Chapter 22:

The Performance

(English version of “El Filibusterismo”)

The interior of the theater presented a lively aspect.  It was filled from top to bottom, with people standing in the corridors and in the aisles, fighting to withdraw a head from some hole where they had inserted it, or to shove an eye between a collar and an ear.  The open boxes, occupied for the most part by ladies, looked like baskets of flowers, whose petals—the fans—shook in a light breeze, wherein hummed a thousand bees.  However, just as there are flowers of strong or delicate fragrance, flowers that kill and flowers that console, so from our baskets were exhaled like emanations: there were to be heard dialogues, conversations, remarks that bit and stung.  Three or four boxes, however, were still vacant, in spite of the lateness of the hour.  The performance had been advertised for half-past eight and it was already a quarter to nine, but the curtain did not go up, as his Excellency had not yet arrived.  The gallery-gods, impatient and uncomfortable in their seats, started a racket, clapping their hands and pounding the floor with their canes.

Boom—boom—boom! Ring up the curtain! Boom—boom—boom!

The artillerymen were not the least noisy.  Emulators of Mars, as Ben-Zayb called them, they were not satisfied with this music; thinking themselves perhaps at a bullfight, they made remarks at the ladies who passed before them in words that are euphemistically called flowers in Madrid, although at times they seem more like foul weeds.  Without heeding the furious looks of the husbands, they bandied from one to another the sentiments and longings inspired by so many beauties.

In the reserved seats, where the ladies seemed to be afraid to venture, as few were to be seen there, a murmur of voices prevailed amid suppressed laughter and clouds of tobacco smoke.  They discussed the merits of the players and talked scandal, wondering if his Excellency had quarreled with the friars, if his presence at such a show was a defiance or mere curiosity.  Others gave no heed to these matters, but were engaged in attracting the attention of the ladies, throwing themselves into attitudes more or less interesting and statuesque, flashing diamond rings, especially when they thought themselves the foci of insistent opera-glasses, while yet another would address a respectful salute to this or that señora or señorita, at the same time lowering his head gravely to whisper to a neighbor, How ridiculous she is! And such a bore!

The lady would respond with one of her most gracious smiles and an enchanting nod of her head, while murmuring to a friend sitting near, amid lazy flourishes of her fan, How impudent he is! He’s madly in love, my dear.


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