The Shadow of the Cathedral
Vicente Blasco Ibanez
Part 6 out of 6
he had carried on this night work in the Cathedral, and if he heard
anything it was only the scampering of rats, who respected neither
saints nor altars, for after all they were only wood!
He only feared men of flesh and blood, those robbers who in former
times had more than once entered the Cathedral, obliging the Chapter
to establish this night vigilance.
He entertained Gabriel with the account of all the attempts at robbery
which had happened during the century. In the Cathedral was enough
wealth to tempt a saint, Madrid was near, and he much feared the
"swell" thieves. But thieves would have to be clever and fortunate
to get the better of them. Silver Stick, the bell-ringer, and the
sacristan made their nightly inspection before locking up, Mariano
then taking the keys away with him to the belfry. No one could
think of breaking the locks and bolts, for they were of antique and
extremely strong work; besides, they two were there inside to give the
alarm on hearing the slightest noise. Formerly, by the help of the
dog, the watching had been more complete, for the animal was so alert
that no passer-by could approach the doors for an instant without his
barking. After its death the Senor Obrero spoke month after month of
getting another, but he had never fulfilled his promise. But all the
same, without the dog, they two were there and that meant something,
eh! He with his old pistol which had never been fired, and Gabriel
with his carbine, which was still standing in the corner where his
predecessor had left it. He plumed himself upon the fear he and his
companion would excite, but, called back to reality by Luna's smile,
"At any rate, in case of emergency we can reckon on the bell that
summons the canons; the rope hangs down in the choir, and we have
only to ring it. And just imagine what would happen if it rang in
the silence of the night! All Toledo would be on foot, knowing that
something serious was taking place in the Cathedral. With this and
those cursed markers that will not let one sleep, one might say that
even the king was not so well guarded at night as this church."
In the morning when the watch was ended, Gabriel would return to his
house, perished with cold, longing to stretch himself in bed. He would
find Sagrario in the kitchen, warming the milk he was to drink before
turning in. His gentle companion still called him "uncle" in the
presence of the household, and only used the loving "thou" when they
were alone. When he was in bed she would bring the steaming milk,
making him drink it with maternal caresses, smoothing the pillows;
after which she would carefully close the windows and doors so that no
ray of light should disturb him.
"Those nights in the Cathedral!" said she complainingly. "You are
killing yourself, Gabriel. It is not fit for you. My father says the
same. As it is certain there is nothing beyond death, and that we
shall not see one another, do try and prolong your life by being
careful. Now that we know each other, and are so happy, it would be so
sad to lose you!"
Gabriel reassured her. This would not go on beyond the summer; after
that they would give him something better. She must not be so sad;
such a little thing did not kill one. He would cough just as much
living in the Claverias as passing the night in the Cathedral.
After dinner he would go into the cloister, completely rested by his
morning's sleep. It was the only time of the day in which he could see
his friends; they either came to find him, or he went in search of
them, going to the shoemaker's house or up into the tower.
They greeted him respectfully, listening to his words with the same
attention as before; but he noted in them a certain air of proud
independence, and at the same time of pity, as if, although grateful
to him for having transmitted his ideas to them, they pitied him for
his gentle character, so inimical to all violence.
"Those birds," said Gabriel to his brother, "are flying on their own
account. They do not want me, and wish to be alone."
Wooden Staff shook his head sadly.
"God grant, Gabriel, that some day you may not repent of having spoken
to them of things they cannot understand! They have greatly changed,
and no one can endure our nephew, the Perrero. He says that if he is
not allowed to kill bulls in order to get rich, he will kill men to
get out of his poverty; that he has as much right to enjoyment as any
gentleman, and that all the rich are robbers. Really, brother, by the
Holy Virgin! have you taught them such horrible things?"
"Let them alone," said Gabriel, laughing; "they have not yet digested
their new ideas, and are vomiting follies. All this will pass, for
they are good souls."
The only thing that vexed him was that Mariano withdrew from him. He
fled his company as if he were afraid. He seemed to fear that Gabriel
would read his thoughts, with that irresistible power that from
boyhood he had held over him.
"Mariano, what is the matter with you?" said he, seeing him pass
through the cloisters.
"Much that is out of gear," answered his surly friend.
"I know it, man--I know it; but you seem to avoid me. Why is this?"
