THE SHADOW OF THE CATHEDRAL
VICENTE BLASCO IBANEZ
Translated From The Spanish By Mrs. W.A. Gillespie
With A Critical Introduction By W.D. Howells
There are three cathedrals which I think will remain chief of the Spanish cathedrals in the remembrance of the traveller, namely the Cathedral at Burgos, the Cathedral at Toledo, and the Cathedral at Seville; and first of these for reasons hitherto of history and art, and now of fiction, will be the Cathedral at Toledo, which the most commanding talent among the contemporary Spanish novelists has made the protagonist of the romance following. I do not mean that Vincent Blasco Ibanez is greater than Perez Galdos, or Armando Palacio Valdes or even the Countess Pardo-Bazan; but he belongs to their realistic order of imagination, and he is easily the first of living European novelists outside of Spain, with the advantage of superior youth, freshness of invention and force of characterization. The Russians have ceased to be actively the masters, and there is no Frenchman, Englishman, or Scandinavian who counts with Ibanez, and of course no Italian, American, and, unspeakably, no German.
I scarcely know whether to speak first of this book or the writer of it, but as I know less of him than of it I may more quickly dispatch that part of my introduction. He was born at Valencia in 1866, of Arragonese origin, and of a strictly middle class family. His father kept a shop, a dry-goods store in fact, but Ibanez, after fit preparation, studied law in the University of Valencia and was duly graduated in that science. Apparently he never practiced his profession, but became a journalist almost immediately. He was instinctively a revolutionist, and was imprisoned in Barcelona, the home of revolution, for some political offence, when he was eighteen. It does not appear whether he committed his popular offence in the Republican newspaper which he established in Valencia; but it is certain that he was elected a Republican deputy to the Cortes, where he became a leader of his party, while yet evidently of no great maturity.
He began almost as soon to write fiction of the naturalistic type, and of a Zolaistic coloring which his Spanish critics find rather stronger than I have myself seen it. Every young writer forms himself upon some older writer; nobody begins master; but Ibanez became master while he was yet no doubt practicing a prentice hand; yet I do not feel very strongly the Zolaistic influence in his first novel, La Barraca, or The Cabin, which paints peasant life in the region of Valencia, studied at first hand and probably from personal knowledge. It is not a very spacious scheme, but in its narrow field it is strictly a novela de costumbres, or novel of manners, as we used to call the kind. Ibanez has in fact never written anything but novels of manners, and La Barraca pictures a neighborhood where a stranger takes up a waste tract of land and tries to make a home for himself and family. This makes enemies of all his neighbors who after an interval of pity for the newcomer in the loss of one of his children return to their cruelty and render the place impossible to him. It is a tragedy such as naturalism alone can stage and give the effect of life. I have read few things so touching as this tale of commonest experience which seems as true to the suffering and defeat of the newcomers, as to the stupid inhumanity of the neighbors who join, under the lead of the evillest among them, in driving the strangers away; in fact I know nothing parallel to it, certainly nothing in English; perhaps The House with the Green Shutters breathes as great an anguish.
At just what interval or remove the novel which gave Ibanez worldwide reputation followed this little tale, I cannot say, and it is not important that I should try to say. But it is worth while to note here that he never flatters the vices or even the swoier virtues of his countrymen; and it is much to their honor that they have accepted him in the love of his art for the sincerity of his dealing with their conditions. In Sangre y Arena his affair is with the cherished atrocity which keeps the Spaniards in the era of the gladiator shows of Rome. The hero, as the renowned torrero whose career it celebrates, from his first boyish longing to be a bull-fighter, to his death, weakened by years and wounds, in the arena of Madrid, is something absolute in characterization. The whole book in fact is absolute in its fidelity to the general fact it deals with, and the persons of its powerful drama. Each in his or her place is realized with an art which leaves one in no doubt of their lifelikeness, and keeps each as vital as the torrero himself. There is little of the humor which relieves the pathos of Valdes in the equal fidelity of his Marta y Maria or the unsurpassable tragedy of Galdos in his Dona Perfecta. The torrero's family who have dreaded his boyish ambition with the anxiety of good common people, and his devotedly gentle and beautiful wife,—even his bullying and then truckling brother-in-law who is ashamed of his profession and then proud of him when it has filled Spain with his fame,—are made to live in the spacious scene. But above all in her lust for him and her contempt for him the unique figure of Dona Sol astounds. She rules him as her brother the marquis would rule a mistress; even in the abandon of her passion she does not admit him to social equality; she will not let him speak to her in thee and thou, he must address her as ladyship; she is monstrous without ceasing to be a woman of her world, when he dies before her in the arena a broken and vanquished man. The torrero is morally better than the aristocrat and he is none the less human though a mere incident of her wicked life,—her insulted and rejected worshipper, who yet deserves his fate.
Sangre y Arena is a book of unexampled force and in that sort must be reckoned the greatest novel of the author, who has neglected no phase of his varied scene. The torrero's mortal disaster in the arena is no more important than the action behind the scenes where the gored horses have their dangling entrails sewed up by the primitive surgery of the place and are then ridden back into the amphitheatre to suffer a second agony. No color of the dreadful picture is spared; the whole thing passes as in the reader's presence before his sight and his other senses. The book is a masterpiece far in advance of that study of the common life which Ibanez calls La Horda; dealing with the horde of common poor and those accidents of beauty and talent as native to them as to the classes called the better. It has the attraction of the author's frank handling, and the power of the Spanish scene in which the action passes; but it could not hold me to the end.
It is only in his latest book that he transcends the Spanish scene and peoples the wider range from South America to Paris, and from Paris to the invaded provinces of France with characters proper to the times and places. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse has not the rough textures and rank dyes of the wholly Spanish stories, but it is the strongest story of the great war known to me, and its loss in the Parisian figures is made more than good in the novelty and veracity of the Argentinos who supply that element of internationality which the North American novelists of a generation ago employed to give a fresh interest to their work. With the coming of the hero to study art and make love in the conventional Paris, and the repatriation of his father, a cattle millionaire of French birth from the pampas, with his wife and daughters, Ibanez achieves effects beyond the art of Henry James, below whom he nevertheless falls so far in subtlety and beauty.
The book has moments of the pathos so rich in the work of Galdos and Valdes, and especially of Emilia Pardo-Bazan in her Morrina or Home Sickness, the story of a peasant girl in Barcelona, but the grief of the Argentine family for the death of the son and brother in battle with the Germans, has the appeal of anguish beyond any moment in La Catedral. I do not know just the order of this last-mentioned novel among the stories of Ibanez, but it has a quality of imagination, of poetic feeling which surpasses the invention of any other that I have read, and makes me think it came before Sangre y Arena, and possibly before La Horda. I cannot recall any other novel of the author which is quite so psychological as this. It is in fact a sort of biography, a personal study, of the mighty fane at Toledo, as if the edifice were of human quality and could have its life expressed in human terms. There is nothing forced in the poetic conception, or mechanical in the execution. The Cathedral is not only a single life, it is a neighborhood, a city, a world in itself; and its complex character appears in the nature of the different souls which collectively animate it. The first of these is the sick and beaten native of it who comes back to the world which he has never loved or trusted, but in which he was born and reared. As a son of its faith, Gabriel Luna was to have been a priest; but before he became a minister of its faith, it meant almost the same that he should become a Carlist soldier, and fight on for that cause till it was hopeless. In his French captivity he loses the faith which was one with the Carlist cause, and in England he reads Darwin and becomes an evolutionist of the ardor which the evolutionists have now lost. He wanders over Europe with the English girl whom he worships with an intellectual rather than passionate ardor, and after her death he ends at Barcelona in time to share one of the habitual revolutions of the province and to spend several years in one of its prisons. When he comes out it is into a world which he is doomed to leave; he is sick to death and in hopeless poverty; he has lost the courage of his revolutionary faith if not his fealty to it; all that he asks of the world is leave to creep out of it and somewhere die in peace. He thinks of an elder brother who like himself was born in the precincts of the Cathedral where generations of their family have lived and died, and his brother does not deny him. In fact the kind, dull gardener welcomes him to a share of his poverty, and Gabriel begins dying where he began living. The kindness between the brothers is as simple in the broken adventurer whose wide world has failed him as in the aging peasant, pent from his birth in the Cathedral close, with no knowledge of anything beyond it. All their kindred who serve in their several sort the stepmother church, down to the gardener's son whose office is to keep dogs out of the Cathedral and has the title of perrero, are good to the returning exile. They do not well understand what and where he has been; the tradition of his gifted youth when he was dedicated to the church and forsook her service at the altar for her service in the field, remains unquestioned, and he is safe in the refuge of his family who can offer mainly their insignificance for his protection. The logic of the fact is perfect, and Gabriel's emergence from the quiet of his retreat inevitably follows from the nature of the agitator as the logic of his own past and has the approval at least of the perrero and the allegiance of the rest. What is very important in the affair is that most of the inhabitants of this Cathedral-world, rich and poor, good, bad, and indifferent, mean and generous, are few of them wicked people, as wickedness is commonly understood; they all have their habitual or their occasional moments of good will.
