The interior of the theater presented a lively aspect. It was filled from top to bottom, with people standing in the corridors and in the aisles, fighting to withdraw a head from some hole where they had inserted it, or to shove an eye between a collar and an ear. The open boxes, occupied for the most part by ladies, looked like baskets of flowers, whose petals—the fans—shook in a light breeze, wherein hummed a thousand bees. However, just as there are flowers of strong or delicate fragrance, flowers that kill and flowers that console, so from our baskets were exhaled like emanations: there were to be heard dialogues, conversations, remarks that bit and stung. Three or four boxes, however, were still vacant, in spite of the lateness of the hour. The performance had been advertised for half-past eight and it was already a quarter to nine, but the curtain did not go up, as his Excellency had not yet arrived. The gallery-gods, impatient and uncomfortable in their seats, started a racket, clapping their hands and pounding the floor with their canes.
“Boom—boom—boom! Ring up the curtain! Boom—boom—boom!”
The artillerymen were not the least noisy. Emulators of Mars, as Ben-Zayb called them, they were not satisfied with this music; thinking themselves perhaps at a bullfight, they made remarks at the ladies who passed before them in words that are euphemistically called flowers in Madrid, although at times they seem more like foul weeds. Without heeding the furious looks of the husbands, they bandied from one to another the sentiments and longings inspired by so many beauties.
In the reserved seats, where the ladies seemed to be afraid to venture, as few were to be seen there, a murmur of voices prevailed amid suppressed laughter and clouds of tobacco smoke. They discussed the merits of the players and talked scandal, wondering if his Excellency had quarreled with the friars, if his presence at such a show was a defiance or mere curiosity. Others gave no heed to these matters, but were engaged in attracting the attention of the ladies, throwing themselves into attitudes more or less interesting and statuesque, flashing diamond rings, especially when they thought themselves the foci of insistent opera-glasses, while yet another would address a respectful salute to this or that señora or señorita, at the same time lowering his head gravely to whisper to a neighbor, “How ridiculous she is! And such a bore!”
The lady would respond with one of her most gracious smiles and an enchanting nod of her head, while murmuring to a friend sitting near, amid lazy flourishes of her fan, “How impudent he is! He’s madly in love, my dear.”
Meanwhile, the noise increased. There remained only two vacant boxes, besides that of his Excellency, which was distinguished by its curtains of red velvet. The orchestra played another waltz, the audience protested, when fortunately there arose a charitable hero to distract their attention and relieve the manager, in the person of a man who had occupied a reserved seat and refused to give it up to its owner, the philosopher Don Primitivo. Finding his own arguments useless, Don Primitivo had appealed to an usher. “I don’t care to,” the hero responded to the latter’s protests, placidly puffing at his cigarette. The usher appealed to the manager. “I don’t care to,” was the response, as he settled back in the seat. The manager went away, while the artillerymen in the gallery began to sing out encouragement to the usurper.
Our hero, now that he had attracted general attention, thought that to yield would be to lower himself, so he held on to the seat, while he repeated his answer to a pair of guards the manager had called in. These, in consideration of the rebel’s rank, went in search of their corporal, while the whole house broke out into applause at the firmness of the hero, who remained seated like a Roman senator.
Hisses were heard, and the inflexible gentleman turned angrily to see if they were meant for him, but the galloping of horses resounded and the stir increased. One might have said that a revolution had broken out, or at least a riot, but no, the orchestra had suspended the waltz and was playing the royal march: it was his Excellency, the Captain-General and Governor of the islands, who was entering. All eyes sought and followed him, then lost sight of him, until he finally appeared in his box. After looking all about him and making some persons happy with a lordly salute, he sat down, as though he were indeed the man for whom the chair was waiting. The artillerymen then became silent and the orchestra tore into the prelude.
