The Shadow of the Cathedral
Vicente Blasco Ibanez
Part 3 out of 6
The people of the Primacy always received with obstinate silence the
slightest allusion to the reigning prelate. It was a traditional
custom in the Claverias, and Gabriel remembered to have noticed the
same in his childhood.
If they spoke of the preceding archbishop, these people, so used to
grumbling, like all those who live in solitude, would loose their
tongues and comment on his history and his defects. There was nothing
to fear from a dead prelate, and besides, it was an indirect praise to
the living archbishop and his favourites to speak ill of the defunct.
But if during the conversation the name of His reigning Eminence
arose, they were all silent, raising their hands to their caps to
salute, as though the prince of the church were able to see them from
the neighbouring palace.
Gabriel, listening to his companions of the upper cloister, remembered
the funeral judgment of the Egyptians. In the Primacy no one dared to
speak the truth about the prelates, or to discuss their faults till
death had taken possession of them.
The most that they dared to do was to comment on the disagreements
among the canons, to compare their lists of those who saluted one
another in the choir, or who glared at one another between versicle
and antiphon like mad dogs ready to fly at one another, or to speak
with wonder about a certain polemic discussed by the Doctoral and the
Obrero in the Catholic papers in Madrid, which had lasted for three
years, as to whether the deluge was partial or universal; answering
each other's articles with an interval of four months.
A group of friends had collected round Gabriel. They sought him,
feeling the necessity of his presence, experiencing that attraction
exercised by those who are born to be leaders of men even though they
remain silent. In the evenings they would meet in the dwelling of the
bell-ringer, or when it was fine weather they would go out into the
gallery above the Puerta del Perdon. In the mornings the assembly
would be in the house of the shoemaker who mended the giants, a yellow
little man, who suffered from continual pains in his head, which
obliged him to wear sundry coloured handkerchiefs tied round his head
in the fashion of a turban.
He was the poorest in all the Claverias; he had no appointment, and
mended the giants without any remuneration in the hopes of succeeding
to the first vacant place, feeling very grateful to those gentlemen of
the Chapter who gave him his house rent free, on account of his wife
being the daughter of a former old servant of the church. The smell
of the paste and of the damp floor infected his house with the rank
atmosphere of poverty. A hopeless fecundity aggravated this poverty;
his sad, placid wife with her big yellow eyes appeared every year with
a new baby tugging at her flabby breast, and several children crept
along the cloister walls, dull and inert with hunger, with enormous
heads and thin necks, always sickly, though none of them managed to
die; afflicted by all the pains of anaemia, by boils that arose and
vanished on their faces, and watery eruptions covering their hands.
The shoemaker worked for the shops in the town, without, however,
earning much money. From the rising of the sun one could hear the
sound of his hammer in the cloister. This sole evidence of profane
work attracted all the unoccupied to the miserable and evil-smelling
dwelling. Mariano, the Tato, and a verger who also lived in the
cloister, were those who most frequently met Gabriel, seated on the
shoemaker's ragged and broken chairs, so low that one could touch the
floor of red and dusty bricks with one's hands.
Often the bell-ringer would run to his tower to ring the usual
bells, but his vacant place would be immediately occupied by an old
organ-blower, or some of the servants from the sacristy, all attracted
by what they heard of these meetings of the lower servants of the
Primacy. The object of the assembly was to listen to Gabriel. The
revolutionary wished to keep silence, and listened absently to their
grumblings at the daily round of worship; but his friends longed to
hear about those countries in which he had travelled, with all the
curiosity of people who lived confined and isolated; listening to his
descriptions of the beauties of Paris and the grandeur of London they
would open their eyes like children listening to a fairy tale.
The shoemaker with his head bent, never ceasing his work, listened
attentively to the recital of such marvels; when Gabriel was silent
they all agreed on one point, those cities must be far more beautiful
than Madrid; and just think how beautiful Madrid was! Even the
shoemaker's wife, standing in the corner forgetful of her sickly
children, would listen to Luna with wonder, her face enlivened by a
feeble smile, which showed the woman through the animal resigned to
misery, when Luna described the luxury of the women in foreign parts.
All these servants of the church felt their narrowed and dulled minds
stirred by these descriptions of a distant world that they were never
likely to see; the splendours of modern civilisation touched them much
more nearly than the beauties of heaven as described in the sermons,
and in the pungent and dusty atmosphere of the dirty little house they
would see unrolled before their mind's eye beautiful and fantastic
cities, and they would ask questions in all innocence as to the food
and habits of those distant people, as though they believed them
beings of a different species.
Towards evening, at the hour of the choir, when the shoemaker was
working alone, Gabriel, tired of the monotonous silence of the
cloister, would go down into the church.
His brother, in a woollen cloak with a white neck band, and a staff as
long as an ancient alguacil's, stood as sentry in the crossways, to
prevent the inquisitive passing between the choir and the high altar.
Two tablets of old gold with Gothic letters, hung on to one of the
pilasters, set forth that anyone talking in a loud voice or making
signs in the church would be excommunicated; but this menace of former
centuries failed to impress the few people who came to vespers and
gossiped behind one of the pillars with some of the church servants.
The evening light, filtering through the stained glass, threw on the
pavement great patches of colour, and the priests as they walked
over this carpet of light would appear green or red according to the
colours flashed from the windows.
In the choir the canons sang for themselves only in the emptiness of
the church; the shutting of the iron gates of the screen, opened to
admit some late-coming priest, echoed like explosions throughout the
building, and above the choir the organ joined in at times between the
plain song, but it sounded lazily, timidly, as though from necessity,
and seemed to lament its feebleness in the gathering twilight.
Gabriel had not completed the round of the Cathedral before he was
joined by his nephew, the Perrero, who left his conversation with
the servers and acolytes, and with the errand boy belonging to the
Secretary of the Chapter, whose fixed seat was at the door of the
Chapter-house. Luna was always very much diverted by the pranks of the
Tato, and the confidence and carelessness with which he moved about
the temple, as though having been born in it deprived him of all
feeling of respect The entry of a dog into the nave caused great
"Uncle," said he to Luna, "you shall see how I can open my cloak."
Seizing the two ends of his garment he advanced towards the dog with
the contortions and bounds of a wrestler; the animal, knowing this of
old, endeavoured to escape through the nearest door, but the Tato,
cutting off his retreat, drove him into the nave, and, pretending to
pursue him, drove him from chapel to chapel, finally rounding him up
where he could give him some good sound whacks. The dismal howlings
disturbed the singing of the canons, and the Tato laughed more than
ever to see behind the iron railing of the choir, the angry gesture of
the good Esteban threatening him with his wooden staff.
"Uncle," said the depraved Perrero one evening, "you, who think you
know the Cathedral so well, have you ever seen the lively things in
The wink of his eye, and the gesture accompanying the words showed
that the things might very well be more than lively.
"I am always very much interested," he went on, "with the jokes the
ancients allowed themselves. Come along, uncle, it will amuse you for
a little; you, like all those who think they know the Cathedral, will
have passed many times by these things without noticing them."
Going along the outside of the choir, the Tato led Gabriel to the
front opposite the door del Perdon. Under the great medallion, which
serves as a back to the Mount Tabor, the work of Berruguete, opens the
little chapel of the Virgin of the Star. "Look well at that image,
uncle. Is there another like it in all the world? She is a courtezan,
a siren who would drive men mad if she only fluttered her eyelids."
For Gabriel this was no new discovery; from his childhood he had known
that beautiful and sensual figure, with its worldly smile, its rounded
outlines, and its eyes with their expression of wanton gaiety as
though she were just going to dance.
The child in her arms was also laughing and placing his hand on the
bosom of the beautiful woman, as though he intended to tear the
covering from her breast. The image of painted stone, stuffed and
gilt, wore a blue mantle strewn with stars, from whence its name.
"Even you, who have read so much, uncle, may possibly not know the
history of this chapel, which is far more ancient than the Cathedral.
The woolstaplers, carders, and weavers of Toledo had their patroness
here long before the church was built, and they only gave up their
right to the ground on the condition that they should be entire
masters of the chapel, and do in it whatever they pleased and in all
this piece of the Cathedral as far as those nearest pillars. Oh! the
trouble this wrought! On the days they held their feasts to the Virgin
they never paid any heed to the canons in the choir, and they greatly
disturbed all the offices with 'rabeles,' lutes and disorderly
songs. If the canons begged them to be silent, they replied that it
was they in the choir who ought to keep silence, considering that
they were in their own chapel, which was far more ancient than the
Cathedral. Did you know this, uncle?"
[Footnote 1: An ancient instrument with three strings, played with a
"Yes, I remember it now. The Archbishop Valero Loza brought a suit
against them at the beginning of the eighteenth century; you can see
his tomb at the foot of the altar. He lost his suit, and died from
disappointment. He desired to be buried in that place, so that the
insolent wool merchants should trample on him in death, even as
they had vanquished him in his lifetime. The haughtiness of these
ecclesiastical princes drove them to the proudest humility. But is
this all you wished to show me?"
"You shall see better things than this. Let us say good-bye to the
Virgin. But do look at her! What a face! What alluring eyes! The
beautiful woman! I spend hours looking at her; she is my sweetheart.
Oh! the many nights I have dreamt of her."
They walked on a little towards the great doorway of the Cathedral, so
as to obtain a better view of the exterior face of the choir. Above
the three hollows or chapels that pierce it runs a frieze of ancient
relievos, the work of some obscure mediaeval artist. Gabriel
recognised these coarse sculptures as being contemporaneous with the
Puerta del Reloj, and by far the most ancient work in the Cathedral.
"Look you, in the first medallion Adam and Eve are as naked as worms;
but the Lord drives them out of Paradise, and they are obliged to
dress themselves to appear in the world; and see what they do directly
they get their clothes. But look at the fifth medallion on our right
hand; the old gossip who cut that had a lively turn of mind."
Gabriel looked for the first time attentively at these forgotten
sculptures. They were carved with all the naturalistic simplicity
of the Middle Ages, with all the directness with which the artists
represented their profane conceptions, with the desire to perpetuate
the triumph of the flesh in some ignored corner of the mystical
buildings, in order to testify that human life was not dead.
The Tato was delighted at the surprise on his uncle's face.
"Eh! what do you think of that? I discovered it wandering about the
church. The canons sing every day on the other side of this wall
without ever suspecting what gay doings they have over their heads.
And the stained glass, uncle, look at it well. At first so many
colours blind one and the forms are indistinct; besides, the lead cuts
the figures and it is difficult to make out anything, but I know them
to my fingers' ends. They are stories, things of their own times, that
these glass-workers painted; the intrigues have been forgotten, and no
one has disentangled them."
He pointed to the windows of the second nave, through which the
evening light was shining with a ruddy glow.
"Look up there," went on the Perrero. "A gallant in a red cape and
sword mounts by a rope ladder; at the window a nun is waiting for him.
It seems something like the Don Juan Tenorio that they represent at
All Saints'. Further on, you see those two in bed, and people knocking
at the door. They must be the same pair of birds with the family
surprising them. Then in the next window--look well at it--lovers,
with scarcely any clothes beyond bare skin. These things belong to the
days when people had no shame, when they went with their heads covered
and the rest of their flesh bare."
Gabriel smiled at the whimsical ideas with which ancient art inspired
"But in the choir, uncle, there is also something to see. Let us go
there; the service is over and the canons are coming out."
Luna felt overpowered by admiration as he always did on entering the
choir. Those magnificent stalls, the work on one side of Philip of
Burgundy, and on the other side of Berruguete, bewildered him with
their profusion of marbles, jaspers, gildings, statues and medallions.
