CHAPTER XXXVII – His Excellency
“I Want to talk with that young man,” said his Excellency to an aide. “He has aroused all my interest.”
“They have already gone to look for him, General. But here is a young man from Manila who insists on being introduced. We told him that your Excellency had no time for interviews, that you had not come to give audiences, but to see the town and the procession, and he answered that your Excellency always has time to dispense justice–”
His Excellency turned to the alcalde in wonder. “If I am not mistaken,” said the latter with a slight bow, “he is the young man who this morning had a quarrel with Padre Damaso over the sermon.”
“Still another? Has this friar set himself to stir up the whole province or does he think that he governs here? Show the young man in.” His Excellency paced nervously from one end of the sala to the other.
In the hall were gathered various Spaniards mingled with soldiers and officials of San Diego and neighboring towns, standing in groups conversing or disputing. There were also to be seen all the friars, with the exception of Padre Damaso, and they wanted to go in to pay their respects to his Excellency.
“His Excellency the Captain-General begs your Reverences to wait a moment,” said the aide. “Come in, young man!” The Manilan who had confounded Greek with Tagalog entered the room pale and trembling.
All were filled with surprise; surely his Excellency must be greatly irritated to dare to make the friars wait! Padre Sibyla remarked, “I haven’t anything to say to him, I’m wasting my time here.”
“I say the same,” added an Augustinian. “Shall we go?”
“Wouldn’t it be better that we find out how he stands?” asked Padre Salvi. “We should avoid a scandal, and should be able to remind him of his duties toward–religion.”
“Your Reverences may enter, if you so desire,” said the aide as he ushered out the youth who did not understand Greek and whose countenance was now beaming with satisfaction.
Fray Sibyla entered first, Padre Salvi, Padre Martin, and the other priests following. They all made respectful bows with the exception of Padre Sibyla, who even in bending preserved a certain air of superiority. Padre Salvi on the other hand almost doubled himself over the girdle.
“Which of your Reverences is Padre Damaso?” asked the Captain-General without any preliminary greeting, neither asking them to be seated nor inquiring about their health nor addressing them with the flattering speeches to which such important personages are accustomed.
“Padre Damaso is not here among us, sir,” replied Fray Sibyla in the same dry tone as that used by his Excellency.
“Your Excellency’s servant is in bed sick,” added Padre Salvi humbly. “After having the pleasure of welcoming you and of informing ourselves concerning your Excellency’s health, as is the duty of all good subjects of the King and of every person of culture, we have come in the name of the respected servant of your Excellency who has had the misfortune–”
“Oh!” interrupted the Captain-General, twirling a chair about on one leg and smiling nervously, “if all the servants of my Excellency were like his Reverence, Padre Damaso, I should prefer myself to serve my Excellency!”
The reverend gentlemen, who were standing up physically, did so mentally at this interruption.
“Won’t your Reverences be seated?” he added after a brief pause, moderating his tone a little.
Capitan Tiago here appeared in full dress, walking on tiptoe and leading by the hand Maria Clara, who entered timidly and with hesitation. Still she bowed gracefully and ceremoniously.
“Is this young lady your daughter?” asked the Captain-General in surprise.
“And your Excellency’s, General,” answered Capitan Tiago seriously.
The alcalde and the aides opened their eyes wide, but his Excellency lost none of his gravity as he took the girl’s hand and said affably, “Happy are the fathers who have daughters like you, seÃ±orita! I have heard you spoken of with respect and admiration and have wanted to see you and thank you for your beautiful action of this afternoon. I am informed of everything and when I make my report to his Majesty’s government I shall not forget your noble conduct. Meanwhile, permit me to thank you in the name of his Majesty, the King, whom I represent here and who loves peace and tranquillity in his loyal subjects, and for myself, a father who has daughters of your age, and to propose a reward for you.”
“Sir–” answered the trembling Maria Clara.
His Excellency guessed what she wanted to say, and so continued: “It is well, seÃ±orita, that you are at peace with your conscience and content with the good opinion of your fellow-countrymen, with the faith which is its own best reward and beyond which we should not aspire. But you must not deprive me of an opportunity to show that if Justice knows how to punish she also knows how to reward and that she is not always blind!” The italicized words were all spoken in a loud and significant tone.
“SeÃ±or Don Juan Crisostomo Ibarra awaits the orders of your Excellency!” announced the aide in a loud voice.
Maria Clara shuddered.
“Ah!” exclaimed the Captain-General. “Allow me, seÃ±orita, to express my desire to see you again before leaving the town, as I still have some very important things to say to you. SeÃ±or Alcalde, you will accompany me during the walk which I wish to take after the conference that I will hold alone with SeÃ±or Ibarra.”
