In the Wood
(English version of “Noli Me Tangere”)
Early, very early indeed, somewhat differently from his usual custom, Padre Salvi had celebrated mass and cleansed a dozen sinful souls in a few moments. Then it seemed that the reading of some letters which he had received firmly sealed and waxed caused the worthy curate to lose his appetite, since he allowed his chocolate to become completely cold.
The padre is getting sick, commented the cook while preparing another cup.
For days he hasn’t eaten; of the six dishes that I set before him on the table he doesn’t touch even two.
It’s because he sleeps badly, replied the other servant.
He has nightmares since he changed his bedroom. His eyes are becoming more sunken all the time and he’s getting thinner and yellower day by day.
Truly, Padre Salvi was a pitiable sight. He did not care to touch the second cup of chocolate nor to taste the sweet cakes of Cebu; instead, he paced thoughtfully about the spacious sala, crumpling in his bony hands the letters, which he read from time to time. Finally, he called for his carriage, got ready, and directed that he be taken to the wood where stood the fateful tree near which the picnic was being held.
Arriving at the edge of the wood, the padre dismissed his carriage and made his way alone into its depths. A gloomy pathway opened a difficult passage through the thickets and led to the brook formed by certain warm springs, like many that flow from the slopes of Mr. Makiling. Adorning its banks grow wild flowers, many of which have as yet no Latin names, but which are doubtless well-known to the gilded insects and butterflies of all shapes and colors, blue and gold, white and black, many-hued, glittering with iridescent spots, with rubies and emeralds on their wings, and to the countless beetles with their metallic lusters of powdered gold. The hum of the insects, the cries of the cicada, which cease not night or day, the songs of the birds, and the dry crashing of the rotten branch that falls and strikes all around against the trees, are the only sounds to break the stillness of that mysterious place.
For some time the padre wandered aimlessly among the thick underbrush, avoiding the thorns that caught at his guingón habit as though to detain him, and the roots of the trees that protruded from the soil to form stumbling-blocks at every step for this wanderer unaccustomed to such places. But suddenly his feet were arrested by the sound of clear voices raised in merry laughter, seeming to come from the brook and apparently drawing nearer.
I’m going to see if I can find one of those nests, said a beautiful, sweet voice, which the curate recognized.
I’d like to see him without having him see me, so I could follow him everywhere.
Padre Salvi hid behind the trunk of a large tree and set himself to eavesdrop.
Does that mean that you want to do with him what the curate does with you? asked a laughing voice.
He watches you everywhere. Be careful, for jealousy makes people thin and puts rings around their eyes.
No, no, not jealousy, it’s pure curiosity, replied the silvery voice, while the laughing one repeated,
Yes, jealousy, jealousy! and she burst out into merry laughter.