by Vicente Blasco Ibanez
TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL SPANISH BY ISAAC GOLDBERG
THE LAST LION
LUIS AGUIRRE had been living in Gibraltar for about a month. He had
arrived with the intention of sailing at once upon a vessel bound for
Oceanica, where he was to assume his post as a consul to Australia. It
was the first important voyage of his diplomatic career. Up to that
time he had served in Madrid, in the offices of the Ministry, or in
various consulates of southern France, elegant summery places where for
half the year life was a continuous holiday. The son of a family that
had been dedicated to diplomacy by tradition, he enjoyed the protection
of influential persons. His parents were dead, but he was helped by his
relatives and the prestige of a name that for a century had figured in
the archives of the nation. Consul at the age of twenty-five, he was
about to set sail with the illusions of a student who goes out into the
world for the first time, feeling that all previous trips have been
Gibraltar, incongruous and exotic, a mixture of races and languages,
was to him the first sign of the far-off world in quest of which he was
journeying. He doubted, in his first surprise, if this rocky land
jutting into the open sea and under a foreign flag, could be a part of
his native peninsula. When he gazed out from the sides of the cliff
across the vast blue bay with its rose-colored mountains dotted by the
bright settlements of La Línea, San Roque and Algeciras,the cheery
whiteness of Andalusian towns,he felt convinced that he was still in
Spain. But great difference distinguished the human groups camped upon
the edge of this horseshoe of earth that embraced the bay. From the
headland of Tarifa to the gates of Gibraltar, a monotonous unity of
race; the happy warbling of the Andalusian dialect; the broad-brimmed
hat; the mantilla about the women's bosoms and the glistening
hair adorned with flowers. On the huge mountain topped by the British
flag and enclosing the oriental part of the bay, a seething cauldron of
races, a confusion of tongues, a carnival of costume: Hindus,
Mussulmen, English, Hebrews, Spanish smugglers, soldiers in red coats,
sailors from every nation, living within the narrow limits of the
fortifications, subjected to military discipline, beholding the gates
of the cosmopolitan sheepfold open with the signal at sunrise and close
at the booming of the sunset gun. And as the frame of this picture,
vibrant with its mingling of color and movement, a range of peaks, the
highlands of Africa, the Moroccan mountains, stretched across the
distant horizon, on the opposite shore of the strait; here is the most
crowded of the great marine boulevards, over whose blue highway travel
incessantly the heavily laden ships of all nationalities and of all
flags; black transatlantic steamers that plow the main in search of the
seaports of the poetical Orient, or cut through the Suez Canal and are
lost in the isle-dotted immensities of the Pacific.
To Aguirre, Gibraltar was a fragment of the distant Orient coming
forward to meet him; an Asiatic port wrenched from its continent and
dragged through the waves to run aground on the coast of Europe, as a
sample of life in remote countries.
He was stopping at a hotel on Royal Street, a thoroughfare that
winds about the mountain,that vertebral column of the city to which
lead, like thin threads, the smaller streets in ascending or descending
slope. Every morning he was startled from his sleep by the noise of the
sunrise gun,a dry, harsh discharge from a modern piece, without the
reverberating echo of the old cannon. The walls trembled, the floors
shook, window panes and curtains palpitated, and a few moments later a
noise was heard in the street, growing gradually louder; it was the
sound of a hurrying flock, the dragging of thousands of feet, the buzz
of conversations carried on in a low voice along the closed and silent
buildings. It was the Spanish day laborers arriving from La Línea ready
for week at the arsenal; the farmhands from San Roque and Algeciras who
supplied the people of Gibraltar with vegetables and fruits.
It was still dark. On the coast of Spain perhaps the sky was blue
and the horizon was beginning to be colored by the rain of gold from
the glorious birth of the sun. In Gibraltar the sea fogs condensed
around the heights of the cliff, forming a sort of blackish umbrella
that covered the city, holding it in a damp penumbra, wetting the
streets and the roofs with impalpable rain. The inhabitants despaired
beneath this persistent mist, wrapped about the mountain tops like a
mourning hat. It seemed like the spirit of Old England that had flown
across the seas to watch over its conquest; a strip of London fog that
had insolently taken up its place before the warm coasts of Africa, the
very home of the sun.
The morning advanced, and the glorious, unobstructed light of the
bay, yellow blue, at last succeeded in penetrating the settlement of
Gibraltar, descending into the very depths of its narrow streets,
dissolving the fog that had settled upon the trees of the Alameda and
the foliage of the pines that extended along the coast so as to mask
the fortifications at the top, drawing forth from the shadows the gray
masses of the cruisers anchored in the harbor and the black bulk of the
cannon that formed the shore batteries, filtering into the lugubrious
embrasures pierced through the cliff, cavernous mouths revealing the
mysterious defences that had been wrought with mole-like industry in
the heart of the rock.
When Aguirre went down to the entrance of the hotel, after having
given up all attempt to sleep during the commotion in the street, the
thoroughfare was already in the throes of its regular commercial
hurly-burly, a multitude of people, the inhabitants of the entire town
plus the crews and the passengers of the vessels anchored in the
harbor. Aguirre plunged into the bustle of this cosmopolitan
population, walking from the section of the waterfront to the palace of
the governor. He had become an Englishman, as he smilingly asserted.
With the innate ability of the Spaniard to adapt himself to the customs
of all foreign countries he imitated the manner of the English
inhabitants of Gibraltar. He had bought himself a pipe, wore a
traveling cap, turned up trousers and a swagger stick. The day on which
he arrived, even before night-fall, they already knew throughout
Gibraltar who he was and whither he was bound. Two days later the
shopkeepers greeted him from the doors of their shops, and the idlers,
gathered on the narrow square before the Commercial Exchange, glanced
at him with those affable looks that greet a stranger in a small city
where nobody keeps his secret.
He walked along in the middle of the street, avoiding the light,
canvas-topped carriages. The tobacco stores flaunted many-colored signs
with designs that served as the trade-mark of their products. In the
show windows the packages of tobacco were heaped up like so many
bricks, and monstrous unsmokable cigars, wrapped in tinfoil as if they
were sausages, glitteringly displayed their absurd size; through the
doors of the Hebrew shops, free of any decoration, could be seen the
shelves laden with rolls of silk and velvet, or the rich silk laces
hanging from the ceiling. The Hindu bazaars overflowed into the street
with their exotic, polychrome rarities: clothes embroidered with
terror-inspiring divinities and chimerical animals; carpets in which
the lotus-flower was adapted to the strangest designs; kimonos of
delicate, indefinable tints; porcelain jars with monsters that belched
fire; amber-colored shawls, as delicate as woven sighs; and in the
small windows that had been converted into display cases, all the
trinkets of the extreme Orient, in silver, ivory or ebony; black
elephants with white tusks, heavy-paunched Buddhas, filigree jewels,
mysterious amulets, daggers engraved from hilt to point. Alternating
with these establishments of a free port that lives upon contraband,
there were confectioneries owned by Jews, cafés and more cafés, some of
the Spanish type with round, marble-topped tables, the clicking of
dominoes, smoke-laden atmosphere and high-pitched discussions
accompanied by vehement gestures; others resembling more the English
bar, crowded with motionless, silent customers, swallowing one cocktail
after another, without any other sign of emotion than a growing redness
of the nose.
Through the center of the street there passed by, like a masquerade,
the variety of types and costumes that had surprised Aguirre as a
spectacle distinct from that furnished by other European cities. There
were Moroccans, some with a broad, hooded cape, white or black, the
cowl lowered as if they were friars; others wearing balloon trousers,
their calves exposed to the air and with no other protection for the
feet than their loose, yellow slippers; their heads covered by the
folds of their turbans. They were Moors from Tangier who supplied the
place with poultry and vegetables, keeping their money in the
embroidered leather wallets that hung from their girdled waists. The
Jews of Morocco, dressed in oriental fashion with silk kirtle and an
ecclesiastical calotte, passed by leaning upon sticks, as if thus
dragging along their bland, timid obesity. The soldiers of the
garrison,tall, slender, rosy-complexionedmade the ground echo with
the heavy cadence of their boots. Some were dressed in khaki, with the
sobriety of the soldier in the field; others wore the regular red
jacket. White helmets, some lined with yellow, alternated with the
regulation caps; on the breasts of the sergeants shone the red stripe;
other soldiers carried in their armpits the thin cane that is the
emblem of authority. Above the collar of many coats rose the
extraordinarily thin British neck, high, giraffe-like, with a pointed
protuberance in front. Soon the further end of the street was filled
with white; an avalanche of snowy patches seemed to advance with
rhythmic step. It was the caps of the sailors. The cruisers in the
Mediterranean had given their men shore leave and the thoroughfare was
filled with ruddy, cleanshaven boys, with faces bronzed by the sun,
their chests almost bare within the blue collar, their trousers wide at
the bottom, swaying from side to side like an elephant's trunk, fellows
with small heads and childish features, with their huge hands hanging
at the ends of their arms as if the latter could hardly sustain their
heavy bulk. The groups from the fleet separated, disappearing into the
various side streets in search of a tavern. The policeman in the white
helmet followed with a resigned look, certain that he would have to
meet some of them later in a tussle, and beg the favor of the king
when, at the sound of the sunset gun, he would bring them back dead
drunk to their cruiser.
Mingling with these fighters were gypsies with their loose belts,
their long staffs and their dark faces; old and repulsive creatures,
who no sooner stopped before a shop than the owners became uneasy at
the mysterious hiding-places of their cloaks and skirts; Jews from the
city, too, with broad frocks and shining silk hats, dressed for the
celebration of one of their holidays; negroes from the English
possessions; coppery Hindus with drooping mustache and white trousers,
so full and short that they looked like aprons; Jewesses from
Gibraltar, dressed in white with all the correctness of the
Englishwomen; old Jewesses from Morocco, obese, puffed out, with a
many-colored kerchief knotted about their temples; black cassocks of
Catholic priests, tight frocks of Protestant priests, loose gowns of
venerable rabbis, bent, with flowing beards, exuding grime and sacred
wisdom... And all this multifarious world was enclosed in the limits of
a fortified town, speaking many tongues at the same time, passing
without any transition in the course of the conversation from English
to a Spanish pronounced with the strong Andalusian accent.
Aguirre wondered at the moving spectacle of Royal Street; at the
continuously renewed variety of its multitude. On the great boulevards
of Paris, after sitting in the same café for six days in succession, he
knew the majority of those who passed by on the sidewalk. They were
always the same. In Gibraltar, without leaving the restricted area of
its central street, he experienced surprises every day. The whole
country seemed to file by between its two rows of houses. Soon the
street was filled with bearskin caps worn by ruddy, green-eyed,
flat-nosed persons. It was a Russian invasion. There had just anchored
in the harbor a transatlantic liner that was bearing this cargo of
human flesh to America. They scattered throughout the place; they
crowded the cafés and the shops, and under their invading wave they
blotted out the normal population of Gibraltar. At two o'clock it had
resumed its regular aspect and there reappeared the helmets of the
police, the sailors' caps, the turbans of the Moors, the Jews and the
Christians. The liner was already at sea after having taken on its
supply of coal; and thus, in the course of a single day, there
succeeded one another the rapid and uproarious invasions of all the
races of the continent, in this city that might be called the gateway
of Europe, by the inevitable passage through which one part of the
world communicates with the Orient and the other with the Occident.
As the sun disappeared, the flash of a discharge gleamed from the
top of the mountain, and the boom of the sunset gun warned strangers
without a residence permit that it was time to leave the city. The
evening patrol paraded through the streets, with its military music of
fifes and drums grouped about the beloved national instrument of the
English, the bass drum, which was being pounded with both hands by a
perspiring athlete, whose rolled-up sleeves revealed powerful biceps.
Behind marched Saint Peter, an official with escort, carrying the keys
to the city. Gibraltar was now out of communication with the rest of
the world; doors and gates were closed. Thrust upon itself it turned to
its devotions, finding in religion an excellent pastime to precede
supper and sleep. The Jews lighted the lamps of their synagogues and
sang to the glory of Jehovah; the Catholics counted their rosaries in
the Cathedral; from the Protestant temple, built in the Moorish style
as if it were a mosque, rose, like a celestial whispering, the voices
of the virgins accompanied by the organ; the Mussulmen gathered in the
house of their consul to whine their interminable and monotonous
salutation to Allah. In the temperance restaurants, established by
Protestant piety for the cure of drunkenness, sober soldiers and
sailors, drinking lemonade or tea, broke forth into harmonious hymns to
the glory of the Lord of Israel, who in ancient times had guided the
Jews through the desert and was now guiding old England over the seas,
that she might establish her morality and her merchandise.
Religion filled the existence of these people, to the point of
suppressing nationality. Aguirre knew that in Gibraltar he was not a
Spaniard; he was a Catholic. And the others, for the most part English
subjects, scarcely recalled this status, designating themselves by the
name of their creed.
In his walks through Royal Street Aguirre had one stopping place:
the entrance to a Hindu bazaar ruled over by a Hindu from Madras named
Khiamull. During the first days of his stay he had bought from the
shopkeeper various gifts for his first cousins in Madrid, the daughters
of an old minister plenipotentiary who helped him in his career. Ever
since then Aguirre would stop for a chat with Khiamull, a shrivelled
old man, with a greenish tan complexion and mustache of jet black that
bristled from his lips like the whiskers of a seal. His gentle, watery
eyesthose of an antelope or of some humble, persecuted beastseemed
to caress Aguirre with the softness of velvet. He spoke to the young
man in Spanish, mixing among his words, which were pronounced with an
Andalusian accent, a number of rare terms from distant tongues that he
had picked up in his travels. He had journeyed over half the world for
the company by whom he was now employed. He spoke of his life at the
Cape, at Durban, in the Philippines, at Malta, with a weary expression.
Sometimes he looked young; at others his features contracted with an
appearance of old age. Those of his race seem to be ageless. He
recalled his far-off land of the sun, with the melancholy voice of an
exile; his great sacred river, the flower-crowned Hindu virgins,
slender and gracefully curved, showing from between the thick jewelled
jacket and their linen folds a bronze stomach as beautiful as that of a
marble figure. Ah!... When he would accumulate the price of his return
thither, he would certainly join his lot to that of a maiden with large
eyes and a breath of roses, scarcely out of childhood. Meanwhile he
lived like an ascetic fakir amongst the Westerners, unclean folks with
whom he was willing to transact business but with whom he avoided all
unnecessary contact. Ah, to return yonder! Not to die far from the
sacred river!... And as he expressed his intimate wishes to the
inquisitive Spaniard who questioned him concerning the distant lands of
light and mystery, the Hindu coughed painfully, his face becoming
darker than ever, as if the blood that was circulating beneath the
bronze of his skin had turned green.
At times Aguirre, as if waking from a dream, would ask himself what
he was doing there in Gibraltar. Since he had arrived with the
intention of sailing at once, three large vessels had passed the strait
bound for the Oceanic lands. And he had allowed them to sail on,
pretending not to know of their presence, never being able to learn the
exact conditions of his voyage, writing to Madrid, to his influential
uncle, letters in which he spoke of vague ailments that for the moment
delayed his departure. Why?... Why?...
Upon arising, the day following his arrival at Gibraltar, Aguirre
looked through the window curtains of his room with all the curiosity
of a newcomer. The heavens were clouded; it was an October sky; but it
was warm,a muggy, humid warmth that betrayed the proximity of the
Upon the flat roof of a neighboring house he noticed a strange
construction,a large arbor made of woven reeds and thatched with
green branches. Within this fragile abode, he was able to make out
through its bright curtains a long table, chairs, and an old-fashioned
lamp hanging from the top... What a queer whim of these people who,
having a house, chose to live upon the roof!
A hotel attendant, while he put Aguirre's room in order, answered
all his inquiries. The Jews of Gibraltar were celebrating a holiday,
the Feast of Tabernacles, one of the most important observances of the
year. It was in memory of the long wandering of the Israelites through
the desert. In commemoration of their sufferings the Jews were supposed
to eat in the open air, in a tabernacle that resembled the tents and
huts of their forefathers. The more fanatic of them, those most
attached to ancient customs, ate standing, with a staff in their hands,
as if ready to resume their journey after the last mouthful. The Hebrew
merchants of the central street erected their structures on the roof;
those of the poor quarters built theirs in a yard or corral, wherever
they could catch a glimpse of the open sky. Those who, because of their
extreme poverty, lived in a shanty, were invited to dine in company
with the more fortunate, with that fraternity of a race compelled by
hatred and persecution to preserve a firm solidarity.
The tabernacle Aguirre saw was that of old Aboab and his son,
brokers who kept their establishment on the selfsame Royal Street, just
a few doors below. And the servant pronounced the name Aboab (father
and son) with that mingling of superstitious awe and hatred which is
inspired in the poor by wealth that is considered unjustly held. All
Gibraltar knew them; it was the same in Tangier, and the same in Rabat
and Casablanca. Hadn't the gentleman heard of them? The son directed
the business of the house, but the father still took part, presiding
over all with his venerable presence and that authority of old age
which is so infallible and sacred among Hebrew families.
If you could only see the old man! added the attendant, with his
Andalusian accent. A white beard that reaches down to his waist, and
if you'd put it into hot water it would yield more than a pitcherful of
grease. He's almost as greasy as the grand Rabbi, who's the bishop
among them.... But he has lots of money. Gold ounces by the fistful,
pounds sterling by the shovel; and if you'd see the hole he has in the
street for his business you'd be amazed. A mere poor man's kitchen. It
seems impossible that he can store so much there!
After breakfast, when Aguirre went back to his room in search of his
pipe, he saw that the Aboab tabernacle was occupied by the whole
family. At the back, which was in semi-obscurity, he seemed to make out
a white head presiding over the table and on each side elbows leaning
upon the tablecloth, and the skirts and trousers of persons who were
for the most part invisible.
Two women came out on the roof; they were both young, and after
glancing for a moment at the inquisitive fellow in the hotel window,
turned their gaze in a different direction, as if they had not noticed
him. To Aguirre these Aboab daughters were not very impressive, and he
wondered whether the much vaunted beauty of Jewesses was but another of
the many lies admitted by custom, consecrated by time and accepted
without investigation. They had large eyes, of bovine beauty; moist and
dilated, but with the addition of thick, prominent eyebrows, as black
and continuous as daubs of ink. Their nostrils were wide and the
beginnings of obesity already threatened to submerge their youthful
slenderness in corpulence.
They were followed by another woman, doubtless the mother, who was
so fat that her flesh shook as she moved. Her eyes, too, were
attractive, but were spoiled by the ugly eyebrows. Her nose, her lower
lip and the flesh of her neck hung loosely; in her there was already
completed the fatal maturity which was beginning to appear in her
daughters. All three possessed the yellowish pallor characteristic of
Oriental races. Their thick lips, faintly blue, revealed something of
the African element grafted upon their Asiatic origin.
Hola! What's this! murmured Aguirre with a start.
A fourth woman had come out from the depths of the tabernacle. She
must be English; the Spaniard was certain of this. Yes, she was an
English brunette, with a bluish cast to her dark skin and a slim,
athletic figure whose every movement was graceful. A creole from the
colonies, perhaps, born of some Oriental beauty and a British soldier.
She looked without any bashfulness toward the window of the hotel,
examining the Spaniard with the leisurely glance of a bold boy, meeting
the shock of his eyes without flinching. Then she wheeled about on her
heel as if beginning a dancing figure, turned her back to the Spaniard
and leaned against the shoulders of the two other young ladies,
thrusting them aside and taking pleasure, to the accompaniment of loud
outbursts of laughter, in pushing their unwieldy persons with her
vigorous, boyish arms.
When all the women returned to the interior of the tabernacle,
Aguirre abandoned his lookout, more and more convinced of the exactness
of his observations. Decidedly, she was not a Jewess. And the better to
convince himself, he talked at the door with the manager of the hotel,
who knew all Gibraltar. After a few words this man guessed to whom
Aguirre was referring.
