Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Quest by Pio Baroja

Part 5 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

"Is father in?" she inquired.

Senor Custodio came out and embraced her. She was the ragdealer's
daughter of whom Manuel was forever hearing and whom, without
knowing just why, he had imagined as a very thin, emaciated,
disagreeable creature.

Justa walked into the kitchen and after looking over the chairs, to
see whether there was anything on them that might soil her clothes,
she sat down upon one of them. She began to pour forth a flood of
unceasing chatter and roared at her own jokes.

Manuel listened without a word; to tell the truth she wasn't quite
so good-looking as he had imagined, but she didn't please him any
the less for that. She might be about eighteen, was brunette, rather
short, with very dark, flashing eyes, a tilted, pert nose, a sensual
mouth and thick lips. She was, too, a bit full behind and in the
breasts and the hips; she was neat, fresh, with a very high top-knot
and a pair of brand-new, polished slippers.

As Justa gabbled on, to the ecstasy of her parents, there came into
the kitchen a hump-backed fellow from one of the neighbouring
hovels; he was called El Conejo (the rabbit) and his face really
showed a great resemblance to the amiable rodent whose name he bore.

El Conejo was a member of Senor Custodio's fraternity and knew Justa
since she had been a child; Manuel used to see him every day, but
never paid any attention to him.

The Rabbit walked into Senor Custodio's and began to talk nonsense,
laughing in violent outbursts, but in so mechanical a manner that it
provoked his hearers, for it seemed that behind this continuous
laughter lay a very deep bitterness. Justa touched his hump, for, as
is known, this brings good luck, whereupon El Conejo exploded with

"Have you been lugged up again before the chief?" she asked.

"Oh, yes. Often ... hee-hee ..."

"What for?"

"Because the other day I started to shout in the street: 'Bargains!
Who'll buy Sagasta's umbrella, Kruger's hat, the Pope's urinal, a
syringe lost by a nun while she was talking with the sacristan! ..."

El Conejo trumpeted this at the top of his lungs and Justa held her
sides with laughter.

"And don't you sing mass any more the way you used to?"

"Oh, sure."

"Let's hear it, then."

The humpback had taken for his scandalous parody, the Preface of the
Mass, and for the sacred words he substituted others with which he
announced his business. He began to bellow:

"Who will sell me any ... slippers ... pants ... hempen sandals ...
old shoes ... secondhand clothes ... syringes ... urinals and even

The hunchback's cries made Justa laugh nervously. El Conejo, after
repeating the Preface several times took up the melody of the
rogations and sang some strains in a high soprano, others in a basso

"The high silk-hat" ... and instead of saying _Liberanos
domine_, he went on: "I'll buy for spot cash.... Your old vest
... will fetch a five-peseta piece...."

Then he had to stop to let Justa laugh.

She was not slow in perceiving that she had attracted Manuel, and
despite the fact that he seemed no great conquest to her, she became
serious, egged him on and glanced at him furtively with looks that
sent the boy's blood pounding faster.

After the ragdealer's daughter had left, Manuel felt as if he had
been abandoned to darkness. He thought that he could live for two or
three weeks on her incendiary glances alone.

The next day, when Manuel met El Conejo he listened to the nonsense
that the hunchback spoke, with his eternal harping on the Bishop of
Madrid-Alcala, and then tried to shift the conversation toward the
topic of Senor Custodio and his family.

"Justa's a pretty girl, isn't she?"

"Psch ... yes," and El Conejo looked at Manuel with the reserved
mien of a person concealing a mystery.

"You've known her since she was a kid, haven't you?"

"Yes. But I've known plenty of other girls, too."

"Has she a sweetheart?"

"She must have. Every woman has a sweetheart unless she's mighty

"And who is Justa's fellow?"

"Anyone; I shouldn't be surprised if it were the Bishop of

El Conejo was a very intelligent looking person; he had a long face,
a curved nose, a broad forehead, tiny, sparkling eyes and a reddish
beard that tapered to a point, like a goat's.

