Noli Me Tangere: Chapter 57 – Vae Victis!

Mi gozo en un pozo.

Guards with forbidding mien paced to and fro in front of the door of the town hall, threatening with their rifle-butts the bold urchins who rose on tiptoe or climbed up on one another to see through the bars.

The hall itself did not present that agreeable aspect it wore when the program of the fiesta was under discussion–now it was gloomy and rather ominous. The civil-guards and cuadrilleros who occupied it scarcely spoke and then with few words in low tones. At the table the directorcillo, two clerks, and several soldiers were rustling papers, while the alferez strode from one side to the other, at times gazing fiercely toward the door: prouder Themistocles could not have appeared in the Olympic games after the battle of Salamis. Doña Consolacion yawned in a corner, exhibiting a dirty mouth and jagged teeth, while she fixed her cold, sinister gaze on the door of the jail, which was covered with indecent drawings. She had succeeded in persuading her husband, whose victory had made him amiable, to let her witness the inquiry and perhaps the accompanying tortures. The hyena smelt the carrion and licked herself, wearied by the delay.

The gobernadorcillo was very compunctious. His seat, that large chair placed under his Majesty’s portrait, was vacant, being apparently intended for some one else. About nine o’clock the curate arrived, pale and scowling.

“Well, you haven’t kept yourself waiting!” the alferez greeted him.

“I should prefer not to be present,” replied Padre Salvi in a low voice, paying no heed to the bitter tone of the alferez. “I’m very nervous.”

“As no one else has come to fill the place, I judged that your presence –You know that they leave this afternoon.”

“Young Ibarra and the teniente-mayor?”

The alferez pointed toward the jail. “There are eight there,” he said. “Bruno died at midnight, but his statement is on record.”

The curate saluted Doña Consolacion, who responded with a yawn, and took his seat in the big chair under his Majesty’s portrait. “Let us begin,” he announced.

“Bring out those two who are in the stocks,” ordered the alferez in a tone that he tried to make as terrible as possible. Then turning to the curate he added with a change of tone, “They are fastened in by skipping two holes.”

For the benefit of those who are not informed about these instruments of torture, we will say that the stocks are one of the most harmless. The holes in which the offender’s legs are placed are a little more or less than a foot apart; by skipping two holes, the prisoner finds himself in a rather forced position with peculiar inconvenience to his ankles and a distance of about a yard between his lower extremities. It does not kill instantaneously, as may well be imagined.

The jailer, followed by four soldiers, pushed back the bolt and opened the door. A nauseating odor and currents of thick, damp air escaped from the darkness within at the same time that laments and sighs were heard. A soldier struck a match, but the flame was choked in such a foul atmosphere, and they had to wait until the air became fresher.

In the dim light of the candle several human forms became vaguely outlined: men hugging their knees or hiding their heads between them, some lying face downward, some standing, and some turned toward the wall. A blow and a creak were heard, accompanied by curses–the stocks were opened, Doña Consolacion bent forward with the muscles of her neck swelling and her bulging eyes fixed on the half-opened door.

A wretched figure, Tarsilo, Bruno’s brother, came out between two soldiers. On his wrists were handcuffs and his clothing was in shreds, revealing quite a muscular body. He turned his eyes insolently on the alferez’s woman.

“This is the one who defended himself with the most courage and told his companions to run,” said the alferez to Padre Salvi.

Behind him came another of miserable aspect, moaning and weeping like a child. He limped along exposing pantaloons spotted with blood. “Mercy, sir, mercy! I’ll not go back into the yard,” he whimpered.

“He’s a rogue,” observed the alferez to the curate. “He tried to run, but he was wounded in the thigh. These are the only two that we took alive.”

“What’s your name?” the alferez asked Tarsilo.

“Tarsilo Alasigan.”

“What did Don Crisostomo promise you for attacking the barracks?”

“Don Crisostomo never had anything to do with us.”

“Don’t deny it! That’s why you tried to surprise us.”

“You’re mistaken. You beat our father to death and we were avenging him, nothing more. Look for your two associates.”

The alferez gazed at the sergeant in surprise.

“They’re over there in the gully where we threw them yesterday and where they’ll rot. Now kill me, you’ll not learn anything more.”

General surprise and silence, broken by the alferez. “You are going to tell who your other accomplices are,” he threatened, flourishing a rattan whip.

A smile of disdain curled the prisoner’s lips. The alferez consulted with the curate in a low tone for a few moments, then turned to the soldiers. “Take him out where the corpses are,” he commanded.

