Chapter 15: - Page 3 of 3

The Sacristans

(English version of “Noli Me Tangere”)

At that instant a head appeared at the top of the stairway leading down to the floor below, and that head, like Medusa’s, froze the words on the child’s lips.  It was a long, narrow head covered with black hair, with blue glasses concealing the fact that one eye was sightless.  The senior sacristan was accustomed to appear thus without noise or warning of any kind.  The two brothers turned cold with fear.

On you, Basilio, I impose a fine of two reals for not ringing the bells in time, he said in a voice so hollow that his throat seemed to lack vocal chords.  You, Crispin, must stay tonight, until what you stole reappears.

Crispin looked at his brother as if pleading for protection.

But we already have permission—mother expects us at eight o’clock, objected Basilio timidly.

Neither shall you go home at eight, you’ll stay until ten.

But, sir, after nine o’clock no one is allowed to be out and our house is far from here.

Are you trying to give me orders? growled the man irritably, as he caught Crispin by the arm and started to drag him away.

Oh, sir, it’s been a week now since we’re seen our mother, begged Basilio, catching hold of his brother as if to defend him.

The senior sacristan struck his hand away and jerked at Crispin, who began to weep as he fell to the floor, crying out to his brother, Don’t leave me, they’re going to kill me!

The sacristan gave no heed to this and dragged him on to the stairway.  As they disappeared among the shadows below Basilio stood speechless, listening to the sounds of his brother’s body striking against the steps.  Then followed the sound of a blow and heartrending cries that died away in the distance.

The boy stood on tiptoe, hardly breathing and listening fixedly, with his eyes unnaturally wide and his fists clenched.  When shall I be strong enough to plow a field? he muttered between his teeth as he started below hastily.  Upon reaching the organ-loft he paused to listen; the voice of his brother was fast dying away in the distance and the cries of Mother! Brother! were at last completely cut off by the sound of a closing door.  Trembling and perspiring, he paused for a moment with his fist in his mouth to keep down a cry of anguish.  He let his gaze wander about the dimly lighted church where an oil-lamp gave a ghostly light, revealing the catafalque in the center.  The doors were closed and fastened, and the windows had iron bars on them.  Suddenly he reascended the stairway to the place where the candle was burning and then climbed up into the third floor of the belfry.  After untying the ropes from the bell-clappers he again descended. He was pale and his eyes glistened, but not with tears.

Meanwhile, the rain was gradually ceasing and the sky was clearing.  Basilio knotted the ropes together, tied one end to a rail of the balustrade, and without even remembering to put out the light let himself down into the darkness outside.  A few moments later voices were heard on one of the streets of the town, two shots resounded, but no one seemed to be alarmed and silence again reigned.

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