The refugee is tired of his past but he does not deny his faith in humanity; his doctrine only postpones to a time secularly remote the redemption of humanity from its secular suffering. He begins at once to do good; he rescues his kind elder brother from the repudiation of the daughter whom he has cast off because her seduction has condemned her to a life of shame; he wins back the poor prostitute to her home, and forces her father to tolerate her in it.
Most of the Cathedral folk are of course miserably poor, but willing to be better than they are if they can keep from starving; the fierce and prepotent Cardinal who is over them all, has moments of the common good will, when he forgives all his enemies except the recalcitrant canons. He likes to escape from these, and talk with the elderly widow of the gardener whom he has known from his boyhood, and to pity himself in her presence and smoke himself free from, his rancor and trouble. He is such a prelate as we know historically in enough instances; but he is pathetic in that simplicity which survives in him and almost makes good the loss of innocence in Latin souls. He keeps with him the young girl who is the daughter of his youth, and whom it cuts him to the soul to have those opprobrious canons imagine his mistress. He is one out of the many figures that affirm their veracity in the strange world where they have their being; and he is only the more vivid as the head of a hierarchy which he rules rather violently though never ignobly.
But the populace, the underpaid domestics and laborers of the strange ecclesiastical world in their wretched over-worked lives and hopeless deaths are what the author presents most vividly. There is the death of the cobbler's baby which starves at the starving mother's breast which the author makes us witness in its insupportable pathos, but his art is not chiefly shown in such extremes: his affair includes the whole tragical drama of the place, both its beauty and its squalor of fact, but he keeps central the character of the refugee, Gabriel Luna, in the allegiance to his past which he cannot throw off. When he begins to teach the simple denizens of the Cathedral, some of them hear him gladly, and some indifferently, and some unwillingly, but none intelligently. He fails with them in that doctrine of patience which was his failure, as an agitator, with the proletariat wherever he has been; they could not wait through geological epochs for the reign of mercy and justice which he could not reasonably promise the over-worked and underfed multitude to-morrow or the day after. His brother, who could not accept his teachings, warns him that the people of the Cathedral will not understand him and cannot accept his scientific gospel, and for a while he desists. In fact he takes service in the ceremonial of the Cathedral; he even plays a mechanical part in the procession of Corpus Christi, and finally he becomes one of the night-watchmen who guard the temple from the burglaries always threatening its treasures.
The story is quite without the love-interest which is the prime attraction of our mostly silly fiction. Gabriel's association with the English girl who wanders over Europe with him is scarcely passionate if it is not altogether platonic; his affection for the poor girl for whom he has won her father's tolerance if not forgiveness becomes a tender affection, but not possibly more; and there is as little dramatic incident as love interest in the book. The extraordinary power of it lies in its fealty to the truth and its insight into human nature. The reader of course perceives that it is intensely anti-ecclesiastical, but he could make no greater mistake than to imagine it in any wise Protestant. The author shares this hate or slight of ecclesiasticism with all the Spanish novelists, so far as I know them; most notably with Perez Galdos in Dona Perfecta and Lean Rich, with Pardo-Bazan in several of her stories, with Palacio Valdes in the less measure of Marta y Maria, and La Hermana de San Sulpicio and even with the romanticist Valera in Pepita Jimenez. But it may be said that while Ibanez does not go any farther than Galdos, for instance, he is yet more intensively agnostic. He is the standard bearer of the scientific revolt in the terms of fiction which spares us no hope of relief in the religious notion of human life here or hereafter that the Hebraic or Christian theology has divined.
It is right to say this plainly, but the reader who can suffer it from the author will find his book one of the fullest and richest in modern fiction, worthy to rank with the greatest Russian work and beyond anything yet done in English. It has not the topographical range of Tolstoy's War and Peace, or Resurrection; but in its climax it is as logically and ruthlessly tragical as anything that the Spanish spirit has yet imagined.
Whoever can hold on to the end of it will find his reward in the full enjoyment of that "noble terror" which high tragedy alone can give. Nothing that happens in the solemn story—in which something significant is almost always happening—is of the supreme effect of the socialist agitator's death at the hands of the disciples whom he has taught to expect mercy and justice on earth, but forbidden to expect it within the reach of the longest life of any man or race of men. His rebellious followers come at night into the Cathedral where Gabriel is watching, to rob an especially rich Madonna, whom he has taught them to regard as a senseless and wasteful idol, and they will not hear him when he pleads with them against the theft. The inevitable irony of the event is awful, but it is not cruel, rather it is the supreme touch of that pathos which seems the crowning motive of the book.
* * * * *
THE SHADOW OF THE CATHEDRAL
The dawn was just rising when Gabriel Luna arrived in front of the Cathedral, but in the narrow street of Toledo it was still night. The silvery morning light that had scarcely begun to touch the eaves and roofs, spread out more freely in the little Piazza del Ayuntamiento, bringing out of the shadows the ugly front of the Archbishop's Palace, and the towers of the municipal buildings capped with black slate, a sombre erection of the time of Charles V.
Gabriel walked for some time up and down the deserted square, wrapping himself up to his eyes in the muffler of his cloak, while at intervals his hollow cough shook him painfully. Without daring to stop walking on account of the bitter cold, he looked at the great doorway called "del Perdon," the only part of the church able to present a really imposing aspect. He recalled other famous cathedrals, isolated, occupying commanding situations, showing themselves freely in the full pride of their beauty, and he compared them with this Cathedral of Toledo, the mother-church of Spain, smothered by the swarm of poverty-stricken buildings that surrounded it, clinging closely to its walls, permitting it to display none of its exterior beauties, beyond what could be seen from the narrow streets that closed it in on every side. Gabriel, who was acquainted with its interior magnificence, thought of the deceptive oriental houses, outwardly squalid and miserable, but inwardly rich in alabasters and traceries. Jews and Moors had not lived in Toledo for centuries in vain, their aversion to outward show seemed to have influenced the building of the Cathedral, now suffocated by the miserable hovels, pushed and piled up against it, as though seeking its protection.
The little Piazza del Ayuntamiento was the only open space that allowed the Christian monument to display any of its grandeur; under this little patch of open sky the early morning light showed the three immense Gothic arches of its principal front, the hugely massive bell tower, with its salient angles, ornamented by the cap of the Alcuzon, a sort of black tiara, with three crowns, almost lost in the grey mist of the wintry dawn.
Gabriel looked affectionately at the closed and silent fane, where his family lived, and where he himself had spent the happiest days of his life. How many years had passed since he had last seen it! And now he waited anxiously for the opening of its doorways.
He had arrived in Toledo by train the previous night from Madrid. Before shutting himself up in his miserable little room in the Posada del Sangre (the ancient Messon del Sevillano, inhabited by Cervantes) he had felt a feverish desire to revisit the Cathedral, and had spent nearly an hour walking round it, listening to the barking of the Cathedral watch-dog, who growled suspiciously, hearing the sound of footsteps in the surrounding streets. He had been unable to sleep; the fact of returning to his native town after so many years of misery and adventures had taken from him all desire to rest, and, while it was still night, he again stole out to await near the Cathedral the moment that it should be opened.
To while away the time he paced up and down the front, admiring again the beauties of the porch, and noting its defects aloud, as though he wished to call the stone benches of the Piazza and its wretched little trees as witnesses to his criticisms.
An iron grating surmounted by urns of the seventeenth century ran in front of the porch, enclosing a wide, flagged space, where in former times the sumptuous processions of the Chapter had assembled, and where the multitude could admire the grotesque giants on high days and festivals.
The first storey of the facade was broken in the centre by the great Puerta del Perdon, an enormous and very deeply-recessed Gothic arch, which narrowed as it receded by the gradations of its mouldings, adorned by statues of apostles, under open-worked canopies, and by shields emblazoned with lions and castles. On the pillar dividing the doorway stood Jesus in kingly crown and mantle, thin and drawn out, with the look of emaciation and misery that the imagination of the Middle Ages conceived necessary for the expression of Divine sublimity. In the tympanum a relievo represented the Virgin surrounded by angels, robed in the habit of St. Ildefonso, a pious legend repeated in various parts of the building as though it were one of its chief glories.
