Part 5 out of 6
and the peasants from the country, Luna's niece helped to mend the
clothes for the poor woman crushed by poverty and the superabundance
When the Chapel-master and the Wooden Staff went down to the choir,
Gabriel went out into the cloister. He could only see there a cadet
who was walking up and down, with his hand on the pommel of his sword,
holding it horizontally like the fiery tizonas of former days. Luna
recognised him by the full pantaloons and the wasplike waist, which
made the Tato declare that this particular cadet wore stays--it was
Juanito the cardinal's nephew. He often walked in the cloister, hoping
for an opportunity to talk with Leocadia, the beautiful daughter of
the Virgin's sacristan. From the parents he had nothing to fear, but
the future warrior had a certain dread of Tomasa, as the old lady
looked on these visits with an evil eye, and threatened to make them
known to his uncle the Cardinal.
[Footnote 1: _Tizona_--name of the Cid's sword.]
Gabriel had often spoken to the cadet, for when the youth met him
in the cloister he always stopped to speak, endeavouring by the
platitudes of his conversation to justify his presence in the
Claverias; but Luna was surprised to meet him there on a festival
"Are you not going to the bull-fight?" he inquired. "I thought
everyone from the academy would be in the Plaza."
Juanito smiled, caressing his moustache; it was his favourite gesture,
as it raised his arm, giving him the satisfaction of displaying the
sleeve adorned with sergeant's stripes. He was not a common cadet, he
had his stripes, and though this did not seem much to one who dreamed
of being a general, still it was a step in the right direction. No;
he did not go to bull-fights. In truth he was an _habitue_ but he had
sacrificed himself in order to talk for a whole afternoon with his
sweetheart at the door of her house in the silence of the Claverias.
The grandmother had gone down into the garden, and "Virgin's Blue"
would not be long in going out and leaving the coast clear, as if
the matter in no way concerned him. "The beautiful evening, friend
Gabriel!" He had far more serious and important affairs than the new
comers at the academy, who spent all their Sundays at the cafes, or
walking up and down like fools--everyone at the academy, even the
professors, envied him his sweetheart.
"And when is the wedding to be?" said Gabriel gaily.
Master Stripes looked most important as he replied: "There were many
things to be done before--first of all to bring his uncle to consent,
which might not be easy, and to follow the guiding of his good star to
attain a certain rank; but he was intended for great things, so it was
only a matter of a few years.
"I, friend Luna, am of the stuff of young generals; it is the good
luck of the family. My uncle, when he was only an acolyte, was certain
he would become a cardinal, and he succeeded. I shall rise much
faster. Besides, you know that to be an archbishop of Toledo is not a
small thing. My uncle has many friends in the palace, and commands in
the ministry of war just as though he were a general. In point of fact
he is far more a soldier than a cleric! And to prove it to you, there
is the only thing he has ever written, a prayer to the Virgin for the
soldiers to recite before they go into action."
"And you, Juanito, do you really feel any vocation for a military
"A great deal--ever since I knew how to open books and read them I
have wished to rival those great captains that I saw in the prints,
erect on their horses, with swords in their hands, proud and handsome.
Believe me, no one enters on this career without a vocation; many are
entered in the seminaries against their will, but no one can make a
soldier by force; anyone who comes to the academy has the longing in
"And are all of them as sure of the result as you are?"
"Oh, yes; all," said the cardinal's nephew smiling, "except that the
immense majority have not such probabilities of making a name.
But, such as we are, there is not one amongst us who dreams of the
possibility of vegetating as a captain in a reserve regiment, or of
dying of old age as a commandant. We all of us see first of all youth
glorified by the uniform, full of adventures (for you know all
the women fight for us), by the joy of life, loved and respected
everywhere, head and shoulders above our countrymen; and when old age
approaches, and we begin to get fat and bald, the gold braid of a
general, politics, and, who knows, possibly the portfolio of war! This
is in everyone's thoughts. No one believes but that the future holds a
baton for him, and that he has only to unhook it and fasten it to his
belt. I know for certain what is awaiting me, the rest dream and hope
for it, and so we go on living."
Gabriel smiled as he listened to the cadet.
"You are all deceiving yourselves, like those poor youths who enter
the seminaries, believing that a mitre awaits them or a fat benefice
on the other side of the door. It is the influence and attraction
still exercised by the great things that have been. Let us see--apart
from the material result of the profession--why do you become
"For the sake of glory!" said the cadet pompously, remembering the
harangues of the colonel director of the academy. "For our country,
whose defence is entrusted to us! and for the honour of our flag!"
"Glory!" said Gabriel, ironically. "I know all about that. Very often,
seeing you all so young and inexperienced, so full of vain hopes, I
have reconstructed in my own mind what might be called the psychology
of the cadet. I can guess all that you thought before entering the
academy, and I foresee the bitter and crushing disillusion that awaits
you on leaving it. The history of wars and the artistic trappings of
the uniform have seduced your youth. Afterwards, warlike tales of an
irresistible fascination--Bonaparte with his little band crossing the
bridge at Arcola amid showers of bullets. And then our own generals,
not to go further--Espartero at Luchana, O'Donnel in Africa, and,
above all, Prim, that almost legendary leader, directing the battalion
at Castillejos with his sword. 'I wish to be the same,' say these
youths; 'where one man has arrived another may also succeed';
enthusiasm is taken for predestination, and each one thinks himself
created by God on purpose to be a famous leader. In the meanwhile you
live in Toledo, dreaming of glory, of hairbreadth enterprises, of
gigantic battles and noisy triumphs. But when, with the two stars on
your arm you go to a regiment, the first thing that comes to meet you
at the barrack gate, even before you receive the salute of the sentry,
is the ugly and disagreeable reality. He who dreams of covering
himself with glory and becoming a great leader before he is thirty,
thinking of nothing but strategic combinations and original
fortifications, must occupy himself with the washing and decency of a
lot of wild lads, who come in from the fields reeking with excessive
health; try the rations, discuss drawers and shirts, calculate the
lasting of ankle boots and hempen shoes, and he who never went near
the kitchen at home, was most carefully looked after by his mother,
and thought that everything was women's work except giving words
of command and drawing soldiers up in line, now finds the first
requirement in a regiment is to be cook, tailor, shoemaker, etc., very
often receiving reprimands from his superiors if he prove lazy in
"That is true," said Juanito laughing; "but without these things there
cannot be an army, and an army is necessary."
"We are not discussing if it is necessary or no. I only wish to point
out that you (or perhaps not you, as you enter on a good footing,
but certainly your companions) are self-deceivers, and are preparing
without knowing it the shipwreck of your lives, precisely like those
other youths who, poorer, or perhaps less energetic, crowd to enter
the Church. The Church has come to an end as there is no longer faith;
military glory has ended in Spain as there are no longer wars of
conquest, and our character as strong fighting men has been lost for
centuries. If we have a war, it is either civil or colonial--wars that
might be called disasters--without glory and without profit, but in
which men die as at Thermopyle or Austerlitz, as a man can only die
once; but without the consolation of fame, or of public applause,
without in fact that aureole that you call glory. You have all been
born too late; you are the warriors of a people who must perforce live
in peace; just as those seminarists will be the future priests in a
country where there are no longer miracles nor faith, only routine and
utter stagnation of thought."
"But if we have no foreign wars, if conquests have come to an end, we
serve at least to defend the integrity of Spanish soil, to guard our
own homes. Is it that you think," said the cadet nettled, "we are
incapable of dying for our country?"
"I do not doubt it; that is the only thing Spaniards are capable of
doing, to die most heroically, but in the end to die. Our history
for the last two centuries has been nothing but a tale of heroic
deaths--'Glorious defeat in such a place,' 'Heroic disaster in some
other.' By sea and by land we have astonished the world, throwing
ourselves blindly into danger, showing a good front, without
flinching, with the stoicism of a Chinaman. But nations do not grow
great from their contempt of death, but through their ability to
preserve life. The Poles were the terror of the Turks, and some of the
best soldiers in Europe, yet Poland has ceased to exist. If any great
European power _could_ invade us--you will remark I say _could_, for
in these things the wish is not the same as the power, I know exactly
what would happen; the Spaniards would know how to die, but you may be
perfectly certain the invaders would not require more than two battles
to sweep away entirely all our military preparations. And all this,
which could be scattered in a couple of days, what sacrifices it costs
"Then," said the cadet ironically, "I presume we must suppress the
army, and leave the nation undefended."
"As things are to-day there is no hope of that happening. As long as
all Europe is armed and the smallest country has an army, Spain will
have one also. It is not for her to set an example; and besides, the
example would be of no use, it is as though one having a few thousand
pesetas should endeavour to initiate the remedy to social injustice by
sacrificing himself and giving them up."
After a long silence Gabriel spoke again very quietly, noticing the
ironical and even aggressive manner of the cadet.
"No doubt you are pained by what I say; believe me I feel it, as I
have no wish to wound the beliefs of anyone, least of all of those who
have formed to themselves an ideal of life. But truth is truth. The
social question does not trouble you. Is it not so? You know nothing
about it, you have never thought about it for an instant and it is the
same with all your, companions, but nevertheless, what you suffer in
your prestige, in your love of country and of your standard, has no
other cause but the social disorder at present rampant in the world.
Wealth is everything, capital is lord of the world. Science directs
humanity as the successor of faith, but the rich have possessed
themselves of its discoveries, and have monopolised them to continue
their tyranny. In the economic world they have made themselves masters
of machinery and of all progress, using them as chains to enslave the
workman, forcing an excess of production, but limiting his daily wage
to what is strictly necessary. In the life of nations the same thing
repeats itself--war to-day is nothing but an appliance of science, and
the richest countries have acquired the greatest improvements in the
art of extermination. They have crowds of recruits, thousands of
enormous cannon, they can keep millions of men under arms, with every
sort of modern improvement, without becoming bankrupt. But to poor
countries, their only remaining course is to hold their tongues, or to
rage uselessly, as the disinherited do against those in possession of
their property. The most cowardly and sedentary people on the face of
the globe may become invincible warriors if they have the money. The
bravery of chivalry came to an end with the invention of powder, and
the pride of race has faded for ever before the advent of trade. If
the Cid came to life again he would be in jail, he would have become a
highwayman, unable to adjust himself to the inequalities and injustice
of modern life. If the Gran Capitan were now minister of war, he would
probably be unable even with this military tax which oppresses the
country to put his regiments in condition to undertake a fresh war in
Italy. It is money, that cursed money! which has killed the finest
part of soldiering--personal bravery, initiative, originality--just as
it has crushed the workman, making his life a hell."
The cadet listened attentively to Gabriel, understanding for the first
time that in great nations there is something more than the warlike
sympathies of the monarch and the bravery of the army. He saw suddenly
that wealth was the basis and mainspring of all military enterprise.
"Then," he said thoughtfully, "if foreign nations do not attack us it
is not because they fear us."
"No; that we are permitted to live in peace is because these
omnipotent powers with all their ambitions and jealousies preserve a
certain equilibrium. They are like the great capitalists who, occupied
with vast projects of speculation, neglect either from carelessness or
contempt the small undertakings that lie at their door. Do you believe
that Switzerland or Belgium or other small countries live in peace
surrounded by great powers because they have an army? They would exist
just the same if they had not a single soldier, and the military power
of Spain is not greater than that of one of these small countries;
the poverty of the country and the scanty population oblige us to be
humble. In these days there are two kinds of armies those organised
for conquest and those whose only use is to keep order at home, that
are no more than police on a large scale, with guns and generals. That
of Spain, however much it costs, and however much they increase it,
comes under the latter classification."