It was the genius of Michael Angelo reviving in the Toledan Cathedral.
The Perrero examined the lower stalls, ferreting out among the Gothic
relievos the discoveries enjoyed by his unwholesome curiosity. This
first row of stalls, almost on a level with the ground, were occupied
by the inferior clergy, and were anterior by half a century to the
upper stalls; but in those fifty years art had made a great stride,
from the hard and rigid Gothic to the flowing lines and good taste of
the Renaissance. They had been carved by Maestre Rodrigo at the time
when Christian Spain, roused to enthusiasm, was helping the Catholic
kings with all its strength to complete the reconquest. On the backs
of the stalls, and on the entablature of the frieze fifty-four carved
pictures represented the principal incidents of the conquest of
The Tato did not look at these carvings of walnut or oak, with troops
of horsemen and companies of soldiers scaling the walls of Moorish
towns. What interested him most were the arms of the stalls, the
handrails of the steps leading to the upper seats, and the salients
dividing the stalls which served to rest the head, all covered with
animals, grotesque beings, dogs, monkeys, big birds, friars, and
little birds, all in difficult postures, some beautiful, some obscene.
Hogs and frogs wound themselves up together in inextricable tangles,
monkeys with ignoble gestures were mixed up with interlaced birds in
never ending variety--it was a world of caricatures of voluptuousness,
of monkey-like actions and satirical suggestions, in which appeared
carnal passion with the most grotesque animal grimaces.
"Look here, uncle. Is not this capital--it is far the best."
And the Tato showed Gabriel the little chubby figure of a preaching
friar with enormous donkey's ears.
When they came out of the choir Gabriel spied the Chapel-master close
to the fresco of Saint Christopher. He had just emerged from a little
door close to the giant, which led by a circular staircase to the
musical archives. He was carrying under his arm a big book with dusty
pages which he showed to Gabriel.
"I am taking it upstairs. You shall hear something out of it; it is
worth the trouble."
And turning his eyes from the book to the little door close by he
"Ay! these archives, Gabriel, how it pains one! Each time I visit them
I come out sadder. The vandals have been at work there; nearly all the
music books have pages torn out, pieces cut out wherever there was an
illuminated letter, a vignette or anything pretty. The senor canons
do not care for music, neither do they understand it, and they are
incapable of devoting a few pesetas so that it might be heard on
festival days. It is quite enough for them to walk in procession to
some piece of Rossini's; and as far as regards the organ, all they
care about is that it must play slowly, very slowly. The slower it
plays, the more religious they think it, even though the organist may
be playing a Habanera."
He continued looking at the little door with melancholy eyes as though
he were ready to weep over the decay of music.
"In there, Gabriel, are many beautiful works, that ought not to be
forgotten as long as art lives in the world. In profane music we have
not been great, but believe me that Spain has been far otherwise with
religious authors. That is, provided that profane music and religious
music really exist, which I doubt; for me there is only--music--and I
think he will be a clever man who draws the line where one ends and
where the other begins. Behind this wall of Saint Christopher's, the
works of all the great Spanish musicians sleep, mutilated and covered
with dust. Perhaps it is better they do sleep, when you hear what is
sung in this choir! Here you will find Christobal Morales, who three
hundred years ago was Chapel-master here, and began the reform of
music twenty years before Palestrina. In Rome he shares the glory
with the famous master; his portrait is in the Vatican, and his
lamentations, his motets, and his Magnificat rest here, forgotten for
centuries. And Victoria? Do you know him? Another of the same period;
his jealous contemporaries called him 'Palestrina's monkey' taking
all his works to be imitations, in consequence of his long sojourn in
Rome; but, believe me, instead of being plagiarisms from the Italian,
they are far superior. Here also is Rivera, a Toledan master who no
one remembers, but in the archives there is a whole volume of his
masses, and Romero de Avila, who more than anyone had studied the
Muzarabe chants, and Ramos de Pareja, not the least musician of
the fifteenth century, who wrote in Bologna his book 'De Musica
Tractatus,' and destroyed the ancient system of Guido de Arezzo,
discovering the tonality of sound; and the Monk Urena, who added the
note 'si' to the scale, and Javier Garcia, who in the last century
reformed music, leading it towards Italy (God forgive him!), a beaten
track from which we have not yet emerged; and Nebra, the great
organist of Carlos III., who, a century before Wagner was born, used
musical discords. When he wrote the Requiem for the funeral of Dona
Barbara di Braganza, foreseeing the surprise and difficulties that the
musicians and singers would meet with in the innovations in his score,
he wrote on the margin, 'This is to give notice that there are no
mistakes in the score.' His Litany became so celebrated that it was
forbidden to copy it, under pain of excommunication; but I think
to-day the persons who remember it would be the excommunicated.
Believe me, Gabriel, these archives are a pantheon of great men, but a
pantheon, unluckily, from which no one emerges."
Then he added, lowering his voice:
"The Church has never been a great lover of music. To feel and
understand it you must be born a musician, and you know well enough
that these gentlemen who are paid to sing in the choir know nothing
about music. When I see you, Gabriel, smiling at religious things,
I guess by your manner how much you conceal, and I am sure you are
right. I was interested to know the history of music in the Church.
I have followed step by step the long Calvary of this unhappy art,
carrying the cross of worship uphill through the long centuries. You
have heard people often talk of religious music, as if it were a thing
apart, believed in by the Church; but it is all a lie, for religious
music does not exist."
The Perrero had moved off when he heard that the Chapel-master, whose
loquacity was indefatigable when he spoke of his art, had started on
the theme of music. He had formed his own opinion of Don Luis and told
it to everyone in the upper cloister. He was a simpleton who only knew
how to play melancholy ditties on his harmonium, without ever thinking
of enlivening the poor people in the Claverias by playing something to
which they could dance, as the niece of Silver Stick had asked him.
The priest and Gabriel walked slowly through the silent naves talking
the while; the only people to be seen were a group of the household at
the door of the sacristy, and two women kneeling before the railing
of the high altar praying aloud. The early twilight of the winter
evenings was beginning to darken the Cathedral, and the first bats
were coming down from the vaulting and fluttering through the columns.
"Ecclesiastical music," said the artist, "is a real anarchy; but in
the Church everything is anarchy. I believe there is a great deal to
be said for the unity of the Catholic worship throughout the world.
When Christianity began to form itself into a religion it did not
invent even a single bad melody; it borrowed its hymns and the manner
of singing them from the Jews, a primitive and barbarous music that
would shock our ears if we heard it now. Out of Palestine, and where
there were no Jews, the earliest Christian poets--Saint Ambrose,
Prudencio and others--adopted their new hymns and psalms to the
popular songs that were then in vogue in the Roman world, or possibly
to Greek music. It seems as though that word 'Greek music' ought to
mean a great deal; is it not so, Gabriel? The Greeks were so great in
their poetry and in the plastic arts that anything that bears their
name would seem to be surrounded by an atmosphere of undying beauty.
But it is not so: the march of the arts has not been parallel in human
life; when sculpture had its Phidias, and had reached its climax,
painting had hardly passed that rudimentary stage that we see in
Pompeii, and music was only a childish babbling. Writing could not
perpetuate music, for there seemed as many musical styles as there
were peoples, and everything was left to the judgment of the
executant. You could not fix on parchment what mouths and instruments
played, and so progress was impossible. For this reason, though there
was a Renaissance for sculpture, for painting, for architecture, at
the revival of the arts after the Middle Ages, music was found in the
same elementary stage in which it was at the break-up of the ancient
Gabriel nodded his head assenting to the words of the Chapel-master.
"This was the first Christian music," continued Don Luis. "Confided
to tradition and transmitted orally, the religious songs soon became
disfigured and corrupt. In every church they sang in a different way,
and religious music became a hotch-potch. The mystics leaned to
rigid unity, and in the sixth century Saint Gregory published his
'Antifonario,' a collection of all liturgic melodies, purifying them
according to his ideas. They were a mixture of two elements: the
Greek, rather oriental and florid, very much like the present debased
style; and the grave and rough Roman. The notes were expressed
by letters, the Phrygian and Lydian styles followed, and so the
intricacies of Greek music continued though much altered, with
fioriture, rests, and breathing pauses. The collection became lost,
and many who think a return to the old style would be best, much
regret it. To judge by the fragments that remain, if such music was
now executed it would have very little that was religious about it, as
we understand religion in art to-day; it would more resemble the songs
of the Moors, or the Chinese, or those of some schismatic Greeks who
still use the ancient liturgies. The harp was the principal instrument
in the churches till the organ appeared in the tenth century, a rough
and barbarous instrument that had to be played with blows, and was
supplied with wind from inflated skins. Guido di Arezzo made a musical
rule on the basis of Gregory's collection, and this was sufficient for
the invention of the pentagramma to be assigned to the Benedictine.
They continued to use the letters of Boccio and Saint Gregory as
notes, but they placed them on lines of three different colours. The
imbroglio continued; to learn music badly took twelve years, and then
they could not manage that singers from different towns could read
from the same score. Saint Bernard, dry and austere as his times,
ridiculed this music as not being solemn enough; he was a man
antagonistic to all art; he would have liked to see the churches
dismantled and without any architectural adornments; and the slower
the music was, the better it seemed to him. He was the father of plain
song, and he maintained that the more drawn out the music was, the
more religious it became. But in the thirteenth century Christians
found this chant most wearisome. The cathedrals in those days were the
point of attraction: the theatre, the centre of all life. People went
to the church to pray to God and to amuse themselves, forgetting for
the moment all the wars and the violence and confusion outside. Once
again popular music came into the churches, and you could hear intoned
in the cathedrals all the songs most in vogue, and which were often
obscene. The people took part in the religious music, singing in
different tones, each one as seemed best to him, and these were the
first beginnings of concerted singing. In those days religion was
joyful, popular--democratic as you would say, Gabriel; there was
no Inquisition, nor suspicion of heresy to embitter the soul with
fanaticism and fear. All the coarse wind and stringed instruments that
the artisans had in the towns, or the labourers in the fields, came
into the churches, and the organ was accompanied by violas, violins,
bagpipes, flutes, guitars and lutes. The plain song was the
established liturgy almost throughout Europe; but the people disliked
it, and interspersed it with songs, and at the great festivals,
religious hymns were sung, adapted to the popular melodies then in
fashion, such as 'The song of the armed man,' 'Morencia, give me a
kiss,' 'I know not what confuses me,' 'Weep for me, lady,' 'Bad luck
to him who married you,' and others in the same style. And Rome, you
will ask, and the Church? What did it say about such disorders? The
Church lived without artistic perception: it never had any. What are
the boundaries between religious and profane music? From the sixteenth
to the seventeenth century all critics have asked themselves this
question, but the Church let them talk, accepting everything without
remark. Now and again Rome made itself heard by a Papal bull, to which
no one paid any attention, because the Pontiff was incapable of saying
this is religious art, and the other is profane. Palestrina was
entrusted with the task of reforming church music; the Pope showed
himself disposed not to leave anything but plain song, and to suppress
even that if necessary. The mass of Papa Marcelo and other melodies
was the result of this, but things did not advance much. It was
necessary in order that music should be purified inside the Church
that the great secular musical movement should begin with the Italian
Monteverde, with the Frenchman Rameau, and with the Germans Sebastian
Bach and Handel; what splendid times, Gabriel! And just think what
genius followed: Gluck, Haydn, Mozart, Mehuel, Boieldieu, and, above
all, our good friend Beethoven."
[Footnote 1: The stave.]
