Caesar or Nothing
Part 1 out of 7
Produced by Eric Eldred, David Widger,
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
CAESAR OR NOTHING
by PIO BAROJA
_translated from the Spanish by_
I THE PARIS-VENTIMIGLIA EXPRESS
II AN EXTRAORDINARY FAMILY
III CAESAR MONCADA
IV PEOPLE WHO PASS CLOSE BY
V THE ABBE PRECIOZI
VI THE LITTLE INTERESTS OF THE PEOPLE IN A ROMAN HOTEL
VII THE CONFIDENCES or THE ABBE PRECIOZI
VIII OLD PALACES, OLD SALONS, OLD LADIES
IX NEW ACQUAINTANCES
X A BALL
XI A SOUNDING-LINE IN THE DARK WORLD
XII A MEETING ON THE PINCIO
XIII ESTHETICS AND DEMAGOGY
XIV NEW ATTEMPTS, NEW RAMBLES
XV GIOVANNI BATTISTA, PAGAN
XVI THE PORTRAIT OF A POPE
XVII EVIL DAYS
XVIII CAESAR BORGIA'S MOTTO, "AUT CAESAR, AUT NIHIL"
XIX CAESAR'S REFLECTIONS
XX DON CALIXTO AT SAINT PETER'S
XXI DON CALIXTO IN THE CATACOMBS
XXII SENTIMENTALITY AND ARCHEOLOGY
XXIII THE 'SCUTCHEON OF A CHURCH
XXIV TOURIST INTERLUDE
II CASTRO DURO
III CAESAR'S LABOURS
IV THE BOOKSELLER AND THE ANARCHISTS
V THE BANQUET
VI UNCLE CHINAMAN
VII A TRYING SCENE
VIII THE ELECTION
IX CAESAR AS DEPUTY
X POLITICAL LABOURS
XI THE PITFALL OF SINIGAGLIA
XII LOCAL STRUGGLES
XIII AMPARITO IN ACTION
XIV INTRANSIGENCE LOST
XV "DRIVELLER" JUAN AND "THE CUB-SLUT"
XVI PITY, A MASK OF COWARDICE
XVII FIRST VICTORY
XVIII DECLARATION OF WAR
XIX THE FIGHT FOR THE ELECTION
XXI OUR VENERABLE TRADITIONS I OUR HOLY PRINCIPLES!
XXII FINIS GLORIAE MUNDI
THE AUTHOR HOLDS FORTH IN REGARD TO THE CHARACTER OF HIS HERO
MORE OR LESS TRANSCENDENTAL DIGRESSIONS
The individual is the only real thing in nature and in life.
Neither the species, the genus, nor the race, actually exists; they are
abstractions, terminologies, scientific devices, useful as syntheses
but not entirely exact. By means of these devices we can discuss and
compare; they constitute a measure for our minds to use, but have no
Only the individual exists through himself and for himself. I am, I
live, is the sole thing a man can affirm.
The categories and divisions arranged for classification are like the
series of squares an artist places over a drawing to copy it by. The
lines of the squares may cut the lines of the sketch; but they will cut
them, not in reality but only in the artist's eye.
In humanity, as in all of nature, the individual is the one thing. Only
individuality exists in the realm of life and in the realm of spirit.
Individuality is not to be grouped or classified. Individuality simply
cannot fit into a pigeon-hole, and it is all the further from fitting if
the pigeon-hole is shaped according to an ethical principle. Ethics is a
poor tailor to clothe the body of reality.
The ideas of the good, the logical, the just, the consistent, are too
generic to be completely represented in nature.
The individual is not logical, or good, or just; nor is he any other
distinct thing; and this through the force of his own fatal actions,
through the influence of the deviation in the earth's axis, or for
whatsoever other equally amusing cause. Everything individual is
always found mixed, full of absurdities of perspective and picturesque
contradictions,--contradictions and absurdities that shock us, because
we insist on submitting individuals to principles which are not
applicable to them.
If instead of wearing a cravat and a bowler hat, we wore feathers and a
ring in our nose, all our moral notions would change.
People of today, remote from nature and nasal rings, live in an
artificial moral harmony which does not exist except in the imagination
of those ridiculous priests of optimism who preach from the columns
of the newspapers. This imaginary harmony makes us abhor the
contradictions, the incongruities of individuality, at least it forces
us not to understand them.
Only when the individual discord ceases, when the attributes of an
exceptional being are lost, when the mould is spoiled and becomes
vulgarized and takes on a common character, does it obtain the
appreciation of the multitude.
This is logical; the dull must sympathize with the dull; the vulgar and
usual have to identify themselves with the vulgar and usual.
From a human point of view, perfection in society would be something
able to safeguard the general interests and at the same time to
understand individuality; it would give the individual the advantages of
work in common and also the most absolute liberty; it would multiply the
results of his labour and would also permit him some privacy. This would
be equitable and satisfactory.
Our society does not know how to do either of these things; it defends
certain persons against the masses, because it has injustice and
privilege as its working system; it does not understand individuality,
because individuality consists in being original, and the original is
always a disturbing and revolutionary element.
A perfect democracy would be one which, disregarding hazards of birth,
would standardize as far as possible the means of livelihood, of
education, and even the manner of living, and would leave free the
intelligence, the will, and the conscience, so that they might take
their proper places, some higher than others. Modern democracy, on the
contrary, tends to level all mentalities, and to impede the predominance
of capacity, shading everything with an atmosphere of vulgarity. At the
same time it aids some private interests to take their places higher
than other private interests.
A great part of the collective antipathy for individuality proceeds from
fear. Especially in our Southern countries strong individualities have
usually been unquiet and tumultuous. The superior mob, like the lower
ones, does not wish the seeds of Caesars or of Bonapartes to flourish in
our territories. These mobs pant for a spiritual levelling; for there is
no more distinction between one man and another than a coloured button
on the lapel or a title on the calling-card. Such is the aspiration of
our truly socialist types; other distinctions, like valour, energy,
virtue, are for the democratic steam-roller, veritable impertinences of
Spain, which never had a complete social system and has unfolded her
life and her art by spiritual convulsions, according as men of strength
and action have come bursting forth, today feels herself ruined in her
eruptive life, and longs to compete with other countries in their love
for the commonplace and well-regulated and in their abhorrence for
In Spain, where the individual and only the individual was everything,
the collectivist aspirations of other peoples are now accepted as
indisputable dogmas. Today our country begins to offer a brilliant
future to the man who can cry up general ideas and sentiments, even
though these ideas and sentiments are at war with the genius of our
It would certainly be a lamentable joke to protest against the
democratic-bourgeois tendency of the day: what is is, because it must be
and because its determined moment has come; and to rebel against facts
is, beyond dispute, childish.
I merely mention these characteristics of the actual epoch; and I point
them out to legitimatize this prologue I have written, which, for what I
know, may after all give more clearness, or may give more obscurity to
my book.... BROTHER AND SISTER
Many years ago I was stationed as doctor in a tiny Basque town, in
Cestona. Sometimes, in summer, while going on my rounds among the
villages I used to meet on the highway and on the cross-roads passersby
of a miserable aspect, persons with liver-complaint who were taking the
waters at the neighbouring cure.
These people, with their leather-coloured skin, did not arouse any
curiosity or interest in me. The middle-class merchant or clerk from the
big towns is repugnant to me, whether well or ill. I would exchange a
curt salute with those liverish parties and go my way on my old nag.
One afternoon I was sitting in a wild part of the mountain, among big
birch-trees, when a pair of strangers approached the spot where I
was. They were not of the jaundiced and disagreeable type of the
valetudinarians. He was a lanky young man, smooth-shaven, grave, and
melancholy; she, a blond woman, most beautiful.
She was dressed in white and wore a straw hat with large flowers; she
had a refined and gracious manner, eyes of blue, a very dark blue, and
I surmised that they were a young married couple; but he seemed too
indifferent to be the husband of so pretty a woman. In any event, they
were not recently wed.
He bowed to me, and then said to his companion:
"Shall we sit down here?"
They seated themselves on the half-rotten trunk of a tree.
"Are you on a trip?" he asked me, noticing my horse fastened to a
"Yes. I am coming back from a visit."
"Ah! Are you the town doctor?"
"And do you live here, in Cestona?"
"Yes, I live here."
"In an hotel?"
"No; in that house there down the road. Behold my house; that is it."
"It must be hard to live among so many invalids!" he exclaimed.
