Saturday, February 12, 2011

El Filibusterismo CHAPTER I: On the Upper Deck (cont....4)

El Filibusterismo CHAPTER I: On the Upper Deck (cont....4) 

The thin Franciscan, understanding the Dominican's smile, decided to intervene and stop the argument. He was undoubtedly respected, for with a wave of his hand he cut short the speech of both at the
moment when the friar-artilleryman was talking about experience and the journalist-friar about scientists.

"Scientists, Ben-Zayb--do you know what they are?" asked the Franciscan in a hollow voice, scarcely stirring in his seat and making only a faint gesture with his skinny hand. "Here you have in the province
a bridge, constructed by a brother of ours, which was not completed because the scientists, relying on their theories, condemned it as weak and scarcely safe--yet look, it is the bridge that has withstood all the floods and earthquakes!" [3]

"That's it, _puñales,_ that very thing, that was exactly what I was going to say!" exclaimed the friar-artilleryman, thumping his fists down on the arms of his bamboo chair. "That's it, that bridge and
the scientists! That was just what I was going to mention, Padre Salvi--_puñales!_"

Ben-Zayb remained silent, half smiling, either out of respect or because he really did not know what to reply, and yet his was the only thinking head in the Philippines! Padre Irene nodded his approval as he rubbed his long nose.

Padre Salvi, the thin and withered cleric, appeared to be satisfied with such submissiveness and went on in the midst of the silence: "But this does not mean that you may not be as near right as Padre Camorra" (the friar-artilleryman). "The trouble is in the lake--"

"The fact is there isn't a single decent lake in this country," interrupted Doña Victorina, highly indignant, and getting ready for a return to the assault upon the citadel.

The besieged gazed at one another in terror, but with the promptitude of a general, the jeweler Simoun rushed in to the rescue. "The remedy is very simple," he said in a strange accent, a mixture of English
and South American. "And I really don't understand why it hasn't occurred to somebody."

All turned to give him careful attention, even the Dominican. The jeweler was a tall, meager, nervous man, very dark, dressed in the English fashion and wearing a pith helmet. Remarkable about him was his long white hair contrasted with a sparse black beard, indicating a mestizo origin. To avoid the glare of the sun he wore constantly a pair of enormous blue goggles, which completely hid his eyes and a portion
of his cheeks, thus giving him the aspect of a blind or weak-sighted person. He was standing with his legs apart as if to maintain his balance, with his hands thrust into the pockets of his coat.

"The remedy is very simple," he repeated, "and wouldn't cost a cuarto."

The attention now redoubled, for it was whispered in Manila that this man controlled the Captain-General, and all saw the remedy in process of execution. Even Don Custodio himself turned to listen. "Dig a canal straight from the source to the mouth of the river, passing through Manila; that is, make a new river-channel and fill up the old Pasig. That would save land, shorten communication, and
prevent the formation of sandbars."

The project left all his hearers astounded, accustomed as they were to palliative measures.

"It's a Yankee plan!" observed Ben-Zayb, to ingratiate himself with Simoun, who had spent a long time in North America.

All considered the plan wonderful and so indicated by the movements of their heads. Only Don Custodio, the liberal Don Custodio, owing to his independent position and his high offices, thought it his duty to attack a project that did not emanate from himself--that was a usurpation! He coughed, stroked the ends of his mustache, and with a voice as important as though he were at a formal session of the
Ayuntamiento, said, "Excuse me, Señor Simoun, my respected friend, if I should say that I am not of your opinion. It would cost a great deal of money and might perhaps destroy some towns."

"Then destroy them!" rejoined Simoun coldly.

"And the money to pay the laborers?"

"Don't pay them! Use the prisoners and convicts!"

"But there aren't enough, Señor Simoun!"

"Then, if there aren't enough, let all the villagers, the old men, the youths, the boys, work. Instead of the fifteen days of obligatory service, let them work three, four, five months for the State, with the
additional obligation that each one provide his own food and tools."

The startled Don Custodio turned his head to see if there was any Indian within ear-shot, but fortunately those nearby were rustics, and the two helmsmen seemed to be very much occupied with the windings
of the river.

See the continuation from the Contents:
 El Filibusterismo CHAPTER I: On the Upper Deck (cont....5)

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