Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Sjaani and PG Distributed Proofreaders
By VICENTE BLASCO IBANEZ
TRANSLATED FROM THE SPANISH BY
"Your friends are waiting for you at the Club. They saw you for a moment
only, this morning; they'll be wanting to hear all your stories about
life in Madrid."
Dona Bernarda fixed upon the young deputy a pair of deep, scrutinizing,
severely maternal eyes that recalled to Rafael all the roguish anxieties
of his childhood.
"Are you going directly to the Club?..." she added. "Andres will be
starting too, right away."
Rafael, in reply, wished a blunt "good-afternoon" to his mother and don
Andres, who were still at table sipping their coffee, and strode out of
Finding himself on the broad, red-marble staircase in the silence of
that ancient mansion, of such princely magnificence, he experienced the
sudden sense of comfort and wellbeing that a traveler feels on plunging
into a bath after a tedious journey.
Ever since he had arrived, with the noisy reception at the station, the
hurrahs, the deafening music, handshakes here, crowding there, the
pushing and elbowing of more than a thousand people who had thronged
the streets of Alcira to get a close look at him, this was the first
moment he had found himself alone, his own master, able to do exactly as
he pleased, without needing to smile automatically in all directions and
welcome with demonstrations of affection persons whose faces he could
What a deep breath of relief he drew as he went down the deserted
staircase, which echoed his every footstep! How large and beautiful the
_patio_ was! How broad and lustrous the leaves of the plantains
flourishing in their green boxes! There he had spent the best years of
his childhood. The little boys who in those days used to be hiding
behind the wide portal, waiting for a chance to play with the son of the
powerful don Ramon Brull, were now the grown men, the sinewy orchard
workers, who had been parading from the station to his house, waving
their arms, and shouting _vivas_ for their deputy--Alcira's "favorite
This contrast between the past and present flattered Rafael's conceit,
though, in the background of his thoughts, the suspicion lurked that his
mother had been not a little instrumental in the preparation of his
noisy reception, not to mention don Andres, and numerous other friends,
ever loyal to anyone connected with the greatness of the Brulls,
_caciques_--political bosses--and leading citizens of the district.
To enjoy these recollections of childhood and the pleasure of finding
himself once more at home, after several months in Madrid, he stood for
some time motionless in the _patio_, looking up at the balconies of the
first story, then at the attic windows--from which in mischievous years
gone by he had many a time withdrawn his head at the sound of his
mother's scolding voice--and lastly, at the veil of luminous blue
above--a patch of sky drenched in that Spanish sunlight which ripens the
oranges to clusters of flaming gold.
He thought he could still see his father--the imposing, solemn don
Ramon--sauntering about the _patio_, his hands behind his back,
answering in a few impressive words the questions flung at him by his
party adherents, who followed him about with idolatrous eyes. If the old
man could only have come back to life that morning to see how his son
had been acclaimed by the entire city!...
A barely perceptible sound like the buzzing of two flies broke the deep
silence of the mansion. The deputy looked toward the only balcony window
that was open, though but slightly. His mother and don Andres were still
talking in the dining-room--and of him, as usual, without a doubt! And,
lest they should call him, and suddenly deprive him of his keen
enjoyment at being alone, he left the _patio_ and went out into the
It was only the month of March; but at two in the afternoon the air was
almost uncomfortably hot. Accustomed to the cold wind of Madrid and to
the winter rains, Rafael inhaled, with a sense of voluptuous pleasure,
the warm breeze that wafted the perfume of the blossoming orchards
through the narrow lanes of the ancient town.
Once, years before, he had been in Italy on a Catholic pilgrimage,
entrusted by his mother to the care of a priest from Valencia, who would
not think of returning to Spain without paying a visit to don Carlos. A
memory of a Venetian _calle_ now came back to Rafael's mind as he
traversed the streets of old Alcira--shadowy, cramped, sunk deep as
wells between rows of high houses. With all the economy of a city built
on an island, Alcira rears its edifices higher and higher as its
population grows, leaving just enough space free for the bare needs of
The streets were deserted. The noisy, orchard workers who had welcomed
Rafael had gone back to the fields again. All the idlers had fled to the
cafes, and as the deputy walked smartly by in front of these, warm waves
of air came out upon him through the windows, with the clatter of poker
chips, the noise of billiard balls, and the uproar of heated argument.
Rafael reached the Suburban Bridge, one of the two means of egress from
the Old City. The Jucar was combing its muddy, reddish waters on the
piles of the ancient structure. A number of row-boats, made fast to the
houses on the shore, were tugging at their moorings. Rafael recognized
among them the fine craft that he had once used for lonely trips on the
river. It lay there quite forgotten, gradually shedding its coat of
white paint out in the weather.
Then he looked at the bridge itself; the Gothic-arched gate, a relic of
the old fortifications; the battlements of yellowish, chipped rock,
which looked as if all the rats of the river had come at night to nibble
at them; then two niches with a collection of mutilated, dust-laden
images--San Bernardo, patron Saint of Alcira, and his estimable sisters.
Dear old San Bernardo, _alias_ Prince Hamete, son of the Moorish king
of Carlet, converted to Christ by the mystic poesy of the Christian
cult,--and still wearing in his mangled forehead the nail of martyrdom!
As Rafael walked past the rude, disfigured statue he thought of all the
stories his mother, an uncompromising clerical and a woman of credulous
faith, had told him of the patron of Alcira, particularly the legend of
the enmity and struggle between San Vicente and San Bernardo, an
ingenuous fancy of popular superstition.
Saint Vincent, who was an eloquent preacher arrived at Alcira on one of
his tours, and stopped at a blacksmith's shop near the bridge to get his
donkey shod. When the work was done the horseshoer asked for the usual
price for his labor; but San Vicente, accustomed to living on the bounty
of the faithful, waxed indignant, and looking at the Jucar, exclaimed,
"Some day folks will say: 'This is where Alcira used to be'."
"Not while Bernardo is here!" the statue of San Bernardo remarked from
And there the statue of the saint still stood, like an eternal sentinel,
watching over the Jucar to exorcise the curse of the rancorous Saint
Vincent! To be sure the river would rise and overflow its banks every
year, reaching to the very feet of San Bernardo sometimes, and coming
within an ace of pulling the wily saint down from his perch. It is also
true that every five or six years the flood would shake houses loose
from their foundations, destroy good farm land, drown people, and commit
other horrible depredations--all in obedience to the curse of Valencia's
patron; but the saint of Alcira was the better man of the two for all
of that! And, if you didn't believe it, there the city was, still
planted firmly on its feet and quite unscathed, except for a scratch
here and there from times when the rains were exceptionally heavy and
the waters came down from Cuenca in a great roaring torrent!
With a smile and a nod to the powerful saint, as to an old friend of
childhood, Rafael crossed the bridge and entered the _arrabal_, the "New
City," ample, roomy, unobstructed, as if the close-packed houses of the
island, to get elbow-room and a breath of air, had stampeded in a flock
to the other bank of the river, scattering hither and thither in the
hilarious disorder of children let loose from school.
The deputy paused at the head of the street on which his club was
located. Even from there he could hear the talking and laughing of the
many members, who had gathered in much greater number than usual because
of his arrival. What would he be in for down there? A speech, probably!
A speech on local politics! Or, if not a speech, idle talk about the
orange crop, or cock-fighting. He would be expected to tell them what
kind of a man the Premier was--and then spend the afternoon analyzing
the character of every minister! Then don Andres would be there, that
boresome Mentor who, at the instance of Rafael's mother, would never let
him out of sight for a moment. Bah! The Club could wait! He would have
plenty of time later in the day to stifle in that smoke-filled parlor
where, the moment he showed his face, everybody would be upon him and
pester the life out of him with questions and wire-pulling!
And more and more yielding to the lure of the southern sunshine and to
those perfumes of May floating about him in wintertime, he turned off
into a lane that led to the fields.
As he emerged from the ancient Ghetto and found himself in the open
country, he drew a deep breath, as if to imprison in his lungs all the
life, bloom and color of his native soil.
The orange orchards lined both banks of the stream with straight rows of
green, round tree-tops. The sun glistened off the varnished leaves; the
wheels of irrigating machines sounded from the distance like humming
insects. The moisture rising from the canals, joined the clouds from the
chimneys of the motors, to form a thin veil of mist over the
countryside, that gave a pearly transparency to the golden light of the
To one side rose the hill of San Salvador, its crest topped with the
Hermitage, and the pines, the cypresses, and the prickly pears around
that rough testimonial of popular piety. The sanctuary seemed to be
talking to him like an indiscreet friend, betraying the real motive that
had caused him to evade his appointment with his political friends and
disobey his mother into the bargain.
Something more than the beauty of the fields had enticed him from the
city. When the rays of the rising sun had awakened him that morning on
the train, the first thing he had seen, before opening his eyes even,
was an orange orchard, the bank of the Jucar, and a house painted
blue,--the very one that was now in sight away off there, among the
round tree-tops along the river.
How many times in past months his thoughts had lingered on the memory of
that same scene!
Afternoons, in the Congress, while the Premier on the Blue Bench would
be answering the interpellations of the Opposition in sharp incisive
tones, Rafael's brain would begin to doze, reduced to jelly, as it were,
by the incessant hammering of words, words, words! Before his closed
eyes a dark veil would begin to unroll as if the moist, cellar-like
gloom in which the Chamber is always plunged, had thickened suddenly,
and against this curtain, like a cinema dream, rows of orange-trees
would come into view, and a blue house with open windows; and pouring
through the windows a stream of notes from a soft voice, ever so sweet,
singing _lieder_ and ballads as an accompaniment to the hard, sonorous
paragraphs snapping from the Premier's teeth. Then applause and
disorder! The moment for voting had arrived, and the fading outlines of
the Blue House still hovering before his dreamy eyes, the member for
Alcira would ask his neighbor:
"How do we vote? Yes or no?"
The same it was at night at the Opera, where music served only to remind
him of a familiar voice winding like a thread of gold out across the
orchards through the orange trees; and the same again, after dinner with
his colleagues on committees, when the deputies, their cigars tilted
cockily upwards between their lips, and with all the voluptuous gaiety
inspired by good digestions, would troop off to see the night out in
some trustworthy house of assignation where their dignity as
representatives of the country would not be compromised!
Now that blue house was actually before his eyes! And he was hurrying
toward it,--not without some hesitation; a vague uneasiness he could not
explain. His heart was in his mouth, it seemed, and he found it hard to
Orchard workers came along the road, occasionally, stepping aside to
make room for the famous man, though he answered their greeting
absent-mindedly. What a nuisance! They would all be sure to tell where
they had seen him! His mother would know all about it within half an
hour! And, that evening, a scene in the dining-room! As Rafael walked on
toward the Blue House, he thought bitterly of his situation. Why was he
going there anyhow? Why insist on living in a stew all the time? He had
had two or three short but violent scenes with his mother a few months
before. What a fury that stern, pious, and puritanic woman became when
she found out that her son had been calling down at the Blue House and
was on friendly terms with a strange lady, an outsider, whom the
respectable folk of the city would have nothing to do with, and of whom
not a good word was ever heard except from the men at the Club, when
they were sure their wives were not in hearing distance!
