Noli Me Tangere: Chapter 42 РThe Espada̱as

The fiesta is over. The people of the town have again found, as in every other year, that their treasury is poorer, that they have worked, sweated, and stayed awake much without really amusing themselves, without gaining any new friends, and, in a word, that they have dearly bought their dissipation and their headaches. But this matters nothing, for the same will be done next year, the same the coming century, since it has always been the custom.

In Capitan Tiago’s house sadness reigns. All the windows are closed, the inmates move about noiselessly, and only in the kitchen do they dare to speak in natural tones. Maria Clara, the soul of the house, lies sick in bed and her condition is reflected in all the faces, as the sorrows of the mind may be read in the countenance of an individual.

“Which seems best to you, Isabel, shall I make a poor-offering to the cross of Tunasan or to the cross of Matahong?” asks the afflicted father in a low voice. “The Tunasan cross grows while the Matahong cross sweats which do you think is more miraculous?”

Aunt Isabel reflects, shakes her head, and murmurs, “To grow, to grow is a greater miracle than to sweat. All of us sweat, but not all of us grow.”

“That’s right, Isabel; but remember that to sweat for the wood of which bench-legs are made to sweat–is not a small miracle. Come, the best thing will be to make poor-offerings to both crosses, so neither will resent it, and Maria will get better sooner. Are the rooms ready? You know that with the doctors is coming a new gentleman, a distant relative of Padre Damaso’s. Nothing should be lacking.”

At the other end of the dining-room are the two cousins, Sinang and Victoria, who have come to keep the sick girl company. Andeng is helping them clean a silver tea-set.

“Do you know Dr. Espadaña?” the foster-sister of Maria Clara asks Victoria curiously.

“No,” replies the latter, “the only thing that I know about him is that he charges high, according to Capitan Tiago.”

“Then he must be good!” exclaims Andeng. “The one who performed an operation on Doña Maria charged high; so he was learned.”

“Silly!” retorts Sinang. “Every one who charges high is not learned. Look at Dr. Guevara; after performing a bungling operation that cost the life of both mother and child, he charged the widower fifty pesos. The thing to know is how to charge!”

“What do you know about it?” asks her cousin, nudging her.

“Don’t I know? The husband, who is a poor sawyer, after losing his wife had to lose his home also, for the alcalde, being a friend of the doctor’s, made him pay. Don’t I know about it, when my father lent him the money to make the journey to Santa Cruz?” [114]

The sound of a carriage stopping in front of the house put an end to these conversations. Capitan Tiago, followed by Aunt Isabel, ran down the steps to welcome the new arrivals: the Doctor Don Tiburcio de Espadaña, his señora the Doctora Doña Victorina de los Reyes de De Espadaña, and a young Spaniard of pleasant countenance and agreeable aspect.

Doña Victorina was attired in a loose silk gown embroidered with flowers and a hat with a huge parrot half-crushed between blue and red ribbons. The dust of the road mingled with the rice-powder on her cheeks seemed to accentuate her wrinkles. As at the time we saw her in Manila, she now supported her lame husband on her arm.

“I have the pleasure of introducing to you our cousin, Don Alfonso Linares de Espadaña,” said Doña Victorina, indicating their young companion. “The gentleman is a godson of a relative of Padre Damaso’s and has been private secretary to all the ministers.”

The young man bowed politely and Capitan Tiago came very near to kissing his hand.

While their numerous trunks and traveling-bags are being carried in and Capitan Tiago is conducting them to their rooms, let us talk a little of this couple whose acquaintance we made slightly in the first chapters.

