Search This Blog

Loading...

Chapter 3: Legends


Ich weiss nicht was soil es bedeuten
Dass ich so traurig bin!
When Padre Florentino joined the group above, the bad humor provoked by the previous discussion had entirely disappeared. Perhaps their spirits had been raised by the attractive houses of the town of Pasig, or the glasses of sherry they had drunk in preparation for the coming meal, or the prospect of a good breakfast. Whatever the cause, the fact was that they were all laughing and joking, even including the lean Franciscan, although he made little noise and his smiles looked like death-grins.
“Evil times, evil times!” said Padre Sibyla with a laugh.
“Get out, don’t say that, Vice-Rector!” responded the Canon Irene, giving the other’s chair a shove. “In Hongkong you’re doing a fine business, putting up every building that—ha, ha!”
“Tut, tut!” was the reply; “you don’t see our expenses, and the tenants on our estates are beginning to complain—”
“Here, enough of complaints, puñales, else I’ll fall to weeping!” cried Padre Camorra gleefully. “We’re not complaining, and we haven’t either estates or banking-houses. You know that my Indians are beginning to haggle over the fees and to flash schedules on me! Just look how they cite schedules to me now, and none other than those of the Archbishop Basilio Sancho, as if from his time [24] up to now prices had not risen. Ha, ha, ha! Why should a baptism cost less than a chicken? But I play the deaf man, collect what I can, and never complain. We’re not avaricious, are we, Padre Salvi?”
At that moment Simoun’s head appeared above the hatchway.
“Well, where’ve you been keeping yourself?” Don Custodio called to him, having forgotten all about their dispute. “You’re missing the prettiest part of the trip!”
“Pshaw!” retorted Simoun, as he ascended, “I’ve seen so many rivers and landscapes that I’m only interested in those that call up legends.”
“As for legends, the Pasig has a few,” observed the captain, who did not relish any depreciation of the river where he navigated and earned his livelihood. “Here you have that of Malapad-na-bato, a rock sacred before the coming of the Spaniards as the abode of spirits. Afterwards, when the superstition had been dissipated and the rock profaned, it was converted into a nest of tulisanes, since from its crest they easily captured the luckless bankas, which had to contend against both the currents and men. Later, in our time, in spite of human interference, there are still told stories about wrecked bankas, and if on rounding it I didn’t steer with my six senses, I’d be smashed against its sides. Then you have another legend, that of Doña Jeronima’s cave, which Padre Florentino can relate to you.”
“Everybody knows that,” remarked Padre Sibyla disdainfully.
But neither Simoun, nor Ben-Zayb, nor Padre Irene, nor Padre Camorra knew it, so they begged for the story, some in jest and others from genuine curiosity. The priest, adopting the tone of burlesque with which some had made their request, began like an old tutor relating a story to children.
“Once upon a time there was a student who had made a promise of marriage to a young woman in his country, but it seems that he failed to remember her. She waited for him faithfully year after year, her youth passed, she grew into middle age, and then one day she heard a report that her old sweetheart was the Archbishop of Manila. Disguising herself as a man, she came round the Cape and presented herself before his grace, demanding the fulfilment of his promise. What she asked was of course impossible, so the Archbishop ordered the preparation of the cave that you may have noticed with its entrance covered and decorated with a curtain of vines. There she lived and died and there she is buried. The legend states that Doña Jeronima was so fat that she had to turn sidewise to get into it. Her fame as an enchantress sprung from her custom of throwing into the river the silver dishes which she used in the sumptuous banquets that were attended by crowds of gentlemen. A net was spread under the water to hold the dishes and thus they were cleaned. It hasn’t been twenty years since the river washed the very entrance of the cave, but it has gradually been receding, just as the memory of her is dying out among the people.”
“A beautiful legend!” exclaimed Ben-Zayb. “I’m going to write an article about it. It’s sentimental!”
Doña Victorina thought of dwelling in such a cave and was about to say so, when Simoun took the floor instead.
“But what’s your opinion about that, Padre Salvi?” he asked the Franciscan, who seemed to be absorbed in thought. “Doesn’t it seem to you as though his Grace, instead of giving her a cave, ought to have placed her in a nunnery—in St. Clara’s, for example? What do you say?”
There was a start of surprise on Padre Sibyla’s part to notice that Padre Salvi shuddered and looked askance at Simoun.
“Because it’s not a very gallant act,” continued Simoun quite naturally, “to give a rocky cliff as a home to one with whose hopes we have trifled. It’s hardly religious to expose her thus to temptation, in a cave on the banks of a river—it smacks of nymphs and dryads. It would have been more gallant, more pious, more romantic, more in keeping with the customs of this country, to shut her up in St. Clara’s, like a new Eloise, in order to visit and console her from time to time.”
“I neither can nor should pass judgment upon the conduct of archbishops,” replied the Franciscan sourly.
“But you, who are the ecclesiastical governor, acting in the place of our Archbishop, what would you do if such a case should arise?”
