SOME BENEVOLENT ASSIMILATION
THAT by teaching the Filipinos the American branch of the English language it was expected to transfuse into them the customs, ideas, and ideals of the speakers of that tongue, the Maestro vaguely knew. But that this method would meet with the vigorous and somewhat eccentric success that it did in Señorita Constancia de la Rama, the Visayan young lady whom he had trained to take charge of his girls' school, he had not dreamed. So, taken unaware by the news, he flopped down on a chair with a low whistle that finished off into something like a groan as the situation presented itself to him in its full beauty. And then, taken by that perverse desire which, in time of catastrophe, impels us to rehearse all of the elements that go to make our woe particularly unbearable, he began to question the urchin who had brought the note from Mauro Ledesma, one of the native assistant teachers of the boys' school.
"Señor Ledesma gave you that note, Isidro?"
"Yes, Señor Pablo, the little Filipino maestro gave it to me," answered Isidro, careful in his discrimination of masters.
"Where was he; in the house?"
"Oh, yes, Señor Pablo, he was in the house—he was altogether inside of the house!"
The Maestro eyed the boy with sudden suspicion. He thought that he had detected a joyous note in the statement of the native teacher's whereabouts. But Isidro's return glance was liquid with innocence.
"And he called you?" went on the Maestro.
"Oh, no, Señor Pablo, he did not call me! Ambrosio, his muchacho, called me! Señor Ledesma, he stayed inside!"
Again the Maestro started, for Isidro's sentence formation seemed suspiciously appreciative. But the little face he searched was wooden.
"He called you from the door?"
"From the window, Señor Pablo. The door, it was locked. He called this way—" (here Isidro described with his right arm a furious moulinet). "He said, 'sh-sh-sh-sh-sh,' and then he moved his arm this way—" (again the moulinet), "and then he stopped his arm and moved his finger this way—" (here Isidro held up his hand before his face and moved the index finger several times toward his nose in a gesture full of mysterious significance).
"And then you went in?"
"Yes, Señor Pablo. They opened the door, oh, just a little, like that—" (Isidro placed his hands palm to palm with an interstice between them just wide enough to allow the wiggling through of a very lean serpent), "and I went in and they shut the door again and put the bed up against it."
"Well, well; and Maestro Ledesma, he was inside?"
"Oh, yes, Señor Pablo, he was inside. He was writing this letter. And I think Señor Ledesma is very sick, Señor Pablo, because when he was writing he was all the time saying, 'Madre de Dios' and 'Jesus-Maria-Joseph!' and making noises like this."
And Isidro convulsed himself in an effort that resulted in a vague imitation of the wail of a carabao calf.
"And he gave you the letter when he had finished?"
"Yes, Señor Pablo, that is the letter," said Isidro, pointing to the note on the table which had been the Maestro's before-breakfast thunderbolt. "He said, 'run and give this letter to Maestro Pablo'; and so I went, but I did not go out by the door."
"No, Señor Pablo. Maestro Ledesma, he said I must not go out by the door. So they tied a rope around me, and I went out by the window, in back, and I ran here, and I did not stop to play cibay on the way, Señor Pablo."
But Isidro's virtue was destined to go unrewarded. The Maestro was deep in a re-reading of the disastrous missive:
Much Señor Mine and Revered Teacher and Adviser in my Times of Calamity
I beseech you, my venerated Teacher and in many ways Ancestor to come to my succor in this my most deplorable state, and pull away from me the blackness of Despair that is at the all-around of me.
I am a prisoner in my own house. In fear and trembling I dare not sleep, I dare not eat, and I cannot leave my habitation to go to the school and perform my sacred duties of teaching the ignorant and unhappy youth of my sore-tried country the blessings and deliverance of the great country under the rustling shadows of the stars and spangles which you have come so many miles across the wetness of the sea to pull the black veil of ignorance from our eyes.
Your Maestra, the Señorita Constancia de la Rama y Lacson, is camped in my sugar fields, in front of my house, and she will not decamp.
With loud threats of vengeance and audacious accusation she declares that she will marry me.
But I do not want to marry her, most excellent sir, I do not want to marry your Maestra, the Señorita Constancia de la Rama y Lacson!
