Chapter 21: The Story of a Mother Andaba inciertovolaba errante, Un solo instantesin descansar.1 ALAEJOS. Sisa ran in the direction of her home with her thoughts in that confused whirl which is produced in our being when, in the midst of misfortunes, protection and hope alike are gone. It is then that everything seems to grow dark around us, and, if we do see some faint light shining from afar, we run toward it, we follow it, even though an abyss yawns in our path. The mother wanted to save her sons, and mothers do not ask about means when their children are concerned. Precipitately she ran, pursued by fear and dark forebodings. Had they already arrested her son Basilio? Whither had her boy Crispin fled? As she approached her little hut she made out above the garden fence the caps of two soldiers. It would be impossible to tell what her heart felt: she forgot everything. She was not ignorant of the boldness of those men, who did not lower their gaze before even the richest people of the town. What would they do now to her and to her sons, accused of theft! The civil-guards are not men, they are civilguards; they do not listen to supplications and they are accustomed to see tears. Sisa instinctively raised her eyes toward the sky, that sky which smiled with brilliance indescribable, and in whose transparent blue floated some little fleecy clouds. She stopped to control the trembling that had seized her whole body. The
soldiers were leaving the house and were alone, as they had arrested nothing more than the hen which Sisa had been fattening. She breathed more freely and took heart again. How good they are and what kind hearts they have! she murmured, almost weeping with joy. Had the soldiers burned her house but left her sons at liberty she would have heaped blessings upon them! She again looked gratefully toward the sky through which a flock of herons, those light clouds in the skies of the Philippines, were cutting their path, and with restored confidence she continued on her way. As she approached those fearful men she threw her glances in every direction as if unconcerned and pretended not to see her hen, which was cackling for help. Scarcely had she passed them when she wanted to run, but prudence restrained her steps. She had not gone far when she heard herself called by an imperious voice. Shuddering, she pretended not to hear, and continued on her way. They called her again, this time with a yell and an insulting epithet. She turned toward them, pale and trembling in spite of herself. One of them beckoned to her. Mechanically Sisa approached them, her tongue paralyzed with fear and her throat parched. Tell us the truth or well tie you to that tree and shoot you, said one of them in a threatening tone. The woman stared at the tree. Youre the mother of the thieves, arent you? asked the other. Mother of the thieves! repeated Sisa mechanically. Wheres the money your sons brought you last night?
Ah! The money Dont deny it or itll be the worse for you, added the other. Weve come to arrest your sons, and the older has escaped from us. Where have you hidden the younger? Upon hearing this Sisa breathed more freely and answered, Sir, it has been many days since Ive seen Crispin. I expected to see him this morning at the convento, but there they only told me The two soldiers exchanged significant glances. All right! exclaimed one of them. Give us the money and well leave you alone. Sir, begged the unfortunate woman, my sons wouldnt steal even though they were starving, for we are used to that kind of suffering. Basilio didnt bring me a single cuarto. Search the whole house and if you find even a real, do with us what you will. Not all of us poor folks are thieves! Well then, ordered the soldier slowly, as he fixed his gaze on Sisas eyes, come with us. Your sons will show up and try to get rid of the money they stole. Come on! Igo with you? murmured the woman, as she stepped backward and gazed fearfully at their uniforms. And why not? Oh, have pity on me! she begged, almost on her knees. Im very poor, so Ive neither gold nor jewels to offer you. The only thing I had youve already taken, and that is the hen which I was thinking of selling. Take everything that you find in the house, but leave me here in peace, leave me here to die! Go ahead! Youre got to go, and if you dont move along willingly, well tie you. Sisa broke out into bitter weeping, but those men were inflexible. At least, let me go ahead of you some distance, she begged, when she felt them take hold of her brutally and push her
along. The soldiers seemed to be somewhat affected and, after whispering apart, one of them said: All right, since from here until we get into the town, you might be able to escape, youll walk between us. Once there you may walk ahead twenty paces, but take care that you dont delay and that you dont go into any shop, and dont stop. Go ahead, quickly! Vain were her supplications and arguments, useless her promises. The soldiers said that they had already compromised themselves by having conceded too much. Upon finding herself between them she felt as if she would die of shame. No one indeed was coming along the road, but how about the air and the light of day? True shame encounters eyes everywhere. She covered her face with her pauelo and walked along blindly, weeping in silence at her disgrace. She had felt misery and knew what it was to be abandoned by every one, even her own husband, but until now she had considered herself honored and respected: up to this time she had looked with compassion on those boldly dressed women whom the town knew as the concubines of the soldiers. Now it seemed to her that she had fallen even a step lower than they in the social scale. The sound of hoofs was heard, proceeding from a small train of men and women mounted on poor nags, each between two baskets hung over the back of his mount; it was a party carrying fish to the interior towns. Some of them on passing her hut had often asked for a drink of water and had presented her with some fishes. Now as they passed her they seemed to beat and trample upon her while their compassionate or disdainful looks penetrated through her pauelo and stung her face. When these travelers had finally passed she sighed and raised the pauelo an instant to see how far she still was from the town. There yet remained a few telegraph poles to be passed before reaching the bantayan, or little watch-house, at the entrance to the town.
Never had that distance seemed so great to her. Beside the road there grew a leafy bamboo thicket in whose shade she had rested at other times, and where her lover had talked so sweetly as he helped her carry her basket of fruit and vegetables. Alas, all that was past, like a dream! The lover had become her husband and a cabeza de barangay, and then trouble had commenced to knock at her door. As the sun was beginning to shine hotly, the soldiers asked her if she did not want to rest there. Thanks, no! was the horrified womans answer. Real terror seized her when they neared the town. She threw her anguished gaze in all directions, but no refuge offered itself, only wide rice-fields, a small irrigating ditch, and some stunted trees; there was not a cliff or even a rock upon which she might dash herself to pieces! Now she regretted that she had come so far with the soldiers; she longed for the deep river that flowed by her hut, whose high and rock-strewn banks would have offered such a sweet death. But again the thought of her sons, especially of Crispin, of whose fate she was still ignorant, lightened the darkness of her night, and she was able to murmur resignedly, Afterwardsafterwardswell go and live in the depths of the forest. Drying her eyes and trying to look calm, she turned to her guards and said in a low voice, with an indefinable accent that was a complaint and a lament, a prayer and a reproach, sorrow condensed into sound, Now were in the town. Even the soldiers seemed touched as they answered her with a gesture. She struggled to affect a calm bearing while she went forward quickly. At that moment the church bells began to peal out, announcing the end of the high mass. Sisa hurried her steps so as to avoid, if possible, meeting the people who were coming out, but in vain, for no means offered to escape encountering them. With a bitter smile she saluted two of her acquaintances,
who merely turned inquiring glances upon her, so that to avoid further mortification she fixed her gaze on the ground, and yet, strange to say, she stumbled over the stones in the road! Upon seeing her, people paused for a moment and conversed among themselves as they gazed at her, all of which she saw and felt in spite of her downcast eyes. She heard the shameless tones of a woman who asked from behind at the top of her voice, Where did you catch her? And the money? It was a woman without a tapis, or tunic, dressed in a green and yellow skirt and a camisa of blue gauze, easily recognizable from her costume as a querida of the soldiery. Sisa felt as if she had received a slap in the face, for that woman had exposed her before the crowd. She raised her eyes for a moment to get her fill of scorn and hate, but saw the people far, far away. Yet she felt the chill of their stares and heard their whispers as she moved over the ground almost without knowing that she touched it. Eh, this way! a guard called to her. Like an automaton whose mechanism is breaking, she whirled about rapidly on her heels, then without seeing or thinking of anything ran to hide herself. She made out a door where a sentinel stood and tried to enter it, but a still more imperious voice called her aside. With wavering steps she sought the direction of that voice, then felt herself pushed along by the shoulders; she shut her eyes, took a couple of steps, and lacking further strength, let herself fall to the ground, first on her knees and then in a sitting posture. Dry and voiceless sobs shook her frame convulsively. Now she was in the barracks among the soldiers, women, hogs, and chickens. Some of the men were sewing at their clothes while their thighs furnished pillows for their queridas, who were reclining on benches, smoking and gazing wearily at the ceiling. Other women were helping some of the men clean their ornaments and arms, humming doubtful songs
the while. It seems that the chicks have escaped, for youve brought only the old hen! commented one woman to the new arrivals,whether alluding to Sisa or the still clucking hen is not certain. Yes, the hen is always worth more than the chicks, Sisa herself answered when she observed that the soldiers were silent. Wheres the sergeant? asked one of the guards in a disgusted tone. Has report been made to the alferez yet? A general shrugging of shoulders was his answer, for no one was going to trouble himself inquiring about the fate of a poor woman. There Sisa spent two hours in a state of semi-idiocy, huddled in a corner with her head hidden in her arms and her hair falling down in disorder. At noon the alferez was informed, and the first thing that he did was to discredit the curates accusation. Bah! Tricks of that rascally friar, he commented, as he ordered that the woman be released and that no one should pay any attention to the matter. If he wants to get back what hes lost, let him ask St. Anthony or complain to the nuncio. Out with her! Consequently, Sisa was ejected from the barracks almost violently, as she did not try to move herself. Finding herself in the street, she instinctively started to hurry toward her house, with her head bared, her hair disheveled, and her gaze fixed on the distant horizon. The sun burned in its zenith with never a cloud to shade its flashing disk; the wind shook the leaves of the trees lightly along the dry road, while no bird dared stir from the shade of their branches.
