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Title: Luna Benamor
Author: Blasco Ibáñez, Vicente, 1867-1928
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Luna Benamor" ***

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LUNA BENAMOR

BY

VICENTE BLASCO IBÁÑEZ

TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL SPANISH BY

ISAAC GOLDBERG

JOHN W. LUCE & COMPANY

BOSTON 1919



CONTENTS


LUNA BENAMOR, A Novel

THE TOAD

COMPASSION

LUXURY

RABIES

THE WINDFALL

THE LAST LION



LUNA BENAMOR



I


LUIS AGUIRRE had been living in Gibraltar for about a month. He had
arrived with the intention of sailing at once upon a vessel bound for
Oceanica, where he was to assume his post as a consul to Australia. It
was the first important voyage of his diplomatic career. Up to that time
he had served in Madrid, in the offices of the Ministry, or in various
consulates of southern France, elegant summery places where for half the
year life was a continuous holiday. The son of a family that had been
dedicated to diplomacy by tradition, he enjoyed the protection of
influential persons. His parents were dead, but he was helped by his
relatives and the prestige of a name that for a century had figured in
the archives of the nation. Consul at the age of twenty-five, he was
about to set sail with the illusions of a student who goes out into the
world for the first time, feeling that all previous trips have been
insignificant.

Gibraltar, incongruous and exotic, a mixture of races and languages, was
to him the first sign of the far-off world in quest of which he was
journeying. He doubted, in his first surprise, if this rocky land
jutting into the open sea and under a foreign flag, could be a part of
his native peninsula. When he gazed out from the sides of the cliff
across the vast blue bay with its rose-colored mountains dotted by the
bright settlements of La Línea, San Roque and Algeciras,--the cheery
whiteness of Andalusian towns,--he felt convinced that he was still in
Spain. But great difference distinguished the human groups camped upon
the edge of this horseshoe of earth that embraced the bay. From the
headland of Tarifa to the gates of Gibraltar, a monotonous unity of
race; the happy warbling of the Andalusian dialect; the broad-brimmed
hat; the _mantilla_ about the women's bosoms and the glistening hair
adorned with flowers. On the huge mountain topped by the British flag
and enclosing the oriental part of the bay, a seething cauldron of
races, a confusion of tongues, a carnival of costume: Hindus, Mussulmen,
English, Hebrews, Spanish smugglers, soldiers in red coats, sailors from
every nation, living within the narrow limits of the fortifications,
subjected to military discipline, beholding the gates of the
cosmopolitan sheepfold open with the signal at sunrise and close at the
booming of the sunset gun. And as the frame of this picture, vibrant
with its mingling of color and movement, a range of peaks, the highlands
of Africa, the Moroccan mountains, stretched across the distant horizon,
on the opposite shore of the strait; here is the most crowded of the
great marine boulevards, over whose blue highway travel incessantly the
heavily laden ships of all nationalities and of all flags; black
transatlantic steamers that plow the main in search of the seaports of
the poetical Orient, or cut through the Suez Canal and are lost in the
isle-dotted immensities of the Pacific.

To Aguirre, Gibraltar was a fragment of the distant Orient coming
forward to meet him; an Asiatic port wrenched from its continent and
dragged through the waves to run aground on the coast of Europe, as a
sample of life in remote countries.

He was stopping at a hotel on Royal Street, a thoroughfare that winds
about the mountain,--that vertebral column of the city to which lead,
like thin threads, the smaller streets in ascending or descending slope.
Every morning he was startled from his sleep by the noise of the sunrise
gun,--a dry, harsh discharge from a modern piece, without the
reverberating echo of the old cannon. The walls trembled, the floors
shook, window panes and curtains palpitated, and a few moments later a
noise was heard in the street, growing gradually louder; it was the
sound of a hurrying flock, the dragging of thousands of feet, the buzz
of conversations carried on in a low voice along the closed and silent
buildings. It was the Spanish day laborers arriving from La Línea ready
for week at the arsenal; the farmhands from San Roque and Algeciras who
supplied the people of Gibraltar with vegetables and fruits.

It was still dark. On the coast of Spain perhaps the sky was blue and
the horizon was beginning to be colored by the rain of gold from the
glorious birth of the sun. In Gibraltar the sea fogs condensed around
the heights of the cliff, forming a sort of blackish umbrella that
covered the city, holding it in a damp penumbra, wetting the streets and
the roofs with impalpable rain. The inhabitants despaired beneath this
persistent mist, wrapped about the mountain tops like a mourning hat. It
seemed like the spirit of Old England that had flown across the seas to
watch over its conquest; a strip of London fog that had insolently taken
up its place before the warm coasts of Africa, the very home of the sun.

The morning advanced, and the glorious, unobstructed light of the bay,
yellow blue, at last succeeded in penetrating the settlement of
Gibraltar, descending into the very depths of its narrow streets,
dissolving the fog that had settled upon the trees of the Alameda and
the foliage of the pines that extended along the coast so as to mask the
fortifications at the top, drawing forth from the shadows the gray
masses of the cruisers anchored in the harbor and the black bulk of the
cannon that formed the shore batteries, filtering into the lugubrious
embrasures pierced through the cliff, cavernous mouths revealing the
mysterious defences that had been wrought with mole-like industry in the
heart of the rock.

When Aguirre went down to the entrance of the hotel, after having given
up all attempt to sleep during the commotion in the street, the
thoroughfare was already in the throes of its regular commercial
hurly-burly, a multitude of people, the inhabitants of the entire town
plus the crews and the passengers of the vessels anchored in the harbor.
Aguirre plunged into the bustle of this cosmopolitan population, walking
from the section of the waterfront to the palace of the governor. He had
become an Englishman, as he smilingly asserted. With the innate ability
of the Spaniard to adapt himself to the customs of all foreign countries
he imitated the manner of the English inhabitants of Gibraltar. He had
bought himself a pipe, wore a traveling cap, turned up trousers and a
swagger stick. The day on which he arrived, even before night-fall, they
already knew throughout Gibraltar who he was and whither he was bound.
Two days later the shopkeepers greeted him from the doors of their
shops, and the idlers, gathered on the narrow square before the
Commercial Exchange, glanced at him with those affable looks that greet
a stranger in a small city where nobody keeps his secret.

He walked along in the middle of the street, avoiding the light,
canvas-topped carriages. The tobacco stores flaunted many-colored signs
with designs that served as the trade-mark of their products. In the
show windows the packages of tobacco were heaped up like so many bricks,
and monstrous unsmokable cigars, wrapped in tinfoil as if they were
sausages, glitteringly displayed their absurd size; through the doors of
the Hebrew shops, free of any decoration, could be seen the shelves
laden with rolls of silk and velvet, or the rich silk laces hanging from
the ceiling. The Hindu bazaars overflowed into the street with their
exotic, polychrome rarities: clothes embroidered with terror-inspiring
divinities and chimerical animals; carpets in which the lotus-flower was
adapted to the strangest designs; kimonos of delicate, indefinable
tints; porcelain jars with monsters that belched fire; amber-colored
shawls, as delicate as woven sighs; and in the small windows that had
been converted into display cases, all the trinkets of the extreme
Orient, in silver, ivory or ebony; black elephants with white tusks,
heavy-paunched Buddhas, filigree jewels, mysterious amulets, daggers
engraved from hilt to point. Alternating with these establishments of a
free port that lives upon contraband, there were confectioneries owned
by Jews, cafés and more cafés, some of the Spanish type with round,
marble-topped tables, the clicking of dominoes, smoke-laden atmosphere
and high-pitched discussions accompanied by vehement gestures; others
resembling more the English bar, crowded with motionless, silent
customers, swallowing one cocktail after another, without any other sign
of emotion than a growing redness of the nose.

Through the center of the street there passed by, like a masquerade, the
variety of types and costumes that had surprised Aguirre as a spectacle
distinct from that furnished by other European cities. There were
Moroccans, some with a broad, hooded cape, white or black, the cowl
lowered as if they were friars; others wearing balloon trousers, their
calves exposed to the air and with no other protection for the feet than
their loose, yellow slippers; their heads covered by the folds of their
turbans. They were Moors from Tangier who supplied the place with
poultry and vegetables, keeping their money in the embroidered leather
wallets that hung from their girdled waists. The Jews of Morocco,
dressed in oriental fashion with silk kirtle and an ecclesiastical
calotte, passed by leaning upon sticks, as if thus dragging along their
bland, timid obesity. The soldiers of the garrison,--tall, slender,
rosy-complexioned--made the ground echo with the heavy cadence of their
boots. Some were dressed in khaki, with the sobriety of the soldier in
the field; others wore the regular red jacket. White helmets, some lined
with yellow, alternated with the regulation caps; on the breasts of the
sergeants shone the red stripe; other soldiers carried in their armpits
the thin cane that is the emblem of authority. Above the collar of many
coats rose the extraordinarily thin British neck, high, giraffe-like,
with a pointed protuberance in front. Soon the further end of the street
was filled with white; an avalanche of snowy patches seemed to advance
with rhythmic step. It was the caps of the sailors. The cruisers in the
Mediterranean had given their men shore leave and the thoroughfare was
filled with ruddy, cleanshaven boys, with faces bronzed by the sun,
their chests almost bare within the blue collar, their trousers wide at
the bottom, swaying from side to side like an elephant's trunk, fellows
with small heads and childish features, with their huge hands hanging at
the ends of their arms as if the latter could hardly sustain their heavy
bulk. The groups from the fleet separated, disappearing into the various
side streets in search of a tavern. The policeman in the white helmet
followed with a resigned look, certain that he would have to meet some
of them later in a tussle, and beg the favor of the king when, at the
sound of the sunset gun, he would bring them back dead drunk to their
cruiser.

Mingling with these fighters were gypsies with their loose belts, their
long staffs and their dark faces; old and repulsive creatures, who no
sooner stopped before a shop than the owners became uneasy at the
mysterious hiding-places of their cloaks and skirts; Jews from the city,
too, with broad frocks and shining silk hats, dressed for the
celebration of one of their holidays; negroes from the English
possessions; coppery Hindus with drooping mustache and white trousers,
so full and short that they looked like aprons; Jewesses from Gibraltar,
dressed in white with all the correctness of the Englishwomen; old
Jewesses from Morocco, obese, puffed out, with a many-colored kerchief
knotted about their temples; black cassocks of Catholic priests, tight
frocks of Protestant priests, loose gowns of venerable rabbis, bent,
with flowing beards, exuding grime and sacred wisdom... And all this
multifarious world was enclosed in the limits of a fortified town,
speaking many tongues at the same time, passing without any transition
in the course of the conversation from English to a Spanish pronounced
with the strong Andalusian accent.

Aguirre wondered at the moving spectacle of Royal Street; at the
continuously renewed variety of its multitude. On the great boulevards
of Paris, after sitting in the same café for six days in succession, he
knew the majority of those who passed by on the sidewalk. They were
always the same. In Gibraltar, without leaving the restricted area of
its central street, he experienced surprises every day. The whole
country seemed to file by between its two rows of houses. Soon the
street was filled with bearskin caps worn by ruddy, green-eyed,
flat-nosed persons. It was a Russian invasion. There had just anchored
in the harbor a transatlantic liner that was bearing this cargo of human
flesh to America. They scattered throughout the place; they crowded the
cafés and the shops, and under their invading wave they blotted out the
normal population of Gibraltar. At two o'clock it had resumed its
regular aspect and there reappeared the helmets of the police, the
sailors' caps, the turbans of the Moors, the Jews and the Christians.
The liner was already at sea after having taken on its supply of coal;
and thus, in the course of a single day, there succeeded one another the
rapid and uproarious invasions of all the races of the continent, in
this city that might be called the gateway of Europe, by the inevitable
passage through which one part of the world communicates with the Orient
and the other with the Occident.

As the sun disappeared, the flash of a discharge gleamed from the top of
the mountain, and the boom of the sunset gun warned strangers without a
residence permit that it was time to leave the city. The evening patrol
paraded through the streets, with its military music of fifes and drums
grouped about the beloved national instrument of the English, the bass
drum, which was being pounded with both hands by a perspiring athlete,
whose rolled-up sleeves revealed powerful biceps. Behind marched Saint
Peter, an official with escort, carrying the keys to the city. Gibraltar
was now out of communication with the rest of the world; doors and gates
were closed. Thrust upon itself it turned to its devotions, finding in
religion an excellent pastime to precede supper and sleep. The Jews
lighted the lamps of their synagogues and sang to the glory of Jehovah;
the Catholics counted their rosaries in the Cathedral; from the
Protestant temple, built in the Moorish style as if it were a mosque,
rose, like a celestial whispering, the voices of the virgins accompanied
by the organ; the Mussulmen gathered in the house of their consul to
whine their interminable and monotonous salutation to Allah. In the
temperance restaurants, established by Protestant piety for the cure of
drunkenness, sober soldiers and sailors, drinking lemonade or tea, broke
forth into harmonious hymns to the glory of the Lord of Israel, who in
ancient times had guided the Jews through the desert and was now guiding
old England over the seas, that she might establish her morality and her
merchandise.

Religion filled the existence of these people, to the point of
suppressing nationality. Aguirre knew that in Gibraltar he was not a
Spaniard; he was a Catholic. And the others, for the most part English
subjects, scarcely recalled this status, designating themselves by the
name of their creed.

In his walks through Royal Street Aguirre had one stopping place: the
entrance to a Hindu bazaar ruled over by a Hindu from Madras named
Khiamull. During the first days of his stay he had bought from the
shopkeeper various gifts for his first cousins in Madrid, the daughters
of an old minister plenipotentiary who helped him in his career. Ever
since then Aguirre would stop for a chat with Khiamull, a shrivelled old
man, with a greenish tan complexion and mustache of jet black that
bristled from his lips like the whiskers of a seal. His gentle, watery
eyes--those of an antelope or of some humble, persecuted beast--seemed
to caress Aguirre with the softness of velvet. He spoke to the young man
in Spanish, mixing among his words, which were pronounced with an
Andalusian accent, a number of rare terms from distant tongues that he
had picked up in his travels. He had journeyed over half the world for
the company by whom he was now employed. He spoke of his life at the
Cape, at Durban, in the Philippines, at Malta, with a weary expression.
Sometimes he looked young; at others his features contracted with an
appearance of old age. Those of his race seem to be ageless. He recalled
his far-off land of the sun, with the melancholy voice of an exile; his
great sacred river, the flower-crowned Hindu virgins, slender and
gracefully curved, showing from between the thick jewelled jacket and
their linen folds a bronze stomach as beautiful as that of a marble
figure. Ah!... When he would accumulate the price of his return thither,
he would certainly join his lot to that of a maiden with large eyes and
a breath of roses, scarcely out of childhood. Meanwhile he lived like an
ascetic fakir amongst the Westerners, unclean folks with whom he was
willing to transact business but with whom he avoided all unnecessary
contact. Ah, to return yonder! Not to die far from the sacred river!...
And as he expressed his intimate wishes to the inquisitive Spaniard who
questioned him concerning the distant lands of light and mystery, the
Hindu coughed painfully, his face becoming darker than ever, as if the
blood that was circulating beneath the bronze of his skin had turned
green.

At times Aguirre, as if waking from a dream, would ask himself what he
was doing there in Gibraltar. Since he had arrived with the intention of
sailing at once, three large vessels had passed the strait bound for the
Oceanic lands. And he had allowed them to sail on, pretending not to
know of their presence, never being able to learn the exact conditions
of his voyage, writing to Madrid, to his influential uncle, letters in
which he spoke of vague ailments that for the moment delayed his
departure. Why?... Why?...

Upon arising, the day following his arrival at Gibraltar, Aguirre looked
through the window curtains of his room with all the curiosity of a
newcomer. The heavens were clouded; it was an October sky; but it was
warm,--a muggy, humid warmth that betrayed the proximity of the African
coast.

Upon the flat roof of a neighboring house he noticed a strange
construction,--a large arbor made of woven reeds and thatched with green
branches. Within this fragile abode, he was able to make out through its
bright curtains a long table, chairs, and an old-fashioned lamp hanging
from the top... What a queer whim of these people who, having a house,
chose to live upon the roof!

A hotel attendant, while he put Aguirre's room in order, answered all
his inquiries. The Jews of Gibraltar were celebrating a holiday, the
Feast of Tabernacles, one of the most important observances of the year.
It was in memory of the long wandering of the Israelites through the
desert. In commemoration of their sufferings the Jews were supposed to
eat in the open air, in a tabernacle that resembled the tents and huts
of their forefathers. The more fanatic of them, those most attached to
ancient customs, ate standing, with a staff in their hands, as if ready
to resume their journey after the last mouthful. The Hebrew merchants of
the central street erected their structures on the roof; those of the
poor quarters built theirs in a yard or corral, wherever they could
catch a glimpse of the open sky. Those who, because of their extreme
poverty, lived in a shanty, were invited to dine in company with the
more fortunate, with that fraternity of a race compelled by hatred and
persecution to preserve a firm solidarity.

The tabernacle Aguirre saw was that of old Aboab and his son, brokers
who kept their establishment on the selfsame Royal Street, just a few
doors below. And the servant pronounced the name Aboab (father and son)
with that mingling of superstitious awe and hatred which is inspired in
the poor by wealth that is considered unjustly held. All Gibraltar knew
them; it was the same in Tangier, and the same in Rabat and Casablanca.
Hadn't the gentleman heard of them? The son directed the business of the
house, but the father still took part, presiding over all with his
venerable presence and that authority of old age which is so infallible
and sacred among Hebrew families.

"If you could only see the old man!" added the attendant, with his
Andalusian accent. "A white beard that reaches down to his waist, and if
you'd put it into hot water it would yield more than a pitcherful of
grease. He's almost as greasy as the grand Rabbi, who's the bishop among
them.... But he has lots of money. Gold ounces by the fistful, pounds
sterling by the shovel; and if you'd see the hole he has in the street
for his business you'd be amazed. A mere poor man's kitchen. It seems
impossible that he can store so much there!"

After breakfast, when Aguirre went back to his room in search of his
pipe, he saw that the Aboab tabernacle was occupied by the whole family.
At the back, which was in semi-obscurity, he seemed to make out a white
head presiding over the table and on each side elbows leaning upon the
tablecloth, and the skirts and trousers of persons who were for the most
part invisible.

Two women came out on the roof; they were both young, and after glancing
for a moment at the inquisitive fellow in the hotel window, turned their
gaze in a different direction, as if they had not noticed him. To
Aguirre these Aboab daughters were not very impressive, and he wondered
whether the much vaunted beauty of Jewesses was but another of the many
lies admitted by custom, consecrated by time and accepted without
investigation. They had large eyes, of bovine beauty; moist and dilated,
but with the addition of thick, prominent eyebrows, as black and
continuous as daubs of ink. Their nostrils were wide and the beginnings
of obesity already threatened to submerge their youthful slenderness in
corpulence.

They were followed by another woman, doubtless the mother, who was so
fat that her flesh shook as she moved. Her eyes, too, were attractive,
but were spoiled by the ugly eyebrows. Her nose, her lower lip and the
flesh of her neck hung loosely; in her there was already completed the
fatal maturity which was beginning to appear in her daughters. All three
possessed the yellowish pallor characteristic of Oriental races. Their
thick lips, faintly blue, revealed something of the African element
grafted upon their Asiatic origin.

"Hola! What's this!" murmured Aguirre with a start.

A fourth woman had come out from the depths of the tabernacle. She must
be English; the Spaniard was certain of this. Yes, she was an English
brunette, with a bluish cast to her dark skin and a slim, athletic
figure whose every movement was graceful. A creole from the colonies,
perhaps, born of some Oriental beauty and a British soldier.

She looked without any bashfulness toward the window of the hotel,
examining the Spaniard with the leisurely glance of a bold boy, meeting
the shock of his eyes without flinching. Then she wheeled about on her
heel as if beginning a dancing figure, turned her back to the Spaniard
and leaned against the shoulders of the two other young ladies,
thrusting them aside and taking pleasure, to the accompaniment of loud
outbursts of laughter, in pushing their unwieldy persons with her
vigorous, boyish arms.

When all the women returned to the interior of the tabernacle, Aguirre
abandoned his lookout, more and more convinced of the exactness of his
observations. Decidedly, she was not a Jewess. And the better to
convince himself, he talked at the door with the manager of the hotel,
who knew all Gibraltar. After a few words this man guessed to whom
Aguirre was referring.