Tempestuous scenes they had been! He was running for Congress at the
time. Was he trying--she wanted to know--to dishonor the family and
compromise his political future? Was that what his poor father had lived
for--a life of sacrifice and struggle, of service to "the Party," which,
many a time, had meant shouldering a gun? And a loose woman was to be
allowed to ruin the House of Brull, which for thirty years had been
putting every cent it owned into politics, for the benefit of My Lords
up in Madrid! And just when a Brull was about to reap the reward of so
many sacrifices at last, and become a deputy--the means perhaps of
clearing off the property, which was lousy with attachments and
Rafael had been no match for that energetic mother, the soul of "the
Party." Meekly he had promised never to return to the Blue House, never
to call again on that "loose woman"--dona Bernarda actually hissed as
she said the word.
However, the upshot of it all had been that Rafael simply discovered how
weak he was. Despite his promise, he returned to the Blue House often,
but by round-about ways and over long detours, skulking from cover to
cover, as he had done in childhood days when stealing oranges from the
orchards. There he was, a man whose name was on the lips of the whole
county, and who at any moment might be invested with authority from the
people, thus realizing the life-long dream of his father! But the sight
of a woman in the fields, a child, a beggar, would make him blanch with
terror! And that was not the worst of it! Whenever he entered the Blue
House now he had to pretend he came openly, without any fear whatever.
And so things had gone on down to the very eve of his departure for
As Rafael reached this point in his reminiscences, he asked himself what
hope had led him to disobey his mother and brook her truly formidable
In that blue house he had found only frank, disinterested friendship,--a
somewhat ironic comradeship, the condescending tolerance of a person
compelled by solitude to choose as her comrade the least repulsive among
a host of inferiors. Alas! How clearly he remembered and could again
foresee the sceptical, cold smile with which his words were always
received, though he was sure he had crammed them with burning passion!
What a laugh she had given,--as insolent and as cutting as a lash,--the
day he had dared to declare his love!
"Now the soft-pedal on slush, eh, Rafaelito?... If you want us to go on
being friends, all right, but it's on condition you treat me as a man.
Comrades, eh, and nothing more."
And with a look at him through those green, luminous, devilish eyes of
hers, she had taken her seat at the piano and begun one of her divine
songs, as if she thought the magic of her art might raise a barrier
On another occasion, she was irritable rather; Rafael's appealing eyes,
his words of amorous adoration, seemed to provoke her, and she had said
with brutal frankness:
"Don't waste your breath, please! I am through with love. I know men too
well! But even if anyone were to upset me again, it would not be you,
And yet he had persisted, insensible to the irony and the scorn of this
terrible _amigo_ in skirts, and indifferent as well to the conflicts
that his blind passion might provoke at home if his mother knew.
He tried to free himself from his infatuation, but unsuccessfully. With
that in view he fixed his attention on the woman's past; it was said
that despite her beauty, her aristrocratic manners, the brilliancy of
mind with which she had dazzled him--a poor country boy--she was only an
adventuress who had made her way over half the globe from one pair of
arms to another. Well, in that case, it would be a great exploit to win
a woman whom princes and celebrated men had loved! But since that was
impossible, why go on, why continue endangering his career and having
trouble with his mother all the time?
To forget her, he stressed, before his own mind, words and attitudes of
hers that might be judged defects; and he would taste the joy of duty
well done when, after such gymnastics of the will, he could think of her
without great emotion.
At the beginning of his life in Madrid he imagined he had recovered. New
surroundings; continuous and petty satisfactions to vanity; the
kow-towing of doorkeepers in Congress; the flattery of visitors from
here, there and everywhere who came with requests for passes to admit
them to the galleries; the sense of being treated as a comrade by
celebrities, whose names his father had always mentioned with bated
breath; the "honorable" always written before his name; all Alcira
speaking to him with affectionate familiarity; this rubbing elbows, on
the benches of the conservative majority, with a battalion of dukes,
counts and marquises--young men who had become deputies to round out the
distinction conferred by beautiful sweethearts or winning
thoroughbreds,--all this had intoxicated him, filled his mind
completely, crowding out all other thoughts, and persuading him that he
had been completely cured.
But as he grew familiar with his new life, and the novelty of all this
adulation wore off, tenacious recollections rose again in his memory. At
night, when sleep relaxed the will to forget, which his vigilance kept
at painful tension, that blue house, the green, diabolical eyes of its
principal denizen, that pair of fresh lips with their ironic smile that
seemed to quiver between two rows of gleaming white teeth, would become
the inevitable center of all his dreams.
Why resist any longer? He could think of her as much as he
pleased--that, at least, his mother would never learn. And he gave
himself up to the imagination of love, where distance lent an ever
stronger enchantment to that woman.
He felt a vehement longing to return to his city. Absence seemed to do
away with all the obstacles at home. His mother was not so formidable as
he had thought. Who could tell whether, when he went back--changed as he
felt himself to be by his new experiences--it would not be easier to
continue the old relations? After so much isolation and solitude she
might receive him in more cordial fashion!
The Cortes were about to adjourn, so, in obedience to repeated urging
from his fellow-partisans, and from dona Bernarda, to _do
something_--anything at all--to show interest in the home town--he took
the floor one afternoon at the opening of the session, when only the
president, the sergeant-at-arms, and a few reporters asleep in the
press-gallery, were present, and, with his lunch rising in his throat
from emotion, asked the Minister of Internal Affairs to show a little
more despatch in the matter of flood protection at Alcira--a bill still
in its in-fancy, though it had been pending some seventy years.
After this he was free to return with the halo of a "business-like"
deputy shining about his head--"a zealous defender of the region's
interests," the local weekly and party organ called him. And that
morning, as he stepped off the train, the deputy, deaf to the Royal
March and to the _vivas_, stood up on tiptoe, trying to descry through
the waving banners the Blue House nestling in the distance among the
As he approached the place that afternoon he was almost sick with
nervousness and emotion. For one last time he thought of his mother, so
intent upon maintaining her prestige and so fearful of hostile gossip;
of the demagogues who had thronged the doors of the cafes that morning,
making fun of the demonstration in his honor; but all his scruples
vanished at sight of the hedge of tall rose-bays and prickly hawthorns
and of the two blue pillars supporting a barrier of green wooden bars.
Resolutely he pushed the gate open, and entered the garden.
Orange-trees stretched in rows along broad straight walks of red earth.
On either side of the approach to the house was a tangle of tall
rose-bushes on which the first buds, heralds of an early spring, were
already beginning to appear.
Above the chattering of the sparrows and the rustle of the wind in the
trees, Rafael could hear the sound of a piano--the keys barely touched
by the player's fingers--and a soft, timid voice, as if the song were
meant for the singer alone.
It was she. Rafael knew the music: a _Lied_ by Schubert--the favorite
composer of the day; a master "whose best work was still unknown," as
she said in the cant she had learned from the critics, alluding to the
fact that only the least subtle of the melancholy composer's works had
thus far been popularized.
The young man advanced slowly, cautiously, as if afraid lest the sound
of his footsteps break in upon that melody which seemed to be rocking
the garden lovingly to sleep in the afternoon's golden sunlight.
He reached the open space in front of the house and once more found
there the same murmuring palms, the same rubblework benches with seats
and backs of flowered tile that he knew so well. There, in fact, she had
so often laughed at his feverish protestations.
The door was closed; but through a half-opened window he could see a
patch of silk; a woman's back, bending slightly forward over the music.
As Rafael came up a dog began to bark at the end of the garden. Some
hens that had been scratching about in sand of the drive, scampered off
cackling with fright. The music stopped. A chair scraped as it was
pushed back. The lady was rising to her feet.
At the balcony a flowing gown of blue appeared; but all that Rafael saw
was a pair of eyes--green eyes, that seemed to fill the entire window
with a flood of light.
"Beppa! Beppina!" cried a firm, a warm, a sonorous, soprano voice.
"_Apri la porta_. Open the door."
And with a slight inclination of her splendid head of thick auburn hair
that seemed to crown her with a helmet of old gold, she smiled to him
with a friendly, somewhat mocking, intimacy:
"Welcome, Rafaelito. I don't know why, but I was expecting you this
afternoon. We have heard all about your triumphs; the music and the
tumult reached even to our desert. My congratulations to the Honorable
don Rafael Brull. Come right in, I _su senoria_."
From Valencia to Jativa, in all that immense territory covered with
rice-fields and orange groves which Valencians embrace under the general
and rather vague designation of _La Ribera_, there was no one unfamiliar
with the name of Brull and the political power it stood for.
As if national unity had not yet been effected and the country were
still divided into _taifas_ and _waliatos_ as in the days when one
Moorish King reigned over Carlet, another over Denia, and a third over
Jativa, the election system maintained a sort of inviolable rulership in
every district; and when the Administration people came to Alcira in
forecasting their political prospects, they always said the same thing:
"We're all right there. We can rely on Brull."
The Brull dynasty had been bossing the district for thirty years, with
The founder of this sovereign house had been Rafael's grandfather, the
shrewd don Jaime, who had established the family fortune by fifty years
of slow exploitation of ignorance and poverty. He began life as a clerk
in the _Ayuntamiento_ of Alcira; then he became secretary to the
municipal judge, then assistant to the city clerk, then
assistant-registrar of deeds. There was not a subordinate position in
those offices where the poor come in contact with the law that he did
not get his hands on; and from such points of vantage, by selling
justice as a favor and using power or adroitness to subdue the
refractory, he felt his way along, appropriating parcel after parcel of
that fertile soil which he adored with a miser's covetousness.
A brazen charlatan he was, every moment talking of "Article Number
So-and-So" of the law that applied to the case. The poor orchard workers
came to have as much awe for his learning as fear of his malice, and in
all their controversies they sought his advice and paid for it, as if he
were a lawyer.
When he had gotten a small fortune together, he continued holding his
menial posts in the city administration to retain the superstitious
respect which is inspired in peasant-folk by all who are on good terms
with the law; but not content with playing the eternal beggar, dependent
on the humble gratuities of the poor, he took to pulling them out of
their financial difficulties, lending them money on the collateral of
their future harvests.
But six per cent seemed too petty a profit for him. The real plight of
these folk came when a horse died and they had to buy another. Don Jaime
became a dealer in dray horses, buying more or less defective animals
from gypsies in Valencia, praising their virtues to the skies, and
reselling them as thoroughbreds. And no sale on the instalment plan!
Cash down! The horses did not belong to him--as he vowed with his hand
pressed solemnly to his bosom--and their owners wished to realize on
their value at once. The best he could do in the circumstances prompted
by his greatness of heart, which always overflowed at the sight of
poverty was to borrow money for the purchase from a friend of his.
