Amor, qué astro eres?
On the following day, Thursday, at the hour of sunset, Isagani was walking along the beautiful promenade of Maria Cristina in the direction of the Malecon to keep an appointment which Paulita had that morning given him. The young man had no doubt that they were to talk about what had happened on the previous night, and as he was determined to ask for an explanation, and knew how proud and haughty she was, he foresaw an estrangement. In view of this eventuality he had brought with him the only two letters he had ever received from Paulita, two scraps of paper, whereon were merely a few hurriedly written lines with various blots, but in an even handwriting, things that did not prevent the enamored youth from preserving them with more solicitude than if they had been the autographs of Sappho and the Muse Polyhymnia.
This decision to sacrifice his love on the altar of dignity, the consciousness of suffering in the discharge of duty, did not prevent a profound melancholy from taking possession of Isagani and brought back into his mind the beautiful days, and nights more beautiful still, when they had whispered sweet nothings through the flowered gratings of the entresol, nothings that to the youth took on such a character of seriousness and importance that they seemed to him the only matters worthy of meriting the attention of the most exalted human understanding. He recalled the walks on moonlit nights, the fair, the dark December mornings after the mass of Nativity, the holy water that he used to offer her, when she would thank him with a look charged with a whole epic of love, both of them trembling as their fingers touched. Heavy sighs, like small rockets, issued from his breast and brought back to him all the verses, all the sayings of poets and writers about the inconstancy of woman. Inwardly he cursed the creation of theaters, the French operetta, and vowed to get revenge on Pelaez at the first opportunity. Everything about him appeared under the saddest and somberest colors: the bay, deserted and solitary, seemed more solitary still on account of the few steamers that were anchored in it; the sun was dying behind Mariveles without poetry or enchantment, without the capricious and richly tinted clouds of happier evenings; the Anda monument, in bad taste, mean and squat, without style, without grandeur, looked like a lump of ice-cream or at best a chunk of cake; the people who were promenading along the Malecon, in spite of their complacent and contented air, appeared distant, haughty, and vain; mischievous and bad-mannered, the boys that played on the beach, skipping flat stones over the surface of the water or searching in the sand for mollusks and crustaceans which they caught for the mere fun of catching and killed without benefit to themselves; in short, even the eternal port works to which he had dedicated more than three odes, looked to him absurd, ridiculous child’s play.
The port, ah, the port of Manila, a bastard that since its conception had brought tears of humiliation and shame to all! If only after so many tears there were not being brought forth a useless abortion!
Abstractedly he saluted two Jesuits, former teachers of his, and scarcely noticed a tandem in which an American rode and excited the envy of the gallants who were in calesas only. Near the Anda monument he heard Ben-Zayb talking with another person about Simoun, learning that the latter had on the previous night been taken suddenly ill, that he refused to see any one, even the very aides of the General. “Yes!” exclaimed Isagani with a bitter smile, “for him attentions because he is rich. The soldiers return from their expeditions sick and wounded, but no one visits them.”
Musing over these expeditions, over the fate of the poor soldiers, over the resistance offered by the islanders to the foreign yoke, he thought that, death for death, if that of the soldiers was glorious because they were obeying orders, that of the islanders was sublime because they were defending their homes.
“A strange destiny, that of some peoples!” he mused. “Because a traveler arrives at their shores, they lose their liberty and become subjects and slaves, not only of the traveler, not only of his heirs, but even of all his countrymen, and not for a generation, but for all time! A strange conception of justice! Such a state of affairs gives ample right to exterminate every foreigner as the most ferocious monster that the sea can cast up!”
He reflected that those islanders, against whom his country was waging war, after all were guilty of no crime other than that of weakness. The travelers also arrived at the shores of other peoples, but finding them strong made no display of their strange pretension. With all their weakness the spectacle they presented seemed beautiful to him, and the names of the enemies, whom the newspapers did not fail to call cowards and traitors, appeared glorious to him, as they succumbed with glory amid the ruins of their crude fortifications, with greater glory even than the ancient Trojan heroes, for those islanders had carried away no Philippine Helen! In his poetic enthusiasm he thought of the young men of those islands who could cover themselves with glory in the eyes of their women, and in his amorous desperation he envied them because they could find a brilliant suicide.
