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Home Sections DrRizal.com The Reign of Greed (El Filibusterismo) Chapter XI to XX
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Written by Jose Rizal   
Monday, 18 June 2007 17:49

The Reign of Greed

Manila
Philippine Education Company
1912

[iv]

 

Copyright, 1912, by Philippine Education Company.
Entered at Stationers’ Hall.
Registrado en las Islas Filipinas.
All rights reserved. [v]

I. On the Upper Deck
II. On the Lower Deck
III. Legends
IV. Cabesang Tales
V. A Cochero’s Christmas Eve
VI. Basilio
VII. Simoun
VIII. Merry Christmas
IX. Pilates
X. Wealth and Want
XI. Los Baños
XII. Placido Penitente
XIII. The Class in Physics
XIV. In the House of the Students
XV. Señor Pasta
XVI. The Tribulations of a Chinese
XVII. The Quiapo Pair
XVIII. Legerdemain
XIX. The Fuse
XX. The Arbiter
XXI. Manila Types
XXII. The Performance
XXIII. A Corpse
XXIV. Dreams
XXV. Smiles and Tears [xii]
XXVI. Pasquinades
XXVII. The Friar and the Filipino
XXVIII. Tatakut
XXIX. Exit Capitan Tiago
XXX. Juli
XXXI. The High Official
XXXII. Effect of the Pasquinades
XXXIII. La Ultima Razón
XXXIV. The Wedding
XXXV. The Fiesta
XXXVI. Ben-Zayb’s Afflictions
XXXVII. The Mystery
XXXVIII. Fatality
XXXIX. Conclusion
{mospagebreak_scroll title=Chapter XI-Los Baños}

Los Baños

His Excellency, the Captain-General and Governor of the Philippine Islands, had been hunting in Bosoboso. But as he had to be accompanied by a band of music,—since such an exalted personage was not to be esteemed less than the wooden images carried in the processions,—and as devotion to the divine art of St. Cecilia has not yet been popularized among the deer and wild boars of Bosoboso, his Excellency, with the band of music and train of friars, soldiers, and clerks, had not been able to catch a single rat or a solitary bird.

The provincial authorities foresaw dismissals and transfers, the poor gobernadorcillos and cabezas de barangay were restless and sleepless, fearing that the mighty hunter in his wrath might have a notion to make up with their persons for the lack of submissiveness on the part of the beasts of the forest, as had been done years before by an alcalde who had traveled on the shoulders of impressed porters because he found no horses gentle enough to guarantee his safety. There was not lacking an evil rumor that his Excellency had decided to take some action, since in this he saw the first symptoms of a rebellion which should be strangled in its infancy, that a fruitless hunt hurt the prestige of the Spanish name, that he already had his eye on a wretch to be dressed up as a deer, when his Excellency, with clemency that Ben-Zayb lacked words to extol sufficiently, dispelled all the fears by declaring that it pained him to sacrifice to his pleasure the beasts of the forest.

But to tell the truth, his Excellency was secretly very well satisfied, for what would have happened had he missed [89] a shot at a deer, one of those not familiar with political etiquette? What would the prestige of the sovereign power have come to then? A Captain-General of the Philippines missing a shot, like a raw hunter? What would have been said by the Indians, among whom there were some fair huntsmen? The integrity of the fatherland would have been endangered.

So it was that his Excellency, with a sheepish smile, and posing as a disappointed hunter, ordered an immediate return to Los Baños. During the journey he related with an indifferent air his hunting exploits in this or that forest of the Peninsula, adopting a tone somewhat depreciative, as suited the case, toward hunting in Filipinas. The bath in Dampalit, the hot springs on the shore of the lake, card-games in the palace, with an occasional excursion to some neighboring waterfall, or the lake infested with caymans, offered more attractions and fewer risks to the integrity of the fatherland.

Thus on one of the last days of December, his Excellency found himself in the sala, taking a hand at cards while he awaited the breakfast hour. He had come from the bath, with the usual glass of coconut-milk and its soft meat, so he was in the best of humors for granting favors and privileges. His good humor was increased by his winning a good many hands, for Padre Irene and Padre Sibyla, with whom he was playing, were exercising all their skill in secretly trying to lose, to the great irritation of Padre Camorra, who on account of his late arrival only that morning was not informed as to the game they were playing on the General. The friar-artilleryman was playing in good faith and with great care, so he turned red and bit his lip every time Padre Sibyla seemed inattentive or blundered, but he dared not say a word by reason of the respect he felt for the Dominican. In exchange he took his revenge out on Padre Irene, whom he looked upon as a base fawner and despised for his coarseness. Padre Sibyla let him scold, while the humbler Padre Irene tried to excuse himself [90] by rubbing his long nose. His Excellency was enjoying it and took advantage, like the good tactician that the Canon hinted he was, of all the mistakes of his opponents. Padre Camorra was ignorant of the fact that across the table they were playing for the intellectual development of the Filipinos, the instruction in Castilian, but had he known it he would doubtless have joyfully entered into that game.

The open balcony admitted the fresh, pure breeze and revealed the lake, whose waters murmured sweetly around the base of the edifice, as if rendering homage. On the right, at a distance, appeared Talim Island, a deep blue in the midst of the lake, while almost in front lay the green and deserted islet of Kalamba, in the shape of a half-moon. To the left the picturesque shores were fringed with clumps of bamboo, then a hill overlooking the lake, with wide ricefields beyond, then red roofs amid the deep green of the trees,—the town of Kalamba,—and beyond the shore-line fading into the distance, with the horizon at the back closing down over the water, giving the lake the appearance of a sea and justifying the name the Indians give it of dagat na tabang, or fresh-water sea.

At the end of the sala, seated before a table covered with documents, was the secretary. His Excellency was a great worker and did not like to lose time, so he attended to business in the intervals of the game or while dealing the cards. Meanwhile, the bored secretary yawned and despaired. That morning he had worked, as usual, over transfers, suspensions of employees, deportations, pardons, and the like, but had not yet touched the great question that had stirred so much interest—the petition of the students requesting permission to establish an academy of Castilian. Pacing from one end of the room to the other and conversing animatedly but in low tones were to be seen Don Custodio, a high official, and a friar named Padre Fernandez, who hung his head with an air either of meditation or annoyance. From an adjoining room issued the [91] click of balls striking together and bursts of laughter, amid which might be heard the sharp, dry voice of Simoun, who was playing billiards with Ben-Zayb.

Suddenly Padre Camorra arose. “The devil with this game, puñales!” he exclaimed, throwing his cards at Padre Irene’s head. “Puñales, that trick, if not all the others, was assured and we lost by default! Puñales! The devil with this game!”

He explained the situation angrily to all the occupants of the sala, addressing himself especially to the three walking about, as if he had selected them for judges. The general played thus, he replied with such a card, Padre Irene had a certain card; he led, and then that fool of a Padre Irene didn’t play his card! Padre Irene was giving the game away! It was a devil of a way to play! His mother’s son had not come here to rack his brains for nothing and lose his money!

Then he added, turning very red, “If the booby thinks my money grows on every bush!... On top of the fact that my Indians are beginning to haggle over payments!” Fuming, and disregarding the excuses of Padre Irene, who tried to explain while he rubbed the tip of his beak in order to conceal his sly smile, he went into the billiardroom.

“Padre Fernandez, would you like to take a hand?” asked Fray Sibyla.

“I’m a very poor player,” replied the friar with a grimace.

“Then get Simoun,” said the General. “Eh, Simoun! Eh, Mister, won’t you try a hand?”

“What is your disposition concerning the arms for sporting purposes?” asked the secretary, taking advantage of the pause.

Simoun thrust his head through the doorway.

“Don’t you want to take Padre Camorra’s place, Señor Sindbad?” inquired Padre Irene. “You can bet diamonds instead of chips.” [92]

“I don’t care if I do,” replied Simoun, advancing while he brushed the chalk from his hands. “What will you bet?”

“What should we bet?” returned Padre Sibyla. “The General can bet what he likes, but we priests, clerics—”

“Bah!” interrupted Simoun ironically. “You and Padre Irene can pay with deeds of charity, prayers, and virtues, eh?”

“You know that the virtues a person may possess,” gravely argued Padre Sibyla, “are not like the diamonds that may pass from hand to hand, to be sold and resold. They are inherent in the being, they are essential attributes of the subject—”

“I’ll be satisfied then if you pay me with promises,” replied Simoun jestingly. “You, Padre Sibyla, instead of paying me five something or other in money, will say, for example: for five days I renounce poverty, humility, and obedience. You, Padre Irene: I renounce chastity, liberality, and so on. Those are small matters, and I’m putting up my diamonds.”

“What a peculiar man this Simoun is, what notions he has!” exclaimed Padre Irene with a smile.

“And he,” continued Simoun, slapping his Excellency familiarly on the shoulder, “he will pay me with an order for five days in prison, or five months, or an order of deportation made out in blank, or let us say a summary execution by the Civil Guard while my man is being conducted from one town to another.”

This was a strange proposition, so the three who had been pacing about gathered around.

“But, Señor Simoun,” asked the high official, “what good will you get out of winning promises of virtues, or lives and deportations and summary executions?”

“A great deal! I’m tired of hearing virtues talked about and would like to have the whole of them, all there are in the world, tied up in a sack, in order to throw them into the sea, even though I had to use my diamonds for sinkers.” [93]

“What an idea!” exclaimed Padre Irene with another smile. “And the deportations and executions, what of them?”

“Well, to clean the country and destroy every evil seed.”

“Get out! You’re still sore at the tulisanes. But you were lucky that they didn’t demand a larger ransom or keep all your jewels. Man, don’t be ungrateful!”

Simoun proceeded to relate how he had been intercepted by a band of tulisanes, who, after entertaining him for a day, had let him go on his way without exacting other ransom than his two fine revolvers and the two boxes of cartridges he carried with him. He added that the tulisanes had charged him with many kind regards for his Excellency, the Captain-General.

As a result of this, and as Simoun reported that the tulisanes were well provided with shotguns, rifles, and revolvers, and against such persons one man alone, no matter how well armed, could not defend himself, his Excellency, to prevent the tulisanes from getting weapons in the future, was about to dictate a new decree forbidding the introduction of sporting arms.

“On the contrary, on the contrary!” protested Simoun, “for me the tulisanes are the most respectable men in the country, they’re the only ones who earn their living honestly. Suppose I had fallen into the hands—well, of you yourselves, for example, would you have let me escape without taking half of my jewels, at least?”

Don Custodio was on the point of protesting; that Simoun was really a rude American mulatto taking advantage of his friendship with the Captain-General to insult Padre Irene, although it may be true also that Padre Irene would hardly have set him free for so little.

“The evil is not,” went on Simoun, “in that there are tulisanes in the mountains and uninhabited parts—the evil lies in the tulisanes in the towns and cities.”

“Like yourself,” put in the Canon with a smile. [94]

“Yes, like myself, like all of us! Let’s be frank, for no Indian is listening to us here,” continued the jeweler. “The evil is that we’re not all openly declared tulisanes. When that happens and we all take to the woods, on that day the country will be saved, on that day will rise a new social order which will take care of itself, and his Excellency will be able to play his game in peace, without the necessity of having his attention diverted by his secretary.”

The person mentioned at that moment yawned, extending his folded arms above his head and stretching his crossed legs under the table as far as possible, upon noticing which all laughed. His Excellency wished to change the course of the conversation, so, throwing down the cards he had been shuffling, he said half seriously: “Come, come, enough of jokes and cards! Let’s get to work, to work in earnest, since we still have a half-hour before breakfast. Are there many matters to be got through with?”

All now gave their attention. That was the day for joining battle over the question of instruction in Castilian, for which purpose Padre Sibyla and Padre Irene had been there several days. It was known that the former, as Vice-Rector, was opposed to the project and that the latter supported it, and his activity was in turn supported by the Countess.

“What is there, what is there?” asked his Excellency impatiently.

“The petition about sporting arms,” replied the secretary with a stifled yawn.

“Forbidden!”

“Pardon, General,” said the high official gravely, “your Excellency will permit me to invite your attention to the fact that the use of sporting arms is permitted in all the countries of the world.”

The General shrugged his shoulders and remarked dryly, “We are not imitating any nation in the world.”

Between his Excellency and the high official there was always a difference of opinion, so it was sufficient that [95] the latter offer any suggestion whatsoever to have the former remain stubborn.

The high official tried another tack. “Sporting arms can harm only rats and chickens. They’ll say—”

“But are we chickens?” interrupted the General, again shrugging his shoulders. “Am I? I’ve demonstrated that I’m not.”

“But there’s another thing,” observed the secretary. “Four months ago, when the possession of arms was prohibited, the foreign importers were assured that sporting arms would be admitted.”

His Excellency knitted his brows.

“That can be arranged,” suggested Simoun.

“How?”

“Very simply. Sporting arms nearly all have a caliber of six millimeters, at least those now in the market. Authorize only the sale of those that haven’t these six millimeters.”

All approved this idea of Simoun’s, except the high official, who muttered into Padre Fernandez’s ear that this was not dignified, nor was it the way to govern.

“The schoolmaster of Tiani,” proceeded the secretary, shuffling some papers about, “asks for a better location for—”

“What better location can he want than the storehouse that he has all to himself?” interrupted Padre Camorra, who had returned, having forgotten about the card-game.

“He says that it’s roofless,” replied the secretary, “and that having purchased out of his own pocket some maps and pictures, he doesn’t want to expose them to the weather.”

“But I haven’t anything to do with that,” muttered his Excellency. “He should address the head secretary,1 the governor of the province, or the nuncio.” [96]

“I want to tell you,” declared Padre Camorra, “that this little schoolmaster is a discontented filibuster. Just imagine—the heretic teaches that corpses rot just the same, whether buried with great pomp or without any! Some day I’m going to punch him!” Here he doubled up his fists.

“To tell the truth,” observed Padre Sibyla, as if speaking only to Padre Irene, “he who wishes to teach, teaches everywhere, in the open air. Socrates taught in the public streets, Plato in the gardens of the Academy, even Christ among the mountains and lakes.”

“I’ve heard several complaints against this schoolmaster,” said his Excellency, exchanging a glance with Simoun. “I think the best thing would be to suspend him.”

“Suspended!” repeated the secretary.

The luck of that unfortunate, who had asked for help and received his dismissal, pained the high official and he tried to do something for him.

“It’s certain,” he insinuated rather timidly, “that education is not at all well provided for—”

“I’ve already decreed large sums for the purchase of supplies,” exclaimed his Excellency haughtily, as if to say, “I’ve done more than I ought to have done.”

“But since suitable locations are lacking, the supplies purchased get ruined.”

“Everything can’t be done at once,” said his Excellency dryly. “The schoolmasters here are doing wrong in asking for buildings when those in Spain starve to death. It’s great presumption to be better off here than in the mother country itself!”

“Filibusterism—”

“Before everything the fatherland! Before everything else we are Spaniards!” added Ben-Zayb, his eyes glowing with patriotism, but he blushed somewhat when he noticed that he was speaking alone.

“In the future,” decided the General, “all who complain will be suspended.” [97]

“If my project were accepted—” Don Custodio ventured to remark, as if talking to himself.

“For the construction of schoolhouses?”

“It’s simple, practical, economical, and, like all my projects, derived from long experience and knowledge of the country. The towns would have schools without costing the government a cuarto.”

“That’s easy,” observed the secretary sarcastically. “Compel the towns to construct them at their own expense,” whereupon all laughed.

“No, sir! No, sir!” cried the exasperated Don Custodio, turning very red. “The buildings are already constructed and only wait to be utilized. Hygienic, unsurpassable, spacious—”

The friars looked at one another uneasily. Would Don Custodio propose that the churches and conventos be converted into schoolhouses?

“Let’s hear it,” said the General with a frown.

“Well, General, it’s very simple,” replied Don Custodio, drawing himself up and assuming his hollow voice of ceremony. “The schools are open only on week-days and the cockpits on holidays. Then convert these into schoolhouses, at least during the week.”

“Man, man, man!”

“What a lovely idea!”

“What’s the matter with you, Don Custodio?”

“That’s a grand suggestion!”

“That beats them all!”

“But, gentlemen,” cried Don Custodio, in answer to so many exclamations, “let’s be practical—what places are more suitable than the cockpits? They’re large, well constructed, and under a curse for the use to which they are put during the week-days. From a moral standpoint my project would be acceptable, by serving as a kind of expiation and weekly purification of the temple of chance, as we might say.”

“But the fact remains that sometimes there are cockfights [98] during the week,” objected Padre Camorra, “and it wouldn’t be right when the contractors of the cockpits pay the government—”2

“Well, on those days close the school!”

“Man, man!” exclaimed the scandalized Captain-General. “Such an outrage shall never be perpetrated while I govern! To close the schools in order to gamble! Man, man, I’ll resign first!” His Excellency was really horrified.

“But, General, it’s better to close them for a few days than for months.”

“It would be immoral,” observed Padre Irene, more indignant even than his Excellency.

“It’s more immoral that vice has good buildings and learning none. Let’s be practical, gentlemen, and not be carried away by sentiment. In politics there’s nothing worse than sentiment. While from humane considerations we forbid the cultivation of opium in our colonies, we tolerate the smoking of it, and the result is that we do not combat the vice but impoverish ourselves.”

“But remember that it yields to the government, without any effort, more than four hundred and fifty thousand pesos,” objected Padre Irene, who was getting more and more on the governmental side.

“Enough, enough, enough!” exclaimed his Excellency, to end the discussion. “I have my own plans in this regard and will devote special attention to the matter of public instruction. Is there anything else?”

The secretary looked uneasily toward Padre Sibyla and Padre Irene. The cat was about to come out of the bag. Both prepared themselves.

“The petition of the students requesting authorization to open an academy of Castilian,” answered the secretary.

A general movement was noted among those in the room. After glancing at one another they fixed their eyes on the [99] General to learn what his disposition would be. For six months the petition had lain there awaiting a decision and had become converted into a kind of casus belli in certain circles. His Excellency had lowered his eyes, as if to keep his thoughts from being read.

The silence became embarrassing, as the General understood, so he asked the high official, “What do you think?”

“What should I think, General?” responded the person addressed, with a shrug of his shoulders and a bitter smile. “What should I think but that the petition is just, very just, and that I am surprised that six months should have been taken to consider it.”

“The fact is that it involves other considerations,” said Padre Sibyla coldly, as he half closed his eyes.

The high official again shrugged his shoulders, like one who did not comprehend what those considerations could be.

“Besides the intemperateness of the demand,” went on the Dominican, “besides the fact that it is in the nature of an infringement on our prerogatives—”

Padre Sibyla dared not go on, but looked at Simoun.

“The petition has a somewhat suspicious character,” corroborated that individual, exchanging a look with the Dominican, who winked several times.

Padre Irene noticed these things and realized that his cause was almost lost—Simoun was against him.

“It’s a peaceful rebellion, a revolution on stamped paper,” added Padre Sibyla.

“Revolution? Rebellion?” inquired the high official, staring from one to the other as if he did not understand what they could mean.

“It’s headed by some young men charged with being too radical and too much interested in reforms, not to use stronger terms,” remarked the secretary, with a look at the Dominican. “Among them is a certain Isagani, a poorly balanced head, nephew of a native priest—”

“He’s a pupil of mine,” put in Padre Fernandez, “and I’m much pleased with him.” [100]

Puñales, I like your taste!” exclaimed Padre Camorra. “On the steamer we nearly had a fight. He’s so insolent that when I gave him a shove aside he returned it.”

“There’s also one Makaragui or Makarai—”

“Makaraig,” Padre Irene joined in. “A very pleasant and agreeable young man.”

Then he murmured into the General’s ear, “He’s the one I’ve talked to you about, he’s very rich. The Countess recommends him strongly.”

“Ah!”

“A medical student, one Basilio—”

“Of that Basilio, I’ll say nothing,” observed Padre Irene, raising his hands and opening them, as if to say Dominus vobiscum. “He’s too deep for me. I’ve never succeeded in fathoming what he wants or what he is thinking about. It’s a pity that Padre Salvi isn’t present to tell us something about his antecedents. I believe that I’ve heard that when a boy he got into trouble with the Civil Guard. His father was killed in—I don’t remember what disturbance.”

Simoun smiled faintly, silently, showing his sharp white teeth.

“Aha! Aha!” said his Excellency nodding. “That’s the kind we have! Make a note of that name.”