O sir, my revered Master, I am all alone, my ancestral father and mother being for a few weeks at our other hacienda, and I implore you to save me from this my desperate state. Come to me, oh please, and drive the she-wolf from my door, and you shall ever receive a gentle rain of unspeakable gratitude from
The Sore Heart of
Your humble Pupil
Mauro Ledesma y Goles.
P.S. Viva America in Philippines! Viva Philippines in America! M. L. y G.
"Go to school, Isidro," said the Maestro, when he was through, in a voice so weak that the boy looked up quickly, wondering whether everyone was ill that fine, fragrant morning. "Tell Señor Abada to take charge till I come."
The Maestro felt the necessity of some deep, careful thinking. For certainly, of all the difficulties which, in his two years' career, he had alertly fought and conquered, none had ever confronted him of nature so delicate.
It's always when you think that you have at last mastered the problem of this life and evolved a system that promises smooth going the rest of the way that the skies tumble down upon you.
Thus it was with the Maestro. Just when he had brought the school system of his pueblo to the point where, he fondly dreamed, he could sit back and watch it run along the nickel-plated tracks that he had so carefully laid, there came the washout and the promise of wreck.
The blow was a hard one, and for a while, very much in contradiction to his custom, the Maestro buried himself in thought of past achievements and his heart softened toward himself in a great burst of self-compassion.
He thought of the fight, the long, bitter, patient fight, he had had to find a Maestra and get his girls' school started. The hunt for a Maestra, what an Iliad, and what an Odyssey! First the careful canvas of the pueblo, the horror of the chosen at the thought of degrading themselves to the point of teaching in a public school, the rebuffs of parents, the tearful indignation of mothers; then, the pueblo proving impossible, the long rides into the surrounding country, to far haciendas, in search of the longed-for Being! Once he had crossed the swollen Ilog, and had been nearly drowned with his horse, to find the fair one of whom he had heard glowing reports—she was very well educated, si Señor, had been to collegio in Manila for four years, yes, four years; and she could play the piano, ah, divinely, and she could sew and weave jusi, just like the mother of God—to find this marvel deaf, deaf as a post!
And then, suddenly, he had met Her!
His being still thrilled at the memory. He had met her, Constancia de la Rama, at a baile. She was dancing the escupiton, and right away he saw that she was not as the others. The grace of her balancing waist, of the airy arm-gestures was not rounded and timid as that of her sisters—her grace was angular. Her black eyes did not fix a hypothetical point between her shilena-shod little feet; they looked boldly at those who addressed her. She did not squirm and giggle at compliments, but accepted them freely and boisterously. And the Maestro had the irritating sense of having met her somewhere, sometime, before.
He danced with her. In honour of the Americano, rigidon, escupiton, dreamy waltz had been abolished in favour of a Sousa march played in rag-time. They had danced the two-step together, and with stupor he had found himself led. It was she who determined the length of the glide, the way they should turn, how the cape of chairs should be doubled. And so they had slid along the whole floor in three steps, had whirled like tops, and his final desperate attempt to take command had resulted in a woeful lurch and tangle.
And as she stalked in her long, loose stride toward the dressing-room to readjust her saya, somewhat in distress from the Maestro's last effort, it had suddenly flashed upon him where he had seen her before. He had seen her, not in the Philippines, but in the United States, not as an individual, but as a type. He had seen her type in the co-educational colleges of his own country. She was a co-ed, that's what she was!
When she came out again, he asked her to be his Maestra.
"Forty pesos a month," she said, dreamily. "And you would teach me American?"
"You would have to study English and teach it at the school."
"I will begin Monday," she said.
She had not even asked the consent of her parents. At the time, how pleased he had been at this refreshing independence, and yet, in the light of later events, how ominous it really was!
It was a time of joy. She had attacked her new task with alert energy. From the first the Girl's School had become the envy of the maestros of the whole province. He could see her yet, leading her stolid little brownies in song.
"Chi-rrrries rrri-pa! Chi-rrries rrri-pa! Woo weel buy my chi-rrries rrri-pa!" she tremoloed, in piercing falsetto, beating up a small typhoon with her baton of sugar-cane; "chee-rrries rrri-pa—go on! sing! all too-gidderrr! louderr! sing, I say you!—chee-rrries rrri-pa, chee-rrries rri-pa——!"
And then, charging a little girl, her right arm and index finger stiffened out like a lance:
"Hao menny ligs has ddee cao?" she screeched.
"Dee cao has too-a, too-a legs," stammered the little brown maiden, annihilated by the sudden attack.
