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Chapter 28: Tatakut


With prophetic inspiration Ben-Zayb had been for some days past maintaining in his newspaper that education was disastrous, very disastrous for the Philippine Islands, and now in view of the events of that Friday of pasquinades, the writer crowed and chanted his triumph, leaving belittled and overwhelmed his adversary Horatius, who in the Pirotecnia had dared to ridicule him in the following manner:
From our contemporary, El Grito:
“Education is disastrous, very disastrous, for the Philippine Islands.”
Admitted.
For some time El Grito has pretended to represent the Filipino people—ergo, as Fray Ibañez would say, if he knew Latin.
But Fray Ibañez turns Mussulman when he writes, and we know how the Mussulmans dealt with education. In witness whereof, as a royal preacher said, the Alexandrian library!
Now he was right, he, Ben-Zayb! He was the only one in the islands who thought, the only one who foresaw events!
Truly, the news that seditious pasquinades had been found on the doors of the University not only took away the appetite from many and disturbed the digestion of others, but it even rendered the phlegmatic Chinese uneasy, so that they no longer dared to sit in their shops with one leg drawn up as usual, from fear of losing time in extending it in order to put themselves into flight. At eight o’clock in the morning, although the sun continued on its course and his Excellency, the Captain-General, did not appear at the head of his victorious cohorts, still the excitement had increased. The friars who were accustomed to frequent Quiroga’s bazaar did not put in their appearance, and this symptom presaged terrific cataclysms. If the sun had risen a square and the saints appeared only in pantaloons, Quiroga would not have been so greatly alarmed, for he would have taken the sun for a gaming-table and the sacred images for gamblers who had lost their camisas, but for the friars not to come, precisely when some novelties had just arrived for them!
By means of a provincial friend of his, Quiroga forbade entrance into his gaming-houses to every Indian who was not an old acquaintance, as the future Chinese consul feared that they might get possession of the sums that the wretches lost there. After arranging his bazaar in such a way that he could close it quickly in case of need, he had a policeman accompany him for the short distance that separated his house from Simoun’s. Quiroga thought this occasion the most propitious for making use of the rifles and cartridges that he had in his warehouse, in the way the jeweler had pointed out; so that on the following days there would be searches made, and then—how many prisoners, how many terrified people would give up their savings! It was the game of the old carbineers, in slipping contraband cigars and tobacco-leaves under a house, in order to pretend a search and force the unfortunate owner to bribery or fines, only now the art had been perfected and, the tobacco monopoly abolished, resort was had to the prohibited arms.
But Simoun refused to see any one and sent word to the Chinese that he should leave things as they were, whereupon he went to see Don Custodio to inquire whether he should fortify his bazaar, but neither would Don Custodio receive him, being at the time engaged in the study of a project for defense in case of a siege. He thought of Ben-Zayb as a source of information, but finding the writer armed to the teeth and using two loaded revolvers for paper-weights, took his leave in the shortest possible time, to shut himself up in his house and take to his bed under pretense of illness.
At four in the afternoon the talk was no longer of simple pasquinades. There were whispered rumors of an understanding between the students and the outlaws of San Mateo, it was certain that in the pansitería they had conspired to surprise the city, there was talk of German ships outside the bay to support the movement, of a band of young men who under the pretext of protesting and demonstrating their Hispanism had gone to the Palace to place themselves at the General’s orders but had been arrested because it was discovered that they were armed. Providence had saved his Excellency, preventing him from receiving those precocious criminals, as he was at the time in conference with the Provincials, the Vice-Rector, and with Padre Irene, Padre Salvi’s representative. There was considerable truth in these rumors, if we have to believe Padre Irene, who in the afternoon went to visit Capitan Tiago. According to him, certain persons had advised his Excellency to improve the opportunity in order to inspire terror and administer a lasting lesson to the filibusters.
“A number shot,” one had advised, “some two dozen reformers deported at once, in the silence of the night, would extinguish forever the flames of discontent.”
“No,” rejoined another, who had a kind heart, “sufficient that the soldiers parade through the streets, a troop of cavalry, for example, with drawn sabers—sufficient to drag along some cannon, that’s enough! The people are timid and will all retire into their houses.”
“No, no,” insinuated another. “This is the opportunity to get rid of the enemy. It’s not sufficient that they retire into their houses, they should be made to come out, like evil humors by means of plasters. If they are inclined to start riots, they should be stirred up by secret agitators. I am of the opinion that the troops should be resting on their arms and appearing careless and indifferent, so the people may be emboldened, and then in case of any disturbance—out on them, action!” “The end justifies the means,” remarked another. “Our end is our holy religion and the integrity of the fatherland. Proclaim a state of siege, and in case of the least disturbance, arrest all the rich and educated, and—clean up the country!”