On one side was the doorway called "de la Torre," on the other side that called "de los Escribanos," for by it entered in former days the guardians of public religion to take the oath to fulfil the duties of their office. Both were enriched with stone statues on the jambs, and by wreaths of little figures, foliage, and emblems that unrolled themselves among the mouldings till they met at the summit of the arch.
[Footnote 1: Of the Tower.]
[Footnote 2: Of the Scribes.]
Above these three doorways with their exuberant Gothic rose the second storey of Greco-Romano and almost modern construction, causing Gabriel the same annoyance as would a discordant trumpet interrupting a symphony. Jesus and the twelve apostles, all life size, seated at the table, each under his own canopied niche, could be seen above the central porch, shut in by the two tower-like buttresses which divided the front into three parts. Beyond, two rows of arcades of inferior design, belonging to the Italian palace, extended as far as those under which Gabriel had so often played as a child when living in the house of the bell-ringer.
The riches of the Church, thought Luna, were a misfortune for art; in a poorer church the uniformity of the ancient front would have been preserved. But, then, the Archbishop of Toledo had eleven millions of yearly revenue, and the Chapter as many more; they did not know what to do with their money, so started works and made reconstructions, and the decadent art produced monstrosities like that one of the Last Supper.
Above, again, rose the third storey, two great arches that lighted the large rose of the central nave. The whole was crowned by a balustrade of open-worked stone following the sinuosities of the frontage, between the two salient masses that guarded it, the tower and the Musarabe chapel.
Gabriel ceased his contemplation, seeing that he was no longer alone in front of the church. It was nearly daylight, and several women with bowed heads, their mantillas falling over their eyes, were passing in front of the iron grating. The crutches of a lame man rang out on the fine tiles of the pavement, and, out beyond the tower, under the great arch of communication between the archbishop's palace and the Cathedral, the beggars were gathering in order to take up their accustomed positions at the cloister door. The faithful and "God's creatures"  knew one another; every morning they were the first occupants of the church, and this daily meeting had established a kind of fraternity, and with much coughing and hoarseness they all lamented the cold of the morning and the lateness of the bell-ringer in coming down to open the doors.
[Footnote 1: Pordioseres.]
A door opened beyond the archbishop's arch, that of the tower and the staircase leading to the dwellings in the upper cloister. A man crossed the street rattling a huge bunch of keys, and, followed by the usual morning assemblage, he proceeded to open the door of the lower cloister, narrow and pointed as an arrow-head. Gabriel recognised him, it was Mariano, the bell-ringer. To avoid being noticed he remained motionless in the Piazza, allowing those to pass first through the Puerta del Mollete, who seemed so anxious to hurry into the Metropolitan church, lest their usual places should be stolen from them and occupied by others.
[Footnote 1: Door of the rolls, or loaves.]
At last he decided to follow them, and slowly descended the same steps leading down into the cloister, for the Cathedral, being built in a hollow, is much lower than the adjacent streets.
Everything appeared the same. There on the walls were the great frescoes of Bayan y Maella, representing the works and great deeds of Saint Eulogio, his preaching in the land of the Moors, and the cruelties of the infidels, who, with big turbans and enormous whiskers, were beating the saint. In the interior of the Mollete doorway was represented the horrible martyrdom of the Child de la Guardia; that legend born at the same time in so many Catholic towns during the heat of anti-Semitic hatred, the sacrifice of the Christian child, stolen from his home by Jews of grim countenance, who crucified him in order to tear out his heart and drink his blood.
The damp was rapidly effacing this romantic fresco, that filled the sides of the archway like the frontispiece of a book, causing it to scale off; but Gabriel could still see the horrible face of the judge standing at the foot of the cross, and the ferocious gesture of the man, who with his knife in his mouth, was bending forward to tear out the heart of the little martyr; theatrical figures, but they had often disturbed his childish dreams.
The garden in the midst of the cloister showed even in midwinter its southern vegetation of tall laurels and cypresses, stretching their branches through the grating of the arches that, five on each side, surrounded the square, and rising to the capitals of the pillars. Gabriel looked a long time at the garden, which was higher than the cloister; his face was on a level with the ground on which his father had laboured so many years ago; at last he saw again that charming corner of verdure—the Jews' market converted into a garden by the canons centuries before. The remembrance of it had followed him everywhere—in the Bois de Boulogne, in Hyde Park; for him the garden of the Toledan Cathedral was the most beautiful of all gardens, for it was the first he had even known in his life.
The beggars seated on the doorsteps watched him curiously, without daring to stretch out their hands; they could not tell if this early morning visitor with the worn-out cloak, the shabby hat, and the old boots, was simply an inquisitive traveller, or whether he was one of their own order, choosing a position about the Cathedral from whence to beg alms.
Annoyed by this curiosity, Luna walked down the cloister, passing by the two doors that opened into the church. The one called del Presentacion is a lovely example of Plateresque art, chiselled like a jewel, and adorned with fanciful and happy trifles. Going on further, he came to the back of the staircase by which the archbishops descended from their palace to the church; a wall covered with Gothic interlacings, and large escutcheons, and almost on the level of the ground was the famous "stone of light," a thin slice of marble as clear as glass, which gave light to the staircase, and was the admiration of all the countryfolk who came to visit the cloister. Then came the door of Santa Catalina, black and gold, with richly-carved polychrome foliage, mixed with lions and castles, and on the jambs two statues of prophets.
Gabriel went on a few steps further as he saw that the wicket of the doorway was being opened from inside. It was the bell-ringer going his rounds and opening all the doors; first of all a dog came out, stretching his neck as though he was going to bark with hunger, then two men with their caps over their eyes, wrapped in brown cloaks; the bell-ringer held up the curtain to let them pass out.
"Well, good-day, Mariano," said one of them by way of farewell.
"Good-night to the caretakers of God.... May you sleep well."
Gabriel recognised the nocturnal guardians of the Cathedral; locked into the church since the previous night, they were now going to their homes to sleep.
The dog trotted off in the direction of the seminary to get his breakfast off the scraps left by the students, free till such time as the guardians came to look for him, to lock themselves in the church once more.
Luna walked down the steps of the doorway into the Cathedral. His feet had scarcely touched the pavement before he felt on his face the cold touch of the clammy air, like an underground vault. In the church it was still dark, but above the stained glass of the hundreds of different-sized windows glowed in the early dawn, looking like magic flowers opening with the first splendours of day. Below, among the enormous pillars that looked like a forest of stone, all was darkness, broken here and there by the uncertain red spots of the lamps burning in the different chapels, wavering in the shadows. The bats flew in and out round the columns, wishing to prolong their possession of the fane, till the first rays of the sun shone through the windows; they fluttered over the heads of the devotees, who, kneeling before the altars, were praying loudly, as pleased to be in the Cathedral at that early hour as though it were their own house. Others chattered with the acolytes and other servants of the church, who were coming in by the different doors, sleepy and stretching themselves like workmen coming to their work. In the twilight, figures in black cloaks glided by on their way to the sacristy, stopping to make genuflections before each image; and in the distance, invisible in the darkness, you could still divine the presence of the bell-ringer, like a restless hobgoblin, by the rattle of his bunch of keys and the creaking of the doors he opened on his round.
The Cathedral was awake. Echo repeated the banging of the doors from nave to nave; a large broom, making a saw-like noise, began to sweep in front of the sacristy; the church vibrated under the blows of certain acolytes engaged in removing the dust from the famous carved stalls in the choir; it seemed as though the Cathedral had awoke with its nerves irritated, and that the slightest touch produced complaints.
The men's footsteps resounded with a tremendous echo, as though the tombs of all the kings, archbishops and warriors hidden under the tiled floor were being disturbed.
The cold inside the church was even more intense than that outside; this, together with the damp of its soil traversed by underground water drains, and the leakage of subterranean and hidden tanks that stained the pavement, made the poor canons in the choir cough horribly, "shortening their lives," as they complainingly said.
The morning light began to spread through the naves, bringing out of the darkness the spotless whiteness of the Toledan Cathedral, the purity of its stone making it the lightest and most beautiful of temples. One could now see all the elegant and daring beauty of the eighty-eight pillars soaring audaciously into space, white as frozen snow, and the delicate ribs interlacing to carry the vaulting. In the upper storey the sun shone through the large stained-glass windows, making them look like fairy gardens.
Gabriel seated himself on the base of one of the pilasters between two columns; but he was soon obliged to rise and move on, the dampness of the stone, and the vault-like cold throughout the whole building penetrated to his very bones.
He strolled through the naves, attracting the attention of the devotees, who stopped in their prayers to watch him. A stranger at that early hour, which belonged specially to the familiars of the Cathedral, excited their curiosity.
The bell-ringer passed him several times, following him with uneasy glance, as though this unknown man, of poverty-stricken aspect, who wandered aimlessly about at an hour when the treasures of the church were, as a rule, not so strictly watched, inspired him with little confidence.