"Why?" she asked. "This gentleman may not have the same ideas as you."
"I believe I have. To my mind, he is right. It is very hard to live
"You can have nobody to talk to. That's evident."
"Absolutely nobody. Just imagine; there is not a Liberal in the town;
there are nothing but Carlists and Integrists."
"And what has that to do with living contented?" she asked mockingly.
The woman was enchanting; I looked at her, a bit amazed to find her so
merry and so coquettish; and she put several questions to me about my
life and my ideas, with a tinge of irony.
I wanted to show that I was not exactly a farmer, and turning the talk
to what might be done in a town like that, I threw myself into outlining
utopian projects, and defending them with more warmth than it is
reasonable to express in a conversation with unknown persons. The
woman's mocking smile stirred me up and impelled me to talk.
"It would be worth seeing, what a little town like this would be," I
said, indicating the village of Cestona, "with really human life in it,
and, above all, without Catholicism. Every tenant might be a master in
his own home, throughout his life. Here you have farm-land that produces
two crops, you have woods, mountains, and a medicinal spring. The
inhabitants of Cestona might have the entire produce of the land, the
mountain to supply building-stone and fire-wood, and besides all that,
the entrance-fees at the springs."
"And whose duty would it be to distribute the profits in this
patriarchal republic? The municipality's?" he asked.
"Of course," said I. "The municipality could go ahead distributing the
land, making the roads, cutting out useless middle-men; it could keep
clean, inexpensive hotels for the foreigners, and get a good return from
"And then you would not admit of inheritance, doctor?"
"Inheritance? Yes, I would admit of it in regard to things produced by
one person. I believe one ought to have the right to bequeath a picture,
a book, a piece of craftsmanship; but not land, not a mountain."
"Yes; property-right in land is absurd," he murmured. "The one
inconvenience that your plan would have," he added, "would be that
people from poverty-stricken holes would pour into the perfect towns and
upset the equilibrium."
"Then we should have to restrict the right of citizenship."
"But I consider that an injustice. The land should be free to all."
"Yes, that's true."
"And religion? None whatever? Like animals," she said ironically.
"Like animals, and like some illustrious philosophers, dear sister," he
replied. "At the turn of a road, among the foliage, we would place a
marble statue adorned with flowers. Don't you agree, doctor?"
"It seems to me a very good idea."
"Above all, for me the great thing would be to forget death and sorrow
a little," he asserted. "Not so many church-bells should be heard. I
believe that we ought even to suppress the maxim about love for one's
neighbour. Make it the duty of the state or the municipality to take
care of the sick and the crippled, and leave men the illusion of living
healthy in a healthy world."
"Ah! What very ugly ideas you have!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, that one seems a bit hard to me," said I.
We were walking down toward the town by a steep and rocky path. It was
beginning to grow dusk, the river shone with silvery reflections,
and the toads broke the silence of the twilight with the sonorous,
flute-like note of their croaking.
On arriving at the highway we said good-bye; they took the stage, which
was passing at that moment in the direction of the springs, and I
mounted my hack.
IN MY GARDEN
I had learned that the brother and sister were named Caesar and Laura,
that she lived in Italy and was married.
Some days later, toward evening, they knocked at my house door. I let
them in, showed them to my garden, and conducted them to a deserted
summer-house, a few sticks put together, on the bank of the river.
Laura strolled through an orchard, gathered a few apples, and then, with
her brother's aid and mine, seated herself on the trunk of a tree that
leant over the river, and sat there gazing at it.
While she was taking it in, her brother Caesar started to talk. Without
any preliminary explanation, he talked to me about his family, about his
life, about his ideas and his political plans. He expressed himself with
ease and strength; but he had the uneasy expression of a man who is
afraid of something.
"I figure," he said, "that I know what there is to do in Spain. I shall
be an instrument. It is for that that I am training myself. I want to
create all my ideas, habits, prejudices, with a view to the role I am
going to play."
"You do not know what Spain is like," said Laura. "Life is very hard
"I know that well. There is no social system here, there is nothing
established; therefore it is easier to create one for oneself."
"Yes, but some protection is requisite."
"Oh, I will find that."
"I think those Church people we knew in Rome will do for me."
"But you are not a Clerical."
"No." "And do you want to start your career by deceiving people?"
"I cannot choose my means. Politics are like this: doing something with
nothing, doing a great deal with a little, erecting a castle on a grain
"And do you, who have so many moral prejudices, wish to begin in that
"Who told you that accepting every means is not moral?"
"I don't understand how it could be," replied Laura.
"I do," answered her brother. "What is individual morality today? Almost
nothing. It almost doesn't exist. Individual morality can come to be
collective only by contagion, by enthusiasm. And such things do not
happen nowadays; every one has his own morality; but we have not arrived
at a scientific moral code. Years ago notable men accepted the moral
code of the categoric imperative, in lieu of the moral code based on
sin; but the categorical imperative is a stoical morality, a wise man's
morality which has not the sentimental value necessary to make it
"I do not understand these things," she replied, displeased.
"The doctor understands me, don't you?" he said.
"Yes, I believe I do."
"For me," Caesar went on, "individual morality consists in adapting
one's life to a thought, to a preconceived plan. The man who proposes to
be a scientist and puts all his powers into achieving that, is a moral
man, even though he steals and is a blackguard in other things."
"Then, for you," I argued, "morality is might, tenacity; immorality is
"Yes, it comes to that. The man capable of feeling himself the
instrument of an idea always seems to me moral. Bismarck, for instance,
was a moral man."
"It is a forceful point of view," said I.
"Which, as I see, you do not share," he exclaimed.
"As things are today, no. For me the idea of morality is attached to the
idea of pity rather than to the idea of force; but I comprehend that
pity is destructive."
"I believe that you and Caesar," Laura burst forth, "by force of wishing
to see things clear, see them more vaguely than other people. I can see
all this quite simply; it appears to me that we call every person moral
who behaves well, and on the contrary, one that does wicked deeds is
called immoral and is punished."
"But you prejudge the question," exclaimed Caesar; "you take it as
settled beforehand. You say, good and evil exist...."
"And don't they exist?"
"I don't know."
"So that if they gave you the task of judging mankind, you would see no
difference between Don Juan Tenorio and Saint Francis of Assisi?"
"Perhaps it was the saint who had the more pleasure, who was the more
"No, because the pleasure one has is the criterion, not the manner of
getting it. As for me, what is called a life of pleasure bores me."
"And judging from the little I know of it, it does me too," said I.
"I see life in general," he continued, "as something dark, gloomy, and
"Then you gentlemen do not place the devil in this life, since this life
seems unattractive to you. Where do you find him?"
"Nowhere, I think," replied Caesar; "the devil is a stupid invention."
The twilight was beginning.
"It is chilly here by the river," I said. "Let us go to the house."
We went up by a sloping path between pear-trees, and reached the
vestibule of the house. From afar we heard the sound of the stage-coach
bells; a headlight gleamed, and we saw it pass by and afterwards
disappear among the trees. "What a mistake to ask more of life than it
can give!" suddenly exclaimed Laura. "The sky, the sun, conversation,
love, the fields, works of art ... think of looking on all these as a
bore, from which one desires to escape through some violent occupation,
so as to have the satisfaction of not noticing that one is alive."
"Because noticing that one is alive is disagreeable," replied her
"The idea! Why? Because life is not an idyll, not by a good deal. We
live by killing, destroying everything there is around us; we get to
be something by ridding ourselves of our enemies. We are in a constant
"I don't see this struggle. Formerly, when men were savages, perhaps....
"Now, just the same. The one difference is that the material struggle,
with the muscles, has been changed to an intellectual one, a social one.
Nowadays, it is evident, a man does not have to hunt the bull or the
wild boar in the prairies; he finds their dead bodies at the butcher's.
Neither does the modern citizen have to knock his rival down to overcome
him; nowadays the enemy is conquered at the desk, in the factory, in
the editor's office, in the laboratory.... The struggle is just as
infuriated and violent as it was in the depths of the forests, only it
is colder and more courteous in form."
"I don't believe it. You won't convince me."
Laura plucked a branch of white blossoms from a wild-rose bush and put
it into her bosom.
"Well, Caesar, let us go to the hotel," she said; "it is very late."
"I will escort you a little way," I suggested.
We went out on the highway. The night was palpitating as it filled
itself with stars. Laura hummed Neapolitan songs. We walked along a
little while without speaking, gazing at Jupiter, who shone resplendent.
