Part 1 out of 9
Produced by Charles Aldarondo, GF Untermeyer and PG Distributed
Vicente Blasco Ibanez
"The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,"
"The Shadow of the Cathedral,"
"Blood and Sand,"
"La Bodega," etc.
Authorized translation from the Spanish by Charlotte Brewster Jordan
Translator of "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse"
CHAPTER I CAPTAIN ULYSSES FERRAGUT
CHAPTER II MATER AMPHITRITE
CHAPTER III PATER OCEANUS
CHAPTER IV FREYA
CHAPTER V THE AQUARIUM OF NAPLES
CHAPTER VI THE WILES OF CIRCE
CHAPTER VII THE SIN OF ULYSSES
CHAPTER VIII THE YOUNG TELEMACHUS
CHAPTER IX THE ENCOUNTER AT MARSEILLES
CHAPTER X IN BARCELONA
CHAPTER XI "FAREWELL, I AM GOING TO DIE"
CHAPTER XII AHPHITRITE!... AMPHITRITE!
CAPTAIN ULYSSES FERRAGUT
His first gallantries were with an empress. He was ten years old, and
the empress six hundred.
His father, Don Esteban Ferragut--third quota of the College of
Notaries--had always had a great admiration for the things of the past.
He lived near the cathedral, and on Sundays and holy days, instead of
following the faithful to witness the pompous ceremonials presided over
by the cardinal-archbishop, used to betake himself with his wife and
son to hear mass in _San Juan del Hospital_,--a little church sparsely
attended the rest of the week.
The notary, who had read Walter Scott in his youth, used to gaze on the
old and turreted walls surrounding the church, and feel something of
the bard's thrills about his own, his native land. The Middle Ages was
the period in which he would have liked to have lived. And as he trod
the flagging of the _Hospitolarios_, good Don Esteban, little, chubby,
and near-sighted, used to feel within him the soul of a hero born too
late. The other churches, huge and rich, appeared to him with their
blaze of gleaming gold, their alabaster convolutions and their jasper
columns, mere monuments of insipid vulgarity. This one had been erected
by the Knights of Saint John, who, united with the Templars, had aided
King James in the conquest of Valencia.
Upon crossing the covered passageway leading from the street to the
inner court, he was accustomed to salute the Virgin of the Conquest, an
image of rough stone in faded colors and dull gold, seated on a bench,
brought thither by the knights of the military order. Some sour orange
trees spread their branching verdure over the walls of the church,--a
blackened, rough stone edifice perforated with long, narrow,
window-like niches now closed with mud plaster. From the salient
buttresses of its reinforcements jutted forth, in the highest parts,
great fabled monsters of weather-beaten, crumbling stone.
In its only nave was now left very little of this romantic exterior.
The baroque taste of the seventeenth century had hidden the Gothic arch
under another semi-circular one, besides covering the walls with a coat
of whitewash. But the medieval reredos, the nobiliary coats of arms,
and the tombs of the Knights of Saint John with their Gothic
inscriptions still survived the profane restoration, and that in itself
was enough to keep up the notary's enthusiasm.
Moreover the quality of the faithful who attended its services had to
be taken into consideration. They were few but select, always the same.
Some of them would drop into their places, gouty and relaxed, supported
by an old servant wearing a shabby lace mantilla as though she were the
housekeeper. Others would remain standing during the service holding up
proudly their emaciated heads that presented the profile of a fighting
cock, and crossing upon the breast their gloved hands,--always in black
wool in the winter and in thread in the summer time. Ferragut knew all
their names, having read them in the _Trovas_ of Mosen Febrer, a
metrical composition in Provencal, about the warriors that came to the
neighborhood of Valencia from Aragon, Catalunia, the South of France,
England and remote Germany.
At the conclusion of the mass, the imposing personages would nod their
heads, saluting the faithful nearest them. "Good day!" To these, it was
as if the sun had just arisen: the hours before did not count. And the
notary with meek voice would enlarge his response: "Good day, Senor
Marquis!" "Good day, Senor Baron!" Although his relations never went
beyond this salutation, Ferragut used to feel toward these noble
personages the sympathy that the customers have for an establishment,
looking upon them with affectionate eyes for many years without
presuming to exchange more than a greeting with them.
His son Ulysses was exceedingly bored as he followed the monotonous
incidents of the chanted mass in the darkened, almost deserted, church.
The rays of the sun, oblique beams of gold that filtered in from above,
illuminating the spirals of dust, flies and moths, made him think in a
homesick way of the lush green of the orchard, the white spots of the
hamlets, the black smoke columns of the harbor filled with steamships,
and the triple file of bluish convexities crowned with froth that were
discharging their contents with a sonorous surge upon the
When the embroidered mantles of the three priests ceased to gleam
before the high altar, and another priest in black and white appeared
in the pulpit, Ulysses would turn his glance toward a side chapel. The
sermon always represented for him a half hour of somnolence, peopled
with his own lively imaginings. The first thing that his eyes used to
see in the chapel of Santa Barbara was a chest nailed to the wall high
above him, a sepulcher of painted wood with no other adornment than the
inscription: "_Aqui yace Dona Constansa Augusta, Emperatriz de
Grecia_,"--Here lies Constance Augusta, Empress of Greece.
The name of Greece always had the power of exciting the little fellow's
imagination. His godfather, the lawyer Labarta, poet-laureate, could
not repeat this name without a lively thrill passing across his
grizzled beard and a new light in his eyes. Sometimes the mysterious
power of such a name evoked a new mystery and a more intense
interest,--Byzantium. How could that august lady, sovereign of remote
countries of magnificence and vision, have come to leave her remains in
a murky chapel of Valencia within a great chest like those that
treasured the remnants of old trumpery in the garrets of the notary?...
One day after mass Don Esteban had rapidly recounted her history to his
little son. She was the daughter of Frederick the Second of Suabia, a
Hohenstaufen, an emperor of Germany who esteemed still more his crown
of Sicily. In the palaces of Palermo,--veritable enchanted bowers of
Oriental gardens,--he had led the life both of pagan and savant,
surrounded by poets and men of science (Jews, Mahometans and
Christians), by Oriental dancers, alchemists, and ferocious Saracen
Guards. He legislated as did the jurisconsults of ancient Rome, at the
same time writing the first verses in Italian. His life was one
continual combat with the Popes who hurled upon him excommunication
upon excommunication. For the sake of peace he had become a crusader
and set forth upon the conquest of Jerusalem. But Saladin, another
philosopher of the same class, had soon come to an agreement with his
Christian colleague. The position of a little city surrounded with
untilled land and an empty sepulcher was really not worth the trouble
of decapitating mankind through the centuries. The Saracen monarch,
therefore, graciously delivered Jerusalem over to him, and the Pope
again excommunicated Frederick for having conquered the Holy Land
"He was a great man," Don Esteban used to murmur. "It must be admitted
that he was a great man...."
He would say this timidly, regretting that his enthusiasm for that
remote epoch should oblige him to make this concession to an enemy of
the Church. He shuddered to think of those sacrilegious books that
nobody had seen, but whose paternity Rome was accustomed to attribute
to this Sicilian Emperor--especially _Los Tres Impostores_ (The Three
Imposters), in which Frederick measured Moses, Jesus and Mahomet, by
the same standard. This royal author was, moreover, the most ancient
journalist of history, the first that in the full thirteenth century
had dared to appeal to the judgment of public opinion in his
manifestoes against Rome.
His daughter had married an Emperor of Byzantium, Juan Dukas Vatatzes,
the famous "Vatacio," when he was fifty and she fourteen. She was a
natural daughter soon legitimized like almost all his progeny,--a
product of his free harem, in which were mingled Saracen beauties and
Italian marchionesses. And the poor young girl married to "Vatacio the
heretic," by a father in need of political alliances had lived long
years in the Orient as a _basilisa_ or empress, arrayed in garments of
stiff embroidery representing scenes from the holy books, shod with
buskins laced with purple which bore on their soles eagles of
gold,--the highest symbol of the majesty of Rome.
At first she had reigned in Nicaea, refuge of the Greek Emperors while
Constantinople was in the power of the Crusaders, founders of a Latin
dynasty; then, when Vatacio died, the audacious Miguel Paleologo
reconquered Constantinople, and the imperial widow found herself
courted by this victorious adventurer. For many years she resisted his
pretensions, finally maneuvering that her brother Manfred should return
her to her own country, where she arrived just in time to receive news
of her brother's death in battle, and to follow the flight of her
sister-in-law and nephews. They all took refuge in a castle defended by
Saracens in the service of Frederick, the only ones faithful to his
The castle fell into the power of the warriors of the Church, and
Manfred's wife was conducted to a prison where her life was shortly
after extinguished. Obscurity swallowed up the last remnants of the
family accursed by Rome. Death was always hovering around the
_basilisa_. They all perished--her brother Manfred, her half-brother,
the poetic and lamented Encio, hero of so many songs, and her nephew,
the knightly Coradino, who was to die later on under the axe of the
executioner upon attempting the defense of his rights. As the Oriental
empress did not represent any danger for the dynasty of Anjou, the
conqueror let her follow out her destiny, as lonely and forsaken as a
As the widow of the late Emperor she was supposed to have a rental of
three thousand _besantes_ of fine gold. But this remote rental never
arrived, and almost as a pauper she embarked with her niece, Constanza,
in a ship going toward the perfumed shores of the Gulf of Valencia,
where she entered the convent of Santa Barbara. In the poverty of this
recently founded convent, the poor Empress lived until the following
century, recalling the adventures of her melancholy destiny and seeing
in imagination the palace of golden mosaics on Lake Nicaea, the gardens
where "Vatacio" had wished to die under a purple tent, the gigantic
walls of Constantinople, and the arches of Saint Sophia, with its
hieratic galaxies of saints and crowned monarchs.
From all her journeys and glittering fortunes she had preserved but one
thing--a stone--the sole baggage that accompanied her upon disembarking
on the shore of Valencia. It was a fragment from Nicodemia that had
miraculously sent forth water for the baptism of Santa Barbara.
The notary used to point out this rough, sacred stone inlaid in a
baptismal font of Holy Water. Without ceasing to admire these historic
bits of knowledge, Ulysses, nevertheless, used to receive them with a
"My godfather could explain things to me in a better way.... My
godfather knows more."
When surveying the chapel of Santa Barbara during the Mass, he used
always to turn his eyes away from the funeral chest. The thought of
those bones turned to dust filled him with repugnance. That Dona
Constanza did not exist for him. The one who was interesting to him was
the other one, a little further on who was painted in a small picture.
Dona Constanza had had leprosy--an infirmity that in those days was not
permitted to Empresses--so Santa Barbara had miraculously cured her
devotee. In order to perpetuate this event, Santa Barbara was depicted
on the canvas as a lady dressed in a full skirt and slashed sleeves,
and at her feet was the _basilisa_ in the dress of a Valencian peasant
arrayed in great jewels. In vain Don Esteban affirmed that this picture
had been painted centuries after the death of the Empress. The child's
imagination vaulted disdainfully over such difficulties. Just as she
appeared on the canvas, Dona Constanza must have been--flaxen-haired,
with great black eyes, exceedingly handsome and a little inclined to
stoutness, perhaps, as was becoming to a woman accustomed to trailing
robes of state and who had consented to disguise herself as a
country-woman, merely because of her piety.