A peculiar tic, a convulsive twitch of the nose, would agitate his
face from time to time, and it was this that completed his
resemblance to a rabbit. His merriment was just as likely to find
issue in a nervous, metallic, sonorous outburst as in a muffled,
clownish guffaw. He would stare at people from top to bottom and
from bottom to top in a manner all the more insolent for its jesting
character, and to add to the mockery he would detain his gaze upon
his interlocutor's buttons, and his eyes would dance from the cravat
to the trousers and from the boots to the hat. He took special care
to dress in the most ridiculous fashion and he liked to adorn his
cap with bright cock feathers, strut about in riding boots and
commit similar follies.

He was fond, too, of confusing folks with his lies, and so firmly
did he state the tales of his own invention that it was hard to tell
whether he was fooling or speaking in all seriousness.

"Haven't you heard what happened this afternoon to the Bishop of
Madrid-Alcala over at Las Cambroneras?" he would say to some

"Why, no."

"Sure. He was on a visit bringing alms to Garibaldi and Garibaldi
gave the Bishop a cup of chocolate. The Bishop sat down, took a sip,
when zip! ... Nobody knows just what happened; he dropped dead."

"Why, man! ..."

"It's the Republicans that are behind it all," affirmed El Conejo in
his most serious manner, and he would be off to another place to
spread the news or perpetrate another hoax. He would join a group.

"Have you heard what happened to Weyler?"

"No. What was it?"

"Oh, nothing. On his return from camp some flies attacked his face
and ate up a whole ear. He went across Segovia bridge bleeding

This was how the buffoon managed to enjoy himself.

Mornings he would sling his sack over his shoulder and proceed to
the centre of Madrid where he shouted his business through the
thoroughfares, mingling his cries with the names of political
leaders and famous men,--a habit that had won him more than once the
honour of appearing before the police-chief's desk.

El Conejo was as perverse and malevolent as a demon; any maiden in
the vicinity that was going around with a secret bundle might well
tremble lest he surprise her. He knew everything, he scented it out;
apparently, however, he took no mean advantage of his discoveries.
He was content to scare folks out of their wits.

"El Conejo must know," was the regular response when anything was

"I don't know a thing; I've seen nothing," he would answer,
laughing. "I don't know anything." And that was all anybody could
get out of him.

As Manuel got to know El Conejo better he felt for him, if not
esteem, at least a certain respect because of his intelligence.

This ragman jester was so cunning that often he deceived his
colleagues of El Rastro, who were far from being a set of fools.

Almost every morning the ragdealers would forgather at the head of
El Rastro, to exchange impressions and used articles. El Conejo
would learn beforehand just what was needed by the stand merchants,
and he would buy the articles of the rag men, selling them in turn
to the merchants; between this bartering and selling he always came
out the gainer....

During the Sundays that followed, Justa amused herself by working
upon Manuel's feelings. The girl was absolutely free in her talk and
had a thorough, finished knowledge of all the Madrilenian phrases
and wiles.

At first Manuel acted very respectfully; but seeing that she took no
offence he grew gradually more daring and ventured so far as to
steal embraces. Justa easily freed herself and would laugh at sight
of the fellow's serious countenance and his glance ablaze with

With the licentious manner that characterized her, Justa would carry
on scabrous conversations, telling Manuel what men said to her on
the street and the proposals that they whispered into her ears; she
spoke with especial delight of shopmates who had lost their virginal
bloom in La Bombilla or Las Ventas with some Don Juan of the counter
who spent his days twirling his mustache before the mirror of a
perfumery or silk shop.

Justa's words were always freighted with a double meaning and were,
at times, burning allusions. Her mischievous manner, her flaunting,
unbridled coquetry, scattered about her an atmosphere of lust.

Manuel felt a painful eagerness to possess her, mingled with a great
sadness and even hatred, when he saw that Justa was making sport of
him. Many a time when he saw her come Manuel vowed to himself not to
speak a word to her, not to look at her or say anything; then she
would hunt him out and tease him by beckoning to him and touching
his foot.