“But, General,” objected the high official, seeing that the matter was taking a bad turn, “up to now nothing positive is known against these young men. Their position is a very just one, and we have no right to deny it on the ground of mere conjectures. My opinion is that the government, by exhibiting confidence in the people and in its own stability, should grant what is asked, then it could freely revoke the permission when it saw that its kindness was being abused—reasons and pretexts would not be wanting, we can watch them. Why cause disaffection among some young men, who later on may feel resentment, when what they ask is commanded by royal decrees?” [101]

Padre Irene, Don Custodio, and Padre Fernandez nodded in agreement.

“But the Indians must not understand Castilian, you know,” cried Padre Camorra. “They mustn’t learn it, for then they’ll enter into arguments with us, and the Indians must not argue, but obey and pay. They mustn’t try to interpret the meaning of the laws and the books, they’re so tricky and pettifogish! Just as soon as they learn Castilian they become enemies of God and of Spain. Just read the Tandang Basio Macunat—that’s a book! It tells truths like this!” And he held up his clenched fists.

Padre Sibyla rubbed his hand over his tonsure in sign of impatience. “One word,” he began in the most conciliatory tone, though fuming with irritation, “here we’re not dealing with the instruction in Castilian alone. Here there is an underhand fight between the students and the University of Santo Tomas. If the students win this, our prestige will be trampled in the dirt, they will say that they’ve beaten us and will exult accordingly. Then, good-by to moral strength, good-by to everything! The first dike broken down, who will restrain this youth? With our fall we do no more than signal your own. After us, the government!”

Puñales, that’s not so!” exclaimed Padre Camorra. “We’ll see first who has the biggest fists!”

At this point Padre Fernandez, who thus far in the discussion had merely contented himself with smiling, began to talk. All gave him their attention, for they knew him to be a thoughtful man.

“Don’t take it ill of me, Padre Sibyla, if I differ from your view of the affair, but it’s my peculiar fate to be almost always in opposition to my brethren. I say, then, that we ought not to be so pessimistic. The instruction in Castilian can be allowed without any risk whatever, and in order that it may not appear to be a defeat of the University, we Dominicans ought to put forth our efforts and [102] be the first to rejoice over it—that should be our policy. To what end are we to be engaged in an everlasting struggle with the people, when after all we are the few and they are the many, when we need them and they do not need us? Wait, Padre Camorra, wait! Admit that now the people may be weak and ignorant—I also believe that—but it will not be true tomorrow or the day after. Tomorrow and the next day they will be the stronger, they will know what is good for them, and we cannot keep it from them, just as it is not possible to keep from children the knowledge of many things when they reach a certain age. I say, then, why should we not take advantage of this condition of ignorance to change our policy completely, to place it upon a basis solid and enduring—on the basis of justice, for example, instead of on the basis of ignorance? There’s nothing like being just; that I’ve always said to my brethren, but they won’t believe me. The Indian idolizes justice, like every race in its youth; he asks for punishment when he has done wrong, just as he is exasperated when he has not deserved it. Is theirs a just desire? Then grant it! Let’s give them all the schools they want, until they are tired of them. Youth is lazy, and what urges them to activity is our opposition. Our bond of prestige, Padre Sibyla, is about worn out, so let’s prepare another, the bond of gratitude, for example. Let’s not be fools, let’s do as the crafty Jesuits—”

“Padre Fernandez!” Anything could be tolerated by Padre Sibyla except to propose the Jesuits to him as a model. Pale and trembling, he broke out into bitter recrimination. “A Franciscan first! Anything before a Jesuit!” He was beside himself.

“Oh, oh!”

“Eh, Padre—”

A general discussion broke out, regardless of the Captain-General. All talked at once, they yelled, they misunderstood and contradicted one another. Ben-Zayb and Padre Camorra shook their fists in each other’s faces, one talking [103] of simpletons and the other of ink-slingers, Padre Sibyla kept harping on the Capitulum, and Padre Fernandez on the Summa of St. Thomas, until the curate of Los Baños entered to announce that breakfast was served.

His Excellency arose and so ended the discussion. “Well, gentlemen,” he said, “we’ve worked like niggers and yet we’re on a vacation. Some one has said that grave matters should he considered at dessert. I’m entirely of that opinion.”

“We might get indigestion,” remarked the secretary, alluding to the heat of the discussion.

“Then we’ll lay it aside until tomorrow.”

As they rose the high official whispered to the General, “Your Excellency, the daughter of Cabesang Tales has been here again begging for the release of her sick grandfather, who was arrested in place of her father.”

His Excellency looked at him with an expression of impatience and rubbed his hand across his broad forehead. “Carambas! Can’t one be left to eat his breakfast in peace?”

“This is the third day she has come. She’s a poor girl—”

“Oh, the devil!” exclaimed Padre Camorra. “I’ve just thought of it. I have something to say to the General about that—that’s what I came over for—to support that girl’s petition.”

The General scratched the back of his ear and said, “Oh, go along! Have the secretary make out an order to the lieutenant of the Civil Guard for the old man’s release. They sha’n’t say that we’re not clement and merciful.”

He looked at Ben-Zayb. The journalist winked. [104]

 


1 Under the Spanish régime the government paid no attention to education, the schools (!) being under the control of the religious orders and the friar-curates of the towns.—Tr.

2 The cockpits are farmed out annually by the local governments, the terms “contract,” and “contractor,” having now been softened into “license” and “licensee.”—Tr.

{mospagebreak_scroll title=Chapter XII-Placido Penitente}

Placido Penitente

Reluctantly, and almost with tearful eyes, Placido Penitente was going along the Escolta on his way to the University of Santo Tomas. It had hardly been a week since he had come from his town, yet he had already written to his mother twice, reiterating his desire to abandon his studies and go back there to work. His mother answered that he should have patience, that at the least he must be graduated as a bachelor of arts, since it would be unwise to desert his books after four years of expense and sacrifices on both their parts.

Whence came to Penitente this aversion to study, when he had been one of the most diligent in the famous college conducted by Padre Valerio in Tanawan? There Penitente had been considered one of the best Latinists and the subtlest disputants, one who could tangle or untangle the simplest as well as the most abstruse questions. His townspeople considered him very clever, and his curate, influenced by that opinion, already classified him as a filibuster—a sure proof that he was neither foolish nor incapable. His friends could not explain those desires for abandoning his studies and returning: he had no sweethearts, was not a gambler, hardly knew anything about hunkían and rarely tried his luck at the more familiar revesino. He did not believe in the advice of the curates, laughed at Tandang Basio Macunat, had plenty of money and good clothes, yet he went to school reluctantly and looked with repugnance on his books.

On the Bridge of Spain, a bridge whose name alone came from Spain, since even its ironwork came from foreign [105] countries, he fell in with the long procession of young men on their way to the Walled City to their respective schools. Some were dressed in the European fashion and walked rapidly, carrying books and notes, absorbed in thoughts of their lessons and essays—these were the students of the Ateneo. Those from San Juan de Letran were nearly all dressed in the Filipino costume, but were more numerous and carried fewer books. Those from the University are dressed more carefully and elegantly and saunter along carrying canes instead of books. The collegians of the Philippines are not very noisy or turbulent. They move along in a preoccupied manner, such that upon seeing them one would say that before their eyes shone no hope, no smiling future. Even though here and there the line is brightened by the attractive appearance of the schoolgirls of the Escuela Municipal,1 with their sashes across their shoulders and their books in their hands, followed by their servants, yet scarcely a laugh resounds or a joke can be heard—nothing of song or jest, at best a few heavy jokes or scuffles among the smaller boys. The older ones nearly always proceed seriously and composedly, like the German students.

Placido was proceeding along the Paseo de Magallanes toward the breach—formerly the gate—of Santo Domingo, when he suddenly felt a slap on the shoulder, which made him turn quickly in ill humor.

“Hello, Penitente! Hello, Penitente!”

It was his schoolmate Juanito Pelaez, the barbero or pet of the professors, as big a rascal as he could be, with a roguish look and a clownish smile. The son of a Spanish mestizo—a rich merchant in one of the suburbs, who based all his hopes and joys on the boy’s talent—he promised well with his roguery, and, thanks to his custom of playing tricks on every one and then hiding behind his companions, [106] he had acquired a peculiar hump, which grew larger whenever he was laughing over his deviltry.

“What kind of time did you have, Penitente?” was his question as he again slapped him on the shoulder.

“So, so,” answered Placido, rather bored. “And you?”

“Well, it was great! Just imagine—the curate of Tiani invited me to spend the vacation in his town, and I went. Old man, you know Padre Camorra, I suppose? Well, he’s a liberal curate, very jolly, frank, very frank, one of those like Padre Paco. As there were pretty girls, we serenaded them all, he with his guitar and songs and I with my violin. I tell you, old man, we had a great time—there wasn’t a house we didn’t try!”

He whispered a few words in Placido’s ear and then broke out into laughter. As the latter exhibited some surprise, he resumed: “I’ll swear to it! They can’t help themselves, because with a governmental order you get rid of the father, husband, or brother, and then—merry Christmas! However, we did run up against a little fool, the sweetheart, I believe, of Basilio, you know? Look, what a fool this Basilio is! To have a sweetheart who doesn’t know a word of Spanish, who hasn’t any money, and who has been a servant! She’s as shy as she can be, but pretty. Padre Camorra one night started to club two fellows who were serenading her and I don’t know how it was he didn’t kill them, yet with all that she was just as shy as ever. But it’ll result for her as it does with all the women, all of them!”

Juanito Pelaez laughed with a full mouth, as though he thought this a glorious thing, while Placido stared at him in disgust.

“Listen, what did the professor explain yesterday?” asked Juanito, changing the conversation.

“Yesterday there was no class.”

“Oho, and the day before yesterday?”

“Man, it was Thursday!”

“Right! What an ass I am! Don’t you know, Placido, [107] that I’m getting to be a regular ass? What about Wednesday?”

“Wednesday? Wait—Wednesday, it was a little wet.”

“Fine! What about Tuesday, old man?”

“Tuesday was the professor’s nameday and we went to entertain him with an orchestra, present him flowers and some gifts.”

“Ah, carambas!” exclaimed Juanito, “that I should have forgotten about it! What an ass I am! Listen, did he ask for me?”

Penitente shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know, but they gave him a list of his entertainers.”

Carambas! Listen—Monday, what happened?”

“As it was the first school-day, he called the roll and assigned the lesson—about mirrors. Look, from here to here, by memory, word for word. We jump all this section, we take that.” He was pointing out with his finger in the “Physics” the portions that were to be learned, when suddenly the book flew through the air, as a result of the slap Juanito gave it from below.

“Thunder, let the lessons go! Let’s have a dia pichido!

The students in Manila call dia pichido a school-day that falls between two holidays and is consequently suppressed, as though forced out by their wish.

“Do you know that you really are an ass?” exclaimed Placido, picking up his book and papers.

“Let’s have a dia pichido!” repeated Juanito.

Placido was unwilling, since for only two the authorities were hardly going to suspend a class of more than a hundred and fifty. He recalled the struggles and privations his mother was suffering in order to keep him in Manila, while she went without even the necessities of life.

They were just passing through the breach of Santo Domingo, and Juanito, gazing across the little plaza2 in [108] front of the old Customs building, exclaimed, “Now I think of it, I’m appointed to take up the collection.”

“What collection?”

“For the monument.”

“What monument?”

“Get out! For Padre Balthazar, you know.”

“And who was Padre Balthazar?”

“Fool! A Dominican, of course—that’s why the padres call on the students. Come on now, loosen up with three or four pesos, so that they may see we are sports. Don’t let them say afterwards that in order to erect a statue they had to dig down into their own pockets. Do, Placido, it’s not money thrown away.”

He accompanied these words with a significant wink. Placido recalled the case of a student who had passed through the entire course by presenting canary-birds, so he subscribed three pesos.

“Look now, I’ll write your name plainly so that the professor will read it, you see—Placido Penitente, three pesos. Ah, listen! In a couple of weeks comes the nameday of the professor of natural history. You know that he’s a good fellow, never marks absences or asks about the lesson. Man, we must show our appreciation!”

“That’s right!”

“Then don’t you think that we ought to give him a celebration? The orchestra must not be smaller than the one you had for the professor of physics.”

“That’s right!”

“What do you think about making the contribution two pesos? Come, Placido, you start it, so you’ll be at the head of the list.”

Then, seeing that Placido gave the two pesos without hesitation, he added, “Listen, put up four, and afterwards I’ll return you two. They’ll serve as a decoy.”

“Well, if you’re going to return them to me, why give them to you? It’ll be sufficient, for you to write four.”

“Ah, that’s right! What an ass I am! Do you know, [109] I’m getting to be a regular ass! But let me have them anyhow, so that I can show them.”

Placido, in order not to give the lie to the priest who christened him, gave what was asked, just as they reached the University.

In the entrance and along the walks on each side of it were gathered the students, awaiting the appearance of the professors. Students of the preparatory year of law, of the fifth of the secondary course, of the preparatory in medicine, formed lively groups. The latter were easily distinguished by their clothing and by a certain air that was lacking in the others, since the greater part of them came from the Ateneo Municipal. Among them could be seen the poet Isagani, explaining to a companion the theory of the refraction of light. In another group they were talking, disputing, citing the statements of the professor, the text-books, and scholastic principles; in yet another they were gesticulating and waving their books in the air or making demonstrations with their canes by drawing diagrams on the ground; farther on, they were entertaining themselves in watching the pious women go into the neighboring church, all the students making facetious remarks. An old woman leaning on a young girl limped piously, while the girl moved along writh downcast eyes, timid and abashed to pass before so many curious eyes. The old lady, catching up her coffee-colored skirt, of the Sisterhood of St. Rita, to reveal her big feet and white stockings, scolded her companion and shot furious glances at the staring bystanders.

“The rascals!” she grunted. “Don’t look at them, keep your eyes down.”

Everything was noticed; everything called forth jokes and comments. Now it was a magnificent victoria which stopped at the door to set down a family of votaries on their way to visit the Virgin of the Rosary3 on her favorite [110] day, while the inquisitive sharpened their eyes to get a glimpse of the shape and size of the young ladies’ feet as they got out of the carriages; now it was a student who came out of the door with devotion still shining in his eyes, for he had passed through the church to beg the Virgin’s help in understanding his lesson and to see if his sweetheart was there, to exchange a few glances with her and go on to his class with the recollection of her loving eyes.

Soon there was noticed some movement in the groups, a certain air of expectancy, while Isagani paused and turned pale. A carriage drawn by a pair of well-known white horses had stopped at the door. It was that of Paulita Gomez, and she had already jumped down, light as a bird, without giving the rascals time to see her foot. With a bewitching whirl of her body and a sweep of her hand she arranged the folds of her skirt, shot a rapid and apparently careless glance toward Isagani, spoke to him and smiled. Doña Victorina descended in her turn, gazed over her spectacles, saw Juanito Pelaez, smiled, and bowed to him affably.

Isagani, flushed with excitement, returned a timid salute, while Juanito bowed profoundly, took off his hat, and made the same gesture as the celebrated clown and caricaturist Panza when he received applause.

“Heavens, what a girl!” exclaimed one of the students, starting forward. “Tell the professor that I’m seriously ill.” So Tadeo, as this invalid youth was known, entered the church to follow the girl.

Tadeo went to the University every day to ask if the classes would be held and each time seemed to be more and more astonished that they would. He had a fixed idea of a latent and eternal holiday, and expected it to come any day. So each morning, after vainly proposing that they play truant, he would go away alleging important business, an appointment, or illness, just at the very moment when his companions were going to their classes. But by some occult, thaumaturgic art Tadeo passed the examinations, was beloved [111] by the professors, and had before him a promising future.

Meanwhile, the groups began to move inside, for the professor of physics and chemistry had put in his appearance. The students appeared to be cheated in their hopes and went toward the interior of the building with exclamations of discontent. Placido went along with the crowd.

“Penitente, Penitente!” called a student with a certain mysterious air. “Sign this!”

“What is it?”

“Never mind—sign it!”

It seemed to Placido that some one was twitching his ears. He recalled the story of a cabeza de barangay in his town who, for having signed a document that he did not understand, was kept a prisoner for months and months, and came near to deportation. An uncle of Placido’s, in order to fix the lesson in his memory, had given him a severe ear-pulling, so that always whenever he heard signatures spoken of, his ears reproduced the sensation.

“Excuse me, but I can’t sign anything without first understanding what it’s about.”

“What a fool you are! If two celestial carbineers have signed it, what have you to fear?”

The name of celestial carbineers inspired confidence, being, as it was, a sacred company created to aid God in the warfare against the evil spirit and to prevent the smuggling of heretical contraband into the markets of the New Zion.4

Placido was about to sign to make an end of it, because he was in a hurry,—already his classmates were reciting the O Thoma,—but again his ears twitched, so he said, “After the class! I want to read it first.”

“It’s very long, don’t you see? It concerns the presentation of a counter-petition, or rather, a protest. Don’t [112] you understand? Makaraig and some others have asked that an academy of Castilian be opened, which is a piece of genuine foolishness—”

“All right, all right, after awhile. They’re already beginning,” answered Placido, trying to get away.

“But your professor may not call the roll—”

“Yes, yes; but he calls it sometimes. Later on, later on! Besides, I don’t want to put myself in opposition to Makaraig.”

“But it’s not putting yourself in opposition, it’s only—”

Placido heard no more, for he was already far away, hurrying to his class. He heard the different voices—adsum, adsum—the roll was being called! Hastening his steps he got to the door just as the letter Q was reached.

Tinamáan ñg—!5 he muttered, biting his lips.

He hesitated about entering, for the mark was already down against him and was not to be erased. One did not go to the class to learn but in order not to get this absence mark, for the class was reduced to reciting the lesson from memory, reading the book, and at the most answering a few abstract, profound, captious, enigmatic questions. True, the usual preachment was never lacking—the same as ever, about humility, submission, and respect to the clerics, and he, Placido, was humble, submissive, and respectful. So he was about to turn away when he remembered that the examinations were approaching and his professor had not yet asked him a question nor appeared to notice him—this would be a good opportunity to attract his attention and become known! To be known was to gain a year, for if it cost nothing to suspend one who was not known, it required a hard heart not to be touched by the sight of a youth who by his daily presence was a reproach over a year of his life wasted. [113]

So Placido went in, not on tiptoe as was his custom, but noisily on his heels, and only too well did he succeed in his intent! The professor stared at him, knitted his brows, and shook his head, as though to say, “Ah, little impudence, you’ll pay for that!” [114]

 


1 The “Municipal School for Girls” was founded by the municipality of Manila in 1864.... The institution was in charge of the Sisters of Charity.—Census of the Philippine Islands, Vol. III, p. 615.

2 Now known as Plaza España.—Tr.

3 Patroness of the Dominican Order. She was formally and sumptuously recrowned a queen of the skies in 1907.—Tr.

4 A burlesque on an association of students known as the Milicia Angelica, organized by the Dominicans to strengthen their hold on the people. The name used is significant, “carbineers” being the local revenue officers, notorious in their later days for graft and abuse.—Tr.

5 “Tinamáan ñg lintik!”—a Tagalog exclamation of anger, disappointment, or dismay, regarded as a very strong expression, equivalent to profanity. Literally, “May the lightning strike you!”—Tr.

{mospagebreak_scroll title=Chapter XIII-The Class in Physics}

The Class in Physics

The classroom was a spacious rectangular hall with large grated windows that admitted an abundance of light and air. Along the two sides extended three wide tiers of stone covered with wood, filled with students arranged in alphabetical order. At the end opposite the entrance, under a print of St. Thomas Aquinas, rose the professor’s chair on an elevated platform with a little stairway on each side. With the exception of a beautiful blackboard in a narra frame, scarcely ever used, since there was still written on it the viva that had appeared on the opening day, no furniture, either useful or useless, was to be seen. The walls, painted white and covered with glazed tiles to prevent scratches, were entirely bare, having neither a drawing nor a picture, nor even an outline of any physical apparatus. The students had no need of any, no one missed the practical instruction in an extremely experimental science; for years and years it has been so taught and the country has not been upset, but continues just as ever. Now and then some little instrument descended from heaven and was exhibited to the class from a distance, like the monstrance to the prostrate worshipers—look, but touch not! From time to time, when some complacent professor appeared, one day in the year was set aside for visiting the mysterious laboratory and gazing from without at the puzzling apparatus arranged in glass cases. No one could complain, for on that day there were to be seen quantities of brass and glassware, tubes, disks, wheels, bells, and the like—the exhibition did not get beyond that, and the country was not upset. [115]

Besides, the students were convinced that those instruments had not been purchased for them—the friars would be fools! The laboratory was intended to be shown to the visitors and the high officials who came from the Peninsula, so that upon seeing it they would nod their heads with satisfaction, while their guide would smile, as if to say, “Eh, you thought you were going to find some backward monks! Well, we’re right up with the times—we have a laboratory!”

