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Chapter 21: Manila Types


That night there was a grand function at the Teatro de Variedades. Mr. Jouay’s French operetta company was giving its initial performance, Les Cloches de Corneville. To the eyes of the public was to be exhibited his select troupe, whose fame the newspapers had for days been proclaiming. It was reported that among the actresses was a very beautiful voice, with a figure even more beautiful, and if credit could be given to rumor, her amiability surpassed even her voice and figure.
At half-past seven in the evening there were no more tickets to be had, not even though they had been for Padre Salvi himself in his direct need, and the persons waiting to enter the general admission already formed a long queue. In the ticket-office there were scuffles and fights, talk of filibusterism and races, but this did not produce any tickets, so that by a quarter before eight fabulous prices were being offered for them. The appearance of the building, profusely illuminated, with flowers and plants in all the doors and windows, enchanted the new arrivals to such an extent that they burst out into exclamations and applause. A large crowd surged about the entrance, gazing enviously at those going in, those who came early from fear of missing their seats. Laughter, whispering, expectation greeted the later arrivals, who disconsolately joined the curious crowd, and now that they could not get in contented themselves with watching those who did.
Yet there was one person who seemed out of place amid such great eagerness and curiosity. He was a tall, meager man, who dragged one leg stiffly when he walked, dressed in a wretched brown coat and dirty checkered trousers that fitted his lean, bony limbs tightly. A straw sombrero, artistic in spite of being broken, covered an enormous head and allowed his dirty gray, almost red, hair to straggle out long and kinky at the end like a poet’s curls. But the most notable thing about this man was not his clothing or his European features, guiltless of beard or mustache, but his fiery red face, from which he got the nickname by which he was known, Camaroncocido. He was a curious character belonging to a prominent Spanish family, but he lived like a vagabond and a beggar, scoffing at the prestige which he flouted indifferently with his rags. He was reputed to be a kind of reporter, and in fact his gray goggle-eyes, so cold and thoughtful, always showed up where anything publishable was happening. His manner of living was a mystery to all, as no one seemed to know where he ate and slept. Perhaps he had an empty hogshead somewhere.
But at that moment Camaroncocido lacked his usual hard and indifferent expression, something like mirthful pity being reflected in his looks. A funny little man accosted him merrily.
“Friend!” exclaimed the latter, in a raucous voice, as hoarse as a frog’s, while he displayed several Mexican pesos, which Camaroncocido merely glanced at and then shrugged his shoulders. What did they matter to him?
The little old man was a fitting contrast to him. Small, very small, he wore on his head a high hat, which presented the appearance of a huge hairy worm, and lost himself in an enormous frock coat, too wide and too long for him, to reappear in trousers too short, not reaching below his calves. His body seemed to be the grandfather and his legs the grandchildren, while as for his shoes he appeared to be floating on the land, for they were of an enormous sailor type, apparently protesting against the hairy worm worn on his head with all the energy of a convento beside a World’s Exposition. If Camaroncocido was red, he was brown; while the former, although of Spanish extraction, had not a single hair on his face, yet he, an Indian, had a goatee and mustache, both long, white, and sparse. His expression was lively. He was known as Tio Quico, and like his friend lived on publicity, advertising the shows and posting the theatrical announcements, being perhaps the only Filipino who could appear with impunity in a silk hat and frock coat, just as his friend was the first Spaniard who laughed at the prestige of his race.
“The Frenchman has paid me well,” he said smiling and showing his picturesque gums, which looked like a street after a conflagration. “I did a good job in posting the bills.”
Camaroncocido shrugged his shoulders again. “Quico,” he rejoined in a cavernous voice, “if they’ve given you six pesos for your work, how much will they give the friars?”
Tio Quico threw back his head in his usual lively manner. “To the friars?”
“Because you surely know,” continued Camaroncocido, “that all this crowd was secured for them by the conventos.”
