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Chapter 37: The Mystery


Todo se sabe
Notwithstanding so many precautions, rumors reached the public, even though quite changed and mutilated. On the following night they were the theme of comment in the house of Orenda, a rich jewel merchant in the industrious district of Santa Cruz, and the numerous friends of the family gave attention to nothing else. They were not indulging in cards, or playing the piano, while little Tinay, the youngest of the girls, became bored playing chongka by herself, without being able to understand the interest awakened by assaults, conspiracies, and sacks of powder, when there were in the seven holes so many beautiful cowries that seemed to be winking at her in unison and smiled with their tiny mouths half-opened, begging to be carried up to the home. Even Isagani, who, when he came, always used to play with her and allow himself to be beautifully cheated, did not come at her call, for Isagani was gloomily and silently listening to something Chichoy the silversmith was relating. Momoy, the betrothed of Sensia, the eldest of the daughters—a pretty and vivacious girl, rather given to joking—had left the window where he was accustomed to spend his evenings in amorous discourse, and this action seemed to be very annoying to the lory whose cage hung from the eaves there, the lory endeared to the house from its ability to greet everybody in the morning with marvelous phrases of love. Capitana Loleng, the energetic and intelligent Capitana Loleng, had her account-book open before her, but she neither read nor wrote in it, nor was her attention fixed on the trays of loose pearls, nor on the diamonds—she had completely forgotten herself and was all ears. Her husband himself, the great Capitan Toringoy,—a transformation of the name Domingo,—the happiest man in the district, without other occupation than to dress well, eat, loaf, and gossip, while his whole family worked and toiled, had not gone to join his coterie, but was listening between fear and emotion to the hair-raising news of the lank Chichoy.
Nor was reason for all this lacking. Chichoy had gone to deliver some work for Don Timoteo Pelaez, a pair of earrings for the bride, at the very time when they were tearing down the kiosk that on the previous night had served as a dining-room for the foremost officials. Here Chichoy turned pale and his hair stood on end.
Nakú!” he exclaimed, “sacks and sacks of powder, sacks of powder under the floor, in the roof, under the table, under the chairs, everywhere! It’s lucky none of the workmen were smoking.”
“Who put those sacks of powder there?” asked Capitana Loleng, who was brave and did not turn pale, as did the enamored Momoy. But Momoy had attended the wedding, so his posthumous emotion can be appreciated: he had been near the kiosk.
“That’s what no one can explain,” replied Chichoy. “Who would have any interest in breaking up the fiesta? There couldn’t have been more than one, as the celebrated lawyer Señor Pasta who was there on a visit declared—either an enemy of Don Timoteo’s or a rival of Juanito’s.”
The Orenda girls turned instinctively toward Isagani, who smiled silently.
“Hide yourself,” Capitana Loleng advised him. “They may accuse you. Hide!”
Again Isagani smiled but said nothing.
“Don Timoteo,” continued Chichoy, “did not know to whom to attribute the deed. He himself superintended the work, he and his friend Simoun, and nobody else. The house was thrown into an uproar, the lieutenant of the guard came, and after enjoining secrecy upon everybody, they sent me away. But—”
“But—but—” stammered the trembling Momoy.
Nakú!” ejaculated Sensia, gazing at her fiancé and trembling sympathetically to remember that he had been at the fiesta. “This young man—If the house had blown up—” She stared at her sweetheart passionately and admired his courage.
“If it had blown up—”
“No one in the whole of Calle Anloague would have been left alive,” concluded Capitan Toringoy, feigning valor and indifference in the presence of his family.
“I left in consternation,” resumed Chichoy, “thinking about how, if a mere spark, a cigarette had fallen, if a lamp had been overturned, at the present moment we should have neither a General, nor an Archbishop, nor any one, not even a government clerk! All who were at the fiesta last night—annihilated!”
Vírgen Santísima! This young man—”
’Susmariosep!” exclaimed Capitana Loleng. “All our debtors were there, ’Susmariosep! And we have a house near there! Who could it have been?”
“Now you may know about it,” added Chichoy in a whisper, “but you must keep it a secret. This afternoon I met a friend, a clerk in an office, and in talking about the affair, he gave me the clue to the mystery—he had it from some government employees. Who do you suppose put the sacks of powder there?”
Many shrugged their shoulders, while Capitan Toringoy merely looked askance at Isagani.
“The friars?”
“Quiroga the Chinaman?”
“Some student?”
“Makaraig?”  
Capitan Toringoy coughed and glanced at Isagani, while Chichoy shook his head and smiled.
“The jeweler Simoun.”
“Simoun!!”
The profound silence of amazement followed these words. Simoun, the evil genius of the Captain-General, the rich trader to whose house they had gone to buy unset gems, Simoun, who had received the Orenda girls with great courtesy and had paid them fine compliments! For the very reason that the story seemed absurd it was believed. “Credo quia absurdum,” said St. Augustine.
“But wasn’t Simoun at the fiesta last night?” asked Sensia.
“Yes,” said Momoy. “But now I remember! He left the house just as we were sitting down to the dinner. He went to get his wedding-gift.”
“But wasn’t he a friend of the General’s? Wasn’t he a partner of Don Timoteo’s?”
“Yes, he made himself a partner in order to strike the blow and kill all the Spaniards.”
“Aha!” cried Sensia. “Now I understand!”
“What?”
“You didn’t want to believe Aunt Tentay. Simoun is the devil and he has bought up the souls of all the Spaniards. Aunt Tentay said so!”
Capitana Loleng crossed herself and looked uneasily toward the jewels, fearing to see them turn into live coals, while Capitan Toringoy took off the ring which had come from Simoun.
“Simoun has disappeared without leaving any traces,” added Chichoy. “The Civil Guard is searching for him.”
“Yes,” observed Sensia, crossing herself, “searching for the devil.”
Now many things were explained: Simoun’s fabulous wealth and the peculiar smell in his house, the smell of sulphur. Binday, another of the daughters, a frank and lovely girl, remembered having seen blue flames in the jeweler’s house one afternoon when she and her mother had gone there to buy jewels. Isagani listened attentively, but said nothing.
“So, last night—” ventured Momoy.
“Last night?” echoed Sensia, between curiosity and fear.
Momoy hesitated, but the face Sensia put on banished his fear. “Last night, while we were eating, there was a disturbance, the light in the General’s dining-room went out. They say that some unknown person stole the lamp that was presented by Simoun.”
“A thief? One of the Black Hand?”
Isagani arose to walk back and forth.
“Didn’t they catch him?”
“He jumped into the river before anybody recognized him. Some say he was a Spaniard, some a Chinaman, and others an Indian.”
“It’s believed that with the lamp,” added Chichoy, “he was going to set fire to the house, then the powder—”
Momoy again shuddered but noticing that Sensia was watching him tried to control himself. “What a pity!” he exclaimed with an effort. “How wickedly the thief acted. Everybody would have been killed.”
Sensia stared at him in fright, the women crossed themselves, while Capitan Toringoy, who was afraid of politics, made a move to go away.
Momoy turned to Isagani, who observed with an enigmatic smile: “It’s always wicked to take what doesn’t belong to you. If that thief had known what it was all about and had been able to reflect, surely he wouldn’t have done as he did.”
Then, after a pause, he added, “For nothing in the world would I want to be in his place!”
So they continued their comments and conjectures until an hour later, when Isagani bade the family farewell, to return forever to his uncle’s side.

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