"And if it is only this," said the cadet, "is it not something?
We keep peace at home, and we watch over the tranquillity of our
"Yes, but that could be done by fewer people and for less money.
Besides, how about glory? Will you youths, full of illusions,
overflowing with aggressiveness and energy for new undertakings,
resign yourselves to this profession of watchmen and caretakers to a
country? Your future will be as monotonous as that of a priest in his
cathedral. Every day the same--to drill men to move this or that way,
to play at dominoes or billiards in a cafe, to walk about in uniform
or take a nap in the guard-room. There can be nothing for you beyond
a small disturbance at the tax on provisions, a strike, a closing of
shops to protest against the taxes, and then to fire on a mob armed
with sticks and stones. If at any time in your life you are ordered to
fire, you may be sure it will be on Spaniards. The Government do not
wish for an army as they know it is useless for the exterior defence
of the nation; besides, the national finances do not admit of its
maintenance, and they are consequently satisfied with an embryonic
organisation which is always insubordinate, distracted by incessant
and contradictory reforms, copying foreign improvements as a poor
girl copies the robes of a great lady. Believe me, there is nothing
pleasant in living such a narrowed and monotonous life, with no other
chance of glory but that of shooting a workman who protests or a
people who complain."
"But, how about liberty? How about political progress?" inquired the
cadet. "I have heard it said by a captain at the academy that if the
Liberal party exists in Spain it is through the army."
"There is a great deal in that," said Gabriel. "It is indubitably the
most important service the army has rendered to the State; without it,
who knows where the civil wars would have ended in this country, so
stationary and so timid about all reforms! I repeat it, I do not
ignore this service, but, believe me, that civil wars between liberty
and political absolutism will never be repeated, neither could the
guerilla warfare of the Independence with any definite issue. The
means of communication and military progress have put an end to
mountain warfare. The Mauser, which is the arm of the day, requires
well-provided parks of ammunition to follow it, cartridge magazines at
its back, and all this is incompatible with party fighting."
"But you will admit that we are of some use, and that we render the
nation good service."
"I admit it in the actual state of things, but I should admit it more
fully if you were fewer. The greater part of the grant is spent, but
all the same you live in poverty, decent and hidden, but poverty all
the same. A lieutenant earns less than many operatives, but he must
buy himself showy uniforms, be smart, and frequent when he wants
amusement the same places as the rich. He can only see before him long
years of waiting and of hidden poverty, borne with dignity, until some
promotion provides him with a few duros more monthly. You all suffer
dragging on this existence of slaves to the sword, the nation who
pays grumbles at seeing you inactive, and forgets other superfluous
expenses to fix its complaints solely on the military. Believe me, for
a modern army, you are too few and badly organised; to keep the peace
at home you are too many and too dear. The fault is not yours, your
vocation has come too late, when fate has rendered Spain powerless for
adventurous undertakings. If she revives she will have to follow a
direction which will certainly not be that of the sword. For this
reason I say that these youths stray from the right path when they
seek for glory where their ancestors thought to find it."
The appearance of Silver Stick cut short the dialogue. He ran in, pale
with excitement, gasping, rattling his bunch of keys.
"His Eminence is coming," he said, hurriedly. "He is already under the
arch; he wishes to spend the evening in the garden; it is a whim! They
say he is quite unmanageable to-day."
And he ran on to open the staircase del Tenorio, which put the
Claverias in communication with the lower cloister.
The cadet was alarmed at the unexpected proximity of his uncle. He did
not wish to meet him there, he feared the cardinal's temper, and fled
towards the tower staircase on his way to the bull-fight, sacrificing
his sweetheart sooner than meet with Don Sebastian.
Gabriel, who now found himself alone in the cloister, leant against a
column and watched the progress of this terrible prince of the Church.
He saw him come out of the doorway leading to the abode of the giants,
followed by two servants. Luna was able to examine him well for the
first time. He was enormous; but in spite of his age carried himself
erectly; over his black cassock with the red borders hung his gold
cross. He was leaning with a martial air on a staff of command, and
the gold tassels of his hat fell on the pink skin of his fat neck,
which was fringed with white hair. His small and penetrating eyes
looked on all sides in the hopes of discovering some delinquency,
something contravening the established rules, which would enable him
to break out into shouts and menaces and so give vent to his ill
humour and to the anger which furrowed his brows.
He disappeared by the staircase del Tenorio, preceded by Don Antolin,
who, after opening the iron gates, had placed himself at his orders,
shaking with fear. The silence and solitude of the Claverias were
undisturbed, it seemed as though the people hidden in their houses
remained absolutely still, guessing the danger that was passing.
Gabriel, leaning on the balustrade, watched the cardinal enter the
lower cloister, walking round two sides till he came to the garden
gate. A slight gesture from the prelate was sufficient to stop the two
servants, and he walked on alone through the central avenue towards
the summer-house where Tomasa was fast asleep between its leafy walls,
her knitting in her hands.
The old woman awoke at the sound of footsteps, and seeing the prelate,
gave a cry of surprise.
"Don Sebastian! You here!"
"I wished to visit you," said the cardinal with a benevolent smile,
seating himself on a bench. "It must not be always you who come to
seek me. I owe you many visits, and here I am."
Plunging one hand into the depths of his cassock, he drew forth a
small gold case and lighted a cigarette. He stretched out his legs
with the complacency of one who being always accustomed to wear
the frowning brow of authority, finds himself for a few moments at
"But have you not been ill?" inquired the gardener's widow. "I had
thought of coming round to the palace this afternoon to inquire after
your health from Dona Visita."
"Hold your tongue, you fool; I have never felt better, especially
since this morning. The slap I have given to _those_ by not going into
the choir to pray with them has put me in a splendid humour, and in
order that they may thoroughly understand my meaning I have come to
see you. I wish them all to know that I am quite well, and that what
is said about my illness is untrue. I wish all in Toledo to understand
that the archbishop will not see his canons, and that he does so from
a sense of dignity, not from pride, as at the same time he can come
down to see his old friend the gardener's widow."
And the terrible old man laughed like a child to think of the
annoyance this visit would cause his Chapter.
"Do not believe, however, Tomasa," he continued, "that I have come to
see you solely for this reason. I felt sad and worried in the palace
this afternoon. Visitacion was busy with some friends from Madrid, and
I had that heartache I sometimes feel when I think of the past. I felt
that I must come and see you, more especially as it is always cool in
the Cathedral garden, whereas outside it is as hot as an oven. Ah!
Tomasa! how strong I see you! So slim and so active. You wear better
than I do; you are not wrapped in fat like this sinner, and you have
not the pains that disturb my nights. Your hair is still dark, your
teeth are well preserved, and you do not need like this old cardinal
to have a mechanism inside your mouth; but all the same, Tomasa, you
are just as old as I am. We have very few years of life left to us,
however much the Lord may wish to preserve us. What would I not give
to return to those days when I ran up to your house in my red gown in
search of your father, the sacristan, and stole your breakfast. Eh,
The two old people, forgetting social differences, recalled the past
with the friendly resignation of those advancing towards death.
Everything was the same as in their childhood--the garden, the
cloister; nothing about the Cathedral had changed.
His Eminence, closing his eyes, fancied himself once more the restless
acolyte of fifty years before; the blue spirals from his cigarette
seemed to carry his thoughts back through the interminable labyrinths
of the past.
"Do you remember how your poor father used to laugh at me? 'This boy,'
he would say in the sacristy, 'is a Sixtus V. What do you wish to be?'
he would ask me, and I always gave the same answer, 'Archbishop of
Toledo.' And the good sacristan would laugh again at the certainty
with which I spoke of my hopes. Believe me, Tomasa, I thought much of
him when I was consecrated bishop, regretting his death. I should have
been delighted with his tears of joy seeing me with the mitre on my
head. I have always loved you, you are an excellent family, and have
often satisfied my hunger."
"Silence, senor, silence, and do not recall those things. I am the one
who ought to be grateful for your kindness, so simple and genuine in
spite of your rank, which comes next after the Pope. And the truth
is," added the old woman with the pride of her frankness, "that no one
is the loser. Friends like I am you can never have; like all the great
ones of the earth, you are surrounded by flatterers and rascals. If
you had remained a simple mass priest no one would have sought you
out, but Tomasa would have always been your friend, always ready to do
you a service. If I love you so much it is because you are kind and
affable, but if you had put on pride like other archbishops, I should
have kissed your ring and--'Good-bye.' The cardinal to his palace, the
gardener's widow to her garden."
The prelate received the old woman's frankness smilingly.
"You will always be Don Sebastian to me," she continued. "When you
told me not to call you Eminence or to use the same ceremonies as
other people, I was as pleased as if I had been given the mantle of
the Virgin del Sagrario. Such ceremonies would have stuck in my throat
and made me ready to cry out, 'Let him have his fill of Eminence and
Illustrious, but we have scratched each other thousands of times when
we were little, and this big thief could never see a scrap of bread or
an apricot in my hand without trying to snatch and devour it!' You may
be thankful I spoke of you as 'usted' when you became a beneficiary
of the Cathedral, for, after all, it would not do to 'thou' a priest
as if he were an acolyte."
[Footnote 1: Contraction of _vuestra merced_--your worship.]
Silence fell on the two old people, their eyes wandered tenderly over
the garden, as if each tree or arcade covered with foliage contained
"Do you know what I have just remembered," said Tomasa. "I remember
that we saw each other just here many many years ago, at least
forty-eight or fifty. I was with my poor elder sister who had just
married Luna the gardener, and in the cloister wandering round me was
he who afterwards became my husband. We saw a handsome sergeant come
into the summer-house with a great jingle of spurs, a sword on his
arm, and a helmet with a tail just like the Jews on the Monument. It
was you, Don Sebastian, who had come to Toledo to visit your uncle
the beneficiary, and who would not leave without visiting your friend
Tomasita. How handsome and smart you were. I do not say it to flatter
you, it is truth. You looked like being a rogue with the girls! And I
still remember you said something to me about how pretty and fresh you
thought me after so many years absence. You don't mind my reminding
you of this? Really? It was only a soldier's gallant jests. How many
would say that now? When you left, I said to my brother-in-law, 'He
has put on the uniform for good and all; it is useless his uncle, the
beneficiary, thinking of making a priest of him.'"
"It was a youthful sally," said the cardinal smiling, remembering with
pride the dashing sergeant of dragoons. "In Spain, there are only
three professions worthy of a man--the sword, the Church and the toga.
My blood was hot and I wanted to be a soldier, but unluckily I fell on
times of peace, my promotion would have been very slow, and in order
not to embitter my uncle's last years, I renewed my studies and turned
to the Church. One can serve God or one's country as well in one place
as another, but, believe me, very often in spite of the pomp of my
cardinalate I think with envy of that soldier you saw. What happy
times they were! Even now the sword draws me. When I see the cadets I
would gladly exchange with some of them, giving them my crozier and
cross. And possibly I might have done better than any of them! Ah! if
only the great times of the reconquest could return when the prelates
went out to fight the Moors! What a great Archbishop of Toledo I
should have been!"