"Avoid you--I?--never. You know I always love you. When you come to
my house you see how we all welcome you. We owe you a great deal; you
have opened our eyes and we are no longer brute beasts. But I am tired
of knowing so much and being so poor, and my companions are thinking
the same. We do not care to have our heads full and our bellies
"Well, then, what remedy have we? We have all been born too-soon.
Others will come after us, finding things better arranged. What can
you do to right the present, when there are millions of workers in
the world more wretched than yourselves, who have not succeeded in
finding a better way out even at the cost of their blood, fighting
"What shall we do?" grumbled his companion. "That is what we shall
see, and you will see also. We are not such fools as you think. You
are very clever, Gabriel, and we respect you as our master, for
everything you say is true. But it seems to us that when you have to
do with things--practical things: you understand me? when one must
call bread, bread, and wine, wine: am I explaining myself?--you are,
begging your pardon, rather soft, like all those who live much in
books. We are ignorant, but we see more clearly."
He walked away from Gabriel, who-was quite unable to understand the
true bearing of this aberration among his disciples. Several times
when he went up to the tower to spend a few moments with his friends,
they would suddenly cease their conversation, looking anxiously at him
as though they feared he might have overheard their words.
It was several days since Don Martin had been in the cloister. Gabriel
knew through Silver Stick that the chaplain's mother had died, and a
week afterwards he saw him one evening in the Claverias. His eyes were
bloodshot, his cheeks thin, and his skin drawn as though he had wept
"I come to take farewell, Gabriel. I have spent a month of sorrow and
sleeplessness nursing my mother. The poor thing is dead; she was
far from young, and I expected this ending, but however strong and
resigned one may be, these blows must be felt. Now the poor old woman
is gone I am free; she was the only tie that bound me to this Church,
in which I no longer believe. Its dogma is absurd and puerile, its
history a tissue of crimes and violence. Why should I lie like others,
feigning a faith I do not feel? To-day I have been to the palace to
tell them they may dispose of my seven duros monthly and my chaplaincy
of nuns. I am going away. I wish not only to fly the Church, I wish
to get out of her atmosphere; and a renegade priest could not live in
Toledo. You see this masquerade? I wear it to-day for the last time;
to-morrow I shall taste the first joy of my life, tearing this shroud
into shreds, such small shreds that no one will be able to use them.
I shall be a man. I will go far away, as far as I can. I wish to know
what the world is like as I have to live in it. I know no one, I shall
have no assistance. You are the most extraordinary man I have ever
known, and here you are hidden in this dungeon by your own free will,
concealed in a Church which to your views must be empty. I am not
afraid of poverty. When one has been God's representative on six reals
a day one can look hunger in the face. I will be a workman; I will dig
the earth, if necessary. I will get employment on something--but I
shall be a free man."
As the two friends walked up and down the cloister Gabriel counselled
Don Martin in determining the place to which he should direct his
steps, as his thoughts wavered between Paris and the American
republics, where emigration was most needed.
As the evening fell, Gabriel took leave of his disciple; his
fellow-watchman was waiting for him in the cloister ready for
"Probably we shall never meet again," said the chaplain sadly. "You
will end your days here, in the house of a God in whom you do not
"Yes, I shall die here," said Gabriel, smiling. "He and I hate one
another, but all the same it seems as if He could not do without me.
If He goes out into the streets it is I who guide His steps, and again
at night, it is I who guard His wealth. Good-bye, and good-luck,
Martin. Be a man without weakness. Truth is well worth poverty."
The disappearance of the chaplain of nuns was effected without
scandal. Don Antolin and the other priests thought the young man
had moved to Madrid through ambition, to help swell the number of
place-hunting clerics. Gabriel was the only one who knew Don Martin's
real intentions. Besides, an astonishing piece of news, that fell on
the Cathedral like a thunderbolt, soon caused the young priest to be
forgotten, throwing all the gentlemen of the choir, all the smaller
folk in the sacristies, and the whole population of the upper cloister
into the greatest commotion.
The quarrels between the Archbishop and his Chapter had ended,
everything that had been done by the cardinal was approved of in Rome,
and His Eminence fairly roared with joy in his palace, with the fiery
impetuosity of his usual feelings.
As the canons entered the choir they walked with bent heads, looking
ashamed and frightened.
