Chapter 5: - Page 2 of 5

A Cochero’s Christmas Eve

(English version of “El Filibusterismo”)

Basilio smiled and shrugged his shoulders, while the cochero again sighed.  The Indians in the country places preserve the legend that their king, imprisoned and chained in the cave of San Mateo, will come some day to free them.  Every hundredth year he breaks one of his chains, so that he now has his hands and his left foot loose—only the right foot remains bound.  This king causes the earthquakes when he struggles or stirs himself, and he is so strong that in shaking hands with him it is necessary to extend to him a bone, which he crushes in his grasp.  For some unexplainable reason the Indians call him King Bernardo, perhaps by confusing him with Bernardo del Carpio.[1]

When he gets his right foot loose, muttered the cochero, stifling another sigh, I’ll give him my horses, and offer him my services even to death, for he’ll free us from the Civil Guard.  With a melancholy gaze he watched the Three Kings move on.  

The boys came behind in two files, sad and serious as though they were there under compulsion.  They lighted their way, some with torches, others with tapers, and others with paper lanterns on bamboo poles, while they recited the rosary at the top of their voices, as though quarreling with somebody.  Afterwards came St. Joseph on a modest float, with a look of sadness and resignation on his face, carrying his stalk of lilies, as he moved along between two civil-guards as though he were a prisoner.  This enabled the cochero to understand the expression on the saint’s face, but whether the sight of the guards troubled him or he had no great respect for a saint who would travel in such company, he did not recite a single requiem.

Behind St. Joseph came the girls bearing lights, their heads covered with handkerchiefs knotted under their chins, also reciting the rosary, but with less wrath than the boys.  In their midst were to be seen several lads dragging along little rabbits made of Japanese paper, lighted by red candles, with their short paper tails erect.  The lads brought those toys into the procession to enliven the birth of the Messiah.  The little animals, fat and round as eggs, seemed to be so pleased that at times they would take a leap, lose their balance, fall, and catch fire.  The owner would then hasten to extinguish such burning enthusiasm, puffing and blowing until he finally beat out the fire, and then, seeing his toy destroyed, would fall to weeping.  The cochero observed with sadness that the race of little paper animals disappeared each year, as if they had been attacked by the pest like the living animals.  He, the abused Sinong, remembered his two magnificent horses, which, at the advice of the curate, he had caused to be blessed to save them from plague, spending therefor ten pesos—for neither the government nor the curates have found any better remedy for the epizootic—and they had died after all.  Yet he consoled himself by remembering also that after the shower of holy water, the Latin phrases of the padre, and the ceremonies, the horses had become so vain and self-important that they would not even allow him, Sinong, a good Christian, to put them in harness, and he had not dared to whip them, because a tertiary sister had said that they were sanctified.

[1] This legend is still current among the Tagalogs. It circulates in various forms, the commonest being that the king was so confined for defying the lightning; and it takes no great stretch of the imagination to fancy in this idea a reference to the firearms used by the Spanish conquerors. Quite recently (January 1909), when the nearly extinct volcano of Banahao shook itself and scattered a few tons of mud over the surrounding landscape, the people thereabout recalled this old legend, saying that it was their King Bernardo making another effort to get that right foot loose.—Tr.

Learn this Filipino word:

buháy na buháy