The peasant in his desperate need would fall into the snare, and carry
off the horse after signing all kinds of notes and mortgages to cover
the loan of money he had not seen! For the don Jaime who spoke for the
unknown party in the deal transferred the cash to the same don Jaime who
spoke for the owner of the horse. Result: the rustic bought an animal,
without chaffering, at double its value, having in addition borrowed a
lot of money at cut-throat interest. In every turn-over of this sort don
Jaime doubled his principal. New straits inevitably developed for the
dupe; the interest kept piling up; hence new concessions, still more
ruinous than the first, that don Jaime might be placated and give the
purchaser a month's reprieve.
Every Wednesday, which was market-day in Alcira and brought a great
crowd of orchard-folk to town, the street where don Jaime lived was the
busiest in the city. People came in droves to ask for renewal of their
notes, each leaving a tip of several _pesetas_ usually, not to be
counted against the debt itself. Others, humbly, timidly, as if they had
come to rob the grasping Shylock, would ask for loans; and the strange
thing about it, as the malicious noted, was that all these people, after
leaving everything they owned in don Jaime's hands, went off content,
their faces beaming with satisfaction, as if they had just been rescued
from a danger.
This was don Jaime's chief skill. He had the trick of making usury look
like kindness; he always spoke of _those fellows_, those hidden owners
of the money and the horses--heartless wretches who were "after him,"
holding him responsible for the short-comings of all their debtors. The
burdens he thus supposedly assumed won him a reputation as a
kind-hearted soul, and such confidence was the wily old demon able to
instill in his victims that when mortgages were foreclosed on homes or
fields, many of the unfortunates despoiled, would say, resignedly:
"It's not his fault. What could the poor man do if they forced him to
it? It's those _other fellows_ who are sucking the blood of us poor
And so, quietly, leisurely, tranquilly, don Jaime got possession of a
field here, then another there, then a third between the two; and in a
few years he had rounded out a beautiful orchard of orange-trees with
virtually no expenditure of capital at all. Thus his property went on
increasing, and, with his radiant smile, his spectacles on his forehead
and his paunch growing fatter and fatter, he could be seen surrounded by
new victims, addressing them with the affectionate _tu_, patting them on
the back, and vowing that this weakness he had for the doing of favors
would some day bring him to dying like a dog in the gutter.
Thus he went on prospering. Nor was all the scoffing of city people of
any avail in shaking the confidence reposed in him by that flock of
rustics, who feared him as they feared the Law itself and believed in
him as they believed in God.
A loan to a spendthrift eldest son made him the proprietor of the fine
city mansion, which came to be known as "the Brull place." From that
date he began to hob-nob with the large real-estate owners of the city,
who, though they despised this upstart, made a small place for him in
their midst with the instinctive solidarity that characterizes the
freemasonry of money. To gain a little more standing for his name, he
became a votary of San Bernardo, contributed to the funds for church
festivals, and danced attendance on the _alcalde_, whoever that "mayor"
might be. In his eyes now, the only people in Alcira were such as
collected thousands of _duros_, whenever harvest time came around. The
rest were rabble, rabble, sir!
Then, at last he resigned the petty offices he had been filling; and
handing his usury business over to those who formerly had served him as
go-betweens, he set himself to the task of marrying off his son and sole
heir, Ramon, an idling ne'er-do-well, who was always getting into
trouble and upsetting the tranquil comfort that surrounded old Brull as
he rested from his plunderings.
The father felt the satisfaction of a bully in having such a tall,
strong, daring and insolent son, a boy who compelled respect in cafes
and clubs more with his fists than with the special privileges conferred
in small towns by wealth. Let anyone dare make fun of the old usurer
when he had such a fire-eater to protect him!
Ramon had wanted to join the Army; but every time he referred to what he
called his vocation, his father would fly into a rage. "Do you think
that is what I've worked for all these years?" He could remember the
time when, as a poor clerk, he had been forced to fawn on his superiors
and listen humbly, cringingly, to their reprimands. He did not want a
boy of his to be shoved about hither and thither like a mere machine.
"Plenty of brass buttons," he exclaimed with the scorn of a man never to
be taken in by external show, "and plenty of gold braid! But after all,
a slave, a slave!"
No, he wanted to see his son free and influential, continuing the
conquest of the city, completing the family greatness of which he had
laid the foundations, getting power over people much as he himself had
gotten power over money. Ramon must become a lawyer, the only career for
a man destined to rule others. It was a passionate ambition the old
pettifogger had, to see his scion enter through the front door and with
head proudly erect, the precincts of the law, into which he had crawled
so cautiously and at the risk, more than once, of being dragged out with
a chain fastened to his ankle.
Ramon spent several years in Valencia without getting beyond the
elementary courses in Common Law. The cursed classes were held in the
morning, you see, and he had to go to bed at dawn--the hour when the
lights in the pool-rooms went out. Besides, in his quarters at the hotel
he had a magnificent shotgun--a present from his father; and
homesickness for the orchards made him pass many an afternoon at the
pigeon traps where he was far better known than at the University.
This fine specimen of masculine youth--tall, muscular, tanned, with a
pair of domineering eyes to which thick eyebrows gave a touch of
harshness--had been born for action, and excitement; Ramon simply
couldn't concentrate on books!
Old Brull, who through niggardliness and prudence had placed his son on
"half rations," as he put it, sent the boy just money enough to keep him
going; but dupe, in turn, of the wiles he had formerly practiced on the
rustics of Alcira, he was compelled to make frequent trips to Valencia,
to come to some understanding with money lenders there, who had
advanced loans to his son on such terms that insolvency might lead Ramon
to a prison cell.
Home to Alcira came rumors of other exploits by the "Prince," as don
Jaime called his boy in view of the latter's ability to run through
money. In parties with friends of the family, don Ramon's doings were
spoken of as scandalous actually--a duel after a quarrel at cards; then
a father and a brother--common workingmen in flannel shirts!--who had
sworn they would kill him if he didn't marry a certain girl he had been
taking to her shop by day and to dance-halls by night.
Old Brull made up his mind to tolerate these escapades of his son no
longer; and he made him give up his studies. Ramon would not be a
lawyer; well, after all, one didn't have to have a degree to be a man of
importance. Besides the father felt he was getting old; it was hard for
him to look after the working of his orchards personally. He could make
good use of that son who seemed to have been born to impose his will
upon everybody around him.
For some time past don Jaime had had his eye on the daughter of a friend
of his. The Brull house showed noticeable lack of a woman's presence.
His wife had died shortly after his retirement from business, and the
old codger stamped in rage at the slovenliness and laziness displayed by
his servants. He would marry Ramon to Bernarda--an ugly, ill-humored,
yellowish, skinny creature--but sole heiress to her father's three
beautiful orchards. Besides, she was conspicuous for her industrious,
economical ways, and a parsimony in her expenditures that came pretty
close to stinginess.
Ramon did as his father bade him. Brought up with all the ideas of a
rural skinflint, he thought no decent person could object to marrying an
ugly bad-tempered woman, so long as she had plenty of money.
The father-in-law and the daughter-in-law understood each other
perfectly. The old man's eyes would water at sight of that stern,
long-faced puritan, who never had much to say in the house, but went
into high dudgeon over the slightest waste on the part of the domestics,
scolding the farmhands for the merest oversight in the orchards,
haggling and wrangling with the orange drummers for a _centime_ more or
less per hundredweight. That new daughter of his was to be the solace of
his old age!
Meantime, the "prince" would be off hunting every morning in the nearby
mountains and lounging every afternoon in the cafe; but he was no longer
content with the admiration of the idlers hanging around a billiard
table, nor was he taking part in the game upstairs. He was frequenting
the circles of "serious" people now, had made friends with the _alcalde_
and was talking all the time of the great need for getting all "decent"
folk together to take the "rabble" in hand!
"Ambition is pecking at him," the old man gleefully remarked to his
daughter-in-law. "Let him alone, woman; he'll get there, he'll get
there... That's the way I like to see him."
Ramon began by winning a seat in the _Ayuntamiento_, and soon was an
outstanding figure there. The least objection to his views he regarded
as a personal insult; he would transfer debates in session out into the
streets and settle them there with threats and fisticuffs. His greatest
glory was to have his enemies say of him:
"Look out for that Ramon ... He's a tough proposition."
Along with all this combativeness, he sought to win friends by a lavish
hand that was his father's torment. He "did favors," assured a living,
that is, to every loafer and bully in town. He was ready to be "touched"
by anyone who could serve, in tavern and cafe, as advertising agent of
his rising fame.
And he rose rapidly, in fact. The old folks who had pushed him forward
with influence and counsel soon found themselves left far behind. In a
short time he had become _alcalde;_ his prestige outgrew the limits of
the city, spread over the whole district, and eventually reached the
capital of the province itself. He got able-bodied men exempted from
military service; he winked at corruption in the city councils that
backed him, although the perpetrators deserved to go to prison; he saw
to it that the constabulary was not too energetic in running down the
_roders_, the "wanderers," who, for some well-placed shot at election
time, would be forced to flee to the mountains. No one in the whole
country dared make a move without the previous consent of don Ramon,
whom his adherents always respectfully called their _quefe_, their
Old Brull lived long enough to see Ramon reach the zenith of his fame.
That scallawag was realizing the old man's dream: the conquest of the
city, ruling over men where his father had gotten only money! And, in
addition don Jaime lived to see the perpetuation of the Brull dynasty
assured by the birth of a grandson, Rafael, the child of a couple who
had never loved each other, but were united only by avarice and
Old Brull died like a saint. He departed this life with the consolation
of all the last sacraments. Every cleric in the city helped to waft his
soul heavenward with clouds of incense at the solemn obsequies. And,
though the rabble--the political opponents of the son, that is--recalled
those Wednesdays long before when the flock from the orchards would come
to let itself be fleeced in the old Shylock's office, all safe and sane
people--people who had something in this world to lose--mourned the
death of so worthy and industrious a man, a man who had risen from the
lowest estate and had finally been able to accumulate a fortune by hard
work, honest hard work!
In Rafael's father there still remained much of the wild student who had
caused so many tongues to wag in his youthful days. But his doings with
peasant girls were hushed up now; fear of the _cacique's_ power stifled
all gossip; and since, moreover, affairs with such lowly women cost very
little money, dona Bernarda pretended to know nothing about them. She
did not love her husband much. She was leading that narrow,
self-centered life of the country woman, who feels that all her duties
are fulfilled if she remains faithful to her mate and keeps saving
By a noteworthy anomaly, she, who was so stingy, so thrifty, ready to
start a squabble on the public square in defense of the family money
against day-laborers or middlemen, was tolerance itself toward the
lavish expenditures of her husband in maintaining his political
sovereignty over the region.
Every election opened a new breach in the family fortune. Don Ramon
would receive orders to carry his district for some non-resident, who
might not have lived there more than a day or two. So those who governed
yonder in Madrid had ordered--and orders must be obeyed. In every town
whole muttons would be set turning over the fires. Tavern wine would
flow like water. Debts would be cancelled and fistfulls of _pesetas_
would be distributed among the most recalcitrant, all at don Ramon's
expense of course. And his wife, who wore a calico wrapper to save on
clothes and stinted so much on food that there was hardly anything left
for the servants to eat, would be arrayed in splendor when the day for
the contest came around, ready in her excitement to help her husband
throw the entire house through the window, if need be.
