Friday, February 18, 2011


El Filibusterismo

"Danzar sobre un volcán."

By seven in the evening the guests had begun to arrive: first, the lesser divinities, petty government officials, clerks, and merchants, with the most ceremonious greetings and the gravest airs at the start, as if they were parvenus, for so much light, so many decorations, and so much glassware had some effect. Afterwards, they began to be more at ease, shaking their fists playfully, with pats on the shoulders, and even familiar slaps on the back. Some, it is true, adopted a rather disdainful air, to let it be seen that they were accustomed to better things--of course they were! There was one goddess who yawned, for she found everything vulgar and even remarked that she was ravenously hungry, while another quarreled with her god, threatening to box his ears.

Don Timoteo bowed here and bowed there, scattered his best smiles, tightened his belt, stepped backward, turned halfway round, then completely around, and so on again and again, until one goddess could not refrain from remarking to her neighbor, under cover of her fan: "My dear, how important the old man is! Doesn't he look like a jumping-jack?"

Later came the bridal couple, escorted by Doña Victorina and the rest of the party. Congratulations, hand-shakings, patronizing pats for the groom: for the bride, insistent stares and anatomical observations on the part of the men, with analyses of her gown, her toilette, speculations as to her health and strength on the part of the women.

"Cupid and Psyche appearing on Olympus," thought Ben-Zayb, making a mental note of the comparison to spring it at some better opportunity. The groom had in fact the mischievous features of the god of love, and with a little good-will his hump, which the severity of his frock coat did not altogether conceal, could be taken for a quiver.

Don Timoteo began to feel his belt squeezing him, the corns on his feet began to ache, his neck became tired, but still the General had not come. The greater gods, among them Padre Irene and Padre Salvi, had already arrived, it was true, but the chief thunderer was still lacking. The poor man became uneasy, nervous; his heart beat violently, but still he had to bow and smile; he sat down, he arose, failed to hear what was said to him, did not say what he meant. In the meantime, an amateur god made remarks to him about his chromos, criticizing them with the statement that they spoiled the walls.

"Spoil the walls!" repeated Don Timoteo, with a smile and a desire to choke him. "But they were made in Europe and are the most costly I could get in Manila! Spoil the walls!" Don Timoteo swore to himself that on the very next day he would present for payment all the chits that the critic had signed in his store.

Whistles resounded, the galloping of horses was heard--at last! "The General! The Captain-General!"

Pale with emotion, Don Timoteo, dissembling the pain of his corns and accompanied by his son and some of the greater gods, descended to receive the Mighty Jove. The pain at his belt vanished before the doubts that now assailed him: should he frame a smile or affect gravity; should he extend his hand or wait for the General to offer his? _Carambas!_ Why had nothing of this occurred to him before, so that he might have consulted his good friend Simoun?

To conceal his agitation, he whispered to his son in a low, shaky voice, "Have you a speech prepared?"

"Speeches are no longer in vogue, papa, especially on such an occasion as this."

Jupiter arrived in the company of Juno, who was converted into a tower of artificial lights--with diamonds in her hair, diamonds around her neck, on her arms, on her shoulders, she was literally covered with diamonds. She was arrayed in a magnificent silk gown having a long train decorated with embossed flowers.

His Excellency literally took possession of the house, as Don Timoteo stammeringly begged him to do. [71] The orchestra played the royal march while the divine couple majestically ascended the carpeted stairway.

Nor was his Excellency's gravity altogether affected. Perhaps for the first time since his arrival in the islands he felt sad, a strain of melancholy tinged his thoughts. This was the last triumph of his three years of government, and within two days he would descend forever from such an exalted height. What was he leaving behind? His Excellency did not care to turn his head backwards, but preferred to look ahead, to gaze into the future. Although he was carrying away a fortune, large sums to his credit were awaiting him in European banks, and he had residences, yet he had injured many, he had made enemies at the Court, the high official was waiting for him there. Other Generals had enriched themselves as rapidly as he, and now they were ruined. Why not stay longer, as Simoun had advised him to do? No, good taste before everything else. The bows, moreover, were not now so profound as before, he noticed insistent stares and even looks of dislike, but still he replied affably and even attempted to smile.

"It's plain that the sun is setting," observed Padre Irene in Ben-Zayb's ear. "Many now stare him in the face."

The devil with the curate--that was just what he was going to remark!

"My dear," murmured into the ear of a neighbor the lady who had referred to Don Timoteo as a jumping-jack, "did you ever see such a skirt?"

"Ugh, the curtains from the Palace!"

"You don't say! But it's true! They're carrying everything away. You'll see how they make wraps out of the carpets."

