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Chapter 20: The Meeting in the Town Hall


The hall was about twelve to fifteen meters long by eight to ten wide. Its whitewashed walls were covered with drawings in charcoal, more or less ugly and obscene, with inscriptions to complete their meanings. Stacked neatly against the wall in one corner were to be seen about a dozen old flint-locks among rusty swords and talibons, the armament of the cuadrilleros.1 At one end of the hall there hung, half hidden by soiled red curtains, a picture of his Majesty, the King of Spain. Underneath this picture, upon a wooden platform, an old chair spread out its broken arms. In front of the chair was a wooden table spotted with ink stains and whittled and carved with inscriptions and initials like the tables in the German taverns frequented by students. Benches and broken chairs completed the furniture.
This is the hall of council, of judgment, and of torture, wherein are now gathered the officials of the town and its dependent villages. The faction of old men does not mix with that of the youths, for they are mutually hostile. They represent respectively the conservative and the liberal parties, save that their disputes assume in the towns an extreme character.
“The conduct of the gobernadorcillo fills me with distrust,” Don Filipo, the teniente-mayor and leader of the liberal faction, was saying to his friends. “It was a deep-laid scheme, this thing of putting off the discussion of expenses until the eleventh hour. Remember that we have scarcely eleven days left.”
“And he has staved at the convento to hold a conference with the curate, who is sick,” observed one of the youths.
“It doesn’t matter,” remarked another. “We have everything prepared. Just so the plan of the old men doesn’t receive a majority—”
“I don’t believe it will,” interrupted Don Filipo, “as I shall present the plan of the old men myself!”
“What! What are you saying?” asked his surprised hearers.
“I said that if I speak first I shall present the plan of our rivals.”
“But what about our plan?”
“I shall leave it to you to present ours,” answered Don Filipo with a smile, turning toward a youthful cabeza de barangay.2 “You will propose it after I have been defeated.”
“We don’t understand you, sir,” said his hearers, staring at him with doubtful looks.
“Listen,” continued the liberal leader in a low voice to several near him. “This morning I met old Tasio and the old man said to me: ‘Your rivals hate you more than they do your ideas. Do you wish that a thing shall not be done? Then propose it yourself, and though it were more useful than a miter, it would be rejected. Once they have defeated you, have the least forward person in the whole gathering propose what you want, and your rivals, in order to humiliate you, will accept it.’ But keep quiet about it.”
“But—”
“So I will propose the plan of our rivals and exaggerate it to the point of making it ridiculous. Ah, here come Señor Ibarra and the schoolmaster.”
These two young men saluted each of the groups without joining either. A few moments later the gobernadorcillo, the very same individual whom we saw yesterday carrying a bundle of candles, entered with a look of disgust on his face. Upon his entrance the murmurs ceased, every one sat down, and silence was gradually established, as he took his seat under the picture of the King, coughed four or five times, rubbed his hand over his face and head, rested his elbows on the table, then withdrew them, coughed once more, and then the whole thing over again.
“Gentlemen,” he at last began in an unsteady voice, “I have been so bold as to call you together here for this meeting—ahem! Ahem! We have to celebrate the fiesta of our patron saint, San Diego, on the twelfth of this month—ahem!—today is the second—ahem! Ahem!” At this point a slow, dry cough cut off his speech.
A man of proud bearing, apparently about forty years of age, then arose from the bench of the elders. He was the rich Capitan Basilio, the direct contrast of Don Rafael, Ibarra’s father. He was a man who maintained that after the death of St. Thomas Aquinas the world had made no more progress, and that since St. John Lateran had left it, humanity had been retrograding.
