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Chapter 14: In the House of the Students

The house where Makaraig lived was worth visiting. Large and spacious, with two entresols provided with elegant gratings, it seemed to be a school during the first hours of the morning and pandemonium from ten o’clock on. During the boarders’ recreation hours, from the lower hallway of the spacious entrance up to the main floor, there was a bubbling of laughter, shouts, and movement. Boys in scanty clothing played sipa or practised gymnastic exercises on improvised trapezes, while on the staircase a fight was in progress between eight or nine armed with canes, sticks, and ropes, but neither attackers nor attacked did any great damage, their blows generally falling sidewise upon the shoulders of the Chinese pedler who was there selling his outlandish mixtures and indigestible pastries. Crowds of boys surrounded him, pulled at his already disordered queue, snatched pies from him, haggled over the prices, and committed a thousand deviltries. The Chinese yelled, swore, forswore, in all the languages he could jabber, not omitting his own; he whimpered, laughed, pleaded, put on a smiling face when an ugly one would not serve, or the reverse.
He cursed them as devils, savages, no kilistanos but that mattered nothing. A whack would bring his face around smiling, and if the blow fell only upon his shoulders he would calmly continue his business transactions, contenting himself with crying out to them that he was not in the game, but if it struck the flat basket on which were placed his wares, then he would swear never to come again, as he poured out upon them all the imprecations and anathemas imaginable. Then the boys would redouble their efforts to make him rage the more, and when at last his vocabulary was exhausted and they were satiated with his fearful mixtures, they paid him religiously, and sent him away happy, winking, chuckling to himself, and receiving as caresses the light blows from their canes that the students gave him as tokens of farewell.
Concerts on the piano and violin, the guitar, and the accordion, alternated with the continual clashing of blades from the fencing lessons. Around a long, wide table the students of the Ateneo prepared their compositions or solved their problems by the side of others writing to their sweethearts on pink perforated note-paper covered with drawings. Here one was composing a melodrama at the side of another practising on the flute, from which he drew wheezy notes. Over there, the older boys, students in professional courses, who affected silk socks and embroidered slippers, amused themselves in teasing the smaller boys by pulling their ears, already red from repeated fillips, while two or three held down a little fellow who yelled and cried, defending himself with his feet against being reduced to the condition in which he was born, kicking and howling. In one room, around a small table, four were playing revesino with laughter and jokes, to the great annoyance of another who pretended to be studying his lesson but who was in reality waiting his turn to play.
Still another came in with exaggerated wonder, scandalized as he approached the table. “How wicked you are! So early in the morning and already gambling! Let’s see, let’s see! You fool, take it with the three of spades!” Closing his book, he too joined in the game.
Cries and blows were heard. Two boys were fighting in the adjoining room—a lame student who was very sensitive about his infirmity and an unhappy newcomer from the provinces who was just commencing his studies. He was working over a treatise on philosophy and reading innocently in a loud voice, with a wrong accent, the Cartesian principle: “Cogito, ergo sum!
The little lame boy (el cojito) took this as an insult and the others intervened to restore peace, but in reality only to sow discord and come to blows themselves.
In the dining-room a young man with a can of sardines, a bottle of wine, and the provisions that he had just brought from his town, was making heroic efforts to the end that his friends might participate in his lunch, while they were offering in their turn heroic resistance to his invitation. Others were bathing on the azotea, playing firemen with the water from the well, and joining in combats with pails of water, to the great delight of the spectators.
But the noise and shouts gradually died away with the coming of leading students, summoned by Makaraig to report to them the progress of the academy of Castilian. Isagani was cordially greeted, as was also the Peninsular, Sandoval, who had come to Manila as a government employee and was finishing his studies, and who had completely identified himself with the cause of the Filipino students. The barriers that politics had established between the races had disappeared in the schoolroom as though dissolved by the zeal of science and youth.
From lack of lyceums and scientific, literary, or political centers, Sandoval took advantage of all the meetings to cultivate his great oratorical gifts, delivering speeches and arguing on any subject, to draw forth applause from his friends and listeners. At that moment the subject of conversation was the instruction in Castilian, but as Makaraig had not yet arrived conjecture was still the order of the day.
“What can have happened?”
“What has the General decided?”
“Has he refused the permit?”
“Has Padre Irene or Padre Sibyla won?”
Such were the questions they asked one another, questions that could be answered only by Makaraig.
Among the young men gathered together there were optimists like Isagani and Sandoval, who saw the thing already accomplished and talked of congratulations and praise from the government for the patriotism of the students—outbursts of optimism that led Juanito Pelaez to claim for himself a large part of the glory of founding the society.