And Don Sebastian drew up his fat old body, and proudly stretched out
his arms with all the remains of his former strength.
"You have always been a strong man," said the gardener's widow. "I say
very often to some of the priests who speak of you and criticise you:
'You must not trifle with His Eminence, he is quite capable of going
one day into the choir--some he likes and some he does not--and
driving you all out at one fell swoop.'"
"I have more than once been tempted to do so," said the prelate
firmly, his eyes flashing with energy, "but I have been prevented by
the thought of my charge and my character as a peaceful priest. I am
the shepherd of a Catholic flock, not a wolf who tears the sheep in
his fierceness. But sometimes I can bear no more, and God forgive me!
I have often been tempted to raise the shepherd's crook and chastise
with blows that rebel flock who harbour in the Cathedral."
The prelate became excited, speaking of his quarrels with the Chapter;
the placidity of mind produced by the quiet of the garden disappeared
as he thought of his hostile subordinates. He felt obliged as at
other times to confide his troubles to the gardener's widow with that
instinctive kindly feeling which often causes highly-placed people to
confide in humble friends.
"You cannot imagine, Tomasa, what those men make me suffer. I will
subdue them because I am the master, because they owe me obedience by
the rule of discipline without which there can be neither Church nor
religion; but they oppose and disobey me. My orders are carried out
with grumbling, and when I assert myself even the last ordained priest
stands on what he calls his rights, lays complaints against me and
appeals either to the Rota or to Rome. Let us see, am I the master
or am I not? Ought the shepherd to argue with his sheep and consult
how to guide them in the right way? They sicken and weary me with
their complaints and questions. There is not half a man amongst them,
they are all cowardly tale-bearers. In my presence they lower their
eyes, smile and praise His Eminence, and as soon as I turn my back
they are vipers trying to bite me, scorpion tongues which respect
nothing. Ay, Tomasa, my daughter! pity me! when I think of all this it
makes me quite ill."
[Footnote 1: Ecclesiastical court.]
The prelate turned pale, rising from his seat as though he felt a
sudden spasm of pain.
"Do not worry yourself so much," said the old woman, "you are above
them all, and you will overcome them."
"Clearly, I shall defeat them; if not, it would fill my cup, for it
would be the first time I had been vanquished. These squabbles among
comrades do not trouble me much after all, for I know in the end I
shall see my detested enemies at my feet. But it is their tongues,
Tomasa!--what they say about the beings I love most in the world, that
is what wounds me, and is killing me."
He sat down again, coming quite close to the gardener's widow, so as
to speak in a very low voice.
"You know my past better than anyone; I have such great confidence in
you that I have told you everything. Besides, you are very quick,
and if I had not told you, you would have guessed. You know what
Visitacion is to me, and most certainly you are aware of what those
wretches say about her. Do not play the fool; everyone inside and
outside the Cathedral listens to these calumnies and believes them.
You are the only one who does not credit them because you know the
truth. But ay! the truth cannot be told, I cannot proclaim it, these
robes forbid me."
And he seized a handful of his cassock with his clenched fingers as if
he would rend it.
A long silence followed. Don Sebastian looked fixedly at the ground,
clutching with his hands as though he were trying to grasp invisible
enemies; every now and then he felt a stab of pain and sighed
"Why do you think about these things?" said the gardener's widow;
"they only make you ill, and you ought not to have disturbed yourself
to come and see me, you would have done better to remain in the
"No, you distract my mind from them, it is a great comfort to tell you
of my troubles. Up there I feel in despair, and have to exert all
my self-command to suppress my anger. I do not wish my servants to
understand, for they are quite capable of laughing at me, neither do I
wish poor Visitacion to know anything. I cannot dissimulate. I cannot
feign happiness when I am so irritated! What a hell I suffer! I cannot
say that I have been a man, and that I have been weak as the flesh of
which I am made, that I have with me the fruit of my faults, and that
I will not separate myself from them, though persecuted by calumny.
Every man acts as he is able, and I wish to be good in spite of my
faults. I might have separated from my children, I might have deserted
them, as others have done to preserve their reputation as saints, but
I am a man, and I am proud of them; I am a man with all his defects
and all his virtues, neither greater nor less than the general run of
humanity. The feeling of paternity is so deeply rooted in me that I
would sooner lose my mitre than abandon my children. You remember when
Juanito's father, who passed as my nephew, died, how deeply I felt it,
I thought I should have died also. Such a fine, handsome man, and
with such a brilliant future before him! I would have made him a
magistrate, president of the supreme court, minister, anything I
wished! And in twenty-four hours he was dead as though Heaven wished
to punish me. It is true I have my grandson remaining, but this
Juanito in no way resembles his father, and I confess it to you, I
do not care much for him. I can only see in him the most distant
reflection of my poor son. Of my past, of that time which was the
happiest of my life, all I have left me is Visitacion. She is the
living image of the poor dead one. I worship her! and this feeble ray
of happiness these wretched people disturb with their calumnies. It is
enough to make one kill them!"
Overcome by the happy recollection of the spring-time which had
flowered during the first years of his episcopate, far away in an
Andalusian diocese, he repeated once again to Tomasa the tale of his
relations with a certain devout lady, who from her childhood had felt
a horror of the world. Devotion had drawn them together, but life
was not long in asserting her rights, opening herself a way by their
almost mystical relations, and finally uniting them in a carnal
embrace. They had lived faithful to each other in the secrecy of
ecclesiastical life, loving each other with scrupulous prudence, so
that no rumour of their relations had ever publicly transpired,
until she died, leaving two children. Don Sebastian, a man of strong
passions, was almost vehement in his paternal feelings--those two
beings were the image of the poor dead woman, the remembrance of the
only idyll which had softened a life wholly given over to ambition,
and the calumnies circulated by his enemies, founded on the presence
of his daughter in the archiepiscopal palace nearly drove him mad.
"They believe her to be my mistress!" he said angrily. "My poor
Visitacion, so good, so affectionate, so gentle to all, changed to a
courtesan by these wretches! A sweetheart that I have taken for my
amusement from the college of Noble Ladies! As if I, old and infirm,
were able to think of such things! Brutes! wretches! Crimes have been
committed for less!"
"Let them say on. God is in heaven and sees us all."
"I know it, but this is not enough to quiet me. You have children,
Tomasa, and you know what it is to love them. It is not only what
is done against them that wounds us, but what is said. What days of
suffering I endure! You know since my boyhood all my dreams have been
to rise to where I am. I used to look at the throne in the choir and
think how comfortable I should be in it--of the immense happiness of
being a prince of the Church. Well, now I am on the throne. I have
spent half a century removing the stones from my path, leaving my skin
and even my flesh on the brambles of the hillside. I only know how
I was able to rise from the black mass and obtain a bishopric!
Afterwards--now I am an archbishop! now I am a cardinal! At last I can
rise no higher! And what is it all? Happiness always floats before us
like the cloud of light which guided the Israelites. We see it, we
almost touch it, but it never lets itself be caught. I am more unhappy
now than in the days when I struggled to rise, and thought myself the
most unfortunate of men. I am no longer young; the height on which
I stand draws all eyes to me and prevents me defending myself. Ay,
Tomasa! pity me, for I am worthy of compassion! To be a father and
to be obliged to hide it as a crime! To love my daughter with an
affection which increases more and more as I draw nearer to death, and
have to endure that people should imagine this pure affection to be
something so repugnant!"
And the terrible glance of Don Sebastian, which terrified all the
diocese, was clouded with tears.
"Moreover, I have other troubles," he went on, "but they are those of
a far-seeing man who fears the future. When I die, all that I have
will be my daughter's. Juanito inherits what belonged to his mother,
who was rich; besides, he has his profession and the support of my
friends. Visitacion will be very rich. You know my adversaries throw
in my face what they call my avarice. Avaricious I am not, but
foreseeing, and anxious for the well-being of those belonging to me. I
have saved a great deal. I am not one of those who distribute bread at
the gate of his palace, nor who seek popularity through almsgiving.
I have pasture lands in Estremadura, many vineyards in La Mancha,
houses, and above all State stock--much stock. As a good Spaniard I
have wished to help the Government with my money, more especially
as it bears interest. I do not quite know how much I possess, but
certainly twenty millions of reals, and probably more, all saved by
myself and increased by fortunate speculations. I cannot complain
of fate, and the Lord has helped me. Everything is for my poor
Visitacion. I should delight in seeing her married to a good man; but
she will not leave me. She is drawn to the Church, and that is my
fear. Do not be surprised, Tomasa; I, a prince of the Church, fear to
see how she is attracted by devotion, and I do all I can to turn her
from it. I respect a religious woman, but not one who is only happy in
the Church. A woman ought to live; she ought to be happy as a mother.
I have always looked badly on nuns."
"Let her be, senor," said the gardener's widow; "there is nothing
strange in her love for the Church. Living as she does she could
scarcely do otherwise."
"For the present time, I have no fear. I am by her side, and her being
fond of the society of the nuns signifies very little to me. But I
may die to-morrow, and just imagine what a splendid mouthful
poor Visitacion and her millions would be, left alone, with this
predilection to religious life, of which those cunning people would
be sure to take advantage! I have seen a great deal. I belong to the
class, and I am in the secret. There is no lack of religious orders
who devote themselves to hunting heiresses for the greater glory of
God, as they say. Besides, there are many foreign nuns with great
flapping caps travelling about here, who are lynxes for that sort of
work, and I am terrified lest they should pounce on my daughter. I
belong to the ancient Catholicism, to that pure Spanish religion, free
from all modern extravagances. It would be sad to have spent my life
in saving, only to fatten the Jesuits or those sisters who cannot
speak Castilian. I do not wish my money to share the fate of that of
the sacristans in the proverb. For this reason, to the annoyance
I feel at my struggles with this inimical Chapter, I must add the
distress I feel at my daughter's feeble character. Probably she will
be hunted; some rake will laugh at me and possess himself of my
Excited by his gloomy thoughts, he gave vent to an interjection both
caustic and obscene, a memory of his soldiering days; in the presence
of the gardener's widow there was no need to control himself, and the
old woman was accustomed to this relief of his temper.
"Let us see," he said imperiously after a long silence. "You, who know
me better than anyone, am I as bad as my enemies suppose? Do I deserve
that the Lord should punish me for my faults? You are one of God's
souls, simple and good, and you know more of all this by your instinct
than all the doctors of theology."
"You bad, Don Sebastian? Holy Jesus! You are a man like all others,
neither more nor less; but you are sincere, all of one piece, without
deceit or hypocrisy."
"A man--you have said it. I am a man like the rest. We who attain a
certain height are like the saints on the fronts of the churches: from
below we cause admiration for our beauty, but viewed closely we cause
horror from the ugliness of the stones corroded by time. However much
we wish to sanctify ourselves, keeping ourselves apart, we are still
nothing but men--creatures of flesh and blood like those who surround
"In the Church those who free themselves from human passion are most
rare. And who knows if, even among those few privileged ones, some are
not driven by the demon of vanity to increase the asceticism of their
lives, thinking of the glory of being on an altar! The priest who
succeeds in subduing his flesh falls into avarice, which is the
ecclesiastical vice _par excellence_. I have never hoarded from vice;
I have saved for my own, but never for myself."
