In Capitan Tiago’s house reigned no less disorder than in the people’s imagination. Maria Clara did nothing but weep and would not listen to the consoling words of her aunt and of Andeng, her foster-sister. Her father had forbidden her to speak to Ibarra until the priests should absolve him from the excommunication. Capitan Tiago himself, in the midst of his preparations for receiving the Captain-General properly, had been summoned to the convento.
“Don’t cry, daughter,” said Aunt Isabel, as she polished the bright plates of the mirrors with a piece of chamois. “They’ll withdraw the excommunication, they’ll write now to the Pope, and we’ll make a big poor-offering. Padre Damaso only fainted, he’s not dead.”
“Don’t cry,” whispered Andeng. “I’ll manage it so that you may talk with him. What are confessionals for if not that we may sin? Everything is forgiven by telling it to the curate.”
At length Capitan Tiago returned. They sought in his face the answer to many questions, and it announced discouragement. The poor fellow was perspiring; he rubbed his hand across his forehead, but was unable to say a single word.
“What has happened, Santiago?” asked Aunt Isabel anxiously.
He answered by sighing and wiping away a tear.
“For God’s sake, speak! What has happened?”
“Just what I feared,” he broke out at last, half in tears. “All is lost! Padre Damaso has ordered me to break the engagement, otherwise he will damn me in this life and in the next. All of them told me the same, even Padre Sibyla. I must close the doors of my house against him, and I owe him over fifty thousand pesos! I told the padres this, but they refused to take any notice of it. ‘Which do you prefer to lose,’ they asked me, ‘fifty thousand pesos or your life and your soul?’ Ay, St. Anthony, if I had only known, if I had only known! Don’t cry, daughter,” he went on, turning to the sobbing girl. “You’re not like your mother, who never cried except just before you were born. Padre Damaso told me that a relative of his has just arrived from Spain and you are to marry him.”
Maria Clara covered her ears, while Aunt Isabel screamed, “Santiago, are you crazy? To talk to her of another sweetheart now! Do you think that your daughter changes sweethearts as she does her camisa?”
“That’s just the way I felt, Isabel. Don Crisostomo is rich, while the Spaniards marry only for love of money. But what do you want me to do? They’ve threatened me with another excommunication. They say that not only my soul but also my body is in great danger—my body, do you hear, my body!”
“But you’re only making your daughter more disconsolate! Isn’t the Archbishop your friend? Why don’t you write to him?”
“The Archbishop is also a friar, the Archbishop does only what the friars tell him to do. But, Maria, don’t cry. The Captain-General is coming, he’ll want to see you, and your eyes are all red. Ay, I was thinking to spend a happy evening! Without this misfortune I should be the happiest of men—every one would envy me! Be calm, my child, I’m more unfortunate than you and I’m not crying. You can have another and better husband, while I—I’ve lost fifty thousand pesos! Ay, Virgin of Antipolo, if tonight I may only have luck!”
Salvos, the sound of carriage wheels, the galloping of horses, and a band playing the royal march, announced the arrival of his Excellency, the Captain-General of the Philippines. Maria Clara ran to hide herself in her chamber. Poor child, rough hands that knew not its delicate chords were playing with her heart! While the house became filled with people and heavy steps, commanding voices, and the clank of sabers and spurs resounded on all sides, the afflicted maiden reclined half-kneeling before a picture of the Virgin represented in that sorrowful loneliness perceived only by Delaroche, as if he had surprised her returning from the sepulcher of her Son. But Maria Clara was not thinking of that mother’s sorrow, she was thinking of her own. With her head hanging down over her breast and her hands resting on the floor she made the picture of a lily bent by the storm. A future dreamed of and cherished for years, whose illusions, born in infancy and grown strong throughout youth, had given form to the very fibers of her being, to be wiped away now from her mind and heart by a single word! It was enough to stop the beating of one and to deprive the other of reason.
Maria Clara was a loving daughter as well as a good and pious Christian, so it was not the excommunication alone that terrified her, but the command and the ominous calmness of her father demanding the sacrifice of her love. Now she felt the whole force of that affection which until this moment she had hardly suspected. It had been like a river gliding along peacefully with its banks carpeted by fragrant flowers and its bed covered with fine sand, so that the wind hardly ruffled its current as it moved along, seeming hardly to flow at all; but suddenly its bed becomes narrower, sharp stones block the way, hoary logs fall across it forming a barrier—then the stream rises and roars with its waves boiling and scattering clouds of foam, it beats against the rocks and rushes into the abyss!
She wanted to pray, but who in despair can pray? Prayers are for the hours of hope, and when in the absence of this we turn to God it is only with complaints. “My God,” cried her heart, “why dost Thou thus cut a man off, why dost Thou deny him the love of others? Thou dost not deny him thy sunlight and thy air nor hide from him the sight of thy heaven! Why then deny him love, for without a sight of the sky, without air or sunlight, one can live, but without love—never!”
Would these cries unheard by men reach the throne of God or be heard by the Mother of the distressed? The poor maiden who had never known a mother dared to confide these sorrows of an earthly love to that pure heart that knew only the love of daughter and of mother. In her despair she turned to that deified image of womanhood, the most beautiful idealization of the most ideal of all creatures, to that poetical creation of Christianity who unites in herself the two most beautiful phases of womanhood without its sorrows: those of virgin and mother,—to her whom we call Mary!
“Mother, mother!” she moaned.
Aunt Isabel came to tear her away from her sorrow since she was being asked for by some friends and by the Captain-General, who wished to talk with her.
“Aunt, tell them that I’m ill,” begged the frightened girl. “They’re going to make me play on the piano and sing.”
“Your father has promised. Are you going to put your father in a bad light?”
Maria Clara rose, looked at her aunt, and threw back her shapely arms, murmuring, “Oh, if I only had—”
But without concluding the phrase she began to make herself ready for presentation.