Justa's temper was disconcertingly uneven. Sometimes when Manuel
clasped her about the waist and sat her down on his knees, she would
let him squeeze her and kiss her all he pleased; at others, however,
simply because he had drawn near and taken her by the hand, she
would give him such a hard slap that his senses whirled.

"And come back for more," she would add, seemingly indignant.

Manuel would feel like crying with anger and rage, and would have to
contain himself lest he blurt out, with childish logic: "Why did you
let me kiss you the other afternoon?" But at once he saw how
ridiculous such a question would seem.

Justa got to feel a certain liking for Manuel, but it was a
sisterly, a friendly affection; he never appealed to her seriously
as a sweetheart or a suitor.

This flirtation, which to Justa was a mere sham of love, constituted
for Manuel a painful awakening from puberty. He had dizzy attacks of
passionate desire which left him mortally weak and crushed. Then he
would stride along hurriedly with the irregular gait of one
suffering from locomotor ataxia; many a time, crossing the pine
grove of the Canal, he was seized with an impulse to jump into the
river and drown himself. The filthy black water, however, hardly
invited to immersion.

It was during these libidinous spells that dark, sinister thoughts
assailed him,--the notion of how useless his life was, the certainty
of an adverse fate,--and as he considered the vagabond, abandoned
existence that awaited him, his soul walked with bitterness and sobs
rose in his throat....

One winter Sunday Justa, who had got into the habit of visiting her
parents on every holiday, did not appear. Manuel wondered whether
the inclement weather might be the cause and he spent the whole week
restless and nervous, counting the days that would intervene before
their next meeting.

On the following Sunday Manuel went to the corner of the Paseo de
los Pontones to wait for the girl to come along; as he espied her at
a distance his heart gave a jump. She was accompanied by a young
dandy, half bull-fighter and half gentleman, wearing a Cordovan hat
and a blue cloak covered with embroidery. At the end of the avenue
Justa took leave of her escort.

The next Sunday Justa carne to her parents' home with a girl friend
and the young man of the embroidered cloak; she introduced the young
man to Senor Custodio. Afterward she said that he was the son of a
butcher from La Corredera Alta, and to her mother Justa confessed
bashfully that the gentleman had asked permission to pay her
attentions. This phrase pay attentions, which is spoken by the
haughtiest princess and the humblest janitress with equally
lingering pleasure, enchanted the ragdealer's wife, particularly as
the gentleman in question came of a wealthy family.

In Senor Custodio's home the butcher's son was considered as the
paragon of all perfections and beauties; Manuel alone protested and
El Carnicerin (the little butcher),--as he had named him derisively
from the very first moment,--was the object of his murderous

When Manuel understood that Justa considered the butcher's son as an
ideal suitor, his sufferings were cruel. It was no longer melancholy
that moved his soul, which was now agitated by the most raging

The fellow had too many advantages over him: he was tall, graceful,
slender, flaunted a fair, budding moustache, was well-dressed, his
fingers covered with rings, an expert dancer and skilful player on
the guitar; he almost had a right to be as, content with himself as
he was.

"How can that woman fail to see," thought Manuel, "that the fellow
loves only himself? While I...."

On Sundays there used to be dancing on a lawn near the Ronda de
Segovia, and Senor Custodio, with his wife, Justa and her
sweetheart, would go there. They would leave Manuel behind to watch
the house, but at times he would run off to see the dance.

When he caught sight of Justa dancing with El Carnicerin he was
overwhelmed with a desire to drown them both.

The suitor, moreover, was a terrible show-off; he would affect a
feminine grace as he danced, and it seemed as if he were applauding
and complimenting himself. He kept so finically true to the rhythm
of the dance that a spontaneous motion might ruin everything. He
wouldn't have officiated at mass with greater ceremony.

As was natural, such a complete knowledge of the science of dancing,
united to his consciousness of superiority, endowed El Carnicerin
with admirable self-possession. It was he who was permitting himself
indolently to be won by Justa, who was frantically fond of him. As
they danced she threw herself upon him, her eyes sparkled and her
nostrils dilated; it seemed as if she wished to dominate him,
swallow him, devour him. She did not take her eyes off him, and if
she saw him with another woman her face at once turned colour.

