“What’s the matter, Padre Salvi?” he asked. “Do you recognize your friend’s signature?”
Padre Salvi did not reply. He made an effort to speak and without being conscious of what he was doing wiped his forehead with his napkin.
“What has happened to your Reverence?”
“It is his very handwriting!” was the whispered reply in a scarcely perceptible voice. “It’s the very handwriting of Ibarra.” Leaning against the back of his chair, he let his arms fall as though all strength had deserted him.
Uneasiness became converted into fright, they all stared at one another without uttering a single word. His Excellency started to rise, but apprehending that such a move would be ascribed to fear, controlled himself and looked about him. There were no soldiers present, even the waiters were unknown to him.
“Let’s go on eating, gentlemen,” he exclaimed, “and pay no attention to the joke.” But his voice, instead of reassuring, increased the general uneasiness, for it trembled.
“I don’t suppose that that Mene, Tekel, Phares, means that we’re to be assassinated tonight?” speculated Don Custodio.
All remained motionless, but when he added, “Yet they might poison us,” they leaped up from their chairs.
The light, meanwhile, had begun slowly to fade. “The lamp is going out,” observed the General uneasily. “Will you turn up the wick, Padre Irene?”
But at that instant, with the swiftness of a flash of lightning, a figure rushed in, overturning a chair and knocking a servant down, and in the midst of the general surprise seized the lamp, rushed to the azotea, and threw it into the river. The whole thing happened in a second and the dining-kiosk was left in darkness.
The lamp had already struck the water before the servants could cry out, “Thief, thief!” and rush toward the azotea. “A revolver!” cried one of them. “A revolver, quick! After the thief!”
But the figure, more agile than they, had already mounted the balustrade and before a light could be brought, precipitated itself into the river, striking the water with a loud splash.
Immediately upon hearing of the incident, after lights had been brought and the scarcely dignified attitudes of the startled gods revealed, Ben-Zayb, filled with holy indignation, and with the approval of the press-censor secured beforehand, hastened home—an entresol where he lived in a mess with others—to write an article that would be the sublimest ever penned under the skies of the Philippines. The Captain-General would leave disconsolate if he did not first enjoy his dithyrambs, and this Ben-Zayb, in his kindness of heart, could not allow. Hence he sacrificed the dinner and ball, nor did he sleep that night.