“If I hadn’t got there in time to counsel moderation,” added Padre Irene, speaking to Capitan Tiago, “it’s certain that blood would now be flowing through the streets. I thought of you, Capitan—The partizans of force couldn’t do much with the General, and they missed Simoun. Ah, if Simoun had not been taken ill—”
With the arrest of Basilio and the search made later among his books and papers, Capitan Tiago had become much worse. Now Padre Irene had come to augment his terror with hair-raising tales. Ineffable fear seized upon the wretch, manifesting itself first by a light shiver, which was rapidly accentuated, until he was unable to speak. With his eyes bulging and his brow covered with sweat, he caught Padre Irene’s arm and tried to rise, but could not, and then, uttering two groans, fell heavily back upon the pillow. His eyes were wide open and he was slavering—but he was dead. The terrified Padre Irene fled, and, as the dying man had caught hold of him, in his flight he dragged the corpse from the bed, leaving it sprawling in the middle of the room.
By night the terror had reached a climax. Several incidents had occurred to make the timorous believe in the presence of secret agitators.
During a baptism some cuartos were thrown to the boys and naturally there was a scramble at the door of the church. It happened that at the time there was passing a bold soldier, who, somewhat preoccupied, mistook the uproar for a gathering of filibusters and hurled himself, sword in hand, upon the boys. He went into the church, and had he not become entangled in the curtains suspended from the choir he would not have left a single head on shoulders. It was but the matter of a moment for the timorous to witness this and take to flight, spreading the news that the revolution had begun. The few shops that had been kept open were now hastily closed, there being Chinese who even left bolts of cloth outside, and not a few women lost their slippers in their flight through the streets. Fortunately, there was only one person wounded and a few bruised, among them the soldier himself, who suffered a fall fighting with the curtain, which smelt to him of filibusterism. Such prowess gained him great renown, and a renown so pure that it is to be wished all fame could be acquired in like manner—mothers would then weep less and earth would be more populous!
In a suburb the inhabitants caught two unknown individuals burying arms under a house, whereupon a tumult arose and the people pursued the strangers in order to kill them and turn their bodies over to the authorities, but some one pacified the excited crowd by telling them that it would be sufficient to hand over the corpora delictorum, which proved to be some old shotguns that would surely have killed the first person who tried to fire them.
“All right,” exclaimed one braggart, “if they want us to rebel, let’s go ahead!” But he was cuffed and kicked into silence, the women pinching him as though he had been the owner of the shotguns.
In Ermita the affair was more serious, even though there was less excitement, and that when there were shots fired. A certain cautious government employee, armed to the teeth, saw at nightfall an object near his house, and taking it for nothing less than a student, fired at it twice with a revolver. The object proved to be a policeman, and they buried him—pax Christi! Mutis!
In Dulumbayan various shots also resounded, from which there resulted the death of a poor old deaf man, who had not heard the sentinel’s quién vive, and of a hog that had heard it and had not answered España! The old man was buried with difficulty, since there was no money to pay for the obsequies, but the hog was eaten.
In Manila, in a confectionery near the University much frequented by the students, the arrests were thus commented upon.
“And have they arrested Tadeo?” asked the proprietess.
Abá!” answered a student who lived in Parian, “he’s already shot!”
“Shot! Nakú! He hasn’t paid what he owes me.”
“Ay, don’t mention that or you’ll be taken for an accomplice. I’ve already burnt the book you lent me. There might be a search and it would be found. Be careful!”
“Did you say that Isagani is a prisoner?”
“Crazy fool, too, that Isagani,” replied the indignant student. “They didn’t try to catch him, but he went and surrendered. Let him bust himself—he’ll surely be shot.”
The señora shrugged her shoulders. “He doesn’t owe me anything. And what about Paulita?”
“She won’t lack a husband. Sure, she’ll cry a little, and then marry a Spaniard.”
The night was one of the gloomiest. In the houses the rosary was recited and pious women dedicated paternosters and requiems to each of the souls of their relatives and friends. By eight o’clock hardly a pedestrian could be seen—only from time to time was heard the galloping of a horse against whose sides a saber clanked noisily, then the whistles of the watchmen, and carriages that whirled along at full speed, as though pursued by mobs of filibusters.
Yet terror did not reign everywhere. In the house of the silversmith, where Placido Penitente boarded, the events were commented upon and discussed with some freedom.
“I don’t believe in the pasquinades,” declared a workman, lank and withered from operating the blowpipe. “To me it looks like Padre Salvi’s doings.”
“Ahem, ahem!” coughed the silversmith, a very prudent man, who did not dare to stop the conversation from fear that he would be considered a coward. The good man had to content himself with coughing, winking to his helper, and gazing toward the street, as if to say, “They may be watching us!”
“On account of the operetta,” added another workman.
“Aha!” exclaimed one who had a foolish face, “I told you so!”