That's Luna... Lunita Benamor, old Aboab's granddaughter. What a
girl, eh? The belle of Gibraltar! And rich! Her dowry is at least one
hundred thousand duros.
A Jewess!... She was a Jewess! From that time Aguirre began to meet
Luna frequently in the narrow limits of a city where people could
hardly move without encountering one another. He saw her on the roof of
her house; he came across her on Royal Street as she entered her
grandfather's place; he followed her, sometimes in the vicinity of the
Puerta del Mar and at others from the extreme end of the town, near the
Alameda. She was usually unaccompanied, like all the young ladies of
Gibraltar, who are brought up in conformity with English customs.
Besides, the town was in a manner a common dwelling in which all knew
one another and where woman ran no risk.
Whenever Aguirre met her they would exchange casual glances, but
with the expression of persons who have seen each other very often. The
consul still experienced the astonishment of a Spaniard influenced by
centuries of prejudice. A Jewess! He would never have believed that the
race could produce such a woman. Her outward appearance, correct and
elegant as that of an Englishwoman, gave no other indication of her
foreign origin than a marked predilection for silk clothes of bright
hues, especially strawberry color, and a fondness for sparkling
jewelry. With the gorgeousness of an American who pays no attention to
hours, she would go out early in the morning with a thick necklace of
pearls hanging upon her bosom and two flashing pendants in her ears. A
picture hat with costly plumes, imported from London, concealed the
ebony beauty of her hair.
Aguirre had acquaintances in Gibraltar, idlers, whom he had met in
the cafés, young, obsequious, courteous Israelites who received this
Castilian official with ancestral deference, questioning him about
affairs of Spain as if that were a remote country.
Whenever passed by them during her constant walks along Royal
Street,taken with no other purpose than to kill timethey spoke of
her with respect. More than a hundred thousand duros.
Everybody knew the amount of the dowry. And they acquainted the consul
with the existence of a certain Israelite who was the girl's affianced
husband. He was now in America to complete his fortune. He was rich,
but a Jew must labor to add to the legacy of his fathers. The families
had arranged the union without even consulting them, when she was
twelve years old and he already a man corrupted by frequent changes of
residence and traveling adventures. Luna had been waiting already ten
years for the return of her fiancé from Buenos Aires, without the
slightest impatience, like the other maidens of her race, certain that
everything would take its regular course at the appointed hour.
These Jewish girls, said a friend of Aguirre, are never in a
hurry. They're accustomed to biding their time. Just see how their
fathers have been awaiting the Messiah for thousands of years without
One morning, when the Feast of Tabernacles had ended and the Jewish
population of the town returned to its normal pursuits, Aguirre entered
the establishment of the Aboabs under the pretext of changing a
quantity of money into tender of English denomination. It was a
rectangular room without any other light than that which came in
through the doorway, its walls kalsomined and with a wainscoting of
white, glazed tiles. A small counter divided the shop, leaving a space
for the public near the entrance and reserving the rest of the place
for the owners and a large iron safe. Near the door a wooden
charity-box, inscribed in Hebrew, awaited the donations of the faithful
for the philanthropic activities of the community. The Jewish
customers, in their dealings with the house, deposited there the extra
centimos of their transactions. Behind the counter were the Aboabs,
father and son. The patriarch, Samuel Aboab, was very aged and of a
greasy corpulence. As he sat there in his armchair his stomach, hard
and soft at the same time, had risen to his chest. His shaven upper lip
was somewhat sunken through lack of teeth; his patriarchal beard,
silver white and somewhat yellow at the roots, fell in matted locks,
with the majesty of the prophets. Old age imparted to his voice a
whimpering quaver, and to his eyes a tearful tenderness. The least
emotion brought tears; every word seemed to stir touching
recollections. Tears and tears oozed from his eyes, even when he was
silent, as if they were fountains whence escaped the grief of an entire
people, persecuted and cursed through centuries upon centuries.
His son Zabulon was already old, but a certain black aspect lingered
about him, imparting an appearance of virile youth. His eyes were dark,
sweet and humble, but with an occasional flash that revealed a fanatic
soul, a faith as firm as that of ancient Jerusalem's people, ever ready
to stone or crucify the new prophets; his beard, too, was black and
firm as that of a Maccabean warrior; black, also, was his curly hair,
which looked like an astrakhan cap. Zabulon figured as one of the most
active and respected members of the Jewish community,an individual
indispensable to all beneficent works, a loud singer in the synagogue
and a great friend of the Rabbi, whom he called our spiritual chief,
an assiduous attendant at all homes where a fellow-religionist lay
suffering, ready to accompany with his prayers the gasps of the dying
man and afterwards lave the corpse according to custom with a profusion
of water that ran in a stream into the street. On Saturdays and special
holidays Zabulon would leave his house for the synagogue, soberly
arrayed in his frock and his gloves, wearing a silk hat and escorted by
three poor co-religionists who lived upon the crumbs of his business
and were for these occasions dressed in a style no less sober and
fitting than that of their protector.
All hands on deck! the wits of Royal Street would cry. Make way,
for here comes a cruiser with four smokestacks!
And the four smokestacks of well brushed silk sailed between the
groups, bound for the synagogue, looking now to this side and now to
that so as to see whether any wicked Hebrew was lounging about the
streets instead of attending synagogue; this would afterwards be
reported to the spiritual head.
Aguirre, who was surprised at the poverty of the establishment,
which resembled a kitchen, was even more surprised at the facility with
which money rolled across the narrow counter. The packets of silver
pieces were quickly opened, passing rapidly through the shaggy, expert
hands of Zabulon; the pounds fairly sang, as they struck the wood, with
the merry ring of gold; the bank-notes, folded like unstitched folios,
flashed for a moment before concealing the colors of their nationality
in the safe: the simple, monotonous white of the English paper, the
soft blue of the Bank of France, the green and red mixture of the
Spanish Bank. All the Jews of Gibraltar flocked hither, with that same
commercial solidarity which leads them to patronize only establishments
owned by members of their race; Zabulon, all by himself, without the
aid of clerks, and without allowing his father (the venerable fetich of
the family's fortune) to leave his seat, directed this dance of money,
conducting it from the hands of the public to the depths of the iron
safe, or fetching it forth to spread it, with a certain sadness, upon
the counter. The ridiculous little room seemed to grow in size and
acquire beauty at the sound of the sonorous names that issued from the
lips of the banker and his customers. London! Paris! Vienna!... The
house of Aboab had branches everywhere. Its name and its influence
extended not only to the famous world centers, but even to the humblest
corners, wherever one of their race existed. Rabat, Casablanca,
Larache, Tafilete, Fez, were African towns into which the great banks
of Europe could penetrate only with the aid of these auxiliaries,
bearing an almost famous name yet living very poorly.
Zabulon, as he changed Aguirre's money, greeted him as if he were a
friend. In that city every one knew every body else within twenty-four
Old Aboab pulled himself together in his chair, peering out of his
weak eyes with a certain surprise at not being able to recognize this
customer among his habitual visitors.
It's the consul, father, said Zabulon, without raising his glance
from the money that he was counting, guessing the reason for the
movement of the old man behind him. The Spanish consul who stops at
the hotel opposite our house.
The patriarch seemed to be impressed and raised his hand to his hat
with humble courtesy.
Ah! The consul! The worthy consul! he exclaimed, emphasizing the
title as a token of his great respect for all the powers of the earth.
Highly honored by your visit, worthy consul.
And believing that he owed his visitor renewed expressions of
flattery, he added with tearful sighs, imparting to his words a
telegraphic conciseness, Ah, Spain! Beautiful land, excellent country,
nation of gentlemen!... My forefathers came from there, from a place
called Espinosa de los Monteros.
His voice quivered, pained by recollections, and afterwards, as if
he had in memory advanced to recent times, he added, Ah! Castelar!...
Castelar, a friend of the Jews, and he defended them. Of the judeos, as they say there!
His flood of tears, ill restrained up to that moment, could no
longer be held back, and at this grateful recollection it gushed from
his eyes, inundating his beard.
Spain! Beautiful country! sighed the old man, deeply moved.
And he recalled everything that in the past of his race and his
family had united his people with that country. An Aboab had been chief
treasurer of the King of Castile; another had been a wonderful
physician, enjoying the intimacy of bishops and cardinals. The Jews of
Portugal and of Spain had been great personages,the aristocracy of
the race. Scattered now over Morocco and Turkey, they shunned all
intercourse with the coarse, wretched Israelite population of Russia
and Germany. They still recited certain prayers, in the synagogue, in
old Castilian, and the Jews of London repeated them by heart without
knowing either their origin or their meaning, as if they were prayers
in a language of sacred mystery. He himself, when he prayed at the
synagogue for the King of England, imploring for him an abundance of
health and prosperity even as Jews the world over did for the ruler of
whatever country they happened to inhabit, added mentally an entreaty
to the Lord for the good fortune of beautiful Spain.
Zabulon, despite his respect for his father, interrupted him
brusquely, as if he were an imprudent child. In his eyes there glowed
the harsh expression of the impassioned zealot.
Father, remember what they did to us. How they cast us out... how
they robbed us. Remember our brothers who were burned alive.
That's true, that's true, groaned the patriarch, shedding new
tears into a broad handkerchief with which he wiped his eyes. It's
true.... But in that beautiful country there still remains something
that is ours. The bones of our ancestors.
When Aguirre left, the old man showered him with tokens of extreme
courtesy. He and his son were at the consul's service. And the consul
returned almost every morning to chat with the patriarch, while Zabulon
attended to the customers and counted money.
Samuel Aboab spoke of Spain with tearful delight, as of a marvelous
country whose entrance was guarded by terrible monsters with fiery
swords. Did they still recall the judeos there? And despite
Aguirre's assurances, he refused to believe that they were no longer
called thus in Spain. It grieved the old man to die before beholding
Espinosa de los Monteros; a beautiful city, without a doubt. Perhaps
they still preserved there the memory of the illustrious Aboabs.
The Spaniard smilingly urged him to undertake the journey. Why did
he not go there?...
Go! Go to Spain!... The old man huddled together like a timorous
snail before the idea of this journey.
There are still laws against the poor judeos. The decree of
the Catholic Kings. Let them first repeal it!... Let them first call us
Aguirre laughed at his listener's fears. Bah! The Catholic Kings!
Much they counted for now!... Who remembered those good gentlemen?
But the old man persisted in his fears. He had suffered much. The
terror of the expulsion was still in his bones and in his blood, after
four centuries. In summer, when the heat forced them to abandon the
torrid rock, and the Aboab family hired a little cottage on the
seashore, in Spanish territory just beyond La Línea, the patriarch
dwelt in constant restlessness, as if he divined mysterious perils in
the very soil upon which he trod. Who could tell what might happen
during the night? Who could assure him that he would not awake in
chains, ready to be led like a beast to a port? This is what had
happened to his Spanish ancestors, who had been forced to take refuge
in Morocco, whence a branch of the family had moved to Gibraltar when
the English took possession of the place.
Aguirre poked mild fun at the childish fears of the aged fellow,
whereupon Zabulon intervened with his darkly energetic authority.
My father knows what he is talking about. We will never go; we
can't go. In Spain the old customs always return; the old is converted
into the new. There is no security; woman has too much power and
interferes in matters that she does not understand.
Woman! Zabulon spoke scornfully of the sex. They should be treated
as the Jews treated them. The Jews taught them nothing more than the
amount of religion necessary to follow the rites. The presence of women
in the synagogue was in many instances not obligatory. Even when they
came, they were confined to the top of a gallery, like spectators of
the lowest rank. No. Religion was man's business, and the countries in
which woman has a part in it cannot offer security.
Then the unsympathetic Israelite spoke enthusiastically of the
greatest man in the world, Baron Rothschild, lord over kings and
governmentstaking care never to omit the title of baron every time he
pronounced the nameand he finally named all the great Jewish centers,
which were ever increasing in size and population.
We are everywhere, he asserted, blinking maliciously. Now we are
spreading over America. Governments change, peoples spread over the
face of the earth, but we are ever the same. Not without reason do we
await the Messiah. He will come, some day.
On one of his morning visits to the ill appointed bank Aguirre was
introduced to Zabulon's two daughters,Sol and Estrella,and to his
wife, Thamar. On another morning Aguirre experienced a tremor of
emotion upon hearing behind him the rustle of silks and noticing that
the light from the entrance was obscured by the figure of a person
whose identity his nerves had divined. It was Luna, who had come, with
all the interest that Hebrew women feel for their domestic affairs, to
deliver an order to her uncle. The old man grasped her hands across the
counter, caressing them tremblingly.
This is my granddaughter, sir consul, my granddaughter Luna. Her
father is dead, and my daughter too. She comes from Morocco. No one
loves the poor girl as much as her grandfather does.
And the patriarch burst into tears, moved by his own words.
Aguirre left the shop with triumphant joy. They had spoken to each
other; now they were acquainted. The moment he met her upon the street
he would cling to her, taking advantage of some blessed customs that
seemed to have been made for lovers.
NEITHER could tell how, after several ordinary meetings, their
friendly confidence grew, or which had been the first word to reveal
the mystery of their thoughts.
They saw each other mornings when Aguirre would go to his window.
The Feast of Tabernacles had come to an end, and the Aboabs had taken
down the religious structure, but Luna continued to go to the roof
under various pretexts, so that she might exchange a glance, a smile, a
gesture of greeting with the Spaniard. They did not converse from these
heights through fear of the neighbors, but afterwards they met in the
street, and Luis, after a respectful salute, would join the young lady,
and they would walk along as companions, like other couples they met on
their way. All were known to one another in that town. Only by this
knowledge could married couples be distinguished from simple friends.
Luna visited various shops on errands for the Aboabs, like a good
Jewess who is interested in all the family affairs. At other times she
wandered aimlessly through Royal Street, or walked in the direction of
the Alameda, explaining the landmarks of the city to Aguirre at her
side. In the midst of these walks she would stop at the brokers' shop
to greet the patriarch, who smiled childishly as he contemplated the
youthful and beautiful couple.
Señor consul, señor consul, said Samuel one day, I brought from
my house this morning the family papers, for you to read. Not all of
them. There are too many altogether! We Aboabs are very old; I wish to
prove to the consul that we are judeos of Spain, and that we
still remember the beautiful land.
And from underneath the counter he drew forth divers rolls of
parchment covered with Hebrew characters. They were matrimonial
documents, acts of union of the Aboabs with certain families of the
Israelite community. At the head of all these documents figured on one
side the coat of arms of England and on the other that of Spain, in
bright colors and gold borders.
We are English, declared the patriarch. May the Lord preserve our
king and send him much happiness; but we are Spaniards historically:
Castilians, that is... Castilians.
He selected from the parchments one that was cleaner and fresher
than the others, and bent over it his white, wavy beard and his tearful
This is the wedding contract of Benamor with my poor daughter:
Luna's parents. You can't understand it, for it's in Hebrew characters,
but the language is Castilian, pure Castilian, as it was spoken by our
And slowly, in an infantile voice, as if he relished the obsolete
forms of the words, he read the terms of the contract that united the
parties in the custom of Old Castile. Then he enumerated the
conditions of the marriage, the penalties either of the contracting
parties might incur if the union were dissolved through his or her
'Such party will pay,' mumbled the patriarch, 'will pay... so
many silver ounces.' Are there still silver ounces in Castile, señor
Luna, in her conversations with Aguirre, demonstrated an interest as
keen as that of her old grandfather in the beautiful land, the far-off,
remote, mysterious land,in spite of the fact that its boundary was
situated but a few steps away, at the very gates of Gibraltar. All she
knew of it was a little fisherman's hamlet, beyond La Línea, whither
she had gone with her family on their summer vacations.
Cadiz! Seville! How enchanting they must be!... I can picture them
to myself: I have often beheld them in my dreams, and I really believe
that if I ever saw them they wouldn't surprise me in the least....
Seville! Tell me, Don Luis, is it true that sweethearts converse there
through a grating? And is it certain that the maidens are serenaded
with a guitar, and the young men throw their capes before them as a
carpet over which to pass? And isn't it false that men slay one another
for them?... How charming! Don't deny all this. It's all so
Then she would summon to memory all her recollections of that land
of miracles, of that country of legends, in which her forebears had
dwelt. When she was a child her grandmother, Samuel Aboab's wife, would
lull her to sleep reciting to her in a mysterious voice the prodigious
events that always had Castile as their background and always began the
same: Once upon a time there was a king of Toledo who fell in love
with a beautiful and charming Jewess named Rachel....
Toledo!... As she uttered this name Luna rolled her eyes as in the
vagueness of a dream. The Spanish capital of Israel! The second
Jerusalem! Her noble ancestors, the treasurer of the king and the
miraculous physician, had dwelt there!
You must have seen Toledo, Don Luis. You surely have been there.
How I envy you!... Very beautiful, isn't it? Vast! Enormous!... Like
London?... Like Paris? Of course not.... But certainly far larger than
And carried away by the enthusiasm of her illusions she forgot all
discretion, questioning Luis about his past. Indubitably he was of the
nobility: his very bearing revealed that. From the very first day she
had seen him, upon learning his name and his nationality, she had
guessed that he was of high origin. A hidalgo such as she had imagined
every man from Spain to be, with something Semitic in his face and in
his eyes, but more proud, with an air of hauteur that was incapable of
supporting humiliations and servility. Perhaps he had a uniform for
festive occasions, a suit of bright colors, braided with gold... and a
sword, a sword!
Her eyes shone with admiration in the presence of this hidalgo from
the land of knights who was dressed as plainly as a shopkeeper of
Gibraltar, yet who could transform himself into a glorious insect of
brilliant hues, armed with a mortal sting. And Aguirre did not disturb
her illusions, answering affirmatively, with all the simplicity of a
hero. Yes; he had a golden costume, that of the consul. He possessed a
sword, which went with his uniform, and which had never been
One sunny morning the pair, quite unconsciously, took the path to
the Alameda. She made anxious inquiries about Aguirre's past, with
indiscreet curiosity, as always happens between persons who feel
themselves attracted to each other by a budding affection. Where had he
been born? How had he spent his childhood? Had he loved many women?...
They passed beneath the arches of an old gate that dated back to the
time of the Spanish possession, and which still preserved the eagles
and the shields of the Austrian dynasty. In the old moat, now converted
into a garden, there was a group of tombs,those of the English
sailors who had died at Trafalgar. They walked along an avenue in which
the trees alternated with heaps of old bombs and cone-shaped
projectiles, reddened by rust. Further on, the large cannon craned
their necks toward the gray cruisers of the military harbor and the
extensive bay, over whose blue plain, tremulous with gold, glided the
white dots of some sailing vessels.
On the broad esplanade of the Alameda, at the foot of the mountain
covered with pines and cottages, were groups of youths running and
kicking a restless ball around. At that hour, as at every hour of the
day, the huge ball of the English national game sped through the air
over paths, fields and garrison yards. A concert of shouts and kicks,
civil as well as military, rose into the air, to the glory of strong
and hygienic England.
They mounted a long stairway, afterwards seeking rest in a shady
little square, near the monument to a British hero, the defender of
Gibraltar, surrounded by mortars and cannon. Luna, gazing across the
blue sea that could be viewed through the colonnade of trees, at last
spoke of her own past.
