The sala of the Pansiteria Macanista de Buen Gusto that night presented an extraordinary aspect. Fourteen young men of the principal islands of the archipelago, from the pure Indian (if there be pure ones) to the Peninsular Spaniard, were met to hold the banquet advised by Padre Irene in view of the happy solution of the affair about instruction in Castilian. They had engaged all the tables for themselves, ordered the lights to be increased, and had posted on the wall beside the landscapes and Chinese kakemonos this strange versicle:
“GLORY TO CUSTODIO FOR HIS CLEVERNESS AND PANSIT ON EABTH TO THE YOUTHS OF GOOD WILL.”
In a country where everything grotesque is covered with a mantle of seriousness, where many rise by the force of wind and hot air, in a country where the deeply serious and sincere may do damage on issuing from the heart and may cause trouble, probably this was the best way to celebrate the ingenious inspiration of the illustrious Don Custodio. The mocked replied to the mockery with a laugh, to the governmental joke with a plate of pansit, and yet—!
They laughed and jested, but it could be seen that the merriment was forced. The laughter had a certain nervous ring, eyes flashed, and in more than one of these a tear glistened. Nevertheless, these young men were cruel, they were unreasonable! It was not the first time that their most beautiful ideas had been so treated, that their hopes had been defrauded with big words and small actions: before this Don Custodio there had been many, very many others.
In the center of the room under the red lanterns were placed four round tables, systematically arranged to form a square. Little wooden stools, equally round, served as seats. In the middle of each table, according to the practise of the establishment, were arranged four small colored plates with four pies on each one and four cups of tea, with the accompanying dishes, all of red porcelain. Before each seat was a bottle and two glittering wine-glasses.
Sandoval was curious and gazed about scrutinizing everything, tasting the food, examining the pictures, reading the bill of fare. The others conversed on the topics of the day: about the French actresses, about the mysterious illness of Simoun, who, according to some, had been found wounded in the street, while others averred that he had attempted to commit suicide. As was natural, all lost themselves in conjectures. Tadeo gave his particular version, which according to him came from a reliable source: Simoun had been assaulted by some unknown person in the old Plaza Vivac, the motive being revenge, in proof of which was the fact that Simoun himself refused to make the least explanation. From this they proceeded to talk of mysterious revenges, and naturally of monkish pranks, each one relating the exploits of the curate of his town.
A notice in large black letters crowned the frieze of the room with this warning:
De esta fonda el cabecilla
Al publico advierte
Que nada dejen absolutamente
Sobre alguna mesa ó silla.
“What a notice!” exclaimed Sandoval. “As if he might have confidence in the police, eh? And what verses! Don Tiburcio converted into a quatrain—two feet, one longer than the other, between two crutches! If Isagani sees them, he’ll present them to his future aunt.”
“Here’s Isagani!” called a voice from the stairway. The happy youth appeared radiant with joy, followed by two Chinese, without camisas, who carried on enormous waiters tureens that gave out an appetizing odor. Merry exclamations greeted them.
Juanito Pelaez was missing, but the hour fixed had already passed, so they sat down happily to the tables. Juanito was always unconventional.
“If in his place we had invited Basilio,” said Tadeo, “we should have been better entertained. We might have got him drunk and drawn some secrets from him.”
“What, does the prudent Basilio possess secrets?”
“I should say so!” replied Tadeo. “Of the most important kind. There are some enigmas to which he alone has the key: the boy who disappeared, the nun—”
“Gentlemen, the pansit lang-lang is the soup par excellence!” cried Makaraig. “As you will observe, Sandoval, it is composed of vermicelli, crabs or shrimps, egg paste, scraps of chicken, and I don’t know what else. As first-fruits, let us offer the bones to Don Custodio, to see if he will project something with them.”
A burst of merry laughter greeted this sally.
“If he should learn—”
“He’d come a-running!” concluded Sandoval. “This is excellent soup—what is it called?”
“Pansit lang-lang, that is, Chinese pansit, to distinguish it from that which is peculiar to this country.”
“Bah! That’s a hard name to remember. In honor of Don Custodio, I christen it the soup project!”
“Gentlemen,” said Makaraig, who had prepared the menu, “there are three courses yet. Chinese stew made of pork—”
“Which should be dedicated to Padre Irene.”
“Get out! Padre Irene doesn’t eat pork, unless he turns his nose away,” whispered a young man from Iloilo to his neighbor.