Another man met him near the high altar. Luna recognised him also: it was Eusebio, the sacristan of the chapel of the Sagrario, "Azul de la Virgen," as he was called by the Cathedral staff, on account of the celestial colour of the cloak he wore on festival days.
[Footnote 1: Virgin's blue.]
Six years had passed since Gabriel had last seen him, but he had not forgotten his greasy carcase, his surly face with its narrow, wrinkled forehead fringed with bristly hair, his bull neck that scarcely allowed him to breathe, and that made every breath like the blast of a bellows. All the servants of the Cathedral envied him his post, which was the most lucrative of all, to say nothing of the favour he enjoyed with the archbishop and the canons.
"Virgin's blue" considered the Cathedral as his own peculiar property, and he often came very near turning out those who inspired him with any antipathy.
He fixed his bold eyes on the vagabond he saw walking about the church, making an effort to raise his overhanging brows. Where had he seen this strange fellow before? Gabriel noted the effort he made to recall his memory, and turned his back to examine with pretended interest a coloured panel hanging on a pillar.
Flying from the curiosity excited by his presence in the fane, he went out into the cloister; there he felt more at his ease, quite alone. The beggars were chattering, seated on the doorsteps of the Mollete; many of the clergy passed through them, entering the church hurriedly by the door of the Presentacion; the beggars saluted them all by name, but without stretching out their hands. They knew them, they all belonged to the "household," and among friends one does not beg. They were there to fall on the strangers, and they waited patiently for the coming of the English; for, surely, all the strangers who came from Madrid by the early morning train could only be from England.
Gabriel waited near the door, knowing that those coming from the cloister must enter by it. He crossed the archbishop's arch, and, following the open staircase of the palace, descended into the street, re-entering the church by the Mollete door. Luna, who knew all the history of the Cathedral, remembered the origin of its name. At first it was called "of justice," because under it the Vicar-General of the Archbishopric gave audience. Later it was called "del Mollete," because every day after high mass the acolytes and vergers assembled there for the blessing of the half-pound loaves, or rolls of bread distributed to the poor. Six hundred bushels of wheat—as Luna remembered—were distributed yearly in this alms, but this was in the days when the yearly revenues of the Cathedral were more than eleven millions.
Gabriel felt annoyed by the curious glances of the clergy, and of the devout entering the church. They were people accustomed to seeing each other daily at the same hour, and they felt their curiosity excited by seeing a stranger breaking in on the monotony of their lives.
He drew back to the further end of the cloister, then some words from the beggars made him retrace his steps.
"Ah! here comes old 'Vara de palo.'"
[Footnote 1: Wooden staff.]
"Good-day, Senor Esteban!"
A small man dressed in black, and shaved like a cleric, came down the steps.
"Esteban! Esteban!" cried Luna, placing himself between him and the door of the Presentacion.
"Wooden Staff" looked at him with his clear eyes like amber, the quiet eyes of a man used to spending long hours in the Cathedral, with never a rebellious thought arising to disturb his immovable beatitude. He stood doubting for some time, as though he could scarcely credit the remote resemblance in this thin, pale face, to another that lived in his memory, but at last, with a pained surprise, he became convinced of its identity.
"Gabriel! my brother! is it really you?"
And the rigidly set face of the Cathedral servant, which seemed to have acquired the immobility of its pillars and statues, relaxed with an affectionate smile.
"When did you come? Where have you been? What is your life? Why have you come?"
"Wooden Staff" expressed his surprise by incessant questions, never giving his brother time to answer.
Gabriel at length explained, that he had arrived the previous night, and that he had waited outside the church since early dawn in the hopes of seeing his brother.
"I have now come from Madrid, but before that I was in many places: in England, in France, in Belgium, who knows where besides. I have wandered from one town to another, always struggling against hunger and the cruelty of men. My footsteps have been dogged by poverty and the police. When I rest a little, worn out by this Wandering Jew's existence, Justice, inspired by fear, orders me to move on, and so once again I begin my march. I am a man to be feared, Esteban, even as you now see me, with my body ruined before old age, and the certainty before me of a speedy death. Again, yesterday in Madrid, they told me I should be sent once more to prison if I stayed there any longer, and so in the evening I took the train. Where shall I go? The world is wide; but for me and other rebels it is very small, and narrows till it does not leave a hand's breadth of ground for our feet. In all the world nothing was left me but you, and this peaceful silent corner where you live so happily, and so, I came to seek you. If you turn me out, nothing will be left me but to die in prison, or in a hospital, if indeed they would take me in when they know my name."
And Gabriel, spent with his words, coughed painfully, a hollow cavernous cough that seemed to tear his chest. He expressed himself vehemently, moving his arms freely, with the gestures of a man used to speaking in public, burning with the zeal of his cause.
"Ah! brother, brother!" said Esteban, with an accent of mild reproof, "what has it profited you reading so many books and newspapers? What is the use of trying to disturb and upset things that are all right; and if they are all wrong, is there no other means of righting them possible? If you had followed your own path quietly, you would have been a beneficiary of the Cathedral, and, who knows, you might have had a seat in the choir among the canons, for the honour and profit of the family! But you were always wrong-headed, although you were the cleverest of us all. Cursed talent that leads to such misery! What I have suffered, brother, trying to hear about your affairs! What bitterness have I not gone through since you last came here! I thought you were contented and happy in the printing office in Barcelona, receiving a salary that was a fortune compared to what we earn here. I was disturbed at reading your name so often in the papers, at those meetings, where the division of everything is advocated, the death of religion and of the family, and I do not know what follies besides. The 'companion' Luna said this, or the 'companion' Luna has done the other, and I tried to hide from the people of the 'household' that this 'companion' could be you, guessing that such madness must turn out ill—furiously ill—and after—after came the affairs of the bombs."
"I had nothing to do with that," said Gabriel sadly. "I am only a theorist; I condemned the action as premature and inefficacious."
"I know it, Gabriel. I always thought you innocent. You so good, so gentle, who since you were a little one always astonished us by your kindness; you who seemed like a saint, as our poor mother used to say! You kill, and so treacherously, by means of such infernal artifices! Holy Jesus!"
And the "Wooden Staff" was silent, overcome by the recollection of those attempts that had overwhelmed his brother.
"But what is certain is," he continued after a little, "that you fell into the trap spread by the Government after those affairs. What I suffered for a while! Now and again I heard firing in the castle ditch beyond there, and I searched anxiously in the papers for the names of those executed, always fearing to find yours. There were rumours current of horrible tortures inflicted on those taken to make them confess the truth, and I thought of you, so frail, so delicate, and I feared that some day you would be found dead in a dungeon. And I suffered even more from my anxiety that no one here should know of your situation; you a Luna! a son of Senor Esteban, the old gardener of the Primate, with whom all the canons and even the archbishop talked. You mixed up with those infernal scoundrels who wish to destroy the world. For this reason when Eusebio the 'Virgin's Blue,' asked me if you could possibly be the Luna of whom he read in the papers, I replied that my brother was in America, that I heard from him now and again, but that he was occupied with a big business—you see what pain! Fearing from one moment to another that they would kill you, unable to speak, unable to complain, fearful of telling my distress even to my family. How often have I prayed in there! Accustomed as we of the 'household' are to associate daily with God and the saints, we may be a little hard and narrow-minded, but misfortune softens the heart, and I addressed myself to Her who can do everything, to our patroness the Virgin of the Sagrario, begging her to remember you, who used to kneel at her shrine as a little child when you were preparing to enter the seminary."
Gabriel smiled gently as though admiring the simplicity of his brother.
"Do not laugh, I pray you—your smile wounds me. The Divine Lady did all she could for you. Months afterwards I learnt that you and others had been put on board ship with orders never to return to Spain, and, up to the present time, never a letter or a scrap of news, good or ill. I thought you had died, Gabriel, in those distant lands, and more than once I have prayed for your poor soul, that I am sure wanted it."
The "companion" showed in his eyes his gratitude for these words.