The visitors and high officials, after being handsomely entertained, would then write in their Travels or Memoirs: “The Royal and Pontifical University of Santo Tomas of Manila, in charge of the enlightened Dominican Order, possesses a magnificent physical laboratory for the instruction of youth. Some two hundred and fifty students annually study this subject, but whether from apathy, indolence, the limited capacity of the Indian, or some other ethnological or incomprehensible reason, up to now there has not developed a Lavoisier, a Secchi, or a Tyndall, not even in miniature, in the Malay-Filipino race.”

Yet, to be exact, we will say that in this laboratory are held the classes of thirty or forty advanced students, under the direction of an instructor who performs his duties well enough, but as the greater part of these students come from the Ateneo of the Jesuits, where science is taught practically in the laboratory itself, its utility does not come to be so great as it would be if it could be utilized by the two hundred and fifty who pay their matriculation fees, buy their books, memorize them, and waste a year to know nothing afterwards. As a result, with the exception of some rare usher or janitor who has had charge of the museum for years, no one has ever been known to get any advantage from the lessons memorized with so great effort.

But let us return to the class. The professor was a young Dominican, who had filled several chairs in San Juan de Letran with zeal and good repute. He had the reputation of being a great logician as well as a profound [116] philosopher, and was one of the most promising in his clique. His elders treated him with consideration, while the younger men envied him, for there were also cliques among them. This was the third year of his professorship and, although the first in which he had taught physics and chemistry, he already passed for a sage, not only with the complaisant students but also among the other nomadic professors. Padre Millon did not belong to the common crowd who each year change their subject in order to acquire scientific knowledge, students among other students, with the difference only that they follow a single course, that they quiz instead of being quizzed, that they have a better knowledge of Castilian, and that they are not examined at the completion of the course. Padre Millon went deeply into science, knew the physics of Aristotle and Padre Amat, read carefully his “Ramos,” and sometimes glanced at “Ganot.” With all that, he would often shake his head with an air of doubt, as he smiled and murmured: “transeat.” In regard to chemistry, no common knowledge was attributed to him after he had taken as a premise the statement of St. Thomas that water is a mixture and proved plainly that the Angelic Doctor had long forestalled Berzelius, Gay-Lussac, Bunsen, and other more or less presumptuous materialists. Moreover, in spite of having been an instructor in geography, he still entertained certain doubts as to the rotundity of the earth and smiled maliciously when its rotation and revolution around the sun were mentioned, as he recited the verses

 

“El mentir de las estrellas

Es un cómodo mentir.”1

 

He also smiled maliciously in the presence of certain physical theories and considered visionary, if not actually insane, the Jesuit Secchi, to whom he imputed the making of triangulations on the host as a result of his astronomical mania, for which reason it was said that he had been forbidden [117] to celebrate mass. Many persons also noticed in him some aversion to the sciences that he taught, but these vagaries were trifles, scholarly and religious prejudices that were easily explained, not only by the fact that the physical sciences were eminently practical, of pure observation and deduction, while his forte was philosophy, purely speculative, of abstraction and induction, but also because, like any good Dominican, jealous of the fame of his order, he could hardly feel any affection for a science in which none of his brethren had excelled—he was the first who did not accept the chemistry of St. Thomas Aquinas—and in which so much renown had been acquired by hostile, or rather, let us say, rival orders.

This was the professor who that morning called the roll and directed many of the students to recite the lesson from memory, word for word. The phonographs got into operation, some well, some ill, some stammering, and received their grades. He who recited without an error earned a good mark and he who made more than three mistakes a bad mark.

A fat boy with a sleepy face and hair as stiff and hard as the bristles of a brush yawned until he seemed to be about to dislocate his jaws, and stretched himself with his arms extended as though he were in his bed. The professor saw this and wished to startle him.

“Eh, there, sleepy-head! What’s this? Lazy, too, so it’s sure you2 don’t know the lesson, ha?”

Padre Millon not only used the depreciative tu with the students, like a good friar, but he also addressed them in the slang of the markets, a practise that he had acquired from the professor of canonical law: whether that reverend gentleman wished to humble the students or the sacred decrees of the councils is a question not yet settled, in spite of the great attention that has been given to it. [118]

This question, instead of offending the class, amused them, and many laughed—it was a daily occurrence. But the sleeper did not laugh; he arose with a bound, rubbed his eyes, and, as though a steam-engine were turning the phonograph, began to recite.

“The name of mirror is applied to all polished surfaces intended to produce by the reflection of light the images of the objects placed before said surfaces. From the substances that form these surfaces, they are divided into metallic mirrors and glass mirrors—”

“Stop, stop, stop!” interrupted the professor. “Heavens, what a rattle! We are at the point where the mirrors are divided into metallic and glass, eh? Now if I should present to you a block of wood, a piece of kamagon for instance, well polished and varnished, or a slab of black marble well burnished, or a square of jet, which would reflect the images of objects placed before them, how would you classify those mirrors?”

Whether he did not know what to answer or did not understand the question, the student tried to get out of the difficulty by demonstrating that he knew the lesson, so he rushed on like a torrent.

“The first are composed of brass or an alloy of different metals and the second of a sheet of glass, with its two sides well polished, one of which has an amalgam of tin adhering to it.”

“Tut, tut, tut! That’s not it! I say to you ‘Dominus vobiscum,’ and you answer me with ‘Requiescat in pace!’ ”

The worthy professor then repeated the question in the vernacular of the markets, interspersed with cosas and abás at every moment.

The poor youth did not know how to get out of the quandary: he doubted whether to include the kamagon with the metals, or the marble with glasses, and leave the jet as a neutral substance, until Juanito Pelaez maliciously prompted him:

“The mirror of kamagon among the wooden mirrors.” [119]

The incautious youth repeated this aloud and half the class was convulsed with laughter.

“A good sample of wood you are yourself!” exclaimed the professor, laughing in spite of himself. “Let’s see from what you would define a mirror—from a surface per se, in quantum est superficies, or from a substance that forms the surface, or from the substance upon which the surface rests, the raw material, modified by the attribute ‘surface,’ since it is clear that, surface being an accidental property of bodies, it cannot exist without substance. Let’s see now—what do you say?”

“I? Nothing!” the wretched boy was about to reply, for he did not understand what it was all about, confused as he was by so many surfaces and so many accidents that smote cruelly on his ears, but a sense of shame restrained him. Filled with anguish and breaking into a cold perspiration, he began to repeat between his teeth: “The name of mirror is applied to all polished surfaces—”

Ergo, per te, the mirror is the surface,” angled the professor. “Well, then, clear up this difficulty. If the surface is the mirror, it must be of no consequence to the ‘essence’ of the mirror what may be found behind this surface, since what is behind it does not affect the ‘essence’ that is before it, id est, the surface, quae super faciem est, quia vocatur superficies, facies ea quae supra videtur. Do you admit that or do you not admit it?”

The poor youth’s hair stood up straighter than ever, as though acted upon by some magnetic force.

“Do you admit it or do you not admit it?”

“Anything! Whatever you wish, Padre,” was his thought, but he did not dare to express it from fear of ridicule. That was a dilemma indeed, and he had never been in a worse one. He had a vague idea that the most innocent thing could not be admitted to the friars but that they, or rather their estates and curacies, would get out of it all the results and advantages imaginable. So his good angel prompted him to deny everything with all the energy [120] of his soul and refractoriness of his hair, and he was about to shout a proud nego, for the reason that he who denies everything does not compromise himself in anything, as a certain lawyer had once told him; but the evil habit of disregarding the dictates of one’s own conscience, of having little faith in legal folk, and of seeking aid from others where one is sufficient unto himself, was his undoing. His companions, especially Juanito Pelaez, were making signs to him to admit it, so he let himself be carried away by his evil destiny and exclaimed, “Concedo, Padre,” in a voice as faltering as though he were saying, “In manus tuas commendo spiritum meum.

Concedo antecedentum,” echoed the professor, smiling maliciously. “Ergo, I can scratch the mercury off a looking-glass, put in its place a piece of bibinka, and we shall still have a mirror, eh? Now what shall we have?”

The youth gazed at his prompters, but seeing them surprised and speechless, contracted his features into an expression of bitterest reproach. “Deus meus, Deus meus, quare dereliquiste me,” said his troubled eyes, while his lips muttered “Linintikan!” Vainly he coughed, fumbled at his shirt-bosom, stood first on one foot and then on the other, but found no answer.

“Come now, what have we?” urged the professor, enjoying the effect of his reasoning.

Bibinka!” whispered Juanito Pelaez. “Bibinka!

“Shut up, you fool!” cried the desperate youth, hoping to get out of the difficulty by turning it into a complaint.

“Let’s see, Juanito, if you can answer the question for me,” the professor then said to Pelaez, who was one of his pets.

The latter rose slowly, not without first giving Penitente, who followed him on the roll, a nudge that meant, “Don’t forget to prompt me.”

Nego consequentiam, Padre,” he replied resolutely.

“Aha, then probo consequentiam! Per te, the polished surface constitutes the ‘essence’ of the mirror—” [121]

“Nego suppositum!” interrupted Juanito, as he felt Placido pulling at his coat.

“How? Per te—”

Nego!

Ergo, you believe that what is behind affects what is in front?”

“Nego!” the student cried with still more ardor, feeling another jerk at his coat.

Juanito, or rather Placido, who was prompting him, was unconsciously adopting Chinese tactics: not to admit the most inoffensive foreigner in order not to be invaded.

“Then where are we?” asked the professor, somewhat disconcerted, and looking uneasily at the refractory student. “Does the substance behind affect, or does it not affect, the surface?”

To this precise and categorical question, a kind of ultimatum, Juanito did not know what to reply and his coat offered no suggestions. In vain he made signs to Placido, but Placido himself was in doubt. Juanito then took advantage of a moment in which the professor was staring at a student who was cautiously and secretly taking off the shoes that hurt his feet, to step heavily on Placido’s toes and whisper, “Tell me, hurry up, tell me!”

“I distinguish—Get out! What an ass you are!” yelled Placido unreservedly, as he stared with angry eyes and rubbed his hand over his patent-leather shoe.

The professor heard the cry, stared at the pair, and guessed what had happened.

“Listen, you meddler,” he addressed Placido, “I wasn’t questioning you, but since you think you can save others, let’s see if you can save yourself, salva te ipsum, and decide this question.”

Juanito sat down in content, and as a mark of gratitude stuck out his tongue at his prompter, who had arisen blushing with shame and muttering incoherent excuses.

For a moment Padre Millon regarded him as one gloating over a favorite dish. What a good thing it would be [122] to humiliate and hold up to ridicule that dudish boy, always smartly dressed, with head erect and serene look! It would be a deed of charity, so the charitable professor applied himself to it with all his heart, slowly repeating the question.

“The book says that the metallic mirrors are made of brass and an alloy of different metals—is that true or is it not true?”

“So the book says, Padre.”

Liber dixit, ergo ita est. Don’t pretend that you know more than the book does. It then adds that the glass mirrors are made of a sheet of glass whose two surfaces are well polished, one of them having applied to it an amalgam of tin, nota bene, an amalgam of tin! Is that true?”

“If the book says so, Padre.”

“Is tin a metal?”

“It seems so, Padre. The book says so.”

“It is, it is, and the word amalgam means that it is compounded with mercury, which is also a metal. Ergo, a glass mirror is a metallic mirror; ergo, the terms of the distinction are confused; ergo, the classification is imperfect—how do you explain that, meddler?”

He emphasized the ergos and the familiar “you’s” with indescribable relish, at the same time winking, as though to say, “You’re done for.”

“It means that, it means that—” stammered Placido.

“It means that you haven’t learned the lesson, you petty meddler, you don’t understand it yourself, and yet you prompt your neighbor!”

The class took no offense, but on the contrary many thought the epithet funny and laughed. Placido bit his lips.

“What’s your name?” the professor asked him.

“Placido,” was the curt reply.

“Aha! Placido Penitente, although you look more like Placido the Prompter—or the Prompted. But, Penitent, I’m going to impose some penance on you for your promptings.” [123]

Pleased with his play on words, he ordered the youth to recite the lesson, and the latter, in the state of mind to which he was reduced, made more than three mistakes. Shaking his head up and down, the professor slowly opened the register and slowly scanned it while he called off the names in a low voice.

“Palencia—Palomo—Panganiban—Pedraza—Pelado—Pelaez—Penitents, aha! Placido Penitente, fifteen unexcused absences—”

Placido started up. “Fifteen absences, Padre?”

“Fifteen unexcused absences,” continued the professor, “so that you only lack one to be dropped from the roll.”

“Fifteen absences, fifteen absences,” repeated Placido in amazement. “I’ve never been absent more than four times, and with today, perhaps five.”

“Jesso, jesso, monseer,”3 replied the professor, examining the youth over his gold eye-glasses. “You confess that you have missed five times, and God knows if you may have missed oftener. Atqui, as I rarely call the roll, every time I catch any one I put five marks against him; ergo, how many are five times five? Have you forgotten the multiplication table? Five times five?”

“Twenty-five.”

“Correct, correct! Thus you’ve still got away with ten, because I have caught you only three times. Huh, if I had caught you every time—Now, how many are three times five?”

“Fifteen.”

“Fifteen, right you are!” concluded the professor, closing the register. “If you miss once more—out of doors with you, get out! Ah, now a mark for the failure in the daily lesson.”

He again opened the register, sought out the name, and entered the mark. “Come, only one mark,” he said, “since you hadn’t any before.” [124]

“But, Padre,” exclaimed Placido, restraining himself, “if your Reverence puts a mark against me for failing in the lesson, your Reverence owes it to me to erase the one for absence that you have put against me for today.”

His Reverence made no answer. First he slowly entered the mark, then contemplated it with his head on one side,—the mark must be artistic,—closed the register, and asked with great sarcasm, “Abá, and why so, sir?”

“Because I can’t conceive, Padre, how one can be absent from the class and at the same time recite the lesson in it. Your Reverence is saying that to be is not to be.”

Nakú, a metaphysician, but a rather premature one! So you can’t conceive of it, eh? Sed patet experientia and contra experientiam negantem, fusilibus est arguendum, do you understand? And can’t you conceive, with your philosophical head, that one can be absent from the class and not know the lesson at the same time? Is it a fact that absence necessarily implies knowledge? What do you say to that, philosophaster?”

This last epithet was the drop of water that made the full cup overflow. Placido enjoyed among his friends the reputation of being a philosopher, so he lost his patience, threw down his book, arose, and faced the professor.

“Enough, Padre, enough! Your Reverence can put all the marks against me that you wish, but you haven’t the right to insult me. Your Reverence may stay with the class, I can’t stand any more.” Without further farewell, he stalked away.

The class was astounded; such an assumption of dignity had scarcely ever been seen, and who would have thought it of Placido Penitente? The surprised professor bit his lips and shook his head threateningly as he watched him depart. Then in a trembling voice he began his preachment on the same old theme, delivered however with more energy and more eloquence. It dealt with the growing arrogance, the innate ingratitude, the presumption, the lack of respect for superiors, the pride that the spirit of darkness infused in the [125] young, the lack of manners, the absence of courtesy, and so on. From this he passed to coarse jests and sarcasm over the presumption which some good-for-nothing “prompters” had of teaching their teachers by establishing an academy for instruction in Castilian.

“Aha, aha!” he moralized, “those who the day before yesterday scarcely knew how to say, ‘Yes, Padre,’ ‘No, Padre,’ now want to know more than those who have grown gray teaching them. He who wishes to learn, will learn, academies or no academies! Undoubtedly that fellow who has just gone out is one of those in the project. Castilian is in good hands with such guardians! When are you going to get the time to attend the academy if you have scarcely enough to fulfill your duties in the regular classes? We wish that you may all know Spanish and that you pronounce it well, so that you won’t split our ear-drums with your twist of expression and your ‘p’s’;4 but first business and then pleasure: finish your studies first, and afterwards learn Castilian, and all become clerks, if you so wish.”

So he went on with his harangue until the bell rang and the class was over. The two hundred and thirty-four students, after reciting their prayers, went out as ignorant as when they went in, but breathing more freely, as if a great weight had been lifted from them. Each youth had lost another hour of his life and with it a portion of his dignity and self-respect, and in exchange there was an increase of discontent, of aversion to study, of resentment in their hearts. After all this ask for knowledge, dignity, gratitude!

De nobis, post haec, tristis sententia fertur!

Just as the two hundred and thirty-four spent their class hours, so the thousands of students who preceded them have spent theirs, and, if matters do not mend, so will those yet to come spend theirs, and be brutalized, while wounded dignity and youthful enthusiasm will be converted into [126] hatred and sloth, like the waves that become polluted along one part of the shore and roll on one after another, each in succession depositing a larger sediment of filth. But yet He who from eternity watches the consequences of a deed develop like a thread through the loom of the centuries, He who weighs the value of a second and has ordained for His creatures as an elemental law progress and development, He, if He is just, will demand a strict accounting from those who must render it, of the millions of intelligences darkened and blinded, of human dignity trampled upon in millions of His creatures, and of the incalculable time lost and effort wasted! And if the teachings of the Gospel are based on truth, so also will these have to answer—the millions and millions who do not know how to preserve the light of their intelligences and their dignity of mind, as the master demanded an accounting from the cowardly servant for the talent that he let be taken from him. [127]

 


1 “To lie about the stars is a safe kind of lying.”—Tr.

2 Throughout this chapter the professor uses the familiar tu in addressing the students, thus giving his remarks a contemptuous tone.—Tr.

3 The professor speaks these words in vulgar dialect.

4 To confuse the letters p and f in speaking Spanish was a common error among uneducated Filipinos.—Tr.

{mospagebreak_scroll title=Chapter XIV-In the House of the Students}

In the House of the Students

The house where Makaraig lived was worth visiting. Large and spacious, with two entresols provided with elegant gratings, it seemed to be a school during the first hours of the morning and pandemonium from ten o’clock on. During the boarders’ recreation hours, from the lower hallway of the spacious entrance up to the main floor, there was a bubbling of laughter, shouts, and movement. Boys in scanty clothing played sipa or practised gymnastic exercises on improvised trapezes, while on the staircase a fight was in progress between eight or nine armed with canes, sticks, and ropes, but neither attackers nor attacked did any great damage, their blows generally falling sidewise upon the shoulders of the Chinese pedler who was there selling his outlandish mixtures and indigestible pastries. Crowds of boys surrounded him, pulled at his already disordered queue, snatched pies from him, haggled over the prices, and committed a thousand deviltries. The Chinese yelled, swore, forswore, in all the languages he could jabber, not omitting his own; he whimpered, laughed, pleaded, put on a smiling face when an ugly one would not serve, or the reverse.

He cursed them as devils, savages, no kilistanos1 but that mattered nothing. A whack would bring his face around smiling, and if the blow fell only upon his shoulders he would calmly continue his business transactions, contenting himself with crying out to them that he was not in the game, but if it struck the flat basket on which were placed his wares, then he would swear never to come again, as he [128] poured out upon them all the imprecations and anathemas imaginable. Then the boys would redouble their efforts to make him rage the more, and when at last his vocabulary was exhausted and they were satiated with his fearful mixtures, they paid him religiously, and sent him away happy, winking, chuckling to himself, and receiving as caresses the light blows from their canes that the students gave him as tokens of farewell.

Concerts on the piano and violin, the guitar, and the accordion, alternated with the continual clashing of blades from the fencing lessons. Around a long, wide table the students of the Ateneo prepared their compositions or solved their problems by the side of others writing to their sweethearts on pink perforated note-paper covered with drawings. Here one was composing a melodrama at the side of another practising on the flute, from which he drew wheezy notes. Over there, the older boys, students in professional courses, who affected silk socks and embroidered slippers, amused themselves in teasing the smaller boys by pulling their ears, already red from repeated fillips, while two or three held down a little fellow who yelled and cried, defending himself with his feet against being reduced to the condition in which he was born, kicking and howling. In one room, around a small table, four were playing revesino with laughter and jokes, to the great annoyance of another who pretended to be studying his lesson but who was in reality waiting his turn to play.

Still another came in with exaggerated wonder, scandalized as he approached the table. “How wicked you are! So early in the morning and already gambling! Let’s see, let’s see! You fool, take it with the three of spades!” Closing his book, he too joined in the game.