Doña Victorina was a lady of forty and five winters, which were equivalent to thirty and two summers according to her arithmetical calculations. She had been beautiful in her youth, having had, as she used to say, ‘good flesh,’ but in the ecstasies of contemplating herself she had looked with disdain on her many Filipino admirers, since her aspirations were toward another race. She had refused to bestow on any one her little white hand, not indeed from distrust, for not a few times had she given jewelry and gems of great value to various foreign and Spanish adventurers. Six months before the time of our story she had seen realized her most beautiful dream,–the dream of her whole life,–for which she might scorn the fond illusions of her youth and even the promises of love that Capitan Tiago had in other days whispered in her ear or sung in some serenade. Late, it is true, had the dream been realized, but Doña Victorina, who, although she spoke the language badly, was more Spanish than Augustina of Saragossa,[115] understood the proverb, “Better late than never,” and found consolation in repeating it to herself. “Absolute happiness does not exist on earth,” was another favorite proverb of hers, but she never used both together before other persons.

Having passed her first, second, third, and fourth youth in casting her nets in the sea of the world for the object of her vigils, she had been compelled at last to content herself with what fate was willing to apportion her. Had the poor woman been only thirty and one instead of thirty and two summers–the difference according to her mode of reckoning was great–she would have restored to Destiny the award it offered her to wait for another more suited to her taste, but since man proposes and necessity disposes, she saw herself obliged in her great need for a husband to content herself with a poor fellow who had been cast out from Estremadura[116] and who, after wandering about the world for six or seven years like a modern Ulysses, had at last found on the island of Luzon hospitality and a withered Calypso for his better half. This unhappy mortal, by name Tiburcio Espadaña, was only thirty-five years of age and looked like an old man, yet he was, nevertheless, younger than Doña Victorina, who was only thirty-two. The reason for this is easy to understand but dangerous to state.

Don Tiburcio had come to the Philippines as a petty official in the Customs, but such had been his bad luck that, besides suffering severely from seasickness and breaking a leg during the voyage, he had been dismissed within a fortnight, just at the time when he found himself without a cuarto. After his rough experience on the sea he did not care to return to Spain without having made his fortune, so he decided to devote himself to something. Spanish pride forbade him to engage in manual labor, although the poor fellow would gladly have done any kind of work in order to earn an honest living. But the prestige of the Spaniards would not have allowed it, even though this prestige did not protect him from want.

At first he had lived at the expense of some of his countrymen, but in his honesty the bread tasted bitter, so instead of getting fat he grew thin. Since he had neither learning nor money nor recommendations he was advised by his countrymen, who wished to get rid of him, to go to the provinces and pass himself off as a doctor of medicine. He refused at first, for he had learned nothing during the short period that he had spent as an attendant in a hospital, his duties there having been to dust off the benches and light the fires. But as his wants were pressing and as his scruples were soon laid to rest by his friends he finally listened to them and went to the provinces. He began by visiting some sick persons, and at first made only moderate charges, as his conscience dictated, but later, like the young philosopher of whom Samaniego[117] tells, he ended by putting a higher price on his visits. Thus he soon passed for a great physician and would probably have made his fortune if the medical authorities in Manila had not heard of his exorbitant fees and the competition that he was causing others. Both private parties and professionals interceded for him. “Man,” they said to the zealous medical official, “let him make his stake and as soon as he has six or seven thousand pesos he can go back home and live there in peace. After all, what does it matter to you if he does deceive the unwary Indians? They should be more careful! He’s a poor devil–don’t take the bread from his mouth–be a good Spaniard!” This official was a good Spaniard and agreed to wink at the matter, but the news soon reached the ears of the people and they began to distrust him, so in a little while he lost his practise and again saw himself obliged almost to beg his daily bread. It was then that he learned through a friend, who was an intimate acquaintance of Doña Victorina’s, of the dire straits in which that lady was placed and also of her patriotism and her kind heart. Don Tiburcio then saw a patch of blue sky and asked to be introduced to her.

Doña Victorina and Don Tiburcio met: tarde venientibus ossa,[118] he would have exclaimed had he known Latin! She was no longer passable, she was passée. Her abundant hair had been reduced to a knot about the size of an onion, according to her maid, while her face was furrowed with wrinkles and her teeth were falling loose. Her eyes, too, had suffered considerably, so that she squinted frequently in looking any distance. Her disposition was the only part of her that remained intact.