"Well, have you heard?" they said to one another as they disrobed in
In a great hurry, with flying cloaks they all left the church, every
man his own way, without forming groups or circles, each one anxious
to free himself from all responsibility, and to appear free from all
complicity with the prelate's enemies.
The Tato laughed with joy seeing the sudden dispersion, and the
agitation of the gentlemen of the choir.
"Run! run I The old gossip will give you something to think about!"
The same preparations were made every year in the middle of August for
the festival of the Virgin del Sagrario. In the Cathedral they spoke
of this year's festival with mystery and anxiety, as though they were
expecting great events. His Eminence, who had not been into the church
for many months, in order not to meet his Chapter, would preside in
the choir on the feast day. He wished to see his enemies face to
face, crushed by his triumph, and to enjoy their looks of confused
submission. And accordingly, as the festival drew near many of the
canons trembled, thinking of the harsh and proud look the angry
prelate would fix on them.
Gabriel paid very little attention to these anxieties of the clerical
world; he led a strange life, sleeping the greater part of the
day, preparing himself for the fatiguing night watch, which he now
undertook alone. The Senor Fidel had fallen ill, and the Obreria to
avoid expense, and not to deprive the old man of his wretched pay, had
not engaged a new companion for him. He spent the nights alone in the
Cathedral as calmly as if he had been in the upper cloister, quite
accustomed to the grave-like silence. In order not to sleep, he read
by the light of his lantern any books he could get in the Claverias,
uninteresting treatises on history in which Providence played the
principal _role_; lives of the saints, amusing from their simple
credulity, bordering on the grotesque; and that family Quixote of the
Lunas', that he had so often spelt out when little, and in which he
still found some of the freshness of his childhood.
The Virgin's feast day arrived; the festival was the same as in
other years. The famous image had been brought out of its chapel and
occupied on its foot-board a place on the high altar. They brought out
her mantle kept in the Treasury and all her jewels, that scintillated
kissed by the innumerable lights, glittering and flashing with endless
Before the commencement of the festival, the inquisitive of the
Cathedral, pretending absent-mindedness, strolled between the choir
and the Puerta del Perdon. The canons in their red robes assembled
near the staircase lighted by the famous "stone of light." His
Eminence would come down this way, and the canons grouped themselves,
timidly whispering, asking each other what was going to happen.
The cross-bearer appeared on the first step of the staircase, holding
his emblem horizontally with both hands so that it should pass under
the arch of the doorway. After, between servitors, and followed by the
mulberry-coloured robe of the auxiliary bishop, advanced the cardinal,
dressed in his purple, which quenched the reddish-violet of the
The Chapter were drawn up in two rows with bowed heads, offering
homage to their prince. What a glance was Don Sebastian's! The canons,
bending, thought they felt it on the nape of their necks with the
coldness of steel. He held his enormous body erect in its flowing
purple with a gallant pride, as if at the moment he felt himself
entirely cured of the malady which was tearing his entrails, and of
the weak heart which oppressed his lungs. His fat face quivered with
delight, and the folds of his double chin spread out over his lace
rochet. His cardinal's biretta seemed to swell with pride on his
little, white and shining head. Never was a crown worn with such pride
as that red cap.
He stretched out his hand, gloved in purple, on which shone the
episcopal emerald ring, with such an imperious gesture that one after
another of the canons found themselves forced to kiss it. It was the
submission of churchmen, accustomed from their seminary to an apparent
humility which covered rancours and hatreds of an intensity unknown in
ordinary life. The Cardinal guessed their disinclination, and gloated
over his triumph.
"You have no idea what our hatreds are," he had often said, to his
friend, the gardener's widow. "In ordinary life few men die of
ill-humour; he who is annoyed gives vent to it, and recovers his
equanimity. But in the Church you may count by the hundred men who
die in a fit of rage, because they are unable to revenge themselves;
because discipline closes their mouths and bows their heads. Having no
families, and no anxieties about earning their bread, most of us only
live for self-love and pride."
The Chapter formed their procession accompanied by His Eminence. The
scarlet Perrero headed the march, then came the black vergers and
Silver Stick, making the tiles of the pavement ring with the blows of
their staffs. Behind came the archiepiscopal cross and the canons in
pairs, and finally the prelate with his scarlet train spread out at
full length, held up by two pages. Don Sebastian blessed to the right
and to the left, looking with his penetrating eyes at the faithful who
bowed their heads.