"Ah, 'sus! Hao menny ligs?" she screeched higher, presenting her lance farther down the line.
"Ddee cao hes trrree legs!"
"Hao menny ligs? Hao menny ligs? Dee cao hes trree ligs? Count! Count! Wan, too-a, trrrree, four! Dee cao hes four ligs. Wow! 'Sus-Maria-Joseph!"
From the first she had taken an ardent liking for all American institutions. The liberty of women especially, as she gleaned it from her readings and from sundry discreet questions put to the Maestro, enchanted her.
"Señor Maestro, in America, the young ladies, they go out in the street, all alone?"
"Well, yes; it is considered all right for them to do so, in the West, at least."
"And they go out all alone?" she repeated, pensively, in the awed tone that we are taught to use in a cathedral or pantheon.
And, a few days later:
"Señor Maestro, in America, the young girls, they go out with young men, all alone?"
"Well, yes; that is—yes; it's considered all right for young people to walk together."
"And they go out, in the evening, when the moon is shining, and walk together?"
"Well, yes, some do. You see, it's very different in America from the Philippines. You see, in America, the young men and women are more like brothers and sisters."
"Oh, they do not marry, then?"
So that the Maestro's feelings, while watching this Americanisation, were somewhat mixed; especially so when the town council came to him in horror-stricken deputation and advised him of the fact that his Maestra was scandalising the pueblo by walking along the river banks with a young man in the evenings. The Maestra was no dreamy theorist. After that the Maestro was more careful in his inoculation of American virus.
"No, sir," said the Maestro, to himself, rising from his chair and stretching, his self-examination finished; "no, sir; since that night the shocked council called on me I've been good. I've been almighty careful not to put new ideas into her blooming young head. I've been the acme of prudence. I've——"
And suddenly he tumbled back into his chair, and his heart sank slowly down into his heels. For, he remembered, only a few days ago, in the Teachers' class, the subject of leap-year had come up, and his exposition had been—not exclusively astronomical. No, he must admit it, with that deplorable desire to astonish that possesses most of us, he had—well, his account of certain custom had been somewhat coloured, and more emphatic than the custom itself——
"Thunder!" ejaculated the Maestro, a new cold wave showering him. He rushed to the calendar tacked to the wall and turned the pages swiftly.
He stood before the date, petrified.
It was the twenty-ninth of February.
The Maestro seized a cap upon the table, plumped it upon his head, and hop-skipped-jumped down the stairs. "Action, action," his whole being cried. He glanced into the girls' schoolhouse as he passed. The Second Maestra was sitting apathetically in a chair, her baby at her breast, and the little girls, tight up against each other on their high benches, their hands folded upon their bright patadyons, looked like some little strawberry-hued birds that he had seen once in the window of an animal store, a thousand on one perch. The silence, the inaction of the place hurt him to the core, and the remark that suddenly ripped the somnolent atmosphere was so electric that the Maestra sprang to her feet.
"Do you see dde hhett?" she said, lamely, pointing to a pear tree on the chart.
But she might have saved herself the trouble. The head from which had come the remark had disappeared from the door. The Maestro was already fifty yards away, eating up the distance with long, nervous strides. He enfiladed a lane, between fields of high sugar cane, and finally came to the little plaza where throned the Ledesma nipa-mansion. The doors, the shutters were closed tight, as if to shut out the pestilence, and there was no sound, no movement, no sign of life. The Maestro looked about him carefully, then began to walk along the edge of the open space, peering along the vistas between the rows of cane. Soon he came upon the Maestra.
The first glance told him the magnitude of the task ahead; for the little recess in the canes had all the signs of cool and determined occupation. A red-and-white patate was spread upon the ground. On one of the corners were carefully heaped a few of the Señorita's worldly goods—a camphor-wood chest, the size of a doll's trunk; a piña camisa, tied up in a bandana handkerchief; and another handkerchief bulging and running out with a few handfuls of palay. Off the mat, on a little fire of twigs, the breakfast rice was bubbling in a big black pot.
