CHAPTER XXXIV – The Dinner
There in the decorated kiosk the great men of the province were dining. The alcalde occupied one end of the table and Ibarra the other. At the young man’s right sat Maria Clara and at his left the escribano. Capitan Tiago, the alferez, the gobernadorcillo, the friars, the employees, and the few young ladies who had remained sat, not according to rank, but according to their inclinations. The meal was quite animated and happy.
When the dinner was half over, a messenger came in search of Capitan Tiago with a telegram, to open which he naturally requested the permission of the others, who very naturally begged him to do so. The worthy capitan at first knitted his eyebrows, then raised them; his face became pale, then lighted up as he hastily folded the paper and arose.
“Gentlemen,” he announced in confusion, “his Excellency the Captain-General is coming this evening to honor my house.” Thereupon he set off at a run, hatless, taking with him the message and his napkin.
He was followed by exclamations and questions, for a cry of “Tulisanes!” would not have produced greater effect. “But, listen!” “When is he coming?” “Tell us about it!” “His Excellency!” But Capitan Tiago was already far away.
“His Excellency is coming and will stay at Capitan Tiago’s!” exclaimed some without taking into consideration the fact that his daughter and future son-in-law were present.
“The choice couldn’t be better,” answered the latter.
The friars gazed at one another with looks that seemed to say: “The Captain-General is playing another one of his tricks, he is slighting us, for he ought to stay at the convento,” but since this was the thought of all they remained silent, none of them giving expression to it.
“I was told of this yesterday,” said the alcalde, “but at that time his Excellency had not yet fully decided.”
“Do you know, SeÃ±or Alcalde, how long the Captain-General thinks of staying here?” asked the alferez uneasily.
“With certainty, no. His Excellency likes to give surprises.”
“Here come some more messages.” These were for the alcalde, the alferez, and the gobernadorcillo, and contained the same announcement. The friars noted well that none came directed to the curate.
“His Excellency will arrive at four this afternoon, gentlemen!” announced the alcalde solemnly. “So we can finish our meal in peace.” Leonidas at Thermopylae could not have said more cheerfully, “Tonight we shall sup with Pluto!”
The conversation again resumed its ordinary course.
“I note the absence of our great preacher,” timidly remarked an employee of inoffensive aspect who had not opened his mouth up to the time of eating, and who spoke now for the first time in the whole morning.
All who knew the history of Crisostomo’s father made a movement and winked, as if to say, “Get out! Fools rush in–” But some one more charitably disposed answered, “He must be rather tired.”
“Rather?” exclaimed the alferez. “He must be exhausted, and as they say here, all fagged out. What a sermon it was!”
“A splendid sermon–wonderful!” said the escribano.
“Magnificent–profound!” added the correspondent.
“To be able to talk so much, it’s necessary to have the lungs that he has,” observed Padre Manuel Martin. The Augustinian did not concede him anything more than lungs.
“And his fertility of expression!” added Padre Salvi.
“Do you know that SeÃ±or Ibarra has the best cook in the province?” remarked the alcalde, to cut short such talk.
“You may well say that, but his beautiful neighbor doesn’t wish to honor the table, for she is scarcely eating a bite,” observed one of the employees.
Maria Clara blushed. “I thank the gentleman, he troubles himself too much on my account,” she stammered timidly, “but–”
“But you honor it enough merely by being present,” concluded the gallant alcalde as he turned to Padre Salvi.
“Padre,” he said in a loud voice, “I’ve observed that during the whole day your Reverence has been silent and thoughtful.”
“The alcalde is a great observer,” remarked Fray Sibyla in a meaning tone.
“It’s a habit of mine,” stammered the Franciscan. “It pleases me more to listen than to talk.”
“Your Reverence always takes care to win and not to lose,” said the alferez in a jesting tone.
Padre Salvi, however, did not take this as a joke, for his gaze brightened a moment as he replied, “The alferez knows very well these days that I’m not the one who is winning or losing most.”
The alferez turned the hit aside with a forced laugh, pretending not to take it to himself.