The image of the Empress obsessed his childish thoughts. At night when
he felt afraid in bed, impressed by the enormousness of the room that
served as his sleeping chamber, it was enough for him to recall the
sovereign of Byzantium to make him forget immediately his disquietude
and the thousand queer noises in the old building. "Dona Constanza!"...
And he would go off to sleep cuddling the pillow, as though it were the
head of the _basilisa_, his closed eyes continuing to see the black
eyes of the regal Senora, maternal and affectionate.
All womankind, on coming near him, took on something of that other one
who had been sleeping for the past six centuries in the upper part of
the chapel wall. When his mother, sweet and pallid Dona Cristina, would
stop her fancy work for an instant to give him a kiss, he always saw in
her smile something of the Empress. When Visenteta, a maid from the
country--a brunette, with eyes like blackberries, rosy-cheeked and
soft-skinned--would help him to undress, or awaken him to take him to
school, Ulysses would always throw his arms around her as though
enchanted by the perfume of her vigorous and chaste vitality.
"Visenteta!... Oh, Visenteta!..." And he was thinking of Dona
Constanza; Empresses must be just that fragrant.... Just like that must
be the texture of their skin!... And mysterious and incomprehensible
thrills would pass over his body like light exhalations, bubbling up
from the slime that is sleeping in the depths of all infancy and coming
to the surface during adolescence.
His father guessed in part this imaginary life upon seeing his pet
plays and readings.
"Ah, comedian!... Ah, play-actor!... You are like your godfather."
He used to say this with an ambiguous smile in which were equally
mingled his contempt for useless idealism and his respect for the
artist--a respect similar to the veneration that the Arabs feel for the
demented, believing their insanity to be a gift from God.
Dona Cristina was very anxious that this only son, as spoiled and
coddled as though he were a Crown Prince, should become a priest. To
see him intone his first Mass!... Then a canon; then a prelate! Who
knew if perhaps when she was no longer living, other women might not
admire him when preceded by a cross of gold, trailing the red state
robe of a cardinal-archbishop, and surrounded by a robed staff--envying
the mother who had given birth to this ecclesiastical magnate!...
In order to guide the inclinations of her son she had installed a
chapel in one of the empty rooms of the great old house. Ulysses'
school companions on free afternoons would hasten thither, doubly
attracted by the enchantment, of "playing priest" and by the generous
refreshment that Dona Cristina used to prepare for all the parish
This solemnity would begin with the furious pealing of some bells
hanging over the parlor door, causing the notary's clients, seated in
the vestibule waiting for the papers that the clerks were just
scribbling off at full speed, to raise their heads in astonishment. The
metallic uproar rocked the edifice whose corners had seemed so full of
silence, and even disturbed the calm of the street through which a
carriage only occasionally passed.
While some of his chums were lighting the candles on the shrines and
unfolding the sacred altar cloths of beautiful lace work made by Dona
Cristina, the son and his more intimate friends were arraying
themselves before the faithful, covering themselves with surplices and
gold-worked vestments and putting wonderful caps on their heads. The
mother, who was peeping from behind one of the doors, had to make a
great effort not to rush in and devour Ulysses with kisses. With what
grace he was imitating the mannerisms and genuflections of the chief
Up to this point all went perfectly. The three officiating near the
pyramid of lights were singing at the top of their lungs, and the
chorus of the faithful were responding from the end of the room with
tremors of impatience. Suddenly surged forth Protest, Schism and
Heresy. Those at the altar had already done more than enough. They must
now give up their chasubles to those who were looking on in order that
they, in their turn, might exercise the sacred ministry. That was what
they had agreed upon. But the clergy resisted with the haughtiness and
majesty of acquired right, and impious hands began pulling off the garb
of the saints, profaning them and even tearing them. Yells, kicks,
images and wax candles on the floor!... Scandal and abominations as
though the Anti-Christ were already born!... The prudence of Ulysses
put an end to the struggle: "What if we should go up in the _porche_ to
The _porche_ was the immense garret of the great old house, so all
accepted the plan with enthusiasm. Church was over! And like a flock of
birds they went flying up the stairs over the landings of multi-colored
tiles with their chipped glaze, disclosing the red brick underneath.
The Valencian potters of the eighteenth century had adorned these tiles
with Berber and Christian galleys, birds from nearby Albufera,
white-wigged hunters offering flowers to a peasant girl, fruits of all
kinds, and spirited horsemen on steeds that were half the size of their
bodies parading before houses and trees that scarcely reached to the
knees of their prancing coursers.
The noisy group spread themselves over the upper floor as in the most
terrible invasions of history. Cats and mice fled together to the
far-away corners. The terrified birds sped like arrows through the
skylights of the roof.
The poor notary!... He had never returned empty-handed when called
outside of the city by the confidence of the rich farmers, incapable of
believing in any other legal science than his. That was the time when
the antique dealers had not yet discovered rich Valencia, where the
common people dressed in silks for centuries, and furniture, clothing
and pottery seemed always to be impregnated with the light of steady
sunshine and with the blue of an always clear atmosphere.
Don Esteban, who believed himself obliged to be an antiquarian by
virtue of his membership in various local societies, was continually
filling up his house with mementoes of the past picked up in the
villages, or that his clients freely gave him. He was not able to find
wall space enough for the pictures, nor room in his salons for the
furniture. Therefore, the latest acquisitions were provisionally taking
their way to the _porche_ to await definite installation. Years
afterward, when he should retire from his profession, he might be able
to construct a medieval castle--the most medieval possible on the
coasts of the _Marina_; near to the village where he had been born, he
would put each object in a place appropriate to its importance.
Whatever the notary deposited in the rooms of the first floor would
soon make its appearance in the garret as mysteriously as though it had
acquired feet; for Dona Cristina and her servants, obliged to live in a
continual struggle with the dust and cobwebs of an edifice that was
slowly dropping to pieces, were beginning to feel a ferocious hatred of
Up here on the top floor, discords and battles because of lack of
things to dress up in, were not possible among the boys. They had only
to sink their hands into any one of the great old chests, pulsing with
the dull gnawing of the wood-borers, whose iron fretwork, pierced like
lace, was dropping away from its supports. Some of the youngsters,
brandishing short, small swords with hilts of mother-of-pearl, or long
blades such as the Cid carried, would then wrap themselves in mantles
of crimson silk darkened by ages. Others would throw over their
shoulders damask counterpanes of priceless old brocade, peasant skirts
with great flowers of gold, farthingales of richly woven texture that
crackled like paper.
When they grew tired of imitating comedians with noisy clashing of
spades and death-blows, Ulysses and the other active lads would propose
the game of "Bandits and Bailiffs." But thieves could not go clad in
such rich cloths; their attire ought to be inconspicuous. And so they
overturned some mountains of dull-colored stuffs that appeared like
mere sacking in whose dull woven designs could be dimly discerned legs,
arms, heads, and branching sprays of metallic green.
Don Esteban had found these fragments already torn by the farmers into
covers for their large earthen jars of oil or into blankets for the
work-mules. They were bits of tapestry copied from cartoons of Titian
and Rubens which the notary was keeping only out of historic respect.
Tapestry then, like all things that are plentiful, had no special
merit. The old-clothes dealers of Valencia had in their storehouses
dozens of the same kind of remnants and when the festival of _Corpus
Christi_ approached they used them to cover the natural barricades
formed by the ground, instead of building new ones in the street
followed by the processions.
At other times, Ulysses repeated the same game under the name of
"Indians and Conquerors." He had found in the mountains of books stored
away by his father, a volume that related in double columns, with
abundant wood cuts, the navigations of Columbus, the wars of Hernando
Cortez, and the exploits of Pizarro.
This book cast a glamor over the rest of his existence. Many times
afterwards, when a man, he found this image latent in the background of
his likes and desires. He really had read few of its paragraphs, but
what interested him most were the engravings--in his estimation more
worthy of admiration than all the pictures in the garret.
With the point of his long sword he would trace on the ground, just as
Pizarro had done before his discouraged companions, ready on the Island
of Gallo to desist from the conquest: "Let every good Castilian pass
this line...." And the good Castilians--a dozen little scamps with long
capes and ancient swords whose hilts reached up to their mouths--would
hasten to group themselves around their chief, who was imitating the
heroic gestures of the conqueror. Then was heard the war-cry: "At them!
Down with the Indians!"
It was agreed that the Indians should flee and on that account they
were modestly clad in scraps of tapestry and cock feathers on their
head. But they fled treacherously, and upon finding themselves upon
_varguenos_, tables and pyramids of chairs, they began to shy books at
their persecutors. Venerable leather volumes decorated with dull gold,
and folios of white parchment fell face downward on the floor, their
fastenings breaking apart and spreading abroad a rain of printed or
manuscript pages and yellowing engravings--as though tired of living,
they were letting their life-blood flow from their bodies.
The uproar of these wars of conquest brought Dona Cristina to the
rescue. She no longer cared to harbor little imps who preferred the
adventurous whoops of the garret to the mystic delights of the
abandoned chapel. The Indians were most worthy of execration. In order
to make splendor of attire counterbalance the humility of their role,
they had slashed their sinful scissors into entire tapestries,
mutilating vestments so as to arrange upon their breasts the head of a
hero or goddess.
Finding himself without playfellows, Ulysses discovered a new
enchantment in the garret life. The silence haunted by the creaking of
wood and the scampering of invisible animals, the inexplicable fall of
a picture or of some piled-up books, used to make him thrill with a
sensation of fear and nocturnal mystery, despite the rays of sunlight
that came filtering in through the skylights; but he began to enjoy
this solitude when he found that he could people it to his fancy. Real
beings soon annoyed him like the inopportune sounds that sometimes
awoke him from beautiful dreams. The garret was a world several
centuries old that now belonged entirely to him and adjusted itself to
all his fancies.
Seated in a trunk without a lid, he made it balance itself, imitating
with his mouth the roarings of the tempest. It was a caravel, a
galleon, a ship such as he had seen in the old books, its sails painted
with lions and crucifixes, a castle on the poop and a figure-head
carved on the prow that dipped down into the waves, only to reappear
dripping with foam.
The trunk, by dint of vigorous pushing, could be made to reach the
rugged coast at the corner of the old chest, the triangular gulf made
of two chests of drawers, and the smooth beach formed by some bundles
of clothes. And the navigator, followed by a crew as numerous as it was
imaginary, would leap ashore, sword in hand, scaling some mountains of
books that were the Andes, and piercing various volumes with the tip of
an old lance in order to plant his standard there. Oh, why had he not
been one of the conquerors?...
Fragments of a conversation between his godfather and his father, who
believed everything was already known regarding the surface of the
earth, left him unconvinced. Something must still be left for him to
discover! He was the meeting point of two families of sailors. His
mother's brothers had ships on the coast of Catalunia. His father's
ancestors had been valorous and obscure navigators, and there in the
_Marina_ was his uncle, the doctor, a genuine man of the sea.
When he grew tired of these imaginative orgies, he used to examine the
portraits of different epochs stowed away in the garret. He preferred
those of the women--noble dames with short-cropped, curled hair bound
by a knot of ribbon on the temple, like those that Velazquez loved to
paint, and long faces of the century following, with cherry-colored
mouth, two patches on the cheeks, and a tower of white hair. The memory
of the Grecian _basilisa_ appeared to emanate from these paintings. All
the high-born dames seemed to have something in common with her.