The Maestra was seated in the centre of the mat, her limbs drawn up beneath her bright patadyon in a certain kittenish grace. She was in morning négligé and her loose hair fell down over her shoulders in a glistening black cascade. As the Maestro approached her from behind, he heard a rustling of paper, and, looking down over her head, he saw that she was reading. The Maestro blushed, not at his indiscretion, but at sight of big black lines announcing the name of the publication. The Maestra was reading the Hearth Companion. With remorse, the Maestro remembered how once, in the heat of his proselytism, he had recommended to all his Filipino teachers to subscribe to American periodicals. It was a bitter backward path that his mind was treading as he went further into this affair, tracing back to his well-meant efforts so many unexpected results.
"Good-morning, Miss de la Rama," he said, gravely.
But she read on for several lines, then, seemingly having come to a satisfactory ending of an exciting crisis, she laid the paper down carefully and, looking up with a sweet smile, "Gooda morrneen, Señor Pablo," she answered.
And in her tone, her smile, there was no fear of disapproval, but rather that bubbling satisfaction which hardly can wait to be congratulated.
"Why are you not at school?" asked the Maestro, severely.
"Ah, de school, de school, yes, de school was very nice," she sighed, with the tenderness one uses to speak of the sweet, gone past. But her interest, plainly, was elsewhere.
"To-day is leapa-year day," she went on, her voice now vibrant with decision; "and I am going to get married, Señor Maestro; I am to get married like an American girl; just like an American girl!" she repeated, in glowing exultation.
"Oh!" said the Maestro, with lying fervour, "somebody has asked your hand, Señorita? Let me congratulate you. And who is the lucky fellow?"
"Asked my hand?" cried the Maestra, wonderingly. "No. I said like an American girl. Nobody has asked me the hand. I will marry like an American girl. This is leapa-year day. Just like an American girl!"
"But, gadzooks!" exclaimed the Maestro, at once frightened and horrified by this strange insistence, "American girls don't marry like that. Leap-year, that's just fiction, a legend, a joke. I told you about leap-year the other day; it's just a little joke—yes, that's it, a little joke!"
But the Maestra was proof against American bluff.
"American girls, they all, all marry on leapa-year," she said, severely. "You say so the other day, and all the American books say so. Here is a paper," she said, patting the Hearth Companion. "There are in it ten stories about American girls, and they all marry on leapa-year day; all, todas ask a gentleman to marry on leapa-year day. It is not a joke."
"But," hinted the Maestro, "maybe Señor Ledesma does not want to marry."
"That does not matter at all," said the Maestra, crisply. "If we will be Americans, we must adopt the American costumbres. There is a story in this paper—it does not matter at all; Señor Ledesma is very bashful, but this is leapa-year day."
Just then the rice rose in a foaming surge and began to trickle down the black rotundity of the pot. The Maestra sprang up with agile grace, and with a few dexterous sweeps of her little feet scattered the fire of twigs. "Will you have some breakfast?" she asked the Maestro, sweetly.
But during this movement the Maestro's brain had been working swiftly, and he had decided upon a change of base.
"Your assistant, Felicia, is becoming a very able teacher," he remarked, nonchalantly.
"Yes, she is a very good teacher," agreed the Maestra; but there was no emphasis on her adjective.
"This morning," went on the Maestro, "she was teaching the children. She said, 'Do you see the hat?' and she pointed to the pear tree."
"’Sus-Maria-Joseph!" exclaimed the Maestra; "she said that? But it is barbarous! The children, they will unlearn all that I learned them! It is—what you call?—it is impossible!"
"Yes," went on the Maestro, seeing that he was on the right track, and using his imagination a bit; "and she told them, 'I has two hats.'"
"'I has? I has?' she said 'I has'? Que barbaridad! Señor Pablo, I will——"
And, dropping her bowl of rice, she started running toward the school, while behind her back the Maestro executed a little jig. His undignified joy, however, lasted but a few seconds. The Maestra came to an abrupt stop, looked down at her garments, and came back slowly.
"I cannot go to school in these clothes," she said, sorrowfully.
"No," admitted the Maestro; "but can you not put on your others?"
The Maestra looked embarrassed.
"Señor Maestro," she confided, "you know my mother; she is very aged, you know, and she does not know American like me, and she dislikes very much American customs——" She hesitated.
"Well?" said the Maestro, not understanding.
"She hates very much American customs, and so she hates the leapa-year custom; and this morning, this morning she told me not to come back to her house, and all my clothes are in the house."
There was a long silence. "Gosh all hemlock," said the Maestro, at length, and then there was another silence.