“Ah, I should like to die,” he exclaimed, “be reduced to nothingness, leave to my native land a glorious name, perish in its cause, defending it from foreign invasion, and then let the sun afterwards illumine my corpse, like a motionless sentinel on the rocks of the sea!”
The conflict with the Germans came into his mind and he almost felt sorry that it had been adjusted: he would gladly have died for the Spanish-Filipino banner before submitting to the foreigner.
“Because, after all,” he mused, “with Spain we are united by firm bonds—the past, history, religion, language—”
Language, yes, language! A sarcastic smile curled his lips. That very night they would hold a banquet in the pansitería to celebrate the demise of the academy of Castilian.
“Ay!” he sighed, “provided the liberals in Spain are like those we have here, in a little while the mother country will be able to count the number of the faithful!”
Slowly the night descended, and with it melancholy settled more heavily upon the heart of the young man, who had almost lost hope of seeing Paulita. The promenaders one by one left the Malecon for the Luneta, the music from which was borne to him in snatches of melodies on the fresh evening breeze; the sailors on a warship anchored in the river performed their evening drill, skipping about among the slender ropes like spiders; the boats one by one lighted their lamps, thus giving signs of life; while the beach,
Do el viento riza las calladas olas
Que con blando murmullo en la ribera
Se deslizan veloces por sí solas.
as Alaejos says, exhaled in the distance thin, vapors that the moon, now at its full, gradually converted into mysterious transparent gauze.
A distant sound became audible, a noise that rapidly approached. Isagani turned his head and his heart began to beat violently. A carriage was coming, drawn by white horses, the white horses that he would know among a hundred thousand. In the carriage rode Paulita and her friend of the night before, with Doña Victorina.
Before the young man could take a step, Paulita had leaped to the ground with sylph-like agility and smiled at him with a smile full of conciliation. He smiled in return, and it seemed to him that all the clouds, all the black thoughts that before had beset him, vanished like smoke, the sky lighted up, the breeze sang, flowers covered the grass by the roadside. But unfortunately Doña Victorina was there and she pounced upon the young man to ask him for news of Don Tiburcio, since Isagani had undertaken to discover his hiding-place by inquiry among the students he knew.
“No one has been able to tell me up to now,” he answered, and he was telling the truth, for Don Tiburcio was really hidden in the house of the youth’s own uncle, Padre Florentino.
“Let him know,” declared Doña Victorina furiously, “that I’ll call in the Civil Guard. Alive or dead, I want to know where he is—because one has to wait ten years before marrying again.”
Isagani gazed at her in fright—Doña Victorina was thinking of remarrying! Who could the unfortunate be?
“What do you think of Juanito Pelaez?” she asked him suddenly.
Juanito! Isagani knew not what to reply. He was tempted to tell all the evil he knew of Pelaez, but a feeling of delicacy triumphed in his heart and he spoke well of his rival, for the very reason that he was such. Doña Victorina, entirely satisfied and becoming enthusiastic, then broke out into exaggerations of Pelaez’s merits and was already going to make Isagani a confidant of her new passion when Paulita’s friend came running to say that the former’s fan had fallen among the stones of the beach, near the Malecon. Stratagem or accident, the fact is that this mischance gave an excuse for the friend to remain with the old woman, while Isagani might talk with Paulita. Moreover, it was a matter of rejoicing to Doña Victorina, since to get Juanito for herself she was favoring Isagani’s love.
Paulita had her plan ready. On thanking him she assumed the role of the offended party, showed resentment, and gave him to understand that she was surprised to meet him there when everybody was on the Luneta, even the French actresses.
“You made the appointment for me, how could I be elsewhere?”
“Yet last night you did not even notice that I was in the theater. I was watching you all the time and you never took your eyes off those cochers.”
So they exchanged parts: Isagani, who had come to demand explanations, found himself compelled to give them and considered himself very happy when Paulita said that she forgave him. In regard to her presence at the theater, he even had to thank her for that: forced by her aunt, she had decided to go in the hope of seeing him during the performance. Little she cared for Juanito Pelaez!