Cries and blows were heard. Two boys were fighting in the adjoining room—a lame student who was very sensitive about his infirmity and an unhappy newcomer from the provinces who was just commencing his studies. He was working over a treatise on philosophy and reading innocently [129] in a loud voice, with a wrong accent, the Cartesian principle: “Cogito, ergo sum!

The little lame boy (el cojito) took this as an insult and the others intervened to restore peace, but in reality only to sow discord and come to blows themselves.

In the dining-room a young man with a can of sardines, a bottle of wine, and the provisions that he had just brought from his town, was making heroic efforts to the end that his friends might participate in his lunch, while they were offering in their turn heroic resistance to his invitation. Others were bathing on the azotea, playing firemen with the water from the well, and joining in combats with pails of water, to the great delight of the spectators.

But the noise and shouts gradually died away with the coming of leading students, summoned by Makaraig to report to them the progress of the academy of Castilian. Isagani was cordially greeted, as was also the Peninsular, Sandoval, who had come to Manila as a government employee and was finishing his studies, and who had completely identified himself with the cause of the Filipino students. The barriers that politics had established between the races had disappeared in the schoolroom as though dissolved by the zeal of science and youth.

From lack of lyceums and scientific, literary, or political centers, Sandoval took advantage of all the meetings to cultivate his great oratorical gifts, delivering speeches and arguing on any subject, to draw forth applause from his friends and listeners. At that moment the subject of conversation was the instruction in Castilian, but as Makaraig had not yet arrived conjecture was still the order of the day.

“What can have happened?”

“What has the General decided?”

“Has he refused the permit?”

“Has Padre Irene or Padre Sibyla won?”

Such were the questions they asked one another, questions that could be answered only by Makaraig. [130]

Among the young men gathered together there were optimists like Isagani and Sandoval, who saw the thing already accomplished and talked of congratulations and praise from the government for the patriotism of the students—outbursts of optimism that led Juanito Pelaez to claim for himself a large part of the glory of founding the society.

All this was answered by the pessimist Pecson, a chubby youth with a wide, clownish grin, who spoke of outside influences, whether the Bishop A., the Padre B., or the Provincial C., had been consulted or not, whether or not they had advised that the whole association should be put in jail—a suggestion that made Juanito Pelaez so uneasy that he stammered out, “Carambas, don’t you drag me into—”

Sandoval, as a Peninsular and a liberal, became furious at this. “But pshaw!” he exclaimed, “that is holding a bad opinion of his Excellency! I know that he’s quite a friar-lover, but in such a matter as this he won’t let the friars interfere. Will you tell me, Pecson, on what you base your belief that the General has no judgment of his own?”

“I didn’t say that, Sandoval,” replied Pecson, grinning until he exposed his wisdom-tooth. “For me the General has his own judgment, that is, the judgment of all those within his reach. That’s plain!”

“You’re dodging—cite me a fact, cite me a fact!” cried Sandoval. “Let’s get away from hollow arguments, from empty phrases, and get on the solid ground of facts,”—this with an elegant gesture. “Facts, gentlemen, facts! The rest is prejudice—I won’t call it filibusterism.”

Pecson smiled like one of the blessed as he retorted, “There comes the filibusterism. But can’t we enter into a discussion without resorting to accusations?”

Sandoval protested in a little extemporaneous speech, again demanding facts.

“Well, not long ago there was a dispute between some private persons and certain friars, and the acting Governor [131] rendered a decision that it should be settled by the Provincial of the Order concerned,” replied Pecson, again breaking out into a laugh, as though he were dealing with an insignificant matter, he cited names and dates, and promised documents that would prove how justice was dispensed.

“But, on what ground, tell me this, on what ground can they refuse permission for what plainly appears to be extremely useful and necessary?” asked Sandoval.

Pecson shrugged his shoulders. “It’s that it endangers the integrity of the fatherland,” he replied in the tone of a notary reading an allegation.

“That’s pretty good! What has the integrity of the fatherland to do with the rules of syntax?”

“The Holy Mother Church has learned doctors—what do I know? Perhaps it is feared that we may come to understand the laws so that we can obey them. What will become of the Philippines on the day when we understand one another?”

Sandoval did not relish the dialectic and jesting turn of the conversation; along that path could rise no speech worth the while. “Don’t make a joke of things!” he exclaimed. “This is a serious matter.”

“The Lord deliver me from joking when there are friars concerned!”

“But, on what do you base—”

“On the fact that, the hours for the classes having to come at night,” continued Pecson in the same tone, as if he were quoting known and recognized formulas, “there may be invoked as an obstacle the immorality of the thing, as was done in the case of the school at Malolos.”

“Another! But don’t the classes of the Academy of Drawing, and the novenaries and the processions, cover themselves with the mantle of night?”

“The scheme affects the dignity of the University,” went on the chubby youth, taking no notice of the question.

“Affects nothing! The University has to accommodate [132] itself to the needs of the students. And granting that, what is a university then? Is it an institution to discourage study? Have a few men banded themselves together in the name of learning and instruction in order to prevent others from becoming enlightened?”

“The fact is that movements initiated from below are regarded as discontent—”

“What about projects that come from above?” interpolated one of the students. “There’s the School of Arts and Trades!”

“Slowly, slowly, gentlemen,” protested Sandoval. “I’m not a friar-lover, my liberal views being well known, but render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. Of that School of Arts and Trades, of which I have been the most enthusiastic supporter and the realization of which I shall greet as the first streak of dawn for these fortunate islands, of that School of Arts and Trades the friars have taken charge—”

“Or the cat of the canary, which amounts to the same thing,” added Pecson, in his turn interrupting the speech.

“Get out!” cried Sandoval, enraged at the interruption, which had caused him to lose the thread of his long, well-rounded sentence. “As long as we hear nothing bad, let’s not be pessimists, let’s not be unjust, doubting the liberty and independence of the government.”

Here he entered upon a defense in beautiful phraseology of the government and its good intentions, a subject that Pecson dared not break in upon.

“The Spanish government,” he said among other things, “has given you everything, it has denied you nothing! We had absolutism in Spain and you had absolutism here; the friars covered our soil with conventos, and conventos occupy a third part of Manila; in Spain the garrote prevails and here the garrote is the extreme punishment; we are Catholics and we have made you Catholics; we were scholastics and scholasticism sheds its light in your college halls; in short, gentlemen, we weep when you weep, we suffer when [133] you suffer, we have the same altars, the same courts, the same punishments, and it is only just that we should give you our rights and our joys.”

As no one interrupted him, he became more and more enthusiastic, until he came to speak of the future of the Philippines.

“As I have said, gentlemen, the dawn is not far distant. Spain is now breaking the eastern sky for her beloved Philippines, and the times are changing, as I positively know, faster than we imagine. This government, which, according to you, is vacillating and weak, should be strengthened by our confidence, that we may make it see that it is the custodian of our hopes. Let us remind it by our conduct (should it ever forget itself, which I do not believe can happen) that we have faith in its good intentions and that it should be guided by no other standard than justice and the welfare of all the governed. No, gentlemen,” he went on in a tone more and more declamatory, “we must not admit at all in this matter the possibility of a consultation with other more or less hostile entities, as such a supposition would imply our resignation to the fact. Your conduct up to the present has been frank, loyal, without vacillation, above suspicion; you have addressed it simply and directly; the reasons you have presented could not be more sound; your aim is to lighten the labor of the teachers in the first years and to facilitate study among the hundreds of students who fill the college halls and for whom one solitary professor cannot suffice. If up to the present the petition has not been granted, it has been for the reason, as I feel sure, that there has been a great deal of material accumulated, but I predict that the campaign is won, that the summons of Makaraig is to announce to us the victory, and tomorrow we shall see our efforts crowned with the applause and appreciation of the country, and who knows, gentlemen, but that the government may confer upon you some handsome decoration of merit, benefactors as you are of the fatherland!” [134]

Enthusiastic applause resounded. All immediately believed in the triumph, and many in the decoration.

“Let it be remembered, gentlemen,” observed Juanito, “that I was one of the first to propose it.”

The pessimist Pecson was not so enthusiastic. “Just so we don’t get that decoration on our ankles,” he remarked, but fortunately for Pelaez this comment was not heard in the midst of the applause.

When they had quieted down a little, Pecson replied, “Good, good, very good, but one supposition: if in spite of all that, the General consults and consults and consults, and afterwards refuses the permit?”

This question fell like a dash of cold water. All turned to Sandoval, who was taken aback. “Then—” he stammered.

“Then?”

“Then,” he exclaimed in a burst of enthusiasm, still excited by the applause, “seeing that in writing and in printing it boasts of desiring your enlightenment, and yet hinders and denies it when called upon to make it a reality—then, gentlemen, your efforts will not have been in vain, you will have accomplished what no one else has been able to do. Make them drop the mask and fling down the gauntlet to you!”

“Bravo, bravo!” cried several enthusiastically.

“Good for Sandoval! Hurrah for the gauntlet!” added others.

“Let them fling down the gauntlet to us!” repeated Pecson disdainfully. “But afterwards?”

Sandoval seemed to be cut short in his triumph, but with the vivacity peculiar to his race and his oratorical temperament he had an immediate reply.

“Afterwards?” he asked. “Afterwards, if none of the Filipinos dare to accept the challenge, then I, Sandoval, in the name of Spain, will take up the gauntlet, because such a policy would give the lie to the good intentions that she has always cherished toward her provinces, and because [135] he who is thus faithless to the trust reposed in him and abuses his unlimited authority deserves neither the protection of the fatherland nor the support of any Spanish citizen!”

The enthusiasm of his hearers broke all bounds. Isagani embraced him, the others following his example. They talked of the fatherland, of union, of fraternity, of fidelity. The Filipinos declared that if there were only Sandovals in Spain all would be Sandovals in the Philippines. His eyes glistened, and it might well be believed that if at that moment any kind of gauntlet had been flung at him he would have leaped upon any kind of horse to ride to death for the Philippines.

The “cold water” alone replied: “Good, that’s very good, Sandoval. I could also say the same if I were a Peninsular, but not being one, if I should say one half of what you have, you yourself would take me for a filibuster.”

Sandoval began a speech in protest, but was interrupted.

“Rejoice, friends, rejoice! Victory!” cried a youth who entered at that moment and began to embrace everybody.

“Rejoice, friends! Long live the Castilian tongue!”

An outburst of applause greeted this announcement. They fell to embracing one another and their eyes filled with tears. Pecson alone preserved his skeptical smile.

The bearer of such good news was Makaraig, the young man at the head of the movement. This student occupied in that house, by himself, two rooms, luxuriously furnished, and had his servant and a cochero to look after his carriage and horses. He was of robust carriage, of refined manners, fastidiously dressed, and very rich. Although studying law only that he might have an academic degree, he enjoyed a reputation for diligence, and as a logician in the scholastic way had no cause to envy the most frenzied quibblers of the University faculty. Nevertheless he was not very far behind in regard to modern ideas and progress, for his fortune enabled him to have all the books and magazines that [136] a watchful censor was unable to keep out. With these qualifications and his reputation for courage, his fortunate associations in his earlier years, and his refined and delicate courtesy, it was not strange that he should exercise such great influence over his associates and that he should have been chosen to carry out such a difficult undertaking as that of the instruction in Castilian.

After the first outburst of enthusiasm, which in youth always takes hold in such exaggerated forms, since youth finds everything beautiful, they wanted to be informed how the affair had been managed.

“I saw Padre Irene this morning,” said Makaraig with a certain air of mystery.

“Hurrah for Padre Irene!” cried an enthusiastic student.

“Padre Irene,” continued Makaraig, “has told me about everything that took place at Los Baños. It seems that they disputed for at least a week, he supporting and defending our case against all of them, against Padre Sibyla, Padre Fernandez, Padre Salvi, the General, the jeweler Simoun—”

“The jeweler Simoun!” interrupted one of his listeners. “What has that Jew to do with the affairs of our country? We enrich him by buying—”

“Keep quiet!” admonished another impatiently, anxious to learn how Padre Irene had been able to overcome such formidable opponents.

“There were even high officials who were opposed to our project, the Head Secretary, the Civil Governor, Quiroga the Chinaman—”

“Quiroga the Chinaman! The pimp of the—”

“Shut up!”

“At last,” resumed Makaraig, “they were going to pigeonhole the petition and let it sleep for months and months, when Padre Irene remembered the Superior Commission of Primary Instruction and proposed, since the matter concerned the teaching of the Castilian tongue, that [137] the petition be referred to that body for a report upon it.”

“But that Commission hasn’t been in operation for a long time,” observed Pecson.

“That’s exactly what they replied to Padre Irene, and he answered that this was a good opportunity to revive it, and availing himself of the presence of Don Custodio, one of its members, he proposed on the spot that a committee should be appointed. Don Custodio’s activity being known and recognized, he was named as arbiter and the petition is now in his hands. He promised that he would settle it this month.”

“Hurrah for Don Custodio!”

“But suppose Don Custodio should report unfavorably upon it?” inquired the pessimist Pecson.

Upon this they had not reckoned, being intoxicated with the thought that the matter would not be pigeonholed, so they all turned to Makaraig to learn how it could be arranged.

“The same objection I presented to Padre Irene, but with his sly smile he said to me: ‘We’ve won a great deal, we have succeeded in getting the matter on the road to a decision, the opposition sees itself forced to join battle.’ If we can bring some influence to bear upon Don Custodio so that he, in accordance with his liberal tendencies, may report favorably, all is won, for the General showed himself to be absolutely neutral.”

Makaraig paused, and an impatient listener asked, “How can we influence him?”

“Padre Irene pointed out to me two ways—”

“Quiroga,” some one suggested.

“Pshaw, great use Quiroga—”

“A fine present.”

“No, that won’t do, for he prides himself upon being incorruptible.”

“Ah, yes, I know!” exclaimed Pecson with a laugh. “Pepay the dancing girl.” [138] “Ah, yes, Pepay the dancing girl,” echoed several.

This Pepay was a showy girl, supposed to be a great friend of Don Custodio. To her resorted the contractors, the employees, the intriguers, when they wanted to get something from the celebrated councilor. Juanito Pelaez, who was also a great friend of the dancing girl, offered to look after the matter, but Isagani shook his head, saying that it was sufficient that they had made use of Padre Irene and that it would be going too far to avail themselves of Pepay in such an affair.

“Show us the other way.”

“The other way is to apply to his attorney and adviser, Señor Pasta, the oracle before whom Don Custodio bows.”

“I prefer that,” said Isagani. “Señor Pasta is a Filipino, and was a schoolmate of my uncle’s. But how can we interest him?”

“There’s the quid,” replied Makaraig, looking earnestly at Isagani. “Señor Pasta has a dancing girl—I mean, a seamstress.”

Isagani again shook his head.

“Don’t be such a puritan,” Juanito Pelaez said to him. “The end justifies the means! I know the seamstress, Matea, for she has a shop where a lot of girls work.”

“No, gentlemen,” declared Isagani, “let’s first employ decent methods. I’ll go to Señor Pasta and, if I don’t accomplish anything, then you can do what you wish with the dancing girls and seamstresses.”

They had to accept this proposition, agreeing that Isagani should talk to Señor Pasta that very day, and in the afternoon report to his associates at the University the result of the interview. [139]

 


1 No cristianos, not Christians, i.e., savages.—Tr.

{mospagebreak_scroll title=Chapter XV-Señor Pasta}

Señor Pasta

Isagani presented himself in the house of the lawyer, one of the most talented minds in Manila, whom the friars consulted in their great difficulties. The youth had to wait some time on account of the numerous clients, but at last his turn came and he entered the office, or bufete, as it is generally called in the Philippines. The lawyer received him with a slight cough, looking down furtively at his feet, but he did not rise or offer a seat, as he went on writing. This gave Isagani an opportunity for observation and careful study of the lawyer, who had aged greatly. His hair was gray and his baldness extended over nearly the whole crown of his head. His countenance was sour and austere.

There was complete silence in the study, except for the whispers of the clerks and understudies who were at work in an adjoining room. Their pens scratched as though quarreling with the paper.

At length the lawyer finished what he was writing, laid down his pen, raised his head, and, recognizing the youth, let his face light up with a smile as he extended his hand affectionately.

“Welcome, young man! But sit down, and excuse me, for I didn’t know that it was you. How is your uncle?”

Isagani took courage, believing that his case would get on well. He related briefly what had been done, the while studying the effect of his words. Señor Pasta listened impassively at first and, although he was informed of the efforts of the students, pretended ignorance, as if to show that he had nothing to do with such childish matters, but when he began to suspect what was wanted of him and [140] heard mention of the Vice-Rector, friars, the Captain-General, a project, and so on, his face slowly darkened and he finally exclaimed, “This is the land of projects! But go on, go on!”

Isagani was not yet discouraged. He spoke of the manner in which a decision was to be reached and concluded with an expression of the confidence which the young men entertained that he, Señor Pasta, would intercede in their behalf in case Don Custodio should consult him, as was to be expected. He did not dare to say would advise, deterred by the wry face the lawyer put on.

But Señor Pasta had already formed his resolution, and it was not to mix at all in the affair, either as consulter or consulted. He was familiar with what had occurred at Los Baños, he knew that there existed two factions, and that Padre Irene was not the only champion on the side of the students, nor had he been the one who proposed submitting the petition to the Commission of Primary Instruction, but quite the contrary. Padre Irene, Padre Fernandez, the Countess, a merchant who expected to sell the materials for the new academy, and the high official who had been citing royal decree after royal decree, were about to triumph, when Padre Sibyla, wishing to gain time, had thought of the Commission. All these facts the great lawyer had present in his mind, so that when Isagani had finished speaking, he determined to confuse him with evasions, tangle the matter up, and lead the conversation to other subjects.

“Yes,” he said, pursing his lips and scratching his head, “there is no one who surpasses me in love for the country and in aspirations toward progress, but—I can’t compromise myself, I don’t know whether you clearly understand my position, a position that is very delicate, I have so many interests, I have to labor within the limits of strict prudence, it’s a risk—”

The lawyer sought to bewilder the youth with an exuberance of words, so he went on speaking of laws and [141] decrees, and talked so much that instead of confusing the youth, he came very near to entangling himself in a labyrinth of citations.

“In no way do we wish to compromise you,” replied Isagani with great calmness. “God deliver us from injuring in the least the persons whose lives are so useful to the rest of the Filipinos! But, as little versed as I may be in the laws, royal decrees, writs, and resolutions that obtain in this country, I can’t believe that there can be any harm in furthering the high purposes of the government, in trying to secure a proper interpretation of these purposes. We are seeking the same end and differ only about the means.”

The lawyer smiled, for the youth had allowed himself to wander away from the subject, and there where the former was going to entangle him he had already entangled himself.

“That’s exactly the quid, as is vulgarly said. It’s clear that it is laudable to aid the government, when one aids it submissively, following out its desires and the true spirit of the laws in agreement with the just beliefs of the governing powers, and when not in contradiction to the fundamental and general way of thinking of the persons to whom is intrusted the common welfare of the individuals that form a social organism. Therefore, it is criminal, it is punishable, because it is offensive to the high principle of authority, to attempt any action contrary to its initiative, even supposing it to be better than the governmental proposition, because such action would injure its prestige, which is the elementary basis upon which all colonial edifices rest.”

Confident that this broadside had at least stunned Isagani, the old lawyer fell back in his armchair, outwardly very serious, but laughing to himself.

Isagani, however, ventured to reply. “I should think that governments, the more they are threatened, would be all the more careful to seek bases that are impregnable. The basis of prestige for colonial governments is the weakest [142] of all, since it does not depend upon themselves but upon the consent of the governed, while the latter are willing to recognize it. The basis of justice or reason would seem to be the most durable.”

The lawyer raised his head. How was this—did that youth dare to reply and argue with him, him, Señor Pasta? Was he not yet bewildered with his big words?

“Young man, you must put those considerations aside, for they are dangerous,” he declared with a wave of his hand. “What I advise is that you let the government attend to its own business.”

“Governments are established for the welfare of the peoples, and in order to accomplish this purpose properly they have to follow the suggestions of the citizens, who are the ones best qualified to understand their own needs.”

“Those who constitute the government are also citizens, and among the most enlightened.”

“But, being men, they are fallible, and ought not to disregard the opinions of others.”

“They must be trusted, they have to attend to everything.”

