On this table were laid only seven plates. The dishes were of solid silver, the cloth and napkins of the finest linen, the wines the most costly and exquisite. Don Timoteo had sought the most rare and expensive in everything, nor would he have hesitated at crime had he been assured that the Captain-General liked to eat human flesh.
“Danzar sobre un volcan.”
By seven in the evening the guests had begun to arrive: first, the lesser divinities, petty government officials, clerks, and merchants, with the most ceremonious greetings and the gravest airs at the start, as if they were parvenus, for so much light, so many decorations, and so much glassware had some effect. Afterwards, they began to be more at ease, shaking their fists playfully, with pats on the shoulders, and even familiar slaps on the back. Some, it is true, adopted a rather disdainful air, to let it be seen that they were accustomed to better things—of course they were! There was one goddess who yawned, for she found everything vulgar and even remarked that she was ravenously hungry, while another quarreled with her god, threatening to box his ears.
Don Timoteo bowed here and bowed there, scattered his best smiles, tightened his belt, stepped backward, turned halfway round, then completely around, and so on again and again, until one goddess could not refrain from remarking to her neighbor, under cover of her fan: “My dear, how important the old man is! Doesn’t he look like a jumping-jack?”
Later came the bridal couple, escorted by Dona Victorina and the rest of the party. Congratulations, hand-shakings, patronizing pats for the groom: for the bride, insistent stares and anatomical observations on the part of the men, with analyses of her gown, her toilette, speculations as to her health and strength on the part of the women.
“Cupid and Psyche appearing on Olympus,” thought Ben-Zayb, making a mental note of the comparison to spring it at some better opportunity. The groom had in fact the mischievous features of the god of love, and with a little good-will his hump, which the severity of his frock coat did not altogether conceal, could be taken for a quiver.
Don Timoteo began to feel his belt squeezing him, the corns on his feet began to ache, his neck became tired, but still the General had not come. The greater gods, among them Padre Irene and Padre Salvi, had already arrived, it was true, but the chief thunderer was still lacking. The poor man became uneasy, nervous; his heart beat violently, but still he had to bow and smile; he sat down, he arose, failed to hear what was said to him, did not say what he meant. In the meantime, an amateur god made remarks to him about his chromos, criticizing them with the statement that they spoiled the walls.
“Spoil the walls!” repeated Don Timoteo, with a smile and a desire to choke him. “But they were made in Europe and are the most costly I could get in Manila! Spoil the walls!” Don Timoteo swore to himself that on the very next day he would present for payment all the chits that the critic had signed in his store.