The prelate was silent for a long while; but in his irresistible
desire to confide in the simple old woman he went on.
"I am sure that God will not despise me when my hour comes. His
infinite mercy is above all the littleness of life. What has been my
fault? To have loved a woman, as my father loved my mother; to
have had children as the apostles and saints had. And why not?
Ecclesiastical celibacy is an invention of men, a detail of discipline
agreed upon at the councils; but the flesh and its exigencies are
anterior by many centuries; they date from Paradise. Whoever crosses
this barrier, not from vice, but from irresistible passion, because he
cannot conquer the impulse to create a family and to have a companion,
fails indubitably towards the laws of the Church, but he does not
disobey God. I fear the approach of death; many nights I doubt and
tremble like a child. But I have served God in my own way. In former
times I would have served Him with my sword, fighting against the
heretics. Now I am His priest and do battle for Him whenever I see the
impiety of the age curtailing anything of His glory. The Lord will
forgive me, receiving me into His bosom. You, who are so good, Tomasa,
and have the soul of an angel beneath your rough exterior, do you not
The gardener's widow smiled, and her words fell slowly on the silence
of the dying evening.
"Tranquillise yourself, Don Sebastian. I have seen many saints in this
house, and they have been worth much less than you. To ensure their
salvation they would have abandoned their children. To maintain what
they call purity of soul they would have renounced their family.
Believe me, no saints enter here; they are men, nothing but men. You
have nothing to repent of in following the impulse of your heart. God
created us in His image and likeness, and also planted in us family
love. All the rest, chastity, celibacy and other trifles, you invented
for yourselves, to distinguish yourselves from the common herd of
people. Be a man, Don Sebastian, and the more you show yourself such
the better it will be for you, and the better the Lord will receive
you in His glory."
A few days after Corpus Don Antolin went one morning in search of
Gabriel. Silver Stick smiled at Luna, speaking to him in a patronising
He had thought of him all night; it pained him to see him idle,
walking about the cloister; it was the want of occupation that
inspired him with such perverse ideas.
"Let us see," he continued, "would it suit you to come down with me
every afternoon into the Cathedral, to show the Treasury and the
other curiosities? A great many foreigners come who can scarcely make
themselves understood when they question me; you will understand them,
as you know French and English, and, your brother says, many other
languages. The Cathedral would be a gainer, as it would show these
strangers that we have an interpreter at our disposal; you would
be doing us a favour and would lose nothing by it. It is always an
amusement to see new faces; and about the recompense ..."
Don Antolin stopped here, scratching his head beneath his skull cap.
He would see what he could screw out of the funds of the Obreria; if
just at first nothing could be managed, as the revenues of the Primacy
were meagre and at their lowest ebb, no doubt something could be given
He looked anxiously for Gabriel's answer, who, however, was quite
agreeable; when all was said and done he was a guest of the Cathedral
and owed it something. And from that afternoon he went down at the
hour of choir to show the foreigners all the treasures of the church.
There was no lack of travellers who showed Don Antolin's coloured
tickets waiting for the time to see the jewels. Silver Stick could
never see a stranger without imagining that he was a lord or a
duke, and often felt very much surprised at the shabbiness of their
clothing; according to his ideas only the great ones of the earth
could give themselves the pleasure of travelling, and he opened wide
his incredulous and scandalised eyes when Gabriel told him that many
were shoemakers from London or shopkeepers from Paris, who during
their holidays treated themselves to a trip through the ancient
country of the Moors.
Five canons in their choir surplices advanced up the nave, each one
holding a key in his hand; these were the guardians of the treasure.
Each one opened the lock confided to his custody, the door swung
heavily, and the chapel, with its antique treasures, was opened. In
large glass cases, like a museum, was displayed the ancient opulence
of the Cathedral: statues of chiselled silver, large globes crowned
by graceful little figures all of precious metal, ivory caskets of
complicated work, custodias and viriles of gold, enormous gilt
dishes, embossed with mythological subjects reviving the joy of
paganism in that sordid and dusty corner of the Christian Church, and
precious stones spread their varied colours over pectorals, mitres and
mantles for the Virgin. There were diamonds so immense as to make one
doubt their being genuine, emeralds the size of pebbles, amethysts,
topaz, and pearls--very many pearls, strewn by the hundreds and
thousands on the Virgin's garments. The foreigners were amazed at all
this wealth and dazzled by the quantity, while Gabriel, who had become
accustomed to see it daily, looked at it carelessly. The Treasury
presented a deplorable spectacle of neglect: the riches had aged with
the Cathedral, the diamonds did not flash, the gold seemed tarnished
and dusty, the silver was blackened, the pearls were opaque and sick,
the smoke from the wax tapers and the damp atmosphere of the church
had sadly dulled everything.
[Footnote 1: _Virile_--small box with double glass in which the Host
"The Church," said Gabriel to himself, "ages everything she touches.
The treasures lose their brilliancy in her hands, like jewels that
fall into the power of usurers. The diamond becomes dulled in the
bosom of the great miser, and the most beautiful picture becomes
blackened on her altars."
After the visit to the Treasury came the exhibition of the Ochavo, the
octagonal chapel of dark marbles, that pantheon of relics where
the most repulsive human remains--skulls with their ghastly grin,
mummified arms and worn-eaten vertebras--were shown in gold or silver
shrines. The gross and credulous piety of former days displayed
itself in the full tide of unbelief, so that even Don Antolin, so
uncompromising when he spoke of the glories of his Cathedral, lowered
his voice and hurried over his explanations as he showed a piece
of the mantle worn by Santa Leocadia when she "appeared" to the
Archbishop of Toledo, quite understanding the difficulty of explaining
how an apparition could wear garments of stuff.
Gabriel translated faithfully Don Antolin's explanation, repeating
it again and again with imperturbable gravity, while the canons who
escorted the batch of strangers drew a few paces away with an absent
look, to avoid questions.
One day a phlegmatic Englishman interrupted the interpreter.
"And have you not amongst all these things a feather from the wings of
"No, senor, and it is a great pity," said Luna, equally seriously,
"but you will probably find it in some other Cathedral; we cannot have
In the Chapter-house, a mixture of Arab and Gothic architecture, the
foreigners were much interested by the double row of portraits of the
Toledan archbishops hanging on the wall, with their mitres and golden
croziers. Gabriel called their attention to the picture of Don
Cerebruno, a mediaeval prelate, so called from his enormous head; but
it was the wardrobe which more especially surprised the foreigners.
It was a room surrounded by large cupboards and shelves of old wood;
above these the walls were covered with dusty and torn pictures,
copies of Flemish paintings that the canons had relegated to this
corner; round the room were placed in line the ancient armchairs of
the church, some of Spanish workmanship, austere, with straight lines
and ravelled coverings, others of Greek design with curved feet
inlaid with ivory. The capes and chasubles were piled on the shelves,
according to colours, with the collars outside the heap, so that
people could examine the wonderful embroidery. A whole world of
patterns appeared with every possible brilliancy of colour on a few
inches of stuff. The astonishing art of the ancient embroiderers made
the silk a series of vivid pictures; the collar and the narrow stripes
on the front of a cape were large enough to reproduce all the scenes
of the biblical creation and the passion of Jesus. Brocade and silk
unrolled the magnificence of their textures. One cape was a garden
of flame-coloured carnations, another was a bed of roses and other
fantastic flowers with twisted stamens and metallic petals. The
sacristans produced from the deep shelves, as though they were books,
the splendid and famous frontals of the high altar. There were special
ones for each festival; that for St. John's Day was brightly coloured
with verbenas, purple bunches of grapes, and golden lambs that fat
little angels were caressing with their chubby hands. The most
ancient, of soft and rather faded colours, showed Persian gardens with
blue waters in which fabulous reddish beasts were drinking.
The visitors were bewildered seeing all this vast collection of
stuffs and embroideries unrolled piece after piece--all the past of
a Cathedral which, having millions of revenue, employed for its
embellishment armies of embroiderers, acquiring the richest textures
of Valencia and Seville, reproducing in gold and colours all the
episodes from the Holy books, and the torments of the martyrs, all the
glorious legends of the Church, immortalised by the needle, before
printing had been able to do so.
Gabriel returned every evening to the upper cloister, wearied out with
walking the length and breadth of the Cathedral. During the first few
days he was delighted with the novelty of seeing fresh faces, to hear
the rustle of the visitors who, branching off from the great stream of
travellers who inundated Europe, came as far as Toledo. But after a
little while the people he saw every afternoon seemed to him just the
same. There were the same questions, the same stiff and hard-featured
Englishwomen, and the same o-o-o-h's of cold and conventional
admiration, and the same identical way of turning their backs with
rude pride when there was nothing else to be shown. Returning to
the quiet of the upper cloister after the daily exhibition of the
Treasury, Gabriel thought the poverty of the Claverias even more
revolting and intolerable. The shoemaker seemed sadder and yellower in
the rank atmosphere of his den, bending over his bench hammering the
soles, his wife more feeble and ill, the miserable slave of maternity,
weakened by hunger, and offering to her little son as his only hope of
food those flaccid breasts in which there was nothing left but a drop
of blood. The little child was dying! Sagrario, who had left her
machine to spend the greater part of the day in the shoemaker's room
said so in a low voice to her uncle. She did all the work of the
house, while the poor mother, motionless in a chair, with the little
one in her lap, looked at it with weeping eyes. When the baby woke
from its stupor it would wearily raise its head from its little neck,
which had become a mere thread; the mother to stifle its feeble moans
would press it to her breast, but the child would turn away its mouth
guessing the inutility of expending its strength on that rag of flesh
from which it could only succeed in extracting the last drop.
Gabriel examined the child, noting its extreme emaciation and the
spots that scrofula had spread over its straw-coloured skin. He shook
his head incredulously when the neighbours who had gathered round the
invalid each diagnosed some particular ailment, and recommended every
imaginable sort of household remedy, from decoctions of rare herbs and
stinking ointments to applications on the chest of miracle working
prints, and tracing seven crosses on the navel with as many
"It is hunger," said Luna to his niece, "nothing but hunger." And
depriving himself of part of his own food, he sent to the shoemaker's
house the milk that had been brought up for himself. But the child's
stomach could not retain the liquid too substantial for its weakness,
and threw it up as soon as swallowed. The Aunt Tomasa, with her
energetic and enterprising character, brought a woman from outside the
Cathedral to nourish the child, but after two days, and before the
effects became visible, she came no more, as if she had felt disgusted
at the miserable and corpse-like little body touching her. In vain the
gardener's widow searched; it was not easy to find generous breasts
who would give their milk for very little pay.
In the meanwhile the child was dying. All the women came in and out of
the shoemaker's house, and even Don Antolin would stand at the door in
"How is the little one? Just the same? It is all in God's hands."
And he would retire, doing the shoemaker the great charity of not
speaking to him about the pesetas he owed him, on account of the sick
"Virgin's Blue" was annoyed by this incident, which upset the calm of
the cloister, and disturbed the bliss of his digestion as a happy and
well-fed servant of the Church. It was a shame that that shoemaker
should be allowed to live in the Claverias with all that flock of
wretched and scurvy children; one would die every month; all sorts
of illness would lay hold on them. By what right were they in the
Cathedral when they drew no wage from the Obreria? Such stinking
excrescences ought to remain outside the Lord's house.
