for help raised, for the house was set apart from the rest. The fire swept through all the rooms and sent toward the sky thick spirals of smoke. Soon the whole structure was at the mercy of the flames, fanned now by the wind, which in the heat grew stronger. Some few rustics came up, but only to gaze on this great bonfire, the end of that old building which had been so long respected by the elements.






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