Among the portraits of the men there was one of a bishop that irritated
him by its absurd childishness. He appeared almost his own age, an
adolescent bishop, with imperious and aggressive eyes. These eyes used
to inspire the sensitive lad with a certain terror, and he therefore
decided to have done with them. "Take that!" and he ran his sword
through the old chipped picture, making two gashes replace the
challenging eyes. Then he added a few gashes more for good measure....
That same evening, his godfather having been invited to supper, the
notary spoke of a certain portrait acquired a few months before in the
neighborhood of Jativa, a city that he had always regarded with
interest on account of the Borgias having been born in one of its
suburbs. The two men were of the same opinion. That almost infantile
prelate could have been no other than Caesar Borgia, made Archbishop of
Valencia when sixteen years old by his father, the Pope. On their first
free day they would examine the portrait with particular attention....
And Ulysses, hanging his head, felt every mouthful sticking in his
For the fanciful lad, a pleasure even more intense and substantial than
his lonely games in the garret was a visit to his godfather's home; to
his childish eyes, this godparent, the lawyer, Don Carmelo Labarta, was
the personification of the ideal life, of glory, of poesy. The notary
was wont to speak of him with enthusiasm, yet pitying him at the same
"That poor Don Carmelo!... The leading authority of the age in civilian
matters! By applying himself he might earn some money, but verses
attracted him more than lawsuits."
Ulysses used to enter his office with keen emotion. Above rows of
multicolored and gilded books that covered the walls, he saw some great
plaster heads with towering foreheads and vacant eyes that seemed
always to be contemplating an immense nothingness.
The child could repeat their names like a fragment from a choir book,
from Homer to Victor Hugo. Then his glance would seek another head
equally glorious although less white, with blonde and grizzled beard,
rubicund nose and bilious cheeks that in certain moments scattered bits
of scale. The sweet eyes of his godfather--yellowish eyes spotted with
black dots--used to receive Ulysses with the doting affection of an
aging, old bachelor who needs to invent a family. He it was who had
given him at the baptismal font the name which had awakened so much
admiration and ridicule among his school companions; with the patience
of an old grand-sire narrating saintly stories to his descendants, he
would tell Ulysses over and over the adventures of the navigating King
of Ithaca for whom he had been named.
With no less devotion did the lad regard all the souvenirs of glory
that adorned his house--wreaths of golden leaves, silver cups, nude
marble statuettes, placques of different metals upon plush backgrounds
on which glistened imperishably the name of the poet Labarta. All this
booty the tireless Knight of Letters had conquered by means of his
When the Floral Games were announced, the competitors used to tremble
lest it might occur to the great Don Carmelo to hanker after some of
the premiums. With astonishing facility he used to carry off the
natural flower awarded for the heroic ode, the cup of gold for the
amorous romance, the pair of statues dedicated to the most complete
historical study, the marble bust for the best legend in prose, and
even the "art bronze" reward of philological study. The other aspirants
might try for the left-overs.
Fortunately he had confined himself to local literature, and his
inspiration would not admit any other drapery than that of Valencian
verse. Next to Valencia and its past glories, Greece claimed his
admiration. Once a year Ulysses beheld him arrayed in his frock coat,
his chest starred with decorations and in his lapel the golden cicada,
badge of the poets of Provence.
He it was who was going to be celebrated in the fiesta of Provencal
literature, in which he always played the principal role; he was the
prize bard, lecturer, or simple idol to whom other poets were
dedicating their eulogies--clerics given to rhyming, personifiers of
religious images, silk-weavers who felt the vulgarity of their
existence perturbed by the itchings of inspiration--all the brotherhood
of popular bards of the ingenuous and domestic brand who recalled the
_Meistersingers_ of the old German cities.
His godson always imagined him with a crown of laurel on his brows just
like those mysterious blind poets whose portraits and busts ornamented
the library. In real life he saw perfectly well that his head had no
such adornment, but reality lost its value before the firmness of his
conceptions. His godfather certainly must wear a wreath when he was not
present. Undoubtedly he was accustomed to wear it as a house cap when
Another thing which he greatly admired about the grand man was his
extensive travels. He had lived in distant Madrid--the scene of almost
all the novels read by Ulysses--and once upon a time he had crossed the
frontier, going courageously into a remote country called the south of
France, in order to visit another poet whom he was accustomed to call
"My friend, Mistral." And the lad's imagination, hasty and illogical in
its decisions, used to envelop his godfather in a halo of historic
interest, similar to that of the conquerors.
At the stroke of the twelve o'clock chimes Labarta, who never permitted
any informality in table matters, would become very impatient, cutting
short the account of his journeys and triumphs.
"Dona Pepa!... We have a guest here."
Dona Pepa was the housekeeper, the great man's companion who for the
past fifteen years had been chained to the chariot of his glory. The
portieres would part and through them would advance a huge bosom
protruding above an abdomen cruelly corseted. Afterwards, long
afterwards, would appear a white and radiant countenance, a face like a
full moon, and while her smile like a night star was greeting the
little Ulysses, the dorsal complement of her body kept on coming
in--forty carnal years, fresh, exuberant, tremendous.
The notary and his wife always spoke of Dona Pepa as of a familiar
person, but the child never had seen her in their home. Dona Cristina
used to eulogize her care of the poet--but distantly and with no desire
to make her acquaintance--while Don Esteban would make excuses for the
"What can you expect!... He is an artist, and artists are not able to
live as God commands. All of them, however dignified they may appear,
are rather carnal at heart. What a pity! such an eminent lawyer!... The
money that he could make...!"
His father's lamentations opened up new horizons to the little fellow's
suspicions. Suddenly he grasped the prime motive force of our
existence, hitherto only conjectured and enveloped in mystery. His
godfather had relations with a woman; he was enamored like the heroes
of the novels! And the boy recalled many of his Valencian poems, all
rhapsodizing a lady--sometimes singing of her great beauty with the
rapture and noble lassitude of a recent possession; at others
complaining of her coldness, begging of her that disposition of her
soul without which the gift of the body is as naught.
Ulysses imagined to himself a grand senora as beautiful as Dona
Constanza. At the very least, she must be a Marchioness. His godfather
certainly deserved that much! And he also imagined to himself that
their rendezvous must be in the morning, in one of the strawberry
gardens near the city, where his parents were accustomed to take him
for his breakfast chocolate after hearing the first dawn service on the
Sundays of April and May.
Much later, when seated at his godfather's table, he surprised the poet
exchanging glances over his head with the housekeeper, and began to
suspect that possibly Dona Pepa might be the inspiration of so much
lachrymose and enthusiastic verse. But his great loyalty rebelled
before such a supposition. No, no, it could not be possible; assuredly
there must be another!
The notary, who for long years had been friendly with Labarta, kept
trying to direct him with his practical spirit, like the boy who guides
a blind man. A modest income inherited from his parents was enough for
the poet to live upon. In vain his friend brought him cases that
represented enormous fees. The voluminous documents would become
covered with dust on his table and Don Esteban would have to saddle
himself with the dates in order that the end of the legal procedures
should not slip by.
His son, Ulysses would be a very different sort of man, thought the
notary. In his mind's eye he could see the lad as a great civilian
jurist like his godfather, but with a positive activity inherited from
his father. Fortune would enter through his doors on waves of stamped
Furthermore, he would also possess the notarial studio--the dusty
office with its ancient furniture and great wardrobes, with its screen
doors and green curtains, behind which reposed the volumes of the
protocol, covered with yellowing calfskin with initials and numbers on
their backs. Don Esteban realized fully all that his study represented.
"There is no orange grove," he would say in his expansive moments;
"there are no rice plantations that can produce what this estate does.
Here there are no frosts, nor strong sea winds, nor inundations."
The clientele was certain--people from the church, who had the devotees
back of them and considered Don Esteban as one of their class, and
farmers, many rich farmers. The families of the country folk, whenever
they heard any talk about smart men, always thought immediately of the
notary from Valencia. With religious veneration they saw him adjust his
spectacles in order to read as an expert the bill of sale or dowry
contract that his amanuenses had just drawn up. It was written in
Castilian and for the better understanding of his listeners he would
read it, without the slightest hesitation, in Valencian. What a man!...
Afterwards, while the contracting parties were signing it, the notary
raising the little glass window at the front, would entertain the
assembly with some local legends, always decent, without any illusions
to the sins of the flesh, but always those in which the digestive
organs figured with every degree of license. The clients would roar
with laughter, captivated by this funny eschatalogy, and would haggle
less in the matter of fees. Famous Don Esteban!... Just for the
pleasure of hearing his yarns they would have liked a legal paper drawn
up every month.
The future destiny of the notarial crown prince was the object of many
after-dinner conversations on the special days when the poet was an
"What do you want to be?" Labarta asked his godson.
His mother's supplicating glance seemed desperately to implore the
little fellow: "Say Archbishop, my king." For the good senora, her son
could not make his debut in any other way than in a church career. The
notary always used to speak very positively from his own viewpoint,
without consulting the interested party. He would be an eminent
jurisconsult; thousands of dollars were going to roll toward him as
though they were pennies; he was going to figure in university
solemnities in a cloak of crimson satin and an academic cap announcing
from its multiple sides the tasseled glory of the doctorate. The
students in his lecture-room would listen to him most respectfully. Who
knew what the government of his country might not have in store for
Ulysses interrupted these images of future grandeur:
"I want to be a captain."
The poet approved. He felt the unreflective enthusiasm which all
pacific and sedentary beings have for the plume and the sword. At the
mere sight of a uniform his soul always thrilled with the amorous
tenderness of a child's nurse when she finds herself courted by a
"Fine!" said Labarta. "Captain of what?... Of artillery?... Of the
"No; captain of a ship."
Don Esteban looked up at the roof, raising his hands in horror. He well
knew who was guilty of this ridiculous idea, the one who had put such
absurd longings in his son's head!
And he was thinking of his brother, the retired doctor, who was living
in the paternal home over there in the _Marina:_--an excellent man, but
a little crazy, whom the people on the coast called the _Dotor_, and
the poet Labarta had nicknamed the _Triton_.
When the _Triton_ occasionally appeared in Valencia, thrifty Dona
Cristina was obliged to modify the dietary of her family. This man ate
nothing but fish, and her soul of an economical housewife worried
greatly at the thought of the extraordinarily high price that fish
brings in a port of exportation.
Life in that house, where everything always jogged along so uniformly,
was greatly upset by the presence of the doctor. A little after
daybreak, just when its inhabitants were usually enjoying the dessert
of their night's sleep, hearing drowsily the rumble of the early
morning carts and the bell-ringing of the first Masses, the house would
reecho to the rude banging of doors and heavy footsteps making the
stairway creak. It was the _Triton_ rushing out on the street,
incapable of remaining between four walls after the first streak of
light. Following the currents of the early morning life, he would reach
the market, stopping before the flower stands where were the most
numerous gatherings of women.
The eyes of the women turned toward him instinctively with an
expression of interest and fear. Some blushed as he passed by,
imagining against their will what an embrace from this hideous and
restless Colossus must be.