“Gentlemen, allow me to speak a few words about such an interesting matter,” he began. “I speak first even though there are others here present who have more right to do so than I have, but I speak first because in these matters it seems to me that by speaking first one does not take the first place—no more than that by speaking last does one become the least. Besides, the things that I have to say are of such importance that they should not be put off or last spoken of, and accordingly I wish to speak first in order to give them due weight. So you will allow me to speak first in this meeting where I see so many notable persons, such as the present señor capitan, the former capitan; my distinguished friend, Don Valentin, a former capitan; the friend of my infancy, Don Julio; our celebrated captain of cuadrilleros, Don Melchor; and many other personages, whom, for the sake of brevity, I must omit to enumerate—all of whom you see present here. I beg of you that I may be allowed a few words before any one else speaks. Have I the good fortune to see my humble request granted by the meeting?”
Here the orator with a faint smile inclined his head respectfully. “Go on, you have our undivided attention!” said the notables alluded to and some others who considered Capitan Basilio a great orator. The elders coughed in a satisfied way and rubbed their hands. After wiping the perspiration from his brow with a silk handkerchief, he then proceeded:
“Now that you have been so kind and complaisant with my humble self as to grant me the use of a few words before any one else of those here present, I shall take advantage of this permission, so generously granted, and shall talk. In imagination I fancy myself in the midst of the august Roman senate, senatus populusque romanus, as was said in those happy days which, unfortunately for humanity, will nevermore return. I propose to the Patres Conscripti, as the learned Cicero would say if he were in my place, I propose, in view of the short time left, and time is money as Solomon said, that concerning this important matter each one set forth his opinion clearly, briefly, and simply.”
Satisfied with himself and flattered by the attention in the hall, the orator took his seat, not without first casting a glance of superiority toward Ibarra, who was seated in a corner, and a significant look at his friends as if to say, “Aha! Haven’t I spoken well?” His friends reflected both of these expressions by staring at the youths as though to make them die of envy.
“Now any one may speak who wishes that—ahem!” began the gobernadorcillo, but a repetition of the cough and sighs cut short the phrase.
To judge from the silence, no one wished to consider himself called upon as one of the Conscript Fathers, since no one rose. Then Don Filipo seized the opportunity and rose to speak. The conservatives winked and made significant signs to each other.
“I rise, gentlemen, to present my estimate of expenses for the fiesta,” he began. “We can’t allow it,” commented a consumptive old man, who was an irreconcilable conservative.
“We’ll vote against it,” corroborated others. “Gentlemen!” exclaimed Don Filipo, repressing a smile, “I haven’t yet made known the plan which we, the younger men, bring here. We feel sure that this great plan will be preferred by all over any other that our opponents think of or are capable of conceiving.”
This presumptuous exordium so thoroughly irritated the minds of the conservatives that they swore in their hearts to offer determined opposition.
“We have estimated three thousand five hundred pesos for the expenses,” went on Don Filipo. “Now then, with such a sum we shall be able to celebrate a fiesta that will eclipse in magnificence any that has been seen up to this time in our own or neighboring provinces.”
“Ahem!” coughed some doubters. “The town of A——— has five thousand, B——— has four thousand, ahem! Humbug!”
“Listen to me, gentlemen, and I’ll convince you,” continued the unterrified speaker. “I propose that we erect a theater in the middle of the plaza, to cost one hundred and fifty pesos.”
“That won’t be enough! It’ll take one hundred and sixty,” objected a confirmed conservative.
“Write it down, Señor Director, two hundred pesos for the theater,” said Don Filipo. “I further propose that we contract with a troupe of comedians from Tondo for seven performances on seven successive nights. Seven performances at two hundred pesos a night make fourteen hundred pesos. Write down fourteen hundred pesos, Señor Director!”
Both the elders and the youths stared in amazement. Only those in the secret gave no sign.
“I propose besides that we have magnificent fireworks; no little lights and pin-wheels such as please children and old maids, nothing of the sort. We want big bombs and immense rockets. I propose two hundred big bombs at two pesos each and two hundred rockets at the same price. We’ll have them made by the pyrotechnists of Malabon.”
“Huh!” grunted an old man, “a two-peso bomb doesn’t frighten or deafen me! They ought to be three-peso ones.”
“Write down one thousand pesos for two hundred bombs and two hundred rockets.”