This, however, was all pure speculation on her part. The money that was
being scattered so madly broadcast was a "loan" simply. Some day she
would get it back with interest. Already her piercing eyes were
caressing the tiny, dark-complexioned, restless little creature that lay
across her knees, seeing in him the privileged heir-apparent who would
one day reap the harvest from all such family sacrifices.
Dona Bernarda had taken refuge in religion as in a cool, refreshing
oasis in the desert of vulgarity and monotony in her life. Her heart
would swell with pride every time a priest would say to her in the
"Take good care of don Ramon. Thanks to him the wave of demagogy halts
at the temple door and evil fails to triumph in the District. He is the
bulwark of the Lord against the impious!"
And when, after such a declaration, which flattered her worldly vanity
and assured her of a mansion in Heaven, she would pass through the
streets of Alcira in her calico wrapper and a shawl not over-clean,
greeted affectionately, effusively, by the leading citizens, she would
pardon don Ramon all the infidelities she knew about and consider the
sacrifice of her fortune a good investment.
"If it were not for what we do, what would happen to the District....
The lower scum would conquer--those wild-eyed mechanics and common
laborers who read the Valencian newspapers and talk about equality all
the time. And they would divide up the orchards, and demand that the
product of the harvests--thousands and thousands of _duros_ paid for
oranges by the Englishmen and the French--should belong to all." But to
stave off such a cataclysm, there stood don Ramon, the scourge of the
wicked, the champion of "the cause" which he led to triumph, gun in
hand, at election time; and just as he was able to send any rebellious
trouble-maker off to the penal settlement, so he found it easy to keep
at liberty all those who, despite the various murders that figured in
their biographies, lent themselves to the service of the government in
this support of "law and order!"
The patrimony of the House of Brull went down and down, but its prestige
rose higher and higher. The sacks of money filled by the old man at the
cost of so much roguery were shaken empty over all the District; nor
were several assaults upon the municipal treasury sufficient to bring
them back to normal roundness. Don Ramon contemplated this squandering
impassively, proud that people should be talking of his generosity as
much as of his power.
The whole District worshipped as a sacred flagstaff that bronzed,
muscular, massive figure, which floated a huge, flowing, gray-flecked
mustache from its upper end.
"Don Ramon, you ought to remove that bush," his clerical friends would
say to him with a smile of affectionate banter. "Why, man, you look just
like Victor Emmanuel himself, the Pope's jailer."
But though don Ramon was a fervent Catholic (who never went to mass),
and hated all the infidel turnkeys of the Holy Father, he would grin and
give a satisfied twirl at the offending mouth-piece, quite flattered at
bottom to be likened to a king.
The _patio_ of the Brull mansion was the throne of his sovereignty. His
partisans would find him there, pacing up and down among the green boxes
of plantain trees, his hands clasped behind his broad, strong, but now
somewhat stooping back--a majestic back withal, capable of supporting
hosts and hosts of friends.
There he "administered justice," decided the fate of families, settled
the affairs of towns--all in a few off-hand but short and decisive
words, like one of those ancient Moorish kings who, in that selfsame
territory, centuries before, legislated for their subjects under the
open sky. On market-days the _patio_ would be thronged. Carts would stop
in long lines on either side of the door. All the hitching-posts along
the streets would have horses tied to them, and inside, the house would
be buzzing like a bee-hive with the chatter of that rustic gentry.
Don Ramon would give them all a hearing, frowning gravely meanwhile, his
chin on his bosom and one hand on the head of the little Rafael at his
side--a pose copied from a chromo of the Kaiser petting the Crown
On afternoons when the _Ayuntamiento_ was in session, the chief could
never leave his _patio_. Of course not a chair in the city hall could be
dusted without his permission; but he preferred to remain invisible,
like a god, knowing well that his power would seem more terrible if it
spoke only from the pillar of fire or from the whirlwind.
All day long city councilors would go trotting back and forth from the
City Hall to the Brull _patio._ The few enemies don Ramon had in the
Council--meddlers, dona Bernarda called them--idiots who swallowed
everything in print provided it were against the King and
religion--attacked the _cacique_ persistently, censuring everything he
did. Don Ramon's henchmen would tremble with impotent rage. "That charge
must be answered! Let's see now: somebody go and ask the boss!"
And a _regidor_ would be off to don Ramon's like a greyhound; and
arriving at the _patio_ panting, out of breath, he would heave a sigh of
relief and contentment at sight of "the chief" there, pacing up and down
as usual, ready to get his friends out of their difficulties as if the
limitless resources of Providence were at his command. "So-and-So said
this-and-that!" Don Ramon would stop in his tracks, think a moment, and
finally say, in an enigmatic oracular voice: "Very well, tell him to put
this in his pipe and smoke it!" Whereupon the henchman, mouth agape,
would rush back to the session like a racehorse. His companions would
gather about him eager to know the reply that don Ramon's wisdom had
deigned to suggest; and a quarrel would start then, each one anxious to
have the privilege of annihilating the enemy with the magic words--all
talking at the same time like magpies suddenly set chattering by the
dawn of a new light.
If the opposition held its ground, again stupefaction would come over
them. Another mad dash in quest of a new consultation. Thus the sessions
would go by, to the great delight of the barber Cupido--the sharpest and
meanest tongue in the city--who, whenever the Council met, would observe
to his early morning shaves:
"Holiday today: the usual race of councilors bare-back."
When party exigencies forced don Ramon to be out of town, it was his
wife, the energetic dona Bernarda, who attended to the consultations,
issuing statements on party policy, as wise and apt as those of "the
This collaboration in the upbuilding and the up-holding of the family
influence was the single bond of union between husband and wife. This
cold woman, a complete stranger to tenderness, would flush with pleasure
every time the chief approved her ideas. If only she were "boss" of "the
Party!" ...Don Andres had often said as much himself!
This don Andres was her husband's most intimate friend, one of those men
who are born to be second everywhere and in everything. Loyal to the
family to the point of sacrifice, he served, with the couple itself, to
fill out the Holy Trinity of the Brull religion that was the faith of
all the District. Where don Ramon could not go in person, don Andres
would be present for him, as the chief's _alter ego_. In the towns he
was respected as the supreme vicar of that god whose throne was in the
_patio_ of the plantain trees; and people too shy to lay their
supplications before the god himself, would seek out that jolly
advocate,--a very approachable bachelor, who always had a smile on his
tanned, wrinkled face, and a story under his stiff cigar-stained
Don Andres had no relatives, and spent almost all his time at the
Brull's. He was like a piece of furniture that seems always to be
getting in the way at first; but when all were once accustomed to him,
he became an indispensable fixture in the family. In the days when don
Ramon had been a young subordinate of the _Ayuntamiento_, he had met and
liked the man, and taking him into the ranks of his "heelers," had
promoted him rapidly to be chief of staff. In the opinion of the "boss,"
there wasn't a cleverer, shrewder fellow in the world than don Andres,
nor one with a better memory for names and faces. Brull was the
strategist who directed the campaign; don Andres the tactician who
commanded actual operations and cleaned up behind the lines when the
enemy was divided and undone. Don Ramon was given to settling everything
in a violent manner, and drew his gun at the slightest provocation. If
his methods had been followed, "the Party" would have murdered someone
every day. Don Andres had a smooth tongue and a seraphic smile that
simply wound _alcaldes_ or rebellious electors around his little
finger, and his specialty was the art of letting loose a rain of sealed
documents over the District that started complicated and never-ending
prosecutions against troublesome opponents.
He attended to "the chief's" correspondence, and was tutor and playmate
to the little Rafael, taking the boy on long walks through the orchard
country. To dona Bernarda he was confidential adviser.
That surly, severe woman showed her bare heart to no one in the world
save don Andres. Whenever he called her his "senora," or his "worthy
mistress," she could not restrain a gesture of satisfaction; and it was
to him that she poured out her complaints against her husband's
misdeeds. Her affection for him was that of a dame of ancient chivalry
for her private squire. Enthusiasm for the glory of the house united
them in such intimacy that the opposition wagged its tongues, asserting
that dona Bernarda was getting even for her husband's waywardness. But
don Andres, who smiled scornfully when accused of taking advantage of
the chief's influence to drive hard bargains to his own advantage, was
not the man to be trifled with if gossip ventured to smirch his
friendship with the _senora_.
Their Trinity was most closely cemented, however, by their fondness for
Rafael, the little tot destined to bring fame to the name of Brull and
realize the ambitions of both his grandfather and his father.
Rafael was a quiet, morose little boy, whose gentleness of disposition
seemed to irritate the hard-hearted dona Bernarda. He was always hanging
on to her skirts. Every time she raised her eyes she would find the
little fellow's gaze fixed upon her.
"Go out and play in _the patio_," the mother would say.
And the little fellow, moody and resigned, would leave the room, as if
in obedience to a disagreeable command.
Don Andres alone was successful in amusing the child, with his tales and
his strolls through the orchards, picking flowers for him, making
whistles for him out of reeds. It was don Andres who took him to school,
also, and who advertised the boy's fondness for study everywhere.
If don Rafael were a serious, melancholy lad, that defect was chargeable
to his interest in books, and at the Casino, the "Party's" Club, he
would say to his fellow-worshippers:
"You'll see something doing when Rafaelito grows up. That kid is going
to be another Canovas."
And before all those rustic minds the vision of a Brull at the head of
the Government would suddenly flash, filling the first page of the
newspapers with speeches six columns long, and a _To Be Continued_ at
the end; and they could see themselves rolling in money and running all
Spain, just as they now ran their District, to their own sweet wills.
Never did a Prince of Wales grow up amid the respect and the adulation
heaped upon little Brull. At school, the children regarded him as a
superior being who had condescended to come down among them for his
education. A well-scribbled sheet, a lesson fluently repeated, were
enough for the teacher, who belonged to "the Party" (just to collect his
wages on time and without trouble,) to declare in prophetic tones:
"Go on working like that, senor de Brull. You are destined to great
At the _tertulias_ his mother attended evenings in his company, it was
enough for him to recite a fable or get off some piece of learning
characteristic of a studious child eager to bring his school work into
the conversation, for the women to rush upon him and smother him with
"But how much that child knows!... How brilliant he is!"
And some old woman would add, sententiously:
"Bernarda, take good care of the child; don't let him use his brain so
much. It's bad for him. See how peaked he looks!..."
He finished his preparatory education with the Dominicans, taking the
leading role in all the plays given in the tiny theatre of the friars,
and always with a place in the first line on prize days. The Party organ
dedicated an annual article to the scholastic prodigies of the "gifted
son of our distinguished chief don Ramon Brull, the country's hope, who
already merits title as the shining light of the future!"
When Rafael, escorted by his mother and half a dozen women who had
witnessed the exercises, would come home, gleaming with medals and his
arms full of diplomas, he would stoop and kiss his father's hard,
bristly hand; and that claw would caress the boy's head and
absent-mindedly sink into the old man's vest pocket--for don Ramon
expected to pay for all welcome favors.
"Very good," the hoarse voice would murmur. "That's the way I like to
see you do ...Here's a _duro_."