“My aunt’s the one who is in love with him,” she said with a merry laugh.
Then they both laughed, for the marriage of Pelaez with Doña Victorina made them really happy, and they saw it already an accomplished fact, until Isagani remembered that Don Tiburcio was still living and confided the secret to his sweetheart, after exacting her promise that she would tell no one. Paulita promised, with the mental reservation of relating it to her friend.
This led the conversation to Isagani’s town, surrounded by forests, situated on the shore of the sea which roared at the base of the high cliffs. Isagani’s gaze lighted up when he spoke of that obscure spot, a flush of pride overspread his cheeks, his voice trembled, his poetic imagination glowed, his words poured forth burning, charged with enthusiasm, as if he were talking of love to his love, and he could not but exclaim:
“Oh, in the solitude of my mountains I feel free, free as the air, as the light that shoots unbridled through space! A thousand cities, a thousand palaces, would I give for that spot in the Philippines, where, far from men, I could feel myself to have genuine liberty. There, face to face with nature, in the presence of the mysterious and the infinite, the forest and the sea, I think, speak, and work like a man who knows not tyrants.”
In the presence of such enthusiasm for his native place, an enthusiasm that she did not comprehend, for she was accustomed to hear her country spoken ill of, and sometimes joined in the chorus herself, Paulita manifested some jealousy, as usual making herself the offended party.
But Isagani very quickly pacified her. “Yes,” he said, “I loved it above all things before I knew you! It was my delight to wander through the thickets, to sleep in the shade of the trees, to seat myself upon a cliff to take in with my gaze the Pacific which rolled its blue waves before me, bringing to me echoes of songs learned on the shores of free America. Before knowing you, that sea was for me my world, my delight, my love, my dream! When it slept in calm with the sun shining overhead, it was my delight to gaze into the abyss hundreds of feet below me, seeking monsters in the forests of madrepores and coral that were revealed through the limpid blue, enormous serpents that the country folk say leave the forests to dwell in the sea, and there take on frightful forms. Evening, they say, is the time when the sirens appear, and I saw them between the waves—so great was my eagerness that once I thought I could discern them amid the foam, busy in their divine  sports, I distinctly heard their songs, songs of liberty, and I made out the sounds of their silvery harps. Formerly I spent hours and hours watching the transformations in the clouds, or gazing at a solitary tree in the plain or a high rock, without knowing why, without being able to explain the vague feelings they awoke in me. My uncle used to preach long sermons to me, and fearing that I would become a hypochondriac, talked of placing me under a doctor’s care. But I met you, I loved you, and during the last vacation it seemed that something was lacking there, the forest was gloomy, sad the river that glides through the shadows, dreary the sea, deserted the sky. Ah, if you should go there once, if your feet should press those paths, if you should stir the waters of the rivulet with your fingers, if you should gaze upon the sea, sit upon the cliff, or make the air ring with your melodious songs, my forest would be transformed into an Eden, the ripples of the brook would sing, light would burst from the dark leaves, into diamonds would be converted the dewdrops and into pearls the foam of the sea.”
But Paulita had heard that to reach Isagani’s home it was necessary to cross mountains where little leeches abounded, and at the mere thought of them the little coward shivered convulsively. Humored and petted, she declared that she would travel only in a carriage or a railway train.
Having now forgotten all his pessimism and seeing only thornless roses about him, Isagani answered, “Within a short time all the islands are going to be crossed with networks of iron rails.
“‘Por donde rápidas
as some one said. Then the most beautiful spots of the islands will be accessible to all.”
“Then, but when? When I’m an old woman?”