All this was answered by the pessimist Pecson, a chubby youth with a wide, clownish grin, who spoke of outside influences, whether the Bishop A., the Padre B., or the Provincial C., had been consulted or not, whether or not they had advised that the whole association should be put in jail—a suggestion that made Juanito Pelaez so uneasy that he stammered out, “Carambas, don’t you drag me into—”
Sandoval, as a Peninsular and a liberal, became furious at this. “But pshaw!” he exclaimed, “that is holding a bad opinion of his Excellency! I know that he’s quite a friar-lover, but in such a matter as this he won’t let the friars interfere. Will you tell me, Pecson, on what you base your belief that the General has no judgment of his own?”
“I didn’t say that, Sandoval,” replied Pecson, grinning until he exposed his wisdom-tooth. “For me the General has his own judgment, that is, the judgment of all those within his reach. That’s plain!”
“You’re dodging—cite me a fact, cite me a fact!” cried Sandoval. “Let’s get away from hollow arguments, from empty phrases, and get on the solid ground of facts,”—this with an elegant gesture. “Facts, gentlemen, facts! The rest is prejudice—I won’t call it filibusterism.”
Pecson smiled like one of the blessed as he retorted, “There comes the filibusterism. But can’t we enter into a discussion without resorting to accusations?”
Sandoval protested in a little extemporaneous speech, again demanding facts.
“Well, not long ago there was a dispute between some private persons and certain friars, and the acting Governor rendered a decision that it should be settled by the Provincial of the Order concerned,” replied Pecson, again breaking out into a laugh, as though he were dealing with an insignificant matter, he cited names and dates, and promised documents that would prove how justice was dispensed.
“But, on what ground, tell me this, on what ground can they refuse permission for what plainly appears to be extremely useful and necessary?” asked Sandoval.
Pecson shrugged his shoulders. “It’s that it endangers the integrity of the fatherland,” he replied in the tone of a notary reading an allegation.
“That’s pretty good! What has the integrity of the fatherland to do with the rules of syntax?”
“The Holy Mother Church has learned doctors—what do I know? Perhaps it is feared that we may come to understand the laws so that we can obey them. What will become of the Philippines on the day when we understand one another?”
Sandoval did not relish the dialectic and jesting turn of the conversation; along that path could rise no speech worth the while. “Don’t make a joke of things!” he exclaimed. “This is a serious matter.”
“The Lord deliver me from joking when there are friars concerned!”
“But, on what do you base—”
“On the fact that, the hours for the classes having to come at night,” continued Pecson in the same tone, as if he were quoting known and recognized formulas, “there may be invoked as an obstacle the immorality of the thing, as was done in the case of the school at Malolos.”
“Another! But don’t the classes of the Academy of Drawing, and the novenaries and the processions, cover themselves with the mantle of night?”
“The scheme affects the dignity of the University,” went on the chubby youth, taking no notice of the question.
“Affects nothing! The University has to accommodate itself to the needs of the students. And granting that, what is a university then? Is it an institution to discourage study? Have a few men banded themselves together in the name of learning and instruction in order to prevent others from becoming enlightened?”
“The fact is that movements initiated from below are regarded as discontent—”
“What about projects that come from above?” interpolated one of the students. “There’s the School of Arts and Trades!”
“Slowly, slowly, gentlemen,” protested Sandoval. “I’m not a friar-lover, my liberal views being well known, but render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. Of that School of Arts and Trades, of which I have been the most enthusiastic supporter and the realization of which I shall greet as the first streak of dawn for these fortunate islands, of that School of Arts and Trades the friars have taken charge—”
“Or the cat of the canary, which amounts to the same thing,” added Pecson, in his turn interrupting the speech.
“Get out!” cried Sandoval, enraged at the interruption, which had caused him to lose the thread of his long, well-rounded sentence. “As long as we hear nothing bad, let’s not be pessimists, let’s not be unjust, doubting the liberty and independence of the government.”
Here he entered upon a defense in beautiful phraseology of the government and its good intentions, a subject that Pecson dared not break in upon.
“The Spanish government,” he said among other things, “has given you everything, it has denied you nothing! We had absolutism in Spain and you had absolutism here; the friars covered our soil with conventos, and conventos occupy a third part of Manila; in Spain the garrote prevails and here the garrote is the extreme punishment; we are Catholics and we have made you Catholics; we were scholastics and scholasticism sheds its light in your college halls; in short, gentlemen, we weep when you weep, we suffer when you suffer, we have the same altars, the same courts, the same punishments, and it is only just that we should give you our rights and our joys.”