Her childhood had been sad. Born in Rabat, where the Jew Benamor was
engaged in the exportation of Moroccan cloths, her life had flowed on
monotonously, without any emotion other than that of fear. The
Europeans of this African port were common folk, who had come thither
to make their fortune. The Moors hated the Jews. The rich Hebrew
families had to hold themselves apart, nourishing themselves socially
upon their own substance, ever on the defensive in a country that
lacked laws. The young Jewish maidens were given an excellent
education, which they acquired with the facility of their race in
adopting all progress. They astonished newcomers to Rabat with their
hats and their clothes, similar to those of Paris and London; they
played the piano; they spoke various languages, and yet, on certain
nights of sleeplessness and terror, their parents dressed them in foul
tatters and disguised them, staining their faces and their hands with
moist ashes and lampblack, so that they might not appear to be Jewish
daughters and should rather resemble slaves. There were nights in which
an uprising of the Moors was feared, an invasion of the near-by
Kabyles, excited in their fanaticism by the inroads of European
culture. The Moroccans burned the houses of the Jews, plundered their
treasures, fell like wild beasts upon the white women of the infidels,
decapitating them with hellish sadism after subjecting them to
atrocious outrages. Ah! Those childhood nights in which she dozed
standing, dressed like a beggar girl, since the innocence of her tender
age was of no avail as a protection!... Perhaps it was these frights
that were responsible for her dangerous illness,an illness that had
brought her near to death, and to this circumstance she owed her name
At my birth I was named Horabuena, and a younger sister of mine
received the name Asibuena. After a period of terror and an invasion of
the Moroccans in which our house was burned down and we thought we were
all doomed to slaughter, my sister and I fell ill with fever. Asibuena
died; happily, I was saved.
And she described to Luis, who listened to her under a spell of
horror, the incidents of this exotic, abnormal life,all the
sufferings of her mother in the poor house where they had taken refuge.
Aboab's daughter screamed with grief and tore her black hair before the
bed where her daughter lay overcome by the stupor of fever. Her poor
Horabuena was going to die.
Ay, my daughter! My treasure Horabuena, my sparkling diamond, my
nest of consolation!... No more will you eat the tender chicken! No
more will you wear your neat slippers on Saturdays, nor will your
mother smile with pride when the Rabbi beholds you so graceful and
The poor woman paced about the room lighted by a shaded lamp. In the
shadows she could detect the presence of the hated Huerco, the
demon, with a Spanish name who comes at the appointed hour to bear off
human creatures to the darkness of death. She must battle against the
evil one, must deceive the Huerco, who was savage yet stupid,
just as her forefathers had deceived him many a time:
She repressed her tears and sighs, calmed her voice, and stretching
out upon the floor spoke softly, with a sweet accent, as if she were
receiving an important visit:
Huerco, what have you come for?... Are you looking for
Horabuena? Horabuena is not here; she has gone forever. She who is here
is named... Luna. Sweet Lunita, beautiful Lunita. Off with you,
Huerco, begone! She whom you seek is not here.
For some time she was calm, then her returning fears made her speak
again to her importunate, lugubrious guest. There he was again! She
could feel his presence.
Huerco, I tell you you're mistaken! Horabuena is gone; look
for her elsewhere. Only Luna is here. Sweet Lunita, precious Lunita.
And so great was her insistence that at last she succeeded in
deceiving Huerco with her entreating, humble voice, although it
is true that, to give an air of truth to the deceit, on the following
day, at a synagogue ceremony, the name of Horabuena was changed to that
Aguirre listened to these revelations with the same interest as that
with which he would read a novel about a far-off, exotic land that he
was never to behold.
It was on this same morning that the consul revealed the proposal
which for several days he had guarded in his thoughts, afraid to
express it. Why not love each other? Why not be sweethearts? There was
something providential about the way the two had met; they should not
fail to take advantage of the fate which had brought them together. To
have become acquainted! To have met, despite the difference of
countries and of races!...
Luna protested, but her protest was a smiling one. What madness!
Sweethearts? Why? They could not marry; they were of different faiths.
Besides, he had to leave. But Aguirre interrupted resolutely:
Don't reason. Just close your eyes. In love there should be no
reflection. Good sense and the conventionalities are for persons who
don't love each other. Say yes, and afterwards time and our good luck
will arrange everything.
Luna laughed, amused by Aguirre's grave countenance and the
vehemence of his speech.
Sweethearts in the Spanish fashion?... Believe me, I am tempted to
assent. You will go off and forget me, just as you've doubtless
forgotten others; and I'll be left cherishing the remembrance of you.
Excellent. We'll see each other every day and will chat about our
affairs. Serenades are not possible here, nor can you place your cape
at my feet without being considered crazy. But that doesn't matter.
We'll be sweethearts; I should love to see what it's like.
She laughed as she spoke, with her eyes closed, just like a child to
whom a pleasant game has been proposed. Soon she opened her eyes wide,
as if something forgotten had reawakened in her with a painful
pressure. She was pale. Aguirre could guess what she was trying to say.
She was about to tell him of her previous betrothal, of that Jewish
fiancé who was in America and might return. But after a brief pause of
indecision she returned to her former attitude, without breaking the
silence. Luis was grateful to her for this. She desired to conceal her
past, as do all women in the first moment of love.
Agreed. We'll be sweethearts. Let's see, consul. Say pretty things
to me, of the sort that you folks say in Spain when you come to the
That morning Luna returned to her house somewhat late for the lunch
hour. The family was awaiting her impatiently. Zabulon looked at his
niece with a stern glance. Her cousins Sol and Estrella alluded to the
Spaniard in a jesting manner. The patriarch's eyes grew moist as he
spoke of Spain and its consul.
Meanwhile the latter had stopped at the door of the Hindu bazaar to
exchange a few words with Khiamull. He felt the necessity of sharing
his brimming happiness with another. The Hindu was greener than ever.
He coughed frequently and his smile, which resembled that of a bronze
child, was really a dolorous grimace.
Khiamull, long live love! Believe me, for I know much about life.
You are sickly and some day you'll die, without beholding the sacred
river of your native land. What you need is a companion, a girl from
Gibraltar... or rather, from La Línea; a half gypsy, with her cloak,
pinks in her hair and alluring manners. Am I not right, Khiamull?...
The Hindu smiled with a certain scorn, shaking his head. No. Every
one to his own. He was of his race and lived in voluntary solitude
among the whites. Man can do nothing against the sympathies and
aversions of the blood. Brahma, who was the sum of divine wisdom,
separated all creatures into castes.
But, man!... friend Khiamull! It seems to me that a girl of the
kind I've mentioned is by no means to be despised....
The Hindu smiled once more at the speaker's ignorance. Every race
has its own tastes and its sense of smell. To Aguirre, who was a good
fellow, he would dare to reveal a terrible secret. Did he see those
whites, the Europeans, so content with their cleanliness and their
baths?... They were all impure, polluted by a natural stench which it
was impossible for them to wipe out. The son of the land of the lotus
and the sacred clay was forced to make an effort in order to endure
contact with them... They all smelled of raw meat.
IT was a winter afternoon; the sky was overcast and the air was
gray, but it was not cold. Luna and the Spaniard were walking slowly
along the road that leads to Europa Point, which is the extreme end of
the peninsula of Gibraltar. They had left behind them the Alameda and
the banks of the Arsenal, passing through leafy gardens, along reddish
villas inhabited by officers of army and navy, huge hospitals
resembling small towns, and garrisons that seemed like convents, with
numerous galleries in which swarms of children were scurrying about;
here, too, clothes and tableware were being washed and cleaned by the
soldiers' wivescourageous wanderers over the globe, as much at home
in the garrisons of India as in those of Canada. The fog concealed from
view the coast of Africa, lending to the Strait the appearance of a
shoreless sea. Before the pair of lovers stretched the dark waters of
the bay, and the promontory of Tarifa revealed its black outline
faintly in the fog, resembling a fabulous rhinoceros bearing upon its
snout, like a horn, the tower of the lighthouse. Through the ashen-gray
clouds there penetrated a timid sunbeam,a triangle of misty light,
similar to the luminous stream from a magic lantern,which traced a
large shaft of pale gold across the green-black surface of the sea. In
the center of this circle of anemic light there floated, like a dying
swan, the white spot of a sailboat.
The two lovers were oblivious to their surroundings. They walked
along, engrossed in that amorous egotism which concentrates all life in
a glance, or in the delicate contact of the bodies meeting and grazing
each other at every step. Of all Nature there existed for them only the
dying light of the afternoon, which permitted them to behold each
other, and the rather warm breeze which, murmuring among the cacti and
the palms, seemed to serve as the musical accompaniment to their
conversation. At their right rumbled the far-off roar of the sea
striking against the rocks. On their left reigned pastoral peace,the
melodious calm of the pines, broken from time to time only by the noise
of the carts, which, followed by a platoon of soldiers in their shirt
sleeves, wheeled up the roads of the mountain.
The two looked at each other with caressing eyes, smiling with the
automatism of love; but in reality they were sad, with that sweet
sadness which in itself constitutes a new voluptuousness. Luna,
influenced by the positivism of her race, was gazing into the future,
while Aguirre was content with the present moment, not caring to know
what would be the end of this love. Why trouble oneself imagining
I'm not like you, Luna. I have confidence in our lot. We'll marry
and travel about the world. Don't let that frighten you. Remember how I
came to know you. It was during the Feast of Tabernacles; you were
eating almost on foot, like those gypsies that wander over the earth
and resume their journey at the end of their meal. You come from a race
of nomads which even today roams the world. I arrived just in time.
We'll leave together; for I, too, am, because of my career, a wanderer.
Always together! We will be able to find happiness in any land
whatsoever. We'll carry springtime with us, the happiness of life, and
will love each other deeply.
Luna, flattered by the vehemence of these words, nevertheless
contracted her features into an expression of sadness.
Child! she murmured, with her Andalusian accent. What sweet
illusions... my precious consul! But only illusions, after all. How are
we to marry? How can this be arranged?... Are you going to become a
convert to my religion?
Aguirre started with surprise and looked at Luna with eyes that
betrayed his amazement.
Man alive! I, turn Jew?...
He was no model of pious enthusiasm. He had passed his days without
paying much attention to religion. He knew that the world contained
many creeds, but without doubt, as far as he was concerned, decent
persons the world over were all Catholics. Besides, his influential
uncle had warned him not to jest with these matters under penalty of
hampering advancement in his career.
No. No, I don't see the necessity of that.... But there must be
some way of getting over the difficulty. I can't say what it is, but
there surely must be one. At Paris I met very distinguished gentlemen
who were married to women of your race. This can all be arranged. I
assure you that it shall be. I have an idea! Tomorrow morning, if you
wish, I'll go to see the chief Rabbi, your 'spiritual head,' as you
call him. He seems to be a fine fellow; I've seen him several times
upon the street; a well of wisdom, as your kind say. A pity that he
goes about so unclean, smelling of rancid sanctity!... Now don't make
such a wry face. It's a matter of minor importance! A little bit of
soap can set it aright.... There, there, don't get angry. The gentleman
really pleases me a great deal, with his little white goatee and his
wee voice that seems to come from the other world!... I tell you I'm
going to see him and say, 'Señor Rabbi, Luna and I adore each other and
wish to many; not like the Jews, by contract and with the right to
change their minds, but for all our life, for centuries and centuries.
Bind us from head to foot, so that there'll be none in heaven or on
earth that can separate us. I can't change my religion because that
would be base, but I swear to you, by all my faith as a Christian, that
Luna will be more cared for, pampered and adored than if I were
Methuselah, King David, the prophet Habakkuk or any other of the
gallants that figure in the Scriptures.'
Silence, you scamp! interrupted the Jewess with superstitious
anxiety, raising one hand to his lips to prevent him from continuing.
Seal your lips, sinner!
Very well. I'll be silent, but it must be agreed that we'll settle
this one way or another. Do you believe it possible for any one to
sever us after such a serious love affair... and such a long one?
Such a long one! repeated Luna like an echo, imparting a grave
expression to his words.
Aguirre, in his silence, seemed to be given over to a difficult
At least a month long! he said at last, as if in wonder at the
length of time that had flown by.
No, not a month, protested Luna. More, much more!
He resumed his meditation.
Positively; more than a month. Thirty-eight days, counting
today.... And seeing each other every day! And falling deeper and
deeper in love each day!...
They walked along in silence, their gaze lowered, as if overwhelmed
by the great age of their love. Thirty-eight days!... Aguirre recalled
a letter that he had received the day before, bristling with surprise
and indignation. He had been in Gibraltar already two months without
sailing for Oceanica. What sort of illness was this? If he did not care
to assume his post, he ought to return to Madrid. The instability of
his present position and the necessity of solving this passion which
little by little had taken possession of him came to his thoughts with
Luna strolled on, her eyes upon the ground, moving her fingers as if
Yes, that's it. Thirty-eight.... Exactly! It seems impossible that
you could have loved me for so long. Me! An old woman!
And in response to Aguirre's bewildered glance she added, sadly,
You already know. I don't hide it.... Twenty-two years old. Many of my
race marry at fourteen.
Her resignation was sincere; it was the resignation of the Oriental
woman, accustomed to behold youth only in the bud of adolescence.
Often I find it impossible to explain your love for me. I feel so
proud of you!... My cousins, to vex me, try to find defects in you, and
can't!... No, they can't! The other day you passed by my house and I
was behind the window-blinds with Miriam, who was my nurse; she's a
Jewess from Morocco, one of those who wear kerchiefs and wrappers.
'Look, Miriam, at that handsome chap, who belongs to our neighborhood.'
Miriam looked. 'A Jew? No. That can't be. He walks erect, with a firm
step, and our men walk haltingly, with their legs doubled as if they
were about to kneel. He has teeth like a wolf and eyes like daggers. He
doesn't lower his head nor his gaze.' And that's how you are. Miriam
was right. You stand out from among all the young men of my blood. Not
that they lack courage; there are some as strong as the Maccabees;
Massena, Napoleon's companion, was one of us, but the natural attitude
of them all, before they are transformed by anger, is one of humility
and submission. We have been persecuted so much!... You have grown up
in a different environment.
Afterwards the young woman seemed to regret her words. She was a bad
Jewess; she scarcely had any faith in her beliefs and in her people;
she went to the synagogue only on the Day of Atonement and on the
occasion of other solemn, unavoidable ceremonies.
I believe that I've been waiting for you forever. Now I am sure
that I knew you long before seeing you. When I saw you for the first
time, on that day during the Feast of the Tabernacles, I felt that
something grave and decisive had occurred in my life. When I learned
who you were, I became your slave and hungered anxiously for your first
Ah, Spain!... She was like old Aboab; her thoughts had often flown
to the beautiful land of her forefathers, wrapped in mystery. At times
she recalled it only to hate it, as one hates a beloved person, for his
betrayals and his cruelties, without ceasing to love him. At others,
she called to mind with delight the tales she had heard from her
grandmother's lips, the songs with which she had been lulled to sleep
as a child,all the legends of the old Castilian land, abode of
treasures, enchantments and love affairs, comparable only to the Bagdad
of the Arabs, to the wonderful city of the thousand and one nights.
Upon holidays, when the Jews remained secluded in the bosom of the
family, old Aboab or Miriam, her nurse, had many a time beguiled her
with ancient ballads in the manner of old Castile, that had been
transmitted from generation to generation; stories of love affairs
between arrogant, knightly Christians and beautiful Jewesses with fair
complexions, large eyes and thick, ebony tresses, just like the holy
beauties of the Scriptures.
En la ciudad de Toledo,
en la ciudad de Granada,
hay un garrido mancebo
que Diego León se llama.
Namorose de Thamar,
que era hebrea castellana....
(In the city of Toledo, in the city of Granada, there is a handsome
youth called Diego Leon. He fell in love with Tamar, who was a Spanish
There still echoed in her memory fragments of these ancient
chronicles that had brought many a tremor to her dreamy childhood. She
desired to be Tamar; she would have waited years and years for the
handsome youth, who would be as brave and arrogant as Judas Maccabeus
himself, the Cid of the Jews, the lion of Judea, the lion of lions; and
now her hopes were being fulfilled, and her hero had appeared at last,
coming out of the land of mystery, with his conqueror's stride, his
haughty head, his dagger eyes, as Miriam said. How proud it made her
feel! And instinctively, as if she feared that the apparition would
vanish, she slipped her hand about Aguirre's arm, leaning against him
with caressing humility.
They had reached Europa Point, the outermost lighthouse of the
promontory. On an esplanade surrounded by military buildings there was
a group of ruddy young men, their khaki trousers held in place by
leather braces and their arms bare, kicking and driving a huge ball
about. They were soldiers. They stopped their game for a moment to let
the couple pass. There was not a single glance for Luna from this group
of strong, clean-living youths, who had been trained to a cold
sexuality by physical fatigue and the cult of brawn.
As they turned a corner of the promontory they continued their walk
on the eastern side of the cliff. This part was unoccupied; here
tempests and the raging winds from the Levant came to vent their fury.
On this side were no other fortifications than those of the summit,
almost hidden by the clouds which, coming from the sea, encountered the
gigantic rampart of rock and scaled the peaks as if assaulting them.
The road, hewn out of the rough declivity, meandered through gardens
wild with African exuberance. The pear trees extended, like green
fences, their serried rows of prickle-laden leaves; the century-plants
opened like a profusion of bayonets, blackish or salmon-red in color;
the old agaves shot their stalks into the air straight as masts, which
were topped by extended branches that gave them the appearance of
telegraph poles. In the midst of this wild vegetation arose the lonely
summer residence of the governor. Beyond was solitude, silence,
interrupted only by the roar of the sea as it disappeared into
Soon the two lovers noticed, at a great distance, signs of motion
amidst the vegetation of the slope. The stones rolled down as if some
one were pushing them under his heel; the wild plants bent under an
impulse of flight, and shrill sounds, as if coming from a child being
maltreated, rent the air. Aguirre, concentrating his attention, thought
he saw some gray forms jumping amid the dark verdure.
Those are the monkeys of the Rock, said Luna calmly, as she had
seen them many times.
At the end of the path was the famous Cave of the Monkeys. Now
Aguirre could see them plainly, and they looked like agile,
shaggy-haired bundles jumping from rock to rock, sending the loose
pebbles rolling from under their hands and feet and showing, as they
fled, the inflamed protuberances under their stiff tails.
Before coming up to the Cave of the Monkeys the two lovers paused.
The end of the road was in sight a little further along abruptly cut
off by a precipitous projection of the rock. At the other side,
invisible, was the bay of the Catalanes with its town of
fisherfolk,the only dependency of Gibraltar. The cliff, in this
solitude, acquired a savage grandeur. Human beings were as nothing;
natural forces here had free range, with all their impetuous majesty.
From the road could be seen the sea far, far below. The boats,
diminished by the distance, seemed like black insects with antennae of
smoke, or white butterflies with their wings spread. The waves seemed
only light curls on the immense blue plain.
Aguirre wished to go down and contemplate at closer range the
gigantic wall which the sea beat against. A rough, rocky path led, in a
straight line, to an entrance hewn out of the stone, backed by a ruined
wall, a hemispherical sentry-box and several shanties whose roofs had
been carried off by the tempests. These were the débris of old
fortifications,perhaps dating back to the time in which the Spaniards
had tried to reconquer the place.
As Luna descended, with uncertain step, supported by her lover's
hand and scattering pebbles at every turn, the melodious silence of the
sea was broken by a reverberating raack! as if a hundred fans
had been brusquely opened. For a few seconds everything vanished from
before their eyes; the blue waters, the red crags, the foam of the
breakers,under a flying cloud of grayish white that spread out at
their feet. This was formed by hundreds of sea-gulls who had been
frightened from their place of refuge and were taking to flight; there
were old, huge gulls, as fat as hens, young gulls, as white and
graceful as doves. They flew off uttering shrill cries, and as this
cloud of fluttering wings dissolved, there came into view with all its
grandeur, the promontory and the deep waters that beat against it in
It was necessary to raise one's head and to lift one's eyes to
behold in all its height this fortress of Nature, sheer, gray, without
any sign of human presence other than the flagstaff visible at the
summit, as small as a toy. Over all the extensive face of this enormous
cliff there was no other projection than several masses of dark
vegetation, clumps suspended from the rock. Below, the waves receded
and advanced, like blue bulls that retreat a few paces so as to attack
with all the greater force; as an evidence of this continuous assault,
which had been going on for centuries and centuries, there were the
crevices opened in the rock, the mouths of the caves, gates of ghostly
suggestion and mystery through which the waves plunged with
terror-inspiring roar. The débris of these openings, the fragments of
the ageless assaults,loosened crags, piled up by the
tempests,formed a chain of reefs between whose teeth the sea combed
its foamy hair or raged with livid frothing on stormy days.
