Ibarra stood undecided for a moment. The night breeze, which during those months blows cool enough in Manila, seemed to drive from his forehead the light cloud that had darkened it. He took off his hat and drew a deep breath. Carriages flashed by, public rigs moved along at a sleepy pace, pedestrians of many nationalities were passing. He walked along at that irregular pace which indicates thoughtful abstraction or freedom from care, directing his steps toward Binondo Plaza and looking about him as if to recall the place. There were the same streets and the identical houses with their white and blue walls, whitewashed, or frescoed in bad imitation of granite; the church continued to show its illuminated clock face; there were the same Chinese shops with their soiled curtains and their iron gratings, in one of which was a bar that he, in imitation of the street urchins of Manila, had twisted one night; it was still unstraightened. “How slowly everything moves,” he murmured as he turned into Calle Sacristia. The ice-cream venders were repeating the same shrill cry, “Sorbeteee!” while the smoky lamps still lighted the identical Chinese stands and those of the old women who sold candy and fruit.
“Wonderful!” he exclaimed. “There’s the same Chinese who was here seven years ago, and that old woman—the very same! It might be said that tonight I’ve dreamed of a seven years’ journey in Europe. Good heavens, that pavement is still in the same unrepaired condition as when I left!” True it was that the stones of the sidewalk on the corner of San Jacinto and Sacristia were still loose.
While he was meditating upon this marvel of the city’s stability in a country where everything is so unstable, a hand was placed lightly on his shoulder. He raised his head to see the old lieutenant gazing at him with something like a smile in place of the hard expression and the frown which usually characterized him.
“Young man, be careful! Learn from your father!” was the abrupt greeting of the old soldier.
“Pardon me, but you seem to have thought a great deal of my father. Can you tell me how he died?” asked Ibarra, staring at him.
“What! Don’t you know about it?” asked the officer.
“I asked Don Santiago about it, but he wouldn’t promise to tell me until tomorrow. Perhaps you know?”
“I should say I do, as does everybody else. He died in prison!”
The young man stepped backward a pace and gazed searchingly at the lieutenant. “In prison? Who died in prison?”
“Your father, man, since he was in confinement,” was the somewhat surprised answer.
“My father—in prison—confined in a prison? What are you talking about? Do you know who my father was? Are you—?” demanded the young man, seizing the officer’s arm.
“I rather think that I’m not mistaken. He was Don Rafael Ibarra.”
“Yes, Don Rafael Ibarra,” echoed the youth weakly.
“Well, I thought you knew about it,” muttered the soldier in a tone of compassion as he saw what was passing in Ibarra’s mind. “I supposed that you—but be brave! Here one cannot be honest and keep out of jail.”
“I must believe that you are not joking with me,” replied Ibarra in a weak voice, after a few moments’ silence. “Can you tell me why he was in prison?”
The old man seemed to be perplexed. “It’s strange to me that your family affairs were not made known to you.”
“His last letter, a year ago, said that I should not be uneasy if he did not write, as he was very busy. He charged me to continue my studies and—sent me his blessing.”
“Then he wrote that letter to you just before he died. It will soon be a year since we buried him.”
“But why was my father a prisoner?”
“For a very honorable reason. But come with me to the barracks and I’ll tell you as we go along. Take my arm.”
They moved along for some time in silence. The elder seemed to be in deep thought and to be seeking inspiration from his goatee, which he stroked continually.
“As you well know,” he began, “your father was the richest man in the province, and while many loved and respected him, there were also some who envied and hated him. We Spaniards who come to the Philippines are unfortunately not all we ought to be. I say this as much on account of one of your ancestors as on account of your father’s enemies. The continual changes, the corruption in the higher circles, the favoritism, the low cost and the shortness of the journey, are to blame for it all. The worst characters of the Peninsula come here, and even if a good man does come, the country soon ruins him. So it was that your father had a number of enemies among the curates and other Spaniards.”
Here he hesitated for a while. “Some months after your departure the troubles with Padre Damaso began, but I am unable to explain the real cause of them. Fray Damaso accused him of not coming to confession, although he had not done so formerly and they had nevertheless been good friends, as you may still remember. Moreover, Don Rafael was a very upright man, more so than many of those who regularly attend confession and than the confessors themselves. He had framed for himself a rigid morality and often said to me, when he talked of these troubles, ‘Señor Guevara, do you believe that God will pardon any crime, a murder for instance, solely by a man’s telling it to a priest—a man after all and one whose duty it is to keep quiet about it—by his fearing that he will roast in hell as a penance—by being cowardly and certainly shameless into the bargain? I have another conception of God,’ he used to say, ‘for in my opinion one evil does not correct another, nor is a crime to be expiated by vain lamentings or by giving alms to the Church. Take this example: if I have killed the father of a family, if I have made of a woman a sorrowing widow and destitute orphans of some happy children, have I satisfied eternal Justice by letting myself be hanged, or by entrusting my secret to one who is obliged to guard it for me, or by giving alms to priests who are least in need of them, or by buying indulgences and lamenting night and day? What of the widow and the orphans? My conscience tells me that I should try to take the place of him whom I killed, that I should dedicate my whole life to the welfare of the family whose misfortunes I caused. But even so, who can replace the love of a husband and a father?’ Thus your father reasoned and by this strict standard of conduct regulated all his actions, so that it can be said that he never injured anybody. On the contrary, he endeavored by his good deeds to wipe out some injustices which he said your ancestors had committed. But to get back to his troubles with the curate—these took on a serious aspect. Padre Damaso denounced him from the pulpit, and that he did not expressly name him was a miracle, since anything might have been expected of such a character. I foresaw that sooner or later the affair would have serious results.”
