Monday, February 14, 2011

El Filibusterismo - CHAPTER VII: SIMOUN

El Filibusterismo

Over these matters Basilio was pondering as he visited his mother's grave. He was about to start back to the town when he thought he saw a light flickering among the trees and heard the snapping of twigs, the sound of feet, and rustling of leaves. The light disappeared but the noises became more distinct, coming directly toward where he was. Basilio was not naturally superstitious, especially after having carved up so many corpses and watched beside so many death-beds, but the old legends about that ghostly spot, the hour, the darkness, the melancholy sighing of the wind, and certain tales heard in his childhood, asserted their influence over his mind and made his heart beat violently.

The figure stopped on the other side of the balete, but the youth could see it through an open space between two roots that had grown in the course of time to the proportions of tree-trunks. It produced
from under its coat a lantern with a powerful reflecting lens, which it placed on the ground, thereby lighting up a pair of riding-boots, the rest of the figure remaining concealed in the darkness. The figure seemed to search its pockets and then bent over to fix a shovel-blade on the end of a stout cane. To his great surprise Basilio thought he could make out some of the features of the jeweler Simoun, who indeed it was.

The jeweler dug in the ground and from time to time the lantern illuminated his face, on which were not now the blue goggles that so completely disguised him. Basilio shuddered: that was the same stranger who thirteen years before had dug his mother's grave there, only now he had aged somewhat, his hair had turned white, he wore a beard and a mustache, but yet his look was the same, the bitter expression, the same cloud on his brow, the same muscular arms, though somewhat thinner now, the same violent energy. Old impressions were stirred in the boy: he seemed to feel the heat of the fire, the hunger, the weariness of that time, the smell of freshly turned earth. Yet his discovery terrified him--that jeweler Simoun, who passed for a British Indian, a Portuguese, an American, a mulatto, the Brown Cardinal, his Black Eminence, the evil genius of the Captain-General as many called him, was no other than the mysterious stranger whose appearance and disappearance coincided with the death of the heir to that land! But of the two strangers who had appeared, which was Ibarra, the living or the dead?

This question, which he had often asked himself whenever Ibarra's death was mentioned, again came into his mind in the presence of the human enigma he now saw before him. The dead man had had two wounds, which must have been made by firearms, as he knew from what he had since studied, and which would be the result of the chase on the lake. Then the dead man must have been Ibarra, who had come to die at the tomb of his forefathers, his desire to be cremated being explained by his
residence in Europe, where cremation is practised. Then who was the other, the living, this jeweler Simoun, at that time with such an appearance of poverty and wretchedness, but who had now returnedloaded with gold and a friend of the authorities? There was the mystery, and the student, with his characteristic cold-bloodedness, determined to clear it up at the first opportunity.

Simoun dug away for some time, but Basilio noticed that his old vigor had declined--he panted and had to rest every few moments. Fearing that he might be discovered, the boy made a sudden resolution. Rising from his seat and issuing from his hiding-place, he asked in the most matter-of-fact tone, "Can I help you, sir?"

Simoun straightened up with the spring of a tiger attacked at his prey, thrust his hand in his coat pocket, and stared at the student with a pale and lowering gaze.

"Thirteen years ago you rendered me a great service, sir," went on Basilio unmoved, "in this very place, by burying my mother, and I should consider myself happy if I could serve you now."

Without taking his eyes off the youth Simoun drew a revolver from his pocket and the click of a hammer being cocked was heard. "For whom do you take me?" he asked, retreating a few paces.

"For a person who is sacred to me," replied Basilio with some emotion, for he thought his last moment had come. "For a person whom all, except me, believe to be dead, and whose misfortunes I have always lamented."