As no one interrupted him, he became more and more enthusiastic, until he came to speak of the future of the Philippines.
“As I have said, gentlemen, the dawn is not far distant. Spain is now breaking the eastern sky for her beloved Philippines, and the times are changing, as I positively know, faster than we imagine. This government, which, according to you, is vacillating and weak, should be strengthened by our confidence, that we may make it see that it is the custodian of our hopes. Let us remind it by our conduct (should it ever forget itself, which I do not believe can happen) that we have faith in its good intentions and that it should be guided by no other standard than justice and the welfare of all the governed. No, gentlemen,” he went on in a tone more and more declamatory, “we must not admit at all in this matter the possibility of a consultation with other more or less hostile entities, as such a supposition would imply our resignation to the fact. Your conduct up to the present has been frank, loyal, without vacillation, above suspicion; you have addressed it simply and directly; the reasons you have presented could not be more sound; your aim is to lighten the labor of the teachers in the first years and to facilitate study among the hundreds of students who fill the college halls and for whom one solitary professor cannot suffice. If up to the present the petition has not been granted, it has been for the reason, as I feel sure, that there has been a great deal of material accumulated, but I predict that the campaign is won, that the summons of Makaraig is to announce to us the victory, and tomorrow we shall see our efforts crowned with the applause and appreciation of the country, and who knows, gentlemen, but that the government may confer upon you some handsome decoration of merit, benefactors as you are of the fatherland!”
Enthusiastic applause resounded. All immediately believed in the triumph, and many in the decoration.
“Let it be remembered, gentlemen,” observed Juanito, “that I was one of the first to propose it.”
The pessimist Pecson was not so enthusiastic. “Just so we don’t get that decoration on our ankles,” he remarked, but fortunately for Pelaez this comment was not heard in the midst of the applause.
When they had quieted down a little, Pecson replied, “Good, good, very good, but one supposition: if in spite of all that, the General consults and consults and consults, and afterwards refuses the permit?”
This question fell like a dash of cold water. All turned to Sandoval, who was taken aback. “Then—” he stammered.
“Then,” he exclaimed in a burst of enthusiasm, still excited by the applause, “seeing that in writing and in printing it boasts of desiring your enlightenment, and yet hinders and denies it when called upon to make it a reality—then, gentlemen, your efforts will not have been in vain, you will have accomplished what no one else has been able to do. Make them drop the mask and fling down the gauntlet to you!”
“Bravo, bravo!” cried several enthusiastically.
“Good for Sandoval! Hurrah for the gauntlet!” added others.
“Let them fling down the gauntlet to us!” repeated Pecson disdainfully. “But afterwards?”
Sandoval seemed to be cut short in his triumph, but with the vivacity peculiar to his race and his oratorical temperament he had an immediate reply.
“Afterwards?” he asked. “Afterwards, if none of the Filipinos dare to accept the challenge, then I, Sandoval, in the name of Spain, will take up the gauntlet, because such a policy would give the lie to the good intentions that she has always cherished toward her provinces, and because he who is thus faithless to the trust reposed in him and abuses his unlimited authority deserves neither the protection of the fatherland nor the support of any Spanish citizen!”
The enthusiasm of his hearers broke all bounds. Isagani embraced him, the others following his example. They talked of the fatherland, of union, of fraternity, of fidelity. The Filipinos declared that if there were only Sandovals in Spain all would be Sandovals in the Philippines. His eyes glistened, and it might well be believed that if at that moment any kind of gauntlet had been flung at him he would have leaped upon any kind of horse to ride to death for the Philippines.
The “cold water” alone replied: “Good, that’s very good, Sandoval. I could also say the same if I were a Peninsular, but not being one, if I should say one half of what you have, you yourself would take me for a filibuster.”
Sandoval began a speech in protest, but was interrupted.
“Rejoice, friends, rejoice! Victory!” cried a youth who entered at that moment and began to embrace everybody.
“Rejoice, friends! Long live the Castilian tongue!”
An outburst of applause greeted this announcement. They fell to embracing one another and their eyes filled with tears. Pecson alone preserved his skeptical smile.
