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And they would divide up the orchards, and demand that the product of the harvests—thousands and thousands of duros paid for oranges by the Englishmen and the French—should belong to all. The patrimony of the House of Brull went down and down, but its prestige rose higher and higher. The sacks of money filled by the old man at the cost of so much roguery were shaken empty over all the District; nor were several assaults upon the municipal treasury sufficient to bring them back to normal roundness.
The whole District worshipped as a sacred flagstaff that bronzed, muscular, massive figure, which floated a huge, flowing, gray-flecked mustache from its upper end. The patio of the Brull mansion was the throne of his sovereignty. His partisans would find him there, pacing up and down among the green boxes of plantain trees, his hands clasped behind his broad, strong, but now somewhat stooping back—a majestic back withal, capable of supporting hosts and hosts of friends.
There he "administered justice," decided the fate of families, settled the affairs of towns—all in a few off-hand but short and decisive words, like one of those ancient Moorish kings who, in that selfsame territory, centuries before, legislated for their subjects under the open sky. On market-days the patio would be thronged. Carts would stop in long lines on either side of the door.
All the hitching-posts along the streets would have horses tied to them, and inside, the house would be buzzing like a bee-hive with the chatter of that rustic gentry. On afternoons when the Ayuntamiento was in session, the chief could never leave his patio. Of course not a chair in the city hall could be dusted without his permission; but he preferred to remain invisible, like a god, knowing well that his power would seem more terrible if it spoke only from the pillar of fire or from the whirlwind.
All day long city councilors would go trotting back and forth from the City Hall to the Brull patio. Let's see now: somebody go and ask the boss! If the opposition held its ground, again stupefaction would come over them. Another mad dash in quest of a new consultation. Thus the sessions would go by, to the great delight of the barber Cupido—the sharpest and meanest tongue in the city—who, whenever the Council met, would observe to his early morning shaves:.
This collaboration in the upbuilding and the up-holding of the family influence was the single bond of union between husband and wife. This cold woman, a complete stranger to tenderness, would flush with pleasure every time the chief approved her ideas.
If only she were "boss" of "the Party! Loyal to the family to the point of sacrifice, he served, with the couple itself, to fill out the Holy Trinity of the Brull religion that was the faith of all the District. In the towns he was respected as the supreme vicar of that god whose throne was in the patio of the plantain trees; and people too shy to lay their supplications before the god himself, would seek out that jolly advocate,—a very approachable bachelor, who always had a smile on his tanned, wrinkled face, and a story under his stiff cigar-stained mustache.
He was like a piece of furniture that seems always to be getting in the way at first; but when all were once accustomed to him, he became an indispensable fixture in the family. If his methods had been followed, "the Party" would have murdered someone every day. He attended to "the chief's" correspondence, and was tutor and playmate to the little Rafael, taking the boy on long walks through the orchard country.
Her affection for him was that of a dame of ancient chivalry for her private squire. Their Trinity was most closely cemented, however, by their fondness for Rafael, the little tot destined to bring fame to the name of Brull and realize the ambitions of both his grandfather and his father.
He was always hanging on to her skirts. Every time she raised her eyes she would find the little fellow's gaze fixed upon her. And the little fellow, moody and resigned, would leave the room, as if in obedience to a disagreeable command.
If don Rafael were a serious, melancholy lad, that defect was chargeable to his interest in books, and at the Casino, the "Party's" Club, he would say to his fellow-worshippers:. That kid is going to be another Canovas. And before all those rustic minds the vision of a Brull at the head of the Government would suddenly flash, filling the first page of the newspapers with speeches six columns long, and a To Be Continued at the end; and they could see themselves rolling in money and running all Spain, just as they now ran their District, to their own sweet wills.
Never did a Prince of Wales grow up amid the respect and the adulation heaped upon little Brull. At school, the children regarded him as a superior being who had condescended to come down among them for his education. A well-scribbled sheet, a lesson fluently repeated, were enough for the teacher, who belonged to "the Party" just to collect his wages on time and without trouble, to declare in prophetic tones:.
At the tertulias his mother attended evenings in his company, it was enough for him to recite a fable or get off some piece of learning characteristic of a studious child eager to bring his school work into the conversation, for the women to rush upon him and smother him with kisses. It's bad for him. See how peaked he looks! Here's a duro. And not till the following year would the boy again know what a caress from his father meant. On certain occasions, playing in the patio , he had surprised the austere old man gazing at him fixedly, as if trying to foresee his future.
The dream of old don Jaime, disillusioned in the son, would be fulfilled in the third generation! But Rafael was good behavior itself; a model boy, a "serious" young man, the good canon assured the mother. Some terrible youths, who had to get home before ten o'clock to escape a whipping, declared themselves rabid socialists and frightened the beadles with curses on the institution of property—all rights reserved, of course, to apply, as soon as they got out of college, for some position under the government as registrar of deeds or secretary of prefecture!
But Rafael, ever sane and a congenital "moderate," was not of those fire-brands; he sat on "the Right" of the august assembly of Wranglers, maintaining a "sound" attitude on all questions, thinking what he thought "with" Saint Thomas and "with" other orthodox sages whom his clerical Mentor pointed out to him.
