Long days and weary nights passed at the sick girl’s bed. After having confessed herself, Maria Clara had suffered a relapse, and in her delirium she uttered only the name of the mother whom she had never known. But her girl friends, her father, and her aunt kept watch at her side. Offerings and alms were sent to all the miraculous images, Capitan Tiago vowed a gold cane to the Virgin of Antipolo, and at length the fever began to subside slowly and regularly.
Doctor De Espadaña was astonished at the virtues of the syrup of marshmallow and the infusion of lichen, prescriptions that he had not varied. Doña Victorina was so pleased with her husband that one day when he stepped on the train of her gown she did not apply her penal code to the extent of taking his set of false teeth away from him, but contented herself with merely exclaiming, “If you weren’t lame you’d even step on my corset!”—an article of apparel she did not wear.
One afternoon while Sinang and Victoria were visiting their friend, the curate, Capitan Tiago, and Doña Victorina’s family were conversing over their lunch in the dining-room.
“Well, I feel very sorry about it,” said the doctor; “Padre Damaso also will regret it very much.”
“Where do you say they’re transferring him to?” Linares asked the curate.
“To the province of Tayabas,” replied the curate negligently.
“One who will be greatly affected by it is Maria Clara, when she learns of it,” said Capitan Tiago. “She loves him like a father.”
Fray Salvi looked at him askance.
“I believe, Padre,” continued Capitan Tiago, “that all her illness is the result of the trouble on the last day of the fiesta.”
“I’m of the same opinion, and think that you’ve done well not to let Señor Ibarra see her. She would have got worse.
“If it wasn’t for us,” put in Doña Victorina, “Clarita would already be in heaven singing praises to God.”
“Amen!” Capitan Tiago thought it his duty to exclaim. “It’s lucky for you that my husband didn’t have any patient of greater quality, for then you’d have had to call in another, and all those here are ignoramuses. My husband—”
“Just as I was saying,” the curate in turn interrupted, “I think that the confession that Maria Clara made brought on the favorable crisis which has saved her life. A clean conscience is worth more than a lot of medicine. Don’t think that I deny the power of science, above all, that of surgery, but a clean conscience! Read the pious books and you’ll see how many cures are effected merely by a clean confession.”
“Pardon me,” objected the piqued Doña Victorina, “this power of the confessional—cure the alferez’s woman with a confession!”
“A wound, madam, is not a form of illness which the conscience can affect,” replied Padre Salvi severely. “Nevertheless, a clean confession will preserve her from receiving in the future such blows as she got this morning.”
“She deserves them!” went on Doña Victorina as if she had not heard what Padre Salvi said. “That woman is so insolent! In the church she did nothing but stare at me. You can see that she’s a nobody. Sunday I was going to ask her if she saw anything funny about my face, but who would lower oneself to speak to people that are not of rank?”
The curate, on his part, continued just as though he had not heard this tirade. “Believe me, Don Santiago, to complete your daughter’s recovery it’s necessary that she take communion tomorrow. I’ll bring the viaticum over here. I don’t think she has anything to confess, but yet, if she wants to confess herself tonight—”
“I don’t know,” Doña Victorina instantly took advantage of a slight hesitation on Padre Salvi’s part to add, “I don’t understand how there can be men capable of marrying such a fright as that woman is. It’s easily seen where she comes from. She’s just dying of envy, you can see it! How much does an alferez get?”
“Accordingly, Don Santiago, tell your cousin to prepare the sick girl for the communion tomorrow. I’ll come over tonight to absolve her of her peccadillos.”
Seeing Aunt Isabel come from the sick-room, he said to her in Tagalog, “Prepare your niece for confession tonight. Tomorrow I’ll bring over the viaticum. With that she’ll improve faster.”
“But, Padre,” Linares gathered up enough courage to ask faintly, “you don’t think that she’s in any danger of dying?”
“Don’t you worry,” answered the padre without looking at him. “I know what I’m doing; I’ve helped take care of plenty of sick people before. Besides, she’ll decide herself whether or not she wishes to receive the holy communion and you’ll see that she says yes.”
Capitan Tiago immediately agreed to everything, while Aunt Isabel returned to the sick girl’s chamber. Maria Clara was still in bed, pale, very pale, and at her side were her two friends.
“Take one more grain,” Sinang whispered, as she offered her a white tablet that she took from a small glass tube. “He says that when you feel a rumbling or buzzing in your ears you are to stop the medicine.”
“Hasn’t he written to you again?” asked the sick girl in a low voice.
“No, he must be very busy.”
“Hasn’t he sent any message?”
“He says nothing more than that he’s going to try to get the Archbishop to absolve him from the excommunication, so that—”
This conversation was suspended at the aunt’s approach. “The padre says for you to get ready for confession, daughter,” said the latter. “You girls must leave her so that she can make her examination of conscience.”
“But it hasn’t been a week since she confessed!” protested Sinang. “I’m not sick and I don’t sin as often as that.”
