The Reign of Greed/Chapter 35 - Wikisource, the free online library (2023)



"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 greetingsand the gravest airs at the start, as if they wereparvenus, for so much light, so many decorations, and somuch glassware had some effect. Afterwards, they beganto be more at ease, shaking their fists playfully, with patson the shoulders, and even familiar slaps on the back.Some, it is true, adopted a rather disdainful air, to let itbe seen that they were accustomed to better things—ofcourse they were! There was one goddess who yawned, forshe found everything vulgar and even remarked that shewas ravenously hungry, while another quarreled with hergod, threatening to box his ears.

Don Timoteo bowed here and bowed there, scattered hisbest smiles, tightened his belt, stepped backward, turnedhalfway round, then completely around, and so on againand again, until one goddess could not refrain from remarkingto her neighbor, under cover of her fan: "Mydear, how important the old man is! Doesn't he look likea jumping-jack?"

Later came the bridal couple, escorted by Doña Victorinaand the rest of the party. Congratulations, handshakings,patronizing pats for the groom: for the bride,insistent stares and anatomical observations on the part ofthe men, with analyses of her gown, her toilette, speculationsas to her health and strength on the part of the women.

"Cupid and Psyche appearing on Olympus," thoughtBen-Zayb, making a mental note of the comparison tospring it at some better opportunity. The groom hadin fact the mischievous features of the god of love, andwith a little good-will his hump, which the severity of hisfrock coat did not altogether conceal, could be taken for aquiver.

Don Timoteo began to feel his belt squeezing him, thecorns on his feet began to ache, his neck became tired, butstill the General had not come. The greater gods, amongthem 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 notsay what he meant. In the meantime, an amateur godmade remarks to him about his chromos, criticizing themwith the statement that they spoiled the walls.

"Spoil the walls!" repeated Don Timoteo, with a smileand a desire to choke him. "But they were made inEurope and are the most costly I could get in Manila!Spoil the walls!" Don Timoteo swore to himself thaton the very next day he would present for payment all thechits 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 painof his corns and accompanied by his son and some of thegreater gods, descended to receive the Mighty Jove. Thepain 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 offerhis? Carambas! Why had nothing of this occurred tohim before, so that he might have consulted his good friendSimoun?

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

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

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

His Excellency literally took possession of the house, asDon Timoteo stammeringly begged him to do.[1] The orchestra played the royal march while the divine couplemajestically ascended the carpeted stairway.

Nor was his Excellency's gravity altogether affected.Perhaps for the first time since his arrival in the islandshe 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 suchan exalted height. What was he leaving behind? HisExcellency did not care to turn his head backwards, butpreferred to look ahead, to gaze into the future. Althoughhe 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 enemiesat 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 Simounhad advised him to do? No, good taste before everythingelse. The bows, moreover, were not now so profound asbefore, 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 Irenein Ben-Zayb's ear. "Many now stare him in the face."

The devil with the curate—that was just what he wasgoing to remark! "My dear," murmured into the ear of a neighbor thelady 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 carryingeverything away. You'll see how they make wraps outof the carpets.

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

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

Meanwhile, Basilio stood before the house, lost in thethrong of curious spectators, counting those who alightedfrom their carriages. When he looked upon so many persons, happy and confident, when he saw the bride and groomfollowed by their train of fresh and innocent little girls,and reflected that they were going to meet there a horribledeath, 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 PadreSalvi and Padre Irene, both beaming with content, andlike a passing cloud his good intentions vanished. Whatdoes 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 mymother's grave, they killed her! What have I to do withthem? I did everything possible to be good and useful, Itried to forgive and forget, I suffered every imposition,and only asked that they leave me in peace. I got in noone'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 hishands, saw him cross the entrance with bowed head, asthough deep in thought. Basilio felt his heart beat fainter,his feet and hands turn cold, while the black silhouette ofthe jeweler assumed fantastic shapes enveloped in flames.There at the foot of the stairway Simoun checked hissteps, as if in doubt, and Basilio held his breath. Butthe hesitation was transient—Simoun raised his head,resolutely ascended the stairway, and disappeared.

