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Chapter 2: On The Lower Deck

There, below, other scenes were being enacted. Seated on benches or small wooden stools among valises, boxes, and baskets, a few feet from the engines, in the heat of the boilers, amid the human smells and the pestilential odor of oil, were to be seen the great majority of the passengers. Some were silently gazing at the changing scenes along the banks, others were playing cards or conversing in the midst of the scraping of shovels, the roar of the engine, the hiss of escaping steam, the swash of disturbed waters, and the shrieks of the whistle. In one corner, heaped up like corpses, slept, or tried to sleep, a number of Chinese pedlers, seasick, pale, frothing through half-opened lips, and bathed in their copious perspiration. Only a few youths, students for the most part, easily recognizable from their white garments and their confident bearing, made bold to move about from stern to bow, leaping over baskets and boxes, happy in the prospect of the approaching vacation. Now they commented on the movements of the engines, endeavoring to recall forgotten notions of physics, now they surrounded the young schoolgirl or the red-lipped buyera with her collar of sampaguitas, whispering into their ears words that made them smile and cover their faces with their fans.
Nevertheless, two of them, instead of engaging in these fleeting gallantries, stood in the bow talking with a man, advanced in years, but still vigorous and erect. Both these youths seemed to be well known and respected, to judge from the deference shown them by their fellow passengers. The elder, who was dressed in complete black, was the medical [15] student, Basilio, famous for his successful cures and extraordinary treatments, while the other, taller and more robust, although much younger, was Isagani, one of the poets, or at least rimesters, who that year came from the Ateneo, a curious character, ordinarily quite taciturn and uncommunicative. The man talking with them was the rich Capitan Basilio, who was returning from a business trip to Manila.
“Capitan Tiago is getting along about the same as usual, yes, sir,” said the student Basilio, shaking his head. “He won’t submit to any treatment. At the advice of a certain person he is sending me to San Diego under the pretext of looking after his property, but in reality so that he may be left to smoke his opium with complete liberty.”
When the student said a certain person, he really meant Padre Irene, a great friend and adviser of Capitan Tiago in his last days.
“Opium is one of the plagues of modern times,” replied the capitan with the disdain and indignation of a Roman senator. “The ancients knew about it but never abused it. While the addiction to classical studies lasted—mark this well, young men—opium was used solely as a medicine; and besides, tell me who smoke it the most?—Chinamen, Chinamen who don’t understand a word of Latin! Ah, if Capitan Tiago had only devoted himself to Cicero—” Here the most classical disgust painted itself on his carefully-shaven Epicurean face. Isagani regarded him with attention: that gentleman was suffering from nostalgia for antiquity.
“But to get back to this academy of Castilian,” Capitan Basilio continued, “I assure you, gentlemen, that you won’t materialize it.”
“Yes, sir, from day to day we’re expecting the permit,” replied Isagani. “Padre Irene, whom you may have noticed above, and to whom we’ve presented a team of bays, has promised it to us. He’s on his way now to confer with the General.”  “That doesn’t matter. Padre Sibyla is opposed to it.”
“Let him oppose it! That’s why he’s here on the steamer, in order to—at Los Baños before the General.”
And the student Basilio filled out his meaning by going through the pantomime of striking his fists together.
“That’s understood,” observed Capitan Basilio, smiling. “But even though you get the permit, where’ll you get the funds?”
“We have them, sir. Each student has contributed a real.”
“But what about the professors?”
“We have them: half Filipinos and half Peninsulars.”
“And the house?”
“Makaraig, the wealthy Makaraig, has offered one of his.”
Capitan Basilio had to give in; these young men had everything arranged.
“For the rest,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders, “it’s not altogether bad, it’s not a bad idea, and now that you can’t know Latin at least you may know Castilian. Here you have another instance, namesake, of how we are going backwards. In our times we learned Latin because our books were in Latin; now you study Latin a little but have no Latin books. On the other hand, your books are in Castilian and that language is not taught—aetas parentum pejor avis tulit nos nequiores! as Horace said.” With this quotation he moved away majestically, like a Roman emperor.