"Thanks, Esteban. I admire your faith, but I did not come out of that dark adventure as well as you imagine. It would have been far better to have died. The aureole of a martyr is worth more than to enter a dungeon a man and come out of it a limp rag. I am very ill, Esteban, my sentence is irrevocable. I have no stomach left, my lungs are gone, and this body that you see is like a dislocated machine that can hardly move, creaking in every joint, as though all the bits intended to fall apart. The Virgin who saved me at your recommendation might really have interceded a little more in my favour, softening my jailors. Those wretches think to save the world by giving free rein to those wild beast instincts that slumber in us all, relics of a far-away past. Since then, at liberty, life has been more painful than death. On my return to Spain, pressed by poverty and persecution, my life has been a hell. I dare stop in no place where men congregate; they hunt me like dogs, forcing me to live out of the towns, driving me to the mountains, into the deserts, where no human beings live. It appears I am still a man to be feared, more to be feared than those desperadoes who throw bombs, because I can speak, because I carry in me an irresistible strength which forces me to preach the Truth if I find myself in the presence of miserable and trodden-down wretches—but all this is coming to an end. You may be easy, brother, I am a dead man; my mission is drawing to a close, but others will come after me, and again others. The furrow is open and the seed is in its bowels—'GERMINAL!' as a friend of my exile shouted as he saw the last rays of the setting sun from the scaffold of the gibbet. I am dying, and I think I have the right to rest for a few months. I wish to enjoy for the first time in my life the sweets of silence, of absolute quiet, of incognito; to be no one, for no one to know me; to inspire neither sympathy nor fear. I should wish to be as a statue on the doorway, as a pillar in the Cathedral, immovable, over whose surface centuries have glided without leaving the slightest trace or emotion. To wait for death as a body that eats or breathes, but cannot think or suffer, nor feel enthusiasm; this to me would be happiness, brother. I do not know where to go; men are waiting for me out beyond these doors to drive me on again. Will you let me stay with you?"
[Footnote 1: "It will sprout."]
For all answer the "Wooden Staff" laid his hand affectionately on Gabriel's arm.
"Let us come upstairs, madman—you shall not die, I will nurse you; what you want is care and quiet. We will cure that hot head, which seems like that of Don Quixote. Do you remember when you were a child reading us his history in the long evenings? Go along, dreamer, what does it signify to you if the world is better or worse regulated? As we found it, so it has always been. What does signify is that we should live like Christians, with the certainty that the other life will be a better one, as it will be the work of God and not of man. Go up—let us go up."
And taking hold of the vagabond affectionately, they passed out of the cloister through the beggars, who had followed the interview with curious eyes, without, however, being able to hear a single word. They crossed the street and entered the staircase of the tower. The steps were of red brick, worn and broken; the whitewashed walls were covered on all sides with grotesque drawings and various inscriptions, scrawled by those who had ascended the tower, attracted by the fame of the big bell.
Gabriel went up slowly, gasping, and stopping at every step.
"I am ill, Esteban, very ill; these bellows let out the wind in every part."
Then, as though repenting his forgetfulness, he suddenly asked:
"And Pepa, your wife? I hope she is all right."
The brows of the Cathedral servant contracted, and his eyes became bright as though full of tears.
"She died," he said with laconic sadness.
Gabriel stopped suddenly, clinging to the handrail, struck with surprise; then, after a short silence, he went on, wishing to console his brother.
"But, Sagrario, my niece, she must have grown a beauty. The last time I saw her she looked like a queen, with her crown of auburn hair and her smiling face, with its golden bloom, like a ripe apricot. Did she marry the cadet, or is she still with you?"
The "Wooden Staff" appeared even more sad, and he looked grimly at his brother.
"She also died," he said drily.
"Sagrario also dead!" exclaimed Gabriel astounded.
"She is dead to me, which is the same thing. Brother, by all you love best in the world, do not speak to me of her."
Gabriel understood that he had opened some deep wound by his inquiries, and so said no more, beginning once more his ascent. During his absence a terrible event had happened in his brother's life—one of those events that break up a family and separate for ever those that survive.
They crossed the gallery covered by the archbishop's archway and entered the upper cloister called "the Claverias": four arcades of equal length to those of the lower cloister, but quite bare of decoration, and with a poverty-stricken aspect. The pavement was chipped and broken, the four sides had a balustrade running round between the flat pillars that supported the old beams of the roof. It had been a provisional work three hundred years ago, and had always remained in the same state. All along the whitewashed walls, the doors and windows belonging to the "habitacions" of the Cathedral servants opened without order or symmetry. These were transmitted with the office from father to son. The cloister, with its low arcade, looked like a street having houses on one side only; opposite was the flat colonnade with its balustrade, against which the pointed branches of the cypresses in the garden rested. Above the roof of the cloister could be seen the windows of another row of "habitacions," for nearly all the dwellings in the Claverias had two stories.
It was the population of a whole town that lived above the Cathedral, on a level with its roofs; and when night fell, and the staircase of the tower was locked, it remained quite isolated from the city. This semi-ecclesiastical tribe was born and died in the very heart of Toledo without ever going down into the streets, clinging with traditional instinct to the carved mountain of stone, whose arches served it as a refuge. They lived saturated with the scent of incense, breathing the peculiar smell of mould and old iron belonging to ancient buildings, and with no more horizon than the arches of the bell tower, whose height soared into the small patch of blue sky visible from the cloister.
The "companion" Luna thought he was returning with one step to the days of his childhood. Little children like the Gabriel of former days were playing about the four galleries, and sitting in that part of the cloister bathed by the first rays of the sun. Women, who reminded of his mother, were shaking the bedclothes out over the garden, or sweeping the red bricks opposite their dwellings; everything seemed the same. Time had left it quite alone, evidently thinking there was nothing there that he could possibly age. The "companion" could now see two sketches of lay brothers that he had drawn with charcoal when he was eight years old; had it not been for the children one might have thought that life had been suspended in that corner of the Cathedral, as though this aerial population could neither be born nor die.
The "Wooden Staff," frowning and gloomy since the last words were spoken, tried to give some explanation to his brother.
"I live in our same old house. They left it to me out of respect to the memory of my father. I am grateful to the clergy of the Chapter, taking into consideration that I am nothing but a sad old 'Wooden Staff.' Since my misfortune happened I have had an old woman to keep house, and Don Luis, the Chapel-master, lives with me. You will come to know him, a young priest of great talent, but quite hidden here: one of God's souls, whom they think crazy in the Cathedral, but who lives like an angel."
They entered into the house of the Lunas, which was one of the best in the Claverias. By the door two rows of flower vases in the shape of a clock-case fastened to the walls were filled with hanging plants; inside, in the sitting room, Gabriel found everything the same as during his father's lifetime. The white walls that with years had become like ivory, were still decorated with the old engravings of saints, the chairs of mahogany, bright with constant rubbing, looked like new, in spite of their curves, which showed them to belong to a previous century, and their seats almost ready to drop through. Through a half-open door he could see into the kitchen, where his brother had gone to give some orders to a timid-looking old woman. In one corner of the room, half hidden, was a sewing machine. Luna had seen his niece working at it the last time he came to the Cathedral. It was the permanent remembrance the "little one" had left behind her after that catastrophe which had filled her father with such gloomy sadness. Through a back window of the room Gabriel could see the inner court, which made this "habitacion" one of the most charming in the Claverias, the open expanse of sky, and the upper rooms on all four sides, supported by rows of slender pillars, that made the courtyard look like a little cloister.
Esteban came back and rejoined his brother.
"You must say what you would like for breakfast. It would soon be ready; ask, man, ask for what you want, for though I am poor I shall take little credit to myself unless I can make you pick up a little and lose that look of a resuscitated corpse."
Gabriel smiled sadly.
"It is useless your troubling; my stomach is quite gone; a little milk is enough for it, and I am thankful if it retains it."
Esteban ordered the old woman to go into the town in search of the milk, and he had hardly seated himself by his brother's side when the door giving into the cloister opened, and the head of a young man appeared.
"Good-day, uncle!" he exclaimed.
His face was unhealthy and currish, the eyes were malicious, and above his ears were combed two large tufts of glossy hair.
"Come in, vagabond, come in," said the "Wooden Staff."
And he added, turning to his brother:
"Do you know who this is? No? It is the son of our poor brother, whom God has taken to his glory. He lives in the upper dwellings of the cloister with his mother, who washes the linen of the choir, and of the senores canons; and it is a delight to see how she crimps the surplices. Thomas, lad, bow to the gentleman; it is your uncle Gabriel, who has just arrived from America, and from Paris, and I don't know from where else besides! From very far off countries, very far off."
The young man saluted Gabriel, though he seemed rather scared by the sad and suffering face of their relative, whom he had heard his mother speak of as a mysterious and romantic being.
"Here, as you see him," proceeded Esteban, speaking to his brother, and pointing to his nephew, "he is the worst lot in the Cathedral. The Senor Obrero would more than once have turned him out into the street, were it not for respect to the memory of his father and grandfather, and also to the name he bears, for everybody knows the Lunas are as ancient in the Cathedral as the stones in its walls. No escapade enters his head but he hastens to carry it out, and he swears like a pagan even in full sacristy, under the very noses of the beneficiaries. Don't dare to deny it! Grumbler!"
[Footnote 1: Canon in charge of the fabric.]