The Chapel-master was silent for a little as though the name of his
idol imposed on him a religious silence. Presently he continued.
"All this avalanche of art passed over the Church, and she, according
to her habit, appropriated everything that was most to her taste; in
any country the Catholic religion adopted the music most in accordance
with its traditions--in Spain we have been saturated with the Italian
style since the days of Palestrina, and German or French music never
came to us. We were first of all fuguists and contrapuntists; but
after the 'Stabat Mater' of Rossini we felt the attraction of
theatrical melody so strongly that we have never wished to taste a
fresh dish. Religious music in Spain has run parallel with Italian
opera, a thing of which the canons are ignorant; they would be furious
if at the mass you played them anything by Beethoven, which they would
consider profane, but they listen with mystic unction to fragments
which have gone the round of all the theatres in Italy. And about the
plain song, you will ask? The plain song had its nest in this Primacy.
It was preserved here for centuries and purified; all the best was
collected in Toledo, and from the books in this Cathedral have gone
forth the chorales of all the churches in Spain and America. Poor
plain song! it has long been dead. You see for yourself, Gabriel, who
comes to the Cathedral at the hour of the choir? No one, absolutely no
one. The matins are recited, and all the offices are intoned in the
midst of perfect solitude. The people who still believe know nothing
of the liturgy; they do not prize it and have forgotten all about it;
they are only attracted by the novenas, the triduos and retreats, all
that is termed tolerated and extra-liturgic worship. The Jesuits, with
their cunning, guessed that they must give their services a theatrical
attraction, and for this reason their churches--gilt, carpeted, and
decked with flowers like dressing-rooms--are always full, whereas the
old cathedrals are as empty as tombs. They have not proclaimed the
necessity for this reform aloud, but they have put it into practice
by abolishing the singing in Latin, and substituting all sorts of
romances and songs. In the churches, with the exception of the
Tantum-ergo, nothing is sung in Latin, sermons and hymns are in the
language of the country, just as in a Protestant church. For the mass
of devout people, who believe without thinking, religions only differ
in their exterior forms. It would be impossible to consign such a
multitude to the bonfires, or that half Europe should again be in the
clutches of the thirty years' war, or that the Popes should launch
excommunication after excommunication, only to find in the end that
the only difference between a Catholic or an evangelical church is a
few images and a few wax tapers, but that the worship in both is the
same. But we must go, Gabriel; they are going to lock up."
The bell-ringer was hurrying through the naves, shaking his bunch
of keys and startling the bats which were becoming more and more
numerous. The two devout women had disappeared; no one remained in the
Cathedral save Gabriel and the Chapel-master. From the farther end of
the nave were coming the night watchmen, to take up their charge till
the following morning, preceded by the dog.
The two friends went out into the cloister, guided through the dusk by
the rich glow from the stained glass windows; outside, the last rays
of the sun were touching both the garden and the cloister of the
Claverias with crimson.
"I repeat," continued the musical priest, looking back at the door
from which they had come out, "that in there they do not love music
and they do not understand it. The Church has only rendered one
service to music, and that without wishing it: they have been obliged
to have instrumentalists and vocalists for the services, and that
made them support the chapels and choir-schools that have served for
musical education in default of schools. We who represent art in the
cathedrals are as much despised as were the minstrels in the old
chapels, players of the clarion and bassoon. For the canons, all that
sleeps in the musical archives is so much Greek, and we, the artistic
priests, form a race apart, and are only just a step above the
sacristans. The Chapel-master, the organist, the tenor, contralto, and
the bass form the chapel. We are clergy like the canons, we become
beneficiaries by appointment, we have studied religious science as
they have, and, moreover, we are musicians; but in spite of this
we receive less than half the salary of a canon, and to remind us
constantly of our inferior position we have to sit in the lower
stalls. We, the only ones in the choir who know anything about music,
have to occupy the lowest places. The precentor is by right the chief
of the singers, and the precentor is a canon named by Rome without
competition, probably not knowing a note of the pentagramma. Oh! the
anarchy, friend Gabriel! Oh! the contempt of the Church for music
which has always been its slave and never its daughter! In many
convents of nuns the organist and the singers are despised and called
sergeants. There seems money for everything in the Church: the
revenues of the building are ample for everything except for music.
The canons look upon us as fools masking in ecclesiastical robes. When
the feast of Corpus or that of the Virgin of the Sagrario comes round,
and I dream of a fine mass worthy of the Cathedral, the Canon Obrero
attacks me and begs for something Italian and simple, an affair of
half-a-dozen musicians that I must pick up in the town, and then I
have to conduct a few bungling musicians, raging to hear how the
miserable orchestra sounds under these vaults, which were built for
something grander. In the end, friend Luna, it is dead, quite dead."
The complaint of the Chapel-master did not surprise Gabriel. Everyone
in the Cathedral complained of the miserable and sordid way in which
the services were conducted. Some, like the Silver Stick, declared
that it was due to the impiety of the age, others, like the musician,
made that same religion responsible, but they did not dare to say so
aloud. Respect to the Church and to the higher powers, instilled since
their childhood, kept the population of the Cathedral silent. The
greater part of the servitors of the Church were living morally in the
sixteenth century, in an atmosphere of servility and superstitious
fear of their superiors, feeling the injustice of their position, but
without daring to give form, even in their thoughts, to their vague
notions of protest.
Only at night, in the silence of the upper cloister, in the privacy
of those families who were born and died among the stones of the
Cathedral, did they dare to repeat the murmurs of the Church,
the interminable tangle of tattle which grew over the monotonous
ecclesiastical existence, the complaints of the canons against His
Eminence, and what the cardinal said about the Chapter, an underground
war which was reproduced at every archiepiscopal elevation, intrigues
and heart-burnings of celibates, embittered by ambition and
favouritism, primitive hatreds that reminded one of the time when the
clergy elected their own prelates and ruled over them, instead of
groaning as now under the iron rule of the archbishop's will.
Everyone in the cloister knew of these quarrels, and the remarks that
the canons allowed themselves to make in the sacristy reached their
ears; but these humble servitors kept silence when these murmurs were
repeated in their presence, fearing to be reported by their neighbour,
who possibly might covet their post. It was the terror of the
Inquisition still alive amidst this little stagnant world.
The Perrero was the only one who seemed to have no fear, and who spoke
openly about the Chapter and the cardinal. What did it matter to him!
Possibly he may have wished to be turned out of "that den" to give
himself up to his favourite pursuit, going to the bull-ring without
any objections from the household. Moreover, he delighted in speaking
evil of the gentlemen of the Chapter, who had given him more than one
cuff when he was an acolyte.
He gave nicknames to all the canons, and pointing them out one by one
to Gabriel, related the most intimate secrets of their lives. He knew
the houses where each prebendary passed the evening after the choir
time, and the names of all the ladies and nuns who crimped their
surplices, and could tell of the fierce and deadly rivalries between
these admirers of the Chapter, endeavouring to vanquish each other
by the exquisite way in which they washed and ironed the canonical
batiste. As the choir were coming out he pointed out the precentor, an
obese prebendary with his face covered with red spots.
"Look at him, uncle," he said to Gabriel, "that rash on his face is a
record of the past. He was a great gallant, never fixing himself long
anywhere. The other evening he said to a chaplain of the chapel of the
kings, 'Those captain professors at the Academy think that in point
of women they cull the best in Toledo, but where is the Church! The
seculars must lower their flag!'"
He laughed as he pointed out a group of young priests, carefully
shaved, with their cheeks blue and shining, dressed in silk mantles
that diffused a strong scent of musk as they moved. These were the
dandies of the Chapter, the young canons, who often made journeys to
Madrid to confess their patronesses--ancient marchionesses who, by
dint of influence, had gained for them a seat in the choir. At the
Puerta del Mollete they stopped a few moments to arrange the folds of
their cloaks before they went into the street.
"They are going out to court the ladies," said the Tato. "Brrrum! make
way for Don Juan Tenorio!"
When they had watched all the canons come out, the Perrero spoke to
his uncle about the cardinal.
"In these days he is given over to the fiends. No one in the palace
can manage him; his internal complaint nearly drives him mad."
"But is it true he is so very ill?" asked Gabriel.
"Everyone says so; ask your Aunt Tomasa. They say they are such great
friends because she makes a lotion that calms him like an angel's
hand. In the morning when he wakes in a bad temper all the palace
trembles, and very soon all the diocese. He is a good man, but when
the mad dog bites him everyone must fly. I have seen him on pontifical
days wearing his mitre, looking at us with such eyes, as though he
were ready to seize his crozier and belabour us all with it, from what
the aunt says--if he did not drink!"
"Then the complaints of the Chapter are true."
"He does not get drunk. No, senor, give the devil his due, but a glass
now, and another presently, and a third if a friend comes to see him,
must obfuscate him. It is a habit he brought with him from Andalusia,
where he was bishop before coming here. But nothing common, a fine and
refreshing drink, only to keep up his strength, nothing more. And the
wine is first class, uncle; I know it from one of his household. He
gives as much as fifty duros the arroba! They keep him the best in
all la Mancha, a vintage from the time of the French, a syrup that
warms the stomach and tempers it as though it were an organ. From what
the Aunt Tomasa says, the doctors patch him up, and then he does his
best to get ill again with this glorious wine."
[Footnote 1: _Arroba_--Measure containing thirty-two pints.]
The Tato, in the midst of his cynical mockery, still showed a regard
for the prelate.
"Do not believe, uncle, that he is a nonentity. Apart from his bad
temper he is really a strong man, even as you see him here, with his
small white and shining head like a baby's, that seems even smaller
above his immense corporation; but it carries something in it! He has
spoken a great deal in Madrid, and all the newspapers took as much
notice of him as though he were Guerra. His wisdom finds a remedy for
everything. If they speak of the poverty and misery in the world, he
sings the old song: bread for the poor, charity from the rich, and
much Christian doctrine for everyone; that men ought not to quarrel
because I have more than you, and there ought to be patience and
decency in the world, for that is what is wanting. What nonsense, eh,
uncle? You laugh at it? But His Eminence's recipe rather pleases me,
especially that about the bread; but the cursed Catechism is in fault
as we have all learnt from our childhood."
The Perrero grew quite excited speaking about his prince:
"And as a man? A masterful man; no hypocrisy about him, nor hiding his
head. Everyone knows he was a soldier in his younger days. The Aunt
Tomasa remembers seeing him in the cloister with his helmet with
horse-hair crest, his sergeant's epaulets, and his rattling broad
sword. He is not afraid of anything, is not easily scandalised, and
does not make a fuss about things. Last year a Portuguese lady arrived
here, who nearly drove all the cadets out of their senses with her
silk stockings and her big hats. You know Juanito, and you are aware
that he is the son of a nephew of His Eminence who died some years
ago. Well, the youngster paraded up and down the Zocodover in his
uniform with the Portuguese lady on his arm to arouse the jealousy
of his companions in the Academy. One day the young woman presented
herself at the palace, and the servants, seeing her so beautifully
dressed, made no difficulty about letting her in, thinking she was
some lady from Madrid. His Eminence received her with a paternal
smile, and listened to her without winking. A friend of mine, one of
the pages who was present, told me about it. She came to complain to
the cardinal that his nephew, the cadet, had entertained her for two
days without giving her a farthing. His Eminence smiled modestly:
'Lady, the Church is poor, but I do not wish that for this misfortune
the good name of the family should suffer. Take this and it will be
remedied,' and he handed her two duros. The Portuguese, encouraged by
her good reception, began to bawl and complain, thinking she would
terrify Don Sebastian by making a scandal. But you should have seen
the fury of His Eminence as he shouted to the page, 'Boy, call the
police'; and the look on his face was such that the Portuguese lady
vanished as quickly as she could, leaving the two pieces of silver on
Gabriel laughed, listening to the story.
