Chapter 20: - Page 3 of 9

The Meeting in the Town Hall

(English version of “Noli Me Tangere”)

Gentlemen, allow me to speak a few words about such an interesting matter, he began.  I speak first even though there are others here present who have more right to do so than I have, but I speak first because in these matters it seems to me that by speaking first one does not take the first place—no more than that by speaking last does one become the least.  Besides, the things that I have to say are of such importance that they should not be put off or last spoken of, and accordingly I wish to speak first in order to give them due weight.  So you will allow me to speak first in this meeting where I see so many notable persons, such as the present señor capitan, the former capitan; my distinguished friend, Don Valentin, a former capitan; the friend of my infancy, Don Julio; our celebrated captain of cuadrilleros, Don Melchor; and many other personages, whom, for the sake of brevity, I must omit to enumerate—all of whom you see present here.  I beg of you that I may be allowed a few words before any one else speaks.  Have I the good fortune to see my humble request granted by the meeting?

Here the orator with a faint smile inclined his head respectfully.  Go on, you have our undivided attention! said the notables alluded to and some others who considered Capitan Basilio a great orator.  The elders coughed in a satisfied way and rubbed their hands.  After wiping the perspiration from his brow with a silk handkerchief, he then proceeded:

Now that you have been so kind and complaisant with my humble self as to grant me the use of a few words before any one else of those here present, I shall take advantage of this permission, so generously granted, and shall talk.  In imagination I fancy myself in the midst of the august Roman senate, senatus populusque romanus, as was said in those happy days which, unfortunately for humanity, will nevermore return.  I propose to the Patres Conscripti, as the learned Cicero would say if he were in my place, I propose, in view of the short time left, and time is money as Solomon said, that concerning this important matter each one set forth his opinion clearly, briefly, and simply.

Satisfied with himself and flattered by the attention in the hall, the orator took his seat, not without first casting a glance of superiority toward Ibarra, who was seated in a corner, and a significant look at his friends as if to say, Aha! Haven’t I spoken well? His friends reflected both of these expressions by staring at the youths as though to make them die of envy.

Now any one may speak who wishes that—ahem! began the gobernadorcillo, but a repetition of the cough and sighs cut short the phrase.

To judge from the silence, no one wished to consider himself called upon as one of the Conscript Fathers, since no one rose.  Then Don Filipo seized the opportunity and rose to speak.  The conservatives winked and made significant signs to each other.

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