"He is capable of crushing a flea on his arm," the sailors of his
village used to boast when trying to emphasize the hardness of his
biceps. His body lacked fat, and under his swarthy skin bulged great,
rigid and protruding muscles--an Herculean texture from which had been
eliminated every element incapable of producing strength. Labarta found
in him a great resemblance to the marine divinities. He was Neptune
before his head had silvered, or Poseidon as the primitive Greek poets
had seen him with hair black and curly, features tanned by the salt
air, and with a ringleted beard whose two spiral ends seemed formed by
the dripping of the water of the sea. The nose somewhat flattened by a
blow received in his youth, and the little eyes, oblique and tenacious,
gave to his countenance an expression of Asiatic ferocity, but this
impression melted away when his mouth parted in a smile, showing his
even, glistening teeth, the teeth of a man of the sea accustomed to
live upon salt food.
During the first few days of his visit he would wander through the
streets wavering and bewildered. He was afraid of the carriages; the
patter of the passers-by on the pavements annoyed him; he, who had seen
the most important ports of both hemispheres, complained of the bustle
in the capital of a province. Finally he would instinctively take the
road from the harbor in search of the sea, his eternal friend, the
first to salute him every morning upon opening the door of his own home
down there on the _Marina_.
On these excursions he would oftentimes be accompanied by his little
nephew. The bustle on the docks,--(the creaking of the cranes, the dull
rumble of the carts, the deafening cries of the freighters),--always
had for him a certain music reminiscent of his youth when he was
traveling as a doctor on a transatlantic steamer.
His eyes also received a caress from the past upon taking in the
panorama of the port--steamers smoking, sailboats with their canvas
spread out in the sunlight, bulwarks of orange crates, pyramids of
onions, walls of sacks of rice and compact rows of wine casks paunch to
paunch. And coming to meet the outgoing cargo were long lines of
unloaded goods being lined up as they arrived--hills of coal coming
from England, sacks of cereal from the Black Sea, dried codfish from
Newfoundland sounding like parchment skins as they thudded down on the
dock, impregnating the atmosphere with their salty dust, and yellow
lumber from Norway that still held a perfume of the pine woods.
Oranges and onions fallen from the crates were rotting in the sun,
scattering their sweet and acrid juices. The sparrows were hopping
around the mountains of wheat, flitting timidly away when hearing
approaching footsteps. Over the blue surface of the harbor waters the
sea gulls of the Mediterranean, small, fine and white as doves, twined
in and out in their interminable contra-dances.
The _Triton_ went on enumerating to his nephew the class and specialty
of every kind of vessel; and upon discovering that Ulysses was capable
of confusing a brigantine with a frigate, he would roar in scandalized
"Heavens! Then what in the devil do they teach your in school?..."
Upon passing near the citizens of Valencia seated on the wharves,
fishing rod in hand, he would shoot a glance of commiseration toward
their empty baskets. Over there by his house on the coast, before the
sun would be up, he would already have covered the bottom of his boat
with enough to eat for a week. The misery of the cities!
Standing on the last points of the rocky ledge, his glance would sweep
the immense plain, describing to his nephew the mysteries hidden beyond
the horizon. At their left, beyond the blue mountains of Oropesa, which
bound the Valencian gulf, he could see in imagination Barcelona, where
he had numerous friends, Marseilles, that prolongation of the Orient
fastened on the European coast, and Genoa with its terraced palaces on
hills covered with gardens. Then his vision would lose itself on the
horizon stretching out in front of him. That was the road of his happy
Straight ahead in a direct line was Naples with its smoking mountain,
its music and its swarthy dancing girls with hoop earrings; further on,
the Isles of Greece; at the foot of an Aquatic Street, Constantinople;
and still beyond, bordering the great liquid court of the Black Sea, a
series of ports where the Argonauts--sunk in a seething mass of races,
fondled by the felinism of slaves, the voluptuosity of the Orientals,
and the avarice of the Jews--were fast forgetting their origin.
At their right was Africa; the Egyptian ports with their traditional
corruption that at sunset was beginning to tremble and steam like a
fetid morass; Alexandria in whose low coffee houses were imitation
Oriental dancers with no more clothes than a pocket handkerchief, every
woman of a different nation and shrieking in chorus all the languages
of the earth....
The doctor withdrew his eyes from the sea in order to observe his
flattened nose. He was recalling a night of Egyptian heat increased by
the fumes of whiskey; the familiarity of the half-clad public women,
the scuffle with some ruddy Northern sailors, the encounter in the dark
which obliged him to flee with bleeding face to the ship that,
fortunately, was weighing anchor at dawn. Like all Mediterranean men,
he never went ashore without wearing a dagger hidden on his person, and
he had to "sting" with it in order to make way for himself.
"What times those were!" said the _Triton_ with more regret and
homesickness than remorse; and then he would add by way of excuse, "Ay,
but then I was only twenty-four years old!"
These memories made him turn his eyes toward a huge bluish bulk
extending out into the sea and looking to the casual spectator like a
great barren island. It was the promontory crowned by the Mongo, the
great Ferrarian promontory of the ancient geographers, the,
furthest-reaching point of the peninsula in the lower Mediterranean
that closes the Gulf of Valencia on the south.
It had the form of a hand whose digits were mountains, but lacked the
thumb. The other four fingers extended out into the waves, forming the
capes of San Antonio, San Martin, La Nao and Almoraira. In one of their
coves was the _Triton's_ native village, and the home of the
Ferraguts--hunters of black pirates in other days, contrabandists at
times in modern days, sailors in all ages, appearing originally,
perhaps, from those first wooden horses that came leaping over the foam
seething around the promontory.
In that home in the _Marina_ he wished to live and die, with no further
desire of seeing more lands, with that sudden immovability that attacks
the vagabonds of the waves and makes them fix themselves upon a ledge
of the coast like a mollusk or bunch of seaweed.
Soon the _Triton_ grew tired of these strolls to the harbor. The sea of
Valencia was not a real sea for him. The waters of the river and of the
irrigation canals disturbed him. When it rained in the mountains of
Aragon, an earthy liquid always discharged itself into the Gulf,
tinting the waves with flesh color and the foam with yellow. Besides,
it was impossible to indulge in his daily sport of swimming. One winter
morning, when he began to undress himself on the beach, the crowd
gathered around him as though attracted by a phenomenon. Even the fish
of the Gulf had to him an insufferable slimy taste.
"I'm going back home," he would finally say to the notary and his wife.
"I can't understand how in the world you are able to live here!"
In one of these retreats to the _Marina_ he insisted upon taking
Ulysses home with him. The summer season was beginning, the boy would
be free from school for three months, and the notary, who was not able
to go far away from the city, was going to pass the summer with his
family on the beach at Cabanal checkered by bad-smelling irrigation
canals near a forlorn sea. The little fellow was looking very pale and
weak on account of his studies and hectoring. His uncle would make him
as strong and agile as a dolphin. And in spite of some very lively
disputes, he succeeded in snatching the child away from Dona Cristina.
The first things that Ulysses admired upon entering the doctor's home
were the three frigates adorning the ceiling of the dining-room--three
marvelous vessels in which there was not lacking a single sail nor
pulley rope, nor anchor, and which might be made to sail over the sea
at a moment's notice.
They were the work of his grandfather Ferragut. Wishing to release his
two sons from the marine service which had weighed upon the family for
many centuries, he had sent them to the University of Valencia in order
that they might become inland gentlemen. The older, Esteban, had
scarcely terminated his career before he obtained a notaryship in
Catalunia. The younger one, Antonio, became a doctor so as not to
thwart the old man's wishes, but as soon as he acquired his degree he
offered his services to a transatlantic steamer. His father had closed
the door of the sea against him and he had entered by the window.
And so, as Ferragut Senior began to grow old, he lived completely
alone. He used to look after his property--a few vineyards scattered
along the coast in sight of his home--and was in frequent
correspondence with his son, the notary. From time to time there came a
letter from the younger one, his favorite, posted in remote countries
that the old Mediterranean seaman knew only by hearsay. And during his
long, dull hours in the shade of his arbor facing the blue and luminous
sea, he used to entertain himself constructing these little models of
boats. They were all frigates of great tonnage and fearless sail. Thus
the old skipper would console himself for having commanded during his
lifetime only heavy and clumsy merchant vessels like the ships of other
centuries, in which he used to carry wine from Cette or cargo
prohibited in Gibraltar and the coast of Africa.
Ulysses was not long in recognizing the rare popularity enjoyed by his
uncle, the doctor--a popularity composed of the most antagonistic
elements. The people used to smile in speaking of him as though he were
a little touched, yet they dared to indulge in these smiles only when
at a safe distance, for he inspired a certain terror in all of them. At
the same time they used to admire him as a local celebrity, for he had
traversed all seas, and possessed, besides, a violent and tempestuous
strength which was the terror and pride of his neighbors. The husky
youths when testing the vigor of their fists, boxing with crews of the
English vessels that came there for cargoes of raisins, used to evoke
the doctor's name as a consolation in case of defeat. "If only the
_Dotor_ could have been here!... Half a dozen Englishmen are nothing to
There was no vigorous undertaking, however absurd it might be, that
they would not believe him capable of. He used to inspire the faith of
the miracle-working saints and audacious highway captains. On calm,
sunshiny winter mornings the people would often go running down to the
beach, looking anxiously over the lonely sea. The veterans who were
toasting themselves in the sun near the overturned boats, on scanning
the broad horizon, would finally discern an almost imperceptible point,
a grain of sand dancing capriciously on the waves.
They would all break into shouts and conjectures. It was a buoy, a
piece of masthead, the drift from a distant shipwreck. For the women it
was somebody drowned, so bloated that it was floating like a leather
bottle, after having been many days in the water.
Suddenly the same supposition would arise in every perplexed mind. "I
wonder if it could be the _Dotor!_" A long silence.... The bit of wood
was taking the form of a head; the corpse was moving. Many could now
perceive the bubble of foam around his chest that was advancing like
the prow of a ship, and the vigorous strokes of his arms.... "Yes, it
surely was the _Dotor!_"... The old sea dogs loaned their telescopes to
one another in order to recognize his beard sunk in the water and his
face, contracted by his efforts or expanded by his snortings.
And the _Dotor_ was soon treading the dry beach, naked and as serenely
unashamed as a god, giving his hand to the men, while the women
shrieked, lifting their aprons in front of one eye--terrified, yet
admiring the dripping vision.
All the capes of the promontory challenged him to double them, swimming
like a dolphin; he felt impelled to measure all the bays and coves with
his arms, like a proprietor who distrusts another's measurements and
rectifies them in order to affirm his right of possession. He was a
human bark who, with the keel of his breast, cut the foam, whirling
through the sunken rocks and the pacific waters in whose depths
sparkled fishes among mother-of-pearl twigs and stars moving like
He used to seat himself to rest on the black rocks with overskirts of
seaweed that raised or lowered their fringe at the caprice of the wave,
awaiting the night and the chance vessel that might come to dash
against them like a piece of bark. Like a marine reptile he had even
penetrated certain caves of the coast, drowsy and glacial lakes
illuminated by mysterious openings where the atmosphere is black and
the water transparent, where the swimmer has a bust of ebony and legs
of crystal. In the course of these swimming expeditions he ate all the
living beings he encountered fastened to the rocks by antennas and
arms. The friction of the great, terrified fish that fled, bumping
against him with the violence of a projectile, used to make him laugh.