The fact was that the friars, headed by Padre Salvi, and some lay brethren captained by Don Custodio, had opposed such shows. Padre Camorra, who could not attend, watered at the eyes and mouth, but argued with Ben-Zayb, who defended them feebly, thinking of the free tickets they would send his newspaper. Don Custodio spoke of morality, religion, good manners, and the like.
“But,” stammered the writer, “if our own farces with their plays on words and phrases of double meaning—”
“But at least they’re in Castilian!” the virtuous councilor interrupted with a roar, inflamed to righteous wrath. “Obscenities in French, man, Ben-Zayb, for God’s sake, in French! Never!”  
He uttered this never with the energy of three Guzmans threatened with being killed like fleas if they did not surrender twenty Tarifas. Padre Irene naturally agreed with Don Custodio and execrated French operetta. Whew, he had been in Paris, but had never set foot in a theater, the Lord deliver him!
Yet the French operetta also counted numerous partizans. The officers of the army and navy, among them the General’s aides, the clerks, and many society people were anxious to enjoy the delicacies of the French language from the mouths of genuine Parisiennes, and with them were affiliated those who had traveled by the M.M. and had jabbered a little French during the voyage, those who had visited Paris, and all those who wished to appear learned.
Hence, Manila society was divided into two factions, operettists and anti-operettists. The latter were supported by the elderly ladies, wives jealous and careful of their husbands’ love, and by those who were engaged, while those who were free and those who were beautiful declared themselves enthusiastic operettists. Notes and then more notes were exchanged, there were goings and comings, mutual recriminations, meetings, lobbyings, arguments, even talk of an insurrection of the natives, of their indolence, of inferior and superior races, of prestige and other humbugs, so that after much gossip and more recrimination, the permit was granted, Padre Salvi at the same time publishing a pastoral that was read by no one but the proof-reader. There were questionings whether the General had quarreled with the Countess, whether she spent her time in the halls of pleasure, whether His Excellency was greatly annoyed, whether there had been presents exchanged, whether the French consul—, and so on and on. Many names were bandied about: Quiroga the Chinaman’s, Simoun’s, and even those of many actresses.
Thanks to these scandalous preliminaries, the people’s impatience had been aroused, and since the evening before, when the troupe arrived, there was talk of nothing but attending the first performance. From the hour when the red posters announced Les Cloches de Corneville the victors prepared to celebrate their triumph. In some offices, instead of the time being spent in reading newspapers and gossiping, it was devoted to devouring the synopsis and spelling out French novels, while many feigned business outside to consult their pocket-dictionaries on the sly. So no business was transacted, callers were told to come back the next day, but the public could not take offense, for they encountered some very polite and affable clerks, who received and dismissed them with grand salutations in the French style. The clerks were practising, brushing the dust off their French, and calling to one another oui, monsieur, s’il vous plait, and pardon! at every turn, so that it was a pleasure to see and hear them.
But the place where the excitement reached its climax was the newspaper office. Ben-Zayb, having been appointed critic and translator of the synopsis, trembled like a poor woman accused of witchcraft, as he saw his enemies picking out his blunders and throwing up to his face his deficient knowledge of French. When the Italian opera was on, he had very nearly received a challenge for having mistranslated a tenor’s name, while an envious rival had immediately published an article referring to him as an ignoramus—him, the foremost thinking head in the Philippines! All the trouble he had had to defend himself! He had had to write at least seventeen articles and consult fifteen dictionaries, so with these salutary recollections, the wretched Ben-Zayb moved about with leaden hands, to say nothing of his feet, for that would be plagiarizing Padre Camorra, who had once intimated that the journalist wrote with them.
“You see, Quico?” said Camaroncocido. “One half of the people have come because the friars told them not to, making it a kind of public protest, and the other half because they say to themselves, ‘Do the friars object to it? Then it must be instructive!’ Believe me, Quico, your advertisements are a good thing but the pastoral was better, even taking into consideration the fact that it was read by no one.”