At the end of a half-hour’s conversation they understood and accepted each other. She would have preferred a Spaniard who was less lame, less stuttering, less bald, less toothless, who slobbered less when he talked, and who had more “spirit” and “quality,” as she used to say, but that class of Spaniards no longer came to seek her hand. She had more than once heard it said that opportunity is pictured as being bald, and firmly believed that Don Tiburcio was opportunity itself, for as a result of his misfortunes he suffered from premature baldness. And what woman is not prudent at thirty-two years of age?

Don Tiburcio, for his part, felt a vague melancholy when he thought of his honeymoon, but smiled with resignation and called to his support the specter of hunger. Never had he been ambitious or pretentious; his tastes were simple and his desires limited; but his heart, untouched till then, had dreamed of a very different divinity. Back there in his youth when, worn out with work, he lay doom on his rough bed after a frugal meal, he used to fall asleep dreaming of an image, smiling and tender. Afterwards, when troubles and privations increased and with the passing of years the poetical image failed to materialize, he thought modestly of a good woman, diligent and industrious, who would bring him a small dowry, to console him for the fatigues of his toil and to quarrel with him now and then–yes, he had thought of quarrels as a kind of happiness! But when obliged to wander from land to land in search not so much of fortune as of some simple means of livelihood for the remainder of his days; when, deluded by the stories of his countrymen from overseas, he had set out for the Philippines, realism gave, place to an arrogant mestiza or a beautiful Indian with big black eyes, gowned in silks and transparent draperies, loaded down with gold and diamonds, offering him her love, her carriages, her all. When he reached Manila he thought for a time that his dream was to be realized, for the young women whom he saw driving on the Luneta and the Malecon in silver-mounted carriages had gazed at him with some curiosity. Then after his position was gone, the mestiza and the Indian disappeared and with great effort he forced before himself the image of a widow, of course an agreeable widow! So when he saw his dream take shape in part he became sad, but with a certain touch of native philosophy said to himself, “Those were all dreams and in this world one does not live on dreams!” Thus he dispelled his doubts: she used rice-powder, but after their marriage he would break her of the habit; her face had many wrinkles, but his coat was torn and patched; she was a pretentious old woman, domineering and mannish, but hunger was more terrible, more domineering and pretentious still, and anyway, he had been blessed with a mild disposition for that very end, and love softens the character. She spoke Spanish badly, but he himself did not talk it well, as he had been told when notified of his dismissal Moreover, what did it matter to him if she was an ugly and ridiculous old woman? He was lame, toothless, and bald! Don Tiburcio preferred to take charge of her rather than to become a public charge from hunger. When some friends joked with him about it, he answered, “Give me bread and call me a fool.”

Don Tiburcio was one of those men who are popularly spoken of as unwilling to harm a fly. Modest, incapable of harboring an unkind thought, in bygone days he would have been made a missionary. His stay in the country had not given him the conviction of grand superiority, of great valor, and of elevated importance that the greater part of his countrymen acquire in a few weeks. His heart had never been capable of entertaining hate nor had he been able to find a single filibuster; he saw only unhappy wretches whom he must despoil if he did not wish to be more unhappy than they were. When he was threatened with prosecution for passing himself off as a physician he was not resentful nor did he complain. Recognizing the justness of the charge against him, he merely answered, “But it’s necessary to live!”

So they married, or rather, bagged each other, and went to Santa Ann to spend their honeymoon. But on their wedding-night Doña Victorina was attacked by a horrible indigestion and Don Tiburcio thanked God and showed himself solicitous and attentive. A few days afterward, however, he looked into a mirror and smiled a sad smile as he gazed at his naked gums, for he had aged ten years at least.

Very well satisfied with her husband, Doña Victorina had a fine set of false teeth made for him and called in the best tailors of the city to attend to his clothing. She ordered carriages, sent to Batangas and Albay for the best ponies, and even obliged him to keep a pair for the races. Nor did she neglect her own person while she was transforming him. She laid aside the native costume for the European and substituted false frizzes for the simple Filipino coiffure, while her gowns, which fitted her marvelously ill, disturbed the peace of all the quiet neighborhood.

