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Chapter 10: Wealth and Want


On the following day, to the great surprise of the village, the jeweler Simoun, followed by two servants, each carrying a canvas-covered chest, requested the hospitality of Cabesang Tales, who even in the midst of his wretchedness did not forget the good Filipino customs—rather, he was troubled to think that he had no way of properly entertaining the stranger. But Simoun brought everything with him, servants and provisions, and merely wished to spend the day and night in the house because it was the largest in the village and was situated between San Diego and Tiani, towns where he hoped to find many customers.
Simoun secured information about the condition of the roads and asked Cabesang Tales if his revolver was a sufficient protection against the tulisanes.
“They have rifles that shoot a long way,” was the rather absent-minded reply.
“This revolver does no less,” remarked Simoun, firing at an areca-palm some two hundred paces away.
Cabesang Tales noticed that some nuts fell, but remained silent and thoughtful.
Gradually the families, drawn by the fame of the jeweler’s wares, began to collect. They wished one another merry Christmas, they talked of masses, saints, poor crops, but still were there to spend their savings for jewels and trinkets brought from Europe. It was known that the jeweler was the friend of the Captain-General, so it wasn’t lost labor to get on good terms with him, and thus be prepared for contingencies.
Capitan Basilio came with his wife, daughter, and son-in-law, prepared to spend at least three thousand pesos. Sister Penchang was there to buy a diamond ring she had promised to the Virgin of Antipolo. She had left Juli at home memorizing a booklet the curate had sold her for four cuartos, with forty days of indulgence granted by the Archbishop to every one who read it or listened to it read.
Jesús!” said the pious woman to Capitana Tika, “that poor girl has grown up like a mushroom planted by the tikbalang. I’ve made her read the book at the top of her voice at least fifty times and she doesn’t remember a single word of it. She has a head like a sieve—full when it’s in the water. All of us hearing her, even the dogs and cats, have won at least twenty years of indulgence.”
Simoun arranged his two chests on the table, one being somewhat larger than the other. “You don’t want plated jewelry or imitation gems. This lady,” turning to Sinang, “wants real diamonds.”
“That’s it, yes, sir, diamonds, old diamonds, antique stones, you know,” she responded. “Papa will pay for them, because he likes antique things, antique stones.” Sinang was accustomed to joke about the great deal of Latin her father understood and the little her husband knew.
“It just happens that I have some antique jewels,” replied Simoun, taking the canvas cover from the smaller chest, a polished steel case with bronze trimmings and stout locks. “I have necklaces of Cleopatra’s, real and genuine, discovered in the Pyramids; rings of Roman senators and knights, found in the ruins of Carthage.”
“Probably those that Hannibal sent back after the battle of Cannae!” exclaimed Capitan Basilio seriously, while he trembled with pleasure. The good man, thought he had read much about the ancients, had never, by reason of the lack of museums in Filipinas, seen any of the objects of those times.
“I have brought besides costly earrings of Roman ladies, discovered in the villa of Annius Mucius Papilinus in Pompeii.”
Capitan Easilio nodded to show that he understood and was eager to see such precious relics. The women remarked that they also wanted things from Rome, such as rosaries blessed by the Pope, holy relics that would take away sins without the need of confessions, and so on.
When the chest was opened and the cotton packing removed, there was exposed a tray filled with rings, reliquaries, lockets, crucifixes, brooches, and such like. The diamonds set in among variously colored stones flashed out brightly and shimmered among golden flowers of varied hues, with petals of enamel, all of peculiar designs and rare Arabesque workmanship.
Simoun lifted the tray and exhibited another filled with quaint jewels that would have satisfied the imaginations of seven débutantes on the eves of the balls in their honor. Designs, one more fantastic than the other, combinations of precious stones and pearls worked into the figures of insects with azure backs and transparent forewings, sapphires, emeralds, rubies, turquoises, diamonds, joined to form dragon-flies, wasps, bees, butterflies, beetles, serpents, lizards, fishes, sprays of flowers. There were diadems, necklaces of pearls and diamonds, so that some of the girls could not withhold a nakú of admiration, and Sinang gave a cluck with her tongue, whereupon her mother pinched her to prevent her from encouraging the jeweler to raise his prices, for Capitana Tika still pinched her daughter even after the latter was married.