“Your Excellency will permit us to inform you,” began Padre Salvi humbly, “that SeÃ±or Ibarra is excommunicated.”
His Excellency cut short this speech, saying, “I am happy that I have only to regret the condition of Padre Damaso, for whom I sincerely desire a complete recovery, since at his age a voyage to Spain on account of his health may not be very agreeable. But that depends on him! Meanwhile, may God preserve the health of your Reverences!”
“And so much depends on him,” murmured Padre Salvi as they retired. “We’ll see who makes that voyage soonest!” remarked another Franciscan.
“I shall leave at once,” declared the indignant Padre Sibyla.
“And we shall go back to our province,” said the Augustinians. Neither the Dominican nor the Augustinians could endure the thought that they had been so coldly received on a Franciscan’s account.
In the hall they met Ibarra, their amphitryon of a few hours before, but no greetings were exchanged, only looks that said many things. But when the friars had withdrawn the alcalde greeted him familiarly, although the entrance of the aide looking for the young man left no time for conversation. In the doorway he met Maria Clara; their looks also said many things but quite different from what the friars’ eyes had expressed.
Ibarra was dressed in deep mourning, but presented himself serenely and made a profound bow, even though the visit of the friars had not appeared to him to be a good augury. The Captain-General advanced toward him several steps.
“I take pleasure, SeÃ±or Ibarra, in shaking your hand. Permit me to receive you in all confidence.” His Excellency examined the youth with marked satisfaction.
“Sir, such kindness–”
“Your surprise offends me, signifying as it does that you had not expected to be well received. That is casting a doubt on my sense of justice!”
“A cordial reception, sir, for an insignificant subject of his Majesty like myself is not justice but a favor.”
“Good, good,” exclaimed his Excellency, seating himself and waving Ibarra to a chair. “Let us enjoy a brief period of frankness. I am very well satisfied with your conduct and have already recommended you to his Majesty for a decoration on account of your philanthropic idea of erecting a schoolhouse. If you had let me know, I would have attended the ceremony with pleasure, and perhaps might have prevented a disagreeable incident.”
“It seemed to me such a small matter,” answered the youth, “that I did not think it worth while troubling your Excellency with it in the midst of your numerous cares. Besides, my duty was to apply first to the chief authority of my province.”
His Excellency nodded with a satisfied air and went on in an even more familiar tone: “In regard to the trouble you’re had with Padre Damaso, don’t hold any fear or rancor, for they won’t touch a hair of your head while I govern the islands. As for the excommunication, I’ll speak to the Archbishop, since it is necessary for us to adjust ourselves to circumstances. Here we can’t laugh at such things in public as we can in the Peninsula and in enlightened Europe. Nevertheless, be more prudent in the future. You have placed yourself in opposition to the religious orders, who must be respected on account of their influence and their wealth. But I will protect you, for I like good sons, I like to see them honor the memory of their fathers. I loved mine, and, as God lives, I don’t know what I would have done in your place!”
Then, changing the subject of conversation quickly, he asked, “I’m told that you have just returned from Europe; were you in Madrid?”
“Yes, sir, several months.”
“Perhaps you heard my family spoken of?”
“Your Excellency had just left when I had the honor of being introduced to your family.”
“How is it, then, that you came without bringing any recommendations to me?”
“Sir,” replied Ibarra with a bow, “because I did not come direct from Spain and because I have heard your Excellency so well spoken of that I thought a letter of recommendation might not only be valueless but even offensive; all Filipinos are recommended to you.”
A smile played about the old soldier’s lips and he replied slowly, as though measuring and weighing his words, “You flatter me by thinking so, and–so it ought to be. Nevertheless, young man, you must know what burdens weigh upon our shoulders here in the Philippines. Here we, old soldiers, have to do and to be everything: King, Minister of State, of War, of Justice, of Finance, of Agriculture, and of all the rest. The worst part of it too is that in every matter we have to consult the distant mother country, which accepts or rejects our proposals according to circumstances there–and at times blindly. As we Spaniards say, ‘He who attempts many things succeeds in none.’ Besides, we generally come here knowing little about the country and leave it when we begin to get acquainted with it. With you I can be frank, for it would be useless to try to be otherwise. Even in Spain, where each department has its own minister, born and reared in the locality, where there are a press and a public opinion, where the opposition frankly opens the eyes of the government and keeps it informed, everything moves along imperfectly and defectively; thus it is a miracle that here things are not completely topsyturvy in the lack of these safeguards, and having to live and work under the shadow of a most powerful opposition. Good intentions are not lacking to us, the governing powers, but we find ourselves obliged to avail ourselves of the eyes and arms of others whom ordinarily we do not know and who perhaps, instead of serving their country, serve only their own private interests. This is not our fault but the fault of circumstances–the friars aid us not a little in getting along, but they are not sufficient. You have aroused my interest and it is my desire that the imperfections of our present system of government be of no hindrance to you. I cannot look after everybody nor can everybody come to me. Can I be of service to you in any way? Have you no request to make?”