"That's Luna... Lunita Benamor, old Aboab's granddaughter. What a girl,
eh? The belle of Gibraltar! And rich! Her dowry is at least one hundred
thousand _duros_."

A Jewess!... She was a Jewess! From that time Aguirre began to meet Luna
frequently in the narrow limits of a city where people could hardly move
without encountering one another. He saw her on the roof of her house;
he came across her on Royal Street as she entered her grandfather's
place; he followed her, sometimes in the vicinity of the Puerta del Mar
and at others from the extreme end of the town, near the Alameda. She
was usually unaccompanied, like all the young ladies of Gibraltar, who
are brought up in conformity with English customs. Besides, the town was
in a manner a common dwelling in which all knew one another and where
woman ran no risk.

Whenever Aguirre met her they would exchange casual glances, but with
the expression of persons who have seen each other very often. The
consul still experienced the astonishment of a Spaniard influenced by
centuries of prejudice. A Jewess! He would never have believed that the
race could produce such a woman. Her outward appearance, correct and
elegant as that of an Englishwoman, gave no other indication of her
foreign origin than a marked predilection for silk clothes of bright
hues, especially strawberry color, and a fondness for sparkling jewelry.
With the gorgeousness of an American who pays no attention to hours, she
would go out early in the morning with a thick necklace of pearls
hanging upon her bosom and two flashing pendants in her ears. A picture
hat with costly plumes, imported from London, concealed the ebony beauty
of her hair.

Aguirre had acquaintances in Gibraltar, idlers, whom he had met in the
cafés, young, obsequious, courteous Israelites who received this
Castilian official with ancestral deference, questioning him about
affairs of Spain as if that were a remote country.

Whenever passed by them during her constant walks along Royal
Street,--taken with no other purpose than to kill time--they spoke of
her with respect. "More than a hundred thousand _duros_." Everybody knew
the amount of the dowry. And they acquainted the consul with the
existence of a certain Israelite who was the girl's affianced husband.
He was now in America to complete his fortune. He was rich, but a Jew
must labor to add to the legacy of his fathers. The families had
arranged the union without even consulting them, when she was twelve
years old and he already a man corrupted by frequent changes of
residence and traveling adventures. Luna had been waiting already ten
years for the return of her fiancé from Buenos Aires, without the
slightest impatience, like the other maidens of her race, certain that
everything would take its regular course at the appointed hour.

"These Jewish girls," said a friend of Aguirre, "are never in a hurry.
They're accustomed to biding their time. Just see how their fathers have
been awaiting the Messiah for thousands of years without growing tired."

One morning, when the Feast of Tabernacles had ended and the Jewish
population of the town returned to its normal pursuits, Aguirre entered
the establishment of the Aboabs under the pretext of changing a quantity
of money into tender of English denomination. It was a rectangular room
without any other light than that which came in through the doorway, its
walls kalsomined and with a wainscoting of white, glazed tiles. A small
counter divided the shop, leaving a space for the public near the
entrance and reserving the rest of the place for the owners and a large
iron safe. Near the door a wooden charity-box, inscribed in Hebrew,
awaited the donations of the faithful for the philanthropic activities
of the community. The Jewish customers, in their dealings with the
house, deposited there the extra _centimos_ of their transactions.
Behind the counter were the Aboabs, father and son. The patriarch,
Samuel Aboab, was very aged and of a greasy corpulence. As he sat there
in his armchair his stomach, hard and soft at the same time, had risen
to his chest. His shaven upper lip was somewhat sunken through lack of
teeth; his patriarchal beard, silver white and somewhat yellow at the
roots, fell in matted locks, with the majesty of the prophets. Old age
imparted to his voice a whimpering quaver, and to his eyes a tearful
tenderness. The least emotion brought tears; every word seemed to stir
touching recollections. Tears and tears oozed from his eyes, even when
he was silent, as if they were fountains whence escaped the grief of an
entire people, persecuted and cursed through centuries upon centuries.

His son Zabulon was already old, but a certain black aspect lingered
about him, imparting an appearance of virile youth. His eyes were dark,
sweet and humble, but with an occasional flash that revealed a fanatic
soul, a faith as firm as that of ancient Jerusalem's people, ever ready
to stone or crucify the new prophets; his beard, too, was black and firm
as that of a Maccabean warrior; black, also, was his curly hair, which
looked like an astrakhan cap. Zabulon figured as one of the most active
and respected members of the Jewish community,--an individual
indispensable to all beneficent works, a loud singer in the synagogue
and a great friend of the Rabbi, whom he called "our spiritual chief,"
an assiduous attendant at all homes where a fellow-religionist lay
suffering, ready to accompany with his prayers the gasps of the dying
man and afterwards lave the corpse according to custom with a profusion
of water that ran in a stream into the street. On Saturdays and special
holidays Zabulon would leave his house for the synagogue, soberly
arrayed in his frock and his gloves, wearing a silk hat and escorted by
three poor co-religionists who lived upon the crumbs of his business and
were for these occasions dressed in a style no less sober and fitting
than that of their protector.

"All hands on deck!" the wits of Royal Street would cry. "Make way, for
here comes a cruiser with four smokestacks!"

And the four smokestacks of well brushed silk sailed between the groups,
bound for the synagogue, looking now to this side and now to that so as
to see whether any wicked Hebrew was lounging about the streets instead
of attending synagogue; this would afterwards be reported to the
"spiritual head."

Aguirre, who was surprised at the poverty of the establishment, which
resembled a kitchen, was even more surprised at the facility with which
money rolled across the narrow counter. The packets of silver pieces
were quickly opened, passing rapidly through the shaggy, expert hands of
Zabulon; the pounds fairly sang, as they struck the wood, with the merry
ring of gold; the bank-notes, folded like unstitched folios, flashed for
a moment before concealing the colors of their nationality in the safe:
the simple, monotonous white of the English paper, the soft blue of the
Bank of France, the green and red mixture of the Spanish Bank. All the
Jews of Gibraltar flocked hither, with that same commercial solidarity
which leads them to patronize only establishments owned by members of
their race; Zabulon, all by himself, without the aid of clerks, and
without allowing his father (the venerable fetich of the family's
fortune) to leave his seat, directed this dance of money, conducting it
from the hands of the public to the depths of the iron safe, or fetching
it forth to spread it, with a certain sadness, upon the counter. The
ridiculous little room seemed to grow in size and acquire beauty at the
sound of the sonorous names that issued from the lips of the banker and
his customers. London! Paris! Vienna!... The house of Aboab had branches
everywhere. Its name and its influence extended not only to the famous
world centers, but even to the humblest corners, wherever one of their
race existed. Rabat, Casablanca, Larache, Tafilete, Fez, were African
towns into which the great banks of Europe could penetrate only with the
aid of these auxiliaries, bearing an almost famous name yet living very
poorly.

Zabulon, as he changed Aguirre's money, greeted him as if he were a
friend. In that city every one knew every body else within twenty-four
hours.

Old Aboab pulled himself together in his chair, peering out of his weak
eyes with a certain surprise at not being able to recognize this
customer among his habitual visitors.

"It's the consul, father," said Zabulon, without raising his glance from
the money that he was counting, guessing the reason for the movement of
the old man behind him. "The Spanish consul who stops at the hotel
opposite our house."

The patriarch seemed to be impressed and raised his hand to his hat with
humble courtesy.

"Ah! The consul! The worthy consul!" he exclaimed, emphasizing the title
as a token of his great respect for all the powers of the earth. "Highly
honored by your visit, worthy consul."

And believing that he owed his visitor renewed expressions of flattery,
he added with tearful sighs, imparting to his words a telegraphic
conciseness, "Ah, Spain! Beautiful land, excellent country, nation of
gentlemen!... My forefathers came from there, from a place called
Espinosa de los Monteros."

His voice quivered, pained by recollections, and afterwards, as if he
had in memory advanced to recent times, he added, "Ah! Castelar!...
Castelar, a friend of the Jews, and he defended them. Of the _judeos_,
as they say there!"

His flood of tears, ill restrained up to that moment, could no longer be
held back, and at this grateful recollection it gushed from his eyes,
inundating his beard.

"Spain! Beautiful country!" sighed the old man, deeply moved.

And he recalled everything that in the past of his race and his family
had united his people with that country. An Aboab had been chief
treasurer of the King of Castile; another had been a wonderful
physician, enjoying the intimacy of bishops and cardinals. The Jews of
Portugal and of Spain had been great personages,--the aristocracy of the
race. Scattered now over Morocco and Turkey, they shunned all
intercourse with the coarse, wretched Israelite population of Russia and
Germany. They still recited certain prayers, in the synagogue, in old
Castilian, and the Jews of London repeated them by heart without knowing
either their origin or their meaning, as if they were prayers in a
language of sacred mystery. He himself, when he prayed at the synagogue
for the King of England, imploring for him an abundance of health and
prosperity even as Jews the world over did for the ruler of whatever
country they happened to inhabit, added mentally an entreaty to the Lord
for the good fortune of beautiful Spain.

Zabulon, despite his respect for his father, interrupted him brusquely,
as if he were an imprudent child. In his eyes there glowed the harsh
expression of the impassioned zealot.

"Father, remember what they did to us. How they cast us out... how they
robbed us. Remember our brothers who were burned alive."

"That's true, that's true," groaned the patriarch, shedding new tears
into a broad handkerchief with which he wiped his eyes. "It's true....
But in that beautiful country there still remains something that is
ours. The bones of our ancestors."

When Aguirre left, the old man showered him with tokens of extreme
courtesy. He and his son were at the consul's service. And the consul
returned almost every morning to chat with the patriarch, while Zabulon
attended to the customers and counted money.

Samuel Aboab spoke of Spain with tearful delight, as of a marvelous
country whose entrance was guarded by terrible monsters with fiery
swords. Did they still recall the _judeos_ there? And despite Aguirre's
assurances, he refused to believe that they were no longer called thus
in Spain. It grieved the old man to die before beholding Espinosa de los
Monteros; a beautiful city, without a doubt. Perhaps they still
preserved there the memory of the illustrious Aboabs.

The Spaniard smilingly urged him to undertake the journey. Why did he
not go there?...

"Go! Go to Spain!..." The old man huddled together like a timorous snail
before the idea of this journey.

"There are still laws against the poor _judeos_. The decree of the
Catholic Kings. Let them first repeal it!... Let them first call us
back!"

Aguirre laughed at his listener's fears. Bah! The Catholic Kings! Much
they counted for now!... Who remembered those good gentlemen?

But the old man persisted in his fears. He had suffered much. The terror
of the expulsion was still in his bones and in his blood, after four
centuries. In summer, when the heat forced them to abandon the torrid
rock, and the Aboab family hired a little cottage on the seashore, in
Spanish territory just beyond La Línea, the patriarch dwelt in constant
restlessness, as if he divined mysterious perils in the very soil upon
which he trod. Who could tell what might happen during the night? Who
could assure him that he would not awake in chains, ready to be led like
a beast to a port? This is what had happened to his Spanish ancestors,
who had been forced to take refuge in Morocco, whence a branch of the
family had moved to Gibraltar when the English took possession of the
place.

Aguirre poked mild fun at the childish fears of the aged fellow,
whereupon Zabulon intervened with his darkly energetic authority.

"My father knows what he is talking about. We will never go; we can't
go. In Spain the old customs always return; the old is converted into
the new. There is no security; woman has too much power and interferes
in matters that she does not understand."

Woman! Zabulon spoke scornfully of the sex. They should be treated as
the Jews treated them. The Jews taught them nothing more than the amount
of religion necessary to follow the rites. The presence of women in the
synagogue was in many instances not obligatory. Even when they came,
they were confined to the top of a gallery, like spectators of the
lowest rank. No. Religion was man's business, and the countries in which
woman has a part in it cannot offer security.

Then the unsympathetic Israelite spoke enthusiastically of the "greatest
man in the world," Baron Rothschild, lord over kings and
governments--taking care never to omit the title of baron every time he
pronounced the name--and he finally named all the great Jewish centers,
which were ever increasing in size and population.

"We are everywhere," he asserted, blinking maliciously. "Now we are
spreading over America. Governments change, peoples spread over the face
of the earth, but we are ever the same. Not without reason do we await
the Messiah. He will come, some day."

On one of his morning visits to the ill appointed bank Aguirre was
introduced to Zabulon's two daughters,--Sol and Estrella,--and to his
wife, Thamar. On another morning Aguirre experienced a tremor of emotion
upon hearing behind him the rustle of silks and noticing that the light
from the entrance was obscured by the figure of a person whose identity
his nerves had divined. It was Luna, who had come, with all the interest
that Hebrew women feel for their domestic affairs, to deliver an order
to her uncle. The old man grasped her hands across the counter,
caressing them tremblingly.

"This is my granddaughter, sir consul, my granddaughter Luna. Her father
is dead, and my daughter too. She comes from Morocco. No one loves the
poor girl as much as her grandfather does."

And the patriarch burst into tears, moved by his own words.

Aguirre left the shop with triumphant joy. They had spoken to each
other; now they were acquainted. The moment he met her upon the street
he would cling to her, taking advantage of some blessed customs that
seemed to have been made for lovers.



II


NEITHER could tell how, after several ordinary meetings, their friendly
confidence grew, or which had been the first word to reveal the mystery
of their thoughts.

They saw each other mornings when Aguirre would go to his window. The
Feast of Tabernacles had come to an end, and the Aboabs had taken down
the religious structure, but Luna continued to go to the roof under
various pretexts, so that she might exchange a glance, a smile, a
gesture of greeting with the Spaniard. They did not converse from these
heights through fear of the neighbors, but afterwards they met in the
street, and Luis, after a respectful salute, would join the young lady,
and they would walk along as companions, like other couples they met on
their way. All were known to one another in that town. Only by this
knowledge could married couples be distinguished from simple friends.

Luna visited various shops on errands for the Aboabs, like a good Jewess
who is interested in all the family affairs. At other times she wandered
aimlessly through Royal Street, or walked in the direction of the
Alameda, explaining the landmarks of the city to Aguirre at her side. In
the midst of these walks she would stop at the brokers' shop to greet
the patriarch, who smiled childishly as he contemplated the youthful and
beautiful couple.

"Señor consul, señor consul," said Samuel one day, "I brought from my
house this morning the family papers, for you to read. Not all of them.
There are too many altogether! We Aboabs are very old; I wish to prove
to the consul that we are _judeos_ of Spain, and that we still remember
the beautiful land."

And from underneath the counter he drew forth divers rolls of parchment
covered with Hebrew characters. They were matrimonial documents, acts of
union of the Aboabs with certain families of the Israelite community. At
the head of all these documents figured on one side the coat of arms of
England and on the other that of Spain, in bright colors and gold
borders.

"We are English," declared the patriarch. "May the Lord preserve our
king and send him much happiness; but we are Spaniards historically:
Castilians, that is... Castilians."

He selected from the parchments one that was cleaner and fresher than
the others, and bent over it his white, wavy beard and his tearful eyes.

"This is the wedding contract of Benamor with my poor daughter: Luna's
parents. You can't understand it, for it's in Hebrew characters, but the
language is Castilian, pure Castilian, as it was spoken by our
ancestors."

And slowly, in an infantile voice, as if he relished the obsolete forms
of the words, he read the terms of the contract that united the parties
"in the custom of Old Castile." Then he enumerated the conditions of the
marriage, the penalties either of the contracting parties might incur if
the union were dissolved through his or her fault.

"'Such party will pay,'" mumbled the patriarch, "'will pay... so many
silver ounces.' Are there still silver ounces in Castile, señor
consul?"...

Luna, in her conversations with Aguirre, demonstrated an interest as
keen as that of her old grandfather in the beautiful land, the far-off,
remote, mysterious land,--in spite of the fact that its boundary was
situated but a few steps away, at the very gates of Gibraltar. All she
knew of it was a little fisherman's hamlet, beyond La Línea, whither she
had gone with her family on their summer vacations.

"Cadiz! Seville! How enchanting they must be!... I can picture them to
myself: I have often beheld them in my dreams, and I really believe that
if I ever saw them they wouldn't surprise me in the least.... Seville!
Tell me, Don Luis, is it true that sweethearts converse there through a
grating? And is it certain that the maidens are serenaded with a guitar,
and the young men throw their capes before them as a carpet over which
to pass? And isn't it false that men slay one another for them?... How
charming! Don't deny all this. It's all so beautiful!..."

Then she would summon to memory all her recollections of that land of
miracles, of that country of legends, in which her forebears had dwelt.
When she was a child her grandmother, Samuel Aboab's wife, would lull
her to sleep reciting to her in a mysterious voice the prodigious events
that always had Castile as their background and always began the same:
"Once upon a time there was a king of Toledo who fell in love with a
beautiful and charming Jewess named Rachel...."

"Toledo!"... As she uttered this name Luna rolled her eyes as in the
vagueness of a dream. The Spanish capital of Israel! The second
Jerusalem! Her noble ancestors, the treasurer of the king and the
miraculous physician, had dwelt there!

"You must have seen Toledo, Don Luis. You surely have been there. How I
envy you!... Very beautiful, isn't it? Vast! Enormous!... Like
London?... Like Paris? Of course not.... But certainly far larger than
Madrid."

And carried away by the enthusiasm of her illusions she forgot all
discretion, questioning Luis about his past. Indubitably he was of the
nobility: his very bearing revealed that. From the very first day she
had seen him, upon learning his name and his nationality, she had
guessed that he was of high origin. A hidalgo such as she had imagined
every man from Spain to be, with something Semitic in his face and in
his eyes, but more proud, with an air of hauteur that was incapable of
supporting humiliations and servility. Perhaps he had a uniform for
festive occasions, a suit of bright colors, braided with gold... and a
sword, a sword!

Her eyes shone with admiration in the presence of this hidalgo from the
land of knights who was dressed as plainly as a shopkeeper of Gibraltar,
yet who could transform himself into a glorious insect of brilliant
hues, armed with a mortal sting. And Aguirre did not disturb her
illusions, answering affirmatively, with all the simplicity of a hero.
Yes; he had a golden costume, that of the consul. He possessed a sword,
which went with his uniform, and which had never been unsheathed.

One sunny morning the pair, quite unconsciously, took the path to the
Alameda. She made anxious inquiries about Aguirre's past, with
indiscreet curiosity, as always happens between persons who feel
themselves attracted to each other by a budding affection. Where had he
been born? How had he spent his childhood? Had he loved many women?...

They passed beneath the arches of an old gate that dated back to the
time of the Spanish possession, and which still preserved the eagles and
the shields of the Austrian dynasty. In the old moat, now converted into
a garden, there was a group of tombs,--those of the English sailors who
had died at Trafalgar. They walked along an avenue in which the trees
alternated with heaps of old bombs and cone-shaped projectiles, reddened
by rust. Further on, the large cannon craned their necks toward the gray
cruisers of the military harbor and the extensive bay, over whose blue
plain, tremulous with gold, glided the white dots of some sailing
vessels.

On the broad esplanade of the Alameda, at the foot of the mountain
covered with pines and cottages, were groups of youths running and
kicking a restless ball around. At that hour, as at every hour of the
day, the huge ball of the English national game sped through the air
over paths, fields and garrison yards. A concert of shouts and kicks,
civil as well as military, rose into the air, to the glory of strong and
hygienic England.

They mounted a long stairway, afterwards seeking rest in a shady little
square, near the monument to a British hero, the defender of Gibraltar,
surrounded by mortars and cannon. Luna, gazing across the blue sea that
could be viewed through the colonnade of trees, at last spoke of her own
past.

Her childhood had been sad. Born in Rabat, where the Jew Benamor was
engaged in the exportation of Moroccan cloths, her life had flowed on
monotonously, without any emotion other than that of fear. The Europeans
of this African port were common folk, who had come thither to make
their fortune. The Moors hated the Jews. The rich Hebrew families had to
hold themselves apart, nourishing themselves socially upon their own
substance, ever on the defensive in a country that lacked laws. The
young Jewish maidens were given an excellent education, which they
acquired with the facility of their race in adopting all progress. They
astonished newcomers to Rabat with their hats and their clothes, similar
to those of Paris and London; they played the piano; they spoke various
languages, and yet, on certain nights of sleeplessness and terror, their
parents dressed them in foul tatters and disguised them, staining their
faces and their hands with moist ashes and lampblack, so that they might
not appear to be Jewish daughters and should rather resemble slaves.
There were nights in which an uprising of the Moors was feared, an
invasion of the near-by Kabyles, excited in their fanaticism by the
inroads of European culture. The Moroccans burned the houses of the
Jews, plundered their treasures, fell like wild beasts upon the white
women of the infidels, decapitating them with hellish sadism after
subjecting them to atrocious outrages. Ah! Those childhood nights in
which she dozed standing, dressed like a beggar girl, since the
innocence of her tender age was of no avail as a protection!... Perhaps
it was these frights that were responsible for her dangerous
illness,--an illness that had brought her near to death, and to this
circumstance she owed her name Luna.