And not till the following year would the boy again know what a caress
from his father meant. On certain occasions, playing in the _patio_, he
had surprised the austere old man gazing at him fixedly, as if trying to
foresee his future.
Don Andres took charge of settling Rafael in Valencia when he began his
university studies. The dream of old don Jaime, disillusioned in the
son, would be fulfilled in the third generation!
"This one at least will be a lawyer!" said dona Bernarda, who in the old
days had imbibed don Jaime's eagerness for the university degree, which
to her seemed like a title of nobility for the family.
And lest the corruption of the city should lead the son astray as it had
done Ramon in his student days, she would send don Andres frequently to
the capital, and write letter after letter to her Valencian friends,
particularly to a canon of her intimate acquaintance, asking them not to
lose sight of the boy.
But Rafael was good behavior itself; a model boy, a "serious" young man,
the good canon assured the mother. The distinctions and the prizes that
came to him in Alcira continued to pursue him in Valencia; and besides,
don Ramon and his wife learned from the papers of the triumphs achieved
by their son in the debating society, a nightly gathering of law
students in a university hall, where future Solons wrangled on such
themes as "Resolved: that the French Revolution was more of a good than
an evil," or "Resolved, that Socialism is superior to Christianity."
Some terrible youths, who had to get home before ten o'clock to escape a
whipping, declared themselves rabid socialists and frightened the
beadles with curses on the institution of property--all rights reserved,
of course, to apply, as soon as they got out of college, for some
position under the government as registrar of deeds or secretary of
prefecture! But Rafael, ever sane and a congenital "moderate," was not
of those fire-brands; he sat on "the Right" of the august assembly of
Wranglers, maintaining a "sound" attitude on all questions, thinking
what he thought "with" Saint Thomas and "with" other orthodox sages whom
his clerical Mentor pointed out to him.
These triumphs were announced by telegraph in the Party papers, which,
to garnish the chief's glory and avoid suspicion of "inspiration,"
always began the article with: "According to a despatch printed in the
Metropolitan press ..."
"What a boy!" the priests of Alcira would say to dona Bernarda. "What a
silver tongue! You'll see; he'll be a second Manterola!"
And whenever Rafael came home for the holidays or on vacation, each time
taller than before, dressed like a fashion-plate and with mannerisms
that she took for the height of distinction, the saintly mother would
say to herself with the satisfaction of a woman who knows what it means
to be homely:
"What a handsome chap he's getting to be. All the rich girls in town
will be after him. He'll have his pick of them."
Dona Bernarda felt proud of her Rafael, a tall youth, with delicate yet
powerful hands, large eyes, an aquiline nose, a curly beard and a
certain leisurely, undulating grace of movement that suggested one of
those young Arabs of the white cloak and elegant babooshes, who
constitute the native aristocracy of Spain's African colonies.
Every time the student came home, his father gave him the same silent
caress. In course of time the _duro_ had been replaced by a hundred
_peseta_ note; but the rough claw that grazed his head was falling now
with an energy ever weaker and seemed to grow lighter with the years.
Rafael, from long periods of absence, noted his father's condition
better than the rest. The old man was ill, very ill. As tall as ever, as
austere and imposing, and as little given to words. But he was growing
thinner. His fierce eyes were sinking deeper into their sockets. There
was little left to him now except his massive frame. His neck, once as
sturdy as a bull's, showed the tendons and the arteries under the loose,
wrinkled skin; and his mustache, once so arrogant, but now withering
with each successive day, drooped dispiritedly like the banner of a
defeated army wet with rain.
The boy was surprised at the gestures and tears of anger with which his
mother welcomed expression of his fears.
"Well, I hope he'll die as soon as possible ... Lot's of use he is to
us!... May the Lord be merciful and take him off right now."
Rafael said nothing, not caring to pry into the conjugal drama that was
secretly and silently playing its last act before his eyes.
Don Ramon, that somber libertine of insatiable appetites, prey to a
sinister, mysterious inebriation, was tossing in a last whirlwind of
tempestuous desire, as though the blaze of sunset had set fire to what
remained of his vitality.
With a deliberate, determined lustfulness, he went scouring the
District like a wild satyr, and his brutish assaults, his terrorism and
abuse of authority, were reported back by scurrilous tongues to the
seignorial mansion, where his friend don Andres was trying in vain to
pacify the wife.
"That man!" dona Bernarda would stammer in her rage. "That man is going
to ruin us! Doesn't he see he's compromising his son's future?"
His most enthusiastic adherents, without losing their traditional
respect for him, would speak smilingly of his "weaknesses"; but at
night, when don Ramon, exhausted by his struggle with the insatiable
demon gnawing at his spirit, would be snoring painfully away, with a
disgusting rattle that made it impossible for people in the house to
sleep, dona Bernarda would sit up in her bed with her thin arms folded
across her bosom, and pray to herself:
"My Lord, My God! May this man die as soon as possible! May all this
come to an end soon, oh Lord!"
And Bernarda's God must have heard her prayer, for her husband got
"Take care of yourself, don Ramon," his curate friends would say to him.
They were the only ones who dared allude to his disorderly life. "You're
getting old, and boyish pranks at your age are invitations to Death!"
The _cacique_ would smile, proud, at bottom, that all men should know
that such exploits were possible for a man at his age.
He had enough strength left for one more caress the day when, escorted
by don Andres, Rafael entered with his degree as a Doctor of Law. He
gave the boy his shotgun--a veritable jewel, the admiration of the
entire District--and a magnificent horse. And as if he had been waiting
around just to see the realization of old Don Jaime's ambition, which he
himself had not been able to fulfill, he passed away.
All the bells of the city tolled mournfully.
The Party weekly came out with a black border a palm wide; and from all
over the District folks came in droves to see whether the powerful don
Ramon Brull, who had been able to rain upon the just and unjust alike on
this earth, could possibly have died the same as any other human being.
When dona Bernarda found herself alone, and absolute mistress of her
home, she could not conceal her satisfaction.
Now they would see what a woman could do.
She counted on the advice and experience of don Andres, who was closer
than ever to her now; and on the prestige of Rafael, the young lawyer,
who bade fair to sustain the reputation of the Brulls.
The power of the family continued unchanged. Don Andres, who, at the
death of his master, had succeeded to the authority of a second father
in the Brull house, saw to the maintenance of relations with the
authorities at the provincial capital and with the still bigger fish in
Madrid. Petitions were heard in the _patio_ the same as ever. Loyal
party adherents were received as cordially as before and the same favors
were done, nor was there any decline of influence in places that don
Andres referred to as "the spheres of public administration."
There came an election for Parliament, and as usual, dona Bernarda
secured the triumph of the individual whose nomination had been dictated
from Madrid. Don Ramon had left the party machine in perfect condition;
all it needed was enough "grease" to keep it running smoothly; and there
his widow was besides, ever alert at the slightest suggestion of a creak
in the gearing.
At provincial headquarters they spoke of the District with the usual
"It's ours. Brull's son is as powerful as the old man himself."
The truth was that Rafael took little interest in "the Party." He looked
upon it as one of the family properties, the title to which no one could
dispute. He confined his personal activities to obeying his mother. "Go
to Riola with don Andres. Our friends there will be happy to see you."
And he would go on the trip, to suffer the torment of an interminable
rally, a _paella_, during which his fellow partisans would bore him with
their uncouth merriment and ill-mannered flattery. "You really ought to
give your horse a couple of days' rest. Instead of going out for a ride,
spend your afternoon at the Club! Our fellows are complaining they never
get a sight of you." Whereupon Rafael would give up his rides--his sole
pleasure practically--and plunge into a thick smoke-laden atmosphere of
noise and shouting, where he would have to answer questions of the most
illustrious members of the party. They would sit around, filling their
coffee-saucers with cigar-ash, disputing as to which was the better
orator, Castelar or Canovas, and, in case of a war between France and
Germany, which of the two would win--idle subjects that always provoked
disagreements and led to quarrels.
The only time he entered into voluntary relations with "the Party" was
when he took his pen in hand and manufactured for the Brull weekly a
series of articles on "Law and Morality" and "Liberty and Faith,"--the
rehashings of a faithful, industrious plodder at school, prolix
commonplaces seasoned with what metaphysical terminology he remembered,
and which, from the very reason that nobody understood them, excited
the admiration of his fellow partisans. They would blink at the articles
and say to don Andres:
"What a pen, eh? Just let anyone dare to argue with him.... Deep, that
noodle, I tell you!"
Nights, when his mother did not oblige him to visit the home of some
influential voter who must be kept content, he would spend reading, no
longer, however, as in Valencia, books lent him by the canon, but works
that he bought himself, following the recommendations of the press, and
that his mother respected with the veneration always inspired in her by
printed paper sewed and bound, an awe comparable only to the scorn she
felt for newspapers, dedicated, every one of them, as she averred, to
the purpose of insulting holy things and stirring up the brutal passions
of "the rabble."
These years of random reading, unrestrained by the scruples and the
fears of a student, gradually and quietly shattered many of Rafael's
firm beliefs. They broke the mould in which the friends of his mother
had cast his mind and made him dream of a broader life than the one
known to those about him. French novels transported him to a Paris that
far outshone the Madrid he had known for a moment in his graduate days.
Love stories awoke in his youthful imagination an ardor for adventure
and involved passions in which there was something of the intense love
of indulgence that had been his father's besetting sin. He came to dwell
more and more in the fictitious world of his readings, where there were
elegant, perfumed, clever women, practicing a certain art in the
refinement of their vices.
The uncouth, sunburned orchard-girls inspired him with revulsion as if
they had been women of another race, creatures of an inferior genus. The
young ladies of the city seemed to him peasants in disguise, with the
narrow, selfish, stingy instincts of their parents. They knew the exact
market price of oranges and just how much land was owned by each
aspirant to their hand; and they adjusted their love to the wealth of
the pretender, believing it the test of quality to appear implacable
toward everything not fashioned to the mould of their petty life of
prejudice and tradition.
For that reason he was deeply bored by his colorless, humdrum existence,
so far removed from that other purely imaginative life which rose from
the pages of his books and enveloped him with an exotic, exciting
Some day he would be free, and take flight on his own wings; and that
day of liberation would come when he got to be deputy. He waited for his
coming of age much as an heir-apparent waits for the moment of his
From early boyhood he had been taught to look forward to the great event
which would cut his life in two, opening out new pathways for a "forward
march" to fame and fortune.
"When my little boy gets to be deputy," his mother would say in her rare
moments of affectionate expansiveness, "the girls will fight for him
because he is so handsome! And he'll marry a millionairess!"
Meanwhile, in long years of impatient anticipation, his life went on,
with no special circumstance to break its dull monotony--the life of an
aspirant certain of his lot, "killing time" till the call should come
to enter on his heritage. He was like those noble youngsters of bygone
centuries who, graced in their cradles by the rank of colonel from the
monarch, played around with hoop and top till they were old enough to
join their regiments. He had been born a deputy, and a deputy he was
sure to be: for the moment, he was waiting for his cue in the wings of
the theatre of life.