“There is a Spanish proverb which says, ‘No tears, no milk,’ in other words, ‘To him who does not ask, nothing is given.’ ”

“Quite the reverse,” replied the lawyer with a sarcastic smile; “with the government exactly the reverse occurs—”

But he suddenly checked himself, as if he had said too much and wished to correct his imprudence. “The government has given us things that we have not asked for, and that we could not ask for, because to ask—to ask, presupposes that it is in some way incompetent and consequently is not performing its functions. To suggest to it a course of action, to try to guide it, when not really antagonizing it, is to presuppose that it is capable of erring, and as I have already said to you such suppositions are menaces to the existence of colonial governments. The common crowd overlooks this and the young men who set to work thoughtlessly [143] do not know, do not comprehend, do not try to comprehend the counter-effect of asking, the menace to order there is in that idea—”

“Pardon me,” interrupted Isagani, offended by the arguments the jurist was using with him, “but when by legal methods people ask a government for something, it is because they think it good and disposed to grant a blessing, and such action, instead of irritating it, should flatter it —to the mother one appeals, never to the stepmother. The government, in my humble opinion, is not an omniscient being that can see and anticipate everything, and even if it could, it ought not to feel offended, for here you have the church itself doing nothing but asking and begging of God, who sees and knows everything, and you yourself ask and demand many things in the courts of this same government, yet neither God nor the courts have yet taken offense. Every one realizes that the government, being the human institution that it is, needs the support of all the people, it needs to be made to see and feel the reality of things. You yourself are not convinced of the truth of your objection, you yourself know that it is a tyrannical and despotic government which, in order to make a display of force and independence, denies everything through fear or distrust, and that the tyrannized and enslaved peoples are the only ones whose duty it is never to ask for anything. A people that hates its government ought to ask for nothing but that it abdicate its power.”

The old lawyer grimaced and shook his head from side to side, in sign of discontent, while he rubbed his hand over his bald pate and said in a tone of condescending pity: “Ahem! those are bad doctrines, bad theories, ahem! How plain it is that you are young and inexperienced in life. Look what is happening with the inexperienced young men who in Madrid are asking for so many reforms. They are accused of filibusterism, many of them don’t dare return here, and yet, what are they asking for? Things holy, ancient, and recognized as quite harmless. But there [144] are matters that can’t be explained, they’re so delicate. Let’s see—I confess to you that there are other reasons besides those expressed that might lead a sensible government to deny systematically the wishes of the people—no—but it may happen that we find ourselves under rulers so fatuous and ridiculous—but there are always other reasons, even though what is asked be quite just—different governments encounter different conditions—”

The old man hesitated, stared fixedly at Isagani, and then with a sudden resolution made a sign with his hand as though he would dispel some idea.

“I can guess what you mean,” said Isagani, smiling sadly. “You mean that a colonial government, for the very reason that it is imperfectly constituted and that it is based on premises—”

“No, no, not that, no!” quickly interrupted the old lawyer, as he sought for something among his papers. “No, I meant—but where are my spectacles?”

“There they are,” replied Isagani.

The old man put them on and pretended to look over some papers, but seeing that the youth was waiting, he mumbled, “I wanted to tell you something, I wanted to say—but it has slipped from my mind. You interrupted me in your eagerness—but it was an insignificant matter. If you only knew what a whirl my head is in, I have so much to do!”

Isagani understood that he was being dismissed. “So,” he said, rising, “we—”

“Ah, you will do well to leave the matter in the hands of the government, which will settle it as it sees fit. You say that the Vice-Rector is opposed to the teaching of Castilian. Perhaps he may be, not as to the fact but as to the form. It is said that the Rector who is on his way will bring a project for reform in education. Wait a while, give time a chance, apply yourself to your studies as the examinations are near, and—carambas!—you who already speak Castilian and express yourself easily, what [145] are you bothering yourself about? What interest have you in seeing it specially taught? Surely Padre Florentino thinks as I do! Give him my regards.”

“My uncle,” replied Isagani, “has always admonished me to think of others as much as of myself. I didn’t come for myself, I came in the name of those who are in worse condition.”

“What the devil! Let them do as you have done, let them singe their eyebrows studying and come to be bald like myself, stuffing whole paragraphs into their memories! I believe that if you talk Spanish it is because you have studied it—you’re not of Manila or of Spanish parents! Then let them learn it as you have, and do as I have done: I’ve been a servant to all the friars, I’ve prepared their chocolate, and while with my right hand I stirred it, with the left I held a grammar, I learned, and, thank God! have never needed other teachers or academies or permits from the government. Believe me, he who wishes to learn, learns and becomes wise!”

“But how many among those who wish to learn come to be what you are? One in ten thousand, and more!”

“Pish! Why any more?” retorted the old man, shrugging his shoulders. “There are too many lawyers now, many of them become mere clerks. Doctors? They insult and abuse one another, and even kill each other in competition for a patient. Laborers, sir, laborers, are what we need, for agriculture!”

Isagani realized that he was losing time, but still could not forbear replying: “Undoubtedly, there are many doctors and lawyers, but I won’t say there are too many, since we have towns that lack them entirely, and if they do abound in quantity, perhaps they are deficient in quality. Since the young men can’t be prevented from studying, and no other professions are open to us, why let them waste their time and effort? And if the instruction, deficient as it is, does not keep many from becoming lawyers and doctors, if we must finally have them, why not have good [146] ones? After all, even if the sole wish is to make the country a country of farmers and laborers, and condemn in it all intellectual activity, I don’t see any evil in enlightening those same farmers and laborers, in giving them at least an education that will aid them in perfecting themselves and in perfecting their work, in placing them in a condition to understand many things of which they are at present ignorant.”

“Bah, bah, bah!” exclaimed the lawyer, drawing circles in the air with his hand to dispel the ideas suggested. “To be a good farmer no great amount of rhetoric is needed. Dreams, illusions, fancies! Eh, will you take a piece of advice?”

He arose and placed his hand affectionately on the youth’s shoulder, as he continued: “I’m going to give you one, and a very good one, because I see that you are intelligent and the advice will not be wasted. You’re going to study medicine? Well, confine yourself to learning how to put on plasters and apply leeches, and don’t ever try to improve or impair the condition of your kind. When you become a licentiate, marry a rich and devout girl, try to make cures and charge well, shun everything that has any relation to the general state of the country, attend mass, confession, and communion when the rest do, and you will see afterwards how you will thank me, and I shall see it, if I am still alive. Always remember that charity begins at home, for man ought not to seek on earth more than the greatest amount of happiness for himself, as Bentham says. If you involve yourself in quixotisms you will have no career, nor will you get married, nor will you ever amount to anything. All will abandon you, your own countrymen will be the first to laugh at your simplicity. Believe me, you will remember me and see that I am right, when you have gray hairs like myself, gray hairs such as these!”

Here the old lawyer stroked his scanty white hair, as he smiled sadly and shook his head.

“When I have gray hairs like those, sir,” replied Isagani [147] with equal sadness, “and turn my gaze back over my past and see that I have worked only for myself, without having done what I plainly could and should have done for the country that has given me everything, for the citizens that have helped me to live—then, sir, every gray hair will be a thorn, and instead of rejoicing, they will shame me!”

So saying, he took his leave with a profound bow. The lawyer remained motionless in his place, with an amazed look on his face. He listened to the footfalls that gradually died away, then resumed his seat.

“Poor boy!” he murmured, “similar thoughts also crossed my mind once! What more could any one desire than to be able to say: ‘I have done this for the good of the fatherland, I have consecrated my life to the welfare of others!’ A crown of laurel, steeped in aloes, dry leaves that cover thorns and worms! That is not life, that does not get us our daily bread, nor does it bring us honors— the laurel would hardly serve for a salad, nor produce ease, nor aid us in winning lawsuits, but quite the reverse! Every country has its code of ethics, as it has its climate and its diseases, different from the climate and the diseases of other countries.”

After a pause, he added: “Poor boy! If all should think and act as he does, I don’t say but that—Poor boy! Poor Florentino!” [148]

{mospagebreak_scroll title=Chapter XVI-The Tribulations of a Chinese}

The Tribulations of a Chinese

In the evening of that same Saturday, Quiroga, the Chinese, who aspired to the creation of a consulate for his nation, gave a dinner in the rooms over his bazaar, located in the Escolta. His feast was well attended: friars, government employees, soldiers, merchants, all of them his customers, partners or patrons, were to be seen there, for his store supplied the curates and the conventos with all their necessities, he accepted the chits of all the employees, and he had servants who were discreet, prompt, and complaisant. The friars themselves did not disdain to pass whole hours in his store, sometimes in view of the public, sometimes in the chambers with agreeable company.

That night, then, the sala presented a curious aspect, being filled with friars and clerks seated on Vienna chairs, stools of black wood, and marble benches of Cantonese origin, before little square tables, playing cards or conversing among themselves, under the brilliant glare of the gilt chandeliers or the subdued light of the Chinese lanterns, which were brilliantly decorated with long silken tassels. On the walls there was a lamentable medley of landscapes in dim and gaudy colors, painted in Canton or Hongkong, mingled with tawdry chromos of odalisks, half-nude women, effeminate lithographs of Christ, the deaths of the just and of the sinners—made by Jewish houses in Germany to be sold in the Catholic countries. Nor were there lacking the Chinese prints on red paper representing a man seated, of venerable aspect, with a calm, smiling face, behind whom stood a servant, ugly, horrible, diabolical, threatening, armed with a lance having a wide, [149] keen blade. Among the Indians some call this figure Mohammed, others Santiago,1 we do not know why, nor do the Chinese themselves give a very clear explanation of this popular pair. The pop of champagne corks, the rattle of glasses, laughter, cigar smoke, and that odor peculiar to a Chinese habitation—a mixture of punk, opium, and dried fruits—completed the collection.

Dressed as a Chinese mandarin in a blue-tasseled cap, Quiroga moved from room to room, stiff and straight, but casting watchful glances here and there as though to assure himself that nothing was being stolen. Yet in spite of this natural distrust, he exchanged handshakes with each guest, greeted some with a smile sagacious and humble, others with a patronizing air, and still others with a certain shrewd look that seemed to say, “I know! You didn’t come on my account, you came for the dinner!”

And Quiroga was right! That fat gentleman who is now praising him and speaking of the advisability of a Chinese consulate in Manila, intimating that to manage it there could be no one but Quiroga, is the Señor Gonzalez who hides behind the pseudonym Pitilí when he attacks Chinese immigration through the columns of the newspapers. That other, an elderly man who closely examines the lamps, pictures, and other furnishings with grimaces and ejaculations of disdain, is Don Timoteo Pelaez, Juanito’s father, a merchant who inveighs against the Chinese competition that is ruining his business. The one over there, that thin, brown individual with a sharp look and a pale smile, is the celebrated originator of the dispute over Mexican pesos, which so troubled one of Quiroga’s protéges: that government clerk is regarded in Manila as very clever. That one farther on, he of the frowning look and unkempt mustache, is a government official who passes for a most meritorious fellow because he has the courage to speak ill of the business in lottery tickets carried on between Quiroga [150] and an exalted dame in Manila society. The fact is that two thirds of the tickets go to China and the few that are left in Manila are sold at a premium of a half-real. The honorable gentleman entertains the conviction that some day he will draw the first prize, and is in a rage at finding himself confronted with such tricks.

The dinner, meanwhile, was drawing to an end. From the dining-room floated into the sala snatches of toasts, interruptions, bursts and ripples of laughter. The name of Quiroga was often heard mingled with the words “consul,” “equality,” “justice.” The amphitryon himself did not eat European dishes, so he contented himself with drinking a glass of wine with his guests from time to time, promising to dine with those who were not seated at the first table.

Simoun, who was present, having already dined, was in the sala talking with some merchants, who were complaining of business conditions: everything was going wrong, trade was paralyzed, the European exchanges were exorbitantly high. They sought information from the jeweler or insinuated to him a few ideas, with the hope that these would be communicated to the Captain-General. To all the remedies suggested Simoun responded with a sarcastic and unfeeling exclamation about nonsense, until one of them in exasperation asked him for his opinion.

“My opinion?” he retorted. “Study how other nations prosper, and then do as they do.”

“And why do they prosper, Señor Simoun?”

Simoun replied with a shrug of his shoulders.

“The port works, which weigh so heavily upon commerce, and the port not yet completed!” sighed Don Timoteo Pelaez. “A Penelope’s web, as my son says, that is spun and unspun. The taxes—”

“You complaining!” exclaimed another. “Just as the General has decreed the destruction of houses of light materials!2 And you with a shipment of galvanized iron!” [151]

“Yes,” rejoined Don Timoteo, “but look what that decree cost me! Then, the destruction will not be carried out for a month, not until Lent begins, and other shipments may arrive. I would have wished them destroyed right away, but—Besides, what are the owners of those houses going to buy from me if they are all poor, all equally beggars?”

“You can always buy up their shacks for a trifle.”

“And afterwards have the decree revoked and sell them back at double the price—that’s business!”

Simoun smiled his frigid smile. Seeing Quiroga approach, he left the querulous merchants to greet the future consul, who on catching sight of him lost his satisfied expression and assigned a countenance like those of the merchants, while he bent almost double.

Quiroga respected the jeweler greatly, not only because he knew him to be very wealthy, but also on account of his rumored influence with the Captain-General. It was reported that Simoun favored Quiroga’s ambitions, that he was an advocate for the consulate, and a certain newspaper hostile to the Chinese had alluded to him in many paraphrases, veiled allusions, and suspension points, in the celebrated controversy with another sheet that was favorable to the queued folk. Some prudent persons added with winks and half-uttered words that his Black Eminence was advising the General to avail himself of the Chinese in order to humble the tenacious pride of the natives.

“To hold the people in subjection,” he was reported to have said, “there’s nothing like humiliating them and humbling them in their own eyes.”

To this end an opportunity had soon presented itself. The guilds of mestizos and natives were continually watching one another, venting their bellicose spirits and their activities in jealousy and distrust. At mass one day the gobernadorcillo of the natives was seated on a bench to the right, and, being extremely thin, happened to cross one of his legs over the other, thus adopting a nonchalant [152] attitude, in order to expose his thighs more and display his pretty shoes. The gobernadorcillo of the guild of mestizos, who was seated on the opposite bench, as he had bunions, and could not cross his legs on account of his obesity, spread his legs wide apart to expose a plain waistcoat adorned with a beautiful gold chain set with diamonds. The two cliques comprehended these maneuvers and joined battle. On the following Sunday all the mestizos, even the thinnest, had large paunches and spread their legs wide apart as though on horseback, while the natives placed one leg over the other, even the fattest, there being one cabeza de barangay who turned a somersault. Seeing these movements, the Chinese all adopted their own peculiar attitude, that of sitting as they do in their shops, with one leg drawn back and upward, the other swinging loose. There resulted protests and petitions, the police rushed to arms ready to start a civil war, the curates rejoiced, the Spaniards were amused and made money out of everybody, until the General settled the quarrel by ordering that every one should sit as the Chinese did, since they were the heaviest contributors, even though they were not the best Catholics. The difficulty for the mestizos and natives then was that their trousers were too tight to permit of their imitating the Chinese. But to make the intention of humiliating them the more evident, the measure was carried out with great pomp and ceremony, the church being surrounded by a troop of cavalry, while all those within were sweating. The matter was carried to the Cortes, but it was repeated that the Chinese, as the ones who paid, should have their way in the religious ceremonies, even though they apostatized and laughed at Christianity immediately after. The natives and the mestizos had to be content, learning thus not to waste time over such fatuity.3 [153]

Quiroga, with his smooth tongue and humble smile, was lavishly and flatteringly attentive to Simoun. His voice was caressing and his bows numerous, but the jeweler cut his blandishments short by asking brusquely:

“Did the bracelets suit her?”

At this question all Quiroga’s liveliness vanished like a dream. His caressing voice became plaintive; he bowed lower, gave the Chinese salutation of raising his clasped hands to the height of his face, and groaned: “Ah, Señor Simoun! I’m lost, I’m ruined!”4

“How, Quiroga, lost and ruined when you have so many bottles of champagne and so many guests?”

Quiroga closed his eyes and made a grimace. Yes, the affair of that afternoon, that affair of the bracelets, had ruined him. Simoun smiled, for when a Chinese merchant complains it is because all is going well, and when he makes a show that things are booming it is quite certain that he is planning an assignment or flight to his own country.

“You didn’t know that I’m lost, I’m ruined? Ah, Señor Simoun, I’m busted!” To make his condition [154] plainer, he illustrated the word by making a movement as though he were falling in collapse.

Simoun wanted to laugh, but restrained himself and said that he knew nothing, nothing at all, as Quiroga led him to a room and closed the door. He then explained the cause of his misfortune.

Three diamond bracelets that he had secured from Simoun on pretense of showing them to his wife were not for her, a poor native shut up in her room like a Chinese woman, but for a beautiful and charming lady, the friend of a powerful man, whose influence was needed by him in a certain deal in which he could clear some six thousand pesos. As he did not understand feminine tastes and wished to be gallant, the Chinese had asked for the three finest bracelets the jeweler had, each priced at three to four thousand pesos. With affected simplicity and his most caressing smile, Quiroga had begged the lady to select the one she liked best, and the lady, more simple and caressing still, had declared that she liked all three, and had kept them.

Simoun burst out into laughter.

“Ah, sir, I’m lost, I’m ruined!” cried the Chinese, slapping himself lightly with his delicate hands; but the jeweler continued his laughter.

“Ugh, bad people, surely not a real lady,” went on the Chinaman, shaking his head in disgust. “What! She has no decency, while me, a Chinaman, me always polite! Ah, surely she not a real lady—a cigarrera has more decency!”

“They’ve caught you, they’ve caught you!” exclaimed Simoun, poking him in the chest.

“And everybody’s asking for loans and never pays—what about that? Clerks, officials, lieutenants, soldiers—” he checked them off on his long-nailed fingers—“ah, Señor Simoun, I’m lost, I’m busted!”

“Get out with your complaints,” said Simoun. “I’ve saved you from many officials that wanted money from you. I’ve lent it to them so that they wouldn’t bother you, even when I knew that they couldn’t pay.” [155]

“But, Señor Simoun, you lend to officials; I lend to women, sailors, everybody.”

“I bet you get your money back.”

“Me, money back? Ah, surely you don’t understand! When it’s lost in gambling they never pay. Besides, you have a consul, you can force them, but I haven’t.”

Simoun became thoughtful. “Listen, Quiroga,” he said, somewhat abstractedly, “I’ll undertake to collect what the officers and sailors owe you. Give me their notes.”

Quiroga again fell to whining: they had never given him any notes.

“When they come to you asking for money, send them to me. I want to help you.”

The grateful Quiroga thanked him, but soon fell to lamenting again about the bracelets. “A cigarrera wouldn’t be so shameless!” he repeated.

“The devil!” exclaimed Simoun, looking askance at the Chinese, as though studying him. “Exactly when I need the money and thought that you could pay me! But it can all be arranged, as I don’t want you to fail for such a small amount. Come, a favor, and I’ll reduce to seven the nine thousand pesos you owe me. You can get anything you wish through the Customs—boxes of lamps, iron, copper, glassware, Mexican pesos—you furnish arms to the conventos, don’t you?”

The Chinese nodded affirmation, but remarked that he had to do a good deal of bribing. “I furnish the padres everything!”

“Well, then,” added Simoun in a low voice, “I need you to get in for me some boxes of rifles that arrived this evening. I want you to keep them in your warehouse; there isn’t room for all of them in my house.”

Quiroga began to show symptoms of fright.

“Don’t get scared, you don’t run any risk. These rifles are to be concealed, a few at a time, in various dwellings, then a search will be instituted, and many people will be [156] sent to prison. You and I can make a haul getting them set free. Understand me?”

Quiroga wavered, for he was afraid of firearms. In his desk he had an empty revolver that he never touched without turning his head away and closing his eyes.

“If you can’t do it, I’ll have to apply to some one else, but then I’ll need the nine thousand pesos to cross their palms and shut their eyes.”

“All right, all right!” Quiroga finally agreed. “But many people will be arrested? There’ll be a search, eh?”

When Quiroga and Simoun returned to the sala they found there, in animated conversation, those who had finished their dinner, for the champagne had loosened their tongues and stirred their brains. They were talking rather freely.

In a group where there were a number of government clerks, some ladies, and Don Custodio, the topic was a commission sent to India to make certain investigations about footwear for the soldiers.

“Who compose it?” asked an elderly lady.

“A colonel, two other officers, and his Excellency’s nephew.”

“Four?” rejoined a clerk. “What a commission! Suppose they disagree—are they competent?”