And he shook his first at the lad, half severely, half smiling, as though in the bottom of his heart he felt some pride in his nephew's scrapes, who received his reprimand with grimaces that made his face twitch like that of a monkey, while his eyes retained their fixed and insolent stare.
"It is a real shame," continued the uncle, "that you should comb your hair in that fashion, like the Merry Andrews that come to Toledo from the Court on great festivals. In the good old times of the Cathedral they would have shaved your head for you. But in these days of alienation, of universal licence and misfortunes, our holy church is as poor as a rat, and poverty does not give the senores canons much inclination to examine details. It is a grievous pity to see how everything is going down. What desolation, Gabriel! If you could only see it! The Cathedral is as beautiful as ever, but we do not now see the former beauty of the Lord's worship. The Chapel-master says the same thing, and he is indignant to see that on great festivals only about half-a-dozen musicians take their place in the middle of the choir. The young people who live in the Claverias have not our great love for the mother-church; they complain of the shortness of their salaries without considering that it is the temporalities that support religion. If this goes on I should not be surprised to see this popinjay and other rascals like him playing at 'Rayuelo' in the crossways in front of the choir. May God forgive me!"
[Footnote 1: A game of drawing lines.]
And the simple "Wooden Staff" made a gesture as though scandalised at his own words. He went on:
"This young fellow you see here is not satisfied with his position in life, and yet, though he is only a youth, he occupies the place his poor father could only attain to after thirty years' service. He aspires to be a toreador, and often on a Sunday he dares to take part in the bull-fight in the bull-ring of Toledo. His mother came down, dishevelled like a Magdalen, to tell me all about it, and I, thinking that as his father was dead I ought to act in his place, I watched for our gentleman as he returned tricked out smartly from the bull-ring, and I thrashed him up the tower staircase to his rooms with the same wooden staff that I use in the Cathedral, and he can tell you if I have not a heavy hand when I am angry. Virgin of the Sagrario! A Luna of the Holy Metropolitan Church lowering himself to be a bull-fighter! The canons did laugh, and even the Lord Cardinal himself, as I have been told, when they heard about the affair! A witty beneficiary has since nicknamed him the 'Tato,' and so they all call him now in the Cathedral. So you see, brother, how much respect this rascal pays to his family."
[Footnote 1: Tato—Armadillo.]
The "Silenciario" attempted to annihilate the "Tato" with his glance, but this latter only smiled without paying much attention, either to his uncle's words or looks.
[Footnote 1: Silenciario—Officer appointed to keep silence.]
"You would hardly believe, Gabriel," he continued, "that this creature often wants a bit of bread, and it is for this reason he commits all these follies. In spite of his wrong-headedness, since the age of twenty he has occupied the position of 'Perrero' in the holy church, he has obtained what in better times only those could obtain who had served well and striven hard for years. He gets his six reals a day, and as he can go freely about the church he can show the curiosities to strangers; and so with the salary and the tips he gets, he is much better off than I am. The foreigners who visit the Cathedral, excommunicated people who look upon us as strange monkeys, and who think that anything interesting of ours is only worthy of a laugh, take a fancy to him. The English ask him if he is a toreador, and he—what does he want better than that! When he sees they pay him according as he pleases them, he brings out his pack of lies, for, unfortunately, no one has any check on the deceit, and he tells them about all the great bull-fights in which he has taken part in Toledo, and all about the bulls he has killed; and these blockheads from England make a note of it in their albums, and even some coarse hand may make a sketch of this imposter's head; all he cares for is that they should believe all his lies and give him a peseta on leaving. It matters very little to him, if when these heretics return to their own country they spread the report that in Toledo, in the Holy Metropolitan Church of all Spain, the Cathedral servants are bull-fighters, and assist in the ceremonies of worship between the bull runs. The sum total is, that he earns more than I do, but in spite of this he considers his employment beneath him. And such beautiful duties, too. To walk in the great processions before everyone, close to the Primate's great banner, with a staff covered with red velvet to support him should he chance to fall, and wearing a robe of scarlet brocade like a cardinal. Our Chapel-master, who knows a great deal about such things, says that when he wears that robe he looks like a certain Diente, or some name of the sort, who lived hundreds of years ago in Italy, and went down into hell, and afterwards described his journey in poetry."
[Footnote 3: Perrero—Beadle whose special duty it is to chase the dogs out of church.]
Sounds of footsteps were heard on the narrow circular staircase in the thickness of the wall that led from the sitting-room to the storey above.
"It is Don Luis," said the "Wooden Staff," "he is going to say his mass in the chapel of the Sagrario, and afterwards to the choir."
Gabriel rose from his sofa to salute the priest. He was feeble and small of stature, but the thing about him that struck you at first sight was the disproportion between his shrunken body and his immense head. The forehead, round and prominent, seemed to crush with its weight the dark and irregular features, much pitted by smallpox. He was very ugly, but still the expression of his blue eyes, the brilliancy of his white and regular teeth, and the ingenuous smile, almost childlike, that played on his lips, gave his face that sympathetic expression which showed him to be one of those simple souls wrapped up in their artistic fancies.
"And so this gentleman is the brother of whom you have spoken to me so often," said he, hearing the introduction made by Esteban.
He held out his hand in a friendly way to Gabriel. They both looked very sickly, but their bodily infirmities seemed to be a bond of attraction.
"As the senor has studied in the seminary," said the Chapel-master, "he will know something about music."
"It is the only thing that I remember of all those studies."
"But having travelled so much all over the world, you must have heard a great deal of good music."
"That is so. Music is to me the most pleasing of all the arts. I do not know much about it, but I feel it."
"Very well, very well, we shall be good friends. You must tell me all sorts of things; how I envy you having travelled so much."
He spoke like a restless child, without sitting down. Although the "Silenciario" offered him a chair at each of his flirtings round the room, he wandered from side to side in his shabby cloak, his hat in his hand—a poor worn-out hat with not a trace of pile left, knocked in, with a layer of grease on its flaps, miserable and old, like the cassock and the shoes. But in spite of this poverty the Chapel-master had a certain refinement about him. His hair, rather too long for his ecclesiastical dress, curled round his temples, and the dignified way in which he folded his cloak round his body reminded one of the cloak of a tenor at the opera. He had a sort of easy grace that betrayed the artist who, under the priestly robes, was longing to get rid of them, leaving them at his feet like a winding sheet.
Some deep notes from the bell, like distant thunder, floated into the room through the cloister.
"Uncle, they are calling us to the choir," said the "Tato." "We ought to have been in the Cathedral before now; it is nearly eight o'clock."
"It is true, lad. I am glad you were here to remind me; let us be going."
Then he added, speaking to the musical priest:
"Don Luis, your mass is at eight o'clock. You can talk with Gabriel later on; now we must fulfil our obligations, for those who are late will, as you say, be turned out, even though our office hardly gives us enough to eat."
The Chapel-master assented sadly with a movement of his head, and went out, following the two Cathedral servants. He seemed to go unwillingly, as though forced to a task that was to him both irksome and painful. He hummed absently while giving his hand to Gabriel, who thought he recognised a fragment of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony in the low and uneven tones that came from the lips of the young priest.
Now that he was alone Luna stretched himself on the sofa, giving himself up to the fatigue he felt from his long wait before the Cathedral. His brother's old servant placed a little pitcher of milk by his side, and filling a cup, Gabriel drank, endeavouring to overcome the repugnance of his weak stomach, which almost refused to retain the liquid. His body, fatigued by his restless night and the long morning wait, at last assimilated the nourishment, and a soft, dreamy languor spread over him that he had not felt for a long time. He soon fell asleep, remaining for more than an hour motionless on the sofa, and though his breathing was disturbed, and his chest racked by his hollow cough, they were unable to wake him from his slumber.
When he did awake, it was suddenly, with a nervous start that shook him from head to foot, making him bound from the sofa as though a spring had been touched. It was the wariness produced by his ever present danger, that had become habitual to him; the habit of restlessness formed in dark dungeons, expecting hourly to see the door open, to be beaten like a dog, or led off between a double file of muskets to the square of execution; the habit of living perpetually watched, of feeling in every country the espionage of the police around him, the habit of being awoke in the middle of the night in his wretched room in some inn by the order to leave at once; the unrest of the ancient Asheverus, who, as soon as he could enjoy a moment's rest, heard the eternal cry—"Go on. Go on."
He did not try to sleep again, he preferred the present reality, the silence of the Cathedral which was to him as a gentle caress, the noble calm of the temple, that immense pile of worked stone, which seemed to press on him, enveloping him, hiding for ever his weakness and his persecutions.
He went out into the cloister, and, resting his elbows on the balustrade, looked down into the garden.