His trip to Italy on a pilgrimage to see the Pope was the one event that
had disturbed the dreary course of his existence. But in that country of
marvels, with a pious canon for a guide, he visited churches rather than
museums. Of theatres he saw only two--larks permitted by his tutor,
whose austerity was somewhat mollified in those changing scenes.
Indifferently they passed the famous artistic works of the Italian
churches, but paused always to venerate some relic with miracles as
famous as absurd. Even so, Rafael managed to catch a confused and
passing glimpse of a world different from the one in which he was
predestined to pass his life. From a distance he sensed something of the
love of pleasure and romance he had drunk in like an intoxicating wine
from his reading. In Milan he admired a gilded, adventurous bohemia of
opera; in Rome, the splendor of a refined, artistic aristocracy in
perpetual rivalry with that of Paris and London; and in Florence, an
English nobility that had come in quest of sunlight and a chance to air
its straw hats, show off the fair hair of its ladies, and chatter its
own language in gardens where once upon a time the somber Dante dreamed
and Boccaccio told his merry tales to drive fear of plague away.
That journey, of impressions as rapid and as fleeting as a reel of
moving-pictures, leaving in Rafael's mind a maze of names, buildings,
paintings and cities, served to give greater breadth to his thinking, as
well as added stimulus to his imagination. Wider still became the gulf
that separated him from the people and ideas he met in his common
everyday life. He felt a longing for the extraordinary, for the
original, for the adventuresomeness of artistic youth; and political
master of a county, heir of a feudal dominion virtually, he nevertheless
would read the name of any writer or painter whatsoever with the
superstitious respect of a rustic churl. "A wretched, ruined lot who
haven't even a bed to die on," his mother viewed such people; but Rafael
nourished a secret envy for all who lived in that ideal world, which he
was certain must be filled with pleasures and exciting things he had
scarcely dared to dream of. What would he not give to be a bohemian like
the personages he met in the books of Murger, member of a merry band of
"intellectuals," leading a life of joy and proud devotion to higher
things in a bourgeois age that knew only thirst for money and prejudice
of class! Talent for saying pretty things, for writing winged verses
that soared like larks to heaven! A garret underneath the roof, off
there in Paris, in the Latin Quarter! A Mimi poor but spiritual, who
would love him, and--between one kiss and another--be able to
discuss--not the price of oranges, like the girls who followed him with
tender eyes at home--but serious "elevated" things! In exchange for all
that he would gladly have given his future deputyship and all the
orchards he had inherited, which, though encumbered by mortgages not to
mention moral debts left by the rascality of his father and
grandfather--still would bring him a tidy annuity for realizing his
Such preoccupations made life as a party leader, tied down to the petty
interests of a constituency, quite unthinkable! At the risk of angering
his mother, he fled the Club, to court the solitude of the hills and
fields. There his imagination could range in greater freedom, peopling
the roads, the meadows, the orange groves with creatures of his fancy,
often conversing aloud with the heroines of some "grand passion,"
carried on along the lines laid down by the latest novel he had read.
One afternoon toward the close of summer Rafael climbed the little
mountain of San Salvador, which lies close to the city. From the
eminence he was fond of looking out over the vast domains of his family.
For all the inhabitants of that fertile plain were--as don Andres said
whenever he wished to emphasize the party's greatness--like so many
cattle branded with the name of Brull.
As he went up the winding, stony trail, Rafael thought of the mountains
of Assisi, which he had visited with his friend the canon, a great
admirer of the Saint of Umbria. It was a landscape that suggested
asceticism. Crags of bluish or reddish rock lined the roadway on either
side, with pines and cypresses rising from the hollows, and extending
black, winding, snaky roots out over the fallow soil. At intervals,
white shrines with tiny roofs harbored mosaics of glazed tiles depicting
the Stations on the _Via Dolorosa_. The pointed green caps of the
cypresses, as they waved, seemed bent on frightening away the white
butterflies that were fluttering about over the rosemary and the
nettles. The parasol-pines projected patches of shade across the burning
road, where the sun-baked earth crackled and crumbled to dead dust under
Reaching the little square in front of the Hermitage, he rested from the
ascent, stretching out full length on the crescent of rubblework that
formed a bench near the sanctuary. There silence reigned, the silence of
high hill-tops. From below, the noises of the restless life and labor of
the plain came weakened, softened, by the wind, like the murmuring of
waves breaking on a distant shore. Among the prickly-pears that grew in
close thicket behind the bench, insects were buzzing about, shining in
the sun like buds of gold. Some hens, belonging to the Hermitage, were
pecking away in one corner of the square, clucking, and dusting their
feathers in the gravel.
Rafael surrendered to the charm of the exquisite scene. With reason had
it been called "Paradise" by its ancient owners, Moors from the magic
gardens of Bagdad, accustomed to the splendors of _The Thousand and One
Nights_, but who went into ecstacies nevertheless on beholding for the
first time the wondrous _ribera_ of Valencia!
Throughout the great valley, orange groves, extending like shimmering
waves of velvet; hedges and enclosures of lighter green, cutting the
crimson earth into geometric figures; clumps of palms spurting like jets
of verdure upward toward the sky, and falling off again in languorous
swoons; villas blue and rose-colored, nestling in flowering gardens;
white farmhouses half concealed behind green swirls of forest; spindling
smokestacks of irrigation engines, with yellow sooty tops; Alcira, its
houses clustered on the island and overflowing to the opposite bank, all
of whitish, bony hue, pock-marked with tiny windows; beyond, Carcagente,
the rival city, girdled in its belt of leafy orchards; off toward the
sea, sharp, angular mountains, with outlines that from afar suggested
the fantastic castles imagined by Dore; and inland, the towns of the
upper _ribera_ floating in an emerald lake of orchard, the distant
mountains taking on a violet hue from the setting sun that was creeping
like a bristly porcupine of gold into the hot vapors of the horizon.
Behind the Hermitage all the lower _ribera_ stretched, one expanse of
rice-fields drowned under an artificial flood; then, Sueca and Cullera,
their white houses perched on those fecund lagoons like towns in
landscapes of India; then, Albufera, with its lake, a sheet of silver
glistening in the sunlight; then, Valencia, like a cloud of smoke
drifting along the base of a mountain range of hazy blue; and, at last,
in the background, the halo, as it were, of this apotheosis of light and
color, the Mediterranean--the palpitant azure Gulf bounded by the cape
of San Antonio and the peaks of Sagunto and Almenara, that jutted up
against the sky-line like the black fins of giant whales.
As Rafael looked down upon the towers of the crumbling convent of La
Murta, almost hidden in its pine-groves, he thought of all the tragedy
of the Reconquest; and almost mourned the fate of those farmer-warriors
whose white cloaks he could imagine as still floating among the groves
of those magic trees of Asia's paradise. It was the influence of the
Moor in his Spanish ancestry. Christian, clerical even, though he was,
he had inherited a melancholy, dreamy turn of mind from the very Arabs
who had created all that Eden.
He pictured to himself the tiny kingdoms of those old _walis_; vassal
districts very like the one his family ruled. But instead of resting on
influence, bribery, intimidation, and the abuse of law, they lived by
the lances of horsemen as apt at tilling the soil as at capering in
tournaments with an elegance never equalled by any chevaliers of the
North. He could see the court of Valencia, with the romantic gardens of
Ruzafa, where poets sang mournful strophes over the wane of the
Valencian Moor, while beautiful maidens listened from behind the
blossoming rose-bushes. And then the catastrophe came. In a torrent of
steel, barbarians swept down from the arid hills of Aragon to appease
their hunger in the bounty of the plain--the _almogavares_--naked, wild,
bloodthirsty savages, who never washed. And as allies of this horde,
bankrupt Christian noblemen, their worn-out lands mortgaged to the
Israelite, but good cavalrymen, withal, armored, and with dragonwings on
their helmets; and among the Christians, adventurers of various tongues,
soldiers of fortune out for plunder and booty in the name of the Cross
--the "black sheep" of every Christian family. And they seized the great
garden of Valencia, installed themselves in the Moorish palaces, called
themselves counts and marquises, and with their swords held that
privileged country for the King of Aragon, while the conquered Saracens
continued to fertilize it with their toil.
"Valencia, Valencia, Valencia! Thy walls are ruins, thy gardens
grave-yards, thy sons slaves unto the Christian ..." groaned the poet,
covering his eyes with his cloak. And Rafael could see, passing like
phantoms before his eyes, leaning forward on the necks of small, sleek,
sinewy horses, that seemed to fly over the ground, their legs
horizontal, their nostrils belching smoke, the Moors, the real people of
Valencia, conquered, degenerated by the very abundance of their soil,
abandoning their gardens before the onrush of brutal, primitive
invaders, speeding on their way toward the unending night of African
barbarism. At this eternal exile of the first Valencians who left to
oblivion and decay a civilization, the last vestiges of which today
survive in the universities of Fez, Rafael felt the sorrow he would have
experienced had it all been a disaster to his family or his party.
While he was thinking of all these dead things, life in its feverish
agitation surrounded him. A cloud of sparrows was darting about the roof
of the Hermitage. On the mountain side a flock of dark-fleeced sheep was
grazing; and when any of them discovered a blade of grass among the
rocks, they would begin calling to one another with a melancholy
Rafael could hear the voices of some women who seemed to be climbing the
road, and from his reclining position he finally made out two parasols
that were gradually rising to view over the edge of his bench. One was
of flaming red silk, skilfully embroidered and suggesting the filigreed
dome of a mosque; the second, of flowered calico, was apparently keeping
at a respectful distance behind the first.
Two women entered the little square, and as Rafael sat up and removed
his hat, the taller, who seemed to be the mistress, acknowledged his
courtesy with a slight bow, went on to the other end of the esplanade,
and stood, with her back turned toward him, looking at the view. The
other sat down some distance off, breathing laboriously from the
exertion of the climb.
Who were those women?... Rafael knew the whole city, and had never seen
The one seated near him was doubtless the servant of the other--her maid
or her companion. She was dressed in black, simply but with a certain
charm, like the French soubrettes he had seen in illustrated novels. But
rustic origin and lack of cultivation were evident from the stains on
the backs of her unshapely hands; from her broad, flat, finger-nails;
and from her large ungainly feet, quite out of harmony with the pair of
stylish boots she was wearing--cast-off articles, doubtless, of the
lady. She was pretty, nevertheless, with a fresh exuberance of youth.
Her large, gray, credulous eyes were those of a stupid but playful lamb;
her hair, straight, and a very light blond, hung loosely here and there
over a freckled face, dark with sunburn. She handled her closed parasol
somewhat awkwardly and kept looking anxiously at the doubled gold chain
that drooped from her neck to her waist, as if to reassure herself that
a gift long-coveted had not been lost.
Rafael's interest drifted to the lady. His eyes rested on the back of a
head of tightly-gathered golden hair, as luminous as a burnished helmet;
on a white neck, plump, rounded; on a pair of broad, lithe shoulders,
hidden under a blue silk blouse, the lines tapering rapidly, gracefully
toward the waist; on a gray skirt, finally, falling in harmonious folds
like the draping of a statue, and under the hem the solid heels of two
shoes of English style encasing feet that must have been as agile and as
strong as they were tiny.