At last Sisa reached her hut and entered it in silence, She walked all about it and ran in and out for a time. Then she hurried to old Tasios house and knocked at the door, but he was not at home. The unhappy woman then returned to her hut and began to call loudly for Basilio and Crispin, stopping every few minutes to listen attentively. Her voice came back in an echo, for the soft murmur of the water in the neighboring river and the rustling of the bamboo leaves were the only sounds that broke the stillness. She called again and again as she climbed the low cliffs, or went down into a gully, or descended to the river. Her eyes rolled about with a sinister expression, now flashing up with brilliant gleams, now becoming obscured like the sky on a stormy night; it might be said that the light of reason was flickering and about to be extinguished. Again returning to her hut, she sat down on the mat where she had lain the night before. Raising her eyes, she saw a twisted remnant from Basilios camisa at the end of the bamboo post in the dinding, or wall, that overlooked the precipice. She seized and examined it in the sunlight. There were blood stains on it, but Sisa hardly saw them, for she went outside and continued to raise and lower it before her eyes to examine it in the burning sunlight. The light was failing and everything beginning to grow dark around her. She gazed wide-eyed and unblinkingly straight at the sun. Still wandering about here and there, crying and wailing, she would have frightened any listener, for her voice now uttered rare notes such as are not often produced in the human throat. In a night of roaring tempest, when the whirling winds beat with invisible wings against the crowding shadows that ride upon it, if you should find yourself in a solitary and ruined building, you would hear moans and sighs which you might suppose to be the soughing of the wind as it beats on the high towers and moldering walls to fill you with terror and make you shudder in spite of yourself; as mournful as those unknown sounds of the dark night when the tempest roars were the accents of that mother. In this condition night came upon her. Perhaps Heaven had granted some hours of sleep while the invisible wing of an angel, brushing over her
pallid countenance, might wipe out the sorrows from her memory; perhaps such suffering was too great for weak human endurance, and Providence had intervened with its sweet remedy, forgetfulness. However that may be, the next day Sisa wandered about smiling, singing, and talking with all the creatures of wood and field. 1 With uncertain pace, in wandering flight, for an instant onlywithout rest. Chapter 22: Light and Shadows Chapter 22: Light and Shadows Three days have passed since the events narrated, three days which the town of San Diego has devoted to making preparations for the fiesta, commenting and murmuring at the same time. While all were enjoying the prospect of the pleasures to come, some spoke ill of the gobernadorcillo, others of the teniente-mayor, others of the young men, and there were not lacking those who blamed everybody for everything. There was a great deal of comment on the arrival of Maria Clara, accompanied by her Aunt Isabel. All rejoiced over it because they loved her and admired her beauty, while at the same time they wondered at the change that had come over Padre Salvi. He often becomes inattentive during the holy services, nor does he talk much with us, and he is thinner and more taciturn than usual, commented his penitents. The cook noticed him getting thinner and thinner by minutes and complained of the little honor that was done to his dishes. But that which caused the most comment among the
people was the fact that in the convento were to be seen more than two lights burning during the evening while Padre Salvi was on a visit to a private dwellingthe home of Maria Clara! The pious women crossed themselves but continued their comments. Ibarra had telegraphed from the capital of the province welcoming Aunt Isabel and her niece, but had failed to explain the reason for his absence. Many thought him a prisoner on account of his treatment of Padre Salvi on the afternoon of All Saints, but the comments reached a climax when, on the evening of the third day, they saw him alight before the home of his fiance and extend a polite greeting to the priest, who was just entering the same house. Sisa and her sons were forgotten by all. If we should now go into the home of Maria Clara, a beautiful nest set among trees of orange and ilang-ilang, we should surprise the two young people at a window overlooking the lake, shadowed by flowers and climbing vines which exhaled a delicate perfume. Their lips murmured words softer than the rustling of the leaves and sweeter than the aromatic odors that floated through the garden. It was the hour when the sirens of the lake take advantage of the fast falling twilight to show their merry heads above the waves to gaze upon the setting sun and sing it to rest. It is said that their eyes and hair are blue, and that they are crowned with white and red water plants; that at times the foam reveals their shapely forms, whiter than the foam itself, and that when night descends completely they begin their divine sports, playing mysterious airs like those of olian harps. But let us turn to our young people and listen to the end of their conversation. Ibarra was speaking to Maria Clara. Tomorrow before daybreak your wish shall be fulfilled. Ill arrange everything tonight so that
nothing will be lacking. Then Ill write to my girl friends to come. But arrange it so that the curate wont be there. Why? Because he seems to be watching me. His deep, gloomy eyes trouble me, and when he fixes them on me Im afraid. When he talks to me, his voiceoh, he speaks of such odd, such strange, such incomprehensible things! He asked me once if I have ever dreamed of letters from my mother. I really believe that he is half-crazy. My friend Sinang and my foster-sister, Andeng, say that he is somewhat touched, because he neither eats nor bathes and lives in darkness. See to it that he does not come! "We cant do otherwise than invite him, answered Ibarra thoughtfully. The customs of the country require it. He is in your house and, besides, he has conducted himself nobly toward me. When the alcalde consulted him about the business of which Ive told you, he had only praises for me and didnt try to put the least obstacle in the way. But I see that youre serious about it, so cease worrying, for he wont go in the same boat with us. Light footsteps were heard. It was the curate, who approached with a forced smile on his lips. The wind is chilly, he said, and when one catches cold one generally doesnt get rid of it until the hot weather. Arent you afraid of catching cold? His voice trembled and his eyes were turned toward the distant horizon, away from the young people. No, we rather find the night pleasant and the breeze delicious, answered Ibarra. During these months we have our autumn and our spring. Some leaves fall, but the flowers are always in bloom.
Fray Salvi sighed. I think the union of these two seasons beautiful, with no cold winter intervening, continued Ibarra. In February the buds on the trees will burst open and in March well have the ripe fruit. When the hot months come we shall go elsewhere. Fray Salvi smiled and began to talk of commonplace things, of the weather, of the town, and of the fiesta. Maria Clara slipped away on some pretext. Since we are talking of fiestas, allow me to invite you to the one that we are going to celebrate tomorrow. It is to be a picnic in the woods, which we and our friends are going to hold together. Where will it be held? The young women wish to hold it by the brook in the neighboring wood, near to the old balete, so we shall rise early to avoid the sun. The priest thought a moment and then answered: The invitation is very tempting and I accept it to prove to you that I hold no rancor against you. But I shall have to go late, after Ive attended to my duties. Happy are you who are free, entirely free. A few moments later Ibarra left in order to look after the arrangements for the picnic on the next day. The night was dark and in the street some one approached and saluted him respectfully. Who are you? asked Ibarra. Sir, you dont know my name, answered the unknown, but Ive been waiting for you two days. For what purpose?
Because nowhere has any pity been shown me and they say that Im an outlaw, sir. But Ive lost my two sons, my wife is insane, and every one says that I deserve what has happened to me. Ibarra looked at the man critically as he asked, What do you want now? To beg for your pity upon my wife and sons. I cant stop now, replied Ibarra. If you wish to come, you can tell me as we go along what has happened to you. The man thanked him, and the two quickly disappeared in the shadows along the dimly lighted street. Chapter 23: Fishing The stars still glittered in the sapphire arch of heaven and the birds were still sleeping among the branches when a merry party, lighted by torches of resin, commonly called huepes, made its way through the streets toward the lake. There were five girls, who walked along rapidly with hands clasped or arms encircling one anothers waists, followed by some old women and by servants who were carrying gracefully on their heads baskets of food and dishes. Looking upon the laughing and hopeful countenances of the young women and watching the wind blow about their abundant black hair and the wide folds of their garments, we might have taken them for goddesses of the night fleeing from the day, did we not know that they were Maria Clara and her four friends, the merry Sinang, the grave Victoria, the beautiful Iday, and the thoughtful Neneng
of modest and timid beauty. They were conversing in a lively manner, laughing and pinching one another, whispering in one anothers ears and then breaking out into loud laughter. Youll wake up the people who are still asleep, Aunt Isabel scolded. When we were young, we didnt make so much disturbance. Neither would you get up so early nor would the old folks have been such sleepyheads, retorted little Sinang. They were silent for a short time, then tried to talk in low tones, but soon forgot themselves and again filled the street with their fresh young voices. Behave as if you were displeased and dont talk to him, Sinang was advising Maria Clara. Scold him so he wont get into bad habits. Dont be so exacting, objected Iday. Be exacting! Dont be foolish! He must be made to obey while hes only engaged, for after hes your husband hell do as he pleases, counseled little Sinang. What do you know about that, child? her cousin Victoria corrected her. Sst! Keep quiet, for here they come! A group of young men, lighting their way with large bamboo torches, now came up, marching gravely along to the sound of a guitar. It sounds like a beggars guitar, laughed Sinang. When the two parties met it was the women who maintained a serious and formal attitude, just as if they had never known how to laugh, while on the other hand the men talked and laughed, asking six questions to get half an answer. Is the lake calm? Do you think well have good weather? asked the mothers.