"That only goes to show that she has talent and taste," observed her husband, reproving her with a look. "Women should be economical." This poor god was still suffering from the dressmaker's bill.

"My dear, give me curtains at twelve pesos a yard, and you'll see if I put on these rags!" retorted the goddess in pique. "Heavens! You can talk when you have done something fine like that to give you the right!"

Meanwhile, Basilio stood before the house, lost in the throng of curious spectators, counting those who alighted from their carriages. When he looked upon so many persons, happy and confident, when he saw the bride and groom followed by their train of fresh and innocent little girls, and reflected that they were going to meet there a horrible death, he was sorry and felt his hatred waning within him. He wanted to save so many innocents, he thought of notifying the police, but a carriage drove up to set down Padre Salvi and Padre Irene, both beaming with content, and like a passing cloud his good intentions vanished. "What does it matter to me?" he asked himself. "Let the righteous suffer with the sinners."

Then he added, to silence his scruples: "I'm not an informer, I mustn't abuse the confidence he has placed in me. I owe him, _him_ more than I do _them_: he dug my mother's grave, they killed her! What have I to do with them? I did everything possible to be good and useful, I tried to forgive and forget, I suffered every imposition, and only asked that they leave me in peace. I got in no one's way. What have they done to me? Let their mangled limbs fly through the air! We've suffered enough."

Then he saw Simoun alight with the terrible lamp in his hands, saw him cross the entrance with bowed head, as though deep in thought. Basilio felt his heart beat fainter, his feet and hands turn cold, while the black silhouette of the jeweler assumed fantastic shapes enveloped in flames. There at the foot of the stairway Simoun checked his steps, as if in doubt, and Basilio held his breath. But the hesitation was transient--Simoun raised his head, resolutely ascended the stairway, and disappeared.

It then seemed to the student that the house was going to blow up at any moment, and that walls, lamps, guests, roof, windows, orchestra, would be hurtling through the air like a handful of coals in the midst of an infernal explosion. He gazed about him and fancied that he saw corpses in place of idle spectators, he saw them torn to shreds, it seemed to him that the air was filled with flames, but his calmer self triumphed over this transient hallucination, which was due somewhat to his hunger.

"Until he comes out, there's no danger," he said to himself. "The Captain-General hasn't arrived yet."

He tried to appear calm and control the convulsive trembling in his limbs, endeavoring to divert his thoughts to other things. Something within was ridiculing him, saying, "If you tremble now, before the supreme moment, how will you conduct yourself when you see blood flowing, houses burning, and bullets whistling?"

His Excellency arrived, but the young man paid no attention to him. He was watching the face of Simoun, who was among those that descended to receive him, and he read in that implacable countenance the sentence of death for all those men, so that fresh terror seized upon him. He felt cold, he leaned against the wall, and, with his eyes fixed on the windows and his ears cocked, tried to guess what might be happening. In the sala he saw the crowd surround Simoun to look at the lamp, he heard congratulations and exclamations of admiration--the words "dining-room," "novelty," were repeated many times--he saw the General smile and conjectured that the novelty was to be exhibited that very night, by the jeweler's arrangement, on the table whereat his Excellency was to dine. Simoun disappeared, followed by a crowd of admirers.

At that supreme moment his good angel triumphed, he forgot his hatreds, he forgot Juli, he wanted to save the innocent. Come what might, he would cross the street and try to enter. But Basilio had forgotten that he was miserably dressed. The porter stopped him and accosted him roughly, and finally, upon his insisting, threatened to call the police.

Just then Simoun came down, slightly pale, and the porter turned from Basilio to salute the jeweler as though he had been a saint passing. Basilio realized from the expression of Simoun's face that he was leaving the fated house forever, that the lamp was lighted. _Alea jacta est!_ Seized by the instinct of self-preservation, he thought then of saving himself. It might occur to any of the guests through curiosity to tamper with the wick and then would come the explosion to overwhelm them all. Still he heard Simoun say to the cochero, "The Escolta, hurry!"

Terrified, dreading that he might at any moment hear the awful explosion, Basilio hurried as fast as his legs would carry him to get away from the accursed spot, but his legs seemed to lack the necessary agility, his feet slipped on the sidewalk as though they were moving but not advancing. The people he met blocked the way, and before he had gone twenty steps he thought that at least five minutes had elapsed.

Some distance away he stumbled against a young man who was standing with his head thrown back, gazing fixedly at the house, and in him he recognized Isagani. "What are you doing here?" he demanded. "Come away!"

Isagani stared at him vaguely, smiled sadly, and again turned his gaze toward the open balconies, across which was revealed the ethereal silhouette of the bride clinging to the groom's arm as they moved slowly out of sight.