The lovers remained seated among the old fortifications, beholding
at their feet the blue immensity and before their eyes the seemingly
interminable wall that barred from sight a great part of the horizon.
Perhaps on the other side of the cliff the gold of the sunset was still
shining. On this side already the shades of night were gently falling.
The sweethearts were silent, overwhelmed by the silence of the spot,
united to each other by an impulse of fear, crushed by their
insignificance in the midst of this annihilating vastness, even as two
Egyptian ants in the shadow of the Great Pyramid.
Aguirre felt the necessity of saying something, and his voice took
on a grave character, as if in those surroundings, impregnated with the
majesty of Nature, it was impossible to speak otherwise.
I love you, he began, with the incongruity of one who passes
without transition from long meditation to the spoken word. I love
you, for you are of my race and yet you are not; because you speak my
language and yet your blood is not my blood. You possess the grace and
beauty of the Spanish woman, yet there is something more in
you,something exotic, that speaks to me of distant lands, of poetic
things, of unknown perfumes that I seem to smell whenever I am near
you.... And you, Luna. Why do you love me?
I love you, she replied, after a long silence, her voice solemn
and veiled like that of an emotional soprano, I love you because you,
too, have something in your face that resembles those of my race, and
yet you are as distinct from them as is the servant from the master. I
love you... I don't know why. In me there dwells the soul of the
ancient Jewesses of the desert, who went to the well in the oasis with
their hair let down and their pitchers on their heads. Then came the
Gentile stranger, with his camels, begging water; she looked at him
with her solemn, deep eyes, and as she poured the water in between her
white hands she gave him her heart, her whole soul, and followed him
like a slave.... Your people killed and robbed mine; for centuries my
forefathers wept in strange lands the loss of their new Zion, their
beautiful land, their nest of consolation. I ought to hate you, but I
love you; I am yours and will follow you wherever you go. The blue
shadows of the promontory became deeper. It was almost night. The
sea-gulls, shrieking, retired to their hiding-places in the rocks. The
sea commenced to disappear beneath a thin mist. The lighthouse of
Europe shone like a diamond from afar in the heavens above the Strait,
which were still clear. A sweet somnolence seemed to arise from the
dying day, enveloping all Nature. The two human atoms, lost in this
immensity, felt themselves invaded by the universal tremor, oblivious
to all that but a short time before had constituted their lives. They
forgot the presence of the city on the other side of the mountain; the
existence of humanity, of which they were infinitesimal parts....
Completely alone, penetrating each other through their pupils! Thus,
thus forever! There was a crackling sound in the dark, like dry
branches creaking before they break.
All at once a red flash sped through the air,something straight
and rapid as the flight of a fiery bird. Then the mountain trembled and
the sea echoed under a dry thunder. The sunset gun!... A timely boom.
The two shuddered as though just awakening from a dream. Luna, as if
in flight, ran down the path in search of the main road, without
listening to Aguirre.... She was going to get home late; she would
never visit that spot again. It was dangerous.
THE consul wandered through Royal Street, his pipe out, his glance
sad and his cane hanging from his arm. He was depressed. When, during
his walking back and forth he stopped instinctively before Khiamull's
shop, he had to pass on. Khiamull was not there. Behind the counter
were only two clerks, as greenish in complexion as their employer. His
poor friend was in the hospital, in the hope that a few days of rest
away from the damp gloom of the shop would be sufficient to relieve him
of the cough that seemed to unhinge his body and make him throw up
blood. He came from the land of the sun and needed its divine caress.
Aguirre might have stopped at the Aboabs' establishment, but he was
somewhat afraid. The old man whimpered with emotion, as usual, when he
spoke to the consul, but in his kindly, patriarchal gestures there was
something new that seemed to repel the Spaniard. Zabulon received him
with a grunt and would continue counting money.
For four days Aguirre had not seen Luna. The hours that he spent at
his window, vainly watching the house of the Aboabs! Nobody on the
roof; nobody behind the blinds, as if the house were unoccupied.
Several times he encountered on the street the wife and daughters of
Zabulon, but they passed him by pretending not to see him, solemn and
haughty in their imposing obesity.
Luna was no more to be seen than as if she had left Gibraltar. One
morning he thought he recognized her delicate hand opening the blinds;
he imagined that he could distinguish, through the green strips of
wood, the ebony crown of her hair, and her luminous eyes raised toward
him. But it was a fleeting apparition that lasted only a second. When
he tried to make a gesture of entreaty, when he moved his arms
imploring her to wait, Luna had already disappeared.
How was he to approach her, breaking through the guarded aloofness
in which Jewish families dwell? To whom was he to go for an explanation
of this unexpected change?... Braving the icy reception with which the
Aboabs greeted him, he entered their place under various pretexts. The
proprietors received him with frigid politeness, as if he were an
unwelcome customer. The Jews who came in on business eyed him with
insolent curiosity, as if but a short time before they had been
One morning he saw, engaged in conversation with Zabulon, a man of
about forty, of short stature, somewhat round shouldered with
spectacles. He wore a high silk hat, a loose coat and a large golden
chain across his waistcoat. In a somewhat sing-song voice he was
speaking of the greatness of Buenos Aires, of the future that awaited
those of his race in that city, of the good business he had done. The
affectionate attention with which the old man and his son listened to
the man suggested a thought to Aguirre that sent all the blood to his
heart, at the same time producing a chill in the rest of his body. He
shuddered with surprise. Could it be he?... And after a few
seconds, instinctively, without any solid grounds, he himself gave the
answer. Yes; it was he; there had been no mistake. Without a doubt he
beheld before him Luna's promised husband, who had just returned from
South America. And if he still had any doubts as to the correctness of
his conjecture, he was strengthened in his belief by a rapid glance
from the man,a cold, scornful look that was cast upon him furtively,
while the looker continued to speak with his relatives.
That night he saw him again on Royal Street. He saw him, but not
alone. He was arm in arm with Luna, who was dressed in black; Luna, who
leaned upon him as if he were already her husband; the two walked along
with all the freedom of Jewish engaged couples. She did not see Aguirre
or did not wish to see him. As she passed him by she turned her head,
pretending to be engrossed in conversation with her companion.
Aguirre's friends, who were gathered in a group on the sidewalk
before the Exchange, laughed at the meeting, with the light-heartedness
of persons who look upon love only as a pastime.
Friend, said one of them to the Spaniard, they've stolen her away
from you. The Jew's carrying her off.... It couldn't have been
otherwise. They marry only among themselves... and that girl has lots
Aguirre did not sleep a wink that night; he lay awake planning the
most horrible deeds of vengeance. In any other country he knew what he
would do; he would insult the Jew, slap him, fight a duel, kill him;
and if the man did not respond to such provocation, he would pursue him
until he left the field free.... But he lived here in another world; a
country that was ignorant of the knightly procedure of ancient peoples.
A challenge to a duel would cause laughter, like something silly and
extravagant. He could, of course, attack his enemy right in the street,
bring him to his knees and kill him if he tried to defend himself. But
ah! English justice did not recognize love nor did it accept the
existence of crimes of passion. Yonder, half way up the slope of the
mountain, in the ruins of the castle that had been occupied by the
Moorish kings of Gibraltar, he had seen the prison, filled with men
from all lands, especially Spaniards, incarcerated for life because
they had drawn the poniard under the impulse of love or jealousy, just
as they were accustomed to doing a few metres further on, at the other
side of the boundary. The whip worked with the authorization of the
law; men languished and died turning the wheel of the pump. A cold,
methodical cruelty, a thousand times worse than the fanatic savagery of
the Inquisition, devoured human creatures, giving them nothing more
than the exact amount of sustenance necessary to prolong their
torture.... No. This was another world, where his jealousy and his fury
could find no vent. And he would have to lose Luna without a cry of
protest, without a gesture of manly rebellion!...Now, upon beholding
himself parted from her, he felt for the first time the genuine
importance of his love; a love that had been begun as a pastime,
through an exotic curiosity, and which was surely going to upset his
entire existence... What was he to do?
He recalled the words of one of those inhabitants of Gibraltar who
had accompanied him on Royal Street,a strange mixture of Andalusian
sluggishness and British apathy.
Take my word for it, friend, the chief Rabbi and those of the
synagogue have a hand in this. You were scandalizing them; everybody
saw you making love in public. You don't realize how important one of
these fellows is. They enter the homes of the faithful and run
everything, giving out orders that nobody dares to disobey.
The following day Aguirre did not leave his street, and either
walked up and down in front of the Aboabs' house or stood motionless at
the entrance to his hotel, without losing sight for a moment of Luna's
dwelling. Perhaps she would come out! After the meeting of the previous
day she must have lost her fear. They must have a talk. Here it was
three months since he had come to Gibraltar, forgetting his career, in
danger of ruining it, abusing the influence of his relatives. And was
he going to leave that woman without exchanging a final word, without
knowing the cause for the sudden overturn?...
Toward night-fall Aguirre experienced a strange shudder of emotion,
similar to that which he had felt in the brokers' shop upon beholding
the Jew that had just returned from South America. A woman came out of
the Aboabs' house; she was dressed in black. It was Luna, just as he
had seen her the day before.
She turned her head slowly and Aguirre understood that she had seen
him,that perhaps she had been watching him for a long time hidden
behind the blinds. She began to walk hastily, without turning her head,
and Aguirre followed her at a certain distance, on the opposite
sidewalk, jostling through the groups of Spanish workmen who, with
their bundles in their hands, were returning from the Arsenal to the
town of La Línea, before the sunset gun should sound and the place be
closed. Thus he shadowed her along Royal Street, and as she arrived at
the Exchange, Luna continued by way of Church Street, passing by the
Catholic Cathedral. Here there were less people about and the shops
were fewer; except at the corners of the lanes where there were small
groups of men that had formed on coming from work. Aguirre quickened
his gait so as to catch up with Luna, while she, as if she had guessed
his intention, slackened her step. As they reached the rear of the
Protestant church, near the opening called Cathedral Square, the two
She turned her glance upon Aguirre, and then instinctively they made
for the end of the square, fleeing from the publicity of the street.
They came to the Moorish arcades of the evangelist temple, whose colors
were beginning to grow pale, vanishing into the shade of dusk. Before
either of them could utter a word they were enveloped in a wave of soft
melody,music that seemed to come from afar, stray chords from the
organ, the voices of virgins and children who were chanting in English
with bird-like notes the glory of the Lord.
Aguirre was at a loss for words. All his angry thoughts were
forgotten. He felt like crying, like kneeling and begging something of
that God, whoever He might be, who was at the other side of the walls,
lulled by the hymn from the throat of the mystic birds with firm and
He could say nothing else, but the Jewess, stronger than he and less
sensitive to that music which was not hers, spoke to him in a low and
hurried voice. She had stolen out just to see him; she must talk with
him, say good-bye. It was the last time they would meet.
Aguirre heard her without fully understanding her words. All his
attention was concentrated upon her eyes, as if the five days in which
they had not met were the same as a long voyage, and as if he were
seeking in Luna's countenance some effect of the extended lapse of time
that had intervened. Was she the same?... Yes it was she. But her lips
were somewhat pale with emotion; she pressed her lids tightly together
as if every word cost her a prodigious effort, as if every one of them
tore out part of her soul. Her lashes, as they met, revealed in the
corner of her eyes lines that seemed to indicate fatigue, recent tears,
The Spaniard was at last able to understand what she was saying. But
was it all true?... To part! Why? Why?... And as he stretched his arms
out to her in the vehemence of his entreaty Luna became paler still,
huddling together timidly, her eyes dilated with fear.
It was impossible for their love to continue. She must look upon all
the past as a beautiful dream; perhaps the best of her life... but the
moment of waking had come. She was marrying, thus fulfilling her duty
toward her family and her race. The past had been a wild escapade, a
childish flight of her exalted and romantic nature. The wise men of her
people had clearly pointed out to her the dangerous consequences of
such frivolity. She must follow her destiny and be as her mother had
been,like all the women of her blood. Upon the following day she was
going to Tangier with her promised husband, Isaac Nuñez. He himself and
her relatives had counselled her to have one last interview with the
Spaniard, so as to put an end to an equivocal situation that might
compromise the honor of a good merchant and destroy the tranquility of
a peaceful man. They would marry at Tangier, where her fiancé's family
lived; perhaps they would remain there; perhaps they would journey to
South America and resume business there. At any rate, their love, their
sweet adventure, their divine dream, was ended forever.
Forever! murmured Luis in a muffled voice. Say it again. I hear
it from your lips, yet I can't believe my ears. Say it once more. I
wish to make sure.
His voice was filled with supplication but at the same time his
clenched hand and his threatening glance terrified Luna, who opened her
eyes wide and pressed her lips tightly together, as if restraining a
sob. The Jewess seemed to grow old in the shadows.
The fiery bird of twilight flashed through the air with its
fluttering of red wings. Closely following came a thunderclap that made
the houses and ground tremble.... The sunset gun! Aguirre, in his
agony, could see in his mind's eye a high wall of crags, flying gulls,
the foamy, roaring sea, a misty evening light, the same as that which
now enveloped them.
Do you remember, Luna? Do you remember?...
The roll of drums sounded from a near-by street, accompanied by the
shrill notes of the fife and the deep boom of the bass drum, drowning
with its belligerent sound the mystic, ethereal chants that seemed to
filter through the walls of the temple. It was the evening patrol on
its way to close the gates of the town. The soldiers, clad in uniforms
of greyish yellow, marched by, in time with the tune from their
instruments, while above their cloth helmets waved the arms of the
gymnast who was deafening the street with his blows upon the drum head.
The two waited for the noisy patrol to pass. As the soldiers
disappeared in the distance the melodies from the celestial choir
inside the church returned slowly to the ears of the listeners.
The Spaniard was abject, imploring, passing from his threatening
attitude to one of humble supplication.
Luna... Lunita! What you say is not true. It cannot be. To separate
like this? Don't listen to any of them. Follow the dictates of your
heart. There is still a chance for us to be happy. Instead of going off
with that man whom you do not love, whom you surely cannot love, flee
No, she replied firmly, closing her eyes as though she feared to
weaken if she looked at him. No. That is impossible. Your God is not
my God. Your people, not my people.
In the Catholic Cathedral, near by, but out of sight, the bell rang
with a slow, infinitely melancholy reverberation. Within the Protestant
Church the choir of virgins was beginning a new hymn, like a flock of
joyous birds winging about the organ. Afar, gradually becoming fainter
and fainter and losing itself in the streets that were covered by the
shadows of night, sounded the thunder of the patrol and the playful
lisping of the fifes, hymning the universal power of England to the
tune of circus music.
Your God! Your people! exclaimed the Spaniard sadly. Here, where
there are so many Gods! Here, where everybody is of your people!...
Forget all that. We are all equals in life. There is only one truth:
Ding, dong! groaned the bell aloft in the Catholic Cathedral,
weeping the death of day. Lead Kindly Light! sang the voices of the
virgins and the children in the Protestant temple, resounding through
the twilight silence of the square.
No, answered Luna harshly, with an expression that Aguirre had
never seen in her before; she seemed to be another woman. No. You have
a land, you have a nation, and you may well laugh at races and
religions, placing love above them. We, on the other hand, wherever we
may be born, and however much the laws may proclaim us the equals of
others, are always called Jews, and Jews we must remain, whether we
will or no. Our land, our nation, our only banner, is the religion of
our ancestors. And you ask me to desert it,to abandon my people?...
Aguirre listened to her in amazement.
Luna, I don't recognize you.... Luna, Lunita, you are another woman
altogether.... Do you know what I'm thinking of at this moment? I'm
thinking of your mother, whom I did not know.
He recalled those nights of cruel uncertainty, when Luna's mother
tore her jet-black hair before the bed in which her child lay gasping;
how she tried to deceive the demon, the hated Huerco, who came
to rob her of her beloved daughter.
Ah! I, too, Luna, feel the simple faith of your mother,her
innocent credulity. Love and despair simplify our souls and remove from
them the proud tinsel with which we clothe them in moments of happiness
and pride; love and despair render us by their mystery, timid and
respectful, like the simplest of creatures. I feel what your poor
mother felt during those nights. I shudder at the presence of the
Huerco in our midst. Perhaps it's that old fellow with the goat's
whiskers who is at the head of your people here; all of you are a
materialistic sort, without imagination, incapable of knowing true
love; it seems impossible that you can be one of them.... You, Luna!
You! Don't laugh at what I say. But I feel a strong desire to kneel
down here before you, to stretch out upon the ground and cry: '
Huerco, what do you wish? Have you come to carry off my Luna?...
Luna is not here. She has gone forever. This woman here is my beloved,
my wife. She has no name yet, but I'll give her one.' And to seize you
in my arms, as your mother did, to defend you against the black demon,
and then to see you saved, and mine forever; to confirm your new name
with my caresses, and to call you... my Only One, yes, my Only One. Do
you like the name?... Let our lives be lived together, with the whole
world as our home.
She shook her head sadly. Very beautiful. One dream more. A few days
earlier these words would have moved her and would have made her weep.
But now!... And with cruel insistence she repeated No, no. My God is
not your God. My race is not your race. Why should we persist in
attempting the impossible?...
When her people had spoken indignantly about the love affair that
was being bruited all about town; when the spiritual head of her
community came to her with the ire of an ancient prophet; when
accident, or perhaps the warning of a fellow Jew, had brought about the
return of her betrothed, Isaac Nuñez, Luna felt awaking within her
something that had up to that time lain dormant. The dregs of old
beliefs, hatreds and hopes were stirred in the very depths of her
thought, changing her affections and imposing new duties. She was a
Jewess and would remain faithful to her race. She would not go to lose
herself in barren isolation among strange persons who hated the Jew
through inherited instinct. Among her own kind she would enjoy the
influence of the wife that is listened to in all family councils, and
when she would become old, her children would surround her with a
religious veneration. She did not feel strong enough to suffer the
hatred and suspicion of that hostile world into which love was trying
to drag her,a world that had presented her people only with tortures
and indignities. She wished to be loyal to her race, to continue the
defensive march that her nation was realizing across centuries of
Soon she was inspired with compassion at the dejection of her former
sweetheart, and she spoke to him more gently. She could no longer feign
calmness or indifference. Did he think that she could ever forget him?
Ah! Those days had been the sweetest in all her existence; the romance
of her life, the blue flower that all women, even the most ordinary,
carry within their memories like a breath of poesy.
Do you imagine that I don't know what my lot is going to be
like?... You were the unexpected, the sweet disturbance that beautifies
life, the happiness of love which finds joy in all that surrounds it
and never gives thought to the morrow. You are a man that stands out
from all the rest; I know that. I'll many, I'll have many
children,many!for our race is inexhaustible, and at night my
husband will talk to me for hour after hour about what we earned during
the day. You... you are different. Perhaps I would have had to suffer,
to be on my guard lest I'd lose you, but with all that you are
happiness, you are illusion.
Yes, I am all that, said Aguirre I am all that because I love
you.... Do you realize what you are doing, Luna? It is as if they laid
thousands and thousands of silver pounds upon the counter before
Zabulon, and he turned his back upon them, scorning them and preferring
the synagogue. Do you believe such a thing possible?... Very well,
then. Love is a fortune. It is like beauty, riches, power; all who are
born have a chance of acquiring one of these boons, but very few
actually attain to them. All live and die believing that they have
known love, thinking it a common thing, because they confuse it with
animal satisfaction; but love is a privilege, love is a lottery of
fate, like wealth, like beauty, which only a small minority enjoy....
And when love comes more than half way to meet you, Luna, Lunita,when
fate places happiness right in your hands, you turn your back upon it
and walk off!... Consider it well! There is yet time! Today, as I
walked along Royal Street I saw the ship notices. Tomorrow there's a
boat sailing for Port Said. Courage! Let us flee!... We'll wait there
for a boat to take us to Australia.