Our students occupied a box directly facing that of Pepay, the dancing girl. Her box was a present from Makaraig, who had already got on good terms with her in order to propitiate Don Custodio. Pepay had that very afternoon written a note to the illustrious arbiter, asking for an answer and appointing an interview in the theater. For this reason, Don Custodio, in spite of the active opposition he had manifested toward the French operetta, had gone to the theater, which action won him some caustic remarks on the part of Don Manuel, his ancient adversary in the sessions of the Ayuntamiento.
“I’ve come to judge the operetta,” he had replied in the tone of a Cato whose conscience was clear.
So Makaraig was exchanging looks of intelligence with Pepay, who was giving him to understand that she had something to tell him. As the dancing girl’s face wore a happy expression, the students augured that a favorable outcome was assured. Sandoval, who had just returned from making calls in other boxes, also assured them that the decision had been favorable, that that very afternoon the Superior Commission had considered and approved it. Every one was jubilant, even Pecson having laid aside his pessimism when he saw the smiling Pepay display a note. Sandoval and Makaraig congratulated one another, Isagani alone remaining cold and unsmiling. What had happened to this young man?
Upon entering the theater, Isagani had caught sight of Paulita in a box, with Juanito Pelaez talking to her. He had turned pale, thinking that he must be mistaken. But no, it was she herself, she who greeted him with a gracious smile, while her beautiful eyes seemed to be asking pardon and promising explanations. The fact was that they had agreed upon Isagani’s going first to the theater to see if the show contained anything improper for a young woman, but now he found her there, and in no other company than that of his rival. What passed in his mind is indescribable: wrath, jealousy, humiliation, resentment raged within him, and there were moments even when he wished that the theater would fall in; he had a violent desire to laugh aloud, to insult his sweetheart, to challenge his rival, to make a scene, but finally contented himself with sitting quiet and not looking at her at all. He was conscious of the beautiful plans Makaraig and Sandoval were making, but they sounded like distant echoes, while the notes of the waltz seemed sad and lugubrious, the whole audience stupid and foolish, and several times he had to make an effort to keep back the tears. Of the trouble stirred up by the hero who refused to give up the seat, of the arrival of the Captain-General, he was scarcely conscious. He stared toward the drop-curtain, on which was depicted a kind of gallery with sumptuous red hangings, affording a view of a garden in which a fountain played, yet how sad the gallery looked to him and how melancholy the painted landscape! A thousand vague recollections surged into his memory like distant echoes of music heard in the night, like songs of infancy, the murmur of lonely forests and gloomy rivulets, moonlit nights on the shore of the sea spread wide before his eyes. So the enamored youth considered himself very wretched and stared fixedly at the ceiling so that the tears should not fall from his eyes.
A burst of applause drew him from these meditations. The curtain had just risen, and the merry chorus of peasants of Corneville was presented, all dressed in cotton caps, with heavy wooden sabots on their feet. Some six or seven girls, well-rouged on the lips and cheeks, with large black circles around their eyes to increase their brilliance, displayed white arms, fingers covered with diamonds, round and shapely limbs. While they were chanting the Norman phrase “Allez, marchez! Allez, marchez!” they smiled at their different admirers in the reserved seats with such openness that Don Custodio, after looking toward Pepay’s box to assure himself that she was not doing the same thing with some other admirer, set down in his note-book this indecency, and to make sure of it lowered his head a little to see if the actresses were not showing their knees.
“Oh, these Frenchwomen!” he muttered, while his imagination lost itself in considerations somewhat more elevated, as he made comparisons and projects.
“Quoi v’la tous les cancans d’la s’maine!” sang Gertrude, a proud damsel, who was looking roguishly askance at the Captain-General.
“We’re going to have the cancan!” exclaimed Tadeo, the winner of the first prize in the French class, who had managed to make out this word. “Makaraig, they’re going to dance the cancan!”
He rubbed his hands gleefully. From the moment the curtain rose, Tadeo had been heedless of the music. He was looking only for the prurient, the indecent, the immoral in actions and dress, and with his scanty French was sharpening his ears to catch the obscenities that the austere guardians of the fatherland had foretold.