"Come, Isagani, let's get away from that house. Come!" Basilio urged in a hoarse voice, catching his friend by the arm.

Isagani gently shook himself free and continued to stare with the same sad smile upon his lips.

"For God's sake, let's get away from here!"

"Why should I go away? Tomorrow it will not be she."

There was so much sorrow in those words that Basilio for a moment forgot his own terror. "Do you want to die?" he demanded.

Isagani shrugged his shoulders and continued to gaze toward the house.

Basilio again tried to drag him away. "Isagani, Isagani, listen to me! Let's not waste any time! That house is mined, it's going to blow up at any moment, by the least imprudent act, the least curiosity! Isagani, all will perish in its ruins."

"In its ruins?" echoed Isagani, as if trying to understand, but without removing his gaze from the window.

"Yes, in its ruins, yes, Isagani! For God's sake, come! I'll explain afterwards. Come! One who has been more unfortunate than either you or I has doomed them all. Do you see that white, clear light, like an electric lamp, shining from the azotea? It's the light of death! A lamp chargedwith dynamite, in a mined dining-room, will burst and not a rat will escape alive. Come!"

"No," answered Isagani, shaking his head sadly. "I want to stay here, I want to see her for the last time. Tomorrow, you see, she will be something different."

"Let fate have its way!" Basilio then exclaimed, hurrying away.

Isagani watched his friend rush away with a precipitation that indicated real terror, but continued to stare toward the charmed window, like the cavalier of Toggenburg waiting for his sweetheart to appear, as Schiller tells. Now the sala was deserted, all having repaired to the dining-rooms, and it occurred to Isagani that Basilio's fears may have been well-founded. He recalled the terrified countenance of him who was always so calm and composed, and it set him to thinking.

Suddenly an idea appeared clear in his imagination--the house was going to blow up and Paulita was there, Paulita was going to die a frightful death. In the presence of this idea everything was forgotten: jealousy, suffering, mental torture, and the generous youth thought only of his love. Without reflecting, without hesitation, he ran toward the house, and thanks to his stylish clothes and determined mien, easily secured admittance.

While these short scenes were occurring in the street, in the dining-kiosk of the greater gods there was passed from hand to hand a piece of parchment on which were written in red ink these fateful words:

_Mene, Tekel, Phares_ [72]

_Juan Crisostomo Ibarra_

"Juan Crisostomo Ibarra? Who is he?" asked his Excellency, handing the paper to his neighbor.

"A joke in very bad taste!" exclaimed Don Custodio. "To sign the name of a filibuster dead more than ten years!"

"A filibuster!"

"It's a seditious joke!"

"There being ladies present--"

Padre Irene looked around for the joker and saw Padre Salvi, who was seated at the right of the Countess, turn as white as his napkin, while he stared at the mysterious words with bulging eyes. The scene of the sphinx recurred to him.

"What's the matter, Padre Salvi?" he asked. "Do you recognize your friend's signature?"

Padre Salvi did not reply. He made an effort to speak and without being conscious of what he was doing wiped his forehead with his napkin.

"What has happened to your Reverence?"

"It is his very handwriting!" was the whispered reply in a scarcely perceptible voice. "It's the very handwriting of Ibarra." Leaning against the back of his chair, he let his arms fall as though all strength had deserted him.

Uneasiness became converted into fright, they all stared at one another without uttering a single word. His Excellency started to rise, but apprehending that such a move would be ascribed to fear, controlled himself and looked about him. There were no soldiers present, even the waiters were unknown to him.

"Let's go on eating, gentlemen," he exclaimed, "and pay no attention to the joke." But his voice, instead of reassuring, increased the general uneasiness, for it trembled.

"I don't suppose that that _Mene, Tekel, Phares_, means that we're to be assassinated tonight?" speculated Don Custodio.

All remained motionless, but when he added, "Yet they might poison us," they leaped up from their chairs.

The light, meanwhile, had begun slowly to fade. "The lamp is going out," observed the General uneasily. "Will you turn up the wick, Padre Irene?"

But at that instant, with the swiftness of a flash of lightning, a figure rushed in, overturning a chair and knocking a servant down, and in the midst of the general surprise seized the lamp, rushed to the azotea, and threw it into the river. The whole thing happened in a second and the dining-kiosk was left in darkness.

The lamp had already struck the water before the servants could cry out, "Thief, thief!" and rush toward the azotea. "A revolver!" cried one of them. "A revolver, quick! After the thief!"

But the figure, more agile than they, had already mounted the balustrade and before a light could be brought, precipitated itself into the river, striking the water with a loud splash.


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