“Ahem!” rejoined a clerk, in a tone of compassion, “the affair of the pasquinades is true, Chichoy, and I can give you the explanation.”
Then he added mysteriously, “It’s a trick of the Chinaman Quiroga’s!”
“Ahem, ahem!” again coughed the silversmith, shifting his quid of buyo from one cheek to the other.
“Believe me, Chichoy, of Quiroga the Chinaman! I heard it in the office.”
Nakú, it’s certain then,” exclaimed the simpleton, believing it at once.
“Quiroga,” explained the clerk, “has a hundred thousand pesos in Mexican silver out in the bay. How is he to get it in? Very easily. Fix up the pasquinades, availing himself of the question of the students, and, while every-body is excited, grease the officials’ palms, and in the cases come!”
“Just it! Just it!” cried the credulous fool, striking the table with his fist. “Just it! That’s why Quiroga did it! That’s why—” But he had to relapse into silence as he really did not know what to say about Quiroga.
“And we must pay the damages?” asked the indignant Chichoy.
“Ahem, ahem, a-h-hem!” coughed the silversmith, hearing steps in the street.
The footsteps approached and all in the shop fell silent.
“St. Pascual Bailon is a great saint,” declared the silversmith hypocritically, in a loud voice, at the same time winking to the others. “St. Pascual Bailon—”
At that moment there appeared the face of Placido Penitente, who was accompanied by the pyrotechnician that we saw receiving orders from Simoun. The newcomers were surrounded and importuned for news.
“I haven’t been able to talk with the prisoners,” explained Placido. “There are some thirty of them.”
“Be on your guard,” cautioned the pyrotechnician, exchanging a knowing look with Placido. “They say that to-night there’s going to be a massacre.”
“Aha! Thunder!” exclaimed Chichoy, looking about for a weapon. Seeing none, he caught up his blowpipe.
The silversmith sat down, trembling in every limb. The credulous simpleton already saw himself beheaded and wept in anticipation over the fate of his family.
“No,” contradicted the clerk, “there’s not going to be any massacre. The adviser of”—he made a mysterious gesture—“is fortunately sick.”
“Simoun!”
“Ahem, ahem, a-h-hem!”
Placido and the pyrotechnician exchanged another look.
“If he hadn’t got sick—”
“It would look like a revolution,” added the pyrotechnician negligently, as he lighted a cigarette in the lamp chimney. “And what should we do then?”
“Then we’d start a real one, now that they’re going to massacre us anyhow—”
The violent fit of coughing that seized the silversmith prevented the rest of this speech from being heard, but Chichoy must have been saying terrible things, to judge from his murderous gestures with the blowpipe and the face of a Japanese tragedian that he put on.
“Rather say that he’s playing off sick because he’s afraid to go out. As may be seen—”
The silversmith was attacked by another fit of coughing so severe that he finally asked all to retire.
“Nevertheless, get ready,” warned the pyrotechnician. “If they want to force us to kill or be killed—”
Another fit of coughing on the part of the poor silversmith prevented further conversation, so the workmen and apprentices retired to their homes, carrying with them hammers and saws, and other implements, more or less cutting, more or less bruising, disposed to sell their lives dearly. Placido and the pyrotechnician went out again.
“Prudence, prudence!” cautioned the silversmith in a tearful voice.
“You’ll take care of my widow and orphans!” begged the credulous simpleton in a still more tearful voice, for he already saw himself riddled with bullets and buried.
That night the guards at the city gates were replaced with Peninsular artillerymen, and on the following morning as the sun rose, Ben-Zayb, who had ventured to take a morning stroll to examine the condition of the fortifications, found on the glacis near the Luneta the corpse of a native girl, half-naked and abandoned. Ben-Zayb was horrified, but after touching it with his cane and gazing toward the gates proceeded on his way, musing over a sentimental tale he might base upon the incident.
However, no allusion to it appeared in the newspapers on the following days, engrossed as they were with the falls and slippings caused by banana-peels. In the dearth of news Ben-Zayb had to comment at length on a cyclone that had destroyed in America whole towns, causing the death of more than two thousand persons. Among other beautiful things he said:
The sentiment of charity, MORE PREVALENT IN CATHOLIC COUNTRIES THAN IN OTHERS, and the thought of Him who, influenced by that same feeling, sacrificed himself for humanity, moves (sic) us to compassion over the misfortunes of our kind and to render thanks that in this country, so scourged by cyclones, there are not enacted scenes so desolating as that which the inhabitants of the United States mus have witnessed!”
Horatius did not miss the opportunity, and, also without mentioning the dead, or the murdered native girl, or the assaults, answered him in his Pirotecnia:
“After such great charity and such great humanity, Fray Ibañez—I mean, Ben-Zayb—brings himself to pray for the Philippines.
But he is understood.
Because he is not Catholic, and the sentiment of charity is most prevalent,” etc.

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