An impressive silence followed these words, a silence that to the youth seemed to suggest eternity. But Simoun, after some hesitation, approached him and placing a hand on his shoulder said in a moving
tone: "Basilio, you possess a secret that can ruin me and now you have just surprised me in another, which puts me completely in your hands, the divulging of which would upset all my plans. For my own security and for the good of the cause in which I labor, I ought to seal your lips forever, for what is the life of one man compared to the end I seek? The occasion is fitting; no one knows that I have come here; I am armed; you are defenceless; your death would be attributed to the outlaws, if not to more supernatural causes--yet I'll let youlive and trust that I shall not regret it. You have toiled, you have struggled with energetic perseverance, and like myself, you have your scores to settle with society. Your brother was murdered, your mother driven to insanity, and society has prosecuted neither the assassin nor the executioner. You and I are the dregs of justice and instead of destroying we ought to aid each other."

Simoun paused with a repressed sigh, and then slowly resumed, while his gaze wandered about: "Yes, I am he who came here thirteen years ago, sick and wretched, to pay the last tribute to a great and noble soul that was willing to die for me. The victim of a vicious system, I have wandered over the world, working night and day to amass a fortune and carry out my plan. Now I have returned to destroy that system, to precipitate its downfall, to hurl it into the abyss toward which it is senselessly rushing, even though I may have to shed oceans of tears and blood. It has condemned itself, it stands condemned, and I don't want to die before I have seen it in fragments at the foot of the precipice!"

Simoun extended both his arms toward the earth, as if with that gesture he would like to hold there the broken remains. His voice took on a sinister, even lugubrious tone, which made the student shudder.

"Called by the vices of the rulers, I have returned to these islands, and under the cloak of a merchant have visited the towns. My gold has opened a way for me and wheresoever I have beheld greed in the most execrable forms, sometimes hypocritical, sometimes shameless, sometimes cruel, fatten on the dead organism, like a vulture on a corpse, I have asked myself--why was there not, festering in its
vitals, the corruption, the ptomaine, the poison of the tombs, to kill the foul bird? The corpse was letting itself be consumed, the vulture was gorging itself with meat, and because it was not possible for me to give it life so that it might turn against its destroyer, and because the corruption developed slowly, I have stimulated greed, I have abetted it. The cases of injustice and the abuses multiplied themselves; I have instigated crime and acts of cruelty, so that the people might become accustomed to the idea of death. I have stirred up trouble so that to escape from it some remedy might be found; I have placed obstacles in the way of trade so that the country, impoverished and reduced to misery, might no longer be afraid of anything; I have excited desires to plunder the treasury, and as this has not been enough to bring about a popular uprising, I have wounded the people in their most sensitive fiber; I have made the vulture itself insult the very corpse that it feeds upon and hasten the corruption.

"Now, when I was about to get the supreme rottenness, the supreme filth, the mixture of such foul products brewing poison, when the greed was beginning to irritate, in its folly hastening to seize whatever came to hand, like an old woman caught in a conflagration, here you come with your cries of Hispanism, with chants of confidence in the government, in what cannot come to pass, here you have a body palpitating with heat and life, young, pure, vigorous, throbbing with blood, with enthusiasm, suddenly come forth to offer itself again as fresh food!

"Ah, youth is ever inexperienced and dreamy, always running after the butterflies and flowers! You have united, so that by your efforts you may bind your fatherland to Spain with garlands of roses when in reality you are forging upon it chains harder than the diamond! You ask for equal rights, the Hispanization of your customs, and you don't see that what you are begging for is suicide, the destruction of your nationality, the annihilation of your fatherland, the consecration of tyranny! What will you be in the future? A people without character, a nation without liberty--everything you have will be borrowed, even your very defects! You beg for Hispanization, and do not pale with shame when they deny it you! And even if they should grant it to you, what then--what have you gained? At best, a country of pronunciamentos, a land of civil wars, a republic of the greedy and the malcontents,
like some of the republics of South America! To what are you tending now, with your instruction in Castilian, a pretension that would be ridiculous were it not for its deplorable consequences! You wish to add one more language to the forty odd that are spoken in the islands, so that you may understand one another less and less."