“But, gentlemen, I don’t understand how it is possible to talk of winnings and losses,” interposed the alcalde. “What will these amiable and discreet young ladies who honor us with their company think of us? For me the young women are like the Ã†olian harps in the middle of the night–it is necessary to listen with close attention in order that their ineffable harmonies may elevate the soul to the celestial spheres of the infinite and the ideal!”
“Your Honor is becoming poetical!” exclaimed the escribano gleefully, and both emptied their wine-glasses.
“I can’t help it,” said the alcalde as he wiped his lips. “Opportunity, while it doesn’t always make the thief, makes the poet. In my youth I composed verses which were really not bad.”
“So your Excellency has been unfaithful to the Muses to follow Themis,” emphatically declared our mythical or mythological correspondent.
“Pshaw, what would you have? To run through the entire social scale was always my dream. Yesterday I was gathering flowers and singing songs, today I wield the rod of justice and serve Humanity, tomorrow–”
“Tomorrow your Honor will throw the rod into the fire to warm yourself by it in the winter of life, and take an appointment in the cabinet,” added Padre Sibyla.
“Pshaw! Yes–no–to be a cabinet official isn’t exactly my beau-ideal: any upstart may become one. A villa in the North in which to spend the summer, a mansion in Madrid, and some property in Andalusia for the winter–there we shall live remembering our beloved Philippines. Of me Voltaire would not say, ‘We have lived among these people only to enrich ourselves and to calumniate them.’”
The alcalde quoted this in French, so the employees, thinking that his Honor had cracked a joke, began to laugh in appreciation of it. Some of the friars did likewise, since they did not know that the Voltaire mentioned was the same Voltaire whom they had so often cursed and consigned to hell. But Padre Sibyla was aware of it and became serious from the belief that the alcalde had said something heretical or impious.
In the other kiosk the children were eating under the direction of their teacher. For Filipino children they were rather noisy, since at the table and in the presence of other persons their sins are generally more of omission than of commission. Perhaps one who was using the tableware improperly would be corrected by his neighbor and from this there would arise a noisy discussion in which each would have his partisans. Some would say the spoon, others the knife or the fork, and as no one was considered an authority there would arise the contention that God is Christ or, more clearly, a dispute of theologians. Their fathers and mothers winked, made signs, nudged one another, and showed their happiness by their smiles.
“Ya!” exclaimed a countrywoman to an old man who was mashing buyo in his kalikut, “in spite of the fact that my husband is opposed to it, my Andoy shall be a priest. It’s true that we’re poor, but we’ll work, and if necessary we’ll beg alms. There are not lacking those who will give money so that the poor may take holy orders. Does not Brother Mateo, a man who does not lie, say that Pope Sextus was a herder of carabaos in Batangas? Well then, look at my Andoy, see if he hasn’t already the face of a St. Vincent!” The good mother watered at the mouth to see her son take hold of a fork with both hands.
“God help us!” added the old man, rolling his quid of buyo. “If Andoy gets to be Pope we’ll go to Rome he, he! I can still walk well, and if I die–he, he!”
“Don’t worry, granddad! Andoy won’t forget that you taught him how to weave baskets.”
“You’re right, Petra. I also believe that your son will be great, at least a patriarch. I have never seen any one who learned the business in a shorter time. Yes, he’ll remember me when as Pope or bishop he entertains himself in making baskets for his cook. He’ll then say masses for my soul–he, he!” With this hope the good old man again filled his kalikut with buyo.
“If God hears my prayers and my hopes are fulfilled, I’ll say to Andoy, ‘Son, take away all our sins and send us to Heaven!’ Then we shan’t need to pray and fast and buy indulgences. One whose son is a blessed Pope can commit sins!”
“Send him to my house tomorrow, Petra,” cried the old man enthusiastically, “and I’ll teach him to weave the nito!”
“Huh! Get out! What are you dreaming about, grand-dad? Do you still think that the Popes even move their hands? The curate, being nothing more than a curate, only works in the mass–when he turns around! The Archbishop doesn’t even turn around, for he says mass sitting down. So the Pope–the Pope says it in bed with a fan! What are you thinking about?”
