Noli Me Tangere: Chapter 45 – The Hunted

In the dim light shed by the moonbeams sifting through the thick foliage a man wandered through the forest with slow and cautious steps. From time to time, as if to find his way, he whistled a peculiar melody, which was answered in the distance by some one whistling the same air. The man would listen attentively and then make his way in the direction of the distant sound, until at length, after overcoming the thousand obstacles offered by the virgin forest in the night-time, he reached a small open space, which was bathed in the light of the moon in its first quarter. The high, tree-crowned rocks that rose about formed a kind of ruined amphitheater, in the center of which were scattered recently felled trees and charred logs among boulders covered with nature’s mantle of verdure.

Scarcely had the unknown arrived when another figure started suddenly from behind a large rock and advanced with drawn revolver. “Who are you?” he asked in Tagalog in an imperious tone, cocking the weapon.

“Is old Pablo among you?” inquired the unknown in an even tone, without answering the question or showing any signs of fear.

“You mean the capitan? Yes, he’s here.”

“Then tell him that Elias is here looking for him,” was the answer of the unknown, who was no other than the mysterious pilot.

“Are you Elias?” asked the other respectfully, as he approached him, not, however, ceasing to cover him with the revolver. “Then come!”

Elias followed him, and they penetrated into a kind of cave sunk down in the depths of the earth. The guide, who seemed to be familiar with the way, warned the pilot when he should descend or turn aside or stoop down, so they were not long in reaching a kind of hall which was poorly lighted by pitch torches and occupied by twelve to fifteen armed men with dirty faces and soiled clothing, some seated and some lying down as they talked fitfully to one another. Resting his arms on a stone that served for a table and gazing thoughtfully at the torches, which gave out so little light for so much smoke, was seen an old, sad-featured man with his head wrapped in a bloody bandage. Did we not know that it was a den of tulisanes we might have said, on reading the look of desperation in the old man’s face, that it was the Tower of Hunger on the eve before Ugolino devoured his sons.

Upon the arrival of Elias and his guide the figures partly rose, but at a signal from the latter they settled back again, satisfying themselves with the observation that the newcomer was unarmed. The old man turned his head slowly and saw the quiet figure of Elias, who stood uncovered, gazing at him with sad interest.

“It’s you at last,” murmured the old man, his gaze lighting up somewhat as he recognized the youth.

“In what condition do I find you!” exclaimed the youth in a suppressed tone, shaking his head.

The old man dropped his head in silence and made a sign to the others, who arose and withdrew, first taking the measure of the pilot’s muscles and stature with a glance.

“Yes!” said the old man to Elias as soon as they were alone. “Six months ago when I sheltered you in my house, it was I who pitied you. Now we have changed parts and it is you who pity me. But sit down and tell me how you got here.”

“It’s fifteen days now since I was told of your misfortune,” began the young man slowly in a low voice as he stared at the light. “I started at once and have been seeking you from mountain to mountain. I’ve traveled over nearly the whole of two provinces.”

“In order not to shed innocent blood,” continued the old man, “I have had to flee. My enemies were afraid to show themselves. I was confronted merely with some unfortunates who have never done me the least harm.”

After a brief pause during which he seemed to be occupied in trying to read the thoughts in the dark countenance of the old man, Elias replied: “I’ve come to make a proposition to you. Having sought in vain for some survivor of the family that caused the misfortunes of mine, I’ve decided to leave the province where I live and move toward the North among the independent pagan tribes. Don’t you want to abandon the life you have entered upon and come with me? I will be your son, since you have lost your own; I have no family, and in you will find a father.”

The old man shook his, head in negation, saying, “When one at my age makes a desperate resolution, it’s because there is no other recourse. A man who, like myself, has spent his youth and his mature years toiling for the future of himself and his sons; a man who has been submissive to every wish of his superiors, who has conscientiously performed difficult tasks, enduring all that he might live in peace and quiet–when that man, whose blood time has chilled, renounces all his past and foregoes all his future, even on the very brink of the grave, it is because he has with mature judgment decided that peace does not exist and that it is not the highest good. Why drag out miserable days on foreign soil? I had two sons, a daughter, a home, a fortune, I was esteemed and respected; now I am as a tree shorn of its branches, a wanderer, a fugitive, hunted like a wild beast through the forest, and all for what? Because a man dishonored my daughter, because her brothers called that man’s infamy to account, and because that man is set above his fellows with the title of minister of God! In spite of everything, I, her father, I, dishonored in my old age, forgave the injury, for I was indulgent with the passions of youth and the weakness of the flesh, and in the face of irreparable wrong what could I do but hold my peace and save what remained to me? But the culprit, fearful of vengeance sooner or later, sought the destruction of my sons. Do you know what he did? No? You don’t know, then, that he pretended that there had been a robbery committed in the convento and that one of my sons figured among the accused? The other could not be included because he was in another place at the time. Do you know what tortures they were subjected to? You know of them, for they are the same in all the towns! I, I saw my son hanging by the hair, I heard his cries, I heard him call upon me, and I, coward and lover of peace, hadn’t the courage either to kill or to die! Do you know that the theft was not proved, that it was shown to be a false charge, and that in punishment the curate was transferred to another town, but that my son died as a result of his tortures? The other, the one who was left to me, was not a coward like his father, so our persecutor was still fearful that he would wreak vengeance on him, and, under the pretext of his not having his cedula,[124] which he had not carried with him just at that time, had him arrested by the Civil Guard, mistreated him, enraged and harassed him with insults until he was driven to suicide! And I, I have outlived so much shame; but if I had not the courage of a father to defend my sons, there yet remains to me a heart burning for revenge, and I will have it! The discontented are gathering under my command, my enemies increase my forces, and on the day that I feel myself strong enough I will descend to the lowlands and in flames sate my vengeance and end my own existence. And that day will come or there is no God!” [125]

