Chapter 20:

The Meeting in the Town Hall

(English version of “Noli Me Tangere”)

The hall was about twelve to fifteen meters long by eight to ten wide.  Its whitewashed walls were covered with drawings in charcoal, more or less ugly and obscene, with inscriptions to complete their meanings.  Stacked neatly against the wall in one corner were to be seen about a dozen old flint-locks among rusty swords and talibons, the armament of the cuadrilleros.[1]  At one end of the hall there hung, half hidden by soiled red curtains, a picture of his Majesty, the King of Spain.  Underneath this picture, upon a wooden platform, an old chair spread out its broken arms.  In front of the chair was a wooden table spotted with ink stains and whittled and carved with inscriptions and initials like the tables in the German taverns frequented by students.  Benches and broken chairs completed the furniture.

This is the hall of council, of judgment, and of torture, wherein are now gathered the officials of the town and its dependent villages.  The faction of old men does not mix with that of the youths, for they are mutually hostile.  They represent respectively the conservative and the liberal parties, save that their disputes assume in the towns an extreme character.

The conduct of the gobernadorcillo fills me with distrust, Don Filipo, the teniente-mayor and leader of the liberal faction, was saying to his friends.  It was a deep-laid scheme, this thing of putting off the discussion of expenses until the eleventh hour. Remember that we have scarcely eleven days left.

And he has staved at the convento to hold a conference with the curate, who is sick, observed one of the youths.

It doesn’t matter, remarked another.  We have everything prepared. Just so the plan of the old men doesn’t receive a majority—

I don’t believe it will, interrupted Don Filipo, as I shall present the plan of the old men myself!

What! What are you saying? asked his surprised hearers.

I said that if I speak first I shall present the plan of our rivals.

But what about our plan?

[1] The municipal police of the old régime. They were thus described by a Spanish writer, W. E. Retana, in a note to Ventura F. Lopez’s El Filibustero (Madrid, 1893): Municipal guards, whose duties are principally rural.  Their uniform is a disaster; they go barefoot; on horseback, they hold the reins in the right hand and a lance in the left.  They are usually good-for-nothing, but to their credit it must be said that they do no damage.  Lacking military instruction, provided with fire-arms of the first part of the century, of which one in a hundred might go off in case of need, and for other arms bolos, talibons, old swords, etc., the cuadrilleros are truly a parody on armed force.TR.


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