Dont be alarmed, ladies, I know how to swim well, answered a tall, thin, emaciated youth. We ought to have heard mass first, sighed Aunt Isabel, clasping her hands. Theres yet time, maam. Albino has been a theological student in his day and can say it in the boat, remarked another youth, pointing to the tall, thin one who had first spoken. The latter, who had a clownish countenance, threw himself into an attitude of contrition, caricaturing Padre Salvi. Ibarra, though he maintained his serious demeanor, also joined in the merriment. When they arrived at the beach, there involuntarily escaped from the women exclamations of surprise and pleasure at the sight of two large bankas fastened together and picturesquely adorned with garlands of flowers, leaves, and ruined cotton of many colors. Little paper lanterns hung from an improvised canopy amid flowers and fruits. Comfortable seats with rugs and cushions for the women had been provided by Ibarra. Even the paddles and oars were decorated, while in the more profusely decorated banka were a harp, guitars, accordions, and a trumpet made from a carabao horn. In the other banka fires burned on the clay kalanes for preparing refreshments of tea, coffee, and salabat. In this boat here the women, and in the other there the men, ordered the mothers upon embarking. Keep quiet! Dont move about so or well be upset. Cross yourself first, advised Aunt Isabel, setting the example. Are we to be here all alone? asked Sinang with a grimace. Ourselves alone? This question was opportunely answered by a pinch from her mother.
As the boats moved slowly away from the shore, the light of the lanterns was reflected in the calm waters of the lake, while in the eastern sky the first tints of dawn were just beginning to appear. A deep silence reigned over the party after the division established by the mothers, for the young people seemed to have given themselves up to meditation. Take care, said Albino, the ex-theological student, in a loud tone to another youth. Keep your foot tight on the plug under you. What? It might come out and let the water in. This banka has a lot of holes in it. Oh, were going to sink! cried the frightened women. Dont be alarmed, ladies, the ex-theological student reassured them to calm their fears. The banka you are in is safe. It has only five holes in it and they arent large. Five holes! Jess! Do you want to drown us? exclaimed the horrified women. Not more than five, ladies, and only about so large, the ex-theological student assured them, indicating the circle formed with his index finger and thumb. Press hard on the plugs so that they wont come out. Mara Santsima! The waters coming in, cried an old woman who felt herself already getting wet. There now arose a small tumult; some screamed, while others thought of jumping into the water. Press hard on the plugs there! repeated Albino, pointing toward the place where the girls were.
Where, where? Dis! We dont know how! For pitys sake come here, for we dont know how! begged the frightened women. It was accordingly necessary for five of the young men to get over into the other banka to calm the terrified mothers. But by some strange chance it seemed that there w, as danger by the side of each of the dalagas; all the old ladies together did not have a single dangerous hole near them! Still more strange it was that Ibarra had to be seated by the side of Maria Clara, Albino beside Victoria, and so on. Quiet was restored among the solicitous mothers but not in the circle of the young people. As the water was perfectly still, the fish-corrals not far away, and the hour yet early, it was decided to abandon the oars so that all might partake of some refreshment. Dawn had now come, so the lanterns were extinguished. Theres nothing to compare with salabat, drunk in the morning before going to mass, said Capitana Tika, mother of the merry Sinang. Drink some salabat and eat a rice-cake, Albino, and youll see that even you will want to pray. Thats what Im doing, answered the youth addressed. Im thinking of confessing myself. No, said Sinang, drink some coffee to bring merry thoughts. I will, at once, because I feel a trifle sad. Dont do that, advised Aunt Isabel. Drink some tea and eat a few crackers. They say that tea calms ones thoughts. Ill also take some tea and crackers, answered the complaisant youth, since
fortunately none of these drinks is Catholicism. But, can you Victoria began. Drink some chocolate also? Well, I guess so, since breakfast is not so far off. The morning was beautiful. The water began to gleam with the light reflected from the sky with such clearness that every object stood revealed without producing a shadow, a bright, fresh clearness permeated with color, such as we get a hint of in some marine paintings. All were now merry as they breathed in the light breeze that began to arise. Even the mothers, so full of cautions and warnings, now laughed and joked among themselves. Do you remember, one old woman was saying to Capitana Tika, do you remember the time we went to bathe in the river, before we were married? In little boats made from banana-stalks there drifted down with the current fruits of many kinds and fragrant flowers. The little boats had banners on them and each of us could see her name on one of them. And when we were on our way back home? added another, without letting her go on. We found the bamboo bridges destroyed and so we had to wade the brooks. The rascals! Yes, I know that I chose rather to let the borders of my skirt get wet than to uncover my feet, said Capitana Tika, for I knew that in the thickets on the bank there were eyes watching us. Some of the girls who heard these reminiscences winked and smiled, while the others were so occupied with their own conversations that they took no notice.
One man alone, he who performed the duty of pilot, remained silent and removed from all the merriment. He was a youth of athletic build and striking features, with large, sad eyes and compressed lips. His black hair, long and unkempt, fell over a stout neck. A dark striped shirt afforded a suggestion through its folds of the powerful muscles that enabled the vigorous arms to handle as if it were a pen the wide and unwieldy paddle which served as a rudder for steering the two bankas. Maria Clara had more than once caught him looking at her, but on such occasions he had quickly turned his gaze toward the distant mountain or the shore. The young woman was moved with pity at his loneliness and offered him some crackers. The pilot gave her a surprised stare, which, however, lasted for only a second. He took a cracker and thanked her briefly in a scarcely audible voice. After this no one paid any more attention to him. The sallies and merry laughter of the young folks caused not the slightest movement in the muscles of his face. Even the merry Sinang did not make him smile when she received pinchings that caused her to wrinkle up her eyebrows for an instant, only to return to her former merry mood. The lunch over, they proceeded on their way toward the fish-corrals, of which there were two situated near each other, both belonging to Capitan Tiago. From afar were to be seen some herons perched in contemplative attitude on the tops of the bamboo posts, while a number of white birds, which the Tagalogs call kalaway, flew about in different directions, skimming the water with their wings and filling the air with shrill cries. At the approach of the bankas the herons took to flight, and Maria Clara followed them with her gaze as they flew in the direction of the neighboring
mountain. Do those birds build their nests on the mountain? she asked the pilot, not so much from a desire to know as for the purpose of making him talk. Probably they do, seora, he answered, but no one up to this time has ever seen their nests. Dont they have nests? I suppose they must have them, otherwise they would be very unfortunate. Maria Clara did not notice the tone of sadness with which he uttered these words. Then It is said, seora, answered the strange youth, that the nests of those birds are invisible and that they have the power of rendering invisible any one who possesses one of them. Just as the soul can only be seen in the pure mirror of the eyes, so also in the mirror of the water alone can their nests be looked upon. Maria Clara became sad and thoughtful. Meanwhile, they had reached the first fishcorral and an aged boatman tied the craft to a post. Wait! called Aunt Isabel to the son of the fisherman, who was getting ready to climb upon the platform of the corral with his panalok, or fish-net fastened on the end of a stout bamboo pole. We must get the sinigang ready so that the fish may pass at once from the water into the soup. Kind Aunt Isabel! exclaimed the ex-theological student. She doesnt want the fish to miss the water for an instant! Andeng, Maria Claras foster-sister, in spite of her carefree and happy face,
enjoyed the reputation of being an excellent cook, so she set about preparing a soup of rice and vegetables, helped and hindered by some of the young men, eager perhaps to win her favor. The other young women all busied themselves in cutting up and washing the vegetables. In order to divert the impatience of those who were waiting to see the fishes taken alive and wriggling from their prison, the beautiful Iday got out the harp, for Iday not only played well on that instrument, but, besides, she had very pretty fingers. The young people applauded and Maria Clara kissed her, for the harp is the most popular instrument in that province, and was especially suited to this occasion. Sing the hymn about marriage, begged the old women. The men protested and Victoria, who had a fine voice, complained of hoarseness. The Hymn of Marriage is a beautiful Tagalog chant in which are set forth the cares and sorrows of the married state, yet not passing over its joys. They then asked Maria Clara to sing, but she protested that all her songs were sad ones. This protest, however, was overruled so she held back no longer. Taking the harp, she played a short prelude and then sang in a harmonious and vibrating voice full of feeling: Sweet are the hours in ones native land, Where all is dear the sunbeams bless; Life-giving breezes sweep the strand, And death is softend by loves caress.