One afternoon El Carnicerin was speaking to a friend. Manuel drew
near so as to overhear the conversation.

"Is that the girl?" his friend inquired.

"She's the one."

"Boy, maybe she isn't daffy over you."

And El Carnicerin, with a conceited smile, added:

"I've turned her head, all right."

Manuel could have torn out the fop's heart at that moment.

His disappointment in love made him think of leaving Senor
Custodio's house.

One day he met, near the Segovia bridge, El Bizco and another
ragamuffin that was with him.

They were both in tatters; El Bizco looked grimmer and more brutish
than ever. He wore an old jacket through the rents of which peered
his dark skin; according to what they said, they were both on their
way to the intersection of Aravaca road and the Extremadura
cart-road, to a spot they called the Confessionary. They expected to
meet El Cura and El Hospiciano there and rob a house.

"What do you say? Will you join us?" asked El Bizco sarcastically.

"No, I won't."

"Where are you now?"

"In a house ... working."

"There's a brave fool for you! Come on, join us."

"No. I can't.... Listen, how about Vidal? Didn't you ever see him

El Bizco's face turned grimmer than ever.

"I'll get even with that scoundrel. He won't escape before I carve a
nice scar on his face.... But are you coming along with us or not?"


Senor Custodio's ideas had worked a strong influence upon Manuel;
but since, despite this, his adventurous instincts persisted, he
thought of going off to America, or becoming a sailor, or something
of that sort.


The Square--A Wedding in La Bombilla--The Asphalt Caldrons.

The betrothal of El Carnicerin and Justa was formally arranged, Senor
Custodio and his wife bathed in rose water, and only Manuel believed
that in the end the wedding would never take place.

El Carnicerin was all together too haughty and too much of a fine
fellow to marry the daughter of a ragdealer; Manuel imagined that now
the butcher's son would try to take advantage of his opportunity. But
for the present nothing authorized such malevolent suppositions.

El Carnicerin was generosity itself and showed delicate attentions to
his sweetheart's parents.

One summer day he invited the whole family and Manuel to a bull fight.
Justa dressed up very fetchingly in her best to make a worthy
companion to her lover. Senor Custodio took out his finest apparel:
the new fedora, new although it was more than thirty years old; his
coat of doubled cloth, excellent for the boreal regions, and a cane
with a horn handle, bought in El Rastro; the ragdealer's wife wore a
flowered kerchief, while Manuel made a most ridiculous appearance in a
hat that was taken from the shop and protruded about a palm's length
before his eyes, a winter suit that suffocated him and a pair of tight

Behind Justa and El Carnicerin, Senor Custodio, his wife and Manuel
attracted everybody's attention and left a wake of laughter.

Justa turned back to look at them and could not help smiling. Manuel
walked along in a rage, stifling, his hat pressing tightly against his
forehead and his feet aching.

They got into a street car at Toledo Street and rode to the Puerta del
Sol; there they boarded art omnibus, which took them to the bull ring.

They entered and, guided by El Carnicerin, sat themselves down in
their respective places. The spectacle had begun and the amphitheatre
was packed. Tier upon tier was crammed with a black mass of humanity.

Manuel glared into the arena; they were about to kill the bull near
the stone wall that bounded the ring, at a short distance from where
they were. The poor beast, half dead already, was dragging himself
slowly along, followed by three or four toreros and the matador, who,
curved forward, with his red flag in one hand and his sword in the
other, came behind. The matador was scared out of his wits; he stood
before the bull, considered carefully just where he was to strike him,
and at the beast's slightest movement he prepared to escape. Then, if
the bull remained quiet a while, he struck him once, again, and the
animal lowered his head; with his tongue hanging out, dripping blood,
he gazed out of the sad eyes of a dying creature. After much effort
the matador gave him the final stroke and killed him.

The crowd applauded and the band blared forth. The whole business
struck Manuel as pretty disagreeable, but he waited eagerly. The mules
came out and dragged off the dead bull.

Soon the music ceased and another bull appeared. The picadores
remained close to the walls while the toreros ventured a bit nearer to
the beast and waved their red flags, at once rushing back.

