Noli Me Tangere/Chapter III
Fray Sibyla seemed to be very content as he moved along tranquilly with the look of disdain no longer playing about his thin, refined lips. He even condescended to speak to the lame doctor, De Espadaña, who answered in monosyllables only, as he was somewhat of a stutterer. The Franciscan was in a frightful humor, kicking at the chairs and even elbowing a cadet out of his way. The lieutenant was grave while the others talked vivaciously, praising the magnificence of the table. Doña Victorina, however, was just turning up her nose in disdain when she suddenly became as furious as a trampled serpent—the lieutenant had stepped on the train of her gown.
“Haven’t you any eyes?” she demanded.
“Yes, señora, two better than yours, but the fact is that I was admiring your frizzes,” retorted the rather ungallant soldier as he moved away from her.
As if from instinct the two friars both started toward the head of the table, perhaps from habit, and then, as might have been expected, the same thing happened that occurs with the competitors for a university position, who openly exalt the qualifications and superiority of their opponents, later giving to understand that just the contrary was meant, and who murmur and grumble when they do not receive the appointment.
“For you, Fray Damaso.”
“For you, Fray Sibyla.”
“An older friend of the family—confessor of the deceased lady—age, dignity, and authority—”
“Not so very old, either! On the other hand, you are the curate of the district,” replied Fray Damaso sourly, without taking his hand from the back of the chair.
“Since you command it, I obey,” concluded Fray Sibyla, disposing himself to take the seat.
“I don’t command it!” protested the Franciscan. “I don’t command it!”
Fray Sibyla was about to seat himself without paying any more attention to these protests when his eyes happened to encounter those of the lieutenant. According to clerical opinion in the Philippines, the highest secular official is inferior to a friar-cook: cedant arma togae, said Cicero in the Senate—cedant arma cottae, say the friars in the Philippines.
But Fray Sibyla was a well-bred person, so he said, “Lieutenant, here we are in the world and not in the church. The seat of honor belongs to you.” To judge from the tone of his voice, however, even in the world it really did belong to him, and the lieutenant, either to keep out of trouble or to avoid sitting between two friars, curtly declined.
None of the claimants had given a thought to their host. Ibarra noticed him watching the scene with a smile of satisfaction.
“How’s this, Don Santiago, aren’t you going to sit down with us?”
But all the seats were occupied; Lucullus was not to sup in the house of Lucullus.
“Sit still, don’t get up!” said Capitan Tiago, placing his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “This fiesta is for the special purpose of giving thanks to the Virgin for your safe arrival. Oy! Bring on the tinola! I ordered tinola as you doubtless have not tasted any for so long a time.”
A large steaming tureen was brought in. The Dominican, after muttering the benedicite, to which scarcely any one knew how to respond, began to serve the contents. But whether from carelessness or other cause, Padre Damaso received a plate in which a bare neck and a tough wing of chicken floated about in a large quantity of soup amid lumps of squash, while the others were eating legs and breasts, especially Ibarra, to whose lot fell the second joints. Observing all this, the Franciscan mashed up some pieces of squash, barely tasted the soup, dropped his spoon noisily, and roughly pushed his plate away. The Dominican was very busy talking to the rubicund youth.
“How long have you been away from the country?” Laruja asked Ibarra.
“Almost seven years.”
“Then you have probably forgotten all about it.”
“Quite the contrary. Even if my country does seem to have forgotten me, I have always thought about it.”
“How do you mean that it has forgotten you?” inquired the rubicund youth.
“I mean that it has been a year since I have received any news from here, so that I find myself a stranger who does not yet know how and when his father died.”
This statement drew a sudden exclamation from the lieutenant.
“And where were you that you didn’t telegraph?” asked Doña Victorina. “When we were married we telegraphed to the Peñinsula.”
“Señora, for the past two years I have been in the northern part of Europe, in Germany and Russian Poland.”
Doctor De Espadaña, who until now had not ventured upon any conversation, thought this a good opportunity to say something. “I—I knew in S-spain a P-pole from W-warsaw, c-called S-stadtnitzki, if I r-remember c-correctly. P-perhaps you s-saw him?” he asked timidly and almost blushingly.
“It’s very likely,” answered Ibarra in a friendly manner, “but just at this moment I don’t recall him.”