Warm kisses play on mothers lips, On her fond, tender breast awaking; When round her neck the soft arm slips, And bright eyes smile, all love partaking. Sweet is death for ones native land, Where all is dear the sunbeams bless; Dead is the breeze that sweeps the strand, Without a mother, home, or loves caress. The song ceased, the voice died away, the harp became silent, and they still listened; no one applauded. The young women felt their eyes fill with tears, and Ibarra seemed to be unpleasantly affected. The youthful pilot stared motionless into the distance. Suddenly a thundering roar was heard, such that the women screamed and covered their ears; it was the ex-theological student blowing with all the strength of his lungs on the tambuli, or carabao horn. Laughter and cheerfulness returned while teardimmed eyes brightened. Are you trying to deafen us, you heretic? cried Aunt Isabel. Madam, replied the offender gravely, I once heard of a poor trumpeter on the banks of the Rhine who, by playing on his trumpet, won in marriage a rich and noble maiden. Thats right, the trumpeter of Sackingen! exclaimed Ibarra, unable to resist taking part in the renewed merriment. Do you hear that? went on Albino. Now I want to see if I cant have the same luck. So saying, he began to blow with even more force into the resounding horn, holding it close to the ears of the girls who looked saddest. As might be expected, a small tumult
arose and the mothers finally reduced him to silence by beating him with their slippers1 and pinching him. My, oh my! he complained as he felt of his smarting arms, what a distance there is between the Philippines and the banks of the Rhine! O tempora! O mores! Some are given honors and others sanbenitos! All laughed at this, even the grave Victoria, while Sinang, she of the smiling eyes, whispered to Maria Clara, Happy girl! I, too, would sing if I could! Andeng at length announced that the soup was ready to receive its guests, so the young fisherman climbed up into the pen placed at the narrower end of the corral, over which might be written for the fishes, were they able to read and understand Italian, Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch entrante,2 for no fish that gets in there is ever released except by death. This division of the corral encloses a circular space so arranged that a man can stand on a platform in the upper part and draw the fish out with a small net. I shouldnt get tired fishing there with a pole and line, commented Sinang, trembling with pleasant anticipation. All were now watching and some even began to believe that they saw the fishes wriggling about in the net and showing their glittering scales. But when the youth lowered his net not a fish leaped up. It must be full, whispered Albino, for it has been over five days now since it was visited. The fisherman drew in his net, but not even a single little fish adorned it. The water as it
fell back in glittering drops reflecting the sunlight seemed to mock his efforts with a silvery smile. An exclamation of surprise, displeasure, and disappointment escaped from the lips of all. Again the youth repeated the operation, but with no better result. You dont understand your business, said Albino, climbing up into the pen of the corral and taking the net from the youths hands. Now youll see! Andeng, get the pot ready! But apparently Albino did not understand the business either, for the net again came up empty. All broke out into laughter at him. Dont make so much noise that the fish can hear and so not let themselves be caught. This net must be torn. But on examination all the meshes of the net appeared to be intact. Give it to me, said Leon, Idays sweetheart. He assured himself that the fence was in good condition, examined the net and being satisfied with it, asked, Are you sure that it hasnt been visited for five days? Very sure! The last time was on the eve of All Saints. Well then, either the lake is enchanted or Ill draw up something. Leon then dropped the pole into the water and instantly astonishment was pictured on his countenance. Silently he looked off toward the mountain and moved the pole about in the water, then without raising it murmured in a low voice: A cayman! A cayman! repeated everyone, as the word ran from mouth to mouth in the midst of fright and general surprise. What did you say? they asked him.
I say that were caught a cayman, Leon assured them, and as he dropped the heavy end of the pole into the water, he continued: Dont you hear that sound? Thats not sand, but a tough hide, the back of a cayman. Dont you see how the posts shake? Hes pushing against them even though he is all rolled up. Wait, hes a big one, his body is almost a foot or more across. What shall we do? was the question. Catch him! prompted some one. Heavens! And wholl catch him? No one offered to go down into the trap, for the water was deep. We ought to tie him to our banka and drag him along in triumph, suggested Sinang. The idea of his eating the fish that we were going to eat! I have never yet seen a live cayman, murmured Maria Clara. The pilot arose, picked up a long rope, and climbed nimbly up on the platform, where Leon made room for him. With the exception of Maria Clara, no one had taken any notice of him, but now all admired his shapely figure. To the great surprise of all and in spite of their cries, he leaped down into the enclosure. Take this knife! called Crisostomo to him, holding out a wide Toledo blade, but already the water was splashing up in a thousand jets and the depths closed mysteriously. Jess, Mara, y Jos! exclaimed the old women. Were going to have an accident! Dont be uneasy, ladies, said the old boatman, for if there is any one in the province who can do it, hes the man. Whats his name? they asked.
We call him The Pilot and hes the best Ive ever seen, only he doesnt like the business. The water became disturbed, then broke into ripples, the fence shook; a struggle seemed to be going on in the depths. All were silent and hardly breathed. Ibarra grasped the handle of the sharp knife convulsively. Now the struggle seemed to be at an end and the head of the youth appeared, to be greeted with joyful cries. The eyes of the old women filled with tears. The pilot climbed up with one end of the rope in his hand and once on the platform began to pull on it. The monster soon appeared above the water with the rope tied in a double band around its neck and underneath its front legs. It was a large one, as Leon had said, speckled, and on its back grew the green moss which is to the caymans what gray hairs are to men. Roaring like a bull and beating its tail against or catching hold of the sides of the corral, it opened its huge jaws and showed its long, sharp teeth. The pilot was hoisting it alone, for no one had thought to assist him. Once out of the water and resting on the platform, he placed his foot upon it and with his strong hands forced its huge jaws together and tried to tie its snout with stout knots. With a last effort the reptile arched its body, struck the floor with its powerful tail, and jerking free, hurled itself with one leap into the water outside the corral, dragging its captor along with it. A cry of horror broke from the lips of all. But like a flash of lightning another body shot into the water so quickly that there was hardly time to realize that it was Ibarra. Maria Clara did not swoon only for the reason that the Filipino women do not yet know how to do so.
The anxious watchers saw the water become colored and dyed with blood. The young fisherman jumped down with his bolo in his hand and was followed by his father, but they had scarcely disappeared when Crisostomo and the pilot reappeared clinging to the dead body of the reptile, which had the whole length of its white belly slit open and the knife still sticking in its throat. To describe the joy were impossible, as a dozen arms reached out to drag the young men from the water. The old women were beside themselves between laughter and prayers. Andeng forgot that her sinigang had boiled over three times, spilling the soup and putting out the fire. The only one who could say nothing was Maria Clara. Ibarra was uninjured, while the pilot had only a slight scratch on his arm. I owe my life to you, said the latter to Ibarra, who was wrapping himself up in blankets and cloths. The pilots voice seemed to have a note of sadness in it. You are too daring, answered Ibarra. Dont tempt fate again. If you had not come up again murmured the still pale and trembling Maria Clara. If I had not come up and you had followed me, replied Ibarra, completing the thought in his own way, in the bottom of the lake, I should still have been with my family! He had not forgotten that there lay the bones of his father. The old women did not want to visit the other corral but wished to return, saying that the day had begun inauspiciously and that many more accidents might occur. All because we didnt hear mass, sighed one. But what accident has befallen us, ladies? asked Ibarra. The cayman seems to have been the only unlucky one.
