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Chapter 7: An Idyl on an Azotea


The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.
That morning Aunt Isabel and Maria Clara went early to mass, the latter elegantly dressed and wearing a rosary of blue beads, which partly served as a bracelet for her, and the former with her spectacles in order to read her Anchor of Salvation during the holy communion. Scarcely had the priest disappeared from the altar when the maiden expressed a desire for returning home, to the great surprise and displeasure of her good aunt, who believed her niece to be as pious and devoted to praying as a nun, at least. Grumbling and crossing herself, the good old lady rose. “The good Lord will forgive me, Aunt Isabel, since He must know the hearts of girls better than you do,” Maria Clara might have said to check the severe yet maternal chidings.
After they had breakfasted, Maria Clara consumed her impatience in working at a silk purse while her aunt was trying to clean up the traces of the former night’s revelry by swinging a feather duster about. Capitan Tiago was busy looking over some papers. Every noise in the street, every carriage that passed, caused the maiden to tremble and quickened the beatings of her heart. Now she wished that she were back in the quiet convent among her friends; there she could have seen him without emotion and agitation! But was he not the companion of her infancy, had they not played together and even quarreled at times? The reason for all this I need not explain; if you, O reader, have ever loved, you will understand; and if you have not, it is useless for me to tell you, as the uninitiated do not comprehend these mysteries.
“I believe, Maria, that the doctor is right,” said Capitan Tiago. “You ought to go into the country, for you are pale and need fresh air. What do you think of Malabon or San Diego?” At the mention of the latter place Maria Clara blushed like a poppy and was unable to answer.
“You and Isabel can go at once to the convent to get your clothes and to say good-by to your friends,” he continued, without raising his head. “You will not stay there any longer.”
The girl felt the vague sadness that possesses the mind when we leave forever a place where we have been happy, but another thought softened this sorrow.
“In four or five days, after you get some new clothes made, we’ll go to Malabon. Your godfather is no longer in San Diego. The priest that you may have noticed here last night, that young padre, is the new curate whom we have there, and he is a saint.”
“I think that San Diego would be better, cousin,” observed Aunt Isabel. “Besides, our house there is better and the time for the fiesta draws near.”
Maria Clara wanted to embrace her aunt for this speech, but hearing a carriage stop, she turned pale.
“Ah, very true,” answered Capitan Tiago, and then in a different tone he exclaimed, “Don Crisostomo!”
The maiden let her sewing fall from her hands and wished to move but could not—a violent tremor ran through her body. Steps were heard on the stairway and then a fresh, manly voice. As if that voice had some magic power, the maiden controlled her emotion and ran to hide in the oratory among the saints. The two cousins laughed, and Ibarra even heard the noise of the door closing. Pale and breathing rapidly, the maiden pressed her beating heart and tried to listen. She heard his voice, that beloved voice that for so long a time she had heard only in her dreams he was asking for her! Overcome with joy, she kissed the nearest saint, which happened to be St. Anthony the Abbot, a saint happy in flesh and in wood, ever the object of pleasing temptations! Afterwards she sought the keyhole in order to see and examine him. She smiled, and when her aunt snatched her from that position she unconsciously threw her arms around the old lady’s neck and rained kisses upon her.
“Foolish child, what’s the matter with you?” the old lady was at last able to say as she wiped a tear from her faded eyes. Maria Clara felt ashamed and covered her eyes with her plump arm.
“Come on, get ready, come!” added the old aunt fondly. “While he is talking to your father about you. Come, don’t make him wait.” Like a child the maiden obediently followed her and they shut themselves up in her chamber.
Capitan Tiago and Ibarra were conversing in a lively manner when Aunt Isabel appeared half dragging her niece, who was looking in every direction except toward the persons in the room.
What said those two souls communicating through the language of the eyes, more perfect than that of the lips, the language given to the soul in order that sound may not mar the ecstasy of feeling? In such moments, when the thoughts of two happy beings penetrate into each other’s souls through the eyes, the spoken word is halting, rude, and weak—it is as the harsh, slow roar of the thunder compared with the rapidity of the dazzling lightning flash, expressing feelings already recognized, ideas already understood, and if words are made use of it is only because the heart’s desire, dominating all the being and flooding it with happiness, wills that the whole human organism with all its physical and psychical powers give expression to the song of joy that rolls through the soul. To the questioning glance of love, as it flashes out and then conceals itself, speech has no reply; the smile, the kiss, the sigh answer.
Soon the two lovers, fleeing from the dust raised by Aunt Isabel’s broom, found themselves on the azotea where they could commune in liberty among the little arbors. What did they tell each other in murmurs that you nod your heads, O little red cypress flowers? Tell it, you who have fragrance in your breath and color on your lips. And thou, O zephyr, who learnest rare harmonies in the stillness of the dark night amid the hidden depths of our virgin forests! Tell it, O sunbeams, brilliant manifestation upon earth of the Eternal, sole immaterial essence in a material world, you tell it, for I only know how to relate prosaic commonplaces. But since you seem unwilling to do so, I am going to try myself.