These triumphs were announced by telegraph in the Party papers, which, to garnish the chief's glory and avoid suspicion of "inspiration," always began the article with: "According to a despatch printed in the Metropolitan press You'll see; he'll be a second Manterola! And whenever Rafael came home for the holidays or on vacation, each time taller than before, dressed like a fashion-plate and with mannerisms that she took for the height of distinction, the saintly mother would say to herself with the satisfaction of a woman who knows what it means to be homely:.
All the rich girls in town will be after him. He'll have his pick of them. Every time the student came home, his father gave him the same silent caress. In course of time the duro had been replaced by a hundred peseta note; but the rough claw that grazed his head was falling now with an energy ever weaker and seemed to grow lighter with the years.
Rafael, from long periods of absence, noted his father's condition better than the rest. The old man was ill, very ill. As tall as ever, as austere and imposing, and as little given to words. But he was growing thinner. His fierce eyes were sinking deeper into their sockets. There was little left to him now except his massive frame. His neck, once as sturdy as a bull's, showed the tendons and the arteries under the loose, wrinkled skin; and his mustache, once so arrogant, but now withering with each successive day, drooped dispiritedly like the banner of a defeated army wet with rain.
The boy was surprised at the gestures and tears of anger with which his mother welcomed expression of his fears. Lot's of use he is to us! May the Lord be merciful and take him off right now. Rafael said nothing, not caring to pry into the conjugal drama that was secretly and silently playing its last act before his eyes. Doesn't he see he's compromising his son's future? May this man die as soon as possible! May all this come to an end soon, oh Lord!
They were the only ones who dared allude to his disorderly life. The cacique would smile, proud, at bottom, that all men should know that such exploits were possible for a man at his age. He gave the boy his shotgun—a veritable jewel, the admiration of the entire District—and a magnificent horse.
And as if he had been waiting around just to see the realization of old Don Jaime's ambition, which he himself had not been able to fulfill, he passed away. The power of the family continued unchanged. Petitions were heard in the patio the same as ever. The truth was that Rafael took little interest in "the Party. He confined his personal activities to obeying his mother. Our friends there will be happy to see you. Instead of going out for a ride, spend your afternoon at the Club!
Our fellows are complaining they never get a sight of you. They would sit around, filling their coffee-saucers with cigar-ash, disputing as to which was the better orator, Castelar or Canovas, and, in case of a war between France and Germany, which of the two would win—idle subjects that always provoked disagreements and led to quarrels. The only time he entered into voluntary relations with "the Party" was when he took his pen in hand and manufactured for the Brull weekly a series of articles on "Law and Morality" and "Liberty and Faith,"—the rehashings of a faithful, industrious plodder at school, prolix commonplaces seasoned with what metaphysical terminology he remembered, and which, from the very reason that nobody understood them, excited the admiration of his fellow partisans.
Just let anyone dare to argue with him Deep, that noodle, I tell you! Nights, when his mother did not oblige him to visit the home of some influential voter who must be kept content, he would spend reading, no longer, however, as in Valencia, books lent him by the canon, but works that he bought himself, following the recommendations of the press, and that his mother respected with the veneration always inspired in her by printed paper sewed and bound, an awe comparable only to the scorn she felt for newspapers, dedicated, every one of them, as she averred, to the purpose of insulting holy things and stirring up the brutal passions of "the rabble.
These years of random reading, unrestrained by the scruples and the fears of a student, gradually and quietly shattered many of Rafael's firm beliefs. They broke the mould in which the friends of his mother had cast his mind and made him dream of a broader life than the one known to those about him. French novels transported him to a Paris that far outshone the Madrid he had known for a moment in his graduate days.
Love stories awoke in his youthful imagination an ardor for adventure and involved passions in which there was something of the intense love of indulgence that had been his father's besetting sin. He came to dwell more and more in the fictitious world of his readings, where there were elegant, perfumed, clever women, practicing a certain art in the refinement of their vices. The uncouth, sunburned orchard-girls inspired him with revulsion as if they had been women of another race, creatures of an inferior genus.
The young ladies of the city seemed to him peasants in disguise, with the narrow, selfish, stingy instincts of their parents. They knew the exact market price of oranges and just how much land was owned by each aspirant to their hand; and they adjusted their love to the wealth of the pretender, believing it the test of quality to appear implacable toward everything not fashioned to the mould of their petty life of prejudice and tradition.
For that reason he was deeply bored by his colorless, humdrum existence, so far removed from that other purely imaginative life which rose from the pages of his books and enveloped him with an exotic, exciting perfume. Some day he would be free, and take flight on his own wings; and that day of liberation would come when he got to be deputy.
He waited for his coming of age much as an heir-apparent waits for the moment of his coronation. From early boyhood he had been taught to look forward to the great event which would cut his life in two, opening out new pathways for a "forward march" to fame and fortune. And he'll marry a millionairess! Meanwhile, in long years of impatient anticipation, his life went on, with no special circumstance to break its dull monotony—the life of an aspirant certain of his lot, "killing time" till the call should come to enter on his heritage.