“Of nothing more, Petra, than that he know how to weave the nito. It would be well for him to be able to sell hats and cigar-cases so that he wouldn’t have to beg alms, as the curate does here every year in the name of the Pope. It always fills me with compassion to see a saint poor, so I give all my savings.”
Another countryman here joined in the conversation, saying, “It’s all settled, cumare, my son has got to be a doctor, there’s nothing like being a doctor!”
“Doctor! What are you talking about, cumpare?” retorted Petra. “There’s nothing like being a curate!”
“A curate, pish! A curate? The doctor makes lots of money, the sick people worship him, cumare!”
“Excuse me! The curate, by making three or four turns and saying deminos pabiscum, eats God and makes money. All, even the women, tell him their secrets.”
“And the doctor? What do you think a doctor is? The doctor sees all that the women have, he feels the pulses of the dalagas! I’d just like to be a doctor for a week!”
“And the curate, perhaps the curate doesn’t see what your doctor sees? Better still, you know the saying, ‘the fattest chicken and the roundest leg for the curate!’”
“What of that? Do the doctors eat dried fish? Do they soil their fingers eating salt?”
“Does the curate dirty his hands as your doctors do? He has great estates and when he works he works with music and has sacristans to help him.”
“But the confessing, cumare? Isn’t that work?”
“No work about that! I’d just like to be confessing everybody! While we work and sweat to find out what our own neighbors are doing, the curate does nothing more than take a seat and they tell him everything. Sometimes he falls asleep, but he lets out two or three blessings and we are again the children of God! I’d just like to be a curate for one evening in Lent!”
“But the preaching? You can’t tell me that it’s not work. Just look how the fat curate was sweating this morning,” objected the rustic, who felt himself being beaten into retreat.
“Preaching! Work to preach! Where’s your judgment? I’d just like to be talking half a day from the pulpit, scolding and quarreling with everybody, without any one daring to reply, and be getting paid for it besides. I’d just like to be the curate for one morning when those who are in debt to me are attending mass! Look there now, how Padre Damaso gets fat with so much scolding and beating.”
Padre Damaso was, indeed, approaching with the gait of a heavy man. He was half smiling, but in such a malignant way that Ibarra, upon seeing him, lost the thread of his talk. The padre was greeted with some surprise but with signs of pleasure on the part of all except Ibarra. They were then at the dessert and the champagne was foaming in the glasses.
Padre Damaso’s smile became nervous when he saw Maria Clara seated at Crisostomo’s right. He took a seat beside the alcalde and said in the midst of a significant silence, “Were you discussing something, gentlemen? Go ahead!”
“We were at the toasts,” answered the alcalde. “SeÃ±or Ibarra was mentioning all who have helped him in his philanthropic enterprise and was speaking of the architect when your Reverence–”
“Well, I don’t know anything about architecture,” interrupted Padre Damaso, “but I laugh at architects and the fools who employ them. Here you have it–I drew the plan of this church and it’s perfectly constructed, so an English jeweler who stopped in the convento one day assured me. To draw a plan one needs only to have two fingers’ breadth of forehead.”
“Nevertheless,” answered the alcalde, seeing that Ibarra was silent, “when we consider certain buildings, as, for example, this schoolhouse, we need an expert.”
“Get out with your experts!” exclaimed the priest with a sneer. “Only a fool needs experts! One must be more of a brute than the Indians, who build their own houses, not to know how to construct four walls and put a roof on top of them. That’s all a schoolhouse is!”
The guests gazed at Ibarra, who had turned pale, but he continued as if in conversation with Maria Clara.
“But your Reverence should consider–”
“See now,” went on the Franciscan, not allowing the alcalde to continue, “look how one of our lay brothers, the most stupid that we have, has constructed a hospital, good, pretty, and cheap. He made them work hard and paid only eight cuartos a day even to those who had to come from other towns. He knew how to handle them, not like a lot of cranks and little mestizos who are spoiling them by paying three or four reals.”
“Does your Reverence say that he paid only eight cuartos? Impossible!” The alcalde was trying to change the course of the conversation.