All of which proves, concluded the ex-student of theology, that in all its sinful life this unfortunate reptile has never attended massat least, Ive never seen him among the many other caymans that frequent the church. So the boats were turned in the direction of the other corral and Andeng had to get her sinigang ready again. The day was now well advanced, with a fresh breeze blowing. The waves curled up behind the body of the cayman, raising mountains of foam whereon the smooth, rich sunlight glitters, as the poet says. The music again resounded; Iday played on the harp, while the men handled the accordions and guitars with greater or less skill. The prize-winner was Albino, who actually scratched the instruments, getting out of tune and losing the time every moment or else forgetting it and changing to another tune entirely different. The second corral was visited with some misgivings, as many expected to find there the mate of the dead cayman, but nature is ever a jester, and the nets came up full at each haul. Aunt Isabel superintended the sorting of the fish and ordered that some be left in the trap for decoys. Its not lucky to empty the corral completely, she concluded. Then they made their way toward the shore near the forest of old trees that belonged to Ibarra. There in the shade by the clear waters of the brook, among the flowers, they ate their breakfast under improvised canopies. The space was filled with music while the smoke from the fires curled up in slender wreaths. The water bubbled cheerfully in the hot dishes as though uttering sounds of consolation, or perchance of sarcasm and irony, to the dead fishes. The body of the cayman writhed about, sometimes showing its torn white belly and again its speckled greenish back, while man, Natures favorite, went
on his way undisturbed by what the Brahmins and vegetarians would call so many cases of fratricide. Chapter 24: In the Wood Early, very early indeed, somewhat differently from his usual custom, Padre Salvi had celebrated mass and cleansed a dozen sinful souls in a few moments. Then it seemed that the reading of some letters which he had received firmly sealed and waxed caused the worthy curate to lose his appetite, since he allowed his chocolate to become completely cold. The padre is getting sick, commented the cook while preparing another cup. For days he hasnt eaten; of the six dishes that I set before him on the table he doesnt touch even two. Its because he sleeps badly, replied the other servant. He has nightmares since he changed his bedroom. His eyes are becoming more sunken all the time and hes getting thinner and yellower day by day. Truly, Padre Salvi was a pitiable sight. He did not care to touch the second cup of chocolate nor to taste the sweet cakes of Cebu; instead, he paced thoughtfully about the spacious sala, crumpling in his bony hands the letters, which he read from time to time. Finally, he called for his carriage, got ready, and directed that he be taken to the wood where stood the fateful tree near which the picnic was being held. Arriving at the edge of the wood, the padre dismissed his carriage and made
his way alone into its depths. A gloomy pathway opened a difficult passage through the thickets and led to the brook formed by certain warm springs, like many that flow from the slopes of Mr. Makiling. Adorning its banks grow wild flowers, many of which have as yet no Latin names, but which are doubtless well-known to the gilded insects and butterflies of all shapes and colors, blue and gold, white and black, many-hued, glittering with iridescent spots, with rubies and emeralds on their wings, and to the countless beetles with their metallic lusters of powdered gold. The hum of the insects, the cries of the cicada, which cease not night or day, the songs of the birds, and the dry crashing of the rotten branch that falls and strikes all around against the trees, are the only sounds to break the stillness of that mysterious place. For some time the padre wandered aimlessly among the thick underbrush, avoiding the thorns that caught at his guingn habit as though to detain him, and the roots of the trees that protruded from the soil to form stumblingblocks at every step for this wanderer unaccustomed to such places. But suddenly his feet were arrested by the sound of clear voices raised in merry laughter, seeming to come from the brook and apparently drawing nearer. Im going to see if I can find one of those nests, said a beautiful, sweet voice, which the curate recognized. Id like to see him without having him see me, so I could follow him everywhere. Padre Salvi hid behind the trunk of a large tree and set himself to eavesdrop. Does that mean that you want to do with him what the curate does with you? asked a laughing voice. He watches you everywhere. Be careful, for jealousy makes people thin
and puts rings around their eyes. No, no, not jealousy, its pure curiosity, replied the silvery voice, while the laughing one repeated, Yes, jealousy, jealousy! and she burst out into merry laughter. If I were jealous, instead of making myself invisible, Id make him so, in order that no one might see him. But neither would you see him and that wouldnt be nice. The best thing for us to do if we find the nest would be to present it to the curate so that he could watch over us without the necessity of our seeing him, dont you think so? I dont believe in those herons nests, interrupted another voice, but if at any time I should be jealous, Id know how to watch and still keep myself hidden. How, how? Perhaps like a Sor Escucha?1 This reminiscence of school-days provoked another merry burst of laughter. And you know how shes fooled, the Sor Escucha! From his hiding-place Padre Salvi saw Maria Clara, Victoria, and Sinang wading along the border of the brook. They were moving forward with their eyes fixed on the crystal waters, seeking the enchanted nest of the heron, wet to their knees so that the wide folds of their bathing skirts revealed the graceful curves of their bodies. Their hair was flung loose, their arms bare, and they wore camisas with wide stripes of bright hues. While looking for something that they could not find they were picking flowers and plants which grew along the bank. The religious Acteon stood pale and motionless gazing at that chaste Diana, but his eyes glittered in their dark circles, untired of staring at those white and shapely arms and at
that elegant neck and bust, while the small rosy feet that played in the water awoke in his starved being strange sensations and in his burning brain dreams of new ideas. The three charming figures disappeared behind a bamboo thicket around a bend in the brook, and their cruel allusions ceased to be heard. Intoxicated, staggering, covered with perspiration, Padre Salvi left his hiding-place and looked all about him with rolling eyes. He stood still as if in doubt, then took a few steps as though he would try to follow the girls, but turned again and made his way along the banks of the stream to seek the rest of the party. At a little distance he saw in the middle of the brook a kind of bathing-place, well enclosed, decorated with palm leaves, flowers, and streamers, with a leafy clump of bamboo for a covering, from within which came the sound of happy feminine voices. Farther on he saw a bamboo bridge and beyond it the men bathing. Near these a crowd of servants was busily engaged around improvised kalanes in plucking chickens, washing rice, and roasting a pig. On the opposite bank in a cleared space were gathered men and women under a canvas covering which was fastened partly to the hoary trees and partly to newly-driven stakes. There were gathered the alferez, the coadjutor, the gobernadorcillo, the teniente-mayor, the schoolmaster, and many other personages of the town, even including Sinangs father, Capitan Basilio, who had been the adversary of the deceased Don Rafael in an old lawsuit. Ibarra had said to him, We are disputing over a point of law, but that does not mean that we are enemies, so the celebrated orator of the conservatives had enthusiastically accepted the invitation, sending along three turkeys and putting his servants at the young mans disposal.
The curate was received with respect and deference by all, even the alferez. Why, where has your Reverence been? asked the latter, as he noticed the curates scratched face and his habit covered with leaves and dry twigs. Has your Reverence had a fall? No, I lost my way, replied Padre Salvi, lowering his gaze to examine his gown. Bottles of lemonade were brought out and green coconuts were split open so that the bathers as they came from the water might refresh themselves with the milk and the soft meat, whiter than the milk itself. The girls all received in addition rosaries of sampaguitas, intertwined with roses and ilang-ilang blossoms, to perfume their flowing tresses. Some of the company sat on the ground or reclined in hammocks swung from the branches of the trees, while others amused themselves around a wide flat rock on which were to be seen playing-cards, a chess-board, booklets, cowry shells, and pebbles. They showed the cayman to the curate, but he seemed inattentive until they told him that the gaping wound had been inflicted by Ibarra. The celebrated and unknown pilot was no longer to be seen, as he had disappeared before the arrival of the alferez. At length Maria Clara came from the bath with her companions, looking fresh as a rose on its first morning when the dew sparkling on its fair petals glistens like diamonds. Her first smile was for Crisostomo and the first cloud on her brow for Padre Salvi, who noted it and sighed. The lunch hour was now come, and the curate, the coadjutor, the gobernadorcillo, the teniente-mayor, and the other dignitaries took their seats at the table over which Ibarra presided. The mothers would not permit any of the men to eat at the table where the young women sat.
This time, Albino, you cant invent holes as in the bankas, said Leon to the quondam student of theology. What! Whats that? asked the old women. The bankas, ladies, were as whole as this plate is, explained Leon. Jess! The rascal! exclaimed the smiling Aunt Isabel. Have you yet learned anything of the criminal who assaulted Padre Damaso? inquired Fray Salvi of the alferez. Of what criminal, Padre? asked the military man, staring at the friar over the glass of wine that he was emptying, What criminal! Why, the one who struck Padre Damaso in the road yesterday afternoon! Struck Padre Damaso? asked several voices. The coadjutor seemed to smile, while Padre Salvi went on: Yes, and Padre Damaso is now confined to his bed. Its thought that he may be the very same Elias who threw you into the mudhole, seor alferez. Either from shame or wine the alferezs face became very red. Of course, I thought, continued Padre Salvi in a joking manner, that you, the alferez of the Civil Guard, would be informed about the affair. The soldier bit his lip and was murmuring some foolish excuse, when the meal was suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a pale, thin, poorly-clad woman. No one had noticed her approach, for she had come so noiselessly that at night she might have been taken for a ghost.
Give this poor woman something to eat, cried the old women. Oy, come here! Still the strange woman kept on her way to the table where the curate was seated. As he turned his face and recognized her, his knife dropped from his hand. Give this woman something to eat, ordered Ibarra. The night is dark and the boys disappear, murmured the wandering woman, but at sight of the alferez, who spoke to her, she became frightened and ran away among the trees. Who is she? he asked. An unfortunate woman who has become insane from fear and sorrow, answered Don Filipo. For four days now she has been so. Is her name Sisa? asked Ibarra with interest. Your soldiers arrested her, continued the teniente-mayor, rather bitterly, to the alferez. They marched her through the town on account of something about her sons which isnt very clearly known. What! exclaimed the alferez, turning to the curate, she isnt the mother of your two sacristans? The curate nodded in affirmation. They disappeared and nobody made any inquiries about them, added Don Filipo with a severe look at the gobernadorcillo, who dropped his eyes. Look for that woman, Crisostomo ordered the servants. I promised to try to learn where her sons are. They disappeared, did you say? asked the alferez. Your sacristans disappeared, Padre?