His mother-in-law was furious.
"Silence, you thief of the saints!" she cried. "Silence, or I will
throw a dish at you! We are all sons of God, and if things were as
they should be, all the poor ought to live in the Cathedral. Instead
of saying such things it would be much better if you gave those
unhappy people part of what you have stolen from the Virgin."
The sacristan shrugged his shoulders with contempt. If they had not
enough to eat they should not have children. There he was himself with
only one daughter--he did not think he had any right to more--and so
thanks to Our Lady he was able to save a scrap for his old age.
Tomasa spoke of the shoemaker's child to the good gentlemen of the
Chapter when they came into the garden for a few minutes after choir.
They listened absently, putting their hands in their cassocks.
"It is all God's will! What poverty!"
And some gave her ten centimes, others a real, one or two even a
peseta. The old woman went one day to the Archbishop's palace. Don
Sebastian was engaged and unable to see her, but he sent her two
pesetas by one of the servants.
"They don't mean badly," said the gardener's widow, giving her
collection to the poor mother, "but each one lives for himself, and
his neighbour may manage as he can. No one divides his cloak with
another--take this, and see how you can get out of your trouble."
They fed a little better in the shoemaker's house; the miserable
scrofulous children collected in the cloister profited most by the
baby's illness; it was growing daily weaker, lying motionless for
hours, with almost imperceptible breathing, on its mother's lap.
When the unhappy child died, all the people of the Claverias rushed
to the home. Inside could be heard the mother's wailings, strident,
interminable, like the bellowing of a wounded beast; outside the
father wept silently, surrounded by his friends.
"It died just like a bird," he said with long pauses, his words broken
by sobs. "His mother held him on her knees--I was working--'Antonio,
Antonio!' she called, 'see, what is the matter with the child, it is
moving its mouth and making grimaces?' I ran up quickly, its face
was quite dusky--as if it had a veil over it. It opened its mouth, a
couple of twitches with its eyes staring, and its neck fell over--just
the same as a bird, just the same."
He wept, repeating constantly the resemblance between his son and
those birds who die in winter from the cold.
The bell-ringer looked gloomily at Gabriel.
"You who know everything, is it true that it died of hunger?"
And the Tato with his scandalous impetuosity shouted loudly--
"There is no justice in the world! All this must be altered! Fancy a
child dying of hunger in this house, where money runs like water, and
where all those creatures are dressed in gold!"
When the little corpse was carried to the cemetery, the cloister
seemed quite deserted; all its life was concentrated in the
shoemaker's house, all the women surrounded the mother. Despair had
rendered that sick and feeble woman furious. She no longer wept: her
child's death had made her ferocious--she wished to bite or to dash
her skull against the wall.
"Ay! my s-o-o-o-n! my Antonio!"
At night Sagrario and the other women remained in the house to look
after her. In her desperation she wished to make some one responsible
for her misfortune, and she fixed on those highest in the cloister.
Don Antolin had not helped her with the smallest alms; his affected
niece had scarcely been in to see the little one, nothing interested
her but men.
"It is all Silver Stick's fault," wailed the poor mother--"he is
a thief. He grinds our poverty with his usurer's snares. Never a
farthing did he give for my son. And that Mariquita is just the same.
Yes, senor, I do say so. She only thinks of decking herself out so
that the cadets may see her."
"For mercy's sake, woman, they will hear you," begged some of the
But others scouted this fear. "Let Don Antolin and his niece hear
them! What did it matter? The Claverias were tired of the rapacity
of the uncle, and the magnificent airs that ugly woman gave herself!
Because they were poor they were not going to spend their lives
trembling before that couple. God only knew what the uncle and niece
did when they were alone in the house together!"
A breath of rebellion had passed over that sleepy world. It was the
unconscious influence of Gabriel. What he had said to his friends had
been passed on to all the men in the Claverias, getting even to the
women. They were confused and garbled ideas, that very few could
understand, but they cherished them like fresh pure air reviving
their minds. They sounded in their ears like a pleasant echo from the
outside world. It was sufficient for them to know that this quiet life
of submission they had led up to now was not immutable--they had
a right to something better--and that human beings ought to rebel
against injustice and oppression.
Don Antolin, who knew well enough the crew confided to his care,
was not long in perceiving this moral upturn. He felt hostility and
rebellion on every side. The debtors answered him haughtily, alleging
their poverty as a reason for no longer enduring his avarice; his
imperious orders were tardily executed, and he had a clear perception
that they were laughing behind his back as he walked through the
cloister, and making threatening gestures. One day his legs trembled
beneath him and his eyes were dimmed, hearing how the Perrero replied
to one of his reprimands, having returned late to the Cathedral, and
obliging him to descend and open the door after he had gone to bed.
The Tato made him understand, with an insolent expression, that he had
bought a knife, and that he intended its first fleshing to be in the
bowels of some priest or other who ground down the poor.
His niece complained to Don Antolin, they paid no attention to her and
flouted her, no woman now ever came to help her gratuitously in her
household duties. They replied insolently that those who wanted
servants must pay for them. What was her uncle thinking about? It was
certainly time to assert his authority and to lay a heavy hand on
She herself, so lively and energetic in her own house, was now obliged
to retire snorting with rage or weeping, whenever she stationed
herself at her door. All the women of the Claverias wished to revenge
themselves for their former thraldom, standing already on the
declivity of disrespect.
"Look at her!" screamed the shoemaker's wife to her neighbours,
"always so dressed up, the ugly jade. She decks herself with the blood
that vampire of an uncle sucks from the poor."
And from the iron gratings of the upper Claverias, giving on the
roofs, there was generally a voice singing the ancient couplet, no
doubt inspired by the Cathedral garden--
"Las amas de los curas y los laureles
Como nunca dan fruto siempre estan verdes." 
[Footnote 1: Priest's housekeepers--like laurels--never have any
fruit, because they are evergreens.]
It was this that ended the patience of Don Antolin; this insulting
conjecture about himself and his niece that disturbed his miserly
chastity. He visited the cardinal to complain of the inhabitants of
the cloister, but His Eminence, who lived in a perpetual rage, grew
furious listening to him and very nearly thrashed him. Why did he
come to him with such tales? For what reason had he been given any
authority? Was there nothing left of a man beneath his cassock? He who
was wanting in the good discipline of the house--turn him out into the
street at once! More energy, and be careful never to trouble him again
with such insignificant tales, otherwise the person who would be
turned into the street would be Silver Stick himself.
Don Antolin felt a little braver after this interview, although he
swore mentally never again to visit that terrible prelate. He was
determined to reassert his authority, by punishing the weakest, whom
he considered as the origin of all these scandals. The shoemaker
should be expelled from the Claverias, as he was there through
no other right but that his wife had been born there. Mariquita,
bewildered by her uncle's energy, must needs speak to some one about
these intentions, and so the news circulated through the cloister.
Don Antolin did not dare to move a step further, terrified by the
silent unanimity with which the whole population rose against him.
The Tato looked at him with mocking and threatening eyes, in which
Silver Stick could plainly read "Remember the knife"; but what
terrified Don Antolin more than anything was the silence of the
bell-ringer, and the savage and hostile glance with which he responded
to his words.
Even the good Wooden Staff, Esteban, protested in his own way, saying
quietly to Don Antolin:
"Is it really true that you intend turning out the shoemaker? You will
do wrong, very wrong, for after all he is very poor, and his wife was
born in the cloister. These innovations always bring misfortune, Don
So the priest, finding he had no support, and seeing hostility on
every side, put off his energetic resolutions till the following day,
even reproving his niece when she threw his weakness in his face.
The Canon Obrero, from whom he had implored help, did not care to
disturb the blessed peace of his existence by mixing himself up in the
quarrels of the smaller people. It was Silver Stick's own affair; he
could punish or expel any one he thought fit without fear of anybody.
But Don Antolin, dreading the responsibility that might accrue from
energetic action, ended by delivering himself over to Gabriel and
begging for his assistance. That man was the one who wielded the real
authority in the upper cloister; all those who had listened to him
followed his advice blindly.
"Help me, Gabrielillo," said the priest with an agonised expression.
"If you cannot restore order, this will end badly; they even insult my
poor niece, and some day I shall turn half the people of the Claverias
out into the street, as I hold authority from His Eminence for
everything. Ay, senor! I do not know what has happened here; surely
the devil must have got loose in our upper cloister! How these people
have changed to me!"
Luna guessed Don Antolin's thoughts and his allusions to the devil who
had got loose in the cloister. That devil was himself. No doubt Silver
Stick was right. Without intending it he had introduced discord into
the Cathedral. He had sought calm and forgetfulness in that refuge,
and the spirit of rebellion had followed him even into this
concealment. He recalled his thoughts on the first day, when he was
alone in the silent cloister; he wished to be another stone in the
Cathedral, without thought, without feeling, to spend the rest of his
life fixed to that ruin, with the embryonic life of the fungus on the
buttress, but the spirit of the outside world had entered in with him.
Luna remembered how travellers in time of plague had crossed the
sanitary cordon--they were well and happy, nothing betrayed the
infection in their bodies; but the poisonous germs travelled in the
folds of their clothes and in their hair, carrying death without
knowing it, helping it to leap all barriers and obstacles, without
being in the least aware of it. He was the same, but instead of
spreading death, he spread tumultuous and rebellious life. The protest
of the lower orders that had been surging throughout the world, for
more than a century, had entered with him into this still remaining
fragment of the sixteenth century. He had awakened those men, who had
been like the sleepers in the legend, motionless in their cave for
ages, while the centuries rolled on and the world was transformed.
The awakening of these people was sudden and violent, like that of a
people in revolution. They were ashamed of the old errors that they
had worshipped, and this made them receive as gospel everything that
was new, without quailing before the consequences.
It was the faith of a people which, once it takes form, rushes
onwards, accepting everything, justifying everything, the only
requirement being its novelty, and casting aside contemptuously those
traditional principles which it had just abandoned.
The cowardly submission of Silver Stick was the first victory of those
more daring souls who formed Luna's surrounding. The avaricious and
despotic priest lowered his eyes before them, smilingly anxious to
make himself agreeable. This they owed to the master, for he was now
the true ruler of the upper cloister. Don Antolin consulted him before
making any arrangements, and his ugly niece smiled on Gabriel as the
daughters of the conquered might smile on a triumphant hero.
They now no longer hid themselves in the bell-ringer's house for their
meetings; they formed a circle in the cloister during the evenings,
discussing the audacious doctrines taught by Luna, without now being
intimidated by the religious atmosphere. They sat with the look of
lords, surrounding their master, while in the opposite gallery walked
Silver Stick like a black phantom, reading his book of hours, and
casting now and then an uneasy glance on the group. Even his ancient
vassal, the chaplain of the nuns, had dared to leave him to go and
listen to Gabriel.
Don Antolin with the keenness of his ecclesiastical training, guessed
the intensity of the evil produced by Luna. But for the moment his
egoism was stronger than his reflection. Let them talk--what did it
matter? It was only a little ebullition of pride in those people,
nothing more. All words and wind in the head. Meanwhile they had
better not ask for any more money! In exchange he had a very good
auxiliary in Luna, who, sharing his authority, spared him many
annoyances, and the Cathedral disposed of his services gratuitously as
interpreter to the foreigners.