“Friend, do you believe,” asked Tio Quico uneasily, “that on account of the competition with Padre Salvi my business will in the future be prohibited?”
“Maybe so, Quico, maybe so,” replied the other, gazing at the sky. “Money’s getting scarce.”
Tio Quico muttered some incoherent words: if the friars were going to turn theatrical advertisers, he would become a friar. After bidding his friend good-by, he moved away coughing and rattling his silver coins.
With his eternal indifference Camaroncocido continued to wander about here and there with his crippled leg and sleepy looks. The arrival of unfamiliar faces caught his attention, coming as they did from different parts and signaling to one another with a wink or a cough. It was the first time that he had ever seen these individuals on such an occasion, he who knew all the faces and features in the city. Men with dark faces, humped shoulders, uneasy and uncertain movements, poorly disguised, as though they had for the first time put on sack coats, slipped about among the shadows, shunning attention, instead of getting in the front rows where they could see well.
“Detectives or thieves?” Camaroncocido asked himself and immediately shrugged his shoulders. “But what is it to me?”
The lamp of a carriage that drove up lighted in passing a group of four or five of these individuals talking with a man who appeared to be an army officer.
“Detectives! It must be a new corps,” he muttered with his shrug of indifference. Soon, however, he noticed that the officer, after speaking to two or three more groups, approached a carriage and seemed to be talking vigorously with some person inside. Camaroncocido took a few steps forward and without surprise thought that he recognized the jeweler Simoun, while his sharp ears caught this short dialogue.
“The signal will be a gunshot!”
“Yes, sir.”
“Don’t worry—it’s the General who is ordering it, but be careful about saying so. If you follow my instructions, you’ll get a promotion.”
“Yes, sir.”
“So, be ready!”
The voice ceased and a second later the carriage drove away. In spite of his indifference Camaroncocido could not but mutter, “Something’s afoot—hands on pockets!”
But feeling his own to be empty, he again shrugged his shoulders. What did it matter to him, even though the heavens should fall?
So he continued his pacing about. On passing near two persons engaged in conversation, he caught what one of them, who had rosaries and scapularies around his neck, was saying in Tagalog: “The friars are more powerful than the General, don’t be a fool! He’ll go away and they’ll stay here. So, if we do well, we’ll get rich. The signal is a gunshot.”
“Hold hard, hold hard,” murmured Camaroncocido, tightening his fingers. “On that side the General, on this Padre Salvi. Poor country! But what is it to me?”
Again shrugging his shoulders and expectorating at the same time, two actions that with him were indications of supreme indifference, he continued his observations.
Meanwhile, the carriages were arriving in dizzy streams, stopping directly before the door to set down the members of the select society. Although the weather was scarcely even cool, the ladies sported magnificent shawls, silk neckerchiefs, and even light cloaks. Among the escorts, some who were in frock coats with white ties wore overcoats, while others carried them on their arms to display the rich silk linings.
In a group of spectators, Tadeo, he who was always taken ill the moment the professor appeared, was accompanied by a fellow townsman of his, the novice whom we saw suffer evil consequences from reading wrongly the Cartesian principle. This novice was very inquisitive and addicted to tiresome questions, and Tadeo was taking advantage of his ingenuousness and inexperience to relate to him the most stupendous lies. Every Spaniard that spoke to him, whether clerkling or underling, was presented as a leading merchant, a marquis, or a count, while on the other hand any one who passed him by was a greenhorn, a petty official, a nobody! When pedestrians failed him in keeping up the novice’s astonishment, he resorted to the resplendent carriages that came up. Tadeo would bow politely, wave his hand in a friendly manner, and call out a familiar greeting.
“Who’s he?”
“Bah!” was the negligent reply. “The Civil Governor, the Vice-Governor, Judge ——, Señora ——, all friends of mine!”
The novice marveled and listened in fascination, taking care to keep on the left. Tadeo the friend of judges and governors!
Tadeo named all the persons who arrived, when he did not know them inventing titles, biographies, and interesting sketches.