Padre Salvi shrugged his shoulders and calmly responded, “It’s not worth while thinking about what can’t happen. But speaking of legends, don’t overlook the most beautiful, since it is the truest: that of the miracle of St. Nicholas, the ruins of whose church you may have noticed. I’m going to relate it to Señor Simoun, as he probably hasn’t heard it. It seems that formerly the river, as well as the lake, was infested with caymans, so huge and voracious that they attacked bankas and upset them with a slap of the tail. Our chronicles relate that one day an infidel Chinaman, who up to that time had refused to be converted, was passing in front of the church, when suddenly the devil presented himself to him in the form of a cayman and upset the banka, in order to devour him and carry him off to hell. Inspired by God, the Chinaman at that moment called upon St. Nicholas and instantly the cayman was changed into a stone. The old people say that in their time the monster could easily be recognized in the pieces of stone that were left, and, for my part, I can assure you that I have clearly made out the head, to judge from which the monster must have been enormously large.”
“Marvelous, a marvelous legend!” exclaimed Ben-Zayb. “It’s good for an article—the description of the monster, the terror of the Chinaman, the waters of the river, the bamboo brakes. Also, it’ll do for a study of comparative religions; because, look you, an infidel Chinaman in great distress invoked exactly the saint that he must know only by hearsay and in whom he did not believe. Here there’s no room for the proverb that ‘a known evil is preferable to an unknown good.’ If I should find myself in China and get caught in such a difficulty, I would invoke the obscurest saint in the calendar before Confucius or Buddha. Whether this is due to the manifest superiority of Catholicism or to the inconsequential and illogical inconsistency in the brains of the yellow race, a profound study of anthropology alone will be able to elucidate.”
Ben-Zayb had adopted the tone of a lecturer and was describing circles in the air with his forefinger, priding himself on his imagination, which from the most insignificant facts could deduce so many applications and inferences. But noticing that Simoun was preoccupied and thinking that he was pondering over what he, Ben-Zayb, had just said, he inquired what the jeweler was meditating about.
“About two very important questions,” answered Simoun; “two questions that you might add to your article. First, what may have become of the devil on seeing himself suddenly confined within a stone? Did he escape? Did he stay there? Was he crushed? Second, if the petrified animals that I have seen in various European museums may not have been the victims of some antediluvian saint?”
The tone in which the jeweler spoke was so serious, while he rested his forehead on the tip of his forefinger in an attitude of deep meditation, that Padre Camorra responded very gravely, “Who knows, who knows?”
“Since we’re busy with legends and are now entering the lake,” remarked Padre Sibyla, “the captain must know many—”
At that moment the steamer crossed the bar and the panorama spread out before their eyes was so truly magnificent that all were impressed. In front extended the beautiful lake bordered by green shores and blue mountains, like a huge mirror, framed in emeralds and sapphires, reflecting the sky in its glass. On the right were spread out the low shores, forming bays with graceful curves, and dim there in the distance the crags of Sungay, while in the [28] background rose Makiling, imposing and majestic, crowned with fleecy clouds. On the left lay Talim Island with its curious sweep of hills. A fresh breeze rippled over the wide plain of water.
“By the way, captain,” said Ben-Zayb, turning around, “do you know in what part of the lake a certain Guevara, Navarra, or Ibarra, was killed?”
The group looked toward the captain, with the exception of Simoun, who had turned away his head as though to look for something on the shore.
“Ah, yes!” exclaimed Doña Victorina. “Where, captain? Did he leave any tracks in the water?”
The good captain winked several times, an indication that he was annoyed, but reading the request in the eyes of all, took a few steps toward the bow and scanned the shore.
“Look over there,” he said in a scarcely audible voice, after making sure that no strangers were near. “According to the officer who conducted the pursuit, Ibarra, upon finding himself surrounded, jumped out of his banka there near the Kinabutasan and, swimming under water, covered all that distance of more than two miles, saluted by bullets every time that he raised his head to breathe. Over yonder is where they lost track of him, and a little farther on near the shore they discovered something like the color of blood. And now I think of it, it’s just thirteen years, day for day, since this happened.”
“So that his corpse—” began Ben-Zayb.
“Went to join his father’s,” replied Padre Sibyla. “Wasn’t he also another filibuster, Padre Salvi?”
“That’s what might be called cheap funerals, Padre Camorra, eh?” remarked Ben-Zayb.
“I’ve always said that those who won’t pay for expensive funerals are filibusters,” rejoined the person addressed, with a merry laugh.
“But what’s the matter with you, Señor Simoun?” inquired Ben-Zayb, seeing that the jeweler was motionless and thoughtful. “Are you seasick—an old traveler like you? On such a drop of water as this!”
“I want to tell you,” broke in the captain, who had come to hold all those places in great affection, “that you can’t call this a drop of water. It’s larger than any lake in Switzerland and all those in Spain put together. I’ve seen old sailors who got seasick here.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your thoughts?

Contact Us

Name

Email *

Message *