“That’s what I asked,” replied a clerk. “It’s said that one civilian ought to go, one who has no military prejudices—a shoemaker, for instance.”

“That’s right,” added an importer of shoes, “but it wouldn’t do to send an Indian or a Chinaman, and the only Peninsular shoemaker demanded such large fees—”

“But why do they have to make any investigations about footwear?” inquired the elderly lady. “It isn’t for the Peninsular artillerymen. The Indian soldiers can go barefoot, as they do in their towns.”5 [157]

“Exactly so, and the treasury would save more,” corroborated another lady, a widow who was not satisfied with her pension.

“But you must remember,” remarked another in the group, a friend of the officers on the commission, “that while it’s true they go barefoot in the towns, it’s not the same as moving about under orders in the service. They can’t choose the hour, nor the road, nor rest when they wish. Remember, madam, that, with the noonday sun overhead and the earth below baking like an oven, they have to march over sandy stretches, where there are stones, the sun above and fire below, bullets in front—”

“It’s only a question of getting used to it!”

“Like the donkey that got used to not eating! In our present campaign the greater part of our losses have been due to wounds on the soles of the feet. Remember the donkey, madam, remember the donkey!”

“But, my dear sir,” retorted the lady, “look how much money is wasted on shoe-leather. There’s enough to pension many widows and orphans in order to maintain our prestige. Don’t smile, for I’m not talking about myself, and I have my pension, even though a very small one, insignificant considering the services my husband rendered, but I’m talking of others who are dragging out miserable lives! It’s not right that after so much persuasion to come and so many hardships in crossing the sea they should end here by dying of hunger. What you say about the soldiers may be true, but the fact is that I’ve been in the country more than three years, and I haven’t seen any soldier limping.”

“In that I agree with the lady,” said her neighbor. “Why issue them shoes when they were born without them?”

“And why shirts?”

“And why trousers?”

“Just calculate what we should economize on soldiers clothed only in their skins!” concluded he who was defending the army. [158]

In another group the conversation was more heated. Ben-Zayb was talking and declaiming, while Padre Camorra, as usual, was constantly interrupting him. The friar-journalist, in spite of his respect for the cowled gentry, was always at loggerheads with Padre Camorra, whom he regarded as a silly half-friar, thus giving himself the appearance of being independent and refuting the accusations of those who called him Fray Ibañez. Padre Camorra liked his adversary, as the latter was the only person who would take seriously what he styled his arguments. They were discussing magnetism, spiritualism, magic, and the like. Their words flew through the air like the knives and balls of jugglers, tossed back and forth from one to the other.

That year great attention had been attracted in the Quiapo fair by a head, wrongly called a sphinx, exhibited by Mr. Leeds, an American. Glaring advertisements covered the walls of the houses, mysterious and funereal, to excite the curiosity of the public. Neither Ben-Zayb nor any of the padres had yet seen it; Juanito Pelaez was the only one who had, and he was describing his wonderment to the party.

Ben-Zayb, as a journalist, looked for a natural explanation. Padre Camorra talked of the devil, Padre Irene smiled, Padre Salvi remained grave.

“But, Padre, the devil doesn’t need to come—we are sufficient to damn ourselves—”

“It can’t be explained any other way.”

“If science—”

“Get out with science, puñales!”

“But, listen to me and I’ll convince you. It’s all a question of optics. I haven’t yet seen the head nor do I know how it looks, but this gentleman”—indicating Juanito Pelaez—“tells us that it does not look like the talking heads that are usually exhibited. So be it! But the principle is the same—it’s all a question of optics. Wait! A mirror is placed thus, another mirror behind it, [159] the image is reflected—I say, it is purely a problem in physics.”

Taking down from the walls several mirrors, he arranged them, turned them round and round, but, not getting the desired result, concluded: “As I say, it’s nothing more or less than a question of optics.”

“But what do you want mirrors for, if Juanito tells us that the head is inside a box placed on the table? I see in it spiritualism, because the spiritualists always make use of tables, and I think that Padre Salvi, as the ecclesiastical governor, ought to prohibit the exhibition.”

Padre Salvi remained silent, saying neither yes nor no.

“In order to learn if there are devils or mirrors inside it,” suggested Simoun, “the best thing would be for you to go and see the famous sphinx.”

The proposal was a good one, so it was accepted, although Padre Salvi and Don Custodio showed some repugnance. They at a fair, to rub shoulders with the public, to see sphinxes and talking heads! What would the natives say? These might take them for mere men, endowed with the same passions and weaknesses as others. But Ben-Zayb, with his journalistic ingenuity, promised to request Mr. Leeds not to admit the public while they were inside. They would be honoring him sufficiently by the visit not to admit of his refusal, and besides he would not charge any admission fee. To give a show of probability to this, he concluded: “Because, remember, if I should expose the trick of the mirrors to the public, it would ruin the poor American’s business.” Ben-Zayb was a conscientious individual.

About a dozen set out, among them our acquaintances, Padres Salvi, Camorra, and Irene, Don Custodio, Ben-Zayb, and Juanito Pelaez. Their carriages set them down at the entrance to the Quiapo Plaza. [160]

 


1 The patron saint of Spain, St. James.—Tr.

2 Houses of bamboo and nipa, such as form the homes of the masses of the natives.—Tr.

3 “In this paragraph Rizal alludes to an incident that had very serious results. There was annually celebrated in Binondo a certain religious festival, principally at the expense of the Chinese mestizos. The latter finally petitioned that their gobernadorcillo be given the presidency [153n] of it, and this was granted, thanks to the fact that the parish priest (the Dominican, Fray José Hevia Campomanes) held to the opinion that the presidency belonged to those who paid the most. The Tagalogs protested, alleging their better right to it, as the genuine sons of the country, not to mention the historical precedent, but the friar, who was looking after his own interests, did not yield. General Terrero (Governor, 1885–1888), at the advice of his liberal councilors, finally had the parish priest removed and for the time being decided the affair in favor of the Tagalogs. The matter reached the Colonial Office (Ministerio de Ultramar) and the Minister was not even content merely to settle it in the way the friars desired, but made amends to Padre Hevia by appointing him a bishop.”—W. E. Retana, who was a journalist in Manila at the time, in a note to this chapter.

Childish and ridiculous as this may appear now, it was far from being so at the time, especially in view of the supreme contempt with which the pugnacious Tagalog looks down upon the meek and complaisant Chinese and the mortal antipathy that exists between the two races.—Tr.

4 It is regrettable that Quiroga’s picturesque butchery of Spanish and Tagalog—the dialect of the Manila Chinese—cannot be reproduced here. Only the thought can be given. There is the same difficulty with r’s, d’s, and l’s that the Chinese show in English.—Tr.

5 Up to the outbreak of the insurrection in 1896, the only genuinely Spanish troops in the islands were a few hundred artillerymen, the rest being natives, with Spanish officers.—Tr.

{mospagebreak_scroll title=Chapter XVII-The Quiapo Pair}

The Quiapo Fair

It was a beautiful night and the plaza presented a most animated aspect. Taking advantage of the freshness of the breeze and the splendor of the January moon, the people filled the fair to see, be seen, and amuse themselves. The music of the cosmoramas and the lights of the lanterns gave life and merriment to every one. Long rows of booths, brilliant with tinsel and gauds, exposed to view clusters of balls, masks strung by the eyes, tin toys, trains, carts, mechanical horses, carriages, steam-engines with diminutive boilers, Lilliputian tableware of porcelain, pine Nativities, dolls both foreign and domestic, the former red and smiling, the latter sad and pensive like little ladies beside gigantic children. The beating of drums, the roar of tin horns, the wheezy music of the accordions and the hand-organs, all mingled in a carnival concert, amid the coming and going of the crowd, pushing, stumbling over one another, with their faces turned toward the booths, so that the collisions were frequent and often amusing. The carriages were forced to move slowly, with the tabí of the cocheros repeated every moment. Met and mingled government clerks, soldiers, friars, students, Chinese, girls with their mammas or aunts, all greeting, signaling, calling to one another merrily.

Padre Camorra was in the seventh heaven at the sight of so many pretty girls. He stopped, looked back, nudged Ben-Zayb, chuckled and swore, saying, “And that one, and that one, my ink-slinger? And that one over there, what say you?” In his contentment he even fell to using the familiar tu toward his friend and adversary. Padre [161] Salvi stared at him from time to time, but he took little note of Padre Salvi. On the contrary, he pretended to stumble so that he might brush against the girls, he winked and made eyes at them.

Puñales!” he kept saying to himself. “When shall I be the curate of Quiapo?”

Suddenly Ben-Zayb let go an oath, jumped aside, and slapped his hand on his arm; Padre Camorra in his excess of enthusiasm had pinched him. They were approaching a dazzling señorita who was attracting the attention of the whole plaza, and Padre Camorra, unable to restrain his delight, had taken Ben-Zayb’s arm as a substitute for the girl’s.

It was Paulita Gomez, the prettiest of the pretty, in company with Isagani, followed by Doña Victorina. The young woman was resplendent in her beauty: all stopped and craned their necks, while they ceased their conversation and followed her with their eyes—even Doña Victorina was respectfully saluted.

Paulita was arrayed in a rich camisa and pañuelo of embroidered piña, different from those she had worn that morning to the church. The gauzy texture of the piña set off her shapely head, and the Indians who saw her compared her to the moon surrounded by fleecy clouds. A silk rose-colored skirt, caught up in rich and graceful folds by her little hand, gave majesty to her erect figure, the movement of which, harmonizing with her curving neck, displayed all the triumphs of vanity and satisfied coquetry. Isagani appeared to be rather disgusted, for so many curious eyes fixed upon the beauty of his sweetheart annoyed him. The stares seemed to him robbery and the girl’s smiles faithlessness.

Juanito saw her and his hump increased when he spoke to her. Paulita replied negligently, while Doña Victorina called to him, for Juanito was her favorite, she preferring him to Isagani.

“What a girl, what a girl!” muttered the entranced Padre Camorra. [162]

“Come, Padre, pinch yourself and let me alone,” said Ben-Zayb fretfully.

“What a girl, what a girl!” repeated the friar. “And she has for a sweetheart a pupil of mine, the boy I had the quarrel with.”

“Just my luck that she’s not of my town,” he added, after turning his head several times to follow her with his looks. He was even tempted to leave his companions to follow the girl, and Ben-Zayb had difficulty in dissuading him. Paulita’s beautiful figure moved on, her graceful little head nodding with inborn coquetry.

Our promenaders kept on their way, not without sighs on the part of the friar-artilleryman, until they reached a booth surrounded by sightseers, who quickly made way for them. It was a shop of little wooden figures, of local manufacture, representing in all shapes and sizes the costumes, races, and occupations of the country: Indians, Spaniards, Chinese, mestizos, friars, clergymen, government clerks, gobernadorcillos, students, soldiers, and so on.

Whether the artists had more affection for the priests, the folds of whose habits were better suited to their esthetic purposes, or whether the friars, holding such an important place in Philippine life, engaged the attention of the sculptor more, the fact was that, for one cause or another, images of them abounded, well-turned and finished, representing them in the sublimest moments of their lives—the opposite of what is done in Europe, where they are pictured as sleeping on casks of wine, playing cards, emptying tankards, rousing themselves to gaiety, or patting the cheeks of a buxom girl. No, the friars of the Philippines were different: elegant, handsome, well-dressed, their tonsures neatly shaven, their features symmetrical and serene, their gaze meditative, their expression saintly, somewhat rosy-cheeked, cane in hand and patent-leather shoes on their feet, inviting adoration and a place in a glass case. Instead of the symbols of gluttony and incontinence of their brethren in [163] Europe, those of Manila carried the book, the crucifix, and the palm of martyrdom; instead of kissing the simple country lasses, those of Manila gravely extended the hand to be kissed by children and grown men doubled over almost to kneeling; instead of the full refectory and dining-hall, their stage in Europe, in Manila they had the oratory, the study-table; instead of the mendicant friar who goes from door to door with his donkey and sack, begging alms, the friars of the Philippines scattered gold from full hands among the miserable Indians.

“Look, here’s Padre Camorra!” exclaimed Ben-Zayb, upon whom the effect of the champagne still lingered. He pointed to a picture of a lean friar of thoughtful mien who was seated at a table with his head resting on the palm of his hand, apparently writing a sermon by the light of a lamp. The contrast suggested drew laughter from the crowd.

Padre Camorra, who had already forgotten about Paulita, saw what was meant and laughing his clownish laugh, asked in turn, “Whom does this other figure resemble, Ben-Zayb?”

It was an old woman with one eye, with disheveled hair, seated on the ground like an Indian idol, ironing clothes. The sad-iron was carefully imitated, being of copper with coals of red tinsel and smoke-wreaths of dirty twisted cotton.

“Eh, Ben-Zayb, it wasn’t a fool who designed that” asked Padre Camorra with a laugh.

“Well, I don’t see the point,” replied the journalist.

“But, puñales, don’t you see the title, The Philippine Press? That utensil with which the old woman is ironing is here called the press!”

All laughed at this, Ben-Zayb himself joining in good-naturedly.

Two soldiers of the Civil Guard, appropriately labeled, were placed behind a man who was tightly bound and had his face covered by his hat. It was entitled The Country of [164] Abaka,1 and from appearances they were going to shoot him.

Many of our visitors were displeased with the exhibition. They talked of rules of art, they sought proportion—one said that this figure did not have seven heads, that the face lacked a nose, having only three, all of which made Padre Camorra somewhat thoughtful, for he did not comprehend how a figure, to be correct, need have four noses and seven heads. Others said, if they were muscular, that they could not be Indians; still others remarked that it was not sculpture, but mere carpentry. Each added his spoonful of criticism, until Padre Camorra, not to be outdone, ventured to ask for at least thirty legs for each doll, because, if the others wanted noses, couldn’t he require feet? So they fell to discussing whether the Indian had or had not any aptitude for sculpture, and whether it would be advisable to encourage that art, until there arose a general dispute, which was cut short by Don Custodio’s declaration that the Indians had the aptitude, but that they should devote themselves exclusively to the manufacture of saints.

“One would say,” observed Ben-Zayb, who was full of bright ideas that night, “that this Chinaman is Quiroga, but on close examination it looks like Padre Irene. And what do you say about that British Indian? He looks like Simoun!”

Fresh peals of laughter resounded, while Padre Irene rubbed his nose.

“That’s right!”

“It’s the very image of him!”

“But where is Simoun? Simoun should buy it.”

But the jeweler had disappeared, unnoticed by any one.

Puñales!” exclaimed Padre Camorra, “how stingy the American is! He’s afraid we would make him pay the admission for all of us into Mr. Leeds’ show.” [165]

“No!” rejoined Ben-Zayb, “what he’s afraid of is that he’ll compromise himself. He may have foreseen the joke in store for his friend Mr. Leeds and has got out of the way.”

Thus, without purchasing the least trifle, they continued on their way to see the famous sphinx. Ben-Zayb offered to manage the affair, for the American would not rebuff a journalist who could take revenge in an unfavorable article. “You’ll see that it’s all a question of mirrors,” he said, “because, you see—” Again he plunged into a long demonstration, and as he had no mirrors at hand to discredit his theory he tangled himself up in all kinds of blunders and wound up by not knowing himself what he was saying. “In short, you’ll see how it’s all a question of optics.” [166]

 


1 Abaka is the fiber obtained from the leaves of the Musa textilis and is known commercially as Manila hemp. As it is exclusively a product of the Philippines, it may be taken here to symbolize the country.—Tr.

{mospagebreak_scroll title=Chapter XVIII-Legerdemain}

Legerdemain

Mr. Leeds, a genuine Yankee, dressed completely in black, received his visitors with great deference. He spoke Spanish well, from having been for many years in South America, and offered no objection to their request, saying that they might examine everything, both before and after the exhibition, but begged that they remain quiet while it was in progress. Ben-Zayb smiled in pleasant anticipation of the vexation he had prepared for the American.

The room, hung entirely in black, was lighted by ancient lamps burning alcohol. A rail wrapped in black velvet divided it into two almost equal parts, one of which was filled with seats for the spectators and the other occupied by a platform covered with a checkered carpet. In the center of this platform was placed a table, over which was spread a piece of black cloth adorned with skulls and cabalistic signs. The mise en scène was therefore lugubrious and had its effect upon the merry visitors. The jokes died away, they spoke in whispers, and however much some tried to appear indifferent, their lips framed no smiles. All felt as if they had entered a house where there was a corpse, an illusion accentuated by an odor of wax and incense. Don Custodio and Padre Salvi consulted in whispers over the expediency of prohibiting such shows.

Ben-Zayb, in order to cheer the dispirited group and embarrass Mr. Leeds, said to him in a familiar tone: “Eh, Mister, since there are none but ourselves here and we aren’t Indians who can be fooled, won’t you let us see [167] the trick? We know of course that it’s purely a question of optics, but as Padre Camorra won’t be convinced—”

Here he started to jump over the rail, instead of going through the proper opening, while Padre Camorra broke out into protests, fearing that Ben-Zayb might be right.

“And why not, sir?” rejoined the American. “But don’t break anything, will you?”

The journalist was already on the platform. “You will allow me, then?” he asked, and without waiting for the permission, fearing that it might not be granted, raised the cloth to look for the mirrors that he expected should be between the legs of the table. Ben-Zayb uttered an exclamation and stepped back, again placed both hands under the table and waved them about; he encountered only empty space. The table had three thin iron legs, sunk into the floor.

The journalist looked all about as though seeking something.

“Where are the mirrors?” asked Padre Camorra.

Ben-Zayb looked and looked, felt the table with his fingers, raised the cloth again, and rubbed his hand over his forehead from time to time, as if trying to remember something.

“Have you lost anything?” inquired Mr. Leeds.

“The mirrors, Mister, where are the mirrors?”

“I don’t know where yours are—mine are at the hotel. Do you want to look at yourself? You’re somewhat pale and excited.”

Many laughed, in spite of their weird impressions, on seeing the jesting coolness of the American, while Ben-Zayb retired, quite abashed, to his seat, muttering, “It can’t be. You’ll see that he doesn’t do it without mirrors. The table will have to be changed later.”

Mr. Leeds placed the cloth on the table again and turning toward his illustrious audience, asked them, “Are you satisfied? May we begin?”

“Hurry up! How cold-blooded he is!” said the widow. [168]

“Then, ladies and gentlemen, take your seats and get your questions ready.”

Mr. Leeds disappeared through a doorway and in a few moments returned with a black box of worm-eaten wood, covered with inscriptions in the form of birds, beasts, and human heads.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began solemnly, “once having had occasion to visit the great pyramid of Khufu, a Pharaoh of the fourth dynasty, I chanced upon a sarcophagus of red granite in a forgotten chamber. My joy was great, for I thought that I had found a royal mummy, but what was my disappointment on opening the coffin, at the cost of infinite labor, to find nothing more than this box, which you may examine.”

He handed the box to those in the front row. Padre Camorra drew back in loathing, Padre Salvi looked at it closely as if he enjoyed sepulchral things, Padre Irene smiled a knowing smile, Don Custodio affected gravity and disdain, while Ben-Zayb hunted for his mirrors—there they must be, for it was a question of mirrors.

“It smells like a corpse,” observed one lady, fanning herself furiously. “Ugh!”

“It smells of forty centuries,” remarked some one with emphasis.

Ben-Zayb forgot about his mirrors to discover who had made this remark. It was a military official who had read the history of Napoleon.

Ben-Zayb felt jealous and to utter another epigram that might annoy Padre Camorra a little said, “It smells of the Church.”

“This box, ladies and gentlemen,” continued the American, “contained a handful of ashes and a piece of papyrus on which were written some words. Examine them yourselves, but I beg of you not to breathe heavily, because if any of the dust is lost my sphinx will appear in a mutilated condition.”

The humbug, described with such seriousness and conviction, [169] was gradually having its effect, so much so that when the box was passed around, no one dared to breathe. Padre Camorra, who had so often depicted from the pulpit of Tiani the torments and sufferings of hell, while he laughed in his sleeves at the terrified looks of the sinners, held his nose, and Padre Salvi—the same Padre Salvi who had on All Souls’ Day prepared a phantasmagoria of the souls in purgatory with flames and transparencies illuminated with alcohol lamps and covered with tinsel, on the high altar of the church in a suburb, in order to get alms and orders for masses—the lean and taciturn Padre Salvi held his breath and gazed suspiciously at that handful of ashes.

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es!” muttered Padre Irene with a smile.

“Pish!” sneered Ben-Zayb—the same thought had occurred to him, and the Canon had taken the words out of his mouth.