Sandoval, pretending to know French, had converted himself into a kind of interpreter for his friends. He knew as much about it as Tadeo, but the published synopsis helped him and his fancy supplied the rest. “Yes,” he said, “they’re going to dance the cancan—she’s going to lead it.”
Makaraig and Pecson redoubled their attention, smiling in anticipation, while Isagani looked away, mortified to think that Paulita should be present at such a show and reflecting that it was his duty to challenge Juanito Pelaez the next day.
But the young men waited in vain. Serpolette came on, a charming girl, in her cotton cap, provoking and challenging. “Hein, qui parle de Serpolette?” she demanded of the gossips, with her arms akimbo in a combative attitude. Some one applauded, and after him all those in the reserved seats. Without changing her girlish attitude, Serpolette gazed at the person who had started the applause and paid him with a smile, displaying rows of little teeth that looked like a string of pearls in a case of red velvet.
Tadeo followed her gaze and saw a man in a false mustache with an extraordinarily large nose. “By the monk’s cowl!” he exclaimed. “It’s Irene!”
“Yes,” corroborated Sandoval, “I saw him behind the scenes talking with the actresses.”
The truth was that Padre Irene, who was a melomaniac of the first degree and knew French well, had been sent to the theater by Padre Salvi as a sort of religious detective, or so at least he told the persons who recognized him. As a faithful critic, who should not be satisfied with viewing the piece from a distance, he wished to examine the actresses at first hand, so he had mingled in the groups of admirers and gallants, had penetrated into the greenroom, where was whispered and talked a French required by the situation, a market French, a language that is readily comprehensible for the vender when the buyer seems disposed to pay well.
Serpolette was surrounded by two gallant officers, a sailor, and a lawyer, when she caught sight of him moving about, sticking the tip of his long nose into all the nooks and corners, as though with it he were ferreting out all the mysteries of the stage. She ceased her chatter, knitted her eyebrows, then raised them, opened her lips and with the vivacity of a Parisienne left her admirers to hurl herself like a torpedo upon our critic.
“Tiens, tiens, Toutou! Mon lapin!” she cried, catching Padre Irene’s arm and shaking it merrily, while the air rang with her silvery laugh.
“Tut, tut!” objected Padre Irene, endeavoring to conceal himself.
“Mais, comment! Toi ici, grosse bête! Et moi qui t’croyais—”
“’Tais pas d’tapage, Lily! Il faut m’respecter! ’Suis ici l’Pape!”
With great difficulty Padre Irene made her listen to reason, for Lily was enchanteé to meet in Manila an old friend who reminded her of the coulisses of the Grand Opera House. So it was that Padre Irene, fulfilling at the same time his duties as a friend and a critic, had initiated the applause to encourage her, for Serpolette deserved it.
Meanwhile, the young men were waiting for the cancan. Pecson became all eyes, but there was everything except cancan. There was presented the scene in which, but for the timely arrival of the representatives of the law, the women would have come to blows and torn one another’s hair out, incited thereto by the mischievous peasants, who, like our students, hoped to see something more than the cancan.
Scit, scit, scit, scit, scit, scit,
Scit, scit, scit, scit, scit, scit,
Nous allons compter les coups.
The music ceased, the men went away, the women returned, a few at a time, and started a conversation among themselves, of which our friends understood nothing. They were slandering some absent person.
“They look like the Chinamen of the pansiteria!” whispered Pecson.
“But, the cancan?” asked Makaraig.
“They’re talking about the most suitable place to dance it,” gravely responded Sandoval.
“They look like the Chinamen of the pansiteria,” repeated Pecson in disgust.
