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Chapter 38: Fatality


Matanglawin was the terror of Luzon. His band had as lief appear in one province where it was least expected as make a descent upon another that was preparing to resist it. It burned a sugar-mill in Batangas and destroyed the crops, on the following day it murdered the Justice of the Peace of Tiani, and on the next took possession of the town of Cavite, carrying off the arms from the town hall. The central provinces, from Tayabas to Pangasinan, suffered from his depredations, and his bloody name extended from Albay in the south to Kagayan in the north. The towns, disarmed through mistrust on the part of a weak government, fell easy prey into his hands—at his approach the fields were abandoned by the farmers, the herds were scattered, while a trail of blood and fire marked his passage. Matanglawin laughed at the severe measures ordered by the government against the tulisanes, since from them only the people in the outlying villages suffered, being captured and maltreated if they resisted the band, and if they made peace with it being flogged and deported by the government, provided they completed the journey and did not meet with a fatal accident on the way. Thanks to these terrible alternatives many of the country folk decided to enlist under his command.
As a result of this reign of terror, trade among the towns, already languishing, died out completely. The rich dared not travel, and the poor feared to be arrested by the Civil Guard, which, being under obligation to pursue the tulisanes, often seized the first person encountered and subjected him to unspeakable tortures. In its impotence, the government put on a show of energy toward the persons whom it suspected, in order that by force of cruelty the people should not realize its weakness—the fear that prompted such measures.
A string of these hapless suspects, some six or seven, with their arms tied behind them, bound together like a bunch of human meat, was one afternoon marching through the excessive heat along a road that skirted a mountain, escorted by ten or twelve guards armed with rifles. Their bayonets gleamed in the sun, the barrels of their rifles became hot, and even the sage-leaves in their helmets scarcely served to temper the effect of the deadly May sun.
Deprived of the use of their arms and pressed close against one another to save rope, the prisoners moved along almost uncovered and unshod, he being the best off who had a handkerchief twisted around his head. Panting, suffering, covered with dust which perspiration converted into mud, they felt their brains melting, they saw lights dancing before them, red spots floating in the air. Exhaustion and dejection were pictured in their faces, desperation, wrath, something indescribable, the look of one who dies cursing, of a man who is weary of life, who hates himself, who blasphemes against God. The strongest lowered their heads to rub their faces against the dusky backs of those in front of them and thus wipe away the sweat that was blinding them. Many were limping, but if any one of them happened to fall and thus delay the march he would hear a curse as a soldier ran up brandishing a branch torn from a tree and forced him to rise by striking about in all directions. The string then started to run, dragging, rolling in the dust, the fallen one, who howled and begged to be killed; but perchance he succeeded in getting on his feet and then went along crying like a child and cursing the hour he was born.
The human cluster halted at times while the guards drank, and then the prisoners continued on their way with parched mouths, darkened brains, and hearts full of curses. Thirst was for these wretches the least of their troubles.
“Move on, you sons of ——!” cried a soldier, again refreshed, hurling the insult common among the lower classes of Filipinos.
The branch whistled and fell on any shoulder whatsoever, the nearest one, or at times upon a face to leave a welt at first white, then red, and later dirty with the dust of the road.
“Move on, you cowards!” at times a voice yelled in Spanish, deepening its tone.
“Cowards!” repeated the mountain echoes.
Then the cowards quickened their pace under a sky of red-hot iron, over a burning road, lashed by the knotty branch which was worn into shreds on their livid skins. A Siberian winter would perhaps be tenderer than the May sun of the Philippines.
Yet, among the soldiers there was one who looked with disapproving eyes upon so much wanton cruelty, as he marched along silently with his brows knit in disgust. At length, seeing that the guard, not satisfied with the branch, was kicking the prisoners that fell, he could no longer restrain himself but cried out impatiently, “Here, Mautang, let them alone!”
Mautang turned toward him in surprise. “What’s it to you, Carolino?” he asked.
“To me, nothing, but it hurts me,” replied Carolino. “They’re men like ourselves.”
“It’s plain that you’re new to the business!” retorted Mautang with a compassionate smile. “How did you treat the prisoners in the war?”