These already began to talk of the great intelligence and education
of the Toledan sacristans, a praise Don Antolin received as though it
were entirely deserved by himself.
Gabriel was far more alarmed than Don Antolin at the effect of his
words; he bitterly repented having been led to speak of his past and
of his ideals. He had sought for peace and silence, but he was
still surrounded, though in a smaller degree, by the atmosphere of
proselytism and blind enthusiasm, as in the days of his martyrdom.
He had wished to efface himself and to disappear on entering the
Cathedral, but fate mocked him, reviving the agitation in the midst
of his concealment, to disturb the peace of that ruin. Society had
forgotten him, but he unconsciously was agitating, and drawing to
himself the attention of the outside world.
The enthusiasm of these neophytes was a danger, and his brother, the
Wooden Staff, without understanding the full extent of the evil,
warned him with his usual good sense.
"You are turning the heads of these poor men, with the things you
tell them. Be careful; they are very well meaning, but they are very
ignorant. And having been ignorant all their lives, it is dangerous to
turn such men into sages at one blow. It is as if I, being accustomed
to the homely stew, were taken to-day to His Eminence's table. I
should gorge myself and drink too much; at night I should have a
colic, and should probably hop the twig."
Gabriel acknowledged the truth of this prudent advice, but he could
not draw back--he was driven on by the affection of his disciples and
his own ardour as propagandist. It was a great delight to him to see
the wonder in those virgin minds, entering tumultuously into the
luminous palaces constructed by human thought during the last century.
The description of the future of humanity inflamed all Luna's ardour.
He spoke of the happiness of men, after a revolutionary crisis which
would change all the organisation of humanity with mystic rapture,
like a Christian preacher describing heaven.
"Man ought to seek happiness solely in this world, for after death
there only existed the infinite life of matter with its endless
combinations, but the human being was effaced as entirely as a plant
or an animal--he fell into oblivion when he sank into the tomb.
Immortality of the soul was one of the illusions of human pride worked
up by religions, who laid their foundations on this lie. It was
only in this life that man could find heaven. Everyone embarked on
immensity in the same ship, the earth. We were all comrades in our
dangers and our struggles, and we ought to look upon one another
as brothers seeking the common welfare. And what about the unequal
distribution of goods, the division of classes, the ability to work,
and, above all, the struggle for existence, that the philosophers and
poets of the oppressing classes paint as an indispensable condition of
progress? Communism is the holiest aspiration of humanity, the
divine dream of man since he began to think in the first dawn of
civilisation. Religions had endeavoured to establish it, but religion
had been shipwrecked and was moribund, and only science could enforce
it in the future. They must stop on the way they were going, as
humanity was marching on the road to perdition, therefore it was
necessary to return to the point of departure. The first man who had
cultivated a portion of the earth and garnered the fruits of his
toil, thought it was his for ever, and left it to his sons as their
property; they engaged other men to cultivate it for them--so these
men became robbers, appropriators of the universal heritage. It was
the same with those who possessed themselves of the invention of
human genius, machines, etc., for the benefit of a small majority,
subjecting the rest of mankind to the law of hunger. No, everything
was for everyone. The earth belonged to all human beings without
exception, like the sun and the air; its products ought to be divided
between everyone with due regard to their necessities. It was shameful
that man, who only appeared for an instant on this planet--a minute,
a second, for his life was no more than this in the life of
immensity--should spend this mere breath of existence fighting with
his kin, robbing them, excited by the fever of plunder, not even
enjoying the majestic calm of a wild beast, which when it has eaten,
rests, without ever thinking of doing harm from vanity or avarice.
There ought to be neither rich nor poor--nothing but men. The only
inevitable division must be that between brains more or less highly
organised. But the wise, from the fact of being so, ought to show
their greatness, sacrificing themselves for the more simple, without
seeking to assist the greatness of their minds by material advantages;
for in stomachs there were no categories or ranks. Everything that
exists, even the smallest production that man considers his exclusive
work, is the work of the past and present generations. By what right
can anyone say 'This is mine, mine only'? Man is not consulted before
he is formed if he wishes to burst forth into life. He is born--and
from the fact of being born he has a right to well-being." Gabriel
proclaimed his supreme formula, "Everything for everyone, and
well-being for all."
His friends listened in profound silence. The right to well-being
sank profoundly into their minds; it was the saying that most cruelly
touched their poverty, taunted by the contrast of the wealth of the
Don Martin, the young chaplain, was the only one who timidly raised
any objections to the master's sayings. He wished to know if, when
everything was for everyone, when man should have recognised his
right to happiness, without laws or compulsion to force him to
production--would he work? seeing that work was a necessity, and not a
virtue, as those who employ labour say, to glorify it.
Gabriel loudly affirmed the necessity of work in the future. The
man of the future would work without being forced to do so by his
necessities; he would not be ruled by the body and its imperious
requirements; his conscience would be inspired with the clear
understanding of solidarity with his fellows and the certainty that
if one abandoned social duties others would follow the example, thus
rendering life in common impossible and so returning to the actual
times of poverty and robbery.
"Why do not the few men of culture and sound conscience living at
present kill and rob?" exclaimed Gabriel. "It is not through fear of
the law and its representatives, for a clear intelligence, if it takes
the trouble, can easily find ways of evading both; neither can it be
through fear of eternal penalties and divine punishment, as such
men do not believe in these inventions of the past. It is from that
respect to his fellows which is felt by every elevated mind, from the
consideration that all violence should be avoided, for if everyone
gave themselves over to it, all social life must disappear. When this
understanding, which now only belongs to a few, embraces all humanity,
men will live ruled by their own consciences without laws or police,
working from social duty, without requiring man to be the only spring
of activity, and sweating without compassion to be the only way to
Throughout all his revolutionary raptures Luna had no illusions as to
the present. Humanity was at present an infected land, in which the
best seeds rotted, or which at best produced only poisonous fruits; we
must wait till the equalising revolution begun in the human conscience
a century ago should be completed, after that it would be possible
and easy to change the basis of society; he had a blind faith in
the future. Man must progress in the same way as communities; these
reckoned their evolutions by centuries, but man by millions of
years. How could a man of to-day be compared to the biped animal of
prehistoric times, though bearing visibly the traces of the animalism
from which he had lately emerged? Living in fellowship with his
ancestors the monkeys, the principal difference being the first
babblings of speech, and the first trembling spark that began to burn
in his brain.
From the ravenous beast of former days, suffering from all the cruel
forces of nature and living in fraternal misery with the lower
animals, the man of to-day was evolved, asserting his superiority to
his ancestors, dominating all nature. From the men of to-day, in whom
the passions of their former animalism are finding their equilibrium
with the gradual unfolding of the mind, will arise that superior and
perfect being indicated by philosophers, pure from all animal egoism,
and endeavouring to change the actual cruel, restless, and uncertain
life, into a period of happy and prosperous equality.
The animalism at present dominant in man exasperated Gabriel; it was
the great stumbling-block to all his generous views of the future,
and he explained to his astonished listeners the transformations of
natural creatures and of the origin of man, and the wondrous poem of
the evolution of nature from the original protoplasm to the infinite
varieties of life. We still carry in us the marks of our origin. One
could not help laughing at the God of the Jews, who had modelled a man
from clay, like a sculptor. Unlucky artist! Science pointed out much
carelessness and bungling in His work, without being able to justify
such mistakes. The skin of our bodies did not serve us as a covering
like the fur of an animal. How could we then believe it? Why were
nipples given to human males, if they were of no use for milk giving?
Why was the vertebral column at the back of the body as in quadrupeds,
when it would have been more logical, in creating a man who stands on
his feet, to place it in the centre of the body as a strong support,
thus avoiding the curvatures and weakness of the spine that are now
suffered by this disequilibrium in the support of its weight?
Gabriel enumerated the various inexplicable inconsistencies and
incongruities found in the human body, presuming it to be of divine
"I feel prouder," said he, "of my animal origin; to be a lineal
descendant of inferior beings than to have emerged imperfect from the
hand of a stupid God. I feel the same satisfaction that a nobleman
feels in speaking of his ancestors when I think of our remote
forefathers, those men-beasts, exposed like the animals to all the
cruel severity of nature, who, little by little, through hundreds of
centuries, have transformed themselves, triumphing in the unfolding of
their minds, their brains, and their social instincts. Making clothes,
edible foods, arms, tools and houses, neutralising the exterior
influences of nature. What hero or discoverer in the four thousand
years comprising our history can compare with those elementary men who
have slowly evolved and maintained on the earth the existence of our
species, exposed thousands of times to annihilation. The day on which
our ancestors cared for the sick and wounded, instead of abandoning
them as all animals had previously done; on which the first seed was
planted, the first arrow shot, brought nature face to face with the
greatest of her revolutions. Only one in the future will be able to
equal it; if man in remote times was able to free his body, now he
requires the great revolution to free his mind. The races who go
furthest in their intellectual development will be the ultimate
survivors; they will be masters of the earth, destroying all others.
The least wise in those days will probably be far superior to the most
cultivated intellects of the present times. Each individual will find
his happiness in the happiness of his fellows, and no one will try to
exercise compulsion on his neighbour. No laws or penalties will exist,
and voluntary associations will supply through the influence of reason
the present power of authority. This will be in the future--far, very
far off. But what do centuries matter in the life of humanity! They
are like seconds in our existence. On the day when man shall be
transformed into this superior being, with the full development of
all his intellectual faculties, now so embryonic, this earth will no
longer be the vale of tears spoken of by religion, but the paradise
dreamed of by the poets."
In spite of the enthusiasm with which Gabriel spoke, his hearers did
not appear to share these illusions. They were silent, and their
attitude was one of coldness before the immense distance of that
future to which their master confided all his hopes of universal
prosperity. They wished for it at once, with the eagerness of a child
who is shown a dainty which is afterwards put out of its reach. The
sacrifices, the slow work for the future, struck no chord in their
minds. From Gabriel's explanations they only drew the fact that they
were unhappy, but that they had the same right to happiness and
comfort as those privileged few whom they had formerly respected in
their ignorance. As a certain portion of human felicity belonged to
them they wished to possess it at once, without delay or resistance,
with all the fervour of one claiming what belongs to him. Luna
remarked in this silence a certain rebellion, like those ironical
gestures with which his companions in Barcelona had received his
illusions about the future and his anathemas against violence of
These ardent neophytes outdistanced their teacher; they listened to
him with respect, but they were obliged to isolate themselves from him
in order to digest his teachings in their own fashion. Don Martin was
the only one who followed him in his visionary excursions into the
future. The bell-ringer, the organ-blower, the shoemaker and the Tato
now went up nightly to the bell-ringer's house, without summoning
the master, and there they gave vent to their hatred of everything
existing, under the forgotten old prints, yellow and wrinkled, which
pictured the inglorious episodes of the Carlist war.
This nocturnal reunion was a continual complaint against social
injustice. They thought themselves even more unfortunate when they
took an exact review of their situation. The shoemaker recalled with
tearful eyes the little child who had died of hunger, and spoke of the
misery of his offspring, so numerous as to render his work useless.