“Here you have some old diamonds,” explained the jeweler. “This ring belonged to the Princess Lamballe and those earrings to one of Marie Antoinette’s ladies.” They consisted of some beautiful solitaire diamonds, as large as grains of corn, with somewhat bluish lights, and pervaded with a severe elegance, as though they still reflected in their sparkles the shuddering of the Reign of Terror.
“Those two earrings!” exclaimed Sinang, looking at her father and instinctively covering the arm next to her mother.
“Something more ancient yet, something Roman,” said Capitan Basilio with a wink.
The pious Sister Penchang thought that with such a gift the Virgin of Antipolo would be softened and grant her her most vehement desire: for some time she had begged for a wonderful miracle to which her name would be attached, so that her name might be immortalized on earth and she then ascend into heaven, like the Capitana Ines of the curates. She inquired the price and Simoun asked three thousand pesos, which made the good woman cross herself—’Susmariosep!
Simoun now exposed the third tray, which was filled with watches, cigar- and match-cases decorated with the rarest enamels, reliquaries set with diamonds and containing the most elegant miniatures.
The fourth tray, containing loose gems, stirred a murmur of admiration. Sinang again clucked with her tongue, her mother again pinched her, although at the same time herself emitting a ’Susmaría of wonder.
No one there had ever before seen so much wealth. In that chest lined with dark-blue velvet, arranged in trays, were the wonders of the Arabian Nights, the dreams of Oriental fantasies. Diamonds as large as peas glittered there, throwing out attractive rays as if they were about to melt or burn with all the hues of the spectrum; emeralds from Peru, of varied forms and shapes; rubies from India, red as drops of blood; sapphires from Ceylon, blue and white; turquoises from Persia; Oriental pearls, some rosy, some lead-colored, others black. Those who have at night seen a great rocket burst in the azure darkness of the sky into thousands of colored lights, so bright that they make the eternal stars look dim, can imagine the aspect the tray presented.
As if to increase the admiration of the beholders, Simoun took the stones out with his tapering brown fingers, gloating over their crystalline hardness, their luminous stream, as they poured from his hands like drops of water reflecting the tints of the rainbow. The reflections from so many facets, the thought of their great value, fascinated the gaze of every one.
Cabesang Tales, who had approached out of curiosity, closed his eyes and drew back hurriedly, as if to drive away an evil thought. Such great riches were an insult to his misfortunes; that man had come there to make an exhibition of his immense wealth on the very day that he, Tales, for lack of money, for lack of protectors, had to abandon the house raised by his own hands.
“Here you have two black diamonds, among the largest in existence,” explained the jeweler. “They’re very difficult to cut because they’re the very hardest. This somewhat rosy stone is also a diamond, as is this green one that many take for an emerald. Quiroga the Chinaman offered me six thousand pesos for it in order to present it to a very influential lady, and yet it is not the green ones that are the most valuable, but these blue ones.”
He selected three stones of no great size, but thick and well-cut, of a delicate azure tint.
“For all that they are smaller than the green,” he continued, “they cost twice as much. Look at this one, the smallest of all, weighing not more than two carats, which cost me twenty thousand pesos and which I won’t sell for less than thirty. I had to make a special trip to buy it. This other one, from the mines of Golconda, weighs three and a half carats and is worth over seventy thousand. The Viceroy of India, in a letter I received the day before yesterday, offers me twelve thousand pounds sterling for it.”
Before such great wealth, all under the power of that man who talked so unaffectedly, the spectators felt a kind of awe mingled with dread. Sinang clucked several times and her mother did not pinch her, perhaps because she too was overcome, or perhaps because she reflected that a jeweler like Simoun was not going to try to gain five pesos more or less as a result of an exclamation more or less indiscreet. All gazed at the gems, but no one showed any desire to handle them, they were so awe-inspiring. Curiosity was blunted by wonder. Cabesang Tales stared out into the field, thinking that with a single diamond, perhaps the very smallest there, he could recover his daughter, keep his house, and perhaps rent another farm. Could it be that those gems were worth more than a man’s home, the safety of a maiden, the peace of an old man in his declining days?
As if he guessed the thought, Simoun remarked to those about him: “Look here—with one of these little blue stones, which appear so innocent and inoffensive, pure as sparks scattered over the arch of heaven, with one of these, seasonably presented, a man was able to have his enemy deported, the father of a family, as a disturber of the peace; and with this other little one like it, red as one’s heart-blood, as the feeling of revenge, and bright as an orphan’s tears, he was restored to liberty, the man was returned to his home, the father to his children, the husband to the wife, and a whole family saved from a wretched future.”