"He is a strong man, believe me, uncle. I like him because he holds
the Chapter in his fist. He is not like his predecessor, who was like
a sop in milk, who only knew how to pray, and trembled before the
last-made canon. He is quite capable of going down into the choir one
evening and turning them all out with blows from his crozier. It
is more than two months since he has been down into the Cathedral,
neither has he seen the canons. The last time they sent a deputation
to the palace everybody trembled. They went to propose I know not what
reform to the Primate, and they began by saying, 'My lord, the Chapter
thinks--.' Don Sebastian, turned into a basilisk, interrupted them,
'The Chapter cannot think anything; the Chapter has not common sense,'
and he turned his back, leaving them petrified. Afterwards, he began
shouting, and thumping the furniture with his fists, saying he would
fill all the vacancies in the Cathedral with the dregs of the clergy,
that he would fill the Chapter with drunkards, with impostors, etc. 'I
will harass the Chapter,' he shouted, 'I will dirty it; I will teach
them to talk less of me; I will cover them, yes, sir, I will cover
them with....' And you may guess, uncle, with what His Eminence wished
to cover the canons. And the poor man was right. Why should those
in the choir interfere with this way or that way that Don Sebastian
lives, or if he has those bonds or others? Does not he let them live
as they choose? Does he ever say a word to them about their scandalous
visits, although all Toledo knows of them?"
"And what do the canons say about the cardinal?"
"They say Juanito is his grandson, and that his father, who died, and
who passed as nephew of His Eminence, was really his son by a certain
lady when he was bishop in Andalusia. But this does not seem to
irritate Don Sebastian much; but what does irritate him and makes him
behave like a fiend is when they speak of Dona Visitacion."
"And who is that lady?"
"Come, that is good! You do not know Dona Visitacion? When no one
inside the Cathedral or out of it can speak of anybody else? She is
the niece of Don Sebastian, who lives with him in the palace. It is
she who rules everything, and Don Sebastian, who is so terrible with
everyone else, becomes like an angel when he sees her. He rages and
screams and bites the days when he is ill, but if Dona Visita appears,
he controls himself at once; he suffers in silence, moans like a
child, and it is sufficient for her to say a soft word, or give him a
caress for His Eminence to slobber with delight. He loves her dearly."
"But what is she?" asked Gabriel with interest.
"Clearly she is what you think. What else could she be? She was from
her childhood in the college for noble ladies, and as soon as the
cardinal came to Toledo he took her out, and brought her to the
palace. What a blind infatuation is Don Sebastian's! And the thing is,
the object is hardly worth it--a very thin, pale little girl, with
large eyes and a soft skin; that is all. They say she sings, and plays
the piano, and reads and knows a great many things that they teach
in that wealthy college, and by God's grace can keep His Eminence in
order. She comes sometimes into the Cathedral by the arch, dressed
as a beatita with the habit and mantilla, accompanied by a very ugly
"She cannot be what you think, youngster."
"Go on; all the Chapter affirm it, and even the most steady canons
thoroughly believe it. Even those who are friends and favourites of
His Eminence, and carry him tales about all the grumbling against him,
do not deny it with any warmth. And Don Sebastian gets angry, and is
furious each time any murmurs about this reach his ears. If they told
him the choir intended to give a dance he would be less irritated than
when he hears them wag their tongues about Dona Visita."
The Perrero was silent for a few moments as though he were doubtful
about saying something serious.
"The lady is very good and kind. They all love her in the palace
because she speaks so gently. Besides, she makes use of the great
power she has over the cardinal to prevent the violence of His
Eminence, who very often, when he is racked with excessive pain, would
throw cups and plates at the heads of his servants. Why should they
interfere with her? Does she do them any harm? Let everyone do as he
likes in his own house, and he who does evil, let God punish him."
He scratched his head as though he were once more doubtful.
"And as to what Dona Visita is to the Cardinal," he added, "I have
no doubt whatever. I have facts to go on, uncle, and I know how they
live. One of the servants has often seen them kissing--that is to
say, not the two kissing. No, she does the kissing, and Don Sebastian
receives her kittenish ways with the smile of an angel. The poor man
is so old!"
And the Tato ended his confidences with various indecent remarks.
All this grumbling against the cardinal, that came from the sacristy
up to the cloister, annoyed Gabriel's brother greatly. The "Wooden
Staff," who was a staunch private soldier of the Church, could not
bear to hear with equanimity those attacks on his superiors; in his
opinion they were all calumnies. The canons had spoken of all the
preceding archbishops precisely as they now spoke of Don Sebastian,
but this did not in the least prevent their all being called saints
after their deaths. When he discovered the Tato repeating in the
Claverias all the gossip from down below, he threatened him with all
his authority as head of the house.
Esteban was also very much concerned at the state of his brother's
health. He was pleased at the very prudent behaviour of the latter,
who conformed with silent respect to all the customs of the Cathedral,
never permitting a word to escape him that could reveal his past;
he felt beyond measure proud of the atmosphere of admiration that
surrounded his brother, and the attention with which the simple
inhabitants of the cloister listened to the account of his travels,
but the state of his health was a continual anxiety, the certainty
that death had laid its hand upon him, and that it was solely the care
with which he was surrounded that retarded the fatal moment.
There were days in which the Silenciario smiled with pleasure, seeing
Gabriel a better colour, and hearing less frequently his painful
"You are going on well, brother," he would say joyfully.
"Yes," replied Gabriel, "but do not have any illusions. _That_ will
come at its own hour, it has me in its grasp. It is only you who are
holding it back, but one day it will be stronger than you."
The certainty that death would at last be victorious made Esteban
redouble his efforts. He thought that frequent nourishment was the
only remedy, and he scarcely ever approached Gabriel without something
in his hands.
"Eat this. Drink what I bring you."
He struggled valiantly with that broken constitution, with that
stomach disordered by poverty, with those lacerated lungs and with
that heart subject to constant disturbance of its functions, with that
human machine dislocated by a life of suffering and trials.
The constant watching over the sick man had upset Esteban's economic
life; his miserable wages and the poor assistance the Chapel-master
could give were insufficient even for that extra mouth, which consumed
more than all the others in the household put together. At the end of
the month Esteban was obliged to invoke the aid of Silver Stick to
enable him to get along the last few days, entering thus into the
humble and miserable flock bound by the priest's usury. Sometimes the
Chapel-master, waking for an instant to reality, would give him a few
pesetas, sacrificing the joy of obtaining a fresh score.
Gabriel guessed the privations that his brother underwent, and was
anxious to contribute to the expenses of the little household. But
what work could he obtain in his concealment in the Cathedral? He
wished for some post in the service of the church, in order to receive
at the beginning of every month a few pesetas from the hands of Silver
Stick; but all the posts were occupied, death alone could cause a
vacancy, and there were many eager ones watching for the opportunity
to urge their family claims.
The impossibility of being useful to his brother, of helping to
make his sacrifices less expensive, weighed heavily on Gabriel, and
disturbed the otherwise placid monotony of his life. He inquired of
Esteban as to what he could possibly do, not to remain inactive, but
his brother always answered with his kindly expression: "Take care of
yourself, only take care of yourself; you have no other duty but to
look after your own health, I am here to do all the rest."
When Holy Week came round Gabriel found an opportunity of getting a
few days' work. They were going to put up in the Cathedral the famous
"Monument" between the choir and the Puerta del Perdon. It was a heavy
and complicated erection, of a sumptuous and rococo style, which had
cost the second Cardinal de Bourbon a fortune at the beginning of last
century. A real forest of woodwork formed the basis of the monument;
the riches of the cardinal had created a prodigality of solidity and
sumptuousness, and several days were required to fit together the Holy
Catafalque, and not a few workmen.
Gabriel interviewed Don Antolin asking for a place on the works. The
wages were seven reals a day, which he would be able to give his
brother for two weeks; and he, who had been used in former days to
have his work so lavishly paid, accepted this small daily wage as a
piece of unexpected good fortune.
The "Wooden Staff" was indignant. Gabriel was ill and ought not to
risk his poor health in the fatigues of this work. What was he going
to do, coughing and suffocating every moment? How was he going to
undertake the heavy work of carrying the framework and fixing it
together? The invalid tranquillised him. He knew what those works were
in the church; everything was done with parsimony, but without much
regard to time. The workmen in the service of the church worked with
that calm laziness, and that slow prudence which characterised every
act of religion. Besides, Silver Stick, knowing his condition, would
reserve the least heavy work for him; he could fix screws and bolts,
place the candelabra in line on the steps, and arrange the tapestry;
he trusted him as a man of good taste who had seen much in his
Gabriel worked for two weeks on the monument. This time of relative
activity seemed to give him a certain amount of relief. He moved
about, intent on giving orders to his fellow-workers; he went from the
church to the top of the Claverias, where the monument was stored, and
seeing himself covered with dust, and with his limbs fatigued by the
constant coming and going, he deluded himself into thinking he was
During these two weeks he never went to the shoemaker's house, and so
lost sight of his various friends. The bell-ringer and his friends
were lost in astonishment. A man of so much learning, to work like one
of themselves in order to help his brother!
The Senora Tomasa stopped him one morning by the iron railing of the
"I have news, Gabriel. I think I know where our child is. I won't say
any more; but be ready to help me. The day when you least expect it
you may see her in the Cathedral."
The erection of the monument was finished. All that part of the church
between the choir and the door del Perdon was occupied by this showy
and ponderous fabric. According to their traditional custom all the
Toledans gathered to admire--the steps covered with rows of burning
lights, the Roman legionaries in alabaster leaning on their lances,
and the rich curtain with its innumerable folds that hung from the
vaulting down to the platform of the monument.
On the evening of Holy Thursday Gabriel stood considering what was
in some sense his work, surrounded by a group of worshippers. The
Cathedral shone with its immaculate whiteness, in spite of the black
veils that covered both statues and altars. The clouds of colour from
the lovely rose windows relieved the funereal aspect of the religious
ceremony, while from the choir a tenor voice intoned the lamentations
of the oriental prophet.
Gabriel felt someone pulling his jacket, and turning, saw the
"Come, nephew, we have got her here; she is waiting for you in the
Coming out, the Senora Tomasa pointed to a woman sitting crouched on
the stone coping of the garden, wrapped in an old cloak, and with the
headkerchief drawn down over her eyes.
Gabriel would never have recognised her. He remembered the pretty
smiling face of former years, and he looked almost with horror at
the tarnished youth, haggard with prominent cheek-bones, of the face
before him. The eyes deep sunk in the sockets without eyebrows or
eyelashes, with the pupils still beautiful, but dulled with a glassy
opacity. Everything about her revealed poverty and desolation; the
dress was a summer one, and from under it showed her split boots much
too large for her feet.
"Salute him, child," said the old woman. "It is your Uncle Gabriel,
one of God's angels, in spite of his misfortunes, and you owe it to
him that we searched for you."
The gardener's widow pushed Sagrario towards her Uncle, but the young
woman lowered her head, moved her shoulders and drew back, as though
she could not endure the presence of a member of her family; she
covered her face with her wretched cloak to hide her tears.
"Aunt, let us go home," said Gabriel, "it is not good for the child to
At the cloister staircase they made the young woman pass on in front;
she went up with her head bent and without looking, as though her feet
trod those broken steps instinctively.