The organ-blower spoke of his miserable old age, the six reals daily
during his life, without any hope of earning more. The Tato, in the
fits of rage of a bullying coxcomb, proposed to behead all the canons
in the choir some evening and then to set fire to the Cathedral. And
the bell-ringer, gloomy and scowling, said aloud, following up the
course of his thoughts:
"And below so much wealth that is of no use to anybody--amassed from
pure pride--thieves! robbers!"
Gabriel returned to pass his days by Sagrario's side. His disciples
hid themselves daily more carefully in their isolation in the tower.
Don Martin had his mother ill, and could not leave the convent.
Silver Stick felt quite satisfied with Luna seeing him alone,
believing that it was he who had alienated his disciples, cutting
short in this way his dangerous conversations so as to restore order
in the cloister. One day he addressed him smilingly with a patronising
"You will be rewarded for your good conduct, Gabrielillo, much sooner
than you expect. Did I not say I would look out for something for you
in exchange for the help you gave me in showing the treasury? Well,
now you have it. From next week two pesetas daily will fall into
your purse like two suns. Are you equal to staying all night in the
Cathedral? The older watchman, the one who was a civil guard, is tired
of it, and is going home to his own village. It appears that since his
dog died he has taken a dislike to the duties. The other watchman is
very poorly and wants a companion. Will you undertake it? If it were
winter I should not say anything about it, as you cough too much to
spend the night down there; but in summer the Cathedral is the coolest
place in Toledo. What lovely nights! And by the time bad weather comes
on we will have found you some better place. You are trustworthy,
though your head is rather light; but you come of an honoured and
well-known family, which is what is wanted. Do you accept?"
Luna accepted, declaring his intention to Esteban, when the latter
objected on account of his weak health. He would only undertake the
watchman's duties during the summer; besides, two pesetas a day were
even more than Wooden Staff earned; the income of the family would be
doubled, and it would be a pity to lose such a good opportunity.
That evening Sagrario spoke to her uncle praising the energy which
prompted him to undertake any sort of work so as not to be a charge on
They were in the cloister leaning on the balustrade; below was the
dark garden with its waving branches, above a summer sky veiled by the
heat haze which dulled the brightness of the stars. They were alone
in the four-sided gallery. The lighted windows of the Chapel-master's
little room threw a square of red on the opposite roofs. They could
hear the harmonium playing slowly and sadly, and when it stopped the
shadow of the musician passed and repassed over the square of light
with his nervous gestures, which, enlarged by the reflection, appeared
the most grotesque contortions.
The nocturnal calm and darkness surrounded Gabriel and Sagrario with a
gentle caress; that mysterious freshness was falling from above which
seems to revive drooping spirits and magnify old remembrances. The
Church seemed to them as an immense sleeping beast, in whose lap they
had found peace and protection.
Gabriel spoke of his past, in order to convince the young woman that
his work in the Cathedral would not be very arduous. He had suffered
much; there was no bitterness that he had not tasted; he had endured
hunger, terrible hunger, in his peregrinations through the world.
He did not know which were the most painful, his martyrdom in the
dungeons of the gloomy castle, or his days of despair in the streets
of crowded cities, seeing food and gold through the glass windows of
the shops while his head was swimming with the dizziness of hunger.
He could endure his misery while he wandered alone through the cruel
selfishness of civilisation; but the most horrible days were those
in which he shared his vagabond poverty with Lucy, his gentle and
Gabriel spoke of the Englishwoman as of a dead sister.
"Had you known her, Sagrario, you would have loved her. She was a
strong woman, a brave companion, united to me more by the community of
thought than by carnal attraction. I loved her when I first saw her.
I hardly know if it was love that we felt; poets have written so many
lies about love, and have falsified it in such an exaggerated way,
that I do not for certain know what it is."
He spoke to the young woman of love, explaining it according to his
beliefs. Goethe had defined it as an "elective affinity," speaking
as a man of science and not as a poet, using the term that chemistry
gives to the tendency of two substances to unite and form a distinct
product. Two beings between whom no affinity existed could meet
through false laws of life in perpetual contact, but they could not
mix or merge into one another. This happened more often than not
between the individuals of different sexes who peopled the earth; a
passing sentimentality could exist, or carnal caprice, but seldom
love. The poor invalid Lucy was his affinity; they met and they loved.
In their pity for human miseries, their hatred of inequalities and
injustice, their self-abnegation in the cause of the humble and
unfortunate they were equal; they were not only united by their hearts
but by their brains.
She was plain, with a soft and sad plainness that seemed to Luna the
supreme ideal of beauty in the midst of that struggling world of
unfortunates and victims. She was the image of a woman of the people
reared in the workmen's slums of great cities, anaemic from the
mephitic air of the den in which she was born and from bad and
insufficient food, with a wretched body, all feminine graces paralysed
in their development by the rough work done in her childhood. Her
lips, that great ladies paint red, were violet; the only beauty of her
face lay in her eyes, those windows of sorrow, made larger by the cold
nights passed in the street from horror of the scenes she saw in her
childhood; her father, drunken, with the brutal wish of a workman to
forget, who, after imagining that his tavern was a paradise, would
become infuriated with the poverty of his home and beat the whole
"She was like all you women of the lower orders, Sagrario. Your beauty
only lasts an instant; in fact, it can only exist in the first flush
of youth. A woman of the poor cannot be beautiful unless she gets
out of her class. Daily labour makes her lose all her freshness and
strength, and maternity in the midst of poverty absorbs even the
marrow in her bones. When her daily work is ended and she returns
home, she has to sweep and wash, and shrivel herself to a mummy before
the smoky kitchen stove. I loved Lucy for that reason, because she was
consumed and drained by sweating, because she was the girl worker
in all her melancholy decadence, born beautiful and made hideous by
He recalled the unbending and deadly hatred with which that little
woman spoke so quietly of the supreme vengeance of the fallen, of the
revenge for long years of oppression. She showed herself more firmly
rooted and fiercer in her illusions than Gabriel, and he would praise
her daring as a propagandist, her perilous expeditions into the great
towns, running the gauntlet of watchful police, carrying on her arm
that old bonnet-box full of pamphlets that might have sent her to
prison. She was the "miss" animated by evangelical propaganda, who
travels over the globe distributing Bibles with a cold smile, fearless
alike of the mockery of civilisation, or the brutality of savages; but
what Lucy distributed were incitements to revolution; she did not seek
out the happy but the despairing, in the factories and infected
slums. The two endured hunger, finding themselves often separated by
persecution and prison, but they met again, continuing their romantic
career, till poverty and consumption ended her life.
Gabriel wept, remembering their last interview in an Italian hospital,
clean and sweet, but with the frozen atmosphere of charity. As he was
not her husband he could only visit her twice a week. He presented,
himself ragged and downcast, seeing her in an armchair daily paler
and weaker, her skin of a waxen transparency and her eyes immensely
enlarged. He knew a little about everything, and he could not conceal
from himself the gravity of her illness. She waited quietly for death.
"Bring me some roses," she said, smiling to Gabriel, as if in the last
moment of her life she wished to acknowledge the natural beauty of the
world made hideous and darkened by man. The "companion" lived on dry
bread, refusing the help of his comrades only a little less poor than
himself, sleeping on the ground, in order to take her on his next
visit a bunch of flowers.
"She died, Sagrario," groaned Luna, "and I know not where they buried
her; possibly she may have served for a lecture at the school of
anatomy; she fell into the common grave like those soldiers whose
heroism remains in obscurity. But I still see her; she has followed me
in all my misfortunes, and I think she lives again in you."
"But uncle," said Sagrario, gently, touched by his recital, "I cannot
do what she did. I am an unhappy woman, without strength or will."
"Call me Gabriel," said Luna, vehemently. "You are my Lucy, who again
crosses my path; I knew it from the first, and for a long while I have
been searching my feelings, analysing my will, and I have arrived at
one certainty--that I love you, Sagrario."
The young woman made a gesture of surprise, drawing further from him.
"Do not draw away, do not fear me. I am a feeble man, you are a weak
woman; you have suffered much, and have bid good-bye to the joys of
the earth, but you are strong through misfortune and can look the
truth in the face. We are both wrecks of life, and the only hope
left us is to wait and die quietly in the desert island which is our
refuge. We are undone, rent and swept away; Death has laid his hand
upon us; we are fallen and shapeless rags after having passed through
the mills of an absurd society. For this reason I love you, because
you are my equal in misfortune; elective affinity unites us. Poor Lucy
was the work-girl enfeebled by sweating, weakened from her birth by
poverty. You were the girl of the people drawn from her home by the
attraction of the well-being of the privileged; seduced, not by love,
but by the caprices of the happy; the girl offered as a sacrifice to
the Minotaur whose remains were afterwards thrown on to the dunghill.
I love you, Sagrario; we are two fugitives from society, whose paths
must join; I am hated as dangerous, you are despised as an outcast;
misfortune has laid hold on us. Our bodies are weakened and we bear
the wounds of the conquered, but before death claims us, let us make
our lives sweet by love. Let us seek for roses as did poor Lucy."
He pressed the young woman's hands, who, bewildered by Gabriel's
words, knew not what to say, and wept softly. Upstairs, in the upper
storey of the Claverias, the Chapel-master played his harmonium.
Gabriel knew the music: it was Beethoven's last lament, the "Must it
be," that the great genius sang before his death with a melancholy
that made one shiver.
"I love you, Sagrario," continued Gabriel, "ever since I saw you
return to this house, bravely facing the odious curiosity of the
people around. I have spent weeks and months by the side of your
machine, seeing how industriously you worked. I have studied you and
read you. You are a sincere and simple creature; your mind has none
of the doublings and hidden corners of those complicated and tortuous
souls used to the artifices of civilisation. I guessed day by day, by
your gentle glance and the attention with which you listened to me,
your gratitude for the little I was able to do for you. I remembered
the dark period of your life, your slavery to the flesh; and finding
me always gentle with you, protecting you from your father's anger,
your gratitude has grown and grown, till to-day you love me, Sagrario.
You yourself have not realised it, you know not how to explain it, but
your being responds to mine like those chemical substances I spoke of.
That single and eternal love is a lying invention of the poets, of
which facts often make a mockery. One can love several people with
equal warmth: the indispensable thing is the affinity. You who
formerly loved a man to madness, what do you feel for me? Have I
deceived myself? You really love me?"
Sagrario continued weeping, with her head bent, as though she did
not dare to look at Luna. He reassured her gently: she must call
him Gabriel, speak to him as "thou." Were they not companions in
"I am ashamed," murmured the young woman. "So much happiness disturbs
me. Yes, I like you. No, I love you, Gabriel. I would never have
confessed it; I would have died sooner than reveal my secret. What am
I that anyone should love me? For many days I have not looked in the
glass, for I should weep at the remembrance of my lost youth. And
then my story--my terrible story. How could I imagine that you--or, I
should say, that thou, wouldst read my thoughts so clearly? See how
I tremble; the shock has not yet ceased, the surprise of finding my
secret discovered. A man like you to descend to me, ugly and sick for
ever. No, do not speak of the other man; I forgot him long ago. And am
I going to remember him now that you give me the charity of your love?
No, Gabriel, you are the greatest and best of men; you are like a god
They remained silent a long while with their hands clasped, looking
into the darkness of the murmuring garden. From above still sounded
the lament of the genius at his fading life.
