Three days have passed since the events narrated, three days which the town of San Diego has devoted to making preparations for the fiesta, commenting and murmuring at the same time. While all were enjoying the prospect of the pleasures to come, some spoke ill of the gobernadorcillo, others of the teniente-mayor, others of the young men, and there were not lacking those who blamed everybody for everything.
There was a great deal of comment on the arrival of Maria Clara, accompanied by her Aunt Isabel. All rejoiced over it because they loved her and admired her beauty, while at the same time they wondered at the change that had come over Padre Salvi. “He often becomes inattentive during the holy services, nor does he talk much with us, and he is thinner and more taciturn than usual,” commented his penitents. The cook noticed him getting thinner and thinner by minutes and complained of the little honor that was done to his dishes. But that which caused the most comment among the people was the fact that in the convento were to be seen more than two lights burning during the evening while Padre Salvi was on a visit to a private dwelling—the home of Maria Clara! The pious women crossed themselves but continued their comments.
Ibarra had telegraphed from the capital of the province welcoming Aunt Isabel and her niece, but had failed to explain the reason for his absence. Many thought him a prisoner on account of his treatment of Padre Salvi on the afternoon of All Saints, but the comments reached a climax when, on the evening of the third day, they saw him alight before the home of his fiancée and extend a polite greeting to the priest, who was just entering the same house.
Sisa and her sons were forgotten by all.
If we should now go into the home of Maria Clara, a beautiful nest set among trees of orange and ilang-ilang, we should surprise the two young people at a window overlooking the lake, shadowed by flowers and climbing vines which exhaled a delicate perfume. Their lips murmured words softer than the rustling of the leaves and sweeter than the aromatic odors that floated through the garden. It was the hour when the sirens of the lake take advantage of the fast falling twilight to show their merry heads above the waves to gaze upon the setting sun and sing it to rest. It is said that their eyes and hair are blue, and that they are crowned with white and red water plants; that at times the foam reveals their shapely forms, whiter than the foam itself, and that when night descends completely they begin their divine sports, playing mysterious airs like those of Æolian harps. But let us turn to our young people and listen to the end of their conversation. Ibarra was speaking to Maria Clara.
“Tomorrow before daybreak your wish shall be fulfilled. I’ll arrange everything tonight so that nothing will be lacking.”
“Then I’ll write to my girl friends to come. But arrange it so that the curate won’t be there.”
“Because he seems to be watching me. His deep, gloomy eyes trouble me, and when he fixes them on me I’m afraid. When he talks to me, his voice—oh, he speaks of such odd, such strange, such incomprehensible things! He asked me once if I have ever dreamed of letters from my mother. I really believe that he is half-crazy. My friend Sinang and my foster-sister, Andeng, say that he is somewhat touched, because he neither eats nor bathes and lives in darkness. See to it that he does not come!”
"We can’t do otherwise than invite him,” answered Ibarra thoughtfully. “The customs of the country require it. He is in your house and, besides, he has conducted himself nobly toward me. When the alcalde consulted him about the business of which I’ve told you, he had only praises for me and didn’t try to put the least obstacle in the way. But I see that you’re serious about it, so cease worrying, for he won’t go in the same boat with us.”
Light footsteps were heard. It was the curate, who approached with a forced smile on his lips. “The wind is chilly,” he said, “and when one catches cold one generally doesn’t get rid of it until the hot weather. Aren’t you afraid of catching cold?” His voice trembled and his eyes were turned toward the distant horizon, away from the young people.
“No, we rather find the night pleasant and the breeze delicious,” answered Ibarra. “During these months we have our autumn and our spring. Some leaves fall, but the flowers are always in bloom.”
Fray Salvi sighed.
“I think the union of these two seasons beautiful, with no cold winter intervening,” continued Ibarra. “In February the buds on the trees will burst open and in March we’ll have the ripe fruit. When the hot month’s come we shall go elsewhere.”
Fray Salvi smiled and began to talk of commonplace things, of the weather, of the town, and of the fiesta. Maria Clara slipped away on some pretext.
“Since we are talking of fiestas, allow me to invite you to the one that we are going to celebrate tomorrow. It is to be a picnic in the woods, which we and our friends are going to hold together.”
“Where will it be held?”
“The young women wish to hold it by the brook in the neighboring wood, near to the old balete, so we shall rise early to avoid the sun.”
The priest thought a moment and then answered: “The invitation is very tempting and I accept it to prove to you that I hold no rancor against you. But I shall have to go late, after I’ve attended to my duties. Happy are you who are free, entirely free.”
A few moments later Ibarra left in order to look after the arrangements for the picnic on the next day. The night was dark and in the street some one approached and saluted him respectfully.
“Who are you?” asked Ibarra.
“Sir, you don’t know my name,” answered the unknown, “but I’ve been waiting for you two days.”
“For what purpose?”
“Because nowhere has any pity been shown me and they say that I’m an outlaw, sir. But I’ve lost my two sons, my wife is insane, and every one says that I deserve what has happened to me.”
Ibarra looked at the man critically as he asked, “What do you want now?”
“To beg for your pity upon my wife and sons.”
“I can’t stop now,” replied Ibarra. “If you wish to come, you can tell me as we go along what has happened to you.”
The man thanked him, and the two quickly disappeared in the shadows along the dimly lighted street.