“Abá! Don’t you know what the curate says: the righteous sin seven times a day? Come, what book shall I bring you, the Ancora, the Ramillete, or the Camino Recto para ir al Cielo?”
Maria Clara did not answer.
“Well, you mustn’t tire yourself,” added the good aunt to console her. “I’ll read the examination myself and you’ll have only to recall your sins.”
“Write to him not to think of me any more,” murmured Maria Clara in Sinang’s ear as the latter said good-by to her.
But the aunt again approached, and Sinang had to go away without understanding what her friend had meant. The good old aunt drew a chair up to the light, put her spectacles on the end of her nose, and opened a booklet. “Pay close attention, daughter. I’m going to begin with the Ten Commandments. I’ll go slow so that you can meditate. If you don’t hear well tell me so that I can repeat. You know that in looking after your welfare I’m never weary.”
She began to read in a monotonous and snuffling voice the considerations of cases of sinfulness. At the end of each paragraph she made a long pause in order to give the girl time to recall her sins and to repent of them.
Maria Clara stared vaguely into space. After finishing the first commandment, to love God above all things, Aunt Isabel looked at her over her spectacles and was satisfied with her sad and thoughtful mien. She coughed piously and after a long pause began to read the second commandment. The good old woman read with unction and when she had finished the commentaries looked again at her niece, who turned her head slowly to the other side.
“Bah!” said Aunt Isabel to herself. “With taking His holy name in vain the poor child has nothing to do. Let’s pass on to the third.”1
The third commandment was analyzed and commented upon. After citing all the cases in which one can break it she again looked toward the bed. But now she lifted up her glasses and rubbed her eyes, for she had seen her niece raise a handkerchief to her face as if to wipe away tears.
“Hum, ahem! The poor child once went to sleep during the sermon.” Then replacing her glasses on the end of her nose, she said, “Now let’s see if, just as you’ve failed to keep holy the Sabbath, you’ve failed to honor your father and mother.”
So she read the fourth commandment in an even slower and more snuffling voice, thinking thus to give solemnity to the act, just as she had seen many friars do. Aunt Isabel had never heard a Quaker preach or she would also have trembled.
The sick girl, in the meantime, raised the handkerchief to her eyes several times and her breathing became more noticeable.
“What a good soul!” thought the old woman. “She who is so obedient and submissive to every one! I’ve committed more sins and yet I’ve never been able really to cry.”
She then began the fifth commandment with greater pauses and even more pronounced snuffling, if that were possible, and with such great enthusiasm that she did not hear the stifled sobs of her niece. Only in a pause which she made after the comments on homicide, by violence did she notice the groans of the sinner. Then her tone passed into the sublime as she read the rest of the commandment in accents that she tried to reader threatening, seeing that her niece was still weeping.
“Weep, daughter, weep!” she said, approaching the bed. “The more you weep the sooner God will pardon you. Hold the sorrow of repentance as better than that of mere penitence. Weep, daughter, weep! You don’t know how much I enjoy seeing you weep. Beat yourself on the breast also, but not hard, for you’re still sick.”
But, as if her sorrow needed mystery and solitude to make it increase, Maria Clara, on seeing herself observed, little by little stopped sighing and dried her eyes without saying anything or answering her aunt, who continued the reading. Since the wails of her audience had ceased, however, she lost her enthusiasm, and the last commandments made her so sleepy that she began to yawn, with great detriment to her snuffling, which was thus interrupted.
“If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it,” thought the good old lady afterwards. “This girl sins like a soldier against the first five and from the sixth to the tenth not a venial sin, just the opposite to us! How the world does move now!”
So she lighted a large candle to the Virgin of Antipolo and two other smaller ones to Our Lady of the Rosary and Our Lady of the Pillar,2 taking care to put away in a corner a marble crucifix to make it understand that the candles were not lighted for it. Nor did the Virgin of Delaroche have any share; she was an unknown foreigner, and Aunt Isabel had never heard of any miracle of hers.
We do not know what occurred during the confession that night and we respect such secrets. But the confession was a long one and the aunt, who stood watch over her niece at a distance, could note that the curate, instead of turning his ear to hear the words of the sick girl, rather had his face turned toward hers, and seemed only to be trying to read, or divine, her thoughts by gazing into her beautiful eyes.
Pale and with contracted lips Padre Salvi left the chamber. Looking at his forehead, which was gloomy and covered with perspiration, one would have said that it was he who had confessed and had not obtained absolution.
“Jesús, María, y José!” exclaimed Aunt Isabel, crossing herself to dispel an evil thought, “who understands the girls nowadays?”
1 The Roman Catholic decalogue does not contain the commandment forbidding the worship of “graven images,” its second being the prohibition against “taking His holy name in vain.” To make up the ten, the commandment against covetousness is divided into two.—TR.
2 The famous Virgin of Saragossa, Spain, and patroness of Santa Cruz, Manila.—TR.