The bearer of such good news was Makaraig, the young man at the head of the movement. This student occupied in that house, by himself, two rooms, luxuriously furnished, and had his servant and a cochero to look after his carriage and horses. He was of robust carriage, of refined manners, fastidiously dressed, and very rich. Although studying law only that he might have an academic degree, he enjoyed a reputation for diligence, and as a logician in the scholastic way had no cause to envy the most frenzied quibblers of the University faculty. Nevertheless he was not very far behind in regard to modern ideas and progress, for his fortune enabled him to have all the books and magazines that [136] a watchful censor was unable to keep out. With these qualifications and his reputation for courage, his fortunate associations in his earlier years, and his refined and delicate courtesy, it was not strange that he should exercise such great influence over his associates and that he should have been chosen to carry out such a difficult undertaking as that of the instruction in Castilian.
After the first outburst of enthusiasm, which in youth always takes hold in such exaggerated forms, since youth finds everything beautiful, they wanted to be informed how the affair had been managed.
“I saw Padre Irene this morning,” said Makaraig with a certain air of mystery.
“Hurrah for Padre Irene!” cried an enthusiastic student.
“Padre Irene,” continued Makaraig, “has told me about everything that took place at Los Baños. It seems that they disputed for at least a week, he supporting and defending our case against all of them, against Padre Sibyla, Padre Fernandez, Padre Salvi, the General, the jeweler Simoun—”
“The jeweler Simoun!” interrupted one of his listeners. “What has that Jew to do with the affairs of our country? We enrich him by buying—”
“Keep quiet!” admonished another impatiently, anxious to learn how Padre Irene had been able to overcome such formidable opponents.
“There were even high officials who were opposed to our project, the Head Secretary, the Civil Governor, Quiroga the Chinaman—”
“Quiroga the Chinaman! The pimp of the—”
“Shut up!”
“At last,” resumed Makaraig, “they were going to pigeonhole the petition and let it sleep for months and months, when Padre Irene remembered the Superior Commission of Primary Instruction and proposed, since the matter concerned the teaching of the Castilian tongue, that the petition be referred to that body for a report upon it.”
“But that Commission hasn’t been in operation for a long time,” observed Pecson.
“That’s exactly what they replied to Padre Irene, and he answered that this was a good opportunity to revive it, and availing himself of the presence of Don Custodio, one of its members, he proposed on the spot that a committee should be appointed. Don Custodio’s activity being known and recognized, he was named as arbiter and the petition is now in his hands. He promised that he would settle it this month.”
“Hurrah for Don Custodio!”
“But suppose Don Custodio should report unfavorably upon it?” inquired the pessimist Pecson.
Upon this they had not reckoned, being intoxicated with the thought that the matter would not be pigeonholed, so they all turned to Makaraig to learn how it could be arranged.
“The same objection I presented to Padre Irene, but with his sly smile he said to me: ‘We’ve won a great deal, we have succeeded in getting the matter on the road to a decision, the opposition sees itself forced to join battle.’ If we can bring some influence to bear upon Don Custodio so that he, in accordance with his liberal tendencies, may report favorably, all is won, for the General showed himself to be absolutely neutral.”
Makaraig paused, and an impatient listener asked, “How can we influence him?”
“Padre Irene pointed out to me two ways—”
“Quiroga,” some one suggested.
“Pshaw, great use Quiroga—”
“A fine present.”
“No, that won’t do, for he prides himself upon being incorruptible.”
“Ah, yes, I know!” exclaimed Pecson with a laugh. “Pepay the dancing girl.”
“Ah, yes, Pepay the dancing girl,” echoed several.
This Pepay was a showy girl, supposed to be a great friend of Don Custodio. To her resorted the contractors, the employees, the intriguers, when they wanted to get something from the celebrated councilor. Juanito Pelaez, who was also a great friend of the dancing girl, offered to look after the matter, but Isagani shook his head, saying that it was sufficient that they had made use of Padre Irene and that it would be going too far to avail themselves of Pepay in such an affair.
“Show us the other way.”
“The other way is to apply to his attorney and adviser, Señor Pasta, the oracle before whom Don Custodio bows.”
“I prefer that,” said Isagani. “Señor Pasta is a Filipino, and was a schoolmate of my uncle’s. But how can we interest him?”
“There’s the quid,” replied Makaraig, looking earnestly at Isagani. “Señor Pasta has a dancing girl—I mean, a seamstress.”
Isagani again shook his head.
“Don’t be such a puritan,” Juanito Pelaez said to him. “The end justifies the means! I know the seamstress, Matea, for she has a shop where a lot of girls work.”
“No, gentlemen,” declared Isagani, “let’s first employ decent methods. I’ll go to Señor Pasta and, if I don’t accomplish anything, then you can do what you wish with the dancing girls and seamstresses.”
They had to accept this proposition, agreeing that Isagani should talk to Señor Pasta that very day, and in the afternoon report to his associates at the University the result of the interview.

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