He was like those noble youngsters of bygone centuries who, graced in their cradles by the rank of colonel from the monarch, played around with hoop and top till they were old enough to join their regiments. He had been born a deputy, and a deputy he was sure to be: for the moment, he was waiting for his cue in the wings of the theatre of life.
His trip to Italy on a pilgrimage to see the Pope was the one event that had disturbed the dreary course of his existence. But in that country of marvels, with a pious canon for a guide, he visited churches rather than museums. Of theatres he saw only two—larks permitted by his tutor, whose austerity was somewhat mollified in those changing scenes.
Indifferently they passed the famous artistic works of the Italian churches, but paused always to venerate some relic with miracles as famous as absurd. Even so, Rafael managed to catch a confused and passing glimpse of a world different from the one in which he was predestined to pass his life.
From a distance he sensed something of the love of pleasure and romance he had drunk in like an intoxicating wine from his reading. In Milan he admired a gilded, adventurous bohemia of opera; in Rome, the splendor of a refined, artistic aristocracy in perpetual rivalry with that of Paris and London; and in Florence, an English nobility that had come in quest of sunlight and a chance to air its straw hats, show off the fair hair of its ladies, and chatter its own language in gardens where once upon a time the somber Dante dreamed and Boccaccio told his merry tales to drive fear of plague away.
That journey, of impressions as rapid and as fleeting as a reel of moving-pictures, leaving in Rafael's mind a maze of names, buildings, paintings and cities, served to give greater breadth to his thinking, as well as added stimulus to his imagination. Wider still became the gulf that separated him from the people and ideas he met in his common everyday life. He felt a longing for the extraordinary, for the original, for the adventuresomeness of artistic youth; and political master of a county, heir of a feudal dominion virtually, he nevertheless would read the name of any writer or painter whatsoever with the superstitious respect of a rustic churl.
What would he not give to be a bohemian like the personages he met in the books of Murger, member of a merry band of "intellectuals," leading a life of joy and proud devotion to higher things in a bourgeois age that knew only thirst for money and prejudice of class! Talent for saying pretty things, for writing winged verses that soared like larks to heaven! A garret underneath the roof, off there in Paris, in the Latin Quarter!
In exchange for all that he would gladly have given his future deputyship and all the orchards he had inherited, which, though encumbered by mortgages not to mention moral debts left by the rascality of his father and grandfather—still would bring him a tidy annuity for realizing his bohemian dreams. Such preoccupations made life as a party leader, tied down to the petty interests of a constituency, quite unthinkable! At the risk of angering his mother, he fled the Club, to court the solitude of the hills and fields.
There his imagination could range in greater freedom, peopling the roads, the meadows, the orange groves with creatures of his fancy, often conversing aloud with the heroines of some "grand passion," carried on along the lines laid down by the latest novel he had read. One afternoon toward the close of summer Rafael climbed the little mountain of San Salvador, which lies close to the city. From the eminence he was fond of looking out over the vast domains of his family.
As he went up the winding, stony trail, Rafael thought of the mountains of Assisi, which he had visited with his friend the canon, a great admirer of the Saint of Umbria. It was a landscape that suggested asceticism. Crags of bluish or reddish rock lined the roadway on either side, with pines and cypresses rising from the hollows, and extending black, winding, snaky roots out over the fallow soil.
At intervals, white shrines with tiny roofs harbored mosaics of glazed tiles depicting the Stations on the Via Dolorosa. The pointed green caps of the cypresses, as they waved, seemed bent on frightening away the white butterflies that were fluttering about over the rosemary and the nettles. The parasol-pines projected patches of shade across the burning road, where the sun-baked earth crackled and crumbled to dead dust under every footstep.
Reaching the little square in front of the Hermitage, he rested from the ascent, stretching out full length on the crescent of rubblework that formed a bench near the sanctuary. There silence reigned, the silence of high hill-tops. From below, the noises of the restless life and labor of the plain came weakened, softened, by the wind, like the murmuring of waves breaking on a distant shore. Among the prickly-pears that grew in close thicket behind the bench, insects were buzzing about, shining in the sun like buds of gold.
Some hens, belonging to the Hermitage, were pecking away in one corner of the square, clucking, and dusting their feathers in the gravel. Rafael surrendered to the charm of the exquisite scene. With reason had it been called "Paradise" by its ancient owners, Moors from the magic gardens of Bagdad, accustomed to the splendors of The Thousand and One Nights , but who went into ecstacies nevertheless on beholding for the first time the wondrous ribera of Valencia!
Behind the Hermitage all the lower ribera stretched, one expanse of rice-fields drowned under an artificial flood; then, Sueca and Cullera, their white houses perched on those fecund lagoons like towns in landscapes of India; then, Albufera, with its lake, a sheet of silver glistening in the sunlight; then, Valencia, like a cloud of smoke drifting along the base of a mountain range of hazy blue; and, at last, in the background, the halo, as it were, of this apotheosis of light and color, the Mediterranean—the palpitant azure Gulf bounded by the cape of San Antonio and the peaks of Sagunto and Almenara, that jutted up against the sky-line like the black fins of giant whales.