"On the contrary," replied Basilio, "if the knowledge of Castilian may bind us to the government, in exchange it may also unite the islands among themselves."

"A gross error!" rejoined Simoun. "You are letting yourselves be deceived by big words and never go to the bottom of things to examine the results in their final analysis. Spanish will never be the general
language of the country, the people will never talk it, because the conceptions of their brains and the feelings of their hearts cannot be expressed in that language--each people has its own tongue, as it has its own way of thinking! What are you going to do with Castilian, the few of you who will speak it? Kill off your own originality, subordinate your thoughts to other brains, and instead of freeing yourselves, make yourselves slaves indeed! Nine-tenths of those of you who pretend to be enlightened are renegades to your country! He among you who talks that language neglects his own in such a way that he neither writes nor understands it, and how many have I not seen who pretended not to know a single word of it! But fortunately, you have an imbecile government! While Russia enslaves Poland by forcing the Russian language upon it, while Germany prohibits French in the conquered provinces, your government strives to preserve yours, and you in return, a remarkable people under an incredible government, you are trying to despoil yourselves of your own nationality! One and all you forget that while a people preserves its language, it preserves the marks of its liberty, as a man preserves his independence while he holds to his own way of thinking. Language is the thought of the peoples. Luckily, your independence is assured; human passions are looking out for that!"

Simoun paused and rubbed his hand over his forehead. The waning moon was rising and sent its faint light down through the branches of the trees, and with his white locks and severe features, illuminated from below by the lantern, the jeweler appeared to be the fateful spirit of the wood planning some evil.

Basilio was silent before such bitter reproaches and listened with bowed head, while Simoun resumed: "I saw this movement started and have passed whole nights of anguish, because I understood that among those youths there were exceptional minds and hearts, sacrificing themselves for what they thought to be a good cause, when in reality they were working against their own country. How many times have I wished to speak to you young men, to reveal myself and undeceive you! But in view of the reputation I enjoy, my words would have been wrongly interpreted and would perhaps have had a counter effect. How many times have I not longed to approach your Makaraig, your Isagani! Sometimes I thought of their death, I wished to destroy them--"

Simoun checked himself.

"Here's why I let you live, Basilio, and by such imprudence I exposemyself to the risk of being some day betrayed by you. But you know who I am, you know how much I must have suffered--then believe in me! You are not of the common crowd, which sees in the jeweler Simoun the trader who incites the authorities to commit abuses in order that the abused may buy jewels. I am the Judge who wishes to castigate this system by making use of its own defects, to make war on it by flattering it. I need your help, your influence among the youth, to combat these senseless desires for Hispanization, for assimilation, for equal rights. By that road you will become only a poor copy, and the people should look higher. It is madness to attempt toinfluence the thoughts of the rulers--they have their plan outlined, the bandage covers their eyes, and besides losing time uselessly, you are deceiving the people with vain hopes and are helping to bend their necks before the tyrant. What you should do is to take advantage of their prejudices to serve your needs. Are they unwilling that you be assimilated with the Spanish people? Good enough! Distinguish yourselves then by revealing yourselves in your own character, tryto lay the foundations of the Philippine fatherland! Do they deny you hope? Good! Don't depend on them, depend upon yourselves and work! Do they deny you representation in their Cortes? So much the better! Even should you succeed in sending representatives of your own choice, what are you going to accomplish there except to be overwhelmed among so many voices, and sanction with your presence the abuses and wrongs that are afterwards perpetrated? The fewer rights they allow you, the more reason you will have later to throw off the yoke, and return evil for evil. If they are unwilling to teach you their language, cultivate your own, extend it, preserve to the people their own way of thinking, and instead of aspiring to be a province, aspire to be a nation! Instead of subordinate thoughts, think independently, to the end that neither by right, nor custom, nor language, the Spaniard
can be considered the master here, nor even be looked upon as a part of the country, but ever as an invader, a foreigner, and sooner or later you will have your liberty! Here's why I let you live!"