Her husband, who never went out on foot,–she did not care to have his lameness noticed,–took her on lonely drives in unfrequented places to her great sorrow, for she wanted to show him off in public, but she kept quiet out of respect for their honeymoon. The last quarter was coming on when he took up the subject of the rice-powder, telling her that the use of it was false and unnatural. Doña Victorina wrinkled up her eyebrows and stared at his false teeth. He became silent, and she understood his weakness.

She placed a de before her husband’s surname, since the de cost nothing and gave “quality” to the name, signing herself “Victorina de los Reyes de De Espadaña.” This de was such a mania with her that neither the stationer nor her husband could get it out of her head. “If I write only one de it may be thought that you don’t have it, you fool!” she said to her husband.[119]

Soon she believed that she was about to become a mother, so she announced to all her acquaintances, “Next month De Espadaña and I are going to the Penyinsula. I don’t want our son to be born here and be called a revolutionist.” She talked incessantly of the journey, having memorized the names of the different ports of call, so that it was a treat to hear her talk: “I’m going to see the isthmus in the Suez Canal–De Espadaña thinks it very beautiful and De Espadaña has traveled over the whole world.” “I’ll probably not return to this land of savages.” “I wasn’t born to live here–Aden or Port Said would suit me better–I’ve thought so ever since I was a girl.” In her geography Doña Victorina divided the world into the Philippines and Spain; rather differently from the clever people who divide it into Spain and America or China for another name.

Her husband realized that these things were barbarisms, but held his peace to escape a scolding or reminders of his stuttering. To increase the illusion of approaching maternity she became whimsical, dressed herself in colors with a profusion of flowers and ribbons, and appeared on the Escolta in a wrapper. But oh, the disenchantment! Three months went by and the dream faded, and now, having no reason for fearing that her son would be a revolutionist, she gave up the trip. She consulted doctors, midwives, old women, but all in vain. Having to the great displeasure of Capitan Tiago jested about St. Pascual Bailon, she was unwilling to appeal to any saint. For this reason a friend of her husband’s remarked to her:

“Believe me, señora, you are the only strong-spirited person in this tiresome country.”

She had smiled, without knowing what strong-spirited meant, but that night she asked her husband. “My dear,” he answered, “the s-strongest s-spirit that I know of is ammonia. My f-friend must have s-spoken f-figuratively.”

After that she would say on every possible occasion, “I’m the only ammonia in this tiresome country, speaking figuratively. So Señor N. de N., a Peninsular gentleman of quality, told me.”

Whatever she said had to be done, for she had succeeded in dominating her husband completely. He on his part did not put up any great resistance and so was converted into a kind of lap-dog of hers. If she was displeased with him she would not let him go out, and when she was really angry she tore out his false teeth, thus leaving him a horrible sight for several days.

It soon occurred to her that her husband ought to be a doctor of medicine and surgery, and she so informed him.

“My dear, do you w-want me to be arrested?” he asked fearfully.

“Don’t be a fool! Leave me to arrange it,” she answered. “You’re not going to treat any one, but I want people to call you Doctor and me Doctora, see?”

So on the following day Rodoreda[120] received an order to engrave on a slab of black marble: DR. DE ESPADAÑA, SPECIALIST IN ALL KINDS OF DISEASES. All the servants had to address them by their new titles, and as a result she increased the number of frizzes, the layers of rice-powder, the ribbons and laces, and gazed with more disdain than ever on her poor and unfortunate countrywomen whose husbands belonged to a lower grade of society than hers did. Day by day she felt more dignified and exalted and, by continuing in this way, at the end of a year she would have believed herself to be of divine origin.