"At my birth I was named Horabuena, and a younger sister of mine
received the name Asibuena. After a period of terror and an invasion of
the Moroccans in which our house was burned down and we thought we were
all doomed to slaughter, my sister and I fell ill with fever. Asibuena
died; happily, I was saved."

And she described to Luis, who listened to her under a spell of horror,
the incidents of this exotic, abnormal life,--all the sufferings of her
mother in the poor house where they had taken refuge. Aboab's daughter
screamed with grief and tore her black hair before the bed where her
daughter lay overcome by the stupor of fever. Her poor Horabuena was
going to die.

"Ay, my daughter! My treasure Horabuena, my sparkling diamond, my nest
of consolation!... No more will you eat the tender chicken! No more will
you wear your neat slippers on Saturdays, nor will your mother smile
with pride when the Rabbi beholds you so graceful and beautiful!..."

The poor woman paced about the room lighted by a shaded lamp. In the
shadows she could detect the presence of the hated _Huerco_, the demon,
with a Spanish name who comes at the appointed hour to bear off human
creatures to the darkness of death. She must battle against the evil
one, must deceive the _Huerco_, who was savage yet stupid, just as her
forefathers had deceived him many a time:

She repressed her tears and sighs, calmed her voice, and stretching out
upon the floor spoke softly, with a sweet accent, as if she were
receiving an important visit:

"_Huerco_, what have you come for?... Are you looking for Horabuena?
Horabuena is not here; she has gone forever. She who is here is named...
Luna. Sweet Lunita, beautiful Lunita. Off with you, _Huerco_, begone!
She whom you seek is not here."

For some time she was calm, then her returning fears made her speak
again to her importunate, lugubrious guest. There he was again! She
could feel his presence.

"_Huerco_, I tell you you're mistaken! Horabuena is gone; look for her
elsewhere. Only Luna is here. Sweet Lunita, precious Lunita."

And so great was her insistence that at last she succeeded in deceiving
_Huerco_ with her entreating, humble voice, although it is true that, to
give an air of truth to the deceit, on the following day, at a synagogue
ceremony, the name of Horabuena was changed to that of Luna.

Aguirre listened to these revelations with the same interest as that
with which he would read a novel about a far-off, exotic land that he
was never to behold.

It was on this same morning that the consul revealed the proposal which
for several days he had guarded in his thoughts, afraid to express it.
Why not love each other? Why not be sweethearts? There was something
providential about the way the two had met; they should not fail to take
advantage of the fate which had brought them together. To have become
acquainted! To have met, despite the difference of countries and of
races!...

Luna protested, but her protest was a smiling one. What madness!
Sweethearts? Why? They could not marry; they were of different faiths.
Besides, he had to leave. But Aguirre interrupted resolutely:

"Don't reason. Just close your eyes. In love there should be no
reflection. Good sense and the conventionalities are for persons who
don't love each other. Say yes, and afterwards time and our good luck
will arrange everything."

Luna laughed, amused by Aguirre's grave countenance and the vehemence of
his speech.

"Sweethearts in the Spanish fashion?... Believe me, I am tempted to
assent. You will go off and forget me, just as you've doubtless
forgotten others; and I'll be left cherishing the remembrance of you.
Excellent. We'll see each other every day and will chat about our
affairs. Serenades are not possible here, nor can you place your cape at
my feet without being considered crazy. But that doesn't matter. We'll
be sweethearts; I should love to see what it's like."

She laughed as she spoke, with her eyes closed, just like a child to
whom a pleasant game has been proposed. Soon she opened her eyes wide,
as if something forgotten had reawakened in her with a painful pressure.
She was pale. Aguirre could guess what she was trying to say. She was
about to tell him of her previous betrothal, of that Jewish fiancé who
was in America and might return. But after a brief pause of indecision
she returned to her former attitude, without breaking the silence. Luis
was grateful to her for this. She desired to conceal her past, as do all
women in the first moment of love.

"Agreed. We'll be sweethearts. Let's see, consul. Say pretty things to
me, of the sort that you folks say in Spain when you come to the
grating."

That morning Luna returned to her house somewhat late for the lunch
hour. The family was awaiting her impatiently. Zabulon looked at his
niece with a stern glance. Her cousins Sol and Estrella alluded to the
Spaniard in a jesting manner. The patriarch's eyes grew moist as he
spoke of Spain and its consul.

Meanwhile the latter had stopped at the door of the Hindu bazaar to
exchange a few words with Khiamull. He felt the necessity of sharing his
brimming happiness with another. The Hindu was greener than ever. He
coughed frequently and his smile, which resembled that of a bronze
child, was really a dolorous grimace.

"Khiamull, long live love! Believe me, for I know much about life. You
are sickly and some day you'll die, without beholding the sacred river
of your native land. What you need is a companion, a girl from
Gibraltar... or rather, from La Línea; a half gypsy, with her cloak,
pinks in her hair and alluring manners. Am I not right, Khiamull?..."

The Hindu smiled with a certain scorn, shaking his head. No. Every one
to his own. He was of his race and lived in voluntary solitude among the
whites. Man can do nothing against the sympathies and aversions of the
blood. Brahma, who was the sum of divine wisdom, separated all creatures
into castes.

"But, man!... friend Khiamull! It seems to me that a girl of the kind
I've mentioned is by no means to be despised...."

The Hindu smiled once more at the speaker's ignorance. Every race has
its own tastes and its sense of smell. To Aguirre, who was a good
fellow, he would dare to reveal a terrible secret. Did he see those
whites, the Europeans, so content with their cleanliness and their
baths?... They were all impure, polluted by a natural stench which it
was impossible for them to wipe out. The son of the land of the lotus
and the sacred clay was forced to make an effort in order to endure
contact with them... They all smelled of raw meat.



III


IT was a winter afternoon; the sky was overcast and the air was gray,
but it was not cold. Luna and the Spaniard were walking slowly along the
road that leads to Europa Point, which is the extreme end of the
peninsula of Gibraltar. They had left behind them the Alameda and the
banks of the Arsenal, passing through leafy gardens, along reddish
villas inhabited by officers of army and navy, huge hospitals resembling
small towns, and garrisons that seemed like convents, with numerous
galleries in which swarms of children were scurrying about; here, too,
clothes and tableware were being washed and cleaned by the soldiers'
wives--courageous wanderers over the globe, as much at home in the
garrisons of India as in those of Canada. The fog concealed from view
the coast of Africa, lending to the Strait the appearance of a shoreless
sea. Before the pair of lovers stretched the dark waters of the bay, and
the promontory of Tarifa revealed its black outline faintly in the fog,
resembling a fabulous rhinoceros bearing upon its snout, like a horn,
the tower of the lighthouse. Through the ashen-gray clouds there
penetrated a timid sunbeam,--a triangle of misty light, similar to the
luminous stream from a magic lantern,--which traced a large shaft of
pale gold across the green-black surface of the sea. In the center of
this circle of anemic light there floated, like a dying swan, the white
spot of a sailboat.

The two lovers were oblivious to their surroundings. They walked along,
engrossed in that amorous egotism which concentrates all life in a
glance, or in the delicate contact of the bodies meeting and grazing
each other at every step. Of all Nature there existed for them only the
dying light of the afternoon, which permitted them to behold each other,
and the rather warm breeze which, murmuring among the cacti and the
palms, seemed to serve as the musical accompaniment to their
conversation. At their right rumbled the far-off roar of the sea
striking against the rocks. On their left reigned pastoral peace,--the
melodious calm of the pines, broken from time to time only by the noise
of the carts, which, followed by a platoon of soldiers in their shirt
sleeves, wheeled up the roads of the mountain.

The two looked at each other with caressing eyes, smiling with the
automatism of love; but in reality they were sad, with that sweet
sadness which in itself constitutes a new voluptuousness. Luna,
influenced by the positivism of her race, was gazing into the future,
while Aguirre was content with the present moment, not caring to know
what would be the end of this love. Why trouble oneself imagining
obstacles!...

"I'm not like you, Luna. I have confidence in our lot. We'll marry and
travel about the world. Don't let that frighten you. Remember how I came
to know you. It was during the Feast of Tabernacles; you were eating
almost on foot, like those gypsies that wander over the earth and resume
their journey at the end of their meal. You come from a race of nomads
which even today roams the world. I arrived just in time. We'll leave
together; for I, too, am, because of my career, a wanderer. Always
together! We will be able to find happiness in any land whatsoever.
We'll carry springtime with us, the happiness of life, and will love
each other deeply."

Luna, flattered by the vehemence of these words, nevertheless contracted
her features into an expression of sadness.

"Child!" she murmured, with her Andalusian accent. "What sweet
illusions... my precious consul! But only illusions, after all. How are
we to marry? How can this be arranged?... Are you going to become a
convert to my religion?"

Aguirre started with surprise and looked at Luna with eyes that betrayed
his amazement.

"Man alive! I, turn Jew?..."

He was no model of pious enthusiasm. He had passed his days without
paying much attention to religion. He knew that the world contained many
creeds, but without doubt, as far as he was concerned, decent persons
the world over were all Catholics. Besides, his influential uncle had
warned him not to jest with these matters under penalty of hampering
advancement in his career.

"No. No, I don't see the necessity of that.... But there must be some
way of getting over the difficulty. I can't say what it is, but there
surely must be one. At Paris I met very distinguished gentlemen who were
married to women of your race. This can all be arranged. I assure you
that it shall be. I have an idea! Tomorrow morning, if you wish, I'll go
to see the chief Rabbi, your 'spiritual head,' as you call him. He seems
to be a fine fellow; I've seen him several times upon the street; a well
of wisdom, as your kind say. A pity that he goes about so unclean,
smelling of rancid sanctity!... Now don't make such a wry face. It's a
matter of minor importance! A little bit of soap can set it aright....
There, there, don't get angry. The gentleman really pleases me a great
deal, with his little white goatee and his wee voice that seems to come
from the other world!... I tell you I'm going to see him and say, 'Señor
Rabbi, Luna and I adore each other and wish to many; not like the Jews,
by contract and with the right to change their minds, but for all our
life, for centuries and centuries. Bind us from head to foot, so that
there'll be none in heaven or on earth that can separate us. I can't
change my religion because that would be base, but I swear to you, by
all my faith as a Christian, that Luna will be more cared for, pampered
and adored than if I were Methuselah, King David, the prophet Habakkuk
or any other of the gallants that figure in the Scriptures.'"

"Silence, you scamp!" interrupted the Jewess with superstitious anxiety,
raising one hand to his lips to prevent him from continuing. "Seal your
lips, sinner!"

"Very well. I'll be silent, but it must be agreed that we'll settle this
one way or another. Do you believe it possible for any one to sever us
after such a serious love affair... and such a long one?"

"Such a long one!" repeated Luna like an echo, imparting a grave
expression to his words.

Aguirre, in his silence, seemed to be given over to a difficult mental
calculation.

"At least a month long!" he said at last, as if in wonder at the length
of time that had flown by.

"No, not a month," protested Luna. "More, much more!"

He resumed his meditation.

"Positively; more than a month. Thirty-eight days, counting today....
And seeing each other every day! And falling deeper and deeper in love
each day!..."

They walked along in silence, their gaze lowered, as if overwhelmed by
the great age of their love. Thirty-eight days!... Aguirre recalled a
letter that he had received the day before, bristling with surprise and
indignation. He had been in Gibraltar already two months without sailing
for Oceanica. What sort of illness was this? If he did not care to
assume his post, he ought to return to Madrid. The instability of his
present position and the necessity of solving this passion which little
by little had taken possession of him came to his thoughts with
agonizing urgency.

Luna strolled on, her eyes upon the ground, moving her fingers as if
counting.

"Yes, that's it. Thirty-eight.... Exactly! It seems impossible that you
could have loved me for so long. Me! An old woman!"

And in response to Aguirre's bewildered glance she added, sadly, "You
already know. I don't hide it.... Twenty-two years old. Many of my race
marry at fourteen."

Her resignation was sincere; it was the resignation of the Oriental
woman, accustomed to behold youth only in the bud of adolescence.

"Often I find it impossible to explain your love for me. I feel so proud
of you!... My cousins, to vex me, try to find defects in you, and
can't!... No, they can't! The other day you passed by my house and I was
behind the window-blinds with Miriam, who was my nurse; she's a Jewess
from Morocco, one of those who wear kerchiefs and wrappers. 'Look,
Miriam, at that handsome chap, who belongs to our neighborhood.' Miriam
looked. 'A Jew? No. That can't be. He walks erect, with a firm step, and
our men walk haltingly, with their legs doubled as if they were about to
kneel. He has teeth like a wolf and eyes like daggers. He doesn't lower
his head nor his gaze.' And that's how you are. Miriam was right. You
stand out from among all the young men of my blood. Not that they lack
courage; there are some as strong as the Maccabees; Massena, Napoleon's
companion, was one of us, but the natural attitude of them all, before
they are transformed by anger, is one of humility and submission. We
have been persecuted so much!... You have grown up in a different
environment."

Afterwards the young woman seemed to regret her words. She was a bad
Jewess; she scarcely had any faith in her beliefs and in her people; she
went to the synagogue only on the Day of Atonement and on the occasion
of other solemn, unavoidable ceremonies.

"I believe that I've been waiting for you forever. Now I am sure that I
knew you long before seeing you. When I saw you for the first time, on
that day during the Feast of the Tabernacles, I felt that something
grave and decisive had occurred in my life. When I learned who you were,
I became your slave and hungered anxiously for your first word."

Ah, Spain!... She was like old Aboab; her thoughts had often flown to
the beautiful land of her forefathers, wrapped in mystery. At times she
recalled it only to hate it, as one hates a beloved person, for his
betrayals and his cruelties, without ceasing to love him. At others, she
called to mind with delight the tales she had heard from her
grandmother's lips, the songs with which she had been lulled to sleep as
a child,--all the legends of the old Castilian land, abode of treasures,
enchantments and love affairs, comparable only to the Bagdad of the
Arabs, to the wonderful city of the thousand and one nights. Upon
holidays, when the Jews remained secluded in the bosom of the family,
old Aboab or Miriam, her nurse, had many a time beguiled her with
ancient ballads in the manner of old Castile, that had been transmitted
from generation to generation; stories of love affairs between arrogant,
knightly Christians and beautiful Jewesses with fair complexions, large
eyes and thick, ebony tresses, just like the holy beauties of the
Scriptures.

    En la ciudad de Toledo,
    en la ciudad de Granada,
    hay un garrido mancebo
    que Diego León se llama.
    Namorose de Thamar,
    que era hebrea castellana....

(In the city of Toledo, in the city of Granada, there is a handsome
youth called Diego Leon. He fell in love with Tamar, who was a Spanish
Jewess....)

There still echoed in her memory fragments of these ancient chronicles
that had brought many a tremor to her dreamy childhood. She desired to
be Tamar; she would have waited years and years for the handsome youth,
who would be as brave and arrogant as Judas Maccabeus himself, the Cid
of the Jews, the lion of Judea, the lion of lions; and now her hopes
were being fulfilled, and her hero had appeared at last, coming out of
the land of mystery, with his conqueror's stride, his haughty head, his
dagger eyes, as Miriam said. How proud it made her feel! And
instinctively, as if she feared that the apparition would vanish, she
slipped her hand about Aguirre's arm, leaning against him with caressing
humility.

They had reached Europa Point, the outermost lighthouse of the
promontory. On an esplanade surrounded by military buildings there was a
group of ruddy young men, their khaki trousers held in place by leather
braces and their arms bare, kicking and driving a huge ball about. They
were soldiers. They stopped their game for a moment to let the couple
pass. There was not a single glance for Luna from this group of strong,
clean-living youths, who had been trained to a cold sexuality by
physical fatigue and the cult of brawn.

As they turned a corner of the promontory they continued their walk on
the eastern side of the cliff. This part was unoccupied; here tempests
and the raging winds from the Levant came to vent their fury. On this
side were no other fortifications than those of the summit, almost
hidden by the clouds which, coming from the sea, encountered the
gigantic rampart of rock and scaled the peaks as if assaulting them.

The road, hewn out of the rough declivity, meandered through gardens
wild with African exuberance. The pear trees extended, like green
fences, their serried rows of prickle-laden leaves; the century-plants
opened like a profusion of bayonets, blackish or salmon-red in color;
the old agaves shot their stalks into the air straight as masts, which
were topped by extended branches that gave them the appearance of
telegraph poles. In the midst of this wild vegetation arose the lonely
summer residence of the governor. Beyond was solitude, silence,
interrupted only by the roar of the sea as it disappeared into invisible
caves.

Soon the two lovers noticed, at a great distance, signs of motion amidst
the vegetation of the slope. The stones rolled down as if some one were
pushing them under his heel; the wild plants bent under an impulse of
flight, and shrill sounds, as if coming from a child being maltreated,
rent the air. Aguirre, concentrating his attention, thought he saw some
gray forms jumping amid the dark verdure.

"Those are the monkeys of the Rock," said Luna calmly, as she had seen
them many times.

At the end of the path was the famous Cave of the Monkeys. Now Aguirre
could see them plainly, and they looked like agile, shaggy-haired
bundles jumping from rock to rock, sending the loose pebbles rolling
from under their hands and feet and showing, as they fled, the inflamed
protuberances under their stiff tails.

Before coming up to the Cave of the Monkeys the two lovers paused. The
end of the road was in sight a little further along abruptly cut off by
a precipitous projection of the rock. At the other side, invisible, was
the bay of the Catalanes with its town of fisherfolk,--the only
dependency of Gibraltar. The cliff, in this solitude, acquired a savage
grandeur. Human beings were as nothing; natural forces here had free
range, with all their impetuous majesty. From the road could be seen the
sea far, far below. The boats, diminished by the distance, seemed like
black insects with antennae of smoke, or white butterflies with their
wings spread. The waves seemed only light curls on the immense blue
plain.

Aguirre wished to go down and contemplate at closer range the gigantic
wall which the sea beat against. A rough, rocky path led, in a straight
line, to an entrance hewn out of the stone, backed by a ruined wall, a
hemispherical sentry-box and several shanties whose roofs had been
carried off by the tempests. These were the débris of old
fortifications,--perhaps dating back to the time in which the Spaniards
had tried to reconquer the place.

As Luna descended, with uncertain step, supported by her lover's hand
and scattering pebbles at every turn, the melodious silence of the sea
was broken by a reverberating _raack!_ as if a hundred fans had been
brusquely opened. For a few seconds everything vanished from before
their eyes; the blue waters, the red crags, the foam of the
breakers,--under a flying cloud of grayish white that spread out at
their feet. This was formed by hundreds of sea-gulls who had been
frightened from their place of refuge and were taking to flight; there
were old, huge gulls, as fat as hens, young gulls, as white and graceful
as doves. They flew off uttering shrill cries, and as this cloud of
fluttering wings dissolved, there came into view with all its grandeur,
the promontory and the deep waters that beat against it in ceaseless
undulation.

It was necessary to raise one's head and to lift one's eyes to behold in
all its height this fortress of Nature, sheer, gray, without any sign of
human presence other than the flagstaff visible at the summit, as small
as a toy. Over all the extensive face of this enormous cliff there was
no other projection than several masses of dark vegetation, clumps
suspended from the rock. Below, the waves receded and advanced, like
blue bulls that retreat a few paces so as to attack with all the greater
force; as an evidence of this continuous assault, which had been going
on for centuries and centuries, there were the crevices opened in the
rock, the mouths of the caves, gates of ghostly suggestion and mystery
through which the waves plunged with terror-inspiring roar. The débris
of these openings, the fragments of the ageless assaults,--loosened
crags, piled up by the tempests,--formed a chain of reefs between whose
teeth the sea combed its foamy hair or raged with livid frothing on
stormy days.

