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Chapter 33: La Ultima Razon

At last the great day arrived. During the morning Simoun had not left his house, busied as he was in packing his arms and his jewels. His fabulous wealth was already locked up in the big steel chest with its canvas cover, there remaining only a few cases containing bracelets and pins, doubtless gifts that he meant to make. He was going to leave with the Captain-General, who cared in no way to lengthen his stay, fearful of what people would say. Malicious ones insinuated that Simoun did not dare remain alone, since without the General’s support he did not care to expose himself to the vengeance of the many wretches he had exploited, all the more reason for which was the fact that the General who was coming was reported to be a model of rectitude and might make him disgorge his gains. The superstitious Indians, on the other hand, believed that Simoun was the devil who did not wish to separate himself from his prey. The pessimists winked maliciously and said, “The field laid waste, the locust leaves for other parts!” Only a few, a very few, smiled and said nothing.
In the afternoon Simoun had given orders to his servant that if there appeared a young man calling himself Basilio he should be admitted at once. Then he shut himself up in his room and seemed to become lost in deep thought. Since his illness the jeweler’s countenance had become harder and gloomier, while the wrinkles between his eyebrows had deepened greatly. He did not hold himself so erect as formerly, and his head was bowed.
So absorbed was he in his meditations that he did not hear a knock at the door, and it had to be repeated. He shuddered and called out, “Come in!”
It was Basilio, but how altered! If the change that had taken place in Simoun during those two months was great, in the young student it was frightful. His cheeks were hollow, his hair unkempt, his clothing disordered. The tender melancholy had disappeared from his eyes, and in its place glittered a dark light, so that it might be said that he had died and his corpse had revived, horrified with what it had seen in eternity. If not crime, then the shadow of crime, had fixed itself upon his whole appearance. Simoun himself was startled and felt pity for the wretch.
Without any greeting Basilio slowly advanced into the room, and in a voice that made the jeweler shudder said to him, “SeƱor Simoun, I’ve been a wicked son and a bad brother—I’ve overlooked the murder of one and the tortures of the other, and God has chastised me! Now there remains to me only one desire, and it is to return evil for evil, crime for crime, violence for violence!”
Simoun listened in silence, while Basilio continued; “Four months ago you talked to me about your plans. I refused to take part in them, but I did wrong, you have been right. Three months and a half ago the revolution was on the point of breaking out, but I did not then care to participate in it, and the movement failed. In payment for my conduct I’ve been arrested and owe my liberty to your efforts only. You are right and now I’ve come to say to you: put a weapon in my hand and let the revolution come! I am ready to serve you, along with all the rest of the unfortunates.”
The cloud that had darkened Simoun’s brow suddenly disappeared, a ray of triumph darted from his eyes, and like one who has found what he sought he exclaimed: “I’m right, yes, I’m right! Right and Justice are on my side, because my cause is that of the persecuted. Thanks, young man, thanks! You’ve come to clear away my doubts, to end my hesitation.”
He had risen and his face was beaming. The zeal that had animated him when four months before he had explained his plans to Basilio in the wood of his ancestors reappeared in his countenance like a red sunset after a cloudy day.
“Yes,” he resumed, “the movement failed and many have deserted me because they saw me disheartened and wavering at the supreme moment. I still cherished something in my heart, I was not the master of all my feelings, I still loved! Now everything is dead in me, no longer is there even a corpse sacred enough for me to respect its sleep. No longer will there be any vacillation, for you yourself, an idealistic youth, a gentle dove, understand the necessity and come to spur me to action. Somewhat late you have opened your eyes, for between you and me together we might have executed marvelous plans, I above in the higher circles spreading death amid perfume and gold, brutalizing the vicious and corrupting or paralyzing the few good, and you below among the people, among the young men, stirring them to life amid blood and tears. Our task, instead of being bloody and barbarous, would have been holy, perfect, artistic, and surely success would have crowned our efforts. But no intelligence would support me, I encountered fear or effeminacy among the enlightened classes, selfishness among the rich, simplicity among the youth, and only in the mountains, in the waste places, among the outcasts, have I found my men. But no matter now! If we can’t get a finished statue, rounded out in all its details, of the rough block we work upon let those to come take charge!”
