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Chapter 4: Cabesang Tales


Those who have read the first part of this story will perhaps remember an old wood-cutter who lived in the depths of the forest. Tandang Selo is still alive, and though his hair has turned completely white, he yet preserves his good health. He no longer hunts or cuts firewood, for his fortunes have improved and he works only at making brooms.
His son Tales (abbreviation of Telesforo) had worked at first on shares on the lands of a capitalist, but later, having become the owner of two carabaos and several hundred pesos, determined to work on his own account, aided by his father, his wife, and his three children. So they cut down and cleared away some thick woods which were situated on the borders of the town and which they believed belonged to no one. During the labors of cleaning and cultivating the new land, the whole family fell ill with malaria and the mother died, along with the eldest daughter, Lucia, in the flower of her age. This, which was the natural consequence of breaking up new soil infested with various kinds of bacteria, they attributed to the anger of the woodland spirit, so they were resigned and went on with their labor, believing him pacified.
But when they began to harvest their first crop a religious corporation, which owned land in the neighboring town, laid claim to the fields, alleging that they fell within their boundaries, and to prove it they at once started to set up their marks. However, the administrator of the religious order left to them, for humanity’s sake, the usufruct of the land on condition that they pay a small sum annually—a mere bagatelle, twenty or thirty pesos. Tales, as peaceful a man as could be found, was as much opposed to lawsuits as any one and more submissive to the friars than most people; so, in order not to smash a palyok against a kawali (as he said, for to him the friars were iron pots and he a clay jar), he had the weakness to yield to their claim, remembering that he did not know Spanish and had no money to pay lawyers.
Besides, Tandang Selo said to him, “Patience! You would spend more in one year of litigation than in ten years of paying what the white padres demand. And perhaps they’ll pay you back in masses! Pretend that those thirty pesos had been lost in gambling or had fallen into the water and been swallowed by a cayman.”
The harvest was abundant and sold well, so Tales planned to build a wooden house in the barrio of Sagpang, of the town of Tiani, which adjoined San Diego.
Another year passed, bringing another good crop, and for this reason the friars raised the rent to fifty pesos, which Tales paid in order not to quarrel and because he expected to sell his sugar at a good price.
“Patience! Pretend that the cayman has grown some,” old Selo consoled him.
That year he at last saw his dream realized: to live in the barrio of Sagpang in a wooden house. The father and grandfather then thought of providing some education for the two children, especially the daughter Juliana, or Juli, as they called her, for she gave promise of being accomplished and beautiful. A boy who was a friend of the family, Basilio, was studying in Manila, and he was of as lowly origin as they.
But this dream seemed destined not to be realized. The first care the community took when they saw the family prospering was to appoint as cabeza de barangay its most industrious member, which left only Tano, the son, who was only fourteen years old. The father was therefore called Cabesang Tales and had to order a sack coat, buy a felt hat, and prepare to spend his money. In order to avoid any quarrel with the curate or the government, he settled from his own pocket the shortages in the tax-lists, paying for those who had died or moved away, and he lost considerable time in making the collections and on his trips to the capital.
“Patience! Pretend that the cayman’s relatives have joined him,” advised Tandang Selo, smiling placidly.
“Next year you’ll put on a long skirt and go to Manila to study like the young ladies of the town,” Cabesang Tales told his daughter every time he heard her talking of Basilio’s progress.
But that next year did not come, and in its stead there was another increase in the rent. Cabesang Tales became serious and scratched his head. The clay jar was giving up all its rice to the iron pot.
When the rent had risen to two hundred pesos, Tales was not content with scratching his head and sighing; he murmured and protested. The friar-administrator then told him that if he could not pay, some one else would be assigned to cultivate that land—many who desired it had offered themselves.
He thought at first that the friar was joking, but the friar was talking seriously, and indicated a servant of his to take possession of the land. Poor Tales turned pale, he felt a buzzing in his ears, he saw in the red mist that rose before his eyes his wife and daughter, pallid, emaciated, dying, victims of the intermittent fevers—then he saw the thick forest converted into productive fields, he saw the stream of sweat watering its furrows, he saw himself plowing under the hot sun, bruising his feet against the stones and roots, while this friar had been driving about in his carriage with the wretch who was to get the land following like a slave behind his master. No, a thousand times, no! First let the fields sink into the depths of the earth and bury them all! Who was this intruder that he should have any right to his land? Had he brought from his own country a single handful of that soil? Had he crooked a single one of his fingers to pull up the roots that ran through it?