“You see that tall gentleman with dark whiskers, somewhat squint-eyed, dressed in black—he’s Judge A ——, an intimate friend of the wife of Colonel B ——. One day if it hadn’t been for me they would have come to blows. Hello, here comes that Colonel! What if they should fight?”
The novice held his breath, but the colonel and the judge shook hands cordially, the soldier, an old bachelor, inquiring about the health of the judge’s family.
“Ah, thank heaven!” breathed Tadeo. “I’m the one who made them friends.” [205]
“What if they should invite us to go in?” asked the novice timidly.
“Get out, boy! I never accept favors!” retorted Tadeo majestically. “I confer them, but disinterestedly.”
The novice bit his lip and felt smaller than ever, while he placed a respectful distance between himself and his fellow townsman.
Tadeo resumed: “That is the musician H——; that one, the lawyer J——, who delivered as his own a speech printed in all the books and was congratulated and admired for it; Doctor K——, that man just getting out of a hansom, is a specialist in diseases of children, so he’s called Herod; that’s the banker L——, who can talk only of his money and his hoards; the poet M——, who is always dealing with the stars and the beyond. There goes the beautiful wife of N——, whom Padre Q——is accustomed to meet when he calls upon the absent husband; the Jewish merchant P——, who came to the islands with a thousand pesos and is now a millionaire. That fellow with the long beard is the physician R——, who has become rich by making invalids more than by curing them.”
“Making invalids?”
“Yes, boy, in the examination of the conscripts. Attention! That finely dressed gentleman is not a physician but a homeopathist sui generis—he professes completely the similis similibus. The young cavalry captain with him is his chosen disciple. That man in a light suit with his hat tilted back is the government clerk whose maxim is never to be polite and who rages like a demon when he sees a hat on any one else’s head—they say that he does it to ruin the German hatters. The man just arriving with his family is the wealthy merchant C——, who has an income of over a hundred thousand pesos. But what would you say if I should tell you that he still owes me four pesos, five reales, and twelve cuartos? But who would collect from a rich man like him?”
“That gentleman in debt to you?”
“Sure! One day I got him out of a bad fix. It was on a Friday at half-past six in the morning, I still remember, because I hadn’t breakfasted. That lady who is followed by a duenna is the celebrated Pepay, the dancing girl, but she doesn’t dance any more now that a very Catholic gentleman and a great friend of mine has—forbidden it. There’s the death’s-head Z——, who’s surely following her to get her to dance again. He’s a good fellow, and a great friend of mine, but has one defect—he’s a Chinese mestizo and yet calls himself a Peninsular Spaniard. Sssh! Look at Ben-Zayb, him with the face of a friar, who’s carrying a pencil and a roll of paper in his hand. He’s the great writer, Ben-Zayb, a good friend of mine—he has talent!”
“You don’t say! And that little man with white whiskers?”
“He’s the official who has appointed his daughters, those three little girls, assistants in his department, so as to get their names on the pay-roll. He’s a clever man, very clever! When he makes a mistake he blames it on somebody else, he buys things and pays for them out of the treasury. He’s clever, very, very clever!”
Tadeo was about to say more, but suddenly checked himself.
“And that gentleman who has a fierce air and gazes at everybody over his shoulders?” inquired the novice, pointing to a man who nodded haughtily.
But Tadeo did not answer. He was craning his neck to see Paulita Gomez, who was approaching with a friend, Doña Victorina, and Juanito Pelaez. The latter had presented her with a box and was more humped than ever.
Carriage after carriage drove up; the actors and actresses arrived and entered by a separate door, followed by their friends and admirers.
After Paulita had gone in, Tadeo resumed: “Those are the nieces of the rich Captain D——, those coming up in a landau; you see how pretty and healthy they are? Well, in a few years they’ll be dead or crazy. Captain D—— is opposed to their marrying, and the insanity of the uncle is appearing in the nieces. That’s the Señorita E——, the rich heiress whom the world and the conventos are disputing over. Hello, I know that fellow! It’s Padre Irene, in disguise, with a false mustache. I recognize him by his nose. And he was so greatly opposed to this!”