The Maestra broke it. "Señor Maestro," she said, softly, "do you think, maybe, perhaps, you could go and ask my mother for the clothes?"
"Good golly!" remarked the Maestro. "Good golly!" he repeated, wiping his brow with his handkerchief. But he started off.
He returned a half hour later, wilted and perspiring. The old Señora de la Rama had some tenacious Chinese blood in her veins, and the struggle had been an unpleasant one. But the Maestro had won. Across his right arm, held gingerly away from him, there shimmered Types of cloth used|jusis and piñas. He passed the objects to the Maestra with averted eyes and left her in her glade.
Some ten minutes later, as the Maestro was leading his boys in their daily calisthenics, a sudden weird note came floating mournfully through the water-logged atmosphere. The Maestro stood still, with attentive ear, and the cry cut itself into unmistakable syllables: "Chee-rrries rrri-pa; chee-rrries rrri-pa!" It came from the girls' schoolhouse.
"One-two; one-two!" said the Maestro, and the next exercise was so vigorous that before it was finished the urchins were breathless and drooping.
Crushed into a limp, discouraged mass in the depths of his cane chair, the Maestro grasped his head with both hands and thought. Thought with the Maestro was the sign of deep distress. Usually, he just acted.
In truth, the situation was not a rosy one. The Maestra was still unshaken in her marital determination; and in symbol of that state of mind she was having built a little palm hut on the spot where she had camped in Ledesma's cane fields. Three taos, impressed by her from her father's dependents, were working night and day; the four corner posts, the bamboo-strip floor, the nipa roof, were already up, and only the thatch walls remained to be put on. From behind the closed shutters of his father's mansion, Ledesma saw the fort arise above his sugar-canes, and he cowered in dark corners, studying a Civil Service pamphlet with vague projects of escaping to Manila to study typewriting and enter a government office. Also, he had sent an urgent note to his father, off in one of their other haciendas, bidding him to come back quick to protect him. The absence of Ledesma from the boys' school was bad enough, but much worse was the realisation that the truce arranged with the Maestra was fast becoming impossible. When the Maestro had bearded Señorita Constancia's mother and had returned triumphant with the objects that were to enable the young lady to make decent appearance at school, he had forgotten that, in the Philippines, clothes are of the kind that must be washed often; so that, when two days later he had to repeat the performance, and saw before him a future filled with the same monotonous prospect, his ardour had undergone several degrees' cooling. This very morning the struggle to obtain a few shreds of presentable clothing from the irate mother had been so violent, and the subsequent walk across the plaza with the hard-won bundle, beneath the appreciative eyes of the whole town, had been so self-conscious that the Maestro had sworn that it was the end of that. A better solution, a final solution, must be quickly found.
Out of his bitter reflections the Maestro was suddenly startled by a drumming of hoofs and a shout outside. He went to the window, and a white man in khaki, cork-helmeted, was pulling up his horse before the steps.
"Huston!" shouted the Maestro, in delighted tones. He hop-skipped across the room, dashed down the stairs, and whacked the newcomer, just dismounting, a tremendous slap on the back. "You old son-of-a-gun," he drawled, tenderly, seizing his hand and moving it up and down like a pump-handle.
The man's eyes gleamed, and a flush of pleasure came to his tanned cheeks. "Here, here, old man," he said, deprecatingly, "you don't seem alive to the—er—dignity of my profession."
"Sky-pilot, eh?" shouted the Maestro. "Gospel-sharp; stuck up about it, eh? Darn-if-I-care; you're still a good fellow. Golly, but I'm glad to see you," he cried, nearly knocking him down with a dig in the short ribs. "Gee, but I'm glad to see you——" and he shook him till his teeth rattled. "How long're you going to stay?"
"Three days," answered Huston; "want to start a mission here."
Tolio, the Maestro's muchacho, was unsaddling the pony. The two friends climbed the steps into the house. Unbuckling his belt, the missionary threw his long Colt's upon the table and dropped into a chair, and then they began to talk. It was a strange performance. The words swept out of their mouths in an uninterrupted, turgid, furious stream; they shouted, stammered, giggled; they laughed like artillery thunder, gesticulated like windmills, a hectic flush upon their cheeks, their brains awhirl, mad with the madness that seizes the man of lone stations when at last he can communicate his thoughts, pour out what has been dammed in so long, free himself of the stagnant burden of never-expressed feeling, emotion, inspiration, theories.