Sagrario leant on Gabriel as though her strength were failing, and as
if terrified at so much happiness, she wished to take refuge in his
"Why have I known you so late!" she said in a low voice. "I should
have wished to love you in my youth, to be beautiful and healthy only
for you, to have the beauty and charm of a great lady to soften the
rest of your life. But my gratitude can offer you little, nothing but
ill-health; the seeds of death are in me, and slowly I shall fade
away. Gabriel, why did you set your heart on me?"
"Because you are an invalid, and unfortunate as I am. Our misery is
the loving affinity. Besides, I have never loved like most men. In my
travels I have seen the most beautiful women in the world without the
slightest glow of desire. I am not of an amorous temperament. From my
adventures in Paris when I was young I always returned with a feeling
of disgust. My love for the unfortunate has mastered me to the point
of blunting my feelings. I am like a drunkard or a gambler, who,
obsessed by their passion, feel nothing before a woman. A studious
man, buried in his books, feels very little the calls of sex. My
passion is pity for the disinherited, and hatred of injustice
and inequality. It has so entirely absorbed me, enslaving all my
faculties, that I have never had time to think of love. The female
does not attract me, but I worship a woman when I see her sad and
unfortunate. Ugliness makes more impression on me than beauty, because
it speaks to me of social infamies, it shows me the bitterness of
injustice, it is the only wine which revives my strength. I loved Lucy
because she was unfortunate and dying. I love you, Sagrario, because
in your early youth you were a wanderer in life, one whom no one would
love. My love is for you, to brighten what remains to you of life."
Sagrario leant on Gabriel's breast.
"How good you are!" she sighed; "what a beautiful soul!"
"Yours is the same, poor Sagrario. Your life has been a snare. You
sold yourself through hunger and despair as do thousands of others;
you thought to find bread in the false pretences of love. Everything
is for the privileged of this world: the arms of the father, the sex
of the daughter, and when those arms are weakened, or the youthful
body loses its charms, they are thrown on one side and replaced. The
market is abundant; I love you for your misfortunes. Had I seen you
young and beautiful as in former times, I should not have felt the
slightest attraction. Beauty is a bar to sentiment. The Sagrario of
former times, with her dreams of being a great lady flattered by the
words of youthful lovers, brightly dressed like brilliant birds, would
never have thought of a vagabond aged by misery, ugly and sick. We
understand each other because we are unfortunate; misery allows us to
see into each other's souls; in full happiness we should never have
"It is true," she murmured, leaning her head on Gabriel's shoulder. "I
love that misery which has allowed us to know, each other."
"You will be my companion," continued Luna, in a soft tone. "We will
pass our lives together till death breaks the chain. I will protect
you, although the protection of a sick and persecuted man is not worth
He passed his arm round the woman, raising her head with his other
hand, fixing his eyes on those of Sagrario, which were shining in the
starlight bright with tears.
"We shall be two souls, two minds who cherish one another without
giving rein to passion, and with a purity such as no poets have
imagined. This night in which we have mutually confessed one to
another, in which our souls have been laid open to one another is our
wedding night; kiss me, companion of my life!"
And in the silence of the cloister they kissed each other noiselessly,
slowly, as though with their lips joined they were weeping over the
misery of their past, and the brevity of a love around which death was
circling. Above, the lament of Beethoven went on unfolding its sad
modulations, which floated through the cloister and round the sleeping
Gabriel stood erect sustaining Sagrario, who seemed almost fainting
from the strength of her feelings; he looked up at the luminous space
with almost priestly gravity, and said, whispering close to the young
"Our life will be like a deserted garden, where amid fallen trunks and
dead branches fresh foliage springs up. Companion, let us love one
another. Above our misery as pariahs let spring arise. It will be a
sad spring, without fruit, but it will have flowers. The sun shines
for those who are in the open, but for us, dear companion, it is very
far. But from the black depths of our well we will clasp each other,
raising our heads, and though his heat will not revive us, we will
adore him like a distant star."
In the beginning of July Gabriel began his nocturnal watch in the
At nightfall he went down into the cloister, and at the Puerta del
Mollete, joined the other watchman, a sickly-looking man who coughed
as badly as Luna, and who never left off his cloak even in the height
"Come along, we are going to lock up!" said the bell-ringer, rattling
his bunch of keys.
After the two men had entered the church, he locked the doors from
outside and walked away.
As the days were long, there still remained two hours of daylight
after the watchmen entered the Cathedral.
"All the church is ours, companion," said the other watchman.
And like a man used to the imposing appearance of the deserted church,
he settled himself comfortably in the sacristy as in his own house,
opening his supper basket on the chests, and spreading out his
eatables between candelabras and crucifixes.
Gabriel wandered about the fane. After many nights of watching, the
impression produced when he first saw the immense church deserted and
locked up had not yet faded. His footsteps resounded on the pavement,
his strides shortened by the tombs of prelates and great men of former
days. The silence of the church was disturbed by the strange echoes
and mysterious rustlings; the first day Gabriel had often turned his
head in alarm, thinking he heard footsteps following him.
Outside the church the sun was still shining, the coloured wheel
of the rose window above the great doorway glowed like a luminous
flower-bed; below, among the pillars, the light seemed overcome by the
darkness; the bats began to descend, and with their wings made the
dust fall from the shafts in the vaulting. They fluttered round about
the pillars, circling as in a forest of stone; in their blind flight
they often struck the cords of the hanging lamps, or shook the old red
hats with dusty and ragged tassels that hung high above the cardinals'
Gabriel made his rounds throughout the church. He shook the iron
railings in front of the altars to make sure they were securely
locked, pushed the doors of the Muzarabe Chapel, and that of the
Kings, threw a glance into the Chapter-house, and finally stopped
before the Virgin del Sagrario; through the grating he could see the
lamps burning, and above, the image covered with jewels. After this
examination he went in search of his comrade, and they both sat down
in the crossways, either on the steps of the choir or of the high
altar; from there you could take in the whole of the church at one
The two watchmen began by carefully putting on their caps.
"They will probably have ordered you," said Gabriel's companion, "to
respect the Church, and that if you want to smoke a cigar you must go
up to the gallery of the Locum; and that if you wish to sup you must
go into the sacristy. They said the same to me when I first entered
into the service of the Church. But these are only the words of people
who sleep comfortably and quietly in their own houses. Here the
principal thing is to keep good watch, and beyond that, each one may
do as seems best to him to pass the night. God and the saints sleep
during these hours; they really must want some rest after spending the
whole day listening to prayers and hymns, receiving incense, and being
scorched by wax tapers close to their faces. We watch their sleep,
and, the devil! we are surely not wanting in respect if we allow
ourselves a little liberty. Come along, companion, it is getting dark;
let us club our suppers."
So the two watchmen supped in the crossways, spreading the contents of
their baskets on the marble steps.
Gabriel's comrade carried at his belt, as his only arm, an ancient
pistol, a present to the Obreria which had never been fired; to Luna,
Silver Stick pointed out a carbine, a legacy to the sacristy from the
ex-civil guard, in memory of his years of service. Gabriel made a
gesture of repulsion. It was all right standing there, he would get it
if it were wanted; so he left it in the corner with some packets of
cartridges, mouldy from the damp and covered with cobwebs.
As the night fell the colours from the windows above became obscured,
and in the darkness of the naves all the lights from the various lamps
began to shine like wavering stars; all the outlines of the church
were lost, and Gabriel fancied himself once more sleeping at night on
the open ground. It was only when he went the rounds with his lantern
in his hand that the outlines of the Cathedral rose out of the shadow
ever vaster and more mysterious. The pillars seemed to start out to
meet him, rising suddenly up to the roof with the flashes of light
from the lantern, the squares in the tiled floor seemed to dance with
every swing of the light, and every now and then Gabriel could feel on
his head the flutter of passing wings. To the screams of the bats
were added the hooting of other frightened birds, who in their flight
knocked against the pilasters; they were the owls who came down
attracted by the oil in the lamps, and who nearly extinguished them
with the sweep of their wings.
Every half-hour the silence was disturbed by the sound of rusty wheels
and springs, and then a bell with a silvery tone struck; these were
the gilded giants of the Puerta del Reloj, marking the passing of time
with their hammers.
Gabriel's companion complained greatly of the innovations introduced
by the cardinal for the annoyance of poor folks. In former times he
and his old comrade, once they were locked up, could sleep as they
pleased without fear of being reproved by the Chapter. But His
Eminence, who was always endeavouring to find some means of annoying
his neighbour, had placed in different parts of the Cathedral certain
little clocks brought from abroad, and now they had to go every
half-hour, open them and record their visit. The following day they
were examined by Silver Stick, and if any carelessness was discovered
he imposed a fine.
"An invention of the demon not to allow us to sleep, comrade. But
all the same we might manage a nap if we help one another. While one
sleeps a bit the other must undertake to check these cursed machines.
No carelessness, eh, fresh man? The pay is short and hunger great, and
we cannot afford fines."
Gabriel, always good-natured, was the one who made most rounds,
looking scrupulously after the markers, while his companion, the Senor
Fidel, rested quietly, praising his generosity. They had given him a
good companion; he liked him much better than the old one, with his
imperious manners of an old guard, always squabbling as to whose turn
it was to get up and make the round.
The poor man coughed as much as Gabriel; his catarrhs disturbed
the silence, echoing through the naves till it seemed like several
monstrous dogs barking.
"I do not know how many years I have had this hoarseness," said the
old man; "it is a present from the Cathedral. The doctors say I ought
to give up this employment; but what I say is--who is to support me?
You, companion, have begun at the best time. There is a coolness here
that all those would envy who are generally perspiring about this time
in the cafes of the Zocodover. We are still in summer, but you can
imagine the damp which penetrates everything; and you should see what
it is in winter! we must really dress up as maskers, covered with
caps, shawls and cloaks. They have the charity to leave us a little
fire in the sacristy, but many mornings they find us almost frozen.
Those of the Chapter call the choir 'kill canon,' and if those
gentlemen complain of one hour's stay in this ice-house, having eaten
well and drunk better, you may just fancy what it is for us. You have
had the good luck to begin in summer, but when the winter comes on you
will just have a good time of it!"
But even though it was the best part of the year, Gabriel coughed
much, his illness increasing from the dampness of the Cathedral.
On moonlight nights the church was strangely transfigured, and Gabriel
remembered sundry operatic effects he had seen during his travels.
The white tracery of the windows stood out against the blackness with
milky whiteness, splashes of light glided down the pilasters, some
even from the vaulting. These mocking spectres moved slowly along the
pavement, mounting the opposite pillars and losing themselves in the
darkness; those rays of cold and diffused light made the shadows seem
even darker as they brought out of the darkness here a chapel, beyond,
a sepulchral stone or the outline of some pilaster; and the great
Christ, who crowned the railings of the high altar, glowed against its
background of shadow with the brilliancy of its old gilding, like some
miraculous apparition floating in space in a halo of light.
When the cough would not allow the old watchman to sleep, he told
Gabriel of the many years he had carried on this nocturnal life in the
Primacy. The office had some resemblance to that of a sexton, for he
spent most of it among the dead in the silence of desertion, never
seeing anyone till his watch was finished. He had ended by becoming
used to it, and it had cured him of many fears he had in his youth.
Before, he had believed in the resurrection of the dead, in souls, and
the apparitions of saints. But now he laughed at all that. Whole years