This was hardly anything like the picture Manuel had conjured up for
himself, or like what he had seen in the coloured illustrations of
_La Lidia_. He had always imagined that the toreros, in the sheer
skill of their art, would play around with the bull, and there wasn't
any of this; they entrusted their salvation to their legs, just like
the rest of the world.

After the inciting tactics of the toreros, two _monosabios_ began
to beat a picador's horse with several sticks, until they got him to
advance as far as the middle of the arena. Manuel had a close view of
the horse; he was a large, white, bony creature with the saddest look
on his face. The _>monosabios_ goaded him on toward the bull.
Soon the beast drew near, the picador pricked him with the point of
his lance, the bull lowered his head for the attack and threw the
horse into the air. The rider fell to the ground and was picked up in
a trice; the horse tried to raise himself, with his intestines
sprawling on the sand in a pool of blood; he trampled on them with his
hoofs, his legs wavered and he fell convulsively to the ground.

Manuel arose deathly pale.

A _monosabio_ approached the horse, who was still quivering; the
animal raised his head as if to ask help, whereupon the man stabbed
him to death with a poniard.

"I'm going. This is too nasty for anything," said Manuel to Senor
Custodio. But it was no easy matter to leave the ring at that moment.

"The boy," said the ragdealer to his wife, "doesn't like it."

Justa, who had learned what was the matter, burst into laughter.

Manuel waited for the bull to be put to death; he kept his eyes fixed
downward; the mules came out again, and as they dragged off the
horse's body the intestines were left on the ground until a monosabio
came along and dragged them off with a rake.

"Look at that tripe!" cried Justa, laughing.

Manuel, without a word, and unmindful of the eyes that were turned his
way, left the tier. He went down to a series of long galleries, ranged
with vile-smelling urinals, and tried unsuccessfully to locate the

He was filled with rage against the whole world, against the others
and against himself. The spectacle seemed to him a most repugnant,
cowardly atrocity.

He had imagined bull-fighting to be something utterly distinct from
what he had just witnessed; he had thought that always it would
display the mastery of man over beast, and that the sword-thrusts
would flash like lightning; that every moment of the struggle would
bring forth something interesting and suggestive; and instead of a
spectacle such as he had visioned, instead of a gory apotheosis of
valour and strength, he beheld a petty, filthy thing, a medley of
cowardice and intestines, a celebration in which one saw nothing but
the torero's fear and the cowardly cruelty of the public taking
pleasure in the throb of that fear.

"'This," thought Manuel, "could please only folks like El Carnicerin,
effeminate loafers and indecent women."

Reaching home Manuel ragingly threw down his hat, pulled off his shoes
and got out of the suit in which he had so ridiculously gone to the
bull fight....

Manuel's indignation elicited plenty of comment from Senor Custodio
and his wife, and he himself was somewhat intimidated by it; he
understood that the spectacle hadn't been to his taste; what struck
him as strange was that it should rouse so much anger, such rage in

Summer went by; Justa began to make preparations for her wedding, and
in the meantime Manuel thought of leaving Senor Custodio's house and
getting out of Madrid altogether. Whither? He didn't know; the farther
away, the better, he thought.

In November one of Justa's shopmates got married, in La Bombilla,
Senor Custodio and his wife found it impossible to attend, so that
Manuel accompanied Justa.

The bride lived in the Ronda de Toledo, and her house was the
meeting-place for all the guests.

At the door a large omnibus was waiting; it could hold any number of

All the guests piled in; Justa and Manuel found a place on the top and
waited a while. The bride and bridegroom appeared amidst a throng of
gamins who were shouting at the top of their lungs; the groom looked
like a dry goods clerk; she, emaciated and ugly, looked like a monkey;
the best man and the bridesmaids followed after, and in this group a
fat old lady, flat-nosed, cross-eyed, white-haired, with a red rose in
her hair and a guitar in her hand, advanced with a _flamenco_

"Hurrah for the bride and groom! Hurrah for the best man and the
maid-of-honour!" shouted the cross-eyed fright; there was a chorus of
unenthusiastic responses and the coach departed amidst a hubbub and a
shouting. On the way everybody shrieked and sang.

