Saturday, February 12, 2011

El Filibusterismo CHAPTER I: On the Upper Deck (cont....6)

El Filibusterismo CHAPTER I: On the Upper Deck (cont....6)

"The fact is that this man, being an American, thinks no doubt that we are dealing with the redskins. To talk of these matters on a steamer! Compel, force the people! And he's the very person who advised the expedition to the Carolines and the campaign in Mindanao, which is going to bring us to disgraceful ruin. He's the one who has offered to superintend the building of the cruiser, and I say, what does a jeweler, no matter how rich and learned he may be, know about naval construction?"

All this was spoken by Don Custodio in a guttural tone to his neighbor Ben-Zayb, while he gesticulated, shrugged his shoulders, and from time to time with his looks consulted the others, who were nodding their heads ambiguously. The Canon Irene indulged in a rather equivocal smile, which he half hid with his hand as he rubbed his nose.

"I tell you, Ben-Zayb," continued Don Custodio, slapping the journalist on the arm, "all the trouble comes from not consulting the old-timers here. A project in fine words, and especially with a big appropriation, with an appropriation in round numbers, dazzles, meets with acceptance at once, for this!" Here, in further explanation, he rubbed the tip of his thumb against his middle and forefinger. [4]

"There's something in that, there's something in that," Ben-Zayb thought it his duty to remark, since in his capacity of journalist he had to be informed about everything.

"Now look here, before the port works I presented a project, original, simple, useful, economical, and practicable, for clearing away the bar in the lake, and it hasn't been accepted because there wasn't any of
that in it." He repeated the movement of his fingers, shrugged his shoulders, and gazed at the others as though to say, "Have you ever heard of such a misfortune?"

"May we know what it was?" asked several, drawing nearer and giving him their attention. The projects of Don Custodio were as renowned as quacks' specifics.

Don Custodio was on the point of refusing to explain it from resentment at not having found any supporters in his diatribe against Simoun. "When there's no danger, you want me to talk, eh? And when
there is, you keep quiet!" he was going to say, but that would cause the loss of a good opportunity, and his project, now that it could not be carried out, might at least be known and admired.

After blowing out two or three puffs of smoke, coughing, and spitting through a scupper, he slapped Ben-Zayb on the thigh and asked, "You've seen ducks?"

"I rather think so--we've hunted them on the lake," answered the surprised journalist.

"No, I'm not talking about wild ducks, I'm talking of the domestic ones, of those that are raised in Pateros and Pasig. Do you know what they feed on?"

Ben-Zayb, the only thinking head, did not know--he was not engaged in that business.

"On snails, man, on snails!" exclaimed Padre Camorra. "One doesn't have to be an Indian to know that; it's sufficient to have eyes!"

"Exactly so, on snails!" repeated Don Custodio, flourishing his forefinger. "And do you know where they get them?"

Again the thinking head did not know.

"Well, if you had been in the country as many years as I have, you would know that they fish them out of the bar itself, where they abound, mixed with the sand."

"Then your project?"

"Well, I'm coming to that. My idea was to compel all the towns round about, near the bar, to raise ducks, and you'll see how they, all by themselves, will deepen the channel by fishing for the snails--no more and no less, no more and no less!"

Here Don Custodio extended his arms and gazed triumphantly at the stupefaction of his hearers--to none of them had occurred such an original idea.

"Will you allow me to write an article about that?" asked Ben-Zayb. "In this country there is so little thinking done--"

"But, Don Custodio," exclaimed Doña Victorina with smirks and grimaces, "if everybody takes to raising ducks the _balot_ [5] eggs will become abundant. Ugh, how nasty! Rather, let the bar close up entirely!"

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