The Social Cancer (Tanslation of the Noli Me Tangere)
Chapter 56: Rumors and Beliefs
Day dawned at last for the terrified town. The streets near the barracks and the town hail were still deserted and solitary, the houses showed no signs of life. Nevertheless, the wooden panel of a window was pushed back noisily and a child's head was stretched out and turned from side to side, gazing about in all directions. At once, however, a smack indicated the contact of tanned hide with the soft human article, so the child made a wry face, closed its eyes, and disappeared. The window slammed shut.
But an example had been set. That opening and shutting of the window had no doubt been heard on all sides, for soon another window opened slowly and there appeared cautiously the head of a wrinkled and toothless old woman: it was the same Sister Puté who had raised such a disturbance while Padre Damaso was preaching. Children and old women are the representatives of curiosity in this world: the former from a wish to know things and the latter from a desire to recollect them.
Apparently there was no one to apply a slipper to Sister Puté, for she remained gazing out into the distance with wrinkled eyebrows. Then she rinsed out her mouth, spat noisily, and crossed herself. In the house opposite, another window was now timidly opened to reveal Sister Rufa, she who did not wish to cheat or be cheated. They stared at each other for a moment, smiled, made some signs, and again crossed themselves.
"Jesús, it seemed like a thanksgiving mass, regular fireworks!" commented Sister Rufa.
"Since the town was sacked by Balat, I've never seen another night equal to it," responded Sister Puté.
"What a lot of shots! They say that it was old Pablo's band."
"Tulisanes? That can't be! They say that it was the cuadrilleros against the civil-guards. That's why Don Filipo has been arrested."
"Sanctus Deus! They say that at least fourteen were killed."
Other windows were now opened and more faces appeared to exchange greetings and make comments. In the clear light, which promised a bright day, soldiers could be seen in the distance, coming and going confusedly like gray silhouettes.
"There goes one more corpse!" was the exclamation from a window.
"One? I see two."
"And I--but really, can it be you don't know what it was?" asked a sly-featured individual.
"Oh, the cuadrilleros!"
"No, sir, it was a mutiny in the barracks!"
"What kind of mutiny? The curate against the alferez?"
"No, it was nothing of the kind," answered the man who had asked the first question. "It was the Chinamen who have rebelled." With this he shut his window.
"The Chinamen!" echoed all in great astonishment. "That's why not one of them is to be seen!" "They've probably killed them all!"
"I thought they were going to do something bad. Yesterday--"
"I saw it myself. Last night--"
"What a pity!" exclaimed Sister Rufa. "To get killed just before Christmas when they bring around their presents! They should have waited until New Year's."
Little by little the street awoke to life. Dogs, chickens, pigs, and doves began the movement, and these animals were soon followed by some ragged urchins who held fast to each other's arms as they timidly approached the barracks. Then a few old women with handkerchiefs tied about their heads and fastened under their chins appeared with thick rosaries in their hands, pretending to be at their prayers so that the soldiers would let them pass. When it was seen that one might walk about without being shot at, the men began to come out with assumed airs of indifference. First they limited their steps to the neighborhood of their houses, caressing their game-cocks, then they extended their stroll, stopping from time to time, until at last they stood in front of the town hall.
In a quarter of an hour other versions of the affair were in circulation. Ibarra with his servants had tried to kidnap Maria Clara, and Capitan Tiago had defended her, aided by the Civil Guard. The number of killed was now not fourteen but thirty. Capitan Tiago was wounded and would leave that very day with his family for Manila.
The arrival of two cuadrilleros carrying a human form on a covered stretcher and followed by a civil-guard produced a great sensation. It was conjectured that they came from the convento, and, from the shape of the feet, which were dangling over one end, some guessed who the dead man might be, some one else a little distance away told who it was; further on the corpse was multiplied and the mystery of the Holy Trinity duplicated, later the miracle of the loaves and fishes was repeated--and the dead were then thirty and eight.
By half-past seven, when other guards arrived from neighboring towns, the current version was clear and detailed. "I've just come from the town hall, where I've seen Don Filipo and Don Crisostomo prisoners," a man told Sister Puté. "I've talked with one of the cuadrilleros who are on guard. Well, Bruno, the son of that fellow who was flogged to death, confessed everything last night. As you know, Capitan Tiago is going to marry his daughter to the young Spaniard, so Don Crisostomo in his rage wanted to get revenge and tried to kill all the Spaniards, even the curate. Last night they attacked the barracks and the convento, but fortunately, by God's mercy, the curate was in Capitan Tiago's house. They say that a lot of them escaped. The civil-guards burned Don Crisostomo's house down, and if they hadn't arrested him first they would have burned him also."
"They burned the house down?"
"All the servants are under arrest. Look, you can still see the smoke from here!" answered the narrator, approaching the window. "Those who come from there tell of many sad things."
All looked toward the place indicated. A thin column of smoke was still slowly rising toward the sky. All made comments, more or less pitying, more or less accusing.
"Poor youth!" exclaimed an old man, Puté's husband.
"Yes," she answered, "but look how he didn't order a mass said for the soul of his father, who undoubtedly needs it more than others."
"But, woman, haven't you any pity?"
"Pity for the excommunicated? It's a sin to take pity on the enemies of God, the curates say. Don't you remember? In the cemetery he walked about as if he was in a corral."
"But a corral and the cemetery are alike," replied the old man, "only that into the former only one kind of animal enters."
"Shut up!" cried Sister Puté. "You'll still defend those whom God has clearly punished. You'll see how they'll arrest you, too. You're upholding a falling house."
