It was not two beautiful and well-gowned young women that attracted the attention of all, even including Fray Sibyla, nor was it his Excellency the Captain-General with his staff, that the lieutenant should start from his abstraction and take a couple of steps forward, or that Fray Damaso should look as if turned to stone; it was simply the original of the oil-painting leading by the hand a young man dressed in deep mourning.
“Good evening, gentlemen! Good evening, Padre!” were the greetings of Capitan Tiago as he kissed the hands of the priests, who forgot to bestow upon him their benediction. The Dominican had taken off his glasses to stare at the newly arrived youth, while Fray Damaso was pale and unnaturally wide-eyed.
“I have the honor of presenting to you Don Crisostomo Ibarra, the son of my deceased friend,” went on Capitan Tiago. “The young gentleman has just arrived from Europe and I went to meet him.”
At the mention of the name exclamations were heard. The lieutenant forgot to pay his respects to his host and approached the young man, looking him over from head to foot. The young man himself at that moment was exchanging the conventional greetings with all in the group, nor did there seem to be any thing extraordinary about him except his mourning garments in the center of that brilliantly lighted room. Yet in spite of them his remarkable stature, his features, and his movements breathed forth an air of healthy youthfulness in which both body and mind had equally developed. There might have been noticed in his frank, pleasant face some faint traces of Spanish blood showing through a beautiful brown color, slightly flushed at the cheeks as a result perhaps of his residence in cold countries.
“What!” he exclaimed with joyful surprise, “the curate of my native town! Padre Damaso, my father’s intimate friend!”
Every look in the room was directed toward the Franciscan, who made no movement.
“Pardon me, perhaps I’m mistaken,” added Ibarra, embarrassed.
“You are not mistaken,” the friar was at last able to articulate in a changed voice, “but your father was never an intimate friend of mine.”
Ibarra slowly withdrew his extended hand, looking greatly surprised, and turned to encounter the gloomy gaze of the lieutenant fixed on him.
“Young man, are you the son of Don Rafael Ibarra?” he asked.
The youth bowed. Fray Damaso partly rose in his chair and stared fixedly at the lieutenant.
“Welcome back to your country! And may you be happier in it than your father was!” exclaimed the officer in a trembling voice. “I knew him well and can say that he was one of the worthiest and most honorable men in the Philippines.”
“Sir,” replied Ibarra, deeply moved, “the praise you bestow upon my father removes my doubts about the manner of his death, of which I, his son, am yet ignorant.”
The eyes of the old soldier filled with tears and turning away hastily he withdrew. The young man thus found himself alone in the center of the room. His host having disappeared, he saw no one who might introduce him to the young ladies, many of whom were watching him with interest. After a few moments of hesitation he started toward them in a simple and natural manner.
“Allow me,” he said, “to overstep the rules of strict etiquette. It has been seven years since I have been in my own country and upon returning to it I cannot suppress my admiration and refrain from paying my respects to its most precious ornaments, the ladies.”
But as none of them ventured a reply, he found himself obliged to retire. He then turned toward a group of men who, upon seeing him approach, arranged themselves in a semicircle.
“Gentlemen,” he addressed them, “it is a custom in Germany, when a stranger finds himself at a function and there is no one to introduce him to those present, that he give his name and so introduce himself. Allow me to adopt this usage here, not to introduce foreign customs when our own are so beautiful, but because I find myself driven to it by necessity. I have already paid my respects to the skies and to the ladies of my native land; now I wish to greet its citizens, my fellow-countrymen. Gentlemen, my name is Juan Crisostomo Ibarra y Magsalin.”
The others gave their names, more or less obscure, and unimportant here.
“My name is A———,” said one youth dryly, as he made a slight bow.
“Then I have the honor of addressing the poet whose works have done so much to keep up my enthusiasm for my native land. It is said that you do not write any more, but I could not learn the reason.”
“The reason? Because one does not seek inspiration in order to debase himself and lie. One writer has been imprisoned for having put a very obvious truth into verse. They may have called me a poet but they sha’n’t call me a fool.”
“And may I enquire what that truth was?”
“He said that the lion’s son is also a lion. He came very near to being exiled for it,” replied the strange youth, moving away from the group.
A man with a smiling face, dressed in the fashion of the natives of the country, with diamond studs in his shirt-bosom, came up at that moment almost running. He went directly to Ibarra and grasped his hand, saying, “Señor Ibarra, I’ve been eager to make your acquaintance. Capitan Tiago is a friend of mine and I knew your respected father. I am known as Capitan Tinong and live in Tondo, where you will always be welcome. I hope that you will honor me with a visit. Come and dine with us tomorrow.” He smiled and rubbed his hands.
“Thank you,” replied Ibarra, warmly, charmed with such amiability, “but tomorrow morning I must leave for San Diego.”
“How unfortunate! Then it will be on your return.”
“Dinner is served!” announced a waiter from the café La Campana, and the guests began to file out toward the table, the women, especially the Filipinas, with great hesitation.