José Rizal.

The Reign of Greed online

. (page 15 of 28)
Online LibraryJosé RizalThe Reign of Greed → online text (page 15 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


from Spain, because they arrived in packages, the sight of which made
him yawn. The ideas that he had caught having been all expended, he
needed reinforcement, and his orators were not there, and although in
the casinos of Manila there was enough gambling, and money was borrowed
as in Madrid, no speech that would nourish his political ideas was
permitted in them. But Don Custodio was not lazy, he did more than
wish - he worked. Foreseeing that he was going to leave his bones in
the Philippines, he began to consider that country his proper sphere
and to devote his efforts to its welfare. Thinking to liberalize it,
he commenced to draw up a series of reforms or projects, which were
ingenious, to say the least. It was he who, having heard in Madrid
mention of the wooden street pavements of Paris, not yet adopted in
Spain, proposed the introduction of them in Manila by covering the
streets with boards nailed down as they are on the sides of houses;
it was he who, deploring the accidents to two-wheeled vehicles,
planned to avoid them by putting on at least three wheels; it was
also he who, while acting as vice-president of the Board of Health,
ordered everything fumigated, even the telegrams that came from
infected places; it was also he who, in compassion for the convicts
that worked in the sun and with a desire of saving to the government
the cost of their equipment, suggested that they be clothed in a
simple breech-clout and set to work not by day but at night. He
marveled, he stormed, that his projects should encounter objectors,
but consoled himself with the reflection that the man who is worth
enemies has them, and revenged himself by attacking and tearing to
pieces any project, good or bad, presented by others.

As he prided himself on being a liberal, upon being asked what he
thought of the Indians he would answer, like one conferring a great
favor, that they were fitted for manual labor and the _imitative
arts_ (meaning thereby music, painting, and sculpture), adding his
old postscript that to know them one must have resided many, many
years in the country. Yet when he heard of any one of them excelling
in something that was not manual labor or an _imitative art_ - in
chemistry, medicine, or philosophy, for example - he would exclaim:
"Ah, he promises fairly, fairly well, he's not a fool!" and feel sure
that a great deal of Spanish blood must flow in the veins of such an
_Indian_. If unable to discover any in spite of his good intentions,
he then sought a Japanese origin, for it was at that time the fashion
began of attributing to the Japanese or the Arabs whatever good the
Filipinos might have in them. For him the native songs were Arabic
music, as was also the alphabet of the ancient Filipinos - he was
certain of this, although he did not know Arabic nor had he ever seen
that alphabet.

"Arabic, the purest Arabic," he said to Ben-Zayb in a tone that
admitted no reply. "At best, Chinese!"

Then he would add, with a significant wink: "Nothing can be, nothing
ought to be, original with the Indians, you understand! I like them
greatly, but they mustn't be allowed to pride themselves upon anything,
for then they would take heart and turn into a lot of wretches."

At other times he would say: "I love the Indians fondly, I've
constituted myself their father and defender, but it's necessary to
keep everything in its proper place. Some were born to command and
others to serve - plainly, that is a truism which can't be uttered very
loudly, but it can be put into practise without many words. For look,
the trick depends upon trifles. When you wish to reduce a people
to subjection, assure it that it is in subjection. The first day it
will laugh, the second protest, the third doubt, and the fourth be
convinced. To keep the Filipino docile, he must have repeated to him
day after day what he is, to convince him that he is incompetent. What
good would it do, besides, to have him believe in something else that
would make him wretched? Believe me, it's an act of charity to hold
every creature in his place - that is order, harmony. That constitutes
the _science_ of government."

In referring to his policies, Don Custodio was not satisfied with the
word _art_, and upon pronouncing the word _government_, he would extend
his hand downwards to the height of a man bent over on his knees.

In regard to his religious ideas, he prided himself on being a
Catholic, very much a Catholic - ah, Catholic Spain, the land of
_María Santísima_! A liberal could be and ought to be a Catholic,
when the reactionaries were setting themselves up as gods or saints,
just as a mulatto passes for a white man in Kaffirland. But with all
that, he ate meat during Lent, except on Good Friday, never went to
confession, believed neither in miracles nor the infallibility of the
Pope, and when he attended mass, went to the one at ten o'clock, or
to the shortest, the military mass. Although in Madrid he had spoken
ill of the religious orders, so as not to be out of harmony with his
surroundings, considering them anachronisms, and had hurled curses
against the Inquisition, while relating this or that lurid or droll
story wherein the habits danced, or rather friars without habits,
yet in speaking of the Philippines, which should be ruled by special
laws, he would cough, look wise, and again extend his hand downwards
to that mysterious altitude.