He slapped the chest and went on in a loud tone in bad Tagalog: “Here I have, as in a medicine-chest, life and death, poison and balm, and with this handful I can drive to tears all the inhabitants of the Philippines!”
The listeners gazed at him awe-struck, knowing him to be right. In his voice there could be detected a strange ring, while sinister flashes seemed to issue from behind the blue goggles.
Then as if to relieve the strain of the impression made by the gems on such simple folk, he lifted up the tray and exposed at the bottom the sanctum sanctorum. Cases of Russian leather, separated by layers of cotton, covered a bottom lined with gray velvet. All expected wonders, and Sinang’s husband thought he saw carbuncles, gems that flashed fire and shone in the midst of the shadows. Capitan Basilio was on the threshold of immortality: he was going to behold something real, something beyond his dreams.
“This was a necklace of Cleopatra’s,” said Simoun, taking out carefully a flat case in the shape of a half-moon. “It’s a jewel that can’t be appraised, an object for a museum, only for a rich government.”
It was a necklace fashioned of bits of gold representing little idols among green and blue beetles, with a vulture’s head made from a single piece of rare jasper at the center between two extended wings—the symbol and decoration of Egyptian queens.
Sinang turned up her nose and made a grimace of childish depreciation, while Capitan Basilio, with all his love for antiquity, could not restrain an exclamation of disappointment.
“It’s a magnificent jewel, well-preserved, almost two thousand years old.”
“Pshaw!” Sinang made haste to exclaim, to prevent her father’s falling into temptation.
“Fool!” he chided her, after overcoming his first disappointment. “How do you know but that to this necklace is due the present condition of the world? With this Cleopatra may have captivated Caesar, Mark Antony! This has heard the burning declarations of love from the greatest warriors of their time, it has listened to speeches in the purest and most elegant Latin, and yet you would want to wear it!”
“I? I wouldn’t give three pesos for it.”
“You could give twenty, silly,” said Capitana Tika in a judicial tone. “The gold is good and melted down would serve for other jewelry.”
“This is a ring that must have belonged to Sulla,” continued Simoun, exhibiting a heavy ring of solid gold with a seal on it.
“With that he must have signed the death-wrarrants during his dictatorship!” exclaimed Capitan Basilio, pale with emotion. He examined it and tried to decipher the seal, but though he turned it over and over he did not understand paleography, so he could not read it.
“What a finger Sulla had!” he observed finally. “This would fit two of ours—as I’ve said, we’re degenerating!”
“I still have many other jewels—”
“If they’re all that kind, never mind!” interrupted Sinang. “I think I prefer the modern.”
Each one selected some piece of jewelry, one a ring, another a watch, another a locket. Capitana Tika bought a reliquary that contained a fragment of the stone on which Our Saviour rested at his third fall; Sinang a pair of earrings; and Capitan Basilio the watch-chain for the alferez, the lady’s earrings for the curate, and other gifts. The families from the town of Tiani, not to be outdone by those of San Diego, in like manner emptied their purses.
Simoun bought or exchanged old jewelry, brought there by economical mothers, to whom it was no longer of use.
“You, haven’t you something to sell?” he asked Cabesang Tales, noticing the latter watching the sales and exchanges with covetous eyes, but the reply was that all his daughter’s jewels had been sold, nothing of value remained.
“What about Maria Clara’s locket?” inquired Sinang.
“True!” the man exclaimed, and his eyes blazed for a moment.
“It’s a locket set with diamonds and emeralds,” Sinang told the jeweler. “My old friend wore it before she became a nun.”
Simoun said nothing, but anxiously watched Cabesang Tales, who, after opening several boxes, found the locket. He examined it carefully, opening and shutting it repeatedly. It was the same locket that Maria Clara had worn during the fiesta in San Diego and which she had in a moment of compassion given to a leper.
“I like the design,” said Simoun. “How much do you want for it?”
Cabesang Tales scratched his head in perplexity, then his ear, then looked at the women.
“I’ve taken a fancy to this locket,” Simoun went on. “Will you take a hundred, five hundred pesos? Do you want to exchange it for something else? Take your choice here!”
Tales stared foolishly at Simoun, as if in doubt of what he heard. “Five hundred pesos?” he murmured.
“Five hundred,” repeated the jeweler in a voice shaking with emotion.