On a cart in a corner of the yard were heaped five corpses, partly covered with a filthy piece of torn matting. A soldier walked about near them, spitting at every moment.

“Do you know them?” asked the alferez, lifting up the matting.

Tarsilo did not answer. He saw the corpse of the madwoman’s husband with two others: that of his brother, slashed with bayonet-thrusts, and that of Lucas with the halter still around his neck. His look became somber and a sigh seemed to escape from his breast.

“Do you know them?” he was again asked, but he still remained silent.

The air hissed and the rattan cut his shoulders. He shuddered, his muscles contracted. The blows were redoubled, but he remained unmoved.

“Whip him until he bursts or talks!” cried the exasperated alferez.

“Talk now,” the directorcillo advised him. “They’ll kill you anyhow.”

They led him back into the hall where the other prisoner, with chattering teeth and quaking limbs, was calling upon the saints.

“Do you know this fellow?” asked Padre Salvi.

“This is the first time that I’ve ever seen him,” replied Tarsilo with a look of pity at the other.

The alferez struck him with his fist and kicked him. “Tie him to the bench!”

Without taking off the handcuffs, which were covered with blood, they tied him to a wooden bench. The wretched boy looked about him as if seeking something and noticed Doña Consolacion, at sight of whom he smiled sardonically. In surprise the bystanders followed his glance and saw the señora, who was lightly gnawing at her lips.

“I’ve never seen an uglier woman!” exclaimed Tarsilo in the midst of a general silence. “I’d rather lie down on a bench as I do now than at her side as the alferez does.”

The Muse turned pale.

“You’re going to flog me to death, Señor Alferez,” he went on, “but tonight your woman will revenge me by embracing you.”

“Gag him!” yelled the furious alferez, trembling with wrath.

Tarsilo seemed to have desired the gag, for after it was put in place his eyes gleamed with satisfaction. At a signal from the alferez, a guard armed with a rattan whip began his gruesome task. Tarsilo’s whole body contracted, and a stifled, prolonged cry escaped from him in spite of the piece of cloth which covered his mouth. His head drooped and his clothes became stained with blood.

Padre Salvi, pallid and with wandering looks, arose laboriously, made a sign with his hand, and left the hall with faltering steps. In the street he saw a young woman leaning with her shoulders against the wall, rigid, motionless, listening attentively, staring into space, her clenched hands stretched out along the wall. The sun beat down upon her fiercely. She seemed to be breathlessly counting those dry, dull strokes and those heartrending groans. It was Tarsilo’s sister.

Meanwhile, the scene in the hall continued. The wretched boy, overcome with pain, silently waited for his executioners to become weary. At last the panting soldier let his arm fall, and the alferez, pale with anger and astonishment, made a sign for them to untie him. Doña Consolacion then arose and murmured a few words into the ear of her husband, who nodded his head in understanding.

“To the well with him!” he ordered.

The Filipinos know what this means: in Tagalog they call it timbaín. We do not know who invented this procedure, but we judge that it must be quite ancient. Truth at the bottom of a well may perhaps be a sarcastic interpretation.

In the center of the yard rose the picturesque curb of a well, roughly fashioned from living rock. A rude apparatus of bamboo in the form of a well-sweep served for drawing up the thick, slimy, foul-smelling water. Broken pieces of pottery, manure, and other refuse were collected there, since this well was like the jail, being the place for what society rejected or found useless, and any object that fell into it, however good it might have been, was then a thing lost. Yet it was never closed up, and even at times the prisoners were condemned to go down and deepen it, not because there was any thought of getting anything useful out of such punishment, but because of the difficulties the work offered. A prisoner who once went down there would contract a fever from which he would surely die.

Tarsilo gazed upon all the preparations of the soldiers with a fixed look. He was pale, and his lips trembled or murmured a prayer. The haughtiness of his desperation seemed to have disappeared or, at least, to have weakened. Several times he bent his stiff neck and fixed his gaze on the ground as though resigned to his sufferings. They led him to the well-curb, followed by the smiling Doña Consolacion. In his misery he cast a glance of envy toward the heap of corpses and a sigh escaped from his breast.

“Talk now,” the directorcillo again advised him. “They’ll hang you anyhow. You’ll at least die without suffering so much.”

“You’ll come out of this only to die,” added a cuadrillero.