Manuel did not dare to rejoice at his failure to see El Carnicerin in
the crowd; he felt positive that the fellow would show up at Los

It was a beautiful, humid morning; the trees, copper-hued, were losing
their yellow leaves in the gentle gusts; white clouds furrowed the
pale sky, the road glittered with the moisture; afar in the fields
burned heaps of dead leaves and thick curls of smoke rolled along
close to the soil.

The coach halted before one of the inns of Los Viveros; everybody
rolled out of the omnibus and the shouts and clamouring were heard
anew. El Carnicerin was not there, but he soon appeared and sat down
at table right beside Justa.

The day seemed hateful to Manuel; there were moments in which he felt
like crying. He spent the whole afternoon despairing in a corner,
watching Justa dance with her sweetheart in time to the tunes of a

At night Manuel went over to Justa and with comic gravity, said to her

"Come along, you--" and seeing that she paid no attention to him, he
added, "Listen, Justa, let's be going home."

"Get away. Leave me in peace!" she retorted rudely.

"Your father told you to be back home by night. Come along, now."

"See here, my child," interposed El Carnicerin with calm deliberation.
"Who gave you a taper to bear at this funeral?"

"I was entrusted to...."

"All right. Shut up. Understand?"

"I don't feel like it."

"Well, I'll make you with a good ear-warming."

"You make me? ... Why, you're nothing but a low-down lout, a thief--"
and Manuel was advancing against El Carnicerin, when one of the
fellow's friends gave him a punch in the head that stunned him. The
boy made another attempt to rush upon the butcher's son; two or three
guests pushed him out of the way and shoved him out on to the road at
the door of the inn.

"Starveling! ... Loafer!" shouted Manuel.

"You're one yourself," cried one of Justa's friends tauntingly after
him. "Rabble! Guttersnipe!"

Manuel, filled with shame and thirsting for vengeance, still half
dazed by the blow, thrust his cap down over his face and stamped along
the road weeping with rage. Soon after he left he heard somebody
running toward him from behind.

"Manuel, Manolillo," said Justa to him in an affectionate, jesting
voice. "What's the matter?"

Manuel breathed heavily and a long sigh of grief escaped him.

"What's the matter? Come, let's return. We'll go together."

"No, no; go away from me."

He was at a loss; without another word he set off on a run toward

The wild flight dried his tears and rekindled his fury. He meant not
to return to Senor Custodio's even if he died of hunger.

His rage rose in waves up his throat; he felt a blind madness, hazy
notions of attacking, of destroying everything, of razing the world to
the ground and disemboweling every living creature.

Mentally he promised El Carnicerin that if ever he met him alone, he
would sink his claws into his neck and strangle him; he would split
the fellow's head in two as they do to hogs, and would hang him up
head downwards with a stick between his ribs and another in his
intestines, and moreover, he'd place a tin box at his mouth into which
his cursed pig's blood could drip.

Then he generalized his hatred and considered that society itself was
against him, intent only upon plaguing him and denying him everything.

Very well, then; he would go against society, he would join El Bizco
and assassinate right and left, and when, wearied of committing so
many crimes, he would be led to the scaffold, he would look scornfully
down from the platform upon the people below and die with a supreme
gesture of hatred and disdain.

While all these thoughts of wholesale extermination thronged in his
brain, night was falling. Manuel walked up to the Plaza de Oriente and
followed thence along Arenal Street.

A strip of the Puerta del Sol was being asphalted; ten or twelve
furnaces ranged in a row were belching thick acrid smoke through their
chimneys. The white illumination of the arc-lights had not yet been
turned on; the silhouettes of a number of men who were stirring with
long shovels the mass of asphalt in the caldrons danced diabolically
up and down before the flaming mouths of the furnaces.

Manuel approached one of the caldrons when suddenly he heard his name
called. It was El Bizco; he was seated upon some paving blocks.

"What are you doing here?" Manuel asked him.