"And you have the conviction that you will succeed?" I suddenly asked
Caesar. "Yes. More than anything else I have the vocation for being an
instrument. If I win success, I shall be a great figure; if I go to
pieces, those who know me will say: 'He was an upstart; he was a thief.'
Or perhaps they may say that I was a poor sort, because men who have the
ambition to be social forces never get an unprejudiced epitaph."
"And what will you do in a practical way, if you succeed?"
"Something like what you dream of. And how shall I do it? By destroying
magnates, by putting an end to the power of the rich, subduing the
middle-class... I would hand over the land to the peasants, I would
send delegates to the provinces to make hygiene obligatory, and
my dictatorship should tear the nets of religion, of property, of
"What nonsense!" murmured Laura.
"My sister doesn't believe in me," Caesar exclaimed, smiling.
"Oh, yes, _bambino_," she replied. "Yes, I believe in you. Only, why
must you have such silly ambitions?"
We were getting near the bath establishment, and when we came in front
of it we said good-bye.
Laura was starting the next day to Biarritz, and Caesar for Madrid.
We pressed one another's hands affectionately.
They went along toward the establishment, and I returned home by the
highway, envying the energy of that man, who was getting himself ready
to fight for an ideal. And I thought with melancholy of the monotonous
life of the little town.
THE PARIS-VENTIMIGLIA EXPRESS
The fast Paris-Ventimiglia train, one of the Grand European Expresses,
had stopped a moment at Marseilles.
It was about seven in the morning of a winter day. The huge cars,
with their bevelled-glass windows, dripped water from all parts; the
locomotive puffed, resting from its run, and the bellows between car
and car, like great accordeons, had black drops slipping down their
The rails shone; they crossed over one another, and fled into the
distance until lost to sight. The train windows were shut; silence
reigned in the station; from time to time there resounded a violent
hammering on the axles; a curtain here or there was raised, and behind
the misted glass the dishevelled head of a woman appeared.
In the dining-car a waiter went about preparing the tables for
breakfast; two or three gentlemen, wrapped in their ulsters, their caps
pulled down, were seated at the tables by the windows and kept yawning.
At one of the little tables at the end Laura and Caesar had installed
"Did you sleep, sister?" he asked.
"Yes. I did. Splendidly. And you?"
"I didn't. I can't sleep on the train."
"I look so bad, eh?" and Caesar examined himself in one of the car
mirrors. "I certainly am absurdly pale."
"The weather is just as horrible as ever," she added.
They had left a Paris frozen and dark. During the whole night the cold
had been most intense. One hadn't been able to put a head outside the
car; snow and a furious wind had had their own violent way.
"When we reach the Mediterranean, it will change," Laura had said.
It had not; they were on the edge of the sea and the cold continued
intense and the weather dark.
The train began its journey again; the houses of Marseilles could be
seen through the morning haze; the Mediterranean appeared, greenish,
whitish, and fields covered with hoar-frost.
"What horrid weather!" exclaimed Laura, shuddering. "I dislike the cold
more and more all the time."
The dining-car waiter came and filled their cups with _cafe-au-lait_.
Laura drew off her gloves and took one of the hot cups between her white
"Oh, this is comforting!" she said.
Caesar began to sip the boiling liquid.
"I don't see how you can stand it. It's scalding."
"That's the way to get warm," replied Caesar, undisturbed.
Laura began to take her coffee by spoonfuls. Just then there come into
the dining-car a tall blond gentleman and a young, charming lady, each
smarter than the other. The man bowed to Laura with much formality.
"Who is he?" asked Caesar.
"He is the second son of Lord Marchmont, and he has married a Yankee
"You knew him in Rome?"
"No, I knew him at Florence last year, and he paid me attention rather
"He is looking at you a lot now."
"He is capable of thinking that I am off on an adventure with you."
"Possibly. She is a magnificent woman."
"Right you are. She is a marvel. She is almost too pretty. She shows no
character; she has no air of breeding." "There doesn't seem to be any
great congeniality between them."
"No, they don't get on very well. But come along, pay, let's go. So
many people are coming in here."
Laura got up, and after her, Caesar. As she passed, one heard the swish
of her silk petticoats. The travellers looked at her with admiration.
"I believe these people envy me," said Caesar philosophically.
"It's quite possible, _bambino_," she responded, laughing.
They entered their compartment. The train was running at full speed
along the coast. The greenish sea and the cloudy sky stretched away and
blotted out the horizon. At Toulon the bad weather continued; a bit
beyond, the sun came out, pallid in the fog, circled with a yellowish
halo; then the fog dispersed rapidly and a brilliant sun made the
snow-covered country shine.
"Oh! How beautiful!" exclaimed Laura.
The dense pure snow had packed down. The grape-vines broke up this white
background symmetrically, like flocks of crows settled on the earth; the
pines held high their rounds of foliage, and the cypresses, stern and
slim, stood out very black against all the whiteness.
On passing Hyeres, as the train turned away from the shore, running
inland, grim snowy mountains began for some while to be visible, and the
sun vanished among the clouds; but when the train came out once more
toward the sea, near San Rafael, suddenly,--as if a theatrical effect
had been arranged,--the Mediterranean appeared, blue, flooded with
sunshine, full of lights and reflections. The sky stretched radiant
above the sea, without a cloud, without a shred of vapour.
"How marvellous! How beautiful!" Laura again exclaimed, contemplating
the landscape with emotion. "These blessed countries where the sun is!"
"They have no other drawback, than that the men who inhabit them are a
trifle vague," said Caesar.
The air had grown milder; on the surface of the sea patterns of silver
foam, formed by the beating of the waves, widened themselves out; the
sun's reflection on the restless waters made shining spots and rays,
flaming swords that dazzled the eye.
The train seemed to puff joyfully at submerging itself in this bland and
voluptuous atmosphere; the palm-trees of Cannes came surging up like a
promise of felicity, and the Cote d'Azur began to show its luminous and
Caesar, tired of so much light, took a book from his pocket: _The
Speculator's Manual_ of Proudhon, and set to reading it attentively and
to marking the passages that struck him as interesting.
THE ENGLISHMAN AND HIS WIFE
Laura, when she was not watching the landscape, was looking at those who
came and went in the corridor.
"The Englishman is lying in wait," Laura observed.
"What Englishman?" asked Caesar.
"The son of the lord."
Caesar kept on reading, and Laura continued to watch the landscape which
hurried by outside the window. After a while she exclaimed:
"O Lord, what hideous things!"
Caesar looked where his sister pointed. In a roadstead brilliant with
sunlight he saw two men-of-war, black and full of cannons.
"That's the way one ought to be to face life, armed to the teeth,"
"Why?" asked Laura.
"Because life is hard, and you have to be as hard as it is in order to
"You don't consider yourself hard enough?"
"Well, I think you are. You are like those rough, pointed rocks on the
shore, and I am like the sea.... They throw me off and I come back."
"That is because, perhaps, when you get down to it, nothing makes any
real difference to you."
"Oh, _bambino!_" exclaimed Laura, taking Caesar's hand with affectionate
irony. "You always have to be so cruel to your mamma."
Caesar burst into laughter, and kept Laura's hand between both of his.
"The Englishman feels sad looking at us," he said. "He doesn't dream
that I am your brother."
"Open the door, I will tell him to come in."
Caesar did so, and Laura invited the young Englishman to enter.
"My brother Caesar," she said, introducing them, "Archibaldo Marchmont."
They both bowed, and Marchmont said to Laura in French:
"You are very cruel, Marchesa."
"Because you run away from us people who admire and like you. My wife
asked me to present her to you. Would you like her to come?"
"Oh, no! She mustn't disturb herself. I will go to her."
"Assuredly not. One moment."
Marchmont went out into the corridor and presented his wife to Laura and
An animated conversation sprang up among them, interrupted by Laura's
exclamations of delight on passing one or another of the wonderful views
along the Riviera.
"You are a Latin, Marchesa, eh?" said Marchmont.
"Altogether. This is our sea. Every time I look at it, it enchants me."
"You are going to stop at Nice?"
"No, my brother and I are on our way to Rome."
"But Nice will be magnificent...."
"Yes, that's true; but we have made up our minds to go to Rome to visit
our uncle, the Cardinal."