The youths smiled at each other. “These men of the past,” remarked Isagani, “find obstacles for everything. Propose a thing to them and instead of seeing its advantages they only fix their attention on the difficulties. They want everything to come smooth and round as a billiard ball.”
“He’s right at home with your uncle,” observed Basilio.
“They talk of past times. But listen—speaking of uncles, what does yours say about Paulita?”
Isagani blushed. “He preached me a sermon about the choosing of a wife. I answered him that there wasn’t in Manila another like her—beautiful, well-bred, an orphan—”
“Very wealthy, elegant, charming, with no defect other than a ridiculous aunt,” added Basilio, at which both smiled.
“In regard to the aunt, do you know that she has charged me to look for her husband?”
“Doña Victorina? And you’ve promised, in order to keep your sweetheart.”
“Naturally! But the fact is that her husband is actually hidden—in my uncle’s house!”
Both burst into a laugh at this, while Isagani continued: “That’s why my uncle, being a conscientious man, won’t go on the upper deck, fearful that Doña Victorina will ask him about Don Tiburcio. Just imagine, when Doña Victorina learned that I was a steerage passenger she gazed at me with a disdain that—”
At that moment Simoun came down and, catching sight of the two young men, greeted Basilio in a patronizing tone: “Hello, Don Basilio, you’re off for the vacation? Is the gentleman a townsman of yours?”
Basilio introduced Isagani with the remark that he was not a townsman, but that their homes were not very far apart. Isagani lived on the seashore of the opposite coast. Simoun examined him with such marked attention that he was annoyed, turned squarely around, and faced the jeweler with a provoking stare.
“Well, what is the province like?” the latter asked, turning again to Basilio.
“Why, aren’t you familiar with it?”
“How the devil am I to know it when I’ve never set foot in it? I’ve been told that it’s very poor and doesn’t buy jewels.”
“We don’t buy jewels, because we don’t need them,” rejoined Isagani dryly, piqued in his provincial pride.
A smile played over Simoun’s pallid lips. “Don’t be offended, young man,” he replied. “I had no bad intentions, but as I’ve been assured that nearly all the money is in the hands of the native priests, I said to myself: the friars are dying for curacies and the Franciscans are satisfied with the poorest, so when they give them up to the native priests the truth must be that the king’s profile is unknown there. But enough of that! Come and have a beer with me and we’ll drink to the prosperity of your province.”
The youths thanked him, but declined the offer.
“You do wrong,” Simoun said to them, visibly taken aback. “Beer is a good thing, and I heard Padre Camorra say this morning that the lack of energy noticeable in this country is due to the great amount of water the inhabitants drink.”
Isagani was almost as tall as the jeweler, and at this he drew himself up.
“Then tell Padre Camorra,” Basilio hastened to say, while he nudged Isagani slyly, “tell him that if he would drink water instead of wine or beer, perhaps we might all be the gainers and he would not give rise to so much talk.”
“And tell him, also,” added Isagani, paying no attention to his friend’s nudges, “that water is very mild and can be drunk, but that it drowns out the wine and beer and puts out the fire, that heated it becomes steam, and that ruffled it is the ocean, that it once destroyed mankind and made the earth tremble to its foundations!”
Simoun raised his head. Although his looks could not be read through the blue goggles, on the rest of his face surprise might be seen. “Rather a good answer,” he said. “But I fear that he might get facetious and ask me when the [19] water will be converted into steam and when into an ocean. Padre Camorra is rather incredulous and is a great wag.”
“When the fire heats it, when the rivulets that are now scattered through the steep valleys, forced by fatality, rush together in the abyss that men are digging,” replied Isagani.
“No, Señor Simoun,” interposed Basilio, changing to a jesting tone, “rather keep in mind the verses of my friend Isagani himself:
‘Fire you, you say, and water we,
Then as you wish, so let it be;
But let us live in peace and right,
Nor shall the fire e’er see us fight;
So joined by wisdom’s glowing flame,
That without anger, hate, or blame,
We form the steam, the fifth element,
Progress and light, life and movement.’”
“Utopia, Utopia!” responded Simoun dryly. “The engine is about to meet—in the meantime, I’ll drink my beer.” So, without any word of excuse, he left the two friends.