But after a half-hour of this, the Maestro began to subside. Huston still talked, told of the cholera in Manapla, the mud between Bago and Jinagaran, the palay famine in Oriental Negros, the anti-fraile mob in Silay, the embezzlement of the Provincial Treasurer. But the Maestro was silent, his eyes upon his feet.
"What the deuce are you thinking about?" at last exclaimed the missionary, suddenly very much aware of his loquacity.
"By Jove, I've got it," said the Maestro, rising to his feet like an automaton, his eyes fixed as if he saw written in space the solution of some sore world-problem. He took three great strides across the room, wheeled, and stopped before the missionary. "Yes, sir, I've got it," he repeated, enthusiasm beginning to thrill in his voice.
"For goodness' sake," asked the missionary, "got what?"
"I've got—well, something for you to do," answered the Maestro, enigmatically; "yes, sir, I've a job for you, Huston."
He sat down at the table and scribbled two notes. "Tolio," he called. The boy appeared at the door. "Take this," ordered the Maestro, giving the boy the first note, "to Maestro Ledesma. Tell him to come right away. Tell him to come around by the river so that the Maestra cannot see him."
Si, Señor," said the faithful servant.
"And after Maestro Ledesma has entered the house here, not before, mind you, Tolio, you go to Señorita Constancia and give her this note," went on the Maestro, giving the boy the second slip of paper.
"Si, Señor," said the boy, carefully taking one note in his left hand and the other in the right.
The two friends were again left alone, but the spell had been broken and they did not renew their outpourings. The Maestro was the prey of a fixed idea. He paced back and forth like a lion in his cage, full of the fever of resolve. At intervals he punched his left palm with his right fist, then varied the performance by punching his right palm with his left fist; incoherent exclamations growled in his throat: "He's got to, that's all; things are going to smash; I'll make him; it's the only way!"
Huston looked on curiously. He had been scrub on the football team when the Maestro had been captain and star; and the relation had left indelible marks upon him in an unreasoning, instinctive respect, a subtle sense of inferiority which no achievement in after-life would ever enable him to overcome. Now, however, this sense of fealty was being rudely put to proof. A horrible suspicion was setting his heart a-pound.
The shrinking appearance of Ledesma at the door broke the painful silence. He was a slim, limp young man, with pomaded hair, clad in a white suit generously sprinkled with cologne water, and, in spite of the cigarette held delicately between his fingers, was evidently ill at ease.
And little chance he had to recover from his emotion. "Ah, Ledesma," said the Maestro, frigidly. "I want to talk to you, my boy, and seriously, too. Come into my room."
And, placing a heavy hand upon the young fellow's shoulder, he steered him into an interior chamber, closing the door behind them.
To Huston, left alone, there came sounds of a furious altercation—that is, furious from one party; for from one weak voice there seemed to come only mild expostulation, faint denials, pathetic pleas, negatived by the cold, incisive tones of the Maestro. Little by little, however, the begging voice rose, grew rebellious, squealed, trembled with an indignation that seemed almost righteous. The Maestro began to thunder. "You've got to; you've got to," he shouted. "I'll make you do it!" "No, no, I won't," answered the other voice, settling down to hopeless, stubborn denial; "I won't, I won't!"
The door opened and the Maestro dashed out. He gave a wild look around the room, and his eyes lit upon the missionary's revolver upon the table. He pounced upon it, snapped it open, and the cartridges fell out. After a rapid examination, to make sure that the cylinder was empty, the Maestro snapped the weapon shut again and bounded back into the interior room, closing the door after him. Then his voice became icy and menacing. There was a sharp click; the protesting voice weakened into a faint wail, and there was silence.
"Huston," shouted the Maestro, "let me know when Señorita Constancia comes in."
But at the sound of the sweet name there was a scuffle inside. The door burst open, and Ledesma dived head first across the threshold; but a long muscular arm went out after him, grabbed him by the trousers, and jerked him back inside.