The sky was blue and a fresh breeze, not yet laden with the fragrance of roses, stirred the leaves and flowers of the vines; that is why the cypresses, the orchids, the dried fishes, and the Chinese lanterns were trembling. The splash of paddles in the muddy waters of the river and the rattle of carriages and carts passing over the Binondo bridge came up to them distinctly, although they did not hear what the old aunt murmured as she saw where they were: “That’s better, there you’ll be watched by the whole neighborhood.” At first they talked nonsense, giving utterance only to those sweet inanities which are so much like the boastings of the nations of Europe—pleasing and honey-sweet at home, but causing foreigners to laugh or frown.
She, like a sister of Cain, was of course jealous and asked her sweetheart, “Have you always thought of me? Have you never forgotten me on all your travels in the great cities among so many beautiful women?”
He, too, was a brother of Cain, and sought to evade such questions, making use of a little fiction. “Could I forget you?” he answered as he gazed enraptured into her dark eyes. “Could I be faithless to my oath, my sacred oath? Do you remember that stormy night when you saw me weeping alone by the side of my dead mother and, drawing near to me, you put your hand on my shoulder, that hand which for so long a time you had not allowed me to touch, saying to me, ‘You have lost your mother while I never had one,’ and you wept with me? You loved her and she looked upon you as a daughter. Outside it rained and the lightning flashed, but within I seemed to hear music and to see a smile on the pallid face of the dead. Oh, that my parents were alive and might behold you now! I then caught your hand along with the hand of my mother and swore to love you and to make you happy, whatever fortune Heaven might have in store for me; and that oath, which has never weighed upon me as a burden, I now renew!
“Could I forget you? The thought of you has ever been with me, strengthening me amid the dangers of travel, and has been a comfort to my soul’s loneliness in foreign lands. The thoughts of you have neutralized the lotus-effect of Europe, which erases from the memories of so many of our countrymen the hopes and misfortunes of our fatherland. In dreams I saw you standing on the shore at Manila, gazing at the far horizon wrapped in the warm light of the early dawn. I heard the slow, sad song that awoke in me sleeping affections and called back to the memory of my heart the first years of our childhood, our joys, our pleasures, and all that happy past which you gave life to while you were in our town. It seemed to me that you were the fairy, the spirit, the poetic incarnation of my fatherland, beautiful, unaffected, lovable, frank, a true daughter of the Philippines, that beautiful land which unites with the imposing virtues of the mother country, Spain, the admirable qualities of a young people, as you unite in your being all that is beautiful and lovely, the inheritance of both races” so indeed the love of you and that of my fatherland have become fused into one.
“Could I forget you? Many times have I thought that I heard the sound of your piano and the accents of your voice. When in Germany, as I wandered at twilight in the woods, peopled with the fantastic creations of its poets and the mysterious legends of past generations, always I called upon your name, imagining that I saw you in the mists that rose from the depths of the valley, or I fancied that I heard your voice in the rustling of the leaves. When from afar I heard the songs of the peasants as they returned from their labors, it seemed to me that their tones harmonized with my inner voices, that they were singing for you, and thus they lent reality to my illusions and dreams. At times I became lost among the mountain paths and while the night descended slowly, as it does there, I would find myself still wandering, seeking my way among the pines and beeches and oaks. Then when some scattering rays of moonlight slipped down into the clear spaces left in the dense foliage, I seemed to see you in the heart of the forest as a dim, loving shade wavering about between the spots of light and shadow. If perhaps the nightingale poured forth his varied trills, I fancied it was because he saw you and was inspired by you.
“Have I thought of you? The fever of love not only gave warmth to the snows but colored the ice! The beautiful skies of Italy with their clear depths reminded me of your eyes, its sunny landscape spoke to me of your smile; the plains of Andalusia with their scent-laden airs, peopled with oriental memories, full of romance and color, told me of your love! On dreamy, moonlit nights, while boating oil the Rhine, I have asked myself if my fancy did not deceive me as I saw you among the poplars on the banks, on the rocks of the Lorelei, or in the midst of the waters, singing in the silence of the night as if you were a comforting fairy maiden sent to enliven the solitude and sadness of those ruined castles!”