"We arrived from Madrid this morning," said the gardener's widow as
they went up. "I kept her at an inn till it was time to bring her to
the Cathedral in the evening. It is the best time, for Esteban is in
the choir, and you will have time to settle things here. I spent three
days there. Ay, Gabriel, my son, what things I have seen, what hells
there are for poor women! and we call ourselves Christians, but I
think we are fiends! Mercifully I had friends at court--some old
bell-ringers who had been in the Cathedral and who remembered the
gardener's widow. I wanted everything, even money, to get this unhappy
girl out of the devil's clutches."
The upper cloister was quite deserted. On arriving at the door of the
Lunas the girl seemed to wake up, and drew quickly back with a look
of terror, as though inside the "habitation" some great danger was
"Go in, woman, go in," said the aunt; "it is your home. You had to
come back some time or other."
And she pushed her till she was through the door. Once inside the
sitting-room her tears ceased; she looked round with astonishment, no
doubt surprised at finding herself there. Her eyes examined everything
with a sort of stupefaction, as though marvelling that everything
should be in the same place as five years before, and with an
exactitude that made her doubt if such a long time had really elapsed.
Nothing seemed changed in that little world under the shadow of the
Cathedral. She only, who had left it in the bloom of her youth, now
returned aged and broken.
There was a long silence between the three people.
"Your room, Sagrario," said Gabriel at last gently, "is the same as
when you left it. Go in and do not come out till I call you. Be calm
and do not cry; trust me. You do not know me well, but the aunt will
have told you that I am interested in your fate. Your father will soon
be coming; hide yourself and be silent. I repeat it again, do not come
out till I call you."
When the old woman and her nephew were alone they could hear the
girl's suffocating sobs that burst out on seeing her old room.
Afterwards they heard a sound as though she were throwing herself on
the bed, and the violence of her grief seemed to become more and more
"Poor child!" said the old woman, who was very nearly crying also,
"she is good, and she has repented of her sins; if only her father had
sought her out when that rascal deserted her, what shame and misery
it would have spared her. And her health? I really think she is worse
than you are, Gabriel. Oh, those men! with their honour which is
nothing more than lies! What is honourable is to be charitable and
compassionate to others, and to harm no one. I said this the other
day when I was shocked at the shamelessness of my son-in-law, who
was furious at my going to Madrid to find the child. He spoke of the
honour of the family, and that if Sagrario returned no decent people
could live in the Cathedral, and that he could not allow his daughter
to stand at the door; and he such a thief that he steals the Virgin's
wax every day, and deceives the devout who pay him for masses that are
never said; that is why his skin shines so and he is so fat. With so
After a short silence the old woman looked undecidedly at Gabriel.
"Well, shall we begin the struggle? Shall I call Esteban?"
"Yes, call him, he will be in the Cathedral. And you, shall you dare
to be present at the interview?"
"No, son, manage it yourself. You know Esteban, and you know me. I
should either begin to cry, or I should turn and rend him for his
obstinacy. You will manage better by yourself, for this God has given
you those talents that you have used so badly."
The old woman went away, and Gabriel remained alone for more than
half an hour, looking out of a window into the deserted cloister. The
yearly commemoration of the death of God spread in the priestly tribe
on the roofs, an atmosphere of sadness even more marked than that
inside the church. All the women and children of the Claverias were
down below admiring the monument, the "habitacions" seemed quite
deserted. As he sat Gabriel saw his brother pass by the window, and in
another moment he appeared at the door.
"What do you want, Gabriel? What has happened to you? The aunt
frightened me with her summons. Are you worse?"
"Sit down, Esteban. I am well, calm yourself."
The "Wooden Staff" looked with surprise at Gabriel; his strange
seriousness alarmed him and the prolonged silence in which he appeared
to be arranging his thoughts without knowing where to begin.
"Speak, man! Do make a beginning; you alarm me."
"Brother," said Gabriel gravely, "you know very well that I have
respected the mystery in your life that I found on my return here. You
said to me, 'My daughter is dead,' and you never showed any wish to
speak of her, and you can say if I have ever touched your old wound by
the slightest allusion."
"Well, and what then? When are you going to stop?" said Esteban,
becoming very gloomy; "why do you speak to me on a day so holy of
things that cause me so much pain?"
"Esteban, we shall never understand each other if you hold on to your
prejudices. Do not make that gesture, but listen to me calmly; do
not act like an automaton, pulled by the same wires that moved our
grandfathers and our ancestors. Be a man, and act according to your
own thoughts. You and I have different beliefs. Setting aside religion
which I know is a consolation to you, you know that I am silent as
to mine, so as not to render my life here impossible. But apart from
this, you believe that the family is a work of God, an institution of
supernatural origin. I believe it to be a human institution based
on the necessities of the species. You condemn for ever anyone who
betrays the laws of the family, or who deserts his banner, you
sentence him to death and oblivion. I pity his weakness and forgive.
We understand honour from a different point of view. You believe in
the Castillian honour--that traditional and barbarous honour, more
cruel and dismal even than dishonour; a theatrical honour, whose
impulses are never founded on human feeling, but on the fear of what
others will say, the desire to appear greater and more dignified in
the eyes of others than to your own conscience. For the adulterous
wife, death; for the murderer, revenge; for the fugitive daughter,
contempt and forgetfulness; this is your gospel. I have another
standard; for the wife who forgets her duties, contempt and oblivion;
for that fragment of our own flesh who flies from us, love, support,
gentleness, even endeavouring to compass her return to us. Esteban, we
are separated by our beliefs, the gulf of centuries lies between us,
but you are my brother, we love each other, and I only desire your
good. I bear the same name of which you are so proud, and I loved our
poor parents as much as you could love them, and in the name of all
these I tell you that this situation must come to an end; you must not
live insensible and frozen in what you call your dignity, without the
remembrance of your daughter wandering about the world, troubling you.
You, who are so kind, who have sheltered me in the most difficult
crisis of my life, how can you sleep, how can you eat, without your
life being embittered by the remembrance of your lost daughter? What
do you know about her now? May she not be dying of hunger while you
eat? May she not be lying in a hospital while you are living in the
home of your fathers?"
Esteban's brow contracted, and he wore his gloomiest look as he
listened to his brother.
"It is useless for you to strive, Gabriel, nothing can come of it.
Have I denied you anything? Am I not ready to do anything for my
brother? But do not speak to me of that; she has caused me much pain,
she has broken my life, how I did not die, I know not. Have you
thought well that for centuries the family of the Lunas have been the
mirror of the Cathedral, respected by even the archbishops, and now,
suddenly to find oneself among the lowest, exposed to the ridicule of
all and looked upon with compassion by the veriest little acolyte!
What I have suffered! The times I have wept with rage alone in this
home, hearing what they were saying behind my back. And then," he
added quietly as though grief were paralysing his voice, "there was
that unhappy martyr who died of shame; my poor wife who left the world
so as not to see my grief and the contempt of others! And do you wish
me to forget all this? For the rest, Gabriel, I cannot express what
I feel as well as you do. But honour--is honour. It is to live in my
house without fear of being shamed, to sleep at night without fearing
to see in the darkness our father's eyes, asking why I allow a lost
woman to live under the same roof that the Lunas won for themselves
by centuries of service to the house of God; it is to avoid people
mocking at our family. Let them say, 'Those Lunas! how unfortunate
they are,' but they shall never say the Lunas are a family wanting in
shame. By our love, brother, leave me; do not speak to me of this.
Those evil doctrines have poisoned your mind; not only have you ceased
to believe in God, but you have ceased to believe in honour."
"And what is all this?" said Gabriel, warming. "You yourself do not
know. 'Honour is honour.' Well, I say, children are children. You, man
of prejudices, you do not wait to consider that those beings are the
continuation of our own existence. Your religion makes you think
children are a fruit from God, nevertheless you think yourself better
and more perfect when you reject and curse those gifts of Heaven if
they cause you any trouble. No, Esteban, the love of children and pity
for their faults ought to come before all prejudices. This eternal
life of the soul, that lying promise of religion, is only true through
our children. The soul dies with the body; it is no more than a
manifestation of our own thoughts, and thought is a cerebral function,
but children perpetuate our own being throughout the generations and
the centuries; it is they who make us immortal, and that preserve
and transmit something of our personality, even as we have inherited
something from our ancestors. He who forgets those beings who are his
own creation is more worthy of execration than he who leaves life by
suicide. The disappointments of life, the laws and customs invented by
men, what are they before the instinctive affection we feel for beings
that have proceeded from ourselves, and who perpetuate the infinite
variety of our habits and thoughts? I abhor those wretches who, in
order not to disturb the commonplace peace of matrimony, abandon the
children they have outside the house. Paternity is the most noble of
all animal functions, but the animals have more courage and dignity
than man in fulfilling it. No animal of the higher sort abandons or
disowns its cub, and yet there are many men who turn their backs on
their children for fear of what people will say. If I, having a son,
were enamoured of the most beautiful woman in the world, and she
required me to forget that son, I would stifle my passion sooner than
abandon the little one. If my son sinned against every human law,
and was sent to prison, even there would I follow him, defying the
execration of the world, sooner than deny that he is my work. We
are united for ever to the creatures to whom we give life, it is a
compromise of solidarity that we make with the species when we work
for its continuance. He who breaks the chain and flies is a coward."
"You will not convince me, Gabriel," screamed Esteban. "I will not!--I
"I repeat it is cowardly on your part. This honour that weighs so
heavily on you is a cruel and antiquated honour that settles all the
conflicts of life by shedding blood. Why do you not seek the man who
stole your daughter? Why do you not kill him like a father in an old
play? Is it because you are a fearful man and have not learnt the art
of murder, and that arms are his profession? If you had taken lawless
vengeance, relying only on what you think your right, his powerful
family would have retaliated on you; but you have not revenged
yourself through an instinct of self-preservation, through fear of
prison and all the punishments invented by society; you have been
afraid in spite of your anger, and this fear you indulge at the
expense of cruelty to the weaker creature. Your anger only falls on
your daughter. Come, Esteban, this is not worthy of a man."
The "Wooden Staff" shook his head obstinately.
"You will not convince me, I do not wish to hear you. That woman shall
not return here; did she not leave me? Let her follow her own path."
"She left you from impulses of that instinct which all healthy beings
possess. That instinct for the preservation of the species, which
poetry beautifies and which it calls 'Love.' If she had left you after
receiving the blessing of a man before an altar, you would have been
delighted, and would have received her with open arms whenever she
came to see you. She left you to be deceived, to fall into misery and
shame, and, seeing her so unhappy, does she not deserve more pity at
your hands than if you saw her living happily? Reflect, Esteban, on
the way in which your poor daughter fell. What had you taught her to
enable her to defend herself from the evil in the world? How was she
armed to preserve intact what you call honour? You and your wife had
set her the example of the respect due to wealth and high birth by
allowing that young man to come to your house, thinking it an honour
that a gentleman should have fallen in love with your daughter. When
the inevitable results of social inequality came about she could not
give him up; she had one of those noble natures that rise in revolt
against the prejudices of the world, even at the risk of suffering all
the bitterness of their rebellion, and she fell vanquished. Whom can
you blame? Her ignorance, her life of isolation from the world, or
yourselves who never taught her better, and who, blinded by ambition,
let her wander to the edge of the precipice? Blame her less than
anybody. Unhappy girl! She has paid with interest her noble defiance
of social prejudices. She has been vanquished in the social fight--a
corpse that has to be buried; and you, her father, ought to be the one
to fulfil that work of mercy."
Esteban, with his head bent, continued to make gestures of refusal.