The Englishman made a gesture of annoyance, which did not go unperceived
by his wife or by Laura. On arriving at Nice, the Englishman and his
Yankee wife got out, after promising that they would be in Rome before
Laura and Caesar remained alone and chatted about their
fellow-travellers. According to Laura, the couple did not get along well
and they were going to separate.
In the middle of the afternoon they arrived at Ventimiglia and changed
"Are we in Italy now?" said Caesar.
"It seems untidier than France."
"Yes; but more charming."
The train kept stopping at almost all the little towns along the route.
In a third-class car somebody was playing an accordeon. It was Sunday.
In the towns they saw people in their holiday clothes, gathered in the
square and before the cafes and the eating-places. On the roads little
two-wheeled carriages passed quickly by.
It began to grow dark; in the hamlets situated on the seashore fishermen
were mending their nets. Others were hauling up the boats to run them
on to the beach, and children were playing about bare-footed and
The landscape looked like a theatre-scene, the setting for a romantic
play. They were getting near Genoa, running along by beaches. It was
growing dark; the sea came right up to the track; in the starry,
tranquil night only the monotonous music of the waves was to be heard.
Laura was humming Neapolitan songs. Caesar looked at the landscape
On reaching Genoa they had supper and changed trains.
"I am going to lie down awhile," said Laura.
"So am I."
Laura took off her hat, her white cape, and her jacket.
"Good-night, _bambino_," she said.
"Good-night. Shall I turn down the light?"
"As you like." Caesar turned down the light and stretched himself out.
He couldn't sleep in trains and he got deep into a combination of
fantastical plans and ideas. When they stopped at stations and the noise
of the moving train was gone from the silence of the night, Caesar could
hear Laura's gentle breathing.
A little before dawn, Caesar, tired of not sleeping, got up and started
to take a walk in the corridor. It was raining; on the horizon, below
the black, starless sky, a vague clarity began to appear. Caesar took
out his Proudhon book and immersed himself in it.
When it began to be day they were already getting near Rome. The train
was running through a flat, treeless plain of swampy aspect, covered
with green grass; from time to time there was a poor hut, a hay-stack,
on the uninhabited, monotonous stretch.
The grey sky kept on resolving itself into a rain which, at the impulse
of gusts of wind, traced oblique lines in the air.
Laura had waked and was in the dressing-room. A little later she came
out, fresh and hearty, without the least sign of fatigue.
They began to see the yellowish walls of Rome, and certain big edifices
blackened by the wet. A moment more and the train stopped.
"It's not worth the trouble to take a cab," said Laura. "The hotel is
here, just a step."
They gave a porter orders to attend to the luggage. Laura took her
brother's arm, they went out on the Piazza Esedra, and entered the
AN EXTRAORDINARY FAMILY
The Valencian family of Guillen was really fecund in men of energy and
cleverness. It is true that with the exception of Father Francisco
Guillen and of his nephew Juan Fort, none of them became known; but in
spite of the fact that the members of this family lived in obscurity in
a humble sphere, they performed deeds of unheard-of valour, daring, and
Juan Guillen, the first of the Guillens whose memory is preserved, was a
highwayman of Villanueva.
What motives for vengeance Juan Guillen had against the Peyro family is
not known. The old folk of the period, two or three who are still alive,
always say that these Peyros devoted themselves to usury; and there is
some talk of a certain sister of Juan Guillen's, ruined by one of the
Peyros, whom they made disappear from the town.
Whatever the motive was, the fact is that one day Peyro, the father, and
his eldest son were found, full of bullet holes, in an orange orchard.
Juan Guillen was arrested; in court he affirmed his innocence with great
tenacity; but after he had been sentenced to ten years' imprisonment, he
said that there were still two Peyros left to kill, whom he would put
off until he got out of prison.
As it turned out, Guillen was set free after six years and returned to
Villanueva. The two threatened Peyros did their utmost to keep away from
the revengeful Guillen; but it did not work. Juan Guillen killed one
of the Peyros while he was watering the flowers in the balcony of his
house. The other took refuge in a remote farm-house rented to peasants
in his confidence. This man, who was very crafty, always took great
precautions about all the people that came there, and never forgot to
close the doors and windows at night.
One morning he was found in bed with his head shot to pieces by a
blunderbuss. No doubt death overtook him while he slept. It was said
that Guillen had got in down the chimney, and going close to where Peyro
lay asleep, had fired the blunderbuss right against him. Then he had
gone tranquilly out by the door, without anybody's daring to stop him.
These two last deaths did not cause Guillen any trouble with the law.
All the witnesses in the suit testified in his favour. When the trial
was over, Guillen arranged to stay and live tranquilly in Villanueva.
There was a highwayman in the town, who levied small sums on the farms
for cleaning young sneak-thieves out of the country, and for escorting
rich persons when they travelled; Guillen requested him to give up his
job and he did not offer the least resistance.
Juan Guillen married a peasant-girl, bought a truck-garden, and a
wine-cave, had several children, and was one of the most respectable
highwaymen in the district. He was the terror of the country,
particularly to evil-doers; for him there were neither scruples nor
perils; might was always right; his only limitation his blunderbuss.
To live in a continual state of war seemed to him a natural condition.
Half in earnest, half in jest, it is told of the truck-gardeners of
Valencia that the father always says to his wife or his daughter, when
he is going to have an interview with somebody:
"Bring me my pistol, sweetheart, I am going out to talk to a man."
To Guillen it seemed indispensable that he should carry his blunderbuss
when discussing an affair with anybody.
Juan's energy did not diminish with age; he kept on being as barbarous
and brutal as when he was young. His barbarity did not prevent his being
very fine and polite, because he was under the conviction that his life
was a well-nigh exemplary life.
Of the highwayman's children, the eldest son studied for the priesthood,
and the youngest daughter, Vicenta, got ruined.
"I should prefer to have her a man and in the penitentiary," Guillen
used to say. Which was not at all strange, because for the highwayman
the penitentiary was like a school of determination and manhood.
Vicenta, the highwayman's youngest daughter, was a blond girl, noisy
and restless, of a violent character that was proof against advice,
reprimands, and beatings.
Vicenta had various beaux, all gentlemen, in spite of her father's
opposition and his cane. None of these young gentlemen beaux dared to
carry the girl off to Valencia, which was what she wanted, for fear of
the highwayman and his blunderbuss.
So she made arrangements with an old woman, a semi-Celestina who turned
up in town, and in her company ran off to Valencia.
The father roared like a wounded lion and swore by all the saints in
heaven to take a terrible revenge; he went to the capital several times
with the intention of dragging his daughter back home bodily; but he
could not find her.
Vicenta Guillen, who was known in Valencia,--for what reason is not
evident,--as the Tender-hearted, had her ups and her downs, rich lovers
and poor, and was distinguished by her boldness and her spirit of
adventure. It was said of her that she had taken part, dressed as a man,
in several popular disturbances.
While the Tender-hearted was leading a life of scandal, her brother,
Francisco, was studying in the College of the Escolapians in the
village, and afterwards entered the Seminary at Tortosa. He did not
distinguish himself there by his intelligence or by his good conduct;
but by force of time and recommendations he succeeded in getting
ordained and saying mass at Villanueva. His father's restless blood
boiled in him: he was a rowdy, brutal and quarrelsome. As life in the
village was uncomfortable for him, he went to America, ready to change
his profession. He could not have found wide prospects among the laity,
for after a few months he took the vows, and ten or twelve years later
he returned to Spain, the Superior of his Order, and went to a monastery
in the province of Castellon.
Francisco Guillen had changed his name, and was now called Fray Jose de
Calasanz de Villanueva.
If Fray Jose de Calasanz, on his return from America, had not learned
much theology, at any rate he had learned more about life than in the
early years of his priesthood, and had turned into a cunning hypocrite.
His passions were of extraordinary violence, and despite his ability in
concealing them, he could not altogether hide his underlying barbarity.
His name figured several times, in a scandalous manner, along with the
name of a certain farmer's wife, who was a bit weak in the head.
These pieces of gossip, though they gave him a bad reputation with the
town people, did not prevent him from advancing in his career, for
pretty soon, and no one quite knew for what reason, he was found to have
acquired importance and to wield influence of decisive weight, not only
in the Order, but among the whole clerical element of the city.
At the same time that Father Jose de Calasanz was becoming so
successful, the Tender-hearted took to the path of virtue and got
married at Valencia to the proprietor of a little grocery shop in a lane
near the market, his name being Antonio Fort.