His imperious character and the joy of his triumph made his glance
flash. What a splendid victory! The Church was his home, and he
returned to it after a long absence with all the majesty of an
absolute master, who could crush the evil-speaking slaves who dared to
The greatness of the Church seemed to him at that moment more glorious
than ever. What an admirable institution! The strong man who arrived
at the top was an omnipotent god to be feared. Nothing of pernicious
and revolutionary equality. Dogma exalted the humility of all before
God; but when you came to examples, flocks were always spoken of, and
shepherds to direct them. He was that shepherd because the Omnipotent
has so ordered it. Woe to whoever attempted to dethrone him!
In the choir his delighted pride tasted an even greater satisfaction.
He was seated on the throne of the archbishops of Toledo, that seat
which had been the star of his youth, the remembrance of which had
disturbed him in his Episcopacy, when the mitre had travelled through
the provinces, waiting for the hour to rise to the Primacy. He stood
erect under the artistic canopy of the Mount Tabor, at the top of four
steps, so that all in the choir could see him and recognise that he
was their prince. The heads of the dignitaries seated at his side were
thus on a level with his feet. He could trample on them like vipers
should they dare to rise again, striking at his most intimate
Fired by the appreciation of his own grandeur and triumph, he was the
first to rise, or to sit down; as is directed in the rubric of the
services, he joined his voice to those in the choir, astonishing them
all by the harsh energy of his singing; the Latin words rolled from
his mouth like blows upon those hated people, and his eyes passed with
a threatening expression over the double row of bent heads.
He was a fortunate man, who had risen from place to place, but he
never felt a satisfaction so deep, so complete as at that moment. He
himself was startled at his own delight, at that orgy of pride that
had extinguished his chronic ailments; it seemed to him as though he
were spending in a few hours the stores of enjoyment of his whole
As the mass was ending, the singers and lower people in the choir, who
were the only ones who dared to look at him, were alarmed, seeing him
suddenly grow pale, rise with his face discomposed, pressing his hands
to his breast. The canons noticing it, rushed towards him, forming a
crowded mass of red vestments in front of his throne. His Eminence was
suffocating, fighting against that circle of hands who instinctively
clutched at him.
"Air!" he moaned, "air! Get out from before me with a thousand curses!
Take me home!"
Even in the midst of his agony, he recovered his majestic gesture
and his old soldiering oaths to drive away his enemies. He was
suffocating, but he would not allow the canons to see it: he guessed
the delight many of them must feel beneath their compassionate manner.
Let no one touch him! He could manage for himself! So leaning on two
faithful servants, he began his march, gasping, towards the episcopal
staircase, followed by great part of the Chapter.
The religious function ended hurriedly. The Virgin Would forgive it,
she should have a better solemnity next year; and all the authorities
and invited guests left their seats to run in search of news to the
When Gabriel woke, past mid-day, every one in the upper cloister was
talking of His Eminence's health. His brother inquired of the Aunt
Tomasa who had just come from the palace.
"He is dying, my sons," said the gardener's widow; "he cannot escape
from it. Dona Visitacion signalled it to me from afar, weeping, poor
thing! He cannot be put to bed, for his chest is heaving like a
broken bellows. The doctors say he will not last till night. What a
misfortune! And on a day like this!"
The agony of the ecclesiastical prince was received in funereal
silence. The women of the Claverias went backwards and forwards with
news from the palace to the upper cloister; the children were shut up
in the houses, frightened by their mothers' threats if they attempted
to play in the galleries.
The Chapel-master, who was generally indifferent to events in the
Cathedral, went nevertheless to inquire of His Eminence's condition.
He had a plan which he quickly explained to the family during dinner.
The funeral of a cardinal deserved the execution of a celebrated mass,
with a full orchestra recruited in Madrid. He had already cast his
eyes on the famous Requiem of Mozart; that was the only reason for
which he was interested in the prelate's fate.
Gabriel, looking at his companion, felt the gentle selfishness that a
living man feels when a great man dies.
"So the great fall, Sagrario, and we, the sickly and wretched, have
still some life before us."
At the hour of locking up the church he went down to begin his watch.