"We've been thrown out of the caves," answered El Bizco, "and it's
cold. What about you? Have you left the house?"


"Have a seat."

Manuel sat down and rested his back against a keg of asphalt.

Lights began to sparkle in the balconies of the residences and in the
shop windows; the street cars arrived gently, as if they were vessels
floating in, with their yellow, green and red lanterns; their bells
rang and they traced graceful circles around the Puerta del Sol.
Carriages, horses, carts came rattling by; the itinerant hawkers cried
their wares from their sidewalk stands; there was a deafening din....
At the end of one street, against the coppery splendour of the dusk
stood out the tapering outlines of a belfry.

"And don't you ever see Vidal?" asked Manuel.

"No. See here, Have you got any money?" blurted El Bizco.

"Twenty or thirty centimos at most."


Manuel bought a loaf of bread, which he gave to El Bizco, and the two
drank a glass of brandy in a tavern. Then they went wandering about
the streets and, at about eleven, returned to the Puerta del Sol.

Around the asphalt caldrons had gathered knots of men and tattered
gamins; some were sleeping with their heads bent against the furnace
as if they were about to attack it in bull fashion. The ragamuffins
were talking and shouting, and they laughed at the passers-by who came
over out of curiosity for a closer look.

"We sleep just as if we were in the open country," said one of the

"It wouldn't be at all bad," added another, "to take a walk now over
to the Plaza Mayor and see whether they wouldn't give us a pound of

"It has trichinae in it, anyway."

"Take care of that spring-matress," bellowed a flat-nosed gamin who
was going about striking the sleepers with a stick in the shins. "Hey,
there, you're rumpling the sheets!"

At Manuel's side, a rachetic urchin with thick lips and streaked eyes
and one of his feet bandaged in dirty rags, was crying and groaning;
Manuel, engrossed in his own thoughts, had not noticed him before.

"Some howling you're doing," came to the sufferer from a boy who was
stretched out on the ground with his legs cramped close to his chest
and his head pillowed against a rock.

"It hurts like anything."

"Then shut up, grin and bear it. Hang yourself."

Manuel thought that he heard El Carnicerin's voice and glanced toward
the speaker. The fellow's hat was pulled down over his eyes and his
face was not visible.

"Who's that?" asked Manuel of El Bizco.

"He's the captain of the cave gang: El Interprete."

"And what's he talking to the kid like that for?"

El Bizco shrugged his shoulders with a gesture of indifference.

"What's' the trouble?" Manuel inquired of the boy.

"I have a wound in my foot," replied the child, bursting again into

"Shut up, I tell you," interrupted El Interprete, aiming a kick at the
sufferer, who managed to escape the blow. "Go tell your troubles to
your bitch of a mother.... Damn it all! It's impossible to sleep

"Then to hell with you!" shouted Manuel.

"Who are you talking to?" demanded El Interprete, shoving his cap back
on his head and revealing a brutish face with a flat nose and high

"To you, you thief, you coward!"

El Interprete sprang to his feet and strode over to Manuel, who, in an
excess of fury seized him with both hands by the neck, kicked him in
the leg with his right heel, made him lose his balance and threw him
to the ground. There he thumped him violently. El Interprete, more
muscular than Manuel, was able to get to his feet again; but he had
lost his nerve and Manuel, gathering strength from his anger, threw
him down a second time and was about to crash a rock into his face
when a pair of municipal guards happened along and kicked them apart.
El Interprete went off disgraced.

The members of the crowd calmed down and went off, one after the
other, to resume their positions around the caldron.

Manuel sat down upon some paving blocks; the struggle had wiped out
the memory of the blow he had received that afternoon; he felt brave
and in a jesting mood, so, facing the curiosity-hunters that were
watching the group, some laughing and others eyeing the urchins with
pity, he addressed them.

"The session is about to close," he said. "Now we shall begin the
community singing lessons. We're about to commence snoring, ladies and
gentlemen. Let the public have no fear. We'll take good care of the
bedsheets. Tomorrow we'll send them to the river to be washed. Now is
the time. Whoever so desires," and he pointed to a rock, "may take
advantage of these pillows. They're excellent pillows, such as are
used by the Marquises of Archipipi. Whoever doesn't wish to sleep on
them, let him be gone and not bother us. Ea! Gentlemen! If you don't
pay I'll summon the servant and tell her to close...."

