While Capitan Tiago was gambling on his lásak, Doña Victorina was taking a walk through the town for the purpose of observing how the indolent Indians kept their houses and fields. She was dressed as elegantly as possible with all her ribbons and flowers over her silk gown, in order to impress the provincials and make them realize what a distance intervened between them and her sacred person. Giving her arm to her lame husband, she strutted along the streets amid the wonder and stupefaction of the natives. Her cousin Linares had remained in the house.
“What ugly shacks these Indians have!” she began with a grimace. “I don’t see how they can live in them—one must have to be an Indian! And how rude they are and how proud! They don’t take off their hats when they meet us! Hit them over the head as the curates and the officers of the Civil Guard do—teach them politeness!”
“And if they hit me back?” asked Dr. De Espadaña.
“That’s what you’re a man for!”
“B-but, I’m l-lame!”
Doña Victorina was falling into a bad humor. The streets were unpaved and the train of her gown was covered with dust. Besides, they had met a number of young women, who, in passing them, had dropped their eyes and had not admired her rich costume as they should have done. Sinang’s cochero, who was driving Sinang and her cousin in an elegant carriage, had the impudence to yell “Tabi!” in such a commanding tone that she had to jump out of the way, and could only protest: “Look at that brute of a cochero! I’m going to tell his master to train his servants better.”
“Let’s go back to the house,” she commanded to her husband, who, fearing a storm, wheeled on his crutch in obedience to her mandate.
They met and exchanged greetings with the alferez. This increased Doña Victorina’s ill humor, for the officer not only did not proffer any compliment on her costume, but even seemed to stare at it in a mocking way.
“You ought not to shake hands with a mere alferez,” she said to her husband as the soldier left them. “He scarcely touched his helmet while you took off your hat. You don’t know how to maintain your rank!”
“He’s the b-boss here!”
“What do we care for that? We are Indians, perhaps?”
“You’re right,” he assented, not caring to quarrel. They passed in front of the officer’s dwelling. Doña Consolacion was at the window, as usual, dressed in flannel and smoking her cigar. As the house was low, the two señoras measured one another with looks; Doña Victorina stared while the Muse of the Civil Guard examined her from head to foot, and then, sticking out her lower lip, turned her head away and spat on the ground. This used up the last of Doña Victorina’s patience. Leaving her husband without support, she planted herself in front of the alfereza, trembling with anger from head to foot and unable to speak. Doña Consolacion slowly turned her head, calmly looked her over again, and once more spat, this time with greater disdain.
“What’s the matter with you, Doña?” she asked.
“Can you tell me, señora, why you look at me so? Are you envious?” Doña Victorina was at length able to articulate.
“I, envious of you, I, of you?” drawled the Muse. “Yes, I envy you those frizzes!”
“Come, woman!” pleaded the doctor. “D-don’t t-take any n-notice!”
“Let me teach this shameless slattern a lesson,” replied his wife, giving him such a shove that he nearly kissed the ground. Then she again turned to Doña Consolacion.
“Remember who you’re dealing with!” she exclaimed. “Don’t think that I’m a provincial or a soldier’s querida! In my house in Manila the alfereces don’t eater, they wait at the door.”
“Oho, Excelentísima Señora! Alfereces don’t enter, but cripples do—like that one—ha, ha, ha!”
Had it not been for the rouge, Doña Victorian would have been seen to blush. She tried to get to her antagonist, but the sentinel stopped her. In the meantime the street was filling up with a curious crowd.
“Listen, I lower myself talking to you—people of quality—Don’t you want to wash my clothes? I’ll pay you well! Do you think that I don’t know that you were a washerwoman?”
Doña Consolacion straightened up furiously; the remark about washing hurt her. “Do you think that we don’t know who you are and what class of people you belong with? Get out, my husband has already told me! Señora, I at least have never belonged to more than one, but you? One must be dying of hunger to take the leavings, the mop of the whole world!”
This shot found its mark with Doña Victorina. She rolled up her sleeves, clenched her fists, and gritted her teeth. “Come down, old sow!” she cried. “I’m going to smash that dirty mouth of yours! Querida of a battalion, filthy hag!”
The Muse immediately disappeared from the window and was soon seen running down the stairs flourishing her husband’s whip.
Don Tiburcio interposed himself supplicatingly, but they would have come to blows had not the alferez arrived on the scene.
“Ladies! Don Tiburcio!”
