Chapter 30: - Page 2 of 3

In the Church

(English version of “Noli Me Tangere”)

An old woman in a guingón habit, Sister Puté, chid her granddaughter, a child of six years, who was kneeling at her side, O lost one, give heed, for you’re going to hear a sermon like that of Good Friday! Here the old lady gave her a pinch to awaken the piety of the child, who made a grimace, stuck out her nose, and wrinkled up her eyebrows.

Some men squatted on their heels and dozed beside the confessional.  One old man nodding caused our old woman to believe that he was mumbling prayers, so, running her fingers rapidly over the beads of her rosary—as that was the most reverent way of respecting the designs of Heaven—little by little she set herself to imitating hint.

Ibarra stood in one corner while Maria Clara knelt near the high altar in a space which the curate had had the courtesy to order the sacristans to clear for her.  Capitan Tiago, in a frock coat, sat on one of the benches provided for the authorities, which caused the children who did not know him to take him for another gobernadorcillo and to be wary about getting near him.

At last the alcalde with his staff arrived, proceeding from the sacristy and taking their seats in magnificent chairs placed on strips of carpet.  The alcalde wore a full-dress uniform and displayed the cordon of Carlos III, with four or five other decorations. The people did not recognize him.

Abá! exclaimed a rustic. A civil-guard dressed as a comedian!

Fool! rejoined a bystander, nudging him with his elbow.  It’s the Prince Villardo that we saw at the show last night!

So the alcalde went up several degrees in the popular estimation by becoming an enchanted prince, a vanquisher of giants.

When the mass began, those who were seated arose and those who had been asleep were awakened by the ringing of the bells and the sonorous voices of the singers.  Padre Salvi, in spite of his gravity, wore a look of deep satisfaction, since there were serving him as deacon and subdeacon none less than two Augustinians.  Each one, as it came his turn, sang well, in a more or less nasal tone and with unintelligible articulation, except the officiating priest himself, whose voice trembled somewhat, even getting out of tune at times, to the great wonder of those who knew him.  Still he moved about with precision and elegance while he recited the Dominus vobiscum unctuously, dropping his head a little to the side and gazing toward heaven.  Seeing him receive the smoke from the incense one would have said that Galen was right in averring the passage of smoke in the nasal canals to the head through a screen of ethmoids, since he straightened himself, threw his head back, and moved toward the middle of the altar with such pompousness and gravity that Capitan Tiago found him more majestic than the Chinese comedian of the night before, even though the latter had been dressed as an emperor, paint-bedaubed, with beribboned sword, stiff beard like a horse’s mane, and high-soled slippers. Undoubtedly, so his thoughts ran, a single curate of ours has more majesty than all the emperors.

At length came the expected moment, that of hearing Padre Damaso.  The three priests seated themselves in their chairs in an edifying attitude, as the worthy correspondent would say, the alcalde and other persons of place and position following their example. The music ceased.

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