The friar emptied the glass of wine before him and again nodded. Caramba, Padre! exclaimed the alferez with a sarcastic laugh, pleased at the thought of a little revenge. A few pesos of your Reverences disappear and my sergeant is routed out early to hunt for themtwo sacristans disappear and your Reverence says nothingand you, seor capitanIts also true that you Here he broke off with another laugh as he buried his spoon in the red meat of a wild papaya. The curate, confused, and not over-intent upon what he was saying, replied, Thats because I have to answer for the money A good answer, reverend shepherd of souls! interrupted the alferez with his mouth full of food. A splendid answer, holy man! Ibarra wished to intervene, but Padre Salvi controlled himself by an effort and said with a forced smile, Then you dont know, sir, what is said about the disappearance of those boys? No? Then ask your soldiers! What! exclaimed the alferez, all his mirth gone. Its said that on the night they disappeared several shots were heard. Several shots? echoed the alferez, looking around at the other guests, who nodded their heads in corroboration of the padres statement. Padre Salvi then replied slowly and with cutting sarcasm: Come now, I see that you dont catch the criminals nor do you know what is going on in your own house, yet you try to set yourself up as a preacher to point out their duties to others. You ought to keep in mind that proverb about the fool in his own house2
Gentlemen! interrupted Ibarra, seeing that the alferez had grown pale. In this connection I should like to have your opinion about a project of mine. Im thinking of putting this crazy woman under the care of a skilful physician and, in the meantime, with your aid and advice, Ill search for her sons. The return of the servants without the madwoman, whom they had been unable to find, brought peace by turning the conversation to other matters. The meal ended, and while the tea and coffee were being served, both old and young scattered about in different groups. Some took the chessmen, others the cards, while the girls, curious about the future, chose to put questions to a Wheel of Fortune. Come, Seor Ibarra, called Capitan Basilio in merry mood, we have a lawsuit fifteen years old, and there isnt a judge in the Audiencia who can settle it. Lets see if we cant end it on the chess-board. With the greatest pleasure, replied the youth. Just wait a moment, the alferez is leaving. Upon hearing about this match all the old men who understood chess gathered around the board, for it promised to be an interesting one, and attracted even spectators who were not familiar with the game. The old women, however, surrounded the curate in order to converse with him about spiritual matters, but Fray Salvi apparently did not consider the place and time appropriate, for he gave vague answers and his sad, rather bored, looks wandered in all directions except toward his questioners.
The chess-match began with great solemnity. If this game ends in a draw, its understood that the lawsuit is to be dropped, said Ibarra. In the midst of the game Ibarra received a telegram which caused his eyes to shine and his face to become pale. He put it into his pocketbook, at the same time glancing toward the group of young people, who were still with laughter and shouts putting questions to Destiny. Check to the king! called the youth. Capitan Basilio had no other recourse than to hide the piece behind the queen. Check to the queen! called the youth as he threatened that piece with a rook which was defended by a pawn. Being unable to protect the queen or to withdraw the piece on account of the king behind it, Capitan Basilio asked for time to reflect. Willingly, agreed Ibarra, especially as I have something to say this very minute to those young people in that group over there. He arose with the agreement that his opponent should have a quarter of an hour. Iday had the round card on which were written the forty-eight questions, while Albino held the book of answers. A lie! Its not so! cried Sinang, half in tears. Whats the matter? asked Maria Clara. Just imagine, I asked, When shall I have some sense? I threw the dice and that worn-out priest read from the book, When the frogs raise hair. What do you think of that? As she said this, Sinang made a grimace at the laughing ex-theological student.
Who told you to ask that question? her cousin Victoria asked her. To ask it is enough to deserve such an answer. You ask a question, they said to Ibarra, offering him the wheel. Were decided that whoever gets the best answer shall receive a present from the rest. Each of us has already had a question. Who got the best answer? Maria Clara, Maria Clara! replied Sinang. We made her ask, willy-nilly, Is your sweetheart faithful and constant? And the book answered But here the blushing Maria Clara put her hands over Sinangs mouth so that she could not finish. Well, give me the wheel, said Crisostomo, smiling. My question is, Shall I succeed in my present enterprise? What an ugly question! exclaimed Sinang. Ibarra threw the dice and in accordance with the resulting number the page and line were sought. "Dreams are dreams, read Albino. Ibarra drew out the telegram and opened it with trembling hands. This time your book is wrong! he exclaimed joyfully. Read this: School project approved. Suit decided in your favor. What does it mean? all asked. Didnt you say that a present is to be given to the one receiving the best answer? he asked in a voice shaking with emotion as he tore the telegram carefully into two pieces.
Yes, yes! Well then, this is my present, he said as he gave one piece to Maria Clara. A school for boys and girls is to be built in the town and this school is my present. And the other part, what does it mean? Its to be given to the one who has received the worst answer. To me, then, to me! cried Sinang. Ibarra gave her the other piece of the telegram and hastily withdrew. What does it mean? she asked, but the happy youth was already at a distance, returning to the game of chess. Fray Salvi in abstracted mood approached the circle of young people. Maria Clara wiped away her tears of joy, the laughter ceased, and the talk died away. The curate stared at the young people without offering to say anything, while they silently waited for him to speak. Whats this? he at length asked, picking up the book and turning its leaves. The Wheel of Fortune, a book of games, replied Leon. Dont you know that its a sin to believe in these things? he scolded, tearing the leaves out angrily. Cries of surprise and anger escaped from the lips of all. Its a greater sin to dispose of what isnt yours, against the wish of the owner, contradicted Albino, rising. Padre, thats what is called stealing and it is forbidden by God and men! Maria Clara clasped her hands and gazed with tearful eyes at the remnants of the book which a few moments before had been the source of so much happiness for her.
Contrary to the general expectation, Fray Salvi did not reply to Albino, but stood staring at the torn leaves as they were whirled about, some falling in the wood, some in the water, then he staggered away with his hands over his head. He stopped for a few moments to speak with Ibarra, who accompanied him to one of the carriages, which were at the disposal of the guests. Hes doing well to leave, that kill-joy, murmured Sinang. He has a face that seems to say, Dont laugh, for I know about your sins! After making the present to his fiance, Ibarra was so happy that he began to play without reflection or a careful examination of the positions of the pieces. The result was that although Capitan Basilio was hard pressed the game became a stalemate, owing to many careless moves on the young mans part. Its settled, were at peace! exclaimed Capitan Basilio heartily. Yes, were at peace, repeated the youth, whatever the decision of the court may be. And the two shook hands cordially. While all present were rejoicing over this happy termination of a quarrel of which both parties were tired, the sudden arrival of a sergeant and four soldiers of the Civil Guard, all armed and with bayonets fixed, disturbed the mirth and caused fright among the women. Keep still, everybody! shouted the sergeant. Shoot any one who moves! In spite of this blustering command, Ibarra arose and approached the sergeant. What do you want? he asked. That you deliver to us at once a criminal named Elias, who was your pilot this
morning, was the threatening reply. "A criminalthe pilot? You must be mistaken, answered Ibarra. No, sir, this Elias has just been accused of putting his hand on a priest Oh, was that the pilot? The very same, according to reports. You admit persons of bad character into your fiestas, Seor Ibarra. Ibarra looked him over from head to foot and replied with great disdain, I dont have to give you an account of my actions! At our fiestas all are welcome. Had you yourself come, you would have found a place at our table, just as did your alferez, who was with us a couple of hours ago. With this he turned his back. The sergeant gnawed at the ends of his mustache but, considering himself the weaker party, ordered the soldiers to institute a search, especially among the trees, for the pilot, a description of whom he carried on a piece of paper. Don Filipo said to him, Notice that this description fits nine tenths of the natives. Dont make any false move! After a time the soldiers returned with the report that they had been unable to see either banka or man that could be called suspicious-looking, so the sergeant muttered a few words and went away as he had comein the manner of the Civil Guard! The merriment was little by little restored, amid questions and comments. So thats the Elias who threw the alferez into the mudhole, said Leon thoughtfully. How did that happen? How was it? asked some of the more curious.
They say that on a very rainy day in September the alferez met a man who was carrying a bundle of firewood. The road was very muddy and there was only a narrow path at the side, wide enough for but one person. They say that the alferez, instead of reining in his pony, put spurs to it, at the same time calling to the man to get out of the way. It seemed that this man, on account of the heavy load he was carrying on his shoulder, had little relish for going back nor did he want to be swallowed up in the mud, so he continued on his way forward. The alferez in irritation tried to knock him down, but he snatched a piece of wood from his bundle and struck the pony on the head with such great force that it fell, throwing its rider into the mud. They also say that the man went on his way tranquilly without taking any notice of the five bullets that were fired after him by the alferez, who was blind with mud and rage. As the man was entirely unknown to him it was supposed that he might be the famous Elias who came to the province several months ago, having come from no one knows where. He has given the Civil Guard cause to know him in several towns for similar actions. Then hes a tulisan? asked Victoria shuddering. I dont think so, for they say that he fought against some tulisanes one day when they were robbing a house. He hasnt the look of a criminal, commented Sinang. No, but he looks very sad. I didnt see him smile the whole morning, added Maria Clara thoughtfully.