The lovers remained seated among the old fortifications, beholding at
their feet the blue immensity and before their eyes the seemingly
interminable wall that barred from sight a great part of the horizon.
Perhaps on the other side of the cliff the gold of the sunset was still
shining. On this side already the shades of night were gently falling.
The sweethearts were silent, overwhelmed by the silence of the spot,
united to each other by an impulse of fear, crushed by their
insignificance in the midst of this annihilating vastness, even as two
Egyptian ants in the shadow of the Great Pyramid.

Aguirre felt the necessity of saying something, and his voice took on a
grave character, as if in those surroundings, impregnated with the
majesty of Nature, it was impossible to speak otherwise.

"I love you," he began, with the incongruity of one who passes without
transition from long meditation to the spoken word. "I love you, for you
are of my race and yet you are not; because you speak my language and
yet your blood is not my blood. You possess the grace and beauty of the
Spanish woman, yet there is something more in you,--something exotic,
that speaks to me of distant lands, of poetic things, of unknown
perfumes that I seem to smell whenever I am near you.... And you, Luna.
Why do you love me?"

"I love you," she replied, after a long silence, her voice solemn and
veiled like that of an emotional soprano, "I love you because you, too,
have something in your face that resembles those of my race, and yet you
are as distinct from them as is the servant from the master. I love
you... I don't know why. In me there dwells the soul of the ancient
Jewesses of the desert, who went to the well in the oasis with their
hair let down and their pitchers on their heads. Then came the Gentile
stranger, with his camels, begging water; she looked at him with her
solemn, deep eyes, and as she poured the water in between her white
hands she gave him her heart, her whole soul, and followed him like a
slave.... Your people killed and robbed mine; for centuries my
forefathers wept in strange lands the loss of their new Zion, their
beautiful land, their nest of consolation. I ought to hate you, but I
love you; I am yours and will follow you wherever you go." The blue
shadows of the promontory became deeper. It was almost night. The
sea-gulls, shrieking, retired to their hiding-places in the rocks. The
sea commenced to disappear beneath a thin mist. The lighthouse of Europe
shone like a diamond from afar in the heavens above the Strait, which
were still clear. A sweet somnolence seemed to arise from the dying day,
enveloping all Nature. The two human atoms, lost in this immensity, felt
themselves invaded by the universal tremor, oblivious to all that but a
short time before had constituted their lives. They forgot the presence
of the city on the other side of the mountain; the existence of
humanity, of which they were infinitesimal parts.... Completely alone,
penetrating each other through their pupils! Thus, thus forever! There
was a crackling sound in the dark, like dry branches creaking before
they break.

All at once a red flash sped through the air,--something straight and
rapid as the flight of a fiery bird. Then the mountain trembled and the
sea echoed under a dry thunder. The sunset gun!... A timely boom.

The two shuddered as though just awakening from a dream. Luna, as if in
flight, ran down the path in search of the main road, without listening
to Aguirre.... She was going to get home late; she would never visit
that spot again. It was dangerous.



IV


THE consul wandered through Royal Street, his pipe out, his glance sad
and his cane hanging from his arm. He was depressed. When, during his
walking back and forth he stopped instinctively before Khiamull's shop,
he had to pass on. Khiamull was not there. Behind the counter were only
two clerks, as greenish in complexion as their employer. His poor friend
was in the hospital, in the hope that a few days of rest away from the
damp gloom of the shop would be sufficient to relieve him of the cough
that seemed to unhinge his body and make him throw up blood. He came
from the land of the sun and needed its divine caress.

Aguirre might have stopped at the Aboabs' establishment, but he was
somewhat afraid. The old man whimpered with emotion, as usual, when he
spoke to the consul, but in his kindly, patriarchal gestures there was
something new that seemed to repel the Spaniard. Zabulon received him
with a grunt and would continue counting money.

For four days Aguirre had not seen Luna. The hours that he spent at his
window, vainly watching the house of the Aboabs! Nobody on the roof;
nobody behind the blinds, as if the house were unoccupied. Several times
he encountered on the street the wife and daughters of Zabulon, but they
passed him by pretending not to see him, solemn and haughty in their
imposing obesity.

Luna was no more to be seen than as if she had left Gibraltar. One
morning he thought he recognized her delicate hand opening the blinds;
he imagined that he could distinguish, through the green strips of
wood, the ebony crown of her hair, and her luminous eyes raised toward
him. But it was a fleeting apparition that lasted only a second. When he
tried to make a gesture of entreaty, when he moved his arms imploring
her to wait, Luna had already disappeared.

How was he to approach her, breaking through the guarded aloofness in
which Jewish families dwell? To whom was he to go for an explanation of
this unexpected change?... Braving the icy reception with which the
Aboabs greeted him, he entered their place under various pretexts. The
proprietors received him with frigid politeness, as if he were an
unwelcome customer. The Jews who came in on business eyed him with
insolent curiosity, as if but a short time before they had been
discussing him.

One morning he saw, engaged in conversation with Zabulon, a man of about
forty, of short stature, somewhat round shouldered with spectacles. He
wore a high silk hat, a loose coat and a large golden chain across his
waistcoat. In a somewhat sing-song voice he was speaking of the
greatness of Buenos Aires, of the future that awaited those of his race
in that city, of the good business he had done. The affectionate
attention with which the old man and his son listened to the man
suggested a thought to Aguirre that sent all the blood to his heart, at
the same time producing a chill in the rest of his body. He shuddered
with surprise. Could it be _he_?... And after a few seconds,
instinctively, without any solid grounds, he himself gave the answer.
Yes; it was he; there had been no mistake. Without a doubt he beheld
before him Luna's promised husband, who had just returned from South
America. And if he still had any doubts as to the correctness of his
conjecture, he was strengthened in his belief by a rapid glance from the
man,--a cold, scornful look that was cast upon him furtively, while the
looker continued to speak with his relatives.

That night he saw him again on Royal Street. He saw him, but not alone.
He was arm in arm with Luna, who was dressed in black; Luna, who leaned
upon him as if he were already her husband; the two walked along with
all the freedom of Jewish engaged couples. She did not see Aguirre or
did not wish to see him. As she passed him by she turned her head,
pretending to be engrossed in conversation with her companion.

Aguirre's friends, who were gathered in a group on the sidewalk before
the Exchange, laughed at the meeting, with the light-heartedness of
persons who look upon love only as a pastime.

"Friend," said one of them to the Spaniard, "they've stolen her away
from you. The Jew's carrying her off.... It couldn't have been
otherwise. They marry only among themselves... and that girl has lots of
money."

Aguirre did not sleep a wink that night; he lay awake planning the most
horrible deeds of vengeance. In any other country he knew what he would
do; he would insult the Jew, slap him, fight a duel, kill him; and if
the man did not respond to such provocation, he would pursue him until
he left the field free.... But he lived here in another world; a country
that was ignorant of the knightly procedure of ancient peoples. A
challenge to a duel would cause laughter, like something silly and
extravagant. He could, of course, attack his enemy right in the street,
bring him to his knees and kill him if he tried to defend himself. But
ah! English justice did not recognize love nor did it accept the
existence of crimes of passion. Yonder, half way up the slope of the
mountain, in the ruins of the castle that had been occupied by the
Moorish kings of Gibraltar, he had seen the prison, filled with men from
all lands, especially Spaniards, incarcerated for life because they had
drawn the poniard under the impulse of love or jealousy, just as they
were accustomed to doing a few metres further on, at the other side of
the boundary. The whip worked with the authorization of the law; men
languished and died turning the wheel of the pump. A cold, methodical
cruelty, a thousand times worse than the fanatic savagery of the
Inquisition, devoured human creatures, giving them nothing more than the
exact amount of sustenance necessary to prolong their torture.... No.
This was another world, where his jealousy and his fury could find no
vent. And he would have to lose Luna without a cry of protest, without a
gesture of manly rebellion!...Now, upon beholding himself parted from
her, he felt for the first time the genuine importance of his love; a
love that had been begun as a pastime, through an exotic curiosity, and
which was surely going to upset his entire existence... What was he to
do?

He recalled the words of one of those inhabitants of Gibraltar who had
accompanied him on Royal Street,--a strange mixture of Andalusian
sluggishness and British apathy.

"Take my word for it, friend, the chief Rabbi and those of the synagogue
have a hand in this. You were scandalizing them; everybody saw you
making love in public. You don't realize how important one of these
fellows is. They enter the homes of the faithful and run everything,
giving out orders that nobody dares to disobey."

The following day Aguirre did not leave his street, and either walked up
and down in front of the Aboabs' house or stood motionless at the
entrance to his hotel, without losing sight for a moment of Luna's
dwelling. Perhaps she would come out! After the meeting of the previous
day she must have lost her fear. They must have a talk. Here it was
three months since he had come to Gibraltar, forgetting his career, in
danger of ruining it, abusing the influence of his relatives. And was he
going to leave that woman without exchanging a final word, without
knowing the cause for the sudden overturn?...

Toward night-fall Aguirre experienced a strange shudder of emotion,
similar to that which he had felt in the brokers' shop upon beholding
the Jew that had just returned from South America. A woman came out of
the Aboabs' house; she was dressed in black. It was Luna, just as he had
seen her the day before.

She turned her head slowly and Aguirre understood that she had seen
him,--that perhaps she had been watching him for a long time hidden
behind the blinds. She began to walk hastily, without turning her head,
and Aguirre followed her at a certain distance, on the opposite
sidewalk, jostling through the groups of Spanish workmen who, with their
bundles in their hands, were returning from the Arsenal to the town of
La Línea, before the sunset gun should sound and the place be closed.
Thus he shadowed her along Royal Street, and as she arrived at the
Exchange, Luna continued by way of Church Street, passing by the
Catholic Cathedral. Here there were less people about and the shops were
fewer; except at the corners of the lanes where there were small groups
of men that had formed on coming from work. Aguirre quickened his gait
so as to catch up with Luna, while she, as if she had guessed his
intention, slackened her step. As they reached the rear of the
Protestant church, near the opening called Cathedral Square, the two
met.

"Luna! Luna!..."

She turned her glance upon Aguirre, and then instinctively they made for
the end of the square, fleeing from the publicity of the street. They
came to the Moorish arcades of the evangelist temple, whose colors were
beginning to grow pale, vanishing into the shade of dusk. Before either
of them could utter a word they were enveloped in a wave of soft
melody,--music that seemed to come from afar, stray chords from the
organ, the voices of virgins and children who were chanting in English
with bird-like notes the glory of the Lord.

Aguirre was at a loss for words. All his angry thoughts were forgotten.
He felt like crying, like kneeling and begging something of that God,
whoever He might be, who was at the other side of the walls, lulled by
the hymn from the throat of the mystic birds with firm and virginal
voices:

"Luna!... Luna!"

He could say nothing else, but the Jewess, stronger than he and less
sensitive to that music which was not hers, spoke to him in a low and
hurried voice. She had stolen out just to see him; she must talk with
him, say good-bye. It was the last time they would meet.

Aguirre heard her without fully understanding her words. All his
attention was concentrated upon her eyes, as if the five days in which
they had not met were the same as a long voyage, and as if he were
seeking in Luna's countenance some effect of the extended lapse of time
that had intervened. Was she the same?... Yes it was she. But her lips
were somewhat pale with emotion; she pressed her lids tightly together
as if every word cost her a prodigious effort, as if every one of them
tore out part of her soul. Her lashes, as they met, revealed in the
corner of her eyes lines that seemed to indicate fatigue, recent tears,
sudden age.

The Spaniard was at last able to understand what she was saying. But was
it all true?... To part! Why? Why?... And as he stretched his arms out
to her in the vehemence of his entreaty Luna became paler still,
huddling together timidly, her eyes dilated with fear.

It was impossible for their love to continue. She must look upon all the
past as a beautiful dream; perhaps the best of her life... but the
moment of waking had come. She was marrying, thus fulfilling her duty
toward her family and her race. The past had been a wild escapade, a
childish flight of her exalted and romantic nature. The wise men of her
people had clearly pointed out to her the dangerous consequences of such
frivolity. She must follow her destiny and be as her mother had
been,--like all the women of her blood. Upon the following day she was
going to Tangier with her promised husband, Isaac Nuñez. He himself and
her relatives had counselled her to have one last interview with the
Spaniard, so as to put an end to an equivocal situation that might
compromise the honor of a good merchant and destroy the tranquility of a
peaceful man. They would marry at Tangier, where her fiancé's family
lived; perhaps they would remain there; perhaps they would journey to
South America and resume business there. At any rate, their love, their
sweet adventure, their divine dream, was ended forever.

"Forever!" murmured Luis in a muffled voice. "Say it again. I hear it
from your lips, yet I can't believe my ears. Say it once more. I wish to
make sure."

His voice was filled with supplication but at the same time his clenched
hand and his threatening glance terrified Luna, who opened her eyes wide
and pressed her lips tightly together, as if restraining a sob. The
Jewess seemed to grow old in the shadows.

The fiery bird of twilight flashed through the air with its fluttering
of red wings. Closely following came a thunderclap that made the houses
and ground tremble.... The sunset gun! Aguirre, in his agony, could see
in his mind's eye a high wall of crags, flying gulls, the foamy, roaring
sea, a misty evening light, the same as that which now enveloped them.

"Do you remember, Luna? Do you remember?"...

The roll of drums sounded from a near-by street, accompanied by the
shrill notes of the fife and the deep boom of the bass drum, drowning
with its belligerent sound the mystic, ethereal chants that seemed to
filter through the walls of the temple. It was the evening patrol on its
way to close the gates of the town. The soldiers, clad in uniforms of
greyish yellow, marched by, in time with the tune from their
instruments, while above their cloth helmets waved the arms of the
gymnast who was deafening the street with his blows upon the drum head.

The two waited for the noisy patrol to pass. As the soldiers disappeared
in the distance the melodies from the celestial choir inside the church
returned slowly to the ears of the listeners.

The Spaniard was abject, imploring, passing from his threatening
attitude to one of humble supplication.

"Luna... Lunita! What you say is not true. It cannot be. To separate
like this? Don't listen to any of them. Follow the dictates of your
heart. There is still a chance for us to be happy. Instead of going off
with that man whom you do not love, whom you surely cannot love, flee
with me."

"No," she replied firmly, closing her eyes as though she feared to
weaken if she looked at him. "No. That is impossible. Your God is not my
God. Your people, not my people."

In the Catholic Cathedral, near by, but out of sight, the bell rang with
a slow, infinitely melancholy reverberation. Within the Protestant
Church the choir of virgins was beginning a new hymn, like a flock of
joyous birds winging about the organ. Afar, gradually becoming fainter
and fainter and losing itself in the streets that were covered by the
shadows of night, sounded the thunder of the patrol and the playful
lisping of the fifes, hymning the universal power of England to the tune
of circus music.

"Your God! Your people!" exclaimed the Spaniard sadly. "Here, where
there are so many Gods! Here, where everybody is of your people!...
Forget all that. We are all equals in life. There is only one truth:
Love."

"Ding, dong!" groaned the bell aloft in the Catholic Cathedral, weeping
the death of day. "Lead Kindly Light!" sang the voices of the virgins
and the children in the Protestant temple, resounding through the
twilight silence of the square.

"No," answered Luna harshly, with an expression that Aguirre had never
seen in her before; she seemed to be another woman. "No. You have a
land, you have a nation, and you may well laugh at races and religions,
placing love above them. We, on the other hand, wherever we may be born,
and however much the laws may proclaim us the equals of others, are
always called Jews, and Jews we must remain, whether we will or no. Our
land, our nation, our only banner, is the religion of our ancestors. And
you ask me to desert it,--to abandon my people?... Sheer madness!"

Aguirre listened to her in amazement.

"Luna, I don't recognize you.... Luna, Lunita, you are another woman
altogether.... Do you know what I'm thinking of at this moment? I'm
thinking of your mother, whom I did not know."

He recalled those nights of cruel uncertainty, when Luna's mother tore
her jet-black hair before the bed in which her child lay gasping; how
she tried to deceive the demon, the hated _Huerco_, who came to rob her
of her beloved daughter.

"Ah! I, too, Luna, feel the simple faith of your mother,--her innocent
credulity. Love and despair simplify our souls and remove from them the
proud tinsel with which we clothe them in moments of happiness and
pride; love and despair render us by their mystery, timid and
respectful, like the simplest of creatures. I feel what your poor mother
felt during those nights. I shudder at the presence of the _Huerco_ in
our midst. Perhaps it's that old fellow with the goat's whiskers who is
at the head of your people here; all of you are a materialistic sort,
without imagination, incapable of knowing true love; it seems impossible
that you can be one of them.... You, Luna! You! Don't laugh at what I
say. But I feel a strong desire to kneel down here before you, to
stretch out upon the ground and cry: '_Huerco_, what do you wish? Have
you come to carry off my Luna?... Luna is not here. She has gone
forever. This woman here is my beloved, my wife. She has no name yet,
but I'll give her one.' And to seize you in my arms, as your mother did,
to defend you against the black demon, and then to see you saved, and
mine forever; to confirm your new name with my caresses, and to call
you... my Only One, yes, my Only One. Do you like the name?... Let our
lives be lived together, with the whole world as our home."

She shook her head sadly. Very beautiful. One dream more. A few days
earlier these words would have moved her and would have made her weep.
But now!... And with cruel insistence she repeated "No, no. My God is
not your God. My race is not your race. Why should we persist in
attempting the impossible?..."

When her people had spoken indignantly about the love affair that was
being bruited all about town; when the spiritual head of her community
came to her with the ire of an ancient prophet; when accident, or
perhaps the warning of a fellow Jew, had brought about the return of her
betrothed, Isaac Nuñez, Luna felt awaking within her something that had
up to that time lain dormant. The dregs of old beliefs, hatreds and
hopes were stirred in the very depths of her thought, changing her
affections and imposing new duties. She was a Jewess and would remain
faithful to her race. She would not go to lose herself in barren
isolation among strange persons who hated the Jew through inherited
instinct. Among her own kind she would enjoy the influence of the wife
that is listened to in all family councils, and when she would become
old, her children would surround her with a religious veneration. She
did not feel strong enough to suffer the hatred and suspicion of that
hostile world into which love was trying to drag her,--a world that had
presented her people only with tortures and indignities. She wished to
be loyal to her race, to continue the defensive march that her nation
was realizing across centuries of persecution.

Soon she was inspired with compassion at the dejection of her former
sweetheart, and she spoke to him more gently. She could no longer feign
calmness or indifference. Did he think that she could ever forget him?
Ah! Those days had been the sweetest in all her existence; the romance
of her life, the blue flower that all women, even the most ordinary,
carry within their memories like a breath of poesy.

"Do you imagine that I don't know what my lot is going to be like?...
You were the unexpected, the sweet disturbance that beautifies life, the
happiness of love which finds joy in all that surrounds it and never
gives thought to the morrow. You are a man that stands out from all the
rest; I know that. I'll many, I'll have many children,--many!--for our
race is inexhaustible, and at night my husband will talk to me for hour
after hour about what we earned during the day. You... you are
different. Perhaps I would have had to suffer, to be on my guard lest
I'd lose you, but with all that you are happiness, you are illusion."

"Yes, I am all that," said Aguirre "I am all that because I love you....
Do you realize what you are doing, Luna? It is as if they laid thousands
and thousands of silver pounds upon the counter before Zabulon, and he
turned his back upon them, scorning them and preferring the synagogue.
Do you believe such a thing possible?... Very well, then. Love is a
fortune. It is like beauty, riches, power; all who are born have a
chance of acquiring one of these boons, but very few actually attain to
them. All live and die believing that they have known love, thinking it
a common thing, because they confuse it with animal satisfaction; but
love is a privilege, love is a lottery of fate, like wealth, like
beauty, which only a small minority enjoy.... And when love comes more
than half way to meet you, Luna, Lunita,--when fate places happiness
right in your hands, you turn your back upon it and walk off!...
Consider it well! There is yet time! Today, as I walked along Royal
Street I saw the ship notices. Tomorrow there's a boat sailing for Port
Said. Courage! Let us flee!... We'll wait there for a boat to take us to
Australia."

Luna raised her head proudly. Farewell to her look of compassion!
Farewell to the melancholy mood in which she had listened to the
youth!... Her eyes shone with a steely glance; her voice was cruel and
concise.

"Goodnight!"

And she turned her back upon him, beginning to walk as if taking flight.
Aguirre hastened after her, soon reaching her side.