Basilio breathed freely, as though a great weight had been lifted from him, and after a brief pause, replied: "Sir, the honor you do me in confiding your plans to me is too great for me not to be frank with
you, and tell you that what you ask of me is beyond my power. I am no politician, and if I have signed the petition for instruction in Castilian it has been because I saw in it an advantage to our studies and nothing more. My destiny is different; my aspiration reduces itself to alleviating the physical sufferings of my fellow men."

The jeweler smiled. "What are physical sufferings compared to moral tortures? What is the death of a man in the presence of the death of a society? Some day you will perhaps be a great physician, if they let you go your way in peace, but greater yet will be he who can inject a new idea into this anemic people! You, what are you doing for the land that gave you existence, that supports your life, that affords you knowledge? Don't you realize that that is a useless life which is not consecrated to a great idea? It is a stone wasted in the fields without becoming a part of any edifice."

"No, no, sir!" replied Basilio modestly, "I'm not folding my arms, I'm working like all the rest to raise up from the ruins of the past a people whose units will be bound together--that each one may feel in himself the conscience and the life of the whole. But however enthusiastic our generation may be, we understand that in this great social fabric there must be a division of labor. I have chosen my task and will devote myself to science."

"Science is not the end of man," declared Simoun.

"The most civilized nations are tending toward it."

"Yes, but only as a means of seeking their welfare."

"Science is more eternal, it's more human, it's more universal!" exclaimed the youth in a transport of enthusiasm. "Within a few centuries, when humanity has become redeemed and enlightened, when there are no races, when all peoples are free, when there are neither tyrants nor slaves, colonies nor mother countries, when justice rules and man is a citizen of the world, the pursuit of science alone will remain, the word patriotism will be equivalent to fanaticism, and he who prides himself on patriotic ideas will doubtless be isolated as a dangerous disease, as a menace to the social order."

Simoun smiled sadly. "Yes, yes," he said with a shake of his head, "yet to reach that condition it is necessary that there be no tyrannical and no enslaved peoples, it is necessary that man go about freely, that he know how to respect the rights of others in their own individuality, and for this there is yet much blood to be shed, the struggle forces itself forward. To overcome the ancient fanaticism that bound consciences it was necessary that many should perish in the holocausts, so that the social conscience in horror declared the individual conscience free. It is also necessary that all answer the question which with each day the fatherland asks them, with its fettered hands extended! Patriotism can only be a crime in a tyrannical people, because then it is rapine under a beautiful name, but however perfect humanity may become, patriotism will always be a virtue among oppressed peoples, because it will at all times mean love of justice, of liberty, of personal dignity--nothing of chimerical dreams, of effeminate idyls! The greatness of a man is not in living before his time, a thing almost impossible, but in understanding its desires, in responding to its needs, and in guiding it on its forward way. The geniuses that are commonly believed to have existed before their time, only appear so because those who judge them see from a great distance, or take as representative of the age the line of stragglers!"

Simoun fell silent. Seeing that he could awake no enthusiasm in that unresponsive mind, he turned to another subject and asked with a change of tone: "And what are you doing for the memory of your mother and your brother? Is it enough that you come here every year, to weep like a woman over a grave?" And he smiled sarcastically.

The shot hit the mark. Basilio changed color and advanced a step.

"What do you want me to do?" he asked angrily.

"Without means, without social position, how may I bring their murderers to justice? I would merely be another victim, shattered like a piece of glass hurled against a rock. Ah, you do ill to recall this to me, since it is wantonly reopening a wound!"

"But what if I should offer you my aid?"

Basilio shook his head and remained pensive. "All the tardy vindications of justice, all the revenge in the world, will not restore a single hair of my mother's head, or recall a smile to my brother's lips. Let them rest in peace--what should I gain now by avenging them?"