These sublime thoughts, however, did not keep her from becoming older and more ridiculous every day. Every time Capitan Tiago saw her and recalled having made love to her in vain he forthwith sent a peso to the church for a mass of thanksgiving. Still, he greatly respected her husband on account of his title of specialist in all kinds of diseases and listened attentively to the few phrases that he was able to stutter out. For this reason and because this doctor was more exclusive than others, Capitan Tiago had selected him to treat his daughter.

In regard to young Linares, that is another matter. When arranging for the trip to Spain, Doña Victorina had thought of having a Peninsular administrator, as she did not trust the Filipinos. Her husband bethought himself of a nephew of his in Madrid who was studying law and who was considered the brightest of the family. So they wrote to him, paying his passage in advance, and when the dream disappeared he was already on his way.

Such were the three persons who had just arrived. While they were partaking of a late breakfast, Padre Salvi came in. The Espadañas were already acquainted with him, and they introduced the blushing young Linares with all his titles.

As was natural, they talked of Maria Clara, who was resting and sleeping. They talked of their journey, and Doña Victorina exhibited all her verbosity in criticising the customs of the provincials, –their nipa houses, their bamboo bridges; without forgetting to mention to the curate her intimacy with this and that high official and other persons of “quality” who were very fond of her.

“If you had come two days ago, Doña Victorina,” put in Capitan Tiago during a slight pause, “you would have met his Excellency, the Captain-General. He sat right there.”

“What! How’s that? His Excellency here! In your house? No!”

“I tell you that he sat right there. If you had only come two days ago–”

“Ah, what a pity that Clarita did not get sick sooner!” she exclaimed with real feeling. Then turning to Linares, “Do you hear, cousin? His Excellency was here! Don’t you see now that De Espadaña was right when he told you that you weren’t going to the house of a miserable Indian? Because, you know, Don Santiago, in Madrid our cousin was the friend of ministers and dukes and dined in the house of Count El Campanario.”

“The Duke of La Torte, Victorina,” corrected her husband.[121]

“It’s the same thing. If you will tell me–”

“Shall I find Padre Damaso in his town?” interrupted Linares, addressing Padre Salvi. “I’ve been told that it’s near here.”

“He’s right here and will be over in a little while,” replied the curate.

“How glad I am of that! I have a letter to him,” exclaimed the youth, “and if it were not for the happy chance that brings me here, I would have come expressly to visit him.”

In the meantime the happy chance had awakened.

“De Espadaña,” said Doña Victorina, when the meal was over, “shall we go in to see Clarita?” Then to Capitan Tiago, “Only for you, Don Santiago, only for you! My husband only attends persons of quality, and yet, and yet–! He’s not like those here. In Madrid he only visited persons of quality.”

They adjourned to the sick girl’s chamber. The windows were closed from fear of a draught, so the room was almost dark, being only dimly illuminated by two tapers which burned before an image of the Virgin of Antipolo. Her head covered with a handkerchief saturated in cologne, her body wrapped carefully in white sheets which swathed her youthful form with many folds, under curtains of jusi and piña, the girl lay on her kamagon bed. Her hair formed a frame around her oval countenance and accentuated her transparent paleness, which was enlivened only by her large, sad eyes. At her side were her two friends and Andeng with a bouquet of tuberoses.

De Espadaña felt her pulse, examined her tongue, asked a few questions, and said, as he wagged his head from side to side, “S-she’s s-sick, but s-she c-can be c-cured.” Doña Victorina looked proudly at the bystanders.

“Lichen with milk in the morning, syrup of marshmallow, two cynoglossum pills!” ordered De Espadaña.

“Cheer up, Clarita!” said Doña Victorina, going up to her. “We’ve come to cure you. I want to introduce our cousin.”

Linares was so absorbed in the contemplation of those eloquent eyes, which seemed to be searching for some one, that he did not hear Doña Victorina name him.

“Señor Linares,” said the curate, calling him out of his abstraction, “here comes Padre Damaso.”

It was indeed Padre Damaso, but pale and rather sad. On leaving his bed his first visit was for Maria Clara. Nor was it the Padre Damaso of former times, hearty and self-confident; now he moved silently and with some hesitation.






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