CHAPTER XXXIII – Free Thought
Ibarra was just putting the finishing touches to a change of clothing when a servant informed him that a countryman was asking for him. Supposing it to be one of his laborers, he ordered that he be brought into his office, or study, which was at the same time a library and a chemical laboratory. Greatly to his surprise he found himself face to face with the severe and mysterious figure of Elias.
“You saved my life,” said the pilot in Tagalog, noticing Ibarra’s start of surprise. “I have partly paid the debt and you have nothing to thank me for, but quite the opposite. I’ve come to ask a favor of you.”
“Speak!” answered the youth in the same language, puzzled by the pilot’s gravity.
Elias stared into Ibarra’s eyes for some seconds before he replied, “When human courts try to clear up this mystery, I beg of you not to speak to any one of the warning that I gave you in the church.”
“Don’t worry,” answered the youth in a rather disgusted tone. “I know that you’re wanted, but I’m no informer.”
“Oh, it’s not on my account, not on my account!” exclaimed Elias with some vigor and haughtiness. “It’s on your own account. I fear nothing from men.”
Ibarra’s surprise increased. The tone in which this rustics– formerly a pilot–spoke was new and did not seem to harmonize with either his condition or his fortune. “What do you mean?” he asked, interrogating that mysterious individual with his looks.
“I do not talk in enigmas but try to express myself clearly; for your greater security, it is better that your enemies think you unsuspecting and unprepared.”
Ibarra recoiled. “My enemies? Have I enemies?”
“All of us have them, sir, from the smallest insect up to man, from the poorest and humblest to the richest and most powerful! Enmity is the law of life!”
Ibarra gazed at him in silence for a while, then murmured, “You are neither a pilot nor a rustic!”
“You have enemies in high and low places,” continued Elias, without heeding the young man’s words. “You are planning a great undertaking, you have a past. Your father and your grandfather had enemies because they had passions, and in life it is not the criminal who provokes the most hate but the honest man.”
“Do you know who my enemies are?”
Elias meditated for a moment. “I knew one–him who is dead,” he finally answered. “Last night I learned that a plot against you was being hatched, from some words exchanged with an unknown person who lost himself in the crowd. ‘The fish will not eat him, as they did his father; you’ll see tomorrow,’ the unknown said. These words caught my attention not only by their meaning but also on account of the person who uttered them, for he had some days before presented himself to the foreman on the work with the express request that he be allowed to superintend the placing of the stone. He didn’t ask for much pay but made a show of great knowledge. I hadn’t sufficient reason for believing in his bad intentions, but something within told me that my conjectures were true and therefore I chose as the suitable occasion to warn you a moment when you could not ask me any questions. The rest you have seen for yourself.”
For a long time after Elias had become silent Ibarra remained thoughtful, not answering him or saying a word. “I’m sorry that that man is dead!” he exclaimed at length. “From him something more might have been learned.”
“If he had lived, he would have escaped from the trembling hand of blind human justice. God has judged him, God has killed him, let God be the only Judge!”
Crisostomo gazed for a moment at the man, who, while he spoke thus, exposed his muscular arms covered with lumps and bruises. “Do you also believe in the miracle?” he asked with a smile. “You know what a miracle the people are talking about.”
“Were I to believe in miracles, I should not believe in God. I should believe in a deified man, I should believe that man had really created a god in his own image and likeness,” the mysterious pilot answered solemnly. “But I believe in Him, I have felt His hand more than once. When the whole apparatus was falling down and threatening destruction to all who happened to be near it, I, I myself, caught the criminal, I placed myself at his side. He was struck and I am safe and sound.”
“You! So it was you–”
“Yes! I caught him when he tried to escape, once his deadly work had begun. I saw his crime, and I say this to you: let God be the sole judge among men, let Him be the only one to have the right over life, let no man ever think to take His place!”
“But you in this instance–”
“No!” interrupted Elias, guessing the objection. “It’s not the same. When a man condemns others to death or destroys their future forever he does it with impunity and uses the strength of others to execute his judgments, which after all may be mistaken or erroneous. But I, in exposing the criminal to the same peril that he had prepared for others, incurred the same risk as he did. I did not kill him, but let the hand of God smite him.”
“Then you don’t believe in accidents?”
“Believing in accidents is like believing in miracles; both presuppose that God does not know the future. What is an accident? An event that no one has at all foreseen. What is a miracle? A contradiction, an overturning of natural laws. Lack of foresight and contradiction in the Intelligence that rules the machinery of the world indicate two great defects.”
“Who are you?” Ibarra again asked with some awe.
“Have you ever studied?”
“I have had to believe greatly in God, because I have lost faith in men,” answered the pilot, avoiding the question.
Ibarra thought he understood this hunted youth; he rejected human justice, he refused to recognize the right of man to judge his fellows, he protested against force and the superiority of some classes over others.
“But nevertheless you must admit the necessity of human justice, however imperfect it may be,” he answered. “God, in spite of the many ministers He may have on earth, cannot, or rather does not, pronounce His judgments clearly to settle the million conflicts that our passions excite. It is proper, it is necessary, it is just, that man sometimes judge his fellows.”
“Yes, to do good, but not to do ill, to correct and to better, but not to destroy, for if his judgments are wrong he hasn’t the power to remedy the evil he has done. But,” he added with a change of tone, “this discussion is beyond my powers and I’m detaining you, who are being waited for. Don’t forget what I’ve just told you–you have enemies. Take care of yourself for the good of our country.” Saying this, he turned to go.
“When shall I see you again?” asked Ibarra.
“Whenever you wish and always when I can be of service to you. I am still your debtor.”