Exasperated by the threats of the friar, who tried to uphold his authority at any cost in the presence of the other tenants, Cabesang Tales rebelled and refused to pay a single cuarto, having ever before himself that red mist, saying that he would give up his fields to the first man who could irrigate it with blood drawn from his own veins.
Old Selo, on looking at his son’s face, did not dare to mention the cayman, but tried to calm him by talking of clay jars, reminding him that the winner in a lawsuit was left without a shirt to his back.
“We shall all be turned to clay, father, and without shirts we were born,” was the reply.
So he resolutely refused to pay or to give up a single span of his land unless the friars should first prove the legality of their claim by exhibiting a title-deed of some kind. As they had none, a lawsuit followed, and Cabesang Tales entered into it, confiding that some at least, if not all, were lovers of justice and respecters of the law.
“I serve and have been serving the King with my money and my services,” he said to those who remonstrated with him. “I’m asking for justice and he is obliged to give it to me.”
Drawn on by fatality, and as if he had put into play in the lawsuit the whole future of himself and his children, he went on spending his savings to pay lawyers, notaries, and solicitors, not to mention the officials and clerks who exploited his ignorance and his needs. He moved to and fro between the village and the capital, passed his days without eating and his nights without sleeping, while his talk was always about briefs, exhibits, and appeals. There was then seen a struggle such as was never before carried on under the skies of the Philippines: that of a poor Indian, [34] ignorant and friendless, confiding in the justness and righteousness of his cause, fighting against a powerful corporation before which Justice bowed her head, while the judges let fall the scales and surrendered the sword. He fought as tenaciously as the ant which bites when it knows that it is going to be crushed, as does the fly which looks into space only through a pane of glass. Yet the clay jar defying the iron pot and smashing itself into a thousand pieces bad in it something impressive—it had the sublimeness of desperation!
On the days when his journeys left him free he patrolled his fields armed with a shotgun, saying that the tulisanes were hovering around and he had need of defending himself in order not to fall into their hands and thus lose his lawsuit. As if to improve his marksmanship, he shot at birds and fruits, even the butterflies, with such accurate aim that the friar-administrator did not dare to go to Sagpang without an escort of civil-guards, while the friar’s hireling, who gazed from afar at the threatening figure of Tales wandering over the fields like a sentinel upon the walls, was terror stricken and refused to take the property away from him.
But the local judges and those at the capital, warned by the experience of one of their number who had been summarily dismissed, dared not give him the decision, fearing their own dismissal. Yet they were not really bad men, those judges, they were upright and conscientious, good citizens, excellent fathers, dutiful sons—and they were able to appreciate poor Tales’ situation better than Tales himself could. Many of them were versed in the scientific and historical basis of property, they knew that the friars by their own statutes could not own property, but they also knew that to come from far across the sea with an appointment secured with great difficulty, to undertake the duties of the position with the best intentions, and now to lose it because an Indian fancied that justice had to be done on earth as in heaven—that surely was an idea! They had their families and greater needs surely than that Indian: one had a mother to provide for, and what duty is more sacred than that of caring for a mother? Another had sisters, all of marriageable age; that other there had many little children who expected their daily bread and who, like fledglings in a nest, would surely die of hunger the day he was out of a job; even the very least of them had there, far away, a wife who would be in distress if the monthly remittance failed. All these moral and conscientious judges tried everything in their power in the way of counsel, advising Cabesang Tales to pay the rent demanded. But Tales, like all simple souls, once he had seen what was just, went straight toward it. He demanded proofs, documents, papers, title-deeds, but the friars had none of these, resting their case on his concessions in the past.
Cabesang Tales’ constant reply was: “If every day I give alms to a beggar to escape annoyance, who will oblige me to continue my gifts if he abuses my generosity?”