Again the Maestro's voice rose in a few crisp sentences, and there was no answer to them, only a faint snivelling, which diminished gradually. The door reopened slowly, and the Maestro and Ledesma came in together, arm in arm—that is, the Maestro's arm was twined flexibly but inexorably about Ledesma's limp member. Ferocious triumph beamed upon the face of the gentle pedagogue; Ledesma was wilted, tear-stained, and despairing. At the same moment, radiant, smiling, alert as a kitten, Señorita Constancia appeared at the outer door. She wore a long-train blue-silk skirt, a cream-coloured camisa through whose shimmering, puffing sleeves her arms glowed like frosted gold; over her bare shoulders a jusi pañuelo was lightly laid, the two ends meeting upon her breast in a golden brooch. She swept gracefully through the room, her bracelets clinking on her wrists, toward Huston, whom she had met before, shook hands with him Anglo-Saxon style, bowed to the Maestro, calmly ignored Ledesma, and whirred down into the depths of a cane chair.
"Huston," said the Maestro, gravely, "I want you to marry these two people."
But the missionary, so far petrified with wonder, suddenly rebelled. "Look here, Paul," he burst out, "what kind of a thing are you getting me into? To me it looks—well, at least irregular, very irregular. To tell the truth, old fellow, your actions seem to me—er—well, singular, very singular. I—you——"
"You just leave this thing to me," interrupted the Maestro, with an authoritative nod toward the poor churchman, whose protesting attitude was fast oozing away in the subtle sense of inferiority still sticking to him from the days when the Maestro was gridiron captain and star and he a humble "scrub"; "you just leave that to me. Go ahead with the ceremony; that's all you have to do!"
But, with the courage of the meek, Huston fought on. "I at least must know," he said, firmly, "whether these two people consent to this—er—union." He turned to the Maestra. "Do you want to marry this young man?" he asked, pointing to the snivelling Ledesma.
"Oh, yes," answered the Maestra, suavely, "he must marry me."
"And you," went on Huston, turning to Ledesma, "do you wish to take this maid to wife?"
Ledesma opened his mouth like a carp, then shut it again. He looked fearfully toward the Maestro. The Maestro glared significantly. Ledesma's hands began to wring each other; beads of perspiration appeared about his lips. "I—I——" he stammered.
"Look a-here," thundered the Maestro, impatiently; "what the deuce is the need of all this fuss? He's got to marry her, that's all. He's got to marry her, do you understand?" he repeated, a vision of his ruined schools aflame in his mind; "it's the kind of marriage that's got to be, catch on?"
It is the misfortune of us humans that our speech is, after all, but a poor instrument for the expression of our thoughts. The same words, the same phrases, are capable of diverse interpretation. For instance, to the Maestro, the kind of marriage that has to be was merely the marriage that would settle the crisis of his schools. For the missionary there was only one species of marriage that has to be—not at all that in the Maestro's mind.
"Oh," said the missionary; "oh, that's the way it is, is it?" He turned to Ledesma and, pointing to him a long finger trembling with righteous indignation, "Stand up and be married, young man," he said, icily.
As Ledesma was already on his feet, the command was hardly necessary; but it dashed out of that youth's heart the last spark of hope that had flamed up at the missionary's intervention. Taking Señorita Constancia's arm, the Maestro led her to the groom.
"Take her hand," said the missionary, sternly.
Tremblingly the groom obeyed, and was bound for better or for worse.
It cannot be said that the ceremony was followed by the usual joyous whirr of congratulations. The bride calmly turned her back upon the groom and engaged Huston in a lively conversation. The Maestro, suddenly turned craven, went out into the kitchen on the pretext of seeking refreshments, and meanwhile Ledesma quietly but hurriedly slunk out of the house. The Maestra, from the window, saw him running along the street, but she only laughed. She alone was at ease. The Maestro, returning with a bottle of Spanish wine and a plate of bananas, seemed to have lost all his assurance; the missionary's virtuous indignation was fast leaving him, in spite of his efforts, and doubt again was disturbing his spirit. There was something ominous in the air.
Nor was this presentiment to prove a false one. Perhaps half an hour later, as the Maestra was saying good-by, Isidro pattered in with a note to the Maestro. It was from Ledesma.
Hoping sir, that Remorse will soon cause your heart to weep I am
No longer your pupil and assistant-maestro
Mauro Ledesma y Goles.
"Thunder!" exclaimed the Maestro, suddenly again belligerent. "Let's get after him!"
But the Maestra had picked up the letter and was reading it.
"Oh," she said, when she had finished; "oh, that is very nice. Now I can—what you call?—ah, divorce; I can divorce—just like an American girl!"
And thus it is that the Girls' School of Balangilang is still the envy of the maestros for leagues around.