“Not knowing what to do,” resumed Mr. Leeds, closing the box carefully, “I examined the papyrus and discovered two words whose meaning was unknown to me. I deciphered them, and tried to pronounce them aloud. Scarcely had I uttered the first word when I felt the box slipping from my hands, as if pressed down by an enormous weight, and it glided along the floor, whence I vainly endeavored to remove it. But my surprise was converted into terror when it opened and I found within a human head that stared at me fixedly. Paralyzed with fright and uncertain what to do in the presence of such a phenomenon, I remained for a time stupefied, trembling like a person poisoned with mercury, but after a while recovered myself and, thinking that it was a vain illusion, tried to divert my attention by reading the second word. Hardly had I pronounced it when the box closed, the head disappeared, and in its place I again found the handful of ashes. Without suspecting it I had discovered the two most potent words in nature, the words of creation and destruction, of life and of death!” [170]

He paused for a few moments to note the effect of his story, then with grave and measured steps approached the table and placed the mysterious box upon it.

“The cloth, Mister!” exclaimed the incorrigible Ben-Zayb.

“Why not?” rejoined Mr. Leeds, very complaisantly.

Lifting the box with his right hand, he caught up the cloth with his left, completely exposing the table sustained by its three legs. Again he placed the box upon the center and with great gravity turned to his audience.

“Here’s what I want to see,” said Ben-Zayb to his neighbor. “You notice how he makes some excuse.”

Great attention was depicted on all countenances and silence reigned. The noise and roar of the street could be distinctly heard, but all were so affected that a snatch of dialogue which reached them produced no effect.

“Why can’t we go in?” asked a woman’s voice.

Abá, there’s a lot of friars and clerks in there,” answered a man. “The sphinx is for them only.”

“The friars are inquisitive too,” said the woman’s voice, drawing away. “They don’t want us to know how they’re being fooled. Why, is the head a friar’s querida?”

In the midst of a profound silence the American announced in a tone of emotion: “Ladies and gentlemen, with a word I am now going to reanimate the handful of ashes, and you will talk with a being that knows the past, the present, and much of the future!”

Here the prestidigitator uttered a soft cry, first mournful, then lively, a medley of sharp sounds like imprecations and hoarse notes like threats, which made Ben-Zayb’s hair stand on end.

Deremof!” cried the American.

The curtains on the wall rustled, the lamps burned low, the table creaked. A feeble groan responded from the interior of the box. Pale and uneasy, all stared at one another, while one terrified señora caught hold of Padre Salvi. [171]

The box then opened of its own accord and presented to the eyes of the audience a head of cadaverous aspect, surrounded by long and abundant black hair. It slowly opened its eyes and looked around the whole audience. Those eyes had a vivid radiance, accentuated by their cavernous sockets, and, as if deep were calling unto deep, fixed themselves upon the profound, sunken eyes of the trembling Padre Salvi, who was staring unnaturally, as though he saw a ghost.

“Sphinx,” commanded Mr. Leeds, “tell the audience who you are.”

A deep silence prevailed, while a chill wind blew through the room and made the blue flames of the sepulchral lamps flicker. The most skeptical shivered.

“I am Imuthis,” declared the head in a funereal, but strangely menacing, voice. “I was born in the time of Amasis and died under the Persian domination, when Cambyses was returning from his disastrous expedition into the interior of Libya. I had come to complete my education after extensive travels through Greece, Assyria, and Persia, and had returned to my native laud to dwell in it until Thoth should call me before his terrible tribunal. But to my undoing, on passing through Babylonia, I discovered an awful secret—the secret of the false Smerdis who usurped the throne, the bold Magian Gaumata who governed as an impostor. Fearing that I would betray him to Cambyses, he determined upon my ruin through the instrumentality of the Egyptian priests, who at that time ruled my native country. They were the owners of two-thirds of the land, the monopolizers of learning, they held the people down in ignorance and tyranny, they brutalized them, thus making them fit to pass without resistance from one domination to another. The invaders availed themselves of them, and knowing their usefulness, protected and enriched them. The rulers not only depended on their will, but some were reduced to mere instruments of theirs. The Egyptian priests hastened to execute Gaumata’s orders, with greater [172] zeal from their fear of me, because they were afraid that I would reveal their impostures to the people. To accomplish their purpose, they made use of a young priest of Abydos, who passed for a saint.”

A painful silence followed these words. That head was talking of priestly intrigues and impostures, and although referring to another age and other creeds, all the friars present were annoyed, possibly because they could see in the general trend of the speech some analogy to the existing situation. Padre Salvi was in the grip of convulsive shivering; he worked his lips and with bulging eyes followed the gaze of the head as though fascinated. Beads of sweat began to break out on his emaciated face, but no one noticed this, so deeply absorbed and affected were they.

“What was the plot concocted by the priests of your country against you?” asked Mr. Leeds.

The head uttered a sorrowful groan, which seemed to come from the bottom of the heart, and the spectators saw its eyes, those fiery eyes, clouded and filled with tears. Many shuddered and felt their hair rise. No, that was not an illusion, it was not a trick: the head was the victim and what it told was its own story.

“Ay!” it moaned, shaking with affliction, “I loved a maiden, the daughter of a priest, pure as light, like the freshly opened lotus! The young priest of Abydos also desired her and planned a rebellion, using my name and some papyri that he had secured from my beloved. The rebellion broke out at the time when Cambyses was returning in rage over the disasters of his unfortunate campaign. I was accused of being a rebel, was made a prisoner, and having effected my escape was killed in the chase on Lake Moeris. From out of eternity I saw the imposture triumph. I saw the priest of Abydos night and day persecuting the maiden, who had taken refuge in a temple of Isis on the island of Philae. I saw him persecute and harass her, even in the subterranean chambers, I saw him drive her mad with terror and suffering, like a huge bat pursuing a white dove. [173] Ah, priest, priest of Abydos, I have returned to life to expose your infamy, and after so many years of silence, I name thee murderer, hypocrite, liar!”

A dry, hollow laugh accompanied these words, while a choked voice responded, “No! Mercy!”

It was Padre Salvi, who had been overcome with terror and with arms extended was slipping in collapse to the floor.

“What’s the matter with your Reverence? Are you ill?” asked Padre Irene.

“The heat of the room—”

“This odor of corpses we’re breathing here—”

“Murderer, slanderer, hypocrite!” repeated the head. “I accuse you—murderer, murderer, murderer!”

Again the dry laugh, sepulchral and menacing, resounded, as though that head were so absorbed in contemplation of its wrongs that it did not see the tumult that prevailed in the room.

“Mercy! She still lives!” groaned Padre Salvi, and then lost consciousness. He was as pallid as a corpse. Some of the ladies thought it their duty to faint also, and proceeded to do so.

“He is out of his head! Padre Salvi!”

“I told him not to eat that bird’s-nest soup,” said Padre Irene. “It has made him sick.”

“But he didn’t eat anything,” rejoined Don Custodio shivering. “As the head has been staring at him fixedly, it has mesmerized him.”

So disorder prevailed, the room seemed to be a hospital or a battlefield. Padre Salvi looked like a corpse, and the ladies, seeing that no one was paying them any attention, made the best of it by recovering.

Meanwhile, the head had been reduced to ashes, and Mr. Leeds, having replaced the cloth on the table, bowed his audience out.

“This show must be prohibited,” said Don Custodio on leaving. “It’s wicked and highly immoral.” [174]

“And above all, because it doesn’t use mirrors,” added Ben-Zayb, who before going out of the room tried to assure himself finally, so he leaped over the rail, went up to the table, and raised the cloth: nothing, absolutely nothing!1 On the following day he wrote an article in which he spoke of occult sciences, spiritualism, and the like.

An order came immediately from the ecclesiastical governor prohibiting the show, but Mr. Leeds had already disappeared, carrying his secret with him to Hongkong. [175]

 


1 Yet Ben-Zayb was not very much mistaken. The three legs of the table have grooves in them in which slide the mirrors hidden below the platform and covered by the squares of the carpet. By placing the box upon the table a spring is pressed and the mirrors rise gently. The cloth is then removed, with care to raise it instead of letting it slide off, and then there is the ordinary table of the talking heads. The table is connected with the bottom of the box. The exhibition ended, the prestidigitator again covers the table, presses another spring, and the mirrors descend.—Author’s note.

{mospagebreak_scroll title=Chapter XIX-The Fuse}

The Fuse

Placido Penitente left the class with his heart overflowing with bitterness and sullen gloom in his looks. He was worthy of his name when not driven from his usual course, but once irritated he was a veritable torrent, a wild beast that could only be stopped by the death of himself or his foe. So many affronts, so many pinpricks, day after day, had made his heart quiver, lodging in it to sleep the sleep of lethargic vipers, and they now were awaking to shake and hiss with fury. The hisses resounded in his ears with the jesting epithets of the professor, the phrases in the slang of the markets, and he seemed to hear blows and laughter. A thousand schemes for revenge rushed into his brain, crowding one another, only to fade immediately like phantoms in a dream. His vanity cried out to him with desperate tenacity that he must do something.

“Placido Penitente,” said the voice, “show these youths that you have dignity, that you are the son of a valiant and noble province, where wrongs are washed out with blood. You’re a Batangan, Placido Penitente! Avenge yourself, Placido Penitente!”

The youth groaned and gnashed his teeth, stumbling against every one in the street and on the Bridge of Spain, as if he were seeking a quarrel. In the latter place he saw a carriage in which was the Vice-Rector, Padre Sibyla, accompanied by Don Custodio, and he had a great mind to seize the friar and throw him into the river.

He proceeded along the Escolta and was tempted to assault two Augustinians who were seated in the doorway [176] of Quiroga’s bazaar, laughing and joking with other friars who must have been inside in joyous conversation, for their merry voices and sonorous laughter could be heard. Somewhat farther on, two cadets blocked up the sidewalk, talking with the clerk of a warehouse, who was in his shirtsleeves. Penitents moved toward them to force a passage and they, perceiving his dark intention, good-humoredly made way for him. Placido was by this time under the influence of the amok, as the Malayists say.

As he approached his home—the house of a silversmith where he lived as a boarder—he tried to collect his thoughts and make a plan—to return to his town and avenge himself by showing the friars that they could not with impunity insult a youth or make a joke of him. He decided to write a letter immediately to his mother, Cabesang Andang, to inform her of what had happened and to tell her that the schoolroom had closed forever for him. Although there was the Ateneo of the Jesuits, where he might study that year, yet it was not very likely that the Dominicans would grant him the transfer, and, even though he should secure it, in the following year he would have to return to the University.

“They say that we don’t know how to avenge ourselves!” he muttered. “Let the lightning strike and we’ll see!”

But Placido was not reckoning upon what awaited him in the house of the silversmith. Cabesang Andang had just arrived from Batangas, having come to do some shopping, to visit her son, and to bring him money, jerked venison, and silk handkerchiefs.

The first greetings over, the poor woman, who had at once noticed her son’s gloomy look, could no longer restrain her curiosity and began to ask questions. His first explanations Cabesang Andang regarded as some subterfuge, so she smiled and soothed her son, reminding him of their sacrifices and privations. She spoke of Capitana Simona’s son, who, having entered the seminary, now carried himself in the town like a bishop, and Capitana Simona already [177] considered herself a Mother of God, clearly so, for her son was going to be another Christ.

“If the son becomes a priest,” said she, “the mother won’t have to pay us what she owes us. Who will collect from her then?”

But on seeing that Placido was speaking seriously and reading in his eyes the storm that raged within him, she realized that what he was telling her was unfortunately the strict truth. She remained silent for a while and then broke out into lamentations.

“Ay!” she exclaimed. “I promised your father that I would care for you, educate you, and make a lawyer of you! I’ve deprived myself of everything so that you might go to school! Instead of joining the panguingui where the stake is a half peso, I Ve gone only where it’s a half real, enduring the bad smells and the dirty cards. Look at my patched camisa; for instead of buying new ones I’ve spent the money in masses and presents to St. Sebastian, even though I don’t have great confidence in his power, because the curate recites the masses fast and hurriedly, he’s an entirely new saint and doesn’t yet know how to perform miracles, and isn’t made of batikulin but of lanete. Ay, what will your father say to me when I die and see him again!”

So the poor woman lamented and wept, while Placido became gloomier and let stifled sighs escape from his breast.

“What would I get out of being a lawyer?” was his response.

“What will become of you?” asked his mother, clasping her hands. “They’ll call you a filibuster and garrote you. I’ve told you that you must have patience, that you must be humble. I don’t tell you that you must kiss the hands of the curates, for I know that you have a delicate sense of smell, like your father, who couldn’t endure European cheese.1 But we have to suffer, to be silent, to say yes [178] to everything. What are we going to do? The friars own everything, and if they are unwilling, no one will become a lawyer or a doctor. Have patience, my son, have patience!”

“But I’ve had a great deal, mother, I’ve suffered for months and months.”

Cabesang Andang then resumed her lamentations. She did not ask that he declare himself a partizan of the friars, she was not one herself—it was enough to know that for one good friar there were ten bad, who took the money from the poor and deported the rich. But one must be silent, suffer, and endure—there was no other course. She cited this man and that one, who by being patient and humble, even though in the bottom of his heart he hated his masters, had risen from servant of the friars to high office; and such another who was rich and could commit abuses, secure of having patrons who would protect him from the law, yet who had been nothing more than a poor sacristan, humble and obedient, and who had married a pretty girl whose son had the curate for a godfather. So Cabesang Andang continued her litany of humble and patient Filipinos, as she called them, and was about to cite others who by not being so had found themselves persecuted and exiled, when Placido on some trifling pretext left the house to wander about the streets.

He passed through Sibakong,2 Tondo, San Nicolas, and Santo Cristo, absorbed in his ill-humor, without taking note of the sun or the hour, and only when he began to feel hungry and discovered that he had no money, having given it all for celebrations and contributions, did he return to the house. He had expected that he would not meet his mother there, as she was in the habit, when in Manila, of going out at that hour to a neighboring house where [179] panguingui was played, but Cabesang Andang was waiting to propose her plan. She would avail herself of the procurator of the Augustinians to restore her son to the good graces of the Dominicans.

Placido stopped her with a gesture. “I’ll throw myself into the sea first,” he declared. “I’ll become a tulisan before I’ll go back to the University.”

Again his mother began her preachment about patience and humility, so he went away again without having eaten anything, directing his steps toward the quay where the steamers tied up. The sight of a steamer weighing anchor for Hongkong inspired him with an idea—to go to Hongkong, to run away, get rich there, and make war on the friars.

The thought of Hongkong awoke in his mind the recollection of a story about frontals, cirials, and candelabra of pure silver, which the piety of the faithful had led them to present to a certain church. The friars, so the silversmith told, had sent to Hongkong to have duplicate frontals, cirials, and candelabra made of German silver, which they substituted for the genuine ones, these being melted down and coined into Mexican pesos. Such was the story he had heard, and though it was no more than a rumor or a story, his resentment gave it the color of truth and reminded him of other tricks of theirs in that same style. The desire to live free, and certain half-formed plans, led him to decide upon Hongkong. If the corporations sent all their money there, commerce must be flourishing and he could enrich himself.

“I want to be free, to live free!”

Night surprised him wandering along San Fernando, but not meeting any sailor he knew, he decided to return home. As the night was beautiful, with a brilliant moon transforming the squalid city into a fantastic fairy kingdom, he went to the fair. There he wandered back and forth, passing booths without taking any notice of the articles in them, ever with the thought of Hongkong, of living free, of enriching himself. [180]

He was about to leave the fair when he thought he recognized the jeweler Simoun bidding good-by to a foreigner, both of them speaking in English. To Placido every language spoken in the Philippines by Europeans, when not Spanish, had to be English, and besides, he caught the name Hongkong. If only the jeweler would recommend him to that foreigner, who must be setting out for Hongkong!

Placido paused. He was acquainted with the jeweler, as the latter had been in his town peddling his wares, and he had accompanied him on one of his trips, when Simoun had made himself very amiable indeed, telling him of the life in the universities of the free countries—what a difference!

So he followed the jeweler. “Señor Simoun, Señor Simoun!” he called.

The jeweler was at that moment entering his carriage. Recognizing Placido, he checked himself.

“I want to ask a favor of you, to say a few words to you.”

Simoun made a sign of impatience which Placido in his perturbation did not observe. In a few words the youth related what had happened and made known his desire to go to Hongkong.

“Why?” asked Simoun, staring fixedly at Placido through his blue goggles.

Placido did not answer, so Simoun threw back his head, smiled his cold, silent smile and said, “All right! Come with me. To Calle Iris!” he directed the cochero.

Simoun remained silent throughout the whole drive, apparently absorbed in meditation of a very important nature. Placido kept quiet, waiting for him to speak first, and entertained himself in watching the promenaders who were enjoying the clear moonlight: pairs of infatuated lovers, followed by watchful mammas or aunts; groups of students in white clothes that the moonlight made whiter still; half-drunken soldiers in a carriage, six together, on their way to visit some nipa temple dedicated to Cytherea; [181] children playing their games and Chinese selling sugar-cane. All these filled the streets, taking on in the brilliant moonlight fantastic forms and ideal outlines. In one house an orchestra was playing waltzes, and couples might be seen dancing under the bright lamps and chandeliers—what a sordid spectacle they presented in comparison with the sight the streets afforded! Thinking of Hongkong, he asked himself if the moonlit nights in that island were so poetical and sweetly melancholy as those of the Philippines, and a deep sadness settled down over his heart.

Simoun ordered the carriage to stop and both alighted, just at the moment when Isagani and Paulita Gomez passed them murmuring sweet inanities. Behind them came Doña Victorina with Juanito Pelaez, who was talking in a loud voice, busily gesticulating, and appearing to have a larger hump than ever. In his preoccupation Pelaez did not notice his former schoolmate.

“There’s a fellow who’s happy!” muttered Placido with a sigh, as he gazed toward the group, which became converted into vaporous silhouettes, with Juanito’s arms plainly visible, rising and falling like the arms of a windmill.

“That’s all he’s good for,” observed Simoun. “It’s fine to be young!”

To whom did Placido and Simoun each allude?

The jeweler made a sign to the young man, and they left the street to pick their way through a labyrinth of paths and passageways among various houses, at times leaping upon stones to avoid the mudholes or stepping aside from the sidewalks that were badly constructed and still more badly tended. Placido was surprised to see the rich jeweler move through such places as if he were familiar with them. They at length reached an open lot where a wretched hut stood off by itself surrounded by banana-plants and areca-palms. Some bamboo frames and sections of the same material led Placido to suspect that they were approaching the house of a pyrotechnist. [182]

Simoun rapped on the window and a man’s face appeared.

“Ah, sir!” he exclaimed, and immediately came outside.

“Is the powder here?” asked Simoun.

“In sacks. I’m waiting for the shells.”

“And the bombs?”

“Are all ready.”

“All right, then. This very night you must go and inform the lieutenant and the corporal. Then keep on your way, and in Lamayan you will find a man in a banka. You will say Cabesa and he will answer Tales. It’s necessary that he be here tomorrow. There’s no time to be lost.”

Saying this, he gave him some gold coins.

“How’s this, sir?” the man inquired in very good Spanish. “Is there any news?”

“Yes, it’ll be done within the coming week.”

“The coming week!” exclaimed the unknown, stepping backward. “The suburbs are not yet ready, they hope that the General will withdraw the decree. I thought it was postponed until the beginning of Lent.”

Simoun shook his head. “We won’t need the suburbs,” he said. “With Cabesang Tales’ people, the ex-carbineers, and a regiment, we’ll have enough. Later, Maria Clara may be dead. Start at once!”

The man disappeared. Placido, who had stood by and heard all of this brief interview, felt his hair rise and stared with startled eyes at Simoun, who smiled.

“You’re surprised,” he said with his icy smile, “that this Indian, so poorly dressed, speaks Spanish well? He was a schoolmaster who persisted in teaching Spanish to the children and did not stop until he had lost his position and had been deported as a disturber of the public peace, and for having been a friend of the unfortunate Ibarra. I got him back from his deportation, where he had been working as a pruner of coconut-palms, and have made him a pyrotechnist.”

They returned to the street and set out for Trozo. Before [183] a wooden house of pleasant and well-kept appearance was a Spaniard on crutches, enjoying the moonlight. When Simoun accosted him, his attempt to rise was accompanied by a stifled groan.

“You’re ready?” Simoun inquired of him.

“I always am!”

“The coming week?”

“So soon?”