A lady accompanied by her husband entered at that moment and took her place in one of the two vacant boxes. She had the air of a queen and gazed disdainfully at the whole house, as if to say, “I’ve come later than all of you, you crowd of upstarts and provincials, I’ve come later than you!” There are persons who go to the theater like the contestants in a mule-race: the last one in, wins, and we know very sensible men who would ascend the scaffold rather than enter a theater before the first act. But the lady’s triumph was of short duration—she caught sight of the other box that was still empty, and began to scold her better half, thus starting such a disturbance that many were annoyed.
“The blockheads! As if they understood French!” remarked the lady, gazing with supreme disdain in all directions, finally fixing her attention on Juanito’s box, whence she thought she had heard an impudent hiss.
Juanito was in fact guilty, for he had been pretending to understand everything, holding himself up proudly and applauding at times as though nothing that was said escaped him, and this too without guiding himself by the actors’ pantomime, because he scarcely looked toward the stage. The rogue had intentionally remarked to Paulita that, as there was so much more beautiful a woman close at hand, he did not care to strain his eyes looking beyond her. Paulita had blushed, covered her face with her fan, and glanced stealthily toward where Isagani, silent and morose, was abstractedly watching the show.
Paulita felt nettled and jealous. Would Isagani fall in love with any of those alluring actresses? The thought put her in a bad humor, so she scarcely heard the praises that Doña Victorina was heaping upon her own favorite.
Juanito was playing his part well: he shook his head at times in sign of disapproval, and then there could be heard coughs and murmurs in some parts, at other times he smiled in approbation, and a second later applause resounded. Doña Victorina was charmed, even conceiving some vague ideas of marrying the young man the day Don Tiburcio should die—Juanito knew French and De Espadaña didn’t! Then she began to flatter him, nor did he perceive the change in the drift of her talk, so occupied was he in watching a Catalan merchant who was sitting next to the Swiss consul. Having observed that they were conversing in French, Juanito was getting his inspiration from their countenances, and thus grandly giving the cue to those about him.
Scene followed scene, character succeeded character, comic and ridiculous like the bailiff and Grenicheux, imposing and winsome like the marquis and Germaine. The audience laughed heartily at the slap delivered by Gaspard and intended for the coward Grenicheux, which was received by the grave bailiff, whose wig went flying through the air, producing disorder and confusion as the curtain dropped.
“Where’s the cancan?” inquired Tadeo.
But the curtain rose again immediately, revealing a scene in a servant market, with three posts on which were affixed signs bearing the announcements: servantes, cochers, and domestiques. Juanito, to improve the opportunity, turned to Doña Victorina and said in a loud voice, so that Paulita might hear and he convinced of his learning:
“Servantes means servants, domestiques domestics.”
“And in what way do the servantes differ from the domestiques?” asked Paulita.
Juanito was not found wanting. “Domestiques are those that are domesticated—haven’t you noticed that some of them have the air of savages? Those are the servantes.”
“That’s right,” added Doña Victorina, “some have very bad manners—and yet I thought that in Europe everybody was cultivated. But as it happens in France,—well, I see!”
But what was Juanito’s predicament when the time came for the opening of the market and the beginning of the sale, and the servants who were to be hired placed themselves beside the signs that indicated their class! The men, some ten or twelve rough characters in livery, carrying branches in their hands, took their place under the sign domestiques!
“Those are the domestics,” explained Juanito.
“Really, they have the appearance of being only recently domesticated,” observed Doña Victorina. “Now let’s have a look at the savages.”
Then the dozen girls headed by the lively and merry Serpolette, decked out in their best clothes, each wearing a big bouquet of flowers at the waist, laughing, smiling, fresh and attractive, placed themselves, to Juanito’s great desperation, beside the post of the servantes.
“How’s this?” asked Paulita guilelessly. “Are those the savages that you spoke of?”
“No,” replied the imperturbable Juanito, “there’s a mistake—they’ve got their places mixed—those coming behind—”
“Those with the whips?”
Juanito nodded assent, but he was rather perplexed and uneasy.
“So those girls are the cochers?”