"Brother," said Gabriel solemnly; "if you hold tenaciously to your
refusal I have only one thing more to say. If your daughter does not
return here, I must go. Everyone has his scruples; you fear the gossip
of the people; I fear myself and what my thoughts can throw in my face
in my solitary moments. Since I have been your guest I have thought
constantly of your daughter, and ever since I have known what happened
in this house I have proposed to myself that the unhappy victim should
return here. You will not let her return? Well then, I must go. I
should be a thief if I ate your bread while a creature who is flesh
of your flesh suffers hunger, or if I should be nursed in my illness
while she, who is possibly worse than I am, has no friendly hand to
comfort her. If she does not return, I am not your brother, but an
intruder, usurping the share of affection and comfort that ought to
fall to her. Brother, everyone has his own code of morality; yours is
taught by the priests, mine I have made for myself, and though it is
less apparent, it may very likely be more strict. In the name of my
morality I say to you, Esteban, my brother, either your daughter
returns here or I go away. I must return to the world to be persecuted
like a wild beast, to the hospital, to the prison, to die like a dog
in the ditch by the roadside. I do not know what will become of me,
but one thing is certain, it is that I shall go to-morrow, or even
to-day, so as not to enjoy a moment more what is not mine. I, who
consider the appropriation of the goods of the world by a privileged
minority as an iniquitous robbery, cannot enjoy knowingly the comforts
that belong by natural right to another unhappy being. I can only
enjoy them sharing them with her."
Esteban had risen to his feet with a gesture of despair.
"Are you mad, Gabriel? Do you wish to leave me? And you say it so
calmly? Your presence here is the only joy of my life after so many
misfortunes. I am accustomed to see you. I must care for you, you are
my whole family; before I had no interest, I lived without hope. Now
I have one, to see you strong and well, and can you say so carelessly
that you will leave me? No, you shall not go--only this was wanting to
me--after the daughter, the brother; kill me once for all!--Lord God,
take me to Thyself!"
And the simple servant of the Church raised his hands in supplication
while his eyes filled with tears.
"Be calm, Esteban. Let us speak like men, without exclamations and
tears. Look at me, I am calm, but do not think for that it is less
certain that I shall go to-day if you do not grant me what I pray."
"But--and she? Where is she that you plead so earnestly for her?" said
Esteban. "Have you seen her and spoken to her? Is she in Toledo? Have
you with the insolence of your unbelief even brought her into the
Gabriel, seeing him tearful and broken by his threat of leaving,
thought the decisive moment had arrived, and opening the door of
Sagrario's room he called:
"Come out, child, ask your father's pardon."
He looked astounded, then he fixed his eyes on Gabriel as though
he could not guess who that woman was. What joke had his brother
With a brutal impulse he tore the woman's hands from her face, looking
at her earnestly; even so he did not recognise her. In the midst of
a painful silence he stood a long while looking at her. Little by
little, in that face so altered by illness, he began to trace the
well-known features. In the tearful eyes devoid of eyelashes something
reminded him of the blue eyes of the lost daughter. The discoloured
lips, surrounded by deep lines, quivered painfully, murmuring always
the same word:
At the sight of such a wreck the father felt his courage fail; his
eyes expressed an immense, an overwhelming sadness.
He retreated backwards to the door of the "habitacion," followed by
the young woman, dragging herself on her knees and stretching out her
"Brother, it is well," he said despairingly; "you are stronger than I
am, let your will be accomplished. Let her remain, as you wish it, but
do not let me see her!--remain, both of you. It is I that will go."
The sewing machine clicked from early morning till night in the house
of the Lunas. This and the hammering of the shoemaker were the only
sounds of work that disturbed the holy silence of the upper cloister.
When Gabriel left his bed at sunrise, after a night of painful
coughing, he would find Sagrario already in the entrance room
preparing her machine for the day's work. From the day following that
of her return to the Cathedral she had devoted herself to work with
sullen silence as a means of returning unnoticed to the Claverias,
trusting that the people would forgive her past. The gardener's widow
procured her work, and so the sound of the stitching was continually
heard in the old "habitacion," accompanied very often by melodies from
the Chapel-master's harmonium.
The "Wooden Staff" moved about his house like a shadow. He remained
continually in the Cathedral or in the lower cloister, only coming up
to the "habitacion" when it was absolutely necessary. He ate his meals
with his head bent, in order not to look at his daughter, who was
seated opposite to him at the other end of the table, ready to burst
into tears at the sight of her father before her. A painful silence
oppressed the family. Don Luis being so absent-minded, seemed the only
one not to perceive the situation, and chatted gaily with Gabriel
about his hopes and his musical enthusiasms. Everything seemed to him
quite natural; nothing disturbed him, and the return of Sagrario to
the family hearth had not caused him the slightest surprise.
When dinner was over Esteban fled, not to return to the house till
night-time; after supper he locked himself into his own room,
leaving his brother and his daughter in possession of the entrance
sitting-room. The machine began to work again, and Don Luis fingered
his harmonium till nine o'clock, when Silver Stick locked the tower
staircase, rattling his bunch of keys with a noise that equalled a
curfew. Gabriel felt indignant at his brother's obstinacy.
"You will kill the child; what you are doing is unworthy of a father."
"I cannot help it, brother; it is impossible for me to look at her. It
is sufficient for me to tolerate such things in the house. Ay! if you
could only tell how the people's looks wound me!"
In reality the scandal produced by the return of Sagrario to the
Claverias had been much less than he had feared. She seemed so ill and
so weary that none of the women felt any animosity against her, and
the energetic protection of her Aunt Tomasa imposed respect. Besides,
those simple women of instinctive passions could not now feel towards
her that hostile envy that her beauty and the cadet's courtship had
formerly inspired. Even Mariquita, Silver Stick's niece, found a
certain salve to her vanity in protecting with disdainful tolerance
that unhappy girl who in former days had attracted the attention of
every man who visited the upper cloister.
Curiosity only disturbed the calm of the Claverias for about a week.
Little by little the women ceased to stand about the Luna's door
to watch Sagrario bending over her machine, and the girl quietly
continued her sad and hard-working life. Gabriel seldom left the
"habitacion." He spent whole days by the young woman's side,
endeavouring by his presence to atone for the hostile aloofness of her
father. It pained him that she should find herself so despised and
solitary in her own house. Every now and then the Aunt Tomasa came to
see them, enlivening them with the optimism of her happy old age. She
was pleased with her niece's conduct; to work hard so as not to be a
drag on her obstinate old father, and to help towards the maintenance
of the house, was clearly what was required; but all the same there
was no reason she should kill herself with work--calm and good humour,
this bad time would lead to a better; she was there to get things
straight with that fiend-possessed Gabriel, and she made the gloomy
"habitacion" ring with her healthy laugh and lively words.
At other times Gabriel's friends would invade the house, abandoning
the assemblies at the shoemaker's. They could not bear Luna's absence,
they wanted to hear him, to consult him, and even the shoemaker when
his work was not urgent would leave his bench and, smelling of paste,
with his apron tucked into his belt and his head rolled up in striped
handkerchiefs, would come and sit by Sagrario's machine.
The young woman fixed her sad eyes with admiration on her uncle. She
had always from her childhood heard her parents speak with respect of
that extraordinary relative who was travelling in foreign countries;
she vaguely remembered him as a shadow crossing her love dream when he
had spent a few days in the Cathedral before establishing himself in
Barcelona, astonishing them all by the accounts of his travels and
his foreign customs. Now she returned to find him aged, as sickly as
herself, but influencing all who surrounded him by the mysterious
power of his words, that were like heavenly music to those poor
In the midst of her sadness Sagrario had no other pleasure but to
listen to her uncle; she felt the same as did those simple men who
left their work to seek Luna in their anxiety to hear fresh things
from his lips. Gabriel was the modern world that for so many years had
rolled on far from the Cathedral, never touching it, but which had at
last entered in to stir and awaken a handful of men who were still
living in the sixteenth century.
The appearance of Sagrario had brought about a change in Luna's life;
he became more communicative, and he lost a great deal of the reserve
he had imposed upon himself when he took refuge in the stony lap of
the church. He no longer forced himself to keep silence and to hide
his thoughts; the presence of a woman seemed to enliven him and
wake once more his propagandist fervour. His companions saw a new
Gabriel--more loquacious and more disposed to communicate to them the
"new things," that were already upheaving the traditional course of
their thoughts, and that even now had on many nights disturbed their
They talked, discussed and consulted Luna, so that he could clear
their confused ideas, and above the voices of the men sounded the
continual click, click of the sewing machine, always busy, like an
echo of the universal work surging in the world, while the calm of the
Infinite spread itself through the precincts of the church.
All those men, accustomed to the slow, regular, quiet duties of the
church, with long periods of rest, admired the nervous activity of
"You will kill yourself, child," said the old organ-blower. "I know
very well what it is like, I have done something of the same sort; I
blow and blow at those bellows, and when it is a mass with much
music, such as Don Luis loves, I end by cursing the organ and him who
invented it, for indeed it nearly breaks my arms."
"Work!" said the bell-ringer with emphasis. "Work is a punishment from
God! You all know its origin. It was the eternal penalty imposed on
our first parents by the Lord when He drove them out of Paradise. It
is a chain that we must drag on for ever."
"No, senor," replied the shoemaker. "As I have read in the newspapers,
work is the greatest of all the virtues, not a punishment; laziness is
the mother of vice, and work is a virtue. Is it not so, Don Gabriel?"
The shoemaker looked at the master, watching for his words as a
thirsty man looks for water.
"Work," said Gabriel, "is neither a punishment nor a virtue; it is a
hard law to which we have to submit for self-preservation and for the
welfare of the species. Without work life could not exist."
And with the same fervid enunciation with which he had in former times
swayed the multitude at those meetings of protest against society, he
explained to this half-dozen men and the quiet sewer, who stopped her
machine to listen, the greatness of universal work, which every day
laboured on the earth, to subdue it and force it to yield sustenance
It was a struggle the whole twenty-four hours against the blind forces
of Nature. The army of work extended over the whole globe, exploring
the continents, leaping to the islands, sailing the seas, and
descending to the bowels of the earth. How many were its soldiers? No
one could count them--millions and millions. At daybreak no one was
absent from the roll-call; the casualties were replaced, the gaps that
poverty and misfortune opened in the ranks were filled up immediately.
As soon as the sun rose the factory chimney began to smoke, the hammer
broke the stone, the file bit the metal, the plough furrowed the
earth, the ovens were lighted, the pump worked its piston, the hatchet
sounded in the wood, the locomotive moved amidst clouds of vapour, the
cranes groaned on the wharves, the steamers cut the waters, and the
little barks danced on the waves dragging their nets. None were absent
from work's review. All hurried on, driven by the fear of hunger,
defying danger, not knowing if they would live till night, or if the
sun rising over their heads would be the last in their lives. And that
daily concentration of human energies began with the first light of
day in all parts of the world, wherever men had assembled and built
towns and constituted societies, or even in the deserts to be
reclaimed by their energies.
The stonemason breaks the stone with his hammer, and at every breath
is poisoned by inhaling the invisible particles. The miner descends to
the hell of modern times with no other guide than the glimmer from
his lamp, to wrest from the strata of the earliest ages relics of the
earth's infancy, those carbonised trees that gave shade to prehistoric
animals. Far from the sun and far from life, he defies death, just as
the mason, poised on a slight scaffolding despises giddiness, watched
only by the birds, surprised to see a creature without wings perched
on such a dizzy height.