In the night hours passed before his grandfather's little ships,
Ulysses used to hear the _Triton_ speak of the _Peje Nicolao_, a
man-fish of the Straits of Messina mentioned by Cervantes and other
authors, who lived in the water maintaining himself by the donations
from the ships. His uncle must be some relative of this _Peje Nicolao_.
At other times this uncle would mention a certain Greek who in order to
see his lady-love swam the Hellespont every night. And he, who used to
know the Dardanelles, was longing to return there as a simple passenger
merely that a poet named Lord Byron might not be the only one to
imitate the legendary crossing.
The books that he kept in his home, the nautical charts fastened to the
walls, the flasks and jars filled with the animal and vegetable life of
the sea, and more than all this, his tastes which were so at variance
with the customs of his neighbors, had given the _Triton_ the
reputation of a mysterious sage, the fame of a wizard.
All those who were well and strong considered him crazy, but the moment
that there was the slightest break in their health they would share the
same faith as the poor women who oftentimes passed long hours in the
home of the _Dotor_, seeing his bark afar off and patiently awaiting
his return from the sea, in order to show him the sick children they
carried in their arms. He had an advantage over all other doctors, as
he made no charge for his services; better still, many sick people came
away from his house with money in their hands.
The _Dotor_ was rich--the richest man in the countryside; a man who
really did not know what to do with his money. His maid-servant--an old
woman who had known his father and served his mother--used daily to
receive from his hands the fish provided for the two with a regal
generosity. The _Triton_, who had hoisted sail at daybreak, used to
disembark before eleven, and soon the purpling lobster was crackling on
the red coals, sending forth delicious odors; the stew pot was bubbling
away, thickening its broth with the succulent fat of the sea-scorpion;
the oil in the frying pan was singing, browning the flame-colored skin
of the salmonettes; and the sea urchins and the mussels opened hissing
under his knife, were emptying their still living pulp into the boiling
stew pan. Furthermore, a cow with full udders was mooing in the yard,
and dozens of chickens with innumerable broods were cackling
The flour kneaded and baked by his servant, and the coffee thick as
mud, was all that the _Triton_ purchased with his money. If he hunted
for a bottle of brandy on his return from a swim, it was only to use it
in rubbing himself down.
Money entered through his doors once a year, when the girls of the
vintage lined up among the trellises of his vineyards, cutting the
bunches of little, close fruit and spreading them out to dry in some
small sheds called _riurraus_. Thus was produced the small raisin
preferred by the English for the making of their puddings. The sale was
a sure thing, the boats always coming from the north to get the fruit.
And the _Triton_, upon finding five or six thousand pesetas in his
hand, would be greatly perplexed, inwardly asking himself what a man
was ever going to do with so much money.
"All this is yours," he said, showing the house to his nephew.
His also the boat, the books and the antique furniture in whose drawers
the money was so openly hid that it invited attention.
In spite of seeing himself lord of all that surrounded him, a rough and
affectionate despotism, kept nevertheless, weighing the child down. He
was very far from his mother, that good lady who was always closing the
windows near him and never letting him go out without tying his
neckscarf around him with an accompaniment of kisses.
Just when he was sleeping soundest, believing that the night would
still be many hours longer, he would feel himself awakened by a violent
tugging at his leg. His uncle could not touch him in any other way.
"Get up, cabin boy!" In vain he would protest with the profound
sleepiness of youth.... Was he, or was he not the "ship's cat" of the
bark of which his uncle was the captain and only crew?...
His uncle's paws bared him to the blasts of salt air that were entering
through the windows. The sea was dark and veiled by a light fog. The
last stars were sparkling with twinkles of surprise, ready to flee. A
crack began to appear on the leaden horizon, growing redder and redder
every minute, like a wound through which the blood is flowing. The
ship's cat was loaded up with various empty baskets, the skipper
marching before him like a warrior of the waves, carrying the oars on
his shoulders, his feet rapidly making hollows on the sand. Behind him
the village was beginning to awaken and, over the dark waters, the
sails of the fishermen, fleeing the inner sea, were slipping past like
Two vigorous strokes of the oar sent their boat out from the little
wharf of stones, and soon he was untying the sails from the gunwales
and preparing the ropes. The unfurled canvas whistled and swelled in
bellying whiteness. "There we are! Now for a run!"
The water was beginning to sing, slipping past both sides of the prow.
Between it and the edge of the sail could be seen a bit of black sea,
and coming little by little over its line, a great red streak. The
streak soon became a helmet, then a hemisphere, then an Arabian arch
confined at the bottom, until finally it shot up out of the liquid mass
as though it were a bomb sending forth flashes of flame. The
ash-colored clouds became stained with blood and the large rocks of the
coast began to sparkle like copper mirrors. As the last stars were
extinguished, a swarm of fire-colored fishes came trailing along before
the prow, forming a triangle with its point in the horizon. The mist on
the mountain tops was taking on a rose color as though its whiteness
were reflecting a submarine eruption. "_Bon dia!_" called the doctor to
Ulysses, who was occupied in warming his hands stiffened by the wind.
And, moved with childlike joy by the dawn of a new day, the _Triton_
sent his bass voice booming across the maritime silence, several times
intoning sentimental melodies that in his youth he had heard sung by a
vaudeville prima donna dressed as a ship's boy, at other times caroling
in Valencian the chanteys of the coast--fishermen's songs invented as
they drew in their nets, in which most shameless words were flung
together on the chance of making them rhyme. In certain windings of the
coast the sail would be lowered, leaving the boat with no other motion
than a gentle rocking around its anchor rope.
Upon seeing the space which had been obscured by the shadow of the
boat's hulk, Ulysses found the bottom of the sea so near that he almost
believed that he could touch it with the point of his oar. The rocks
were like glass. In their interstices and hollows the plants were
moving like living creatures, and the little animals had the
immovability of vegetables and stones. The boat appeared to be floating
in the air and athwart the liquid atmosphere that wraps this abysmal
world, the fish hooks were dangling, and a swarm of fishes was swimming
and wriggling toward its encounter with death.
It was a sparkling effervescence of yellowing flames, of bluish backs
and rosy fins. Some came out from the caves silvered and vibrant as
lightning flashes of mercury; others swam slowly, big-bellied, almost
circular, with a golden coat of mail. Along the slopes, the crustaceans
came scrambling along on their double row of claws attracted by this
novelty that was changing the mortal calm of the under-sea where all
follow and devour, only to be devoured in turn. Near the surface
floated the medusae, living parasols of an opaline whiteness with
circular borders of lilac or red bronze. Under their gelatinous domes
was the skein of filaments that served them for locomotion, nutrition
The fishermen had only to pull in their lines and a new prisoner would
fall into their boat. Their baskets were filling up so fast that the
_Triton_ and his nephew grew tired of this easy fishing.... The sun was
now near the height of its curve, and every wavelet was carrying away a
bit of the golden band that divided the blue immensity. The wood of the
boat appeared to be on fire.
"We've earned our day's pay," said the _Triton_, looking at the sky and
then at the baskets. "Now let's clean up a little bit."
And stripping off his clothing, he threw himself into the sea. Ulysses
saw him descend from the center of the ring of foam opened by his body,
and could gauge by it the profundity of that fantastic world composed
of glassy rocks, animal plants and stone animals. As it went down, the
tawny body of the swimmer took on the transparency of porcelain. It
appeared of bluish crystal--a statue made of a Venetian mirror
composition that was going to break as soon as it touched the bottom.
Like a god he was passing through the deeps, snatching plants out by
the roots, pursuing with his hands the flashes of vermilion and gold
hidden in the cracks of the rocks. Minutes would pass by; he was going
to stay down forever; he would never come up again. And the boy was
beginning to think uneasily of the possibility of having to guide the
bark back to the coast all alone. Suddenly the body of white crystal
began taking on a greenish hue, growing larger and larger, becoming
dark and coppery, until above the surface appeared the head of the
swimmer, who, spouting and snorting, was holding up all his submarine
plunder to the little fellow.
"Now then, your turn!" he ordered in an imperious tone.
All attempts at resistance were useless. His uncle either insulted him
with the harshest kind of words or coaxed him with promises of safety.
He never knew certainly whether he threw himself into the water or
whether a tug from the doctor jerked him from the boat. The first
surprise having passed, he had the impression of remembering some long
forgotten thing. He was swimming instinctively, divining what he ought
to do before his master told him. Within him was awakening the
ancestral experience of a race of sailors who had struggled with the
sea and, sometimes, had remained forever in its bosom.
Recollection of what was existing beyond his feet suddenly made him
lose his serenity,--his lively imagination making him shriek,
And he clutched convulsively at the hard island of bearded and smiling
muscles. His uncle came up immovable, as though his feet of stone were
fastened to the bottom of the ocean. He was like the nearby promontory
that was darkening and chilling the water with its ebony shadow.
Thus would slip by the mornings devoted to fishing and swimming; then
in the afternoons there were tramps over the steep shores of the coast.
The _Dotor_ knew the heights of the promontory as well as its depths.
Up the pathways of the wild goat they clambered to its peaks in order
to get a view of the Island of Ibiza. At sunset the distant Balearic
Islands appeared like a rose-colored flame rising out of the waves. At
other times the cronies made trips along the water's edge, and the
_Triton_ would show his nephew hidden caves into which the
Mediterranean was working its way with slow undulations. These were
like maritime roadsteads where boats might anchor completely concealed
from view. There the galleys of the Berbers had often hidden, in order
to fall unexpectedly upon a nearby village.
In one of these caves, on a rocky pedestal, Ulysses often saw a heap of
"Well, now, what of it!" expostulated the doctor. "Every man must gain
his living as best he can."
When they stumbled upon a solitary custom house officer resting upon
his gun and looking out toward the sea, the doctor would offer him a
cigar and give him medical advice if he were sick. "Poor men! so badly
paid!"... But his sympathies were always going out to the others--to
the enemies of the law. He was the son of his sea, and in the make-up
of all Mediterranean heroes and sailors there had always been something
of the pirate or smuggler. The Phoenicians, who by their navigation
spread abroad the first works of civilization, instituted this service,
reaping their reward by filling their barks with stolen women, rich
merchandise of easy transportation.
Piracy and smuggling had formed the historic past of all the villages
that Ulysses was visiting, some huddled in the shelter of the
promontory crowned with a lighthouse, others opening on the concavity
of a bay dotted with barren islands girdled with foam. The old churches
had turrets on their walls and loopholes in their doors for shooting
with culverins and blunderbusses. The entire neighborhood used to take
refuge in them when the smoke columns from their watchmen would warn
them of the landing of pirates from Algiers. Following the curvings of
the promontory there was a dotted line of reddish towers, each one
accompanied by a smaller pair for lookouts. This line extended along
the south toward the Straits of Gibraltar, and on its northern side
reached to France.
The doctor had seen their counterpart in all the islands of the western
Mediterranean, on the coasts of Naples and in Sicily. They were the
fortifications of a thousand-year war, of a struggle ten centuries long
between Moors and Christians for the domination of the blue sea, a
struggle of piracy in which the Mediterranean men--differentiated by
religion, but identical at heart--had prolonged the adventures of the
Odyssey down to the beginnings of the nineteenth century.