"The friars are necessary, they're a necessary evil," he would declare.

But how he would rage when any Indian dared to doubt the miracles
or did not acknowledge the Pope! All the tortures of the Inquisition
were insufficient to punish such temerity.

When it was objected that to rule or to live at the expense of
ignorance has another and somewhat ugly name and is punished by law
when the culprit is a single person, he would justify his position
by referring to other colonies. "We," he would announce in his
official tone, "can speak out plainly! We're not like the British
and the Dutch who, in order to hold people in subjection, make use
of the lash. We avail ourselves of other means, milder and surer. The
salutary influence of the friars is superior to the British lash."

This last remark made his fortune. For a long time Ben-Zayb continued
to use adaptations of it, and with him all Manila. The thinking
part of Manila applauded it, and it even got to Madrid, where it
was quoted in the Parliament as from _a liberal of long residence
there_. The friars, flattered by the comparison and seeing their
prestige enhanced, sent him sacks of chocolate, presents which the
incorruptible Don Custodio returned, so that Ben-Zayb immediately
compared him to Epaminondas. Nevertheless, this modern Epaminondas
made use of the rattan in his choleric moments, and advised its use!

At that time the conventos, fearful that he would render a decision
favorable to the petition of the students, increased their gifts,
so that on the afternoon when we see him he was more perplexed than
ever, his reputation for energy was being compromised. It had been
more than a fortnight since he had had the petition in his hands,
and only that morning the high official, after praising his zeal,
had asked for a decision. Don Custodio had replied with mysterious
gravity, giving him to understand that it was not yet completed. The
high official had smiled a smile that still worried and haunted him.

As we were saying, he yawned and yawned. In one of these movements, at
the moment when he opened his eyes and closed his mouth, his attention
was caught by a file of red envelopes, arranged in regular order on a
magnificent kamagon desk. On the back of each could be read in large
letters: PROJECTS.

For a moment he forgot his troubles and Pepay's pirouettes, to
reflect upon all that those files contained, which had issued from his
prolific brain in his hours of inspiration. How many original ideas,
how many sublime thoughts, how many means of ameliorating the woes
of the Philippines! Immortality and the gratitude of the country were
surely his!

Like an old lover who discovers a moldy package of amorous epistles,
Don Custodio arose and approached the desk. The first envelope, thick,
swollen, and plethoric, bore the title: PROJECTS IN PROJECT.

"No," he murmured, "they're excellent things, but it would take a
year to read them over."

The second, also quite voluminous, was entitled: PROJECTS UNDER
CONSIDERATION. "No, not those either."

Then came the PROJECTS NEARING COMPLETION, PROJECTS PRESENTED, PROJECTS
REJECTED, PROJECTS APPROVED, PROJECTS POSTPONED. These last envelopes
held little, but the least of all was that of the PROJECTS EXECUTED.

Don Custodio wrinkled up his nose - what did it contain? He had
completely forgotten what was in it. A sheet of yellowish paper
showed from under the flap, as though the envelope were sticking out
its tongue. This he drew out and unfolded: it was the famous project
for the School of Arts and Trades!

"What the devil!" he exclaimed. "If the Augustinian padres took charge
of it - "

Suddenly he slapped his forehead and arched his eyebrows, while a look
of triumph overspread his face. "I have reached a decision!" he cried
with an oath that was not exactly _eureka_. "My decision is made!"

Repeating his peculiar _eureka_ five or six times, which struck the
air like so many gleeful lashes, he sat down at his desk, radiant
with joy, and began to write furiously.





CHAPTER XXI

MANILA TYPES


That night there was a grand function at the Teatro de
Variedades. Mr. Jouay's French operetta company was giving its initial
performance, _Les Cloches de Corneville_. To the eyes of the public
was to be exhibited his select troupe, whose fame the newspapers had
for days been proclaiming. It was reported that among the actresses
was a very beautiful voice, with a figure even more beautiful, and
if credit could be given to rumor, her amiability surpassed even her
voice and figure.