From this stand no one could draw him, nor were there any threats that could intimidate him. In vain Governor M—— made a trip expressly to talk to him and frighten him. His reply to it all was: “You may do what you like, Mr. Governor, I’m ignorant and powerless. But I’ve cultivated those fields, my wife and daughter died while helping me clear them, and I won’t give them up to any one but him who can do more with them than I’ve done. Let him first irrigate them with his blood and bury in them his wife and daughter!”
The upshot of this obstinacy was that the honorable judges gave the decision to the friars, and everybody laughed at him, saying that lawsuits are not won by justice. But Cabesang Tales appealed, loaded his shotgun, and patrolled his fields with deliberation.
During this period his life seemed to be a wild dream. His son, Tano, a youth as tall as his father and as good as his sister, was conscripted, but he let the boy go rather than purchase a substitute.
“I have to pay the lawyers,” he told his weeping daughter. “If I win the case I’ll find a way to get him back, and if I lose it I won’t have any need for sons.”
So the son went away and nothing more was heard of him except that his hair had been cropped and that he slept under a cart. Six months later it was rumored that he had been seen embarking for the Carolines; another report was that he had been seen in the uniform of the Civil Guard.
“Tano in the Civil Guard! ’Susmariosep!” exclaimed several, clasping their hands. “Tano, who was so good and so honest! Requimternam!
The grandfather went many days without speaking to the father, Juli fell sick, but Cabesang Tales did not shed a single tear, although for two days he never left the house, as if he feared the looks of reproach from the whole village or that he would be called the executioner of his son. But on the third day he again sallied forth with his shotgun.
Murderous intentions were attributed to him, and there were well-meaning persons who whispered about that he had been heard to threaten that he would bury the friar-administrator in the furrows of his fields, whereat the friar was frightened at him in earnest. As a result of this, there came a decree from the Captain-General forbidding the use of firearms and ordering that they be taken up. Cabesang Tales had to hand over his shotgun but he continued his rounds armed with a long bolo.
“What are you going to do with that bolo when the tulisanes have firearms?” old Selo asked him.
“I must watch my crops,” was the answer. “Every stalk of cane growing there is one of my wife’s bones.”
The bolo was taken up on the pretext that it was too long. He then took his father’s old ax and with it on his shoulder continued his sullen rounds.
Every time he left the house Tandang Selo and Juli trembled for his life. The latter would get up from her loom, go to the window, pray, make vows to the saints, and recite novenas. The grandfather was at times unable to finish the handle of a broom and talked of returning to the forest—life in that house was unbearable.
At last their fears were realized. As the fields were some distance from the village, Cabesang Tales, in spite of his ax, fell into the hands of tulisanes who had revolvers and rifles. They told him that since he had money to pay judges and lawyers he must have some also for the outcasts and the hunted. They therefore demanded a ransom of five hundred pesos through the medium of a rustic, with the warning that if anything happened to their messenger, the captive would pay for it with his life. Two days of grace were allowed.
This news threw the poor family into the wildest terror, which was augmented when they learned that the Civil Guard was going out in pursuit of the bandits. In case of an encounter, the first victim would be the captive—this they all knew. The old man was paralyzed, while the pale and frightened daughter tried often to talk but could not. Still, another thought more terrible, an idea more cruel, roused them from their stupor. The rustic sent by the tulisanes said that the band would probably have to move on, and if they were slow in sending the ransom the two days would elapse and Cabesang Tales would have his throat cut.
This drove those two beings to madness, weak and powerless as they were. Tandang Selo got up, sat down, went outside, came back again, knowing not where to go, where to seek aid. Juli appealed to her images, counted and recounted her money, but her two hundred pesos did not increase or multiply. Soon she dressed herself, gathered together all her jewels, and asked the advice of her grandfather, if she should go to see the gobernadorcillo, the judge, the notary, the lieutenant of the Civil Guard. The old man said yes to everything, or when she said no, he too said no. At length came the neighbors, their relatives and friends, some poorer than others, in their simplicity magnifying [38] the fears. The most active of all was Sister Bali, a great panguinguera, who had been to Manila to practise religious exercises in the nunnery of the Sodality.
Juli was willing to sell all her jewels, except a locket set with diamonds and emeralds which Basilio had given her, for this locket had a history: a nun, the daughter of Capitan Tiago, had given it to a leper, who, in return for professional treatment, had made a present of it to Basilio. So she could not sell it without first consulting him.