The lady called to her maid in a voice that was sonorous, vibrant,
velvety, though Rafael could catch only the accented syllables of her
words, that seemed to melt together in the melodious silence of the
mountain top. The young man was sure she had not spoken Spanish. A
foreigner, almost certainly!...
She was expressing admiration and enthusiasm for the view, talking
rapidly, pointing out the principal towns that could be seen, calling
them by their names,--the only words that Rafael could make out clearly.
Who was this woman whom he had never seen, who spoke a foreign language
and yet knew the _ribera_ well? Perhaps the wife of one of the French or
English orange-dealers established in the city! Meanwhile his eyes were
devouring that superb, that opulent, that elegant beauty which seemed to
be challenging him with its indifference to his presence.
The keeper of the Hermitage issued cautiously from the house--a peasant
who made his living from visitors to the heights. Attracted by the
promising appearance of the strange lady, the hermit came forward to
greet her, offering to fetch water from the cistern, and to unveil the
image of the miraculous virgin, in her honor.
The woman turned around to answer the man, and that gave Rafael an
opportunity to study her at his leisure. She was tall, ever so tall, as
tall as he perhaps. But the impression her height of stature made was
softened by a grace of figure that revealed strength allied to elegance.
A strong bust, sculpturesque, supporting a head that engaged the young
man's wrapt attention. A hot mist of emotion seemed to cloud his vision
as he looked into her large eyes, so green, so luminous! The golden hair
fell forward upon a forehead of pearly whiteness, veined at the temples
with delicate lines of blue. Viewed in profile her gracefully moulded
nose, quivering with vitality at the nostrils, filled out a beauty that
was distinctly modern, piquantly charming. In those lineaments, Rafael
thought he could recognize any number of famous actresses. He had seen
her before. Where?... He did not know. Perhaps in some illustrated
weekly! Perhaps in some album of stage celebrities! Or maybe on the
cover of some match-box--a common medium of publicity for famous
European belles. Of one thing he was certain: at sight of that wonderful
face he felt as though he were meeting an old friend after a long
The recluse, in hopes of a perquisite, led the two women toward the door
of the hermitage, where his wife and daughter had appeared, to feast
their eyes on the huge diamonds sparkling at the ears of the strange
"Enter, _sinorita_" the rustic invited. "I'll show you the Virgin, the
Virgin _del Lluch_, you understand, the only genuine one. She came here
alone all the way from Majorca. People down in Palma claim they have the
real Virgin. But what can they say for themselves? They are jealous
because our Lady chose Alcira; and here we have her, proving that she's
the real one by the miracles she works."
He opened the door of the tiny church, which was as cool and gloomy as a
cellar. At the rear, on a baroque altar of tarnished gold, stood the
little statue with its hollow cloak and its black face.
Rapidly, by rote almost, the good man recited the history of the image.
The Virgin _del Lluch_ was the patroness of Majorca. A hermit had been
compelled to flee from there, for a reason no one had been able to
discover--perhaps to get away from some Saracen girl of those exciting,
war-like days! And to rescue the Virgin from profanation he brought her
to Alcira, and built this sanctuary for her. Later people from Majorca
came to return her to their island. But the celestial lady had taken a
liking to Alcira and its inhabitants. Over the water, and without even
wetting her feet, she came gliding back. Then the Majorcans, to keep
what had happened quiet, counterfeited a new statue that looked just
like the first. All this was gospel truth, and as proof, there lay the
original hermit buried at the foot of the altar; and there was the
Virgin, too, her face blackened by the sun and the salt wind on her
miraculous voyage over the sea.
The beautiful lady smiled slightly, as she listened. The maid was all
ears, not to lose a word of a language she but half understood, her
credulous peasant eyes traveling from the Virgin to the hermit and from
the hermit to the Virgin, plainly expressing the wonder she was feeling
at such a portentous miracle. Rafael had followed the party into the
shrine and taken a position near the fascinating stranger. She, however,
pretended not to see him.
"That is only a legend," he ventured to remark, when the rustic had
finished his story. "You understand, of course, that nobody hereabouts
accepts such tales as true."
"I suppose so," the lady answered coldly.
"Legend or no legend, don Rafael," the recluse grumbled, somewhat
peeved, "that's what my grandfather and all the folk of his day used to
say; and that's what people still believe. If the story has been handed
down so long, there must be something to it."
The patch of sunlight that shone through the doorway upon the flagstones
was darkened by the shadow of a woman. It was a poorly clad orchard
worker, young, it seemed, but with a face pale, and as rough as wrinkled
paper, all the crevices and hollows of her cranium showing, her eyes
sunken and dull, her unkempt hair escaping from beneath her knotted
kerchief. She was barefoot, carrying her shoes in her hand. She stood
with her legs wide apart, as if in an effort to keep her balance. She
seemed to feel intense pain whenever she stepped upon the ground.
Illness and poverty were written on every feature of her person.
The recluse knew her well; and as the unfortunate creature, panting with
the effort of the climb, sank upon a little bench to rest her feet, he
told her story briefly to the visitors.
She was ill, very, very ill. With no faith in doctors, who, according to
her, "treated her with nothing but words"; she believed that the Virgin
_del Lluch_ would ultimately cure her. And, though at home she could
scarcely move from her chair and was always being scolded by her husband
for neglecting the housework, every week she would climb the steep
mountain-side, barefoot, her shoes in her hand.
The hermit approached the sick woman, accepting a copper coin she
offered. A few couplets to the Virgin, as usual, he supposed!
"Visanteta, a few _gochos_!" shouted the rustic, going to the door. And
his daughter came into the chapel--a dirty, dark-skinned creature with
African eyes, who might just have escaped from a gipsy band.
She took a seat upon a bench, turning her back upon the Virgin with the
bored ill-humored expression of a person compelled to do a dull task day
after day; and in a hoarse, harsh, almost frantic voice, which echoed
deafeningly in that small enclosure, she began a drawling chant that
rehearsed the story of the statue and the portentous miracles it had
The sick woman, kneeling before the altar without releasing her hold
upon her shoes, the heels of her feet, which were bruised and bleeding
from the stones, showing from under her skirts, repeated a refrain at
the end of each stanza, imploring the protection of the Virgin. Her
voice had a weak and hollow sound, like the wail of a child. Her sunken
eyes, misty with tears, were fixed upon the Virgin with a dolorous
expression of supplication. Her words came more tremulous and more
distant at each couplet.
The beautiful stranger was plainly affected at the pitiful sight. Her
maid had knelt and was following the sing-song rhythm of the chant, with
prayers in a language that Rafael recognized at last. It was Italian.
"What a great thing faith is!" the lady murmured with a sigh.
"Yes, _senora_; a beautiful thing!"
Rafael tried to think of something "brilliant" on the grandeur of faith,
from Saint Thomas, or one of the other "sound" authors he had studied.
But he ransacked his memory in vain. Nothing! That charming woman had
filled his mind with thoughts far other than quotations from the
The couplets to the Virgin came to an end. With the last stanza the wild
singer disappeared; and the sick woman, after several abortive efforts,
rose painfully to her feet. The recluse approached her with the
solicitude of a shopkeeper concerned for the quality of his wares. Were
things going any better? Were the visits to the Virgin doing good?...
The unfortunate woman did not dare to answer, for fear of offending the
miraculous Lady. She did not know!... Yes ... she really must be a
little better ... But that climb!... This offering had not had such good
results as the previous ones, she thought; but she had faith: the Virgin
would be good to her and cure her in the end. At the church door she
collapsed from pain. The recluse placed her on his chair and ran to the
cistern to get a glass of water. The Italian maid, her eyes bulging with
fright, leaned over the poor woman, petting her:
"_Poverina! Poverina!... Coraggio_!" The invalid, rallying from her
swoon, opened her eyes and gazed vacantly at the stranger, not
understanding her words but guessing their kindly intention.
The lady stepped out to the _plazoleta_, deeply moved, it seemed, by
what she had been witnessing. Rafael followed, with affected
absent-mindedness, somewhat ashamed of his insistence, yet at the same
time looking for an opportunity to renew their conversation.
On finding herself once more in the presence of that wonderful panorama,
where the eye ran unobstructed to the very limit of the horizon, the
charming creature seemed to breathe more freely.
"Good God!" she exclaimed, as if speaking to herself. "How sad and yet
how wonderful! This view is ever so beautiful. But that woman!... That
"She's been that way for years, to my personal knowledge," Rafael
remarked, pretending to have known the invalid for a long time, though
he had scarcely ever deigned to notice her before. "Our peasants are
queer people. They despise doctors, and refuse their help, preferring to
kill themselves with these barbarous prayers and devotions, which they
expect will do them good."
"But they may be right, after all!" the lady replied. "Disease is often
incurable, and science can do for it about as much as faith--sometimes,
even less.... But here we are laughing and enjoying ourselves while
suffering passes us by, rubs elbows with us even, without our
Rafael was at a loss for reply. What sort of woman was this? What a way
she had of talking! Accustomed as he was to the commonplace chatter of
his mother's friends, and still under the influence of this meeting,
which had so deeply disturbed him, the poor boy imagined himself in the
presence of a sage in skirts--a philosopher under the disguise of
female beauty come from beyond the Pyrenees, from some gloomy German
alehouse perhaps, to upset his peace of mind.
The stranger was silent for a time, her gaze fixed upon the horizon.
Then around her attractive sensuous lips, through which two rows of
shining, dazzling teeth were gleaming, the suggestion of a smile began
to play, a smile of joy at the landscape.
"How beautiful this all is!" she exclaimed, without turning toward her
companion. "How I have longed to see it again!"
At last the opportunity had come to ask the question he had been so
eager to put: and she herself had offered the opportunity!
"Do you come from here?" he asked, in a tremulous voice, fearing lest
his inquisitiveness be scornfully repelled.
"Yes," the lady replied, curtly.
"Well, that's strange. I have never seen you...."
"There's nothing strange about that. I arrived only yesterday."
"Just as I said!... I know everyone in the city. My name is Rafael
Brull. I'm the son of don Ramon, who was mayor of Alcira many times."
At last he had let it out! The poor fellow had been dying to reveal his
name, tell who he was, pronounce that magic word so influential in the
District, certain it would be the "Open Sesame" to that wonderful
stranger's grace! After that, perhaps, she would tell him who she was!
But the lady commented on his declaration with an "Ah!" of cold
indifference. She did not show that his name was even known to her,
though she did sweep him with a rapid, scrutinizing, half-mocking glance
that seemed to betray a hidden thought:
"Not bad-looking, but what a dunce!"
Rafael blushed, feeling he had made a false step in volunteering his
name with the pompousness he would have used toward some bumpkin of the
A painful silence followed. Rafael was anxious to get out of his plight.
That glacial indifference, that disdainful courtesy, which, without a
trace of rudeness, still kept him at a distance, hurt his vanity to the
quick. But since there was no stopping now, he ventured a second
"And are you thinking of remaining in Alcira very long?..."