Seizing the arm of Basilio, who was listening without comprehending all he said, he led him to the laboratory where he kept his chemical mixtures. Upon the table was placed a large case made of dark shagreen, similar to those that hold the silver plate exchanged as gifts among the rich and powerful. Opening this, Simoun revealed to sight, upon a bottom of red satin, a lamp of very peculiar shape, Its body was in the form of a pomegranate as large as a man’s head, with fissures in it exposing to view the seeds inside, which were fashioned of enormous carnelians. The covering was of oxidized gold in exact imitation of the wrinkles on the fruit.
Simoun took it out with great care and, removing the burner, exposed to view the interior of the tank, which was lined with steel two centimeters in thickness and which had a capacity of over a liter. Basilio questioned him with his eyes, for as yet he comprehended nothing. Without entering upon explanations, Simoun carefully took from a cabinet a flask and showed the young man the formula written upon it.
“Nitro-glycerin!” murmured Basilio, stepping backward and instinctively thrusting his hands behind him. “Nitro-glycerin! Dynamite!” Beginning now to understand, he felt his hair stand on end.
“Yes, nitro-glycerin!” repeated Simoun slowly, with his cold smile and a look of delight at the glass flask. “It’s also something more than nitro-glycerin—it’s concentrated tears, repressed hatred, wrongs, injustice, outrage. It’s the last resort of the weak, force against force, violence against violence. A moment ago I was hesitating, but you have come and decided me. This night the most dangerous tyrants will be blown to pieces, the irresponsible rulers that hide themselves behind God and the State, whose abuses remain unpunished because no one can bring them to justice. This night the Philippines will hear the explosion that will convert into rubbish the formless monument whose decay I have fostered.”
Basilio was so terrified that his lips worked without producing any sound, his tongue was paralyzed, his throat parched. For the first time he was looking at the powerful liquid which he had heard talked of as a thing distilled in gloom by gloomy men, in open war against society. Now he had it before him, transparent and slightly yellowish, poured with great caution into the artistic pomegranate. Simoun looked to him like the jinnee of the Arabian Nights that sprang from the sea, he took on gigantic proportions, his head touched the sky, he made the house tremble and shook the whole city with a shrug of his shoulders. The pomegranate assumed the form of a colossal sphere, the fissures became hellish grins whence escaped names and glowing cinders. For the first time in his life Basilio was overcome with fright and completely lost his composure.
Simoun, meanwhile, screwed on solidly a curious and complicated mechanism, put in place a glass chimney, then the bomb, and crowned the whole with an elegant shade. Then he moved away some distance to contemplate the effect, inclining his head now to one side, now to the other, thus better to appreciate its magnificent appearance.
Noticing that Basilio was watching him with questioning and suspicious eyes, he said, “Tonight there will be a fiesta and this lamp will be placed in a little dining-kiosk that I’ve had constructed for the purpose. The lamp will give a brilliant light, bright enough to suffice for the illumination of the whole place by itself, but at the end of twenty minutes the light will fade, and then when some one tries to turn up the wick a cap of fulminate of mercury will explode, the pomegranate will blow up and with it the dining-room, in the roof and floor of which I have concealed sacks of powder, so that no one shall escape.”
There wras a moment’s silence, while Simoun stared at his mechanism and Basilio scarcely breathed.
“So my assistance is not needed,” observed the young man.
“No, you have another mission to fulfill,” replied Simoun thoughtfully. “At nine the mechanism will have exploded and the report will have been heard in the country round, in the mountains, in the caves. The uprising that I had arranged with the artillerymen was a failure from lack of plan and timeliness, but this time it won’t be so. Upon hearing the explosion, the wretched and the oppressed, those who wander about pursued by force, will sally forth armed to join Cabesang Tales in Santa Mesa, whence they will fall upon the city, while the soldiers, whom I have made to believe that the General is shamming an insurrection in order to remain, will issue from their barracks ready to fire upon whomsoever I may designate. Meanwhile, the cowed populace, thinking that the hour of massacre has come, will rush out prepared to kill or be killed, and as they have neither arms nor organization, you with some others will put yourself at their head and direct them to the warehouses of Quiroga, where I keep my rifles. Cabesang Tales and I will join one another in the city and take possession of it, while you in the suburbs will seize the bridges and throw up barricades, and then be ready to come to our aid to butcher not only those opposing the revolution but also every man who refuses to take up arms and join us.”