"And that's how you leave me!" he exclaimed. "Like this, never to meet
again... Can a love that was our very life end in such a manner?..."

The hymn had ceased in the evangelical temple; the Catholic bell was
silent; the military music had died out at the other end of the town. A
painful silence enveloped the two lovers. To Aguirre it seemed as if the
world were deserted, as if the light had died forever, and that in the
midst of the chaos and the eternal darkness he and she were the only
living creatures.

"At least give me your hand; let me feel it in mine for the last
time.... Don't you care to?"

She seemed to hesitate, but finally extended her right hand. How
lifeless it was! How icy!

"Good-bye, Luis," she said curtly, turning her eyes away so as not to
see him.

She spoke more, however. She felt that impulse of giving consolation
which animates all women at times of great grief. He must not despair.
Life held sweet hopes in store for him. He was going to see the world;
he was still young....

Aguirre spoke from between clenched teeth, to himself, as if he had gone
mad. Young! As if grief paid attention to ages! A week before he had
been thirty years old; now he felt as old as the world.

Luna made an effort to release herself, trembling for herself, uncertain
of her will power.

"Good-bye! Good-bye!"

This time she really departed, and he allowed her to leave, lacking the
strength with which to follow her.

Aguirre passed a sleepless night, seated at the edge of his bed, gazing
with stupid fixity at the designs upon the wall-paper. To think that
this could have happened! And he, no stronger than a mere child, had
permitted her to leave him forever!... Several times he was surprised to
catch himself speaking aloud.

"No. No. It cannot be.... It _shall_ not be!"

The light went out, of its own accord, and Aguirre continued to
soliloquize, without knowing what he was saying. "It shall not be! It
shall not be!" he murmured emphatically. But passing from rage to
despair he asked himself what he could do to retain her, to end his
torture.

Nothing! His misfortune was irreparable. They were going to resume the
course of their lives, each on a different road; they were going to
embark on the following day, each to an opposite pole of the earth, and
each would carry away nothing of the other, save a memory; and this
memory, under the tooth of time, would become ever smaller, more
fragile, more delicate. And this was the end of such a great love! This
was the finale of a passion that had been born to fill an entire
existence! And the earth did not tremble, and nobody was moved, and the
world ignored this great sorrow, even as it would ignore the misfortunes
of a pair of ants. Ah! Misery!...

He would roam about the world carrying his recollections with him, and
perhaps some day he would come to forget them, for one can live only by
forgetting; but when his grief should dissolve with the years he would
be left an empty man, like a smiling automaton, incapable of any
affections other than material ones. And thus he would go on living
until he should grow old and die. And she, the beautiful creature, who
seemed to scatter music and incense at every step,--the incomparable
one, the only one,--would likewise grow old, far from his side. She
would be one more Jewish wife, an excellent mother of a family, grown
stout from domestic life, flabby and shapeless from the productivity of
her race, with a brood of children about her, preoccupied at all hours
with the earnings of the family, a full moon, cumbrous, yellow, without
the slightest resemblance to the springtime star that had illuminated
the fleeting and best moments of his life. What a jest of fate!...
Farewell forever, Luna!... No, not Luna. Farewell, Horabuena!

On the next day he took passage on the ship that was leaving for Port
Said. What was there for him to do in Gibraltar?... It had been for
three months a paradise, at the side of the woman who beautified his
existence; now it was an intolerable city, cramped and monotonous; a
deserted castle; a damp, dark prison. He telegraphed to his uncle,
informing him of his departure. The vessel would weigh anchor at night,
after the sunset gun, when it had taken on its supply of coal.

The hotel people brought him news. Khiamull had died at the hospital, in
the full possession of his mental faculties as is characteristic of
consumptives, and had spoken of the distant land of the sun, of its
virgins, dark and slender as bronze statues, crowned with the lotus
flower. A hemorrhage had put an end to his hopes. All the town was
talking about his burial. His compatriots, the Hindu shopkeepers, had
sent a delegation to the governor and made arrangements for the funeral
rites. They were going to cremate the body on the outskirts of the town,
on the beach that faced the East. His remains must not rot in impure
soil. The English governor, deferent toward the creeds of his various
subjects, presented them with the necessary wood. At night-fall they
would dig a hollow on the beach, fill it with shavings and faggots; then
they would put in large logs, and the corpse; on top of this, more wood,
and after the pyre had ceased to burn for lack of fuel Khiamull's
religious brethren would gather the ashes and bear them off in a boat to
scatter them at sea.

Aguirre listened coldly to these details. Happy Khiamull, who was
departing thus! Fire, plenty of fire! Would that he could burn the town,
and the near-by lands, and finally the whole world!...

At ten o'clock the transatlantic liner raised anchor. The Spaniard,
leaning over the rail, saw the black mountain and the huge Rock, its
base speckled with rows of lights, grow small as if sinking into the
horizon. Its obscure ridge was silhouetted against the sky like a
crouching monster toying with a swarm of stars between its paws.

The vessel rounded Europa Point and the lights disappeared. Now the
cliff was visible from its Eastern face, black, imposing, bare, with no
other light than that of the lighthouse at its extreme end.

Suddenly a new light arose,--a red line, a perpendicular flame,--at the
foot of the mountain, as if it came out of the sea. Aguirre guessed what
it was. Poor Khiamull! The flames were beginning to consume his body
upon the beach. The bronze-faced men were at this moment gathered about
the pyre, like priests of a remote civilization, hastening the disposal
of their companion's remains.

Farewell, Khiamull! He had died with his hope placed in the Orient,--the
land of love and perfumes, the abode of delights,--without having been
able to realize his dreams. And here was Aguirre traveling thither with
an empty heart, a paralyzed soul, wearied and bereft of strength, as if
he had just emerged from the most terrible of ordeals.

"Farewell, melancholy and gentle Hindu, poor poet who dreamed of light
and love as you sold your trinkets in that damp hole!..." His remains,
purified by flame, were going to be lost in the bosom of the great
mother. Perhaps his delicate, bird-like soul would survive in the
sea-gulls that fluttered about the cliff; perhaps he would sing in the
roaring foam of the submarine caverns, as an accompaniment to the vows
of other lovers who would come there in their turn, on the impulse of
the deceptive illusion, the sweet lie of love that gives us new strength
to continue on our way.

END



THE TOAD


"I WAS spending the summer at Nazaret," said my friend Orduna, "a little
fishermen's town near Valencia. The women went to the city to sell the
fish, the men sailed about in their boats with triangular sails, or
tugged at their nets on the beach; we summer vacationists spent the day
sleeping and the night at the doors of our houses, contemplating the
phosphorescence of the waves or slapping ourselves here and there
whenever we heard the buzz of a mosquito,--that scourge of our resting
hours.

"The doctor, a hardy and genial old fellow, would come and sit down
under the bower before my door, and we'd spend the night together, with
a jar or a watermelon at our side, speaking of his patients, folks of
land or sea, credulous, rough and insolent in their manners, given over
to fishing or to the cultivation of their fields. At times we laughed as
he recalled the illness of Visanteta, the daughter of _la Soberana_, an
old fishmonger who justified her nickname of _the Queen_ by her bulk and
her stature, as well as by the arrogance with which she treated her
market companions, imposing her will upon them by right of might.... The
belle of the place was this Visanteta: tiny, malicious, with a clever
tongue, and no other good looks than that of youthful health; but she
had a pair of penetrating eyes and a trick of pretending timidity,
weakness and interest, which simply turned the heads of the village
youths. Her sweetheart was _Carafosca_, a brave fisherman who was
capable of sailing on a stick of wood. On the sea he was admired by all
for his audacity; on land he filled everybody with fear by his provoking
silence and the facility with which he whipped out his aggressive
sailor's knife. Ugly, burly and always ready for a fight, like the huge
creatures that from time to time showed up in the waters of Nazaret
devouring all the fish, he would walk to church on Sunday afternoons at
his sweetheart's side, and every time the maiden raised her head to
speak to him, amidst the simple talk and lisping of a delicate, pampered
child, _Carafosca_ would cast a challenging look about him with his
squinting eyes, as if defying all the folk of the fields, the beach and
the sea to take his Visanteta away from him.

"One day the most astounding news was bruited about Nazaret. The
daughter of _la Soberana_ had an animal inside of her. Her abdomen was
swelling; the slow deformation revealed itself through her underskirts
and her dress; her face lost color, and the fact that she had swooned
several times, vomiting painfully, upset the entire cabin and caused her
mother to burst into desperate lamentations and to run in terror for
help. Many of her neighbors smiled when they heard of this illness. Let
them tell it to _Carafosca_!... But the incredulous ones ceased their
malicious talk and their suspicions when they saw how sad and desperate
_Carafosca_ became at his sweetheart's illness, praying for her recovery
with all the fervor of a simple soul, even going so far as to enter the
little village church,--he, who had always been a pagan, a blasphemer of
God and the saints.

"Yes, it was a strange and horrible sickness. The people, in their
predisposition to believe in all sorts of extraordinary and rare
afflictions, were certain that they knew what this was. Visanteta had a
toad in her stomach. She had drunk from a certain spot of the near-by
river, and the wicked animal, small and almost unnoticeable, had gone
down into her stomach, growing fast. The good neighbors, trembling with
stupefaction, flocked to _la Soberana's_ cabin to examine the girl. All,
with a certain solemnity, felt the swelling abdomen, seeking in its
tightened surface the outlines of the hidden creature. Some of them,
older and more experienced than the rest, laughed with a triumphant
expression. There it was, right under their hand. They could feel it
stirring, moving about.... Yes, it was moving! And after grave
deliberation, they agreed upon remedies to expel the unwelcome guest.
They gave the girl spoonfuls of rosemary honey, so that the wicked
creature inside should start to eat it gluttonously, and when he was
most preoccupied in his joyous meal, whiz!--an inundation of onion juice
and vinegar that would bring him out at full gallop. At the same time
they applied to her stomach miraculous plasters, so that the toad, left
without a moment's rest, should escape in terror; there were rags soaked
in brandy and saturated with incense; tangles of hemp dipped in the
calking of the ships; mountain herbs; simple bits of paper with numbers,
crosses and Solomon's seal upon them, sold by the miracle-worker of the
city. Visanteta thought that all these remedies that were being thrust
down her throat would be the death of her. She shuddered with the chills
of nausea, she writhed in horrible contortions as if she were about to
expel her very entrails, but the odious toad did not deign to show even
one of his legs, and _la Soberana_ cried to heaven. Ah, her daughter!...
Those remedies would never succeed in casting out the wretched animal;
it was better to let it alone, and not torture the poor girl; rather
give it a great deal to eat, so that it wouldn't feed upon the strength
of Visanteta who was glowing paler and weaker every day.

"And as _la Soberana_ was poor, all her friends, moved by the
compassionate solidarity of the common people, devoted themselves to the
feeding of Visanteta so that the toad should do her no harm. The
fisherwomen, upon returning from the square brought her cakes that were
purchased in city establishments, that only the upper class patronized;
on the beach, when the catch was sorted, they laid aside for her a
dainty morsel that would serve for a succulent soup; the neighbors, who
happened to be cooking in their pots over the fire would take out a
cupful of the best of the broth, carrying it slowly so that it shouldn't
spill, and bring it to _la Soberana's_ cabin; cups of chocolate arrived
one after the other every afternoon.

"Visanteta rebelled against this excessive kindness. She couldn't
swallow another drop! She was full! But her mother stuck out her hairy
nose with an imperious expression. 'I tell you to eat!' She must
remember what she had inside of her.... And she began to feel a faint,
indefinable affection for that mysterious creature, lodged in the
entrails of her daughter. She pictured it to herself; she could see it;
it was her pride. Thanks to it, the whole town had its eyes upon the
cabin and the trail of visitors was unending, and _la Soberana_ never
passed a woman on her way without being stopped and asked for news.

"Only once had they summoned the doctor, seeing him pass by the door;
but not that they really wished him, or had any faith in him. What could
that helpless man do against such a tenacious animal!... And upon
hearing that, not content with the explanations of the mother and the
daughter and his own audacious tapping around her clothes, he
recommended an internal examination, the proud mother almost showed him
the door. The impudent wretch! Not in a hurry was he going to have the
pleasure of seeing her daughter so intimately! The poor thing, so good
and so modest, who blushed merely at the thought of such proposals!...

"On Sunday afternoons Visanteta went to church, figuring at the head of
the daughters of Mary. Her voluminous abdomen was eyed with admiration
by the girls. They all asked breathlessly after the toad, and Visanteta
replied wearily. It didn't bother her so much now. It had grown very
much because she ate so well; sometimes it moved about, but it didn't
hurt as it used to. One after the other the maidens would place their
hands upon the afflicted one and feel the movements of the invisible
creature, admiring as they did so the superiority of their friend. The
curate, a blessed chap of pious simplicity, pretended not to notice the
feminine curiosity, and thought with awe of the things done by God to
put His creatures to the test. Afterwards, when the afternoon drew to a
close, and the choir sang in gentle voice the praises of Our Lady of the
Sea, each of the virgins would fall to thinking of that mysterious
beast, praying fervently that poor Visanteta be delivered of it as soon
as possible.

"_Carafosca_, too, enjoyed a certain notoriety because of his
sweetheart's affliction. The women accosted him, the old fishermen
stopped him to inquire about the animal that was torturing his girl.
'The poor thing! The poor thing!' he would groan, in accents of amorous
commiseration. He said no more; but his eyes revealed a vehement desire
to take over as soon as possible Visanteta and her toad, since the
latter inspired a certain affection in him because of its connection
with her.

"One night, when the doctor was at my door, a woman came in search of
him, panting with dramatic horror. _La Soberana's_ daughter was very
sick; he must run to her rescue. The doctor shrugged his shoulders 'Ah,
yes! The toad!' And he didn't seem at all anxious to stir. Then came
another woman, more agitated than the first. Poor Visanteta! She was
dying! Her shrieks could be heard all over the street. The wicked beast
was devouring her entrails....

"I followed the doctor, attracted by the curiosity that had the whole
town in a commotion. When we came to _la Soberana's_ cabin we had to
force our way through a compact group of women who obstructed the
doorway, crowding into the house. A rending shriek, a rasping wail came
from the innermost part of the dwelling, rising above the heads of the
curious or terrified women. The hoarse voice of _la Soberana_ answered
with entreating accents. Her daughter! Ah, Lord, her poor daughter!...

"The arrival of the physician was received by a chorus of demands on the
part of the old women. Poor Visanteta was writhing furiously, unable to
bear such pain; her eyes bulged from their sockets and her features were
distorted. She must be operated upon; her entrails must be opened and
the green, slippery demon that was eating her alive must be expelled.

"The doctor proceeded upon his task, without paying any attention to the
advice showered upon him, and before I could reach his side his voice
resounded through the sudden silence, with ill-humored brusqueness:

"'But good Lord, the only trouble with this girl is that she's going
to...!'

"Before he could finish, all could guess from the harshness of his voice
what he was about to say. The group of women yielded before _la
Soberana's_ thrusts even as the waves of the sea under the belly of a
whale. She stuck out her big hands and her threatening nails, mumbling
insults and looking at the doctor with murder in her eyes. Bandit!
Drunkard! Out of her house!...It was the people's fault, for supporting
such an infidel. She'd eat him up! Let them make way for her!... And she
struggled violently with her friends, fighting to free herself and
scratch out the doctor's eyes. To her vindictive cries were joined the
weak bleating of Visanteta, protesting with the breath that was left her
between her groans of pain. It was a lie! Let that wicked man be gone!
What a nasty mouth he had! It was all a lie!...

"But the doctor went hither and thither, asking for water, for bandages,
snappy and imperious in his commands, paying no attention whatsoever to
the threats of the mother or the cries of the daughter, which were
becoming louder and more heart-rending than ever. Suddenly she roared as
if she were being slaughtered, and there was a bustle of curiosity
around the physician, whom I couldn't see. 'It's a lie! A lie!
Evil-tongued wretch! Slanderer!'... But the protestations of Visanteta
were no longer unaccompanied. To her voice of an innocent victim begging
justice from heaven was added the cry of a pair of lungs that were
breathing the air for the first time.

"And now the friends of _la Soberana_ had to restrain her from falling
upon her daughter. She would kill her! The bitch! Whose child was
that?... And terrified by the threats of her mother, the sick woman, who
was still sobbing 'It's a lie! A lie!' at last spoke. It was a young
fellow of the _huerta_ whom she had never seen again... an indiscretion
committed one evening... she no longer remembered. No, she could not
remember!... And she insisted upon this forgetfulness as if it were an
incontrovertible excuse.

"The people now saw through it all. The women were impatient to spread
the news. As we left, _la Soberana_, humiliated and in tears, tried to
kneel before the doctor and kiss his hand. 'Ay, Don Antoni!... Don
Antoni!' She asked pardon for her insults; she despaired when she
thought of the village comments. What they would have to suffer now!...
On the following day the youths that sang as they arranged their nets
would invent new verses. The song of the toad! Her life would become
impossible!... But even more than this, the thought of _Carafosca_
terrified her. She knew very well what sort of brute that was. He would
kill poor Visanteta the first time she appeared on the street; and she
herself would meet the same fate for being her mother and not having
guarded her well. 'Ay, Don Antoni!' She begged him, upon her knees, to
see _Carafosca_. He, who was so good and who knew so much, could
convince the fellow with his reasoning, and make him swear that he would
not do the women any harm,--that he would forget them.

"The doctor received these entreaties with the same indifference as he
had received the threats, and he answered sharply. He would see about
it; it was a delicate affair. But once in the street, he shrugged his
shoulders with resignation. 'Let's go and see that animal.'

"We pulled him out of the tavern and the three of us began to walk along
the beach through the darkness. The fisherman seemed to be awed at
finding himself between two persons of such importance. Don Antonio
spoke to him of the indisputable superiority of men ever since the
earliest days of creation; of the scorn with which women should be
regarded because of their lack of seriousness; of their immense number
and the ease with which we could pick another if the one we had happened
to displease us... and at last, with brutal directness, told what had
happened.

"_Carafosca_ hesitated, as if he had not understood the doctor's words
very well. Little by little the certainty dawned upon his dense
comprehension. 'By God! By God!' And he scratched himself fearfully
under his cap, and brought his hands to his sash as if he were seeking
his redoubtable knife.

"The physician tried to console him. He must forget Visanteta; there
would be no sense or advantage in killing her. It wasn't worth while for
a splendid chap like him to go to prison for slaying a worthless
creature like her. The real culprit was that unknown laborer; but... and
she! And how easily she... committed the indiscretion, not being able to
recall anything afterwards!...

"For a long time we walked along in painful silence, with no other
novelty than _Carafosca's_ scratching of his head and his sash. Suddenly
he surprised us with the roar of his voice, speaking to us in Castilian,
thus adding solemnity to what he said:

"'Do you want me to tell you something?... Do you want me to tell you
something?'

"He looked at us with hostile eyes, as if he saw before him the unknown
culprit of the _huerta_, ready to pounce upon him. It could be seen that
his sluggish brain had just adopted a very firm resolution.... What was
it? Let him speak.

"'Well, then,' he articulated slowly, as if we were enemies whom he
desired to confound, 'I tell you... that now I love the girl more than
ever.'

"In our stupefaction, at a loss for reply, we shook hands with him."

END



COMPASSION


AT TEN o'clock in the evening Count de Sagreda walked into his club on
the Boulevard des Capucins. There was a bustle among the servants to
relieve him of his cane, his highly polished hat and his costly fur
coat, which, as it left his shoulders revealed a shirt-bosom of
immaculate neatness, a gardenia in his lapel, and all the attire of
black and white, dignified yet brilliant, that belongs to a gentleman
who has just dined.

The story of his ruin was known by every member of the club. His
fortune, which fifteen years before had caused a certain commotion in
Paris, having been ostentatiously cast to the four winds, was exhausted.
The count was now living on the remains of his opulence, like those
shipwrecked seamen who live upon the débris of the vessel, postponing in
anguish the arrival of the last hour. The very servants who danced
attendance upon him like slaves in dress suits, knew of his misfortune
and discussed his shameful plight; but not even the slightest suggestion
of insolence disturbed the colorless glance of their eyes, petrified by
servitude. He was such a nobleman! He had scattered his money with such
majesty!... Besides, he was a genuine member of the nobility, a nobility
that dated back for centuries and whose musty odor inspired a certain
ceremonious gravity in many of the citizens whose fore-bears had helped
bring about the Revolution. He was not one of those Polish counts who
permit themselves to be entertained by women, nor an Italian marquis who
winds up by cheating at cards, nor a Russian personage of consequence
who often draws his pay from the police; he was genuine _hidalgo_, a
grandee of Spain. Perhaps one of his ancestors figured in the _Cid_, in
_Ruy Blas_ or some other of the heroic pieces in the repertory of the
Comédie Française.