The Claverias seemed quite deserted. The children who had enlivened them in the early morning had gone to school, the women were inside their houses preparing their mid-day meal, there seemed to be no one in the cloister except himself; the sunlight bathed all one side, and the shadow of the pillars cut obliquely the great golden spaces flooding the pavement. The majestic silence, the holy calm of the Cathedral overpowered the agitator like a gentle narcotic. The seven centuries surrounding those stones seemed to him like so many veils hiding him from the rest of the world. In one of the dwellings of the Claverias you could hear the incessant tap, tap, of a hammer; it was that of a shoemaker whom Gabriel had seen through the window-panes, bending over his bench. In the square of sky framed by the roofs some pigeons were flying, lazily moving their wings, soaring in the vault of intense blue; some flew down into the cloister, and, perching on the balustrade, broke the religious silence with their gentle cooing; now and again the heavy door-curtains of the church were lifted, and a breath of air charged with incense floated over the garden of the Claverias, together with the deep notes of the organ, and the sound of voices chanting Latin words and solemnly prolonging the cadences.
Gabriel looked at the garden surrounded by its arcades of white stone, with its rough buttresses of dark granite, in the chinks of which the rain had left an efflorescence of fungus, like little tufts of black velvet. The sun struck on one angle of the garden, leaving the rest in cool green shade, a conventual twilight. The bell-tower hid one portion of the sky, displaying on its reddish sides, ornamented with Gothic tracery and salient buttresses, the fillets of black marble with heads of mysterious personages, and the shields with the arms of the different archbishops who had assisted at its building; above, near the pinnacles of white stone, were seen the bells behind enormous gratings; from below they looked like three bronze birds in a cage of iron.
Three deep strokes from a bell, echoing round the Cathedral, announced that the High Mass had arrived at its most solemn moment, the mountain of stone seemed to tremble with the vibration, which was transmitted through the naves and galleries, to the arcades and down to the lowest foundations.
Again there was silence, which seemed even deeper after the bronze thunders; the cooing of the pigeons could again be heard, and, down in the garden, the twittering of the birds, warmed by the sun's rays that began to gild its cool twilight.
Gabriel felt himself deeply moved; the sweet silence, the absolute calm, the feeling almost of non-existence overpowered him; and beyond those walls was the world, but here it could not be seen, it could not be felt; it remained respectful but indifferent before that monument of the past, that splendid sepulchre, in whose interior nothing excited its curiosity. Who would ever imagine he was there? That growth of seven centuries, built by vanished greatness for a dying faith, should be his last refuge. In the full tide of unbelief the church should be his sanctuary, as it had been in former days to those great criminals of the Middle Ages, who, from the height of the cloister mocked at justice, detained at the doors like the beggars. Here should be consummated in silence and calm the slow decay of his body, here he would die with the serene satisfaction of having died to the world long before. At last he realised his hope of ending his days in a corner of the sleepy Spanish Cathedral, the only hope that had sustained him as he wandered on foot along the highways of Europe, hiding himself from the civil guards and the police, spending his nights in ditches, huddled up, his head on his knees, fearing every moment to die of cold.
He clung to the Cathedral as a shipwrecked and drowning man clings to the spar of a sinking ship; this had been his hope, and he was beginning to realise it. The church would receive him, like an old and infirm mother, unable to smile, but who could still stretch out her arms.
"At last! At last!" murmured Luna.
And he smiled, thinking of the world of sorrows and persecutions that he was leaving behind him, as though he were going to some remote place, situated in another planet, from which he would never return; the Cathedral would shelter him for ever.
In the profound stillness of the cloister, that the sound of the street could not reach, the "companion" Luna thought he heard far off, very far off, the shrill sound of a trumpet and the muffled roll of drums, then he remembered the Alcazar of Toledo, dominating the Cathedral from its height, intimidating it with the enormous mass of its towers; they were the drums and trumpets of the Military Academy.
These sounds were painful to Gabriel; the world had faded from his sight, and when he thought himself so very far from it, he could still feel its presence only a little way beyond the roof of the temple.
Since the times of the second Cardinal de Bourbon Senior Esteban Luna had been gardener of the Cathedral, by the right that seemed firmly established in his family. Who was the first Luna that entered the service of the Holy Metropolitan Church? As the gardener asked himself this question he smiled complacently, raising his eyes to heaven, as though he would inquire of the immensity of space. The Lunas were as ancient as the foundations of the church; a great many generations had been born in the abode in the upper cloister, and even before the illustrious Cisneros built the Claverias the Lunas had lived in houses adjacent, as though they could not exist out of the shadow of the Primacy. To no one did the Cathedral belong with better right than to them. Canons, beneficiaries, archbishops passed; they gained the appointment, died, and others came in their places. It was a constant procession of new faces, of masters who came from every corner of Spain to take their seats in the choir, to die a few years afterwards, leaving the vacancies to be filled again by other newcomers; but the Lunas always remained at their post, as though the ancient family were another column of the many that supported the temple. It might happen that the archbishop who to-day was called Don Bernardo, might next year be called Don Caspar, or again another Don Fernando. But what seemed utterly impossible was that the Cathedral could exist without Lunas in the garden, in the sacristy, or in the crossways of the choir, accustomed as it had been for centuries to their services.
The gardener spoke with pride of his descent, of his noble and unfortunate relative the constable Don Alvaro, buried like a king in his chapel behind the high altar; of the Pope Benedict XIII., proud and obstinate like all the rest of his family; of Don Pedro de Luna, fifth of his name to occupy the archiepiscopal throne of Toledo, and of other relatives not less distinguished.
"We are all from the same stem," he said with pride. "We all came to the conquest of Toledo with the good King Alfonso VI. The only difference has been, that some Lunas took a fancy to go and fight the Moors, and they became lords, and conquered castles, whereas my ancestors remained in the service of the Cathedral, like the good Christians they were."
With the satisfaction of a duke who enumerates his ancestors, the Senor Esteban carried back the line of the Lunas till it became misty and was lost in the fifteenth century. His father had known Don Francisco III. Lorenzana, a magnificent and prodigal prince of the church, who spent the abundant revenues of the archbishopric in building palaces and editing books, like a great lord of the Renaissance. He had known also the first Cardinal Bourbon, Don Luis II., and used to narrate the romantic life of this Infante. Brother of the King Carlos III., the custom that dedicated some of the younger branches to the church had made him a cardinal at nine years old. But that good lord, whose portrait hung in the Chapter House, with white hair, red lips and blue eyes, felt more inclination to the joys of this world than to the grandeurs of the church, and he abandoned the archbishopric to marry a lady of modest birth, quarrelling for ever with the king, who sent him into exile. And the old Luna, leaping from ancestor to ancestor through the long centuries, remembered the Archduke Alberto, who resigned the Toledan mitre to become Governor of the Low Countries, and the magnificent Cardinal Tavera, protector of the arts, all excellent princes, who had treated his family affectionately, recognising their secular adhesion to the Holy Metropolitan Church.
The days of his youth were bad ones for the Senor Esteban; it was the time of the war of Independence. The French occupied Toledo, entering into the Cathedral like pagans, rattling their swords and prying into every corner at full High Mass. The jewels were concealed, the canons and beneficiaries, who were now called prebendaries, were living dispersed over the Peninsula. Some had taken refuge in places that were still Spanish, others were hidden in the towns, making vows for the speedy return of "the desired." It was pitiful to hear the choir with its few voices; only the very timid, who were bound to their seats and could not live away from them, had remained, and had recognised the usurping king. The second Cardinal de Bourbon, the gentle and insignificant Don Luis Maria, was in Cadiz, the only one of the family remaining in Spain, and the Cortes had laid their hands on him to give a certain dynastic appearance to their revolutionary authority.
When the war was over and the poor cardinal returned to his seat, the Senor Esteban was moved to pity to see his sad and childlike face, with the small round head, and insignificant appearance; he returned discouraged and disheartened, after receiving his nephew Ferdinand VII. in Madrid. All his colleagues in the regency were either in prison or in exile, and that he did not suffer a like fate was solely due to his mitre and to his name. The unfortunate prelate thought he had done good service in maintaining the interests of his family during the war, and now he found himself accused of being Liberal, an enemy to religion and the throne, without being able to imagine how he had conspired against them. The poor Cardinal de Bourbon languished sadly in his palace, devoting his revenues to works in the Cathedral, till he died in 1823 at the beginning of the reaction, leaving his place to Inguanzo, the tribune of absolutism, a prelate with iron-grey whiskers, who had made his career as deputy in the Cortes at Cadiz, attacking as deputy every sort of reform, and advocating a return to the times of the Austrians as the surest means of saving his country.