Here Juanito was attacked by such a violent fit of coughing that some of the spectators became annoyed.
“Put him out! Put the consumptive out!” called a voice.
Consumptive! To be called a consumptive before Paulita! Juanito wanted to find the blackguard and make him swallow that “consumptive.” Observing that the women were trying to hold him back, his bravado increased, and he became more conspicuously ferocious. But fortunately it was Don Custodio who had made the diagnosis, and he, fearful of attracting attention to himself, pretended to hear nothing, apparently busy with his criticism of the play.
“If it weren’t that I am with you,” remarked Juanito, rolling his eyes like some dolls that are moved by clockwork, and to make the resemblance more real he stuck out his tongue occasionally.
Thus that night he acquired in Doña Victorina’s eyes the reputation of being brave and punctilious, so she decided in her heart that she would marry him just as soon as Don Tiburcio was out of the way. Paulita became sadder and sadder in thinking about how the girls called cochers could occupy Isagani’s attention, for the name had certain disagreeable associations that came from the slang of her convent school-days.
At length the first act was concluded, the marquis taking away as servants Serpolette and Germaine, the representative of timid beauty in the troupe, and for coachman the stupid Grenicheux. A burst of applause brought them out again holding hands, those who five seconds before had been tormenting one another and were about to come to blows, bowing and smiling here and there to the gallant Manila public and exchanging knowing looks with various spectators.
While there prevailed the passing tumult occasioned by those who crowded one another to get into the greenroom and felicitate the actresses and by those who were going to make calls on the ladies in the boxes, some expressed their opinions of the play and the players.
“Undoubtedly, Serpolette is the best,” said one with a knowing air.
“I prefer Germaine, she’s an ideal blonde.”
“But she hasn’t any voice.”
“What do I care about the voice?”
“Well, for shape, the tall one.”
“Pshaw,” said Ben-Zayb, “not a one is worth a straw, not a one is an artist!”
Ben-Zayb was the critic for El Grito de la Integridad, and his disdainful air gave him great importance in the eyes of those who were satisfied with so little.
“Serpolette hasn’t any voice, nor Germaine grace, nor is that music, nor is it art, nor is it anything!” he concluded with marked contempt. To set oneself up as a great critic there is nothing like appearing to be discontented with everything. Besides, the management had sent only two seats for the newspaper staff.
In the boxes curiosity was aroused as to who could be the possessor of the empty one, for that person, would surpass every one in chic, since he would be the last to arrive. The rumor started somewhere that it belonged to Simoun, and was confirmed: no one had seen the jeweler in the reserved seats, the greenroom, or anywhere else.
“Yet I saw him this afternoon with Mr. Jouay,” some one said. “He presented a necklace to one of the actresses.”
“To which one?” asked some of the inquisitive ladies.
“To the finest of all, the one who made eyes at his Excellency.”
This information was received with looks of intelligence, winks, exclamations of doubt, of confirmation, and half-uttered commentaries.
“He’s trying to play the Monte Cristo,” remarked a lady who prided herself on being literary.
“Or purveyor to the Palace!” added her escort, jealous of Simoun.
In the students’ box, Pecson, Sandoval, and Isagani had remained, while Tadeo had gone to engage Don Custodio in conversation about his projects, and Makaraig to hold an interview with Pepay.
“In no way, as I have observed to you before, friend Isagani,” declared Sandoval with violent gestures and a sonorous voice, so that the ladies near the box, the daughters of the rich man who was in debt to Tadeo, might hear him, “in no way does the French language possess the rich sonorousness or the varied and elegant cadence of the Castilian tongue. I cannot conceive, I cannot imagine, I cannot form any idea of French orators, and I doubt that they have ever had any or can have any now in the strict construction of the term orator, because we must not confuse the name orator with the words babbler and charlatan, for these can exist in any country, in all the regions of the inhabited world, among the cold and curt Englishmen as among the lively and impressionable Frenchmen.”
