Chapter 18:

Souls in Torment

(English version of “Noli Me Tangere”)

It was about seven o’clock in the morning when Fray Salvi finished celebrating his last mass, having offered up three in the space of an hour.  The padre is ill, commented the pious women. He doesn’t move about with his usual slowness and elegance of manner.

He took off his vestments without the least comment, without saying a word or looking at any one.  Attention! whispered the sacristans among themselves.  The devil’s to pay! It’s going to rain fines, and all on account of those two brothers.

He left the sacristy to go up into the rectory, in the hallway of which there awaited him some seven or eight women seated upon benches and a man who was pacing back and forth.  Upon seeing him approach, the women arose and one of them pressed forward to kiss his hand, but the holy man made a sign of impatience that stopped her short.

Can it be that you’ve lost a real, kuriput? exclaimed the woman with a jesting laugh, offended at such a reception.  Not to give his hand to me, Matron of the Sisterhood, Sister Rufa! It was an unheard-of proceeding.

He didn’t go into the confessional this morning, added Sister Sipa, a toothless old woman.  I wanted to confess myself so as to receive communion and get the indulgences.

Well, I’m sorry for you, commented a young woman with a frank face. This week I earned three plenary indulgences and dedicated them to the soul of my husband.

Badly done, Sister Juana, said the offended Rufa.  One plenary indulgence was enough to get him out of purgatory.  You ought not to squander the holy indulgences. Do as I do.

I thought, so many more the better, answered the simple Sister Juana, smiling.  But tell me what you do.

Sister Rufa did not answer at once.  First, she asked for a buyo and chewed at it, gazed at her audience, which was listening attentively, then spat to one side and commenced, chewing at the buyo meanwhile: I don’t misspend one holy day! Since I’ve belonged to the Sisterhood I’ve earned four hundred and fifty-seven plenary indulgences, seven hundred sixty thousand five hundred and ninety-eight years of indulgence.  I set down all that I earn, for I like to have clean accounts.  I don’t want to cheat or be cheated.

Here Sister Rufa paused to give more attention to her chewing.  The women gazed at her in admiration, but the man who was pacing back and forth remarked with some disdain, Well, this year I’ve gained four plenary indulgences more than you have, Sister Rufa, and a hundred years more, and that without praying much either.

More than I? More than six hundred and eighty-nine plenary indulgences or nine hundred ninety-four thousand eight hundred and fifty-six years? queried Rufa, somewhat disgruntled.

That’s it, eight indulgences and a hundred fifteen years more and a few months over, answered the man, from whose neck hung soiled scapularies and rosaries.


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