Chapter 50:

Elias’s Story

(English version of “Noli Me Tangere”)

Some sixty years ago my grandfather dwelt in Manila, being employed as a bookkeeper in a Spanish commercial house.  He was then very young, was married, and had a son.  One night from some unknown cause the warehouse burned down.  The fire was communicated to the dwelling of his employer and from there to many other buildings.  The losses were great, a scapegoat was sought, and the merchant accused my grandfather.  In vain he protested his innocence, but he was poor and unable to pay the great lawyers, so he was condemned to be flogged publicly and paraded through the streets of Manila.  Not so very long since they still used the infamous method of punishment which the people call the ‘caballo y vaca,’[1] and which is a thousand times more dreadful than death itself.  Abandoned by all except his young wife, my grandfather saw himself tied to a horse, followed by an unfeeling crowd, and whipped on every street-corner in the sight of men, his brothers, and in the neighborhood of numerous temples of a God of peace.  When the wretch, now forever disgraced, had satisfied the vengeance of man with his blood, his tortures, and his cries, he had to be taken off the horse, for he had become unconscious.  Would to God that he had died! But by one of those refinements of cruelty he was given his liberty.  His wife, pregnant at the time, vainly begged from door to door for work or alms in order to care for her sick husband and their poor son, but who would trust the wife of an incendiary and a disgraced man? The wife, then, had to become a prostitute!

Ibarra rose in his seat.

Oh, don’t get excited! Prostitution was not now a dishonor for her or a disgrace to her husband; for them honor and shame no longer existed.  The husband recovered from his wounds and came with his wife and child to hide himself in the mountains of this province.  Here they lived several months, miserable, alone, hated and shunned by all.  The wife gave birth to a sickly child, which fortunately died.  Unable to endure such misery and being less courageous than his wife, my grandfather, in despair at seeing his sick wife deprived of all care and assistance, hanged himself.  His corpse rotted in sight of the son, who was scarcely able to care for his sick mother, and the stench from it led to their discovery.  Her husband’s death was attributed to her, for of what is the wife of a wretch, a woman who has been a prostitute besides, not believed to be capable? If she swears, they call her a perjurer; if she weeps, they say that she is acting; and that she blasphemes when she calls on God.  

[1] Horse and cow.


Learn this Filipino word:

pinilakang tabing