At half-past seven in the evening there were no more tickets to be
had, not even though they had been for Padre Salvi himself in his
direct need, and the persons waiting to enter the general admission
already formed a long queue. In the ticket-office there were scuffles
and fights, talk of filibusterism and races, but this did not produce
any tickets, so that by a quarter before eight fabulous prices were
being offered for them. The appearance of the building, profusely
illuminated, with flowers and plants in all the doors and windows,
enchanted the new arrivals to such an extent that they burst out into
exclamations and applause. A large crowd surged about the entrance,
gazing enviously at those going in, those who came early from fear
of missing their seats. Laughter, whispering, expectation greeted the
later arrivals, who disconsolately joined the curious crowd, and now
that they could not get in contented themselves with watching those
who did.

Yet there was one person who seemed out of place amid such great
eagerness and curiosity. He was a tall, meager man, who dragged one
leg stiffly when he walked, dressed in a wretched brown coat and dirty
checkered trousers that fitted his lean, bony limbs tightly. A straw
sombrero, artistic in spite of being broken, covered an enormous
head and allowed his dirty gray, almost red, hair to straggle out
long and kinky at the end like a poet's curls. But the most notable
thing about this man was not his clothing or his European features,
guiltless of beard or mustache, but his fiery red face, from which he
got the nickname by which he was known, _Camaroncocido_. [46] He was
a curious character belonging to a prominent Spanish family, but he
lived like a vagabond and a beggar, scoffing at the prestige which he
flouted indifferently with his rags. He was reputed to be a kind of
reporter, and in fact his gray goggle-eyes, so cold and thoughtful,
always showed up where anything publishable was happening. His manner
of living was a mystery to all, as no one seemed to know where he
ate and slept. Perhaps he had an empty hogshead somewhere.

But at that moment Camaroncocido lacked his usual hard and indifferent
expression, something like mirthful pity being reflected in his
looks. A funny little man accosted him merrily.

"Friend!" exclaimed the latter, in a raucous voice, as hoarse as a
frog's, while he displayed several Mexican pesos, which Camaroncocido
merely glanced at and then shrugged his shoulders. What did they
matter to him?

The little old man was a fitting contrast to him. Small, very small,
he wore on his head a high hat, which presented the appearance of a
huge hairy worm, and lost himself in an enormous frock coat, too wide
and too long for him, to reappear in trousers too short, not reaching
below his calves. His body seemed to be the grandfather and his legs
the grandchildren, while as for his shoes he appeared to be floating
on the land, for they were of an enormous sailor type, apparently
protesting against the hairy worm worn on his head with all the energy
of a convento beside a World's Exposition. If Camaroncocido was red,
he was brown; while the former, although of Spanish extraction, had
not a single hair on his face, yet he, an Indian, had a goatee and
mustache, both long, white, and sparse. His expression was lively. He
was known as _Tio Quico_, [47] and like his friend lived on publicity,
advertising the shows and posting the theatrical announcements,
being perhaps the only Filipino who could appear with impunity in a
silk hat and frock coat, just as his friend was the first Spaniard
who laughed at the prestige of his race.

"The Frenchman has paid me well," he said smiling and showing his
picturesque gums, which looked like a street after a conflagration. "I
did a good job in posting the bills."

Camaroncocido shrugged his shoulders again. "Quico," he rejoined in
a cavernous voice, "if they've given you six pesos for your work,
how much will they give the friars?"

Tio Quico threw back his head in his usual lively manner. "To the
friars?"

"Because you surely know," continued Camaroncocido, "that all this
crowd was secured for them by the conventos."

The fact was that the friars, headed by Padre Salvi, and some lay
brethren captained by Don Custodio, had opposed such shows. Padre
Camorra, who could not attend, watered at the eyes and mouth, but
argued with Ben-Zayb, who defended them feebly, thinking of the free
tickets they would send his newspaper. Don Custodio spoke of morality,
religion, good manners, and the like.

"But," stammered the writer, "if our own farces with their plays on
words and phrases of double meaning - "

"But at least they're in Castilian!" the virtuous councilor interrupted
with a roar, inflamed to righteous wrath. "Obscenities in French,
man, Ben-Zayb, for God's sake, in French! Never!"