“Let him turn his nose away!”
“Down with Padre Irene’s nose,” cried several at once.
“Respect, gentlemen, more respect!” demanded Pecson with comic gravity.
“The third course is a lobster pie—”
“Which should be dedicated to the friars,” suggested he of the Visayas.
“For the lobsters’ sake,” added Sandoval.
“Right, and call it friar pie!”
The whole crowd took this up, repeating in concert, “Friar pie!”
“I protest in the name of one of them,” said Isagani.
“And I, in the name of the lobsters,” added Tadeo.
“Respect, gentlemen, more respect!” again demanded Pecson with a full mouth.
“The fourth is stewed pansit, which is dedicated—to the government and the country!”
All turned toward Makaraig, who went on: “Until recently, gentlemen, the pansit was believed to be Chinese or Japanese, but the fact is that, being unknown in China or Japan, it would seem to be Filipino, yet those who prepare it and get the benefit from it are the Chinese—the same, the very, very same that happens to the government and to the Philippines: they seem to be Chinese, but whether they are or not, the Holy Mother has her doctors—all eat and enjoy it, yet characterize it as disagreeable and loathsome, the same as with the country, the same as with the government. All live at its cost, all share in its feast, and afterwards there is no worse country than the Philippines, there is no government more imperfect. Let us then dedicate the pansit to the country and to the government.”
“Agreed!” many exclaimed.
“I protest!” cried Isagani.
“Respect for the weaker, respect for the victims,” called Pecson in a hollow voice, waving a chicken-bone in the air.
“Let’s dedicate the pansit to Quiroga the Chinaman, one of the four powers of the Filipino world,” proposed Isagani.
“No, to his Black Eminence.”
“Silence!” cautioned one mysteriously. “There are people in the plaza watching us, and walls have ears.”
True it was that curious groups were standing by the windows, while the talk and laughter in the adjoining houses had ceased altogether, as if the people there were giving their attention to what was occurring at the banquet. There was something extraordinary about the silence.
“Tadeo, deliver your speech,” Makaraig whispered to him.
It had been agreed that Sandoval, who possessed the most oratorical ability, should deliver the last toast as a summing up.
Tadeo, lazy as ever, had prepared nothing, so he found himself in a quandary. While disposing of a long string of vermicelli, he meditated how to get out of the difficulty, until he recalled a speech learned in school and decided to plagiarize it, with adulterations.
“Beloved brethren in project!” he began, gesticulating with two Chinese chop-sticks.
“Brute! Keep that chop-stick out of my hair!” cried his neighbor.
“Called by you to fill the void that has been left in—”
“Plagiarism!” Sandoval interrupted him. “That speech was delivered by the president of our lyceum.”
“Called by your election,” continued the imperturbable Tadeo, “to fill the void that has been left in my mind”—pointing to his stomach—“by a man famous for his Christian principles and for his inspirations and projects, worthy of some little remembrance, what can one like myself say of him, I who am very hungry, not having breakfasted?”
“Have a neck, my friend!” called a neighbor, offering that portion of a chicken.
“There is one course, gentlemen, the treasure of a people who are today a tale and a mockery in the world, wherein have thrust their hands the greatest gluttons of the western regions of the earth—” Here he pointed with his chopsticks to Sandoval, who was struggling with a refractory chicken-wing.
“And eastern!” retorted the latter, describing a circle in the air with his spoon, in order to include all the banqueters.
“I demand the floor!”
“I demand pickles!” added Isagani.
“Bring on the stew!”
All echoed this request, so Tadeo sat down, contented with having got out of his quandary.
The dish consecrated to Padre Irene did not appear to be extra good, as Sandoval cruelly demonstrated thus: “Shining with grease outside and with pork inside! Bring on the third course, the friar pie!”
The pie was not yet ready, although the sizzling of the grease in the frying-pan could be heard. They took advantage of the delay to drink, begging Pecson to talk.
Pecson crossed himself gravely and arose, restraining his clownish laugh with an effort, at the same time mimicking a certain Augustinian preacher, then famous, and beginning in a murmur, as though he were reading a text.
“Si tripa plena laudal Deum, tripa famelica laudabit fratres—if the full stomach praises God, the hungry stomach will praise the friars. Words spoken by the Lord Custodio through the mouth of Ben-Zayb, in the journal El Grito de la Integridad, the second article, absurdity the one hundred and fifty-seventh.