“Ah, you don’t know what we can do in a few years,” replied the youth. “You don’t realize the energy and enthusiasm that are awakening in the country after the sleep of centuries. Spain heeds us; our young men in Madrid are working day and night, dedicating to the fatherland all their intelligence, all their time, all their strength. Generous voices there are mingled with ours, statesmen who realize that there is no better bond than community of thought and interest. Justice will be meted out to us, and everything points to a brilliant future for all. It’s true that we’ve just met with a slight rebuff, we students, but victory is rolling along the whole line, it is in the consciousness of all! The traitorous repulse that we have suffered indicates the last gasp, the final convulsions of the dying. Tomorrow we shall be citizens of the Philippines, whose destiny will be a glorious one, because it will be in loving hands. Ah, yes, the future is ours! I see it rose-tinted, I see the movement that stirs the life of these regions so long dead, lethargic. I see towns arise along the railroads, and factories everywhere, edifices like that of Mandaloyan! I hear the steam hiss, the trains roar, the engines rattle! I see the smoke rise—their heavy breathing; I smell the oil—the sweat of monsters busy at incessant toil. This port, so slow and laborious of creation, this river where commerce is in its death agony, we shall see covered with masts, giving us an idea of the forests of Europe in winter. This pure air, and these stones, now so clean, will be crowded with coal, with boxes and barrels, the products of human industry, but let it not matter, for we shall move about rapidly in comfortable coaches to seek in the interior other air, other scenes on other shores, cooler temperatures on the slopes of the mountains. The warships of our navy will guard our coasts, the Spaniard and the Filipino will rival each other in zeal to repel all foreign invasion, to defend our homes, and let you bask in peace and smiles, loved and respected. Free from the system of exploitation, without hatred or distrust, the people will labor because then labor will cease to be a despicable thing, it will no longer be servile, imposed upon a slave. Then the Spaniard will not embitter his character with ridiculous pretensions of despotism, but with a frank look and a stout heart we shall extend our hands to one another, and commerce, industry, agriculture, the sciences, will develop under the mantle of liberty, with wise and just laws, as in prosperous England.”
Paulita smiled dubiously and shook her head. “Dreams, dreams!” she sighed. “I’ve heard it said that you have many enemies. Aunt says that this country must always be enslaved.”
“Because your aunt is a fool, because she can’t live without slaves! When she hasn’t them she dreams of them in the future, and if they are not obtainable she forces them into her imagination. True it is that we have enemies, that there will be a struggle, but we shall conquer. The old system may convert the ruins of its castle into formless barricades, but we will take them singing hymns of liberty, in the light of the eyes of you women, to the applause of your lovely hands. But do not be uneasy—the struggle will be a pacific one. Enough that you spur us to zeal, that you awake in us noble and elevated thoughts and encourage us to constancy, to heroism, with your affection for our reward.”
Paulita preserved her enigmatic smile and seemed thoughtful, as she gazed toward the river, patting her cheek lightly with her fan. “But if you accomplish nothing?” she asked abstractedly.
The question hurt Isagani. He fixed his eyes on his sweetheart, caught her lightly by the hand, and began: “Listen, if we accomplish nothing—”
He paused in doubt, then resumed: “You know how I love you, how I adore you, you know that I feel myself a different creature when your gaze enfolds me, when I surprise in it the flash of love, but yet if we accomplish nothing, I would dream of another look of yours and would die happy, because the light of pride could burn in your eyes when you pointed to my corpse and said to the world: ‘My love died fighting for the rights of my fatherland!’ ”
“Come home, child, you’re going to catch cold,” screeched Doña Victorina at that instant, and the voice brought them back to reality. It was time to return, and they kindly invited him to enter the carriage, an invitation which the young man did not give them cause to repeat. As it was Paulita’s carriage, naturally Doña Victorina and the friend occupied the back seat, while the two lovers sat on the smaller one in front.
To ride in the same carriage, to have her at his side, to breathe her perfume, to rub against the silk of her dress, to see her pensive with folded arms, lighted by the moon of the Philippines that lends to the meanest things idealism and enchantment, were all dreams beyond Isagani’s hopes! What wretches they who were returning alone on foot and had to give way to the swift carriage! In the whole course of the drive, along the beach and down the length of La Sabana, across the Bridge of Spain, Isagani saw nothing but a sweet profile, gracefully set off by beautiful hair, ending in an arching neck that lost itself amid the gauzy piña. A diamond winked at him from the lobe of the little ear, like a star among silvery clouds. He heard faint echoes inquiring for Don Tiburcio de Espadaña, the name of Juanito Pelaez, but they sounded to him like distant bells, the confused noises heard in a dream. It was necessary to tell him that they had reached Plaza Santa Cruz.