The conservatives could no longer restrain themselves. Some of them rose and began to whisper together. “Moreover, in order that our visitors may see that we are a liberal people and have plenty of money,” continued the speaker, raising his voice and casting a rapid glance at the whispering group of elders, “I propose: first, four hermanos mayores3 for the two days of the fiesta; and second, that each day there be thrown into the lake two hundred fried chickens, one hundred stuffed capons, and forty roast pigs, as did Sylla, a contemporary of that Cicero, of whom Capitan Basilio just spoke.”
“That’s it, like Sylla,” repeated the flattered Capitan Basilio.
The surprise steadily increased.
“Since many rich people will attend and each one will bring thousands of pesos, his best game-cocks, and his playing-cards, I propose that the cockpit run for fifteen days and that license be granted to open all gambling houses—”
The youths interrupted him by rising, thinking that he had gone crazy. The elders were arguing heatedly.
“And, finally, that we may not neglect the pleasures of the soul—”
The murmurs and cries which arose all over the hall drowned his voice out completely, and tumult reigned.
“No!” yelled an irreconcilable conservative. “I don’t want him to flatter himself over having run the whole fiesta, no! Let me speak! Let me speak!”
“Don Filipo has deceived us,” cried the liberals. “We’ll vote against his plan. He has gone over to the old men. We’ll vote against him!”
The gobernadorcillo, more overwhelmed than ever, did nothing to restore order, but rather was waiting for them to restore it themselves.
The captain of the cuadrilleros begged to be heard and was granted permission to speak, but he did not open his mouth and sat down again confused and ashamed.
By good fortune, Capitan Valentin, the most moderate of all the conservatives, arose and said: “We cannot agree to what the teniente-mayor has proposed, as it appears to be exaggerated. So many bombs and so many nights of theatrical performances can only be desired by a young man, such as he is, who can spend night after night sitting up and listening to so many explosions without becoming deaf. I have consulted the opinion of the sensible persons here and all of them unanimously disapprove Don Filipo’s plan. Is it not so, gentlemen?”
 “Yes, yes!” cried the youths and elders with one voice. The youths were delighted to hear an old man speak so.
“What are we going to do with four hermanos mayores?” went on the old man. “What is the meaning of those chickens, capons, and roast pigs, thrown into the lake? ‘Humbug!’ our neighbors would say. And afterwards we should have to fast for six months! What have we to do with Sylla and the Romans? Have they ever invited us to any of their festivities, I wonder? I, at least, have never received any invitation from them, and you can all see that I’m an old man!”
“The Romans live in Rome, where the Pope is,” Capitan Basilio prompted him in a low voice. “Now I understand!” exclaimed the old man calmly.
“They would make of their festivals watch-meetings, and the Pope would order them to throw their food into the sea so that they might commit no sin. But, in spite of all that, your plan is inadmissible, impossible, a piece of foolishness!”
Being so stoutly opposed, Don Filipo had to withdraw his proposal. Now that their chief rival had been defeated, even the worst of the irreconcilable insurgents looked on with calmness while a young cabeza de barangay asked for the floor.
“I beg that you excuse the boldness of one so young as I am in daring to speak before so many persons respected for their age and prudence and judgment in affairs, but since the eloquent orator, Capitan Basilio, has requested every one to express his opinion, let the authoritative words spoken by him excuse my insignificance.”
The conservatives nodded their heads with satisfaction, remarking to one another: “This young man talks sensibly.” “He’s modest.” “He reasons admirably.”
“What a pity that he doesn’t know very well how to gesticulate,” observed Capitan Basilio. “But there’s time yet! He hasn’t studied Cicero and he’s still a young man!”
“If I present to you, gentlemen, any program or plan,” the young man continued, “I don’t do so with the thought that you will find it perfect or that you will accept it, but at the same time that I once more bow to the judgment of all of you, I wish to prove to our elders that our thoughts are always like theirs, since we take as our own those ideas so eloquently expressed by Capitan Basilio.”