“But what’s the matter with you today that you’re so quarrelsome?” asked Basilio.
“Nothing. I don’t know why, but that man fills me with horror, fear almost.”
“I was nudging you with my elbow. Don’t you know that he’s called the Brown Cardinal?”
“The Brown Cardinal?”
“Or Black Eminence, as you wish.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Richelieu had a Capuchin adviser who was called the Gray Eminence; well, that’s what this man is to the General.”
“Really?”
“That’s what I’ve heard from a certain person,—who always speaks ill of him behind his back and flatters him to his face.”
“Does he also visit Capitan Tiago?”
“From the first day after his arrival, and I’m sure that a certain person looks upon him as a rival—in the inheritance. I believe that he’s going to see the General about the question of instruction in Castilian.”
At that moment Isagani was called away by a servant to his uncle.
On one of the benches at the stern, huddled in among the other passengers, sat a native priest gazing at the landscapes that were successively unfolded to his view. His neighbors made room for him, the men on passing taking off their hats, and the gamblers not daring to set their table near where he was. He said little, but neither smoked nor assumed arrogant airs, nor did he disdain to mingle with the other men, returning the salutes with courtesy and affability as if he felt much honored and very grateful. Although advanced in years, with hair almost completely gray, he appeared to be in vigorous health, and even when seated held his body straight and his head erect, but without pride or arrogance. He differed from the ordinary native priests, few enough indeed, who at that period served merely as coadjutors or administered some curacies temporarily, in a certain self-possession and gravity, like one who was conscious of his personal dignity and the sacredness of his office. A superficial examination of his appearance, if not his white hair, revealed at once that he belonged to another epoch, another generation, when the better young men were not afraid to risk their dignity by becoming priests, when the native clergy looked any friar at all in the face, and when their class, not yet degraded and vilified, called for free men and not slaves, superior intelligences and not servile wills. In his sad and serious features was to be read the serenity of a soul fortified by study and meditation, perhaps tried out by deep moral suffering. This priest was Padre Florentino, Isagani’s uncle, and his story is easily told.
Scion of a wealthy and influential family of Manila, of agreeable appearance and cheerful disposition, suited to shine in the world, he had never felt any call to the sacerdotal profession, but by reason of some promises or vows, his mother, after not a few struggles and violent disputes, compelled him to enter the seminary. She was a great friend of the Archbishop, had a will of iron, and was as inexorable as is every devout woman who believes that she is interpreting the will of God. Vainly the young Florentine offered resistance, vainly he begged, vainly he pleaded his love affairs, even provoking scandals: priest he had to become at twenty-five years of age, and priest he became. The Archbishop ordained him, his first mass was celebrated with great pomp, three days were given over to feasting, and his mother died happy and content, leaving him all her fortune.
But in that struggle Florentine received a wound from which he never recovered. Weeks before his first mass the woman he loved, in desperation, married a nobody—a blow the rudest he had ever experienced. He lost his moral energy, life became dull and insupportable. If not his virtue and the respect for his office, that unfortunate love affair saved him from the depths into which the regular orders and secular clergymen both fall in the Philippines. He devoted himself to his parishioners as a duty, and by inclination to the natural sciences.
When the events of seventy-two occurred, he feared that the large income his curacy yielded him would attract attention to him, so, desiring peace above everything, he sought and secured his release, living thereafter as a private individual on his patrimonial estate situated on the Pacific coast. He there adopted his nephew, Isagani, who was reported by the malicious to be his own son by his old sweetheart when she became a widow, and by the more serious and better informed, the natural child of a cousin, a lady in Manila.
The captain of the steamer caught sight of the old priest and insisted that he go to the upper deck, saying, “If you don’t do so, the friars will think that you don’t want to associate with them.”
Padre Florentino had no recourse but to accept, so he summoned his nephew in order to let him know where he was going, and to charge him not to come near the upper deck while he was there. “If the captain notices you, he’ll invite you also, and we should then be abusing his kindness.”
“My uncle’s way!” thought Isagani. “All so that I won’t have any reason for talking with Doña Victorina.”

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