The bell-ringer was waiting for him with the keys.
"How about the Cardinal?" inquired Gabriel.
"He will certainly die to-day, if he is not already dead."
And afterwards he added:
"You will have a great illumination to-night, Gabriel. The Virgin is
on the high altar till to-morrow morning, surrounded by wax tapers."
He was silent for a moment, as if undecided about Something.
"Possibly," he added, "I may come down and keep you company a little.
You must be dull alone; expect me."
When Gabriel was locked into the church, he caught sight of the high
altar, resplendent with lights. He made his usual trial of doors and
railings; visited the Locum and the large lavoratories, where once
some thieves had concealed themselves, and after he was quite certain
that there was no human being in the church except himself, he seated
himself in the crossways with his cloak round him, and his basket of
He sat there a long while, looking through the railings at the Virgin
del Sagrario. Born in the Cathedral and brought up as a child by his
mother, who knelt with him before the image, he had always admired it
as the most perfect type of beauty. Now he criticised it coldly with
his artistic eye. She was ugly and grotesque like all the very rich
images; sumptuous and wealthy piety had decked her out with their
treasures. There was nothing about her of the idealism of the Virgin
painted by Christian artists; she was much more like an Indian idol
covered with jewels. The embroidered dress and mantle stood out with
the stiffness of stone folds, and over the head-dress sparkled a crown
as large as a helmet, diminishing the face. Gold, pearls and diamonds
shone on every part of her vestments, and she wore pendants and
bracelets of immense value.
Gabriel smiled at the religious simplicity which dressed heavenly
heroes according to the fashions of the earth.
The faint twilight glimmering through the windows and the wavering
flame of the tapers animated the face of the image as if she were
"Even as I am!" said Gabriel to himself. "If a holy person were in my
place he would think the Virgin was laughing one moment and crying the
next; with a little imagination and faith, behold here is a miracle!
These flickerings of light have been an inexhaustible mine for the
priests, even the Venus' of former times changed the expression of
their faces at the pleasure of the faithful, just like a Christian
He thought a long time about miracles, the invention of all religions,
and as old as human ignorance and credulity.
It was now quite dark. After supping frugally, Gabriel opened a book
that he carried in his basket and began to read by the light of his
lantern. Now and then he raised his head, disturbed by the fluttering
and screams of the night birds, attracted by the extraordinary
brilliancy of the countless wax tapers. The time passed slowly in the
darkness; the silvery sound of the warriors' hammers re-echoed through
the vaulting. Luna got up and visited the markers to record his visit.
Ten o'clock had struck when Gabriel heard the wicket of the Puerta de
Santa Catalina open quickly but without violence, as though a key had
been used. Luna remembered the bell-ringer's offer, but soon he heard
the sound of many steps magnified by the echo as if a whole host were
"Who goes there?" shouted Gabriel, rather alarmed.
"It is us, man," answered from the darkness the husky voice of
Mariano. "Did I not tell you we should come down?"
As they came into the crossways, the light from the high altar fell
full upon them, and Gabriel saw the Tato and the shoemaker with the
bell-ringer. They wished to keep Luna company part of the night, so
that his watch should not be so wearisome, and they produced a bottle
of brandy, of which they offered him some.
"You know I do not drink," said Gabriel. "I have never cared for
alcohol; wine sometimes, and very little of that. But where are you
all going to, dressed out as for a feast day?"
The Tato answered hurriedly. Silver Stick locked up the Claverias at
nine, and they wished to spend the night out of bounds. They had been
some time at a cafe in the Zocodover, feasting like lords. They
had had all sorts of adventures, that was a night quite out of the
ordinary way, more especially as all the town was in commotion about
"How is he going on?" inquired Gabriel.
"I believe he died half-an-hour ago," said the bell-ringer. "When
I went up to my house for the keys, a doctor was coming out of the
palace and he told one of the canons. But let us sit down."
They all sat down, in their embroidered caps, on the steps of the high
altar railing. Mariano put his bunch of keys on the ground, a mass of
iron as big as a club. There were keys of every age, some of iron,
very large, rough and rusty, showing the old hammer marks and with
coats of arms near the bows; others, more modern were clean and bright
as silver, but they were all very large and heavy, with powerful
indented teeth, proportionate to the size of the edifice.