“B-but you c-couldn’t have c-confused him with any one else,” went on the Doctor, taking courage. “He was r-ruddy as gold and t-talked Spanish very b-badly.”
“Those are good clues, but unfortunately while there I talked Spanish only in a few consulates.”
“How then did you get along?” asked the wondering Doña Victorina.
“The language of the country served my needs, madam.”
“Do you also speak English?” inquired the Dominican, who had been in Hongkong, and who was a master of pidgin-English, that adulteration of Shakespeare’s tongue used by the sons of the Celestial Empire.
“I stayed in England a year among people who talked nothing but English.”
“Which country of Europe pleased you the most?” asked the rubicund youth.
“After Spain, my second fatherland, any country of free Europe.”
“And you who seem to have traveled so much, tell us what do you consider the most notable thing that you have seen?” inquired Laruja.
Ibarra appeared to reflect. “Notable—in what way?”
“For example, in regard to the life of the people—the social, political, religious life—in general, in its essential features—as a whole.”
Ibarra paused thoughtfully before replying. “Frankly, I like everything in those people, setting aside the national pride of each one. But before visiting a country, I tried to familiarize myself with its history, its Exodus, if I may so speak, and afterwards I found everything quite natural. I have observed that the prosperity or misery of each people is in direct proportion to its liberties or its prejudices and, accordingly, to the sacrifices or the selfishness of its forefathers.”
“And haven’t you observed anything more than that?” broke in the Franciscan with a sneer. Since the beginning of the dinner he had not uttered a single word, his whole attention having been taking up, no doubt, with the food. “It wasn’t worth while to squander your fortune to learn so trifling a thing. Any schoolboy knows that.”
Ibarra was placed in an embarrassing position, and the rest looked from one to the other as if fearing a disagreeable scene. He was about to say, “The dinner is nearly over and his Reverence is now satiated,” but restrained himself and merely remarked to the others, “Gentlemen, don’t be surprised at the familiarity with which our former curate treats me. He treated me so when I was a child, and the years seem to make no difference in his Reverence. I appreciate it, too, because it recalls the days when his Reverence visited our home and honored my father’s table.”
The Dominican glanced furtively at the Franciscan, who was trembling visibly. Ibarra continued as he rose from the table: “You will now permit me to retire, since, as I have just arrived and must go away tomorrow morning, there remain some important business matters for me to attend to. The principal part of the dinner is over and I drink but little wine and seldom touch cordials. Gentlemen, all for Spain and the Philippines!” Saying this, he drained his glass, which he had not before touched. The old lieutenant silently followed his example.
“Don’t go!” whispered Capitan Tiago. “Maria Clara will be here. Isabel has gone to get her. The new curate of your town, who is a saint, is also coming.”
“I’ll call tomorrow before starting. I’ve a very important visit to make now.” With this he went away.
Meanwhile the Franciscan had recovered himself. “Do you see?” he said to the rubicund youth, at the same time flourishing his dessert spoon. “That comes from pride. They can’t stand to have the curate correct them. They even think that they are respectable persons. It’s the evil result of sending young men to Europe. The government ought to prohibit it.”
“And how about the lieutenant?” Doña Victorina chimed in upon the Franciscan, “he didn’t get the frown off his face the whole evening. He did well to leave us so old and still only a lieutenant!” The lady could not forget the allusion to her frizzes and the trampled ruffles of her gown.
That night the rubicund youth wrote down, among other things, the following title for a chapter in his Colonial Studies: “Concerning the manner in which the neck and wing of a chicken in a friar’s plate of soup may disturb the merriment of a feast.” Among his notes there appeared these observations: “In the Philippines the most unnecessary person at a dinner is he who gives it, for they are quite capable of beginning by throwing the host into the street and then everything will go on smoothly. Under present conditions it would perhaps be a good thing not to allow the Filipinos to leave the country, and even not to teach them to read.”
- “He says that he doesn’t want it when it is exactly what he does want.” An expression used in the mongrel Spanish-Tagalog ‘market language’ of Manila and Cavite, especially among the children,—somewhat akin to the English ‘sour grapes.’—TR.
- Arms should yield to the toga (military to civil power). Arms should yield to the surplice (military to religious power),—TR.
- For Peninsula, i.e., Spain. The change of n to ñ was common among ignorant Filipinos.—TR.