As Rafael looked down upon the towers of the crumbling convent of La Murta, almost hidden in its pine-groves, he thought of all the tragedy of the Reconquest; and almost mourned the fate of those farmer-warriors whose white cloaks he could imagine as still floating among the groves of those magic trees of Asia's paradise. It was the influence of the Moor in his Spanish ancestry. Christian, clerical even, though he was, he had inherited a melancholy, dreamy turn of mind from the very Arabs who had created all that Eden.
He pictured to himself the tiny kingdoms of those old walis ; vassal districts very like the one his family ruled. But instead of resting on influence, bribery, intimidation, and the abuse of law, they lived by the lances of horsemen as apt at tilling the soil as at capering in tournaments with an elegance never equalled by any chevaliers of the North. He could see the court of Valencia, with the romantic gardens of Ruzafa, where poets sang mournful strophes over the wane of the Valencian Moor, while beautiful maidens listened from behind the blossoming rose-bushes.
And then the catastrophe came. And as allies of this horde, bankrupt Christian noblemen, their worn-out lands mortgaged to the Israelite, but good cavalrymen, withal, armored, and with dragonwings on their helmets; and among the Christians, adventurers of various tongues, soldiers of fortune out for plunder and booty in the name of the Cross —the "black sheep" of every Christian family.
And they seized the great garden of Valencia, installed themselves in the Moorish palaces, called themselves counts and marquises, and with their swords held that privileged country for the King of Aragon, while the conquered Saracens continued to fertilize it with their toil. Thy walls are ruins, thy gardens grave-yards, thy sons slaves unto the Christian And Rafael could see, passing like phantoms before his eyes, leaning forward on the necks of small, sleek, sinewy horses, that seemed to fly over the ground, their legs horizontal, their nostrils belching smoke, the Moors, the real people of Valencia, conquered, degenerated by the very abundance of their soil, abandoning their gardens before the onrush of brutal, primitive invaders, speeding on their way toward the unending night of African barbarism.
At this eternal exile of the first Valencians who left to oblivion and decay a civilization, the last vestiges of which today survive in the universities of Fez, Rafael felt the sorrow he would have experienced had it all been a disaster to his family or his party.
While he was thinking of all these dead things, life in its feverish agitation surrounded him. A cloud of sparrows was darting about the roof of the Hermitage. On the mountain side a flock of dark-fleeced sheep was grazing; and when any of them discovered a blade of grass among the rocks, they would begin calling to one another with a melancholy bleating. Rafael could hear the voices of some women who seemed to be climbing the road, and from his reclining position he finally made out two parasols that were gradually rising to view over the edge of his bench.
One was of flaming red silk, skilfully embroidered and suggesting the filigreed dome of a mosque; the second, of flowered calico, was apparently keeping at a respectful distance behind the first. Two women entered the little square, and as Rafael sat up and removed his hat, the taller, who seemed to be the mistress, acknowledged his courtesy with a slight bow, went on to the other end of the esplanade, and stood, with her back turned toward him, looking at the view.
The other sat down some distance off, breathing laboriously from the exertion of the climb. The one seated near him was doubtless the servant of the other—her maid or her companion. She was dressed in black, simply but with a certain charm, like the French soubrettes he had seen in illustrated novels.
But rustic origin and lack of cultivation were evident from the stains on the backs of her unshapely hands; from her broad, flat, finger-nails; and from her large ungainly feet, quite out of harmony with the pair of stylish boots she was wearing—cast-off articles, doubtless, of the lady. She was pretty, nevertheless, with a fresh exuberance of youth.
Her large, gray, credulous eyes were those of a stupid but playful lamb; her hair, straight, and a very light blond, hung loosely here and there over a freckled face, dark with sunburn. She handled her closed parasol somewhat awkwardly and kept looking anxiously at the doubled gold chain that drooped from her neck to her waist, as if to reassure herself that a gift long-coveted had not been lost.
Rafael's interest drifted to the lady. His eyes rested on the back of a head of tightly-gathered golden hair, as luminous as a burnished helmet; on a white neck, plump, rounded; on a pair of broad, lithe shoulders, hidden under a blue silk blouse, the lines tapering rapidly, gracefully toward the waist; on a gray skirt, finally, falling in harmonious folds like the draping of a statue, and under the hem the solid heels of two shoes of English style encasing feet that must have been as agile and as strong as they were tiny.
The lady called to her maid in a voice that was sonorous, vibrant, velvety, though Rafael could catch only the accented syllables of her words, that seemed to melt together in the melodious silence of the mountain top. The young man was sure she had not spoken Spanish. A foreigner, almost certainly!
She was expressing admiration and enthusiasm for the view, talking rapidly, pointing out the principal towns that could be seen, calling them by their names,—the only words that Rafael could make out clearly. Who was this woman whom he had never seen, who spoke a foreign language and yet knew the ribera well? Perhaps the wife of one of the French or English orange-dealers established in the city! Meanwhile his eyes were devouring that superb, that opulent, that elegant beauty which seemed to be challenging him with its indifference to his presence.