The Tender-hearted, once married, wrote to her brother to get him to
make her father forgive her. The monk persuaded the old bandit, and the
Tender-hearted went to Villanueva to receive the paternal pardon. The
Tender-hearted, being married, lived an apparently retired and
devout life. Her husband was a poor devil of not much weight. The
Tender-hearted gave a great impetus to the shop. After she began to run
the establishment there was always a great influx of priests and monks
recommended by her brother.
Some of them used to gather in the back-shop toward dusk for
a _tertulia_, and it was said that one of the members of the
_tertulia_,--a youthful little priest from Murcia,--had an understanding
with the landlady.
The priests' _tertulia_ at Fort's shop was a well-spring of riches and
prosperity for the business. The little nuns of such-and-such a convent
advised the ladies they knew to buy chocolate and sweets at Fort's; the
friars of another convent gave them an order for sugar or cinnamon, and
cash poured into the drawer.
The Tender-hearted had three children: Juan, Jeronimo, and Isabel.
When the two elder were of an age to begin their education, Father Jose
de Calasanz made a visit in Valencia.
Father Jose had a powerful influence among the clergy, and he offered
his support to his sister in case she found it well to dedicate one of
her sons to the church.
The Tender-hearted, who beginning to have great ambitions, considered
that of her two sons, Juan, the elder, was the more serious and
diligent, and she did not vacillate about sacrificing him to her
Juan Fort was a boy of energy, very decided, although not very
intelligent. His uncle, Fray Jose de Calasanz, when he knew him, grew
fond of him. Fray Jose enjoyed great esteem in the Order that is
called,--nobody knows whether it is in irony,--the Seraphic Order. Fray
Jose consulted several competent persons and they advised him to send
his nephew to study outside of Spain. It is known that among her
ministers the Church prefers men without a country. Catholicism means
universality, and the real Catholic has no other country than his
religion, no other capital but Rome.
Juan Fort, snatched from among his comrades and from the bosom of his
family, went weeping in his uncle's company to France, and entered the
convent of Mont-de-Marson to pursue his studies.
In this convent he made his monastic novitiate, and like all the
individuals of that Order, changed his name, being called from then on,
Father Vicente de Valencia.
From Mont-de-Marson he passed to Toulouse, and when two years were up,
he made a short stay in the monastery where his uncle was prior, and
went to Rome.
When the Tender-hearted went to embrace her son, on his passage through
Valencia, she could see that his affection for her had vanished. As
happens with nearly all the young men that enter a religious Order, Juan
Fort felt a deep antipathy for his family and for his native town.
The young Father Vicente de Valencia entered the convent of Aracceli at
Rome, and continued his studies there.
This was at the beginning of Leo XIII's pontificate. At that epoch
certain naive elements in the Eternal City tried to initiate anti-Jesuit
politics inside the Church. Liberals and Ultramontanists struggled in
the darkness, in the periodicals, and in the universities.
It was a phenomenon of this struggle,--which seems paradoxical,--that
the partisans of tradition were the most liberal, and the partisans of
Modernism the Ultramontanists. The lesser clergy and certain Cardinals
felt vaguely liberal, and were searching for that something Christian,
which, as people say, still remains in Catholicism. On the other hand,
the Congregations, and above all the Jesuits, gave the note of radical
The sons of Loyola had solved the culinary problem of making a
meat-stew without meat; the Jesuits were making their Company the most
anti-Christian of the Societies in the silent partnership.
In Rome the prime defender of Ultramontanism had been the Abbe Perrone,
an eloquent professor, whom the pressure of the traditional theologians
obliged to read, before giving a lecture, a chapter of Saint Thomas on
the point in question. Perrone, after offering, with gnashing of teeth,
this tribute to tradition, used to say proudly: "And now, let us forget
these old saws and get along."
Father Vicente de Valencia enrolled himself among the supporters of the
Perronean Ultramontanism, and became, as was natural, considering his
character, a furious authoritarian. This sombre man, whose vocation was
repugnant to him, who had not the least religious feeling, who could
perhaps have been a good soldier, took a long time to make himself
perfectly at home in monastic life, struggled against the chains that
chafed him, rebelled inwardly, and at last, not only did not succeed in
breaking his fetters, but even considered them his one happiness.
Little by little he dominated his rebelliousness, and he made himself a
great worker and a tireless intriguer.
The fruits of his will were great, greater than those of his intellect.
Father Vicente wrote a theological treatise in Latin, rather uncouth,
so the intellectual said, and which had the sole distinction of
representing the most rabid of reactionary tendencies.
_The Theological Commentaries of Father Vicente de Valencia_ did not
attract the attention of the men who follow the sport of occupying
themselves with such things, whether or no; the presses did not groan
printing criticisms of the book; but the Society of Jesus took note of
the author and assisted Fort with all its power.
A fanatic and a man of mediocre intelligence, that monk might perhaps be
a considerable force in the hands of the Society.
A short while after the publication of his _Commentaries_, Father
Vicente accompanied the general of his Order on a canonical visit to
the monasteries in Spain, France, and Italy; later he was appointed
successively Visitor General for Spain, Consultor of the monastic
province of Valencia, Definer of the Order, and a voting councillor in
the government of the Order.
The news of these honours reached the Fort family in vague form; the
haughty monk gave no account of his successes. He considered himself to
be without a country and without a family.
THE CARDINAL'S NEPHEW AND NIECE
The Tender-hearted died without having the consolation of seeing her
son again; Jeronimo Fort, the youngest child, became head of the shop,
Isabel married a soldier, Carlos Moncada, with whom she went to live in
Isabel Fort lived there a long time without remembering her monk
brother, until she learned, to her great surprise, that they had made
him a Cardinal.
Father Vicente left off calling himself that and changed into Cardinal
Fort. The darkness that surrounded him turned to light, and his figure
stood out strongly.
"Cardinale Forte," they called him in Rome. He was known to be one of
the persons that guided the Vatican camarilla, and one of those who
impelled Leo XIII to rectify the slightly liberal policy of the first
years of his pontificate.
Cardinal Fort filled high posts. He was a Consultor in the Congregation
of Bishops and Regulars, afterwards in that of Rites and in that of the
Holy Office, and on special occasions was confessor to Leo XIII.
Certainly having a Cardinal in the family is something that makes a
showing; and Isabel, as soon as she knew it, wrote by the advice of the
family, to her brother, so as to renew relations with him.
The Cardinal replied, expressing interest in her husband and her
children. Isabel sent him their pictures, and phrases of affection were
After that they kept on writing to each other, and in one letter the
Cardinal invited Isabel to come to Rome. She hesitated; but her
husband convinced her that she ought to accept the invitation. They all
of them went, and the Cardinal received them very affectionately.
Juan Fort was living at that time in a monastery, like the other monks.
He enjoyed an enormous influence in Rome and in Spain. Isabel wanted her
husband promoted, and the Cardinal obtained that in a moment.
Then Fort talked to his sister of the propriety of dedicating Caesar to
the Church. He would enter the College of Nobles, then he would pass to
the Nunciature, and in a short while he would be a potentate.
Dona Isabel told this to her husband; but the idea didn't please him.
They talked among themselves, they discussed it, and the small boy, then
twelve years old, settled the question himself, saying that he would
kill himself rather than be a priest or a monk, because he was a
The Cardinal was not enthusiastic over this rebellious youngster who
dared to speak out what he, in his childhood, would not have been bold
enough to insinuate; but if Caesar did not appeal to him, on the other
hand he was very much taken with Laura's beauty and charm.
The Moncada family returned to Spain after spending some months in Rome.
Two years later Dona Isabel's husband died, and she, recalling the
offers of her brother, the Cardinal, left Caesar in an Escolapian
college in Madrid, and went to Rome, taking Laura with her.
The Cardinal, in the meanwhile, had changed his position and his
domicile; he was now living in the Palazzo Altemps in the Via di S.
Apellinare, and leading a more sumptuous life.
They reproached him in Rome for his exclusiveness and at the same time
for his tendency to ostentation. They said that if he was silent about
himself, it was not through modesty, but because that is the best method
to arrive at being a candidate for the tiara.
They added that he was very fond of showing himself in his red robes,
and in fine carriages, and this ostentatious taste was explained among
the Italians by saying: "It's simple enough; he is Spanish."
Publicly it was said that he was a great theologian, but privately he
was considered a strong man, although of mediocre intelligence.