Again the old lieutenant paused. “There happened to be wandering about the province an ex-artilleryman who has been discharged from the army on account of his stupidity and ignorance. As the man had to live and he was not permitted to engage in manual labor, which would injure our prestige, he somehow or other obtained a position as collector of the tax on vehicles. The poor devil had no education at all, a fact of which the natives soon became aware, as it was a marvel for them to see a Spaniard who didn’t know how to read and write. Every one ridiculed him and the payment of the tax was the occasion of broad smiles. He knew that he was an object of ridicule and this tended to sour his disposition even more, rough and bad as it had formerly been. They would purposely hand him the papers upside down to see his efforts to read them, and wherever he found a blank space he would scribble a lot of pothooks which rather fitly passed for his signature. The natives mocked while they paid him. He swallowed his pride and made the collections, but was in such a state of mind that he had no respect for any one. He even came to have some hard words with your father.
“One day it happened that he was in a shop turning a document over and over in the effort to get it straight when a schoolboy began to make signs to his companions and to point laughingly at the collector with his finger. The fellow heard the laughter and saw the joke reflected in the solemn faces of the bystanders. He lost his patience and, turning quickly, started to chase the boys, who ran away shouting ba, be, bi, bo, bu.1 Blind with rage and unable to catch them, he threw his cane and struck one of the boys on the head, knocking him down. He ran up and began to kick the fallen boy, and none of those who had been laughing had the courage to interfere. Unfortunately, your father happened to come along just at that time. He ran forward indignantly, caught the collector by the arm, and reprimanded him severely. The artilleryman, who was no doubt beside himself with rage, raised his hand, but your father was too quick for him, and with the strength of a descendant of the Basques—some say that he struck him, others that he merely pushed him, but at any rate the man staggered and fell a little way off, striking his head against a stone. Don Rafael quietly picked the wounded boy up and carried him to the town hall. The artilleryman bled freely from the mouth and died a few moments later without recovering consciousness.
“As was to be expected, the authorities intervened and arrested your father. All his hidden enemies at once rose up and false accusations came from all sides. He was accused of being a heretic and a filibuster. To be a heretic is a great danger anywhere, but especially so at that time when the province was governed by an alcalde who made a great show of his piety, who with his servants used to recite his rosary in the church in a loud voice, perhaps that all might hear and pray with him. But to be a filibuster is worse than to be a heretic and to kill three or four tax-collectors who know how to read, write, and attend to business. Every one abandoned him, and his books and papers were seized. He was accused of subscribing to El Correo de Ultramar, and to newspapers from Madrid, of having sent you to Germany, of having in his possession letters and a photograph of a priest who had been legally executed, and I don’t know what not. Everything served as an accusation, even the fact that he, a descendant of Peninsulars, wore a camisa. Had it been any one but your father, it is likely that he would soon have been set free, as there was a physician who ascribed the death of the unfortunate collector to a hemorrhage. But his wealth, his confidence in the law, and his hatred of everything that was not legal and just, wrought his undoing. In spite of my repugnance to asking for mercy from any one, I applied personally to the Captain-General—the predecessor of our present one—and urged upon him that there could not be anything of the filibuster about a man who took up with all the Spaniards, even the poor emigrants, and gave them food and shelter, and in whose veins yet flowed the generous blood of Spain. It was in vain that I pledged my life and swore by my poverty and my military honor. I succeeded only in being coldly listened to and roughly sent away with the epithet of chiflado.”2
The old man paused to take a deep breath, and after noticing the silence of his companion, who was listening with averted face, continued: “At your father’s request I prepared the defense in the case. I went first to the celebrated Filipino lawyer, young A———, but he refused to take the case. ‘I should lose it,’ he told me, ‘and my defending him would furnish the motive for another charge against him and perhaps one against me. Go to Señor M———, who is a forceful and fluent speaker and a Peninsular of great influence.’ I did so, and the noted lawyer took charge of the case, and conducted it with mastery and brilliance. But your father’s enemies were numerous, some of them hidden and unknown. False witnesses abounded, and their calumnies, which under other circumstances would have melted away before a sarcastic phrase from the defense, here assumed shape and substance. If the lawyer succeeded in destroying the force of their testimony by making them contradict each other and even perjure themselves, new charges were at once preferred. They accused him of having illegally taken possession of a great deal of land and demanded damages. They said that he maintained relations with the tulisanes in order that his crops and animals might not be molested by them. At last the case became so confused that at the end of a year no one understood it. The alcalde had to leave and there came in his place one who had the reputation of being honest, but unfortunately he stayed only a few months, and his successor was too fond of good horses.
“The sufferings, the worries, the hard life in the prison, or the pain of seeing so much ingratitude, broke your father’s iron constitution and he fell ill with that malady which only the tomb can cure. When the case was almost finished and he was about to be acquitted of the charge of being an enemy of the fatherland and of being the murderer of the tax-collector, he died in the prison with no one at his side. I arrived just in time to see him breathe his last.”
The old lieutenant became silent, but still Ibarra said nothing. They had arrived meanwhile at the door of the barracks, so the soldier stopped and said, as he grasped the youth’s hand, “Young man, for details ask Capitan Tiago. Now, good night, as I must return to duty and see that all’s well.”
Silently, but with great feeling, Ibarra shook the lieutenant’s bony hand and followed him with his eyes until he disappeared. Then he turned slowly and signaled to a passing carriage. “To Lala’s Hotel,” was the direction he gave in a scarcely audible voice.
“This fellow must have just got out of jail,” thought the cochero as he whipped up his horses.