The keeper of the Hermitage issued cautiously from the house—a peasant who made his living from visitors to the heights. Attracted by the promising appearance of the strange lady, the hermit came forward to greet her, offering to fetch water from the cistern, and to unveil the image of the miraculous virgin, in her honor. The woman turned around to answer the man, and that gave Rafael an opportunity to study her at his leisure. She was tall, ever so tall, as tall as he perhaps. But the impression her height of stature made was softened by a grace of figure that revealed strength allied to elegance.
A strong bust, sculpturesque, supporting a head that engaged the young man's wrapt attention. A hot mist of emotion seemed to cloud his vision as he looked into her large eyes, so green, so luminous! The golden hair fell forward upon a forehead of pearly whiteness, veined at the temples with delicate lines of blue.
Viewed in profile her gracefully moulded nose, quivering with vitality at the nostrils, filled out a beauty that was distinctly modern, piquantly charming. In those lineaments, Rafael thought he could recognize any number of famous actresses.
He had seen her before. He did not know. Perhaps in some illustrated weekly! Perhaps in some album of stage celebrities! Or maybe on the cover of some match-box—a common medium of publicity for famous European belles. Of one thing he was certain: at sight of that wonderful face he felt as though he were meeting an old friend after a long absence. The recluse, in hopes of a perquisite, led the two women toward the door of the hermitage, where his wife and daughter had appeared, to feast their eyes on the huge diamonds sparkling at the ears of the strange lady.
She came here alone all the way from Majorca. People down in Palma claim they have the real Virgin. But what can they say for themselves? They are jealous because our Lady chose Alcira; and here we have her, proving that she's the real one by the miracles she works. He opened the door of the tiny church, which was as cool and gloomy as a cellar.
At the rear, on a baroque altar of tarnished gold, stood the little statue with its hollow cloak and its black face. Rapidly, by rote almost, the good man recited the history of the image. The Virgin del Lluch was the patroness of Majorca. A hermit had been compelled to flee from there, for a reason no one had been able to discover—perhaps to get away from some Saracen girl of those exciting, war-like days! And to rescue the Virgin from profanation he brought her to Alcira, and built this sanctuary for her.
Later people from Majorca came to return her to their island. But the celestial lady had taken a liking to Alcira and its inhabitants. Over the water, and without even wetting her feet, she came gliding back. Then the Majorcans, to keep what had happened quiet, counterfeited a new statue that looked just like the first. All this was gospel truth, and as proof, there lay the original hermit buried at the foot of the altar; and there was the Virgin, too, her face blackened by the sun and the salt wind on her miraculous voyage over the sea.
The beautiful lady smiled slightly, as she listened. The maid was all ears, not to lose a word of a language she but half understood, her credulous peasant eyes traveling from the Virgin to the hermit and from the hermit to the Virgin, plainly expressing the wonder she was feeling at such a portentous miracle.
Rafael had followed the party into the shrine and taken a position near the fascinating stranger. She, however, pretended not to see him. If the story has been handed down so long, there must be something to it. The patch of sunlight that shone through the doorway upon the flagstones was darkened by the shadow of a woman.
It was a poorly clad orchard worker, young, it seemed, but with a face pale, and as rough as wrinkled paper, all the crevices and hollows of her cranium showing, her eyes sunken and dull, her unkempt hair escaping from beneath her knotted kerchief. She was barefoot, carrying her shoes in her hand. She stood with her legs wide apart, as if in an effort to keep her balance. She seemed to feel intense pain whenever she stepped upon the ground.
Illness and poverty were written on every feature of her person. The recluse knew her well; and as the unfortunate creature, panting with the effort of the climb, sank upon a little bench to rest her feet, he told her story briefly to the visitors. She was ill, very, very ill. With no faith in doctors, who, according to her, "treated her with nothing but words"; she believed that the Virgin del Lluch would ultimately cure her. And, though at home she could scarcely move from her chair and was always being scolded by her husband for neglecting the housework, every week she would climb the steep mountain-side, barefoot, her shoes in her hand.
The hermit approached the sick woman, accepting a copper coin she offered. A few couplets to the Virgin, as usual, he supposed! And his daughter came into the chapel—a dirty, dark-skinned creature with African eyes, who might just have escaped from a gipsy band. She took a seat upon a bench, turning her back upon the Virgin with the bored ill-humored expression of a person compelled to do a dull task day after day; and in a hoarse, harsh, almost frantic voice, which echoed deafeningly in that small enclosure, she began a drawling chant that rehearsed the story of the statue and the portentous miracles it had wrought.
The sick woman, kneeling before the altar without releasing her hold upon her shoes, the heels of her feet, which were bruised and bleeding from the stones, showing from under her skirts, repeated a refrain at the end of each stanza, imploring the protection of the Virgin. Her voice had a weak and hollow sound, like the wail of a child.
Her sunken eyes, misty with tears, were fixed upon the Virgin with a dolorous expression of supplication. Her words came more tremulous and more distant at each couplet. The beautiful stranger was plainly affected at the pitiful sight. Her maid had knelt and was following the sing-song rhythm of the chant, with prayers in a language that Rafael recognized at last.