“All?” stammered Basilio in a choking voice.
“All!” repeated Simoun in a sinister tone. “All—Indians, mestizos, Chinese, Spaniards, all who are found to be without courage, without energy. The race must be renewed! Cowardly fathers will only breed slavish sons, and it wouldn’t be worth while to destroy and then try to rebuild with rotten materials. What, do you shudder? Do you tremble, do you fear to scatter death? What is death? What does a hecatomb of twenty thousand wretches signify? Twenty thousand miseries less, and millions of wretches saved from birth! The most timid ruler does not hesitate to dictate a law that produces misery and lingering death for thousands and thousands of prosperous and industrious subjects, happy perchance, merely to satisfy a caprice, a whim, his pride, and yet you shudder because in one night are to be ended forever the mental tortures of many helots, because a vitiated and paralytic people has to die to give place to another, young, active, full of energy!
“What is death? Nothingness, or a dream? Can its specters be compared to the reality of the agonies of a whole miserable generation? The needful thing is to destroy the evil, to kill the dragon and bathe the new people in the blood, in order to make it strong and invulnerable. What else is the inexorable law of Nature, the law of strife in which the weak has to succumb so that the vitiated species be not perpetuated and creation thus travel backwards? Away then with effeminate scruples! Fulfill the eternal laws, foster them, and then the earth will be so much the more fecund the more it is fertilized with blood, and the thrones the more solid the more they rest upon crimes and corpses. Let there be no hesitation, no doubtings! What is the pain of death? A momentary sensation, perhaps confused, perhaps agreeable, like the transition from waking to sleep. What is it that is being destroyed? Evil, suffering—feeble weeds, in order to set in their place luxuriant plants. Do you call that destruction? I should call it creating, producing, nourishing, vivifying!”
Such bloody sophisms, uttered with conviction and coolness, overwhelmed the youth, weakened as he was by more than three months in prison and blinded by his passion for revenge, so he was not in a mood to analyze the moral basis of the matter. Instead of replying that the worst and cowardliest of men is always something more than a plant, because he has a soul and an intelligence, which, however vitiated and brutalized they may be, can be redeemed; instead of replying that man has no right to dispose of one life for the benefit of another, that the right to life is inherent in every individual like the right to liberty and to light; instead of replying that if it is an abuse on the part of governments to punish in a culprit the faults and crimes to which they have driven him by their own negligence or stupidity, how much more so would it be in a man, however great and however unfortunate he might be, to punish in a wretched people the faults of its governments and its ancestors; instead of declaring that God alone can use such methods, that God can destroy because He can create, God who holds in His hands recompense, eternity, and the future, to justify His acts, and man never; instead of these reflections, Basilio merely interposed a cant reflection.
“What will the world say at the sight of such butchery?”
“The world will applaud, as usual, conceding the right of the strongest, the most violent!” replied Simoun with his cruel smile. “Europe applauded when the western nations sacrificed millions of Indians in America, and not by any means to found nations much more moral or more pacific: there is the North with its egotistic liberty, its lynch-law, its political frauds—the South with its turbulent republics, its barbarous revolutions, civil wars, pronunciamientos, as in its mother Spain! Europe applauded when the powerful Portugal despoiled the Moluccas, it applauds while England is destroying the primitive races in the Pacific to make room for its emigrants. Europe will applaud as the end of a drama, the close of a tragedy, is applauded, for the vulgar do not fix their attention on principles, they look only at results. Commit the crime well, and you will be admired and have more partizans than if you had carried out virtuous actions with modesty and timidity.”
“Exactly,” rejoined the youth, “what does it matter to me, after all, whether they praise or censure, when this world takes no care of the oppressed, of the poor, and of weak womankind? What obligations have I to recognize toward society when it has recognized none toward me?”
“That’s what I like to hear,” declared the tempter triumphantly. [319] He took a revolver from a case and gave it to Basilio, saying, “At ten o’clock wait for me in front of the church of St. Sebastian to receive my final instructions. Ah, at nine you must be far, very far from Calle Anloague.”
Basilio examined the weapon, loaded it, and placed it in the inside pocket of his coat, then took his leave with a curt, “I’ll see you later.”

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