“Well spoken! Well spoken!” cried the flattered conservatives. Capitan Basilio made signs to the speaker showing him how he should stand and how he ought to move his arm. The only one remaining impassive was the gobernadorcillo, who was either bewildered or preoccupied; as a matter of fact, he seemed to be both. The young man went on with more warmth:
“My plan, gentlemen, reduces itself to this: invent new shows that are not common and ordinary, such as we see every day, and endeavor that the money collected may not leave the town, and that it be not wasted in smoke, but that it be used in some manner beneficial to all.”
“That’s right!” assented the youths. “That’s what we want.”
“Excellent!” added the elders.
“What should we get from a week of comedies, as the teniente-mayor proposes? What can we learn from the kings of Bohemia and Granada, who commanded that their daughters’ heads be cut off, or that they should be blown from a cannon, which later is converted into a throne? We are not kings, neither are we barbarians; we have no cannon, and if we should imitate those people, they would hang us on Bagumbayan. What are those princesses who mingle in the battles, scattering thrusts and blows about in combat with princes, or who wander alone over mountains and through valleys as though seduced by the tikbálang? Our nature is to love sweetness and tenderness in woman, and we would shudder at the thought of taking the blood-stained hand of a maiden, even when the blood was that of a Moro or a giant, so abhorred by us. We consider vile the man who raises his hand against a woman, be he prince or alferez or rude countryman. Would it not be a thousand times better to give a representation of our own customs in order to correct our defects and vices and to encourage our better qualities?”
“That’s right! That’s right!” exclaimed some of his faction.
“He’s right,” muttered several old men thoughtfully.
“I should never have thought of that,” murmured Capitan Basilio.
“But how are you going to do it?” asked the irreconcilable.
“Very easily,” answered the youth. “I have brought here two dramas which I feel sure the good taste and recognized judgment of the respected elders here assembled will find very agreeable and entertaining. One is entitled ‘The Election of the Gobernadorcillo,’ being a comedy in prose in five acts, written by one who is here present. The other is in nine acts for two nights and is a fantastical drama of a satirical nature, entitled ‘Mariang Makiling,’4 written by one of the best poets of the province. Seeing that the discussion of preparations for the fiesta has been postponed and fearing that there would not be time enough left, we have secretly secured the actors and had them learn their parts. We hope that with a week of rehearsal they will have plenty of time to know their parts thoroughly. This, gentlemen, besides being new, useful, and reasonable, has the great advantage of being economical; we shall not need costumes, as those of our daily life will be suitable.”
 “I’ll pay for the theater!” shouted Capitan Basilio enthusiastically.
“If you need cuadrilleros, I’ll lend you mine,” cried their captain.
“And I—and I—if art old man is needed—” stammered another one, swelling with pride.
“Accepted! Accepted!” cried many voices.
Don Filipo became pale with emotion and his eyes filled with tears.
“He’s crying from spite,” thought the irreconcilable, so he yelled, “Accepted! Accepted without discussion!” Thus satisfied with revenge and the complete defeat of his rival, this fellow began to praise the young man’s plan.
The latter continued his speech: “A fifth of the money collected may be used to distribute a few prizes, such as to the best school child, the best herdsman, farmer, fisherman, and so on. We can arrange for boat races on the river and lake and for horse races on shore, we can raise greased poles and also have other games in which our country people can take part. I concede that on account of our long-established customs we must have some fireworks; wheels and fire castles are very beautiful and entertaining, but I don’t believe it necessary to have bombs, as the former speaker proposed. Two bands of music will afford sufficient merriment and thus we shall avoid those rivalries and quarrels between the poor musicians who come to gladden our fiesta with their work and who so often behave like fighting-cocks, afterwards going away poorly paid, underfed, and even bruised and wounded at times. With the money left over we can begin the erection of a small building for a schoolhouse, since we can’t wait until God Himself comes down and builds one for us, and it is a sad state of affairs that while we have a fine cockpit our children study almost in the curate’s stable. Such are the outlines of my plan; the details can be worked out by all.”
A murmur of pleasure ran through the hall, as nearly every one agreed with the youth.