"A Fort is always strong," they said of him, making a pun on his name.
"He is one of the Spanish Eminences who rule the Pope," a great English
periodical stated, referring to him.
On receiving his sister and his niece, the Cardinal put all his
influence with the Black Party in play so that they should be accepted
by the aristocratic society of Rome. He achieved that without much
difficulty. Laura and her mother were naturaly distinguished and
tactful, and they succeeded in forming a circle.
The Cardinal felt proud of his family; and accompanying the two women
gave him occasion for visiting many people.
Roman slander calumniated Fort, assuming him to be having a love affair
with his niece. Juan Fort showed an affection for Laura which seemed
unheard of by those that knew him.
The Cardinal was a man of exuberant pride, and he knew how to control
himself. He felt a great fondness for Laura; but if there was anything
more in this fondness than tranquil fatherly affection, if there was any
passion, only he knew it; the fire lurked very deep in his overshaded
Laura made, socially speaking, a good marriage. She married the Marquis
of Vaccarone, a babbling Neapolitan, insubstantial and light. In a short
while, seeing that they were not congenial, she arranged for an amicable
separation and the two lived independent.
AT THE ESCOLAPIANS
Caesar studied in Madrid in an Escolapian college in the Calle de
Hortaleza, where he was an intern all the time he was taking his
His mother had gone to live in Valencia, after marrying Laura off,
and Caesar passed his vacations with her at a country-place in a
Several times a year Caesar received letters and photographs from his
sister, and one winter Laura came to Valencia. She retained a great
fondness for Caesar; he was fond of her too, although he did not show
it, because his character was little inclined to affectionate expansion.
At college Caesar showed himself to be a somewhat strange and absurd
youth. As he was slight and of a sickly appearance, the teachers treated
him with a certain consideration.
One day a teacher noticed that Caesar creaked when he moved, as if his
clothes were starched.
"What are you wearing?" he asked him.
"Nothing, indeed! Unbutton your jacket."
Caesar turned very pale and did not unbutton it; but the master, seizing
him by a lapel, unbuttoned his jacket and his waistcoat, and found that
the student was covered with papers.
"What are these papers? For what purpose are you keeping them here?"
"He does it," one of his fellow students replied, laughing, "because
he is afraid of catching cold and becoming consumptive." They all made
comments on the boy's eccentricity, and a few days later, to show that
he was not a coward, he tried to go out on the balcony on a cold winter
night, with his chest bare.
Among his fellow-students Caesar had an intimate friend, Ignacio
Alzugaray, to whom he confided and explained his prejudices and doubts.
Alzugaray was not a boarder, but a day-scholar.
Ignacio brought anti-clerical periodicals to school, which Caesar read
with enthusiasm. His sojourn in a religious college was producing a
frantic hatred for priests in young Moncada.
Caesar was remarkable for the rapidity of his decisions and the lack of
vacillation in his opinions. He felt no timidity about either affirming
His convictions were absolute; when he believed in the exact truth of a
thing, he did not vacillate, he did not go back and discuss it; but if
his belief faltered, then he changed his opinion radically and went
ahead stating the contrary of his previous statements, without
recollecting his abandoned ideas.
His other fellow-students did not care about discussions with a lad who
appeared to have a monopoly of the truth.
"Professor So-and-So is a beast; What-you-call-him is a talented chap;
that fellow is a thick-witted chap. This kid is all right; that one is
In this rail-splitting manner did young Moncada announce his decisions,
as if he held the secret explanation of all things tight between his
Alzugaray seldom shared his friend's opinions; but in spite of this
divergence they understood each other very well.
Alzugaray came of a modest family; his mother, the widow of a government
clerk, lived on her pension and on the income from some property they
owned in the North.
Ignacio Alzugaray was very fond of his mother and his sister, and was
always talking about them. Caesar alone would listen without being
impatient to the meticulous narratives Ignacio told about the things
that happened at home.
Alzugaray was of a very Catholic and very Carlist family; but like
Caesar, he was beginning to protest against such ideas and to show
himself Liberal, Republican, and even Anarchistic. Ignacio Alzugaray was
a nephew of Carlos Yarza, the Spanish author, who lived in Paris, and
who had taken part in the Commune and in the Insurrection of Cartagena.
Caesar, on hearing Alzugaray recount the doings of his uncle Carlos
Yarza various times, said to his fellow-student:
"When I get out of this college, the first thing I am going to do is to
go to Paris to talk with your uncle."
"I have to talk to him."
As a matter of fact, once his course was finished, Caesar left the
college, took a third-class ticket, went to Paris, and from there wrote
to his mother informing her what he had done. Carlos Yarza, Alzugaray's
uncle, received him very affectionately. He took him to dine and
explained a good many things. Caesar asked the old man no end of
questions and listened to him with real avidity.
Carlos Yarza was at that time an employee in a bank. At this epoch his
forte was for questions of speculation. He had put his mind and his will
to the study of these matters and had the glimmering of a system in
things where everybody else saw only contingencies without any possible
Caesar accompanied Yarza to the Bourse and was amazed and stirred at
seeing the enormous activity there.
Yarza cleared away the innumerable doubts that occurred to the boy.
In the short time Caesar spent in Paris he came to a most important
conclusion, which was that in this life one had to fight terribly to get
One day, on awakening in the shabby little room where he lodged, he
found that the arms of a very smart woman were around his neck. It was
Laura, very contented and joyful to surprise her madcap brother.
"Mamma is alarmed," Laura told him. "What are you doing here all this
time? Are you in love?" "I? Bah!"
"Then what have you been doing?"
"I've been going to the Bourse."
SOUNDING-LINES IN LIFE
Laura burst out laughing, and she accompanied her brother back to
Valencia. Caesar's mother wished the lad to take his law course there,
but Caesar decided to do it in Madrid.
"A provincial capital is an insupportable place," he said.
Caesar went to Madrid and rented a study and a bed-room, cheap and
He boarded in one house and lodged at another. Thus he felt more free.
Caesar believed that it was not worth the trouble to study law
seriously; and he imagined moreover that to study so many routine
conceptions, which may be false, such as the conception of the soul, of
equity, of responsibility, etc., would bring him to a shyster lawyer's
vulgar and affected idea of life. To counteract this tendency he devoted
himself to studying zoology at the University, and the next year he took
a course in physiology at San Carlos.
At the same time he did not neglect the stock exchange; his great pride
was to acquaint himself thoroughly with the details of the speculations
made and to talk in the crowds.
As a student he was mediocre. He learned the secret of passing
examinations well with the minimum of effort, and practised it. He
found that by knowing only a couple of things under each heading of the
program, it was enough for him to answer and to pass well. And so, from
the beginning of each course, he marked in the text the two or three
lines of every page which seemed to him to comprise the essential, and
having learned those, considered his knowledge sufficient.
Caesar had a deep contempt for the University and for his
fellow-students; all their rows and manifestations seemed to him
repulsively flat and stupid.
Alzugaray was studying law too, and had obtained a clerkship in a
Ministry. Alzugaray got drunk on music. His great enthusiasm was for
playing the 'cello. Caesar used to call on him at his office and at
The clerks at the Ministry seemed to Caesar to form part of an inferior
At Alzugaray's house, Caesar felt at home. Ignacio's mother, a lady with
white hair, was always making stockings, and after dinner she recited
the rosary with the maid; Alzugaray's sister, Celedonia, a tall ungainly
lass, was often ill.
All the family thought a great deal of Caesar; his advice was followed
at that house, and one of the operations on 'change that he recommended
making with some Foreign bonds that Ignacio's mother was holding at the
time of the Cuban War, gave everybody in the house an extraordinary idea
of young Moncada's financial talents.
Caesar kept his balance among his separate activities; one set of
studies complemented others. This diversity of points of view kept him
from taking the false and one-sided position that those who preoccupy
themselves with one branch of knowledge exclusively get into.
The one-sided position is most useful to a specialist, to a man who
expects to remain satisfied in the place where chance has put him; but
it is useless for one who proposes to enter life with his blood afire.
As almost always occurs, the projecting of ideas of distinct derivation
and of different orders into the same plane, carried Caesar into
absolute scepticism, scepticism about things, and especially scepticism
about the instrument of knowledge.