The three friends seemed extraordinarily happy, with a nervous gaiety
which made them catch hold of each other and laugh. They cast sidelong
looks at the Virgin and then looked at each other, with a mysterious
gesture that Gabriel was quite unable to understand.
"You have all drunk a good deal, is it not so?" said Luna. "You do
wrong, for you know that drink is the degradation of the poor."
"A day is a day, uncle," said the Perrero; "it delights us that the
great ones are dying. You see, I esteem His Eminence highly, but let
him go to the devil! The only satisfaction a poor man has is to see
that the end comes also to the rich."
"Drink," said the bell-ringer, offering him the bottle. "It is a
pleasure to find ourselves here, well and happy, while to-morrow His
Eminence will find himself between four boards; we shall have to ring
the little bell all day!"
The Tato drank, passing the bottle to the shoemaker, who held it a
long time glued to his gullet. Of the three he seemed the most tipsy;
his eyes were bloodshot, he stared stonily on every side and remained
silent, he only gave a forced laugh when anyone spoke to him, as if
his thoughts were very, very far off.
On the other hand, the bell-ringer was far more loquacious than usual.
He spoke of the cardinal's fortune, at the wealth that would fall to
Dona Visitacion, of the joy many of the Chapter must feel that night.
He interrupted himself to take a pull at the brandy bottle, passing it
afterwards to his companions. The smell of the alcohol spread through
that atmosphere impregnated with incense and the smoke of wax tapers.
More than an hour passed in this way. Mariano had stopped the
conversation several times as if he had something serious to say and
was vacillating, wanting courage.
"Gabriel, time is passing and we have much to do and to talk about.
It is a little past eleven, but we have still several hours to do the
"What do you mean to say?" asked Luna, surprised.
"Few words--in a nut-shell. It concerns your becoming rich and us
also; we intend to get out of this poverty. You have noticed for
some time that we have avoided you, that we preferred talking among
ourselves to the pleasure of listening to you. We all know that you
are very learned, but as far as things of this life go you are not
worth a farthing. We have learnt a great deal from you, but that does
not get us out of our poverty. We have spent months thinking how to
make a lucky stroke. These revolutions of which you speak seem to us
very far off; our grandchildren may see them, but we never shall. It
is all right for clever people to look to the future, but ignorant
people like us look to the present. We have employed our time
discussing all sorts of schemes, to kidnap Don Sebastian and require
a million of ransom, to break into the palace one night, and I don't
know what besides! All wild ideas started by your nephew. But this
morning in my house, while we were lamenting our poverty, we suddenly
saw our salvation close at hand. You as the sole guardian of the
Cathedral. The Virgin on the high altar, with the jewels that are
locked up in the Treasury all the rest of the year, and I with the
keys in my power. The easiest thing in the world. Let us clean out the
Virgin and take the road to Madrid, where we shall arrive at dawn; the
Tato knows a lot of people there among cloak stealers. We will hide
ourselves there for a little while, and then you, who know the world,
will guide us. We will go to America, sell the stones, and we shall be
rich. Get up, Gabriel! We are going to strip the idol, as you say."
"But this is a robbery that you are proposing!" exclaimed Luna,
"A robbery?" said the bell-ringer. "Call it so, if you like--and, what
then? Are you afraid of it? More has been robbed from us, who were
born with the right to a share of the world, but however much we look
round we cannot find a vacant place. Besides, what harm do we do to
anybody? These jewels are of no use to the bit of wood they cover, it
does not eat, it does not feel the cold in winter, and we are poor
miserable creatures. You yourself have said it, Gabriel, seeing our
poverty. Our children die of hunger on their mother's knees, while
these idols are covered with wealth, come along, Gabriel, do not let
us lose any more time."
"Come along, uncle," said the Tato, "have a little courage. You must
admit we ignorant people know how to manage things when it comes to
Gabriel was not listening to them; surprise had made him fall into a
reverie of self-examination. He thought--terrified of the great error
he had committed--he saw an immense gulf opening between himself and
those he had believed to be his disciples. He remembered his brother's
words. Ah, the good sense of the simpleminded! He, with all his
reading, had never foreseen the danger of teaching these ignorant
people in a few months what required a whole life of thought and
study. What happened to people stirred up by revolution was happening
here on a small scale. The most noble thoughts become corrupted
passing through the sieve of vulgarity; the most generous aspirations
are poisoned by the dregs of poverty.