Luna raised her head proudly. Farewell to her look of compassion!
Farewell to the melancholy mood in which she had listened to the
youth!... Her eyes shone with a steely glance; her voice was cruel and
And she turned her back upon him, beginning to walk as if taking
flight. Aguirre hastened after her, soon reaching her side.
And that's how you leave me! he exclaimed. Like this, never to
meet again... Can a love that was our very life end in such a
The hymn had ceased in the evangelical temple; the Catholic bell was
silent; the military music had died out at the other end of the town. A
painful silence enveloped the two lovers. To Aguirre it seemed as if
the world were deserted, as if the light had died forever, and that in
the midst of the chaos and the eternal darkness he and she were the
only living creatures.
At least give me your hand; let me feel it in mine for the last
time.... Don't you care to?
She seemed to hesitate, but finally extended her right hand. How
lifeless it was! How icy!
Good-bye, Luis, she said curtly, turning her eyes away so as not
to see him.
She spoke more, however. She felt that impulse of giving consolation
which animates all women at times of great grief. He must not despair.
Life held sweet hopes in store for him. He was going to see the world;
he was still young....
Aguirre spoke from between clenched teeth, to himself, as if he had
gone mad. Young! As if grief paid attention to ages! A week before he
had been thirty years old; now he felt as old as the world.
Luna made an effort to release herself, trembling for herself,
uncertain of her will power.
This time she really departed, and he allowed her to leave, lacking
the strength with which to follow her.
Aguirre passed a sleepless night, seated at the edge of his bed,
gazing with stupid fixity at the designs upon the wall-paper. To think
that this could have happened! And he, no stronger than a mere child,
had permitted her to leave him forever!... Several times he was
surprised to catch himself speaking aloud.
No. No. It cannot be.... It shall not be!
The light went out, of its own accord, and Aguirre continued to
soliloquize, without knowing what he was saying. It shall not be! It
shall not be! he murmured emphatically. But passing from rage to
despair he asked himself what he could do to retain her, to end his
Nothing! His misfortune was irreparable. They were going to resume
the course of their lives, each on a different road; they were going to
embark on the following day, each to an opposite pole of the earth, and
each would carry away nothing of the other, save a memory; and this
memory, under the tooth of time, would become ever smaller, more
fragile, more delicate. And this was the end of such a great love! This
was the finale of a passion that had been born to fill an entire
existence! And the earth did not tremble, and nobody was moved, and the
world ignored this great sorrow, even as it would ignore the
misfortunes of a pair of ants. Ah! Misery!...
He would roam about the world carrying his recollections with him,
and perhaps some day he would come to forget them, for one can live
only by forgetting; but when his grief should dissolve with the years
he would be left an empty man, like a smiling automaton, incapable of
any affections other than material ones. And thus he would go on living
until he should grow old and die. And she, the beautiful creature, who
seemed to scatter music and incense at every step,the incomparable
one, the only one,would likewise grow old, far from his side. She
would be one more Jewish wife, an excellent mother of a family, grown
stout from domestic life, flabby and shapeless from the productivity of
her race, with a brood of children about her, preoccupied at all hours
with the earnings of the family, a full moon, cumbrous, yellow, without
the slightest resemblance to the springtime star that had illuminated
the fleeting and best moments of his life. What a jest of fate!...
Farewell forever, Luna!... No, not Luna. Farewell, Horabuena!
On the next day he took passage on the ship that was leaving for
Port Said. What was there for him to do in Gibraltar?... It had been
for three months a paradise, at the side of the woman who beautified
his existence; now it was an intolerable city, cramped and monotonous;
a deserted castle; a damp, dark prison. He telegraphed to his uncle,
informing him of his departure. The vessel would weigh anchor at night,
after the sunset gun, when it had taken on its supply of coal.
The hotel people brought him news. Khiamull had died at the
hospital, in the full possession of his mental faculties as is
characteristic of consumptives, and had spoken of the distant land of
the sun, of its virgins, dark and slender as bronze statues, crowned
with the lotus flower. A hemorrhage had put an end to his hopes. All
the town was talking about his burial. His compatriots, the Hindu
shopkeepers, had sent a delegation to the governor and made
arrangements for the funeral rites. They were going to cremate the body
on the outskirts of the town, on the beach that faced the East. His
remains must not rot in impure soil. The English governor, deferent
toward the creeds of his various subjects, presented them with the
necessary wood. At night-fall they would dig a hollow on the beach,
fill it with shavings and faggots; then they would put in large logs,
and the corpse; on top of this, more wood, and after the pyre had
ceased to burn for lack of fuel Khiamull's religious brethren would
gather the ashes and bear them off in a boat to scatter them at sea.
Aguirre listened coldly to these details. Happy Khiamull, who was
departing thus! Fire, plenty of fire! Would that he could burn the
town, and the near-by lands, and finally the whole world!...
At ten o'clock the transatlantic liner raised anchor. The Spaniard,
leaning over the rail, saw the black mountain and the huge Rock, its
base speckled with rows of lights, grow small as if sinking into the
horizon. Its obscure ridge was silhouetted against the sky like a
crouching monster toying with a swarm of stars between its paws.
The vessel rounded Europa Point and the lights disappeared. Now the
cliff was visible from its Eastern face, black, imposing, bare, with no
other light than that of the lighthouse at its extreme end.
Suddenly a new light arose,a red line, a perpendicular flame,at
the foot of the mountain, as if it came out of the sea. Aguirre guessed
what it was. Poor Khiamull! The flames were beginning to consume his
body upon the beach. The bronze-faced men were at this moment gathered
about the pyre, like priests of a remote civilization, hastening the
disposal of their companion's remains.
Farewell, Khiamull! He had died with his hope placed in the
Orient,the land of love and perfumes, the abode of delights,without
having been able to realize his dreams. And here was Aguirre traveling
thither with an empty heart, a paralyzed soul, wearied and bereft of
strength, as if he had just emerged from the most terrible of ordeals.
Farewell, melancholy and gentle Hindu, poor poet who dreamed of
light and love as you sold your trinkets in that damp hole!... His
remains, purified by flame, were going to be lost in the bosom of the
great mother. Perhaps his delicate, bird-like soul would survive in the
sea-gulls that fluttered about the cliff; perhaps he would sing in the
roaring foam of the submarine caverns, as an accompaniment to the vows
of other lovers who would come there in their turn, on the impulse of
the deceptive illusion, the sweet lie of love that gives us new
strength to continue on our way.
I WAS spending the summer at Nazaret, said my friend Orduna, a
little fishermen's town near Valencia. The women went to the city to
sell the fish, the men sailed about in their boats with triangular
sails, or tugged at their nets on the beach; we summer vacationists
spent the day sleeping and the night at the doors of our houses,
contemplating the phosphorescence of the waves or slapping ourselves
here and there whenever we heard the buzz of a mosquito,that scourge
of our resting hours.
The doctor, a hardy and genial old fellow, would come and sit down
under the bower before my door, and we'd spend the night together, with
a jar or a watermelon at our side, speaking of his patients, folks of
land or sea, credulous, rough and insolent in their manners, given over
to fishing or to the cultivation of their fields. At times we laughed
as he recalled the illness of Visanteta, the daughter of la Soberana, an old fishmonger who justified her nickname of the Queen by
her bulk and her stature, as well as by the arrogance with which she
treated her market companions, imposing her will upon them by right of
might.... The belle of the place was this Visanteta: tiny, malicious,
with a clever tongue, and no other good looks than that of youthful
health; but she had a pair of penetrating eyes and a trick of
pretending timidity, weakness and interest, which simply turned the
heads of the village youths. Her sweetheart was Carafosca, a
brave fisherman who was capable of sailing on a stick of wood. On the
sea he was admired by all for his audacity; on land he filled everybody
with fear by his provoking silence and the facility with which he
whipped out his aggressive sailor's knife. Ugly, burly and always ready
for a fight, like the huge creatures that from time to time showed up
in the waters of Nazaret devouring all the fish, he would walk to
church on Sunday afternoons at his sweetheart's side, and every time
the maiden raised her head to speak to him, amidst the simple talk and
lisping of a delicate, pampered child, Carafosca would cast a
challenging look about him with his squinting eyes, as if defying all
the folk of the fields, the beach and the sea to take his Visanteta
away from him.
One day the most astounding news was bruited about Nazaret. The
daughter of la Soberana had an animal inside of her. Her abdomen
was swelling; the slow deformation revealed itself through her
underskirts and her dress; her face lost color, and the fact that she
had swooned several times, vomiting painfully, upset the entire cabin
and caused her mother to burst into desperate lamentations and to run
in terror for help. Many of her neighbors smiled when they heard of
this illness. Let them tell it to Carafosca!... But the
incredulous ones ceased their malicious talk and their suspicions when
they saw how sad and desperate Carafosca became at his
sweetheart's illness, praying for her recovery with all the fervor of a
simple soul, even going so far as to enter the little village
church,he, who had always been a pagan, a blasphemer of God and the
Yes, it was a strange and horrible sickness. The people, in their
predisposition to believe in all sorts of extraordinary and rare
afflictions, were certain that they knew what this was. Visanteta had a
toad in her stomach. She had drunk from a certain spot of the near-by
river, and the wicked animal, small and almost unnoticeable, had gone
down into her stomach, growing fast. The good neighbors, trembling with
stupefaction, flocked to la Soberana's cabin to examine the
girl. All, with a certain solemnity, felt the swelling abdomen, seeking
in its tightened surface the outlines of the hidden creature. Some of
them, older and more experienced than the rest, laughed with a
triumphant expression. There it was, right under their hand. They could
feel it stirring, moving about.... Yes, it was moving! And after grave
deliberation, they agreed upon remedies to expel the unwelcome guest.
They gave the girl spoonfuls of rosemary honey, so that the wicked
creature inside should start to eat it gluttonously, and when he was
most preoccupied in his joyous meal, whiz!an inundation of onion
juice and vinegar that would bring him out at full gallop. At the same
time they applied to her stomach miraculous plasters, so that the toad,
left without a moment's rest, should escape in terror; there were rags
soaked in brandy and saturated with incense; tangles of hemp dipped in
the calking of the ships; mountain herbs; simple bits of paper with
numbers, crosses and Solomon's seal upon them, sold by the
miracle-worker of the city. Visanteta thought that all these remedies
that were being thrust down her throat would be the death of her. She
shuddered with the chills of nausea, she writhed in horrible
contortions as if she were about to expel her very entrails, but the
odious toad did not deign to show even one of his legs, and la
Soberana cried to heaven. Ah, her daughter!... Those remedies would
never succeed in casting out the wretched animal; it was better to let
it alone, and not torture the poor girl; rather give it a great deal to
eat, so that it wouldn't feed upon the strength of Visanteta who was
glowing paler and weaker every day.
And as la Soberana was poor, all her friends, moved by the
compassionate solidarity of the common people, devoted themselves to
the feeding of Visanteta so that the toad should do her no harm. The
fisherwomen, upon returning from the square brought her cakes that were
purchased in city establishments, that only the upper class patronized;
on the beach, when the catch was sorted, they laid aside for her a
dainty morsel that would serve for a succulent soup; the neighbors, who
happened to be cooking in their pots over the fire would take out a
cupful of the best of the broth, carrying it slowly so that it
shouldn't spill, and bring it to la Soberana's cabin; cups of
chocolate arrived one after the other every afternoon.
Visanteta rebelled against this excessive kindness. She couldn't
swallow another drop! She was full! But her mother stuck out her hairy
nose with an imperious expression. 'I tell you to eat!' She must
remember what she had inside of her.... And she began to feel a faint,
indefinable affection for that mysterious creature, lodged in the
entrails of her daughter. She pictured it to herself; she could see it;
it was her pride. Thanks to it, the whole town had its eyes upon the
cabin and the trail of visitors was unending, and la Soberana
never passed a woman on her way without being stopped and asked for
Only once had they summoned the doctor, seeing him pass by the
door; but not that they really wished him, or had any faith in him.
What could that helpless man do against such a tenacious animal!... And
upon hearing that, not content with the explanations of the mother and
the daughter and his own audacious tapping around her clothes, he
recommended an internal examination, the proud mother almost showed him
the door. The impudent wretch! Not in a hurry was he going to have the
pleasure of seeing her daughter so intimately! The poor thing, so good
and so modest, who blushed merely at the thought of such proposals!...
On Sunday afternoons Visanteta went to church, figuring at the head
of the daughters of Mary. Her voluminous abdomen was eyed with
admiration by the girls. They all asked breathlessly after the toad,
and Visanteta replied wearily. It didn't bother her so much now. It had
grown very much because she ate so well; sometimes it moved about, but
it didn't hurt as it used to. One after the other the maidens would
place their hands upon the afflicted one and feel the movements of the
invisible creature, admiring as they did so the superiority of their
friend. The curate, a blessed chap of pious simplicity, pretended not
to notice the feminine curiosity, and thought with awe of the things
done by God to put His creatures to the test. Afterwards, when the
afternoon drew to a close, and the choir sang in gentle voice the
praises of Our Lady of the Sea, each of the virgins would fall to
thinking of that mysterious beast, praying fervently that poor
Visanteta be delivered of it as soon as possible.
Carafosca, too, enjoyed a certain notoriety because of his
sweetheart's affliction. The women accosted him, the old fishermen
stopped him to inquire about the animal that was torturing his girl.
'The poor thing! The poor thing!' he would groan, in accents of amorous
commiseration. He said no more; but his eyes revealed a vehement desire
to take over as soon as possible Visanteta and her toad, since the
latter inspired a certain affection in him because of its connection
One night, when the doctor was at my door, a woman came in search
of him, panting with dramatic horror. La Soberana's daughter was
very sick; he must run to her rescue. The doctor shrugged his shoulders
'Ah, yes! The toad!' And he didn't seem at all anxious to stir. Then
came another woman, more agitated than the first. Poor Visanteta! She
was dying! Her shrieks could be heard all over the street. The wicked
beast was devouring her entrails....
I followed the doctor, attracted by the curiosity that had the
whole town in a commotion. When we came to la Soberana's cabin
we had to force our way through a compact group of women who obstructed
the doorway, crowding into the house. A rending shriek, a rasping wail
came from the innermost part of the dwelling, rising above the heads of
the curious or terrified women. The hoarse voice of la Soberana
answered with entreating accents. Her daughter! Ah, Lord, her poor
The arrival of the physician was received by a chorus of demands on
the part of the old women. Poor Visanteta was writhing furiously,
unable to bear such pain; her eyes bulged from their sockets and her
features were distorted. She must be operated upon; her entrails must
be opened and the green, slippery demon that was eating her alive must
The doctor proceeded upon his task, without paying any attention to
the advice showered upon him, and before I could reach his side his
voice resounded through the sudden silence, with ill-humored
'But good Lord, the only trouble with this girl is that she's going
Before he could finish, all could guess from the harshness of his
voice what he was about to say. The group of women yielded before la
Soberana's thrusts even as the waves of the sea under the belly of
a whale. She stuck out her big hands and her threatening nails,
mumbling insults and looking at the doctor with murder in her eyes.
Bandit! Drunkard! Out of her house!...It was the people's fault, for
supporting such an infidel. She'd eat him up! Let them make way for
her!... And she struggled violently with her friends, fighting to free
herself and scratch out the doctor's eyes. To her vindictive cries were
joined the weak bleating of Visanteta, protesting with the breath that
was left her between her groans of pain. It was a lie! Let that wicked
man be gone! What a nasty mouth he had! It was all a lie!...
But the doctor went hither and thither, asking for water, for
bandages, snappy and imperious in his commands, paying no attention
whatsoever to the threats of the mother or the cries of the daughter,
which were becoming louder and more heart-rending than ever. Suddenly
she roared as if she were being slaughtered, and there was a bustle of
curiosity around the physician, whom I couldn't see. 'It's a lie! A
lie! Evil-tongued wretch! Slanderer!'... But the protestations of
Visanteta were no longer unaccompanied. To her voice of an innocent
victim begging justice from heaven was added the cry of a pair of lungs
that were breathing the air for the first time.
And now the friends of la Soberana had to restrain her from
falling upon her daughter. She would kill her! The bitch! Whose child
was that?... And terrified by the threats of her mother, the sick
woman, who was still sobbing 'It's a lie! A lie!' at last spoke. It was
a young fellow of the huerta whom she had never seen again... an
indiscretion committed one evening... she no longer remembered. No, she
could not remember!... And she insisted upon this forgetfulness as if
it were an incontrovertible excuse.
The people now saw through it all. The women were impatient to
spread the news. As we left, la Soberana, humiliated and in
tears, tried to kneel before the doctor and kiss his hand. 'Ay, Don
Antoni!... Don Antoni!' She asked pardon for her insults; she despaired
when she thought of the village comments. What they would have to
suffer now!... On the following day the youths that sang as they
arranged their nets would invent new verses. The song of the toad! Her
life would become impossible!... But even more than this, the thought
of Carafosca terrified her. She knew very well what sort of
brute that was. He would kill poor Visanteta the first time she
appeared on the street; and she herself would meet the same fate for
being her mother and not having guarded her well. 'Ay, Don Antoni!' She
begged him, upon her knees, to see Carafosca. He, who was so
good and who knew so much, could convince the fellow with his
reasoning, and make him swear that he would not do the women any
harm,that he would forget them.
The doctor received these entreaties with the same indifference as
he had received the threats, and he answered sharply. He would see
about it; it was a delicate affair. But once in the street, he shrugged
his shoulders with resignation. 'Let's go and see that animal.'
We pulled him out of the tavern and the three of us began to walk
along the beach through the darkness. The fisherman seemed to be awed
at finding himself between two persons of such importance. Don Antonio
spoke to him of the indisputable superiority of men ever since the
earliest days of creation; of the scorn with which women should be
regarded because of their lack of seriousness; of their immense number
and the ease with which we could pick another if the one we had
happened to displease us... and at last, with brutal directness, told
what had happened.
Carafosca hesitated, as if he had not understood the
doctor's words very well. Little by little the certainty dawned upon
his dense comprehension. 'By God! By God!' And he scratched himself
fearfully under his cap, and brought his hands to his sash as if he
were seeking his redoubtable knife.
The physician tried to console him. He must forget Visanteta; there
would be no sense or advantage in killing her. It wasn't worth while
for a splendid chap like him to go to prison for slaying a worthless
creature like her. The real culprit was that unknown laborer; but...
and she! And how easily she... committed the indiscretion, not being
able to recall anything afterwards!...
For a long time we walked along in painful silence, with no other
novelty than Carafosca's scratching of his head and his sash.
Suddenly he surprised us with the roar of his voice, speaking to us in
Castilian, thus adding solemnity to what he said:
'Do you want me to tell you something?... Do you want me to tell
He looked at us with hostile eyes, as if he saw before him the
unknown culprit of the huerta, ready to pounce upon him. It
could be seen that his sluggish brain had just adopted a very firm
resolution.... What was it? Let him speak.
'Well, then,' he articulated slowly, as if we were enemies whom he
desired to confound, 'I tell you... that now I love the girl more than
In our stupefaction, at a loss for reply, we shook hands with him.
AT TEN o'clock in the evening Count de Sagreda walked into his club
on the Boulevard des Capucins. There was a bustle among the servants to
relieve him of his cane, his highly polished hat and his costly fur
coat, which, as it left his shoulders revealed a shirt-bosom of
immaculate neatness, a gardenia in his lapel, and all the attire of
black and white, dignified yet brilliant, that belongs to a gentleman
who has just dined.