So the afternoon passed away and the hour for returning to the town came. Under the last rays of the setting sun they left the woods, passing in silence by the mysterious tomb of Ibarras ancestors. Afterwards, the merry talk was resumed in a lively manner, full of warmth, beneath those branches so little accustomed to hear so many voices. The trees seemed sad, while the vines swung back and forth as if to say, Farewell, youth! Farewell, dream of a day! Now in the light of the great red torches of bamboo and with the sound of the guitars let us leave them on the road to the town. The groups grow smaller, the lights are extinguished, the songs die away, and the guitar becomes silent as they approach the abodes of men. Put on the mask now that you are once more amongst your kind! Chapter 25: In the House of the Sage On the morning of the following day, Ibarra, after visiting his lands, made his way to the home of old Tasio. Complete stillness reigned in the garden, for even the swallows circling about the eaves scarcely made any noise. Moss grew on the old wall, over which a kind of ivy clambered to form borders around the windows. The little house seemed to be the abode of silence. Ibarra hitched his horse carefully to a post and walking almost on tiptoe crossed the clean and well-kept garden to the stairway, which he ascended, and as the door was open, he entered. The first sight that met his gaze was the old man bent over a book in which he seemed to be writing. On the walls were collections of insects and plants arranged among maps and stands filled with books and manuscripts. The old man was so absorbed in his
work that he did not notice the presence of the youth until the latter, not wishing to disturb him, tried to retire. Ah, you here? he asked, gazing at Ibarra with a strange expression. Excuse me, answered the youth, I see that youre very busy True, I was writing a little, but its not urgent, and I want to rest. Can I do anything for you? A great deal, answered Ibarra, drawing nearer, but A glance at the book on the table caused him to exclaim in surprise, What, are you given to deciphering hieroglyphics? No, replied the old man, as he offered his visitor a chair. I dont understand Egyptian or Coptic either, but I know something about the system of writing, so I write in hieroglyphics. You write in hieroglyphics! Why? exclaimed the youth, doubting what he saw and heard. So that I cannot be read now. Ibarra gazed at him fixedly, wondering to himself if the old man were not indeed crazy. He examined the book rapidly to learn if he was telling the truth and saw neatly drawn figures of animals, circles, semicircles, flowers, feet, hands, arms, and such things. But why do you write if you dont want to be read? Because Im not writing for this generation, but for other ages. If this generation could read, it would burn my books, the labor of my whole life. But
the generation that deciphers these characters will be an intelligent generation, it will understand and say, Not all were asleep in the night of our ancestors! The mystery of these curious characters will save my work from the ignorance of men, just as the mystery of strange rites has saved many truths from the destructive priestly classes. In what language do you write? asked Ibarra after a pause. In our own, Tagalog. Are the hieroglyphical signs suitable? If it were not for the difficulty of drawing them, which takes time and patience, I would almost say that they are more suitable than the Latin alphabet. The ancient Egyptian had our vowels; our o, which is only final and is not like that of the Spanish, which is a vowel between o and u. Like us, the Egyptians lacked the true sound of e, and in their language are found our ha and kha, which we do not have in the Latin alphabet such as is used in Spanish. For example, in this word mukha, he went on, pointing to the book, I transcribe the syllable ha more correctly with the figure of a fish than with the Latin h, which in Europe is pronounced in different ways. For a weaker aspirate, as for example in this word han, where the h has less force, I avail myself of this lions head or of these three lotus flowers, according to the quantity of the vowel. Besides, I have the nasal sound which does not exist in the Latin-Spanish alphabet. I repeat that if it were not for the difficulty of drawing them exactly,
these hieroglyphics could almost be adopted, but this same difficulty obliges me to be concise and not say more than what is exact and necessary. Moreover, this work keeps me company when my guests from China and Japan go away. Your guests from China and Japan? Dont you hear them? My guests are the swallows. This year one of them is missingsome bad boy in China or Japan must have caught it. How do you know that they come from those countries? Easily enough! Several years ago, before they left I tied to the foot of each one a slip of paper with the name Philippines in English on it, supposing that they must not travel very far and because English is understood nearly everywhere. For years my slips brought no reply, so that at last I had it written in Chinese and here in the following November they have returned with other notes which I have had deciphered. One is written in Chinese and is a greeting from the banks of the Hoang-Ho and the other, as the Chinaman whom I consulted supposes, must be in Japanese. But Im taking your time with these things and havent asked you what I can do for you. Ive come to speak to you about a matter of importance, said the youth. Yesterday afternoon Have they caught that poor fellow? You mean Elias? How did you know about him? I saw the Muse of the Civil Guard! The Muse of the Civil Guard? Who is she?
The alferezs woman, whom you didnt invite to your picnic. Yesterday morning the incident of the cayman became known through the town. The Muse of the Civil Guard is as astute as she is malignant and she guessed that the pilot must be the bold person who threw her husband into the mudhole and who assaulted Padre Damaso. As she reads all the reports that her husband is to receive, scarcely had he got back home, drunk and not knowing what he was doing, when to revenge herself on you she sent the sergeant with the soldiers to disturb the merriment of your picnic. Be careful! Eve was a good woman, sprung from the hands of Godthey say that Doa Consolacion is evil and its not known whose hands she came from! In order to be good, a woman needs to have been, at least sometime, either a maid or a mother. Ibarra smiled slightly and replied by taking some documents from his pocketbook. My dead father used to consult you in some things and I recall that he had only to congratulate himself on following your advice. I have on hand a little enterprise, the success of which I must assure. Here he explained briefly his plan for the school, which he had offered to his fiance, spreading out in view of the astonished Sage some plans which had been prepared in Manila. I would like to have you advise me as to what persons in the town I must first win over in order to assure the success of the undertaking. You know the inhabitants well, while I have just arrived and am almost a stranger in my own country. Old Tasio examined the plans before him with tear-dimmed eyes. What you are
going to do has been my dream, the dream of a poor lunatic! he exclaimed with emotion. And now the first thing that I advise you to do is never to come to consult with me. The youth gazed at him in surprise. Because the sensible people, he continued with bitter irony, would take you for a madman also. The people consider madmen those who do not think as they do, so they hold me as such, which I appreciate, because the day in which they think me returned to sanity, they will deprive me of the little liberty that Ive purchased at the expense of the reputation of being a sane individual. And who knows but they are right? I do not live according to their rules, my principles and ideals are different. The gobernadorcillo enjoys among them the reputation of being a wise man because he learned nothing more than to serve chocolate and to put up with Padre Damasos bad humor, so now he is wealthy, he disturbs the petty destinies of his fellow-townsmen, and at times he even talks of justice. Thats a man of talent, think the vulgar, look how from nothing he has made himself great! But I, I inherited fortune and position, I have studied, and now I am poor, I am not trusted with the most ridiculous office, and all say, Hes a fool! He doesnt know how to live! The curate calls me philosopher as a nickname and gives to understand that I am a charlatan who is making a show of what I learned in the higher schools, when that is exactly what benefits me the least. Perhaps I really am the fool and they the wise oneswho can say? The old man shook his head as if to drive away that thought, and continued: The
second thing I can advise is that you consult the curate, the gobernadorcillo, and all persons in authority. They will give you bad, stupid, or useless advice, but consultation doesnt mean compliance, although you should make it appear that you are taking their advice and acting according to it. Ibarra reflected a moment before he replied: The advice is good, but difficult to follow. Couldnt I go ahead with my idea without a shadow being thrown upon it? Couldnt a worthy enterprise make its way over everything, since truth doesnt need to borrow garments from error? Nobody loves the naked truth! answered the old man. That is good in theory and practicable in the world of which youth dreams. Here is the schoolmaster, who has struggled in a vacuum; with the enthusiasm of a child, he has sought the good, yet he has won only jests and laughter. You have said that you are a stranger in your own country, and I believe it. The very first day you arrived you began by wounding the vanity of a priest who is regarded by the people as a saint, and as a sage among his fellows. God grant that such a misstep may not have already determined your future! Because the Dominicans and Augustinians look with disdain on the guingn habit, the rope girdle, and the immodest foot-wear, because a learned doctor in Santo Tomas1 may have once recalled that Pope Innocent III described the statutes of that order as more fit for hogs than men, dont believe but that all of them work hand in hand to affirm what a preacher once said, The most insignificant lay brother can do more than the government with all its soldiers! Cave ne cadas!2 Gold is powerfulthe golden calf has thrown God down from His altars many times, and that too since the days of Moses!