“Beloved brethren in Christ: Evil blows its foul breath over the verdant shores of Frailandia, commonly called the Philippine Archipelago. No day passes but the attack is renewed, but there is heard some sarcasm against the reverend, venerable, infallible corporations, defenseless and unsupported. Allow me, brethren, on this occasion to constitute myself a knight-errant to sally forth in defense of the unprotected, of the holy corporations that have reared us, thus again confirming the saving idea of the adage—a full stomach praises God, which is to say, a hungry stomach will praise the friars.”
“Listen,” said Isagani seriously, “I want you to understand that, speaking of friars, I respect one.”
Sandoval was getting merry, so he began to sing a shady couplet about the friars.
“Hear me, brethren!” continued Pecson. “Turn your gaze toward the happy days of your infancy, endeavor to analyze the present and ask yourselves about the future. What do you find? Friars, friars, and friars! A friar baptized you, confirmed you, visited you in school with loving zeal; a friar heard your first secret; he was the first to bring you into communion with God, to set your feet upon the pathway of life; friars were your first and friars will be your last teachers; a friar it is who opens the hearts of your sweethearts, disposing them to heed your sighs; a friar marries you, makes you travel over different islands to afford you changes of climate and diversion; he will attend your death-bed, and even though you mount the scaffold, there will the friar be to accompany you with his prayers and tears, and you may rest assured that he will not desert you until he sees you thoroughly dead. Nor does his charity end there—dead, he will then endeavor to bury you with all pomp, he will fight that your corpse pass through the church to receive his supplications, and he will only rest satisfied when he can deliver you into the hands of the Creator, purified here on earth, thanks to temporal punishments, tortures, and humiliations. Learned in the doctrines of Christ, who closes heaven against the rich, they, our redeemers and genuine ministers of the Saviour, seek every means to lift away our sins and bear them far, far off, there where the accursed Chinese and Protestants dwell, to leave us this air, limpid, pure, healthful, in such a way that even should we so wish afterwards, we could not find a real to bring about our condemnation.
“If, then, their existence is necessary to our happiness, if wheresoever we turn we must encounter their delicate hands, hungering for kisses, that every day smooth the marks of abuse from our countenances, why not adore them and fatten them—why demand their impolitic expulsion? Consider for a moment the immense void that their absence would leave in our social system. Tireless workers, they improve and propagate the races! Divided as we are, thanks to our jealousies and our susceptibilities, the friars unite us in a common lot, in a firm bond, so firm that many are unable to move their elbows. Take away the friar, gentlemen, and you will see how the Philippine edifice will totter; lacking robust shoulders and hairy limbs to sustain it, Philippine life will again become monotonous, without the merry note of the playful and gracious friar, without the booklets and sermons that split our sides with laughter, without the amusing contrast between grand pretensions and small brains, without the actual, daily representations of the tales of Boccaccio and La Fontaine! Without the girdles and scapularies, what would you have our women do in the future—save that money and perhaps become miserly and covetous? Without the masses, novenaries, and processions, where will you find games of panguingui to entertain them in their hours of leisure? They would then have to devote themselves to their household duties and instead of reading diverting stories of miracles, we should then have to get them works that are not extant.
“Take away the friar and heroism will disappear, the political virtues will fall under the control of the vulgar. Take him away and the Indian will cease to exist, for the friar is the Father, the Indian is the Word! The former is the sculptor, the latter the statue, because all that we are, think, or do, we owe to the friar—to his patience, his toil, his perseverance of three centuries to modify the form Nature gave us. The Philippines without the friar and without the Indian—what then would become of the unfortunate government in the hands of the Chinamen?”
“It will eat lobster pie,” suggested Isagani, whom Pecson’s speech bored.
“And that’s what we ought to be doing. Enough of speeches!”
As the Chinese who should have served the courses did not put in his appearance, one of the students arose and went to the rear, toward the balcony that overlooked the river. But he returned at once, making mysterious signs.
“We’re watched! I’ve seen Padre Sibyla’s pet!”
“Yes?” ejaculated Isagani, rising.
“It’s no use now. When he saw me he disappeared.”
Approaching the window he looked toward the plaza, then made signs to his companions to come nearer. They saw a young man leave the door of the pansitería, gaze all about him, then with some unknown person enter a carriage that waited at the curb. It was Simoun’s carriage.
“Ah!” exclaimed Makaraig. “The slave of the Vice-Rector attended by the Master of the General!”