The story of his ruin was known by every member of the club. His
fortune, which fifteen years before had caused a certain commotion in
Paris, having been ostentatiously cast to the four winds, was
exhausted. The count was now living on the remains of his opulence,
like those shipwrecked seamen who live upon the débris of the vessel,
postponing in anguish the arrival of the last hour. The very servants
who danced attendance upon him like slaves in dress suits, knew of his
misfortune and discussed his shameful plight; but not even the
slightest suggestion of insolence disturbed the colorless glance of
their eyes, petrified by servitude. He was such a nobleman! He had
scattered his money with such majesty!... Besides, he was a genuine
member of the nobility, a nobility that dated back for centuries and
whose musty odor inspired a certain ceremonious gravity in many of the
citizens whose fore-bears had helped bring about the Revolution. He was
not one of those Polish counts who permit themselves to be entertained
by women, nor an Italian marquis who winds up by cheating at cards, nor
a Russian personage of consequence who often draws his pay from the
police; he was genuine hidalgo, a grandee of Spain. Perhaps one
of his ancestors figured in the Cid, in Ruy Blas or some
other of the heroic pieces in the repertory of the Comédie Française.
The count entered the salons of the club with head erect and a proud
gait, greeting his friends with a barely discernible smile, a mixture
of hauteur and light-heartedness.
He was approaching his fortieth year, but he was still the beau
Sagreda, as he had long been nicknamed by the noctambulous women of
Maxim's and the early-rising Amazons of the Bois. A few gray hairs at
his temples and a triangle of faint wrinkles at the corner of his
brows, betrayed the effects of an existence that had been lived at too
rapid a pace, with the vital machinery running at full speed. But his
eyes were still youthful, intense and melancholy; eyes that caused him
to be called the Moor by his men and women friends. The Viscount de
la Tresminière, crowned by the Academy as the author of a study on one
of his ancestors who had been a companion of Condé, and highly
appreciated by the antique dealers on the left bank of the Seine, who
sold him all the bad canvases they had in store, called him
Velazquez, satisfied that the swarthy, somewhat olive complexion of
the count, his black, heavy mustache and his grave eyes, gave him the
right to display his thorough acquaintance with Spanish art.
All the members of the club spoke of Sagreda's ruin with discreet
compassion. The poor count! Not to fall heir to some new legacy. Not to
meet some American millionairess who would be smitten with him and his
titles!... They must do something to save him.
And he walked amid this mute and smiling pity without being at all
aware of it, encased in his pride, receiving as admiration that which
was really compassionate sympathy, forced to have recourse to painful
simulations in order to surround himself with as much luxury as before,
thinking that he was deceiving others and deceiving only himself.
Sagreda cherished no illusions as to the future. All the relatives
that might come to his rescue with a timely legacy had done so many
years before, upon making their exit from the world's stage. None that
might recall his name was left beyond the mountains. In Spain he had
only some distant relatives, personages of the nobility united to him
more by historic bonds than by ties of blood. They addressed him
familiarly, but he could expect from them no help other than good
advice and admonitions against his wild extravagance.... It was all
over. Fifteen years of dazzling display had consumed the supply of
wealth with which Sagreda one day arrived in Paris. The granges of
Andalusia, with their droves of cattle and horses, had changed hands
without ever having made the acquaintance of this owner, devoted to
luxury and always absent. After them, the vast wheat fields of Castilla
and the ricefields of Valencia, and the villages of the northern
provinces, had gone into strange hands,all the princely possessions
of the ancient counts of Sagreda, plus the inheritances from various
pious spinster aunts, and the considerable legacies of other relatives
who had died of old age in their ancient country houses.
Paris and the elegant summer seasons had in a few years devoured
this fortune of centuries. The recollection of a few noisy love affairs
with two actresses in vogue; the nostalgic smile of a dozen costly
women of the world; the forgotten fame of several duels; a certain
prestige as a rash, calm gambler, and a reputation as a knightly
swordsman, intransigent in matters of honor, were all that remained to
the beau Sagreda after his downfall.
He lived upon his past, contracting new debts with certain providers
who, recalling other financial crises, trusted to a re-establishment of
his fortune. His fate was settled, according to the count's own
words. When he could do no more, he would resort to a final course.
Kill himself?... never. Men like him committed suicide only because of
gambling debts or debts of honor. Ancestors of his, noble and glorious,
had owed huge sums to persons who were not their equals, without for a
moment considering suicide on this account. When the creditors should
shut their doors to him, and the money-lenders should threaten him with
a public court scandal, Count de Sagreda, making a heroic effort, would
wrench himself away from the sweet Parisian life. His ancestors had
been soldiers and colonizers. He would join the foreign legion of
Algeria, or would take passage for that America which had been
conquered by his forefathers, becoming a mounted shepherd in the
solitudes of Southern Chile or upon the boundless plains of Patagonia.
Until the dreaded moment should arrive, this hazardous, cruel
existence that forced him to live a continuous lie, was the best period
of his career. From his last trip to Spain, made for the purpose of
liquidating certain remnants of his patrimony, he had returned with a
woman, a maiden of the provinces who had been captivated by the
prestige of the nobleman; in her affection, ardent and submissive at
the same time, there was almost as much admiration as love. A woman!...
Sagreda for the first time realized the full significance of this word,
as if up to then he had not understood it. His present companion was a
woman; the nervous, dissatisfied females who had filled his previous
existence, with their painted smiles and voluptuous artifices, belonged
to another species.
And now that the real woman had arrived, his money was departing
forever!... And when misfortune appeared, love came with it!...
Sagreda, lamenting his lost fortune struggled hard to maintain his
pompous outward show. He lived as before, in the same house, without
retrenching his budget, making his companion presents of value equal to
those that he had lavished upon his former women friends, enjoying an
almost paternal satisfaction before the childish surprise and the
ingenuous happiness of the poor girl, who was overwhelmed by the
brilliant life of Paris.
Sagreda was drowning,drowning!but with a smile on his lips,
content with himself, with his present life, with this sweet dream,
which was to be the final one and which was lasting miraculously long.
Fate, which had maltreated him in the past few years, consuming the
remainders of his wealth at Monte Carlo, at Ostend and in the notable
clubs of the Boulevard, seemed now to stretch out a helping hand,
touched by his new existence. Every night, after dining with his
companion at a fashionable restaurant, he would leave her at the
theatre and go to his club, the only place where luck awaited him. He
did not plunge heavily. Simple games of écarté with intimate friends,
chums of his youth, who continued their happy career with the aid of
great fortunes, or who had settled down after marrying wealth,
retaining among their farmer habits the custom of visiting the
Scarcely did the count take his seat, with his cards in his hand,
opposite one of these friends, when Fortune seemed to hover over his
head, and his friends did not tire of playing, inviting him to a game
every night, as if they stood in line awaiting their turn. His winnings
were hardly enough to grow wealthy upon; some nights ten louis;
others twenty-five; on special occasions Sagreda would retire with as
many as forty gold coins in his pocket. But thanks to this almost daily
gain he was able to fill the gaps of his lordly existence, which
threatened to topple down upon his head, and he maintained his lady
companion in surroundings of loving comfort, at the same time
recovering confidence in his immediate future. Who could tell what was
in store for him?...
Noticing Viscount de la Tresminière in one of the salons he smiled
at him with an expression of friendly challenge.
What do you say to a game?
As you wish, my dear Velazquez.
Seven francs per five points will be sufficient. I'm sure to win.
Luck is with me.
The game commenced under the soft light of the electric bulbs, amid
the soothing silence of soft carpets and thick curtains.
Sagreda kept winning, as if his kind fate was pleased to extricate
him from the most difficult passes. He won without half trying. It made
no difference that he lacked trumps and that he held bad cards; those
of his rival were always worse, and the result would be miraculously in
harmony with his previous games.
Already, twenty-five golden louis lay before him. A club
companion, who was wandering from one salon to the other with a bored
expression, stopped near the players interested in the game. At first
he remained standing near Sagreda; then he took up his position behind
the viscount, who seemed to be rendered nervous and perturbed at the
But that's awful silly of you! the inquisitive newcomer soon
exclaimed. You're not playing a good game, my dear viscount. You're
laying aside your trumps and using only your bad cards. How stupid of
He could say no more. Sagreda threw his cards upon the table. He had
grown terribly white, with a greenish pallor. His eyes, opened
extraordinarily wide, stared at the viscount. Then he rose.
I understand, he said coldly. Allow me to withdraw.
Then, with a quivering hand, he thrust the heap of gold coins toward
This belongs to you.
But, my dear Velazquez.... Why, Sagreda!... Permit me to
explain, dear count!...
Enough, sir. I repeat that I understand.
His eyes flashed with a strange gleam, the selfsame gleam that his
friends had seen upon various occasions, when after a brief dispute or
an insulting word, he raised his glove in a gesture of challenge.
But this hostile glance lasted only a moment. Then he smiled with
Many thanks, Viscount. These are favors that are never
forgotten.... I repeat my gratitude.
And he saluted, like a true noble, walking off proudly erect, the
same as in the most smiling days of his opulence.
* * *
With his fur coat open, displaying his immaculate shirt bosom, Count
de Sagreda promenades along the boulevard. The crowds are issuing from
the theatres; the women are crossing from one sidewalk to the other;
automobiles with lighted interiors roll by, affording a momentary
glimpse of plumes, jewels and white bosoms; the news-vendors shout
their wares; at the top of the buildings huge electrical advertisements
blaze forth and go out in rapid succession.
The Spanish grandee, the hidalgo, the descendant of the noble
knights of the Cid and Ruy Blas, walks against the
current, elbowing his way through the crowd, desiring to hasten as fast
as possible, without any particular objective in view.
To contract debts!... Very well. Debts do not dishonor a nobleman.
But to receive alms?... In his hours of blackest thoughts he had never
trembled before the idea of incurring scorn through his ruin, of seeing
his friends desert him, of descending to the lowest depths, being lost
in the social substratum. But to arouse compassion....
The comedy was useless. The intimate friends who smiled at him in
former times had penetrated the secret of his poverty and had been
moved by pity to get together and take turns at giving him alms under
the pretext of gambling with him. And likewise his other friends, and
even the servants who bowed to him with their accustomed respect as he
passed by, were in the secret. And he, the poor dupe, was going about
with his lordly airs, stiff and solemn in his extinct grandeur, like
the corpse of the lengendary chieftain, which, after his death, was
mounted on horseback and sallied forth to win battles.
Farewell, Count de Sagreda! The heir of governors and viceroys can
become a nameless soldier in a legion of desperadoes and bandits; he
can begin life anew as an adventurer in virgin lands, killing that he
may live; he can even watch with impassive countenance the wreck of his
name and his family history, before the bench of a tribunal.... But to
live upon the compassion of his friends!...
Farewell forever, final illusions! The count has forgotten his
companion, who is waiting for him at a night restaurant. He does not
think of her; it is as if he never had seen her; as if she had never
existed. He thinks not at all of that which but a few hours before had
made life worth living. He walks along, alone with his disgrace, and
each step of his seems to draw from the earth a dead thing; an
ancestral influence, a racial prejudice, a family boast, dormant
hauteur, honor and fierce pride, and as these awake, they oppress his
breast and cloud his thoughts.
How they must have laughed at him behind his back, with
condescending pity!... Now he walks along more hurriedly than ever, as
if he has at last made up his mind just where he is going, and his
emotion leads him unconsciously to murmur with irony, as if he is
speaking to somebody who is at his heels and whom he desires to flee.
Many thanks! Many thanks!
Just before dawn two revolver shots astound the guests of a hotel in
the vicinity of the Gare Saint-Lazare,one of those ambiguous
establishments that offers a safe shelter for amorous acquaintances
begun on the thoroughfare.
The attendants find in one of the rooms a gentleman dressed in
evening clothes, with a hole in his head, through which escape bloody
strips of flesh. The man writhes like a worm upon the threadbare
His eyes, of a dull black, still glitter with life. There is nothing
left in them of the image of his sweet companion. His last thought,
interrupted by death, is of friendship, terrible in its pity; of the
fraternal insult of a generous, light-hearted compassion.
I HAD her on my lap, said my friend Martinez, and the warm weight
of her healthy body was beginning to tire me.
The scene... same as usual in such places. Mirrors with blemished
surfaces, and names scratched across them, like spiders' webs; sofas of
discolored velvet, with springs that creaked atrociously; the bed
decorated with theatrical hangings, as clean and common as a sidewalk,
and on the walls, pictures of bull-fighters and cheap chromos of
angelic virgins smelling a rose or languorously contemplating a bold
The scenery was that of the favorite cell in the convent of vice;
an elegant room reserved for distinguished patrons; and she was a
healthy, robust creature, who seemed to bring a whiff of the pure
mountain air into the heavy atmosphere of this closed house, saturated
with cheap cologne, rice powder and the vapor from dirty washbasins.
As she spoke to me she stroked the ribbons of her gown with
childish complacency; it was a fine piece of satin, of screaming
yellow, somewhat too tight for her body, a dress which I recalled
having seen months before on the delicate charms of another girl, who
had since died, according to reports, in the hospital.
Poor girl! She had become a sight! Her coarse, abundant hair,
combed in Greek fashion, was adorned with glass beads; her cheeks,
shiny from the dew of perspiration, were covered with a thick layer of
cosmetic; and as if to reveal her origin, her arms, which were firm,
swarthy and of masculine proportions, escaped from the ample sleeves of
her chorus-girl costume.
As she saw me follow with attentive glance all the details of her
extravagant array, she thought that I was admiring her, and threw her
head back with a petulant expression.
And such a simple creature!... She hadn't yet become acquainted
with the customs of the house, and told the truth,all the truthto
the men who wished to know her history. They called her Flora; but her
real name was Mari-Pepa. She wasn't the orphan of a colonel or a
magistrate, nor did she concoct the complicated tales of love and
adventure that her companions did, in order to justify their presence
in such a place. The truth; always the truth; she would yet be hanged
for her frankness. Her parents were comfortably situated farmers in a
little town of Aragón; owned their fields, had two mules in the barn,
bread, wine, and enough potatoes for the year round; and at night the
best fellows in the place came one after the other to soften her heart
with serenade upon serenade, trying to carry off her dark, healthy
person together with the four orchards she had inherited from her
'But what could you expect, my dear fellow?... I couldn't bear
those people. They were too coarse for me. I was born to be a lady. And
tell me, why can't I be? Don't I look as good as any of them?...'
And she snuggled her head against my shoulder, like the docile
sweetheart she was,a slave subjected to all sorts of caprices in
exchange for being clothed handsomely.
' Those fellows,' she continued, 'made me sick. I ran off with the
student,understand?the son of the town magistrate, and we wandered
about until he deserted me, and I landed here, waiting for something
better to turn up. You see, it's a short tale.... I don't complain of
anything. I'm satisfied.'
And to show how happy she was, the unhappy girl rode astride my
legs, thrust her hard fingers through my hair, rumpling it, and sang a
tango in horrible fashion, in her strong, peasant voice.
I confess that I was seized with an impulse to speak to her 'in the
name of morality,'that hypocritical desire we all possess to
propagate virtue when we are sated and desire is dead.
She raised her eyes, astonished to see me look so solemn, preaching
to her, like a missionary glorifying chastity with a prostitute on his
knees; her gaze wandered continually from my austere countenance to the
bed close by. Her common sense was baffled before the incongruity
between such virtue and the excesses of a moment before.
Suddenly she seemed to understand, and an outburst of laughter
swelled her fleshy neck.
'The deuce!... How amusing you are! And with what a face you say
all these things! Just like the priest of my home town....'
No, Pepa, I'm serious. I believe you're a good girl; you don't
realize what you've gone into, and I'm warning you. You've fallen very
low, very low. You're at the bottom. Even within the career of vice,
the majority of women resist and deny the caresses that are required of
you in this house. There is yet time for you to save yourself. Your
parents have enough for you to live on; you didn't come here under the
necessity of poverty. Return to your home, and the past will be
forgotten; you can tell them a lie, invent some sort of tale to justify
your flight, and who knows?... One of the fellows that used to serenade
you will marry you, you'll have children and you'll be a respectable
The girl became serious when she saw that I was speaking in
earnest. Little by little she began to slip from my knees until she was
on her feet, eyeing me fixedly, as if she saw before her some strange
person and an invisible wall had arisen between the two.
'Go back to my home!' she exclaimed in harsh accents. 'Many thanks.
I know very well what that means. Get up before dawn, work like a
slave, go out in the fields, ruin your hands with callouses. Look, see
how my hands still show them.'
And she made me feel the rough lumps that rose on the palms of her
'And all this, in exchange for what? For being respectable?... Not
a bit of it! I'm not that crazy. So much for respectability!'
And she accompanied these words with some indecent motions that she
had picked up from her companions.
Afterwards, humming a tune, she went over to the mirror to survey
herself, and smilingly greeted the reflection of her powdered hair,
covered with false pearls, which shone out of the cracked mirror. She
contracted her lips, which were rouged like those of a clown.
Growing more and more firm in my virtuous rôle, I continued to
sermonize her from my chair, enveloping this hypocritical propaganda in
sonorous words. She was making a bad choice; she must think of the
future. The present could not be worse. What was she? Less than a
slave; a piece of furniture; they exploited her, they robbed her, and
afterwards... afterwards it would be still worse; the hospital,
But again her harsh laughter interrupted me.
'Quit it, boy. Don't bother me.'
And planting herself before me she wrapped me in a gaze of infinite
'Why my dear fellow, how silly you are! Do you imagine that I can
go back to that dog's life, after having tasted this one?... No, sir! I
was born for luxury.'
And, with devoted admiration sweeping her glance across the broken
chairs, the faded sofa, and that bed which was a public thoroughfare,
she began to walk up and down, revelling in the rustle of her train as
it dragged across the room, and caressing the folds of that gown which
seemed still to preserve the warmth of the other girl's body.
FROM all the countryside the neighbors of the huerta flocked
to Caldera's cabin, entering it with a certain meekness, a
mingling of emotion and fear.
How was the boy? Was he improving?... Uncle Pascal, surrounded by
his wife, his daughters-in-law and even the most distant relatives, who
had been gathered together by misfortune, received with melancholy
satisfaction this interest of the entire vicinity in the health of his
son. Yes, he was getting better. For two days he had not been attacked
by that horrible thing which set the cabin in commotion. And
Caldera's laconic farmer friends, as well as the women, who were
vociferous in the expression of their emotions, appeared at the
threshold of the room, asking timidly, How do you feel?
The only son of Caldera was in there, sometimes in bed, in
obedience to his mother, who could conceive of no illness without the
cup of hot water and seclusion between the bed-sheets; at other times
he sat up, his jaws supported by his hands, gazing obstinately into the
furthermost corner of the room. His father, wrinkling his shaggy white
brows, would walk about when left alone, or, through force of habit,
take a look at the neighboring fields, but without any desire to bend
over and pluck out any of the weeds that were beginning to sprout in
the furrows. Much this land mattered to him now,the earth in whose
bowels he had left the sweat of his body and the strength of his
limbs!... His son was all he had,the fruit of a late marriage,and
he was a sturdy youth, as industrious and taciturn as his father; a
soldier of the soil, who required neither orders nor threat to fulfil
his duties; ready to awake at midnight when it was his turn to irrigate
his land and give the fields drink under the light of the stars; quick
to spring from his bed on the hard kitchen bench, throwing off the
covers and putting on his hemp sandals at the sound of the early
Uncle Pascal had never smiled. He was the Latin type of father; the
fearful master of the house, who, on returning from his labors, ate
alone, served by his wife, who stood by with an expression of
submission. But this grave, harsh mask of an omnipotent master
concealed a boundless admiration for his son, who was his best work.
How quickly he loaded a cart! How he perspired as he managed the hoe
with a vigorous forward and backward motion that seemed to cleave him
at the waist! Who could ride a pony like him, gracefully jumping on to
his back by simply resting the toe of a sandal upon the hind legs of
the animal?... He didn't touch wine, never got mixed up in a brawl, nor
was he afraid of work. Through good luck he had pulled a high number in
the military draft, and when the feast of San Juan came around he
intended to marry a girl from a near-by farm,a maiden that would
bring with her a few pieces of earth when she came to the cabin of her
new parents. Happiness; an honorable and peaceful continuation of the
family traditions; another Caldera, who, when Uncle Pascal grew
old, would continue to work the lands that had been fructified by his
ancestors, while a troop of little Calderitas, increasing in
number each year, would play around the nag harnessed to the plow,
eyeing with a certain awe their grandpa, his eyes watery from age and
his words very concise, as he sat in the sun at the cabin door.