“At the first cannon-shot!”

He moved away, followed by Placido, who was beginning to ask himself if he were not dreaming.

“Does it surprise you,” Simoun asked him, “to see a Spaniard so young and so afflicted with disease? Two years ago he was as robust as you are, but his enemies succeeded in sending him to Balabak to work in a penal settlement, and there he caught the rheumatism and fever that are dragging him into the grave. The poor devil had married a very beautiful woman.”

As an empty carriage was passing, Simoun hailed it and with Placido directed it to his house in the Escolta, just at the moment when the clocks were striking half-past ten.

Two hours later Placido left the jeweler’s house and walked gravely and thoughtfully along the Escolta, then almost deserted, in spite of the fact that the cafés were still quite animated. Now and then a carriage passed rapidly, clattering noisily over the worn pavement.

From a room in his house that overlooked the Pasig, Simoun turned his gaze toward the Walled City, which could be seen through the open windows, with its roofs of galvanized iron gleaming in the moonlight and its somber towers showing dull and gloomy in the midst of the serene night. He laid aside his blue goggles, and his white hair, like a frame of silver, surrounded his energetic bronzed features, dimly lighted by a lamp whose flame was dying out from lack of oil. Apparently wrapped in thought, he took no notice of the fading light and impending darkness. [184]

“Within a few days,” he murmured, “when on all sides that accursed city is burning, den of presumptuous nothingness and impious exploitation of the ignorant and the distressed, when the tumults break out in the suburbs and there rush into the terrorized streets my avenging hordes, engendered by rapacity and wrongs, then will I burst the walls of your prison, I will tear you from the clutches of fanaticism, and my white dove, you will be the Phoenix that will rise from the glowing embers! A revolution plotted by men in darkness tore me from your side—another revolution will sweep me into your arms and revive me! That moon, before reaching the apogee of its brilliance, will light the Philippines cleansed of loathsome filth!”

Simoun, stopped suddenly, as though interrupted. A voice in his inner consciousness was asking if he, Simoun, were not also a part of the filth of that accursed city, perhaps its most poisonous ferment. Like the dead who are to rise at the sound of the last trumpet, a thousand bloody specters—desperate shades of murdered men, women violated, fathers torn from their families, vices stimulated and encouraged, virtues mocked, now rose in answer to the mysterious question. For the first time in his criminal career, since in Havana he had by means of corruption and bribery set out to fashion an instrument for the execution of his plans—a man without faith, patriotism, or conscience—for the first time in that life, something within rose up and protested against his actions. He closed his eyes and remained for some time motionless, then rubbed his hand over his forehead, tried to be deaf to his conscience, and felt fear creeping over him. No, he must not analyze himself, he lacked the courage to turn his gaze toward his past. The idea of his courage, his conviction, his self-confidence failing him at the very moment when his work was set before him! As the ghosts of the wretches in whose misfortunes he had taken a hand continued to hover before his eyes, as if issuing from the shining surface of the river to invade the room with appeals and hands extended toward [185] him, as reproaches and laments seemed to fill the air with threats and cries for vengeance, he turned his gaze from the window and for the first time began to tremble.

“No, I must be ill, I can’t be feeling well,” he muttered. “There are many who hate me, who ascribe their misfortunes to me, but—”

He felt his forehead begin to burn, so he arose to approach the window and inhale the fresh night breeze. Below him the Pasig dragged along its silvered stream, on whose bright surface the foam glittered, winding slowly about, receding and advancing, following the course of the little eddies. The city loomed up on the opposite bank, and its black walls looked fateful, mysterious, losing their sordidness in the moonlight that idealizes and embellishes everything. But again Simoun shivered; he seemed to see before him the severe countenance of his father, dying in prison, but dying for having done good; then the face of another man, severer still, who had given his life for him because he believed that he was going to bring about the regeneration of his country.

“No, I can’t turn back,” he exclaimed, wiping the perspiration from his forehead. “The work is at hand and its success will justify me! If I had conducted myself as you did, I should have succumbed. Nothing of idealism, nothing of fallacious theories! Fire and steel to the cancer, chastisement to vice, and afterwards destroy the instrument, if it be bad! No, I have planned well, but now I feel feverish, my reason wavers, it is natural—If I have done ill, it has been that I may do good, and the end justifies the means. What I will do is not to expose myself—”

With his thoughts thus confused he lay down, and tried to fall asleep.

On the following morning Placido listened submissively, with a smile on his lips, to his mother’s preachment. When she spoke of her plan of interesting the Augustinian procurator he did not protest or object, but on the contrary offered himself to carry it out, in order to save trouble for [186] his mother, whom he begged to return at once to the province, that very day, if possible. Cabesang Andang asked him the reason for such haste.

“Because—because if the procurator learns that you are here he won’t do anything until you send him a present and order some masses.” [187]

 


1 The Malay method of kissing is quite different from the Occidental. The mouth is placed close to the object and a deep breath taken, often [178n] without actually touching the object, being more of a sniff than a kiss.—Tr.

2 Now Calle Tetuan, Santa Cruz. The other names are still in use.—Tr.

{mospagebreak_scroll title=Chapter XX-The Arbiter}

The Arbiter

True it was that Padre Irene had said: the question of the academy of Castilian, so long before broached, was on the road to a solution. Don Custodio, the active Don Custodio, the most active of all the arbiters in the world, according to Ben-Zayb, was occupied with it, spending his days reading the petition and falling asleep without reaching any decision, waking on the following day to repeat the same performance, dropping off to sleep again, and so on continuously.

How the good man labored, the most active of all the arbiters in the world! He wished to get out of the predicament by pleasing everybody—the friars, the high official, the Countess, Padre Irene, and his own liberal principles. He had consulted with Señor Pasta, and Señor Pasta had left him stupefied and confused, after advising him to do a million contradictory and impossible things. He had consulted with Pepay the dancing girl, and Pepay, who had no idea what he was talking about, executed a pirouette and asked him for twenty-five pesos to bury an aunt of hers who had suddenly died for the fifth time, or the fifth aunt who had suddenly died, according to fuller explanations, at the same time requesting that he get a cousin of hers who could read, write, and play the violin, a job as assistant on the public works—all things that were far from inspiring Don Custodio with any saving idea.

Two days after the events in the Quiapo fair, Don Custodio was as usual busily studying the petition, without hitting upon the happy solution. While he yawns, coughs, smokes, and thinks about Pepay’s legs and her pirouettes, [188] let us give some account of this exalted personage, in order to understand Padre Sibyla’s reason for proposing him as the arbiter of such a vexatious matter and why the other clique accepted him.

Don Custodio de Salazar y Sanchez de Monteredondo, often referred to as Good Authority, belonged to that class of Manila society which cannot take a step without having the newspapers heap titles upon them, calling each indedefatigable, distinguished, zealous, active, profound, intelligent, well-informed, influential, and so on, as if they feared that he might be confused with some idle and ignorant possessor of the same name. Besides, no harm resulted from it, and the watchful censor was not disturbed. The Good Authority resulted from his friendship with Ben-Zayb, when the latter, in his two noisiest controversies, which he carried on for weeks and months in the columns of the newspapers about whether it was proper to wear a high hat, a derby, or a salakot, and whether the plural of carácter should be carácteres or caractéres, in order to strengthen his argument always came out with, “We have this on good authority,” “We learn this from good authority,” later letting it be known, for in Manila everything becomes known, that this Good Authority was no other than Don Custodio de Salazar y Sanchez de Monteredondo.

He had come to Manila very young, with a good position that had enabled him to marry a pretty mestiza belonging to one of the wealthiest families of the city. As he had natural talent, boldness, and great self-possession, and knew how to make use of the society in which he found himself, he launched into business with his wife’s money, filling contracts for the government, by reason of which he was made alderman, afterwards alcalde, member of the Economic Society,1 councilor of the administration, president [189] of the directory of the Obras Pias,2 member of the Society of Mercy, director of the Spanish-Filipino Bank, etc., etc. Nor are these etceteras to be taken like those ordinarily placed after a long enumeration of titles: Don Custodio, although never having seen a treatise on hygiene, came to be vice-chairman of the Board of Health, for the truth was that of the eight who composed this board only one had to be a physician and he could not be that one. So also he was a member of the Vaccination Board, which was composed of three physicians and seven laymen, among these being the Archbishop and three Provincials. He was a brother in all the confraternities of the common and of the most exalted dignity, and, as we have seen, director of the Superior Commission of Primary Instruction, which usually did not do anything—all these being quite sufficient reason for the newspapers to heap adjectives upon him no less when he traveled than when he sneezed.

In spite of so many offices, Don Custodio was not among those who slept through the sessions, contenting themselves, like lazy and timid delegates, in voting with the majority. The opposite of the numerous kings of Europe who bear the title of King of Jerusalem, Don Custodio made his dignity felt and got from it all the benefit possible, often frowning, making his voice impressive, coughing out his words, often taking up the whole session telling a story, presenting a project, or disputing with a colleague who had placed himself in open opposition to him. Although not past forty, he already talked of acting with circumspection, of letting the figs ripen (adding under his breath “pumpkins”), of pondering deeply and of stepping with careful tread, of the necessity for understanding the country, because the nature of the Indians, because the prestige of the Spanish name, because they were first of all Spaniards, because religion—and so on. Remembered yet in Manila is a speech of his when for the first time it was proposed to [190] light the city with kerosene in place of the old coconut oil: in such an innovation, far from seeing the extinction of the coconut-oil industry, he merely discerned the interests of a certain alderman—because Don Custodio saw a long way—and opposed it with all the resonance of his bucal cavity, considering the project too premature and predicting great social cataclysms. No less celebrated was his opposition to a sentimental serenade that some wished to tender a certain governor on the eve of his departure. Don Custodio, who felt a little resentment over some slight or other, succeeded in insinuating the idea that the rising star was the mortal enemy of the setting one, whereat the frightened promoters of the serenade gave it up.

One day he was advised to return to Spain to be cured of a liver complaint, and the newspapers spoke of him as an Antaeus who had to set foot in the mother country to gain new strength. But the Manila Antaeus found himself a small and insignificant person at the capital. There he was nobody, and he missed his beloved adjectives. He did not mingle with the upper set, and his lack of education prevented him from amounting to much in the academies and scientific centers, while his backwardness and his parish-house politics drove him from the clubs disgusted, vexed, seeing nothing clearly but that there they were forever borrowing money and gambling heavily. He missed the submissive servants of Manila, who endured all his peevishness, and who now seemed to be far preferable; when a winter kept him between a fireplace and an attack of pneumonia, he sighed for the Manila winter during which a single quilt is sufficient, while in summer he missed the easy-chair and the boy to fan him. In short, in Madrid he was only one among many, and in spite of his diamonds he was once taken for a rustic who did not know how to comport himself and at another time for an Indiano. His scruples were scoffed at, and he was shamelessly flouted by some borrowers whom he offended. Disgusted with the conservatives, who took no great notice of his advice, as well as with the [191] sponges who rifled his pockets, he declared himself to be of the liberal party and returned within a year to the Philippines, if not sound in his liver, yet completely changed in his beliefs.

The eleven months spent at the capital among café politicians, nearly all retired half-pay office-holders, the various speeches caught here and there, this or that article of the opposition, all the political life that permeates the air, from the barber-shop where amid the scissors-clips the Figaro announces his program to the banquets where in harmonious periods and telling phrases the different shades of political opinion, the divergences and disagreements, are adjusted—all these things awoke in him the farther he got from Europe, like the life-giving sap within the sown seed prevented from bursting out by the thick husk, in such a way that when he reached Manila he believed that he was going to regenerate it and actually had the holiest plans and the purest ideals.

During the first months after his return he was continually talking about the capital, about his good friends, about Minister So-and-So, ex-Minister Such-a-One, the delegate C., the author B., and there was not a political event, a court scandal, of which he was not informed to the last detail, nor was there a public man the secrets of whose private life were unknown to him, nor could anything occur that he had not foreseen, nor any reform be ordered but he had first been consulted. All this was seasoned with attacks on the conservatives in righteous indignation, with apologies of the liberal party, with a little anecdote here, a phrase there from some great man, dropped in as one who did not wish offices and employments, which same he had refused in order not to be beholden to the conservatives. Such was his enthusiasm in these first days that various cronies in the grocery-store which he visited from time to time affiliated themselves with the liberal party and began to style themselves liberals: Don Eulogio Badana, a retired sergeant of carbineers; the honest Armendia, by [192] profession a pilot, and a rampant Carlist; Don Eusebio Picote, customs inspector; and Don Bonifacio Tacon, shoe- and harness-maker.3

But nevertheless, from lack of encouragement and of opposition, his enthusiasm gradually waned. He did not read the newspapers that came from Spain, because they arrived in packages, the sight of which made him yawn. The ideas that he had caught having been all expended, he needed reinforcement, and his orators were not there, and although in the casinos of Manila there was enough gambling, and money was borrowed as in Madrid, no speech that would nourish his political ideas was permitted in them. But Don Custodio was not lazy, he did more than wish—he worked. Foreseeing that he was going to leave his bones in the Philippines, he began to consider that country his proper sphere and to devote his efforts to its welfare. Thinking to liberalize it, he commenced to draw up a series of reforms or projects, which were ingenious, to say the least. It was he who, having heard in Madrid mention of the wooden street pavements of Paris, not yet adopted in Spain, proposed the introduction of them in Manila by covering the streets with boards nailed down as they are on the sides of houses; it was he who, deploring the accidents to two-wheeled vehicles, planned to avoid them by putting on at least three wheels; it was also he who, while acting as vice-president of the Board of Health, ordered everything fumigated, even the telegrams that came from infected places; it was also he who, in compassion for the convicts that worked in the sun and with a desire of saving to the government the cost of their equipment, suggested that they be clothed in a simple breech-clout and set to work not by day but at night. He marveled, he stormed, that his projects should encounter objectors, but consoled himself with the reflection that the man who is worth enemies has them, and revenged himself by attacking and [193] tearing to pieces any project, good or bad, presented by others.

As he prided himself on being a liberal, upon being asked what he thought of the Indians he would answer, like one conferring a great favor, that they were fitted for manual labor and the imitative arts (meaning thereby music, painting, and sculpture), adding his old postscript that to know them one must have resided many, many years in the country. Yet when he heard of any one of them excelling in something that was not manual labor or an imitative art—in chemistry, medicine, or philosophy, for example—he would exclaim: “Ah, he promises fairly, fairly well, he’s not a fool!” and feel sure that a great deal of Spanish blood must flow in the veins of such an Indian. If unable to discover any in spite of his good intentions, he then sought a Japanese origin, for it was at that time the fashion began of attributing to the Japanese or the Arabs whatever good the Filipinos might have in them. For him the native songs were Arabic music, as was also the alphabet of the ancient Filipinos—he was certain of this, although he did not know Arabic nor had he ever seen that alphabet.

“Arabic, the purest Arabic,” he said to Ben-Zayb in a tone that admitted no reply. “At best, Chinese!”

Then he would add, with a significant wink: “Nothing can be, nothing ought to be, original with the Indians, you understand! I like them greatly, but they mustn’t be allowed to pride themselves upon anything, for then they would take heart and turn into a lot of wretches.”

At other times he would say: “I love the Indians fondly, I’ve constituted myself their father and defender, but it’s necessary to keep everything in its proper place. Some were born to command and others to serve—plainly, that is a truism which can’t be uttered very loudly, but it can be put into practise without many words. For look, the trick depends upon trifles. When you wish to reduce a people to subjection, assure it that it is in subjection. The [194] first day it will laugh, the second protest, the third doubt, and the fourth be convinced. To keep the Filipino docile, he must have repeated to him day after day what he is, to convince him that he is incompetent. What good would it do, besides, to have him believe in something else that would make him wretched? Believe me, it’s an act of charity to hold every creature in his place—that is order, harmony. That constitutes the science of government.”

In referring to his policies, Don Custodio was not satisfied with the word art, and upon pronouncing the word government, he would extend his hand downwards to the height of a man bent over on his knees.

In regard to his religious ideas, he prided himself on being a Catholic, very much a Catholic—ah, Catholic Spain, the land of María Santísima! A liberal could be and ought to be a Catholic, when the reactionaries were setting themselves up as gods or saints, just as a mulatto passes for a white man in Kaffirland. But with all that, he ate meat during Lent, except on Good Friday, never went to confession, believed neither in miracles nor the infallibility of the Pope, and when he attended mass, went to the one at ten o’clock, or to the shortest, the military mass. Although in Madrid he had spoken ill of the religious orders, so as not to be out of harmony with his surroundings, considering them anachronisms, and had hurled curses against the Inquisition, while relating this or that lurid or droll story wherein the habits danced, or rather friars without habits, yet in speaking of the Philippines, which should be ruled by special laws, he would cough, look wise, and again extend his hand downwards to that mysterious altitude.

“The friars are necessary, they’re a necessary evil,” he would declare.

But how he would rage when any Indian dared to doubt the miracles or did not acknowledge the Pope! All the tortures of the Inquisition were insufficient to punish such temerity.

When it was objected that to rule or to live at the expense [195] of ignorance has another and somewhat ugly name and is punished by law when the culprit is a single person, he would justify his position by referring to other colonies. “We,” he would announce in his official tone, “can speak out plainly! We’re not like the British and the Dutch who, in order to hold people in subjection, make use of the lash. We avail ourselves of other means, milder and surer. The salutary influence of the friars is superior to the British lash.”

This last remark made his fortune. For a long time Ben-Zayb continued to use adaptations of it, and with him all Manila. The thinking part of Manila applauded it, and it even got to Madrid, where it was quoted in the Parliament as from a liberal of long residence there. The friars, flattered by the comparison and seeing their prestige enhanced, sent him sacks of chocolate, presents which the incorruptible Don Custodio returned, so that Ben-Zayb immediately compared him to Epaminondas. Nevertheless, this modern Epaminondas made use of the rattan in his choleric moments, and advised its use!

At that time the conventos, fearful that he would render a decision favorable to the petition of the students, increased their gifts, so that on the afternoon when we see him he was more perplexed than ever, his reputation for energy was being compromised. It had been more than a fortnight since he had had the petition in his hands, and only that morning the high official, after praising his zeal, had asked for a decision. Don Custodio had replied with mysterious gravity, giving him to understand that it was not yet completed. The high official had smiled a smile that still worried and haunted him.

As we were saying, he yawned and yawned. In one of these movements, at the moment when he opened his eyes and closed his mouth, his attention was caught by a file of red envelopes, arranged in regular order on a magnificent kamagon desk. On the back of each could be read in large letters: PROJECTS. [196]

For a moment he forgot his troubles and Pepay’s pirouettes, to reflect upon all that those files contained, which had issued from his prolific brain in his hours of inspiration. How many original ideas, how many sublime thoughts, how many means of ameliorating the woes of the Philippines! Immortality and the gratitude of the country were surely his!

Like an old lover who discovers a moldy package of amorous epistles, Don Custodio arose and approached the desk. The first envelope, thick, swollen, and plethoric, bore the title: PROJECTS IN PROJECT.

“No,” he murmured, “they’re excellent things, but it would take a year to read them over.”

The second, also quite voluminous, was entitled: PROJECTS UNDER CONSIDERATION. “No, not those either.”

Then came the PROJECTS NEARING COMPLETION, PROJECTS PRESENTED, PROJECTS REJECTED, PROJECTS APPROVED, PROJECTS POSTPONED. These last envelopes held little, but the least of all was that of the PROJECTS EXECUTED.

Don Custodio wrinkled up his nose—what did it contain? He had completely forgotten what was in it. A sheet of yellowish paper showed from under the flap, as though the envelope were sticking out its tongue. This he drew out and unfolded: it was the famous project for the School of Arts and Trades!

“What the devil!” he exclaimed. “If the Augustinian padres took charge of it—”

Suddenly he slapped his forehead and arched his eyebrows, while a look of triumph overspread his face. “I have reached a decision!” he cried with an oath that was not exactly eureka. “My decision is made!”

Repeating his peculiar eureka five or six times, which struck the air like so many gleeful lashes, he sat down at his desk, radiant with joy, and began to write furiously. [197]

 


1 The Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País for the encouragement of agricultural and industrial development, was established by Basco de Vargas in 1780.—Tr.

2 Funds managed by the government for making loans and supporting charitable enterprises.—Tr.

3 The names are fictitious burlesques.—Tr.

 



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Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 August 2007 22:36
 
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1 Monday, 11 May 2009 15:55
what are the effects of fili to filipinos, spaniards and the rest of the world........???????????????

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