The count entered the salons of the club with head erect and a proud
gait, greeting his friends with a barely discernible smile, a mixture of
hauteur and light-heartedness.

He was approaching his fortieth year, but he was still the _beau_
Sagreda, as he had long been nicknamed by the noctambulous women of
Maxim's and the early-rising Amazons of the Bois. A few gray hairs at
his temples and a triangle of faint wrinkles at the corner of his brows,
betrayed the effects of an existence that had been lived at too rapid a
pace, with the vital machinery running at full speed. But his eyes were
still youthful, intense and melancholy; eyes that caused him to be
called "the Moor" by his men and women friends. The Viscount de la
Tresminière, crowned by the Academy as the author of a study on one of
his ancestors who had been a companion of Condé, and highly appreciated
by the antique dealers on the left bank of the Seine, who sold him all
the bad canvases they had in store, called him _Velazquez_, satisfied
that the swarthy, somewhat olive complexion of the count, his black,
heavy mustache and his grave eyes, gave him the right to display his
thorough acquaintance with Spanish art.

All the members of the club spoke of Sagreda's ruin with discreet
compassion. The poor count! Not to fall heir to some new legacy. Not to
meet some American millionairess who would be smitten with him and his
titles!... They must do something to save him.

And he walked amid this mute and smiling pity without being at all aware
of it, encased in his pride, receiving as admiration that which was
really compassionate sympathy, forced to have recourse to painful
simulations in order to surround himself with as much luxury as before,
thinking that he was deceiving others and deceiving only himself.

Sagreda cherished no illusions as to the future. All the relatives that
might come to his rescue with a timely legacy had done so many years
before, upon making their exit from the world's stage. None that might
recall his name was left beyond the mountains. In Spain he had only some
distant relatives, personages of the nobility united to him more by
historic bonds than by ties of blood. They addressed him familiarly, but
he could expect from them no help other than good advice and admonitions
against his wild extravagance.... It was all over. Fifteen years of
dazzling display had consumed the supply of wealth with which Sagreda
one day arrived in Paris. The granges of Andalusia, with their droves of
cattle and horses, had changed hands without ever having made the
acquaintance of this owner, devoted to luxury and always absent. After
them, the vast wheat fields of Castilla and the ricefields of Valencia,
and the villages of the northern provinces, had gone into strange
hands,--all the princely possessions of the ancient counts of Sagreda,
plus the inheritances from various pious spinster aunts, and the
considerable legacies of other relatives who had died of old age in
their ancient country houses.

Paris and the elegant summer seasons had in a few years devoured this
fortune of centuries. The recollection of a few noisy love affairs with
two actresses in vogue; the nostalgic smile of a dozen costly women of
the world; the forgotten fame of several duels; a certain prestige as a
rash, calm gambler, and a reputation as a knightly swordsman,
intransigent in matters of honor, were all that remained to the _beau_
Sagreda after his downfall.

He lived upon his past, contracting new debts with certain providers
who, recalling other financial crises, trusted to a re-establishment of
his fortune. "His fate was settled," according to the count's own words.
When he could do no more, he would resort to a final course. Kill
himself?... never. Men like him committed suicide only because of
gambling debts or debts of honor. Ancestors of his, noble and glorious,
had owed huge sums to persons who were not their equals, without for a
moment considering suicide on this account. When the creditors should
shut their doors to him, and the money-lenders should threaten him with
a public court scandal, Count de Sagreda, making a heroic effort, would
wrench himself away from the sweet Parisian life. His ancestors had been
soldiers and colonizers. He would join the foreign legion of Algeria, or
would take passage for that America which had been conquered by his
forefathers, becoming a mounted shepherd in the solitudes of Southern
Chile or upon the boundless plains of Patagonia.

Until the dreaded moment should arrive, this hazardous, cruel existence
that forced him to live a continuous lie, was the best period of his
career. From his last trip to Spain, made for the purpose of liquidating
certain remnants of his patrimony, he had returned with a woman, a
maiden of the provinces who had been captivated by the prestige of the
nobleman; in her affection, ardent and submissive at the same time,
there was almost as much admiration as love. A woman!... Sagreda for the
first time realized the full significance of this word, as if up to then
he had not understood it. His present companion was a woman; the
nervous, dissatisfied females who had filled his previous existence,
with their painted smiles and voluptuous artifices, belonged to another
species.

And now that the real woman had arrived, his money was departing
forever!... And when misfortune appeared, love came with it!... Sagreda,
lamenting his lost fortune struggled hard to maintain his pompous
outward show. He lived as before, in the same house, without retrenching
his budget, making his companion presents of value equal to those that
he had lavished upon his former women friends, enjoying an almost
paternal satisfaction before the childish surprise and the ingenuous
happiness of the poor girl, who was overwhelmed by the brilliant life of
Paris.

Sagreda was drowning,--drowning!--but with a smile on his lips, content
with himself, with his present life, with this sweet dream, which was to
be the final one and which was lasting miraculously long. Fate, which
had maltreated him in the past few years, consuming the remainders of
his wealth at Monte Carlo, at Ostend and in the notable clubs of the
Boulevard, seemed now to stretch out a helping hand, touched by his new
existence. Every night, after dining with his companion at a fashionable
restaurant, he would leave her at the theatre and go to his club, the
only place where luck awaited him. He did not plunge heavily. Simple
games of écarté with intimate friends, chums of his youth, who continued
their happy career with the aid of great fortunes, or who had settled
down after marrying wealth, retaining among their farmer habits the
custom of visiting the honorable circle.

Scarcely did the count take his seat, with his cards in his hand,
opposite one of these friends, when Fortune seemed to hover over his
head, and his friends did not tire of playing, inviting him to a game
every night, as if they stood in line awaiting their turn. His winnings
were hardly enough to grow wealthy upon; some nights ten _louis_; others
twenty-five; on special occasions Sagreda would retire with as many as
forty gold coins in his pocket. But thanks to this almost daily gain he
was able to fill the gaps of his lordly existence, which threatened to
topple down upon his head, and he maintained his lady companion in
surroundings of loving comfort, at the same time recovering confidence
in his immediate future. Who could tell what was in store for him?...

Noticing Viscount de la Tresminière in one of the salons he smiled at
him with an expression of friendly challenge.

"What do you say to a game?"

"As you wish, my dear _Velazquez_."

"Seven francs per five points will be sufficient. I'm sure to win. Luck
is with me."

The game commenced under the soft light of the electric bulbs, amid the
soothing silence of soft carpets and thick curtains.

Sagreda kept winning, as if his kind fate was pleased to extricate him
from the most difficult passes. He won without half trying. It made no
difference that he lacked trumps and that he held bad cards; those of
his rival were always worse, and the result would be miraculously in
harmony with his previous games.

Already, twenty-five golden _louis_ lay before him. A club companion,
who was wandering from one salon to the other with a bored expression,
stopped near the players interested in the game. At first he remained
standing near Sagreda; then he took up his position behind the viscount,
who seemed to be rendered nervous and perturbed at the fellow's
proximity.

"But that's awful silly of you!" the inquisitive newcomer soon
exclaimed. "You're not playing a good game, my dear viscount. You're
laying aside your trumps and using only your bad cards. How stupid of
you!"

He could say no more. Sagreda threw his cards upon the table. He had
grown terribly white, with a greenish pallor. His eyes, opened
extraordinarily wide, stared at the viscount. Then he rose.

"I understand," he said coldly. "Allow me to withdraw."

Then, with a quivering hand, he thrust the heap of gold coins toward his
friend.

"This belongs to you."

"But, my dear _Velazquez_.... Why, Sagreda!... Permit me to explain,
dear count!..."

"Enough, sir. I repeat that I understand."

His eyes flashed with a strange gleam, the selfsame gleam that his
friends had seen upon various occasions, when after a brief dispute or
an insulting word, he raised his glove in a gesture of challenge.

But this hostile glance lasted only a moment. Then he smiled with
glacial affability.

"Many thanks, Viscount. These are favors that are never forgotten.... I
repeat my gratitude."

And he saluted, like a true noble, walking off proudly erect, the same
as in the most smiling days of his opulence.

  * * *

With his fur coat open, displaying his immaculate shirt bosom, Count de
Sagreda promenades along the boulevard. The crowds are issuing from the
theatres; the women are crossing from one sidewalk to the other;
automobiles with lighted interiors roll by, affording a momentary
glimpse of plumes, jewels and white bosoms; the news-vendors shout their
wares; at the top of the buildings huge electrical advertisements blaze
forth and go out in rapid succession.

The Spanish grandee, the _hidalgo_, the descendant of the noble knights
of the _Cid_ and _Ruy Blas_, walks against the current, elbowing his way
through the crowd, desiring to hasten as fast as possible, without any
particular objective in view.

To contract debts!... Very well. Debts do not dishonor a nobleman. But
to receive alms?... In his hours of blackest thoughts he had never
trembled before the idea of incurring scorn through his ruin, of seeing
his friends desert him, of descending to the lowest depths, being lost
in the social substratum. But to arouse compassion....

The comedy was useless. The intimate friends who smiled at him in former
times had penetrated the secret of his poverty and had been moved by
pity to get together and take turns at giving him alms under the pretext
of gambling with him. And likewise his other friends, and even the
servants who bowed to him with their accustomed respect as he passed by,
were in the secret. And he, the poor dupe, was going about with his
lordly airs, stiff and solemn in his extinct grandeur, like the corpse
of the lengendary chieftain, which, after his death, was mounted on
horseback and sallied forth to win battles.

Farewell, Count de Sagreda! The heir of governors and viceroys can
become a nameless soldier in a legion of desperadoes and bandits; he can
begin life anew as an adventurer in virgin lands, killing that he may
live; he can even watch with impassive countenance the wreck of his name
and his family history, before the bench of a tribunal.... But to live
upon the compassion of his friends!...

Farewell forever, final illusions! The count has forgotten his
companion, who is waiting for him at a night restaurant. He does not
think of her; it is as if he never had seen her; as if she had never
existed. He thinks not at all of that which but a few hours before had
made life worth living. He walks along, alone with his disgrace, and
each step of his seems to draw from the earth a dead thing; an ancestral
influence, a racial prejudice, a family boast, dormant hauteur, honor
and fierce pride, and as these awake, they oppress his breast and cloud
his thoughts.

How they must have laughed at him behind his back, with condescending
pity!... Now he walks along more hurriedly than ever, as if he has at
last made up his mind just where he is going, and his emotion leads him
unconsciously to murmur with irony, as if he is speaking to somebody who
is at his heels and whom he desires to flee.

"Many thanks! Many thanks!"

Just before dawn two revolver shots astound the guests of a hotel in the
vicinity of the _Gare Saint-Lazare_,--one of those ambiguous
establishments that offers a safe shelter for amorous acquaintances
begun on the thoroughfare.

The attendants find in one of the rooms a gentleman dressed in evening
clothes, with a hole in his head, through which escape bloody strips of
flesh. The man writhes like a worm upon the threadbare carpet.

His eyes, of a dull black, still glitter with life. There is nothing
left in them of the image of his sweet companion. His last thought,
interrupted by death, is of friendship, terrible in its pity; of the
fraternal insult of a generous, light-hearted compassion.

END



LUXURY


"I HAD her on my lap," said my friend Martinez, "and the warm weight of
her healthy body was beginning to tire me.

"The scene... same as usual in such places. Mirrors with blemished
surfaces, and names scratched across them, like spiders' webs; sofas of
discolored velvet, with springs that creaked atrociously; the bed
decorated with theatrical hangings, as clean and common as a sidewalk,
and on the walls, pictures of bull-fighters and cheap chromos of angelic
virgins smelling a rose or languorously contemplating a bold hunter.

"The scenery was that of the favorite cell in the convent of vice; an
elegant room reserved for distinguished patrons; and she was a healthy,
robust creature, who seemed to bring a whiff of the pure mountain air
into the heavy atmosphere of this closed house, saturated with cheap
cologne, rice powder and the vapor from dirty washbasins.

"As she spoke to me she stroked the ribbons of her gown with childish
complacency; it was a fine piece of satin, of screaming yellow, somewhat
too tight for her body, a dress which I recalled having seen months
before on the delicate charms of another girl, who had since died,
according to reports, in the hospital.

"Poor girl! She had become a sight! Her coarse, abundant hair, combed in
Greek fashion, was adorned with glass beads; her cheeks, shiny from the
dew of perspiration, were covered with a thick layer of cosmetic; and as
if to reveal her origin, her arms, which were firm, swarthy and of
masculine proportions, escaped from the ample sleeves of her chorus-girl
costume.

"As she saw me follow with attentive glance all the details of her
extravagant array, she thought that I was admiring her, and threw her
head back with a petulant expression.

"And such a simple creature!... She hadn't yet become acquainted with
the customs of the house, and told the truth,--all the truth--to the men
who wished to know her history. They called her Flora; but her real name
was Mari-Pepa. She wasn't the orphan of a colonel or a magistrate, nor
did she concoct the complicated tales of love and adventure that her
companions did, in order to justify their presence in such a place. The
truth; always the truth; she would yet be hanged for her frankness. Her
parents were comfortably situated farmers in a little town of Aragón;
owned their fields, had two mules in the barn, bread, wine, and enough
potatoes for the year round; and at night the best fellows in the place
came one after the other to soften her heart with serenade upon
serenade, trying to carry off her dark, healthy person together with the
four orchards she had inherited from her grandfather.

"'But what could you expect, my dear fellow?... I couldn't bear those
people. They were too coarse for me. I was born to be a lady. And tell
me, why can't I be? Don't I look as good as any of them?...'

"And she snuggled her head against my shoulder, like the docile
sweetheart she was,--a slave subjected to all sorts of caprices in
exchange for being clothed handsomely.

"' Those fellows,' she continued, 'made me sick. I ran off with the
student,--understand?--the son of the town magistrate, and we wandered
about until he deserted me, and I landed here, waiting for something
better to turn up. You see, it's a short tale.... I don't complain of
anything. I'm satisfied.'

"And to show how happy she was, the unhappy girl rode astride my legs,
thrust her hard fingers through my hair, rumpling it, and sang a tango
in horrible fashion, in her strong, peasant voice.

"I confess that I was seized with an impulse to speak to her 'in the
name of morality,'--that hypocritical desire we all possess to propagate
virtue when we are sated and desire is dead.

"She raised her eyes, astonished to see me look so solemn, preaching to
her, like a missionary glorifying chastity with a prostitute on his
knees; her gaze wandered continually from my austere countenance to the
bed close by. Her common sense was baffled before the incongruity
between such virtue and the excesses of a moment before.

"Suddenly she seemed to understand, and an outburst of laughter swelled
her fleshy neck.

"'The deuce!... How amusing you are! And with what a face you say all
these things! Just like the priest of my home town....'

"No, Pepa, I'm serious. I believe you're a good girl; you don't realize
what you've gone into, and I'm warning you. You've fallen very low, very
low. You're at the bottom. Even within the career of vice, the majority
of women resist and deny the caresses that are required of you in this
house. There is yet time for you to save yourself. Your parents have
enough for you to live on; you didn't come here under the necessity of
poverty. Return to your home, and the past will be forgotten; you can
tell them a lie, invent some sort of tale to justify your flight, and
who knows?... One of the fellows that used to serenade you will marry
you, you'll have children and you'll be a respectable woman.

"The girl became serious when she saw that I was speaking in earnest.
Little by little she began to slip from my knees until she was on her
feet, eyeing me fixedly, as if she saw before her some strange person
and an invisible wall had arisen between the two.

"'Go back to my home!' she exclaimed in harsh accents. 'Many thanks. I
know very well what that means. Get up before dawn, work like a slave,
go out in the fields, ruin your hands with callouses. Look, see how my
hands still show them.'

"And she made me feel the rough lumps that rose on the palms of her
strong hands.

"'And all this, in exchange for what? For being respectable?... Not a
bit of it! I'm not that crazy. So much for respectability!'

"And she accompanied these words with some indecent motions that she had
picked up from her companions.

"Afterwards, humming a tune, she went over to the mirror to survey
herself, and smilingly greeted the reflection of her powdered hair,
covered with false pearls, which shone out of the cracked mirror. She
contracted her lips, which were rouged like those of a clown.

"Growing more and more firm in my virtuous rôle, I continued to
sermonize her from my chair, enveloping this hypocritical propaganda in
sonorous words. She was making a bad choice; she must think of the
future. The present could not be worse. What was she? Less than a slave;
a piece of furniture; they exploited her, they robbed her, and
afterwards... afterwards it would be still worse; the hospital,
repulsive diseases....

"But again her harsh laughter interrupted me.

"'Quit it, boy. Don't bother me.'

"And planting herself before me she wrapped me in a gaze of infinite
compassion.

"'Why my dear fellow, how silly you are! Do you imagine that I can go
back to that dog's life, after having tasted this one?... No, sir! I was
born for luxury.'

"And, with devoted admiration sweeping her glance across the broken
chairs, the faded sofa, and that bed which was a public thoroughfare,
she began to walk up and down, revelling in the rustle of her train as
it dragged across the room, and caressing the folds of that gown which
seemed still to preserve the warmth of the other girl's body."

END



RABIES


FROM all the countryside the neighbors of the _huerta_ flocked to
_Caldera's_ cabin, entering it with a certain meekness, a mingling of
emotion and fear.

How was the boy? Was he improving?... Uncle Pascal, surrounded by his
wife, his daughters-in-law and even the most distant relatives, who had
been gathered together by misfortune, received with melancholy
satisfaction this interest of the entire vicinity in the health of his
son. Yes, he was getting better. For two days he had not been attacked
by that horrible _thing_ which set the cabin in commotion. And
_Caldera's_ laconic farmer friends, as well as the women, who were
vociferous in the expression of their emotions, appeared at the
threshold of the room, asking timidly, "How do you feel?"

The only son of _Caldera_ was in there, sometimes in bed, in obedience
to his mother, who could conceive of no illness without the cup of hot
water and seclusion between the bed-sheets; at other times he sat up,
his jaws supported by his hands, gazing obstinately into the furthermost
corner of the room. His father, wrinkling his shaggy white brows, would
walk about when left alone, or, through force of habit, take a look at
the neighboring fields, but without any desire to bend over and pluck
out any of the weeds that were beginning to sprout in the furrows. Much
this land mattered to him now,--the earth in whose bowels he had left
the sweat of his body and the strength of his limbs!... His son was all
he had,--the fruit of a late marriage,--and he was a sturdy youth, as
industrious and taciturn as his father; a soldier of the soil, who
required neither orders nor threat to fulfil his duties; ready to awake
at midnight when it was his turn to irrigate his land and give the
fields drink under the light of the stars; quick to spring from his bed
on the hard kitchen bench, throwing off the covers and putting on his
hemp sandals at the sound of the early rooster's reveille.

Uncle Pascal had never smiled. He was the Latin type of father; the
fearful master of the house, who, on returning from his labors, ate
alone, served by his wife, who stood by with an expression of
submission. But this grave, harsh mask of an omnipotent master concealed
a boundless admiration for his son, who was his best work. How quickly
he loaded a cart! How he perspired as he managed the hoe with a vigorous
forward and backward motion that seemed to cleave him at the waist! Who
could ride a pony like him, gracefully jumping on to his back by simply
resting the toe of a sandal upon the hind legs of the animal?... He
didn't touch wine, never got mixed up in a brawl, nor was he afraid of
work. Through good luck he had pulled a high number in the military
draft, and when the feast of San Juan came around he intended to marry a
girl from a near-by farm,--a maiden that would bring with her a few
pieces of earth when she came to the cabin of her new parents.
Happiness; an honorable and peaceful continuation of the family
traditions; another _Caldera_, who, when Uncle Pascal grew old, would
continue to work the lands that had been fructified by his ancestors,
while a troop of little _Calderitas_, increasing in number each year,
would play around the nag harnessed to the plow, eyeing with a certain
awe their grandpa, his eyes watery from age and his words very concise,
as he sat in the sun at the cabin door.