“I have not traveled like you, so I know only your town and Manila and Antipolo,” she answered with a smile which showed that she believed all he said. “But since I said good-by to you and entered the convent, I have always thought of you and have only put you out of my mind when ordered to do so by my confessor, who imposed many penances upon me. I recalled our games and our quarrels when we were children. You used to pick up the most beautiful shells and search in the river for the roundest and smoothest pebbles of different colors that we might play games with them. You were very stupid and always lost, and by way of a forfeit I would slap you with the palm of my hand, but I always tried not to strike you hard, for I had pity on you. In those games you cheated much, even more than I did, and we used to finish our play in a quarrel. Do you remember that time when you became really angry at me? Then you made me suffer, but afterwards, when I thought of it in the convent, I smiled and longed for you so that we might quarrel again—so that we might once more make up. We were still children and had gone with your mother to bathe in the brook under the shade of the thick bamboo. On the banks grew many flowers and plants whose strange names you told me in Latin and Spanish, for you were even then studying in the Ateneo.1 I paid no attention, but amused myself by running after the needle-like dragon-flies and the butterflies with their rainbow colors and tints of mother-of-pearl as they swarmed about among the flowers. Sometimes I tried to surprise them with my hands or to catch the little fishes that slipped rapidly about amongst the moss and stones in the edge of the water. Once you disappeared suddenly and when you returned you brought a crown of leaves and orange blossoms, which you placed upon my head, calling me Chloe. For yourself you made one of vines. But your mother snatched away my crown, and after mashing it with a stone mixed it with the gogo with which she was going to wash our heads. The tears came into your eyes and you said that she did not understand mythology. ‘Silly boy,’ your mother exclaimed, ‘you’ll see how sweet your hair will smell afterwards.’ I laughed, but you were offended and would not talk with me, and for the rest of the day appeared so serious that then I wanted to cry. On our way back to the town through the hot sun, I picked some sage leaves that grew beside the path and gave them to you to put in your hat so that you might not get a headache. You smiled and caught my hand, and we made up.”
Ibarra smiled with happiness as he opened his pocketbook and took from it a piece of paper in which were wrapped some dry, blackened leaves which gave off a sweet odor. “Your sage leaves,” he said, in answer to her inquiring look. “This is all that you have ever given me.”
She in turn snatched from her bosom a little pouch of white satin. “You must not touch this,” she said, tapping the palm of his hand lightly. “It’s a letter of farewell.”
“The one I wrote to you before leaving?”
“Have you ever written me any other, sir?”
“And what did I say to you then?”
“Many fibs, excuses of a delinquent debtor,” she answered smilingly, thus giving him to understand how sweet to her those fibs were. “Be quiet now and I’ll read it to you. I’ll leave out your fine phrases in order not to make a martyr of you.”
Raising the paper to the height of her eyes so that the youth might not see her face, she began: “‘My’—but I’ll not read what follows that because it’s not true.”
Her eyes ran along some lines.
“‘My father wishes me to go away, in spite of all my pleadings. ‘You are a man now,’ he told me, ‘and you must think about your future and about your duties. You must learn the science of life, a thing which your fatherland cannot teach you, so that you may some day be useful to it. If you remain here in my shadow, in this environment of business affairs, you will not learn to look far ahead. The day in which you lose me you will find yourself like the plant of which our poet Baltazar tells: grown in the water, its leaves wither at the least scarcity of moisture and a moment’s heat dries it up. Don’t you understand? You are almost a young man, and yet you weep!’ These reproaches hurt me and I confessed that I loved you. My father reflected for a time in silence and then, placing his hand on my shoulder, said in a trembling voice, ‘Do you think that you alone know how to love, that your father does not love you, and that he will not feel the separation from you? It is only a short time since we lost your mother, and I must journey on alone toward old age, toward the very time of life when I would seek help and comfort from your youth, yet I accept my loneliness, hardly knowing whether I shall ever see you again. But you must think of other and greater things; the future lies open before you, while for me it is already passing behind; your love is just awakening, while mine is dying; fire burns in your blood, while the chill is creeping into mine. Yet you weep and cannot sacrifice the present for the future, useful as it may be alike to yourself and to your country.’ My father’s eyes filled with tears and I fell upon my knees at his feet, I embraced him, I begged his forgiveness, and I assured him that I was ready to set out—’”
Ibarra’s growing agitation caused her to suspend the reading, for he had grown pale and was pacing back and forth.
“What’s the matter? What is troubling you?” she asked him.
“You have almost made me forget that I have my duties, that I must leave at once for the town. Tomorrow is the day for commemorating the dead.”
Maria Clara silently fixed her large dreamy eyes upon him for a few moments and then, picking some flowers, she said with emotion, “Go, I won’t detain you longer! In a few days we shall see each other again. Lay these flowers on the tomb of your parents.”
A few moments later the youth descended the stairway accompanied by Capitan Tiago and Aunt Isabel, while Maria Clara shut herself up in the oratory.
“Please tell Andeng to get the house ready, as Maria and Isabel are coming. A pleasant journey!” said Capitan Tiago as Ibarra stepped into the carriage, which at once started in the direction of the plaza of San Gabriel.
Afterwards, by way of consolation, her father said to Maria Clara, who was weeping beside an image of the Virgin, “Come, light two candles worth two reals each, one to St. Roch,2 and one to St. Raphael, the protector of travelers. Light the lamp of Our Lady of Peace and Prosperous Voyages, since there are so many tulisanes. It’s better to spend four reals for wax and six cuartos for oil now than to pay a big ransom later.”

1 The “Ateneo Municipal,” where the author, as well as nearly every other Filipino of note in the past generation, received his early education, was founded by the Jesuits shortly after their return to the islands in 1859.—TR.
2 The patron saint of Tondo, Manila’s Saint-Antoine. He is invoked for aid in driving away plagues,—TR.

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