His negation had no reference,--far from it,--to women, to love, or
to friends, things where the pedantic and ostentatious scepticism of
literary men of the Larra type usually finds its fodder; his nihilism
was much more the confusion and discomposure of one that explores a
region well or badly, and finds no landmarks there, no paths, and
returns with a belief that even the compass is not exact in what it
"Nothing absolute exists," Caesar told himself, "neither science nor
mathematics nor even the truth, can be an absolute thing."
Arriving at this result surprised Caesar a good deal. On finding that he
was not successful in lighting on a philosophical system which would be
a guide to him and which could be reasoned out like a theorem, he sought
within the purely subjective for something that might satisfy him and
serve as a standard.
Toward the end of their course Caesar presented himself one day in his
friend Alzugaray's office.
"I think," he said, "that I am getting my philosophy into shape."
"My dear man!"
"Yes. I have tacked some new contours on to my Darwinian pragmatism."
Alzugaray, in whom every treasure-trove of his friend's always produced
great surprise, stood staring naively at him.
"Yes, I am building up my system," Caesar went on, "a system within
relative truth. It is clear."
"Let's hear what it is."
"In regard to us," said Caesar, as if he were speaking of something
that had happened in the street a few minutes before, "our uncertain
instrument of knowledge makes two apparent states of nature seem real to
us; one, the static, in which things are perceived by us as motionless;
the other, the dynamic, wherein these same things are found in motion.
It is clear that in reality everything is in motion; but within the
relative truth of our ideas we are able to believe that there are some
things in repose and others in action. Isn't that so?"
"Yes. That is, I think so," replied Alzugaray, who was beginning to
wonder if the whole earth was trembling under his feet.
"Good!" Caesar continued. "I am going to pass from nature to life: I
am going to assume that life has a purpose. Where can this purpose be
found? We don't know. But what can be the machinery of this purpose?
Only movement, action. That is to say, struggle. This assertion once
made, I am going to take a hand in carrying it out. The things we call
spiritual also are dynamic. Who says anything whatsoever says matter and
force; who says force affirms attraction and repulsion; attraction and
repulsion are synonymous with movement, with struggle, with action. Now
I am inside of my system. It will consist of putting all the forces near
me into movement, into action, into struggle. What pleasure may there be
in this? First, the pleasure of doing, the pleasure, we might call
it, of efficiency; secondly, the pleasure of seeing, the pleasure of
observing.... What do you think of it?"
"Fine, man! The things you start are always good." "Then there is the
moral point. I think I have settled that too."
"Yes. Morals should be nothing more than the true, fitting, and natural
law of man. Man considered solely as a spiritual machine? No. Considered
as an animal that eats and drinks? Not that either. Man considered as a
complete whole. Isn't that so?"
"I believe it is."
"I proceed. In nature laws become more obscure, according as more
complicated objects of knowledge turn up. We all clearly see the law
of the triangle, and the law of oxygen or of carbon with the same
clearness. These laws appear to us as being without exception. But then
comes the mineral, and we begin to see variations; in this form it
exerts one attraction, in that form a different one. We ascend to
the vegetable and find a sort of surprise-package. The surprises are
centupled in the animal; and are raised to an unknown degree in man.
What is the law of man, as man? We do not know it, probably we shall
never know it. Right and justice may be truths, but they will always
be fractional truths. Traditional morality is a pragmatism, useful and
efficacious for social life, for well-ordered life; but at the bottom,
without reality. Summing all this up: first, life is a labyrinth
which has no Ariadne's thread but one,--action; secondly, man is upheld
in his high qualities by force and struggle. Those are my conclusions."
"Clever devil! I don't know what to say to you."
Alzugaray asserted that, without taking it upon him to say whether his
friend's ideas were good or bad, they had no practical value; but
Caesar insisted once and many times on the advantages he saw in his
Caesar remained in the same sphere during the whole period of his law
course, always seeking, according to his own words, to add one wheel
more to his machine.
His life contained few incidents; summers he went to Valencia, and
there, in the villa, he read and talked with the peasants. His mother,
devoted solely to the Church, bothered herself little about her son.
Caesar ended his studies, and on his coming of age, they gave him his
share of his father's estate.
Incontinently he took the train, he went to Paris, he looked up Yarza.
He explained to him his vague projects of action. Yarza listened
attentively, and said:
"Perhaps it will appear foolish to you, but I am going to give you a
book I wrote, which I should like you to read. It's called _Enchiridion
Sapientiae_. In my youth I was something of a Latinist. In these pages,
less than a hundred, I have gathered my observations about the financial
and political world. It might as well be called _Contribution to
Common-sense, or Neo-Machiavellianism_. If you find that it helps you,
Caesar read the book with concentrated attention.
"How did it strike you?" said Yarza.
"There are many things in it I don't agree with; I shall have to think
over them again."
"All right. Then keep my _Enchiridion_ and go on to London. Paris is a
city that has finished. It is not worth the trouble of losing one's time
Caesar went to London, always with the firm intention of going into
something. From time to time he wrote a long letter to Ignacio
Alzugaray, telling him his impressions of politics and financial
While he was in London his sister joined him and invited him to go to
Florence; two years later she begged him to accompany her to Rome.
Caesar had always declined to visit the Eternal City, until, on that
occasion, he himself showed a desire to go to Rome with his sister.
PEOPLE WHO PASS CLOSE BY
_THE SAN MARTINO YOUNG LADIES_
Arrived at Rome, Laura and Caesar went up to the hotel, and were
received by a bald gentleman with a pointed moustache, who showed them
into a large round salon with a very high ceiling.
It was a theatrical salon, with antique furniture and large red-velvet
arm-chairs with gilded legs. The enormous mirrors, somewhat tarnished
by age, made the salon appear even larger. On the consoles and cabinets
gleamed objects of majolica and porcelain.
The big window of this salon opened on the Piazza Esedra di Termini.
Caesar and Laura looked out through the glass. It was beginning to rain
again; the great semi-circular extent of the square was shining with
The passing trams slipped around the curve in the track; a caravan of
tourists in ten or twelve carriages in file, all with their umbrellas
open, were preparing to visit the monuments of Rome; strolling pedlars
were showing them knick-knacks and religious gewgaws.
Caesar's and Laura's rooms were got ready and the manager of the hotel
asked them again if they had need of nothing else.
"What are you going to do?" said Laura to her brother.
"I am going to stretch myself out in bed for a while."
"Lunch at half-past twelve."
"Good, I will get up at that time."
"Good-bye, _bambino_. Have a good rest. Put on your black suit to come
to the table."
"Very well." Caesar stretched himself on the bed, slept off and on,
somewhat feverish from fatigue, and at about twelve he woke at the noise
they made in bringing his luggage into the room. He got up to open the
trunks, washed and dressed, and when the customary gong resounded, he
presented himself in the salon.
Laura was chatting with two young ladies and an older lady, the Countess
of San Martino and her daughters. They were in Rome for the season and
lived regularly in Venice.
Laura introduced her brother to these ladies, and the Countess pressed
Caesar's hand between both of hers, very affectionately.
The Countess was tiny and dried-up: a mummy with the face of a
grey-hound, her skin close to her bones, her lips painted, little
penetrating blue eyes, and great vivacity in her movements. She dressed
in a showy manner; wore jewels on her bosom, on her head, on her
The daughters looked like two little blond princesses: with rosy cheeks,
eyebrows like two golden brush-strokes, almost colourless, clear blue
eyes of a heavenly blue, and such small red lips, that on seeing them,
the classical simile of cherries came at once to one's mind.
The Countess of San Martino asked Caesar like a shot if he was married
and if he hadn't a sweetheart. Caesar replied that he was a bachelor and
that he had no sweetheart, and then the Countess came back by asking if
he felt no vocation for matrimony.
"No, I believe I don't," responded Caesar.
The two young women smiled, and their mother said, with truly diverting
familiarity, that men were becoming impossible. Afterwards she added
that she was anxious for her daughters to marry.
"When one of these children is married and has a _bambino_, I shall be
more contented! If God sent me a _cheru-bino del cielo_, I shouldn't be
Laura laughed, and one of the little blondes remarked with aristocratic
indifference: "Getting married comes first, mamma."
To this the Countess of San Martino observed that she didn't understand
the behaviour of girls nowadays.
"When I was a young thing, I always had five or six beaux at once;
but my daughters haven't the same idea. They are so indifferent, so
"It seems that you two don't take all the notice you should," said
Caesar to the girls in French.
"You see what a mistake it is," answered one of them, smiling.
The last round of the gong sounded and various persons entered the
salon. Laura knew the majority of them and introduced them, as they
came, to her brother.