He uttered this _never_ with the energy of three Guzmans threatened
with being killed like fleas if they did not surrender twenty
Tarifas. Padre Irene naturally agreed with Don Custodio and execrated
French operetta. Whew, he had been in Paris, but had never set foot
in a theater, the Lord deliver him!

Yet the French operetta also counted numerous partizans. The officers
of the army and navy, among them the General's aides, the clerks,
and many society people were anxious to enjoy the delicacies of the
French language from the mouths of genuine _Parisiennes_, and with
them were affiliated those who had traveled by the M.M. [48] and had
jabbered a little French during the voyage, those who had visited
Paris, and all those who wished to appear learned.

Hence, Manila society was divided into two factions, operettists
and anti-operettists. The latter were supported by the elderly
ladies, wives jealous and careful of their husbands' love, and by
those who were engaged, while those who were free and those who
were beautiful declared themselves enthusiastic operettists. Notes
and then more notes were exchanged, there were goings and comings,
mutual recriminations, meetings, lobbyings, arguments, even talk of
an insurrection of the natives, of their indolence, of inferior and
superior races, of prestige and other humbugs, so that after much
gossip and more recrimination, the permit was granted, Padre Salvi
at the same time publishing a pastoral that was read by no one but
the proof-reader. There were questionings whether the General had
quarreled with the Countess, whether she spent her time in the halls
of pleasure, whether His Excellency was greatly annoyed, whether
there had been presents exchanged, whether the French consul - , and
so on and on. Many names were bandied about: Quiroga the Chinaman's,
Simoun's, and even those of many actresses.

Thanks to these scandalous preliminaries, the people's impatience had
been aroused, and since the evening before, when the troupe arrived,
there was talk of nothing but attending the first performance. From
the hour when the red posters announced _Les Cloches de Corneville_ the
victors prepared to celebrate their triumph. In some offices, instead
of the time being spent in reading newspapers and gossiping, it was
devoted to devouring the synopsis and spelling out French novels, while
many feigned business outside to consult their pocket-dictionaries
on the sly. So no business was transacted, callers were told to come
back the next day, but the public could not take offense, for they
encountered some very polite and affable clerks, who received and
dismissed them with grand salutations in the French style. The clerks
were practising, brushing the dust off their French, and calling to
one another _oui, monsieur, s'il vous plait_, and _pardon_! at every
turn, so that it was a pleasure to see and hear them.

But the place where the excitement reached its climax was the newspaper
office. Ben-Zayb, having been appointed critic and translator of the
synopsis, trembled like a poor woman accused of witchcraft, as he saw
his enemies picking out his blunders and throwing up to his face his
deficient knowledge of French. When the Italian opera was on, he had
very nearly received a challenge for having mistranslated a tenor's
name, while an envious rival had immediately published an article
referring to him as an ignoramus - him, the foremost thinking head in
the Philippines! All the trouble he had had to defend himself! He
had had to write at least seventeen articles and consult fifteen
dictionaries, so with these salutary recollections, the wretched
Ben-Zayb moved about with leaden hands, to say nothing of his feet,
for that would be plagiarizing Padre Camorra, who had once intimated
that the journalist wrote with them.

"You see, Quico?" said Camaroncocido. "One half of the people have
come because the friars told them not to, making it a kind of public
protest, and the other half because they say to themselves, 'Do the
friars object to it? Then it must be instructive!' Believe me, Quico,
your advertisements are a good thing but the pastoral was better,
even taking into consideration the fact that it was read by no one."

"Friend, do you believe," asked Tio Quico uneasily, "that on account
of the competition with Padre Salvi my business will in the future
be prohibited?"

"Maybe so, Quico, maybe so," replied the other, gazing at the
sky. "Money's getting scarce."

Tio Quico muttered some incoherent words: if the friars were going to
turn theatrical advertisers, he would become a friar. After bidding his
friend good-by, he moved away coughing and rattling his silver coins.

With his eternal indifference Camaroncocido continued to wander about
here and there with his crippled leg and sleepy looks. The arrival
of unfamiliar faces caught his attention, coming as they did from
different parts and signaling to one another with a wink or a cough. It
was the first time that he had ever seen these individuals on such
an occasion, he who knew all the faces and features in the city. Men
with dark faces, humped shoulders, uneasy and uncertain movements,
poorly disguised, as though they had for the first time put on sack
coats, slipped about among the shadows, shunning attention, instead
of getting in the front rows where they could see well.