Ferragut gradually became acquainted with many old men of the village
who in their youth had been slaves in Algiers. On winter evenings the
oldest of them were still singing romances of captivity and speaking
with terror of the Berber brigantines. These thieves of the sea must
have had a pact with the devil, who notified them of opportune
occasions. If in a convent some beautiful novices had just made their
profession, the doors would give away at midnight under the
hatchet-blows of the bearded demons who were advancing inland from the
galleys prepared to receive their cargo of feminine freight. If a girl
of the coast, celebrated for her beauty, was going to be married, the
infidels, lying in wait, would surround the door of the church,
shooting their blunderbusses and knifing the unarmed men as they came
out, in order to carry away the women in their festal robes.
On all the coast, the pirates stood in awe only of the navigators from
the _Marina_, so fearless and warlike were they. If their villages were
ever attacked, it was because their seafaring defenders were on the
Mediterranean and, in their turn, had gone to sack and burn some
village on the coast of Africa.
The _Triton_ and his nephew used to eat their supper under the arbor in
the long summer twilights. After the cloth was removed Ulysses would
manipulate his grandfather's little frigates, learning the technical
parts and names of the different apparatus, and the management of the
sets of sails. Sometimes the two would stay out on the rustic porch
until a late hour gazing out over the luminous sea sparkling under the
splendor of the moon, or streaked with a slender wake of starry light
in the murky nights.
All that mankind had ever written or dreamed about the Mediterranean,
the doctor had in his library and could repeat to his eager little
listener. In Ferragut's estimation the _mare nostrum_ ["Mare Nostrum"
(Our Sea), the classic name for the Mediterranean.] was a species of
blue beast, powerful and of great intelligence--a sacred animal like
the dragons and serpents that certain religions adored, believing them
to be the source of life. The rivers that threw themselves impetuously
into its bosom in order to renew it were few and scanty. The Rhone and
the Nile appeared to be pitiful little rivulets compared with the river
courses of other continents that empty into the oceans.
Losing by evaporation three times more liquid than the rivers bring to
it, this sunburnt sea would soon have been converted into a great salt
desert were not the Atlantic sending it a rapid current of renewal that
was precipitated through the Straits of Gibraltar. Under this
superficial current existed still another, flowing in an opposite
direction, that returned a part of the Mediterranean to the ocean,
because the Mediterranean waters were more salt and dense than those of
the Atlantic. The tide scarcely made itself felt on its strands. Its
basin was mined by subterranean fires that were always seeking
extraordinary outlets through Vesuvius and Aetna and breathed
continually through the mouth of Stromboli. Sometimes these Plutonic
ebullitions would come to the surface, making new islands rise up upon
the waters like tumors of lava.
In its bosom exist still double the quantity of animal species that
abound in other seas, although less numerous. The tunny fish, playful
lambs of the blue pasture lands, were gamboling over its surface or
passing in schools under the furrows of the waves. Men were setting
netted traps for them along the coasts of Spain and France, in
Sardinia, the Straits of Messina and the waters of the Adriatic. But
this wholesale slaughter scarcely lessened the compact, fishy
squadrons. After wandering through the windings of the Grecian
Archipelago, they passed the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, stirring
the two narrow passageways with the violence of their invisible
gallopade and making a turn at the bowl of the Black Sea, swimming
back, decimated but impetuous, to the depths of the Mediterranean.
Red coral was forming immovable groves on the substrata of the Balearic
Islands, and on the coasts of Naples and Africa. Ambergris was
constantly being found on the steep shores of Sicily. Sponges were
growing in the tranquil waters in the shadow of the great rocks of
Mallorca and the Isles of Greece. Naked men without any equipment
whatever, holding their breath, were still descending to the bottom as
in primitive times, in order to snatch these treasures away.
The doctor gave up his geographic descriptions to discourse on the
history of his sea, which had indeed been the history of civilization,
and was more fascinating to him. At first miserable and scanty tribes
had wandered along its coasts seeking their food from the crustaceans
drawn from the waves--a life similar to that of the rudimentary people
that Ferragut had seen in the islands of the Pacific. When stone saws
had hollowed out the trunks of trees and human arms had ventured to
spread the first rawhides to the forces of the atmosphere, the coasts
became rapidly populated.
Temples were constructed on the promontories, and maritime cities--the
first nuclei of modern civilization--came into existence. On this
landlocked sea mankind had learned the art of navigation. Every one
looked at the waves before looking at the sky. Over this blue highway
had arrived the miracles of life, and out of its depths the gods were
born. The Phoenicians--Jews, become navigators--abandoned their cities
in the depths of the Mediterranean sack, in order to spread the
mysterious knowledge of Egypt and the Asiatic monarchies all along the
shores of the interior sea. Afterwards the Greeks of the maritime
republics took their places.
In Ferragut's estimation the greatest honor to which Athens could lay
claim was that she had been a democracy of sailors, her freemen serving
their country as rowers and all her famous men as great marine
"Themistocles and Pericles," he added, "were admirals of fleets, and
after commanding ships, governed their country."
On that account Grecian civilization had spread itself everywhere and
had become immortal instead of lessening and disappearing without fruit
as in the interior lands. Then Rome, terrestrial Rome, in order to hold
its own against the superiority of the Semitic navigators of Carthage,
had to teach the management of the oar and marine combat to the
inhabitants of Latium, to their legionaries with faces hardened by the
chin straps of their helmets, who did not know how to adjust their
world-dominating iron-shod feet to the slippery planks of a vessel.
The divinities of _mare nostrum_ always inspired a most loving devotion
in the doctor. He knew that they had not existed, but he, nevertheless,
believed in them as poetic phantasms of natural forces.
The ancient world only knew the immense ocean in hypothesis, giving it
the form of an aquatic girdle around the earth. Oceanus was an old god
with a long beard and horned head who lived in a maritime cavern with
his wife, Tethys, and his three hundred daughters, the Oceanides. No
Argonaut had ever dared to come in contact with these mysterious
divinities. Only the grave Aeschylus had dared to portray the
Oceanides--virgins fresh and demure, weeping around the rock to which
Prometheus was bound.
Other more approachable deities were those of the eternal sea on whose
borders were founded the opulent cities of the Syrian coast; the
Egyptian cities that sent sparks of their ritual civilization to
Greece; the Hellenic cities, hearths of clear fire that had fused all
knowledge, giving it eternal form; Rome, mistress of the world;
Carthage, famed for her audacious geographical discoveries, and
Marseilles, which had made western Europe share in the civilization of
the Greeks, scattering it along the lower coast from settlement to
settlement, even to the Straits of Cadiz.
A brother of the Oceanides, the prudent Nereus, used to reign in the
depths of the Mediterranean. This son of Oceanus had a blue beard,
green eyes, and bunches of sea rushes on his eyebrows and breast. His
fifty daughters, the Nereids, bore his orders across the waves or
frolicked around the ships, splashing in the faces of the rowers the
foam tossed up by their arms. But the sons of Father Time, on
conquering the giant, had reapportioned the world, determining its
rulers by lot. Zeus remained lord of the land, the obscure Hades, lord
of the underworld, reigned in the Plutonic abysses, and Poseidon became
master of the blue surfaces.
Nereus, the dispossessed monarch, fled to a cavern of the Hellenic sea
in order to live the calm existence of the philosopher-counselor of
mankind, and Poseidon installed himself in the mother-of-pearl palaces
with his white steeds tossing helmets of bronze and manes of gold.
His amorous eyes were fixed on the fifty Mediterranean princesses, the
Nereids, who took their names from the aspect of the waves--the Blue,
the Green, the Swift, the Gentle.... "Nymphs of the green abysses with
faces fresh as a rosebud, fragrant virgins that took the forms of all
the monsters of the deep," sang the Orphic hymn on the Grecian shore.
And Poseidon singled out among them all the Nereid of the Foam, the
white Amphitrite who refused to accept his love.
She knew about this new god. The coasts were peopled with cyclops like
Polyphemus, with frightful monsters born of the union of Olympian
goddesses and simple mortals; but an obliging dolphin came and went,
carrying messages between Poseidon and the Nereid, until, overwhelmed
by the eloquence of this restless rover of the wave, Amphitrite agreed
to become the wife of the god, and the Mediterranean appeared to take
on still greater beauty.
She was the aurora that shows her rosy finger-tips through the immense
cleft between sky and sea, the warm hour of midday that makes the
waters drowsy under its robe of restless gold, the bifurcated tongue of
foam that laps the two faces of the hissing prow, the aroma-laden
breeze that like a virgin's breath swells the sail, the compassionate
kiss that lulls the drowned to rest, without wrath and without
resistance, before sinking forever into the fathomless abyss.
Her husband--Poseidon on the Greek coast and Neptune on the Latin--on
mounting his chariot, used to awaken the tempest. The brazen-hoofed
horses with their stamping would paw up the huge waves and swallow up
the ships. The tritons of his cortege would send forth from their white
shells the bellowing blasts that snap off the masts like reeds.
_O, mater Amphitrite_!... and Ferragut would describe her as though she
were just passing before his eyes. Sometimes when swimming around the
promontories, feeling himself enveloped like primitive man in the blind
forces of Nature, he used to believe that he saw the white goddess
issuing forth from the rocks with all her smiling train after a rest in
some marine cave.
A shell of pearl was her chariot and six dolphins harnessed with
purpling coral used to draw it along. The tritons, her sons, handled
the reins. The Naiads, their sisters, lashed the sea with their scaly
tails, lifting their mermaid bodies wrapped in the magnificence of
their sea-green tresses between whose ringlets might be seen their
heaving bosoms. White seagulls, cooing like the doves of Aphrodite,
fluttered around their nude sea-queen, serenely contemplating them from
her movable throne, crowned with pearls and phosphorescent stars drawn
from the depths of her dominion. White as the cloud, white as the sail,
white as the foam, entirely, dazzlingly white was her fair majesty
except where a rosy blush tinted the petal-like skin of her heels or
The entire history of European man--forty centuries of wars,
emigrations, and racial impact--was due, according to the doctor, to
the desire of possessing this harmoniously framed sea, of enjoying the
transparency of its atmosphere and the vivacity of its light.
The men from the North who needed the burning log and alcoholic drink
in order to defend their life from the clutches of the cold, were
always thinking of these Mediterranean shores. All their warlike or
pacific movements were with intent to descend from the coasts of the
glacial seas to the beaches of the warm _mare nostrum_. They were eager
to gain possession of the country where the sacred olive alternates its
stiff old age with the joyous vineyard; where the pine rears its cupola
and the cypress erects its minaret. They longed to dream under the
perfumed snow of the interminable orange groves; to be masters of the
sheltered valleys where the myrtle and the jasmine spice the salty air;
where the aloe and the cactus grow between the stones of extinct
volcanoes; where the mountains of marble extend their white veins down
even into the depths of the sea and refract the African heat emitted by
the opposite coast.
The South had replied to the invasion from the North with defensive
wars that had extended even into the center of Europe. And thus history
had gone on repeating itself with the same flux and reflux of human
waves--mankind struggling for thousands of years to gain or hold the
blue vault of Amphitrite.
The Mediterranean peoples were to Ferragut the aristocracy of humanity.