Quickly the shell-combs and earrings were sold, as well as Juli’s rosary, to their richest neighbor, and thus fifty pesos were added, but two hundred and fifty were still lacking. The locket might be pawned, but Juli shook her head. A neighbor suggested that the house be sold and Tandang Selo approved the idea, satisfied to return to the forest and cut firewood as of old, but Sister Bali observed that this could not be done because the owner was not present.
“The judge’s wife once sold me her tapis for a peso, but her husband said that the sale did not hold because it hadn’t received his approval. Abá! He took back the tapis and she hasn’t returned the peso yet, but I don’t pay her when she wins at panguingui, abá! In that way I’ve collected twelve cuartos, and for that alone I’m going to play with her. I can’t bear to have people fail to pay what they owe me, abá!
Another neighbor was going to ask Sister Bali why then did not she settle a little account with her, but the quick panguinguera suspected this and added at once: “Do you know, Juli, what you can do? Borrow two hundred and fifty pesos on the house, payable when the lawsuit is won.”
This seemed to be the best proposition, so they decided to act upon it that same day. Sister Bali offered to accompany her, and together they visited the houses of all the rich folks in Tiani, but no one would accept the proposal. The case, they said, was already lost, and to show favors to an enemy of the friars was to expose themselves to their vengeance. At last a pious woman took pity on the girl and lent the money on condition that Juli should remain with her as a servant until the debt was paid. Juli would not have so very much to do: sew, pray, accompany her to mass, and fast for her now and then. The girl accepted with tears in her eyes, received the money, and promised to enter her service on the following day, Christmas.
When the grandfather heard of that sale he fell to weeping like a child. What, that granddaughter whom he had not allowed to walk in the sun lest her skin should be burned, Juli, she of the delicate fingers and rosy feet! What, that girl, the prettiest in the village and perhaps in the whole town, before whose window many gallants had vainly passed the night playing and singing! What, his only granddaughter, the sole joy of his fading eyes, she whom he had dreamed of seeing dressed in a long skirt, talking Spanish, and holding herself erect waving a painted fan like the daughters of the wealthy—she to become a servant, to be scolded and reprimanded, to ruin her fingers, to sleep anywhere, to rise in any manner whatsoever!
So the old grandfather wept and talked of hanging or starving himself to death. “If you go,” he declared, “I’m going back to the forest and will never set foot in the town.”
Juli soothed him by saying that it was necessary for her father to return, that the suit would be won, and they could then ransom her from her servitude.
The night was a sad one. Neither of the two could taste a bite and the old man refused to lie down, passing the whole night seated in a corner, silent and motionless. Juli on her part tried to sleep, but for a long time could not close her eyes. Somewhat relieved about her father’s fate, she now thought of herself and fell to weeping, but stifled her sobs so that the old man might not hear them. The next day she would be a servant, and it was the very day Basilio was accustomed to come from Manila with presents for her. Henceforward she would have to give up that love; Basilio, who was going to be a doctor, couldn’t marry a [40] pauper. In fancy she saw him going to the church in company with the prettiest and richest girl in the town, both well-dressed, happy and smiling, while she, Juli, followed her mistress, carrying novenas, buyos, and the cuspidor. Here the girl felt a lump rise in her throat, a sinking at her heart, and begged the Virgin to let her die first.
But—said her conscience—he will at least know that I preferred to pawn myself rather than the locket he gave me.
This thought consoled her a little and brought on empty dreams. Who knows but that a miracle might happen? She might find the two hundred and fifty pesos under the image of the Virgin—she had read of many similar miracles. The sun might not rise nor morning come, and meanwhile the suit would be won. Her father might return, or Basilio put in his appearance, she might find a bag of gold in the garden, the tulisanes would send the bag of gold, the curate, Padre Camorra, who was always teasing her, would come with the tulisanes. So her ideas became more and more confused, until at length, worn out by fatigue and sorrow, she went to sleep with dreams of her childhood in the depths of the forest: she was bathing in the torrent along with her two brothers, there were little fishes of all colors that let themselves be caught like fools, and she became impatient because she found no pleasure in catchnig such foolish little fishes! Basilio was under the water, but Basilio for some reason had the face of her brother Tano. Her new mistress was watching them from the bank.

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