“With more consideration, surely!” answered Carolino.
Mautang remained silent for a moment and then, apparently having discovered the reason, calmly rejoined, “Ah, it’s because they are enemies and fight us, while these—these are our own countrymen.”
Then drawing nearer to Carolino he whispered, “How stupid you are! They’re treated so in order that they may attempt to resist or to escape, and then—bang!”
Carolino made no reply.
One of the prisoners then begged that they let him stop for a moment.
“This is a dangerous place,” answered the corporal, gazing uneasily toward the mountain. “Move on!”
“Move on!” echoed Mautang and his lash whistled.
The prisoner twisted himself around to stare at him with reproachful eyes. “You are more cruel than the Spaniard himself,” he said.
Mautang replied with more blows, when suddenly a bullet whistled, followed by a loud report. Mautang dropped his rifle, uttered an oath, and clutching at his breast with both hands fell spinning into a heap. The prisoner saw him writhing in the dust with blood spurting from his mouth.
“Halt!” called the corporal, suddenly turning pale.
The soldiers stopped and stared about them. A wisp of smoke rose from a thicket on the height above. Another bullet sang to its accompanying report and the corporal, wounded in the thigh, doubled over vomiting curses. The column was attacked by men hidden among the rocks above.
Sullen with rage the corporal motioned toward the string of prisoners and laconically ordered, “Fire!”
The wretches fell upon their knees, filled with consternation. As they could not lift their hands, they begged for mercy by kissing the dust or bowing their heads—one talked of his children, another of his mother who would be left unprotected, one promised money, another called upon God—but the muzzles were quickly lowered and a hideous volley silenced them all.
Then began the sharpshooting against those who were behind the rocks above, over which a light cloud of smoke began to hover. To judge from the scarcity of their shots, the invisible enemies could not have more than three rifles. As they advanced firing, the guards sought cover behind tree-trunks or crouched down as they attempted to scale the height. Splintered rocks leaped up, broken twigs fell from trees, patches of earth were torn up, and the first guard who attempted the ascent rolled back with a bullet through his shoulder.
The hidden enemy had the advantage of position, but the valiant guards, who did not know how to flee, were on the point of retiring, for they had paused, unwilling to advance; that fight against the invisible unnerved them. Smoke and rocks alone could be seen—not a voice was heard, not a shadow appeared; they seemed to be fighting with the mountain.
“Shoot, Carolino! What are you aiming at?” called the corporal.
At that instant a man appeared upon a rock, making signs with his rifle.
“Shoot him!” ordered the corporal with a foul oath.
Three guards obeyed the order, but the man continued standing there, calling out at the top of his voice something unintelligible.
Carolino paused, thinking that he recognized something familiar about that figure, which stood out plainly in the sunlight. But the corporal threatened to tie him up if he did not fire, so Carolino took aim and the report of his rifle was heard. The man on the rock spun around and disappeared with a cry that left Carolino horror-stricken.
Then followed a rustling in the bushes, indicating that those within were scattering in all directions, so the soldiers boldly advanced, now that there was no more resistance. Another man appeared upon the rock, waving a spear, and they fired at him. He sank down slowly, catching at the branch of a tree, but with another volley fell face downwards on the rock.
The guards climbed on nimbly, with bayonets fixed ready for a hand-to-hand fight. Carolino alone moved forward reluctantly, with a wandering, gloomy look, the cry of the man struck by his bullet still ringing in his ears. The first to reach the spot found an old man dying, stretched out on the rock. He plunged his bayonet into the body, but the old man did not even wink, his eyes being fixed on Carolino with an indescribable gaze, while with his bony hand he pointed to something behind the rock.
The soldiers turned to see Caroline frightfully pale, his mouth hanging open, with a look in which glimmered the last spark of reason, for Carolino, who was no other than Tano, Cabesang Tales’ son, and who had just returned from the Carolines, recognized in the dying man his grandfather, Tandang Selo. No longer able to speak, the old man’s dying eyes uttered a whole poem of grief—and then a corpse, he still continued to point to something behind the rock.

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