Its potent climate had tempered mankind as in no other part of the
planet, giving him a dry and resilient power. Tanned and bronzed by the
profound absorption of the sun and the energy of the atmosphere, its
navigators were transmuted into pure metal. The men from the North were
stronger, but less robust, less acclimitable than the Catalan sailor,
the Provencal, the Genoese or the Greek. The sailors of the
Mediterranean made themselves at home in all parts of the world. Upon
their sea man had developed his highest energies. Ancient Greece had
converted human flesh into spiritual steel.
Exactly the same landscapes and races bordered the two shores. The
mountains and the flowers on both shores were identical. The Catalan,
the Provencal and the South Italian were more like the inhabitants of
the African coast than their kindred who lived inland back of them.
This fraternity had shown itself instinctively in the thousand-year
war. The Berber pirates, the Genoese sailors, the Spaniards, and the
Knights of Malta used implacably to behead each other on the decks of
their galleys and, upon becoming conquerors, would respect the life of
their prisoners, treating them like gentlemen. The Admiral Barbarossa,
eighty-four years of age, used to call Doria, his eternal rival nearly
ninety years old, "my brother." The Grand Master of Malta clasped the
hand of the terrible Dragut upon finding him his captive.
The Mediterranean man, fixed on the shores that gave him birth, was
accustomed to accept all the changes of history, as the mollusks
fastened to the rocks endure the tempests. For him the only important
thing was not to lose sight of his blue sea. The Spaniard used to pull
an oar on the Liburnian felucca, the Christian would join the crews of
the Saracen ships of the Middle Ages; the subjects of Charles V would
pass through the fortunes of war from the galleys of the Cross to those
of the Crescent, and would end by becoming rulers of Algiers, rich
captains of the sea, or by making their names famous as renegades.
In the eighth century the inhabitants of the Valencian coast united
with the Andalusian Moors to carry the war to the ends of the
Mediterranean and to the island of Crete, taking possession of it and
giving it the name of Candia. This nest of pirates was the terror of
Byzantium, taking Salonica by assault and selling as slaves the
patricians and most important ladies of the realm. Years afterwards,
when dislodged from Candia, the Valencian adventurers returned to their
native shores and there established a town in a fertile valley, giving
it the name of the distant island which was changed to Gandia.
Every type of human vigor had sprung from the Mediterranean
race,--fine, sharp and dry as flint, doing good and evil on a large
scale with the exaggeration of an ardent character that discounts
halfway measures and leaps from duplicity to the greatest extremes of
generosity. Ulysses was the father of them all, a discreet and prudent
hero, yet at the same time complex and malicious. So was old Cadmus
with his Phoenician miter and curled beard, a great old sea-wolf,
scattering by means of his various adventures the art of writing and
the first notions of commerce.
In one of the Mediterranean islands Hannibal was born, and twenty
centuries after, in another of them, the son of a lawyer without briefs
embarked for France, with no other outfit than his cadet's uniform, in
order to make famous his name of Napoleon.
Over the Mediterranean waves had sailed Roger de Lauria, knight-errant
of vast tracts of sea, who wished to clothe even the fishes with the
colors of Aragon. A visionary of obscure origin named Columbus had
recognized as his country the republic of Genoa. A smuggler from the
coasts of Laguria came to be Messina, the marshal beloved by Victory,
and the last personage of this stock of Mediterranean heroes associated
with the heroes of fabulous times was a sailor from Nice, simple and
romantic, a warrior called Garibaldi, an heroic tenor of all seas and
lands who cast over his century the reflection of his red shirt,
repeating on the coast of Marseilles the remote epic of the Argonauts.
Then Ferragut summed up the various defects of his race. Some had been
bandits and others saints, but none mediocre. Their most audacious
undertakings had much about them that was prudent and practical. When
they devoted themselves to business they were at the same time serving
civilization. In them the hero and the trader were so intermingled that
it was impossible to discern where one ended and the other began. They
had been pirates and cruel men, but the navigators from the foggy seas
when imitating the Mediterranean discoveries in other continents had
not shown themselves any more gentle or loyal.
After these conversations, Ulysses felt greater esteem for the old
pottery and the shabby little figures that adorned his uncle's bedroom.
They were objects vomited up by the sea, Grecian amphoras wrested from
the shells of mollusks after a submarine interment centuries long. The
deep waters had embossed these petrified ornaments with strange
arabesques that made one think of the art of another planet, and,
twined in with the pottery that had held the wine and water of a
shipwrecked Liburnian felucca, were bits of rope hardened by limey
deposit and flukes of anchors whose metal was disintegrating into
reddish scales. Various little statues corroded by the salt sea
inspired in the boy as much admiration as his grandfather's frigates.
He laughed and trembled before these _Cabiri_ coming from the
Phoenician or Carthaginian biremes,--grotesque and terrible gods that
contracted their faces with grimaces of lust and ferocity.
Some of these muscular and bearded marine divinities bore a remote
resemblance to his uncle. Ulysses had overheard certain strange
conversations among the fishermen and had noticed, besides, the
precipitation of the women and their uneasy glances when they found the
doctor near them in a solitary part of the coast. Only the presence of
his nephew had made them recover tranquility and check their step.
At times the sea seemed to craze him with gusts of amorous fury. He was
Poseidon rising up unexpectedly on the banks in order to surprise
goddesses and mortals. The women of the _Marina_ ran away as terrified
as those Greek princesses on the painted vases when surprised, washing
their robes, by the apparition of a passionate triton.
Some nights at the hour when the lighthouses were beginning to pierce
the coming dusk with their fresh shafts of light, he would become
melancholy and, forgetting the difference in their age, would talk with
his nephew as though he were a sailor companion.
He regretted never having married.... He might have had a son by this
time. He had known many women of all colors--white, red, yellow, and
bronze--but only once had he really been in love, very far away on the
other side of the planet, in the port of Valparaiso.
He could still see in imagination a certain graceful Chilean maiden,
wrapped in her great black veil like the ladies of the Calderonian
theater, showing only one of her dark and liquid eyes, pale and
slender, speaking in a plaintive voice.
She enjoyed love-songs, always provided that they were sung "with great
sadness"; and Ferragut would devour her with his eyes while she plucked
the guitar, chanting the song of Malek-Adhel and other romances about
"Roses, sighs and Moors of Granada," that from childhood the doctor had
heard sung by the Berbers of his country. The simple attempt at taking
one of her hands always provoked her modest resistance.... "That,
then...." She was ready to marry him; she wished to see Spain.... And
the doctor might have fulfilled her wishes had not a good soul informed
him that in later hours of the night, others were accustomed to come in
turns to hear her romantic solos.... Ah, these women! and then, on
recalling the finale of his trans-oceanic idyl, Ferragut would become
reconciled to his celibacy.
Late in the Fall the notary had to go in person to the _Marina_ to make
his brother give Ulysses up. The boy held the same opinion as did his
uncle. The very idea of losing the winter fishing, the cold sunny
morning, the spectacle of the great tempests, just for the silly reason
that the Institute had commenced, and he must study for his bachelor's
The following year Dona Cristina tried to prevent the _Triton's_
carrying off her son, since he could learn nothing but bad words and
boastful bullying in the old home of the Ferraguts. And trumping up the
necessity of seeing her own family, she left the notary alone in
Valencia, going with her boy to spend the summer on the coast of
Catalunia near the French frontier.
This was Ulysses' first important journey. In Barcelona he became
acquainted with his uncle, the rich and talented financier of the
Blanes family,--one of his mother's brothers, proprietor of a great
hardware shop situated in one of the damp, narrow and crowded streets
that ran into the Rambla. He soon came to know other maternal uncles in
a village near the Cape of Creus. This promontory with its wild coasts
reminded him of that other one where the _Triton_ lived. The first
Hellenic sailors had also founded a city here, and the sea had also
cast up amphoras, little statues and petrified bits of iron.
The Blanes family had gone much to sea. They loved it as intensely as
did the doctor, but with a cold and silent love, appreciating it less
for its beauty than for the profits which it offered to the fortunate.
Their trips had been to America, in their own sailing vessels,
importing sugar from Havana and corn from Buenos Ayres. The
Mediterranean was for them only a port that they crossed carelessly on
departure and arrival. None of them knew the white Amphitrite even by
Moreover, they did not have the devil-may-care and romantic appearance
of the bachelor of the _Marina_, ready to live in the water like an
amphibian. They were gentlemen of the coast who, having retired from
the sea, were entrusting their barks to captains who had been their
pilots,--middle class citizens who never laid aside the cravat and silk
cap that were the symbols of their high position in their natal town.
The gathering-place of the rich was the Athenaeum,--a society that in
spite of its title offered no other reading matter than two Catalunian
periodicals. A large telescope mounted on a tripod before the door used
to fill the club members with pride. For the uncles of Ulysses, it was
enough merely to put one eyebrow to the glass to be able to state
immediately the class and nationality of the ship that was slipping
along over the distant horizon line. These veterans of the sea were
accustomed to speak only of the freight cargoes, of the thousands and
thousands of dollars gained in other times with only one round trip,
and of the terrible rivalry of the steamship.
Ulysses kept hoping in vain that sometimes they would allude to the
Nereids and other poetic beings that the _Triton_ had conjured around
his promontory. The Blanes had never seen these extraordinary
creatures. Their seas contained fish only. They were cold, economical
men of few words, friends of order and social preferment. Their nephew
suspected that they had the courage of men of the sea but without
boasting or aggressiveness; their heroism was that of traders capable
of suffering all kinds of adventures provided their stock ran no risks,
but becoming wild beasts if any one attacked their riches.
The members of the Athenaeum were all old, the only masculine beings in
the village. Besides them there were only the carbineers installed in
the barracks and various calkers making their mallets resound on the
hull of a schooner ordered by the Blanes brothers.
All the active men were on the sea. Some were sailing to America as
crew of the brigs and barks of the Catalunian coast. The more timid and
unfortunate ones were always fishing. Others, more valiant and anxious
for ready money, had become smugglers on the French coast whose shores
began on the other side of the promontory.
In the village there were only women, women of all kinds:--women seated
before their doors, making lace on great cylindrical pillows on their
knees, along whose length their bobbins wove strips of beautiful
openwork, or grouped on the street corners in front of the lonely sea
where their men were, or speaking with an electric nervousness that
oftentimes would break out suddenly in noisy tempests.
Only the parish priest, whose fishing recreations and official
existence were embittered by their constant quarrels, understood the
feminine irritability which embroiled the village. Alone and having to
live incessantly in such close contact, the women had come to hate each
other as do passengers isolated on a boat for many months. Besides,
their husbands had accustomed them to the use of coffee, the seaman's
drink, and they tried to beguile their tedium with strong cups of the
A common interest, nevertheless, united these women miraculously when
living alone. When the carbineers inspected the houses in search of
contraband goods smuggled in by the men, the Amazons worked off their
nervous energy in hiding the illegal merchandise, making it pass from
one place of concealment to another with the cunning of savages.
Whenever the government officers began to suspect that certain packages
had gone to hide themselves in the cemetery, they would find there only
some empty graves, and in the bottom of them a few cigars between
skulls that were mockingly stuck up in the ground. The chief of the
barracks did not dare to inspect the church, but he looked
contemptuously upon Mosen Jordi, the priest, as a simpleton quite
capable of permitting tobacco to be hidden behind the altars in
exchange for the privilege of fishing in peace.
