Right and Might
(English version of “Noli Me Tangere”)
Ten o’clock at night: the last rockets rose lazily in the dark sky where a few paper balloons recently inflated with smoke and hot air still glimmered like new stars. Some of those adorned with fireworks took fire, threatening all the houses, so there might be seen on the ridges of the roofs men armed with pails of water and long poles with pieces of cloth on the ends. Their black silhouettes stood out in the vague clearness of the air like phantoms that had descended from space to witness the rejoicings of men. Many pieces of fireworks of fantastic shapes—wheels, castles, bulls, carabaos—had been set off, surpassing in beauty and grandeur anything ever before seen by the inhabitants of San Diego.
Now the people were moving in crowds toward the plaza to attend the theater for the last time, Here and there might be seen Bengal lights fantastically illuminating the merry groups while the boys were availing themselves of torches to hunt in the grass for unexploded bombs and other remnants that could still be used. But soon the music gave the signal and all abandoned the open places.
The great stage was brilliantly illuminated. Thousands of lights surrounded the posts, hung from the roof, or sowed the floor with pyramidal clusters. An alguazil was looking after these, and when he came forward to attend to them the crowd shouted at him and whistled,
There he is! there he is!
In front of the curtain the orchestra players were tuning their instruments and playing preludes of airs. Behind them was the space spoken of by the correspondent in his letter, where the leading citizens of the town, the Spaniards, and the rich visitors occupied rows of chairs. The general public, the nameless rabble, filled up the rest of the place, some of them bringing benches on their shoulders not so much for seats as to make, up for their lack of stature. This provoked noisy protests on the part of the benchless, so the offenders got down at once; but before long they were up again as if nothing had happened.
Goings and comings, cries, exclamations, bursts of laughter, a serpent-cracker turned loose, a firecracker set off—all contributed to swell the uproar. Here a bench had a leg broken off and the people fell to the ground amid the laughter of the crowd. They were visitors who had come from afar to observe and now found themselves the observed. Over there they quarreled and disputed over a seat, a little farther on was heard the noise of breaking glass; it was Andeng carrying refreshments and drinks, holding the wide tray carefully with both hands, but by chance she had met her sweetheart, who tried to take advantage of the situation.
The teniente-mayor, Don Filipo, presided over the show, as the gobernadorcillo was fond of monte. He was talking with old Tasio.
What can I do? The alcalde was unwilling to accept my resignation. ‘Don’t you feel strong enough to attend to your duties?’ he asked me.
How did you answer him?