"It's the same with all of them," said one of the ragamuffins. "They
talk nonsense when they get sleepy. They all look as if they were

Manuel felt as garrulous as a mountebank. When he had wearied, he
leaned against a heap of stones and with arms crossed prepared to

Shortly after this the group of curiosity-hunters had dispersed; only
a guard and an old gentleman were left, and they discussed the
ragamuffins in tones of pity.

The gentleman deplored the way these children were abandoned and said
that in other countries they built schools and asylums and a thousand
other things. The guard shook his head dubiously. At last he summed up
the conversation, saying in the tranquil manner of a Galician:

"Take my word for it: there's no good left in any of them."

Manuel, hearing this, began to tremble; he arose from his place on the
ground, left the Puerta del Sol and began to wander aimlessly about.

"There's no good left in any of them!" The remark had made a deep
impression upon him. Why wasn't he good? Why? He examined his life. He
wasn't bad, he had harmed nobody. He hated El Carnicerin because that
fellow had robbed him of happiness, had made it impossible for him to
go on living in the one corner where he had found some affection and
shelter. Then contradicting himself, he imagined that perhaps he was
bad after all, and in this case the most he could do was to reform and
become better.

Absorbed in these reflections, he was passing along Alcala Street when
he heard his name called several times. It was La Mella and La
Rabanitos, skulking in a doorway.

"What do you want?" he asked.

"Nothing, man. Just a word with you. Have you come into your money

"No. What are you doing?"

"Hiding here," answered La Mella.

"Why, what's the trouble?"

"There's a round-up, and that skunk of an inspector wants to take us
to the station, even if we do pay him. Keep us company!"

Manuel accompanied them for a while; but they both picked up a couple
of men on the way and he was left alone. He returned to the Puerta del

The night seemed to him endless; he walked around and walked yet
again; the electric lights were extinguished, the street-cars stopped
running, the square was left in darkness.

Between Montera and Alcala Streets there was a cafe before whose
illuminated windows women passed up and down dressed in bright clothes
and wearing crape kerchiefs, singing, accosting benighted passers-by;
several loafers, lurking behind the lanterns, watched them and chatted
with them, giving them orders....

Then came a procession of street-women, touts and procurers. All of
parasitical, indolent, gay Madrid issued forth at these hours from the
taverns, the dens, the gambling-houses, the dives and vice resorts,
and amidst the poverty and misery that throbbed in the thoroughfares
these night-owls strutted by with their lighted cigars, conversing,
laughing, joking with the prostitutes, indifferent to the agony of all
these ragged, hungry, shelterless wretches who, shivering with the
cold, sought refuge in the doorways.

A few old strumpets remained at the street-corners, wrapped in their
cloaks, smoking....

It was long before the heavens grew bright; it was still night when
the coffee stands were opened, and the coachmen and ragamuffins went
up for their cup or glass. The gas lamps were extinguished.

The light from the watchmen's lanterns danced across the grey
pavement, which already was dimly lighted by the pale glow of dawn,
and the black silhouettes of the ragdealers stood out against the
heaps of ordure as they bent over to take the rubbish. Now and then
some pale benighted fellow with his coat collar raised, would glide by
as sinister as an owl before the growing light and soon some workmen
passed.... Industrious, honest; Madrid was preparing for its hard
daily task.

This transition from the feverish turmoil of night to the calm, serene
activity of morning plunged Manuel into profound thought.

He understood that the existence of the night-owls and that of the
working folk were parallel lives that never for an instant met. For
the ones, pleasure, vice, the night; for the others, labour, fatigue,
the sun. And it seemed to him, too, that he should belong to the
second class, to the folk who toil in the sun, not to those who dally
in the shadows.



The second volume of the trilogy is called "Mala Hierba" (Weeds); the
third, "Aurora Roja" (Red Dawn).

Book of the day: