Chapter 19:

A Schoolmaster’s Difficulties

(English version of “Noli Me Tangere”)

El vulgo es necio y pues lo paga, es justo
Hablarle en necio para darle el gusto.[1]

LOPE DE VEGA.

The mountain-encircled lake slept peacefully with that hypocrisy of the elements which gave no hint of how its waters had the night before responded to the fury of the storm.  As the first reflections of light awoke on its surface the phosphorescent spirits, there were outlined in the distance, almost on the horizon, the gray silhouettes of the little bankas of the fishermen who were taking in their nets and of the larger craft spreading their sails.  Two men dressed in deep mourning stood gazing at the water from a little elevation: one was Ibarra and the other a youth of humble aspect and melancholy features.

This is the place, the latter was saying.  From here your father’s body was thrown into the water.  Here’s where the grave-digger brought Lieutenant Guevara and me.

Ibarra warmly grasped the hand of the young man, who went on: You have no occasion to thank me.  I owed many favors to your father, and the only thing that I could do for him was to accompany his body to the grave.  I came here without knowing any one, without recommendation, and having neither name nor fortune, just as at present.  My predecessor had abandoned the school to engage in the tobacco trade.  Your father protected me, secured me a house, and furnished whatever was necessary for running the school.  He used to visit the classes and distribute pictures among the poor but studious children, as well as provide them with books and paper.  But this, like all good things, lasted only a little while.

Ibarra took off his hat and seemed to be praying for a time.  Then he turned to his companion: Did you say that my father helped the poor children? And now?

Now they get along as well as possible and write when they can, answered the youth.

What is the reason?

The reason lies in their torn camisas and their downcast eyes.

How many pupils have you now? asked Ibarra with interest, after a pause.

More than two hundred on the roll but only about twenty-five in actual attendance.

How does that happen?

The schoolmaster smiled sadly as he answered, To tell you the reasons would make a long and tiresome story.

[1] The common crowd is a fool and since it pays for it, it is proper to talk to it foolishly to please it.

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