Rafael thought the ground was giving way beneath his feet. Another
glance from those green eyes! But, alas, this time it was cold and
menacing, a livid flash of lightning refracted from a mirror of ice.
"I don't know ..." she answered, with a deliberateness intended to
accentuate unmistakable scorn. "I usually leave places the moment they
begin to bore me." And looking Rafael squarely in the face she added,
with freezing formality, after a pause:
"Good afternoon, sir."
Rafael was crushed. He saw her turn toward the doorway of the sanctuary
and call her maid. Every step of hers, every movement of her proud
figure, seemed to raise a barrier in front of him. He saw her bend
affectionately over the sick orchard-woman, open a little pink bag that
her maid handed her, and, rummaging about among some sparkling trinkets
and embroidered handkerchiefs, draw out a hand filled with shining
silver coins. She emptied the money into the apron of the astonished
peasant girl, gave something as well to the recluse, who was no less
astounded, and then, opening her red parasol, walked off, followed by
As she passed Rafael, she answered the doffing of his hat with a barely
perceptible inclination of her head; and, without looking at him,
started on her way down the stony mountain path.
The young man stood gazing after her through the pines and the cypresses
as her proud athletic figure grew smaller in the distance.
The perfume of her presence seemed to linger about him when she had
gone, obsessing him with the atmosphere of superiority and exotic
elegance that emanated from her whole being.
Rafael noticed finally that the recluse was approaching, unable to
restrain a desire to communicate his admiration to someone.
"What a woman!" the man cried, rolling his eyes to express his full
She had given him a _duro_, one of those white discs which, in that
atheistic age, so rarely ascended that mountain trail! And there the
poor invalid sat at the door of the Hermitage, staring into her apron
blankly, hypnotized by the glitter of all that wealth! _Duros, pesetas_,
two-_pesetas_, dimes! All the money the lady had brought! Even a gold
button, which must have come from her glove!
Rafael shared in the general astonishment. But who the devil was that
"How do I know!" the rustic answered. "But judging from the language of
the maid," he went on with great conviction: "I should say she was some
Frenchwoman ... some Frenchwoman ... with a pile of money!"
Rafael turned once more in the direction of the two parasols that were
slowly winding down the slope. They were barely visible now. The larger
of the two, a mere speck of red, was already blending into the green of
the first orchards on the plain ... At last it had disappeared
Left alone, Rafael burst into rage! The place where he had made such a
sorry exhibition of himself seemed odious to him now. He fumed with
vexation at the memory of that cold glance, which had checked any
advance toward familiarity, repelled him, crushed him! The thought of
his stupid questions filled him with hot shame.
Without replying to the "good-evening" from the recluse and his family,
he started down the mountain, in hopes of meeting the woman again,
somewhere, some time, he knew not when nor how. The heir of don Ramon,
the hope of the District, strode furiously on, his arms aquiver with a
nervous tremor. And aggressively, menacingly, addressing his own ego as
though it were a henchman cringing terror-stricken in front of him, he
"You imbecile!... You lout!... You peasant! You provincial ass! You ...
Dona Bernarda did not suspect the reason why her son rose on the
following morning pale, and with dark rings under his eyes, as if he had
spent a bad night. Nor could his political friends guess, that
afternoon, why in such fine weather, Rafael should come and shut himself
up in the stifling atmosphere of the Club.
When he came in, a crowd of noisy henchmen gathered round him to discuss
all over again the great news that had been keeping "the Party" in
feverish excitement for a week past: the Cortes were to be dissolved!
The newspapers had been talking of nothing else. Within two or three
months, before the close of the year at the latest, there would be a new
election, and therewith, as all averred, a landslide for don Rafael
Brull. The intimate friend and lieutenant of the House of Brull was the
best informed. If the elections took place on the date indicated by the
newspapers, Rafael would still be five or six months short of his
twenty-fifth birth-day. But don Andres had written to Madrid to consult
the Party leaders. The prime minister was agreeable--"there were
precedents!"--and even though Rafael should be a few weeks short of the
legal age, the seat would go to him just the same. They would send no
more "foundlings" from Madrid! Alcira would have no more "unknowns"
foisted upon her! And the whole Tribe of Brull dependents was preparing
for the contest with the enthusiasm of a prize-fighter sure of victory
All this bustling expectation left Rafael cold. For years he had been
looking forward to that election time, when the chance would come for
his free life in Madrid. Now that it was at hand he was completely
indifferent to the whole matter, as if he were the last person in the
He looked impatiently at the table where don Andres, with three other
leading citizens, was having his daily hand at cards before coming to
sit down at Rafael's side. That was a canny habit of don Andres. He
liked to be seen in his capacity of Regent, sheltering the heir-apparent
under the wing of his prestige and experienced wisdom.
Well along in the afternoon, when the Club parlor was less crowded with
members, the atmosphere freer of smoke, and the ivory balls less noisy
on the green cloth, don Andres considered his game at an end, and took a
chair in his disciple's circle, where as usual Rafael was sitting with
the most parasitic and adulatory of his partisans.
The boy pretended to be listening to their conversation, but all the
while he was preparing mentally a question he had decided to put to don
Andres the day before.
At last he made up his mind.
"You know everybody, don Andres. Well, yesterday, up on San Salvador, I
met a fine-looking woman who seems to be a foreigner. She says she's
living here. Who is she?"
The old man burst into a loud laugh, and pushed his chair back from the
table, so that his big paunch would have room to shake in.
"So you've seen her, too!" he exclaimed between one guffaw and another.
"Well, sir, what a city this is! That woman got in the day before
yesterday, and everybody's seen her already. She's the talk of the town.
You were the only one who hadn't asked me about her so far. And now
you've bitten!... Ho! Ho! Ho! What a place this is!"
When he had had his laugh out--Rafael, meanwhile, did not see the
joke--he continued in more measured style:
"That 'foreign woman,' as you call her, boy, comes from Alcira. In fact,
she was born about two doors from you. Don't you know dona Pepa, 'the
doctor's woman,' they call her--a little lady who has an orchard close
by the river and lives in the Blue House, that's always under water when
the Jucar floods? She once owned the place you have just beyond where
you live, and she's the one who sold it to your father--the only
property don Ramon ever bought, so far as I know. Don't you remember?"
Rafael thought he did. As he went back in his memory, the picture of an
old wrinkled woman rose before his mind, a woman round-shouldered, bent
with age, but with a kindly face smiling with simple-mindedness and good
nature. He could see her now, with a rosary usually in her hand, a
camp-stool under her arm, and her _mantilla_ drawn down over her face.
As she passed the Brull door on her way to church, she would greet his
mother; and dona Bernarda would remark in a patronizing way: "Dona Pepa
is a very fine woman; one of God's own souls.... The only decent person
in her family."
"Yes; I remember; I remember dona Pepa," said Rafael.
"Well, your 'foreigner,'" don Andres continued, "is dona Pepa's niece,
daughter of her brother, the doctor. The girl has been all over the
world singing grand opera. You were probably too young to remember
Doctor Moreno, who was the scandal of the province in those days...."
But Rafael certainly did remember Doctor Moreno! That name was one of
the freshest of his childhood recollections, the bugaboo of many nights
of terror and alarm, when he would hide his trembling head under the
clothes. If he cried about going to bed so early, his mother would say
to him in a mysterious voice:
"If you don't keep quiet and go right to sleep I'll send for Doctor
A weird, a formidable personage, the Doctor! Rafael could see him as
clearly as if he were sitting there in front of him; with that huge,
black, curly beard; those large, burning eyes that always shone with an
inner fire; and that tall, angular figure that seemed taller than ever
as young Brull evoked it from the hazes of his early years. Perhaps the
Doctor had been a good fellow, who knows! At any rate Rafael thought so,
as his mind now reverted to that distant period of his life; but he
could still remember the fright he had felt as a child, when once in a
narrow street he met the terrible Doctor, who had looked at him through
those glowing pupils and caressed his cheeks gently and kindly with a
hand that seemed to the youngster as hot as a live coal! He had fled in
terror, as almost all good boys did when the Doctor petted them.
What a horrible reputation Doctor Moreno had! The curates of the town
spoke of him in terms of hair-raising horror. An infidel! A man cut off
from Mother Church! Nobody knew for certain just what high authority had
excommunicated him, but he was, no doubt, outside the pale of decent,
Christian folks. Proof of that there was, a-plenty. His whole attic was
filled with mysterious books in foreign languages, all containing
horrible doctrines against God and the authority of His representatives
on earth. He defended a certain fellow by the name of Darwin, who
claimed than men were related to monkeys, a view that gave much
amusement to the indignant dona Bernarda, who repeated all the jokes on
the crazy notion her favorite preacher cracked of a Sunday in the
pulpit. And such a sorcerer! Hardly a disease could resist Doctor
Moreno. He worked wonders in the suburbs, among the lower scum; and
those laborers adored him with as much fear as affection. He succeeded
with people who had been given up by the older doctors, wiseacres in
long frocks and with gold-headed canes, who trusted more in God than in
science, as Rafael's mother would say in praise of them. That devil of a
physician used new and unheard-of treatments he learned from atheistic
reviews and suspicious books he imported from abroad. His competitors
grumbled also because the Doctor had a mania for treating poor folk
gratis, actually leaving money, sometimes, into the bargain; and he
often refused to attend wealthy people of "sound principles" who had
been obliged to get their confessor's permission before placing
themselves in his hands.
"Rascal!... Heretic!... Lower scum!..." dona Bernarda would exclaim.
But she said such things in a very low voice and with a certain fear,
for those days were bad ones for the House of Brull. Rafael remembered
how gloomy his father had been about that time, hardly even leaving the
_patio_. Had it not been for the respect his hairy claws and his
frowning eye-brows inspired, the rabble would have eaten him alive.
"Others" were in command, ... "others" ... everybody, in fact, except
the House of Brull.
The monarchy had been treasonably overturned; the men of the Revolution
of September were legislating in Madrid. The petty tradesmen of the
city, ever rebellious against the tyranny of don Ramon, had taken guns
in their hands and formed a little militia, ready to send a fusilade
into the _cacique_ who had formerly trodden them under foot. In the
streets people were singing the _Marseillaise_, waving tricolored
bunting, and hurrahing for the Republic. Candles were being burned
before pictures of Castelar. And meantime that fanatical Doctor, a
Republican, was preaching on the public squares, explaining the "rights
of man" at daytime meetings in the country and at night meetings in
town. Wild with enthusiasm he repeated, in different words, the orations
of the portentous Tribune who in those days was traveling from one end
of Spain to the other, administering to the people the sacrament of
democracy to the music of his eloquence, which raised all the grandeurs
of History from the tomb.
Rafael's mother, shutting all the doors and windows, would lift her
angry eyes toward heaven every time the crowd, returning from a meeting,
would pass through her street with banners flying and halt two doors
away, in front of the Doctor's house, where they would cheer, and cheer.
"How long, oh Lord, how long?" And though nobody insulted her nor asked
her for so much as a pin, she talked of moving to some other country.
Those people demanded a Republic--they belonged, as she said, to the
"Dividing-up" gang. The way things were going, they'd soon be winning;