It was Italian. Rafael tried to think of something "brilliant" on the grandeur of faith, from Saint Thomas, or one of the other "sound" authors he had studied. But he ransacked his memory in vain. That charming woman had filled his mind with thoughts far other than quotations from the Fathers! The couplets to the Virgin came to an end. With the last stanza the wild singer disappeared; and the sick woman, after several abortive efforts, rose painfully to her feet.
The recluse approached her with the solicitude of a shopkeeper concerned for the quality of his wares. Were things going any better? Were the visits to the Virgin doing good? The unfortunate woman did not dare to answer, for fear of offending the miraculous Lady. She did not know!
But that climb! This offering had not had such good results as the previous ones, she thought; but she had faith: the Virgin would be good to her and cure her in the end. At the church door she collapsed from pain. The recluse placed her on his chair and ran to the cistern to get a glass of water. The Italian maid, her eyes bulging with fright, leaned over the poor woman, petting her:.
The lady stepped out to the plazoleta , deeply moved, it seemed, by what she had been witnessing. Rafael followed, with affected absent-mindedness, somewhat ashamed of his insistence, yet at the same time looking for an opportunity to renew their conversation. On finding herself once more in the presence of that wonderful panorama, where the eye ran unobstructed to the very limit of the horizon, the charming creature seemed to breathe more freely.
This view is ever so beautiful. But that woman! That poor woman! They despise doctors, and refuse their help, preferring to kill themselves with these barbarous prayers and devotions, which they expect will do them good.
But here we are laughing and enjoying ourselves while suffering passes us by, rubs elbows with us even, without our noticing! Rafael was at a loss for reply. What sort of woman was this? What a way she had of talking! Accustomed as he was to the commonplace chatter of his mother's friends, and still under the influence of this meeting, which had so deeply disturbed him, the poor boy imagined himself in the presence of a sage in skirts—a philosopher under the disguise of female beauty come from beyond the Pyrenees, from some gloomy German alehouse perhaps, to upset his peace of mind.
The stranger was silent for a time, her gaze fixed upon the horizon. Then around her attractive sensuous lips, through which two rows of shining, dazzling teeth were gleaming, the suggestion of a smile began to play, a smile of joy at the landscape. At last the opportunity had come to ask the question he had been so eager to put: and she herself had offered the opportunity!
I know everyone in the city. My name is Rafael Brull. At last he had let it out! The poor fellow had been dying to reveal his name, tell who he was, pronounce that magic word so influential in the District, certain it would be the "Open Sesame" to that wonderful stranger's grace!
After that, perhaps, she would tell him who she was! But the lady commented on his declaration with an "Ah! She did not show that his name was even known to her, though she did sweep him with a rapid, scrutinizing, half-mocking glance that seemed to betray a hidden thought:. Rafael blushed, feeling he had made a false step in volunteering his name with the pompousness he would have used toward some bumpkin of the region. A painful silence followed. Rafael was anxious to get out of his plight.
That glacial indifference, that disdainful courtesy, which, without a trace of rudeness, still kept him at a distance, hurt his vanity to the quick. But since there was no stopping now, he ventured a second question:. Rafael thought the ground was giving way beneath his feet. Another glance from those green eyes! But, alas, this time it was cold and menacing, a livid flash of lightning refracted from a mirror of ice.
Rafael was crushed. He saw her turn toward the doorway of the sanctuary and call her maid. Every step of hers, every movement of her proud figure, seemed to raise a barrier in front of him. He saw her bend affectionately over the sick orchard-woman, open a little pink bag that her maid handed her, and, rummaging about among some sparkling trinkets and embroidered handkerchiefs, draw out a hand filled with shining silver coins.
She emptied the money into the apron of the astonished peasant girl, gave something as well to the recluse, who was no less astounded, and then, opening her red parasol, walked off, followed by her maid. As she passed Rafael, she answered the doffing of his hat with a barely perceptible inclination of her head; and, without looking at him, started on her way down the stony mountain path.
The young man stood gazing after her through the pines and the cypresses as her proud athletic figure grew smaller in the distance. The perfume of her presence seemed to linger about him when she had gone, obsessing him with the atmosphere of superiority and exotic elegance that emanated from her whole being. Rafael noticed finally that the recluse was approaching, unable to restrain a desire to communicate his admiration to someone.
She had given him a duro , one of those white discs which, in that atheistic age, so rarely ascended that mountain trail! And there the poor invalid sat at the door of the Hermitage, staring into her apron blankly, hypnotized by the glitter of all that wealth! Duros, pesetas , two- pesetas , dimes! All the money the lady had brought!
Even a gold button, which must have come from her glove! Rafael turned once more in the direction of the two parasols that were slowly winding down the slope. They were barely visible now. The larger of the two, a mere speck of red, was already blending into the green of the first orchards on the plain At last it had disappeared completely.
Left alone, Rafael burst into rage! The place where he had made such a sorry exhibition of himself seemed odious to him now. He fumed with vexation at the memory of that cold glance, which had checked any advance toward familiarity, repelled him, crushed him! The thought of his stupid questions filled him with hot shame. Without replying to the "good-evening" from the recluse and his family, he started down the mountain, in hopes of meeting the woman again, somewhere, some time, he knew not when nor how.
