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Chapter 48: The Enigma


Volverán las oscuras golondrinas.1
BECQUER.
As Lucas had foretold, Ibarra arrived on the following day. His first visit was to the family of Capitan Tiago for the purpose of seeing Maria Clara and informing her that his Grace had reconciled him with religion, and that he brought to the curate a letter of recommendation in the handwriting of the Archbishop himself. Aunt Isabel was not a little rejoiced at this, for she liked the young man and did not look favorably on the marriage of her niece with Linares. Capitan Tiago was not at home.
“Come in,” said the aunt in her broken Spanish. “Maria, Don Crisostomo is once more in the favor of God. The Archbishop has discommunicated him.”
But the youth was unable to advance, the smile froze on his lips, words failed him. Standing on the balcony at the side of Maria Clara was Linares, arranging bouquets of flowers and leaves. Roses and sampaguitas were scattered about on the floor. Reclining in a big chair, pale, with a sad and pensive air, Maria Clara toyed with an ivory fan which was not whiter than her shapely fingers.
At the appearance of Ibarra, Linares turned pale and Maria Clara’s cheeks flushed crimson. She tried to rise, but strength failed her, so she dropped her eyes and let the fan fall. An embarrassed silence prevailed for a few moments. Ibarra was then able to move forward and murmur tremblingly, “I’ve just got back and have come immediately to see you. I find you better than I had thought I should.”
The girl seemed to have been stricken dumb; she neither said anything nor raised her eyes.
Ibarra looked Linares over from head to foot with a stare which the bashful youth bore haughtily.
“Well, I see that my arrival was unexpected,” said Ibarra slowly. “Maria, pardon me that I didn’t have myself announced. At some other time I’ll be able to make explanations to you about my conduct. We’ll still see one another surely.”
These last words were accompanied by a look at Linares. The girl raised toward him her lovely eyes, full of purity and sadness. They were so beseeching and eloquent that Ibarra stopped in confusion.
“May I come tomorrow?”
“You know that for my part you are always welcome,” she answered faintly.
Ibarra withdrew in apparent calm, but with a tempest in his head and ice in his heart. What he had just seen and felt was incomprehensible to him: was it doubt, dislike, or faithlessness?
“Oh, only a woman after all!” he murmured.
Taking no note of where he was going, he reached the spot where the schoolhouse was under construction. The work was well advanced, Ñor Juan with his mile and plumb-bob coming and going among the numerous laborers. Upon catching sight of Ibarra he ran to meet him.
“Don Crisostomo, at last you’ve come! We’ve all been waiting for you. Look at the walls, they’re already more than a meter high and within two days they’ll be up to the height of a man. I’ve put in only the strongest and most durable woods—molave, dungon, ipil, langil—and sent for the finest—tindalo, malatapay, pino, and narra—for the finishings. Do you want to look at the foundations?”
The workmen saluted Ibarra respectfully, while Ñor Juan made voluble explanations. “Here is the piping that I have taken the liberty to add,” he said. “These subterranean conduits lead to a sort of cesspool, thirty yards away. It will help fertilize the garden. There was nothing of that in the plan. Does it displease you?”
“Quite the contrary, I approve what you’ve done and congratulate you. You are a real architect. From whom did you learn the business?”
“From myself, sir,” replied the old man modestly.
“Oh, before I forget about it—tell those who may have scruples, if perhaps there is any one who fears to speak to me, that I’m no longer excommunicated. The Archbishop invited me to dinner.”
“Abá, sir, we don’t pay any attention to excommunications! All of us are excommunicated. Padre Damaso himself is and yet he stays fat.”
“How’s that?”
“It’s true, sir, for a year ago he caned the coadjutor, who is just as much a sacred person as he is. Who pays any attention to excommunications, sir?”
Among the laborers Ibarra caught sight of Elias, who, as he saluted him along with the others, gave him to understand by a look that he had something to say to him.
“Ñor Juan,” said Ibarra, “will you bring me your list of the laborers?”
Ñor Juan disappeared, and Ibarra approached Elias, who was by himself, lifting a heavy stone into a cart.
“If you can grant me a few hours’ conversation, sir, walk down to the shore of the lake this evening and get into my banka.” The youth nodded, and Elias moved away.
Ñor Juan now brought the list, but Ibarra scanned it in vain; the name of Elias did not appear on it!

1 The dark swallows will return.

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