Christ! And how man's illusions vanish!... One Saturday, as
Pascualet was coming home from his sweetheart's house, along one of the
paths of the huerta, about midnight, a dog had bitten him; a
wretched, silent animal that jumped out from behind a sluice; as the
young man crouched to throw a stone at it, the dog bit into his
shoulder. His mother, who used to wait for him on the nights when he
went courting, burst into wailing when she saw the livid semicircle,
with its red stain left by the dog's teeth, and she bustled about the
hut preparing poultices and drinks.
The youth laughed at his mother's fears.
Quiet, mother, quiet! It wasn't the first time that a dog had
bitten him. His body still showed faint signs of bites that he had
received in childhood, when he used to go through the huerta
throwing stones at the dogs. Old Caldera spoke to him from bed,
without displaying any emotion. On the following day he was to go to
the veterinary and have his flesh cauterized by a burning iron. So he
ordered, and there was nothing further to be said about the matter. The
young man submitted without flinching to the operation, like a good,
brave chap of the Valencian huerta. He had four days' rest in
all, and even at that, his fondness for work caused him new sufferings
and he aided his father with pain-tortured arm. Saturdays, when he came
to his sweetheart's farmhouse, she always asked after his health.
How's the bite getting along? He would shrug his shoulders gleefully
before the eyes of the maiden and the two would finally sit down in a
corner of the kitchen, remaining in mute contemplation of each other,
or speaking of the clothes and the bed for their future home, without
daring to come close to each other; there they sat erect and solemn,
leaving between their bodies a space wide enough for a sickle to pass
through, as the girl's father smilingly put it.
More than a month passed by. Caldera's wife was the only one
that did not forget the accident. She followed her son about with
anxious glances. Ah, sovereign queen! The huerta seemed to have
been abandoned by God and His holy mother. Over at Templat's cabin a
child was suffering the agonies of hell through having been bitten by a
mad dog. All the huerta folk were running in terror to have a
look at the poor creature; a spectacle that she herself did not dare to
gaze upon because she was thinking of her own son. If her Pascualet, as
tall and sturdy as a tower, were to meet with the same fate as that
One day, at dawn, Caldera's son was unable to arise from his
kitchen bench, and his mother helped him walk to the large nuptial bed,
which occupied a part of the estudi, the best room in the cabin.
He was feverish, and complained of acute pain in the spot where he had
been bitten; an awful chill ran through his whole body, making his
teeth chatter and veiling his eyes with a yellowish opacity. Don Jose,
the oldest doctor in the huerta, came on his ancient mare, with
his eternal recipe of purgatives for every class of illness, and
bandages soaked in salt water for wounds. Upon examining the sick man
he made a wry face. Bad! Bad! This was a more serious matter; they
would have to go to the solemn doctors in Valencia, who knew more than
he. Caldera's wife saw her husband harness the cart and compel
Pascualet to get into it. The boy, relieved of his pain, smiled assent,
saying that now he felt nothing more than a slight twinge. When they
returned to the cabin the father seemed to be more at ease. A doctor
from the city had pricked Pascualet's sore. He was a very serious
gentleman, who gave Pascualet courage with his kind words, looking
intently at him all the while, and expressing regret that he had waited
so long before coming to him. For a week the two men made a daily trip
to Valencia, but one morning the boy was unable to move. That crisis
which made the poor mother groan with fear had returned with greater
intensity than before. The boy's teeth knocked together, and he uttered
a wail that stained the corners of his mouth with froth; his eyes
seemed to swell, becoming yellow and protruding like huge grape seeds;
he tried to pull himself together, writhing from the internal torture,
and his mother hung upon his neck, shrieking with terror; meanwhile
Caldera, grimly silent, seized his son's arms with tranquil
strength, struggling to prevent his violent convulsions.
My son! My son! cried the mother. Ah, her son! Scarcely could she
recognize him as she saw him in this condition. He seemed like another,
as if only his former exterior had remained,as if an infernal monster
had lodged within and was martyrizing this flesh that had come out of
her own womb, appearing at his eyes with livid flashes.
Afterwards came calm stupor, and all the women of the district
gathered in the kitchen and deliberated upon the lot of the sick youth,
cursing the city doctor and his diabolical incisions. It was his fault
that the boy now lay thus; before the boy had submitted to the cure he
had felt much better. The bandit! And the government never punished
these wicked souls!... There were no other remedies than the old, true
and tried ones,the product of the experience of people who had lived
years ago and thus knew much more. One of the neighbors went off to
hunt up a certain witch, a miraculous doctor for dog-bites, serpent
bites and scorpion-stings. Another brought a blind old goatherd, who
could cure by the virtue of his mouth, simply by making some crosses of
saliva over the ailing flesh. The drinks made of mountain herbs and the
moist signs of the goatherd were looked upon as tokens of immediate
cure, especially when they beheld the sick youth lie silent and
motionless for several hours, looking at the ground with a certain
amazement, as if he could feel within him the progress of something
strange that grew and grew, gradually overpowering him. Then, when the
crisis reoccurred, the doubt of the women began to rise, and new
remedies were discussed. The youth's sweetheart came, with her large
black eyes moistened by tears, and she advanced timidly until she came
near to the sick boy. For the first time she dared to take his hand,
blushing beneath her cinammon-colored complexion at this audacious act.
How do you feel?... And he, so loving in other days, recoiled from
her tender touch, turning his eyes away so that he should not see her,
as if ashamed of his plight. His mother wept. Queen of heaven! He was
very low; he was going to die. If only they could find out what dog it
was that had bitten him, and cut out its tongue, using it for a
miraculous plaster, as experienced persons advised!...
Throughout the huerta it seemed that God's own wrath had
burst forth. Some dogs had bitten others; now nobody knew which were
the dangerous ones and which the safe. All mad! The children were
secluded in the cabins, spying with terrified glances upon the vast
fields, through the half-open doors; mothers journeyed over the winding
paths in close groups, uneasy, trembling, hastening their step whenever
a bark sounded from behind the sluices of the canals; men eyed the
domestic dogs with fear, intently watching their slavering mouths as
they gasped or their sad eyes; the agile greyhound, their hunting
companion,the barking cur, guardian of the home,the ugly mastiff
who walked along tied to the cart, which he watched over during the
master's, absence,all were placed under their owners' observation or
coldly sacrificed behind the walls of the corral, without any display
of emotion whatever.
Here they come! Here they come! was the shout passed along from
cabin to cabin, announcing the patter of a pack of dogs, howling,
ravenous, their bodies covered with mud, running about without finding
rest, driven on day and night, with the madness of persecution in their
eyes. The huerta seemed to shudder, closing the doors of all the
houses and suddenly bristling with guns. Shots rang out from the
sluices, from the high corn-fields, from cabin windows, and when the
wanderers, repelled and persecuted on every side, in their mad gallop
dashed toward the sea, as if they were attracted by the moist,
invigorating air that was washed by the waves, the revenue-guards
camped on the wide strip of beach brought their mausers to their cheek
and received them with a volley. The dogs retreated, escaping among the
men who were approaching them musket in hand, and one or another of
them would be stretched out at the edge of a canal. At night, the noisy
gloom of the plain was broken by the sight of distant flashes and the
sound of discharges. Every shape that moved in the darkness was the
target for a bullet; the muffled howls that sounded in the vicinity of
the cabins were answered by shots. The men were afraid of this common
terror, and avoided meeting.
No sooner did night fall than the huerta was left without a
light, without a person upon the roads, as if death had taken
possession of the dismal plain, so green and smiling under the sun. A
single red spot, a tear of light, trembled in this obscurity. It was
Caldera's cabin, where the women, squatting upon the floor, around
the kitchen lamp, sighed with fright, anticipating the strident shriek
of the sick youth,the chattering of his teeth, the violent
contortions of his body whenever he was seized with convulsions,
struggling to repel the arms that tried to quiet him.
The mother hung upon the neck of that raving patient who struck
terror to men. She scarcely knew him; he was somebody else, with those
eyes that popped out of their sockets, his livid or blackish
countenance, his writhings, like that of a tortured animal, showing his
tongue as he gasped through bubbles of froth in the agonies of an
insatiable thirst. He begged for death in heart-rending shrieks; he
struck his head against the wall; he tried to bite; but even so, he was
her child and she did not feel the fear experienced by the others. His
menacing mouth withdrew before the wan face that was moistened with
tears. Mother! Mother! He recognized her in his lucid moments. She
need not fear him; he would never bite her. And as if he must sink his
teeth into something or other to glut his rage, he bit into his arms
until the blood came.
My son! My son! moaned the mother and she wiped the deadly froth
from his lips, afterwards carrying the handkerchief to her eyes,
without fear of contagion. Caldera, in his solemn gravity, paid
no heed to the sufferer's threatening eyes, which were fixed upon him
with an impulse of attack. The boy had lost his awe of his father.
That powerful man, however, facing the peril of his son's mouth,
thrust him back into bed whenever the madman tried to flee, as if he
must spread everywhere the horrible affliction that was devouring his
No longer were the crises followed by extended intervals of calm.
They became almost continuous, and the victim writhed about, clawed and
bleeding from his own bites, his face almost black, his eyes tremulous
and yellow, looking like some monstrous beast set apart from all the
human species. The old doctor had stopped asking about the youth. What
was the use? It was all over. The women wept hopelessly. Death was
certain. They only bewailed the long hours, perhaps days, of horrible
torture that poor Pascualet would have to undergo.
Caldera was unable to find among his relatives or friends any
men brave enough to help him restrain the sufferer in his violent
moments. They all looked with terror at the door to the estudi,
as if behind it were concealed the greatest of dangers. To go shooting
through roads and canals was man's work. A stab could be returned; one
bullet could answer another; but ah! that frothing mouth which killed
with a bite!... that incurable disease which made men writhe in endless
agony, like a lizard sliced by a hoe!
He no longer knew his mother. In his final moments of lucidity he
had thrust her away with loving brusqueness. She must go!... Let him
not see her again!... He feared to do her harm! The poor woman's
friends dragged her out of the room, forcing her to remain motionless,
like her son, in a corner of the kitchen. Caldera, with a
supreme effort of his dying will, tied the agonizing youth to the bed.
His beetling brows trembled and the tears made him blink as he tied the
coarse knots of the rope, fastening the youth to the bed upon which he
had been born. He felt as if he were preparing his son for burial and
had begun to dig his grave. The victim twisted in wild contortions
under the father's strong arms; the parent had to make a powerful
effort to subdue him under the rope that sank into his flesh.... To
have lived so many years only to behold himself at last obliged to
perform such a task! To give life to a creature, only to pray that it
might be extinguished as soon as possible, horrified by so much useless
pain!... Good God in heaven! Why not put an end to the poor boy at
once, since his death was now inevitable?...
He closed the door of the sick room, fleeing from the rasping shriek
that set everybody's hair on end; but the madman's panting continued to
sound in the silence of the cabin, accompanied by the lamentations of
the mother and the weeping of the other women grouped around the lamp,
that had just been lighted.
Caldera stamped upon the floor. Let the women be silent! But
for the first time he beheld himself disobeyed, and he left the cabin,
fleeing from this chorus of grief.
Night descended. His gaze wandered toward the thin yellow band that
was visible on the horizon, marking the flight of day. Above his head
shone the stars. From the other homes, which were scarcely visible,
resounded the neighing of horses, barking and the clucking of
fowl,the last signs of animal life before it sank to rest. That
primitive man felt an impression of emptiness amid the Nature which was
insensible and blind to the sufferings of its creatures. Of what
concern to the points of light that looked down upon him from above
could be that which he was now going through?... All creatures were
equal; the beasts that disturbed the silence of dusk before falling
asleep, and that poor youth similar to him, who now lay fettered,
writhing in the worst of agony. How many illusions his life had
contained!... And with a mere bite, a wretched animal kicked about by
all men could finish them all. And no remedy existed in heaven or upon
Once again the distant shriek of the sufferer came to his ears from
the open window of the estudi. The tenderness of his early days
of paternity emerged from the depths of his soul. He recalled the
nights he had spent awake in that room, walking up and down, holding in
his arms the little child that was crying from the pains of infancy's
illness. Now he lay crying, too, but without hope, in the agonies of a
hell that had come before its time, and at last... death. His
countenance grew frightened, and he raised his hands to his forehead as
if trying to drive away a troublesome thought. Then he appeared to
deliberate.... Why not?...
To end his suffering... to end his suffering!
He went back to the cabin, only to come out at once with his old
double-barrelled musket, and he hastened to the little window of the
sick room as if he feared to lose his determination; he thrust the gun
through the opening.
Again he heard the agonizing panting, the chattering of teeth, the
horrible shriek, now very near, as if he were at the victim's bedside.
His eyes, accustomed to the darkness saw the bed at the back of the
gloomy room, and the form that lay writhing in it,the pale spot of
the face, appearing and disappearing as the sick man twisted about
The father was frightened at the trembling of his hands and the
agitation of his pulse; he, the son of the huerta, without any
other diversion than the hunt, accustomed to shoot down birds almost
without aiming at them.
The wailing of the poor mother brought back to his memory other
groans of long long ago,twenty-two years beforewhen she was giving
birth to her only son upon that same bed.
To come to such an end!... His eyes, gazing heavenward, saw a black
sky, intensely black, with not a star in sight, and obscured by his
Lord! To end his sufferings! To end his sufferings!
And repeating these words he pressed the musket against his
shoulder, seeking the lock with a tremulous finger.... Bang! Bang!
I SIR, said Magdalena, the bugler of the prison, am no
saint; I've been jailed many times for robberies; some of them that
really took place and others that I was simply suspected of. Compared
to you, who are a gentleman, and are in prison for having written
things in the papers, I'm a mere wretch.... But take my word for it,
this time I'm here for good.
And raising one hand to his breast as he straightened his head with
a certain pride, he added, Petty thefts, that's all I'm not brave; I
haven't shed a drop of blood.
At break of day, Magdalena's bugle resounded through the
spacious yard, embroidering its reveille with scales and trills. During
the day, with the martial instrument hanging from his neck, or
caressing it with a corner of his smock so as to wipe off the vapor
with which the dampness of the prison covered it, he would go through
the entire edifice,an ancient convent in whose refectories, granaries
and garrets there were crowded, in perspiring confusion, almost a
He was the clock that governed the life and the activities of this
mass of male flesh perpetually seething with hatred. He made the round
of the cells to announce, with sonorous blasts, the arrival of the
worthy director, or a visit from the authorities; from the progress of
the sun along the white walls of the prison-yard he could tell the
approach of the visiting hours,the best part of the day,and with
his tongue stuck between his lips he would await orders impatiently,
ready to burst into the joyous signal that sent the flock of prisoners
scampering over the stairways in an anxious run toward the locutories,
where a wretched crowd of women and children buzzed in conversation;
his insatiable hunger kept him pacing back and forth in the vicinity of
the old kitchen, in which the enormous stews filled the atmosphere with
a nauseating odor, and he bemoaned the indifference of the chef, who
was always late in giving the order for the mess-call.
Those imprisoned for crimes of blood, heroes of the dagger who had
killed their man in a fierce brawl or in a dispute over a woman and who
formed an aristocracy that disdained the petty thieves, looked upon the
bugler as the butt for pranks with which to while away their boredom.
Blow! would come the command from some formidable fellow, proud of
his crimes and his courage.
And Magdalena would draw himself up with military rigidity,
close his mouth and inflate his cheeks, momentarily expecting two
blows, delivered simultaneously by both hands, to expel the air from
the ruddy globe of his face. At other times these redoubtable
personages tested the strength of their arms upon Magdalena's
pate, which was bare with the baldness of repugnant diseases, and they
would howl with laughter at the damage done to their fists by the
protuberances of the hard skull. The bugler lent himself to these
tortures with the humility of a whipped dog, and found a certain
revenge in repeating, afterwards, those words that were a solace to
I'm good; I'm not a brave fellow. Petty thefts, that's all.... But
as to blood, not a single drop.
Visiting time brought his wife, the notorious Peluchona, a
valiant creature who inspired him with great fear. She was the mistress
of one of the most dangerous bandits in the jail. Daily she brought
that fellow food, procuring these dainties at the cost of all manner of
vile labors. The bugler, upon beholding her, would leave the lucutory,
fearing the arrogance of her bandit mate, who would take advantage of
the occasion to humiliate him before his former companion. Many times a
certain feeling of curiosity and tenderness got the better of his fear,
and he would advance timidly, looking beyond the thick bars for the
head of a child that came with la Peluchona.
That's my son, sir, he said, humbly. My Tonico, who no longer
knows me or remembers me. They say that he doesn't resemble me at all.
Perhaps he's not mine.... You can imagine, with the life his mother has
always led, living near the garrisons, washing the soldiers'
clothes!... But he was born in my home; I held him in my arms when he
was ill, and that's a bond as close as ties of blood.
Then he would resume his timid lurking about the locutory, as if
preparing one of his robberies, to see his Tonico; and when he could
see him for a moment, the sight was enough to extinguish his helpless
rage before the full basket of lunch that the evil woman brought to her
Magdalena's whole existence was summed up in two facts; he
had robbed and he had travelled much. The robberies were insignificant;
clothes or money snatched in the street, because he lacked courage for
greater deeds. His travels had been compulsory,always on foot, over
the roads of Spain, marching in a chain gang of convicts, between the
polished or white three-cornered hats that guarded the prisoners.
After having been a pupil among the buglers of a regiment, he had
launched upon this life of continuous imprisonment, punctuated by brief
periods of freedom, in which he lost his bearings, not knowing what to
do with himself and wishing to return as soon as possible to jail. It
was the perpetual chain, but finished link by link, as he used to say.
The police never organized a round-up of dangerous persons but what
Magdalena was found among them,a timorous rat whose name the
papers mentioned like that of a terrible criminal. He was always
included in the trail of vagrant suspects who, without being charged
with any specific crime, were sent from province to province by the
authorities, in the hope that they would die of hunger along the roads,
and thus he had covered the whole peninsula on foot, from Cadiz to
Santander, from Valencia to La Coruña. With what enthusiasm he recalled
his travels! He spoke of them as if they were joyous excursions, just
like a wandering charity-student of the old Tuna converting his
tales into courses in picturesque geography. With hungry delight he
recollected the abundant milk of Galicia, the red sausages of
Extramadura, the Castilian bread, the Basque apples, the wines and
ciders of all the districts he had traversed, with his luggage on his
shoulder. Guards were changed every day,some of them kind or
indifferent, others ill-humored and cruel, who made all the prisoners
fear a couple of shots fired beyond the ruts of the road, followed by
the papers justifying the killing as having been caused by an attempt
at flight. With a certain nostalgia he evoked the memory of mountains
covered with snow or reddened and striped by the sun; the slow
procession along the white road that was lost in the horizon, like an
endless ribbon; the highlands, under the trees, in the hot noon hours;
the storms that assailed them upon the highways; inundated ravines that
forced them to camp out in the open; the arrival, late at night, at
certain town prisons, old convenes or abandoned churches, in which
every man hunted up a dry corner, protected from draughts, where he
could stretch his mat; the endless journey with all the calm of a
purposeless procession; the long halts in spots where life was so
monotonous that the presence of a group of prisoners was an event; the
urchins would come running up to the bars to speak with them, while the
girls, impelled by morbid curiosity, would approach within a short
distance, to hear their songs and their obscene language.
Some mighty interesting travels, sir, continued the robber. For
those of us who had good health and didn't drop by the roadside it was
the same as a strolling band of students. Now and then a drubbing, but
who pays any attention to such things!... They don't have these
conductions now; prisoners are transported by railroad, caged up in
the cars. Besides, I am held for a criminal offense, and I must live
inside the walls... jailed for good.
And again he began to lament his bad luck, relating the final deed
that had landed him in jail.