They took away the gag and hung him up by his feet, for he must go down head foremost and remain some time under the water, just as the bucket does, only that the man is left a longer time. While the alferez was gone to look for a watch to count the minutes, Tarsilo hung with his long hair streaming down and his eyes half closed.

“If you are Christians, if you have any heart,” he begged in a low voice, “let me down quickly or make my head strike against the sides so that I’ll die. God will reward you for this good deed–perhaps some day you may be as I am!”

The alferez returned, watch in hand, to superintend the lowering.

“Slowly, slowly!” cried Doña Consolacion, as she kept her gaze fixed on the wretch. “Be careful!”

The well-sweep moved gently downwards. Tarsilo rubbed against the jutting stones and filthy weeds that grew in the crevices. Then the sweep stopped while the alferez counted the seconds.

“Lift him up!” he ordered, at the end of a half-minute. The silvery and harmonious tinkling of the drops of water falling back indicated the prisoner’s return to the light. Now that the sweep was heavier he rose rapidly. Pieces of stone and pebbles torn from the walls fell noisily. His forehead and hair smeared with filthy slime, his face covered with cuts and bruises, his body wet and dripping, he appeared to the eyes of the silent crowd. The wind made him shiver with cold.

“Will you talk?” he was asked.

“Take care of my sister,” murmured the unhappy boy as he gazed beseechingly toward one of the cuadrilleros.

The bamboo sweep again creaked, and the condemned boy once more disappeared. Doña Consolacion observed that the water remained quiet. The alferez counted a minute.

When Tarsilo again came up his features were contracted and livid. With his bloodshot eyes wide open, he looked at the bystanders.

“Are you going to talk?” the alferez again demanded in dismay.

Tarsilo shook his head, and they again lowered him. His eyelids were closing as the pupils continued to stare at the sky where the fleecy clouds floated; he doubled back his neck so that he might still see the light of day, but all too soon he had to go down into the water, and that foul curtain shut out the sight of the world from him forever.

A minute passed. The watchful Muse saw large bubbles rise to the surface of the water. “He’s thirsty,” she commented with a laugh. The water again became still.

This time the alferez did not give the signal for a minute and a half. Tarsilo’s features were now no longer contracted. The half-raised lids left the whites of his eyes showing, from his mouth poured muddy water streaked with blood, but his body did not tremble
in the chill breeze.

Pale and terrified, the silent bystanders gazed at one another. The alferez made a sign that they should take the body down, and then moved away thoughtfully. Doña Consolation applied the lighted end of her cigar to the bare legs, but the flesh did not twitch and the fire was extinguished.

“He strangled himself,” murmured a cuadrillero. “Look how he turned his tongue back as if trying to swallow it.”

The other prisoner, who had watched this scene, sweating and trembling, now stared like a lunatic in all directions. The alferez ordered the directorcillo to question him.

“Sir, sir,” he groaned, “I’ll tell everything you want me to.”

“Good! Let’s see, what’s your name?”

“Andong, [144] sir!”

“Bernardo–Leonardo–Ricardo–Eduardo–Gerardo–or what?”

“Andong, sir!” repeated the imbecile.

“Put it down Bernardo, or whatever it may be,” dictated the alferez.


The man gazed at him in terror.

“What name have you that is added to the name Andong?”

“Ah, sir! Andong the Witless, sir!”

The bystander’s could not restrain a smile. Even the alferez paused in his pacing about.


“Pruner of coconut trees, sir, and servant of my mother-in-law.”

“Who ordered you to attack the barracks?”

“No one, sir!”

“What, no one? Don’t lie about it or into the well you go! Who ordered you? Say truly!”

“Truly, sir!”


“Who, sir!”

“I’m asking you who ordered you to start the revolution?”

“What revolution, sir?”

“This one, for you were in the yard by the barracks last night.”

“Ah, sir!” exclaimed Andong, blushing.

“Who’s guilty of that?”

“My mother-in-law, sir!”

Surprise and laughter followed these words. The alferez stopped and stared not unkindly at the wretch, who, thinking that his words had produced a good effect, went on with more spirit: “Yes, sir, my mother-in-law doesn’t give me anything to eat but what is rotten and unfit, so last night when I came by here with my belly aching I saw the yard of the barracks near and I said to myself, ‘It’s night-time, no one will see me.’ I went in–and then many shots sounded–”

A blow from the rattan cut his speech short.

“To the jail,” ordered the alferez. “This afternoon, to the capital!”






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