"Detectives or thieves?" Camaroncocido asked himself and immediately
shrugged his shoulders. "But what is it to me?"

The lamp of a carriage that drove up lighted in passing a group of
four or five of these individuals talking with a man who appeared to
be an army officer.

"Detectives! It must be a new corps," he muttered with his shrug
of indifference. Soon, however, he noticed that the officer, after
speaking to two or three more groups, approached a carriage and seemed
to be talking vigorously with some person inside. Camaroncocido took
a few steps forward and without surprise thought that he recognized
the jeweler Simoun, while his sharp ears caught this short dialogue.

"The signal will be a gunshot!"

"Yes, sir."

"Don't worry - it's the General who is ordering it, but be careful about
saying so. If you follow my instructions, you'll get a promotion."

"Yes, sir."

"So, be ready!"

The voice ceased and a second later the carriage drove away. In spite
of his indifference Camaroncocido could not but mutter, "Something's
afoot - hands on pockets!"

But feeling his own to be empty, he again shrugged his shoulders. What
did it matter to him, even though the heavens should fall?

So he continued his pacing about. On passing near two persons engaged
in conversation, he caught what one of them, who had rosaries and
scapularies around his neck, was saying in Tagalog: "The friars are
more powerful than the General, don't be a fool! He'll go away and
they'll stay here. So, if we do well, we'll get rich. The signal is
a gunshot."

"Hold hard, hold hard," murmured Camaroncocido, tightening his
fingers. "On that side the General, on this Padre Salvi. Poor
country! But what is it to me?"

Again shrugging his shoulders and expectorating at the same time,
two actions that with him were indications of supreme indifference,
he continued his observations.

Meanwhile, the carriages were arriving in dizzy streams, stopping
directly before the door to set down the members of the select
society. Although the weather was scarcely even cool, the ladies
sported magnificent shawls, silk neckerchiefs, and even light
cloaks. Among the escorts, some who were in frock coats with white
ties wore overcoats, while others carried them on their arms to
display the rich silk linings.

In a group of spectators, Tadeo, he who was always taken ill the
moment the professor appeared, was accompanied by a fellow townsman
of his, the novice whom we saw suffer evil consequences from reading
wrongly the Cartesian principle. This novice was very inquisitive and
addicted to tiresome questions, and Tadeo was taking advantage of his
ingenuousness and inexperience to relate to him the most stupendous
lies. Every Spaniard that spoke to him, whether clerkling or underling,
was presented as a leading merchant, a marquis, or a count, while on
the other hand any one who passed him by was a greenhorn, a petty
official, a nobody! When pedestrians failed him in keeping up the
novice's astonishment, he resorted to the resplendent carriages that
came up. Tadeo would bow politely, wave his hand in a friendly manner,
and call out a familiar greeting.

"Who's he?"

"Bah!" was the negligent reply. "The Civil Governor, the Vice-Governor,
Judge - - , Señora - - , all friends of mine!"

The novice marveled and listened in fascination, taking care to keep
on the left. Tadeo the friend of judges and governors!

Tadeo named all the persons who arrived, when he did not know them
inventing titles, biographies, and interesting sketches.

"You see that tall gentleman with dark whiskers, somewhat squint-eyed,
dressed in black - he's Judge A - - , an intimate friend of the wife of
Colonel B - - . One day if it hadn't been for me they would have come
to blows. Hello, here comes that Colonel! What if they should fight?"

The novice held his breath, but the colonel and the judge shook hands
cordially, the soldier, an old bachelor, inquiring about the health
of the judge's family.

"Ah, thank heaven!" breathed Tadeo. "I'm the one who made them
friends."

"What if they should invite us to go in?" asked the novice timidly.

"Get out, boy! I never accept favors!" retorted Tadeo majestically. "I
confer them, but disinterestedly."

The novice bit his lip and felt smaller than ever, while he placed
a respectful distance between himself and his fellow townsman.

Tadeo resumed: "That is the musician H - - ; that one, the lawyer


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Online LibraryJosé RizalThe Reign of Greed → online text (page 15 of 28)