Her husband became silent before this argument.
"Yes," continued the old lady, "after striking Padre Damaso there wasn't anything left for him to do but to kill Padre Salvi."
"But you can't deny that he was good when he was a little boy."
"Yes, he was good," replied the old woman, "but he went to Spain. All those that go to Spain become heretics, as the curates have said."
"Oho!" exclaimed her husband, seeing his chance for a retort, "and the curate, and all the curates, and the Archbishop, and the Pope, and the Virgin--aren't they from Spain? Are they also heretics? Abá!"
Happily for Sister Puté the arrival of a maidservant running, all pale and terrified, cut short this discussion.
"A man hanged in the next garden!" she cried breathlessly.
"A man hanged?" exclaimed all in stupefaction. The women crossed themselves. No one could move from his place.
"Yes, sir," went on the trembling servant; "I was going to pick peas--I looked into our neighbor's garden to see if it was--I saw a man swinging--I thought it was Teo, the servant who always gives me--I went nearer to--pick the peas, and I saw that it wasn't Teo, but a dead man. I ran and I ran and--"
"Let's go see him," said the old man, rising. "Show us the way."
"Don't you go!" cried Sister Puté, catching hold of his camisa. "Something will happen to you! Is he hanged? Then the worse for him!"
"Let me see him, woman. You, Juan, go to the barracks and report it. Perhaps he's not dead yet."
So he proceeded to the garden with the servant, who kept behind him. The women, including even Sister Puté herself, followed after, filled with fear and curiosity.
"There he is, sir," said the servant, as she stopped and pointed with her finger.
The committee paused at a respectful distance and allowed the old man to go forward alone.
A human body hanging from the branch of a santol tree swung about gently in the breeze. The old man stared at it for a time and saw that the legs and arms were stiff, the clothing soiled, and the head doubled over.
"We mustn't touch him until some officer of the law arrives," he said aloud. "He's already stiff, he's been dead for some time."
The women gradually moved closer.
"He's the fellow who lived in that little house there. He came here two weeks ago. Look at the scar on his face."
"Ave Maria!" exclaimed some of the women.
"Shall we pray for his soul?" asked a young woman, after she had finished staring and examining the body.
"Fool, heretic!" scolded Sister Puté. "Don't you know what Padre Damaso said? It's tempting God to pray for one of the damned. Whoever commits suicide is irrevocably damned and therefore he isn't buried in holy ground."
Then she added, "I knew that this man was coming to a bad end; I never could find out how he lived."
"I saw him twice talking with the senior sacristan," observed a young woman.
"It wouldn't be to confess himself or to order a mass!"
Other neighbors came up until a large group surrounded the corpse, which was still swinging about. After half an hour, an alguazil and the directorcillo arrived with two cuadrilleros, who took the body down and placed it on a stretcher.
"People are getting in a hurry to die," remarked the directorcillo with a smile, as he took a pen from behind his ear.
He made captious inquiries, and took down the statement of the maidservant, whom he tried to confuse, now looking at her fiercely, now threatening her, now attributing to her things that she had not said, so much so that she, thinking that she would have to go to jail, began to cry and wound up by declaring that she wasn't looking for peas but and she called Teo as a witness.
While this was taking place, a rustic in a wide salakot with a big bandage on his neck was examining the corpse and the rope. The face was not more livid than the rest of the body, two scratches and two red spots were to be seen above the noose, the strands of the rope were white and had no blood on them. The curious rustic carefully examined the camisa and pantaloons, and noticed that they were very dusty and freshly torn in some parts. But what most caught his attention were the seeds of amores-secos that were sticking on the camisa even up to the collar.
"What are you looking at?" the directorcillo asked him. "I was looking, sir, to see if I could recognize him," stammered the rustic, partly uncovering, but in such a way that his salakot fell lower.
"But haven't you heard that it's a certain Lucas? Were you asleep?"
The crowd laughed, while the abashed rustic muttered a few words and moved away slowly with his head down.
"Here, where you going?" cried the old man after him.
"That's not the way out. That's the way to the dead man's house."
"The fellow's still asleep," remarked the directorcillo facetiously. "Better pour some water over him."
Amid the laughter of the bystanders the rustic left the place where he had played such a ridiculous part and went toward the church. In the sacristy he asked for the senior sacristan.
"He's still asleep," was the rough answer. "Don't you know that the convento was assaulted last night?"
"Then I'll wait till he wakes up." This with a stupid stare at the sacristans, such as is common to persons who are used to rough treatment.
In a corner which was still in shadow the one-eyed senior sacristan lay asleep in a big chair. His spectacles were placed on his forehead amid long locks of hair, while his thin, squalid chest, which was bare, rose and fell regularly.
The rustic took a seat near by, as if to wait patiently, but he dropped a piece of money and started to look for it with the aid of a candle under the senior sacristan's chair. He noticed seeds of amores-secos on the pantaloons and on the cuffs of the sleeper's camisa. The latter awoke, rubbed his one good eye, and began to scold the rustic with great ill-humor.
"I wanted to order a mass, sir," was the reply in a tone of excuse.
"The masses are already over," said the sacristan, sweetening his tone a little at this. "If you want it for tomorrow--is it for the souls in purgatory?"
"No, sir," answered the rustic, handing him a peso.
Then gazing fixedly at the single eye, he added, "It's for a person who's going to die soon."
Hereupon he left the sacristy. "I could have caught him last night!" he sighed, as he took off the bandage and stood erect to recover the face and form of Elias.