The scandalized novice watched a neatly cut coat disappear behind a group of ladies.
“The Three Fates!” went on Tadeo, watching the arrival of three withered, bony, hollow-eyed, wide-mouthed, and shabbily dressed women. “They’re called—”
“Atropos?” ventured the novice, who wished to show that he also knew somebody, at least in mythology.
“No, boy, they’re called the Weary Waiters—old, censorious, and dull. They pretend to hate everybody—men, women, and children. But look how the Lord always places beside the evil a remedy, only that sometimes it comes late. There behind the Fates, the frights of the city, come those three girls, the pride of their friends, among whom I count myself. That thin young man with goggle-eyes, somewhat stooped, who is wildly gesticulating because he can’t get tickets, is the chemist S——, author of many essays and scientific treatises, some of which are notable and have captured prizes. The Spaniards say of him, ‘There’s some hope for him, some hope for him.’ The fellow who is soothing him with his Voltairian smile is the poet T——, a young man of talent, a great friend of mine, and, for the very reason that he has talent, he has thrown away his pen. That fellow who is trying to get in with the actors by the other door is the young physician U——, who has effected some remarkable cures—it’s also said of him that he promises well. He’s not such a scoundrel as Pelaez but he’s cleverer and slyer still. I believe that he’d shake dice with death and win.”
“And that brown gentleman with a mustache like hog-bristles?”
“Ah, that’s the merchant F——, who forges everything, even his baptismal certificate. He wants to be a Spanish mestizo at any cost, and is making heroic efforts to forget his native language.”
“But his daughters are very white.”
“Yes, that’s the reason rice has gone up in price, and yet they eat nothing but bread.”
The novice did not understand the connection between the price of rice and the whiteness of those girls, but he held his peace.
“There goes the fellow that’s engaged to one of them, that thin brown youth who is following them with a lingering movement and speaking with a protecting air to the three friends who are laughing at him. He’s a martyr to his beliefs, to his consistency.”
The novice was filled with admiration and respect for the young man.
“He has the look of a fool, and he is one,” continued Tadeo. “He was born in San Pedro Makati and has inflicted many privations upon himself. He scarcely ever bathes or eats pork, because, according to him, the Spaniards don’t do those things, and for the same reason he doesn’t eat rice and dried fish, although he may be watering at the mouth and dying of hunger. Anything that comes from Europe, rotten or preserved, he considers divine—a month ago Basilio cured him of a severe attack of gastritis, for he had eaten a jar of mustard to prove that he’s a European.”
At that moment the orchestra struck up a waltz.
“You see that gentleman—that hypochondriac who goes along turning his head from side to side, seeking salutes? That’s the celebrated governor of Pangasinan, a good man who loses his appetite whenever any Indian fails to salute him. He would have died if he hadn’t issued the proclamation about salutes to which he owes his celebrity. Poor fellow, it’s only been three days since he came from the province and look how thin he has become! Oh, here’s the great man, the illustrious—open your eyes!” [209]
“Who? That man with knitted brows?”
“Yes, that’s Don Custodio, the liberal, Don Custodio. His brows are knit because he’s meditating over some important project. If the ideas he has in his head were carried out, this would be a different world! Ah, here comes Makaraig, your housemate.”
It was in fact Makaraig, with Pecson, Sandoval, and Isagani. Upon seeing them, Tadeo advanced and spoke to them.
“Aren’t you coming in?” Makaraig asked him.
“We haven’t been able to get tickets.”
“Fortunately, we have a box,” replied Makaraig. “Basilio couldn’t come. Both of you, come in with us.”
Tadeo did not wait for the invitation to be repeated, but the novice, fearing that he would intrude, with the timidity natural to the provincial Indian, excused himself, nor could he be persuaded to enter.

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