The Chase on the Lake
“Listen, sir, to the plan that I have worked out,” said Elias thoughtfully, as they moved in the direction of San Gabriel. “I’ll hide you now in the house of a friend of mine in Mandaluyong. I’ll bring you all your money, which I saved and buried at the foot of the balete in the mysterious tomb of your grandfather. Then you will leave the country.”
“To go abroad?” inquired Ibarra.
“To live out in peace the days of life that remain to you. You have friends in Spain, you are rich, you can get yourself pardoned. In every way a foreign country is for us a better fatherland than our own.”
Crisostomo did not answer, but meditated in silence. At that moment they reached the Pasig and the banka began to ascend the current. Over the Bridge of Spain a horseman galloped rapidly, while a shrill, prolonged whistle was heard.
“Elias,” said Ibarra, “you owe your misfortunes to my family, you have saved my life twice, and I owe you not only gratitude but also the restitution of your fortune. You advise me to go abroad–then come with me and we will live like brothers. Here you also are wretched.”
Elias shook his head sadly and answered: “Impossible! It’s true that I cannot love or be happy in my country, but I can suffer and die in it, and perhaps for it–that is always something. May the misfortunes of my native land be my own misfortunes and, although no noble sentiment unites us, although our hearts do not beat to a single name, at least may the common calamity bind me to my countrymen, at least may I weep over our sorrows with them, may the same hard fate oppress all our hearts alike!”
“Then why do you advise me to go away?”
“Because in some other country you could be happy while I could not, because you are not made to suffer, and because you would hate your country if some day you should see yourself ruined in its cause, and to hate one’s native land is the greatest of calamities.” “You are unfair to me!” exclaimed Ibarra with bitter reproach. “You forget that scarcely had I arrived here when I set myself to seek its welfare.”
“Don’t be offended, sir, I was not reproaching you at all. Would that all of us could imitate you! But I do not ask impossibilities of you and I mean no offense when I say that your heart deceives you. You loved your country because your father taught you to do so; you loved it because in it you had affection, fortune, youth, because everything smiled on you, your country had done you no injustice; you loved it as we love anything that makes us happy. But the day in which you see yourself poor and hungry, persecuted, betrayed, and sold by your own countrymen, on that day you will disown yourself, your country, and all mankind.”
“Your words pain me,” said Ibarra resentfully.
Elias bowed his head and meditated before replying. “I wish to disillusion you, sir, and save you from a sad future. Recall that night when I talked to you in this same banka under the light of this same moon, not a month ago. Then you were happy, the plea of the unfortunates did not touch you; you disdained their complaints because they were the complaints of criminals; you paid more attention to their enemies, and in spite of my arguments and petitions, you placed yourself on the side of their oppressors. On you then depended whether I should turn criminal or allow myself to be killed in order to carry out a sacred pledge, but God has not permitted this because the old chief of the outlaws is dead. A month has hardly passed and you think otherwise.”
“You’re right, Elias, but man is a creature of circumstances! Then I was blind, annoyed–what did I know? Now misfortune has torn the bandage from my eyes; the solitude and misery of my prison have taught me; now I see the horrible cancer which feeds upon this society, which clutches its flesh, and which demands a violent rooting out. They have opened my eyes, they have made me see the sore, and they force me to be a criminal! Since they wish it, I will be a filibuster, a real filibuster, I mean. I will call together all the unfortunates, all who feel a heart beat in their breasts, all those who were sending you to me. No, I will not be a criminal, never is he such who fights for his native land, but quite the reverse! We, during three centuries, have extended them our hands, we have asked love of them, we have yearned to call them brothers, and how do they answer us? With insults and jests, denying us even the chance character of human beings. There is no God, there is no hope, there is no humanity; there is nothing but the right of might!” Ibarra was nervous, his whole body trembled.
As they passed in front of the Captain-General’s palace they thought that they could discern movement and excitement among the guards.
“Can they have discovered your flight?” murmured Elias. “Lie down, sir, so that I can cover you with zacate. Since we shall pass near the powder-magazine it may seem suspicious to the sentinel that there are two of us.”
The banka was one of those small, narrow canoes that do not seem to float but rather to glide over the top of the water. As Elias had foreseen, the sentinel stopped him and inquired whence he came.
“From Manila, to carry zacate to the judges and curates,” he answered, imitating the accent of the people of Pandakan.
A sergeant came out to learn what was happening. “Move on!” he said to Elias. “But I warn you not to take anybody into your banka. A prisoner has just escaped. If you capture him and turn him over to me I’ll give you a good tip.”
“All right, sir. What’s his description?”
“He wears a sack coat and talks Spanish. So look out!” The banka moved away. Elias looked back and watched the silhouette of the sentinel standing on the bank of the river.
“We’ll lose a few minutes’ time,” he said in a low voice. “We must go into the Beata River to pretend that I’m from PeÃ±afrancia. You will see the river of which Francisco Baltazar sang.”
The town slept in the moonlight, and Crisostomo rose up to admire the sepulchral peace of nature. The river was narrow and the level land on either side covered with grass. Elias threw his cargo out on the bank and, after removing a large piece of bamboo, took from under the grass some empty palm-leaf sacks. Then they continued on their way.