Thus he delivered a magnificent review of the nations, with his poetical characterizations and most resounding epithets. Isagani nodded assent, with his thoughts fixed on Paulita, whom he had surprised gazing at him with an expressive look which contained a wealth of meaning. He tried to divine what those eyes were expressing—those eyes that were so eloquent and not at all deceptive.
“Now you who are a poet, a slave to rhyme and meter, a son of the Muses,” continued Sandoval, with an elegant wave of his hand, as though he were saluting, on the horizon, the Nine Sisters, “do you comprehend, can you conceive, how a language so harsh and unmusical as French can give birth to poets of such gigantic stature as our Garcilasos, our Herreras, our Esproncedas, our Calderons?”
“Nevertheless,” objected Pecson, “Victor Hugo—”
“Victor Hugo, my friend Pecson, if Victor Hugo is a poet, it is because he owes it to Spain, because it is an established fact, it is a matter beyond all doubt, a thing admitted even by the Frenchmen themselves, so envious of Spain, that if Victor Hugo has genius, if he really is a poet, it is because his childhood was spent in Madrid; there he drank in his first impressions, there his brain was molded, there his imagination was colored, his heart modeled, and the most beautiful concepts of his mind born. And after all, who is Victor Hugo? Is he to be compared at all with our modern—”
This peroration was cut short by the return of Makaraig with a despondent air and a bitter smile on his lips, carrying in his hand a note, which he offered silently to Sandoval, who read:
“MY DOVE: Your letter has reached me late, for I have already handed in my decision, and it has been approved. However, as if I had guessed your wish, I have decided the matter according to the desires of your protégés. I’ll be at the theater and wait for you after the performance.
“How tender the man is!” exclaimed Tadeo with emotion.
“Well?” said Sandoval. “I don’t see anything wrong about this—quite the reverse!”
“Yes,” rejoined Makaraig with his bitter smile, “decided favorably! I’ve just seen Padre Irene.”
“What does Padre Irene say?” inquired Pecson.
“The same as Don Custodio, and the rascal still had the audacity to congratulate me. The Commission, which has taken as its own the decision of the arbiter, approves the idea and felicitates the students on their patriotism and their thirst for knowledge—”
“Only that, considering our duties—in short, it says that in order that the idea may not be lost, it concludes that the direction and execution of the plan should be placed in charge of one of the religious corporations, in case the Dominicans do not wish to incorporate the academy with the University.”
Exclamations of disappointment greeted the announcement. Isagani rose, but said nothing.
“And in order that we may participate in the management of the academy,” Makaraig went on, “we are intrusted with the collection of contributions and dues, with the obligation of turning them over to the treasurer whom the corporation may designate, which treasurer will issue us receipts.”
“Then we’re tax-collectors!” remarked Tadeo.
“Sandoval,” said Pecson, “there’s the gauntlet—take it up!”
“Huh! That’s not a gauntlet—from its odor it seems more like a sock.”
“The funniest, part of it,” Makaraig added, “is that Padre Irene has advised us to celebrate the event with a banquet or a torchlight procession—a public demonstration of the students en masse to render thanks to all the persons who have intervened in the affair.”
“Yes, after the blow, let’s sing and give thanks. Super flumina Babylonis sedimus!”
“Yes, a banquet like that of the convicts,” said Tadeo.
“A banquet at which we all wear mourning and deliver funeral orations,” added Sandoval.
“A serenade with the Marseillaise and funeral marches,” proposed Isagani.
“No, gentlemen,” observed Pecson with his clownish grin, “to celebrate the event there’s nothing like a banquet in a pansitería, served by the Chinamen without camisas. I insist, without camisas!”
The sarcasm and grotesqueness of this idea won it ready acceptance, Sandoval being the first to applaud it, for he had long wished to see the interior of one of those establishments which at night appeared to be so merry and cheerful.
Just as the orchestra struck up for the second act, the young men arose and left the theater, to the scandal of the whole house.