He had sown the revolutionary seed in these outcasts of the Church,
drowsing in the atmosphere of two centuries ago. He had thought to
help on the revolution of the future by forming men, but on awaking
from his dreams he found only common criminals. What a terrible
mistake! His ideas had only tended to destruction. In removing from
the dulled brains the prejudices of ignorance, and the superstitions
of the slave, he had only succeeded in making them daring for evil.
Selfishness was the only passion vibrating in them. They had only
learnt that they were wretched and ought not to be so. The fate of
their companions in misfortune, of the greater part of humanity,
wretched and sad, had no interest for them. If they could get out of
their present state, bettering themselves in whatever way they could,
they cared very little if the world went on just as it did before;
that tears, and pain and hunger should reign below, in order to ensure
the comfort of those above. He had sown his thoughts in them hoping
to accelerate the harvest, but like all those forced and artificial
cultivations, that grow with astonishing rapidity only to give rotten
fruit, the result of his propaganda was moral corruption. Men in the
end, like all of them! The human wild beast, seeking his own welfare
at the cost of his fellow, perpetuating the disorders of pain for the
majority, as long as he can enjoy plenty during the few years of his
life. Ah! Where could he meet with that superior being, ennobled by
the worship of reason, doing good without hope of reward, sacrificing
everything for human solidarity, that man-God who would glorify the
"Come along, Gabriel," continued the bell-ringer. "Do not let us lose
time it is only a few minutes' work; and then--flight!"
"No," said Luna firmly, coming out of his reverie, "you shall not do
this; you ought not to do it. It is a robbery you suggest to me, and
my pain is great, seeing that you reckoned on me; others rob from
fatal instinct or from corruption of soul, you have come to it because
I tried to enlighten you, because I tried to open your minds to the
truth. Oh! it is horrible, most horrible!"
"What is the use of all these objections, Gabriel? Is it not a bit of
wood? Whom do we harm by taking its jewels? Do not the rich rob, and
everyone who possesses anything? Why should we not imitate them?"
"For this very reason, because what you propose doing is a suggestion
of evil, because it perpetuates once more that system of violence and
disorder which is the root of all misery. Why do you hate the rich,
if what they do in sweating the poor is just the same as what you are
doing in taking possession of a thing for yourselves--understand me
well--for yourselves--and not for all. The robbery does not scare me,
for I do not believe in ownership nor in the sanctity of things, but
for this very reason I detest this appropriation to yourselves and
I oppose it. Why do you wish to possess all this? You say it is to
remedy your poverty. That is not true. It is to be rich, to enter into
the privileged group, to be three individual men of that detested
minority which desires to enjoy prosperity by enslaving humanity. If
all the poor of Toledo were now shouting outside the doors of the
Cathedral, rebellious and emboldened, I would open the way for them, I
would point out those jewels that you covet, and I would say, 'Possess
yourselves of those, they are so many drops of sweat and blood wrung
from your ancestors; they represent the servile work on the land of
the lords, the brutal plundering of the king's cavaliers, so that
magnates and kings may cover with jewels those idols which can open to
them the gates of heaven. These things do not belong to you because
you happen to be the most daring; they belong to all, as do all the
riches of the earth. For men to lay their hands on everything existing
in the world would be a holy work, the redeeming revolution of the
future. To possess yourselves of some portion of what by moral right
is not yours, would only be for you a crime against the laws of the
land, for me it would be a crime against the disinherited, the only
masters of the existing----"
"Silence, Gabriel," said the bell-ringer harshly; "if I let you, you
would go on talking till dawn. I do not understand you, nor do I wish
to. We came to do you a good turn, and you treat us to a sermon. We
wish to see you as rich as ourselves, and you answer us by talking of
others, of a lot of people that you don't know, of that humanity who
never gave you a scrap of bread when you wandered like a dog. I must
treat you as I did in our youth when we were campaigning. I have
always loved you and I admire your talents, but we must really treat
you like a child. Come along, Gabriel! Hold your tongue, and follow
us! We will lead you to happiness! Forward, companions!" The Tato
and the shoemaker stood up, walking towards the railings of the high
altar, the Tato seized one of its gates, and half opened it.