Christ! And how man's illusions vanish!... One Saturday, as Pascualet
was coming home from his sweetheart's house, along one of the paths of
the _huerta_, about midnight, a dog had bitten him; a wretched, silent
animal that jumped out from behind a sluice; as the young man crouched
to throw a stone at it, the dog bit into his shoulder. His mother, who
used to wait for him on the nights when he went courting, burst into
wailing when she saw the livid semicircle, with its red stain left by
the dog's teeth, and she bustled about the hut preparing poultices and
drinks.

The youth laughed at his mother's fears.

"Quiet, mother, quiet!" It wasn't the first time that a dog had bitten
him. His body still showed faint signs of bites that he had received in
childhood, when he used to go through the _huerta_ throwing stones at
the dogs. Old _Caldera_ spoke to him from bed, without displaying any
emotion. On the following day he was to go to the veterinary and have
his flesh cauterized by a burning iron. So he ordered, and there was
nothing further to be said about the matter. The young man submitted
without flinching to the operation, like a good, brave chap of the
Valencian _huerta_. He had four days' rest in all, and even at that, his
fondness for work caused him new sufferings and he aided his father with
pain-tortured arm. Saturdays, when he came to his sweetheart's
farmhouse, she always asked after his health. "How's the bite getting
along?" He would shrug his shoulders gleefully before the eyes of the
maiden and the two would finally sit down in a corner of the kitchen,
remaining in mute contemplation of each other, or speaking of the
clothes and the bed for their future home, without daring to come close
to each other; there they sat erect and solemn, leaving between their
bodies a space "wide enough for a sickle to pass through," as the girl's
father smilingly put it.

More than a month passed by. _Caldera's_ wife was the only one that did
not forget the accident. She followed her son about with anxious
glances. Ah, sovereign queen! The _huerta_ seemed to have been abandoned
by God and His holy mother. Over at Templat's cabin a child was
suffering the agonies of hell through having been bitten by a mad dog.
All the _huerta_ folk were running in terror to have a look at the poor
creature; a spectacle that she herself did not dare to gaze upon because
she was thinking of her own son. If her Pascualet, as tall and sturdy as
a tower, were to meet with the same fate as that unfortunate child!...

One day, at dawn, _Caldera's_ son was unable to arise from his kitchen
bench, and his mother helped him walk to the large nuptial bed, which
occupied a part of the _estudi_, the best room in the cabin. He was
feverish, and complained of acute pain in the spot where he had been
bitten; an awful chill ran through his whole body, making his teeth
chatter and veiling his eyes with a yellowish opacity. Don Jose, the
oldest doctor in the _huerta_, came on his ancient mare, with his
eternal recipe of purgatives for every class of illness, and bandages
soaked in salt water for wounds. Upon examining the sick man he made a
wry face. Bad! Bad! This was a more serious matter; they would have to
go to the solemn doctors in Valencia, who knew more than he. _Caldera's_
wife saw her husband harness the cart and compel Pascualet to get into
it. The boy, relieved of his pain, smiled assent, saying that now he
felt nothing more than a slight twinge. When they returned to the cabin
the father seemed to be more at ease. A doctor from the city had pricked
Pascualet's sore. He was a very serious gentleman, who gave Pascualet
courage with his kind words, looking intently at him all the while, and
expressing regret that he had waited so long before coming to him. For a
week the two men made a daily trip to Valencia, but one morning the boy
was unable to move. That crisis which made the poor mother groan with
fear had returned with greater intensity than before. The boy's teeth
knocked together, and he uttered a wail that stained the corners of his
mouth with froth; his eyes seemed to swell, becoming yellow and
protruding like huge grape seeds; he tried to pull himself together,
writhing from the internal torture, and his mother hung upon his neck,
shrieking with terror; meanwhile _Caldera_, grimly silent, seized his
son's arms with tranquil strength, struggling to prevent his violent
convulsions.

"My son! My son!" cried the mother. Ah, her son! Scarcely could she
recognize him as she saw him in this condition. He seemed like another,
as if only his former exterior had remained,--as if an infernal monster
had lodged within and was martyrizing this flesh that had come out of
her own womb, appearing at his eyes with livid flashes.

Afterwards came calm stupor, and all the women of the district gathered
in the kitchen and deliberated upon the lot of the sick youth, cursing
the city doctor and his diabolical incisions. It was his fault that the
boy now lay thus; before the boy had submitted to the cure he had felt
much better. The bandit! And the government never punished these wicked
souls!... There were no other remedies than the old, true and tried
ones,--the product of the experience of people who had lived years ago
and thus knew much more. One of the neighbors went off to hunt up a
certain witch, a miraculous doctor for dog-bites, serpent bites and
scorpion-stings. Another brought a blind old goatherd, who could cure by
the virtue of his mouth, simply by making some crosses of saliva over
the ailing flesh. The drinks made of mountain herbs and the moist signs
of the goatherd were looked upon as tokens of immediate cure, especially
when they beheld the sick youth lie silent and motionless for several
hours, looking at the ground with a certain amazement, as if he could
feel within him the progress of something strange that grew and grew,
gradually overpowering him. Then, when the crisis reoccurred, the doubt
of the women began to rise, and new remedies were discussed. The youth's
sweetheart came, with her large black eyes moistened by tears, and she
advanced timidly until she came near to the sick boy. For the first time
she dared to take his hand, blushing beneath her cinammon-colored
complexion at this audacious act. "How do you feel?"... And he, so
loving in other days, recoiled from her tender touch, turning his eyes
away so that he should not see her, as if ashamed of his plight. His
mother wept. Queen of heaven! He was very low; he was going to die. If
only they could find out what dog it was that had bitten him, and cut
out its tongue, using it for a miraculous plaster, as experienced
persons advised!...

Throughout the _huerta_ it seemed that God's own wrath had burst forth.
Some dogs had bitten others; now nobody knew which were the dangerous
ones and which the safe. All mad! The children were secluded in the
cabins, spying with terrified glances upon the vast fields, through the
half-open doors; mothers journeyed over the winding paths in close
groups, uneasy, trembling, hastening their step whenever a bark sounded
from behind the sluices of the canals; men eyed the domestic dogs with
fear, intently watching their slavering mouths as they gasped or their
sad eyes; the agile greyhound, their hunting companion,--the barking
cur, guardian of the home,--the ugly mastiff who walked along tied to
the cart, which he watched over during the master's, absence,--all were
placed under their owners' observation or coldly sacrificed behind the
walls of the corral, without any display of emotion whatever.

"Here they come! Here they come!" was the shout passed along from cabin
to cabin, announcing the patter of a pack of dogs, howling, ravenous,
their bodies covered with mud, running about without finding rest,
driven on day and night, with the madness of persecution in their eyes.
The _huerta_ seemed to shudder, closing the doors of all the houses and
suddenly bristling with guns. Shots rang out from the sluices, from the
high corn-fields, from cabin windows, and when the wanderers, repelled
and persecuted on every side, in their mad gallop dashed toward the sea,
as if they were attracted by the moist, invigorating air that was washed
by the waves, the revenue-guards camped on the wide strip of beach
brought their mausers to their cheek and received them with a volley.
The dogs retreated, escaping among the men who were approaching them
musket in hand, and one or another of them would be stretched out at the
edge of a canal. At night, the noisy gloom of the plain was broken by
the sight of distant flashes and the sound of discharges. Every shape
that moved in the darkness was the target for a bullet; the muffled
howls that sounded in the vicinity of the cabins were answered by shots.
The men were afraid of this common terror, and avoided meeting.

No sooner did night fall than the _huerta_ was left without a light,
without a person upon the roads, as if death had taken possession of the
dismal plain, so green and smiling under the sun. A single red spot, a
tear of light, trembled in this obscurity. It was _Caldera's_ cabin,
where the women, squatting upon the floor, around the kitchen lamp,
sighed with fright, anticipating the strident shriek of the sick
youth,--the chattering of his teeth, the violent contortions of his body
whenever he was seized with convulsions, struggling to repel the arms
that tried to quiet him.

The mother hung upon the neck of that raving patient who struck terror
to men. She scarcely knew him; he was somebody else, with those eyes
that popped out of their sockets, his livid or blackish countenance, his
writhings, like that of a tortured animal, showing his tongue as he
gasped through bubbles of froth in the agonies of an insatiable thirst.
He begged for death in heart-rending shrieks; he struck his head against
the wall; he tried to bite; but even so, he was her child and she did
not feel the fear experienced by the others. His menacing mouth withdrew
before the wan face that was moistened with tears. "Mother! Mother!" He
recognized her in his lucid moments. She need not fear him; he would
never bite her. And as if he must sink his teeth into something or other
to glut his rage, he bit into his arms until the blood came.

"My son! My son!" moaned the mother and she wiped the deadly froth from
his lips, afterwards carrying the handkerchief to her eyes, without fear
of contagion. _Caldera_, in his solemn gravity, paid no heed to the
sufferer's threatening eyes, which were fixed upon him with an impulse
of attack. The boy had lost his awe of his father.

That powerful man, however, facing the peril of his son's mouth, thrust
him back into bed whenever the madman tried to flee, as if he must
spread everywhere the horrible affliction that was devouring his
entrails.

No longer were the crises followed by extended intervals of calm. They
became almost continuous, and the victim writhed about, clawed and
bleeding from his own bites, his face almost black, his eyes tremulous
and yellow, looking like some monstrous beast set apart from all the
human species. The old doctor had stopped asking about the youth. What
was the use? It was all over. The women wept hopelessly. Death was
certain. They only bewailed the long hours, perhaps days, of horrible
torture that poor Pascualet would have to undergo.

_Caldera_ was unable to find among his relatives or friends any men
brave enough to help him restrain the sufferer in his violent moments.
They all looked with terror at the door to the _estudi_, as if behind it
were concealed the greatest of dangers. To go shooting through roads and
canals was man's work. A stab could be returned; one bullet could answer
another; but ah! that frothing mouth which killed with a bite!... that
incurable disease which made men writhe in endless agony, like a lizard
sliced by a hoe!

He no longer knew his mother. In his final moments of lucidity he had
thrust her away with loving brusqueness. She must go!... Let him not see
her again!... He feared to do her harm! The poor woman's friends dragged
her out of the room, forcing her to remain motionless, like her son, in
a corner of the kitchen. _Caldera_, with a supreme effort of his dying
will, tied the agonizing youth to the bed. His beetling brows trembled
and the tears made him blink as he tied the coarse knots of the rope,
fastening the youth to the bed upon which he had been born. He felt as
if he were preparing his son for burial and had begun to dig his grave.
The victim twisted in wild contortions under the father's strong arms;
the parent had to make a powerful effort to subdue him under the rope
that sank into his flesh.... To have lived so many years only to behold
himself at last obliged to perform such a task! To give life to a
creature, only to pray that it might be extinguished as soon as
possible, horrified by so much useless pain!... Good God in heaven! Why
not put an end to the poor boy at once, since his death was now
inevitable?...

He closed the door of the sick room, fleeing from the rasping shriek
that set everybody's hair on end; but the madman's panting continued to
sound in the silence of the cabin, accompanied by the lamentations of
the mother and the weeping of the other women grouped around the lamp,
that had just been lighted.

_Caldera_ stamped upon the floor. Let the women be silent! But for the
first time he beheld himself disobeyed, and he left the cabin, fleeing
from this chorus of grief.

Night descended. His gaze wandered toward the thin yellow band that was
visible on the horizon, marking the flight of day. Above his head shone
the stars. From the other homes, which were scarcely visible, resounded
the neighing of horses, barking and the clucking of fowl,--the last
signs of animal life before it sank to rest. That primitive man felt an
impression of emptiness amid the Nature which was insensible and blind
to the sufferings of its creatures. Of what concern to the points of
light that looked down upon him from above could be that which he was
now going through?... All creatures were equal; the beasts that
disturbed the silence of dusk before falling asleep, and that poor youth
similar to him, who now lay fettered, writhing in the worst of agony.
How many illusions his life had contained!... And with a mere bite, a
wretched animal kicked about by all men could finish them all. And no
remedy existed in heaven or upon earth!...

Once again the distant shriek of the sufferer came to his ears from the
open window of the _estudi_. The tenderness of his early days of
paternity emerged from the depths of his soul. He recalled the nights he
had spent awake in that room, walking up and down, holding in his arms
the little child that was crying from the pains of infancy's illness.
Now he lay crying, too, but without hope, in the agonies of a hell that
had come before its time, and at last... death. His countenance grew
frightened, and he raised his hands to his forehead as if trying to
drive away a troublesome thought. Then he appeared to deliberate.... Why
not?...

"To end his suffering... to end his suffering!"

He went back to the cabin, only to come out at once with his old
double-barrelled musket, and he hastened to the little window of the
sick room as if he feared to lose his determination; he thrust the gun
through the opening.

Again he heard the agonizing panting, the chattering of teeth, the
horrible shriek, now very near, as if he were at the victim's bedside.
His eyes, accustomed to the darkness saw the bed at the back of the
gloomy room, and the form that lay writhing in it,--the pale spot of the
face, appearing and disappearing as the sick man twisted about
desperately.

The father was frightened at the trembling of his hands and the
agitation of his pulse; he, the son of the _huerta_, without any other
diversion than the hunt, accustomed to shoot down birds almost without
aiming at them.

The wailing of the poor mother brought back to his memory other groans
of long long ago,--twenty-two years before--when she was giving birth to
her only son upon that same bed.

To come to such an end!... His eyes, gazing heavenward, saw a black sky,
intensely black, with not a star in sight, and obscured by his tears....

"Lord! To end his sufferings! To end his sufferings!"

And repeating these words he pressed the musket against his shoulder,
seeking the lock with a tremulous finger.... Bang! Bang!

END



THE WINDFALL


"I SIR," said _Magdalena_, the bugler of the prison, "am no saint; I've
been jailed many times for robberies; some of them that really took
place and others that I was simply suspected of. Compared to you, who
are a gentleman, and are in prison for having written things in the
papers, I'm a mere wretch.... But take my word for it, this time I'm
here for good."

And raising one hand to his breast as he straightened his head with a
certain pride, he added, "Petty thefts, that's all I'm not brave; I
haven't shed a drop of blood."

At break of day, _Magdalena's_ bugle resounded through the spacious
yard, embroidering its reveille with scales and trills. During the day,
with the martial instrument hanging from his neck, or caressing it with
a corner of his smock so as to wipe off the vapor with which the
dampness of the prison covered it, he would go through the entire
edifice,--an ancient convent in whose refectories, granaries and garrets
there were crowded, in perspiring confusion, almost a thousand men.

He was the clock that governed the life and the activities of this mass
of male flesh perpetually seething with hatred. He made the round of the
cells to announce, with sonorous blasts, the arrival of the worthy
director, or a visit from the authorities; from the progress of the sun
along the white walls of the prison-yard he could tell the approach of
the visiting hours,--the best part of the day,--and with his tongue
stuck between his lips he would await orders impatiently, ready to burst
into the joyous signal that sent the flock of prisoners scampering over
the stairways in an anxious run toward the locutories, where a wretched
crowd of women and children buzzed in conversation; his insatiable
hunger kept him pacing back and forth in the vicinity of the old
kitchen, in which the enormous stews filled the atmosphere with a
nauseating odor, and he bemoaned the indifference of the chef, who was
always late in giving the order for the mess-call.

Those imprisoned for crimes of blood, heroes of the dagger who had
killed their man in a fierce brawl or in a dispute over a woman and who
formed an aristocracy that disdained the petty thieves, looked upon the
bugler as the butt for pranks with which to while away their boredom.

"Blow!" would come the command from some formidable fellow, proud of his
crimes and his courage.

And _Magdalena_ would draw himself up with military rigidity, close his
mouth and inflate his cheeks, momentarily expecting two blows, delivered
simultaneously by both hands, to expel the air from the ruddy globe of
his face. At other times these redoubtable personages tested the
strength of their arms upon _Magdalena's_ pate, which was bare with the
baldness of repugnant diseases, and they would howl with laughter at the
damage done to their fists by the protuberances of the hard skull. The
bugler lent himself to these tortures with the humility of a whipped
dog, and found a certain revenge in repeating, afterwards, those words
that were a solace to him:

"I'm good; I'm not a brave fellow. Petty thefts, that's all.... But as
to blood, not a single drop."

Visiting time brought his wife, the notorious _Peluchona_, a valiant
creature who inspired him with great fear. She was the mistress of one
of the most dangerous bandits in the jail. Daily she brought that fellow
food, procuring these dainties at the cost of all manner of vile labors.
The bugler, upon beholding her, would leave the lucutory, fearing the
arrogance of her bandit mate, who would take advantage of the occasion
to humiliate him before his former companion. Many times a certain
feeling of curiosity and tenderness got the better of his fear, and he
would advance timidly, looking beyond the thick bars for the head of a
child that came with _la Peluchona_.

"That's my son, sir," he said, humbly. "My Tonico, who no longer knows
me or remembers me. They say that he doesn't resemble me at all. Perhaps
he's not mine.... You can imagine, with the life his mother has always
led, living near the garrisons, washing the soldiers' clothes!... But he
was born in my home; I held him in my arms when he was ill, and that's a
bond as close as ties of blood."

Then he would resume his timid lurking about the locutory, as if
preparing one of his robberies, to see his Tonico; and when he could see
him for a moment, the sight was enough to extinguish his helpless rage
before the full basket of lunch that the evil woman brought to her
lover.

_Magdalena's_ whole existence was summed up in two facts; he had robbed
and he had travelled much. The robberies were insignificant; clothes or
money snatched in the street, because he lacked courage for greater
deeds. His travels had been compulsory,--always on foot, over the roads
of Spain, marching in a chain gang of convicts, between the polished or
white three-cornered hats that guarded the prisoners.

After having been a "pupil" among the buglers of a regiment, he had
launched upon this life of continuous imprisonment, punctuated by brief
periods of freedom, in which he lost his bearings, not knowing what to
do with himself and wishing to return as soon as possible to jail. It
was the perpetual chain, but finished link by link, as he used to say.

The police never organized a round-up of dangerous persons but what
_Magdalena_ was found among them,--a timorous rat whose name the papers
mentioned like that of a terrible criminal. He was always included in
the trail of vagrant suspects who, without being charged with any
specific crime, were sent from province to province by the authorities,
in the hope that they would die of hunger along the roads, and thus he
had covered the whole peninsula on foot, from Cadiz to Santander, from
Valencia to La Coruña. With what enthusiasm he recalled his travels! He
spoke of them as if they were joyous excursions, just like a wandering
charity-student of the old _Tuna_ converting his tales into courses in
picturesque geography. With hungry delight he recollected the abundant
milk of Galicia, the red sausages of Extramadura, the Castilian bread,
the Basque apples, the wines and ciders of all the districts he had
traversed, with his luggage on his shoulder. Guards were changed every
day,--some of them kind or indifferent, others ill-humored and cruel,
who made all the prisoners fear a couple of shots fired beyond the ruts
of the road, followed by the papers justifying the killing as having
been caused by an attempt at flight. With a certain nostalgia he evoked
the memory of mountains covered with snow or reddened and striped by the
sun; the slow procession along the white road that was lost in the
horizon, like an endless ribbon; the highlands, under the trees, in the
hot noon hours; the storms that assailed them upon the highways;
inundated ravines that forced them to camp out in the open; the arrival,
late at night, at certain town prisons, old convenes or abandoned
churches, in which every man hunted up a dry corner, protected from
draughts, where he could stretch his mat; the endless journey with all
the calm of a purposeless procession; the long halts in spots where life
was so monotonous that the presence of a group of prisoners was an
event; the urchins would come running up to the bars to speak with them,
while the girls, impelled by morbid curiosity, would approach within a
short distance, to hear their songs and their obscene language.

"Some mighty interesting travels, sir," continued the robber. "For those
of us who had good health and didn't drop by the roadside it was the
same as a strolling band of students. Now and then a drubbing, but who
pays any attention to such things!... They don't have these
_conductions_ now; prisoners are transported by railroad, caged up in
the cars. Besides, I am held for a criminal offense, and I must live
inside the walls... jailed for good."

And again he began to lament his bad luck, relating the final deed that
had landed him in jail.