It was a suffocating Sunday in July; an afternoon in which the
streets of Valencia seemed to be deserted, under the burning sun and a
wind like a furnace blast that came from the baked plains of the
interior. Everybody was at the bull-fight or at the seashore.
Magdalena was approached by his friend Chamorra, an old
prison and traveling companion, who exercised a certain influence over
him. That Chamorra was a bad soul! A thief, but of the sort that
go the limit, not recoiling before the necessity of shedding blood and
with his knife always handy beside his skeleton-keys. It was a matter
of cleaning out a certain house, upon which this fearful fellow had set
his eye. Magdalena modestly excused himself. He wasn't made for
such things; he couldn't go so far. As for gliding up to a roof and
pulling down the clothes that had been hung out to dry, or snatching a
woman's purse with a quick pull and making off with it... all right.
But to break into a house, and face the mystery of a dwelling, in which
the people might be at home?...
But Chamorra's threatening look inspired him with greater
fear than did the anticipation of such an encounter, and he finally
consented. Very well; he would go as an assistant,to carry the
spoils, but ready to flee at the slightest alarm. And he refused to
accept an old jack-knife that his companion offered him. He was
Petty thefts aplenty; but as to blood, not a single drop.
Late in the afternoon they entered the narrow vestibule of a house
that had no janitor, and whose inhabitants were all away. Chamorra
knew his victim; a comfortably fixed artisan who must have a neat
little pile saved up. He was surely at the beach with his wife or at
the bull-fight. Above, the door of the apartment yielded easily, and
the two companions began to work in the gloom of the shuttered windows.
Chamorra forced the locks of two chiffoniers and a closet.
There was silver coin, copper coin, several bank-notes rolled up at the
bottom of a fan-case, the wedding-jewelry, a clock. Not a bad haul. His
anxious looks wandered over the place, seeking to make off with
everything that could be carried. He lamented the uselessness of
Magdalena, who, restless with fear and with his arms hanging limp
at his sides, was pacing to and fro without knowing what to do.
Take the quilts, ordered Chamorra, We're sure to get
something for the wool.
And Magdalena, eager to finish the job as soon as possible,
penetrated into the dark alcove, gropingly passing a rope underneath
the quilts and the bed-sheets. Then, aided by his friend, he hurriedly
made a bundle of everything, casting the voluminous burden upon his
They left without being detected, and walked off in the direction of
the outskirts of the town, towards a shanty of Arrancapinos, where
Chamorra had his haunt. The latter walked ahead, ready to run at
the first sign of danger; Magdalena followed, trotting along,
almost hidden beneath the tremendous load, fearing to feel at any
moment the hand of the police upon his neck.
Upon examining the proceeds of the robbery in the remote corral,
Chamorra exhibited the arrogance of a lion, granting his accomplice
a few copper coins. This must be enough for the moment. He did this for
Magdalena's own good, as Magdalena was such a spendthrift.
Later he would give more.
Then they untied the bundle of quilts, and Chamorra bent
over, his hands on his hips, exploding with laughter. What a find!...
What a present!
Magdalena likewise burst into guffaws, for the first time
that afternoon. Upon the bed-clothes lay an infant, dressed only in a
little shirt, its eyes shut and its face purple from suffocation, but
moving its chest with difficulty at feeling the first caress of fresh
air. Magdalena recalled the vague sensation he had experienced
during his journey hither,that of something alive moving inside the
thick load on his back. A weak, suffocated whining pursued him in his
flight.... The mother had left the little one asleep in the cool
darkness of the alcove, and they, without knowing it, had carried it
off together with the bed-clothes.
Magdalena's frightened eyes now looked questioningly at his
companion. What were they to do with the child?... But that evil soul
was laughing away like a very demon.
It's yours; I present it to you.... Eat it with potatoes.
And he went off with all the spoils. Magdalena was left
standing in doubt, while he cradled the child in his arms. The poor
little thing!... It looked just like his own Tono, when he sang him to
sleep; just like him when he was ill and leaned his little head upon
his father's bosom, while the parent wept, fearing for the child's
life. The same little soft, pink feet; the same downy flesh, with skin
as soft as silk.... The infant had ceased to cry, looking with
surprised eyes at the robber, who was caressing it like a nurse.
Lullaby, my poor little thing! There, there, my little king...
child Jesus! Look at me. I'm your uncle.
But Magdalena stopped laughing, thinking of the mother, of
her desperate grief when she would return to the house. The loss of her
little fortune would be her least concern. The child! Where was she to
find her child?... He knew what mothers were like. Peluchona was
the worst of women, yet he had seen even her weep and moan before her
little one in danger.
He gazed toward the sun, which was beginning to sink in a majestic
summer sunset. There was still time to take the infant back to the
house before its parents would return. And if he should encounter them,
he would lie, saying that he had found the infant in the middle of the
street; he would extricate himself as well as he could. Forward; he had
never felt so brave.
Carrying the infant in his arms he walked at ease through the very
streets over which he had lately hastened with the anxious gait of
fear. He mounted the staircase without encountering anybody. Above, the
same solitude. The door was still open, the bolt forced. Within, the
disordered rooms, the broken furniture, the drawers upon the floor, the
overturned chairs and clothes strewn about, filled him with a sensation
of terror similar to that which assails the assassin who returns to
contemplate the corpse of his victim some time after the crime.
He gave a last fond kiss to the child and left it upon the bed.
Good-bye, my pet!
But as he approached the head of the staircase he heard footsteps,
and in the rectangle of light that entered through the open door there
bulked the silhouette of a corpulent man. At the same time there rang
out the shrill shriek of a female voice, trembling with fright:
Magdalena tried to escape, opening a passage for himself with
his head lowered, like a cornered rat; but he felt himself seized by a
pair of Cyclopean arms, accustomed to beating iron, and with a mighty
thrust he was sent rolling down the stairs.
On his face there were still signs of the bruises he had received
from contact with the steps, and from the blows rained upon him by the
In sum, sir. Breaking and entering. I'll get out in heaven knows
how many years.... All for being kind-hearted. To make matters worse,
they don't even give me any consideration, looking upon me as a clever
criminal. Everybody knows that the real thief was Chamorra whom
I haven't seen since.... And they ridicule me for a silly fool.
THE LAST LION
SCARCELY had the meeting of the honorable guild of blanquers
come to order within its chapel near the towers of Serranos, when Señor
Vicente asked for the floor. He was the oldest tanner in Valencia. Many
masters recalled their apprentice days and declared that he was the
same now as then, with his white, brush-like mustache, his face that
looked like a sun of wrinkles, his aggressive eyes and cadaverous
thinness, as if all the sap of his life had been consumed in the daily
motions of his feet and hands about the vats of the tannery.
He was the only representative of the guild's glories, the sole
survivor of those blanquers who were an honor to Valencian
history. The grandchildren of his former companions had become
corrupted with the march of time; they were proprietors of large
establishments, with thousands of workmen, but they would be lost if
they ever had to tan a skin with their soft, business-man's hands. Only
he could call himself a blanquer of the old school, working
every day in his little hut near the guild house; master and toiler at
the same time, with no other assistants than his sons and
grandchildren; his workshop was of the old kind, amid sweet domestic
surroundings, with neither threats of strikes nor quarrels over the
The centuries had raised the level of the street, converting Señor
Vicente's shop into a gloomy cave. The door through which his ancestors
had entered had grown smaller and smaller from the bottom until it had
become little more than a window. Five stairs connected the street with
the damp floor of the tannery, and above, near a pointed arch, a relic
of medieval Valencia, floated like banners the skins that had been hung
up to dry, wafting about the unbearable odor of the leather. The old
man by no means envied the moderns, in their luxuriously
appointed business offices. Surely they blushed with shame on passing
through his lane and seeing him, at breakfast hour, taking the
sun,his sleeves and trousers rolled up, showing his thin arms and
legs, stained red,with the pride of a robust old age that permitted
him to battle daily with the hides.
Valencia was preparing to celebrate the centenary of one of its
famous saints, and the guild of blanquers, like the other
historic guilds, wished to make its contribution to the festivities.
Señor Vicente, with the prestige of his years, imposed his will upon
all the masters. The blanquers should remain what they were. All
the glories of their past, long sequestrated in the chapel, must figure
in the procession. And it was high time they were displayed in public!
His gaze, wandering about the chapel, seemed to caress the guild's
relics; the sixteenth century drums, as large as jars, that preserved
within their drumheads the hoarse cries of revolutionary Germania; the
great lantern of carved wood, torn from the prow of a galley; the red
silk banner of the guild, edged with gold that had become greenish
through the ages.
All this must be displayed during the celebration, shaking off the
dust of oblivion; even the famous lion of the blanquers!
The moderns burst into impious laughter. The lion, too?...
Yes, the lion, too. To Señor Vicente it seemed a dishonor on the part
of the guild to forget that glorious beast. The ancient ballads, the
accounts of celebrations that might be read in the city archives, the
old folks who had lived in the splendid epoch of the guilds with their
fraternal camaraderie,all spoke of the blanquers' lion; but
now nobody knew the animal, and this was a shame for the trade, a loss
to the city.
Their lion was as great a glory as the silk mart or the well of San
Vicente. He knew very well the reason for this opposition on the part
of the moderns. They feared to assume the rôle of the lion.
Never fear, my young fellows! He, with his burden of years, that
numbered more than seventy, would claim this honor. It belonged to him
in all justice; his father, his grandfather, his countless ancestors,
had all been lions, and he felt equal to coming to blows with anybody
who would dare dispute his right to the rôle of the lion, traditional
in his family.
With what enthusiasm Señor Vicente related the history of the lion
and the heroic blanquers! One day the Barbary pirates from Bujia
had landed at Torreblanca, just beyond Castellón, and sacked the
church, carrying off the Shrine. This happened a little before the time
of Saint Vicente Ferrer, for the old tanner had no other way of
explaining history than by dividing it into two periods; before and
after the Saint... The population, which was scarcely moved by the
raids of the pirates, hearing of the abduction of pale maidens with
large black eyes and plump figures, destined for the harem, as if this
were an inevitable misfortune, broke into cries of grief upon learning
of the sacrilege at Torreblanca.
The churches of the town were draped in black; people went through
the streets wailing loudly, striking themselves as a punishment. What
could those dogs do with the blessed Host? What would become of the
poor, defenseless Shrine?... Then it was that the valiant blanquers
came upon the scene. Was not the Shrine at Bujia? Then on to Bujia in
quest of it! They reasoned like heroes accustomed to beating hides all
day long, and they saw nothing formidable about beating the enemies of
God. At their own expense they fitted out a galley and the whole guild
went aboard, carrying along their beautiful banner; the other guilds,
and indeed the entire town, followed this example and chartered other
The Justice himself cast aside his scarlet gown and covered himself
with mail from head to foot; the worthy councilmen abandoned the
benches of the Golden Chamber, shielding their paunches with scales
that shone like those of the fishes in the gulf; the hundred archers of
la Pluma, who guarded la Señera filled their quivers with
arrows, and the Jews from the quarter of la Xedrea did a rushing
business, selling all their old iron, including lances, notched swords
and rusty corselets, in exchange for good, ringing pieces of silver.
And off sped the Valencian galleys, with their jib-sails spread to
the wind, convoyed by a shoal of dolphins, which sported about in the
foam of their prows!... When the Moors beheld them approaching, the
infidels began to tremble, repenting of their irreverence toward the
Shrine. And this, despite the fact that they were a set of hardened old
dogs. Valencians, headed by the valiant blanquers! Who, indeed,
would dare face them!
The battle raged for several days and nights, according to the tale
of Señor Vicente. Reinforcements of Moors arrived, but the Valencians,
loyal and fierce, fought to the death. And they were already beginning
to feel exhausted from the labor of disembowelling so many infidels,
when behold, from a neighboring mountain a lion comes walking down on
his hind paws, for all the world like a regular person, carrying in his
forepaws, most reverently, the Shrine,the Shrine that had been stolen
from Torreblanca! The beast delivered it ceremoniously into the hands
of one of the guild, undoubtedly an ancestor of Señor Vicente, and
hence for centuries his family had possessed the privilege of
representing that amiable animal in the Valencian processions.
Then he shook his mane, emitted a roar, and with blows and bites in
every direction cleared the field instantly of Moors.
The Valencians sailed for home, carrying the Shrine back like a
trophy. The chief of the blanquers saluted the lion, courteously
offering him the guild house, near the towers of Serranos, which he
could consider as his own. Many thanks; the beast was accustomed to the
sun of Africa and feared a change of climate.
But the trade was not ungrateful, and to perpetuate the happy
recollection of the shaggy-maned friend whom they possessed on the
other shore of the sea, every time the guild banner floated in the
Valencian celebrations, there marched behind it an ancestor of Señor
Vicente, to the sound of drums, and he was covered with hide, with a
mask that was the living image of the worthy lion, bearing in his hands
a Shrine of wood, so small and poor that it caused one to doubt the
genuine value of Torreblanca's own Shrine.
Perverse and irreverent persons even dared to affirm, to the great
indignation of Señor Vicente, that the whole story was a lie. Sheer
envy! Ill will of the other trades, which couldn't point to such a
glorious history! There was the guild chapel as proof, and in it the
lantern from the prow of the vessel, which the conscienceless wretches
declared dated from many centuries after the supposed battle; and there
were the guild drums, and the glorious banner; and the moth-eaten hide
of the lion, in which all his predecessors had encased themselves, lay
now forgotten behind the altar, covered with cobwebs and dust, but it
was none the less as authentic and worthy of reverence as the stones of
[Note 1: A belfry in Valencia.]
And above all there was his faith, ardent and incontrovertible,
capable of receiving as an affront to the family the slightest
irreverence toward the African lion, the illustrious friend of the
The procession took place on an afternoon in June. The sons, the
daughters-in-law and the grandsons of Señor Vicente helped him to get
into the costume of the lion, perspiring most uncomfortably at the mere
touch of that red-stained wool. Father, you're going to
roast.Grandpa, you'll melt inside of this costume.
The old man, however, deaf to the warnings of the family, shook his
moth-eaten mane with pride, thinking of his ancestors; then he tried on
the terrifying mask, a cardboard arrangement that imitated, with a
faint resemblance, the countenance of the wild beast.
What a triumphant afternoon! The streets crowded with spectators;
the balconies decorated with bunting, and upon them rows of variegated
bonnets shading fair faces from the sun; the ground covered with
myrtle, forming a green, odorous carpet whose perfume seemed to expand
The procession was headed by the standard-bearers, with beards of
hemp, crowns and striped dalmatics, holding aloft the Valencian banners
adorned with enormous bats and large L's beside the coat of arms; then,
to the sound of the flageolet, the retinue of brave Indians, shepherds
from Belen, Catalans and Mallorcans; following these passed the dwarfs
with their monstrously huge heads, clicking the castanets to the rhythm
of a Moorish march; behind these came the giants of the Corpus and at
the end, the banners of the guilds; an endless row of red standards,
faded with the years, and so tall that their tops reached higher than
the first stories of the buildings.
Flom! Rotoplom! rolled the drums of the blanquers,instruments of barbarous sonority, so large that their weight forced
the drummers to bow their necks. Flom! Rotoplom! they resounded, hoarse
and menacing, with savage solemnity, as if they were still marking the
tread of the revolutionary German regiments, sallying forth to the
encounter with the emperor's young leader,that Don Juan of Aragón,
duke of Segorbe, who served Victor Hugo as the model for his romantic
personage Hernani! Flom! Rotoplom! The people ran for good
places and jostled one another to obtain a better view of the guild
members, bursting into laughter and shouts. What was that? A monkey?...
A wild man?... Ah! The faith of the past was truly laughable.
The young members of the trade, their shirts open at the neck and
their sleeves rolled up, took turns at carrying the heavy banner,
performing feats of jugglery, balancing it on the palms of their hands
or upon their teeth, to the rhythm of the drums.
The wealthy masters had the honor of holding the cords of the
banner, and behind them marched the lion, the glorious lion of the
guild, who was now no longer known. Nor did the lion march in careless
fashion; he was dignified, as the old traditions bade him be, and as
Señor Vicente had seen his father march, and as the latter had seen his
grandfather; he kept time with the drums, bowing at every step, to
right and to left, moving the Shrine fan-wise, like a polite and
well-bred beast who knows the respect due to the public.
The farmers who had come to the celebration opened their eyes in
amazement; the mothers pointed him out with their fingers so that the
children might see him; but the youngsters, frowning, tightened their
grasp upon their mothers' necks, hiding their faces to shed tears of
When the banner halted, the glorious lion had to defend himself with
his hind paws against the disrespectful swarm of gamins that surrounded
him, trying to tear some locks out of his moth-eaten mane. At other
times the beast looked up at the balconies to salute the pretty girls
with the Shrine; they laughed at the grotesque figure. And Señor
Vicente did wisely; however much of a lion one may be, one must be
gallant toward the fair sex.
The spectators fanned themselves, trying to find a momentary
coolness in the burning atmosphere; the horchateros bustled
among the crowds shouting their wares, called from all directions at
once and not knowing whither to go first; the standard-bearers and the
drummers wiped the sweat off their faces at every restaurant door, and
at last went inside to seek refreshment.
[Note 2: Vendors of horchata, iced orgeat.]
But the lion stuck to his post. His mask became soft; he walked with
a certain weariness, letting the Shrine rest upon his stomach, having
by this time lost all desire to bow to the public.
Fellow tanners approached him with jesting questions.
How are things going, so Visent?
And so Visent roared indignantly from the interior of his
cardboard disguise. How should things go? Very well. He was able to
keep it up, without failing in his part, even if the parade continued
for three days. As for getting tired, leave that to the young folks.
And drawing himself proudly erect, he resumed his bows, marking time
with his swaying Shrine of wood.
The procession lasted three hours. When the guild banner returned to
the Cathedral night was beginning to fall.
Plom! Retoplom! The glorious banner of the blanquers returned
to its guild house behind the drums. The myrtle on the streets had
disappeared beneath the feet of the paraders. Now the ground was
covered with drops of wax, rose leaves and strips of tinsel. The
liturgic perfume of incense floated through the air. Plom! Retoplom!
The drums were tired; the strapping youths who had carried the
standards were now panting, having lost all desire to perform balancing
tricks; the rich masters clutched the cords of the banner tightly, as
if the latter were towing them along, and they complained of their new
shoes and their bunions; but the lion, the weary lion (ah, swaggering
beast!), who at times seemed on the point of falling to the ground,
still had strength left to rise on his hind paws and frighten the
suburban couples, who pulled at a string of children that had been
dazzled by the sights.
A lie! Pure conceit! Señor Vicente knew what it felt like to be
inside of the lion's hide. But nobody is obliged to take the part of
the lion, and he who assumes it must stick it out to the bitter end.
Once home, he sank upon the sofa like a bundle of wool; his sons,
daughters-in-law and grandchildren hastened to remove the mask from his
face. They could scarcely recognize him, so congested and scarlet were
his features, which seemed to spurt water from every line of his
They tried to remove his skins; but the beast was oppressed by a
different desire, begging in a suffocated voice. He wished a drink; he
was choking with the heat. The family, warning against illness,
protested in vain. The deuce! He desired a drink right away. And who
would dare resist an infuriated lion?...
From the nearest café they brought him some ice-cream in a blue cup;
a Valencian ice cream, honey-sweet and grateful to the nostrils,
glistening with drops of white juice at the conical top.
But what are ice creams to a lion! Haaam! He swallowed it at
a single gulp, as if it were a mere trifle! His thirst and the heat
assailed him anew, and he roared for other refreshment.
The family, for reasons of economy, thought of the horchata
from a near-by restaurant. They would see; let a full jar of it be
brought. And Señor Vicente drank and drank until it was unnecessary to
remove the skins from him. Why? Because an attack of double pneumonia
finished him inside of a few hours. The glorious, shaggy-haired
uniform of the family served him as a shroud.
Thus died the lion of the blanquers,the last lion of
And the fact is that horchata is fatal for beasts.... Pure