The workman in the factory, changed by a fatal and mistaken progress
into a slave of machinery, lives fastened to it like another wheel, a
spring of human flesh, struggling with his physical weariness against
the iron muscles that never tire; brutalised daily by the deafening
cadence of pistons and wheels to give us the innumerable products of
industry rendered necessary by the life of civilisation.
And these millions and millions of men who support the existence
of society, who fight for it against the blind and cruel forces of
Nature, who every morning return to the struggle, seeing in this
monotonous and continual sacrifice the sole aim of their existence,
form the immense family of wage-earners, living on the surplus of a
privileged minority, contenting themselves to subsist on the smallest
part of what these reject, submitting to a wretched remuneration,
always the lowest, without hope of saving or of emancipation.
"It is this egotistical minority," said Gabriel, having arrived at
this point, "who have falsified truth, endeavouring to persuade the
majority of workers that work is a virtue, and that the only mission
of man on earth is to work till he perishes. This code, invented, by
the great capitalists, misquotes science, declaring that people can
only live healthily who devote themselves to work, and that all
inaction is fatal, but is silent as to what science adds--that
excessive work destroys men with far greater rapidity than if they
were living in idleness. They say that work is a painful necessity for
the preservation of life, but they do not say it is a virtue, because
repose and sweet inaction are far more grateful to men and to all
animals than exertion and fatigue. The fable of Paradise, the story of
the Biblical God imposing the sweat of labour as a punishment in order
to earn subsistence, shows that in all times the natural temperament
of man considered rest as the pleasantest condition, and that work
must be considered as an evil indispensable to life, but all the same
an evil. Ruled by the instinct of preservation, man ought only to work
just as much as is necessary for food. But as the immense majority do
not work for themselves alone, but for the profits of a minority of
employers, these require that a man should work as much as he is able,
even if he dies from his over-exertion, and in this way they become
rich, hoarding the surplus from production. Their contention is that
a man should work more than is required for himself, that he should
produce more than is required for his own necessities. In this surplus
lies their wealth, and to obtain it they have invented a monstrous and
inhuman morality, that by means of religion and even of philosophy,
glorifies work, saying that work is the greatest of all virtues and
idleness the source of all vices. And this makes me ask, if idleness
is a vice in the poor, how is it that among the rich it is counted as
a sign of distinction and even of elevation of mind? And if work is
the greatest of all virtues, how is it that capitalists endeavour to
amass wealth in order to free themselves and their descendants from
the practice of so great a virtue? Why is it that this society which
exalts work with every sort of poetical conception relegates the
worker to the lowest rank? Why do they receive with greater enthusiasm
a soldier who has fought, more or less, than an aged workman who has
spent seventy years working without any one praising him or being
grateful to him for so much virtue?"
The servants of the Cathedral nodded their heads, assenting to what
fell from the master; they looked up to him as simple people always
look up to those who come down to them as apostles of a new idea.
The continual friction with Gabriel had caused to germinate in their
minds, stunted by the traditional atmosphere, a growth of ideas, like
the microscopic mosses the winter rains had formed on the granite
buttresses of the church. Hitherto they had lived resigned to the
life that surrounded them, moving like somnambulists on the undecided
boundary which separates soul from instinct, but the unexpected
presence of that fugitive from social battles was the impulse that
launched them into full thought, walking tentatively and with no other
light than that of their master.
"You," went on Gabriel, "do not suffer from the slavery of work like
those who live among modern factories. The Church does not require
great exertions from you, and the service of God does not destroy you
from over-fatigue, though it kills you with hunger. There exists a
monstrous inequality between the salaries of those down below who sit
in the choir and sing and what you earn, who lend to worship all the
strength of your arms. You will not die of fatigue, it is true; many a
workman in the towns would laugh at the lightness of your duties; but
you languish from poverty. I see in this cloister the same anaemic
children that I saw in workmen's slums, I see what you eat and what
you are paid. The Church pays its servants as in the days of faith;
she believes that we still live in the times when whole towns would
throw themselves into the work with the hope of gaining heaven, and
would help to raise cathedrals without any more positive recompense
than the workman's stew and the blessing of the bishop; and all this
while, you, beings of flesh who require nourishment, deceive your
stomachs and those of your wives and children with potatoes and bread,
while down below those wooden images are covered with pearls and gold
in senseless profusion, and without its ever occurring to you to ask
yourselves why the idols who have no wants should be so rich, while
you are unable to satisfy your own and live in misery."
The listeners looked at each other in astonishment, as though these
words were an illuminating flash. They were doubtful for a moment as
though frightened, and then the faith of conviction illuminated their
"It is true," said the bell-ringer in a gloomy tone.
"It is true," repeated the shoemaker, throwing into his words all
the bitterness of his grinding life of poverty, with a constantly
increasing family, and with no other help but his inadequate work.
Sagrario remained silent. She did not understand many of her uncle's
sayings, but she received them all as gospel coming from him, and they
sounded in her ears like delicious music.
Gabriel's reputation spread among the humble inhabitants of the
church, and all the servants of the Primacy gossiped about his wisdom.
The clergy took notice of him, and more than once on rainy evenings
the canon librarian, taking his walk in the cloisters, tried to make
Gabriel talk; but the fugitive, with a remnant of prudence, showed
himself towards the cassocks, as they themselves said, coldly
courteous and reserved, fearing that they would expel him if they
became acquainted with his views.
Only one priest of all those he saw in the upper cloister had inspired
him with any confidence. This was a young man of wretched appearance,
with worn-out clothes, a chaplain of one of the innumerable convents
of nuns in Toledo. He received seven duros a month, which were all
his means of supporting himself and his old mother, a common peasant
woman, who had denied herself bread in order to give an education to
"You see, Gabriel," said the priest. "You see how it is--such a great
sacrifice to earn less than a common labourer earns in my village. Why
did they ordain me with so much ceremony? Was it for this I sang mass
in the midst of so much pomp, as though in wedding the Church I were
uniting myself to wealth?"
His poverty made him the slave of Don Antolin, and in the last third
of the month he came almost every day to the cloister, trying to
soften Silver Stick with his prayers and induce him to lend a few
pesetas. He even flattered Mariquita, who could not show herself shy
with him, in spite of his cassock.
"He has a very good appearance," she said to the women of the
Claverias with the enthusiasm inspired by every man. "I like to see
him by the side of Don Gabriel and to hear them talk as they walk in
the cloister. They look like two great noblemen. His mother called him
Martin, no doubt because he resembled the Saint Martin by that painter
they call El Greco, that hangs in some parish church, but I forget
To cajole Don Antolin was a far more arduous task, and the poor little
curate suffered much in his endeavours to propitiate the miser, who
was irritated if his miserable loans were not repaid at the proper
time. Silver Stick with his love of authority was delighted to hold a
priest and an equal under his thumb, so that those in the Claverias
should see that he did not order about the small fry only. Don Martin
was for him only a servant in a cassock, and he made him come up to
the cloister nearly every evening on various pretexts. His delight
Was to keep him whole hours standing in front of his door, obliged to
listen and to pay attention to all his words.
Gabriel felt pity for the moral dependency in which the poor young man
lived, and he would often leave his niece, going out into the cloister
to join them. His other friends were not long in discovering him;
first of all the bell-ringer, then the organ-blower, and presently the
verger, the Perrero, and the shoemaker would join the group, of which
Silver Stick was the nucleus. Don Antolin was delighted to see himself
surrounded by so many people, never imagining that Gabriel was the
attraction, thinking always it was his authority that inspired fear
Recognising equality with no one but Luna, to him only he addressed
his conversation, as though the others had no other duty but to listen
to him in silence; if anyone spoke to him he pretended not to hear,
but continued addressing Gabriel. Mariquita, huddled up in a shawl,
followed them with her eyes from the door, sharing her uncle's pride
in seeing himself surrounded by such a group, who accompanied him in
his stroll up and down the cloister; the proximity of so many men
seemed to turn her head.
"Uncle! Don Gabriel!" she called in a coaxing voice. "Won't you come
in; you will be more comfortable inside the house, because, even
though it is sunny, it is very cold."
But the uncle paid no attention to her words, and continued his walk
on the side of the cloister bathed by the sun, talking pompously on
his favourite theme, the present poverty of the Cathedral and its
greatness In former times.
"These cloisters in which we are," he said; "do you believe that they
were built to serve as a refuge to the humble secular people who now
live in them? No, senor, although the Church was generous, she would
not have built these 'habitaciones,' with their inner courtyards and
their colonnades for Wooden Staffs and vergers, etc. This cloister,
which was to have been as large and beautiful as the one below, was
begun by the great Cardinal Cisneros" (Don Antolin raised his hand to
his cap) "so that the canons should live in them subject to conventual
regulations; but the canons in those days were very rich, and,
being great lords, would not consent to live shut up here; they all
protested, and the cardinal, who was very quick-tempered, wished to
keep them in leading strings, but one of them started to Rome with
their complaints, sent by his comrades. Cisneros, being governor of
the kingdom, placed guards at all the ports, and the emissary was
arrested as he was going to embark at Valencia. The end of it all
was that after a long suit the gentlemen of the Chapter came off
victorious, and lived out of the Primacy, and the Claverias remained
unfinished with this low roof and this balustrade, both provisional.
But even as it is kings have lived in this cloister; that great
monarch, Philip II., spent several days here. What glorious times!
when the kings, who had palaces at their command, preferred living in
these rooms, so as to be inside the Cathedral and nearer to God. Such
kings, such people. For this reason Spain was greater then than ever.
We were masters of the world. We had power and money, and we lived
happily on earth in the certainty of reaching heaven after death."
"That is true," said the bell-ringer; "those were the good times, and
for their return we fought in the mountains. Ay! if only Don Carlos
had been victorious! if only there had not been traitors amongst us!
Is it not true, Gabriel? You who fought in the war as I did, you can
say if I am not right."
"Hold your tongue, Mariano," said Gabriel, smiling sadly. "You do not
know what you are saying. You fought and shed your blood for a cause
that even now you do not understand. You went to the war as blindly as
I did. Do not look so sullen; it is no use contradicting. Well then,
let us see, what did you wish for when you went out to fight for Don
"I? First of all that every man should come by his own. Did not the
crown belong to his family? Well, let it be given to him."
"And is this all?" asked Luna with displeasure.
"That was the least of it. What I wanted, and do want, is that
the nation should have a good master, an upright lord, and a good
Catholic, who without restraints of laws or Cortes, should govern us
all with bread in one hand and a stick in the other. For the robber,
garrote him! for the honoured, 'you are my friend!' A king who will
not allow the rich to crush the poor, and who will not allow any one
to die of hunger who wishes to work. Come, I think I am explaining
"And all this, do you believe that it existed at any time, or that
your king would be able to restore it? Those centuries that you
describe as those of greatness and well-being were really the worst
in our history; they were the cause of Spanish decadence, and the
beginning of all our ills."
"Stop there, Gabrielillo," said Silver Stick. "You know a great deal,
and have travelled and read much more than I have, but we cannot
swallow that. I am very much interested in the question, and I will
not allow you to take advantage of the ignorance of Mariano and these
others. How can you say that those times were evil, and that the
fault is theirs of what is happening to us now? The true culprit is
liberalism, the unbelief of the age, which has let the devil loose in
our house. Spain, when it does not trust its kings and has no faith in
Catholicism, is like a lame man who drops his crutches and falls to
the ground. We are nothing without the throne and the altar, and the
proof of this is everything that has happened to us since we had
revolutions. We have lost our islands, we count for nothing among the
other countries. The Spaniards who are the bravest men in the world,
have been defeated, there is not a peseta anywhere, and all those
gentlemen who harangue in Madrid vote fresh taxes and we are always
involved in difficulties. When was this ever seen in former times?