It was a suffocating Sunday in July; an afternoon in which the streets
of Valencia seemed to be deserted, under the burning sun and a wind like
a furnace blast that came from the baked plains of the interior.
Everybody was at the bull-fight or at the seashore. _Magdalena_ was
approached by his friend _Chamorra_, an old prison and traveling
companion, who exercised a certain influence over him. That _Chamorra_
was a bad soul! A thief, but of the sort that go the limit, not
recoiling before the necessity of shedding blood and with his knife
always handy beside his skeleton-keys. It was a matter of cleaning out a
certain house, upon which this fearful fellow had set his eye.
_Magdalena_ modestly excused himself. He wasn't made for such things; he
couldn't go so far. As for gliding up to a roof and pulling down the
clothes that had been hung out to dry, or snatching a woman's purse with
a quick pull and making off with it... all right. But to break into a
house, and face the mystery of a dwelling, in which the people might be
at home?...

But _Chamorra's_ threatening look inspired him with greater fear than
did the anticipation of such an encounter, and he finally consented.
Very well; he would go as an assistant,--to carry the spoils, but ready
to flee at the slightest alarm. And he refused to accept an old
jack-knife that his companion offered him. He was consistent.

"Petty thefts aplenty; but as to blood, not a single drop."

Late in the afternoon they entered the narrow vestibule of a house that
had no janitor, and whose inhabitants were all away. _Chamorra_ knew his
victim; a comfortably fixed artisan who must have a neat little pile
saved up. He was surely at the beach with his wife or at the bull-fight.
Above, the door of the apartment yielded easily, and the two companions
began to work in the gloom of the shuttered windows.

_Chamorra_ forced the locks of two chiffoniers and a closet. There was
silver coin, copper coin, several bank-notes rolled up at the bottom of
a fan-case, the wedding-jewelry, a clock. Not a bad haul. His anxious
looks wandered over the place, seeking to make off with everything that
could be carried. He lamented the uselessness of _Magdalena_, who,
restless with fear and with his arms hanging limp at his sides, was
pacing to and fro without knowing what to do.

"Take the quilts," ordered _Chamorra_, "We're sure to get something for
the wool."

And _Magdalena_, eager to finish the job as soon as possible, penetrated
into the dark alcove, gropingly passing a rope underneath the quilts and
the bed-sheets. Then, aided by his friend, he hurriedly made a bundle of
everything, casting the voluminous burden upon his shoulders.

They left without being detected, and walked off in the direction of the
outskirts of the town, towards a shanty of Arrancapinos, where
_Chamorra_ had his haunt. The latter walked ahead, ready to run at the
first sign of danger; _Magdalena_ followed, trotting along, almost
hidden beneath the tremendous load, fearing to feel at any moment the
hand of the police upon his neck.

Upon examining the proceeds of the robbery in the remote corral,
_Chamorra_ exhibited the arrogance of a lion, granting his accomplice a
few copper coins. This must be enough for the moment. He did this for
_Magdalena's_ own good, as _Magdalena_ was such a spendthrift. Later he
would give more.

Then they untied the bundle of quilts, and _Chamorra_ bent over, his
hands on his hips, exploding with laughter. What a find!... What a
present!

_Magdalena_ likewise burst into guffaws, for the first time that
afternoon. Upon the bed-clothes lay an infant, dressed only in a little
shirt, its eyes shut and its face purple from suffocation, but moving
its chest with difficulty at feeling the first caress of fresh air.
_Magdalena_ recalled the vague sensation he had experienced during his
journey hither,--that of something alive moving inside the thick load on
his back. A weak, suffocated whining pursued him in his flight.... The
mother had left the little one asleep in the cool darkness of the
alcove, and they, without knowing it, had carried it off together with
the bed-clothes.

_Magdalena's_ frightened eyes now looked questioningly at his companion.
What were they to do with the child?... But that evil soul was laughing
away like a very demon.

"It's yours; I present it to you.... Eat it with potatoes."

And he went off with all the spoils. _Magdalena_ was left standing in
doubt, while he cradled the child in his arms. The poor little thing!...
It looked just like his own Tono, when he sang him to sleep; just like
him when he was ill and leaned his little head upon his father's bosom,
while the parent wept, fearing for the child's life. The same little
soft, pink feet; the same downy flesh, with skin as soft as silk.... The
infant had ceased to cry, looking with surprised eyes at the robber, who
was caressing it like a nurse.

"Lullaby, my poor little thing! There, there, my little king... child
Jesus! Look at me. I'm your uncle."

But _Magdalena_ stopped laughing, thinking of the mother, of her
desperate grief when she would return to the house. The loss of her
little fortune would be her least concern. The child! Where was she to
find her child?... He knew what mothers were like. _Peluchona_ was the
worst of women, yet he had seen even her weep and moan before her little
one in danger.

He gazed toward the sun, which was beginning to sink in a majestic
summer sunset. There was still time to take the infant back to the house
before its parents would return. And if he should encounter them, he
would lie, saying that he had found the infant in the middle of the
street; he would extricate himself as well as he could. Forward; he had
never felt so brave.

Carrying the infant in his arms he walked at ease through the very
streets over which he had lately hastened with the anxious gait of fear.
He mounted the staircase without encountering anybody. Above, the same
solitude. The door was still open, the bolt forced. Within, the
disordered rooms, the broken furniture, the drawers upon the floor, the
overturned chairs and clothes strewn about, filled him with a sensation
of terror similar to that which assails the assassin who returns to
contemplate the corpse of his victim some time after the crime.

He gave a last fond kiss to the child and left it upon the bed.

"Good-bye, my pet!"

But as he approached the head of the staircase he heard footsteps, and
in the rectangle of light that entered through the open door there
bulked the silhouette of a corpulent man. At the same time there rang
out the shrill shriek of a female voice, trembling with fright:

"Robbers!... Help!"

_Magdalena_ tried to escape, opening a passage for himself with his head
lowered, like a cornered rat; but he felt himself seized by a pair of
Cyclopean arms, accustomed to beating iron, and with a mighty thrust he
was sent rolling down the stairs.

On his face there were still signs of the bruises he had received from
contact with the steps, and from the blows rained upon him by the
infuriated neighbors.

"In sum, sir. Breaking and entering. I'll get out in heaven knows how
many years.... All for being kind-hearted. To make matters worse, they
don't even give me any consideration, looking upon me as a clever
criminal. Everybody knows that the real thief was _Chamorra_ whom I
haven't seen since.... And they ridicule me for a silly fool."

END



THE LAST LION


SCARCELY had the meeting of the honorable guild of _blanquers_ come to
order within its chapel near the towers of Serranos, when Señor Vicente
asked for the floor. He was the oldest tanner in Valencia. Many masters
recalled their apprentice days and declared that he was the same now as
then, with his white, brush-like mustache, his face that looked like a
sun of wrinkles, his aggressive eyes and cadaverous thinness, as if all
the sap of his life had been consumed in the daily motions of his feet
and hands about the vats of the tannery.

He was the only representative of the guild's glories, the sole survivor
of those _blanquers_ who were an honor to Valencian history. The
grandchildren of his former companions had become corrupted with the
march of time; they were proprietors of large establishments, with
thousands of workmen, but they would be lost if they ever had to tan a
skin with their soft, business-man's hands. Only he could call himself a
_blanquer_ of the old school, working every day in his little hut near
the guild house; master and toiler at the same time, with no other
assistants than his sons and grandchildren; his workshop was of the old
kind, amid sweet domestic surroundings, with neither threats of strikes
nor quarrels over the day's pay.

The centuries had raised the level of the street, converting Señor
Vicente's shop into a gloomy cave. The door through which his ancestors
had entered had grown smaller and smaller from the bottom until it had
become little more than a window. Five stairs connected the street with
the damp floor of the tannery, and above, near a pointed arch, a relic
of medieval Valencia, floated like banners the skins that had been hung
up to dry, wafting about the unbearable odor of the leather. The old man
by no means envied the _moderns_, in their luxuriously appointed
business offices. Surely they blushed with shame on passing through his
lane and seeing him, at breakfast hour, taking the sun,--his sleeves and
trousers rolled up, showing his thin arms and legs, stained red,--with
the pride of a robust old age that permitted him to battle daily with
the hides.

Valencia was preparing to celebrate the centenary of one of its famous
saints, and the guild of _blanquers_, like the other historic guilds,
wished to make its contribution to the festivities. Señor Vicente, with
the prestige of his years, imposed his will upon all the masters. The
_blanquers_ should remain what they were. All the glories of their past,
long sequestrated in the chapel, must figure in the procession. And it
was high time they were displayed in public! His gaze, wandering about
the chapel, seemed to caress the guild's relics; the sixteenth century
drums, as large as jars, that preserved within their drumheads the
hoarse cries of revolutionary Germania; the great lantern of carved
wood, torn from the prow of a galley; the red silk banner of the guild,
edged with gold that had become greenish through the ages.

All this must be displayed during the celebration, shaking off the dust
of oblivion; even the famous lion of the _blanquers_!

The _moderns_ burst into impious laughter. The lion, too?... Yes, the
lion, too. To Señor Vicente it seemed a dishonor on the part of the
guild to forget that glorious beast. The ancient ballads, the accounts
of celebrations that might be read in the city archives, the old folks
who had lived in the splendid epoch of the guilds with their fraternal
camaraderie,--all spoke of the _blanquers_' lion; but now nobody knew
the animal, and this was a shame for the trade, a loss to the city.

Their lion was as great a glory as the silk mart or the well of San
Vicente. He knew very well the reason for this opposition on the part of
the _moderns_. They feared to assume the rôle of the lion. Never fear,
my young fellows! He, with his burden of years, that numbered more than
seventy, would claim this honor. It belonged to him in all justice; his
father, his grandfather, his countless ancestors, had all been lions,
and he felt equal to coming to blows with anybody who would dare dispute
his right to the rôle of the lion, traditional in his family.

With what enthusiasm Señor Vicente related the history of the lion and
the heroic _blanquers_! One day the Barbary pirates from Bujia had
landed at Torreblanca, just beyond Castellón, and sacked the church,
carrying off the Shrine. This happened a little before the time of Saint
Vicente Ferrer, for the old tanner had no other way of explaining
history than by dividing it into two periods; before and after the
Saint... The population, which was scarcely moved by the raids of the
pirates, hearing of the abduction of pale maidens with large black eyes
and plump figures, destined for the harem, as if this were an inevitable
misfortune, broke into cries of grief upon learning of the sacrilege at
Torreblanca.

The churches of the town were draped in black; people went through the
streets wailing loudly, striking themselves as a punishment. What could
those dogs do with the blessed Host? What would become of the poor,
defenseless Shrine?... Then it was that the valiant _blanquers_ came
upon the scene. Was not the Shrine at Bujia? Then on to Bujia in quest
of it! They reasoned like heroes accustomed to beating hides all day
long, and they saw nothing formidable about beating the enemies of God.
At their own expense they fitted out a galley and the whole guild went
aboard, carrying along their beautiful banner; the other guilds, and
indeed the entire town, followed this example and chartered other
vessels.

The Justice himself cast aside his scarlet gown and covered himself with
mail from head to foot; the worthy councilmen abandoned the benches of
the Golden Chamber, shielding their paunches with scales that shone like
those of the fishes in the gulf; the hundred archers of la Pluma, who
guarded _la Señera_ filled their quivers with arrows, and the Jews from
the quarter of la Xedrea did a rushing business, selling all their old
iron, including lances, notched swords and rusty corselets, in exchange
for good, ringing pieces of silver.

And off sped the Valencian galleys, with their jib-sails spread to the
wind, convoyed by a shoal of dolphins, which sported about in the foam
of their prows!... When the Moors beheld them approaching, the infidels
began to tremble, repenting of their irreverence toward the Shrine. And
this, despite the fact that they were a set of hardened old dogs.
Valencians, headed by the valiant _blanquers_! Who, indeed, would dare
face them!

The battle raged for several days and nights, according to the tale of
Señor Vicente. Reinforcements of Moors arrived, but the Valencians,
loyal and fierce, fought to the death. And they were already beginning
to feel exhausted from the labor of disembowelling so many infidels,
when behold, from a neighboring mountain a lion comes walking down on
his hind paws, for all the world like a regular person, carrying in his
forepaws, most reverently, the Shrine,--the Shrine that had been stolen
from Torreblanca! The beast delivered it ceremoniously into the hands of
one of the guild, undoubtedly an ancestor of Señor Vicente, and hence
for centuries his family had possessed the privilege of representing
that amiable animal in the Valencian processions.

Then he shook his mane, emitted a roar, and with blows and bites in
every direction cleared the field instantly of Moors.

The Valencians sailed for home, carrying the Shrine back like a trophy.
The chief of the _blanquers_ saluted the lion, courteously offering him
the guild house, near the towers of Serranos, which he could consider as
his own. Many thanks; the beast was accustomed to the sun of Africa and
feared a change of climate.

But the trade was not ungrateful, and to perpetuate the happy
recollection of the shaggy-maned friend whom they possessed on the other
shore of the sea, every time the guild banner floated in the Valencian
celebrations, there marched behind it an ancestor of Señor Vicente, to
the sound of drums, and he was covered with hide, with a mask that was
the living image of the worthy lion, bearing in his hands a Shrine of
wood, so small and poor that it caused one to doubt the genuine value of
Torreblanca's own Shrine.

Perverse and irreverent persons even dared to affirm, to the great
indignation of Señor Vicente, that the whole story was a lie. Sheer
envy! Ill will of the other trades, which couldn't point to such a
glorious history! There was the guild chapel as proof, and in it the
lantern from the prow of the vessel, which the conscienceless wretches
declared dated from many centuries after the supposed battle; and there
were the guild drums, and the glorious banner; and the moth-eaten hide
of the lion, in which all his predecessors had encased themselves, lay
now forgotten behind the altar, covered with cobwebs and dust, but it
was none the less as authentic and worthy of reverence as the stones of
el Miguelete.[1]

[Note 1: A belfry in Valencia.]

And above all there was his faith, ardent and incontrovertible, capable
of receiving as an affront to the family the slightest irreverence
toward the African lion, the illustrious friend of the guild.

The procession took place on an afternoon in June. The sons, the
daughters-in-law and the grandsons of Señor Vicente helped him to get
into the costume of the lion, perspiring most uncomfortably at the mere
touch of that red-stained wool. "Father, you're going to
roast."--"Grandpa, you'll melt inside of this costume."

The old man, however, deaf to the warnings of the family, shook his
moth-eaten mane with pride, thinking of his ancestors; then he tried on
the terrifying mask, a cardboard arrangement that imitated, with a faint
resemblance, the countenance of the wild beast.

What a triumphant afternoon! The streets crowded with spectators; the
balconies decorated with bunting, and upon them rows of variegated
bonnets shading fair faces from the sun; the ground covered with myrtle,
forming a green, odorous carpet whose perfume seemed to expand the
lungs.

The procession was headed by the standard-bearers, with beards of hemp,
crowns and striped dalmatics, holding aloft the Valencian banners
adorned with enormous bats and large L's beside the coat of arms; then,
to the sound of the flageolet, the retinue of brave Indians, shepherds
from Belen, Catalans and Mallorcans; following these passed the dwarfs
with their monstrously huge heads, clicking the castanets to the rhythm
of a Moorish march; behind these came the giants of the Corpus and at
the end, the banners of the guilds; an endless row of red standards,
faded with the years, and so tall that their tops reached higher than
the first stories of the buildings.

Flom! Rotoplom! rolled the drums of the _blanquers_,--instruments of
barbarous sonority, so large that their weight forced the drummers to
bow their necks. Flom! Rotoplom! they resounded, hoarse and menacing,
with savage solemnity, as if they were still marking the tread of the
revolutionary German regiments, sallying forth to the encounter with the
emperor's young leader,--that Don Juan of Aragón, duke of Segorbe, who
served Victor Hugo as the model for his romantic personage _Hernani_!
Flom! Rotoplom! The people ran for good places and jostled one another
to obtain a better view of the guild members, bursting into laughter and
shouts. What was that? A monkey?... A wild man?... Ah! The faith of the
past was truly laughable.

The young members of the trade, their shirts open at the neck and their
sleeves rolled up, took turns at carrying the heavy banner, performing
feats of jugglery, balancing it on the palms of their hands or upon
their teeth, to the rhythm of the drums.

The wealthy masters had the honor of holding the cords of the banner,
and behind them marched the lion, the glorious lion of the guild, who
was now no longer known. Nor did the lion march in careless fashion; he
was dignified, as the old traditions bade him be, and as Señor Vicente
had seen his father march, and as the latter had seen his grandfather;
he kept time with the drums, bowing at every step, to right and to left,
moving the Shrine fan-wise, like a polite and well-bred beast who knows
the respect due to the public.

The farmers who had come to the celebration opened their eyes in
amazement; the mothers pointed him out with their fingers so that the
children might see him; but the youngsters, frowning, tightened their
grasp upon their mothers' necks, hiding their faces to shed tears of
terror.

When the banner halted, the glorious lion had to defend himself with his
hind paws against the disrespectful swarm of gamins that surrounded him,
trying to tear some locks out of his moth-eaten mane. At other times the
beast looked up at the balconies to salute the pretty girls with the
Shrine; they laughed at the grotesque figure. And Señor Vicente did
wisely; however much of a lion one may be, one must be gallant toward
the fair sex.

The spectators fanned themselves, trying to find a momentary coolness in
the burning atmosphere; the _horchateros_[2] bustled among the crowds
shouting their wares, called from all directions at once and not knowing
whither to go first; the standard-bearers and the drummers wiped the
sweat off their faces at every restaurant door, and at last went inside
to seek refreshment.

[Note 2: Vendors of _horchata_, iced orgeat.]

But the lion stuck to his post. His mask became soft; he walked with a
certain weariness, letting the Shrine rest upon his stomach, having by
this time lost all desire to bow to the public.

Fellow tanners approached him with jesting questions.

"How are things going, _so Visent?"_

And _so Visent_ roared indignantly from the interior of his cardboard
disguise. How should things go? Very well. He was able to keep it up,
without failing in his part, even if the parade continued for three
days. As for getting tired, leave that to the young folks. And drawing
himself proudly erect, he resumed his bows, marking time with his
swaying Shrine of wood.

The procession lasted three hours. When the guild banner returned to the
Cathedral night was beginning to fall.

Plom! Retoplom! The glorious banner of the _blanquers_ returned to its
guild house behind the drums. The myrtle on the streets had disappeared
beneath the feet of the paraders. Now the ground was covered with drops
of wax, rose leaves and strips of tinsel. The liturgic perfume of
incense floated through the air. Plom! Retoplom! The drums were tired;
the strapping youths who had carried the standards were now panting,
having lost all desire to perform balancing tricks; the rich masters
clutched the cords of the banner tightly, as if the latter were towing
them along, and they complained of their new shoes and their bunions;
but the lion, the weary lion (ah, swaggering beast!), who at times
seemed on the point of falling to the ground, still had strength left to
rise on his hind paws and frighten the suburban couples, who pulled at a
string of children that had been dazzled by the sights.

A lie! Pure conceit! Señor Vicente knew what it felt like to be inside
of the lion's hide. But nobody is obliged to take the part of the lion,
and he who assumes it must stick it out to the bitter end.

Once home, he sank upon the sofa like a bundle of wool; his sons,
daughters-in-law and grandchildren hastened to remove the mask from his
face. They could scarcely recognize him, so congested and scarlet were
his features, which seemed to spurt water from every line of his
wrinkles.

They tried to remove his skins; but the beast was oppressed by a
different desire, begging in a suffocated voice. He wished a drink; he
was choking with the heat. The family, warning against illness,
protested in vain. The deuce! He desired a drink right away. And who
would dare resist an infuriated lion?...

From the nearest café they brought him some ice-cream in a blue cup; a
Valencian ice cream, honey-sweet and grateful to the nostrils,
glistening with drops of white juice at the conical top.

But what are ice creams to a lion! _Haaam_! He swallowed it at a single
gulp, as if it were a mere trifle! His thirst and the heat assailed him
anew, and he roared for other refreshment.

The family, for reasons of economy, thought of the _horchata_ from a
near-by restaurant. They would see; let a full jar of it be brought. And
Señor Vicente drank and drank until it was unnecessary to remove the
skins from him. Why? Because an attack of double pneumonia finished him
inside of a few hours. The glorious, shaggy-haired _uniform_ of the
family served him as a shroud.

Thus died the lion of the _blanquers_,--the last lion of Valencia.

And the fact is that _horchata_ is fatal for beasts.... Pure poison!

END





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