The good gardener saluted with equal cordiality the Bourbon Cardinal, hated by the kings, as the prelate with the whiskers, who made all the diocese tremble with his bitter and harassing temper, and his arrogance as a revolutionary Absolutist. For him, whoever occupied the throne of Toledo was a perfect man, whose acts no one should dare to discuss, and he turned a deaf ear to the murmurs of the canons and beneficiaries, who, smoking their cigarettes in the arbour of his garden, spoke of the genialities of this Senor de Inguanzo, and were indignant at the Government of Ferdinand VII. not being sufficiently firm, through fear of the foreigners, to re-establish the wholesome tribunal of the Inquisition.
The only thing that troubled the gardener was to watch the decadence of his beloved Cathedral. The revenues of the archbishop and of the Chapter had been greatly wasted during the war. What had occurred was what happens after a great flood, when the waters begin to subside and carry everything away with them, leaving the land bare and uninhabited. The Primacy lost many of its rights, the tenants made themselves masters, taking advantage of the disorders of the State; the towns refused to pay their feudal services, as though the necessity of defending themselves and helping in the war had freed them for ever from vassalage; further, the turbulent Cortes had decreed the abolition of all lordships, and had very much curtailed the enormous revenues of the Cathedral, acquired in the centuries when the archbishops of Toledo put on their casques, and went out to fight the Moors with double-handed swords.
Even so, a considerable fortune remained to the church of the Primacy, and it maintained its splendour as if nothing had happened, but the Senor Esteban scented danger from the depths of his garden, hearing from the canons of the Liberal conspiracies, the executions by shooting and hanging, and the exiling, to which the king Senor Don Fernando appealed, in order to repress the audacity of the "Negros," the enemies of the Monarchy and of religion.
"They have tasted the sweets," said he, "and they will return—see if they do not return, and take what is left! During the war they took the first bite, taking from the Cathedral more than half that was hers, and now they will come and take the rest; they will try and catch hold of the handle of the fryingpan."
The gardener was angry at the possibility of such a thing happening. Ay! and was it for this that so many lord archbishops of Toledo fought against the Moors? Conquering towns, assaulting castles and annexing pasture lands, which all came to be the property of the Cathedral, contributing to the great splendour of God's worship! And was everything to fall into the dirty hands of the enemies of anything that was holy? Everything that so many faithful souls had willed to them on their deathbeds, queens and magnates, and simple country gentlemen, who left the best part of their fortunes to the Holy Metropolitan Church, in the hope of saving their souls! What would happen to the six hundred souls, big and little, clerics and seculars, dignitaries and simple servants who lived from the revenues of the Cathedral?.... And was this called liberty? To rob what did not belong to them, leaving in poverty innumerable families who were now supported by the "great pot" of the Chapter?
When the sad forebodings of the gardener began to be realised, and Mendizabal decreed the dismemberment, the Senor Esteban thought he would have died of rage. But the Cardinal Inguanzo did better. Placed in his seat by the Liberals as his predecessor had been by the Absolutists, he thought it best to die in order to take no part in these attempts against the sacred revenues of the Church.
The Senor Luna, who was only a humble gardener, and who therefore could not imitate the illustrious Cardinal, went on living. But every day he felt more and more sorrowful, knowing that for shamefully low prices, many of the Moderates, who still came to High Mass, were stealthily acquiring to-day a house, to-morrow a farm, another day pasture lands, properties all belonging to the Primacy, but which had lately been put on the list of what was called national property.
Robbers! this slow subversion and sale, that rent in pieces the revenues of the Cathedral, caused the Senor Esteban as much indignation as though the bailiffs had entered his house in the Claverias to remove the family furniture, each piece of which embalmed the memory of some ancestor.
There were times in which he thought of abandoning his garden, and going to Maestrazgo, or to the northern provinces, in search of some of the loyal defenders of the rights of Charles V. and of the return to the old times. He was then forty years of age, strong and active, and though his temperament was pacific and he had never touched a musket, he felt himself fired by the example of certain timid and pious students, who had fled from the seminary, and were now, so it was said, fighting in Catalonia behind the red cloak of Don Ramon Cabrera.
But the gardener, in order not to be alone in his big "habitacion" in the Claverias, had married three years previously the daughter of the sacristan, and he had now one son; besides, he could not tear himself away from the church, he was another square block in the mountain of stone, he moved and spoke as a man, but he felt a certainty that he should perish at once if he left his garden. Besides, the Cathedral would lose one of the most important props if a Luna were wanting in its service, and he felt terrified at the bare thought of living out of it. How could he wander over the mountains fighting, and firing shots, when years had passed without his treading any other profane soil beyond the little bit of street between the staircase of the Claverias and the Puerta del Mollete?
And so he went on cultivating his garden, feeling the melancholy satisfaction that he was at least sheltered from all the wicked revolutionaries under the shadow of that colossus of stone, which inspired awe and respect from its majestic age. They might curtail the revenues of the temple, but they would be powerless against the Christian faith of those who lived under its protection.
The garden, deaf and insensible to the revolutionary tempests that broke over the church, continued to unfold its sombre beauty between the arcades, the laurels grew till they reached the balustrade of the upper cloister, and the cypresses seemed as though they aspired to touch the roofs; the creepers twined themselves among the iron railings, making thick lattices of verdure, and the ivy mantled the wall of the central arbour, which was surmounted by a cap of black slate with a rusty iron cross. After the evening choir the clergy would come and sit in here and read, by the soft green light that filtered through the foliage, the news from the Carlist Camp, and discuss enthusiastically the great exploits of Cabrera, while above, the swallows quite indifferent to human presence, circled and screamed in the clear blue sky. The Senor Esteban would watch, standing silently, this bat-like evening club, which was kept quietly hidden from those belonging to the National Militia of Toledo.
When the war terminated, the last illusions of the gardener vanished, he fell into the silence of despair and wished to know of nothing outside the Cathedral. God had abandoned the good and faithful, and the traitors and evil-doers were triumphant; his only consolation was the stronghold of the temple, which had lived through so many centuries of turmoil, and could still defy its enemies for so many more.
He only wished to be the gardener, to die in the upper cloister like his forefathers, and to leave fresh Lunas to perpetuate the family services in the Cathedral. His eldest son, Tomas, was now twelve years old, and able to help him in the care of the garden. After an interval of many years a second son had been born, Esteban, who, almost before he could walk, would kneel before the images in the "habitacion," crying for his mother to carry him down into the church to see the saints.
Poverty entered into the Cathedral, reducing the number of canons and prebendaries; at the death of any of the old servants, their places were suppressed, and a great many carpenters, masons, and glaziers who previously had lived there as workmen specially attached to the Primacy, and were continually working at its repairs, were dismissed. If from time to time certain repairs were indispensable, workmen were called in from outside, by the day; many of the "habitacions" in the Claverias were unoccupied, and the silence of the grave reigned where previously the population of a small town had gathered and crowded. The Government of Madrid (and you should have seen the expression of contempt with which the old gardener emphasised those words) was in treaty with the Holy Father to arrange something called the Concordat. The number of canons was limited as though the Holy Metropolitan was a college, they were to be paid by the Government the same as the servants, and for the maintenance of worship in this most famous Cathedral of all Spain—which, when it formerly collected its tithe, scarcely knew where to lock up such riches—a monthly pension of twelve hundred pesetas was now granted.
"One thousand two hundred pesetas, Tomas!" said he to his son, a silent boy, who took very little interest in anything but his garden. "One thousand two hundred pesetas, when I can remember the Cathedral having more than six millions of revenue! Bad times are in store for us, and were I anyone else I would bring you up to an office, or something outside the church; but the Lunas cannot desert the cause of God, like so many traitors who have betrayed it. Here we were born, here we must die, to the very last one of the family." And furious with the clergy, who seemed to put a good face on the Concordat and their salaries, thankful to have come out of the revolutionary tumults even as well as they had done, he isolated himself in his garden, locking the door in the iron railing, and shrinking from the assemblies of former times!
His little floral world did not change, its sombre verdure was like the twilight that had enveloped the gardener's soul. It had not the brilliant gaiety, overflowing with colours and scents of a garden in the open, bathed in full sunlight, but it had the shady and melancholy beauty of a conventual garden between four walls, with no more light than what came through the eaves and the arcades, and no other birds but those flying above, who looked with wonder at this little paradise at the bottom of a well. The vegetation was the same as that of the Greek landscapes, and of the idylls of the Greek poets—laurels, cypress and roses, but the arches that surrounded it, with their alleys paved with great slabs of granite in whose interstices wreaths of grass grew, the cross of its central arbour, the mouldy smell of the old iron railings, and the damp of the stone buttresses coloured a soft green by the rain, gave the garden an atmosphere of reverend age and a character of its own.