Chapter 18: - Page 3 of 6

Legerdemain

(English version of “El Filibusterismo”)

The humbug, described with such seriousness and conviction, was gradually having its effect, so much so that when the box was passed around, no one dared to breathe.  Padre Camorra, who had so often depicted from the pulpit of Tiani the torments and sufferings of hell, while he laughed in his sleeves at the terrified looks of the sinners, held his nose, and Padre Salvi—the same Padre Salvi who had on All Souls’ Day prepared a phantasmagoria of the souls in purgatory with flames and transparencies illuminated with alcohol lamps and covered with tinsel, on the high altar of the church in a suburb, in order to get alms and orders for masses—the lean and taciturn Padre Salvi held his breath and gazed suspiciously at that handful of ashes.

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es! muttered Padre Irene with a smile.

Pish! sneered Ben-Zayb—the same thought had occurred to him, and the Canon had taken the words out of his mouth.

Not knowing what to do, resumed Mr. Leeds, closing the box carefully, I examined the papyrus and discovered two words whose meaning was unknown to me. I deciphered them, and tried to pronounce them aloud.  Scarcely had I uttered the first word when I felt the box slipping from my hands, as if pressed down by an enormous weight, and it glided along the floor, whence I vainly endeavored to remove it.  But my surprise was converted into terror when it opened and I found within a human head that stared at me fixedly.  Paralyzed with fright and uncertain what to do in the presence of such a phenomenon, I remained for a time stupefied, trembling like a person poisoned with mercury, but after a while recovered myself and, thinking that it was a vain illusion, tried to divert my attention by reading the second word.  Hardly had I pronounced it when the box closed, the head disappeared, and in its place I again found the handful of ashes.  Without suspecting it I had discovered the two most potent words in nature, the words of creation and destruction, of life and of death!  

He paused for a few moments to note the effect of his story, then with grave and measured steps approached the table and placed the mysterious box upon it.

The cloth, Mister! exclaimed the incorrigible Ben-Zayb.

Why not? rejoined Mr. Leeds, very complaisantly.

Lifting the box with his right hand, he caught up the cloth with his left, completely exposing the table sustained by its three legs.  Again he placed the box upon the center and with great gravity turned to his audience.

Here’s what I want to see, said Ben-Zayb to his neighbor.  You notice how he makes some excuse.

Great attention was depicted on all countenances and silence reigned.  The noise and roar of the street could be distinctly heard, but all were so affected that a snatch of dialogue which reached them produced no effect.

Why can’t we go in? asked a woman’s voice.

Abá, there’s a lot of friars and clerks in there, answered a man.  The sphinx is for them only.

Learn this Filipino word:

may tahíd