“You are the master of your own will, sir, and of your future,” he said to Crisostomo, who had remained silent. “But if you will allow me an observation, I would say: think well what you are planning to do– you are going to light the flames of war, since you have money and brains, and you will quickly find many to join you, for unfortunately there are plenty of malcontents. But in this struggle which you are going to undertake, those who will suffer most will be the defenseless and the innocent. The same sentiments that a month ago impelled me to appeal to you asking for reforms are those that move me now to urge you to think well. The country, sir, does not think of separating from the mother country; it only asks for a little freedom, justice, and affection. You will be supported by the malcontents, the criminals, the desperate, but the people will hold aloof. You are mistaken if, seeing all dark, you think that the country is desperate. The country suffers, yes, but it still hopes and trusts and will only rebel when it has lost its patience, that is, when those who govern it wish it to do so, and that time is yet distant. I myself will not follow you, never will I resort to such extreme measures while I see hope in men.”
“Then I’ll go on without you!” responded Ibarra resolutely.
“Is your decision final?”
“Final and firm; let the memory of my mother bear witness! I will not let peace and happiness be torn away from me with impunity, I who desired only what was good, I who have respected everything and endured everything out of love for a hypocritical religion and out of love of country. How have they answered me? By burying me in an infamous dungeon and robbing me of my intended wife! No, not to avenge myself would be a crime, it would be encouraging them to new acts of injustice! No, it would be cowardice, pusillanimity, to groan and weep when there is blood and life left, when to insult and menace is added mockery. I will call out these ignorant people, I will make them see their misery. I will teach them to think not of brotherhood but only that they are wolves for devouring, I will urge them to rise against this oppression and proclaim the eternal right
of man to win his freedom!”
“But innocent people will suffer!”
“So much the better! Can you take me to the mountains?”
“Until you are in safety,” replied Elias.
Again they moved out into the Pasig, talking from time to time of indifferent matters.
“Santa Ana!” murmured Ibarra. “Do you recognize this building?” They were passing in front of the country-house of the Jesuits.
“There I spent many pleasant and happy days!” sighed Elias. “In my time we came every month. Then I was like others, I had a fortune, family, I dreamed, I looked forward to a future. In those days I saw my sister in the near-by college, she presented me with a piece of her own embroidery-work. A friend used to accompany her, a beautiful girl. All that has passed like a dream.”
They remained silent until they reached Malapad-na-bato. Those who have ever made their way by night up the Pasig, on one of those magical nights that the Philippines offers, when the moon pours out from the limpid blue her melancholy light, when the shadows hide the miseries of man and the silence is unbroken by the sordid accents of his voice, when only Nature speaks–they will understand the thoughts of both these youths.
At Malapad-na-bato the carbineer was sleepy and, seeing that the banka was empty and offered no booty which he might seize, according to the traditional usage of his corps and the custom of that post, he easily let them pass on. Nor did the civil-guard at Pasig suspect anything, so they were not molested.
Day was beginning to break when they reached the lake, still and calm like a gigantic mirror. The moon paled and the east was dyed in rosy tints. Some distance away they perceived a gray mass advancing slowly toward them.
“The police boat is coming,” murmured Elias. “Lie down and I’ll cover you with these sacks.”
The outlines of the boat became clearer and plainer.
“It’s getting between us and the shore,” observed Elias uneasily.
Gradually he changed the course of his banka, rowing toward Binangonan. To his great surprise he noticed that the boat also changed its course, while a voice called to him.
Elias stopped rowing and reflected. The shore was still far away and they would soon be within range of the rifles on the police boat. He thought of returning to Pasig, for his banka was the swifter of the two boats, but unluckily he saw another boat coming from the river and made out the gleam of caps and bayonets of the Civil Guard.
“We’re caught!” he muttered, turning pale.
He gazed at his robust arms and, adopting the only course left, began to row with all his might toward Talim Island, just as the sun was rising.
The banka slipped rapidly along. Elias saw standing on the boat, which had veered about, some men making signals to him.
“Do you know how to manage a banka?” he asked Ibarra.
“Because we are lost if I don’t jump into the water and throw them off the track. They will pursue me, but I swim and dive well. I’ll draw them away from you and then you can save yourself.”
“No, stay here, and we’ll sell our lives dearly!”
“That would be useless. We have no arms and with their rifles they would shoot us down like birds.”
At that instant the water gave forth a hiss such as is caused by the falling of hot metal into it, followed instantaneously by a loud report.
“You see!” said Elias, placing the paddle in the boat. “We’ll see each other on Christmas Eve at the tomb of your grandfather. Save yourself.”
“God has carried me safely through greater perils.”
As Elias took off his camisa a bullet tore it from his hands and two loud reports were heard. Calmly he clasped the hand of Ibarra, who was still stretched out in the bottom of the banka. Then he arose and leaped into the water, at the same time pushing the little craft away from him with his foot.
Cries resounded, and soon some distance away the youth’s head appeared, as if for breathing, then instantly disappeared.
“There, there he is!” cried several voices, and again the bullets whistled.
The police boat and the boat from the Pasig now started in pursuit of him. A light track indicated his passage through the water as he drew farther and farther away from Ibarra’s banka, which floated about as if abandoned. Every time the swimmer lifted his head above the water to breathe, the guards in both boats shot at him.
So the chase continued. Ibarra’s little banka was now far away and the swimmer was approaching the shore, distant some thirty yards. The rowers were tired, but Elias was in the same condition, for he showed his head oftener, and each time in a different direction, as if to disconcert his pursuers. No longer did the treacherous track indicate the position of the diver. They saw him for the last time when he was some ten yards from the shore, and fired. Then minute after minute passed, but nothing again appeared above the still and solitary surface of the lake.
Half an hour afterwards one of the rowers claimed that he could distinguish in the water near the shore traces of blood, but his companions shook their heads dubiously.
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