"No!" shouted Gabriel with energy. "Stop! Mariano, you do not know
what you are doing. You believe your happiness will be accomplished
when you have possessed yourselves of those jewels. But afterwards?
Your families remain here. Tato, think of your mother. Mariano, you
and the shoemaker have wives--you have children."
"Bah!" said the bell-ringer. "They will come and join us when we are
in safety far away. Money can do everything--the thing is to get it."
"And your children? Shall they be told their fathers were thieves!"
"Bah! they will be rich in other countries. Their history will not be
worse than that of other rich men's sons."
Gabriel understood the fierce determination that animated those men.
His endeavours to restrain them were useless. Mariano seized him,
seeing he was trying to push between them and the altar.
"Stand aside, little one," he said. "You are no use for anything. Let
us alone. Are you afraid of the Virgin? Undeceive yourself, even if we
carry off all she has, she will work no miracle."
Gabriel attempted one final effort.
"You shall do nothing. If you pass the railings, if you approach the
high altar, I will ring the call bell, and before ten minutes all
Toledo will be at the gates."
And opening the iron gate of the choir, he entered with a decision
that surprised the bell-ringer.
The shoemaker in tipsy silence was the only one who followed him.
"My children's bread!" he murmured in thickened speech. "They wish to
rob them! They wish to keep them poor!"
Mariano heard a metallic clatter, and saw the shoemaker raise his hand
armed with the bunch of keys which had fallen on the marble steps of
the railing, then he heard a strangely sonorous sound, as if something
hollow was being struck.
Gabriel gave one scream, and fell forwards on the ground; the
shoemaker continued striking his head.
"Do not give him any more--stop!"
These were the last words Gabriel heard confusedly, as he lay
stretched at the entrance of the choir; a warm and sticky liquid ran
over his eyes; afterwards--silence, darkness and--nothing!
His last thought was to tell himself he was dying--that probably he
was already dead, and that only the last vital struggle remained to
him, the last struggle of a life vanishing for ever.
Still he came back to life. He opened his eyes with difficulty and saw
the sun coming through a barred window, white walls, and a dirty and
darned cotton counterpane. After great wandering and stumbling, he
could collect his thoughts sufficiently to' form one idea: they had
placed the Cathedral on his temples--the huge church was hanging over
his head crushing him. What terrible pain! He could not move; he
seemed fastened by his head. His ears were buzzing, his tongue seemed
paralysed. His eyes could see feebly, as though the light were muddy
and a reddish haze enveloped all things.
He thought that a face with whiskers, surmounted by the hat of a civil
guard, bent over him, looking into his eyes. He moved his lips, but
no one heard a sound. No doubt it was the nightmare of his old
persecutions returning again.
They looked at him, seeing that he opened his eyes. A gentleman
dressed in black advanced towards his bed, followed by others who
carried papers under their arms. He guessed they were speaking to him
by the movement of their lips, but he could hear nothing. Was he in
another world? Were all his beliefs false, and after death did another
life exist the same as the one he had left?
He fell again into darkness and unconsciousness. A long time passed--a
very long time. Again he opened his eyes, but now the haze was denser,
it was not red but black.
Through this veil he thought he saw his brother's face, horrified
and drawn with fear; and the cocked hats of the civil guards, those
nightmares, surrounding poor Wooden Staff. Afterwards, more misty,
more uncertain, the face of his gentle companion, Sagrario, looking
at him with weeping eyes in terrible grief, caressing him with her
glance, fearless of the black, armed men who surrounded her.
This was his last look, uncertain and clouded, as though seen by
the light of a flying spark. Afterwards, eternal darkness and
As his eyes were closing for ever, a voice close to him said:
"We have followed your scent, rascal; you were well hidden, but we
have discovered you through one of your own. Now we shall see what
account you can give of the Virgin's jewels, thief!"
But the terrible enemy of God and social order could give no account
The following day he was carried out of the prison infirmary on men's
shoulders to disappear in the common grave.
The earth kept the secret of his death, that frowning Mother who
watches men's struggles impassively, knowing that all grandeur and
ambitions, all miseries and follies must rot in her breast, with no
other object than the fertilisation and renovation of life.
* * * * *
N.B.--The jewels were stolen from the sacristy of Toledo Cathedral in
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