And aggressively, menacingly, addressing his own ego as though it were a henchman cringing terror-stricken in front of him, he muttered:. Nor could his political friends guess, that afternoon, why in such fine weather, Rafael should come and shut himself up in the stifling atmosphere of the Club.
When he came in, a crowd of noisy henchmen gathered round him to discuss all over again the great news that had been keeping "the Party" in feverish excitement for a week past: the Cortes were to be dissolved! The newspapers had been talking of nothing else. Within two or three months, before the close of the year at the latest, there would be a new election, and therewith, as all averred, a landslide for don Rafael Brull.
The intimate friend and lieutenant of the House of Brull was the best informed. If the elections took place on the date indicated by the newspapers, Rafael would still be five or six months short of his twenty-fifth birth-day. The prime minister was agreeable—"there were precedents!
They would send no more "foundlings" from Madrid! Alcira would have no more "unknowns" foisted upon her! And the whole Tribe of Brull dependents was preparing for the contest with the enthusiasm of a prize-fighter sure of victory beforehand.
All this bustling expectation left Rafael cold. For years he had been looking forward to that election time, when the chance would come for his free life in Madrid. Now that it was at hand he was completely indifferent to the whole matter, as if he were the last person in the world concerned. He liked to be seen in his capacity of Regent, sheltering the heir-apparent under the wing of his prestige and experienced wisdom.
Well, yesterday, up on San Salvador, I met a fine-looking woman who seems to be a foreigner. She says she's living here. Who is she? The old man burst into a loud laugh, and pushed his chair back from the table, so that his big paunch would have room to shake in. That woman got in the day before yesterday, and everybody's seen her already. She's the talk of the town. You were the only one who hadn't asked me about her so far. And now you've bitten!
What a place this is! When he had had his laugh out—Rafael, meanwhile, did not see the joke—he continued in more measured style:. In fact, she was born about two doors from you. Don't you remember? Rafael thought he did. As he went back in his memory, the picture of an old wrinkled woman rose before his mind, a woman round-shouldered, bent with age, but with a kindly face smiling with simple-mindedness and good nature. He could see her now, with a rosary usually in her hand, a camp-stool under her arm, and her mantilla drawn down over her face.
The only decent person in her family. The girl has been all over the world singing grand opera. You were probably too young to remember Doctor Moreno, who was the scandal of the province in those days But Rafael certainly did remember Doctor Moreno! That name was one of the freshest of his childhood recollections, the bugaboo of many nights of terror and alarm, when he would hide his trembling head under the clothes.
If he cried about going to bed so early, his mother would say to him in a mysterious voice:. A weird, a formidable personage, the Doctor! Rafael could see him as clearly as if he were sitting there in front of him; with that huge, black, curly beard; those large, burning eyes that always shone with an inner fire; and that tall, angular figure that seemed taller than ever as young Brull evoked it from the hazes of his early years.
Perhaps the Doctor had been a good fellow, who knows! At any rate Rafael thought so, as his mind now reverted to that distant period of his life; but he could still remember the fright he had felt as a child, when once in a narrow street he met the terrible Doctor, who had looked at him through those glowing pupils and caressed his cheeks gently and kindly with a hand that seemed to the youngster as hot as a live coal! He had fled in terror, as almost all good boys did when the Doctor petted them.
What a horrible reputation Doctor Moreno had! The curates of the town spoke of him in terms of hair-raising horror. An infidel! A man cut off from Mother Church! Nobody knew for certain just what high authority had excommunicated him, but he was, no doubt, outside the pale of decent, Christian folks. Proof of that there was, a-plenty. His whole attic was filled with mysterious books in foreign languages, all containing horrible doctrines against God and the authority of His representatives on earth.
And such a sorcerer! Hardly a disease could resist Doctor Moreno. He worked wonders in the suburbs, among the lower scum; and those laborers adored him with as much fear as affection. He succeeded with people who had been given up by the older doctors, wiseacres in long frocks and with gold-headed canes, who trusted more in God than in science, as Rafael's mother would say in praise of them.
That devil of a physician used new and unheard-of treatments he learned from atheistic reviews and suspicious books he imported from abroad. His competitors grumbled also because the Doctor had a mania for treating poor folk gratis, actually leaving money, sometimes, into the bargain; and he often refused to attend wealthy people of "sound principles" who had been obliged to get their confessor's permission before placing themselves in his hands.
But she said such things in a very low voice and with a certain fear, for those days were bad ones for the House of Brull. Rafael remembered how gloomy his father had been about that time, hardly even leaving the patio. Had it not been for the respect his hairy claws and his frowning eye-brows inspired, the rabble would have eaten him alive. The monarchy had been treasonably overturned; the men of the Revolution of September were legislating in Madrid. In the streets people were singing the Marseillaise , waving tricolored bunting, and hurrahing for the Republic.