"Prevent others from suffering what you have suffered, that in the future there be no brothers murdered or mothers driven to madness. Resignation is not always a virtue; it is a crime when it encourages tyrants: there are no despots where there are no slaves! Man is in his own nature so wicked that he always abuses complaisance. I thought as you do, and you know what my fate was. Those who caused your misfortunes are watching you day and night, they suspect that you are only biding your time, they take your eagerness to learn, your love of study, your very complaisance, for burning desires for revenge. The day they can get rid of you they will do with you as they did with me, and they will not let you grow to manhood, because they fear and hate you!"

"Hate me? Still hate me after the wrong they have done me?" asked the youth in surprise.

Simoun burst into a laugh. "'It is natural for man to hate those whom he has wronged,' said Tacitus, confirming the _quos laeserunt et oderunt_ of Seneca. When you wish to gauge the evil or the good that one people has done to another, you have only to observe whether it hates or loves. Thus is explained the reason why many who have enriched themselves here in the high offices they have filled, on their return to the Peninsula relieve themselves by slanders and insults against those who have been their victims. _Proprium humani ingenii est odisse quern laeseris!"_

"But if the world is large, if one leaves them to the peaceful enjoyment of power, if I ask only to be allowed to work, to live--"

"And to rear meek-natured sons to send them afterwards to submit to the yoke," continued Simoun, cruelly mimicking Basilio's tone. "A fine future you prepare for them, and they have to thank you for a life of humiliation and suffering! Good enough, young man! When a body is inert, it is useless to galvanize it. Twenty years of continuous slavery, of systematic humiliation, of constant prostration, finally create in the mind a twist that cannot be straightened by the labor of a day. Good and evil instincts are inherited and transmitted from father to son. Then let your idylic ideas live, your dreams of a slave who asks only for a bandage to wrap the chain so that it may rattle less and not ulcerate his skin! You hope for a little home and some ease, a wife and a handful of rice--here is your ideal man of the Philippines! Well, if they give it to you, consider yourself fortunate."

Basilio, accustomed to obey and bear with the caprices and humors of Capitan Tiago. was now dominated by Simoun, who appeared to him terrible and sinister on a background bathed in tears and blood. He tried to explain himself by saying that he did not consider himself fit to mix in politics, that he had no political opinions because he had never studied the question, but that he was always ready to
lend his services the day they might be needed, that for the moment he saw only one need, the enlightenment of the people.

Simoun stopped him with a gesture, and, as the dawn was coming, said to him: "Young man, I am not warning you to keep my secret, because I know that discretion is one of your good qualities, and even though you might wish to sell me, the jeweler Simoun, the friend of the authorities and of the religious corporations, will always be given more credit than the student Basilio, already suspected of filibusterism, and, being a native, so much the more marked and watched, and because in the profession you are entering upon you will encounter powerful rivals. After all, even though you have not corresponded to my hopes, the day on which you change your mind, look me up at my house in the Escolta, and I'll be glad to help you."

Basilio thanked him briefly and went away.

"Have I really made a mistake?" mused Simoun, when he found himself alone. "Is it that he doubts me and meditates his plan of revenge so secretly that he fears to tell it even in the solitude of the night? Or can it be that the years of servitude have extinguished in his heart every human sentiment and there remain only the animal desires to live and reproduce? In that case the type is deformed and will have to be cast over again. Then the hecatomb is preparing:
let the unfit perish and only the strongest survive!"

Then he added sadly, as if apostrophizing some one: "Have patience, you who left me a name and a home, have patience! I have lost all--country, future, prosperity, your very tomb, but have patience! And thou, noble spirit, great soul, generous heart, who didst live with only one thought and didst sacrifice thy life without asking the gratitude or applause of any one, have patience, have patience! The methods that I use may perhaps not be thine, but they are the most direct. The day is coming, and when it brightens I myself will come to announce it to you who are now indifferent. Have patience!"


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