Cabesang Tales took the locket and made several turns about the room, with his heart beating violently and his hands trembling. Dared he ask more? That locket could save him, this was an excellent opportunity, such as might not again present itself.
The women winked at him to encourage him to make the sale, excepting Penchang, who, fearing that Juli would be ransomed, observed piously: “I would keep it as a relic. Those who have seen Maria Clara in the nunnery say she has got so thin and weak that she can scarcely talk and it’s thought that she’ll die a saint. Padre Salvi speaks very highly of her and he’s her confessor. That’s why Juli didn’t want ito give it up, but rather preferred to pawn herself.”
This speech had its effect—the thought of his daughter restrained Tales. “If you will allow me,” he said, “I’ll go to the town to consult my daughter. I’ll be back before night.”
This was agreed upon and Tales set out at once. But when he found himself outside of the village, he made out at a distance, on a path, that entered the woods, the friar-administrator and a man whom he recognized as the usurper of his land. A husband seeing his wife enter a private room with another man could not feel more wrath or jealousy than Cabesang Tales experienced when he saw them moving over his fields, the fields cleared by him, which he had thought to leave to his children. It seemed to him that [85] they were mocking him, laughing at his powerlessness. There flashed into his memory what he had said about never giving up his fields except to him who irrigated them with his own blood and buried in them his wife and daughter.
He stopped, rubbed his hand over his forehead, and shut his eyes. When he again opened them, he saw that the man had turned to laugh and that the friar had caught his sides as though to save himself from bursting with merriment, then he saw them point toward his house and laugh again.
A buzz sounded in his ears, he felt the crack of a whip around his chest, the red mist reappeared before his eyes, he again saw the corpses of his wife and daughter, and beside them the usurper with the friar laughing and holding his sides. Forgetting everything else, he turned aside into the path they had taken, the one leading to his fields.
Simoun waited in vain for Cabesang Tales to return that night. But the next morning when he arose he noticed that the leather holster of his revolver was empty. Opening it he found inside a scrap of paper wrapped around the locket set with emeralds and diamonds, with these few lines written on it in Tagalog:
“Pardon, sir, that in my own house I relieve you of what belongs to you, but necessity drives me to it. In exchange for your revolver I leave the locket you desired so much. I need the weapon, for I am going out to join the tulisanes.
“I advise you not to keep on your present road, because if you fall into our power, not then being my guest, we will require of you a large ransom.
Telesforo Juan de Dios.”
“At last I’ve found my man!” muttered Simoun with a deep breath. “He’s somewhat scrupulous, but so much the better—he’ll keep his promises.”
He then ordered a servant to go by boat over the lake to Los Baños with the larger chest and await him there. He would go on overland, taking the smaller chest, the one [86] containing his famous jewels. The arrival of four civil-guards completed his good humor. They came to arrest Cabesang Tales and not finding him took Tandang Selo away instead.
Three murders had been committed during the night. The friar-administrator and the new tenant of Cabesang Tales’ land had been found dead, with their heads split open and their mouths full of earth, on the border of the fields. In the town the wife of the usurper was found dead at dawn, her mouth also filled with earth and her throat cut, with a fragment of paper beside her, on which was the name Tales, written in blood as though traced by a finger.
Calm yourselves, peaceful inhabitants of Kalamba! None of you are named Tales, none of you have committed any crime! You are called Luis Habaña, Matías Belarmino, Nicasio Eigasani, Cayetano de Jesús, Mateo Elejorde, Leandro Lopez, Antonino Lopez, Silvestre Ubaldo, Manuel Hidalgo, Paciano Mercado, your name is the whole village of Kalamba. You cleared your fields, on them you have spent the labor of your whole lives, your savings, your vigils and privations, and you have been despoiled of them, driven from your homes, with the rest forbidden to show you hospitality! Not content with outraging justice, they have trampled upon the sacred traditions of your country! You have served Spain and the King, and when in their name you have asked for justice, you were banished without trial, torn from your wives’ arms and your children’s caresses! Any one of you has suffered more than Cabesang Tales, and yet none, not one of you, has received justice! Neither pity nor humanity has been shown you—you have been persecuted beyond the tomb, as was Mariano Herbosa! Weep or laugh, there in those lonely isles where you wander vaguely, uncertain of the future! Spain, the generous Spain, is watching over you, and sooner or later you will have justice!

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