_OBSERVATIONS BY CAESAR_
The waiter appeared at the door, announced that lunch was ready, and
they all passed into the dining-room.
Laura and her brother were installed at a small table beside the window.
The dining-room, very large and very high, flaunted decorations copied
from some palace. They consisted of a tapestry with garlands of flowers,
and medallions. In each medallion were the letters S.P.Q.R. and various
epicurean phrases of the Romans: "_Carpe diem. Post mortem nulla
voluptas_," et cetera.
"Beautiful decoration, but very cold," said Caesar. "I should prefer
rather fewer mottoes and a little more warmth."
"You are very hard to please," retorted Laura.
Shortly after getting seated, everybody began to talk from table to
table and even from one end of the room to the other. There was none of
that classic coolness among the people in the hotel which the English
have spread everywhere, along with underdone meat and bottled sauces.
Caesar devoted himself for the first few moments to ethnology.
"Even from the people you find here, you can see that there is a great
diversity of ethnic type in Italy," he said to Laura. "That blond boy
and the Misses San Martino are surely of Saxon origin; the waiter, on
the other hand, swarthy like that, is a Berber."
"Because the blond boy and the San Martines are from the North, and the
waiter must be Neapolitan or Sicilian.
"Besides, there is still another type: shown by that dark young woman
over there, with the melancholy air. She must be a Celtic type. What
is obvious is that there is great liveliness in these people, great
elegance in their movements. They are like actors giving a good
Caesar's observations were interrupted by the arrival of a dark, plump
woman, who came in from the street, accompanied by her daughter, a blond
girl, fat, smiling, and a bit timid.
This lady and Laura bowed with much ceremony.
"Who is she?" asked Caesar in a low tone.
"It is the Countess Brenda," said Laura.
"Another countess! But are all the women here countesses?"
"Don't talk nonsense."
At the other end of the dining-room a young Neapolitan with the
expression of a Pulcinella and violent gestures, raised his sing-song
voice, talking very loud and making everybody laugh.
After lunching, Caesar went out to post some cards, and as it was
raining buckets, he took refuge in the arcades of the Piazza Esedra.
When he was tired of walking he returned to the hotel, went to his room,
turned on the light, and started to continue his unfinished perusal of
Proudhon's book on the speculator.
And while he read, there came from the salon the notes of a Tzigane
waltz played on the piano.
_ART, FOR DECEIVED HUSBANDS_
Caesar was writing something on the margin of a page when there came a
knock at his door. "Come in," said Caesar.
It was Laura.
"Where are you keeping yourself?" she asked.
"Here I am, reading a little."
"But my dear man, we are waiting for you."
"The idea, what for? To talk."
"I don't feel like talking. I am very tired."
"But, _bambino; Benedetto_. Are you going to live your life avoiding
"No; I will come out tomorrow."
"What do you want to do tonight?"
"Don't you want to go to the theatre?"
"No, no; I have a tremendously weak pulse, and a little fever. My hands
are on fire at this moment."
"So then you won't come out?"
"All right. As you wish."
"When the weather is good, I will go out."
"Do you want me to fetch you a Baedeker?"
"No, I have no use for it."
"Don't you intend to look at the sights, either?"
"Yes, I will look willingly at what comes before my eyes; it wouldn't
please me if the same thing happened to me that took place in Florence."
"What happened to you in Florence?"
"I lost my time lamentably, getting enthusiastic over Botticelli,
Donatello, and a lot of other foolishness, and when I got back to London
it cost me a good deal of work to succeed in forgetting those things and
getting myself settled in my financial investigations again. So that
now I have decided to see nothing except in leisure moments and without
attaching any importance to all those fiddle-faddles." "But what
childishness! Is it going to distract you so much from your work, from
that serious work you have in hand, to go and see a few pictures or some
"To see them, no, not exactly; but to occupy myself with them, yes.
Art is a good thing for those who haven't the strength to live, in
realities. It is a good form of sport for old maids, for deceived
husbands who need consolation, as hysterical persons need morphine...."
"And for strong people like you, what is there?" asked Laura,
"For strong people!... Action."
"And you call lying in bed, reading, action?"
"Yes, when one reads with the intentions I read with."
"And what are they? What is it you are plotting?"
"I will tell you."
Laura saw that she could not convince her brother, and returned to the
salon. A moment before dinner was announced Caesar got dressed again in
black, put on his patent-leather shoes, looked at himself offhandedly in
the mirror, saw that he was all right, and joined his sister.
THE ABBE PRECIOZI
_THE BIG BIRDS IN ROME_
The next day Caesar awoke at nine, jumped out of bed, and went to
breakfast. Laura had left word that she would not eat at home. Caesar
took an umbrella and went out into the street. The weather was very dark
but it held off from rain.
Caesar took the Via Nazionale toward the centre of town. Among the
crowd, some foreigners with red guide-books in their hands, were walking
with long strides to see the sights of Rome, which the code of worldly
snobbishness considers it indispensable to admire.
Caesar had no settled goal. On a plan of the city, hung in a newspaper
kiosk, he found the situation of the Piazza Esedra, the hotel and the
adjacent streets, and continued slowly ahead.
"How many people there must be who are excited and have an irregular
pulse on arriving for the first time in one of these historic towns,"
thought Caesar. "I, for my part, was in that situation the first time I
clearly understood the mechanism of the London Exchange."
Caesar continued down the Via Nazionale and stopped in a small square
with a little garden and a palm. Bounding the square on one side arose
a greenish wall, and above this wall, which was adorned with statues,
stretched a high garden with magnificent trees, and among them a great
"A beautiful garden to walk in," said Caesar. "Perhaps it is an historic
spot, perhaps it isn't. I am very happy that I don't know either its
name or its history, if it really has one." From the same point in the
Via Nazionale, a street with flights of steps could be seen to the left,
and below a white stone column.
"Nothing doing; I don't know what that is either," thought Caesar; "the
truth is that one is terribly ignorant. To make matters even, what a
well of knowledge about questions of finance there is in my cranium!"
Caesar continued on to the Piazza Venezia, contemplated the palace of
the Austrian Embassy, yellow, battlemented; and stopped under a big
white umbrella, stuck up to protect the switchman of the tramway.
"Here, at least, the weight of tradition or history is not noticeable. I
don't believe this canvas is a piece of Brutus's tunic, or of Pompey's
campaign tent. I feel at home here; this canvas modernizes me."
The square was very animated at that moment: groups of seminarians were
passing in robes of black, red, blue, violet, and sashes of contrasting
colours; monks of all sorts were crossing, smooth-shaven, bearded, in
black, white, brown; foreign priests were conversing in groups, wearing
little dishevelled hats adorned with a tassel; horrible nuns with
moustaches and black moles, and sweet little white nuns, with a
The clerical fauna was admirably represented. A Capuchin friar,
long-bearded and dirty, with the air of a footpad, and an umbrella by
way of a blunderbuss or musket under his arm, was talking to a Sister of
"Undoubtedly religion is a very picturesque thing," murmured Caesar. "A
spectacular impressario would not have the imagination to think out all
Caesar took the Corso. Before he reached the Piazza Colonna it began to
rain. The coachmen took out enormous umbrellas, all rolled up, opened
them and stood them in iron supports, in such a way that the box-seat
was as it were under a campaign tent.
Caesar took refuge in the entrance to a bazaar. The rain began to assume
the proportions of a downpour. An old friar, with a big beard, a white
habit, and a hood, armed with an untamable umbrella, attempted to cross
the square. The umbrella turned inside out in the gusts of wind, and his
beard seemed to be trying to get away from his face.
"Pavero frate!" said one of the crowd, smiling.
A priest passed hidden under an umbrella. A tough among the refugees in
the bazaar-doorway said that you couldn't tell if it was a woman or a
priest, and the cleric, who no doubt heard the remark, threw a severe
and threatening look at the group.
It stopped raining, and Caesar continued his walk along the Corso. He
went a bit out of his way to throw a glance at the Piazza di Spagna.
The great stairway in that square was shining, wet with the rain; a few
seminarians in groups were going up the steps toward the Pincio.
Caesar arrived at the Piazza del Popolo and stopped near some
ragamuffins who were playing a game, throwing coins in the air. A
tattered urchin had written with charcoal on a wall: "Viva Musolino!"
and below that he was drawing a heart pierced by two daggers.
Back to Full Books