“Yes, sir, and those who pride themselves on being good Spaniards ought to imitate him. You see now, since the Suez Canal was opened, the corruption that has come in here. Formerly, when we had to double the Cape, neither so many vagabonds came here nor so many others went from here to become vagabonds.”
“But, Padre Damaso–”
“You know well enough what the Indian is–just as soon as he gets a little learning he sets himself up as a doctor! All these little fellows that go to Europe–”
“But, listen, your Reverence!” interrupted the alcalde, who was becoming nervous over the aggressiveness of such talk.
“Every one ends up as he deserves,” the friar continued. “The hand of God is manifest in the midst of it all, and one must be blind not to see it. Even in this life the fathers of such vipers receive their punishment, they die in jail ha, ha! As we might say, they have nowhere–”
But he did not finish the sentence. Ibarra, livid, had been following him with his gaze and upon hearing this allusion to his father jumped up and dropped a heavy hand on the priest’s head, so that he fell back stunned. The company was so filled with surprise and fright that no one made any movement to interfere.
“Keep off!” cried the youth in a terrible voice, as he caught up a sharp knife and placed his foot on the neck of the friar, who was recovering from the shock of his fall. “Let him who values his life keep away!”
The youth was beside himself. His whole body trembled and his eyes rolled threateningly in their sockets. Fray Damaso arose with an effort, but the youth caught him by the neck and shook him until he again fell doubled over on his knees.
“SeÃ±or Ibarra! SeÃ±or Ibarra!” stammered some. But no one, not even the alferez himself, dared to approach the gleaming knife, when they considered the youth’s strength and the condition of his mind. All seemed to be paralyzed.
“You, here! You have been silent, now it is my turn! I have tried to avoid this, but God brings me to it–let God be the judge!” The youth was breathing laboriously, but with a hand of iron he held down the Franciscan, who was struggling vainly to free himself.
“My heart beats tranquilly, my hand is sure,” he began, looking around him. “First, is there one among you, one who has not loved his father, who was born in such shame and humiliation that he hates his memory? You see? You understand this silence? Priest of a God of peace, with your mouth full of sanctity and religion and your heart full of evil, you cannot know what a father is, or you might have thought of your own! In all this crowd which you despise there is not one like you! You are condemned!”
The persons surrounding him, thinking that he was about to commit murder, made a movement.
“Away!” he cried again in a threatening voice. “What, do you fear that I shall stain my hands with impure blood? Have I not told you that my heart beats tranquilly? Away from us! Listen, priests and judges, you who think yourselves other men and attribute to yourselves other rights: my father was an honorable man,–ask these people here, who venerate his memory. My father was a good citizen and he sacrificed himself for me and for the good of his country. His house was open and his table was set for the stranger and the outcast who came to him in distress! He was a Christian who always did good and who never oppressed the unprotected or afflicted those in trouble. To this man here he opened his doors, he made him sit at his table and called him his friend. And how has this man repaid him? He calumniated him, persecuted him, raised up against him all the ignorant by availing himself of the sanctity of his position; he outraged his tomb, dishonored his memory, and persecuted him even in the sleep of death! Not satisfied with this, he persecutes the son now! I have fled from him, I have avoided his presence. You this morning heard him profane the pulpit, pointing me out to popular fanaticism, and I held my peace! Now he comes here to seek a quarrel with me. To your surprise, I have suffered in silence, but he again insults the most sacred memory that there is for a son. You who are here, priests and judges, have you seen your aged father wear himself out working for you, separating himself from you for your welfare, have you seen him die of sorrow in a prison sighing for your embrace, seeking some one to comfort him, alone, sick, when you were in a foreign land? Have you afterwards heard his name dishonored, have you found his tomb empty when you went to pray beside it? No? You are silent, you condemn him!”
He raised his hand, but with the swiftness of light a girlish form put itself between them and delicate fingers restrained the avenging arm. It was Maria Clara. Ibarra stared at her with a look that seemed to reflect madness. Slowly his clenched fingers relaxed, letting fall the body of the Franciscan and the knife. Covering his face, he fled through the crowd.