“Train your woman better, buy her some decent clothes, and if you haven’t any money left, rob the people—that’s what you’ve got soldiers for!” yelled Doña Victorina.
“Here I am, señora! Why doesn’t your Excellency smash my mouth? You’re only tongue and spittle, Doña Excelencia!”
“Señora!” cried the alferez furiously to Doña Victorina, “be thankful that I remember that you’re a woman or else I’d kick you to pieces—frizzes, ribbons, and all!”
“Get out, you quack! You don’t wear the pants!”
The women brought into play words and gestures, insults and abuse, dragging out all the evil that was stored in the recesses of their minds. Since all four talked at once and said so many things that might hurt the prestige of certain classes by the truths that were brought to light, we forbear from recording what they said. The curious spectators, while they may not have understood all that was said, got not a little entertainment out of the scene and hoped that the affair would come to blows. Unfortunately for them, the curate came along and restored order.
“Señores! Señoras! What a shame! Señor Alferez!”
“What are you doing here, you hypocrite, Carlist!”
“Don Tiburcio, take your wife away! Señora, hold your tongue!”
“Say that to these robbers of the poor!”
Little by little the lexicon of epithets was exhausted, the review of shamelessness of the two couples completed, and with threats and insults they gradually drew away from one another. Fray Salvi moved from one group to the other, giving animation to the scene. Would that our friend the correspondent had been present!
“This very day we’ll go to Manila and see the Captain-General!” declared the raging Doña Victorina to her husband. “You’re not a man! It’s a waste of money to buy trousers for you!”
“B-but, woman, the g-guards? I’m l-lame!”
“You must challenge him for pistol or sword, or—or—” Doña Victorina stared fixedly at his false teeth.
“My d-dear, I’ve never had hold of a—”
But she did not let him finish. With a majestic sweep of her hand she snatched out his false teeth and trampled them in the street.
Thus, he half-crying and she breathing fire, they reached the house. Linares was talking with Maria Clara, Sinang, and Victoria, and as he had heard nothing of the quarrel, became rather uneasy at sight of his cousins. Maria Clara, lying in an easy-chair among pillows and wraps, was greatly surprised to see the new physiognomy of her doctor.
“Cousin,” began Doña Victorina, “you must challenge the alferez right away, or—”
“Why?” asked the startled Linares.
“You challenge him right now or else I’ll tell everybody here who you are.”
“But, Doña Victorina!”
The three girls exchanged glances.
“You’ll see! The alferez has insulted us and said that you are what you are! His old hag came down with a whip and he, this thing here, permitted the insult—a man!”
“Abá!” exclaimed Sinang, “they’re had a fight and we didn’t see it!”
“The alferez smashed the doctor’s teeth,” observed Victoria.
“This very day we go to Manila. You, you stay here to challenge him or else I’ll tell Don Santiago that all we’re told him is a lie, I’ll tell him—”
“But, Doña Victorina, Doña Victorina,” interrupted the now pallid Linares, going up to her, “be calm, don’t call up—” Then he added in a whisper, “Don’t be imprudent, especially just now.”
At that moment Capitan Tiago came in from the cockpit, sad and sighing; he had lost his lásak. But Doña Victorina left him no time to grieve. In a few words but with no lack of strong language she related what had happened, trying of course to put herself in the best light possible.
“Linares is going to challenge him, do you hear? If he doesn’t, don’t let him marry your daughter, don’t you permit it! If he hasn’t any courage, he doesn’t deserve Clarita!”
“So you’re going to marry this gentleman?” asked Sinang, but her merry eyes filled with tears. “I knew that you were prudent but not that you were fickle.”
Pale as wax, Maria Clara partly rose and stared with frightened eyes at her father, at Doña Victorina, at Linares. The latter blushed, Capitan Tiago dropped his eyes, while the señora went on:
“Clarita, bear this in mind: never marry a man that doesn’t wear trousers. You expose yourself to insults, even from the dogs!”
The girl did not answer her, but turned to her friends and said, “Help me to my room, I can’t walk alone.”
By their aid she rose, and with her waist encircled by the round arms of her friends, resting her marble-like head on the shoulder of the beautiful Victoria, she went to her chamber.
That same night the married couple gathered their effects together and presented Capitan Tiago with a bill which amounted to several thousand pesos. Very early the following day they left for Manila in his carriage, committing to the bashful Linares the office of avenger.