The rich people lived with their backs turned on the village,
contemplating the blue expanse upon which were erected the wooden
houses that represented all their fortune. In the summer-time the sight
of the smooth and brilliant Mediterranean made them recall the dangers
of the winter. They spoke with religious terror of the land breeze, the
wind from the Pyrenees, the _Tramontana_ that oftentimes snatched
edifices from their bases and had overturned entire trains in the
nearby station. Furthermore, on the other side of the promontory began
the terrible Gulf of Lyons. Upon its surface, not more than ninety
yards in extent, the waters driven by the strong sea winds often became
so rough, and raised up waves so high and so solid that upon clashing
together and finding no intermediate space upon which to fall, they
piled one upon another, forming regular towers.
This gulf was the most terrible of the Mediterranean. The transatlantic
liners returning from a good voyage to the other hemisphere used here
to tremble with a pre-monition of danger and sometimes even turned
back. The captains who had just crossed the great Atlantic would here
furrow their brows with uneasiness.
From the door of the Athenaeum the experts used to point out the Latin
sailboats that were about to double the promontory. They were merchant
vessels such as that elder Ferragut had commanded, embarkations from
Valencia that were bringing wine to Cette and fruits to Marseilles.
Upon seeing the blue surface of the Gulf on the other side of the Cape
with no other roughness than that of a long and infinitely heavy swell,
the Valencians would exclaim happily:
"Let us cross quickly, while the lion sleeps."
Ulysses had one friend, the secretary of the city-hall, and the only
inhabitant that had any books in his house. Treated by the rich with a
certain contempt, the official used to seek the boy's company because
he was the only creature who would listen to him attentively.
He adored the _mare nostrum_ as much as Doctor Ferragut, but his
enthusiasm was not concerned with the Phoenician and Egyptian ships
whose keels had first plowed these waves. He was equally indifferent to
Grecian and Carthaginian Triremes, Roman warships, and the monstrous
galleys of the Sicilian tyrants,--palaces moved by oars, with statues,
fountains and gardens. That which most interested him was the
Mediterranean of the Middle Ages, that of the kings of Aragon, the
Catalunian Sea. And the poor secretary would give long daily
dissertations about them in order to pique the local pride of his
One day after dilating at length on Roger de Lauria and the Catalan
navy, he wound up his tedious history by telling the little fellow how
Alfonso V, his brother the King of Navarre, and all his cortege of
magnates, had remained prisoners of the Republic of Genoa, which,
terrified by the importance of its royal prey, had entrusted the
captives to the guard of the Duke of Milan.... But the monarchs easily
came to an understanding in order to deceive the democratic
governments, and the Milanese sovereign released the King of Aragon
with all his suite. Thereupon he immediately blockaded Genoa with an
enormous fleet. The Provencal navy came promptly to the relief of its
neighbors, and the Aragonese King forced the port of Marseilles,
bearing away as trophy the chains that closed its entrance.
Ulysses nodded affirmatively. The sailor king had deposited these
chains in the cathedral of Valencia. His godfather, the poet, had
pointed them out to him in a Gothic chapel, forming a garland of iron
over the black hewn stones.
The Catalan navy still continued to dominate the Mediterranean
commercially, adding to its ancient vessels great galleons, lighter
galleys, caravels, cattle boats, and other ships of the period.
"But Christopher Columbus," concluded the Catalan sadly, "discovered
the Indies, thereby giving a death blow to the maritime riches of the
Mediterranean. Besides, Aragon and Castile became united and their life
and power were then concentrated in the center of the Peninsula, far
from the sea."
Had Barcelona been the capital of Spain, Catalunia would have preserved
the Mediterranean domination. Had Lisbon been the capital, the Spanish
colonial realm would have developed into something organic and solid
with a robust life. But what could you expect of a nation which had
stuck its head into a pillow of yellow interior steppes, the furthest
possible from the world's highways, showing only its feet to the
The Catalan would always end by speaking sadly of the decadence of the
Mediterranean marine. Everything that was pleasing to his tastes made
him hark back to the good old time of the domination of the
Mediterranean by the Catalan marine. One day he offered Ulysses a sweet
and perfumed wine.
"It is Malvasian, the first stock the Almogavars brought here from
Then he said in order to flatter the boy:
"It was a citizen of Valencia, Ramon Muntaner, who wrote of the
expeditions of the Catalans and Aragonese against Constantinople."
The mere recollection of this novel-like adventure, the most unheard-of
in history, used to fill him with enthusiasm, and, in passing, he paid
highest tribute to the Almogavar chronicler, a rude Homer in song,
Ulysses and Nestor in council, and Achilles in hard action.
Dona Cristina's impatience to rejoin her husband and to return to the
comforts of her well-regulated household finally carried Ulysses away
from this life by the coast.
For many years thereafter he saw no other sea than the Gulf of
Valencia. The notary, under various pretexts, contrived to prevent the
doctor's again carrying off his nephew; and the _Triton_ made his trips
to Valencia less frequently, rebelling against all the inconveniences
and dangers of these terrestrial adventures.
And Labarta, when occupied with the future of Ulysses, used to take on
a certain air of a good-natured regent charged with the guardianship of
a little prince. The boy appeared to belong to them more than to his
own father; his studies and his future destiny filled completely their
after-dinner conversations when the doctor was in town.
Don Esteban felt a certain satisfaction in annoying his brother by
eulogizing the sedentary and prosperous life.
Over there on the coasts of Catalunia lived his brothers-in-law, the
Blanes, genuine wolves of the sea. The doctor would not be able to
contradict that. Very well, then,--their sons were in Barcelona, some
as business clerks, others making a name for themselves in the office
of their rich uncle. They were all sailors' sons and yet they had
completely freed themselves from the sea. Their business was entirely
on _terra firma_. Only crazyheads could think of ships and adventures.
The _Triton_ used to smile humbly before such pointed allusions, and
exchange glances with his nephew.
A secret existed between the two. Ulysses, who was finishing his
studies for a bachelor's degree, was at the same time taking the
courses of pilotage at the institute. Two years would be sufficient for
the completion of these latter studies. The uncle had provided the
matriculation fees and the books, besides recommending the boy to a
former sailor comrade.
When Don Esteban died very suddenly, his eighteen-year-old son was
still studying in the university.
In his latter days the notary had begun to suspect that Ulysses was not
going to be the celebrated jurist that he had dreamed. He had a way of
cutting classes in order to pass the morning in the harbor, exercising
with the oars. If he entered the university, the beadles were on their
guard fearing his long-reaching hands: for he already fancied himself a
sailor and liked to imitate the men of the sea who, accustomed to
contend with the elements, considered a quarrel with a man as a very
slight affair. Alternating violently between study and laziness, he was
laboriously approaching the end of his course when neuralgia of the
heart carried off the notary.
Upon coming out from the stupefaction of her grief, Dona Cristina
looked around her with aversion. Why should she linger on in Valencia?
Since she could no longer be with the man who had brought her to this
country, she wanted to return to her own people. The poet Labarta would
look after her properties that were not so valuable nor numerous as the
income of the notary had led them to suppose. Don Esteban had suffered
great losses in extravagant business speculations good-naturedly
accepted, but there was still left a fortune sufficient to enable his
wife to live as an independent widow among her relatives in Barcelona.
In arranging her new existence, the poor lady encountered no opposition
except the rebelliousness of Ulysses. He refused to continue his
college course and he wished to go to sea, saying that for that reason
he had studied to become a pilot. In vain Dona Cristina entreated the
aid of relatives and friends, excluding the _Triton_, whose response
she could easily guess. The rich brother from Barcelona was brief and
affirmative, "But wouldn't that bring him in the money?"... The Blanes
of the coast showed a gloomy fatalism. It would be useless to oppose
the lad if he felt that to be his vocation. The sea had a tight clutch
upon those who followed it, and there was no power on earth that could
dissuade him. On that account they who were already old were not
listening to their sons who were trying to tempt them with the
convenience of life in the capital. They needed to live near the coast
in agreeable contact with the dark and ponderous monster which had
rocked them so maternally when it might just as easily have dashed them
The only one who protested was Labarta. A sailor?... that might be a
very good thing, but a warlike sailor, an official of the Royal Armada.
And in his mind's eye the poet could see his godson clad in all the
splendors of naval elegance,--a blue jacket with gold buttons for every
day, and for holiday attire a coat trimmed with galloon and red
trappings, a pointed hat, a sword....
Ulysses shrugged his shoulders before such grandeur. He was too old now
to enter the naval school. Besides he wanted to sail over all oceans,
and the officers of the navy only had occasion to cruise from one port
to another like the people of the coast trade, or even passed years
seated in the cabinet of the naval executive. If he had to grow old in
an office, he would rather take up his father's profession of notary.
After seeing Dona Cristina well established in Barcelona, surrounded
with a cortege of nephews fawning upon the rich aunt from Valencia, her
son embarked as apprentice on a transatlantic boat which was making
regular trips to Cuba and the United States. Thus began the seafaring
life of Ulysses Ferragut, which terminated only with his death.
The pride of the family placed him on a luxurious steamer, a
mail-packet full of passengers, a floating hotel on which the officials
were something like the managers of the Palace Hotel, while the real
responsibility devolved upon the engineers, who were always going
below, and upon returning to the light, invariably remained modestly in
a second place, according to a hieratical law anterior to the progress
He crossed the ocean several times, as do those making a land journey
at the full speed of an express train. The august calm of the sea was
lost in the throb of the screws and in the deafening roar of the
machinery. However blue the sky might be, it was always darkened by the
floating crepe band from the smokestacks. He envied the leisurely
sailboats that the liner was always leaving behind. They were like
reflective wayfarers who saturate themselves with the country
atmosphere and commune deeply with its soul. The people of the steamer
lived like terrestrial travelers who sleepily survey from the
car-windows a succession of indefinite and dizzying views streaked by
When his novitiate was ended he became second mate on a sailing vessel
bound for Argentina for a cargo of wheat. The slow day's run with
little wind and the long equatorial calms permitted him to penetrate a
little into the mysteries of the oceanic immensity, severe and dark,
that for ancient peoples had been "the night of the abyss," "the sea of
utter darkness," "the blue dragon that daily swallows the sun."
He no longer regarded Father Ocean as the capricious and tyrannical god
of the poets. Everything in his depths was working with a vital
regularity, subject to the general laws of existence. Even the tempests
roared within prescribed and charted quadrangles.
The fresh trade-winds pushed the bark toward the Southeast, maintaining
a heavenly serenity in sky and sea. Before the prow hissed the silken
wings of flying fish, spreading out in swarms, like little squadrons of
Over the masts and yards covered with canvas, the albatross, eagles of
the Atlantic desert, traced their long, sweeping circles, flashing
across the purest blue their great, sail-like wings. From time to time
the boat would meet floating prairies, great fields of seaweed
dislodged from the Sargasso Sea. Enormous tortoises drowsed in the
midst of these clumps of gulf-weed, serving as islands of repose to the
seagulls perched on their shells. Some of the seaweeds were green,
nourished by the luminous water of the surface; others had the reddish
color of the deep where enters only the deadly chill of the last rays