"Worse and more shameful things were seen," said Luna.
"You are mad, youngster! Those travels have corrupted you, till I
believe you are hardly a Spaniard! Look you, that he denies what
everybody knows, what is taught in all the schools! And the Catholic
kings; were they nothing? You need no books to know that. Go into the
choir, and you will see on the lower stalls all the battles that those
religious kings gained over the Moors with the help of God. They
conquered Granada and drove out the infidels who had held it seven
centuries in barbarism. Afterwards came the discovery of America. Who
could accomplish that? No one but ourselves; and that good queen who
pawned her jewels so that Columbus should accomplish his voyage. You
cannot deny all this, it seems to me. And the Emperor Charles V.! What
have you to say about him? Do you know any more extraordinary man! He
fought all the kings of Europe, and half the world was his, 'the sun
never set on his dominions,' we Spaniards were masters of the world;
you cannot either deny this. And still we have said nothing of Don
Philip II., a king so wise and so astute that he made all the monarchs
of Europe dance at his pleasure, as though he were pulling them with
a string. Everything was for the greater glory of Spain and the
splendour of religion. Of his victories and greatness we have said
nothing; if his father was victorious at Pavia, he overturned his
enemies at St. Quintin. And what do you say about Lepanto? Down in the
sacristy we preserve the banners of the ship that Don Juan of Austria
commanded. You have seen them; one of them represents Jesus crucified,
and they are so long, so very long, that when they were fastened to
the triforium, the ends had to be turned up so that they should not
trail on the ground. So, was Lepanto nothing? Come, Gabriel, you
really must be mad to deny certain things. If someone had to conquer
the Moors lest they should possess themselves of all Europe and
endanger the Christian faith, who did it? The Spaniards. When the
Turks threatened to become masters of the seas, who went out to meet
them? Spain and her Don Juan. And who went to discover a new world
but the ships of Spain; and who sailed round the world but another
Spaniard, Magallanes; and for everything great it has always been us,
always us, in those days of religion and prosperity. And what can
we say about learning? Those centuries produced Spain's most famous
men--great poets and most eminent theologians; no one has equalled
them since. And to show that religion is the source of all greatness,
the most illustrious writers have worn the religious habit. I guess
what will be your argument, that after such glorious kings came others
less distinguished, and so the decadence commenced. I know something
about that also. I have heard the librarian of the Cathedral and other
people of great learning say this. But this really means nothing.
These are the designs of God, by which He puts His people to the
proof, just as He does with individuals, bringing them down to low
estate, to raise them again to great honour, so that they may continue
in the right way. But we will not speak of this; if there has been
a decadence we do not want to know anything about it. We want the
glorious past, the brilliant times of the Catholic kings, of Don
Carlos and the two Philips, and it is on them that we fix our eyes
when we talk of Spain returning to her good old times."
"But those centuries, Don Antolin," said Gabriel calmly, "were those
of Spanish decadence; in them was begun our ruin. I am not surprised
at your anger; you repeat what you have been taught. There are people
here of the highest education who are not less irritated if you touch
what they call their golden age. The fault is in the education that
is given in this country. All history is a lie, and to know it so
misrepresented it would be far better not to know it at all. In the
schools the past of the country is taught from the point of view of a
savage, who appreciates a thing because it shines and not because of
its worth or utility. Spain was great, and was on the high road to
become the first nation in the world, by solid and positive merits
that the hazards of war or policy could not have destroyed; but that
was before the centuries that you praise, before the times of the
foreign kings: in the Middle Ages which held great hopes, which have
vanished since the consolidation of national unity. Our Middle Ages
produced a cultivated, industrious and civilised people like none
other in the world; they had in them the materials for the building of
a great nation; but foreign architects came in who hastily ran up this
edifice; those first few years of existence that astound you with the
splendour of novelty, and among whose ruins we are still groping."
Gabriel forgot all his prudence in the ardour of discussion. He felt
no fear of Silver Stick, with his manner of an inquisitor incapable of
reasoning. He wished to convince him; he felt all the fervour, all the
irresistible impulse of his proselytising days, without trying in any
way to disguise his feelings from consideration of the atmosphere
surrounding him. Don Antolin listened to him in astonishment, fixing
on him his cold glance. The others listened, feeling confusedly the
marvel that such ideas should be enunciated in the cloister of a
cathedral. Don Martin, the chaplain of the nuns, who stood behind his
miserly protector, showed in his eyes the eager sympathy with which he
heard Luna's words.
He described the Hispano-Roman people over whom the Gothic invasion
swept, without, however, causing a gap, because before long the
conquerors had succumbed to the lower Latin degeneration, remaining
without strength, spending themselves in theological struggles and
dynastic intrigues like those of Byzantium. The regeneration of Spain
did not come from the north with the hordes of barbarians, but from
the south with the invading Arabs. At first they were few, but they
were sufficient to conquer Roderick and his corrupt courtiers. The
instinct of the Christian nationality revolting against the invaders,
and the gathering together of the whole soul of Spain on the rocky
heights of Covadonga to fall once more upon their conquerors, was all
a lie. The Spain of those days gratefully welcomed the people from
Africa and submitted without resistance. A squadron of Arab horsemen
was sufficient to make a town open its gates. It was a civilising
expedition more than a conquest, and a continual current of
immigration was established over the Straits. Over them came that
young and vigorous culture, of such rapid and astonishing growth,
which seemed to conquer though it was scarcely born: that civilisation
created by the religious enthusiasm of the Prophet, who had
assimilated all that was best in Judaism and in Byzantine
civilisation, carrying along with it also the great Indian traditions,
fragments from Persia and much from mysterious China. It was the
Orient entering into Europe, not as the Assyrian monarchs into Greece,
which repelled them seeing her liberties in danger, but the exact
opposite, into Spain, the slave of theological kings and warlike
bishops, which received the invaders with open arms. In two years they
became masters of what it took seven centuries to dispossess them. It
was not an invasion contested by arms, but a youthful civilisation
that threw out roots in every part. The principle of religious liberty
which cements all great nationalities came in with them, and in the
conquered towns they accepted the Church of the Christians and the
synagogues of the Jews. The Mosque did not fear the temples it found
in the country, it respected them, placing itself among them without
jealousy or desire of domination. From the eighth to the fifteenth
century the most elevated and opulent civilisation of the Middle Ages
in Europe was formed and flourished. While the people of the north
were decimating each other in religious wars, and living in tribal
barbarity, the population of Spain rose to thirty millions, gathering
to herself all races and all beliefs in infinite variety, like the
modern American people. Christians and Mussulmans, pure Arabs,
Syrians, Egyptians, Jews of Spanish extraction, and Jews from the East
all lived peaceably together, hence the various crossings and mixtures
of Muzarabes, Mudejares, Muladies and Hebrews. In this prolific
amalgamation of peoples and races all the habits, ideas, and
discoveries known up to then in the world met; all the arts, sciences,
industries, inventions and culture of the old civilisations budded
out into fresh discoveries of creative energy. Silk, cotton, coffee,
oranges, lemons, pomegranates, sugar, came with them from the East, as
also carpets, silk tissues, gauzes, damascene work and gunpowder. With
them also came the decimal numeration algebra, alchemy, chemistry,
medicine, cosmology and rhymed poetry. The Greek philosophers, who
were nearly vanishing into oblivion, saved themselves by following the
footsteps of the Arab conquerors. Aristotle reigned in the university
of Cordoba. That spirit of chivalry arose among the Spanish Arabs,
which has since been appropriated by the warriors of the north, as
though it were a special quality belonging to Christian people. While
in the barbarous Europe of the Franks, the Anglo-Normans, and the
Germans, the people lived in hovels, and the kings and barons in rocky
castles blackened by the smoke of their fires, devoured by vermin,
dressed in coarse serge, and fed like prehistoric man, the Spanish
Arabs were raising their fantastic Alcazars, and, with the refinement
of ancient Rome, they met at their baths to converse on all literary
and scientific questions. If any monk from the north felt the hunger
of learning, he came to the Arab universities or the Jewish synagogues
of Spain, and the kings of Europe thought they would be cured of their
infirmities if, by dint of golden bribes, they could procure a Spanish
When little by little the aboriginal element separated itself from the
invaders and small Christian nationalities arose, the Arabs and the
old Spaniards (if indeed after the constant mingling of blood there
was any difference between the two races) fought chivalrously without
exterminating each other after the battles, mutually respecting one
another, with long intervals of peace, as though they wished to
retard the moment of final separation, and often joining in various
A system of liberty ruled in most of the Christian States. The Cortes
arose much earlier than in the other western countries of Europe, and
the Spanish people governed and regulated their expenses themselves,
seeing only in their king a military chief. The municipalities were
little republics with their own elected magistrates. The town militia
realised the ideal of a democratic army. The Church at one with the
people lived peacefully with the other religions in the country; an
intelligent bourgeoisie created large industries in the interior, and
fitted out the first navy of the times at their own cost, and Spanish
products were more sought after than any other in all the ports
of Europe. There were towns then as populous as any of the modern
capitals; whole populations devoted themselves to weaving different
kinds of stuffs, and everything was cultivated on the soil of the
The Catholic kings marked the apogee of national strength, but it was
the beginning also of its decadence. Their reign was great because the
flow of energy begun in the Middle Ages lasted till their times; but
it was execrable, because their tortuous policy turned Spain from the
right way, rousing in us religious fanaticism and the ambition of
universal empire. Two or three centuries ahead of the rest of Europe,
Spain was for the world of those days what England is for our own
times. If we had followed the same policy of religious toleration, of
fusion of races, of industrial and agricultural work in preference to
military enterprises, where should we not be now?
Gabriel asked this question, interrupting his ardent description of
"The Renaissance," continued Luna, "was more Spanish than Italian. In
Italy the literature of antiquity, and Greco-Roman art revived, but
the Renaissance was not entirely literary. The Renaissance represents
the springing into life of a new and cultivated society, with arts
and manufactures, armies and, scientific knowledge, etc. And who
accomplished this but Spain, that Arab-Hebrew-Christian Spain of the
Catholic kings? The Gran Capitan taught the world the art of modern
warfare; Pedro Navarro was a wonderful engineer; the Spanish troops
were the first to use firearms, and they created also the infantry,
making war democratic, as it gave the people the superiority over the
noble horsemen clad in armour; finally, it was Spain who discovered
"And does all this seem little to you?" interrupted Don Antolin. "Do
you not exactly agree with what I said? We have never seen so much
power and greatness united in Spain as in the times of those kings,
who with reason some call the Catholics."
"I agree that it was a grand period of our history; the last that was
really glorious, the last gleam that flashed before that Spain, who
alone walked in the right way, was extinguished. But before their
deaths the Catholic kings commenced the decadence by dismembering that
strong and healthy Spain of the Arabs, the Christians and the Jews.
You are right, Don Antolin, to say that those kings are not called
the Catholics for nothing. Dona Isabel with her feminine fanaticism
established the Inquisition, so science extinguished her lamp in the
mosques and synagogues, and hid her books in Christian convents.
Seeing that the hour for praying, instead of reading, had come,
Spanish thought took refuge in darkness, trembling in cold and
solitude, and ended by dying. What remained devoted itself to poetry,
to comedies and theological tracts. Science became a pathway that led
to the bonfire; and then came a fresh calamity, the expulsion of the
Spanish Jews, so saturated with the spirit of this country, loving it
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