Candles were being burned before pictures of Castelar. And meantime that fanatical Doctor, a Republican, was preaching on the public squares, explaining the "rights of man" at daytime meetings in the country and at night meetings in town. Wild with enthusiasm he repeated, in different words, the orations of the portentous Tribune who in those days was traveling from one end of Spain to the other, administering to the people the sacrament of democracy to the music of his eloquence, which raised all the grandeurs of History from the tomb.
Rafael's mother, shutting all the doors and windows, would lift her angry eyes toward heaven every time the crowd, returning from a meeting, would pass through her street with banners flying and halt two doors away, in front of the Doctor's house, where they would cheer, and cheer.
Those people demanded a Republic—they belonged, as she said, to the "Dividing-up" gang. The way things were going, they'd soon be winning; and then they would plunder the house, and perhaps cut her throat and strangle the baby! They'll sing their Marseillaise for a time and shout themselves hoarse. Why shouldn't they, if they're content with so little? Other days are coming. The Carlists will see to it that our cause triumphs.
He knew him very well: they had been schoolmates together, and Rafael's father had never cared to join the hue and cry against Doctor Moreno. The one thing that seemed to bother him was that, as soon as the Republic was proclaimed, the Doctor's friends were eager to send him as a deputy to the Constituent Assembly of ' That lunatic a deputy!
Whereas he, the friend and agent of so many Conservative ministries, had never dared think of the office for himself, because of the fairly superstitious awe in which he held it! The end of the world was surely coming! But the Doctor had refused the nomination.
If he were to go to Madrid, what would become of the poor people who depended on him for health and protection? Besides, he liked a quiet, sedentary life, with his books and his studies, where he could satisfy his desires without quarrels and fighting. His deep convictions impelled him to mingle with the masses, and speak in public places—where he proved to be a successful agitator, but he refused to join party organizations; and after a lecture or an oration, he would spend days and days with his books and magazines, alone save for his sister—a docile, pious woman who worshipped him, though she bewailed his irreligion—and for his little daughter, a blonde girl whom Rafael could scarcely remember, because her father's unpopularity with the "best people" kept the little child away from "good society.
The Doctor had one passion—music; and everybody admired his talent for that art. What didn't the man know, anyhow? But that did not prevent crowds from thronging the streets at night, cautioning pedestrians to walk more softly as they approached his house; nor from opening their windows to hear better when that devil of a doctor would be playing his violoncello. This he did when certain friends of his came up from Valencia to spend a few days with him—a queer, long-haired crew that talked a strange language and referred to a fellow called Beethoven with as much respect as if he were San Bernardo himself.
What a man he was! How he made your father and me fume in the days of '73! Now that all that is so far in the past, I'll say he was a fine fellow. His brain had gone somewhat bad from reading too much, like don Quixote; and he was crazy over music.
Most charming manners he had, however. He married a beautiful orchard-girl, who happened to be very poor. He said the marriage was For that he didn't need to bother about his wife's social position. What he was looking for was health. So he picked out that Teresa of his, as strong as an ox, and as fresh as an apple. But little good it did the poor woman.
She had one baby and died a few days afterward, despite the science and the desperate efforts of her husband. They had lived together less than a year. Rafael's companions were listening with as much attention as he; for morbid curiosity is the characteristic of the people of small places, where the keenest pleasure available is that of knowing the private affairs of others intimately.
The pictures of those fellows were scattered in every room of the house, even in the attic. This Beethoven in case you don't know it , was an Italian or an Englishman, I'm not sure which—one of those fellows who makes music up out of his head for people to play in theatres or for lunatics like Moreno to amuse themselves with.
Well, when his daughter was born the Doctor wondered what name to give her. As a tribute to Emilio Castelar, his idol, he felt he ought to call her Emilia: but he liked the sound of Leonora better no, not Lenor, but Leonora! According to what he told us, that was the title of the only opera Beethoven ever wrote—an opera he could read, for that matter, the way I read the paper. Anyhow, the foreigner won out; and the Doctor packed the child off to church with his sister, who took a few neighbors of the poorer sort along to see Leonora baptized.
At the time I was employed in the municipal offices, and I had to intervene. This was all before the Revolution; Gonzalez Brabo was boss in those days—and good old days they were! Let an enemy of law and order or sound religion just raise his voice and he was off on his way to Fernando Pio in no time.
Well, what a racket the Doctor raised! He sat himself down in that church—first time he'd ever been in the place—and insisted that his daughter be labeled as he directed. Later he thought he would take her home without any baptism at all, saying he had no use for the ceremony anyhow, and that he put up with it only to please his sister.
During the argument, he called all the curates and acolytes assembled in the sacristy there, a pack of 'brahmans. But finally he compromised and let her be baptized with the orthodox name of 'Leonor. As he went out he said to the priest: "She will be 'Leonora' for reasons that please her father, and which you wouldn't understand even if I were to explain them to you. We had to go some to quiet things down.
In those days, boy, a matter of that sort was more serious than killing a man. That girl always took after the old man. Just as queer as he was. The Doctor all over again! I haven't seen her yet. They say she's a stunning beauty, like her mother, who was a blonde, and the handsomest girl in all these parts.
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