Some few muttered, “Innovations! Innovations! When we were young—”
“Let’s adopt it for the time being and humiliate that fellow,” said others, indicating Don Filipo.
When silence was restored all were agreed. There was lacking only the approval of the gobernadorcillo. That worthy official was perspiring and fidgeting about. He rubbed his hand over his forehead and was at length able to stammer out in a weak voice: “I also agree, but—ahem!”
Every one in the hall listened in silence.
“But what?” asked Capitan Basilio.
“Very agreeable,” repeated the gobernadorcillo, “that is to say—I don’t agree—I mean—yes, but—” Here he rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. “But the curate,” the poor fellow went on, “the curate wants something else.”
“Does the curate or do we ourselves pay for this fiesta? Has he given a cuarto for it?” exclaimed a penetrating voice. All looked toward the place whence these questions came and saw there the Sage Tasio.
Don Filipo remained motionless with his eyes fixed on the gobernadorcillo.
“What does the curate want?” asked Capitan Basilio.
“Well, the padre wants six processions, three sermons, three high masses, and if there is any money left, a comedy from Tondo with songs in the intermissions.”
“But we don’t want that,” said the youths and some of the old men.
“The curate wants it,” repeated the gobernadorcillo. “I’ve promised him that his wish shall be carried out.”
“Then why did you have us assemble here?”
“F-for the very purpose of telling you this!”
“Why didn’t you tell us so at the start?”
“I wanted to tell you, gentlemen, but Capitan Basilio spoke and I haven’t had a chance. The curate must be obeyed.”
 “He must be obeyed,” echoed several old men.
“He must be obeyed or else the alcalde will put us all in jail,” added several other old men sadly.
“Well then, obey him, and run the fiesta yourselves,” exclaimed the youths, rising. “We withdraw our contributions.”
“Everything has already been collected,” said the gobernadorcillo.
Don Filipo approached this official and said to him bitterly, “I sacrificed my pride in favor of a good cause; you are sacrificing your dignity as a man in favor of a bad one, and you’ve spoiled everything.”
Ibarra turned to the schoolmaster and asked him, “Is there anything that I can do for you at the capital of the province? I leave for there immediately.”
“Have you some business there?”
“We have business there!” answered Ibarra mysteriously.
On the way home, when Don Filipo was cursing his bad luck, old Tasio said to him: “The blame is ours! You didn’t protest when they gave you a slave for a chief, and I, fool that I am, had forgotten it!”

1 The municipal police of the old régime. They were thus described by a Spanish writer, W. E. Retana, in a note to Ventura F. Lopez’s El Filibustero (Madrid, 1893): “Municipal guards, whose duties are principally rural. Their uniform is a disaster; they go barefoot; on horseback, they hold the reins in the right hand and a lance in the left. They are usually good-for-nothing, but to their credit it must be said that they do no damage. Lacking military instruction, provided with fire-arms of the first part of the century, of which one in a hundred might go off in case of need, and for other arms bolos, talibons, old swords, etc., the cuadrilleros are truly a parody on armed force.”—TR.
2 Headman and tax-collector of a district, generally including about fifty families, for whose annual tribute he was personally responsible. The “barangay” is a Malay boat of the kind supposed to have been used by the first emigrants to the Philippines. Hence, at first, the “head of a barangay” meant the leader or chief of a family or group of families. This office, quite analogous to the old Germanic or Anglo-Saxon “head of a hundred,” was adopted and perpetuated by the Spaniards in their system of local administration.—TR.
3 The hermano mayor was a person appointed to direct the ceremonies during the fiesta, an appointment carrying with it great honor and importance, but also entailing considerable expense, as the appointee was supposed to furnish a large share of the entertainments. Hence, the greater the number of hermanos mayores the more splendid the fiesta,—TR.
4 Mt. Makiling is a volcanic cone at the southern end of the Lake of Bay. At its base is situated the town of Kalamba, the author’s birthplace. About this mountain cluster a number of native legends having as their principal character a celebrated sorceress or enchantress, known as “Mariang Makiling.”—TR.

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