The old man arose trembling. With fiery look and hollow voice, he added, tearing his long hair, “Curses, curses upon me that I restrained the avenging hands of my sons–I have murdered them! Had I let the guilty perish, had I confided less in the justice of God and men, I should now have my sons–fugitives, perhaps, but I should have them; they would not have died under torture! I was not born to be a father, so I have them not! Curses upon me that I had not learned with my years to know the conditions under which I lived! But in fire and blood by my own death I will avenge them!”

In his paroxysm of grief the unfortunate father tore away the bandage, reopening a wound in his forehead from which gushed a stream of blood.

“I respect your sorrow,” said Elias, “and I understand your desire for revenge. I, too, am like you, and yet from fear of injuring the innocent I prefer to forget my misfortunes.”

“You can forget because you are young and because you haven’t lost a son, your last hope! But I assure you that I shall injure no innocent one. Do you see this wound? Rather than kill a poor cuadrillero, who was doing his duty, I let him inflict it.”

“But look,” urged Elias, after a moment’s silence, “look what a frightful catastrophe you are going to bring down upon our unfortunate people. If you accomplish your revenge by your own hand, your enemies will make terrible reprisals, not against you, not against those who are armed, but against the peaceful, who as usual will be accused– and then the eases of injustice!”

“Let the people learn to defend themselves, let each one defend himself!”

“You know that that is impossible. Sir, I knew you in other days when you were happy; then you gave me good advice, will you now permit me–”

The old man folded his arms in an attitude of attention. “Sir,” continued Elias, weighing his words well, “I have had the good fortune to render a service to a young man who is rich, generous, noble, and who desires the welfare of his country. They say that this young man has friends in Madrid–I don’t know myself–but I can assure you that he is a friend of the Captain-General’s. What do you say that we make him the bearer of the people’s complaints, if we interest him in the cause of the unhappy?”

The old man shook his head. “You say that he is rich? The rich think only of increasing their wealth, pride and show blind them, and as they are generally safe, above all when they have powerful friends, none of them troubles himself about the woes of the unfortunate. I know all, because I was rich!”

“But the man of whom I speak is not like the others. He is a son who has been insulted over the memory of his father, and a young man who, as he is soon to have a family, thinks of the future, of a happy future for his children.”

“Then he is a man who is going to be happy–our cause is not for happy men.”

“But it is for men who have feelings!”

“Perhaps!” replied the old man, seating himself. “Suppose that he agrees to carry our cry even to the Captain-General, suppose that he finds in the Cortes[126] delegates who will plead for us; do you think that we shall get justice?”

“Let us try it before we resort to violent measure,” answered Elias. “You must be surprised that I, another unfortunate, young and strong, should propose to you, old and weak, peaceful measures, but it’s because I’ve seen as much misery caused by us as by the tyrants. The defenseless are the ones who pay.”

“And if we accomplish nothing?”

“Something we shall accomplish, believe me, for all those who are in power are not unjust. But if we accomplish nothing, if they disregard our entreaties, if man has become deaf to the cry of sorrow from his kind, then I will put myself under your orders!”

The old man embraced the youth enthusiastically. “I accept your proposition, Elias. I know that you will keep your word. You will come to me, and I shall help you to revenge your ancestors, you will help me to revenge my sons, my sons that were like you!”

“In the meantime, sir, you will refrain from violent measures?”

“You will present the complaints of the people, you know them. When shall I know your answer?”

“In four days send a man to the beach at San Diego and I will tell him what I shall have learned from the person in whom I place so much hope. If he accepts, they will give us justice; and if not, I’ll be the first to fall in the struggle that we will begin.”

“Elias will not die, Elias will be the leader when Capitan Pablo fails, satisfied in his revenge,” concluded the old man, as he accompanied the youth out of the cave into the open air.






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