Ibarra reflected a moment before he answered. “Sir, my dearest wish is the happiness of my country, a happiness which I desire to see owed to the mother country and to the efforts of my fellow-citizens, the two united by the eternal bonds of common aspirations and common interests. What I would request can only be given by the government after years of unceasing toil and after the introduction of definite reforms.”
His Excellency gazed at him for a few seconds with a searching look, which Ibarra sustained with naturalness. “You are the first man that I’ve talked to in this country!” he finally exclaimed, extending his hand.
“Your Excellency has seen only those who drag themselves about in the city; you have not visited the slandered huts of our towns or your Excellency would have been able to see real men, if to be a man it is sufficient to have a generous heart and simple customs.”
The Captain-General rose and began to walk back and forth in the room. “SeÃ±or Ibarra,” he exclaimed, pausing suddenly, and the young man also rose, “perhaps within a month I shall leave. Your education and your mode of thinking are not for this country. Sell what you have, pack your trunk, and come with me to Europe; the climate there will be more agreeable to you.”
“I shall always while I live preserve the memory of your Excellency’s kindness,” replied Ibarra with emotion, “but I must remain in this country where my fathers have lived.”
“Where they have died you might say with more exactness! Believe me, perhaps I know your country better than you yourself do. Ah, now I remember,” he exclaimed with a change of tone, “you are going to marry an adorable young woman and I’m detaining you here! Go, go to her, and that you may have greater freedom send her father to me,” this with a smile. “Don’t forget, though, that I want you to accompany me in my walk.”
Ibarra bowed and withdrew. His Excellency then called to his aide. “I’m satisfied,” he said, slapping the latter lightly on the shoulder. “Today I’ve seen for the first time how it is possible for one to be a good Spaniard without ceasing to be a good Filipino and to love his country. Today I showed their Reverences that we are not all puppets of theirs. This young man gave me the opportunity and I shall soon have settled all my accounts with the friars. It’s a pity that some day or other this young man–But call the alcalde.”
The alcalde presented himself immediately. As he entered, the Captain-General said to him, “SeÃ±or Alcalde, in order to avoid any repetition of scenes such as you witnessed this afternoon, scenes that I regret, as they hurt the prestige of the government and of all good Spaniards, allow me to recommend to your especial care SeÃ±or Ibarra, so that you may afford him means for carrying out his patriotic intentions and also that in the future you prevent his being molested by persons of any class whatsoever, under any pretext at all.”
The alcalde understood the reprimand and bowed to conceal his confusion.
“Have the same order communicated to the alferez who commands in the district here. Also, investigate whether that gentleman has affairs of his own that are not sanctioned by the regulations. I’ve heard more than one complaint in regard to that.”
Capitan Tiago presented himself stiff and formal. “Don Santiago,” said his Excellency in an affable tone, “a little while ago I felicitated you on the happiness of having a daughter such as the SeÃ±orita de los Santos; now let me congratulate you on your future son-in-law. The most virtuous of daughters is certainly worthy of the best citizen of the Philippines. Is it permitted to know when the wedding will occur?”
“Sir!” stammered Capitan Tiago, wiping the perspiration from his forehead.
“Come now, I see that there is nothing definitely arranged. If persons are lacking to stand up with them, I shall take the greatest pleasure in being one of them. That’s for the purpose of ridding myself of the feeling of disgust which the many weddings I’ve heretofore taken part in have given me,” he added, turning to the alcalde.
“Yes, sir,” answered Capitan Tiago with a smile that would move to pity.
Ibarra almost ran in search of Maria Clara–he had so many things to tell her. Hearing merry voices in one of the rooms, he knocked lightly on the door.
“Who’s there?” asked the voice of Maria Clara.
The voices became hushed and the door–did not open.
“It’s I, may I come in?” called the young man, his heart beating violently.
The silence continued. Then light footsteps approached the door and the merry voice of Sinang murmured through the keyhole, “Crisostomo, we’re going to the theater tonight. Write what you have to say to Maria.”
The footsteps retreated again as rapidly as they approached.
“What does this mean?” murmured Ibarra thoughtfully as he retired slowly from the door.