The bashful Linares was anxious and ill at ease. He had just received from Doña Victorina a letter which ran thus:
DEER COZIN within 3 days i expec to here from you if the alferes has killed you or you him i dont want anuther day to pass befour that broot has his punishment if that tim passes an you havent challenjed him ill tel don santiago you was never segretary nor joked with canobas nor went on a spree with the general don arseño martinez ill tel clarita its all a humbug an ill not give you a sent more if you challenje him i promis all you want so lets see you challenje him i warn you there must be no excuses nor delays yore cozin who loves you
VICTORINA DE LOS REYES DE DE ESPADAÑA
sampaloc monday 7 in the evening
The affair was serious. He was well enough acquainted with the character of Doña Victorina to know what she was capable of. To talk to her of reason was to talk of honesty and courtesy to a revenue carbineer when he proposes to find contraband where there is none, to plead with her would be useless, to deceive her worse—there was no way out of the difficulty but to send the challenge.
“But how? Suppose he receives me with violence?” he soliloquized, as he paced to and fro. “Suppose I find him with his señora? Who will be willing to be my second? The curate? Capitan Tiago? Damn the hour in which I listened to her advice! The old toady! To oblige me to get myself tangled up, to tell lies, to make a blustering fool of myself! What will the young lady say about me? Now I’m sorry that I’ve been secretary to all the ministers!”
While the good Linares was in the midst of his soliloquy, Padre Salvi came in. The Franciscan was even thinner and paler than usual, but his eyes gleamed with a strange light and his lips wore a peculiar smile.
“Señor Linares, all alone?” was his greeting as he made his way to the sala, through the half-opened door of which floated the notes from a piano. Linares tried to smile.
“Where is Don Santiago?” continued the curate.
Capitan Tiago at that moment appeared, kissed the curate’s hand, and relieved him of his hat and cane, smiling all the while like one of the blessed.
“Come, come!” exclaimed the curate, entering the sala, followed by Linares and Capitan Tiago, “I have good news for you all. I’ve just received letters from Manila which confirm the one Señor Ibarra brought me yesterday. So, Don Santiago, the objection is removed.”
Maria Clara, who was seated at the piano between her two friends, partly rose, but her strength failed her, and she fell back again. Linares turned pale and looked at Capitan Tiago, who dropped his eyes.
“That young man seems to me to be very agreeable,” continued the curate. “At first I misjudged him—he’s a little quick-tempered—but he knows so well how to atone for his faults afterwards that one can’t hold anything against him. If it were not for Padre Damaso—”
Here the curate shot a quick glance at Maria Clara, who was listening without taking her eyes off the sheet of music, in spite of the sly pinches of Sinang, who was thus expressing her joy—had she been alone she would have danced.
“Padre Damaso?” queried Linares.
“Yes, Padre Damaso has said,” the curate went on, without taking his gaze from Maria Clara, “that as—being her sponsor in baptism, he can’t permit—but, after all, I believe that if Señor Ibarra begs his pardon, which I don’t doubt he’ll do, everything will be settled.”
Maria Clara rose, made some excuse, and retired to her chamber, accompanied by Victoria.
“But if Padre Damaso doesn’t pardon him?” asked Capitan Tiago in a low voice.
“Then Maria Clara will decide. Padre Damaso is her father—spiritually. But I think they’ll reach an understanding.”
At that moment footsteps were heard and Ibarra appeared, followed by Aunt Isabel. His appearance produced varied impressions. To his affable greeting Capitan Tiago did not know whether to laugh or to cry. He acknowledged the presence of Linares with a profound bow. Fray Salvi arose and extended his hand so cordially that the youth could not restrain a look of astonishment.
“Don’t be surprised,” said Fray Salvi, “for I was just now praising you.”
Ibarra thanked him and went up to Sinang, who began with her childish garrulity, “Where have you been all day? We were all asking, where can that soul redeemed from purgatory have gone? And we all said the same thing.”
“May I know what you said?”
“No, that’s a secret, but I’ll tell you soon alone. Now tell me where you’ve been, so we can see who guessed right.”
“No, that’s also a secret, but I’ll tell you alone, if these gentlemen will excuse us.”
“Certainly, certainly, by all means!” exclaimed Padre Salvi.
Rejoicing over the prospect of learning a secret, Sinang led Crisostomo to one end of the sala.
“Tell me, little friend,” he asked, “is Maria angry with me?”
“I don’t know, but she says that it’s better for you to forget her, then she begins to cry. Capitan Tiago wants her to marry that man. So does Padre Damaso, but she doesn’t say either yes or no. This morning when we were talking about you and I said, ‘Suppose he has gone to make love to some other girl?’ she answered, ‘Would that he had!’ and began to cry.”
Ibarra became grave. “Tell Maria that I want to talk with her alone.”
“Alone?” asked Sinang, wrinkling her eyebrows and staring at him.
“Entirely alone, no, but not with that fellow present.”
“It’s rather difficult, but don’t worry, I’ll tell her.”
“When shall I have an answer?”
“Tomorrow come to my house early. Maria doesn’t want to be left alone at all, so we stay with her. Victoria sleeps with her one night and I the other, and tonight it’s my turn. But listen, your secret? Are you going away without telling me?”
“That’s right! I was in the town of Los Baños. I’m going to develop some coconut-groves and I’m thinking of putting up an oil-mill. Your father will be my partner.”
“Nothing more than that? What a secret!” exclaimed Sinang aloud, in the tone of a cheated usurer. “I thought—”
“Be careful! I don’t want you to make it known!”
“Nor do I want to do it,” replied Sinang, turning up her nose. “If it were something more important, I would tell my friends. But to buy coconuts! Coconuts! Who’s interested in coconuts?” And with extraordinary haste she ran to join her friends.
A few minutes later Ibarra, seeing that the interest of the party could only languish, took his leave. Capitan Tiago wore a bitter-sweet look, Linares was silent and watchful, while the curate with assumed cheerfulness talked of indifferent matters. None of the girls had reappeared.