Im not so pessimistic nor does life appear to me so perilous in my country, said Ibarra with a smile. I believe that those fears are somewhat exaggerated and I hope to be able to carry out my plans without meeting any great opposition in that quarter. Yes, if they extend their hands to you; no, if they withhold them. All your efforts will be shattered against the walls of the rectory if the friar so much as waves his girdle or shakes his habit; tomorrow the alcalde will on some pretext deny you what today he has granted; no mother will allow her son to attend the school, and then all your labors will produce a counter-effectthey will dishearten those who afterwards may wish to attempt altruistic undertakings. But, after all, replied the youth, I cant believe in that power of which you speak, and even supposing it to exist and making allowance for it, I should still have on my side the sensible people and the government, which is animated by the best intentions, which has great hopes, and which frankly desires the welfare of the Philippines. The government! The government! muttered the Sage, raising his eyes to stare at the ceiling. However inspired it may be with the desire for fostering the greatness of the country for the benefit of the country itself and of the mother country, however some official or other may recall the generous spirit of the Catholic Kings3 and may agree with it, too, the government sees nothing, hears nothing, nor does it decide anything, except what the curate or the Provincial causes it to see, hear, and decide. The government is convinced that it depends for its salvation wholly on them, that it is sustained because they uphold it, and that the day on which they cease to support it, it will fall like a manikin that has lost its prop. They intimidate the government with an uprising of the
people and the people with the forces of the government, whence originates a simple game, very much like what happens to timid persons when they visit gloomy places, taking for ghosts their own shadows and for strange voices the echoes of their own. As long as the government does not deal directly with the country it will not get away from this tutelage, it will live like those imbecile youths who tremble at the voice of their tutor, whose kindness they are begging for. The government has no dream of a healthy future; it is the arm, while the head is the convento. By this inertia with which it allows itself to be dragged from depth to depth, it becomes changed into a shadow, its integrity is impaired, and in a weak and incapable way it trusts everything to mercenary hands. But compare our system of government with those of the countries you have visited Oh! interrupted Ibarra, thats asking too much! Let us content ourselves with observing that our people do not complain or suffer as do the people of other countries, thanks to Religion and the benignity of the governing powers. This people does not complain because it has no voice, it does not move because it is lethargic, and you say that it does not suffer because you havent seen how its heart bleeds. But some day you will see this, you will hear its complaints, and then woe unto those who found their strength on ignorance and fanaticism! Woe unto those who rejoice in deceit and labor during the night, believing that all are asleep! When the light of day shows up the monsters of darkness, the frightful reaction will come. So many sighs suppressed, so much poison distilled drop by drop, so much force repressed
for centuries, will come to light and burst! Who then will pay those accounts which oppressed peoples present from time to time and which History preserves for us on her bloody pages? God, the government, and Religion will not allow that day to come! replied Ibarra, impressed in spite of himself. The Philippines is religious and loves Spain, the Philippines will realize how much the nation is doing for her. There are abuses, yes, there are defects, that cannot be denied, but Spain is laboring to introduce reforms that will correct these abuses and defects, she is formulating plans, she is not selfish! I know it, and that is the worst of it! The reforms which emanate from the higher places are annulled in the lower circles, thanks to the vices of all, thanks, for instance, to the eager desire to get rich in a short time, and to the ignorance of the people, who consent to everything. A royal decree does not correct abuses when there is no zealous authority to watch over its execution, while freedom of speech against the insolence of petty tyrants is not conceded. Plans will remain plans, abuses will still be abuses, and the satisfied ministry will sleep in peace in spite of everything. Moreover, if perchance there does come into a high place a person with great and generous ideas, he will begin to hear, while behind his back he is considered a fool, Your Excellency does not know the country, your Excellency does not understand the character of the Indians, your Excellency is going to ruin them, your Excellency will do well to trust So-and-so, and his Excellency in fact does not
know the country, for he has been until now stationed in America, and besides that, he has all the shortcomings and weaknesses of other men, so he allows himself to be convinced. His Excellency also remembers that to secure the appointment he has had to sweat much and suffer more, that he holds it for only three years, that he is getting old and that it is necessary to think, not of quixotisms, but of the future: a modest mansion in Madrid, a cozy house in the country, and a good income in order to live in luxury at the capitalthese are what he must look for in the Philippines. Let us not ask for miracles, let us not ask that he who comes as an outsider to make his fortune and go away afterwards should interest himself in the welfare of the country. What matters to him the gratitude or the curses of a people whom he does not know, in a country where he has no associations, where he has no affections? Fame to be sweet must resound in the ears of those we love, in the atmosphere of our home or of the land that will guard our ashes; we wish that fame should hover over our tomb to warm with its breath the chill of death, so that we may not be completely reduced to nothingness, that something of us may survive. Naught of this can we offer to those who come to watch over our destinies. And the worst of all this is that they go away just when they are beginning to get an understanding of their duties. But we are getting away from our subject. But before getting back to it I must make some things plain, interrupted the youth eagerly. I can admit that the government does not know the people, but I believe that the people know the government even less. There are useless officials, bad ones, if you
wish, but there are also good ones, and if these are unable to do anything it is because they meet with an inert mass, the people, who take little part in the affairs that concern them. But I didnt come to hold a discussion with you on that point, I came to ask for advice and you tell me to lower my head before grotesque idols! Yes, I repeat it, because here you must either lower your head or lose it. Either lower my head or lose it! repeated Ibarra thoughtfully. The dilemma is hard! But why? Is love for my country incompatible with love for Spain? Is it necessary to debase oneself to be a good Christian, to prostitute ones conscience in order to carry out a good purpose? I love my native land, the Philippines, because to it I owe my life and my happiness, because every man should love his country. I love Spain, the fatherland of my ancestors, because in spite of everything the Philippines owes to it, and will continue to owe, her happiness and her future. I am a Catholic, I preserve pure the faith of my fathers, and I do not see why I have to lower my head when I can raise it, to give it over to my enemies when I can humble them! Because the field in which you wish to sow is in possession of your enemies and against them you are powerless. It is necessary that you first kiss the hand that But the youth let him go no farther, exclaiming passionately, Kiss their hands! You forget that among them they killed my father and threw his body from the tomb! I who am his son do not forget it, and that I do not avenge it is because I have regard for the good name of the Church! The old Sage bowed his head as he answered slowly: Seor Ibarra, if you preserve
those memories, which I cannot counsel you to forget, abandon the enterprise you are undertaking and seek in some other way the welfare of your countrymen. The enterprise needs another man, because to make it a success zeal and money alone are not sufficient; in our country are required also self-denial, tenacity of purpose, and faith, for the soil is not ready, it is only sown with discord. Ibarra appreciated the value of these observations, but still would not be discouraged. The thought of Maria Clara was in his mind and his promise must be fulfilled. Doesnt your experience suggest any other than this hard means? he asked in a low voice. The old man took him by the arm and led him to the window. A fresh breeze, the precursor of the north wind, was blowing, and before their eyes spread out the garden bounded by the wide forest that was a kind of park. Why can we not do as that weak stalk laden with flowers and buds does? asked the Sage, pointing to a beautiful jasmine plant. The wind blows and shakes it and it bows its head as if to hide its precious load. If the stalk should hold itself erect it would be broken, its flowers would be scattered by the wind, and its buds would be blighted. The wind passes by and the stalk raises itself erect, proud of its treasure, yet who will blame it for having bowed before necessity? There you see that gigantic kupang, which majestically waves its light foliage wherein the eagle builds his nest. I brought it from the forest as a weak sapling and braced its stem for months with slender pieces of bamboo. If I had transplanted it large and full of life, it is certain that it would not have lived here, for the wind would have thrown it down before its roots could have fixed themselves in the soil, before it could have become accustomed to its surroundings, and before it could have secured sufficient nourishment for its size and height.
So you, transplanted from Europe to this stony soil, may end, if you do not seek support and do not humble yourself. You are among evil conditions, alone, elevated, the ground shakes, the sky presages a storm, and the top of your family tree has shown that it draws the thunderbolt. It is not courage, but foolhardiness, to fight alone against all that exists. No one censures the pilot who makes for a port at the first gust of the whirlwind. To stoop as the bullet passes is not cowardlyit is worse to defy it only to fall, never to rise again. But could this sacrifice produce the fruit that I hope for? asked Ibarra. Would the priest believe in me and forget the affront? Would they aid me frankly in behalf of the education that contests with the conventos the wealth of the country? Can they not pretend friendship, make a show of protection, and yet underneath in the shadows fight it, undermine it, wound it in the heel, in order to weaken it quicker than by attacking it in front? Granted the previous actions which you surmise, anything may be expected! The old man remained silent from inability to answer these questions. After meditating for some time, he said: If such should happen, if the enterprise should fail, you would be consoled by the thought that you had done what was expected of you and thus something would be gained. You would have placed the first stone, you would have sown the seed, and after the storm had spent itself perhaps some grain would have survived the catastrophe to grow and save the species from destruction and to serve afterwards as the seed for the sons of
the dead sower. The example may encourage others who are only afraid to begin. Weighing these reasons, Ibarra realized the situation and saw that with all the old mans pessimism there was a great deal of truth in what he said. I believe you! he exclaimed, pressing the old mans hand. Not in vain have I looked to you for advice. This very day Ill go and reach an understanding with the curate, who, after all is said, has done me no wrong and who must be good, since all of them are not like the persecutor of my father. I have, besides, to interest him in behalf of that unfortunate madwoman and her sons. I put my trust in God and men! After taking leave of the old man he mounted his horse and rode away. As the pessimistic Sage followed him with his gaze, he muttered: Now lets watch how Destiny will unfold the drama that began in the cemetery. But for once he was greatly mistakenthe drama had begun long before!