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

"Until he comes out, there's no danger," he said tohimself. "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 toother things. Something within was ridiculing him, saying, "If you tremble now, before the supreme moment, howwill you conduct yourself when you see blood flowing, housesburning, and bullets whistling?"

His Excellency arrived, but the young man paid noattention to him. He was watching the face of Simoun,who was among those that descended to receive him, and heread in that implacable countenance the sentence of deathfor all those men, so that fresh terror seized upon him.He felt cold, he leaned against the wall, and, with his eyesfixed on the windows and his ears cocked, tried to guesswhat might be happening. In the sala he saw the crowdsurround 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 tobe exhibited that very night, by the jeweler's arrangement,on the table whereat his Excellency was to dine. Simoundisappeared, followed by a crowd of admirers.

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

Just then Simoun came down, slightly pale, and theporter turned from Basilio to salute the jeweler as thoughhe had been a saint passing. Basilio realized from theexpression of Simoun's face that he was leaving the fatedhouse forever, that the lamp was lighted. Alea jacta est!Seized by the instinct of self-preservation, he thought thenof saving himself. It might occur to any of the gueststhrough curiosity to tamper with the wick and then wouldcome the explosion to overwhelm them all. Still he heardSimoun say to the cochero, "The Escolta, hurry!"

Terrified, dreading that he might at any moment hear theawful explosion, Basilio hurried as fast as his legs wouldcarry him to get away from the accursed spot, but his legsseemed to lack the necessary agility, his feet slipped on thesidewalk as though they were moving but not advancing.The people he met blocked the way, and before he had gonetwenty steps he thought that at least five minutes hadelapsed.

Some distance away he stumbled against a young manwho was standing with his head thrown back, gazing fixedlyat the house, and in him he recognized Isagani. "What areyou doing here?" he demanded. "Come away!"

Isagani stared at him vaguely, smiled sadly, and againturned his gaze toward the open balconies, across which wasrevealed the ethereal silhouette of the bride clinging to thegroom'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 hisfriend by the arm.

Isagani gently shook himself free and continued to starewith 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 Basiliofor a moment forgot his own terror. "Do you want to die?" he demanded.

Isagani shrugged his shoulders and continued to gazetoward the house.

Basilio again tried to drag him away. "Isagani, Isagani, listen to me! Let's not waste any time! That houseis mined, it's going to blow up at any moment, by the leastimprudent act, the least curiosity! Isagani, all will perishin 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 moreunfortunate 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 lampcharged with dynamite, in a mined dining-room, will burstand not a rat will escape alive. Come!"

"No," answered Isagani, shaking his head sadly. "Iwant 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 towardthe charmed window, like the cavalier of Toggenburg waiting for his sweetheart to appear, as Schiller tells. Nowthe sala was deserted, all having repaired to the diningrooms, and it occurred to Isagani that Basilio's fears mayhave been well-founded. He recalled the terrified countenance of him who was always so calm and composed, andit 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 presenceof this idea everything was forgotten: jealousy, suffering,mental torture, and the generous youth thought only of hislove. Without reflecting, without hesitation, he ran towardthe house, and thanks to his stylish clothes and determinedmien, easily secured admittance.

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

Mene, Tekel, Phares [2]
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 PadreSalvi, who was seated at the right of the Countess, turnas white as his napkin, while he stared at the mysteriouswords with bulging eyes. The scene of the sphinx recurred to him.

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

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

"What has happened to your Reverence?"

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

Uneasiness became converted into fright, they all staredat one another without uttering a single word. His Excellency started to rise, but apprehending that such a movewould be ascribed to fear, controlled himself and lookedabout him. There were no soldiers present, even the waiterswere unknown to him.

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

"I don't suppose that that Mene, Tekel, Phares, means thatwe're to be assassinated tonight?" speculated Don Custodio.

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

The light, meanwhile, had begun slowly to fade. "Thelamp is going out," observed the General uneasily. "Willyou 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 knockinga servant down, and in the midst of the general surpriseseized the lamp, rushed to the azotea, and threw it into theriver. The whole thing happened in a second and thedining-kiosk was left in darkness.

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

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


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