Chapter 18:


(English version of “El Filibusterismo”)

Mr. Leeds, a genuine Yankee, dressed completely in black, received his visitors with great deference.  He spoke Spanish well, from having been for many years in South America, and offered no objection to their request, saying that they might examine everything, both before and after the exhibition, but begged that they remain quiet while it was in progress.  Ben-Zayb smiled in pleasant anticipation of the vexation he had prepared for the American.

The room, hung entirely in black, was lighted by ancient lamps burning alcohol.  A rail wrapped in black velvet divided it into two almost equal parts, one of which was filled with seats for the spectators and the other occupied by a platform covered with a checkered carpet.  In the center of this platform was placed a table, over which was spread a piece of black cloth adorned with skulls and cabalistic signs.  The mise en scène was therefore lugubrious and had its effect upon the merry visitors.  The jokes died away, they spoke in whispers, and however much some tried to appear indifferent, their lips framed no smiles.  All felt as if they had entered a house where there was a corpse, an illusion accentuated by an odor of wax and incense.  Don Custodio and Padre Salvi consulted in whispers over the expediency of prohibiting such shows.

Ben-Zayb, in order to cheer the dispirited group and embarrass Mr. Leeds, said to him in a familiar tone: Eh, Mister, since there are none but ourselves here and we aren’t Indians who can be fooled, won’t you let us see the trick? We know of course that it’s purely a question of optics, but as Padre Camorra won’t be convinced—

Here he started to jump over the rail, instead of going through the proper opening, while Padre Camorra broke out into protests, fearing that Ben-Zayb might be right.

And why not, sir? rejoined the American.  But don’t break anything, will you?

The journalist was already on the platform.  You will allow me, then? he asked, and without waiting for the permission, fearing that it might not be granted, raised the cloth to look for the mirrors that he expected should be between the legs of the table.  Ben-Zayb uttered an exclamation and stepped back, again placed both hands under the table and waved them about; he encountered only empty space. The table had three thin iron legs, sunk into the floor.

The journalist looked all about as though seeking something.

Where are the mirrors? asked Padre Camorra.

Ben-Zayb looked and looked, felt the table with his fingers, raised the cloth again, and rubbed his hand over his forehead from time to time, as if trying to remember something.

Have you lost anything? inquired Mr. Leeds.


Learn this Filipino word:

kinákalawang na